Looking at the Egyptian uprising

It all began in a rural Tunisian town. Mohamed Bouazizi, who sold fruits and vegetables on the streets to make a living for himself and his impoverished family, was publicly humiliated on December 17 by a policewoman Fedya Hamdi. Hamdi slapped Bouazizi in the face, spat at him and forcefully confiscated his goods and weighing scale. An angry and distressed Bouazi­zi, who often suffered harass­ment and abuse at the hands of the local police, went to complain his grievances to the local municipal officials but failed to get any recourse. The officials just refused to meet him. As an act of desperation, Bouazizi doused himself with inflammable fluid and set his body on fire outside the municipal office. The plight of young Bouazizi became the catalyst that sparked off massive anger against the regime of president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia since 1987 with an iron fist. Thousands of furious Tunisians came out on the streets to protest against police brutality, the corrupt power structure, soaring unemployment and unending poverty. Weeks of violent demonstrations followed as protesters clashed with the state security forces. Members of the police force clubbed the unarmed anti-regime protesters and open fired on them killing dozens. Sensing the enraging public mood, Ben Ali visited the bedside of Bouazizi in an attempt to draw public support. He also dissolved the government, promised legislative elections within six months and assured to take meaningful steps toward political reform. But his entire attempt was all but too late. On January 4, Bouazizi succumbed to his injuries escalating unrest and further violence. On January 14, president Ben Ali fled the capital Tunis with his wife Leila in a private jet to Saudi Arabia shortly after the army general Rachid Ammar refused to back his orders to keep shooting on the protesters. According to French agencies, the 74-year-old dethroned president suffered a stroke and is now lying in coma at a Saudi hospital. Continue reading


Who are the Harmads of Bengal?

When a joint forces team raided and arrested two suspected Maoists – Amiya and Asim Mahato from the Municipal Guest House in Midnapore town, Trinamool Congress chieftain and railway minister Mamata Banerjee rushed at the spot with “friendly’’ television units and swung into damage control mode. Banerjee’s quick reaction does not need much explanation. The guest house was run by her party with the Congress as a relief camp to “shelter” party workers who are on the run from CPI(M) cadres “reclaiming” lost ground in various parts of West Midnapore district. According to Midnapore police chief Manoj Verma, the “sheltered Trinamool workers” comprises many hardcore Maoists and PCAPA activists from the Jangalmahal area. His team was keeping a keen watch on the guesthouse for a long time and the raid took place only after they became definite that seven Maoists had been staying there. Eight letters of CPI(Maoist) politbureau member Koteshwar Rao alias Kishenji, senior Maoist leader Asim Ghosh alias Akash and Jharkhand Maoist leader Ranjan Munda has been seized from the two arrested suspects. One of Kishenji’s letters was addressed to the boisterous and bleeding-heart Trinamool MP Kabir Suman. The police have also informed that Amiya Mahato was present with Maoist commander Sidhu Soren when the faction encountered with the joint forces and lost eight of their members including Soren. Asim Mahato acted as Kishenji’s courier. The duo was hiding in the guesthouse since September 2010 with other Maoists including Kanchandeb Sinha, who was arrested on November 2010, from Trinamool block president Nepal Singh’s car in Shalboni. They have also participated in the recent Trinamool-PCAPA rally at Lalgarh. The joint forces team faced stiff resistance from local Trinamool men and women who had tried to prevent them from raiding the den for a second time. Six journalists suffered injuries when the police baton charged the mob to control the pandemonium. The police force has failed to nab the other suspected Maoists who have fled the den after breaking a window at the back of the building. (Source) Continue reading

Chaos to Creation: the enigma of Bob Dylan (Part: Two)

Dylan’s radical spell lasted for a brief period – between January 1962 and November 1963. While his music was been considered as the definitive proclamation of the sixties folk revival and its radical political thought, Dylan had clearly indicated that he is not the conventional folk singer who is just adapting traditional material for a new context, neither a political artist committed only to socio-political causes. Along with the situational songs, he was writing distinctively personal lyrics marked with private references of grief and anxieties, songs about relationship, about the nuances and contradictions of love. He did not hesitate to include a confounding and abstract composition Boots of Spanish Leather in his most politically charged album The Times They Are A-Changin’. Many decades later he complained in Chronicles, “As far as I knew, I didn’t belong to anybody then or now […] the big bugs in the press kept promoting me as the mouthpiece, spokesman, or even conscience of a generation […] I had very little in common with and knew even less about a generation that I was supposed to be the voice of.” Continue reading

Chaos to Creation: the enigma of Bob Dylan (Part: One)

John Bucklen, the son of a miner, was Robert Allen Zimmerman’s closest high school friend and partner in his teenage musical adventures. The two grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota – once the largest of the many mining towns on the iron-ore-rich Mesabi Range. Just a year after the Zimmerman family moved here from Duluth in 1948, the town witnessed a two months long miners’ strike demanding pensions and insurance rights from the Oliver Iron Mining Company – a subsidiary of the United States Steel Corporation. The Zimmermans were middle-class Jews and owned a household appliance store in Hibbing. Bucklin’s family depended on his mother’s earnings from sewing after his father was injured in a mining accident which restricted him from working again. By the late fifties, Hibbing’s mining community started to encounter the harsh realities of layoffs and regularly shutting down of mines as the two World Wars had seriously depleted much of the high-grade iron ore of the Mesabi Range. When the two friends parted away in November 1960, the town had become a place of limited prospect due to this bleak economic situation. Young Bobby Zimmerman had two aspirations in his mind when he left his hometown. The first was to meet his idol Woody Guthrie, who was bedridden by Huntington’s chorea in New Jersey’s Greystone Hospital. The second was to become a professional folk singer. Bucklen liked airplanes and so went on to join the United States Air Force. Continue reading

Ayodhya verdict and our secular conscience: Part Two

The three members Bench of Justice D.V. Sharma, Justice S.U. Khan and Justice S. Agarwal has ruled by a 2-1 majority that all the parties in the title suit, i.e. Bhagwan Shree Ram Lalla represented by his sakha (close friend) Triloki Nath Pandey, the Nirmohi Akhara and the Sunni Waqf Board will have one third equal share each of the disputed property and declared the litigants joint title-holders. Justice Sharma has disagreed with the decision of the majority that one-third of the disputed land should be given to Muslims for construction of a mosque. Dismissing the suit filed by the Sunni Waqf Board for a declaration and possession of the site so that Muslims can rebuild the demolished mosque on the same spot, the Bench has allotted the portion right below the central dome of the demolished Babri Masjid to Bhagwan Shree Ram Lalla Virajman with a caution that the defendants should not obstruct or interfere the area in any manner. The areas covered by the structures of Ram Chabutra, Sita Rasoi and Bhandar in the outer courtyard were allotted to the Nirmohi Akhara. The two Hindu litigants will share the remaining unbuilt area within the outer courtyard “since it has been generally used by the Hindu people for worship at both places.” The Bench has allotted the rest of the area where the Babri Masjid stood, including part of the inner courtyard and if necessary also some part of the outer courtyard to the Waqf Board stating that “the share of Muslim parties shall not be less than one third (1/3) of the total area of the premises”. To alleviate the progress of such a three-way division, the Bench has advised to use some parts around the disputed land presently under acquisition of the Government of India. The judges also ordered that the prevailing status quo which is currently under state control shall be maintained for a period of three months. Continue reading

Ayodhya verdict and our secular conscience: Part One

In a large and diverse country like India, there is never a dearth of issues that stimulate the citizens to talk, argue and fight. But the credulous public mind, overexposed and debilitated by artificial trends and a plethora of confusing information are often been hypnotized by the shining pendant of a forged present and a delusional future. Moreover, a vague vision of history compels them to acquire comfort by mirroring a general trend of forgetfulness. In this spurious atmosphere, even a detrimental agenda can easily capture public imagination and receive popular support. Incapable to ponder much of its gravity, people tend to offer themselves as cannon fodder in socio-political conflicts waged against their own interests. The six-decade-old Ayodhya dispute over the ownership of 2.77 acres of “holy” land is such a thorny issue that has sharply polarized a devout Indian society along quasi-religious lines. Flaring up from time to time, the dispute has instilled a stream of dangerous ideas deep inside the country’s psyche. Acknowledged as one of India’s most divisive and contentious issues, the dispute with its high hegemonic potential has shaken the very foundation of the country’s collective identity as a nation and gradually grown into a symbol of subjectivity. Looking into the chronology of events including the wide network of relations and sectoral interests in and by which the dispute is situated and sustained for such a long time will provide us a necessary linkage to the Ayodhya verdict which was recently delivered by the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court. Continue reading

The desolation of Kashmir

Seventeen year old Tufail Ahmad Mattoo, a class XII student, was preparing for the medical entrance exam. On 11 June, while coming home from his tuition class, he was caught in a street fight between a stone-pelting crowd and the police in Srinagar’s Rajouri Kadal area. Tufail took shelter in the Gani Memorial Stadium but a tear-gas shell fired by the police from close range landed on his head. He died on spot. The administration first tried to pass the blame on the protesters claiming that the boy was killed “to keep the pot boiling’’ but later retreated when eyewitness evidence and the autopsy report confirmed that the murder was caused by police firing. Since then, large-scale street violence has erupted across the Kashmir valley. The police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were seen engaged in frequent clashes with incendiary crowds armed with nothing but stones and chunks of rocks. Reacting to the young stone-pelters, the security men, apparently ignorant about non-lethal ways of crowd control greeted the youngsters by firing bullets straight at them. The indiscriminate firing caused several civilians to die on the streets. Most of the casualties, shockingly, are teenagers and school going children, aged between nine and nineteen. Normal life is suspended in the Valley for months by strict and indefinite curfews imposed almost every day.

Participation of youngsters in street demonstration and protests are nothing new in the former princely state of Jammu & Kashmir which has a two-decade-long history of Pakistan backed insurgency. Even during the turbulent days of 1989 from when the separatist movement began, thousands of embittered youths recruited by the JKLF came out on streets to protest. But this time the protests are different in nature. The significant presence of women and children among the protesters who have spontaneously descended on the streets defying curfew orders and braving police bullets has provided a unique characteristic to the protests. Continue reading