Kolkata was burning last week

I have so little time to blog… though I want to a lot.  So I’ll try to make this short so I can finish it and send it… and maybe add pieces later.

Yesterday’s The Sunday Statesman had three articles on the editorial pages, each one having a lot of meaning for me.

The Dual Danger, part 1 by Sandeep Pandey.  I know of Pandey because he was the founder of Asha for Education in the US, a volunteer organization of mostly NRI’s with a commitment to education in India.  I’ve been a part of ASHA for several years.  He writes of seeing a "face of Left fascism" in the operation of the current government.  For me, having grown up in the era of McCarthyism in the US, the spying on individuals, the persecution of communists, Leftists, and the general atmosphere of fear — "Loyalty Oaths" as entrapments – these are familiar but ominous.

On the next editorial page, the headline read, "CPM’s parallel Governance" which proposes there is a "government inside a government" that is actually ruling in West Bengal.  This is exactly what we are discovering as we try to make our way through this nightmare over the licensing and the security of our children.

The last of the three is "Taslima and the Bengali Literati" questioning why the "intelligentsia" of Kolkata were silent when she was hounded out of Kolkata by fundamentalist mobs whose "sentiments she hurt" by writing about women in Islam.  The intelligentsia were not the only silent ones.  In fact, even the liberal left caved in to the mob violence.  That was what upset me most, that people in the government who I assumed would protect her instead conspired for her removal.  She was spirited out of Kolkata by the "government within the government" which was the theme of the first of these three articles.

Well, this is the political atmosphere of my life in Kolkata.  One would think we were removed from all this, but the politics and alliances carry down to the smallest units of governance.  If we had simply gotten our license, and then the renewal, all this would be of interest, but would not feel so critical or relevant to my life.

I am reminded also of Academia in the US and what can happen to Ph.D candidates if they find themselves with a recalcitrant or hostile or jealous adviser.  Their degrees and careers can literally be ended; the truth will be buried under the guise of "non-interference" which is a way of everyone else avoiding responsibility.

Saturday evening Gibi and I passed a small group of women demonstrating on behalf of Taslima Nasreen.  They were standing as a group on the corner of Rash Behari and Gariahat Aves, only partly blocking traffic.  We parked the car and went back just to say hello.  They invited us to join the demonstration.  I said I couldn’t as we were on our way to meet someone.  But I can’t be in a demonstration.  I am vulnerable myself.  My children are vulnerable. 

Three recent major events have shaken the surface calm of Kolkata:  1. the police complicity in the death of a Muslim man married to a Hindu woman, each educated and professional.  For this the city banded together across religions.  2. the second is the CPM (socialist party) murder of farmers in Nandigram who were fighting to protect their land from forced seizure for industrialization.  This resulted in splits across political parties, but with general non-sectarian alliances in support of the farmers. 3. Taslima Nasreen, exiled Bangladeshi writer, who has been living in Kolkata.  A fundamentalist group was able to stir the passions of some Muslim groups, and this created a split along religious lines and boosted the power of those committed to violence in the name of religion.

In the end, and in a very reductionist way, we have a city torn by police and government brutality, but the only issue that can be "safely" raised is persecution of a woman for what she wrote.  Murder is less crime than truth.  For this, Kolkata was burning last week, to punish the truth.

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December 2007
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