DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Chickens coming home to roost

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A blood-splattered class room in the Army Public School, Peshawar
So snugly does the idiom fit Pakistan. The terror that it disseminated has now come to haunt it. Purveyor of terror has now become its victim. And the worst manifestation of it was the Peshawar tragedy where as many as 145, including 132 children, were literally gunned down in a mid-morning attack in its Army Public School. It was said to be in revenge of the killings by Pak Army which has been conducting military operations against several terrorist groups in North Waziristan. It was a planned attack by a suicide squad of seven belonging to the terrorist group Teherik e Taliban Pakistan. With prior knowledge of the lay of the land they had come only to kill army officers’ children and they ruthlessly killed as many as they could. That some others, mostly teachers, were killed in the process was probably incidental. The attack created shock and awe, not in Pakistan alone but all over the world as this was perhaps the most barbaric and dehumanised act of terrorists bred in the fertile Islamic theological seminaries.

Having been the epicentre of terror it was a sad denouement for Pakistan to have been at the receiving end of their own terror network. Pakistan was probably enjoying the show when its terror networks were killing elsewhere. Their boys, radicalised to the core, were terrorising Eastern Europe, Russia, Central Asia, China, South East Asia and, of course India in the name of Allah and the daring brutal killings of the so-called non-believers was a matter of pride for their masters. In the process, a number of young and courageous young lads were lost, so brainwashed were they that they were prepared to give up their life in the prime of their youth for the cause of spreading the massage of the Prophet. Running seemingly an assembly line, the merchants of terror, the maulanas, mullahs and their ilk, have no qualms in readying young children or adolescents as suicide bombers or “fidayeens” for sacrifice for a cause that is as preposterous as their progenitors. Hitherto acting on foreign lands, their masters have now turned their evil eyes inwards on their own people and, what is more, on fellow Muslims. That they have the support of the Pakistani military in their endeavours is also a truth and yet the military launched blistering attacks on the perpetrators of the demonic Peshawar attack killing as many as 120 militants within three days in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Pakistan has had a violent streak since its inception. Although the country was created for Muslims who felt they could not live with non-Muslims (read Hindus) yet its founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah had visualised a secular state. Ironically, he was at the back of the attack in 1947 on the Valley of Kashmir by Pakistani Army regulars and other tribal raiders just because a Muslim majority princely state acceded to a Hindu majority state. He wanted to grab by force whatever did not come his way in the manner he thought it should have. The violence fostered by the father of the nation has somehow stuck with the country and it happily treaded its violent ways down the years. A virtual genocide was launched against all non Muslims in Pakistan, Hindus getting the best of attention. Hindus constituted 15% of West Pakistan population when the country came into existence. By 1998 their strength had come down to 1.6% and today it should be much less as most of the Hindus have been driven out of the country. A majority of the Hindu population of Sindh is now in India, harassed as they were by abductions and then conversions of minor girls, demolition of temples and just plain killings.

 Gen. Zia ul Haq’s advent as the dictator of the country saw incremental increase in violence. Having been unable to wrest Kashmir from India in as many as three wars, he planned to bleed India with “a thousand cuts” – in the shape of terror and proxy war in Kashmir. Radicalisation of the country and its Army was seen in full play in the 1980s during the Afghan War where Zia threw in his radicalised Army as also Mujahideens to assist the local resistance with the financial backing of the Western Powers to drive the Soviet Army out of Afghanistan. As the Russians withdrew the mujahideens morphed into two jihadist groups – the Taliban and al Qaida. It is these two groups which have spread the cult of violence. While al Qaida is somewhat quiet, the Talibans continue to operate in Afghanistan and in the FATA along the Afghan border, each distinct from the other with a different name and not quite aligned. Tehrik e Taliban Afghanistan generally takes on the government establishments and security forces of Afghanistan and Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan has earmarked for its operations the FATA region.

The massacre of the children saw Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan meeting chiefs of all political parties to arrive at a consensual approach for dealing with the escalating terror. Obviously the consensus was to deal with the terrorists with a strong hand and the Prime Minister, a bit carried away, declared that he would root out terrorism from the country. In fact, earlier he had said that the entire region had to be rid of the scourge. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen. In the scheme of things of Pakistan and its Army, the Taliban working the Western frontiers have become a menace and need to be liquidated. But that apparently, would not apply to those who operate in Kashmir and other parts of India. They, after all, are “strategic assets” nurtured by the Inter-services Intelligence of Pak Army in pursuit of the planned “thousand cuts”. Called “non-state actors”, they are as much state actors as any. No wonder the mastermind of 26/11 attack on Mumbai was bailed out soon after the Peshawar massacre and, despite broad hints to the contrary, the Pakistani prosecution failed to file an appeal against the court’s orders.

 As it appears now, regardless of what happens, Pakistan, , will not touch Dawood Ibrahim, Lashkar e Toiba and Hafiz Saeed’s conglomeration of terror organisations. Saeed went about spewing venom against India, brazenly holding Narendra Modi responsible for the Peshawar attack even as the dead children were being buried. The intense hatred for India that permeates the Pak Army, the Pak government and some terror outfits would not allow dismantling of all terror infrastructures especially created for India. That would leave Pakistan as Bruce Reidel, Director of Brookings Intelligence Project said, with the only alternative, “to play patron while bleeding as victim”. An Indian retired general too had said that keeping snakes in the backyard and feeding them milk is a sure prescription for getting stung once in a while. Apparently, only after the loss of many more innocent lives can one, perhaps, expect Pakistan to change its spots.

Photo: From the Internet


Monday, December 15, 2014

DESTINATIONS: DELHI (1955)

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Old Delhi in 1955
In 1955 I was in my late teens and it looked like as if I had been somehow put on travel­­­­­ mode. I had just been to Bombay where I had spent most of my two- month long summer vacation. And now it was October and there was a chance of visiting Delhi. An uncle of mine was a touring officer of the C & E Morton, the confectioners, and he was going to be in Delhi for a week. He wanted my sister and me to visit him.

Getting into Punjab Mail that used to run between Bombay and Amritsar we were off for Delhi. In those early days the more important trains wouldn't go to New Delhi station for the simple reason that it was still in the process of coming up. Delhi Junction or the Old Delhi station used to be the scene of most of the railway action. Gwalior to Delhi was a distance of only 200 miles and the train used to take  a little more than 5 hours. As the train slowed down at Old Delhi a few coolies jumped into the compartment. Tall, well-built and fair, some with even thick beards with red turbans, were intimidating characters. The Bombay coolies were no patch on them. However, soon I spotted uncle. He got one of the coolies to pick up the luggage and promptly asked him to show his token number. It was only eight years after the partition which induced a two-way traffic of millions between the two newly-independent countries. Many of those who migrated this side of the newly created borders had chosen Delhi for making a fresh start in life and a large number had settled down as coolies to convey passengers’ luggage to and from the station. It was laborious work as we didn’t know till then of the concept of travelling light. Instances of disappearance of coolies with luggage of an unwary passenger had seemingly assumed alarming proportions and hence the need to check the token number.

Once outside we came across a veritable jam created by tongas (a horse-drawn carriage).  Looking for fare all had almost converged in front of the station exit. My uncle was staying in a hotel in the Old Delhi area. Those were early days  and most of the towns had only one or two really good ones, the star system had not been introduced till then. Delhi was no different and had The Imperial and the Maidens, the two reputed high-end ones and the rest being ordinary. My uncle had a biggish room in one of the ordinary ones in which three of us could accommodate ourselves pretty comfortably though it was nothing much to write home about. Surely there were better “ordinary” hotels in the same area.

Our first tripin the town was inevitably to Connaught Place. As soon as our uncle left my sister and I climbed into a Tonga and went there. Autos had not arrived on the scene yet and the tongas could go all over the town. Their movements were later restricted and they are now an endangered species, confined only in the Old Delhi area. Connaught Place was an immense largely vacant circular colonnaded market with very few cars running around. The
A Tonga
shops, however, were impressive - big and holding most of all the goodies that one could conceive of. We were happy to see the Scindia House, coming as we did from Gwalior – the erstwhile Scindia capital. On another of our excursions we went to Chandni Chowk which we found very dusty and crowded. Tongas in fair numbers were plying on the main road kicking up a lot of dust – not like the Delhi of our imagination. A few trams that looked ramshackle after the ones of Bombay were plying on the crowded street.


We had not been in Delhi for even a couple of days when we got a call from one of our Gwalior acquaintances who used to be the manager of Gwalior Potteries in Delhi. Promising to come and fetch us, he arrived one afternoon and much against the wishes of my uncle he had us piled into his car to be taken to his bungalow in the Potteries complex. It was far away in South Delhi and we had to go past the Red Fort, on to Darya Gunj, past Raj Ghat and India Gate through the leafy avenues of New Delhi and then had to wait at a level crossing. Curiously, the traffic of cars tongas and cycles was stopped here to allow an aircraft to land. The Safdurjung Airport was then the airport for Delhi and the one at Palam was still a few years away in the future. After going past the INA market we got into a dusty road that went past a government colony called Vinay Nagar (which is now Kidwai Nagar) running for about a kilometer and a half to get to the Potteries complex. It was a big complex with a pottery producing ceramic tea sets and other table-ware. At that time Gwalior Potteries was a well-known brand, particularly in North India. Now, of course, it is not to be seen or heard of. There used to be two bungalows one of which was lying unused. The whole property – quite a large one of tens of acres – belonged to the Maharaja of Gwalior, as did the Pottery. All of it was surrounded by what looked like a rural setting with a few scattered villages.

It is interesting to reflect back on this South Delhi area of 1955. The dust-laden road that we took has now virtually disappeared. There were no colonies on either side of it till it met its end at the Gwalior Potteries. There was no Sarojini Nagar or All India Institute of Medical Sciences or Safdurjung Hospital and there was no Ring Road. The road to Mehrauli continued as a narrow strip of asphalt and tongas used to ply on it right up to Kutub Minar and Mehrauli. Green Park colony was coming up a few kilometers down the road to Kutub.

The nephew of the manager, Vimal Majumdar, who passed away recently, and I used to move around in buses that we had to catch at the INA Market. Our favourite haunt was Darya Gunj which was always full of traffic of all kinds. Both of us also once took a tonga to go to the Kutub, supposedly a lonely place then and not quite safe. It was generally devoid of foreign tourists, who now flock to the place in large numbers. Bus and tonga fares used to be in annas and paises – the rupee had not been changed over to the metric system till then.

The October 1955 trip was rather uneventful apart from the fact that it was the first time I happened to be in Delhi. Soon, thereafter, in late December a friend, Ramesh Tiwari (now retired from University of Manitoba and living in Winnipeg) persuaded my highly-reluctant mother to agree to my my accompanying him to Delhi for the first Industrial Exhibition to be held at the then newly-built Pragati Maidan. While two of Tiwari’s cousins also came along, we were to put up at the house of another of his cousins who was working in the field of civil aviation and was living alone. One of Tiwari’s cousins, Suresh Dube, excellent at cooking, took over the kitchen and fed us all. Because of his innate talent he later made a career in catering after obtaining a degree from Anand in Gujarat. As everyone good in his calling looks for greener pastures, he too went away to America to work with multinationals and eventually ended with the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the UN. An excellent company; he used to make fantastic scrambled eggs.

 I had never before seen anything like the Pragati Maidan and the Industrial Exhibition held in it. It was a massive complex and there were numerous tall halls of fancy architectural designs housing the exhibits of several countries participating at the Exhibition. I remember stalls of two countries – of China and the US. The Chinese was perhaps the largest, exhibiting China’s rudimentary industrialisation. But there was practically a full display of their amazing crafts. I happen to remember their amazing kind of ceramic ware. They were just out of this world. We had never seen such beautiful bone china tea sets manufactured in India. At home, however, we used to have a few fine bone china cups with saucers made in Japan which were perhaps bought before the imports were banned during the World War. What was perhaps more remarkable at the Chinese pavilion was that the Chinese girls were not only friendly, they could also converse fluently in Hindi

 The other pavilion that was interesting was the one of the US where we saw a TV set for the first time. People would wave at themselves as they saw themselves on the screen. The camera would be kept pointed at the crowd and boys would try to muscle in into  view. Another interesting item was the Cinerama tent which showed on 11 television screens in a circular tent the films taken by a like number of cameras mounted on top of a vehicle as it moved through a street. One got a 3600 view of the street – of the two sides, and of the front and the rear sides – giving the impression as if you were moving down the street in a vehicle.

Those were the heydays of India when many world leaders used to come to visit the country. Pandit Nehru, the Prime Minister, had acquired a cult status as a champion of peace and the country still had a reputation of being an ethical force in the world where while
Bulganin & Khruschev arrive in Delhi in 1955
the ‘hot’ war had ended a “cold war” had  set in. With his socialistic inclinations he had naturally built up a good rapport with the leaders of the now-defunct Soviet Union. Two of its leaders, Nikita Khruschev, the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Soviet Union and Nikolai Bulganin, the Premier of Soviet Union, came on a visit to Delhi during our stay. A huge crowd had gathered on the then King’s Way (now Raj Path) lawns to welcome them. All of us also joined the crowd. It was a sight to see. Numerous trucks laden with people had collected on the lawns and, as happens, inevitably hawkers had flocked in large numbers selling roasted groundnuts by weight or Coca Cola (available then) at 4 annas (just a quarter of a rupee) a bottle.


Soon it was time for us to leave for home. As I remember it, Delhi was still somewhat primitive, not like Bombay I had seen a few months earlier – more glittering and glitzier. It looked more like a sub-urban town, with ramshackle buses loosely run and bus-stands generally non-existent. After dusk the streets would be dark with very little illumination from the street lights because of either low voltage or low wattage of the incandescent bulbs. The streets were not yet fully paved or asphalted – much like our own Gwalior, barring areas where roads had already been concretised. Nonetheless, we had a good time and came back home – but not before we spent a night unrolling our bed-rolls on the platform of the Old Delhi station having missed the late night-train – richer in knowledge and experience. At that time it never occurred to me that in the future not only would I be visiting Delhi several times, I would also live and work there for as many as 14 of my 34 working years. 

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Photos: From Internet

Monday, December 8, 2014

A death caused by “chin music” of cricket


Phil Hughes
The funeral service of Phil Hughes was held the other day. A precious and promising career in cricket was lost to Australia’s own “chin music”.  “Chin music” is nothing but bouncing a fast ball to literally shave the chin, if not hit it, of the batsman facing him. Admittedly a difficult ball to bowl and also to play as the ball rises rapidly off the pitch. A batsman needs to have very quick reflexes and needs to be very quick-footed to put it away. Initial reports said that Hughes was quicker than necessary in negotiating the ball which proved to be lethal. He was playing in a Sheffield Shield match of Australia’s domestic tournament like our own Ranji Trophy.

“Chin Music” is also used in the game of baseball. The ball is pitched aiming at the batter or near about his face. The intention is naturally to intimidate the batter or to force him away from the ball. But in baseball there is a difference; if a pitcher overdoes it the umpire can eject him from the game. In cricket there is no such provision. There is only one provision that a bowler can bowl only two bouncers that are essentially part of “chin music” in an over in one-day cricket matches. In test matches there is apparently no such condition.

That reminds one of the “Bodyline” controversies that raged around eighty years ago when Bradman, the God of Cricket, was in top form. England having been defeated by Australia in the 1930 series mainly because of Bradman’s unfailing form while touring England, the English team devised a strategy for its Australia tour in 1932-33 to attack the Australian batsmen’s bodies. Bouncers were being directed at the batsmen and Bradman, as indeed others, were repeatedly hurt. Despite unavailability of any protective gear other than leg-guards and gloves it was a life-threatening situation that led to a diplomatic row between the two countries. Bradman seemingly was intimidated and his rate of scoring fell to an average of around 50 whereas in 1930 he averaged  100 per innings in England. Soon, however the laws of cricket were changed to ensure that “bodyline” bowling was made illegal.

Apparently, the changed laws seem to have now been given up, as in place of “Bodyline” we now have “chin music” that is as bad. With the untimely and unwarranted death of Phil Hughes there is now an international discourse going on whether to ban the bouncers or to restrict them. Many cricketers feel that banning bouncers will take the thrill out of cricket; after all, a pull off a bouncer is a delectable sight. Even Bradman as far back as in 1930s, though he got the ball several times on his ribs and back, soldiered on dealing with the short-pitched fast rising deliveries stepping back hitting them on the rise to the off-side, seldom giving a chance to the fielders in the leg trap set for him to hold any of his catches.. Besides, there have been very few fatalities because of the short-pitched fast deliveries and Hughes’s fatal injury was, apparently, of  a one off kind.

Nari Contractor
Even our own Nari Contractor having had two ribs broken in a Test against England in 1958 played on to make 81. While leading the Indian team to West Indies in 1961-62, he got a severe hit on his head by a beamer, not a short-pitched one but a ball that never touches the ground and is aimed above the waist, from the young fast bowler Charlie Griffith. Contractor collapsed in a heap on the pitch and later had to undergo surgery. And yet I recall seeing him only around two years later in Ahmedabad in 1964 opening the innings for India against England. Two severe injuries seemed to have made no difference to his psyche. He is still around celebrating the eighth decade of his life.

 Perhaps, cricket administrators expect from cricketers such guts, fearlessness and determination to prove themselves as world-class cricketers.
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Photos from the WWW