Sunday, 27 August 2006

Profiling and labelling

It was heartening to see, on this Sunday, columnists in various newspapers - Vir Sanghvi in Hindustan Times, Gautam Adhikari and R Jagannathan in DNA rubbish the hysteria over `racial profiling' in the west in the wake of 12 Indians sparking off panic on the Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Bombay.

Jaggi very rightly pointed out that the whole problem arose because of the boorish behaviour of Indians, something all of us are familiar with. There are many who will argue that all they were doing is stretching themselves out, switching seats, exchanging new cellphones they had bought etc. so what's the big deal?

The big deal was that they refused to listen to warnings by the flight staff. It's something all of us are familiar with. But what is normal in India is not normal in other parts of the world and certainly not in an atmosphere of heightened and perfectly justified nervousness.

Gautam pulled no punches when he called the Indian reaction to the Dutch action "infantile". Vir Sanghvi felt the action was racist but very rightly lambasted Indian double standards, reminding us about how at one time every Sikh was seen as a potential terrorist. Remember how for many years there was no Sikh in the Prime Minister's security after Indira Gandhi's assassination? He also points to how innocent Muslims are harassed in a similar fashion now.

But I don't recollect the whole of India getting into such a lather about the Sikhs as it does about Muslims. This racial profiling noise is something that the media in India and self-proclaimed liberal Indians (mostly leftists, actually) indulge in every time Muslim homes are raided and Muslim youth rounded up after a terrorist attack. It's always called a knee jerk reaction. The minute any Muslim is arrested, there are interviews with neighbours and family members saying the person is innocent, he used to mind his own business, he was such a nice person, we can't believe he is a terrorist, this is a frame up etc etc. It's almost as if the media is trying to drum up sympathy for him. For heaven's sake, if I get arrested for a crime, my family is hardly likely to say I am guilty and that they always knew I was up to no good!

It's interesting that this debate should be happening during the week after I saw Rang De Basanti on television. One aspect of the film left me feeling very disturbed and depressed and I was planning to write about it as a sequel to my previous post on Putting a Name to Terror.

In the film, when the college students are partying in a monument, the political goons who come and disrupt the party, saying `band karo ye nanga naach' and ranting about `videshi parampara' have saffron scarves around their necks and huge tilaks on their foreheads, clearly marking them out to be Hindu extremists. And obviously the party they belong to is the one in power and is responsible for the corruption in defence purchases! The activist who first disrupts the party and then becomes friends with the college gang is beaten up by his party colleagues for trying to expose the government on the MiG issue. The imagery is very clear. It is the Hindutva spewing politicians who are unreasonable and steeped in bigotry and responsible for corruption as well.

Why did it offend me, even though I have utter distaste for the Vinay Katiyars, Bal Thackerays and their like? Because it is not just those kinds who rage against `nanga naach' and `videshi parampara'. Don't Muslim extremist organizations do the same? Don't the left parties keep raving and ranting about consumerist culture and western lifestyles? What was the need to identify the ideology of the political party activists? This film was just about aimless youth. Why bring in the religious fundamentalism angle into it? And then labour the point that such chauvinism is the hallmark of the Hindutva types?

I had felt a similar sense of outrage when I had seen Mahesh Bhatt's Zakhm several years back. That was about illegitimacy and it so happened that the hero's mother was Muslim and father Hindu. So, Mahesh Bhatt being among the self-proclaimed liberals, it had to be about secularism. And how was this to be depicted?

Go check out the picture again, if you've forgotten it. All the good characters are Muslim, Christian and Sikh. The Hindu characters belong to a Shiv Sena kind of organization and are rabid fundamentalists who cause riots. The hero's brother who joins them is, therefore, a wayward youth who is brainwashed by them. The hero is not brainwashed by them and is, therefore, the hero.

My question is simple: aren't there fanatics in other religions who do the same amount of harm as the Shiv Senas and Bajrang Dals do? How come they are never caricatured like this? If there is ever any hint of caricature, our pseudo-liberals are quick to jump to their defence and immediately blame the saffron brigade for vitiating the atmosphere.

Really, when are these double standards going to end? How long are we to treat fanaticism by Islamic groups with kids' gloves and even try to rationalize it even as we keep condemning Hindu fanaticism? Fanaticism has no colour. It is fanaticism and has to be condemned whether it is green, saffron or red (yes, communists are also fanatics).

And for what I've written, I'm going to be ideologically profiled - as a Hindutva type!

Sunday, 13 August 2006

Putting a name to terror

American President George Bush's latest gaffe has everyone - liberals and leftists - in a tizzy. When commenting on the terror plot to blow up ten planes bound for the United States from the United Kingdom, he warned about the dangers of "Islamic fascism". The short point everyone is making is this: how can he brand the entire community and entire religion ideology like this?
It's not the first time such labeling has been done - Islamic terrorists is a common enough phrase in the West and India (and that's why I suspect a lot of the objection to Bush's words is because Bush said them) - and invited similar reaction.
That is not to say the point is irrelevant, but why does it apply only to Islam? Every terrorist movement comes to be known by the cause it espouses. The terrorists fighting for a separate Sikh homeland of Khalistan were known as Sikh terrorists. LTTE cadres are referred to as Tamil terrorists (not Eelam terrorists, though Eelam is the name of the Tamil homeland they are fighting for). The IRA is an Irish terrorist outfit. The insurgents in the north east are known variously as Naga, Mizo, Manipur rebels. Separatist militants in Kashmir are known as Kashmiri terrorists. So terrorists claiming to act in the name of Islam, who say they are staging a jihad, come to be known as Islamic terrorists. Why should it be seen as anything more than that?
The counterpoint put forward to this is that the terrorists are misinterpreting Islam and misusing it for their own ends. Sure they are. No one seriously believes that any religion advocates or even condones the kind of violence we are seeing now. A majority of the Sikhs had little sympathy for the Khalistan movement or the terrorists. I don't know too much about the popular support for the other militant movements but am confident that ordinary people who may be sympathetic to the cause would not approve of the violent means adopted by those fighting for the cause. How come the other labels never invited this kind censure? Come to think of it, why is Hindu fanaticism an acceptable term, but not Islamic fascism?