CENSORING DISSENT

I just wanted to tell you how appalled I was by the letter sent to India Currents by the Alexander family (Letters, IC Nov ’02). I disagreed strongly with the opinions expressed in the letter from P.C. Rao, but it was fully within the bounds of the give and take, which are part of a free society.

But the Alexander family letter was another matter altogether. I’m glad you printed it, because we need to be reminded that many people are thinking like that these days. Only by speaking out against this kind of thinking can we protect ourselves from losing our freedoms to this kind of hysteria.

First of all, trying to deliberately drive a paper out of business because you disagree with it is a form of censorship. This country was founded on the principle “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Expressing disagreement is one thing, attempting to silence it is something that is morally very different.

Secondly, there is nothing in that editorial which could possibly be called anti-American. The only way that the editorial could be taken as anti-American is if you assume that a criticism of Bush is a criticism of America.

There is a name for the political philosophy which claims that the will of the leader and the will of the country are one and the same. It is called Fascism, and thousands of Americans died trying to stamp it out in World War II. Let us hope that it is not now on the verge of growing in our own land.

Teed Rockwell, via the Internet

AXIS OF EVIL

The letters criticizing a prior editorial on Bush was disappointing as I had considered readers of this publication as being people who think. Those dissident readers apparently are not those who value freedoms that were fought for with blood and tears, but are lulled into believing their great and glorious leader will protect them from the “axis of evil.” That axis, however, turns out to be Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft and Rumsford.

Bush and his cronies have altered our Constitution to open up to tyranny by expanding surveillance and wiretappings, conducting searches without first notifying suspects, allowing the Attorney General to hold a person for seven days before submitting any charges, and wording the Patriot Act so broadly that a teenager who writes anti-government graffiti could be tagged as a terrorist.

Their intent to drill for oil in our last pristine wilderness, destroy the wildlife nursery in the Arctic Range, open roads throughout National Forests to eradicate trees for toilet paper are harbingers of the downward spiral of the U.S. as a world power. For those critics of the editorial, they should read the speeches made in the ancient Roman Forum by the minority warning the leaders of the rot from within.

The critics of your editorial ought to consider the plundered planet our present leaders will have bequeathed our children with our consent. “A nation gets the leaders it deserves,” but in these dangerous times, that cliché is frightening.

I enjoy India Currents thoroughly.

Robyn Nayyar, Aromas, CA

DIFFERING OPINIONS

Is agreeing with government policies the only way to show loyalty? In a democracy, criticism and disagreement are of equal importance. I don’t always agree with the views expressed in an editorial of a publication, but I welcome and highly value the opportunity to read a viewpoint contrary to mine.

Democracy, by definition, invites the expression of differing opinions. And writing about one’s concerns regarding the policies of our government is a responsible expression of one’s freedoms, rights and obligations.

I commend India Currents for having the courage to write a viewpoint that may not necessarily be popular.

Reeta Sahay, San Diego, CA

A DEMOCRATIC AMERICA

Are Indian-Americans too thin-skinned to tolerate opinions other than sycophancy when it comes to criticism of people in power? I was shocked to read the letters to the editor written by Chalapathi Rao and The Alexander Family. Freedom of expression is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, in the U.S. Constitution. The test of a true democracy lies in the degree of tolerance granted under the law to opinions that may be completely divergent from ours.

John Stuart Mill, one of the seminal advocates of liberty, asserts that no government has the right to control the expression of opinion: “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

The press, venerated as the Fourth Estate, is a pillar and a watchdog of democracy. The beauty of American democracy is that no man, not even the president, is above either the law or criticism. We Indian-Americans who wish to participate fully in this great democracy have a duty to criticize and accept criticism. The Maureen Dowds and Tom Friedmans of this country have done as much service to democratic principles as any other patriotic American, by voicing their opinions freely in the press, even when they were not the administration’s position. It is shocking to read the Alexanders threaten India Currents with economic sanctions, and call the editor’s stand an “anti-American” and “Hate America” position.

Lakshmi Mani, Roselle, New Jersey

WE ARE NOT BIGOTS

Not all Anglos are right-wing bigots like the Alexanders. They, and people like them, who seek to suppress freedom of speech are the ones truly showing disdain for America.

I appreciate your publication for the editorials and criticism of U.S. foreign and domestic policy as well as for the entertainment calendar—please don’t let them intimidate you. I know it takes courage to air your views, especially when our civil liberties are under attack. As for the Alexanders, they can move to a dictatorship if that’s what they prefer; they are not welcome to try to make this country a dictatorship.

Bruce Duncan, via the Internet

COURAGEOUS EVALUATION

Truth hurts. That is why the suffocating type of response to your courageous evaluation of President Bush (IC Oct ’02). P.C. Rao should read something besides India Currents to be informed of the level of disdain-cum-disagreement with Bush. The Alexander family has threatened to close your paper by writing to advertisers and readers. Let them be fair and also write to the advertisers in New York Times, Washington Post, and San Francisco Chronicle. And Le Monde of Paris. All these papers daily carry editorials, articles, comments, cartoons, forums, opinions and letters venomously critical of Bush.

They should also picket entertainers Barbara Striesand, Alec Baldwin, and Daniel Ellsberg—all vehemently opposed to Bush. Critics should see the documentary In Shifting Sands by Scott Ritter, America’s former weapons inspector in Baghdad, who has called Democrats “cowards and chickens,” and has questioned Bush’s assertion regarding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

I am no fan of Saddam Hussein but I wonder: Are Americans prepared to occupy Iraq and risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of young Americans? Bush is popular. So was Lyndon Johnson—till he attacked Vietnam. President John F. Kennedy once said, “Those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it.” I hope and pray the letter writers will heed the wisdom in President Kennedy’s statement. Blood for Oil? Think again! And bravo for the editorial.

Surjit S. Guraya, Emeryville, CA

PARTITION AND PAKISTAN

I was always very uncomfortable with the Partition. After reading “The Unbearable Burden of Belief” (IC Nov 2002), I came away thinking that Pakistan was either a divine blessing or Gandhi’s creation.

Mohammed Shoaib, Fullerton, CA

CHANGE IN FIJI

Indians in Fiji have a choice, they can sit and weep, or they can exercise the greatest power any people have, and that is to stop contributing to the racist regime’s tax revenue. Indians largely fund and support the economy of Fiji. If this revenue is denied to the government it stops functioning, causing the removal of the corrupt and racist regime, and replacing it with a more suitable and functional government that will respect all races and provide social justice to all.

I am from Fiji and know too well what is going to work and what is not. Indians need to stop working and stop contributing revenue to keep [the government] from operating. Turn off the Indian tax revenue, and the racist regime dies, leading people to find a real solution.

I am tired of the lack of willingness of the Indian-Fijian community to unite and take bold steps to change things for themselves. For 35 years the Indian-Fijian community has been reactive instead of proactive.

Dron Battan, via the Internet

DIVERSE DIASPORA

An excellent article (“Trouble in Paradise”, IC Nov ’02)! After reading this I have a desire to know how Indians in Fiji, Guyana, and other countries have preserved their culture and religion. I hope India Currents will carry articles that describes their lifestyles.

Pramesh Sharma, via the Internet

BROWN IS BLACK

I read “Being Brown in America” (IC Oct ’02) with interest. I suppose all of us have heard the phrase “Divide and Rule,” being from the former English colony of undivided India.

There are only two races in this world: white (oppressor) and non-white or black (oppressed). We may try to classify ourselves as brown, or yellow, or red, but then we play right into the maxim of “divide and rule.”

I am a proud black (non-white) man. While a student at a state University, when the African-Americans (Maya Angelou’s hyphenated Americans) protested, the people of East Asian and South Asian descent stayed away. Let us not play into the hands of the oppressors. We are all proud black (non-white) people. This way we might have a better chance of silencing the oppressors.

Priyadarshi Datta, via the Internet


BHAJANS & GHAZALS

Your cover (IC Nov ’02) calls Anup Jalota as Ghazal King while the article inside calls him a Bhajan King: the latter is right. Calling Jalota a Ghazal King is like calling Jagjeet Singh a Bhajan King just because he sang a few bhajans. Anup Jalota is a melodious bhajan singer. However, he is no match to his father, Purushottam Das Jalota, whose bhajans are truly wrapped in the classical music of India.

Ashok Malik, Santa Clara, CA


BREAKING THE CYCLE

After incidents like the massacres in Godhra and the senseless shootings inside a temple in Gandhinagar, amidst all the finger-pointing among political parties in India, one tends to pay scant attention to the plight of the common people there. A shocking incident like this attack, which left 23 people dead and many more injured, underlines the urgency of instilling age-old values of religious tolerance and non-violence in the minds of children and the masses.

Sandwiched between politicians who openly preach religious militancy and mobs on the lookout for the slightest provocation, the children of India have become increasingly vulnerable to the social evil of communal hatred. Some 25 years ago, as a child, I would routinely participate in the Independence Day parade chanting “Hindu-Muslim bhai-bhai (Hindus and Muslims are brethren)”. I doubt if schoolchildren today can belt out those words without a sense of fear.

The Indian Express published a story about two children who saw the bloody carnage inside the Swaminarayan temple. They also witnessed the horrific killings of their brother and grandparents. Nothing could be more devastating to these young minds. The constant bombardment of these disturbing images in the visual media equally affects the impressionable minds of scores of other children. With the pictures of the brutal shooting spree etched in their psyches, what these children need is reassurance—both from their communities and their leaders.

The people of India stand in an unenviable position of having to derive strength to deal with a potentially dangerous situation. “Ahimsa” (non-violence), which was the cornerstone of Gandhism, should be their mantra and religious tolerance their faith. It is ironic that Gujarat, the land of Mahatma Gandhi, was the flashpoint of the two ghastly acts of violence. Educating the masses to exercise restraint and caution could alone diffuse the situation. The leaders too need to brush aside their political squabbling and join hands to break the vicious cycle of violence and counter-violence.

As the whole world is waging a war on terrorism, India has an additional threat of civil unrest to combat. While the Godhra riots remain fresh in the collective consciousness of Indians, the Gandhinagar incident has thrown a challenge at its people once again. If they emerge unscathed, the country stands to undo at least a modicum of the damage done to its image, and its future citizens may get a chance to proudly proclaim “Mera Bharat Mahan (My India is great)”.

Suman Mudamula, via the Internet

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