Mass movement needed to arrest the criminalisation of India polity

I wrote about Baijayant Jay Panda, Lok Sabha MP from Kendrapara,Odisha, in an earlier post in connection with his efforts to maintain the freedom of expression of India’s internet denizens. Late last year, he had moved a Private Members’ Bill for the Lok Sabha to consider and review proposed amendments in Section 66A of the Information Technology Act (2000) that would safeguard the right to free of expression in India. Panda is back in the news again; this time he has filed 3 Private Members’ Bills in the Lok Sabha, all closely related to the Representation of the People Act (RoPA),  that if passed will go a long way in the fight against illiberalism in the Indian society and will significantly alter the quality of India’s public life thereby giving the goal of good governance a shot in the arms.

Writing in a business newspaper, Panda rightly diagnoses “the perverse trend of criminalisation of politics and the inability of the criminal justice system to conduct timely and effective prosecution of offenders” as one of the key causes of India’s pathetic standards in public life.

The goal of each one of these three bills in Panda’s own words is thus:

“My first Bill proposes to amend ROPA to remove the exception that allows MPs and MLAs/MLCs to continue in the legislature even after conviction. The second would set up fast-track courts for speedy trial (within 90 days) of criminal cases against all elected representatives. It would bring all MPs, MLAs/MLCs and members of panchayats and municipalities established under the state panchayati raj legislation under the Bill’s ambit. The third would amend the Code of Criminal Procedure to enable independent and effective prosecution.”

In a simple and short article, Panda has managed to bring out the justification for each one of these bills. This article is a must read; not just for its clear, simple and direct approach to attempting to provide a legislative solution to what is at the root of India’s scam a day image, but also to get inspired and find some cheer in today’s corruption ridden gloomy environment brought about by India’s eminent scoundrels who continue looting the country in their capacity of leaders of  political parties, government agencies, government departments and every single public office they lay their sights upon.

Like Panda, I hope that “enough public support can be drummed up, (so that) the government would be compelled to pass legislation to that effect”. It will certainly be a test for the media if they will rise to the occasion and provide the support this bill needs; just as they did with all the attention that was showered on the Lokpal Bill. For my part, I have submitted a Wikipedia page on The Representation of the People Act (RoPA), 1951 that should be available soon pending review. The absence of a Wikipedia page on this very important piece of legislation is surprising given India’s status as the largest democracy in the world. Also, given the serious lack of propriety amongst many of India’s public servants, it is quite surprising to note that there is nothing in India that even remotely resembles a Committee on Standards in Public Life such as the one in UK that serves to “ensure the highest standards of propriety in public life”.

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Blood on the train tracks and on successive Railway Ministers’ hands

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If I were to be responsible for the deaths of 10 people everyday and an equivalent number of injuries everyday, I would be simply incapable of looking at myself in the mirror. But not so if I was a shameless, immoral and greedy bureaucrat/politician forever absorbed in the pursuit of power and ill gotten gains as well as protecting own turf; unless of course I happened to have the moral compass and integrity of a Lal Bahadur Shastri who eventually resigned from his job as Railway Minister in the aftermath of two separate train accidents within 3 months of each other that claimed 256 lives and wounded several more.

The news about the death of two children who were hit by an express train while attempting to cross railway tracks before yesterday’s Railway budget got me thinking about Mumbai’s local train network and daily deaths and injuries on its tracks. The abovementioned figure is the daily average of 10 deaths and injuries on tracks over the last 10 years. These figures were revealed after RTI activist Chetan Kothari sought details from the Government Railway Police (GRP).

The data from the GRP has revealed that on an average more than 3,500 people die on tracks every year in various mishaps like falling in gap of train, dashing to pole, crossing lines and fell down from running train. The death toll between 2002 and 2011 (Nov) has reached 36,152.

The number of injured is also in the same range with about 4,000 commuters getting injured and the total number of injured is 36,688.

Among the various incidents, falling from train and line crossing are the top killers, followed by dashing to railway pole and falling in gap of platforms.

Back in 2003, looking at the huge number of railway deaths (5513) in a single year of 2002-03, Dr. Sarosh Mehta with support from Centre for Enquiry into Health & Allied Themes (CEHAT) had filed a PIL in the Bombay High Court. The court’s order apparently hasn’t been heeded which would explain the continued high rates of deaths and injuries on tracks.

A significant proportion of these deaths and injuries on tracks are caused by a) people trying to cross the tracks as well as b) by falling off the trains due to overcrowding. The solution to people crossing tracks would be to ensure user friendly foot over bridge as well as effective policing of these to avoid misuse. The solution to the problem of overcrowding would be to increase the passenger carrying capacity of the trains as well as optimize the train timetable using cyclic timetables. Why is it so difficult to plug these two problems when the solutions to these are quite clear?

This would require a management focus on the core operations of running an efficient, safe, cost effective railway service and that’s something that these worthies are not keen upon.  One would expect that the management time on such a poorly maintained railway service with a terrible safety record would be spent on taking care of these issues? But no, going by yesterday’s budget speech by the Railway minister, such precious management time will be instead diverted towards “enhancing passenger/rail users’ amenities” by way of setting up six more Rail Neer bottling plants!! Why would a government rail utility company be interested in setting up bottling mineral water plants in the name of passenger amenities when its passengers are dying on the train tracks in thousands yearly is beyond my comprehension. When there are already so many established mineral water bottles in the private sector, why should a government rail utility get into this business? Besides, shouldn’t the responsibility of providing safe, clean drinking water to people be the responsibility of government’s water utility company?

It is a sad state of affairs when it comes to passengers’ safety and security (see my post on this here) on Mumbai’s locals. The promising aspect is that there are people like Samir Zaveri and Dipak Gandhi supported ably by NGOs like Moneylife Foundation who are working on convincing the powers that may be to take a first step in reducing the overcrowding on Mumbai’s local trains. Please go sign the petition here. But before that go and take a good look at those who have blood on their hands by virtue of gross negligence and insensitivity on their part to solve a well defined problem with clear cut solutions.

A liberal politician of India: Baijayant Jay Panda

Baijayant Jay Panda is an Indian parliamentarian from the Biju Janata Dal. His profile on his website reads thus:

“Elected to the 15th Lok Sabha from Kendrapara, Odisha on 16th May, 2009. Baijayant “Jay” Panda was elected to Upper House twice from Odisha and was leader of the Biju Janta Dal (BJD) in the Upper House.He is among the new breed of politicians who are redefining Indian Politics”

Even if he says it so himself, I believe he definitely is “among the new breed of politicians who are redefining Indian Politics”. For one thing, he has an active twitter presence (most Indian politicians do not even deign it worthwhile to have a twitter presence; leave alone an active one) and that has been largely my basis for forming an opinion of him. His tweets are fairly witty & lighthearted for an Indian politician. Also his comments and interactions on twitter reflect an ability to engage in discussions; something that the average Indian politician is loathe to, instead being ever ready to deal in rhetoric.

I didn’t know much about Baijayant Panda until about 2 weeks ago when I began to follow him on twitter. But a tweet of his today made me realize that he is a key leader in ensuring freedom of expression on the internet in today’s illiberal Indian society.  The screenshot of the tweet is as below:

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Now, Section 66A of the Indian Information Technology Act, (2000) has serious implications for freedom of expression on the Internet in India. The same has been discussed widely. Section 66A of India’s s Information Technology Act, (2000) contains draconian provisions that can be misused and taken advantage of by illiberal elements of Indian society which can lead to deleterious effects on the future of an open society in India. The following is an extract from the IT Act (2000):

Section 66A:  Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,—

(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or

(b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device; or

(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.

Coming back to Panda’s key role in fighting internet censorship; he had initiated a private member’s bill seeking amendments to the Section 66 A of the IT Act, 2000. A private member’s bill is described as below on Wikipedia

A member of parliament’s legislative motion, called a private member’s bill or a member’s bill in some parliaments is a proposed law introduced by a member of a legislature who is not acting on behalf of the executive government.

A brief and somewhat discouraging summary of the performance of such bills is reproduced below from Wikipedia

Of the 300 odd Private Members’ Bills introduced in the 14th Lok Sabha, barely 4% were discussed; 96% lapsed without even a single debate in the House. Till date, Parliament has passed 14 Private Members’ Bills. Six of these were passed in 1956 alone and The last Private Members’ Bill passed by Parliament was ‘The Supreme Court (Enlargement of Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction) Bill, 1968’ that became an Act on 9 August 1970. No Private Members’ Bill has been passed by Parliament since 1970.

Contrast on the other hand, the case of Subramanian Swamy, a widely respected economist, politician and academician who played an important role in prosecuting the key accused in the 2G spectrum scam. A few months ago, I had seen a tweet by Swamy where he threatened to initiate action against some of his twitter critics using provisions of Sec 66A. His comment was thus:

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This episode made me realize that even a distinguished person like Swamy cannot handle criticism and had to resort to threatening action using the draconian provisions of the IT act of India under Section 66 A. Also, that highly respected anti corruption crusaders like Swamy hold no promise as to the future of a liberal India.  That tweet by Swamy left a bad taste in my mouth given its implications of curtailing freedom of expression and its ill effects on a society as well as for the fact that someone with Swamy’s stature would resort to such petty behaviour.

But Swamy’s tweet doesn’t depress me much after knowing that we have a politician like Panda who is actively campaigning against internet censorship. And this definitely bodes well for the future of Indian politics which today unfortunately is dominated by criminals and narrow minded individuals.

On the road to Mahatmahood: “Param Pujya Sri Sri Ravi Shankarji”

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On my recent visit to Mumbai, I saw numerous posters like the one above informing the public of an impending “Maha Satsang” (because apparently a Satsang isn’t good enough; it has to be a great/grand one!!) there later this week. I also saw another poster that contained an exhortation to ‘Volunteer for a better India’. The man whose face was plastered on all these posters is referred to by his followers in a rather overt display of honoroficity (this is a word I have coined as a, even if I say it so myself, terrifically original response to the lack of an alternative word that describes such perverse and repulsive ass kissing behaviour) as “Param Pujya Sri Sri Ravi Shankarji”. The subject of this blog post is that much revered man himself and will be henceforth be referred to in this post as P2S2RSg.

My first introduction to P2S2RSg and his Art of Living (AoL) foundation was from a series of blog posts by Atanu Dey where he brilliantly answers his own question “Is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar a con-man?” I read these blog posts and was quite in agreement with Atanu’s basic argument that P2S2RSg was a simply an intelligent person well versed in marketing to have attracted all that interest in his breathing techniques & have it commercially packaged in the AoL courses. I did not think much of P2S2RSg after that until recently during my Mumbai visit.  Looking at the numerous posters across the length & breadth of Mumbai, I realized P2S2RSg through his Art of Living variety spirituality & volunteerism holds a sway over a substantial proportion of India’s educated metro elite. I also got a feeling P2S2RSg is attempting to expand his influence from the “spiritual” domain to that of the political. Alternatively, perhaps there is a bunch of interested people aligned with him who are trying to use P2S2RSg & AoL’s brand equity and PR machinery to project him on the national stage as a politico-spiritual reformer of sorts. The more likely explanation is that it is a combination of the above mentioned. The ultimate idea driving their machinations is most likely to create a votebank loyal to P2S2RSg that will vote as per his directions and provide him and the abovementioned interested group leverage to negotiate with the eventual powers that will emerge.

I don’t know what P2S2RSg deems as good utilization of his time but I sure can tell that he spends an ordinate amount of time meddling in affairs that he has no skills, talent or business to be interfering in. On one or two occasions in the past, I have noted with dismay the kind of activities that P2S2RSg chooses to involve himself in; like playing the peacemaker in Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Since, it would appear that P2S2RSg’s claim to fame is that of being a spiritual teacher by virtue of Sudarshan Kriya® which has helped millions of people to find relief from stress and discover inner reservoirs of energy and peace in daily life, I think he really should stick to helping many more clueless devotees of his to lead a stress free life.  Instead, so that he remain free to pursue his other roles of a humanitarian leader and a peace ambassador, P2S2RSg has delegated the responsibility of being a spiritual teacher to a band of merry followers who are on a never ending mission of expanding P2S2RSg and AoL’s devotee count by aggressively marketing and recruiting clueless people into the courses offered by AoL.

I was curious to know if P2S2RSg and AoL always offer their courses at a price or do they also hold out the promise of leading a stress free life to those who cannot afford to pay the course fees. While searching for this on the internet, I stumbled upon these blogs whose purpose is to provide a critical perspective of both the Art of Living organization and of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, based on experiences that both the creators, and anyone else contributing, had during the time they spent with the organization. The contents of these blogs are disturbing as they charge that

(There has been) damage to physical health of various practictioners of the techniques taught on the courses,

(There has been) psychologic damage resulting not only from meditation and kriya, but also from spiritual abuse by senior members of the organization itself, including Sri Sri. 

The majority of techniques in AoL have been plagiarized from other organizations and sold to course participants as originating from AoL,

(There are) allegations of harm to local communities, for example the villages around Bangalore Ashram having their land snatched up by AoL to build the Ashram and associated accomodation.

Not a penny of these goes to any charitable projects but instead goes direclty into the pockets of Sri Sri, his immediate family, and a small group of people referred to throughout the blogs as Sri Sri’s Inner Circle, who include the various Swamis and Rishis of the Art of Living organization,

AoL is commercializing a great many sacred Hindu practices and profiterring heavily from this venture,

Probably the most disturbing of all the allegations is that Art of Living is actually a cult masquerading as a humanitarian organization. 

This sample list of charges is explored in great detail on this blog here.

One can only arrive at their own conclusion based on their own experiences with AoL or their perceptions of P2S2RSg (something that I will write about in a separate blog someday). I noted with interest that AoL had sued these bloggers for defamation and trade libel in mid 2010 and then by mid of 2012 eventually decided to reach a settlement agreement with them. Apparently as per one of the bloggers, the real reason why AoL sued them was because they also had published AoL’s manuals and Kriya notes here. Apparently these bloggers continue their discussion about AoL here.

Meanwhile in India, the flock of sheep led by P2S2RSg seems to only increase as I note that he and his foundation are now indulging in a feverish campaign to increase their visibility and relevance at the national level going by yesterday’s interview to CNN-IBN.

Protecting India’s non VVIP lives and transportation infrastructure

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The city of Mumbai has been the target of most number of terrorist attacks in India. Since 1993, 14 incidents of terrorist attacks in Mumbai have claimed 738 lives and injured 2393 people. Almost 40% of the lives lost (280 deaths) were in train & train station related terrorist attacks, where terrorists either planted bombs in Mumbai’s suburban railway trains (also called as local trains) & near train stations (twice in December 2002, January 2003, March 2003, July 2006) or like 26/11 massacred people at Mumbai’s CST train station using a Fedayeen unit. One would expect that considering these incidents, the security routine at the train stations and areas around it would be the strictest given how easily the terrorists have managed to exploit the loose security routine at and around train stations multiple times. But sadly that isn’t the case at all as I narrate below using my experience of traveling in local trains and intercity trains on my recent visit to Mumbai. After my Mumbai visit, I now strongly believe that those who are in charge of ensuring a secure Mumbai (and India) are a bunch of nincompoops. These hare brained worthies have no idea of how to ensure security for those who use Mumbai’s public transportation infrastructure especially its local train network that is used by 7 million people daily .

One would think that after July 2006 and 26/11; there would be some serious security check routine in Mumbai’s local train network. Traveling in a local train for the first time after I left Mumbai in 2005/6, I was shocked to find that there was absolutely no security check routine at all at the train stations!! Furthermore, my experience of intercity train travel from Mumbai Central to New Delhi left me in no doubt that when it comes to ensuring security for the ordinary train using passenger, our security experts expose their incompetence and their insensitivity to protecting ordinary lives unashamedly. They would not bat an eyelid before spending enormous sums of money for purchasing helicopters for VVIPs but will happily let ordinary people expose themselves to serious risks and terrorist threats in the course of using India’s overcrowded and substandard transportation networks.

Let me corroborate my strong words by narrating in detail the abovementioned intercity travel experience. A couple of days ago, I had a couple of my friends drop me off with my luggage at the entrance of the Mumbai Central station while they went and parked the car. Since I had two unwieldy packages in carton boxes (comprising of two Bose speakers and a Yamaha receiver courtesy a generous gift by another friend) and a trolley bag, I fixed up with a porter by the time my friends returned.  The porter put the luggage onto a trolley and wheeled it in. We walked past a waiting area cum restaurant area in front of the platforms. And then as we walked onto our platform the porter got stopped by a policeman and is asked about the owner of the luggage. When the porter points to me, these are the questions that the police asked me:

What’s in these two cartons?

What is your name?

Can you open your trolley bag? (I did) What’s in the newspaper covered box inside the trolley bag? (I answer bone china tea set and the policeman asks me to close the bag while asking me the following questions)

Where are you from?

Where are you going?

After this the policeman let us carry on. Now, these random questions the policeman asked of me along with the cursory check into my trolley bag hardly makes for a strict security check. There is no orderly system of baggage screening to check for explosives or suspicious looking packages before one gets into the station like is done at airports and at Delhi’s metro stations. Apparently in Mumbai, those responsible for passenger security place their faith in the a) policeman’s skills of somehow picking out a terrorist in a huge crowd and b) his interrogation skills which will most expected to cause the suspect to  spill the beans or caught red handed while handling the deadly explosives!!

After this, we made our way to the platform and I board it when the train arrives. After the porter placed the luggage in the compartment, I went out to hang out with my friends since there was still almost half an hour before the train departed. In the meantime, a policeman with a police dog came over and asked me if one of cartons (containing the speaker) was mine and directed me to come inside the compartment so that he could have a look at it. When inside the compartment, he asked me to take the carton down from the side upper seat where it was kept and asked me what it contained. I told him that it contained speakers. He then asked me to open the package to which I said that I would bring the package down for him to examine it but would not open it since it has been packaged for transportation. Then the policeman commanded his dog “Find” to sniff for suspicious contents and then tapped a little too violently at the side of the speaker with a staff that he was holding in his right hand. I exclaimed that the package contained speakers in them that are breakable and he needn’t have tapped them. He then gave me the advice to stay with my luggage and left.

Maybe people in Mumbai find comfort in seeing a policeman with a sniffer dog jump up and down on trains to hunt down the evil terrorist. I, on the other hand, shudder to think of the consequences that might entail if such unsystematic and incomplete security routines are considered adequate. A security routine that disregards a screening procedure on entry and instead relies on a policeman with a police dog to sniff out suspicious packages randomly long after they have been put away for travel is anything but systematic and complete. I am no security expert, but in my view the cause of security would be best served if the so called security experts at the top of the ladder would have put in place a security procedure that involved appropriate screening procedures using metal detectors, explosive detection/X-ray machines along with a sniffer dog placed right after these two at the entrance itself so as to ensure that no suspicious packages would get through in the first place! A simple screening procedure would perhaps involve the dog sniffing at the packages one after the other while the travelers come in a straight line. I bet my bottom dollar that my suggested security routine would thwart terrorists’ attempts in planting explosives at a higher rate than the current official security checks loosely in place.

The local train users in Mumbai must fear for their lives; better still they should agitate against the powers that may be to put in place tight security procedures.

Narendra Modi and the increasing appeal of good governance

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Going by the media discussions (both mainstream and social) about the speech that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi delivered recently at Delhi’s SRCC’s Business Conclave, he probably has put the topic of development, good governance and its benefits at the centrestage of public discourse amongst this country’s youth. In his speech to an audience largely comprising of young college students, Modi laid out his vision for India’s development drawing upon Gujarat’s success in the implementation of various policies related to its agriculture, services & industry sectors. In the speech whose topic was ‘Emerging business models in the global scenario’, his message to the youth was simply thus; go forth and dare to dream about making India a global business & knowledge hub and a supportive government focused on good governance will make every attempt in helping the people realize their ambitions, goals, dreams and their potential. And in that process India will realize its potential to become a superpower.

It is this message that will find resonance with the vast majority of progressive youth who have hitherto found themselves being denied even the basic amenities on account of Government indifference and apathy, let alone avenues and potential opportunities that are available to their counterparts in the developed world. And furthermore Modi asserts that all of this is achievable as has been amply demonstrated in Gujarat “with the same laws, same rules, regulations and same people”.  In my view, it is this statement of his that will potentially shape the development discourse and eventually increase the demand for good governance across India.

Let’s look at the second part of that statement first; that is of achieving good governance in Gujarat with the same type of government employees found elsewhere in the country. Modi’s implementation of ‘minimum government and maximum governance’ model would depend heavily on an efficient public service delivery mechanism. Now, efficient public service delivery is a concept largely unknown in India where public servants see themselves as serfs before whom people must supplicate to get those services that they are entitled to. Ensuring a citizen focus in government’s service delivery then is no mean achievement on Modi’s part when elsewhere in India, citizens routinely suffer owing to public sector employee apathy.

Let me use a personal example to highlight how even a decently educated citizen of this country feels when faced with the prospect of accessing government services. I remember very clearly when I had to visit the Delhi Passport Office in 2010 to get my passport reissued. The sense of despondency and frustration that I felt is revealed in this Facebook post which I felt even before I visited the Passport office. And these government employees expectedly did not disappoint; the unhelpful and harrowing experience pushed me to use the services of an agent who got the work done smoothly by appropriately greasing the palms of the so called “public servants”.

Govt office FB comment

However, people in Gujarat are not strangers to the idea of an efficient public service mechanism. There, it is a living reality. There are numerous accounts that give both a first hand and second hand account of the manner in which the bureaucracy and the service delivery mechanisms of the Gujarat Government have geared up to meet the citizens’ needs (rather than of the financial wants (read bribe, speed money) of the government employees). It seems that the Gujarat government under Modi has made the government employees actually earn their money by carrying out the principal duty for which they have been recruited for; that of servicing the citizens. In any other state, a government employee probably deems her salary as appearance fees (to the office). Her work related performance fees would of course have to be remunerated in the form of bribes from the public. If it can be done in Gujarat, then over the course of time, people in othjer states will also come to expect a similar quality of public service and increasingly demand for good governance.

Now let’s look at the part about delivering good governance with “the same laws, same rules & regulations”.  Over the last two years, many states in India have implemented or are in the process of implementing what is collectively known as the Right to Public Services legislation. Incidentally, the first two states that enacted this legislation were two other states where governance has vastly improved over the course of the reign of their new chief ministers. The Central Government too is in the process of working out the details of a similar legislation. It is interesting to note that Narendra Modi did not feel the need to enact a similar legislation for making his public service delivery mechanism timely and accountable. It says a lot about Modi’s administrative and leadership capability to be able to deliver good governance while directing and inspiring a typically insipid, unconcerned & apathetic breed of bureaucratic animal that is the public servant.

The emergence of Narendra Modi at the national level can only have good repercussions for India. Narendra Modi has changed the game of governance in India in as far as it existed in the form of bureaucratic red tapism, tardiness and apathy. Also when it comes to industry-government interface, his speech seeks to spur the vast creative energies of the youth and channel it towards whichever endeavour they wish to undertake. For far too long, the Indian government has come in the way of the unfolding of the natural creative efforts of this country’s citizens; Modi has delivered a message that under him India cannot afford to waste the precious talent of the youth.

Fighting the censorship of cultural terrorists

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Yesterday, an art exhibition in New Delhi showcasing  modern nude art was forced shut temporarily by activists of Durga Vahini, the women’s wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Later, the organisers reopened it with police protection. The activists claimed that “the nude and obscene paintings show women in very bad light and disrespectfully and are highly objectionable.”

Late last month, there was a censorship controversy surrounding the Kamal Haasan produced & directed movie Vishwaroopam despite it being cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification of India. Certain Muslim groups in Tamil Nadu (TN) objected to the screening of the movie protesting that it portrayed Muslims in poor light and said that the movie’s screening could impact the “social harmony in the state”. A spokesperson of the Muslim organizations said, “There is a danger that the public may view any Muslim with a beard as a terrorist waiting for an opportunity to plant a bomb”. To add to the drama, the TN government banned the release of the movie in TN under section 144 of the Indian Criminal Procedure Code to ensure the preservation of the public peace and tranquility. Later, TN Chief Minister J Jayalalitha said that the ban on the film would be lifted if Kamal Haasan and the protestors come to a mutually agreeable way forward. Last week, Kamal Haasan reached an agreement with the Muslim organizations when he accepted to mute five scenes thus putting the controversy to rest, at least for the time being.

Both these cases highlight how certain right wing organisations claiming to be interested in how certain identities are projected in the public sphere have held hostage the performance and display of arts in our country. The former while protesting the paintings at the art exhibition sought to protect the identity of women in our society while the latter sought to protect the identity of Muslims.

One cannot fathom how such self appointed custodians of women and Muslims feel justified in causing disruption to other people’s lives in the name of representing and safeguarding the identity of their professed constituency. These people, I am pretty sure are in the vocal minority. The silent majority consists of right thinking people who believe that as long as we are not hurting someone else or coming in their way, it should be OK to act on our free will and exercise our right to consume what we choose to; whether it is in sphere of arts or ideas or whatever else.

These self serving goons who claim to represent their alleged constituencies and aggressively impinge on our freedoms continue to do so in various circumstances because they have seen that their subtle and overt threats at violence have worked in the past. If only these rogue elements were cut to size by showing that their threats do not work then they will have no incentive to keep raising their ugly heads in the future. These thugs must be taught a lesson and the internet denizens can utilize the power internet and the social media to do so. A couple of action points are highlighted below in this struggle against these cultural terrorists:

It would be great if people upload uncensored clippings from the movie Vishwaroopam and post it online on YouTube/Vimeo/Metacafe and other such video sharing sites so that interested people can see what the producer/director had original intended for all to see that caused these thugs offence and led them to raise the protests against the film.

On the art exhibition issue, people must go online in huge numbers to the Delhi art gallery’s website and view the paintings online and appreciate the same. Better still they should share these images widely and comment using social media. This will humble organizations such as Durga Vahini who have no business meddling in what people choose to do in their private lives when it comes to their decisions of consuming art.

The time has come to unleash the power of internet and social media in the form of concrete actions from the silent majority who hitherto have been suffering largely in silence or at best countering such tyranny by giving vent to their feelings on social media. A stronger action along the lines mentioned will decisively demonstrate to these goons and thugs that when it comes to discussions and engagement in the public sphere, they can no longer cow the authorities and general public into submission with their implicit and explicit threats of violence.

P.S (updated 9 Feb):  I unfortunately omitted another significant instance when a similar censorship occurred in J&K when some chap named  Bashiruddin Ahmad (who calls himself  the “Grand Mufti”) issued a fatwa against Kashmir’s all girl rock group Pragaash for singing. Pragaash disbanded after receiving a lot of hate posts and threats on their Facebook page. In this case, it would be all the more poetic to defeat these goons using the same medium they used for their threats. If someone could access a copy of their live performance at the Battle of Bands festival and share widely, it would be fitting reply to this moron who calls himself Grand Mufti and his demented followers!

Update to the previous update (27 Jul 2013): The aforementioned Grand Mufti had issued the said fatwa against Pragaash on the grounds that music is banned in Islam; however reports of him enjoying a musical performance in public clearly show that this cultural terrorist has different standards for himself and for others.

The Gandhian way of Dalit discourse

The recent Ashis Nandy controversy has turned out to be an excellent case study to document the serious intellectual morass that exists in our society today in relation to social issues. It is sad that there were far too many intellectuals who while commenting about Nandy’s remarks, where he asserted that Dalits/Tribals/OBCs were the most corrupt of all, resorted to hijack the discussion away from his casteist and opionated comments that had no empirical basis. Instead of having a discussion around the charges that were laid on Nandy by people who called out Nandy on his ‘caste and corruption’ thesis, these intellectuals even tried steering the discussion in trying to find meaning in Nandy’s opionated and transparently casteist comments.

The fundamental charge that was made against Nandy was that he was being casteist. This casteist charge that Nandy’s supporters are denying is all too apparent if one can read the full comment that Nandy made (reproduced further down)  wherein he asserted that Dalits were the most corrupt while giving example of West Bengal which is apparently a clean state because no Dalit had ever come close to being in power. The other serious charge relates to that of an academician/intellectual like him talking through his hat; Nandy did not feel it necessary to indicate support for his wild assertion with any empirical study that would show Dalits/Tribals/OBCs to be the most corrupt of all.  The supporters of Nandy, instead of replying to these charges or have a discussion around Nandy’s key ‘caste and corruption’ thesis, came up with wide range of variety of responses completely unconnected to the discussion. In doing so, they unwittingly laid bare their hypocritical and deceitful nature given they are supposed to be intellectuals who are supposed to seek and understand truth. Sadly, this type of intellectual dishonesty is widely prevalent amongst “public intellectuals” and pervades the public discourse surrounding issues relating to the Dalits/Tribals/OBCs that impede any sort of serious reconciliation efforts.

One supporter tried to project as if Nandy had provided one of his “startlingly fresh insights” when it comes to the matter of corruption and tried to explain the protests as such

It is, of course, a feature of our times that attentive reading of texts and the work of interpretation are seen as luxuries that can be ill afforded when the country is thirsting for ‘change’, ‘fast’ track courts, and the speedy resolution of complex social issues.  The dedicated do-good activist types, in particular, are generally without humor and find irony a hindrance to whatever noble cause they wish to espouse. (Vinay Lal writing in The Outlook)

Another maintained that Nandy’s comments were made in an ironical manner. I had responded to Tripathi’s article here.

In a country suffering from a chronic irony deficiency, it was no surprise that academic Ashis Nandy’s glib remark about corruption and caste, made at the just-concluded Jaipur Literature Festival, morphed into a gargantuan controversy, as though he had risen on a pulpit calling for a caste war in India. (Salil Tripathi writing in the Mint

Another said taken out of context and the meaning twisted beyond that he had made a nuanced and complex argument with the usage of irony

It is symptomatic of the times we live in, of the climate of political discourse that we have contributed to, that even relatively innocuous statements can get so easily misrepresented and twisted to convey a meaning that is diametrically opposite to what was said and meant.  (Harsh Sethi writing in the Outlook)

In my earlier article, I had highlighted what intellectuals were consistently and deliberately glossing over; that is, Nandy’s casteist bias. That article also showed the “nuanced argument” that Nandy made was utter bullcrap that flies in the face of academic rigour. In this article I will show that Nandy was only too keen to display his casteist bias.

But first, I must set the context of Nandy’s remarks to make it clear to the reader the obfuscations, half truths that Nandy’s cronies are resorting to by trying to project that Nandy was misunderstood and all of us had missed out on his insight regarding ‘caste and corruption’. The context is thus:

Briefly replying to the moderator’s queries on his ideas on utopia (conceptualized in part as lack of corruption in the panel discussion) he says any state with no corruption is most likely to be a despotic one and that he hopes that there exist some corruption in India because it humanizes our society. Nandy then goes on to say that the corruption by the Dalits (taking examples of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Laloo Yadav & Mayawati) & tribals (Madhu Koda) looks more corrupt than the corruption by the upper castes and the elite class. On the issue of corruption, Tejpal responds that perhaps Corruption is an equalizing force whereby the non-elite classes “using  their wit, their intelligence and their hunger and very often subverting the rules that certain classes made” have become successful in occupying the corridors hitherto frequented only by the elite class. Tejpal cites the example of Dhirubai Ambani in stating this.

In response, Nandy says:

Just a response to this part, very briefly, he’s not saying the most important part of the story which will shock you and it will be a very undignified and, how should I put it, almost vulgar statement on my part. It is a fact that most of the corrupt come from the OBCs and the Scheduled Castes and now increasingly Scheduled Tribes and as long as this is the case, Indian republic will survive. And I give an example, one of the states with least amount of corruption is the state of West Bengal where when the CPM was there. And I want to propose to you, draw your attention to the fact that in the last 100 years nobody from the OBCs, the backward classes and the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes have come anywhere near power in West Bengal. It is an absolutely clean state.

 It should be apparent to anyone who can read and understand English that Nandy was only continuing to further make his point wrt Dalits & tribals and not building upon the point Tejpal had made about the non-elite classes. Nandy was speaking about castes while Tejpal was speaking about classes as you can understand from a reading of the comments above. Also if you look at the examples of personalities quoted, Nandy quotes Dalits (taking examples of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Laloo Yadav & Mayawati) & tribals (Madhu Koda) while Tejpal’s example is that of Dhirubhai Ambani who as a member of the non elite class was earlier filling petrol in a pump in Doha. So, Nandy and Tejpal were speaking about two sets of people when Nandy throws in his two cents worth of opinion about Dalits being the most corrupt of them all and then anecdotally puts forth that the lack of corruption in West Bengal is due to Dalits never ever have come close to power in that state.

One has to only read through the above mentioned transcript to understand that all these intellectuals who put forth various explanations in Nandy’s defence were only trying to spin the facts in a manner to make everyone think that they might have missed out on some crucial discussions that was not picked by the TV media which then would have proceeded to whip up the casteist controversy . There can be only one reason that explains this flurry of intellectuals coming to Nandy’s defense. I shall hint at the reason using an anecdote by the man himself

If I do a good turn to Richard Sorabji, he can return the favour by accommodating my nephew at Oxford, if it were in the United States, it would be a substantial fellowship.

This being the sad state of affairs, such intellectuals are not fit to be trusted with the responsible task of dealing with public issues truthfully. A list of such people is easily accessed at http://ashisnandysolidarity.blogspot.in/ . An intellectual is supposed to be honest to himself first; his devotion should be to seek and highlight the truth and not obfuscate, misrepresent in an attempt to mislead people for personal benefits. It also shows that those who are supposedly pro Dalit are the very ones who have no empathy with the Dalit cause and are only interested in milking the cause for what it is worth, just as was the case with Gandhi who was only interested in two things when it came to the cause of  eradicating Untouchability a) paying lip service as well as b) raise funds for the same.  I have written about in one of my earlier posts here that highlights how Ambedkar has exposed Gandhi for the damage Gandhi did to the Dalit cause.

No cause for cheer about Indians being appointed in Vatican councils

News today that the Pope has appointed Indian Cardinals in key Vatican councils including the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue would doubtless elicit some cheer in the Indian media circles.  It did for me too, though for an entirely different reason. The news reminded me of a brilliant and humorous sketch by Monty Python. But first continuing with the news from Business Standard,

According to an SMC spokesman here, the council for inter-religious, formed in 1964, is entrusted with the task of promoting understanding between Catholic Church and other religions.

In the past millennium, the Pope however had a different way of dealing with the issue of inter-religious relations. Heretics, those who didn’t adhere to the Catholic faith were accused of heresy and were dealt with in special courts through a judicial institution called the Inquisition in an attempt to maintain Catholic orthodoxy. Among these Inquisitions, the story of the Spanish Inquisition is an especially sad tale of torture and religious persecution by the Catholics with estimates putting the death toll at 1, 50,000.

I suppose, with the changing times, the Catholic Church has changed and now prefers a process of dialogue rather than plain intimidation, torture and persecution. Good for them!

I had digressed; I intended to go check out that diabolically funny sketch by Monty Python on the Spanish Inquisition. Here it is:

A literally modest proposal on raising awareness about “chronic irony misunderstanding” disorder

Ok. I admit it. I am prejudiced when it comes to the writings of a certain “intellectual” named Salil Tripathi. I don’t know what it is about his writings but they seem to spur me into a response. Not that he or anyone else in the “intellectual” blogosphere, journalistic or academic community would actually care, but perhaps the motivating factor to respond  to Tripathi’s writings arise out of me wrongly harbouring grand illusions of contributing meaningfully to the greater intellectual issues of our time.

Anywhoo, now that I have confessed my sin of prejudice to our Dear Lord in Heaven I can now move on to committing my next sin of mocking Tripathi’s 31 Jan 2013 piece in Mint titled ‘Scissors and scared scholars’ .

In this short response, I will only restrict myself to a portion of Tripathi’s article which cover his attempted defence of Ashis Nandy’s comments at the recently concluded Jaipur Literature Festival.

I don’t want to add to the popular notion amongst right thinking individuals that Nandy’s comments were either an attempt to garner attention or an unfortunate display of his casteist mindset. But what I will most certainly do is to shine the light onto the dark corner of Tripathi’s mind that is the source of his half assed justifications and dishonest pieces.  Tripathi starts off by saying India suffers from chronic irony deficiency and avers that modern India is not the place for irony or satire. The irony he is referring to relates to Nandy’s remark below; which Tripathi characterises as a glib one :

Nandy said, probably ironically, that some of India’s most disadvantaged groups were the most corrupt. He, of course, didn’t mean that quite so literally: Later he clarified that the corrupt from the so-called lower castes are more likely to get caught, unlike the corrupt among the elite, who have the means to cover their tracks.

It would be useful to have a look at what did Nandy actually say to understand if he was being ironical at all:

“It will be an undignified and vulgar statement but the fact is that most of the corrupt come from the OBC, the scheduled castes and now increasingly STs. As long as it was the case, the Indian republic would survive.”

“I will give an example. The state of least corruption is West Bengal. In the last 100 years, nobody from the backward classes and the SC and ST groups have come anywhere near power in West Bengal. It is an absolutely clean state”

Forgive me but I am quite new to this irony thing. Perhaps the irony in Nandy’s comments escapes me. Or perhaps Tripathi doesn’t understand the meaning of “literally”.  When Nandy follows up in the same breath with the West Bengal example, you can be sure that he isn’t even remotely trying to be ironical.  That example about West Bengal is a crystal clear indication of Nandy making an argument   about how the presence of Dalits and Corruption are strongly correlated.

Now, like I said earlier, I probably couldn’t tell irony from a bar of soap; but I am pretty sure that my reading comprehension of the English language is reasonable enough to make a distinction between an argument and glib remark that may or may not be coated with irony.  Nandy clearly and literally asserted that the absence of Dalits from any seat of power ensured that West Bengal was a Corruption free state under Communist rule.  There wasn’t the slightest hint of irony in Nandy’s remark. Instead what is ironical is that some intellectuals are seeking to twist Nandy’s comments to mean something else than what he quite literally stated. Hope this short post elucidates what irony is and what it is not so that Tripathi is able to cure himself of his “chronic irony misunderstanding” disorder.