Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Border-line syndrome

The news of Indian soldiers mutilated by the Pakistani army has set off a fresh wave of protests among the countrymen. The daughter of Head Constable of Border Security Force, Prem Sagar, wants 50 Pakistanis to be beheaded as revenge for her father’s death. A long round of Pakistan bashing and war-hate will occupy the news space for a few days to come. In the midst of this, a few peaceniks, like Tehmina Dadyseth, will try to talk about people and humanism.

Before the hate mail for Tehmina starts, here’s a disclaimer. She is the heroine of Anuja Chauhan’s Baaz, a war romance, if one can categorise it. Daughter of a retired General, Tehmina aka Tinka, doesn’t support war. Her love interest, Ishaan Faujdaar (Shaanu), is a flying officer in the Indian Air Force. Quite like ‘maverick’ (Tom Cruise in Top Gun), he believes in his duty to the nation. Until his and Tinka’s views clash and, make us, the readers, squirm.

Unlike her other books, which too had an element of conflict in the plotline, Chauhan’s Baaz is different. It captures the spirit of what is happening now. Around us. The war hyperbole, nationalism and patriotism debate is in the book, with an insight into what the armed forces think about the conflicts across the border.

Set around the 1971 Indo-Pak war (Liberation of Bangladesh), Baaz makes you yearn for love and think of the world as one.

Excerpts from conversation with the author:
When did you actually write the book? It reminded us of Gurmehar Kaur controversy and the nationalism debate which is being discussed, dissented now.
I actually put fingers to keyboard in February 2016. And finished the first draft on November 30 of the same year. Then, there was some editing feedback and consultation with a military expert. So, yes, it happened before the whole Gurmehar blow-up, but I think those concerns have been very much a part of our national debate in the last couple of years. In fact, those issues are always relevant, aren’t they? Rabindranath Tagore believed that there is something higher than the concept of National Identity and that is Humanity.

Which side of the debate are you on?
I believe very strongly in speaking softly and carrying a big stick. The defence services are our big stick — it’s important that they be absolutely battle-ready at every moment — fit, trained, highly motivated, well-armed and well-provisioned. But it’s equally important that we deal with our neighbours with kindness and mutual respect.

Did the tone write out itself? Was it going to be a love story between Indian Air Office officer and a Pakistani girl?
No, there was never any Pakistani girl! This is a book about India and Indians — the soul-searching we all go through as citizens and soldiers. The central conflict, the thing that attracted me to this setting, was the differences between the ideologies of Tinka and Shaanu. She, who has seen the havoc war can wreak (her brother is a dead fauji) is essentially a pacifist and he, a boy from a small Haryana village, totally seduced by the sexy flying machines of his dreams and can’t wait to go to war.

And, how does it feel to be back with HarperCollins after a fling with Westland?
It feels great — I loved Westland too — they have two of my books (The Zoya Factor and The House that BJ built), and also all my titles in six Indian languages. The quest is always to find a wider audience, and that again, is what has bought me back to Harper at the moment.

Y this? Y that?

Radicalism. This one word is the core of Y — a new play co-written and co-directed by Shrirang Godbole and Vibhawari Deshpande. An Indo-German collaboration, in which Shrirang and Vibhawari worked with Lutz Hubner, Y takes a strong stand against radicalism and the extremist ideology that is being strongly felt around us.

This or That
Talking about the play, Vibhawari says, “It’s about a youngster who is contemplating the path of violence. He is standing at a crossroads and has to make a choice — this or that.”

“Through this play, we have tried to show the process of radicalisation — what is going on inside the boy’s head,” adds Shrirang.

The play, which premieres today, is a Maharashtra Cultural Centre’s production, and will be staged at Jyotsna Bhole Sabhagruha. The play has four versions, including the Marathi one. Says Shrirang, “The German production will be staged next year in September. The first one to be staged is in Marathi, followed by a Kannada version. In the near future, I will also bring out the English production.”

A universal issue
Y is a global play, dealing with global issues, but each version is rooted in the popular culture. “Germany, at present, is grappling with immigration issue and the ISIS crisis. In India, we have Kashmir issue, plus the silencing of our writers and intellectuals like Dr Narendra Dabholkar, M M Kalburgi. So the essence of all the versions is the same,” add the duo.
Shrirang goes on to add, “When Dabholkar and Kalburgi were killed, there was no en masse protest. There were a few groups which protested. I believe that if you remain silent, or do not express your opinion, when such incidents occur, it means that you are supporting them.”

Indo-German collaboration
The Indo-German collaboration started with Du and Me, a play for young adults. The same team — Shrirang, Vibhawari and Lutz — worked on the light-hearted play. “That’s when we realised that we sync really well in all aspects — creativity, values and principles of life are common. All four of us felt that this association cannot be only for one play. And, we started talking about the next collaborative project in September 2015, when we were in Berlin, with our shows. We met again in Bengaluru at Ranga Shankara for a show.

Surendranath of Ranga Shankara also expressed interest in working with Lutz. He said, ‘I have been working with these two playwrights, so why don’t you join this?’ Suri was happy to do that and he also hopped in. And, then this process started,” explains Vibhawari, quick to add that this is not a GRIPS play. “This play is in association with Stephan Fischer Fels of State Theatre, Dusseldorf,” says she.

The rise of right
A look at the global scenario tells us that the whole world is moving to ‘right radical’. “Violence and extremism is at its peak. And, there are so many global and local events that are denoting this fact. There is this urge to go right, to go to extremes, to go towards violence. The effort is to figure out why it is happening. Why we are doing this?” points out Vibhawari.

The play does not have any political or religious connotations. The message that the makers are trying to put across is that radicalism exists in our mind too. Says she, “In a casual manner, we make comments like ‘So and so people need to be killed. This is what they deserve’. We might not actually pick up a gun and shoot someone. But the thought itself is radical. We are on this path at some stage of our lives, and it’s time, we paused and thought about it.”

The treatment
Shrirang points out that, “Y is not an open-ended play. We make a strong statement denouncing terrorism, fanatacism and radicalism. As a person too, I don’t support terrorism — be it of any religious hue. The subject is grim and dark, but Y falls in the realm of dark humour. A play has to entertain, that’s what we believe. We are trying to break the regional and local nuances and make it global. As directors, we want people to go back thinking, ‘where do I stand on this path?”

‘Rights of women pertain to economic issues’

Journalist and author Annie Zaidi voices her concerns over triple talaq and the Uniform Civil Code

Annie Zaidi, noted for her works like Known Turf: Bantering with Bandits and Other True Tales, Love Stories # 1 to 14, makes it clear that the fight for the abolition of triple talaq has been led by Muslim women, before politicians jumped into the fray. She also tells us that the core issue is economic rights for women. Excerpts from an interview:

Women at the fore
“Triple talaq is NOT an issue raised by the Narendra Modi government. This is an issue that Muslim women’s organisations like Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Aandolan (BMMA) in Mumbai have been talking about for decades. It is a pity that the issue has been hijacked by right wing groups, especially by male politicians! After all, the fight was being led from within the community, by Muslim women. They would have prevailed, sooner or later. As early as November 2016, under pressure from within the community, the Muslim Personal Law Board had set up a women’s wing to look at the problem of triple talaq. It is just a matter of time,” says Zaidi.

Economic rights
She also opines that the rights of women are an economic issue across communities. “The real problem is that women are not paid wages if they work alongside their husbands or within the household. So if a marriage collapses, they have no money or house of their own. This is true for Hindu women too. The right to inherit property for Hindu daughters is a recent development. It took many decades of fighting orthodox and conservative elements within Hindu society,” explains Zaidi.

Uniform Civil Code and what it spells
According to her, the problem is not that the Modi government wants Uniform Civil Code (UCC). Says she, “They want Muslim marital laws to be the same as Hindu upper caste/ Brahmin laws. Even the laws governing Hindu marriages are actually not reflective of all traditions. After all, divorce was freely available and common among many tribal communities that broadly fall under the umbrella of ‘Hindu’. The British had to legislate and codify laws only because upper caste Hindu groups did not allow divorce, or widow remarriage, etc. Polygamy and polyandry, both are a part of Indian cultural history.”

Many Hindu families suffer needlessly if one spouse refuses to give a divorce, even if the marriage is effectively finished. Why is this something to aspire towards? “Muslim laws are much more sensible in this regard. If the marriage is over, finish it. Give it some thought, yes. Give it time, yes. But how long can you hold onto a partner against his will?” she asks.

Marriage and divorce are finally personal matters, and cannot be legislated beyond a point. What the state needs to do is to secure individual freedoms and offer greater safety nets for all citizens, regardless of religion or gender. And this includes the right to marry outside one’s religion, and to change one’s religious affiliation when one sees fit. Women need to know that they can walk away from bad marriages.

‘Islam gives many rights to women but most are ignorant of them’

Historian and author, Rana Safvi shares her views on the triple talaq imbroglio, and the social context in which it was allowed

Triple talaq often makes to the discussion table of the polity and society. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the Muslim community to not politicise the issue and a few ministers making uninformed statements, the debate doesn’t stay on the course. There is no real understanding of the rights of married Muslim women and what exactly the Islamic faith promises them.
To understand the subject a little more clearly, we chat up Delhi-based historian Rana Safvi, who has recently authored a book called Tales from the Quran and Hadith.

What is Hadith? And, what does it say about triple talaq?
Hadith is based on the spoken word of the Prophet and wasn’t documented till as many as a hundred years after his passing away and their authenticity depends on their chain of transmission. The Hadith of the Quran says that of all the lawful acts the most detestable to Allah is divorce.

There are two types of talaq prescribed in the Quran: The first has been named Talaq e Ihsan (most preferred) where the husband pronounces talaq and for the next three months he has no physical contact with his wife. This gives him time to think. And if after three months, he changes his mind, he can go back to her and their marriage is once again valid. The second, which has been named Talaq e Hasan (preferred), is one in which the husband pronounces the word ‘talaq’ over a period of three months and in between there is every attempt for reconciliation with arbitration. If after three months that is not possible, then divorce is final. These were the two talaqs prevalent during Prophet’s lifetime and only these find mention in the Hadith.

The triple talaq we talk about is instant triple talaq, which is over in seconds by pronouncing it thrice. The practice of triple talaq came up in the caliphate of the second Caliph Umar and must be seen in the socio-historical context in which it was allowed. It was to prevent men from saying talaq in jest and then revoke it before the third month leading to insecurity in the mind of the wife as to her marital status.

What is Mehr? Can a husband withdraw it at any point?
Mehr is a mandatory payment, in the form of money or possessions paid or promised to pay by the groom, or by groom’s father, to the bride at the time of marriage, that legally becomes her property. It can be paid immediately or deferred. It is for the bride’s financial independence. In case of the wife asking for divorce (khula), the Mehr, if deferred, is forfeited.

Are economic rights of women the core issue here?
Women have been given many economic rights in the Quran but unfortunately ignorance and lack of education means that most of them are unaware of it. The patriarchal mindset of society adds to it and Muslim women often find themselves destitute after a divorce.

Does triple talaq apply to all sects of the community?
Only the Hanafi sect in India practises triple talaq.

Can a woman ask for unilateral divorce?
Islam gives many rights to women but most are ignorant of the facts. The Nikah is a contract between two parties: bride and the groom and the nikah-nama is the contract document. Both can get clauses inserted into it. One clause she can get inserted is the talaq e tafweez wherein the husband delegates the wife the right to divorce. It can be conditional (in case he remarries, etc) or unconditional. She can also insert clauses that he can’t give her instant triple talaq.

Why is Uniform Civil Code not acceptable to the majority of Muslims?
Muslims, for reasons justified or unjustified, are feeling vulnerable at the moment and are not open to the idea of a Uniform Civil Code which they feel threatens their religious identity. Also, it is not clear what all and who all will fall in its ambit. Once that is clear, there can be a debate.