Wednesday, 30 December 2015
Friday, 25 December 2015
2015 was an
interesting year for India. It began with the NITI Aayog replacing the Planning
Commission, the institution that had set the country’s development agenda for
more than half a century. It ended with PM Modi infusing new vigour into
India-Pakistan diplomacy. And in between ISRO sent up India’s first space
observatory, the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the IT Act, Bihar
elected Nitish Kumar to power again and Chennai recorded the highest rainfall
it had received in 100 years (to put it mildly). Yet the story that probably
dominated maximum newsprint and mind-space was the death of Mohammad Akhlaq at
the hands of a lynch-mob in Dadri, UP. It threw up questions on
tolerance, secularism, and divided public opinion (if Twitter is a gauge for
public opinion, in any case) like no other. Hence, at the end of 2015, it is
worth an attempt to summarise the substantive changes that with respect to
secularism and religious rights.
and Indian Secularism
It is worth the
effort to clarify the semantics at the outset, since disagreements are often a
result of differences in understanding.
that the state does not legally ally itself with any religion. In the West,
this has taken the form of a separation between Church and State. The Indian
Constitution also does not privilege any religion over another, but does allow
the state to intervene in matters of religion.
Article 30 extends the
right to religious minorities to establish and administer educational
institutions. Additionally, the state cannot discriminate against it when
granting funds to educational institutions[i]. More
crucially, Article 25, while granting individuals the right to follow, freely
practice, profess and propagate their religion (subject to health, morality and
public order),allows legislation to regulate or restrict secular activities
associated with religious practice. The State may also enact laws to bring
about social welfare and reform and is explicitly empowered to throw open ‘all
Hindu religious institutions of a public character’ to all classes and sections
One can argue about
how fair the implementation of Article 25 has been, but without the allowance
for reform, the purpose of a Constitution that went to great lengths to
guarantee equality and individual liberties to its citizens would be defeated.
This also means that the judiciary has to often step in to resolve conflicts
between religious rights and other rights to delineate when state intervention
Secularism and Tolerance
Secularism is a
more accurate adjective for institutions or the state than people. So it is
unfair to talk of the Dadri incident as an indictment of the failure of Indian
secularism. After the event, as is its duty in any case, the police
investigated the incident and the state took measures rehabilitate the family
of the victims[iii]. In the process, some (either part
of the government, or part of the ruling party at the Centre) made worrying
statements that seemed to justify the lynching[iv][v]. The protests by civil society that followed were
against this bigotry, not against the Indian state. Of course the discussion
finally degenerated into slanging matches on Twitter and assertions and counter-assertions
of ‘India is tolerant/ intolerant’, which did not do anything for demanding
accountability of ministers, and everything to polarise further. In this din,
areas where we should have been raising questions got ignored. For example in
November, the Punjab Cabinet approved an amendment that would allow those
guilty of ‘sacrilege’ to be given life imprisonment[vi].
Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) already provides for a punishment
of three years or fine or both in case of “[vii]
Then there was the
Government of Maharashtra which faced criticism twice this year-first for the
ban on the slaughter of bulls and bullocks in Maharashtra (cow slaughter having
been banned earlier), and second, the proposed meat ban during the days that
Jains observe Paryushan. Both times, they were accused
of impinging on individual liberties and the right to livelihood, in order to
appease a section of their vote-bank. More generally, the issue raised the
question of whether religious sentiment and religious rights should be honoured
above other fundamental rights-a subject matter for the judiciary for the
Judiciary and Secularism: No gain, (maybe) some loss
Article 21 of the
Constitution states than an individual cannot be deprived of his right to life
and liberty except through procedure established by law. Through the years, the
judiciary has taken a broad view of this and included within the right to life,
the right to livelihood, the right to live with human dignity, the right to
shelter, the right to decent environment including pollution free water and
air, among others. A petition to the Supreme Court invoked this last right,
asking for a ban on the bursting of firecrackers during Diwali[viii].
The important question is whether burning crackers is an essential practice
under Hinduism (and hence protected under Article 25). There are also attached
questions of individual liberty, though there may be reason to curb individual
liberties if they cause substantial negative externalities to others, and the
right to livelihood of those working in the fireworks industry. Either way, the
Supreme Court did not take a decision on it this year, with the next hearing
scheduled for 2016.
The other case
where the conflict between the right to life and religious practices remained
unresolved was on the Jain practice of Santhara in which Jains renounce food
and water towards the end of their lives. The adherents of Jainism do not
consider this to be suicide, but an act of ‘purification’ that is practised
only when the process of natural death has already started. However, in Nikhil
Soni v Union of India, the Rajasthan High Court (HC) directed the state to
abolish the practice, reasoning that it violated Sections 306 and 309 of the
IPC (suicide and abetment to suicide respectively) as the right to life did not
include within it the right to die. Moreover, it argued that the Santhara is not
an essential practice under Jainism, and thus need not be protected by Article
25. The decision was criticised on both grounds-that Santhara is in
fact an essential religious practice, and secondly that while the Supreme Court
did not recognise the right to die, it did recognise the right to die with
dignity[ix]. The Supreme Court later stayed this
decision, and will take the final call on this in the years to come.
An issue where we did get
a decision from the Supreme Court this year was on whether the principles in
the Agamashastras could be used to appoint archakas (priests)
to temples. Agamas are scriptures that detail the manner in which worship is to
be conducted in temples following Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Shaktism. In
2002, the Supreme Court had affirmed that priestly appointments were a secular
activity [thus open to state intervention under Article 25] and upheld the
right of non-Brahmins to be appointed as priests. Accordingly the Tamil Nadu
government issued an order allowing all individuals (irrespective of caste) to
be appointed as priests in Agama temples, also opening institutes to impart
training for this purposes[x]. The present case
revolved around the challenge to this government order. The Supreme Court this
time invoked Article 16 (5) which says that equality of opportunity in public
employment does not render any law illegal that provides for only a member of a
particular denomination to hold an office associated with the affairs of that
religion or denomination[xi]. For example, in the
appointment to a temple of the Vaikhanasa sect, it was membership of the
prospective priest to that sect, that mattered, not caste per se. Hence, the
court ruled that temples could appoint archakas in accordance
with the Agama scriptures as long as the principles contained therein were not
in violation of the Constitution. Whether the principles contained in a
particular Agama were unconstitutional or not, the judgment said, could only be
determined on a case to case basis[xii].
The problem with
this reasoning is that while it recognises that denomination matters-such that
not all Brahmins can become archakas in the temple of a
specific sect, it does not answer whether only some castes can
become archakas. For example, as the Hindu points out, the priests
in a Vaikhasana or Pancharatra temple have to descend from a particular gothra. This
may disqualify Dalits from priesthood completely, since categorised as
‘outcastes’ in the past, they may not have the status of being descendants of a
rishi at all[xiii].
the New Year
2016 will probably
see some clarity on some of the issues above. Here is hoping that the judiciary
strikes the right balance between guarding religious rights while also
upholding individual liberties, and the rights to equality and life. Let’s also
hope that 2016 sees all governments, the Centre and the states, prefer
liberalism to populism. And lastly, let’s hope that as citizens (and otherwise)
we can begin to start having more civil debates and informed discussions on
secularism and religion in India.
[iii] Admittedly, the media reported that
the police team collected a sample of the meat consumed by the family the
previous night, unnecessary if the purpose was to find out who was involved in
Friday, 20 November 2015
- There is a desert in China called Takla Makaan. My amusement at this is reflective of how bored I am.
- Someone should institute a glamour quotient of corruption. The more un-glamourous the scam, the more corrupt a country is likely to be. Everyone can spot opportunities for thievery when a mega event like CWG is being organised or when resources are being awarded. It takes a special kind of criminal instinct to start a ‘Jute Bag Scam’ where new jute bags at PDS packaging centres are replaced with old ones. The new ones are sent to middle men who sell the bags to jute mills at half the price at which the government procured them. So simple and so dull.
- In its bid to
dumb itself down and sell more copiesrevamp itself, the Hindu has added entertainment pages in the main newspaper. And to nobody’s surprise, they have managed to make that boring as well. How do they manage this when they have (possibly) the country’s best film writer on their payrolls? Also, whose idea of a design change was to use different font styles on the same page? The consultant in me strongly disapproves.
- Talking of aesthetic sensibilities, as a child I used to colour human bodies and faces with ochre. Then somewhere down the line, some art tutor (and I just can’t remember which one), made me switch to peach. Did this happen to you? Was it harmless or was it some deep seated racism that I unknowingly partook in?
- The other thing I was made to practice unconsciously was religion. All through my childhood, every place we sight saw had at least one common pit stop-a temple (the other was a movie theatre, because nothing like watching a generic Hindi movie to get an understanding of the local culture).
- My sole preoccupation during these visits was the ritual of taking off my shoes while worrying about them getting pilfered, getting jostled in the crowd trying to get a peek at the deity, and then wearing those shoes again, invariably with damp feet, and pebbles and gravel lining the in-soles now. If I had concentrated on actually seeing my surroundings a little more, I would have found it a lot easier to study for competitive exams.
- The other annoying subject for study is the institutional maze of India. The National Commission for minorities is a statutory body set up under the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992. Members of the minority communities can send in their grievances to the Commission. A chart on their website helpfully marks out the religion of each member (2 Muslims, 1 Christian, Parsi, Hindu, Buddhist each and 1 Sikh member seat which is currently vacant). So inclusive we are.
- We really need to stop pretending that we are a secular country. It is one thing to provide special protection to the culture/ language of a group. Quite another to give out life terms to people for ‘sacrilege’.
- Kaushik Basu once said that the worst part of coming into policy from academia was that he was consistently misquoted in the media. So his biggest worry was to construct paragraphs in such a way that sentences could not possibly be lifted out of context to prove that the economy was going to the dogs. Apparently even that did not work, so he had to focus on ensuring that no string of words could be lifted and reported out of context. Which meant that he ended up giving boring speeches. Our favourite Central Bank governor on the other hand, before giving a lecture on a completely unrelated topic, gives out the following disclaimer:
"For any hints on what we will do in the upcoming policy statement, please read the guidance in our last policy statement. I quote: “Significant uncertainty will be resolved in the coming months, including the likely persistence of recent inflationary pressures, the full monsoon outturn, as well as possible Federal Reserve actions. As the Reserve Bank awaits greater transmission of its front-loaded past actions, it will monitor developments for emerging room for more accommodation. Nothing I say in what follows is meant to offer further guidance, and please don’t read veiled meaning where none is intended".
Saturday, 17 October 2015
Every time there is a terror attack perpetrated in the name of Islam, you can depend on some Muslims (sometime religious leaders, at other times intellectuals- not to imply that these categories are mutually exclusive) who will assert that such acts are un-Islamic, that this is not what the Quran says on jihad and so on. I always thought such arguments were besides the point; it does not matter what the Quran says or does not, there can be no justification for mass murder.
But turns out, that I am now thinking exactly the same things about Hinduism in response to some of the things I have been reading on Dadri and more generally, about the perceived rise in majoritarianism in India. And that's largely because some lunatics have been claiming that others eating beef hurts Hindu sentiments, and that somehow though Dadri was sad and regrettable, the lynchers had a fair grievance too.
Unfortunately the quality of our public discourse is so bad, that it needs to be clarified that in a country which calls itself democratic and has a Constitution, justice cannot be delivered through a public lynching. Not to a murderer or rapist, and certainly not to a suspected beef eater. This is not to say that all these actions are equal 'crimes'.
Now coming to the questions of whether others eating beef hurts 'Hindu' sentiments.
Did Hindus never eat beef?
What came to be called Hinduism later, had its beginnings in the Rig Veda (generally placed at around 1500 BC, though the date is not central to the argument), a book of prayers. The Rig Veda is quite preoccupied with the question of cows. The Sanskrit term for war is 'gavishti', literally, the search for cows. Besides wars being fought for cattle, priests (a privileged class even then) were presented with cattle (and female slaves). People prayed to the Gods for cattle (and sons). Yet, it is no one's claim, that cows were not consumed. In fact, agriculture came to be practised only around the 1000 BC, with the beginnings of the iron age and settled agriculture. Before that, people were primarily pastoral, and consumed a variety of animals including, beef.
Then why did we stop?
There is a simple answer. Practicality. Between 1000 to 500 BC, the other three Vedas-Sama, Atharva and Yajur came to be composed. The Atharva Veda for one, prescribed a host of rituals involving cattle and horse slaughter that needed to be performed in different circumstances. I am sure you have heard of the Ashvamedha ritual where a king lets a horse loose and effectively challenges other kings whose territory the horse traverses. Later, the horse had to be killed.
As you can surmise, these later Vedic people were also getting more territorial, hinting at the spread of settled agriculture. This in turn required the use of cattle for ploughing. Hence the ritual sacrifices were getting bigger irritants for agriculturalists.
During the 5th C BC, Mahavira and Gautama Buddha also arrived on the scene, with the religions they preached, opposing the killing of all animals. Jainism, with its insistence on killing no living being (including insects) could get mainly adherents among traders, while more and more farmers (whose occupation required more moral flexibility in killing pests that destroyed crops) took to Buddhism.
No faith likes losing adherents. Vedic people didn't like it either. But guess what, they didn't go on morchas or ask for a ban on proselytism, or sing and dance about ghar wapsi (okay fine they may have, we can't tell with any certainty). But we do know that their most successful coping technique was to simply change. (And also to announce that the Buddha was an avatar of Vishnu, but that's not particularly relevant here). Also not all of this was a response to new religions. By 600 BC, the Upanishads had been composed. These de-emphasised ritualism, and talked about an individual's karma being the key to salvation (put loosely).
So then now the cow is sacred right?
If you still feel the need for that question, you are an idiot. Yes it is. But the point is that it need not be any longer since modern agriculture obviates the pressing need for cattle. And also because there are people from other faiths, as well as some Hindus, who do consume beef, basic human decency and respect for the constitution (since you guys are such 'nationalists'), implies that that you lay off.
But did you protest when Satanic Verses was banned? Or when Muslim groups threatened to behead the Danish cartoonist who drew Mohammad?
Yes. I don't think Satanic Verses was banned in my time, but I did think that the death threats were crazy. I might not have written anything about it, because you would think that there would be no need to. Only an ass-hat would think death threats can be justified. Just the way that only ass-hats would think that a lynching was a legitimate expression of someone's offended sensibilities.
But in Pakistan you would be lynched for burning the Quran.
Yeah, Pakistan with its shaky democracy, constant sceptre of Army rule, and a terrorist infestation is the country to aspire to.
Also, when a book falls to the ground, my culture tells me to touch it to my forehead as a mark of reverence. Why would I burn a book to spite a community?
But those people are eating beef to spite Hindus
No. That is a dietary preference, in itself a result of a person's culture.
As an example, this is the period of Navratras when some groups in North and west India observe abstention from non vegetarian food.
This is also when Bengalis eat more non veg than usual. That's not to spite your sensibilities. We do it because we celebrate Durga Puja (another Hindu festival by the way). This is when the daughter of the house comes home (probably during her kids' school vacations) and it's time to celebrate by going to meet her in new clothes, and eat good things. And playing loud Bollywood music (I can understand your irritation with the latter).
Anyway, as long as we don't take non veg inside your Garba pandals, I don't see how it should offend you (and we don't, only Shiv Sena does such things). What gives you the right to block our access to fish in the neighbourhood market? Do you know how far CR Park is? What if you had to commute 2 hours by road to buy half a kg of paneer?
Also while on the subject, if meat eating during Navratras offends you, please don't come to the designated area in Durga Puja pandals where food is served. The disapproval in your beady eyes kills our fun.
But our constitution protects the cow as a sacred animal.
It is a Directive Principle of State Policy. That means that the Constitution shows the general direction that state policies should take.
Fundamental Rights (to life and liberty) trump Directive Principles for the most part (there are exceptions that none of those are relevant here).
But I still feel offended. Period.
That's perfectly fine. Racists, sexists, religious bigots and paneer secreted into samosas and pav bhaji offend me. Beef eaters may offend you. But don't you dare talk for all Hindus. Not just because Hindu is a broad term for a collection of varied sects and groups with different belief systems but also because within your narrow sect, there may be decent, tolerant human beings who don't want to be a part of your divisive agenda.
Thursday, 1 October 2015
- Gregory Mankiw must feel sorry for writing that textbook on the Principles of Economics. But he couldn’t have known that harmless undergraduates he helped indoctrinate would grow up to be employees of donor agencies and pass off academic homilies of privatising water supply, and letting demand –supply determine who gets how much, as valid economic policy. And then shove it down the throats of developing countries as part of loan conditionalities.
- I realise I have a few pet topics-Agatha Christie, Sherlock, Harry Potter, Sanghi Appreciation, Condemning Vegetarianism and now the Mughals. Specifically, Akbar’s court and how much fun it must have been with all those intellectuals and wits hanging out together. I can imagine Abul Fazl and Birbal high-fiving each other (while Akbar looks on indulgently) after a polite (and lyrical) put down they gave to the orthodox clerics, when the latter got apoplectic about heretical stuff the Emperor liked to do. Like commission paintings, propagate tauhid-e-ilahi and treat people from other religions decently (tch tch). And Man Singh must have been the silent, well-mannered guy, who got the job done while these creative types kept things lively.
- The reason I am clinging to Akbar these days may be because the present is so depressing. Newspapers have been pointing out that the Dadri family that was subjected to a brutal attack by a local mob did not in fact consume beef the previous day, but mutton. Can they also please point out that it is irrelevant if they did consume beef? Because their insistence on this point is just legitimising the kind of narrative that the culture minister ‘Dr.’ Mahesh Sharma is currently trying to push-saying that the attack was a result of a misunderstanding, rather than a bigoted mind-set.
- Mamata Banerjee has clarified that there will be no meat ban during the Durga Puja. But is this a straw man she is destroying or are there some pious (and treacherous) Bengalis who are demanding such a stupid thing in the first place?
- About a dozen Bangalore based billionaires (Azim Premji, the Nilekanis and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw among them) have come together to set up a trust to fund digital media platforms. The IE reported Shaw saying that such initiatives would ensure balanced reporting that don’t push a specific agenda. Except you know, that of the super-rich.
- A Chinese tech company has invented a robot-journalist that can produce a 1000 word copy in about a minute on issues like changes in inflation, growth data etc. I don’t think journalists (or any class of professionals who write reports for a living) need to be worried about losing their jobs. It might free them up to pursue investigative journalism (or something more generally, worthwhile) that computers can’t possibly do. Yet.
- A cue to know when someone is faffing is when you see phrases like ‘lack of political will’, ‘democratic discourse’, ‘concerted effort from all stakeholders’ and the like being thrown around. Or when prime ministers start evoking Goddesses on being asked a question on what their government is doing for empowering women. Still, our government is trying to make it easier for more women to enter the workforce by revising our anachronistic Factory laws. On the other hand under Skill India, it is resorting to that perennial favourite-opening gender exclusive institutions for training. Besides my suspicion that they will be more likely to teach skills like stitching than motor mechanics, how will this equip women (and men) to survive in workspaces that will (and should) hire both men and women?
- I am planning to start a Raghuram Rajan fan-club. Not least for being one of the few academics who has made a smooth transition from that cloistered world to one in the public glare, but also for saying deep, intelligent things, gift wrapped in a cover of simplicity, and with a bow of optimism added to it. Also last year, he walked down the Red Carpet at the Filmfare awards. How can one not love the man?
Friday, 18 September 2015
- Every time I feel sick of Delhi, I discover some new nugget of history about the city which makes me love it all over again. Did you know that Siri Fort was Alauddin Khalji’s capital? According to legend (which would probably explain some of our bloodlust) the word Siri is derived from the ‘sir’ (head) of the Mongols who Khalji defeated. Either he built it on the lands where the heads of the poor sods lay or decorated the palace with the decapitated heads. Maybe it's just me with the bloodlust.
- Feroze Shah Tughlaq was probably the first ruler of India (or at least Delhi) to have a Public Works Department. (This could be a defence when the Municipal Corporation decides to rename the Feroze Shah Road).
- You can blame our current leaders for trying to name and rename every road, airport and scheme after its own cultural ideologues (BJP) or friends and family members of the Nehru-Gandhi clan (Congress), but they are still better than Alexander, who went around naming multiple cities after himself.
- In contrast to most rulers who liked to take on pompous titles and names (think Shah Jahan or Vikramaditya), we had a Rajput ruler called Sadharan. Yeah. His son was the ruler of Gujarat in the late 14th Century and his daughter was married to Feroze Shah Tughlaq. Other than that, he was sadharan.
- Our middle school history texts do not emphasize enough on Razia Sultan. Not only did she head the Delhi Sultanate for three years, her father (Iltutmish) nominated her as successor, in preference to her many brothers. All other historical female figures I have heard about till now (including the daughter of Chandragupta II, Chand Bibi or even Rani Laxmibai) became famous for what they did, after and because their male relatives had died. [Note to self: Do a post on the women in Indian history].
- The Delhi government wants to cut down on school text book chapters to lower the burden on kids (possibly because they can quickly mug up the rest and pass exams with flying colours). One of the chapters they plan to can is on Jan Sangharsh (Public Struggles) in the 10th standard Civics textbook because they feel that children will learn that protests against the government and anarchy is a way to achieve social justice.
- Talking about lack of self-awareness, does the Sangh Parivar know that the first ban on the RSS, in 1948, was imposed by Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, whose legacy they’re trying to appropriate?
- In an edit in the Hindu, the writer recounts an ex diplomat saying that at one time, India had a choice between either pursuing real power by becoming nuclear capable or ‘illusory’ power by becoming a permanent member in the UN Security Council. Even though we no longer face that choice, shouldn’t we be a little more circumspect in chasing UNSC membership? Given our foreign policy of getting along with everyone, from Saudi Arabia to Iran and from North Korea to the US, permanent membership could end up being a crown of thorns.
- Does the US Fed consider the feelings of others when backtracking on interest rate hikes? Does it stop to think about the painstaking work of the economists of the World Bank and IMF who conduct detailed surveys of analysts and track the economy fervently, in the hopes of getting their predictions right? Or all the writers of Financial Stability Reports who base their assessment of risks on the predictions of the IMF and World Bank? Or poor Raghu Rajan who will now face more pressure than ever on cutting rates in India? Or all the op-ed writers who had their articles ready on the impact of this move on India? Really.
- Pronab Sen, the Chairman of the National Statistical Commission and earlier Surjit Bhalla, explained why the GDP growth rate for Q1 of FY 2016 was lower than expected but with very different conclusions. Essentially, they explain that the 7% figure was a result of an IMF imposed idiosyncrasy. GDP (at market prices) is the sum of Gross Value Added (or GDP at factor cost) and Net Indirect taxes. The IMF requires that the growth in the Net Indirect Tax in the quarterly estimates be taken as the growth in the nominal figure divided by the change in tax base (that is the nominal growth in manufacturing, services and exports). Hence if there are any increases in the tax rate or tax compliance, they get counted as an increase in the price. This means that there was an over-estimation of inflation in the last period. Since real growth of GDP is calculated by subtracting the inflation rate from the nominal GDP growth rate, the CSO subtracted more than what was ‘actual’ inflation, and thus got a real GDP growth rate that was lower than expected.
- Sen used this to argue that the deflation scare is misplaced (and though he does not say it, possibly just scare-mongering by the Govt. to get the RBI to cut rates). The Chief Economic Advisor is assuming, or at least leading others to believe, that a fall in prices (as reflected by a negative WPI growth for consecutively 10 months now) means deflation. In reality, a deflation would be a cause for worry only if it reflected slowing domestic demand. This has not happened, as the explanation about the calculation shows. Instead the fall in the WPI has been due to falling global prices.
- Bhalla says that even though growth rates are higher than what the data suggest, they ‘feel’ low, because the messianic BJP government has used the gains from the lower fuel prices to decrease deficits and inflation (hmm…). Now the RBI should cut rates so that the growth based on GDP feels high (hmm…again).
- K M Chandrashekhar, an ex-bureaucrat, gives his own example and that of his buddies in the banking sector to claim that people are risk averse at the moment and so a rate cut on its own might not help (not to say he is wrong). To his credit, he doesn’t write with the brash confidence that comes easily to some of our economists who want their feelings to be the basis of economic policy (not to say that their hunches are wrong either).
Sunday, 13 September 2015
- Last week, the Indian Express published Gopal Krishna Gandhi’s reasonable and well-mannered defence of the Mahatma against the charges of being a racist and colonial sympathiser. It was refreshing to read him on the same day as Tony Joseph’s invective against Surjit Bhalla, part of a continuous back and forth between the two on the question of Christian conversions. Nobody is complaining about a debate, the problem is when columnists adopt the kind of tone, which should only be the prerogative of the anonymous Twitter troll.
- An interviewee in the Hindu had sensible suggestions on how to counter online hate speech. She says that pre-censorship or deletion of the offending pages is respectively undesirable and ineffective, and what is required is to change the terms of the discourse through ‘counter-speech’. She cites the example of ‘Flower Speech’ practised by a group of Buddhist monks in Myanmar to counter the alarming instances of online and off-line hate speeches against Muslims. In India I think it has been successful partly in discussions on rape. In spite of all the ‘Humanists’ on twitter who bemoan rape laws and 498A, there is now remarkable levels of outrage when a Mulayam Singh or Abu Azmi decides to air his opinion.
- Christine Lagarde (the IMF Chief) opined that it is important to get women into the workforce to ensure higher economic growth-another striking example of the hyper-instrumentalism Pratap Bhanu Mehta highlighted.
- Can 3 D printers make manufacturing and construction jobs redundant?
- Apart from the novelty of reading phrases like ‘India-occupied Kashmir’ and ‘Azad Kashmir’ used un-ironically, it is reassuring to see sane voices on both sides of the India-Pakistan border, decrying the respective ‘victory’ celebrations in the 1965 war. Not just because it is tasteless to celebrate something that led to massive loss of lives, but also because of the tiny factual detail of there being NO victory, for either side.
- Purists be damned, even the Government of India is not averse to using some Hinglish (Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana) in its relentless pursuit of interesting (if slightly inexact) scheme names. In this case, HRIDAY.
- Awkward name apart, it is a great initiative to spruce up some of our ancient cities, by improving last mile connectivity to heritage sites, bringing in elements of urban planning, increasing tourism, and hence expanding livelihood opportunities and economic growth. Some help will also be forthcoming from the Rs. 100 cr grant for infrastructure development under the Ministry of Tourism’s PRASAD (Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Augmentation Drive) scheme. I am going to let the last one go without comment.
- But schemes hardly ensure citizen awareness. In Baghpat (UP), villagers have enthusiastically encroached on a ‘protected’ site of the Indus Valley Civilisation, to expand agriculture and build memorials for important men of the village. Who needs the ISIS when a passive ASI can facilitate the job?
- That said, agriculture is probably still better use of heritage sites than for expansion of residential facilities. I am of course referring to the plans for freeing up Lutyen’s Delhi for private use. Yet even in this case, the land-use-for-more-productive-purposes versus-preservation-of-heritage debate does not have any easy answers. On one hand, pretty much the only thing going for Delhi anymore is that limited area where you can walk safely on wide tree-lined footpaths, where the fumes of the passing traffic will not give you bronchitis, and the old-worldly homes are easy on the eye (as against the soul-less multi storeyed buildings or the box like DDA structures in the rest of the city). On the other hand, the rest of Delhi is choked for space. And the augmentation of the government coffers will certainly be welcome. Yet, it seems somehow unfair that people most able to afford homes in the area would be those who are least affected by the congestion problem, that is, the super-rich. Then again, I am not sure that disproportionate advantages to a certain group has ever stopped a policy from going through. (Or that, it is even desirable for that to happen).
Sunday, 6 September 2015
Saturday, 5 September 2015
- Popular literature is to blame for the fact that schoolkids don’t completely get the importance of Ashoka. Brainwashed by the trite ‘moral of the story’, it seems natural to them (it certainly did to me), that a cruel king realises the folly of his ways and reforms. Even literature targeted at young adults suffers from this handicap. Read how Dumbledore goes on and on about Voldemort being evil because he messed with the powerful magic, that of ‘love’, to know what I am talking about.
- This not to discount the inherent innocence of children. But I suspect that today’s kids, with generally greater access to information, and exposure to violence specifically, may be able to appreciate Ashoka better.
- Promise this is the last you will hear of Ashoka here.
- Talking of belabouring a point, if I hear of the ‘shared values of democracy’ one more time, I will blow a fuse. Democracy is not a value, it is a political system. And it is not just a feature of the usual suspects (US, UK, Australia) but also ostensibly, countries like Pakistan, Myanmar and Russia.
- Hindu’s headline writer, why is it so noteworthy that India is a key partner in the Indo-Pacific region? I am sure you have never heard this, but learn from ToI.
- Pratap Bhanu Mehta had an interesting op-ed in the IE last week about how adopting the ‘development’ plank in politics (as opposed to caste, religion) has its own pitfalls. One among them is the ‘hyper-instrumentalism’ of institutions-nowhere clearer than in education. Nobody seems interested in who the professors and what their specialisations are-the focus is mostly on the ‘average package’ that the placement cell of the college can net for its students (not even on the job profile offered). This would be acceptable for professional courses, but somebody should be worried about how prevalent this is in academic courses at the PG level as well. More emphasis on the quality of education being dispensed at the UG level (so people realise the intrinsic worth of a good degree than just its signalling effect in the job market) would probably help ameliorate this.
- That’s not the same as standardisation of syllabus across the board. I think DU’s bane is the resort to hiring new ad-hoc teachers every semester. Most of them don’t have a stake in knowing the subject they are teaching better because they are likely to land in a different college, teaching a completely different course within a span of a few months. And they (wisely) don’t completely bank on the temporary job either, simultaneously juggling demanding PhD courses or RAships.
- Also, the NET exam is a joke. If you are trying to set a benchmark of basic minimum, at least ensure that the minimum reflects subject knowledge/ teaching aptitude/ analytical and critical thinking skills. Rather than the ability for uncanny guesswork.
- Unemployedness does a lot for your ability to dispense gyan. I finally understand the adda culture in Kolkata.
- May be the sanghis are on to something when they eulogise the glorious past. Did you know that tam-brahms (shorthand for abstention now) were wine and meat consumers in around the beginning of the Common Era?
- Since I am now too old to celebrate the very auspicious, very vegetarian festival of Janmashtami, I marked the occasion by listening to this song. For your viewing pleasure-
Sunday, 30 August 2015
Friday, 28 August 2015
Wednesday, 20 May 2015
Over the past few days, I have been beginning to appreciate a shocking lack of depth of character in myself. It's not completely my fault. I just haven't experienced enough, I haven't travelled enough, haven't felt enough.
So I am going to stop blogging till I feel I have anything new to say.
The blog will still be up, since I love it too much to take it down (see what I mean by the lack of depth?). But there will be no new posts.
Hope to see you around :)
Saturday, 16 May 2015
Thursday, 14 May 2015
PPS: The Sanghis are a super-efficient force, as it turns out. See what they did on 15 May.
Sunday, 12 April 2015
Wednesday, 1 April 2015
- If I am sent to prison in the near future for past crimes, be sure that it will be for unreturned library books.
- After resigning, my psychology teacher in school (who is now a rabble rousing comrade, but I digress) gave each of us a personalised good-bye card (even though it should have been the other way round). She seems to think I was a nerd.
- When I hunted for my photo in the school magazine, it didn’t appear in the sections where my friends were listed for having some kind of talent-singing, dancing, writing, public speaking, social service, membership of Africa/ Palestine/ UNESCO/ Elocution/ Environment etc. clubs but for being a top scorer. Which is sad because if you went to school, you were supposed to be studying anyway.
- In spite of the above I don’t think I was a nerd. In a diary entry, I had written that the Unit tests were beginning in two days from the day of the diary entry and that I hadn’t studied anything. My present self panicked a little at that but assumed that the kid-me was also feeling pangs of guilt and would presently start studying. Turns out she had to stop the entry after two lines because DDLJ was coming on Sony and she had to watch that. My present self prayed that the first Unit test was English.
- Did the fact that I was writing about Unit Tests at all, make me a nerd?
- I addressed my diary as ‘Cordelia’ (or ‘Cord’ or ‘Li’, as my mood permitted) since…I don’t know…’Kitty’ was too childish? I also seemed to think that the diary was a person. At the end of a very long entry, I wrote, “I will stop writing now. You must be tired.”
- During the post-Board exam break I took to writing an illustrated description of the IPL’s first edition. After giving out the basic facts of each team, I put in “My View”, possibly inspired by the Times of India’s then-new editorial practice. Under that section, for Rajasthan Royals, I wrote that I didn’t want them to win, because, and I quote, “I don’t like Shane Warne”. Yes, sounds like me.
- When anybody asked me who my favourite cricketer was, I always said Dhoni. But secretly, I had given my heart to Robin Uthappa.
- A card my colony friends had given me for my birthday described me as “Moti, Moti, Tu hai moti, fuvvare jaisi hai teri choti”. If you had known me as a child, you would know how accurate the second part was.
- My college friends gave me a ‘Welcome Back’ card when I joined them after skipping classes for more than a week during my sister’s wedding. Besides being the funniest and sweetest thing I have ever received, it is also proof that capitalism can make us happy.