Jayalalithaa – an Indian Woman’s role model

Amma

Amma

How to summarize a life, that too the life of a public figure, the life which resembles more of a sine curve, the life which has many dimensions, each requiring its own compendium! It is difficult to chronicle in one book, let alone in couple of pages.

It is only fair to quote a line misattributed to George Bernard Shaw to show respect to a well read, eloquent and erudite person.

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

Such a remarkable person’s life can be portrayed as a fine actor or a shrewd politician or an able administrator or a visionary Chief Minister.

The significance of her achievements is not small. In the contemporary Tamil Cinema, imagine how English speaking women are portrayed, especially the heroines. Sub-nationalism in Tamil Nadu had been prevalent and still is admired by many. Tamil pride has been one of the major themes of the Dravidian movement. Now, here comes a convent educated, tip-of-the-tongue English speaking actor, embarking her political journey.

Look through this prism and her achievements are monumental. Take this prism off and her achievements are still monumental.

As the ruler of my state for many years, the major theme of her life has been “welfare” – Welfare of the the people or welfare of her subjects. To many, she was the Empress. In “The Republic,” Plato argues that countries must be ruled by Philosopher Kings. Some criticise this because its against democracy. In Jayalalithaa, we have had the best of both worlds – a person who deeply believed in democratic ethos and possessed all attributes that a philosopher will posses towards the welfare of the people and of the state.

One of the major schemes which has saved and continues to save countless lives has been Cradle Baby scheme. Female infanticide in India is not new and Tamil Nadu was no exception. A simple scheme where mothers can hand over their infants has provided many with a fair chance in life. The scheme which was started in 1992 is 24 years old. All who were saved by this scheme owe it to JJ. People who do not know Tamil Politics or Tamil Nadu should not wonder why millions call her ‘Amma.’ What do you call a person who saves lives? To the children who were protected and given an opportunity in life, she most certainly is.

In the middle of her political career she brought a controversial “Anti Forcible Conversion Scheme” which led some minorities to believe she may not be neutral. But alas, she was the one who fought for the rights of Scheduled Castes of other religions. For Dravidian politics, social justice is paramount and her continuous efforts towards this beginning with 69% reservation in education and various other schemes ensure, to a large extent, that Tamil Nadu has better indicators than many large states in India. The legacy of Dravidian movement was preserved, followed and expanded by her action, which sprung from her belief in social justice.

Freebies:

Some may wonder what many freebies had achieved in Tamil Nadu. Many in the right of economic spectrum had and continues to pejoratively call it as dole.

A scheme, where cycle was provided to girl children initially was expanded to cover many students in the state. Why should this be done? Well, if you want to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio of students, you cannot ask them to walk miles in parching sun. Macro headline numbers are achieved by micro planning and diligent and targeted execution.

Why should free mixer and grinders be provided? How long do you think that it takes to make batter for predominantly idli / dosa eating population? The labour substitution that these devices bring in change a woman’s life in kitchen. For most of us, this may not be a big thing, but for women who are poor (and there are many), this is a gift they will cherish. A two-hour additional time for them is two hours more work, selling vegetables or flowers, selling fish or being a maid in one more home.

Why should free laptops be provided? If literacy is defined upto 21st century as ability to read and write, it will be defined as ability to access and process information in 21st century. Chennai, being an IT hub and with students experimenting with laptops is how innovation is built.

She lived by “SALUS POPULI EST SUPREMA LEX,” meaning welfare of the people is the supreme law, which she quoted in one of her speeches.

Federal Polity:

There has never been a greater champion of federal structure than her. The earliest known is her speech in Rajya Sabha on 25th April 1984 on fair shares for states in a federal structure where she calls financial contribution by states to center as “States regularly part with massive sums of money – like sacrificial oblations at the altar of the Central Government.” This is not a one off incident and her recent stand on GST was borne out of this and still has very valid points which all other parties have ignored.

Tamil Language:

Few know that she fought for Tamil’s right to be declared as Classical Language in 1980s. How many of us know that Government of India had a condition that the language must be rarely spoken for a language to be declared as classical? She ridiculed this dubious rule with logic and reason.

Boldness:

From Indira Gandhi to Pranab Mukherjee to NT Rama Rao to Karunanidhi to Sonia Gandhi to Vajpayee, all have been at the receiving end of her blunt logic and direct unapologetic choice of words, all being in their prime of power.

The list can be endless; for the life has been so magnificent and all giving.

Women in India have broken many glass ceilings in the past. But never in Politics. It was always a support of a family which brought up women in politics. From Indira Gandhi to Sheila Dixit, people have had family backing to be successful in politics. The earliest person to break this was Jayalalithaa. In an indirect way, she has been forerunner to Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee.

For a culture which detests single woman, the public life of Jayalalithaa must serve as an inspiration. A life which has affected millions of people in enormously positive way is a goal which can be worth an attempt. In her, what we have is a near perfect role model for women to emulate, or attempt emulating. This doesn’t mean that one should be in politics. It means that women can excel in whatever the chosen field is. When last rites are performed by a woman, one of the last male fiefdoms is broken in Tamil Nadu. There are many to be broken, yet.

For a well read person, who often quoted poetry in English and Tamil, Tennyson sounds fitting.

Sleep sweetly, tender heart, in peace;

Sleep, holy spirit, blessed soul,

While the stars burn, the moons increase,

And the great ages onward roll.

 

Sleep till the end, true soul and sweet.

Nothing comes to thee new or strange,

Sleep full of rest from head to feet:

Lie still, dry dust, secure of change.

India’s Currency Swap aka Demonetization

“Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants,” said Benjamin Franklin.

Couple of centuries later, this holds true and therein lies the nature of humans to acquire more wealth, some legitimately and some illegitimately.  It has been couple of weeks since India had announced its currency swap – old for new – scheme. This is certainly not a time to know about the impact of this move, which many of its proponents claim, are beneficial for the ‘nation’ in the long run.

NUMBER GAMES

Four Indias:

What we generally hear and what comes to as common knowledge are three strata of classifications of based on income – poor, middle class and rich. However, there is another class who are neither poor, nor middle class. To borrow the term used by NCAER-CMCR in their publications, this group is called as “Aspirers.” This aspirers class have a household income of less than Rupee 2,00,000 per annum. That’s right, per annum. The combined aspirers and poor in this country is close to one billion, considering our population is 1.2 billion. When someone tells you that the middle class is so big, please take it with a bucket full of salt.

There is another class of India, which now owns close to 60% of nation’s wealth. This class is just 1% of our total population.

Some pedantic economists may find fault with comparing income and wealth. These are not comparisons, but statements of fact to set the background, the reality of money in India, a country which is nothing but collection of people.

Black Money:

There is no authoritative figure to state what is the actual amount of black money in India. In a common sense question, if you can count it, its not black, is it?

But, it is also common sense that there exist black money in India.

How many civil servants have been caught with ‘cash’ which cannot be accounted? Countless.

That and that alone, must suffice us to convince that black money is hoarded in cash, however low the percent maybe. (Google keywords: cash seized IAS).

State of the economy:

In the Economic Survey 2015-2016, presented by Arun Jaitley, it is clearly stated that our growth story has been predominantly consumption driven. That means, you and I, spend on something that we want. A rupee in my pocket goes to another person for a product or a service. The Investment has not picked up due to many reasons – predominant being banking crisis, private sector’s lack of confidence and the general global climate of less growth.  (Source: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=136853 )

Banking penetration:

As per the RBI’s report of the committee on the Medium term path on Financial Inclusion, the proportion of households availing banking service stands at 59%. That means, 41% do not avail banking service in India. In a country with 1.2 billion population, this is a large number.  (Source: https://rbi.org.in/scripts/PublicationReportDetails.aspx?ID=836 )

1 and 2 vs 3 and 4:

So what this new swap does? It takes away close to 85% of cash in circulation. Read it with “India being a consumption driven economy” and “low banking penetration” this sounds counter intuitive to choke majority people (aspirers and poor) with no access to banking system and who may not hoard black money.

It is true that our consumption will greatly suffer. For what we call consumption, it is also someone’s income. The people who are gravely affected are the exact people who may not have black money – the poor and the aspirers.

In spite of known contradictions, the government has boldly moved to withdraw existing high denomination notes.

This is always a question of intended benefits (future) vs imminent consequences (present). How it will pan out has no answers, atleast not any with great probability. Some are quoted frequently.

  1. Counterfeit will be gone. True. It has resurfaced. So strike that.
  2. Terrorist funding will be gone. Maybe. But it has resurfaced with terrorists. Strike that.
  3. Black money will be wiped off completely. We do not know, yet.
  4. Move to a cashless economy.

So out of the four major intended benefits, two are already disproved, factually. The third one is a chimera in India. But still, we have made an attempt by genuinely making the cost of holding cash in black higher. So why do it?

Herein comes our psychology.

The theme of rich versus poor has been used by many kings and leaders throughout the history. It is no different in our country and in our times. We all perceive others (read ‘Rich’) to be corrupt and not us. That is the only reason why we do not find any riot or any major violence on the street, even after people are deprived of their own money, by a dikkat. People who kill their own children for not marrying according to their wish are silent and standing in queue.

Majority of people, genuinely believe that this is a move to counter black money. And hence, support the government move. What we are currently witnessing is the silent majority’s approval of the government move, even under hardships and duress (not inconvenience as many idiots put it), which is present and real for hope of a better tomorrow, still, just a hope. Some may call it as people’s inability to do anything because the policy has been implemented. It may also be true.

Imagine a daily labourer losing his wage and his family going hungry. Imagine a farmer unable to cultivate at a right time. Imagine someone’s wedding being messed up. Imagine losing someone in the queue or it’s consequence.

For all the disruptions, which is present and visible, this better be worth it.

P.S: More on Cashless economy in the next post.

India’s Surgical Strike

 

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On 29th September, the Indian Army announced that it had carried out a “pre-emptive” strike ‘across’ the LoC, against terrorists who were training to wreck havoc in our country.

Caution: Rest of what is here may sound jingoistic. It is one such day. So bear with it.

Before today, I was writing this:

Two decades after First World War, Philip Larkin thus wrote:

“Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word – the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.”

For three stanzas before this, he describes the mundane and normal life, of an era gone by. Even the poem is titled MCMXIV (representing 1914, start of WWI). Alas, a war had changed all that, forever.

With war bugles sounding over private chats and obnoxious television channels, it is imperative that we do not forget Uri, like how we forgot Pathankot, Gurdaspur, Udhampur, Mumbai, Mumbai, Mumbai, Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Ajmer, Pampore, Sopore, Kokhrajar, Red Fort, Akshardaham, Varanasi, Bangalore, Coimbatore and many more. Mother India (just to secularize Bharat Mata) has bled countless times because of us, Indians.

The greatest motivator, catalyst and success of perpetrators (apart from Islamic fundamentalism) of such attacks, is our memory or lack thereof, absence of our collective conscience and of course, an apathy that is present in the establishment – not the government in power (now or before), not the opposition, but the establishment.

For too long, we have lived in the ‘now,’ thinking and reacting to what we hear and what we see, easily forgetting what will happen a year from now, five years from now, a decade from now.

For too long, we have chased a chimera – of peace with Pakistan, hoping against all odds that we, as brothers once, can live in peace.

For too long, we had romanticized sacrifices of our young men in uniform, forgetting what happens to their families after the news cycle goes to another story.

For too long, we have been apologetic in how we deal with terrorists, even if a court has to be woken at the middle of the night and serve justice.

Now today: What has our surgical strike achieved?

  1. We have called Pak’s nuclear bluff. Now, the next move is theirs. Going by the inconsistencies in their own media, round one is ours to celebrate.
  2. Our restraint is not infinite and it cannot be taken for granter. Ever.
  3. The fence sitters in international community will have to take a stance now. A nuclear war is not in anybody’s interest and we have announced, just surgically, that we are prepared for the worst.
  4. Every terror strike going without retribution and retaliation is a humiliation we have been inflicting upon ourselves. No more. Though one strike doesn’t take back all the humiliation we have suffered, it’s the intent that will make the next pig think twice.
  5. A sword is of no use if it cannot be used in a war – same with us. There is no meaning in being proud of our might if we cannot impose our will with that might. Today changes all.
  6. Today tells us there is NO moderate Pakistani around with whom you can make peace. Evidences? Watch the media and read from so called moderate voices across the border. (More on the Land of the Pure later)
  7. Pakistan cannot call for UNSC condemnation (I want to say this – they cannot kneel, cry and beg with folded hands) for loss of sovereignty as PoK is technically and legally ours and we have just crossed an imaginary line to do what we deemed fit.
  8. Pre-emptive is a new doctrine in our security policy. Once it is pre-emptive, nothing stops us in the future and nothing must.
  9. Only thing that enabled such pygmies to attack us were our non-show of strength. This changes every calculation of Pak.
  10. This is unquestionably India’s “with humanity or with terrorists” moment – domestically and internationally.

Whatever, I mean WHATEVER the consequences, how much ever the cost of this strike, is worth paying.

An Ode to Indian Monsoon

Monsoon - Pune

 

You announce your arrival with a thunder

Your absence makes us wonder

Tease you do, with a nation’s mind

Arriving late with your moist wind

 

You make us smell fragrance of Earth

A drop of you makes us mirth

You make us see colours of Earth

Of sky you give us rainbow

 

You reveal a beauty in darkness

To a people behind fairness

Red, black or rock

You give us all without a balk (adapted from Kurunthogai)

 

From sizzling to drizzling

From ablaze to abloom

From air conditioned to Conditioned air

From sticky to sublime

From the summer roast,

You save us rain.

 

Life and relief,

Joy and greed

To farmer and Finance Minister,

To trader and Dalal street

You give them all – all

They need and all they want.

 

A drop of you quenches one

More of you quenches many

And even more of you,

God save us, crushes most.

 

You teach us, of nature’s lesson

You make us, to learn

That is of inequality

O You biased rain!

Like all things in India

More to Mumbai and less to Chennai!

 

June to September – or

October to December,

South-west or North-east

All thank you, dear Monsoon

 

There is life because of you,

Never a life, without you

The greatness of ‘You’ – demonstrates

Insignificance of ‘I’!

Technology, Labour and Transforming India

pexels-photo-113850

One of the ambitious promotions of Government of India is ‘Make in India.’ Simply put, the idea is to become the next China, a manufacturing powerhouse. With all our constraints, we have been in pursuit of this goal for a quarter century now. All governments since 1991 have pursued a policy to attract FDI in multiple sectors and reforms cannot be reforms without the magic words ‘Foreign Direct Investment.’ In itself, this is not a bad thing. On the other hand, in itself, this is not the magic bullet to cure all our economic ills.

In the current push towards manufacturing, more resources – political and economic capital –  is spent, rightly so towards manufacturing.

However, there is one Indian Tiger which can be uncaged and will be on the prowl with minimum legal framework – Technology.

There are two major impediments to Make in India.

  1. It is a long cycle and high investment game. S&P has said today (2nd August, 2016) that India’s poor infrastructure is the biggest roadblock to this promotion. And we know that fixing infrastructure cannot be achieved in a day or in our context, even a decade. Will global capital wait?
  2. Global Over Supply, especially from China. In other words, the world has more factories than it needs. And those factories are producing cheap goods and dumping in rest of the world. How many corporations will be willing to invest heavily in India when there is a supply glut in China? Thus, our performance will not reflect our potential.

It is in this context, with questionable outcome, Technology sector has to be let go.

Against the backdrop of overcapacity in china we need to see our ability to create assets for productivity. The first of it is fixed or infrastructure. How long does it take to construct a road in India? This is symptomatic of larger malaise in the rent seeking nature of babudom. Capital will not wait for years together to make India prosperous. Exhibits: Tata at Singur and Posco. There can be many examples but the simple fact is that we are not smart and our systems complicated in a race to build infra, be it public or private.

Next asset – people. It had been repeated time and again that most graduates are unemployable or lack basic skills or both. Given this, where we have excelled is the rudimentary, mundane and highly generalized ITES sector. After this, we have excelled at our traditional sectors – jewellery, handloom and textiles, leather and to some certain extent fisheries. Traditional sectors come with ancient knowledge. Between these two and outside of these two blocks, lie the world and the growth that we seek now.

Given these two constrains which are not abstract in nature – like democracy, demographic dividend, plurality etc.- but real, we need to approach technology.

Continue reading “Technology, Labour and Transforming India” »

Goodness of Pune

Ganesh Festival, Pune

Ganesh Festival, Pune

One year in Pune.

It will be one year this week since I came to Pune. This is about few random thoughts on Pune, mostly good.

  1. Safety – It was a rude shock to see a girl walk in a deserted road after the last show from a multiplex. The data can reveal something but certainly there is a feeling that people can walk freely at night and without any issue. Chennai is supposed to be safe city. And Pune, equally is. There is one crime in IPC which is quite different. Its called as “Insult to Modesty of Women.” This can be seen as a minor crime but it reveals a lot. It is surprising that Chennai is far worse than Pune in this aspect.
  2. Women – I have always heard that the best place for a woman to work in India is Mumbai. Like all biases and prejudices, this claim can either be true or false. But there is one thing which is certain. In India, Pune is one of the best open places for women to work. A corollary to “Insult to Modesty of Women” crime being low is that, as a society, women are respected a little more than average and little less objectified than the national average. Combined with safety, this city should top every woman’s list of places to be. There are other correlations but with no causal relationships – like more women sporting tattoos or more women going out to have a good time.
  3. Culture (whatever the definition is!) – We in South of India, should stop bragging about having diverse and rich culture and all associated pride. A walk through this city will demonstrate how hollow that claim is. Music, theatre, festivities, food and the pride that comes with it is equal to any southern city. Number of music halls may be less but the passion certainly is not.
  4. Ganesh Festival – forget Mumbai. Its Pune which rocks. Every street corner having a Pandal and every group celebrating Ganesh is as big as Diwali. The colour, the music, the noise and ‘people celebrating together’ is something similar to a village festival we have in south, which large cities have abandoned.
  5. Food – something for everyone! The city has host of options, from more diverse cuisine than what we get in Chennai. Iranian (non Biriyani), East Asian and German(?)! If a bakery (Kayani Bakery) can attract crowd everyday like a cinema hall, it says a lot about the food.
  6. Street Food – Chennai has long lost the trust of many people to have food from ‘kaiyendhi bhavans.’ One shop in T.Nagar doesn’t cut as a sample of overall quality of food served on road. Pune is closer to another southern city, Madurai than the metropolis of Chennai – more options, hygiene and taste. (A dedicated post on Vada Pav later.)
  7. Sambar – Lets not be cocky to claim Sambar as exclusively southern (or Tamil) dish. It’s has a Maharashtrian lineage and especially linked to a person from Pune – Sambhaji, the son of Shivaji.
  8. Pride – if there is a competing state to our (Tamil) pride, its Maharashtra. And Pune is at the heart of that competition. Like how we are proud of Tamil, people are proud of Marathi. Like how we are proud about Chola empire, people are proud about Maratha Empire. A Bhosale still being the prince of Thanjavur goes on to show how proud they are about the influence of Marathas, despite their differences.
  9. Mahatma Phule – you cannot cover in one sentence or a paragraph about the importance of this person. Personally, I consider him real ‘Mahatma’ than Gandhi.
  10. Progressives – Women priests to women entering a temple sanctum sanctorum, Maharashtra and places around Pune leads rest of India.
  11. South’s proud peaceful coexistence – We, from Southern states are proud of peaceful coexistence between communities. But we owe a lot of that peace to the Marathas. Peaceful south was possible because of valiant Marathas. The see-saw between Mughals, Nizam and Marathas has (yes, has and not had) kept the southern India more peaceful and harmonious between communities than we would like to acknowledge.
  12. Politics of India, today – to understand the politics of India today, we need to understand the politics of Maharashtra, not just because of RSS but because of people. And to understand politics of Maharashtra, we need to understand the history of Maharashtra. What we in south may see as chauvinism by some political parties, is actually not considered so by many. When someone says Muslim rulers were invaders and foreign, we in south, may not see so emotionally attached to it or identify with it or agree to it. Scars of that fight still runs through and visible in the geography around Pune. Remnants of various forts and the battle to protect or conquer those bear those scars. When we talk in abstract of values we are shown these scars, proud scars. I have always wondered why anyone cannot write various shades of Shivaji, the great. But come to Pune and talk to highly educated, well travelled, cosmopolitan Maharashtrians (not any fringe that we were told of) and they will tell you why. How do you offend someone who was just not a king but is revered as high as God?

The journey of a Tamil on discovery of India should start from Pune. To throw out our biases, to tear our prejudices, to strip of our overbearing pride (of culture, intelligence etc), Pune, is a better starting point and hence will make us more open to learn and see things, not from a southern prism but of different places. By the way, Maharashtra is not ‘North India.’

Like all cities and places, Pune too has many bad shades – crumbling infrastructure, public hospitals not being good, public transport not being comparable to superior Tamil Nadu or Kerala, there is no traffic sense, caste is alive and kicking etc.

But this post is to pick the roses and not the weed.

Wake up. It’s Propaganda – the A to Z of it.

Think - Its not illegal

 

India. It was May, 26th 2014. There was a coronation in front of an historic building to an undisputed emperor of the purportedly new dawn, the king of good days (not times). There was hope, expectation, (misplaced) rejuvenation among many and there was anxiety, curiosity, worry and suspense among another lot. What one thinks and feels (or felt of thought) is not relevant when it comes to judge what has happened since.

There have been seemingly unconnected statements made by various ‘fringes’ – a term which is mostly an excuse by the present ruling dispensation in India and its larger family the RSS. It is important to see why these statements and certain actions are to be seen in cohesion and not as so called ‘isolated’ anomalies.

But how are things handled these days in India? How is criticism taken these days in India? How is opposite point of view is viewed in India? All of these not by Indians but by the present ruling dispensation and its cohorts in India.

I have kept the prose very rudimentary, less grammatical and only in hints or examples (not explanations) and there is a reason to it.

 

Ad hominem:

You place an argument and instead of responding to that argument, we are called names. I will let you assume what those names have been and how many people have been victims of those. To electoral opponents in Delhi to an economist.

Ad nauseum:

How many times have we heard a single or very limited ideas being repeated – like ‘Love jihad’ or ‘us vs them’ or ‘appeasement of past’?

Appeal to authority:

How many seemingly unconnected and extremely opposite national icons have been appropriated by this group? Bhagat Singh was a completely left. Ambedkar called Hinduism “a veritable chamber of horrors.” Netaji had nothing to do with RSS. Patel was opposed to RSS. Yet, and that’s where the beauty lies, they are being appropriated.

Appeal to Prejudice:

How many loaded and emotive election campaigns have we seen during 2014 and two years after that? Whether it is 15lakh per person to Muslim across the border in Assam to crackers across the border in Bihar, to the latest Kairana, we have come a long way in just appealing to only emotions.

Big Lie:

The big lie was economy was absolutely down. Nothing moved. Policy paralysis. Based on the new series (or magic series, if you are one of the critics), in fact the economy didn’t do as bad in numbers published by the finance ministry in final years of UPA. But in meetings after meetings, in interviews after interviews we heard the word “revival” used sparingly and without any inherent meaning. There was no concrete proof provided on what that word meant. There was neither concrete proof provided for the word “in shambles.”

And oh, the global economy was blamed. And what did the world see after 2008? A high growth and high demand period? (more on specifics in another post)

Continue reading “Wake up. It’s Propaganda – the A to Z of it.” »

Scribbling before Independence day

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I wrote this on August 14, 2014. I never thought it to mean something at a latter day. But somehow, I think this is relevant even now, rather, especially now.

Independence

 

Tomorrow, we will celebrate yet another independence day, with pomp and show, with culture, unity and strength, being shown everywhere. We will continuously hear the word democracy from all corners, when the tyranny of colonial rule ended and an era of self-determination began. Our diversity will be celebrated, our unity will be praised, our deep-rooted strength and love for democratic values will be loved and our freedom fighters will be glorified, eulogized & deified. We will hear selected stories of bravery and oppression from pre-independent India, we will debate how long the national anthem must be sung and most of us will enjoy a long weekend. We will hear oration at its best from most corners, we will watch some children dressed as freedom fighters and we will watch all things that are good. We will watch soldiers braving inhospitable conditions to protect our borders, families of present day martyrs who lost life to protect ours and express our empathy. We will see everything in saffron, white and green and we will hear nationalistic tunes, everywhere.

Behind all these superficiality, we must remember that freedom that we so much cherish, that we so much take for granted, must not be taken for granted; for it was hard won, suffering lost self esteem, suffering humiliation, with blood, with sacrifice, with determination, with courage and with loss of a third of our land. We must also remember, that this independence, this freedom to do what we want to do, freedom to speak with least restriction, freedom to criticize and protest against what we do not like, freedom to disagree, freedom to live in prosperity, freedom to pursue our ambitions, was, is and will forever be under threat – both internal and external. We must also not forget that we were ruled and oppressed by a handful of people who were not from this land.

We must also remember that this freedom and this liberty can be easily usurped, as evident in many countries throughout the world and even during emergency days here.

If liberty, equality and fraternity are to be maintained, we must demand absolute safety for all everywhere; we must demand equal opportunity to all; we must demand work for all; we must demand care for the marginalized and the old; we must demand discrimination to end; we must demand exploitation to end; we must demand speedy justice; we must demand reduction in extreme economic inequality; we must demand greater tolerance.

For all demands and desires of us, we must first deserve it. Let us celebrate the day by demanding all the above, not from the nation but from ourselves. Let us celebrate by ensuring what is humanely possible to do it individually before demanding it from the state. Let us make ourselves worthy of our demands; for a nation is nothing but a collective conscience of its people – the state is man writ large. Let us continuously participate in this egalitarian endeavour rather than pressing a button once in a while.

Happy independence day guys!!!!

 

 

Is and the Ought

I don’t subscribe to your version of Hinduism, I ought to be pseudo-secular

I don’t subscribe to your secularism, I ought to be communal

I don’t like ultra-nationalism, I ought to be anti-national

I don’t like anti-nationals, I ought to be ultra-nationalist

I don’t like laissez faire capitalism, I ought to be communist

I don’t like communists, I ought to be be laissez faire capitalist

I don’t like exploitation to benefit few, I ought to be Naxal

I don’t like Naxals, I ought to be unscrupulous

I don’t like to traditions, I ought to be a stooge

I don’t like stooges, I ought to be traditionalist

I like Tamil, I ought to hate Sanskrit

I like Sanskrit, I ought to hate Tamil

I like morality, I ought to disrespect law

I like all things legal, I ought to be immoral

I am a theist, I ought to be irrational

I am rational, I ought to be an atheist

I am unsuccessful, I ought to be unlucky

I am unlucky, I ought to be unsuccessful

I am successful, I ought to be lucky

I am lucky, I ought to be successful

After nearly three centuries, David Hume still resonates in our midst, albeit, unknowingly.

Let there be light!

The Right to Criticize Religions

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On a day we recognize the importance of a written constitution and in a time where the word constitution is used in a sentence or an argument as a badge of honour and to add legitimacy, it is pertinent to ask – can we criticize any religion in India today?

Its rhetorical. We all know the answer and it need not be spelt.

To give a background, we, in India were presented with a law guaranteeing a great freedom of expression. One particular case turned it all away. A left leaning publisher (Romesh Thapar) was banned sale of his weekly (Cross Roads) in erstwhile Madras state. The courts favoured a greater interpretation of freedom of expression. But Sardar, then Home Minister of India said, the ruling “knocks the bottom out of most of our penal laws for the control and regulation of press” (http://calcuttahighcourt.nic.in/sesqui/val2.pdf ref – Page 21). Thus arrived powers to the Government to restrict our freedom of expression by ‘reasonable’ means.

These restrictions affect us in many ways but affect us more in the realm of religion – the relationship between (wo)man and God and how one perceives God.

Sixty-five years later, anyone can feel insulted, any act or word or expression or sign can be construed as an act against a particular religion or any act can be certified to disturb the public order or provoke harmony for it to be banned. While religious leaders quarrel and show one-upmanship in all areas, they converge and agree on one of the most perverted and warped thing – to restrict our freedom to question religion or to put it more precisely, to question the self appointed representatives of religion.

While it is reasonable to empathise with the argument that we must respect all religions, because, respecting religion as practiced by others is respecting the others’ freedom of expression, it is also a reasonable argument that one must respect the others’ opinions and criticism of religion, because, it is also respecting the others’ freedom of expression.

Why should thoughts and expressions in praise of religion (or God) must be given more importance, legal protection and legitimacy over thoughts which criticize or even mildly question religion (or God)?

Let us look at historical context in India or more specifically Hinduism. What we come to accept as the foundational philosophies are nothing but one side of Hinduism, that is Vedanta. There are other radical philosophies and texts which oppose even existence of God. Even our Rig Veda, in one of the most translated and discussed portion (dubbed by some as Creation Hymn) states or should I say proclaims “Gods are later than creation and who knows the truth!”

Suppose there exist a group of people calling themselves as strict followers of ONLY Rig Veda. They swear by the text and take the Creation Hymn as one of their core belief. Consider me as a Vaishnavite who is subscribed to Vishnu Purana. The creation is detailed in many verses.   Am I hurting the sentiments of the hypothetical followers of Rig Veda by my opinion if I say my arguments are better? In practice, I am not. Because, both these group will fall under the umbrella of Hinduism.

Replace these followers name with Religion A and Religion B, we all know that we have a problem at hand in 21st Century India. This is an example of philosophy vs philosophy.

Let’s move forward a little. One oft repeated and one of the most celebrated moments from Adi Sankara’s life was his debate with Mandana. It circled around the philosophy and remained in philosophical realm. But the wife of Mandana, Ubhaya Bharathi, wanted to debate a celibate Sankara on the subject of love making or Kama Sastra. The point here is not about the philosophy. Its questioning the person, the individual who is supposed to represent a religion.

http://www.sringeri.net/history/sri-adi-shankaracharya/biography/abridged-madhaviya-shankara-digvijayam/part-3

Imagine the plight of a comedian who just mimicked a religious leader and consider the plight of someone if he or worse she, dares for a similar debate with today’s so called swamijis.

Why go so back in History? Consider what B.R.Ambedkar, the architect of our constitution said in “Annihilation of Caste” about Hindu scriptures. Let me sugar coat it for I dare not attract the wrath of the nimble-minded – he was not kind in words towards Hinduism. This was questioning the religion in itself.

If what two opposite philosophies can say against each other few thousand years back, if what one lady dared to challenge a celibate (one of the most revered) in the art of love making, if what one person can say against a religion in the most direct and straight way some eight decades ago, what stops us to do the same? The law and its restrictions on us to criticize religion shoves a red hot knife to this legacy.

Let us consider Abrahamic religions.

It is widely accepted and believed that monotheism in Middle east (I consider Hinduism as monotheistic and thus the geographical limitation) came into limelight (or should I say existence or practice?) because of Abraham. There is a great story about Abraham denouncing idols. Did Abraham, by his views offend the idol worshippers? Apply today’s Indian law.

Studying in Catholic School exposed me to a whole new set of stories and legends. One such question was and still is – why don’t Jews accept Jesus as God? The answers if elaborated and debated would, under the present law may disturb the public order.

Similarly, how does Islam view Jesus? Did Jesus die on the cross?  Did he resurrect? If someone asks the same question today, in 21st century India, what according to the Islamic faith was asked and answered or rather opinionated 14 centuries ago, he or she will attract the full force of the Indian legal system.

There was something called as “index librorum prohibitorum,” or “Index of Forbidden Books” which was nothing but the so called heretical texts or ideas, the Catholic Church was against. If you look at the people whose works were considered heretical, it would surprise many. Some notable figures were Pascal, Descartes, Francis Bacon and Voltaire.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_authors_and_works_on_the_Index_Librorum_Prohibitorum

Should our law and constitution become one such ‘legal’ index librorum prohibitorum of thought? Should we allow our law to crush and put to death our opinions on God? Should people be prosecuted for a certain fundamental belief in God (against other view) or lack thereof?

The culture of call to ban what is being written today – whether it is Satanic Verses by Rushdie or Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown or Hindusim by Wendi Doniger – shows how insecure we are with our faith systems and beliefs.

If we have to ban or call to ban all that ‘hurts,’ ‘insults,’ ‘belittles,’ or ‘depicts in bad light’ one’s faith, should we not call to ban most of the past works which does the same? A case in point – we can order Mein Kampf in any online store or in any brick and mortar book shops. How do we reconcile this with our laws? I cannot comprehend. Maybe Jews are just handful in our country? So if Jews are more in number and have a voice, will we call to ban this as well? If this be the case, then this is not law. This is arbitrariness.

Why have we become such thin skinned? Why have we become so depraved of logic and reason? Why are we afraid of counter thoughts? Why are we scared of opposite point of views? Why are we afraid of thoughts which our forefathers considered as normal and necessary to the way of life and religion?

To me there are three dimensions to this problem.

  1. The right to question the philosophy
  2. The right to question the religious leaders
  3. The right to question religion in itself

The first one is the easiest low hanging fruit. Since we do not have Sankaras or Abrahams among us, we can and we must strive to fight for a law which will at least protect counter philosophies. The lack of wise men (women are always wise!) mean that we will never have any factual or interesting developments in religious philosophy which will stand the test of time. Then why not indulge us, the lesser mortals, the low lives, the half baked monkeys with this right to question other philosophies and pass time?

The second one is complicated as it affects a person. The question of defamation (criminal defamation, at that) also intersects with this. Also, to compound the problem, religious leaders, few of them, have become vote banks and nothing can be said against them. They have followers, they are influential and they are necessary for different snakes clamouring for power.

The last one is the most difficult and almost impossible in the near future. Because, we have forgotten God and are holding on to a mere name. Because, we are not confident on and of our faith. Because, we are not sure about what we believe in. Because, we do not subscribe to some of the basic human values. Because we are not large hearted like our forefathers. Because we feel entitled ‘only’ for our opinion and forget our past suffering. Because we are literate but not educated. Because we are cowards for not demanding this right but pose as hyper-machos. Because we are not asking the basic questions which our forefathers asked about us and our existence, let alone answer it.

What is the use of thought if it cannot be expressed, what is the use of word if it cannot be spoken, what is the use of God if he cannot be questioned, what is the use of law if it cannot protect!

Though the law prohibits certain things on some ‘un’reasonable grounds, nothing stops friends discussing in the confines of our private spaces. Let us change, if not the law!