Category Archives: India

Of Rights And Responsibilities

I have several conversations with friends where we discuss various issues concerning India. One theme I usually find myself constantly returning to is the question of rights and responsibilities.

I have often bemoaned the lack of acceptance of personal responsibility in our country. We all desire freedoms of various kinds but in a democracy, rights always come with responsibilities. And what saddens me the most, is when we complain about law-breakers and corruption in India, we often indulge in it without realizing the inherent hypocrisy of it.

To give an example, we can recall Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption of 2011. Waves of people rose up in support of what was at the core of it, a group’s struggle to bring some accountability to the system. Now leaving aside all arguments of whether his plan was well thought out or not, he had support.

But support is not limited to sharing a photo on facebook or retweeting something. This activism of convenience is what we have become used to. We give ourselves a pat on the back and convince ourselves that we have done all we could. But when it comes to translating words into action, most of us fall well short. I personally know people who would pay 100 Rs. to a policeman as a bribe when they are caught driving without a seatbelt. And the same individuals are vociferous in their support for all anti-corruption movements.

And we have a habit of bending the rules and outright breaking them when it is convenient to do so and where there is a reasonable certainty that we won’t be caught. If we want to really to take a stand against corruption, why don’t we start by doing simple things like obeying simple traffic rules and not using our cities like garbage dumps? Surely this doesn’t call for anyone to risk life and limb.

The only way to bring accountability to the system is to bring accountability to ourselves. A friend is fond of pointing out that the times are changing and people are improving slowly but surely. The fact remains that people improve because individuals go out of their way to improve things. If things are to be changed, it is necessary that we become agents of change and not rest in the comfort of knowing that someone somewhere is exercising his responsibility. We have to do it ourselves.

 

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Swedish Deep Throat

In journalistic history, few stories have matched the explosive outcomes of India’s most famous scandal – the Bofors case. Much has been written about this scandal but as the Indian judiciary has dragged it’s heels over the case for over 25 years, it’s importance is in the danger of being forgotten.

So shocking were the revelations of this case that scarcely a year later, the Congress government suffered defeat in the elections after their landslide victory of 1984. This marked the beginning of a new era in Indian politics where no single party has ever been able to form a government on it’s own and has had to rely on a patchwork of regional parties to form a stable government.

In 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her bodyguards and her son Rajiv Gandhi rode to power on a wave of sympathy. He carried with him the promise of reform, the support of the youth and a clean image. Then in 1987, the worst came to pass. The Prime Minister was involved in the biggest scandal in Indian history till then.

The story broke due to the diligent efforts of Chitra Subramaniam and N. Ram of The Hindu. Chitra, then stationed in Switzerland, received a tip about payments made to Indian officials by Swedish arms manufacturer Bofors in exchange of a huge arms deal involving the 155 mm field Howitzer. Her then unnamed source gave her access to hundred of documents that allowed her to break the story and implicated several prominent businessmen and politicians including Rajiv Gandhi.

The increasingly fractious Congress party was doomed and in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections, it suffered an embarrassing defeat. Rajiv Gandhi never became PM again and was assassinated in 1991.

The Swedish informant remained anonymous for several years, operating under the pseudonym of the Swedish Deep Throat (after the famous source nicknamed Deep Throat in the Watergate Scandal). Today he revealed himself as the then Swedish Police Chief Sten Lindstrom.

Which brings me to the most important part of this post. Balls. It takes massive courage to write stories that can destroy the most powerful man in India. It takes even more courage to resist the temptation of huge amounts of money and nerves of steel to carry on when the life of your new born son is threatened.

To all the Chitra Subramaniams and Sten Lindstroms of the world, a salute. And it is important that we remember this to prevent this from happening again – a lesson which we have clearly forgotten with the Commonwealth Games scam and the even bigger 2G Spectrum allocation scandal.

But the fighters will keep fighting because at least they believe in India’s national motto, Satyameva Jayete. Truth alone triumphs.

 

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The Unending Debt

I have long held the view that when it comes to all matters ridiculous, the Shiv Sena and the MNS are usually at the head of the pack. For two parties that are constantly at loggerheads, they seem to be in agreement on one thing – Maria Susairaj should never act again.

While the representative from the MNS says, “Maria is convicted for a heinous crime and we will not allow her to work at any cost”, the Shiv Sena says, “People with a criminal background come out of the jail and become stars in television shows”. This of course coming from two parties which have never thought twice about fielding candidates who have criminal records and convictions. Apparently, you need an “untainted” record to work in television but can be a career criminal for the simple task of running a state.

And so the parties try to dictate terms to producers like Ram Gopal Varma about whom he chooses to cast in his movies. If every convicted criminal were to be prevented from working after serving a sentence, at least the Lok Sabha would have fewer scams to worry about.

The important issue that is raised here is, when does a criminal completely pay off his debt to society? Susairaj, was convicted not for murder but for destruction of evidence was sentenced to three years. She has already been jailed for that period of time and has been let go. In the eyes of the law, it is immaterial how grisly a crime and how much publicity it garners. The fact remains that an eminent member of the judiciary, which is one of the last respectable institutions in India, decided that her crime merited a certain sentence and delivered the said judgement.

But it is never that simple. As if one judgement is not enough, a convicted criminal is judged by every single person he comes in contact with. They find it difficult to get employment, to rejoin society as they left it and are subject to prejudice.

Some may say that they ought to have thought about it before they broke the law but the question is, is it really society to whom criminals owe a debt? To some extent, a punishment can be viewed as a surety that criminals offer in exchange for being reintegrated into society. But is it so simple?

Susairaj will soon pass out of public consciousness and so will the murder of Neeraj Grover but wherever she goes, the fact that Maria was part of something horrific might probably never let her be at peace with herself. The debt to yourself is surely one that can never be repaid in full.

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Blind Spot

Most people I know from Gujarat adore Narendra Modi. They praise him, they talk about how much progress has made with him in charge, they talk about his incorruptibility. They talk about the MOUs worth lakhs of crores or rupees. Yes, Gujarat certainly seems to be prospering under Mr. Modi.

But when I mention the Gujarat riots of 2002, they are offended. They think I am deliberately trying to provoke them. And it is this collective myopia that worries me.

It does not matter what the causes were, but the very fact that the massacre of hundreds of Muslims (293 Hindus were also killed), was carried out with the tacit approval of the very man who is elected to protect and serve the citizens is repugnant. With the news that the documents pertaining to the riots were destroyed, in “accordance with government procedure”,  my opinion of Mr. Modi could not sink further.

Yet, think about the roads, the industry, the commerce in Gujarat! What a champion for Hinduism Narendra Modi is! He is an inspiration. Chetan Bhagat praises him and his fans go crazy about Modi. Such are the people who are given the freedom to think for themselves and indeed, such is India where petty crime is usually overlooked and occasionally, so is murder.

 

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The River of Freedom

As a Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi was a controversial figure. Whether she was a good prime minister or merely a power hungry hypocrite is left to individual discretion. What is undeniable is the fact that she was a born leader, an eloquent speaker and a brilliant writer. In a 1967 convocation address at Shantiniketan she says –

As we enter the third decade of freedom, certain over-simplified ideas of democracy have begun to gain currency. There is a feeling that whatever the people do is right. But the divine right of the people, which is enshrined in democracy, also requires that the will of the people be expressed through reflection and judgement. Every democratic system evolves its own conventions. It is not only the water but the banks which make the river.

This marvellous analogy of democracy and even society being a river is especially true today. Too many people today mistake democracy as merely being a right and not a responsibility. Indian democracy is a river not like the Amazon, wide and strong, but more like the Mithi, narrow, meek and a cesspool of much that is wrong with us.

People I know whine about the legal drinking age not being 18. They want the freedom to drink, yet some do not respect the laws which are aimed at preventing drunk driving. They complain about the rickshaw drivers cutting them off yet they inch over the zebra crossing till they are halfway across the red light. They complain about the noise made by neighbours but don’t stop yelling out at their friend’s birthdays in restaurants.

Truth be told, we all hold some things sacred and we cannot bear to see someone violate our principles. If what someone else does is their personal choice which does not harm anyone else, what is our problem? But hardly anyone shares this view. Even if they do, they do not practice it. And the people in power take advantage of our hypocrisy and make the river even narrower.

If any of my MNS or Shiv Sena supporting friends go outside Maharashtra and get the same treatment as “outsiders” get in Mumbai, naturally the reaction would be outrage and anger. Yet they don’t stop to think about this but espouse Raj Thakarey’s views.

The freedoms we enjoy should be limited to the point where we respect the freedom of others. As Uncle Ben says to Peter, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Cliched as that sounds, we should stop and ask ourselves what we want to be, the Amazon or the Mithi.

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Questions I Ask About Education in India

There are some questions one feels the need to ask about education in India.

1) Why was I never allowed to question the actions of Indian historical leaders? Why for instance do we automatically believe Shivaji was the epitome of righteousness and that the “controversial” passages in James Laine’s book are totally untrue?

2) Why was I never taught about comparatively recent events such as Operation Black Thunder, the Bombay riots, the 1984 riots, etc?

3) Why is it that the order of preference for most parents when guiding their child’s education is Science then Commerce and then Arts?

4) Why is it that parents convince their children that success is assured only if they study engineering or medicine or chartered accountancy or law?

5) Why is teaching not viewed as a great career? Why are most teachers industry rejects?

6) Why do I have to complete my undergraduate education in four years? Why is it not allowed if I take a break for 3 years and come back?

7) Why can I not change my major midway through my education? Why do I have to follow only a prescribed path to get my degree?

8) Why is sports not considered an important part of education?

9) Why are we learning things which are obsolete today?

10) Why are there such minimal opportunities for students to take part in foreign exchange programs?

11) Why are there dress codes in college? Why is there so much more emphasis on dress codes in “professional” courses?

12) Why do we need to be guided every step of the way? Why can’t we find our own way?

13) Who said 13 is an unlucky number?

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Licence to Drink

This is just unbelievable. The government wants to raise the already high drinking age limit from 21 to 25 in Mumbai? Delhi was bad enough.

So apparently, one is old enough to make the most important decision on marriage, before one can take a sip of Romanov. Forget marriage. A person is mature enough to make an informed decision as to who will have the honour of serving our country in the parliament but that same person is not mature enough to decide whether he or she wants to consume alcohol?

The government really must get its act together and get rid of all this hypocrisy. By all means increase the penalties for drunk driving. I would be glad to see people who drive drunk getting their licenses suspended for at least a year after having to pay a fine of 10,000 Rs. They would deserve it as they are dangerous to pedestrians, street dwellers and other vehicles. But don’t carry on with this rubbish of banning alcohol from being served within one km of religious places. This is India. Every street corner is a religious place.

And the minister for de-addiction (there really is such a post!) should focus on getting rid of harmful country made liquor. It poses a higher risk than the one we get in restaurants and pubs.

There seems to be no end to all this needless moral policing. Who gives the government the right to ban liquor at public functions? Why should one not be able to enjoy a drink at a wedding?

College students consume liquor out of fashion? How stupid! thank you captain obvious! Of course they do! Nobody needs to drink alcohol. Students are not mindless alcohol addicts. And most students are not foolish enough to drive while completely stoned. Some may do that, which is where the severe punishments come in to act as a warning to others.

Please stop wasting your time on such meaningless issues. You were elected to provide safety, security, food, clothing and shelter to us and the state’s poor. You were not elected to impose your antiquated and misguided views on our society.

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