All posts by Nivedita Menon

Theses on Feuerbach, Woody Allen and Nandigram

In Wolfgang Becker’s film Good Bye Lenin set in East Germany at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a young boy tries to protect his invalid mother from the shock of learning about the transformation that has overtaken their country. When despite his elaborate deception, she manages to see a television programme showing thousands of cheering Germans at the remnants of the wall, he tells her that the capitalist west has fallen, that refugees from West Berlin are pouring into the East, and that East Germany has welcomed them with open arms. And she believes him.

Thing is, there was no historical inevitability to the fall of communism. The story the boy tells his mother in Good Bye Lenin could well have been the way things went in history, but for the self-destructiveness of Stalinism – its hubris, its fetishization of a certain notion of industrialization and progress, its anti-democratic core, its contempt for the “people” it claimed to represent (or rather, the people it claimed to be.)

Continue reading Theses on Feuerbach, Woody Allen and Nandigram

Another Supreme Court

Even as our own dearly beloved Supreme Court repeatedly shows contempt of the people by handing over tribal lands to corporations and urban spaces to mall developers, the judges across the border seem to be on a radically different track. As is well known by now, the initial dismissal of Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhary by General Musharraf – an action that launched a million mutinies – was at least partly to punish him for his order preventing the sale of Pakistan Steel Mills to a private group.

As the democratic upsurge in Pakistan carries on unabated, here is a lesser known story, sent to me about a month ago by Nighat Said Khan (better known as Bunny) Women’s Action Forum activist. It is an eye-witness account of the hearing in June 2007, in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, on the appeal by the ‘she-couple’, as a story in Dawn dubbed them, seeking dismissal of a High Court decision sentencing them to three years’ imprisonment for perjury. Not only is the order by the Supreme Court exemplary for its commitment to individual rights, Bunny’s account highlights the extraordinary sensitivity and awareness shown by both the lawyer representing the couple, Babar Awan, and the judges hearing the case.

If this is Pakistan’s judiciary, no wonder the general is a little lost in his labyrinth…

Over to Nighat Said Khan.

Continue reading Another Supreme Court

Lahori topi

I was going to Lahore for the first time, and took a taxi to the IG International airport in Delhi. My local taxi stand had sent a driver whom I didn’t know, and there was another lad in the front seat with him. At some point, as the driver swerved to avoid a vehicle that overtook from the right, he said to me – “Madam, aap bahar ja rahi hain. Bataiye, hamare desh mein aur bahar ke deshon mein kya farak hai”.

It was probably an opening gambit for a diatribe on how uncivil hamare log are as compared to gore log, but I replied – “Vaise main Pakistan ja rahi hoon, mujhe nahin lagta hai ki koi khaas farak hoga.”

At this, he responded, “Pakistan ja rahi hain? Hamare liye ek topi le ayengi?”

Me: “Zaroor. Lekin koi khas kism ki topi chahiye kya?”

Him: “Nahin, hamare musalmanon wali topi. Mere dadaji pehnenge.”

Continue reading Lahori topi

Does the ‘girl-child’ exist?

Does the ‘girl-child’ exist? What is it other than empty officialese, a smoke-screen that obscures, almost erases, little girls and the dismal little lives most of them lead? The ‘skewed sex-ratio’ has become a fetishized object for policymakers and governments in India, and improving those numbers a goal in itself. In the pursuit of good-looking sex-ratios, the minister for women and child development has come up with one alarming scheme after the other.

Earlier this year, Renuka Chowdhury announced a government scheme to open centres where people can abandon unwanted daughters rather than aborting them. Can you imagine the girl-children growing up in these doomed institutions? What fates can they expect, unwanted by their parents and kept on by the State only to boost sex-ratios? Chowdhury said at the time that the government was treating the drop in sex-ratio as an issue of national emergency. She also said that through this scheme, the government would “at least ensure that the gene pool is maintained”! In effect, these institutions would be collections of little girls unwanted by all but the census-takers, dropping by periodically to correct the skewed sex-ratio with a quick look at the office records.

Continue reading Does the ‘girl-child’ exist?

Contempt of Democracy: Time for Judicial Reform

What would you call an institution that can overturn any policy adopted by democratically accountable governments; whose decisions are final, and cannot be reconsidered in any other forum; and which can throw into prison anybody who criticizes it? What would you call this institution accountable to nobody but itself, which has the sole power to appoint its own members and the sole power to decide if one of its own is guilty of a misdemeanour?

In India you would call it the Judiciary.
Cheered on vociferously by the freedom-loving media and its viewers/readers, the judiciary for about a decade, has been taking over more and more functions of government, until finally on January 11, 2007, the decisive judicial coup d’etat took place. By a judgement delivered on this day, the Supreme Court gave itself the power to strike down any law if it violates fundamental rights, resulting in the violation of the basic features of the Constitution. It is important to remember that constitutionally, no fundamental right is unconstrained, ‘reasonable restrictions’ being necessary to ensure that every citizen can enjoy these rights. Further, no right is beyond interpretation – does ‘right to equality’ entail affirmative action, for instance? There may be contradictions between fundamental rights; say between the right to equality of individual citizens and cultural rights of minorities. What exactly are the features that constitute the ‘basic features of the constitution’?

Continue reading Contempt of Democracy: Time for Judicial Reform

Why Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV is Broadcasting Sunday Mass

By SOPHIE McNEILL

Sophie McNeill is a reporter with SBS Television Australia, her blog from Lebanon can be found at http://www9.sbs.com.au/

[Note from NM: I received this from nothing2report@gmail.com, and was struck by how this kind of complex reporting is almost non-existent in India, at least in the English media . How often do reporters actually speak to participants in a rally, going beyond the media-designated ‘stars’ who are present (whose own sincerity and commitment the media itself then paints as being ‘merely for publicity’ – it’s a vicious cycle.) How much political protest by non-party citizens’ groups gets covered at all except as traffic disruptions or if it has been ‘newsworthy’ because of stars/violence/self-immolations? How many reports in print or on the 24 hour TV news channels actually give the consumer a sense of what the issues are, what are the debates, or try to go beyond the Big Fight format of For and Against? Do news reporters do any background research ever? How many 6th of Decembers have passed with no coverage at all of huge-to-small (differing from year to year) secular protests by a range of people from Gandhians to the ultra left; but with two predictable photographs every year – one of recognizable Muslims and another of the Shiv Sena/Bajrang Dal protesting and celebrating respectively, counterposed on front pages of newspapers?
Apart from being an exemplary piece of reportage, Sophie McNeill’s article below give us a fascinating insight into politics in Lebanon.
]

A truck laden with yellow Hezbollah flags drives past the Christian neighbourhood of Gemayzeh early Sunday morning in downtown Beirut. There’s a picture of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on the windscreen, but it’s not his name that the young men on board are chanting. “General, General!” yell these young Shiite boys.

Their chant is for the leader of Hezbollah’s largest Christian ally, the former General Michel Aoun. And this van captures an important dynamic that many of the international and Lebanese press have omitted from their coverage of the last few days — that almost a quarter of the crowd at the huge anti-government protests have been Lebanese Christians. Continue reading Why Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV is Broadcasting Sunday Mass

Playing Cops and Reporters

This article was published in The Telegraph, Kolkata, December 5, 2006.

Here’s an amusing little story. According to reports in a leading daily, (August 26 and September 4), Hoshangabad police charged a couple with the murder of their twelve year-old son. Their son was indeed missing, and a body was found near the railway track. The parents confessed to the crime, and spent over 45 days in jail. Six months after his murder, young Gabbar turned up in town. He had fallen asleep while selling peanuts on trains, and woke up in Jalgaon. There he was put into a correctional institution, and later, sent to Bhopal. Finally he managed to convince someone to send him back home. Present in court, he listened to the government pleader arguing that the parents had confessed to the murder, so he could not be Gabbar; that the body found near the railway track was not Kallu alias Tufan, as claimed; and that neighbours had identified the dead body as that of Gabbar. The neighbours meanwhile, told the reporter they had never identified the dead body as his, and that this boy was indeed Gabbar. “We know him since he was born”, said one of them simply, “how could we make such a mistake?” Continue reading Playing Cops and Reporters