Editorial / In the lady’s chamber
Browns and blacks
People / Jainendra Kumar Jain
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

How far can the long arm of the law go? How deep into homes and rooms and relationships? There are some legislations that raise these questions, because they throw into focus the divide between the public function of the law and the intensely private domain of the closest human relationships. Neither is it easy to draw a line, because such an imaginary boundary is projected only by instincts of decency and privacy. Marriage, dowry or divorce, the custody of children, maintenance and alimony feed into the structure and operation of society and can be conceivably legislated upon. But the moment the law steps into the bedroom, in between spouses, and makes spousal interaction the subject of its inquiry, the discomfort of accepting its presence and the difficulties of implementation become tremendous.

Yet no one would deny the urgent need for the domestic violence (prevention) bill, 2001, now under consideration by the Centre. Having decided that this should be the year for the empowerment of women, New Delhi has begun 2001 with an effort to redeem the Indian woman’s situation in the home. The intention is laudable. The provisions of the bill — which make punishable extortion by the husband, misappropriation of property, intimidation and insult, actions likely to spread disease or infection and assaults on the wife’s modesty — are remarkably comprehensive and forward-looking. The provisions target a number of old evils, while including in their scope both physical and psychological torture. Oppression and murder for dowry, routine violence, marital rape, general neglect and humiliation, could all be corrected if a law based on such a bill could be implemented. Additionally, by penalizing acts which spread infection, it could help contain the transmission of AIDS. Obviously, if decency and justice are absent in the most private of relationships, the law needs to step in. Indian society reveals its most hideous face in its everyday treatment of women in the home. The findings of the national health survey 1998-99 left no doubt about the unabated rate of wife-beating. What was most startling about the report was the fact that enormous numbers of women believe wife-beating to be justified. Decency or dignity does not stand a chance against such deep-embedded custom.

It can only be hoped that the domestic violence (prevention) bill manages to see the light of day through legislation. That, at least, will be a necessary first step. Even the existence of such a law may be reassuring, and may embolden some women to speak up. At the very basics, it will tell women that there are certain usages that are unacceptable. But serious difficulties have to be overcome if the projected law is to be implemented. If a woman does speak up, she will have to take the risk of going on living in the same house with the husband or in-laws against whom she registered her complaint. The entry of “protection officers” into the house to inspect the premises and inquire into violence, intimidation, extortion and so on will not necessarily guarantee her future safety, even if the offender is penalized. A good conviction rate is necessary for deterrence. The forms of penalty, therefore, have to be carefully and imaginatively thought out. When there are children, they too have to be considered if “outsiders” are let into a domestic situation.

The task ahead is a tough one, because the bill proposes to show up as crime what many take for granted as everyday behaviour. Indian society is crisscrossed with regional, ethnic, religious and caste divisions. Beliefs about dignity, the conjugal relationship, love and family bonds differ so wildly that a law, which performs the function of levelling, can only be limited in its application. Its ends would be frustrated if, instead of bringing together, it pushes apart. Certainly, the domestic violence (prevention) bill should not be stalled on the basis of such fears. At the same time, there must be no let-up in the efforts of women’s and human rights groups to raise gender awareness in Indian society. The two-pronged approach may bring about the desired results.


Allen Ginsberg, the Beat poet, pricked my Indian race balloon. It was New York 1964, and I was hesitating to take a bus to his hideout in Harlem, which was seething with unrest. There was no cause for worry, he said over the telephone: “They don’t attack blacks!”

Years afterwards, I read of Bhagat Singh Thind, a pioneering Indian immigrant who had entered the United States in 1913, served with the American forces in World War I, and petitioned for American citizenship in 1922 on the grounds that he was “a descendant of the Aryans of India, belonging to the Caucasian race (and, therefore) white...”. Thind failed, Asians not being granted citizenship until 1965. But his demand for equal treatment in his land of adoption articulated such a deeply-held belief in the land of his birth that I cannot but wonder at India’s future interaction with an administration in which Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice will hold high office.

There are three facets to the question. First, Indians must rethink their profoundly complex attitude to colour. Second, the white establishment in the US must learn to refine the simplistic division of the world into white and non-white (à la Ginsberg) that once defined official policy and may still shape private American thinking. We know least about the third category, which is how American blacks view the Asian, African and Caribbean peoples. But since their term for themselves is under constant review —African-American is currently acceptable — I would hazard the guess that their collective thinking is yet to crystallize into a set attitude.

The state department demonstrated its crass insensitivity in 1949 by recommending that it would be a good idea to send only black diplomats to newly-independent India. It probably believed that blacks would identify more readily with Indians. It may also have thought that Indians would be more sympathetic to blacks. Washington was convinced that “colour and race prejudice” determined India’s response to the Cold War. Loy Henderson, the US ambassador, cabled back that Jawaharlal Nehru was “constitutionally unhappy” if he was not leading “Asian or coloured peoples against real or imagined oppression.” Even the friendly Chester Bowles thought that India had turned to Moscow because of the conviction “that Americans can never accept the coloured races as equal.”

That fatal division of the world on colour lines surfaced again in 1994 when fearing assassination attempts, P.V. Narasimha Rao’s security chief asked the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston not to allow any Kashmiri, Khalistani or Tamil militant near him. Instead, the manager promptly banished all coloured, whether African-American, Asian and Hispanic, employees. Two black workers complained to the Massachussetts commission against discrimination whose chairman found the situation “too outrageous to be true.” The New York Times exploded with editorial wrath and the hotel paid through its nose to avoid the slur of discrimination.

Perhaps the manager was playing safe. Perhaps he was like the little son of Eddie Deerfield, then a USIS official in Madras, who trotted up to the first black porter he saw when he landed at Washington airport and poured out a stream of Tamil without any trace of self-consciousness. Anticipating just such confusion, M.R. Das of Mackinnon Mackenzie took the precaution of carrying a plumed turban to the US in the Fifties, clamping it on his head before entering any restaurant in the Deep South. Not that a recognizably distinct identity saved G.L. Mehta, the ambassador, from being refused service in Houston airport’s main dining room.

“Man,” declared Larry Wilson, the black American consul in Bombay at that time, to Saunders Redding, a black writer on an officially sponsored lecture tour, “we’re dealing with coloured people in a coloured country!”

As Thind testified, and as we all know, Indians see themselves differently. Caste (varna) has been called the world’s oldest colour bar, and miles of matrimonial advertisements for “wheat-complexioned” brides are a constant reminder of the traditional definition of beauty. Black is not beautiful in Aryavarta. The fixation recalls waves of conquest from the northwest, when light-skinned invaders pushed the darker indigenes southwards, reinforced by over a century of colonial rule. African scholarship students have complained of being stared at in the streets amidst whispers of “hubshi”, and of seldom being invited to Indian homes. Negroes existed only in legend and literature. Grand potentates like the nizam of Hyderabad employed Ethiopian guards but that was in the realm of exotica. Ordinary folk knew little about them.

World War II, when 100,000 GIs were stationed in India and another 150,000 transited to other fronts, brought the first blacks into modern India’s consciousness. Calcutta was an important troop centre, and I remember as a child clinging wide-eyed to the wire-mesh surrounding the black barracks — the US army being strictly segregated — near the Dhakuria lakes. People who were so much darker, yet spoke only English and were indisputably Western, played havoc with all our deeply entrenched concepts.

When Indians criticized discrimination it was either because of some personal experience or as an abstract cause rather than because of any concern for blacks. His own brush with San Francisco immigration prompted Rabindranath Tagore’s bitter comment about Christ, “an Asiatic” without money, not being allowed into the US. The Allahabad municipal board resolution that Nehru sponsored in 1923 deplored American treatment of Indian immigrants, not blacks. But among the papers of a black American soldier who was killed in Calcutta during the Quit India disturbances were found verses he had written about his sadness at India’s bondage and his hope that the country would soon attain freedom. It was Martin Luther King who discovered Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

Over a million highly educated and successful ethnic Indian immigrants may have helped to modify the white American establishment’s stereotypes. But race violence still does break out from time to time. More to the point, white American academics and diplomats predict that eventually Indian-Americans will merge with Chicanos and Caribbean mulattos. It is the old community of colour.

What does rubbing shoulders with the rainbow mix of American society do to south Asians with their own cultural baggage? Reports suggest that the Thind complex is alive and well. When Danny Glover, a black film star, filed a racial bias suit against New York City and the taxi industry, he was accusing Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, who account for two-thirds of the city’s cabbies, of racism. True, Indian-Americans went too late to be part of the Jew-black coalition or the civil rights movement. But, Arvind Rajagopal, a sociologist at New York University, says that “even as they insist on being ‘brown’, the plea not to be called ‘black’ is what is most audible.” They try to distinguish themselves from blacks “by earning enough money, for instance, to live in white neighbourhoods and send their children to white-dominated schools.”

So do most successful African-Americans in a situation where, broadly speaking, white equals middle class prosperity. There can be little danger, therefore, of the next secretary of state and national security adviser (who must be regarded as honorary whites) responding to India as Wilson and Redding did more than 40 years ago.

The question is: how will Indians react to them? It would be safe to say that if ever they do come here, they will be spared the social reserve that a junior black official in the US consulate in Calcutta experienced in the Eighties.Whatever our private prejudices, Indians abase themselves before celebrity status, and Powell and Rice are certainly celebrities.

It may take Indians some time to accept that they are not blacks with American passports but Americans who happen to be black. Acceptance would be easier if like good establishment whites, Jesse Helms or George W. Bush, Jr, they have not a clue as to who is the prime minister of India.



Doctor dissent

The small conference room at New Delhi’s Press Club of India overflows with journalists, television cameramen and excitement. Facing them Dr J.K. Jain, 55, dressed in a black buttoned prince coat, looks at best like a podgy sugar mill baron, at worst like a slightly emaciated Bappi Lahiri.

But appearances can be deceptive. On Friday, as he gave press reporters a select preview, hours before a so-called expose of nepotism and misuse of power involving Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra was telecast on JAIN (Joint American Indian Network) TV, the former BJP Rajya Sabha MP was both defiant and pugnacious. “I challenge anyone who challenges me,” he said.

Few were surprised when the surgeon turned media baron was thrown out of the BJP’s national executive on Wednesday. Everyone knew it was coming, especially after the good doctor sent a lawyer’s notice to his partyman — the Prime Minister — for not acting against officials who had dubbed him an ISI agent.

By officials, Jain primarily meant Mishra. The war between the two had been hotting up. Some time ago, Jain had applied for an uplinking facility for a proposed teleport. The application was apparently turned down after the government received a Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) report that called him an ISI agent. Jain believes Mishra was behind the report.

Many aver that at the core of the fracas is a property dispute. For long years, Jain has been operating from the Scindia Villa, a 32-acre property bang in the middle of the Capital. The property belongs to Rajmata Scindia, who, the family says, allowed Jain to use some three acres of it on a temporary basis. Now, the Scindia sisters want the land back and Jain is pretty much loath to part with it. Jain also charges Mishra of siding with the Scindias. And hence, he argues, the RAW report. Though the government recently bestowed two favours on him: granting permission for a TV news agency and allowing uplinking facilities — Jain is far from assuaged. “If you were branded an ISI agent, then what would you do? Would you not turn to judiciary if all else fails,” he asks with injured innocence. There is other evidence though that he is not a model tenant. His Defence Colony landlord has filed three civil suits against him.

Jain’s origins are humble. He grew up in Baraut in western Uttar Pradesh where his father sold grains and ghee in the mandi. Jain, the first graduate from his village, went to the Maulana Azad Medical College in Delhi to do his MBBS.

It was as a student that he got his first shot of political prominence. Medical students were on strike, and Jain was leading them. An associate recalls that the strike was fizzling out, and Jain was about to be sidelined as a failed student leader. “But a senior BJP leader got in touch with the authorities and persuaded them to announce some concessions for the students so that Jain wouldn’t lose face,” he says “And that worked.”

Jain took longer than usual to complete his MS — his friends say it was because of political reasons, but others believe he just took some extra time to clear his examinations. After which he started practising in Darya Ganj in Delhi.

He got married to Ragini, also a doctor. The Jains were very active during the Emergency. Many link Jain’s political rise to Ragini’s stellar role during it. It is believed she was in charge of driving Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader Nanaji Deshmukh (then underground) across the country. Shortly after, Jain became the secretary of the medical unit of the Deen Dayal Institute.

But Jain was the kind to have a finger in every pie. As a young doctor, he acquired the political magazine, Surya, from Maneka Gandhi while she was still living in 1, Safdarjang Road as a member of the Gandhi family.

After Surya faded out, he started his own video production unit. Jain, in fact, was one of the first to set the catchy video-on-wheels electioneering campaigns rolling in 1989. Speeches of political leaders, interspersed with parodies of film songs, became an effective mode of campaigning in the late eighties. In the nineties, his Ayodhya videos formed a potent and popular part of the BJP’s election campaign.

After a Rajya Sabha stint, it was thought that he would settle down to promoting his television outfit, JAIN TV. The satellite boom had opened the doors to lucre, and many believed Jain, with his political connections, would be the media czar of the future. After all, everyone knew that he was not just close to Vijayraje Scindia, but to L.K. Advani as well.

Things didn’t quite work out that way. JAIN TV didn’t get aired in the beginning, thanks to a series of hitches. And when it did, other TV channels already had a fair share of the country’s eye-balls. All that poor Jain could do was telecast some adult films at night to catch the interest of the late-night voyeur.

For the last couple of years, Jain has been busy trying to build up an infotech park in Greater Noida, which will house the country’s first private teleport and an international gateway for data uplinking. Last month, the government — in a bid to put a lid over the sordid Jain-Mishra row — gave him the green signal for his ambitious project. But with Jain having gone ahead with his expose titled, Pardafash, on Friday, for Mishra, the battle is far from over.

Perhaps, Jain can afford to be cocky, because he knows he enjoys the backing of some powerful members of the party and the RSS.

But others fear that this time Jain could have bitten off more than he can chew, culminating in his exit from the BJP national executive. Observers believe it won’t be long before he is booted out of the party as well.

Yet few can deny that Jain’s battle is no longer confined to a property dispute. In his letter to party president Bangaru Laxman, he wondered why senior party leaders Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani were siding with Mishra. “Why is the entire might of the party being used to cover the corruption and misdeeds of Brajesh Mishra?” he asked. An uncomfortable question that can embarrass the BJP and delight the Opposition.

Being in charge of a television channel, Jain knows his strength. Being an insider, he knows the weaknesses of his rivals. Dr Jainendra Kumar Jain knows the way the game is played. And one can hardly wait for the next episode.



Work on holidays

Atal Bihari Vajpayee will invariably crop up in sermons parents will have to give to their children at the end of vacations. Holidays, as Vajpayee has conclusively proved, are not all about fun and frolic. There is also holiday homework to be done. For all you know, parents might even brandish publications of his “musings” bought from the book fair as proof. However, they would do well to remember that Kumarakom was not all work and no play. The overworked prime minister found this the perfect opportunity to indulge his passions for poetry and music. Vajpayee is reported to have spent the New Year’s Eve listening to the melodious Talat Aziz who regaled him with a number of jam-e-meena ghazals which talk about the potent combination of love and wine. But however heady the magic, it couldn’t last long in the harsh political climes of New Delhi. The first thing that greeted Vajpayee once he landed in the capital was the controversy over his musings, not so much about what they say, but how they reached the press. Each newspaper that got a hand on this precious piece of writing took it as one written exclusively for it till it realized that plenty others had got the musings too. There were also sharp differences within the PM’s media advisors — four in all — since each had his own favourite. The bad blood among the spin-doctors is an old story. The haematology reveals it has got worse. But no use musing over that till Vajpayee has time again for more musings.

Keeping to the rituals

Back in swing after much musing on his statement on Ayodhya, AB Vajpayee has some hectic activity in store for him. One is a likely visit to Allahabad any time between January 15 and 19, when the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal activists are scheduled to start the second round of the Ram temple movement from the dharma sansad or religious parliament of sadhus. This is slated to be held at the maha Kumbh that commences on January 14 at Prayag in Allahabad. The PM will supposedly take a dip at the sangam and perform puja, although the dates for it are yet to be finalized by the PMO. The sangh might volubly deny this. But Vajpayee in fact will be following the footsteps of an illustrious predecessor at the Kumbh. Indira Gandhi is said to have been the first Indian PM to take the holy dip in 1976. That was after she had clamped the Emergency. She apparently continued to take the ritual bath on makar sankranti during the Kumbh mela till she died. That was from a PM of a “secular” party. One wonders what the PM of a saffron party is up to.

A day not remembered

But what exactly is the country’s largest secular party up to? Congresswallahs, including the president of the party herself, forgot about the foundation day on December 26. Madam in fact left for Lakshadweep the same day. No one knew where she was headed till she reached her destination. Almost all the rooms in the party headquarters at 24, Akbar Road were locked. Nobody thought it necessary to mark the day A.O. Hume and his friends formed the party in 1885. The party is still on holiday. Most of the Congress working committee members and the AICC functionaries are yet to resume work. But then there is hardly any since madam is yet to appoint a new team for the working committee. Apparently, the AICC chief cannot do it as the period till January 14, that is makar sankranti, is considered inauspicious. The true Hindu widow keeping to Hindu traditions.

Who fits the bill

Who’ll be our man in Mauritius? Its a big question for the saffron government which believes it’s quite a job representing India to an island nation with half its population of Indian origin. Initially, Alok Prasad was supposed to replace the Indian high commissioner in Mauritius, M.L. Tripathi. But Prasad had other ideas. He successfully worked for his posting in Washington as deputy chief of mission in the Indian embassy. Leela Poonappa, earlier named to be the DCM is cooling her heels in New Delhi. It was Vijay Kumar who was then the man chosen. But the government felt the job should go to senior leaders of the sangh parivar. Although several RSS men were initially running for the job, none are actually willing to take it up. One particular saffron leader declined because he wanted to be posted at a bigger station. With such dragging of heels, the chances of Kumar, a junior joint secretary level IFS officer, has brightened. He after all could be the man to represent India at Port Louis if only there are no last minute volunteers from the sangh.

Footnote/ About a big heart

Evidently, the PM was not the only privileged one to be on holiday. The chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Digvijay Singh, too was on leave and he seemingly needed it after the rather gruelling — and physically threatening — process of the formation of Chhattisgarh. He refused to take any calls or meet visitors during the period and spent his time in amusement parks with his children and grandchildren. Meanwhile, the AICC treasurer, Motilal Vora, was desperately trying to get in touch with him. As the former CM, Vora was given a bungalow in Bhopal. Since he now belongs to Chhattisgarh, he has been served a notice to vacate it. Diggy, however, is likely to allow Vora to retain it on grounds he was allotted the house as chief of an undivided state. Digvijay’s benefaction was also apparent in case of the former president, Shankar Dayal Sharma. He has declared that the state will bear the expenses for the upkeep of Sharma’s samadhi in New Delhi as the Union urban development ministry had decided not to foot the bill. Was the holiday mood in anyway responsible for the show of magnanimity?    

Sir — In “Promoting the new breed with a passion” (Dec 4) Amitava Das Gupta has talked about the ATP’s promotion of “new balls” and the new quartet of challengers in men’s tennis. Gustavo Kuerten, Marat Safin and others are indeed great to watch on the court. With age catching up with Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, the challenge to their dominance has been on the cards for a while now. But the ATP and the media tend to become slightly hysterical about any new talent that shows up on the tour. Do marketing considerations force them to do this? Sampras certainly has it in him to win a couple of more Wimbledons. Do the ATP and the media realize this or are they too preoccupied with their new frenzy?
Yours faithfully,
Samir Jain, Calcutta

Media mess

Sir — The prime minister’s irresponsible stand on the issue of religious tolerance and the government’s inadequacy in protecting the sensibilities of the minorities bring into sharp focus the indifference of both the print and electronic media to these issues. This is in sharp contrast to the spirited resistance put up by the same media during the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992. Although editorial comments in newspapers condemned Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s statement, opinionated news reports deliberately took an ambiguous stand to blunt the edge of the opposition’s attack on the government.

When democracy is threatened and the prime minister takes a cynical position, the media could have been the rallying point of democratic views. Has the commitment to democratic values softened? The media, of course, do not lose the chance to attack the president, K.R. Narayanan, whenever he talks about our cherished values of democracy and equality.

Yours faithfully,
Panchanan Pal, via email

Sir — If there has been one significant change in the lifestyle of people in the past two decades, it is the substitution of gadgets like the radio with television sets and computers. Indian viewers have always identified with the characters on TV and with a galaxy of channels, and the effect has been enormous. While TV has opened a plethora of choices, it also has its adverse effects. One of the most menacing effects is the search for role models in the makebelieve world (“Television lays fantasy trap for poor children” Dec 18).

The growing influence of TV on children has caused great anxiety to parents who are hoping that the government will take measures to ensure that the negative effects are neutralized. First, serials and advertisements should be careful not to alienate young people from reality. Second, the parents themselves will have to restrict their viewing in such a way that their children are not exposed to vulgarity. Third, value education will help students realize the deceptive character of this medium. By selling enticing dreams, the TV offers easy escape, eventually misguiding young people. The Telegraph deserves praise for highlighting these issues from time to time.

Yours faithfully,
S. Kejriwal, Calcutta

Return to the valley

Sir — In “Slow move towards a final solution” (Dec 25), Gwynne Dyer mentions several things that could result from the Kashmir talks among India, Pakistan and the militant outfits. But he does not mention the return of the Kashmiri Hindus to the valley. Has that issue become so unimportant?
Yours faithfully,
Gopi Krishna Maliwal, Hong Kong

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