What The Fuck Just Happened?: 21/09 edition

I was supposed to be in Kerala this week — partly for personal reasons, partly to meet with some local journalists and grassroots politicians from both sides of the divide to gain some sense of what is going on in my home state. Torrential rains and a landslide blocking NH17 along the Thamarasherry stretch of the Ghat road caused a postponement, but news from there continues to stream through my email box. Like, so:

#1. Students Federation of India goons attack policemen attempting to prevent them from clashing with a rival group. Nine suspects have been booked in the case, under Section 332, causing hurt to deter a public servant from his duty. (more stringent clauses, relating to assault, attempt to murder etc would be a more effective statement).

There is a case to be made for them to be booked under more stringent provisions. The SFI, the student wing of the CPM, has a history of violence that stretches back to the 1970s — while in college, I once got caught up in one such incident and ended up in hospital with a gash on my head from the business end of a hockey stick. Student politics has a violent side to it; what makes the SFI’s serial violence particularly egregious is the sense of entitlement that goes with it. There has been little or no attempt made to rein them in, by any political dispensation, over the years, and this has resulted in a sense of impunity that, year after year, vitiates the atmosphere in state schools and colleges. (more stringent clauses, relating to assault, attempt to murder etc would be a more effective statement).

#2. The office of Asianet TV channel was attacked by ‘persons unknown’. The channel has been reporting on illegal land appropriation by a minister in the ruling Left Front government, and this is speculated to be the reason behind the attack in which, providentially, no one was injured. The chief minister has ordered an investigation.

#3. The contents of a college magazine has triggered a fuss, with authorities saying some of the questions in an interview directly targets the Sangh Parivar. The authorities also objected to a poem about beef and suggested that references to the meat should be changed to the more generic food.

#4. The Kerala State Women’s Commission’s chairperson has been getting death threats and mail containing human excreta among other things, for questioning well-connected members of the film fraternity members who had serially slandered the victim in the abduction case in which Malayalam star Dileep is a prime accused. Dileep’s bail plea was turned down last week for the fourth time.

So much, for the time being, on Kerala.

#5. In Tripura, Shantanu Bhowmik became the latest journalist to be brutally murdered in the line of duty. Bhowmick was covering an agitation by the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura when he was kidnapped and hacked to death.

While journalists in Tripura, and the mainstream press in Delhi, announced meetings to mourn Bhowmik and to demand justice, political parties got busy blaming each other. The CPM, which runs the Manik Sarkar government in Tripura, accuses the RSS/BJP of being complicit in a crime committed by an outfit that has their backing; the BJP/RSS combine for its part says the killing happened in a CPM-ruled state and is part of the lawlessness of the Left.

In a wearying sidelight to this tragedy, I happened to post a link on Twitter to the killing, inter alia making the point that the media does report on the death of vernacular journalists as well. The point, I thought, needed making because, at the time of the Gauri Lankesh murder, one of the arguments doing the rounds was that people were protesting so vociferously only because Gauri was “one of us”, namely, the English-speaking elite journalists.

The responses have been, how do I put this, enlightening. One suggested that there is a difference between a front page story on Gauri and an inner page story on Bhowmik’s killing. (I had posted a web link within an hour of the news breaking; the next day’s newspapers had not even been dummied up yet let alone printed, so where the whole ‘front page’ thing came from, I have no idea).

Another gent wanted to know – not in the seeking information sense, either – where the candlelight vigil would be. (Again – local journalists in Tripura immediately gathered outside the chief minister’s residence to protest, and took out a march the next day; mainstream journalists organized a protest meet at the Delhi Press Club, but why let facts get in the way of a good ‘whatabout’?)

It only confirms my growing belief that social media ‘discussions’ are best avoided. Firstly, there is no room for nuance in 140 characters; more importantly, the social media ecosystem seems overpopulated with guerillas who lurk in wait for ‘gotcha’ opportunities which they can use to snipe at those they disagree with. Getting into a back and forth with such leaves a bad taste in the mouth, messes with the mind, and ultimately achieves nothing.

A tangential point: It is the most desensitized form of whataboutery to ask why someone who protested one death does not protest another (and if they do, then why the second protest is not of the same scale as the first). It’s a good thing there was no social media in the time of Emile Zola – had there been, the immediate reaction to the publication of J’accuse, would have been ‘But where were you when…?’

Zola’s masterful dissection of a gross miscarriage of justice in the case of Richard Dreyfuss – one among many that occurred in the France of the late 1800s – is worth reading in full. One passage is particularly relevant today:

Indeed, it is a crime to have relied on the most squalid elements of the press, and to have entrusted Esterhazy’s defense to the vermin of Paris, who are now gloating over the defeat of justice and plain truth. It is a crime that those people who wish to see a generous France take her place as leader of all the free and just nations are being accused of fomenting turmoil in the country, denounced by the very plotters who are conniving so shamelessly to foist this miscarriage of justice on the entire world. It is a crime to lie to the public, to twist public opinion to insane lengths in the service of the vilest death-dealing machinations. It is a crime to poison the minds of the meek and the humble, to stoke the passions of reactionism and intolerance, by appealing to that odious anti-Semitism that, unchecked, will destroy the freedom-loving France of the Rights of Man. It is a crime to exploit patriotism in the service of hatred, and it is, finally, a crime to ensconce the sword as the modern god, whereas all science is toiling to achieve the coming era of truth and justice.

#6. In the latest update from the la-la land that lies at the heart of ‘Hindutva’, BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj suggests that couples getting too close to one another should be put behind bars “before anything wrong occurs”. One of these days, I hope someone will explain to me why politicians of a particular persuasion have such a deep-seated problem with boys and girls being together.

The same Sakshi Maharaj had not so long ago argued in favor of convicted rapist Ram Rahim. “One person has complained of rape against Ram Rahim. Crores (of) others believe he is God. Who do you think is right?” ran his specious argument, which he concluded by suggesting that the case was “a conspiracy to defame not only Ram Rahim and other saints, but also Indian culture.”

The reason I was reminded of this statement is that in his latest diatribe, the same leader spun around on his rhetorical axis. Sakshi Maharaj most recently had this to say of Ram Rahim:

“People such as Ram Rahim and Rampal have emerged from vote bank politics and political leaders need to introspect on whether such godmen (babas) should be encouraged,” he said.

Ram Rahim and Rampal were “hypocrites”, he alleged.

 I found the use of the word “hypocrisy” particularly interesting — it appears that the politician is aware of its meaning while being blithely unaware that it defines his right-about-turn to perfection.

#7. Newly inducted ministers in the Union cabinet are a rich source for comedy on the ‘laugh that you may not weep lines’. The latest entrant is Minister of State for Human Resource Development Satyapal Singh, who in course of a speech had this to say:

“We are currently lagging behind in research and innovation. Our researchers need to be told about our rich culture and our civilization which dates back many thousands of years. We have seen such amazing examples of scientific inventions in the past, we should learn from them,” he added.

The minister also spoke about a scientific method dating back to the Ramayan era. “Plants at Raavan’s house had a chandramani (moon stone) in them, because of which they did not need to be watered. Students should study about all these things,” he added.

We are currently lagging behind in research and innovation, therefore we should study mythology. Right.

#8. Elsewhere, this happened:

Sangeeta Varshney, the Aligarh president of the BJP’s Mahila Morcha, has been caught in a video that has gone viral slapping and shaming a Hindu girl “seen in public” with a man from another community in Aligarh on Tuesday. Not stopping at that, she later called the father of the girl to the spot and ordered him to slap the girl some more.

Concepts such as ‘free will’ and ‘consent’ appear to be beyond the grasp of the moral police. To add a layer of irony to the affair, the police have booked a case against the man in question under section 294 (indulging in an obscene act in a public place’).

The real obscenity here is that the woman who took the law into her own hands and indulged in violence has no charges filed against her. In this connection, the ‘business model’ of these ‘anti-Romeo squads’ is worth reading.

In other news, a Rs 390 crore dam in Bihar collapses just hours before it could be inaugurated, and affiliates of the RSS, in an ‘oops’ moment for the ruling dispensation, announce a protest march in Delhi against the economic policies of the Central government.

NB: I owe the title of this post to this newsletter which, since the victory of Donald Trump in the US elections of last year, has been my favorite resource for a summary of the day’s events.

I’ll be doing one of these every day going forward; today’s edition is somewhat shortchanged by the fact that I spent all morning and most of the afternoon in a meeting.

I’ll also, as part of the daily updates, be tacking on links to articles that I read and think you should, too. For today, just this, sent in by an anonymous reader via the comments section of a previous post (I haven’t had time to do much reading yet, today):

The Mistrust of Science, a commencement address by Atul Gawande at the California Institute of Technology.

5 thoughts on “What The Fuck Just Happened?: 21/09 edition

  1. PS: Atul Gawande’s article is spot on… however, it is also true that science reporting may be one of the causes for the mistrust of science.. An ordinary reader would indeed be confused with the often contradictory reports of scientific research and findings. And to my mind, even the scientists are to blame by concluding something on the basis of observation alone. Observation may be the basis of science, but it is not the only thing. Most commonly, it is the health section which has the worst kind of reporting. They take a survey and then come out with astounding or absurd results – Binge drinking may actually prolong your life. Smoking prevents people from losing their mind. Coconut oil is actually harmful.
    Bah! Nonsense science and nonsensical reporting. But thanks to ‘anonymous’ and you for the link to the article.,.

  2. Yechury will need to rethink the title, methinks.. the Left is not always Right etc… 🙂

    With regard to the right-wing obsession with what couples do or what people do with their bodies, I think it is not limited to this country alone. It is odd that most of the sex-scandals around the world, in the last couple of centuries were mostly the domain of right-wingers. Even here the business of CDs and scandals seem to often mention right-wingers. I have always maintained that those who shout loudest about morality or about obscenity or about righteousness most often have dirty secrets of their own or are the most perverted in their private lives. (Yeah, I know.. pop psych).

    But it is an interesting topic in itself. I have read a few old articles in the EPW about the left’s take on this – that it is the “othering” of people, that it is actually an irrational fear of “the other side’s” virility and libido and so on. While all that may be true, I sometimes laugh at the sanitized and verbose descriptions of what are essentially perversions. There is no point in dissecting it like some fascinating scientific experiment. And in the end, what does it say about the writers themselves who squirm to make it as sterile as possible?
    For that matter, permit me to question the very notion from the opposite side – that it is at all necessary for politicians to be pure and puritanical and occupy the high moral ground in matters of body and relations. It is irrelevant and no one’s business really, unless it happens to be exploitation of any kind. What should matter is their probity in other matters relating to state and the people.
    So I am not likely to be gleeful when even a right-winger is caught in some sexual escapade.
    And that probably happens to be the point – these are all things that politics has no business being concerned with. Gods must remain within the homes of the believers and not wander the streets in public processions. Sex and relationships must be a personal affair and not a matter of public discourse for politicians. What one wears, eats, says, thinks, where they go, are all things that politics must stay out of. (But, I must add here, that the media actually feeds this kind of voyeurism and promotes it incessantly. A very odd and astounding example would be the The Hindu and its Mangalore edition. If you visit the page, the suggested stories/articles from the region on the right shows the first headline to be ’16 year old girl gang-raped’. It is nauseating and uncharacteristic and made worse by the fact that it has remained there as the first suggested story for the last two years!! As if no other news came out of Mangalore in such a long time. I love that paper, but I really have to question their commonsense or their taste at times).

    And, in the end, I certainly hope I am not proving your point above about engagement on social media platforms and the futility of replying to any of the incoming content 🙂

    • Thanks for the thoughtful mail, T. The point you raise has been very valid, and very visible, for a very long time. I remember discussing this with some friends, a few from the right, in NYC way back in the day. Rush Limbaugh, who during the Bill Clinton presidency was the most vocal against Clinton’s admitted drug use, was caught using his illegal housemaid to buy the prescription drugs he was addicted to; Bill Reilly, the loudest voice in the ecosystem railing against the Lewinsky scandal, was caught sending obscene text messages to colleagues (that fuss blew over; more lately, his serial sexual abuses became too much even for Fox); a Congressman who made his bones leading the charge against gays was caught in a Washington DC toilet making advances to a young man… I believe they call it projection, and it plays out in many ways. (Fake news is a cry most often repeated by those who deal in fakes).

      And yes, I agree with the point about politicians. The whole morality play is of relatively recent vintage — throughout the history of the American presidency, incumbents have been known for sexual dalliances without these spilling onto the front pages and into Congress. It is only relatively recently, when newspapers/media went from issue based journalism to personality based ‘stories’, that sex became such a focus.

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