19th March 2000
By Tania Fernando
This year's big match season has been marred with increased violent incidents and the presence of gun-toting youth and even threats to police officers that they would be transferred overnight to the East.
The violence during these matches which were mostly restricted to schoolboys, has lately seen even old boys of the school getting involved in many incidents.
The Royal College stag night had also turned out to be another battleground, when some thugs had got into the CCC grounds, where the stag night was held, and a fight had begun which ended with some of the injured being rushed to the Accident service.
It is alleged that a minister's son was involved in this fight, which was denied by him. He claims that he was a witness to the fight but was not involved in the fight in any way.
All parades start in fun, but end up being dangerous not only to the schoolboys and girls but also to the public. Cricket is called the gentleman's game, but with school cricket fever, it tends to be more a game of hooligans.
Some boys allegedly from Royal College, had paid Rs. 3000 to a boutique owner as an advance to arrange for three men to hit their rivals at the cricket match.
The schoolboys enter girls' schools on the pretext of taking hat collections and disrupt the school work. This has now become acceptable and looked forward to.
Sister Francesca, Principal of Holy Family Convent, Bambalapitiya said that it was okay, as long as they don't damage school property.
"There are some boys who do damage the school, but it is beyond our control", she said.
While it's all fun for most onlookers, it causes a lot of trouble to those who have to deal with the problems that arise out of it. Some schoolboys even went to the extent of attacking law enforcing officers who had tried to bring the situation under control.
A policeman who was doing his duty during an incident was threatened with a transfer to the North if he continued doing his job.
Sister Francine, Principal of St. Bridget's Convent, said that it is okay for boys to have fun as long as it is restricted to them going on the road shouting.
"I don't want them in the school premises, because we paint the walls and they disfigure them" she said.
Meanwhile, in another incident, a photographer from The Sunday Times was also threatened on the road when he was trying to take some photographs . They had tried to assault him and threatened to come looking for him if the photograph was published.
The incidents that take place at these matches seem to be on the rise over the years. Even though the students are told to behave, the appeals of school principals seem to be falling on deaf ears.
Schoolboys had also entered Bishop's College in Colombo. "It is not possible to stop them from entering the school. Every year it is getting worse, but nothing can be done about it", said Mrs. Jayasuriya, the Principal of Bishop's College.
They say winning or losing does not matter, but it's how you play the game, but with behaviour of this nature taking place, it seems like it has come down to winning the game at any cost.
The Indian Finance Minister, making a statement on a significant increase in the defence budget, has reportedly said, "The defence of our beloved motherland is more important than a simple economic consideration."
The arguments trotted out by politicians and businessmen here too is that to stop a perceived economic rot, it would be necessary to have peace, ironically at any cost.
There has been an economic slowdown over the past few years and a general economic failure. These failures though have been wrongly blamed on the war. However, as the collapse of the tiger economies of the Far East showed an economic failure is possible even without civil conflict, and the present economic failures are due to the failure of economic policy rather than for other reasons.
In 1993 the defence expenditure was Rs. 21 billion. In recent years the defence expenditure at prevailing prices were Rs. 26, 43, 45, 41, 56 and 47 billion. Those who trot out the argument that the defence expenditure has a negative effect on the country say it could be diverted towards development. The first point to be noted is that expenditure at prevailing rates are deceptive, because of the twin phenomena of inflation and drop in the rupee value. The international purchasing power of foreign manufactured arms has dropped dramatically. Further there is a dramatic shrinking of the state of affairs of the economy. It is argued that 15 percent of government expenditure goes towards the military. But this is a minor percentage of a shrinking pool of government expenditure. The total government expenditure is only 26 percent of total GDP, when compared with higher expenditures in most European States (Norway 37, Sweden 44 and Netherlands 48 percent). The defence expenditure when compared with the GDP, was only 4.2 percent in 1993 and 4.5 percent in 1995. In the USA even without a civil conflict 5.8 percent was spent on defence in 1988 alone. In that year Pakistan spent 6.5 and Oman 20 percent of its GDP.
It is apparent from these figures that states even without a civil conflict spend a considerable portion of their earnings on defence.
Some government ministers state that 50 billion would be immediately available for development if the war stops. However, around 25 percent of this defence expenditure is spent on the legal system and the Police Department. A further 65 percent is spent on wages of the armed forces and maintenance of machinery. Even without a policy of upgrading our armed forces, there would be a maximum of 10 percent of the defence expenditure, which are virtually the informal commissions charged on the purchase of arms.
The 90 percent employment generating component of defence actually led to a positive effect on the economy, this should be obvious to anyone even with a passing acquaintance of Keynsian economics. In reality, in 1999, Rs, 30 billion has been collected (-60 percent) from the defence levy, a special tax on the people for the purpose of waging war. Therefore the government will have no moral right to collect this revenue in times of peace, and thereby the peacetime maintenance of defence will come from the Finance Ministry's meagre income.
At present, the defence expenditure is being used to cover up the incompetency of poor economic policies.
Water under fire
Controversial movie angers Hindu fundamentalists
In the wake of growing intolerance, violent hatred and xenophobia in the subcontinent, comes another frontal attack on freedom of creative expression through the banning of shooting of the film "Water". Democracy in India has been under attack by the Hindu Right who are hell-bent on establishing a Hindu Imperium. Filmmakers, cultural organisations, singers, writers and historians are subject to censorship, violence and abuse by self- appointed guardians of culture and morality. Deepa Mehta of 'Fire' fame has been under fire from the Sangh Pariver et al, for daring to question deeper social inequalities that persist in traditional Hindu society. Her newest film 'Water' deals with the pervasive patriarchal institution of widowhood. The stage was all set for Mehta to begin shooting of 'Water' in the Hindu heartland of Varanasi (Benares) with permission from the Government of India and the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. (I&B) when protesters led by the newly formed Kashi Sanskriti Raksha Sangharsh Samiti (KSRSS) raided the shooting location and burnt the set materials. To Mehta's utter dismay, the District Administration of Uttar Pradesh (UP) instead of upholding the rule of law, ignored the directives of the I&B Ministry, withdrew permission for shooting and declared the site as dangerous and unsafe. One of the protesters, Arun Pathak, a Shiv Senait, tying a heavy stone around him, immersed himself in the river Ganga provoking an irate mob of saffron activists to run berserk. KSRSS, a coalition of BJP, VHP, Shiv Sena and RSS activists targeted Mehta with obscene phone calls and death threats, demanded that shooting be suspended and her cast and crew pull out from Varanasi. She was accused of 'hurting' the 'religious sentiments' of the people and disturbing the peace in the 'holy' city.
"Water", the third in Mehta's trilogy of the elements deals with Varanasi widows in the 1930s. The Sangh Parivar charged Mehta for trying to depict Kashi as a corrupt city and a permissive society where the Ganga is polluted and child widows are forced into prostitution. Her earlier film 'Fire' received a backlash in communal violence-affected cities like Delhi and Bombay where Shiv Sena militia went on rampage breaking and smashing the public cinema halls. The Sangh Parivar fumed over "Fire's" boldness to thematise a lesbian relationship between two unloved Lajput Nagar housewives. The Hindu Right denounced Mehta for showing a 'perverted view of Indian women'. Mehta was denied permission to shoot her second film "Earth" in Lahore and was compelled to recreate the city in old Delhi. Mehta continues to be demonised as a 'Foreign agent' involved in a grand 'western' plot to denigrate Hinduism.
VHP, which spearheaded the violent campaign against the filming of "Water", argued it outraged the 'ancient Indian culture.' Ashok Singhal, leader of the VHP, claimed that the director of 'Water had no "scientific research experience" and lacked knowledge of the Shastras and therefore was unqualified to examine the position of widows in India! Historically, however, these very Hindu Shastras have been deployed by the Brahmin upper caste to retain monopoly over culture and control of women's sexuality. The theme of Varanasi widows in the 1930s is not a new idea invented by Mehta who according to protesters 'enjoys portraying anti-Indian culture themes to achieve recognition. Implicit in the accusation is the idea that the West must not be allowed to see "Indian culture" in a deplorable light. The issue of child widows and their degraded, devalued status in traditional Hindu society was at the centre of 19th Century reform campaigns in India. Social reformers like Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Jyotiba Phule fought against injustices and took up the issue of widows. Pandita Ramabai, a firebrand socialist feminist led a militant agitation for widow remarriage. Films like Sangharsh, Ram Teri Ganga Meli and Jaya Ganga have intensely dealt with the theme of widows. None of these films provoked a backlash. Literature in all Indian languages has discussed the issue in great depth. In their 'Purity Campaign', for Hindu communalists, "Water" sullies Bharat's image of spirituality and modernity' in a symbolic and literal sense.
The status of widows in Hindu society must shame the protectors of Hindu cluture - husbands, Mahants and politicans - into submission of the callous cynicism, indifference and sexual puritanism they demonstrate in their everyday life towards women. Daughters, fathers and brothers abandon most women in their secluded widowhood. These women are not accounted for in institutional records. State provides no care. Locked away into remote places, their voices are silenced.
The attack on Mehta's Water' is an attempt to suppress any open discussion on the repressive practices in Hindu society. By claiming a monopoly on ideologies that differentiates sacred from the profane, the Sangh Parivar seeks to police culture, bans all dissent, curbs comment and stifles debate, heightening the frighteningly chilling atmosphere of intolerance and revenge. The message is loud and clear. The Sangh Parivar fears change. Change is evil. The propaganda of hatred hampers progress. The Hindutva brigade holds that certain traditions are sacrosanct. The sanctity of widowhood and Sati must be preserved. Traditions are not to be scrutinised. For custodians of tradition, Hinduism is in danger and should be defended at any cost. In their distorted perception, Mehta as a 'foreign' woman (anti-national) and Shabana Azmi, the "rabble rouser" as a "Muslim" as the (communal Other), have no legitimate right to speak on behalf of the oppressed Hindu women. The most perceptive insight on the binary of communal logic has been made by Romila Thapar, a distinguished historian who has been at the receiving end of Hindu fundamentalism; any attack on the Moslems by the Sangh Parivar is justified by them in the name of setting right the wrongs of history. But when Hindu tradition is criticised, it says this is history, why rake it up?"
Protest and counter protest
Shabana Azmi who has been cast into the lead role in "Water" attracted the wrath of Muslim communalists who charged the activist-parliamentarian of endangering izzat (honor) by her "un-Quranic" and "un-Islamic" act of shaving her head. All india Muslim Mahaz, an extremist group, burnt her effigy to protest against her show of defiance. Taslima Nasreen who was adulated for her critical views on Muslim fundamentalism in Bangladesh by the Hindu Right, now condemns her for attacking the KSRSS activists who stopped the shooting of "Water". Shiv Sena leader, Bal Thackeray celebrating his 73rd Birthday recently, reacted angrily lashing out at minorities who are 'conspiring to usurp the rightful place of Hindus'; 'Only Hindus have right to shape India's destiny'. He warned complacent Hindus; 'Beware. Laandyas (a derogatory word for Muslims) are infiltrating into India. Muslims should go to Pakistan to assert their rights'. While the Hindu Right bends over backwards to welcome Michael Jackson, it never hides its contempt for young people for celebrating Valentine's Day.
Mangalika de Silva
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