(Link via Cafe Hayek.)
My first novel, My Friend Sancho, is now on the stands across India. It is a contemporary love story set in Mumbai, and was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2008. To learn more about the book, click here.
To buy it online from the US, click here.
I am currently on a book tour to promote the book. Please check out our schedule of city launches. India Uncut readers are invited to all of them, no pass required, so do drop in and say hello.
If you're interested, do join the Facebook group for My Friend Sancho
Click here for more about my publisher, Hachette India.
And ah, my posts on India Uncut about My Friend Sancho can be found here.
(Link via Cafe Hayek.)
In an old piece I came across today, Salil Tripathi explains his belief in free speech:
I derived my position not only from Voltaire’s defence of ideas he disagreed with, or Milton in Areopagitica, or John Stuart Mill’s thoughts, but also from my own traditions and thinkers.
The Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore wanted India to awake in that heaven of freedom ‘where the mind is without fear and the head is held high.’ Mahatma Gandhi had said freedom is not worth having if it does not connote freedom to err.
Freedom of expression, then, was not only the product of Western Enlightenment; it belonged to all of us. And it included the right to say something outrageous, something offensive and even something stupid. Speaking to Der Spiegel, Pnina Werbner of Keele University says: ‘There’s a difference between a novel of great merit … and ... cartoons that are in many ways trivial, have little artistic merit and are deliberately provocative and gratuitous.’
But who decides artistic merit? What constitutes provocation? In the neat world of academic distinctions, Werbner may be able to separate the two and say, Rushdie yes, cartoons no. But the assassin will target both.
If the priority is to avoid provoking him, we have lost the battle already, for he wants total silence. To take a sartorial analogy, it is like telling women not to wear miniskirts because they’ll inflame passions. There are no half-measures, like checking the appropriate length of the skirt. It is hijab or bust.
Indeed. In discussions with people, I am often tempted to just burst out, “What part of ‘Free Speech’ do you not understand?” I am tired of the ‘but’ people, who will say, “Oh, I believe in free speech but...” and “Hey, I believe in free markets but...”
After such a ‘but’ there is no way back.
Shruti Rajagopalan, fellow libertarian and gurgling buddy, has an excellent piece in Wall Street Journal Asia today titled “Indian Property Wrongs.” (Subs. link, but the piece is also on her blog here.) It narrates the story of how “the socialists managed to out-shout the Madisonians” when our constitution was being written, which led to property rights not being adequately protected in India. And as a result of that, we have Singur and Nandigram. Fine piece, do read.
Vir Sanghvi makes an immensely valid point here:
Every liberal I know argued that MF Husain had the right to paint a naked Saraswati or a nude Bharat Mata. Yet, hardly any liberal of my acquaintance extended the same principle to the Danish cartoons. The liberal position was that Hindus should be tolerant of the manner in which their gods and goddesses were portrayed but that Muslims were right to complain about any visual representation of the Prophet Mohammed.
By ‘liberal’, of course, he is referring to the Leftists who have appropriated that term (both in India and the US), and are hardly liberal in the classical sense. So while liberalism is all about individual freedoms, many Indian ‘liberals’ are actually against economic freedom, and their support for social freedoms depends on convenience. As Sanghvi points out, many of them have double standards, speaking out for free speech on issues where the BJP is involved, but being silent when people of other religions act in an equally repugnant manner. As I wrote here, such ad-hoc support does nothing for the cause.
(Readers of this blog would know that I invite abuse from intolerant people everywhere by speaking up against violations of free speech regardless of the religion of the violators: one of the most-read posts on this blog is the one speaking up for the Danish cartoonists, and I’ve expressed myself on the subject adequately in “Don’t Insult Pasta” and “Fighting Against Censorship”.)
What gets my youthful goat, however, is when Hindutva supporters use the hypocrisy of some of the protesters against the Baroda incidents to distract from the larger issue of oppression and free speech. Focussing on people instead of issues is a typical diversionary tactic, and I think they would be much better off simply stating, “We do not believe in free speech. We believe our religious sentiments are more important than your individual freedoms. So there.” That would at least be an honest position, and would address the issues involved. But public discourse in India focusses more on personality than on issues, ignoring arguments while attacking the people making them. Pity.
Here are two lovely excerpts from pieces published today. First, from S Mitra Kalita’s moving letter to her mother:
I realize now that much of your rearing was spent making sure I didn’t have the life you did.
[I]f Muslims can get Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses” or the Danish cartoons banned, they [Hindutva supporters] want Mr. Husain’s—and now Mr. Chandramohan’s—freedom restricted.
At last, it seems, Hindus have secured the parity they believe they’ve been denied. They have their own Taliban.
Both make me sad in different ways, and remind me of how futile this whole game is. And so, recursively, we progress.
This is the text of a speech given by Shri Adolf Shah at the Baroda University on 17 May 2022.
I welcome you to Baroda University for this special ceremony. This day marks the eighth anniversary of Shri Neeraj Jain’s appointment as vice-chancellor of this university by our honourable Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi. We have seen some glorious days under him, and have grown almost analogously with our Hindu Rashtra, as India has officially been for the last decade. Indeed, these two stories are interlinked, and if you permit me, I shall take you through some of our most glorious moments. The monitor on top of the stage will instruct you when to clap; please do so.
Shri Jain first came to our notice when he protested against some paintings at the now long-defunct fine arts faculty around 15 years ago. Shri Jain said the paintings offended his religious sensibilities, and his valiant thugs manhandled the painter, who was sent to jail. Many people protested, including the dean of the faculty, who, in contrast with protesters of later years, was lucky to get away with just a suspension. It was an important moment for us, for reasons other than just the emergence of Mr Jain.
The placard in the picture below, from the protest in Mumbai about the Chandramohan affair, says it all (click to enlarge):
My summary of the events that led to the protest is in the post, “Fascism in Baroda.” The turnout at the protest was immensely encouraging, and Ranjit Hoskote and gang did a great job of organising it. Senior artists like Tyeb Mehta, Jehangir Sabawala and Jaideep Mehrotra turned up, and I spotted many younger artists among those gathered, such as Riyaz Komu, Payal Khandwala, Apnavi Thaker, Julius Macwan and Dhruvi Acharya. There were also others like Syed Mirza, Anil Dharkar, Pratap Sharma and Keku Gandhi present. A few speeches were made. The people gathered seemed attentive, and committed.
I have two concerns, though.
One, in rightly condemning the gundas, I worry that we might forget about the laws that enable such gundagardi in the first place. The Indian Penal Code has simply too many draconian laws that need to be scrapped, starting with Section 295 (a). These are not archaic laws that rarely gets used: As I outlined in my piece, “Don’t Insult Pasta,” these laws have been invoked with alarming regularity in recent times.
Two, I worry that protests such as these might turn out to be ad-hoc events, and not part of a broad-based movement to defend free speech. For example, as Peter pointed out in a chat when I mentioned this worry, when Blogspot was blocked by the Indian government, many bloggers rose up in arms because they were affected, but have not been heard from since. Similarly, the artist community has rallied superbly behind their man, but will they show the same commitment towards free speech if the moral police attacks someone from another profession tomorrow? For example, how many people protested when the publisher of a joke book was thrown in jail because the “religious sentiments” of some people were offended?
The issues here run deeper than one bunch of goons attacking one painter and his work. I hope the scope of the protest expands beyond that.
I suppose many of you would be familiar with the recent events in Baroda. An internal evaluation of students is on at the Fine Arts Faculty in Baroda. A BJP leader named Neeraj Jain storms in with a bunch of gundas. He has a problem with some paintings by a student named Chandramohan that use religious imagery. Jain and his gundas beat up Chandramohan, and abuse faculty members and students. Things are getting out of hand when the police arrive. They will surely arrest Jain and put an end to this, you would think.
But no, they arrest the painter, for his art is the crime under the Indian Penal Code, not the hooliganism showed by Jain and his cohorts. Chandramohan is whisked off to jail. Five days later, as I type these words, he is still behind bars.
The artist community obviously rises up, and organises an exhibition documenting erotica in Indian and Western art. It is a peaceful way of showing their protest. The pro-vice-chancellor of the university arrives and demands that the exhibition be terminated. The dean of the faculty, Dr Shivaji Panikkar, takes a stand and refuses to do so. He is suspended. As I type these words, he is in hiding, worried about what the ruffians could do to him.
The matter is being followed at Art Concerns, who have a detailed chronology of events up here. Do also read what Ranjit Hoskote, Gulammohammed Sheikh and Johny ML have to say, as well as this piece by Abhijeet Tamhane. Peter Griffin has more links here, as well as details of a public protest I intend to be part of in Mumbai.
My feelings on this will be known to regular readers of India Uncut, and have been laid out in pieces like “Don’t Insult Pasta” and “Fighting Against Censorship”, as well as many posts (such as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.) It is ludicrous that giving offence is a crime in India, and shameful that the Indian Penal Code actually enables this suppression of free speech, and empowers oppression. For Chandramohan the artist to be in jail for five days (so far) and for Neeraj Jain the gunda to walk free is a slap on the face of all those who think that our nation respects and protects individual freedom.
No doubt some readers will be upset that I used the word “Fascism” in the headline to this post. Well, I hesitated before doing so, wondering if such a strong word was advisable. Then I went to the Wikipedia entry on Fascism, and came across this excellent definition by Robert Paxton (from this book):
Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victim-hood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.
The Wikipedia article then quotes Paxton as summing up the essence of Fascism thus:
1. a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond reach of traditional solutions; 2. belief one’s group is the victim, justifying any action without legal or moral limits; 3. need for authority by a natural leader above the law, relying on the superiority of his instincts; 4. right of the chosen people to dominate others without legal or moral restraint; 5. fear of foreign `contamination.
All this sounds immensely familiar to me. And so I shall end by quoting the end of Ranjit Hoskote’s fine piece:
It appears that the champions of a resurgent Hindu identity are acutely embarrassed by the presence of the erotic at the centre of Hindu sacred art. As they may well be, for the roots of Hindutva do not lie in Hinduism. Rather, they lie in a crude mixture of German romanticism, Victorian puritanism and Nazi methodology.
What happens next? Will the champions of Hindutva go around the country destroying temple murals, breaking down monuments, and burning manuscripts and folios?
Also, isn’t a Hindu then entitled to say that his religious feelings are offended by Hindutva? Huh?
Update: Chandramohan has got bail, but I am informed that things are still tense in Baroda. The protest there has been called off, but is very much on in Mumbai at least.
Nitin Pai send me an email forward that puts it well:
In USA you can kiss in public places but cannot shit; in India you can shit in public places but cannot kiss.
No doubt one can argue that shitting is not against our culture. Heh.
(I couldn’t find the source of this forward, but will be glad to attribute if someone can point it out.)
Update 2: Anand Krishnamoorthi writes in:
The piss/kiss thingy was part of Tamil comedian Vivek’s routine from about a year ago. The scene is set in Australia when Vivek kisses this
girl after he steps out of her car and some righteous Tamil brethren question his actions. That’s when he comes up with the line. Do not remember the name of the film…
This is the transcript of a speech given by the demon Beelzebub at the 90th Annual Convention of Demonic Beings.
Comrades and Monsters,
Welcome. I can barely express my joy at the unspeakable horror of being present among such hideous monsters as yourselves – demonic beings dedicated to the ruin and damnation of humanity. In various ways, under the cunning guise of doing good, we have brought sadness and misery upon humanity. We have perpetuated poverty, hatred and ill-health. I wish today, for the sake of the young apprentice beasts present here, to speak about our primary tool of achieving all this: Compassion.
Humans, you see, are fooled by appearances. Come to them as a wrinkled monster with horns, and they recoil. Pretend to be a loving grandpa, and their defences are down. We senior demons realised long ago that to hurt the humans, we have to pretend to care for them. Even as we have nothing but their marination in mind, we must appear compassionate. Stating the most noble intent, we must unleash the very worst of policies. Even better, we must fool some humans, who themselves wish to appear compassionate, into pushing these very policies.
And how we have succeeded! Everywhere there are politicians sincerely pushing well-intentioned policies that are disastrous for the people they are supposed to help. Of course, some people see through our evil designs and protest, but they are dismissed as cruel and uncaring, for they are questioning compassion itself. The irony!
Karan Thapar is grilling Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi on banning FTV. The following delightful exchange takes place:
Karan Thapar: When does taste become good and bad?
Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi: When the committee feels it’s good, it’s good, when it feels its bad it’s bad.
Haysoos! This is a parody of itself. What comment can writers like me possibly make?
(Link via email from Gautam John.)
Scott Adams writes, “Every time the media makes a big deal about a high profile suicide there’s a 100% chance it inspires additional suicide.”
So what to do, stop reporting suicides, or ban songs and movies that inspire people to kill themselves or commit violent acts? I would argue not. We have to treat people as being responsible for their own actions, and not try to second-guess what will inspire them to do this or that.
Mandira Bedi and Charu Sharma’s pretence at being knowledgeable about cricket makes me want to go and smash every TV in Mumbai. Banning Extraaa Innings is no solution to that. Punishing me if I actually damage someone else’s TV is. As this commenter points out, it’s all about personal responsibility.
(Link via email from Gautam John.)
Actually, the dark skin of the poetry discarder was the problem here. Not the poetry, which would be entirely more understandable, given how most poetry is.
Imagine if one day everyone wakes up to find that their skin colour has changed. All the whites are black, all the blacks are white, all the browns are also white, all the yellows are also white, even chimpanzees and gorillas are white. What fun, no?
(Link via Amitava Kumar.)
Anthem is napping. The phone rings. (You know the ringtone.) He picks it up. It’s Flag.
Flag: Anthem, Anthem, wake up, guess what happened.
Anthem: Er, give up. What happened?
Flag: I was on her body. Her body, Anthem. Her body!
Anthem: Wait, hang on here, whose body? Someone has a body?
Flag: I was on Mandira Bedi’s body! She wore me on her saree during Extraaa Innings! On her saree!
Anthem: Happiness explodes! Which part of her saree? Were you on the palloo, draped around her, um, ah? And why do you sound so upset?
Flag: Upset? I’ve been insulted! Here, here’s what Cricinfo’s ball-by-ball commentary says:
11.40am We are told that there is a row brewing in India where people are angry because Mandira Bedi is sporting a saree that has different flags stitched on it ... and the Indian flag was near her feet and that is supposed to be an insult.
Anthem: That is monstrous. Sadness implodes! Uproar downloads!
Flag: Wait, ah, ooh, there is an update:
12.10pm Meanwhile, Mandira Bedi has changed her saree ...
Anthem: Ah, that’s okay then, for a moment I was worried about India. This would have damaged our country. Our nation might not have recovered from the blow.
Flag: I know. Back to the cricket now. Sigh.
Earlier: The Anthem and the Flag.
We could have one if some chappies in our government read this and get inspired. Can you imagine what would happen if Arjun Singh ran it?
(Link via email from Scribbler.)
The most delightful thing about good satire is that a lot of people inevitably don’t get it. Read this piece, and then read the comments. Joy.
It’s especially bracing to discover that humour deficiency isn’t an Indian ailment alone.
Posted by Amit Varma on 27 April, 2007 in Freedom
It was a hot April afternoon in Delhi. The Rashtrapati Bhavan Barista was empty. A waiter lounged by the counter, patriotically indulging in the national pastime (see 94th amendment) of doing nothing much. Then two customers walked in: National Anthem and National Flag.
“Sit,” said Flag to Anthem. “It looks like it’s been a tough month for you.”
There’s a “fashion crackdown in Teheran,” it seems. Needless to say, the cops are going to win.
Meanwhile, I’ve heard rumours that even women in Islamic nations are naked under their clothes. Shocking!
Posted by Amit Varma on 24 April, 2007 in Freedom
If you have a few minutes, and the slightest interest in the subject, I urge you to read Sumeet Kulkarni’s excellent post, “Inflation for dummies - by a dummy.” It explains, among other things, why “inflation is a tax which we pay equally, independent of our income,” how Indian’s export successes are subsidized by “you and every Indian citizen – including the poorest,” and why “export-import balance” is a meaningless term.
(Link via email from Gaurav Sabnis.)
Judge: And what is your profession, in general?
Brodsky: I am a poet and a literary translator.
Judge: Who recognizes you as a poet? Who enrolled you in the ranks of poets?
Brodsky: No one. Who enrolled me in the ranks of humankind?
Judge: Did you study this?
Judge: How to become a poet. You did not even try to finish high school where they prepare, where they teach?
Brodsky: I didn’t think you could get this from school.
Judge: How then?
Brodsky: I think that it ... comes from God.
Hmm. Now, before you ask who enrolled me to be a blogger…
The Department of Posts is prepared to spend thousands of rupees on expensive litigation in the High Court to prevent a 75-year-old pensioner from getting an additional benefit of Rs 2 as part of his pension.
Sigh. And how ironic that every time this gentleman buys something, he is contributing to the thousands of rupees spent to deny him his Rs 2. Such it goes.
(Link via email from Kunal.
I have a word of advice for the readers of this column: Do not make fun of pasta. My religious sensibilities will be offended, and I shall compel the government to take action against you.
You see, I belong to a religion called Pastafarianism, and we worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM). We follow a religious text called the Loose Canon. If we stay true to its principles, we shall get to Heaven, where there are beer volcanoes and stripper factories. What’s more… wait, why are you snickering? Are you making fun of the FSM? Do you not realise that I am protected by Indian law against being offended?
The Telegraph reports:
[S]he has blue blood running in her veins, no mixes anywhere. Her name is Sultana Begum and she is the great granddaughter-in-law of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar.
Neither the Bengal government nor the Centre has — in her own words — bothered to help her or shown any respect to her bloodline.
Well, why should they? I can’t think of a good reason why our tax money should go towards helping someone purely because she is the heir of a former emperor. Her sense of entitlement is baffling. She is welcome to private charity dispensed willingly, but to demand that the hard-earned money I pay as taxes go to her upkeep is outrageous. Such shamelessness.
On the other hand, if I was Bahadur Shah Zafar’s descendant, I’d want the Kohinoor back. “That’s mah stone,” I’d yell. “Give me mah stone, and mah throne while you’re at it. And where’s the harem? I want an harem. Organise!”
Subsidies for pilgrimages. The Times of India reports:
In its determination to protect Haj subsidies, particularly in view of the ongoing elections in UP, Centre has told Supreme Court that it was ready to offer similar support, at state expense, to pilgrimages organised by other communities.
Positing its offer as being in sync with the “secular ideals” of the Constitution, Centre virtually made a policy announcement by agreeing to provide financial assistance to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jains and other religious communities.
This is not secularism. To me, secularism has two implications:
1 A complete separation of state and religion.
2. Every person in this country having the right to follow a religion of their choice, as long as they don’t impose it on others.
The right to follow a religion of your choice, of course, is completely different from a right to having your religion sponsored by other people’s money, which is nothing short of theft. Do remember, after all, that “state expense” comes from my pockets and your bank account and suchlike. Money does not fall from the skies, and even if the government actually printed money to afford these subsidies, inflation would result, which is an indirect form of taxation.
If Sonia Gandhi or Manmohan Singh genuinely believe that pilgrimages deserve to be funded, I recommend that they shell out their own money for the purpose. There is no justification for taking away our hard-earned money and spending it on building votebanks for themselves.
(Link via SMS from little n.
Like babies we are, seriously. Something offends us, and off we run to mommy demanding that punishment be handed out.
First there was the matter of the anthem and the flag. And now, more news keeps flooding in of babies running to momma. First, a gentleman named Vishnu Khandelwal has filed a case against Arun Nayar and Liz Hurley for having a Hindu wedding. He says that they “hurt the sentiments” of Hindus and intended to “malign the spiritual sanctity of Hinduism and Indian mythology.”
Elsewhere, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee has lashed out at Mandira Bedi for “dancing on the ramp wearing a tattoo of Eik Omkar Sikh’s religious symbol on her back [sic].” The secretary of this formidable organisation has apparently said that “the religious sentiments were severely hurt due to her act.”
My sentiments are routinely hurt by watching Bedi make a mockery of cricket, especially when she makes fun of the Duckworth-Lewis system without having the slightest knowledge of how it works, or an alternative to present. I don’t go running to momma, though, because that’s not what adults do. Anything anyone says holds the possibility of offending someone or the other, and the only way to stop all offence would be to stop free speech altogether. (That’s not an unlikely trend: 1, 2.) Even if Momma is drunk on power—hell, especially if momma is drunk on power—we children really should behave.
Damn, I hope you aren’t offended by this post!
Last week I caught an episode of the charming show, Koffee with Karan, in which Karan Johar was chatting with Shobha De and Vijay Mallya. I enjoy the rapid-fire round on this show, because it reveals much about the celebrity-culture of our times, as well as about our celebrities. One question Johar asked De and Mallya on the show stood out: “Rahul or Priyanka?”
Now, Johar wasn’t asking De and Mallya which of the two Gandhis was better looking or suchlike. He wanted to know who they preferred as a politician. There was an implicit assumption that one of them is certain to be a future prime minister. This has nothing to do with with their political skills or leanings, of which little is known. It is all about their last name, which is the most powerful brand in the biggest market of India: our democracy.
Rahul understandably wants to exploit this, and build the brand: a few days ago, while campaigning in UP, he spoke of how the Babri Masjid would never have been demolished had the Gandhi family been active in politics. It’s natural for Rahul to invoke the Gandhi brand, given the resonance it carries in this country. But it’s also somewhat ironic. Despite their iconic status among our economically illiterate masses, the Nehru-Gandhi family has been nothing but disastrous for our country.
Infosys Chief Mentor and Non-Executive Chairman NR Narayana Murthy landed in a mess on Tuesday after it was revealed that he may have unwittingly insulted the national anthem during a function at the company’s Mysore campus on April 8, where President APJ Abdul Kalam also took part.
It seems the anthem got up and walked off in a huff, and later called its friend, the flag, to whine about being insulted. “I hate being insulted like this,” it said. “You and I should emigrate and then, without us, the nation will have nothing to be proud of. Whaddya say?”
“Quite right,” said the flag. “I’m tired of this pole, in fact. You have no idea what nonsense it gets up to.”
Anyway, here’s a heated Ryze discussion on the subject. I think someone should just implant a chip in the brains of all these uber-patriots that plays the anthem 24/7. They’ll have to sleep standing up then.
(CNN-IBN link via email from reader Siddharth Chhikara. Ryze link via email from MadMan.)
Update: It seems that Sachin Tendulkar has committed “a crime under section 2 of the prevention of insult to national honour act of 1971.” He allegedly “cut a cake in the colours of the national flag during the Indian team’s stay in the West Indies last month.”
Do you think our “national honour”, whatever that is, can be endangered by the cutting of a cake? Pah!
Gautam brings my attention, via email, to a story about how radical clerics from Islamabad’s Red Mosque are demanding that a minister be sacked from Pakistan’s government because she dared to hug a foreign man. As it happens a Pakistani journalist who is a friend of mine sent me an email a couple of days ago about this very mosque, in reaction to my piece on General Musharraf, “General Musharraf’s Incentives”. With his permission, and keeping him anonymous for obvious reasons, I reproduce some of it below:
To add further fuel to the theory that it is entirely in [Musharraf’s] interests to prolong this war against terror, this war against extremism, I wonder if you have been following the curious case of the Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa in Islamabad?
In short, it is a madrassa illegally occupying government land in the heart of the capital, staffed by thousands of burqa-clad women and run by some hardcore maulvis who are, for all intents and purposes, running a state within a state.
They have Taliban-type aims - they have set up a department of vice and virtue - and recently kidnapped some women claiming they were running a brothel. And then some policemen too. Now they’ve set up a parallel court on their premises, they go around threatening dvd rental stores and take down license plate numbers of female drivers in the capital to harass them for being non-shariah compliant later. All this in the capital. With the President on one side and the PM on the other and all the intelligence agencies nearby.
Basically, the government is not doing anything about it, ostensibly because “they are women and we don’t want to hurt them and we’d rather negotiate with them”. (Balls - that didn’t stop them beating up Asma Jehangir last year when she tried to run a marathon.) The belief is though that it acts as a scary reminder of what the country may lurch towards if the President wasn’t around fighting the forces of extremism and playing saviour.
My friend also pointed me to an article by Masood Hasan in which Hasan describes Pakistan as “a banana republic which has run out of bananas.” Heh.
And also, via email from Quizman, here’s a letter by Hameed Haroon, the publisher of Dawn, about how Musharraf is clamping down on the press. In any case, Musharraf’s shameful behaviour during the Mukhtaran Mai affair should be enough indication of how deeply illiberal he is. He’s masterfully built an image of himself in the West as a moderate moderniser, but that facade is slowly and surely falling apart.
Update (April 12): Nitin Pai writes in to add some nuance:
The mullahs of Lal Masjid are not the same chaps that were long held as bogeys. Leaders of the MMA have not only have had little influence over this business, but they have actually criticised the Lal Masjid brigade for, well, politicising religion. The Lal Masjid brigade has everything to do with Khalid Khawaja-Hamid Gul & Co which are parts of the establishment. Since your post is about Mush using the Mullahs, I thought it is worth pointing this out.
(Personally, I’m not entirely convinced that Mush controls Gul & Co entirely. They may be trying to replace one Mush with another.)
This piece first appeared on Rediff.
Indian cricket has many problems, but imagine the following scenario: An investigative committee formed by the BCCI finds out that the reason many Indian players are unfit is pure ghee. On their time off, it seems, many of them eat food cooked in pure ghee, and as a result put on weight and become lethargic. It starts with Virender Sehwag, spreads to Sachin Tendulkar, and soon they all became pure ghee addicts and lost their vigour on the field.
The mandarins at the BCCI come up with an obvious solution: ban pure ghee! Or rather, ban the cricketers from having any food cooked in it, even in the off season. “Our cricketers are losing their focus on cricket because of pure ghee,” they argue. “We can only counter this with strong action.”
IANS informs us that cricket has been banned in a few villages in Haryana because, in the words of a panchayat head, “[t]his game is making the young boys go astray.”
When will these old fogeys understand that drugs and rock & roll and cricket and sex and so on are all just red herrings. There’s just one thing that makes the youth “go astray.” And that is youth.
That’s both sublime and tragic, but you can’t ban it, can you? Huh?
(Link via email from Lalbadshah.)
It seems that couples across the city are holding hands. That too, in public spaces, as if they belong to the public. But worry not: the police is countering this moral, social and epistemological crisis with an iron hand. Aren’t you relieved?
(Link via feedback from reader Annette.)
Last week I had begun my piece on victimless crimes by asking you to imagine a dystopia where sex is banned. Smugly, I had referred to it as a mere thought experiment. I apologize for that: for millions of Indians, it isn’t a thought experiment, it’s reality. They’re gay.
I’m sure you all know about Section 377, the archaic law in the Indian Penal Code that bans “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”. While it seems to deal just with anal sex, the way the law has been used effectively makes homosexuality illegal in India. Still, until recently I assumed that this law would be used only occasionally, and that too for non-consensual sex, and that gay people had more reason to worry about social attitudes than the legal system.
Well, I was wrong. I met a couple of friends over the weekend who told me about how Section 377 is used as a tool of extortion. Note, I said “is used”, not “has been used” or “can be used”. There are systematic rackets run throughout the country to extort money from gay people scared of having a case filed against them under Section 377. These rackets are run by the police. One example of this is what activists refer to as The Matunga Racket.
Eleven-year-old children are having sex in America. Hai hai! I think we should instantly protect Indian culture by banning all television, all books, all films and all music. And ah, clothes also pick up trends from there. Ok, all clothes as well.
(Link via email from Anand Krishnamoorthi, who was no doubt using the internet. Ban the internet!)
Posted by Amit Varma on 04 April, 2007 in Freedom
Tony Blair is considering calls to legalise poppy production in the Taliban’s backyard. The plan could cut medical shortages of opiates worldwide, curb smuggling - and hit the insurgents.
This is immensely smart. George Bush is opposed to it, but it’s probably about time that Blair said to him, “I’m a poodle, here’s my paw, it has a middle finger.”
And do check out General Musharraf’s quote in the piece about buying all the poppy so that it can be destroyed—what a clown.
After reading my piece, “Don’t Punish Victimless Crimes,” and the follow-up post to it, my friend Devangshu Datta was kind enough to send me an old article of his on legalising betting. It’s a wonderful piece, and was first published in Business Standard, though they don’t have it online anywhere. With Devangshu’s permission, I’m reproducing some paras below the fold. Note that it was written in January 2001, but though the absolute numbers would have changed, the arguments and the macro percentages probably remain valid:
Check out this report:
A student has been suspended from school in America for coming to class dressed as a pirate.
But the disciplinary action has provoked controversy – because the student says that the ban violates his rights, as the pirate costume is part of his religion.
The religion in question, of course, is Pastafarianism. As a devotee of the Flying Spaghetti Monster myself, I feel the child’s pain. In this particular instance, of course, I am with the school—as perhaps that cunning young man intends us all to be.
We all have a right to religion, but the rights that we have do not extend to other people’s private property. For example, I have a right to fart, but if you have set a “No Farting” rule in your house, I don’t have any right to impose my farting on you. I can fart all I want in the public domain and in my own space, but not in your house.
Similarly, the school has a right to ban pirate costumes—or turbans and veils, other such religious objects of controversy—on its property. Anyone who feels offended is welcome to take their business elsewhere. You do have a right to religion, but not a right to impose your religion on spaces that belong to other people.
That goes for free speech as well. Your right to free speech applies to the public domain and to your own property, but it is immensely silly when you invoke free speech to ask a blogger to open comments on his blog, his private property, or not monitor them when they are open. (Manish tells me that Sepia Mutiny gets that argument all the time.) It conflates private property and the public domain, and without the sanctity of the first, all other rights would be meaningless.
Pastafarianism illustrates the absurdity of many religious claims beautifully. The next time you hear of someone insisting on taking a kirpan into a plane or wearing a veil to a school that does not allow it, do remember this pirate boy.
Posted by Amit Varma on 30 March, 2007 in Freedom
I’d written in my column yesterday, “Don’t Punish Victimless Crimes,” of how legalising betting would reduce match-fixing in cricket. Andy Mukherjee has an excellent column in Bloomberg today, “Woolmer’s Murder Shows India Must Allow Betting,” that expands on that point. Do read.
A couple of readers wrote in to say that they weren’t quite clear about how it would work. I reproduce my answer to one of them below:
If betting was legal, and as a punter you could choose from a) an HDFC subsidiary offering betting facilities, b) a Taj Group company and c) some shady outlet like the ones you can choose from now, you’d obviously choose one of the more legit ones. Being public companies, and part of bigger brands, they would be far less prone to fix matches. That would reduce bookie-led match-fixing.
As for punter-led match-fixing, consider that paper trails would exist of all bets and transactions, and suspicious activity would be far easier to ferret out.
Of course there will still be scams, for we are human, but they will be lesser in number. Consumers would have more choice and, because of greater transparency, more control. The cops would find it easier to catch suspicious activity.
I fear that one day I will look up in the sky and see a giant zipper shutting itself, as a voice from above booms, “Tsk tsk.” What other way is there to control this thing they call “public morality?” CNN-IBN reports that the Indian government has banned FTV:
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting said the programmes telecast by the channel were “against good taste and decency and denigrated women.”
Such shows were likely to adversely affect public morality, the Ministry said.
Needless to say, enforcing ‘morality’ is the responsibility of our government. Boys get wet dreams? Won’t do. Where’s the Ministry of Wet Dreams? Girls show cleavage? Won’t do. Where’s the Ministry of Cleavage Inspection? To paraphrase from Zero Wing, all your mind and body are belong to them.
Imagine a dystopia where a mad dictator comes to power and decides to ban sex and dating. Sex is ruining the moral fabric of our nation, he decides. Men and women must not be allowed to get together. What will happen?
Here is what I imagine: One, immense copulation will still take place behind closed doors, and as no one engaged in consensual sex will complain, the state will have to spend considerable resources and do invasive policing to make sure people don’t break the law. Two, the underworld will get involved in enabling encounters between the sexes, as those won’t be legal any more, and couples will no more be able to shoot the breeze at a Barista. Three, there will be more rapes, as repressed men denied normal outlets will resort to force.
Buoyed by a successful campaign against a publisher of joke books, members of the Sikh community have now approached the Mumbai police to block any form of humour on the net targeting them.
The cyber cell department of the crime branch has received a plea asking it to “ban jokes on the internet” which portray Sardars as objects of ridicule.
The article goes on to tell us that a gentleman named Ranjit Parande has been arrested under Section 295-A of the India Penal Code for publishing The Santa and Banta joke book. I have written before (1, 2) that, like so many much of the antiquated Indian Penal Code, Section 295-A should not exist. Let me reproduce it here in full:
Section 295A. Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs
Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of [citizens of India], [by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise], insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to [three years], or with fine, or with both.
Note that this is a non-bailable offence, and I suppose I should be glad to be a free man given that I am an equal-opportunity religion basher. Isn’t it ironic how those who show the most hubris about their Gods are most insecure about the damage that mere words can do to those Gods? Tsk tsk.
Or perhaps I should look at this as an opportunity and demand that The Flying Spaghetti Monster be incorporated as an official protected deity by the Indian government. Pastafarianism is no less worthy of protection than any other religion. No?
(Link via breakfast conversation with Manish Vij.
Comments are open, but if you insult the FSM, I shall make sure you pay for your words!)
Banker Friend writes in:
I have been working this week on a credit limit for a customer of ours who export most of their production to Africa where its used as raw material by local FMCG industries. The application will run into trouble with Credit Acceptance because the customer’s repayment record has not been faultless.
So probe. Why hasn’t his account been faultless? Because he was late on an export bill payment.
Why was he late paying the bill? Because his export customer, a distributor in Ghana, didn’t have the cash to pay the full amount, and delayed paying our customer.
Why didn’t the customer’s customer have the cash? Because his customers, the manufacturers in Ghana had temporarily stopped manufacturing and weren’t buying raw materials any more.
And why is that? Because there have been severe power cuts in Ghana and industries have had to cease production.
Not that I like having to answer even more queries from credit, but I find the fact that a power shortage in Ghana creates extra work for me in India to be weirdly delightful.
It reminds us (me and Banker Friend) of one of our favourite essays, Leonard Read’s “I, Pencil.” If you haven’t read it, please do, it is magnificent, and illustrates the power of freedom better than whole books on the subject.
Yes, says a court in Ireland, striking down a 19th century law against begging.
I don’t understand why Reuters carries the news in its Oddly Enough section. What is odd: begging or free speech?
No, says Gautam Adhikari, quite correctly. What good are supposedly divine figures if they need human aid. Huh?
Posted by Amit Varma on 16 March, 2007 in Freedom
There’s a feast of good reading on libertarianism available at the moment: the latest issue of Cato Unbound has a lead essay by Brian Doherty mapping the growth of libertarianism through the last few decades and speaking about its prospects. In a reaction essay, “Libertarians in an Unlibertarian World,” Brink Lindsey explains why he feels optimistic despite the fact that:
As an intellectual movement, libertarianism has come a long way. As a political movement, however, we’re still pretty near square one.
Tyler Cowen’s essay, “The Paradox of Libertarianism,” takes a contrarian view, which is responded to superbly by Arnold Kling and Bryan Caplan. Also read Tom G Palmer’s essay, “Libertarianism or Liberty?” in which he explains the perils of confusing “the promotion of liberty and the promotion of libertarianism.”
The greatest insight of all, though, comes from a fine essay, “Horror and Freedom,” in which we are informed: “Cthulhu is the State.” Immense trembling ensues.
Imagine you want to buy a cola. But you’re not allowed to just buy the cola you want. Instead, all cola drinkers in the country get to vote for a cola brand of their choice. Whichever brand the majority chooses, that’s the one you’re forced to drink. So if you like Coke and the majority votes for Pepsi, too bad. Coke will have to wait four years.
That’s the difference between democracy and free markets.
Now, obviously I’m not suggesting that we all have the MP we want and have separate governments for each of us. That would be absurd, if enjoyable to watch. The point I’m making is this: people who praise democracy for empowering individuals with the power of choice should like free markets even more, for offering that empowerment to a much larger degree. But too often in our country, votaries of democracy rant against free markets. Isn’t that strange?
Orkut has been at the heart of many storms in India (1, 2, 3, 4). Well, no doubt facing the threat of being blocked in India, they have agreed to cooperate with the Indian government to catch people who post “objectionable material on the web.” Indian Express reports:
Following a meeting between representatives of the site and the Enforcement Directorate last month, the Mumbai Police and Orkut have entered into an agreement to seal such cooperation in matters of objectionable material on the web.
“Early February, I met three representatives from Orkut.com, including a top official from the US. The other two were from Bangalore. We reached a working agreement whereby Orkut has agreed to provide us details of the ip address from which an objectionable message or blog has been posted on the site and the Internet service provider involved,” said DCP Enforcement, Sanjay Mohite.
The big worry here is what Mr Mohite means by “objectionable message or blog.” As I’d outlined in my WSJ Op-Ed, “Fighting Against Censorship,” free speech is coming under sustained attack in India, and giving offence is too often treated as a crime. I hope the Indian government won’t misuse this to act as a cultural or moral police: India isn’t China, and should have nothing to fear from free speech.
Update: Brazilian authorities also get special access to censor Orkut. Details on Boing Boing.
Update 2: Google responds. (Scroll down.)
ATimes of India report begins:
Protests against Bengal’s industrial revitalisation could receive a new fillip after the suicide of a 62-year-old cultivator, an organiser of the Krishi Jami Raksha Committee (KJRC) in Singur, who lost nearly an acre of land to the Tata Motors project.
This is either dishonest reporting or shoddy journalism, and I shall give the benefit of the doubt to the reporter and assume that it is the latter. The protests at Singur are not against “Bengal’s industrial revitalisation” but against the forceful appropriation of land by the government. As I wrote in an earlier post on eminent domain and Singur, it really does not matter if the farmers got compensation: if they did not want to sell, it is theft.
Now, eminent domain might be justifiable as a last resort for matters of public use, such as building roads, but it is outrageous when it is applied to take land from poor farmers and give it to a rich industrial house. The irony here is that Tata would probably have been willing to negotiate with the farmers for the land directly, but by law, farmers aren’t allowed to sell their agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. Yes, that’s right: even if Tata was willing to talk to the farmers and negotiate with them, and farmers were willing to sell, it would have been an illegal transaction. So Tata had no choice but to go to the government, which, of course, is not into negotiating, and simply took the land by force.
I entirely agree with Shruti Rajagopalan when she writes here that the fundamental right to property, revoked in 1978, should be reinstated in our constitution. An “industrial revitalisation” is only sustainable when property rights are sacrosanct. Otherwise it’s a mockery.
All the newspapers today are full of the “rave party” that was busted by cops near Pune yesterday. It is a party that I might well have gone to in my youth (I never did drugs, but I did like to rebel), and I feel sorry for the kids who’ve been arrested for activities that harmed no one. It is a pity that so many victimless acts are treated as crimes in our country. If I want to snort a little of whatever it is kids these days snort, what business is it of anyone else? Unlike cigarettes, where bystanders can be hurt by passive smoking, most recreational drugs don’t even harm anyone else.
But then, who cares about individual freedom in this country?
I spend the whole day at the Kitab festival, hanging out with pals like Jai, Chandrahas and Manish, meeting the litty sorts and bitching about them like bloggy sorts should. I was also part of a session on journalism in India, and found some eminent people expressing the view that journalism needs to be regulated in India. The logic: The Times of India is indulging in monopolistic practices, and, in Delhi, forming a cartel with the Hindustan Times. To ensure competition, there should be government regulation.
I couldn’t think of a worse solution to the problem. (Leave aside the issue of whether there really is a monopoly emerging; Mumbai alone has HT, DNA and IE on the stands, among daily broadsheets.) The industry actually needs fewer controls, not more. If foreign capital was allowed to pour into that sector, and foreign ownership of media was enabled, there would be more competition, and monopolies and cartels would be less likely. Consumers would be empowered with more choices. Competition is the best regulation.
Government regulation, no matter how well-intentioned to begin with, always ends up favouring the entrenched players, and making it harder for newer players to enter. The protectionist lobbying that some of the top media houses in the country have done to keep foreign media out is a good example of this.
In my clumsy, inarticulate way, I did try and make this point, but I’m a better blogger than speaker. Anyway, the high point of the evening was the presence of Bhaskar Das, the executive president of the Times Group, who rightly got assailed about how the Times of India sells editorial space. “We don’t do it on all the pages,” he argued. “Only some of them.”
The best moment came when someone asked Das why the ToI didn’t have the basic decency to indicate which articles were paid for. His reply:
“The clients wouldn’t like that.”
Joy. It reminded me of Devi Lal, in that it was honest, and shamelessly so.
Gautam John brings my attention, via email, to a place called “Love Land” in South Korea, which is a theme park “crammed with soft porn memorabilia.” Check out the pictures. Do you think such a place would ever be allowed to come up in India?
But once, they allowed Khajuraho...