Thursday, 22 February 2007

Don’t forget 1984

While working on an article on police reforms two weeks back, I met several police officers, serving and retired. Most of them, when talking about the politicisation of the police, referred to their inaction in the Gujarat riots of 2002. It was left to me to ask, “and also 1984”. And invariably they all said, “oh yes, 1984” but it was an afterthought. I found that strange. Two of them were from the Delhi Police. How could they, how could anyone, forget 1984?

I am extremely puzzled by the collective amnesia about the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 or a reluctance to equate it with the Gujarat riots.

To my mind, there is no difference between the two. The 1984 riots were as much revenge killings (for the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards) as the Gujarat riots were (for the Godhra train fire). Those riots were as much instigated by politicians (Congress) as the Gujarat ones were (the sangh parivar). In fact, in the 1984 riots, several small time Congress politicians (and some big time ones as well) were seen leading rioters or encouraging them. In both cases, there were hints to the police to go easy on the rioters. In both those involved in the riots could not be brought to book, even though names were well known. In fact, some Delhi politicians who were named in the riots were given ministerial positions in successive Congress governments.

So why this reluctance to remember 1984, even as we keep flogging the Gujarat riots for all it is worth?

We, as a nation, have to do some intensive soul searching about this. And we must never forget 1984 or allow its seriousness to be diluted in any way.

Friday, 16 February 2007

Dixie Chicks and Parzania

So the Dixie Chicks sweeping the Grammy's is being seen as a referendum on the Bush Administration (the group has been openly critical of Bush). If that's true, that, to me, should be less a commentary on Bush's politics and more a reflection of the Grammy's itself. Are singers/bands to be awarded for their music or their politics?
This isn't the first instance of artistes being rewarded for things other than their work. If the Dixie Chicks got the awards for their anti-establishment stance, there have been other examples of artistes who have suffered for it. The Hollywood of the 1950s saw a witch hunt against artistes who were seen as being even slightly sympathetic of the communist point of view or who were merely being critical of the then American establishment. Both are equally wrong.
But I wonder if the Dixie Chicks were really being rewarded for their political posturing. More likely that the left liberals (clearly, not just an Indian affliction) decided to make heroes (heroines, actually) out of them because of their anti-Bush stand.
Much the same seems to be happening over Parzania, the moving tale of a family after their little son goes missing in the Gujarat riots. Gujarat's theatre owners have refused to screen Parzania, no doubt after threats from the sangh parivar. This comes about a year after they blacked out Fanaa only because Aamir Khan had criticised the Narmada dam project.
Without getting into what he said and whether or not it was right, the threats by certain groups not to allow the screening of the film because Aamir Khan had hurt the sentiments of the Gujaratis was ridiculous. So is the decision not to screen Parzania just because it will apparently re-open old wounds about the 2002 riots.
Both are patent violations of the freedom of expression and the government stands indicted for its failure to protect this freedom, so essential to a democracy.
That said, I make a distinction between the blacking out of Fanaa and of Parzania and I wonder if the second controversy wasn't, perhaps, sparked off by those very people who are now bemoaning its fate in Gujarat. Didn't they read political colours and messages into the movie, effectively sealing its fate in Gujarat?
The story of Parzan could have happened in any riot anywhere - Delhi, Bhiwandi, Meerut. India is hardly lacking in riot-hit towns. But it happened to be about a child missing in the Gujarat riots of 2002. So obviously our left-liberals just had to start singing paeans to the movie and breast beating about Gujarat.
So even before the movie is out, a simple, heart-rending story about a family gets imbued with all kinds of political messages. That promptly gets the other side on its high horse and then things just escalate. Would the film have got so hyped if it had been set anywhere else but Gujarat? I doubt it.
I'm not justifying what happened in Gujarat (the Godhra killings and the post-Godhra violence) or the blackout of Parzania. And I think the state government should have stepped in and provided protection to theatre owners and people who wanted to see Parzania and Fanaa. Those who were angered by Parzania or with Aamir Khan for his stand on the Narmada dam could have expressed their resentment by boycotting the movies. The story of the Dixie Chicks bears mentioning here. When they first criticised George Bush in 2003, ahead of the invasion of Iraq, angry fans destroyed their CDs, their album sales fell as did their rankings on music charts. But they were never stopped from playing anywhere. If that had happened, their right to perform would have been protected by the government.
But, at the same time, our lefties need to stop politicising everything and creating controversies where none need exist.