The death of Professor S R Siras, a reader in the Department of Modern Indian Languages at Aligarh Muslim University, has not seen the end of the well-deserved negative attention that the university has received after its deplorable persecution of the senior scholar and poet. Despite the university coming out publically regarding Siras’s suspension and eviction from his campus housing, allegedly on the basis of a tape of his sexual relationship with a rickshaw puller while in his 20s, the story remains shrouded in mystery. In fact, no sex tape has materialised, something that AMU officials were forced to admit in court, thus implying that they had dismissed Siras without evidence of an action that is, let’s be clear, not criminal to begin with.
What has emerged is that three journalists from the Voice of Nation had broken into Siras’s house, in all likelihood working with highly-placed officials in the university. Soon after, Siras was ejected from his campus home and job, and outed in the press. Thereafter, the police repeatedly refused to file an FIR until ordered to do so by the High Court, and the elderly man was even denied health care after local newspapers ran the story.
Allegations now abound that the sting operation may have been an attempt to deflect attention from the university’s misallocation of funds, twice investigated by the Office of the President of India. This included INR 12 million for Vice-Chancellor P K Abdul Aziz’s lodgings, among several other misappropriations. When Headlines Today spoke to Syed Adil Murtaza, one of the journalists involved, he stated, “We didn’t give it too much of thought. We thought we were exposing the filth of the society.” In this episode of Love, Sex aur Dhoka they’ve managed just that, though not in the way they intended, with the late Siras coming out clean. Belatedly, the police have also lodged charges against the three journalists and three AMU officials.
In other news of illicit love affairs, it is no wonder Sania Mirza and Shoaib Malik want to live in Dubai. With the media in both India and Pakistan going berserk over the celebrity pairing – and the ‘scandal’ of Shoaib’s alleged telephonic marriage to someone else a few years ago – the couple have been under intense scrutiny, with camera crew parked permanently outside Sania’s Hyderabad home. The impounding of the passport of the handsome bridegroom, a first wife materialising (first denied and later hastily divorced), and outrageous statements by Bal Thackeray against the vivacious tennis star all created potent masala for the hungry media. Pakistani investigative journalists even hunted down Shoaib’s kindergarten mates, who vouched for what a decent guy he was; while Sania was given character certificates as a ‘good Indian girl’ by her schoolteachers. Once all the hoopla dies down, however, they hope to go back to being internationally renowned sports leading quiet lives.
Speaking of desert refuges, the topic of M F Hussain’s adoption of Qatari citizenship has generated considerable carping and agonising. Hussain is – was? – one of Southasia’s most renowned artists, and certainly one of its most valuable, with his canvases fetching millions of rupees. But his artistic nudes of Hindu deities long attracted the ire of Hindu nationalists, who have not only vandalised his exhibitions and threatened his life, but have also have brought legal charges of harming the sensibilities of Hindus (pre-existing temple artworks of nude and cavorting gods notwithstanding). The first wave of hand-wringing about the ‘blow’ to Indian secularism has given over to surprisingly bitter and petty character attacks, as though the press is going through the several stages of grief. Yet even with the Supreme Court quashing one legal charge pending against Hussain after another, there are still criminal charges against him in the docket. And with the Indian state unable to guarantee his safety, it seems petty to fault the 94-year-old for his decision to head for easier climes.
Still on the ever-popular subject of patriotism, when will the redoubtable Indian television anchors stop trying to ram their love for their motherland down viewers’ throats? The days following the gruesome attack on a CRPF battalion in Dantewada, in Chhattisgarh, saw Arnab Goswami, Suhasini Haider et al line up the usual suspects from the right, left and centre (pardon CP for borrowing the name of the talk show), and berated the activists for even talking about human rights “at a time like this”. Those who could withstand the battering tried to argue that it is precisely in times of crisis that rights violations must be avoided. But the anchors were having none of it. Newspapers, meanwhile, were no less sensational. MAOIST BUTCHER[!], cried one headline, MASSACRE[!!] cried another. It has also infected copy. In one lurid lede line seemingly taken from a horror poster, a TOI piece on jawans carrying rocket launchers referred to “Blood-thirsty Maoists[!!!]” and “the jaws of death[!!!!]”! But when activists tried to point out that scores of Adivasis were being killed, tortured and maimed in Operation Greenhunt (the Centre’s offensive against the Maoists), Messrs Goswami, Haider and Ghose took recourse to outrage about “our” boys and “our jawans”. Not to mention our journalistic overreactions!!!
In other news of ‘fake democracies’ of Southasia – the term now in vogue, ever since red Arundhati tossed it out recently, if you want to aggravate too-literal-minded commentators these days – Burma continues to have trouble with the notion of the role of the press in a ‘democracy’. Mizzima News, run by expat Burmese journalists in Delhi, quoted one editor to explain recent censorship by the junta: “They want to show the people in the country and the international community that the people believe in their planned 2010 election and people have accepted the 2008 Constitution.” CP supposes this is a bit like the junk journalism used in fashion magazines, where people are told what to think and like this season. Consequently, when protesting parties refuse to participate in the election, newspapers are not allowed to print their reasons. Of course, people previously imprisoned cannot contest Burma’s election, slated for later this year, which conveniently rules out a good portion of democratic activists. Fashionable indeed.
Other countries in the Subcontinent are likewise edgy over any serious suggestion of abuse by their armed forces. Dhaka photographer Shahidul Alam’s recent evocative photo exhibition “Crossfire”, on extrajudicial killings by the paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) that highlights discrepancies between official reports through gorgeous re-staged photographs, had its opening closed by the police. The organisers nonetheless went ahead and ‘opened’ the exhibition on the streets, with a full press contingent on hand. The bizarre and unjustified closing nonetheless did far more to bring attention to the project than if the powers-that-be decided to simple ignore it. Accompanying the exhibition is its interactive online presence (www.shahidulnews.com/crossfire), which allows Bangladeshis to flag areas where they know killings have taken place.