June 05, 2009

About disjuncture

Following the recent spate of attacks against Indians in Australia, Amitabh Bachchan wrote to the Queensland University of Technology. Here's some of what was in that letter:

"I have [followed] the most unfortunate and violent attacks on Indian[s] ... [and] the anguish that these incidents have caused to the families of those who have become unfortunate victims.

The Queensland University of Technology has very graciously offered ... to confer an Honorary Doctorate to me for my contribution to the world of entertainment.

Under the prevailing circumstances I find it inappropriate at this juncture, to accept this decoration. My conscience is profoundly unsettled at the moment and there seems to be a moral disjuncture between the suffering of [the Indian victims] and my own approbation

The VC of QUT replied to this letter, saying: "[Y]our stature has brought focus to a problem that must be addressed urgently."

Very true. I hope this leads to severe punishment for the goons who attacked those Indians, and to measures to ensure the safety of other Indians in Australia.

Here are three more episodes in which Indians were attacked:

1) A student in his first semester at medical college is beaten to death by his seniors. This is only the latest in many such incidents going back years.

2) A railway coach full of Indians is set on fire, burning to death over 50. This is followed by weeks of more killing of more Indians. When it finally ends, about a thousand Indians are dead.

3) Choosing them for what they wear on their heads, mobs slaughter Indians over several days. In some cases, powerful local politicians urge these mobs on. When it finally ends, about three thousand Indians are dead.

As you perhaps realize, none of these happened in Australia. They happened here in India: this year, in 2002, and in 1984 respectively.

In 2004, Jhansi University awarded Amitabh Bachchan a honorary doctorate. In 2006, Delhi University did the same. Both degrees were in recognition of his contribution to the world of entertainment.

To my knowledge, Bachchan did not write to either University saying he found it inappropriate to accept their decoration because he felt a "moral disjuncture" between the suffering of victims of these attacks, and his approbation. I mean, he probably felt that moral disjuncture -- if he felt it about Australia, I'm sure he did about India -- but he didn't write such letters.

But what if he wrote them today, choosing, just for example, episode #3 above? Would his stature bring "focus to a problem that must be addressed urgently": the utter lack of justice 25 years after that slaughter of Indians?

I think it certainly would. How about it, Amitabh Bachchan? #3, #2, #1, or any of many others -- take your pick, but how about it?


Anonymous said...

First post!

Abhi said...

Dilip, I agree with your sentiments but not the logic. The attacks you mention in the first part are racially motivated attack against Indians by a different race. The later part is attack on an Indian by Indians but not racially motivated. Both are equally bad but both are not the same. If there is an attack on Hindus by Muslims, the correct analogy would be a Hindu actor refusing a degree by a Muslim university and vice-versa. Here you demand an Indian to refuse a degree from an Indian for attack on Indians. Its similar to refusing a degree form New Zealand, because of these attacks in Australia.Anyway that's just to point out the fallacy of the statement.
And indeed I agree with you that our leaders/Icons must voice their opinions against any crime committed in or out of country and should work to bring light to the issues.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Abhi, there's no fallacy that I can see. I'm uninterested in what gets called or not called racism, because that's irrelevant -- besides being contentious.

Bachchan did not mention racism in his letter. The words he used apply just the same to the attacks on Indians in India. (Take a look). He is protesting attacks on Indians. I'm suggesting that if he did so about such attacks in India, it might just wake us all up to this problem that we prefer not to think about.

Sumedha said...

I think you're right. It does matter that the attacks are racially motivated, but that's not why Bachchan wrote to them. And I think all the attention these attacks are getting in the media is also a way to.. show up?... another country.

I read a blog post recently about the difference in the development of airports and railways stations: while the airports are becoming nice everyday, the stations remain the same. After half an hour of hunting for that blog, I still haven't found it. Anyway, the point is, the story is somewhat similar... anything that has "international" links always gets more attention than the purely "domestic" issues.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Sumedha, re: stations and airports, perhaps you meant this?

What we do our own fellow-citizens -- like in 1984 or 2002 -- is on a far greater scale than what's happening in Australia. I really think if some major icon like Bachchan made a noise about it like he has about Australia, it might make a difference.

Anonymous said...

Arguably, Mr. Bachchan has a duty to speak out, at least in the case of the 1984 anti-Sikh atrocities. His mother, Teji Bachchan herself was a Sikh.

I am not confident that much will come out but it will certainly send an important message if Mr. Bachchan does speak out. Lest, I am misunderstood, I am (like Dilip) not criticising Mr. Bachchan for not speaking out in the 1984 and other cases. Just that I think he should do so. It is hard to see how one can be so moved in the Australia case and yet not be similarly moved in the other cases...But then, such "blindness" is present, both among Indians and non-Indians. I remember a poem by the Dalit poet Daya Pawar titled "You wrote from Los Angeles":

"In the stores here, in hotels, about the streets,
Indians and curs are measured with the same Yardstick.
Niggers! Blacks! This is the abuse they fling on me.

Reading all this, I felt so damn good!
Now you've had a taste of what we've suffered
In this country from generation to generation."

Probably the extent of American racism is exaggerated. But the point is clear: Indians who complain of racism abroad forget the situation within the country. I read this poem in Eleanor Zelliot's book on Dalits. It's found online at


Abhi said...

Dilip, fair point taken.

Sidhusaaheb said...

The killings of Indians in India took place with the collusion of the police at worst or, at best, with the police deliberately looking the other way.

In any case, Mr. Bachchan and other celebrities were not inspired to refuse to accept or return honours bestowed upon them by the government of India.

BTW, it is interesting to note here that 'Abhi' (who has posted the second comment) seems to think that universities in India are either Hindu universities or Muslim universities and that any Hindu may be outraged only if innocent Hindus are killed and any Muslim may be outraged only if innocent Muslims are killed and not vice-versa.

I wonder if he/she is part of a demographic that supports communal politics in this country and constitutes a vote-bank for those who win elections by organising communal riots and/or spreading hatred along communal lines.

Prasoon said...

Lovely way to put it across by the facts you put.
I don't know about AB but many of his stature might ruffle their feathers and make some noise only if there is a value that they see out it. Sadly enough, that is the truth.
Had he denied taking a honorary degree from an Indian univ like you mentioned - they wouldn't have in all possibility even replied. Australian univ might take it as a beating to their reputation but what of an Indian univ. How does it matter who has their college's honorary degree? The generally public here is not going to give a damn about it anyways - even if AB himself would have studied there lets say.
Coming to one other point, he might have written this letter knowing it very well that it gonna make news and like you know, any publicity is good publicity.

Dilip, no one now is going to ask justice for these crimes. Who will when the respective governments ruling in those days themselves had a part to play? You and I will asked to shut up and get back to what we do and say pay a little more tax the next budget etc and forget all about it when we vote next [thats what Gujarat did and is still doing].
Even smaller crimes go lost - what about the Arushi case? you and I know where its lost and how good our judiciary system is. Include intelligence n CBI n ATS and all those. Bombay massacre was no joke - the prime terrorist fakes teh account and we allocate a defense counsel in the name of humanity and rights of an equal being. WOW! I wouldn't be suprised seeing a day when India hands it over to Pak on a goodwill gesture to shake hands after some broken ties.

Anonymous said...


I don't think ragging deaths can be associated with the state but no questions about the other two.

Should one refuse honors given by the state when the state itself is complicit in killings and other human rights abuses? I suppose the answer to this depends on whether you see the actions as being aberrant and whether you see the state as having other redeeming qualities. Very few states can claim to be totally "clean" (Costa Rica? Belize? Any ideas?) and none of them are in our part of the world.

Ultimately, it's your judgment call. Not that the Indian state will ever honor me - my achievements don't amount to much at all - but on balance, I would accept if it did so. But I can well understand why many Sikhs, Kashmiris, Nagas and so many others will not do so.

zap said...

Oh a lot of our stars and icons would speak out except that contrary to Newton's 3rd, every ripple they created would leave their lives awash with tsunamis. Such are the perpetrators of politically motivated crimes. Case in point, Aamir's Ghajini's being stalled in Gujarat..

Sumedha said...

You know, while looking for that post, I thought it might be yours, but I still didn't find it. I really liked that post too. :D

Anonymous said...

Malayasia which has 60.4% percent Muslims calls itself a Islamic state. How wonderful !!!...I can accept if atleast 90% were Muslims...with just 60%...

Swarup said...

And Dilip, this same gentleman had no qualms in becoming a MP from the party responsible for 1984 pogrom. That too in the immediate aftermath of that horrible incident.

Ganpy said...

Couldn't agree more...I was wondering the same when I read about Mr. Bachan's stance against the Queensland University..I think you have nailed it. The hypocrisy of Mr. B..!!!

async said...

Your argument is out of context. Even if Bacchan had refused to accept the honorary degree from Jhansi and delhi university, it wouldn't have yielded anything. The killings/violence would continue to go on. To me, it's a tactful move by Bacchan to not accept the degree.Atleast in Austrlia's case there is some hope of action, albeit a faint one.