Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Problems with Human Shields and Collective Punishment

(Initially published on News4Masses.com)
One day, my daughter who was then studying in fourth or fifth standard was very upset when she came back from her school. When I probed the reason, she said her physical education teacher had beaten her along with all other children of her class. I tried to defend the teacher by saying that the children must have done something very mischievous to make the teacher punish all students. But she was not convinced. She said only a couple of boys had made noise in the class for which the teacher punished the entire class. She also told me that this particular teacher was in the habit of handing over mass punishment, irrespective of who was at fault.

I then pacified my daughter by promising to intervene if the teacher repeated such an act, any time in the future.  It had taken only a couple of days before I was forced to act on my promise.  The same teacher repeated the mass punishment, this time for something done at the playground by one or two children.

I then wrote a letter, addressed to the Principal of the school explaining why it is not right to punish innocent children for the mistake of one or two of them. It is for the teacher to find out who is at fault before handing out the corporal punishment. If that is not done, the children will lose track of any differentiation between a right behavior and wrong behavior and get confused between rewards and punishments. If you have to undergo the punishment, irrespective of your innocence, you are likely to end up taking up those mistakes. I warned the school that if the concerned teacher repeats the act and subject my daughter to such physical punishment, I would be constrained to initiate legal proceedings against the teacher and school.  Needless to say, the teacher concerned was duly warned by the management and the habit of mass punishment came to an end.

I was reminded of this incident when I got to read some comments by the Chief of the Army (CAS), defending the use of a human shield by an Army team, in the state of Kashmir. The incidence in which a Kashmiri man was tied to the bonnet of an Army Jeep, to avoid the agitators from throwing stones at the Army team that was on its way to save the polling staff from any potential attack, was commended by the CAS as an innovative way to counter the dirty war. The CAS did not stop at merely defending such an act but awarded the officer involved with a commendation.

There are a lot of people who support the act of the officer concerned and the CAS defending and awarding the officer. There is also an equally strong view that the practice of using a human shield is against all the principles of an honourable fighting force like Indian Army and only goes to show the military of the country in a poor light. 

The purpose of this article is not to judge the act of the officer concerned. A commander has to take instant decisions in the face of hostility. While there are certain basic principles that the officer should ideally keep in mind, at times s/he may be forced to use out of the box thinking to overcome a difficult situation. Therefore, it will not be right for a person sitting far away from the theatre to say an act was needed or not.

In this article, I would like to look at the desirability of such a public defending or awarding the officer concerned. Some people say that the CAS did the right thing as he has to keep up the morale of his men. However, there are many issues with that line of thinking.

Any act, which is a war crime under the international laws, or a crime under the national laws, does not cease to be so even if it was resorted to under exceptional circumstances.  When such circumstances itself is a matter of inquiry, it is not right for the authorities to defend or condone such an illegal act.  That will amount to prejudging, or trying to influence the inquiry process. The exceptional circumstances may reduce the gravity of a crime, but the crime remains one. When the establishment decides to commend or award the perpetrators of such acts, it is like legitimizing an illegal or improper act.  We have just witnessed when the Indian Army as an institution decided to go against the Indian Constitution, Indian criminal laws, the Army Act, and its own standard operating procedures! When such disregard for the written rules is allowed, the consequences can be disastrous.

Secondly, in this particular instance, the victim has claimed that he was an innocent man who was out to cast his vote in the bye-election that was being held on that fateful day.  The polling percentage in that bye-election was only 7%. It is very easy to counter check the veracity of the man’s claim of being a voter, by merely looking at the votes polled. Despite that possibility, I have not heard anybody claiming that the victim had lied about casting his vote. When a man defied the threats and chose to cast his vote, the Indian state should have provided him all the support. Instead, an arm of the state stands accused of abducting him and using him as a human shield. Is that the way we are going to ensure the allegiance of more and more Kashmiris to the cause of Indian state?

Thirdly, what if the stone pelters were more hardliners and out of the box thinkers than our Army? What if they decided that their cause was more important than any one individual and pelted stones at the man and killed him? Would the Commander concerned or the CAS have assumed accountability for such an event?

Fourthly, if the victim himself was a stone pelter (as claimed by the officer concerned and a section of the media) why was he not arrested and prosecuted for that offense? Why was he let off after being used as a human shield?

Fifthly, what is the difference between a terrorist force and an armed force? Can the armed forces resort to any method in the name of innovation and dirty war? Can the Army forget that its objective is to keep the Kashmir and Kashmiris on the side of India and not to eliminate or subjugate them? Should Army seek fear from the citizens (as alluded by the CAS) or should it seek goodwill from the people?

Many people are supporting the act of the Army because it happened in Kashmir and the victim is a Kashmiri. Consider the outrage if a human shield was used by the Police forces in, say Kolkata, Bangalore, or Delhi. Even better, consider the victim tied to the bonnet of Army Jeep is any 'one of us' or 'one of our own'? 

Kashmir is a troubled area. A lot of Kashmiris are agitating against the Indian state and indulging in stone pelting. Does that make it right for the security forces to treat all Kashmiris as enemies of India (note that even enemies have rights under Geneva Convention) and treat them with no respect for their rights? Is it a policy of the current government to treat all Kashmiris as hostile and subject them to punishments like using them as human shields?

Whether an innocent child in the school or an innocent citizen in Kashmir, we cannot subject them to collective punishments for the crimes done by others. Can we hold the entire people of states in which the recent lynching of human beings took place (the number of such states is increasing), and punish them all for the murders? 

What differentiates good from the bad (and teachers from bullies or soldiers from mercenaries) is adherence to the rules of the game. Deviations may happen at times, but the deviations are to be treated as such and discouraged, and not given any exalted status.


Self-respect is a basic requirement for any human being. The victim, in this case, was subjected to unreasonable dangers and extreme humiliation. Can we reasonably expect this victim (or his near and dear) to love or respect our Army or the state, anymore? Fear, I am afraid, is not a long-term weapon!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Why Do They Keep Shouting ‘Go to Pakistan’?

(First published in News4Masses.com

                Until three years ago, when a self-confessed Hindu nationalist Mr. Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of this country, the favorite insult of right wingers on social media was pseudo-seculars. Anyone who questioned their viewpoint or supported anything done by the then government were labeled as pseudo-seculars and accused of minority appeasement. Then it all changed, and the term pseudo-secular is hardly found in the mentions and comments. It appears that the term ‘anti-national’ has replaced pseudo-secular.
                When a ‘hostile’ government was in power, these people could hardly use the term anti-national because most of their campaigns went against the state and the nation as it existed then.  There was no hesitance to go after the government, judiciary, police or even armed forces.  They wanted everyone to be anti-government, and it is not so easy to distinguish between anti-national and anti-government. When Mr. Modi assumed the power, the whole narrative had to be changed, and the acts and deeds of the state supported at any cost!
                If we follow the current pattern, we see an eagerness among the right wingers to label everyone voicing a different view as anti-national and ask them to go to Pakistan or at least to leave India. On the face of it, such labelling, or commands to leave the country, is blatantly wrong. The nation is not anyone’s family property that one can keep asking other citizens to go away. Then, why do they keep doing that?
                To understand this phenomenon, we need to go back and look at the nature of the right wing in India. The continuing support to the type of policies being followed by Modi government clearly indicates that the so called right wing in India has nothing to do with rightist economic policies. This Govt does not subscribe to the liberal principles of ownership of one’s assets, or even one’s body and privacy. Look at its stand in the demonetization or Aadhaar issue and it becomes quite obvious. At times, Modi Govt’s policies are more leftist than the communists!
                What we term as right wing in India is less of economic right, and more of religious right. It was no accident or slip of tongue that Mr. Modi chose to describe himself as a ‘Hindu nationalist’ during the electioneering. The allegiance is not to an India envisaged by the Constitution, but a Hindu Rashtra envisaged by the parent body, RSS. That is why the term ‘Bhakts’ is more accurate to describe the supporters of this government than the term ‘right wing,’ which has some universally accepted characteristics grounded mainly in economics. 
                The primary binding factor for the Bhakts is the religion. However, in India religion alone cannot divide people into a clean Us vs They.  There are a large number of Hindus who do not subscribe to the RSS’s Hindutva. It is not easy to make every Hindu to follow the ideals of Sangh in the short or medium term. Bhakts and Sangh believe that the minds of these people were corrupted by the liberal or colonial education system and brainwashing by the evangelists and Islamists.  The political power. However, helps them to make a clean division between nationals and anti-nationals. Never mind how much they had opposed the previous governments, but now with a RSS backed government in power only anti-nationals can question its policies or acts. It is not surprise that the Sangh draws inspiration form the practices of religions to make the division!
                Religions usually demand strict and unquestioning adherence to its precepts. Religions create a lot of rules for the followers to obey. Any violation of these rules are termed sins, which are supposed to bring heavy consequences in this life or the forthcoming lives. The strategies may differ from religion to religion. One religion may demand confessions, another may demand penance, or confer rewards and punishments in the form of the fruits of one’s acts and deeds. All of them, however, demands complete obedience.
                The obedience sought by the religious forces is absolute. Stories of Abraham who readied himself to murder his young son on the command of his God, and Ekalavya who cut his thumb on the command of his Guru Dronacharya are the examples that readily comes to mind, while we can find any number of such examples from the religious myths.  The instrument of precepts, sins, and punishments is the effective tool that religious use to command absolute subservience from the followers.
Now that the political power has been captured, Bhakts would love to ensure similar unquestioning, absolute obedience to their government from all Indians. It is, therefore, their duty to keep reminding anyone who raises voice of dissent that it is a mortal sin to do so. Every voice against their regime is anti-national and fit to be punishment with a one way ticket to the ‘antithesis of their nation.’ Pakistan that came into existence as a Muslim nation is symbolic as an antithesis of the Hindu Rashtra. If the sins continue, then they will not hesitate to use more persuasive methods like physical attacks and lynching.
                Religions have perfected the art of creating a number of hard to avoid sins so that the followers remain guilty and apologetic all the time. The neo-nationalist Bhakts are also importing this strategy of sins, to make citizens defensive all the time, by creating too many anti-national acts!  They will shout anti-national at even small deviations in behavior so that the citizens will not dare to do of voice anything which is even slightly inconvenient to the government.
                A citizen is not expected to support anything and everything that the government, public servants, or armed forces of the country do. It is the duty of a citizen to be on constant vigil and ensure every wrong is called out and corrected. The demands like ‘go to Pakistan’ or abuses like ‘anti-national’ are inevitable when you point out the mistakes of a government that is founded on the religious nationalism.
                It is not easy to go against an organized religion or cult. It is also not easy to go against nationalist government of any religious persuasion. But then, who said democracy and liberty are easy to get or easy to maintain?!

P.S: When it really mattered, they did not take part in the Quit India movement. Today, they keep shouting ‘Quit India’!


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Life under Modi Govt as per the Economic Times Poll

Look at the results of a poll conducted by one of the leading business newspapers, The Economic Times, on the life under Modi Govt.

Q. 5 shows 66% of those who responded think that the prices and cost of living has not reduced under this Govt.
Q. 4 shows that 57% feels Swachh Bharat has failed to make their cities any cleaner!
Q 3 says 60% of the people feel that crimes against women and children has not reduced, as promised.
Q 2 says 58% of the responses believe healthcare facilities and other services have not improved!
Now look at the first question. 69% of the respondents feel optimistic about their family's future in India (presumably under the same Govt). Does it look like a paradox? Of course, unless the responses are influenced by any of the following:
1.      The responses are from cows or Gau Rakshaks who are not bothered about the impact of Q 2 to Q 5 on families.
2.     The responses are based on the optimism that the electorate will change this Govt in just another two years and, therefore, the situation relating to Q 2 to Q 5 is only a short term issue.
3.       The poll and the accompanying report are designed to serve the same Govt's public relation objectives.
Now, can there be any other logic which can possibly explain the optimistic feelings of 69% of the people who took part in this poll, towards their family's future life under this Govt, given their own view on each of the parameters?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Development: Narendra Modi Style


The impact of Narendra Modi’s demonetization and other master stroke actions/ inactions as reflected on the economic growth data:

April-Feb IIP at 0.4% vs 2.6% YoY
Feb IIP at -1.2% vs 2.7% in Jan
Feb mining output at 3.3% vs 5.3% in Jan
Feb manufacturing output at -2% vs 2.3% in Jan
Feb electricity output at 0.3% vs 3.9% in Jan
Feb capital goods output at -3.4% vs 10.7% in Jan
Feb consumer goods output at -5.6% vs -1% in Jan
Feb basic goods output at 2.4% vs 5.3% in Jan
Feb intermediate goods output at -0.2% vs -2.3% in Jan

But we have nothing to worry!

We don't hear about policy paralysis
We don't need a Lokpal or CVC or RTI anymore
We are having Congress Mukt Bharat

And Cows are having AchheDin!


Source for the statistics: @ETNowLive

Monday, March 20, 2017

Adityanath and Democracy: Some Thoughts


                Yogi Adityanath is the 21st Chief Minister of India’s most populous state (both in terms of voters and members of the Parliament), Uttar Pradesh. Having won 312 seats out of a total of 403 seats, the Bharatiya Janata Party was in a position to elect anyone as the next chief minister of UP.

                It took over a week and two deputy chief minister posts for the BJP and/ or its newly elected MLAs, to arrive at a consensus candidate in Yogi Adityanath. Because BJP had not announced any CM candidates before elections, the time taken for selecting one is not anything abnormal. However, if we juxtapose with what happened in Manipur and Goa where the single largest party (in both cases, Congress) lost the opportunity to present its legitimate claims to form governments as they could not elect their respective leaders in less than 24 hours from the announcement of the results, the delay of a week might itself have an underlying story of intra-party power struggle.

                The focus of this post is not how Adityanath won the chair, but on the reactions to his election. So many articles and social media posts have appeared on why BJP selected a highly controversial man to become the chief minister despite the favorable results. For a party that professes ‘Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas,’ there could not have been a worse choice. Some commentators blamed the RSS for forcing the hands of Narendra Modi. Some others saw this appointment as BJP shedding its pro-development agenda and embracing Hindutva (though I prefer the term Sangithva to indicate RSS ideology). Some others saw it as an indication of the failure of democracy that such a divisive personality has reached where he is today!

                All these commentators seem to have forgotten an important point. BJP is a tool in the hands of RSS. The ultimate objective of RSS is not development or Sab ka Saath, but the creation of a Hindu Rashtra. Development and such other slogans are mere steps on the ladder towards their main objective. Therefore, it is only natural that whenever and wherever they can do so, RSS will proceed with implementing the Sanghitva agenda.

                What about democracy? Can Adityanath’s ascension be considered as a failure of democracy? To answer this question, we need to understand the basic nature of our democratic system.  Democracy has never made any claims to be a perfect system for electing the ideal rulers. Winston Churchill had said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried.”  In the words of H. L. Mencken, “Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance." In my view, democracy has demonstrated both collective wisdom and collective folly, at different points in time.

                 Democracy as a system functions at two levels. The first level involves electing a government. The method adopted for electing the government is the majority approval. This majority takes different forms such as absolute majority, proportional representation, and first past the post. We have chosen the method of first past the post in which whoever manages to get the maximum number of votes is declared the winner, irrespective of the share in the total votes. As a result, a person garnering even 20 or 25% of the total votes can win in a multi-cornered election. Each method has its merits and demerits, and any change in the system cannot achieve any substantial difference in the quality of the elected. 

              When political, linguistic, religious, caste or such other lines divide society, the elections will always be affected by such divisions. Uttar Pradesh was not known, at least recently, for purely political choices. The caste and religion have played a critical role in deciding the fortunes of candidates in Uttar Pradesh elections. This affliction is not limited to Uttar Pradesh. In the upcoming bye-election for Malappuram constituency in Kerala (caused by the demise of Mr. E Ahmed), the Indian Union Muslim League candidate Mr. Kunhalikkutty will be elected for sure, and the voting will be on religious grounds. I have seen such tendencies even in local body polls in Kerala, which is supposed to be more of a politically conscious society. When the religion or caste comes into play, the political differences takes a back seat! Same for the recent increase in the electoral successes of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen party. So, there is no point in singling out BJP or Hindu voters in electing who they consider are their representatives. Democracy cannot prevent such divisive voting, but provides protection against the consequences of whims and fancies of the elected leaders, through its second level of functioning.

              Democracy’s second level functioning is through the rule of law. In the absence of the rule of law, the brute majority in a society can be misused to subjugate any minority. The winners, irrespective of their numbers or vote share, are expected to play within established rules of governance. In India, we have the Constitution including the fundamental rights and basic features that would protect us from the shenanigans of any elected leader. A divisive leader like Yogi Adityanath can speak anything in his party forums. As a chief minister or any other constitutional authority, every leader is expected to behave within the boundaries of the established norms and laws.

             What follows is that the focus should not be in protesting the appointment of controversial leaders like Modi or Adityanath, or to dislodge any duly elected government, but to ensure that such governments function within our constitutional and legal framework.  We have to accept the weaknesses of the democracy, simply for want of any better system.

             Authoritative governments might be more successful in influencing the bureaucracy and judiciary, and subverting institutions of governance. There will be attempts to push their divisive agenda and to subjugate their perceived enemies. Such governments might even try to sabotage electoral processes and seek elimination of their ideological opponents from electoral politics (Congress Mukt Bharat is a slogan that indicates the undemocratic mindset of BJP and RSS. Same mindset can be seen in BJP’s shameless acts of capturing power in Goa, Manipur, and elsewhere, through questionable methods, despite electoral losses. I am not saying BJP should not have formed Govts with the support of outsiders, but the hurry and crudeness of it all could have been avoided).

              In the event of a weak opposition, pliant bureaucracy, and committed judiciary, the rule of law might suffer. Damage to the rule of law is the danger we need to guard against, and not the election of Yogi Adityanaths and Narendra Modis. If the rule of law remains intact, the people have the option to kick out the same leaders and ideology, in just five years. If the rule of law is affected, then the very existence of democracy could be in danger. Even the allegations against EVMs should be looked at from this perspective. Whatever is left of the opposition (thankfully, this mass is still a majority in India) and civil society has to be on guard, at all times, against any attempt to weaken the rule of law. The fundamental rights of each and every citizen has to be protected from any highhandedness of any government.

              The Media is in a powerful position to report, and mobilize public opinion against any undesirable steps from any government. Unfortunately, Indian Media appears not up to this challenge, unlike the US Media which is standing up against each and every wrong policy of their President.  Indian Media appears to be in a state where they are willing to prostrate even before they are asked merely to bend! The Media is busy whitewashing the excesses and normalizing the aberrant behaviors of the so called fringe, which is taking control of the main stage! That, in my opinion, is the main challenge before India. The public vigilance and public opinion should force our Media to follow their fundamental duties. If they fail to heed, the civil society must raise their voice through social media and other available means. More and more people should be made aware of the dangers from majoritarianism and authoritarian rulers.  The Hindus must be educated about the difference between Hinduism and Sanghitva, and why it makes sense to prevent the ascension of the latter.

              Political parties currently occupying the opposition space should play a leading role in creating awareness. In democracy, the role of the opposition is as critical as that of the ruling party. This role does not end with a loss in the elections.  Guard the rule of law and public interests (there will be enough opportunities with mercurial leaders like Adityanath in power) with utmost seriousness so that whenever the next elections comes, people will know whom to vote.


            Danger to democracy will not be from Adityanath, but our collective failure, if any, in guarding the rule of law and fundamental rights of each and every Indian citizen! 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Are We Doing the Parenting Right?


                During this week, I have come across many unrelated incidences on the social media that made me wonder as to what kind of parenting are we doing! We keep hearing about the bad behavior of the new generation, but can we the parents absolve ourselves from the blame?
                The incidences are not in any order. They are presented just as they are coming to my mind. The first one involved a former Editor of The Hindu, Ms. Malini Parthasarathy. When a well-meaning tweet of her was met with an abusive response, she chose to ask the person whether he was son of a particular lady and whether she would approve such a language.  Ms. Malini was trolled on Twitter for asking such a question. What surprised me was the response from the mother, Ms. VS Chandralekha a well-known Ex IAS officer and President of the (now defunct?) Janata Party.  Ms. Chandralekha’s reply to Malini was “I am a democrat and support my son Abhijit's freedom of expression however annoying it may be to others.” A democrat upholding the freedom of expression is fine, but a mother upholding the abusive language of her son? That too against a senior lady? I also found many people on Twitter celebrating the reply as a great thing! At least we should be sensitizing our children that the right to freedom of expression does not include a right to use abusive language against anyone!
                The second incident involved a CEO of a startup company who is now facing allegations of sexual harassment at workplace. I am not here to judge the veracity of allegations. What surprised me was the most insensitive responses to the allegations. Instead of being apologetic about failing to institute legally required measures to investigate and redress the grievances of the employee, I saw a lot tweets to justify the alleged acts of the CEO. It appears that for many people staring at a female colleague at workplace or telling her how tight or sexy her dress is, was all a part of the normal work routine! As per the reports the CEO has stated, "I am a heterosexual, single man and when I find a woman sexy, I tell her she is sexy."  Apparently, he is not even aware of the problem with his behavior. Who is to be blamed? What happened to our parental duties to teach the children about the need to respect others, especially the ladies? Can someone who is brought up with the right values justify staring at or otherwise harassing a lady colleague?
                Third incident involved the anchor of a prime time news show on India Today Television. Its anchor, Mr. Zakka Jacob announced his debate with a hashtag #PappuCantWinSaala. The trolls on social media use the term Pappu for denigrating Mr. Rahul Gandhi.  Can an anchor of a news channel use such derogatory terms against national politicians? It did not end there. Zakka Jacob came with another tweet, announcing the ‘taking down’ of the derogatory tweet. Looks at the language he used for the taking down: “In light of universal distaste at my last tweet, i am taking it down. please pardon my not-up-to-the mark Hindi.” Now the pardon is sought not for the use of a derogatory hashtag, but ‘not-up-to-the-mark Hindi’!  One may not agree with Rahul Gandhi on anything, but should people like Zakka Jacob misuse their platforms to insult Rahul and millions of Congress workers? Obviously, there was nothing ‘not up to the mark’ in his Hindi, but can we say the same about his upbringing?
                A few days back Kochi saw a protest from Shiv Sena (which does not even qualify to be termed a fringe party in Kerala) workers, wherein a handful of goons went around Marine Drive and caned young boys and girls who were sitting there. The objective of the drive was to protect the honour of young girls! And how they sought to do it? By caning them in public, that too in front of police officers! Back to the social media, I saw perfect gentlemen and ladies justifying these goons by saying that such interactions between boys and girls lead to Aids! They are convinced that every boy and girl sitting together in a public place are about to indulge in unprotected sex and catch Aids! The reaction to the moral policing was through another extreme act of Kiss of Love. People kissing each other in public as a form of protest! Is this the two extremes that we are teaching our children? Can’t a man and woman or a boy and girl share healthy friendship or even love, and spend some time together talking to each other? Even if they are indulging in any immoral acts, what gives the right to individuals to go around and beat them?

                In my view, all these seemingly unrelated incidences have a common thread. The lack of right values in our younger generation. The values get imbibed in a child not from hearing the parents, but from watching the parents and society. Somewhere in our busy schedules, we have forgotten our primary duty of parenting!