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Sunday, July 03, 2005

Thank you, anyway, Bill!

Although I try hard to eschew making an overly cynical response to acts of goodness, on seeing Bill Gates at Live8 and hearing of his donation, I could not help recalling H. L. Mencken: "In the United States, doing good has come to be, like patriotism, a favorite device of persons with something to sell."

But, to be fair ... Bill Gates has mellowed with age. And Steve Jobs, too ;-)

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Rash Behaviour

Those of you who are endowed with good taste presumably read my posts frequently. So you are aware that I have been suffering from a skin condition that has taken quite a while to diagnose. (Those who have not entered this blog spot earlier, can catch up on the story so far by reading 'The Seductive Quality of Leisure' among my posts of the very recent past.)

The validity of the new diagnosis is yet to be confirmed through the effectiveness of the umpteenth medication being inflicted upon me. The inside of my body feels like a battleground of viruses and antidotes, with its 3-D map, in deep reds and dark blues, displayed on my skin. I cannot help but wonder about the sense it makes (or doesn't) of going for treatment to doctors, who were responsible for this problem in the first place. Reminds me of an old maqta' of mine, although written in an entirely different context:

Deevaangi ki had hae keh jis nay diyay haeñ gham
'Alam' usee ke naam se karta hae gham ghalat … !

Meanwhile, each person informed of my predicament by my loving wife, offers a remedy that, often, if not bordering on the paranormal or outrageously weird, does make me wonder if by my willingness to try it out I am not giving in to senility. But who can fight the power of love? This time, another of Nuzhat's teacher-friends (now you know where our school kids get their insanity from) suggested that I apply a paste made up of crushed neem leaves and coconut-oil before taking a bath.

Since the treatment required that I cover myself with the paste and wait 20 minutes before a shower, Nuzhat suggested that I sit naked in my study/library and read something while listening to music. After all, being a Sunday, with no visitors or others in the house, I could trek to the bathroom without anyone seeing me in this condition. So, smelling of a cross between a Dossa and a Herbal Cake, I squatted out the waiting period on an old newspaper (carefully positioning myself so that the right portions came into contact with the beaming picture of George W), listening to Ravi Shankar's perennially stunning Maalkauns Alaap, chosen this time more for the appropriateness of its length (18'47") than for its serenity. Reading, I soon realized, was out, given that my hands were dripping with witches' brew.

In about an hour, 20 minutes passed … (trying times seem so much longer than they are, na?) … and I headed for the shower. Surprise, surprise. Just as I opened the door to step out, covered from head to toe in this moss, the maid - who had suddenly decided to pay a kindly visit to us on her day off and bring coffee for me to the study - screamed, obviously thinking she'd been 'flashed' by the Jolly Green Giant.

Suffice it to say that the pimples and rash are still there, unchanged 4 hours later, but we are minus one well-loved coffee mug and some smelling salts. Thankfully, the maid has agreed to stay on, but only after I convinced her of my not belonging to some strange nudist vegan sect.

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Friday, July 01, 2005

Et tu, Brute?

By expressing rather startling views in the op-ed column, Justice above Prejudice, Kunwar Idris, respected for much saner writing in the past, must have shocked many of his readers.

Written in the same meticulously logical style that is his hallmark (or, was, until now), this piece goes way off the mark because of the basic premises he makes, such as the absolute impartiality of our courts, the positive role of our police, and the inherent decency of our society (especially in the rural area). I, for one, cannot attibute such naivete to as seasoned and politically astute a writer as Kunwar Sahab.

While my equally astounded friend, STK, was reading this piece out to me, a line from Shakespeare crossed my mind: O' Judgement, thou art fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason. In much the same way as KI seems to doubt the motives of several parties, I am forced to question his.

Stating that "The people at home and abroad have come to believe that she was gang-raped on the orders of a village panchayat (an assembly of elders) ... This impression originally fostered by frequent press reports and angry protests by human rights activists is now being sustained by foolish behaviour of officials of the state and the so-called custodians of the women's honour."

Both "Come to believe" and "fostered" indicate early in the article that the learned Kunwar is not in agreement with these views. Indeed, he goes on to refer to "The facts of the case as borne out by a high court judgment, in essence, are that Mukhtaran Mai was raped by one man, and not by a gang of men, and the rape was not decreed by the panchayat but committed in defiance of its wishes. "

In the words of Mirza Ghalib: Haeraañ hooñ dil ko ro-ooñ keh peetooñ jigar ko maeñ ...

Defiance of its wishes? Come, come, sir! Are we to believe that the entire village went against the panchayat and allowed the one man, who, according to a court, did commit the crime, to go ahead and rape this woman? Where were Kunwar Idris's "conservative rural folks" and their sense of valour, pride, justice? Did the helpless-when-defied panchayat , or any member of the 'tribe' (how quaint a word in the 21st century) try to stop the man? Or capture, hand over, or even report him to the police, if not kill him (as is frequently done in these parts, for much less)? What were the "manwajai" neighbours upto?

Kunwar Idris goes on to say, "It has already been held that the prosecution story does not ring true and [the] possibility of fabrication and false implication cannot be ruled out as the FIR was lodged after consultation and deliberations and the delay of at least nine days in lodging the same had not been explained."

To rest the theory of possible fabrication and false implication on the delay in lodging the FIR betrays a lack of knowledge of the realities in Pakistan, something I cannot associate with Kunwar Sahab. Consider the circumstances: If Mukhtaran Mai is speaking the truth, where and how would she go - especially in her condition - to lodge the FIR? Even ignoring the specifics of this case, for a moment, if we are to accept this basis, then the hundreds of genuine victims who are unable to lodge FIRs because of the political support and power that criminals often hold, or due to the complicity of law-enforcing authorities in crimes, would not have had to use the offices of CPLC, WAF, WAR, and HRCP, among others, to have this right to lodge complaints enforced.

Referring to "the crime investigation agency and the trial court, the press and the official spokespersons and human rights activists", he sounds incredulous - in what I found to be the most ludicrous of all his statements:

"Didn't they," he writes, "all of them, consider it both unthinkable and incredible that three real [sic] brothers with the permission of the elders of the village would one after the other rape a helpless widow in their own house where the wives of two of them were also present?"

May I, as incredulously ask where he lives and how he manages to ignore cases of women being stripped naked and paraded on the streets by groups of men and women of a family 'seeking vengeance'? This is something that repeats itself far too frequently to not have caught his attention.

Does he not know that, recently, a bride was gang-raped in Pakistan on her wedding night by various friends of the bridegroom, aided and abetted by the bridegroom, his mother and maternal grandfather?

Surely he cannot have forgotten the sordid rape of the late Phoolan Devi, not by a gang of 4 or 5 but by almost the entire male population of a village in India (which rivals Pakistan in such cases and shares many of its cultural and tribal values), while the wives and sisters and daughters of the rapists silently stood aghast and helpless.

What does Kunwar Idris have to say of the case of Safiyah Bibi, the blind girl raped by her employer and his son? And, finally, what of the 13 year old orphan, Jhamina. She, too, was raped by her uncle and his son. In Jhamina's case a distant relation filed a case. The court, in its infinite wisdom, held her guilty and awarded her 100 lashes in public. The case went in the appeal to the Federal Shariat Court. The judges, "for the sake of mercy", reduced the sentence to 20 lashes and three years imprisonment. After completing her sentence, she went back to her village. Asma Jahangir reports, "the girl has not spoken a word since then to anybody, and pretends to be deaf."

Kunwar Ji, these are just the few instances that spring immediately to mind; doubtless there are several others. If what you state with surprise and amazement is genuinely a result of your view of the prevalent morality, all I can say is:

Bohat hi saadah hae tü, aur zamaanah hae ayyaar;
Khüda karay keh tüjhay shar kee havaa na lagay

Reinforcing the governmental view of NGOs and other activists, Kunwar sahab states, "It seems the champions of Mai's cause either had an axe to grind or were just trying to be good Samaritans. The image of gang rape that they have foisted on Pakistan is the last obloquy our conservative rural folks deserve."

And, just as I was about to shed my tears for the poor "rural folks", I found that there are, at least in the eyes of Kunwar Idris, more deserving victims: "the head of the panchayat and the men who spent four summers in death cells in the infernal heat of Multan though there was "not an iota of evidence" against them."

Dear Kunwar Sahab, you end, rightly, with "justice as a value to cherish is in its last throes in Pakistan." - but surely one hardly expected you to be instrumental in sending it to the gallows.
(Tailpiece: Fortunately, in a more recent move in this strange game of legal ping-pong, the Supreme Court, too, seems not to back the views expressed by KI and is re-trying the likely perpetrators who have been jailed once again.)

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