Saturday, April 24, 2010

Buddha's Belief


Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

- Gautam Buddha

Friday, April 23, 2010

Bombs and Mentos


Each day bombs are blasted in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Scores of human lives are destroyed,  countless bodies mutilated. Yet, this occupies just a tiny slice of news slot or a distant corner of a national daily. And a disowned plastic bag left in a public place or a minor firecracker takes the tiger's share of news time if the event happens to occur in United States or Britain. As if the lives are valued based on their nationality. Or are the lives valued on their contribution to world GDP? A dead American is a dinosaur, a dead Afghani is a rat.

Analysis: One should have not read the above lines as they're nothing but nonsense. Aren't you aware of the law of "supply and demand." The more the supply, the less the demand or value. So, more the news of blasts arrive each day from war zones of Asia, less the interest will be in public for such news. However, news of a bomb threat in a developed country is a rarity and hence, public interest and time slot alloted for it will obviously be high.

Conclusion: Do not blindly believe and agree with anything you read, see, or listen being wrote, shown, or told by the politician in the parliament to the guru in the gurukul. Carry a pinch of salt along to take with every bit of information (or misinformation) devoured. If you still get swayed by emotions, then "mentos khao aur dimag ki batti jalao."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Gimme More


"Power is what men seek and any group that gets it will abuse it."
- Lincoln Steffens

The Censored Freedom


Be it democracy or dictatorship, its the ruler who writes the history and describes the truth. To ensure long life on the chair, it is essential to control the flow of information to the inhabitants of the land, announce the niceties and bury the misdeeds.

It was easiest in the times of no media, just destroy the mind which holds the defaming phrases. Even with press and television, it was not much difficult as they had to operate from the land and the authorities could locate them and strangulate them without much twist in the wrist. But with the advent of Internet, things changed a bit. It was all virtual. One need not be in a country to operate and do business there. Freedom, as it has been defined in books, was actually taking its meaning now. But the ruler is a ruler only when it can suppress the voices raised against it and it had to control what is being said. Hence, the information on the Internet too is regulated and fine tuned to suit the taste of government.

Internet companies have been receiving requests (actually orders) to block public information and reveal private information about users. All in the "national interest" they say! Google has come out with a nice initiative to publicize the info about such requests. Its called Government Requests. They document how many such requests were received by them from which country. A crude general rule to comprehend this tool would be - more the number of requests from a country, less the freedom there.

It has two categories:
A. "Removal Requests" which means "we don't want X info to be known by public, remove it."
B. "Data Requests" meaning "give me all the personal details about Mr/Ms X asap")

India stands third for "removal requests" after Brazil and Germany with 142 such requests. For "data requests," India secured fourth position after Brazil, United States, and United Kingdom. India seems to be doing good in keeping info out of public eye even as Internet penetration remains dismal.

By the way, there is no info about how much public info China wanted to hide and how private info it wanted to secure.

So, all the while we have been believing that "Internet" is the fodder for the animal called "Freedom." True to great extent. But true also it is that this animal, "Freedom," is a chained pet of the rulers. Hopefully, chains will be broken someday with efforts of individuals and corporates with a vision, like Google. Indeed, Google's dedication to transparency and open source is really laudable.

Google's Government Request Tool:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Two Faces and a Lie

In August 2009, a bomb was dropped at the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) headquarter. Dr. K. Santhanam, Ex-Director, Test Site Preparations, DRDO, claimed that the Pokhran-II, the test of explosive nuclear device done in 1998, was not completely successful. The Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling party under whom the tests were done and who took the credit for it; the Congress Party, present ruling party which signed international treaties which would prohibit India from doing further tests; Dr. Anil Kakodkar, present Director of Bhabha Atomic Research Center; Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, then Chief Project Coordinator of Pokhran-II, Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister and Head of the DRDO; all rushed to clarify that the claims made by Dr. K. Santhanam were false. Note that all of them had vested interest in proving the success of Pokhran-II.

Here are two faces in two different interviews giving two different (contradictory) statements. One of them is lying. But who is lying and who is not? Lets examine the faces to find who is more confident of what he is saying, who is trying to hide lies under the skin. See if you can come to any conclusion.

Dr. Anil Kakodkar saying Pokhran-II was successful

Dr. K. Santhanam saying Pokhran-II wasn't successful

Dantewada and Questions

On April 6, 2010, three events occurred. Ministry Of Home Affairs, Govt Of India, published an advertisement to lure the Maoist to surrender, I wrote a pile of gibberish about this ad, and finally, the same Maoists, which Ministry of Home Affairs and I were talking about, executed 76 CRPF men. It was shocking. A group of insurgents with mostly arms and ammunition looted from police, no discernible source of funding, and malnourished bodies wipes out the whole battalion of well-trained (?), well-armed (?), well-fed (?), jawans!

It was big news. And lots of other pieces of news followed in succession. Here are few of them and the questions they would raise in any inquisitive mind.

Question 1: Was't CRPF created to tackle situations related to internal security? Or they have been trained just on disruption of peaceful demonstrations/protests, dispersion of crowd, keep people locked in home (curfew), guard the temples and mosques. It seems they can at most deal with enraged civilians. I wanted to find more about the duties and roles of CRPF and henced peeped in their website. Interestingly, most of the links are nonfunctional and you cannot find anything about them except that this was CRPF's website! Does the condition of the website give any insight into the condition of the organization?

CRPF Website:

Question 2: The ease with which religious fanatics and socioeconomic insurgents operate, it makes us feel that the citizens of India are at the mercy of their mood swings. Anybody suffering from mania can put a bomb together and explode to get a kick out of it. On November 26, 2008, ten individuals parade in the high-security Mumbai with guns and grenades killing 173 people and injuring 308 and it takes 3 days to stop them. And this was the case when creme de la creme of Indian security, National Security Guards, was in action. Imagine, what would have happened if only police were to deal with them. Given the dismal performance of security forces in combat situations, is India capable of protecting its citizen?

“Everyone is terrified that the police will take revenge by attacking the village,” said a villager who came out of the forest to check on his house, “They have already killed one person.”

Question: It is not an easy decision like going for a holiday. There needs to be good enough reason to abandon all the belongings and possessions and depart. There can be two reasons for the villagers to flee. One, all the villagers are naxals and hence, they fled fearing arrest and execution. Two, the villagers have memories of such attack and murder by government authorities in the past.

Now, if the first assumption is true, then why CRPF had no clue about the identity of the villagers? If the second assumption is true, then how can such a barbaric government be allowed to stand?

Disclaimer: Only fools talk about issues in which s/he does not have any insight. Its one thing to read news paper seating on a blue sofa in air-conditioned office, debate about the defects in the government's policy over coffee, vomit all the thoughts molding it in a blog. And its quite another thing to be there in the field, under harsh conditions, under constant anxiety of attack and counter attack. Its another thing to make those difficult decisions which entangles the fate of countless lives. Governing a nation or running home ministry isn't the same as forwarding email about inefficient governance or blogging about human right violations.

Am I contradicting myself? Well, thats my perception, oxymoronic!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Manufactured Demand For Bottled Water

This captivating video was created by The Story of Stuff Project, using simple black caricature on white background. I'm putting this video up in the blog for the viewing pleasure of a specific breed of environmentalist. My target audience are the guardians of environment who protest aggressively against tree felling, while reaching the site in an air-conditioned car, needing chilled mineral water to keep the cool all the while. I'm talking about you, for whom environmental activism is fashion fad to talk around, to blog and pollute net space. I'm talking about you, who frowns at the sight of plastic being burnt and yet give no thought to using plastic at the first place. I'm talking about you, who cry foul on news of garbage from foreign countries being dumped in India and yet is relentlessly in garbage creation.

PS: This video was forwarded by Anala (thanks for keeping me informed about whats going on in facebook).

The Reality that Looks Like Fiction


On April 6, 2010, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, advertised in The Hindu, a major English daily. No, it was not a AIDS ad nor it was about prevention from cholera or polio. It was about prevention from naxalism. The ad read as follows:

I was poor and had no job
So, I joined the Maoists
The gun became my identity
I killed, I maimed, I blew up schools and bridges
But, I still have no job.
My children can't go to school
My wife can't live with me
I can't till my land.

My intention here is to do an autopsy of this promotion. And I will reserve my views on naxalism, terrorism, and civil unrest for a future post.

The Target: The audience the publishers had in mind was not the poor tribal, for the chances of them picking an English daily is puny. Whether or not they have ever heard of news paper in their remote villages is also doubtful. It is actually you the ad is aimed at, its you the affluent and middle classy city dweller, who would find it difficult to vacate his intestines without the morning dose of news.

The Intentions: The Home Ministry wishes to make you believe that naxals are actually poor people who joined Maoists since they did not have job and are being misled. This is an important strategy for brutally suppressing any civil unrest. The strategy is to indoctrinate the masses in the view that rebels are misguided and state's violent actions against them are justifiable. Its an excellent way of preventing build up of any pressure or protest from civilians to stop the genocide. Creating an air of favorable views among the subjects of the state is a pretty old tactic used in civil wars.

The Reality: The ad agency which created this ad seems to be obsessed with Bollywood stories wherein the hero takes the wrong path after facing poverty as a child and is later brought back to lawful path of the society by his lady love. But reality ain't that simple. When a poverty-stricken man takes up arm to vanquish the scarcities in his life, he transforms into a criminal craving for silver and not a rebel. Looks like either the state has got its vocabulary wrong or it contemplates the masses to be incapable of distinguishing between the two words, criminal and rebel. Given the state of education in the country, both are possible. However, this is another addition to governmental faux pass.

The Reality that Looks Like Fiction: Arundhati Roy ventured into the jungles of Dantewada,
Chhattisgarh, to spend time with people whom you would like to call a different species altogether. She did not go there to study biological features of these creatures but to study social, political, and economical aspects. What she came out with is the long history of oppression by the police and economic deprivation by the corporates. What she wrote is unimaginable even compared to science fiction, but probably there is more fact than fiction.

I have no idea how much truth resides in the stories told by the tribal because no independent entity can verify them. But it will be stupid to expect that the authority in power will allow any  independent entity to verify the crimes committed by the authority. War crimes are never committed by the victor because it is he who defines what are war crimes. Hence, even though there claims of harassment, rape, loot, etc., on the tribal community cannot be verified, they cannot be nullified either just at the denial of the government. However, if there is smell of decaying dead bodies in the air, it indicates that someone is dead. And the smell is everywhere, from Kashmir to Mizoram, from remote open fields to dingy slums right in the heart of the city. Signs of oppression is everywhere.

Have your land or house ever been engulfed by the state on the name of development, for laying down road, railway or building dams? How much compensation were you paid? Can that even be called compensation, can it buy you even one tenth of the original property elsewhere? And all that is very much legal. You either face legal notice and comply or be forcefully evicted from your own property that took a life to acquire. If you have experienced it, then it would be easy for you to imagine how would it feel when the property at stake is not just a piece of land or house, its livelihood, its the way of living, its life, its the existence of not only a human being but the entire community and their culture. You have two options, either you surrender and spend rest of your life in misery. Or you fight back and risk your own life while dreaming to preserve the future of the community. What would you choose?

Police harassment is pretty evident even in the city streets to an observant. You would find police patrols in jeep and bikes roaming around during late evening hours to collect hafta from the street vendors and shop owners. It is a tax for allowing the vendors to do business peacefully. Homeless street dwellers are regularly looted and molested by those who have been assigned the job to protect the citizen. I feel no need to elaborate any further on the structure of law-enforcement agencies. The blotch on their image is visible to everyone in this land. Nobody wants to be in a deal which involves police as it will be like walking to the trouble. The law-enforcement agency still functions as "colonial tool of tax collection (extortion)." Given its daredevil acts of human right violations in the cities, which are media hot-spots, it won't be hard to imagine the extent they will go in remote corners of human civilization.

We, the middle-class office goers don't care because nobody bothers us directly, nobody takes money or land from us that often. They do it indirectly by means of taxes that feed the whole system of inefficiency. You bleed without being stabbed. If you are patriotic and honest to the state and believe the press to be unbiased and free, then you would find it easy to rubbish Arundhati's article as mere imaginative gibberish. But if you find yourself to be a skeptic, a rationalist, who has the bit of insight to doubt the freedom of press on matters which if proved true would nudify the state in the sight of international community, then you cannot merely turn Arundhati's jungle book down as a piece of mere fiction.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Great Indian Begging Bowl

Population of brahmins is about to decrease drastically and eventually become extinct within the next one to two generations. Chief ministers of flood affected states and the prime minister are soon going to serve jail sentences. Political parties will have to go underground and work like underworld as they will be tagged as unlawful entities. Charitable organizations are on the verge of being banned. Places of worship will be sealed down by law enforcers. Jails will be filled with with beggars, sadhus, trans-genders, and hawkers. And they will be in company of the top bosses of advertising firms and firms whose advertisements were put on the hoardings. All this and more, thanks to Begging Prohibition Act.

With March 22, 2010, the Begging Eradication Month comes to an end in Bangalore. It was successful and one can see the signs of its success on the street. No sight of malfunctioning human bodies can be found asking for alms. No sight of non-malfunctioning human bodies (read trans-genders) can be found asking (read extorting) for alms either. Hawkers too vanished from the footpath. Indeed Bangalore has become a better place to live. Now, the townsmen can save some small change which found its way to beggar bowls and then in turn to police pockets. What a relief during inflation!

Oh, my dear townsmen, don't forget to invest the savings as such, however meager it be, in Ram Bharose Mutual Fund's freshly launched Golden Alms plan. Multiply your savings and ensure all future bribes to the traffic police.

Bowl Economics: Begging is an illegal business in India. Yet, it employs about 7.3 lakh men and women (and child labors) with revenue of Rs 180 crore (per 2001 census). With Indian economy shinning, number of employees and revenue both might have sky rocketed now.

Attack on Your Culture: Alms seekers had a place in Indian culture for time immemorial. Indian religions, be it Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and many more, had advocated seeking alms as a means of livelihood for seekers of enlightenment. Receiving and donating alms amounts to "punya' to both the benefactor as well as the seeker. It is a spiritual process, it satisfies the hunger of the beggar and the spiritual need to donate of the donor, almost instantaneously. During the sacred thread ceremony (kind of baptism), the brahmin boy has to beg first from his mother and then from relatives and friends. This symbolization reflects the deep association of begging and Hinduism. With begging being interwoven in South East Asian cultures, banning it would mean that many of the spiritual and cultural elements are considered harmful to the society. It would be an attack on the culture. And you, the savior of the age-old culture, the believer of ancient practices, won't you come up against such heretic laws banning begging? It is certainly anti-religious.

Beggars in Disguise: Wikipedia says; “Begging (or panhandling) is to request a donation in a supplicating manner.” I believe, all including the chair holders (they call it seat in parliament) would agree with this definition. So, legally speaking, beggars request for donation, usually monitory, to keep their lives going as they cannot support themselves on their own. We can break down the definition of begging in the following manner: 
1. Its a humble request.
2. Ideally, someone resorts to begging on being incapable of supporting self, to make the ends meet.
3. The donor gets nothing material in return for the alms.
4. Ideally, the act of donation is voluntary.

Based on the above definition, who else would fit the bill for a beggar? The umpteen charitable organizations which coax us for grants with grief stricken faces on life size posters (smiley's don't fetch nothing). The wealthy and middle-class temples, churches, mosques, gurdwaras that gladly accept our money. Those who seek donations to Chief Ministers Flood Relief Fund. Those who seek donations to Prime Minister's Drought Relief Fund. The political parties which thrive on the juice of donation from corporates and at sometimes, commoners. Doesn't all of them qualify for being tagged as beggars? After all they fulfill all the 4 criteria mentioned above at least on paper if not in practice. However, political parties are different on two accounts. Firstly, donations made by the corporates to the political entities are like stock future to be redeemed at a later date in the form of business from government thus violating rule #3 and secondly, the requests for donation are not humble in nature, overriding rule #1.

In fact, Chief Minister of Karnataka took to the streets with begging bowl in hand to collect donations for flood relief. It was October 2009 when North Karnataka was drowned by river Krishna. He turned out to be very professional in this job, collecting hundreds of crores.

All the above characters fit the definition of a beggar perfectly even though they are not covered by the law. There is another kind of creature who do not resemble beggar by any logic and yet is categorized as beggar by the law. They are hawkers. I have no idea how hawkers qualify as beggars. Possibly, not being rich enough to afford a shop is their crime. They advertise and sell their products on the streets. Possibly, their shouts distract the drivers and cause accidents. If that be the case, then the corporates selling soaps to sex should be booked under the same law. Aren't the humongous posters and hoardings with semi-nude bodies more distracting than hawks of the hawkers?

A Form of Social Security: In a country where social security is unheard of, begging offers a primitive form it. Money moves from the "haves" to "have nots" straight without the intervention of state. When the state cannot provide food and shelter, it has no right to stop its citizen from asking for alms. It is like saying "Well, I cannot save you from drowning but you should not shout for help as it disturbs peace." What a man is suppose to do who has nobody to care for, no money to buy food, and now no right to cry for help? 

Q. What will be the implications of Begging Prohibition Act being enforced in letter and in spirit?
A. Refer to first paragraph.

My View on Begging: You might have been taken to think that I'll be making generous donations to whomsoever I meet on the street. Well, you are dead wrong. I do not oblige to shell out a even a dime regardless of the patheticity of the almsman. Why so harsh? Because I believe that a man is responsible for his own conditions and there is no room for pity. It is his responsibility to keep the unknown risks in mind that can ruin his life. It is he who choose to live life as beggar and make not enough efforts to come out of this misery. I cannot have any respect or even pity for such a man, can you?

Then, I should be in favor of this Begging Prohibition Act, you would ask. But I am not. Because I believe that it is a man's biological responsibility to do whatever needed, moral or immoral, ethical or unethical, clean or dirty, to protect his life, to feed his body. One's life is of supreme importance and this responsibility comes much ahead of the former. Everything is justified in order to the save the body from destroying, to propagate the genes.

Now, these are contradictory views, ain't it? Yes, they are for sure. But, thats why I call it "Perception of an Oxymoron."

PS: By the time I finished this article, trans-genders have already started showing up on the streets as the first colonizers. Others will follow soon.

Related Article: An interesting article was published in Deccan Herald on April 06, 2010. Colin Todhunter explains how Delhi wants to eliminate its street dwellers before the Commonwealth Games in late 2010 just as the bride-to-be wants to get rid of pimples on its cheeks. He describes how the poor is considered nuisance in the city and a roadblock to progress  in mineral-rich hills.

Link: Out of sight is not actually out of mind By Colin Todhunter