Monday 14 October 2013

Don’t turn India into Talibanistan (Sunday Guardian)

Jiah Khan
nuradha Ugde and Abdul Wahab are in a Mumbai jail. Anuradha's husband Sunil hanged himself a few days back, leaving behind a video message on his cellphone. According to the message, Anuradha and Abdul were an item, with her spending quality time with him whenever husband Sunil was out of town, which was often. Distraught at such a choice of pastimes on the part of his spouse, Sunil turned to Inspector Ajit Kadam of the Agripada police chowky or help in making Anuradha accept that her behaviour was a trifle too Khajuraho-esque for what must be a prim Maharashtrian household, or was until Anuradha discovered the charms of Abdul.
Apart from the 19-minute video clip, there is no proof on record that Anuradha was anything other than a blameless housewife. However, we must take Sunil Ugde's word for it that it was the Anuradha-Abdul tango which motivated him to take his own life. However, from that to arresting two adults for "abetment to suicide" is further indication that the police and legal system in India are going the way of 1996-2001 Afghanistan in regarding relations between the sexes as criminal unless accompanied by a marriage certificate. Earlier, an aspiring film star, Sooraj Pancholi, was similarly tossed into prison because his sometime girlfriend, Jiah Khan, killed herself. The reason, according to Jiah and the distraught relatives she left behind was that Sooraj was refusing to marry her and indeed, had walked out or was in the process of walking out of their relationship.
As Donald Rumsfeld would say, "stuff happens", especially when younger members of both sexes come together. This has been the case since the origins of the human species and is unlikely to change simply because Mullah Omar and his growing band of fellow social conservatives across the globe see such activity as illicit. A High Court in India finally accepted that this is the 21st century, by in effect, de-criminalising relations between the same sex. Because this country still hews on to the 19th century laws enacted for slave people by the British, in place of "all that is not expressly forbidden is permitted" (which is the way civilised societies behave), in India, anything not expressly permitted is deemed to be illicit.
This is, of course, in addition to the huge list of items that are expressly barred, including the taking of bribes, although this is the core activity of any government in India.
There was a time not too long ago when it was forecast that more than 500 million Indians would learn to speak an international language (such as English) besides their native tongues. That society in India was evolving in a modern, moderate direction.
That illusion is melting away, with conservatism in dress and deportment becoming commonplace. If newspaper reports are correct, even the BJP believes that the burqa and the shervani are the dress that "genuine" Muslims ought to wear, so much so that these were reportedly provided to those Muslims who attended a Modi rally. So are Muslim women who wear the sari or even jeans not "good" Muslims? Can the quality of a human being and fealty to a faith be defined by dress and by ritual alone, or is it more basic?
According to those seeking to convert Hindustan into Talibanistan, the social codes approved and enforced by Mullah Omar need to be brought into effect in this country as well.
The fact is that except for primitive 19th century colonial minds, a voluntary relation between the sexes is not a crime. If it be true that Anuradha was a trifle over-enthusiastic in her dealings with Abdul, and even that such behaviour caused her husband to end his life, the same is not reason enough to deprive her and her male friend of their freedom.
Exactly as in a colonial state, jail has become the first — usually the only — option of the police system in India. It is time for a change, so that this country turns its face towards the future rather than a dark past.

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