Strategic advice to Indians in South Africa

Strategic advice to Indians in South Africa

 
In 2005, I wrote an article titled, ‘State of the Nation’, after a trip to South Africa at the invitation of the Jamiat ul Ulama where I met and addressed hundreds (perhaps over a thousand or more in total) of Ulama, businessmen, scholars, teachers and parents in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. I also met and addressed exclusive groups of political, community and business leaders in these cities. After that trip, I documented my impressions and made an analysis of the situation of Indian Muslims in South Africa (with a special focus on Gauteng Province) in the hope that it would be useful to those who cared to read it. I am attaching a link to that article for anyone who is interested in it. It makes for interesting reading as a comparative article to what I am writing here to see what has changed in the past 12 years.
 
Since then, I have travelled to South Africa every year, with two trips in some years (including this year 2017). I have spoken at two National Conventions of the Association of Muslim Schools, the National Convention of IMA, at several meetings organized by Al Ansar, Minara Chamber of Commerce, University of Kwazulu Natal (Business school), Jamiat ul Ulama, MJC and delivered more Juma bayans than I can recall. During these trips, I have once again had the privilege of meeting and speaking to a cross section of South African Muslim society that most South Africans don’t have access to. Of special note is my meeting with the late Ahmed Kathrada who spent over two hours talking about his experiences in the Freedom Struggle and the challenges that Free South Africa faces and asked me many probing questions. At the end of that meeting, he said to me, while giving me a signed copy of his memoirs, ‘You are a very peculiar Maulana. But we need many peculiar Maulanas like you.’ I cherish the memory of that meeting and consider his comment as a badge of honor.
 
During all these trips, I have listened more than I have spoken, learned more than I have taught and benefited more than I could have imagined. I therefore feel it to be a responsibility on me to share that learning and my analysis of what I see happening in South Africa in these past 12 years. As that is half of South Africa’s lifespan as a free, independent nation, I believe it is important. I leave it to the reader to decide.
 
n  Please read the article on this link:
 
n  Then ask:
n   What has changed since 2005?
n  Which of these recommendations have been acted upon?
 
Leonardo Da Vinci says“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
 
I believe it is time – it was time 20 years ago – high time, for South African Indians to wake up and take stock of who they are, what their value and relevance is to society and what they need to do about it. And to remember that value is determined by the receiver, not the giver. Value is a factor of market perception. If you want to know your value, you need to ask others.
 
I would like to begin by giving an example of the Parsee community in India.
 
Parsees of India
 
n  < 1%
n  Highly respected, highly influential
n  Highly educated
n  Top 5 employers/tax payers
n  Top 5 wealthiest
 
The key word here is ‘contribution’. What goes without saying is that the contribution is done in a way that is clear to all concerned, highly visible and highly appreciated. In one word, if one were to ask, “If the Parsees of India and all that they represent, disappeared from the land, would that make a difference to the people of India?’ I don’t think that is a question that takes much thought to answer, if you live in India. Just to drive home the point totally, imagine India without Tata and Godrej; just two Parsee names. I rest my case.
 
I would suggest that you do the same analysis with South African Indians. Ask the question, ‘If the Indians of South Africa disappeared from the land with all their assets, signs, symbols, culture and religion, what difference would that make to the South African Black people?’ If you wanted to use just one name and not two, ‘Guptas’, then the answer would be clear. But bad jokes apart, you know what I mean. Indispensability is critical to survival. You must ask, ‘As a community, are we indispensable, irreplaceable, critical to survival of South Africa?’ Forget the past. Ask this question in today’s context. Human memory is notoriously short. Think today because it is today, not yesterday, which will influence tomorrow.
 
Some data you may need to do this analysis:
 
Extent of Indian businesses in South Africa in terms of:
 
1.      Business volume (Billions of $) of Indian businesses.
 
2.     Nature of business (strategic: large scale farming, infrastructure development, power, finance, mining, health and education) versus commerce (retail, FMCG, restaurants – generally service sector with some exceptions).
 
3.     Extent of employment created by Indian businesses (Tata Steel alone employs 74000 people and is worth $25 billion).
 
4.     Tax paid by Indian businesses in South Africa.
 
5.     Cost of replacement of Indian businesses and Indians in society.
 
6.     Employee satisfaction of people working for Indian businesses, households (you may like to compare all of the above with White Owned Businesses to get some comparative data). Has anyone ever done an Employee Satisfaction Survey nationally, especially with domestic employees?
 
7.     Do you have a source that is unquestionable and comparable, demographically and in terms of GDP for this data? Questionable data, partisan reporting does more damage than good.
Remember that contribution is a number. It is measurable and if it is not measured or unmeasurable then it is not visible and will not be appreciated. I know that you are going to say that you don’t have the means to measure the things that I have mentioned above. I say to you that, that in itself, is your answer. Once again, I rest my case.
 
You will notice that I have not mentioned the role of Indians in the Freedom Struggle. That is not accidental. The harsh reality is that today, it doesn’t matter. I mentioned the role of Indians in the Freedom Struggle in my article in 2005. Twelve years have passed since then. Memory was dim then. Today it is almost gone. The generation walking the street in South Africa, the generation which will go to vote in 2019, the generation that is listening to those using the plank of race and xenophobia is a generation that didn’t see apartheid.  They don’t know what it meant to rush to find some means of transport to get out of a White area where they went to work, before dark, because they had no permit. They have never seen ‘Whites only’ signs on park benches, toilets, entrances and exits and in every part of their lives. They don’t know what it meant to pay the same amount of money but get third rate service only because you were Black, even if you were in Africa. They don’t know what it meant to be Black in a nation ruled by Whites and be treated as subhuman in your own land. They don’t know any of that. True, that they have forgotten that this is because of the sacrifices of those who fought for independence (Black, White & Indian) and gave up their present for the future of this generation. Yes, they have forgotten. That is sad, that is bad but that is the reality.
 
On the other hand, they know what it means to be Black in a nation ruled by Blacks but still not have jobs, still be treated badly, still be poor while you see others with more than you have. They neither have the wisdom to see that this is not the fault of Indians. It was not Indians who deprived them of jobs or who made promises that couldn’t possibly have been fulfilled. It was not Indians who didn’t tell them the truth that gaining independence was merely to cross the threshold of freedom. After that it takes the next two generations to build a nation. It was not Indians who hid these facts from them. All this they don’t understand and nobody, least of all those who want to use them for their own ends, will tell them. All that they know is that they are suffering, that they are angry and they need a target for their anger. That target is the one who has more than they do, who flaunts it, who shows it off in his lifestyle and who really has no power or strength to protect his assets. That is like taking ice cream from a child. That you are going to be hungry again, once the ice cream is gone, is not something that they are willing to reflect on. That it is much better to learn how to make ice cream is not something that they are willing to think about.
 
Yes, I know all the reactions that I am going to get to the statement above, “We didn’t get this for nothing, we worked hard for it, our parents sacrificed their lives so that we could have what we have today. These people don’t want to work hard, they want it all on a platter, they have an entitlement mentality, they think they can simply wish for wealth and it will fall into their laps, one day they will find out.”
 
I say to you, ‘Right on all counts. But they will discover that after you have disappeared from the land.
 
We have the history of several other African nations as evidence that the strategy of xenophobia; using a prosperous community as a target for the anger generated from broken promises of the government; works. It is highly successful in winning elections. We have several examples of that globally, not only in Africa. There is no reason to believe that it won’t work in South Africa. It is emotion not fact that generates mass action. And it is emotion that is the tool being used. One of the most powerful of emotions, far more than love, is fear. More than fear is hatred, that comes out of fear. So, fear and hatred mongers will get elected. The target community will enter the hallowed halls of history and the public will face some more broken promises, but that will be of no use to those who were used and discarded.’
 
Let me begin with my SWOT analyses of South African Indian Muslims. I would suggest that you do the same for South African Indians collectively. The beginning of the solution lies in an objective, even brutal, analysis of facts as they are. Not as we would like to view them. So, please be completely frank. If you have any doubts, talk to the other side, face to face. And listen to them. Don’t argue. Listen quietly. Go, do it.
 
 SWOT Analysis of South African Indian Muslims
 
Strengths
 
n  Homogeneous, compact, consolidated (changing now)
n  Relatively wealthy
n  Legacy of the Freedom Struggle (getting diluted rapidly)
n  State is supportive (changing now)
n  Ulama & Maktabs and community support for them
n  Harmonious relationships all around (changing now)
 
Warning: Strengths you ignore become weaknesses
 
Weaknesses
 
n  < 1%
n  Changing population demographic & dynamics
n  No presence in strategic business areas
n  Racist attitudes & intolerance for any critical perspective
n  Low/no presence in politics, government, judiciary, executive, military
n  Poor education – Resultant myopia & rigidity
n  Internal conflicts are a cancer but which is funded, encouraged and enjoyed
 
Warning: Weaknesses you ignore can destroy you
 
Opportunities
 
n  Continue to live with dignity, prosperity and grace
n  Retain and build on the legacy of the Freedom Struggle
n  Be perceived as highly beneficial, essential, irreplaceable part of society
n  Become icons and benchmarks for the Muslim world, of how to live in a pluralistic, multicultural society
 
But only opportunities you leverage can help you
 
Threats
 
n  Become redundant, irrelevant and soft targets
n  Used to further other’s agendas and discarded when usefulness is over
n  Racism, rigidity, isolation and ignorance leads to annihilation
n  Become the subject of a Harvard case study in AD (Accelerated Demise)
Threats ignored… well, let me leave it at that
History has the potential to teach us great and valuable lessons without the pain and cost that those who lived those times, paid for them.
 
However, as someone said, ‘What we learn from history is, that we learn nothing.’
And as someone else said, ‘Nations that don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.’
I say, ‘The choice is yours.’
 
History lesson: Indian Example
 
I believe that South African Muslims are repeating the mistakes that their counterparts (and ancestors) made in India. Indian Muslims were at the forefront of the Freedom Struggle in 1859 and then again in 1930’s – 40’s which resulted in final independence from the British on August 15, 1947. Indian Muslims with their Ulama in their vanguard, paid a heavy price in blood and lives to win freedom. After that, they retreated into their Madaaris, Khankhas and Darul Ulooms and the common Muslim people went back home and continued with their lives. No attempt was made to consolidate the gains of the independence movement, to be active politically, to fill positions in the administrative services, military, judiciary and police. No attempt was made by Muslims who had considerable wealth to get into industry, not even to invest with other industrialists. Madrassas and Darul Ulooms consciously remained apart from universities and strongly discouraged (forbade) the learning of English, science, math and other modern subjects. Even with Aligarh Muslim University, to this day, there is no active academic relationship and an atmosphere of caution.
 
I won’t go into the reasons, real and imaginary, for all this but the fact remains that this resulted in Indian Muslims being sidelined everywhere, their contribution in the independence struggle forgotten and them as a community being used as a vote bank and then discarded once they had fulfilled their purpose. Extremist Hindu parties used (and continue to use) Indian Muslims as a target to fuel hatred and get some cheap votes by making inflammatory speeches, which make the speeches that some of the extremist Black politicians are making in South Africa sound like love stories. These speeches routinely result in pogroms and since 1947 literally thousands of Muslims have died violently at the hands of roving mobs. And this continues. Nothing happens to those who create all this except that it helps them to get elected. Those who advised Muslims to stay away from politics and to ignore the world are as responsible for this tragic state of affairs as those who did and continue to do the killing.
 
The Institute of Objective Studies, New Delhi has some horrific data about the issue of so-called ‘Communal Riots’, which is the euphemistic name given to anti-Muslim pogroms. https://www.iosworld.org/ . The lynching of Muslims by roving mobs of so-called Gau Rakshaks (Cow Protectors) is another case in point to show that it is emotion, not fact that fuels action. That no action is taken against these vigilantes is a message for South African Muslims and Indians to reflect upon.
 
The thing to remember is that the number of Muslims in India is ten times the total population of South Africa. There are four Muslims in India for every man, woman and child of any religion or color in South Africa. Yet these numbers can’t help us. I am stating all these tragic facts here because I see a reflection of our history in the current events of South Africa.  For the past twelve years I have been trying to say to you that South African Indians and Muslims are making the same mistakes in a newly independent (now over 20 years) South Africa, that Indian Muslims made in an independent India 70 years ago. Same actions give the same results. That is why I want to briefly quote the lessons from India so that South African Indians can learn from them and not repeat our tragic history.
 
What we learn from the history of Muslims in India’s Freedom struggle is:
 
n  Strategically wrong decisions led to abiding hostility and the squandering of the gains of the Freedom Struggle
n  Apathy led to filling of the vacuum by others
n  Divided voting = lost advantage
n  No strategic focus, game plan or action to date
n  Internal conflicts = collective weakness = suicide
n  200 million Muslims became irrelevant
 
I quote from the speech of Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (RA) at the inauguration of the Tabligh Markaz in Dewsbury, UK. He gave some very important advice which is relevant to Indian Muslims who migrated to other countries, including South Africa.
 
n  This is a new land – don’t transplant your controversies from India & Pakistan
n  Don’t isolate yourself because it is your Akhlaaq (manners) and Mu’ashira (society) which is the most powerful means of Da’awa
n  Participate in politics because only those who participate in the process can participate in the decisions
 
In a democracy, the only thing which counts is the vote.
And everyone, including your domestic worker, is a voter.
 
I believe there are some harsh realities that South African Indians in general and Muslims in particular must face, own up to and change. I say Muslims in particular because these are attitudes which run counter to Islam. If South African Muslims displayed the Akhlaaq of Rasoolullah and the Sahaba, we would not have a situation like the one we have now. However, instead of that you seem to have brought across the seas, attitudes of your villages in Gujarat and elsewhere, with your shortsighted, narrowmindedness, your prejudice and your racism. India is a very racist culture. Indian racism goes back thousands of years and is ingrained in and is a part of the Hindu culture in its caste system.
 
Muslims who should have rejected it, because there is no caste system in Islam, embraced it and created a caste system of their own in Indian Islam (Ashraf, Ajlaf & Ardhal) that doesn’t exist anywhere else. This caste system was created and supported by Indian Ulama and that is the case to this day. Apart from other things, it is a system that is based on discrimination on the basis of color with ‘fair’ (nothing to do with justice) being the first requirement, seen as good, superior, desirable and dark being inferior, undesirable and looked down upon. Just look at the matrimonial ads in Indian newspapers and find me a single one that says, ‘Wanted: A bride who is dark in color’, and I will place my turban at your feet.
 
That attitude was also brought with Indians and Indian Muslims to South Africa. In South Africa of the apartheid era this worked very well and was supported by local laws, segregation regulations and housing. Indians lived in their towns separated from Black townships and White areas, always aspiring to be considered equal to Whites and apart and superior to Blacks. Even someone as enlightened as Gandhi made comments comparing Indian and Black people which are highly embarrassing to put it politely. At the cost of sounding apologetic, this was a factor of the Indian cultural mindset of which Gandhi was also a victim as was almost everyone else. To say that Indians are not racist is a lie. To try to justify it by asking, ‘What about the tribalism of Black people?’ is to try to say that one wrong justifies another.
 
Two wrongs don’t make a right. The purpose of saying this is not to blame but to identify a critical problem so that we can cure it. Especially for Muslims, racism is Haraam and a great sin that if not dealt with, will result in great humiliation when we meet Allah. No matter what happened in the past, it is something that needs urgent attention and must be rooted out. The place to begin is in our homes and schools.
 
Harsh Realities
 
n  This is a Black country and you are not Black – not because Black people rejected you but because you rejected Black people
n  You are seen as a highly visible, enviable, resource rich, ostentatious, insensitive, inward looking, weak, defenseless, non-beneficial minority
n  You are a propagandist’s dream – a soft target i.e. the fuel which can be used to further their own ends
 
Ignoring reality is the fastest way to become its victim
However, you can still live here as ‘different’ but highly respected and valued – but only provided you do the right things which begins with putting your own house in order.
 
Face the Reality
 
n  Strategic Focus is like air – without it you will die painfully and quickly
n  Learn to work with others different from you in every way – except a common destiny
n  Internal conflicts are cancer – must be eliminated urgently
n  Those who cause them must be hunted down and axed out
 
The time to tolerate negativity is over
 
What to do?
 
Change your mindset
 
Any system, left unattended degenerates into chaos. Gardens, families, marriages, countries, organizations, all follow the same pattern. They all need regular attention.
 
Critical need
 
  1. Recognize that racism is a life-threatening issue (quite literally)
  2. Create a high visibility impact & do it fast to demonstrate that you are taking action
  3. Avoid getting isolated and get everyone on board. Stay silent and you become the next victim.  
  4. Spend enough time, money and energy to make an impact. (Key word: Enough)
  5. Find leadership which can bridge boundaries
Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the quotation:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Find Inspirational Leadership
 
n  Find leadership:
 
n  Which is inclusive and can transcend boundaries
n  Which can communicate and build trust with diverse people
n  Which is trusted by all parties to be just and impartial
n  Which has the humility to learn from others
n  Which has enough strength to ensure compliance
 
Warning: Internal Conflict just got upgraded to cardiac arrest status
 
I don’t think there is a single leader of any faith community among Indian South Africans who can fit this bill. The alternative is to find an organization which can perform this role. In my opinion, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation is such an organization. I leave it to you to collectively decide. But let me say right now that unless it is a genuine collective decision which is supported wholeheartedly by all sections of the Indian South African community, it won’t work. Some South African Muslims have a rich history of backstabbing their own leaders, of loose cannons who go off half-cocked and create all kinds of confusion and disruption, of being hypocritical in their speech and actions. I submit to you that the time for playing these games is over.
 
Speak to the opposition
 
n  Take the wind out of their sails by acting urgently on matters that need action
n  Show the opposition how they will damage their own political goals if they take the route of xenophobic violence. Find someone who can talk to them and who they will listen to. You need someone with credibility with them.
n  Build a popular front for nation building by including everyone in it – Black, White, Indian or Coloured
n  Reject the language of race which still divides you. If you think you are South African, stop referring to each other by color. You are human beings. Not pawns in a chess game.
 
Immediately put your own house in order
 
n  Accept publicly that things have gone wrong and that you (Indian community) will put your own house in order
n  Set up an Ombudsman Desk in every city where people can report human rights violations. Investigate all cases objectively and ensure (enforce) proper compensation. There is no excuse for breaking the law of the land.
n  Conduct Cross-Cultural Sensitivity & Understanding programs and preach race equality everywhere, especially in religious institutions and gatherings.
n  Start a Community Dialogue between Black & Indian people. Include others.
Don’t give fuel to others to light a fire under you
On-going with long term focus: Build a credit balance
 
  1. Talent Search (among underprivileged): pick highly talented youngsters irrespective of race and tutor & mentor them
  2. Build state of the art schools in Black areas
  3. Educate one Black child for one Indian child in your own private schools
  4. Start Entrepreneurship training & startup funding for young Black entrepreneurs
  5. Invest in long term development projects (not charity and food packets): housing, health care, clean water, sanitation, kitchen gardens, livestock management, child care, sports and adult literacy.
  6. Get into the executive, judiciary and military – Remember that it takes 35 years for to make a General, Judge or Minister
  7. Become active in politics at all levels, from voting to working as political activists to standing for election. Set up a fund to help those Indian political candidates who have the talent, ability and willingness but not the funds for campaigning.
  8. Set up Chairs in all universities for business, politics, education, health, environment and Islamic studies
  9. Stop all public criticism & pamphleteering – you are a bad joke. Attacking people, you disagree with, only shows your own ignorance and bad manners. It is not enough to talk about Adaab-ul-Ikhtilaaf. You need to practice them. This must be demonstrated especially by the Ulama. The present situation is totally unacceptable and a serious disservice to the community. Beware that if the present situation doesn’t change, it will result in a total alienation of the community from the Ulama.
  10. Get into media – at all levels – urgently. Create a media which is fair, intelligent, proactive and courageous. Not the propaganda machines that we see today in the name of media.
Treat it like it is – investment in YOUR future
 
Finally, most important of all is to remember that the window of opportunity is fast closing
 

 

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein
Dhan ki Baat

Dhan ki Baat

I read this article with great interest.

The final sentence is salutary. I want to add that whether governments or judges guard or curtail rights will depend on what we, the people, do about it. Active citizenship is not something that we are used to. We are still used to being the ‘ruled’, looking up to our elected governments (even calling them) our ‘rulers’. That they are not rulers is something that still remains to sink in, both in our consciousness and theirs. So, they behave like feudal lords and we behave like serfs. We even have terms that stink of feudalism to this day, used by our administrators e.g. Collector’s Peshi, Girijana Durbar, etc. There are many others but this is sufficient to illustrate.

That they exist because we put them there, will help us to understand our own responsibility for whatever is happening in the nation. Then we will change from being complainers to solution seekers. That is the real meaning of democracy, which I hope we will be able to demonstrate.

Take the much mentioned ‘demonetization’. I am not going to talk about its economic effects. Many, more qualified than I, have analyzed it threadbare and all that our media has been able to say is that it will not affect BJP’s chances of being elected again in 2019 because Modiji has changed his narrative. Little do they realize what that sounds like. Is election a matter of someone creating or promoting a story and the listeners reacting to it like rats to the pied piper’s tune? But that is the result of living in two worlds, democracy in theory (in the mind) and feudalism in reality. As I mentioned, economists have written about demonetization and time has shown the truth of what they wrote; that it was a body blow to the economy for no valid reason at all.

What is far more significant in my view is the attitude and behavior around demonetization. It was a step taken by the in secrecy even from closest aides, all of whom expressed surprise before slipping their masks back on again. It was declared as a step taken by the Prime Minister on the advice of a man who is not a cabinet member or even in government. All to prevent owners of black money from escaping.

We are told that the PM believed him and took this step almost unilaterally and issued a proclamation that from midnight of November 8, 2016. Kings issue proclamations. Not elected leaders. Elected leaders consult their council of ministers and in a matter as serious as this, they consult a larger cross section of leaders of the public (Opposition), perhaps even the public themselves. After all, the two excuses for demonetization; curbing black money and funding of terrorist activity’ are laughably inaccurate, as subsequent events have shown beyond all doubt. That is why the narrative was changed to, ‘We did it to make the country a cashless economy.’


Why would you change a narrative unless it had failed? After all, the earlier one of ridding the country of black money and terror funding and paying loads of money into the bank account of every Indian citizen sounded so much more exciting than saying that it was an exercise to support banks and credit card companies. Even more especially when the earlier statement was made so powerfully: http://www.abplive.in/india-news/demonetisation-even-if-you-burn-me-alive-i-am-not-scared-says-narendra-modi-445603 Burn me alive?? Drama sells.

So why change it? Incidentally, can I see a show of hands from all those who received cash in their accounts from the government as a result of return of black money including that secreted in Swiss Bank accounts? Political parties need not respond because after all the sweetest part of the change was that donations to political parties were sought to be exempted from disclosure.  That is when I decided to start my own political party, Tan Man Dhan Mukti Morcha – TMDM² ©. All donations welcome.

Well, India became cashless, but perhaps not in the way that the term ‘cashless’ is meant to be understood by the spin doctors.

To understand the ‘cashlessness’ of India, of we the people, ask the housewife who saved small change from spending money that her husband used to give her, for thirty years and had Rs. 3 lakhs. Suddenly, on November 8, she was promoted to the status of a black marketer, money launderer (take your pick or invent your own names). Her legitimate savings, the symbol of our culture of family responsibility, caring for the future of others, the very spirit of motherhood, became illegitimate for her. On the face of it, all she had to do was to go to a bank and exchange it for the nice new colorful notes. But in reality, she would have had to open an account, get a PAN card, deposit the money, answer a million questions about where she got it from (all based on the assumption that she got them through illegitimate means) and pay tax on it. Tax on money which her husband had already paid tax on. And of course, she would have to answer to her husband (in many cases, a fate worse than death) about how she had all this money but never told him about it. That is how she entered the cashless economy by becoming cashless herself. As I mentioned, I am not talking GDP or economic numbers. I am talking about the izzat (honor, self-respect) of honest people, their feelings, family dynamics, domestic power equations and the disempowerment of ordinary people, especially women.

To understand the ‘cashlessness’ of India, of we the people, ask those who died, standing in queues at banks. Of course, the dead tell no tales. India is perhaps the only country where something like this can happen, not once or twice but over one hundred times, unremarked. That nobody is called to account is not surprising when there is not even a demand that this should be done. I stand in line at the bank. Someone in the line before me, drops dead. They remove him. I move ahead one place and thank god for small mercies. What’s remarkable? I am told that I am doing it for the nation. I am a vegetable, fish, eggs, banana seller, standing in line hoping that the bank will not give me a hard time asking me to open an account, PAN card and whatnot. I have enough to worry about. If someone dies in the line, well, what can I do?

To understand the ‘cashlessness’ of India, of we the people, ask the people who had no notes to exchange because all their savings were in the bank already. But after November 8, when they wanted to withdraw some cash, they were told that they couldn’t do so. Officially there was a limit to what they could withdraw. In reality, they couldn’t withdraw anything at all as the bank had no currency notes to give out.

“How long will this last?”
“God knows”, said the banker.
“How can you stop me from withdrawing my own money?”
“I am not stopping you. This is the instruction we have received.”
“What can I do?”
“God knows”, said the banker.
I go to the grocery store with my new colorful Rs. 2000 note. I need groceries worth Rs. 500.
“No!” said the grocery store owner, “You need groceries worth Rs. 2000; you just don’t realize that.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I don’t have any change to give you. No notes. So, take your change in cabbages or eggs. Just keep and eat them.”
“How long will this last?”
“God knows”, said the grocer.
I can report more such conversations but won’t. I think this illustrates and all of you will recall your own experiences which match mine. That is why there’s a shortage of atheists in India. You really need to believe in God.

To understand the ‘cashlessness’ of India, of we the people, ask those who till the land, labor from dawn to dusk on construction sites to feed their families, who sell food, provide services and add real value to people’s lives. Ask the Istiriwala (mobile clothes ironing person), the Doodhwala (milk vendor), the Bayi (maid) who works in our homes, the Sabjiwala (vegetable seller), the Machiwala (fish seller); I can go on but won’t. Not one of them had a bank account. Not one of them had a PAN card. Not one of them paid Income Tax. Every single one of them had a family to feed. Every single one of them had some savings put aside for a so-called ‘rainy’ day. Every single one of them suffered for no reason except that in our Feudal-Democracy (my coinage, please give credit if you use this term), it was proclaimed without warning that his savings were illegal until proven legal. He was guilty until proven innocent.

One good thing that happened because of this demonetization which I am very pleased about. It was proven beyond all doubt that there is no corruption in India. After all, did you hear a single story of a policeman, income tax official, customs officer, bureaucrat or politician standing in a bank line trying to legitimize his bribe money? Did you hear of any of them dropping dead from exhaustion or guilt? So, what does it mean? It means that all that we always hear about corruption is nonsense. There is no corruption in India. Nobody takes bribes. All government officers and officials pay tax on all income, upar ki aur andar ki. Like elephant tusks and teeth, khanay kay alag, aur dikhanay kay alag. I will leave this untranslated in the spirit of the line of poetry:

Tum samajh sako tho aansoo
Na samajh sako tho pani
What is our, we the people’s, reaction to all this? Silence or complaining. In public, we are silent. In private, we moan and groan, we blame and crib. In both places, we take no action. And when we are asked why, we reply, ‘What can we do? We can do nothing.’ This warrants another couplet:
Kursi hai, tumhara yeh janaza tho nahin hai
Kuch kar nahin saktay, tho utar kyon nahin jatay? ~ Irteza Nishat

This brings me back to the beginning of my argument which is that if we want good governance in a democracy, we have to participate in it. Serfs have no choice and can complain. Citizens are not serfs, no matter what their elected leaders (called ‘rulers’ in India) may like to think. Citizens must act like citizens and take an interest in governance.

Today we have a situation where the Ruling Party is doing what it considers best for the nation. You can hardly fault them on intention. We have an Opposition which sits silently by and watches while it claims to be against the policies of the Ruling Party. Why? The Opposition is muzzled because everyone is afraid of skeletons in their cupboards being exposed. But what is the solution? Because in the end it is we, the so-called common folk who are paying the price; we and our children. True, we are paying the price of electing corrupt leaders for decades, but that is not a luxury we can afford. Shortsightedness is not an asset when you are driving a car at 70 MPH. Ours is going faster than that. No change without pain. Pain is not something you opt for but accept to escape death. Think cancer treatment. What is happening is worse than that. Cancer only kills you. This will kill you and your future generations. So, what do you want to do? Yes, you and me.

For all change begins with the man in the mirror.
Fact is stranger than fiction

Fact is stranger than fiction

I discovered a new word: Mitron. It means, ‘A large group of unsuspecting people about to be hit by something they will take a long time to recover from.’ Ironically it comes from the Hindi word – Mitron (Mitr = friend. Mitron = of friends). I believe we are in a Mitron moment; the discovery of a word and an experiential understanding of its true meaning.
Demonetization has hit us all but it hit the poor the most. People who live on the knife edge of society which can change overnight from a life of dignity to a life as a beggar on the street. People who have no ‘nest egg’, no safety net, no backup. I recall two things as I write this article. One is an article by my good friend, Prof. Madhukar Shukla of XLRI who wrote about these people on the knife edge; the other is one of my own very early consulting assignments. Let me tell you about that.

In the late 80’s I was hired by The Commonwealth Trust to assess a very interesting economic development program that they had initiated in East Delhi (how many Delhiites even know that East Delhi exists?).  The program was well-intentioned in that it offered interest-free loans to ‘small entrepreneurs’ but with the condition (supposed to be a benefit) that they pair up with corporate executives so that they could teach them a thing or two about business. My first thought, as an IIMA grad was, ‘I can smell an MBA behind this from a mile away’. I say that because it was a typical theoretical approach without a clue about the reality on the ground. Let me explain.

The loans given were to ‘small entrepreneurs’. I keep using apostrophes for this term to underline what ‘small’ meant. Rs. 3000 (which wasn’t all that much even in the 80’s) was the average loan amount. It was given to the Istri-wala (mobile clothes iron man).
This wonderful picture will bring to mind the man (most cases it is his wife who works on this cart) whose services every one of us urban Indians have benefited from. We send down from our fancy apartments, our clothes to him who parks his push-cart in the street outside our compound wall. He irons our shirts and trousers, sarees and skirts; charges a few rupees which we pay in cash and he moves on to the next building or villa. What he earns that day pays for the rent of his ‘house’ (this article is getting too full of apostrophes), school fee for his children (you can’t keep people from aspiring), and food for his family. That money is what keeps him on the knife edge and saves him from falling off and coming to your house with begging bowl in hand. The Commonwealth Trust offered small loans to people like him, the vegetable vendor, the cobbler, the shoeshine guy, the bicycle repairer, the truck tire puncture repairman and similar ‘small entrepreneurs’. The biggest loan had been given to a man who had a printing press with a single machine in a small shop where you had to turn sideways to get past the machine.
As I mentioned the ‘fringe benefit’ according to the initiator of the scheme and The Commonwealth Trust was the partnership between this small entrepreneur and a corporate executive. The corporate executive with his education and presumably greater understanding was supposed to help the small entrepreneur to keep good accounts, pay tax, use technology, build a customer base, survey his market and make growth plans. The formal introductory meeting was arranged in a five star hotel with tea and samosa in an atmosphere of pretended equality between partners and the pairs were made. Three years later, the project came up for evaluation and that is where I came in.
That is also when I discovered East Delhi and that too in July. Those who have lived in Delhi in summer without air conditioning may understand what I went through. The lanes of the area of East Delhi are so narrow that even a Maruti 800 can’t drive through them. I would leave my hired car on the main road and either walk or take a local auto rickshaw. I preferred the latter because the driver knew the people who I wanted to meet and usually told me stories about them later after being a silent listener to the conversation that I had with them. I spent two weeks on this assignment and learned what every Tandoori Chicken knows; what the inside of a tandoor feels like. East Delhi was also one of the places most affected by the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984, the perpetrators of which still walk free and victims suffer in silence. But then in a country where to break the law with impunity is a status symbol, that’s understandable and expected.
To return to my story, I met these small entrepreneurs, every single one of them. I sat with them in (or near) their businesses. Drank tea with them (which bless our culture, our poor are those who uphold it) which they insisted on paying for and asked them how their business was going and how their partnership was doing. All conversations were in Hindi but I am translating here for your benefit.
Me: Namashkar Jee, how are you. I am Yawar Baig and have come from The Commonwealth Trust you ask you a few questions about your business.
He: Namashkar Sahib. I am repaying my loan on time. I have not defaulted.
Me: (as red in the face as someone with my complexion can get): No, no, no! I didn’t come to ask about repayment. Of course, you are repaying on time. You have a great record. The Commonwealth Trust is very pleased about this. I have only come to ask how things are going with you and with the partnership that was made with Mr. S0-and-so.
He: (relieved smile followed by eyes shifting): All is well Sahib.
Me: Please don’t call me Sahib. My name is Yawar.
He: Jee Achcha Yawar Sahib. (I gave up after trying for some time).
Me: So how is it going? Do you meet each other? How often do you meet?
He: (eyes shifting again): All is well Yawar Sahib.
Me: (persevering): Do you meet each other? How often do you meet?
He: (realizing that I won’t go away): Sahib, we have not met after that first meeting.
Me: (genuinely shocked): Why? Why didn’t you meet? What happened?
He: (hurriedly): Sahib, it is not his fault. You see I tried to meet him several times. But Sahib, I am a small man (hum chotay aadmi hain. Wo baday aadmi hai). He is a big man. I went to his Kothi (mansion – Hindi for big house – not necessarily a mansion but he calls it Kothi to honor its owner). But his Chowkidaar (security guard) turned me away. He refused to believe me that Sahib had asked me to come. Yawar Sahib, I am a small man but I have izzat (honor, dignity). I didn’t go there to ask for charity. I went there because they said that we were partners and I could talk to him any time. But if the Chowkidaar turns me away, I won’t go again and again.
Me: (at a loss for words): But didn’t he give you his phone number? Couldn’t you call him and tell him to speak to his Chowkidaar?
He: I did Yawar Sahib. He told me to meet him in his office. But there it was worse. So, I gave up.
Me: But this partnership was supposed to help you.  What did you do when you couldn’t even meet your partner?
He: Yawar Sahib, the truth is, how can he help me when he knows nothing of my reality. He lives in a different world from mine. So, different that he can’t even imagine what my world is like. I agreed to the partnership because that was a condition of getting the loan. I never expected that it would work. And it didn’t. I am most grateful to The Commonwealth Trust for the loan. I needed that. The partnership I didn’t need, so it doesn’t matter.
Me: (wondering what I am going to write in my report): What did you do when you needed any advice?
He: I went to my Mamaji (uncle or father in law) and sometimes to my neighbor (essentially his competitor) and asked them. They advised me and I followed their advice.
Me: Your competitor gave you advice about your business which was good for you? Isn’t he your competitor?
He: (shocked at my ignorance): Of course, he gave me good advice. He is my competitor but first he is my brother (from my community, extended family etc). Of course, he gave me good advice. He is easy to reach. We have a relationship, a real relationship, not only business and above all, he understands my reality because he is a part of it.
This conversation was more or less what I had with every one of those in that survey. One common factor with all of them; that their entire business was in cash. After all, when was the last time you paid the Istri-wala or the Sabji-wala or the Bai who comes to clean your home and cook your meal and the many walas our life quality depends on, by cheque? When was the last time he asked you for your credit card to swipe? All their business is in cash and so is the business of all those in the value chain they deal in; those they buy the necessities of their lives from. All cash. Out of their meagre and harsh existence it is the genius Indian woman that they save some money – again cash. They don’t bank it. They buy gold if they can or just keep the cash. It is their saving for an emergency and since the biggest requirement of emergencies is liquidity, they like cash. Sometimes this saving is done over such a long period that it amounts to a good bit; maybe three to five lakhs (3-500, 000). But that is what they slogged and sweated for over decades. Should that be taxed? Especially in a country that has no social security, no emergency services to speak of and no support for such people except what they can get from their savings and families.
Indeed, they don’t declare this income to the Government. They don’t bank it because every trip to the bank means a loss of business. They need cash and in cash they trust. It is not for nothing that even in bigger establishments you may have seen the sign, ‘IN GOD WE TRUST. REST STRICTLY CASH.’ That is not a statement of religiosity but of hard reality. Does that make them ‘black marketeers’ and thieves? Indeed, these small businessmen and women don’t pay tax but they contribute to the economy both directly by buying and indirectly by providing services. As I mentioned earlier, they add value and quality to our lives and take away the drudgery of daily chores. It is all these people who are the true backbone of the economy. It is they who spread goodness all around them because of the food chain that they are part of and support. It is they who create neighborhoods which are dynamic and alive though overall poor. Unlike dead American inner cities which are home to the poor in Western societies. And these, our poor, our small entrepreneurs, our salt of the earth man and woman who are the hardest hit in this Mitron moment of demonetization.
I was reminded of all this when I read this interview:
I was reminded about this because the demonetization move has once again underlined the fact about our society that decisions that affect millions are taken by those who are as foreign to them as Martians would be to us Earthlings. People who either don’t understand their reality or couldn’t care less. People who don’t even think of them as a ‘vote bank’, because momentarily, votes can be bought or swayed by tearful oratory. And that is enough to get elected and then it doesn’t matter what those who voted think or feel; survive or perish. People, who even if they knew that reality once upon a time, have chosen to forget it and take pride in associating with the high and mighty rather than with those who they were born among and grew up with. But then you can’t fault a person for his aspirations, can you? As long as rhetotrick (my coinage – tricky rhetoric) is in plentiful supply, facts don’t matter. What happened doesn’t matter as long as its creators can give it a positive spin. Human life is not cheap. It is priceless. Has no price. Is free. (not the usual inference of the word, ‘priceless’, I realise).
One economist friend said to me, “The economy will take a decade to recover from this move.” I said to him, ‘Economies don’t ‘recover’ in a decade. They are replaced because all those who participated in the old economy have perished.’ ‘Recover’ is a term that economists use on their neat charts. The reality is neither neat nor painless. India’s economy ‘recovered’ after the Bengal Famine. But 2 million people perished. Economists don’t care about that. Not that they are heartless. It is just that they don’t have the language to express the monetary value of sweat and tears; of life and death. Numbers are used so much because they are neat and help us to remain out of touch with reality. When our reality, that which we have jointly created, is so painful, nasty and brutal, we need tools to keep it at bay. Numbers are one. Entertainment is another. We need to forget reality. The alternative is to change reality so that we don’t need to forget it, can enjoy it and benefit from it. But that takes too much trouble. It is easier to forget.

I mention this here because in this race to garner all resources for oneself without a thought about others, we have created a society that is crying out in pain and grief. It is inconceivable to imagine that the resources of the world can possibly be concentrated in the hands of so few, but as they say, ‘fact is stranger than fiction’. I can imagine the derision or at best amused smiles if any author dared to suggest that 62 people would own 50% of global assets and the rest of the world would watch silently. But that is not fiction. That is fact.

For perspective, let me state that a bus has 65 seats excluding the driver’s seat.

Anesthetized anarchy

Anesthetized anarchy

We, in India, are living in a state of anesthetized anarchy.
We seem to have lost it in more ways than one. In the days of the sabretooth tiger mankind needed to be totally in touch with reality if it wished to avoid being the tiger’s next meal. Since we made the STT extinct we seem to believe that being in touch with reality is not required or at least, is optional. The fact is, that it is neither optional nor unnecessary. It is as critical as it was then, with the only difference that the one who eats you now has changed; not that you will not be on the menu.
As I read what members of the present Bhakti movement are writing with respect to present conditions in India and what the wise gurus of corporate fame speak from their elevated platforms, I pinch myself to remember that the laws that run the world are not made by them and that the One who made those laws hasn’t changed them yet.
Nandan Nilekanni at the TiE Convention for example, takes his constitutional on stage and while he exercises walking back and forth forcing you to do some neck yoga, he tells you how the volume of electronic monetary transactions has gone up from the time people used to send money orders and how in the last three years more people transferred money electronically than they did via money orders for the past one hundred years. That, he declares to a rapt TiE audience, is a sign of development. Audience claps. Behold, anesthetized anarchy in action.

What he forgets to say and those feverishly forwarding the video of this wonderful speech forget to ask, is what percentage of population that volume of monetary transaction represents. What is the reality? The reality is that the total percentage that does electronic banking is 2% of the population of India.  So, whatever you want to say about how monetary volumes have increased, they are still all within that 2%. What therefore, is the real meaning of the numbers?
The problem of geeky thinking is nicely mentioned in this article as the ’empathy vacuum’; the bane of life of those who are used to binary thinking and playing with imaginary numbers until they begin to believe in their own creations. What is starkly visible in our country today is a total absence of empathy for those whose lives have been wrecked by the demonetization drive.
Secondly, comparing historical data about the health of an economy using monetary transactional volume alone doesn’t take into account the value of money itself. A person in 1900 sent Rs. 10 by money order. The same person, if he lived that long, in 2000 would have to send Rs. 100,000 by electronic transfer to cover the same expense. So, how does the higher number indicate greater prosperity? But it seems that we have pickled our brains. Statistics can be made to say whatever you want them to say. And that is the game being played. The reason that game succeeds is because we don’t think and don’t ask questions.
Behold, anesthetized anarchy in action.
I call it anesthetized because we are the only country in the world where dozens of people can simply die standing in a line to withdraw money from the bank because of the liquidity crunch that the government imposed but nothing happens.
We’re the only country perhaps in the history of the world where money is demonetized in a thriving economy. As someone said, ‘That is like shooting the tires of a racing car in a race’, but nothing happens. We’re the only country in the world which pays no attention to the opinions of Nobel Prize winning scholars, financial experts and bankers and instead applauds politicians whose understanding of economics is exemplified in the measures that have led to the rest of us suddenly being forced to take an interest in economics. Instead of protests people say that this is the price we (not them, mind you) must pay for ‘cleaning’ the economy.
So, what is our reality?

1. We are World No. 1 in absolute poverty far ahead of sub-Saharan Africa.


2. We are World No. 1 in farmer suicides. (is there a global standard for this?)

3. We are World No. 1 in human trafficking. Add bonded labor and we will be World No. 1 in slavery.

4. We are close to the top in illiteracy.

5. Our unemployment figures are mind boggling and just went up thanks to this new initiative to make India cashless. Amazing how quickly that target was achieved.

6. 80% of our graduates are unemployable which tells you something about the quality of our education.

7. Corruption is not only acceptable at all levels of society but it is aspirational.

8. Our politicians and executive (civil service) is mostly corrupt and judiciary is trying to catch up.

9. We have zero tolerance, not for corruption and lies, but for those who dare to speak out against it.

10. Our view of religion is not something that binds people and joins hearts together but something that divides and must be brutally enforced.

11. We have confused loyalty to a political party for loyalty to the country and have branded all dissent, anti-national and unpatriotic.

12. We elect politicians to office only if they belong to our caste, irrespective of everything else.

13. That our politicians are corrupt, mostly uneducated and many have criminal records (including murder), matters not at all in our reckoning. We still elect them.

14. Human life doesn’t have low value in our country, it has no value at all. From 2005 to 2015 over 300,000 farmers committed suicide in India. Result? http://bit.ly/1Lisiy3
15. To break the law with impunity is a measure of social status and an accepted status symbol and is treated as a matter of right by the high and mighty. All of them invariably get away with this, thus reinforcing the principle that some people are more equal than others.

16. Undertrial prisoners are routinely killed by police and the killers are applauded by the media and titled, ‘Encounter Specialist’.

17. Our rape, murder and plunder statistics would do credit to a war zone.

18. In terms of productivity, quality and industry we can’t even compare ourselves to Bangladesh but we feel free to compare ourselves to China. http://bit.ly/2gjOHTa  

That is why I call it anesthetized because despite all this, our Bhakti Movement is going strong. Thank god for our blind supporters. People are telling tales to one another voluntarily blind-folded to the reality imagining that if they tell the tale long enough and shout down any dissent, their tale will come true. This is because, those of us who live in cities and are in the so-called upper middle class and grace the stage of entertainment shows like Times Now and others, live in echo chambers. We shout out our opinions and then count the echoes as agreement. All our projections are based on the number of times we heard our own voice echo back to us bouncing off the walls of our echo chambers. We make the most noise. We are the most visible and others like us assess the state of India based on this.
But anyone who has travelled in rural India, where the vast majority of our people live, will tell you a very different tale. A tale of deprivation, crops left to rot in the field or fed to goats because there is no cash to harvest them. The woman who has one buffalo whose milk she sells to her neighbors will tell you that neighbors won’t pay for that milk by credit card. Buffaloes with credit card slots have yet to be born. That woman needs the money in cash that very day to buy food to eat and feed her family. If the money is paid to her bank account on the basis of monthly credit (this is the solution that our accountant friends will instantly give you because they don’t know one end of a buffalo from the other) she won’t have money to eat today and tomorrow. And long before the first month’s amount comes in, she and her buffalo will both have become history.

The Indian farmer, the man who sells bananas on a push cart, the fish seller who buys fish from the fisherman and sells it in the market, the daily wage earner on a construction site who works through a searing summer for ten hours to earn Rs. 200 with which to feed his family will all tell you similar stories. For them ‘cashless’ means only one thing – that which they are suffering today. The demonetization initiative, no matter how noble its intentions, has converted these poor people into ‘criminals’ because they don’t have bank accounts and don’t pay tax so their earning is labelled ‘black money’. Demonetization has become demonization and has converted them and us into beggars, unable to withdraw our own hard earned savings on which we paid tax, from our own bank accounts. That this violates our Constitutional Right to property is one of those things that we dare not speak of for fear of being branded anti-national, seditious and god-knows what else. So, we don’t protest. We applaud the noble initiative and thank god that the dead farmer, fisherman, milk seller, buffalo or random individual who dropped dead in a bank queue was not our mother, sister, brother, son, father, spouse or ourself. One must always be grateful.
Economies are not electric lights to be switched on and off at will. Especially not an economy as fragile and complex as the Indian economy. The effect of lost crops will not reverse until the next season. People’s lost faith in the currency and in the entire banking system will not change to trust overnight. What this will do to liquidity needs no imagination to visualize. People’s sudden fear of being literally cashless that has led to postponing purchasing decisions will not increase money supply.  Nor will that fear suddenly be replaced by confidence. Our spending has slowed or stopped, our charity has slowed or stopped, our entertaining, holidays, all discretionary spending has slowed or stopped. All these things are the lifeblood of the nation. Where will the transfusion that we need come from?

Firmans are easy to issue but their effects are not in the control of the one issuing the Firman. Neither can those effects be stopped or reversed by a counter Firman. Just as you can’t order clouds to rain, you can’t order crops to grow or the dead to come back to life. The laws of the world don’t change. The one who chooses to shut his eyes to the signs of the sabretooth tiger will surely be his next meal. So, dream on.
Close Encounters of the Terminal Kind

Close Encounters of the Terminal Kind

Ralph Chaplin said: “Mourn not the dead that in the cool earth lie, but rather mourn the apathetic throng, the coward and the meek who see the world’s great anguish and its wrong but dare not speak.”
A friend asked me for my opinion about the Bhopal ‘encounter’ which is in the news at present where eight young men, allegedly ‘dreaded terrorists’, were ‘encountered’. This is a cute term invented by the Indian media to describe what should correctly be called ‘extra-judicial killings’. And if you are among those who like to reduce everything to a single word, then you may like to experiment with the word, ‘Murder’. Truth and facts are boring and don’t sell papers or generate TRP ratings for so-called News Channels (which should be called by their real name – Propaganda Machine) but lace the truth with a dash (if required completely drench it) of fantasy, drama, excitement and fear and you can make a jaw-dropping, BP-raising, edge-of-the-seat, breathtaking clip of a cat catching a mouse. That is where the word ‘encounter’ came into being – murder being rather boring. And those who indulge in it on a regular basis were given the media medal of ‘Encounter Specialist’. I will leave you to arrive at what the logical, factual, straight and truthful word is, that should be used. No point in belaboring the point.
To give you an example of the monsters our media creates see this headline: http://bit.ly/1eBKIgu  Why would anyone fear someone whose specialty is killing innocent, unarmed people? If that is a definition they feel proud of and their law-abiding brethren are not ashamed of, then pray what is the difference between this and the way you would define every daku (dacoit) of Chambal or every supari hitman gangster of the underworld? If honest police officers find such media descriptions insulting, then why do they remain silent? Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about ‘encounter’ killings: http://bit.ly/2eERe9jLet me leave such thoughts to those who should really reflect on them.
I decided to begin at the beginning and googled the term Encounter. Google, like Jeeves, gives satisfaction and so here is what came up.


I am not sure if those who had the encounter (or were ‘encountered’; such a useful language, English) would describe what they faced as, ‘we encountered a slight problem’, but fortunately they are not in a position to disagree with this definition, so we can ignore what they may have wanted to say.

So, what really happened in Bhopal?

God, of course, always knows. In this case those it happened to and those who facilitated that happening also know. But one lot is now speechless and the other lot are not speaking. Therefore, I am exactly where all of you are; with an enigmatic mystery to solve. Those addicted to mystery novels (I am, if Jeffery Arthur is the author) will be thrilled that one is unfolding before their eyes. I mentioned JA not by accident but by design. Because one of the most enjoyably infuriating thing about his writing is that the mystery is never completely solved. So, you gnash your teeth in frustration, curse him for being the cussed, devious man he is and wait with baited breath for his next novel, knowing full well that it is going to leave you in the exactly same state. We are all suckers for punishment. That is why I have read all his novels and pray for his long and productive life.

The Bhopal Encounter (it deserves upper case) is a mystery which will never be solved (at least for garden variety lizards like me) and will be followed by another and another as it was preceded by one and more.

Then why write anything at all about it?

I believe the Bhopal Encounter is a snapshot of what happens to democracies and what has been happening to our Indian democracy when those who make up the democracy decide to copout of the process. What defines and differentiates a democracy (India?) from a monarchy (Britain), a dictatorship (Egypt), an oligarchy (USA) or an anarchy (??) is the actions of its people. Democracy is not the name of a system of government. It is the name of a state of being that a nation of people choose for themselves. It is the name of a belief about yourself. It is the name of dignity of the individual. It is the name of justice where the law supersedes the individual (the opposite is the definition of feudalism). It is the name of self-determination, individual liberty, mutual compassion and concern. The system of government called ‘Democracy’, ensures all this. When its nature changes and it is no longer able to fulfill what the term ‘Democracy’ defines, it ceases to be a democracy and becomes whatever its actions display, no matter what its PR machine wants to portray to the world. People always see through the covers and know the truth because people listen with their eyes. They don’t care what you say, until they see what you do.

Democracy is defined by its three constituent institutions and by their separation; of the law makers, implementers and interpreters. Separation of the Institutions of the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. “I am the law” or “I am above the law” are both feudalistic statements.  The separation is a safety measure to ensure that the democracy always remains a democracy and can’t be hijacked to become a dictatorship as we have seen happening all over the world, even though those regimes still call themselves ‘democratic’, because that is the buzzword to use. After all, how would, ‘The Undemocratic, Dictatorial, Fascistic, Murderous, Oppressive, Apartheid Republic of So-and-so’ sound? Not nice at all. So, they call themselves ‘Democratic’, while all the rest are fringe benefits that their citizens enjoy.

The ‘Encounter Specialist’, by his action (and all those who support that action directly or by remaining silent) collapses the three Institutions of Democracy, where he becomes the lawmaker, the law interpreter and the law enforcer. He decides who is guilty and what should be done to him. By his action, he declares that mere incidentals like evidence, establishment of guilt, judicial process, criminal code, sentencing and the legal procedure to ensure justice, are all immaterial.  He is the judge, jury and executioner rolled into one and by his action, hammers another nail into the coffin of democracy.
The question is not whether the one killed in an ‘encounter’ was guilty or not. The question is whether justice was done and seen to be done. If we declare that the killing of one by another who considers him guilty is justice, then we have legitimized every terror killing in the world. The man who drove the truck through the crowd in France thought he was doing justice. The person who killed the three Muslim medical students in North Carolina thought he was doing justice. ISIS thinks it is doing justice. Every Israeli soldier shooting Palestinian children thinks he is doing justice. Where do we draw the line, if we choose to obliterate it in one instance?


We either draw the line and say, ‘Let the courts decide who is guilty and who is not, based on evidence.’ Or we open the doors to anarchy and civil war. It is our call. It’s the choice of civil society, to raise our voice and say what we want; what we demand from our government; justice or anarchy? The ‘Encounter Specialist’ represents anarchy. The policeman/woman who investigates a crime and brings the murderer to the gallows, represents justice. Whose side are we on? Whose side are you on? I know whose side I am on. So do you.

So, who is guilty? Those who commit murder and call it ‘encounter’, those who order it and all those who sit silently and watch it happen. All of them are equally guilty of destroying the law, destroying the nation and destroying themselves.  Especially tragic is when those sworn to uphold the law and protect the innocent are guilty of violating that trust. There’s nothing more pathetic than a policeman committing murder at the behest of others. It violates and insults the uniform, the oath of office and the Constitution of India. It is the action of such of them that give a bad name to the entire force, where the term, ‘Police Martyrs’ sounds like an oxymoron. Those who really lost their lives honorably lose the honor they deserve. I remind myself that there are others who I know, who in this morass of shameless pursuit of personal wealth and pleasing political bosses, don’t even dream of sacrificing their integrity and stand, often alone, as shining lights proclaiming that honesty and truth are personal values which define us. And so, they are never to be compromised.

In the words of the song:

मझधार में नैया डोले तो मांझी पार लगाए,
मांझी जो नाव डुबोये, उसे कौन बचाए

What is the solution?

In my view the solution is very simple. Justice. Let justice be done. Murder is a crime. It is fashionable today to call for tougher laws. The fact of the matter is that our existing law is more than good enough. Murder is a crime and its punishment is death. What more can anyone do? The issue is not with the law but with the implementation of the law. When murder done by someone special is not punished, changing the law and making it tougher is not the solution. The solution is to bring the criminal to justice, by proper investigation of the crime and collection of evidence. It is not possible for any police force to anticipate a crime of random violence. Neither is it possible for the police to prevent such crimes from happening because we have no knowledge of hidden things. The only way to be forewarned about the possibility of such crimes is through Community Policing by building trust in civil society such that the Police Force is seen as their compatriot and friend. I know that there are a few officers who are working to this end. But one incident of extra-judicial killing destroys years of trust building.

It may not be possible to prevent every crime of politically motivated random violence but it is eminently possible to investigate a crime once it happens and catch the criminals. When there is a price that the criminal is convinced he will have to pay, then he will think many times before committing the crime. Instead of that, when innocent people are killed because the police is too lazy to investigate or is subservient to others and has accepted the role of hitman, then instead of fighting terrorism, you end up creating more terrorists. An extra-judicial killing is a dream come true for the terror group recruiter. Every real terrorist killed in a staged encounter gives birth to ten more recruits. Every innocent killed in a staged encounter gives birth to a hundred. The nightmare of the genuine law enforcer is the false encounter because it closes doors of cooperation which could have prevented future crimes.

My suggestion is that given the dismal record of police investigations, it is time for civil society to launch an independent investigation into these terror crimes and encounters. We need to set up a fund to pay for a top-class investigation agency to independently investigate the crime and collect evidence. This can then be given publicly to the police to take to a conclusion. I say publicly because if the police know that there is real evidence then trying to cover up is not so easy. Criminals must be punished and not rewarded, if we are serious about fighting crime. If crime pays, criminals will flourish. If criminals start paying, crime will end. The law must be respected and applied, no matter who tries to break it.

If we do that, then we would have taken the right steps to change the script. Once the script is changed, the results will be different. It is time for us to wake up and realize that polluting the water in the lake affects all those who live in the lake. Those who sit quietly will not escape the effects of pollution.

The time has come to speak and to act if we want to bequeath a world to our children that they will not curse us for. Stand for justice. Speak for justice. Or sit silently and support the terrorist, the murderer and the oppressor.

The choice is yours. I made mine a long time ago.