Yes, Nepal can!

So California couldn’t manage it; Proposition 8 – a ban on gay marriage – was passed, and the California Supreme Court will now examine whether the ban is constitutional or not.

And India is still mulling over it; the Indian Supreme Court is yet to give its final verdict on Section 377, which criminalises gay sex.

But Nepal leads the way: in a historic judgement, delivered on 17 November, Nepal’s Supreme Court not only reiterated that LGBTIs are ‘natural persons’, entitled to equal rights, identity and expression, regardless of their sex at birth, but has also set up a commission that will recommend a same-sex marriage act for the Nepal government.

What made this extraordinary moment possible? One reason is clearly the tireless activism of LGBTI groups in Nepal, led amongst others, by the first openly gay member of Nepal’s constituent assembly, the Communist Party of Nepal (United) representative Sunil Babu Pant. Another factor seems to be the participation of LGBTI in campaigns for a democratic, secular Nepal, a process that led to the relinquishing of the monarchy by King Gyanendra in April, and a new constituent assembly in which the Maoists have the majority.

As Sunil Pant himself said, on a recent visit to India:

In Nepal, the LGBTI communities were part of the campaign for garnering votes for the Communist Party of Nepal. They approached me to campaign and I managed to secure 15,500 votes. It makes a statement that LGBTI people are interested in matters of politics and governance and not just sex. The campaign not only gave LGBTI issues visibility but a platform to negotiate for rights.

And a final interesting possibility raised by a Global Voices commentator from Nepal, is that the country’s predominantly Hindu culture is more accepting of gay rights. She quotes an excerpt from Ruth Vanita’s essay on Homosexuality and Hinduism, in support:

In 2004, Hinduism Today reporter Rajiv Malik asked several Hindu swamis (teachers) their opinion of same-sex marriage. The swamis expressed a range of opinions, positive and negative. They felt free to differ with each other; this is evidence of the liveliness of the debate, made possible by the fact that Hinduism has no one hierarchy or leader. As Mahant Ram Puri remarked, “We do not have a rule book in Hinduism. We have a hundred million authorities.

However, while this argument should surely have traction in India – and is used by sexuality rights advocates – the Indian government’s stand has been, rather ironically, more Victorian than Vedic. Whether the courage of Nepal’s jurists inspires their colleagues in India, remains to be seen. This is one case of cross-border trafficking that I would welcome.

Responsibility by association

My father worked for thirty five years in an organisation that many would claim has committed some egregious acts of violence against Indians. I have worked for six years heading a project with an agency that many would claim to be at the front line of some of those acts. The ‘organisation’ is the Indian state, and my father was reputedly a bureaucrat of integrity, probity and a deep sense of accountability. The ‘agency’ was the Karnataka police, with whom I coordinated a UNICEF partnership on violence against women and children, and I believe I did it with a deep sense of justice. Yet even if one were to acknowledge that these are not monolithic structures, and they are not peopled by monsters (however monstrous some of their actions may appear), it would be easy to accuse me of co-operating with the state and being co-opted by the police. Am I coercive and violent at worst, or naive and ineffectual at best? I would hope neither, though being ineffectual is a recurring nightmare.

… I understand how invidious ‘guilt by association’ can be, as an argument for damning someone.

Yet, in the current debate around Sonal Shah‘s nomination to the Obama advisory group – and her alleged links to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad through her family’s and her own varying levels of involvement with the organisation – the parallels stop here for two reasons. First, the Indian state is not the VHP (though it appeared co-terminous with the Gujarat government in 2002), and there are various ways, however convoluted or difficult, to hold the state responsible for its in/actions. Even more critically, the Indian state’s constitutional foundation is that of a democratic republic premised on principles of justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity to *all* citizens, however flawed its follow through might be; I am yet to believe that the VHP is a flagbearer for these principles.

The parallel also ends with the immutable fact that I have not been asked to join Obama’s advisory board (and never will be). However, if I were ever to be in a position of power, privilege and leadership – whether by appointment or implication – and I was challenged about my past ‘associations’ with the Indian state, I would not only welcome the challenge, I would think it irrefutably appropriate.

My key disappointment with the entire debate that has sprung up over Shah’s appointment – and her own response to it – is that it continues to be framed, if unwittingly, in problematic binaries: in the waning days of Bush, we still seem to settle on ‘you’re either with us, or against us’. On the one hand, Vijay Prashad is absolutely correct in demanding some sense of accountability for Sonal Shah’s political antecedents. If she was national coordinator of VHP-America till 2001, it means that at least until the age of 33 (she is reportedly 40 now), she was in a position of leadership in an organisation that has been implicated in egregious acts of bigotry, hate-mongering and sectarianism back in India. Amardeep Singh may claim that a scrutiny of Shah is not warranted till she is in a government appointed position that has connections with India; this seems to me to be a case of acquittal by dis-association… surely we have a right to ask probing questions of someone who is ‘representing’ both issues of ‘development’ and (even if unwillingly) issues of the Indian American community?

On the other hand, in Prashad’s somewhat lengthy telling of Shah’s history and VHP’s actions in Gujarat (while touching upon the Obama campaign and US interventionism), he fails to give us the substance of his conversation with Shah at a conference. I can well imagine that this is through the slippages of time and memory, but I would have found it helpful to hear a well-delineated argument about why he was convinced she understood, and did not repudiate, the political implications of her past associations. In personalising the encounter, and limiting its description to a ‘bitter exchange’, the very valid questions he poses lose some force. Singh’s defence of Shah is more subtle from this perspective: he posits that she may well have been involved with the VHP as she grew up, found its politics too problematic, and dis-engaged herself from the organisation. Still, this too seems disingenuous, given that she was 33 when coordinating earthquake relief in Gujarat; at this age, it is hard to think of her as being ‘naive’ about VHP politics… why not choose any of the many organisations also doing relief work with no right-wing antecedents whatsoever? This is when guilt by association slips into guilt by action (or inaction, as the case may be).

In fact, it worries me that if she was indeed unclear about the connections between disaster relief and the growing power of fundamentalist organisations (connections that have repeatedly been seen across the world, not just in India), then her understanding of the politics of development may also be suspect. In her own statement, she gives no indication that she understands that humanitarian work can be political in and of itself, or have deeply political impacts: she herself calls it ‘apolitical’. A more honest and self-reflexive analysis of her former position as VHP-A national coordinator would have helped support her claims of condemning the ‘politics of division, of ethnic or religious hatred, of violence and intimidation as a political tool’; instead she elides that past. I am deeply thankful, however, that she clearly and specifically disassociates herself from the ‘views espoused by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), or any such organization’. Unfortunately, these organisations do not see fit to disassociate themselves from her; currently, the RSS is making arrangements to hold a public reception in her honour in Gujarat.

Complicating the debate, what I found both disturbing and thought-provoking, in the commentary for and against Sonal Shah, was this statement:

As far as second generation Indians affiliations with groups such as VHP, I too was raised attending some of their youth camps. I assure you they do not train us in weapons training or to hate Muslims. Being born and/or raised in this country, second generation Indian Americans have few options about learning about their faith or their culture. VHP has had a recognizable base in the US for as far as I can remember and I am 30 now. They were one of the few organizations that taught children belonging to Hindu families of their religion and culture. While we may not agree 100% ideologically with them, it does not mean we are fanatic by our associaton (sic) with them.

This is precisely the point at which the larger debate of activism around ideals of secularism and plurality, stumbles in India, and perhaps (as I witness it now), here in the US. Why is our analysis not able to convey the slippery slope between VHP summer schools and the genocide in Gujarat? Have we, as activists for a progressive world, so denounced a middle ground of faith, religiosity and associated ‘culture’, that we have ended up allowing the fascist right to take over that space? Is a VHP summer school the only option that a young Hindu growing up in America has for learning about her heritage, whatever this might mean? How far are we committed to having ‘youth camps’ about syncreticism, pluralism, and that most particular aspect of Indian heritage: secularism as both the church-state separation, as well as a respect for all faiths? With histories that include Hindu and Muslim worship at Baba Budangiri, or the Hindu and Christian celebrations at Velankinni?

And finally, do people not have the right to find some sense of meaning for themselves in a complex and violent world, even if those meanings are not always our own? Do we negate the nuances of spirituality, faith and religiosity by hardily lumping them together with conservatism and fundamentalism? Surely the common values should be of peace, equality and humaneness, even if the approaches are different? As an activist in India post the Gujarat genocide, I asked myself precisely these questions in an essay entitled ‘Fundamentalisms of the Progressive‘; knowing fully well that I could be accused of being naive at best, and renegade at worst. Yet I think those of us fighting the long fight against the politics of hate and oppression, need to keep analysing our own positions and strategies, and have the wisdom and honesty to acknowledge past omissions and commissions, an honesty I equally expect from someone like Sonal Shah. And unlike the somewhat blunt debate of is-she-isn’t-she, I see this process of probity being less about guilt, and more about responsibility by association.

Darkening his image?

Ashwin Madia, whose parents were reportedly Mumbaikers till they moved to the US, is a Democrat running for Congress from Minnesota. According to a KARE news report, he has had his image ‘darkened’ in a Republican attack ad. Literally.

If this was India, we’d have Fair and Handsome ads that told him he couldn’t win without the bleach. Aaargh. Racism is alive, peeps… and perhaps it’ll be severely unwell post November 4th? Now that’s the audacity of hope.

Section 377 and Proposition 8

Here in California, both advocates for and against are calling it the second biggest battle after the Presidential elections on November 4: the fate of Proposition 8 on the ballot, or the move to ban gay marriages. In June this year, same-sex marriages were made legal in California (the second state after Massachusetts, and then Connecticut followed); over 11,000 couples have got married in the few months since. In fact, pioneering lesbian rights activist, Del Martin, died in August at the age of 87, after having married Phyllis Lyon, her companion of over 55 years, on June 16, the first day of legalisation. Sexuality rights activists are worried that well deserved celebrations in June are starting to feel somewhat premature: proposition 8 is the first time an attempt is being made to eliminate a civil right already achieved.

Back home in India, an even more fundamental – and equally critical – battle is being fought over Section 377, the section of the 1861 Indian Penal Code that criminalises ‘unnatural sex’. Ironically, the British – under whose reign the Indian Penal Code was created in pre-independent India – rejected such criminalisation in 1967. And various scholars, including Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai in Same-Sex Love in India, have demonstrated fairly unequivocally that same-sex love and relationships have existed and been represented in Indian art and literature for over two thousand years.

In 2002, the Naz Foundation (India) filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Delhi High Court to challenge Section 377, with growing support from across the country. In recent hearings on the PIL, the Additional Solicitor General PP Malhotra has sounded more than mildly Victorian himself while trying to defend the section against incisive judicial questioning: “Gay sex is against the order of the nature. We will disturb the nature by allowing them to do so. In the compelling circumstances the State has to take the help of the law to maintain the public morality.” The government’s stand itself is somewhat confused: the Ministry of Health believes that legalising homosexuality would help in its efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, while the Ministry of Law is against it on ‘moral’ grounds.

Last week, over 30 Rhodes Scholars from India wrote to the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh – who has often served on the Selection Committee for the Rhodes Trust – and asked him to repeal Section 377. In the letter, we said:

Ever since the prestigious Rhodes Scholarships were first given to Indian students in 1947, its recipients have contributed in many different ways to the progress of India, in education, the civil service, science, and business. We, the undersigned, belong to this diverse community of Indian Rhodes Scholars but write in our individual capacity as Indian citizens with a commitment to public service and the fundamental principles of the Indian constitution — liberty, equality, justice, and the dignity of the individual. We believe that it is clear what these principles demand of us today: to join the growing body of concerned citizens that calls for the decriminalisation of consensual sex between adults of the same sex by the reading down of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.

As the historic case over the constitutionality of Section 377 now awaits the attention of the Delhi High Court, we write to register our profound disagreement with the language of the Additional Solicitor General P. P. Malhotra, who, in articulating the government’s stance, has argued that reading down the section could ‘open the floodgates for delinquent behaviour and be misconstrued as providing unbridled licence for homosexual acts’. He has argued, in addition, that strong social disapproval and the ‘right to health of society’ is sufficient reason to justify the treatment of homosexuals as criminals.

[…]

The health of our society, our democracy, and our polity, requires that we recognise the historic nature of this moment. Section 377 is a colonial relic, an imposition of un-Indian Victorian attitudes towards human sexuality that even the United Kingdom rejected in 1967. The government today has the unique chance to extend the fundamental right to equality and freedom to Indians who have long been discriminated against. This discrimination is real and manifests itself in police arrests, the threat of blackmail, and brutal violence, among other things, relegating India’s sexual minorities to second-class citizenship. We recall the courage of earlier governments in putting principle above immediate popularity in fighting for an end to institutionalised caste- and gender-based discrimination. We urge this government, a government committed to the cause of social and political justice, to seize the moment and make the historic decision to end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The full text of the letter is here. The Telegraph reported that a couple of days after the delivery of the letter, the Prime Minister asked the Ministers of Health and Law to “sit together”, and “sort out” the matter:

Singh’s directive to his colleagues came two days after 30-odd Rhodes scholars from India wrote to him requesting “an end to a law” that they said went “not only against fundamental human rights” but also worked “sharply against the enhancement of human freedoms”.

Earlier this year in an article in Frontline, Rakesh Shukla of Voices Against 377 said: “The petition is important but not enough. We need to continue to lobby with political parties, the legal fraternity, the police and mental health professionals and to raise awareness among the public.” This is absolutely true; repealing Section 377 is not going to ensure dignity and security for hijras, kothis, lesbians or gays in India, but it is an urgently needed first step, and our government needs to take it.

Image courtesy Sangama.

May his tribe increase

I have always viewed Colin Powell with discomfort and mistrust for his role in the Bush administration’s war on Iraq. Yet this weekend, as he endorsed Obama, he redeemed himself to a great extent in my eyes; less for his endorsement – because I’m not sure how much that matters in terms of actual votes, though it is a significant nail in the Republican intellectual coffin – but much more for this statement:

I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.”

Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim; he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian.

But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America.

Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?

Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards — Purple Heart, Bronze Star — showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old.

And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross; it didn’t have the Star of David; it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life.

Over this troubling US Presidential process, one of the most troubling moments for me was when a supporter of McCain’s said to him at a rally that Obama was Arab, and his response was “No ma’am… he’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.” Add to that the sleight of a campaign that conflates racism with Islamophobia and uses Hussein, Obama’s middle name, as shorthand for suspecting all his credentials.

Almost as problematic as the Republican campaign on this, has been the Democrats’ response, or lack thereof. Less appalling in degree from McCain’s instinctual ‘No, Ma’am, he’s a decent family man’ in his rebuttal to the Arab comment, it corrects the premise that Obama is Muslim, because his professed faith is Christian, but it never goes beyond to address this question: why should it matter if he was Arab and/or Muslim? Can’t Arabs be decent family men, and American Muslims aspire to be Presidents of the US? As Naomi Klein says:

What is disturbing about the campaign’s response is that it leaves unchallenged the disgraceful and racist premise behind the entire “Muslim smear”: that being Muslim is de facto a source of shame.

Ditto being Arab. Obviously, it will take many geography and history lessons from Joe Biden to clarify that ‘Arab’ and ‘Muslim’ are not necessarily the same identities.

So for an Indian sitting in America, struggling with anger over remarks of this kind, as well as struggling with anger and despair over what’s going on back home – the persecution of Christians in Orissa and Karnataka, the continued persecution of Muslims, a growing fundamentalism across communities and caste and class violence in general – I have to say Colin Powell’s comment gives some cheer in uncheerful times. It also reminds me that with all my despair over violence in India, at the time I left last year, it had a Sikh Prime Minister, a Muslim President, and a Catholic and a Hindu as leaders of the two biggest political parties, besides an atheist as the Speaker of the House. We are not perfect in any way (very far from it), but there is a history of syncretism in the sub-continent that has been, and should continue to be, a strength we draw upon and expand, rather than abuse. Syncretic, plural cultures that have had some inspiration from the Arab world so vilified in certain American conversations today.

Like comfort food, I often return to simpler – and sometimes, more profound – truths of childhood. One particular poem I remember clearly encountering as a ten year old, was Leigh Hunt’s encomium to the sufi saint Ibrahim Bin Adham, or Abou Ben Adhem, in which ‘exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold’. Let’s hope that same exceeding peace prevails amongst others in the US like Colin Powell, who have the courage, if somewhat belatedly, to seek justice beyond popularity.

Oh geez, John Cleese!

From the Daily Kos (and elsewhere on the blogosphere), a brilliant poem by John Cleese on Sean Hannity, the Fox(ed) News anchor. (Btw, 86% of Fox News viewers reportedly thought McCain won the second US Presidential elections’ debate; everyone else thought Obama had).

Ode to Sean Hannity
by John Cleese

Aping urbanity
Oozing with vanity
Plump as a manatee
Faking humanity
Journalistic calamity
Intellectual inanity
Fox Noise insanity
You’re a profanity
Hannity

And my own humble response:

John Cleese
terrific tease
always at ease
such a wheeze.
more please?

Tom Lehrer and National Brotherhood Week

I’m sure to get ragged by TR about my comment in my post below, saying ‘dissent and debate welcome, hatred unacceptable’. But he certainly knows I’m following a rich and illustrious tradition.

Tom Lehrer, in his introduction to National Brotherhood Week:

I’m sure we all agree that we ought to love one another and I know there are people in the world that do not love their fellow human beings and I hate people like that.

Asma Jahangir on freedom of religion and belief in India

asmaj3.jpgAsma Jahangir is the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief of the United Nations Human Rights Council. She recently visited India, and made a statement on 20th March 2008. Some excerpts from the statement; the full text is available at The Hindu.

[…]Indeed, due to the religious diversity of India, this country visit has been an enriching experience for the mandate I hold since 2004. I will be submitting a detailed report with conclusions and recommendations to the United Nations Human Rights Council, therefore this press statement will only cover some preliminary impressions that I have formed during the past 2« weeks. In this press statement it would be impossible to make a general assessment of the current state of freedom of religion or belief in the whole of India. In fact, this was not the first visit of the mandate, as my predecessor undertook a mission to India in 1996 (see UN Doc. E/CN.4/1997/91/Add.1). Consequently, my forthcoming report will also be a follow-up on developments during the past twelve years, in order to analyze what has changed and why.

[…]Many of my interlocutors have pointed to the positive impact of Indian secularism as embodied in the Constitution. By and large, Indians do value secular principles and I was told time and again that the term “secularism” does not necessarily mean the same as in other countries. Historically, there have been believers of a whole range of religions and beliefs living in India. The central Government has developed a comprehensive policy pertaining to minorities, including religious ones. In this context, I would like to compliment various recent reports on religious minorities, for example drafted by the Committees headed by Justice Rajender Sachar in 2006 and by Justice Renganath Misra in 2007. Such Committees mandated by the Government are a good example of mechanisms put in place to analyse the situation and put forward recommendations for the Government to take action upon.

The National Commission for Minorities, too, has taken up several challenges. Their members took prompt action and issued independent reports on incidents of communal violence with concrete recommendations. However, the performance of various Human Rights Commissions depends very much on the selection of its members and the importance various Governments attach to their mandates. It is vital that members of such commissions have acute sensitivity to human rights issues and must reflect the diversity – particularly in terms of gender – as women are one of the worst sufferers of religious intolerance. At the same time, I noticed that women’s groups across religious lines were the most active and effective human rights advocates in situations of communal tensions.

All individuals I met recognised that a comprehensive legal framework to protect their rights exists, yet many of them – especially from religious minorities – remained dissatisfied with its implementation. By and large, the Indians respect the diversity of religions and beliefs. At the same time, organised groups based on religious ideologies have unleashed the fear of mob violence in many parts of the country. Law enforcement is often reluctant to take any action against individuals or groups that perpetuate violence in the name of religion or belief. This institutionalised impunity for those who exploit religion and impose their religious intolerance on others has made peaceful citizens, particularly the minorities, vulnerable and fearful.

I have received numerous reports of attacks on religious minorities and their places of worship as well as discrimination of disempowered sections of the Hindu community.

[…]Less than three months ago, there was widespread violence in the Kandhamal district of Orissa, targeting primarily Christians in Dalit and tribal communities. I received credible reports that members of the Christian community alerted the authorities in advance of the planned attacks of 24-27 December 2007. The police, too, had warned Christian leaders about anticipated violence. The National Commission for Minorities stated in a recent report: “Destruction on such a large scale in places which are difficult to access could not have taken place without advance preparation and planning.” Even today, the tensions are prevalent and the anti-conversion legislation is being used to vilify Christians in general.

Concerning the 2002 Gujarat massacre, I have read numerous reports, both of official bodies and civil society organisations and I met a large number of eyewitnesses and people who visited Gujarat during the trouble. The State Government reported that, prior to the Godhra incident, Gujarat had witnessed 443 major communal incidents between 1970 and 2002. As such, the warning was there. However, the massacre that took place after the tragic deaths at Godhra in 2002 is all the more horrifying since by all accounts at least a thousand people were systematically killed. Even worse, there are credible reports that inaction by the authorities was evident and most interlocutors alleged complicity by the State Government. In my discussions with victims I could see their continuing fear which is exacerbated by the distress that justice continues to evade most victims and survivors. Even today there is increasing ghettoization and isolation of Muslims in certain areas. The assertion of the State Government that development by itself will heal the wounds does not seem to be realistic. It is crucial to recognise that development without a policy of inclusiveness of all communities will only add to aggravate resentments.

Furthermore, I am disturbed that at various meetings with members of the civil society during my visit in Gujarat, plain-clothed Government agents took names of all my NGO interlocutors and also made their presence felt afterwards. On several occasions, I had to insist that police officers leave the room during my NGO meetings. The terms of reference of fact-finding missions by Special Rapporteurs (see UN Doc. E/CN.4/1998/45, Appendix V) are very clear in this regard. These terms of reference guarantee confidential and unsupervised contact with witnesses and other private persons as well as assurance by the Government that no persons, official or private individuals who have been in contact with the Special Rapporteur in relation to the mandate will for this reason suffer threats, harassment or punishment or be subjected to judicial proceedings.

[…]I was deeply touched to hear of the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits in 1990s following a campaign of threats and violence. They remain dislocated to this day despite the fact the de-escalation of violence in Jammu and Kashmir has had a positive impact on religious tolerance. There have been public statements inviting the Hindu Pandits to return to Kashmir. Places of worship are now more accessible and the tensions are reducing. At the same time, many interlocutors have confirmed a continuing bias amongst security forces against Muslims who also face problems with regard to issuing of passports and security clearances for employment purposes. There are also reports of discrimination against them outside of Jammu and Kashmir, such as the refusal of hotel bookings.

At all places where I met with members of the Muslim community in India, I was informed that a number of them have been arrested on ill-founded suspicions of terrorism. They are disturbed that terrorism is associated with their religion despite various public statements from Muslim leadership denouncing terrorism. There was though recognition of the Government’s efforts in ensuring that Indian Muslims’ rights are protected when arrested abroad.

[…]The vast majority of Indians respects secular traditions and keenly follows the teachings of the nation’s founding fathers. I have noticed encouraging signs in the fight against religious intolerance and I am impressed by the outstanding degree of human rights activism in India. There are innumerable examples where individuals have come to each other’s rescue, crossing all religious boundaries. Indeed, in Gujarat, a large number of victims recognised the positive role played by some national media and other courageous individuals who effectively saved lives. It is a crucial – albeit difficult – task for the State and civil society to challenge the forces of intolerance.

I have written about issues of fundamentalisms before and some of the difficulties we face, fighting these fundamentalisms, particularly as feminists; one of those reflections was provocatively called The Fundamentalisms of the Progressive. I’ve been thinking about these issues quite a bit again recently – not that they ever ‘go away’ – but because I helped coordinate a fascinating workshop on fundamentalisms with young women from across the world, late last year, and because a few friends here in the US have been discussing our possible roles as Indians from afar (I’m not fond of the term NRIs, mostly because it has this – however mistaken – image of smug elsewhereness which I hope to hell we don’t have; we certainly don’t feel like Non Responsible Indians). This statement from Asma Jahangir only adds to the general tumult of thought. Watch this space for more sedition and unrest over the next while. Please feel free to chime in with ideas; dissent and debate welcome, hatred unacceptable.

Image from Jazbah.org

Tagged. Tugged.

So Black Mamba tagged me the other day:

Post 5 links to 5 of your previously written posts. The posts have to relate to the 5 key words given (family, friend, yourself, your love, anything you like). Tag 5 other friends to do this meme. Try to tag at least 2 new acquaintances (if not, your current blog buddies will do) so that you get to know them each a little bit better.

I was determined to do this, not only because I like Black Mamba (and I do), but because I had to prove Tabula Rasa wrong; he said BM wouldn’t get a cheep out of me (this childish tit-a-tat has, in fact, gone on since we were about ten. I love it.).

Result: near failure. Not because of my lack of output – though it certainly could be a lot more consistent than it is now – but because I rarely seem to write about anything other than politics and the big bad world outside. Of course, there’s a lot of me in there – the personal is political and vice-versa – but not in ways that are necessarily familiar or familial. sigh. Looking back, I think it was because I was determined, when I started out, not to make this a blog of the kind that led the blog-o-boom: the vicarious exploration of other people’s private lives and lesions. Frankly, I found that sort of blogging both terrifying and self-indulgent. I also felt I had nothing to offer of value online, that could remotely interest a set of unknown readers. Ashwin persuaded me otherwise; a lot of his argument had to do with the description of the blogging community he comes from: the techies. Clearly there was a space for blogging about one’s interests, one’s passions, rather than about oneself.

I realise now that I have – somewhere along the way – gone to the other extreme of the pendulum and am dangling hopelessly from an oblique position of self-denial. I find that many of the blogsters I read, write about themselves and theirs with humour and insight. I kid you not: I *like* reading them! If I don’t see these blogs as self-indulgent, is there possibly space for me to sneak back in a bit of me and mine into this blog? Black Mamba, you didn’t think you’d lead to an orgy of reflexivity now, did ya??

With this long preamble, here’s my meagre offering for the tag.

Family: A bit of a stretch, but to my extended family in Raichur. Also a cheeky aside to my pun-tashtic family (not really a post at all, but wothehell, I love xkcd).

Friend: about a friend in Gujarat, and her struggles with fundamentalisms.

Yourself: a post about ‘being an action hero‘. Also my previous stab at being tagged.

Your love: music and poetry. Unsurprisingly, a post about Gangubai Hangal that conveys both my awe-struck admiration and her comments on caste. And a tribute to Kaifi Azmi.

Anything you like: a whimsical post on Durga Puja and JK Rowling. And a diatribe against the news in India today.

…and I tag those I haven’t tagged before: Anindita (in the spirit of disclosure and familial-ity, my gorgeous sis-in-law who normally tags _me_), Mangs, Lalit and (relatively new) blog buddies: Pranav and Suzanna (whose blog I promised some time ago I would explore, and this is a great way to begin!).

He had a dream

Monday (January 21st) was Martin Luther King’s birthday; it also happens to be the only public holiday commemorating and celebrating the life of an African American in the USA. It seemed appropriate for CommonDreams.org to publish his speech of ‘independence’ from the war in Vietnam, called ‘Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence’, delivered in April 1967. It speaks to all of us, across the world, as we watch this nation debate wars that affect us, an economy that affects us, and a future President who will affect us. Let’s hope they choose right.

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An excerpt:

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. When machines and computers, profit and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look easily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: ” This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from re-ordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.

This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism. War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and through their misguided passions urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations. These are the days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not call everyone a communist or an appeaser who advocates the seating of Red China in the United Nations and who recognizes that hate and hysteria are not the final answers to the problem of these turbulent days. We must not engage in a negative anti-communism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take: offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity and injustice which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops.

These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wombs of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” We in the West must support these revolutions. It is a sad fact that, because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to ad just to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has the revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.

We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.

Now let us begin. Now let us re-dedicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.

Image from CommonDreams.org