Dignity for the exploited, the hounded, the paperless, the Other

Witches and a Bohemian

In western India, two years ago, a certain law was passed which defined witchcraft as “the use of supernatural power with evil intention”. That it was found necessary to legally ban this practice, implies that elected legislators believe in the existence of magic. In 2015.

The act also bans the hunting of witches. It states, “Whoever forces a woman, branding her as witch, to drink or eat any inedible substance or any obnoxious substance or parade her naked or with scanty cloths or with painted face or body or commits any similar acts which is derogatory to human dignity or displaces her from her house or other property shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than three years but which may extend to seven years or with fine which shall not be less than fifty thousand rupees or with both.”

This is shocking because it suggests that the things outlawed by this sentence have taken place often enough to be so explicitly prohibited.

Even more unsettling is the question: what if the paraded-naked, force-fed, painted, evicted female is not, after all, a witch? Is the punishment different? What if a man is thus brutalized? Are the consequences milder? What if the woman is forced to eat an edible substance? Is that permissible?

The quoted sentence is dry and sterile, as must be expected in a piece of legislation. The phenomena it refers to, however, must be gory and full of the screams of a woman mishandled by an entire community.

Kafka would have been unemployed in India.



Hindi and English pdf version:

English text:


Virginity and pieces of string


As a child, I had often heard of the fabulous Indian rope trick, and was disappointed that I had never witnessed it. The feat has variations, I just read on Wikipedia, but most involve an ordinary rope ascending by itself into the sky, rigid enough to support the performer’s weight, who climbs to the far end, and then disappears. It is the India of the snake charmers, a magical land, a bygone era.

India today demands an even more developed sense of fantasy. Two instances of this were on Twitter yesterday.

One is a medical college which asks employees whether one is a virgin or not. Jeanne d’Arc would have understood the reasons behind this, but we who are not medieval French teenagers are mystified.

The other is a governmental order directing all employees of a certain department to celebrate the Hindu festival of Raksha Bandhan. This is not a suggestion. The note demands that “all the lady staff” shall tie pieces of string around the wrists of their (exclusively-male?) colleagues. This would be a harmless, amusing anachronism, if the energy, attention and other resources were not urgently needed to solve problems of indigence, human dignity, violence, unemployment, education and hygiene. The usual things, that is, that elected, paid governments are expected to tackle. Instead, they want the females to symbolically regard their co-workers as their siblings — and hope that those to whom this particular Hindu tradition is alien are tolerant enough to accept this transgression of the state into the realm of the Gods and personal cultural choice.

On the topic of culture, it is time to repudiate the usurpation by the Czechs: wherever Kafka might have been born, he is Indian.

Three signs of modernity

Three signs of modernity seen this morning.

1. A poster in Zürich on domestic violence depicts a stern-faced woman staring at the viewer, with a speech bubble implying culpability. To see (also) a female depicted as the aggressor — that is modern.

2. Four thousand miles away, in Bhopal, also as part of a campaign to end domestic abuse, the government handed out wooden paddles to new brides, exhorting them to strike their husbands, should these get drunk and attempt to manhandle them. Evidently, this policy response is primitive (Carry sticks!), regressive (The police is explicitly instructed not to intrude — the end of the rule of law), and shockingly naive (Are women to carry these paddles on them at all times? Will they be able to hold on to these paddles? Will their attackers not pounce on the idea to use a bigger paddle?). However, it is also modern, and radically so — for woman are called upon to *defend themselves*; for women are considered valuable enough to be defended; for entrenched male hegemony is openly challenged.

3. A British newspaper, The Independent, published the headline “The best nation on earth has been announced”. Surely, the methodology used to establish the best nation can be applied to identify the best religion, the best race, the best language, the best weight range, the best height, the best skin tone, the best age range, the best eye colors, et cetera? Or is the human experience so rich that it cannot be measured in terms of the ‘best’ and the ‘worst’? We have grave problems, and we have hard-earned knowledge — yet, we choose to invest our resources and our attention in an inanity, while perverting one of the critical pillars of a liberal democracy. We have reached a point where the essential difference between the posh press and internet chat boards dominated by adolescents is orthography. This too is modern.

The ancients would presumably be jealous.

Fair Indies, most tolerant land

The most tolerant country in the world is India*.

* when it comes to tolerating the weak and voiceless being attacked, exploited, raped, illegally imprisoned, ejected from their homes, burnt alive, blinded, left to rot in abject squalor, threatened, discriminated against, callously treated, killed through negligence, murdered et cetera. The exception is, of course, when a mighty God is maligned, or a hero-figure criticized, or a symbol of nationalistic pride challenged, or an Indian-looking person abused by a non-Indian-looking person, especially outside of India.

Case in point: Recently, an Australian citizen perpetrated a hate crime against a fellow Australian in Australia. This caused outrage in India and members of the Indian parliament (MPs) demanded that Indians abroad be ‘protected’, probably because the victim looked Indian. This show of solidarity would have been most praiseworthy, had not an Indian MP, a mere two days previously, repeatedly slapped an 60-year-old Indian gentleman in the Indian capital with his footwear because of being denied a business-class seat in an aircraft, and then tried to push him off the still plane. Painful as Economy Class is, few take it into their head to assault cabin crew. The MP then publicly, brazenly admitted to the act, expressing not remorse but pride at his behavior. When the airline announced that they would not permit him to fly on board their aircraft in the future, his political party organized a street demonstration to protest against the airline, and to show solidarity with their esteemed colleague.

That deeply, openly racist Indies, over-burdened with ills, clamors to have hate crimes prevented in one of the most liberal, prosperous, diverse, just societies in the world is a little puzzling — but it can be explained on the basis of a bully’s sense of self-worth, bolstered by anachronistic ideas of nationalism and puerile notions of racial solidarity.

What is truly incomprehensible is this: an Indian politician reminds the Indian polity of worrying also about racist attacks within India, and is met with immediate scorn and belligerence.

Oh, if only India were less tolerant! As the poet once demanded of the sacred river Ganges: how, why do you flow unperturbed?

Outreaching Kafka and Dante: footwear democracy in India


It is a pity that India as a land of snake-charmers and other amusing exotica does not exist. If it did, then hundreds of millions would not have to live where parliamentarians feel empowered to repeatedly strike a 60-year-old with their footwear because they were assigned an economy-class seat in an airplane instead of a privileged one in business-class.

The Kafkaesque about this recent incident is that the plane had only economy-class seating.

The Dantesque is that the Honorable Member of Parliament then went on to publicly not just admit his guilt but crudely boast of it.

But then imagination ceases, because the political party this gentleman represents has brazenly called for a public protest — in favor of the gentleman and against the resulting ban by the airline on this legislator flying with them again.

Not a criminal prosecution for assault, not a resignation from Parliament, not a contrite apology — that is what one might expect in a civilized country. Instead, the wielder of the footwear-as-instrument-of-debasement is being defended by a street demonstration, which is a legitimate action in a democracy, in the world’s largest democracy, in a democracy where willing slaves choose their own tormentors.

If the premises of the Indian Parliament were to be used to offer snake-charming courses instead, would it not be more conducive to the dignity of man?

Links: (images from Wikipedia and  link below)

Shiv sena MP hits AI staffer with slipper: It was almost like a hijack, one against us, says cabin crew

The Kafka bargain, the Indian conundrum, and a non-bronze monument

A hospital where a patient is harangued for a bribe, and denied a wheelchair — which leads to the adult using his child’s plastic toy-bicycle to propel his laborious way through dark corridors.

Or a protest in the kingdom’s capital by destitute peasants from a remote province — who bear in their bare hands the dead skulls of their comrades who have in desperation killed themselves.

Or the two fun-fair visitors who are arrested by a policeman because they remained seated when the royal song was played — the judges and the citizenry are united in rabid hatred of liberty.

These are not fictional sketches by Kafka, but genuine, recent headlines from India.

Mind-boggling as these are, they are a mere selection, and even if we list a myriad like examples, they pale compared to a phenomenon even more incredible.

It is this: Indians seem to regularly, consciously, freely choose men as their leaders whose past and ancestry are tainted with rumor of murder, corruption, oppression, rape and incompetence.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, daughter and mother of prime ministers, as befits the republic which leads the world in the production of bananas, who formally imposed tyranny on an entire people between 1975 and 1977, was elected with a majority again in 1980 following country-wide elections.

Four years later, in 1984, the streets of Delhi witnessed a pogrom against Sikhs, generally believed to have been orchestrated by her party. In general elections held only two months after, all seven of the city’s parliamentary seats went to that same party. Even in the Punjab, a province with a majority Sikh population, where general elections were delayed by some months, six of thirteen seats went to her party. Furthermore, in the 1985 provincial elections, that party gathered 37.86% of all votes polled in the Punjab, just behind the winner with 38.01%, according to the Election Commission’s website.

By ‘tyranny’ is meant forced sterilization of human beings, among other things. By ‘pogrom’ is meant the burning alive of men in front of their families, among other things. Yet, the people did not seem to mind, as the previously-cited election results indicate.

Writing in 1987, Salman Rushdie bemoaned that, ‘three years after the 1984 massacres, not one person has been charged with murdering a Sikh’. It is now 2017 — has anyone been charged, has anyone been convicted, has anyone paid for this gruesome crime, has a monument been erected to this ignominy, has the genocide entered schoolbooks?

Instead, what we do have are public memorials to Indira Gandhi, as to her father, as to her grandfather, as to her elder son, and as to her younger son. It was the younger son who famously said, when confronted about the riots and the role of his mother’s party-men, ‘when a big tree falls, the earth shakes’. Not only are this stoic philosopher’s widow and children guaranteed the highest privileges in this ersatz-republic, his son-in-law is listed by name at airports as deserving special treatment. The Indians are consistent in their cringing homage to their overseers.

If it were just the Sikhs, or if it were just the 70s and the 80s, or if it were just that one political group, it would be bad enough. Alas, as even a superficial survey of subsequent Indian elections, candidates, political parties, corruption and repression will reveal, the Indian voter, to the present day, appears to be mightily tolerant. Or ignorant. Or indifferent. Or complicit.

What of democracy’s concomitant checks and balances? The Supreme Court of India accommodatingly, shamefully legitimized the tyranny of 1975. It has made homosexuality illegal again — that is, it has robbed millions of a fundamental part of their human existence. It has, amidst all the critical challenges to human dignity being faced by one of the poorest countries in the world, made it compulsory for movie theaters to play the national anthem, and throws into jail the rebellious slaves who do not stand up during this slaves’ ditty. 

Bollywood routinely, persistently makes movies and television shows contemptuous of human dignity. The mainstream press is often sensationalist and panders to fat cats. Social media and dinner tables are full of honorable people asserting their love for Adolf Hitler, their desire to exterminate Muslims, Christians or Hindus, and calling for corporal punishment, banishment, or death to all those who disagree with them, or are of inferior race. All this viciousness, of course, translates into quotidian attacks by Indians on weaker Indians. Only sometimes do the oppressors wear uniforms.

All this leads us to a depressing conclusion: The reassuring idea that a small set of monsters exert their will upon the utterly innocent must be discarded.

Yet, there exists a resistance. When the Supreme Court denied people habeas corpus during the formally-declared part of Indira Gandhi’s tyranny, one judge chose to dissent. During the Sikh genocide of 1984, many people risked their own lives and property and shielded them from the mob. A recently-established journal of political analysis, Jan Ki Baat, openly challenges the entrenched establishment. In some universities, young men brave thugs to shout for freedom. Young women volunteer to clean streets, as via The Ugly Indian, or go on a hunger strike for years, like Irom Sharmila. The fledgling Aam Aadmi Party appears to be a refreshing alternative to the graft. In 2016, the film Madaari had one of the protagonists declare in the denouement that, ‘It is a fallacy that the government is corrupt. Instead, the entire mechanism of government is designed towards the exercise of corruption’. It is a near-miracle that this cogent expression of the truth passed the censor’s scrutiny.

As in mature democracies, governments in India need to regularly demonstrate their legitimacy. With matters as they are, it is conceivable that someone demands that the legitimacy of the state too ought to be regularly proven. If successive governments have been unable to deliver the fine things listed in the current Indian state’s constitution, the notion that the state itself is defective might arise. Remember, the current state has existed for less than a century — this is not long, compared to millennia-old Indies.

Towards this, consider the creation of a novel kind of public monument. A monument which records every single assault on human dignity, along with the names, ages and genders of victims, the nature, location and date of the outrage, the accused, the sources of information, and the changing opinions of the state’s legal machinery — and keeps reminding us all of the debt owed to the wronged. Perhaps part of the monument is a virtual database of alleged and proven infractions, akin to the Guardian’s survey of people killed by police action in the U.S. It would be easy to incorporate a script that tweets the names of victims every anniversary. We must not forget. Not the caning of lower-cast Hindus, the lynching of beef-eating Muslims, the killing of Jews, the brutality of armed representatives of the state, the Sikhs burnt alive, the women whose faces are scarred by acid, and all the unspeakable rest. We must not forget — through marches, moments of silence, symbols of grief worn on clothing, debates in public places, talks in schools and colleges, recognition by governments and legislatures, and ceremonies in all the houses of all the Gods.

If we remember, we might even prevent at least some future horrors.

The first task, however, is to clear up a long-standing misconception. Representations must be made to the Czech government to confirm Kafka as being an Indian. In return, they may have Rabindranath Tagore and his works — the Indians of the present day obviously do not care for them, with its incomprehensible ranting about ‘mind without fear’, ‘clear stream of reason’, and ‘heaven of freedom’.

The dangers of lady orientation in 2017


The Board shall ensure that scenes degrading or denigrating women in any manner are not presented” — Guideline ‘ix’ of India’s Central Board of Film Certification.

Perfectly innocuous, and even laudable — or is this guideline an especially despicable instrument of oppression because it purports to defend?

It was this line, along with other vestiges of tyranny, that caused the Board to recently ban a film, “Lipstick under my burkha“, because it showed female humans as creatures that can desire. This in 2017, in a jurisdiction where a large part of the human population, both male and female, lives.

[Trailer of the movie: ]

Especially noteworthy is the official reasoning:

“The story is lady oriended (sic), their fantasy above life. There are contanious (sic) sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society”

A whole gaggle of scholars will not suffice to elaborate this exquisite commentary on Indian civilization.

[Refusal letter from the Board: ]

What is the thinking behind this? A woman’s modesty is the concern of society at large, and we cannot have immodest women walking about? It shall be society at large which shall inform women of what is modest and what is not — who else?

A survey of contemporary India will reveal it to be a land where systematic oppression, sickening brutality, and callousness are quotidian occurrences, directed against both men and women. So frequently do the horrors occur, and almost everywhere, that they do not always cause outrage. Given this sorry state of affairs, it probably will not hurt to overturn this set of inane, despotic, and anachronistic guidelines, and the 1952 law that empowers it.

Thesis: civil society will not collapse if we:

  • let sexual desire be depicted as normal, and part of the human condition;
  • let sexual pleasure be depicted as legitimate, and to be one of the positive parts of the human experience;
  • let women, as well as men, from across the spectrum of physical appearance, age, fitness, purchasing power, and cultural background, be shown to be entities desiring sexual union, and that they may be coveted by others;
  • let homosexuality and bi-sexuality be shown to be a real-world phenomenon, and perfectly commonplace;
  • let sexual hygiene and sexual activity be highlighted as part of human health; and
  • let sex be cultivated as an art.

In the land of the Kamasutra, this ought not to come as a frightening, strange innovation. Indeed, in any land of human beings, given what we know of the human condition, this should be welcome. 

Homosexuality, habeas corpus, and the veneration of slaves


1. Forced veneration is good for the spirit

“The directions are issued, for love and respect for the motherland is reflected when one shows respect to the National Anthem as well as to the National Flag. That apart, it would instill the feeling within one, a sense committed patriotism and nationalism.”

At first glance, it is conceivable that this might not come across as the outpourings of someone particularly well-acquainted with the English language, or even of someone who is long past his fourteenth birthday. The text continues, “Be it stated, a time has come, the citizens of the country must realize that they live in a nation and are duty bound to show respect to National Anthem which is the symbol of the Constitutional Patriotism and inherent national quality. It does not allow any different notion or the perception of individual rights, that have individually thought of have no space.”

Appearances are deceptive, for this is an official record of proceedings of the Supreme Court of India — this is an excerpt from instructions issued yesterday (November 30, 2016; ) that are legally binding across the nation of a billion-plus human beings.

These human beings are evidently an ungrateful bunch, for their patriotism is a little suspect. To tackle this shocking deficit, the Supreme Court commands all cinemas throughout India to play the national anthem before film screenings, to have the doors closed during the period, to simultaneously display the national flag on the screen, and for all present to move their bodies to an upright position.

Of course, many millions of Indians would not be able to explain what the national anthem states, not speaking the language it is written in. Furthermore. many would not even be able to identify the language it is written in. These claims the author makes, extrapolating from necessarily limited personal experience.

A claim that shall certainly be less controversial is this: that the Indian polity has more pressing problems than to promote anachronistic nationalism in movie theaters. For instance, hunger, indigence, infectious diseases, oppression, corruption, decaying infrastructure, terrorism, et cetera.

But the Supreme Court of India thought that forcing people to listen to the national anthem would be a much better idea.

2. Habeas corpus is superfluous

Apparently, they used to play the national anthem back in the dark days of the 21 month state of emergency, which was unilaterally declared in June, 1975.

The Court played a shining role in that episode too. On April 28, 1976, the Supreme Court of India “obediently overturned the decisions of a half‐dozen lower courts scattered across India, which had ruled in defiance of the Government that the right of habeas corpus could not be suspended, even during the emergency that Mrs. Gandhi declared”, as reported by the New York Times. However, the majority decision that denied hundreds of millions of people a basic defense against the arbitrariness of the police and the government ( ) had one dissenting voice, that of Justice Hans Raj Khanna, who opined that the “Law of preventive detention, of detention without trial is an anathema to all those who love personal liberty”. There shall always be some who love Liberty.

So, show deference to the national anthem, and accept tyranny. Anything else? Perhaps one more thing.

3. Homosexuality is heinous

Sherlock Holmes once says to his Watson that real life is always more astounding than the imagination of an author. The delicious irony of a fictional character making the observation aside, which peddler of fiction could imagine that the storyline of an American comic series would be directly influenced by the Supreme Court of India?

Yet, it is true. Asok, the smart Indian intern in the witty office-politics strip called Dilbert, was turned into a homosexual as a protest against a 98 page decision by the Supreme Court of India to make intra-gender sexual activity between consenting adults illegal. This was done on December 11, 2013, by setting aside the decision of a lower court in Delhi which had found Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code on so-called Unnatural Offenses as unconstitutional.

That too appears incredible, for which civilized country would consider homosexuality illegal?

Yet, it is true. Here too there is irony — this is the same nation which produced the Kamasutra and raunchy temple sculpture, and one of whose magnificent epics, the Mahabharat, has one of the mightiest warriors of antiquity slain by a person of ambiguous gender. This hundreds, or thousands of years ago.

Not just homosexuality is cast into the shadow by this section drafted back in 1860, but anything which is not ‘natural’ — i.e. any situation wherein a human being might seek sexual pleasure outside of an attempt to propagate the species. Presumably, even “regular” sexual acts using a condom are unnatural.

The Additional Solicitor General, who unsuccessfully argued the case in the lower court, suggested that “social and sexual mores in foreign countries cannot justify de-criminalization of homosexuality in India. In the western societies, the morality standards are not as high as in India”. While that might be contested, given that millions of the wretched in India are treated as less than human beings, the standards of irony and self-delusion in India are certainly the highest.

The High Court claims that “inclusiveness” is a value deeply ingrained in Indian society. “The inclusiveness that Indian society traditionally displayed, literally in every aspect of life, is manifest in recognizing a role in society for everyone”. Perhaps the learned judge holds the frictions caused by the Hindu caste system, the recurring riots between Hindus and Muslims, the ostracizing of widows, linguistic discrimination, and the sidelining of the handicapped as pieces of fiction, created by some itinerant bard?

[Gentle reader, if you have the time, both judgments make for interesting reading; note also the manner in which the English language has been employed, by the highest levels of the judiciary, in official, written judgments.

1. Delhi High Court judgment of July 02, 2009 (decriminalizing homosexuality)

Click to access APS02072009CW74552001.pdf

2. Supreme Court of India judgment of December 11, 2013 (recriminalizing homosexuality) ]

The last point of the Supreme Court’s judgment emphasizes that the court “has merely pronounced on the correctness of the view taken by the lower court on the constitutionality of Section 377 and found that the said section does not suffer from any constitutional infirmity”.

Surely, this is a curious use of the word “merely”? To snatch away a fundamental freedom from a billion people, to marginalize lesbians and gays, to cruelly mock those who revealed their till-then-illegal sexuality in 2009, and must now fear prosecution, for one does not all too often change sexuality — that is all, merely that.


Oh when, most ancient Indies, will you take to Liberty? That no one may presume to establish tyranny, not in the movie halls, not in the bedroom, and not anywhere else either.

Of Mamta Banerjee, Hermann Göring and Fidel Castro

Argument: The wholesale celebration or rejection of states or persons is detrimental to the cause of Liberty.

The frail-bodied Mamta Bannerjee, speaking in India’s capital in heavily-accented Hindi, recently compared the Indian Prime Minister to Adolf Hitler.

In any other country, this might be considered a straightforward appeal to emotion, or commonplace hyperbole, neither surprising in a politician. Even in one of Miss Banerjee’s caliber, a woman of inspiring fortitude, who took on the might of the entrenched-for-decades Bengal establishment and won enough votes to take her to the highest public office in her province, governing the lives of an entire people.

The point that must be stressed is this: she meant the comparison to be unflattering to her political opponent, Narendra Modi. While a post-1945 comparison to Hitler is almost everywhere unfavorable, India is a special case, and one cannot be sure whether another seeks to praise or to abuse, when the other brings up Hitler.

Although a couple of million Indians fought against the Axis powers in the Second World War, there were a few hundred Indians led by Subas Chandr Bose, a vastly respected soldier-intellectual from Bengal, who collaborated with and took up arms for Hitler. They sided with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan to fight for Liberty, and that noble cause protects still their reputation. This muddies the water, and no Indian politician would dare vilify Subas Chandr Bose, even though he disagreed with Mahatma Gandhi, even though he shook the Führer’s hand.

This might be part of the reason that Hitler is still admired in India, with people openly declaring, including on public Facebook posts, that they ‘love Hitler’, and translated copies of ‘Mein Kampf’ available for sale on public footpaths.

Another contributing factor might be the near-absence of the Extermination Camps in the Indian consciousness. Not more than a couple of decades ago, a bar called ‘Hitler’s cross’ made its debut in a posh Indian quartier — Hitler, the murderer of millions, had become ‘cool’.

Or even the fact that the Swastika is a beloved, omnipresent symbol across India, published by the Nazis as the Hakenkreuz.

Or perhaps because one of the fundamental points of Nazi ideology is the breeding of races, and the Indians have been at it for millennia, winning the admiration of Nietzsche.

Or perhaps because gruesome violence in the name of some sacred cause appears entirely palatable to Nazis and many Indians. Hitlerian Germany had ‘Gauleiter’ [Gau = administrative unit; Leiter = leader], who were undoubtedly part of the Dantesque machinery of horrors, and right-wing India has ‘Gaurakhshak’ [Gau = cow; Rakshak = defender], who are pleased to lynch a man if they suspect him of eating beef. The common word ‘Gau’ might make for a dark joke, for Mamta Banerjee’s next speech, or for anyone else who also has the courage to stand up and castigate the powerful.

Of course, it is not just India who had things in common with the darker years of the Weimar Republic.

The Soviets, back when they fought the Nazis, were no strangers to repression, secret policemen, political expediency, and labor camps — the horrible things one often associates with the 1000-year Reich.

The Americans, back when they fought the Nazis, had both de jure and de facto racial segregation, which happened to be one of the defining policies of the Nazi government.

The British and the French, back when they fought the Nazis, were engaged in wars of aggression and occupation. Both states possessed overseas colonies — one of the things that Hitler desired for Germany. It is only a schoolground bully who would think that John and Pierre might have an extra apple, but Hans must sit it out. The humanist, in this analogy, would also deny the Anglophile and Francophone nationalists their rapine.

In Washington’s Holocaust Museum, in the heart of the most powerful city in the world, one sees the flags of these four countries inside the entrance, displayed in the grand manner. The solemnity suggests that these represented the forces of righteousness, bravely pitted against their natural enemy. It is a shabby attempt to mask certain unpalatable truths, such as, but not limited to, those mentioned above. Flags have been known to be particularly effective with schoolboys, and local schools doubtless send pupils to gaze upon the purported glory of one-dimensional heroes.

The Nazis are indeed to be despised — but not because they spoke English with an amusing accent, or because they were enthusiastic about sauerkraut. The opprobrium must be a product of their assaults against human dignity and the freedoms of the individual.

If we agree to that criterion, then we may construct the principle that we shall judge men, organizations and states based on their publicly expressed ideas and their acts, and that we shall apply this principle rigorously, not sparing beloved cousins, trading partners, or adolescent ideas of patriotic obligation. ‘My country, right or wrong’ — does not belong to this century.

And so we must condemn not just certain ideologies and crimes of the Nazis, but also assaults by others on humanity.

For example, we must condemn the famine in Bengal, or the one in the Ukraine, the general denial of dissent, the targeting and execution without trial by policemen or drones [in certain philosophies, this is termed ‘murder’], the demonization of homosexuals, the harassment of ethnic minorities, the indiscriminate bombing of civilian populations, exploitative financial contracts, torture, et cetera. This might mean the ‘goodies’ are not very different from the ‘baddies’, and that some of our heroes might turn out to have the blood of little children on their hands.

If we refuse to apply the principle of responsibility universally, then we stand with one of Hermann Göring’s more persistent utterances, that the only war crime of any significance is to have lost the war.

The historical narrative of human conflict cannot be the post-factum celebration by the victorious party of all participants on its side, including of those who were forced to fight, and of the wholesale and absolute justification of its reasons for going to war, and of all acts carried out by it in wartime.

Nations insist on honoring their war-dead with much ostentation, which is laudable, but often do their utmost to obscure the memory of the lies, cupidity, hypocrisy, hate-mongering, and brutality that are usually indispensable to the prosecution of war, which deception is far from praiseworthy. The denial of debate and the systematic ostracism of the skeptical ones makes a mockery of the dead, even if trumpets are loudly blown.

Subhas Chandr Bose too was a victim of war. He was a Bengali and an intellectual, like Mamta Banerjee, and spent some time in Vienna. When I revisited that magnificent city some months ago, I had the notion that it would be a fine thing to shake the hand of his granddaughter. She might, after all, still frequent Viennese cafés and antique bookstores. He was a terrorist, guilty of sedition, and of aiding the enemy during wartime — all of which means he can be easily condemned, especially by those who belong to the ruling classes, and profit from the maintenance of the status quo. However, he also strove to advance the cause of sweet, sweet Liberty, and this is admirable.

Perhaps this is not all too different from the case of Fidel Castro. It was in a café in Bucharest that the name of the Cuban leader came up, two nights ago. Unknown to us, on the other side of the world, he had just passed away. I wistfully said that it might be a fine thing to shake his hand, yet ignorant of his demise. My companions, who had been to Cuba, expressed mild shock, mentioning a poor track record in human rights. I immediately expressed regret at being ignorant of his failures and excesses — all I knew was that he had fought against tyranny. Waking up the next morning, I realized that I was not alone in my admiration of the underdog who had dared to stand up against the mighty.

Perhaps both Castro and Bose are to be reviled — they would certainly have been regarded as the worst of criminals in their own jurisdictions. Yet, it cannot be denied that they risked their own lives for the freedoms and dignity of others.

The conundrum might have an easy solution. Perhaps we must deny ourselves the romantic desire to deify charismatic men, and apply the same principle of responsibility to all. Their excesses against human dignity to be rejected, their efforts for freedom to be emulated, and the same to apply to nation states.

We shall be left with fewer statues on public boulevards, and less ardent flag-waving — a small price to pay for a more just, freer world.

The glass ceiling — the importance of a clean blow

A Hilary Clinton win, it is spouted, would have broken the ‘glass ceiling’.

Now, a number of countries have long ago had a female premier — examples include large, populous, powerful countries such as the UK, Germany, Brazil, Israel, India, Pakistan, Poland, Sri Lanka, Portugal, Croatia, Norway, Canada, Turkey, South Korea, the Ukraine, Australia, Argentina and Bangladesh. [France has had a female prime minister, but I am not certain whether the President, also directly elected, is not more influential]

Obviously, this is not enough — and, should the USA, Russia, China, Mexico, South Africa and Spain follow through, ideally along with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Egypt, the dented ceiling will be convincingly shattered.

Shattered in so far as it refers to gender discrimination — there are other insidious forms of unfairness to be fought, of course.

Also, even from a gender perspective, the victory would be independent of the ‘glass floor’, to coin a new term, which refers to the systematic manner in which male infants are preferred to the female variety, resulting in abortions, infanticide, infrastructure choices of a community, access to education, and quotidian abuse.

But even the narrow definition of the ‘glass ceiling victory’ bears further scrutiny.

From the list of nations previously listed, consider the case of India. The lady in question, Indira Gandhi, had a father who had been prime minister. Or Pakistan, represented by Benazir Bhutto — her father, funnily enough, also happened to have been prime minister. Bangladesh — Khaleda Zia, whose husband had been president; or Sheikh Hasina, whose daddy also had been, curiously enough, president.

If Hilary Clinton had been elected President, or if Michele Obama is elected, it would be a woman whose husband had previously been president, as in the case of Bangladesh. Pakistan treats spouses the same way, albeit varying the order — Benazir Bhutto’s husband later became president.

In as much as breaking the ‘glass ceiling’ would be a powerful act in its symbology — let us find a woman whose father, mother, husband, sister or brother were not previous incumbents of the post.

Otherwise, it is a shallow victory, even in symbolic terms — and it might even damage the cause of equitable treatment.