Interviews/Guest Posts

From grass root heroes to people who are trying their best to change the world – we interview the best of the best in various sectors.

Indian director Mira Nair poses during a photo call at the Venice Lido September 5, 2004. Nair's movie 'Vanity Fair' is in competition at the Venice film festival. - RTXMX6R

By Kanika Katyal for Youth Ki Awaaz:

Indian director Mira Nair poses during a photo call at the Venice Lido September 5, 2004. Nair's movie 'Vanity Fair' is in competition at the Venice film festival. - RTXMX6R
Image source: Reuters

When art takes on the form of activism, it reaches out to even those territories between us that have been left abandoned or veiled for too long. It moves us so that sometimes even those unarticulated emotions within us find a voice.

With the aim to provide that creative space for resistance, the I View Film Festival by Engendered, a transnational arts and human rights organization, conceived and convened in New York for several years made its debut in India this year. It brought together powerful names from the world of cinema, media, and academia on a common platform to create uplifting conversations around gender, desire, culture, marginalities and human rights.

The festival which boasted of an illustrious list of artists also had Padma Bhushan Awardee, director, Mira Nair attending. With an array of phenomenal films to her credit such as ‘The Namesake‘, ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist‘, the Golden Lion-winning ‘Monsoon Wedding’ and ‘Salaam Bombay!‘, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, she released the much-awaited first look of her upcoming film ‘The Queen Of Katwe’ at the festival. The film is based on the life of Phiona Mutesi, a Ugandan chess prodigy who becomes a Woman Candidate Master after her performances at World Chess Olympiads, and stars Oscar-winning Lupita Nyong’o.

In a quick chat off the red carpet, here’s what she told Youth Ki Awaaz about her upcoming film, filmmaking as a political act and the challenges she faces as a South Asian woman filmmaker.

Kanika Katyal (KK): When does filmmaking become a political act?

Mira Nair (MN): I think filmmaking is a political act, it doesn’t become it. It begins from the inception – What do you have to say about the world in your film? What is your point of view? Where are you looking at the world from? What are you choosing to say or show? I feel so firmly that if we don’t tell our own story, no one will tell them (for us).

Living in New York, America, Kampala, Uganda and, India, I am often offered to make films about a world that I could make films on but I choose not to because there are so many people who could make those stories, say, largely about the West. I feel very firmly that my camera, my soul, my film, my eyes, and my heart most of all, should be and is with the people who are mine and are often not heard or seen.

KK: With the diverse range of stories and characters that you pick, be it ‘Salaam Bombay!’ Or ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’, it is very important that one does not end up creating an “us versus them” sort of picture in the mind of the audience. What is the dialogue that you seek to create through your films?

MN: I think an “us versus them” approach is a reductive approach because it implies that one is lesser than the other, and when one is lesser than the other then there’s almost no truth in it.

If you take the case of ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist‘, I made that film not only to create a real dialogue between the two homes I have, between the East and the West, but also as a filmmaker to present both sides of the equation with as much nuance, complexity and unpredictability as life holds for many of us. I do that in all my films but in ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist‘ specifically, because in the world, so often, a Muslim man and what he comes from is presented in such a misunderstood, myopic, and one-dimensional fashion. Similarly, the American reality which is as such so complicated but is only shown in an “about them” kind of fashion. I felt uniquely equipped and charged with the idea that one has to represent both in equal complexity. Look at what the world is doing to add to that myopia and misunderstanding. Any misunderstanding of that nature is from ignorance and if we don’t illuminate it, we will continue to be ignorant.

KK: What is you motivation behind your upcoming film ‘The Queen Of Katwe’?

MN: At the heart of ‘The Queen Of Katwe‘ is the fact that genius is truly everywhere. It’s a question of knowing and looking for it and when you find it, to nourish it. That is what happened to Phiona Mutesi, a young ten-year-old corn seller who was taught to play chess and became a prodigy. She linked her life to chess, not through just strategic game playing but equating it with her own highly impoverished and uncertain life. Chess was viewed as a game of almost life and death, and that strategic thinking taught her how to play her life; not to get subsumed by the difficulties of her life but to find a way, like she does on the chess board, to triumph in her life.

I always take great heart when people who are considered outside of any society make themselves survive with a great amount of resilience and panache, right from ‘Salam Bombay!‘ to ‘The Queen Of Katwe‘.

Cast member Lupita Nyong'o poses at the premiere of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in Hollywood, California December 14, 2015.  REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni - RTX1YPQD
Lupita Nyong’o. Image source:  REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

And lastly, Kampala truly is my home, for the last 27 years and more. It was a fantastic thing to make a film that represents the dignity and beauty of everyday Kampala and everyday Ugandan people with the knowledge and love that I had from living there.

Again, Africa is rarely seen on screen, and Africa is rarely made by Africans. I have a film school there called Maisha for 11 years now. We have trained more than 600 filmmakers and making the ‘The Queen of Katwe‘ was an opportunity to work with my alumnus, to together make a film that represented our reality.

KK: Your film ‘Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love’ (1996) was banned in India, because it was said to have erotic scenes – homosexual and heterosexual. Today ‘Aligarh’ has received rave reviews all over. Love and desire as a human emotion is what connects them both. What is it about love that makes it so rebellious when it is portrayed on screen? Do you think that today our definitions of intimacy and love have evolved?

MN: It is heartening to see that the multiple facets of love are being received in a way that is not twisted or even coquettish. That is what I was trying to do also in ‘Kama Sutra‘. We were a country that had compiled the customs of love and living in a societal fashion about desire, so how had we become so twisted in the years to come? So it was an examination of that matter-of-fact situation of what we were taught in the Kama Sutra. It was not a manual of what it’s reduced to often – being considered as a pop up of all kinds of sexual positions. It was so far from that. It was an analysis of sexual and social mores.

I am heartened by what is happening to some extent and the openness. But it has come with a lot of struggle, discrimination and even day to day violence against those who are not seen as what society considers conventional. So it is a struggle that continues to be fought and needs to be fought.

KK: What is your favourite part about film making?

MN: It is to inhabit a world that I want to inhabit; to be successful in capturing its complexity, beauty and unpredictability, in all facets and be able to present it to millions of people in the immortal emulsion of cinema. The other part is that loving so many facets of art as I do, the medium lets me encompass them whether it is painting or music or performance on the screen. That porousness is extraordinary about cinema.

KK: As a South Asian Woman director, the intersection of which two social categories make it most challenging for you? From – religion/gender/class/caste/ethnicity/race.

MN: Class is at the heart of (what governs) the justice and injustice of the world and what requires people to struggle and sometimes want the mobility to transcend the situation they are in.

Race and society (in terms of) the place that you’re born in and the colour that you’re born in, are (also) vital. But it’s interesting, having just made a 100% African film, then you sit in America and hear the debates between say “Oscar So White”, and the African American (identity) being forgotten in a very conscious manner. It is viewed, especially in the Oscars as an “us and them” situation.

But it is very different in Kampala, Uganda and in the ‘Queen…‘ which is an entirely African world. In Phiona’s world, a kid in the slum has never been asked to play chess in an upper-class school. And yet the upper-class school has also not been seen by the world because you think of Africa as a place where child soldiers and genocide, war and dictatorship exists. You never see what we’re going to show you in ‘Queen…‘ about a young person who simply wants to exercise her mind in the stance of the world.

KK: How has your experience been of the I View World Festival having its debut in Delhi and opening up discussions on human rights, gender, desire and sensualities?

MN: I really welcome what Engendered and I View stand for because it forces you to think of the world in a much more open and holistic manner, and question what we have been handed down as a way to be, or not to be.

I always welcome anything that pushes the envelope with passion and responsibility and a sense of great craft. The films in the festival that I am happy to be a part of, have that. It is also a great of way of having conversations. I was at the Delhi University screening of ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist‘ two days ago and I was incredibly impressed with the level of dialogue and discussion I had with students there. It was world level! It was fantastic to see that articulation and the curiosity. Without curiosity we are nothing! Therefore, it is a great pleasure and in fact, an honour for me to be here.

Youth Ki Awaaz is the media partner for I View World 2016. For more details, and the screening schedule, click here.

richa singh cropped

By Abhimanyu Singh for Youth Ki Awaaz: 

richa singhRicha Singh is the first female president of the Allahabad University Students Union. She won as an independent candidate. The other four members on the panel are from the right-wing student group ABVP. Singh had opposed the entry of Yogi Adityanath last year on the campus which had led to an altercation with the ABVP. She had also invited senior journalist Siddharth Varadarajan to speak on the campus earlier this year which was also marred by controversy.

Youth Ki Awaaz met her on February 25 in Delhi. She spoke about alleged harassment at the hands of the university administration, among other things.

Abhimanyu Singh (AS): You have been writing to the MHRD regularly about these developments. Could you tell us about that?

Richa Singh (RS): Yes, I have done that. When we had opposed the entry of Yogi Adityanath on the campus, and sat on a hunger strike, the four office-bearers of ABVP and at least 30 to 35 goons with them had attacked us. There was sexual violence. Sexually-coloured remarks were made. We wrote to MHRD about this.

AS: The university administration did not help?

RS: They stood there and watched. The next day, in the report filed on the incident by a university official, I was blamed for the incident and served with a show-cause notice. We also filed an FIR naming that particular university official because it was his responsibility to intervene and save us. My right wrist was in fact injured in the scuffle. However, that university official continues to be in his position.

We wrote to the PM, the president and the MHRD about this but we did not even receive a proper acknowledgment, only a system generated e-mail.

We demanded a judicial enquiry into the matter but the university did nothing. The matter was hushed up. Why? Because ABVP people were involved in it. They had to be saved.

A day before the Varadarajan meet, on January 19, in front of the Vice-Chancellor, Proctor and the Dean of Students Welfare, ABVP people threatened me openly that they won’t let me function on campus. I wrote once again to MHRD and asked them to look into this.

There are many gender-related issues in the university. Girls don’t feel safe. We wrote to them about that but nothing happened.

AS: Girls are being sexually harassed regularly on the campus?

RS: Yes. Just a day ago, a boy slapped a girl at the Arts Faculty. True, now they are saying we will expel that boy after we created pressure and filed an FIR but why should such an environment exist within the campus?

We have said several times that there are no boards against sexual harassment or ragging in the campus, no awareness about the issue.

AS: You want a separate body like JNU’s GSCASH (Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment) to look into such cases?

RS: Yes, along with the spread of general awareness. I have given them the outlines for such projects several times as I have been a Women’s Studies scholar too. But nothing happened.

Moreover, recently the V-C appointed an Officer on Special Duty. He has been a research scholar earlier at the University. He faces charges of sexually harassing a Dalit girl, along with charges under the law which prevents atrocities against Dalits. We challenged the V-C on this appointment.

AS: When was the OSD appointed?

RS: Around a month ago.

AS: And when were charges filed against him.

RS: The charges were part of an FIR filed in 2014. It was filed by the victim who later left the hostel. Later on, she withdrew her name from the FIR but still, the final report on the matter has not been presented in the case. We believe that a university is meant for academics. Will it adhere to some standards of morality or not?

On February 18, there was a meeting at MHRD to which all V-Cs were invited. It was to discuss sensitization on women and Dalit issues. On one hand you are discussing that and on the other, such appointments are being made.
Since I have raised this issue in front of the V-C – I wrote to MHRD too and handed over a letter personally to MoS (R.S.) Katheria – nothing has happened. MoS assured that action will be taken but that’s all. I have written four letters to Smriti Irani but I have received no response.

In fact, the V-C has been threatening me that he will expel me. In fact, I heard today that a committee has been formed to probe my admission in the PhD programme. What am I supposed to think? That you actually want to turn me out? Of course, I will take it up legally, but it means only two things to form such a committee: either you wish to turn me out of the university or you want to put me under pressure. I also believe that the government is interfering in our university.

I was admitted through the due process: I wrote the Common Research Entrance Test and appeared for the interview, submitted my synopsis. The very fact of constituting a committee is to threaten me.

I have been sent a legal notice by the OSD. V-C has been saying he will file a defamation case against me. But I have all the papers backing my charges.

Thing is, to appoint such an OSD, accused of sexual harassment, sends a wrong message to the university.

AS: Do you think saffronisation within universities has become more prominent during this government’s term?

RS: Yes. For example, the confrontation that took place between Rohith’s group (Ambedkarite Students Association) and ABVP could have been resolved at the university level. That’s how it has always happened. But the BJP government intervened and wrote several times asking for action against Rohit. Now they (ABVP) is getting a back-up. Look at what happened with Sandeep Pandey in BHU or in Madras IIT with APSC. Those who are not with BJP are being targeted directly.

If it’s not so, why does the PM Modi not issue a clarification? He is not only the BJP’s PM, he is the PM of the entire nation.

Look at what happened when they protested against the seminar on Ram Janmabhoomi in DU. Or in BHU a couple of days ago when PM Modi visited.

Why is the right to protest being snatched away from us? Recently, our V-C released a circular that the students union can’t organise any programme. You are trying to gag us.

When Varadarajan was to come, the university administration barred us from holding the function. The district administration did the same. So we held it right outside the campus. But the same day, inside the students union hall, the ABVP conducted a pravachan ( sermon) by Shantanu ji maharaj. It can be seen on YouTube. Why was there no action against it? We even questioned the V-C on this, Varadarajan was with us. The V-C simply denied this, despite the evidence.

AS: Do you think this is also making the progressive forces rally together?

RS: Yes, because they also understand that everyone’s space is in danger here. There is no option except struggle.

AS: Because they have been divided too…

RS: Yes. Yesterday I got to speak at the rally held at Jantar Mantar on land rights. I said that the farmers, students, progressive forces, they will all have to unite together and fight. Only then can we succeed.

I said this during the Occupy UGC movement too. That the government knows we are divided. The fight can take place only through unity and won too through unity.

AS: Some have said that issues of class and caste are different; that the Rohith Vemula issue should be kept separate…

RS: Those are political statements. These are issues related to universities and will be tackled by students. There will be different problems in different universities. There were more Dalits in Hyderabad so it manifested in that way. JNU has more progressive people. In Allahabad, you can see a woman president being harassed.

I did my post-graduation in economics. I topped in M.Phil in my women’s studies course. I have cleared NET in both these subjects.

When I contested, people asked me: have you got nothing else to do? So a student can be an industrialist, an economist, a bureaucrat, but he can’t be in politics? This is the youngest country in the world. It is very important that the youth should participate in politics. Elections will now be held at the level of young and female voters. Women will now come into leadership roles.

See, it is not only about Richa. The girl students saw some hope in my victory – that they could also contest. The politics in Allahabad university is different in many aspects.

AS: In which way?

RS: DU’s politics is glamourous. JNU’s politics is progressive. The politics here is about muscle power, money power, caste and patriarchy. I mean, otherwise, why did they not have a single women president in 128 years? When I contested, it was pointed out to me several times. I told them it was not about being a man or a woman but also maintained that we should not be overlooked because we are women. You listen to what I have to say and then decide. I never said that vote for me because I am a woman.

But the kind of attack that took place before the Yogi Adityanath visit created a fear among girls. The way I am being targeted, they feel I have unnecessarily fallen for controversies (by contesting elections). Instead of having our morale boosted, we are being demoralised. It appears that they are trying to harass me so much that no one dares to contest the next time.

Allahabad University used to be called the Oxford of the East but it is out of the national scenario at least for the last decade. That’s because there is no participation in student politics on issues of education, economics, etc. I had said that I would bring the university back to the national scenario and I believe I succeeded in that. We have provided the model of resistance here. But I have had to pay a heavy price for that.

I fought a fair election. During university elections, the city is replete with hoardings of candidates. I did not even have money to put up hoardings and neither did I want to because we wanted to do away with that model.

It has been only two months since the V-C took over and this is his first appointment. We have questioned that if his first appointment is so improper, what do we expect next?

Yesterday, there was a public meeting here. I said that I am speaking here but maybe, after 15-20 days, you will have to come to Allahabad. Because they are planning to expel me. Since you have no grounds for that, you have formed a committee to look into my admission. Maybe in a month’s time, something similar (to what happened with Rohit ) will happen to me. After Hyderabad (Central University), Allahabad (University) could be next.

AS: Do you think the students are the flagbearer of dissent against Modi?

RS: If the Modi government is being challenged, it is by the students.

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hansal_manoj

By Rohini Banerjee for Youth Ki Awaaz:

hansal_manojIt’s a pleasant Saturday afternoon on March 5th as I arrive for this screening of ‘Aligarh’, for the ‘I View World Film Festival’, almost fifteen minutes late. The movie has just begun, and people are still trying to jostle into an already packed room. It’s then that I first spot Hansal Mehta, the director—unassumingly dressed in a simple white shirt, politely asking a journalist to leave the camera he had entered with outside the hall.

‘Aligarh’ raises some harrowing, important questions—about the right to privacy, the right to dignity of an LGBTQ person. But more than that, it’s the story of the shy Professor Ramchandra Siras, who, on a lonely night, sought sexual companionship with a young rickshaw-puller, but was brutally persecuted for doing so. The film delves deep into the professor’s psyche and explores his alienation with great sensitivity, along with exposing the terrifying reality of anti-gay prejudice within the country.

Hansal Mehta has previously directed critically-acclaimed (and National Award winning) films like ‘Shahid’ and ‘CityLights’. These films, coupled with ‘Aligarh’, have, at its heart a similar theme—of innocent, good men becoming victims of an unjust, biased system.

Once I finally catch a few minutes with him alone, I realise that he’s as simple and unassuming as his plain white shirt. He accidentally scalds himself as he spills his tea, and sheepishly apologises for it. I discuss the film with him, tell him how deeply it affected me, and he says with a smile, “that was my intention.” Here is how he opened up to Youth Ki Awaaz about his craft, LGBT rights and the film itself:

How did you choose this particular subject? Why do you think telling this story was important?

I think it’s an important story of our times, and it reflects our reality. I’m always interested in the marginalised communities and the way we treat who we believe are the ‘others’, so I think this story found me, I did not find it.

Nuanced portrayals of queer characters are so rare in Indian cinema that they are almost nonexistent. In such an environment, what are some of the challenges you faced in bringing this nuanced gay character to life?

The biggest challenge was to remain true to the story—to maintain the character’s dignity in the film and not reduce him to a caricature. I wanted to show the human side of Professor Siras, and to do that, the biggest challenge was conveying his loneliness and isolation. It’s easy to write about isolation and loneliness, but cinematically it’s not so easy to show on screen.

How did you go about researching the story? Did you actually go to Aligarh and meet those who knew Prof. Siras, or was it reconstructed through news reports?

The research was mostly done by my writers. It was reconstructed majorly through reports and personal accounts of the events, but there was also a lot of research done independently in Aligarh. But, a lot of it is also fiction—based on our imagination of what Professor Siras might have been going through.

Usually, straight actors shy away from playing gay roles (even in Hollywood), and there are hardly any openly gay actors here in India. In light of this, how did you go about casting for this role? Did you face rejection from straight actors? How did you ultimately zero in on Manoj Bajpayee?

Actually, Manoj was the first actor we ever approached, and as far as I remember, Manoj did not even hesitate for a moment before he accepted the part. I think a good actor should ideally never reject such parts. The ultimate thing is the character—it’s not just about his sexuality or sexual orientation. We’re ultimately telling the story of a person, and his sexuality just happens to be a part of who he is.

The film has already faced its fair share of controversy, first with it being given an ‘A’ certificate by the Censor Board, and now it being banned in Aligarh. How do you respond to this?

Actually, I don’t see it as controversy. The film sparked off a spate of dissent, a spate of disagreement, which is important. People’s biases came out in the open because of this film, and I think that’s very important. I might not agree with those people, but when they hide their biases, that’s even more dangerous.

Do you think this film is an important step for LGBT rights in India, especially now that Section 377 is being reconsidered?

I definitely think so! I think this film has somewhere become central to the fight for LGBT rights in the country, and the biggest thing this film does is make a case for a fairer and more accepting environment for LGBT people.

How would you take this film, and this conversation, to the masses, because right now the film’s audience is mostly urban?

I think this film reaching any number of people is a great thing. Even if it reaches a thousand people, and it touches them, and it moves them—it makes those thousand people think about their prejudices and look at the way they treat the world. And if it does that, then the film has achieved its goal.

Mehta is not wrong. The film reaching any number of people, especially through film festivals such as ‘I View World’ that focus on the human rights of the marginalised, and making them rethink their biases is important. Manoj Bajpayee, at a Q&A session which followed the film, talked about how we should buy tickets for ‘Aligarh’ and watch it, to show the country that yes, here is a film about the need for LGBT rights and we support it. Only then can some change in the country’s homophobic mindset occur. The change required is significant, and definitely, cannot happen overnight. But the very existence of this film (and the debate surrounding it) is a positive step in that direction.

Youth Ki Awaaz is the media partner for I View World 2016. For more details, and the screening schedule, click here.

mohammad yousuf taragami

By Daanish Bin Nabi for Youth Ki Awaaz:

mohammad yousuf taragami
Image source: Harmukh news

Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami is a veteran Left politician from Kashmir. He has won from the Kulgam constituency in 1996, 2002, 2008 and 2014. He is presently the Communist Party of India (Marxist) Jammu and Kashmir State Committee Secretary and a member of the party’s Central Committee. In view of the JNU controversy, Youth Ki Awaaz spoke to Tarigami, to know his views.

Here are excerpts:

Daanish Bin Nabi (DBN): For how many years have you been associated with Communist Party of India (Marxist) Jammu and Kashmir?

Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami (MYT): I have been the part of Left activities since my childhood. At an early age, I remember in 1967, I was arrested along with other friends for the first time while raising some demands for peasants in Kulgam area of south Kashmir. Since then, I have been engaged in student politics and other political activities. This has resulted in my detention under Defence of India Rules (DIR), Preventive Detention Act (PDA) and Public Safety Act (PSA) several times.

DBN: How do you view the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) row?

MYT: The JNU happenings and the way it has been handled by Delhi Police with the full backing of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led Government of India (GoI) has evoked deep concern across the country. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been contemplating since long to encroach upon the autonomy of universities and thereby making ideological inroads in all institutions of higher learning. In fact, Sangh Parivar wants to run the universities like RSS Shakhas (units).

The universities across the country are being attacked in a well-designed manner. The way the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) Pune students protested against the imposition of a RSS supporter as its director, the Chennai IIT and the Hyderabad Central University incidents where Dalit students were suspended leading to the tragic suicide of Rohith Vemula, speaks volumes about the direct attacks of Sangh Parivar on the educational institutions.

JNU which has been an eyesore for the RSS since long is the latest addition on that list. Using false videos and an isolated incident as a pretext, the Delhi police virtually put the entire campus under siege and started harassing, arresting and intimidating students indiscriminately.

JNU campus has been at the centre stage of academic excellence and has a reputation of being one of the finest seats of learning. It has produced people of eminence in all fields of life and the country feels proud of such institutions. An environment of debate, discussion and dissent has been available in JNU since its inception. Time and again, desperate attempts have been made by RSS and its affiliate Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) to undermine these healthy traditions. With the excuse of some elements raising “objectionable” slogans, the BJP government cracked down on the entire campus despite the fact that no evidence whatsoever has been produced against any individual. The authorities evoked the colonial clauses of Indian Penal Code and arrested students under sedition charges. (These) have been opposed by even those who disapprove of the slogans raised by some elements at the campus.

The government cannot selectively use this section as it is being done now. If someone objects to the hanging of Afzal Guru, he is dubbed as being an anti-national. But when RSS supporters shout slogans in support of Nathu Ram Godse, assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, he is hailed as a hero and money is collected to build his statue.

Modi government doesn’t take any action against these elements. It is nothing but hypocrisy. The incident at Patiala Court has sent shock waves across the country. (The brazen way in which) a BJP legislator and his supporters attacked media persons and JNU students and ruthlessly beat up Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (JNUSU) President Kanhaiya Kumar inside the court premises is highly shameful and condemnable. This can only suit the BJP goons. The image of our institutions is deeply dented by such hooliganism which has evoked widespread condemnation across the world.

DBN: What repercussions can the JNU controversy have on Kashmir?

MYT: The situation in Jammu and Kashmir is worrisome as the uncertainty has not been addressed politically. This has resulted in generating and promoting widespread hopelessness and disillusionment among our younger generation.

What is required is a serious dialogue with these youngsters at both at governmental and non-governmental levels. Debates and discussions on such issues among students in universities can help us in finding out the way forward.

DBN: Left has been on the forefront in agitating for the students of JNU. Why don’t we see the same kind of protests in Kashmir by the Left?

MYT: Left has been contributing its bit in raising its voice against injustices committed on our people by the authorities in Jammu and Kashmir. The Left has consistently been taking the issues of the people in appropriate forums.

Recently, the Left parties had organized protests at various places particularly at Jammu against the harassment and illegal arrests of JNU students. CPI (M) has been at the forefront in protesting against the harassment of Kashmiri students across the country.

DBN: Why is there no student wing of CPIM-JK in the University of Kashmir?

MYT: Students have a bigger role to play on issues which pertain to their studies and unitedly raise their voice against all shades of atrocities. Unfortunately, the authorities in Jammu and Kashmir have opted for not allowing the students to form their unions in educational institutions of Kashmir. This, in our opinion, amounts to muzzling the voices of our younger generation. The students have to be trusted and encouraged to organize themselves in order to shape their future. Universities provide opportunities for debates even over issues which are controversial. Such debates help in opening up communication with those who feel alienated.

amitesh mishra shabdanagari final

By Komal Nathani:

amitesh mishra shabdanagari finalPossessing an idea of Hindi interface, IIT Mumbai Alumnus Amitesh Mishra entrenched a long-awaited platform in the world of web. The young engineering scholar gave up lucrative job offers and made way to an avenue where he could chase his dream. With his vigorous team-mates, Amitesh created one of India’s first Hindi social networking site – Shabdanagari.in, which in no time has garnered more than 5000 users.

With paramount passion and with a desire to create an innovative change in the arena of social networking, the young impassioned engineering scholars laid all their efforts to reach to their dream of connecting 65 crore people together on a Hindi interface.

Shabdanagari.in provides a platform which is extremely easy for anyone to use. “You type in English it’ll get translated into Hindi,” said Nitin Tripathi (Digital Marketing and Production head of Shabdanagari).

In an interview with Shabdanagari team, Amitesh Mishra (CEO and a social entrepreneur of Trident Analytical Solutions) sheds light on his entrepreneurial career and shares his wonderful experiences working with his team on his dream idea.

What went through your mind in 2011, when you left your job with a renowned I.T giant and came back to your hometown (Kanpur) to initiate Shabdanagari or say, to step-up for an idea which you probably once thought during college days?

A few of my friends and I once thought of programming a site while I was pursuing M.Tech in IIT-Bombay which should strictly be a Hindi interface. We always wanted to begin something new in the web world also which hasn’t been analyzed yet but has an exigency in today’s scenario. So, after intense research by joining SIIC (SIDBI Innovation and Incubation Centre) in 2011, we set off with an aim of creating a Hindi social networking interface and launched Shabdanagari.

What triggered you to programme a social networking site in Hindi despite the fact that today’s youth are more indulged in the hashtag trend in English.

Well, for that matter firstly, I would say Hindi is our national language and it shouldn’t be neglected. Secondly, what we primarily observed is, if people want to ask in Hindi “how are you?” they probably choose to write- “kaise ho?” This is of course because the keyboard is in English. So we thought why not change that completely. You type it in your own way and after pressing space bar, the word will be translated into Hindi.

How did you decide the site’s name? ‘Shabdanagari’ is very much akin to the word ‘devanagri’. Is that how you kept its name?

Yes, you can say that. At the time of the launch, we all were thinking that it’s a Hindi social networking site, thereby, the name should also be in Hindi and that too different. Then one of our team-mate Rajat suggested Shabdanagari. And it’s certainly simple and quite easy to learn and speak. So, this is how we got the name to our website.

Who supported you in making your small idea to a big national product in the market? Did you face any sort of obstructions in the avenue of meeting the people’s expectations?

Of course, Shabdanagari is not just my initiative, we have a team of around 10 members, who buckle down and put all their efforts for the organization’s work. Besides, SIIC (SIDBI Innovation and Incubation Centre) of IIT-Kanpur supported our initiative in financial terms. More so, IIT-Mumbai also appreciated our idea and supported us.

Well, obstructions are pretty apparent in an avenue when you’re leading your dream product. But I believe when you have the support and skills of people with you, it strengthens one in a very different way which is inexplicable.

Therefore, I would like to thank my team, who have been very supportive in each and every situation with me.

How is Shabdanagari different from other social networking sites? Can you briefly describe its special features?

Shabdanagari has got peculiar features which will fascinate young people. It offers blogging, share and search, making a website and other multiple options, but all strictly in Hindi. More so, it’s very easy to work on, there is no complex procedure or language issues which people might face in other sites. It, in a way, eases your communication.

Moreover, to work on Shabdanagari, one doesn’t have to learn Hindi typing to write on it.

How do you see your project from an investment perspective? I mean don’t you think that it fits into the ‘Make in India’ project of PM Narendra Modi?

Yes, surely why not. Shabdanagari has a distinct feel of ‘Make in India’, which can attract anyone, be it foreigners, NRIs, civilians. For us as I.T professionals, it’s more like ‘Make for India’. We, firmly believe that Shabdanagari will do well from the investment perspective as it has Hindi as its quintessential feature.

Does Shabdanagari have any advertisements so far on web, or on T.V or radio?

We launched our first advertisement on YouTube which is basically presenting a small and an easy process as to tell how one can connect with site. We have advertised on the web till now and will do in other mediums shortly.

We have heard that your team is running one more site which is a social media management site known as ‘SOCIOTA’. Would you mind explaining what it is all about?

It’s a social media management site by which you can deal your campaign in a better and in a more dynamic way. Sociota is a product which facilitates that, moreover, it’s more useful for advertisers, campaigners etc. We launched Sociota in 2012, before Shabdanagari.

Is there any advice that you would like to give to young engineering aspirants and young entrepreneurs?

I would just say, always step-up and try. If you have a small idea, don’t lose hope before trying it for once. You never know that someday your small idea might make billions and trillions out of it.

narlikar big bang 3

By Subhrangshu Pratim Sarmah:

Jayant_Vishnu_Narlikar_-_Kolkata_2007-03-20_07324
Source: Wikipedia

Dr. Jayant Vishnu Narlikar needs no introduction. He is one of those very few scientists in India who have contributed to the field of Astrophysics throughout their life. Born on July 19, 1938, in Kolhapur, Maharashtra to a family of scholars, Narlikar – a Senior Wrangler, or mathematics topper at Cambridge – served as a Berry Ramsey fellow in King’s College, Cambridge University until 1972 and, later on, became the Founder-Director of Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA). Former President of the Cosmology Commission of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), Prof. Narlikar, who has also served as the Chairperson of the Advisory Group for Textbooks in Science and Mathematics published by NCERT, is globally known for his work in cosmology, specifically championing models alternative to the popular Big Bang Model.

It was like a dream come true when the reply of my questionnaire to Padma Vibhushan Dr. Jayant Vishnu Narlikar, flashed on my laptop screen. If one needs to name the ‘Pitamah Bhishma’ of Astrophysics for the whole of today’s India, there’s only one name and he is none other than Prof. Narlikar. Way back in March 2013, I had a conversation with him to decide whether to take up Science after Class X. Although I decided to pursue studies in the Humanities instead of Science, he continues to be one of my most favorite scientist and a source of inspiration. Keeping the trend of many students opting to study Science in view, a few months ago, I decided to conduct this interview with Prof. Narlikar.

Subhrangshu Pratim Sarmah (SPS): Sir, why did you select science as your area of study? When was the decision taken?

Prof. Narlikar (JVN):
I liked mathematics right from the beginning, say, from primary school days. Later I also began to like science. My father encouraged my interests by giving me books on recreational maths to read. At the secondary school level, he also set up for us chemistry and physics laboratories. I went to Cambridge at the age of nineteen to study maths and it was here that I grew interest in theoretical astrophysics. This was largely through the lectures by Fred Hoyle there.

SPS: What was the role of your parents or family as a whole in shaping your destiny as one of the giant figures in scientific research in the world? Would you like to share any incident with us regarding this? I have read the story about your uncle offering you difficult sums to solve in the book ‘One Hundred Reasons to be a Scientist’.

JVN: My father was always supportive of my mathematical and scientific interests. Additionally my maternal uncle Morumama, who was staying with us for 2-3 years for his M.Sc. studies also contributed. He noticed that we had two wall-blackboards. These had been set up by my father and had been used by my brother and me for recreational purposes. Knowing my aptitude for mathematics, he began to use the smaller of them for writing, “Challenge problems for JVN.” The writing on the board would stay until either I solved the problem or conceded defeat. This provided good stimulus to me and I picked up a lot more of maths than my school syllabus required.

SPS: As you were born and brought up in British India, what differences have you noticed between the pre and post-independence era in the field of education, science and society at large?

JVN: I feel that the people of India are more independent in thinking than they were in the British era. At the same time, I do not think there was as much corruption then as there is now. The fields of education, science and social amenities are more extensive today than they were before independence.

SPS: What were the greatest lessons you learnt from your legendary teacher, scientist Fred Hoyle?

JVN: Fred Hoyle did not accept any scientific idea until he was satisfied that experimentally or observationally it was proven. This meant he often had conflicts with bandwagon type supporters of some ideas, such as the big bang model which states that the universe started existing after a big explosion. I have tried to follow this independence of thinking.

SPS: How would you explain the ‘Hoyle–Narlikar Theory’, in a simple way for our readers, for which you are well known in the world of Astrophysics?

JVN: In the HN theory we have introduced the notion that inertia of matter arises because of the rest of the matter in the universe. Ernst Mach, a nineteenth-century German philosopher-scientist, had proposed such a notion without giving a mathematical formulation of the concept. Today it is known as Mach’s principle. We provided a mathematical structure to this idea. It led us to a gravity theory more comprehensive than Newtonian or Einsteinian ideas. We have a few new predictions which will require more detailed observations. We hope the large telescopes under consideration today will provide some relevant evidence.

SPS: As a Senior Wrangler of Cambridge you could have become a top level civil servant, but you opted for teaching. Why?

JVN: The popular career options in my time were the administrative services and engineering or medical fields. I was taken up with science and did not consider these more popular options.

SPS: Tell us a bit about your work in championing models providing an alternative to the popular Big Bang model.

JVN: As mentioned [above] I do not feel enthusiastic about the big bang model because it demands speculations far exceeding actual evidence. In this model, the notions of dark matter, dark energy and strange [kinds] of matter have to be accepted without evidence. So Fred Hoyle, Geoffrey Burbidge (alas, both are no longer with us now) and I proposed a new model in 1993. Known as the quasi steady state cosmology (QSSC) it has [a] universe without a beginning or end, having oscillations on a time scale of 50 billion years and a longer term expansion on the scale of a thousand billion years. We claim that this model explains all the presently observed features of the universe. If we are successful in demonstrating that very old (20 billion years or more) stars do exist today, that will be an important evidence against the big bang universe and in favor of the QSSC.

SPS: How was your experience as the President of the Cosmology Commission of the International Astronomical Union?

JVN: I appreciated the honor which at least recognized my work done against the bandwagon ideas. Several astronomers appreciated my role as an honest critic!

SPS: How is the environment of India for scientific research today? Are we, the Indians, lacking somewhere in developing a scientific temperament in comparison to the west? I mean, the murder of Marathi activist Narendra Dabholkar seems to indicate it.

JVN: There are two different things here! Indians need to be more appreciative of research and learn to be self-critical. There is adequate support for science for R&D, but no one checks if the money is spent in a productive way. Secondly, we as a nation tend to believe in superstitions and do not appreciate the scientific temper. Dabholkar’s killing was probably because of his efforts to eradicate superstitions. I sincerely hope the mystery of his murder will be solved and we will come to know the motive.

SPS: During 1999-2003, you headed an international team in a pioneering experiment designed to sample air for microorganisms in the atmosphere at heights of up to 41km. What were its results?

JVN: We planned to sample air at 41 km height for microorganisms. Normally we do not expect bacteria from the Earth to rise that high and so if we found such microbes we would have a possibility of those being extraterrestrial, falling from above. Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe from U.K. had argued that bacteria and viruses are present in the interstellar space and some of these may come near us riding on comets. If a cometary tail brushes the Earth’s atmosphere, some bacteria may be transferred there and then fall down under [the influence of] gravity.

We sent balloons in 2001 and 2005 up to this height (the maximum possible!) and collected air samples. They were sent to biology labs for examination. In the first experiment, the biology group in Cardiff, U.K. found live cells and an examination of another sample by a group in Sheffield revealed bacteria. The group in CCMB (Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology) lab in Hyderabad found bacteria which was resistant to UV radiation. In the 2005 experiment, this property was also seen in the bacteria (12 types) found by two labs (CCMB and Pune-based National Centre for Cell Science). Three of these species were unknown on the Earth before. They were named after Hoyle, Aryabhatta, the 5th-century astronomer, and ISRO, the sponsoring agency. These findings are suggestive of the microbes being extraterrestrial but for a proof we need to look for some way of determining the nuclear isotopic composition of the captured bacteria. A future experiment will be needed for this purpose.

SPS: You were appointed the Chairperson, Advisory Group for Textbooks in Science and Mathematics. How far, in your opinion, are the various textbooks published by NCERT able to generate the thirst for knowledge in students? What improvements will you suggest?

JVN: The present textbooks are improvements on the earlier ones. But I would like to reduce the information content and add more to the comprehension of basic concepts. This may come in stages. Also, one needs to create an environment in which schools are able to have access to experimental facilities.

SPS: As a global figure in Astronomy, you once featured on Carl Sagan’s TV show ‘Cosmos: A Personal Voyage’ in the late 1980s. How was your personal relation with Sagan? What is your view of this visionary Astrophysicist?

JVN: Carl Sagan was a charismatic figure who was sincere in his desire to enthuse people [about] science and its sociology. He was an excellent scientist and science popularizer.

SPS: You have written science fiction, novels and short stories in English, Hindi, and Marathi. I have gone through your science fiction The Adventure (an excerpt of it was there in our Class XI NCERT English textbook) and realised how JVN aptly harmonised historical plots and characters with science fiction. Do you have any future plans for writing more such stories? I have also gone through your article titled ‘Where time stands still’. What are the things we should keep in mind while writing a scientific article and science fiction?

JVN: The story Adventure as printed in the textbook is half of the original. By some mistake, the earlier half is missed out. After my pointing [that] out, NCERT put the whole story on their website. I hope it is easier to understand now. While a science article is expected to be factually correct, a science fiction story can have fictional additions to the science we know. Of course, the additions should not conflict with the science we know.

SPS: What is your advice to students in general and students studying science in particular?

JVN: Try to understand the basic concepts and do not hesitate to ask questions.

SPS: I am from Assam. Have you ever visited the state? If yes, how was your experience? Our school students, sometimes opt for science but later repent as they pursue it under parental pressure, or are simply following the popular trend, but end up failing to grasp anything.What is your advice? Moreover, should ‘engineering’ (later leading to a job in a private company) and ‘medical’ be the ultimate goal of studying Science?

JVN: My five visits to Assam have been happy ones with friendly interactions with people there. My advice to students is to “opt for science if you really like it.” There are good career prospects in scientific R&D but to appreciate them remember my advice [given] above.

SPS: If you are given a second life, what will you choose to be born as?

JVN:
Same as now!

SPS: Do you have any regrets in life?

JVN: Perhaps I miss reading many books for lack of time, study Sanskrit (which I love as a language) to a deeper level and maybe wish I had seen more of the world (although I have visited 50 countries).

SPS: Your motto after a lifetime of experience which you would like to convey to us?

JVN:
Whatever you do, give your best to it.

pinto

By Anamika Aami:

pinto
Source: YouTube

Jerry Pinto is an all in one package: journalist, poet, novelist, translator and social activist. He lives in Mumbai where he grew up and to which he remains deeply attached. His first novel ‘Em and the Big Hoom’ won The Hindu Literary Prize and the Crossword Book Award in 2013. He was also awarded National Film Award for Best Book on Cinema for ‘Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb’. Here is an interview conducted over e-mail:

Anamika Aami (AA): As a child were you interested in literature. When did you start writing?

Jerry Pinto (JP): I loved reading. I loved reading more than anything else. I think everyone who loves reading will begin to want to write. So that’s when I started writing.

AA: Jerry Pinto – journalist, poet, novelist, translator, social activist. Which one do you prefer and why?

JP: I don’t have much of a choice about these roles. I call myself a journalist because that is where I earned my daily bread and butter for so many years and where I learned to write under pressure. I became a teacher when I was young and didn’t know that I knew nothing and so would not be able to teach anything. That was lucky because it left me free to learn from my students. I write poetry and novels because I want to. I translate because I believe we need bridges between languages and experiences, and each translation can be a bridge. And I work on the board of MelJol because education has always been important to me and I think rural children get a raw deal and trying to make the classroom a livelier place and trying to make teachers aware of the rights of the child is an important activity. So, I don’t prefer any of these roles. They all arose because of some part of my personality and then they became some part of my personality.

AA: How much non-fiction is there in your fiction?

JP: Lots. The difficult thing is when fiction seeps into your non-fiction.

AA: Out of all the film artists why do you choose Helen for writing a biography? 

JP: Because she was marginal, the woman on the periphery. And it is in the peripheral that I am interested. The stars don’t interest me. There are lots of people who will write about them. But, when Ravi Singh, my editor and publisher, came to me and asked, “Who do you think would write a book on Helen?” my answer was instinctive. I said, “Me” and I started the next day.

AA: How do you see awards? Are they important for you as a writer?

JP: I think they’re important. That may be because I have received awards. If I’d not got any, I would have probably said they’re unimportant.

AA: How far do you agree or disagree with the socially accepted set of gender roles?

JP: I don’t know that there’s an accepted set of gender roles. If there is, who accepted them? Think about men and crying. Now masculinity in its most macho sense was represented by Amitabh Bachchan but he cried in almost every film he ever made. Think about the term ‘Mama’s boy’ which is meant to represent the worst kind of whiny effeminate boy. No Indian man would be bothered about being called a Mama’s boy. And yes, I know there are such gender stereotypes. I remember when I was translating Sachin Kundalkar’s Cobalt Blue, there’s a passage where the young man Tanay is beaten by his cousin. Here it is:

On one of these days, I was taking the wooden bucket in which the ice-cream was made out of the kitchen when Sunil, Ram Kaka’s son, hit me on the legs. I almost dropped the bucket. I set it down and sat down to rub my legs. Sunil was always exercising; he had almost no other conversation. He now shouted at me, “Walk properly. Keep your legs apart and walk straight. Why do you mince along like a woman?” Then he took me into the backyard which was set with large square tiles. He made me put one foot on one tile and the other on another and walk with my legs apart. For about an hour, he sat on Baba’s scooter and tried to rewrite my gait. “Tanya, walk straight, walk slow, keep those shoulders up, push your chest out,” he roared. Aai was in the kitchen scraping the meat out of coconuts and he told her, “Kaku, make him walk like this every morning and send him out to play with the boys. He just sits around, reading.” From then on, right up to this day, I fear that I am walking funny, in other words, that I am walking like a woman. When I find myself walking at my own pace, I almost immediately slow down. And I learned what men do not do. They do not wet their dry lips by running their tongues over them. They don’t trot after their mothers into the kitchen. They don’t use face powder. They don’t sit on a motorbike behind a woman. They don’t need mirrors in the rooms where they might change their clothes. On trips, they can go behind a tree. They don’t even need an enclosed space to take a dump; they can do it in the open. They shouldn’t be afraid of other people seeing their bodies. If there’s only one bathroom, they can bathe in the open. When caned in class, they do not cry. They do not buy tamarind from the lady who sells it on the road and they certainly do not sit by her side and eat it. This is a horrible thing to do and a horrible set of almost arbitrary rules.
That’s what I think gender stereotypes are: arbitrary rules set by tradition.

AA: How do you view the recent student protest movements, for instance, the FTII or Pondicherry University protests?

JP: I am a democrat at heart and I support the rights of every segment of society to protect their interests and to make their feelings known to the government they have elected.

AA: Since you are a journalist and been in this field for a long time, what are your views on the current scenario of media?

JP: Every nation gets the media it deserves.

AA: How much influence did Mumbai have in turning Jerry Pinto to a writer?

JP: I call myself mahimkajerry. It’s my twitter handle. I think that says a lot about what I think my environment contributed to my development.

AA: How do you think one can eliminate social stigma associated with mental illness?

JP: I think we should talk about it as much as possible and we should not be ashamed of the moments when we have been subject to some mental problem, as we all are, even the most normal and rational of us. When I wrote Em and the Big Hoom, it was to me a novel. It was not about a way of beginning conversations about mental illness but if it has done that I am grateful.

AA: You recently translated a Dalit autobiography. How interested are you in Dalit literature and what is its relevance today?

JP: I translated Baluta by Daya Pawar, the first Dalit autobiography to be written in India. I believe it is as fresh and vibrant today as it was in 1978 when it was first written. This is because it is a great book and great books always remain fresh and relevant.

AA: How were you during your college days and what is your advice to aspiring writers or journalists?

JP: I was a very average college student and my advice to aspiring writers and journalists can be summed up in one word: read.

Yasin Malik (2)

By Mir Basit Hussain for Youth Ki Awaaz: 

Yasin Malik, chief of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) attends a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi February 17, 2006.  REUTERS/B Mathur - RTR16BH3
Yasin Malik. Source: REUTERS/B Mathur

Known as one of the first Kashmiri boys to fire a bullet against the Indian administration, Yasin Malik, currently the Chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, believes that peaceful protests didn’t succeed because there is no space for them in Kashmir. Malik also feels that the phenomenon of educated youth picking arms is not a new thing in Kashmir.

“There is no difference between what it was in 1984, ‘85, ‘86. We are the products of the non-violent democratic movement of ’84, ‘85, ‘86, and ‘87. What happened to us during that movement? We saw Red-16 type of interrogation centres. We faced beating, unhygienic food, contaminated water, and psychological and physical torture. Our parents used to face the worst kind of abuse from police at that time. Those were the reasons for that generation to start an armed struggle,” Malik told me as we sat conversing at his Abi Guzar office in Central Srinagar.

Malik added that the ‘5000-year-old’ history of Kashmir had been ‘non-violent’.

“But you have to see, what forced the young people to take such a step? When you have no space for a non-violent democratic movement, what will one do?” asked the Separatist leader, counted by some commentators as one of the top four new generation leaders in Kashmir, along with former C.M. Omar Abdullah and leader of People’s Democratic Party, Mehbooba Mufti.

Malik believes that the British rule in India, despite being an imperialist force, provided space for the non-violent movement of Gandhi as the English rulers were ‘wise’.

“In that way, the imperialist British were a ‘wise’ force. During that time, Gandhian non-violent movement was going on. Gandhi gave the concept of non-violence and people like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and others took inspiration from him. So you should appreciate the British for giving space to Gandhi’s non-violent movement. Gandhi or his colleagues were never sent to any interrogation centre by the British. Their family members were never abused or taken to police stations and tortured,” he explained.

According to Malik, the Gandhian way was not the only one open for the people to follow and it had to compete with other methods.

“At that time in the Indian sub-continent, there were two schools of thought: one was Gandhian and the other was represented by Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad, Ashfaqullah, Rajguru, Ram Prasad Bismil and others who believed in liberation through an armed struggle. They were against Gandhi. But the Gandhian movement sustained itself because of the genuine space provided by the British empire,” Malik contended.

He pointed out that when Kashmiris tried their hands at non-violence during the protests of 2008, ‘09, and ‘10 following the row over a grant of land made to the Amarnath shrine, the Indian Government used the same brute force which they used on the likes of him in the 80’s.

Mohammed Yasin Malik, chief of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), addresses a crowd on the first day of "Safar-e-Azadi" or Journey of Freedom in Kokernag, 65 km (40 miles) south of Srinagar May 20, 2007. JKLF, which declared a ceasefire in 1994 against Indian security forces, says it leads a political struggle for Kashmir's complete independence both from India and Pakistan, who claim the region in full but rule in parts, started "Safar-e-Azadi" on Sunday from Kokernag which will run for the next six months.  REUTERS/Danish Ismail   (INDIAN ADMINISTERED KASHMIR) - RTR1PW7J
Yasin Malik, on the first day of “Safar-e-Azadi” REUTERS/Danish Ismail

“What happened with us in the late 80’s, same thing is being repeated for the last 4-5 years. In 2008, when we saw the collective transformation of the Kashmiris from violent to non-violent, the Indian state again used the brute military force and shot down 72 people that year. They shot down 44 in 2009 and 135 in 2010. After that, they arrested more than 7000 boys, which was a record. That was not the end. Then we saw how their parents were abused and tortured by the forces,” Malik alleged.

Malik also accused the security forces of breaking their own law by detaining and abusing the parents of boys who are either militants or wanted in instances of stone-pelting. He called them ‘kidnappers’.

“We have seen many boys who participated in that non-violent movement joining militant ranks. So what forced them to resort to violence when they were a part of a non-violent struggle? That means there is no space for non-violence. Why would your father and mother be called to a police station, if you are wanted in stone-pelting? What is their crime? Recently I was in Pulwama, where two fathers whose sons were wanted in stone-pelting were detained. I went to the police station and told them this is purely an instance of kidnapping. Does your own Indian law allow you to detain the father of an accused? Can you detain some other person in place of the accused?” asked Malik.

He recalled the time when he undertook Safar-e-Azadi (a signature campaign in favour of independence). Malik alleged a couple of boys who were with him during that ‘democratic process’ were tortured and they joined militant ranks.

“Today’s youth is getting convinced that there are no takers for a non-violent movement. There is no such space. Two or three boys who were with me during the Safar-e-Azadi joined militant ranks. The reason was the same. They were abused and tortured by the police. There is no accountability for the state and its forces,” alleged the JKLF chief.

Malik also alleged that the members of the security forces are set free after killing boys in cold blood. “Now see what they did when Modi arrived here. Gowhar Dar, an engineering student from HMT area was killed by the security forces. SSP police said on record that they fired tear gas shells. Then they constituted a magisterial probe and they said we did not find any bullets missing with the CRPF members so they exonerated them!” he told me.

Gowhar Ahmed Dar, a 22-year-old was killed when protests took place in Kashmir after PM Modi left the state following a visit. Dar died as a teargas shell hit him in the head.

Indian police personnel detain a supporter of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), a separatist party, during a clash in Srinagar May 30, 2013. Dozens of JKLF supporters held a protest on Thursday against the government's decision not to allow JKLF chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik to visit the earthquake-affected areas of the Doda region to distribute aid to victims, local media reported. REUTERS/Danish Ismail (INDIAN-ADMINISTERED KASHMIR - Tags: CIVIL UNREST MILITARY CRIME LAW TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTX105WO
Soure: REUTERS/Danish Ismail

Malik questioned that when youngsters saw how CRPF members walked free after ‘killing’ protesters, why shouldn’t they die as militants? “When the boys see how they exonerated the CRPF, don’t you think the impact would be directly on them? When they see how a young boy was killed in the streets during a non-violent protest, they think why should we not get killed with a gun in our hands?” reasoned Malik.

He also recalled how after a unilateral ceasefire in 1996, his colleagues were allegedly killed.

“When we gave up arms and agreed on a unilateral ceasefire in 1996, 600 colleagues of mine were killed after that. The Indian state still called us a terrorist movement but we proved them wrong. The 116-day Safar-e-Azadi march is the only democratic process regarding Independence that has taken place in Kashmir. We have 1.5 million signatures in favour of independence. Then we saw how the Indian government dealt with us again. There have been I don’t know how many attempts on my life. I have been arrested hundreds of times. In 2002, I was tortured in Jammu. I lost the ability to hear in my right ear. I was sent to Jodhpur jail in 1999 and tortured there also,” said Malik.

Malik feels it’s déjàvu all over again. “The boys are facing the same things again. Otherwise, what happened in 2008?The same youth came out on the streets to protest non-violently, not with guns. Who crushed them? Who packed them in body bags? Who sent them to torture centres?” asked an angry Malik.

He also totally rubbished the fact that ‘educated boys’ were picking arms now which was not the case in the ‘80s.

“Were boys in the ‘80s uneducated? Shaheed Ashfaq Majeed Wani was a topper. Not just in studies but (he was very good) in sports also. Did he belong to any poor family? Nadim Khateeb, who was a commercial pilot in the USA, joined the armed rebellion, for what? Fame? And please note, all those boys were for many years a part of the non-violent movement. That is the reason that they were able to bring the biggest revolution in the 5000-year-old history of Kashmir,” said Malik.

He also mentioned that in any movement anywhere, it’s the students who are the torch bearers.

“Be it the Indian freedom movement, Palestinian movement, or any other, it’s the educated students who are at the forefront. Wherever you go in the world to a conflict zone, it’s the students who are leading the dissent. In the ‘80s, the students protested in Kashmir too. It was only after jail, torture, Red-16 type of interrogation centres that they picked up the gun,” explained Malik.

avirook sen aarushi

By Manira Chaudhary:

The Aarushi-Hemraj murder case is inarguably one of the biggest mysteries the country has ever encountered. In 2008, 14-year-old Aarushi Talwar, the daughter of dentists Nupur and Rajesh Talwar, and 45-year-old Hemraj, Talwars’ house help were found murdered at the Talwar residence in Noida. A long and complicated trial followed along with a salacious media coverage. The length of the trial was fraught with stories, allegations and conjectures popularized by mainstream media and worsened by heightened public interest.

Avirook Sen, an investigative journalist, also covered the case for two years for Mumbai Mirror before he decided to write a book on it. The book spells out the progression of the case in minute detail – some that the book claims were overlooked by the police and the CBI.

Watch this exclusive interview with Sen wherein he talks about his reasons for writing the book ‘Aarushi’, the wrongs that the mainstream media committed while covering the case, journalistic ethics, and more.

Posted by Lipi Mehta in Books

cornelia funke

By Lipi Mehta for Youth Ki Awaaz: 

Cornelia Funke’s ‘Inkheart’ series finds a coveted place in millions of bookshelves across the world. Often called the ‘German J. K. Rowling’, she is one of the most beloved children’s authors today and started her journey as a book illustrator who then decided to tell stories of her own. With her gripping fantasy and adventure narratives, and strong protagonists, Funke is a deserving giant of the literary world. Youth Ki Awaaz caught up with her (over email) to find out more about her audience, the causes she believes in and more. Read on.

Source: Bambi 2009/Flickr
Source: Bambi 2009/Flickr

Lipi Mehta (LM): How do you think writers of children’s literature perceive their audience? Do they think children are capable of making informed choices about what to read and what to infer from the stories they read?

Cornelia Funke (CF): A British publisher once said to me, “The difference between writers for children and writers for adults is that the children’s books writers love their audience.” Children are often far more aware and far more critical when it comes to questioning the status quo of the world. They don’t hide from the big questions yet: Where do we come from? Where do we go? Why is the world so beautiful and so terrible at the same time? At every event, I do – yes, at every single event! – a so-called grown up comes to me and says, “Those children! They asked such good questions!” and each time I answer, “Well, they always do. Whereas grown-ups mostly try to ask questions that make them sound clever.” In my opinion, we often know who we are much better when we are young. We still haven’t built a fortress around our hearts. We haven’t made ourselves into a firmly defined persona. Children are still aware that they are part of everything – which is both a magical and a frightening feeling. They are shapeshifters still – which makes them the most enchanting audience for a story teller. So in short, yes, children are capable of almost everything. They can be manipulated, they can have bad taste, they sometimes like bad books… but all that is true of their grown-up versions as well.

cornelia funk seriesLM: Do you think some themes that can largely shape a child’s upbringing are missing in children’s literature? Which themes do you think more children’s books need to be written about, and why?

CF: I don’t think that anything is missing. In our time, children’s literature is more diverse and rich than ever before. There are so many enchanting voices, from so many countries and cultures, both from storytellers and illustrators. In many ways, it is a golden age. Of course, there are also many bad books! As always. There is a ridiculous tendency to put an age label on every story, although we know how vastly different we all are and that age is relative. But still – and despite the fact that publishing is more and more just about money (which is probably true about the world as well) – children’s literature is vibrant, inspiring and offers many different dishes to feed children’s minds and souls

LM: You wrote your first story when you were 35 years old. A lot of writers find it difficult to ‘start late’ and are scared of making the switch to writing from whichever careers they are pursuing. What would you like to say to them?

I was actually 29, which is still quite old from a child’s perspective. And as for the fear: I believe that fear is something to be overcome. We are all scared to change, to grow, to challenge ourselves. Chances are golden keys, but they are always sticky with fear. They don’t come without it. One should pick up the key nevertheless. And walk through the fear.

LM: You strongly lend your voice to the cause of survivors of abuse, minority exclusion and marginalised women and children. How do you think this passion reveals itself in your writing, and why do you think it is important for creative people to contribute to society through their art?

CF: It’s a strange thing that we separate art from life – that’s as if we believe a flower can grow without the soil its seeds come from. Our creativity is a unique gift distinctly human – maybe nothing defines us more. Art enriches life, but it also questions, reveals, interprets, gives meaning… there is an artist in all of us, the strong urge to give shape and form to our life experiences. There is no greater gift than waking that talent and gift in someone, who faces darkness and pain. So yes, I think being an artist comes with the obligation to pass that gift on. To give sound to what we all feel, fear, hate and love. An artist shouldn’t express just him or herself. An artist should find expression for all the others who can’t. Music, visual art, literature… all these express the human experience in unforgettable ways.

As for how this opinion reveals itself in my writing – I don’t believe in messages or sermons. I deeply mistrust any form of missionisation, in art as much as in life. But of course, my writing is a mirror of my beliefs and passions. Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote that we don’t love writers for their plots, but for their spirit and for what they make us feel about the world. I agree. We all love a writer for the feeling a book gives us, for the glasses it hands us to see the world in a slightly different way.

LM: You are inspired by J. K. Rowling and your website mentions you could make the decision of ‘killing’ after how Rowling wrote the death of her character Sirius Black. Why do you think it is important, or rather necessary for writers to be inspired by other writers, and does this impact originality in any way?

CF: That’s funny, I don’t think I ever said I was influenced. I hated the way J.K. killed Sirius. I was quite upset about it, as I felt she got rid of him as casually as wiping a fly off the wall (which isn’t quite just a statement I admit) I had a discussion about it with her former editor and swore, that IF I ever have to kill a favorite character of one, there will be blood and tears on the page. Shortly after that, the story I was writing (‘Inkspell’ at that time) revealed a dead Dustfinger to me. To this day, I don’t know whether that had been decided long before my discussion (stories have their own minds after all) or was triggered by it. My first reaction was NOOO! I will never do that! But the images kept coming. I saw him dead. No doubt there. So for two days I tried to find out why the story wants me to go there. And when I did, I kept my promise to make it a memorable death (at least I hope I did). As for your question whether one should be inspired: of course. All artists inspire each other. Even bad books teach us something. But inspire doesn’t mean copy.

The interview was conducted as a part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s coverage of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival.

Cornelia Funke will be speaking at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival this year. Catch her between the 21st and 25th of January, at Diggi Palace, Jaipur.

r raj rao

By Shambhavi Saxena for Youth Ki Awaaz:

R. Raj Rao
Source: Facebook

Credited with writing one of India’s first ‘gay novels’, R. Raj Rao, the author of ‘The Boyfriend‘ (2003) and ‘Hostel Room 131‘ (2010) spoke to Youth Ki Awaaz about gender and sexual minorities in India, responses to the brazen queerness of his literature, and his experience of being mistaken for an orthodox Hindu writer. Rao’s writing is known (and lauded) for its dry humour and irreverence, which can be a breath of fresh air in times when people take the slightest things much too seriously. Longtime gay-rights activist and presently a professor at Pune University, he was the first in India to offer a programme on LGBT literature at his University.

Shambhavi Saxena (SS): In ‘The Boyfriend’, you’ve been careful to reflect a composite of identity markers like caste, class, profession and age. Do you think the urban LGBT+ movement in India is too preoccupied with sexual identity (and almost exclusively ‘gay’ and ‘trans’ identities) to look at these other intersections?

R. Raj Rao (RRR): Yes, possibly. Each constituency is concerned with its own agendas and couldn’t be bothered with the agendas of other constituencies. This is what hinders the formation of coalitions. But then, at the end of the day, ‘The Boyfriend‘ is a work of literary fiction. Identity politics must not be taken to be its main focus.

SS: When Sridhar Rangayan interviewed you for Project Bolo, you said you “can’t endorse political correctness.” Why is that? And do you think there is pressure on contemporary queer writers to be politically correct?

RRR: I can’t remember in what context I spoke about political correctness in my Project Bolo interview. My fiction is hardly politically correct. If it were, it wouldn’t work as fiction. The pressure on contemporary writers to be politically correct comes from activists and reviewers, not from publishers and fellow writers. That is why I am not the blue-eyed boy of the former.

SS: You spent a significant period of time in the UK, where a lot of your queer politics really crystallized. From what you’ve seen, how do you think British queer culture differs from what we have here in India? Especially since Section 377 was instituted by the British in India but struck down in the UK over 50 years ago?

RRR: British queer culture today is the same as the queer culture of America, Europe and the rest of the Western world. That is to say, it is progressive. But it also tends to straitjacket sexual identities, put them into boxes, as it were. That is where we score, here in India. Homos and heteros don’t have to take one of Robert Frost’s two roads, from which there’s no turning back. We can be on both roads at the same time, as our sexual identities are fluid. So many of our respondents in ‘Whistling in the Dark‘ have said that they have had sex with both men and women and have enjoyed both kinds of sex. This does not help when it comes to movements, or when archaic laws have to be changed. But it does help in decentring the ghetto.

The Boyfriend.inddSS: “Outcastes can only expect to be friends with outcastes,” says Yudi, in ‘The Boyfriend’. But no matter how cohesive or organized people on the margins become, they will not be granted access to the centre. Do you agree? Or do the margins have more radical potential than we give credit for?

RRR: But why do we need to reach the centre? Utopias are realized when the margins themselves become the centre. If these needs radicalization as you call it, I am all for it. Radical, to me, isn’t a dirty word, though in India we associate it with Maoism and militancy. I do not regard myself as different from a terrorist, except that my weapon is the pen.

SS: The Babri demolition and Shiv Sena operations form the backdrop for Yudi and Milind’s Bombay in ‘The Boyfriend’. Do you see similar communal tension in India of 2015? What does this mean for queer politics?

RRR: Oh, everyone knows it is much worse now than ever before, with the RSS ruling us. Didn’t you read my Pune Mirror column of 8 December 2015, where I said that there was a conspiracy between the legislature and judiciary to keep passing the buck from one to the other, with neither of them having any intention to scrap Section 377? At least, that’s what I gathered from Arun Jaitley’s recent remarks on Section 377. As long as the present government is in power – which is till 2019 at least – the climate for gays in India will only get more suffocating. Technically, we are criminals, and that is how the government wishes to see us.

SS: Can you share with us your experience of ‘the queer’ within academia? How have students responded and what implications does that have for (the possibility of) mainstreaming queer politics?

RRR: Queer studies in India hasn’t acquired the glamour and respect that women’s studies and Dalit studies have acquired. And it never will. Even now, in 2016, there are only a handful of Indian universities that have a queer studies course on the syllabus. It is always an optional course, so there are few takers. Some students think that if they take the course, they will be making a statement about their sexuality, which no one wants to do. You may call it homophobia. It is preposterous to think that queer politics can be mainstreamed the way caste and gender politics have been mainstreamed in India.

SS: Why have you acquired the pen-name Raja Rao Jr.?

RRR: Well, better late than never. Raja Rao was born in 1908 and died around the year 2000. In 1996, I finally met him in Austin, Texas, where he lived. But ever since I began writing and publishing in the late 1980s, I have been mistaken for Raja Rao. My name has been printed as Raja Rao in the newspapers hundreds of times. These howlers have proved costly. Once, I was inadvertently invited to an international conference in Sri Lanka to deliver a keynote address and was put up at a 5-star hotel in Colombo, called the Lanka Oberoi. It is only after I arrived at the airport that the organizers realized that they had made a terrible mistake, that I was not Raja Rao who wrote ‘Kanthapura’ and ‘The Serpent On The Rope’. But by then it was too late. They had to put me up at the Lanka Oberoi and hear my keynote address, of which Raja Rao would never have approved.

I have been asked to autograph Raja Rao’s books many times by readers who take me to be him. Rather than educate them, I have adopted the line of least resistance at such times–I have forged his signature on their books, and they have gone away happy.

To me, calling myself Raja Rao Jr. is the ultimate act of subversion, considering that he was a Brahmin with great faith in Vedanta philosophy, and was avowedly straight with a series of women in his life. And I, as you know, am none of these things, and my life’s mission is to attack religious hegemony and heterosexuality.

The interview was conducted as a part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s coverage of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival.

R. Raj Rao will be speaking at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival this year. Catch him between the 21st and 25th of January, at Diggi Palace, Jaipur.

Image source: nripulse.com

By Uzma Shamim:

Jyothi Reddy is an entrepreneur settled in the US, heading a company all by herself, and hearing about this would make us admire her for living the American dream. On further digging, when we find her real story we will be in awe.

Jyothi Reddy was born in 1970 to a financially weak family. Owing to her family’s inability to take care of her needs, Jyothi was sent to an orphanage on the false account of being motherless. She was married at the age of 16 to her cousin from whom she has two daughters. After the marriage, her condition deteriorated. To feed her children, she was forced to work on paddy fields for less than Rs.5 a day. Later she became a volunteer with NYK (Nehru Yuva Kendra) and started teaching. However, the money that came from teaching was not enough to feed and educate her daughters. So, she took forward her dream of completing her education, battling opposition from family. Reddy completed her BA from Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Open University in 1994 and studied for a postgraduate degree from the Kakatiya University in 1997.

Image source: nripulse.com
Image source: nripulse.com

After the visit of a relative from the US, Jyothi finally decided that to brighten her prospects in life, she has to move to the United States. However, life in the US was not easy from the beginning. She had to work as a baby-sitter, gas station worker, as a worker in a video game shop and others. Gradually, she saved some money from all these jobs and in 2011 started her company KEYSS in Phoenix, which she has been wonderfully running ever since. She is actively involved in activities promoting the welfare of children in orphanages. She works with NGOs like Prajadharana Welfare Society, MV Foundation and Child Rights Advocacy Forum (CRAF), and has formed a Pressure Group Force for Orphan Rights and Community Empowerment (FORCE).

Youth Ki Awaaz reached out to Mrs. Jyothi Reddy to know about her journey.

Uzma Shamim (UZ): Having battled a lot of opposition from family members in moving to the US, what do you feel about the societal restrictions imposed upon women by the conventional Indian society? How are oppressed women in rural areas supposed to react towards such norms?

Jyothi Reddy (JR): Absolutely, it was a very pathetic situation. The woman could not do what she wanted to. She couldn’t even decide how she wants to use her money for her kids. In the early 90’s, women were supposed to remain under the control of men however educated and wealthy a family was. Before shifting to the US, there were a lot of arguments in our family. But I always dreamt of providing good education and life to my daughters since I knew very well how hard it was to be raised in an orphanage. I never had a shoe or a school bag, and I didn’t want the same to happen to my kids. So I went against all opposition from the family. I negotiated with my husband for the sake of my daughters and pledged not to compromise in that regard.

UZ: You took a lot of pains in educating yourself. How useful were the skills you acquired in India? Did they enable you to singlehandedly manage a $15 million IT Company you handle now?

JR: Good Question. Yes, I acquired skills to build a good future for myself and my kids.

a) Vocational Courses
b) Bachelor Degree from Dr BR Ambedkar Open University
c)Masters in Sociology from Kakatiya University
d) PGDCA Diploma in Computers
e) Software Courses from the USA.

All my education took place after marriage and after having kids but for a woman who used to work in a paddy field for less than Rs. 5 a day, it is a big deal to feature in a school textbook, so the journey has been an achievement.

UZ: Why is that you had to move to America to fulfil your dream? What is lacking in the system here in India, which needs to be corrected, so that people like you and me can realise their dreams right here?

JR: Lack of good opportunities in the country is a big worry, and the caste system has become so complex that those in the forward castes are often denied fair opportunities. I was a government teacher, but the salary of one government teacher was not enough to give a good education and a comfortable lifestyle to my children. I have gone through a very difficult phase in life and did not want my daughters to go through the same and I had big dreams too, so I decided to take a risk and move to the united States.

UZ: Having spent a substantial amount of time in an orphanage, what according to you are the problems plaguing the Indian orphanages?

JR: I love this Question. The unfortunate thing in India is that there is no identification of orphans. There is no security for such kids. From 1978 to 1984, I was in a Children’s Home called Balasadanam and thus am very much aware of the condition that exists in such homes. Till today there is no difference, there is no sense of comfort or a feeling of an actual home. A lot of Private Orphan Homes depend on donations only and thus when there is a shortage of funds, many facilities are stopped. Also, most of these homes and orphanages are administrated by men, and it often becomes difficult for the girl inhabitants who have their personal needs such as sanitary napkins, to approach the male in-charge. One of the biggest problems is that most of these orphanages and shelter homes function for kids only till class 10th and after that they have nowhere to go. My demands on their behalf are-

1) Identification
2) Proper nutritious food
3) Accommodation and special care for girl child and the presence of a female officer
4) Financial support till higher education
5) Health care
6) Employment support or skill development training according to their interest
7) Wedding support

UZ: What is your message to all those who are being oppressed right now in any aspect and to those who can do something to end this oppression?

JR: Every woman must earn and be financially independent, and only then will she get equal respect and rights. Also, one must keep trying because I strongly believe that nothing is impossible in the world.

UZ: What according to you does the government need to do in order to make sure that the girls who come out of orphanages are not forced into an early marriage, prostitution or bonded labour but have good opportunities, for employment and well-being?

JR: I believe that not just orphan girls but all girls from class 5th itself should start to understand how to take care of themselves. There should be counselling from class 10th onwards, encouragement should be given to pursue higher education, employment support, skill development training centres and control over exploitation. The woman shouldn’t be stopped and should not let herself be stopped just by virtue of her being a woman. If she knows how to take care of herself no can stop her, or as said in Tamil, Aaasakthi unte ea Shakthi aapaledhu. Jai Hind!

Thomas Piketty

By Thomas Piketty:

In the wake of a surprise re-election of Alexis Tsipras and Syriza, Thomas Piketty discusses the need for a more active approach from European leaders when it comes to the Greek question – and for a eurozone parliament to be established.

time for real proposals on greek debt
Time for some real proposals on Greek debt. Universitat Pompeu Fabra, CC BY-NC-ND

The Tsipras victory has come as a surprise to some. What has changed for Greece?

Normally, we would expect some stability in the coming years. But above all, Greece and Europe need to make up for lost time. Until now, Europe has obstinately refused to talk seriously about restructuring Greece’s debt. That was what caused the downfall of the last government.

Europe had in effect implied that it would reconsider the debt as soon as the Greeks managed to balance their budget with a small primary budget surplus – which meant Greece would have more revenues than public spending. But when the Greeks appealed for help in December 2014, Europe said “no“. That is what ultimately opened the path for Alexis Tsipras.

And the situation continued. Between January and July 2015, Europe refused to reopen talks. Now it’s September and the new support package that was discussed this summer has led to the further postponement of debt negotiations. If Europe insists on repayment, there will be fresh crises and the problem will not be resolved.

Why does the dialogue between Europe and Greece need to change?

Europe has other problems to tackle. There is the migrant crisis and the wider economic situation. Europe, Germany and France can’t exist in a permanent state of crisis. Europeans need to adjust their position. And for that to happen, France needs to have more courage – others too. Perhaps the elections in Spain at the end of this year will change things. All these elements can combine to influence majority politics in Europe when it comes to the Greek question.

Former Greek prime minister and leader of leftist Syriza party Alexis Tsipras waves to supporters after winning the general election in Athens, Greece, September 20, 2015. Greek voters returned Tsipras to power with a strong election victory on Sunday, ensuring the charismatic leftist remains Greece's dominant political figure despite caving in to European demands for a bailout he once opposed. REUTERS/Michalis Karagiannis - RTS21SE
Alexis Tsipras

What should Tsipras’s economic priorities be from now on?

Modernising the tax system is clearly the priority. It needs to be fairer and more efficient. But that can only really be done with Europe’s cooperation – and if Europe sets an example.

We have to remember that the biggest businesses in Europe often pay less tax than small- and medium-sized businesses. That’s because governments do deals that will lead to favourable conditions for their own national industry. That’s without even considering that the European Commission has a president who, as prime minister of Luxembourg, signed deals with multinational corporations that allowed them to pay just 1% to 2% tax.

Europe can’t just hand out advice without itself committing to fiscal transparency. That goes to the heart of the system – German and French banks are only too happy to handle the funds of rich Greeks.

What should French president François Hollande do about Greece?

This summer, François Hollande started to make suggestions about making the eurozone more democratic. In particular, he spoke about establishing a parliament for eurozone countries. But that’s still too timid and too vague. If he wants to do something to save his second term, and above all improve the governance of the eurozone, he needs to make more precise proposals.

I believe there would have been less austerity in Greece, and more solutions would have emerged if there had been public, democratic discussions in a eurozone parliament, populated with representatives from each national parliament.

The trouble is, the eurozone is currently governed as a technocracy. The heads of state meet behind closed doors. They send out incredible proposals in the middle of the night – like privatising 50 billion euros of Greek assets – while everyone knows it will be a veritable fire sale. As if the Greek economy could sell its assets under these conditions!

This happened without legal deliberation and without the motives behind the decision being interrogated. We need to put an end to this Europe and start again with a eurozone parliament that allows everyone’s motives to be made public. What is important now is that France – and all the countries that want to make progress – set out clear proposals to democratically restructure the eurozone.

Should we still fear a Grexit?

Yes. The risk is that in delaying discussions about restructuring the debt, we realise in one or two years that the terms of the bailout package will not be respected.

We want Greece to keep a huge primary budget surplus for 20 to 30 years, which will mean setting aside an enormous budget for repayments.

How do you justify that to young Greeks? It would be reasonable to say that until the Greek economy has been rebuilt, a reduced primary budget surplus, around the level of GDP, will have to do. That’s normal and not excessively punitive.

I worry that some people continue to bet on a Grexit, setting objectives that are impossible to meet so that when Greece fails, it can be pushed towards the exit. That is still a risk, which is why we need clarity and realistic objectives – and quickly.

Thomas Piketty is an Economist, Director of Studies at the EHESS and Professor at the School of Economics Paris/Paris School of Economics

This article was originally published here on The Conversation.

littleterrorist

By Asmita Sarkar:

The debate around censorship leaks out of a dialectic of what is ‘reasonable restriction’, when the nation allows free speech and expression. By whose reason is an artists’ freedom being clamped down on. Independent filmmaker Ashvin Kumar’s works have been banned many a times for it’s content, which is no standard to judge his talent. His short film, Little Terrorist, nominated for the Academy Awards, with its air of authenticity deals with the superflousness of borders that create fault lines between indigenous people belonging to the same community, living in different nation states.

Little Terrorist, a 15 minute short film, is being released for free. You can watch it below:

The Oscar Nominated Filmmaker Ashvin Kumar, who has been courting controversy, for the thought provoking themes in his movies and documentaries, talked to us about his second production Little Terrorist, which was nominated for the Academy Awards and has won 5 international film awards.

Asmita Sarkar(AS): What will the audience take away from Little Terrorist?

Ashvin Kumar(AK): Since the time I read about the real-life story of that Pakistani boy who crossed over to India by mistake, and then was sent back to Lahore by PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, I’ve been struck by the redundancy of the nation state- both conceptual and organisational. The absurdity that all the grand narratives, jingoism and rhetoric have succeeded in doing is puncturing the economies of two very poor countries who’ve ended up pointing nuclear weapons at each other, which we hope they shall never use. The Gurdaspur Attack, the arrest of Mohameed Naved and escalation of hostilities on the LOC are but recent expressions of a lack of imagination on both sides. The justification for borders and the grand narratives of great nations have clearly failed. While real people live real lives on either side of these fences, barbed wires cut the landscape of their humanity, culture, civilisation, divides their children from their ancestors and, indeed, stymies’ the very human touch that is the only real solution to any such conflict. I don’t know which film­maker would say this, but it’s almost a matter of regret and dismay that this film has aged so well. For it feels far more relevant today, a decade later. Its message of hope, my wide-­eyed idealism seem quite naive given the hawkish, illiberal, imperialist impulses that characterise public life today.

AS: How does Little Terrorist contribute to the discussion of peace between India and Pakistan, especially in light of the present discordant relationship between the two countries?

AK: It helps us to suspend disbelief for about fifteen minutes and create an ideal. Imagination is what makes us human and that is what sustains us while the guns blaze and the jingoism is shrill. People can go back to ideas suggested by a film like Little Terrorist. And then, when the guns fall silent and throats are exhausted, when the grand narratives of nationalism are consigned to history’s dustbin, when we are prepared for a real dialogue and solution, they will find that it will be nurtured by one individual at a time, that people either side of the border naturally gravitate towards each other, with little or no assistance from the powers that be.

AS: Two of your movies are on an Indiatimes list of banned movies. What is it about the films that you make, do you think, that stops the CBFC from giving permission?

AK: The CBFC is a redundant edifice. It was created by imperialists to keep the stranglehold of oppression on the Indian native, who they ruled. Our feudal rules, having tipped their hat to their British predecessors, use it to achieve similar ends. Institutions like CBFC show us up. They remind us about how independent we have really become since 1947. That, read along with the clause of ‘reasonable restriction’ on freedoms of speech, privacy and so on – anyone who so chooses can limit all speech and expression in this country. And we are seeing it put to spectacular use with the new administration whose tendencies are autocratic, illiberal not to mention parochial and misogynistic.

The CBFC will argue that all my films have got A rating after all. Yes but the A ratings is a form of back door censorship. The minute a film gets an A rating, unless it’s not selling sex, the distributors just vanish. Of course they do, they can’t sell it to any TV channel and it causes troubles with theatrical releases too. This pre-release censorship is a bizarre idea and it only applies to movies. Think about it, if Vikram Seth or Amitav Ghosh were to write a novel, with provocative characters, they wouldn’t have to submit their manuscript to any committee, would they? Closer to home, neither does Barkha Dutt has to for TV?

AS: What inspires you to choose narratives from conflict areas for documentaries and fiction films?

AK: I think the job of an artist is to push the boundaries of society. Provoke. Create. Debate. Call out for discussion. I am very mindful of that. So, I think if you are in a place that’s the whirlwind of conflict, you have to do something. The real stories are there and as a film maker, the emotion of it is quite overwhelming. I didn’t go to Kashmir to make Inshallah Kashmir, I went there to shoot a documentary on football. But, while making the film I realised two things. I saw that, even as a person who had researched about militancy and in general Kashmir, most of what I knew was outright government propaganda. Second, people want their stories told. The intention is to get their story forward and have a discussion which can ease the conflict. That’s the best case scenario.

AS: Should creative professions like writing and filmmaking be learnt in institutions? Also how has your experience as a teacher of filmmaking been through your workshops?

AK: The jury is out on this one. I think institutions are great for a network of individuals, you get to step into a very tentative career with, and they provide help and support that is career building and invaluable. I also feel that to be immersed in a craft for 3 years, without the obligation for it to do anything commercially, is a huge fillip to anyone’s artistic journey. That said, I don’t think you learn much film making at institutions. The best way to learn how to make a film is to read, watch and then when you’re confident – do. When I started out I had to do with 16mm / 35mm cameras and film kit. It was just very tough to get all that organised. Today it’s just so easy with the technology available. I’d recommend – just do it.

My experience as a teacher has been fantastic. My approach is very logical and user friendly. I start from why we tell each other stories and end up with creating a full screenplay. And answer two simple questions thereafter: where to put the camera, what to tell the actor. All of film making is about answering these two fundamental questions – well. And that last word, is the critical one. But it’s all about logical, step by step analysis of your own thought process and pushing your own creativity to places where sometimes it just doesn’t want to go. That’s what makes it a pretty intense and emotional course.

AS: What are the hardships and freedoms that one experiences when they are an independent filmmaker like you?

AK: My biggest hardship right now is that I want to make a film about Kashmir but because of the security situation there, and the new administration’ lack of imagination, I have to keep very quiet about it. I am not saying I am self-censoring (though many people have suggested that to me – why don’t you remove this, or play down that) even before the film is made! But I am talking about having the freedom to breathe as an artist, knowing that your state or legal system will support your rights and liberties. Unfortunately – I just don’t get that sense in today’s India. So that is my biggest hardship.

AS: How has winning the BAFTA, and being nominated for Oscars, European Film Academy changed your craft?

AK: It gave me a very swollen head which took a long time to wear off.

Today, art and expression, lies bound to arbitrary censorship following a loose trail of morality and jingoism. Filmmakers, like Ashvin Kumar, are not only documenting the narratives that take flight from the voice of the people but are also challenging the mainstream ideology by refusing to co-opt to the dominant paradigm, thus embracing the true idea of independence.

Image source: Moumita Ghosh

By Moumita Ghosh for Youth Ki Awaaz:

It is true that you can guess the size of a man’s penis by the size of his feet?” asks the comedian, and then, pausing briefly, casually drops the next line, “So, all you men wearing pointy shoes tonight, you cannot bitch about padded bra-s, dude”, to an audience hooting unanimously with laughter.

From “selling cola to the youth” to scripting Sesame Street’s Indian version— Galli Galli Sim Sim, Neeti Palta has played many a role before venturing into the realm of stand-up comedy and how! The comedian who lives with two pet dogs in her Delhi apartment and often tweets about them (“My doggies fight so much I’m going to call them Delhi Government & Centre”) is one of the best known faces of the Indian stand-up comedy scene, having performed alongside Russell Brand in the Comedy Central Chuckle Festival 2015 in Delhi, earlier this month.

Ask her about the stand-up landscape back in the day without the whole internet shebang and Palta quips, “Back in the days (Oh I sound soooo olllldddd now) when we discussed comedy, it was a lot to do with who tanked on stage, who got heckled, how many applause breaks did one get. Now-a-days the conversation is more about how many hits did one get on his/her video and how so-and-so was such a son-of-a-so-and-so for not sharing a video!”

In an exclusive interview with Youth Ki Awaaz, Neeti Palta talks about “chick comedy”, screaming fans and ‘why‘ she takes advantage of the fact that she is a woman!

Moumita Ghosh(MG): As a comedian, how do you deal with the obligation of being perpetually funny?

Neeti Palta(NP):I ask for money whenever a smart ass demands a joke at a party. And in any case, if any of my wisecracks fall flat I tell people that I am off duty!

MG: Being hailed as a “female comic” by the media rather than “just a comedian”, does that ever bother you? How about receiving masculine adjectives like “women with balls of steel”?

NP: It makes me insecure when someone announces me onstage as a female comedian. I mean, surely they can see that for themselves right? Right? As for masculine adjectives, honestly, I’m not hyper-sensitive about them as long as they are meant in a good way.

MG: But can gender ever be separated from the narrative onstage, especially for someone like you who promises to provide a “female perspective”?

NP: I have always wanted to be seen as a funny “person” onstage, trying to make people laugh, but I guess you cannot separate my gender from what I say onstage. Obviously, my jokes come from my observations and experiences as a female. The only thing I object to is my material being branded as “chick comedy”. After all a male comedian’s stuff is never called “stud comedy”. A lot of the observations in my stuff are universal and I would prefer people to listen first and then form an opinion before branding it anything.

MG: You had gone on record to state that the idea of a female humourist performing “naughty jokes” at a pub in India is often deemed problematic, as more often than not, she is perceived as “fast”. How much of that attitude do you think has changed in recent times?

NP: Different audiences behave differently. However, given its skewed patriarchal upbringing, the Indian mind-set always tends to describe a female doing naughty jokes as “bold” and “edgy” when trying to be complimentary! While the adjectives used for a male comedian will be “funny”, “talented”, “cool”, etc. The amusing part is they don’t even realise they’re discriminating!

MG: Why aren’t there as many female comics as much as male ones on the scene?

NP: We get enough attention as it is by merely walking on the road or taking public transport! But jokes aside, I think women are somehow brought up with a mindset to not attract attention to themselves, lest they be seen as a “fast” woman. Add to that, the fact that we deal with far more self-doubt than men, constantly dealing with that nagging voice in our heads that keeps telling us that we can’t. So it’s a combination of society and self that makes us reticent.

MG: You perform in English and your audience is a certain class of urban, buttoned-up individuals. Do you ever feel that you lose out on a certain section of Hindi-speaking audience who also need a nice dose of reality check on existing norms which your humour seems to provide?

NP: True English comedy is rather niche. But I have also done shows in Jaipur and Indore. And a whole bunch of shows where the brief was to mix in Hindi and Hinglish. Those were the shows that made me realise that humour is universal when people see the truth in it.

MG: How do you think your audience reacts in terms of taking the lesson back home or is it merely confined to a few laughs inside the auditorium and then promptly forgotten?

NP: I have been fortunate enough to have people walk up to me after shows and actually tell me that I made them self-conscious, and that the next time they’ll be more careful in the way they deal with women lest they be made fun of the way I did! What follows usually is a happy, sense of pride which increases my chest size more than any padded bra ever can.

MG: Recently comedian Abish Mathew was shown the “middle finger” (ironically enough) and called a – sexist pig at NLU, Delhi. Radhika Vaz has said in this regard – “When it comes to any message – comedy or not – I think intent rather than content is what we think people need to consider. In my opinion, he cleverly covered domestic violence without clubbing it over the head (oops).” You, too, have quipped that “feminism is becoming like jihad”, on more such recent happenings. We would love to hear more about your take on this while we wonder whether you would call yourself a feminist.

NP: I would certainly call myself a feminist. That is, if we are talking about the original meaning of the word “feminist”, someone who sees both genders as equals. In fact I’m even willing to admit that there may be times that men are better than us in some things, but then we are also better than them in other things, so in the end it equalizes.

Content vs. intent has long been my measuring stick for myself too. As long as I feel that a joke, no matter how harsh, intends to deliver the right message, it is fine. Yes, I stand by the fact that I feel that not just females, but we as a society have become hyper sensitive. First we dole out years of repression and then when it comes to fixing the damage, we swing completely to the other extreme of objecting to jokes! What happened to middle ground? Why don’t we start out by teaching our kids better? So that they are equipped to decide what is appropriate and inappropriate. Mothers have to get over their “raja beta” syndrome and, kick some boy ass to instil the sense of equality in them. I actually have male friends who are blissfully unaware of the fact that they are sexist. Seriously! They don’t even realise when they are being offensive. And that’s where this joke was born –

Friend: Don’t take advantage of the fact that you are a woman.
Me: Why not? Someone’s going to. Might as well be me!

MG: Following that line of thought, what about ‘rape‘ jokes? Do you think they contribute to the ‘rape culture‘?

NP: While some of them may not be appropriate or in good taste, jokes don’t cause rapes. A violent streak and a sadistic mind-set, and a total lack of fear because of a woefully dismal punishment record, cause rapes. It is something to think about, when we become a society where a comedian is afraid to tell a joke, or an artist is afraid to draw a cartoon but a rapist is not afraid to rape.

neetipalta,russell brandMG: Share the experience of performing alongside Russell Brand at the Comedy Central Chuckle Festival. For those of us who weren’t there, we’d really appreciate a verbal sneak-peak into the event at Delhi!

NP: It isn’t often that one gets to perform in a stadium! And just when one thinks that English stand up doesn’t have enough takers in the city; there they were, in full strength. I loved the challenge of performing to a mixed audience of goras and desis. Russell is a true maverick. However I felt (and he kind-of announced on stage) that he had been warned about the various sensitivities involved in performing in India, so he was fairly politically correct.

Backstage, he was a very warm and friendly person. There is something very gentle and kind about him. He was sweet and humble enough to thank us for warming the audience for him, and we got to take a bunch of crazy selfies that I shall treasure.

MG: You are not a child of YouTube. So, what’s your take on the wave of stand-up comedy online, both in terms of content and scope, in times to come?

NP: I still don’t watch too much comedy on YouTube because I’m still trying to find my voice, my style and my humour. A lot of the newcomers are so influenced by some international acts that I genuinely wonder, if they’ll ever find their original voice. The new crop wants to be “edgy” because bucking the system is considered “cool”. Unfortunately many of them don’t have the street credibility to pull off that “edge”, however some of them, I’m happy to note, do. Stand up is definitely the new wave of entertainment and it is here to stay. Hopefully, soon we’ll follow the trend of the West and some stand ups will break through and become movie stars (irrespective of their looks!). Who knows we might even start getting big bucks to be brand ambassadors! Coming back to the online scheme of things, more and more brands are actually reaching out to us, to do sketches or snippets of stand up for them. There are companies out there actually designing apps to download stand up to phones! I have genuinely started feeling like a binary warrior in a digital
world!

Quickies!

What does your workspace look like?
Two dogs, some pulled out hair, lots of snacks and strong coffee.

What do you do when you hit the writer’s block?
Drown my sorrow in junk food.

And where do you find that mythical muse?
Murphy. All tragedy is converted to comedy.

Tell us something about you that most people don’t know.
I’m an alien here to study humans.

What are you reading right now?
Terry Pratchett – Thud

Tea or coffee? Early bird or creature of the night?
Road trip or flying?
Coffee. Early bird. Road trip.

What is something you know you need to stop doing?
Wasting time. Or at least then feeling bad about it.

What are your pet peeves?
Currently, this guy on the plane reclining his seat right into my lap! I can see he has dandruff.
Next on the list, mosquitoes, bad network, traffic jams and people who come to comedy shows only to take offense.

What aspiring stand-up comedians must not do?
Steal jokes from other stand up comedians!

Critical acclaim or crazy screaming fans in a mosh pit?
Screaming fans. Lots of appreciative fans have bought me beers. Still waiting for someone to throw his article of clothing on me, preferably nice smelling!

Among the new kids on the block, who all feature on your list of favourites?
I am not very familiar with the new crop in all cities, but I feel Abhishek Upmanyu and Nishant Suri from Delhi, Kunal Kamra and Siddharth Dudeja from Mumbai and Naveen Richards from Bangalore are very funny and will go far.

A stand-up comedian you would want to swap your life with?
A rich, famous stand up comedian. It’ll be lovely to walk on to stage, just say -“hi” and have people find you hilarious because the tickets to your show were so expensive!

rushdie explains india twitter screenshot
By Kanika Katyal:

If the first thing that you do after you hear of a national emergency is tweet about it, then this account is for you.

Let’s admit that Twitter is only as good as the people you follow, and there is nobody who gets India like this man. I can say that, because who else can come up with a BJP version of ‘When Harry Met Sally’?

Or figure-out Suhel Seth better than him ?

That’s Rushdie Explains India for you.

The bio mentions ‘Parody account’ and has been, ‘Graciously blessed by Sir himself’, quite literally so (as Twitter never forgets):

rushdie explains india screenshot 1

But unlike many parody accounts, he’s not your quintessential comic guy. His wit has wisdom.

Rushdie Explains India openly takes a dig at the ‘who’s who’ from the political and cultural landscape and has risen from obscurity into cult fame, mastering the art of nailing celebrity narcissism in 140 characters or less. From Narendra Modi, to Amartya Sen to Javed Akhtar, there is nobody who’s been spared by his wit.

With followers over 29.3K (at the time of publishing), including the likes of Shashi Tharoor, the account has grown to be a favourite among Twitter users in India.

rushdie explains india screenshot 2

For those of you who do not know who he is, take a look at some of his tweets.

1. I’m guessing she’s not the nation’s ‘Dreamgirl’ anymore:

2. Sharing Prasad with the Bhakts:

3. They said if you were able to find humour even in the most difficult situation you were already a winner; so he did: 

US-based Professor, Rohit Chopra, the man behind the humorous ‘Rushdie Explains India’ was kind enough to speak to Youth Ki Awaaz over email on – why the name Rushdie, his non-Twitter life, if Rahul Gandhi became the PM of India one day, and more.

Kanika Katyal (KK): While the world knows you as the man behind the Twitter handle, ‘RushdieExplainsIndia’, what is your non-Twitter life like?

RushdieExplains (RE): It’s a rich life in all kinds of ways. I greatly enjoy living in San Francisco, which is an extraordinarily vibrant city in terms of art, culture, technology, food, and media. The flexibility of an academic schedule means I can pursue interests like walking around the city for research on its South Asian pasts or exploring the natural beauty of the region. I’m addicted to the Pacific coastline and never miss a chance to drive down or go for a hike on one of the area’s trails with my son. New media and social media also enable me to stay in touch and keep conversations running with friends and colleagues back in India; that is immensely valuable to me personally.

KK: Why Rushdie? And do also tell us about why ‘Explains India’? Also, who do you want to explain it to?

RE: It wasn’t a premeditated, calculated decision. The idea for the account sprung from a casual Twitter conversation with two academic friends of mine, Kerim Friedman and Gautam Premnath. The account was meant as an insider joke for a few friends, aiming to speak in a Rushdie-esque manner about India. I was quite surprised and gratified that something about it struck a chord with folks on Twitter, so I have kept going, with the exception of a break for a few months and some pauses here and there. The initial idea was to play on how Rushdie might explain the 2014 election results to the world, but since then it has become more of a commentary on Indian events which, to an extent, presumes some familiarity with the Indian political and social context.

KK: You said, “It is always a bit startling to realise that one’s cultural experiences are not universal.” What were these cultural experiences that you are talking about?

RE: I was talking about the delightful and sometimes not-so-delightful experiences that are unique to being Indian, though I am sure other communities can speak of similar things. For example, the nosy neighborhood aunties, the Indian obsession with merit and competitive exams, the insufferable middle-class Indian parental boasting about kids’ achievements—I see some of this here in the US too among Indian-Americans. More mundane things too—the hallowed place of Maggi in Indian life, for example. My experiences significantly refer to 1980s India, in all its glorious weirdness. I remember how, after some television serials on Doordarshan, Indian middle class parents were terrified that “mera beta drugs karega.” Or the odd faux-wisdom that circulated in Indian houses: zyada TV dekhoge to aankhen kharab ho jayengi. Or poor Indian mothers convinced that Bournvita was nutritious and forcing their children to gulp milk mixed with it. Some of what I experienced no doubt has persisted but some I think is peculiar and specific to that time.

KK: Why did you choose the platform of Twitter? When you started you weren’t anonymous, what led to that? Did anonymity change things?

RE: Again, no design as such. It just happened. I try and keep my social media life manageable and Twitter is my poison of choice, so to speak. I’ve had wonderful conversations on Twitter, made great friends through being on it; the form suits my temperament I suppose. I find Facebook very creepy because of its shady privacy policies. It’s also kind of useless: people seem to share a lot of pointless stuff on it, like boring details about their vacations or kids’ birthday parties. Or boast about the fact that they also had a drink at a bar where the Marquis de Sade downed a rum in 1785 and so on.

The account was never meant to be anonymous, because there was no grand plan behind it. Anonymity, yes, brought its gifts. It was liberating, and I think worked well with the account. The account has become somewhat different since I outed myself and forsook that anonymity. Something is lost with forfeiting anonymity, but something gained too. The account is more direct and more political now, and not being anonymous perhaps adds a little more weight and credibility to some of my observations. I’m just very grateful that people still consider it worth following, even in its post-anonymous incarnation.

KK: What does “Blessed by Sir” signify? Also, what is the most memorable thing that author Salman Rushdie said to you?

RE: That was just in keeping with the parodic nature of the account. Rushdie has been knighted; hence the Sir. It was also a reference to the hyperbolic nature of Indian announcements and self-praise. And shortly after the account started, Rushdie had responded with a bemused tweet introducing me to the Kim Kardarshian parody account, which I liberally interpreted as his blessing. So it all kind of happily converged.

That Rushdie acknowledged the parody account at all was in itself memorable for me. It was extremely kind and generous of him. It was very nice of him to say he enjoyed it.

KK: You mentioned, “Baba Ramdev is a reservoir one can endlessly draw on. Arnab Goswami and Chetan Bhagat were the gifts that kept on giving.” What was it about them that made them such frequent mentions in you tweets? I also noticed that no women made it to the list? Why is that?

RE: Oh, just that they are prominent, over the top celebs, who are objects of fascination for the Indian public. To a significant extent, all of them are media creations—spectacular figures whose antics and pronouncements are riveting. So they are gifts for a parody account.

Well, there are one or two women who similarly have provided a rich vein of comments to mine for the account, if not to the same extent. But women are generally more sensible and don’t make fools of themselves as often as men do. I hope I will not be accused of gender discrimination now!

How would @RushdieExplainsIndia react to these (for now, hypothetical) news headlines:

Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Congress and BJP, to lead a united front.

“Arun Jaitley happy since he doesn’t have to clarify which party he belongs to anymore.”

Rahul Gandhi to be sworn as PM.

“Tavleen Singh books one-way ticket to Rome; hopes the Gandhi family doesn’t wield as much influence there as in Delhi”

Suhel Seth nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

“On condition that he quit all forms of communication, in the interest of world sanity and peace.”

RushdieExplainsIndia receives a fatwa for his scandalous tweets.

“As long as it’s a parody fatwa on Twitter, cool.”

Subramanian Swamy decides to retire from active politics.

“I give thanks for India; I cry for RushdieExplains”

RSS demands sexuality education be made compulsory in India.

“Sex education textbooks to now feature pics of assorted flowers brushing each other. Flowers must be from same religion and caste however.”

anand kumar

By Kainat Sarfaraz for Youth Ki Awaaz:

The Aam Aadmi Party was created with the objective of contributing towards a more transparent democracy. However, the recent infighting has raised questions about the party’s internal democracy itself. In March, a series of leaked letters revealed that some of the senior leaders in AAP were unhappy with the way the party was functioning. From candidate selection to faulty donations, the party has been accused of indulging in dishonest means. Leaders like Yogendra Yadav, Prof Anand Kumar and Prashant Bhushan were ousted from the National Executive of the Aam Aadmi Party after they made such claims.

anand kumar

As a comeback of sorts, these leaders initiated a political reform movement few weeks ago. Named as Swaraj Abhiyan, the movement aims to bring about reforms and make space for alternative politics. The movement has support of all the AAP volunteers who were disenchanted by the lack of internal democracy in the party. Leaders of the Abhiyan have repeatedly claimed that their only aim is to create a new political agenda for the country and work towards bringing democratic changes in AAP itself. The movement intends to work at grass-root level and create the platform and space for debate, discussion and dissent.

To know more, Youth Ki Awaaz got in touch with Professor Anand Kumar, who is one of the founders of this movement.

Q. In an interview with Hindustan Times, you have been quoted as saying, “There is no cold war (in AAP). We’re trying to get closer.” Given the current situation, would you still stand by that statement?

A. There was no cold war till the open and aggressive stance of Shri Arvind Kejriwal, as was evident in his audio tape about Prashant Bhushan, YY, Ajit Jha and me. Then it became an all out attack for eliminating all dissenting voices including Lokpal Ramdas, and NE members Prof Rakesh Sinha and Vishal Sharma. The elimination drive has now percolated to state and district levels. From the expelled leaders side there is equally forceful campaign in the form of Swaraj Abhiyan to claim the heritage of swaraj and anti corruption movement.

Q. There is a growing perception that instead of being a reformist movement, Swaraj Abhiyan aims to be a political party and it is currently gathering support before making formal announcements. Your comments on this.

A. It is not a misplaced enquiry, because there was a visible minority of 25% participants who have voted in favour of creating a new political party to carry on the process of alternative politics. After expulsion of the supporters of internal reformist line like YY, Ajit Jha, PB and me, the supporters of creating a new party have increased in a sizeable manner.

Q. From Jayalalithaa to PM Modi, personality cult politics rules the roost today and yet it has been a major bone of contention for Swaraj Samwad. In the era of PR and media blitzkrieg, how do you think it is possible to abstain from it and still win elections?

A. Politics of personality cult has not been the major game changer in recent elections, otherwise Congress investment in promoting personality of Rahul Gandhi may have yielded better results. It is always problems plus programs plus processes of connecting with people plus personality or the face of the campaign.

Q. You have also mentioned in your Facebook post that the party has shifted towards ‘autocratic politics’. What are the chances of a cooperative relationship with the party in future, if any?

A. Unity in action is the only way for diverse parties for working together on the basis of a ‘win-win’ approach. In case of AAP, Swaraj Abhiyan is the most unacceptable part of the present political spectrum. There are more chances of increasing distance and disagreements in Delhi than proximity and cooperation, as these are the last things in the wish list of AAP leadership at the moment.

Q. On one hand, the law minister of Delhi has been accused of having a fake degree. While on the other, the Delhi government has set up an anti-corruption helpline. In the presence of such contrasting scenarios, how will you rate the Aam Aadmi Party’s governance in Delhi?

A. There are more deficits than dividends in the last 10 weeks of governance by AAP in Delhi. It has not moved on the anti corruption front beyond a telephone number and innumerable hoardings with the photographs of the CM. It was expected that the announcement of the Lokayukt will be one of the top most priorities of the AAP govt. in power, similarly there is declining transparency in governance with increasing hostility towards media in general. Inaccessibility and non-availability of the ministers and the MLA’s is another area of common criticism.

Q. From being involved in the Janata Party movement to this, you have witnessed and been a part of two different eras. How has the democracy and political scenario grown since those times?

A. There are paradoxical trends in today’s politics in comparison to the JP movement and Janata party government days. We have a much larger social base for anti corruption forces. But there is much greater individualism also; it looks paradoxical because we do not have any one on the political horizon today who can be comparable with towering leaders like JP, Morarji, Charan Singh, Jag Jeevan Ram, Vajpayee, Raj Narayan and George Fernandes, but there is too much individualism and hero worship in the politics of today. Secondly there was much higher cautiousness about the need of democratic values and practices. Today we see more and more pragmatism bordering opportunism.

ken seb

By Moumita Ghosh for Youth Ki Awaaz:

His dystopic YouTube video, envisioning India in the year 2035, created quite a stir last month. It forced us, internet natives – to question both the present narrative of our virtual existence and the potential future of the internet in India, as he slyly plopped the problematic yet probable notion of a “social approval card”. But Kenneth Sebastian, your everyday comedian, is rarely offline.

His seven-year old YouTube channel is a delightful amalgamation of v-blogs comprising hilarious sketches about everyday narratives of how Indians brush their teeth, drive on the streets, talk on their phones and aloofly treat their ‘resilient’ beggars. As an added bonus, Sebastian explores VFX effects and decodes trailers of upcoming movies with fellow comic, Utsav Chakraborty, while introducing his old man to superheroes. Add to that, spoofs, cover songs and of course, some guitar humour! Sebastian’s “Twitter Song In A Day” is quite a recent rage among fellow internet natives as #KennySing4Me trends almost every Sunday. The lyrics of one such random Sunday composition called We Need To Save The Internet’ reads—“While watching Shaktiman/They used to say/Andhera kayam rahe! /Now with the TRAI policies/The internet is bound to cease/ Just like neon chaddis/ Equal rights should glow/ Telecom companies making me pop paracetamol/ We need to save the internet or else / Grow up / Take off your mommy poko pants/ We need to save the internet /Or else, we let down internet ourselves…”.

Ask him about how the idea of asking random strangers to tweet words to him and stringing those words together to make a song came about, and the 23-year old quips— “That’s how I ended my first, live, solo stand-up show. People remembered that bit the most so I decided to extend this onto networking sites when Twitter released this 30 second video feature, a while back. But 30 seconds is too short a time. So, I switched to a multiplatform sort of a thing, uploading the videos on YouTube instead. It is fun and a great way to connect with people.” Sebastian, who has even switched to rap to be able to include more words from his followers, admits that it is close to a ten-hour ordeal and his Sundays are “practically gone!” before adding – “People actually come on that platform every Sunday and it is something that they look forward to and so do I.”

But there’s more to him than just being an ambitious YouTuber and Instagrammer. Sebastian, who has grown up watching Seinfeld, has not shyed away from venturing into the space of television channels either, which oft enjoys the monopoly of most things not improv. He has scripted and performed along with a bunch of other well-know comics in ‘The Living Room: India’s first English improv sketch show’ which hilariously traces the perils of all things mundane from having a rather persistent landlady to an interfering mother-in-law and is, most importantly, one of the first two local shows to go live on Comedy Central. Of the experience, he says –“We shot in an insane deadline of 6 days straight for 20 episodes! We did not have the privilege to re-shoot. So, it’s basically an extension of improv. Also, I lost weight and slept straight for a week once I was back.”

When offline or not on television, Sebastian, who released an album with fellow band-mate Anup when “nobody gave a shit”, extends his guitar humour to his live stand-up shows which he feels gives him “an advantage” since he considers himself to be a “pretty mediocre comic”. But if the frequency of cheers he receives from his live audience is anything to go by, Kenneth Sebastian is the man of the hour.

How did it all start? He has this one “practiced”, he says, having made headlines in the recent past. As clichéd as it might sound, stand-up happened “accidently” to this navy kid who wanted to venture into the world of filmmaking instead. But winning a stand-up competition at an IIT fest changed everything, when, “like an idiot” , he declined an offer to perform at The Comedy Store, Mumbai because he had no idea what the Comedy Store was all about and had to catch a train back to Bangalore. Incidentally, two years later, he performed there when he felt “he deserved it”. He mostly performed in open-mic sessions in the interim, owning the opportunity to Sanjay Manaktala, Sandeep Rao and Praveen Kumar and his own stalking skills by virtue of which he tracked the trio on Facebook after reading a newspaper article, featuring them, about stand-up comedy hitting Bangalore. He took it as “a sign” and with the trio’s help, started doing spots. Kenneth Sebastian has come a long way since then, becoming one of the best-known faces of the stand-up scene in Bangalore and even having a solo, stand-up show—“The Journey To The Centre Of My Brain” to his credit.

Talking about the recent incident of comedian Abish Mathew being celled a “sexist pig”, Sebastian had an interesting insight to provide. He said—“If a man is hitting a woman on a street, one seldom says anything. But if a comedian cracks a joke which one finds presumably “sexist”, one puts up a long post on Facebook. You are fighting for women’s rights? No. You are being convenient about what you choose to talk about.” Ask him about how a comedian handles being offended and he says with a slight hesitation –“When I cracked this stupid, harmless joke about Sanskrit, I was told that I am insulting Indian culture and had comments directed towards my religious affiliations. Or sometimes, there are a few rude comments on YouTube, maybe. One has to learn to ignore them. A comedian can’t get offended.

He signs off by saying- “My last intention is to ruin somebody’s mood. I always try to make sure that everybody is having a good time. I am living a dream job!”.

For now, he is off to New York for two months with fellow comedians, Abish Mathew and Kaneez Surka and will be busy doing shows and conducting improv workshops across the US. Here’s wishing them loads of luck!

ken seb

Quickies!

What does your work space look like?

Very organised.

What do you do when you hit the writer’s block?

I go outside, workout, or play music.

And where do you find your mythical muse?

Discovery and National Geographic channels.

Tell us something about you that most people don’t know.

I am the shyest guy in front of new people at parties. Mostly because I don’t smoke or drink.

What are you reading right now?

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell.

And listening to?

YouTube parody songs by Ylvis.

Tea or coffee? Early bird or creature of the night? Road trip or flying?

Tea. Any freaking day. I don’t drink coffee. Creature of the night. Road trip.

What is the one thing you know you need to stop doing?

Getting up late.

The weirdest word you have received as a tweet?

“Tushar Kapoor’s left butt-cheek.”

What aspiring stand-up comedians must not do?

Take themselves too seriously and forget that it is a privilege to have an audience.

Among your contemporaries, who are the ones that feature on your list of favourites?

I call him my senior, Tanmay Bhat. Then there is Abish Mathew and of course, Kanan Gill.

Critical acclaim or crazy screaming fans in a mosh pit?

Both.

If not stand-up, what would you be doing right now?

Making films or releasing an album.

Words of wisdom on the importance of fighting for net neutrality?

If you don’t fight for net neutrality, you have to sleep early at night. You can’t afford to endlessly scroll on any website you want!

A stand-up comedian you would want to swap your life with?

Louis C.K.

Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai documentary

By Abhishek Jha for Youth Ki Awaaz:

When The Muzaffarnagar riots happened, there were contesting claims by news agencies as to which community is to blame for starting the riot. But is that the right question? Are the riots to be viewed in a Hindu-Muslim binary? Were the people of Muzaffarnagar and Shamli mere pawns in a larger game? The incendiary was fearful in its guile, ferocious in its power, and remains hungry. Muzaffarnagar and Shamli have not given in yet. The film Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai (MBH) tells us this. But what will be the fate eventually of those who wish “to fight against these sad times”?

On the day for which this interview was scheduled, Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai was screened at the Jamia Millia Islamia University. The documentary is a diligent and thought provoking examination of the complex web of machinations that spun the Muzaffarnagar riots of August-September 2013, where even in official reports death tolls challenge the veracity of the woven stories. The filmmaker, Nakul Singh Sawhney, is as said before, diligent and wouldn’t mind being interviewed late into the night, the day consumed by the screening. And we had questions that – despite the riots now having become distant in public memory – are becoming more and more urgent in these difficult times. Nakul Singh Sawhney answers all.

Nakul Singh Sawhney
Director of Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai, Nakul Singh Sawhney

 

Abhishek Jha (AJ): When did you decide to make Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai?

Nakul Singh Sawhney (NSS): In 2010 when I was working on my previous film Izzatnagri Ki Asabhya Betiyan, which was on honour crimes- killings in the name of honour- and the khap panchayat in Haryana, I went to Uttar Pradesh too. To get an idea of what was happening in the Jet belt outside of Haryana. And at that time I even met Mahendra Singh Tikait and some khap leaders from Western U.P., in Muzaffarnagar mainly. The sense that I got when I came back was that the revival of the khaps was in many ways a reflection of a kind of Jat identity politics. This aspect of Jat identity politics which was being reflected in the khap panchayat was anti-woman, anti-dalit. And in Western Uttar Pradesh, because of a large Muslim population, one could see that this could soon slip into Hindutva. While on the one hand, they were trying to stop inter-caste marriages, they were trying to stop young girls from marrying the person of their choice, and definitely wouldn’t allow inter-religious marriages.

This is what really merged with the ‘Love jihad’ agenda of Hindutva. When the riots broke out, then we got to know that it has happened around the issue of a woman being molested. I could tell what exactly was happening. Ideologically it (the riot) had taken the route we had expected it to take. So then we decided soon after the riots- or after the massacre in fact- that we need to go out. We decided soon enough that one needs to see what has happened. We made a couple of trips soon after the massacre and it was evident to me then that the 2014 elections will swing in Modi’s favour. We realised that this would probably be the most crucial turning point in India’s politics.

AJ: I too was going through some of my conversations from that time to see what we friends were talking about back then. There was a clash in Roorkee and our campus was shut. The only story that came floating in was as a Muslim friend told me- “the one I heard had three Muslim boys eve-teasing a Hindu girl. Things will worsen in the run up to the elections, apparently.”

NSS: That’s pretty much what happened. This whole question of trying to project the Hindu women being threatened by the Muslim man. Trying to project the Muslim man as the perpetrator of violence against Hindu women.

After the Lok Sabha elections there was a report of a small riot in Kanpur district and it was again on the issue of sexual harassment. So finally when they tried to investigate, both the media and the police, and find out who was sexually harassed, nobody knew. There was probably not even a case of harassment. It was just a rumour.

Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai
A still from the documentary

AJ: Media reports from the time consist mostly of contesting claims about how the riot started and who should be put to blame. Are the facts that you show and arguments that you make in the documentary difficult to grasp or are they deliberately kept hidden?

NSS: When you investigate it, there was a clear attempt at vitiating the environment many months before the riots. There were small riots regularly and largely around the issue of women’s safety, and one wasn’t willing to investigate there. One was just believing these stupid stories around how there was “ek tarfa karywahi (one-sided investigations)”.That the state was functioning with a bias towards the Muslims and so on and so forth. There was a successful campaign that the BJP had been able to instigate and that was building.

AJ: The question is obviously how is it that Muslims got killed then.

NSS: Absolutely. I mean the Samajwadi Party might put up the pretence of working for Muslims. They even play the communalism card sometimes, but if you see through the economic and social indicators, there is zero truth to it. The mainstream media was sponsoring the entire ‘Achhe Din’ campaign for Modi. A greater investigation of facts would have completely exposed the BJP. The media couldn’t afford to do that. They were running the campaign. Finally I have also realised in my interaction with a lot of people, that the mainstream media who were covering the massacre, they would just go there, get some sound bytes, meet some people, spend a few days, and then go back. That’s not enough. A lot of them (reporters) are people who have grown in urban metropolitan cities, who have zero understanding of the socio-economic-political dynamics of a state of that region. They were just trying to examine some facts from the surface. That’s not how things happen. A lot of that reportage was just bogus.

AJ: What did you find while talking to the families in the area on your visits?

NSS: One of the things that I figured out was there were continuous small riots for 5 to 6 months. Continuous not as in every day but with great frequency, at least 2 to 3 months before the big massacre in September. People were telling us that this was new because earlier if the two of us had a fight and one was a Hindu and the other was a Muslim, it would always be a fight between those two people. Suddenly local organisations would get involved and they would make it a Hindu-Muslim affair. So, things were going out of hand. Then there were these kinds of incidences where Muslim kids were being thrashed in trains, being harassed, suddenly getting beaten up. They would pull out the skull caps of some Muslim boys. This hadn’t happened earlier. In fact, Darul-Ul-Uloom Madarsa had even written to Akhilesh Yadav 2 or 3 months before the massacre saying that there is obviously an attempt at stoking communal fires and if they (the SP government) could look into it. And nothing happened. They (the SP government) didn’t do anything about it. They didn’t stop it because they also thought that they could use the polarization among the Muslims to their advantage. It’s just that they didn’t think it would become so big really. This was a conspiracy both by the BJP and SP.

This was definitely new to the district and one could tell that there was a lot of effort that had gone into this and that is why they used the Bhartiya Kissan Union platform. They realised that you need to break the Bhartiya Kissan Union on religious lines- you know, because the Bhartiya Kissan Union and the peasant movement that the Bhartiya Kissan Union had represented, that held the Muslims and the Jats together. Now that is breaking, if you understand what I am saying. That was a solid master stroke by the BJP.

AJ: A voter is clearly confused because all parties seem to offer to work for the farmer and the poor. And parties divide them on religious lines to cash votes. Why is it easy to fear Muslims than mill owners and big companies?

NSS: But that’s the whole point. These are the real issues that concern the people – livelihood, employment, education, and for a farmer- getting the rate for your produce. These are the things that have actually fallen apart. And these are the difficult questions that you need to solve. If you start working on these issues, people will unite against these governments. People will unite against a lot of our mainstream political parties because they are all actually very exploitative. For example, look at how farmers were uniting across religions and even caste to some extent, against the Land Acquisition Bill. There is land that is being given out for free not just for manufacturing but all sorts of industries, including real estate. So, land will be bought at dirt cheap rate and the farmer will not have any right to negotiate.

So the point is that if you are able to break the unity of the people, then you can exploit people. It is the old policy of “divide and rule” that’s been introduced into India. And so that people don’t take on real issues, so that people are not able to fight out real issues, that is why people are divided on the issue of religion and community. Violence has happened because these are emotional issues. Finally people are angry because they want a solution for their lives. Either you find the real enemy or when you cannot find a real enemy, then you find a weaker person to vent out your anger against. You are right. Why isn’t the anger being vent out at the mill owner? And you’re right. It should be. But that is the whole point. That the best way to ensure that that doesn’t happen and you can continue to exploit people is by dividing them.

AJ: When you screen the documentary, have there been counterarguments? Have people resisted accepting the documentary’s views?

NSS: You have all kinds of arguments. There were people saying regular things, and on both sides- Hindu and Muslim. By and large, people have been very appreciative. People have really liked the film. When I screen the film, people want to say it but they are not able to say it –though one or two people have hinted at it- “but how come the film is tilted towards Muslims?”But I say ‘no’. That is the situation.

It wasn’t a two sided riot. A riot is when two communities clash. This was a massacre. So, when you have a massacre, it might seem tilted, but unfortunately, the massacre was also tilted against one community. Even in the film there was only one Hindu relief camp and I show that in the film as well. I do show that six Jats were also killed and we even show one of the fathers of the deceased…his interview is also there in the film. There is pain on the other side as well. You can’t deny. At least the pain of loss was not as strong as that from the Muslim side in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli. But nonetheless there was pain on the other side and one has to acknowledge it. And one has to listen. So, in that sense, yes, that was a question that came up at a couple of places.

On the other side, there were a couple of Muslims who were ardent Samajwadi Party supporters who said that the film was so critical, that it was tilted against the Samajwadi Party. I like it when these sorts of comments come because when Samajwadi supporters say that the film is tilted against the Samajwadi Party and the BJP supporters say that it’s tilted against the BJP, then I feel that I am doing something very right.

AJ: There are also a couple of children that you talk to in the film. They have a very detached sense of what has happened. They just narrate the facts. People came and burnt the houses and that’s it. How was your experience of working with these children?

NSS: It is a very good observation about how the kids have spoken about their experiences. Actually there are two small interviews with kids. It (the film) starts with a kid and towards the end of the film there is another kid. We decided not to highlight the children. We use the visuals of a lot of children. That was doing a lot of speaking in itself. But at the same time I just thought it would be really unfair if you take away the agency from these children.

It is important to see how they have reacted to it. There is obviously a psychological impact that a child cannot comprehend. Adults can probably comprehend the emotion fear, trauma, anger slightly better. The children will probably not be able to come to terms with what they have gone through and what they have witnessed. If you see Rakesh’s film Final Solution, it begins with a child talking about how his family was massacred and how the women were raped. He probably doesn’t comprehend what he has seen, the gravity of what he has seen. So I think at that level it’s important to talk to children, it’s important to understand how they have been affected. I haven’t been very pushy.

I do not understand my experience (that of working with children) because I am not a child psychologist. And I understand that a child’s mind is far more difficult. It’s a far more complex mind than an adult’s mind. And I really admire child psychologists for this. It was quite an exercise. I didn’t talk to children very intensively. I spoke to some, and after a point of time I realised “yaar, ye nai karna chahiy (I should not do this)”. I didn’t like pushing them, you know. However, if it came up in conversation, I would bring it up. And I think my experience with children was broadly that they would talk about it in a very detached manner. They would narrate facts in a very cold matter-of-fact way. But behind that you could tell that there was actually a great deal of turmoil in their head.

I think these are kids that need some attention from child psychologists. With time I am sure a lot of these wounds will subside. But nonetheless, I think, when a massacre or a riot of this scale happens, the government needs to send out child psychologists over there, spend some time with these kids. They are not getting the right kind of attention. You are surrounded by adults who are constantly talking about the pain and everything else, and the biases against communities. And children obviously observe and listen to it. I think we tend to take away the agency of children by underestimating their emotions.

AJ: Are the women always oppressed and marginalised during these riots? What is their politics?

NSS: You see all kinds of women in the film. You also see women who were speaking a very vitriolic and bigoted language – the BJP language. By and large most women that you see in the film understand that irrespective of which community you belong to- it may be Hindu, Muslim, it could be anything- a large scale of communal violence will be against the interests of women. Again this whole question of a woman’s honour and the way it’s played up makes even Hindu women suffer in the process. Of course, there is sexual violence against Muslim women. But even Hindu women’s freedom is curbed. They are not allowed to do a lot of things, and so on and so forth.

AJ: You show in the film that Muslim Jats returned to their homes after the riots. Capitalism and governments benefit from riots. People are unable to focus on real issues. So, where does BJP’s Hindutva ideology figure in this? Is this antagonism, suspicion between religions real in which Hindutva is the oppressor or is it just a bogus idea to obfuscate a corporate agenda?

NSS: I think it’s a mix of both. In Mein Kampf also, Hitler’s autobiography, there is something very similar to ‘love jihad’, about how people shouldn’t marry outside the community. And Baba Saheb Ambedkar also wrote that one of the best ways that caste hierarchy’s stay is by ensuring that women do not marry outside their community. The moment that you believe in the supremacy of your religion, the moment you believe in the supremacy of your race over other human beings- it could be white supremacy, it could be Hindutva, it could be Islamists, it could be the Zionists- I think you are doing something intrinsically wrong in thinking that way. I think religion is a very personal affair. So, in that sense yes, you will see that historically all the fascist movements have always been deeply wedded with a very ugly form of capitalism as well. So a mix of both.

AJ: It’s interesting to note that Muzaffarnagar Baaqi Hai is relevant even more today, what with ‘love jihad’ and the spectre created of an impending danger for Hindus. A lot of it has to do with misrepresentation of facts. How does one counter this?

NSS: A lot of local and regional media is functioning in a manner that is very different. A lot of the national media and even the mainstream media is also the same. But regional media are just becoming mouthpieces of the state. Sometimes they are not even the mouthpieces of the state. They are just the mouthpieces of the local administration. There is a lot of dirt lying around. How do you counter this?

I am gradually coming to the conclusion that we need to create alternate media. We need to create a people’s media which cannot be corporate funded. It has to be funded by the people. It has to be the people’s media. And it’s a lot of hard work and someone has to start. Even in the mainstream media, they might give you some space once in a while to feign neutrality, to have pretence of neutrality, but that’s about it. The overwhelming opinion that they represent is a very problematic opinion. So, in that sense, it’s the ruling class’ opinion.

I am beginning to completely lose faith in being able to intervene in the mainstream media. We need to find different ways of making news. This is possible. Now with social media, one can do it.

radhikavaz_featured

By Moumita Ghosh for Youth Ki Awaaz:

“I buy this maturity levels balancing out bullshit up to a point, but when you are fifty-two and your blushing bride is six months shy of her 22nd birthday, then yes, she may be very mature, but you, sir, are mentally retarded!” – declared Radhika Vaz to an audience roaring unanimously in applause. A few minutes earlier, she had taken on the stage at the SMVRCH in Chennai, starting off her act with a jig, tuned to the beats of the Queen’s – We Will Rock You, where she introduced the audience to her personal perils of embarking on to the – “Older. Angrier. Hairier.”- terrain of 40 something females. Except that they were not very personal after all; the ridiculously honest, in-your-face sketches, struck a chord with the members of the audience, irrespective of their age and gender as most of them squealed – “I know, right!” in between steady bouts of laughter.

Writer and co-creator of Shugs and Fats, Radhika Vaz is also the writer and performer of Older.Angrier.Hairier. and Unladylike. She made headlines earlier this year for her nude act where she spoke of her appearance anxiety, as a part of an ad campaign for FabAlley. Her latest web series on YouTube called – Anyone’s invited, is at best, a glimpse into the issues she deals with during her live shows. It promises a few honest laughs as she talks about the double standards surrounding the topic of body hair, men’s thoughts on nipple hair and more. Urging readers to “fight hard for net neutrality”, she adds –“otherwise you won’t be able to send free, naked pictures of yourself on Snapchat.

Ask her how she deals with the obligation of being perpetually funny and the comedian will quip— “By ignoring it completely! People always say I am very serious in my ‘real’ life and that is fine with me.” In an exclusive interview with Youth Ki Awaaz, Vaz, who calls herself a feminist because “it would be weird if I did not!”, indulges in a dialogue about everything from the lack of enough female comedians, to balancing issues of freedom of expression and women’s rights on the same platter, and of course, about what is more painful than a Brazilian bikini wax.

Moumita Ghosh (MG): To start with the usual, when did the entire stand-up comedy bug bite you and how did things fall into place?

Radhika Vaz (RV): I started performing improvised comedy in 2002. So, I suppose that is when I started to give it a thought. But I wanted to act, not do comedy. I sort of fell in to stand-up, more because I thought it would be easier to write and perform a one-person show rather than a group show – the latter being harder to organize.

MG: Share the experience of your first ever show.
RV: It was an improv show, sometime in 2003. It was a very large, posh theatre in Union Square – somewhere; larger and posh-er than anything I had seen, let alone, performed in. I just recall being so frightened that I was useless for my cast mates for most of the evening.

MG: You tend to remind one of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, especially in the effortlessly honest way you talk about “pussy-farts” and “sagging vaginas”. To put it in Ensler’s words, are you “worried” about — “what we think about vagina-s and we don’t think about them”?

RV: I think women have been shamed into hiding everything. We cannot even talk about our period in peace. We can’t go out and buy sanitary pads without a little embarrassment and this is worrying. We should talk about this a lot more and educate young women in such a way that they are not ashamed of their bodies.

MG: You made headlines when you decided to go naked to drive home a point – the importance of telling the “fashion police” to “fuck off” – as part of an ad campaign for FabAlley. Tell us a little more about how the idea was conceived and what prompted you to take, what is considered in popular discourse, a “bold” step?

RV: The idea was based on my personal experience of rarely being confident when having to dress for any remotely public event. I grapple with insecurities about my body and face, all the damn time, and I know it is exhausting. So, I just keep trying to find ways to put some of it behind me. I did not think that it was bold. Bold is someone dealing with serious adversity and standing up to that. I hope I am standing up to something, but there are bigger people! I am definitely amused by people’s reactions and by that I mean the one who hated it and thought I was “going too far”. Whatever. I thought it was funny.

MG: Having said that, how do you come to terms with the fact that FabAlley is an e-commerce website housing fashion products?

RV: People need to know that this was a job for me. A good job that paid well and somewhat on time. Haha. And creatively, I was clearly not given any boundaries! All I could do was express to girls to just do their thing as much as possible, in every area of their lives.

MG: How do you think the audience reacts when a female comedian talks about everything ranging from her sexuality to ‘Unladylike’ things onstage in terms of actually taking the lesson back home?

RV: I have no idea! I hope that I make some impression on them, I hope they think about things after they leave – but you may need to ask the audience this question.

MG: Why do you think there aren’t enough female comedians as much as male ones on the scene?

RV: Women are taught to be quiet and not make a scene. Keep our vaginas shut, so to speak. Comedy is the opposite of that – it is about pushing boundaries, getting a reaction and making a big bloody scene. That is why fewer women want to be part of it. It is not a sexy, feminine profession.

MG: One of your recent tweets read — “I LOL @ rape jokes bcuz it’s the 1 time I can LOL @ rape. Whats wrong with smthg that makes me feel bigger badder & for a moment less afraid.” What is your stand on the entire argument of such jokes contributing to rape culture?

RV: It is ridiculous to think that a joke, a song, or an item number makes someone rape. If anyone cared to read about the psychology of a rapist, or looked deeply enough in to why a patriarchal country like ours has this culture of rape, we would realize that a joke isn’t what causes it.

MG: Talking about sexist jokes, recently comedian Abish Mathew was shown the “middle finger” (ironically enough) and called a – sexist pig at the National Law University in Delhi. How does one balance issues of free speech and women’s rights on the same platter?

RV: It’s a tough one. That said free speech cannot come with caveats. Like I have already mentioned in my column – Read It and Weep’ for the TOI, as a comedian, I have a very hard time reconciling my views on Freedom of Expression with my views on women’s rights. I am irritated by stupid sexist jokes sure, but I am even more agitated every time I hear the words ‘Santa and Banta’. To me, these unoriginal, old timey PJs are more offensive than Abish’s one about Malayali men beating their wives. In my opinion, he cleverly covered domestic violence without clubbing it over the head (oops). But that’s me, it’s how my mind works, I happen to like the very funny Carl Muller who writes about both paedophilia and incest in his many books about close-knit families. He makes an untouchable issue accessible because he uses humour to deal with it. Is Muller glorifying paedophiles and incestuous creeps? Should he stop writing? When it comes to any message – comedic or not – I think intent rather than content is what we think people need to consider. You all know that the only comedians allowed to make racist jokes about the Black community are Black comics. It’s an unofficial privilege borne of the inequalities their community had to historically deal with. And so to even things out, I propose that henceforth, only women comics be allowed to make women jokes because when it comes to discrimination, the truth is women have always been the new black even when black was the old black.

MG: The Feme-Funny Show came with the cautionary note—“Radhika Vaz performs with the best cunts in the business. If this offends you please do not come to the show, you are weak and for realz will not be able to handle it.” How tricky it is for a comedian to draw the fine line between satire and offensive material? Have you ever committed the “offense” of offending?

RV: It is very difficult especially because it is not something we can always foresee — what will or won’t cause offense. The best I can do is to make sure that I feel the joke is valid in the context of what I am talking about. But sometimes I even have to let that go because a joke is a joke and people have to learn to be okay with that. I had a man try and get the trustees of an auditorium I was scheduled to perform at, to cancel a show because he had seen it and thought it was offensive. What was irritating was that the trustees actually got worried and wanted to see my script. They should have told him to shove off. It wasn’t his business. You don’t like something? Leave…do not spoil it for other people.

MG: Comments on the cancellation of the Seinfeld show and the “conspiracy theories”?

RV: I think it sucks that the show was cancelled. I have no clue as to why or if this was a conspiracy and I don’t care – I just think it speaks very poorly of India that we are incapable of hosting international events without some idiots and their red-tape getting in the mix.

MG: Finally, among the new kids on the scene, who are the ones that feature on your list of favourites?

RV: All of them! I just want more women in the scene. Where are the ladies?

Connect with her on Youtube (Radhika Vaz Comedy), Twitter @radvaz and Instagram @radpicks

Radhika Vaz 1 (1)

Quickies!

What does your workspace look like?

Nazi Neat.

What do you do when you hit the writer’s block?

Panic.

And where do you find that mythical muse?

From the women around me.

Tell us something about you that most people don’t know.

Aha – that’s for my next show.

What are you reading right now?

Just finished Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Very funny read.

Tea or coffee? Early bird or creature of the night? Road trip or flying?

Coffee. Early Bird. Depends on the company.

What is something you know you need to stop doing?

Smoking and watching bad TV.

What are your pet peeves?

People who are late and act like it is cool.

What aspiring stand-up comedians must not do?

Write to please an audience. You never know what they are thinking anyway so just write to please yourself.

Critical acclaim or crazy screaming fans in a mosh pit?

Both!

If not stand-up, then what would be doing right now?

Wow – I have no idea. A job of some sort…probably something I wouldn’t even be very good at.

What is worse than a Brazilian bikini wax?

A Vaginoplasty. Have not tried it but it sounds awful.

A stand-up comedian you would want to swap your life with?

James Bond. 

Photo Credit

By Kainat Sarfaraz for Youth Ki Awaaz:

Earlier this year, renowned politician and author, Dr. Shashi Tharoor, released his latest book – India Shastra. From the man who is often found in the middle of controversies (the jury is forever out on him), this book, by one of the few surviving MPs of the Congress party (his is the Thiruvananthapuram constituency), gives voice to Tharoor’s perception of modern India through 100 articles and essays. Among the contemporary set of politicians, the former MoS was clairvoyant enough to recognize the power of social media. He was one of the first netas in India to join Twitter and his follower count currently stands at 2.9M. As an author, he has been widely appreciated for his satirical book The Great Indian Novel; making a great Indian reader out of many of us(he asked this question of a friend of mine, who got her copy of it signed from him)?!

In between his crazy flying hours and an even crazier schedule, the former UN diplomat shared with Youth Ki Awaaz, his thoughts on the recent spate of bans in the country, the issue of rampant corruption and, as I couldn’t resist asking, the mythical writer’s block.

Kainat Sarfaraz (KS): We, the young, are a restless generation, hungry for action and change. We believe in social media powered revolutions and the power of the internet to really bring people together. In this context, and keeping in mind your chapter ‘Twitter Revolution’, how do you think the internet and social media are shaping communications today? Is there a fear of armchair revolutions only?

Shashi Tharoor (ST): The youth of every generation (and I’ve been there!) are anxious for change. And each generation exercises its chosen tools and instruments to propel such change. For centuries really, it was the traditional power of the pen that inspired revolutions and the realisation of great ideas across the world, in many countries, including India. Today, after unprecedented technological leaps over the last few decades, we also have 140 characters on Twitter and the somewhat more generous space Facebook offers to articulate our thoughts, to champion causes, and to express solidarity with ideas, people, and actions. Is there, in these circumstances, a fear of armchair revolutions? Yes, for the simple reason that each generation also has those whose sincerity dissolves at the slightest hint of inconvenience and who essentially just jump on to bandwagons. It takes no effort to issue a simple click and “like” something online, or to retweet a second-hand opinion, or troll an undeserving victim, whether or not you genuinely believe in the underlying principles, or are educated about the issue at hand in any depth. But for a hundred hollow “likes” or tweets, one can hope for one honest, empathetic expression of support for a real idea or movement. And in the end, it is those who really believe in a cause, those who, when the moment arises, are willing to get out of their armchairs and get their hands dirty, that bring to the world (and to their generation) the change that defines history.

KS: While always debated upon, national heroes, from Nehru, to Mahtama Gandhi to Patel, have all increasingly become topics in an extremely belligerent discourse, especially under the current government. What is it really about? National parties claiming national leaders for themselves? Is history, according to you, being manipulated for partisan interests?

ST: It is a belligerence these heroes themselves abhorred, renowned as they were for dignified statesmanship and for their celebration of ideas rather than individual egos. They shunned personal aggrandisement and dedicated themselves entirely to their noble causes, only years later to be turned into unwilling (and frequently misinterpreted) mascots for political motivations of all varieties. The problem has become particularly acute in recent years: in “India Shastra”, for instance, I have an essay on the BJP’s meretricious appropriation of Sardar Patel and the attempt to cloak their present leader in his mantle.

The misuse of history for partisan political purposes has long been a concern of mine. My novel “Riot”, for example, specifically interrogates this issue in the context of the contested versions of our shared history that arose around the Ram Janmabhoomi issue. The notion that there is “my history” and “your history” of the same events may seem an obvious insight, but when it is abused, it can dangerously divide a complicated country. We live, Octavio Paz wrote, between memory and oblivion. Memory should not be manipulated by politicians to lead our society to oblivion.

KS: You have also talked about the legacy of Gandhi and how the fasts don’t work today. What according to you works in Indian politics today, and what doesn’t?

ST: Fasts are employed today by those who fail to understand how Gandhiji used them – to inflict suffering upon himself in defence of a moral cause, in order to shame the rulers with their own brutality. Today it is just a case of drama without sacrifice, as in the absurd “relay fasts” where people take it in turn to starve, so no one is really suffering! At one level it is also (audacious and politically incorrect as it might be to suggest this) a failure of the protestors’ ability to innovate that leads them to adopt this hollow strategy. Gandhiji, after all, was an innovator par excellence who confronted the might of the British Empire with a fistful of salt or the threat of a fast unto death, in an age of violent upheavals. While the Raj prepared to face mutiny and armed revolution, he baffled them and ultimately triumphed over them with a beatific smile and techniques of non-violent resistance shorn of all glamour yet unexpectedly effective. But nearly a century after the Mahatma first enunciated his ideas and introduced non-violent moral resistance, the world is a different place. Those who conduct fasts today might have causes worth championing, but they are merely imitating a strategy that has seen its day in history.

Indian politics, as you suggested in your first question, is to a great extent defined by growing impatience about its pace. Nearly 51 percent of our nation is under the age of 25 today, and living as they do in a restive world of cut-throat competition, jobs, technology, and daily progress, young people want results now. Indian politics is today defined by those who deliver, those who can resolve problems in the most effective manner and in the least amount of time. It is the arena of those who understand the impoverished circumstances of a rural farming community but who enable us to race ahead in a globalised world. What works in Indian politics is the ability to deal with change on a daily basis and to adapt relentlessly to its demands. We need politicians to think beyond fasts and dharnas to deliver results to young voters.

KS: “Corruption is an Indian problem, not a problem to be blamed on Manmohan Singh alone.” Why do you say that?

ST: It’s become rather fashionable (and I daresay very convenient for the ruling party’s misleading favourite political narrative) to make corruption a question of billion-dollar scams or illicit financial dealings in high places. These are certainly a problem, but they are not the whole problem. As the UPA’s record shows, these “big-ticket” corruption cases have been handled with a firm, uncompromising hand—we were, you must remember, the first government to ask ministers, and even a Chief Minister, to resign simply on the basis of media allegations, when no legal charge, let alone conviction, had occurred, and that too at a time when the then Chief Minister of Gujarat retained not one but three convicted Ministers in his Cabinet, pending appeal.

But, as I have written, corruption is endemic in our society, which is why it is really an Indian problem. Making it about Manmohan Singh allows many politicians to turn it into an “us vs. them” problem. But is it really so? An army widow who must wait years to have her martyred husband’s pension sanctioned because she cannot afford to pay a bribe to the relevant official; a starving family that cannot obtain a BPL card because they cannot pay as much money as the clerk demands; a labourer’s wife who can’t get a bed in a government hospital if she can’t bribe an orderly, and must deliver her baby on the floor…all these happen daily and prove over and over again that corruption is a social question in our country that has penetrated all layers of society, all sections of our public life, and our accepted way of life here. How many of us can truthfully say that we have never been complicit in an act of corruption, from slipping people a few extra bucks for a seat on a train or in a cinema, to actually paying a bribe to “get things done”?

We have largely a culture of patronage, as opposed to one of professionalism, and this breeds an atmosphere where “individual discretion” becomes a byword for underhand dealings. Blaming it on a man of integrity like Manmohan Singh is politically convenient for some, but corruption is in fact something each of us as an Indian needs to feel responsibility for and resist.

KS: What do you think of the recent spate of bans in the country, especially the documentary India’s Daughter, and the beef bans (especially as a MP from Kerala, a state that is loudly protesting against it) that are on the rise?

ST: I think they are absolutely ridiculous. We reveal at once our appalling thin skin on matters we really ought not to care about, let alone interfere, as well as an abiding feeling of profound insecurity and distrust about everything that might lead to negative perceptions of us. It is also revealing of a government that rides on the back of a right wing organisation that has made a business out of re-writing history, with generous inaccuracies and convenient fallacies, and wants to influence every narrative now! They seem to be so bent on shaping public thought even from the level of primary school textbooks, that they cannot deal with any real challenge to or inquiry into their agenda to define the past in order to influence the future. When you cannot argue and defend your position, you go ahead and ban; this seems to be the policy of the government. I must clarify here that I am against bans of all kinds, no matter which political party sponsors it, and whether it is of books, or cartoons, or, as you ask in your question, what kind of food people must eat. The beef ban is also inherently casteist. Ask any Dalit scholar and she will tell you about the elitism of the idea (a largely North Indian, upper-caste Hindu idea) behind the ban. And as I recently said in my speech in Parliament about the government’s budget, we’d all be better off in general if the government focussed more on avoiding financial cuts in national programmes than on cuts made in the editing rooms of the BBC!

KS: Is there a latest version of ‘The Great Indian Novel’ that you see in the making? If yes, what do the first few chapters look like?

ST: Nope – been there, done that!

Also check out these YKA Google Hangouts with Dr. Tharoor where he speaks of the future of the MDGs in India, and another on the state of higher education in the country.

Photo Credit
Photo Credit

Quickies:

What does your writing space look like?

Cluttered.

The view from your window…

My garden. Greenery soothes.

That what keeps you from writing/work

Compulsively checking cricket scores.

What aspiring authors must not do…

Procrastinate. Better to write badly than not to write at all.

Tea Or Coffee? Early Bird or Creature of the Night? Road trip or flying?

Tea. Used to be early bird, now night owl because my life obliges me to. Used to drive on long trips when young, now time constraints mean I’m always airborne.

Okay to sip wine while writing?

Sure. I prefer tea, sometimes single malt. Carlyle went for opium, which I strongly recommend against!

What do you do when you hit the mythical ‘Writer’s Block’?

I don’t. I write through it. Then the flow comes and the writer is unblocked!

And where does one find that mystical Muse?

Inside your own head.

If not a writer/politician, you’d be?

That’s who I am. Wish I could have answered “cricket star”, but never had enough talent for it. I always wanted to play cricket very badly – and that’s just what I did, I played cricket very badly!

A character of your own creation you have fallen for?

A politically correct answer might be Draupadi in The Great Indian Novel, my symbol of India’s democracy. But the truth is no one really – when you’ve created them you can’t really fall for them: it would be too narcissistic.

A character from a movie or book you wish you could be…

I’ve never wished to be anyone else than myself. But if pressed, maybe a combination of Jeeves and Superman!

A book’s ending you wish you could change (not yours) and how…

The Ramayana: if only Rama had put the gossips in their place and honoured Sita publicly instead of subjecting her to an agni pariksha!

Critical acclaim or crazy screaming fans in a mosh pit?

Critical acclaim.Decorous but sustained applause. No screams (and fewer selfies please).

The one author you’d be happy to swap lives with?

Jawaharlal Nehru

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By Amrita Roy:

Last September, news channels were flooded with images of people taking to the streets in Hong Kong to protest against political injustice. Breaking away from the polite, financial hub image, the people of Hong Kong showed that they weren’t politically apathetic and would fearlessly speak their mind. Comparisons with other global protests were made as over 50,000 people joined the protests. The movement’s name soon changed from Occupy Central to Umbrella Revolution to signify not only the shield that protesters were using to protect themselves from tear gas, but also how the participation exponentially increased through all sections of the society. The protests dragged on for months, the government refused to budge, and people began to lose hope as the hard truth hit home once again; that as long as the Communist Party is in charge, there will be no democracy for Hong Kong. The last of the protesters dismantled their camps in December 2014.

Photo Credit
Photo Credit

But is the movement over? Will people accept a Communist Party backed Chief Executive again in the 2017 elections? I had the privilege of interviewing Mohamed Thalha to learn more about the future of Hong Kong and the movement and what was achieved through the Umbrella Revolution. Like many of the protesters, Mohamed Thalha is an undergraduate student and is an active participant in the movement. Having grown up in Hong Kong, the city is truly home even though he belongs to a Tamil Muslim family. Being part of the ethnic minority in Hong Kong, he focuses his political activities to bring about more recognition and equality for the minority community through the movement. He was featured in the documentary, Coconuts TV: Minority Report – A Look At Hong Kong’s Ethnic Minority Protestors.

Amrita Roy (AR): How did you get involved in the Occupy Central movement? What propelled you to join?
Mohamed Thalha (MT): I used to follow the movement but never actively partook in it. However, this time around, some of my peers were attacked on 28th September 2014 by the police which acted as the catalyst. I felt the pain and anger that other students around me felt and joined the university students’ gathering at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Mohamed ThalhaAR: You specifically focus on raising awareness about ethnic minority rights in Hong Kong. What has your personal experience been like having grown up in Hong Kong?
MT: The treatment of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong is disrespectful. We are often treated like third class citizens. When Hong Kong was under British rule, Indians were brought to Hong Kong to serve as police officers which effectively gave the Indians a higher status is society. The uneasy relationship has continued since then and people from the subcontinent are often mistreated. For example, Chinese Hong Kong locals don’t feel very comfortable sitting beside an Indian on the MTR trains. They don’t believe that we belong here. But it is getting better in the younger generation which is much more open minded.

AR: What does democracy in Hong Kong mean to you?
MT: For me, democracy is more about liberal governance in Hong Kong. It is unrealistic to expect China to give up control of Hong Kong, especially considering how important Hong Kong is to China’s growing economy. Hong Kong is in a very precarious state at the moment. While we want Hong Kong to be a democratic city-state, it simply isn’t possible in the near future. It is important for both sides to sit down and negotiate.

AR: While the protesters tried to negotiate, the government simply didn’t listen to any of the requests last year. If it continues in this manner, how do you see the movement shaping up in the future?
MT: That was one of our failures; we couldn’t get any of our requests implemented. However on the good side, the movement led to the birth of many splinter political parties who have a better vision of what they want to achieve and are starting to compete for seats. The movement also highlighted many plights and obstacles that common people in Hong Kong face but never get addressed like high inflation in property prices and education. The price of real estate in Hong Kong has doubled in the past couple of years, making housing unaffordable to a large section of the population. The rent doubles at every contract renewal. Hong Kong already has one of the worst economic gaps in the world and this is only going to increase it even further as real estate ownership is going to be concentrated.

Also, the government isn’t helping out. While the government provides subsidized public housing, the supply simply doesn’t match the demand. My family waited for seven years on the wait list to get a public house. The government sells prime real estate to private enterprises and builds the public housing estates on relatively cheaper land which is usually close to the Mainland China border. It is very difficult to travel every day to school or work from those areas.

AR: So would it be fair to say that you believe that instead of holding mass protests to leverage bargaining power, it is more necessary to focus on smaller, more localized issues and make this a long run movement rather than expecting immediate results?
MT: I believe that more than just mass protesting on the streets, it is important for all of us speak up about the issues we genuinely care about and pursue them. Since Occupy Central, people from all walks of life are more concerned in political matters but aren’t taking proactive steps. They are just quietly bitter about how Hong Kong is still effectively ruled by the Communist Party. On 1st February 2015, the Civil Human Rights Front organized a peaceful march. Each small act like this will keep the movement alive in the international radar. The recent parallel trading protests forced the Chinese government to address the issue and they have set up a committee to look into the matter. So its smaller issues like these that are affecting the daily lives of people that need to be raised. This way, the government can take more focused and actionable measures and therefore it is easier for citizens to hold the government accountable also. And eventually, through many of these small changes, we can bring about a holistic change in the society and hopefully achieve democracy.

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