Monday, December 31, 2012

Damini,Nirbhaya,Amanat-- What's in a name?

The media center of the Delhi Police Headquarters adorns a dated picture of three female police personnel trying their hands at the  pistol, perfecting their shot, dressed up in a traditional sari and gearing up to tackle with any unforeseen challenge. If only it was not just a picture but perhaps more than it...... I guess the frame itself speaks of the fallacy that mars the very system that should have given every citizen a sense of security and care.How ironical too when the general atmosphere is rife with talks on gender sensitization, gender equality even enabling women with self-defense techniques.

It was for the first time in decades when the general public was so enraged to an extent that it decided to barge into the President's residence going as close to its gates, braving water cannon, lathicharge, going over board be it barricades or having a face-off with men in khaki and their counterparts from CRPF. As I stood at the India Gate on 23rd trying to make sense of the frenzied youngsters,who were shouting slogans, resisting the attempts of the police which was trying to evict the place of protesters at any cost, there came a couple with their young daughter, hardly 2-3 year old,in the laps of her father holding out a placard "I am your daughter,save me from getting raped", as I looked into the eyes of the toddler who was probably unaware of the message she was trying to give, her parents with a dogged stare of anger and determination to seek answers from those in power and not letting them go easily at least this time. "usko bachaya?", shouted another young girl as a woman constable tried to catch hold of her and stuff many others like her in a DTC bus, the simmering aggression against a failed state was palpable and evident in ways more than one- most of the women protesters refused and warned any lady constable from touching them, a random gesture that spoke of the abhorrence they bore for the Police, some of  the male protesters deflated the tyre of that bus, others trying to get under the bus in an attempt to evade the police;  as I approached another group of teenage girls looking anxiously here and there, I asked what happened, apparently the police had taken away a female protester and her fellow mates were having heated arguments with the senior officers, one of them came up to me, clinched on to my jacket and said,'I can't find my sister', before I could react there was another wave of push-and-pull; a woman with teary eyes and disheveled hair was being taken away by police this time, that face looked familiar I thought, yes I had spotted her at Jantar Mantar at the time of Anna's rally in August this year. Even protesting is a profession??Those notions were to fall flat as the day progressed churning out events that left those in the polity and onlookers like me thoroughly bewildered.

She did not need the label of 'Damini, Nirbhaya or Amanat', the fact is that she was one among us and the horrific fate she met with could have befallen anyone who had boarded that bus from Munirka bus stop on the night of 16 December. It is this feeling of oneness that has brought thousands protesting on the streets of Delhi. Its very usual for a commuter to board similar white colored green line buses many a times,the only option available when a DTC bus is not available for your destination readily, and yes preference of going out with a male companion or colleague is not only for the sake of company but also from the practical point of view a safe and best thought option. All those thoughts of being cocooned from any untoward incident received a jolt as the details of the incident unfolded, its bestiality throwing one's senses into a state of numbness, chucking an iron rod into someone's body is not something even hardened criminals have been heard of doing,these six were  regular men for that matter,with the main accused Ram Singh known for frequent brawls in his area.An entire nation of a billion population wants him and his five accomplices to be hanged, and save that punishment for any perpetrators of as heinous a crime as rape for future miscreants.Whether death sentence can deter the occurrence of crimes is debatable, in this case it would prove to be a means of satisfying those looking for vengeance and some sort of reprieve from the current emotional upheaval.

Criminal Amendment Bill 2012 is pending in the Lok Sabha, two Commissions have been constituted, fast track courts been set up, additional patrol vans and a home guard in buses , these are some of the assurances been doled out by those in the govt. Unfortunately it has failed to assuage the people who want something substantive and in their marches and candle light vigils they are probably trying to say, " Dear govt, please act, for god sake please swing in action this time around, don't wait for a muhurat, honor of women is still being ravaged in and around the country, take steps swiftly so that our faith is restored in you after an infinitely long gap". As I held out the mike for a bite, a young man probably in his twenties, panting already exclaimed in an emphatic tone that he was here since his sister works in a BPO and that he would urge all others to join in.

Coming back to the flashing images of last Sunday when the boom sound of a tear gas shell became a perpetual refrain for the ears, when the AAP party members also joined in the protests and this is certainly not an allegation but as evening drew near, one could make out the lumpen elements in the crowd who had also made their way into the crowd at the India Gate, one such group tried to pull out a driver from a police jeep, another pelted stones, yet another roughed up Sandeep Dixit, there was no dearth of genuine protesters but their spirit was being dampened by hoodlums who even resorted to putting on fire mounds of wooden planks, hurling abuses at Sonia Gandhi, by 6:30 it was absolutely chaotic as we rubbed our eyes out of sheer irritation caused by tear gas shells, a wave of men and women ran helter-skelter, many breaking the rather fragile barricade of iron net fencing the adjoining garden in a bid to save themselves from the fury of the police. While the scene was flushed off with protesters, that broken slipper, and posters & placards now lying astray still echoed the sentiments of a movement which despite being an urban phenomena registered its presence in our conscience forever. Before the day culminated with this mayhem, I also met a man who had come all the way from Muradabad to tell a tale. Allegedly, his brother's wife was abducted and raped by few men, whom he stated had relatives in the Police and despite repeated letters to the mighty & influential that included the PM, NCW (National Commission of Women), Lal Krishna Advani, NHRC (National Human Rights Commission), a copy of which was shown to me, no action had been elicited so far. While recording his bite and as the camera person made block shots of his set of letters, I realized how the Delhi's incident had actually allowed so many smothered voices to share their anguish, for yes the channels and media in all its form focused on crimes against women like never before.

But as the momentum of protests refuse to die down across the country, there is a dose of introspection needed even by the protesters. If only they are driven by a firm ideology henceforth, their efforts shall never go in vain and street protests will not fizzle out with the passage of time. And what is that ideology going to be? Revving up this campaign in a fashion that encompasses gender sensitization to be administered at a very primary level, revamping that 'dented & painted' mindset and converting this process into a sort of feminist movement lasting for decades reaching out to even that small town girl who has been trained to dress adequately with dupatta drawn over her chest to avoid unwarranted gaze at the wrong spot, shall I say when jeans and skirts are not considered an anathema in society into that heaven of freedom let the men of my country lay awake!

India's Daughter from Balia has unconsciously raised a stock of questions that expose the wobbly state of affairs in terms of preempting a crime, to plugging the loopholes in the safety net of the general public, all such questions and their offshoots need immediate address. Damini,Nirbhaya or Amanat call you may by whatever name, attention needs to be shifted from her to those belonging to her clan.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Is this not newsworthy?

Have a look at the poster above, it was being distributed at the Jantar Mantar last week as one passed by the otherwise crowded street, well its the nerve-center of protests which wore a deserted look on that day. A group of students huddled in a tent with some of them perched on top of what seemed like a stage were caught up in fiery sloganeering with some A-4 sized posters held close to their chests. Took a step closer to them to understand what was the ruckus all about, thought must be the usual Marxian philosophy triggering the dissatisfaction to an extent when the sheer impulses against the crony capitalists comes out often through protests, posters and what not.

No but this was not on the lines of preconceived notions. 12-year old Navaruna was kidnapped from her home in Muzaffarpur in Bihar on Sep 19, 2012 and even after 45 days since the incident occurred the Bihar Police seems to be clueless. With the initial probe headed towards the hollow premise of elopement it did not reach an acceptable conclusion after proposing the land mafia side of the story too. While the CM Nitish Kumar might be riding high on the populist notion of a ruler who has changed the face of a state considered to be backward and written off completely by the optimists, the fact is that lawlessness is something the state is yet to overcome. If one checks the stats available at the official website of the Bihar Police the trends are interesting indeed. From 1689 cases of kidnapping in 2001 the state has progressed to 3763 cases of kidnapping till September 2012, the only respite being that comparatively this figure is less than the disturbing figure, 4211 of 2011. It is the apathy of the police that has disrupted the structure of an entire family with Navaruna's parents leading lives bereft of normalcy. 

Even more disturbing is the fact that when some 20-30 studets of various educational institutes, the Delhi University, JNU, Indraprastha University, Sharda University, and few others decide to wage a battle on behalf of the helpless Chakravartys'(Navaruna's parents) the media doesn't consider it worth giving space in their anchor links or bulletins. And trust me, media bashing does not happen to be a favorite leisure of mine. But the larger question that looms is what it is that makes for a KHABAR  for the community of jholawalas and byte collectors. What it is that is tried to be achieved through the nauseating trend of panel discussions with 6-8 boxes on your TV screens giving a literal toss to your eyes, ears and brains! Why is Navaruna's story not newsworthy? Did she have to fall in a pit or pen drain of the capital in order to attract attention or perhaps highlight another issue of civic importance? 

Definitely the nation is not asking the answer to this question nor are the countrymen looking at the wider perspective as some stalwarts would like to suggest but Mrs. Maitri Chakravarty (Navaruna's mother) surely seems to have lost touch with the real world that doesn't hanker after her kidnapped eldest daughter with as much alacrity as expected. Meanwhile the younger sibling, Navrupa is getting accustomed to live with the ugly reality, bearing the burden of a society and its emblematic anchors spelling it out clearly - we don't care, we certainly don't.

(following is a copy of the letter written by the students to appeal to the Chief Minister of Bihar to look into the matter)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A duo turns into the Gamechanger

In one of his bytes to the news agency, ANI  another expose-man YP Singh shared his experience that not very long back, in 2007-08 when Anna Hazare used to call upon a press conference, only 2 reporters used to turn up at the venue. Things have truly changed in the past 3-4 years. And no today I'm not in a lashing out mode, scrutiny doesn't always bode well you see! And in a sense the duo of Arvind Kejriwal and Anna Hazare have emerged as the proselytizers of Indian Politics- the Omerta has been broken, new targets set, new course has been chosen and the entire political arena has been metamorphosed like never before. 

It was a byte yet again that took me to the house of a Judge of the Delhi High Court where another interesting incident happened. As we were preparing for the shoot, trying to figure out a perfect shot and so on, one of the servants of the Judge sahib approached us requesting to take his byte too with an explicable wish of his to appear on television. To give weight to his desire, he stated rather emphatically, 'aaj kal Annaji toh hamari baat rakh rhe hai" (Anna is keeping forth our viewpoint) thereby implying that if the saint from Ralegan Siddhi can take care of him what it is that makes us brush aside his views. It is this feeling of pride and self-respect elicited by the year old movement that has made Anna a hero among a certain class. 

If the guru had a noble idea of bringing in the Lokpal, his protege has gone a step further than him in taking a vow to change it all by nosediving into active politics. By weekly exposes Arvind Kejriwal has not only dared to point fingers at the high & mighty of the country he has kickstarted a new trend too. This means that perhaps all the leaders shall be careful to have a blemish free track record, their life which constitutes what on e may term as the public domain would have to have the seal of nothing less than safedi woh bhi Tide wali

Vadra, Ranjan Bhattacharya and Ambani are those surnames the elite prefers to speak about in hushed tones. Kejriwal's recent antics have proven them to be nothing less than slimebag who should be exiled immediately. Delhi's Constitution Club emerged as the akhara from where the Yodha (fighter) challenged brazenly the behemoths known as National Parties, finally a man with an Aam Admi topi if not the aam admi truly that way, has sent tremors across galleries of power. Rules of the game have been changed for sure, the latest player wants complete revamp and nothing else. 

At least a debate has been triggered, opposition space has been curbed the media has been compelled to introspect because after all the expose mechanism was something akin to them and not an activist and his army of civil society members. 

As I loitered yet again in August this year at Jantar Mantar trying to understand the sociological and psychological impact of such discourse I came to the conclusion that leaders are not necessarily churned out of a 'Lead India' campaign, you stumble upon them and their ideology bumps into your indignation, the consequences of this collision being good or bad depending on the end product. How much dissatisfaction, anger and frustration is building up inside a common man can be gauged through the conversation in this video  where discussion from the Lokpal drifts to the problems they face or have faced, the conversation going off the track completely. (on a lighter note just neglect the frame of the shot where public urinals might catch an eyeball or two)

Friday, November 2, 2012

A crude reality, be damned!!!

And that unwarranted violence erupted again,  the two seemingly divergent communities headed for another clash. For that matter these two entities have  for a long time since post-independence been wary of each other on numerous fronts. In midst of the Durga Puja celebrations it was Faizabad that was witnessing friction between the Hindus and Muslims yet again over what else the security of their religious interests. 

Allegedly while the procession being taken out by the Hindus was hampered, the shops owned by the Muslims were targeted and were gutted accompanied by looting in a planned manner, at least this is what the fact finding team of human rights organization, Rihai Manch has come to conclude. Interestingly before the news started pouring in on news portals and caught up with the scribes, my eyes were in fact glued to the Special series of CNN-IBN on the tradition of Ramlila. Isn't it an irony that the city of Faizabad that boasts of hosting the longest Ramlila (well, it has been going on for the past two years) failed to aid the residents of killing their own demons before the symbolic one. 

This sense of distrust and that perpetual vacuum is not an offshoot of recent past it has in fact become ingrained in our social system thanks to the efforts of the erstwhile rulers the British and their chicanery which ceased to fizzle ever since. 'Divide and Rule' a  political ideology that ensured the hegemony of the British, a fact so well corroborated in Maria Mishra's 'Vishnu's Crowded Temple'. In the 1880s in the backdrop of the National Movement gaining ground with the Congress playing a lead role, Muslims led by Aga Khan had begun to espouse the cause of what they believed to be moderate nationalism. In the year 1893 Bal Gangadhar Tilak a fiery nationalist brought into the public domain the idea of the celebration of the Ganpati Festival. The intention behind the enunciation of a new chain of festivity was to divert the Hindus from participating in Moharram processions which at that time had dancers and singers from the Hindu community adding on to the occasion. Thus progressivism eventually evolved into a pejorative in an attempt to consolidate a larger section that was oblivious of the institutional thought being imposed on them. And such designs worked for the British too when the MacDonald led National Government (1931-32) gave a nod to the provincial autonomy to the Muslims. This led to the coming into existence the 'Communal Award', electoral majorities carved out in Bengal and Punjab. 

Unfortunately the seeds sown way back continue to bear vicious fruits till date. Why this might not cause any ruffle among the broadcast community busy trailing the movements of an anti-corruption crusader these days, one needs to sit down and ponder how can such incongruities be taken care of now an din years to come. Yes, communal clash is a crude reality of Indian society which victimizes a particular class and its consequences are borne by another and yet it fades into the normal din as if its an acceptable trend in this country. Vetting the recent clashes shall reveal that somewhere exists a crevice which is utilized by the bellicose yet pseudo-nationalist to assert their antediluvian beliefs. And yet if you ever happen to visit the Sadar Bazaar and get to watch the Ram Barat taken out every year during the Navratri, the conveners shall lead you to believe that this procession that makes way through Muslim dominated area is intended to promote harmony among the two communities. If only the political puppets and staunch saffronites could lend an ear to what these people have got to say in the video below and if these words could have a reckoning beyond the limits of Baratooti Chowk, Old Delhi.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Kejriwal and his times

Kitne baazu, kitne sar, gin le dushman dhyan se, haarega woh har baazi jab khelein hum jee jaan se” went the lyrics of the 1989 not-so-popular film, Main azaad hoon. Protagonist, Azad played by Amitabh Bacchan hits out at the sorry state of affairs and lands up wrangling with none other than the baddies of our life, the politicians. Before being slammed by charges of being invidious, let’s make it clear that what lies at the heart of this plunge is to understand that yes our country is in fact witnessing a peculiar kind of churning, whether we are inching towards our ambitious goals of overtaking the world by 2020 or recapitulating back to the political tumults of the 70s is something which shall become clear with every passing day.

According to the journalist, Ashok Malik, the ongoing phase is in fact India’s share of gilded age when the robber barons and wily political honchos are being challenged publically like never before. America endured it in the years preceding 1900 and has been able to cover many loopholes ever since. Though, Chomsky might pop with yet another blooper committed by the helmsmen, thanks to the travails of the War on Iraq, not to forget the 2008 recession and growing joblessness among the American youth. Times here in India are truly charged up in a similar fashion. At the center of it all is a former bureaucrat who is the Indian avatar of Julian Assange, unleashing slurry of exposes and irregularities at every level, with both the National level parties landing in a soup like never before.

Turmoil like these is however not new for India, for quite long a phenomenon that has recurred is the emergence of a party by grouping of the Congress dissenters. JB Kriplani’s Kisan Majdoor Praja Party (KMPP) in 1951, Rajaji’s Swatantra Party in 1959, Jagjivan Ram’s Congress for Democracy (CFD) in 1977 and the more famous ones being the Congress (O) and Congress (R) in 1969 (with O standing for the old guard being led by Morarji Desai and R standing for the requisitionist or the loyalists of Indira Gandhi), these were factions that wanted to be released from the clutches of the Congress. Arvind Kejriwal in that sense seems to come with no baggage at all. He’s not here to settle any scores the rabble rouser is at the moment making the most of the OB vans to turn the electoral tide in his favor.

The vision statement of his party is nothing less than a soft board replete with many thought provoking stick-on leaflets. It talks about Direct Democracy, getting rid of red beacons for the wining candidates as also establishing the Lokpal, the original idea from where it all began. Now all this might give an ordinary citizen a high for a while one should know that handling the odds of a highly pluralistic society like India has never been that easy.And unfortunately the unnamed party's vision is nowhere near to suggesting the cure of all ills. His supporters might argue for some  more time as the process of building base at the grass root level has just begun. Fair enough only as long as the audience is not bored of the tamasha called public expose.

 So yes my mind does echo the concerns that Mr. Kejriwal should start pitching in his ideas on building the nation. A faint possibility might be that perhaps all that paraphernalia is being saved for the 2014 campaign, would be waiting for you signor IAC!

Arvind is the cynosure of byte collectors these days for the RTI revolutionary has a lot to spell out other than Kejri-leaks.  The only achievement of Kejriwal Inc. shall lie in breaking the omerta of the political circle, that being not to raise a finger at the Gandhi clan, it’s not even half the battle won. Remember our 24*7 channels have recently given us the food for thought, why not have debates in India in Romney-Obama style! Before we can really head towards that, political aspirants as also those who are veterans, you got to have some substantive policies, issues and remedial measures to debate upon. A Candy Crowley for that matter might be stupefied by the hilarious comments our political champs make about sensitive issues such as rape and denigrate women with their archaic outlook.

The battalion of muckrakers should also be aware of the fact that these are the times of coalition politics. Caste still dominates the voter's mind when his index finger is inked. Corruption might not be a relevant issue for every section of the billion population. So the troupe of Kejriwal would have to diversify their approach and harp upon offshoots of red tape, may be even a few unrelated courses too. Definitely, the guttersnipe has a long way to go,as the 3rd rate people watch in anticipation.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A movement unheard of….

Now that the dust has settled and Jantar Mantar finally gets a breather; well no one talks about the monument that has to be decked up for an annual tamasha, many questions come forth automatically. And no it’s not just about, the means and consequences, comparisons and future course; ever wondered why Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev emerge as the only icons of an anti-corruption movement? One can ignore for a while but not negate completely the fact that their all-India movements rest on a mass base that they cultivated when perhaps each was inhabiting a rather small territory, Ralegan for one and Haridwar for the other.

But this blog post is not dedicated to the twins of the civil society who take the very institutions of democracy for granted. They’ve not set a right example for sure. No wonder then that sepoy, K. Mutthu decides to perch himself atop a platform, 100 feet high just next to a telecom tower. The 35-year old thinks that perhaps the solution to his alleged harassment lies in taking a position which attracts ‘attention’.

Very few of you might have heard about the ‘Arya Dal’. As one treaded towards Jantar Mantar the site of revolution that swept the Netizens, preferably the middle class off their feet, there was someone else there too who away from the glare of janta and media wallas was trying hard to make a point.

They were just five of them squatted on a blue tarpaulin sheet that is more conveniently used by roadside stalls to shield against sun and rain. In a mad frenzy when every footstep was directed towards the venue where pseudo nationalism overtook merit of logical thought, no one cared, forget pause for even a second to understand what this group of five middle aged men was up to. ‘Arya Dal’ read the poster behind them, above that was the famous slogan pioneered by Lal Bahadur Shastri, ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’. Were they also a party to the Anna Lila voicing their concern against red tape? –N-O- came the instant answer, we are a separate movement!

What? Are you kidding me? You see on a serious note, something like a ‘movement’ can either be associated with our pre-independence days else it’s the copyright work of Anna & Ramdev Inc.

Five doesn’t make an impressive number when compared to thousands. Right. Hang on; the paper stuck on the lower bottom side of the same poster says that these men have travelled to Delhi from Etawah (U.P.) on a cycle. Some other supporters were also expected soon who were of course yet to cover a distance of 320 kilometer on a cycle. Eagerness to decode this mystery soon leads to their pamphlet which states the year of establishment as 1992. Since then this Etawah based group has been fighting for a variety of causes such as affordable higher education to village boys and girls, adequate compensation to farmers, corruption also being one of the many causes of their struggle.

Unfortunately they were not backed by an illustrious organization like IAC (India Against Corruption) which can infuse a populist notion in their Andolan. Devoid of a support mechanism in the form of social networking portals, funky badges, swaying tricolor, perhaps this unheard of group was paying the price of technology-related illiteracy. The very assembly point next to Jantar Mantar spoke volumes about their desperate efforts to make their presence felt.

But the riffraff and that also a disillusioned one would disqualify the efforts of an ‘Arya Dal’ within minutes. Stuff like this comprises of wonderful case studies; Goldspot failed when PepsiCo roped in bollywood celebs for promotion. And the absence of a marketable face shatters the very aspirations of the Arya Dal. This was just one such not-so-happening and media deprived movement which I came across there might be thousands others which die due to paucity of resources.

If only clones of Anna could be distributed across and each group might have utilized the associated clout in his chosen manner. 

Hmm, I could pitch in the idea of a food court at my work place! 

Paradigms of thought do not change with a movement, what needs to be changed is perhaps the growing moroseness throughout a complex whole called Indian society.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Where Indira Gandhi is India’s President!!!

(A special thanks to Sri Mukund Kant Mishra, aka Munshi ji who helped me to have a face-off with REALITY!!)

Among a ton of things that have its bearing from school life, a classic memory is that of the eternal essay – ‘Myself’. A chock-a-block composition, of rhetorical stuff comprising, personal details and famously ending on one’s ambition in life. Mine for that matter being – to become a doctor and serve humanity; focused and a rather crisp one! Those dreams however kept changing depending on what circumstances brewed at a given point of time.

I didn’t know what it is to be an individual without dreams till I visited this school….

Baraut is a qasba approximately 60 km away from the city of Allahabad. An assignment on RTE (Right to Education) required me to visit a few Prathmik Vidyalaya (Primary School) in the outskirts of Allahabad. The experience revealed the harrowing gap that exists between a government policy and its implementation.

Prathmik Vidyalaya, Beejapur (classes from 1-5) despite being into existence since 1963 got its building only in 1995. Thinking that there would be at least five classrooms if not anything else I was led into the premises that comprised of just one class, for if there were other rooms like the kitchen it was locked then. The only piece of furniture in that room was a table and 2 chairs for the shiksha-mitra (teachers appointed on a temporary basis across the state of Uttar Pradesh). Pupils sat on the floor the rug underneath defining the length and breadth of this temple of learning.

It was not a day marked with 100% attendance as the school had just opened. So there I was interacting with 10-15 students, boys and girls, trying to make out on my part what it is they want to do in their life. Mind you when one is talking about villages like Beejapur of Handia tehsil even aspirations come in small 250 gm packets called ‘means of subsistence’!

So while 8-year old Sunita was able to recite the whole poem ‘naya savera’ ask her what she wants to become in future and uneasiness is followed by a blank stare. Only when the masterni ji eggs on she nods her head saying that she would become like Madam ji. A cheerful Akansha unfortunately had no clue “aap bade hokar kya banoge?” while some of her classmates looked at me as if this was a question straight from Mars! No one had ever bothered them with this and here I was trying to wring a dry towel!

Sample this even on the strict parameters of prescribed norms this school didn’t fare any better:

¡  No boundary wall or fencing as per the RTE norms
¡  Only one functional toilet used by teachers, children usually go outside into the fields (separate toilets have to be ensured for boys & girls as per the Act). This was quite contradictory to the claim of 7 toilets
¡  No drinking water facility due to defunct hand-pump.
¡  Thin strength, students mostly sit on floors, no furniture other than chair and table for the teacher, No light or fan
¡  Shiksha Mitra (Kiran Mishra) confessed of shortage of teachers and no action being taken by BRC (Block Resourcement Center)

¡  Aanganbadi workers, Chanda Devi & Hansa Devi shared the abysmal state of affairs, how students take their share of panjiri and run away to their homes

It’s more on the walls than in reality and this school exemplified it like anything. 

Hoping to see a better picture I headed towards a private school in the area just a few kilometers away from this Prathmik Vidyalaya.

‘Tulsi Sansthan’ caught my attention due to the sheer infrastructure which was far better than the previous site of visit. 

At least students had benches to sit, keep their books and write. There were specific classrooms for each standard, well-lit ones and the school was in the process of installing a generator soon. There were dreams for sure as class 7th students mumbled out words like IAS, Doctor and so on. Yes there were shortcomings too especially on the front of awareness. No longer than Sunil (class 7th) said that Indira Gandhi is India’s President, my shock was overtaken by the haplessness of the teacher who just a short while ago was boasting about the quiz conducted on a regular basis solely intended to keep the students UPDATED!

Archived info and that too flawed one was an eye opener once again bringing forth several questions about the education system in India.

Fact sheet is as given below:

¡  No order has been received regarding 25% reservation under the RTE for students belonging to economically weaker section
¡  Annual exam is preceded by regular test
¡  Extra-curricular activities in the form of games and several Pratiyogita on special days such as 15th August & 26th January
¡  Pracharya Maniram Upadhyay and faculty member Ramkrishna Mishra – boast about 100% attendance; reservation to disadvantaged group as per the norms
¡  Class 7th student Sachin Mishra wants to become an IAS while Meenakshi wants to become a doctor; dreams fortunately thrive in this private institute of learning

By the way do check out the official site where the govt. boasts of several of its accomplishments. If only these facts and figures could match with the harsh realities of ground zero. Even better, why not devise a new gauge-meter that could categorize primary schools on the basis of their ability to churn out building blocks making up the much-hyped Demographic Dividend. Till then let’s accept that Indira Gandhi is indeed India’s President and all those kids hailing from the heartland want to become like Madam ji. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The panting & trundling Indian Elephant

It was in April this year when economic advisor, Kaushik Basu’s statement about Policy Paralysis stirred a storm. The ruling UPA government crippled by the very dharma of coalition was in no mood to take responsibility for the messed up state of affairs. An obvious aftermath of the Kaushik’s hullabaloo was the retracting from his statement in a bid to pacify the opposition. The cat had however already slipped out of the bag.

After all the melodramatic series of scams being unearthed looked desperately for a vent to give expression to the pessimistic notion. Markets and economy for that matter is solely not only the game of numbers, both in fact have a bearing with sentiment too. The sordid trail of humongous embezzlements of the public exchequer, the Adarsh scam, CWG scam, and the mother of all scandals the 2G scam and its evil twin, the Nira Radia tapes slapped the economy like anything. One of the immediate impacts of such national embarrassment is the hesitation of institutional investors. Scams and that too with such stupendous velocity and volume reflect loopholes in governance and the growing environment of volatile markets does not form the trading universe of any wise man on this earth!

And thus the not-so-favorable Global Financial Integrity report 2011 rustled just a few leaves as the other disasters followed soon. Did someone just say GDP and the related fiscal deficit? How much I wished a tenner out of my pocket would have rewarded that contention! These are dangerous times of inflation you see!

There are strongly opinionated individuals who believe that Pranab Da is best suited for Raisina Hills as his performance in the North Block as Finance Minister has turned out to be an abysmal one. This was more than evident when the fiscal deficit of India (the excess money spent by government with respect to its income) amounted to 5.7% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2011-2012. Soaring expenditure coupled with lower tax collections have led to this acute crisis. The government intends to limit the fiscal deficit to 5.1% of GDP in 2012-2013 by initiating control over the subsidy bill. This isn’t going be that easy for some disturbing figures are here to steal the sleep of Mr. Mukherjee’s successor. Under the aegis of the subsidy bill the government has already incurred Rs. 68,481 crores in 2011-2012 on oil subsidy as against Rs. 38,371 crores in 2010-2011.

Dismal GDP growth of 5.3% in the first quarter of 2012, which was the lowest in the last nine years paved way for the climax when credit rating agencies swung into action. “BRIC’s Fallen Angel” that’s how Standard & Poor chose to address the problem. Everything was pinpointed in blunt terms – right from slowdown in government decision making to archaic land acquisition laws to even mentioning the impediments being imposed on the ambitious investment of $ 12 billion by Korean steel maker company, POSCO. Ingenuousness ruled the roost as fingers were pointed as the sole power being vested with Sonia Gandhi who in reality held no cabinet position and our able Prime Minister being reduced to a stooge.  

PMS (acronym for our endearing PM Manmohan Singh) came into the savior mode for sure on June 4th as he came forth with the 40-point solution at the CWC (Congress Working Committee) meeting. All eyes are now set at the infrastructure reforms that the government seems to push through in the sectors of coal, power, railways, highways, ports and urban development including the Metro. Many of these projects hinged on the PPP (public private partnership) model are facing bottlenecks currently on several fronts. With even FICCI pressurizing the Center to come up with stern reforms, it would be worth watching how the stalled projects are escalated in times to come.

For the time being the FB page of Dr. Manmohan Singh seems to be providing with oodles of hope as he seeks support from all political parties (a statement that followed soon after his return from G+20, Mexico and Rio+20, Brazil). Hope that turns out to be a juncture of enlightenment for obstreperous ally like TMC (Trinamool Congress). Come on Mamta Di the entire country waits for your haan (yes) over the issue of FDI in multi-brand retail!

Then what about the triumphant Indian elephant that was being touted to lead the entire world? Is it panting and trundling already? At least the bearish ratings of Moody’s and Fitch fromstable to negative seem to suggest so. One’s mind however drifts to the days when there were stories galore about India’s demographic dividend. A nation might be spilling over with productivity in terms of labor (skilled labor is still a matter of concern though) but snail-paced economic growth puts a lid on all those positive vibes. An enfeebled rise of 0.1% in IIP (Index of Industrial Production) in April after a contraction of 3.2% in March goads the government to come up with NMP (National Manufacturing Policy) – if one vows by it then NMP in a bid to boost the manufacturing sector aims to create 100 million jobs in the coming decade. Experts are already declaring it as political fantasy on the lines of Great Leap Forward (marvelous reforms introduced in the Chinese economy from 1958-1961).

In these times of stagflation perhaps we should wait for India’s gilded age (a period in the US between 1865-1900 marked by high growth and high corruption) to come to an end. ‘R’ shall not definitely spell out for ‘R’BI cuts in interest rates but perhaps would lead to leadership of a President like ‘R’oosevelt who pulled an entire country from the shackles of purblind folly of therich men in 1901. Unblinking gaze of the public shall at the moment follow every movement of another ‘R’ – the Race Course Road.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Amritsar – Mrs. Gandhi’s Last Battle

(Viewpoints based on book)

Events imbued with the potency to change the face of mankind are often preceded by occurrences that reek of the inevitable. One can say this with conformity in the context of instances such as the Operation Blue Star, 1984. For some especially the Sikhs the world never remained the same and ascertaining their identity became a raging question ever since.

Amritsar – Mrs. Gandhi’s Last Battle authored by Mark Tully and Satish Jacob tracks moments of trepidation when the Indian state took stand against men of its own origin. Beant Singh and Satwant Singh the two bodyguards of Indira Gandhi had not only fired several bullets into her body their misdeed in fact was to snowball into a catastrophe of humongous proportions. Block-32, Trilokpuri was one such locality in Delhi that had to bear the brunt of harboring the Sikh population in hordes, which became the site of genocide at the hands of the rioters. Rahul Bedi a reporter of the Indian Express became a witness to the human slaughter lasting for almost 30-hours that ensued after Indira’s assassination. Figures are dreadful indeed with around 2717 people killed in anti-Sikh riots, among them 2150 had died in Delhi alone. As many as 50,000 Sikhs had fled from Delhi to Punjab in a bid to save their families from the wrath of the henchmen of Congress.

The environment also plays an important role when such vicious machinations are played out. The ambience just before Operation Blue Star was marked by the effort of Mrs. Gandhi to consolidate the Hindu vote bank, a sort of ‘revivalism’ if one may specify it. This was a unique thought in the wake of the fact that Congress had always harped on the minority support mainly the Muslims and the Dalits post independence. That the circumstances thereafter didn’t ascribe to Mrs. G’s aspirations unfolded in one of its crude forms.

Before one becomes acquainted with other characters of the story it is important to understand the basic tenets of Sikhism. The word Sikh means ‘disciple’ with the religion being firmly rooted in the teachings of its ten gurus, the first among them being Guru Nanak. Sikhism has a lot to do with Mysticism and is in fact a cautious combination of the good from Islam as it rests its belief on Monotheism; at the same it draws inspiration from Hinduism in espousing the belief of reincarnation and karma. For instance the very idea of Guru ka langar is an attempt to do away with the caste system prevalent in the community of Hindus. Perhaps it was with such conviction that the foundation of this religion was laid that even after forty years of Nanak’s death his followers continued to emerge as a group with a distinct identity. It was during the reins of Akbar that the Golden Temple came up in the city of Amritsar; Akbar was well-known for religious tolerance and giving space to each sect on that front. Trouble began when Jahangir locked horns with the fifth guru, Arjun Singh. The Akal Takht or the Eternal Throne inside the Golden Temple owes its origin to the efforts of Hargobind, the youngest son of Arjun Singh. Hargobind gifted the Sikhs with the tool of 5-Ks (kes, kangha, kada,kach and kirpan) that has helped this group of brave-hearts retain their individuality ever since.

That was 1699 when spat with Jahangir had happened and after that it was in 1984 when the Sikhs truly sensed an encroachment into their regime of faith and belief. Sikhs also look up to the contribution made by Maharaja Ranjit Singh who not only led an impressive army but also helped in setting up Amritsar as the center of trade, not to forget his crucial monetary contribution to the Golden Temple. The terrain was soon to be dominated with the fervor of the Gurudwara Movement (1920-1925) which in the backdrop of the Jallianwala massacre gained ground with enormous speed. This agitation also aimed to get rid of the malpractices and the corrupt mahants that ruled the roost in gurudwara in those days. The outcome was the induction of two prominent institutes that represent the contention of the Sikhs even today – the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee and the Akali Dal.

Even the Punjabi Suba Movement led by Master Tara Singh from 1947 till 1964 could not yield substantive results for some of the extreme Akali elements. Indira Gandhi once again succumbed to her way of dealing with the senior members of the rebellious Congress left behind by her father. Those conniving notions of Politics yielded to the Punjab Settlement and the emergence of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. Did the problems of the Akalis come to an end with this chapter? Not really!

Riding high on the populist notions of its people is the dream of any regional party and the Akali Dal was missing out terribly on this. It was this desperateness to cash on an issue which saw the Akali Dal Working Committee coming forth with the Anandpur Sahib Resolution in 1973. Few were far-sighted enough to realize that the insertion of stubborn demands into this resolution would be put to good use by the second lead, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.

As Bhindranwale took charge of the Damdami Taksal (missionary school for Sikhs), his soon-to-be bĂȘte noire Indira was looking for means to deal with the 1977 electoral defeat.  It was on the suggestion of Zail Singh, a Congress patriot that Sanjay Gandhi’s attention befell on Bhindranwale who had the ability to create fissures in the Akali Dal. Jarnail Singh’s outrageous call in 1978 to act as an impediment to the Nirankari Convention in Amritsar was the first example of the unbelievable audacity of this religious guru. Another ploy unfolded soon in the form of floating of the Dal Khalsa party on behalf of the Congress to aid Bhindranwale however the man himself denied claims of any association with the party.

It was a series of murders that made the situation more chaotic – the first one was that of Baba Gurbachan Singh (24, April 1980) of the Nirankari sect; the second victim of bullet shots was Lala Jagat Narain (9, Sep 1981) proprietor of ‘Punjab Kesari’ a broadsheet which was seemingly acerbic about Bhindranwale and his staunch viewpoint. As the wave of grave dissent began to blanket the atmosphere Bhindranwale was arrested on 20th September only to be released soon afterwards due to lack of evidence.  In the time that elapsed until 1983 all the labors on part of the Center to resolve the conflict went in vain, only the worse could have ensued with the voice of Akali Dal’s leader Longowal being replaced with the thunderous discourses of Bhindranwale who had started challenging Mrs. Gandhi openly by proclaiming. President’s rule in Punjab in 1983 was followed by the initiation of Operation Blue Star on 5th June, 1984. Men in uniform once again made their way into the holy shrine and in the confrontation that lasted for 48-hours even the Akal Takht with shells of the Vijayanta tank inducted into it, became an evidence of the friction between the radical ideas of one man and the State.

In an interview to the BBC during his lifetime, Bhindranwale talks about freedom of the Sikhs from the shackles of slavery. If indeed this was the noble idea behind kick starting am armed struggle against one’s own country then what was ‘that’ which came our way on August 15, 1947? As for Mrs. Gandhi she simply endured the wrath of flame that she believed shall emblazon her empire for another decade or so. Religion and Politics are inseparable in India however what disappoints the modernist is the implementation of ideas of the old school of thought even today. Rajaona and the related debate seem to be the manifestation of this archaic and shrewd center of power.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Curing the gangrene of Indian Railways – An Unfinished Task

Railway Budget 2012-13 is in news ever since its introduction in the parliament more for its political ethos than the figurative nuances. Out of several unprecedented instances associated with this year’s budget the outstanding ones include like the one with the highest ever plan outlay amounting to Rs. 60,100 crores., a budget replete with plans and models to revamp service with a special inclination towards safety and a railway minster being sacked immediately after proposing the budget on the floor. It has been hectic not only for Mr. Dinesh Trivedi, erstwhile Railway Minister but also for the public that seems to be more confused than ever.

Let’s begin with answering a few questions – are you truly and wholly satisfied with the train journey whether it is weekly, monthly or restricted only to special occasions, do you really feel safe and protected once on board the train till you reach the destination; ever tried logging on to the official website viz.     and was stuck up for more than usual thus making the online reservation look like an extremely dogged effort. Perhaps what hits one at this stage is the number featuring veteran actor Ashok Kumar from the movie Aashirwad (1968) that goes something like this – rail gaddi, rail gaddi, ruk ruk ruk…..a rap like song that idolizes train as an awesome entity, the chuk chuk gaddi!

If the reply to the aforesaid questions is intended to take the route of negation then perhaps this is the right time to surf through some of the key points highlighted in the budget this year. The one aspect that caused a stir and unnecessary brouhaha was the hike in fares that included AC chair car, AC 3-tier, AC 2-tier and AC first class; this also included suburban trains, mails and express trains. Let me put forth it something like this if AC- 3 fare from my hometown Allahabad to Delhi is Rs. 723 then according to the budget as was proposed by Mr. Trivedi a 10 paise per km hike would mean that the fare payable would come to around approximately Rs. 786, in other words an increase of almost 9% which would definitely vary on different routes depending upon destination and distance between stations. Indian Railways is the lifeline for this country with track stretch of 1,14,500 kilometers and connecting 7500 stations making it the fourth largest railway network in the world. In case you’ve already begun gloating over those wondrous stats here’s the dark ugly thing waiting for you – 15,000 people lose their lives annually in India owing to railway accidents alone. Thus, 41 people a day succumb to this bizarre massacre known as Rail Yatra!

Do I really mind in that case paying 63 extra bucks in the name of safety for the sake of my own life? You might have guessed my riposte by now.

In case you still seem to harbor the notion of me trying to circumvent your contention in any manner especially in a bid to beat the sympathy wave that Mamta Di seems to be drowning her into, here’s more grist for you. Interestingly this year’s railway budget seems to draw inspiration to a large extent from the Kakodkar Committee report and Pitroda Report. A cursory glance at the findings of these reports would bring forth the dire state of our railways and the need to fasten our seatbelts for some immediate reforms.

In ‘The Argumentative Indian’ Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen has rightfully drawn the loquacious habit of Indians in the right perspective. Vetting this trait from a different angle shall intimate about the importance and impact it has had over centuries. Substantive examples in this respect include lady scholar Gargi displaying feminine grit and intelligence by directing questions at Yajnavalkya in Brihadaranyaka Upanisad. Another exemplary figure in this regard is that of Draupadi whose instigation of King Yudhisthira paved way for The Mahabharata.

Needless that same ability to express it all with the flow of words and that too at the most opportune moment can avert some of the biggest disasters, our verbose ability you see! While Anil Kakodkar has not chosen to stand on rooftops and shout on top of his voice apprising every one of the pathetic state of the railways the report confirms every far-fetched dreadful thought. Our beloved Indian Railways has been criticized in the report as an organization that needs to be decentralized and improve upon its rigid hierarchical set-up, its finances need to be boosted up in all possible manners especially by moving out from the freight hike paradigm to passenger fare hike, induction of Railway Safety Authority (RSA) and recommendation to adapt an advance signaling system. Around 1,26,304 vacancies exist in critical safety categories and the Railway Recruitment Board needs to gear up to fill all those crucial job openings.

Aapki yatra mangalmay ho’ has been assured by giving the suggestion for total elimination of all level crossings whether manned or unmanned. This remarkable initiative would cost Rs. 50,000 crores and is intended to culminate within a period of 5-years. Money generation for these initiatives has been suggested by voicing the installation of a safety fund, money being poured into this fund via the safety-cess to be charged from the passengers.

It is in fact very unfortunate that every small or big thing that can be spiraled into an opiate of mass appeal readily becomes a subject of politicization. If someone out there has started swearing in the name of poverty line and the deprived class then who is going to guarantee their safety for the next decade. Agreed that we inhabit a country where people start running frenziedly towards the general compartment in order to secure a berth so much so that some don’t mind leaping over the emergency window of a moving train. But then their economic status needs to be taken care of by plethora of welfare schemes instead of burdening the railways with no-fare-hike tokenism.

Similarly the Pitroda Report unveils a roadmap of modernization of Indian Railways entailing a total expenditure of around rupees 8 lakh crores. Actualization of all those in-the-pipeline ventures was thought of and perhaps this is the reason why under the ministerial tenure of Dinesh Trivedi, efforts were made to reach out to Warren Buffet. Yup! Plans were in full swing to rope in the third richest man on earth to invest in Indian Railways by hopping on to the bandwagon of railway bonds. Alas! All those futuristic designs have been sent on the back burner and the railways allowed wreathing in pain with its age old gangrene.

As far as Trivedi’s successor Mukul Roy is concerned one can only snigger at his step to roll back the hike in fares. Well, politics has always enticed certain individuals more than people do and one can only hope the trend changes for better some day.