118 years of Trust THE TRIBUNE

Sunday, October 18, 1998
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Listen to the alarm bells

By Chanchal Sarkar

THE gangrape of nuns in Jhabua should ring a clanging alarm bell but will it even though it is only the tip of the iceberg? For some months now the news of ugly pressure on the minorities such as Christians has been appearing in the news. From Gujarat, Bihar, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan has come news about threats to churches and missionary schools, desecration of Bibles and attacks on priests delivered by bodies like the VHP and RSS, very close to the BJP. The Minorities Commission has condemned the growing attacks and sounded a warning, some political parties have issued statements. But that is not enough; little driblets of news, scarcely ever followed up, hardly constitute a determined exposure of a national disgrace where corpses are exhumed from Christian graves and inter-religious marriages resisted. Christian tribals are special targets.

It is no mean thing for the Chairman of the Catholic Bishops Conference and the Archbishop of Delhi to call on the Home Minister with a long list of atrocities against Christians. L.K. Advani has responded by cluck clucking at the statement of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Unfortunately the BJP is quite given to speaking with two voices. Atal Behari Vajpayee condemned the destruction of the Babri Masjid while some of his colleagues were gleeful.

The plain fact is that there is not enough indignation in the make-up of ordinary Indian citizens today. Maybe they are too weighed down by the shortage of elementary essentials like food and the lack of safe drinking water, the want of remedy from courts, governments and legislatures, the non-existence of a medical care system, no protection against dropsy, dengue, malaria or plague, and corruption in all walks of life. Little wonder men and women have no time to think of minority rights. Another dangerous trend is to leave everything to government. Minority rights? Let the National Human Rights Commission deal with that. A rogue press? Leave it to the government-funded Press Council. Violence on women? Let the National Commission on Women, nominated by the government, handle it. The want of private organisations set up and funded by citizens is the big failing of this country and the glory of other democratic countries like the United States, Sweden and Norway, France, Britain, Germany and Japan.

India does not lack rich people — business persons, professionals, film stars, sports stars and people wealthy by inheritance — but they simple will not support institutions to buttress human rights and civil liberties. All our human rights organisations are penurious.

Grudging admiration

Can one withhold admiration from the American Media in covering the Clinton-Lewinsky story? No, with some reservations one has to say that they did want the people to know everything possible. In doing that they may be going for the overkill — hour after hour of Clinton-Lewinsky and now Congress. Partly maybe to give out all that the media can but partly also because sex sells.

Boredom did descend sometimes during the 4 hours 11 minutes Grand Jury testimony and with repetitive views and speculations emanating from Congress, the White House, lawyers, journalists, ex-judges, academics and so on. But the technical handling was remarkable. Whether the speaker was in Palo Alto, Montana, Texas, Boston, Washington, Las Vegas, Los Angeles or New York — the country seemed to be one, people talked as if they sat just across a table.

And then there was the telephone bringing in viewers’ questions from all corners of the United States and abroad. Communication made it possible to hunt out long retired Chiefs of Staff of the White House, former Presidential candidates like Senator McGovern and Ross Perot, people in cafe’s, pubs, schools an even pedestrians on the road — a great triumph. The American media do make the citizens feel that they are hooked on to the political and governing process of the country.

There are sharp criticisms too. Whether or not the people wanted it they got sackfuls of Clinton-Lewinsky morning, day, and night admittedly in innovative formats. How much serious discussion was there and how much little-tattle? Opinions differ strongly on that when the media people turn introspective. Of course media like Television are great simplifiers and superficialisers.

There is a percussive conflict between what people might describe as the "moral" issues and the job of getting on with the governance of the country, pushing aside private falls from grace. What they don’t realise, however, is that though privacy should be respected no one ever behind closed doors, can do whatever he of she likes.

Mind you we were able, most of us, to watch just one big communication agency like CNN. If we had watched NBC, ABC and CBS as well we might have been much heavily bored. But, as I said earlier, one has to hand it to the American Media — the quality newspapers are efficiently analytic — for splendid coordination, compering, and outreach. If we want to weld our country together we can learn a lesson or two.

Mofidul Hoque

Mofidul Hoque came to see me from Dhaka. A publisher, he had come to Delhi for a conference on Children’s Literature. But he has another existence — he is a trustee of Muktijudhdha Museum (the Liberation War Museum) set up in Dhaka in 1996, the 25th year of the Liberation of Bangladesh.

I’ve just been railing about the lack of social consciousness among the Indian well-to-do. It took Bangladesh 25 years but a group of individual Trustees got together and established the Museum in a three-storey house originally built as a private residence. Actually it’s very nice — with six galleries (two on history and others of the call by Mujeeb, photographs of the War, the participation of ordinary people and the final victory) all well signposted and explained and very clean.

India’s role is given adequate importance. At the back of the Museum is a hospitable open-air cafe with large garden umbrellas protecting the tables. There is also a small shop selling books and cassettes and an auditorium which was a later addition. The exhibits and documents and well preserved (as I saw on a visit). School children could learn a lot from the galleries. So could adults.

Mofidul Hoque said that efforts were being made to collect whatever material was available in other countries on the Liberation War. India was, of course, a particular target and he was anxious to know how to harvest memorabilia, reminiscences and documents from India — especially from private sources.

I wish to know if there were ventures similar to the Liberation War Museum in India. There must be. Mahajati Sadan (started by Subhas Chandra Bose) in Calcutta has the history of the Bengal Revolutionary Movement on its walls and shelves. In South Calcutta I have seen a building and hall named after Surya Sen the incomparable leader of the Chittagong Revolutionary Campaign (the armoury raid being the culmination). There must be other such institutions in Maharashtra, Kerala, Punjab and the old Madras Presidency.

But how does one come to know of them? How do they cooperate with each other, exchange copies of documents and artefacts? The Liberation WarMuseum could gain a lot from cooperation with West Bengal, particularly Calcutta. I hope Mofidul Hoque and his fellow trustees will do much more. The West and Japan preserve their countries’ history and memories much better.

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