Monday, 30 March 2015


If anyone should hang his head in shame today ( his own words) it is none other than Mr. Arnab Goswami. His totally unfair and savagely brutal assault on the Indian cricket team on the 26th of this month would have been shocking were it not for the fact that this is what we have now come to expect from him every night. The hollowness of his manufactured outrage is evident by the result of yesterday's final where Australia clinically destroyed even the mighty New Zealand, the best team in the World Cup so far. It only reinforced what was clear to anyone-that the odds on India beating Australia were slim. There was therefore no ignominy in India losing to them: in fact we put up a much better performance than New Zealand. To have branded this loss, therefore, as a national shame and surrender, and to have bayed for blood was a travesty of responsible journalism.

But this is only the latest indicator of a deeper malaise in our television reportage. ( I speak primarily of the elite, English channels). Most discerning viewers would have noticed that of late there has been a growing, cancerous trend in these so called " news channels" to dispense with facts, impartial reporting or any scientific investigation, and to shape their " reporting" on the basis of the anchors' own bias and pre-determined conception of what thinks is right. In this fraudulent exercise panels consisting of equally biased and dubious " experts" are railroaded into discussions where any dissenting view is shouted down and the pre-determined verdict loudly endorsed. Not only is such conduct contrary to the best traditions of journalism, it also insults the viewer because it presumes that he is an idiot who can be led by the nose by any aggressive, opinionated and over paid anchor.

This unholy trend appears to have been set by Mr. Arnab Goswami who has now become the doyen of dyspeptic declamation, and all other channels and anchors are in a race to catch up with him: the trend is fast becoming the norm.( Incidentally, it is my personal opinion that the only anchor who still conducts his discussions and presentations professionally and gives a fair chance to every point of view is Karan Thapar).

This grotesque and unhealthy empowerment of this media space probably began with the Jessica Lal and Nitish Kataria cases where the media undoubtedly did a stupendous job in highlighting the inadequacies and malfeasance by the accused and the police in both these cases. Their efforts resulted in justice finally being done. The sense of power, however, instead of leading to similar responsible reporting appears to have intoxicated our anchors and their producers to a point where they now don't give a damn about the facts or about people's reputations or about interfering in criminal investigations or even about national security.

In the last few years Mr. Goswami and his ilk have repeatedly condemned as guilty, by innuendo and by asking " questions" and misinterpreting facts people who have either been acquitted by courts or yet to be found guilty. Remember the unfortunate Mr. Pandher of Nithari fame ? Night after night he was portrayed on these channels as a monster for whom even hanging was too good. Today he stands acquitted in all but one of the eight cases against him( even this last one is just a matter of time). But in the process he was so reviled that he was beaten up by the public during court hearings and has lost every last shred of his standing in the public.

Sashi Tharoor has been pronounced a murderer by these channels without a shred of evidence against him so far, and has been persistently hounded for months. In the process Mr. Goswami has metamorphosed himself into a Sherlock Holmes, forensic expert, cyber wizard and mind reader, all in one, whereas the police has yet to even name Mr. Tharoor in the FIR or find any iota of evidence against him.

In the unfortunate case of the death of K. Ravi just about every channel had the same epiphanic revelation and announced that the IAS officer had been killed/ committed suicide as a result of political pressure; they roundly denounced the hapless Chief Minister and the state police as conspirators in a cover-up operation-all this within twenty four hours of the death, even before any post mortem or forensic examination was conducted. And now that all the emerging evidence points to a failed infatuation as the most likely reason for an undoubted suicide, all these same anchors have gone silent on the case, without a word of apology, and moved on, like dung beetles, to fresher pickings.

But there is worse. Even grave matters of national security are not safe from their lynch mob mentality. The interception and blowing up of a suspicious boat off our western coast sometime back was not only a job well done by the Coast Guard, but also a matter to be handled with the greatest sensitivity. It had implications for the morale of our forces, for our security infrastructure post 26/11, for international maritime regulations, for our relations with Pakistan. In at least this instance our doubting Thomases should have gone by the version of the Defence Minister, unless they had irrefutable evidence to the contrary. But our anchors cannot go to sleep at nights unless they have slain a few ghosts that perpetually haunt their mental regions. And so,with no evidence at all to back them up, they tried their damndest to sabotage the government's explanation of the event, casting doubts on the Defense Minister, the Navy and the Coast Guard, demanding that the whole video be made public. As usual, they have gone silent on this matter now.

The best thing that could have happened to our efforts at finding peace in Kashmir is the BJP-PDP alliance that will now govern the state for the next five years. Any sane person can see that this can be the bridge between an alienated Kashmir and the rest of India, and therefore this bold experiment needs to be supported by all. But our anchors will just not see it that way-every second day, on the flimsiest of grounds, the CM is branded a traitor or Pakistan sympathiser, the BJP as a party that has gone back on its promises and betrayed its supporters, and Jammu region constantly played up against the valley. This is not only anti-national and mischievous, to my mind, but also dangerous and highly irresponsible. Instead of using its undoubted influence to heal the wounds in the state the media is actually exacerbating it.

One could recount any number of similar instances where these anchors have assumed larger than life proportions and adopted such negative roles that they are in violation of national interests, social mores, professional ethics and even legal obligations to other citizens. That they have also done some good work in moulding public opinion and exerting pressure on authorities is not in doubt. But this is precisely why their lynch mob mentality in other cases is so unfortunate: it detracts from their other achievements, effects their credibility and turns off the more aware audience. It also fosters a similar lynch-mob mentality among the general public, erodes ( without any basis) our faith in the administration  and the judiciary, and makes the country increasingly ungovernable. These channels must realise the enormous influence they wield, and such a realisation should be a humbling experience, not an adrenalin dose for further demagoguery. They should be reporters, not moralists; they should inform, not judge. To quote John Williams from his " AUGUSTUS":

            " The moralist is the most useless and contemptible of creatures. He is useless in that he would expend his energies upon making judgements rather than upon gaining knowledge, for the reason that judgement is easy and knowledge difficult. He is contemptible in that his judgements reflect a vision of himself that he would impose upon the world."   

Monday, 23 March 2015


Its been a little over two weeks since the controversy over the BBC documentary INDIA'S DAUGHTER broke out, and now that just about everybody has seen it inspite of the government's ban, a little stock taking would be in order. Why exactly did the government ban the documentary, when anyone who has seen it would tell you that it glorifies, not the rapists( as the govt. stridently claimed), but the aspirations and fortitude of a girl from a humble background, the sheer grit and courage of her parents, and the awakening and outrage of a young civil society that had had enough? The answer, to me, is simple enough. What the documentary exposes is the mindset of a misogynistic, patriarchal society, the inefficiency of a callous criminal-justice system, and the brutality of a police force whose insensitivity is only matched by an unlimited capacity for inflicting violence on young boys and girls. It is THIS aspect of the documentary that had petrified a government in perpetual denial; all the rest are red herrings and white lies.
What I find particularly anemic and farcical is the subterfuge that the film is part of a western conspiracy to defame India by always portraying it ( unfairly) as a land of violence and poverty. Two published pieces exemplify this kind of nonsense. The first is an article by Professor Jakob D Roover of the Ghent University, Belgium, published on 11.3.2015 on the NITI CENTRAL site. This gentleman is probably a sociologist or historian but in this article he is more of a mathematician, for his entire effort is devoted to statistically proving that the incidence of rape in India is far lower than in many developed countries. And so he informs us that while in India there are 1.8 rapes per hundred thousand population, the comparative figure is 30 for Belgium, 28 for the UK and 27.8 for the USA. A similar line of argument is adopted by Mr. Jawahar Sirkar in a recent article in the Hindustan Times, where he regurgitates the same figures and, going off at a tangent, roundly berates the BBC for having a budget much larger than Prasar Bharti. He also draws on his experience as Culture Secretary to castigate western tourists and wives of visiting Heads of States for their poverty-centric focus in India. It may not be entirely coincidental that Mr. Sirkar is the CEO of Prasar Bharti and NITI CENTRAL is a barely disguised mouth piece of the right wing.
Both these gentlemen could not be more wrong. The malady in India is not rape per se but the attitude of an increasingly callous and insensitive society to those who are most vulnerable. The major share of the blame for this has to go to those who control and dominate the power structures of Indian society-political leaders, the judiciary, the police, influential religious leaders, khap panchayats. Each of them in their own way and in their own sphere of influence have continued to demonstrate a lack of respect or empathy for women. And it is precisely THIS which differentiates us from truly civilized nations. This is not a numbers game as our two writers seem to think, and try to prove by trotting out their per capita estimates of rape. The disease in India is about the ATTITUDE of those who influence behaviour in society, who administer the country and who can make a difference. In none of the other countries mentioned in the articles above can Ministers and MPs make the kind of derogatory statements about women that their Indian counterparts do regularly, without being forced to resign immediately from their posts; in none of them do four out of five rape cases end in acquittal; in none of them are rape victims humiliated in courts and ostracized by society( and even family) as in our sick nation. It is these comparisons that Msrs. Roover and Sirkar should have dwelt upon, for these are the contextual circumstances that shape society's attitude to women, and unless we admit this things will not improve.
To prove this thesis I need do no more than draw the reader's attention to just four news reports in the last two weeks, during the same period that Sirkar and Roover and kindred apologists for the government were busy running down the BBC documentary. The first is a report of the National Crime Records Bureau which reveals that in 2012, out of 25000 rape cases tried in courts 18000 ended in acquittal. An incompetent, corrupt and misogynistic police and a couldn't-care-less prosecution ensures that there is no fear of the law, and by the time the legal process draws to a close the victim lies crushed and the perpetrator goes free. How is that for a statistic, Mr. Roover?          The second report is even more horrific: The 2nd. March issue of the weekly magazine OPEN reports that Mahendragarh district of Haryana has the lowest child sex ratio in the state-775 girls for every 1000 boys. There is more: Jorasi village of Narnaul district has a ratio of -can you believe it?- 286 girls for 1000 boys! And Jorasi is not the boondocks-it is part of the National Capital Region, has a prosperous population of 2000, and a literacy rate of 80%! Incidentally, it is the notoriously regressive and violent Khap Panchayats who rule the roost here, and every Chief Minister has tacitly, if not openly, supported them, for a vote is more important than the missing girl of Mahendragarh.
Third. In a judgement any sane man will find difficult to believe, the Delhi High Court ruled that the victim of the Uber rape case has to depose in court a second time-in effect go through the ordeal of examination , cross examination and humiliation a second time at the hands of lawyers of the type we have all seen in the BBC video. She had already answered more than 142 questions put to her by the defense over many agonising and painful days, now she has to go through this all again. Why? Because the accused claimed that his first lawyer was incompetent and he now had a second lawyer! This plea had been rightly dismissed by the trial court but the High court, no less, saw merit in this garbage: if incompetence of lawyers were reason enough for a retrial then 95% of the cases in India would have to be retried. But the Honourable Court bared its mind set even further when it explained that the delay caused by its order would adversely effect the accused, not the victim!( Fortunately, the order has been stayed by the Supreme Court. But this is not good enough, because this simply prolongs the victim's trauma: the Delhi High Court order should have been struck down immediately). This then is the sensitivity and empathy which our judicial system has for women who have been gravely wronged. Incidentally, whatever happened to the complaint of sexual molestation made last year against two retired judges of the Supreme Court ?
The fourth piece of news will sicken you, if you have not thrown up already. Mr. Sharad Yadav , President of the JD(U) who has forgotten when he last won an election but still continues to haunt Parliament, was at his brazen worst when he made atrociously sexist remarks about the complexion, figure and dancing skills of southern women, in the Rajya Sabha. And here is the nadir- no male Member objected, primarily because most of them were too busy sniggering and giggling at the scatological humour on display.
This then is the context in which INDIAS DAUGHTER should be considered ; Do not let a girl child be born, but if she does arrive, make sure that she wished she was never born. It is not a film about rape but about an innate contagion in a nation which is unwilling to accept that it is sick and therefore refuses to look at the X-ray that this documentary is. How then can the healing start? 

Tuesday, 10 March 2015


Shimla has received its first piece of bad news for the year. The report on this site dated 5th March 2015 that the Govt. of India has approved the four laning of the Parwanoo- Shimla highway at a cost of Rs. 1247 crores( for the first stretch up to Solan) cannot but cause concern to the residents of Shimla and to those who love the unique natural environment of the state and have been witness to its rapid destruction over the years. I have no doubt that in the days to come Messers Dhumal and Virbhadra Singh will be jousting with each other to claim credit for this project, but the fact is that this is a short-sighted venture whose down stream impacts have not been honestly assessed. As someone who has been residing in Shimla for 35 years and has seen this once idyllic town degenerate into an urban nightmare I am extremely worried about the environmental impacts of this project, which, I am positive, have not been addressed by either the state or central governments. The major ones are:

[I]   If I recollect rightly, it has been estimated that the four laning will result in a TREBLING of the vehicular traffic to Shimla. Can Shimla's roads handle these numbers? More important, where will these vehicles be parked once they reach this sorry destination? Shimla's solitary artery-the succession of pot holes known as Cart Road- is already grid-locked for most of the day and the radials are even worse. There is hardly any carriage-way left on the roads because of the cars parked on both sides. The few parking spaces constructed in the last few years do not even begin to dent the problem of parking, and indeed there are very limited options left to create more parking given the topography of the town, which is basically perched on a sharp ridge.
     Some numbers would be useful to illustrate this point. During the tourist season( which nowadays is almost year round), between 2500 to 3000 vehicles enter Shimla every day( these are tourists' vehicles, and are in addition to the 35000 or so cars owned by the residents of the town themselves). Assuming that a tourist stays in Shimla for three days, that's about 9000 vehicles for which parking is required at any given time. The chaos on the roads every year clearly proves that this demand is never met. Now, with the four laning, we shall have to provide parking( and driving space) for THREE TIMES this number- 23000 to 27000 vehicles! It is an impossible task, and one which just cannot be done without completely destroying the town's remaining green belts and converting it into a rocky outcrop.

[II] These additional tourists-tens of thousands of them- will require more hotel rooms to house them-going by the number of cars, room capacity shall also have to be tripled. Where is the space to build these additional rooms?  Construction activity in this town, thanks to the apathy of successive governments and formulation of ubiquitous " retention policies" every few years, has already ensured that Shimla has become an urban carcinoma. Buildings have been built on 70 degree slopes, in nallahs, on excavated overburden, without sewerage or vehicular access, within green spaces, in total disregard of bye-laws or even of the fact that the town falls in a highly seismic zone, and just about every expert has predicted that a major earthquake is due in the lower Himalayas any time now. Shimla, in fact, needs a moratorium on new construction, but the upgraded highway will only result in further addition of hundreds of hotels and shops, further choking a town already on ventilator support. The few remaining green spaces in and around the town will disappear( the process has already started; the recent felling of 500 deodars on Tara Devi hill( with the full connivance of various govt. agencies, I have no doubt) for making a resort is a true harbinger of what is likely to happen on a much larger scale.

[III] The new express-way will lead to felling of trees on a colossal scale. It is my information that about 7000 trees shall be axed on the Parwanoo- Solan stretch alone. My experience in the Forest Deptt. leaves me in no doubt that an equal number shall perish as a consequence of collateral damage. Of course, NHAI shall pay for all this, but no amount of compensation interms of money can substitute for the loss to the environment. The Solan- Shimla stretch shall witness even greater devastation because the entire stretch from Kiarighat to Tara Devi is thickly forested. Should we allow the loss of this priceless green cover just so that thousands of additional cars can drive to Shimla in greater comfort, spewing poison all the way?

[IV] There is a social dimension to this project also. Currently, hundreds if not thousands of small time businesses function along the highway, selling goods and services to the tourists. With the widening of the road all of them shall be displaced as their shops shall fall in the expanded width. How does this make economic sense for a democratic government: ruin thousands of small businesses in favour of a few hoteliers? Of course, these unfortunates can always migrate to Shimla and work as coolies, but I'm not sure if that is the kind of " development" they expected.

Mr. Javadekar and the Environment Ministry have ensured that there can be no public or procedural challenges to this project: he has exempted all linear projects from the need of having to commission either a socio-economic or an environmental impact assessment. Such studies would have clearly brought out the adverse impacts on the environment and on the effected peoples that this project would have caused. In fact, I would also go so far as to state that this project actually also needs a study to determine the effects of the additional air pollution that would be caused in Shimla by these vehicles. The pollution emission levels are already very high along many stretches of the Cart Road, and these can only become worse with the increase in vehicles. Then there is the question of additional demand for water and sewerage facilities, none of which has been even thought about by the government, let alone addressed.

This venture is a recipe for disaster, and would be the proverbial last nail in Shimla's coffin. It is the wrong model for promoting tourism in Himachal. Instead of making it easier for tourists in ever increasing numbers to drive their cars and buses into our towns, we should be pressing the central govt. to spend the same money for extending the rail network to Manali, Mandi, Rampur, Hamirpur. The state govt. should be concentrating also on upgrading the road network WITHIN the state so that tourists can visit, and disperse to, destinations other than the tired and over burdened Shimla, Manali and Dharamsala only. Helicopter services, both intra and inter state, need to be introduced on a priority basis for the same reason. Himachal needs to think about, and invest in, infrastructure for high-end quality tourism, not thoughtlessly pander to the " chhola- batura" kind of tourism that it appears to be comfortable with. It needs to demonstrate some vision and not just be a passive spectator. When will the state govt. realise that development and tourism has to take into account the CARRYING CAPACITY of a place, and that any activity which exceeds this capacity can only lead to irreversible destruction of the environment and, ironically, to the ruination of the very basis for that tourism in the first place? In the plains carrying capacity can be increased by augmenting infrastructure, but in mountainous terrain this is not possible without seriously harming the environment and impacting livelihoods of the local populations who depend on the natural environment.

I do not expect the government to review the four laning project: the politicians need something to crow about and further fool the people, and the bureaucracy can't be bothered as long as it gets its DA instalments on time. It is time now for environmental activists and organisations like INTACH to take a lead in opposing this project at all possible fora, including the courts. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that the High Court should take suo-moto cognizance of the matter and ask the government some of the questions I have tried to raise in this piece. None of us will get a second chance to do so.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015


A mirror doesn't lie. It can be cruel in its honesty in depicting the warts on your face and the evil that lurks behind the carefully arranged make-up. This is as true of a society as it is of a human visage. The social order in today's India is so ravaged by a moral eczema that it needs more mirrors than a barber shop to reflect its depraved reality. Leslee Udwin's documentary on the Nirbhaya rape case, INDIA'S DAUGHTER, is one such mirror, and we would do well to gaze on the ugliness that stares back at us from its contents instead of denying it. But what do we do instead? We denounce the film. register a criminal case against the makers of the documentary, demand that it be banned, term it an interference in the judicial process and call it an insult to Indian womanhood. Can anything be more puerile and self-serving?

We are a sick society but won't admit it. Its not just about rapes or about the one in three women in the country who are subjected to domestic violence. Its also about a judicial system that acquits four of every five persons charged with rape. Its about a police force that can thrash a severely disabled beggar on a railway platform. Its about a Chief Minister whose pilot car can mow down a pedestrian with impunity. Its about the fifteen persons who die on the railway tracks in Mumbai EVERY DAY with nothing done about it. Its about the twenty million children working in bonded labour. Its about India's richest man building the world's most expensive residence next to slums. Its about Delhi's premier hospital refusing to admit a month old critical infant who then dies. Its about hospitals keeping dead patients in ICUs so that they can charge another day's tariff. Its about foul mouthing a woman who died tending leprosy patients with her own wrinkled hands. Its about slaughtering each other in the thousands over Gods whom no one has ever seen, and who, presumably, don't give a damn in any case.
But we won't admit we are sick. Nor will we allow anyone to convince us otherwise. It is in this context that we have to assess the current furore against Leslee Udwin's film.
One fails to see what exactly in the film has offended our erstaz moral/ legal/ liberal gate-keepers. It is simply a succession of interviews with all those involved in the Nirbhaya case: the convicted, the parents of the girl, families of other accused and the lawyers. It does not make any judgements or take a position on the merits of the case. It simply seeks to go inside the psyche of the main players and uncover the thoughts, urges and impulses implicit in the tragic events that unfolded. It explores the heart of darkness that lies within each of us, and that perhaps is what makes the screaming mobs uncomfortable.
The main charge against the film is that it gives the rapist a " forum to express his views." What is wrong with that? Hasn't he already done that in the trial court, and will he not do so again in appeal? Doesn't a convict have the right to freedom of speech? In any case, he is not saying anything that we haven't heard before on similar lines, from the mouths of eminent politicians, fundamentalist organisations and Khap panchayats. Mukesh's( the convict's) views on women and their own culpability for rape mirrors the views of a large section of Indian males( and of policemen too). Its precisely this which has inspired the opposition to the film, for we don't like to be reminded of the disease infecting us. The brutal fact is that Mukesh speaks for many of us, and therefore we want to silence him by banning the film.
Its heartening to observe that many women's organisations, and people like Kiran Bedi, are supportive of the film and its screening. Some, however, like Abha Singh and Kavita Krishnan,  are their normal shrill and strident selves in condemning it. According to them Mukesh's comments lowers " women's dignity" and is an insult to all women. Of course they do so, and that is precisely the point the film is trying to make- to expose the thought processes of the north Indian male that regards a woman- related or not- as a God ordained object of his lust, violence and contempt. Surely, this exposure only furthers the campaign that these ladies have launched-why then should they object? I have a sneaking suspicion that they do so because they want to monopolise any campaign for the betterment of women and will brook no rivals. How dare Leslee Udwin barge into the scene without their say-so?
Its much easier to figure out the reasons behind the government's typically panicked reaction in the face of Ms. Udwin's statement that she had obtained all permissions for the interview and had even had the raw footage approved and vetted by the Tihar Jail authorities. I see two reasons to explain the government's headless chicken act. One, unable to nail the film makers on any procedural grounds, the government is now trying to catch them on the patently specious charge of airing " offensive content", " insulting women" and apprehension of " breach of peace". It has been reported that charges have been filed under as many as eleven sections of law! The government and the Delhi police are as usual doing what they are best at- hunting for a scapegoat. Second, scatter red herrings across the trail and divert the hounds( read the media) on to a diversionary track so that they don't ask the real questions that need to be asked. Some of these questions are:

* If the matter was so sensitive why was permission for the interview given by the Ministry of Home Affairs in the first place?
* If the content of the documentary is objectionable and criminal in nature why was it cleared during vetting by the Tihar Jail authorities?
* Should the concerned officers of MHA and Tihar Jail not be made accused in the case, if at all the makers of the film are to be so charged?
* Why is the Supreme Court sitting over the appeals of the accused for the last almost one year? During this same period, if the Court could find time to give urgent hearings to cases involving Jayalalitha, the Marans, TMC's charge against the CBI, BCCI's affairs etc. why is it unable to find time for a case which shook the nation to its very foundations?
* Why does the government not petition the Supreme Court for early hearing of the appeals? Of what use is its promise of " fast-tracking" of rape cases if its business as usual in the Supreme Court?

Our track record in the recent past in matters of freedom of expression has been pretty dismal. The strident  minority has always been able to drown out the voices of the silent majority. It has become the order of the day for the hypocrite and the obscurantist to masquerade as the offended and the liberal, for the misogynist to pose as the custodian of culture. The government, by its silence and selective actions, has generally supported such regressive elements. Will it continue to do so by banning INDIA'S DAUGHTER and prosecuting its authors?
Or  will it finally have the courage and the conviction to look into the mirror?