Today is the 94th anniversary of the jallianwalla bagh massacre, when the Brigadier Genera Dyer ordered his troops to open fire on people gathered at #Jallianwalla Bagh to mark Baisaki
Today is the 94th anniversary of the jallianwalla bagh massacre, when the Brigadier Genera Dyer ordered his troops to open fire on people gathered at #Jallianwalla Bagh to mark Baisaki
My blog for Tehelka
Jane Wyman, the first wife of the late US President Ronald Reagan was once asked how it was being married to him. She answered that he was a great guy, but had only one shortcoming, “Ask him the time and he’ll tell you how the watch was made.”
In the second half of his CII speech, Rahul Gandhi was asked about the centre-state relationship based on the constitution and how the tussle between rules at the state and Centre hampers economic development. But the Gandhi scion began discussing the 73rd and 74th amendment and the need for decentralisation. For him, it was a structural issue. If he was a professor in a university, and the audience his students, it would have been a way of getting the students to think about the problem differently – the need to devolve power to the local elected representative and letting them deal with “lower level policy”, leavi
ng members of the state and Central legislature to deal with “higher level policy”. But in a CII meeting, maybe something more specific was needed – issues relating to GST, FDI in retail, issues of domestic agenda spilling into international relations and impacting business. Instead, business leaders got a lecture on the constitutional issues at the core of the Centre-state tussles. If you tell people who run multi-crore companies, spread over distinct geographies, that the system cannot get work done because the “organisation structure” was flawed and “roles and responsibilities” were wrongly designed, they will tell you how to fix it.
Jim: Yes as I said, I’m glad you asked me that question because it’s a question that a lot of people are asking, and quite so, because a lot of people want to know the answer to it. And let’s be quite clear about this without beating about the bush the plain fact of the matter is that it is a very important question indeed and people have a right to know. Bob: Minister, we haven’t yet had the answer. Jim: I’m sorry, what was the question? Yes Minister – interaction between the Minister Jim Hacker, and Bob the Journalist
The question and answer session, in which Mr. Gandhi gave tangential answers to rather straight questions (the second was on water and waste water management and his response was on how complexity makes India competitive) was preceded by a speech.
It was a speech that was great on homilies and metaphors, great on intentions and adjectives, great on laying out the problems and rather short and vague on specifics. It was a speech that was really all over the place, was difficult to get a strand or focused agenda or a vision. It had some great words such as compassion, harmony and optimism, but overall it did not seem to have a direction. It sounded more like a US campaign stump speech than an address to a room full of high powered business leaders. You could almost close your eyes and hear a Clinton or a Bush or an Obama deliver this line with great gravitas. “We are now sitting on an unstoppable tide of human aspiration. A tide so great, that it is going to move forward regardless of what we do. But for this massive movement of people and ideas to be truly transformational we need to nurture it. We need to make it harmonious; we need to make it happen smoothly.”
That gravitas was lacking. He came across better in the Q & A session than he did in the speech.
If you left aside the fact that his party has been in power for the last nine years on a trot, and a good 40+ years immediately after independence, Mr. Gandhi made good points and observations about the system and its flaws. His points on the optimism of Indians, the need for infrastructure, the need to not leave people behind, the need for harmony – most will be hard-pressed to argue against these. But the speech was incomplete. The problems he discussed, the concerns he raised are all very real. But there were no solutions, nor was there direction. For example, his arguments in building structures between academia and industry, converting the closed university silos to open networked systems – were great, but it was incomplete. What was needed was a single line that told us the thought process in getting it off the ground. A single line that said this is what needs to be done, and this is how the Government is going to act as a catalyst or an enabler. The solutions cannot be ours alone. How does he, or his party, plan to change the situation? There had to be a vision, a leadership, which was evidently lacking.
Rahul’s mangled metaphors:
India actually is energy, it is a force.
We are now sitting on an unstoppable tide of human aspiration.
Democracy and technology have triggered a non-reversible chain reaction in India.
We have to provide the roads on which our dreams are paved.
They (women) are not only building boats, they’re the waves
From today, the DNA column has a name – Depth of Focus. It is an old fashioned photography & film term – the point the photographer wants most focus on. Today, i look at water
Dune, by Frank Herbert, is one of the most fascinating science fiction books of all time. Set in a galaxy far away, it combines themes of religion, metaphysics, space travel, feudal behaviour, and a messiah who will lead a proud, yet exiled, race to greatness. At the core of the story is the desert planet Arrakis. Inhabitants of the planet, nomads called Fremen, live in caves which offer them protection from the elements. The Freman wears body armour called the Stillsuit. It not just prevents them from being harmed by the hostile ecosystem, but also allows them to recycle every little bit of water given out by the body. The idea was that water was so rare on that world, wasting it was unthinkable. Although Arrakis is a fictitious planet, and the Fremen a fictitious race, their issues of water and water conservation are very real.
As the world’s population increases, as demands for a better life grow, the pressure on the world’s water resources are increasing. Many parts of the world face an acute shortage of water. According to the UN, 700 million people in 43 countries suffer from water scarcity. In a 2010 report, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies predicted that in two decades, it won’t be terrorism or war that would change the equation in the Middle East — it would be acute scarcity of water.
India has a water crisis looming. Large swathes of western and central India are water scarce regions. With the current drought in parts of Maharashtra, there are areas that have not received water for weeks. About 4,000 villages in Saurashtra are in the same situation. Migration from rural to urban India has begun. There is nothing more desperate than leaving one’s home to search for one of the most fundamental requirements of life — water. And there is nothing more shameful for a country than coming to a situation where its people cannot access water, not because of poor rainfall or dried up rivers but because of greed, corruption, and lack of policy.
India is home to around 18% of the world’s population that lives in approximately 2.6% (China is 6%) of the total land mass of the earth, with a population density of 350 people per square kilometre. There is a tremendous pressure on all resources, none more so than that which sustains life itself — water. According to the Ministry of Water Resources, India has just 4% of the world’s renewable water resources. In 1951, there was a per capita availability of 5177 cubic metres of water; in 2001 that figure reduced to 1820 m3, and in 2011 that had dropped to 1545 m3. Unless someone figures out a way of making water in a laboratory, or a cost efficient way of desalinating large amounts of sea water, without disturbing the marine eco system, there is a disaster just around the corner, and there seems to be no urgency to tackle it. There is going to be, sooner or later, a massive shortage of water.
If water cannot be ‘created’ then people and policies have to be geared to save, conserve, recycle and optimise water utilisation. This cannot be achieved unless all parts of the system work in tandem: citizens, industry, and government.
At the level of the household it is changes in lifestyle. Use a bucket of water rather than showering, shut the tap while brushing teeth, check for leakages and plug them; shut all taps tightly. While the water saved by an individual might not be much, practised across millions, it does make a difference. More importantly, it becomes part of a conservation mind-set. Equally important is building societies and housing associations investing in rain water harvesting. Even if the space is too little for them to build tanks that store this water and use it later, it is a worthwhile exercise, because it recharges the rapidly-decreasing ground water levels. It is also important that citizens and the media become more politically aware and keep an eye on proposed projects, so that delays and corruption are discovered and dealt with before it becomes a crisis.
A second option that needs to be looked at, on a priority basis, is recycling of water, by both households and industry. This is a process where sewage water is treated and purified and put to use again. While it may not be used for drinking or bathing, it can definitely be used for cleaning, irrigation, and keeping parks, golf courses and IPL pitches green. This would especially be useful in urban localities where there is a tremendous concentration of population, and the disparity between the water-rich and the water-poor is stark. In a predominantly agrarian country, water recycling can also ease the pressure on rapid ground water depletion.
The third is to look at incentivizing farmers in water scarce areas from growing water intensive crops such as sugar cane and cotton. Just as the EU and the US pay farmers not to produce, India may want to look at subsidizing the move away from water intensive cash crops to crops that do not need so much water. It should come as no surprise that the bulk of farmer suicides are from water scarce regions that are growing water intensive crops.
Also, maybe it is time that the powers that be revive the National River Linking project that has been on the backburner for the last decade or so. It is estimated that this would generate around 175 trillion litres of water. Not to mention other benefits.
Finally, we need to get the next generation, who are going to live with the consequences of our consumption, to think out of the box and come up with solutions. For it is they who will inherit this water-scarce world.
My Tehelka Blog on the calls to pardon Sanjay Dutt
Ajmal Kasab had just turned 21 when he and his fellow band of terrorists attacked India on 26 November 2008. He was 18, when he began his descent into crime and terror.
The youngest unnamed accused in the horrific Delhi gangrape case was just a shade under 18, when he participated, willingly, in the rape and murder of a young physiotherapist. He was supposedly the most brutal of all the rapists on the bus, that fateful night. While the system calls him a ‘juvenile’ and in all likelihood will set him free, there is general revulsion at the thought of someone like him being free to walk around to commit the same crime again.
Both Kasab and the unnamed juvenile were born in poor families, grew up in a world where others took to petty and not-so-petty crimes, and were exposed to influences that could lead them astray – yet most people do not use their age, their background or reduced circumstances as an excuse for their horrific behavior.
Sanjay Dutt was 33 years old when the Mumbai Police discovered that “the actor had acquired AK-56s from Dawood Ibrahim’s brother Anees Ibrahim, and had even had one destroyed after the serial blasts in Bombay that left 257 people dead.”
Yet it seems like a large part of the film and political fraternity are calling for him to be pardoned. Here is a man who willingly took possession of arms that would be used against his fellow citizens. He tried to cover this up, and yet people are calling for his pardon. There is a very sophisticated publicity exercise in place that wants to make Dutt seem like a poor little lost boy, entrapped by circumstances and an unwilling participant in an escapade that went wrong. The truth is different. He was a grown up, who knew what he was doing, and kept quiet when a single phone call (even an anonymous one) could have saved over 250 lives.
So, what makes Sanjay Dutt special?
Born to Bollywood nobility – his mother was Nargis, father Sunil Dutt – brought up in the lap of privilege and wealth, Sanjay Dutt could have been anyone. He was given a dream film debut by his father in the film Rocky, he worked with the biggest directors in Bollywood, his friends were the A-list in tinsel town, fans loved him, the box office welcomed him and he had the world at his feet. You would think that a man born into such a background and who achieved success would do something useful and meaningful with his life. He didn’t. His early career in Bollywood was marked by absences, late coming and general bad behavior. So much so that he began losing out roles to relatively unknown actors (Sanjay Dutt was the first choice for the film Hero, that later propelled Jackie Shroff to stardom. The story goes that Subhash Ghai was so put off with the unprofessional behavior of Sanjay Dutt that he had him replaced). All this changed with the 1993 Mumbai blasts and the subsequent arrest of Sanjay Dutt under TADA.
Unlike the West where people, even stars, are penalised for their bad behavior, India seems to love its bad boys. Robert Downie Jr, Mel Gibson, and a host of others have lost roles, lost endorsements when they got embroiled in controversy. Mel Gibson for being a drunk racist, Downie Jr for a drug habit that led him to serve jail time – there was punishment beyond what the legal system mandated. There was ostracisation and a loss in earnings. But over here, the moment a star gets into trouble, he becomes more salable. Sanjay Dutt got better roles after his arrest, and he is not the only one. It is almost as though advertisers and film financiers believe that sleaze will sell.
Today, when people who should know better are appealing the Governor to pardon Sanjay Dutt, they need to understand that they are giving their blessing to delinquency, to irresponsibility, to acting in an anti-social manner and a support of terror.
“He is a nice man” goes the refrain. How many nice people do you know who store automatic weapons and grenades capable of causing carnage? Then there is the refrain that says he was too young. At 33? When leaders like Digvijaya Singh put out statements that say, “Sanjay Dutt is not a criminal, he is not a terrorist. Sanjay Dutt, at a young age, in the atmosphere of that time, thought that perhaps the way Sunil Dutt had been raising his voice against communalism and favoured the minorities, then perhaps he could be attacked,” they are making excuses for terror.
What do you say to all those people who are minorities, or favour minority rights and would never think of going down the path of violence or terror? Indeed, what do you tell people whose family members have been arrested and convicted for terror – that it is excusable because they thought they were in danger? Is this the same approach to dealing with Maoists who believe that the only way they can get heard by the State is by committing acts of terror?
The last excuse is that Nargis and Sunil Dutt were patriots and deserve better. The head of the Press Council of India and former Supreme Court judge Markanday Katju says, on why Sanjay Dutt deserves a pardon: “His parents Sunil Dutt and Nargis worked for the good of society and the nation. Sunil Dutt and Nargis often went to border areas to give moral support to our brave jawans and did other social work for the society.”
This is an easy statement to agree with. Sunil Dutt and Nargis Dutt did deserve better, and their son let them down. Not the system. It is because he is their son that he is only facing just 5 years in prison, not a lifetime. Imagine if an ordinary boy named Sanjay Dutt, whose parents were not popular film stars, had been found with the weapons cache. Would the outcry be the same?
My Tehelka Column on the anti rape bill
And it comes to pass. The Anti-rape Bill aka the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2013 was passed this evening in Parliament by a voice vote. A total of 168 Members of Parliament (out of house strength of 545 MPs), who bothered to be present, voted to give India a law that is tough on rape and sexual assault. It replaces the Ordinance that was promulgated by the President earlier this year. Stalking and voyeurism are crimes, longer jail sentences for convicted rapists (20 years to natural life, and in the rarest of rare cases, death), there are longer sentences for acid attacks (10 years), the age of consent has been raised to 18; disrobing a woman (against her will) is now a criminal offence; and policemen will be charged if they refuse to file FIRs. All in all, while there are many areas that still need to be addressed, this is a start. At least the Government and Parliament have recognised that women’s safety is a major issue and that there needs to be deterrence against sexual violence that has become increasingly commonplace.
In January, when protestors took to the streets in Delhi to express their acute displeasure at the lack of basic safety for women, politicians of all hues and shades promised to do something. When the time came to do something – as basic as be present for a discussion and vote on this Bill – just under a third of them turned up to debate and vote. Amongst those absent was the Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi.
At times it is difficult to tell what is worse, Members of Parliament staying away from debate or those turning up to work. It is evident that unlike the first Parliament where there were towering giants, who exerted moral authority, this Parliament has political dwarves, who will not know morality if they tripped on it. Many justify the most absurd sexism by saying they represent the people’s biases. Lalu Prasad Yadav, for example, in a serious debate to curtail rape, pondered on the proximity of the sexes in big cities. He observed the culture of hugging members of the opposite sex, “Hum Bihar ke logon mein, hummein, himmat nahi hoti hai kisi mahila se haath milane ke liye” (we from Bihar, including me, don’t have the courage to shake a woman’s hand). Obviously, neither rape nor sexual assault involves the shaking of hands and there are enough people, in Bihar, who may not shake hands – but definitely rape. And Lalu Yadav was not the only one attacking modernity. Putting the onus of rape on what is termed ‘modernity’ is the easiest thing to do. Flog modernity, insist ‘our’ culture has no rape, and blame clothes, mobiles and other things as encouraging violence against women.
Sharad Yadav of JD (U) (again from Bihar) had various issues with certain provisions of the Bill, especially those that dealt with stalking and voyeurism. According to him, all men stalk and that stalking is a part and parcel of the courtship process. His fear was that a strong anti-stalking law would be at odds with romancing. And, while Mr Yadav was describing as “natural’ the process of stalking, our esteemed Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde was grinning from ear to ear in appreciation. Other Parliamentarians were guffawing their appreciation. It was like eavesdropping on boys’ hostel mess, where teenagers are cracking jokes about women and laughing about it. It makes one wonder, how the women in the House feel about this entirely sexist setup that they work in.
Women MP’s such as Meena Pal of JD (U) pointed out that ‘revealing’ women’s clothing is not the cause of rape, and women who are fully clothed are also subjected to rape. But, in a house dominated by dinosaurs dependent on vote banks, sensible voices get drowned out by the sheer silliness of grandstanding leaders. It is almost as though they are auditioning for Comedy Central, rather than debating in Parliament.
There is a problem in India. And that problem is in the way Indians see women. The best laws (and this is not the best law) are not going to help unless attitudes towards women start changing. That change begins at home, in how mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters are treated. It begins outside in how you treat classmates, strangers, other women. That change begins by not blaming Honey Singh or Item Numbers, clothing or television for the attitudes towards women. It begins by admitting that there is a problem. And the problem is that Indians, especially Indian leaders, make too many excuses for rapists. ‘She was raped because adults hug each other; she was raped because of the clothes she wore; she was raped because children as young as 14 are dancing to item numbers’ – these were part of the dialogue in Parliament today. There was not one person who stood up to say ‘She was raped because she was a woman. And, the man thought it was ok to rape her’. This casualness with which men rape needs to be broken, and that can only happen if apologists for rapists stop making excuses for criminals.