Monday, December 23, 2013

The Future Language of India

First published on NewsYaps

In 1916, the Mahatma spoke in Banaras Hindu University on the question of English. He said:

“I am hoping that this University will see to it that the youths who come to it will receive their instruction through the medium of their vernaculars. Our languages are the reflection of ourselves, and if you tell me that our languages are too poor to express the best thoughts, then say that the sooner we are wiped out of existence the better for us. Is there a man who dreams that English can ever become the national language of India? Why this handicap on the nation? Just consider for one moment what an unequal race our lads have to run with every English lad.”

I am unaware of the reaction to Gandhi’s confident claim expressing incredulousness at any Indian ever wanting English to be the national language. But the reaction to Mulayam Singh Yadav’s much more modest proposal that MPs in Parliament speak in Indian languages was met with a rather solid wave of disapproval. One headline from a piece published in the Mint called Mulayam “notoriously regressive” and attacked him for keeping “his people impoverished and vote-banked” (when nouns are being verbed you know things have gotten serious). The Times of India called the proposal “absurd” and opined that it leaked of “political hypocrisy”. The Indian Express, in an editorial, characterised this proposal as a “march to the past” and connected this with the overall failure of the SP government in UP.

That Mulayam’s proposal is impractical and will hardly change a thing is something which is obvious. In fact, this is a minor demand as far as he is concerned; in earlier times, Netaji had even demanded the banning of English from the country overall, the success of which can be gauged by having a look at the language this very write-up uses.

That being said, the reaction to this is almost as silly as the proposal in the first place. What our Anglophone class doesn’t realise is that there are large segments of the country which do have grievances with the heaven-born status that the language enjoys and it is this sentiment that Mulayam seeks to channel.

English as a glass ceiling

In a TV debate about this matter, Madhukar Jaitley of the SP rubbished claims to this being a regressive move and claimed that what was wrong was that you needed to know English—a language spoke by less than 10% of the country—to get a white-collar job. This is a point that is tough to argue with. India, burdened with the worst of colonialism and a particularly elitist culture, genuflects to English as few countries do. English, in India, is effectively a glass ceiling. You might be the smartest person out there for the job, but if you’re “Hindi-medium” then, well, you might as well forget it.

This extreme position that English occupies is something that a lot of the people who are befuddled by Mulayam’s stance don’t get. Yes, “we should love all languages” as Derek O’Brien condescendingly reminds us, but that’s easier said than done when this particular language is one of the major things that stands between you and social advancement. This is a point that many people who extol the English-is-global-language point don’t get. To quote from Sandipan Deb’s piece in Mint:

“Whether we like it or not—and Mulayam can have long discussions with Germans or Russians or Arabs about it through English interpreters—English is our planet’s principle medium of both communication and commerce... The Chinese, for instance, recognize that and have been pouring in enormous resources to teach their children the language.”

This is true. English is the principal medium of communication globally and if you wanted to have an international conversation, you would have to use English. But what about if each of these countries wanted to have an intra-national conversation? Would an Egyptian speak to an Egyptian in English? And Germany already follows Mulayam’s advice of using its native language in its legislatures. If Sandipan really did want to copy what the Germans, Arabs and Chinese were doing, he’d pretty much be agreeing with Mulayam. The point is simple: let us not confuse a global lingua franca—a link language—with our internal languages of business and governance. As far as the latter is concerned, Mulayam, the Germans, the Arabs, the Russians, the Chinese and almost every nation on earth agrees that a native language should be used. As for English being used as a global lingua franca, no one really disagrees with that, or should not at the very least. But as anyone who has observed India would know, English has gone far beyond being just a utilitarian global lingua franca and occupies a position of power today in India. If English was actually just a lingua franca, it would be absent in linguistically uniform places such as Delhi or not find a place in Bombay where, since it is understood by so few people, it would do a horrible job of acting as a lingua franca.

So why is English still India’s lingua franca?

Talk of lingua franca though brings us to another issue: India’s diversity. Not only was Sandipan’s comparison to Germany wrong because it ended up supporting Mulayam’s point, but it was also wrong because India is wildly multilingual unlike Germany. Not only does India need a lingua franca to communicate with other countries, its regions also need one to talk to other regions of India.

Here the contention of the Hindiwallahs is that since Hindi is already spoken by such a vast number of Indians (~33% speak it as their native tongue as per the 2001 census) it is the natural choice as a national language. Unfortunately, learning a new language is not a simple first-past-the-post exercise. For the huge number of non-Hindi speakers, learning a new language has to confer commiserate economic and social benefits for them to take the time and effort to learn it. Hindi clearly did not offer that in 1947. Yet Hindi was sought to be imposed, by fiat almost, on non-Hindi speakers. Almost as a back lash, non-Hindi speakers stuck all the more to English. As Anna Durai, put it across rather eloquently: “Why should Hindi be our national language? Is it because the majority speak Hindi? Then why is the Peacock our national bird and not the crow despite the latter being the most numerous?”

What is odd is that even after 66 years of Hindi promotion by the Centre, it has been unable to create enough critical mass for Hindi. This can be explained maybe by the fact that the Hindi promoted by the Centre is hardly even spoken by the 33% who label themselves as “Hindi speakers”. Our census, when it comes to Hindi is a bit of a joke. In 1881, for example, the census recorded 98% of UPites to be ‘Hindustani’ speakers. By 1951 that number had dropped to 10% and by 1961 to 0.1%! The truth of the matter is that Hindi, even in the Hindi heartland is an urban language and the rural areas speak a variety of languages such as Avadhi, Braj or what have you. To further weaken the cause, the Hindi that the Centre promotes is itself far removed from the urban Hindi of, say, Delhi, Lucknow or Kanpur, being highly Sanskritised and far removed from common speech. It’s a bit like the British Government promoting Shakespearean English today. Thus you have the extremely odd sight of signs in government offices in Patna or Lucknow which advertise and promote Hindi. I know off no other major language in the world which needs to be advertised to its own native speakers.

Given these deficiencies, Hindi is far from established in its own heartland, thus it’s not surprise that it hasn’t been able to take over the country. The elites prefer to stick to English and it remains the language of aspiration.

The Future

So is this the way it’s going to be? Is the rise and rise of English a fait accompli? It’s hard to imagine the decline of a language seemingly as entrenched as English. But the same could maybe have been said about Latin in Europe and Sanskrit in India: both languages once were widespread and powerful but lie dead today.

Personally, I don’t think that English has too bright a future in India as a popular language. English is spoken by too thin a patina of the Indian population to ever be a true lingua franca except amongst the elite. In spite of the bungling and chauvinism by the Hindiwallahs, this lingua franca is still to be Hindi. Indeed, if we consider the spread of Hindi-Urdu-Hindustani over the past 400 years, it’s been nothing short of remarkable. What started out as the language of Delhi and a tiny sliver of Western Uttar Pradesh is now understood, at least at some basic level, from Peshawar in West to Calcutta in the East and from Srinagar in the North to Bangalore in South.  In the 19th century, this was initially driven by the adoption of Urdu by the North Indian elite and the British Raj. The real fillip, though, came when the Bombay film industry, located far away from the Hindi heartland in Maratha country, adopted the simple spoken form of Hindi-Urdu as their language. If today the arcane register propagated by the Indian government drives people away, the shine and glamour of Bollywood has made Hindi appealing to large sections of the Indian population. This engine has driven the penetration of Hindi into far off regions like Kerala and rural Bengal. In fact, on a visit to Bangladesh, I found that while most couldn’t speak Hindi all that well, years of Bollywood had ensured that they understood the language just fine.

Of course, official languages require more than the entertainment industry. But as a popular language, the way things stand, Mulayam can take heart from the fact that Hindi has a far greater chance of becoming India’s lingua franca than English does.

Campa Cola Shows the Inordinate Power of the Middle Class in India Today

First published on NewsYaps on 20 November 2013

So I’m sitting there, all of 8 years old, listening to the conversation of a gaggle of aunts and uncles at a cousin’s birthday party. The topic revolves around the perfidy of maid servants, always a popular topic at our family gatherings.

“And that’s it. She just left. Without any notice, no nothing. And after all that I’d done for her,” an aunt complained bitterly about a recent maid in much the same vein as one would about a bad break-up.

These people are like that only, baba. No matter how much you do for them, it’s not enough. They know they can just skip to a different job whenever they want. They know that and take advantage of this fact,” chimed in an uncle sympathetically

“So true. Arre, it’s only us, the middle class, which has these problems. The rich, of course, have their own lives. And the poor, they don’t care. It’s us who get our backs broken,” said another aunt, following this up with an appropriate sigh.

This middle class lament, that they’re the only class with goodness, filled to the brim with virtues such as honesty, hard-work and diligence is rather common. Apart from this, another recurring theme is a narrative of victimisation: society, as well as the government, is out to get us and it’s only us and our hard-work that keeps us afloat.

Of course, like most self-portraits, there are large inaccuracies in how the middle class sees itself.  The exaggeration starts with the name itself. The middle class (defined liberally as those with an income in excess of 3.4 lakh per annum) actually occupies the top 15% of the country in terms of income. Looking at it mathematically, “upper class” would be a far more accurate name for this class of white-collar workers.

The other untruth of course, is this narrative of victimisation. This might seem like an obvious point—after all which state can victimise its richest, most powerful citizens?  Yet this narrative exists.  This was most recently seen in the Campa Cola Compound episode. Milind Deora’s letter to Sonia Gandhi captures much of this victimisation complex. The letter starts off with describing the residents as “law abiding middle class families” and then goes on to the blame the “builder/Corporation nexus” for this whole issue.

Of course, rather than abiding by the law, the residents were well aware of the fact that they were purchasing illegal flats. In February 2013, the Supreme Court itself stated that, “Although the members of the housing societies knew that the construction had been raised in violation of the sanctioned plan and permission for occupation of the buildings had not been issued by the competent authority, a large number of them occupied the illegally constructed buildings.

Most crucially though, rather than victimising the residents, the state went out of its way to help. In spite of the obvious illegality of the compound, so strong was the political class’ support that it bordered on the surreal. The Shiv Sena threatened to hit the streets against the demolition squad of the Shiv Sena controlled BMC, the Congress MP from South Mumbai, Milind Deora threatened Congress CM Prithviraj Chavan if action was not taken to stop the demolition and, of course, the cherry on the cake, the Supreme Court, taking suo moto cognisance of media reports, stayed its own demolition order.

Victimisation? Hardly.

To further make the case, the state has been far harsher with slums in Bombay, demolishing them at will.  The names of Golibar, Sion Koliwada, Ramnagar, Ambedkar Nagar and Ambujwadi come to mind where the residents were just as guilty/innocent as those in Campa Cola. But, of course, they had no media backing and had to go.

Following Herman and Chomsky’s Propaganda Model of bias in news, the English media pushes the interests of the middle class in order to keep up its funding which comes mainly via advertisements. Since its readers and the people who consume the advertisements are middle class folks, speaking up for their interests becomes mandatory for the English media. This media, thus, acts as a massive middle class pressure group.

Campa Cola is just one example amongst many of this phenomenon. This is the same mechanism at work which raises such a huge din when LPG prices are raised. Approximately 20% of India uses LPG and they are usually the richest 20% of India. Yet, the government subsidises this upper class and every small increase in prices is met with a strong push back led again by the media.

An even more egregious instance of this is the case of the BRT in Delhi. Multiple surveys have shown that the BRT in Delhi is actually hugely popular with bus riders, an overwhelming majority of the city’s population. Yet, the ruckus created by the English media has made it appear as if the BRT is a failure when the only people who think so are the tiny number of people who own private cars (for whom the roads have become more congested). So strong is this pressure that at one time the Supreme Court even cancelled the BRT system and the Sheila Dixit government has been forced to go slow on expanding the project.

In recent years, there has been a popular narrative of the middle class disengaging from democracy because, or so they moan and complain, there is no space for them here. The system is castigated loudly for being populist and politicians berated for pandering to "vote banks" (as if politicians hankering after votes in a democracy is just the worst abomination ever). Of course, as Campa Cola has most recently shown, vote banks are not the only things which push the levers of power. Far from being the frail little things the middle class like to cast themselves as, using their megaphone, the English media, they wield enormous power and influence in India; far more than the little power vote banks wield, in fact, as the sharp contrast between the treatment meted out to Campa Cola and slums of Bombay show. And as this middle class grows in size, its political influence can only get larger—something Milind Deora and the Shiv Sena seem to have grasped in this episode. This increased clout should certainly lead to interesting changes in the way politics is conducted in our country.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Babur Ki Aulad: Medievalism and Section 377

Today, the honourable Supreme Court of the Republic of India criminalised (or rather, re-criminalised) homosexuality. You can read an NDTV report on the matter here.

The court hid behind the argument that only Parliament can make and amend laws, not the judiciary. Technically correct but hugely hypocritical given the spate of judicial activism that's been the norm for some time now.

The reaction from the chattering classes was immediate and it was sharp. Social media dropped like a ton of bricks on the judgement and rightly so. In this charge, one of the more common adjectives used to criticise this judgement was "medieval". Here are a few screen-grabs from Twitter:

While a lot of humanity has certainly gotten better since medieval times, the use of the adjective "medieval" is simply inaccurate here in this context. India has never criminalised or stigmatised homosexuality, and certainly did not in the medieval age.

This here is a passage from Babur's autobiography, the Babarnama:

In those leisurely days I discovered in myself a strange inclination, nay ! as the verse says, 'I maddened and afflicted myself for a boy in the camp-bazar, his very name, Baburi, fitting in. Up till then I had had no inclination for any-one, indeed of love and desire, either by hear-say or experience, I had not heard, I had not talked. At that time I composed Persian couplets, one or two at a time ; this is one of the them : 

May none be as I, humbled and wretched and love-sick;
No beloved as thou art to me, cruel and careless.

From time to time Baburi used to come to my presence but out of modesty and bashfulness, I could never look straight at him ; how then could I make conversation (ikhtildt) and recital (hikayat) ? In my joy and agitation I could not thank him (for coming); how was it possible for me to reproach him with going away? What power had I to command the duty of service to myself? One day, during that time of desire and' passion when I was going with companions along a lane and suddenly met him face to face, I got into such a state of confusion that I almost went right off. To look straight at him or to put words together was impossible. With a hundred torments and shames, I went on. A (Persian) couplet of Muhammad Salih's came into my mind:

I am abashed with shame when I see my friend ;
My companions look at me, I look the other way.

That couplet suited the case wonderfully well. In that frothing of desire and passion, and under that stress of youthful folly, used to wander, bare-head, bare-foot, through street and lane, hard and vineyard. I shewed civility neither to friend nor anger, took no care for myself or 'others.

Out of myself desire rushed me, unknowing
That this is so with the lover of a fairy-face.

Sometimes like the madmen, I used to wander alone over hill and plain; sometimes I betook myself to gardens and the suburbs, lane by lane. My wandering was not of my choice, I decided whether to go or stay.

Nor power to go was mine, nor power to stay ;
I was just what you made me, o thief of my heart.

As is quite clear, not only does Babur have romantic feelings for a person of the same sex, in the society of the time they are completely "normal". Babur has written of them openly in his autobiography. Not only that, 50 years later, his grandson, Akbar would have this translated from the original Turki to Persian by his courtier Rahim (him of the dohas) and even then no one found anything in the Baburnama that was illegal or would cause embarrassment.

This Indian attitude that we have towards homosexuality is a uniquely modern affliction. No use randomly slandering the blameless medieval age for it.

Note: The Baburnama translation used is by Annette Beveridge; first published: 1922

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Modi and the Sardar: Same Same but Different

First published on NewsYaps

Last week saw the resurrection of a rather old controversy: who owns the legacy of Vallabhbhai Patel? Invited by the Prime Minster to inaugurate a museum on Patel, Modi, with characteristic rudeness, used the platform to attack Nehru, bemoaning the fact that Patel wasn’t chosen as the first Prime Minster of a Free India. Singh, though, came back with a spirited reply, pointing out the fact that Patel, just like himself, was a Congressman and believed in secularism.

This is the latest outbreak of a long simmering controversy, the biggest expression of which (literally) is the Statueof Unity that Modi plans to build. A statue of Patel, the monument will be the tallest statue in the world and will cost a whopping Rs 2,500 crore. To put this in perspective, this is almost equal to the Rs 2,700 crore the entire state of Gujarat spent on education last year. Of course, in spite of this monumental wastage, unlike Mayawati’s rather more modest statues (2,987th tallest in the world) there has been no brouhaha over it amongst the urban middle class. Welcome to post-caste India, ladies and gentleman, where some statues are more #1 than others.

Of course, much of this is a manufactured controversy. While Singh was factually correct when he pointed out that Patel was a Congressman, his implication that his legacy only belonged to the current-day Congress was not.

The fact of the matter is the both the Congress and BJP are miles away from the pre-independence Congress built by Gandhi and Singh’s party has no monopoly over claiming this legacy. Firstly, the Congress has ignored almost every politician who isn’t a Nehru-Gandhi. Ironically, even Nehru stands forgotten by the current party, with Rajiv towering over his naana if we measure stature by counting things that each have named after them. Patel’s forgotten legacy was ripe for the picking.

Secondly, given Patel’s largely Right-wing bent, it is hardly unnatural that the BJP/RSS would look to his legacy as a source of inspiration. Given how the hard Right (the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha) were mostly absent during the freedom struggle, Patel is a best fit.

In this whole rush by some sections of the Congress and the media to delegitimise the current Right’s claim on Patel, what is often forgotten is that the pre-independence Congress party was largely a Right-of centre part. It was pro-capitalist (being controlled by the middle and upper classes) and religion was a huge and, indeed, integral part of its functioning. It was also, almost exclusively, a Hindu party (in membership, not necessarily in ideology), its programmes being almost completely devoid of Muslim participation, a natural consequence of which was that in 1946, it failed to win even a single Muslim seat across the sub-continent (in the central assembly, which later on went to become the Constituent Assembly).

Of course, the Congress did have a Left-wing but it was feeble and largely ineffective. Socialist like JP and Kripalani were so powerless within the party that they eventually left the Congress to form socialist parties of their own.

Post-1947, though, Nehru, using his enormous utility as a vote-catcher, tried to effect a significant turnaround. Economically, contrary to the generally held view, Nehru was fairly open to foreign capital; indeed, he was desperate for it. Relations with Britain remained strong—the USSR alliance is more a creation of Indira than her father. It was with respect to religion in politics though, that Nehru was able to launch a determined and, in retrospect, remarkable rear guard action. In speech after speech, Nehru insisted that India was not going to become a "Hindu Pakistan" and that religion had no space in the business of governance in India.

In this, Patel, the tallest leader of the Right-wing (which was, remember, still the strongest bloc within the party) was less than impressed. Till his death Patel clashed constantly with Nehru and often had his way, installing Rajendra Prasad as the first President (whose abiding contribution to our history will remain his opposition and delaying of the Hindu code bills which modernised Hindu personal law) and PD Tandon as the Congress President, defeating Nehru’s candidate Kripalani. Patel was also the person responsible for initiating the Somnath Temple project and if it wasn’t for his death and Nehru’s opposition, Independent India might have started its innings as a modern nation by spending its time and resources building places of worship. But, of course, what endears Patel most to the BJP might be his hard-line stance on Muslims, post-Partition. The Sardar made it very clear that he did not trust Muslims after their role in supporting the League. In a letter to Nehru, Patel bluntly wrote:
Muslim citizens in India have a responsibility to remove the doubts and misgivings entertained by a large section of the population about their loyalty [to India]

In another remarkably Orwellian incident (that occurred, ironically, the same year that 1984 was published), Patel’s Home Ministry wrote a letter to the secretaries of all other departments instructing them to produce a list of all Muslim employees whose “loyalty to the Dominion of India is suspected”. Once identified for committing this Thoughtcrime, the members of this list would be excluded from “holding key positions or handling confidential or secret work.”

Given these facets of Patel, it's very understandable that the RSS/BJP would look to cast him as their political predecessor.

That said, for all his warts, Patel was still very removed in degree, if not in orientation, from the current ideology of the RSS/BJP.  This gulf becomes the sharpest when one recalls that Patel actually did what no Indian government could do after him: he banned the RSS. He called the RSS a “clear threat to the existence of the Government and the State” and blamed them for vitiating the atmosphere which led to his mentor’s murder. “The followers of the Sangh have celebrated Gandhiji's assassination by distributing sweets, " Patel complained bitterly in a letter to SP Mukherjee.

Even more remarkable was Patel’s position on the Babri Masjid controversy that had just broken out in 1948. In a letter to PD Tandon (and a key mover in getting the then functional masjid converted into a temple), Patel warned Tandon that “there can be no question of resolving such disputes by force. In that case, the force of law and order will have to maintain peace at all costs.” He also made it clear that the solution would have to be a joint one and “such matters can only be resolved peacefully if we take the willing consent of the Muslim community with us." A rather far cry from the BJP chant of “Babar ki Aulad, Wapas Jao” and “Ek Dhakka aur Do” as it illegally tore the mosque down.

And, of course, in what would be called “minority appeasement” today, Patel in a speech in the Constituent Assembly said, “it is for us who happen to be in a majority to think about what the minorities feel and imagine how we would feel if we were treated in the manner in which they are treated." How very sickular.

Right and Left are relative terms, and their meaning depends much on time and context. In Pakistan, the PPP, a party which banned Ahmedis from calling themselves Muslim (I would use the term ‘Orwellian’ but what’s the use), is considered Leftist.  In the Indian context, it's instructive to see how much the definition of the Right has changed. Patel—a man who banned the RSS, called for consensus on the Babri Masjid issue and spoke about the plight of minorities in post-Partition India—was once the leader of the Right wing in India. Today, the leader of the Right-wing in India is an RSS swayamsevak, belonging to a party which literally demolished the Babri Masjid and thinks that minorities, far from being oppressed, are “baby-making factories” which are being mollycoddled by the state.

Possibly, the real lesson from this attempt by Modi to draw a descent from Patel is to contrast the two and see how drastically and fanatically to the Right, India has shifted in the 60-odd years since Independence.

Modernity, Patriarchy and Love Jehad

First published on NewsYaps

In 2005, a rather unusual book made it to the New York Times bestseller list. Written by investigative reporter Neil Strauss, the non-fiction book called TheGame: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists purported to, as the name suggests, describe the world of the “pick-up artist”. “Pick-up artists” are a self-defined community of men who train in the skills of finding, attracting, and seducing women. As described by Strauss, pick-up artists abide by a certain system, replete with its own methodology and even terminology with which they aim to seduce women. Pick-up artists feel that seducing a woman is as mechanical an activity as, say, learning how play the cover-drive which anyone, with hard-work, dedication and, of course, some skill can learn and be on their way to sleeping with hundreds of women. Pick-up artists keep score of the number of women they have slept with and often compete against each other on that number (a concept that Ranbir Kapoor and Axe seem to have adopted here).

As is obvious, this whole business is extremely demeaning to women. As the Guardian review of the book says, “a low opinion of the opposite sex is a prerequisite for sarging (the pick-up artist term for “seduction”).”

This belief in the stupidity of women, so that they can be manipulated like cattle by a puerile sequence of moves and techniques into loving and/or sleeping with you is basically what lies at the heart of the world of the pick-up artist. You might say that it's a stupid and sad way of thinking but like a lot of other things which are sad or stupid, it is unexpectedly popular.

Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly), half a world away a very different type of people also have similar views when it comes to the ability of women to choose their partners: right-wing Hindu zealots.

There are many ways to look at the Love Jehad bogey that has been raised (one of the outcomes of which was the Muzzafarnagar riots) but at the core of the matter lies the fact that this campaign is run by people who reject the right and indeed even the capability of their own female relatives to make decisions about their own lives. This is a description of Love Jehad that  Chandra Mohan Sharma, joint general-secretary of the Meerut division of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) gives to TheHindu:

“First, good-looking Muslim men are identified. They are given neutral names like Sonu and Raju.” These boys, Mr. Sharma says, are then given jeans, t-shirts, mobiles, and bikes and taught to behave. “They stand in front of schools and colleges and woo young Hindu girls. The first few times, our girls snub them. But then, they fall for it. This jehad is about pyaar se phasaana (entrapment through love).”

If Sharma is to be believed, Muslim pick-up artists operate in Western UP looking to “sarge” Hindu women. Neil Strauss would be so proud.

You could dismiss Sharma as a crack-pot but you’d be making a mistake. As popular as The Game was (it was even made into a VH1 TV show), Sharma and his views are far more popular and indeed powerful: some of the most influential people in the land subscribe to it and even the State deferentially bows down to it.

Just like the world of the pick-up artist though, even in Sharma’s world, women are largely passive players, very much puppets in the hands of men. Much as they would like to resist, however, the lure of powerful attractions such as “jeans, t-shirts, mobiles, and bikes” that these “good-looking Muslim men” possess is just too much for the female spirit. Entrapment is a foregone conclusion.

This term, “love jehad” first arose in Kerala and was even investigated by the state high court before being dismissed for lack of evidence. It was then taken up with ridiculous sincerity in neighbouring BJP-ruled Karnataka with the Karnataka Government even announcing that it was a “serious issue” (this after problems such as poverty, malnutrition and sanitation had been solved and become “not-so-serious issues”). Predictably, much of the political pressure was applied by the Shri Ram Sena (the same organisation that was involved in the notorious attackon women in Mangalore pub) with the BJP government in the state playing loyal second fiddle. Of course, no real evidence was found with respect to this massive, organised “love jehad” but by then the term had entered into the vocabulary of the Hindu right-wing and would  be used to fan fires at Muzaffarnagar. Mr. Sharma, whose description of “Love Jehad” we just read, was at the “mahapanchayat” which acted as a direct catalyst to the Muzaffarnagar violence. What’s more, the VHP’s sister concern, the BJP, in 2007, had even released a CD which shows Hindus and Muslims eloping as one of the pressing problems this country faces.

Very often societies that are facing pressures to modernise and change, do so grudgingly. But as Partha Chatterjee shows in his fantastic essay, The Nationalist Resolution of the Women's Question very often this modernisation leads to only a superficial change in the patriarchal structures that define the community. On the contrary, very often, the changes are utilised to repackage patriarchy, the end result being that as far as the status of women goes, very little changes. Chatterjee uses the example of Bengali nationalism in the 19th century to prove his point. As modernity knocked on Bengal's doors, large-scale scale social changes took place: the bhadralok took to Western education, dress and even food. With this modernisation, the earlier practise of the social exclusion of women—purdaah— became   untenable. However, also untenable was their wholesale Westernisation (even as the bhadralok did his best to become more Catholic than the Pope in his attempt to Westernise). A middle ground was struck which ensured that women receive education and drop purdaah.  However, the education that men and women received was to be different. The Westernised curricula so sought after by the bhadralok was thought to be unneeded by the bhadramahila. Instead, a separate female curriculum was defined. This education sought to inculcate in women the virtues of "docililty, domesticity and "spirituality" and burden them with the sati-savitri complex of being an “Indian woman” even as their menfolk tried their best to become perfect brown baboos. This ensured that even as the new upper-class Bengali woman was freed from purdaah and indeed educated, the traditional patriarchal set-up of society remained undisturbed.

A striking current-day day example of this can be seen in modern Islamic TV evangelism as represented by Zakir Naik. Naik takes great care to dress in a suit and speak in English thus placing himself firmly within a “modern framework”—after all he is no uneducated Urdu-medium mullah from UP but a member of the English-speaking gentry from Bombay. This is important because his target audience is the educated, urban Muslim for whom modernity is important and a marker of respectability and power. Yet, his position on matters such as the wearing of the Burqa is anything but modern—he encourages it wholeheartedly. Indeed, just looking around, the number of educated Muslims who wear the Burqa has actually grown in urban India and across the subcontinent. This even as the number of educated women has risen, leading to greater economic freedom. Much like the Bengali bhadralok of the 19th century, the Muslim middle-class in India is also manoeuvring and position itself to ensure that when faced with new circumstances, old patriarchal systems remain undisturbed.

Of course, just like women’s education in 19th century Bengal and the Burqaisation of the Indian Muslim middle-class, “Love Jehad” and the recent outbreak of Hindu-Muslims romance fears is nothing but another instance of society reworking patriarchal control in order to adjust to modernity. In fast developing Western UP, as Hindu women, in larger numbers than ever, taste economic freedom, something as basic as their ability to choose a partner is questioned as the male members of the community reassert their power and privilege which seems threatened by too much independence. Thus, even as the woman earns economic independence or the right to move around freely, the patriarchal leash is still tightly wound around her, this time with the bogey of the well-trained “Love Jehadi”, well equipped with “jeans, t-shirts, mobiles, and bikes” ready to boggle her “simple mind” and sweep her off her feet, unless, of course, her menfolk are there to protect her with their bahu, beti bachao andolans and what not. How convenient.

Aap, Tum and Tu

Came across this great piece from regular suspect Johnson in the Economist on how formal pronouns for 'you' are dying out in Europe.

Is the process being mirrored in India? Hindi-Urdu has a three-tiered pronoun system--tu, tum, aap. Is that ending?

Most people have stopped using the verb inflection associated with "aap" preferring to simplify things by using the one for "tum" ("aap aa'oge" instead of "aap aa'i'e'ga"). When I first moved to Delhi, out of habit, I stuck with the "correct" system for some time but then increasingly found myself mixing stuff up. Guess, it won't be long before 'aap' dies out completely much as 'thou' did in English. Something that might lead to much pain for chacha Ghalib who once complained:

Teri mehfil mein aakar bade be-aabroo hue

Aap se tum aur tum se tu hue