Will the next Indian Idol be a Kashmiri?

BBC News: Indian Idol creates stirToday, an enthusiastic member of my community sent a link to this BBC news item around: Indian Idol creates Kashmir stir. Her accompanying message said, “This is great news!”. It made me happy too. Hundreds of Kashmiri kids had lined up for a chance to be the next Indian Idol. They had flocked to the Srinagar auditions of Sony TV’s music talent show, in spite of terrorist threats. Obviously Indian forces must have been standing guard.
Why did this news make us happy? Why does it make us Indians happy when Kashmiris want to be Indian idol?
Why does it irritate the separatist Kashmiri bloggers when Indians call Kashmiris their atoot ang (inalienable part)? They want India out of the valley. Due to the special status the state enjoys, and due to the movement of terror run by the militants, it is hard for outsiders, and some sons of the soil, to more than temporarily visit the valley. They cannot work, live and own property there, while Kashmiri Muslims can live, work, study and own property anywhere in India. Rightfully so, as Indian citizens they study in the best institutes of the country, hold coveted jobs in the central government, trade in Delhi, Kerala and Mumbai, and have winter homes in Jammu and Delhi. And they are the ones complaining. I read references to the word “hypocrisy” in most of these blogs. It seems it works only one way.
The BBC report by Kashmiri journalist Altaf Hussain also talks about militant threats against such programs, enforcing dress codes, etc. I wonder why these blogs don’t talk about independence from these threats.
Qazi TouqeerOn another talent hunt show, Fame Gurukul, a Srinagar kid Qazi Touqeer was voted by the Indian public to be the winner. I hope they find some good talent this time too. I grew up with a close KM friend singing melodious Kishore Kumar and Mohammad Rafi songs. He was so good, I wish we had such talent shows those days. Now he teaches in a higher secondary school in South Kashmir. Last weekend he called to tell me the good news that he has purchased land in Jammu for his winter home. Congratulations.


Democracy, not a "daemon-cracy"

Being a Kashmiri is a very important part of my identity, besides being an Indian, a Hindu (of the atheist kind), and a self-styled rationalist. Still, none of the posts so far on my blog has been addressed to the Kashmiri aspect of my identity. I would very much like to keep this blog not Kashmir-centric, because opinions about Kashmir are as varied as the people concerned with it. The definition of the problem, and its solution, depends on who you ask – even among Kashmiris. So it is really hard to be objective in one’s opinion.
Then, couple of weeks ago, when my last post was featured on Blogbharti, I followed links to this blog-post on Kashmir, and then I discovered a whole world of Kashmir blogs out there, that have all mushroomed since I checked last, not very long ago. My two-post-long Kashmiri language blog still remains the only Kashmiri blog till date, though I discovered a Kashmiri language online newspaper, which was a pleasant surprise (can’t locate the link at this time). I plan to change the script on my Kashmiri blog to Roman so that it will have a wider reach, and give me incentive to add more posts to it. I can use the Urdu script, but somehow I find Unicode Urdu very hard to read.
Well, a lot of venom is being spat out there, a lot of wailing and rona-dhona. Lots of myths and untruths are being propagated – some of them rubbing salt into my own wounds. So I thought I should do my share of rona-dhona too, and try to break some myths – in my opinion. Hence this post, and perhaps a few more to follow. To give an idea of my locus standi on the issue, I was born and raised in a north Kashmir village, completed my education in my village and in Srinagar, left to work in Delhi in mid-80’s, and kept returning to my family in Kashmir until early 1990, when all of us had to give Kashmir up for ever. After that I have visited a few times, but have missed and followed my homeland everyday.
For now, back to this post about India being a “daemon-cracy”, instead of a democracy. The blogger called “~K~” writes:

India might claim to be the largest democracy of the world, an economic super power on its way to become the next super power of the world but for Kashmir and Kashmiris it is a state that rewards killing of innocent Kashmiris with money, more power and commendations. The fact that India does indeed reward its forces for killing innocents was reflected in an earlier post and now we have official endorsement that indeed innocent Kashmiris are being killed for rewards.

Then the blogger conveniently gives no reference or proof of “official endorsement” of the allegation. If there were official endorsement, then the culprits of encounter killings would not have been arrested. The Human Rights Watch report that ~K~ quotes in his latest post also quotes the official statement:

According to Jammu and Kashmir State Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, police official Farooq Ahmad and a constable have been arrested for the murder of Abdul Rahman and the killings are still being investigated. “Any security person found guilty of killing any innocent for personal reasons like promotion, rewards or appeasement to bosses would not be spared,” Azad said, adding that “nobody is above the law.”

The blog is full of such wild allegations and wailing. No, ~K~, India does not award its forces for killing innocent people. There may be cases of inefficiency, criminal attitude or nepotism but no there is no official endorsement or encouragement for such crimes. It is really unfortunate and wrong, but it is no different from what can happen anywhere else in the subcontinent – from Karachi to Mumbai to Dhaka.
India may be inefficient, poor, corrupt, call it all the names you want, but it is not a “daemon-cracy”. India may not be the next superpower, it may not even be a regional superpower, but it is definitely the largest and one of the best and most vibrant democracies of the world, warts and all. Yes, better in some ways than even the richest democracy of the world. And that includes its attitude towards Kashmir. In fact, it is a bit too democratic towards Kashmir, thanks to the blackmail Kashmiri separatists have subjected India to, over the years. It is definitely better than the other alternatives Kashmiris have, and they know it.
A lot of what I have to say has been covered in much detail by A soul in exile, including describing the events that led to my community’s migration from Kashmir in 1989-90, debunking the myth propagated by separatists that the then governor Jagmohan orchestrated the exodus.
I don’t deny the human rights violations that happen in my country – they happen everywhere in and outside Kashmir, in and outside India, and must be deplored and fought together. But calling it India’s plan against Kashmiris or Muslims is absolutely wrong. So many problems and sicknesses afflict my country, and some of them are due to the Muslim fundamentalism which is at the root of Kashmir problem too.
Here are a few points by way of a comparison that shows why India is better than most democracies in the world, and why ~K~ should stop calling it a daemon-cracy, and stop complaining.
1. In US, questions are still asked as to if a black, a woman, a muslim, a mormon, an athiest, a non-catholic, a non-church-going person can become the president. And all polls suggest that the answer to each of the questions is a NO. So far, in a few centuries of independent America, it has not happened. Chances of a black or a woman becoming a president in 2008 have increased, and we will know soon if American public is ready in the twenty-first century. On the other hand, when independent India was in its infancy in the middle of the last century, the first prime minister was an avowed athiest. The second longest serving prime minister was a woman, one who had married a muslim-turned-parsi. After her second term, she was followed by a person who was hindu-muslim-parsi and had married a christian. In between, there were farmers, so-called “backward class”, prime ministers, and now we have a Sikh at the helm. Is anybody complaining, based on their race or religion? No.
2. More Muslims live in India than in any country of the world, save Indonesia. Voices of protest are heard about their treatment and voilence against them, and an equal number of voices are heard about their appeasement, and the violence they initiate. But what is important is that they are represented completely in all facets of Indian life. Present president of the country is a Muslim. Before this we have had two Muslim presidents. At state level, many states have had governers and chief ministers who were Muslim – states other than J&K which are not Muslim majority. Can you think of a Hindu getting elected as the chief minister of J&K? Look at the film industry, beaurocracy, sports arena, they are widely and rightly represented everywhere. Even the fact that I am talking about it seems unnatural, so natural does this sound.
3. Multi-party democracy has its perils, but it is definitely more democratic. That is how parties like the PDP come to power. In America people have to choose between the Republicans and the Democrats, even if they don’t agree with either of them.
Well, given the multiplicity of races, religions, languages in the country, and so many countering forces, I think India maintaining its integrity and democratic structure is no mean achievement.
The separatist blogs keep talking about independence from India, and they will say they have nothing to do with India, democracy or otherwise. I will talk more about the so called “azaadi” demanded by the separatists in future posts.


Languages on Indian currency notes

To give someone an idea of the number of languages used in India, I tell them that on every currency note, the denomination is written in at least 15 languages besides English and Hindi. If someone shows interest beyond that, I have a 20-rupee note available to show them.
This is another matter that having these languages on the currency notes is more of a formality than something actually useful. I don’t know if anyone actually notices the text in those languages, and definitely no one reads the denomination in their own language. Still, let us take a look at the languages on my twenty rupee note. I can recognize most of the scripts, except I can’t tell between the four south Indian languages. Telling Asomiya (Assamese) from Bangla is also hard. Fortunately, the languages are in alphabetical order, so it is not hard to take a good guess. So, I am filling in what I can read. I would appreciate any help from people who can read the rest of them, or can correct what I have written.
languages on an Indian RupeeAsomiya – kudi taka
Bangla – kudi taka
Gujarati – vees rupiya
Kannada – ??? ippattu rupaayigalu*
Kashmiri – vuh rop’yi
Konkani – vees rupaya
Malayalam – ??? irupat rupaa**
Marathi – vees rupaye
Nepali – bees rupiyan
Oriya – ??? bakaadas takaa***
Panjabi – veeh rupaye
Sanskrit – vimshati rupyakaaNi
Tamil – ??? irupadu rupaay*
Telugu – ??? iruvadi rupaayalu*
Urdu – bees rupaye
Another thing worth noticing is that (at least) in Assamese and Bangla, the word Taka is written instead of Rupee. Taka seems to be the generic word for a currency note in Bangla, and is the currency of Bangla Desh. But, shouldn’t the Rupee officially be called a Rupee no matter what the language? If someone asked a Bangla speaker what the currency of India was, what would they say – Rupee or Taka? What about Oriya? And Maithili, a newly added official language? Call a dollar a buck or a smacker or a greenback, but officially it remains a dollar.
Looking at the latest list of national languages of India, my rupee bill is missing four languages – Bodo, Dogri, Maithili and Santhali. Looks like the newer notes are going to have a smaller font.
Another interesting bit of info from Wikipedia on the origin of the word “dollar”:

The name Thaler (from thal, or nowadays usually tal, “valley” or Sanskrit “bottom”) came from the German coin Guldengroschen (“great guilder”, being of silver but equal in value to a gold guilder…

Related: This post in Hindi | Mile Sur Mera Tumhara


Sanjay Patel and his Book of Hindu Deities

Listening to Sanjay Patel‘s interview on NPR’s The World last week was a pleasant experience. Sanjay seems to be one hell of a creative person. He works on cartoon characters for Pixar. Having worked on hit animation films like “Monsters, Inc.“, “Toy Story 2“, “A Bug’s Life“, he has now written a book of illustrations about Hindu gods and goddesses. You can listen to his interview with The World here, and see a glimpse of his illustrations here.
Sanjay Patel's Little Book of Hindu DietiesSanjay has a neat website promoting his book and his art, and it is interestingly called It has an interesting profile of him, and has the only picture I could find of him – apparently his childhood photo. His profile says he was born in England and raised in LA, “but has never been to India” — sounds kind of out of context on his profile though, unless from his name or his book people would assume he comes from India.
In the interview, Lisa Mullins asks Sanjay about how he came to learn about the gods, and she asks as an example, about Kaama (of all Gods). It is hard to explain to the westerner how Kaama may be irrelevant to a practising Hindu. Sanjay Patel says when he was a kid, his parents came to the US and bought a motel in California, like so many Gujarati immigrants do. They lived in the motel, with one room reserved for pooja. His father would force him to sit in the pooja room every evening while the family worshipped, making him miss his favorite cartoon shows on the TV.
Are the cartoon protesters listening?