Saturday, September 28, 2013

Staking claims

It was gratifying to read Kanak Mani Dixit’s article Nepal, India and South Asia in the June 21 edition of this paper. I use the word gratifying intentionally to express the sense of urgency that the article presented, especially in light of Trailokya Raj Aryal’s article Colonised academically published on June 18. Dixit makes a number of arguments—the importance of ‘sovereign societies’ to not allow the involvement of foreign powers in internal matters, the need for India to reconsider its involvement in Nepal, the importance of respecting the nation-state in the context of the prospect of South Asian regionalism—all of which are valid but not unheard of arguments. Yet, from Dixit and Baral’s pieces emerge a more specified plea directed not at the plethora of noisemakers in Nepal’s polity but to the hitherto meretricious Kathmandu civil society. The plea is not one of reconsideration; it is rather direct: Wake up! Don’t be blown away by foreign intelligentsia—especially when it comes to your nation and your society. Don’t let assertions about Nepali society go unquestioned. It is a call to the penholders on our side to question the penholders on other side.

It is perhaps testament to the impotence of the political class that the discourse of resistance has shifted from them to civil society. The audience of the conversation is now a member of a sovereign society, not leaders of the sovereign state. And it is better this way. The political class is bound by compulsions when it comes to international pressure but the intelligentsia has no such obvious compulsions nor the flexibility to fashion it as valid excuse. The space for discussion, argument and counter-argument is not yet dead in Nepal.

I was sitting in the audience at the Indian Council of World Affairs in New Delhi when Prachanda declared his newfound love for India, the change in Maoist attitude and Nepal’s continued need for Indian magnanimity during a recent visit. The kowtowing was embarrassing from a former prime minister of a sovereign state.

Yet, let this much needed exercise in critical evaluation of the self not be an imprimatur for tedious anti-Indian or xenophobic sentiment. The exercise is meant to dig up our own narratives, our own histories, our own truths; an attempt to reclaim the power of knowledge creation.

The battle of discourse

Since the birth of ‘new Nepal,’ much of the struggle has been over the idea of Nepal: how do we define our Nepali-ness? How do we govern ourselves; what is the role of religion in our society; how will we include previously marginalised voices? The struggle has been over ideas. And in ideational struggles, civil society, especially the intelligentsia, cannot stay lazy. Thomas Szasz puts it well, “in the human kingdom define or be defined”. Thus far, we have been at the receiving end.

The need to define ourselves necessitates investigation of our past. In regards to this, I find it highly annoying, among other things, that the Nepali cultural and religious ethos gets sub-categorised in academia as being ‘under’ India. The constant interchangeability of the word ‘Hindu’ with the word Indian (ancient Hindu or Buddhist texts to Indian text, Hindu tradition to Indian tradition) is a manifestation of the lack of agency on our part to provide caveats for the present synoptic. Yet where is criticism from the pundits of Nepal? Which India is this? When the nation-state of India itself is a recent concept, what does ancient India mean? How can one squeeze the achievements of a civilisation into a territorially defined nation-state? And what does this mean for a holistic understanding of the subcontinent’s history? Should this attempt to monopolise history not be problematised?

Looking forward

Nepal was/is seen through a prism of exotic adventurism whereby our own human agency is made unimportant. Perceived as being stuck in some dark epoch of time, our daily

rituals have become a tourist attraction. This sense of the exotic has been internalised. We look at the mirror and find ourselves different; we find our customs alien, even incomprehensible. Except for a select few, most of our traditions have been packaged into small, neat bits made easy for the foreign and urban market to consume.

A resistance by the intelligentsia would mean holding up a mirror to much of what we’ve been accustomed to. For the longest time, the most clichéd statements about Nepal—its exotic mysteriousness, the timelessness of its costumes, the hills, the mountains, its kinship and its simplicity—has been a matter of pride and joy. This is most true in diasporas, who when away from the home country continue to dream of Nepal as a utopia—a dream that was never reality. But the intellectual must rise up and dare to say, “This is not it! This is not enough! There is more, and we’ll tell the story”.

If Nepal indeed is losing its sovereignty, a case that has been made time and again, then what is to be done? Living and thriving among giants requires a great deal of compromise but it also requires asserting ourselves and taking a stand when we must. Else, we’ll have no say on how the region is governed and slowly but surely, will lose even a say on the way our own nation is governed. A culture of questioning and self assertion can only come when our intellectuals and opinion makers are willing to provide leadership—since this is a virtue the political class is unwilling and unable to provide.

A version of this article featured in Kathmandu Post. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I Drink Therefore I Am.

I drink.

For those struggling with this attempt at honesty, I don’t mean green tea. But let me make this easier. I am an enthusiastic consumer of matured and distilled grain and grape.

Some of you may question the intention and timing of this honesty …well, I have had it with people bad mouthing alcohol all the time. “Don’t drink or you’ll be a bum!”, “O MY GOD! You Drink! Is this the education you’ve got- what would your parents say?”  These remarks and the moral police who make them are likely to be met with guilt ridden silence, often followed by an apology; no one says what ought to be said: “Mind your own damn business!”  

Those who enjoy drinking deal with a hypocrisy that is revolting. There is a gap between how the people enjoy their proverbial poison (although I’d prefer a less negative word) and the repercussions they have to face for it. Much of this gap arises from a misunderstanding the difference between ‘getting drunk’ and ‘drinking’.  (Just to clarify: Drinking doesn’t always lead to drunkenness). There is also an astounding difference between drinking, being drunk, and being an alcoholic. These obvious differences are hard to miss, yet avoided for the sake of convenience.

By ignoring these differences, quantity becomes a non issue.  This principle of ignorance is mostly used in institutions which profess and selectively practice the laughable “zero tolerance policy” as an excuse to congratulate oneself for having found a solution to the “drinking problem”.

And who says it’s a problem anyway? Brilliant minds are known to be drinkers. One of India’s finest authors, Khushwant Singh, has been drinking Scotch since 1939; he is now 97. Indeed, he admits to have taught his mother to drink whiskey when she was in her 80’s; she died when she was 94. Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, Napoleon, Truman Capote, Christopher Hitchens, Dorthy Parker, Winston Churchill, Edgar Allan Poe, Laxmi Devkota, Charles Bukowski, Margaret Thatcher, Harivansh Rai Bacchan, to name but a few, are known drinkers. Indeed it would be absurd to argue that they were creative because they drank, but it would also be highly biased to suggest that drinking had no effect on the depth and creativity of their work.

(Random thought: Imagine the world divided between drinkers and nondrinkers; surely you will agree that our camp is populated with the more interesting members of our species.)

On a Religious note
According of The Bible, Jesus, during the Marriage at Cana, turned water into wine. Two questions come to mind: how and why?  This text deals with the more interesting question regarding his intention. Surely someone who cured the sick and raised the dead could as easily turn water into any other beverage of his choice. So why wine? Did Jesus do something against the will of God, or worse, something that would have an adverse effect on his flock?

Sticking with religion, Shiva in his Bhairav roop is a patron of the spirit. So is the Goddess Kali. Many Hindu’s offer and consume alcohol as prashad.  As far as culture and religion is concerned, drinking too has an illustrious history to fall back on.

I am forced to bring in religion and culture in an otherwise materialistic debate because the censorious lot uses it as an excuse to snatch my glass. We all know the problems that arise from treating culture, regardless of where it comes from and whose it is, as a monolith.  Yet, the claim that it’s- not- in- our culture- to- drink refuses to die. This claim is, of course, not true. One need only ask which culture alone has the right to speak for “our culture” and the shaky grounds this argument stands on crumbles.   Also, why is it that it is always the culture that takes offense easily that needs protection?

Sexism, and Western Snobbery

The hypocrisy, previously talked about, takes uglier forms in our society when it gets coupled with other vices that affect us. Women are judged by moral standards that no man is put through. If a women drinks, and, worse, is “caught” then as a “characterless” person she is “justifiably” socially ostracized. For a man the consequences are always less severe. Instances where women have been raped because they drank are not uncommon. In such cases the sympathy is reserved: she drank, means it is partially her fault because she chose to drink.

On a different note, boards that read “ENGLISH WINE AND BEER SHOP” are hard to miss. Focus on the word ENGLISH; there is snobbery there. Local varieties, and those who drink them, trigger an automated inferiority complex. In this, alas, the drinkers and the nondrinker both are to blame: the drinkers for their snobbery, and the nondrinkers for showing a higher level of contempt for the cheaper local booze and the mostly poorer folks who drink them. Drinking “English” liquor somehow reflects a colonial era class, which no native liquor can provide.

Law of unintended consequences

If the rationale for the policy of “zero tolerance” was to encourage those who drink to quit, then as far as I know, not many have switched sides.  On the contrary, many have joined in the revelry, and found the occasional sip or two a pleasant stress buster.
Let’s own up: we all know that the policy of abstinence has failed. But still we shy away from making any change to it. Is this because of the taboo involved? Or because a new, more useful, policy is more work than any one is willing to put in? Of course institutions can have a zero tolerance policy de jure and relax the law de facto, but where does that leave us? At someone’s whim. Bad law is, more often than not, better than arbitrary law.

Master the drink, don’t let it master you.

While starting this essay I use the word honesty rather than confession, because the latter suggests guilt of committing a crime. And I commit none. Yet, I am troubled by some of the possible repercussions of my honesty. Somehow I find it more difficult to not take a position and not say what needs saying.

Our hopes are not too high. We don’t want institutions to serve booze in the mess. Nor do we expect everyone to enjoy drinking. But to treat our pleasure as a sin, us as Satan’s god-child, and the issue as a plague is unwarranted.  I repeat: We enjoy drinking. We are not drunks or alcoholics or criminals and we’ll be damned if we are treated like one!

Drinking does affect the ability to make rational decisions. Some end up doing stupid things, and that needs to be checked and punished accordingly. Yet, there are millions out there who drink without falling prey to stupidity. For a drinker, especially in a relatively conservative society, there is nothing worse than instances where people abuse alcohol. They ruin the experience for everyone else. Attention seeking and bawdiness is as offensive—if not more—to drinkers who want to have a pleasant time, than they are to nondrinkers. Just because they can’t hold their liquor doesn’t mean none of us can. If people are bent on breaking the law and then conveniently pass the buck onto alcohol, then that it yet another reason to lock the ungrateful drunks up.

While discussing the content of this essay with some of my friends more hostile to booze (Yes, I do socialize with that lot as well), they took exception to me defending drinking. They tediously gave me the checklist of the effects of alcoholism on our society: domestic violence, crimes, debts and other social ills that get aggravated by alcoholism. And I agree with them—partially. While I agree that alcoholism is a problem we need to tackle with all immediacy, this essay not about that.  This essay intended to show the hypocrisy involved in the understanding drinking and those who drink it. I am not an apologist for alcoholism. I am an apologist for drinking. This essay, hopefully, has made the distinction clear.

It would be quite a claim to suggest that drinking is a good thing (some do make such a claim), but to claim it very presence as an abhorrence is quite ridiculous as well. Look at the logic used: He broke into a house because he was drunk; he beat his wife because he was drunk; she murdered her husband because she was drunk; she got into a fight because she was drunk, as if alcohol is the reason for such heinous crimes. The person, her circumstances, her context and motivations are the reasons for the crime not the booze. Passing the buck from the person and society to alcohol is merely a convenience.

In Book One, Chapter Two of the Kamasutra Vatsyayana claims that pragmatists have always been weary of pleasure and said indulging “in pleasure acts an obstacle to both religion and power, which are more important, and to other good people…[but] pleasures are a means of sustaining the body, just like food…people must be aware that there are flaws in pleasure, flaws that are like diseases…but people do not stop planting barley because they think ‘there are deer’.” If one does not derive pleasure from liquor so be it, we don’t care. But neither should you about our pleasure. People should not go around telling people what they can enjoy and what they can’t. And if we are to have a meaningful conversation let us at least try to be more open and look at the issue for what it is, and not as narrow minded construction based on horror stories.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Why And How Do You Hate?

'Indeed indeed, I cannot tell,
Though I ponder on it well,
Which were easier to state,
All my love or all my hate.
— Henry David Thoreau

Of the list of things that I hate here are few of them: I hate fascism, I hate (hated) Osama bin Laden, I hate caste-ism, I hate racism, and I hate bullying. I like to believe that I hate them all so much that I would, if need be, fight against it. After all human evolution has allowed us the luxury of passionately disliking certain - for the lack of a better word- things and it would be a damn shame if we don't use this wonderful tool.

Hate has inspired poets, philosophers, artists, writers, thinkers and warriors for generations. All trying to figure out what it is, why it exists, and what we can do with it? Often used as an encompassing synonym for other negative emotion and commonly thought of as an appropriate antonym of another misunderstood emotion: love, it comes off as a villainous activity to indulge in.

Phrases such as: 'don't hate', 'replace hatred with love', and even the more eloquent, 'Hatred paralyses life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.' by Dr. Martin Luther King make us feel better but unfairly simplifies the emotion. I believe, like psychiatrist and writer Kurt R. Eissler, that hated, when used as a positive tool, can bring about necessary and welcome change. It was the hatred for whimsical dictatorships that ensured the Libyan's and Egyptian's rise against the decades long regimes of Gadaffi and Mubarak. It was the hatred of fascism that made young men and women from around the world fight against it in WW2. Such kind of hatred - constructive and essential- is what psychiatrist call noble hatred. Now imagine if all of us 'didn't hate' or "replaced hatred with love"

So, the problem with the emotion, it seems, is not the emotion itself but what that emotion is directed at. When hatred is misused and coupled with stereotyping and racism all hope for civility and respect fly out of the window. And in times of historic transformations respect and civility during dialogue regarding controversial topics is a must. As Nepal undergoes a transformation society must to talk maturely about important social and political issues without having to resort to angry racist allegations and calling each other hateful names.

As a reaction to real and perceived oppression, marginalized voices are finally speaking out. Instead of a stale singular narrative of what it means to be a Nepali and where we want to take this country, we now get multiple answers to some important questions. Issues of federalism, secularism, women rights, and the rights of 'indigenous' population must be discussed, and that they are being discussed is a welcome sign.

While these conversations have entered the national dialogue there is also a troubling trend of harmful bickering that doesn't help the situation. Case in point-the level of stupidity and racism at display on the internet in regards to controversial topics in Nepal. Take any political video clip on YouTube, scroll down to the comments section and start reading. You will find that there exists an amazing level of resentment in people for other people. Comfortably hidden in anonymity some people spew hate with such stylish idiocy and cowardice that their passion -genuine or not- comes off as ridiculous. The trouble with such venting is not the ineloquence of language but of thought.

However, hated of this kind is no laughing matter. The trouble with bad habits, Christopher Hitchen's wrote, is that they are mutually reinforcing. Hated mixed with stereotyping leads to anger. Demonizing people on the bases of ethnicity or race or caste is just a few steps away from using violence against them. Jews were demonized by the Nazi's and are demonized by Iran and racist TV shows in much of the Muslim world, the Muslims in turn are demonized by Hollywood movies and Zionist propaganda, the Pakistani's and the Indian demonize each other in movies; all of which help maintain hatred, which in turn comes in handy during times of war.

But why the hell, you might ask yourself, should I not hate those who have been mean to 'my people'? Why must the oppressed have to take the moral high ground?  While caught up in the struggle of everyday life, faced with historic oppression, and confronted with discrimination these thoughts surely arise. Well, take a step back and reason with yourself a moment. Ask yourself who 'they' are, do all of them do the same thing, and should all of them be held accountable, are all of 'your people' in the same boat as you, what is it that you hate- the sin or the sinners, and would you succumb so low as to do to them what you would not have done to you?

Hatred for people, solely on the bases of them being in a group is perhaps the dumbest thing one can do as a member of our intelligent species. Suppose for a moment someone hates, and distrusts you and everyone from your community because Mr. X who happens to be from the same ethnicity as you treated that someone unfairly. Would that make sense? Would that not infuriate you?

Without any prior knowledge of it, I was born in Bahun family, and therefore, I am a Bahun, but to think of me as only a Bahun or to use my eccentricities as an example of all the Bahuns makes no sense. You can dislike me (though, I like to think I am quite likeable but… that's a different story) or rather what I do, but you cannot extend that hatred for all Bahun or any other Bahun for that matter. Now replace the word Bahun with Limbu, or Rai, or Chetri, or Afro-American, or White, or Muslims, or Jew or German or Madhesi, or Newar or Ghanian, or Chinese or any other group and the statement till holds true.

An important question to ask at this point would be: How did our society get here? Weren't we the land of Never Ending Peace and Love? Or was that peace and calm only a surface level façade hiding deep rooted mutual distrust amongst communities? What are the reasons for such hatred? And what do we do about it? If discrimination and caste-ism are the issues then let's get serious and fight against it. No reason to dilly-dally in accusations and counter- accusations.  All this hatred if directed at the right thing can bring about positive change. Else this is a waste of time, and we all are fakes, pretending to be the solution while being the very heart of the problem.

It's easy to be loud and drown out other voices, it's also easy to say popular things and get applause, but it's far more difficult to say the truth and say it with logic and conviction. Unnatural levels of suspicion of the 'other' without knowing this 'other' does a disservice to you and the society you live in. Hate is a powerful emotion, and it's a tiring one. Reason with yourself before engaging in it. Further, if you find yourself hating someone, or something, or a group without reasoning check yourself. Call out others if their hatred gets in the way of finding a solution. Always be on the lookout.

So, dear reader, if you do decide to engage in dialogue, the choice is yours: you can either be a rational member of society engaging in meaningful conversation or you can spread hateful populism. If you choose the latter remember what W.H. Auden says "those to whom evil is done do evil in return." Hatred breeds hatred. In this fight between civility and unnatural stupidity it's imperative that you pick a side. What's yours?

A version of this article appeared in August issue of  WAVE Magazine

Monday, August 6, 2012

Benevolent Dictatorship: An Oxymoronic Idea

There exists a fascination with authoritarianism among many in Nepal’s civil society.  In its benign form the idea manifests as support for constitutional monarchy, and in its malignant variety as support for a “benevolent” dictatorship.

The adjective benign has been used to describe constitutional monarchy for two primary reasons: firstly, constitutional monarchy by its definition means restricted power; secondly, regardless of how much monarchists crib its revival rivals necromancy, hence I will not bother myself or the readers with it. The word malignant is used to describe “benevolent” dictatorship because the conviction that there exists such a thing and worse that such a system is desirable in Nepal is mind numbingly irresponsible, and worrisome, especially when uttered by liberal tongues.

Fanned by the incoherence of the current political drama, many are convinced that what Nepal really needs is a strong educated single ruler rather than the bickering of the many. Inefficiency and incompetent rule of law is what bothers them the most. They want to trade democratic discourse for swift action, and would compromise civil liberties for the good of the country. For them it doesn’t matter where this dictator comes from –the right, the left –as long as he (it’s almost always a he) works for the national interest. A Nepali version –if you may –of Singapore’s Lee Kyon Yew.

This is how their basic argument goes: since the democratically created Constituent Assembly failed miserably, Nepal, perhaps, is not ready for democracy. Thus we need a “vanguard” singular to shepherd us in the ways of democratic citizenry. But until that training is complete we must follow, without questioning too much, his pre-defined national interest which, other things remaining same, will usher in an era of stability, unity, peace, and growth. Since we are not ready for democracy, we must go back to living under a dictatorship till we are ready for democracy.

What’s interesting is none of them ever define what this much talked about national interest is, how it can be measured, or even if there exists a singular narrative of this national interest. Of course they also conveniently conceal the fact that their interests are aligned to what they believe to be the larger interest of all Nepalis. Most repulsive is their propensity to hold hard earned freedoms hostage for the imaginary efficiency of authoritarianism. And no evidence presented to preclude the rule of this chimerical overlord seems to damage their romance.

No dictatorship, benevolent or otherwise, comes waving the flag of repression.  All presume that they are working for the interest of the country.  The initial euphoria of the royal coup was quickly substituted by fear and arbitrary application of law. Hitler’s rhetoric of the revival of the lost Aryan purity, or the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Republic were not dangerous on their own, it’s when they attracted mass appeal, and subsequently legitimacy, that these ideas became dangerous. The vile Col. Gadaffi declared himself “brother leader” of Libya and lived a good chunk of his life pretending he was a savior of sorts and ensuring everyone else played along. And he did lead his country unchallenged, did he not? Guiding a former kingdom into becoming a "Jamahariya" - a state of the masses, punishing corrupt officials, redistributing oil wealth -albeit disproportionately, and rolling back Western influence; but to what sad end? Sad for the Libyan, of course.

Many liberals bugged by this savior mentality opposed Gyanendra Shah’s doomed attempt at governance, yet it seems they have a masochistic need to be told what to do. They would prefer they were directed by an educated and hopefully like minded person than involve themselves in the dirty task of public discourse and democratic citizenry. The process of democratization is long, complex, and frustrating, but dictatorships alter the course of establishing strong democratic institutions that may take years to rebuild. In Nepal, at its present historical precipice, an unwavering commitment to democracy is more necessary than ever. Commit ourselves to the rule of law and democratic governance today and we set historic precedence for tomorrow.

At a time when Nepal has broken the chain of anachronistic governance it’s ridiculous to assume that one person has the answers to all its problems. Nepal has never been this educated or young or full of promise and to give the reign of governance to one unquestionable benevolent dictator is a boring prospect. This is a time for people to involve themselves in shaping the future of the country through art, through music, through discussion, through entrepreneurship, through politics; the “good of the country” is in promoting liberty not in chocking it.

This cult for a “savior” is not unique to Nepal alone. A little internet research and its advocates can be found all over the globe from the United States to Nigeria -thankfully in the minority. In a May, 2010 article for the Express Tribune’s Rubina Saigol exposes the misplaced belief in this oxymoronic title by looking at the four saviors in Pakistan’s history: Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, General Zia, and Pervez Musharraf.  Of the last one she comments “…fourth savior was hailed and welcomed as a liberal democrat by a naïve civil society, a clueless donor community and a misguided intelligentsia.” A similar naivety lurks within the Nepali civil society.

Our political leaders, and parties are at the zenith of incompetence. They represent fixed short term interests, instead of a long term visions demanded by the Nepali people. Their failure to produce a satisfactory document (or any document for that matter) in the 4 years they were given is a blotch on our democratic aspiration. And it’s justifiably difficult to be optimistic about our political future. But the solution cannot be cowering in front of one person to guide this diverse country at such a historical period.

Make no mistake most people supporting this idea of a “benevolent dictator” pretend to be liberals. Not radical Maoists or absolute monarchists. These are people who otherwise advocate a strong liberty of conciseness and association. The internet is littered with them, and they dole out their misplaced opinion to anyone who cares to listen. Many do. As a citizens of an aspiring democracy kudos to them for adding to the debate. However, what they say is nothing more than pseudo-intellectual blabber and people need to remind themselves of its false seduction.

A version of this article was published in Republica. Please click here. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

What would Dr. Ambedkar do? 

Slip of the Pen highly condemns the Indian Parliament's efforts to censor an 11th standard text book by the National Council of Educational Research titled "Constitution, why and how".

The book contains a cartoon, first published in 1949 by Shankar Pillai (see below), that shows Dr. Ambedkar on a snail with a whip in his hand, followed by Nehru with another whip in his hand. The cartoon was mocking the slow progress of the constitution.

 How is this an insult to Dr.Ambedkar?

I understand people have a propensity to make Gods of men, but that doesn't change the fact that Dr. Ambedkar was a man, and man hopefully with a sense of humor.

The brilliance of Indian constitution is that it allows for  free speech, and banning a cartoon that pulls the leg of its architect does disservice to the document and democracy. 

There is a big portion of Nepal that DOES want federalism on ethnic lines--What do we tell them? 

While the talk about moving beyond identity politics brings me to tears..... What? It really does. It's emotional appeal misses the point. Identity politics is a reality. I hope it wasn't, but it is. Forget all the normative mumbo-jumbo for a while. There is a big portion of Nepal that DOES want federalism on ethnic lines, and denying them that so close to the formation of the constitution is bound to have repercussions.  Who did what, when and why can we discussed later and appropriately punished at the voting booth; right now it's more important to find a middle ground.

Here is what I think. The ethnic minorities demand that their culture and language gets promoted. Agreed. That must be done. It's high time we move beyond what we have always thought of as a singular Nepali narrative to construct a more inclusive definition of Nepal. Unity through diversity.

Next, they want a propositional representation (PR) in elected bodies. That too sounds fair. PR works best for both minorities as well as the majority.

Next, they want preferential rights in their ethnic state. This is where it gets tricky. Preferential right is a euphemistic term and a gateway (I hate that word) for discrimination. Propositional representation should ensure that the rights of the majority are safeguarded, while not discriminating against the minority....having both is like having your cake and eating it too. Unfair.

Next, come the the questions of economic viability and the name of the state. Regarding the former: any person who can think beyond tomorrow will agree that just having states for the sake of saying "i have a state" is idiotic. You want a state because you think people in the region can prosper. Economic viability of the state in its self and its impact on the larger nation-state must be an important factor. Any state -ethnic or otherwise- not formed on the bases of economic viability is short sighted.

Regarding the latter: we all agree names are important but in the sprite of solidarity can we not keep such ethnocentric names. How about names of landmarks, or rivers, or more neutral names?

There is a problem, I think we all can acknowledge that. What's the solution? And remember their is significant portion of the population that has been hopefully expecting that which you do not want. However, some things are non negotiable: This country will not tolerate separatist movements, and disintegration. And we will not compromise on that!  

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Why Disagreement is a Good Thing?

As a person who seeks out debates I feel rather cheated when they end with a weak appeal to relativism. It often happens after ideas are exchanged, wit applied, and vocal chords stretched that the convincee shams away by offering “We both are right. It’s my opinion so it’s true for me but may not be true for you, so there no point in challenging each other’s truth” or a variation of this relativistic blabber. And the mood plummets. This relativistic dung is uttered with firm conviction that by not challenging each other’s beliefs we aid the spread of tolerance in the world. They couldn’t be more wrong. 

Having an opinion is admirable. Acquiring knowledge to form an opinion is the very point of an education, some might argue of life, but –and here comes the obvious –just because I have one does not make it true. Faith and belief is no proof of infallibility and must not be excused from the inquisition of logic and reasoning. Radical Muslims share the opinion that infidels must be killed for the establishment of an Islamic world; must we, then, acknowledge the infallibility of this intellectual garbage just because it’s “true for them”?  Are people who believe in the antiquated ideas of female genital mutilation and Bal Bhiva as “right” as us who don’t? Should we not disagree with them?    
It is precisely because no belief should be left unchallenged that freedom to dissent must not be compromised.

 It was Rosa Luxemburg who pointed out “Freedom is always the freedom of the one who thinks differently”. There is no point (or fun) in only letting people who agree with each other speak; those who disagree must be free and protected to do so.  

Throughout the world, throughout the ages, dissenters have battled arrogance of conformity armed with a pen and powered by wit and they’ve suffered: books have been banned, thoughts censored, lives threatened and lost. This suffering of freedom is proof that disagreement is daunting for those who wish to impose a singular, unchallenged, truth on society. It’s that fear that forced Gyanendra Shah to censor the press, the Ayatollah to issue a fatwa against Rushdie; Galileo to write the pro forma renunciation; and the Spanish Inquisition to burn the Quran and the list goes on. 

When a bunch of Muslim thugs forced the (secular) Indian government to ban The Satanic Verses the cowardly excuse offered was that the book hurt minority sentiments and could incite violence. They offered the same excuse -unofficially of course -during last year’s Jaipur Literature Festival. When MF Hussein was banished from India by Hindu crazies for his depiction of a naked goddess the same lame excuses were given. Doesn’t that seem odd? Odd, because it wasn’t Rushdie or Hussein that incited violence; they were the victims of it. Yet, Rushdie and Hussein, who were expressing themselves, suffered the consequences and humiliation of having to live undercover lives.  

Many Muslim protested the distasteful cartoons mocking Muhammad and they had the right to do so (not with impunity if they broke laws), however for them to say that some non-Muslim cartoonist in Denmark should be stopped from drawing them is ridiculous. They don’t have to see or draw the cartoons if they so choose, but coercing the rest of us to accept their lead into the pits of self-censorship is intolerable. “Ban the cartoons and behead the cartoonist”, cried some in their silly radical voices, “or we’ll make life hell for people who had nothing to do with it.” And many governments politically pissed their pants. 

Closer to home our own (pending) constitution, it seems, will be a victim to this fake security. If the interim constitution or the ones before that are benchmarks than the possibility to a constricted freedom of expression is looming.  As of now, Article 12, section 3, subsection (a) provides every citizen with the freedom of opinion and expression.  Provided that, it goes on to say, nothing in sub-clause (a) shall be deemed to prevent the making of laws to impose reasonable restriction on any act which…may jeopardize the harmonious relations...or any act which may be contrary to public behavior or morality( emphasis added).  So, what this says is: you may say what you like and hear what you want, but we will ban and censor what we want if we feel it’s reasonable to do so. Tell me dear readers, what is this parameter of reasonableness? Which court, which judge, which minister, and under what circumstance, can tell you what they think is reasonable for you to hear? Who is capable of judging the standards of public morality and what appropriate behavior is? 

A conversation with a friend who owns a book shop helped illuminate the nature of censorship in Nepal. Our government is not too eager in “official” censorship, so in a perverse delegation of responsibility it relies on self-censorship by publishers who do not want to risk losses.  Another non-official way of banning books in Nepal is through India. For example: Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and Taslima Nasrin’s Lajja are wholly or partially banned in India so by proxy it’s unavailable in Nepal. During the Panchayat days issues of Newsweek and Times magazine critical of the government were banned at customs, so too were Communist literature. It’s no coincidence that the once ubiquitous Free Tibet merchandise is no more to be found in book stores. 

Talking about the Taliban, the essayist and pugnacious defender of freedom of expression, Christopher Hichens wrote: “they allowed the existence of prose and poetry only to the extent of the enforced recitation of one book, but all music they forbade.” Imagine the claustrophobia. And now imagine yourself in the middle of it. This is what happens when “truth” is left unconfronted. A misplaced sense of tolerance breeds intellectual sloth and that, dear readers, is a dreadful sin.

A version of this article appeared in Wave magazines, May 2012 issue. Please click link.
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