Wednesday, 31 August 2016

DELHI BELLY : TARGET KEJRIWAL -- ITS TIME TO DUMP THIS CHARADE.

    Now that the Delhi High Court has dealt a body blow to Arvind Kejriwal by anointing Mr. Jung as the new Viceroy of Delhi its perhaps time to figure out how long this dumb charade will continue. Of course, the High Court order was along expected lines, given the fact that the judiciary is perhaps one of the most conservative and status quoist institutions in the country ( we just have to look at the judgements on criminalisation of homosexuality, physician assisted suicide, criminalisation of defamation, the Contempt of Court Act, the striking down of the NJAC Act, etc. to make this point ). I suppose this reactionary attitude is only natural when the summum-bonum of your existence is a Constitution which was drafted 70 years ago, and you imbibed your legal values half a century ago.
   Kejriwal and his AAP are a force for change of the status quo which is a creation of the elite comprising all the levers of power in the country- the politician, bureaucracy, judiciary, mainstream media, the fat cats of industry. It is no surprise, therefore, that they are all ranged against him. This status quo is preserved by quoting the laws, which again have been promulgated by the same elite ! This latest High Court judgement only indicates how heavily the dice are are loaded against him. He will appeal in the Supreme Court, of course, but I can guarantee he shall get no relief there- the fear of change is just as palpable there. One can't play Russian roulette with all six chambers loaded.
   Kejriwal had been emasculated by the central govt. even before he went to the High Court; now, after this order, he has been castrated, and has been rendered weaker than before. Earlier, he had jurisdiction ( and the final say) on all matters except those relating to the police, land and services which vested in the Viceroy. Now, even those powers have been taken away and the Court has directed that even on these subjects the Viceroy shall be the final authority. A Chief Minister who won 67 of the 70 seats in the Assembly has been reduced to the status of a Head Clerk by relying on a law that is patently undemocratic. The Court could have trashed this law, like it did when it abrogated to itself the exclusive power to appoint judges, like it did again when it struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, like it did when it has repeatedly struck down laws providing reservations beyond 50%. Or it could have launched itself into the arena of law making like it has done by sending Sahara Shri to jail for almost two years without holding him guilty of any crime, or like it did when recasting the BCCI without benefit of any law at all, as Justice Markande Katju has alleged ( the shit is really going to hit the fan on that one, I can't wait for the CJI's response !). Why have an Assembly that is still-born at birth ?
   How can 16 million people be disenfranchised and denied a say( through their elected representatives) in how they are governed or taxed ? How can a retired bureaucrat whose daily bread ( and instructions) come from North Block have a veto on the lives of these 16 million people without being in the slightest manner accountable to them ? This latest judgement makes Mr. Jung the most powerful Governor in the country. exercising the powers of both the legislature and the executive- and he is not answerable to anyone ! All other state Governors are mere ceremonial figureheads but the Viceroy of Delhi exercises absolute executive powers without any mandate. He is neither elected by the people nor selected by any constitutional institution, neither fish nor fowl but is a relic from the Cretaceous Period which by all rights should have vanished into the mists of time with the pterodactyl. But he is still around, and  is in the happy position of having his cake and eating it too- he takes all the decisions and Kejriwal takes all the blame if anything goes wrong ( as it does all the time in Delhi). Kejriwal is expected to deliver on all his electoral promises with both hands tied behind him and a gun pointed at his head.
   Mr. Jung has already torpedoed some of Kejriwal's most important public welfare initiatives: the premium bus service intended to attract high-end commuters to public transport, the dedicated bus-lane scheme, proposal to provide permanent jobs to 17000 guest teachers in govt. schools, administrative control over the Anti Corruption Bureau, release of pending dues of Rs. 1200 crores by the DDA to the bankrupt Municipal Corporations. And now he is casting his net wider after the High Court judgement: he has already asked that ALL decisions taken by the govt. since it came to power, should be submitted to him for ratification. He has asked for 400 files containing important decisions and appointed a 3 member panel to scrutinise them for any irregularities ! This adventurism is unheard of: if he has specific complaints he can certainly look into them, but he cannot go on a fishing expedition against the decisions of a democratically elected govt. His malafides are clear, and this is going to be a witch-hunt in the Spanish Inquisition mode.
   Mr. Jung's own track record is abysmal. The Delhi police is directly under him and it is perhaps the worst performing organisation in this sorry state. According to figures published in the Hindustan Times of 31st. August 2016 the crime rate in Delhi is between four and ten times higher than the national average. Here is a gist:
CRIME RATE FOR EVERY ONE LAKH RESIDENTS:
                                                          National Average                               Delhi
[a] Violent crime                                  26.7                                                  97.4
[b] Vehicle theft                                   15.8                                                  156.8

CRIME RATE FOR EVERY ONE LAKH WOMEN
[a]  All crimes                                     53.9                                                  184                                         [b] Rape                                               5.7                                                    23.7                          

CRIME RATE FOR EVERY ONE LAKH CHILDREN                                                                           [a] All crimes                                    21.1                                               169                                                   How is it that the central govt. is not questioning the Viceroy about these horrifying figures ? Why is the media or civil society not holding him accountable for the unacceptable failure of his own police force ?                                                                                                                                            The judiciary seems to be doing its bit too, by staying ( on a technicality) two unprecedented decisions taken by the AAP govt- something which no previous govt. had the courage to take: imposition of hefty fines on five private hospitals which had violated the requirement of providing 25% free beds to EWS patients, and take over of two private schools which for years had been charging exorbitant fees( including the illegal capitation fees) and denying admission to EWS students. Caught between the courts and the Viceroy, Kejriwal doesn't have the chance of an ice-cube in Hell. That he is still fighting is a tribute to the man's idealism and fortitude, notwithstanding the jokes in South Delhi drawing rooms.
   There is nothing legal or democratic about this system, and I don't need a legal luminary charging 100,000 rupees a minute, or a judge whose own appointment by his peers is equally undemocratic, to tell me otherwise. Common sense tells me that the whole thing stinks Its time to dump this charade and discard the fig leaf of constitutionality with which the central govt. is hiding its naked lust for power over Delhi, its vindictiveness towards a man who was chosen by the citizens of Delhi to govern them, and the atrocious performance of its selected regent. The Delhi assembly should be abolished because it serves no purpose other than providing an alibi for the center's misgovernance. Delhi is already one of the worst governed capital cities in the world. with no visible solutions to its pollution, traffic, waterlogging, unplanned construction, encroachment, corruption and soaring crime rate woes, to list just a few. It has more authorities than fleas on a mangy dog, and is rapidly heading for the same fate as the said dog. Abolish the Assembly and let the Viceroy rule, de jure and de facto, let him emerge from the shadows into the sunlight of the real world, let him doff his scepter and crown and muddy his gubernatorial feet in the by-lanes of Mongolpuri and Sangam Vihar, let him actually perform ( and not merely sabotage), and let him subject himself to the true test of a democracy- accountability. Only then will the long suffering citizens of Delhi get what they deserve- either an efficient administration or the revelation that Viceroys should go the way of the dinosaur.

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One of the advantages of having spent two years in each class in school is that you have twice the number of friends, and if even 5% of them turn out like you( i.e. me, underemployed), one shall then be assured of a stream of jokes/humour in one's retiring days. I have been extremely fortunate in this respect, which is why I keep sharing them with the readers of HILLPOST. Not all truisms in life have to be serious- here are some that may bring a smile on your face:

#   You can't drink all day if you don't start in the morning.

#   Beer is not the answer, its the question. ( The answer is YES)

#  This is what I heard said about Mallya and Kingfisher Airlines on my last visit to Kanpur, my hometown:  "  BIKINI ke chakkar me toh BIKNI hi thee !"

#   Men don't grow up; they just change bottles.

#   Marriage is the perfect financial instrument: it pays dividends if you pay interest.

#   Men's priorities are clear: in cricket, the first abdominal guard was worn in 1894; the first helmet was used only forty years later, in 1934.

#   A typical husband is like a split Air Conditioner: no matter how loud he is outdoors, he is designed to remain silent indoors.

If you're still not smiling then I'm afraid you'll just have to wait for Mr. Laloo Yadav's next statement on the Ganga's floods in Bihar  

Sunday, 28 August 2016

DELHI BELLY : THE GOOD SAMARITAN AND INDIA'S REAL SPORTSMEN.

      On the 10th of August Mohammad Matibool was returning home from his night shift job in West Delhi when he was knocked down from behind by a tempo driver who, naturally, fled. Matibool lay on the road for about two hours, slowly bleeding to death. It is estimated that more than a hundred people passed by him but no one offered any assistance or called the police. By the time the latter arrived Matibool had taken his last breath. The police took another two hours to sort out their jurisdictional issue; Matibool's body kept lying on the road. Delhi, of course, the great metropolis it is, did not bat an eye-lid but went about its daily business of crushing the human soul. The same avoidable tragedy plays out thousands of times on our roads every year and should make us ask some soul searching questions.
     Why is there so much public apathy and aversion to offering help to the victim of any crime, even of road accidents? The Union Transport Minister has himself said that 80% of road accident fatalities( there are 150,000 of them every year) could be avoided if the victims had been offered medical assistance in the first " golden hour". It never happens: at most people will ring up 100 and wait for the police to arrive. People just don't want to get involved. Why not?
   Its not that we are heartless as a race ( although we are getting there fast) but because of attitudes in the police and the judiciary. Any good samaritan is invariably treated as a witness( if not a suspect or an accused) by the police, and as an expendable piece of trash subsequently by the courts; he has to go through days of questioning and recording of statements, years of court appearances, and sometimes even be subjected to threats and extortion demands. The Supreme Court last year ordered that any such person offering aid to a victim or bringing him/her to a hospital shall not be asked to disclose his name or personal details and shall not be summoned as witness if he doesn't want to. Additionally, no hospital can refuse to treat such a patient, or delay it till the police arrive; police jurisdictional issues will not delay action by the police and the nearest police station will have responsibility till the jurisdiction issue, if any, is decided among themselves. Sensible pronouncements, and badly needed too. The problem is no one follows them, not the police or the hospitals, and the common citizen is too shrewd to depend on a SC judgement when, as the villain famously said in a recent film: " Aapka Constitution Gurgaon ke baad khatam ho jata hai!" ( Your Constitution stops at Gurgaon). Or where the MNS on the 21st of this month WARNED the Supreme Court " not to cross the red line of religion"! ( and later defied the ban on high human pyramids for the " Dahi Handi" ritual on Janmashtmi. As a result two boys are in hospital with critical head injuries. The police have booked the organisers for contempt of court- they should actually be charged also with culpable homicide not amounting to murder).
   Instead of addressing the procedural tangles the Union govt. has now decided to bring in a Good Samaritan law to give legal status to these good intentions. It will, unfortunately, remain just a law on paper and the victims will continue to bleed to death on the streets of our towns. Nothing will change unless the attitude of the police and the processes of the judiciary change. The face of the criminal justice system in the country has become so disfigured that mere cosmetic changes ( which is what the Good Samaritan law will be) will not suffice any longer. After all we already have laws/ rulings on sedition, naming a rape victim, protection of witnesses, mandatory registration of FIRs, provision of Zero FIRs in jurisdictional dispute cases, etc. but they are rarely observed by the police who continue to carry on in their high handed manner with impunity. Therefore the new law needs to contain specific provisions for penal action against those policemen and hospitals who do not comply with it.
  Judicial processes also need to be tackled/ reformed in the new law. Currently, any witness in a hit-and-run case has to make endless rounds of the courts, for years together, and no one wants to subject himself to the trouble, humiliation and financial loss that this entails. The Good Samaritan law should contain a provision that no such witness would be required to appear in a police station or a  court: he should give his testimony by way of an affidavit to the Public Prosecutor, and the cross examination should also be via the same medium. This might make it easier for people to provide assistance at the spot and evidence later. Let not ( to be expected) objections from the legal fraternity such as " right to confront the witness" and " right to cross examine" etc. obstruct this reform. The law is created for the benefit of society at large and not for lawyers. The right to life supersedes the right to carry on with business as usual.
             *                              *                                *                                 *
  After many hours spent in deep meditation in postures that Baba Ramdev would approve of I have finally discovered why the Indian contingent returned from Rio with a lot of complaints but just two medals: our favourite sports, at which we excel, are not included in the Olympic roster! Given below is a list of these games, and  those likely to win medals in them:

JUMPING THE GUN
Mr. Amit Shah, the BJP President, when he announced victory in both Bihar and Delhi before the elections but failed at the pre-qualification stage itself. A close contender for the Silver has to be Mrs. Sushma Swaraj who announced that our admission to the Nuclear Supplier's Group ( NSG) was a       " done deal" just before the said NSG socked us in the jaw!

SHOOTING ONESELF IN THE FOOT.
No doubt about this one- Ms. Shobhaa De and her ridiculous statement about our Olympians. A BJP MP from UP gave her a scare for some moments by calling Mayawati a P******** but was disqualified when he tested positive for stimulants, which actually turned out be venom. A close contender for the bronze is another tweeter- Shivraj Chauhan, Chief Minister of MP, who tweeted a photo of himself being carried by some cops during a flood inspection tour, so he would not get his shoes wet! This attracted so much ire on social media that he clarified that he was not even aware when he was picked up by his staff ! A serial offender, surely.

TURNING SOMERSAULTS.
  The favorites are the Karnataka Chief Minister and Home Minister. They first stated that Amnesty     (of sedition fame) had not broken any laws, but the very next day clarified that " we are not giving Amnesty a clean chit." Mehbooba Mufti the J+K Chief Minister could however cause an upset : she used to visit stone pelters in their houses when in the Opposition, but now refuses to even visit those of the dead or dying. or to express any sympathy for them.

JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS.
  The Games record is held by Arnab Goswami and he is likely to retain it this time too. He never lets the facts deter him from arriving at conclusions he has pre-determined, the true mark of a sportsman- like when he hinted at Sashi Tharoor's active involvement in his wife's murder without any evidence, or when he pronounced Kanhaiya a seditionist and traitor long before the best legal minds in the country had NOT done so. His side-kick, Maroof Raza, also has potential but he is not versatile enough as he limits himself to Pakistani rivals only.

DECOWTHELON.
   A version of the Decathelon, it is the most difficult of all sports as it involves expertise in three separate activities: stealing cows, beating up the owner, and extorting money for their return. Although a recent introduction to the Games, it is gaining popularity fast, especially in BJP ruled states. The players are called Gau Rakshaks.

TILTING AT WINDMILLS.
   A modern version of the medieval jousting, the winner is judged on the basis of how long he or she can keep tilting away before giving up. The national record holder is Irom Sharmila of Manipur who kept at it for 17 years. A distant second was Anna Hazare who could joust only for two years before retiring to his village. Kiran Bedi was disqualified because she abandoned ship ( horse ?) to join the rivals
.
RIDING THE HIGH HORSE.
  Part of the equestrian events, requiring the rider to stay on the horse for as long as possible. The nation is rooting for none other than the Prime Minister, Mr. Modi, who hasn't dismounted ever since he took office in 2014- an Olympic and World record. It was felt that the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Ms. Jayaylalitha, would give him a stiff challenge but she has started trailing ever since the Supreme Court gave her a dressing down in the matter of filing 213 defamation cases against anyone who considered her mortal.

HOOKEY.
  Not to be confused with hockey, this is a sport at which our Parliamentarians are par excellence, though all government servants are pretty good at it too. Playing hookey involves collecting your salary/ allowance and then absenting yourself- from Parliament. office, school, hospital etc. etc. Every ten years the players are rewarded by a Pay Commission; naturally, therefore, it has become our national sport.

RACKET GAMES.
  Squash, badminton or tennis are imported games and cannot possibly compare with our own racket games- ponzi and chit funds, real estate, kidnapping, defaulting on loans, extortion, cornering lucrative govt. contracts, fixing elections, and so on. Only the powerful and the privileged can take part- the audience can get so involved that they are usually in tears ( and penury) by the time the game ends.

SHOOTING THE MESSENGER.
   A sport at which the government excels. The target is composed of concentric circles of journalists, NGOs, reformists, rational thinkers, critics, students- in short, anyone who does not agree with the govt. It is an easy sport to play because the size of the target keeps increasing every year as more and more groups are added. This is not a medal sport but an exhibition game since the idea is to send a message to the messengers. The judges are from an organisation called the RSS.

THE DELHI HURDLE RACE.
A popular track and field event, it involves hurdles being erected  quicker than the runner can clear them. Talent is required in both activities. The current champion in putting up hurdles is Mr. Najib Jung, the Lt. Governor of Delhi , and the runner selected by Delhiites is Arvind Kejriwal. It will be difficult to predict the winner till the last lap.

   These then are the sports for which we have been genetically coded through the ages. We can beat any country at them. Since the IOA is not likely to include them at the Tokyo Olympics, however, perhaps we should organise our own Mocklympics and invite other kindred countries for them- Pakistan, North Korea, Haiti, Equador, Uganda, Sudan, Afghanistan, to name a few. Maybe we could even appoint Mallya and Lalit Modi as Brand Ambassadors, considering that even Usain Bolt can't beat them at bolting.

     

Sunday, 21 August 2016

DELHI BELLY : LETS CATCH UP WITH BANGLADESH FIRST.

    [  This is not a piece about our Olympians or sportspersons, but about a broken and indifferent system that prevents them--and the nation--from attaining their full potential. ]
                                
     The Olympics have come and gone, like a bad dream  which keeps recurring every four years. We have come back with one silver, one bronze and one Minister with egg on his face. Our dismal performance this year, even without the comic interlude provided by our Sports Minister Mr. Vijay Goel, is an apt symbol of our current aspiration- mediocrity. The painful fact is that we are a country that has given up the pursuit of excellence and has embraced mediocrity in all walks of life-academics,politics,public administration,scientific research, free thinking, journalism--how then can we expecr our sports to be any different ? Our Universities have become what Madhusudan Das  said of Madras university  in 1921- " the slaughter house of intelligence"; politics panders to our basest instincts, not the best; public administration has become a toxic mixture of nepotism, corruption and feudalism; scientific research stopped with the Green Revolution; free thinking is considered anti-national; journalism has descended to the gutters where every day a fresh piece of turd can be dissected by apoplectic anchors. The single handed pursuit of mediocrity in all walks of life ensures that the status quo, with which the ruling elite is comfortable, will prevail and not be challenged. And since its these same people, not sportspersons, who dominate the world of sports, the latter has also become part of the sub culture of mediocrity that thrives in India.
   We aspire to become--indeed, have already proclaimed that we ARE-- a superpower, what with 1.3 billion people and a ( dubious) GDP growth rate of 7.5%. Sadly, as the Olympics have shown, it takes much more to be an influential player on the international stage, to shape world policies, to be taken seriously by other powers,  or to be a role model for other countries. The ability to reproduce in hundreds of millions over decades may have more to do with sperm counts, the Kamasutra and lack of electricity than any genuine greatness of talent or intellect. And a high growth rate may add a few more billions to the net worth of the Ambanis and Adanis and Mallyas, but means nothing to the 343 million people living in poverty or the 20 million who join the unemployed every year.
   There are other, more significant and relevant, attributes of a great nation and on these indicators we fare even worse than our Olympians. I have done a little research on where India stands on these        " softer" factors and would like to share them with the reader, just to retain perspective and not get carried away with the hype:

* As per the 2015 Global Corruption Index ( brought out by Transparency International every year ) India is at sr. no. 76 out of 168 countries.

*  In the Ease of Doing Business index we are at no.130 out of 189 countries. By the way, EDB is just corporate gobbelydook for corruption and redtape.

* Reporters Without Borders, an international organisation that tracks freedom of the press across countries, puts India at the 133rd spot out of 180 countries in 2016- below Algeria, Indonesia, Morocco, Cambodia, Chad, Afghanistan which themselves are not exactly models of free speech.

* India is the 7th most dangerous country for journalists, according to the CPJ Committee to Protect Journalists. Since 1992 64 journalists have been killed while tracking stories. We rank below even Afghanistan and Pakistan on this index.

* According to official figures of the National Crimes Record Bureau 300,000 farmers have committed suicide in the last twenty years, and the figure keeps rising every year. The national suicide rate is 11 per 100,000 but for farmers it is 15 per 100,000.

* India has a prison population of approximately 600,000 persons, of whom 70% or 420,000 are undertrials-i.e. people who have not yet been convicted of any crime! Most of them are in prison because they either cannot afford bail, have no legal representation or have just been forgotten by the system. Huge numbers of them have already served more time than what is prescribed for the offences for which they have been accused! Muslims, Dalits and Tribals make up 53% of all prisoners : it doesn't take a Subramaniam Swamy to figure out in whose favour the system is weighted.

* The country's much vaunted legal justice system is on the point of collapse, according to the Chief Justice of India himself, no less. There are more than 35 million cases pending in various courts:  given the present strength of judicial officers( roughly 16600) it will take 19 years for these cases to be decided- and this is not counting the fresh institutions every year, Out of 1056 posts of judges in  24 High Courts 478 are vacant; the position in the trial courts is just as horrifying- 4432 out of 20502. There is no sign of things improving soon as the executive and the judiciary are locked in a grim fight to determine who has the broader chest.

*  If any more proof were needed on the rotten state of our criminal justice system, it is provided by the fact that the vast majority of perpetrators of crimes get off scot free. The national conviction rate for IPC( Indian Penal Code) cases( 2014) as compiled by the NCRB is just  45.1%, for cyber crimes it is 0.7%, and for rapes it is 28% ! ( the rape conviction rape for Delhi is 17%!). With this abysmal performance how can we ever claim that we are a country subject to the rule of law?

* In 2015 as many as 1.2 million children died before the age of 5, of preventable causes, according to UNICEF's State Of The World's Children Report 2016. We are now bracketed with countries such as Congo, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Pakistan. The figures for infant mortality per 1000 live births in our own neighbourhood are: India-48, China-11, Nepal-38 and Bangladesh-36. Yes, sir, we fare worse than even Nepal and Bangladesh, our poor cousins with deplorable GDP rates!

*  In the international Hunger Index India ranks 80 among 104 countries, i.e. the 25th worst country in the world for which figures are available. Our score is 29; the worst is the Central African Republic with a score of 46.9. We rank below even North Korea and Myanmar. And yes, below Bangladesh which has a score of 27.3. The target of the National Security Act 2012 was to cover 813 million persons; even after five years 80 million people are yet to be brought under its ambit.

*  India has the largest number of poverty stricken people in the world- 363 million in 2012( official figures), or 29.5% of the world's poor. This is more than the population of the USA!

*  Urban India is no better. According to the CIMI( Cities in Motion Index) 2016, our best city ( if we can call it that!) is Mumbai which ranks 167 out of 181 cities in the world! Delhi is 174, Bangalore 176 and Kolkata 179. This is not a one dimensional study but a survey which factored in the economy, human capital, technology, environment, governance, urban planning, transportation, social cohesion and public management. Anyone who has lived in our metros would not be surprised at these findings.

*  What about our legislators and law-makers? The Association for Democratic Reforms ( ADR), a highly respected Indian electoral watchdog and NEW ( National Election Watchdog)  have just released some interesting if not disquieting figures. In the central govt. 24 out of 78 Ministers ( 31%) have criminal cases pending against them. In the states the figure is 210 out of 609 ( 34%). Not surprisingly, therefore, the average wealth of state Ministers is Rs.8.59 crore( apprx. US$ 1.5 million); as behoves members of a higher body the corresponding figure for union Ministers is Rs.12.94 crores ( approx. US $ 2.00 million). And don't forget, this is only their declared assets!

*  Things are much worse on the social scale. India has the largest number of illiterates in the world. In just rural India 35.73 of the population or 316 million people are illiterate. Of the remaining 64.27% only 3.45% are graduates. The Gross Enrolment Ratio for colleges is a miserable 18%; even this is a misleading figure if one considers the actual standards of teaching in the colleges: a 2010 study by NAAC ( National Assessment and Accreditation Council) reports that 90% of the country's 34000 colleges are just average or below average. The schools are worse: a recent study by Pratham, a leading non-profit working in this sector, found that Class 6 students in govt. schools could neither read nor write at the level of even Class I. Our much vaunted " demographic dividend" is at best an illusion, at worst it is a ticking time bomb whose fuse has been lit.

*  A country aspiring to be a world leader in the 21st century has to display a mind-set which is progressive, liberal and reformist. Unfortunately, we have consistently failed to demonstrate this. Our polity ( and judiciary) still criminalises same sex relationships and persecutes LGBT communities under the monstrous Sec. 377 of the IPC; as recently as in July this year India went against world opinion by refusing to endorse a UN Human Rights Council resolution to investigate violence and discrimination against LGBTs. We have outlawed PAS ( Physician Assisted Suicide), imprison those who attempt suicide, refuse to decriminalise defamation, will not allow even victims of rape to abort the foetus produced by such an act, use sedition to curb free speech ( in just one year, 2014, 47 cases of sedition were registered and 78 persons arrested), and still permit forms of child labour. Of late various forms of intolerance thinly disguised as either nationalism or as religious protectionism have been threatening to become endemic, with tacit support of the govt. This has not gone unnoticed by the international community which has even begun commenting on it.These are not the attributes or value system of a forward or enlightened nation, one that other nations would look up to.
   The enumeration above is not intended to draw up some kind of a "negative" list or prepare a roster on the lines of the Seven Deadly Sins. It is instead meant to show how unprepared we are to assume any kind of leadership role in world affairs because of our inability to rise above traditional behaviour patterns or to embrace new ideas. This is not to say that we have not progressed in the last 70 years- we have, especially in areas such as food production, health care, adoption of technology, the economy, power generation, to name just a few. But we have faltered on two counts: one, we have failed to ensure that this progress reaches the most poor and disadvantaged- it is the elite in the urban ( and rural) areas who have collared all the resultant benefits. Two: we have failed to ensure that, concommitant with this lop-sided development, we also progress in the areas of human rights, civil liberties, social cohesion, inclusiveness, and a respect for discipline. We have lost the sense of compassion and of equity. At best we take only half a step when we should be taking two or three.
, and every once in a while we take two steps backward. We have a low threshold of satisfaction and that is what makes us a nation that is comfortable with mediocrity.
  Which explains the collective national orgasm over winning one silver and one bronze at the Olympics.
  Which should also make Ms. Shobha De reflect again on her trashing of our sportsmen. Emerging from the miasma of mediocrity that their Federations wallow in, it is indeed a wonder that 120 of them even qualified for the Olympics! The medals belong to them, not the country.

[ NOTE: Discerning viewers of the Olympics could not have missed the delicious irony in the fact that both our medals have been won by ladies- perhaps the most exploited, vulnerable, defenceless section of our society, no matter which caste or community they belong to. And one of these ladies was from Haryana- the bastion of Khap Panchayats and a state with one of the lowest female sex ratios! Indeed, God works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform! The incredible fact that, once in a while, an individual can rise above our sorry system only reinforces the point that we have a tremendous pool of talent only waiting for a right eco-system in which to flourish. This is not true only of sports. ]
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Quip of the week:
A friend of my wife made the following astute observation after Sindhu won her badminton silver:
Its a good thing that the stone pelters of Kashmir did not take training at Gopichand's Academy in Hyderabad!

Sunday, 14 August 2016

DELHI BELLY : THE POLITICAL GENTLEMAN--- A TRIBUTE FROM HIMACHAL.

    Last month I read, with a wistfulness sadness, of the death of Shri Sita Ram Sharma, ex-MLA from Bilaspur district. He was the MLA when I was posted there as Deputy Commissioner in 1980-82, and I've never met a more complete gentleman, politician or otherwise: soft spoken to a fault, self-effacing, humble in his simplicity, he regarded me as a younger brother. MLAs those days travelled by bus and he quite often took a lift with me to Shimla, and we usually had lunch at Bhararighat which served the best " kadhi-chawal" this side of the Sutlej. Sita Ramji insisted on paying everytime even though he was a man of very modest means. When he lost his last election he retired into graceful and genteel anonymity, bothering no one and not attempting to cash in on any IOUs or using his old " contacts". I lost touch with him after a few years, till I read of his passing away last week.
    Sita Ram Sharma's world, of course, had passed away into oblivion long before he did. Comparisons are always odious, and not always fair, but I can't help feeling that the days of gentlemen in politics are long gone: the political environment today is a take-no-prisoners battle zone where the stakes are enormous ( the overwhelming number of multi-crorepatis in Parliament make this point), the struggle is vicious and the qualities required to succeed owe nothing to the Ten Commandments or the Gita, and are an improvement even on Chanakya and Machiavelli. The relationship between the administrator and the politician has also subtly changed: it is no longer one of mutual respect or respectful dislike, but one of either hand-in-glove or knife-in-back. It does not nurture mutual respect.
    I served five years in the districts between 1977 and 1982, at a relatively young age, and can even now recollect with fondness some other MLAs of the time, gentlemen all, every one of them older than me, treating me with both the regard due to a Collector and the indulgence due to a younger brother still wet behind the ears. They were simple( in the good sense of the term) people, leading almost frugal lives, without the trappings of red lights, hangers- on and discretionary grants that mark the MLA of today. They had no interest in transfers, contracts and recruitments- the bread and butter issues of his modern counterpart. They were by no means " yes men" toeing the line of the district administration: we disagreed quite often, but never with acrimony. I recollect once when Mr. Kishori Lal Tadu, a veritable giant of a man and a very senior MLA from Bilaspur Sadar, walked out of a meeting I was holding on the Nalwari mela. when I peremptorily rejected one of his suggestions. I worried that he would complain to the CM, and was therefore surprised when he walked into my office that evening, wearing a half smile. Over a cup of tea he gave me some very good advice:  "Shuklaji, we are public men and our public perception and image are everything to us. By all means reject our proposals if you find them unacceptable, but don't do it in a public forum. If we lose face our voters think we are becoming ineffective, and that is the first step to losing the next election!" Very good advice, which I always tried to abide by thereafter.                                                                                         Then there was Mr. Sadhu Ram, MLA from Gagret in Una district, coming from perhaps the poorest Scheduled Caste family in his village. As simple minded as they come, he had entered politics with no idea of its arcane rituals and protocols ! I used to give him detailed briefings before every Assembly session on how he should sit, stand, speak, address the Speaker, vote, etc. in the House, so unused was he to these glorified portals of power. One night in 1980 ( I think) my phone rang well past the mid-night hour. It was an excited Sadhu Ram from Shimla, informing me that he had just been offered a Ministership and should he accept?!! I recommended that he should do so at once, before the Chief Minister realised his mistake and changed his mind ! The next night, again at the bewitching hour, Food and Supplies Minister Sadhu Ram drove into my residence, even more excited than before. He apologised profusely for rousting me from bed but explained that he just had to show me his new official car and the national flag proudly unfurled on it! ( I politely told him that since it was night time he should take the flag down and put on his red beacon light instead. He gleefully switched on the red light but insisted the flag would stay till he could show it to his neighbours in his village). He also gave me four boxes of the best Baljee's sweets! Next morning he insisted that the SP should not salute him!
   Sticking with Una, another prominent politician there was Mrs. Sarla Sharma who was also the Pradesh Congress President. We got along well, once I made it clear to her that I would not " call" on her in the Circuit House as she did not hold any official position. She was a formidable lady and many Congress veterans still hyper ventilate when they think of her, but she was totally straightforward, never dealt from the bottom of the pack, and never troubled me inspite of our little misunderstanding. I had the uneasy impression that I was not among her top ten favourites, but she generously ascribed my " deficiencies" to callow inexperience and young age. She did, however, complain about me to the CM once. I was made aware of this by the Chief Secretary at a meeting of Divisional Commissioners and Deputy Commissioners he was presiding over.
   " It has been brought to Hon' CM's notice ( the CS thundered) that some of you are not properly dressed when meeting lady functionaries of the party; the shirt of one of the DCs was unbuttoned when meeting with Mrs. Sharma !"
   This immediately roused the interest of the Divisional Commissioner, Shimla, who was reputed to be a bit of an expert at unbuttoning shirts, and he asked, hopefully:
    " Sir, was it DC Solan? " ( The DC Solan at the time was an attractive, unattached, young lady, also present at the meeting.) " I'll immediately look into the matter and personally button up the shirt."
    " Sorry to disappoint you ABCD," said the CS, who knew said ABCD very well. " It is not DC  Solan, its Shukla."  He looked at me: " Shukla, you're no longer in Hindu College. Dress like a Deputy Commissioner, even if you can't believe you are one. I can't believe it either." And with that coup-de-grace he moved on to the next point on the agenda.
    The most impressive of these political gentlemen had to be Shri Daulat Ram Sankhyan, MLA from Kot Kehloor in Bilaspur district. He was a truly striking figure, a veritable prophet from the Old Testament: a short but sinewy frame, always clad in a white dhoti and kurta, with a thick white mane of hair cascading from his head, a sculptured Roman nose, and eyes like laser beams. He ultimately became a junior Minister, I think, but he was never comfortable with it. Not for him closed offices, inane meetings, the parry and thrust of power politics. He was a man of the mountains and fields; he loved to walk all over his district, his " jhola" ( shoulder bag) containing his lunch and a bottle of water slung over his shoulder, meeting people personally ( he once told me that as a young man he routinely walked from Bilaspur to Shimla- and there was no road then- constantly dodging the soldiers and spies of the Raja of Bilaspur). He was a legend in Bilaspur- he had been one of the leaders of the Praja Mandal movement against the Raja of Bilaspur, and used to regale me with stories of how he and his co-revolutionaries were tortured by the Raja's soldiers on the banks of the Sutlej- there was no Gobindsagar lake then. He even pointed out to me the spot on the banks of the river ( it is now called Luhnu ground) from where he once swam across the Sutlej on a bitterly freezing winter morning, the Raja's forces hot on his heels- such was the foundation on which he built his political career, a far cry from the dynastic successions of today. But he did not live in the past alone: he quickly grasped the potential for horticulture, established the first orchards in the Jukhala valley which he has left as a legacy- a rich fruit growing belt with good roads and plenty of water. He also built the first hotel in the district- named Chitrakoot, it is located just adjacent to the old bridge at Ghagas and is doing quite well, I'm told. Some of his political opponents complained to me that there was some encroachment involved in the venture. There may have been, I don't know, for I didn't pay attention-for Daulat Ram Sankhyan had given much, much more of his life and labours to the state than could be compensated by a few square yards of land in a rocky nullah.
    And finally, there was this humble MLA from Bilaspur( he shall remain unnamed) from a Scheduled caste background who had won an election by pure accident and spent his one tenure apologising for it! His brother was a " mali"( gardener) at my residence ( which explains everything about the material circumstances of the MLA and his family). The MLA was, however, blessed with a wise and purposeful wife who quickly realised that lightning does not strike at the same place twice and that her husband could not win a second time. But he insisted on contesting again, and was duly given the money by the party for doing so. In those days there was no other source of funding in districts like Bilaspur. The very next day this paragon of a wife took all the money from his cupboard, went to the post office and deposited the entire amount in 6 years National Savings Certificates, safely beyond her husband's reach! He contested the election without any funds and, as expected. lost his deposit( he would have lost it anyway, even if he was backed by Mr. Adani) but at least he still had the money, and no doubt thanked this sterling woman for all his remaining days.
  They are all gone now, this humble, god-fearing breed of politicians who rose from among the people they served, like native plants rooted to their soil, not imported from distant or moated islands of prosperity and privilege. They were an organic breed of public servants who lived in complete harmony with their constituencies and constituents, and aspired to nothing more than to serve them. By their going they have left us, and our polity, the poorer. They remind us of the words of Socrates:
There can be no greatness without simplicity. To this eternal truth I'd like to add: There can be no sincerity without simplicity, either.   

Sunday, 7 August 2016

DELHI BELLY : THE POLITICS OF THE '' P " WORD

    Would you be outraged or scandalised if someone called you a driver, a chowkidar, an unskilled labourer or a waiter ? Cheesed off or irritated, yes, maybe even amused, but outraged? I don't think you would be, if you are a person with a sense of history, a social conscience, and a respect for the dignity of labour. Why then would the whole political firmament erupt in anger and violence when some lumpen BJP leader of UP called Ms. Mayawati a " p********* " ? Yes, it was an inappropriate comment, just as Kejriwal's diagnosis of Mr. Modi as a psychopath was, or the latter's terming the former a Naxalite was, or Salman Khan's every second word on women is. But none of those descriptions evoked the kind of mass outrage that the adjective about Ms. Mayawati did. What is so specially derisive about the occupation of the prostitute that it can unite the entire Opposition as even Kashmir and GST cannot ?
   In fact, the reaction to the comment is even more offensive and degrading than the original comment, and if anyone has the moral and social right to be gravely offended  it is the community of sex workers or the P's that cannot be pronounced. The perceived " insult" to Ms. Mayawati ( the latest rallying point for political parties) implies that prostitutes are a sub-human species, bereft of any moral values, the scum of our society, indulging in an unspeakable occupation, and to call one a prostitute is the ultimate vilification. That the uncouth BJP leader mentioned above actually meant his remark to be an insult only shows that the troglodyte thinking is the same on both sides of the political divide. It speaks volumes about our debased attitude to women, our hypocritical approach to sex, and our dismal ignorance of history.
   The business of sex, in which most males have indulged in at some point of their hypocritical lives, has been around for thousands of years. It finds mention in the Canterbury Tales and the Bible. In India it has existed as a social institution since ancient times. Chanakya in his " Arthashastra" has defined and codified the concept and practice of the trade of prostitution in some detail. Vatsyana's   " "Kamasutra" has whole chapters devoted to its finer arts. It was a well regarded and reputable profession in ancient India as the highly evolved sub-culture of the courtesan and the  " tawaif" indicate. In the post Mauryan era only highly educated and accomplished women were allowed to enter the trade. The treatise AIN-I-AKBARI records how, in Akbar's rule, it was treated and taxed like any other profession: there were separate quarters designated for the courtesans and one Daroga was specifically appointed to regulate the business and to collect taxes from the customers. Nor could any and every one claim the right to be a patron: only persons of a certain social standing were allowed to avail the services of these ladies! The institutions of the concubine and the mistress, so essential for royalty and nobility(!) in times gone by are nothing but personalised off-shoots of this profession. Quite often these latter ladies occupied a more prominent place in the lives of their " masters" than did the genuine and legal wives. It is reported that even Buddha accepted food from courtesans, and we've all read about Mary Magdalene who was forgiven by Christ and bore witness to his crucifixion . In other words, most societies in the past had accepted the profession as legitimate and there was no stigma attached to its practitioners.
   It continues even today as a traditional vocation in certain communities: in Natpurwa in UP, the Wadias in Gujarat, the Banchara tribe in MP. And there are the " Devdasis" in the temples of the South. Interestingly, Sanchit Garg in an illuminating article available on the net notes that of the 18 types of soil used for bathing the deity during Durga Pooja, one sample is taken from the doorstep of a prostitute, in appreciation of their services to society.
   Prostitution is legalised in most of the developed world, including Denmark, Austria, France, Greece and Belgium and 13 other countries, where it is treated like any other profession. They even have state run brothels; those practising the trade are taxed, provided health insurance, receive social welfare pensions; brothels are registered like any other business. There is little hypocrisy and even lesser moral judgements.
  Unfortunately,  in " modern" India  the profession has been stigmatised and vilified, though tens of millions of Indian males patronise it on a daily basis. On paper, prostitution is legal under the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act 1956, though soliciting and the running of brothels are not. But in practice it is treated as a criminal activity and sex workers are fair game for the police, for whom it is a rich source of income. The Supreme Court in a very progressive judgement seven years ago had asked the government to consider legalising the activity completely but our wholesale duplicity has not allowed this to happen. But it is a thriving  business nonetheless even though a rapacious administration and a sanctimonious society have driven it underground. It is estimated that there are three million women in the trade, though this is almost certainly an underestimation. In addition there are thousands of web sites that offer these services, thinly disguised as " Escort Services" ( the Goa govt. recently shut down 237 of them, but they are no doubt back in action under different web addresses). Then there are the ubiquitous " Massage Parlours" who advertise openly in the Sunday supplements of national newspapers: a typical ad. would go like this: HIGH CLASS BODY MASSAGE BY EDUCATED YOUNG BEAUTIFUL DECENT MODEL LOOK BOLD FEMALE STAFF- RUSSIAN, YUGOSLAVIAN, POLISH ETC. SHOWER MASSAGE ALSO AVAILABLE. FULL AC ROOMS. HOTEL VISIT ALSO. CALL........ Payment can be made through credit cards, online and perhaps even PAYTM- what other proof is needed to establish that prostitution is a regular business!?
   But we will not accept it as such ( though our ancestors did) conditioned as we are by our duplicitous moral values, the same set that talks of women's empowerment but beats up the daughter-in-law for not bringing enough dowry, that makes us pray four times a day and cheat eight times, that extols Dalits but kills them for no reason at all, that venerates the cow as a mother but allows thousands of them to starve on the streets, that makes us touch our parents' feet in " respect" just before we grab all their property and throw them out onto the street. And the doyens of this institutionalised phoneyness, of course, are none other than our politicians and legislators. Nothing else comes even close to explaining why Parliament refuses to destigmatise prostitution, end the criminalisation of a profession that sustains millions of families, provide some dignity to this vilified section of women. It also explains, as I said at the beginning, the outrage at the use of the P word against another woman. What right does such a corrupted and pharisaical society have to look down on and degrade prostitutes who, at the very least, earn an honest living ? How many of us can claim to do that?
   A Chinese proverb perhaps explains it best: PEOPLE WHO SELL THEIR SOULS WILL ALWAYS LOOK DOWN ON PEOPLE WHO SELL THEIR BODIES.
     Touche!