Bajrang Dal Men Torched Two Muslim Women’s Canteen Accusing Them of Selling Beef

February 28, 2019 at 9:15 PMFeb (Uncategorized)

A make-shift canteen run by Khamrunissa (70) and Shamim (50) at Sakleshpur in Hasan district of Karnataka was vandalised and then set on fire by miscreants, allegedly belonging to the Bajrang Dal, who accused the women of selling beef at their canteen.

For forty years, Khamrunissa has been running the canteen at the weekly market where she sells idly and paratha with chicken and mutton curry. She has been accompanied in the business by her sister-in-law, Shamim, for several years now.

The incident took place on Thursday, January 31 at the APMC market ground during the weekly town market at 15:30 hrs.

The Bajrang Dal unit in Sakleshpur later on their Facebook page shared photos of the make-shift canteen being vandalised and claimed responsibility for the attack saying, “Good beginning for Sakleshpur Chalo. Destroyed the illegal selling of beef at the town market,” and “While creating awareness at the APMC market, with the support of public, a shop selling beef illegally was attacked and damaged.”

As a run-up to the Sakleskpur Chalo event to be held on February 14, with cow protection as its central issue, the organisers—Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)—took out a precursor rally on January 31 through the streets of Sakleshpur. It also passed from near the APMC market area.

Recollecting the attack before the Karwan-e-Mohabbat team, Khamrunissa said, “We were selling mutton when eight Bajrang Dal goons came to our shop around 3:30 that noon and accused us of selling beef. There was no space given to us to explain that it wasn’t beef but chicken and mutton. They were very aggressive and they smashed all the vessels in the shop. They kicked the stove on which we were boiling the curry and threw the hot curry on my body. They threatened me with fatal consequences if I were to sell meat again in my shop. They burst the stove to set the shop, which we build every week with a tarpaulin sheet, on fire.”

In-depth: Bajrang Dal Men Torched Two Muslim Women’s Canteen Accusing Them of Selling Beef
“Some of the boys who vandalised my shop grew up before my eyes,” said seventy-year-old Khamrunissa.
By Samvartha Sahil On Feb 7, 2019 Last updated Feb 8, 2019
Bajrang Dal Men Torched Two Muslim Women’s Canteen Shamim stands helplessly as the Bajrang Dal goons vandalise their shop.
A make-shift canteen run by Khamrunissa (70) and Shamim (50) at Sakleshpur in Hasan district of Karnataka was vandalised and then set on fire by miscreants, allegedly belonging to the Bajrang Dal, who accused the women of selling beef at their canteen.

For forty years, Khamrunissa has been running the canteen at the weekly market where she sells idly and paratha with chicken and mutton curry. She has been accompanied in the business by her sister-in-law, Shamim, for several years now.

The incident took place on Thursday, January 31 at the APMC market ground during the weekly town market at 15:30 hrs.

The Bajrang Dal unit in Sakleshpur later on their Facebook page shared photos of the make-shift canteen being vandalised and claimed responsibility for the attack saying, “Good beginning for Sakleshpur Chalo. Destroyed the illegal selling of beef at the town market,” and “While creating awareness at the APMC market, with the support of public, a shop selling beef illegally was attacked and damaged.”

Bajrang Dal
Sakleshpur Bajrang Dal claiming responsibility, in a celebratory tone, for the attack on Khamrunissa’s shop.
As a run-up to the Sakleskpur Chalo event to be held on February 14, with cow protection as its central issue, the organisers—Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)—took out a precursor rally on January 31 through the streets of Sakleshpur. It also passed from near the APMC market area.

Recollecting the attack before the Karwan-e-Mohabbat team, Khamrunissa said, “We were selling mutton when eight Bajrang Dal goons came to our shop around 3:30 that noon and accused us of selling beef. There was no space given to us to explain that it wasn’t beef but chicken and mutton. They were very aggressive and they smashed all the vessels in the shop. They kicked the stove on which we were boiling the curry and threw the hot curry on my body. They threatened me with fatal consequences if I were to sell meat again in my shop. They burst the stove to set the shop, which we build every week with a tarpaulin sheet, on fire.”

Khamrunissa amidst her destroyed shop
She added that nobody in the whole market came to their help as everyone was scared at the sudden outbreak of violence. She also said that she overheard the Bajrang Dal goons calling the police, asking them to come to the market, “By the time the police came to the spot, the shop was reduced to ashes.” The police, she recalls, asked the goons why they were called after they (the Bajrang Dal) had already damaged everything.

Khamrunissa further said, “My husband passed away very early. For 40 years now, I have been running this make shift shop during the weekly market and running my family.” She explained that for over 40 years, the customers who come to her shop have been from all religions and this sort of attack had never happened. “There was harmony in our town between religions for long. But in recent times, the inter-religious harmony has been disturbed,” she said, adding, “Some of the boys who vandalised my shop grew up before my eyes and some years ago lived close to our home.”

The burning down of her shop has left Khamrunissa with a loss of nearly Rs.50,000/- when her granddaughter’s wedding is just a month away. She said she would not stop setting up her shop at the weekly market fearing the Bajrang Dal. But she seemed worried about the fear that the attack has caused in the minds of the people, which might reduce the number of customers to her shop.

The police did not register Khamrunissa’s complaint the same evening and an FIR was filed (under the IPC sections 143, 147, 148, 149, 323, 354, 427, 436 and 504) only on the next day. The police confirmed that the meat being sold at Khamrunissa’s shop was not beef.
In-depth: Bajrang Dal Men Torched Two Muslim Women’s Canteen Accusing Them of Selling Beef
“Some of the boys who vandalised my shop grew up before my eyes,” said seventy-year-old Khamrunissa.
By Samvartha Sahil On Feb 7, 2019 Last updated Feb 8, 2019
Bajrang Dal Men Torched Two Muslim Women’s Canteen Shamim stands helplessly as the Bajrang Dal goons vandalise their shop.
A make-shift canteen run by Khamrunissa (70) and Shamim (50) at Sakleshpur in Hasan district of Karnataka was vandalised and then set on fire by miscreants, allegedly belonging to the Bajrang Dal, who accused the women of selling beef at their canteen.

For forty years, Khamrunissa has been running the canteen at the weekly market where she sells idly and paratha with chicken and mutton curry. She has been accompanied in the business by her sister-in-law, Shamim, for several years now.

The incident took place on Thursday, January 31 at the APMC market ground during the weekly town market at 15:30 hrs.

The Bajrang Dal unit in Sakleshpur later on their Facebook page shared photos of the make-shift canteen being vandalised and claimed responsibility for the attack saying, “Good beginning for Sakleshpur Chalo. Destroyed the illegal selling of beef at the town market,” and “While creating awareness at the APMC market, with the support of public, a shop selling beef illegally was attacked and damaged.”

Bajrang Dal
Sakleshpur Bajrang Dal claiming responsibility, in a celebratory tone, for the attack on Khamrunissa’s shop.
As a run-up to the Sakleskpur Chalo event to be held on February 14, with cow protection as its central issue, the organisers—Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)—took out a precursor rally on January 31 through the streets of Sakleshpur. It also passed from near the APMC market area.

Recollecting the attack before the Karwan-e-Mohabbat team, Khamrunissa said, “We were selling mutton when eight Bajrang Dal goons came to our shop around 3:30 that noon and accused us of selling beef. There was no space given to us to explain that it wasn’t beef but chicken and mutton. They were very aggressive and they smashed all the vessels in the shop. They kicked the stove on which we were boiling the curry and threw the hot curry on my body. They threatened me with fatal consequences if I were to sell meat again in my shop. They burst the stove to set the shop, which we build every week with a tarpaulin sheet, on fire.”

Bajrang Dal Men Torched Two Muslim Women’s Canteen
Khamrunissa amidst her destroyed shop
She added that nobody in the whole market came to their help as everyone was scared at the sudden outbreak of violence. She also said that she overheard the Bajrang Dal goons calling the police, asking them to come to the market, “By the time the police came to the spot, the shop was reduced to ashes.” The police, she recalls, asked the goons why they were called after they (the Bajrang Dal) had already damaged everything.

Khamrunissa further said, “My husband passed away very early. For 40 years now, I have been running this make shift shop during the weekly market and running my family.” She explained that for over 40 years, the customers who come to her shop have been from all religions and this sort of attack had never happened. “There was harmony in our town between religions for long. But in recent times, the inter-religious harmony has been disturbed,” she said, adding, “Some of the boys who vandalised my shop grew up before my eyes and some years ago lived close to our home.”

The burning down of her shop has left Khamrunissa with a loss of nearly Rs.50,000/- when her granddaughter’s wedding is just a month away. She said she would not stop setting up her shop at the weekly market fearing the Bajrang Dal. But she seemed worried about the fear that the attack has caused in the minds of the people, which might reduce the number of customers to her shop.

The police did not register Khamrunissa’s complaint the same evening and an FIR was filed (under the IPC sections 143, 147, 148, 149, 323, 354, 427, 436 and 504) only on the next day. The police confirmed that the meat being sold at Khamrunissa’s shop was not beef.

Sakleshpur Bajrang Dal claiming responsibility, in a celebratory tone, for the attack on Khamrunissa’s canteen.
Naveen Sadaa, a reporter from a local daily named Haasana Vaani, was not allowed by the police to take photos of the vandalised and burnt-down shop. This, he says, hints at the close nexus between the police system and the Bajrang Dal in Sakleshpur. Another reporter, on condition of anonymity, told the Karwan-e-Mohabbat team that Raghu Sakleshpur, under whose leadership Sakleshpur Chalo is being organised on February 14, is a rowdy history-sheeter who has several criminal cases registered against him.

“How is such a man given police permission to hold such an event on the 14th and what is the guarantee that no violence will erupt on that day in the town?” asked the journalist. The fear of the journalist wishing to remain anonymous stems from a press note issued by Dharmesh, the Bajrang Dal President of Sakleshpur Taluk. In the note, Dharmesh accuses a journalist named Mehboob of stirring communal tension in the town by highlighting the issue of the attack on Khamrunissa’s shop.

Speaking to the Karwan-e-Mohabbat team, ex-President of the VHP’s Sakleshpur unit Jai Maaruthi Devraj said that although Raghu Sakleshpur’s team claims to be Bajrang Dal-VHP and are using the names of Bajrang Dal and VHP in organising Sakleshpur Chalo, he does not belong to either of the outfits. Raghu, he claimed, had started his own organisation named Ramadhoota Sanghatane. He added that the higher-ups in the VHP and Bajrang Dal are unaware of Raghu’s workings and they have not been taken into confidence in organising Sakleshpur Chalo.

“It has become difficult for us to oppose this since we are in solidarity with the issue but at the same time, we cannot support it also since the name of our organisation is being misused,” said Mr. Devraj.

The Bajrang Dal unit in Sakleshpur, on their Facebook page, have quoted Raghu having said in a speech at Belthangady, “Our next aim is to hoist the Bhagwa flag on Mosques.”

When reached out to, Sakleshpur MLA Mr. HK Kumarswamy said, “This is nothing new and is just an extension of what you see in Mangalore and Udupi. These are done by immature people lacking wisdom,” adding that the police was looking into the matter and would be quick to act. Later that night, the Karwan-e-Mohabbat team learnt that five people from the Bajrang Dal were arrested.

The arrested are Karthik (24), Deepu (21), Prathap (29) and Raghu (20) and a fifth whose name wasn’t revealed to protect his identity as he is a minor. The Bajrang Dal, on their Facebook page, expressed anger over the arrests and called for a protest on the following day (February 6) at 11:00 in the morning.

(This article originally published in Newscentral24x7.com was supported by the Karwan-e-Mohabbat media fellowship.)

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A Speech Prepared and Rehearsed

January 31, 2019 at 9:15 AMJan (Friends, Literature, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Three years ago when the West Indies cricket team won the T20 World-Cup naturally they were celebrating their success and everyone were watching it with not much involvement. Later that day at the press conference the Captain of the WI team revealed of the economical constrains they had faced during the run-through to the World Cup, despite which they won the Cup. His words won the hearts of the people and people saluted the team of West Indies for their victory against odds. After the captain at the press conference the team member who won the man of the series title addressed the press with his legs placed on the table. This behaviour irked many and called it arrogant and indecent.

All of this made me ask myself if our indifference, compassion, intolerance everything, are they independent?

Do people of certain colour, caste, country, class become worthy of our attention and compassion only when there is a miserable touch to their existence? Why are we not understanding of the anger of the very same people? Is anger and pride permitted only to a few with social capital alone? Why the pride of some people comes across as indecent behaviour to us? When people deprived of social capital are discriminated based on colour, race, caste, class, religion and identity, have their guards high and their personality forms rough edges, why do we not understand it but only judge the behaviour of theirs? Why is this roughness largely unavoidable? Why does it become unacceptable while self-pity or imaging of self in misery becomes acceptable to an extent? Why striking a balance between self-pitying misery and rough edged pride/ arrogance to establish dignity becomes so difficult? How is one to achieve this balance?

Though not very deprived socially and economically, in the course of my journey of life love, basic human respect and social acceptance was quite absent. I spent a major portion of my life battling with depression, indulging in a sort of self-pity and in this battle, in order to protect my self-respect and the idea of self-worthiness, also have displayed arrogance thanks to the rough edges that got formed in my personality. Both these cost me quite a bit, in terms of my social life and my own development. It also created a dent in my emotional health.

Writing did help me a bit in striking the necessary balance between self-pity and egotism or roughness. It is true that I had to face discrimination, insult, and intolerance even because of my writing. But it did not break me like it did earlier. This was majorly because slowly writing had strengthened my ‘self’ to some extent.

Saying all of this, that too on the day of the release of my book is not to say I have answered life and the world for what I was made to go through. I say this just to remember what writing did to me and celebrate this journey for a moment. As life continues the efforts to strike this balance and uphold dignity will also continue. It is never ending because the shadows of certain experiences are cast on our entire lives.

The reason to have this book release on this very day is because today my father completes 70. All through my life he has supported, sheltered and encouraged me like most fathers do. But more importantly he has constantly redrawn his own boundaries in his attempt to understand my eccentricities, my madness and be by me in all of this. That is rare or not I know not. But I know the significance of it. So as he completes 70 what else can I gift him other than an attempt to tell him that in this life I have managed to weave words, managed to strike this balance between self-pity and egotism to some extent, managed get a hold of myself to an extent, managed to not lose my mind completely, managed to earn some basic human respect which was denied in several ways, and earn friends like you all who are a part of all my seasons! Within my limitations this is the least I could do in life which I can present before my father. Hence the book launch is scheduled on this day.

Akshata Hunchadakatte, Publisher Aharnishi Prakashana \ Dr. Vijay, Pricipal, MGM College, Udupi \ G. Rajashekhar, Cultural Critic and Kannada Writer \ Rajaram Thallur, Former Journalist, Writer, Translator and Media Critic \ Your’s truly \ K. Phairaj, Writer-Activist. (Left to Right)

(Speech I prepared and rehearsed several times in my mind for the release function of my book ‘baaLkaTTey’ on 27 Jan 2019, which in my nervousness couldn’t deliver as planned)

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Happy Birthday Ghalib

December 27, 2018 at 9:15 AMDec (Literature, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life)

Today happens to be the birth anniversary of the unparalleled Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib. There is a lot that has been written about the master poet and his poems have been understood, explained, analyzed and interpreted multiple times. It would sound a cliche if I am to say Ghalib’s poetry offers something new every time one revisits them. But I have known it from my own experience that, with more life experience one experiences Ghalib quite differently and more deeply. With age Ghalib only becomes more and more apna!

I am not someone who longs for a long life and sometimes fear having a long life. In such moments I tell myself, “Imagine what more meanings and truths of life will flow out of Ghalib at that age!” And that excites me. I wonder what hidden gems will emerge from within his poetry when engagement with life gets more intensified. A long life will be worth it just to look at oneself and one’s life in the mirror of Ghalib’s poetry, in the light of Ghalib’s poetry.

This photo is from the restaurant section in a hotel in Haygam, Kashmir named Time Pass. I was put up in this hotel during my visit to the valley this summer and on seeing Ghalib’s portrait there I immediately felt at home though it was my first time there.

Happy birthday Ghalib and thanks for everything.

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Odd thoughts on Children’s Day

November 14, 2018 at 9:15 PMNov (Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Those were the days which ingrained a sense of inferiority in me and ensured I have a low self esteem. Childhood was not rosy for me and though childhood evaporated long ago the impact of childhood experiences continue to bear their weight on my heart. A long process of unlearning in the days after childhood ensured my worldview undergoes a fundamental change but my idea about myself and my position in this world, in relation to my fellow human beings, are still colored by the experiences of childhood marked by discrimination, humiliation and alienation. Those who remember me from my childhood, remember me as “an angry child,” and cant/ don’t see why I was angry and why I am still angry. Life after childhood has seen many battles one among them has been a very personal and internal battle to overcome the burden of my childhood which I have been carrying within me since my childhood.

There are many who have had childhood experiences more traumatic and paralyzing than my experiences. To all of them and to all those who have been crippled in one or the other way by childhood experiences here, take a warm hug for love and warmth is more important than laddoos in schools and discount offers in the market.

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Transgressing Gandhi

October 25, 2018 at 9:15 PMOct (Activism, Media, Musings, Soliloquy)

Ahmedabad faced great trouble because of the rabies dogs in the year 1928. Coming under the influence of Gandhi the people of Ahmedabad had imbibed the value of non-violence and this put them in a serious dilemma when faced with the threat of these dogs. When the municipality decided to kill these dogs, the people of Ahmedabad under the leadership of Seth Ambalal Sarabhai went to Gandhi seeking his suggestion. To their shock, Gandhi asked them to let the dogs be killed.

Gandhi faced several questions by his followers and Gandhi answered them all.

Around the same time, a calf in Gandhi’s ashram had a serious injury and was suffering because of it. After trying all sort of medications Gandhi finally passed an order to kill the calf. Disciples of Gandhi protested and yet Gandhi stood his ground. A meeting was called after the calf being killed where Gandhi was put on trial. Facing the question, “How could you who preach ahimsa and non-violence get down to killing an innocent calf?” Gandhi said “I couldn’t see it suffer so i had to kill it.” The disciples argued further and asked, “So if a man is suffering will you kill him too?”. To this Gandhi replied saying, “Man can at least voice his suffering but the calf couldn’t even voice its suffering. It was suffering silently.”

The non-violence of Gandhi not just held a streak of violence in its womb but, more importantly, was not a value blind to pressure of time and the needs demanded by the situations, dictated by time and space. His value system was more of a sincere and honest response to the here-and-now.

Gandhi, who in his earlier days spoke only against untouchability and not the caste system, overtime welcomed inter-caste weddings, inter-community dining and also led them. More than being a strategic move of slowly taking the mass into new consciousness step by step, this was a sign of Gandhi’s change of vision and ideology. This change was caused majorly by the widening of his horizon and new awareness about the world, stemming from his honest engagement with the world and his experience of life. He was dynamic and open to learning. Another example for the same is his initial statement, “God is truth” being turned on its head at a later stage as “Truth is God.” When he witnessed the aftermath of partition, the same Gandhi who called God as truth and truth as God, desired the world had turned atheist.

Gandhi’s thoughts, vision, ideas and actions were never frozen and stagnant. They were not just like flowing river but also constantly and continuously testing itself and overcoming itself in order to refine themselves. They never desired to become timeless as each of his actions and his thoughts were determined by the need of the hour, without compromising with the larger goal. To make Gandhi relevant today means to respond to our times understanding the condition of today, caught in time and space, and doing the necessary without compromising with the larger goal of greater good. Gandhi continuously redefined himself, his worldview and actions by transgressing himself endlessly. The only way to be loyal to Gandhi now is by transgressing Gandhi.

[Originally written in Kannada for the monthly magazine Mayoora for their Gandhi-150 special issue, October 2018]

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Decoding Bhagwat-Modi duo’s Googly

September 23, 2018 at 9:15 AMSep (Activism, Media, Musings)

The Chief of RSS Mohan Bhagwat’s statement saying Muslims are a part of the Hindu Rashtra dream of the RSS and their vision of the nation has a place for Muslims though appears to be a googly, beyond the surface actually it isn’t.

The statement made by the RSS chief at the three day conglomeration of the Sangh, came couple of days after the Prime Minister Narendra Modi participated in the commemoration of the Martyrdom of Imam Husain at Indore. At the programme organised by the Dawoodi Bohra community, the act of Prime Minister Narednra Modi embracing the religious head of Dawoodi Bohra community, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin created ripples along with the praise made by him of the Bohra community.

Both these events came as a surprise to all including both the supporters and critiques of the Prime Minister and his ideological family- RSS. But a close observation of this reveals that neither of them is playing off the tune notes.

The RSS has never in its history held the desire to wipe Muslims out of this country. They, starting from their Guru Golwalkar, have always maintained the position that Muslims should live in India like second grade citizens. The allegory given by RSS throughout their history is that of big brother and younger brother, demanding the Muslims as the younger brother accept an unequal position and listen to the elder brother, the Hindus.

Yes, of course the RSS and the Prime Minister are saying nothing new or different from the philosophy of the party. But they are speaking half-truth making their position appear like that of inclusion and respect, at an interesting turn of times. No, this is not just an appropriation tactic before the elections and appeasement of the well to do Bohra community. It is all of that but it is not just that.

A close observation of the Congress party and its action reveals how desperately it is trying to impress the Hindu community and at proving itself as not an anti-Hindu party or a pro-Muslim party. Rahul Gandhi’s visits to temples were one of the series of things orchestrated by the Congress party to make this point. A fresh action on the same lines for the same purpose is the journey to be taken in Madhya Pradesh by five leaders, including Kamal Nath, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Digvijaya Singh, called Rampath Gaman. In this journey they will be retracing the footsteps of Ram and Sita during their exile.

It can be remembered how the BJP and RSS went on an aggressive hate campaign against the Congress accusing them of being pleasers of the Muslim community and being anti-Hindu. The BJP and RSS bullied the Congress so much that under the pressure of it now the Congress is trying to prove itself as a not an anti-Hindu party! Apparently, the Congress has fallen into the trap.

BJP and RSS, like they have been doing in the recent past, are again dictating the rules of the game and all of the opposition, not just Congress, are playing the game as per the rules decided by the BJP and RSS.

The action of the Congress, which is a reaction to the allegations made by the BJP, has actually triggered a sense of abandonment among the Muslims, who already have been feeling alienated because of the politics of the BJP and RSS. Taking advantage of this situation, now BJP is trying to tell the Muslim community that the Congress cannot be trusted while they can be. But of course the condition always is that the Muslim community will have to accept a second grade citizenship and behave like a younger brother, obedient to the elder brother. With Congress abandoning them, the Muslim community is forced to give supporting BJP a thought. Thus the BJP has erased opposition further.

Moreover, one should realize that Modi and the RSS are now so powerful that they can say whatever they wish to say and continue to do what they believe in, without bothering if their words and actions might appear contrary. Social scientists have identified this new phenomenon being seen not just in India but also in the United States of America and Russia where the authoritarian figures are making contrary statements one after the other and still not being held accountable or answerable neither for any of their statements or for their contradictions. The powerful, it is said, is so powerful that they determine what is to be believed as the truth. The new phenomenon is like a Chinese proverb that says, “That which triumphs is the truth,” which is quite the opposite of what was being told and believed in India: “Truth triumphs.”

In such a scenario what we can infer from what Modi and the RSS are saying is not that they have undergone a change of heart but only that they are more powerful than ever.

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Stree

September 10, 2018 at 9:15 PMSep (Cinema, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

In the country where superstitions are deep rooted, in times when champions of anti-superstition bill are being killed, to make a film like Stree is undoubtedly an act of bravery. In Bombay cinema the genre of horror films has always played to the stereotype using the superstitions to its benefit and has strengthened those superstitions. Stree breaks away from this tradition and subverts not just this genre but also more.

The last few years, specifically after the 2012 Delhi gang-rape incident and the following protests across nations, Bombay cinema has played to the newly awakened feminist thought line among the masses. If one were to look at it just as a response of popular culture without diving deep into discussions about feminism and the feminism of popular culture, one can say that these series of films including titles like Gulaab Gang, Pink, NH 10, Queen, Highway etc, have tried to make a point in their own ways and attempted to puncture the prevailing patriarchal ideas and beliefs. But more or less all these films have been quite two dimensional and more or less sloganeering, even if we have to assess these films as cinema of popular culture. Stree does what all these films attempted to do, in a much engaging and convincing manner without reducing the thought into slogans or sermons!

Very few imaginative writers and directors are able to make a larger point through a genre like that of horror films, Under the Shadow, written and directed by the Iranian filmmaker Babak Anvari being one of those exceptional cases. For a nation where stories of ghosts and spirit existing is more or less equal to the head count of living human beings in the country and where there has been a tradition of horror films across A and B grade films, it has not been much possible to do turn the superstitions on their head and through them make a comment on the real! Stree becomes an important film for these reasons!

Stree written by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK and directed by Amar Kaushik is refreshingly original which at the very beginning of the film declares it is based on ‘a ridiculous phenomenon’. Making its position clear thus, the film goes on to weave horror, humour, satire in right elements and present a film which is hilarious, scary and also political.

Set in the small town Chanderi, the film Stree revolves around the myth of a ghost, known just by the name Stree, who every year visits the town only at the time of festival and picks men up leaving behind only their clothes. To save the men in their house each house write on their walls, “Aye Stree, Kal Aana,” to mean, “Oh Stree, come tomorrow.” Writing this, it is believed, will keep the ghost away. If this is to save the men at home, there is no way one can save the men on streets during those four nights during the festival. The easiest way found out by the men of the town is to not step out of their house after sunset. By chance if they have to step out, it is believed they should not meet eyes with Stree who is believed to call men from behind thrice before abducting them.

Vicky (played by Rajkumar Rao) is a tailor in Chanderi popular for his ways of taking measurement without using a measuring tape but through his gaze alone. His friends are Bittu, who owns a readymade clothing shop and Jaana. The friendship of these three and their acquaintances with the town scholar Rurdra (played by Pankaj Tripathi) keeps underlining the quintessential quality of a small town, its worldview and its lifestyle. One day Vicky meets a girl (played by Shraddha Kapoor) who wants to get a dress stitched before the last day of the festival and a fond relationship flowers between the two. Her refusal to reveal her identity, her phone number and her strange demands for the tail of a lizard, hair of a cat etc. in her first letter to Vicky, which he and his friends understand as a love letter, makes his friends come to the conclusion that this mysterious friend of Vicky in real is Stree and is after his life. What adds strength to this conclusion of theirs is the fact that this unnamed girl doesn’t enter the temple or take the prashaad offered by the temple and more importantly nobody except Vicky has seen or met this girl.

When his two friends arrive at this conclusion Vicky has gone to meet the girl in an abandoned place. The friends go in search of Vicky to save him and fail to find him. The two scared of being spotted by Stree return and in the last leg of their way back take different routes to go to their respective places. That is when Stree makes Jaana her catch, leaving behind only his clothes.

The disappearance of Jaana makes Vicky and Bittu go in search of Stree and bring back their missing friend. For this journey they take the help of the town scholar Rudra and after making a surprising discovery the three along with a fourth comrade not just fight the ghost but also discover the past of the ghost which becomes a mirror of the societal values and hypocrisy.

This entire journey is thoroughly funny and scary. Short but powerful dialogues which are in tune with the story line also echo a larger political commentary. While dialogues like, “Andh bhakti buri cheez hai, kisi ko bhakt nahi hona chaahiye,” is a comment on the political worshipping; dialogues like “Stree ijaazat kay bagair haath nahi lagaati,” underline the issue of consent in a way which is non-argumentative. The past of the ghost and the past of the protagonist Vicky and how the fighting four respond to these are remarks made on the existing social values and through their response the film subverts them. These elements which form the heart of the narrative a political film wrapped in a horror genre. But the politics of Stree doesn’t beat its drum hard yet doesn’t fail to make its point.

While saying all of this it must be said that the film which otherwise speaks about women’s issue with such conviction could have avoided the item number where the camera drools over the body of the dancer and reduces the women to a body. Also and more importantly demonizing one of its central characters in the end also could have been avoided. These wouldn’t have taken away anything from the film even by an inch and avoiding them would have made the film even the more lovable.

This calendar year after Raazi we have one more creative and brilliant political film which dares to look into the eyes of the times we live in and show our times a mirror.

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Is Hari Dead?

August 31, 2018 at 9:15 PMAug (Cinema, Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life)

One of the often asked question after the screening of Aanya Kasaravalli’s debut film Harikatha Prasanga (Chronicles of Hari) has been: “Does Hari die in the end? Is Hari dead?”

Being associated closely with the film, not just in the capacity of the associate director, but also as a friend of Ananya, I have had several discussion, at different stages of the film, about the film and the character Hari. One of the issues we did discuss was obviously as to whether Hari dies or not in the end. While Ananya, from the beginning, felt that Hari isnt dead, I believed the opposite.

The same discussion took place couple of times, between some artist or some technician and me during the shoot and every time I answered, “According to me he dies, but Ananya believes he isnt dead.” While some believed that Hari shouldnt die because that would be dark and defeating, some did agree with me that he is dead. But I am not sure why they, like me, felt that Hari is dead.

(spoilers ahead)

Chronicles of Hari, as I see, is a film on the idea of normalcy, managed by morality and legality, which orchestrates certain standardization that marks things, humans, ideas etc as acceptable or unacceptable. Hari, as I understand, becomes problematic to these categories and moves, continuously, from difficulty to impossibility of being standardized and becoming acceptable to and in the standardized world.

I see Hari’s character being unfolded or revealed in different names as the different ways in which they- people in the society- want to see him. To ‘see’ means how they want to see him be. But Hari every time casts off the name and thorugh his being and continual becoming breaks the expectation and standardization in the name of morality, legality and also the idea of normalcy. His being and continual becoming is what exposes the shallowness of the society and its idea of normalcy. It also upholds the right to dignity and right to life of humans of all colours and all shades and thus celebrates the human rainbow.

If Hari is so powerful who punctures the idea of normalcy continuously and repeatedly, how can I come to believe that Hari dies in the end?

Man, as we all know, is born free but everywhere is in chains. These chains are social, economical, aesthetic etc. which are all designed for moulding humans into conventions. The ones who are in battle against the society are the ones who refuse to become conventions and break the mould repeatedly. Society through its power and force always longs to chain the human spirit which is born free. Society accepting such individuals who break those mould would mean surrendering to convention, conforming and rejection of freedom. Success of a rebelling artist in a world which s/he is rebelling against becomes his/her greatest failure for it would mean some compromise unless the world itself has undergone a change of heart.

When freedom is not permitted in life, freedom is chosen in death. Hari announces his freedom, at the cost of life. Death becomes the expression of freedom, though not liberation. Death is not acceptance of failure by Hari but the failure of the world in accepting Hari. So even in his death of transforming from soul to the soulless he once again underlines the shortcoming of the world, its norms and its conventions. He rejects it because its heart hasnt changed yet. But only after fighting a brave but unequal battle.

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Bhakti

July 21, 2018 at 9:15 PMJul (Friends, Music, Musings, Slice Of Life, Theater)

A splendid moment occurred on 17 Feb 2018 at the Dhwanyaloka, in the campus of MGM College, Udupi.

Occasion: Book launch of Lakshmeedha Tolpady’s ‘bhaktiya nepadalli’ and ‘bhakti kampita’, a collection of essays by AK Ramanujan on Bhakti, translated by Dr. Mahabaleshwar Rao, to be followed by lectures and discussions.

The event was inaugurated by Yakshagana artist Bannanje Sanjeeva Suvarna through a short performance of Yakshagana, along with a student of his. For the inaugural performance Suvarna Sir had selected the episode of Krishna visiting Vidhura, to be in tune with the theme of Bhakti, which was flowing across both the books to be released.

Krishna has arrived at Vidhura’s place and the latter is overwhelmed with joy, to the point of tears and silence! Struggling to express his affection for the Lord in words, Vidhura starts to sing and dance. At this point of the performance Suvarna Sir went on his knees to perform ‘manDi’, a popular step in Yakshagana where the artist goes on his knees and swirls as he goes around the stage/ performing space, forming circles. Dhwanyaloka is designed to be a lecture hall not performance hall. So, the Krishna performer standing erect in the center of the performance space, in a typical Krishna pose, became an obstacle in the orbit of Suvarna Sir, while performing ‘manDi’. Vidhura/ Suvarna Sir at this point, very casually and unhesitatingly gave a gentle push to Krishna, brushing him aside! Krishna softly moved to the side and made way for the swirling performance by Vidhura.

It was an electrifying moment for me!

Lakshmeesha Tolpady during his speech later remembered the moment and said, “The devotee asks for space and the Lord makes space for him. Else there will be no space for the Lord.” It was a thrilling way of looking at it. But that moment appeared a bit different to me, or rather I saw it a bit differently.

It is the God himself/herself who, in his/ her stagnancy, becomes an obstacle to Bhakti. And when Bhakti is in full force it gives movement to the static God and brings him/ her to life and brings him/ her alive. Also, Bhakti doesn’t tolerate the God himself/ herself, if s/he becomes an obstacle in the path of Bhakti. In the end the one who occupies the center stage is not the Lord but Bhakti and through Bhakti, the devotee.

The event was presided over by K.P. Rao, who in his presidential address remembered the short invocation performance by Suvarana Sir before the Vidhura-Krishna performance. In the invocation performance Suvarna Sir invoked Lord Ganesha, where he was describing Lord Ganesha through gestures and also performing the worshiping of Lord Ganesha. Remembering this KP Rao said, “Did you see how Suvarna was becoming the worshiper and also the worshiped, the devotee and also the Lord himself?” He was pointing not at the one man performance where the same performer plays different roles. It was a comment on Bhakti!

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Raag and the Rain

June 13, 2018 at 9:15 PMJun (Friends, Music, Musings, Poetry, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

One afternoon, in the third week of this April, I was with my friend Randheer in Jammu University. I had gone back to that campus after two years. In a while, our other friends- Sonia, Nisha and Shaabaaz joined. As we sat under a tree with chai in our hands, we requested Nisha to sing and Shaabaaz to recite his poems. Understanding the mood of the situation, Shaabaaz called his friend Aakash, a trained and passionate singer, to join us. Akash was with us in two minutes.

Nisha began the mehfil by singing a gazal by Begum Akthar. After Nisha sang and Shaabaaz recited his poems, now it was Akash’s turn. Akash sang quite a few songs and ghazals for us, pausing his singing to explain which raag it is, other musical details and some related anecdotes. Once while he was explaining a raag to us, the impulsive and innocent Sonia asked Akash if its true that some raag bring rains and some light the lamps. My immediate reaction was, “What a juvenile question,” which of course I did not say loud. I do not know what others thought but Akash clearly did not think so. Very spontaneously he said, “I am not sure if it happens in the outside world. But it has happened within me. I have witnessed rain within me, while listening to some raag and have witnessed lamps being lit within me, while listening to some other raag. That is all I can say.”

I was glad Sonia asked that question. When Akash’s singing continued, I could feel a new vibration within me.

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