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Archives for : November2017

Naseeruddin Shah- ‘Is our faith so small that it gets endangered by a movie?’ #SundayReading

Film bans, censorship and death threats — the veteran actor says it like it is!

Naseeruddin Shah is known to speak his mind. This actor doesn’t mince words or thoughts — a rare quality these days. While there’s plenty on his mind all the time, right now, he’s irked about Nude, a Marathi film that features him, and the ire it’s facing, owing to its title and supposed content. In a conversation with BT, the actor makes a terse point about how the definition of freedom of speech has changed over the years, and how we have lost our sense of humour with it. Excerpts:

Nude was dropped from the list of films that were screened in the Indian Panorama section at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), which led to an outrage. What do you make of it?

It’s absurd! The reason they gave, finally, after much begging, is that it’s an incomplete film, which is absolute rubbish because several times, films are sent to festivals as work-in-progress copies. I don’t think anyone even knows what the film is all about. They’ve simply recoiled at the mention of the title. I think it’s an appropriate title and the film deserves to be seen. It’s arbitrary and scary that the government has now decided to assume the role of a censor.


Naseeruddin Shah



What do you think has triggered all this?

Nude has not even been seen by the Censor Board, they’ve just recently passed the trailer. I feel Pahlaj Nihalani was only a mouthpiece. That his reasoning was completely idiotic is a different matter. This is an age of moral policing and prudery. Look at the rising number of young couples being harassed on the roads, or even the way Mithali Raj and Priyanka Chopra were trolled for merely wearing a skirt and a dress. Sania Mirza has been a regular target for these people. We live in scary times. Are these the things we should be getting habituated to? We can’t expect the film industry to come out in support of movies like S Durga and Nude, can we?

But during the Udta Punjab controversy, sections of the film industry did come out in support of it…

(Cuts in) Let’s see how many come out in support of Padmavati. No one has spoken yet. Just how thinskinned have we become that we take offense against just about anything. Is our faith so small that it gets endangered by a movie? Are our beliefs that fragile that the world will start believing a movie, and not what has come down as legend? How insecure are we? Today, when thousands are rising in protest, I wonder how easily our sensibilities can be flamed.

What runs across your mind when you hear threats to maim and behead people being made on public platforms?

What is frightening is that none of these people have really bothered to see the film. They are just determined to crush anything that has a whiff of an independent sensibility. For God’s sake, it’s just a movie! That is the trouble with our country. Our audience swallows so much crap because they think that the actors and technicians were out on a holiday while making a movie. I am not a part of Padmavati, and neither have I seen it, but I’ve seen Bhansali’s work. He puts his all into the film.

Most people who’re commenting about Nude also have probably not seen the film. Do you think it’s a reactionary syndrome where people act merely on what they hear?

It’s beyond comprehension for me. Probably, it’s just the title in case of Nude. These days, it’s difficult to make a small film like Nudewithout facing issues like money and time crunches. We expect a more enlightened reaction from the government. People believe a film like S Durga is defaming the goddess, as if there is no other girl by that name. There are so many books that mock the Bible and aspects of Christianity. We had also banned Jesus Christ Super Star (a stage musical that faced a ban for about 25 years). We’re the protectors of every government’s faith, or so it seems, whether they care or not. Some people are convinced that what they are doing — threats of arson and all — is right. They are misguided people. I’m sure we have an equal number of people who feel alienated from this kind of philosophy.

Years ago, we could make a film like Bombay with relative ease, although it also had its share of controversies. Do you think one can attempt a film like that today?

Today, you can’t even shoot the last scene of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, let alone a film like Bombay. Why? It’s because we’ve clearly lost our sense of humour. What everyone talks about till date is Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro’s last scene. You wouldn’t be able to shoot it if it were to be made today because of self-censorship, the threat of someone damaging your set, or for that matter, the fear of your film not releasing.

Come to think of it: several interesting films have been screened at IFFI, but it was S Durga and Nude’s elimination that grabbed headlines.

The controversies around the festival have done films like S Durga and Nude some good. Everyone is at least talking about them. People were curious about Nude anyway. It’s heartening to see the way the Marathi filmmakers are rallying for the film. And it’s not surprising. Neither is the fact that not one filmmaker (from Bollywood) has come forth to speak for Padmavati. Maybe it’s difficult to do that.

Do you think all these episodes will ever let any filmmaker present an independent interpretation of literature, culture or a popular thought in our movies?

At the moment, it seems difficult, though this can’t last. These two films (S Durga and Nude) deserved to be seen internationally. Now, it’s to be seen whether they are barred completely from being sent to any film festival. I won’t be too surprised if that happens. The definition of freedom of speech has changed. Now, anything dissenting is seen as abuse of freedom of speech. The space for rational debate has shrunk. It’s not possible anymore. I posted a statement by Albert Einstein once on a social media page, which had something to do with war. The amount of abuse I got for it was astounding. I can understand what happened when I commented on Rajesh Khanna, he has a fan-following. While I don’t take back what I said, I apologised to Dimple Kapadia and her daughter (Twinkle Khanna). These days, you just can’t speak. It’s scary.

Naseeruddin Shah and Satish Shah in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro


Still from

S Durga

Still from Marathi film Nude

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Soni Sori- My method is a mix of Gandhi and Bhagat Singh


Threatened, beaten, sexually assaulted, husband dead, but the tribal activist shows little signs of giving up

In June last year, Madkam Hidme from Gumpad village in the dense forests of Sukma in South Chhattisgarh, was raped and killed, allegedly by security forces. She was 23. The governing authorities of Bastar celebrated Madkam’s death, calling it the killing of a hardcore Maoist. For the people of Gumpad, this compounded the tragedy. Who could they turn to for justice?

They sent a message to Soni Sori, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader in Bastar. Soni quickly launched and led a sustained public campaign to secure justice for Madkam’s family.

The case was taken to the Chhattisgarh High Court, which ordered the exhuming of the woman’s body for a second autopsy and, subsequently, a judicial probe.

Soni did not stop there. She launched a ‘tiranga yatra’ (tricolour march) from Dantewada to Gumpad — part of the Red Corridor — and hoisted the national flag on Independence Day 2016, something even heavily armed security forces have been unable to do in the past years.

How did this former school supervisor become the first person approached by tribal people every time they face injustice? Her early story seems ordinary, almost banal.

A simple life

Soni was born in a tribal family in Bade Bedma village in the Kuwakonda block of Dantewada, South Chhattisgarh. After primary school, she went to Mata Rukmini Adivasi Kanya School in nearby Dumrapal for her secondary and higher secondary schooling.

Around the time she was finishing school, she fell in love with Anil Futane, a small-time trader from Nagpur who had settled in Geedam, Dantewada. “We got married and settled down in Geedam,” she says. “After a year, we went to Dantewada. My family was angry with me for marrying Anil. They did not speak to us for almost two years, until our first daughter Muskan was born.”

In 2002, she got a job as a teacher in Nilavaya, another village in Dantewada. “After two years, I was promoted, and became the supervisor of an ashram school in Jabeli village. I shifted with my husband to Sameli, three kilometres away. Life was simple and smooth. We were happy in our peaceful world,” Soni recalls.

Around 2006, Maoist activity slowly entered the region. The police began rounding up villagers to uncover Maoist sympathisers. “Anil and other villagers were detained many times, and I would go to the police station with other villagers to get them released. Then, from 2008, they began questioning me too.”

That was the year an incident in Bade Para village changed the course of her life. “Three villagers were made to wear Maoist uniforms and killed by security forces. I was the sole witness; I also saw the corpses being thrown into a pit. I gave an interview to a TV journalist and told him what I had seen. I requested him to keep my identity secret, but somehow the police found out and they came to my house, abused me and warned me about speaking to the media. After this, my husband became a regular target.”

As the situation worsened, a friendly CRPF officer advised Anil to move to Geedam; he went with their three children. “I stayed back in Jabeli, going to Geedam only on weekends. Anil started a transport business. The Geedam police too used his vehicle sometimes.” Life returned to a semblance of normalcy.

My eldest daughter has told me never to compromise. She told me I have become a symbol of hope and justice for thousands of tribals. This motivates me.

Until 2010. When Avdhesh Gautam, a local Congress leader, was attacked by Maoists, Anil was once again summoned to the police station. “He was implicated in the attack and arrested. Next day, I was asked to visit the Dantewada SSP office where a senior officer abused me verbally and called me a Maoist supplier. I asked him for proof and begged him to release Anil. The officer began to beat me.” Soni says she was targeted because of her opposition to Gautam, which had resulted in him losing government contracts.

Systematic abuse

With her husband in jail, Soni struggled but managed to keep her job and her children in school. By now, both her father and nephew were being targeted by the Maoists and by the police. Soni was accused of being a conduit between Maoists and the Essar Group, which had a plant in Kirandul.

Then, the Maoists claimed she was taking money in their name. “I was being implicated in such a way that both the police and the Maoists were after me. I somehow managed to escape to Delhi, and was trying for anticipatory bail, but the court was on vacation. On October 4, I was arrested and sent to Tihar.”

The worst was yet to begin. From Delhi she was transferred to Dantewada in Chhattisgarh despite her pleas. It was here that she was sexually assaulted, with stones inserted in her genitals. “A senior police officer in Dantewada was involved in the sexual torture,” she says.

The next two-and-a-half years were spent in four prisons. And with both parents in jail, the children were separated: Muskan sent to a hostel, Deependra to Soni’s father, and Aksara to Anil’s parents. Finally, in 2013, lawyers Colin Gonsalves and Prashant Bhushan got her released on bail.

Everyone advised her to stay in Delhi, but “I had decided to come back and fight for justice. No fear was left in my mind as I had faced the worst torture any woman can face.”

Meanwhile, Anil was acquitted but his health had deteriorated in jail and he died within a month of his release.

This is when, on Prashant Bhushan’s advice, Soni joined AAP and contested, and lost, the elections in 2014. Then, in November 2015, a tribal woman from Kukanar area of Sukma was abducted by the police.

“The villagers were protesting in front of Kukanar police station. I went to participate in the protest.” The villagers made her their leader. “I had no intention of leading, but the people were enthused to see me.”

The protesters blocked the national highway and gheraoed the police station for three days. Soon, the missing woman was declared found by the police, and the protest ended. Since then, Soni has led a number of protests, most of them against extra-judicial killings. She has also raised her voice in support of journalists and human rights lawyers in Bastar, where she was attacked by unknown assailants in February 2016. But it didn’t deter her and she was back in Bastar within a month.

Sometimes, I am angry at myself for not being violent despite facing such extreme atrocities.

Aside from the huge campaign she launched to secure justice for Madkam Hidme, she sheltered the family of Arjun, a teenager branded a “dreaded Maoist” and killed by the police. The government has given her security guards. “People call us,” says Lingaram Kodopi, her nephew. “They ask her to lead them. If she gives one call, lakhs of tribals will come on to the streets.”

“My protests are strictly peaceful,” says Soni. “I tell villagers not to bring even traditional weapons.”

Politics as strategy

Being part of a political party is partly strategy. “I want to work as a social activist but the political background gives me some protection from the police. I will contest elections if the people of Bastar want me to. AAP’s support base is increasing in Bastar, and people think Soni Sori will fight for them if they join the party.”

Sori says that she tells them she will fight for them even if they don’t join the party. “I don’t take part in the protest as a political leader but as a tribal activist. I invite all parties and leaders to take part in these protests as these are people’s protests and not one party’s protests.”

Other things have stayed the same. On one hand, every now and then she has the police threatening to cancel her bail. (She must go to a police station in Dantewada every week as part of her bail conditions.) On the other hand, the Maoists target her. “The Maoists fear my peaceful protest as it will make their armed rebellion ineffective.”

She has begun to dare the police to arrest her. “They promise to drop the cases against me if I stop my activism. My only weakness is my children. I am scared for them. They lost their father and their mother was assaulted in jail. I think of sending them away, but I won’t be able to stay without them. At the same time, I cannot live without my fight for justice; I have seen my husband tortured in front of my eyes. But my children support my fight. My eldest daughter has told me never to compromise. She told me I have become a symbol of hope and justice for thousands of tribals. This motivates me.”

Soni thinks the problems of Bastar can be solved if the people sit together and decide on a common cause. She wants to push to make that happen. “Sometimes, I am angry at myself for not being violent despite facing such extreme atrocities. But I am also happy I didn’t leave the path of peace. My method is a mix of Gandhi and Bhagat Singh.”

And she is determined not to leave Bastar. “When we were in jail, my husband once said we should leave Bastar and settle somewhere else. I told him I won’t stop fighting even if I have to sacrifice my life.”

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How online abuse of women has spiralled out of control in Modi’s ‘New India’ #Vaw


On November 25, 1960, three of the four “butterflies” were bludgeoned to death in the eerily silent Dominican countryside. The butterflies, as the Mirabal sisters were known in the resistance group against the brutal dictator, Rafael Trujillo, became popular icons of resistance.

Years later, in 1999, the United Nations in honour of the three sisters who were killed – Minerva Mirabal, Teresa Mirabal, Patria Mirabal – declared November 25 to be the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, (the fourth sister, Dede Mirabal passed away in 2014). The UN proposes that the premise of the day is to raise awareness about rape, domestic violence and other forms of violence – including online abuse – that women are subjected to.

It should, therefore, be a day for us as a society to introspect because, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, on average, a crime against a woman is committed every two minutes in India. These are, of course, only cases that are reported, and millions of other cases are ignored, as women suffer in silence. That magnitude of problem can be understood by considering the case of Andhra Pradesh, a state notorious for crimes against women. The state is home to 7.3 per cent of women, but records 11.5 per cent of the crimes reported against women.


The government has done little to ensure gender parity and whatever little it has done is also half-hearted. For instance, in February, the government of Andhra Pradesh organised a first-of-its-kind, “National Women’s Parliament”, and invited women achievers across many facets to share their thoughts and ideas. The stated purpose of the event was to empower women and strengthen democracy. However, on the eve of the event, Kodela Siva Prasada Rao, the speaker of Andhra Pradesh and also one of the organisers of the event, held a press conference where he compared women to cars. He elaborated that when cars are parked at home they are safest and the risk of something untoward happening increases when they are driven fast.

The abhorrent comparison understandably drew a lot of flak and Kodela defended himself with the trite explanation politicians give with nauseating predictability – that he was misquoted by the media – even though his statements were beamed live by many news channels and the clip is still easily available on the internet.

When leaders don’t understand the importance of gender parity and women’s empowerment or the very nature of freedom, citizens can expect little more than event management from them.

Given the abuse of women online, it should come as no surprise to us that there are so many crimes committed against women. The internet is replete with abusive trolls who spew vile comments against women. The comments offer a glimpse of the minds of such people who fantasise violence and the deep-rooted misogyny they harbour. Tragically, some of the most vitriolic Twitter handles are followed by the prime minister himself which emboldens them further.

Trolls should not be brushed off lightly as they are indicative of how deep the malaise is in our society. Abuse has come to be seen as normal and anyone who complains against them are told to keep off the internet and not whine about online realities. There appears to be no correlation between education and propriety. One shudders to think how these people treat the women in their lives.

One of the root causes of this deplorable condition is because our education system is obsessed with marks and children are seldom imparted gender sensitivity lessons. Even in most “co-educational” schools in the rural areas and small-towns children are segregated on the basis of gender and not encouraged to interact with one another. Only when there is healthy interaction from a younger age will people come to respect the opposite gender.

However, with education not given the importance it should be, partially due to paucity of resources and largely due to the lack of a political will, most teachers are ill-qualified to inspire virtues in children. Gender parity and social justice cannot be achieved without aligning our education system, a cardinal agent of socialisation, to the values of egalitarianism.

What we won in 1947 is independence and not necessarily freedom. So long as discrimination, violence and abuse are tolerated, India can never be considered a free nation. As a nation we cannot realise our full potential without understanding the true meaning of consent and equality.

Progress and modernity is not about “fast cars”. It’s about freedom for the “butterflies”.

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Chhattisgarh – This village knows how to feed hungry babies

An NGO in Chhattisgarh is addressing the urgent deficit in nutrition by providing three meals a day to children under three along with daycare

Sumita Dhruv’s life revolves around rice — sowing, irrigating, and harvesting it. And yet very little of it reaches her two-year-old daughter Shristi. Like most children in the village of Baigahara, 50 km from Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh, Shristi was born underweight. Her eyes were vacant, she cried often, and fell ill almost every month. The vicious cycle of disease and poor health would have continued if Sumita, a daily wage worker, had not decided to send her to the village crèche. In a matter of months, things began to look up. “I never realised she could eat so much, Uski bhook jaga di (She has found her appetite),’’ says Sumita. As Shristi lines up for her share of sattu (a local mix of cerealpulse-oilseed), and it is hard to imagine her being anything but playful.

Shristi and a dozen other children at the crèche run by NGO Jan Swasthya Sahyog (JSS) are a small part of the solution. The problem, though, is the sheer number of hungry, overlooked young children in India. Since 2009, JSS has been running crèches or phulwaris where children under the age of three can stay for eight hours. They eat three meals, including khichdi and sattu, eggs (twice a week) and iron supplements, and are taught to maintain hygiene. As a result, the proportion of underweight children has come down from 56% to 27%, and that of children suffering from wasting (low weight for height) has come down from 26% to 5%.

Tumne to bachche mein aag laga di (You have lit fire in the bellies of our children),’’ is what a parent told Dr Yogesh Jain, public health physician and JSS founding member, after her child started gaining weight and looking healthy. JSS now runs 91 crèches in 38 villages for over 1,200 children in Bilaspur district. Every crèche has an average of 10 children. The NGO provides each crèche with a worker, spending Rs 27 per child every day. Phulwaris started when Jain and others — who have been running a rural hospital in Ganiyari village since 2000 — realised that over half the children went to bed hungry. “Treating sick children was only a short-term solution. We had to prevent malnourishment,’’ Jain says.

Undernutrition in the first three years of life has both immediate and long-term consequences. Once a child is malnourished due to a chronic dietary inadequacy, the catch-up is likely to be difficult. What should put Indians to shame is the fact that our infant and young child feeding practices are worse than those of poorer neighbours like Bangladesh and Nepal, say experts.

In most poor families, an aged relative or an older sibling must stay behind for childcare. JSS found that schoolgoing girls dropped out to take care of younger siblings. In desperate times, children are even tied by a rope to a cot allowing them to roam in a small area. The child is usually given breastmilk at the beginning of the day, left behind at home with the day’s leftovers, before the parents come back home at night. The child is deprived of adequate food and attention, Jain says.

A toddler, Amrita, sings and copies her dai’s (crèche worker’s) actions with great gusto. Her thin arms and legs move in unison as she sways to the tune. She weighs a little over 7.5 kg, much below the average 11 kg for her age. She has to be given extra food so she can catch up, says Jhigadpur village worker Rambai Yadav. It is this chronic hunger that the JSS is trying to prevent. Public health expert Dr Ramani Atkuri supports the phulwari model: “Many argue that it is expensive and not sustainable, but do we expect chronically starving people to be sustainable? And why do we always expect results when we don’t want to spend the money for it? Many parents see the phulwaris as a safe place to leave their children when they are out at work.’’ Unicef data says emerging economies have improved their malnutrition rates significantly over the last two decades. China has reduced under-nutrition from 25% to 8% between 1999 and 2002, Brazil from 18% to 7% from 1975 to 1989. In comparison, India has reduced undernutrition from 48% in 2005-06 to 38% in 2015-16, according to the National Family Health Survey. The country’s Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) is centred around take-home rations with a budget of Rs 2- Rs 5 per child and anganwadi workers who are paid honorariums instead of wages.

Many states appear to see the benefit of the programme, but have found it difficult to replicate, admits JSS coordinator for the phulwari scheme, Dr Ravindra Kurbude. Chhattisgarh tried to introduce the programme in 2,000 crèches in Naxal-affected areas but with patchy success. However, the JSS model is being practised with some success in Odisha, Bihar and Jharkhand.MP aims to start 75 crèches this year.

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