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.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Assembly Polls – Kya Khoya, Kya Paya!

A new book titled Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith by Andrew Preston has just found its way among bibliophiles. The book tries to ascertain political hues of America being mingled with religion with respect to its foreign policy. So be it Abraham Lincoln during Civil War or Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the course of second World War, they tried to cling on to the vine of religion.

Political manifesto in case of India has similarly fallen on the lines of caste, religion being just one of the other deciding factors. Assembly elections 2012 in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa were an eye-opener not only for the tamashbeen (spectator) but also for the tamashaiyee (players) themselves, the politicos. Sudden frenzy was created on the eve of counting by the CNN-IBN-THE WEEK-CSDS Poll Survey which projected Mulayam Singh led Samajwadi Party (SP) to come out with flying colors in the assembly elections. While the projections speculated SP to turn out victors with estimated 232-250 seats, its rival Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was predicted to hit the low with a dismal 60-70 seats, Congress and BJP were obviously left to fight for the third notch in one of the largest states of the country.

The poll survey and the subsequent results that followed which were not far from speculations affirmed a lot many contentions. Firstly the regional parties have managed to build a stronghold in the entire terrain by bringing together respective members of castes under one umbrella alluring the masses via all sorts of popsicle, the national parties such as BJP and Congress need to sit down and ponder upon how to decrease the distance between their party booths and the jhopdi (hut) of a village dweller. Disenchantment from coalition politics and bidding farewell to fractured mandate seems to have been the ingrained notion amongst the nearly 60% who came out to cast their votes.

The second lesson comes in for the BSP that has portrayed itself from the days of its inception as the patrons of the Dalits. Unfortunately it is this group comprising of Kori, Dhobi, Pasi and most importantly Jatavas that has been consolidated by BSP as their crucial vote bank. Men and women belonging to these communities have faced humiliation being inflicted on them through generations; they witnessed the brutalities of the NMM (Nara Maweshi Movement) and henceforth have risen up as a politicized group in Uttar Pradesh. While little has been done for the uplift of this social block that seems to draw immense pride from the gigantic parks and statues erected throughout the state of its revered leaders, they were even happy with the token gesture of Kanshiram Aawas Yojana, BSP leader Mayawati drew further flak with NRHM scam doing the rounds. Cleansing act of tainted ministers didn’t do any good as also the ‘Sarvajan’ motto lost its sheen in this election season.

The third lesson is definitely for Congress especially in the wake of recent entertaining antics done by its prospective Prime Ministerial candidate, Rahul Gandhi. In its August edition, the Caravan magazine known for its unique genre of descriptive journalism had done a feature story on the IYC (Indian Youth Congress) and the zealous efforts of the members of this wing who bore ambition of putting the parent body back on track. What began with a bang right from the Bhatta-Parsaul incident ended up in a fizzle when its senior members like Salman Khurshid riled the Election Commission with his erroneous comments on quota for minorities, Beni Prasad Verma flared it all up with his pratfall, hinting towards a plausible Congress-BSP alliance.

Perhaps the Congress would be introspecting on ‘the house we blew down together’ at any of its forthcoming party meetings. Rahul Gandhi must be busy scratching his head what went wrong, he ate food at the poor man’s house, Rs. 6234-crore package was hurled as a bounty at the weavers (which in fact proved to be a pittance compared to their woes in the form of large amount of debts they owed to private money-lenders), tore the manifesto of SP at a rally yet failed to take the voter into his confidence. You see Mr. Gandhi those were the days of the 70s when sturdy and an aggressive Amitabh Bachan delivered adrenaline pumping stunts in his movies much to the delight of his audience, this is 2012 and the aam aadmi wants more than ‘zara sochiye’ campaign, it seems pragmatic that more than the janta (public) you need to do more thinking out there! A final word of caution to Mrs. Priyanka Vadera would be trying and stop enamoring with her graceful saris, even the Raibareilly-walas are no longer fascinated by it and try and do some substantive field-work round the year instead of last minute halla-bol-kind-of-romp!

Guess the dynasty politicos now turned into pariah would surely be mulling over BSP candidate Vedram Bhati giving a sharp defeat to his Congress counterpart, Dhirendra Singh in Jewar constituency that encompasses Bhatta & Parsaul villages. The fourth and last lesson is lying in store even for the winners, the Samajwadi Party that stunned the nation by claiming control over as many as 224 seats. Though they have rode back successfully to the inroads of the UP Vidhan Sabha (Legislative Assembly) on Kranti Rath, as also relying heavily on the M+Y (Muslim & Yadav) factor, hope it doesn’t fall prey to H+G (Hooliganism & Goondaraj) factor!

Moving over to the state which is often showcased in movies as the one with profound natural wealth, the lahlahate khet (green fields) being a symbol of utter prosperity. Punjab also bears the blot of being the bed of Khalistan movement in the 70s only to be stamped down by Operation Bluestar, the state gave strong jingoistic vibes in a bid to stand with the man known to the world by the name of Bhindranwale. What surprised everyone in case of Punjab was the return of the incumbent, the SAD (Shiromani Akali Dali) & BJP alliance. Mind you this is again a very sensitive territory where political frequency changes as one moves across the Malwa, Doaba and Majha region respectively.

Though the rebellious nephew of Prakash Singh Badal and leader of PPP (People’s Party of Punjab) Manpreet Badal seemed to be a potential threat yet all those thunderous claims seem nothing more than snowballs to play around with. What adds on to the EQ (entertainment quotient) is the deliberate mum kept by Dera Saccha Sauda that possesses the ability to tilt the mandate through its vast number of followers. One thing is for sure, the Atta-dal scheme launched by Mr. Badal in 2007 on the occasion of 61st year of independence might not have changed the fate of the initiating party, the Congress it has surely brought in sweet fruits of not-so-much labor for SAD.

A sobbing and disgruntled Congress has two consolation prizes in the form of Uttarakhand and Manipur. Though, the tussle between Harish Rawat and the party regarding the selection of Vijay Bahuguna as the CM might have left a bitter taste of that dessert. As far as Manipur is concerned, one wonders if it would be worth celebrating for the 126-year old party. Not that I’m undermining the proposition of the state in any manner if only the newly sworn-in CM Mr. Okram Ibobi Singh can ensure that a devastating situation like that of the 120-day economic blockade won’t recur. By the way does anyone across the board care enough to reach out to Irom Sharmila with a morsel of food, she’s been fasting for the past eleven years and has been charged by the state for attempt to suicide!

The concerned court in Russia has dismissed the case to put a ban on Bhagvad Gita, what a wonderful occasion for the saffronites to celebrate. Barring the Goa victory which also seemed to be out of the blue moon, the RSS backed national party has otherwise few reasons to smile these days.  You see the entire troupe of signors is busy craving for issues, coming up with dynamically bold slogans such as ‘at the stroke of midnight hour when the world slept, India awoke to a fraud being played on its parliamentary democracy’, ew! That was during the Lokpal hungama! CM sahab, Manohar Parrikkar has a mammoth task at hand- not only managing the state and building a long-lasting good image of the party but also deal with the menace of illegal mining that made the headlines lately.

Undoubtedly 2012 has brought with it a time that coerces the political parties of India to delve into ‘Kya khoya, kya paya’ moment. In between the rough-and-tumble of numbers and analysis of vote banks lies the harsh reality, whether it is cycle ki sawari or hathi ki sawari, the voter wants to ride for sure unstoppably!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Arab Spring – More than just being Pro-Democratic

A common man takes to the streets when an absolute extreme has been reached and his voice has been suppressed for long. TIME magazine declared the year 2011 as the year that solely belonged to the protestor. Right from those who gathered in hordes in Tahrir Square to the ones who clumped up as they initiated the OWS (Occupy Wall Street) movement to our own version of rebellion that erupted in the form of Lokpal Movement, this was an unabated wave that simply refused to subside. It’s very tenor shook the regime giving rise to a new order altogether ushering in a change that was due for long in the Arab region.

“Let’s be realistic, demand the impossible”, these were the thumping words from the man who is often associated with rebellion at its best, yes, Che Guevara. Indeed it was the impossible that men and women gathered on streets were demanding, they wanted their rulers to pack their bags and looked forward to see the autocracy breathing its last. Tunisia emerged as the cradle of this revolution where it was self- immolation of an unemployed youth, Mohammad Bouazizi in December 2010 that sparked the first wave of protests. While Ben Ali the man at the helm of affairs in Tunisia fled to Saudi Arabia, the verve of protests crossed all barriers as it went viral literally!

Soon it was the turn of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt who had mistaken the chair of highest authority as his comfy cuddling zone wherein reins were being planned to be transferred to his son. Unfortunately Egypt was into the vicious grip of the ‘emergency law’ since 1967 with Mubarak pitching in through a coup in 1981. Jasmine revolution, the name being attributed to series of mass protests, owing to Jasmine, which is the national flower of Tunisia. President Abdullah Saleh, also witnessed the walloping after having the remote in hand of Yemen for 33-years. Panjandrums enjoying the liberty of callous Head of State were in for another shock when Muammar Qaddafi’s terrain was encroached upon by NATO forces in Libya the hurricane now surging towards Syria; it was March 2011.

Another nomenclature associated with this phenomenon is that of Arab Spring, the term drawing its inspiration from the classic Prague Spring of 1968. Even that was an attempt on behalf of Alexander Dubcek to democratize the asphyxiating system and be able to release pressure with respect to media, speech and travel in Czechoslovakia. However the genes of Arab Spring beg to differ from its parent wafture in that it was not solely aimed at merely acquiring the democratic status, it had more to it than what was visible to the naked eye.

While many might repudiate this contention holding the pro-democracy card close to their hearts, well, thanks to the orgy played by media, but yes it wasn’t just about majority rule. The four-letter word that fuelled and incinerated the masses was FOOD. Let’s take the example of Libya which has a population of about 6.4 million people and to feed them, Qaddafi’s erstwhile regime is compelled to import 500,000 tons of wheat flour as they don’t produce any wheat at all! Add to that tons of macaroni and pastry and about 1 mmt. of wheat. No wonder that makes Libya the largest wheat importer per capita, the barter revolving around export of oil and import of carbohydrates.

Dependency on grain imports follows similar trend when one moves to Egypt and Tunisia. Now a layman would be wondering what does that mean. For any country what matters the most is Balance of Trade which is calculated as the difference between the monetary value of exports and imports, now definitely large amount of imports would lead to Trade Deficit. That doesn’t surprise anyone when these facts are corroborated with a drastic increase in food prices. The food basket of households in such countries falling in regions of North Africa and West Asia is dear and has galloped even more over the past few years. According to UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), global food prices have surged by 83% on an average over the past decade.

Another perspective of this fiery debate has got to do with ‘financialisation’ of food that is reflected in the form of money invested on commodities. The food price index in 2011 reached the 233 mark crossing its deadly predecessor of 200 in 2008; food price index being the figure calculated by FAO that indicates the monthly change in international prices of a group of selected commodities. The deluge of facts & figures combined with the recurring events are in fact linked to each other. Very few of you might clearly remember that 2008 was the year that marked food riots in several countries like Somalia, Senegal, Latin America, Burkina Faso, Cameroon; Egypt and Yemen also being one amongst them. Perhaps your attention was caught up in the bloody mistake done by bankers in Europe that led to recession in that particular year.

Lethal weapons in this case turned out to be financial instruments of portfolio investment and speculation. Hyperinflation of food staples is majorly caused by influx of money into the commodity markets by institutional investors. Index Funds that had $ 13 billion invested in commodities in 2003 had reached to a whopping $ 317 billion by 2008. What is feared is the quadrupling of this figure to $ 1 trillion if Pension Funds allocate a large portion of theirs to the commodities which it would fall for readily, the insecurity being expressed by Sinclair Stewart and Paul Waldie in an article in the Toronto Globe in May, 2008. Thus the inadvertent and self-created ‘demand shock’ on one hand is responsible for starvation of millions while it swells the bank accounts of those who’ve invested and speculated wisely.

But then it hasn’t turned out to be a cinch even for Uncle Sam. As P. Sainath points out in a lecture being delivered at the Austin indymedia independent media center, a revelation being made by a report on Food Security on behalf of USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). 2009 in USA marked the year when highest number of people became victims of food insecurity such that one in every seven American household had difficulty in providing food to all its members.

One cannot help but recollect words from the song, Rayes Le Bled performed by Tunisian rapper Hamada Ben Amor who was later arrested for indicting Ben Ali of hunger in the country in his song.

“President of the Country
Your people is dead
People eat in the garbage
Look what’s happening in your country……..”

Arab Spring was a consequence of anger that was bred by factors of poverty, food crisis, unemployment and injustice by tyrants. In a post-revolt milieu what needs to be taken care of is that mistakes are not repeated again. Regulation of markets along with facilitation of basic amenities should not skip the mind of those who have just taken charge of the state. While Lebanon has gone for 40% increase in wages and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has given his nod, allowing women to vote and be elected in the forthcoming 2015 municipal elections, one sincerely hopes this is just the beginning. US and the European Union in the meantime would have to deal with implications of being mute spectators in the entire fray, barring the NATO intervention for sure, the world needs to seek a platform where issues are settled and not scuttled thereby enabling inequities of sorts to be ridden off forever. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

It was not just a routine scam

2G Scam was in many ways India’s version of the famously infamous Watergate Scandal. If the latter toppled the chair of Richard Nixon, the erstwhile President of United States of America, the former has emerged as an apostle of opprobrium to Indian Politics and Media alike. And herein lie no exaggerations rather trunk of utter deceit, maneuvering of public to gross personal interest and manipulation of rules to suit the quid pro quo arrangement that was put in place as a part of the well chalked out plan.

Former telecom minister, A. Raja is in fact just one of the faces of the multi-headed Hydra, the ominous creature having more heads, each driven with malicious intent to destroy the very fabric of so-called system. 2G Scam is one of its own kind in the history of scams in a country where flubbing away with resources belonging to people is a natural trait of those in power and commanding authority of some kind. Aren’t we used to seeing the wife and kids of a public servant exploiting the facilities being provided to him such as telephone, car, servants, etc. going out of their way to make sure that every penny being shelled on them is utilized to the hilt?

Mr. Raja in this case has turned out to be an exclusive public servant with credentials that would put many of his successors to shame in times to come. You see the moment he took charge of the telecom ministry the first thing the DMK party member did was to erase the concept of public interest from his record. Well, that was compulsory too since there were quite many parties he had to take care of during his (in)auspicious tenure, these being the private corporate players, some of the top honchos from the world of business and media, the lobbyist, people belonging to his own department and not to forget had to oblige the scions of the political party he represented. No wonder the man was overly burdened with responsibility that required him to bungle so much that he could not find a way out of the self-created labyrinth at the end of it.

CAG (Comptroller Auditor General) India has pegged the losses to the exchequer as a result of the 2G Scam at Rs. 1.76 lakh crore or $ 40 billion at current rates. For a layman who fails to understand the nuances of the misdeed, it refers to the loss incurred due to the under-pricing of the second generation (2G) spectrum. Telecom is one of the fastest growing sectors in India with the pace of development inevitably making room for the occurrence of blunders and not mere follies. This explains the proposition following which the concerned companies were handled out the same license for both GSM (Global System of Mobile) communications and CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) technology. The black-listed organizations also enjoyed the privilege of using more spectrum than what their license specified.

The very first charge sheet submitted by the CBI pointed fingers at the Attorney General of India, Goolam E.Vahnavati besides the canny lobbyist Nira Radia among 125 witnesses. This bizarre calico included doyens from the corporate hub as well, these being senior executives hailing from Loop Mobile India Ltd., Idea, Spice, Tata Teleservices and Videocon Telecommunications. While the ugly skeletons had just started tumbling out what one found difficult to grapple with is the way democratic ideals had been shrink-wrapped and sold away like sabzi-bhaji!

There is a term called, Maskenfreiheit that refers to freedom one enjoys in the garb of a mask, the word having an association with John Updike, that’s what he was fond of, hiding behind his characters! 2G scam also appears as a ballad where Maskenfreiheit seems to rein supreme with men and women squirming past each other, every individual looking forward to materialize his or her own vested interest. When Nira Radia tapes found its place in the public domain, the collusion between the mediawallas, politicians, lobbyists and corporate moguls didn’t flummox one as much as the extent to which the amiability existed between the conniving partners.

Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi are those faces of Indian media that influences youngsters in unimaginable ways, many aspirants who want to make it big in midst of crunching deadlines and mounting pressure, look up to them for inspiration. But then no one is infallible and they too succumbed to the luring bonhomie with the high & mighty eventually turning into nothing more than a courier. Endless amount of whining and offering clarification could do little to get rid of the blot they now bear in their respective career though life certainly moves on not only for them but also the spectators who enjoyed every moment of the tamasha! Mr. P. Chidambaram should thank his stars that the Finance Ministry note didn’t turn into a disaster well, Janta Party President Dr. Subramanian Swamy would take care of that for sure!

However Kanimozhi Member of Parliament and daughter of DMK Chief Karunanidhi, Shahid Balwa, Director of Swan Telecom (now Etisalat DB), Vinod Goenka, Managing Director DB Realty and the likes of Sanjay Chandra, Managing Director Unitech ltd. were perhaps not favored so much by luck. A very interesting feature of this entire jamboree was the ‘money trail’ which also has a fascinating pattern indeed. This included induction of foreign partners and the decision of the companies to expand their equity bases by doing so. For instance Swan Telecom sold 45% of its shares to Etisalat for Rs. 4200 cr and interestingly didn’t have any major asset except the license which was obtained for Rs. 1537 crores. Fiddling around with FCFS (First Come First Served) further served the purpose of those who had the aid of Raja all throughout in their misadventures.

Except for the lack of an ounce of voyeuristic quotient, else 2G Scam had immense potential to garner the status of India’s Profumo Affair. This 1963 British political scandal handsomely dealt with the extra-marital affair of a British Minister with a Russian spy. Kahani thodi filmy hai except that our 2G Scam lacked the usual masala on certain fronts! The way progress is being made in due course of time in the arena of scams – the Bofors scandal, Hawala scam, Fodder scam, Adarsh scam, CWG Scam, phew! I guess a new beat would come up soon for our journo bhaisahab, that of the scandal-beat, scam pundits would analyze every successive case with a fresh perspective and thereafter dig at the TAM ratings for the whole thing is that ki bhaiya sabse badi hai viewership! 

What! Did someone say Lokpal? Dilli abhi door hai mere dost!!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Get used to being ‘sexy’

Sexy, sexy mujhe log bole, hi sexy hello sexy kyon bole……

Well that’s how the lines of a racy number of ‘Khuddar’ (1994) goes, this being one of Karishma Kapoor’s film in which the audience was just getting familiar with the latkas and jhatkas of the Kapoor bala. A clearly etched memory associated with the song is that of the volume of television being turned down whenever the song made its appearance. After all ‘sexy’ wasn’t supposed to be a term to gain entry into one’s lexicon when you are still a toddler!

The much censored word however did pop up again albeit in a modified form. One-by-cos-c, that’s how we used to poke fun way back at school while still dabbling with the many throes of teenage. Circa 2012, Mamta Sharma, chairperson of the National Commission for Women (NCW) wants us to believe and re-assures that when a guy uses the term sexy all he’s trying to do is appreciate the gorgeous lady in front of him. Indeed these are ooh-la-la times when such frivolous notions are being compelled to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Am I behaving like a feminist aghast with the recent outrageous turn of events? Not really for individuals like Mamta Sharma especially when such profane creed lies like a scumbag and that too on top of coveted organizations like those of NCW, they ought to behave responsibly. Allow me Ms. Sharma to roll out a slew of certain horrifying facts for your awareness sake – as many as 75,930 cases of domestic violence were reported (as recorded by the NCRB, National Crime Records Bureau) in India in 2007, there being an increase of 20.6% since 2006 when such instances came to light; female foeticide has increased by 49.2% between 1999-2000 (what a sham in a country where an entire festival of Navratri, a period of nine days is dedicated to the worship of Devi but there are those who don’t want to welcome her when she comes knocking at their doors in the form of an angelic child!).

That’s certainly not all for some more figures on this front would jolt you even more – a total of 16,373 women were raped during the year 2002, that amounting to almost one woman whose chastity was being devoured every 32 minutes. The idea is not to sound insensitive or cause chills down one’s spine but if such be the harsh reality of times we inhabit how the NCW chairperson can afford to behave in such a callous way. One would surely expect erudition from her at least on matters that concern the fairer sex, gimmicking around with the word ‘sexy’ urging it to be a part of the normal parlance is simply uncalled for. It really sounds ridiculously foolish and pronto verbal mischief and nothing else!

Even as several women become victims of exploitation of sorts at work-place and some of their counterparts prefer to mark the Women’s Day by stating the size of their shoes (yup! That’s how the message went viral last time on Facebook), we have at hand the recent case of Falak, a two-year old girl inflicted with life-threatening bruises and was admitted to AIIMS in January, 2012; the eerie facts related to the case hinting towards an intricate mess of human trafficking.

No Ms. Sharma we are not going to swallow the usage of ‘sexy’ so readily since it doesn’t behoove with the very perspective men seem to harbor for the women of their vicinity. While you might have just returned from a visit to the Khajuraho or feeling exulted post a foray into the Lakme India Fashion Week, there are thousands of women who jostle for respect from their chauvinistic male peers. Despite the Delhi Metro reserving a separate coach for women, there is little respite from the uncomfortable stares if one happens to land in a general coach in a hurry on any given day.

A large section of women in India shudder to think of Naina Sahni murder case or the brutal killing of Jessica Lal for that matter, the fight for justice exasperating the family members of the victims to unimaginable limits. Not to forget, regions of the North have also witnessed bizarre instances of acid attack, a horrendous act of vindication on part of spurned lovers. It would be like living in a fool's paradise by refusing to acknowledge all those absurdities and begin to relish the oddities of being sexy and stuff.

On a lighter note, it would take time for girls who feel a sense of empowerment on wearing jeans or sleeveless outfits to become accustomed to the word ‘sexy’. Slim, gori and beautiful would still retain their stature as the most sought after words in a matrimonial ad, the convent-educated being an add-on of course. So Madam Chairperson, watch out for your words next time when you decide of introducing another path-breaking idea. For I would still choose to turn down the volume of the idiot box for my five-year old niece if it blares the racy Karishma Kapoor’s number, everything has a time for assimilation you see!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Children of a lesser GOD

One can always bump into them on Tuesdays just outside the Neelkanth Temple, East Patel Nagar, New Delhi, a few yards away from the steps of the sanctum sanctorum. Comprising mostly of women, the aged and children, this closely huddled up crowd waits anxiously for those who would come seeking the blessings of the Almighty. East Patel Nagar for that matter is a posh neighborhood located in the heart of the capital. After the usual proceedings inside the place of worship, the elite folk have this natural and obvious trait of displaying what I believe is token charity. Well, how would you term the casual distribution of ‘boondi’, mind you that too for a paltry sum of ten rupees, yes, just a handful of it.

But then everyone doesn’t harbor insidious notions, at least not when they seriously intend to reduce the effect of shani or even worse, kaal-sarp dosh! So there you have some of those as well among the spiritual ones who buy a packet of bread and distribute one each among the hapless ones seated there in a neat row. You must be wondering if I have indeed gone nuts! After all sight of beggars in front of the Hindu places of worship is not a new thing. Ever wondered how can something as pious as offering prayers be related to the wimpishness of those for whom every  Tuesday brings in a mode of earning a single wheat bread or a few grains of boondi!

The patience of those belonging to the fraternity of a ‘lesser God’ finally pays off when after a day’s hard work they finally tread away towards their destination with polybags full of bread loafs, that would do comfortably for at least a week!

I’m reminded of the lurid details as spelled out by P. Sainath, one of the most revered journalists of India. In an absolute no-nonsense manner which is quintessential to him he exclaimed at one of his lectures how teachers from municipal schools of Mumbai urged him with utmost earnestness to request the government to double the ration of mid-day meal on Mondays. Before you fall into a pool of variegated questions, here’s the factoid laced with besmirching consequence of governance gone awry even after sixty-four years of independence. The reason behind such an odd request of the teachers was that they were not able to teach students on Mondays till 1 pm since the pupils in front of them are individuals starved since the last three days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Bizarre it may sound to those who hail from the community of tokenism-thumbs-up but then this is how crude the reality is in most parts of India. Starved bellies can’t be imparted education and thus the teachers were compelled to put forth the strange yet understandable demand.

Then in that case I guess the increasing number of people falling prey to the devil of hunger are a threat indeed to those who move around callously asserting what a grateful act they have done by merely launching ‘n’ number of schemes. The lack of food might have enfeebled them physically but fellas how many of you are aware that the underlying reason of the great Egyptian uprising we witnessed recently in fact owed its origin to the prevalent food crisis.

Our reasons to feel exulted further narrow down when one comes across not-so-long-ago Arjun Sengupta’s contention in the NCEUS (National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector) Report that further removes cobwebs of self-appraisal. The report came forth with the shocking revelation that nearly 79% of workers in unorganized sector live on less than 20 rupees a day.

No wonder then why one comes across hounds of impoverished ones in front of venues like the Neelkanth Temple. That in fact happens to be a mere trailer of another magnum opus by the likes of Satyajit Ray, whom the critics often accuse of showcasing an India lurking in darkness of acute poverty and lack of basic amenities. But then why make an attempt and reach out to pull the hair of Danny Boyle when several Slumdog Millionaires lie unheard in Dharavi, Mumbai; Bhalswa, Delhi; Rajendra Nagar, Bangalore;  Mehbullahpur, Lucknow and their counterparts in other major cities and dwellings of modern and utter urbane India. Perhaps the only reason that can be attributed to one’s extreme sense of exhaustion and helplessness is that unlike the Q & A novel by Vikas Swarup, Ram Mohammad Thomas (protagonist) are a rarity in midst of swells of stagnating pools of excreta and swarms of mosquitoes.

But why are you fretting and sweating so much? Finally India has won a match after a long gap, thanks to the wonder boy, Virat Kohli. Assembly elections have just come to a conclusion in five states and the stats could be bewildering indeed for our kewpie puppets from the world of media as much as their chums from the arena of politics. What should be your act of convenience, well, hop on to the nearest temple on another auspicious day and shrug away the effect of evil spirits or fiendish planets by distributing bread or boondi as befalling under your self-gratifying comfort zone.