Friday, June 29, 2007

Gone for a while

Will be offline for a while or for a long time. Just want to have more immediate experience.

Looking Inside

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Presidential election in Democracy

What does president of India do? He is a figure head with minimal legislative powers, mostly representing spirit of country and acting as conscious keeper of constitution. We might argue that post of president is a legacy we borrowed from our system of democracy which was based on British system and is a redundant post. Who is this Pratibha Patil, the new presidential nominee of congress for president election! Just around till two weeks back not many in this country would have known who she is! Then why is she president candidate? Because she was hand picked by Sonia Gandhi! What are her qualifications! That she was some ex whatever minister and she was quite and calm and uncontroversial! Or is it that she is a woman and hence if elected, which she would be because she is nominated by party in power, would become first female president of India. As if it was really important to prove gender equality and female empowerment by electing a female president. Such symbolism means nothing. We are anyway a country replete with symbolism. So why would we need another one? I am not trying to say that she is not capable or eligible for post of president! . But if she is; then lots of else are also. Why not any ex minister! Why not any other woman!

The point is that nobody in this country would knew her just 2 weeks back and suddenly she is in limelight and has already put her foot in her mouth by commenting about veil and how it was enforced on women during Muslim rule. So she needs to get her history and PR right, and the moment there was limelight on her, she came out with controversial statement also! Why not choose Abdul Kalam for another term! He is popular, one of greatest Indians, is apolitical, is tremendoulsy knowledgeable and importantly has by and far topped all the media polls for popular choice as president! If we are a democracy then why not give second term to a highly popular president even if it is just for namesake! Why to elect a little known person just because she happens to be a pliable woman close to a certain family.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Rushdie, Knights and Intolerance

There is lots of humors in world. Salmaan Rushdie , the controversial writer who wrote Satanic Verses and then spent entire decade running and hiding from people who perhaps never read his book but wanted to chop off his head, was recently awarded knighthood by UK. That is funny. I mean, I thought Knights belong to bygone era. I just can not imagine Salmaan Rushdie as a mounted combatant, carrying sword and galloping on a horse with a nice damsel for a company. Stereotypes.

I think these days everybody is in good humor, or how else would you respond to this news that "Pakistan parliament protests Knighthood honors to Rushdie". Parliament in Pakistan!! Hello! I thought Pakistan had military rule since last few years so what does its parliament do, apart from arguing and dreaming over Kashmir endlessly! Another funny reaction is from Iran which accused British leaders of Islam-o- phobia , which though is quite understandable, given the recent hostility between two countries.

Now call it clash of civilizations or whatever and enough has been said and written on it. But what these guys protesting over Rushdie do not perhaps understand that countries like UK are free, tolerant , liberal societies where an individual enjoys rights and freedom of speech and opportunities which most of people in countries like Pakistan, Iran etc. can only dream of. These countries also dont persecute people based on religion as much as other supposedly slef-righteous countries do. I will give an example from my own experience. Couple of years back when I was working in UK, on one of lazy Sunday afternoons I happened to be in city square in Birmingham where about 3 dozens Muslim (quite visible form skull caps and beards) protestors were gathered to protest against I don’t remember exactly what. There were half a dozen Policemen watching the whole proceeding from distance and a thin crowd of curious onlookers mostly made up of weekend shoppers. One of the protestors, on stage was lecturing and bemoaning the persecution of Muslims in Britain, intolerance of British society and how they were made to suffer in UK. I found it funny since here was a muslim man who was living in UK and was free to stand on city square and criticize the country and people which had given him home when he had probably come looking for job and better life. Is this persecution! Is this intolerance! Nobody hurled a stone at him, nobody stopped him and nobody from white crowd jeered him, the same people he was trying to accuse in his talk. I felt like asking him, if his own country which I presumed from his talk was Pakistan, would even let anybody so openly stand in city square and do someting like him without risking injury or jail! If you are in Iran perhaps and happen to be let’s say Christian and you gather on Tehran’s city square and do the same thing, you would perhaps be butchered! If you are a hindu in Iran , would you be allowed to build temples and follow your religion without fear! Now how much is that for tolerance and accusing others of phobias and intolerence .

Monday, June 18, 2007

Web 2.0 and Grandma

Just been involved in IT a bit more than I usually. A usual topic of discussion these days among guys who keep abreast with technology is about Web2.0. People keep asking what it means to us and how our company (I don’t mean place where I work, but generally) can use Web 2.0. Web2.0 could be a larger discussion and simply put it is another milestone in Internet's evolution from a simple network of interlinked pages to whatever it is going to become in future, but what lots of us fail to understand, specially in IT companies, is that web 2.0 is also about a mind shift. It is democratization of information, more participation; everybody is welcome kind of thing. Ok may be not. That’s a separate discussion. But, essentially it is about tools which have reduced entry level barriers to internet and IT for those who know or care nothing about PHP, Java etc. I mean take blogging for example. Even grandma can blog and have her recipes shared on internet. How easy has it become really. And imagine what it can do (not blogging but open approach) industries which rely so heavily on knowledge and know hows of its people. Call centers, IT companies to name a few.

But try telling this to traditional thinking, control freaks at work who talk about knowledge management and take the management part bit more seriously than the knowledge they seek to manage. They would not understand. They seek to control knowledge as this is what gives them power they can wield. What does Web 2.0 means for enterprises where bosses communicate to employees through emails which are written by them and sent to their secretaries for forward to employees, as if they never heard of thing call mailing list!! Can any employee be open to approach his boss who communicates to him through email sent by his/her secretary! And anyway, email is so heavily misused. I mean how many times have you got important documents, newer versions of processes, templates, resumes, umpteen numbers of communication delivered through email! And then you would have scoured through your mail box to find them when needed. I have seen departments launching portals with fan fare, portals where all you find is some crap about what department does, as if nobody working there knew what it did anyway! And then there would be flurry of congratulation mails and some people would be happy and portal would be forgotten. It is ironical but most of IT companies which earn their bread and butter by claiming to have skills in solving their clients’s information management problems, can not manage their own information and knowledge which keeps getting scattered all around employee mail boxes and lost soon enough in cyber black hole. IT companies are slowest when it comes to adopting the technology they preach their customers. One can argue that it is about putting heads to job and for internal work that is a problem, problem of who is going to foot the bill. But I think it is more about poor leadership and lack of understanding that little investment in their own IT systems can give them huge benefits, even impacting their bottom line. And then it is also about making fewer managers and lessening barrier to information. How many companies have simple system where they can go and check what were new projects in what domain in what department when they were on bench and looking for suitable projects. This simple information would be locked in couple of guys heads and you need to chase them to get these million dollar information. It is about controlling information. That’s what power is about and unless that changes Web 2.0 is a nice topic for discussion among bunch of people who like to be addressed as architects and not engineers as if being engineer was a lesser thing to do.

But before we understand that or change ourselves, we need to get used to emails a bit more. I mean if you can type your email then surely you know how to send it too unless it makes you feel powerful and important. Web 2.0 till then can wait and grandmas can share some recipes even as some people in bar camps ponder over what humanity would become because of blogging. But that’s for later.

These are my personal views which I dreamt last night and have no connection with my profession.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Tickets and Holes

Have not written anything of lately. Been baking some cake and cookies and having some boring routine.....

9.30 am : Reached Office. Have to login in to internal knowledge system to put up project information for team members. Had put up request for creation of user id 2 days back (yeah, we still do that and it takes 2 days) and hoped that I will be able to login but I couldn't. I raised a trouble ticket, ticket 1.

9.45am: Have to fill my timesheets for week today. Have to log timesheets in 3 different systems. Same information , three sytems, three different passwords, 10 differnt codes, for three different set of people to look. I do it on two systems successfully and feel good.

10 am: Third system is new, I am using it for first time. Atleast it lets me login. System is just not accepting the inputs and pages are all garbled up. I fiddle with it for sometime and realise that it uses javascript which just wouldn't run on firefox browser. Cyber pollution anyone!

10.30am: Enough of seeing JS and HTML errors, I quit firefox , open my IE browser and remember that IE wasn't working for quite few days and anyway I dont like IE that much. Employer's policy is to use IE. I log trouble ticket to get IE fixed on my system. Ticket 2.

10:45 am: I see my mails and find 2 mails from guys claiming to report to me and asking me to create thier goal records. I login in to another system with another password and find out that I dont see them in my records in that system. I am confused. I call them. They tell me I am thier supervisor as per another system. I check that another system and find out that it is indeed true. I am confused. Which system is right. I raise another trouble ticket. Ticket 3.

11.30 am: I get mail for trouble ticket 1, saying it is fixed. I check it, it doesn't work. I call up the guy. He checks something and tells me there is perhaps problem updating database. I reopen ticket 1.

11.45 am: I have to download this software I want to evaluate, from internet. Site is blocked. I am confused. It is a tech site run by a freelancer!! His name is adam so his site is adambalahblah.something. Adam==eve==Sex. Proxy doesn't like it (!!). I raise ticket to download the software. Ticket 4.

12:30 pm: I am irritated. I need a break.

1.30 pm: I check my mail. I have a mail. Ticket 3 is fixed. There is system A and there is System B. System A has same information , system B has same information. Both exist for two differrent departments. You update A, B has to be updated You update B, A has to be updated . Manually. Sometime we miss it. So we create tickets.

2-6pm: Meetings, meetings and calls. 2 min work takes 30 min. Tickets open and tickets close.

6:30pm: Time to go home. Big traffic jam. BMC is digging road to replace underground wires. This is for 10th time in as many months. Same road, different holes. 20 people working on it for weeks. 10 dig with primitive instruments, 5 carry the soil and dump and and rest 5, well they rest.

Have human resources. Lots of them. Spill over everywhere. Make use of them. In creating tickets, in solving them, digging holes and filling them. Fine with me. Spare me some tickets and holes and let me bake some cake. Eat it and keep it too. But it is my choice. So I will come again tomorrow for more tickets and more ..........

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Caste wars - Gujjars burn public property

Recently around 140 countries agreed to make October 2 as international day of non violence to respect Mahatma Gandhi and his philosophy of non violence. In his own home country though, what we have witnessed last week was not only shameful shameful but also made a mockery of rule of law. Gujjars, who are some sort of caste and tribe in Rajasthan, went on massive protestation throughout the north India to demand them being categorized as Schedule Tribe (ST), so that they could get benefits of reservation in education and jobs meant for other lower castes listed as SC and ST. If we ignore violence which these men resorted to, I find it funny that there are people who so vehemently want to be categorized as lower caste tribe. Talk about upward mobility here! I am always perplexed by staggering number of castes and sub castes we have and how we keep sticking to them instead of making such archaic ideas redundant. I don’t know if Gujjars deserve to be listed as ST and given benefits of reservation or not, but what really stands out from the whole episode is the utmost disregard these men showed to public property and other citizens who had nothing to do with Gujjars getting into ST list. Crowds of these men went on rampage, blocking highways for days, burning, looting and destroying public property at will. Many of high valued machinery used for National Highway project in Rajasthan was destroyed and whole work on highway construction was brought to halt. What were these people trying to say? That they don't need highways and buses! Didn't they know that by doing all this they were only harming other innocent people caught in cross fire and this way they would have lost any goodwill they would have had! Even Capital Delhi was untouched by the violence. In one of the visuals shown on news, a dozen protestors were seen burning buses in full view of camera. After burning the bus, they unabashedly, stared at TV cameras and laughed and smiled as if they had just done a great act of bravery. Anybody who follows news regularly would see a pattern of behavior here. Group of people resort to violence mostly without any provocation, and in their minds protest is equated with burning and looting, and unless highways are blocked, trains are stopped and cities are brought to standstill, protest is not said to be effective. Then they openly peek into TV cameras and celebrate as if they are heroes. You don’t need to be expert to tell that such people who indulge in such activities understand nothing about what they are demanding and are mostly people who are bored in life. It is such a shame that nothing is done to punish these people. The rule of law can not be relaxed because a group of men, a caste felt that they were denied something legitimate and were angry with the system which they think is hijacked by another caste of Meenas. It is not an excuse to cause extensive damage to public property and cause nuisance and inconvenience to others. There are other means of protests and raising your demand, burning building and buses are not any of them. I think, it is high time that an example is set and police should catch all those who were captured in TV burning buses and blocking highways and persecute them. Come on, people, you are not fighting some foreign regime here.

How stupid it all sounds. Gujjars were demanding listing in ST category and Meenas (another one of 10 million castes) who are already in ST bracket started opposing it fearing that thier benefits from reservation would be diluted if Gujjars were also to be listed as ST and we almost had a caste war between Gujjars and Meenas. What will be next! Would it start a race where someone would be trying to prove that they are more backward than the others and others would fight back saying that only they are backward! So utterly ridiculous. A social problem, instead of being socially mended has been hijacked by politicians and lines of divisions are being further accentuated. May be it is not right to blame just the politicians alone as the fact is that we don’t have leaders in this country anymore, we just have men who are doing business of politics, otherwise so called leaders of Gujjars would have known that they can only lead their community into next century by making it aware of education and opportunities beyond few government jobs which they want to get through reservations. But regardless, all those who indulged in senseless violence and destroyed public property should be caught and put in jails.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Business of caste - Dalits convert to Buddhism

In one of largest mass conversions in India, thousands of lower caste men and tribals converted to Buddhism recently in Mumbai. In a hope that they would finally be ejected out of a discriminating religion which categorizes men into higher and lower merely based on which families they are born into. It is a futile hope. In India, you can never shake off your caste identities even if you change your religion. For example, there are dalits who are lower caste Hindus, and then there are Muslim dalits, Christian dalits and even Sikh dalits. Identity like Christian dalit sounds misnomer as Christianity does not have any notion of caste but when a dalit converts into Christianity he takes his caste along with him and there is even attempt to legitimize these identities when politicians demand reservation for converted dalits. Castism is a social problem and caste identities are so deeply ingrained in rural India that even if a person converts into a different religion he can not escape his caste. People in his village, in his neighborhood, in his social circle would always know what caste he belonged to. I said rural India because it is village which is really the den of caste based discrimination. Cities are product of migration of people and often in cities caste identities tend to evaporate. Even if it does not totally become irrelevant, it blurs as cities are melting pots. Cities provide certain amount of anonymity and loosely coupled social fabric which makes caste based identities less visible. Cities are also about economic activities and ability of a person to contribute in them takes precedence over his caste background .I am not saying that cities are about equality but a dalit person is less likely to be identified by his caste and stopped from entering a Hindu temple in a city than he is in his own village. As India become more urbanized, would caste identities become irrelevant is something left to be seen.

Ambedkar, the first dalit leader of modern India and author of our constitution realized this fact that caste in India is difficult to escape when he was stopped form entering a temple in Nasik in 1930. So dismayed was he with incident that he proclaimed that though he was born a Hindu he would never die in that discriminating religion and eventually few months before he died, he converted en-mass with his followers to Buddhism. What has been happening in Punjab is also a stark reminder of how deeply rooted castism is in Indian society. Sikh religion was created during a dark period in Hindu religion when it was under threat from Mugul (arab-muslim) invaders and from its own ritualistic distortions and brahmnical corruptions. The main teachings of Sikhism were based on equality and outright rejection of caste. So it is quite ironical that in today's rural Punjab, large number of backwards and dalit Sikhs feels discriminated and left out by mainstream Sikhism which is controlled by a body which is brahmnical equivalent of Sikhism. The Dera phenomenon which has gathered momentum in rural Punjab is a reaction to this very fact. People, who have felt marginalized by high body of Sikhism, flock to deras to get their fix of religion. The recent violence in Punjab between a dera followers and Akali Sikhs can be understood in this light as a power struggle between those who control the religion and those who feel left out and seek other alternatives. As I had mentioned in my post on social groups, it is a classic case of a social group (Sikh) conflict when members of a group desert it to form another group.

The mass conversion of dalits and tribals can perhaps be termed as political stunt by certain dalit politicians of Maharashtra but it is important to see it from another perspective which is that of emergence and assertiveness of dalits as political force in India. The fact that last month a dalit party, BSP, won elections with majority seats in most populous state of India and a dalit is chief minister is indication of this fact. What is unique about this new found political awareness is the fact that instead of being used as a pawn and vote bank in political equations by national parties, BSP has forged its own alliances to seize the power, signaling a shift in political maturity of the party. How interesting is it that BSP a party of dalits and lower caste has forged alliance with higher caste Brahmins and even fielded high caste candidates to seize the power taking most of national parties by complete surprise. What it would do to political landscape in India and how it would change social profile of dalits would make an engaging spectacle.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Athiti Devo Bhava in Delhi

I have been travelling to Delhi quite frequently for past 10 years and I have seen it go through some welcome changes over the years unlike other cities like Mumbai and Bangalore which have been going downhill . City looks cleaner and converting large fleet of public buses, taxis and autos to run on CNG has made city's air breathable. Metro rail is a showpiece of new modern India. Roads are wider, even though traffic remains chaotic but that is more to do with our indian driving sense and unwillingness to follow rules than anything else. City is gearing for 2010's common wealth games and government's ambition is to transform Delhi to a "worldclass city" by then. But cities are not defined by thier physical attributes alone. Cities are about its people.

On a recent visit to Delhi, I noticed every taxi and autorickshaw displaying "athiti Devo Bhava" sticker. "Guest is like God" goes the ancient indian time honoured custom but like many of our culture's lofty traditions , this one also remains but a phantom from the past. It means nothing. It is one thing to force (by ministry of tourism) taxis and autos to use these stickers on thier vehicles, but what happens in reality is a starkly different story. Delhi's taxi and autowallahs represents to a large extent what Delhi is about. These guys are rude, unfriendly, foul mouthed and have scant respect or regard for any rule. They blatantly refuse to take pessengers, overcharge them almost everytime and never use electronic meters. Their meters are always broken. You have to haggle with them about rates if they agree to take you to your destination depending upon their mood. And this is regardless of wheather you are a native of city or an outsider. In fact if you are a tourist and insist on using the meter and meter starts working miraculously, be assured that you will be driven all around the city even if your destination was few streets away. Even in case of prepaid taxis, it is not unusual for driver to demand a tip from passenger as if by driving safely he has done a great service to the passenger. The old "bakshish" syndrome in a new avatar. One can imagine what foreigner tourists must go through in Delhi. Their travails start very much at airport when they are swarmed by dozens of touts.

On my first trip abroad to Germany many years ago, I took taxi from airport to a small town. taxi driver started talking to me im his halting english and when he learnt that I was from India, tuned to a hindi radio station aired from UK, chatted to me about India and almost told me history of town I was going to. I never felt like god but I still remember the ride and his pleasant demeanour. The point is that why must we pretend and elevate guests to pedestal of Gods when the fact is that guests to cities like Delhi can not even expect to be charged fairly for a simple taxi ride. We can not whitewash and hide the warts and ugly realities by merely sloganeering from our past.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

A judicial stupidity

This must be judicial stupidity of highest order. A Jaipur city court has issued arrest warrant against Richard Gere for public kiss with Shilpa Shetty. I dont know if commenting on court orders amount to contempt of court or something like this, but the (mis) judgement by a juvenile sounding judge is highly ridiculous and laughable. The judge said that demeanour of the two actors was ``highly sexually erotic'' and ``transgressed all limits of decency with the potential to corrupt society.'' Excuse me my lord, did you say highly sexual erotic!! Where have you been all this while! If Kiss on cheek by two consenting individuals is judged as highly erotic, then you must have been in Afganistan all this while. Have you seen any bollywood movie recently or switched on your TV ! And what is this nonsense of "corrupting society". How can a public kiss on cheek corrupt society? Does law say anything about it! On what facts and evidences did you reach this conclusion? Untill now we had lunatic groups, out of work politicians and out of shape policemen doing moral policing by harassing young couples in public places, and now even judiciary seems to have joined the bandwagon.
In a country where court cases keep piled up for years waiting to be heard, where cases sometime run for decades, where judges have huge backlog of cases to clear, it is criminal for a judge to entertain a ludicurous PIL filed by a attention seeking man, and then proclaim a judgement as if Indian society has been defiled and a serious crime has been committed. As if entire indian culture is under grave danger by Richard Gere and he must be apprehended immediately. Only crime in this case is done by the man who filed PIL and the judge himself. They have wasted enormous time of country by starting a circus which would make people all over the world laugh at us. The man who filed the PIL should be tried for misusing as powerful as instrument as PIL. We can not have people like him wasting court's time on irrelevant issue like one person kissing another, this is hardly in public interest. It is also high time that fuzzy laws around so called public obscenity are made sensible and in keeping with modern times. One worrying thing is that if we have judges who possess such under- developed reasoning and discriminatory powers, then is it an indication of setting rot in judiciary which for long as been precieved as the only bastion which reasonable men of our society have some trust.!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Trek To Harishchandragad

This weekend was wonderful. After a long time, I went on a trek to Harishchandragad, about 2.5 hours drive from Mumbai. Start of trek was horrible as we took wrong route from Mumbai to Malshej Ghat, had tyre puncture and all sort of other problems on the way, but all was forgotten once we started the trek from Khireshwar, a tiny hamlet situated near the foot of hills. Our guide and friend, a professional , no-nonsense, boring and extremely serious trekker, had planned night trek, but due to wrong route we took to reach Malshej Ghat, we could only start trek, early morning around 5 am. In hindsight, may be it was good since we could see the panoramic view of hills unfolding around us as dawn was descending form heavens. The air was cooler and morning sun treacherously hid the fact that in few hours it was to become a hot headed and unrelenting monster. The amateurs trekkers in us started the climb stumbling and struggling initially, fighting internally the inertia gathered by months if not years of sedentary and unhealthy lifestyle. Like a car not raced for some time, it takes body sometime to adjust, heat up and get into the rhythm of trek.

To our surprise and to consternation of one of guys, who hates dogs with same intensity as dogs hate him, we were suddenly joined by two uninvited dogs who became our guides on their own will. They jumped, pranced and climbed the rocky terrain with ease, surefootedness and grace which only they are capable . Only the professional trekker between us could give them any semblance of competition. Later we were to find out that these two dogs are constant on this trek. They live in the Khireshwar village and accompany trekkers who come from outside, taking the cue from back packs they carry. They never accompany local villagers. Undoubtedly, we had a great time with these two animal friends and I would personally any day prefer a friendly and understanding dog trekker guide than a serious, boring human guide. Atleast dogs can be cajoled into resting by inciting them with little scratching under their neck.

The first halt was at Tolar Khind, where rocky but shady paths ends and steepest climb on a virtually vertical rock face starts. This is most interesting and enjoyable part of entire trek. The view after reaching the peak is breathtaking and one is tempted to shout for no apparent reason to hear the echo from surrounding hills. A little inane fun doesn’t do any harm I guess. Trek through the Harishchandra Kalsubai wildlife sanctuary is rather easy but enjoyable. The spectacle on reaching Harishchandreshwar is awesome with old temple ruins and caves carved in mountains suddenly becoming visible. Imagine, many thousand years back, some people climbed these hills and built temples and caves and lived there to meditate and seek Gods. I preferred to stop there for a while and soak in the ambience of the place as others went on onto scale Taramati peak to test their endurance and fitness. The place has its origin around 6th century with caves built around 11th century. The temple, dedicated to lord shiva is beautiful. I don’t understand architecture but I like those intricate sculptures on the ancient temples. They tell you a story if you are willing to listen. And you can feel the people who built them there many thousands of years ago. The caves are etched in the rock face on Taramati hills and like any other historical place in India are defaced by insane graffiti. Some trekkers stay in the caves overnight, the curator of site, a old man from local village told me.

From Harishchandreshwar, we walked to the Konkan Kada, a breathtakingly beautiful place and a nice culmination of trek. Konkan kada is a sheer rocky cliff, vertical and concave in shape overlooking Konkan region. Rock climbers must get a adrenaline rush from it. As I read on wikipedia about it "it is an overhang, almost like a cobra's hood. It has been climbed twice so far". We spent some time here and soon decided to start the trek back to Khireshwar as afternoon soon was beating down heavily and rocks were getting mercilessly hotter. On way back, I parted away from the group, something which professional trekkers never do and I am not one. The trek back to village was wonderful. It gave me some time alone with my own thoughts, to feel the heat, the silence and wildness of the place and to get into a rhythm I enjoy the most during treks. Rythem is essence of life, like music, like working, walking. I had run out of water and was dehydrated but the rhythm got me going. There is a strange satisfaction one gets when one is pitted against elements. It is then that you find the hidden strength and resolve from within you. Nothing has ever tasted as good as water I drank when I reached the village. Priceless Moments.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Miscarriage of Justice

Alistair Pereira , the man who killed 7 construction workers, crushing them under his vehicle in south Mumbai was acquitted of culpabale homicide and was given jail punishment for mere 6 months. Somebody needs to ask the question that why such incidents keep happening in Mumbai! Where Rich kids driving after drinking ram into pavements killing people! One of the the resasons is that Mumbai has large number of homeless who sleep on pavements and large number of poor laborers who have no place but to build their shacks along the pavements. In other parts of the world also, people, have accidents and ram into pavements, but in Mumbai if you lose control of your vehicle and swerve to the side of road, you might end up killing at least half a dozen people. In case of Alistair Pereira, he obviously lied that axle of his car broke and it went out of control and hit the huts along the road, but it is a genuine possibility that such things can happen with vehicles. A lot needs to be done to make our city roads and pavements safer. But this is beside the point. The fact is that there were 7 people killed and 8 injured when a man driving rashly under the influence of alcohol, lost control of his vehicle and rammed into the huts of poor laborers who were perhaps sound asleep after back breaking day's work. He knew that driving with few drinks under your throat is risky and that it can casue harm to others on the road And all this man has to go through is mere 6 month of imprisonment and pay a meager fine of 5 lakhs. The judge while delivering the judgment castigated city Police of doing a shoddy job with investigations and making a weak case against the accused. How many times have we heard it, before!

Corrupt System: The fact that there is something rotten with our judicial system is hardly a secret. Poor who can't afford lawyers for themselves, keep lodged in jails for years for petty crimes, as their court cases keep piled up for years, waiting to he heard. Rich who do wrong "by mistake" easily buy their way out of legal system. Witnesses turn hostiles, or are bought, important evidences can be misplaced and entire case weakened. ”At almost every point where citizens are governed, at every transaction where they are noted, registered, taxed, stamped, licensed, authorized or assessed, the impressions of being open for negotiation is given" Pratap Bhanu Mehta, India's political scientist has noted in his book "The burden of democracy". We can easily include the whole machinery of justice dispensing in this list of "open for negotiations" label. In a city where majority of police force is over worked and under paid, and where bribe and hafta have become almost a legitimate source of income for policemen, it wouldn't be very difficult for a rich man to buy few policemen to weaken the case by deliberately ignoring vital evidences. Investigations could easily be made perfunctory and persecution could be slack as perhaps happened in Pereira’s case also. Why is it that some cases involving rich are put on so called "fast tracks" when other poor accused keep languishing in jails for years awaiting their cases to be heard, is a question which needed to be asked. Do we have different yardsticks for poor and rich when dispensing justice! Must it be that every case where rich and privileged are involved, justice can only be safeguarded and ensured when there is constant media attention and public outcry! Is it now required for public to constantly do a Rang de Basanti! May be yes, the reason is that corruption is not rotting the system, but it has become a system itself. Most of us from middle class who work in private sector and live their life mostly outside the sphere of governmental controls are not affected by corruption but that is not true for most of Indians who are at mercy of "the System".

Is Judiciary also to be blamed: In case of Alistair Pereira, fingers can be pointed at the judiciary as well. The judge convicted Pereira, of rash and negligent driving and handed him over just 6 months of prison. Was it of no significance that his "rash driving" had killed 7 people? Judge said that chemical analysis report mentioned alcohol levels in blood of the accused but no witness was produced to prove that accused had consumed alcohol! Wasn't the report itself proof enough that Alistair was driving under the influence of alcohol! RTO inspector had testified that car didn't have any mechanical failure and judge himself noted that if a car as sturdy as Toyota corolla had suffered such extensive damage where its engine was ejected due to impact, then it must have been driven at very high speed! Pereira was also accused of acquiring forged papers to obtain license when he as just 15 years old. People who were killed were not walking on the road but were sleeping in their huts along the pavement. Is punishment for driving drunk and rash and killing 7 people, mere 6 months? I don’t understand law in its nitty gritty, but the judgment defies the common sense and logic. This is a travesty of law and justice.

Media Trials: While speaking to DNA after the verdict, Pereira did not express any remorse about what he had done and almost blamed media for his 6 months prison term. "I will have to go in for six months, all thanks to the media." He said. It has been debated for quite a while that there has been a rise in cases where accused are tried by media and public and opinions are made about guilt even before cases are deliberated by court of law. This is obviously a wrong course for law and justice. Accused is innocent unless proven guilty, but the way so called justice seems to be dispensed when it comes to rich and mighty, it is quite easy to understand why media has to take up the cudgels and why punlic at large feels cheated. In Jessica Lall case, the accused was almost but hanged by public opinion and media outcry. Ram Jethmalani, one of topmost criminal lawyers of country fought his case in high court and was highly critical of media's role in the entire case. His point was that it is only law which can decide whether a person is guilty of a crime or not, not the media. But his arguments stood on tenuous ground by the very fact that he almost ended up showing how well this law functions and how law has been hijacked by black coats who use every trick possible to win a case. Where is the truth! Who fights for truth! Truth it seems can easily be fabricated by arguments. See what Pereira's lawyer told to the media after the verdict:

Pereira’s lawyers feel that the six-month imprisonment is too harsh and have decided to appeal against the order in the Bombay High Court. “He is a 21-year-old boy and an accident like this could have happened to anyone,” Majula Rao, his lead lawyer, told reporters.

Bollywood movies for all of their flaws, can be taken as indictor of reflection of our society. In decades of 80 and 90s it was a common theme in various movies where hero of the movie had to take law in his own hands and deliver the justice himself because courtrooms couldn't do that or justice was compromised by scheming lawyers and compromising Police. The images still linger on.

Justice for laborers :Are we going to see "Justice for poor laborers" campaign as we saw it for "justice for Jessica Lall"?. Hardly seem likely but I would be pleasantly surprised if it happens. Jessica Lall had her family fighting for her justice. In present case, poor and perhaps illiterate families of killed laborers were most likely already brought for few thousands of rupees. "Jo hona tha ho gaya, ye sab to unke karm the" They must have said. As for Pereira, his family would stand by him as he is a nice guy and whatever happened was just a mistake. "He is a nice guy, a gem of a person." Some of his neighbors have said in media. Unbelievable, but we do seem to have this logic where if a person is good and perceived as nice guy, we are tempted to pardon him for "mistake". Even if that mistake had caused death of 7 innocent people! As for family, family always stands behind you regardless how severe your crime be. In great epic of Mahabharata, King Dhritrashtra knew that his son Duryodhna was wrong and had caused the battle by insulting wife of his brother, but he opted to be silent.

bk_keywords:India books, The burden of Democracy

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Global Warming - A looming Danger

This summer is unusually hot in Mumbai. In my 6 years of living in Mumbai, I have never found it so hot. May be I am just getting older and I still don’t have an AC installed in my house. But even if I do install an AC, it can not run for 5 hours a day due to power cuts in Mumbai. And perhaps not installing an AC saves me from being guilty of contributing to next summer's more heat. In past few days whatever publications I have read from newspapers to magazines, I noticed reports on global warming, tucked somewhere, if not on front page. When I could convince myself that these reports were really not about extended April fools day, I found out that the sudden focus on global warming was due to the release of UN's IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report. The report accesses the likely outcomes of global warming, causes of which were examined in last report. In our daily banal lives, we hardly have time to think about abstract things like global warming, specially when you have deadline approaching at work, or when you have just broken off with your girlfriend or when you are struggling to decide where to buy your new house. Somehow we know that there is a problem with environment but we don’t have to worry about it just yet and that somebody else will take care of it.

The report says "unequivocally" that globe is indeed warming and that its cause is largely "man made". As per report, half of species on planet were already altering their behavior or changing their range in response to global warming by 2003 itself. Around 26% of coral reefs have already died as a result of warming waters and rest would disappear if water temperature rises by as little as another degree. How does matters, one might wonder, if coral reefs disappear just because they are bit sensitive to the water temperature! The thing is that these coral reefs support various kinds of fish and other ocean species and with coral reefs dead, these species would also be endangered. Global warming is a dangerous scenario since its affects, scientists say are non-linear. What it means is that even one degree of average rise in temperature has drastic affects. Around 25% of species might face extinction by year 2010. What is more worrisome is rise in minimum temperature of globe which is rising twice as high as average temperature. This is leading to faster climate change in poles where large deposit of ice stay. Many mountaineers have reported that some of ice bodies they have climbed have simply disappeared melted away in excessive heat. What do few degrees of temperature rise mean for human civilization? In few words, it means heading towards a catastrophe, an exaggerated version of which was shown in a Hollywood movie, The Day After Tomorrow. With minimum temperature rising, the winters are not cold enough to kill off different pests and diseases. Noxious species of ants and bees are migrating northwards; tropical highlands are witnessing an invasion of mosquitoes carrying malaria and dengue fever. The effect of warm climate would amplify on agriculture and forestry. The agriculture yield would fall as crop killing fungi would increase their range and breed faster and tree killing beetles would also not stay behind. This would lead to failure in crops creating a food deficit. Due to warm climate, glaciers would melt brinning floods to the plains destroying crops and endangering human life. Climate change would lead to unpredictable effects, with some places facing constant floods and some places suffering from draught.
(Source: IPCC and The Economist)

The purpose of the report is to jolt the governments of the world into taking a serious note of global warming and take policy decisions to reverse it. Whether it is going to happen is a debatable question. Most of poorer countries are already paying a price due to climate change which is largely caused by developed countries. Devloped countries have over the years invested money into fonding ways of greener tehcnologies which they dont share with other developing countries. It is a high time that developed countries start transferring green technologies to developing countries. It is for everybody’s benefit since climate does not know any man made boundaries and degraded environment would affect all of us, wheather if is America or Congo. There are evidences that the Ozone layer, which was ruptured due to excessive use if CFC gases, is slowly recovering after Montreal Protocol was adopted by countries to curb on use of CFC. Would governments of the world wake up to the grave danger facing our climate and our life due to global warming, remains to be seen.

What does Global warming mean to India? Well, since India is just about started to modernize, our consumption and production of goods would increase and in race of doing things faster, there is bound to be damage to the climate. The Great Himalayas would melt into dessert; Chinese would attack us without any protection from daunting snow clad mountains. The floods due to melting ice would destroy most of Gangetic plains, wiping out miseries of some of poorest people living there, along with settling the issue over temples and mosques forever. “Garibi hatao” slogan would eventually be fructified. Further south, the seasonal rivers would dry up as there would not be any monsoons and draught would kill many people living there. As for me, I will soon, like the other migrating species, would migrate to north and hole up in some place where there would still be some water and air and food. I think I can manage without the Air conditioner.
(Cartoon Courtsey: Monsing)

What Can an Individual Do About Global Warming
Individual Action about Global warming

Monday, April 9, 2007

Uttar Pradesh - Pulling India Down

The biggest state of India in terms of population, Uttar Pradesh , UP is going to poll with first phase of voting already over, and the great circus of democracy is on display yet again. UP perhaps remains to be politically most important state in India, not only be shear number of MPs it provides but also by the huge and varied political leadership which it keep churning out with regularity, though quality of its leadership has gone downhill as has State’ s economic and social profile. It is generally said that one should avoid stereotypes, but they provide an indicator of larger trends which give us a vital understanding of our societies and cultures. During my college days, I used to be astounded by few of batch mates from UP, who had some kind of built in political awareness and which I later came to know was also pretty much the same with an ordinary, common men from UP, including taxi drivers and security men and paanwalas one meet in Mumbai .

Its Politics: UP is a cauldron of amazing array of intricately fragmented identities making it a virtual quagmire of divisive politics. If politics can be equated to a business, which to certain extent it is, then customers (voters) of UP are so much sensitive to their complex spectrum of sometime overlapping identities, that politicians do nothing more than catering to their identities and raising emotive issues to keep voters in good mood . State is polarized in various communities to such an extent that its political equations are made up of very intricate arithmetic where numbers of voters based on what social groups they belong, play most vital role. A miscalculation of this arithmetic can cost a party dearly. One has to know which assembly has how much percentage of voters belonging to a caste, sub caste, religion before deciding and tailoring the agenda for that constituency. To get the airthmetic right, alliances are struck and sometime they can be struck between parties who are ideologically at different poles In this year's elections, BSP has been wooing upper caste voters which could have been unimaginable till few years back as BSP has been vehemently anti-upper caste party. Votes are openly asked in name of caste and religion and most of voters see it as a form of social or political power. In state, social justice often means, deepening the caste based identities instead of making them redundant. If parties like SP (Samajwadi Party) and BSP (Bahujan Samajwadi Party) can be condemned for playing politics based on caste and minority appeasement in name of secularism and social justice, party like BJP has done no good by targeting majority Hindu upper caste votes by raising specters of Muslim dominance. Just before elections were to start, BJP had released an inflammatory CD as per media reports which were subsequently disowned when EC threatened it with disqualification. Congress is confused and has been since it lost its ground in the state. It was perhaps Congress's failure which led to emergence of regional and smaller parties which now influence national politics so heavily. Perhaps congress failed as a true national party and could not represent all segments of society who felt politically powerless and that then culminated in form of regional parties and quite understandably too. In case of UP, the political history of BSP is interesting as regardless of kind of politics it plays now, it can be credited with actually making a marginalized community's voice heard and making it realize how much political power they could wield. This is something which even leader like Ambedkar could not do but today he would be annoyed seeing what BSP is doing with the power it has now. Instead of using the power in uplifting the castes which were suppressed for many centuries, its leaders are merely looking backwards and in past and have done very little in terms of changing economic ground realities. Castism is a social evil and it will not go away unless there is a social change. A political party like BSP can atleast starts this social change from somewhere and not fiddle with emotive and regressive agendas like creating Ambedkar villages. Such ill placed policies don’t lead to any social justice and merely encourage ghettoisation.

Crime in UP: UP is also one of India's BIMAROU state and is a huge burden and concern in way of India becoming a modern, developed country. Most of UP is caught in a time wrap with some parts of it almost resembling Wild West, virtual badlands. Most of mainstream media has time and again run stories of virtual lawlessness in parts of UP. There is rampant gun culture, kidnappings and rapes. Ordinary people are afraid to even approach police because mostly it is police which is hand in glove with perpetrators of the crime, as was proved during Nithari killings also. Opposition has been constantly saying that there is unwritten dictate from government about not filling the complaints so as to fudge the crime members form state. In one of the funniest spectacle if it can be so termed, recently, ruling party in state used none other than Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan for showcasing how safe and progressive UP was. Amitabh Bachaan was seen saying that "UP main hain dum, kyonki jurm yahan hai kam". Ostensibly he was not paid for it as SP's "leader" (it is not a joke) Amar Singh is like Bachchan's younger brother. Bachchan who might not be spending even 2 weeks in state in entire year, says in the ad that he would like to be born again on the ghats of Ganges in the state. Obviously Bachchan has shot himself on foot for taking a wrong side and he should think hard about how much of his credibility he is going to put on stake for supporting his friends who happen to be on wrong side of argument. In a country where police is seen with fear by ordinary people, one would wonder how many people would have courage to go and approach police to register cases in a state where police has almost no credibility, as was also indicated by statement of one of retired senior officers of state police recently. There can never be any economic progress when there is crime and fear in a society and when large number of elected politicians are known criminals (24 out of 80 MPs from state have criminal records, 110 out of 400 MLA have police cases against them).

UP will pull India Down: What does UP stand for? Does it belong to new India which is trying to go towards modernity? UP has all the problems which will stop India from progressing both socially and economically. It is deeply divided based on caste, it is divided based on religion, divisions run deep and wide, democracy is extremely fragile as strong arm tactics are part of its politics, there are virtually no industries in the state and nobody wants to go there because of high crime rate, most of government institutions hardly function anymore and it is hotbed of corruption with even its legislatures being caught on camera , openly taking bribes and even willing to kill for money. Dismal politics in state has led to dismal economical performance. UP is economic battleground. The per capita income of the state has been declining over the years with the result that the gap between its per capita income and that of other states has widened. Its rate of urbanisation is dismal (20% urban population as compared to 44% in Tamilnadu). Bibek Debroy , an economist states that if India grows at 8 percent, in 2020 UP will have per capita income roughly at the level where Azerbijan is today, marginally ahead of Zimbabwe. Considering that UP has such a large population, (Larger population than UK, Germnay and France put together) if it does not do well, it would constantly pull India down and decelerate our country's march towards economically better future. If India has to do well, it is utmost important that UP does well. It is so much important to free UP from a medieval state it has fallen to. It is so much important for its badlands and bahubalis to be eradicated. It is so much important to de-polarize its masses who are always dissected based on caste and religion for political gains. But all of this can only happen when its people realize this fact. Unless there is a genuine awakening in its people, its politics would not change much and unless that happen its people of state would keep rolling in poverty. Election commission’s moral code of conduct, central government's policies, World bank assistance and NGOs can only be catalysts, but the real change has to come from within.

Monday, April 2, 2007

No Sex for us please - Ban on Sex education

An old debate of implementing sex education in Indian schools has raised its head again with couple of state government banning sex education in schools even before it could be implemented. We Indian have a strange connection to this topic of sex. On one hand we have produced masterpiece like Kamasutra, on other hand, we squirm in our seats at the very mention of word sex. The debate as such is not new and has been happening for quite sometime even in liberal western countries where topic of sex is not a taboo and where sex education has been implemented for quite sometime. Even after that, they have had their own problems with teen pregnancies and unwed young mothers and this is something we need to learn from. On the contrary, in our Indian society, which is largely conservative, we tend to take a very moralistic and idealistic approach even though we know that we hardly live in ideal conditions and that man by nature is fallible. As always, the solution could be somewhere in middle, but for that to happen there needs to be a healthy open minded discussion based on facts and reality and not on just moral and high sounding cultural arguments and preconcieved notions which are are set in distant past. We can not teach kids in school that go have sex and produce babies but we can not keep pretending that they think that it is really about birds and bees and that babies fall from sky. In the whole debate on whether sex education in Indian schools is needed or not, there are couple of arguments which are extremely annoying. Those who vehemently argue against implementing sex education in schools usually say that:

  1. It is against Indian culture
  2. We need to implement yoga education and not sex education.

1. My reservation against first argument is that it is a big debate killer. The moment we don't want to confront a subject or even want to talk about it, we hurriedly term it as against Indian culture and want everybody to keep quite. It could be anything. It could be a movie showing an ugly slice from our past or it could be a festival celebrated by young couples. And nobody, I mean really nobody can perhaps substantiate what this Indian culture is, especially those who use it at drop of their hat. Has this so called Indian culture documented anywhere, engraved anywhere? Is this Indian culture a solidified object which has not changed since it was created, whenever it was created! What is the starting point of this culture? 5000 year back or 100 years back? Has this culture not changed since then! I believe that culture is like a flowing river and not like a pond where water stagnates and starts stinking. If there is anything which is part of Indian culture, it is that we are argumentative. We induge in arguments, we question, reason and try to understand things. This is how our ancestors were able to create some magnificent piece of philosophical literature many thousands of years back. Why do we now don’t deal with the questions just because they are little uncomfortable to our sensibilities? Is khajurao not part of Indian culture! Is kamasutra not part of Indian culture? If Indian culture is about beating young couples who are merely holding hands in public, if it is about vandalizing shops which are selling cards and flowers because young couple wants to buy them, if it is about honor killings where daughters are killed by their own fathers in full view and support of village because they married guys from lower or other caste, if it is about dowry killings, if it is about wanting to have sons and killing unborn daughters, if it is about a being piously hypocritical, if it is about trying to be a saint and not being a human, if it is about being poor yogi sitting in Himalya then I will happily say that I would prefer to be a westerner.

2. What makes us think that Yoga education and sex education are complimentary! Do we think that yoga education in schools would turn all children into spiritual gurus and sex education would turn them into sexual perverts! One of self acclaimed protectors and flag bearers of Indian culture, Ashok Shingal of VHS said on TV, on debate on same subject that "In Indian culture, we should remain celibate (brahamchari) for first 25 years of life, The Virya (semen) needs to be saved and not wasted and through yoga this Virya can then be transported internally to the mind converting it into spiritual energy". Fantastic as his views might sound to anyone, and without commenting whether there is really a truth in what he says about power of Virya, as I am sure he himself hasn't never tried that, I would have asked him if this is really what Indian culture is about, then how is that we are culture of 1 billion people! Obviously these many people could not have been born without Virya doing its bit. In fact on the contrary, it seems that we are in such large number because of over-active groins and juices that flow from there. In Hinduism, we have 33 million gods in the pantheon and some of them were sexually quite active. If one reads some of religious books, one soon gets confused about who was whose sons, like God A married God B and they had 4 children (they were also Gods obviously), A also had children from Z but A never slept with Z and used his spiritual force to make Z pregnant, like Lord Surya (sun) made Kunti pregnant in Mahabharata and she gave birth to a son called Karna. I am not trying to belittle our mythology which for most part is about allegorical stories and rely heavily upon symbolism with deeper meanings. The whole notion of Virya being needed to be conserved and abstinence might be good for those who decide to tread on the path of Indian yogic traditions (sanyas) but it is a choice made by an adult at a stage in life when he/she has understanding of such abstract things as God, religion, nirvana etc. Not everybody in this country is trying to become sadhu and sanyasi. We can not expect that by teaching yoga to children in school, they will grow up into sexless spiritual beings. It is like saying that if we teach math to all the children in school, they will grow up to become mathematicians. There is no reason why children can not be taught both sex education and yoga education. Purpose of Sex education is to teach scientific facts about sex to children who are otherwise prone to acquiring false notions and impressions about sex in the world where (mis)information is available at drop of hat. Yoga education teaches them how to keep physical fit and control their mind. Later when they grow up to be adults, they would be equipped to make better, informed decisions. May be some of them would grow up to become Swami Vivekanandas and rest of them would be happier being lawyers, engineers, doctors and enjoying a healthy sex life.

In a way, this whole topic of sex education is intersting from another perspective, in the sense that it is perhaps only topic which unites people who are otherwise always at loggerheads. For example from the mullahs to padri to pundits, all three of them would speak vociferously against implementing sex education. In thier eyes, somewhere, sex is a sinful activity which takes a man away form path of God, and hence it is not to be spoken about or indulged in and certainly not to be taught in schools. The unity of all religions on matter of sex raises a very interesting question...Why is that? For a later post.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Power crisis in Mumbai- Maharashtra a failed state !

Somehere in rural Maharashtra, near a tiny dark hut, a woman is sitting , using her pallu to fan her little baby to comfort her from crippling heat and darkness, occasionaly looking at the shadow of tree in courtyard, with hint of tears in her eyes. There is no power in the village and the tree in the courtyard sometime metamorphoses and looks like her husband who hanged himself on it , just a month back. Hanged himself on same tree, when he was driven to penury, when his sugarcane crop was not bought by the sugar mill owner to avenge the caste which had not voted for the mill owner's politician father. In distant corner of the village, near the small cluster of shops which are unlit and dark due to perennial power shutdown, stands a tall statue of great marathi warrior Shivaji.

For first time in 36 years, Mumbai (read south Mumbai) may be subjected to scheduled power cuts. BEST general manager said that BEST would ask all the cinema halls in south Mumbai to cancel their noon shows to beat the power crisis. He said that "it won't make any difference if people don’t watch movies in the afternoon". What an absurd argument. I understand that there is power shortage and some power saving measures is need of the day. But what I find absurd is the way BEST manager is asking consumers to save the power. He doesn't show any concern or remorse that consumers would be affected by shortage in power and is almost insinuating as if watching movies on afternoon is a sort of frivolous activity which can be done without, almost as if watching noon shows is causing power shortage and by discontinuing these shows we can save power. If we have to extend the logic, we might as well say it won’t make any difference if we don’t use our TV sets during the day, stop using air conditioning, just use fans, and open shopping malls only during day. Some one might suggest that this would be good since it would make us free from our dependence on various machines gadgets and devices. It will be in keeping with Indian culture which has always encouraged frugality. BTW, how much power can we save my stopping noon movie shows!! Phenomenal? Or is it mere symbolic! I suggest that everybody voluntarily switch off lights in their house by 10 pm and sleep. After all, it will “not make any difference” .

Just now when we are organizing India tourism road shows in foreign capitals on grand scale and inviting people to visit our country, just when India is seen all around business conferences, just when we are shouting ourselves hoarse about our double digit growth, just when Chinese are perplexed by large number of Indian billionaires in Forbes list, here we are talking about why not to watch afternoon movie shows so that we can save little power here and there, in the financial hub of the country.

One might say I am harping on power cuts in Mumbai when for most of rural Maharashtra, power cuts are way of life and has been like than for a long time. Unlike Mumbai which had power distribution in private sector, rural Maharastra is at mercy of government controlled MSEB and has been reeling under long hours of power cuts for many years now. So it was only inevitable that citizens of Mumbai also face the heat .Untill 1992, Maharashtra was a power surplus state and was selling power to other states. After Enron debacle, the state government lost the plot entirely and power situation since then has been deteriorating. What was government doing and thinking all this while! The problem is not that we are suddenly consuming more power; problem is that we are not producing enough power. Problem is with inadequate planning. When you are growing as fast as 8-10% annually and when you are dreaming of becoming a superpower, you would know that you would need power. Industries need power, cities need power, agriculture needs power, and economy needs power. It can not happen that we suddenly wake up one day and find that there is a shortfall of 4000MW of power. The power deficit has been increasing every year and state Governments hardly did anything other than distributing power free of cost to framers who are anyway finding it hard not to take their own lives. Today state of Maharashtra is being called a failed state (by planning commision) and power cuts in Mumbai are just a stark and "dark" reminder of how bad things have gone. And what are politicians of Maharashtra doing? Those who are in power (pun intended) have no clues about what needs to be done and those who are not , are busy playing their divisive agenda around regional and emotive politics. But then it is not surprising. Politics is a business where voters are the consumers. As long as voters are happy being doled out emotional shit rolled with misplaced pride, politicians will keep serving them that. Who wants proverbial Bijli, Paani and Sadaks! We are happy as long as all the major airports (when they function), all the major roads (when they are built), all the major ports, all the major buildings and everything major is named after one great hero from past.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Cricket , Media and Gods

I was watching Australia South-Africa Group world cup match the other day. Australia had scored some 360 runs and South Africa was Chasing to win. Graeme Hick and AB DeVillers started the innings on aggressive note, not sparing any bowler including the once fearsome McGrath. Before the match, both the teams indulged in war of words. Australians called South Africans chokers and South Africans reminded Australians of their recent defeats and wondered if tag of chokers now needs to shift to Australians. I like Graeme Hick. He is built like a bully, hardly seems to emote anything and constantly chews while on the field. He looks like this gladiator who is not taken in by the awe of occasion or fear of enemy. Eventually Australians won the match but not before South Africans had instilled fear of God in them. This is what a good game of cricket is all about and this is what sport is all about. Competitiveness, aggression, hard work, self belief, desire to win and lots of sweat. Our team lost because we had none of it. Contrary to what people are saying about world cup being over, it is just starting now. The real contest is beginning now.

No doubt, the way we lost was shameful, but it was coming nonetheless. We just had to cut the media hype before the cup to see that. Media in India, specially the news channels, is turning more and more into theatre of absurd. News is being made and presented the way we have made our movies for so longs. Over the top, exaggerated, dramatic and overly emotional. May be this is how we are as people and so it reflects in whatever we do, whether it is movies or news. I wonder if some news channel in future is going to start item songs as well. Before cup hype by the media, made billions of cricket fans to believe as if Cup was for India to take and other teams were just coming there to have some fun and frolic. As if, like a Bollywood hero, team India was destined to get the girl and others teams were just the supporting actors needed in the drama. Funny that it is, the hype was so much that almost every cricketer of past, found his way into one or the other channel's expert panel. The same players, who were themselves failures when they played the game, were now commenting on what strategies India should adopt to lift the cup. I know that it is not necessary that you be a stalwart to earn your right to comment on the game, but even then it is little funny.

Also, we must be the only people in world who would invoke God to beseech him to let us win the cup. How many Yagnas and sarpdosha yagans were performed before the cup! If Gods really did played their part in sports, then we would have been world champions in every sport, considering how religious we are and how many varied gods we have. And we share this trait of invoking God in sports with Pakistanis, proving that two people are not really different. Pakistanis always say that "It was Allah's will and grace" when they win the game but don’t say same when the lose it. Before team was to travel to West Indies, most of channels ran programs where "leading" astrologers and tarot card readers were invited and were asked to predict the fate of team. These chaps did some crystal gazing and most of them predicted that team India was sure to reach the Semi finals. Beyond that they were noncommittal as they usually are when it comes to sticking their neck out. I wonder what these soothsayers would say now that India is out of first round itself, forget the Semi finals. May be the planetary position was changed after their predictions.

Then the great Indian cricket fan is so emotional and fickle minded Same batsmen who couldn’t move the bat against Bangladesh, become heroes all over again when they butchered poor , first timers like Bermuda, Bermuda which is country of 60,000 people and whose cricket team is made up of amateurs like doctors and school teachers. Why do these fans think that we lost because our players are more concerned about advertisement money than the game! Because money is bad!!. Money is sinful!!. Just because players are earning more money they should be made to feel guilty about it. May be it is true that cricket players in India are spoilt with the money and once they become stars, they start behaving more like movie stars than sport stars. May be our fielding is bad because these stars think it is beneath them to slide on the ground to stop couple of runs. May be. But I think the real reason is that we are week in mind. We are not aggressive and competitive. We don’t understand that sport is all about competitiveness and about winning. Sport is about skills and fitness. Sport is about testing. It is about testing the real men. It is about testing physical endurance. It is about testing the belief and courage. It is about rising to occasion. Whoever told us that it is more important to participate than to win was merely consoling. Obviously we can not win every time, but when we start thinking that we can’t win every time, we certainly legitimize possibility of losing in our minds. This is why current team of Australia is such a champion team. Because they hate losing. And they win because their sum is higher than the parts, unlike Indian team which if media reports are to be believed, is perennially divided into groups, into groups of junior and seniors, into groups of who speak Kannada and Marathi, into groups of who eat pada paav and who eat masala dosa.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Shiv Sena, politics and Anatomy of Social Group Conflicts

A Bollywood actress participated in a UK reality show and was called "Indian" and "curry eating" by one of British house mate. The issue turned into a racism row which got escalated to the extent that it almost became an international incident and diplomatic row between 2 governments. One of politicians, Raj Thackeray of Maharashtra recently remarked that he would not hesitate to slap North Indians (read Biharis) if they insulted local Marathi culture. He said that “they would get slap as breakfast, slap as lunch and slap as dinner”. He never bothered to mention how North Indians were insulting local Marathi culture (by not learning Marathi perhaps) and his audience never bothered to ask him. They just clapped happily. Obviously knowing how Indian politics operates, the politician in question, was merely playing to his target vote bank. And it did not matter that his party had taken an inclusive stance during recently concluded elections for BMC. After his party got the drubbing, he had to change his ideology from an inclusive to more excluding and based on parochial and narrow concerns. It is paradoxical that we Indians blame British for enslaving us for 200 years and making us poor through divide and rule, and today we use same fault lines of division and even accentuate them through vote bank politics. This is not limited to Maharashtra and can be see throughout the political landscape in our country. The question of outsiders versus locals has been raised for quite sometime in Mumbai and I fail to understand why it is a big deal for megacity like Mumbai. Cities don’t belong to any community and that’s why they become cities and acquire their typical characters and personalities. Cities are often product of migration of people from villages and hinterland and they become nerve center of economic activity because of large set of economically active migrants. It does not matter whether migrant is from Bihar or from some rural district of Western Ghats of Maharashtra. Bangalore for example is Silicon Valley and attracts qualified IT engineers from across the county. Mumbai has become an economic hub because of contribution from various communities; most of them not are from native Marathi speaking population.

Raj Thackeray is not alone in this kind of divisive politics and he is merely following on footsteps of his mentor, Bal Thackeray who has made a political career by promoting “Maharashtra for Maharashtrians" brand of politics. Shiv Sena first captured power by running a hate campaign against South Indians in Bombay, then they targeted migrants from UP and now it is turn of Biharis who are everybody’s favorite whipping boys as is happening in Assam also where ULFA kills poor Bihari migrants at will. I wonder why Raj Thackeray’s statement against Biharis is not same as what Fascists said about Jews. Does it not amount to racism and hate campaign, of spreading hatred and fear against another set of human beings! Then why is that we made such a big noise about Shilpa Shetty being racially targeted when we are targeting our own people in our own country! But that perhaps is quite understandable since we don’t like others to behave with us the way we behave with our own people. I mean, is caste system not the biggest institutionalized mechanism of discriminating against people anywhere in the world! We accuse white skinned of being racist against dark skinned people like us, even when we would prefer half of our population to be of fair skinned (look at Indian matrimonials). And we know how easy travelers from Africa find their stay in India who are targeted just because they are shade darker than us. What Shiv Sena does in Maharashtra to Biharis, is it a form of racism or merely an instance of social conflict! What is the reason for this social conflict?

I believe that fundamentally all of us are racist. And without exception perhaps. Only degree of basis on which we chose to discriminate varies. Racism is only one form (though more sinister perhaps) of inter social group conflict. Social groups, which could be based on language (as Marathi, German), religion (Hindu, Muslim) , culture (French, British) or territory.

Social Groups and Conflict: To understand genesis of racism better, we have to look closely at inter social group conflicts. One way of looking at these conflicts is to look at them from biological and evolutionary point of view as Desmond Morris had done in his superb book called "The Naked Ape”. We know that, we humans started our civilization as Apes, a kind of animal species. When we evolved from fruit eating apes into flesh eating hunter apes, we suddenly had to fight with other predator animals that were much more advanced in their hunting skills. Only way we human apes could compete with those hunter animals and survive was to stay and hunt in tighter groups. We depended upon the group for safety and food, the two vital things required for survival. We also became territorial because as co-operative social hunters we had to create base or a territory which could mark the group as a separate unit (most of hunter animals are territorial, like lions). We also had to defend the region of fixed base or the territory and because of our co-operative social nature we had to do it on group basis than individually. Also prolonged dependency of our young (children) for survival and rearing, forced us to adopt pair bonded family units within the fixed social group, where a male member of family defends his own individual home within a large home base or social group. So a family became the fundamental unit within a territorial social group. Hence, from biological point of view, it is in our genes to form social groups and defend them (territories). Cultural, political, social and many such changes which have happened after our ancient days of social-cooperative group hunters have not necessarily curbed our inherent instincts of belonging to a social group and defending it. And what have also not changed are the inter-social group conflicts. Hunt now is hunt for resources and jobs, and modern man has various overlapping social group identities. We have not changed that way since our ancient days. We must need to believe in something and we must need to belong to a group which we must defend against other social groups or perceived or real threats. Due to incredible improvements in healthcare and scientific advancemans over last century, a gross over crowding and migration of our species is happening which is leading to social stresses, tensions and inter social group conflicts. From Tribal systems which are still found in some countries like Afghanistan to Nation states, all of these are nothing but a form of this social group mechanism and territories. Nation states as we know them today are relatively much modern concept. Some commentators a argue that Globalization as seen in past couple of decades is bound to threaten notion of nation states, as geographical boundaries which act as physical territory of nation states are becoming redundant because of forces of globalization and technology like internet. An interesting social-group product of globalization is perhaps MNCs. MNC are groups of people who are held together by idea of making money or conducting business irrespective of any affiliation to any nation state. It is said that culture of globalization and technological advancements have shrinked the world to a small place but it has not eliminated fragmented identities and affiliations to social units which an individual carries which ultimately lead to conflicts. A person from Tamilnadu is called "madrasi" in north of India and can be taunted for his strange eating habits. Same Tamil person, if he is an upper cast Brahmin, would not mingle with other Tamil lower caste men. An Indian from Bihar state can be beaten when he gets employment in Mumbai and Americans would threaten to stop migration of Indians (including Marathis) to Silicon valley. The same Social group conflicts exist in many forms and at many levels and one would be tempted to say that it is in very nature of us, humans. Belonging to a herd. What people like Raj Thackeray do is to cash on these potential conflicts and fault lines by making "his group" see a threat from "other group". It does not matter whether that threat may be real or merely perceived. BJP comes to power by making a Hindus see the threat from Muslims. Osama Bin Laden runs his shop by making Muslims see the threat from Christians and western world. May be this is what politics all about.

Nation State, above other social groups: Desmond Morris says that one way of reducing the inter-social group conflict is to "de-patriotize" the group, break the cohesion of a group. But this goes against our genetic need of belonging to a tribe, a group. If relationships are broken in one way, they must be formed somewhere else. In this view, concept of a secular democratic nation state is interesting one. Even more so in Indians context where we have such an amazing array of diversity in terms of languages, religions and customs, not to mention the castes. In a secular democracy like ours, a nation state is thought of as most important social group and all other social group identities which a citizen of nation-state might have are seen as lower and subservient to identity as citizen of nation state. This includes linguistic as well as religious identities. Even though state lets an individual has his/her social affiliations, state practically ignores them when dealing with the individual, at least in principal, as is also enshrined in our constitution. A citizen of Indian nation state has fundamental right to live and work in any part of the country regardless of whether he is from Bihar or from Maharashtra. Our identity as Indian is assumed to be more sacred than any other identity (from a social group) we might carry, and when somebody violates this by appealing to narrower, parochial agendas like Raj Thackeray or anybody else, he/she is hitting at the very foundation of how we have agreed to live in a country (group). This is what makes it a dangerous scenario. There is a distinction bwteen genuine regional interest,culture,language promotion and holiganism. And what Shiva Sena and other such Senaa do is to indulge in holiganism.

Man is not just another Animal: Man as animal. We understand how inter-social group conflict is biologically wired in us. When we see ourselves as just another animal and look at it from evolution point of view, we can understand many things about why we are the way we are today, our customs, our religions, everything. Our society the way it is today has not become like this in a day but is a product of many millions of years of evolutionary cycle and there are various traits which we carry in our genetic makeup which still connect us to our primal life as just another animal on a big planet fighting to survive. This gives us our baser or lower instincts. But we are not just another animal. We have an extremely advanced faculty of reasoning which makes us think and question. We have always tried to understand who we are through our power of intellect and exploration. For example ancient Indian philosophy delved deeper into nature of man and his mission. One of most profound thought which we find in our ancient philosophy and which can perhaps be termed unique to Indian civilization is idea of "Vasudhev Katumkamb" or entire planet is one big family. This thought can only come when we are able to overcome our baser biological nature through use of intellect to see our higher self. Instead of belonging to narrower social groups, man has to see him belonging to one social group whose destiny is interlinked on this planet. Obviously this is so high a thought that even political parties who run their shops on name of our great Indian culture, do not want to see or understand it and they are happy running their business on narrow, parochial and divisive agendas whenevee they suit them. So if one day Shiv Sena appeals to all hindus to unite against a certain community, on another day they don't hesitate to target same hindus who speak a different language.