Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Personal: Mummy and the Kota bye-election

To be perfectly honest, the idea that anyone from my family would contest the bye-election to the Kota assembly constituency in Chhattisgarh did not cross our minds. Needless to say, it came as a surprise when the three Block Congress Committees- all of which were appointed by the PCC President, Shri Charandas Mahant- unanimously passed resolutions recommending my mother's name for the party ticket. Several others from the constituency felt similarly. While driving through this area to go to my paternal village Jogi-Saar to attend 'Nava Khayi'- a traditional festival where the first harvest is offered to the family deity, Jogi Baba- I was even more surprised to see that walls of mud-houses had already been painted with her name. I've also been told that 31 of the 34 Congress MLAs from the state- i.e., everyone except the LoP, Shri Mahendra Karma, his deputy, Shri Bhupesh Baghel and the incapacitated, Dr. Chetan Verma- have written to the Hon'ble Congress President, Smt. Sonia Gandhi, requesting Mummy's nomination.

My mother, Dr. (Mrs.) Renu Jogi, has never been in public life. Until my father's accident in April 2004, she worked as an ophthalmic surgeon and a professor at the Government Medical Colleges at Indore and Raipur, having graduated from CMC, Vellore. In fact, most, if not all, pre-final MBBS students have read her text-book 'Basic Ophthalmology' (Jaypee Publishers, New Delhi): like her, the book is simple and to-the-point. She has also co-authored a collection of short stories, Phoolkunwar (Raj Publication, Delhi) with my father besides contributing regularly to the popular Hindi monthly, 'Sarita'. Her book on 'Paediatric Nursing', published by the National Book Trust, was awarded a prize by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Planning.

Mummy is not new to Kota. When my father first fell in love with her in 1973-4, she was already quite popular as a beautiful young 'doctorni' working at the Mission Hospital in our native village, Pendra Road. Even after their marriage, she has remained very active in the area. There isn't a village in the entire region where she hasn't personally conducted an eye-camp. She was instrumental in organizing the 'Rajiv Gandhi Life Line Express'- a hospital-train- at Pendra Road and Kota, where thousands of villagers received life-saving on-the-spot medical treatment. In memory of my late sister, Mummy started the 'Anusha Self-help Group for Women': during the past five years, more than 10,000 women, many of them from Kota, Marwahi, Raigarh and the various Central Jails of the state, have received vocational training in traditional kantha (embroidery) work, bringing about the revival of 'Marwahi Art'. The 'Anusha Ashram' at Gaurella (also in Kota Vidhan Sabha) houses an old people's home, training-centre for girls and has undertaken massive afforestation drives in the township. She also opened the 'Muktidham', so that those abandoned by Fate may be cremated with dignity. Very recently, Mr. Nimrania, who supervises the daily working of the Anusha Ashray, was conferred the most respected citizen award by the township's mayor-in-council: his selection has been unanimous, cutting across party-lines.

As a doctor working at Raipur's Government Medical College and Hospital, she persuaded certain prominent citizens to contribute towards providing hot meals to the several attendants of outstation patients at a nominal sum of Rs. 2 per meal. The Rajiv Smriti Van, in which thousands of 'memorial trees' have been planted by the loved-ones of those departed on what used to be barren land, too was her brainchild: not surprisingly, it is a favorite haunt with the capital city's lovers and young couples (incidentally, whenever she visits, she makes it a point not to disturb them!). She also prevailed on our state's top industrial houses- Monnet, BALCO and Jindal, to name a few- to 'adopt' public parks, not just in Raipur but also elsewhere: consequently a lot of goodwill, not to mention good publicity, was generated for them in return for beautifying these derelict spaces. It is obvious to me that she believes that governments can be effective only if they involve active private participation. Although I tend to attribute the shaping of my own belief-system on governance to the writings of the Austrian political economist, Friedrich August von Hayek, the fact is that Mummy has proved time and again that what he has written actually works.

Personally, she is the most courageous person I know. Twice- once after his accident in April 2004 and again when he suffered a stroke in November 2005- she has fought for Papa's life and snatched him from the jaws of death. Not once have I seen her lose her composure, even when Papa and I broke down. When I was in jail, she was my strength: "you are not alone, beta," she would tell me everytime she visited. I wrote a poem for her on her birthday, describing the way I feel about her. For her, it is the best gift I've given her. She is the silent pillar- the anchor- that has held my family together. Even my father's worst opponents hold her in the highest esteem. Everytime I've met Shri Dilip Singh Judeo, he has told me how much he admires her. To me, that speaks a lot about the kind of person she is.

Now, when her name is on the front pages of all the state newspapers, she can't imagine what all this fuss is about. Before leaving for Delhi with my father two days ago, I took her aside, and asked her what she wants: 'your father (Papa),' she said, 'is my number one priority'.


POST-SCRIPT: November 17, 2006. 1:34 a.m.

While the Congress Party is yet to declare its candidate for the Kota bye-election, it has become clear that my mother is not to get the nomination. The reason is the forthcoming elections to the Uttar Pradesh assembly.

The Kota assembly seat has been represented by two Brahmins- Pandit Mathura Prasad Dubey followed by his nephew Pandit Rajendra Prasad Shukla- since Independence. It would therefore send 'a very wrong message' to the electorate of U.P. if a non-Brahmin- i.e., my mother- were given the party ticket from a 'Brahmin seat'. For the record, the Brahmin population in Kota constituency is no more than 2.7% while tribals constitute over 43%.

The choice is now between two candidates: the son of Pandit Rajendra Prasad Shukla, Pandit Sunil Shukla and the city Youth Congress president, who is also called Pandit Rajendra Shukla. The former has already communicated his unwillingness to contest this election; he has also said that in his opinion (shared by the 3 Block Congress Committees of the Kota assembly) my mother is 'the only candidate likely to win'. The latter's greatest asset is his name, which he has in common with the former MLA of this constituency.

As loyal partypersons, we will of course do everything to ensure that the offically declared Congress candidate wins this election.


Post- Post Script

At 12:50 PM today, my mother, Dr. Renu Jogi, was officially declared as the Congress candidate. She filed her nomination papers before the Returning Officer at 2:40 PM, less than twenty minutes before closing time.

She has begun campaigning in earnest.



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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Naxalism: (L) The Evacuation of Muded

Last night, SPOs evacuated the village of Muded on their way to Bhopalpatnam. Over 700 villagers were forced to leave their homes. The specific instruction was: "take nothing except rations to last a week." I do not yet know where- to which particular 'base-camp'- they would finally be taken. Or how many will make it alive: many might well manage to escape to the neighboring states of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra; quite a few will be shot, then dressed up in Naxalite uniform; the remainder shall be confined within slum-like 'base-camps', their lives no different from cattle. All hope of Return- all Hope- is dying out.

Today the SJ was scheduled to reach Patnam. It is not far-fetched to presume that families of those 28 brave elected representatives who had the courage to come all the way to Raipur, having traveled by a circuitous route for more than twelve days and nights, to speak out against SJ will be specifically targeted.

Suddenly, I feel very helpless.


Post Script:
Perhaps there is Hope? Here is a post from the erudite and tireless Anoop Saha:

"According to the initial reports, at least 60000 people attended the aamsabha today in Dantewada to protest against the Essar steel plant and Salwa Judum. People came from as far as Konta to attend the rally, which were addressed by leaders from CPI. The rally was entirely peaceful.

The district administration of Dantewada had refused permission to hold this rally at least three times. Finally the organizers went to the CG high court, which asked the district administration to allow this event. It is ironical that on the one hand armed Salwa Judum cadres are allowed to roam around freely in Dantewada and continue their killing spree, and a peaceful mass rally against a private company is blocked by the executive.

Thanks and Regards,
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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Naxalism: (K) Voices from Bhopalpatnam

Note: I've recently been accused of being 'a Naxalite supporter' by Naxal Terror Watch: apparently, a link to an entry in this blog appears in one of the pro-Naxalite websites. According to this view, I seem to have only two choices: either I can be a member of the CP (Maoist) or a supporter of Salwa Judum. The third option, of speaking the Truth, does not exist for me. To set the record straight, I do not subscribe to such a dogmatic interpretation of Humanity. Thankfully, neither do these brave people of Bhopalpatnam, whose long suppressed voices, I hope, will begin to find utterance through this article.

The leaders of Salwa Judum (SJ) never tire of saying that it is ‘a spontaneous and peaceful people’s movement’ against militant-Maoism: this is what gives SJ its moral and political legitimacy; this is why we stop short of condemning SJ but merely criticize the way it is being conducted (‘provide security and training to the tribals first before asking them to take-on the Maoists’).

Two nights ago, 28 elected representatives from Bhopalpatnam block of Bijapur (in Dantewada 'revenue' district) appeared almost out of nowhere in the drawing room of our Raipur residence. It had taken them twelve days to get here. This is their story.


Mrs. Shashikala Dhruv, Chairperson, Janpad Panchayat, Bhopalpatnam:
"On 19 June this year, we were driving to Dantewada to see the C.O. regarding pending works in our janpad. Our jeep was stopped at the ghati. It was searched thorougly. An SPO got in and asked us to keep driving to Bijapur. At Bijapur, we were taken to the SJ base-camp. We were asked to get out of the jeep. A lady SPO asked for my handbag. Before she could snatch my handbag from me, I quickly took out my janpad seal and threw it away because I saw that other members were being beaten to sign some document and put their seal on it. My handbag was searched thoroughly. All the papers relating to janpad work were thrown away. Then we were taken inside a room. Narad Mandawi asked me where I was going. I told him that we were going to the C.O. office in Dantewada. He abused me and asked the lady SPO to beat me. She hesitated saying that 'how can I beat a woman?' Narad slapped her and said that "what's so special about ladies, are they 'topchands' (bigshots)?" He told her that if she doesn't beat me, he will beat her. Then the lady SPOs- there were four of them, aged between 17-18 years- began to pull my hair and hit me. It was around 11 'o clock in the morning. My 3 year old son and 12 year old niece (elder sister's daughter) were with me. They began to shout and scream. They continued to hit me. I don't know when I fell unconscious. There were 5 other women in the room along with the two children and 4 lady SPOs. It was a small room with no electricity. At 7, somebody brought us dinner, rice and lentils (daal-bhaat). I didn't eat much. The 4 lady SPOs said that "if we don't hit you, they will hit us." After dinner, 4 new lady SPOs came. They again started to beat us. I don't remember for how long but I fell asleep. All the time, they kept using the filthiest abuses against us in Hindi. It surprised me that ladies could speak such filthy language. Next day at 4 in the evening, we were given chuda (edible mixture). Nadar Mandawi, Chinnaram Gota, Madhukar Kondra, Hanif Khan and others asked us to sign on a blank piece of paper. They asked me put my seal on it but I told them that I didn't have it with me. Then Narad took our photograph with his mobile phone camera. We were then asked to 'get out quickly'. They told us that if we said anything about this to anyone, we would be killed."

Q. Why were you going to see the C.O.?
A. No work was being done in our janpad. The last time we had met the C.O., he released a measly sum of Rs. 2000 to each panchayat, which is not enough even for tea and snacks (chai-nashta). So we all decided to go together to ask him to release the allotted fund (moolbhoot rashi) at least.

Q. Why did the lady SPOs abuse you in Hindi? Why not in Halbi or Gondi?
A. In Bhopalpatnam, we speak mostly Telugu. We don't know Halbi. So they abused us in Hindi.

Q. Who is Narad Mandawi?
A. He is a Zila Panchayat member. His wife is also a member. Both were members of the 'sangam' (Maoist village committee) and could get elected only with the help of Naxalites. When SJ started, they squealed on other members. Now they are both on the (Naxalite) hit-list. They are extortionists, nothing else. If SJ ends, they will go back to being Naxalites.

Q. Who were the others with him?
A. Chinnaram Gota contested and lost the janpad election. Madhukar Kondra is a government teacher. Hanif Khan is a Congress worker, I think. They were all sangam members. Budhram Rana is the president of Bijapur SJ camp and janpad vice chairman. Suresh Rana is the secretary of the SJ camp. Gautam Sahu was a tailor. He is the local BJP head. There are not many BJP people here.

Q. Why did they beat and detain you?
A. I don't know.

Mr. Jaihind Kumar Latkar, Janpad member, Bhopalpatnam:
"We had decided to go to meet the C.O. in Dantewada from our respective villages (in Bhopalpatnam). In all, there were four jeeps. We had decided to halt midway at the Bijapur bus stand for refreshments. I was just telling Miccha Istari (Sarpanch, Tamnapalli) that I will have mutton curry when our jeep was stopped at the ghati at Mathed. I was asked to get down and a SPO got in. He asked us to drive to Bijapur base-camp. All along the way, I was made to stand on the footstand of the passenger's door...

Mr. Miccha Istari, Sarpanch, Tamnapalli:
"When I got down, I was taken to a man with a notebook. He asked me my name. Even as I was answering, 3-4 people started slapping me from behind. All my facial skin came off. There was blood all over. I fell unconscious. When I woke up, I was in a room with the rest of the men. We were 15-20 of us. A government doctor came to see us. He didn't ask or speak anything: just gave us all some capsules and an injection each, and went away...

At this point, Mr. Ingé Narayan, janpad member, shows me his right arm. It is bruised and slightly disjointed. He says even now he has difficulty moving it. By now, others present have gotten involved in the discussion. We get around to talking about more general issues. For the sake of continuity, I shall continue with the Q and A format. However, the answers are given jointly, with people adding or clarifying things to what someone has already said.

Q. Is there SJ in Bhopalpatnam?
A. No.

Q. Do you oppose SJ?
A. No, we don't oppose SJ. We only want that it shouldn't be started in Bhopalpatnam. That is why we have come to Raipur.

Q. Have the SJ people come to your block?
A. Yes, thrice.

Q. How did they come?
A. In gypsies, matadors, taxis, all bearing "CG" number plates. Once the CRPF jawans had come riding 32 motorcycles.

Q. Do you mean to say that the CRPF also comes?
A. Yes. They do nothing. They only provide protection to the SJ leaders.

Q. What do the SJ leaders do when they come to Patnam?
A. They go to the rest house. Then they send for local officers and the seths (well-to-do merchants). They also send for us but most of us don't go. When SPOs with guns come to our houses, we hide ourselves. They say: "you are supplying things to Naxalites. We know because at one time, we also did the same thing. But now we are SJ. So now you must to chase them away. If you don't, then we will burn our houses. We will eliminate you.

Q. Why don't you do as the SJ asks and 'chase them away'?
A. If the armed forces cannot do it, how can we? Let the police fight the Naxalites. It is a global problem. Why should we come in between? Why are innocent people being killed? We tribals are being killed both ways. SJ does it during the day, the Naxalites do it in the night. Everybody is leaving. Two more years, and no man will be left here.

Q. Why is everybody leaving?
A. To escape SJ, not Naxalites.

Q. Were the Naxalites better?
A. The Naxalites fought with the police and forest guards. Not with the common people. They let us live.

Q. Where do they go to?
A. They go to Andhra Pradesh: Chintur, Bhadrachalam, Etur Nagaram in Warangal district, Khamam...

Q. Don't the Andhra Pradesh people have problem with new people coming into their area?
A. No, they like us. We are hardworking. We do kulibhuti (labor). There, we get work for 12 months. They take three crops of paddy and one crop of chilly in a year. Even the Andhra Pradesh government is very helpful. It gives us land, builds houses for us. Here, the Chhattisgarh government takes away our land, burns our houses.

Q. SJ has not yet started in Bhopalpatnam. How can you say that the state government takes away your land and burns your houses?
A. We know because it has happened in the Usur block. Nearly 70% of that block has been 'emptied' (khaali kar diya). Entire villages are destroyed: Basaguda, Avapalli, Fuswanka, Gangnapilli, Pamed, Pujari Kanked, Nanbi, Galgam, Tegmetla...All the houses have been burnt. No cultivation is allowed there. No paddy, not even corn (bhutta). It also happened in Bijapur. In Gangalur village, the CRPF men came. They started to take the goats, chickens, everything. So the villagers started to run. Maybe the CRPF thought they were Naxalites, we don't know? But they started shooting at them. Countless people died. In Gornamankeli, the Naga (battalion) didn't even spare little children. Recently, in Dornapal they killed a Bengali fellow.

Q. Have you seen all this yourself?
A. Those people who cannot do kulibhuti (labor) do not go to Andhra Pradesh. They come and rent rooms in our villages. We give them work. Otherwise they cross the river Indravati into Ankisa in Maharashtra. It is only five kilometers from Asaralli, a village in Usur.

Q. If all the people are going away to other states, then who stays in SJ base-camps?
A. Very few do. That too only because they are afraid to go anywhere else. Most of them prefer to run away.

Q. But there are officially more than 55,000 people living now in base-camps?
A. In Bijapur, there are SJ base-camps at Jhangla, Nimid, Toyanar, Wangapal, Matwada, Bhairamgarh and Bijapur. Jhangla is probably the biggest of the lot. It doesn't have more than 400 persons.

Q. Why do you think there is this discrepancy between the official figure and the actual figure of persons living in base-camps?
A. Every base-camp chairman (adhyaksha) is allotted daily funds for food (ration) and other facilities on the basis of number of persons living there. If he says 3000 when there are not more than 300, then he pockets the extra money. It's that simple. Nobody goes to check anything anyway.

Q. How are base-camp chairmen (adhyaksha) appointed? Is there any election, any criteria?
A. No. Ajay Singh, the Bhairamgarh chairman, was appointed by (Mahendra) Karma.

Q. Are all base-camp chairmen appointed by Mr. Mahendra Karma?
A. Karma and his men make all appointments.

Q. What about the SPOs?
A. They are also appointed by them. Many are 13-14 year old boys. They are given guns. They go about doing what they wish. If you don't listen to them, they kill you. Now they are all being recruited in the state police...

Q. Doesn't the district administration have any say?
A. [Kaka Bhaskar, Tarlaguda sarpanch] I was intercepted by SPOs at Bhairamgarh. They told me that I had to go to back to Bijapur base-camp to join the rest. The additional (superintendent of police) was also there. I asked him to help me. He said he couldn't do anything and I must do what the SPO tell me to do. When we got to Bijapur, they smashed the glass-panes of the jeep. The SDO was sitting there. He also did nothing...The entire district administration takes orders from SPOs and SJ people. They are with them. At Errabore, the SPO killed two people in the presence of Pisda (Collector of Dantewada district)...

Q. Then why doesn't anyone complain to the state government?
A. If they can beat us (elected representatives) like this, one can only imagine what they will do to the public. In Awapalli in Usur block, two students from Murdanda decided to complain. They were tortured for three days and shot. Then they put (Naxalite) 'dress' (uniform) on their bodies. Same thing will happen to us. They will kill us, then put a dress on our bodies.

Q. This incident happened in June. Why did you wait for five months to come here?
A. We were afraid of going through Bijapur after what happened to us. Eventually we all decided to slip away quietly to come to Raipur via different routes, so that it does not happen to us again.

Q. Different routes?
A. [Jaihind Kumar Latkar] I took my motorcycle till the river (Indravati). I crossed the river at Jimmalgatta. From there I kept changing buses, and came via Viratghat and Ballar to Nagpur. Then I came to Raipur. I reached here on 3rd November. Then I waited for others to come. They trickled in slowly on the 4th and 5th. It took me 12 days...[others describe similarly round-about routes]

Q. Why did you change buses?
A. We were afraid of being followed, intercepted, shot...

Q. How long does it ordinarily take to come to Raipur via Bijapur?
A. 6-7 hours by bus.

Q. Are there others who haven't reached?
A. Yes, 2-3 persons. The sarpanch of Sarouncha called this afternoon. He said he might reach by the evening. He didn't disclose his location. Others haven't gotten in touch as yet.

Q. You have all come alone. Why didn't you bring your families with you? Isn't there a danger to their lives now that you have come here and publicly said things?
A. Yes, there is. We called them. They told us that the SJ people are coming again on the 11th. We don't know what they will do to them...

Q. You met the Chief Minister today. What was discussed?
A. Yes, we went to his house during 'jan darshan' (public audience) this morning. He called 3-4 of us. He asked us "are you opposing SJ?" We told him "no". We said that all we want is that SJ should not be started in Bhopalpatnam so that we can live in peace. We also gave him the gram sabha resolutions unanimously passed by every village panchayat of Bhopalpatnam block demanding that SJ should not be started there. (They have also given copies of these to me.)

Q. Anything else?
A. We asked him for security, for us and for our families. We told him that without security, we cannot go back. The SJ people will kill us now, for sure.

Q. What did he say?
A. He said he will write to the Collector of the district administration.

It is clear to me from this dialogue that SJ is neither spontaneous nor peaceful. As such, it has no moral right to continue. It must be stopped.

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Monday, November 06, 2006


The verdict- death by hanging- shouldn’t come as a surprise. The moment Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s Baathist autocrat, was captured by American troops from his Tikriti hideout, betrayed by his own bodyguards, his end had already become a fiat accompli: if anything, it was not so much a question of time as it was of process. To be more precise: what process- procedure- to be followed to bring this former head of state’s head to the scaffold? For his captors, the objective of the whole exercise- ‘charade’, as skeptics are prone to term it- has been to ensure that he doesn’t go down as a martyr: that his death doesn’t become the rallying-point for resurgent pan-Arab, militant ‘Islamic’ fundamentalisms. Did they- the overlords of the ‘War Against Terror’- succeed?

Certain features about Mr. Hussein’s trial need to be noted. First: it wasn’t ‘in camera’. Images of a belligerent ex-dictator, shouting at his judges and questioning their legitimacy to try him, were beamed down ‘live’ to millions of television viewers worldwide. In the ensuing din, the specific charge for which he was being tried- the genocide of 148 shias ordered by him in Dujail in his capacity as head of state in 1982 following a failed assassination attempt- did not get the coverage his captors might have hoped for. Still, there is something to be said for the way his trial was conducted: aside from the murders of lawyers, resignations of judges, death-sentences and the inevitable theatrics, it was a relatively 'humane' affair- sans handcuffs, chains, signs of mutilation and torture etc.- as can be evidenced from the photograph above of the smiling Mr. Hussein, possibly sharing a joke with his co-accuseds. In fact, John Simpson of the BBC noted that he could see a definitive smile on Mr. Hussein's face as he was led out of the courtroom after being sentenced for the simple reason that "he had accomplished exactly what he had come for."

Secondly, Mr. Hussein’s conviction has challenged a fundamental precept of diplomacy, the way nations conduct affairs with each other: the immunity due to a head of state. At the time of the Dujail genocide, he was, beyond all doubt, Iraq’s head of state. What is even more ironical is that when this genocide occurred, his present captors, the Americans, instead of condemning him- or even his government- were actually actively assisting Mr. Hussein’s regime in its war against neighboring Iran. [See photo: Shaking Hands: Iraqi President Saddam Hussein greets Donald Rumsfeld, then special envoy of President Ronald Reagan, in Baghdad on December 20, 1983.]

Here, comparisons with his Yugoslavian contemporary, Slobodan Milošević's trial become inevitable:

(a) In Mr. Milošević’s case, he was tried on the specific charge of ‘war crimes’; the charge against Mr. Hussein involves an act undertaken as head of state.
(b) Mr. Milošević was tried by an international court, constituted by the United Nations no less; Mr. Hussein’s reluctant judges, though appointed by an Iraqi administration, are clearly not beyond the reach of America’s sphere of influence.
(c) Mr. Hussein’s charge involves an act of genocide committed against his own country’s nationals (even though shias, despite being in a majority, were treated as little more than second-rate citizens); what Mr. Milošević did was an act against nationals of another country- race, religion- in the aftermath of the balkanization of Yugoslavia.
(d) Unlike in the case of the Kurdish genocide, there was large scale international condemnation for Mr. Milošević’s crimes at the time these were committed.

In this regard at least, Mr. Hussein’s trial seems unprecedented. This, however, is not so much an encroachment of the principle of immunity- and consequently, sovereignty of nation-states against growing internationalism- as it is a doing away with the notion of impunity: that persons, including heads of states, can get away with anything. In the opinion of this blogger, it can’t be such a bad thing after all: theoretically speaking at least, the actions of President George W. Bush of the United States of America can no longer be considered to enjoy immunity or impunity.

Thirdly, the Court constituted to try this case was intended to showcase the best principles of civilized- Western- jurisprudence, by highlighting what is called ‘the due process of law’, in which the accused is afforded every opportunity to defend himself. Unfortunately, Mr. Hussein did not buy into it. The only defense he offered was a copy of the Holy Quran: clearly, his intention is to portray himself as a jihadi, single-handedly taking on the might of the world’s most powerful nation. And while he has every right to appeal against this verdict, it is very unlikely that he will use that right. The only thing that Mr. Hussein has demanded is that instead of being hanged, he should be shot by an armed squad while attired in his military uniform. His purpose is clear: he intends to demonstrate through this the illegitimacy of ‘the American occupation of Iraq’, and project himself as a soldier fighting for his country’s independence. Like Mr. Milošević, he may well end up dying in his cell- possibly by shooting himself- before he can be led up the gallows.

In retrospect, this blogger feels that it might have been better if Mr. Hussein were sentenced under the shariat (Islamic law), and for a crime(s) against fellow Muslims (it would not be farfetched to say that instances of these are fairly numerous), and the only appeal allowed to him, in the form of a reprieve- letter of pardon- signed by members of the victims’ family. In any event, such a procedure would have avoided the pitfalls of ‘the clash of civilizations’ premise, which became all the more pronounced, especially in the Muslim states, as the trial progressed, and which will most certainly escalate with the sentencing. In any event, this should not deter from the task of healing the sectarian strife between Shia and Sunni, and bringing true democracy to the peoples of Iraq.

With the sentencing of Mr. Hussein, the past too must finally begin to be buried even as the Iraqi nation prepares once again to take charge of its destiny. The other alternative, of the Iraqi state withering away into two- even three- disparate entities based on sectarian beliefs, would be a vindication of Mr. Hussein's "fair but firm" style of governance: it will prove decisively that the only way to keep Iraq together is by means of brute force, which is precisely what he did for the quarter of a century he ruled Iraq.


POST SCRIPT: America did the right thing, the wrong way.

Anyone vaguely familiar with Mr. Saddam Hussein's 'fair but firm' style of governance- involving large-scale genocide of Kurds and fellow muslim Shias, chemical bombings of entire villages, summary executions of citizens, including high officials, who refused to kowtow to his whims et al- would not doubt that his sentence is fully deserved. The question then is not so much about the sentence itself as the process through which he has been sentenced. I have commented at length on this above.

Here, I shall deliberate briefly on whether the American role in Mr. Hussein's sentencing can be justified. In my opinion, the answer must be yes. Here's why. Mr. Bush's decision to invade/liberate (depending on which side you are on) Iraq might have been based on one wrong factor- WMD, as it turned out- but all the same it was a right decision. For two reasons: one, even if the probability of finding WMDs was 0.1%, it was well worth the risk; two, in order to sustain his regime, an increasingly paranoid Mr. Hussein had become an enemy to the majority of his own subjects, as is evident from the numerous instances of human rights abuses that have come to light subsequently. Of course, it would have been far more ideal for the entire international community to have shouldered the responsibility of putting an end to these unchecked state-atrocities in Iraq; but it is clear that besides procrastination, it did little else, leading Mr. Hussein into believing that he could go about acting with impunity. Under the circumstances, America did what any responsible world-hegemon ought to do, even if its intentions weren't entirely altruistic (oil?).

To clarify, allow me to offer an analogy: you see an old woman being beaten by a ruffian; the policeman stands and watches. What do you do, especially if you happen to be powerful yourself?

Where America bungled, in my opinion, is in its trial of Mr. Hussein. The best course would have been to let him be tried- and judged- under shariat, especially since it does not exclude heads of states from having their heads chopped-off, especially for slaughtering fellow muslims. That would most certainly have kept everybody happy.


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Sunday, November 05, 2006

An Obituary in Hindi: काशीराम

This is the Hindi translation of my obituary on Late Shri Kashiram. I am grateful to Shri Shailesh Nitin Trivedi (of JAI CHHATTISGARH), Shri Amit Tiwari and Shri Agnihotri (of Naiduniya) for their suggestions.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Preview: "िदवारों की धङकनें": िकनारा- A poem for Mummy's Birthday

Here is another poem from my anthology "िदवारों की धङकनें" called "िकनारा". It was written from jail, as a sort of present for Mummy- the only gift I could give her on her birthday, along with a rose I had grown in the high security prison complex yard I was jailed in.

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Preview: "िदवारों की धङकनें"

For the first time, I publish excerpts from "िदवारों की धङकनें", an anthology of poems composed during my over ten months in Raipur Central Jail. The first page is an introduction to the anthology, explaining how- and why- it came into being. The second page is a poem I dedicated to my parents. Readers comments, as always, are welcome.

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िहन्दी में पहली बार

मैं हितेन्द्र िसंह और अनूप साहा का आभारी हूं िजनके कारण आप इस ब्लॉग पर ये िलपी पढ़ पा रह हैं.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

PLAY: चल बे कपङे उतार: Story Board

The storyboard of the play runs something like this. Vikram, a young boy of 18, is brought through the spectators’ gallery to the stage, escorted by a cop, who knocks at the jail gate (the curtain). It opens, like Ali Baba’s cave, and Vikram enters ‘the world of prison’: the first sentence he hears is Chal bé kapadé utar (go on, strip). From then onwards, till the very end, he remains naked, even when clothed, his action, even his thoughts, always visible to the surveillance devices of the modern Panopticon. In the first act, he and another inmate, Jai, become objects of an auction: two numberdars (that’s what they call Convict Overseers, chosen from among those sentenced to life imprisonment, to help with the day to day running of the jail administration etc.) buy them for Rs. 300 each, from the officer incharge of the Warrants Department (responsible for the allotment of barracks). However their bid is ultimately foiled by Dilip- the play’s central character- who reminds the concerned officer that since they are under 21, they should be sent to the ‘Kishor Ward’ in accordance with jail manual provisions. The second act takes place in the ‘Kishor Ward’: Vikram befriends Raju: ‘the only convict (he finds) in jail who doesn’t declare himself innocent’. The numberdar incharge of Kishor Ward, Udu, claims that Jai is his friend’s son, only to sleep with him later in the night. Vikram and Raju witness this: Raju tells Vikram that this is what Jai has to do if he wants a better lifestyle in jail; he also points out that Jai, from the sounds that emerge, doesn’t seem to mind. Next morning, over breakfast, Vikram confronts Jai, who confirms what Raju had already told him (‘a hole is a hole, whether in front or behind!’); he also propositions Vikram to a ménage à trois.

In the next scene, we meet Dilip being harassed for ‘diwali money’ by the head-warder; Raju tells him of Vikram’s predicament, and Dilip assures him that he will ask the Octagon incharge to get Vikram transferred to Ward Number One, in which mentally-challenged convicts are kept, so that he can be with Raju. In the next act, we witness the monthly auction of prison-factories, barracks and other other concerns of the prison economy, which the octagon incharge gives to the highest convict-bidder. Dilip’s group is pitted against Narad’s group. The act ends with an announcement on the public address system asking Dilip to report to the Visitors’ Room. In third act, Dilip shows Vikram, who is returning from meeting his only relative, an ailing grandmother, the cop who was responsible for falsely implicating him for a murder he did not commit, but ended up in jail himself on a charge of custodial-death: he tells Vikram that he will avenge himself, by watching his captor ‘die a million deaths everyday in jail’ and after his release, he will go to his house and rape his daughter, who incidentally has taken a liking for Dilip. As Dilip goes to the visitors’ window, Vikram witnesses another scene between a convict, his wife and two kids: the convict’s outburst; frustration at the legal system; repentance and sense of total loss; bribe paid to the warder for ‘smuggling’ in the basic necessities of life. On his way back, we notice an unopened letter in Dilip’s hand.

The next act takes place in Dilip’s ‘masala factory’: Dilip reads his letter; he screams; a new convict is produced before him; he has a young son, who Dilip takes an instant liking to; when everybody leaves, Vikram picks up Dilip’s discarded, crumpled letter. In the next scene, we are in the ‘mental ward’: a corpse lies unattended on a cemented platform; deranged convicts light their bidis with the incense-sticks, burning next to the corpse’s feet; a group of convicts decide to pass time by playing cards; a warder joins them, and when he is caught cheating, confiscates the cards and all the gambling money; another convict, Naresh, tries to sell Vikram marijuana; Vikram reads Dilip’s letter to Raju and we discover that his daughter died of pneumonia; during the power cut that follows, Raju is emboldened to ‘hint’ his true feelings to Vikram.

It’s day, and we see the lunatic-convicts being given their weekly bath in preparation for the Parade. Vikram is impressed at the selflessness of those convicts who are bathing the lunatics; Raju tells him that their real motive is that they get to sell the lunatics’ rations- eggs, soaps, Colgate etc.- in the prison-market for ten times their actual cost; Dilip gives the young boy a bath. Everybody lines up for the Parade. A retinue comprising the jail superintendent, jailor, officers incharge, doctors and warders arrives. A prison-don complains to the superintendent about the unattended corpse they had to sleep with; this leads to an altercation, in which the don ends up slapping the superintendent. Immediately an ‘alarm’ is sounded, in which the officers and warders brutally beat up all the convicts, including the young boy. The next scene is the same as the previous one, except that all the convicts are in bandages. We learn from their conversation that the don has been transferred to some other jail, and that as a result of Dilip writing to the human rights commission, some officers are coming to do an inquiry. Most of the scene consists of a dialogue between the human rights officer and Dilip, who decides to tell all: the dark underbelly of prison life is brought to light. The real quality of prison food, the ‘death-factory’ medical system, in which each death presents a postmortem windfall gain for the authorities, and rampant corruption everywhere. In their defense, the jail-administration declares Dilip mad, citing that he is suffering from the shock of not being permitted parole to attend his daughter’s funeral. The human rights officer concurs, and he is shifted to the ‘mental ward’ for ‘treatment’, under his bete-noire, Narad’s supervision. As they leave, the superintendent compliments the human rights officer on his wife’s excellent taste at having selected the best pieces of furniture from the prison carpentry store.

The next scene is a ‘play within a play’: a rehearsal is underway for the prison’s annual drama, to be enacted in the local dialect Chhattisgarhi, with each convict taking on a role. It is a morality play called ‘jaisi karni waisi bharni’ (what one reaps, so one sows). Raju trumps Narad in getting the hero’s part. The story-line of this play is fairly simple: a boy leaves his mother to seek his fortune in the big city; on the way, the caravan is looted by robbers; while everybody else escapes, thanks to the boy’s help, he himself gets left behind, whereupon he decides to dress up as a woman; the leader of the robbers takes a fancy to the boy-woman, and takes him to his house; there the boy falls in love with the robber’s sister- played by Vikram- and the two run away with the robber’s loot. In the love scene between the boy and the robber’s sister, Raju and Vikram deviate from the script and begin to confess their feelings for each other, when suddenly, Dilip- who had always played the hero’s part- makes his entrance. Narad and his gang try to catch the ostensibly mad Dilip but it is Vikram- the robber’s sister- who ultimately convinces Dilip- who thinks of himself as the play’s hero- to stop his antics and return. The following scene is a soliloquy by Dilip, naked and wet in a solitary-cell. It is recited against the backdrop of diwali-crackers bursting in the distance: is he really mad, or just pretending to be? He is woken up by Raju and Vikram, who tell him that they have a novel plan of turning the table on the jail-administration, and exposing what really goes on behind the prison-walls. The president of the republic is to be the chief guest at the state foundation day function, and the cultural department has asked for the convicts to stage their play. Except that instead of ‘jaisi karni waisi bharni’, they- the prisoners- have decided to do something different.

In the final scene, the superintendent makes a short welcome speech for the chief guest, and ends by introducing the play. The play begins: Vikram, a young boy of 18, is brought through the spectators’ gallery to the stage, escorted by a cop, who knocks at the jail gate (the curtain). It opens, like Ali Baba’s cave, and Vikram enters ‘the world of prison’: the first sentence he hears is Chal bé kapadé utar (go on, strip).

Of course, through this play, it is not Vikram- and his motley group of convicts- who strip; instead the entire ‘technology’ of our carceral system is laid bare before the world, or so I hope.

Your comments and ideas on production, stage-direction, story etc. are, as always, welcome.

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CONTACT ME. मुझसे संपर्क करें

Amit Aishwarya Jogi
Anugrah, Civil Lines
Raipur- 492001
Chhattisgarh, INDIA
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