Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dangers of Minorityism in Education Sector of Kerala

The education sector in Kerala has very high potential for growth. The insatiable thirst of Keralites to get the best education for their children was being exploited by the institutions in neighboring States (being continued even today!). Realizing the potential of opening up this sector, in 2001, then government allowed self-financing institutions to be established in Kerala, in higher education. However, since then the sector has been plagued with various issues and violent agitations.
Let us look into the role of minorityism in fanning the issues plaguing the education sector and its potential effect on the social fabric of Kerala.
The Constitution of India, under its Part III on Fundamental Rights, guarantees certain Cultural and Educational Rights to Citizens of India. Let me quote the relevant Articles here:
29. Protection of interests of minorities.—(1) Any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same.
(2) No citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the State or receiving aid out of State funds on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them.
30. Right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions. — (1) All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.
(1A) In making any law providing for the compulsory acquisition of any property of an educational institution established and administered by a minority, referred to in clause (1), the State shall ensure that the amount fixed by or determined under such law for the acquisition of such property is such as would not restrict or abrogate the right guaranteed under that clause.
(2) The State shall not, in granting aid to educational institutions, discriminate against any educational institution on the ground that it is under the management of a minority, whether based on religion or language.
Questions like who are minorities entitled to the special rights granted under these Articles, to what extent these rights are absolute and how much autonomy these minority institutions enjoy etc have come up for consideration of the Apex Court in various cases and I have no intention to go into details of those decisions here. Suffice to say, the Constitution itself does not define the term ‘minority’ and this has led to much litigation in the education sector.
Article 30 (1) grants ‘all minorities, whether based on religion or language, the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice’. In its various decisions, the Supreme Court has expressed a view in favour of complete freedom of minority educational institutions from Government control, except in the case of maintaining academic standards through prescribing qualifications for teachers and minimum eligibility for students.
However, is this absolute and unfettered right? No doubt, in case of an aided/state funded institution (even if it is established or administered by a minority) Article 29(2) mandates that “No citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the State or receiving aid out of State funds on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them”. While decisions like St Stephens College, had read into the combined effect of 29(2) and 30(1) a right of minority to reserve up to 50% seats in an institution while leaving the remaining seats to ‘general quota’, clarity is yet to emerge on the self financing institutions maintained by minority groups.
If a minority group establishes/administers an educations institution, will it be covered by the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 29 (2), Obviously yes. But does that mean these institutions are free to do what they like? More clearly, can a minority group establish a self financing professional education institution and start selling the seats for highest bidders, irrespective of whether the admitted students belong to that minority group or not?
At least some of the minority groups seem to think so; a prominent one being the Inter Church Council of Kerala (ICC). ICC has acted, all these years, not in the nature of a charitable or religious institution but as a profiteer out to make hay while the sun of constitutional confusion continues to shine!
The Government had liberalized the education sector of Kerala, to meet the growing demand for quality higher education and to stem the flow of capital to the mushrooming institutions in the neighboring states, with the clear understanding that the new institutions to be established under the policy shall earmark 50% of their seats for admission based on merit, from Government quota. The whole idea was designed to meet the social justice objectives through the principle of “two private colleges equal to one government college” involving surrender of 50% seats for merit by each such college. However, soon the managements, especially the ones backed by the religious and communal leaderships, defaulted on that commitment and started asserting their right to admit 100% students on the basis of right guaranteed under Article 30 (1).
Successive governments have not succeeded in breaking this imbroglio. The previous government led by CPM which came to power on the back of a promise to sort out the self-financing education sector, carried on with the system of underhand deals with managements and never made a serious effort to resolve the issue, except for the half-hearted legislative effort that fell before judicial scrutiny.
The concept of self –financing institution itself met with violent protests from left wing parties and their student and youth wings. The violence that resulted even in multiple deaths, only abated when CPM came to power in the State, and if we go by the happenings of past one week, has promptly come back to haunt Kerala within one month of CPM abdicating power.
I am not in any way supporting the violent agitation initiated by the student wing of CPM which was in power for the last five years, allowing the ICC to wriggle out of the commitment to ear mark 50% of the seats for admission from the Government’s list of general merit quota. While the double game of CPM (on the one hand agitating for 50% quota in other institutions while on the other hand refusing to give any seats to merit quota from Pariyaram Medical College under their own control) is being seen through by people of Kerala, I am concerned here, more about the long term implications of the intransigent stand of ICC, on the social fabric of Kerala.
When Dr Gafoor, Chairman of MES, stated that the poor Catholic students are forced to take admission in other colleges as the ICC run colleges sell their seats to the highest bidders, it is not far from truth. Obviously the interest of poor members of the minority group is not being protected here. As stated by Chief Minister of Kerala Mr Oommen Chandy, there is an urgent “need to attain the crucial balance between the protection of minority rights and the restoration of social justice in the education sector”.
The Honbl’e High Court of Kerala has also accepted the need of ‘balancing minority rights and social justice’ and has now passed an order validating the Government’s taking over of 50% seats in these colleges. However, ICC has not lost any time to announce that they will appeal against this Order before Supreme Court!
One cannot deny the right to ICC to appeal on any ground that they think as valid. However, the stand of the ICC, in particular, and minority groups, in general, is being keenly watched by the majority community in Kerala. In a State like Kerala where all sections of the society, including minorities, have attained similar level of social and economic development , such blatant misuse of constitutional provisions by certain groups are bound to be resented by others. In the recent elections to State assembly, even the LDF was seen milking this resentment among the majority community.
Kerala has managed to maintain excellent social harmony despite having very strong religious groupings. This delicate balance should not be allowed to be disturbed by the profit orientation of certain religious leaders. The followers of each minority groups must introspect at this juncture and seek answers from their so called leaders- whether these actions are being taken in the interest of the members of minority or merely for maximising the profits for certain individuals!
If religious leaders and groups act as traders of education, sacrificing service motive for profit motive, then they should not be allowed to get the benefit of noble provisions of our Constitution. If we allow that, it amounts to misuse of protective provisions of Constitution.
The new UDF government which is now facing the flak for a problem that they essentially inherited from the previous government must take effective legislative steps to resolve this issue once for all. While I am aware of the equations of UDF with the Church and other religious leadership, the majesty of State should not be allowed to be diminished before the religious and communal groups.
Mr Chandy has recently stated; “We have not been able to bring about normality in terms of admission procedures to self-financing colleges. Constant efforts are being made by the government to create a permanent system for admissions to such institutions. The necessary changes must be made at the earliest to ensure the advancement of the education sector”. ( I would like to keep my faith in this promise and hope that our students will not have to go through the same trauma, at least for the next academic year!
Start working now Mr CM, so that we do not have to make compromises at the last moments of admission process in the coming years and let the social harmony be destroyed on multiple fronts!

PS. I do not claim to be an expert on this subject. I have just shared my feelings and concerns here. I would welcome any further inputs or perspectives from readers for my and other readers’ benefit.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Addendum to the Blog on “Artistic Freedom –Is it Absolute?”

When I wrote my previous Blog titled Artistic Freedom- Is it Absolute? ‘, I did confess that I am rather confused on various dimensions of the subject. I believe that like most of the other social issues, there is no black and white answer to this issue as well. I knew various perspectives being advanced on the subject are right in their own context, yet very much wrong when seen from some other angle. In the context of artistic freedom, my heart hated any restrictions while brain demanded certain controls on the expressions in the interest of larger issues of social harmony and peace.

Therefore, I tried to find a middle path wherein the parties are encouraged to exercise self restraint while exercising their right to freedom of expression so as to avoid hurting any genuine sentiments of others. It is only a fact that there are thousands and thousands of artistic expressions in all forms of art that do not hurt any sentiments yet manage to be great works. There are also certain artistic works that by their very nature and subject might cause some hurt to some people, not because of the work as such but because these people are unduly possessive or sentimental about the subject itself. I was addressing the third group of works where an artist causes hurting of sentiments of a large group of normal population, whether deliberately or otherwise. By normal population, I mean any population of rational beings excluding the fundamentalist or extremist elements.

I am thankful to all the readers who conveyed their opinions on the subject, either through comments section of the Blog or through Tweets/ emails to me. To take these deliberations further, I would like to discuss in detail some of the comments that are more vocal on different aspects of the issue. I would also use this opportunity to invite more comments from the readers so that something positive comes out of this interaction.

Lets us start with two extreme views:

Charakan said in his comments...

“I do not have much confusion about artistic freedom for expression and freedom for an individual to hold an opinion and express it.

Artists should have complete freedom for expressing themselves in the artistic way they want to and should be subjected only to self-censorship in an atmosphere free of fear of violence.

If someone get offended by it he/she should have the freedom to not to see/read/hear the artistic work.

Thus if someone finds a story in a text book offensive he/she should have the freedom not to study it. But he/she do not have the freedom to stop others studying it.

If a person or group of people is of the opinion that an artist is deliberately maligning their religion or culture they have the freedom to protest in a peaceful manner. At the same time the Government has the duty to protect the artists freedom and the freedom of others to protest peacefully. But the Government or the Courts should never stop an artist from expressing himself as the aggrieved parties always have the choice not to see/read/listen to the work.”

While he agreed with me on subjecting the artistic works to “self- censorship in an atmosphere free of fear of violence”, he holds a very clear view on the absoluteness of the artistic freedom. The only concession to the offended is their right not to study/ read/ see/ listen to the work in question. I have no quarrel with the ideas itself but I do not agree with the practicality of the suggestions.

If a university chooses offensive portions to be included in its syllabus, would it be possible to tell the students that if they are offended by the work they don’t have to study it? Taking the artistic freedom little further, is it fine for an artist to deliberately carry out character assassination of a person by including a distorted version of the family history of that person in some artistic work? Wouldn’t affected person have a right to sue the artist for defamation and would it be improper for the State/Courts to punish the artist, if it is proved that the work amounted to defamation as per the laws of the land? Or, should the Court merely tell that person to restrain from reading the artistic work containing defamatory matter?

I am of the firm view that violence is not limited to physical form alone; even psychological and emotional violence is equally deplorable. No matter what the mode of expression, every form of violence is to be condemned and stopped. That includes a violent artistic work as well.

Further, this comment pre-supposes a superior right to artists to express themselves, in whatever form and fashion they choose, while imposing a burden on all others to be apologetic about their sentiments and to be choosy about what they read, listen, view etc. In the real world, this kind of a classification of rights may not be feasible.

On the other hand, Aaquib Naved said...

“I feel there is a thin line between freedom and hurting someone's feelings. Your freedom of expression cannot intrude my sentiments. Be it a cartoonist, a blogger/writer. If you've objections/issues/views on any particular religion/sect you are most welcome to point them out but at the same time be ready for a healthy feedback. I reiterate it being healthy and non-violent. Moreover, If I portray you in a way which may be hurting and indecent to you and quote freedom of expression (as an excuse) it is somewhat arbitrary and forceful.

In contrast to the previous comment, this one portrays the views of the ‘offended’. Aaquib says “Your freedom of expression cannot intrude my sentiments”. But then, who decides where the thin line that separates freedom and hurt is? Sentiments differ from person to person. Can an artist realistically determine what the line is where he can be sure of not hurting anybody’s feelings?

Let us turn the argument on its head. As much as there could be an artist who is deliberately out to destroy social harmony, isn’t there a possibility of some motivated individuals holding that an artistic work hurts their sentiments (real or imaginary) and instigating a large groups of people to indulge in violence? In fact, it is the so called ‘offended people’ who often resort to violence without even trying to find out the truth behind the allegations about offending their sentiments! Most of the violence that occurred in the past against artistic works was precisely due to misguided reactions, at the behest of trouble makers and without actual reading, viewing or listening as the case may be.

Between the two extreme views above, we have to find a line which has balance of convenience, even if not the ideal, so that we can ensure maximum social harmony with minimum interference in artistic freedom. It is towards this end that I suggested self-restraint as the method, wherein the artist himself acts as any prudent artist would act in the given situation. I am sure there are thousands of ways to express one’s creativity and ideas without hurting other normal people’s sentiments.

I am glad to note that my view on self –restraint is not completely off the mark and there are takers who support the view.

I quote The Addict who said...

“As you've rightly shown, the path between artistic creativity and greater social harmony lies within self-restraint.

I would add that this philosophy is applicable not only to the artist, but even to the so-called audience.

It has been a sad precedent that the most radical reactions to offensive art (or art *supposed* to be offensive) are from people who have never seen/heard/read the art in question.

In other cases, the solution is simple: avoid what you personally dislike. Like we all do, every day, with so many things.

Above everything, let us foster a social culture where we understand that "strength needs to be tempered with wisdom"...”

And manjujoglekar...

"I like the point you have made about self-restraint being the best form of censorship.

Self-discipline or 'Swatantrata' has been advocated in Indian culture from ancient times.

‘Swa‘ means self. ‘Tantra‘ means method, discipline, or rules. So Swatantrata means acting according to our own methods or rules, which is the ideal type of 'freedom'.”

Both the comments above remarkably add substance to the theory of self-restraint. They do not limit it to artists alone but extends it further to encompass all of us. “Strength tempered with wisdom” is something that we all have to aspire for, as a qualification to remain social animals. If any of us try to enforce our unrestrained will on others, through art or violence or any other mode, then the fragile bond of society will only disintegrate.

I agree each one of us have absolute right to hold a view, opinion or belief, howsoever extreme it may be. But we do not have such a right to manifest that in public, without considering its impact on other members of the society. That restraint is the little cost that we have to pay for enjoying the membership and associated benefits of a society.

I do not believe the last word has been said on this topic. I look forward to more comments that may throw further perspectives on this issue, which I still believe to be complex.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Artistic Freedom- Is it Absolute?

“I believe in absolute freedom of expression. Everyone has a right to offend and be offended. So I supported Husain. In India, I see a division; some support Husain, others support Rushdie. Why can’t they support everybody’s freedom of expression? If they can’t support Rushdie, (Danish cartoonist Kurt) Westergaard, MF Husain, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Asiya Bibi and me equally, then they don’t believe in the freedom of expression.” These were the word of Ms Taslima Nasreen, the Bangladeshi writer who had to leave her country, in the face of attacks from religious groups, in her interview published in the Times of India, dated 19 June 2011.

These words again brought up to the fore, certain confusions in my mind- relating to the sad situation in which India’s one of the most commercially successful artists, MF Husain, had to accept citizenship of another country and had to die outside his country of birth (when I say commercially successful, I am not qualifying the success of Husain as an artist. I use the term only for the simple reason that art and paintings are not my forte and therefore I do not want to pass judgments thereon).

Who is right and who is wrong? Are all parties wrong or right? My heart says artists must have the full freedom to express their creativity, thoughts and ideas. I would not feel offended merely because someone has used his/her artistic freedom in some or other work. But my mind says that no freedom can be absolute; one’s freedom must stop just before the nose of another and should not include the freedom to touch the nose itself! Absolute freedom amounts to anarchy and therefore it is not advisable for any society that believes in rule of law and aspires for harmony.

I wouldn’t go into details of the situation involving MF Husain for three reasons: (i) my concerns here are more conceptual in nature, (ii) I have not been able to make up my mind about culpability of Husain in drawing nude paintings of certain figures that are worshipped by groups of people, and (ii) I am already biased against the extreme rightwing elements among Hindus, who caused the whole episode.

I have had the fortune to study Indian Constitution and therefore I know, constitutionally, in India, no freedom is absolute. The Constitution itself makes fundamental rights enshrined therein, including right to life, subject to reasonable restrictions. Therefore, when Ms Nasreen talks about the “absolute freedom of expression”, that has no sanction under Indian Constitution.

However, that does not solve my confusion. What amounts to reasonable restriction is something very subjective. At the most, it will help if a matter reaches a court and the court has to decide upon it. But these issues are not decided in courts, but often on the streets. Just like artists, there are elements in the society who think they too have the freedom of expression; only that their mode of expression is violence and not arts.

When Ms Nasreen says ‘everyone has right to offend’, isn’t she, inadvertently but ironically supporting the so called right to freedom of expression of her tormentors as well? When she was being harassed by these fanatics, weren’t they expressing their freedom of expression in a manner known to them?

Similarly, what if an artist or writer deliberately offends a group or community with the intention of either creating social tensions or merely to gain publicity for his/her works? What if a radical group wanting to create riots, use one of the artists to publish some matter that can inflame any of the groups? Can we allow such things to happen?

When I raised these issues through Twitter, @taslimanasreen did not respond. However, another friend @charakan raised certain pertinent issues by way of counter questions. I will quote his tweets (verbatim but edited to expand so as to make it clear to readers):

“Misuse of freedom to create social tension is done not by artists but by communalists. They will do it even if artists keep mum”

“Who decides what is offensive and made to market? By Communalists or Journalists who have never evaluated a work of art, or by Art Critics?

I agree these are not black and white issues. One cannot give clear answers to all these questions. Any of these questions cannot be answered by another question. That is why I advocate a middle ground.

While respecting the artistic freedom of expression, the artist himself or herself have to ensure that the freedom is not misused in a way that it results in creating social tensions. At the same time if a third party, whether it is moral police, Government authorities, censorship bodies or even art critics are given the power to censor the art works that can stifle the genuine freedom of the artist.

Artists cannot compare themselves with militant groups that are fuelled by religious or other retrograde agendas. They must value their freedom and show a sense of responsibility in exercising it. Every artist must ensure that he or she is exercising self imposed reasonable restrictions on his/her freedom of expression, so that the social harmony is not disturbed by their works. They can use the test of reasonableness, wherein they decide not to do something that a reasonable man would find offensive in a given situation. I am sure there are enough ways to create a work of art, without using offensive language or symbols.

The first step towards this objective is for artists to realise and admit that no one has absolute freedom of expression and that the right is subject to reasonable restrictions and social responsibility. They must understand that they have more responsibility towards society than hooligans and violent groups.

Finally, artists have to be aware that for a State, maintaining social harmony is more important than allowing individual creative freedom. Therefore, given the choice a State is likely to stifle freedom than allow anarchy by allowing every group to exercise their respective ‘absolute freedoms’. The concept of society and nation-states are based on giving up certain individual freedoms for the common good.

Self restraint is the best form of censorship, as it gives the artist sufficient opportunity to express his ideas or art in a way that the essence of the work is not compromised.

P.S: Please read the addendum post that analyses the comments to this post

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Saint I – The new Indian


Not a mere I, but St. I

I am the Saint... purest of pure

I, a lotus in the dirty pond

Never affected by the dirt around


I am a proud Indian

I am proud of ancient India; but not the present

I am concerned, not about me;

But about the whole world around me


I am pure, never corrupt

It is the system that is corrupt

I give bribes, but what choice do I have?

I take bribe, how can I manage my life otherwise?


I take money for vote

I take liquor for my vote

I take long weekends at vote

But isn’t that all problems of system?


I am never to be blamed; I am so pure

I am the society; but its faults are not mine

I am the country; but its weaknesses are not mine

I want strong country; but not my child as soldier


I want benefits; but not any taxes

I want cleanliness; but I will still spit

I want money; but hard work is not for me

For I am the people of this great country


I am a believer; but only in my God

I want freedom; but not to my neighbour

I want to blame; but not to be blamed

For I am the only one; so pure


I can go on; so much to say, but

I have flight to catch; to get out of the way

I will be back; when things are better

But I will have enough; to blame all the way!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Some Ancient Lessons from Buddha- For Contemporary Discourse on Lokpal Bill

Much has been said about the drafting of Lokpal Bill and the contentious clauses therein. But, have we heard anything other than the shrill noises? Are we any more enlightened on the real issues? I can vouch that most of us are not.

I think the TV Channels have taken out the communication from the debates. It is not about putting forth your views and ideas on the subject. It is about winning the noise match than winning the debate.

The more you shout, the less you have to convey. The less you convey, the more you confuse your audience. The more you confuse them, the less they retain their interest.... well, there comes the happy ending... you can go about things, the way they were... this seems to be the logic that great personalities, appearing on TV debates to enlighten us on the issues related to drafting of Lokpal Bill, following.

While the above is true about most of the current debates, I am looking at Lokpal debate, for the simple reason that the debate itself is completely lost in the noises that are being generously generated by all the stakeholders. Congress party does not communicate to people the real issues they see with the Lokpal Bill as suggested by Team Anna (Thankfully Media has now changed the term to ‘Team Anna’ from ‘Civil Society’... allowing people like me to be a part of civil society again!). Instead, they are trying to discredit the members of Team Anna/ Ramdev etc. On the other hand, members of Team Anna have lost all the proportions and are talking in voices that are so arrogant and beyond all reasoning. That leaves the principal opposition, BJP whose spokespersons are willing talk for hours on what wrong is being done by Government in Lokpal Bill drafting, but easily shies away from even the basic issues, when raised.

In all these, we are losing out a golden opportunity to reform our much abused anti-corruption systems. I have no doubt and no hesitation to state that we Indians are corrupt. I don’t know about others, as I am not exposed much to them. As for Indians, we find very less people who are neither willing to bribe nor willing to take bribes! We always find an excuse to fault the system/others and thereby justify our actions. We need a change in our mindset as well, if we have to remove the corruption from its roots. However, that being not an easy task, at least let us strengthen the laws and enforcement systems to restrict corruption in our country.

We can’t achieve that war, if we continue to try winning the battles by discrediting the opponents (opponents? who can be an opponent in this just war against a common enemy!). That is why I am taking this risk of trying to remind about some ancient wisdom stated by Buddha, to these illustrious people from all sides of the table, as to how we should conduct ourselves in reaching a viable and practical outcome in this whole debate!

Buddha, the great guru, after reflecting a lot on a fight between two factions of his Bikshus in a monastery, came to the conclusion that the only way we can ensure harmony in a group is by following certain principles in our interactions. I leave out the first three as they are more related to living together and therefore not relevant to current subject. The remaining three principles are as follows:

1. Using only words that contribute to harmony, avoiding all words that can cause the community to break

2. Sharing insights and understanding together

3. Respecting other’s view points and not forcing another to follow your own view point

(as quoted in ‘Old Path White Clouds’ by Thich Nhat Hanh)

I do not have to tell you, how each of the above principles was broken by the participants in the current debate on Lokpal Bill. More words have been spoken to damage the harmony than for throwing any light on the issues. People are arriving at their conclusions first and then debating to prove how wrong others are. Utter lack of respect for each other is so visible in the whole affair and the efforts are not to understand others’ view points but to force the other side with your views, be it through fasts unto death or private army or midnight evacuations!

Again, I do not have to tell you how easily they can arrive at a better result by following these simple principles!

None of them are fighting this war for their own personal gains and all of them are ostensibly fighting against the common enemy of corruption. Yet, they can’t find harmony in their debates! Hope better sense will prevail and all parties will climb down from their respective high pedestals and meet at a common ground to arrive at the best available solution rather than fighting for an ideal one.

Believe me... it is so crucial for our country; both in fighting corruption and in its very survival.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Killing of a Crime Reporter – The Response of Social Media

A Crime Reporter is dead... Shot in daylight by unknown persons, just outside his home!

A crime reporter suddenly turned into a crime report!

I never read Mid Day; I don’t usually read crime reports. So, I never knew that there was a crime reporter named Jyotirmoy Dey or Joy Dey, reporting on the underworld and other crime related stories in Mumbai.

Apparently, he was a senior journalist and was very good at what he was doing. He also maintained close contacts with many police officers, including the infamous encounter specialists, and underworld operatives. Can’t blame him for that- how else is he to source the reports on criminals and crimes for us to read?

Death is a death; irrespective of the mode. It is end of a life and a beginning of sorrow for many others. Life, however, moves on even for the family of the dead.

Then why am I writing this? Well, it is not on the killing of Joy Dey but about the reaction of our society to that incident.

I know for most people death is a reason for shock; more so in the case of a killing and even more so, where the victim is well known. Expression of sadness at the untimely ending of a promising life and at the ill luck that had befallen upon the family are expected and understood. MID DAY in their statement on the incident says “MiD DAY will not speculate on the circumstances that led to his murder, and will cooperate with the Mumbai Police at every step in the investigation”.

But our new Civil Society and Social Media are not satisfied at such niceties. This is the era of fast unto deaths and instant reactions. We have no time to wait for an investigation. We have to express our anger... our anguish... our frustration.... well, all at our State and political system! Even an unfortunate death is a weapon to undermine our system of governance; wittingly or unwittingly, for our social media crusaders.

I was surprised at the reactions to this unfortunate incident. I will just quote some of the representative tweets here for illustration purpose only:

@Tony2176: “another brave life lost to corrupt politicians and cops-is there no hope for our country? the truth will never come out :(“

@timesofindia: “Journalists lambast police for Dey's murder”

@anubhasawhney: “free speech was murdered in india today”

@corruptionhurts: “#jdey is killed because of our politicians. Join the debate on electoral system”

@unessentialist: “does anyone think the Mafia wld suddenly go after a journalist without some bastard politician's okay? RIP Jyotirmoy Dey”

@waglenikhil: “Journos demanded spl law long back. Maha govt promised but postponed every time. Meanwhile many beaten n j dey killed. Will the govt listen?”

Well, I will stop quoting further. You got to believe me when I say one person even commented that now the equilibrium can’t remain any longer and it is time for a revolution and another wanted the occasion to be used for demanding police reforms (though demand for reforms in itself is sensible)!

Mumbai Police categorically stated that they had no information about any threat to Mr Dey. No one else had accused police of knowing about the threat. Even if Dey sensed some threat, in his line of work, I do not think he would have sought police protection or filed a police complaint.

Some people point fingers at Oil Mafia, others at D Company; but all are unanimous in pointing out the role of politicians in this killing.

Is it the first time that a crime reporter got killed for his reporting, anywhere in the world? I doubt it. Is the killing of crime reporter different from the number of killings that he probably reported in his life? When you seek out secrets of those who have a lot to hide, you are in danger. That is a fact of life. When those people you seek out and report include professional killers, there is a huge risk of yourself becoming a victim. Anyone who reports on crime must be aware of these basic facts. Yet they can’t go around doing their work with police escorts; so they prefer to live with the risk.

We do not know who killed Dey. We all want Mumbai Police to actively investigate and bring the killers and anyone behind them to book. But blaming police or politicians (unless we can prove complicity of either) or the Indian democratic/electoral system for the killing is beyond all reasonableness.

Rule of law is not about stopping every crime; but the ability of state to investigate a crime objectively and to get the perpetuators convicted in a fair trial. Sensationalism is acceptable; but not at the cost of undermining our constitutional systems.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Indian Democracy and Right to Reject Candidates

Democracy is undergoing a crisis in India...

Every day, we hear comments on how Indian democracy has failed... how Indian politicians have looted the country... how the system is so incorrigible that there is no scope for any redemption... how elections are farce that the votes are purchased for money or liquor.... how it is useless to vote in an election as each and every candidate is a criminal.. etc.etc

India is a country that is characterised more by its diversities than its unity; the only unifying factor being ‘Indian-ness’ or ‘Bharatiyata’. Among the more solid identities based inter alia on religion, caste, language, race and regionalism, it is indeed difficult to perceive the Indian-ness. The crass efforts to define it within the narrow perspectives of Hindutva have only further eroded that defining identity of Indians.

Such a country (even though we can be proud of its very long history), cannot afford too many challenges to its existence. More so, if these challenges are from within. There are various fringe players, from the wide spectrum of extreme right to extreme left, that are wittingly or unwittingly trying to destabilise the nation. Even a seemingly noble fight against corruption is being hijacked by forces that can be a real threat to the Indian State. When I say this, I am not speaking about the political threat to existing government, but the threat to the core of Indian State.

India cannot neglect these developments but to its own peril. The State and its political establishment have to make sure that they carry the people along. At this moment, this can only be attained by two steps: (i) restoring people’s faith by expediting the actions against corruption and the malaise of black-money; and (ii) restoring people’s faith in the electoral system of the country.

While we all know what needs to be done in the case of corruption, I am concerned here with the second step of restoring faith in electoral system of the country. Various steps initiated by the Election Commission of India have ensured that most of the recent elections have been very fairly and successfully conducted. Yet many people are still not happy for the simple reason that they perceive these elections as an exercise that only provides a chance to elect the lesser of many evils.

It is often true. In their quest to identify “winnable candidates” political parties end up with persons who are of dubious and often outright criminal history. Winnability prevents many a capable and sincere candidates from not being able to contest in the elections.

While political parties must, for their own sake, ensure fielding credible candidates in elections, on the other hand we need more reforms in our electoral laws. One such reform that can really bring a change is the provisions related to rejection of candidates.

Not many of us are aware that there is a provision to reject all the candidates in an election and even lesser numbers actually use that provision. A voter who does not want to vote in favour of any of the candidates can declare so in front of the Returning Officer by filing up a prescribed Form. However, exercising that option in the present manner is against the principles of secret ballet, as the choice of the voter become known to all those present in the electoral booth, including the agents of the candidates. I do not have to explain the problems associated with such an open exercise of choice; it could even put the person’s life in danger! Apart from that, it is also against the legal right to exercise secret ballot.

It is time to change the law and make the rejection of all candidates an option in the ballet paper or EVMs, along with option of candidates. Such a step will serve the purpose of providing a perception of supremacy to the voters and put the political parties on notice to present better quality candidates. It requires not a gigantic change; but merely some tweaking of the existing procedure. In the worst case of really bad choices, majority of the voters can demand another set of candidates by rejecting the existing ones.

Hope our parliamentarians understand the need to provide such a perception of power to the people, so that they are not swayed by unscrupulous elements who exploit their anger towards what they consider as an unresponsive system.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Something Fishy! - An adaptation of the story of a wily Heron, as told by Sri Buddha

I know you will judge me! I also know that you will do it on your own perspectives and standards.

But there is nothing that I can do about your judgement or your perspectives. All my defence will fall on deaf ears, for you will subdue my voice with counter-questions like; “Which madman has ever admitted that he is mad?” or “All criminals say that they are innocent”!

After all, I am a simple fish who lived until recently, in a small dirty pond. Like any other creature in that pond, I too had lived a life that you will not even consider worth the name. But, should I remain silent, even when I can’t defend myself against your judgement?

No; I think it is my duty to speak out my rationale, at the top of my voice. Never ever give up the fight... that is what I learned from my friend, the frog, who kept holding on to the neck of a crane, trying to strangulate him, while the crane was swallowing him, even when more than half of his body was already inside its beaks! He fought till he was completely swallowed and I am sure would have continued with the fight, till he lost his life.

So, here is my story... just to set the record straight, from my end...

My only fault, if I may call it so, was that other creatures – fishes, crabs, frogs et al- thought I am the wisest among them. Some of them were even jealous of me, though there was nothing that stopped them becoming wiser too. It is that they chose to play when I spent my time with the elders in the pond, learning the wisdom of generations.

I don’t know if it was a way to get back at me, for all those who were jealous of me, or it was a genuine concern that the wisest one should undertake this task that was very important for the survival of all of us. To cut it short, I was chosen by almost all (the only exception being my beloved), to be carried by the Heron, to learn all about the new lake that he promised to us.

Ah... Heron; I don’t know where he came from. He just appeared on a sunny day, standing by the side of our pond, looking very sad. We all moved away from him; but the curiosity got the better of some of us who ventured to find out what made him so sad. He then explained to us about what he learned on the way; how the drought is approaching our pond, how our pond will soon end up with no water at all and how we will all die!

My poor brothers..., such innocent creatures, panicked on hearing this story of Heron. They all cried to him. “Heron Sir, you are so much experienced and have seen so much of the world that only you can save us from this danger. If you don’t find a way for us, we will all die here”.

Heron, appearing even sadder thought for some time and said “If you believe me and are willing to follow what I say, I can save you all, though it is a difficult task even for me”. My poor friends agreed to do whatever he suggests. He then suggested that he will carry us one by one, to a nearby lake that was full of water and very rich, that compared to our pond it would be like heaven.

I tried to caution them, for I have heard from our elders about a very old story where a heron had similarly suggested helping the inhabitants of a pond by shifting them one by one to a larger pond and then ate them all, until one day a crab finished him off with his claws.

But, alas; no one was willing to even listen to me. To make it worse, the Heron helpfully suggested carrying one of us to the lake and back, so that we can be sure of his words. That is when I realised, it is sometimes dangerous to speak out what you believe is right, for all others, as I said before, chose me, the doubting Tom, to go and see it for myself. At least some of them must have thought, if the heron is indeed lying, then let us get rid of this smartass!

I had no choice but to let the heron carry me. I remembered the old story, while trembling with fear, as Heron took to flight into the sky. Believe me; I was so scared for my life that I even forgot to look at the sights as we went up into the sky! But, it didn’t last so long. We came near a very large lake. I was surprised to see such a large body of water.

Heron flew very near to the water and then sat down on the bank. He held me with his claws and asked me, “Now do u believe my words? Let us go back now. You can tell them how good the life here will be and then I can carry each one of them to here”.

I replied. “Mr Heron, my apologies for not believing in your sincerity. Now I know how good you are and how nice it will be for all of us to come and live in this lake. Thank you so much. But you know what? I still can’t believe there can be so much water. Can you let me swim in this water, so that when my friends ask me about this place, I can tell them what a heaven it is”.

Heron thought for some time and then reluctantly released me into the water. Indeed it was heaven; and to be out of the clutches of the Heron!

Heron was in a hurry. He asked me to come back, so that we don’t delay the shifting of others. But then I wasn’t so sure- what if Heron is just another repetition of the old story? What if he will carry me safely to the pond so that all others will believe him? What if then he carries and eats each one of us? We will never know the truth.

“Thank you for letting me into this lake, Heron. But I have no plan to come back with you; for I know you will take me back to pond, but will start eating each of the poor ones who will come with you, when they know about this lake from me” I said.

“You are a cheat. You are selfish. Deceiving your own as soon as you got a fortune” Heron shouted; now trembling with anger. He knew he could not go back to the pond without me and convince others. They will all think that he had eaten me up.

There is a slight chance that the Heron was genuine and he wanted to help us all. But the cost of believing him would have been very huge; the life of an entire pond! I would rather be a cheat than to put the life of my brothers and neighbours into danger.

It is always better to put one’s faith in the Mother Nature than to depend on one’s natural enemies. Pond may indeed dry up; but there is also a chance that we might get a rain or two sooner and it will be life as ever. If we depend on the Heron, we might end up dead even faster, with no choice to escape at all.

That is my story. You can make your own judgement. It wouldn’t affect me, for my conscious is clear; it was not my love for the lake but my concern for the life of my brethren that made me stay back in the lake.

But I must confess, I am enjoying the life in this lake... It is indeed heaven here!