The Odds Don’t Matter

By Kinshuk Kumar

There seem to be these two people within me who have never seen eye to eye on any issue. They have always been at each other’s throats. I’ve known them all my life and I know exactly how either would respond to a question posed to it. Which isn’t all that difficult since one of them is a perpetual cynic while the other is hopelessly hopeful.

Now as would be expected if a guy was blessed with such a pair of friends, I’ve had considerable fun at their expense. All I had to do was ask them what they thought will happen when India plays its next one-dayer. Or if the test I was about to take would be a cakewalk or a disaster. And then I let them have a go at each other.

I never kept count but when I was younger, both seemed to be even and neither looked like a runaway winner. As the years have gone by, however, the cynic within me seems to have started defeating the optimist quite regularly. And now it has stopped being fun.

But it’s not merely because the cynic is like the all-conquering Aussie side under Steve Waugh while the optimist in me seems like the current Indian test side that can’t remember the last time it won anything worthwhile. It’s also because of the kind of questions I started asking the two of them- uncomfortable questions that I probably should not have asked at all.

A lost test match really isn’t all that bad. But it’s quite frustrating when you find the latest round of public rage against the state’s criminal neglect of the public good mellow down.  And then I can almost hear the cynic within me go, “I told you so.”

When an Anna Hazare or an Arvind Kejriwal rises in protest against the shamelessly blatant abuse of power by those who hold it or when thousands gather at India Gate to voice their anger against the pain inflicted on the women in this country the optimist, all battered and bruised, hopes that things will change for the better. The cynic, though, gains in confidence as he sees these movements fall flat on their faces, with the State using all its might to squash all protests.

The optimist within me sees hope in every single candle march, every single voice of dissent out there (on platforms both virtual and real) while the pessimist can’t help wondering if any of it would lead to any real change.

At the moment, the cynic does seem to be winning every time and the odds do seem stacked in his favour. But no matter how outrageously hopeful the optimist within me might seem I’ll still do the crazy thing and back him till the end.

(The writer is my brother. He’s also an engineer-turned-banker, a feminist, a cricket fan, a movie buff and among the most intelligent, fearless and down-to-earth people I have ever known.)

On Markandey Katju and the fine art of outsourcing protest

Justice Katju’s latest article ridiculing protesters who raise their voices against rapist-murderers was fresh proof of his prejudiced and recalcitrant mind. It’s tragic such people often slip truisms of the ‘media is celebrity-obsessed’ variety in their otherwise vile rants and end up striking a cord with way more people than they ideally should.

Justice Katju’s latest verbal fit is also symptomatic of a deeper malaise: the desire to outsource our protest and obsessively look for mass support for our cause. In other words, it articulates the desire to see our protest shouted out to the world and its TV cameras by those who have the time, energy and ability to.

This desire, if it remains just that, isn’t dangerous. It becomes so when it appears unfulfilled and causes mistrust and loathing towards that one and only group of people that can be counted on for support for any worthy cause- the protesters. Yes, that same bunch of often young, mostly ill-paid, permanently sunburned and far more dented and far less painted as a certain President’s progeny will have you believe.

So Justice Katju’s tirade was an expression of his annoyance at seeing what he thought was a bunch of women protesters obsessed with something he believes is a non-issue, or perhaps not as worthy a cause as those he (thinks he) is personally passionate about.

We should know this because we often come across less obnoxious versions of Justice Katju. We have all seen many who like their protests outsourced. There are many who hate it if the cries out there don’t exactly repeat their own.

When Bombay mourned Keenan and Reuben, what nagged at our mind was what Arundhati Roy taught us about urban protests and protesters. ‘Why no candle marches for soldiers blown up by Naxalites?’ some asked when Bombay socialites teared up over 26/11. Kashmiri Pandits are often dismissed as obsessive nuts and are judged about their silence over Gujarat. And speaking about the Gujarat riots automatically gets you branded as a fake, Congress-loving ‘pseudo-intellectual’ whose ‘pseudo-secularism’ makes her intrinsically indifferent towards Sikh or Hindu targets of violence.

Protesters tend to be specific. And that’s alright.

The truth is, it’s quite alright for an individual to feel more strongly about one issue than another. It is okay- practical even- for us to pick our battles. Barring the ideal but sanitized calls of the ‘give peace a chance’ variety, protests are almost always episodic, localized and centered around specific instances of human rights violation. A placard will either say Khairlanji or Malala or Kundankulam or Occupy or Palestine, depending on the where the placard writer is placed physically and emotionally. The underlying message is ‘down with injustice’. Invariably.

But if the average protest still appears too narrow in its focus to you, then here’s an advice- don’t do a Katju on it. It’s unproductive and sounds stupid. Be proactive and start your own protest. If your average TV anchor looks biased to you, don’t start sending her offensive tweets. Just draft and circulate your own petitions.

If your heart bleeds for Kashmiri Pandits, tell the world the injustice they have been facing. If Bhopal bothers you, then write about it every day. If Aruna Shanbaug gave you nightmares, share her story repeatedly. And if Nirbhaya woke your conscience, then blog about her for the rest of your life even if nobody cares about her anymore.

Voice your concern continuously, with or without overt support from others. Try also to lend strength to any cause which sounds worthy of support. But if you can’t, then the least you can do is not mock it.

Don’t envy or belittle the support brutalized victims manage to get. That support is really all they have. That support is really all we have.

Your open derision might successfully trigger apathy or even hostility toward ‘the other cause’ and weaken it. But it will never get support for yours.

Stay Angry, Stay Noisy

Nirbhaya’s friend recently told the world that nobody stopped to help them, and some stopped only to stand and gawk at the wounded woman. The statement is a telling indictment of our society; it reveals, yet again, just how apathetic, perverse or both a part of India has become.

However, as difficult as it might be to distance ourselves from safe, comfortable generalizations that essentially hold us all guilty of every single act of injustice ever perpetrated at any time, place or dimension, we must not make the mistake of adding this latest shameful revelation as yet another in that long list of reasons to lash out at ourselves, hurl accusations at everyone in general and no one in particular, and force the best, most conscientious among us to assume a far, far greater share of responsibility for shocking acts of brutality than what is in fact true or constructive.

Of course, turning the gaze inward is an absolute must. It is one of the important steps in the right direction which we all agree should be towards a safer, freer and egalitarian society. But there arises a problem when we allow this inward gaze to dig its claws so fiercely, so deeply and so firmly into our collective psyche that we end up placing us all, despite our capability to often be compassionate in the face of systemic odds stacked heavily against us, almost exactly at par with those who cannot but be termed as depraved, sadistic maniacs.

It often results in a far harsher indictment of those who fail to help the victim than of those who are fond of literally chewing people up and spitting them out.

Therefore, the message to the conscientious Indian is: try not to drown further in that sea of guilt a certain policeman’s death pushed you into a few weeks ago. You did not want him dead. Similarly, you were not among those who ignored those desperate pleas for help on the night of December 16. You definitely did not stand and ogle at them. You would never do that. There is a very visible line between you and scum of society; don’t blur that line, even if the apologist on TV tries to convince you otherwise. You absolutely do not represent that messed up part of the society which loots, rapes and murders and then pins its hopes on your propensity to allow remorse to completely engulf you. For it is exactly this paralyzing fear of being ‘just as bad as any of them’ that forces us to become defensive and allows blame to be redistributed to ridiculous levels of dilution.
So stop being apologetic, resume those impassioned cries for help, and rage against the system out there, however ugly or incoherent your voice might sound to those who like their protesters well-behaved and their demands, cut and dried. Indeed, let us all, if we don’t already, stop our cars, no matter how real the fear of getting drugged-mugged-killed might be. Let us all go out of our way to help those who need it. But let us definitely not feel so ashamed of our own imperfect conduct that we stop asking why cops in three PCR vans reportedly stopped, saw the injured, squabbled over the matter and did not- in blatant dereliction of their official dutycarry the victim to the van just because they feared their uniforms might get stained.

विरोध प्रदर्शन कलंकित नहीं हुआ!

(First published today, this blog post was written during the December 2012 India Gate protests. Dubbed superficial, incoherent and worse by many, these protests will forever remain for me a heartwarming display of solidarity with victims of extreme violence and a watershed moment in the history of modern India’s struggle for human rights.)

प्रिय टीवी एंकर,

आपने आपके साथियों ने समाज को, उसमें पनप रहे हिंसा को और उसके खिलाफ बुलंद होती आवाज़ को जिस जोश और जज़्बे के साथ पूरी दुनिया को दिखाया है उसके लिए आप सब को मेरा शतशत नमन!
लेकिन आपकी एक बात मुझे गलत नहीं तो पूर्णतः सही भी नहीं लगी।

आपने कहा कि कुछ ग़लत इरादे वाले लोग विरोध प्रदर्शन में घुस आये और उसे कलंकित कर दिया। कैसे? सीटियाँ बजाकर और तोड़फ़ोड़ करके।

सीटियाँ प्रदर्शन की वजह से नहीं बजी। सीटियाँ बजी क्योंकि कुछ लोग लड़कियों को देखकर हमेशा सीटी बजाते हैं। समाज ने उन्हें सिखाया है कि लड़कियों को देखो तो सीटी ज़रूर बजाओ। छेड़छाड़, गालीगलौज तुम्हारा फ़र्ज़ है। चुलबुल जी को देखिए, वो भी आजकल यही सिखा रहे हैं।

अगर इंडिया गेट पर जमा हुई लड़कियों को अभद्र बातें सुनने को मिली, तो इसका दोष प्रदर्शन और प्रदर्शनकारियों पर मत थोपिये। इंडिया गेट पर लड़कियां प्रदर्शन नहीं, पिकनिक ही करने जाती तो भी अभद्र बातें सुनती। पूजा के पंडाल में, शादियों में और बाज़ार में भी घुस आते हैं बदमाश। फिर क्या पूजा के पंडाल नहीं सजने चाहिए? क्या शादियों को अराजकता फैलने का कारण बताया जाना चाहिए? फिर तो आप लोगों से ये भी कह दीजिये कि जनाब, बाज़ार से सब्जियां लेने जाएँ तो अपनी श्रीमती जी को न ले जाएँ ,उपद्रवी तत्त्वों को बढ़ावा मिलता है!

हम सब हमेशा उस अनपढ़, जाहिल समाज पर ये आरोप लगाते आये हैं कि वो बे झिझक हिंसा झेलने वालों को हिंसा का कारण ठहरा देता है। अब आप भी उसी समाज की तरह शिकारी को छोड़, शिकार पर निशाना मत साधिये।

वहाँ एकत्रित लड़कियों को और घर पर उनके माता-पिता को बेकार ही डराइये नहीं। बल्कि उन्हें और उनके पुरुष साथियों को हौसला दीजिये। कहिये कि मित्रों, माफ़ करना कि हर रोज़ की तरह आज भी तुम पर कुछ जाहिल कटाक्ष करेंगे। कुछ लोग तुम्हारा मज़ाक उड़ायेंगे। तुम बच्चे हो, निहत्थे हो और ज़्यादातर किसी बड़े राजनैतिक पार्टी के युवा परिषद् का हिस्सा भी नहीं हो। इसलिए तुम्हें तो कुछ लोग ज़रूर परेशान करेंगे। लेकिन तुम घबराना मत। अब हमारा कैमरा और हमारी रिपोर्टर तुम्हारे साथ हैदसबीस मूर्खों के चेहरे को टीवी पर शर्मसार करने का ज़िम्मा तो हम ले ही लेंगे!

एक और बात, एंकर बाबू। महिलाएं हर रोज़ बस, ट्रेन मेट्रो में चढ़ती हैं। हर रोज़ उन्हें कोई परेशान करता है। कोई घूरता रहता है, कोई दुपट्टा खींचता है तो कोई छूने का प्रयास करता है। अक्सर कामयाब हो जाता है। वो गुस्सा होती हैं, कभी चीखती है तो कभी चुप रह जाती हैं। पर वो ऐसी मोम की गुडिया भी नहीं हैं कि कोई छीटा कशी करे और वो अपने ही आसुओं के सैलाब में पिघल जाएँ। हर रोज़ हो रहे इस पागलपन के बावजूद हर बार अपने आपको समेटती हैं और फिर जीवन के संघर्ष में जुट जाती हैं।

प्रदर्शन करते वक़्त लड़कियों को जो परेशानी झेलनी पड़ रही है उससे वो घबरा भले ही गयी हो, लेकिन वो हर रोज़ की तरह हौसला जुटा कर फिर आगे बढेंगी। फर्क सिर्फ दो होंगे। एक तो ये कि हर रोज़ की तरह उन की झुंझलाहट सिर्फ उन तक ही सीमित नहीं रहेगी बल्कि पूरे देश में गूंजेगी। और दूसरा ये कि हर रोज़ की तरह विरोध का हिस्सा बनने की वजह से जो गुंडागर्दी उन्हें झेलनी पड़ी, वो समाज में एक बड़े बदलाव को लाने के प्रयास में होगी।

विरोध प्रदर्शन कलंकित नहीं हुआ, एंकरसाहब।

एक बार फिर, धन्यवाद।

एक आम भारतीय महिला

तोमर आपका आदमी नहीं था, नेताजी!

(This blog post was first published as a Facebook note on December 26- 3 days after Delhi police constable Subhash Tomar passed away due to injuries allegedly sustained by him during the anti-rape protests in Delhi. On Jan 2, a plea was filed in Delih HC for a CBI probe into Tomar’s death. Read more about it here)

जय हो, हमारे नेताओं की! जय हो उन लोगों की जिन्हें एक दिन पहले जनता से बात करने में न जाने कैसी शर्मिंदगी महसूस हो रही थी।

अब वो सारे इकठ्ठा है तोमर के लिए। ये वही कांस्टेबल है जो लोगों के गुस्से से आपको बचा रहा था। ये वही है जिसे आपने अपने महलनुमा घर में सुरक्षित बैठे- बैठे एक लाठी देकर ये कह दिया कि जाओ, जब कोई कमज़ोर दिखे तो पीट दो और जब गुंडे दिखें तो देख लेना भई कि कैसे बचना है।

एक लाठी के साथ तोमर इस कोशिश में लगा था कि कहीं आपको चोट न लग जाए। अरे चोट तो दूर की बात है, वो और उनके सहकर्मी ज़्यादातर ये सुनिश्चित करने में लगे थे कि कहीं आपकी नींद न खराब हो जाए या कहीं आपके बागीचों के फूल न नष्ट हो जायें!

अब पूरे स्टेट ऑनर के साथ उस कांस्टेबल को विदा कर रहे हैं। ये दर्शा रहे हैं कि देखो, तुम सब कितने मूर्ख, जाहिल और खून के प्यासे हो और हम कितने सभ्य और सुसंस्कृत! वो हमारे लिए मर गया और हमने उसे शहीदों की विदाई दी। हो गया न हिसाब बराबर?

नेताजी, इतना आदर करते हैं न कांस्टेबल का? एक काम कीजिये। ये जो एक दिन की तनख्वाह तोमर के परिवार को दे रहे हैं न, ये अपने पास ही रखिये। लेकिन तोमर की बिटिया या नतनी या पोती की पढाई का खर्च आप उठा लीजिये। और हाँ, तोमर के सहयोगियों की तनख्वाह बढ़ा दीजिये। अपनी तनख्वाह में से हर महीने ज़रा सा कम घर ले जायेंगे तो मर नहीं जायेंगे आप।

एक और बात। अपने नाटक पर पर्दा गिरा लीजिये। जनता के पैसों से तोमर के लिए महँगी विदाई का नाटक कर कांस्टेबलों पर अपना हक़ जताने बंद कीजिये।

तोमर एक अधेढ़, लाठीधारी, बिना कवच, बिना ट्रेनिंग, बुरी पगार पाने वाला ऐसा सिपाही था जो आपकी चालाकी, खुदगर्जी और निर्दयीनता का उतना ही बड़ा शिकार था जितना की हम।

तोमर हमारा आदमी था। #ठीकहै?