Who am I?

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I am not religious, but I don't mind calling myself spiritual. Religion, I believe, has, over the millennia, been used as a prop to perpetrate a lot of human suffering. Faith is what matters. I don't believe in the definition of God as a creator. According to me, my God resides within me. Some call it conscience, some call it the sub-conscious, some call it the soul. I don't mind calling it God. So by definition I am not an atheist or an agnostic, but by essence, I may as well be. My God does not reside in a temple, church, mosque or gurudwara. It is right here, within me.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

India-Pakistan: Nuclear Deterrence or On the Brink?

"Our cities and forests, our fields and villages will burn for days. Rivers will turn to poison. The air will become fire. The wind will spread the flames. When everything there is to burn has burned and the fires die, smoke will rise and shun out the sun". These are the words in which Arundhati Roy describes a likely scenario (scary, eh?) in case a country (rather the few people in power) decides to press the “nuclear button”. Forgive me for diverting from context when the article has hardly begun, but the term “nuclear button” always made me imagine a red button covered by a cap which you can flip and open, something like they showed in erstwhile Hindi movies like Mr India and Karma (funny how Anil Kapoor was a part of both these movies!). 

Coming back to the topic, it is ghastly to imagine a use of nuclear weapons today. Nuclear or Hydrogen bomb being actually used for a destructive purpose is analogous to man landing on the moon. We have read about it in textbooks, the sheer agony and annihilation of one and the sublime glory of the other. The fact that nuclear or hydrogen bomb has not been used since is something we can all rejoice in. But do we remember how close we, and the world, came to a nuclear catastrophe when India openly tested its nuclear weapons (the event which came to be known as Pokharan-II) in 1998 within three months of an extremely nationalistic government coming to power? Dr Abdul Kalam described the event as: 'I heard the earth thundering below our feet and rising ahead of us in terror. It was a beautiful sight'. I guess his excitement also stemmed from a sense of nationalism and pride, though he must be well aware (who else could be, if not him) of the destructive effects such a weapon can have if someone takes one step ahead of “nuclear deterrence” and indulges in actual use. 

Between 1964 and 1974, China conducted fifteen nuclear tests. It is easy not to doubt that this behaviour of China had a role to play in India’s first nuclear test (Pokharan-I) in 1974 under Indira Gandhi’s leadership. I wonder what, apart from the sense of pseudo-nationalism as I would like to call it, were the reasons behind Pokharan-II in 1998. What’s clear is, though, that Pokharan-II led to Pakistan carrying out six nuclear blasts (one more than India’s five) in the Chagai hills in the following month. 'The whole mountain turned white' was how Pakistani government described the scene. No wonder this sudden nuclear proliferation in the subcontinent was followed, a year later, by something that came extremely close to a nuclear holocaust in the form of Kargil “incursion”, as we like to call it, underplaying the extremity of the situation. 

Winston Churchill in his last speech to the House of Commons in 1955 uttered the popular words: ‘safety will be the sturdy child of terror, and survival the twin brother of annihilation’. But of nuclear deterrence, he also said that it ‘does not cover the case of lunatics or dictators in the mood of Hitler when he found himself in his final dug-out’. Many feel this might be applicable to the subcontinent, where the uncomfortable closeness of the Pakistani military to the terrorists is common knowledge. Even ignoring this possibility, another logical question arises which Amartya Sen explores in his book The Argumentative Indian. He states that one meaning of nuclear deterrence is that two countries shall refrain from going to war because of the very knowledge that they own nuclear weapons and an aggression on one’s part may lead to mass destruction. In fact, if there is any straightforward benefit of owning nuclear weapons, it should be this. But, he states, the very fact that the year next to the one when India and Pakistan carried out nuclear tests, they went to war in 1999, pokes a million holes in that argument.  

Sometimes I like to believe that much has been changed in the last decade. Nations have realized that diplomacy through war and the threat of it cannot ensure lasting peace. The threat of a nuclear weapon being used has decreased drastically as the world economy has teetered on the brink of a catastrophe of its own kind. This has made nations realize that cleaning up your economic backyard is more important and less transitory than any sense of acquired power a nuclear proliferation might provide. Although I do believe that the holier-than-thou attitude carried by the big five nuclear powers is condescending if not deprecating. But giving the argument of “why not total nuclear demilitarization” to move towards a situation which has been proven not to give India any obvious advantages (in fact giving India a plethora of disadvantages), appears as illogical as it is inane.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Satyamev Jayate: Really Creating a Difference or Just Another Talk Show?

This article by Aamir Khan appeared in The Hindu on May 16, 2012. There was good amount of response to the article. I have re-posted the article here, as well as my response to it. The link to the article is provided at the end. Please have a look at other comments too, as they register the concerns and complaints of a lot of us.

Let's learn to talk, and listen

Aamir Khan

One of the biggest learnings for me in the process of researching for the issue of child sexual abuse came when I asked our expert, Dr. Anuja Gupta, why children who are sexually abused find it difficult to tell their parents about it. Her reply was, “Are we listening to our children? Are we even capable of listening to them?”

And that indeed is the big question.

What is my relationship with my child? Am I listening to my child? Really listening? What do I know of what is going on in my child's head? Do I know his/her fears, dreams, hopes? Am I even interested? Am I friends with my child?

Though my generation is perhaps more communicative with our children than that of our parents… or, at least that is what we would like to believe… still, how many of us are really solidly connected with our kids? How many of us really have the time and bandwidth that it takes for a healthy friendship? The fact is that only if there is healthy communication, trust, and friendship will your child feel comfortable and fearless to share everything with you. Obviously we pray that no child need ever face the trauma of sexual abuse; but if this does happen, the child should feel empowered to communicate this.

Through conversations and communication we build the ability to share our joys and fears. When these communication lines open up between parents and children, they become the start point for many issues to get sorted. Then if something does happen with your child, he/she will feel free to immediately come and tell you… and you will be able to address the problem then and there, head on.

The cornerstone of open communication is also trust. Our children observe us closely. They have an innate sense of being able to gauge our responses. If we want them to speak up, we should also ensure that we let them know that they will be believed. Yes, not just heard, but believed. Children are intelligent and intuitive, and we have to instil the confidence in the child that we are sincere about listening, and that we trust the child.

The other big learning came from Padma Iyer, who is Harish's mother. If a child does report sexual abuse, very often our first thought is — “how can I take action against my own family member? Family ki izzat, humaari izzat, mitti mein mil jaayegi, log kya kahenge, mere bachcheke saath aisa hua to hiss baat ko chhupao.” Like Padma, first we refuse to admit the possibility of it happening, and then we try to hide it. And because we have hidden it, we are unable to take action on it. Through all of this, we are thinking of others, of society. But we forget to think about our child. That child who is perhaps four, five or six years old… who has been through something most traumatic… who is reaching out to us because we are the parent… and the child can only reach out to us… what about that child?

Our child has to be our primary concern, everything else secondary. At such a time, we should only be thinking of what our child is going through, and what we need to do for the sake of our child. That's it. At the end of this process of healing, the child has to come out stronger and healed. And we have to do everything in our power to make that happen.

Also, we have to start looking at child sexual abuse as a crime, because that's what it is. When there is a theft in your home, don't you kick up a ruckus and say, “Hey! Somebody came to my house and stole some jewellery! What's happening? What is the security doing?” But if abuse happens in your home, we hush it up. Why are you hushing it up? Has the child done something wrong? No. So why are you hushing it up? You should shout, “How dare somebody come to my house and do this to my child.” Kick up a ruckus! That person should be behind bars! Even the law enforcers need to really take this seriously. And above all… the child needs to know how much his/her safety and security means to you.

I have already mentioned on the show that the present Parliament is working on a Bill regarding child sexual abuse and we look forward to a strong, effective, and well-implemented law for the protection of our children against sexual abuse. And we hope it happens soon.

In closing I'd like to leave you with a thought… perhaps the more closed or narrow minded we are about sexuality, the more repressed it gets, and then it manifests itself in ugly ways. I'm hoping that as a society in time we will reach a stage where we are not frightened of our sexuality. Rather, we learn to deal with it in a dignified, open, responsible and healthy manner.

Satyamev Jayate!
(The author is an actor. From next week, his column will be published in The Hindu every Monday).

My Comment: 
India, to me, will never be any kind of power (forget a 'superpower' that it most vocally aspires to be) unless it cleans its own long dirty backyard. Since Nehru's 'Tryst with destiny' moment, although it did enough to bring in a new light of hope, we have time and again betrayed the trust of this once great nation and its people. I've been reading Amartya Sen, and according to him, there is not enough political importance given to basic issues eating away our society like child abuse, female foeticide, gender discrimination, discrimination on the basis of fair skin, and other similar traits which are deeply rooted in our society and our behaviour and politically, they get little support. This is mostly because today there's little or no discourse about such issues in the political circles. The ruling parties make merry to the beat of power and the opposition widely yawns, comfortably forgetting all the ills that need urgent attention today.

It is people like Aamir Khan who can use their social capital to create some sort of uncomfort among the indifferent populace, because only through their pressure can come some sort of a political expediency. These deeply embedded issues can only be addressed if they become the top priority of today's politicians (something which is a distant dream, as of now), but such shows will help build public pressure on them to act. I would go so far as to say other celebrities in India who have a huge social capital, like say Sachin Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachchan should stand up to the challenge and endorse such similar issues, not just superficially, like appearing in an ad campaign, but a lot more, in a lot more engaging way. Today's youth don't read journals, they don't read expert opinions on economic and developmental issues. But this is something which can bridge that gap very effectively. Kudos! Looking forward to that Monday column.  

The article and comments can be found here.

Association of a celebrity like Aamir Khan with an esteemed newspaper like The Hindu is not a very common thing to happen. Maybe the people at The Hindu have realized the kind of social importance that a show like Satyamev Jayate holds, and the amount of readership that Aamir Khan's columns would attract. Is it an example of The Hindu once again staying true to its ethos or is it making an effort to gain some commercial readership (finally)?

What do you guys have to say about this? Does a show like Satyamev Jayate make any real difference to the society, or is it a waste of money and resources and it's growing popularity the start of yet another show of fickle behaviour of people that we have witnessed time and again?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Rampant Racism or Natural Human Behaviour?

This article appeared in Outlook magazine in the June 29, 2009 issue. I came across it recently and it appealed to me so much that I knew I had to re-post it to get the message across to a lot of people in India who live with this sense of false pride I have sensed time and again. Do follow the link at the bottom of this article to follow the rest of the comments because they provide with a lot more insight on the subject, including some other personal experiences.

'India Is Racist, And Happy About It'
A Black American's first-hand experience of footpath India: no one even wants to change 
In spite of friendship and love in private spaces, the Delhi public literally stops and stares. It is harrowing to constantly have children and adults tease, taunt, pick, poke and peer at you from the corner of their eyes, denying their own humanity as well as mine. Their aggressive, crude curiosity threatens to dominate unless disarmed by kindness, or met with equal aggression. 
Once I stood gazing at the giraffes at the Lucknow Zoo only to turn and see 50-odd families gawking at me rather than the exhibit.

On a visit to the Lucknow zoo, people gawked more at me than at the exhibits.

Parents abruptly withdrew infants that inquisitively wandered towards me. I felt like an exotic African creature-cum-spectacle, stirring fear and awe. Even my attempts to beguile the public through simple greetings or smiles are often not reciprocated. Instead, the look of wonder swells as if this were all part of the act and we were all playing our parts. 
Racism is never a personal experience. Racism in India is systematic and independent of the presence of foreigners of any hue. This climate permits and promotes this lawlessness and disdain for dark skin. Most Indian pop icons have light-damn-near-white skin. Several stars even promote skin-bleaching creams that promise to improve one's popularity and career success. Matrimonial ads boast of fair, v. fair and v. very fair skin alongside foreign visas and advanced university degrees. Moreover, each time I visit one of Delhi's clubhouses, I notice that I am the darkest person not wearing a work uniform. It's unfair and ugly.
Discrimination in Delhi surpasses the denial of courtesy. I have been denied visas, apartments, entrance to discos, attentiveness, kindness and the benefit of doubt. Further, the lack of neighbourliness exceeds what locals describe as normal for a capital already known for its coldness. 

My partner is white and I am black, facts of which the Indian public reminds us daily. Bank associates have denied me chai, while falling over to please my white friend. Mall shop attendants have denied me attentiveness, while mobbing my partner. Who knows what else is more quietly denied?
"An African has come," a guard announced over the intercom as I showed up. Whites are afforded the luxury of their own names, but this careful attention to my presence was not new. ATM guards stand and salute my white friend, while one guard actually asked me why I had come to the bank machine as if I might have said that I was taking over his shift. 

It is shocking that people wear liberalism as a sign of modernity, yet revert to ultraconservatism when actually faced with difference. Cyberbullies have threatened my life on my YouTube videos that capture local gawking and eve-teasing. I was even fired from an international school for talking about homosociality in Africa on YouTube, and addressing a class about homophobia against kids after a student called me a 'fag'.
Outside of specific anchors of discourse such as Reservations, there is no consensus that discrimination is a redeemable social ill. This is the real issue with discrimination in India: her own citizens suffer and we are only encouraged to ignore situations that make us all feel powerless. Be it the mute-witnesses seeing racial difference for the first time, kids learning racism from their folks, or the blacks and northeasterners who feel victimised by the public, few operate from a position that believes in change. 

Living in India was a childhood dream that deepened with my growing understanding of India and America's unique, shared history of non-violent revolution. Yet, in most nations, the path of ending gender, race and class discrimination is unpaved. In India, this path is still rural and rocky as if this nation has not decided the road even worthy. It is a footpath that we are left to tread individually.

(The writer is a Black American PhD student at the Delhi School of Economics.)

My Comment:

Mr Kuku, 

First of all I would like to apologize from the bottom of my heart on behalf of my fellow countrymen for the treatment meted out to you. I know the tendency among my countrymen to give preference to fair skin in every field of life. Being a North Indian, I am also well aware of the fact that this practice is more prevalent in North India than in South India. But there are some intricacies that need some discussion. 

First of all, it’s not racism. It’s more a fascination for the white skin (which is exemplified by the fact that Indian Premier League (IPL), Cricket’s top tournament currently, has white cheerleaders of every team!). And the primary reason that this is prevalent more in North India than in the South is that an average North Indian is, so to say, fairer-skinned than an average South Indians. Also, over the past few decades, education has been held more important in the Southern states of India and has thus had a greater impact in South India than in the North. This is another reason for the backwardness of thinking of the people in the North. 

Another important thing of note is that India is full of very different cultures, and you will find people with very different personalities and preferences over a distance of just a hundred miles. Not all cultures breed this exclusionary attitude. Hailing from Shimla in Himachal Pradesh, and having lived in Shimla, Chandigarh, Indore, Pune, Mumbai and Bangalore, I can vouch for the fact the people from Himachal Pradesh, being hill people, or may be because of some other reason, are much warmer towards people and would go completely out of the way to help you out, no matter what is the colour of your skin. And I’ve seen it happen – it’s all there in the speech, in how strangers reply to you. It all comes across, and I’ve had the privilege to compare this nature of the natives of all the six cities. So when you say North Indian, let us not generalize. The same goes for New Delhi. If you feel people of New Delhi are more inclined in their preference towards the fairer skin, that may be true, but then there are a lot of people who will be very helpful and who will never discriminate on the basis of your skin colour. Delhi has a population of over 22 million, and people in Delhi come from all over, especially the labour class, most of which is a victim of urbanization from the poorer nearby states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and the kind. It all depends on who you are interacting with. ATM people and autowallahs have very low education levels, as most of India is still very poor. Almost none of them have had any exposure to different cultures within their own country, let alone abroad. So it is their ignorance and naivete that comes across as “racist” to you. I know it’s very hard for you facing all this every single day, but I would like to ask you to forgive us for our poverty, which perpetrates lack of belief in basic education, which thus makes people behave like this. 

We were ruled by Britishers for over 200 years. And this is the time during which poverty in India became widespread, as we were denied very basic human rights by the Britishers, and we were persecuted for a long time by those who forcefully ruled us and treated us like speck of dust on their shoes. Maybe this deep rooted preference for white skin emanates from this subconscious idea that was hammered into our minds that white people are superior. Who is to blame? Widespread poverty and a very late opening up of our economy to the outside world perpetrated this thinking and in a society where caste discrimination was already rooted since millennia, a new aversion towards darker skin was not difficult to assimilate. That said, I have to mention that it is a very sad state of affairs, and I feel ashamed of this bigoted behaviour on the part of my countrymen. 

Specific to the problems faced by you, I think the gawking that you get is more out of curiosity and our own lack of awareness or access to the outside world. This is mainly attributed to the fact that there are very low Africans present in India. This goes for any place where an outsider comes when the people are not used to his/her presence. A white skinned person goes to Goa, and he might as well feel at home. Let him go to the north-eastern states of India, and see the kind of discrimination and gawks does he have to face. Let him go to a small village where people have never seen a person with such a fair skin, and then see the kind of stares and whispers and comments he gets. It’s all about how “developed”, to use a word that everyone here can relate to, the country is, and India, sadly, despite its tries of pomp and show in the Commonwealth Games and buys of the best of their kind military fighter planes, and it’s ambitions of being a superpower – notwithstanding all that, India is still a developing country and, with the kind of burdens and problems of population, deforestation, lack of basic education, or mass poverty that it faces, India will continue to be in the “developing” bracket, according to me, for many years to come. And a change in attitudes and acceptance of people of all colours, creeds, castes and communities will come with time, no doubt about that. What I have said in defence of my countrymen, in no way lessens the anguish I felt when I read your article and continued to read all the comments on it, and my sincere heartfelt apologies for all that happened.

For other comments, refer to the link below:

Friends, what do you guys have to say about this? Do you believe this is a shameful act on the part of Indians, or do you think this is a part and parcel of everyday life everywhere in the world? What are your thoughts on it?