Thursday, August 16, 2012

In Mamata Banerjee's Bengal - don't ask, don't yell

Shiladitya Chowdhury, arrested for asking questions.

Tilak Chowdhury has just had his worst Indian Independence Day. 

His brother Shiladitya Chowdhury was arrested last week for asking West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee a few uncomfortable questions about the rise in fertiliser prices at a public rally. In Mamata’s version of democracy that is unacceptable and the poor man is now in jail. But it looks bad to imprison someone over a few questions and perhaps even Mamata knows that, so the “Maoist” label was quickly dusted off and pinned on him. Without the words “Maoist” and “terrorist” what would our police force do?

Tilak watched his brother being led away by the police bizarrely on live television. He and his family have been Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress supporters for years but he said that this is not what he signed up for. “Is this our democracy where we’re not even allowed to speak? We didn’t want this” he said on the phone before bursting into tears.

“How can my brother be a “Maoist” when he has attended a CRPF masonry training? How would he have received a place if he was a “Maoist”? The CRPF or Central Reserve Police Force is primarily responsible for fighting insurgency in India. “They’ve said that my brother was screaming. There were 20,000 people in the crowd. He probably had to, to be heard!”

Tilak desperately needs solidarity in this struggle. When I asked him if other Trinamool workers in his village had come to offer moral support he despondently said that no one had said a thing. “I’m not asking anyone to lie. Just tell people the truth about my brother.”

The police bungling and manipulation in all this is evident again. They arrested him from the public rally but finding nothing, released him. When Shiladitya gave an interview to a TV channel that evening they probably realised he could cause them and Mamata a PR disaster so they promptly came back and re-arrested him the next day, dragging him from his field without a shirt on his back.

What is really dangerous is the way in which the state machinery, the police and the courts have lined up to carry out every one of Mamata Banerjee’s dictatorial whims. From purging libraries of critical newspapers to arresting professors for forwarding cartoons to now jailing farmers for inquiring about rising prices - the only positive element in all this is that she could be digging her own grave and faster the better.

Meanwhile Tilak wants his brother released and is hoping that people will join him in this struggle for his brother’s freedom. You can sign his petition here.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Women’s boxing makes its breakthrough at London 2012

India's M. C. Mary Kom in action at the Olympics
Another all-male bastion was broken into today with the start of the first ever women’s boxing competition at the Olympics and it was a lucky last-minute internet search that revealed two tickets for a place at this historic ringside. My interest in women’s boxing was really due to the belated discovery that an Indian woman from Manipur, Mary Kom, was a five-time world champion in the fly-weight category and a gold medal prospect for the nation.

Mary Kom is from a conflict-ridden and economically depressed part of India that barely registers on the national consciousness. I am embarrassed to admit, I hadn’t heard of her till this wonderful cover story in the Intelligent Life magazine. That’s why when she stepped into the ring and a chant of “Bharat Mata ki Jai” went up amongst her hundreds of Indian supporters, I felt some immediate irritation. Bharat has been screwing around with the 7 eastern states of which Manipur is a part and official Bharat has given Magnificent Mary all but half-hearted support over the years.

So I was much happier just to chant her name “Mary Kom, Mary Kom, Mary Kom.” She had hundreds of supporters in the crowd and the atmosphere was electric. Why the IOC took so long to deny spectators good, solid sporting action in women’s boxing is a mystery.

Mary was shorter than her Polish opponent Karolina Michalczuk, and although she slipped a few times she appeared more agile around the ring. The pair drew equal on the first round, but after that Mary started landing the punches and at the end of round four she won with a final score at 19 - 14 and is now through to the next stage.

The other really exciting match of the day was between the US and UK in the middle-weight category.  

The guitar riffs of Lenny Kravitz’s ‘Are you gonna go my way’ blasted through giant speakers inside the boxing arena accompanying the entry of Quanitta Underwood of the USA. Like the thousands in the crowd, she was pumped up by the music and punched the air with her red gloves.

Then the camera panned to Britain’s Natasha Jonas in blue coming out of the vomitory with the crazy guitar riffs continuing to electrify the crowd. But she was cooler than ice, seeming to embody the “Keep calm and carry on” approach.

Underwood won the first round 4 - 3 and the crowd realised they needed to get their vocal chords behind Jonas. The “Team GB” chants through the next two-minute round, along with some confident jabs from Jonas, produced a win with 7 points to her and Underwood, one short. The momentum continued and the match ended with the referee holding up Jonas’s hand at the final score of 21 - 13.

Day 9, was just yet another fabulous day at the London Olympics