Teesta Setalvaad: Combat Communalism
Director: Shaina Anand
Duration: 00:34:18; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 31.696; Saturation: 0.462; Lightness: 0.217; Volume: 0.177; Cuts per Minute: 0.175; Words per Minute: 171.304
Summary: Shaina Anand (SA ) interviews Teesta Setalvad – Civil Rights Activist. Nikhil Anand also present poses a few questions from the perspective of urban Indian youth. Throughout the interview, she seeks to highlight issues like the irony that an Indian can relate to the Afghan war, because it involves the criminalisation of a religion, Islam, rather than what is happening much closer to home, and at home. She provides various reasons, stating that post colonial India has managed to severe ties with its neighbours, because the elite who were in power sought links more with the Western world. She also said that India, especially the Bombay police, has a history of set bias against Indian Muslims, a sentiment widely prevalent the nation over. She also talks about repressive laws that came about to counter-terrorism that, she opines, choked protesters rather than the terrorists, highlighting a need to look at existing laws and why they are not implemented correctly. Secularism is under attack in India as a result, and more and more, there is a gaping distance between the people's movement... and the people. In campuses, Right Wing politics are rampant, whereas the Left gathers in pockets and discuss amongst themselves. There is a need for the Left to reconsolidate its argument. She condemns the media's representation of 9/11 and the events thereafter as a polarisation of the world on religious lines, stating that the notion of religion needs to be de-linked from the notion of the state. Once a group of people, part of a larger movement, resort to violence, the entire movement loses credibility – something that has happened to the Naxalbari Movement in India. Restraint is needed in conflict resolution.
TS: This is said and justified. Now that's just the point. Are we really going to get to the bottom of this? Osama bin Laden is just an individual... But the phenomenon that he represents, which is not a particular nationality, a particular location of a crime, which is why it seems so "dangerous", quote unquote... is a notion of a deep-rooted injustice.
The clip opens with a fixed mid shot with Teesta Setalvad
, a Civil Rights Activist in the foreground, and a wooden shelves with books in the background.
She begins with trying to understand the effect of September 11 on the Indian psyche.
osama bin laden
world trade centre
TS highlights the cynicism of the American broadcast and print media against non-democratic nations, and the vengeful and wrong-headed justification for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars
TS: You have American columnists basically saying, "let's bomb the Afghani people, let's bomb the Iraqi people; let's show them what pain is" - I'm quoting from an anchor in the Fox Channel News - "Let's cause them so much pain, that only with that pain will they revolt against their unjust regimes." The utter cynicism of those kinds of columnists. When you know that their countries have been responsible for the creation of unjust regimes and that democracy has only been justified for them when it comes to the white man on white soil.
TS: In that sense, India is an exception and probably a bit of a thorn in their flesh, because it has been a democracy despite all the designs of the West, or in spite of them or whatever. Yet, despite all our democracy we seem to be acting as a big bully US in the region.
Here she states the irony of India being a democracy in spite of its neighbours following very different political regimes, and yet contradicting its democratic nature by bullying other countries in the South Asian region.
North-West Frontier Province
TS explores India's relations with its neighbours, its level of identification with these countries as opposed to that shared with the West. She argues that ties with India's neighbours were severed post colonialism, because India's elite aspired to be more like the West. So Indian discourse is more in tune with Western discourse than that of its regional neighbours in Asia
TS: And that is what scares me about India; that we are kind of epitomising these sorts of democratic frameworks that the US represents today. We are not liked by Sri Lanka, we are not liked by Pakistan, we are not liked by Nepal, which is the only Hindu kingdom in the world. I mean, there is greater anti-India hatred in Nepal than anywhere else. And I think it has something to do with our size and our inability to look outside what our own concerns are. We have a certain kind of violence brewing in Sri Lanka, where in fact you have people of Indian-origin - Tamilian Hindus in fact - who are victims. That doesn't enter our discourse. It doesn't concern us at all. We have neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan, where all kids of problems accrue. We had a very abiding relationship that the sub-continent has had with each other, and even India has had historically with Afghanistan. Kandahar, Takshila and all the ancient Universities. But our nation states and our colonial historiography has completely severed all of that. 'Cabuliwallah
' (fruit seller) is a story that maybe you and I grew up with, because we were urban India and a certain class. But long before 'Cabuliwallah
,' you have this phenomenon of this entire link. The Frontier Mail for instance; one of the first trains started by the British. It ran from Bombay right up to the Frontier - North-West Frontier Province - which is why it's called the Frontier Mail. Maybe two generations before, there were memories of this. But we have managed very conveniently to severe links with our closest neighbours, Afghanistan being one of them, Sri Lanka being the other. Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan being the third, fourth, fifth. Burma. And we are much closer to the West, and Western thinking, and Western prejudices and Western Ideology. And I think it's got to do with the fact that, our elites who took over after Independence, have forged links across borders, rather than deepened democracy within. Because if we had talked about deepening democracy within, we would not be speaking the language of the elite. Indian democracy would not epitomise the elite.
The fact that the Indian elite would insist upon a distancing from its Asian neighbours would be largely based on the fact that within the Western world, Asia is still viewed as relatively primitive. During the Age of Colonisation, the British did attempt to convince Indians of the fact that their culture was primitive and uncivilised. During this period, the British subjugated Indians, only providing a moderate sense of status (still below that of the average white man), if he took on aspects of what was termed 'civilised' at the time i.e. speaking English, etc. Therefore, it occurred that the few white men in India remained at the top of the social pyramid exploiting those below. Moreover, when the British left India, the gap that appeared in the social strata was quickly filled by the presumed elite who had already identified with their British colonisers, and needed to continue the same pattern in order to maintain their precarious position at the top of the pyramid. And in order to do so, they had to effectively become 'white Indians.' It is the continued propagation of this ideology, that of a 'cultural cringe,' that has led to India continuing to integrate itself with the Western world while ignoring our Asian counterparts.
Here she explores what she believes Western democracy as represented by America translates into for developing nations such as Thailand and India in the area of Intellectual Property Rights
TS: There was this article I had read when I was in Thailand, by a Thai farmer, who spoke about the fact that, in response to what bin Laden is alleged to have done, how a huge billion dollars worth of jasmine rice is cultivated in Thailand and exported to the United States every year. And that stands to be belittled by the latest agreement where the US, as in the case of Indian Basmati
rice, wants to buy up the patent. So it was a fervent appeal written in the Thai newspaper, on behalf of the Thai farmer, saying that, "USA, can't you see that it is better to be sent in jasmine rice from Thailand, than to buy the patent yourself?"
intellectual property rights
Here she succinctly puts forth her notion of America as the only super power in today's world
TS: This is the bottom of it all - you want to control economics, you want to control culture, you want to control discourse.
TS: Mary Robinson who is the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights just makes a statement that she thinks the bombing of Afghanistan is wrong, and she gets 3-line mention in American papers despite the fact that she herself is American. This is what Noam Chomsky said when he was in Delhi last week at a function. He said this is what US democracy is all about.
TS directs our attention to the manipulation effected by the American media.
TS: So, I think we need to be really speaking about... It's well known that 7,000 odd people died tragically at WTC on September 11, belonged to 26 nationalities. But what is not known is that there's probably a much larger figure of migrant workers; we don't even know where they belong because there is no record. They are illegal immigrant workers, belonging to god knows which nationality, but somehow finding succour and jobs in the US. And they are not part of any record. They CANNOT be part of record. They can't even get compensation. They can't get the relief. And this is the whole section of population that is unheard in all our societies today.
TS revisits the Malegaon riots and the Bombay riots to expose what she believes is a set bias against the Indian Muslim. She discusses the fact that certain sections of the populations in India are being subversively armed, almost in preparation for some sort of uprising. It is in this manner that she floats the argument that 9/11 has given legitimacy to the previously prevalent anti-Muslim sentiment in India.
TS: So when we hear the rhetoric of violence, when we hear the rhetoric of hatred - what happened in Malegaon, just from the 26th October onwards - it's a cynical... It gives you in a microvision, it tells you exactly what the WTC means in India. That okay, you have a Nehal Ahmed, a so-called Janata Dal Socialist Muslim leader. Why he needed to take out a procession to protest the Afghan bombings and not take out a procession say, on Orissa's starvation deaths, is a question that we need to ask him. But still I defend his right to take out a protest on whatever he feels like, as long as it is peaceful. He takes out that procession. But how does the administration and the police react? What do they do? They start snatching away the leaflets that the younsters are distributing. Enrage them. And then indiscriminately fire above the waist. And kill 11 people. And 3 of the people who were killed, were women who were on their terraces. Just like it happened in Bombay in 1992. So you see the pattern getting repeated? The set bias, or lack of neutrality in the Bombay police has manifested itself all over again, this time with greater legitimacy because you think you are acting in the national interest, you are acting against the supporters of quote unquote 'Osama bin Laden.' And all Muslims are thus, and all Muslims are therefore traitors. And thereafter you see a destruction of Muslim property all over Malegaon, or largely Muslim property, not only Muslim property by quote unquote 'unknown mobs.' We know who these unknown mobs are. They are preparing themselves. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad
(VHP) and the Bajrang Dal
are holding jal-abhishek
programmes all over the country to prepare for the Ayodhya temple in March 12. In Rajashtan, Gujarat and Maharashtra, the Bajrang Dal is distributing trishuls
. Why? Because they say trishuls
, like the kirpan
, are exempted. Because they are weapons of religious symbolism. But what they are distributing, I have been shown by the policemen, are not trishuls
at all. They are Rampuri
knives, with just a little wire twist, which can kill. 30,000 have been distributed in Gujarat, 20,000 in Rajastan. And the police will tell you that they have been distributed in Maharashtra as well. So there is a steady arming of the population going on. And there's a steady settled prejudice as it is against the Indian Muslims whose patriotism has always been doubted. Increasingly so after the rhetoric of the RSS
(Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and the BJP
(Bhartiya Janata Party) getting greater legitimacy in the last 15-20 years. And this international event has fit in very well with all of this.
bhartiya janata party
rashtriya swayamsevak sangh
vishwa hindu parishad
TS: So that is what I find particularly worrying. You have this huge macro event which is brought right into your bedroom because of television and coverage. And I don't know when we have ever seen an event where you can actually... After the first hit of the WTC, we actually saw the second hit in front of our eyes, taking place on the TV screen. And you see that happening, and so it becomes both, everybody's problem and nobody's problem at the same time. Because the image is very close and yet it is very far. And it fits in beautifully, because it confirms - both for the Western world, and unfortunately for the elite and the middle class in India, in Hindu India, so to speak - what they would like to believe Muslims and Islam is all about. You then don't seek to question yourself about whether the equity or the parity, or about justices of your own policies, or how you treat your own people.
Teesta talks about how, in a sense, the media is partially responsible for popularising the misrepresentation of the Islamic world post 9/11
TS explains that the aftermath of September 11 has seen a number of other issues, notably that of the Dalit movement in India, swept under the carpet in favour of action on the 911 issue.
TS: Another issue which has really bothered me because until August, I was very closely involved in the Dalit campaign, to take it to the United Nations at Durban. And come September 11 it's just gone out of the window. For one and a half years the Dalit groups in this country had built up such a fantastic campaign, brought the issue of Dalits and caste oppression onto the national agenda in a way never before. And this event has come and that whole issue has just got flung out. It shows that we are not prepared, that all our societies, particularly the quote unquote 'democratic ones,' on whom I believe it is easier to point a finger because it is possible to raise questions. I mean in Saudi Arabia or Qatar or wherever it is that there are no vibrant democracies or not-so-vibrant democracies, it's not easy to raise questions about how maybe Saudi women are treated, or how Saudi tribals are treated. But in our societies, many questions have been raised by people who have not had access to democratic institutions, who have not enjoyed the spoils of democracy. And these issues we are so happy to push under the carpet, given WTC and the events that followed.
After making the argument that India is not ready to reconsider its own forms of 'terrorism', TS re-emphasises this by stating that the legislation to address the issue - POTO
have only been used against protesters rather than against terrorists
TS: And I believe that POTO
and all these other laws that are being brought in, particularly the national law, just like in the case of TADA
. TADA was brought in at the height of the Punjab threat; the threat of Punjab terrorism and all figures and all studies, even governmental, forget the Human Rights studies, have shown that all the arrests made under TADA - 99% of them were of protesting populations. They were not made in those states affected by (gesturing) quote unquote 'terrorism.' They were made of trade unionists, environmental activists, anti-GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade
), protesters, women's activists, civil liberties activists and anti-communal activists in Bombay. So you use TADA as a weapon against any civil protest. And that's exactly what the new POTO's going to be used for. And that's the frightening bit that just because we are suddenly facing - I believe on a large scale, I'm willing to admit that the kind of threat posed by this sort of violence is certainly something we need to put our heads together and think about. I don't think its worth, I would not like to take a position that it's just the same as it was before. I do think that the kind of access to money and networks and even religion-based ideology that many of these terrorist groups have needs to be looked at very carefully. But, I certainly don't think that questioning the fundamental principles of the way our laws are constructed, the way our Human Rights discourse has been constructed is going to give us the answer. It's only going to cause more repression and more anger against that repression.
terrorist and disruptive activities (prevention) act of 1987
TS states that there is no implementation of existing Indian laws that protect secularism. Notably, political leaders have been allowed to get away with instigating communal violence
TS: What we've lost out in recent times has been responsible policing, responsible investigation. (gesturing) Crime by crime, case by case, finding people guilty, taking action where it is due, and most importantly in our Indian case, we let off people for hate-speech, consistently. So whether it's a Bal Thackeray in Bombay, or a Lal Krishna Advani in Delhi, who led his whole yatra
(campaign) across the length and breadth of the country and there was bloodshed in its wake - our laws have let off certain people and legitimised certain kinds of hate-crimes. So we need to see where we have not implemented our laws. I don't think we need more laws. We need to look at why we fail to implement them.
Here she talks about how ironic it is that her magazine - Communalism Combat
was probably one of the few magazines that featured an extensive article on the Taliban. She goes on to critique the Left movement in India, insisting on the need to look at the issue in Afghanistan from the people's point of view, and in a holistic manner.
TS: We featured the Taliban on our cover of 'Communalism Combat' in '98, in October '98. It was a story called 'Hell on Earth.' And I remember we received this letter from the Revolutionary Association for Afghan Women
(RAWA) who said that, "you are the only South Asian magazine that is concerned about the plight of the Afghan people, and thank you very much for featuring it." And that's the issue, you see. I think that's what personally bothers me about the Left protest, to be very honest. And I know this is not a very politically... I consider myself part of the broader Left. But I really think we need to look at.... Just a kind of blanket anti-Imperialist slogan today, doesn't appeal to me. The Left was late in analysing communalism and caste. We need to look at what the Taliban has done to its own people. Not just the Taliban, even the Mujahideen
. What people forget is that the Mujahideen was no better either. It has been a whole stage and a phase, since Imperial... Since outside powers came in to Afghanistan - the Soviets first and then the Americans; it has just been unmitigated disaster for the Afghans. And that is something we need to look at in a holistic way. And we need to see what it has meant for the Afghan people, Afghan women particularly because it has pushed them into prostitution in the name of Islam.
TS: Muslims all over the world, Hindus all over the world, any responsible person will have to look at the fact that there can be no more cynical manipulation of faith than what the Taliban, AND the Mujahideen before them, have done. That is what complicates the response, if you like. That's is what I meant in the beginning. That we need to look at this issue. And of course, there is absolutely no question that as the war goes on... We are now in the fifth week of it, there's nothing nothing that can justify bombings on people who are going to be starving, and starving further from the cold in another two weeks time. But the fact remains that when you talk about the world Islamic response, and you are talking about phenomenons like Osama bin Laden and all who come from some of that response, at some point the Islamic world... I mean there is a point of reckoning involved there. And I think it's a historical moment of reckoning. It's not going to be solved in a few years time; it's probably going to take a few decades, if at all we see it in our lifetimes. And it's got to do with the reconciliation of Islam with the modern nation state, with modernity. And somewhere there needs to be that moment of reckoning. It will need to come out. I have a certain way of looking at it. Maybe I'll be proved right, maybe I'll be proved wrong. But I believe it has got to do with the de-linking of religion from state. That's my personal conviction. (Gesturing) When one sees it through history, with other faiths and all that... But whether I'm proved right or proved wrong is not the issue. But I think that is the churning that I think is happening within Islamic society. And that's why, there are people speaking out (gestures) very, very firmly. There are, I think, probably the majority who don't even understand what the debate is about. So I don't think it's fair to club Muslims as this way or that. That, I think is wrong. But I think that is also a moment of reckoning in a sense, for that de-linking to take place. And whether it will happen in 5 years, 10 years, 15 years or 100 hundred years... I don't know. But the thing is... What I was thinking about, like, for instance right from when you had the 5 Crusades - you didn't have internet, you didn't have television, you didn't have BBC
(British Broadcasting Corporation), CNN
(Cable News Network ) when you had the Crusades taking place. So even if actions that took place on the soil of Europe and West Asia impacted on other campaigns in South Asia and South East Asia, as we know they did, they were much slower. The reactions were far slower. Here the reactions are faster and what really worries me is the consolidation of opinion is immediate. Because we are so quick to draw the conclusion. So this takes place and we are willing to believe that all Muslims think like this. This takes place and we are willing to think that Muslims are not prepared for modernity. I don't think either is correct. I don't think either is correct you see. Because none of our media is concerned with representative views or statistical views or any of this. The danger is of over-simplification through this process (of representation).
Teesta condemns the war as unjust, arguing against the media's representation of the Islamic world. She remains convinced that the Islamic world is at a critical point. And she maintains that religion needs to be de-linked from the notion of state.
South East Asia
Here she highlights the Western world's vested interest in the Afghan war by citing what they did in Israel and the role of the CIA in the rise of Osama bin Laden that have become evident.
TS: The West's duplicitous policies have come out in the open. They are being discussed openly now. Right from the CIA
(Central Intelligence Agency) support for Osama bin Laden, to the setting up of unjust regimes all over the world, to what the British have done in the Middle East, how the UK and US set up Israel - all of that is being discussed in the open, and I think that's a welcome thing. But apart from that, I think what is really going to be the question is about the democratisation of quote unquote 'the Islamic world.' And I think that's going to be another churning, if you like, subterranean churning. Certainly not a churning that is going to be helped by the bombing of Afghanistan at all. In fact, the reverse. If at all, the support for the Taliban will grow as the bombing continues. Because the people so angered by the Taliban will find some sort of way of justifying them if America continues the way it does. America and the allies.
Here, Teesta questions the current concept of what India means, especially with regard to the urban population. She notes that the generalised apathy of the populace towards these concepts and issues worries her.
TS: See, I personally believe that the battle that has been going on in India for sometime now; particularly over the last decade, decade and a half, two decades has been a battle for the idea of India. Whose India are we talking about? That is really the crux of that battle. For the vast majority of Indians, I believe the notion of India, the idea of India is what it is... geographically, culturally, regionally, spiritually exactly what it is. In the sense that it's a mix. It's a wonderful heady mix of everything from inhuman cruelty, to lot of very deep rooted celebration and tolerance and languages and different faiths, and we've given birth to three nations, we've nurtured so many, and all the rest of it. But I think there has been a very, very concerted core group attempt which one doesn't even get back to the root, but it is, I believe the attempt started by the Hindu Mahasabha
and continued by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh
so successfully and so well, unfortunately so well, which has been a kind of concerted attempt to redefine this notion of India, and to limit it in various ways. So that it is an idea that represents a not just a sectarian ideology as we know it, but also an extremely elite and privileged ideology. Because you are not really then talking about an India of the masses, you are not talking about an India of the working peasants, you are not talking about an India of the potter, of the person who's toiling with his hands or creating with her hands, or painting - you are really talking about upper class, upper caste or business at the most, and of course, religion-wise only Hindu. So that I think really that has been the broader battle that has been going on. I don't believe it's a battle that is lost at all. Otherwise, I mean, we would not all be functioning and talking in the way we are doing. But I think it's a battle that is really still been bitterly fought. I hope, I really hope, and that's where we all are continuing as part of that battle; we believe ourselves to be part of this battle, that we will win the day. Not just individually, but as myriad ideas, notions, struggles, initiatives. But it is the complacency of the urban educated privileged class that is really worrying. The idea that protects notions is represented on television and in newspapers that doesn't seemed to be concerned enough about this battle. I feel the apathy is more worrying than actually the battle. I don't believe, if there was really a battle in every corner of India, we would've lost already. I don't believe it is a battle in every corner of India. But they fight it strategically, they fight it well. They use the correct symbols, and they confuse and obfuscate issues. They confuse religion and people's individual faith for the manipulation of the faith that they so cleverly do. And there are not enough people who are articulating this difference to make people realise that they are making, being sort of scape goats of... (phone rings) So it is this kind of apathy, which I feel is not taking the battle seriously enough, is what I'm concerned about.
TS: In a way, I feel quite reassured by at least the discourse in the English language media, I'm talking about the mainstream. I'm not as disappointed as I would like to be. (Holding spectacle frames in left hand) I feel after September 11 we have lots of good stuff coming out there. And I feel maybe it has helped reposition some of our priorities and look at the issues quite seriously. I think, we've seen in the midst of this whole discourse of the war, very serious writing on the fact that our census shows a deeply declining birth of girl children in our censuses; there was one editorial just yesterday. Or the fact that we can be so callous about the death of 11 infants in a Lucknow hospital. These, according to me, are symptomatic. An event should not allow us to forget what the real issues are for us and for the Indian people. The issues have been one of hunger, poverty, starvation, lack of real democracy for the majority, and deep rooted schisms caused by communal divisions, which is the manipulation of religion for political ends. So, I think in that sense, we cannot and our movements cannot, we cannot allow the war, and the rhetoric and hysteria around the war to take over our own individual and local battles. Because if we let that happen, we won't fight those battles seriously. And we'll allow ourselves to conveniently forget them. (Grabs spectacles again) It's always easy to think of somebody else's battle rather than fight your own demons. And I think our demons are one of caste, communalism, poverty, illiteracy and all of this. And though we seem very scattered, though our initiatives seem as if they cannot... I was just talking to Nikhil in the afternoon about why we don't have a few 1000 people on the streets when you talk about an anti-war protest. Why is it always 100, 200, 50, 60, 40, 400 in Delhi? Somehow we need to be able to get to more people. That remains a concern. But I feel that we still have an extremely rich experience of these different textures, of people living together, different faiths, different languages, different ideologies. Simply because of our position in South Asia, and our history which includes the history of Partition, and the bitter lessons that we ought to have learnt from that Partition. I think we really could be playing, if we really true to the older idea of India, or the more enduring idea of India, which I think was sort of broken by the BJP
(Bharatiya Janata Party) coming to power; but much more significantly when we went nuclear. Because I think that going nuclear broke with our own history of the Non-aligned Movement
(NAM) of saying no to nuclear weapons and all of that. So I think the fact that it was India in its initial, nascent stage that took a lead in the Non-aligned Movement. And not just India - interestingly, it was India, Egypt and Yugoslavia. These 3 countries were the main players in the Non-aligned Movement. And I think it's not insignificant that India and Egypt still survive. But Yugoslavia got dismembered. And dismembered by a cynical West. So there are so many of these subterranean lessons to be learnt. And I think that the biggest, greatest lesson that we should learn in India, both at the political level and social level, is not to sacrifice independence; independent way of thinking, independent way of reacting. We cannot react with this bloc or that bloc. And if after the Cold War, we are being told that there are now two new block, all the more reason that we have an independent, emotional position. Completely independent position and not get swayed by one or the other.
Teesta suggests that the English-language media appears to gave brought some important issues to the fore in the wake of September 11. However, she reiterates that this does not justify these global concerns gaining precedence over our own troubles in India. She then moves on to question India's decision to go nuclear, to align with America on the Afghanistan issue, and is nostalgic about the historic notion of India was and all it stood for.
Nikhil: How do we as students that are studying in Universities and under the pressure of exams on a daily basis, or middle classes working their 9 to 5 to 7 jobs, resist from the temptation to identify with a nationalism, a fake nationalism of sorts, that the BJP is churning up and reclaim the political discourse around their own issues of food, water, starvation... the very material things? It seems like it is much easier to (throws his clenched fist) talk the politics of religion than to walk the talk of living a different sort of politics. So how do we live that kind of politics even as the spaces are being taken away from us?
Teesta: See, what you are saying is true in a way. But don't you feel that, if you look at say our domestic politics in the last 6 months or so, the credibility of the nationalism that the BJP represents was fast eroding; even before the September 11 episode. Tehelka
could be one example, it could be the way they've governed, the way they've handled so many issues. In Gujarat, for instance, a state which very cynically backs them, and where I believe communalism is really very, very deep rooted - it's not like Bombay which seems to have a different sort of relationship with that ideology - in Gujarat, their simple tackling of the earthquake was so completely corrupt and insensitive that their own supporters, which are sort of caste and community-wise, their supporters have gone against them. So, I think your question might have been in the euphoria of that "there is no alternative" and "BJP stands for Hindu Nationalism" and all the rest of it.
SA: Or nuclear test, or Kargil, a failure that...
Teesta: Or nuclear test. But I feel that today there is genuinely a little bit of shaking up of that. There's a feeling of "are we really on the right path?" And I think one of the terribly, or the good outcomes of a terrible tragedy like the WTC (World Trade Centre) is telling people that even an infallible or mighty nation like America can get attacked like this. And there is a feeling that you are getting attacked because of your unjust way of dealing with the world. That's the way the human mind functions. So I think, where I would really like to answer you, where I really feel the problem of the campus is, is that there are no people, there are no movements working at the campus. When we were all part of the campus, we could choose. We could choose from this Left movement or that Left movement. My worry is that today everybody except the Hindu Right Wing has abrogated the campuses.There are no people there in the campuses. I think the youngster are looking for, every time you do access these spaces you find that people are looking for alternatives. But I feel that our movements are not reaching out there. And I think that is something we need to look at very seriously. Because it's not as if the interest is not there, but the only people claiming the campus space is the Right Wing ideologies. They don't give up on any space because they have a certain goal and intention. But we need to look at this very seriously. (camera zooms in) The other problem, I feel, with us, is that very few people are talking about an (gestures in a circle) alternate politics, overall alternate politics. We are talking about... All of us are working on some issues or the other. But how many of us have sat together and said, "okay, now let's from this evolve (gesturing in a circle again) a kind of holistic alternate politics"? And I think that is really going to be the challenge, the next stage that we've all worked in our own areas, and developed our genuine or expert understandings of those areas. We need to pool these together and maybe see where a holistic ideology, which is not known as 'this' or 'that' from the past can make sense in today's circumstances.
SA: That's so true, you know, because that's what got this film going. You know, I started documenting from the 1st October rally, and I was like "okay, 30 people, 27, usual faces, this, that," and I was like, "well, maybe the concept of editing a film (laughing) can grab 1, 2, 3, 4 and bring them together." Because it's pointless saying I'll document for a month because it's all going to culminate into something bigger. That was very clear from Day 1, that that wasn't going to happen and it was just extremely pocketed. If it was Trade Unions, it was just that Left speak and not one mention. It was like "OH! Afghanistan was so good during the Soviet times." (laughing). But when it came to Imperialism and all, very good speeches. Nicely spoken. In that sense, this film is going to do a bit of film editing to it and not be completely honest. When this guy says 3 not good things and 6 very good things, we are going to extract those, and use them very shamelessly for a greater common good. But, you know, in a many layered way. But, yeah, there is that big void, no?
Nikhil asks Teesta what alternate political options exist for the youth today.
Teesta analyses the presence of Right Wing politics on campuses and the lack of reach of the Left movement. Shaina agrees with her, citing the fact that the whole concept behind the project, 'Tellavision Mumbai,' was to document the Left's response to America, post 9/11 and bring it together on film, because it wouldn't come together otherwise.
has more information regarding Tellavision Mumbai.
Nikhil asks Teesta how to deal with conflict when movements become violent. She responds that violence can never be justified; no matter how 'just' the cause was, as soon as violence is resorted to, that part of the movement loses credibility, and so the rest of movement. She states that there is a need for a distinction between the two.
Nikhil: One of the frustrations that came out when I made this call for sanity and peace and so on and so forth was like, "but you have to be violent with terrorists; they don't understand any other language. What will we do with the 40,000 in Kashmir? What will we do with the 7,000 here and so many there...?" Denouncing all forms of terrorism, but yet resisting, yet not able to denounce forms of violence, which often times create more terrorism. So, I mean... The issue of... (nodding)
Teesta: Yeah. See there, I don't know. I just... I don't believe anyone has a complete answer to it. But I think one of the things is that frankly I have a problem now. I really have a problem with, to turn your question on its head if you like, that I think the answer cannot come from further violence, or it cannot come from more oppression. Because, the lessons that... Say in the Kashmir movement, or the Assam movement, or the Tiger movement, have at least taught me is that... The moment these movements that began on valid grounds, espoused violence, or took to violence, they changed. The character of the movement changed and they became oppressive also. So I think that tells me something. That if movements that you identify with, worthwhile movements, including what the Naxalites are doing today... I cannot sympathise with people who chop up people's noses off and ears off. I mean, really, I cannot. Beyond a point, I stop thinking about the cause they are fighting for and I'm reacting to the violent act that they are committing. So I think we need to look at what happens to movements, even justified movements, movements based on injustice, repression and oppression. The moment they make that critical jump from non-violence to violence - it affects your way of thinking, it affects the way you control people, power comes in, everything comes in. And. of course, it traumatises populations and then holds them to the cause, not necessarily on legitimate grounds. So if you turn that argument on its head, then combating a force like that is not going to be through violence and oppression or repression either. You'll... We'll have to figure out ways of restraint. In the face of facing such kind of terror we'll have to find restraint. Find restraint and be able to de-link or isolate (aeroplane is heard flying over) those forces for who it is not possible to leave these means, and reach out to those populations that they seek to represent and who have not obviously all taken to violence. That means restraint. That means not a Bollywood or a Hollywood response; and that's very difficult in television and internet time. And that's the real challenge.
Nikhil: You can look at that from the Kashmir problem, to the Assam problem, to the World Trade Centre and back.
Teesta: Anywhere, anywhere, anywhere.
SA: Anywhere, yeah.
Teesta: To the way we deal with our own crises, our individual crises - when you face violence in the family and if you respond with violence; what happens to you in the process? Forget what happens to the other person. It's difficult, it's very difficult but I'm not... I would not like to say it's not a difficult time because I think if you say, "what is the big deal about WTC and all?" is also stupid. Because I think it was a huge event, and it was an event, simply because it happened to a power like America, which has never seen an event on its own soil with its own people being racked. Vietnam soldiers were affected in Vietnam. It was not happening on American soil.
Teesta mentions that America has never had to deal with an attack on its own soil. While her explanation remains pertinent in itself, it fails to consider the fact that America has been attacked on its own soil i.e. Pearl Harbour. And therefore, its attempts to retaliate gain a sense of historical precedence - America was attacked, retaliated on a huge scale that has proceeded to have consequences to this day, and established itself as 'a country not to be trifled with'; it used its method of retaliation to establish itself as a superpower. The same is true of its actions here, post 911.
World Trade Center, New York