Tuesday 25 November 2014

An inspiration to all

As I wandered around King's Circle, Mumbai enjoying an ice cream one evening, I had the good fortune of coming across Mr. P S Subramanian, a senior citizen who has been regulating traffic at this crossing for 2 hours every evening for a little under 2 years now. 

After observing him animatedly and tirelessly directing vehicular and pedestrian traffic for a while, I went up to him to convey my respect and understand from him his motivation for this passionate drive. His answer left me amazed and full of admiration - there is no poignant tale of loss, no personal grievance that has moved him to take up this onerous task. He is just selflessly doing his bit as a citizen to instil civic sense - in this case, a much needed and severally lacking quality; ie. following traffic discipline. 

His words of wisdom and some anecdotes that he shared with me are also captured in these articles published elsewhere:

http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report-no-traffic-cop-only-uncle-at-kings-circle-in-matunga-1952290

http://dhinchakmumbai.com/king-uncle-the-traffic-saviour/

Hats off to Mr. Subramanian on his magnificent contribution to society!


Friday 6 August 2010

How do we formulate and interpret laws?


The Supreme Court of India has ruled that a person cannot be convicted for merely demanding dowry unless the demand is followed by mental or physical torture resulting in the death of the victim. The prosecution has to establish convincing evidence that the accused had subjected the victim to torture soon before her death in connection with the demand. "What is punishable under Section 498A or Section 304B of IPC is the act of cruelty or harassment by the husband or the relative of the husband against the woman," the Bench said.
This begs the question - Doesn't the demand for dowry constitute mental torture in itself? How can it not be considered an act of cruelty or harassment? Why do women need to die for culprits to be brought to book?
In another judgement, the Supreme Court held that "A husband and his relatives cannot be prosecuted for "cruelty" towards wife merely because the mother-in-law or other family members had kicked her or for that matter threatened her with divorce". Apparently "kicking may make out some other offence but not the one punishable under Section 498A".


We need judicial reforms and we need them as of yesterday!

Wednesday 17 February 2010

The Terror Within

I am prompted to write this piece by an article I have just read which questions why India is contemptuous of its soldiers and continues to have dialogue with Pakistan. There is a comment in the article about how "an entire state government machinery can be put on guard to protect a commercial venture of an individual" (the context: the release of Shahrukh Khan's movie 'My Name Is Khan' being held to ransom by violent elements due to remarks made by him in favour of Pakistani cricketers playing in India) while our soldiers are regularly disrespected by the Indian Government with the state kowtowing to Pakistan.

I do believe that India remains inconsistent in its approach to Pakistan and offers an easy, soft target to external perpetrators of terror. That said, while we do need to strengthen our response, fighting the battle within has gained utmost importance for me. When we are weak internally, we cannot hope to stand up to external threats - and we don't need external terror to destroy us when we are so hell bent on doing the job ourselves.

Unfortunately, our institutions are failing us - be it the executive, the legislature or the judiciary...and now the fourth estate, our media. Our very social fabric is in danger of being torn up by vested interests. India in the 21st Century finds itself in a cultural and political morass. We need to stand up to the hooligans and let it be known that as a society, we aren't going to be held to ransom....and if it takes an entire state government machinery to do it...so be it!

Thursday 17 September 2009

National Anthem - a tool in jingoism?

For quite some time now, moviegoers in parts of India have been participating in a peculiar phenomenon – playing of the National Anthem before the start of any movie. I believe this was a practice some decades ago as well and has now been revived.

Why we participate in this can be answered fairly simply – we do it because we are in effect made to. No matter where or when the National Anthem is played, Indians will rise. But the questions that beg to be asked are - Why do we need to do this? What are we hoping to achieve? Are we so green as a nation that we need to buttress our identity as a people in this jingoistic fashion? What is so wonderful about people reluctantly rising to join the rendition of a composition that they in fact normally feel passionate about?

My reservation about playing of the anthem in theatres is fuelled by what I consider to be the inappropriateness of both the place and the occasion for such an activity. True, it’s a convenient setting for finding a large bunch of people together. But really, that’s about it! What I find absolutely telling is the statement that is flashed on screen before the anthem is played – ‘Please rise for the National Anthem’. There’s something going horribly wrong when you need to tell the citizens of India this – and what is wrong is simply that it is unnatural. Movie halls are meant for watching movies…and wonder of wonders - our brains know this!

But now here’s the tricky bit. Even while harbouring these misgivings over the last few years, I've found myself sucked into the quagmire. Although my mind kept repeatedly telling me that I didn't subscribe to this irrational brand of nationalism, I found a little lump rising in my throat every time I stood up only to reinforce it. An important self discovery and learning for me - my mind does indeed know what it knows… but my heart's a free agent!

Thursday 23 April 2009

Polling Booth Centre

All of India has been voting using EVMs for quite some time now but this is a notice I found at my booth this morning - some things never change!


Saturday 11 April 2009

Gen Next of Indian 'leadership'

After a long, long hiatus, I am finally prompted to pick up my pen (well, punch the keys) again, the trigger being the Indian General Elections 2009.

While 70 per cent of India’s population is below 40 years of age, 80 per cent of India’s politicians are over 70 years. According to a recent opinion poll that I caught on TV, over 60% of Indians believe that age is not an issue when it comes to leadership. Even assuming that these opinion polls are merely an exercise in amusement, I find this a really bitter pill to swallow!

Also for a while now, I have been mulling over the issue of ‘dynastic’ politics. Is there anything wrong with it? After all, isn’t it considered perfectly normal when engineers’ kids pursue engineering, doctors’ kids become doctors, and cine kids join movies? Why then single out politicians? To my mind, there is one difference and a significant one. In other fields, the progeny are responsible only for themselves but in politics, ‘star’ kids as leaders are responsible for the nation. Then again, why should that be a problem – yes, meritocracy is of paramount importance but in a functioning democracy, that should automatically be taken care of – we always have the power to boot out those who don’t perform.

As India does not have a Presidential form of Government, I have to confess that it irks me no end that Rahul Gandhi is already projected as the automatic young ‘leader’ of the Congress and India’s future Prime Minister when there are several other notable young guns in the party who do not make silly and obfuscating speeches about Kalawatis and do not escort foreign dignitaries on ridiculous ‘rural tourism’ jaunts. There’s nothing wrong with inheriting a political background, but this inheritance is based on past accomplishments of the family; to not have to compete with ones peers in the present is to make a mockery of our political system.

This brings me to a compilation (a comparative study if you will) that I have made of some of India’s next generation of politicians (excluding Independents).

Disclaimer: The information below is taken from multiple sources and while I have tried to cross verify the data as much as I could, I cannot vouchsafe the veracity of all the contents.

Monday 29 October 2007

The Numbers' Game

The IIMs have modified the criteria of eligibility for CAT - general category applicants need to score at least 50% marks in their bachelor's programmes; there will no longer be any rounding off.

A national Daily says this is 'bound to affect lakhs of IIM aspirants'. Really? I'm intrigued - wonder how many students with a 49.9% score made it to an IIM so far? If it 'affects aspirants', i'd say it's in a positive way by sparing them useless effort.

One way of admitting students is for the Entrance Test itself to be the sole basis of selection. If, on the other hand, previous results are to be considered as well, it is ridiculous to set filtration levels so low (as 50% is), for selection to the best institutes in the country, that they are rendered absurd and meaningless....as absurd as having entrance tests for tiny tots! I find it surprising that marks could be 'rounded off' earlier - if true, then the idea of a rounded off benchmark was as stupid as stupid can get.

The paper also tells me 2.3 lakh applicants vie for 1500 seats at the IIMs and as each application costs Rs. 1100, they make Rs. 25 crores in this process. Makes sense - the 50% level is not so ridiculous after all!

Monday 15 October 2007

Education for the educated

Over 40% of married women in India experience physical abuse by their husbands - so informs us a recent newspaper article publishing the result of National Family Health Survey III. It goes on to say that 'shockingly', 54% of women and 51% of men think wife beating is OK.
I beg to differ. There is nothing shocking about this whatsoever. Well, shocking in the sense of terrible, yes, but not if what is meant is 'sudden and violent disturbance of feelings or the nervous system'. Dr. Sulabha Parasuraman, who spearheaded the survey says "....this social attitude has to change immediately". Words well meant ....but naive.
Social attitudes are formed over long periods of time and it takes a lot of time and perseverance to change them too. There is no such thing as immediate change in society. In the context of abuse, it is believed that a change can be brought about by greater education of women. This can only be partially true. Education leading to financial empowerment of women will definitely play a role - but more at the second step - by offering her the choice to stand up to abuse. But what about prevention of abuse? That can only come about by enlightenment of the mind - male and female!
We are an ill educated nation - and I'm referring to the 'educated' lot of us here. The great, big Indian dream a couple of decades ago was to acquire an engineering or medical degree; the current fad, of course, is the ubiquitous MBA. Got an MBA - you've 'made it'! The idea here is not to pick on the poor MBA (it must have it's usefulness, I'm sure) - it's the mindset that I find bothersome.
Right from kindergarten, 'education' has little to do with learning and growth. We are not encouraged to question - in fact, quite the contrary. The objective is not to expand the mind - but just to get that all important 'Degree'!
The alphabet is drilled into us, but who teaches us not to throw garbage on the street? We painstakingly have to learn our algebra, but do we have to know anything about social responsibility? Sure we're taught to dissect a cockroach, but are we educated to be tolerant towards another point of view? What about multi-faceted learning, one that goes beyond v=u+at? Remember ever having had an art appreciation class at school? Was the meaning of human dignity ever up for discussion?
We are, in 21st Century India, a barbaric society, and what is worse, hypocrisy is our middle name. It perhaps explains our 'shock' at all that is patently commonplace - we are not blind, but choose to be blindfolded. To evolve, our education needs to be holistic, encompassing the intellectual - scientific, creative and philosophical, physical, emotional and spiritual spectra. One cannot change a social mindset without an education that is socially relevant - we need to be taught to be civilized, learn to be humane. But, who's interested? For society to change, individual thought needs to change first. How many are prepared to bite the bullet?

Saturday 13 October 2007

A song and dance about Dandiya

The other day, I was handed a couple of passes for a 'Dandiya Nite' in the city. Having grown up on a healthy dose of Dandiya during childhood days in Bombay and further 'Garba'ed away on campus during all the college years in Ahmedabad, it seemed like a good idea to put the passes to use and make a night of it with friends (night here in Bangalore of course meaning till 11 pm when city authorities in their collective wisdom have decided for us that we should be in bed). Admittedly, I entered the arena with dollops of skepticism, but even I didn't bargain for the disastrous scene we found.
Admittedly too, I am a trifle spoilt. Garba on campus was a beautiful affair - the traditional music was haunting and the dance sublime poetry in motion. Even the two left feet types would have found it hard to stop at mere feet tapping. Ahmedabad had very little going for it on any front - and it is a crying shame that 'Cultural Stink' is synonymous with Gujarat today - but it had Garba for redemption.
So what made the evening so terrible - a combination of Punjabi music with Dandiya and Gujarati music with Bhangra being danced to it (at least attempted with all sincerity). Why was that so bad - well, for starters, even if one were to leave the grouse of any purist out of it (no mean feat that), can you imagine Bhangra with Dandiya sticks - one so does not want ones eyes gouged out! Neither did most people know what to do, nor did they seem too thrilled about whatever it was that they were trying to do...and they still couldn't be bothered to find out what they were in fact supposed to do. Such a travesty of Dandiya!
One of my expat friends came up with something interesting. He wanted to know if there are any classes one can join to learn traditional Indian folk dances. That one definitely stumped us. Where indeed can one learn Bhangra, Garba, Dandiya, Ghoomar, Lavani, Cheraw, Bihu or any of the other numerous dance forms? We are knowledgeable enough about where we can learn Salsa, Rumba, Tango, Jive and Waltz....and perhaps also Bharatnatyam, Odissi, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Kathakali, etc.,...note, I say perhaps ....but, our social dances....sorry, no idea! At the risk of exposing my own ignorance, I'd say this instruction would be very hard to come by here - and I'm not counting Bollywood dancing a la Shiamak Davar stables.
The highlight of the evening - fortifying ourselves at one of the 24 hour coffee shops afterwards. That was indeed badly needed!

Wednesday 3 October 2007

Question marks over Adoptive parents

The Law as I understand it presumes the accused to be innocent until proven otherwise.
In India, Adoption is a legal option available to both, couples as well as single men or women desirous of having an offspring. However, the ground reality is that couples are the preferred choice as adopters followed by single women, and finally, single men. This stems from the prevalent social belief that women are the natural nurturers. The Indian Legal System also does not permit homosexuals to adopt. These could well be subjects for debate, but that is not my objective here.
The laws for adoption come with a rider - while a couple or a single woman may adopt a child of either gender, a single male is only allowed to adopt boys. Is this discriminatory?
Paedophilia is defined as the act or fantasy on the part of an adult of engaging in sexual activity with a child or children.While I haven't laid my hands on the relevant statistics, it is generally believed that men far outnumber women as sexual abusers of children. Even if this is true, does that give licence to a Judicial System to be presumptive?
There are two aspects to be considered here:
Firstly, women as well as men could be child abusers. Clearly, it is assumed that the credentials of a prospective adopter will be gone through with a fine tooth comb and the process carried forward only when these are found to pass muster. The path for either gender to be accepted as suitable parental candidates should thus be cleared.
This then brings me to the nub of the issue - both boys and girls could be victims of sexual abuse. In the eventuality that a sexual offender (or a potential one) escapes discovery during the process of scrutiny, what makes boys any less vulnerable than girls to being sexually exploited?
The Law seems to be lopsided - both from the point of view of the single male adopter as well as the adoptee. It also presumes to paint all men with the brush of suspicion - a case of guilty until proven innocent!

Of historical figures and their place in time

'Who was born on Oct 2?'
So screamed the headline of a National Newspaper on the 138th birth anniversary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The article went on to publish the knowledge, or rather the lack of it, that the common man on the street has about the Mahatma.

It went something like this:

Q. Where was he born?
A. ?
Q. When was he killed?
A. ??
Q. What was his wife's name?
A. ???
Q. What did he do for India?
A. Huh? Don't really know what he did for us, but must have been something right....else why would his birthday be a holiday for us every year?

Come Oct 2nd and January 30th, reams are written about this apostle of peace. Another great leader of this nation also shares his birthday with Gandhi. Lal Bahadur Shastri is a forgotten man. He doesn't find mention in any publication, and why should he? When Gandhi is an unknown entity today, irrelevant to many, what chance does Shastri stand?