September 12, 2006

Man Dead, Song Sung

This was my Monday column in MidDay yesterday (September 11). Comments welcome.

***

I write this on what we're told is the centenary of the song Vande Mataram. In what sense this is a centenary I cannot fathom, because Bankim Chandra Chatterjee wrote the song a couple of decades before 1906. Nevertheless, you don't need me to tell you that, as with so many things, this song too has become a lightning rod for controversy.

Yet this is not one more examination of that controversy. Except for this one point: I continue to wonder how singing a song -- even Vande Mataram -- becomes a badge of patriotism. I mean, let's suppose a murderer decides to sing it. Would we hail him as a patriot? (Can you be both a murderer and a patriot?)

But those are, I know, merely hypothetical questions, maybe even rhetorical ones. Leave them be.

Many of our elected officials, news reports tell me, sang the song on this day. Among them, the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chauhan. The only reason I single him out is that before this day, the previous prominent mention of him in the press involved the word "accident."

A professor died in Ujjain on August 26, and the Chief Minister managed to beat everyone -- the media, the police, the state CID, everyone -- to deducing how the death happened.

The professor's death, said the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, was "an accident."

Give this a few seconds' thought. As I understand it, and as I'm sure you understand it too, this is what happened. At Ujjain's Madhav College, a students' election takes place. Like many such elections these days, this one is marred by acrimony, and that may be a kind description. Professor HS Sabharwal, part of the faculty at the college, is on a team that meets to evaluate the progress of these student elections. Dissatisfied with how it has gone, they annul the election. I'm not sure how, but this decision is seen by aggrieved contestants as entirely Sabharwal's.

A mob of activists from the local chapter of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) surround the entrance to Madhav College, demanding to see the team. Again, I'm not sure how, but there are TV cameras in attendance. Police in attendance too. The ABVP put up candidates who contested the elections, and they are particularly upset at its annulment. On screen, as it happens, a nation gets to see the ABVP men encircle another professor from the college, embark on much finger-wagging and haranguing and remonstrating with him in increasing anger. Later reports will tell us that the two most vocal men are Vimal Tomar and Shashiranjan Akela, state office-bearers of the ABVP. Those later reports place identifying circles around them on screen as they lead the haranguing. Two men who look less like students would be hard to find if you went searching, but leave that be as well.

Another brief TV clip shows men barging into the college. At no stage in any of this TV coverage can you see the police doing anything apart from standing on the sidelines.

Then there's extensive closeup footage of Professor Sabharwal being carried out of the college and into a car. The way he appears in that sequence is shocking. No other word fits. His silver-haired head lolls on his shoulder, his eyes are closed. He appears to cough once in an attempt to breathe, but that's the only sign of life. What is so shocking is that you know, watching this on your screen, watching this man's head loll like that -- you know in your bones that this is a man who is dying. If he's not already dead.

It's like the Australian official who watched video footage of Steve Irwin pull out the stingray's barb from his chest: it was awful to watch, he said, because you were watching a man dying. So with Professor Sabharwal. His last few minutes of life were just as profoundly unsettling to watch as Irwin's must have been. Sure enough, Sabharwal was dead on arrival at the hospital, from a broken rib that had punctured his lung.

The professor's death, said the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh just days later, was "an accident."

Here on out, the story gets steadily murkier, if that's possible. Nobody is arrested on the charge of murdering Sabharwal. Eventually the public outrage forces Tomar and Akela to turn themselves in. The ABVP dismisses them from the party. NHRC raises questions about Sabharwal's death and the investigation by MP's law and order machinery. Stories begin to circulate about the Professor's heart condition, insinuations that perhaps he died from that. His heart is sent to a lab for examination, but ends up at a different lab, with the seal on the bottle apparently tampered with so there's doubt about whether this is actually the correct heart. (This is true).

You'll forgive me if I've got some of these details mixed up, it's that murky. But this is the gist of this Ujjain imbroglio.

And we're being asked to believe this equation: anulled election plus disgruntled ABVP plus haranguing ABVP men plus barging in plus professor suddenly near death equals accident. Or maybe, equals fatal heart attack.

Now I hardly believe that the ABVP is particularly worse than other student parties out there. What I do believe is that a ghastly crime was committed in Ujjain, and there's every sign of a concerted attempt under way to obfuscate every aspect of it. Not that that's particularly unusual for this country either.

And when you want to obfuscate, what better way than patriotism? Especially patriotism that springs, not from delivering justice where it is due, but from singing a song?

19 comments:

dude said...

How about polygamy? One professor dead is one too many but a nation that constitutionally allows the rights of its women citizens to be systematically violated does not deserve to be respected. Of course human rights watchers like you will turn blind eye to anything that does not serve your political purpose.

Bombay Addict said...

Dude - tee hee. You want to add right to education, right to food, right to speech, right to..ah, well which right do you want ? Oh, and correct your URL please and remove that 'e'.

D3 - Thanks - this had to be said.

Red Watch said...

Right, take two seemingly unrelated events and use them to further your own agenda. Most of your attacks are nicely hidden, but it seems you've stopped trying with this one.

How about I do this " In a nation where most of the population doesn't get enough to eat, here we have the media focussing on Budhia the runner".

It makes no sense, right? Much like your post.

Come on, old bean, you can do better.

Your buddy,
Red Watch

dude said...

Some of your freedom fighters got convicted today. What's your thoughts?

BA, I corrected the URL, thanks.

Dilip D'Souza said...

RedW, but am I still pissing you off? Please say I am.

Red Watch said...

Naw man, I thought you'd be interested in a discussion of your posts...but it doesn't seem like that's going to happen.
So I'm just going post here and there, not to you but for the benefit of your readers.

Yours,
Red Watch

Anonymous said...

>>Red Watch said...
>>So I'm just going post here and there, not to you but for the benefit of your readers.

Reader: Mercy.

Bombay Addict said...

Dude - guaahahaha. You have strong HTML-ing, clicking and typing strengths skills. Shabbash beta, lage raho.

Dilip - what is it about you that attracts all these shiny happy people to your blog?

Anand said...

Now I hardly believe that the ABVP is particularly worse than other student parties out there.

I can't think of another campus incident this gruesome in which other student party leaders were involved. If I go by only what I see, I believe that the ABVP is particularly worse than many other student parties out there. And I don't think all the student parties are bad, as your sentence seems to suggest.

Yes, incidences like this do happen due to bad politics. I think the cure is in good politics and not in apolitics.

Anirudh said...

And guess what the ABVP slogan was in the Delhi Univ. student elections (DUSU)? "Is Desh Mein Rehna Hoga To Vande Matram Kehna Hoga". (Translation: If you want to stay in this country, you will have to sing Vande Matram.)

And in spite of all that happened ABVP won one seat out of four in the DUSU elections. And NSUI, which is almost as bad though less scary, won the other three.

A related story you might find interesting. A man refused to stand up for the national anthem. http://www.vikramchauhan.com/article.asp?storyid=33

In The Shadows said...

Triple D, for once I see myself agreeing with you. Vande mataram or for that matter any song, should not be compulsory. Not for reasons that you put forth, though.

But anyway, both the anthem and the song describe a country, and pay respect to the country. I wonder why muslims are ok with one, and not ok with the other. Is it because, the song appears in a book where the ugly wretched Hindus rise in revolt against a tyrant muslim king.

In The Shadows said...

Triple D,

For once, I see myself agreeing with you. Vande mataram should not be compulsory, neither should be the anthem, but not for reasons that you put forth. I am talking about personal choice, and individualism here. (Arent these the very ideals that commies wanted to protect, but instead the evil capitalist empire of America did a much better job at it)

By the way, both the song and the anthem describe a country and pay respect to the country. I wonder why muslims are opposed to one while ok with the other (atleast, till now). Is it because the song appears in a book where the idol-worshipping Hindus rise in revolt against a tyrant muslim king..

I wonder if the king is a tyrant.. see his religion asks him to kill us, but still he is benevolent enough to let us live (doesnt matter if we have less rights and living almost in slavery)

In The Shadows said...

By the way, the bloodiest violence I have seen on my college campus, was by the Commie parties. For reasons as trivial as increase in annual college fees by Rs 20. When the canteen increased prices of chai and samosa by a rupee each, I was afraid if they would start beating up people again. By the way, considering that an avg student has chai and samosa once a week, this price rise hit students harder than the nominal fee hike.

The leftist students union seemed to be much less bothered about quality of education, were not willing to pay up further for education. And they say the education system is in shambles, the teachers are not paid well. Well, if you dont pay fees, how will the teachers be paid well?? Leftist hypocrisy, as usual.

Hey, the poor students should also be able to afford scotch and marlboro, na..

Dilip D'Souza said...

Anand, you're right. That was a feeble equivocation to make. I do think the ABVP is particularly worse than other parties, and this Sabharwal murder underlines that.

(Of course, if they had agitated over samosas, that would have been far the worse crime ...).

I also like your last line, that the solution to bad politics is indeed good politics.

In The Shadows said...

(Of course, if they had agitated over samosas, that would have been far the worse crime ...).
=============

I suppose its far worse to be violent over a minor fees hike in colleges... which as I said does not affect the students in the long run.

Most hypocritical of the Leftists is then to complain about education quality. Not everyone is doing what they are doing for "samaaj seva" , unlike the Leftists.

Anonymous said...

>> I do think the ABVP is particularly worse than other parties, and this Sabharwal murder underlines that.
You obiviously don't keep count of the murders committed by DYFI and SFI goons? Check your numbers dcubed and you'll be in for a nice little surprise. I'm not surprised at your position since DYFI and SFI are supporters of your favourite AID charity. And these patriotic souls gather in San Fransisco holding signs "Allah for India's Destruction". We'll just have to request them to sing Vande matram.

>>RedW, but am I still pissing you off?
What dcubed man. Why you pissing in wind? And pretending that it's sweat on your face.


>>I mean, let's suppose a murderer decides to sing it. Would we hail him as a patriot? (Can you be both a murderer and a patriot?)


Some 'patriots' can sing it but will still remain assholes. You included Dilip.

Vande dcubed!!

Red Watch said...

Exactly what is the connection between the Professor incident, and Vande Mataram?

Can any of my fellow readers enlighten me, please?

Red Watch

Anonymous said...

> Exactly what is the connection between the
> Professor incident, and Vande Mataram?

fellow called shiv raj chouhan. cm, mp. mentioned in article. your welcome.

Manisha said...

I have seen NSUI hooligans breaking windows and furniture in a UP college, and shutting it down for a full month, across the street from where I lived as a kid. Saw much worse terror with the commie student union in Cal as a student. All these student unions are like that.

Anyone who has been here before know that this blog's author has a narrative to push, so why be surprised at the spin he has put?