Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Adoor Gopalakrishnan: A Life In Cinema: A Review

By John Cheeran
There is cinema in India outside of Bollywood and Adoor Gopalakrishnan, a classicist in the mould of Satyajit Ray, has made significant contributions to sustain such alternative ways of light and shade. Adoor, an auteur celebrated internationally, but in India and, especially in his native Kerala, is regarded as an aloof man and, as happens mostly, is branded arrogant.
Film critic Gautaman Bhaskaran’s authorised biography of the director, Adoor Gopalakrishnan: A Life In Cinema, disappointingly does not offer enough insights and inputs that will help one understand the auteur better.
Adoor who has made films such as Swayamvaram, Kodiyettam, Elipathayam, Mukhamukham and Vidheyan deserves a biography that should read more than the reviews of his eleven features he has made in a long career.
Adoor is not an easy man or a film-maker to understand. As Shyam Benegal reminds us Adoor’s movies are meditations on the human condition. Bhaskaran, who has closely watched Adoor’s career from the vantage point of a journalist, has a written biography largely based on conversations that he had with the filmmaker. It’s challenge for any biographer to make Adoor confess about his life and movies. Bhaskaran, however, is unpretentious and writes lucidly and has succeeded to a great extent to give the reader an overall view about Adoor’s world. Adoor says: “Cinema is actually one’s experience. One’s vision of life. The filmmaker’s. That is his cinema.”
Adoor’s first movie (Swayamvaram) was released in 1972. Except for Nalu Pennungal and Oru Pennum Randaanum, the interval between his movies has been an excruciating four years, most of the times. The interval only reflects the time and thought that Adoor puts into his movies. He is a careful filmmaker. There is not a single frame in his oeuvre that is inessential. And he is a careful and cagey talker too which rules out a brutal self-portrait.
Adoor is not a stranger to controversies and, in Kerala, fellow filmmakers in art film circuit has had many bones to pick with him. It’s quite disappointing that Bhaskaran could not persuade Adoor to explain why he did not work with Kodiyettam Gopi after the successful 1977 effort (Kodiyettam) that gave the actor the national award. The lack of critical observations on the filmmaker from his contemporaries will, of course, invite the charge of the biography being a hagiography. Had Bhaskaran talked to Adoor’s heroes (Mammooty, Madhu, MR Gopakumar) and heroines (Sobhana, Mini Nair) the portrait would have been fuller.
And if you want to understand Adoor as a friend, lover, husband and father, you will have to wait longer.

Title: Adoor Gopalakrishnan: A Life In Cinema
Author: Gautaman Bhaskaran
Publisher: Penguin Viking

Monday, July 26, 2010

Why do they want to Islamise Kerala?

By John Cheeran
Comrade VS Achuthanandan has finally blurted out the truth. He said in New Delhi the other day that the Muslim fundamentalist organization Popular Front of India has plans to convert Kerala into a Muslim-majority state in 20 years and is using money and love to achieve its aim.
Now, obviously, truth has few takers.
And Muslims in Kerala are mighty upset at the statement of VS Achuthanandan.
But why should they?
Shouldn’t they be happy at the thought that in the next 20 years Kerala will truly become Allah’s Own Country with rest of the Kerala converting into Islam?
Crescent will replace hammer and sickle. Paradise, Period.
Can any devout, God-fearing Muslim be unhappy about such a scenario?
Think of it, Kerala will be a Saudi Arabia without desert! The variety of mind-boggling burqas that one can lech at gives me goose bumps.
E Ahmed, minister of state for railways in Union cabinet and a Muslim League MP, says Achuthandan’s statement is meant to create communal divide in the state. In an edit-page article written for Mathrubhumi, Muslim League leader P Kunhalikutty has called Achuthanandan a communalist.
Muslim leaders, especially that of Indian Union Muslim League (think of it, can there be any more fundamentalist party name in Indian democracy than the IUML?), are saying that as the chief minister of the state VS should not have said what he said.
What has VS said?
He has only shared the information the Kerala Police have ferreted out especially after the Taliban attack on Professor TJ Joseph. Literature seized during raids at the offices and homes of Popular Front members clearly show the Islamisation agenda at work in the state. Muslim youth are encouraged to take the path of Love Jihad to marry girls from other religions and produce as many kids as possible.
The Times of India report quotes VS: “The outfit (Popular Front) was attempting to do this by influencing youth of other religion and converting them by giving money, marrying them to Muslim women and thus producing kids of the community.”
A chief minister is duty bound to speak out against such a divisive agenda.
Kerala’s Muslim community should introspect what is happening within its fold. Popular Front is not a right wing Hindu organization. All its members swear by Koran. They have turned some of the mosques in the state, if not all, into magazines. When police seize weapons from masjids and madrasas, shouldn’t the Muslim community be alarmed?
And this has been happening for the last many years.
LeT South India commander and Bangalore blasts accused Tadiyantavide Nazeer had told his interrogators that the plan was to Islamize the state by 2050. Also in August 2009, the Kerala High Court had asked the police to investigate charges that there was a racket operating in the state which aimed at luring youth to Islam by feigning love.
From North Kerala, Muslim youth went to Kashmir to be part of the Jihad against the government of India. IUML workers, a few years ago, hoisted the Muslim League flag at the Kozhikode international airport. These are facts, not cooked-up charges.
Every time a Muslim youth get caught in terrorism related charges, the propaganda is that the state is on a witch hunt against the community. If there were sensible leaders within the community, they would have urged its members not to pursue the narrow, divisive and destructive agenda in the name of Koran and Islam.
In Kerala, Muslims are a powerful community. It has access to everything that that state provides as much as other communities in the state. So what’s the Muslim community’s grouse? Why do they want to chop off kafir hands? Why are they involved in havala deals? Why do they want to Talibanise Kerala?
It is an utterly lame response to say that Popular Front is a fringe group and one should ignore them. In fact, it is not. Is Jamat Islami a fringe group? No. In fact, even among Muslims, there is utter confusion about which is the lunatic fringe, and which is not.
Is Abdul Nasar Madani’s People’s Democratic Party a fringe group? Is he a fundamentalist? There have to be answers for such questions.
Every time investigations expose terrorist and other nefarious links among Muslim members in the state, the community leadership shies away from confronting the truth. It’s time it engaged with reality.
If anyone harbours fantasies of altering Kerala’s cultural and demographic map, if not today, there will be a backlash tomorrow. And it would be worse than Gujarat. I hope better sense will prevail among those who swear by the fantasies of Shariath.

Popular Front wants Islamic Kerala: VS (The Times of India Report)

Editor's note: The Sunday Times of India carried this report in all its editions across India on July 25, 2010

Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala chief minister VS Achutanandan dropped a bombshell on Saturday alleging that the Popular Front of India had plans to convert the state into a Muslim-majority one in 20 years and was using money and love to achieve its aim.
Speaking to reporters in New Delhi, VS slammed the PFI, which is alleged to have masterminded the attack on Kerala college lecturer T J Joseph accused of hurting Muslim sentiments.
The PFI, VS stated, was trying to multiply Muslim numbers in the state and believed that Kerala would be a Muslim-majority state after 20 years. “The outfit was attempting to do this by influencing youth of other religion and converting them by giving money, marrying them to Muslim women and thus producing kids of the community,” the chief minister claimed.
The statement of the chief minister has i nv i t e d sharp reaction from the PFI. Its state-unit p re s i d e n t N a s a r u d - deen Elam a r a m said, “The charges are baseless and not suited to the CM’s office. It will only aid communal polarisation in Kerala. This is to get Hindu votes. The CPM leadership should clarify if this is the official view of the party.”
Achutanandan’s comments gain significance given that LeT South India commander and Bangalore blasts accused Tadiyantavide Nazeer had told his interrogators that the plan was to Islamize the state by 2050. Also in August 2009, the Kerala High Court had asked the police to investigate charges that there was a racket operating in the state which aimed at luring youth to Islam by feigning love.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Now who will go beyond Muralitharan’s 800?

By John Cheeran
When I began to pay attention to cricket, Dennis Lillee was the ultimate bowler. The Australian fast bowler had 355 wickets when he bowed out of Test cricket. At that time, it appeared such an impossible task for anyone to overcome those numbers. Or in any case, the man would have been bloody tired to do that, as the English fast bowler Fred Trueman said when he became the first bowler to cross the 300 threshold in Tests.
On July 22, 2010, Muttiah Muralitharan, the Sri Lankan wrist-spinning off-spinner retired from Test cricket in Galle, completing 800 Test wickets, with the last ball of his illustrious career. 800 wickets in 133 Tests!
But in Galle, on Friday, there were no traces of Muralitharan being bloody tired. He still sported his winsome smile as Mahela Jayawardene completed the catch to dismiss Indian rabbit Pragyan Ojha.
Even Lillee, the unabashedly aggressive Aussie, would not have dreamed about such a fantastic figure during his playing days. For a cricket fan, 800 wickets, anyway, was a mind boggling thought in the early 1980s.
Now the question is that will anyone in the future of the game go beyond the mark of 800? Shane Warne, may be the complete spin bowler, the one with prodigious turn and classical action and aggression, in the history of the game, left his pursuit with an awe-inspiring tally of 708 wickets. India’s own Anil Kumble finished, far too away, with 619 wickets in 132 Tests.
Before Lillee rushed through international batting line-ups, the bowling record for the maximum number of wickets was with the West Indian off-spinner Lance Gibbs (309). I wonder whether anyone remembers Gibbs in the glut of wickets now?
Yes, Sharad Pawar is determined to spread cricket into Russia, USA and many other European countries. There could come a time when India would be playing Tests against Latvia, Serbia and Ghana. When Lillee was playing Sri Lanka was taking baby steps in Test cricket. There was no opposition called Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
You cannot say with certainty that no bowler will overcome Muralitharan’s 800. Yes, Muralitharan had some unfair advantage thanks to his freakish action. He was the only wrist-spinning off-spinner in the history of the game. The Sri Lankan was a bowler with a freak action much to the chagrin of not only the irascible Australian umpire Darrell Hair, who no-balled him repeatedly during a Test Down Under, but India’s pristine practitioner of the craft, Bishan Singh Bedi too. Bedi who called Muralitharan a thief, however, saluted Muralitharan as a man of great qualities when the Sri Lankan Tamil retired after inflicting an embarrassing 10-wicket defeat on Indians and ruined captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s honey moon trip.
But to argue that Muralitharan’s success sprang from his action would be a denial of reality. Remember, Shane Warne, too, had taken an astonishing tally of 708 wickets without the benevolence of nature’s freakish side. But make no mistake, if anyone would scale the Mount of 800, it has to be a slow bowler with an appetite huge enough to scare away batsmen from the crease.

Friday, July 23, 2010

To ban or not to ban: Editorial in Hindu

Editor’s note: This editorial appeared on July 16, 2010

From the time President Nicolas Sarkozy declared in June 2009 that the burqa was “not welcome” in France, it has been clear that his government was serious about introducing a ban on the veil worn by some Muslim women and on another more severe garment called the niqab, which leaves only the eyes uncovered. The French government is now closer to this after the National Assembly approved legislation for it. It has to be passed by the Senate next, and a constitutional Council could yet void it. The proposed law is very much in line with France's inspiring secular traditions that keep religion strictly out of the public sphere, where the social contract is based exclusively on universal values enshrined in the country's laws. In April 2010, similar legislation was approved by the Belgian parliament's lower house, and a vote by the upper house is awaited later this year. Other European countries are also mulling a ban on the veil. But France, which passionately values a secular national identity over the ethnic or religious affiliations of its immigrants, has never shied away from forcing the pace on complex issues relating to religion and their place within the larger national identity. If this was first aimed at checking the influence of the Catholic church on public life, the spotlight is now on Islam. The proposed ban makes eminent sense through a feminist lens. The burqa (not to mention the niqab) is unquestionably an oppressive garment that seeks, as Mr. Sarkozy pointed out, to keep those who wear it imprisoned “behind a screen.” It is nowhere prescribed in the Koran but has been imposed on millions of women by sections of the clergy — all of them male — who have interpreted religious texts to suit their backward-looking religious or political agenda. That many Muslim women seem willing to embrace the veil these days as a symbol of their piety, modesty, and virtue, or as a political statement of their Muslim identity, is no indication of female agency. It speaks more of their successful co-option in a misogynist project that is the antithesis of liberté, égalité, fraternité — values that go back to the French Revolution and are the proclaimed national motto of France.
However, there is a serious downside to the move to ban the burqa and the niqab. In the post-9/11 atmosphere, such a law is likely to be viewed as an instrument to persecute and humiliate Muslims.
It could lead to further radicalisation within the fold and inflame tensions between majority and minority populations in Europe. The reality is that only a small number of women in France's estimated five million Muslim population wear the veil. Fears that a ban could end up criminalising Muslims in European societies are not misplaced, given the Islamophobia in the west. The right-wing French government's unfavourable disposition towards immigrant populations does not help either. In March 2010, the Council of State, which will examine the proposed ban for its constitutionality, observed that a complete ban might, in fact, violate the French Constitution and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Conventional Freedoms. It seemed more comfortable with the idea of a limited ban rooted in reasons of security. But even if the Council strikes down the law, the intriguing social, philosophical, and political issues the burqa and the niqab raise will not go away. For literary guidance on what might happen if the tension between an uncompromisingly secular state and radical religious identity assertion — focussed in this case on the mysterious phenomenon of the “headscarf girls” committing suicide in Kars in Turkey during the early 1990s — is allowed to sharpen and grow, there is no better text than Orhan Pamuk's magnificent novel, Snow.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Review: Man of Glass by Tabish Khair

By John Cheeran
Tabish Khair, the Denmark-based poet and author, has attempted something refreshing by transcreating the works of three writers from across centuries, cultures, literary genre and language in his new collection of poetry, Man of Glass. The result, then, is lines such as
“If blood doesn’t drip from every line of love-verse
It’s only fit to go on sale with Dan Browns.”
That was a re-rendering of Ghalib for you. In Man of Glass (in an obvious reference to Hans Christian Andersen) Khair has retold Kalidasa’s play Abhijnana Shakuntalam. The poet, however, makes it clear that his Shakuntala is the daughter of a secular Muslim scholar, brought up in an environment of quoted Urdu poetry and given a classical Hindu name by her parents; her loss and betrayal take place in a world where the total income of 582 million people in the developing countries is about 10m per cent of the combined income of the world’s top 200 billionaires. May be, it’s an ideal situation to have a crisis of identity as happened to Kalidasa’s Shakuntala.
Khair makes deft use of Kalidasa, Ghlaib and Andersen to discuss and reflect on contemporary issues such as immigration, strife in Iraq and Afghanistan, love and genocide, neatly giving his poetry a certain cutting edge and bluntness.
The best of poetry and prose capture truths that hold good across centuries and barriers. May be after sifting through news wires for a living, the following lines strike you hard.
“Once when he returned with his face slapped,
I took him out of school
Not you, I told the teacher, not you
Life has blows enough in its bloody bag for him.”
Quite true. And to those who ask what profit is there in reading poetry, one should say that it may help you lessen the impact of the crushing blows life reserves for you.

Title: Man of Glass
Author: Tabish Khair
Publisher: HarperCollins

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Review: Of Love And Politics by Tuhin A Sinha

By John Cheeran
The conviction with which young, urbane Indians take to writing in English leaves one shaken and stirred. The fact that there are publishers to ink such stuff should make many aspiring writers reach for their notebooks and netbooks.
Tuhin A Sinha has come up with his third novel, Of Love And Politics, which he modestly describes as ‘his most ambitious work till date.’ May be. But let’s have first things first. Editors at Hachette India could have done a better job and avoided instances such as “Aditya thinks of me as his girlfriend. The mismatch makes us converse about everything under the sun, expect us.”
Sinha, apparently, has tried to pull off a Rang De Basanti of a paperback through Of Love and Politics. Despite doing some research, Sinha’s writing exposes himself as politically naïve and not one with enough experiences in love either. PowerPoint presentations and punctuating pages with names of leaders of national political parties would not make a political novel. Sinha fails to offer any insights into the Indian political theatre or into the life and times where we love and live.
The author banks too much on contemporary political events to anchor the love triangle among Aditya Samar Singh, Chaitali Sen and Brajesh Ranjan, the youth brigade in Congress, CPI (M) and BJP respectively.
There, however, is no doubt about the kind of reader Sinha is targeting. There is the young, metro professional with his sneering cynicism towards the political class and yearning for change. Sinha, by getting Aditya, Chaitali and Branjan to walk out of their ‘outdated’ political franchises and launching a new party, Nation Building and Development League, fulfills the fantasy of the young middle class India. Finally, letting the central characters speak for themselves is not such a bad narrative idea but, in this instance, Sinha leaves the reader wondering whether he should turn the page at all.
Title: Of Love And Politics. Author: Tuhin A Sinha
Publisher: Hachette India

Six Investment Tips to Take Away From World Cup: Matthew Lynn

Commentary by Matthew Lynn(Bloomberg)
Some people might think the hours you spent over the last month sitting around, drinking beer and watching the soccer World Cup being played in South Africa was a waste of valuable time.
Of course, they are wrong. Between cries of “no way was that offside!” in front of the television, some of us have been carefully constructing an investment portfolio that will make us a fortune in the next year.
After all, there were plenty of lessons in business, management and investment being displayed right in front of us. You just had to look hard.
Not convinced? Well, here are six stock tips you can take away from the World Cup:
The English lesson: Globalization can go too far.
The English Premier League is the most international in the world. The top teams such as Manchester United and Chelsea have drawn talent from everywhere. The theory is that even though there are few spaces left for English players, those who do make it through will benefit from playing alongside the best players. Er, wrong. Two dismal performances at successive World Cups by the English team suggest the national game is in sad decline. You can take all the global village stuff too far. In the end, people and companies do best when they stay true to what they are and who they are.
Tip: Buy Club Mediterranee SA. The vogue among big companies is to become ever more international, losing sight of their heritage as they create blander and blander products that are stripped of any distinctive national characteristics. A few, such as the French resort chain Club Med, remain rooted in the culture and traditions of their home country. They will do better in the long run.
The French lesson: Egos will get you nowhere.
For the English, the one consolation of a terrible World Cup was that the French were even worse. France’s star striker Nicolas Anelka was sent home for insulting coach Raymond Domenech at halftime while the team got beaten by Mexico. Afterwards, the players revolted, and the team was eliminated in the first round. It was humiliating. But when the egos get out of control, you are in big trouble.
Tip: Sell Barclays Plc. The British bank used to be mainly a retail financial-services company concentrating on the U.K. market. Now its Barclays Capital unit is a big competitor on Wall Street. Can it keep all those investment-banking egos under control? Dream on.
The Korean lesson: Isolation doesn’t work.
There were two Koreas playing in this World Cup: the North and South. While South Korea played impressive, free-flowing football and were unlucky to be knocked out by Uruguay, the North was just embarrassing, as anyone who watched their 7-0 drubbing by Portugal will testify. The contrast couldn’t have been more stark, and the lesson was a simple one. The country that was open to the rest of the world was developing fast, while the one that closed itself off was getting nowhere.
Tip: Sell Apple Inc. Sure, everyone loves those iPhones, iPads and iKettles, or whatever the geniuses at Apple come up with next. But it believes in closed systems that it controls absolutely. Sooner or later that will be its downfall.
The Italian Lesson: History counts for nothing.
Nobody came into the tournament with a better record than Italy. OK, they are a boring team, but that didn’t stop them from winning in 2006. Everyone knows the Italians will do fine even when they are complete rubbish -- that’s what the record books show. Except not this time. They were terrible, and they went home on the first plane.
Tip: Sell Toyota Motor Corp. True, it has been the most successful car company on the planet. But a couple of serious product recalls suggest Toyota has lost it. A great track record won’t help.
The German Lesson: Transform yourself with style.
We all know what the German team is like: Italy with worse haircuts. Dour, efficient, methodical and hard-working, they would grind their way through the tournament, and probably win it on penalties. But, hey, not this time. The Germans played attacking football that made the Brazilians look dull, and had the neutrals cheering them on. Only the ruthlessness of the Spanish defense snuffed out their creative flair. The moral? Give yourself a style makeover and the world will love you.
Tip: Buy Burberry Group Plc. A couple of decades ago, we thought it was the company that made those raincoats your grandmother wore. Not anymore. Now Burberry is one of the coolest brands around -- and likely to stay that way.
The Spanish Lesson: Keep believing and you’ll get there in the end.
Let’s be honest, we didn’t think they could ever do it. They probably didn’t think they could do it, either. One of the best soccer nations on Earth, but Spain had never been past the quarter-finals before. This time, they taught us all a lesson in perseverance. Hang in there. Don’t give up the faith. And you will make it in the end.
Tip: Buy BP Plc. Alright, the oil keeps gushing from that well. The chief executive is a joke. They have more lawsuits pending than the Chileans have yellow cards. But they can come back from that one day. They just need to believe, that’s all.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Honest Always Stand Alone by CG Somiah: A Review

By John Cheeran
Honesty should be always vouchsafed by others but to a large extent, author CG Somaiah, who has had a remarkable career with Indian Administrative Service, has succeeded in portraying himself as a man and officer of unshakeable integrity in his memoirs. Somiah served as comptroller and auditor general, central vigilance commissioner and union home secretary in a distinguished career. His service story, The Honest Always Stand Alone, manages to engage the reader and his courage of conviction and firmness of opinion clearly come across the pages.
Though boastful and bashful at times, as befitting someone who has brushed shoulders with decision makers during a crucial time in independent India’s history, Somiah’s effort would make interesting reading even for people who are not immediately connected with the civil service. Somiah, however, disappoints us by holding back details that would have rocked the state and national politics.
For example, Somiah prefers to keep the ‘inside information’ surrounding the Bofors gun deal that rocked the political career of the young prime minister Rajiv Gandhi to himself though claiming to know much more than you and me. Instead, the author lets us know that he used to play tennis with Ottavio Quattrochi, the Italian businessman accused of acting as a conduit for bribes in the scandal.
Somiah, however, does offer a telling glimpse into the feckless nature of the Indian political class when he narrates the then home minister Buta Singh’s grovelling towards the minister of state Arun Nehru, since the latter enjoyed the confidence of Rajiv Gandhi.
It has often been said that IAS is the steel frame (or it was) of the nation. Somiah, proudly, and justifiably stakes claim that his backbone lent it further solidity. May be, being a Kodava, a community that has been celebrated for its inimitable and often intrepid approach to life, has helped Somiah a great deal when choosing between the meek and the bold.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Mark of the Taliban: Editorial in The Hindu

The act of a gang that cut off the hand of a college teacher, by wielding an axe on a thoroughfare in Kerala in broad daylight, had Talibanism writ all over it. The State has been noted historically for the peaceful co-existence of different faiths and beliefs. This act of barbarism, however, points to the rise of blood-thirst driven by religious fundamentalism that certain fringe elements may be seeking to impose on the State. That it was a planned operation carried out with brutal intent adds to the shock. Without reference to the nature of the alleged provocation behind the act, what has happened is a challenge to civilised society and the rule of law. After all, the management of the college concerned had suspended the teacher for an inappropriate reference to the Prophet that appeared in an examination question paper and apologised for the aberration. The law has been taking its course and a criminal case against the teacher was being pursued. What the criminal fanatics have managed to do is to put on the defensive those who support the secular-democratic cause, and give a handle to majoritarian intolerance. The culprits need to be apprehended and prosecuted immediately.
If there is a silver lining here, it is that every political party in Kerala, organisations across the country representing both the religions concerned, and democratically minded sections of society have been prompt in condemning Sunday's savagery. Hearteningly, several Muslim youth organisations came forward to offer blood to the victim as he lay fighting for life in a Kochi hospital. To its credit, the State government has acted swiftly and decisively at every stage — a fact acknowledged amply during the course of a discussion in the State Assembly. The House condemned the incident in one voice. Most important, the atrocity did not trigger any communal backlash. But there is a larger lesson here. Freedom of expression has increasingly come under attack from religious fanatics in democratic and secular India and it is the duty of society and the political system to intervene more effectively to defend those who are targeted even if they express unpopular views. At the same time, those who work in academia and those who value intellectual freedom and creativity must be sensitive to the political-social contexts, which are quite often fragile if not volatile. All sections must unite to ensure that the heart-rending tragedy of a teacher making a misjudgment and ending up losing his hand to an act of Talibanesque savagery is never repeated.

Barbarians on the prowl: Editorial in The New Indian Express

What Kerala witnessed on Sunday when a college lecturer returning from church was waylaid, dragged out of his car and his right palm was chopped off is horrendous, to say the least. The victim, T J Joseph, earned infamy in March last when he was accused of preparing a question paper in which a blasphemous reference was made to Prophet Mohammed. Nobody in his senses would approve of any action that wounds the religious feelings of any section of people. When he was promptly arrested on several criminal charges, everybody considered it as just desserts for the ‘learned man’. On its part, the management of Newman College, Thodupuzha, suspended him from service. Thus, by no stretch of the imagination could it be concluded that he had gone scot-free.
The question paper he prepared was based on the writing of a Muslim littérateur about the imaginary dialogue a mad man had with the Almighty. Joseph is alleged to have interpolated the passage with a mischievous reference to the Prophet. Whether he personally did it or it was done by someone else at the printing stage is what the court would go into before taking an appropriate decision in the case. Under the Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence that is still followed in the country, Joseph is entitled to the benefit of the doubt till the prosecution is able to prove conclusively the serious charges against him. Thus, in the eyes of the law, he is an innocent person, entitled to protection by the state. Unfortunately, the state failed in its duty as it preferred to be an onlooker in this case.
The police was told that unidentified persons were threatening Joseph ever since he was released on bail. Given the kind of protest the question paper had evoked and the communal nature of the issue, the government should have provided him security. But by failing to do so, it made the task of the religious ‘warriors’ easier. When Islamists threatened Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses, he was given protection, not because the British government approved of his writing but because it did not want anyone to take the law into his own hands. Under the rule of law, there are laws to deal with offenders like Joseph. That job cannot be delegated to the so-called custodians of Islam who, by cutting off his palm, have shown that they have only utter contempt for the rule of law.

Barbaric act : Editorial in Deccan Herald

The brutal attack on a professor of a college in Kerala last Sunday when he was returning from a church service was shocking in its intent and barbarity. His right palm was chopped off by a gang that waylaid and attacked him. He sustained other injuries too; his mother and sister were also attacked. He had made a controversial reference to Prophet Mohammed in an internal question paper prepared for students of the college in March this year. The reference is considered to have been derogatory. All sections of society had condemned the professor’s action which hurt religious sentiments. He was suspended by the college management when the controversy broke out and was arrested. The matter is before the court and if the charges are proved he stands to earn punishment. There is still some confusion about at what stage the offending words found their way into the question paper. Whether he was solely responsible for the offence or not is yet to be decided. In any case a public apology was made and it was made clear that there was no intention to hurt the feelings of any community.

But the punishment meted out to him by the gang of attackers was terrible and deserves the strongest condemnation. It is difficult to imagine that such cruelty and bestiality is resorted to a democratic society. Physical punishment of the kind the professor was subjected to has rarely been heard of in the country. It flouts the rule of law and all norms of civilised conduct. Nobody should be allowed to take the law into their hands and punish offenders for their crimes, however serious the offences are. Such violence becomes all the more dangerous when religious sentiments are involved. It can lead to communal discord and go out of control.

Some of the attackers have been arrested and the police are on the lookout for others. They reportedly belong to an organisation called the Popular Front of India and had planned the attack for over a month. A number of Muslim organisations have rightly condemned their misdeed, asserting that it was most un-Islamic, and demanded the strongest punishment for them. Members of the Jamaat-e-Islami donated blood for the professor in hospital. The culture of intolerance and violence that has been growing in the country has created the environment for the dastardly act. Only very few subscribe to that culture but they poison the society.

Monday, July 05, 2010

How far is Saudi Arabia from Kerala?

By John Cheeran
How far is Saudi Arabia from Kerala?
Saudi Arabia is a state of mind, a state of mind intolerant of other points of view. It comes as no surprise to me that Kerala is not far from that theocratic state as evidenced by the chopping off act on Sunday in Thodupuzha. Taliban have infiltrated Kerala’s body politic for a long time and the vengeful act that reeks of the primitive and barbaric justice system that Saudi Arabia swears by was put into practice by a band of thugs who swear by Islam.
On Sunday a university professor’s right wrist was chopped off in Thodupuzha, Kerala, by people who carry, what’s generally regarded as Muslim names.
It was no ordinary crime.
It was religious backlash and the man under the axe, TJ Jospeh, a Malayalam professor, was suspended by Newman’s College, Thodupuzha, for including a question derogatory to the founder of Islam, in an examination paper. Now, Joseph, who went into hiding after those who were hurt by that question paper, raised a ruckus, had been arrested by the state police and later released on bail.
All that is fine. You can get offended for whatever slights you could imagine. In our democracy that has become a fundamental right for fundamentalists.
The point is that should we accept the rule of law or should we lie back and let Taliban take hold over us?
I have noticed that those who have a stake in this issue, LDF and UDF politicians, and especially, the leadership of assorted Muslim organizations in the state have condemned the barbaric act. They have made the routine noises about how violence is antithetical to Islam, etc.
It would be naïve to consider the chopping of the wrist as a stray event. May be no religion, on the face of it, allows for a vendetta as barbaric as that happened in Thodupuzha. But there has been a consent built over a period of time various religious communities that justifies any ugly and revolting deed if it is consecrated in the name of God.
It’s difficult to read Muslim mind in these troubled times and especially if you live in Kerala. Away from the public glare there has been a Muslim consciousness at play, fundamental in its thought, and fanned by petrodollars from the Middle East. And this Taliban are at work in various disguises, declaring at times solidarity with social causes only to further its own narrow and divisive agenda.
The intolerance against perceived slights to religious prophets and retaliations, purely inspired by a barbaric justice system, such as in Thodupuzha are dead give-aways that there is a tacit approval from the Muslim community for such heinous acts.
To confront this Taliban is the immediate responsibility of the Muslim leaders in Kerala. You cannot take the grievance that India has been unfair to Islam’s followers beyond a point.
Mind you, this is India. This is not Afghanistan. This is not Saudi Arabia. The political leadership on the left and right may well kiss the Middle East arse, but those who talk about pogrom in Gujarat should also remember that you cannot butcher men in the name of the most merciful.
John Cheeran at Blogged