DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Friday, November 27, 2015

Hindu fringe is Modi's enemy

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Prime Minister Modi is reported to have said the other day while addressing G20 leaders at Antalya (Turkey), “We need to involve religious leaders, thinkers and opinion makers for a social movement against extremism, particularly addressed to the youth” This was needed the most in countries where extremism was most prevalent, he said, and highlighted the urgency for promoting broader peace and stability in West Asia and Africa. He also said, “We don’t have a comprehensive global strategy to combat terrorism. And we tend to be selective in using the instruments that we have.”

Platitudinous and preachy, his words would not wash with most of his audience, given the recent adverse reportage in international media from back home. He seems to have overlooked the apparent radicalization of the Hindu fringe that has raised its ugly head in recent times True, most of the reportage was contrived by the so-called liberals and secular elements who do not let go of a single opportunity to go after Modi but the fact is that the Hindu extremists, of late, have become more active, intimidating and violent and Modi seems to have forgotten about them.

Besides, Modi’s words sound somewhat hypocritical as he did not use the means that he possessed to deal with the terrorism that recently emanated from the Hindu Right. He cannot wash his hands of saying that the incidents happened in states ruled by non-BJP parties. The instance of lynching at Dadri and the later statements by his Minister of Culture did not quite tally up what he said at Antalya. While initially the minister, Mahesh Sharma, glossed over it by saying it was “an accident” and, later, a case of “misunderstanding”, there was no perceptible move from the BJP to admonish him or the hoodlums who went in strength and lynched an elderly helpless person killing him on the spot on mere suspicion of having consumed beef. If this is not terrorism what is? True the state government ruled by a non-BJP party has treated the incident as a matter relating law and order but what of the ruling BJP (Bharatiya Janta Party)? It seemed to provide a protective umbrella to those under the leadership of whom the highly condemnable act was perpetrated. Wasn’t it a case of selective non-use of the instruments the Party possessed to discipline its foot soldiers?

 As no serious note was taken of the “unfortunate incident” (this is how PM Modi described the Dadri incident) another incident soon followed at Delhi. Kerala House in Delhi had to be raided by the Police on a complaint of keeping beef on offer in the menu of its canteen. The Police found the complaint untrue and yet no action was taken against the Hindu activists by the BJP or its sister Hindu radical organizations for trying to arouse communal passions. In any case, consuming beef is no crime unless it is banned by an order of the state which, if imposed, would not be quite secular. A cow may be holy for Hindus, that does not mean people of other communities should treat it likewise. India is a country of multiple religions, multiple sects, multiple tribes and multiple communities of different castes and creeds. If Hindus do not eat beef, others would perfectly be within their rights to consume it unless it is banned by the state. The policing by the Hindu fringe elements in this matter, therefore, is reprehensible as they thus encroach on the freedom of others. For this kind of intimidatory behavior they should be hauled up under the country’s criminal laws.

This was not the end of it all. An unabashed threat was issued to the well-known play-write and theatre-person Girish Karnad reportedly for supporting the celebration of the birth anniversary by the Karnataka government of Tipu Sultan, the 18th Century feudal ruler of Mysore. Hue and cry was raised against the government’s decision by the Hindu fringe and for supporting the celebration it gave Karnad a death-threat. They said he would meet the same fate as one Kalburgy, a Hindu rationalist, who was gunned down, as is now evident, by the Hindu extremists.

Ever since BJP came to power the Hindu Right became more aggressive and its representatives in the BJP also started talking in a manner that was out-and-out communal. The utterance of a few members of Parliament from BJP caused deep embarrassment to it. This had been happening during all the past eighteen months but what happened in recent months was more aggressive and violent. No wonder, the so-called liberals made a song and dance about it. Writers and authors, scientists, artists, film-makers, et al launched a campaign of “award-wapsi” (return of state awards) as a measure of protest to the government. International media was flooded with features by the country’s liberal (sometimes biased) journalists communicating to the wide world that India had become a highly intolerant society under Modi, stifling freedom of thought , speech and action and that the country’s age old pluralistic tradition had been ruptured. One recalls a highly motivated talk by an award-returnee, Ashok Vajpayi in Canada in which he talked of the growing intolerance in India and ran down the Hindu Religion.

The sentiments of disaffection and alienation seemed to have risen in a crescendo all of a sudden because of several unseemly incidents. While elimination of free-thinkers was something certainly unheard of, religious violence was nothing new to the country. And, then consumption of beef became an issue and a debate raged about it. The print and electronic media also fanned the flames. It appeared that the country was in turmoil and had become unsafe for minorities and those who did not subscribe to Hindutva. The apologists for the government claimed the Opposition in the Parliament and its sympathizers had planned and fabricated the issues to embarrass the BJP and its Government at the Centre. That may have been true but only partially, as their own Hindu loudmouthed hotheads played no mean role in provoking the people to mount concerted protests.

Those of us who were apolitical and had nothing to do with any of the political parties watched in dismay their dreams of a developed and rising India crumbling. Manmohan Singh’s was a decade lost to corruption and paralysis. They had voted for Modi as they felt that neither Manmohan Singh nor Sonia or Rahul Gandhi could ever take the country forward. It was only Modi, they felt, who could tear away the political or bureaucratic cobwebs to march ahead. He had no axes to grind; not only he was incorruptible, he also had a vision for the country. His decisive manner of functioning held out promises of development and progress.

  Thankfully for them, the “award-wapsis” and the debates on “religious intolerance” ceased suddenly soon after the Bihar polls where BJP got a sound thrashing. Seems like the liberals and the lefties were aiming at keeping BJP out of Bihar. And, numerous election rallies of Modi could not pull it out of the morass that the Hindu roughnecks had pushed it into.

 Modi had asked people for two terms in office for achieving his vision for the country. For that to happen he will have to live up to his words uttered in Antalya and be more proactive and deal with the Hindu hotheads with an iron hand. Or else, he will be done in by them again in 2019

*Photo:from the net.



Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Bhopal Notes - 17 :: Relocation of Kerwa tigers

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Looks like, the forest department is getting frustrated. It has been trying to cage the local tiger that has repeatedly been sighted close to outskirts of the town so that it could be tanslocated to a tiger reserve, but the tiger has proved to be elusive. Even some trained elephants have been commandeered from a neighbouring reserve but those have been of no avail. According to the latest report, they tried a bait to capture it but it was devoured by another tiger.

Obviously, if the department wants to make Bhopal jungles free of tigers it would now have to cage not one but two tigers. The question is whether the department has considered all aspects of the matter. One wonders whether it has looked into the reasons for the tigers to wander out of the Ratapani Sanctuary, i.e. whether the Sanctuary has more tigers than what it can host or whether the prey-base has shrunk forcing the tigers to look for greener pastures. I do not remember to have seen any report to this effect. However, in either case, translocation would not be a solution as after removal of these tigers a fresh crop from crowded Ratapani may come looking to mark their own territory in these jungles.

Because of the seriousness of the effort, though so far failed, of the forest department one wonders whether the intention of the government is to confine the straying tigers in Ratapani and colonise the forests near Kerwa and Kaliasot dams. Already, thanks to the mindless magnanimity of the government, some houses and educational institutions have come up on these forested lands. Apparently, it never thought of the larger issue of impact on the environment of sacrificing forests for progressive urbanization. For years there has been talk of saving forests to absorb the excessive amount of greenhouse gases pumped by us into the atmosphere. In fact, saving the tiger as a species is intimately linked to the efforts of saving forests. Its presence in the forests not only saves them, it also provides a kind of an umbrella for myriad other species to survive and enrich not only the immediate eco-system but the entire planet. In the days of a warming planet sacrificing forests for concrete jungles would seem to be a crime against humanity.

A well-known retired forester has come out in the defense of the Kerwa tigers. He has asserted sighting tigers near Bhopal is nothing unusual. They have been around and have been seen off and on. Sometimes because of excessive poaching in the jungles their numbers might have reached such a precarious low that they were perhaps not to be seen in nearby jungles. If they are being sighted and even reportedly multiplying it only is reflective of the good health of the forests. In any case, the other big cat, the leopard has always the present and had even beeen seen in the Museum of Man and in the Indian Institute of Forest Management complexes. That Bhopal had a lot of game in the area which is now New Bhopal was confirmed by an elderly Pathan timber merchant who once recounted to me how it used to teem with game. No wonder, the local aristocracy used to roam around the town in their customized jeeps with sacks of net hanging from the rear of the vehicles to carry their trophies.

The National Green Tribunal has already taken notice of the presence of the predators close to Bhopal and a case has since been filed in the MP High Court against the supposedly unauthorised efforts to cage the animals with a view to translocating them elsewhere. A very large number of local people seem to feel that the tigers should not be disturbed and that Ratapani sanctuary should be declared a tiger reserve, the government of India having already approved the proposal in principle. It seems, rehabilitation of tribals residing inside the Sanctuary is holding up the matter. It is, however, not understood if the tribals can live and thrive in the Sanctuary with tigers all around why they should not be allowed to continue to live there after conversion of the Sanctuary into a tiger reserve. After all despite their presence the tigers in the Sanctuary, from all accounts, have shown a healthy growth in their numbers.


Perhaps, the proper course of action would be to let the tigers be. Suitable action needs to be taken to ensure that they do not advance further and stray out into inhabited areas threatening human life. This seems to be the most practical and easy solution. Whatever is being attempted is, in Shakespearian language “Much ado about nothing.” 

*Photo from the internet

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

DESTINATIONS :: VENICE (1987)

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Venice from Grand Canal


Not quite satiated by our brief visit to Vienna my wife and I were wondering whether there would be a repeat visit sometime in the future. That, however, seemed to be highly improbable. Living and working in India it was very difficult to manage a trip abroad, that too, to a European country. We left Vienna a little disgruntled and looked forward to the visit to Venice, where too we were to
Another view from Grand Canal
spend only a day for want of time and, of course, adequate funds.

Venice is generally known to be a very romantic city. At the very mention of it the mind conjures up a vision of a couple deeply in love sitting in a gondola immersed in themselves being serenaded by a gondolier in a regulation blue horizontally striped white frilly shirt on a dark pair of trousers topped by a broad-
One of the several bridges of Venice
brimmish white hand-woven sun hat and rowed down the Grand Canal. Gondolas are what probably are inherent to Venice and provide a reason to those in love to be there. On the day we were there they were there by the dozen lending substance to its romantic aura.

Known as Venezia in Italian, it has been given many attributional names. It has variously been described as “Queen of the Adriatic”, “City of Bridges”, a “Floating City” and so on. One enthusiast went on to describe it as “undoubtedly the most beautiful city built by man”.  Whether it is all that or not, it is certainly different and has that stamp of age and beauty besides possessing that unmistakable architectural beauty and elegant artwork. The entire city, no wonder, has been declared
A church right on the Canal
a World Heritage Site.

Be that as it may, one, nevertheless, finds a lot of water around. Somebody, therefore, went to name it “city of water”. This, however, is explained by the fact that the city is situated on as many as 110-odd islands separated by canals and these have bridges built over them for connectivity. That suggests it is located in an archipelago in a shallow lagoon with islands having small
St. Mark's Basilica
populations, the most of the population, however, being located in the mainland regions known as Terraferma. Using canals as roads people move around on these – having no other means of transportation. Precisely because of that Venice is the largest car-free city in Europe.

Campanile
Despite its scattered nature, the City State of Venice was once a force to reckon with in trade and commerce as also because of its maritime prowess. Time took its toll on all these and today it is better known as a touristy place with more than 50000 arriving every day.

San Marco or the St. Mark’s Square is the dominating feature of Venetian tourism. So that is where we proceeded as soon as we could. No gondola ride with a serenading gondolier for us; they are far too expensive and are used by the rich and romancing couples. We took a ferry, or more appropriately a water-bus, instead, and it took the same
Procuratie Vecche
route, that is, the Grand Canal (Canal Grande in Italian) which is the major water traffic corridor of the city. One end of the canal is at the St. Mark, the other leads to the St. Lucia Station, or more appropriately, Venezia Santa Lucia, which is where we got on to the water-bus. Santa Lucia station is more than a hundred years old for construction of which the Santa Lucia church was demolished. The station, however, appropriated the
Another view of Campanile
name of the church

The Grand Canal is about 4 Kms. long and 90 metres wide with a depth of about 15 ft. The buildings lining the banks are virtually palaces and date from 13th Century onwards. The residents spent a great deal of money to display their wealth by way of fashioning architectural styles and executing artwork on their walls – that is what after all was exposed to the general public. Some magnificent architecture of several styles – Venetian-Byzantine, Venetian-Gothic, Renaissance, Venetian-Baroque, etc. – can be seen along the Grand Canal.

We hit San Marco in about half an hour’s time. As we climbed out
At San Marco
of the water-bus and went up a few steps, the Piazza San Marco hove into view. It is a massive piazza, also known in English as St. Mark’s Square, and is the principal public square of Venice. There was a crowd of tourists as also of pigeons, but the Square seemed to be big enough to accommodate all.

 The St. Mark’s Square is probably the heart of Venice. It is the principal square of the town where all the social and cultural assemblies take place. Here is where all the action is and all the
A gondola and a water taxi
history written in its architectural riches. What dominates the Square is what is known as Campanile, a 100-odd metres tall tower, which is the bell-tower of St. Mark’s Basilica. Located close to it, the tower stands alone made basically of bricks. It has a loggia surrounding the belfry with five bells. The tower is capped by a pyramidal spire on top of which is a weather vane. Reportedly completed in 1514, the tower had to be rebuilt in the 20th Century as it collapsed in 1902.

Shopping near St. Lucia Station
The Basilica is close by, which is the church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice – the most famous of the churches of the city. The church is dedicated to St. Mark, an evangelist, whose remains were brought from Alexandria in Egypt in the 9th Century. The construction of the basilica commenced in the 11th Century and consecration took place a few years later in early 12th Century. Originally it was the church of the Doge or the city’s magistrate who used to be elected for life by the aristocracy. It has been the city’s cathedral since 1807.

A general view of Venice
It is an opulent church and was built in Italo-Byzantine style and displayed in its early years the wealth and power of the Republic of Venice. The interior is richly decorated in gold mosaic, and the exterior has Romanesque tall semi-circular arches. While the dazzling interior has largely retained its opulence, the exterior has undergone changes over time. Decorative
Another view of Venice
fixtures were attached to the building – the original walls were covered with marble cladding and carvings and statuettes were added. Richly worked in marble the frontage has a jumble of columns and elsewhere decorative foliage with humans. On top of the main portal are four horses with indeterminate classical provenance that are not, in fact, the originals. The originals, the loot the Republic of Venice from the Crusades, were grabbed by Napoleon during his Venetian occupation and taken to Paris but were returned soon after his defeat and are now in the Museum.

 On two sides of the Piazza are what are known as Procurators. The one on the right (as you come on to the Piazza from the Grand Canal) is the one known as Procuratie Vecchie – the old Procuratie which at one time housed offices and lodgings of the officials of St
Murano glass
. Mark, who were also high officials of the Republic of Venice. Built in the 16th Century, the ground floor is an arcade that is lined with shops and eateries with offices above. On the opposite side is the Procuratie Nuovo that was built in more or less the same style to accommodate offices and officials late in the 16th Century as their numbers increased and Procuratie Vecchi became cramped. Between1805 and 1814 Napoleon used to stay here whenever he would visit Venice; he had, after all, declared himself King of Italy.

Another specimen from Murano
Half a day is really not enough for the San Marco complex. Nonetheless, we had to tear ourselves away in the afternoon as we had to catch a train for Florence. We were back at St. Lucia well in time and had time enough to explore the area. There was great shopping at small shops from where my wife went bought two lovely Murano glass curios. Murano, a series of islands linked by bridges about a kilometer away, is known for its glass works as also for their beautiful products.