Monday, December 31, 2012

Is This What People Protested For?

Fifteen lakh rupees? Is that the value of a woman's body, mind and soul?

Our government seems to have shown, as has always been the mentality of the ruling elite, to value a dead woman. This shows how they are no different from the Taliban and khap panchayats, who indulge in somehow think that
  • Eating chowmein induces rape
  • Women's clothes induce bad behavior in men
  • Educated women are a danger to this world
There has been an utter failure of administration on all fronts, and this government, nay, most governments, have behaved like a rudderless ship when it comes to managing law and order in our society, our country. Law and order is restricted only to Lutyens' Delhi, Chandigarh and the seats of power that we see everywhere. And yet, why should we forget that the very ruling elite expressing sorrow has remained silent time and again, when violence against women has been seen at the very highest levels, in the corridors of power? Why was Karunanidhi never asked to apologize when he tried to derobe Jayalalitha in the Assembly? Why did Mayawati and Rita Bahuguna Joshi got away so lightly for valuing the dignity of women in the name of petty politics? Why should Sardar Prakash Singh Badal not be asked the reasons for giving molesters and eve teasers tickets for corporations and state legislatures?

I don't know if I can even call this a positive or a negative, for it shocked me so, but there have been twenty five cases of violence against women (yes, rape is nothing but violence of the most brutal form against women) reported to the police. Should it have taken place when there is such heightened attention on crimes against women? Making one case 'rarest of rare' will not solve the problem; nor will according death sentences. What will solve the problem is when three out of four rapists stop getting acquitted for lack of sufficient evidence, when judges stop coaxing victims to marry rapists, or suspend cases because a marriage takes place, and when cases stop getting dragged for decades, forget years.

What gets me angry is the fact that people start playing the same old games of women are safer in X than Y. Honestly, that is nothing but complete hogwash. Ask the women in these 'safe' cities and states just how many times they have been leered, jeered, touched, groped and molested. It is everywhere - the sense of shame however prevents women from talking about it, forget reporting. In the end, this stupid and flawed social set up tells our women, among the weakest members of our society, that they were 'wrong'. Honestly, some of these geriatric idiots could drown themselves for all I care, one would assume; unfortunately, a lot of the current generation too thinks thus.

Stop this quibble for God's sake, and look carefully under the carpet, for the very foundation of this country has rotted. It has been gnawed by the termites of our vacillation, ineptitude and shameful silence on crimes against those who cannot fight back for themselves. It is time a fundamental change in our souls is searched for.

Wake Up My Rulers! If we give you power, we can take it back from you as well.
Wake Up My Countrymen! Learn your own true power.
Wake Up My Nation, out of your deep slumber.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Storm


It was raining heavily that night, as if hell had broken loose, and was headed towards the earth to soak it in its pain, misery, suffering and torment. And it was a bad night, was this one, for reasons one can only feel, but cannot express to himself, herself or anyone else, even to the person who is really close to the person in question. But it was a bad night, and would get only worse.
He was standing under the ledge of the window that otherwise allows people from within to look outside, but usually allows everyone to look in normal times: nature, people, animals, everyone and everything that can be conceived of. There was a strange expression on his face, as he was feeling the raindrops fall on his outstretched hand. Why would he do that, one would ask, and what is so special about him doing that? So many people do it, and so frequently that we could ignore it totally. But this guy was different, you see. He could not see at all, so he tried to make up for his lack of the sense of sight (which most people mistake for the sense of vision) with his other senses. And he could sense that the rainfall did not augur well at all.
As he turned around to re-enter his house, he heard a familiar set of footsteps approach him. A smile drew across his face, as he spoke up
"So, you came after all these years."
This "you" was a man of about average height, and did not look anything exceptional. He was wearing a raincoat, with the cape removed from the head, as he strode forward to talk to the blind man, who was moving into his house.
"I had some business with you," he spoke tersely, as the blind man lifted his stick towards the switchboard to turn on the lights, which were bright and cheerful, in contrast to the otherwise dull and gloomy night's darkness.
The blind man turned right to sit down in a chair, even as the other man took off his raincoat to sit down. The blind man spoke wistfully, in a strangely cheerful mood, "For me, these lights are of no use-mine have been turned off since childhood. But one has to live a normal lifestyle, isn't it? And so I turn on these light for no purpose at all. But enough about me, lets hear you speak. Specify your purpose, Gustav."
Gustav looked at the blind man, and spoke purposefully, "All these years have passed, and yet you have retained your cheerfulness. How can you, with the history that lies behind you?"
"I do not live in the past Gustav; it is not worth it. I have to suffer for my sins, but should that stop me from being who I am? What I did should not affect what I do now. And I intend to keep it that way. But why dwell on what happens with me? Why don't you talk?"
"I have been sent here to inform you about something that recently happened. It is important, so hear me out patiently," said Gustav, as he pulled out from a briefcase that he was carrying, which remained out of notice till now, a set of papers, which looked suspiciously like a letter, but this long? He cleared his throat, as he began to speak.
“Andrei passed away last night. The cause of his death was the injuries he had sustained while assassinating the Prince of ___, and in his last minutes, he had dictated this letter to Sergei, the clerk of our outfit, giving details of what should happen after his death. And he had instructed me that I should personally go to you, Alexander, and read out the contents of the letter, and there should be nobody else but the two of us during this interaction.”
Alexander sat thinking, his useless eyes pointed towards the switchboard, as tears streamed down his eyes, and a bitter smile etched itself upon his face. After all these years, he heard the news that gave him such bittersweet feelings. What was he to do, he thought, as he wiped his tears away, and spoke up, “Read the letter out Gustav, and make it quick. We both do not have time, and I want to get this mess over with personally. Please start.”
Gustav looked at the letter, as he began reading it:
Mon cher Ami,
I am in the last minutes of my life, and want to let you know that I know that I won’t be able to survive the injuries that I sustained this time. I am old and weak, and injuries of this scale do not allow someone of my age to live for very long. But I think it is time for me to make an important decision, and give you some answers that you so desperately had been seeking from me for so long, before I found your questions to be so intolerable I dismissed you from my presence. The truth, Alexander is that I did not wish to re-open wounds of the past that still hurt me, but which are related to your life so deeply that I find it imperative for you to discover, so that I can rest in peace, and leave behind me people with all their questions answered forever.
The truth is deeper and stranger than fiction, they say, and in your case, it certainly was. For you are no ordinary person, my son; you are the person who had been entrusted to my care when you were only a few days old by someone I wish you were not the son of, for it has been a heartache for me ever since to see who you really are. You are my own son, my own blood, who was born out of the illegitimate relationship that I had with your mother, who herself was a married woman. In that scenario, she left you to my care. I myself was married, and had a son as old as you, whom I had named Gustav, and yet I had not the courage to face the truth myself.
From the minute that you came into my presence, I could feel something special about you. I knew that you would become something the world would have not seen before; neither would it see something like you ever. Your mother had failed to inform me about your blindness, which made me suspect my own intuition deeply. For, how could one associate greatness with a blind person, that too coming from a background such as yours? And yet, in the first few years of your life, observing you reassured my belief in my intuition. A professional killer’s instinct is never wrong, they say, and I could believe in the same again. And with a sense of reassurance, I could look at you, and see you develop into who you are.
You had a special talent which few people have in them. You could not see things, but could sense and feel them even without touching them. This helped you become a great killer, for more than one reason. Most of us require a proper sight to kill someone, but you just needed to sense someone around you, and the job would be done. Your aims were immaculate, and you never missed the target. Moreover, the world is full of fools who believe in empathizing with the “weak” instead of testing their mettle. They think that someone blind would not be able to see anything at all, forget even raising a finger. But you proved conclusively my son, that you do not require eyes to have a vision. We humans have been given a gift, which enables us to realize our true potential power, which is not subject to any limit in spite of what anyone might say. And you were a perfect example of all that human beings can achieve in spite of any handicap that they may be given. You mad me proud of whom you were, and yet I did not dare show to the world what I really was for you; why I do not know.”
Alexander smiled quietly, his blind eyes pointed towards the loud thunder that accompanied the bright streaks of lightning that flashed across the sky. His face held no expression, while Gustav on his face had an expression of a quiet surprise written all over his face. To realize that Alexander was a brother to him was surprising for him indeed, but for what purpose?
“Please carry on,” said Alexander, even as Gustav nodded his head in agreement and carried on.
“You did jobs no one could do; not even me in my best of days or anyone from the best assassins. You had gained the name “The Blind Whisperer”, and rightly so, for you needed nothing but a whisper to locate anyone and kill them. But all of a sudden I had discarded you from our force, without giving you a reason. Well, now is the right time, my son, for me to reveal why I banished you from my sight. My son, I was unexpectedly faced by a choice one day between you and Gustav, and I realized how partial I had been towards you, whereas I had treated Gustav as if he was a stranger, and not my own blood. How could I have discriminated between my own sons, I lamented, as I struggled to realize what to do next. And it was then that I had to take the painful decision, so that I could give Gustav a fair chance.
My sons, both of you are here today to decide amongst you as to who shall head the team that I had assembled with so much passion and zeal over so many years. But my sons, I could not decide whom to choose between the two of you, as for me the two of you are as good if not better than the other. So, I leave it up to you on deciding it. As for me, I shall be happy with whatever decision that you take amongst yourselves. May both of you realize your true destiny in life.
Andrei”
Gustav folded the letter, and kept it back in his bag. He leaned back in his chair and let out a deep sigh, and closed his eyes. Maybe he did it to hide the true emotion in his eyes; maybe it was to hold back tears that streamed down his face. Nobody can guess what went through his mind, for an assassin never allows anyone to get even a glimpse of what lies in their mind or their heart; it is closed for the outside world.
He opened his eyes to find Alexander standing at the door, looking lost, as if he was not even in this dimension, this sphere of life. There was a strange tension in the air, which was effectively being pierced by lightning and thunder like it pierces the rain-there was a lot of drama, and yet it resulted in anything. Gustav spoke up
“What next?”
Alexander kept staring outside, as he spoke up, “It is for the both of us to decide. What do you want to do?”
Gustav lit up a cigarette, as he began to speak up, “So, you are my brother, after all. And yet, my father found nobody else but his bastard son to compare me with. Really proved a point didn’t he?” he commented, as he puffed a circle of smoke out, as he continued to stare at the roof.
He picked up the bag that he had been carrying all along, and pulled out a long katana out of it. The sword’s sheath was beauty personified-ebony black with a gilding of ivory adorning it as the hilt. It was an extraordinarily exquisite weapon of murder, if you could call it one, and walked up to his brother.
“I cannot tolerate this insolence from my father, and the manner in which he has berated me. I am going to kill you right here, right now, and I shall lead the force. You, who ruined me, my family and my father’s life-who are you to lead this force?” he said, as anger rose in his voice, but a strange calmness pervaded his body and his hands in particular, that held up the katana along with its sheath.
Alexander smiled bitterly, as he walked out of the room, and into the rain. “I do not want to ruin my house with bloodstains. Come outside, in the rain, so that all our sins shall be washed away tonight.”
Gustav followed Alexander outside, with the two of them drenching in the rain. Alexander had nothing but the stick in his hands to match the katana, as both stood far apart, waiting for the other to break the lull before the storm.
Alexander was blind, but he had a vision. He could see Gustav breathe even n this thunderstorm, and could even estimate the distance between the two of them. But what he wanted to hear, he could not. And so he waited patiently to hear the sound.
And then, he heard it.
The flick, with which the sword is unlocked from its sheath.
The sound of the cold steel metal being pulled out of the sheath, as it drags along its insides.
The sound of the metal swinging in the open, as it struck the rain drops on the way.
Alexander put up his stick just in time, though there was not a flicker of an emotion that may have been passing his mind, but the hand movement was enough to prevent the katana from moving forward.
“So you are still good enough I see,” spoke Gustav, a bit of irritation rising in his voice, as he moved back to charge at him once again.
“Why do you want to do this?” asked Alexander, as he heard Gustav charge towards him, and deftly moved aside, even as he raised his stick in self defense to avoid the blade from cutting him up.
“My father,” spoke and angry Gustav, as he kept attacking Alexander, who kept attacking a defensive Alexander, whose face betrayed no emotion, making him angrier, “ruined my life and then as redemption decided to do this to me! How could he have done this? He made my life hell, just so that he could look after his bastard son! How could he? How could he? I’ll make you pay for doing this to my life,” he screamed, as he managed to slice a backward jumping Alexander’s shirt, who instantly realized how close he was to being sliced up himself.
“Do you think I am happy with the truth?” spoke Alexander, as he moved about his walking stick to prevent the katana blade from moving any further. “Let bygones be bygones; at least the man confessed to his crime.”
“Easy for you, not for me Alexander,” screamed Gustav, even as he managed to make an incision on Alexander’s arm, which started to bleed, and the trickling blood got diluted by the water that the rains brought from the heavens. “I will never forgive you. How do you think did Sergei die? It was me who let out the information, much to the blindness of Sergei, who still mourned your departure? How do you think that made me feel, huh?” he shouted, as he swung the blade, barely missing Alexander’s neck, as he moved back swiftly.
“Let it be Gustav, I do not want anything. It is unfortunate that you did it,” spoke Alexander, as he moved his stick to hit Gustav, who stuttered back a bit, surprised by the intensity. “But I do not want anything, everything is yours, just let me live in peace.”
“You cannot live in peace at the expense of mine, Alexander,” screamed Gustav, who charged fiercer than ever, only to be pushed back by a move from Alexander in the nick of time. “I killed him, and I will kill you, even if I have to die for it.”
“Then so be it,” spoke Alexander softly, who was standing at a spot, as if he was rooted to it, even as an anger-blinded Gustav charged like a bull.
Alexander concentrated; as he heard Gustav’s footsteps create the sloshing sound. Just a little more, he wondered, as Gustav came nearer and nearer.
He heard the blade swing, as he turned back, and twisted his own stick, and swung it from below just in time.
The blade sunk in deep, as the katana fell out of his hand, and Alexander caught hold of Gustav’s now limp body, even as his hands were awash with his brother’s blood, which was carried away by the waters that the heavens poured on them. He gently closed his brother’s eyelids, confirming to the night that his brother was dead, and sat down on the grass, even as the rains continued to fall hard on the two of them-him and his dead brother for a moment.

Angst of a Pained Mind

Today, I have never been sadder. It has taken such a gruesome crime to remind us of what we have reduced humanity in this country to. I should perhaps stop calling people human, for the behavior we see everyday, against women, elderly, children and all the weaker sections of society, we are worse than xenophobic chimpanzees.

And yet, every day, the cases are just beginning to come out - of absolute barbarity, of absolute horror and utter shamelessness. Those who call themselves our leaders get away abusing women in Parliament, outside it, on television channels, and none of us actually were stunned by it. Our leaders continue to hold up the status quo and assure us that things for the better, and yet, what do we do with this status quo? When will things get better for us? When will our women feel safe? When will the weak in our society feel safe, and emboldened enough to come forward and complain on such instances without the fear of shame, humiliation and further victimization?

There have been cases of journalists being felt up at the protests. There are victims everywhere in this country who die everyday - physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically - when they are subjected to utter rebuke instead of sensitivity. No one can understand the pain the victims undergo - no one can. And yet, no one tries to share her pain, get her out of the trauma that these victims undergo everyday of their lives.

Why are we demanding death for rapists? What will it achieve? Where are we headed to as a society? We behave like a banana republic and exhibit absolute duplicity about 'justice', when justice should begin at our homes, in our lives. Blood curdling shouts for death sentences does not help anyone. I still am not scared, because the case will certainly be botched up so badly I will most likely walk out a free man. In a country where crime against the weak remains a mere statistic, what else can you expect? A society that is imploding from within - that is all that can describe the state of affairs of this 'great country' today.

When I was a child, I was told that we are all equal. I also wrote that as an answer in an exam. Why then do I not see that in practice with my own eyes? Why then should I be asked to feel numb when the National Anthem plays out? We can call our country our mother, but see its daughters and children raped, assaulted and brutally murdered every day. How hypocritical can we get? Why should I see my nation a country under whose skies people die repeatedly every day?

I do not want any rhetoric today. My heart is too pained to see the hyperbole and the self righteousness on display. What I want is a healing touch for my heart, for the heart of the millions who die every day. Who will give it to me? This political class, which has shown us just how out of touch it is? This police force, who ask questions that feel like a sexual crime unto itself? This bureaucracy, that rapes our souls every day by just fossilizing themselves into their official shells? I long for that healing touch for myself and all those who are tortured, weary, tired and weary souls, souls much sadder than mine. Had Gandhi been alive today, he would have been pained to see our people so devoid of the inability to share the pain. Who will be that person who will share my pain?

My fellow citizens, my countrymen, you are the ones who can share my pain. You are the ones who can lessen my burden. You are the ones who can make me feel alive again. All you have to do is to accept victims as our very own. Treat them with respect and dignity. Treat them as equals, and not as children of a lesser God. Fight for their justice in whatever way you can. Intervene when they are being harassed and bring to light incidents where the weak, the meek are not given dignity. Share the pain, and treat them because they are also human beings; because they are not different from you, except for gender or caste or socio-economic status. Know that they are as much worthy of respect and dignity as we feel we are, only that we are more privileged than some of them. Let us not be murderers ourselves in all these ways, and we shall truly be a great nation - because its the flag that deserves faithful loyal and honest law abiding citizens; because its our Constitution that deserves good citizens; because Fundamental Rights  are as much for 'them' as they are for 'us'. And because we are all children of the same God.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Letter to Justice Verma Committee

This time around, I am putting up the letter that I wrote to the Justice Verma Committee set up by the Government of India in wake of increased violence against women. Hope you like the ideas I put forward.

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Respect Members of the Committee,

You have been appointed by the Government of India to deal with the aforementioned subject pertaining to changes in criminal laws. As a concerned citizen who believes in the democratic process, I would like to put forward by point of view on the same.

A large number of crimes take place against women across this country. The nature and type of these crimes varies drastically, but in the end women are always bearing the brunt of a large number of social ills. The issue is much larger than just changes in the Criminal Procedure Code. There are enough legal provisions, though some more could be brought in. There is a thorough administrative process needed to deal with crime against women. The Criminal Procedure Code already warrants death penalty; however, as rightly said by many, it is not a necessary deterrent. If that were the case, terrorism would have been wiped off the face of this planet. Any how, there are policy matters that need urgent attention. I propose a three step overhaul in the overall law and order machinery of our country, which is easily implementable if a time line is followed:

  1. In the immediate run (time span of next eighteen months) we can usher in the much needed police and judicial reforms, while filling the vacant posts in police and judicial forces with urgency. Independence of the police is necessary, since we have seen a major leadership failure in the manner in which there is utter lack of seriousness for dealing with crimes against women. Once an accountability system independent of political intervention sets in, we can see improvements. Moreover, inability of the judicial system to move cases will not necessarily be solved by fast track courts unless there are enough judges - a major hurdle today. The judicial process needs to be overhauled by setting timelines for not just conducting cases but even for recording statements - the judge should go meet the victim to record her statement, and there should be utter anonymity about the victim's identity and the evidence collection process, just like in Singapore and Australia, both of which also follow the Commonwealth Judicial System, and whose judicial processes with regards to cases involving sexual abuse can be looked at for vital lessons. Case should be registerable in any district - there should not be any district jurisdiction involved in the matter. Moreover, cases where publicly recorded events of sexual harassment/abuse of women have been observed, judges should be enabled to take the case up suo moto.
  2. In the intermediate terms (eighteen to thirty six months), a major overhaul in policing techniques is needed. This would involve procedures of evidence collection as well as monitoring and patrolling techniques. There is no point in installing CCTV cameras if they are not going to work. Major cities across the world are using IT and the tools it offers not just to find criminals but to even prevent crime e.g. United States. These are certainly worth an examination.
  3. In the long run, gender sensitization programs for people dealing with the victims - medical, police, legal and judicial -personnel included. It will be a social project that the government can run for the police forces on the lines of workshops, and can be linked to their performance incentives esp. promotion.
Apart from that, no parole for criminals should be made mandatory if they have been convicted for crimes against women. Also, such cases should be non-bailable offences in toto - it should not be applicable only for cases of rape or murder. A large number of crimes are also part of a larger milieu of social inequality, hence the same should be accounted for in the form of laws. Here is where attention also needs to be given to stricter implementation of such laws as the SC/ST Atrocities Act as well as the Domestic Violence Act needs to take place. Additionally, we need to ensure that people with criminal records should be ineligible for professions dealing with public masses, such as driving licenses.

It is my firm belief that if these steps are taken in the right spirit, we will certainly see a sea change taking place in the way not only cases of violence against women but

Thanking you in anticipation,

Yours faithfully,

Monday, December 10, 2012

Secularism - The Ideological Confusion of India

What is secularism? Frankly, people who keep blabbering about secular values in India get my goat. I am fed up of the continuous rant that I have been hearing about 'secular' values of India. Our concept of secularism is so warped that we should be rightfully declared laughing stock of the world. We are a nation of minorities, since everybody is an aggrieved minority in India.
Why on earth is there so much confusion about minority-ism in India? Our political class has failed this nation due to its inherent confusion with the understanding of what and who exactly constitutes a minority in India. Are Sikhs a minority in Assam? Yes. Are they a minority in Punjab? Hell no! Similar situations arise in states like Goa, Jammu and Kashmir and Nagaland, and yet, our political class is pandering to votebank politics, thinking that people vote en masse in India. Apparently, they think India is a nation of cattle (since we do have our fair share of holy cows, goats, pigs, buffaloes etc. etc.), the only probable explanation to the herd mentality our political leaders think our people possess.
Secularism is not a principle to be practiced. It is a pier that lays foundation to what a State fundamentally stands for. The inability to separate affairs of the State from religion is a failure of our Constitution. While protection of minorities is perfectly valid, why are we not standing to the intertwining of state's affairs with religions? Why is religion or community brought into the identity of a citizen? If we are so rooted into our multiple identities why are we even claiming to be secular? It is time we dispensed off with this term from our Constitution if we cannot follow it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Gujarat - Why it is important

Gujarat elections are due soon. While the Indian media has never behaved so excitedly even about the Uttar Pradesh elections (because of you know who), it is silly to be stuck around the cult of Narendra Modi and not pay attention to what the real gist of this election is.This election is truly important. While the media keeps talking about this being the last chance to contain Modi within Gujarat, this election is even more important than Modi's ambitions and Congress' nervousness. Finally there is an election that talks issues and has led people on either side of the pole named Narendra Modi to discuss threadbare the economic surge of Gujarat.

I will not get into numbers and statistics, but the fact remains that while there has been polarization in Gujarat and major environmental degradation (which is now being given attention), Gujarat was written off in the eighties and nineties due to the incessant labour unrest and the consequent flight of capital and business. With an economy whose debt was ballooning, it was no mean feat on the part of Modi to have turned the economy around to the extent that he has, considering the fact that he manages to get such good figures of growth on a big base like Gujarat's. One statistic is telling enough - Gujarat has achieved complete electrification and does not see power cuts except for absolute emergencies or unnatural situations.

This election is important not just because of what Modi stands for, but also for what he is pitching himself as. A manifesto that does not promise freebies is a refreshing change, unlike the list of freebies unleashed by the Congress that can only ruin the economy of the state. It is this vision of the Congress that needs to be challenged. Are we a country so weak that subsidies and freebies are the only thing that can save us? This election is finally talking about a vision for a state, one that can also be translated for the country. 'Cash transfers' and 'targeted subsidies' are fine, but who will tackle the existing white elephants in the room before bringing to life new ones? Food Security is utter nonsense when all that is needed is universalization of PDS and plugging loopholes. Aadhar related cash transfers are absolutely useless if access to banking services just does not penetrate. Moreover, we have to ask if subsidies will help us reduce poverty or push people further down. It was a telling fact that prior to the introduction of MNREGS (India's largest scam) Gujarat had lower poverty rates than Maharashtra, whose program was drawn up on the national stage.

It is this fight of visions that is needed the most, and that is what I see happening through Gujarat. Whatever way the people of Gujarat will vote will be a good indicator of what this country's citizens now want. Whether they want an economy in tatters drawn up by freebies, or whether a robust economy that gives opportunities to all is what they want shall lead the way for this nation. Hence the import of this election is unparalleled in India's politics. Perhaps it will lead to a turnaround that India needs the most. Or perhaps it shall cause us to rot even more. But this election is important - make no mistake about it.

The Economic Slowdown Needs Immediate Address

The Buck Stops With the Duo (Courtesy: Bloombergquint) The fracas in Maharashtra notwithstanding, things are at a critical juncture ...