Monday, February 27, 2012

The dawn of the theocratic age

As globalization accelerates and the barriers between countries fade, countries tend to cling to their culture and traditions. This has led to the rampant growth of fundamentalism across the world. Constant watchfulness and paranoia in governments has led to acts like SOPA, PIPA and CCTVs on every corner. It is turning states into cowards that bow down to fear and are way too willing to give up freedom in the name of security.

This leads governments to believe that they must eliminate any sort of threat to security, avoid controversy and play nice with all the minorities—especially when elections are around the corner. At the end of last year, we saw the SlutWalk being canceled in Bangalore as right-wing politicians decided they would never let something that would promote “cheap morals” take place in their state. They failed to understand that the walk was a rally to raise awareness about the real cause of rape and champion women’s rights.

Similarly, at the beginning of the year we saw the vice chancellor of Bangalore University blaming the way women dress for the crimes against women. She claimed that some women’s “inappropriate” clothing was the reason they are raped and asked how Indian men could be expected to close their eyes.

In the second week of January we even had the United States coming out with bills like SOPA and PIPA that would curb the freedom of the Internet and control content that one can view and post online.

If we view the Salman Rushdie incident in this light, it’s not an isolated incident, but just India following the new wave of theocracy that seems to have engulfed the world.

The Jaipur police actually invented an assassination threat to keep the author away from the festival. It is the same way we lost one of the other brilliant artists of our country—M.F. Hussain. I agree our country has a history of banning anything that has a slight hint of controversial content that might offend the sensibilities of the right-wing minorities.

This seems to be a first though—faking a threat to keep someone away from a literature festival. This incident I think has formally ushered in the theocratic age in India. The way the world is behaving today is shameful—we are running around like headless chickens under the umbrella of “protection” that the government offers us.

Like all the ages the world has seen this is the dawn of the ice age of our intelligence, sensibility and soon freedom. Living in fear is as good as not living at all.

“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold,” Helen Keller said. I think we should pay heed before we lose control of everything, including our thoughts.

Originally published here

Is death penalty justified?

There are many points to be kept in mind when trying to answer this question. I personally am of the opinion that it is justified. I think crimes of a particular nature are committed with the awareness of the consequences and if you are aware of the consequences of your actions then you should also be willing to face the repercussions.

If the punishment for a particular crime is death penalty according to the constitution of India, then I feel it should be awarded. If you find cause to question the fulfillment of death penalty then you can surely find cause to question every part of the constitution and raise objections and send petitions to the president not just to repeal death penalty but anything for that matter.

Your right to freedom of expression is guaranteed in the constitution, among others that we fight for so passionately then if someone commits a heinous crime then we should fight with equal passion that they be given the punishment they are entitled.

If you take a look at the crime rate in India and compare it to a country where death penalty is awarded for certain crime you will see that there is a relation between the crime rate and whether death penalty is awarded or not. One such country is Singapore which has a very low crime rate. In 2010 for every 100,000 people there were 650 crimes.

In India if the same is applied I think that there will be a decrease in the amount of crime. It will act as deterrent. If you want to take right to life in consideration then with certain rights also come responsibilities. If you do not respect someone else right to life then why should the constitution protect your right to life.

Some love lost

If you look at the way communities exist, there has been a change over the past few years. A few years ago you had people who knew their neighbors, doors were never locked, you were always welcome. Now people live in matchbox apartments, no one knows their next door neighbors, let alone the guy who lives down the block.

Communities now mean a whole different thing, certain civil movements, kitty party groups, people that belong to the same institutions, ‘communities’ on social media, are becoming the new faces of the word community.

Community, which referred to a larger gathering of people grouped together on the basis of beliefs, geography or whatever else, now has morphed into these mini communities that have many factors that define and sub-divide them.

Communities and festivals are closely interlinked, so if there is a change in the pattern of community there will definitely be a change in the way festivals are celebrated.

Festivals not only involve religious ones but all ones that are celebrated by the community at large such as Sankranti, Bonderam and the like. Communities used to be the driving force behind these festivals and were involved in every single aspect of it. Everyone was involved stretching across age groups, castes and religions.

Of late we have literature, film, food, wine, music and college events being termed as festivals as well. This fits very well with the way society is breaking itself down into mini communities.

This may all be very well and good, as society evolves and grows so do its communities and the way it celebrates its festivals and the kind of things it celebrates.

So if you look at the way the older festivals are celebrated you would notice certain changes. Things have gone from being public to private, available to a certain group, sometimes even at a certain price.

Newer arrivals are mostly private events that have commercial sponsors and cater to select communities. Some start off as public events that wish to reach out to all, for the community in the traditional sense of the word. Sadly these too are bitten by the capitalist bug sooner or later, an example of this is the Bangalore Habba.

This year the festival went on almost unseen and unheard by the public. You could call it a blink and you miss it affair. Festival regulars didn’t hear of it till the festival was over.

If we are to make a comparison between the festivals that were and the ones that are you can say that these lack the ability to hold an audience or should I say community captive for very long. They lack community involvement and hence fade away soon enough.

I have had the opportunity to witness this happen in my own short lifespan as well. I first moved to Goa permanently when I was nine years old, and it would be the first time I would be in the state for the infamous carnival.

I was thrilled to bits as any young child would be, it was my first carnival, one of many to come I thought.

So much color, splendor and fervor on the street was something I had never witnessed before in the stiff upper lipped Gulf. The best part of it all was I knew people that were participating. They smiled and waved, threw sweets into the crowd, and the next day I could tell people at school I knew the girl in the pink panther float.

Fast forward to ten years later, my love for the carnival died about the same time the Tuborg and other liquor companies had floats instead of my next door neighbor. The tacky colors were not bearable anymore as they meant nothing. The love, care and joy which went into making the event happen had vanished.

Floats were not made by families but designed by professionals, dance troupes were hired to plaster grins on their faces and jump about.

Youngsters use it as an excuse to be drunk in large numbers, in broad daylight on the main streets of their city. That is all it means any more, publicity for companies, intoxication for the youth and a free tee shirt if you are lucky enough to have one thrown at you, just about missing your face.

This is the situation not just with the carnival but with about every festival that exists in Goa and I am sure this is the case in other states as well.

We need to come to terms with the fact that there won’t be another Woodstock or festivals that had the same spirit because for anything to take place today it needs to be commercially viable. People are not willing to get out of their comfort zones to save the festivals they loved once upon a time.

I know what you did last summer

I saw you wearing that Anna Hazare cap

Last summer, as the temperatures rose, you saw Anna Hazare play Piped Piper to the disgruntled Indian masses. Fed up with the government and corruption, they flocked to him, their quick fix messiah. We might question his methods, but an anti-corruption movement seemed to be the need of the hour.

One may ask, why was Anna’s fast different from that of Irom Sharmillas’s which goes on even after a decade. It is actually quite simple. Anna offered a solution for the corruption that permeates every level of the Indian bureaucracy, something that claims it will change the way India’s politics are forever.
Bribery and corruption are conjoint twins, they exist and flourish together. Corruption seen in India exists because of bribery and people’s willingness to pay to get what they want and twist law’s arm.

Buying into this, a large section of Indian society came out on to the streets and rallied against corruption for months together. This leaves the Indian government in quite a fix: How do they pass a bill that undermines the constitution and the entire functioning of the government?

After the string of scams that came up in the last few years, the public unwilling to let it slide easily. Although months have passed and it is true that the movement has simmered down, it is far from forgotten.

So what are they to do, our poor government? Well, they have a few options, the most plausible ones being coming up with their own version of the Jan Lokpal or putting the constitution to better use.

One might say we already use the constitution, what is this journalist on? Let me explain: Our constitution has been touted as one of the best in the world. Yet, we conveniently find the tiniest loopholes to get out of situations. If we enforced the constitution in its absolute form, it would help a large deal.

Contrary to popular belief, the provisions in our constitution that are meant to tackle corruption are actually quite impressive. How can one have faith in something that has existed all this while and still lands us in the position we are in today.

The solution lies in restoring people’s belief in the constitution again. Use constitutional remedies to fix the scams that have been discovered instead of dragging proceedings on for a long time till people lose faith in the legislative system as well. This is one of the problems with the constitutional solutions to corruption: The criminal justice system functions at the pace of a wounded snail.
Another problem with using judicial means to tackle corruption is that witnesses turn hostile. We need a proper whistleblower protection program so we do not have more cases like Shehla Masood’s where justice never comes to light.

Rather than restructure the entire government, it would be easier to make these few changes which will ensure a brighter future ahead for Indian politics, and India on the whole as well.

Safety: Just a leap of faith

Since the internet revolution took off in 2006 the world has largely become a global village. In this global village migration from one part to another has almost become a phase in one’s life. You need to break away from your cozy Indian home at some point and spread your wings.

It maybe because of this, and due to the competitiveness that is instilled in students since they learn the alphabet that many students in India prefer to go abroad to study. The presence of Indian students abroad is quite sizeable as well; over 100,000 Indian students are studying in the US as of 2011. An Indian student at Harvard even joked that the last time he had heard that much Hindi was when he was in Mumbai.

And since we have a large part of our population studying abroad, we would be concerned if something was happening to them, or if their safety was jeopardized. In our concern we tend to overlook certain details and pay attention to only the fact that Indian students are being attacked.

We need to look at the bigger picture to realize that it isn’t just our students that are getting ‘attacked’, but students of all nationalities face equal threat to their security. Students prove easy targets for people who commit crime, as they are often out late and can take no major action on their own.

Students that come to India face the same danger as the Indian students that go abroad to pursue education. Therefore it makes more sense to look at why students are targeted, and remedy that, instead of crying foul play and sensationalizing the news.
We can take a leaf out the book of foreign governments, when the smallest incident of crime takes place in a country they issue a warning to their citizens. So when students are applying to study abroad we should make them aware of the dangers they might face, if there is reason to believe they might.

Colleges and schools should also take it upon themselves to set up a counseling center for students that wish to study abroad. Try and have programs that will educate them about the culture in the area. Parents also need to realize that the instance of crime in the UK and the US are higher than India, hence the chances that their children might be hurt or be victims of crime, is not necessarily due to their racial identity.

Students also need to be aware of which areas they should and shouldn’t visit at different times of the day. If you look at the Anuj Bidve case, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was not a racially motivated crime. No place in the entire world is safe at all times of the day. Students need to be aware of this instead of going wild when they have flown the coop.

The Indian media also has an important role to play in informing parents and students of what really happens. If they publish sensationalized reports that will increase their viewership, they will generate unnecessary paranoia. This is exactly what we see happening today. An Indian student is as safe as any other student in that country. There may well be instances of crime against Indian students, but if you look at India you see it is no different, foreign students are targets of crime here.
I do not think it is fair to say that it isn’t safe only for Indian students.

Everyone runs the same risks; you need to be aware at all times and realize what you can and cannot do. It is crazy to live your life in fear of what may happen. We are all continuously taking risks, so if you have a dream or goal then take that leap of faith and be prepared for the free fall.

“All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous unpremeditated act without benefit of experience” said Henry Miller and he was right. If you wish to live your life with no regrets or opportunities lost then I would encourage you to do the same.

The India flavor

There was never a doubt about it, even when I lived in the Gulf; the fact that I am an Indian was never alien to me. I went to an Indian school, took part in Republic day celebrations, Independence Day variety programs and stood up dutifully every time I heard the National Anthem.

When I moved here in the late 90’s thing were different, somehow everyone seems to believe that their culture is fading away, the feeling of being Indian is dying, and we were apparently being culturally colonized.

The older generation, some of them anyway, are of the opinion that because we dress differently and our lifestyle habits are changing we are shelving our Indianness and moving over to something we identify with more, ‘western culture’.

I am willing to bet that it is a person of that opinion in some high position at Inox in India who thought it would be a wise idea to play the national anthem before a movie. I highly doubt that fosters anything but slight irritation.

What the government, who claims that anything remotely western and not in their interest hurts Indian sentiment, needs to realize that just because one may not speak the language fluently or dress in something traditional every day, it doesn’t mean that they are any less patriotic than someone who does.

I am not of the opinion that my Indianness is something forced on me, I love this country for many reasons and am proud to be Indian. Some days it days it might be difficult for me to stand up tall and say I am proud as I have my own little wars with the country. That doesn’t mean I will be the first to raise my arms up and apply for a Portuguese passport and run. If you love something you need to love it inspite of and not because of.

Patriotism to me means different things than participating in a Republic day or standing when the national anthem plays, I believe it goes a little deeper than that. It extends to taking ownership of the country and the situation it is in, not littering on the street, participating in civic movements, being an active citizen and not sitting in a corner and complaining about the government but actually doing something about it.

People say that India is no longer a democracy in the true sense, well that isn’t because things change, it’s because we have changed. If you do not exercise your democratic rights then they cease to exist. People becoming indifferent and giving up of the country is more worrying to me than not attending a flag hoisting ceremony, or listening to English music and wear jeans instead of a sari.

Politicians and other fundamentalists need to stop and dig deeper if they think they can save Indian culture by enforcing a dress code and making regional languages compulsory at schools. The India flavor is something that is rooted in your love for the country and things it means to you. I think there is no way to force that on anyone, you can try but you will fail.

Mark Twain said “India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grandmother of tradition. Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only”. So fret not, I doubt that anything will be able to take the India flavor out of India.