Sunday, July 31, 2011

Reservation: Is it being approached appropriately?

Reservation. The matter today synonymous with India has been much debated, discussed, argued for and against, and at the same time often avoided because of its sensitive nature. Article 15(1) of the Indian constitution states that the State shall not discriminate against anyone on the ground of sex, caste, race, religion, place of birth or anything. So it essentially grants equality to all, irrespective of their background - social or economic. But again, as per Article 15(4) it allows the State to make special provisions for the socially and educationally backward classes of citizens.

One can argue that the Constitution makers were seeing or foreseeing discrimination at various levels but this has turned into a very touchy topic. While I agree reservation is important, for many a times, people from ‘lower castes’ do not receive their due, are ignored or passed over which is not at all fair, especially in a country whose constitution stands for equality, isn’t it also important that for greener leaves, the roots must be strong? In our country, there is still a lack of basic education for all, while there is clamour for reservation in institutions for higher studies, which is kind of absurd.

Also, reservation just strengthens the caste and religious differences. There are chances of a psychological effect on people, and those trying to fight caste/religious differences and avoid discrimination on the basis of caste or religion are fighting a losing battle because reservation is merely strengthening those identities often compromising a more deserving candidate for one with a certain caste or religion’s certificate. So even if reservation needs to be done, there must a subtle, fair approach to it.

Imagine a scenario wherein a boy is trying for admission in a college. His father is an Engineer or a Senior Manager, his mother is a professor. He lives a comfortable life, not in the lap of luxury but most of his needs and wants are being catered to most of the times, and he has enough money to dispense for his needs and/or for his leisure. Now he gets very average marks in the 12th grade. But he gets admission into the college of his choice merely because he provides a caste certificate of belonging to an SC, ST or an OBC and there is reservation for people from this caste. So he manages to get a seat, and has a rebate in the fees.

Now imagine a scenario, where a boy’s father is carpenter, or a tailor, or even a peon in an office. His mother is a housewife who struggles to get in extra money to the household by taking up odd jobs such as at a construction site. They have three simple meals, even two at times. The father does not even have a scooter to transport him to work. But he does not manage to get admission to the college, despite his caste certificate (A) because he cannot afford even the rebated fees, and (B) because he has received low grades in the local school he went to where he was not taught proper English, which is often the medium of instruction at college/university level.

Who do YOU think deserves the reserved seat more?

Instead of reserving seats left, right and centre on the basis of religion or caste, there must be two changes:

  1. The education system at the basic level must be strengthened. The Right To Education Act has been passed indeed. But is it being rightfully implemented? Are children being sent to school by parents? If they are, are the teachers even there to teach them? And are the teachers doing their job with diligence? These are a few questions or issues that must be looked into by authorities and must be corrected. The foundation must be strong, only then will the child benefit from reservation. What will a child do with a reserved seat in say, a prestigious law college like NALSAR, when he doesn’t even read or understand Basic English and has no or little knowledge of the concepts of civics, and society?
  2. Reservation must not be merely on the basis of caste but take into account economically backward people. Once the educational basics are strong, those who are economically backward must be given a fair chance. A child may have to give up on his ‘reserved’ seat in a college merely because he is unable to afford even the discounted fees.

The issue of reservation is yet to be explored properly. The government and the authorities need to look into these and a few other pertinent issues. Also, while reservation is certainly essential in most areas, there must be a fair balance, which our vote bank driven politicians sadly fail to acknowledge!



Santosh Kumar (28) of Coimbatore, a young married man, with a little baby might never have even thought that his brutal death would invoke such little response and compassion by his city’s citizens. While he was being brutally thrashed and murdered at a traffic signal on July 10th, an event recorded by a hidden CCTV camera which led to the culprits being hauled up, nobody but nobody stopped to help him. People stopped at the signal and as it turned green sped off to their destinations, turning a blind eye to the horrific incident happening in front of them.

This tale makes me sick to my stomach. How can someone see somebody being so cruelly murdered in front of them and not even try to help? Is this what our people have become? Insensitive and numb to all sorts of horror so nothing effects them anymore? What is responsible for such numbness?

One reason could be the increasing openness with which news channels run gory, bloody pictures and videos of murder sites, bomb blasts victims, riots etc. The Hindu, a nationally acclaimed newspaper, put the photograph of the mangled remains of Rajiv Gandhi’s body after his assassination, which was a gruesome sight. When chided for this act, the Editor defended his decision by some valid arguments saying it was a true incident and so there was nothing wrong in presenting the truth to the public, and that the people would be aware of the barbarity of this assassination only through such hard hitting visuals. However, over the years, the media has not shied away from showing any grisly photograph or any ghastly video. While it hits the viewers/ readers and shakes them up to the reality and brutality of the world around them it has also led to a certain numbing of emotions. People are now so used to seeing such horrific sights that nothing shocks then anymore. Their threshold for tolerating such horrible scenes has increased manifold thanks to the desensitization process by the media.

Even the excessive violence we see in films today, with no holds barred, is responsible to an extent of numbing the people. This is a major cause of concern because if compassion and humanity are allowed to disappear, it can possibly spell disastrous consequences in the future. People will no longer be shocked by anything and would not realise the gravity of horrible occurrences.

Such a case brings to light the dire necessity for the media to exercise restraint on itself in showing grisly scenes and photographs. While truth must not be compromised but a sensitive approach must certainly be in place for every event. Otherwise what happened with Santosh Kumar, could happen on a larger scale tomorrow and I do not think anyone needs to spell out what that would result in eventually! (Please feel free to suggest what measures can be taken to prevent such desensitization and numbing of emotions from happening!)



A day after the fateful Mumbai blasts happened on what is being called now “13/7” I was watching the news where I saw our dear Mr. Rahul Gandhi delivering a statement to the media, “It is impossible to stop bomb blasts. Who all will we check?”

As I pondered on this statement of his I thought it made sense. Yes, we are all angry. Yes, we all want viable results and soon. But it is indeed a bloody difficult task to keep a constant vigilant check in a country with a population of 121 billion and growing! He is partly right. Who all will we check and where all will we check. Maybe in organized places we can, for example in a place like a mall, or Dilli Haat or an event happening etc. It is possible to keep checks on such places for there can be a tab kept on who is entering with what and with whom. But in places like open markets like Zaveri bazaar for instance, Opera House, or a Lajpat Nagar in Delhi or a Hazratganj in Lucknow, there is no particular entry or exit point. Where will we check? Who will we check? How will we check?

But a while later, I realized that while this statement does seem valid enough, it is, in all probability, merely an excuse being used by the government to cover up their backsides. The most in-our-face example we all know, is the case of 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in the US and what they did afterwards. They got their act together and how. One such failure, one attack and results COULD be seen. The attack employed the use of an aeroplane which flew into the building that unfortunate day – any particular entry point or exit point there? Not really. But, the US took measures, conducted rigorous investigations and rounded up the guilty (often even not so guilty for which they received much duly deserved flak) but the job was done.

However, let’s take a look at our nation now. The Varanasi blasts, the German Bakery blasts, the September 2008 serial blasts in New Delhi which was followed by the famous 26/11 terror siege in Mumbai – these are just few of the many, many blasts our country has witnessed over the years. Every time, innocent people suffer, anger simmers, people demand action, and authorities do a little something under public pressure, and while time moves on, the cases hardly do. How many cases can we say have been satisfactorily solved? Can we truly say our government and the concerned authorities have taken concrete steps to prevent further bomb blasts?

More so, when one hears jokers like Digvijay Singh make outrageous statements like “This attack (the 13/7 Mumbai serial blasts) has come after a gap of 31 months. Mumbai police is doing a good job,” and realises our dear leaders have no shame whatsoever; one feels even more discontented and livid. Instead of taking tangible steps like bringing about effective police reforms, bringing into place the Citizen Intelligence Network (CIN) a proposal to make ordinary citizens part of the intelligence gathering process [Refer to the TOI story ] and speeding up the hearing of such cases and ensuring that appropriate, effective and prompt punishment is meted out to the perpetrators, the government is sitting on its backsides banking on the ‘short lived memories’ of citizens and feeling comfortable in making statements like Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram made about there being no intelligence input about the Mumbai blasts but conversely adding that it was not an intelligence failure. Then whose failure was it Sir? The man who lost his livelihood thanks to his shop at Zaveri bazaar being reduced to smithereens due to the blasts, or the child who failed to foresee that he would lose his father if he went out to buy flowers at Kabootarkhana that evening, or then the woman waiting for a bus at Opera House to go back home after a long, hard day of work who is now battling for her life in the hospital?

And while, politicians scramble to cash in on the anger, resentment and outrage among the citizens trying to instigate communal passions (such as Janata Party President Subramanium Swamy did through his piece published by DNA on Saturday on ‘How To Wipe out Islamic Terror’) by suggesting stupid, ridiculous and contemptible solutions as this ‘gentleman’ did, what we need is to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to such people and concentrate on forcing the government to take suitable measures to deal with the issue of terrorism and not use it as another ploy to build vote banks and seize power. The unrest among people after 26/11 spun the authorities into action but soon, the simmering anger cooled down and people settled back into their monotonous existence, and so Kasab is still around and justice has yet not been delivered. We need to continue with the pressure and only then can we expect results. Otherwise, we can submit ourselves to the idea that this will continue to happen.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Aastha Katyal

As Indians who have strong family values and bonds -we know there is nothing worse than a family torn apart.
When a man or a woman is jailed, given a strict term such as life imprisonment or a death sentence, we
seldom think of the families they leave behind, if any. In case of notorious criminals and rapists, we hardly have any pity. “They got what they deserved. They asked for it.” Maybe, they did. But what about those who are imprisoned for nothing? What about those who are given strict sentences by the court for absolutely no fault of theirs, the judgement being based on ridiculous “evidence” and false, fabricated details?

Yes, I am talking explicitly about Dr. Binayak Sen, no one else. His case has grabbed so much of media attention over the past two months, ever since the Chattisgarh court sentenced him to life imprisonment on charges of sedition, his crime being a Maoist sympathiser.

What he had actually been doing, in fact, was his duty as a doctor. He had been treating Maoist leader Narayan Sanyal’s hand, in jail, under the supervision of the jailor and with his permission. It was during this time that he has been said to act as a courier between Sanyal and Piyush Guha, a businessman, and as a carrier of letters of correspondence between the two.

Dr. Sen, who is the General Secretary of PUCL [People’s Union for Civil Liberties], has been active as a human rights activist, working in the backward regions of Chattisgarh, for the tribals’ benefits. A documentary made by the acclaimed filmmaker Anand Patwardhan shows how he was among the few doctors, who worked in the back of beyond for the tribals and other locals of the state, in a hospital, that obviously did not pay him in gold, and yet he continued to strive for the welfare of his patients, often foregoing meals, carrying his young daughter with him to work, simultaneously looking after her.

A talk by Mrs. Ilina Sen, his wife, brought tears to my eyes and enraged me at the ridiculousness of his trial and the miscarriage of justice by the judiciary and the police – our supposed caretakers.

A few facts everyone must know with regard to his case, the trial and the judgement, something which the media refuses to pick up, discuss and debate:

a) The Judge was changed thrice. Not once, but thrice. And the Judge who ultimately gave the verdict was on probation.

b) The police in two of their documents submitted to the court mention two different places of arrest for Piyush Guha, something which instead of being looked into by the Judge, is brushed aside as a typing error!

c) The police did not come themselves to arrest Dr. Sen but when he got to know the police was going to be coming for him, he went himself to the police station to enquire into the matter and was thus arrested. Whoever has heard of a Maoist going himself to surrender to the authorities?

d) The police broke into their house and picked up minor, ridiculous details and tagged them to be anti-national or anti-governement. For instance, Ilina Sen, Dr. Sen’s wife had received a forwarded mail in her inbox mentioning as an acronym ISI which actually stood for something completely different and referred to a harmless institute, but was taken to be Pakistan’s intelligence service, and thus Mrs. Ilina Sen was said to have links with the ISI!

e) The Sens had, in their home computer, files and junk like any other family would have. They also had mails in their inbox from friends – Hindus, Christians and Muslims alike. But every mail from any Muslim person was blown out of proportion and thus they were termed to be in correspondence with “terrorists” if you please!

f) An article in Open magazine, Volume 2, Issue 43 dated 31 January, 2011 by Priyanka Borpujari talks of how Aparajita, Dr. Sen’s younger daughter’s algebra notebook was seized by the Chattisgarh police, as they suspected it might contain Maoist code.

All these incidents not only highlight the sad state of affairs as far as the justice system in our country is concerned but also the ridiculousness of the police while gathering evidence, the clear manipulation of the court, the lax attitude with which this trial was approached, and the gross fabrication of evidence by the “lawmakers”.

All this constitute not even half of the atrocities committed by those in authority upon Dr. Sen and his family in the process of his trial.
While the media has its own reasons of not covering these aspects of the matter – be it editorial policy or vested interests (we all know what they might be!) – these points are not known to the millions of people out there who are being fed the gov
ernment propaganda as far as the case and its details are concerned.

Dr. Sen too is a family man, and while I would never appeal to the public to consider such things for any other criminal, an important point to be noted is that Dr. Sen is NOT a criminal but a doctor, and a human rights activist who raised his voice against state atrocities upon common, vulnerable people through movements like Salwa Judum and Operation Green Hunt and thus is paying the price of his efforts. The mere fact that he has been given a sentence as harsh as life imprisonment for an offence which usually guarantees not more than 3 years of imprisonment is widely being speculated as an effort on the part of the government to shut him up.

I have seen personally the tears in the eyes of Mrs. Ilina Sen and her younger daughter Aparajita Sen, as the former spoke to us about these horrific acts of the government, the police and the judiciary and believe me, they are NOT fake. I have sensed the helplessness of a woman who has been fighting a battle for the truth, for her husband’s innocence against vile authorities for months and years now, and do not want her to give up. But a person can do only so much all on their own.

While she has the support of her friends, family, co-workers, and many renowned personalities like Mr. Anand Patwardhan himself, what she and the entire family needs is our support. We, the common people, need to wake up and fight for Dr. Sen. We need to fight for the right, fight against the corrupt system that exists today, fight against the atrocities committed by the state and the police on common people. And this is a fight we cannot afford to lose, for today it is them, tomorrow it could be us!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Is Republic Day Really Happy?

“Who wakes people up at 7 am on a holiday?”

“Flag hoisting at 7! Are they kidding? Ek din toh sone do yaar

These are some of the various sentiments voiced by hostelites on the morning of 26th January as they wake up to go down for flag hoisting. You get the gist right? So, 26th Jan is just another holiday for people today, especially the youth, the “future” of our nation! The sentiment of patriotism is fast becoming extinct even as people just love cursing India’s bad politicians, corruption and inefficiency in the bureaucratic system, poverty, and other evils.

While I am usually a very patriotic person and feel myself welling with love for my nation every time I hear the national anthem, or the notes of vande mataram ring in my ears, or just a positive thing about the nation, and never miss a chance to tell my friends how I am proud of being an Indian and would never trade with anyone else, this year I am not feeling all that proud. This could be because of the string of scandals that shamed our country internationally last year (CWG, Raida Tapes, 2G scam), the inefficiency in our system screaming out all of a sudden to be noticed by one and all, the new level of lowness our country explored this year in various ways – all this just astonished me!

I was speaking to Binayak Sen’s daughter the other day, trying to get the true picture of what was his role in the entire matter, and she told me about how he was simply fulfilling his duty as a doctor by treating Narayan Sanyal, in keeping with his Hippocrates oath, and was not trying to represent Naxalites or their interests. Arrested on the accusation that he was acting as a courier between Piyush Guha (a businessman linked to Naxalites) and Narayan Sanyal, Dr. Sen was actually conducting treatment sessions with Sanyal, with the jailor’s permission and under his supervision.

She related the tale of how her father was framed by authorities over the “salwa judum” movement which prompted the authorities, encouraged by Multi-National Corporations (who were seeking profits) to clear out tribals from their own land for the MNCs to reap the benefits of that land. It was those tribals interests that Dr. Sen was representing, through his organisation People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).

It is simply very scary how Corporations are in cahoots with authorities responsible for our welfare, and how they are together exploiting our interests for their profits. An innocent man is behind bars so some big companies and a few politicians can fill their already overflowing coffers with more money.

This fact has prompted me to think how good a republic are we? A republic is a state in which people or a significant portion of them retain supreme control over the government. The word “republic” is derived from the Latin phrase res publica , which can be translated as ‘a public affair’.

But what have we here? We have a bunch of administrators and the ever powerful, profit crazy corporates, busy indulging in personal affairs with a damn-all attitude towards public affairs.

So here’s something for all of us to ponder over as we ‘celebrate’ our 61st republic day. Is India a republic in its true sense? Or are we fast losing the essence of the word and moving towards a scary future for the people of the country?

Books of the MILLENIUM!

It is sad but a fact that we reside in a cruel world – one filled with twisted human beings who are numerous shades of grey. This statement has never been highlighted with greater intensity than by the Millennium trilogy – a set of three books written by Swedish journalist and left wing enthusiast Stieg Larsson.

The man has brilliantly penned down a blend of fiction and fact, sticking to a world he is most familiar with, rather than venturing into unknown arena. Genius and enthralling reads, the books - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest - were published posthumously as Larsson passed away in November 2004, soon after delivering the manuscripts of these three books to his publisher.

Larsson drew heavily from Astrid Lindgren’s children’s books and based the protagonist of his saga, Lisbeth Salander on Pippi Longstockings. The idea for the character came to Larsson when he was discussing with his colleague, Kenneth Ahlborn, how characters from children’s books would manage and behave if they were alive and all grown up.

The books trace the journey of Lisbeth Salander, a social recluse who has been declared of unsound mind by the social welfare bureaucracy. She is fierce, pierced and tattooed, bisexual and heavily independent. Yet, she is an enigma – she is a multilayered personality who will leave you shocked, outraged and impressed, all at the same time as each layer is peeled off, one at a time.

Salander meets a disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist who is one of the directors of the magazine Millenium, famous for its outstanding journalistic efforts. The character of Blomkvist was inspired by another Astrid Lindgren character, ‘Super Sleuth’; thus the nickname Kalle Blomkvist for the journalist. Together, Blomkvist and Salander embark on a journey which exposes scandalous stories, shocking secrets, deplorable acts, and appalling misdemeanors on behalf of people supposed to be caretakers. The books are undoubtedly for grown up readers, certainly not a fairytale read and compel one to reflect on society and its dark realities.

The saga raises a variety of issues – cruelty towards women, corruption among authorities, propagandist agenda, appalling manipulation, and exploitation of basic human and civil rights. It forces one to not only ponder on these issues but also the multi - faceted monster that is society.

The characters are so well rounded and etched out so perfectly that one tends to forget it is fiction one is reading. Larsson’s feminist world view is what probably encourages him to sharply criticize Sweden’s misogyny and discrimination against women in the trilogy.

The books have enjoyed tremendous success in a very short while. The trilogy was in fact translated into 12 languages and sold over 6.5 million copies.

If there is ever a set of books I would heavily recommend, swearing my life upon it, it’s the Millenium series. Definitely a must read, a worthwhile read.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, who Played with Fire and Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is indeed someone you would want to encounter!

A Heavenly Bond or Earthly Desire?

It is very common practice in society today to mind other’s business rather than our own. People, men and women alike, love to rip apart someone else’s life, their decisions, their actions to contemplate on what could be the possible motive and then the consequence of everything they say or do, and also whether it is right or wrong. And God forbid if it’s a celebrity that too of an international stature. Has anyone even thought of who WE are to pass judgments on others?

Even as the 84 year old magnate Hugh Hefner, the multimillionaire responsible for Playboy – a magazine which satiates our basest instincts – has gone ahead to satisfy his own desire to be formally committed to Crystal Harris, his 24 year old girlfriend who used to model for Playboy, the international forum has gone berserk pondering on whether the relationship is based on pure love or materialistic desires. While it is true that the speculation may be fuelled by the many instances in the past where a young woman has married a much older man for his money, is it stupidity to think that this case might just be different?

But it’s difficult now to think that materialistic desires do not overwhelm our innate affection for someone, our very basic desire to be with them no matter what. This is further fuelled by cases where men and women get together purely because of material wealth or when a woman is not given in marriage to a man who is not “wealthy enough” to support her financial needs. While financial support is necessary but is there no value of a bond that is as old as civilization? Nowadays, couples tend to break up over non-issues like property or money so often that it leads people to wonder about the sanctity of marriage as an institution.

On another note, don’t Hugh Hefner and Crystal Harris have a right to take decisions of their own accord, whether they are for materialistic or passionate reasons? Just because Hugh Hefner is an international figure does not give a right to tongues to wag about what possible motive could be behind Harris accepting Hefner’s proposal. Even if Hefner proposed to Harris for her outer beauty and Harris accepted because of Hefner’s wealth and influence, it is entirely their business and their decision. Their step of committing to each other to the extent of legalizing their bond in the eyes of society is only being undermined by these petty speculations. It’s a case of the devil or the deep blue sea. They bite the dust if they choose to opt for a largely socially acceptable form of union that is marriage or then face conjecture about their seriousness to each other if they choose to merely live-in together.

Don’t you think it might do us a world of good if we focus on our personal selves more; engage in some self study and self improvement rather than suggesting ways of how others could improve their lives!

Maybe it is true after all – ‘Kuch toh log kahenge logon ka kaam hai kehna’!