Wednesday, 31 October 2007

It also Happens in India

A lot of elderly people used to sit around and tut-tut over the accounts of teenagers' sexual shenanigans reported in the Western press and say, "It can't happen in India". Why? Because of our so-called strong moral values? Well, evidently they're wrong--government studies indicate that one out of ten teens living in affluent urban areas lose their virginity and one in four boys have sex before the age of 13. If these figures are correct, state governments had better include sex education classes in schools, and forget about the objections raised by Sushma Aunty and Lallu Uncle. Aunty, in any case, believes in abstinence, but Uncle doesn't think abstinence is good for him or his wife, at any rate. Moreover, Uncle and members of his rural ilk seem to think that information on matters sexual leads to immorality. I wonder how he and Rabri went about telling their kids, especially daughter Misa who married several years ago, about the birds and the bees? In any case, do these boys who lose their virginity at age 13 realise that they are committing an illegal act--they're a year or two short of the age of consent! Or do they hope to write an Indian version of Summer of '42?

Don't these elderly folk realise that the world is changing rapidly? It's not just urban teens who experiment with sex and have multiple partners--what about people in the villages? Maybe they don't talk about it but have sex anyway. Lack of information about sex could lead to a massive rise in HIV cases, and, keeping in mind our lack of a national health care system, an equally large rise in AIDS cases, the deaths of large numbers of people in their most productive years and the orphanining of future generations. We all know how kind and wonderful the joint family system is--there are many cases of women, whose husbands have died of AIDS and who themselves are infected with the disease, who have been shunned by their in-laws because "they failed to satisfy their husbands, who then went to prostitutes, and thus caused their deaths". That's how the Indian mind works--blame the innocent and let them suffer!

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Winds of Change?

Hindustan Times is running an interesting series of articles, which shows how Indian Muslims navigate between religion and the modern world to create a better life for themselves. As I glanced through this series, I was especially moved by the story of Samina and Zarina, who had to fight the local maulvi to get an education. Their story brings to mind many others that took place over a hundred years ago in Hindu homes--when girls were told that educated women tended to get widowed young. Thirty years ago, when my mother used to teach a course in Interior Design in a Delhi polytechnic for women, the principal told her of parents who would say that they feared to give their daughters a professional education, because the girls would never marry. My mother, who'd completed a BFA from Kolkata, told her not to worry, because a woman's education would, in the future, be a better investment than a dowry, because she would be able to add to her husband's income. Today, she's been proved right--all her ex-students are working women, who have set up their own businesses and are doing well.

Why is it that men of religion, whether Hindus, Muslims or Christians of all shades, have attempted to prevent women from gaining an education and financial independence? Is it only to keep the power centres of society intact, to prevent women from having any say in their own lives? Samina and Zarina have managed to get an education--luckily, the Prophet (peace be upon him!) said that those who wished to get an education should go wherever they could find it, even if it was as far as China. The nineteenth century scientists who opposed women seeking higher education spoke of how it would damage their health. The first women medical students had to face protests from their male colleagues and had to be chaperoned to classes. None of the men would even speak to them--etiquette ruled that a man and a woman could only converse after a proper introduction! We've come a long way, but we have to go further still--when education and financial independence for women is not something they have to beg for, but something that is their birthright, wherever they live on the face of this earth.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Tehelka Sting Reveals the Truth of 2002 Riots

So the truth is finally out, and on tape too! Those who did the dirty work of killing innocent Indian citizens in Gujarat have described what they did. And of course, once the tapes have been shown to be part of a sting operation conducted by Tehelka, they and their masters in the BJP have either stated that their remarks were taken out of context or have questioned the timing of the operation. Considering the fact that the BJP spent a lot of time post-Operation Westend trying to destroy Tehelka, I'm not surprised at their behaviour now. Just goes to show what it takes to rise in Indian politics--a willingness to shed the blood of fellow citizens who belong to another religion, caste or class, a complete lack of shame and the hide of a rhino when caught admitting to a crime. No wonder so many Indian politicians commit murder in their private lives while inciting others to commit murder in public--they feel they can get away with it, they are the power in the land!

Thankfully, the Delhi High Court has recognized the fact that politicians are the least respected form of life on Indian roads. So the judges have told politicians to stay home and not roam the roads with their Z-class security. This security apparatus has become a status symbol and might not be necessary in many cases.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Dumbledore is Gay--Why it Matters

Author of the Harry Potter series J. K. Rowling has outed a very popular character, Albus Dumbledore, as being gay or homosexual. I don't know if this is a big deal for Indian readers, but it has led to much discussion in the western media. For one thing, tolerance of different religions and lifestyles is a major issue--the US has been discussing the issue of gay marriage, whereas the UK already permits same-sex partnerships. The issue of AIDS has forced the gay community to tackle its problems head on and look for stability in relationships.

However, this is not the case in India, where a) homosexuality is seen as a "lifestyle choice" rather than as an integral part of one's personality or the way one relates to the world or b) as a fad imported from the west. What many people, especially the conservatives in the Shiv Sena and the BJP, who created such a furore over Deepa Mehta's Fire, fail to realize is that homosexuality thrives in societies where the separation of sexes is the norm. So it's not unusual to read about homosexual relationships in prisons or hostels, where you have separate facilities for men and women. The problem arises when society closes its eyes to these realities. For instance, there was a programme in Tihar Jail, when Kiran Bedi was in charge, to distribute free condoms to the prisoners. It's a well-known fact that the use of condoms can prevent AIDS. However, this programme was stopped, due to pressure from the moral police.

Because homosexual relations between men in India are seen as a criminal act under Article 377, it is almost impossible for AIDS activists to find men who have sex with men and give them the essential information they need to safeguard their health. I'm sure that, if Article 377 has been retained as a safeguard against paedophelia, it has failed in its purpose. It should be scrapped and replaced with a law drafted specifically against paedophelia.

However, we do have some extremely courageous people who have come out of the closet and are working with the gay community. This gentleman was recently interviewed on the Oprah Winfrey show--he has also appeared in a BBC Radio 4 doucmentary on AIDS awareness amongst the gay community in India.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Hypocrisy in Indian Politics

So the nuclear deal has been temporarily put on hold, according to the UPA. Evidently, the allies who insisted on following the Left into semi-repudiating the deal included great luminaries, such as Lalu Prasad Yadav (of fodder scam fame) Sharad Pawar (who’s rumored to be the richest and most corrupt man in Indian politics) and M. Karunanidhi (father of M. Stalin, whose political career he’s busy promoting). Apparently, these gentlemen had agreed to the deal when it was discussed in a Cabinet meeting, but were reminded of their "nationalist" principles (or the anti-incumbency factor) by the Left’s behavior, which closely resembled that of Balaam’s ass, with much less justification than that animal had. Of course, the Left claims they see an American imperialist plot in the 123 Agreement, which has led to their asinine behavior, but we will let that pass.


Of course, the PM is depressed--anyone would be, to see the old men of Indian politics refusing to recognize how much the world has changed over the last 20 years. And yes, the BJP wants a change--they feel that a depressed man is unfit to lead a young and resurgent nation, forgetting the fact that for at least five years, India was led by an elderly man who was considered to be physically unfit.


Of course, the Left has its own problems--there’s a ration shop owners’ strike on in West Bengal. It appears that ration shops in the districts of Bankura, Birbhum and Burdwan have not stocked grain for several months. When the people complained to officials, they were ignored and went on a rampage to register their protests. The government then deigned to cancel the dealership licenses of ration shop owners in these districts. Evidently, many of the ration shop dealerships in these districts are owned by CPI (M) cardholders. And the person who is at the center of the scandal has very high CPI (M) connections. Till date, the Left has been able to gain some credibility amongst the middle class because none of its leaders are seen as corrupt, but the ration shop case, taken in conjunction with the Rizwanur Rehman case, in a state where the Left Front has enjoyed an uninterrupted hegemony for the last 22 years, is something else. And since the Communist Party of China (CPC) is holding its 17th Congress, the CPI (M) has sent it "warm fraternal greetings."Incidentally, the CPI (M) might not know that the CPC has begun to accept businesspeople as its members, thus diluting the very character of the party. After all, Communism is based on a division between the capitalist-business class and the proletariat, so how can a capitalist join a party that represents the interests of the proletariat?


And, by the by, why not take a leaf out of this Idea advertisement? We cannot all go about replacing our names with our cellphone numbers, but we can change the names of two major universities, Aligarh Muslim University and Banaras Hindu University to just Aligarh University and Banaras University. There is no need to identify any community with a particular institution in a secular state.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

After the Non-Ratification of the 123 Agreement...

So the Congress and its allies within the UPA, career politicians all, have discovered that they do not want to face the electorate right now. They’re afraid of the anti-incumbency factor--they don’t want to lose office as ignominiously as the BJP and its allies did in 2004. Hence the decision to give in to the Left’s blackmail. However, this does have serious implications for our image abroad--we might have lost the trust of the US administration, and Australia might refuse to sell uranium to India, keeping in view the non-ratification of the 123 Agreement between India and the US. Why is Australia hesitant about selling uranium to India without the 123 Agreement being in place? Because the 123 Agreement would have brought India’s civilian nuclear power stations under the safeguards regime of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Many western nations will not sell us uranium because we have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT). In fact, Mrs. Clinton recently stated that if she were elected, she would do her best to get the US Senate to pass the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), in an effort to cut down on nuclear arsenals worldwide. And if we do not get uranium, we will have to cut down on the amount of nuclear power we can generate, which will have its repercussions on our infrastructure, industry, and economic growth.


Of course, since most of the people in the Congress and the UPA who do not want elections are career politicians, national interest is the last thing on their minds. Yes, they’ll talk themselves blue in the face about it on the election trail, but when it comes to the crunch, power and pelf wins out each time. Why? Not one of these men, in the Congress, Left, or other political parties, is capable of doing an honest day’s work and making a living. They’re all used to living on the public purse, in government housing, without paying rent, or their telephone and electricity bills. They make do by selling influence when they are in power. As for the Communists, they’re obviously being paid by China. Otherwise, why the opposition to this agreement, and why the insane suggestion to set up a nuclear policy with China, which has been supplying Pakistan with not just technical know-how but also the equipment for making nuclear warheads? Is Comrade Karat living in cloud cuckoo-land? Or does the CPI(M) politburo suffer from collective senility?


The Left parties are afraid that India is being drawn into the US game plan for South Asia. What the Left fails to realize is that India, Russia, Israel, the US, the UK, and many European nations are a target of fundamentalist Islamic militancy because of what they represent and the values they uphold. It is in India’s national interest to work with the US to protect itself. As it is, more Indians have been affected by terrorist attacks than those killed in Iraq after the US declared victory.


The Left in particular, and politicians in general, have little or no sympathy or support for the new Indian economy that is emerging, largely due to the efforts of PM Manmohan Singh, when he served as Finance Minister in the Narasimha Rao government. They have not contributed to it in any way--in fact, they’ve done much to obstruct it at every turn, especially in the case of developing infrastructure. Hence the demand that participatory notes should be banned, which would impede the flow of foreign direct investment (FDI) into this country. It would be much better to suggest that the holders of participatory notes should declare their identities to the authorities concerned, since there is concern that supporters of terrorism could use the stock markets to raise funds for their cause.


In fact, I’ve an excellent suggestion to make. Why don’t politicians use the participatory notes regime to return the money that they’ve looted from this country in scams of various kinds? They’ve managed to scuttle the investigation of those cases time and again, by arm-twisting the Indian police and the CBI--why not do the decent thing (if a politician can do the decent thing and still remain in politics) and bring back their ill-gotten loot?

Friday, 19 October 2007

The Racist Indian

We Indians are the biggest hypocrites and one of the most unsporting nations in the universe. We cannot appreciate the fact that a sportsman who opposes our team plays well. Instead, we humiliate the man in the most childish way possible, by making monkey faces, and BCCI has to then cover this up by saying that it was not an insult because we worship a monkey god! I’ve always believed that Indians are inherently racist.

If you have any doubts about what I’m saying, just take a look at the matrimonial advertisements posted in our newspapers every Sunday. Never mind how well-educated the groom, he always wants a bride with a "milk-white" complexion. So I’m not surprised that Andrew Symonds, an Australian of aboriginal descent, was treated so boorishly in Wankhede Stadium. It is ironic that we use racial abuse, since we ourselves have been the butt of it as colonial subjects and immigrants to the US, UK and other Commonwealth states. We also use it against the host country--I’ve often heard Indian immigrants to African nations use derogatory terms about the blacks amongst whom they live.

Why is it that we look down on people who are dark-skinned? Does it have anything to do with our scriptures stigmatizing the dark-skinned inhabitants of India as Dasyus? Can’t we North Indians go beyond this and realize that for most Caucasians, all of us are brown-skinned? Do we have to try and take on Caucasian racism, in an effort to be like them? Why can’t we look at the solidarity of the Asian and African races, both of which have suffered so horribly from the effects of colonial and imperial incursions? Incidentally, when I went to Oxford, I learnt from a taxi driver there how the first immigrants to the town were stigmatized by the white community. It was only because the Indians and the blacks stood shoulder to shoulder then that they were able to make a home for themselves in the UK.

I suggest spectators to a sporting event behave themselves. If the sportsmen and women on the field choose to indulge in sledging, that’s their business.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Anyone Ready for Globalization?

A few months ago, when I was preparing to leave the UK for India, I was told by various friends there that things had really changed--India was finally on the move and opportunities were opening up for young people. However, when I get back, what I find is same old, same old, only worse. The Metro might have expanded in scope in Delhi, but the Blueline menace is still prevalent. And, according to CM Sheila Dikshit, phasing out these buses will not be so easy. I agree with her--she will first need to clean up the Delhi State Ministry of Transport--it allegedly receives bribes from all those private operators of Blueline buses--and I will not say how far the chain of corruption is said to extend.


Another sign of little or no change in the Indian marketplace--when I was in the UK, doing a new product development project as part of my MA in Publishing course, I had to research India as a market for books on publishing. I got together a list of institutions that featured Mass Communication courses as part of their offerings (I think there were some ten institutions) and sent off e-mails to their heads of department, registrars and directors. Imagine my surprise when I only received three responses. I assumed this was because I was a student. When I came back and was looking for work, I found that few people were courteous enough to respond to an e-mail asking if they had a suitable employment opportunity in their company. When I mentioned this to a senior person in a media company (I had written to an internationally known publishing house, with which his company has a tie-up) he said that perhaps no suitable positions were available. I told him that I felt the person I had written to should have had the courtesy to respond via e-mail and say so, instead of letting me speculate on the various possibilities. I also informed him that this refusal to be honest said a lot about a company and the people that ran it.


I find this sort of behaviour widely prevalent in India, and it strikes one very strongly when job-hunting. There is an odd refusal to be honest, to get back to people with the bad news. I rarely encountered this behaviour while job-hunting in the UK. I would be informed immediately if my CV was not accepted for a certain post, before or after the interview. I wonder why Indian companies don’t follow this rule. It’s only a question of setting up an appropriate form letter and sending out a bunch of e-mails--most candidates have e-mail addresses. It might give even an unsuccessful candidate a good impression about the company. And keep all CVs received on file for the next six months.


In fact, this tendency that Indians have for not being honest or open is now well-known in the UK. I attended a talk given by an e-publishing consultant to a group of students on the issue of outsourcing work. He spoke of an occasion when he had to deal with an Indian company, which was hired to do some development work. He spoke of how badly they dealt with conveying bad news. Eventually the project had to be completed in the UK. At that time, I was extremely offended by what he said, but now I have to agree with him.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

"Utho Nahin, JAGO!"

This Tata Tea commercial says it all about the state of Indian politics today. Our politicians are chosen on the basis of their caste or class affiliations. How many of them have an education that would equip them to actually solve the problems that beset India today? In many cases, they and their offspring are the problem. Remember Buta Singh and his charming sons, Lovely and Sweety? The rumor doing the rounds of Delhi was that these two young men would get up to all kinds of shenanigans and Daddy dearest would use his influence to get them out of trouble. Daddy didn’t mind doing all this--after all, he was following in the footsteps of his great leader, PM Indira Gandhi, who allowed her son, Sanjay, to exercise extra-governmental authority during the Emergency, and when he died in an air crash in 1980, elevated her reluctant eldest son, Rajiv, to the general secretaryship of the Congress, a post which her grandson occupies today.


Well, there you have one part of the problem in a nutshell. Even when the politician comes from a so-called well-qualified background (exposure to the freedom movement at a young age, a good education, running the organizational set-up of a political party) he or she would like to set up a dynasty, perhaps in homage to India’s regal past or to keep intact the political legacy. However, dynasties are not what should exist in a republic. Dynasties drag a republic towards a monarchic form of government--as happened to the Roman republic, under the Caesars.


And we can see the damage that dynastic, casteist and classist politics has done to Indian institutions. Our students’ unions in the Universities are not nurseries of democracy but hothouses for goondas rooting for a particular political party. In any other country, the students’ unions would actually work together with the university administrators to provide better services to the student community instead of acting as henchmen for a political party. Students who supported a particular political party would set up an association to study that party’s ideology and its position on various issues of the day. They would learn to debate and argue rationally, instead of behaving like a bunch of goons, as one frequently sees them do on Lok Sabha TV.


And how do these political brats behave when put in charge of the Indian police and bureaucracy? They’ve completely politicized the bureaucracy--any minister, when he or she shifts from one department of the central or state government to another, takes along his coterie of favorite bureaucrats. The police services, in turn, have also been politicized--witness Mayawati’s sacking of the policemen recruited by Mulayam Singh Yadav when he was UP CM. The CBI, which has now been asked to take over the Rizwanur Rehman case from the West Bengal police, was responsible for issuing a clean chit to Jagdish Tytler for his involvement in the 1984 riots. And this politicization of the bureaucracy and the police leads to the Indian public losing its faith in these institutions and their ability to provide prompt and impartial service to the people. And hence to mob violence and a possible revolution or dictatorship.


Another thing--when you wonder why the average constable does not do his duty vis-a-vis the Indian public, please take a look at his working and living conditions. In many cases, policemen and their families live in sub-standard housing, receive poor healthcare (look at the many obese cops), barely enough education for the kids and malfunctioning equipment for the man on the beat. So now, do you wonder why Bollywood would rather have the vigilante or the crook as hero rather than a cop?

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Mob Violence in India

Do you know what has become almost a staple of Indian life in the last few months? The spectacle of mob violence, whether on the front pages of the paper or on the TV screen, as part of the daily intake of news.

Have we become a more angry society in the last 60 years? I should say we have, mainly because we have lost faith in our criminal justice system. We all know the extent to which politicians have infiltrated the bureaucracy and the police with those who support their policies, but the judiciary should also take the blame for the time it takes to dispose of a case. For instance, it has taken 10 years for a court to find an ACP and nine others guilty of shooting businessmen Pradeep Goel and Jagjit Singh. It has taken a special court 14 years to find Sunjay Dutt guilty under the Arms Act.

Another reason why mobs go on the rampage is because their legitimate complaints are not dealt with speedily by the politician-bureaucrat nexus. For instance, the people in three districts of West Bengal have resorted to mob violence because the ration shops in their areas have no grain for them for the last 17 months!

Why is this scenario dangerous? It reminds me of Russia and France, just before their respective revolutions, when the ruling class enjoyed protection from the rule of law whereas the ordinary person was crushed under a heavy taxation system. Here, too, politicians and top bureaucrats/policemen or their kin, get away with murder (literally--think Jessica Lal or Nitesh Katara) but the ordinary man on the street has to put up with police or bureaucratic intereferance in his daily life. Either the politicians, bureaucrats and police officials implement the reforms suggested by Justice Malimath, or they prepare to face the wrath of India.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Love and Marriage beyond the Boundaries of Class and Religion

A boy and a girl meet, fall in love and get married. Incidentally, she belongs to a wealthy Hindu family--he comes from a not-so-well off Muslim home. Stop me if you think this sounds like the plot of a Bollywood movie--it's a real-life incident that took place in Kolkata. So do the young couple live happily ever after? Evidently not, because sometime after the wedding, the young man committed suicide.

Newspaper reports allege that the bridegroom's father-in-law had ties with senior Kolkata city police officers--apparently, the gentleman was known to sponsor police programmes. Evidently, some police officers refused to intervene when they realised that they were to interfere in the lives of two adults. The girl's family claims a lack of knowledge about the marriage, despite the fact that the bride and groom had shown them the marriage certificate.

This gives the politicians another opportunity to intervene in a human tragedy and turn it into a circus. So you have Mamata Bannerjee demanding a CBI enquiry and you have Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, the West Bengal CM, meeting the young man's mother and promising justice. Let us hope that in this case, justice does prevail. Adults have the right to select their marriage partners. Families might intervene to argue and examine the rights and wrongs of the case, but as the Urdu proverb goes, Miya biwi raazi to kya karega qazi?

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Ram Rajya or Ravana Rajya?

It was ironic yesterday to read of Narendra Modi's faith in Ram Rajya and the values espoused by Gandhiji and his refusal to think in terms of religion. This irony gains greater bite when you realise that the Godhra panel is checking the Gujarat CM's call records--records of calls made by himself, his ministers and VHP leaders to those accused of rioting and taking lives. In his latest interview, Modi would like other Indian states to emulate the administrative model he has set up for Gujarat. I wonder if that also includes the aiding and abetting of rioters, to get a Modi-fied result for his party, the BJP?

If it were not so horrible, I would laugh to see the BJP, heir to the RSS, which always opposed Gandhiji and his struggle against the British, now proclaim their adherence to the values he espoused. It's something, to see the very ideology that nourished your assassin, now trying to absorb your ideas in its fold.

So why the comparison of Modi with Ravana and not Rama? For one thing, it was Ravana who ran a terrorist state--his rakshasa hordes were the terror of the ascetics who welcomed the advent of Lord Rama into the forest, to free them from this tyrant and enable them to perform their austerities in peace. Very similar to the artists of Gujarat (remember Chandramohan? What became of him?) who live in fear of the Bajrang Dal, who call themselves worshippers of Hanuman, but who really respect nothing but the lathi and the gun. Aditi Mangaldas, the noted dancer, has refused to accept an award given her by the states' cultural council, in protest against the lack of cultural freedom.

And Lanka, like Gujarat today, was prosperous--but both states had little respect for the law (remember Sita, the wife of a "poor forest dweller," picked up by its ruler, Ravana?) and believed in finders being keepers--the biggest looters in the 2002 riots in Gujarat were not the slum-dwellers, as in Delhi 1984, but the middle classes. People displaced by the 2002 riots have returned to their homes provided they do not name their neighbours in the ongoing investigations.

This not only proves that Modi is a fit heir for Ravana, not Rama, but also proves that the BJP, far from being different from the Congress, was worse. Rajiv Gandhi may have been foolish and insensitive when he made the remark about the earth trembling when a big tree falls, but he did call out the army to restore order within four days. And neighbours, instead of pouring kerosene on their Sikh fellow citizens, did hide them in their homes and did keep watch over the approaches to their colonies. I know, because I saw this first-hand. What did Mr. Modi do? He refused to listen to his Prime Minister, a wise old man, who spoke of rajdharma, of the need to take care of all Gujaratis, ignoring religious denominations and differences.

Will Gujarat fall to fire and the sword, the way Lanka did? And will a true Ram Rajya be ushered in then? I don't know--I am not Tiresias.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

India and the 123 Treaty

It seems that Comrade Prakash Karat is a modern-day Rip van Winkle--he and his party have slept through the fall of the Berlin Wall, the absorption of the Eastern bloc nations by the EU and the dissolution of the Soviet Union into the Confederation of Independent States (CIS). They are unaware of the perils of terrorism unleashed by Islamic fundamentalists, the need for India and other democracies to unite against this peril and the economic development that is now taking place in Brazil, Russia, India and China (the BRIC states). They would love a return to the Cold War era when their ideology still had some credibility and to the pre-1991 Indian state, when the Hindu rate of growth was sacrosanct.

However, Rip van Winkle had to wake up one day, 20 years after his country achieved freedom from the British, and Comrade Karat will also have to follow suit. The strategists who brokered the 123 agreement on behalf of India will not have it otherwise, even though the Congress and its other allies would prefer to avoid a mid-term poll.

Karat and Co. feel that their party, with a 5 per cent of the vote, can stand against the need of the hour for India to have an energy policy that might enable it to provide for its teeming population. They have criticized the growing Indo-US military ties, not keeping in view the fact that India, with a Hindu-majority population, a secular society and a democratic form of government is, because of its very existence, a magnet for terrorism of the Islamic fundamentalist variety. Let's not forget what happened in Ajmer Sharif a few days ago, or what happened in Hyderabad two months ago--those who died came from all parts of India. A weak economy, as US strategists have found and as the Left knows all too well, means that the educated are unemployed and turn to violence. The Left has often used this group for its own ends. However, the Left must now prove that it is capable of going beyond its Cold War mindset and can plan for the future.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Women in India

Dowry deaths were a big issue in the 1980s. Morchas were taken out and slogans were shouted whenever any young woman was burned to death by her in-laws and husband. Section 304-B of the Indian Penal Code has been in force since 1986, but has had little or no effect. Now, the Law Commission in its wisdom has decided that those convicted of conniving at a dowry death will not face the death penalty but will be given a maximum sentence of 10 years.



Although the National Commission for Women (NCW) has welcomed this decision, I feel that capital punishment should be the norm in all cases of murder, including dowry deaths. Capital punishment might be just the right deterrent, when a man and his family gang up to harrass a young bride to get more money and goods from her parents. This harrassment is nothing more than extortion by another name. Moreover, the criminals, who are often from the middle class or lower middle class, might be able to get away by serving half their terms on the grounds of good behaviour.


The reason why I'm so upset by this decision of the Law Commission is that there's yet another case of a 21-year-old girl committing suicide in Gurgaon. She was the wife of a banker and alleged, in her note, that she had committed suicide due to harrassment over dowry. Education and the spread of modern media channels have done little to change the Indian tendency to look down on women--most people surveyed think there's nothing wrong with wife-beating.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Bluelines--Yet Again

The Delhi government finally informed the High Court that it would begin to phase out Blueline buses by November 15. However, the government did not state whether or not it would go about replacing the entire system that has made the buses such a menace with a scheme modelled on that followed in Indore.

There is an urgent need to replace the method used to distribute contracts to the companies that actually operate these buses. There is also a need to lay down guidelines for the selection of such companies and for the selection of bus routes. It appears that there are at least 657 bus routes in Delhi, of which 311 are "uneconomical" whereas 346 are considered more lucrative. These are the routes in Central and South Delhi, whereas almost no buses ply on the Kashmere Gate-Gandhi Nagar or Old Delhi Railway Station-Ramzanpur routes. Operators prefer routes with more passengers or routes that are close to their offices or homes, so that it is easy for them to manage and control routes.

So even though the state government has promised the High Court that it will remove Bluelines from city roads, it has yet to come up with a viable form of public transport that will be reasonably priced and easily available to all Dilliwallahs.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

An Alternative to Ragging

While I was researching the article on ragging that I published yesterday, I came across this website dedicated to end ragging. Some of the first-hand accounts included are truly appalling--several authors have refused to reveal their names. And no wonder--after the invasion of personal space and the humiliation that they had to go through as a part of "good, clean fun," anyone would shy away from revealing their names.

What is apparent immediately from the accounts of ragging furnished by victims is that a lot of it is sexual in nature--there are stories of LSR hostellers being asked to make love to a pillow, pretending it is their boyfriend or freshers in mens'-only hostels being asked to enact homosexual love scenes, playing the passive partner. I've also heard of the son of a family friend suffering a nervous breakdown after one such session. Of course, we Indians have a troubled relationship with sexuality--we've been brought up on Victorian hypocrisy and cannot talk openly and honestly about many things. So sexuality becomes another weapon with which to beat someone weaker or younger.

Instead of relating in such adverserial and harmful ways to ones' juniors, why don't students' unions set up orientation committees, to enable freshers new to the city and the campus to fit in with student life in a college or university? This will enable the union and senior students to play a positive role in the lives of their juniors. This is a policy that should be followed in hostels also.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Over the Top Ragging

Everyone's either done it or been a victim of it--ragging, that is. When done and taken in the right spirit, it can enable freshers and their seniors to bond over bouts of verbal sparring. When taken too far, it can lead to hospitalization and suspension or rustication.

In this case, eight girls who were students of the Institute of Hotel Management, Bhopal, chose to rag 17 juniors, two of whom were made to stand for hours while being abused and asked embarrasing questions. All eight were arrested by the police but released on bail.

There are other incidents that have taken place in the last few days--the ragging incident at St. Stephen's, euphemistically named a prank--comes to mind. Evidently, four senior students of the college sprayed a junior with deodorant and lit a match. The junior ended up with burns on his hands and knees.

In worst case scenarios, ragging can even lead to physical or sexual abuse and exploitation, sending the traumatised victim to years in a hospital or mental asylum, if not to the morgue as a suicide.

There are many people in our midst who think that acts of sadistic cruelty against their juniors or their inferiors proves their superiority. Such acts merely show the depths to which they're prepared to descend to feed their warped need to be seen as bigger, stronger, superior.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Blueline Menace Continues to Haunt Delhi

So, another seven people have been killed by a speeding Blueline bus. Nothing's new--the government offers compensation, the opposition tries to make hay from personal tragedies and the High Court demands action--another political drama carries on in Delhi. And the rumors grow--of money changing hands, of 82 out of the 88 killer drivers being back on the roads and of a Blueline that was given the all-clear on 7th July this year being the vehicle that caused the accident.
Why doesn't the state government examine the public surface transport policies successfully followed by other cities in India and the world and try and emulate these? Some cities mentioned include Indore, Bogota and Curitiba. Curitiba in Brazil has an integrated transport network managed by a state-owned company. The buses are owned by 16 private companies that were given permits for different routes through an open bid system. None of the buses are over ten years old--this rule is enforced by the law courts. The state-owned company monitors and co-ordinates the system, sets the fares ensuring that the private companies make a profit, while providing enough to pay salaries, enable maintenance and allow for the depreciation of buses included in the fleet. The bus fares fund the system, which is NOT state-subsidized. Bus operators make profits based on the kilometers assigned to them, not on the number of passengers they carry.
The Bogota Transmilenio System is based on the Curitiba model, but with an independent regulator managing the system. However, the performance norms adhered to are set by the government. Private consortiums bid for routes and the bidder with the best offer is given the permit. Finances are managed by another organization, which also appoints the ticket collectors on the buses. Once the government dues have been deducted from the fares collected, the money is handed over to the consortium. Representatives also act as watchdogs for the driver. Buses ply in separate lanes.
The Indore Bus Service, which was introduced two years ago, is based on a public-private partnership model, where the fleet is owned by private operators but the regulatory and policy decision functions are performed by a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) of the state government. The SPV also fixes fares and timetables. The low-floored buses are fitted with GPS-based tracking devices that ensure that buses run on designated routes, stop at designated stops and stick to the timetable. Bus stops are fitted with information boards that provide details of the next bus on the route. An automatic ticketing machine gives out tickets for cash. At the end of the day, all buses are parked at a depot provided by the government, which features facilities for maintenance and repair. Buses are checked every day and maintenance is performed at night. The company is paid a monthly premium by the bus operators--it also receives revenues from the advertising it carries and the passes it sells. The bus operators make their money from the fares--they also receive a share of the advertising revenue generated and the bus passes sold.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

The Blueline Menace

Asking the Delhi CM to resign over her transport minister's inability to solve the Blueline issue is no solution, and the BJP should know that. Many solutions have been tried so far--the latest, which kept the Bluelines off the city roads for many days, was to look for non-existent speed governors on buses.

However, we all know the reason why the Blueline menace continues to haunt Delhi commuters--the state government and state transport officials have no properly defined policy to select suitable Blueline operators. Anyone who owns at least five buses and is willing to grease palms can apply to run a Blueline fleet. These people are unable to train their drivers or conductors, maintain the buses in good condition or run the buses on the busiest routes. You often see people hanging out of the doors of Blueline buses, or hanging on by their fingertips as they ride on the back (literally!) of the bus.

In case the Delhi government fails to check its officials from taking bribes when issuing surface transport contracts, the people of Delhi will have no other option but to take the case to the courts and demand that only reputed companies with a service-oriented outlook be given contracts to run Blueline buses. They should also demand compensation for the loss of loved ones, not just from operators of Blueline fleets but from the Delhi state government, to punish it for running such a poor surface transport service.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

India and Pakistan--Lost at Birth?

Just think about this coincidence--as Mr. Jagdish Tytler was being given a "clean chit" for his participation in the 1984 riots by the CBI, General Pervez Musharraf was absolving Ms. Benazir Bhutto and her spouse, Mr. Asif Zardari, of all corruption charges. So does this mean that justice, like political alliances, is also a matter of convenience? What about a scientific investigation of crimes, trial according to due process of law and conviction or accquital by a court of law? This disregard for the law and due process leads to lawlessness and vigilanteism, if not an encouragement of the J. Edgar Hoover style of political management--get some evidence on your political opponents, so that you control them.

It seems that politicians, whether they dress in khadi, silk or khaki, share a similar disrespect for all legal forms and niceties. When they are in power, they act as though they are not just the law, but beyond it. They misuse the law as a weapon against their political opponents. The Mayawati-Mulayam Singh Yadav vendetta is an example of this scenario. No one can be sure that Mayawati, who says that the recruitment procedure to the UP police was mismanaged during Mulayam's tenure, is acting in good faith or not. This is because we all know how partisan UP politics is--if Mulayam favoured a particular policy, it is likely that Mayawati will want a 360 degree turn when she comes to power.

This happens at the national level also. Look at the 123 agreement, signed between the US and India. While the BJP was in power, it did its utmost to improve Indo-US relations, despite the 1998 Pokhran tests. In fact, the BJP did its utmost to establish the fact that India and the US, not India and Pakistan, were natural allies in the war against terror. However, this did not stop them from criticizing the 123 agreement.

Why is it so difficult for politicians on the subcontinent to look beyond their petty political interests and focus on the national or state interest? This is the land in which the Bhagavad Gita is considered holy--the Gita states that focusing on the fruits of an action is beyond the scope of individuals--they should only focus on the action itself. This obsessive focus on petty individual, dynastic or party goals and interests in preference to wider provincial or national goals is demeaning.

Friday, 5 October 2007

The "Speediness" of Justice in India

To take off from what I said yesterday--if it took a DM's widow 13 years to get justice for her murdered husband, how long would it take an ordinary citizen to get justice? Answer: maybe 24 years, give or take a year. Let's take an example--the 1984 riots. If this had been any other country, say the US or the UK, where a hate crime was perpetrated against a minority community, it would have taken at the most a few days to arrest the perpetrator and a few months for trial and conviction. However, the victims of the 1984 riots are still in the process of moving the High Court to charge one Shri Jagdish Tytler with incitement to riot, because the CBI has given him a clean chit!

The excessively long time taken between the investigation of a case and its trial mean that the defendant's representatives have a lot of time to get witnesses to change their testimony, as seen in a very well-known case involving a BMW allegedly driven by an industrialist that ran over and killed a few ordinary men coming home from work one foggy New Year's eve. The police were actually able to follow the trail of blood left by the car as it was driven to a house, to be cleaned, and as its occupants were about to flee. However, the eight years that it took for the case to come to trial were enough to turn every prosecution witness (except one man) hostile. This man was evidently dropped from the list of prosecution witnesses by the lawyer concerned, because he was seen as being "friendly to the defendant." An investigation carried out by a television network says otherwise.

Or what of the model who was shot in full public view of the creme de la creme of Delhi's fashion fraternity? Has her killer been brought to justice or has he escaped, using his political connections? Journalistic investigations revealed how money was paid out, how the Delhi police used its powers to intimidate witnesses and how the judiciary failed to ask the right questions. This miscarriage of justice enabled a murderer and his associates to walk free.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Violence in Indian Society

Notice the stories that made it to the front page of the papers today? An ex-MP and an ex-MLA were convicted in the murder of the DM of Gopalganj some 13 years after the crime. This shows how slowly our legal system works to grant justice in a case of murder--what if the victim had been Mr. Everyman instead of a bureaucrat? And it also shows how much our politicians, who are entrusted with the drafting of legislation, respect the legal system--they evidently believe that they, and all their family members, should be exempt from the due processes of law.

Another story that made it to the headlines in the local section involved a driver who attacked a woman who reprimanded him for driving in the wrong lane. Evidently, people who react in this manner suffer from a mental illness, which is not diagnosed in time, because complaining of a mental illness itself causes the patient to face social stigma. So the diagnosis and treatment can only take place after the crime has occured.

Another horrific crime involved the rape and beating administered to a six-year-old, who was taken out of her bedroom while asleep by the perpetrator, who knew that her parents, sleeping nearby, did not lock their door at night. Anyone who can treat a child in such a barbaric fashion deserves the full severity of the legal process. I cannot imagine how sick such a person must be to ill-treat a child.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Unnatural Cruelty towards Schoolchildren

What's happened to schoolteachers in Delhi? Why are kids in today's schools being forced to strip naked for not doing their homework (this at best requires a rap across the knuckles if it happens once or a visit to the principal and a chat with the parents if it happens frequently) or being beaten up so badly that they end up in hospital?

The Delhi CM has set up a committee to look into the issue of corporal punishment, but honestly, some of the punishments meted out to school children best resemble the treatment given to Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib! I'm sure kids can be extremely exasperating, cheeky and prone to do what they're NOT supposed to do, especially when they're in groups of forty and over, but I've always thought the maximum punishment to be meted out by the teacher was to make the child stand in the corner, with his or her face towards the wall or do extra work after school hours. I always felt that if one responded to kids the way Herod did, one was automatically disqualified from the duties of a schoolteacher.

However, it appears I'm mistaken. And somehow, I'm not surprised. Many friends have often asked me why I never chose to take up teaching as a career, until I told them that one of my first jobs (once I completed my course at University) was that of a tutor to a young boy with a learning disability (dyslexia). He was a bright, articulate chap, until you put a book into his hands, when he seemed to lose all interest. His father's advice was to hit him with a hockey stick to make him study. If this is the response that most parents have to the problems their children face, how can we make any progress?

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

On Gandhiji's Birthday

The Mahatma, God bless him, came up with many innovative strategies to fight a mighty imperial power--satyagrahas and fasts unto near death being some of the more memorable. It seems many of his innovative strategies are being misused by our modern-day politicians for their narrow political ends. So Mr. Karunanidhi decides he and his followers will go on a fast unto death to get their political agenda moving. Luckily, the Supreme Court stepped in to stop the bandh, but the fast carried on.

The Mahatma's ideas on civil disobedience were inspired by Thoreau, who himself refused to pay a local tax that would be used to finance the creation of a militia to fight Mexico and increase the extent of US territory then `controlled by the pro-slavery states.

There has to be some means whereby politicians are prevented from misusing such tactics, because the assumption amongst us lesser mortals is that if someone uses tactics once used by the Mahatma, he or she is fighting for a goal that would benefit all of India. This does not happen to be the case nowadays.

Is there no means whereby political parties can be prevented or restrained from using such disruptive strategies (bandhs, fasts, riots, damage to public property) and encouraged to use a more constitutional means to put their case before the public? For instance, why have politicians lost the art of debate--an ability to put forth their case logically before the public? Why do TV programmes that feature people holding widely divergent opinions, turn into shouting matches?
Why don't the political cadres who burn public transport vehicles get arrested or pay a fine for their destructive behaviour? This country needs public transport--it does not need people who destroy these vehicles. Why aren't such people sent to Siachen, where their destructive tendencies could be used to defend their country?

Monday, 1 October 2007

Politicians and Bandhs

Why do politicians have such a mania for disrupting the lives of ordinary people? As it is, they do their best to disrupt the sittings of the various legislative bodies to which they've been elected. They behave in a manner that has even shocked unruly schoolchildren, taken to see parliament or state assemblies in session. Then they add to the fun and games by making it impossible for the rest of the country to function!

And no politician is an exception--from the VHP, which recently had a bandh to protest the treatment of Lord Rama as a mythological entity, to the DMK, which is in a sulk because the Sethusamudram project has been put into a deep freeze. What's with these guys--can't they let us get on with our lives and earn some money so that we can pay the taxes to keep our rulers in the style to which they have become accustomed since Independence?

Most of the politicians now in power have never done an honest day's work in their lives--the PM, who worked as an economist, being an honourable exception. Most of the men and women who followed Gandhiji into the wilderness to fight for freedom were well-educated and professionally qualified--this present lot appear to have spent more time learning to raise a ruckus than to do something constructive with their time. No wonder most middle-class people unfortunately avoid involvement in politics--they are the reasonable, sane alternative to the unprogressive hordes now in power. One might deride middle class values as bourgeois or passe, but ultimately, in a society where the economy is growing, the growth of the middle class might bring about some kind of progress, social and political, as well as economic. Let the CPI(M) dream on of a workers' paradise and all that--even a Socialist society is impossible without some capitalism and economic growth!

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I work as a freelance editor and writer in New Delhi. 

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