Friday, 28 February 2014

The family

Babu Bajrangi Baba Ramdev Amit Shah Narendra Modi Swami Aseemanand Maya Kodnani D. G. Vanzara Mohan Bhagwat Asaram Bapu Pravin Togadia
The family is coming together, sensing they have a real shot at power in the centre.

VHP president Pravin Togadia always has a lot to say. Some Parivar members were unhappy with Modi's more cautious tone as BJP prime ministerial candidate. But Togadia got the picture, tweeting: "Let him add secular votes... We are ONE & the same. Nation needs him". For Togadia, Asaram Bapu, currently in jail charged with sexual assault of a minor is "a real saint" . Here's how Togadia sees mass murderer Maya Kodnani, sentenced to 28 years in jail for orchestrating the killing of 97 people in the Naroda Patiya massacre: she "stood up for her religion... she is the daughter of 100 crore [1 billion] Hindus. We stand with her". And for Togadia, the arrest of Swami Aseemanand, in jail having confessed to a number of terrorist acts, was a government conspiracy against Hindu leaders.

Disgraced "supercop" D. G. Vanzara, in jail since 2007 for his role in overseeing a number of fake encounters, has strong feelings. On Modi and his right-hand man Amit Shah: "I used to adore Modi like a god. But I am sorry to state that my God could not rise to occasion under the evil influence of Amit Shah who usurped his eyes and ears and has been misguding him". Vanzara apparently also adored Asaram Bapu, whose arrest was the last straw for him.

Modi may not have been the RSS' first choice for Sangh Parivar prime ministerial candidate. But RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat wanted to dispel any suggestion of infighting, saying Modi "is my friend", and "if we stand together no one can stop us". Indeed, the Parivar stands together: in March 2013 Bhagwat and Togadia jointly launched the "Hindu Ahead" (हिंदू ही आगे) movement in Ahmedabad. Swami Aseemanand, in jail for terrorist atrocities, has claimed that RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat approved the terror attacks, and that Modi said to him "now it has been decided that I will be CM, let me come and then I will do your work. Rest Easy."

Modi has surrounded himself with the best. Amit Shah, implicated in fake encounters, facing charges of murder, and being the head of an extortion syndicate, and director of the illegal surveillance of a young woman in late 2009, in the so-called snoopgate scandal is Modi's right hand man. Maya Kodnani was Modi's close aide and was promoted to minister after her starring role in the Gujarat pogroms of 2002. Modi's fanbase goes wider. Convicted mass murderer Babu Bajrangi felt his mentor Togadia betrayed him; but Modi "made everything all right, otherwise who would have had the strength?" Super-rich godman and close associate of the Sangh Parivar, Baba Ramdev, declared before Modi's selection that if Modi was not declared PM candidate he would have to rethink his support for the BJP. He also feels that "Modi alone can give stable government to the nation". Ramdev is also a fan of Asaram Bapu, declaring him to be "Guru Ghantal" (the guru of gurus - the one with all the answers.)

This is only a small part of the family. They hope to take over very soon unless we stop them.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Human sexuality and the human computer

I remember Shakuntala Devi appearing on Doordarshan in my childhood, generally accorded the status of a national icon for her astonishing feats of mental arithmetic. She could multiply, add, and extract roots of numbers of frightening size in seconds and without pen or paper. It seems likely that she - like other savants with similar abilities - related to numbers as poetry, as something to feel and experience rather than cage and manipulate. Although no doubt intended as a compliment, her nickname "the human computer" now sounds cruel, hinting that her special relationship with numbers might diminish her as a human being. But computers have not, so far, had much of interest to say about human sexuality. Whereas Shakuntala Devi on the other hand called for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in India. In her book "The World of Homosexuals", written in 1977 at the height of her fame, she interviewed a number of gay men, and ended by advocating "nothing less than full and complete acceptance... not tolerance and not sympathy". She stressed that her position was based on empathy and common sense.

In 2009, a full 32 years later, the Delhi High Court agreed. In a landmark judgement the Court declared a colonial era law, namely Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalising gay sex, as discriminatory and unconstitutional. In December 2013, about eight months after Shakuntala Devi's death, the Supreme Court of India reversed this decision, to loud applause from the religious right. Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Jewish bigots chorused their satisfaction at the Supreme Court's contradictory and confused judgement in which it decided that "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" was a meaningful category, referred to the LGBT community in India as a "miniscule fraction of the country's population", and claimed that the harassment of this community by the police using this law was a misuse of Section 377 rather than its natural consequence.

There will of course be another swing of the legal pendulum eventually and Section 377 will go the way of other junk - though if the forces of Hindutva come to power in the coming general election, this may take a while. What is of no doubt is that in the big scheme of things, Shakuntala Devi will remain an icon, while this Supreme Court judgement will just look silly.