New on my other blogs

"Gandhi is dead, Who is now Mahatmaji?"
Solar scam reveals decadent polity and sociery
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen


16 April, 2019

How to make amends for wrongs of history

BRP Bhaskar

Kartarpure shrine
Sikhs attend a cultural event. File

Amid the cacophony of a divisive election campaign, India on Saturday somberly marked the 100th anniversary of the most abominable crime of the British colonial regime, recorded in history as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

On April 13, 1919, an army contingent under the command of a British colonel, Reginald Dyer, had marched into Jallianwala Bagh, a garden on the outskirts of Amritsar in Punjab, blocked the main entrance and fired on a crowd protesting the arrest and deportation of two popular leaders, Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew, under a harsh law enacted a month earlier.

It was a time of turbulence in Punjab. But the protest was peaceful. The protesters’ number was swelled by the presence of villagers who had come to the town to celebrate Baisakhi, the spring festival.

Col Dyer reported to his chief that his men had fired 1,650 rounds and killed between 200 and 300 people. Punjab’s Lieutenant Governor Michael O’Dwyer approved Dyer’s action.

A commission appointed by the British Indian government on a directive from London found that the authorities had failed to prepare a casualty list. It cited an Indian NGO’s figures of 379 dead and about 1,100 injured, 192 seriously.   

The Indian National Congress put the casualty figures at about 1,000 dead and over 1,500 injured. The House of Lords applauded Dyer, aggravating the sense of horror in India. A year later the House of Commons censured Dyer.  As pressure for his dismissal mounted, the army asked him to resign.

Reviled in India as the Butcher of Amritsar, Dyer was hailed on arrival in Britain as the Saviour of India. The massacre became a turning point in Indian history. It gave new vigour to the freedom movement.

In a letter to the Viceroy, relinquishing the knighthood conferred on him, Nobel Prize-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore said the enormity of the measures taken by the Punjab government to quell local disturbances had, with a rude shock, revealed to Indians the helplessness of their position as British subjects.

 “I for my part wish to stand, shorn of all distinctions, by the side of those of my countrymen, who, for their so-called insignificance, are liable to suffer degradation not fit for human beings,” he added.

Mahatma Gandhi, who had helped the war effort by promoting recruitment to the army, in the hope that when the World War ended Britain would reward India with Dominion status, called for a day’s countrywide work-stoppage in protest.

The following year he launched the first of his non-violent civil disobedience campaigns.  

The massacre also gave a fillip to the incipient revolutionary movement in Punjab.  Udham Singh, a young Punjabi, shot and killed Michael O’Dwyer in London in 1940. He was tried, convicted and executed.

Udham Singh’s mortal remains were exhumed and brought to India and cremated in his village in 1974. An urn with a part of his ashes is at the Martyrs Memorial at Jallianwala Bagh. Britain and the British Indian government sought to pacify Indians’ demand for an apology with expressions of regret.

The demand, renewed from time to time, came up again on the eve of the centenary. Britain still did not go beyond regret.

However, as a nation, Britain has come to terms with the reality of the massacre, which Winston Churchill, then a minister and no friend of India, had described as “monstrous”.  Queen Elizabeth visited the Martyrs Memorial in 1997 and Prime Minister David Cameron in 2013.

History is replete with instances of such monstrosities. The Indian subcontinent had sufficient strength and resilience to survive centuries of loot. In contrast, the hapless natives of the American continents lost everything. 

What difference can regret or even apology make in such situations? Indians cannot overlook the fact that Britain built and defended its empire with the help of local kings and army recruits. Dyer’s orders were carried out by Indian soldiers.

Army excesses and cover-up are a continuing feature of Indian history. Crimes committed by foreigners in India pale into insignificance beside the monstrosities of the caste system, which, according to available information, began with the introduction of endogamy in the second century BCE. The malaise still impacts the lives of millions.

Apology without remorse can only be an empty gesture. The best way to make amends for the wrongs of history is for powerful nations and dominant groups that prey on he weak to foreswear ideas and practices that have led to unspeakable crimes.  -- Gulf Today,  April 16, 2019.  

09 April, 2019

Indigenous people’s future in peril

BRP Bhaskar



he Forest Rights Act, enacted by Parliament in 2006, presents a classic example of giving with the right hand and taking away with the left hand.

The shrinking forests are where most of the country’s indigenous people, officially labelled as Scheduled Tribes as the names of their communities figured first in a schedule of a colonial-era Act, live.

In popular parlance, the communities are referred to as Adivasis, which term means original inhabitants. 

Unwilling to concede their antiquity, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, fountainhead of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s Hindutva ideology, refers to them as Vanvasis, meaning forest dwellers. It conveniently overlooks the fact that they ended up on the hills and in the forests under pressure from later migrants.

The 2011 census put the number of tribes at 705 and the tribal population at 104.3 million, 8.6 per cent of the national total. Under the Constitution, the STs, along with the Dalits, officially termed Scheduled Castes, are entitled to reservation in Parliament, State Assemblies, the services and educational institutions.

Denudation of forests began in the colonial period. Early on it yielded some good results like re-discovery of the long-forgotten Buddhist stupa at Sanchi, near Bhopal, while cutting down trees to make railway sleepers.

Realising the damage caused to the environment, the British later embarked upon a scheme to protect the forests. They made laws which, while permitting Adivasis to remain in reserved forests and gather resources for their livelihood, denied access to outsiders. 

After Independence, people from the plains grabbed forest lands in many states, often with the connivance of politicians and officials.

In the 1970s, the Centre advised the states concerned to enact legislation to restore forest lands to the Adivasis. Accordingly laws were passed, but most governments failed to implement them.

In the wake of globalisation of the economy, national and international corporations started grabbing land for industries. In many states,  Adivasis mobilised themselves to defend their homelands. 

It was an unequal struggle, and the Adivasis often lost. However, in some instances, they were able to pack off the corporates. A notable case is that of the South Korean steel major POSCO which was forced to drop the plan to set up the world’s largest steel plant in Odisha state. 

Responding to the pleas of non-government organisations working among tribal communities, the first Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA)  government, headed by Manmohan Singh, enacted the Forest Rights Act. It aimed at reversal of the erosion of the forest dwellers’ traditional rights as a result of forestry policies, encroachments and takeover of forests.   

In keeping with the spirit of the law, the government issued an order in 2009 making it obligatory to take the consent of the village council of the forest dwellers to set up any project in their area. When an Adivasi community of Odisha refused consent to an industrial group’s project in their area, the Supreme Court upheld their right to do so.  

In its second avatar, the UPA itself started whittling down the provisions of the Act to make it easy for corporates to undertake mining in the forests. Since Prime Minister Narenda Modi pulled all plugs to make it easy to do business the Act has been observed more in breach than in practice in the last five years. 

A set of petitions challenging the Forest Rights Act is now before the Supreme Court. On being told that 16 states had rejected the claims of a total of 1,127,446 forest dwellers, a three-judge bench directed the state governments in February to evict them. 

It asked the states to explain why there were no evictions so far and said it would take a serious view of the matter if they were not evicted before July 27, the next date of hearing. It is not clear why the court peremptorily issued an eviction order without hearing the Centre, waiting for the state governments’ explanations and giving the affected people an opportunity to make representations against the proposed action.

The Centre appears to have played a collusive role in the matter.  Congress President Rahul Gandhi accused the Modi government of remaining a silent spectator when the Act was challenged and attempts were being made to drive out Adivasis and small farmers from forest areas. 

Following a storm of protests across the country, the apex court stayed its order within a few days. But the peril to which the Adivasis are exposed remains.

Social justice has primacy among the objectives of the Constitution. It is the responsibility of the Supreme Court to ensure justice to the forest dwellers, one of the most vulnerable sections of Indian society.-- Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 9, 2019.

02 April, 2019

A severe blow to academic freedom

BRP Bhaskar

The decision to restrict areas of research in terms of national priorities came to light through a circular issued by the Central University of Kerala.
The Indian government has asked universities to limit research to topics related to national priorities.
Since it is the prerogative of those in power to determine the nation’s priorities and research institutions are dependent upon the state for funds, the move is a mortal blow to academic freedom. Decision-making under Prime Minister Narenda Modi is a process shrouded in mystery. It is not unusual for decisions to emanate from the Prime Minister’s office rather than the Ministry concerned.

The decision to restrict areas of research in terms of national priorities came to light through a circular issued by the Central University of Kerala (CUK) at Kasergode to the deans of the schools under it and the heads of all departments.

Dr Meena T Pillai resigned from CUK’s board of studies in protest against the decision. CUK said the decision was taken at a meeting of university vice-chancellors held in New Delhi to review the implementation of the tripartite agreement among the universities, the Ministry of Human Resources Development and the University Grants Commission.

The circular was explicit. It asked each head of department to prepare a shelf of projects to be taken up for research in the light of national priorities. The research student can choose one from the shelf. Research in irrelevant areas must be discouraged, it said.

Considering that funds are limited, the decision to set priorities for areas of research cannot be faulted. The problem lies in the Bharatiya Janata Party-led administration’s warped thinking and its leaders’ poor understanding of academic matters.

Modi’s educational qualifications are under a cloud. He claims to have obtained a Master’s degree from Delhi University but the university administration has turned down applications under the Right to Information Act seeking information about his academic record. A purported certificate released by the BJP showed his post-graduate degree was in “Entire Political Science”.  Modi’s first Minister for Human Resources Development, of which Education is a part, was Smriti Irani, the lead actress of a popular Hindi television serial. Though not a university graduate, she claimed to be a Yale alumna on the strength of her participation in a programme at its campus.

The BJP’s ideological mentor, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has a keen interest in educational policy. Smriti Irani placed men associated with RSS in key positions and they began tampering with textbooks and syllabi to further the Hindutva cause.

When the RSS’s student affiliate fomented unrest in the Jawaharlal Nehru University, the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, and the Central University of Hyderabad, Smriti Irani played a supportive role. Modi, however, found it necessary to shift her to another ministry.

Gujarat’s BJP government went one step beyond the Centre. It sent to universities in the state a list of 82 subjects and said researchers should be asked to pick from them for their PhD thesis. The list was drawn up by the Knowledge Consortium of Gujarat (KCG), a body set up by Modi when he was the state’s Chief Minister, to oversee reform of higher education.

The topics listed by KCG include Modi’s Swach Bharat (Clean India) programme and various state government projects. Justifying the decision to encourage research on such topics, KCG Director AU Patel said independent analysis by researchers would help the government to improve the projects.

However, not all educationists were impressed by the argument. One scholar pointed out that if the government wants an independent analysis it should commission a study by a competent academic body like the Sardar Patel Economic Research Academy and not force it on research students.

Who decides national priorities, asked Dr Meena Pillai, whose criticism of the government move received national attention. She said faculty members of central universities were not speaking out on the issue fearing reprisals. She pointed out that those who criticised university administrations on various issues had invited suspensions and inquiries. 

In a feeble response to her criticism, CUK said the term “national priorities” was used to denote topics that would benefit economic, social and technological advancement of the nation and society. It added, “The research areas may include latest developments in nano technology, nano medicine, artificial intelligence, space research, nuclear science, sustainable development, climate change, organic farming among others.”

The university’s flaunting of new frontier themes must be viewed in the context of the peddling of pseudo-sciences by BJP leaders, led by Modi himself. Addressing an Indian Science Congress session, Modi had claimed ancient Indians knew the techniques of organ transplant and in-vitro fertilisation. He cited Hindu god Ganesha’s elephant head as the work of an ancient plastic surgeon and the 100 Kaurava siblings of the epic Mahabharata as test-tube babies. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, April 2, 2019 

Policy paralysis in Jammu and Kashmir

BRP Bhaskar

Kashmiri women during a rally.
BRP Bhaskar, Political Commentator
Along with the rest of India, Jammu and Kashmir goes to the polls during April-May to choose six members of the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament. At present the state is without an elected Assembly. But the Election Commission has not scheduled fresh Assembly elections.

Since the Constitution was introduced 69 years ago it has been the practice to hold elections to the two houses simultaneously whenever possible. In fact, four states, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim, are holding elections to the Lok Sabha and the Assembly simultaneously this time.

While announcing the poll schedule, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora offered a clumsily worded explanation for not holding Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir along with the Lok Sabha poll.

As he put it, the decision was “based on the specific inputs and recommendation from the state government and Union Home Ministry, inputs from the political parties and other stakeholders, constraints of availability of central forces and other logistics, requirement of security forces for security of candidates in wake of incidents of violence in recent past and keeping other challenges in mind.”

The CEC’s explanation runs counter to facts on record. After the Assembly was dissolved and the state placed under President’s rule, both Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Governor Sat Pal Malik repeatedly affirmed the Central and state governments’ readiness to hold Assembly elections at any time of the Election Commission’s choice.

That was, of course, before the Pulwama suicide attack in which more than 40 security personnel were killed. But neither the Home Minister nor the Governor has publicly gone back on those commitments even after that incident.

All parties other than former Chief Minister Mahmooda Mufti’s People’s Democratic Party have favoured immediate Assembly elections.  It was in these circumstances that AG Noorani, a constitutional expert, observed that failure to schedule Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir along with the Lok Sabha poll shows up problems in the working of the Election Commission.

The CEC’s response to Noorani’s criticism is highly unsatisfactory. It fails to provide a credible answer to the question why the Commission, which is ready to hold the Lok Sabha poll, is unable to make the additional arrangements needed for conduct of the Assembly elections.

Jammu and Kashmir has six Lok Sabha constituencies — three in Kashmir valley, two in Jammu province and one in Ladakh. Polling in the state is spread over five days. While five constituencies will have one-day polling, in the sixth, Anantnag, polling will be completed in three phases spread over two weeks.

The schedule suggests that the ground situation in Anantnag is far more serious than the government has acknowledged publicly. Even so, the Commission’s decision raises some questions. The 87 Assembly constituencies may have a few hundred candidates. Is it beyond the state’s competence to protect them and to meet the additional requirement of men and material for the Assembly elections?  Must we let our democratic process become a hostage to militant groups?

The main obstacle to the constitutional process in the state appears to be the policy paralysis that has gripped the administration. After the collapse of his early efforts to improve relations with Pakistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has failed to develop a coherent approach to bilateral relations and to the Kashmir problem. Instead there have been knee-jerk reactions to developments in or relating to the state.

With the Lok Sabha elections at hand, Modi appears to let conditions in the state fester, reckoning it will pay electoral dividends. Last week the Centre banned Yasin Malik’s Jammu and Kashmir National Liberation Front, saying “it has been at the forefront of separatist activities and violence since 1988.” No recent event was cited to justify the step.

In a break with past practice the Centre decided not to send a minister to represent it at the Pakistan High Commission’s National Day reception since Kashmiri separatist leaders were also invited, although this is not the first time they have figured on the guest list.

The government informed the national media about the boycott. But it did not tell the media about Modi’s message to Prime Minister Imran Khan conveying greetings to the government and people of Pakistan on the occasion. Indians learnt of it from Imran Khan’s tweet.

All things considered, there is reason to suspect that the Election Commission has allowed the political interests of the ruling dispensation to override its constitutional obligation to hold Assembly election. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 25, 2019..

19 March, 2019

PMs-in-waiting queer the pitch

BRP Bhaskar


e grand alliance against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which was being promoted by some opposition leaders, has not materialised.

The biggest stumbling block to a national-level alliance was the conflicting interests of opposition leaders with prime ministerial ambitions. Some of them believe a hung Lok Sabha with low Congress representation will better their chances.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati are among those who have an eye on the Prime Minister’s chair. Both are women who have risen to the top without any dynastic advantage.

Mamata Banerjee had broken away from the Congress in 1998, unhappy with its unwillingness to take West Bengal’s ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front head on. She then formed the All-India Trinamool Congress, which, despite the name, is essentially a regional party. In 2011, it put an end to 34 years of Left Front rule.

Mayawati, a Dalit, was groomed by Kanshi Ram as leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party which he had founded in 1984. Overcoming the disabilities of caste and gender, she became Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, the country’s largest state. She held the post five times.

Adept in social engineering, Mayawati furthered her career by devising schemes from time to time to attract Brahmins and Muslims. Recently she tied up with Akhilesh Yadav, leader of the Samajwadi Party, which draws support mainly from the other backward classes.

Until the last Lok Sabha election, Mayawati stayed out of electoral alliances. While most of the candidates she fielded outside UP forfeited their deposits, the tactics enabled the BSP to emerge as the third largest party after the BJP and the Congress, in terms of popular votes.

In 2014, as a Modi wave swept the Hindi states, she could not win a single seat even from UP. This prompted her to revise her tactics but she is now on a course that may indirectly help Modi. The BSP-SP alliance’s failure to keep the Congress on its side and Rahul Gandhi’s decision to bring in his sister Priyanka Vadra to boost the party’s campaign in UP have opened the way for multilateral contests.

Mayawati is keen to restrict the Congress strength in the new Lok Sabha. She reckons it will rule out the possibility of a government led by Rahul Gandhi and improve her prospects in the prime ministerial race.

Soon after the BSP-SP alliance was finalised, Akhilesh Yadav indicated his preference for a Prime Minister from UP.  Many took this to mean he would back Mayawati for the post. But he has asked his father and former Chief Minister Mulayam Singh, a prime ministerial aspirant, to contest the election.

Some time ago Rahul Gandhi had said he was ready to accept Mayawati or Mamata Banerjee as the Prime Minister. However, many senior Congress leaders are against his conceding leadership of a coalition government to anyone else.

Three southern leaders, Tamil Nadu’s Dravida Munnetra  Kazhagam leader MK Stalin, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao recently made interventions calculated to influence the course of national politics.

Stalin, son and political heir of former Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, is waiting for his turn to occupy the big chair in Chennai. He has endorsed Rahul Gandhi’s prime ministerial candidature.

Chandrababu Naidu and Chandrasekhar promoted the idea of opposition unity, the former more vigorously than the latter. It is not clear if they entertain prime ministerial ambitions or want to play the role of kingmaker.

The absence of a national-level alliance does not mean the BJP will have a walkover. Several small national parties and regional parties are strong enough to block its advance in their strongholds. Modi’s best hope now lies in the one-upmanship of the rival opposition leaders with overweening ambitions which is queering the pitch ahead of the poll.

In the event of a hung Lok Sabha, as the incumbent Prime Minister, Modi will be in a better position than either Rahul Gandhi or any of the other opposition leaders to cobble together a working majority.

If the Lok Sabha fails to throw up a government fresh elections will become necessary. Elections cost a lot of money, and no party, least of all the small ones, will want to go through them once again so soon.

Most of the small parties ranged against Modi were the BJP’s allies in the government led by AB Vajpayee during 1999-2004.  Ideological differences may not, therefore, prove difficult to surmount. -Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 19, 2017.

05 March, 2019

Back from the brink
BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The subcontinent heaved a sigh of relief during the weekend following a palpable improvement in the situation after days of tension generated by war cries and some military action in the wake of the bomb attack at Pulwama in Kashmir.

More than 40 security personnel were killed in the attack which came after Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, overlooking a series of daring attacks on Indian military establishments, claimed there had been no terror attacks in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s time.

Modi, who had strenuously projected a macho image of himself and earned applause from his Hindutva supporters, had said the sacrifices of the security personnel would not go in vain. 

Prime Minister Imran Khan, while calling for talks, sought to match Modi’s mood with a reminder that he was a Pathan’s son. Any retaliatory action would meet with a response, he warned. 

The army in both the countries dutifully reiterated their readiness to face any eventuality.

The Indian response came in the form of a pre-dawn operation in which Air Force planes bombed a Jaish-e-Mohammed training camp at Balakot, across the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Pakistani response also took the form of violation of the line of control. India’s aged MiG-21s scrambled to challenge Pakistan’s F-16s and a dogfight ensued.

The price each side paid for the brief display of military prowess is not quite clear as both sides have been niggardly with facts, the focus being primarily on satisfying popular sentiments at home.

While the military issued a matter-of-fact statement on the Balakot air strike, Indian officials, keen to please hyper-nationalists, fed the media with a casualty figure of more than 300 dead. 

Pakistan said it shot down two MiGs and captured the pilot of one of them. India said it had downed an F-16 and acknowledged a pilot was missing in action. Neither side said anything about the pilots of the other planes which were allegedly hit.

As the media played up the aerial encounter, the military and civilian casualties in truce violations and encounters with militants in Kashmir received little attention. 

Kashmir media reported the Pulwama toll had gone up to 49 with some security men succumbing to their injuries. However, the government did not revise the casualty figure. 

There was considerable anxiety in India over the fate of the captured pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, against the background of the experience of former Navy officer Kulbhushan  Jadhav, who is facing the death sentence in Pakistan on charges of spying. 

Jadhav’s case is now before the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

The world watched developments in the subcontinent with concern as India and Pakistan, which fought three wars between 1947 and 1972 with conventional weapons, now have nuclear weapons too.  

China’s recent statement that it does not recognise either country as a nuclear nation makes no difference to the fact that they have the capacity to cause immense harm to themselves and to the neighbourhood.  

India asked for safe return of the pilot. Anti-war groups in both the countries also demanded his release. 

As everyone was wondering what steps each side would take next, tempers cooled as Imran Khan announced in the National Assembly that the pilot would be returned to India on Friday as a peace gesture. 

Imran Khan was in a happier situation than Modi in dealing with the situation as he did not have to face an election immediately. Modi has to seek a fresh mandate in April-May.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party’s vested interest in heightened tension became evident when its top leader in Karnataka, BS Yeddyurappa, blurted out that the Indian air strikes would help the party win as many as 22 of the state’s 28 Lok Sabha seats.

When tension eased, party propagandists claimed the turnaround was the result of Modi’s diplomatic efforts.    
While war clouds hung over the subcontinent, a silver lining was provided by small groups in both countries, mostly comprising young people, who raised ‘no war” cries above the sounds of the drums. 

Both war-mongers and peace campaigners were active in the social media. Some cities of India and Pakistan witnessed small peace rallies. Indians and Pakistanis at Oxford University issued a joint statement calling for peace.  

Which of the two tribes will increase? In the answer to this question lies the future of the subcontinent. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 5, 2019. 

02 March, 2019

Some Recollections of Wars of My Time 2
Demonization in times of war and peace
A bridge across Ichogil Canal destroned by the retreating Pakistanni soldiers to prevent Indian troops' advance towards Lahore. 

Those fed on communal venom may find it hard to digest Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s reference to the professionalism of the Pakistan Army in the video in circulation.  It can be easily dismissed as words spoken under duress and part of Pakistani propaganda. But let it not be forgotten that on ejection from the downed aircraft he fell into the hands of a lumpen mass. If Pakistani soldiers had not intervened immediately he could have met with the same fate as the alleged cow-lifters who had fallenl into the hands of lynch mobs in some North Indian states.

Demonization of The Other is a part of war-time propaganda everywhere. In India and Pakistan, there are vested interests that do it in peacetime as well in pursuit of their sectarian interests.

 The Indian and Pakistan armies were created by dividing the British Indian Army at the time of Partition. They thus began their separate existence with common traditions built up over two to three centuries.

The first British soldiers set foot on India in 1662. The British government made available only a small number of soldiers to protect the East India Company’s factories. The Company supplemented the white force with local recruitment of foreign mercenaries and Indians.  It created three separate armies at Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. The Indian recruits included people belonging to all religions and all castes from Brahmins to Dalits.

More than seven decades have passed since Partition.  That is a long enough period to evolve new traditions.  Pakistan became an Islamic republic and its Army rulers found it necessary to cultivate the Islamic establishment.  India opted to be secular, and our early governments took steps to end the communal division that the British had maintained in their Indian army. The quick disappearance of Pakistan’s founder, M.A. Jinnah, and first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan created a leadership vacuum which made it easy for  the armed forces to seize power.  The ease with which the Bharatiya Janata Party has been able to attract retired military officers to its ranks is a clear indication that India also has officers with latent political ambitions. Some retired officers’ fulminations in the sickening television debates suggest that the communal virus has infected the Indian forces too. 

To come back to war recollections, Gen. Ayub Khan sent infiltrators to stage an insurrection, believing the conflict will be confined to Jammu and Kashmir.  But Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri ordered Indian troops to cross the international border.  From Amritsar they marched up to the Ichogil Canal outside Lahore.

Pakistani bombing caused damage to the Amritsar military airport. Realizing it could soon become unserviceable India started extending the runway of the civil aerodrome there to handle military jets. The Pakistanis did not interfere with the work but our civil aviation and military authorities knew they would target it once military planes started  using it. One person who was worried about the prospect was the officer in charge of the civil aerodrome, whose family was with him in the quarters close to the aerodrome. He decided to send his wife and children home to Kerala.

A transporter with a fleet of trucks was also eager to get out of Amritsar with his family.  When the war started the authorities had requisitioned all his trucks. He managed to get one truck released to move out with  his family and some necessities.  He offered to carry the aerodrome officer’s family to Delhi.

When I heard this story I was struck by the trust our military and civil aviation authorities had in the good faith of the Pakistanis which persuaded them to believe that the civil aerodrome would not come under attack until it was used for military purposes.

How did I get to knowof  all this? Well, one of my sisters was a post-graduate student at the Amritsar Medical College at that time.  She was acquainted with the aerodrome officer’s family.  When they got the chance to move out of Amritsar they picked her up too and brought her to Delhi with them.

I had a taste of the effect of demonization in Pakistan in 1972. A young woman who greeted me in the lobby of  the hotel in Rawalpindi was shocked when she learntthat  I came from India. “Hindustan se aayaa, baapere baap! ” she exclaimed with a gasp. Then she regained her composure and said, “But you look like a Pakistani.”

“What did you think Indians looked like?” I asked.

She was too confused to answer.  I confounded her confusion by asking another question: “Do you know your father was an Indian before he became a Pakistani?” 

01 March, 2019

Sindhis keep their lost land in their hearts 

In Search Of A Lost Home: Sindhis In India Are Struggling To Save Their Language
Sindhis in Ajmer celebrating the Sindhi New Year Day
The recent attack on the Karachi Bakery in Bengaluru belonging to a Sindhi group displayed not only the deep-rooted prejudice of  sections of our society but also their gross ignorance of the history and culture of other sections.

The Sindhi language finds mention in the list of India's national languages in the constitution. There are about 2.77 million Sindhi-speaking people in India now. They are spread across the country and  there is no state or region they can call their own. Our National Anthem refers to their place of origin but it is part of Pakistan.

Enterprising Sindhis began migration in the 18th or 19th century and established themselves in business in other parts of the subcontinent as also in foreign lands. The Kishinchand Chellaram group, one of the oldest Sindhi business houses, began with a textile shop in Madras nearly one and a half centuries ago. By the early part of the last century it had outlets in Japan and Hawaii. 

In the elections held in British India under the Act of 1935, the Congress came to power in Sindh. As the Pakistan movement gained ground, the Congress' influence waned, and the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha formed a coalition government.  

Following Partition about 776,000 Sindhi Hindus came to India as refugees. Their descendants live with nostalgia for the land of their forebears which few of them have seen. 

In New Delhi, the person I hd to deal with in the bank from which I bought foreign exchange for my travels was a young Sindhi. One day in1972 I went to him with an exchange permit and told him I had to take a flight to Karchi that night. As he was arranging my travellers cheques, he asked me, "Will you do me a favour?"

"What favour can I do for you," I asked.
"Please bring me a little bit of the soil of Sindh."

While we were talking, one of his colleagues joined us. He too was a Sindhi, and he too wanted a bit of Sindh's soil.

My return flight to Delhi was also from Karachi. On my lasy day there, after dinner I went into the lawn of my hotel with two empty match-boxes and filled them with the soil of Sindh.

At the Delhi airport the customs officer became a little susicious when he saw two match=boxes in my suitcase. "Do they contain match-sticks?" he asked. "No," "I said. "They cotain soil I scooped up in Karachi for two Sindhi friends who has asked for it."  

The two friends told me later they were keeping the sacred soil of Sindh in the prayer room. 

I had the privilege of having Harikant Jethwani (1935-1994), a leading Sindhi writer of our time, as my colleague. Hewas in the night shift all the time as he had a day job elsewhere. His family had moved from Sindh to Ajmer in Rajasthan at the time of Partition. From there he came to Delhi to work as a journalist. 

He wrote poems, short stories and plays in Sindhi. He received the Sahitya Akademi award in 1991. 

Harikant was  a very quiet and unassuming person. Few who worked with him knew that he was a well-known writer in his  language.