The cult of us

September 2nd, 2014


Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa PHOTO/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/R/Reuters/The Guardian

Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka stubbornly excludes minorities

On a wet October evening in Colombo in 2006, while the ceasefire with the LTTE was still holding, a former Sri Lankan minister poured out piping hot tea for a group of visiting South Asian editors. We told him of a meeting with a Sri Lankan Tamil radio journalist who had been kidnapped and beaten before being released by the ‘white van gang’—a name for a state-sponsored militia who used white, unnumbered vans. Over 200 people had ‘disappeared’ from Colombo alone since January that year, including several editors and reporters—all but one Tamil. Civilian killings in Colombo averaged three to four people every day.

Despite the ceasefire, the main A9 route linking rebel-controlled areas with the rest of the country remained shut. An economic blockade prevented anything that could aid the rebels from going through; some essential supplies were allowed. Most Sinhala newspapers were silent on the plight of Tamils; the few who did were attacked and set on fire. The grey-haired, bespectacled politician lamented, “We have become a society without compassion. We have lost the capacity to be outraged.”

Today, after the LTTE’s crushing defeat in May 2009, the 26-year-long civil war has ended. The politician now graces president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s council of ministers. He now has to defend the peace imposed on the Tamil minority and justify his country’s rights violations. Sri Lanka has refused to cooperate with the UN inquiry into the alleged war crimes by its army and the LTTE in the final stages of the war. It tried to ward off a UN inquiry by unilaterally setting up the disarmingly named Lessons Learnt and Rehabilitation Commission. Now another commission of inquiry has been tasked to examine cases of disappearances during the war.

Sri Lanka is a textbook case of how a majoritarian democratic system can exclude minorities from political power by encouraging political mobilisation on the basis of ethnicity. Its 75 per cent Sinhala, 11 per cent Lankan Tamil and 9 per cent Muslim population each have their own ethnic parties. Political scientists have observed that in ethnically or religiously divided societies with democracy, parties are incentivised to campaign along narrow sectarian lines. So, instead of making Sri Lankan democracy inclusive, Colombo has promoted the ideology of a Sinhala Buddhist nation that excludes minority groups from political power. Such a majoritarian approach runs the risk of radicalising minorities again.

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Latitudes of acceptance

September 2nd, 2014


My ideas tend to all focus on what we call loosely the “social brain.” How is it that our brain evolved to make us social? How does it successfully make us social? What are its limitations? How does it lead to a context where we think we understand what’s going on, but we’re mistaken? That can lead to all sorts of interpersonal issues.

We are a much more comfortable country than we were 50 years ago. When you’re multiple generations into immigrants in a country that the kids are more comfortable than the parents, who are more comfortable than their parents, there is an easing off. Perhaps maybe you start to emphasize personal happiness or your children’s personal happiness more than you emphasize more societally mandated metrics of success, which usually benefits society more than the individual, in my opinion a lot of the time. There’re a lot of doctors who do a lot of good for other people, and who aren’t very happy being doctors, and I think that’s part of what the social contract really is. You agree to do stuff that’s going to help us, and you’ll be compensated, but you might have made a different choice if you knew how all this was going to play out.

In a place like all the BRIC countries, and China, in particular, there’s so much aspiration, there’s so much expectancy that the next generation is going to take China to even greater heights than they already seem to be reaching. I don’t think we expect that of our children, and I don’t know that we should. I’m not sure that almost young adult adolescent phase of nationhood is necessarily the greatest thing. It does lead to, in America’s case, inventions and inventiveness. It doesn’t seem to be that way in China so much. It leads to a lot of activity, but it also leads to a lot of unhappiness. It leads to a lot of midlife crises and so on, and I’m not sure that’s the ultimate goal, to get the country to be the most productive. I’m not really interested in gross domestic product as a real indicator of how my family is doing.

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ILO to promote decent work in Small Island Developing States at SIDS Conference in Samoa

September 2nd, 2014


UN Conference on Small Island Developing States

SUVA – The International Labour Organization (ILO) will call for greater emphasis on decent job creation as a path to sustainable development at the United Nations Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Conference in Apia, Samoa from 1-4 September 2014.

The SIDS Conference, convened under the theme Sustainable Development through Genuine and Durable Partnership, will focus international attention on a group of countries that remain a special case for sustainable development in view of their unique and particular vulnerabilities.

ILO Deputy Director-General Gilbert Houngbo will head the ILO delegation and is due to participate in a number of SIDS 2014 events detailed below. Interviews with DDG Houngbo and regional experts can be arranged ahead of and during the Conference.

Two ILO reports, Decent Work and Social Justice in Pacific Small Island Developing States – Challenges, Opportunities and Policy Responses and Decent Work in Caribbean Small Island Developing States have been prepared for the Conference.

The reports argue that decent employment, providing adequate livelihoods, social protection and respect for worker rights, is an essential element of environmental, social and economic sustainability.

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Ananthamurthy: A writer’s dharma

September 1st, 2014


Writer U. R. Ananthamurthy (1932-2014) PHOTO/Wikipedia

One of the many stories, based on a Sanskrit tale, that the late U R Ananthamurthy [21 December 1932 - 22 August 2014] used to tell often is of a cow named Punyakoti which would go out to graze in the forest in the country called Karnataka. One evening, as the other cows made their way home, Punyakoti meandered into a particularly grassy area that was, however, the territory of a tiger. As Arbutha was about to pounce upon the cow, Punyakoti pleaded with Arbutha that she might be allowed to go feed her calf before returning to become his dinner. If the tiger was hungry, so was her calf; and the tiger ought to be sufficiently well-informed in dharma to know that a promise thus given would not be broken. The tiger relents: Punyakoti reaches home, feeds her little one, bids her farewell, and then presents herself before Arbutha. Astounded by Punyakoti’s fidelity to truth and her capacity for sacrifice, Arbutha has a sudden change of heart and begins to undertake penance—or so states the Sanskrit original. Recounting this popular story some years ago in an essay entitled ‘Growing up in Karnataka’, Ananthamurthy had this to say: ‘It is the dharma of the tiger to be a flesh eater. By a change of heart he cannot become a vegetarian. He has no choice but to die.’ Contrary to the Sanskrit storyteller, the Kannada poet has Arbutha leap to his death: ‘The Kannada poet is more convincing. By a change of heart, the tiger can only die. It is as absolute as that.’

Encapsulated in Ananthamurthy’s pithy commentary on ‘The Song of the Cow’ are many of the principal themes which shaped the literary oeuvre and worldview of an immensely gifted writer and critic whose death a week ago has robbed Kannada of its greatest voice, India of an extraordinary decent man and supple writer, and the world, which sadly knew too little of him, of a storyteller and intellectual whose fecundity of thought and robust play with ideas shames many of those who style themselves cosmopolitans. Much has been written on the manner in which Ananthamurthy, not unlike other sensitive writers and thinkers in India (and elsewhere in the global South), negotiated the tension between the global and the local, tradition and modernity; but, as is palpable from more than a merely cursory reading of his criticism and fiction, Ananthamurthy also remained engaged throughout his life with the tension between Sanskrit and the bhashas, the marga and the desi, and what he called ‘the frontyard’ and ‘the backyard’. Ananthamurthy completed a doctorate in English literature, taught English at a number of institutions, and was completely at home in the masterworks of Western literature; and, yet, he was profoundly rooted in Sanskritic and especially Kannada literary traditions. In reading Ananthamurthy, one is brought to an overwhelming, indeed humbling, awareness of his deep immersion in a thousand year-old tradition stretching from Pampa, Mahadeviyakka, and Allama Prabhu through the Vijayanagar-era poet and composer Purandaradasa to his contemporaries Shivarama Karanth, Masti Venkatesh Iyengar, Bendre, Kuvempu, Adiga, and others. In this, as in other respects, Ananthamurthy also inhabited a world where the simultaneity ‘of the ancient, the primitive, the medieval and the modern’ was ever present, not only in social structures but ‘often in a single consciousness’. It is doubtful that anyone among the most celebrated of our writers who have made a name for themselves as notable exponents of the English novel or what might be termed global non-fiction have anything even remotely close to the knowledge that Ananthamurthy had of Indian bhashas. In his essay, ‘Towards the Concept of a New Nationhood’, Ananthamurthy gave it as one of his ‘pet theories’ that ‘in India, the more literate one is, the fewer languages one knows.’ In ‘the small town where I come from,’ Ananthamurthy was to write, ‘one who may not be so literate speaks Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, some Hindi, and some English. It is these people who have kept India together, not merely those who may know only one language.’

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Tariq Ali tells the BBC why there is so much anger about its biased Gaza reporting

September 1st, 2014


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Tariq Ali tells the BBC on 09/08/14, when 150,000 marched in the biggest ever UK demonstration for Gaza, why there is such widespread criticism of the Israeli bias in its reporting.

Stop the War Coalition

(Thanks to Feroz Mehdi)

Photos from “Kandhamal: Never again” solidarity and protest event held at Jan manter, New Delhi (photos by Mukul Dube)

September 1st, 2014

Communalism Watch for more photos

Photos by Mukul Dube can also be seen at Flickr
Mukul Dube can be reached at

RSS crowd are whipping up fear

September 1st, 2014


I had two women visitors, both in the early 30s. When the subject of “love jihad” came up, one said, “Chacha, these people assume that all are like them.” I asked her to explain. She said that the followers of the RSS all think alike because, wherever in the country they go to a shakha, exactly the same things are put into their heads. They imagine that India’s Muslims are, like them, a regimented lot, a monolithic entity: something like lemmings, all thinking and acting alike. Because they have their own training camps for different purposes, they imagine that Muslim men too are trained in camps in the methods of seducing Hindu women.

The other, who has studied demography and who relies on common sense, said that the share in India’s Hindu population of those women who could become victims of such a thing as “love jihad” was not large. Thus Muslims are stupid, if indeed they want to use this strategy to increase their population in the country. The RSS crowd are whipping up fear of these stupid people, in the process ignoring the idiocy of their own convictions.

But here is their final argument. They said that the “danger to bahu-beti” line was one which would madden people who had been brought up on the myth that Muslim men have always been sexual beasts and rapists. The violent, sadistic rapes committed by their own comrades in Gujarat in 2002 are justified by saying, “Vo to sirf badla that.” That is, rape is sinful but rape-as-vengeance is honourable. Raped Muslim women cannot be called victims because they only get what they deserve.

In short, the Hindu Right defends every brainless thesis it advances by concocting another brainless thesis. All this bilge is
stuffed into the ever receptive heads of their cadres, who have been brain-washed almost since birth. There is no space for rationality.

Mukul Dube can be reached at

Weekend Edition

August 29th, 2014

An almost dead cow, Pakistan, is under attack

August 29th, 2014


PTI chairman Imran Khan addressing his supporters on August 24, 2014. PHOTO/Online/The Express Tribune

Facing money laundering charges back in Canada, Qadri landed in Pakistan six weeks ago in dramatic style. PHOTO/Reuters/Al Arabiya

An almost dead cow, poor Pakistan, is under attack
by certain leaders, each one joined by her/his claque
Islamabad is under siege while the nation is tense
but for the army, all this makes bloody good sense

Imran Khan says, “once Naya Pakistan becomes” a fact
I will marry” and enter into a till death do us part pact
“I want to create new Pakistan not only for you
but also for me,” so that I can a gorgeous girl woo

Imran is acting like Z. A. Bhutto, whose power greed
led to horrible consequences; forcing Pakistan to bleed
Bhutto refused to accept Sheikh Mujib as the new leader
and instead opted to play the role of a hate seeder

Tahirul Qadri, a Pakistani/Canadian citizen is back
to create trouble in Pakistan by joining his sit-in pack
he wants the government to dissolve assemblies in hours 48
or else he’ll bury himself and consider it his fate

in Pakistan, Qadri is shedding tears for poor people now
but in Canada, he is facing money laundering charges, wow
he had Prophet in his dreams asking for a Pakistan ticket fare
he flew alone cause didn’t wanted to share the PM‘s chair

Imran’s immature importunity and his politics strange
and Qadri’s holy demonstrations are not a sign of change
neither of them are Che or Malcolm X or Allende type
but are simply inciting masses on personality based hype

B. R. Gowani can be reached at

V.S. Naipaul and the Hindu gangsters of Bombay (book extracts)

August 29th, 2014


The conversation drifted to what I would learn years later was Mr Naipaul’s considered—some would say uncharitable—view of the Muslim community. He had concluded, or had been told, that the mafia in the city was made up of Muslims and Muslims alone. ‘As a community they somehow seem to be historically more drawn towards crime than all the others,’ he observed. I reckoned I was just an ordinary journalist to contradict such a great man, but I summoned the courage to tell him that one couldn’t draw such sweeping conclusions and that crime knew no religion or region. ‘Why, there are people from all communities even in Dawood Ibrahim’s gang. His main man is Chota Rajan, a Hindu,’ I said and went on to reel off the names of Hindus in the mafia including Amar Naik, Arun Gawli, Varadarajan Mudaliar… Given that he equated the underworld with Muslims, it was rather ironic that the safe house I took him to was occupied by hitmen, gangsters and their friends who were all Hindus. I had not planned it that way, but the meeting at short notice (Mr Naipaul wanted it over and done with in a day) was somehow ordained to be so. We reached our destination after meeting a contact at a paan shop near the Portuguese church in Dadar, who took us to the address in Shivaji Park—close to where cricketer Sandeep Patil lived. Anyone stepping into the safe house—a well-appointed ground floor flat—would think they had come to a typical upper middle-class home with a TV set and sofas in the drawing room. But once you wandered into the rooms, it resembled a Bollywood gangland set, with pistols and arms of various descriptions littered around.

Because of some misunderstanding, Mr Naipaul kept thinking I had brought him to meet a Muslim gang. He had to hastily change his line of questioning once he realized he was actually dealing with Hindu gangsters. For a start, he enquired if there were any Muslims in the gang. He was told that there were indeed a few of them but as a gang leader he didn’t trust members of that community in his team. In retrospect, I suspect the mafia man was perhaps playing to the gallery and saying things Mr Naipul wanted to hear. So, in the course of the next half hour or so, the man elaborated on how Muslim criminals were low class, unlike their Hindu counterparts who were decent middleclass folk with the benefit of a good education. The noted writer kept taking notes even as I was asked which British paper he was representing. When I said it was for a book he was writing, the gang leader suddenly had that vacant uninterested look. But to keep Mr Naipaul engaged, he spoke about how he believed in Santoshi Ma (an incarnation of goddess Durga), to whom he claimed the gang prayed before every operation.

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