To my country, with love

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has dominated my thoughts in the past few days. As cities burned, police cracked down on protesting students, and internet snapped in violence-prone areas, I discovered with dismay that the largest casualty in the discourse is objectivity and information.

Social media is rife with false images and emotionally charged bickerings on religion, history and politics. The common element on all sides being ’emotion’; not ‘information’. Which is funny considering that the world has more data than one can make sense of, and even a person of small means has access to the internet via smartphones. God obviously wasn’t joking when he cursed Babel.

To put it simply, there is a difference in the overt and covert objectives of policy decisions of any government, and our public discourse in the media and social media fails to uncover that. An emotional response to a policy decision is as bad as a purely analytical response, both of which undermine the other. Besides, individual emotions coalesce into a massive mushroom cloud of collective inertia, easily moulded by authorities and media, easily polluted, and as easily transformed into the kind of chaos and arson we’ve been witnessing. My long hiatus from writing ends now for this reason.

Because the signs are unmistakable. Every militaristic, fascist regime that the modern world has produced has operationalised its agenda through data collection and data manipulation. At the centre of this exercise has been the perennial hot button of immigration, that metastasize into the archetype of the ‘bad immigrant’, and further on, into de-naturalizing existing local groups – religious, ethnic, or linguistic – based on political agendas. Census data is the most easily available tool that the state machinery uses to start this exercise  – and then creatively morphs to suit its purpose.

The Nazi Census: Identification and Control in the Third Reich‘ by Götz Aly and Karl Heinz Roth is a fascinating read that explains how this was perfected in the Third Reich. The overt reason for the massive data collection and statistical analyses, even back in 1933, was not the extermination of Jews. The data was collected to inform policy decisions. An example of a policy resulting from the data analyses were the special loans, starting September 1933, disbursed to married couples who produced a child. The loan amount increased with every child born out of that marriage, and a substantial increase with the fourth child. The overt reason was the protection of the institution of marriage. The covert reason is understood in the fine print. The loans were disbursed to couples only if they were Aryan, German, and had no known hereditary diseases.

The same data would power more discriminatory policies in 1935, with the Nuremberg laws, and further disenfranchisement of German Jews, social, economic, and political, since the state had access to all personal information about an individual’s race, religion, antecedents, bank accounts, and property.

Why am I describing this German excellence in systematic persecution? Because with all of the above information (and more) at its disposal, today’s nation states can transform into way more efficient killing machines than the Third Reich. And also because we are staring in the face of two legislations that neatly fit into the known trajectory of a fascist-militarist government.

The National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the CAA must be seen in the light of this attempt at ‘cohortisation’. The NRC is not new in India; it existed since 1951, and got updated for one state as mandated by the Supreme Court. Nothing alarming there overtly, except perhaps the shrill discourse along religious and ethnic lines that set it apart from a mundane census exercise. However, given that the government announced its intention to implement it across all of India just before it tabled the CAA, hints at the covert objective.

The question we need to ask is, why does this government need more data than what it already has? What will it do with the ‘illegal immigrants’ identified from this exercise?

We don’t know what will be done to these people, except for some rumours of detention centres, a la Gulags, being built for them. We don’t know how many such ‘illegal immigrants’ exist in India, and if the purported size of their population is big enough to be a problem. We don’t even know how much a nation-wide NRC exercise would cost and if that’s a fair expenditure to incur to identify a group of persona-non-grata of an unknown size.

While we look for the proverbial needle in the haystack, the govt has passed the CAA, that overtly gives succour to persecuted minorities from neighbouring countries residing illegally in India. Covertly, this Act will enable the persona-non-grata identified from the NRC exercise to be naturalized as Indian citizens if they are non-Muslim and come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

The only people to remain in the Gulags would be all Muslim; without adequate documentation to prove citizenship; without money to procure such ‘papers’, and without any idea of what the government plans to do with them, their children, and their property.

A mathematical perspective is more revealing. In a country of 1.3 billion, if we assume a meagre 1% to be illegal immigrants, then that’s 13 million people. Of these 13 million, even if 5% are undocumented Muslims, then we’re looking at a sample size of 650,000 people. Now let’s assume that there’s a 5% error in data processing, which puts the absolute error margin at 68 million — way larger than the expected throughput. Besides, anyone in the cohort of the last 650,000 might be a case of error and vice versa. 

The only thing I’m sure of is that the entire process of collecting and vetting information is going to be incredibly corrupt. Bribes will flow in cash and result in bogus liquidity in the economy, bumping up inflation. Personal information will be bought and sold without a whiff of our knowledge. And groups of human beings will be incarcerated, relocated, and ultimately lost in vague records.

It’s pointless to imagine the diplomatic and political fallout of such an eventuality. You may say I’m an alarmist, but I have good reasons to be one.

The CAA and the NRC is a combined tool of deception to start a form of social engineering that was tried in Germany and Soviet Russia before the war. There is no reason to accept a repeat of that history, because no one ever gained from such things. The persecuted minorities from neighbouring countries can be assisted and offered citizenship with the aid of existing laws. We must hold our leaders to their promises, and not let them slant in mischievous policies that reek of ulterior motives.

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Afterglow

In the afterglow

Of all things dead and dying

I feel the hunger of a lighted pyre

Devouring all that was

Till there’s no more.

I’m the scream that tore the skies

At the altar of the terrible one.

I’m the ash flying in your face.

I’m the terrible one

Scouring the bowels of the earth

Birthing a thousand living things

Squelching flesh and blood.

Primeval. Remorseless.

I’m in you and you and you.

Flecks of recognition.

Start of a wildfire.

Do not fear me.

I will dwell in all things passing,

Raging, burning, flying

Till there’s nothing

But silence.

 

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To Sadness

A sudden rush of blood in my veins

And tonight I’m the mother I never was

Or wanted to be.

Through the months that I carried you in me

I balked in horror and self pity

At my unravelling ugliness.

It was impossible to ignore my capacity

To conceive and birth such a thing as you.

An unwanted child.

You remind me of things I wished I’d never known

Like that woman in the hospital who made strange sounds

While she died.

You remind me of morning afters and soiled sheets.

You remind me of clenched fists and unending kisses.

You remind me of that day you were born

I checked your fingers and toes

To see if you were normal.

But tonight I’m the mother I never was.

Because I carried you in me through horror and agony

Because I birthed you in a pool of blood and shit

I can hold you in my arms and look you in the eye.

I can watch you scream and flail your tiny limbs

Your skin crawling at the ignominy

Of being made to look pathetic.

So what if I did not want you?

I will hold you in my arms and

Tuck your tiny legs in the pit of my stomach

As we breathe against each other.

I will rock myself to sleep with you

And dream and wake and dream again.

Or perhaps I’d wake up and find you blue

Choking and gasping for breath

And I, transfixed in your embrace

Screaming, running, beating every gate and door

Evoking no response.

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Unnameable

Thoughts, like clouds in my head,

Turn rose and cotton candy white,

Red, black and blue like scars.

And you, there, insidious enemy,

You, so artless, like a caricature,

You, so mainstream, like evaporation,

You.

Who would’ve thought that you’d find

Yourself a subject of imagination,

Lightening flash of a heartache,

Sinful.

Bright as a child’s laughter.

You.

Astride word-clouds tinted rose and red!

You.

Secret soiree of my tired soul.

Do not laugh.

I want to see the twinkle in your almond eyes.

And try and believe that’s all there is to you.

Do not laugh, I say!

And I try to be funny one last time to hear

Your sinful, child-like laughter.

You.

Your laughter almost masks your anxieties,

Mundane, pitiful, unbecoming.

You.

But you hide them even as you show some,

Like clouds lolling on mountain tops,

Shadows mimicking them below,

Like an inconsequential game.

You.

So forgetful. So light. So random.

It’s almost cruel to be so.

You.

Do not forget me.

I wish I could say to you, even though

I wish I could forget you by the next showers.

Time becomes you,

In this terrifying spin with which I weave

The skies and clouds and seasons with

You.

Insidious enemy.

Unnameable.

You.

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The Media Broth(el) Brimmeth Over while the Social Media Sings

The Indian media has come in for a lot of flak in recent times. In Left Liberal circles, this is mostly attributed to a spike in jingoism ever since Narendra Modi rode to power in Delhi. But I’m Right (of Centre) and Liberal, so my opinions have no value—in the eyes of the powerful lobby that creates public opinion in India. But before I give you the most important information, please prepare your salad with a pinch of salt. The Indian media vociferously maintains that it is free, fair and entirely apolitical. All you guys out there who want to do a thesis on how Foucault got it all wrong—and earn a few quick bucks plus experience in (yellow) journalism—please apply to some Indian media houses. Extra points for loud people, never mind English grammar.

What I found curious was the outpouring of support for the Indian cricketers after they lost a high-stake semi final match in the recently concluded World Cup. In a cricket crazy nation, where cricketers have to barricade themselves with state-provided security especially after big losses, this was significant. The Indian team had performed miserably against Australia prior to the World Cup, they were not even expected to reach the knockout stage. But they did, with seven wins on a row, and after they lost to Australia (again, in the semi final), one news channel slammed the team with the choicest (and barely allowed) expletives on primetime national TV and tried to trend #ShameinSydney. Unexpectedly what trended on Twitter for the next 48 hours was #ShameOnTimesNow (the news channel) for gutter-level journalism. Competing channels and journalists bandied about, watched in glee and taunted Times Now for getting roughed up for trying too hard at Twitter activism.

Then this happened. A retired Army General, who is now a Minister in the Central government, has done excellent work in evacuating Indians and citizens of other countries from war-hit Yemen. He’d had no love lost with the media, (“Once an army man, always an army man” is a saying that goes in India) and had been at loggerheads with it a couple of times earlier. And then Times Now (yes, the same channel that got flogged by Tweeples earlier) misquoted him, failing to get his sarcasm right. (I still have some drops of sympathy for the poor copy writers at Times Now. How do you get sarcasm “right” when the joke is on yourself? Or your boss, rather?) And VROOOOm goes the General—he tweets to his “friends” asking them to lower their expectations of “presstitutes” because the Boss at Times Now had earlier got his vowels wrong while reading “presstitutes”!

And here I am, trying to carve meaning out of this ongoing #supermasterchef Twitter broth. And this is how it looks.

Do I look like a Presstitute?

Do I look like a Presstitute?

It could have been just another day of zany Twitter banter. But then something significant started happening. Late into the night Times Now called up senior journalists and editors of competing media houses and in a neatly fixed match (no pun intended despite the ongoing IPL), got them to slam the General for outraging the modesty of P***********. One very senior journalist, Shekhar Gupta, frothed at his mouth while he called for the General to be arrested under the just-scrapped IPC Section 66A. And soon journalists across the board lamented that the General has washed away all his good work by that one P word. Really? A highly decorated Army General who served the nation as Chief of Army Staff, retired and won the first election he ever campaigned for, and did a splendid job of coordinating Indian evacuation efforts in war-hit Yemen—has washed away all his good work because some journalists say so?

I wonder why is there this burning need amidst media persons to  take away the focus from what has been a very commendable operation by the Indian armed forces in Yemen? I wonder what kind of priorities actually work for the Indian media. Which is more important—the thousands of lives saved, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen in which a thousand civilians are getting killed even as we debate #Presstitutes, or the General’s sarcastic aside?

Why do we never get to see Indian journalists doing war reporting from actual conflict zones? Are they afraid of being beheaded by the ISIS and kidnapped by Al Qaeda? Are they afraid that they may receive the same treatment from peace-loving folks out there who killed Daniel Pearl, James Foley and countless others? Or, as I suspect, Indian journalists know that there’s an easier way out. There’s this rather low hanging fruit—talk about match boxes in minister’s pockets, talk about minister’s foot-in-mouth moments and cook up a tempest in an air-conditioned studio with well-oiled panelists paid by the number of hours they put up their idiocy on display on national TV—and Yahooo!—the job is done.

That used to be a successful recipe. Unfortunately, that time is gone. In fact Srinivasan Jain tremblingly reporting about Israel’s missiles in Gaza and (unfortunately for NDTV) chancing upon Hamas terrorists operating out of civilian areas is not enough to fool us. We know that Israel is by far THE safest place for Indian citizens in the middle east. I dare the Srinivasan Jains, the Barkha Dutts, the Shekhar Guptas, the Rahul Kanwals, the Hartosh Singh Bals, and the Arnab Goswamis to prove the General wrong and show us what “journalism of courage” is about—by reporting news from ground zero. By getting there, getting dirty, taking the trouble to interview people in distress and tell us what’s happening in the world. By not footnoting the events with their comments, by not deleting scenes and events that they fear are not going to go down well with whoever controls their purse strings, by not translating first person accounts in a way that news creates more confusion than clarity, by letting all voices be heard—into that heaven of freedom—I beseech our journalists to take their profession. And Tweeples will follow suit.

Buying news from Reuters, ANI and others is soon going to be passe. In the age of social media, no one waits for a Times Now or NDTV or even Al Jazeera for that matter, to show us rented video clipping to know what’s happening. Reuters has a website that everyone has access to. So measure up, my dear friends in the media. You can gang up too, as much as you like, and Shekhar Gupta can use his other mouth to say he wants the General arrested under IPC section 66A (freedom of speech, anyone?) but that doesn’t bother people who rely on the social media to know what’s happening. Measure up or face the hashtag music.

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