Introspecting Aloud

Trying to decipher the world around me.

Another Ugly Incident of Racism in Bangalore

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"Say no to racism"

Another shameful incident of racist attacks against Africans in India. This time in Bangalore. The guy has been living in Bangalore for 3 years and in India for 10.

As usual the entire neighborhood who knew the guy just watched. But I won’t blame that on racism. That is just how things are in India/Bangalore and would happen to anybody beaten up in public by a gang of drunken goons.

Link: Bangalore mirror: The ugly racist side of namma Bangalore

Small Crimes Build Up to Big Ones

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I am quite saddened by the continued focus on fixing only the rape problem in Delhi. For goodness sake, stop fighting over symptoms!

There is a general sense of lawlessness in Delhi, and of course in the rest of India. The other law and order issues that we have been ignoring as harmless had a big part to play in this crime.

Here are some of the various other crimes that contributed to the Delhi rape incident:

  1. Zero administrative and punitive control of autorickshaws which caused the couple to not get a probably safer mode of transport when needed. [link]
  2. Endemic corruption in Delhi traffic police, which led checkpoint after checkpoint to let the bus go because they had paid their hafta. [link]
  3. Chronic licence violation by the bus operators, of course all done with the connivance of transport authorities. [link]
  4. Routine intentional failure of driver checks, which led prominent schools in Delhi to be using such a bus operator with such shady credentials. [link]

All crimes, small or big, eventually will come and bite us one day. The focus should be on reducing this generally sense of lawlessness and violence that Delhi exhudes all the time. And I am not even going to talk about the countryside around Delhi, where the situation is far far worse.

Your Right to Disagree Is Diminishing in This Country

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Construction site of the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant Do not disagree – Pratap Bhanu Mehta on Indian Express.

Nothing is more fatal for disagreement and dissent than the idea that all of it can be reduced to hidden sub-texts or external agendas. You may be a supporter of Bt brinjal or nuclear energy. But you ought to worry if we became a culture in which no one was spooked after Fukushima, or suspicious of data on agricultural technologies. The idea that anyone who disagrees with my views must be the carrier of someone else’s subversive agenda is, in some ways, deeply anti-democratic. It does away with the possibility of genuinely good faith disagreement. It denies equal respect to citizens because it absolves you from taking their ideas seriously. Once we have impugned the source, we don’t have to pay attention to the content of the claims. The necessity of democratic politics arises precisely because there is deep, good faith disagreement. Reducing disagreement to bad faith betrays a subconscious wish of doing away with democratic politics.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s deeply incisive analysis of the way the government is using the state machinery to bulldoze all opposition to the nuclear plan in Tamil Nadu.

(Photo by Petr Pavlicek/IAEA. Please see image link for more info on the image including reuse rights.)

The More Dangerous Side of Covering Up Women - a False Sense of Security

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Brilliant article by Harini Calamur about the truly dangerous side of the recent outbreak of self-righteous people in power – asking women to be covered up for their own security.

Telling women that dressing ‘properly’ will reduce chances of their being victims of sexual assault is lulling women into a false sense of security. In the National Crime Records Bureau report on all types of crimes that take place in India, among the more chilling statistics are rape figures. Every hour, two women somewhere in India are raped. Every third day, an elderly woman is sexually assaulted. About two girls aged under 10 are raped every day. Most of these are outside metros and cities in regions where women are dressed in a traditional manner. Fully covered. It wasn’t their clothes that caused the crime. It was their gender.

The problem is not with what women wear, it is with society that allows men to get away with rape and blames the woman for inviting it.

Read the rest of the article in DNA here.

Humbling Tweet of the Year 2011

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Quite an irony that this very honest and non-jingoistic tweet was made by the Chief Minister of a state that the rest of India is so jingoistic about.

Petrol Price Hike - Why So Serious?

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People fume over petrol price hike

I don’t completely get the furore over the petrol price hike. Help me with getting the facts right:

  1. An alternative to petrol price hike is subsidy.
  2. Poor people don’t buy petrol. If you use petrol you probably are(or should be) a tax paying citizen.
  3. Who pays subsidy ? - tax payers.
  4. Who pays petrol price hike ? - tax payers and “non-tax payers”. Only 3% of Indians pay taxes.
  5. Inflation happens due to both petrol price hike and government deficit from subsidy.

I am all for wider sharing of the burden. :) What is your problem?

 

The Correct and Relevant Context Within the Supreme Court Judgement on Afzal Guru’s Death Sentence

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For a long time, I have been reading articles from various sources (and not just Arundhati Roy’s) about how Afzal Guru’s death sentence given by Supreme Court of India was a gross miscarriage of justice. This newspaper article is an example,

Defending Afzal Guru, Arundhati Roy said that the Supreme Court’s ruling which says that Afzal Guru must be hanged ‘to satisfy the collective will of the nation’ although there is no proof of his involvement is in itself unconstitutional.

Being a person who has always been against capital punishment, I fell an easy prey to the argument made by these people. Obviously, when you read that statement, you would agree that it does smell like something really wrong has happened.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The supreme court judgement is here.

And here is the relevant context, which gives the correct context to the text Arundhati is quoting. But with the proper context you will see that she has been very “convenient” while choosing the excerpt. The Supreme Court, as always, had done an awesome job, to my untrained eyes.

The conspiracy to commit the offence of murder in the course of execution of conspiracy is well within the scope of conspiracy to which the accused Afzal was a party. Therefore, he is liable to be punished under Section 120B read with Section 302 IPC. The punishment applicable is the one prescribed under Section 109 IPC in view of the phraseology of Section 120B “be punished in the same manner as if he had abetted such offence”. Section 109 IPC lays down that “if the act abetted is committed in consequence of the abetment, and no express provision is made by this Code for the punishment of such abetment, a person abetting the offence shall be punished with the punishment provided for the offence.” Thus the conspirator, even though he may not have indulged in the actual criminal operations to execute the conspiracy, becomes liable for the punishment prescribed under Section 302 IPC. Either death sentence or imprisonment for life is the punishment prescribed under Section 302 IPC.

In the instant case, there can be no doubt that the most appropriate punishment is death sentence. That is what has been awarded by the trial Court and the High Court. The present case, which has no parallel in the history of Indian Republic, presents us in crystal clear terms, a spectacle of rarest of rare cases. The very idea of attacking and overpowering a sovereign democratic institution by using powerful arms and explosives and imperiling the safety of a multitude of peoples’ representatives, constitutional functionaries and officials of Government of India and engaging into a combat with security forces is a terrorist act of gravest severity. It is a classic example of rarest of rare cases.

The gravity of the crime conceived by the conspirators with the potential of causing enormous casualties and dislocating the functioning of the Government as well as disrupting normal life of the people of India is some thing which cannot be described in words. The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if the capital punishment is awarded to the offender. The challenge to the unity, integrity and sovereignty of India by these acts of terrorists and conspirators, can only be compensated by giving the maximum punishment to the person who is proved to be the conspirator in this treacherous act. The appellant, who is a surrendered militant and who was bent upon repeating the acts of treason against the nation, is a menace to the society and his life should become extinct. Accordingly, we uphold the death sentence.

After a reading of the judgement, some points are very clear to me:

  1. There were several very strong circumstancial evidence of a close link between the dead terrorists and Afzal. Here is one of them from the judgement:
    The picture that emerges is this: The fact that an instrument used by Afzal (with the phone number 9811489429) till 12.12.2001 was recovered from one of the deceased terrorists on the date of incident, reveals that Afzal would have necessarily met the deceased terrorist between the afternoon of 12th December and the morning of 13th December.
  2. The police did a horrific job of investigation. Being under terrible work pressure is no excuse for causing a person’s miscarriage of justice where the punishment is death. It is evident that police had some facts, but didn’t spend enough effort connecting all of them. To make shortcuts, they violated procedures as pointed out by the court. They probably also coerced or forged confessions. Most of the problems people have with this judgement was the shoddy investigative work that the courts had to rely upon.
  3. Afzal Guru had quite some problem getting good representation. However, I do see Ram Jethmalani having given a good defense to the defendants. A country which claims to be a fair democratic country should always see that the most rotten of defendants get the right support to defend themselves. This is because there is a tremendous amount of pressure and prejudice against the defendants already before the trial starts. To have even a sense of fair play, the defense should be such which can take on such an unfair environment. I salute Ram Jethmalani for always having done this for the country. Very few people of his kind exist in this country.
  4. If one has an issue about why Afzal is being given the same punishment as the people who actually committed the crime, please read the judgement. The relevant part is in the excerpt above. This is the law in this country. The court just followed it.

But at the end of the day, my faith in our judiciary is restored. I don’t see a miscarriage of justice from what I have read.

Now whether capital punishment is a good thing or not, is a different issue. I made my stand clear at the beginning of this post, and I don’t want to mix issues in this post.

Interesting Sections of the Lokpal Bill Tabled in Parliament

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To confirm some text I read on the IAC facebook page, I went through the Lokpal bill tabled by the Government using the link provided by the IAC website at http://www.box.net/shared/k9bz7pfzj6q6s0us9mil

Here are some really interesting sections of the bill:

51. No suit, prosecution of other legal proceedings under this Act shall lie
    against any public servant, in respect of anything which is done in good
    faith or intended to be done in the discharge of this official functions or
    in exercise of this powers.

52. No suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall lie against the
    Lokpal or against any office, employee, agency or any person, in respect of
    anything which is done in good faith or intended to be done under this Act
    or the rules or the regulations made thereunder.

54. The Lokpal shall not inquire or investigate into any complaint, if the
    complaint is made after the expiry of a period of seven years from the date
    on which the offence mentioned in such complaint is alleged to have been
    committed.

In my untrained mind, (51) and (52) means that unless one can cite profit made by a government official in the initial complaint to Lokpal, no shady decision will be even investigated by Lokpal.

Case in point, audit reports like that of CAG show irregularity in proceedings, but since their mandate doesn’t extend into investigating profits made by the government officials, CAG reports are not sufficient to get an investigation done by Lokpal. So we might know, for example, Sheila Dixit has done something fishy, but we cannot investigate her as unless someone shows the specific kickbacks, we have to assume she did all those irregularities in good faith.

(54) means that no new investigation would be made on corruption complaints before 2004. So nobody can get into the 2G scams whose beginnings lie years before 2004.

No wonder this is termed as a joke-pal.

Urbanization Trends in Indian Cities and Gated Communities

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I came across an interesting set of articles today via iJanaagraha. The article talked about the recent trend of mini “townships” coming up all around Bangalore - gated communities which promise everything from security, shopping malls, schools, etc. right within private walls. 

iJanaagraha argues that this is coming up precisely as a reaction of the rich against the failures of governance.

A tax payer’s money is supposed to be budgeted towards exactly the above - a  safe, secure environment to live in,  access to healthy open spaces, adequate  recreational facilities and housing with amenities within walking distance. Since most amenities provided by gated communities are basic local, social and  civic amenities that the government has failed to provide, this pushes people who have the resources,  to build their own communities that are equipped to deliver higher levels of infrastructure and services for  `Bangalore’s finest’ .

Whatever the reasons behind this trend, it seems that it is not healthy for the society as a whole.

Architect and planner Charles Correa has strong views on the subject:

The architect, known for his sensitivity to the issues concerning the urban poor, is deeply disturbed by Bangalore’s gated communities. “These communities are a cause for grave concern. They need to be discouraged. It will bring terrible disparity and make the city one of confrontation. You do not want to become another Johannesburg, another Nairobi, where gated communities have for years kept the poor out, and this has brought frustration and anger.”

Reiterating the need for integration, Correa adds, “You have to take them along and make the poor a part of the prosperity. Public and community spaces should be a place for people of all classes to intermingle. How can it be that you need them to do your chores but you keep them away from your lives ?

Another DNA article quoted him saying:

Even our malls, he says, are gated, keeping out the urban poor from entering them. “Be careful to protect your public spaces,” he warns. A city must have urban spaces that are accessible to all, he adds.

My personal feelings is that Indians are historically predisposed against egalitariasm and very easily take to class separation, whether consciously or unconsciously. It is not that class separation doesn’t happen in other countries, it is just that most Indians don’t see it as a problem unless they are on the wrong side of it. The “Indian shining” effect has helped only the new IT generation (and all supporting commerce) crowd, and the class separation keeps widening everyday.

There are voices that are speaking out against this trend in the country, but a rising right-wing  pseudo-nationalistic wave of thought is contemptuously dismissive of any suggestions which takes this “shine” off. As the much “reviled” Arundhati Roy pointed out in a wonderful interview I had mentioned in my blog some time back, and which I was reminded of by Nidhi’s post again:

the Radia tapes exposé has come like an MRI confirming a diagnosis some of us made years ago. Now it’s street talk, so I feel it’s alright for me to do something else now. It happens all the time. You say something and it sounds extreme and outrageous, and a few years down the line it’s pretty much accepted as the norm. I feel we are headed for very bad times. This is going to become a more violent place, this country. But now that it’s upon us, as a writer I’ll have to find a way to live, to witness, to communicate what’s going on. The Indian elite has seceded into outer space. It seems to have lost the ability to understand those who have been left behind on earth.

When Should Public Figures Recuse Themselves or Step Down?

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As usual the Congress spin masters are muddying pictures in the issue of the propriety of Bhushans continuing in the lokpal drafting committee. Sanjay Baru even tried to give an analogy of how Prashant Bhushan recused himself from a case in Gujarat when his bias was questioned. He asked why Prashant would not recuse himself in this case.

Their claim is that when aspersions have been cast on the integrity of these two people, they should step down. Now I am not one who has been entirely comfortable with both these folks being the in committee, but i think all this is a wrong argument.

A politician is rightly asked to step down, or a public figure is asked to recuse themselves when his ability to perform his duty is questioned. Personal integrity, while it should be, has never been a reason for politicians in India to resign. Otherwise, all the hundreds of chargesheeted and convicted representatives would not have been present in our parliament or legislative assemblies.

However, if a credible allegation is made against a political figure holding a public office, that he/she has abused their position or intentionally acted against the interest of the public or has a conflict of interest in that position, then it is a good reason for the person in question to step down.

Congress maintains that Shashi Tharoor resigned on mere allegation. He did it because he was supposed to have abused his minister post to ask for favor from Lalit Modi.

Congress maintains that Chavan resigned on allegation of the housing scam. Again, he had misused his position.

Prashant Bhushan has recused himself from the Gujarat case upon allegations of bias. Since that directly affects his role in the case, it was proper for him to recuse himself, and he did.

However, shady CDs about Shanti Bhushan’s chat with shady politicians? Allegations of favoritism in land allotments in UP? How are these allegations in any way relevant to Bhushan’s position in a drafting committee of a bill which doesn’t cover non-politicians?

In any case, public memory being short, I am surprised that no one yet has brought up the credentials of the government presentatives in the panel to question. Kapil Sibal got a lot of notoriety by dismissing the entire 2G scam as a non-issue with the losses being merely notional. Today his predeccesor is in jail for this notional crime. So it is sure that the judicial system doesn’t agree with him, and he is clearly trying to protect the corrupt.

Pranab Mukherjee a few years ago was embroiled in the rice scam where he pushed to export rice in spite of there being a ban on the same. The decision of the Group of ministers that he was heading was opposed at the time by none other than Chidambaram and Sharad Pawar himself. 

These are far more relevant and serious charges. There is a serious conflict of interest here, as these same people are drafting a bill which would have institutions hopefully take suo moto recognition of such offenses and investigate them.