& occasionally about other things, too...

Monday, April 18, 2022

Knowing Fraser...

The Book of Malcolm: A review and remembrance of Fraser Sutherland


Fraser Sutherland died just over a year ago in March 2021. His contribution to the world of Canadian literature consists of a few books of poetry, prose, fiction, and nonfiction. From common friends, I learnt that he had an amazing knack of annoying influential people in the literary world, which is why he never got the recognition he deserved.

His frankness was motivated by his strict rules about writing and writers. In his last poetry collection Bad Habits (Mosaic 2019), he says, “Somehow a good writer has to work aslant to the existing order. For a writer to be popular, to win prizes, to be feted by the media – those to me are grounds for suspicion. If the trappings of public success, however welcome, began to descend on me, I’d start to suspect myself.”

Read more: https://www.thebeacon.in/2022/04/18/the-book-of-malcolm-a-review-and-remembrance-of-fraser-sutherland/



Wednesday, March 23, 2022

An Appeal to India’s Constitutional Institutions

 Collective appeal

In the wake of alarming developments in India, senior journalists and media persons from all over India, have issued this Collective Appeal to all Constitutional Institutions in India. We request you to give it the widest possible coverage on media and social media platforms.

The Names of all Signatories are listed below

In the Face of Orchestrated Hatred, Silence Is Not an Option

An Appeal to India’s Constitutional Institutions


As journalists and media persons from all over India, we make this Appeal to all Indian institutions to step in and uphold their constitutional mandate in the wake of open calls from various quarters for attacks on India’s religious minorities, especially Muslims.

The concerted amplification of hatred has been growing over the past years and months, as has the attendant advocacy of violence. Sometimes, the occasion is an election, at other times it is a political gathering, a so-called ‘dharam sansad’, or a controversy over clothing. or even the screening of a movie.

These calls for violence – which have been widely reported in the media – have been met with a cold and calculated silence from the country’s top leaders. Months before, we saw systematic hate being propagated against Muslims under the pretext of Covid-19, including calls by legislators for their socio-economic boycott. Disturbingly, the term ‘corona jihad’ was fabricated and amplified by sections of the media establishment.

Calls for violence or the socio-economic boycott of a community clearly do not enjoy the constitutional protection of free speech. And yet, the political executive – both at the level of the Union and in several States – appears unwilling to discharge its constitutional obligation to act. The police either take no cognisance of those inciting anti-minority violence or register cases under disproportionately mild sections, which strengthens the perception that such offenders are above the law.

Against this backdrop, the President of India, the Chief Justices and other Judges of the Supreme Court of India and the various High Courts, the Election Commission of India, and other constitutionally provisioned and statutory bodies are constitutionally obliged to ensure that these calls for violence do not translate into something unimaginably worse. Since sections of the media have also allowed themselves to become conduits for hate speech, the Press Council of India, the News Broadcasters & Digital Association, unions and associations of working journalists, and all media-related bodies need to respond urgently to the crisis at hand.

Since December 2021, well-synchronised calls for the annihilation of Muslims have been made, beginning with a religious meet in Haridwar that month. Muslim women and girls have been systematically targeted in 2021 and 2022 through social media platforms, including the pernicious Bulli Bai App. The ugly controversy over the hijab in Karnataka has resulted in Muslim women in different parts of India being harassed and humiliated.

During the election campaign of February and March 2022, we saw the repeated appeal to divisive hatred and the stigmatising of Muslims and other minorities, with ‘star’ campaigners from the ruling party unashamedly breaking the law to seek votes in the name of religion. The Election Commission of India, which is statutorily bound to ensure that such practices do not corrode the integrity of elections, has not shown the required autonomy and independence from the political executive to act.

Most recently, the screening of ‘The Kashmir Files’ – a film that cynically exploits the suffering and tragedy of the Kashmiri Pandits by using their plight as a pretext for the promotion of hatred against Muslims – has seen orchestrated attempts inside and outside movie halls to incite anti-Muslim sentiment. Attempts have been made from the highest levels of government to stifle fully justified criticism of the film and of the violent reaction it is generating by claiming there is a “conspiracy” afoot to “discredit” it.

When all these events are taken together, it is clear that a dangerous hysteria is being built up countrywide to push the idea that "Hinduism is in danger" and to portray Muslim Indians as a threat to Hindu Indians and to India itself. Only prompt and effective action by our constitutional, statutory, and democratic institutions can challenge, contain, and stop this disturbing trend.

India today stands at a dangerous place, with the founding values of our secular, democratic, and republican Constitution coming under flagrant assault from prejudiced ideas, acts of prejudice, discrimination, and violent incidents, all planned and orchestrated as part of an anti-constitutional political project. That we have seen elected officials and others who have sworn an oath under the Constitution amplifying some of these multiple and connected instances of orchestrated hate through acts of commission and omission, with sections of the media assisting this project, makes the situation even more urgent. 

That is why it is both urgent and crucial that India’s constitutional institutions, and especially the President, the higher judiciary, and the Election Commission, discharge their mandate under our Constitution and that the media perform their responsibility to the people of India by asserting their independence and speaking truth to power.

N. Ram, former Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu & Director, The Hindu Publishing Group

Mrinal Pande, Senior Journalist and Writer

R. Rajagopal, Editor, The Telegraph

Vinod Jose, Executive Editor, Caravan

R Vijayasankar, Editor, Frontline

Q. W. Naqvi, Chairman & MD, Satya Hindi 

Ashutosh, Editorial Director, Satya Hindi

Siddharth Vardarajan, Founder Editor, The Wire 

Siddharth Bhatia, Founder Editor, The Wire 

MK Venu, Founder Editor, The Wire 

Aziz Tankarvi, Publisher, Gujarat Today

Ravindra Ambekar, Director, MaxMaharashtra

R.K. Radhakrishnan, Senior Journalist

Deepal Trivedi, Founder Editor: Vibes of India, Gujarat

Hasan Kamal, Senior Journalist & Columnist, Inquilab

Teesta Setalvad, Co-Editor, Sabrangindia 

Javed Anand, Co-Editor, Sabrangindia

Pradip Phanjoubam, Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics 

Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor, Kashmir Times 

Kalpana Sharma, Independent Journalist

Aunindyo Chakravarty, Independent journalist

Saba Naqvi, Independent Journalist

Dhanya Rajendran, Editor in Chief, The News Minute

Shabir Ahmed, Senior News Editor, The News Minute

Anirban Roy, Editor, Northeast Now, Guwahati

Dhiren A. Sadokpam, Editor-in-Chief,The Frontier, Manipur 

Tongam Rina, Journalist, Arunachal Pradesh

Monalisa Changkija, Editor, Nagaland Page

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The Mass Destruction of One Life

 From  C P Surendran's latest novel, One Love And Many Lives Of Osip B, published by Niyogi Books, we give below excerpts from a chapter titled,  The Mass Destruction of One Man. The excerpts deal with the disintegration of a writer, Arjun Bedi, facing allegations of sexual misconduct , who is the mentor to the teenage protagonist of the novel, Osip B.


When I arrived at Whispering Woods, there were already people in Arjun’s living room. The smell of alcohol and tobacco mixed with perfumes licensed the air. The hall was packed. It was late, though guests still trickled in.

‘But you had a birthday party earlier in the year!’ I said.

‘This is the roaring ’20s. We hurtle from one drunken party to another.’ Arjun put an arm around me. ‘That was for Maina. This one is for me, but it is quite political in its purpose.

I must fight by all means the daily and mass destruction of my one life. With silence, cunning, and parties, pagans and vegans all welcome!’

‘URF?’

‘They want to see blood. The crowd needs to see fresh blood. It has a way of turning everything into a sport.’

It seemed unfair to ask him for help.

‘Everything all right?’ Arjun asked.

‘Well…’

‘What’s it?’

‘The thing is…Can you come to my school?’

‘What for?’

I told him in an urgent whisper, every word I uttered more absurd than the one preceding it.

‘This is serious business, OB. How did you get into this mess? You are worse than me. But I am afraid I can’t get into this, not now.’ 

‘You are a famous man. A great writer.’

‘Fame is what they can use against you. Remember what I told you some time back? You wouldn’t believe it, it is organized frenzy.’ Arjun looked around. ‘These little parties I throw are my way of holding on to what little I have. It’s a dangerous world now, anyone can work out their revenge from rest rooms, you understand? These are toilet revolutionaries,’ Arjun grimaced. ‘But, what the hell are you up to? An affair with your teacher followed by murder?’

‘No, not murder. Exhumation.’

‘It’s as good as murder. Hell, it is worse!’

Three retired men of the military came up to Arjun and wished him happy returns loudly. Their chests were covered in stars and medals. The shorter, thickset one, with a luxuriant, twirled mustache, seemed always one step ahead of the other two.

‘You must formally join our political party, Arjun Saab,’ the short general said, staring hard at Arjun. But his eyes twinkled. ‘You promised.’ They had, it turned out, recently started a political outfit at the behest of Arjun.

‘Ah, my generals,’ Arjun said. ‘India’s best.’

‘We registered the party. You can’t back out now,’ the second man said.

‘The New India Political Party, NIP,’ the third said.

‘RIP?’ Arjun said.

The generals laughed helplessly, holding on to each other's shoulders.

‘Arjun Saab, Arjun Saab,’ the leader shook his head as if Arjun was too much. ‘Really, you are our star. Our torch. Our…’ He looked around at his friends for help, but they only smiled in encouragement.

‘Of course I will join NIP. On one condition, but.’

‘What’s that?’

‘I’ll be the treasurer. For life.’

They all threw their heads back and laughed again. They were an uproarious bunch.

‘Jokes aside, Arjun Saab, the retired soldiers of this country can no longer bear to see the nation going down the drain. It’s as you might say, RIP India or NIP India.’ The short general said. ‘We are looking for a writer with the rank of a general.’

‘All right then, I will be your Maxim Gorky.’

The generals raised their eyebrows.

‘He was the head of Union of Writers under Stalin,’ Arjun said.

‘M. applied to him for two sweaters and a pair of trousers. He didn’t get the trousers, I think,’ I said.

‘This is Osip Bala Krishnan. He is Russian,’ Arjun repeated his old joke.

They ignored me.

‘Let’s talk about NIP.’

‘Aren’t we all a bit too old to start a change-India party? Mind you, I am not talking about me,’ Arjun said.

‘You will bring the average age down, Arjun Saab,’ the second general said. Everybody laughed again. One of the generals shook his head as if to say this is just too much. He had tears in his eyes.

‘Really, we are as good as the young,’ the short general said. ‘I challenge anyone here to hand-wrestle me.’ He looked around the room, but mostly in the direction of a woman in blue jeans and kurta. There was a bespectacled young man with her, holding her wine glass as she was answering a call; her other hand was in a sling. ‘What corruption! Moral, financial, physical. Is this what our founding fathers sacrificed their lives for?’

‘Are you addressing me, or my neighbour, general?’ Arjun said. ‘Careful. That’s Dev and Diya. They represent the rights of the underprivileged and head a social media campaign against me. I have some trouble on the patriarchal front as you might know.’

‘Love thy neighbour as thyself.’ The general with tears of joy in his eyes said.

‘Love thine own neighbour, not mine,’ Arjun said.

This time the three generals nearly doubled up with laughter. The short general put out a hand in the direction of Arjun, pleading with him not to be so funny. ‘I may be gazing elsewhere, but I look up to you,’ the short general said, straightening up. ‘As for the campaign against you, it is chaff in the wind, Arjun Saab. Nothing will shake our faith in you.’

The short general hugged Arjun briefly, and turned their attention to someone seemingly important entering, a politician, from the white khadi he was wearing, and marched toward him.

Arjun swallowed a drink neat and gravitated to Dev and Diya, who had moved out into the balcony. I straggled along by Arjun’s side in grim fascination.

‘I have had to work on through someone to make them come here,’ Arjun whispered. I later learned that the 'someone' was the old man with the German shepherd. He was Diya's uncle—and Arjun's friend—and the couple were living in a flat of his in the building, a rent-free arrangement, Arjun said.

Dev and Diya were stiff, and it was clear they wanted to stay by themselves. They had done Arjun a favour dropping by.

‘Dev and Diya, Thank you for coming.’

‘We will be only a minute here.’ They seemed assured and self-sufficient in the strength of their good intentions.

‘Of course. I know you are fighting a good cause. And this is perhaps not the time to ask…’

‘No,’ they said in unison.

‘I am not a tactful person…’

‘We know that, don’t we, Dev?’

‘I knew this was why he insisted we come. Don’t tell me I did not warn you.’ Dev said to Diya.

‘I can’t help it, and I didn’t think I would say it, but all these daily mass mails to publishers, festivals, editors …,’ Arjun said.

‘Well?’ Diya said.

‘It seems so much work.’

‘Mr Bedi, please don’t worry about our workload. We will stop when you apologize,’ Diya said.

‘Apologize for what?

‘For your nude dancing and provocative comments and sexist columns. There were many good people in that party. They are deeply offended.’

‘It was a rave party…so many years ago.’

‘But only you were nude. And you put your arm around a victim’s waist.’

‘I was wearing something, not much, I admit, but something.’

‘But you were the only one nude,’ Dev said.

‘There were others in other rooms.’

'Mr Bedi, a writer must represent the spirit of his age, and overcome it. You have failed,’ Dev looked away in resignation.

‘At a seminar, you said, “What’s everybody’s problem with the dick!”’ Diya said.

‘It was both a joke and a question,’ Arjun said.

‘Your whole discourse is wrong,’ Diya shook her head.

‘And your columns! We can’t allow that kind of writing. You may think it is daring and intellectually provocative. That is your vanity. It is just bad form and poor taste.’ Dev shook his head of long curls. ‘And one poem that turned up on my computer last night, something about the Dark Spider.’

‘“Dolomedes Tenebrosus: Spontaneous Male Death” was the title. The dark spider eats the male partner after sex.’

‘You called the female spider a “b…h”. Language is a social tool, Mr Bedi,’ Dev said. ‘There are norms to be observed. These are sensitive times. There is a historical correction to be made in favour of the female gender…’

‘In favour of Dalits and children, too.’ Diya’s large, earnest eyes left no room for doubt about her commitment to her cause.

‘In favour of the wronged people. What we stand for is a certain much-needed correction in patriarchal politics,’ Dev said. ‘We are conscientious citizens of this country, Mr Bedi, and we can’t let a few things happen on our watch—even if the government is not of our choice, and we have no executive powers,’ Dev’s eyes bored into Arjun’s. ‘We have an obligation toward civilized society. But this is no place to talk about such matters, is it?’

C P Surendran

‘You are depriving me of my right to earn a living, in effect. That’s not a constitutional or even a liberal thing to do. Any accused has the right to speech and work. In any case, you are not the court,’ Arjun said.

It appeared to me that the intended reconciliatory meeting was not going the right way.

‘If the State is regressive, and the institutions are failing us, the citizen must step forward as the culture dispenser. There’s no space in our world for exploitation of any kind,’ Dev said.

‘You know you are guilty, don’t you, Mr Bedi?’ Diya said.

‘I…’

‘The fact is your kind of voice has had its day,’ Dev said.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Self-critical expression, censorship, freedom of speech & hate speech

Self-critical expression lends a moderate hue to any issue under debate. It can and does have a positive impact on artists and journalists. Both artists and journalists have to necessarily walk the tightrope between freedom of expression as enshrined by the law, and hate speech, which is prohibited by the law. And there is a thin line that divides these two concepts. Self-critical expression rather than censorship is the key to a democratic society. Self-critical expression is self regulated; censorship is imposed by an extraneous authority.

Self-critical expression is inherent to any conversation where more than one view is being debated or discussed. An individual develops and comes to hold views and opinions over several years, and through borrowed or lived experiences. These often turn into dogmas and are justified as ideology. 

The easiest way to test them is to put them through the test of a sincere discourse. When one hears another side of a fiercely or a dearly held opinion in a debate, one begins to comprehend another dimension to that opinion. And that, in an individual who is open minded, results in a better understanding of any issue. Significantly, even if the person doesn’t change her views on the subject, this exchange of views is important because it provides her with a wider perspective.

For a journalist, self-criticism is not always necessary. For a reporter, it is easy to overcome an inherent bias by actively seeking a view or views that are diametrically opposed to her views. This is prima facie of paramount importance to ensure balance in reportage.

However, one must draw a line in being fair. Fairness should not automatically mean that two opposite views are considered and included in a news report to make it balanced. On some occasions, it is not at all necessary to appear to be fair, especially when one is reporting about hate crimes, police brutality, sexual abuse of minors, gender-based inequality.

Also, columnists are read, and are popular and controversial mainly because they hold a point of view which is biased and almost never self-critical. The most recent example is of Don Cherry, the sports broadcaster, who was fired in 2019 because he made unguarded comments about immigrants not wearing poppies for Remembrance Day.

Censorship in the media is as old as media itself. There are multiple reasons for censorship in the media, but the main reason is to earn revenue. The other is to adhere to socio-cultural and political moorings of the society within which the media operates.

The media in the West cannot stop finding fault (justifiably) with autocratic societies, where religious or political ideologies, determine societal debate. But the same media doesn’t see anything wrong with the inherent fault lines in Western societies.

For instance, in Canadian media, there isn’t enough exploration and dissection of the continuing absence of adequate reportage of issues pertaining to Canada’s indigenous population, and their right over Canada’s lands and resources.    

I don’t think there is anything wrong in criticizing religion or an ideology objectively. However, almost always such criticism is based on prejudice and is motivated by hate.

The government, the establishment plays an important role in this debate. In his essay The Etymology of Terror, published in New York Review of Books, Matt Seaton says, “We have reached, then, a point in the etymology of terror at which governments have assumed the right to designate any specific person or group, literally anyone they don’t like, as terrorists. By one new standard for terrorism, it can apply to human rights lawyers and researchers who irritate government officials, because to decry state violence has become itself a terrorist crime. By the other new standard, it can apply to anyone who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time—the time and place being lethally adjacent to wherever the US is hunting “war on terror” adversaries.”
 

Prejudice can only be combatted through objectivity. Such objectivity must necessarily include self-critical expression. Lee Marcle, the eminent Metis author, who recently passed away, narrated a poignant incident to the CBC when her book I am Woman was published in 1988. She asked to be included in the Vancouver Writers Festival to launch her book of essays, but was denied an invitation. “So I went there and got up on stage and grabbed the mic and I did a reading,” she said. “I said, ‘Right now you are in my village, this is my original village and I am going to read here.’”

The situation has changed today, but not much. I think, it is important for the non-mainstream artist to create a parallel mainstream that promotes their respective culture within the Canadian milieu, and context. We can only fight neglect and hate by creating an alternative space that promotes an alternative interpretation of a Canada that we want to create. This requires proactive intervention, and not blaming.

In his essay Canadian multiculturalism and national identity – a 50-year relationship, Varun Uberoi of Brunel University, London, England, says, “…if people’s conceptions of their political community include cultural minorities as normal and equal members of it, these conceptions help a culturally diverse citizenry to visualize themselves as a group. But those with such inclusive conceptions are also less likely to exclude and discriminate against minorities as minority cultural differences are not seen as something to fear or to avoid.” (Published in Multiculturalism at 50 and the promise of a just society, CITC Canadian Issues).

There isn’t adequate concern over the general ignorance of the Canadian mainstream to the rich diversity that has been (and is being) created in Canada politically. Multiculturalism is 50 years old. And while it has achieved much, it is in essence an empty slogan.