Friday, December 21, 2012

With You Without You

With You Without You 
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The post ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka has many sordid stories to tell, some about the woes of the war, others of its aftermath. Depicted is one such story in the movie "With You, Without You" (Oba Oba Ekka Nathuwa) that was screened at the 43 rd International Festival at Length Goa, India from November 20-30 2,012th.

The movie depicts the life in a society which still has unhealed wounds of the war, a war that lasted over three decades, killing over tens of thousands of people and rendering many more homeless. The film is set in the months after the Tamil Elam war and explores the emotional fall-out of such trauma on the lives of ordinary people in Sri Lanka

The movie tells the tale of the confrontation between a man from the majority Sinhalese point of view and a woman from the Tamil minority community. Their struggle with their own past is the main theme of the movie a metaphor that is used for the struggle within the tear drop island itself.

Selvi (Anjali Patil) is a beautiful but quiet Tamil refugee girl who catches the eye of a middle-aged Sinhala pawnbroker (Shyam Fernando) when she comes to his shop to cash in her last jewel. The Buddhist pawnbroker captivated by the Tamil beauty follows her to her temporary home. He discovers that his love interest is about to get married to an old man for wants of money.

The pawnbroker throws all caution to the winds and proposes to marry the Tamil girl. Selvi too breaks all barriers that divide the Tamil and Sinhala societies and moves into her savior's house. They slowly but surely fall in love with each other but neither of them ever talks about their past.

All was hunky-dory until an old army friend of the pawnbroker turns up in the house, and a terrible secret emerges, that unstitches the wounds of the war. Selvi, comes to know that the pawnbroker has army connection and the trauma of her past begins to hunt her.

The pawnbroker in order to unburden himself confides to Selvi, that he was in the Army before and was involved in the operation at Killinochi. He further tells her that in the operation the soldiers accompanying him had raped a Tamil girl who died subsequently and he got disgusted with such acts brutality and decided to quit the Army and have taken up the business of running a pawn shop.

The confession of the pawnbroker brings the memories of the ethnic conflict to the fore and Selvi becomes hysterical. The trauma of war over powers her and no amount of cajoling has any sobering effect on the Selvi. The pawnbroker tries to coax to be normal and promises to take her to India for sight seeing tour. He even sells his pawn shop and gets ready with his travel plans but Selvi is totally withdrawn. She has bouts of depression and has little interest in life.

It's a very romantic evening; Selvi watches from the high rise window the dark clouds hovering over the hills, playing hide and seek, signaling the coming of the beautiful bout of rain. The pawnbroker who has gone to the city is returning home riding a motor cycle. He has smiles on his face as he has got the air tickets to India and had purchased goodies for Selvi. He is trying to race with the clouds, avoiding being caught in the rain, the background score hinting for an emotional union, but the climax has a gory side.

Selvi, lost in her seems to be enjoying the spectacle of the nature and appearing to have a better view of the clouds, climbs up to the window and lo and behold, she then jumps out of it to her death. The pawnbroker on return finds that he was late to unite with his lady love, even though was able to beat the rain. This is the most haunting scene of the movie. This has a political message that represents Tamil - Sinhala divide. The lady after weighing her options to choose between love and politics, eventually sacrifice herself rather than giving herself to the protagonist lover, that too a former army man, whom Tamils hated awfully.    

The expression of the woes and miseries of the poor Tamil girl is powerfully portrayed by Indian actor Anjali Patil, who bagged golden peacock for the best actress at the Goa international film fest. The role of the pawnbroker is played by talented theatre actor Shyam Fernando who makes a debut in cinema. Others in the cast include Wasantha Moragoda and Maheshwari Ratnam.

The film is directed by Sri Lankan filmmaker Prasanna Vithanage. Some consider "With You, Without You" Prasanna's seventh directorial venture as his best work so far.

While talking about the creation of his film Prasanna told the media persons at the Goa film fest media conference; "When I was reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel" The Meek One "over and over again, two things stuck into my mind. One was its probe into masculinity and the second was how consumerist values ​​have deprived people of human connection. When adapting this novel to a film, I based it upon the biggest issue facing our country, which is the ethnic conflict, "he said.

"With You, Without You," has a striking resemblance to the film "The English Patient," a 1996 romantic drama based on the novel of the same name by Sri Lankan-Canadian writer Michael Ondaatje. This movie is set before and during World War II, and is a story of love, fate, misunderstanding and healing. Directed by Anthony Minghella, this movie won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

While watching the movie "With You, Without You" I had problem in categorizing this film. The movie is about love, it is related to the post war conflict as well; it is also an exhibition of third world cinema. What could be its proper genre was something that baffled me. Notwithstanding these facts, this co-production by India and Sri Lanka can be described as Sri Lanka 's independent cinema at its best.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He attended the 43 rd International Length Festival, November 20-30 at the 2,012th from Goa. He can be at Contacted Syedalimujtaba@yahoolcom

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Jab Tak Hai Jan – Memoirs of London Rekindled

Jab Tak Hai Jan – Memoirs of London Rekindled
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Last night saw the movie Jab Tak Hai Jan, memories of staying in London lighted up. The snow in London, the rain, the breeze, I saw most of the season while living there. There were many popular spots in film where I had walked as a daily routine.

I really loved ‘Embankment’ my favorite spot, where I use walk looking at Thames right up to Big Ben and Parliament on one side and Backfires Bridge on the other.-The Trafalgar square, where I spotted the lion on which I sat, the art gallery next to it -the London Bridge, the hide park. The Charring Cross tube station where SRK kisses Katrina – Your next station is Piccadilly Circus, the announcement still rings in the ears, traveling on the Victoria line.

I stayed at Collier’s high road next to Sainsbury, super market in south London in a rented room. In weekends I use to take the tube from there and get down at Charring Cross and walked up to Piccadilly Circus, the most happenings place in the city.  I have been to one of the weekend clubs like the one in Ishq Shava song, it’s really the same.

When I was to leave London, I knew the city so well, that I was guiding people to find their way. I also remember how difficult it was for me to negotiate the places when I first landed there. To me Jab Tak Hai Jan – was like a photo album, I was seeing London after 1994.

Here I am trying to pen my thoughts on my visit to England in 1994. That year I was awarded field grant by the School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi to pursue archival survey of the British sources for my doctoral research on Partition of India. My PhD thesis demanded incorporation of British perspective to the Partition debate particularly with reference to its India policy during the Second World War.

So there you go, I packed my bag at the Brahmputra hostel of JNU and Indira Gandhi international airport in New for six months stay in good old London. The Air India flight that was to come from Mumbai was abnormally delayed due Delhi fog, and it was a harrowing experience in Delhi airport where I was stranded from midnight till noon. It was for the first time I saw the misty morning from glass windows of the Delhi airport. I went hungry all night till the midday, as everything was at international rates and I could not afford to buy. It was almost 2 pm when the Air India leapt into the sky to take me to England. A sumptuous food was served and all the trial and tribulation was unburdened in the deep sleep that followed it. A movie was going on the screen that was inside the aircraft and when I woke up it was the end. There was no seat screen those times in the air India aircraft.

As I hurried my way out of the aircraft at Heathrow airport, my heart pounced what would happen if the folks do not show up at the airport to receive me. As I walked out, I saw a battery driven car, carrying some Sikh passengers to the aircraft with Indian flag flying passing by me and that soothed my nerves. I smiled at them and they waved at me. The officer at the immigration desk asked the purpose of my visit and I told him topic of research. He stamped my passport with a smile and as he raised his head up to return my document he saw the novel Shylock Homes in my front pocket. I could see the blinking of his eyes that was appreciative as he wished me good luck for my stay in England.

I was based in London and lived in a rented room at the 45 Colliers High Road, South London. It was quite close to Sainsbury supermarket where I use to frequent for my groceries.

The building where I lived was owned by a Pakistani of Indian origin. It had some very interesting people living there. There was a Pakistani couple in the ground floor, a group of Korean students in the second floor. There were two Romanians gentlemen and an English couple besides me in this building.

I use to take the southern line tube and go waterloo from where I use to walk to the backfires bridge where the India Office Library was located at that time.

During my stay in London I use to visit the School of Oriental and African Studies library the Record office at the Q’s gardens and the British Museum.

Some time I use to get down at Temple tube station walk to the High Court side either to visit the Indian consulate office or to the LSE, while on some other day I may be walking straight to the Kings College to attend some Talks organized there.

I used to be spent my evenings sometimes at the Piccadilly Circus, the China town, the globe theater and the Charring Cross. Some times I use to walk along the embankment watching the flow the river Thames, go up to the Big Ben and see the time, take a round of 10 Downing Street and walk along the British Parliament.

At times in the evenings, I use to go to the Indian YMCA, British Museum and Baden Powell Hall for some programmes. King college was another place I use to go for listening to lectures. Some times, I use to get down at temple tube station cross to embankment side and take a long walk to the college. SOAS was another place I used to frequent.

While staying in London, I use to frequent Oxford University for my research. Normally I use to go the St Anthony College to meet some Professors or to sit at Bodleian library at the Oxford University.  I had an opportunity to have a glimpse of Mr. Beans who too was in the campus when I happen to be there.

Similarly, I use to travel to the Cambridge University and even stayed with some friends for few days there. At the Cambridge I had given a talk at the Darwin College, mostly to the Indian students studying there.  

Jab Tak Hai Jan brought to me the fond memoirs of London after many years. Thank you Yashji – may your soul rest in peace.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Saturday, November 17, 2012

CMS Bridging the Religious Differences

CMS Bridging the Religious Differences

Lucknow: Interfaith is a subject that has to be taught very young, and doing a yeoman service is the City Montessori School, (CMS), Lucknow. Here a typical day starts with an assembly during which the children first sing and pray one God, irrespective of their religious faith. Extracts of Holy Scriptures from all religions are read and explained during the assembly.

This spiritual time is followed by an interactive discussion between the children and their Principal or teachers about the ‘Virtue of the Month’ and the various ways to implement it on a daily basis.

For each month of the year, one virtue is picked up by a ‘Board of Virtues’. Friendliness, Justice and Truth are some examples.  The ‘Virtue of the Month’ is written on the black board of the classrooms.

‘It is at as early as six or seven a child should be introduced to moral values, virtues, cultural and inter-faith diversity. The children understand many things, but are often prêt to outside influences’, says Archanaa Pande, Principal of the Asharfabad Campus.

In case the family environment cannot give such constructive social education, it is the role of the school to impart some positive influences, she explains.

The day at CMS witnesses a succession of courses with an impressive level of enthusiasm and discipline from the pupils as well as interaction with the teachers.

The school develops team spirit and ability to hold responsibilities by gathering the children in four different Houses - Hope, Love, Peace and Unity, mixing classes and ages. These Houses have tasks to fulfill and targets to match in various fields all the year round.

Similarly, as an introduction of each school happening, an all religion prayer is performed by the children wearing traditional costumes of others' religion to generate awareness, reverence and unity.

Deepa Tiwari, Principal of CMS Rajendra Nagar -I campus, says extracurricular activities encourage the children to be creative and to remain in a constant learning mode. It goes from a Book Fair Exhibition with books written by the children, to cultural dance performances, plays, seminars, competitions, and religious festivals, she says.

CMS also familiarizes the children with Indian and international personalities who contributed to the social growth and progress of the world so that they can become a real source of inspiration.

Each year, CMS organizes a series of activities to celebrate the World Interfaith Harmony Week. Each day comes with an event that encourages not only the pupils but also their parents to share and engage with others. There is a time for shared meals, exchange of cards between the children, singing, dance and quiz competitions involving the parents.

With the same purpose, Dr. Jagdish Gandhi, the founder of CMS has invented a concept of world Parliament for children where they become world leaders and discuss about the issues faced on the international stage. This exercise incites the children to find solutions and take collective action for the welfare of the humanity.

‘CMS does not content itself to provide a high-rate education, it feels entrusted with a much broader responsibility vis-à-vis the children. The school aims at helping the children to become vectors of social change for a better world’, Mr. Gandhi says. ‘CMS teaches why and how to respect others in their differences since ultimately 'God is one, Religion is one, and Mankind is one,' he adds.

'A good teacher is like a candle, it consumes itself to light the way of others'. These were the words written at the gates of the Asharfabad and Rajendra Nagar-I, Campuses of the City Montessori School in Lucknow, says Muriel Potherat, Project Manager of a Delhi-based NGO promoting interfaith harmony and called Faith Matters, who attended an International Conference on Promoting Interfaith Harmony organized by CMS’s Asharfabad Campus in July 2012 and was later there for a three-day training and observation programme.

This eye-catching quote is one among many others promoting a spiritual education, human virtues as well as oneness of God and mankind. It is even more mesmerizing to realize that these words do not only hang beautifully on the walls of CMS, they are mirrored in the daily schedule of the children, says Muriel, who works with students at enhancing interaction and respect between faith communities.

When I saw many performances of the children showcasing an inspiring model of interfaith harmony, I realized that as a child I never had such an experience during my school days, the social worker, who hails from France, said.

A child is both a hope and a promise for mankind and I can affirm with much admiration that CMS gives more than full justice to these words. I could figure out how much level of expertise CMS has developed in this field as it equips the children with the required means to overcome the continuous challenges of life and make a difference in the world. It’s not mere education, rather a way of life. And each one at CMS believes in it with humility and conviction, concluded Muriel.

As Indians if we like to pursue the philosophy of unity in diversity and relish the idea that our country never faces the scourge of communal riots, then City Montessori School, Lucknow is a role model for such nation building. It would be a beautiful dream to see each school of the country trying the CMS model of interfaith harmony and prepare the tiny tots how to live in peace and harmony.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Friday, October 12, 2012

Stop the Madness of Hatred

Stop the Madness of Hatred
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The chilling pictures that shows the persecution of Buddhist minority in Bangladesh is shocking. I guess this has come in reaction to the Buddhists violence against Rohinga Muslims in Myanmar .

The Myanmar government doesn't deny its involvement in the slaughter of Rohingya Muslims, so it is accepting responsibility and cocking a snoot at Muslims. But why Bangladesh government should act like Myanmar .

As an Islamic country, the Bangladeshi government must bring to book the criminals behind such outrageous act. It’s high time they should refrain from blaming this atrocity on 'international conspiracy. Instead of being seen in contempt and complicity Bangladesh government should track down the scoundrels behind the attack and set an example of living in peaceful co existence.

How long such action and reaction of minority persecution will go on in South Asia ? Each of us in fact is a minority in one sense or other, if we just try scratching our identities.

The best example to site could be that of Babu Bajragi, the man who orchestrated the orgy of communal violence against Muslims in Ahmedabad. He is found to be complaining that while serving life imprisonment in jail, he finds himself as a minority surrounded by the Muslims inmates as a majority.

In fact if reports are to be believed on one occasion Bajragi was even thrashed inside the prison. What more ironical story could be better than this, when we compare the demon of a person letting loose the trail of blood and mayhem against the minority Muslim during the post Godhra riots. At that time he always thought he belongs to majority community and can get away doing whatever crime against the minority.

Anyway coming back to the point, such senseless act of persecuting the minorities is going on for long in South Asia . There seem to be no remedy in sight, no one knows, when such mindless retributions is going to stop and each group would live in peace and harmony.  

It is high time some concrete plan of action has to be made to address this issue. I have always been arguing that the religious, the ethnic, the linguistic minorities in south Asia can only be safe, under the umbrella of South Asian Federation.

If there are any takers of this idea let us take it forward and make South Asia a better place to live.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Unbelievable -Well this happens in India!

Unbelievable -Well this happens in India!

India is a queer land where many unbelievable developments happen every moment. Some of them are chronicled, others go unreported. Here an attempt is being made to portray the shocking side of India. If you have any problem in believing them, suffice would be to say; well this happens in India.

Have you heard about the traditional practice of senicide (killing of the elderly, whose illness gets prolonged and who refuses to die) by their own family members? Known as Thalaikoothal, its practiced in some parts of Tamil Nadu where the elderly person is given an extensive oil-bath early in the morning and subsequently made to drink glasses of coconut water that  results in renal failure, high fever, fits, and ultimately to the death.  Thalaikoothal has covert social acceptance and in some cases even the relatives called for the ceremony when it’s performed.  These days lethal injection is given to perform Thalaikoothal, to make the death less painful and prolonged. This barbaric practice continues to thrive as people seldom complain to the police. Do you have a problem believing this? Well this happens in India!

The two holy cities of India; Mathura and Vrindavan houses more than 5000 widows who are living in pathetic conditions in the ashrams meant for them. These widows move to these holy cities in their twilight years as they believe to wash away their sins and attain Nirvana if they die in these holy places. However, after their death here they are denied basic human dignity. Their bodies are disposed off chopping into pieces and packing in gunny bags and being thrown on the river banks. Do you have a problem believing this? Well this happens in India!

In the coastal Tamil Nadu at Koodankulam, a valiant and peaceful protest by thousands of local people living in the vicinity of the under construction nuclear plant was met with brutal police repression. Tamil Nadu police has filed more than 55,000 FIRs against local villagers; among them some 6800 are charged with ‘sedition’ and ‘waging war’ against the nation. Do you have a problem believing this? Well this happens in India!

Odisha dateline 2006, when 14 Adivasis, were gunned down by the Police at Kalinga Nagar for protesting against accusation of their land by the Tata Steel Company. The National Human Rights Commission had discovered that Adivasis were forced to give it up their land were without adequate compensation with police intimidating and filing false cases against them. Such treatment of Adivasis is not unusual in India; thousands of them are languishing in jails often without a charge-sheet filed against them. The general opinion that is built about Adivasi is they are a Moaist. Do you have a problem believing this? Well this happens in India!

If Adivasis are Moaist, Muslims are criminals. There are 102,652 Muslims languishing in Indian jails. The number of Muslims in jails is highly disproportional to their population. The estimated proportion for the Muslim community stood at an approximate 12 per cent in the country, whereas the number of Muslims in jails stood a ratio of 22 per cent.  According to the recent National Crime Records (till December 2010), West Bengal has the most number of Muslim prisoners with 47 per cent, Maharashtra Muslims account for 10.6% of the population, they comprise 36% of the prison population. In Gujarat, where Muslims account for 9.06%, they are 25% of prison inmates. Karnataka’s Muslim population is 12.23%, its jails have 17.5% Muslim. In Uttar Pradesh Muslim prison population is 26 per cent and in Bihar its 23 per cent. Most Muslim prison population is those of under trial than the number of convicts. Do you have a problem believing this? Well this happens in India!

In India you can also find armed extremists and criminals living comfortably in designated camps in the Northeast. They live under well-defined `ceasefire’ agreement with the Indian State. However in spite of restrictions on their movements, these militants cross the line of control at ease. Its common knowledge that they reign in night while the Indian state rules during the day. Do you have a problem believing this? Well this happens in India!

Contrary to northeast, it’s the Indian Army that holds sway in the Kashmir valley.  The life, liberty and honor of the common Kashmiri people are at the mercy of these men in uniform. They live in an open prison under the watch of the barrel of the gun oozing out of the Army bunkers. Like it or not, the paradise on earth is reduced to a garrison state. Do you have a problem in believing this? Well this happens in India!

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, is blamed for the insurgency in the northeast. The iron lady of Manipur, Irom Sharmila Chanu is demanding its repelling and is on hunger strike since November 2000. Her protest has now become the world's longest hunger striker entering more than 700 weeks. This kind of Gandhian protest once had shaken the might of the British Empire, but the Indian state seems undaunted even 12 years of such protest. Do you have a problem in believing this? Well this happens in India!

While Anna Hazre and Baba Ramdev’s fast hogged media limelight, the fast of Swami Nigamanand went unsung. The Swami, who went on fast to “Save River Ganga” was allowed to die during his protest. The Swami demanded ban on mining to save Ganga and when his fast entered the 68th day (last 40 days in coma), was admitted to Haridwar district hospital, where sheer medical negligence resulted in his death. Earlier, he was successful in closing all the stone crushers in the ecologically sensitive areas around the Ganges banks. This time he was protesting against the Himalayan Crusher Company that was continuing its operation. At that time the entire country was busy watching the high drama of fast being played in New Delhi, its total neglect of the media that took the toll of a real crusaders life. Do you have a problem in believing this? Well this happens in India!

This discussion may not be complete without the mention of the notorious mafia dons who live like kings in the prisons of UP and Bihar. They are served with the best of food and alcohol inside the prison cell. They settle property disputes; dictate transfers/promotions/appointments of government officials; they make phone calls to politicians and business leaders dictating them their demands. Do you have a problem in believing this? Well this happens in India!

One can go on enumerating such inchoate images of India, but each of them can be contoured providing the brimming side of the country. It’s often said what true about India the opposite of it is also true. Well that’s the beauty of this country. Do you have a problem in believing this? Well this happens in India!

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Sunday, September 2, 2012

No Bodo, No Musalman, First Insan (Human)  
Syed Ali Mujtaba 

There was no positive story in the recent past that was reported n the recent Assam imbroglio, except one, but before telling that lets count the negatives that has shaken us from within. First was the mass exodus of the Bengali speaking Muslims population from their shanty homes residing in the lower Assam valley?  It followed the armed raid by the murderous Bodo tribe.  There was much of blood letting and mayhem in this tragedy that triggered one of the largest displacements of population in the independent Indian history.

Unfortunately, Assam is too far from New Delhi, the seat of power and also far from the so called national media that’s more comfortable in reporting Anna Hazare and Ramdev. Even though five lakh people left there home and over 100 perished, the tragedy did not moved the national media to report it like a national crisis.

The second important development was the angry and violent protest by Muslim youth in Mumbai and the subsequent violent protest. It sparked off the question, why Muslims in Mumbai should protest for the happenings in Assam; after all they are too far away and have no connection except common religion. The argument may sound fair enough, but living in Chennai, and witnessing protest in support of Tamils in Sri Lanka, who are citizens of another country, the Mumbai protest definitely make sense to me.

The protest was to tell the government and the media to do something to address the issue and not let it to recur again. This has to be seen into the context of 1983 Nellie riots in Assam, when more than 3000 people died and not an FIR was lodged against such program.  

However, the act of Mumbai protestors to become violent is something really condemnable. It would be prudent that those indulging in acts of vandalism must be given exemplary punishment. However, Mumbai protest also exposes the laxity of the police force that did not anticipated the situation and had not made enough preparations to handle the possible fall out if the peaceful crowed becomes unruly.    

Continuing with the negative news, the story of rumor mongering mills then came in. The so called national media that could not cover the Assam story properly started giving live commentary of the fleeing northeast people from various metropolitan cities. The citizenship issue of Assam became secondary, primary was to unearth the rumor mongering factories in the country.

It was discovered that the rumors were spread through the internet using social media and the mobile phones, the modern day tools of communication. This triggered a debate how to control them from having damaging influence on the society, while others arguing that such mediums should not be controlled.

The government took the decision to put restrictions on these two sets of communication and set a precedent for future as well. Do we like to remain under such control and restricts in a democratic country is something that requires a national debate.      

Oblivious of all these facts, a youth organization, in New Delhi took a bold step to cool the social temperature that was rising due the problems related to recent developments in Assam. It assembled a large number of it volunteers at India Gate in solidarity of the people of Assam in particular and northeast in general. Youth gathered there shouted slogans of peace and non violence and harmony. They joined hands and formed human chain near Amar Jawan Joti to show the solidarity for the northeast people.

The youth shouted slogans 'we are one.’ Many placards were displayed condemning the violence and riots in Assam. One placard read; 'Na Bodo Na Muslamaan, Sabse Pehle Hai Insaan' (no Bodo, no Muslim, we all are first human beings). Many present at India Gate also joined the human chain to convey the message for restoring unity and harmony.  

“This human chain is a way to show our unity and solidarity, we also want to say that these violence and riots cannot disintegrate our society and we through our unity will rise every time together,” said Shekhar Jain, of Mission Bhartiyam that organized the peace initiative.

“We are really hurt by the recent ongoing violence and thus we feel that it is us (youths) who have responsibility to come forward and to show that we are against all violence and riots,” he added.

Ansaar Ahmed from National Confederation of Human Rights Organizations (NCHRO) who joined the human chain said; “This is the time of national emergency, our society is in danger and people must know that they are human first, not the Bodos, Hindus or Muslims.”

“We were hurt by this violence in Assam and its aftereffects. Though some organizations and individuals went there and helped in relief works, we also have responsibility towards our fellow citizens. It will be a good gesture if we all can come together to tell that we are one,” said Ms Pathak, a Mission Bhartiyam activist.

 “We, as citizens of this country and as human beings, condemn riots and violence in all forms. We also condemn the shock, the pain, the terror that the people had to face. We empathies with the people of northeast and show our solidarity and extend our support to them” she added.  

Such developments are powerful narratives of contemporary India. It lives up the adage, that what is true of this country, the opposite of it is also true. Among the stories of hatred and violent protest this little tale, was hardly reported anywhere in the media.

As this story sends positive messages- a message of peace and harmony- a message of being human first- a message that we all are Indians and we share our joys and sorrows together, it at least deserves a glance.  
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Monday, January 30, 2012

Crowd Management a lucrative Enterprise in India

Crowd Management a lucrative Enterprise in India
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Social activist and anti graft crusader Anna Hazare has caught the imagination of the nation and he and his team is a subject of discussion at every nook and corner of the country. The common man in India sympathises with the cause that they are championing, but some have reservations about the method being adopted to put across the point to check corruption in the country.

Let us analyze the anti corruption fast of Anna Hazare in New Delhi in August 2011. A careful study of the fast covering both the pre planning and execution, clearly indicate the enormous level of strategic planning that have gone into this public agitation.

While there maybe twenty thousand agitators sitting along with Anna Hazare during the fast in Delhi, and maybe around fifty thousand persons in different cities all over India, yet they remain a miniscule figure when compared to the total population of the country.

The hard fact is that the number of agitators who actually participated in Anna Hazare’s fast could be less than 0.01 % of the Indian population. People in the lower income group who are the real sufferers due to corrupt conditions prevailing in the country and who constitute around 30% of Indian population (more than 300 million people) did not participated in Anna Hazare’s agitation. Many people in the rural areas did not even know about this fast taking place in New Delhi.

Nevertheless, the impression that was spread around the country was that the whole country was behind Anna Hazare. The Government of India was brought to its knees by the people’s power on the streets. The protest method adopted in the colonial era, still remains the most potent form of agitation even today. It also serves a role model for groups and lobbies to launch a similar agitation to get their demands accepted by the government.

The impression that is being created is something that needs to be analyzed, because it has ominous portents for the future of democracy and the development of our country.

The credit of “highly successful” fast of Anna Hazare in New Delhi obviously goes to the skillful agitation managers or team Anna as its being called. The agitation managers had controlled the movement so tightly that no negative campaign was able to make an impact during the time of the protest. The coercive methods adopted by them may have been disliked by lakhs of Indians, but they were “silenced” by the Anna
Hazare’s strategists making more noise and diverting attention.

This is the most conspicuous part of Anna Hazare’s fast in New Delhi and it needs to be studied in detail because this could be a right subject in the management schools and can be learnt under the topic agitation management, a lucrative enterprise in India.

In recent times, the agitators in India appear to have become highly skilled and some of them seem to have turned professionals as well. It’s not a emotional outburst that forms crowd but there are certain methods and theories that needs to be applied for the formation of the crowd.

So the crowd management is an interesting area of study, because India is a democracy and power lies with the people and they need to be mobilized in the streets round the year for different reasons and different purposes. It has to be backed by sound logistics and appropriate strategies in tune with the ground realities. It’s a highly specialized job that needs to be studied in all its seriousness.

This realization is soon dawning upon and the day may not be far off, when the management schools in India will start a special course on “agitation management”, teaching the students about launching agitations in a scientific way. A money spinning opportunity appears to be awaiting the B schools in the country.

What is striking is that many of the recent agitations all over India have been “successful,” with the state and central governments yielding to the threat and succumbing to the pressures of the agitators. Consequently giving an impression that the agitators are right and the method adopted is becoming a role model to be replicated in all the future agitation in this country.

The growing trend now is that the agitators seem to be measuring and testing as to what should be the ultimate intensity of agitation to paralyse the administration and bring down the government or any other agencies to their knees. A scientific survey and right timing, well managed and well executed agitation is sure to be successful.
Given their recent “successes”, many agitators seem to think that whatever may be the cause, if they could organise ten thousand agitators in one strategic place backed by money power and skillful media management they can become successful.

In a country like India, organizing ten thousand agitators is a cake walk. The social media has come as a bonus in the crowd formation, money power and media support are the other necessities. In such circumstances, the political parties and agitating groups first organize the money power and media support before venturing to bring the crowd on the streets to launch a successful agitation.

In the strategic planning of the agitation, they also take into consideration the quality of the political leadership and their lack of credibility which they exploit superbly working out the timing of the the agitation and in framing their pamphlets and speeches.

The Anna Hazare’s fast in New Delhi fast had all such planning done in a very meticulous manner. Every thing was in place, with Sonia Gandhi out of the country and weakest Prime Minister at the helm, they know that Tinamen square cannot happen at Ramlila grounds. So with remarkable planning they launched the agitation sustained it for two weeks a time well thought out to make the government relent and declare mission accomplished.

The example that is set by the Anna Hazare’s fast in New Delhi fast has now its echo is the agitation against the Koodankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu. Although opinions are divided on this issue, those against the nuclear power station had a field day. With the government unable to decide how to handle the protestors, this agitation is also considered to be “highly successful.”

The Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu is under construction since 2001 with Russian assistance. No one opposed to it and in the wake of Indo-US nuclear deal it was considered to be country’s asset in the generation of nuclear power.

However the radiation leak in March 2011 at Japan's Fukushima nuclear installation due to tsunami disaster, led to the opposition of the construction of the power plant at Koodankulam. Thousands of protesters and villagers living around the Koodankulam nuclear plant blocked the highways and staged hunger strikes, preventing further construction work demanding the closure of the plant

A group of agitators by their skillful planning and methods have been able to stall the entire progress of the massive power plant. The central government has repeatedly given an assurance of the safety of the nuclear power plant but the protestors remain unconvinced.

The Koodankulam agitators taking the cue from the successful agitation management of team Anna are also managing this agitation in the same way. They have managed the media well ensuring that the media focus remain on them and their demands. Their methods include even disrupting the meetings that would support the Koodankulam power plant.

The agitation management theory propounded by team Anna has become so successful that may political parties and agitating groups are taking note of it. In Tamil Nadu, the agitators are getting emboldened and one group is now demanding the closure of Kalpakam nuclear power plant, believed to be having India’s nuclear assets.

Now the big question is how to bring such misguided people into seeing the reasons? India is not Singapore or China where such agitations would be put down with heavy hand mercilessly. India is a democratic country and we all enjoy the right to protest.

The argumentative Indian the debating Indian is the trademark of the citizens of India. There could be different opinions and view points on every issue and in the traditions of the Indian democracy all this has to be discussed and debated in the Parliamentary forum of the country.

Parliament alone is the right forum to debate and discuss every issue that concerns the citizens and the nation as whole. The constitution has given us the rights to remove those in power if majority of people dislike any action of the government but this could be done only by due electoral process.

In such background, if this trend of a small group of people skillfully organizing agitations by their money and muscle power and media management are allowed to have a free run, it can seriously retard the stability and progress of the country.

While we all are proud of the liberal Indian democratic traditions, at the same time, we should realize that in the interest of the nation, it is necessary to ensure that frequent agitations and protests do not hamper the growth of the country.

By resorting to coercive agitations of colonial era, and at the drop of a hat, using methods like so called satyagraha and fast unto death, are highly counter productive. In fact such agitation management is leading to ‘mobocracy’ and creating a condition of unrest in the country. It’s undermining our democracy our liberal values and all the good that goes into the making of wonder that is India. It is high time that we wake up to such realities and arrest this trend gaining ground and doing more damage to the country.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Network to Reduce Drugs Dependency in South India

Network to Reduce Drugs Dependency in South India
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The launch of the South Indian Harm Reduction Network (SIHRN) in Chennai heralds a welcome initiative for people dependent on drugs, especially those living with HIV and AIDS in the Southern States.

There is a serious concern in the southern states of India over under reporting numbers of people injecting drugs and infected with HIV/AIDS.

Tamil Nadu and Kerala have been delivering services for drug injectors for many years now, and injecting epidemics have been reported more recently in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

Civil Society and Community Organizations stated their concern over the numbers of deaths being reported and the lack of facilities for care and support currently available through national and state administered services.

The current services for HIV management through needle syringe exchange programs and medication for replacing illicit or grey market opiates have been largely successful but they are simply not enough.

The challenge of co-morbidities including the presence of TB and Hepatitis C along with HIV require wider access to health systems including hospitals.

There is also a huge demand for medically assisted detoxification and rehabilitation services and a scale up of the fledging Opioid Substitution Treatment Programs in the region.

It is in this context that the South Indian Harm Reduction Network that has been launched has a huge role to play.

In a freewheeling interview with A. Sankar, Convener, SIHRN and L. Samson, President, SIHRN, the goals and objectives of the new organization was spelled out.

SIHRN aspires to bring ownership of treatment to affected communities. It wants to mainstream services that include wider health care, psycho-social support, reintegration related to employment, family support and legal aid, Mr. Sankar said.

SIHRN wants to register state level networks that will work closely with state governments and the affected communities. It also wants to strengthen services for people injecting drugs under States AIDS Control Societies. SIHRN likes to advocate for an improved quality of life for drug dependent people, Mr. Sankar added.

L. Samson, President, SIHRN said the challenge is to keep people secure in access to various types of treatment. SIHRN resolve to widen the scope of services to draw together agendas such as homelessness and drug treatment with the key stakeholders managing HIV and AIDS services for people injecting drugs.

Counseling is the glue that will hold the populations adherent to services, as optimism is required to counter the despair felt by the severe stigma and discrimination experienced at mainstream health services, and the abuse on the streets by ill informed law enforcers, Mr. Samson concluded.

The meeting of South Indian Harm Reduction Network SIHRN was held under the auspices of the Indian Harm Reduction on January 28, 2012 in Chennai. It was supported by Sharan, a NGO working on HIV/AIDS in India.

The meet was coordinated by Indian Community Welfare Organization-I.C.W.O, a NGO based in Chennai. More details on this can be obtained from Mr. A.J. Hariharan of ICWO, who can be contacted at

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at