OPINION

Monthly Archives: JUNE 2016


The scatter of Udta Punjab
25.06.16 - DALJIT AMI / TRANSLATED BY AMANDEEP SANDHU
The scatter of Udta Punjab



Udta Punjab has perhaps the longest disclaimer in the history of films. The disclaimer has a long apology and stays on the screen for the longest time. The disclaimer carries the Central Board of Film Certification’s injunction: ‘We endorse the government and police’s efforts on the war against drugs. The war cannot be won without the efforts of the whole nation.’ The disclaimer also establishes that all characters and incidents portrayed in the film are fictional and have no relation with reality and any similarities are merely incidental. After this, the whole film seems to try very hard to fit into this disclaimer. The first sequence in Pakistan, next to the border with India, has a Discus thrower among a three-member group of smugglers. He throws a 3 kilogram packet of cocaine across the barbed wire into India. The packet freezes on screen and the title of the movie fades out: Udta Punjab. 
 
This scene is an assertion made from both the disclaimers:the drugs come from Pakistan and come over the barbed wire. This sequence is imaginary but it builds the argument in favour of the Indian government and police. The reality is that there is a large gap between the barbed wire and the border. The security forces permit no buildings or residence near the border. Indian farmers in Punjab also have lands across the barbed wire where they go to farm. The only way they cross the barbed wire is under the supervision of the security forces. About 1 kilometre area near the barbed wire belongs to India. After that is the No Man’s Land between India and Pakistan and the border passes through this land. Alongside the wire are the high platforms of the Border Security Force and on both sides there are paths that surveillance parties take. The barbed wire is also aglow with lights which turn night into day. The security forces forbid farmers along the border from growing sugarcane, maize, millet and such high rising crops. 
 
The same way, even on the Pakistan side there is no way to come close to the barbed wire in darkness, through fields or buildings. Even the world record holder in Discus throw cannot throw a packet of 3 kilogram cocaine from Pakistan to India. The world record is 74.08 meters unbroken since 1986. The weight of the Discus used in the men’s category is 2 kilograms. It is reasonable to assume that a filmmaker has creative liberty and such fact-finding is immaterial in an interrogation. Yet, on the other hand, it is also true that such creative liberty will become a reason to interrogate the reality of Punjab. The whole argument around Udta Punjab revolves around how it depicts the current reality of the state. 
 
From the acting perspective, apart from individual preferences, no one doubts the ability of all actors including Kareena Kapoor, Daljit Dosanjh, Alia Bhatt and Kamal Tiwari. There isn’t much to discuss regarding the craft of the film. Anurag Kashyap and Ekta Kapoor are good at using technology and it shows in Udta Punjab. The issue is with the content. Anurag and Ekta have established their own unique positions in the film and television industry. Ekta’s serials set up markets inside homes and she sticks advertisements inside her stories. Her characters are incarnations of jealousy and avarice. She hates purity in any character and commodifies relationships between men and women. In their relationships, her mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws indulge in all kinds of negotiations. 
 
On the other hand, Anurag Kashyap’s films depict small towns, claustrophobic locales, and the ugly interiority of people through rough language. His argument is that his films break the socio-political binaries and portray the truth of the dark underbelly. His characters make violence seem as casual as partaking food. These characters do not speak a sensitive and warm language.They spout cuss-words. His constant argument is that cuss-words are a reality of society and no literature or creative work can subtract them from itself. Even the writer Rahi Masoom Raza had put forth this argument in the introduction to his novel Os ki Boond. He had said that he cannot become Hitler and ban such words from the mouths of his characters. Every character of Anurag’s films uses cuss-words. These cuss-words do not stand for irritation or anger or love. Instead, they are the life-breath of his characters.His argument is: this is what we hear every day in the streets. As social beings we listen to strangers using these cuss-words but in Anurag’s films these cuss-words become a cause of interest because he endows them with an identity - of familiarity with the viewer. In society, the question of cuss-words ends with the unknown stranger. Kashyap legitimizes the abuser by making the person familiar to the viewer. His characters avoid any places, persons and institutions supposed to question unbridled violence and unfettered language in his films. Anurag's success is associated with the trauma of ruthless violence and unbridled language presented on the screen. 
 
Through Udta Punjab, Anurag and Ekta come together to create a filmi story on the business of drugs. The film becomes an arena to try out their tricks. We can say that the film is Abhishek Chubey’s and not Ekta and Anurag’s. It is a valid objection; but Anurag and Ekta’s creative ability travel the path of commercialization through Udta Punjab. Abhishek’s film bears their distinct stamp.Through both - custom and patronage - it is Anurag and Ekta’s film. After advertising jewellery, sarees, and cosmetics in television serials, in the film Ekta Kapoor creates spaces for advertisements for Cafe Coffee Day and WhatsApp. Anurag Kashyap is promoting Udta Punjab as a next step to his films Paanch and Gangs of Wasseypur. 
 
Anurag and Ekta’s characters are impulsive. All the characters in Udta Punjab are impulsive. They respond impulsively to their loneliness, failures, poverty and politics. They see the answer to their misery in the trade or consumption of drugs. They respond impulsively to drug menace when it hurts them personally. As per Anurag’s style, the film props itself up on cuss-words and violence. The cuss-words become the cruelest and sharpest weapon to depict and inflict the violence. As per Ekta’s style, all characters seek sanctuary in greed, mistrust and grudges. As per the film’s disclaimer, Anurag and Ekta move the stories of the police officer who initially denies his younger brother’s addiction but opens his eyes, the good single lady doctor, and the hockey player struck by misfortune.True to its disclaimer, the film depicts the drug trade and ends by the time the politics and inquiry into the trade starts. From this it is clear how important the court injunction is to the film: sovereignty or integrity. The court had said, ‘The film does not raise any question on the sovereignty and integrity of the country.’ The film remains true to this argument. It stays confined to the black sheep in the government and police but portrays the ugly face of society. It gives a bouquet of cuss-words to the audience and fills them with harsh violence and ugliness. 
 
It is important to examine Udta Punjab along with Punjab’s real condition. How does the drug trade take place on one of the most difficult borders in the world? Many elected leaders of the state repeatedly say that the central government is not doing enough to stop the trade because the central forces are under the union home minister. All studies in the world prove that such trade is not possible without the involvement of security and intelligence forces. Udta Punjab evades the issue. 
 
What are the reasons drugs become a social issue? Drugs impact the society. The health of the addicts deteriorates. People lose their human abilities. When drugs cross levels of being used for overcoming tiredness or easy but controlled recreation, they become a social issue. As the drug production and distribution is illegal so it needs to be addressed on social and political fronts. Punjab does not produce local drugs. Synthetic drugs and inter-country smuggling thrives only through the collaboration of political, governmental, and ruling parties. This nexus needs porters and consumers and it strengthens with the addiction of the masses. 
 
Udta Punjab’s disclaimer states that it will not engage with this nexus and proves its allegiance to this disclaimer.The film has no relation to the clobbering of drugs on Punjab. The Anurga-Ekta collaboration found a filmi story in Punjab to showcase its talent. The story shows their own coarse side and the political atmosphere worked as an advertisement for them. The Punjab government and rest of the political parties are mobilizing around the film because of their own anxiety. The film will hold the hands of neither the Aam Aadmi Party or the Congress, nor will it sink the already sinking boat of the ruling party. The success of this film is in the question of how the collaboration between Anurag Kashyap and Ekta Kapoor has got all political parties to come together and queue up at the box office. 




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Let's All Become Political
20.06.16 - Nischay Pal
Let's All Become Political



Punjab needs to become relevant. Every Punjabi wishes for that. "But are we not relevant already," one may ask. The simple answer is, we were. At one time, we were the food grain providers extra ordinary. And on top of that, we are a border state. As long as South Asia remained an unstable zone, we were very relevant.

Now, with agriculture in stagnation and many other states catching up and becoming food grain providers to the national grainary, Punjab is losing its prime relevance.

We are well on our way to become a super power, at least in the region we inhabit. With India and Pakistan no more hyphenated by the world, and certainly not by the United States, we can well forget a full scale war scenario in the near or even distant future.

So even that one aspect of life that made us seriously relevant is now fading away.

With just 13 MPs in the Lok Sabha in coalition times, and with three parties to share the numbers, Punjab is no more relevant even in the one House that matters.

That brings us face to face with a worrying reality: Punjab's intervention in the Indian national political scene is virtually missing.

Unfortunately, an impression seems to have been generated, more because of the force of circumstances than any serious application of mind, that an intervention is possible only through the arena of electoral politics. That leaves only the mainstream hankerers after party tickets as any serious interventionists.

It is time people in Punjab ponder seriously about our missing civil society. Is it not possible to remain relevant without spending scarce and precious resources in election campaigning?

A whole number of engaged institutions involved in the social and religious domain stay away from the elections, as do many bodies in the field of education, culture and intellectual exercises. This is a phenomena seen the world over. Why should Punjab's men of letters, academicians, activists, NGOs not prefer to avoid being dragged into the dirty cesspool of electoral politics?

Some will call it the right approach as our politicians have little use for men of intellect or those making any real contribution towards the community and society but it will be naive to think that such a deduction is absolutely right.

A community's political life is more nuanced and subtle than a simple rejection of the election process or a decision to stay away from it, at least proactively, and confine oneself to merely trudging to the polling booth and casting our votes.

Democracy is not merely about casting the vote. That is a reductionist view of democracy that the politicians have or love. Entrenched interests in Punjab have deliberately reduced the definition of democracy to a so-called gift to the people of an ability to vote every five years. Punjabis need to interpret the democratic notions more broadly and see the ways in which one can engage oneself with the democratic process.

We see in Punjab that the political parties often do not take a stand on issues that impact our lives but make much noise about certain other issues. This happens because we do not have engaged activists and a concerned media that asks the right
questions.

For example, what is the Akali Dal's stand on Foreign Direct Investment caps in media sector? Or the Samajwadi Party's stand on the Sri Lanka question? What do we know about the Bahujan Samaj Party's stand on the Kashmir issue? Will Sardar Rattan Singh Ajnala please tell us his view on the big dams, since he has a vote in Parliament? And what is Navjot Singh Sidhu's view on Copenhagen's failures?

Parties at the state level think they can afford to simply stay mum and not have a view on most matters and they have coached their electorate in such ways that there is no pressure on them to spell out their policy.

But must that be the Punjabis' approach? Should we not question more sharply so that at least we force political parties to send better equipped men and women to Parliament who can draft laws and vote on them with some visible grey matter usage?

All we need to do is to make ourselves aware of the issues and then understand that electoral politics is not the only way to make an intervention in politics. Of the many ways of making a meaningful change through politics, the electoral politics is only one. There are umpteen examples of how a meaningful change can be made in the realm of ideation and in pursuing policy matters. A movement on the political front may not necessarily come through the electoral arena. Our politicians, or at least most of them, are masters of the political electoral arena which has place only for the corrupted and the degenerate.We are all aware of the role of money, muscle and mafia in the elections, and the story remains the same not just in the Lok Sabha polls but also Assembly, municipal committees and even panchayat elections.

Let us look at the ways in which people have impacted the political debate in India without being sucked into the vortex of dirty electioneering. Look at the work of Aruna Roy, a Chennai-born self-less Indian political and social activist who quit the IAS in mid-70s and is known for her campaigns to better the lives of the rural poor and empowered millions in Rajasthan through successful enactment of Rajasthan Right to Information Act and is largely credited with the success of RTI Act across India. This Magsaysay Award winner has impacted the course of political debate in India more than anyone among us.

Consider Jean Drèze, a development economist of Belgian origin who along with Amartya Sen has extensively engaged with issues of rural poverty, famine, policy reforms etc and has empowered millions with his relentless work on an employment guarantee scheme in India which ensures work for the poor.

All those who are behind a scheme like the NREGA are people who have made a significant contribution towards saving hundreds of thousands of lives and are giving hope to millions. It is easy to sit back and blast NREGA if one if one is devoid of the notions of poverty but for those who know Indian politics, it should be clear that the RTI and NREGA are two center pieces of a work that has been pushed by people essentially outside the electoral arena.

Men like Rajendra Singh, the well known water conservationist from Alwar, Rajasthan who won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for community leadership for his pioneering work in water management and holy men like Baba Balbir Singh Seechewal and Sant Sewa Singh of Khadoor Sahib can impact the terms of political debate in Punjab more than the lip service being paid by the politicians to the falling ground water table and the state of our rivers.

Where are the civil society activists working to save Punjab? Had a political party been working single-mindedly to focus on the state of our government-run schools, it would have meant more for the people than the filibustering on umpteen issues. We hardly have a proactive NGO other than Seechewal's efforts or that of the Kheti Virasat Mission on the environment front.
Politics is changing, and also changing are the ways in which one is seen as political. For far too long we have remained stuck in a groove in which talking about certain issues is considered politics and rest be damned.

It is time that we became political, time that we understood that Rajinder Singh's ideas of saving and harvesting water, Seechewal's resistance to dumping industrial waste into rivers, all the talk about environment, Umendra Dutt's loud protests against Bt Brinjal and chemical fertilizers are not just about environment; they are hugely political interventions. These actions will be deciding our politics. Punjab's politicians are pushing the envelope on the neoliberal urban centric model of development which is leaving out and aside the teeming millions. Across India, more than eight million people have been pushed out of agriculture and there is no record or study of where they went and what they are doing. In Punjab, apathy has replaced the feeling of ennui which replaced the feeling of guilt whenever the number of people who committed suicide is mentioned. Every 30 minutes in India, one farmer has been committing suicide since 1997 (that is, ever since the government started collecting data). That the data itself is highly conservative and deliberately understated is a separate story. In Punjab, one farmer commits suicide every day, as per the latest data being compiled by the Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana.

Those who have been demanding land reforms, the farmers who know the best how to save the environment are at the receiving end. The corporate media in Punjab has remained completely silent after the day light murder of a tall farmer leader.

Has any political party made an issue of the fact that thousands seemed to have committed suicide at a time when Punjab revenue records, cited by the state government, showed merely 130 suicides? To be an environmentalist is to be political. To ask about teacher-student ratio in government primary schools is to be political. To try and understand what genetically modified foods can do to our future is to be political.

To be an environmentalist is to be political. To ask about teacher-student ratio in government primary schools is to be political. To try and understand what genetically modified foods can do to our future is to be political. To question our law makers about big dams, about the need for super highways, about the malls dotting our cities, about the SEZ’s everywhere, is political. On this environment day, let's all resolve to be political. Being political is about being human. Rajneeti is not about a Bollywood film. It is about us.

On this environment day, let's all resolve to be political.




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Comment by: Harsangeet

You the writer! you took my heart. What a beautiful article is this.I am a 20 yrs old resident of punjab and i am doing the very thing you want us to do. I look into the issues and try to makee others aware of them using a simplified version of the current issues. I am political and i also want all of us to be political (especially the young ones).I hope it will make you happy. Really politics is not some selected issues discussed and debated by the old or experienced. . Thanks for what you wrote.

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Wake up or, someone will offer you a bit of water
20.06.16 - Kanwar Manjit Singh
Wake up or, someone will offer you a bit of water



We have always had the world, and we have always had the environment. We have had them every single day of our existence on this planet. So, then, why have a World Environment Day? Because we may not have the world, and the environment one day, if we do not pay attention now. Now! 

It has become a complex world, and our actions, or lack of them, are changing our world. The devastation is so vast that it needs all hands on the deck to stop it. We need a billion acts of green, a billion actions, to even stay where we are. It can start from changing our light bulbs or planting a tree, making substantial commitments, weatherizing our houses and signing petitions. We need the power of the collective to impress upon our governments everywhere to act, and act fast. The governments the world over should be talking to people about environmental degradation, about fast forwarding green economics, green jobs, and industrial infrastructure. 

We need to talk about "Limited Mandate” and "Larger Mandate” on the environment front with the same passion as we do in some other areas. The damage to our Mother Earth is the Gravest Internal Security Threat that the world faces today. If the Martians are out there, bet your good money that they are laughing at us. These days if you hang something out of your window, you can figure out the pollution impact in any city. But our politicians are either skeptic, or afflicted with notions of development that are divorced from reality and our world that was once green. How one wishes that Operation Greenhunt were the name of a government plan to retrieve our valleys and hills and forests and rivers and minerals from the ogres of corporate profiteers. The plunging ground water table in Punjab, the cancer trains running from Bathinda, the threat of soot deposits on the Golden Temple, the poison in our fruits and vegetables, the haze that hangs over our cities are all reminders that one World Environment Day is just not enough. We need to be environmentalists every single day of our life. The fact that each child always picks up the blue pencil to color the sky has been long taken for granted. Some are now trying a dirty shade of grey. And you can’t blame them. Look up and see. There are none so blind as those who won’t see. For a land whose name means Five Waters, it is a shame what we have done to our waters. If we do not wake up now, someone will offer us a bit, with a suggestion – Chappni vich nakk dubo ke dub maro.




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