Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dethroning our Masters III

This post follows the previous three posts, On our Independence Movement, Dethroning our Masters, and Dethroning our Masters II.

To set the context [since I took a long break after the last post] - I see our Independence Movement as a movement in which we overthrew many of our masters (not all). As a young boy, I always thought just like many others around me, that this struggle for Independence was a fight against British. Later on I began to realize that this fight was not just against British, it was a complete revolution where we set in pace many reformations in an accelerated mode. Of course, as we all know, instant foods never give the same taste and satisfaction as the home cooked meals prepared from scratch by Mom. Though we came out with flying colors in a very short period of time, it is still an instant meal. There are still some inherent flaws that keep showing up now and then. [Moreover, it seems that movement of reformation stopped with our Independence Movement.]

It is my attempt here to look at our Independence Movement in a different light. I have already set the tone in the previous articles. Here I elaborate.

Europe, the seat of Western Civilization, went through a very long period of turmoil starting from Dark Ages, the Renaissance, and then the Age of Enlightenment, where ordinary people began to taste the pleasure and power of freedoms and went about negotiating their freedoms from their kings. One of the first steps was Magna Carta in England but it took many centuries after that to get to a modern nation.

History of Europe is history of common man, trying to fight the bondage, the enslavement, the servitude towards a king or monarch, and it was a series of many small revolutions. This struggle of man starting from being a subject of a king eventually to a citizen with rights and freedoms was a very long one indeed, and is mired in blood. Each of those European kingdoms contributed to the eventual modern nation in a different way. No wonder, we could not see a modern nation developing elsewhere on the planet. The ingredients were missing elsewhere.

In this long struggle spanning many centuries, the people revolutions happened differently in different lands. England, where the struggle started, went through a series of negotiations between the kings (or queens) and people, and to this day, this modern nation retained its monarchy, more as a symbol and not as seat of power. Russia, which did not go through same set of negotiations till 20th century, where feudal system was more pronounced, got influenced by socialist ideas emanating from modern Europe, and the revolution was swift and bloody. The monarchy ended within few days. After a brief honeymoon where people ruled themselves, the new rulers formed their dictatorships under the blanket of communism, and freedom eluded its people for a long time. France, which contributed to and received the ideas of freedom, of citizenry, of civil code, went back and forth on its promise to make a modern nation. Storming of Bastille was only the first step, but did not guarantee a smooth ride. After a brief experiment where people ruled the land after killing their kings and queens, it got back to being a monarchy. But seeds were already sown, and monarchy could not live long enough.

Meanwhile United States of America became an experimental ground, a fresh canvas to sketch a new political landscape using the skills and lessons that was gained from centuries of experience in Europe. The founding fathers of United States had many lessons to learn from history, and they indeed spent lot of time learning those histories. They created a modern nation, as a culmination of many struggles that were carried out in Europe. No single European nation takes complete credit, but each of them contributed in their own way. None of these countries is perfect, and yet they all set an example.

Many European nations have eventually become modern nations, but some of them where the struggle was long and pronounced retained monarchies as mere symbols. And wherever the struggle was short and immediate, the revolutions were swift and often bloody and a rejection of monarchy ensued.

As for the rest of the world, these European powers became their colonial masters. The ideas of freedom and a modern nation were disseminated through them into these lands. The colonial masters had no benevolent intention to free these lands. In fact, most of them were intent on enslaving the people. However, there were enough seeds for everyone. The ideas of freedoms once gained cannot be lost. They keep thriving in the minds of people, in the works of people, flowing freely from one curious mind to another. These nations under the colonial masters grew up to learn the same ideas of freedom and they were ready to follow suit.

While many European nations had undergone prolonged struggle in which monarch was forced to give up power in a slow and painful process and hence a state of live and let live has evolved, other nations whose people have learnt about the pleasures and powers of freedom from others didn’t have enough time to go through the same long struggle. Most often, the revolutions were bloody and the results not very appealing. Communism is a by-product of such swift revolutions which promised people a quick fix solution to getting to rule themselves – most of them turned out to be major disasters. Very few post-colonial nations have come with flying colors and India happens to be one of them – hence this story.

1. Monarchies toppled.

Monarchies are not toppled so easily. It took Europe many centuries to do the same. But India did that in a span of hundred years.

In a country which was seeped in hereditary monarchies spanning centuries, where ancestry was quite an important attribute to rule, this was a major achievement. Inadvertently, the British masters put an end to our allegiance to a single monarch. The Mughal Empire, though on decline, became an impotent force after arrival of the British and it was not replaced by another major monarchy. It wasn’t difficult for Indians to accept British as their masters. It was a smooth transition for people of India- we just moved our allegiance from our local masters to foreign masters. It should be noted that no people’s struggle took place in Indian history before advent of British. The idea of rebelling against a king in India was usually to replace him with another king, like in 1857 War of Independence, wherein Indians fought to restore an Indian monarch. [Rule of people as an objective came much later; hence I am glad we did not get rid of British back in 1857].

The people’s movement that came later had unifying effect that could not have been possible if the ruler hadn’t been alien. Muslims kings and Hindu kings were seen as native to the land, since many subjects could identify with the king’s religion and practices. English, on the other hand, stayed aloof, looked different, and did not mix with the locals. As a result, most Indians could easily see why these masters were different and alien. It would have been tough for a Nehru, Gandhi, or Bose to rally their people against a Hindu or Muslim King the same way they did against British. There would have been many loyalists for each of those kings, based on religion, language, or caste to make sure the king stays on the throne. The end result of British as single and sole master was in a way the first step towards envisioning a single and united India. It was much easier for Indian leaders to rally their people to rebel against a foreign master. The elusive unification under one banner was now a possibility. Without British, it is inconceivable that we would have seen India as it is now.

The key difference between the erstwhile masters, such as Mughals, and these British masters was that the latter started introducing systems of governance, legal systems, and education in place, which eventually helped India in fighting many of our masters, including the British themselves.

Many local kings were made effeminate by the British. They became paper kings, suitable for taking pictures with a dead tiger or riding imported cars. It became very easy for Independent India to completely rid of them. When India became Independent, Nehru was in charge, not the local kings.

Toppling of monarchies was very important for us as a first step to eventually become a constitutional democracy with citizen rights. Look at some other third-world countries where there is monarchy even now. Their countries never underwent the necessary transformation that could bring in a democracy.

Idiocy on TV

You don’t have to go really far from your home to discover the kind of idiocy that pervades India these days. One wrong flip of the channel, I suddenly land inside a new world – which happens to be the world most Indians are living in. Indian news channels, especially in the Indian regional languages, can be quite crappy, and give you an insight into the kind of drivel Indians are being fed on a daily basis.

In addition to the news, which is posited as facts, and hence undeniable truths, these channels also indoctrinate Indians with superstition, blind belief and orthodoxy on a daily basis, as if it is coming from an authoritative source. The whole charade should not be dismissed as harmless. It is carefully constructed, arranged and engineered to make people dumb.

Most of us are familiar with how the real news is relayed to us by someone sitting behind a desk who is peering into a computer or another document talking in an authoritative voice. Most viewers take news pretty seriously. If the news says, there is a bomb blast in Kanpur then there is a bomb blast in Kanpur. Nobody questions if it actually happened or if it was just a hoax being telecasted by this TV channel. If they said that Prime Minister resigned, then PM resigned. They don’t question it. The stock markets tumble accordingly based on such news. The stock brokers don’t wait and ask themselves – ‘hey may be, this TV channel guys are just kidding’.

So, when these TV channels talk about astrology, there are quite a good number of viewers who take it pretty seriously. One such wrong flip landed me into such Hindi News Channel (Star News or something like that). An astrologer who looked more like a college professor was sitting behind a laptop. The viewer would dial in and give details of their birth – the date, the time and the place of birth. This astrologer would type in the details into his computer. The viewer would then relate his/her problem.

Here are some of the problems. A lady called to say that her family is losing money in all the investments they have made and looks like there is no way of recovering them. The astrologer looked into computer and answered her. It seems a Rahu or Ketu or one of those goddamned planets is in some wrong house. And therefore she will see this happening for the next few months. He even asked her not to invest her husband’s money directly or indirectly during the next 45 days or so. He then gave the solution to get over the problem. He asked her to visit the temple for the next 45 days and donate jaggery and ghee. He asked her to feed crows, and also get rid of old coins and coal from the home.

The other caller told him that her health is not good and she is constantly worried about the job promotion. The astrologer solved it for her. He told her that Shani is now in a different house. She should put some paste on her head everyday and put black powder on two animals which have two different colors, bury some ingredients in the home and do some puja on daily basis.

No wonder India continues to remain superstitious and blinded.

Not only this, most viewers don’t seem to object to the crass TV shows. There is a TV ad from Reliance. A wife is talking to her husband on the phone. The wife is at her home. The guy is traveling in a posh car somewhere on a hillside close to Simla. They are talking about their old memories. The guy walks to an old monument. He says everything is the same. He looks at an etching on the monument – Raj loves Sneha – something like that. Both of them dolefully remember the great old moments. Indian audience completely identifies with that moment and gets swooned.

Nobody bothers to ask a simple question – isn’t writing on old monuments, etching on them, vandalizing, etc, a habit we want Indians to refrain from?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Religious conversions in India I

Many Indian Hindus detest religious conversions. Their disapproval comes in various degrees. Some oppose it in principle and may not take any action against it, while some people, on the other side of the spectrum, feel obligated to kill people who resort to such conversions, demolish and ransack the places of worship of other religions, and rape some nuns in the process.

Some so called learned experts, donning the robe of being secular-yet-concerned pundits, tell us that religious conversions create an unnatural imbalance in the otherwise harmonious and natural order of things. ‘Why should they change the balance? Why should they disrupt the order?’ they contest disapproving the conversions.

Some other eco-friendly and tribal loving Hindus fight on behalf of the innocent and cuddly poor and wretched people Hindus who get lured into conversion by these wily priests. They ask, ‘these innocent nature-loving people do not know anything better. It’s so wrong to convert people by giving them bribes which these people don’t really need’. According to them these adult Indians are easily conned into conversions by mere trinkets such as access to place of worship, schools and medicine.

Some other Indian Hindus are not that patient. They don’t like to lose some of their kin to other religion – plain and simple. Of course, they wouldn’t do anything to uplift them – actually they go on to protest against giving reservations to these wretched low caste people, but at the same time they would protest vehemently when some other religious folks descend down on the slums, the huts and shanties to give them better amenities. For them its sheer numbers game. Losing some of their numbers to the other side is intolerable.

All in all, most Indian Hindus feel victimized when it comes to matters of religious conversions. Hinduism as a religion in modern times does not give overtly any provisions to convert other people. In fact, Brahmanism which bears the torch for rest of Hinduism has come to detest people of other religions in tune with how most of its lower castes are treated. The word ‘pollution’ seems to dominate the psyche of Hinduism. And therefore any attempt to embrace people of other kinds, especially the lower kind, is seen as a polluting influence. In fact, entire Indian history can be summed up by two words – thwarting pollution.

The gamut of Indian traditions can be explained as - If you do that you get polluted, and this is what you have to do to get de-polluted. The other words for ‘pollution’ are ‘desecration’, ‘sin (paap)’, ‘impure (ashuddh)’, etc. One loses caste very easily by involving in acts of pollution. If you touch a Dalit, you get polluted, and you have to pay a priest to conduct certain rituals to de-pollute yourself. Restricting Dalits out of the village, keeping lower castes out of schools, not allowing menstruating women in temples, not going to temples when you have eaten meat, not touching people with feet, and many other Indian traditions or habits emanate from one single mandate- not to pollute oneself!

For most Hindus, including some Indian Hindu scientists, casteism has a constructive role to play in mankind, just like one commenter on this blog suggested how eve-teasing, molestation and moral policing helps Indians in avoiding teenage pregnancies. These Hindus come up with various theories, which Indians are good at in conjuring up where necessary, to justify the age-old casteism that subjugated hundreds of generations of majority of Indians into servitude, bondage and abject poverty.

Hinduism in practice is nothing by casteism with huge paraphernalia of rituals and customs to protect the purity of those castes. Do this with right hand, not with left hand; keep your foot here not there; pour rice five times not three times; don’t touch this with your feet, are all set of rituals that keep you pure and chaste.

And casteism’s fundamental objective is to protect oneself from pollution. Most Hindus fear getting polluted – and there are zillions of innocuous things one can do that to make him impure. The village Brahmin keeps the key to all the rituals that one has to perform to wash off those zillion sinful things one can do.

Indian Hindu has constantly worried over losing his caste status and has stopped oneself from doing many things – that could be one of the major reasons why Indians did not innovate, discover or invent anything significant in the last thousand years. Even the great First War of Independence of 1857 started off out of a fear of losing one’s caste when the caste Hindus had to chew on cow’s fat to load their rifles. Gandhi feared going to England to study because he thought he would lose his caste.

‘Mixing’ is the highest form of pollution. Mixing with another caste can directly lead to losing one’s caste. And hence you will see major restrictions in Hinduism against inter-caste marriages. People have gone onto bloody riots to kill each other to defend their caste from getting polluted by mixing. For many centuries, before Muslims and Christians became enemies of Hindus, different castes were fighting each other whenever there was a sign of ‘mixing’ of castes by romantic men and women who dared to cross caste boundaries to venture into the other.

Even in modern India, parents disown kids who marry out of caste. In many towns and villages of South India, a kid is asked his caste before given permission to enter the house. Kids in those towns and villages make friends with similar status castes and not with lower castes.

‘To mix’ is to make it impure, to pollute it. We are so obsessed with keeping our castes separate, our lineage separate and chaste, that one young lady, without thinking much said, ‘Why are we bent on polluting esteemed institutions like IITs by providing reservations to lower castes?’ Keeping our bloodline pure and preserving the sanctity of one’s race comes naturally for most Indians and that’s also the reason why Aryan supremacy theories gel with Indians, and also the reason why Adolf Hitler is admired.

Moving between castes is another major problem for Hinduism. Moving from one caste to another is forbidden. If you are born to a Blacksmith, all your future generations for eternity should practice that. And any attempt to move your caste is strictly restricted unless of course you happen to be the king.

The same philosophy is extended to any attempt to embrace Muslims and Christians. It is very important for spread of Hinduism to assign a caste to incoming people. If for some reason, the demands of incoming people are not in tune with the mandate of Hindus in terms of which caste they will be assigned, then they are not allowed in.

Most Hindus conveniently believe that they do not impose their religion onto others- and it is true that the current day Hindus priests or protagonists do not make any attempt to convert people of other religions. Hence, Indian Hindus see the ongoing religious conversions as a one-side exercise where their numbers tend to deplete while those of other religions seem to increase. They constantly worry how other religions are swelling their ranks and how, very soon, this nation will be mostly Muslim or Christian, and how Hindus will be once again marginalized in their ‘own country’.

[Continued …]

Muslims can’t find jobs

Times of India compares NSSO (National Sample Survey Organization) collected between 2000 and 2005 to come up with the following:

… despite more and more persons [Indian Muslims] getting educated, they are not finding jobs at the same rate — a share of the educated are remaining out of the workforce. It also indicates discrimination — your religion can make all the difference in getting a job, even if you have the same educational qualification. This is starkly reflected in the shares of educated among those employed.

According to a study conducted by Paul Atwell of City University of New York and Katherine Newman of Princeton University:

… [We] found widespread discrimination against highly qualified low-caste individuals. We sent out 4,800 applications in response to advertisements for graduate jobs in Indian and multinational companies. These applicants bore distinctively upper-caste names, Muslim names and Dalit surnames, but were otherwise identical in educational qualifications and work experience.

The odds of a Dalit being invited for an interview were about two-thirds of the odds of a high-caste applicant with the same qualifications. The odds of a Muslim applicant being invited to an interview were even worse: only one-third as often as the high-caste Hindu counterpart.

The evidence is solid…

Most Indians don’t know how discrimination works. They think that only rebuking the other person with insults and treating them like shit in front of everyone is discrimination and everything else is just common civil protocol. When I asked hard questions on why there are only Hindus in a certain apartment complex, or why there are less than 1% Muslims in a very Bangalore-based software company, the answers were vague and most of them blamed Muslims themselves.

The most common excuse given by those who do not admit discrimination exists is to blame the victims. Most Germans and Europeans blamed Jews for their plight till the actual horrors of Holocaust came out. They continued to believe that Jews bought onto them the persecution and ostracism.

While Indians have been given enough dose of political correctness not to say the same thing about Indian scheduled castes and tribes, they are not so generous when it comes to Muslims of India. They are quick to point out that Muslims breed like rabbits, abhor regular education, not ready to take up employment, and stay in their slums not willing give up their neighborhoods.

Most often discrimination happens in very subtle ways. It happens to each of us in different ways. Women get discriminated against in many forms and ways on a daily basis. When I went to rent out office space in Bangalore, the first thing I was asked was my caste. Thankfully, my partner’s caste saved the day and we got the place to rent. People brush off such things. Most often, those who brush off such things are not at the receiving end but at the other end of the stick where they get preferential treatment. Very few people actually get offended when they get preferential treatment because they belonged to a certain caste or religion.

Back when we were in college, a friend of mine walked back from a viva-voce for an extremely tough subject. When asked how it went, he said he really hated it. We naturally assumed he had done very bad. Actually, that was not the case. He was given very good marks. The only reason he hated it was because the teacher did not talk about anything else other than his caste. The teacher was quite impressed with his upper caste and hence the good marks. Very few people actually admit and detest it when given preferential treatment. Most other just gleefully accepted the good marks and never talk about that preferential treatment.

Indians need to learn and understand how the discrimination happens. We never seem to notice it even when it is thrown at our face. An Indian Canadian friend visiting India visited an Indian bank and found out that more than 95% of the officers had the same last names. There were nearly 35 of them. They all belonged to the same caste, of his caste. He admitted he didn’t know what to make of it. Should I celebrate that my caste-fellows are doing really great, or should be ashamed that though it was a government office, nobody noticed the absolute and glaring discrimination that was being carried out.

I come back to the main topic. Muslims are being discriminated against, either overtly, subtly or covertly and we are not ready to admit it. One doesn’t need to wait for the statistics to come- though they are already coming. Just look around you and ask some tough questions and be ready to come to really tough conclusions – You will discover it on your own.

Dawn of Indian Hindu Fascism II

Long ago, I wrote an article, Dawn of Indian Hindu Fascism (Part 1), in which I blamed Hindutva forces for Malegaon blasts in which many Muslims were killed. That article got its impetus from an article in THE HINDU which suggested that Hindutva forces were acting in the background. However, within few days, the mood of Indian media swayed the culpability in a different direction. That investigation was stopped, if there was one ever. Instead the scapegoats were found, who for most Indians, have to be some Muslim names. It doesn’t matter if those caught are guilty or not; as long as they are bunch of Muslims, most Indians are happy. It ratifies their own prejudice against Muslims who are supposed to be anti-national, different and violent, and corroborates their own belief that Hindus are nationalistic, mainstream and peaceful.

Indians react quite funnily to Indian bomb blasts. They want someone to be blamed, and that has to be quick. Indian government responds equally funnily. For many years, the culprits were foreign nationals. Nowadays, they go ahead and arrest people who could be probable culprits. The names of the culprits are equally important. If they are Muslim, the common assumption is that they are the culprits. Everyone is happy- the government, the media and the people who clamor for immediate justice and retribution. This practice is not very new.

In the region where I come from, Naxalites rule the roost. The police and naxalites are at each other’s throats, literally - killing each other every now and then. Whenever a blast or crime happens, the police have to find someone and blame him for that crime. If they don’t find the real culprits, they just find a guy who fits the bill- a poor and underprivileged from a nearby village, who in the recent past might have shown some independent thinking, and displayed some questioning. He may even carry some books and reading material. Those traits are good enough to make people believe he is a naxalite. He is brought to a police station and beaten to pulp. He confesses to every crime that is possible including assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Everyone goes home happy.

In the current context, it’s much easier and quicker to blame a Muslim for a blast than a Hindu. The common mood of India is that a Muslim can do such things, not Hindus. Recently, a guy was arrested, his name displayed on national TV, just because he said, ‘Ejaz, kaam ho gaya!’ It goes without saying that if he had said, ‘Rahul! Kaam ho gaya!’ he would not have been arrested. Everyone one wants to hear the same story – that it is done by Muslims. So, when I suggested that a Hindu could be behind Malegaon blast, I was ridiculed, and some suggested I should apologize. Some suggested that my hate-mongering tirade against Hindus has gone too far.

In spite of many people asking me to delete or change the article since I was proved wrong, I have not changed it. Since some Muslims were arrested for the Malegaon blasts how could I still maintain that article on the website, they asked.

Now, there are two reasons I did not remove that article from my blog. If I was indeed proved wrong, let me be proved wrong. That article will stand as a testament that I am fallible. That I make mistakes and here’s the proof I made a colossal mistake in my assumptions and reasoning. It’s my way of saying, please take a look at this post, read it, and since it proves I am so wrong in my rationale, go ahead and believe that I am irresponsible and read no further.

The other reason was very simple. I really suspected the whole thing going on with Indian investigations after each bomb blast. I didn’t think that the investigations were thorough. They were just done to calm down the media and the public who were clamoring for an immediate justice. I believed that what was being done in my region of Telangana after each Naxalite crime, the same was done in rest of India now.

Now, the OTHER Malegaon blast has found some alleged culprits. There were two different bomb blasts in Malegaon. My article referred to only one of them – the culprits for which are still Muslim. However, the other Malegaon blast has found some culprits, not the scapegoats that were arrested earlier. These real culprits happen to be Hindus, and very surprisingly, members of affiliations of Hindutva brigade.

That does not mean I am right. India has to yet to find the culprits for the first Malegaon blasts so that I can clear the strike-through that appears on my blog. I will continue to wait.

But Indians have to wake up to the new threat facing India. It is from Hindutva brigade. Bal Thackeray warned of thousands of Hindu suicide bombers. And very recently, few such Hindutva brigands got killed or injured while making bombs. One has to understand this. If one such place got found because something went wrong, it usually means there are ten others in hiding which have not been found. In Kanpur, Nagpur and other places, Hindus were found making bombs.

The threat of Hindu terrorism is looming large in India. It will touch our lives very soon. All those Hindus who think they will not get affected since they happen to be Hindu should learn from lessons of contemporary history. In Iraq, almost every killer and the victim of terrorism is a Muslim. In Pakistan, Muslims terrorism kills Muslims. To assume that a Hindu will be spared is a myth that will soon be proved wrong.

I fear Hindu fascism more than Islamic terrorism in India. A small reason is the fact that Hindus are in an overwhelming majority and when an elephant goes mad it leaves a different set of results compared to a deer going mad. The main reason is how Hindu fundamentalism is perceived vis-à-vis Muslim fundamentalism.

Unfortunately, Hindu fundamentalism which feeds this terrorism gets legitimacy because it is tied with nationalism, which is considered good; whereas Muslim fundamentalism in India is tied with terrorism, which is considered bad. When a Hindu is rabid fanatic, he is waving the national tricolor, and hence is fighting to defend Bharat Mata against the traitors. When a Muslim is a rabid fanatic, he is the traitor. For most Indians, Hindu fundamentalism is a reaction against Muslims onslaught; whereas, Muslim fundamentalism is the cause for all the problems.

It goes without saying to most Hindus that this nation belongs to them as ancestral property, where as Muslims are guests, who have made this their home, who have not quite adapted to the rules of this nation.

These prejudices and notions are common room premises in many after-dinner discussions in elite and educated Hindu houses. That Muslims are increasing their number in explosive population growth making babies in hordes with the sole aim of beating Hindus. That Muslims are not well-represented in educations, employment and business only because they are not interested in those things. That their miserable situation is their own doing. That Muslims are fundamentally violent and would take up arms with slight behest. That they are anti-national, unpatriotic, giving allegiance to nations who are India’s enemies.

These prejudices and notions have been instilled into most of Indians by now. The Hindutva brigade gets its legitimacy and support from such notions. The many exercises and campaigns done by Hindutva brigades are bearing fruit. It has led to Hindu terrorism. It is only the first step. There is a long way to go from here. We will witness Europe of early 1900s right here in India. And our kids have to pay the price for these harmless and innocuous prejudices we keep teaching our kids.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bandhs, Strikes, Protests and Holidays II

[This follows the first part.]

Do Indians have a democratic right to protest?

Though India is now run by rulers who are people’s representatives, thus making the people indirectly accountable for the actions of its government, Indians still have a right to protest when things go wrong. Even in a democracy, the people representative’s may not work in the best interest of all individuals and groups. It is not humanly possible. Therefore we do encourage mechanisms to criticize, protest, dissent and disagree. Citizens in India have a right to protest – that’s our freedom. But we also have some duties which we cannot ignore while conducting those protests.

So, lets’ give ourselves a right to protest.

Now, can a worker not show up to work because he wants to protest? Yes. He has every right to abstain from work because he wants to go on a strike. Can the company which has hired him fire him for insubordination? Yes, it can. It has legal rights to fire the person who went on a strike. So, does it mean a worker can never go on a strike because now he risks losing job each time he protests?

This is where the groups (and other rights bodies) come in. As a group, the workers combine forces to bargain with the company, so that no individual risks his job. It is not in the best interest of the company to lose all the workers in one go. Therefore, the company is ready to negotiate. This is how we use group politics to bargain our position in a democracy. (Of course, there are unintended consequences for such politics).

Let’s agree we have a right to protest, and not show up for work, but that we have to face the consequences of our actions.

What comes next is what Buddhadeb talked about recently. Right to strike or protest is OK. But bandh is not OK. Shutting yourself off or not showing up at work is OK as we agreed. But do we have a right to impose bandh?

A bandh involves complete cessation of all activity, not only that of yours but also of others. That involves infringing upon other people’s rights, especially those who are not willing to participate in your protest. Road blocks are one such example. In a road block you deprive other people of their rights to have a normal life. You end up wasting other people’s time over which you have no jurisdiction. You cause inconvenience to other people at your expense. This is where bandh starts to work against basic tenets of our constitution. While India guarantees you a right to protest, it does not guarantee you a right to infringe upon others rights.

What about Singur plant problem in West Bengal?

Mamta Banerjee has called for many bandhs there and led to Tata moving out of West Bengal. Are Mamta Banerjee and her supporters within their legal rights to call a strike? Yes. But can they restrict or stop workers from going to their plant to earn their livelihood? No. Many workers could not show up at Tata plant because they were compelled into abstaining.

Strikes are OK. Protests are OK. But bandhs are NOT OK. Bandhs restrict other people from doing their job. Bandhs pull in people into participating in your non-cooperation protest without taking their permission. Most often, many people are inconvenienced even though they have not asked for it. Bandhs, rail rokos, rasta rokos, infringe upon other people’s rights. They are not sanctioned by the democratic right to protest.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Ban Bajrang Dal?

India now wants to ban Bajrang Dal, a Hindu outfit which had allegedly participated in the recent spate of church raiding exercises in Karnataka, and allegedly allied with its partner organization VHP to destroy many churches in Orissa and kicked Christians out of their homes. Of course, as usual, many people died in these episodes.

Some Indian readers have voiced their opinions in newspapers while some dignitaries paraded on Indian TV all asking for a ban on these outfits. Samajwadi Party, an ally of UPA government, demands a ban on Bajrang Dal. They reason – if SIMI, a Muslim outfit can be banned, why not a Hindu outfit? Sharad Pawar of NCP asked how come we are not banning Hindu outfits while we are arresting Muslim terrorists. There are many leaders within Congress Party who would like to see a ban on Bajrang Dal and VHP.

This is exactly what I am against – this knee jerk reaction to everything and anything that we don’t like. Ban this, ban that! That’s how we try to deal with things we don’t understand. Educated and elite of India keep asking for a ban on things they don’t like as vehemently as frenzied mobs. All Indians look the same when they start asking for bans on things they detest.

I am completely against all such quick-fix bans, even if it means they are banning an outfit whose actions I completely disapprove of, the case in point being VHP and Bajrang Dal. These are unilateral bans, promulgated by a legislative body without recourse to law. Such bans stifle the most cherished right that we obtained after thousands of years of struggle in mankind – our freedom to express.

Some people say that Bajrang Dal has violated many laws and committed many crimes and hence it should be banned. If you know that it has indeed committed crimes, and if you are sure about it, why don’t you take it to court? Why do you need to pressurize the government to enforce a ban?

I don’t agree with such ad hoc measures, wherein we get into a sentimental frenzy to go about banning organizations, books, plays, and art shows that we dislike. When we do that, we are not very different from the nations we criticize, the organizations we denounce, and the terrorists we abhor. We will not fight terrorism with terrorism, oppression with oppression, irrationality with irrationality.

What India needs is the rule of the law. Even if it is a painful exercise, we need to make a case for banning outfits, and that case better be good. Let’s go through the rigorous procedures, let’s follow the law of the land, and if laws don’t exist, let’s have a debate and discussion to introduce the necessary laws. Let’s set a good example for all such future debates on bans. Let’s not resort to unilateralism when it comes to serious issues such as our freedom to expression.

I am against banning Bajrang Dal, not like this. I want a comprehensive policy on how we are going to ban an organization and let there be a case made. Let Bajrang Dal defend itself in that court. We already have enough laws in this country to convict individuals and organizations who resort to violence and crime. Let’s give the accused a chance to defend themselves. Let there be a debate. Let the evidence come in. Let it conform to the rule of the land. Let such decisions be taken up in a court of law, not in an Assembly or a Parliament, where opinion rules the roost.

Let me end this with one of my favorite quotes: I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. (attributed to Voltaire)

Friday, October 03, 2008

Wednesday: Movie

Here is a perfect example of what’s going wrong with India and its people. I have serious objections to the kind of message this movie promotes. This is the exact kind of path I DON’T want India to take up. Unfortunately, many young people that I talked to seem to like this movie and the message.

It is the kind of robin hood justice, not very different from how Naxalites operate, imposing their own version of justice onto the people, taking up a gun and shooting a guy without thorough investigation, based on perceptions, hearsays, and whims, and not very different from the kind of justice what Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia dole out in their countries. Take the gun, shoot the guy who you think is the criminal, do away with laborious and painful judicial procedures – that is the message of the movie.

Many young people seem to like that kind of justice. ‘You know he is the terrorist, why not just shoot him?’ they ask.

What India needs is not more of such heroic and robin hood kind of punishments, but more procedural investigation, and more rule of law. What we need is more people stopping at red light and not the other way round where every Indian takes law into his hands to take a decision right then and there whether he should skip the red light or not. What we need is more procedural arrests, not more of fake ‘encounter killings’. We need more accountability into our system, not more of doing away with it.

Some young Indians have justified Naseeruddin Shah’s (the common man) role in the movie. They believe it is OK to kill four alleged terrorists without due course of legal procedures, without providing the evidences, without having to prove them guilty within the legal framework. And why is it so? Just because they all ‘know’ that these four guys are terrorists.

What is missed out is the basic premise on which the entire legal structure, in fact, the very concept of a modern nation is based on – that every citizen has a right to justice, and a person is innocent unless proven guilty.

In the movie, a policeman is blackmailed into killing an alleged terrorist, who is not convicted in any court of law as yet, on the pretext that he is saving many innocents people from a non-existent bomb. The policeman creates a ‘fake encounter’ and disposes off the last alleged terrorist, and this is celebrated and hailed by everyone around him.

I don’t subscribe to such arbitration of justice. We have courts and we have a legal system in place. If people think that the system is really slow and inefficient, they have to fight the system to make it better, not take up the gun to kill the accused before they are even paraded into the courts. What’s the difference between the terrorist and the ordinary man now? (I have the same argument against Rang De Basanti).

We need to understand and believe that even a terrorist has a right to justice, because we do not know if they are criminals unless proven guilty. They are all innocent till they are proven guilty. Every accused person should have access to a lawyer, even the worst criminal, a serial killer, a rapist or a terrorist. Recently there was a hue and cry when someone suggested they are going to provide lawyers to the alleged terrorists who got arrested. We think that providing a legal support to an alleged terrorist is tantamount to condoning terrorism.

During most part of the movie, the audience view Naseeruddin Shah as a villain, who is trying to free four alleged terrorists by blackmailing the police with a bomb threat that could kill hundreds of people. But later on, Naseeruddin Shah kills three of those alleged terrorists with a bomb and the last one by blackmailing the policeman. As a twist to the whole movie, he gleams that he is a common man who is frustrated with the recent turn of events in the country with so many terrorist bombs blowing up everywhere and that he is only out there to seek revenge.

The police officers also feel happy at the turn of the events and they believe in Naseeruddin Shah’s new story completely without verifying it. All those who are working on the case give out a sigh of relief. There is a sudden change in the attitudes and nobody wants to track him down anymore because now they feel Naseeruddin Shah is like one of them, an ordinary citizen, just taking a simple and straight revenge by exactly following the methods the terrorists follow.

The people in the movie and the audience now sympathize with him, condone his actions, accept them and even congratulate him for that. He is allowed to go scot free. Even the police officer in charge of the operations goes to congratulate Naseeruddin Shah without making any investigations. The police is all happy because he made them dispose of those alleged terrorists.

Many people who have seen the movie felt it was OK to kill those terrorists because it was in some way handing out justice – a little faster mechanism without having to go through court-kacheri. They felt that Naseeruddin Shah acted in the best faith and he did nothing wrong. The fact that he has just murdered four innocent people goes unnoticed by the people in the movie and the audience.

The problem is when we mete out justice guided by feelings, perceptions, and impressions. They can be false sometimes. They can be constructed. That’s why we have a court, a legal procedure, and a due course of law to convict people.

I created a small scenario here to extend how fallacious our arguments can be if we were to go by those carefully constructed feelings and perceptions.

I would like to extend the movie only by a minute. As soon as the police officer leaves (after congratulating Naseeruddin Shah for the great deed he did), Naseeruddin Shah picks up a satellite phone from his grocery bag, and calls Abu Basha, a master mind terrorist, who is lounging in a big bungalow, and tells him that ‘kaam ho gaya hai’. Naseeruddin Shah informs Abu Basha that now nobody will be able to trace the bombings to Abu Basha since the four people that would have connected previous bombings to Abu Basha are now all dead.

Abu Basha congratulates Naseeruddin Shah and asks him to be careful next time around and make sure no lead comes to him in the next set of bombings.

I am quite sure that such a twist to the story would once again make the audience change their stance and now they may vilify Naseeruddin Shah for what he had done.

The problem with such stories is that the perceptions can change. That’s why we have a judicial procedure to take care of such problems of perceptions, media reports, and other constructed notions.

No matter what, whether we like it or not, we need to stick to judicial procedure in this country. We need a dose of more rule of law, not less of it. This movie is a bad example coming at a bad time.

Patriotism is not a prerequisite to live in a country II

I have been asked few questions on the previous topic.
Can or should a nation give preferential treatment to those who love the nation more than others?

In my opinion, no modern nation should start measuring patriotism in its people. Patriotism is not a set of marks you get in an exam, or an identity that you can wear. It is a state of emotion that people share- like love, hate, anger. A person can ask in a relationship, ‘prove that you love me!’ but a state cannot deny someone a teacher’s job because his love-for-nation quotient is 38 which is less than 50 that is required to get that job.
To many Indians, who have been told that patriotism is a virtue, the fact that patriotism is not measured or is not used in making decisions on individual’s rights and opportunities can be a bit discomforting, as seen by the questions raised in the previous blog. 

There is a case where India gives sops to freedom fighters. In those cases, it is not a measure of love or patriotism, but it is recognition of job well done, such as winning accolades for a country in a war or at Olympics. One can win gold for a country and not be patriotic. One can be a soldier and not be patriotic. That’s why there were so many Indians in British Army protecting interests of British Empire far and wide, in Iraq, Egypt, etc. Gorkhas of India continue to serve Great Britain.

Can we give special treatment to patriots? Shall there be new lanes for patriotic people, seats reserved for patriotic people, or jobs allocated for patriotic people? Shall we start kicking out unpatriotic people out of the country? If so, where do we send them? To which country? What if someone hates India but chooses not to love any other country? Should every human profess faith in some nation or another?
Holding a passport of a country is different from expressing one’s love for that nation. This is where a relationship between a nation and a citizen is different from relationship between two individuals. One can break a marriage citing lack of love as a reason. You cannot do the same in a relationship between a nation and a citizen.
Love is personal, not a legal mandate. Also, can’t someone love more than one person? Does loving your mom automatically make you hate your dad? Does love for another nation automatically make you unpatriotic? Can’t one football fan support more than one team? Can’t you be living in India and still support Poland or Kenya? 

The dilemma is when the other nation that Indians love happen to be Pakistan, which according to many Indians, is an enemy. So, is there a legal sanction or an official document that says Pakistan is an enemy? Do we create rules on how Indian citizens should treat their enemies? Why do we have trade or bus routes to Pakistan if that country is an enemy? Is loving one’s enemy or making positive overtures towards that enemy legally restricted? If that is the case, do we see any of our fights within our country or outside subside or exacerbate? Is the designation of enemies confined to international politics and not national politics? Can Karnataka declare officially that Tamil Nadu is an enemy? After that, can you still speak Tamil living in Bangalore?

Feelings are personal, not a sanction of a state. Emotions are personal, not a sanction of a state. Yes, we are all guided by our feelings and emotions. We get angry, sad, and ecstatic, as people. We love, hate, dislike, adore and abhor, as people. To say that at a certain point of time, the collective conscience of the nation is reflected as sum of all emotive reactions of its people at that time which in turn decides the legal sanction is quite absurd.  

We are already traversing that idiotic path, and we do not even realize it. Kingdoms and nations have put to death people for professing faith in another religion. Women were convicted of witchcraft and were burnt at stake. Such things happened on this planet before, and yes, they can happen in India too, where people will be measured by how well one chants National Anthem to get into IIT. Then the marks will be given on the exactness of the words sung, the accent, the intonations, and pitch, the decibel, and they are used as measure of one’s patriotism.

A modern nation has to distance itself from such emotive measures, such measures of anger, one’s measure of loyalties, one’s measure of love or hate. They are subjective, personal, and completely invalid parameters to mete out the duties of a state towards its citizens.
However, choosing a political leader based on his qualities, which are not measured legally, but could be focus of attention of the people who vote him, are all part of a democratic process. Choosing a leader because he is seen as a better family man, because he served in the army, because he is seen as a patriot, because he is seen as an honest man, are all subjective topics that can sway the mood of people into voting him to power. However, that leader cannot be disqualified from contesting under the grounds that he is not a better family man, or less of a patriot.

An ordinary citizen cannot be measured by his love for the country, a measure of his honesty, a measure of his anger levels or hatred levels, as far as his negotiated rights are concerned.

There cannot be a reward program for hosting better feelings, or carrying out certain basic duties. A citizen cannot be given preferential treatment just because he respected rules better than the other. We do not, and we should not have such mechanisms to reward people who are just doing what they are supposed to do, like always stopping at red light, or putting the trash at the right place. On the other hand, the state can give you punishment for crossing the red light. In the same way, we have laws for convicting people if they inflict direct harm to a nation. 

Apathy cannot be construed as hatred. No action is taken against those who look at the trash on the road and still fail to pick it up. His apathy is not a direct measure of disloyalty. A state should not treat a person differently when doling out justice in a court of law just because he did not display his patriotism in the appropriate manner. Someone who has not expressed his patriotism overtly in a certain way as prescribed by certain nationalists does not automatically become a traitor. 

Indian State cannot go to every newly born child and measure his patriotic levels to grant him citizenship. A person can be a citizen of a country by virtue of being born in this country. He could grow up to like Poland or Kenya. If he wants to migrate to that nation, he can do so. And the current legal system allows for that without branding him a traitor. While the kid is growing up, he could still get into a school without discriminated against just because he loves Poland. When he is about to get into college, no question is asked to measure his level of patriotism to decide his admissions status.
While the state sanctions different treatment to its people based on certain physical attributes – such as a physical handicap, identity status – such as belonging to land of Tamils, economic status – such as earning less than certain amount of money, there is no criteria for measuring one’s emotive levels, such as how much love, how much hatred, how much pent up anger, or how much patriotism.

And most important point – the relationship between a nation and citizen is not subject to reciprocity. All citizens have the same rights and duties, irrespective of their patriotic levels. A nation has to mete out its duties even if that citizen hates that nation. The modern legal system is designed to protect citizens from whims and fancies that come out of arbiter’s emotions and feelings. 

Just because a citizen has not done his duties properly, not stopping at red light, or trashing the place, does not automatically disqualify one from a citizenship. There are many duties Indians citizens are supposed to abide by. But there is no legal sanction against all inaction. Emotive issues are usually left out of legal sanction. 

A nation has to protect its citizens, no matter what, and that protection is not decided by a measure of patriotism of those citizens. Let’s say there’s a bus full of people hanging on the cliff and the state has to rush a crane to lift them. The state will not and should not decide the fate of the people based on the collective sum total of patriotic levels of the people inside it. The fact that they are Indian citizens, a legal identity, is good enough for the state to respond. It cannot say, ‘Oh! That bus consisted of unpatriotic people! Hence we let it fall into the crevasse below’. 

You can do that in a relationship, but not as a state. In a relationship, you can say, I don’t want to help you out with your hospital bills because you hate me. As a nation, you cannot say, I don’t want to give you education or employment because you love Poland more.