Archive for January, 2013

The problem with Pakistan

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Mint, 15 January 2013

Frankly, this endless Pakistan business, toing-and-froing, statements and counter-statements, the shouting on the news channels, gets on my nerves, especially phrases like confidence-building measures, cultural diplomacy, people to people contact, etc. Haven’t we seen enough of these meaningless ideas and efforts? Not for a moment am I implying that our politicians and diplomats and opinion leaders who speak of these things are not sincere in their commitment to having good neighbourly relationships. In fact, having good relations with Pakistan, or at least a quietly neutral arrangement, is the rational and correct objective.
But what if one side is not rational? Isn’t it high time then that India accepts this basic fact of life and stops wasting time and money on moves that we know in our heart of hearts have no long-term significance? The old Hindi adage about trying to straighten the dog’s tail comes to mind.
Let’s accept some basic facts about Pakistan.
# As a nation, it is obsessed with India. It defines itself in terms of India, because it has not found a better reason to exist. It will never get over the partition, it will never forget the ignominy of the 1971 war that split the country in two, and it cannot ever let the Kashmir issue be. The idea of India has nothing to do with Pakistan, we have moved on from the partition trauma, and Kashmir finally is just one small part of India. No one in Kerala or West Bengal is staying up nights worrying about either Kashmir or Pakistan. We must accept this very fundamental difference in the world views of the two nations.
# Pakistan is a failed state. Its government is hardly in control of large swathes of its population and geography. The civil government exists, at the best of times, in a state of tension with the military and intelligence set-ups, and most of the time, has little control over how the latter think and behave. Every time the internal problems become too much to handle, the government and the military come together and try to divert international attention from their wrecked nation by escalating tensions with India. That confuses the Pakistani public, and foreign affairs mandarins from Washington, London, Tel Aviv and whoever knows where start calling everyone up. We Indians are the nice guys. We are rational and mature when taking these calls. Pakistan pretends to be and doesn’t try too hard to hide that pretence.
# I was watching the television debates after the recent incursion by Pakistani soldiers across the Line of Control and the beheading of our jawan. When the matter of Pakistan financing, aiding and abetting jehadis in their insane anti-India (and anti-civilization) cause came up, a retired Pakistani admiral said that jehadis had been fighting India for a thousand years now. I need not explain what this implies. If this is the mindset of the Pakistani military establishment, then our Indian rationality and general decency are truly worth nothing. This gentleman—or maybe another retired Pakistani military man—also reminded us that Pakistan is a nuclear power.
It’s time India stopped being nice and decent. Our Air Force chief and our Army chief have already talked tough. That is the way to go, and stand firm. We have been nice and decent enough. In fact, we have been so nice and decent that we recently even allowed Kashmiri separatist leaders to visit Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and meet Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Hafiz Saeed. This is ridiculous. All this talk of confidence-building measures must stop. India should make it clear that we have no confidence in Pakistan. That it is a nation with little credibility, teetering on the edge of becoming a full-fledged rogue state, and that it cannot survive economically or even as one geographical entity for even two years if Western pressure and aid stopped.
It’s time to call the bluff. It’s time to tell Pakistan that it is a small country heading towards disaster and it better get its house in order. India as a nation is far above Pakistan’s level. We are a good people, and we don’t want Pakistan to go straight to hell, but it is really for the Pakistanis to decide what is good for them, make the choices and take the hard decisions. Pakistan is not India’s problem, but if it continues to insidiously irritate India, India too can play hard ball. In fact, that’s the only game to play with Pakistan.

Fruits of a regressive culture

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Mint, 10 January 2013

These past three-and-a-half weeks have revealed a lot to us. About ourselves, about our public figures, about how Indian men still can’t handle the very concept of womanhood.
Of course, we shouldn’t have been surprised. We are used to senior politicians advocating a lowering of the official marriage age for girls to reduce the incidence of sexual assault. Minor politicos all over India have been trying to ban skirts and jeans for college girls. Just a few months ago, some idiot in Haryana said that fast food—especially chow mein—increases the heat in a man’s body and gives him all sorts of ideas about how he can resolve this thermodynamic problem. We read about these regressive delusions, watched these men make fools of themselves on TV, and we shook our heads and moved on.
But the rape, torture and murder of a 23-year-old woman changed all that. It has shamed us all.
And the government’s reaction should shame us even more. First, it attempted to treat the entire matter as a political problem. After all, cynical negotiations about seat sharing, ministerial berths, and intra-party squabbles have now become both hull and rudder of Indian democracy. How could we expect that our politicians would see a spontaneous mass movement as anything but a political issue? This is the time for quick fixes, silences and smug confidence in short public memory.
Of course, the government can act decisively when it wants to. Move the girl to Singapore. Whether she lives or dies, it’s a win-win situation. In either case, the government can say that it tried everything under the sun to save her life. Except that nothing happened under the sun. She was moved from Safdarjung Hospital under cover of darkness, and her body was brought back to Delhi in the dead of night and cremated hastily, with gathered officials waiting impatiently for the first rays of the sun to break through the fog, so the pyre could be lit as per Hindu tradition. The entire aim was to avoid another burst of mass outrage, and the move succeeded.
And then we had assorted public entities revealing their true colours. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwatsaid that rape happens in India, not Bharat. Let us be charitable. Let us assume that by Bharat-India he was not referring to the rural-urban divide that is now the media’s fashionable metaphor. Let us assume that by Bharat, he meant our ancientsanskriti, and by India, he is talking about all of us corrupted by Western culture. But this is so naïve an interpretation that it beggars belief. Our puranas and epics are chock-a-block with tales of lusty gods and wildly libidinous heroes. Consider Indra, king of the gods. Overcome with lust (not an uncommon occurrence for him), he made love to Ahalya, wife of Rishi Gautama, pretending to be the rishi, and was trying to sneak off when the irate husband caught up with him and cursed him with a thousand vaginas on his body—sahasrayoni. Later, after much pleading, he turned the vaginas into eyes. Ahalya, though innocent, received no such pardon. Gautama turned her into stone, and thus she remained till she was touched by the foot of the great god Rama, whose treatment of his wife was certainly rather dubious.
Krishna actively encouraged his friend Arjuna to kidnap Krishna’s sister Subhadra; in fact, in the days of the Mahabharata, kidnapping a woman seems to have been the norm for Kshatriya wooing: think of Bhishma abducting Amba, Ambika and Ambalika for his two step-brothers. And, of course, we fondly tell our children about the teenage Krishna hiding the clothes of the gopinis while they bathed, and returning them only when they came out of the lake, helpless and naked. But then gods are allowed these acts of venal sexual harassment. Let’s face it, our popular culture even to this day is deeply influenced by regressive and chauvinistic attitudes that our sanskriti glorified. The men in our mythologies were certainly as recklessly randy—if not randier—than anyone thought up by the West.
And let’s not talk about the deification of the mother. Kunti does not know what her sons have brought home, and asks them to share the booty equally. The five dutiful men then happily sleep with Draupadi, who had given her heart to Arjuna. And such is our ethical system that Draupadi dies early on the long trek to Heaven: her sin being that though she had five husbands, she loved Arjuna more than the others.
Now a Bharatiya Janata Party man from Madhya Pradesh believes that women should not cross the “lakshmanrekha”. That rekha has of course been drawn by men, and it is important to remember that Sita crossed the rekha to give alms to someone she thought was a mendicant. And Ravana, disguised as the mendicant, had come to take revenge because his sister, who had expressed her desire for Lakshman, had been humiliated and her nose cut off by Lakshman. Oh, and by the way, Lakshman is the man who left his newly married wife Urmila for no fault of her own, to tag along with his godly brother and his poor wife.
As for Asaram Bapu, the spiritual leader, who has said that the girl could have saved herself by flinging herself at the feet of her would-be rapists and telling them they were her brothers, is this guy for real? To our great misfortune, he is. I think this old fogey desperately needs psychiatric treatment of the primitive sort that he would recognize: some serious electrotherapy. Simple delusions, simple solutions.