This New York Times article has attracted a lot of sound and fury, perhaps more than its inherent inaccurate silliness deserves. My take on it:
Journalists often have a habit of pre-writing an article in their heads and then going looking for quotes to support their premise! Asgar Qadri came to interview me for this piece and when he found I was saying exactly the opposite of what he wanted to hear, has wiped my views out of his article!
His take is totally inaccurate. The irony is that the current BJP Govt, while supporting yoga, Ayurvedic medicine, and other traditional Indian knowledge systems, and even a non-meat diet, has not pushed wearing of Indian costume at all! One cannot include the Prime Minister’s own outfits as ALL Indian Prime Ministers, of all political affiliations and parties, have always worn Indian clothes. In fact, Mr Modi is unusual in occasionally sporting Western wear suits on his sorties abroad.
Qadri says “the Indian fashion industry has been pressed to aggressively promote traditional attire and bypass Western styles. The effort aligns with the party’s broader political program: to project multi-faith India, a country of more than 1.3 billion, as a Hindu nation.”
This is really rubbish! The traditional Indian clothes that Indians wear – the sari, salwar kameez, dhotis, lehenga ordni, the lungi and the mekala chador, sherwanis, achkans and Nehru jackets, have nothing to do with Hinduism! They, their many regional variations, and Indian stitched garments themselves, (including Mr Modi’s own ubiquitous bandgala waistcoat and churidar-kurta), have evolved over the centuries as responses to climate, lifestyle, and influences from many other cultures and wearing styles across the globe.
In any case, as I told Qadri, far from actively promoting traditional Indian costume in India, the present Govt’s main efforts have been to attempt to push Indian handlooms internationally. It has been sending designers to Varanasi and other handloom centres to design western garments for the international market, scheduled to be launched at Fashion shows and Trade Fairs in fashion capitals across the world . This, and the Handloom Mark and Handloom Day, are part of an attempt to support our declining Handloom industry, not some dark reactionary agenda. In fact many of us in the sector feel that not enough is being done, given the double blow demonitisation and GST has dealt to small weaver communities.
ALL Indian Governments since Independence have supported Handloom weaving. This is not to propagate Hinduism, or even nationalism, but for the simple reason that it’s one of the largest sectors of employment, after agriculture, now increasingly threatened by mill and powerloom production. Incidentally, handloom has nothing to do with Hinduism, A vast percentage of handloom weavers, including those in Mr Modi’s constituency Varanasi, are Muslims! To conflate promotion of weaving or wearing handloom with a Hindu Fundamentalist agenda is as absurd as saying that the fact that I, as a Muslim, have worn Handloom sarees on a daily basis all my adult life, reveals some hidden Hindutva connection!
Perhaps it IS curious that a Government which has reached back into India’s cultural and spiritual past for much of its political rhetoric, has NOT really pushed national costume. Possibly because it doesn’t need to. Indians, while increasingly wearing Western wear, will always go back to our own wonderful garments as well. Though I am delighted that freedom of choice is with us in this arena, it is doubly irritating that Mr Qadri has tried to fit a cap onto our costume which doesn’t really fit.
Author’s facebook post published with her permission.
The first thing to know about air pollution in Delhi is that the situation is beyond redemption. The time for reacting, for making fundamental but realistic changes to how this city runs, for educating people, is long gone. We know it, the government knows it, the courts know it, even the media has given up on reporting this to us in language designed to compel us to panic.
You don’t need this chart to tell you the situation is hopeless, but it does confirm that this is so. The Air Quality Index (AQI) tracks several categories of pollutants and measures their values over a 24-hour cycle. By all estimates, it’s a fair, undramatic assessment of air quality. It isn’t a kneejerk number based off going out on Diwali night and concluding that the level of a category of particulate matter generated only by firecrackers is a bazillion percent higher compared with a normal night. It’s a responsible number, adopted after a lot of deliberation. And that’s precisely what makes it frightening.
India’s Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) literature on the AQI tells us that this number should ideally be below 100. Anything above it elevates risks for sensitive groups, those working outdoors and, eventually, everybody. At an AQI above 300, the CPCB recommends actions such as no-tolerance to visibly polluting vehicles, industries, and construction activities, and actively regulating traffic.
In the 24 months before this October, Delhi has endured 6 months, plural, where its AQI has averaged over 300. In 11 other months, it has averaged over 200. These readings conform to the pattern of a devastating sine wave – bad in the summer, worse in the winter. In the winter, colder, heavier air tends to settle more. In the summer, because rain is around and convection is your friend, the AQI is better. It’s likely, therefore, that the coming November to January will be 300+ months too, like they were last year, and the year before that.
Go up through the 300s, and the air eventually hits a point where it just breaks up and becomes a mess. It makes for a suffocating visual, let alone a suffocating reality. Go past 400, and that mark may as well be called the ‘you have no business living here’ line. Since November 2015, Delhi has logged 34 days above the 400 line. Thirty-four days worthy of an emergency declaration saying, don’t step outside, it would be actively endangering your life to do so.
Relative to recent history, 2017 has, so far, actually been decent. Yet, it took Delhi’s wettest June in a decade to drag the AQI numbers down after 8 months north of 200. It’s a decent year that still flattens out only to a fraction over one good breathing day, singular, per week. That’s how bad it is.
That’s also why the recent Supreme Court ban on firecrackers for Diwali is good for a bit of gallows humour, but not much more. In effect, the Supreme Court wants simply to observe air pollution levels without the variable of firecrackers in the equation.
The short answer is that, in 2015, AQI numbers for the Diwali week were statistically indistinguishable from the AQI average for the month. In 2016, when Diwali coincided with a large-scale crop residue burning cycle across north Indian farms that increased in scale by over 24% in some places, the Diwali week numbers were higher than normal, but the numbers were higher still for the week after Diwali week, when the crop residue burning persisted but Diwali didn’t. (AQI numbers for Diwali weeks 2015 and 2016 are marked on the chart in blue. If they weren’t blue, they’d be red, of course.) The CPCB, which has been summoned to the Supreme Court multiple times before, has been collecting before/after pollution data on Diwali since at least 2004. This data shows higher peaks on Diwali, but isn’t conclusive on its correlation with even medium-term effects on air quality.
As such, sure, a ban on firecrackers makes a non-zero amount of sense. But to pretend that it will make Delhi’s air “better”, whatever that means, or that firecrackers are the root of the problem, is laughable. Equally, some people have reasoned that firecrackers are fringe contributors to the problem, and that there must be ulterior, anti-Diwali motives at play. Perhaps that’s true, and the firecracker industry is merely low-hanging fruit. It does, however, take a special kind of gift for someone’s reaction to a bona fide environmental emergency to be to convert it into some kind of weird implied battle for religious victimhood.
Either way, it looks as if the firecracker ban is another way for the establishment to plug fingers in its ears about the real, entrenched causes of Delhi’s air pollution. The trouble is, requiring the construction industry to adopt cleaner equipment and methods would cripple the profitability of some very powerful people. Long-term restrictions on vehicles in a city abnormally dependent on them would invite public anger. Making fundamental changes to public transport or finding better ways of maintaining Delhi’s 28,508 kilometres of roads would involve overcoming inertia that’s almost a badge of honour at this point.
The problem is so extraordinary that the only parallels exist in Chinese cities hurting from industrial emissions. Their response was a brutal and coercive crackdown on thousands of factories. It saw private owners and local administrations toughen up and eat losses worth billions in industries like power generation and steel production. We have a government that, nearly three weeks after last November’s airpocalypse – when Delhi suffered twelve 400+ days in two weeks – said that there was “no conclusive study” that it knew of to suggest that crop residue burning “would always impact the quality of air” in Delhi.
Look, maybe this year’s Diwali pollution numbers will be lower. Maybe that’ll be because of the firecracker ban. Maybe it’ll be because this Diwali is earlier in the year than it has been recently, and the weather isn’t cold enough to hold the pollution down. Maybe it’ll be because it doesn’t overlap exactly with the sharp end of a crop residue burning cycle that torched over 2,000 square kilometres in Haryana last year. Maybe it’ll be because of wind patterns. I don’t know.
What I do know is that we’re hurtling unerringly towards the red zone for one more winter, firecrackers or not. If it wasn’t before, maybe it’s finally time to appreciate the scale and permanence of what’s happened to this city. It’s certainly time to understand that, as citizens, we’re pretty much on our own on this.
In May 2014, the Modi government inherited a crude oil import price over $100 per barrel and petrol selling in India’s four metro cities on average at over ₹76 per litre. For most of the next two years, international oil prices sank to record lows. Given India’s dependence on oil imports, it could’ve been game-changing.
Handed an oil buffer worth billions, this government instead hiked petrol excise taxes nine times in under 15 months starting November 2014, on top of higher state taxes. Yet, such was the largesse they were blessed with that the four metro average petrol price actually fell from ₹68.71 to ₹62.36 in that time. By January 2016, India’s fuel taxes were at unprecedented levels. For the 20 months since then, we’ve been in a historically bizarre position where, even if crude oil was imported for free, we would be charged upwards of ₹35 a litre for petrol. Even in India, where the ridiculous is commonplace, this is astonishing.
The defence offered for these measures followed a pattern that has now become this government’s signature – surface level logic about arresting fiscal deficits and cutting fuel subsidies, supported by moral justifications about the oil sector needing to take its medicine to correct the previous government’s excesses.
This past weekend marked 100 days since the latest government medicine. Starting June 16, oil companies have been permitted to change prices daily based on international market prices. So now, every morning at 6 a.m., oil companies tell us how much we must pay that day. It’s a bold decision because it should bring some transparency and accuracy to domestic prices. It’s a brazen decision because it shrinks the room for insulating people from short-term price spurts and rationalizing them into fortnightly revisions as was previously possible. It’s a smart decision because daily price changes are usually incremental enough for people to accept them. It’s a cunning decision for the exact same reason.
The trouble is, people start noticing eventually. The four metro average petrol price has gone up by over ₹6.1/litre in the last two months. The government has blamed this on high international prices due to hurricanes in America. Again, on the surface, that’s true. But that’s inherent to crude oil prices – they fluctuate at a moment’s notice based on unpredictable and utterly uncontrollable factors. It’s fine for the government say that it wants to stick with daily pricing despite rising prices. But it is also spectacularly missing the point by treating criticism as an opposition to free market pricing. Nobody really cares why international prices are high. People want to know why their governments are collecting over half the selling price of a litre of petrol as tax when they know that international prices are rising.
Instead, in recent weeks, the oil minister has variously claimed that fuel prices have started falling, will keep falling further, and may fall by Diwali. He said that the prices aren’t within his control because the finance minister imposes taxes, not him. He also helpfully suggested bringing fuel under the GST regime instead of subjecting fuel to the two sets of taxes it generates presently.
The finance minister, though, has point blank refused to interfere. He says that these revenues are needed to build highways. Highways to ply vehicles that run on fuel which is taxed to build more highways. He also says that the centre shares 42% of its excise collections with the states and, if states want to lower the taxes they separately impose on fuel, they can. But the states won’t because the centre won’t and the centre won’t because it needs the money. Neither wants to move to the GST because neither has an incentive to leave behind so much exclusive tax money.
This month, India’s crude oil imports at source have been $53-55 per barrel on average, and the government will proudly tell you that it hasn’t raised excise on fuel since January 2016. Once again, that’s true. But it also hasn’t paid more than $55 per barrel on average for the last 20 months. The last time India paid under $55 for 20 months straight – from November 2003 to June 2005 – domestic petrol prices were ₹40-₹43 per litre. Even adjusting for 2017 prices to reflect the beating that the rupee has taken in that time, petrol should still be in the ₹58-₹63 range. The four metro average price this morning was over ₹74.
That’s not price fluctuation brought on by unforeseen circumstances. That’s a fundamental shift in how this government feels it can make money. It’s not a coincidence that over half of all of this government’s excise revenue now comes from petrol and diesel collections. In the last three years, this share has doubled, and the contribution of petroleum products to overall government revenue has grown by something like 58%. It has instituted a cycle of extreme dependence on a volatile revenue stream that could affect the functioning of Indian governments for years to come.
Think of it this way: if you buy a litre of petrol a day in Delhi, that’s ₹13,300 you’re putting into this government every year. It’s a government fast growing addicted to your petrol money, charging you a different price for it everyday based on international prices outside its control and, for the moment, showing little interest in scaling back its demands.
To be clear, there are justifications – perfectly good ones, economic and otherwise – for each of these trends. It’s just my opinion that it’s flat out unconscionable that twenty-one-and-a-half rupees from every litre of petrol sold in this country goes into the central government’s coffers, come what may. Twenty-one-and-a-half rupees per litre, even though that amount was stapled onto oil imports when they were at 15-year price lows but now cost nearly twice as much.
If India’s outlay on crude oil imports at source were to cross $100 per barrel – as it did on average for four whole years between November 2010 and the first of the 2014 excise hikes – petrol under current taxation would be more than ₹92 to the litre, and people would be burning vehicles instead of filling fuel in them. Hopefully, international prices won’t go that far and, if they do, the government will pull back its fuel taxes. But international prices tend to be ruthless, and taxes tend to not go down.
Of all the objectionable decisions this government has been rightly and wrongly accused of making, this is might well be the most likely to decide an election or two.
First things first. I’m a Feminist. Period. Is there any other way to be?
Feminism is a huge job. We won’t get to retire from it anytime soon. The sistas know that too well. There are too many things to achieve and the deadline is always yesterday. But, we are at it and sooner or later we will deliver a job well done. We will.
One of our KRAs, if I may say so, at this job is to monitor and question the representation of women or lack of it, everywhere. This assignment is so huge that we got to see the story of black “Female Mathematicians” who made very crucial and significant contributions at NASA in the last century; only last year in the movie Hidden Figures.
So, I understand why people had reactions when Mr. Bachchan shared a photo of Team Pink to celebrate one year of the iconic movie, “Pink”, one of the very few sensible and feminist movies to have ever come out of Bollywood. The said picture didn’t have a single woman in it. Just men.
T 2549 – The team of 'PINK' .. all in one frame .. and .. ALL, independent, individual .. NATIONAL AWARD WINNERS !!🙏 pic.twitter.com/uQV55nUQsO
— Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) September 16, 2017
T 2549 – The team of 'PINK' .. all in one frame .. and .. ALL, independent, individual .. NATIONAL AWARD WINNERS !!🙏 pic.twitter.com/uQV55nUQsO
— Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) September 16, 2017
While I understand where these good folks who pointed out the irony of this picture were coming from, I was on the other hand kind of glad to see the photo. If you actually dig into the credits for team behind the movie Pink, you’ll see the core team is essentially male. Now, is that a good thing? No. It is not. We would love to see equal opportunities for men and women in all fields. That’s a WIP and we have no other choice but to be at it, till the time we make it work.
What made me happy was the realization that there is this bunch of guys, who told a powerful feminist story. This, by and large all-men team, got it right; the story, the message, the cause. They told a very important story and made a very crucial point and how! Girls, I looked at this picture as a bunch of very cool feminists, if I think of the movie Pink.
To know feminist women is a joy. To meet Feminist men is a wee bit more joyful and reassuring. We all need feminist men, so let’s give it to them this once maybe for not having a woman in that picture. If the movie Pink is what you want to preach us, preach away boys! We are listening. Am I on the right track when I am thinking so? I hope so.
One of the most disagreeable things about tennis is how it constructs shallow, lazy and frankly terrible narratives around its leading exponents. The worst of these employ the trope of polar opposites. McEnroe and Borg were fire and ice, Sampras and Agassi was server versus returner, and, in recent years, Federer and Nadal has been seen as artist against automaton.
It’s a bunch of garbage, really, not least for the insinuation that identifying a player as one opposite excludes the possibility of ever being the other. Listen to the shrillest voices in that conversation, and you’d be convinced that McEnroe threw tantrums every time he played or that Agassi never served an ace in his life.
It is an essentialization that arguably does a greater disservice to Rafael Nadal than any other tennis player in history, for it suggests a game entirely devoid of aesthetics or natural talent. He’s painted as gritty and competitive and tough, and not nearly enough as cerebral and diverse and endlessly resourceful.
The truth is that, without a lights out weapon to generate winners with, it has been intuitive for his game to take on whatever shape his opponent’s weaknesses require it to. Equally, without a selling point around which to fashion a default Plan A, his defeats can’t just be explained away by a serve that didn’t work or a forehand that fell apart on a given day. With his athleticism corroded in recent years by injuries, even his pressuring style has faltered on faster surfaces. His recent defeats haven’t just felt like had-a-bad-day defeats – they’ve felt like attacks on his entire tennis belief system.
Nadal’s top seeding in the US Open this year was met with derision. There were at least half a dozen players with better hardcourt games than him, and his early exits at Montréal and Cincinnati made it hard to imagine he’d make it through seven matches without running into an ace machine or a big forehand he wouldn’t be able to chase down.
But when play opened in New York two Mondays ago, something was wrong. The courts weren’t playing as fast as they were elsewhere, and nobody could figure out why. The four guys who’d made the Cincinnati semis just a week before were gone by the first Saturday, and of the twelve men to have won hardcourt singles titles on the tour all year, only two saw the second week.
In theory, slower courts favoured Nadal. But the bloodbath in the first week also represented a classically Nadal challenge – with the other top seeds falling, the information he had on the rest of the field shrunk. To another player, this would mean little, but Nadal hates inconsistent opponents, risky tennis, shorter points. In fact, over the last three and a half years, his win record up and down the tour against guys outside the top 20 is such that, facing them in a hypothetical non-clay Grand Slam, the average of his performances would see him exit that tournament in the fourth round. And eventually, the courts would speed up, and these guys with big weapons would blow him away.
With all this doubt swirling around him, Nadal went back to what he knew – taking time, downloading information, studying tendencies and finding weaknesses.
Nowhere was that more obvious than against Del Potro in the semis. Having given up the first set, Nadal computed that, instead of targeting an assigned weakness, unpredictability was key, and he pursued it relentlessly. What is the opponent not expecting? How well can he think on the run? Is the correction risky? A thousand tiny decisions went by in a blur. It didn’t even feel like tennis – it felt like high-calibre problem solving under intense time pressure, which just happened to involve a racquet and a tennis ball.
From the start of the second set, it took Nadal a hundred minutes to win three sets. It had taken him the same time to figure out Dolgopolov in the fourth round, and in the quarters, with mild annoyance and minimal regret, Nadal had bludgeoned Rublev 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 in ninety-six minutes.
For the first hour and a half, yesterday’s final against Anderson meandered along in the plodding pattern of two players playing not to lose. Nadal won the first set but it was unconvincing. But, as Anderson struggled on serve, he found a couple of easy putaways to lead 4-2 in the second set.
Then, all of a sudden, it was happening again. Nadal was climbing all over second serves. He was dispatching his second and third shots into unreachable areas. He was using the threat that he could chase down anything to compel his opponent into playing bad shots. He was winning free points on his own serve more efficiently than he has at any point in the last seven years. It took him twelve minutes to win the set from there.
The third set against a fast-fading Anderson started with a break of serve, and a hold to fifteen. At 3-1, Anderson won five straight points and got a look at a couple of Nadal’s second serves. The second of these was in Anderson’s hitting arc but the ball kicked up, forcing him to mistime the return. The ball hobbled halfway up to Nadal’s side of the court. Nadal read it, glided forward, and sent one of those ridiculous whipping forehands wailing up the line. Anderson, no more than two feet from his last shot, scrambled to hack the return back. By the time he looked up, Nadal was already at the net to put away a forehand volley into the opposite side of the court. He threw a look back to the other side of the net as if to say, alright buddy, party’s over. Moments later, Nadal had won his seventh game in the last ten. The whole sequence took a little over thirty-eight minutes.
For years, Nadal had compensated for his weaknesses on faster surfaces by turning matches ugly. For years, his wins were Nadal by attrition over five sets or Nadal by strangulation in four. This tournament, though, none more so than the final, has been a showcase for a style that, for so long, seemed beyond him on faster surfaces – this was Nadal by knockout in three sets.
The sentiment that lingered after the final didn’t emanate from Nadal but from Anderson.
“I know we’re the same age,” he said, “but I feel like I’ve been watching you my whole life.”
It was powerful and evocative but a little incomplete. Nadal’s run in New York over this year offered not just a reminder of his constancy but of his evolution – a whirl of adjustments, variety, anticipation, and geometry, with bursts of explosiveness and intelligence to burn. It’s as if the one fundamental incongruity about Nadal’s game – the description of his tennis with adjectives that aren’t intrinsic to the beauty of the sport – had, at long last, been reconciled.
Rafael Nadal played beautiful tennis last week, polar opposites be damned. He is finally, indelibly part-automaton, part-artist.
The first time I came in contact with Gauri Lankesh was may be two decades ago. I knew her father P. Lankesh who had asked me the first time I met him – he knew about my problems with the management of Kasturba Medical College, Mangalore who were trying to get rid of me – “How much are they paying you?” I do not remember the amount but is must have been a couple of thousand then in 1989 or so. But I told him that and he said “We teachers are always scared of the unknown. Can’t you earn that much without their job? I am doing it, kicked my job, I am not starving on the streets. Kick their job or wait for them to do that. Do not give up on doing what you think is right!” After a few months when they had tried to dismiss me, he was one of the few who dared to write in detail about the Pais of Manipal in my support. Later on he supported me in quite a few things.
But, Gauri I came to know when she called me in connection with an alleged miraculous power of one Hanumantharayappa from Tumkur. It was some time in 1993 and that time I was on a tour of Karnataka and had heard of him having some supernatural powers. He was supposed to be identifying playing cards from their reverse side by the power of Shani! So, I had challenged him for a display of those and that I would give him an award of Ten thousand rupees to him if he could identify correctly nine of the ten I would deal him. She was the reporter of a now defunct English weekly called Sunday, published from Kolkata in those days. She wanted to cover that testing his powers because she said she had checked him and could not find out how he was doing it!
The testing happened in the chamber of Dr. H.Narasimhiah the former Vice Chancellor of Bangalore University which was in the National College and was the Mecca of the rationalists in those days. To put it in short it ended up in demolishing his so called miraculous powers because I ended up in doing what he was doing better than him! He could only tell the denomination of the card, I could tell even the suit which he felt was a higher power than his and ended up with his falling at my feet and acknowledging that I was his guru! So, the to be test ended up on a cordial note with two of us posing for a photo – but busing his myth of having supernatural powers.
So, that was the first time we had met. Subsequently she was working for Times of India if I remember rightly and there was not much contact between us. But, when she started editing Lankesh Patrike after her father’s demise they used to carry stories of interest to them and occasionally she used to get in touch but it was mostly through the reporters who used to get in touch for information and quotes. Subsequent to the dispute about her role as the editor of the periodical and her brother who was owning it she started her own publication called as Gauri Lankesh Patrike that she came into contact again, this time as an ideologue as well as a journalist . She used to carry the usual items about us which were of interest to her. In the meanwhile she was growing in public life with her stands against communalism of the majority with the organization called as Komu Sauharda Vedike, which I felt at many times was taking a soft stand against the excesses of the so-called minority organizations. We had shared public platforms quite a few times.
When I came into close touch with her again was at a protest we had organized against the murder of Dr.Narendra Dhabolkar outside the banashankarti shopping complex at Bengaluru. That was the time when we had put forward the demand that Karnataka Govt. too should enact the act like the Maharashtra one to eradicate inhuman practices in the name of religion. Later on the demand picked up and there were a number of individuals and organizations who took it up.
I can recall two of the campaigns in which we had worked closely together in the last few years. One was the massive illegalities, exploitation and murder at Dharmasthala near Mangalore. Through RTI Somanath Nayak of Nagarika Seva Trust and his colleague Ranjan Rao had collected thousands of pages of records and unearthed huge scams. They were keen on exposing them and had lodged complaints, cases , submitted memoranda to the ministers and also sent them on to the press. Despite of being so called free and objective not many of them had the courage to publish those. Gauri was the one with the courage to do that. One day she called me and said “ tell me is Somanath Nayak an RSS man?”. I told her he was but no longer is. She said OK I am going by your word and started going ahead with publishing the material supplied by him. As Somanatha Nayak told me as I was writing this, he was hoping that the latest in his struggle would have been published by her, but alas she is no more. So, the struggle against the atrocities there has lost one of its biggest supporters.
When I needed something to be supported she would put her reporter on that immediately. The most recent case in that was the murder of the RTI activist Vinayak Baliga. She lent us full support in our fight for justice for him. She reported the issues which the others were too scared to write on. Like the involvement of the kashi Math and the temple and their alleged role in the murder. She fearlessly reported on those issues. She supported our fight for justice for Vinayak Baliga by meeting the Home minister and the higher ups in the Police department many times when I had requested her. She took up the issue of the irregularities in the building of the Sharada Vidyalaya, Mangalore about which Baliga had filed cases with the commissioner and which his sister and I were pursuing after his murder. Since the head of those was M.B.Puranik the head of Vishwa Hindu Parishad of Dakshina Kannada not many had the courage to write about it though the documents are very clear that the built up area is twice the sanctioned and there is no way by which it can be condoned. She had carried the story very prominently.
When there was an attempt to attack me in March, 2017 she called me for details and carried the story very prominently when I asked her about her own security she just laughed it off. So, the concern for others security did not apply to her own self! Of course Gauri was not the epitome of an adarsh nari or anything that could be called perfect. She had her own faults and I can say that I did not agree with her on all her stands. She appeared to have a soft corner for some of radical Islamic groups under her excuse that they were the persecuted minorities.
But, certainly those who killed her have committed the dastardly act of silencing a voice of reason and a concern for the downtrodden of the society. Her social consciousness was the one which shone through whatever her shortcomings were. We have lost a supporter who was fearless and would support the issue regardless of what others said. Many times that lead to her taking up issues which were true and right but the evidence for which could not stand to legal scrutiny, the sentencing that she was handed down a short while back was the consequence of one such act. She must have hundreds of defamation cases filed against her!
So farewell Gauri and we shall continue on our path regardless of the threats that we may face. That could be the only fitting tribute to one of the gutsiest women I have known.
I walked with my eyes closed
and the voices helped.
Now I’ve opened my eyes
but the voices won’t go,
and I tread unfamiliar paths… not knowing where they lead…
Many of us were infuriated, appalled, incredulous, and so on about the famous (infamous) Gurmeet Ram Rahim situation.
It’s obvious that the Godmen scenario in India is a sham. Time and again several of these Godmen have proved beyond doubt the fact that they don’t really practice what they preach, inviting an avalanche of outcry against following them blindly on social media. Then why is it that our country continues being stuck in this mire and we can’t seem to stop buying packages of commercially marketed faith?
Societal chasm – Today’s day and age is connected beyond comfortable privacy boundaries. We have access to humongous amounts of information from innumerable sources. You would imagine progress and progressive ideas, therefore, should easily percolate to all corners of the country. We forget, however, that there is an equal amount of regressive content available. We don’t see it because targeted content creation and marketing makes us see what we want to see. In other words, there is social echo. I see a hemisphere that believes in equal rights for women, education for all, equal opportunities for transgender and is against discrimination basis sexual preferences. Someone else sees the hemisphere that believes in the contrary and conforms to their ‘ideologies’. Our individual beliefs are reinforced in two different directions that don’t meet or talk to each other. The earth is always half in darkness. Godmen and their target audience, therefore, survive harmoniously unchallenged in the universe this post won’t reach.
Vulnerability – No one has as shrewdly observed and leveraged the vulnerability and the fear inherent in our minds as self-appointed custodians of religion/faith. It is one of the the most successful Business Plan of entrepreneurial India and let’s face it there’s no shortage of demand. Underprivileged pockets of society with low self esteem resulting from centuries of oppression, people with depression, mental illnesses, people grappling with phases of hardships, the poorest of poor and hordes of people dealing with scarcity of one thing or another (cause if anything is in abundance in our overpopulated under-educated nation, it’s scarcity) – all easily fall prey to masquerading frauds. This is their sense of community and support – a socially approved and even a glorified one at that.
Moral Fibre – The most amusing part of this incident was how disciples’ feelings and support remained unfazed even when Babaji was convicted for a crime as heinous as rape. This is where a discussion on culture becomes necessary. Ours is a culture where women are not actually our pride but our certificate of respect as per the guidelines defined by patriarchy. It’s a culture that protects its cows more fervently than its women. It’s a culture where domestic violence/marital rape is condoned but divorce is shameful. With these values imbued and reinforced for generations, how can we expect anything different?
It goes beyond just women issues. The definitions of crimes are fungible. Charity, for instance, cancels out murders. Criminals are only those who can’t afford charity or a lawyer for that matter. I’m sure if it were a murder or any other crime, the reaction would’ve been no different. In such a scenario mistreatment of people with mental ailments, casteism and domestic violence become just “smaller” issues, which don’t even begin to get the privilege of any attention or debate. With a misplaced sense of values and bargained virtues embedded in our moral fibre; truth is – India wears a veil over its judgment. That’s why, content seizes to matter where faith has taken roots.
These are just a few amongst many plausible reasons that leave us wondering if blind faith is a problem or is it just symptomatic of a gravely blighted socio-economic ecosystem that we’re either unaware of or are too scared to acknowledge. Sadly, the majority of our population is part of that ecosystem and finding purpose in blind faith is a natural fallout of their atmosphere and upbringing. To imagine that the solution to this dysfunction that has taken roots over centuries is simple or easy, would be naivety. To expect everyone to be able to see these issues from our perspective (or to see them as issues at all) would be gross ignorance.
Nothing is obvious. Handfuls of us have chosen to build a fort around ourselves that maintains a semblance of order, but let’s not forget the chaos beyond our walls.
I have just finished reading all 547 pages of the Justice (Retd) Puttaswamy v Union of India (the Right to Privacy Case) comprising of 6 separate but concurring opinions.
Most of you would know that right to privacy has been held to be a fundamental right, albeit not an absolute one (as none of the fundamental rights are absolute) and amenable to reasonable attenuation to achieve a legitimate state interest – as long as the restriction passes the proportionality test. The key part, I think, is the use by almost all the judges of the concept of human dignity, articulated in the Preamble, to ground the fundamental rights. That is a major constitutional advance in India, even if many times other judges have said this before. This is the first time such a large bench has stated that each of us, as human beings, have an innate dignity of a magnitude that equalizes us and engages us in a collective constitutional project. That the CJI did not use the same concept to undergird his analysis in the Triple Talaq case, but signed onto that as articulated by CJI Chandrachud would be a mystery. That we will have to debate later.
The four fold test, for the attenuation of the fundamental right to privacy, that at least 6 (or was it 7) justices have explicitly signed off on are:
“(i) The action must be sanctioned by law;
(ii) The proposed action must be necessary in a democratic
society for a legitimate aim;
(iii) The extent of such interference must be proportionate to
the need for such interference;
(iv) There must be procedural guarantees against abuse of such
The judgement refers to a Justice Srikrishna Commission set up by the Government of India to frame the guidelines, norms and rules that would provide the procedural guarantees against abuse of such interference. This would, presumably, be looked into by the 5 judge bench that will decide the constitutional validity of the Aadhar Card Scheme. What the Government proposes, and sets forth as law, and whether it would satisfy the four fold test described in the Right to Privacy Case is something we would have to watch very carefully.
Additionally, the six opinions (that comprise the judgement) provide us with impeccable logical constructs and rich rhetoric, along with a thick ideological cover, to defend ourselves against and also attack the often ill informed and ill tempered trolls who pollute the internet. More importantly, the judgement provides us with the Constitutional rationale for an active role as citizens to stand up and be counted against fascist forces that seek to overrun this country. This would imply the need to educate others, both the elite and the vast masses, of the dangers that the political economy has posed and will continue to pose to the Constitutional project and all that is decent, progressive and vital in this country.
As a word of caution, I will also state that this ought not to rest at the level of mere anti-BJP rhetoric. If we restrict ourselves to that we would have betrayed the spirit of the Constitution and the incredible intellectual and ethical opportunity this decision provides for us. Many other political parties, including the Congress, have at various times attacked the constitutional foundations of this nation. That BJP is the one in power, and has launched, arguably the most potent of assaults on Indian constitutional structures, will obviously merit special attention. But, it cannot be the sole attention.
Irrespective of the party, we need to realize that not hewing closely to this incredibly resilient matrix of ethical and intellectual possibilities – rooted deeply in the collective wisdom (or should that be in the plural) of mankind, both here in India and all over the world – that our Constitution encodes and this judgement reveals, obviously partially but nevertheless powerfully, will kill our project of constructing India as befitting the genius and dignity of our people. All the people.
Over the next few weeks I will try to excavate, within the boundaries of what my modest capacities inscribe, some salient themes and philosophical constructs that this judgement brings to the forefront. Not everything may stand up to careful and critical scrutiny. That is the very nature of the process of constitutional adjudication and its assimilation for fresh rounds of debates. Nevertheless, there is much to cheer about in those 547 pages for now.
I would just note (for now) two features (of the many) that ought to strike anyone who reads all the opinions in this judgement:
1. In no uncertain terms the majority of the judges emphatically declined to be swayed by a fascist submission made by the Union of India: that the poor do not need fundamental rights, and much less a right to privacy as a part of their right to life and liberty. One sentence from the opinion of Justice Dr. Chandrachud says it all:
“The refrain that the poor need no civil and political rights and are concerned only with economic well-being has been utilised though history to wreak the most egregious violations of human rights.”
That is what Mrs. Indira Gandhi, and Sanjay Gandhi said in the mid seventies. And we got ADM Jabalpur, that enunciated a horrifying principle that procedure of law can be any law – good, bad or ugly – to even take away life. The son, Justice Dr. Chandrachud makes amends for the mistake of his father by expressly overruling ADM Jabalpur. I.R. Coelho had noted that ADM Jabalpur had been impliedly repealed, but it is always good to hear a constitutional body make amends.
(On a slightly different note: Justice Dr. Chandrachaud also castigated the judgement by Justice Singhvi in the Kaushal v NAZ Foundation, in as much as Justice Singhvi had erroneously decimated many constitutional principles in his opinion in that decision. Justice Dr. Chandrachud (joined, I think by at least 5 or maybe even 6 judges), using rather delicate judicial language stated that these two judgments ought to be confined to the archives. I think he meant the garbage can. In the Kaushal v Naz Foundation, adhering to principles of judicial discipline, he left the task of deciding the fate of Kaushal v NAZ Foundation to the constitution bench that is actually seized of the matter. To the extent that Kaushal v. NAZ Foundation represented a turn in the discourse – towards the assertion of majoritarianism as the only principle, of vicious assaults on principles of constitutionalism and naked assertion of power to do whatever it takes to perpetuate power and benefits to the cronies (or rather deepening of that) – this move away brought a hope. Albeit very small, because much that ought not to have been done has also been done. Yet, maybe – just maybe we can hope to fight?)
2. (This is an extension of the principles in the judgement – the judges themselves have not spoken about the trolls for Hindu Rashtra). For nearly a decade, and almost viciously, the idea that India and Indians are inheritors of wisdom from both India and abroad has been attacked. Again and again. Ill informed, ignorant but hate filled members of the right have attacked anyone and anything that they did not like, or was beyond the pale of their monotonic representation of what India is, as foreign and hence unworthy of consideration, of suspect moral foundation and also necessarily false.
In asserting that the concept of “human dignity” and hence the content of dignified “life” is informed by wisdom of mankind from all over the world, every one of the judges has emphatically shown the proclivities of the right wing trolls to be what they are: xenophobic. By canvassing, repeatedly and copiously, both Indian case law and case law from abroad, by citing both Indian and foreign authors, and by drawing upon sources such as ancient texts, both Indian and foreign, the nine judges have asserted (implied) that Indian Constitution does not envisage an India as an island that is self contained and adrift from the larger human project – of assuring the dignity of all individuals as the only means to assure fraternity.
For those of you who would want to be warriors for a progressive India, and an India that will continue to sustain the constitutional project reading this judgement – all six opinions – ought to be a categorical imperative. We are where we are today – combating both the steady creep of fascism and a moral abdication of concern for each other and all the others – because we have also failed to sufficiently protect the constitutional values when they were attacked. We also did not protest enough when the corrupt polity attacked our constitutional mechanisms and institutions. This judgement is an indication that the constitutional project still has some life left in it. It will breathe better, survive and thrive only if we fight for it. All that judges of the Supreme Court can do is to articulate the moral imperatives of the Constitution.
We, the people of India, have to give life to those moral imperatives. Protecting the Constitution and its project is our responsibility. As citizens, and as human beings.
I’m not the type of guy to post about this on Social Media, but oh well, Mumbai you’ve compelled me to do it!
Amidst all the rant that will be going on about how the rains have screwed up everyone’s life, here’s a big thank you to Mumbai & every person in this city for reminding me that I live in such a kick-ass city with some kick-ass people!
I left home at 9:30 in the morning for Andheri, drenched wet within 10 minutes of exiting the house, waited endlessly for a Cab but couldn’t get one. Out of nowhere a Cab WITH a passenger stops by & the guy inside asked if me & the random guy next to me were headed for the station, which we were so we obviously joined him. To my surprise, this followed with absolutely NO conversation in the cab except for the initial thank you & welcome, as if it was taken for granted that single passengers are supposed to do an act like this.
Reached Andheri eventually, running late for my errand & not able to get a rickshaw, in the end I rushed & caught a Bus. FML; it was the wrong bus. Now I had to wait for the next stop… but guess what, the conductor stopped the bus mid-road just so that I could get down & also gave me the correct route (Conductor of Route 257, Thank You!). I was embarrassed yet amazed, he didn’t really need to do that, right?
An umbrella in one hand, my phone in the other, the arrogant me relied more on Google Maps than the people around me. Frantically crossing roads & figuring out where the hell am I supposed to go with a barely functional wet screen, this random Panwala who’s been observing me go in circles, calls me out from across the street, asks me where do I want go & gives me the exact directions. He could have just minded his own business, but no, this man helps me out.
Done with the work I head back, again no rickshaw so it’s a long walk to Andheri Station, saw a bike stuck right before the flyover, went in to help the guy sort it out, gave it a push & there he was off. And for some vague reason, the traffic cop at that flyover gave me an informal salute. As if in some way I helped him by helping this guy. But even if so, why did he need to do that? He could’ve just continued with his work.
Reached Dadar, again no cabs, but this time no buses either, the road seemed to be temporarily closed. Waited for 15 minutes or so, meanwhile I noticed this huge branch on the road in front of the Plaza Bus Stop. Tried nudging it, didn’t work out, tried to lift it, again no use. But in the course of these 30-35 seconds of me failing at moving the branch, 2 Random Guys joined in to get the branch off the road & yes we managed to move it. Again, no conversations between us, as if we were all doing our job.
Tired of waiting, I chose to walk home in this weather with knee deep water on the roads & for some god forsaken reason every person I come across struggling in the rains is actually smiling at me; strangers who I don’t even know, who I may never even meet in my life. But here’s the funny part, for some reason even I’m smiling back at them. As if we both know the ordeal that we are going through, as if they’ve had their own set of experiences today exactly like mine.
Experiences which make us realize that this city is not filled with rapists & murderers as what we see on the news, but with people like you & me who are living in this crammed up city, trying to get a life & at the same time understanding the pain that the others are going through. It’s days like these that make me realize how easy it is to rant & scream about how pathetic this city is, how bad the infrastructure is, & blah & blah… but in all this commotion miss out on those beautiful nuances that the people in this city have got to offer.
Whether you are from Mumbai or not, you gotta commend this city & its people! So here’s a thank you to Mumbai & to everyone who’s been a part of this kick-ass city. I’m sure in one way or the other, you have impacted my life. Maybe after reading this you are reminded of the moments that you might have missed… maybe after reading this you’ll live the moments yet to come a little bit more.
While Mumbai might as well stop in the coming few hours due to the rains, the People won’t; and I guess that’s what matters. Proud to be a Mumbaikar.❤