Tunnel To Disaster

The Tunnel To Himalayan Disaster

A big wave of relief and joy has swept the country after the 41 workers have been rescued from a tunnel which turned into a huge rat-trap. And who scored the final victory stroke – 12 ‘rat mine workers’, who staked their lives, and cleared the debris with their bare hands. This is a joy which is greater than any World Cup victory. Bigger than the landing on the moon!

It has been the season of dead-end tunnels, and human beings trapped in this dark underbelly of modernity, for no fault of theirs. From the genocide in Gaza, with both the Israeli hostages and the Palestinians condemned in the rubble, and the labyrinthine underground — dead and alive, to Silkyara near Uttarkashi in Uttarakhand, it has been ‘the tunnel’ which was at the top-of-the-mind these days.

This is also the pristine landscape where a magical mountain river starts its civilisational journey from the frozen, blue and muddy glacier of Gaumukh, via Gangotri, Darhali and Harsil, undulating through the Himalayan hills via Uttarkashi, onwards to the arid plains. This unruly, anarchic, rippling river flows in sublime Shiva-Parvati territory, across Chirvaas, and Bhojwasa — with its ancient leafy trees, which, perhaps, gave the first manuscripts in ancient India. It flows ceaselessly, amidst the madness of fierce waterfalls and serene streams, and is celebrated with multiple mythological stories, as much as exotic names, mixing with other mountain rivers: Jahanvi, Mandakini, Bhairvi, Alaknanda, Kali Ganga, Safed Ganga, Bhilangana, and, of course, Bhagirathi.

In this terrain, you are a mere speck in the sand, a dot in the galaxy, so overwhelming is this incredible moment of srishti, like the origin of civilization; all you can hear, absorb, inhale and experience is the melodious orchestra of the river in synthesis with the sound of the wind and the waterfalls, echoing in the hills. It is she who is the maestro, the grand conductor of a million symphonies here, and even Shiva is subservient to her raw, intense and irreverent beauty.

Before this young, pulsating, primordial miracle of nature is finally tamed in the plains by the orthodox, religious establishment, domesticated and turned into a mother-symbol – Ganga maiya – she arrives from the cosmic galaxy on the day of Ganga dashami. Without a family, origin, identity, caste, religion or community, she is unlocked from a reluctant Shiva’s flowing locks after a series of long tapasya by Bhagirath. Thereby, it hurtles down the hills and valleys, playful, joyful, turning track, changing trajectories, becoming faster and faster, and, then, suddenly slow and subdued, amidst the wild flowers and chirping birds, flowing in eternally gay abandon.

Then, this creature of absolute freedom too is trapped – right inside the hills. Dammed and damned at Tehri by the big dam, its aviral dhara is thereby condemned and imprisoned – it flows out in a trickle from here on, stagnant and sad in a man-made reservoir, onwards to Rishikesh, hence becoming a ganda nulla at Haridwar, while being turned forcibly into a ‘sacred canal’ at Har ki Pauri.

Henceforth, despite the millions of worshippers, no one really cares for the lost purity of the holy river– choked with the infinite sewage of towns and cities, garbage, gutter-waters, industrial waste, plastic, non-biodegradable left-over of Hindu festivals, etc. It yet again becomes another clichéd banality of daily life — worshipped and ravaged at the same time.

At Uttarkashi, the other ‘Kashi’ for Hindu pilgrims for decades, on the sandy, sunshine river-front, the river moves slow and steady. Not far away in this district is the Silkyara Bend-Barkot tunnel, where 41 workers were trapped since the last two weeks, in the dingy and cold darkness underground. The tunnel is part of the ‘grand project’ of the current regime called the 889 km Char Dham National Highway Project, which has destroyed hundreds of hectares of forests and flora and fauna, culled thousands of trees, created brutal, volatile disturbances in the fragile Himalayan ecosystem, and has been criticized universally by ecologists and scientists.

ALSO READ: ‘Our Environmental Sins In Uttarakhand’

Food reached them finally, they were able to make contact with their loved ones, experts and skilled workers were trying their best, horizontal and vertical drilling was on, ‘rat-miners’ staked their own lives and moved inside the debris, ambulances were on the ready, and psychologists were at hand to counsel during this traumatic phase. Earlier, the media and those glued onto their TV sets seemed to have completely ignored the workers because of the cricket world cup’s patriotic frenzy; however, after that, they were on the front pages, thank God!

Predictably, gradually, reluctantly, sane and scientific voices are coming out, speaking about the bitter truth which the workers in the trapped tunnel have triggered. Earlier, it was a sinking Joshimath, ravaged by commercial and religious tourism, which became the tip of what seemed like a collapsing iceberg. There were warnings in 2013 that the tunnels of the Tapovan-Vishnugad Hydropower Project of the NTPC could cause irreversible damage to this town where urban planning seems to have gone for a toss.

Environmentalist Suresh Nautiyal (Lok Story, Lokmarg, January 13, 2023) had said after the Joshimath fiasco: “Governments have cared two hoots for the vulnerable ecology of the hill state and willfully aligned with corporations, contractors, industrial companies and the construction mafia to irretrievably damage the inherent balance of nature. Roads, big dams which displaced thousands, real estate and mindless constructions violating all norms, unknown tunnels and aggressive religious tourism has all turned the clock to its current, tragic fate…The murder of natural streams and rivers, the massacre of trees, the non-stop destruction of the organic eco-system in the relentless race for a capitalist model of unplanned development, blindly copying big cities in the plains, has ravaged the pristine ‘Dev Bhoomi’.”

Combine this with the gigantic Tehri dam, with its failed promises, and many other dams which have choked the rivers, and submerged fertile valleys and habitats, this is a recipe made for disaster. Seismologists have earlier warned that a major earthquake around the Uttarkashi-Chamoli faultline might spell disaster for the big dam, and, consequently, for the towns of Rishikesh and Haridwar, within minutes. However, the establishment, across all governments, cared a damn.

The Char Dham project, connecting to Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath, as another gimmick to boost religious tourism, has led to serious criticism, but the BJP regime is not listening. According to The Telegraph (November 27, 2023), “We have erred in allowing the haphazard expansion of townships by housing and road-building on unsuitable sites, ignoring the essentials of geological conditions,” geologists Naresh Pant and HS Saini said in Current Science, a journal published by the Indian Academy of Sciences. “We have also failed to enforce the standards of civil construction vis-à-vis land capability and hazards,” they said in their review, written months before the November 12 collapse of a 57m stretch of the tunnel along the Char Dham project. “The market forces of excessive tourism (have) prevailed over safety norms.”

The newspaper reported:  “A high-powered committee (HPC) set up by the Union environment ministry under the Supreme Court’s directions to find ways to minimise its environmental and other consequences had found that the project had ‘damaged the Himalayan ecosystem due to unscientific and unplanned execution’. The HPC, in a report submitted in July 2020, had also warned that the project had cut hills without prior slope vulnerability analysis and without adequate slope protection measures, increasing the risk of landslides. A landslide susceptibility study by scientists from IIT, Roorkee and the University of Potsdam, Germany, along the 250km highway from Rishikesh to Joshimath near Badrinath during September and October 2022, had noted 309 landslides along a 247km segment, or one landslide every kilometre.”

As of now, the trapped workers in the tunnel seem strong, stoic and resilient. The smiles on their faces have gladdened the entire nation. One only hopes that the political establishment rethinks this massive, multi-crore road and highway project, in a seriously fragile and vulnerable Himalayan terrain, and stops all construction – and destruction – immediately. So that, no human being is ever trapped in these hell-holes.

Will they?

For more details visit us: https://lokmarg.com/

Warsaw Jewish Ghetto – A Mirror Image of Gaza

Warsaw Jewish Ghetto – A Mirror Image of Gaza

History repeats like bad memory and bad faith. It’s uncanny.

I have not been to Palestine, except in my imagination. But I have walked through Warsaw. And Gaza reminds me of the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, and the sprawling Jewish quarters in Warsaw, which was under an endless siege, in the pitch darkness of impending death, denied food, water, medicine, the right to live. Indeed, Benjamin Netanyahu is applying the same, vicious logic of extermination on the Palestinians, as what Adolf Hitler did to the Jews of Warsaw! Meanwhile, the West and the US backs his mighty military machine, funded with billions by the American arms industry.

The entire city of Warsaw was erased to the ground by the Nazis. The Jewish quarters was burnt and bombed out. The black & white pictures of this ravaged landscape can be seen in an old-factory, now called ‘The Warsaw Rising Museum’, situated in the Wola district. This dark museum, through a labyrinth of precious, valiant and tragic memories, was established in 1983; it was inaugurated on July 31, 2004, marking the 60th anniversary of this great resistance against the fascist war machine.

About 50,000 citizens and soldiers led the ‘Uprising of 1944’. The Communist Red Army, positioned across the border, was not allowed to help the Poles, under the orders of Joseph Stalin, allowing the resistance to be eliminated by the Germans. The map hangs out there, marked in red, as a reminder of Stalin’s sinister strategy. That is why, the people of Poland, who suffered under a military dictatorship backed by Soviet Russia for decades, hate both the Communists and the fascists in equal measure.

I have entered the replica of the tunnels inside the museum, built inside sewers and gutters, and I was breathless in a few moments. The tunnels now remind me of the cobweb of turrets and tunnels inside Gaza.

I have seen the Warsaw Ghetto, or, its original site. It still sends shivers down the spine. The brilliant ‘Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews’ is located on the site of the former ghetto. Polin in Hebrew means Poland, or, ‘rest here’, and is linked to a narrative about the first Jews who arrived in this country. This incredible museum, a magnificent work of genius, which would take several days to absorb and negotiate, commemorates 1,000 years of Jewish history. It has been built in post-modern style by Rainer Mahlamaki and Ilmari Lahdelma.

This is where the Nazis targeted 400,000 (or, 500,000?) Jews and sent most of them to the concentration camps, labour/death camps, and gas chambers of the Holocaust. I have seen some of their faces – both the Jews and the Nazis, in faded, sepia pictures. Earlier, they were isolated, ghettoized, degraded and starved of food and water for months in abject darkness in the ‘forbidden city’. Thousands of them survived by having one bowl of soup in a day, often made of straw, or smuggled potatoes. If caught with potatoes, they would be instantly shot dead. Even now, inside inexpensive street cafes and magical breweries and pubs in Warsaw, one can find delicious varieties of potato dishes!

I have read and witnessed their life-stories in films, documentaries, literature, books on their history. Most of them were forced into the cramped, degrading journeys through the heart of Europe (as Europe and America watched in abject and shameful silence) to their horrible deaths in over-crowded cattle-trains jam-packed like poultry chicken for mass slaughter, where they had to shit right inside the compartment, and not a wisp of wind or a drop of water would be allowed to enter.

ALSO READ: Ukraine And Gaza – Where The Media Turns Fickle

However, not all succumbed to this fated death journey of absolute condemnation. There were many who chose to resist and fight back – and they fought like brave fighters till the end, almost 60,000 of them. They refused to die in a Nazi gas chamber.

A Nazi SS officer, Major General Juergen Stroop, reported that these groups of poorly-armed 20-30 men and women refused to surrender. He said that the women would be “firing pistols with both hands, and unleash hand grenades…”. On the fifth day of this incredible resistance, the Nazis decided to destroy the entire ghetto. Burn it down, they were ordered. (The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L Shirer).

Writes the surprised officer: “The Jews stayed in the burning buildings, until because of the fear of being burned alive, they jumped down from the upper stories … With their bones broken they still tried to crawl across the street into buildings which had not yet been set on fire… Despite the danger of being burned alive, the Jews and bandits often preferred to return into the flames, rather than risk being caught by us.”

The operation was commanded by Himmler, Hitler’s close aide. Stroop informed his superiors on April 25, 1943, that 27,564 Jews had been captured and they would be sent to the notorious concentration camp of Treblinka the next day itself. Or else, immediate “liquidation” would be undertaken en masse. He also informed that “1,330 Jews were pulled out of dugouts and immediately destroyed; 362 Jews killed in battle”.

Writes Shirer: “Towards the end of the rebellion, the defenders took to the sewers. Stroop tied to flush them out by flooding the mains but the Jews managed to stop the flow of water. One day, the Germans dropped smoke bombs into the sewer through 183 manholes but Stroop ruefully reported that they failed to have the desired results.”

The Polish-Jewish fighters, with practically no arms, wounded, dying, starving, thirsty, cold and outmaneuvered by the German military, fought it out for one entire month, against all odds, while Stroop reported that by April 26 many of them were “going insane from the heat, the smoke and the explosions”.

On the last day of this ‘controlled massacre’, Stroop reported: “Of the total of 56,000 caught, about 7,000 were destroyed in the former ghetto during large-scale operation, 6,929 Jews were destroyed by transporting them to Treblinka; the sum total of Jews destroyed is therefore 13,929. Beyond that, five to six thousand Jews were destroyed by being blown up, or by perishing in the flames.” Stroop had reported that he had caught a “total of 56,065 Jews, whose extermination can be proved’. He called all the Jews “sub-humans and bandits”.

So what did the Israeli defense minister call the Palestinians after the slaughter of innocents by the Hamas on October 7? “Human animals” – as he announced the “complete siege” of Gaza.

Shirer writes that the Nazi gas chambers amounted for the 36,000 murdered from the Warsaw Ghetto. He writes that the ‘final solution’ continued till the end of the war. So how many Jews murdered in cold blood? “According to the SS witnesses at Nurmemberg, the total was put at between five and six million”. Karl Eichmann, chief of the Jewish Office of the Gestapo, carried out the mass extermination.

Hannah Arendt, later covering the trial of Eichmann, who was captured in Argentina, writes in that seminal essay, ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil’, that what was striking in his daily conduct during the trial was that he did not feel an iota of guilt or remorse on the magnitude of the crime he had committed against millions of innocent people. Indeed, this was the dominant social-psychological syndrome expressed by all Nazi and Gestapo officers who willfully participated in the Holocaust.

Now, in the manner in which the world powers, including India and in the Middle-East, are allowing the daily bombing of Gaza, including that of hospitals, schools, homes and refugee camps, the genocide of children and ordinary folks, and slow death in the thirsty and hungry alleys of Gaza, the Eichmann syndrome and Himmler’s doctrine seems to have persisted in the post-war scenario. No lessons have been learnt. The global war machine remains as cruel, prolonged and nasty, and eternally hungry for innocent blood.

German philosopher, Walter Benjamin, who himself committed suicide escaping the fascists, was therefore eternally prophetic when he said: “There is no document of culture that is not at the same time a document of barbarism.”

However, unlike in the armed resistance of the Warsaw Ghetto, in Palestine, the unarmed and displaced refugees in their own homeland, seemed to have become like the trapped and condemned Jews of the concentration camps. Waiting for inevitable death.

Certainly, yesterday’s Warsaw Ghetto is now the Siege of Gaza! And, every day, Netanyahu looks more and more like Hitler!

For more details visit us: https://lokmarg.com/

War Sirens And a Prayer on the Lips

There is a nip in the air. In this festive time, like Vivaldi’s four seasons, let the music float.

Her daughter said that she is “a ray of light” for the family. Almost 80, frail and strong at the same time, she held the outstretched hand of the masked and armed Hamas guerilla, and said, “Shalom”.

They treated her roughly in the beginning, kidnapping her on a bike, but, once in their own twilight zone, in the maze of endless tunnels which she found like a cobweb, they were gentle. Her husband has not been released. Both of them would earlier take injured people from Gaza into Israeli territory for treatment. They are humanists. As she spoke in Hebrew, she blamed the Israeli government for its abject failure.

A lovely little Palestinian girl. A  ray of light for her family and community in Gaza. Beautiful –like lucid, winter sunshine. Killed in the mindless, revengeful, murderous Israeli airstrikes on civilians. Of the 6,000 dead here, there are reportedly 2,000 children.

Children always die in wars. Children have no clue about the war. Children are the nameless landmarks of the war. Now, they are wearing bracelets on their little hands – so that they can be identified once they are bombed to death!

How do you celebrate the festive season, the sublime recitations of ‘Mahalaya’ as Durga arrives, the ‘anjali’ and prayers in the mornings, and the heady ‘aarti-dance’ with drums and ‘ghanta’ in the evenings, as homage to the goddess, who has arrived for a brief visit to earth, while kids wearing bracelets are being murdered in cold blood?

Their children. Our children. Children unborn, in the incubator, in dark hospitals without medicine, food, drinking water, electricity. Nameless children in their imagined homelands.

There is a tall tree with bushy white flowers which only blossom in the night these days. Nocturnal flowers with their hypnotic, seductive, ethereal fragrance. They arrive too for a brief visit just before the winter arrives. Like those fleshy, leafy flowers, burning orange and red, Palash, which turns the world into a canvas of passion just before Holi. Adivasis make colours out of these flowers. They come and go, like children, spreading the beauty of their unashamed beauty and innocence. So, where have all the flowers gone?

What is it about adults that they love wars and bloodshed so much? What is it with the West and the mighty State of Israel that they can occupy and capture a land which does not belong to them, turn Gaza into the biggest open air prison, shoot to death unarmed protesters, become ‘first world’ settlers after pushing the Palestinians out of their own homes, and then beat the hell out of them when they go for prayers in their most revered mosque?

As Durga comes and goes, immersed in the waters, the festive season arrived in a small village in the hills of Uttarakhand with a puppet show of a billion stars in the night-sky. Across the expanse in the cold night, the sky unfolded in the distance into the valley, as if a tide in a moonlit night-sea was floating in the distance. You could almost hear it moving to and fro. But, no, it is not the sea; it is a mountain stream, gurgling away, rippling into stones and melting them, etherized and tangible at the same time, singing the song of the road – Pather Panchali.

You can let the water slip by, mesmerized by its infinite flow from the deep insides of the mountains; you can hold the water in your palm and drink it slowly, as it heals the inside of the soul with a cool, soothing touch. “I touch you, and you ripple like a river,” wrote Pablo Neruda.

ALSO READ: There Will Be Blood – Plenty Of It

There are four dogs and two little girls. They are asking the dogs to shake hands. They refuse to shake hands. Instead, the dogs give unconditional love and affection. Kids love animals, they belong to nature, all kids, in the kibbutz, in the hills, in Gaza and the West Bank, on the mean streets, barefoot, unwashed and emaciated, inside school buses looking at the world outside with infinite wonder, flying kites and playing marbles, looking for unknown planets and stars in the night. A mother tells her daughter, “Some of the stars in this midnight mountain sky are long dead. You are lucky to see them tonight!”

A little girl is drawing stars with colourful chalks on a black stone. Purple stars. Vermillion stars. Black and white stars. Twinkle, twinkle little star… how I wonder what you are!

Sometimes, her stars move out of the stone and fly into the sky and becomes butterflies. They say, butterflies are free. Are they, in Gaza? So what are the butterflies doing in the rubble, along with the kids wearing bracelets?

In the hills, the wind moves in slow motion, and there is no festivity. Darkness descends suddenly like a premonition, and there is one lonely light in the distance. People are toiling hard on the fields during the sunshine day, growing vegetables, running an ‘aata chakki’ with the rapid current of a waterfall, trekking long distances home from the nearest town, because, as is the norm in most rural and inaccessible areas in India, there is no public transport. The government cares a damn.

No one is wearing new clothes, there are no loudspeakers blaring religious songs, no feasts being cooked, no mantras being chanted. On the day they feed little girls, a mother made puri, halwa and chana, as simple as it can get.

Inside an old trunk there are old clothes, rajais, sweaters, that ancient coat with two buttons missing, the warm socks no one wears. A sweet smell of naphthalene permeates the corridors of as the trunk is reopened after a long time. There is a diary with a leaf and a rose petal. Inside the diary, there is a letter written in long hand, with a fountain pen, the ink smudged on the sides. You can still touch the ink, and the paper has yet again returned to its embryo, becoming bark and wood, still holding that familiar, fleeting smell, like the hidden memory of unrequited love.

Festivals are like catharsis in this unfinished journey of life. It’s in the air, like that heady smell of the nocturnal flowers. It’s a way of life, a cultural symbolism, life-affirming amidst the seasons of dying and death. A synthesis of hope and despair. Helping us once again — to whistle in the dark.

Open the windows of your heart. Let the stars fly away from the stones and become butterflies, like little beautiful mountain kids. Write a poem scrawled on the cool north wind. Rejoice that you are alive. Whisper a song to yourself. Touch the rippling waters of a mountain spring. Follow the unfinished sentence, the stream of consciousness. Take the water in your palm and drink it slow. Like dew drops. Like nostalgia. Like love.

In this festival of lights this year, good has not won over evil. Evil celebrates its obsessive barbarism as if possessed. In the poorest house in the Hindi heartland, a ‘diya’ is twinkling, like the north star. In Gaza, and in the Israeli kibbutz, there are funerals and shared sorrow. The olive trees have turned into dust. And butterflies are not free. They never were!

There Will Be Blood – Plenty Of It

Eyeless in Gaza and other horror stories. An imagined homeland in occupied territory. Is it only the ‘Jewish question’ – as Karl Marx, himself a Jew, wrote in 1844 – or is it also the question of those who have lived on this holy land for centuries, even before the myths and miracles, perhaps?

Almost 350,000 reservists called back to the army of Israel. Some of them were perhaps on holiday, as usual, escaping from the infinite war trauma back home, enjoying the ‘high’ of the mountains in Manali and Malana in Himachal Pradesh. An American warship lingering in the vicinity – the Americans, predictably, have promised a huge cache of arms and ammunitions. Total, unconditional support by Britain and the West.

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the war machine is now in full flow inside oil-rich Middle-East, where the Americans and NATO forces have already ravaged Iraq and Syria, and where millions have been killed, injured and turned into refugees.

Almost 400,000 people, yet again, turned into internally displaced refugees in their tiny strip of land – Gaza – in just about two days. The number is increasing each moment. It’s a 24×7 prime time show, perhaps, on Israeli propaganda TV, as bombs fly from the sky with wings of death.

More than 1,000 homes razed to the ground in Gaza, one building with 80 families – all dead and buried in the rubble. “It’s like my entire neighbourhood,” said a man. Reports say almost 500 children dead – children are always dying in this war. Pray, what ghastly war crimes have they done?

Before this unprecedented war, this year itself, 283 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli security forces, including 40 children. This is euphemistically called the world’s largest open air prison, with 2.5 million people trapped in cloistered structures in just about 325 sq km of land, now branded collectively by the Israeli, ultra-rightwing defense minister as ‘human animals’. Thereby, presuming, that he and his colleagues in their racist, supremacist, ultra-orthodox government are all ‘humans’. And, pray, what is wrong with animals? Besides, are we not all creatures of nature? Or, is Darwin wrong?

Energy Minister, Israel Katz, has declared that no “electrical switch will be turned on, no water hydrant will be opened and no fuel truck will enter” until the “abductees” were free. This is like a C-grade gangster movie in C-grade Hollywood!

In the border of Gaza, on that infamous morning, they were still dancing and singing without a care in the world – mostly young Israeli men and women. They were happy. It was life’s heady romance which they were celebrating, and death was as distant as the nightmares of the Holocaust. That is when the massacre happened on the blood-splattered streets!

At least 260 of these happy people were shot dead by the Hamas guerrillas for no rhyme or reason. Others were killed on the streets, inside the communes called ‘Kibbutz’, inside bedrooms kitchens and car parks, deep inside the posh ‘first world’ settlements of the ‘occupation’ where the Israel settlers lived, having forcibly pushed out the original inhabitants from their original habitats – the hapless Palestinians.

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There is a certain lack of clarity stalking this sad scenario. At least a thousand killed inside Israel by the al-Qasam armed brigades of the Hamas, including, reportedly, 15 Nepali workers. At least 2, 500 injured. How many abducted – 100, or, is it 150, as they are now claiming? Is the number more? Old women, young women snatched away from her mother, brother, lover; little ones? How many Americans, and people of other nationalities?

Unprecedented in the history of this brutal and illegal occupation, how did the Hamas outmaneuver the supremely sophisticated and war-ready Israelis with their hugely superior defense and intelligence systems? This point to the collapse of a regime which has been haunted by a relentless ocean of civil society protests all over the country since last year with tens of thousands of people asking this fanatic and corrupt regime to go.

According to the ‘New York Times’, “…Hamas, the group that controls Gaza, sent drones to disable some of the Israeli military’s cellular communications stations and surveillance towers along the border, preventing the duty officers from monitoring the area remotely with video cameras. The drones also destroyed remote-controlled machine guns that Israel had installed on its border fortifications, removing a key means of combating a ground attack.”

“We spend billions and billions on gathering intelligence on Hamas,” said Yoel Guzansky, a former senior official at Israel’s National Security Council. “Then, in a second,” he added, “everything collapsed like dominoes.”

The Times of Israel reported that an “Egyptian intelligence official said that Jerusalem had ignored repeated warnings that the Gaza-based terror group was planning ‘something big’ — which included an apparent direct notice from Cairo’s intelligence minister to the prime minister”.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz gave a headline to an opinion piece which said: “Netanyahu, resign now”. The article points out that Israeli army battalions were transferred from the Gaza border to guard the settlers! The writer said: “For such a massive failure, there is no forgiveness. There is one person to blame for this terrible disaster: Benjamin Netanyahu.”

There were also bulldozers, armed vehicles, gunmen on bikes, and, surprisingly, para-gliders flying into the early-morning sky, breaking the ground rules of the 60-km long apparently impenetrable wall which bars entry into Israel. Of course, this took months of planning. And how come the Israeli surveillance machine missed all the noise in the underground?

Hezbollah and armed groups in Syria are waiting and watching. They have a massive arsenal of arms. They have fired a few missiles to prove their existential presence. One outpost of the Hezbollah, and the Alleppo and Damascus airports in Syria has been hit by Israeli missiles in retaliation.

The US intelligence has confirmed that the top brass in Iran had no clue about this ‘Operation al Aqsa Flood’ – named after the unprovoked attack on worshippers in the Al Aqsa mosque by Israeli forces earlier. So, who are the formidable forces behind this war waged with full knowledge of the consequences? Is it an attempt to scuttle and stall the accords between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Morocco, UAE, Sudan, brokered by the US? Is it meant to bring back the Palestinian question and the two-nation theory back into the international arena?

And how many dead, in the countdown to the threat that Gaza will be eliminated forever from the face of the earth?  Mostly, ordinary folks, and kids. This is because they just can’t get to the guerillas in the labyrinthine maze of mappings in the dingy, dark spaces of Gaza – where the unseen Hamas chief is perhaps planning his next move. They know the entire maze like the back of their hand.

The Israeli tanks and armoured vehicles can’t enter these cobweb of dead-end bylanes, which might suddenly open into the dark tunnels of underground death. Perhaps certain areas are land-mined. What will the Israeli soldiers, in their tens of thousands, practically achieve, in these dark alleys – if not becoming sacrificial goats of a discredited and failed leadership in Tel Aviv?

Are the kidnapped hostages together, or trapped in little groups as human shields – in the same manner as the Israeli forces would use Palestinians as human shields in the past? In the last instance, they released 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in lieu of one Israeli soldier! So, how many this time?

The siege of Gaza! As the Pink Floyd song goes: ‘Mother do you think they will drop the bomb?’ Will they, or will they not?

And, will this be yet another war crime in what is an inherited legacy of a billion war crimes ‘indulged’ in by the Israelis, often watching perched on their chairs on  elevated spaces, with a chilled beer in hand, like ‘live shows’ of ‘massacres as entertainment’.

Well, this is a grotesque show which is live now and the world is watching. Amidst death and dying, it seems, this is going to be a long war. And certainly, tragically, there are many, many more horror stories waiting to be told and retold. Only that many of the kids in Gaza might not be alive to share it with their buddies!

Mahsa Amini – An Idea That Refuses To Die

To have a whole life, one must have the possibility of publicly shaping and expressing private worlds, dreams, thoughts and desires, of constantly having access to a dialogue between the public and private worlds. How else do we know that we have existed, felt, desired, hated, feared?
Reading Lolita in Tehran
by Azar Nafisi

A young Kurd woman holding on to her dreams, thoughts, desires, aspirations. She is walking in a public space wearing a hijab, in Tehran, with her brother. The nasty Moral Police of Iran takes her into custody. Why? She is wearing the hijab “inappropriately”, they claimed. They beat her up so badly that she died.

Her name was Mahsa Amini. In a few days, and for a long time after that, and one year after her murder, she remains an iconic symbol of liberation not only in Iran, but all over the world. In her funeral, women mourners threw their veils into a deathly sky and cried in chorus. It has been ritualistic for women to get beaten up on the streets by the Moral Police.

It has become routine. The degradation and humiliation of women, even school girls. No wonder, girls in schools joined the protest movement like a moonshine tide in an ocean, and along with them joined boys, and men, and the elderly. This was a like a classical painting being made in the midst of raging storm, a cathartic opera in a graveyard, a sublime symphony floating on traffic crossings, reaching a crescendo each moment the women hit the streets.

Women burnt their hijabs as a public spectacle. They cut their hair in public squares as a valiant expression of defiance. They danced and sang around bonfires, holding hands with men and women, even as the armed security forces loomed in, ready to assault and kill.

“Don’t look at us! Why do you want to look at us?” they said. “Go, look somewhere else.”

More than 500 citizens, mostly women, have been killed in the last one year of protests, and 20,000 dissenters are rotting in prison. The hijab has become a death-veil of absolute, totalitarian, orthodox oppression.

On her death anniversary, the security forces warned Mahsa Amini’s father not to  pay her tribute on this day. “Security forces detained Amjad Amini and returned him to his house after threatening him against marking his daughter’s death anniversary,” the Kurdistan Human Rights Network said. Amini’s parents said that they would hold a “traditional and religious anniversary ceremony” at their daughter’s grave despite government warnings, even while heavy security was posted in her home town of Saqqez in Iran’s western province of Kurdistan, and other towns and cities.

And, yet, several towns woke up in the morning to see defiant graffiti on their walls. The writing on the wall reminded of the magical May, 1968 slogan in Sorbonne during the great students’ and workers’ uprising in France: ‘Give Flowers to the Rebels who Failed’!

In other vantage points, flash mobs and spontaneous tributes were organized, hijabs and hair flying in the air. The same old song was sung in chorus which put the singer in prison and became a global hit in no time. Many women continue to refuse to wear the hijab in public spaces despite the fear of death and prison. Iran has not forgotten its wounds. They are still simmering like a volcano suppressed.

Mitra Hejazipour, one of the top chess players in Iran, had defied this anti-woman regime by removing her scarf in an international tournament. She was expelled from her team. Now, she lives in exile in France. Since then, as a French citizen, she has become a successful chess player here wining the French chess championships, while she is part of a team which has scored the third top spot in the world championships.

She told AFP on the first anniversary of Amini’s death that she cannot take her mind off from what is happening in her homeland, even as she finds herself caught between hope that protesters could actually achieve a breakthrough, and the constant fear of repression against them. “There are many reasons for people to push and protest against this regime, even if it costs them their lives or they are imprisoned,” she said. “I see the courage. I see that, in fact, they are suffocating. It’s about to explode. People don’t think too much about the consequences.”

Meanwhile, The Guardian of London spoke to 15 campaigners from Iran who have been systematically targeted in Germany, Sweden, France, Spain, Switzerland and UK. They were warned by the local police that there are threats to their life, even on European territory. They have been under surveillance, tracked, profiled and followed. Their accounts have been hacked, and thousands of death threats have been given to them, the newspaper reported.

“Two activists in different countries have had their car tyres slashed in the last year, which they suspect was done by Iranian agents. Several report having been followed home from meetings by suspicious men. …Among those targeted are Maryam Banihashemi, the face of the Iranian women’s movement in Switzerland, where she has lived since 2016. She has grown used to receiving death threats on social media after publicly calling for regime change in Iran. She believes she has been followed home after attending political events, twice in Zurich and again after a meeting with a Swiss MP in Parliament in Berne.”

The Guardian reported that Shadi Amin, an Iranian LGBTQ activist in Germany, was warned by the security services that she was under threat from hackers and agents. “The police came to her house to check the locks and bolts on the door, and spent weeks inspecting her digital devices, which she was later advised not to use due to the threat from Iran’s hackers. Last month, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency issued a public warning about ‘concrete spying attempts’ by an Iran-linked hacker group, Charming Kitten.”

Meanwhile, the flourishing industry of hate speech and hate politics, brazenly patronized by the Neo-Nazis in India, continued to spread its deadly fangs of venom, including inside Parliament. It takes the BJP 15 days to find out through a show-cause notice, what its eminent MP from South Delhi shouted inside the house, in the most vile and vicious language, for the world to hear.

ALSO READ: Women Wrestlers Grappling For Justice

It’s like the party is still looking the other way when it comes to a bahubali from UP who has been accused – with evidence – by several women wresters, including our world champion women wrestlers, who led a protracted, peaceful struggle for justice and who were beaten up brutally by the police on the streets of Delhi. That is, will the eminent MP meet the same illustrious fate, as the accused — Brij Bhushan Singh? Indeed, anything can happen during these ‘acche din’ whereby rapists, mass-murderers and mob-lynchers are garlanded and felicitated!

Remember the golden, spiritual discourse of Sadhvi Pragya, honourable BJP MP from Bhopal, earlier accused of violent terrorism and murder? Or, other miscellaneous stalwarts of the Sangh Parivar spewing vicious venom on the Muslims — here, there and everywhere? If this is not a Neo-Nazi narrative unleashed, what is it?

Meanwhile, in yet another hate crime directed against the Muslim community, a differently-abled young man was lynched to death, tied to an electric pole, his body wrapped in many shades of saffron by a mad mob of murderers. And this happened not in the remote hinterland of the Hindi heartland — it happened right inside Northeast Delhi, where the cops are controlled by the Union home ministry.

His crime? He was accused of stealing ‘prasad’ from a stall near a local temple.

Meanwhile, a Dalit girl in Ujjain district was raped and left on the streets, according to reports. Almost naked, in rags, bleeding profusely, she knocked on one door after another. No one gave her even a glass of water. Until a young Samaritan gave her shelter, clothes and food.

These two predictable incidents tell two stories. One, some things just refuse to change in this ‘new India’ where every door of a home opens into portraits of Gods and Goddesses. And, second, when it comes to Muslims and Dalits, justice is as far away as a full moon on a dark, diabolical night.

Time For The Saheb To Go

Almost 75 in a nation of the young and aspiring, the cynics are of the considered view that the PM should perhaps consider joining the ‘Margdarshak Mandal’ of his party, along with luminaries like his mentor, LK Advani, and Murli Manohar Joshi. There is a time to arrive and celebrate, and there is a time to go, as the song goes. Or else, history might repeat itself in a pattern so predictable and pathetic that even immortality would seem commonplace, as Argentine poet and short-story writer, Jorge Luis Borges would say.

Not only the eerie silence on a ravaged Manipur, which continues to be trapped in tragedy till this day, and the hounding and harassment of our world champion women wrestlers while protecting a BJP bahubali from UP, all the trump cards seem to be collapsing for the Hindutva regime in Delhi. The ‘nafrat ka bazaar’ seems to have no buyers, and the ‘mohabbat ki dukaan’ seems to be resurrecting yet again in a country brutalized by the vicious ‘acche din’ — since the ill-fated, hate-filled, scorching summer of 2014.

The Uniform Civil Code card failed so abysmally that it did not even take off. The organized Nuh-Gurgaon communal polarization, in what has been a historically peaceful social co-existence, was yet again countered by the farmers, and so effectively, with their huge mahapanchayats, that the sublime synthesis of ‘Har Har Mahadev’ and ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ sweetened the air like the sweet smell of melting jaggery in the lush green fields of western UP. The farmers have yet again played such a resilient, path-breaking and visionary role in this era of hate politics that their contribution will be written in golden letters in the history of our times.

Now, they seem to be riding on the ‘double-engine’ of a ‘one-nation-one election’ syndrome, after their partisan ‘double-engine’ regimes have behaved with such grotesque and willful irresponsibility in Manipur and Haryana. So, is the fake messiah not sure of his one-dimensional, money and muscle powers anymore?

Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav has responded with sound rhetoric: “Prime Minister Narendra Modi is talking about ‘one nation, one election’ now. He will later talk about just central elections and do away with the need for state elections. He will then assert, ‘one nation, one party’, ‘one nation, one leader’, ‘one nation, one language’, ‘one nation, one pehelwan (strongman)’, ‘one nation, one religion’. These are useless things. These will not be successful.”

So, will the PM also win Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Telengana – where the Congress seems poised for a decisive victory? Besides, will he also ride the glorious chariot of victory in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Delhi, Maharashtra and Kerala? And what about Jammu and Kashmir — where he and his party has played all their cards wrong, and unleashed such mass suffering — will he hold assembly elections out there, with or without Article 370? Indeed, without UP and Gujarat, what does the BJP have to score decisive victories against INDIA?

ALSO READ: High Time Adani Group Was Investigated In India

Contrary to those perennial cynics who are actually playing a dubious game for the BJP, all seems to be well with the INDIA alliance. As for the contentious issue of one-to-one seat- sharing, this has been in the process of finalization since the early dialogue led by Nitish Kumar with opposition leaders. The Congress has constantly pushed forward the spirit of consensus and flexibility, and, even this time, Mamata Banerjee was seen engrossed in conversation with Rahul Gandhi, while, she, yet again, greeted Sonia Gandhi with great warmth.

Even Akhilesh Yadav seems to have upped his ante, including on social media, and with the participation of Jayant Choudhury, leader of RLD in western UP, they will once again give a tough time to the BJP, which, anyway, had no ground support among the farmers in this fertile, green revolution belt. It is only after the socially engineered, polarizing violence unleashed before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, that a peaceful western UP witnessed hate politics for the first time.

After the successful Mumbai meeting, Nitish Kumar said, “There is no problem with seat-sharing. We are talking among ourselves. Internally, everything will be done very soon. Don’t worry about these things. We will do it and then let you all know. We have decided to finalise everything this month.”

If anything, the recent assembly results for the bypolls are signs of an unhappy narrative unfolding for the ruling party. INDIA has won four, the BJP three, and that too in Tripura and Uttarakhand, which do not really count in the larger electoral battle. The Trinamool Congress has wrested back the Dhupguri assembly seat in West Bengal from the BJP. In Kerala, contesting against the strong and popular turf created by the late Oomen Chandy, the BJP has lost its deposit. And, most crucially, it has lost the bitterly contested seat of Ghosi in UP where the INDIA alliance fielded a joint candidate. 

Meanwhile, there is more bad news coming for the crushed Hindutva brigade in Karnataka. RSS strategist BL Santosh, who botched it up so badly in the assembly polls, called a meeting of the party and its state leaders. Significantly, former chief ministers BS Yediyurappa and Basavaraj Bommai, former deputy chief minister KS Eshwarappa, BJP state president Nalin Kumar Kateel, Padmanabanagar MLA R Ashok and Mahalakshmi Layout MLA K Gopalaiah, and other leaders from Shivamogga district did not turn up. Besides, several BJP leaders are tipped to be keen to join the ruling Congress, even while the party seems totally rudderless in the state and in the assembly.

More so, the Modani shadow has yet again loomed large on the sinking fortunes of the PM and his best businessman buddy. Two of the most prestigious newspapers in the UK have reported on more shady deals and Rahul Gandhi wasted no time in hitting where it really hurts.

The Guardian headline said: ‘Modi-linked Adani family secretly invested in own shares, documents suggest’. The report was categorical: “Since the Hindenburg report was published, Modi has faced difficult questions about the nature of his partnership with Gautam Adani and allegations of preferential treatment of the Adani Group by his government.”

The Financial Times headline said, ‘Adani shares slide and politicians demand action after reports on hidden investors’. The report said, “The reports have shone a spotlight on Indian institutions and the relationship between the conglomerate’s founder, Gautam Adani, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a febrile atmosphere ahead of elections early next year.”

Now, accusing George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, would be meaningless. The democrat-philanthropist-industrialist is not the only donor to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a collective of investigative journalists that worked with the Financial Times and The Guardian. Itsdonors include, yes, the US State Department, the United Kingdom Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, the ministry of Europe & foreign affairs of France, and the ministry of foreign affairs of Denmark.

Hence, while Big Brother might be watching all over in India, the world, especially the West, too, is watching the rise and fall of a home-grown tyrant. While thousands of ordinary folks and daily-wagers might be losing their bread and butter during the lockdown unleashed due to the hyperbole around the G-20 summit in Delhi, there are transparent signals that the world powers are aware of a certain paradigm shift in India. While the poor people’s quarters were compelled to vanish, hidden with huge green sheets, even the streets were sanitised. Street dogs of Delhi were treated with such bestiality that it was heart-breaking. Wonder what they did with the holy cows of Hindutva wandering on the streets and eating all kind of junk from garbage bins?

Barring the stooge media, this is clearly reflected in the mood of the nation, as much as in the manner in which the Opposition alliance seems confident before the countdown of 2024.

Indeed, you don’t need a full moon night to see that the tide is rising in the horizon. It’s once again time for ‘khela hobe’. Surely, it’s time to get onto the other side.

Nargis Dutt National Film Award Defiled

A National Film Award Defiled

In that summer of Rajasthan, actor Sunil Dutt had launched a long journey for love and compassion, and against hate politics: Sadbhavna ke Sipahi. Earlier, he had held two historic peace marches. One, against nuclear war and weapons of mass destruction in Japan, while remembering and paying tributes to the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and a long march from Bombay to Amritsar, with an outpouring of support from the locals near the lanes of the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

Even in Rajasthan, he was greeted with great admiration and people came on the streets and their balconies to cheer him up. In the lovely ‘Pink Market’ of Jaipur, the crowd was unprecedented. Some came to have a glimpse of the father of Sanjay Dutt. In nearby Tonk, his public meeting went on till late night.

After the meeting, relaxing at the lawn outside a government guest house, he told this reporter anecdotes about his life and times in Bombay cinema. He told a particularly hilarious story about actor Raj Kumar, while shooting for the BR Chopra blockbuster, Waqt. However, when he would speak about his wife – it would be with deep emotion and enduring respect. He would always call her “Nargisji”. She died of cancer. In the days to come, Sunil Dutt did exemplary work for cancer patients in her memory.

Later, when I filed the report about his yatra in the Jaipur edition of the Hindustan Times, I got an unexpected call one day. The voice was familiar, I had heard it in many films — from Mother India to Sujata and Mujhe Jeene Do. “Arey yaar, tunhe toh meri jaan hi le li!”

I remembered this episode when I heard the announcement of the National Film Awards this year. There was nothing unpredictable about the awards, given the prejudices ruling the mediocre establishment in Delhi, but a streak of uncanny sadness crossed my mind as I saw that Vivek Agnihotri’s crass cinema, The Kashmir Files, has been given the Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration.

National integration?

I was again reminded of another recent episode. I had called up a senior journalist in Srinagar asking him for a brief interview on the reopening of cinema halls, since most of them have been shut in Kashmir for a long time now. “Will you please share with our readers your memories of watching films in cinema halls – films like Mother India, Mughal-e-Azam, Bobby and Sholay?”

He was delighted about the interview. “I have too many lovely memories of those days in the cinema halls of Srinagar. I would, indeed, be happy to give you an interview,” he said. However, there was a caveat. His name and picture would not appear. “I don’t want to go to a police station at my age,” he said.

This was a transparent clue to what we, as journalists, have known for a long time now. There has been sustained censorship, clampdown and repression in the Valley, and even an innocuous interview on nostalgia about cinema could land even a well-meaning person in a police station. Recently, another person from Kashmir refused an interview saying that the shadow of the cops hangs all around, and it is better to avoid talking to a media organization. The person was reluctant to even speak on the phone.

Every journalist worth his salt knows the inner state of the media and civil society in Kashmir since the army clampdown and the abrogation of Article 370. Some journalists are languishing in prison, independent media has all but disappeared, while, at least, one prominent editor has chosen to go abroad.

ALSO READ: Kashmir To Kerala – The Propaganda Potpourri

After yet another raid on her newspaper’s office, now in exile, wrote Anuradha Bhasin, Executive Editor of The Kashmir Times, in The New York Times (March 8, 2023): “We work under a cloud of fear. In late 2021, I spoke to a young journalist, Sajad Gul, who was being harassed for his reporting. Fearing arrest, he told me that he slept fully dressed each night and kept his shoes at his bedside — unusual in Kashmir, where shoes are customarily removed before entering a home — in case he had to make a quick getaway. He was arrested in January of last year and remains in custody. Many journalists self-censor or have simply quit. Fearing arrest, some have fled into exile overseas. The Indian government has put at least 20 others on no-fly lists to prevent them from leaving the country.”

When I went to the media centre and the Press Club in Srinagar after the clampdown, amidst the curfew, on empty, eerie streets, and amidst the solitary sadness of a once-bustling Lal Chowk, it was immersed in stark, tragic loneliness. The media was being censored, journalists from outside felt abjectly restrained, mobiles were jammed at the airport itself, and there was no possibility of in-depth ground reporting from the Valley.

In an article called ‘Kashmir: A Beautiful Lake in Barbed Wires’, published in Hardnews, I wrote: “The wind moves with no emotion. There is no joy in the sunny day or in the cool wind. There is no joy in un-freedom in this endless prison of occupation with 8 million prisoners. Mothers, wives, sisters, little kids, young men, lovers, newly-married couples, those mourning the loss of their loved ones. Funerals are just about held, quickly, because mourning in a public space is difficult with so many barricades. Relatives do not even know if there is a death in a family. Most weddings have been postponed, and birthdays come and go without the candles or the songs, or the smiles and the blessings. Between invisible funerals and weddings that did not happen, this is a prison gifted to the people of Kashmir by the government of India….”

I mean The Kashmir Files seems such a brazen pack of lies that even propaganda seems a mild term. Indeed, even in terms of basics of film aesthetics, this is indeed bad cinema. International award-winning filmmaker, Nadav Lapid, jury chief at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), was absolutely right when he said that he was shocked that this film was at all included in the competition category! At the closing ceremony of the festival, he said, “That felt to us like a propaganda, a vulgar movie, inappropriate for an artistic, competitive section of such a prestigious film festival.”

The whole world knows that that the BJP-RSS and its regime in Delhi have done nothing for the Kashmiri Pandits. Their narrative of injustice and suffering remain yet unfinished. Even after they usurped power in Srinagar, what has the BJP state apparatus done to help the Pandits in Jammu, or those who were tragically compelled to leave their home and hearth, a homeland that they still so intensely love? Nothing. Indeed, their alienation, as that of the people of Ladakh, with China breathing down their neck, has only sharpened in recent times.

The Nargis Dutt award has been given to some of the most outstanding Hindi and regional films in India. They include Shaheed (on the martyrdom of Bhagat Singh), Saat Hindustani, Sardar, Sookha, Tamas, Mr and Mrs Iyer (a deeply nuanced cinematic take after the Gujarat genocide of 2002, made by Aparna Sen), among others. Agnihotri’s movie stands nowhere in terms of brilliance or truthfulness when compared to these films. At best, it only reinforces the hate-cliches, which is the dominant narrative in contemporary India, especially after the summer of 2014.

One of the great classics of world cinema, Garam Hawa, by MS Sathyu, too, won this award. In the last scene, absolutely defeated by the spiral of tragedies which stalks his life and that of his family, the protagonist of the film, the great actor, Balraj Sahni, is going on a rickshaw in his town. On the way, he witnesses a procession with red flags. He quietly gets down, and joins the procession.

I presume, that should be the destiny of most secular, plural and democratic citizens of India, as India approaches the reality of the 2024 countdown. Just join the procession for a new India. Hot, scorching winds are blowing. The nation needs healing and love. And solidarity!

Africa’s Bloodied Fields And A Breakup

Anjan Sundaram, as a young journalist, tried to walk a different journey. After ten years of hard reporting from Central Africa for The New York Times, Associated Press and others, he chose to live a quiet life in a quiet town called Shippagan, Canada, with his little kid and loving wife. His wife too was a war correspondent/radio journalist in Congo, and, while she sent him quick radio messages from the conflict zone, he would file his stories. In a cosy house full of warmth and love, feeling the breath of his daughter on his face, he was happy. At least, he thought he was happy.

Then arrived the simmering unrest in his inner life, seducing him to an unknown journey trapped on the delicate edge between life and death, on a difficult and tough terrain. This was a journey surrounded by bloodshed and mass murder, treachery, hatred, the acidic smell of rotting bodies on the streets, hordes of pigs taking over a village, every man seemingly a killer and an enemy, and the acrid smell of sweat which stuck to his shirt like bad breath and perennial premonitions.

He rediscovered the Central African Republic, ravaged by a civil war, and where no one would dare to go and report. The reporter’s instinct was to go out there and write about it. The father and husband refused to accept this instinct. Nat, his wife, resolved the dilemma. She said, he must go. And that she too would have come along to this twilight zone, if it had not been for Raphaelle, their daughter.

Hence was born the book, Breakup: A Marriage in Wartime (Simon and Schuster, Rs 699, pg 185). Writes Noam Chomsky about the book, “A compelling journey of hatred and horror, of compassion and courage. I can hardly imagine the bravery it took to compile this invaluable record.”

Writes Sundaram, “The road forced me to look ahead, leading away from my anchor, but offering the potential of connection with strangers. I needed home, and wanted it, but gladly departed from it. And I realized that I had built my home because I was afraid, as a place in which to hide when I feared the world’s capriciousness.”

So there he was with Lewis, a dogged activist working for Human Rights Watch, Thierry, another journalist who was waiting for a chance to hit ground zero, and Suleiman, who, perhaps, turned out to be a spy for the ruthless and pampered Muslim generals, just about 15 per cent of the population, who were killing the majority Christians en masse, burning down their villages, and destroying all they could see, including petrol pumps.

The Christians had fled, but regrouped in the jungles as armed and impoverished guerillas, now in their thousands, launching fatal underground attacks on a jittery and ill-equipped Muslim army. They were waiting for their time when they will overtake the country, and its capital, submerged in eternal darkness, Bangui.

The international fig leaf was thereby a predictable pattern. France, the African Union and the UN had sent their peacekeeping force – to protect the usurper-dictator and his stooges. Once a French colony, looted, plundered and ravaged, the French flag few atop Bangui’s airport, like a farce flying in the sky.

ALSO READ: The Afghanistan Papers Uncover A Dirty War

Writes Sundaram about the vicious musical chair, “The Republic had suffered five coup d’etat and various foul play since its independence from France in 1960. Barthelemy Boganda, the country’s independence hero, had died in a mysterious plane crash, some say, planned by the French. His successor, David Dacko, was ousted in 1965. His successor, Jean-Bedel Bokassa, was ousted in 1979 by the French, who flew Dacko back to Bangui and reinstalled him as president. Dacko was ousted a second time by General Andre Kolingba, who organized elections in which Ange-Felizi Pattase was elected, only to be ousted in 2003 by the former army chief of staff,  Fracnois Bozize, who was then overthrown by the Seleka rebellion in 2013.”

Next destination: Gaga. A massacre in a Christian village. Unseen and unheard by the world. Reporting is not allowed.

“They asked, ‘Do people know what is happening to us’? It struck me how important it was, for them, that we had arrived here. They were hungry and injured, yet, they didn’t ask for food or medicines. They asked the same question that Holocaust survivors had put to those who liberated the Nazi concentration camps during World War! Did others know what happened to them? If others knew, there was hope.”

He moved from one guerilla zone to another in the forests, across destroyed homes, negotiating with Muslim commanders, quietly taking his notes on one massacre after another, while smoke and gunshots filled the air. He and his friends almost got shot by a 300-strong rebel army in the jungles, but they escaped, using bluff and bluster.

Once in a conflict zone, when shooting had stopped, “A group of schoolgirls appeared on the street, walking in a line, laughing, wearing their pink school uniforms. They carried note-books on their heads and held plastic lunch boxes. They made the boulevard feel calm.”

Reading this passage, I was suddenly reminded of Srinagar in curfew, after the army clampdown in August 2019, mobiles jammed, media censored, internet shut, traumatized and isolated people in the Valley, total silence, and the beautiful Dal Lake condemned in an expanse of rippling loneliness. One morning, as I tentatively ventured out, a group of schoolgirls crossed the street. “Good morning,” they said. For a solitary and sublime moment, the world had suddenly turned sweet.

There were moments of redemption for Sundaram. There were brave and angelic human beings on both sides, who supported people beyond religion and faith, unafraid amidst the terror of death, in terribly difficult conditions, against all odds. Most of them were killed once the rebels captured the capital. Anjan kept them close to his heart, as he turned back, to his home, and love.

Indeed, after the rebels attacked Bangui, of the 140,000 Muslims out there, only about one thousand were left. Rest were butchered, or, they fled. This time, foreign journalists dropped in, and western newspapers splashed the ‘story’ on front pages.

“Muslims’ bodies were dismembered like they were toys. The war became an international spectacle. The overt attacks had a purpose: to publicly eliminate Islam from the country’s national identity…”

In a dark irony, America, the Western nations, and the UN, termed the genocide – ‘ethnic cleansing’. A genocide would have meant immediate and urgent international intervention.

“Exactly 20 years before, in Rwanda, the US and UN had avoided calling a genocide a genocide, and so they didn’t send in the troops necessary to stop the killings,” writes Sundaram.

He filed his reports for the magazines. He told the entire story to Nat. He felt drained. Empty. The war had taken its revenge on the journalist.

The cold Canadian small town became too restricted and alienating. He had no friends there. Nat had become detached. All communication seemed to have frozen. He wanted to move again, perhaps to Cambodia. She did not want to leave her roots. The hell-fire of a ravaged landscape, embedded in his reporter’s notebook, had destroyed a beautiful relationship.

“How would I live? For whom? These questions had lost their simple answers, and even their meaning,” writes Anjan. “Would another anchor present itself, allowing me to moor myself, and from there, again live?’

(Anjan Sundaram is the award-winning author of Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship, and Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo. He has also reported for the Granta, The Guardian, the Observer, Foreign Policy, Politico, Telegraph and The Washington Post. He did his PhD in journalism from the University of East Anglia.)

Rahul In Mizoram

Amazing Grace – In Victory or Defeat

It’s been a bad week for the fake messiah and the party he leads with such unilateral and unquestioned power. It’s even more bad news for all his fanatic loyalists, including the fake news stooge media. The point is, they are not going to change. And, since they are not going to change, it’s going to be one bad news after another for them in the days to come.

Countdown: 2024.

As expected, Rahul Gandhi is back after four months. Not only that, his house has been restored to him with dignity. “Sara Hindustan mera ghar hai,” he was gracious in his response to reporters.

While the PM has scored a badly-timed, self-goal in this quick, desperate and unthinking revenge action, soon after Rahul Gandhi’s extraordinary speech in Parliament on the Hindenberg Report and Gautam Adani’s not-so-mysterious links with his best buddy in the BJP, there is no doubt that in the battle of political perception, the young leader has emerged as a winner, which will only help consolidate his current popularity, which is on a high. With he, and INDIA, the Opposition alliance, making no tactical mistake in their fast-forward, consensual strategy of ‘one-step back and two steps forward’, it is once again — Advantage Rahul.

For one, Indians hate revenge politics, except, of course, blood-thirsty lumpens and mobsters who have been recently let loose by sundry Hindutva forces in ‘capitalist’ Gurgaon and Mewat – perhaps one of the most backward regions of the country. Surely, when it comes to bloodletting, loot and plunder, and organized hate politics, the hydra-headed Hindutva fronts make no distinction between a post-modern affluent society and those on the abysmal margins. An eye for an eye, as the saying goes, is not the Indian cup of tea.

There was outrage and shock at the sudden and crude manner in which Rahul Gandhi was removed from the Parliament, and, as quickly, shunted out of his home, compelling him to move to his mother’s house. Several people, thereby, put up placards outside their homes across the country, declaring that their home, henceforth, belongs to the Congress leader, and that their doors are eternally open for him.

The vindictive move has predictably boomeranged, with the BJP getting egg all over its face, especially its one-dimensional leader, now on the last phase of his faded and jaded power and popularity, keeping stunningly silent on crucial issues like a ravaged Manipur, or, a burning Nuh, or, the harassment and hounding of our world champion women wrestlers — while speaking in clichéd riddles which are simply not striking a chord with the masses. Clearly, his speech-writers, too, seem to have lost the plot.

Second, and this is real bad news for the BJP. After the massive success of the Bharat Jodo Yatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, which created a storm of goodwill for Rahul Gandhi and the Congress across the nation, and led to a decisive drubbing of the BJP in Karnataka, Rahul Gandhi is reportedly embarking on another long march – from Gujarat to Meghalaya. This has been disclosed by a top Congress leader in Maharashtra, which will host the next big INDIA meet in the end of September, with the Shiv Sena playing host.

ALSO READ: Can A United I.N.D.I.A. Defeat Modi?

It is no one’s guess that the two weakest links in the Opposition paradigm are UP and Gujarat. Both have been lost decisively, again and again, with the BJP scoring big wins. With the incumbent BJP leadership in Gujarat extremely weak, and with the fading charisma of their original Gujarati mascot as transparent as ever, there is no reason that the Congress can’t make a reasonable breakthrough in many parts of the state, especially in its old strongholds, like in the tribal areas. A long march through the state will mark an emotional connect with the masses, rejuvenate the shrinking and disorganized Congress, and send a message that all is not well in the homeland of the ‘great helmsman’.

As for Manipur, apart from allegations of a drug cartel with links to the very top by a former woman police officer who has been awarded the Gallantry Award, the no-trust move against the PM for his uncanny silence on its devastated people, thousands of them homeless and many still struggling for justice, might not be a total lost cause for the Opposition. It will certainly lose the motion, but the message will go loud and clear that the double-engine sarkar has yet again derailed, and this promise is as fake as most other fake promises. Besides, the BJP, not a force in most of the Northeast, barring forming state governments by hook or crook, will, consequently, lose support in most of the seven sister states.

If Chief Minister Biren Singh has been trying to implement the ‘Gujarat model’ replete with relentless revenge, and organized mob actions tacitly backed by the security forces, including the beastly enactment of violence and assault against Kuki women, than this too must boomerang in the days to come. Sadly, the people of Manipur will continue to pay a heavy price for electing a man who so abjectly lacks humanity, compassion and the basic skills of good governance. Indeed, why the PM continues to protect him, like he does Brijbhushan Singh, remains yet another unsolved riddle.

Now, Manipur might be far away. However, Nuh and Gurgaon are so close to the capital of India. The hell-fire, bloodletting and war-cries out there can be clearly heard in Delhi, and, it yet again reflects the collapse of the double-engine regime in Haryana. Amidst this polarizing divide, people from both the communities have suffered huge damage, and there have been cases, when, in the mayhem of loot and plunder, Hindus have robbed Hindus of their precious belongings. Even while communities have chosen to protect each other, defying the mob.

If a history-sheeter like Monu Manesar is the new Frankenstein they wanted to create, and repeat the damned social engineering they successfully did in the harmonious society of Western UP before the 2014 parliamentary elections, it was decisively defeated, once again, by the united strength and collective of the farmers. In huge Mahapanchayats held in Kot and Jind in Haryana, farmers, across the caste and religion kaleidoscope, wowed to defeat the monsters and not allow the social harmony among the communities to be destroyed — come what may.

This was a repeat of similar Mahapanchayats held earlier in UP, Haryana and Punjab in support of the women wrestlers, and the collective chorus in resounding symphony of Allah-u-Akbar and Har Har Mahadev, in a massive, historic and unprecedented rally in Muzaffarnagar, during the farmers’ great and glorious movement against the three farm bills.

In any case, according to locals who spoke to this reporter, the BJP might bite the dust in both the assembly and Lok Sabha polls in Haryana, and Dushyant Chautala’s fledgling outfit might just be finished. The way they treated the ‘Haryana ki Beti’ – dragging the women wrestlers on the streets of Delhi so close to the new Parliament building with the PM presiding over it like a mythical monarch, has resulted in intense anger in Haryana, especially among mothers and daughters. The medalist wrestlers have become a role model and an inspiration in the state, and the cops assaulting them, while continuously protecting a BJP bahubali, will have its serious share of negative repercussions for the Hindutva party. 

Undoubtedly, the return of Rahul Gandhi marks a turning point in contemporary India’s brutalized democracy. It’s a sign of enduring optimism amidst the sinister and diabolical shadows of evil which have stalked the nation since the summer of 2014. One only fervently hopes that it will also mark the return of truly ‘new India’ where the deathly fires of hate will give way to the healing serenity of love, compassion and humanism.

The Ground Is Shifting – Slowly, Silently

Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
– Nietzsche

If in the beginning was the word, then silence is not always golden. If, in the beginning is silence, then there is always a twist in the dark narrative. If a tragedy follows a nightmare, and a nightmare then follows a tragedy, and it thereby becomes a damned vicious circle, then the wordless silence can become sinister, almost diabolical.

As the condemned people of Manipur would tell you.

Or, ask the people of a ‘democratic, secular, pluralist, socialist’ India – the happy story of their lives since the fated summer of 2014, sans the dominant narrative of fake news synchronized ritualistically by fanatic loyalists of the media and the army of thoughtless bhakts. Ask them, and a torrent of clueless, insensitive and incoherent verbiage floods the vitiated atmosphere, like waters from a filthy gutter, and all forms of ethics, form and content, argument and ideas, go for a toss. If the fake messiah has spoken, or chosen silence, then it will be as it is; Manipur, and the country, can go, get damned!

So what is it that compels him to choose this uncanny silence in the face of the whole world asking him to speak up?

Is it something new? No. Not at all.

Did he choose to offer condolence to her family when journalist Gauri Lankesh was murdered by Hindutva fundamentalists, no less vicious in their murderous thoughts and actions, as Islamic fundamentalists? Did he choose to share the grief on the killing of ace photographer Danish Siddiqui, a Pulitzer award-winner, on the frontlines of a battle between the Taliban and western forces in Afghanistan, even while the entire Western media made their homage, and even the Afghan president shared his sorrow with the family of Danish?

So why was Sanna Irshad Mattoo, a brilliant Kashmiri woman journalist, clicking her rare and precious pictures against all odds in an extremely difficult conflict zone, denied the joy of visiting the US to collect her coveted Pulitzer? What is the petty pleasure which an ageing and fossilized establishment gets, (with not an iota of positive thoughts inside their political unconscious) by denying a young, female role-model the right to her prestigious award, while, in contrast, they should be celebrating her and the honour she received?

Not only that, they have put other Kashmiri journalists in prison, in a state, where, literally, the media has been gagged since the abrogation of Article 370, the clampdown, and the military occupation, subjecting the entire population into an eternal state of trauma. Is this how they imagine the people of Kashmir can be integrated to the idea of a mainland?

Ditto with late UR Ananthamurthy and Girish Karnad, great cultural icons. Ditto with our world champion women wrestlers, who were dragged and brutalized on the streets of Delhi, even while he walked like a mythical monarch holding a mythical Sengol, in the new Parliament building, boycotted by the entire Opposition. Even while a muscular BJP bahubali from UP, accused of hounding and harassing women wrestlers, including by a minor, still roams scot-free! He even has the audacity to speak about the Manipuri women who were paraded naked on the streets, gang-raped and mob-lynched, even while the BJP-led regime in Imphal and the entire security establishment tacitly looked the other way.

Chief of the Delhi Commission for Women, Swati Maliwal, one of the few brave public figures who chose to go to Manipur and meet its people in the relief camps, said: “I went to Churachandpur alone, without any security. I met the families of the two women who were stripped, paraded naked and sexually assaulted. If I can meet them, why can’t the chief minister? Why can’t he go to Churachandpur and other affected places in his bullet-proof car?”

Indeed, in one case, a boy was allegedly picked up by the cops for putting up a Facebook post, and, then, guess what did they do? They gave him away to a blood-thirsty mob!

In another case, two Kuki women working in a car-wash garage in Imphal were reportedly gang-raped, beaten up and murdered by a mob, and the spectacle went on for a long time, but the cops and para-military forces were nowhere around. A freedom-fighter’s mother was burnt alive inside her own home. A Kargil soldier’s wife was murdered. And someone else’s daughter has been gang-raped. Horror stories are endless and no one knows when these tragedies and nightmares will at all end!

In another macabre twist, as in the ghastly parade of a Kuki mother and daughter, stripped on the streets, which led to huge national outrage, several such instances point to the active role of women in instigating and supporting these grotesque public spectacles – the murderous assaults on the body and soul of other women — as allies of male rapists and murderers.

What have they reduced this beautiful state of Manipur into? How have they turned such nice people into ugly monsters?

ALSO READ: Every Corner of Imphal Has Become a Relief Camp

Certainly, all of this, reminds us of the state-sponsored genocide in Gujarat, 2002, when innocent citizens of India, including children, were raped, gang-raped, burnt alive and murdered, while a large population celebrated and glorified the genocide and murderers. No wonder, they were garlanding the killers and rapists in the Bilquis Bano case, whereby, her child, family and friends were murdered! Not only that, one of the killers was being felicitated by the BJP in Gujarat.

So what is this goddamned message to the entire country and the world? We will do what we will, you can go get damned!

While miscellaneous monsters, mob-lynch specialists and gang-rapists are currently ruling the roost, apparently backed by the regime, it has been three years since brilliant, young scholars, Umar Khalid, Gulfisha, Sharjeel, among others like Khalid Saifi, are rotting in jail. Their crime? Protesting peacefully against the communal and anti-constitutional CAA.

In this litany of infinite injustice, there is not one moment of pause. There is not one word spoken which can heal, console and soothe the nation’s soul. There is not one gesture, not even symbolic and ephemeral, which can help the nation walk away from the vicious, the sinister, the diabolical. It is this eternal festival of hell-fire which hounds this condemned land, where evil stalks, like a death-wish, crushing all that comes on its way.

Amidst this despair and pessimism, what is it that compels him to choose this compulsive silence? In contrast, he is in full force, waxing eloquent to hired, mostly Gujarati NRIs, all over the world, while being honoured with sundry awards, even as he makes multi-billion arms deals – to benefit whom, in a country with tens of thousands jobless, homeless, poor and hungry?

For one, there is a path-breaking paradigm shift happening right now in India which has rattled him and rendered him speechless. Two, he and his genius think-tank, seem totally clueless in their unimaginative counter-attacks – using metaphors which only boomerangs on them.

Consider this golden statement of someone who has otherwise chosen silence when faced with a ravaged Manipur, or, the sexual harassment of our women wrestlers, etc. According to a BJP MP, while speaking to them in a parliamentary party meeting, “He said the East India Company, the Indian National Congress, the Indian Mujahideen and the Popular Front of India also had India in their names.”

INDIA has undoubtedly rattled him and his party. There is a new wind blowin’ in this ‘New India’. India needs hope and healing. India will find hope and healing. The nation will definitely resurrect and redefine its own destiny; its own secular democracy and its own rainbow coalition. It’s time for him to go. Enough is enough!