Tuesday, September 27, 2011

May We All RIP....

R I P...

It is one of the most common acronyms used to indicate different things in different contexts.  Same acronym is used, with different meanings, in Biology, Mathematics, Computers, Military, Music, Philosophy and Law.

However, we are concerned here with the layman’s RIP -Rest in Peace, used to wish the dead. 

I often wonder why we chose to reserve this most appropriate wish to the dead and gone!  Are we supposed to rest in peace only when we are dead?  Why not have our rest in peace while we are still alive and kicking, struggling or whatever?

Wishing a dead body anything, including RIP, is rather ironic.  It probably supposes a soul different from the body itself, where death is only a process of liberating the soul than destroying it, because the body itself has to but undergo decay/destruction.  Even if we accept this belief, how can a soul rest?  If so, by now this universe should have been filled with souls of the entire beings that lived and died.  Would they be resting as in sleeping somewhere or stacked some place?  Are we wishing those souls not to get another life (if you accept the rebirth theory)?  Are we praying that the soul get to rest in the ultimate Moksha, as in a sort of retired ‘life’ after the innumerous births?

Well, I have my own beliefs in the matter of soul, rebirth, Moksha etc.  But they are not relevant here (and I would prefer to use the subject for another blog).  I will not quarrel with anyone wanting to ‘wish’ a liberated soul to be deprived of all the excitement of life and to be wasted forever by being permanently stacked somewhere!

But why deny that pleasure of peace to the living souls, sorry, is it living persons?

The living beings spend their lives in these three conditions; (i) Rushing (ii) Resting or (3) Rusting.  All the excitement of being alive and all the struggles associated to being alive ensure that most of us are ‘Rushing’ for most of the time.  However, to make the Rushing effective we need to have proper Resting too, in life.  I believe that the appropriate balancing of rush and rest is the secret of sustainable success in life. 

The third dimension, i.e., Rusting is the worst condition for any living being.  These are probably the people who believe that this life is just one in the series of lives that the soul has to go through before the final rest.  Therefore, they don’t rush and without rush one can’t appreciate rest. They merely waste their life, with no use whatsoever for either them or others, without any worry about the consequences. They just rust, until their death.

Irrespective of which condition a person is in, he can always do with some peace.  Rust, Rush or Rest- do it in peace.   Peace is the permanent outlook of nature.  It is the living beings that disturb the peace of the nature (ever heard of a dead disturbing the peace, except in Dracula stories and horror movies?).  If they manage to find peace in their own lives that will, in turn, take the nature back into its peaceful existence. 

What we are doing or going through does not have to affect our peace.  Peace is a state of mind.  If we can learn to keep peace with ourselves, we will be able to do that with our families, our societies and our nations. No matter what the provocation- nothing will affect us.  We have instances that teach us the efficacy of maintaining peace even while we are in the process of resolving worst of worst conflicts.  We can master the art of living in spite of all the struggles that we may have to go through in day to day life.

Let the dead worry about their rest.... Let us wish we all enjoy peace, irrespective of what we do.  Let us not disturb the peace of this nature.  Let us not forget that we are mere tenants here and not the owners.  Enjoy as much as we can; but as far as feasible, do not destroy or disturb the order of nature. 

May Peace be on all of us in our Rush, Rest and Rust...


Sunday, September 25, 2011

What Chetan Bhagat Actually Said to Indian Muslims?

The innocent tagline of ‘The Underage Optimist’ neither makes Chetan Bhagat’s column in Times of India optimistic nor Chetan Bhagat himself an underage.  His column of today, i.e., September 25, 2011 (Don’t let them divide and rule anymore; page 24) is rather demonstrating the coming of age, as far his ideological and political leanings are concerned.

Let me first summarise what he said:
  1. He considers himself a part of majority and therefore candidly admits that he is not in a position to advise the minorities
  2. He lists out certain groups of minorities in India, in the beginning, but reserves the remaining column solely to Muslims
  3. He thinks we ended up with dishonest people in society right at the top, because we didn’t exercise our voting in the right manner.
  4.  Some politicians fool Muslims by playing vote bank politics, promising to be saviours of minority and asking their votes in return
  5. Muslims are the most wooed among minorities, because of their sheer numbers
  6.  This voting as vote bank resulted in bad politicians being elected over the years and that in turn caused all kind of problems for the country including inflation
  7.  Therefore, he calls upon Muslims to ‘keep the heat on politicians’ by ‘not committing their votes or loyalty to any political party forever’
  8.  Indians are craving for change- so Muslims have to put the nation before their religion now!
The above points clearly establish some assumptions used by Chetan Bhagat.  Let us looks at them:
  1. Muslims are part of a single vote bank based on religion.
  2. While other vote banks may exist they are not as ‘dangerous’ as Muslim vote bank, for the nation’s interests.
  3. Muslims have always let them be fooled by false promises. They merely vote on religious lines and are not interested in day to day problems of the common man
  4. Muslims have committed their votes or loyalty to particular political parties 
  5. Muslims are responsible for bad politicians being elected till now and therefore for all the ills of this nation
  6. Muslims are a hindrance in the change that ‘significant part of population’ is craving for.  
  7. Therefore, it is time for Muslims to put their nation before the religion.

Now let us look at the significant things conveniently left unsaid by Mr Bhagat: 
  1. Which is the Political Party that Muslims have ‘committed their votes or loyalty forever?
  2. How the ‘significant part of population’ propose to bring the ‘change it is craving for’? Is it by a mere change in government or something more than that?
  3. What does he expect from the Muslims? Whom should they vote to, next time?  Where should they get ‘on board’?
Why do I feel offended by this column in particular?  It is simply because, in the guise of a friendly advice, it is actually offending the national feelings of the Muslims on the one hand and subtly making the majority aware of the need to consolidate their own votes to prevent the effect of Muslim vote consolidation, on the other hand.

We have a Congress government in power now.  The only viable alternative available today is BJP.  Muslims are generally perceived as voting against BJP, though this cannot be substantiated.  The perception is that unless BJP overcomes the objections of minorities, they cannot come to power at the national level.  So, is Chetan Bhagat asking Muslims to switch sides to BJP?

I don’t find any problem with anybody asking vote for BJP or for any other party.  It is a legitimate political activity.  I am only pointing out the duplicity in this inllectualisation of a political activity! So, when Chetan Bhagat singles out Muslims and makes them responsible for the ‘change’ I naturally wonder what is cooking!

Mr Bhagat, every Indian votes as per what they consider is in their interest and in the interest of nation, in that order.  If Muslims have voted for any particular party(ies) in the past it is because they considered that was in the interest of them as well as the nation. Muslims are as concerned as the members of majority are on issues like corruption, poverty, unemployment, inflation etc.  However, no one can deny others the right to prioritise when their very identity and life are perceived to be in danger.

Chetan Bhagat ends his column with a question addressed to Indian Muslims, “Are you on board?” On board what, Mr Bhagat?  Why don’t you enlighten us more about where all of us (including Muslims) who have not voted in the interest of nation in the past should get on board? If there is a problem with the party in power, Muslims alone are not guilty for that.  15% of the Muslim votes, even if consolidated on the basis of religion, cannot solely decide who governs India. It requires the votes of substantive portion of the ‘majority’ votes as well.  So, some part of the blame is applicable on others in the majority as well? 

Chetan Bhagat is a widely read writer.  He has the flair and sophistication to put forth any message in subtle ways.  What Narendra Modi will say in crude political language, you can expect Chetan Bhagat to put forth in a more subtle way?  But the fact remains there is no difference in what both Modi and Bhagat said.  

What Mr Bhagat did looks like an effort to try and ‘divide’ Indian voters on the basis of their religion so that he can ensure the ‘change’ that the ‘significant part of population’ is craving for. He should only have been more honest in seeking vote for BJP or pointing out a third viable alternative!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Why Chidambaram Must Go!

I have said before that I do not agree with the CAG’s findings of colossal loss in the licensing of 2G spectrum.  Auction or sale or licensing or free grant of a natural resource is a policy decision that an incumbent government is entitled to take, based on its objectives. Therefore, CAG being the auditor should not have speculated an amount of loss, when the government policy was not to earn revenue but to ensure deeper penetration of a basic service into the masses. 

However, I also said that irrespective of the above position relating to policy, if it is established that there were illegalities in the allotment of licenses, then the guilty must be brought to book.  Therefore, I was happy to see the former Union Minister A Raja being hauled up by the courts (though I have a certain view as regards his and others’ continued detention in the jail instead of granting bail) as a proof of our rule of law.

One may agree or disagree with the above view on policy that I mentioned.  However, CBI, the investigative agency of Central Government has taken a position that there indeed was a loss, albeit much lesser than what was arrived at by the CAG.  What does that mean? In my opinion, it simply means that the Government of India, being the State, holds the position that there indeed was an illegality in the allotment of spectrum, leading to loss to the exchequer.  In that context my views or other similar views do not stand anymore, as far as the Government of India is concerned (irrespective of what the courts will finally decide).

There arises the next question.  If the illegality extended not just to the process of allocation but to the very decision forming the basis of allocation itself, then shouldn’t whoever part of taking that decision held guilty?  The commonsense suggests, yes, it should have been.  Then what was the logic of CBI charging only one of the Ministers who took that decision? The documents now in the public domain and presumably in the knowledge of Government/ CBI, clearly establishes that the impugned decision was arrived at jointly by A Raja and P Chidambaram. 

What follows is that, in the normal course of investigation CBI should have charge sheeted P Chidambaram as well.   We do not know what prompted them not to do so. They cannot be selective in their investigations.  If two persons took part in a decision making, only one cannot be charged and the other not even questioned.

I leave that aside- it is for the CBI to answer.  The larger issue before me is the issue of propriety.  Look at this... A Minister in the Government was charged in a serious scam that shook the very confidence of people in their government.  Prime Minister stated on record in the Parliament that he was convinced that everything was alright as he got assurances from both Telecom and Finance Ministers. Yet, one of them was made a scapegoat, while the other continued to be the Home Minister of the country, negating the basic principle of equality before law.

What more.... all the while Government kept blaming the coalition politics for the whole mess. It abdicated the collective responsibility of the Cabinet.  Chidambaram, who was party to the decision that landed his colleague in jail, remained silent and thereby cheated the people of this country as well as its legal system.

Now we know that another Cabinet Minister, the de facto number two of the Government had informed the Prime Minister in writing about the involvement of Chidambaram.  Not just that, he had in fact put the blame for not stopping the scam squarely on Chidambaram.  In effect one arm of the Government charge sheeted A Raja for an action while its Minister accused Chidambaram of being equally or more culpable for the same action.

While A Raja remained in jail, without even getting the bail, Chidambaram remained silent.  He never shown the courtesy of defending A Raja, his alleged accomplice, or offered to resign if he considered A Raja actually guilty.  If he believed A Raja was guilty of wrong doing in choosing not to auction the Spectrum, then he all the while knew that he was equally guilty for that decision.  The only option for an honourable man was to swim or sink together with his comrade in action.

To conclude, let me state that in my opinion the courts will eventually acquit the accused in Spectrum scam, as far as the decision for not auctioning is concerned and for causing loss to exchequer.  However, P Chidambaram who failed to take the people of this country into confidence all this while when one of the most serious investigation was going on a matter in which he was fully involved has lost all moral authority to continue in office.

Ministership is not a right to anyone.   Chidambaram can go out and fight the legal case.  When he is acquitted, he may come back; but not until then he has any right to continue as a Minister in the Government of India.

Take it Easy my Friend, You Don’t Matter So Much!

I remember visiting a colleague of mine, who was to undergo a surgery for some complication related to her heart.  She had only joined our office just about a year back, on compassionate grounds, after her husband died while in service.  Though I was many years younger to her in age, since I was the one who taught her the first steps in the office, we shared a very good rapport. 

When she developed the complication and was advised by her doctors to undergo immediate surgery, she was devastated. I went to visit her at home. When I met her she was very much tensed and in tears.  Doctors had suggested the surgery for the following week and she was really worried about its outcome.

When I saw her crying, I didn’t know what to say.  But then it is better to speak from the heart, when you don’t know what to do.  I did precisely that.... I asked her as to what is the worst that she think can happen to her. She promptly replied she might die.  She said she is not worried about her own death but of the future of her three unmarried daughters.  She was willing to take the risk and avoid the surgery so that she can live for sure, till at least one of her daughters got married. 

Then I asked her, “Did you ever consider what would happen to you and you children when you husband was alive and what were your thoughts when he died?” She said she was scared at that time about their very survival, without her husband, but she somehow managed their life to this stage.  Then I told her, “When your husband died your children were much younger and you all were in need of each other.  But now, they are relatively grown up and can take care of themselves.  As for their marriage- that too will happen as per their destiny irrespective of you are dead or alive. So instead of worrying about the future, go ahead and do what is necessary to do today” (While I am not a believer in fate, destiny etc, sometimes such words come handy for convincing people).

For the first time since she fell ill, my words forced her to deal with the issue of her possible death and its consequences openly.  She spoke about it; rather confronted it.  To cut the story short, she underwent the surgery in a much more relaxed mood, survived it and continued to work for many years before she retired.  Close to a decade later, she is now visiting her elder daughter’s family in Europe. 

Thereafter, many a times she praised me for the talk on that day. She says everyone else only sympathised with her situation and that in turn made her feel worse.   But the talk with me made her see the worst, then relax and be ready to face whatever was in store for her. 

I often think that 90% of our tensions and problems are of our own creation- a result of taking our life rather too seriously!

Come to think of it... what are we?  How big is our role in the overall scheme of things?  If I die today, how much impact will that make on my family or the society?  OK, I am too insignificant you say?  I agree and I am thankful for that.  But, then let us consider more significant people who lived in this world and then died. 

Is it true that like one of our former Prime Ministers infamously spoke, “When a giant tree falls, earth below shakes”?  I do not think so... This earth has much more resilience than we give credit for (hasn’t it survived abuse by generations after generations of cruel and selfish human beings?).  It was not the fall of giant tree that shook the earth, but the deliberate actions of unscrupulous human beings who arrogated the power of retaliation and revenge on to themselves!

Each time a great personality, real or propped up, dies we hear people speaking about the unfathomable loss to nation/humanity etc.    If we consider all those cries for all the great but dead people, humanity should have closed its shop long back, from the accumulated losses.  But the world moves on- with or without the human induced shakings of earth. 

One of my all time favourite quotes says it all “Graveyards are full of those who thought they are indispensable”.  How true...

If there is anything dead sure in the life a person that is the death. Yet we worry about it so much.  Well, we might say that we are worried not about the death itself but its effect on the family etc.  While I don’t deny that there could be some adverse effect on the immediate family, it wouldn’t stop the world even for them.  Memories fade, life picks up.

In my opinion, we can only be happy and contended when we stop taking our life and ourselves seriously.  We must understand the bottom-line; dead and gone.  With our death, this universe ceases to exist for us.  What happens to anyone or anything after that is not something that we can control and therefore need to worry about. 

I am not suggesting that one should not plan and make provisions / arrangements for family etc, for the post-death scenario.  What I suggest is that we stop worrying about that and just do what is necessary (like getting some insurance?) and continue to enjoy one’s life. 

Leave the ultimate loss- death, aside. Let us look at the other things that keep us worried.  Career, wealth, status, children- there are many things that we worry about.  But more often than not, it is the future of these things and not the present that we are worried about.  In the process, we even forget as to how we can manage our present, so as to make the future brighter. 

We forget that happiness is a state of our mind than a result of any external factor.  No career, no amount of wealth or no successful children can make you happy.  It is only you who can make you happy.  But do you have the time to even consider that, while struggling to chase so many external factors that you think will bring you happiness?

The image that you create for yourself or the image that others create about you- none of these matter in the final analysis.  One more promotion or some more money in the bank is not going to make much difference in your happiness quotient.  By all means go for them, but not as a struggle.  Enjoy the process as in, say playing a computer game?  If you can’t enjoy it then better give it up... there is no point in mere struggle.

Take the life easy... you don’t matter so much as you think... you are just one among the billions and billions who lived (and died) in this world... and we don’t even know how many such worlds are out there in the universe.... so, you carry no burden for this universe... stop acting like that house lizard who thinks he is carrying the burden of roof...just go ahead and make the most of this one and only life that you have got.... only make sure that you don’t cause any damage to the world, through your actions!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

What do We Live? ....The Reality or Mere Perceptions?

Some time back, I received an e-mail forwarded by one of my friends. It contained some humorous stories. Since I can’t trace that mail and since it anyway did not acknowledge the sources, let me paraphrase one of them here:

There lived a couple- married for over 20 years.  Like most of them who are married for that long, they were also bored with each other and with their life in general (before you ask, I used 20 years as a distant enough bench-mark so that I don’t have to answer my wife, about what I meant when I used the words ‘like most of them’. But, if you are already there, feel free to push it further by a few years).   As you know, such boredom manifests in different ways- for the husband it was a loss of libido while for the wife it was a constant migraine.

Then came a day, when wife was so happy, as she had finally conquered her migraine.  With all the enthusiasm, she informed her husband about her meeting with a therapist who advised her to stand in front of a mirror and say aloud to her image in the mirror, three times, that she has no migraine and she was happy.  She followed the advice to the last letter and immediately felt relieved.  She then suggested that her husband too use the same formula for any problem that he wants to solve. 

Husband took the cue, got up from the bed and walked into the bathroom.  In about 5 minutes he came out and headed straight to his wife and initiated something out of ordinary for them that became the best sex session of their life.   Soon after he again walked into the bathroom and the whole process repeated.  When he got up and walked again towards bathroom, the wife who was by now tired and curious tiptoed behind him.

And there she listened in horror- he was yelling to himself; “that woman in my bed is NOT MY wife”!

The message in this story is very clear.  We have heard the simpler version of the message in the recent movie, Three Idiots, in the form of the ‘All is well’ call.

I have personally adopted this strategy for quite some time now- whenever I have a seemingly difficult problem, I just look at my image in mirror, smile and tell - ‘everything gonna be all right’, to a great relief each time.

Why does this happen? Are we really fooling ourselves by turning away from reality? Trying to create a make believe world? The answer is Yes and No!

Our life is a result of two sets of perceptions- one that we unconsciously perceive, from our surroundings based on the social conditioning and the other set that we consciously try to inculcate into ourselves. The instances we discussed above fall under the latter.  We teach, advise, condition ourselves with certain message and our mind begins to perceive them as reality.  After a while, we don’t even recognise that the perception was only a result of our own conditioning.

What about other aspects of the life? Are they THE reality like we tend to believe? Or merely our perceptions, that fall under the former set of unconscious conditioning?  Lets us look at some real life situations.

We find a large number of people loathe religious conversions, because they consider it as an attack on their religion. I am not looking at the social, constitutional, economic or ethical aspects of such conversions. I will limit my enquiry into the perceptional aspects of conversion from the point of view of the converts and those who feel offended about it.

Conversion presupposes a religion by birth.  Why should it be so? When we take birth are we coming into this world with some pre-conceived notions about our religions? Or is it merely the parental and social conditioning that determines our religions? Answer is obvious.  Our parents and the society tell us what our religion is.  Thereafter, the entire effort is channelized into learning and living our religion.  Often this conditioning is coupled with lesson about how our religion is different from other religions and how we are different from others.  And the child develops into the religion of his parents.

None of us have learned what each religion is, what each religion teaches, which one is more acceptable to our own core beliefs etc.  We accepted the one that was thrust upon us by the system and faithfully abided by it.  In my opinion, those who convert out of conviction about a religion (even if that religion is the one that was prescribed by his parents to him) is the true religious ones. Rest of us are merely using our religious tags as a status in the society!

Same is the case with love.  We love our parents, our children, our friends, our spouses.  Do we really love them or do we perceive as loving them?  If we love them in reality, what makes that love to change ever?  I have had the misfortune to be in family courts for some time and have keenly observed the venom with which erstwhile loved ones fight each other.  Believe me; the fights between enemies are often dignified than the fights between loved ones!  Do we exercise a conscious choice as to whom to love and whom to hate?   Or do we just follow what we have been conditioned with- one got to love so and so and not so and so?

How many of us have done a SWOT analysis before we took up a career? Did we chose what we wanted to be or we took what we perceived as the best option at the given time?  I admit that more and more people are answering their call of hearts in the matter of career these days.  But even those calls are not just the product of hearts but alsoof our perceptions of what is good and what is bad.

Now take the example of politics.  How many of us study and compare all the available political choices and then decide one that we want to join? Again, how many of us constantly monitor the parties so that we are sure of matching of our thoughts and the policies of the party we are in, for the time being?  We don’t... right?  We just decide on some initial perceptions (including the choice of our own parents) and subscribe to an ideology or a party. Then it is an effort to condition our perceptions to match that of our ideology of party.  This process happens very unconsciously, so that we may not even realise it and end up believing many things as gospel truths, simply because that perception suits us and our party!

I can go on with such examples from all facets of life.  But, I guess these are enough for our purpose.  And what is the purpose? It is to make us aware that what we perceive as reality is only our perception and may not correspond to the actual reality.

Well, I agree that the process often makes life easier for us.  We can escape from the need to exercise constant alertness and to do analysis of all the facts that we are confronted with, at all times.  We just have to fit into the pigeonholes of our choice or the ones that we inherited through our birth.   Rest all have already been defined for us to merely conform to.  We blindly follow the leaders/ gurus/ scriptures of our pigeonhole and close our eyes and ears as far as feasible to those of others.  That surely makes life simpler; irrespective of the pitfalls associated with such a life.

                        (Courtesy: http://www.worldtrans.org/TP/TP1/TP1-9.HTML)

Let us look at this picture.  What do we see as the reality? Are we seeing a young girl looking away or are we seeing an old lady looking down?  Well, which ever may be our perception it is true in this case but other perception is equally true as well.

So long as we admit that ours is only a perception and do not insist on others that they must conform to our perception or do not insist that no other perception other than ours is feasible, it is perfectly all right.  But unfortunately, we take our perceptions too seriously for such gracious admissions.  We combine them with other members of our particular group and convert them into status symbols.  Thereafter, it reduces to a We vs They or Us vs You affair and the reality get sacrificed for the sake of perceptions.

The conditioning sometimes goes to such extent that we are forced to give up all connections with the reality and become puppets in the hands of those manipulators who are conditioning us for their own agenda.  We become parties to violence, we become suicide bombers, we become trolls- anything to protest/advance our ‘reality’, including by doing anything to pull down other dissenting voices.

Our world is paying the price for the lack of this understanding.  We need to understand that no rational human being consciously adopts an illogical view.  If he is doing so, it is merely based on a perception that he considers rational, either through internal or external conditioning. 

Understanding this aspect of human behaviour helps us in deciphering the logic behind seemingly illogical actions and take necessary corrective steps. It also helps us in respecting different perceptions of members, be it in society, family or relationships and displaying better tolerance.

Remember, we are living in a world of which we can’t even perceive the shape. Shape presupposes an edge and an edge presupposes something beyond the edge (even if it is only vacuum).  If world is surrounded by emptiness or vacuum where does that vacuum ends? Can a material thing be indefinite?

With such limited knowledge about our larger home itself, our claims to have control on and absolute knowledge of all realities sounds very hollow.  So, let us be aware that what we perceive as reality may only be our perception and other human beings may be equally right in arriving at a different perception.  That awareness would make this world a better place to live, irrespective of that life itself being a mere perception or reality.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Onam and Kerala- are they losing the magic?

ONAM is undoubtedly the most secular festival in India.  Though it has its basis in the Hindu mythology involving the demon king Mahabali and Vishnu’s incarnation Vamana, it has always been celebrated as more of a secular festival associated with harvest season and also the people’s aspiration for a welfare state. 

Celebration of Onam used to be the very essence of lifestyle of a Keralite.  Boat races (Vallam Kali), Tiger dance (Pulikkali), Flower arrangements (Pookkalam), Feast (Sadhya), clean/ new cloths, various sports activities etc were all part of the Onam celebrations, showcasing the best of Kerala.

Onam falls in the season immediately after the harvest of paddy and when the surroundings are full of after the rain flowers.  Its celebration is traditionally not restricted to Hindus alone but by and large extended to all sections of society.   We can see Christian churches officially conducting Onam celebrations at many places.  Coming back home to celebrate Onam is a very important ritual in the lives of expatriates of Kerala.  Even those unfortunate ones who could not manage to reach home makes sure that they celebrate Onam in a befitting manner, whichever corner of the earth they may be in!

This year’s Onam was special to me.  It was after the ages that my sister and her family were available at home to celebrate Onam. In fact, entire immediate family from my side as well as my wife’s side were together for most of the week, giving me one of the happiest and memorable Onams.  We decided to make it a grand celebration by combining Onam with the first anniversary of our new house ‘Ambady’ and got together at Ambady on the first Onam, or Utradam as we call it. 

However, it was not all bliss.... Like everything else in life, this Onam also presented a mixed bag.   While it was nice to watch the initiative of celebrations being shifted to the next generation who are entering their early teenage now, it was slightly painful to watch Onam losing its magic in this generational shift.

I was among the dismal minority who voted for the traditional Onam feast, the Sadhya, against the vociferous majority of the younger lot for Chicken Biriyani.  We used our High Command powers and managed to make it a dual feast, with traditional Sadhya and Chicken Biriyani as options.   I must say I have no regrets in electing the Sadhya since it was a great spread with all traditional items.  However, when I saw the rush at the chicken stalls at 7.00 in the morning, I realised that our children were just being part of the new trend and it was we the older minority that was being out of touch with changing reality!

There were not many options as far as the Pookkalam goes.  There is hardly any forest or open space left (in spite of my house being situated in a rural area) where children could go and collect flowers for the Pookkalam.  The only options were to give up the Pookkalam or to buy flowers that were imported from Karnataka.  While our children lost the fun and thrill of going out to collect flowers, I didn’t want them to miss the happiness of arranging a Pookkalam.  So, I bought whatever flowers were available in the market and left it to the children to make the Pookkalam.  The result is here to see:

Post lunch, when the time came for the plays we chose to go for a swim.  20 children and 7 of us grownups had a great time in the nearby pond.  My son and his cousins who learned swimming recently showed their skills in the pond.  The younger ones including my daughter played in the shallow sides of the pond, learning the first steps of swimming under the watchful eyes of the ladies.   Once again the pot bellied uncles became children in showing off their swimming and diving skills.  However, I could not but be aware that it will not be for long that we will have such a pond to enjoy, most of the others having already been land filled to find place for the ever increasing housing needs of Kerala!

However, the worst was yet to come.  It was when I sat with my brothers-in-law and the co-brother, in the evening, and discussed the political and social developments in the area (what else, when Mallus get together?!) that I really became sad.  I was told about the tension being built up in the surrounding areas by some or other groups. 

I came to know that in some parts of the district there appeared some posters which warned that since the Ramsan celebrations were washed out in the incessant rains, no one should hope to celebrate Onam and that even if it did not rain all celebrations will be stopped by force.  On the face of it, the message looked really stupid and should have been laughed at.  But the fact that the police had to remove it and people generally took it seriously shows a disturbing trend of communal polarisation that is slowly taking place in Kerala.   It apparently even affected the spirit of celebrations in some parts of the district.

The increasing belligerence of NDF (the militant Muslim political front) is making a lot of people in the area nervous.  Coupled with frequent skirmishes involving selective but bloody attacks by CPM or RSS, this development is causing heartburns among all right-thinking people of the area.  With the number of crude bombs being recovered from the northern parts of Kozhikode district and number of provocative attacks / attempts from different sides, it is clear that the existing goodwill and resilience among general public are the only factors that is preventing a flare up.  But how long can this continue before another major incident like the one that shook Marad, in the recent past, takes place?

Immediately after the Onam, comes the birthday celebration of one of the foremost spiritual leaders of Kerala, Sri Narayana Guru.  The great teacher who taught Kerala lessons like “One Caste, One Religion, One God for men” and “Ask not, Say not Think not Caste”, must have been sad to see his birthday being celebrated as a show of strength for one of the most powerful caste based organisation of Kerala, the SNDP, with Yellow processions being taken out in most parts of the State.  Knowing that until few years back, none of the caste based organisations like SNDP or NSS could find any roots in the Northern Kerala, it is indeed worrying for people like me to see such open display of caste power.

Then came the news on liquor sales, during Onam, in Kerala.  Yet another record broken, with 25% increase in sales in comparison to last year’s Onam! 

On the one side an Onam that is losing out its traditional flavour to the changing tastes of younger generation and the increasing urbanisation.  On the other side a society that is losing its traditional values– with increasing violence, communalisation and alcoholism & decreasing camaraderie and secularism.  

Is it that Onam and also Kerala are losing their magic?  Or is it just the pessimistic apprehensions of someone who is growing old?  I sincerely wish the latter is true. That wish will take me back to Kerala during next Onam as well, irrespective of the heartburns and the few extra kilos of weight that I will accumulate during the short stay. 

In the meanwhile, I would request the readers to add their perspectives on the issues raised above by way of their valuable comments, so that we can attain more clarity.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Are They Scared of Social Media?

I am sure most of us have not forgotten how our main stream media, especially TV Channels,  dealt with Mr Sashi Tharoor for his famous ‘cattle class’ tweet.  The reaction was much more than what was necessary for a simple tongue in cheek reply to a pointed question.  Anchors competed among themselves, to establish that the Tweet in question was more of ‘foot in the mouth’ than ‘tongue in cheek’.

We were subjected to many debates where it was sought to be established that it is not right for the public personalities to communicate on social media because it can lead to such gaffes.   More often than not, I felt that the outrage being orchestrated was directed against the medium than the message or the messenger. 

My suspicion grew with the similar or even worse reactions that the Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, continues to face on his use of Twitter.    Each tweet of Mr Abdullah is dissected in the News channels and subjected to almost cruel criticism. 

To prove my point, let me describe a recent incident involving Omar.

When the Tamilnadu Assembly passed a unanimous resolution seeking to save three persons sentenced to death for killing former PM Rajiv Gandhi and 16 others, there were too much jubilation in the State and too little protest in the country.  A brazen political interference in the administration of justice did not find much protest, at least as much as it deserved.  Therefore, I was only happy to read the following tweet from Omar Abdhullah:

“If J&K assembly had passed a resolution similar to the Tamil Nadu one for Afzal Guru would the reaction have been as muted? I think not.”

Afzal Guru is a Kashmiri.  There are many people in Kashmir who would love to see Afzal shown some mercy and let off from the death penalty.  There are bound to be pressure from those Kashmiris upon Chief Minister of the State.  Under such circumstances, when another State passes such a resolution seeking mercy for killers, it would make any Chief Minister to think about the repercussions in his own State. 

Quoting Afzal Guru’s example was a brilliant move, because it achieved three objectives at the same time: (i) Afzal Guru’s life is such a politicised issue in India; everyone was bound to understand the double standards when it comes to political reactions on administration of justice in similar terror cases, (ii) it highlighted the dangerous path being pioneered by Tamilnadu Assembly, and (iii) it highlighted our prejudices about all matters relating to Kashmir.  His question stood vindicated when the Punjab CM wrote to President and Prime Minister seeking mercy for another convict who had killed 30 people in a terror act in Delhi and whose mercy petition got rejected by President. Again, there were only muted protests against this act as well.

However, I was surprised to see the reaction of Times Now Channel and its Editor, Arnab Goswami in their News Hour programme.  Arnab went ballistic (though that in itself is not anything new) on how a Chief Minister can send such a Tweet. He was more outraged about a CM making such a suggestion in a sarcastic tweet than the Assembly passing a unanimous resolution!

Arnab ended his programme with a message directed to his viewers but clearly addressed to Omar.  It almost challenged him to come on TV to take questions and explain the meaning of his tweet!  The arrogance of a TV Anchor (an Editor, no less) and the contempt for Twitter as a medium was obvious in his words. 

What generates such caustic reactions from other media, when a politician or other public figure uses a direct medium such as Twitter or Face book to communicate?  Is it the fear of losing a monopoly over news and views?  

When more than 100 people re-tweeted that message in question and many more discussed it over Twitter, there was nothing left for the Channels to tell us.  They had little chance to twist the message in any way that suited them.  Yet surprisingly, they tried precisely that... Times Now while doing a show based on a tweet did not find it necessary to put that tweet on their screen and let the viewers judge for themselves.  The viewers are supposed to listen to the omniscient Anchor for whatever little Gyan that they deserve, not read a statement by themselves and decide what is right or wrong.

Just listen to the criticism that many Anchors of TV channels are subjected to on Twitter, for their biased views and faulty reporting.   Till now their monopoly had helped them to pass their views as news to the unsuspecting viewers.  However this is not possible any more, with more and more discerning people accessing direct information through internet and especially social media.

This is the danger that the main stream media is facing from social media.  Howsoever they may wish, this phenomenon is not going to go away.  It will only increase with more and more people getting access to some form or other social media.  Therefore it is high time for the mainstream media to understand that truth and adapt themselves for survival.  It is no more possible to monopolise dissemination of information.

However, old habits just refuse to die.  Instead of adapting themselves to the changing world, they discuss issues like ‘should public figures stay away from social media like Twitter’!  They try to intimidate and chase the newsmakers away from social media.  They expect that no newsmaker must speak anything outside a TV Channel.  If at all any newsmaker does such a mistake then s/he should immediately come to the Channels and explain their position to the obnoxious Anchors. 

But the tide is turning for sure.  Not for any longer, the main stream media can continue their monopoly on news.  More so when we have younger leaders like Omar Abdullah who are willing to face the challenge and retort, again by way of Tweet:

Just in case anyone is under the mistaken impression that I’ve been bullied off twitter- sorry but here I am & I’m not going anywhere :-)”

Well done, Mr Abdullah... You have earned our respect; both for speaking the bitter truth and for facing the challenge and staying put!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Politics of Death Penalty and Mercy Petitions

I am not in favour of death penalty, for many reasons. At the outset, let me list those reasons:

1.            There is no evidence to the presumption that death penalty is an effective deterrent
2.            Executing a human being is immoral, even if that human being is a murderer- it negates the difference between murderer and a civilised society.
3.            Unlike other punishments, death penalty is not a retractable one. Even if we realise a grave error in the judgement, once executed, we cannot undo the damage.
4.            Killing of a person is an indirect punishment and /or cruelty to his innocent near and dear. Unlike jail sentence, death of a person involves sorrow to others.
5.            We are not a society that accepts the rule of ‘eye for an eye’.  Then why do we take life for a life?
6.            Death penalty, more often than not, involves the cruelty of waiting for one’s death.  In India, this waiting gets extended to even decades and consequently the convict has to serve a life sentence before his death sentence.  This is clearly more than what he was sentenced to.

For the above reasons, I would like to see the death penalty removed from the statute books.  However, when I say this, I am also aware of the other side of coin - the need to inflict maximum punishment in some cases and the continued life of the person itself being a threat to humanity.  Our judiciary has acknowledged this dichotomy and made death penalty applicable only to the rarest of rare cases.  As a result, in India, the rule in murder cases is life imprisonment; death penalty being an exception reserved for the rarest of rare cases.

Notwithstanding our views on the death penalty, the fact of the matter is that it remains a part of our laws as it stands today.  Adequate checks and balances, both judicial and administrative, have been established to ensure minimisation of any sort of error in imposing death on a person.  Even after exhausting all the judicial avenues, our system provides for mercy petitions to the Governor and to the President of India, seeking pardon.  Only when all these options fail to bring any success, the execution is carried out. 

While all these procedures are completed, there is bound to be an unavoidable time delay.  During this period the death row convict has to undergo the torture of living his life by a thread.  In the words of US Supreme Court as cited by Supreme Court of India, “The cruelty of capital punishment lies not only in the execution itself and the pain incident thereto, but also in the dehumanising effects of the lengthy imprisonment prior to execution. The prospect of pending execution exacts a frightful toll during the inevitable long wait between the imposition of the sentence and the actual infliction of death”. 

While some time gap is unavoidable in completing the procedure, when the Government prevaricates on the decision on mercy petitions, the delay becomes inordinate and extremely cruel.  In my opinion, any undue delay on deciding mercy petitions is not only illegal but also immoral (For more details, please see my Blog; Delay in Considering Mercy Petitions- No Less a Crime).  Recognising this principle, Supreme Court of India had even commuted death penalty in some cases where there were inordinate delays in rejecting mercy petitions.

However, Governments seem to have not learned any lessons.  Even now, most irresponsibly, they continue to delay the decision on mercy petitions.  Come to think of it, neither a President nor a Government that delays a decision on a MERCY Petition is fit to continue in that position!

A very miniscule number of Human rights activists have always raised their voice for abolition of the death penalty.  Unlike western countries where the clamour for abolition of death penalty is much higher, in India it has always been very subdued.  Main stream political parties have never shown any interest in this regard.  However, of late, there seems to be an increasing politicisation of the issue of execution of those who are awarded with death penalty by courts.

The new unhealthy trends
Excessive politicisation of every issue with emotive potential is the hall mark of our times.  Even death penalty has not escaped this trend.  The leaders and political parties that are supposed to be bound by the Constitution and legal system of India do not find it odd to raise their voices against execution of a death sentence, when the convict is a person belonging to their respective vote banks.  Even the opposite is true- where parties do not find any moral or ethical issues when they demand immediate execution of certain convicts, if that suits their vote banks.

The demand for immediate execution of Afzal Guru, convicted in the Parliament attack case, is an example.  The case of 26/11 Mumbai attacker, Ajmal Kasab, is an example where many are not even willing to wait for completion of the judicial process to hang him. While the former is a clear case of political exploitation, the latter is more of an emotional issue for many people. 

On the other side, when President rejected the mercy petitions of Davinder Pal Singh Bhullar and Mahendra Nath Das in May 2011, the lack of ethics in political demands became very obvious.  There was an immediate rush of demands and pleas for pardon in the case of Bhullar, who had killed 30 people by conducting a bomb blast in Delhi, while the Khalistan movement was active.  However, this interest was not evident in saving the life or pardoning the other convict Mahendra Nath Das, who had killed only two people at two different occasions.  The former was a terrorist act against the Nation while the latter was only a normal crime (though he had murdered the second person while he was out on bail in the case of first murder).

It was very clear that the cries for pardon in the case Bhullar had nothing to do with humanity but everything to do with his being a Sikh and belonging to the State of Punjab, where elections are due in a short while!

The Rajiv Gandhi murder case
Latest in the series to have the mercy petitions rejected is the infamous case of Rajiv Gandhi murder in which a suicide bomber, belonging to the Sri Lankan terrorist organisation, LTTE, carried out a bomb blast with the help and support from many others.  A Former Prime minister who was facing the general elections, was killed along with other 16 other innocents in this war against Indian State.  

There is no doubt, cases like that of Bhullar and the Rajiv Gandhi murder case falls under the category of rarest of rare cases, as per the conditions laid down by the Supreme Court.  If at all, the only mitigating factor in these cases had been the inordinate delay in disposing the mercy petitions.

However, in the Rajiv murder case, many political groups in Tamilnadu (TN) have gone beyond all political decency by openly demanding the pardon for the convicts.  These politicians who  are (as usual) claiming to be speaking for entire people of TN (though people of TN includes those near and dear of the victims who are still awaiting justice), have forced the State Assembly to pass a unanimous resolution demanding that the death sentence be commuted to life imprisonment.  

The legal and constitutional process in the Country, as it stands today, has determined the need to execute these persons.  They have the right to approach the right courts to seek redressal of any grievance that they may still hold, including against the delay in disposing their mercy petitions.  Incidentally, they have done precisely that by approaching Madras High Court and the Court has stayed the execution for 8 weeks.

However, the Assembly passing a unanimous resolution seeking the pardon from death penalty for specific individuals was an act which is unethical if not unconstitutional.  Though that resolution is not binding on anybody, the moral pressure of a unanimous resolution from a State Assembly is sufficient to influence any decisions on the underlying matter.   The very celebrations by sections of TN insulted the memory of the unfortunate victims!

Remember, the Assembly resolution has nothing to do with death penalty per se or delay in disposing mercy petitions.  It is blatant political interference in the administration of justice, in a specific case, for the benefit of specific individual convicts.  This very act goes against the principles of fundamental right of equality before law.  What is applicable to Bhullar, Murukan, Perarivalan, or Santhan must hold true for Mahedra Nath Das as well.  Merely because Das has no political vote bank to back him should not cost him his life.

Such interferences are bound to become precedents.  In fact, similar pressure tactics used by Mr EMS Namboodirippad (the Chief Minister of the first ever elected Communist government) in getting pardon from President of India in the case of a Communist worker named Balan, many decades ago, is being cited as precedent for similar action by Tamilnadu.   Consider the scenario; as rightly pointed out by the Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir, Mr Omar Abdullah, if tomorrow J&K Assembly pass a unanimous resolution and seek pardon for Afzal Guru, how would the Nation view that? Would it be seen in the same spirit and complacency as we have displayed in the case of the unanimous resolution by the TN Assembly?

From the above discussions, let me list out the desirables:

1.            Our society and Parliament must revisit the death penalty, at the earliest and decide whether it is necessary to retain the same.

2              The President of India has a duty to ensure time bound disposal of Mercy petitions received by her.  Any delay must be accounted for and responsibility fixed.

3            The delay per se should not be allowed as a ground to negate the judicial verdict of death sentence. Otherwise, we will witness the battery of lawyers (just look at the stalwarts appearing on behalf of the murderers in an infamous crime like Rajiv Gandhi murder case!) using all tactics in the law books to delay the process and then use that delay as a ground to get away from the death sentence.

4            Political parties or other groups must not be allowed to interfere in individual cases.  That must be treated as contempt of court and dealt with accordingly.

Let us keep politicking and activism out of administration of law.  Judicial decisions, especially in criminal cases, must rest on the law as it stands and not as desired.  Otherwise the difference between terror supporters and political workers will soon get obfuscated, in cases like these, which will not be in the long-term interests of our democracy.