If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Dismantling democracy

It takes years or decades to create something, but just days, if not hours to dismantle it. It is true for buildings and bridges. And it is true for democracies.
Indian democracy has been built by people who led the freedom struggle, and while we are rightly unhappy with many aspects of how our country functions, the greatness of the Indian democracy becomes clear when we compare ourselves with the other countries that achieved freedom after the Second World War. Look at our neighbours: Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Sri Lanka … every one of them has gone through tremendous civil strife and seen mass killings and instability from time to time. It is true for Nepal too, to a lesser extent. And of these countries, Pakistan and Burma aren’t democracies by any stretch of imagination. We would shudder to think of living in either of them. Comparatively, we have had a stable democracy, barring a two-year aberration during the hated Emergency regime of 1975-77.
Any government with commitment to liberal democracy should try to protect and strengthen the institutions of democracy. The much maligned UPA regime (2004-14) – despite the thieves and thugs in their ranks – did exactly that when they introduced the Right to Information Act or the RTI Act in 2005.
It offers every citizen the right to seek and obtain information on government activities. Naturally, the Act has been a deterrent against corruption. A politician or bureaucrat trying to bend rules for personal benefits stand to be exposed in the future, thanks to this Act.
Many people have tried to catch politicians and babus for their wrongdoings, but it hasn’t been easy. There have been 400 physical attacks against RTI activists and as many as 65 of them have been murdered in the last 11 years. Maharashtra tops the list with 19 murders. The latest victim too is from the state. Suhas Haldankar was the latest RTI activist to be killed on 9 April by hitting him repeatedly with concrete blocks.
A protest against Suhas Haldankar’s killing in Kharalwadi area of Pune. (Express Photo by Rajesh Stephan)
It is essential that laws are strengthened to protect people like Suhas Haldankar. However, Narendra Modi led BJP government is doing exactly the opposite. Let me explain.
The government is trying to modify Rule 12 of the Act to “permit the Central Information Commission to allow appeals to abate on the death of the appellant or for their withdrawal.” The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), a human rights group, demands that the Rule 12, instead of being diluted, “must be dropped without any delay.”
To put it simply, the changes that the government is trying to introduce is this: If an RTI activist is killed, people who might be affected by the information the former was trying to discover, may appeal to close the chapter.
Therefore, if the change happens, a corrupt politician or bureaucrat will have a strong incentive to murder the activist who is trying to unearth the former’s wrongdoings.
How wonderful of the government! While a civilized system should demand that whistle-blowers (people who are trying to fight corruption) be given protection, our present government is doing exactly the opposite.
“This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.”
My heart goes out to the family and friends of this young man who gave his life for us. But the bigger question is: How many of us realise that the Indian Democracy is being dismantled bit by bit by the present ruling dispensation?
You can read the entire story here. But let me warn you: In my opinion, it is a rather badly written article. In fact, that is the reason I tried to make rewrite it and make it shorter.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Noor Mohammed and other Indian Muslims



I didn’t think there would be a direct bus from the Old Airport Road to my home. So, I boarded one for Marathalli, a junction on the way, where you could find a bus to anywhere in the world.

The conductor is a charming young woman in uniform: a khaki jacket over a khaki sari – only sarkari babus can have the imagination to contemplate a khaki sari! I am sure the girl hates it.

And why khaki for all so-called low level jobs? It’s a kind of apartheid, isn’t it? If I was the chairman of BMTC (Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation), I would introduce bright orange uniform with floral designs for women employees, and dark blue shirts with paisleys for men, like those my fashion icon Nelson Mandela used to wear.

My meditation is interrupted by the woman in khaki as she approaches me for ticket. She has a good look at my head and issues a senior citizen ticket for ₹14. It doesn’t matter these days, but even a few years ago, I would have been mildly irritated to have been bracketed with oldies. Alas! Time changes. And I guess I got a concession of 30%.

I secretly thanked BMTC (Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation) for the compassion, although, thanks to an accident of my birth in a certain social milieu, I belong to the microscopic minority of Indians for whom six rupees means nothing. But it does matter to most, particularly those who are on the outskirts of a physically active life.

Looking for an auto rickshaw, I met a fellow senior citizen who looked at least twenty years older than me. He asked me for a reasonable amount, but I haggled a bit out of sheer habit. And more importantly, because I think of senior-citizen concessions only when I am a potential beneficiary.

Noor Mohammed had completely gray hair and a seven-day stubble. He looked quite frail and I wondered how he managed to drive an auto rickshaw in the hot summer in Bangalore traffic. In India, it is politically correct to ask a man’s age, and so I asked, ‘How old are you, Noor Mohammed?’

‘Sixty-five.’

‘That means you are exactly my age!’, He didn’t notice the touch of surprise in my voice. And I continued with the small talk, ‘Where do you live in Bengaluru?’

‘I don’t live in Bengaluru, I am from Ramanagara, a distance of three-four hours.’

‘Ramanagara? Where Sholay was shot?’

‘Yes’, he replied tersely. He obviously didn’t care much for the fame conferred upon his hometown by Sholay, or for that matter, David Lean’s Passage to India.

‘Then how come you are here?’

‘I don’t have children. I have a foster daughter. She is 21. Bees aur ek.’ After a pause, he repeated as if from far away, ‘Bees aur ek. She has a hole in her heart. So, we brought her here and put her in a hospital. My wife too is in the hospital. The doctors are doing some tests. By this evening, they will tell us when the surgery will happen. She was an orphan. … My wife and I brought her up since she was this small’, he took his left hand off the clutch lever and put the straightened palm about six inches above the floor. ‘What can I do now? Throw her away?’

He seemed to read the unasked question in my mind, and continued, ‘We are staying with some distant relatives here. They have this auto rickshaw. They asked me to drive it and earn something. Bahut achche aadmi hai woh log.’

Of course, they are wonderful people. I ask, ‘How much will the surgery cost?’

‘A lakh and seventy-six thousand. I have a little bit. For the rest, I’ll take a loan. … maybe, I’ll ask the people with whom I'm staying. Udhar le lenge.’

I was not surprised. The poor in India have a unique social security network where they help each other to tide over crises. Only recently, our domestic help asked for a small loan as she had to send ₹30,000 (roughly her three months’ earnings) to her sister in Delhi. Her sister is taking a house on rent and needs the cash to pay security deposit.

The calm fortitude with which the poor in India faces financial turmoil is amazing. Noor Mohammed’s daughter is in hospital, she needs a life-saving surgery, he doesn’t have the money, and he isn’t sure who he can approach for a loan. But at least on the surface, he is completely unfazed. He hopes to get a loan. Period.

Noor Mohammed is not an exception. He is the rule. The poor slog it out to earn two meals a day and a roof over their head. The unique phase in life called retirement that some people have between work life and death doesn’t exist for them. They invariably age prematurely and die uncomplainingly when the time comes.

If a hole is discovered in the heart of a child, they will try their best to fill it. But if they can’t, so be it. They will accept it gracefully. I recall Ajijul, a mason in Kolkata, who told me – as if he was giving me information about a distant cousin – that his oldest son and principal assistant in work had died in an accident a few weeks ago. That boy too, incidentally, was 21. Bees aur ek.

*

Noor Mohammed’s daughter would have all the dreams that a girl like her would. A loving husband, children, a little less of drudgery and insecurity, and a little more comfort and stability.

Please join me in wishing her all the very best.




POSTSCRIPT:

In normal times, I wouldn't add this. But today, I feel compelled to.


Life is not easy for the poor in India. And countless authentic statistics tell us that a huge majority of the 17 crores (170 m) Indian Muslims are much more like Noor Mohammed and Ajijul, and much less like Mr. Azim Hashim Premji, an Indian industrialist near the top of the Forbes list of rich people. 

Let me also ask a question to some of my friends who are educated and compassionate and love the present BJP regime: How does it feel to be poor in India? And how does it feel, on top of it, to live in the fear that any day, protectors of cows might lynch you to avenge the death of a cow that never died?

Friday, April 7, 2017 



Tuesday, 4 April 2017

I protest!


NDTV reports:
A senior CPM leader was attacked by alleged Trinamool supporters today (01 April 2017) when he went to Goghat, about 100 kilometres from Kolkata, to meet villagers protesting land acquisition for a railway project.
Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, a senior lawyer and former Kolkata mayor, had gone with an NGO to look into the issue. A few weeks ago, locals had attacked a Trinamool office at Goghat to protest the land acquisition.
"I was pulled out of my car and slapped and kicked," Mr Bhattacharya said. "This is the first time I have ever been physically attacked in my political career," he added.
The incident occurred at around noon. Police rushed Mr Bhattacharya and other members of the NGO, Save Democracy, into their cars and sent them away.

Mr. Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, a senior lawyer and leader of the CPIM, was easily the worst mayor the Calcutta Municipal Corporation I have seen in my adult life. It is difficult to forget the huge garbage dumps on streets, broken roads, and almost-zero developmental initiative that we saw in Kolkata during his time. The only well-maintained road in in the city then was the stretch by which the chief minister Jyoti Basu (another specimen, more about him later) travelled from home to office. While Calcutta reeked, the mayor often spent time in swanky cities in the Occident.
On the positive side, he has been at the forefront to a number of public-interest litigation since the CPIM lost power in 2011. For example, the case to get the Sarda mega-scam out of the clutches of Ms Mamta Banerjee's police, and handing it over to the CBI.
The Left Front Government lost power after 34 years of uninterrupted rule mainly because of their hubris, disconnect with people, and thuggery by party members, who made money out of everything, including marital discords. However, the proximate cause was Singur, where the Left government gave away over 1000 acres of the MOST PRODUCTIVE AGRICULTURAL LAND in West Bengal to Tatas for a car factory. I did some arithmetic at that time and my sense was this: the LF government had ruined the livelihood of many more families than those who would have been benefited by the car factory. And to impose their stupid decision, the CPIM let loose the police and party goons on unarmed protesters. The ruthless beating of ordinary village folk was seen live on television and I believe that afternoon, the CPIM's goose had been cooked.
It is therefore a bit of an irony that Bikash Bhattacharya was beaten up by Mamta's goons when "he went to Goghat, about 100 kilometres from Kolkata, to meet villagers protesting land acquisition for a railway project."
How shamelessly opportunistic can politicians be? Evict people needlessly (there was plenty of less fertile land in West Bengal) for a private project when you are in power and support people who are being evicted for a railway project when you are out of power?
But even then, I protest this incident in the strongest terms.
West Bengal is being ruled by a ruthless gang today. No one has a right to beat up anyone for expressing their views. This must stop.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Old sadness, new sadness

  
Shakti Chattopadhyaya

The sadness that’s been around me for some time,
I ask him to sit down, close to me.
I’m here, beside me is shadow, and if my old sadness too joins us,
It would be great. And maybe, to my new sadness, I’ll say,
‘Go away, please, for some time
Storm through another sunny garden,
Crush some flowers, burn green leaves, upset everything.
And after some time, if all that effort wears you down, do come back,
Sit by my side.

But for now, let my old sadness sit with me on this meadow,
Poor fellow, after rushing through orchards, burning and ravaging homes,
He wants to be with me; let him be, for a while.
Let my old sadness have peace, let him feel the warmth of togetherness.

And then you come back, my New Sadness,
Please do come back then.


পুরোনো নতুন দু:খ
শক্তি চট্টোপাধ্যায়
যে - দু:খ পুরোনো তাকে কাছে এসে বসতে বলি আজ 
আমি বসে আছি , আছে ছায়া , তার পাশে যদি দু:খ এসে বসে 
বেশ লাগে , মনে হয় , নতুন দু:খকে বলি যাও
কিছুদিন ঘুরে এসো অন্য কোনো সুখের বাগানে
নষ্ট কর কিছু ফুল , জ্বালাও সবুজ পাতা , তছনছ কর
কিছুদিন ঘুরে দু:খ ক্লান্ত হও , এসো তারপর 
পাশে বসো 
এখন পুরনো এই দু:খকে বসার জায়গা দাও 
অনেক বাগান ঘুরে , মানুষের বাড়ি ঘুরে , উড়িয়ে - পুড়িয়ে 
ও আমার কাছে এসে বসতে চায় . কিছু দিন থাক 
শান্তি পাক , সঙ্গ পাক,এসো তারপর...
ও নতুন দু:খ তুমি এসো তারপর .....


Translated at Bengaluru / 15 March 2017