Jan Lok Pal – the interim FAQ

There has been some heated discussions in the social media about Anna Hazare and Jan Lok Pal bill. Even though I have written a couple of posts about why I do not join hands with Anna Hazare and the knee jerk activism of middle-class, I think a summary post will be good so that I can save sometime typing the same thing again and again, rather direct people with questions here. So here are my views.

Why are you anti-Anna?

Because the man has a dubious character. He had praised Narendra Modi for his ‘development’ work in Gujarat which is refuted by other Gandhians like Himanshu Kumar. In Anna’s words, the only thing that Modi has to do to become a 100% perfect chief minister is to accept the Lokpal system. Later he white-washed his own words though; by saying “I am equally opposed to any form of communal disharmony“. Remember, Hazare was talking about a chief minister who still refuses to take the blame for his alleged support to a massacre.

Anna Hazare has also openly supported the MNS chief Raj Thackeray. And you know who Mr. Thackeray is and what his politics are. Cunning old man did not forget to add his Gandhian thought that ‘but damaging public and national property was not right‘. Everything else in the MNS regionalist game seems to be good for Hazare.

Hazare’s ways are autocratic than being democratic. It is evident from the way he has modeled the fight against corruption. He pushed his own bill without coming to a consensus between the civil society members themselves. This kind of attitude that ‘only-my-draft-is-right‘ is fascist. I cannot trust a man like him to take up the leadership or to represent the civil society. Supporting a man like him can only invite grave dangers to democracy.

But Anna Hazare is a widely trusted man who has built a model village called Ralegan Siddhi.

You should first read about how this so-called model village was built. I don’t see anything to model after a village where their moral was built on flogging and fear. I mean, even Adolf Hitler wanted to create a ‘puritan’ society based on fear and physical punishment and he had his ways to do it. Or even Narendra Modi had a lesson to teach people and now he is talking about development (no wonder why Anna supports Modi). Indira Gandhi had her ways to make citizens ‘responsible’ through Emergency. Ralegan Siddhi is a village where Anna ‘had the practical experience of need of force while implementing family planning measures’ and where there has been no grama panchayat elections in the last 24 years and no election to co-operative societies. That is not a model village, in my opinion.

Whatever his persona is, it was because of him that the government was forced to consider Jan Lokpal Bill. And you have to give him credits for that.

I will not. Because if he deserve any credit, it is for driving the movement in the wrong direction. Anna is an icon that was purposefully created by his team and the media. How many of us even knew about his existence in the last year? But then the media came and created a saint out of Anna. He seems to enjoy such publicity too. Then his own team started the beatification process. It grew up to a level where his own team members have said “ultimately, the power is with Anna, so whatever Anna says has to be accepted“. From then on it became a fascist, autocratic movement that can threaten the very basis of democracy.

But he had massive support of the people!

Have you ever thought about this sudden outrage of people, after all these years? Is it because the thought that ‘enough-is-enough‘ was sprouted one fine day? I don’t think so. Every generation is looking for some kind of revolution to take part. They want to witness something incredible in their life time and there could not be a better time than this season of revolutions world wide, especially in the middle-eastern countries. The youth, the middle-class and the national media were all missing this sort of fun and that is how Hazare, the mass icon, was born. You say ‘Anna is India, India is Anna‘. Anna alone is not India or India is not just Anna. India is you. And me. Us. Not Anna’s sole property.

By the way, a journalist friend from Delhi told me that Ramlila Maidan might have had just about 20,000 people at maximum and different media houses have added the numbers they liked, even to lakhs. And this 20,000 out of 1.21 billion people is called ‘massive support’?

But don’t you agree that the movement has made a change in the attitude of government towards the bill?

Yes, but it had the wrong nature and direction. And remember that it is only a small hurdle that is just passed and the time to rejoice is far away. I think this movement could have been driven in the right direction and still could make the change but the aggression of Hazare, his team, media, and the middle-class crusaders made it impossible.

You call it knee-jerk activism of the middle-class.

Yes, because I haven’t seen such enthusiasm of this so-called urban, semi-urban middle-class ‘activists’ changing their profile pic to Gandhi caps, defending Anna Hazare, or asking for their rights on any other issues of greater importance. They kept a criminal silence on several national and local issues and now they speak up.

People would speak up only about issues that they are directly affected by. Isn’t it justified?

No, it is not. Selective response is not a justifiable response at all. That is called hypocrisy. And the silence on the issues that people in your own or other parts of the country are facing, is criminal. To me, corruption doesn’t have a greater importance than north-eastern crisis or dalit/tribal issues or people being displaced in the name of development. The fact that Binayak Sen or Irom Sharmila doesn’t inspire you alone is proof of how you choose your icons or rather how you play into the hands of media and a group of people.

Are you pro-Government?

Yes, I am pro-Government but not pro-current-Government. I am also pro-Democracy. But I am not pro-Congress if your question was in that direction. You can do a search in my blog to see how much I have talked about the regional and national politics of Congress. You can start with searching the tag “congress party” in this blog.

Okay. So do you support the government draft of the bill?

No. Everybody knows that the government draft is crass. At the same time, I think there should not be a bad practice in place as a model for future agitations and protests. And in a democracy, consensus should be worked on first. Now there are four drafts in place (Jan Lok Pal, NCPRI’s draft, Loksatta’s draft and Bahujan Lok Pal) and the parliament should consider all four and act accordingly.

Well, that’s all I have to say about Jan Lok Pal for now.

Anna Hazare and the Great Indian Middle-class

First of all, I do support the Jan Lokpal Bill. Many Indians would, because we have seen corruption from small to large scale here in India and got tired of it. I do like the fact that there is this one man, Anna Hazare, who could mobilize people across country to join in support of him against corruption. I thank him because not many would have been aware of this Bill if it wasn’t for his efforts. In the end, at least it seems like this could be a beginning of change though the irony is that the government in charge is the most corrupted one in the history of India.

The support that Anna Hazare has got from the public was praised as the beginning of Indian middle-class involving themselves in national issues. Media celebrated a more politically active middle-class and it’s youth. “War on Corruption”, “People’s Victory” – the new headlines kept popping up in the news channels every hour. People were tweeting, changing their Facebook profile picture, putting Gandhi caps and some even did fasting for a day in support of Anna Hazare.

But there is something that stinks about this middle-class political activism. It is because the selective issues that the Indian middle-class and it’s youth choose to fight. From the days of “Youth for Equality” to “War on Corruption”, it is quite evident that the Indian middle-class activism is centered on an India where they have an upper hand. Where they will have their future built (and it is this middle-class India that the upper-class can also bank upon hence the support from the top notch CEOs, Industrialists and celebrities). That is why corruption, terrorism and reservation are the favorite subjects of these middle-class crusaders (yes, corruption is an evil that all classes of India would want to root out, but for the middle-class and their nationalism, corruption is a shame before international community, not an evil in itself). And issues like North East India, Dalit, Tribal, etc never come to their focus.

There is a Manipuri woman who has been fasting for the last 10 years here in India, but those who shed tears for Anna Hazare chose to ignore her and her cause. Why? Because she is not a proclaimed Gandhian and she is not from the mainland India. Her cause is often described as anti-India while what she fights for is justice to the common man. This proves that the Indian middle-class ignores everything that is propagated as anti-India. Their morale is not built around human values, but a pseudo-patriotic feeling. In their quest to bring “justice”, they do not care about the details of the human right fights. So they easily tag the fights of Manipuris as separatism, Binayak Sen for them is a naxal apologetic and every single tribal who complains against the government is a naxal.

What we see right now is a biased urban Indian middle-class fighting “their” cause and trying to downplay the larger issues exist in India. For some of them, it is just a passing-over exhibition that is inspired by the authentic fights of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. An attempt to do a cinematic remake of these other movements worldwide. After all, our activism is always inspired by Bollywood (Munna Bhai style Gandhigiri, Rang De Basanti style candle light vigil etc) than life and it’s reality.

PS: After a fight that is said to bring more “power to people”, comes this comment from Shanti Bhushan – “Ultimately, the power is with Anna, so whatever Anna says has to be accepted.” Birth of new demi-Gods in Indian system?

Review: Sound Box magazine

Sound Box magazine

Though touted as a music trade magazine, I think Sound Box will be interesting to all kinds of people who love music. Their initial package looks very promising. They had a buzz section that covered latest Indie, digital, TV, radio, gadget news. The main feature was about the amendments to the copyright act and the responses of various personalities to the issue. It has an interesting interview with singer Sonu Nigam on the issue. The guide section gives it a more elaborate look on the music charts, local events calendar (which will need to expanded to southern Indian cities like Bangalore, Chennai etc).

One hopeful thing though is a section called “Watchtower” where they have featured a state and this time a north-eastern state – Mizoram. Sound Box has given an overview of the state’s music scene, covering everything about it – music culture, music channels, popular local talents, venues, music labels, studios etc. It also has an interview with Boomerang – the Junk Rock band from Mizoram. I hope this would eventually lead the mag to cover or explore all regional music scenes, including the southern states. Another interesting story from the inaugural issue is about a Tamil rap band from Dharavi.

I see a couple of drawbacks to the mag though. The price being the first one. Though the good people at Sound Box sent me a free copy, the magazine is priced at Rs. 150. I think that price is a bit high for an ordinary music lover. I don’t think I will spend anything more than Rs. 50 on a magazine and that could be achieved by making the poster sized pages thinner and by reducing the huge size of the mag. Size is the second thing – I wish they had a lesser size for the mag so that it would be easy to carry it along on journeys and would make a comfortable reading in public places.

Other than these two, I totally loved the mag and wouldn’t mind subscribing to it.

Rahman’s Commonwealth Anthem

I have never read such a sharp, spot-on critic review in the recent times. Here is Sadanand Menon’s take on A R Rahman’s Commonwealth anthem, published in Outlook (reproducing it in full here).


By Sadanand Menon

Anthems are devised to make your spirit soar. When they crash-land, they can also leave you sore. For some time now A.R.Rahman has been on song. This time the song is on him. His Jiyo, Utho, Badho, Jeeto takes all of 4 minutes and 16 seconds to expose you to the perils of skydiving without a parachute. But then, this is the anthem for the 2010 Commonwealth Games and, like many other things connected with this year’s CWG, it is just another kind of cruel sport.

The idea of an anthem for sporting events is arguably to foreground a consistent theme as a focal point of the event and to unify the audiences with the adhesive of a familiar, infectious rhythm. In the present context of a Games mired in debilitating controversy and hint of sleaze, a rousing anthem could have been a talisman to unlock some positive energy.

But the present offering of India’s own Mozart, launched with much fanfare on August 23, has left even the Group of Ministers unhappy. That must be the ultimate ignominy – that aesthetic cynicism of such crass proportions can even affect the GoM. Though, one suspects, it was not so much the notations on the music sheet but the notations on the bill that did the damage.

Even as Oscar-hero Rahman was concatenating, at super-speed, his CWG jingle that jangles with some of the most pedestrian verses in recent times, he also fed into the computation a punchy figure of some Rs.1.37 crores for every minute of the song. Total, Rs.5.50 crores.

In 2006, for the inaugural functions of the Frankfurt Book Fair where India was the ‘Guest of Honour Country’, a proposal by music composer Ilayaraja to present a Carnatic raga using a 120-piece Western philharmonic orchestra, was summarily rejected because of the price tag of Rs.95 lakhs attached to it. But times have changed.

The funny thing about Rahman’s Swagatham number this time is that after its recitative first part – with lines as stiff and strangulating as ‘Junoon se, kanoon se, maidaan maar lo’ – the second performative segment breaks into a beat that sounds like a rip-off of his own composition Ramta Jogi in the film Taal. Obviously Rahman is now famous enough to plagiarize himself and even charge us for it. But the obvious question that needs to be asked is why did he even try? Why did he not simply offer back the same Ramta Jogi(Playboy Ascetic) as the anthem for the Games? The song has all the right foot-tapping ingredients, including oblique references to playful charlatans that would have blended well with the CWG.

Of course, Rahman’s anthem cannot be disconnected with the overall plan for inaugural and closing ceremonies of the Games. The fancy committee for the inaugural events has for a few months now been grappling with the logistics of how to present India in this highly televised event. It is a committee in search of a spectacle. The spectacle of a fake, make-believe India populated with Bollywood dancers and swirling silks, crooning divas and simpering starlets. Last time around, they were thinking of making a sound-and-light show with ‘Om’.

It is an India that has no specific location on this planet and is far removed from not just the lives but even the fantasies of its people. This is an India that is the pet project of its robber-barons who are enabled, each time, to whisk away some more resources in the name of an abstract nation.

That the vulgar Rs.380 crore budget for the opening ceremonies could not set aside a few crores for a group of poets in different languages to write an appropriate song for the opening anthem tells its own story of gross disinterest even in the context of the indefensible. Instead we have some utterly filmy gibberish like:

Uthi re ab iraadon mein tapan / Chali re gori, chali ban tthan.

The lines, as much as the composition, are stolen from some other context. As we believe are the Games.

Vande Mataram 2010

It’s another Independence Day. Time to celebrate where we have come so far and to remind ourselves of the roads ahead.

Independence Day is quite often considered as a time to display our nationalistic fervor. We exhibit our nationalism by waving flags or raising flags, distributing sweets and wishing each other. We also exchange emails that say we should take pride in our country etcetera but I wonder if that is what it is all about – an exhibition.

I have asked this question myself – am I proud of my country? I am. I am proud of all the good things and good people we have here. But at the same time I am ashamed of all the bad things and bad people and a bad system that we have in this country. And I think patriotism is not about feeling superior or inferior to any other countries in this world. Plainly put, it is about belonging here.

But just because I feel that I belong no where else in the world but here, it doesn’t mean that I would ridicule any other Indian who doesn’t feel like belonging here and find that sense of belonging elsewhere. I wouldn’t call him/her unpatriotic. Because their feeling of being alienated in their own country pauses a question before ourselves. What is it that makes them feel that way, though they have lived all their lives in this same soil? What makes them feel India is worse for them and perhaps there is a better place in the world than India? What makes them feel that they are secondary citizens in their own country? What makes them feel that democracy and politics are a softened form of the old colonial system? These are the questions that we should ask ourselves and to our society. And it would open up our eyes to see the nation in a different light. Through others’ eyes, and see what went wrong and where. It’s a long process. Seeing it, identifying it, talking about it, getting others to engage with it, making a movement, pressuring authorities to do something about it and thus finally making the change – however small or big it is. In this long process, often people would call you names – “un-patriotic“, “pseudo-nationalist“, “pseudo-secularist“, “anti-development” and what not. Let none of that make you feel down. Keep working your way.

I have high hopes for my country even through all the idiocy and the hopelessness it gives me at times. I think many things have changed for good from the way it was several years ago, thanks to the continued efforts of change makers from grass-root level. I am sure things will continue to improve as many selfless people work towards it even when they are being ridiculed by their fellow countrymen. And I don’t feel inferior of my country when I compare the situation here with other countries that have a more liberal, inclusive and better system in place. Because it did not happen for them on one fine day. It took many brave souls and a long process there too, perhaps the time they took for such changes was shorter.

So here is my humble tribute to those martyrs. To those who were shot at for speaking against the oppressors. Those who were jailed. Those who were beaten or hanged for voicing out. And to those freedom fighters of our times. Many of them, unknown to us. Those who work on to make India a better and better place. Those who work on several issues – dalit, tribal/adivasis, marginalized and economically backward communities, women, sexual minorities, health care, domestic violence, political violence, terrorism, religious extremism, justice, corporate crimes, environment and so on.

To all those brave souls, I dedicate my song…

Song: Vande Mataram 2010
Composed, lead & harmony vocals by: Joseph Thomas (Jo)

Download “Vande Mataram 2010” MP3 file here (3.58 MB)

The mid-day meal

“..but more importantly, while the governments in the west agonize over what to do about nutrition for kids, India has actually gone ahead and done something about it.” (From the docu film “India’s Free Lunch“.

As Madhukar Shukla said in Facebook while sharing this video link – “mostly noted when a report of a lizard comes in news, the funds get diverted, or scam hits the scheme, India’s Mid-Day Meal scheme has gone largely unnoticed for the positive impact it has made to many young lives.

Bollywood and Indianness

I have time and again pondered over the pitiful situation that we have as Bollywood as a brand name representing Indian cinema to the world outside (just google with “bollywood+jocalling” to see my posts on this topic). For a long time, it used to be the self-styled ambassadors of Hindi cinema who keeps conducting the “Indian” film award functions outside India who are in a desperate need of selling the Bollywood brand in the name of India and Indian culture. But how would you feel when a Minister of State, who is the newest political messiah (after APJ Abdul Kalam – who also was mostly just hype) of our urban upper-middle-class babies, says this in the TED?

The fact is that Bollywood is now taking a certain aspect of Indianness and Indian culture around the globe.

Now think about the greatness of the times we are in – Bollywood being the face of not just Indian film, but also Indianness and Indian culture.

And what exactly happened to the quality of TED Talks? I think their tag line still says “ideas worth spreading”.

India: Homosexuality Legalized

In a historic judgment, the Delhi High Court has passed a ruling that recommends section 377 of IPC should be amended and any sex between two consenting adults should be legalized. This comes as a big solace to India’s homosexuals as it opens up the way to legalize consensual sex between two adult homosexuals. The Court has said that section 377, if not amended would be a violation of Article 21 of the constitution which states that every citizen should be treated equally before the law. I am happy that the Court has upheld the values of human rights and the right to live with dignity and equal opportunity (at least in the eyes of the law).

Chief Justice Shah and Justice Muralidhar said, “We declare Section 377 in so far as it criminalizes consensual sexual acts of adults in private is violative of articles 14, 21 and 15 of the Constitution. The provision of Section 377 will continue to govern non-consensual penile non-vaginal sex and penile non vaginal sex involving minors.” [Legally gay: historic court order makes it possibleCNN IBN]

The new ruling however will not be immediately implemented because it is now up to the parliament to take a decision to amend the law. And I am not sure whether the politicians would take a positive stand on the matter because there is strong protest from various religious groups including Christians, Hindus and Muslims (which also means “vote banks”). I have only one thing to ask them. You have time and again taken pride in saying that your respective religion has revised it’s teachings and text according to the times. Each of you claim that you are the most modern religion. Now is your chance to prove it. If you think that a supreme force like God(s) cannot be inclusive, what kind of love and tolerance do you preach?

As for the LGBT community, they have many challenges lying ahead. For the starters, they should begin educating people on homosexuality rather than keeping people off with the explicit symbols of sexuality. The homosexuals need to let the heterosexuals know that other than their preference in love and sex, they are not a sex-hungry group but normal people, just like the rest of us. They should also help others identify whether they are truly Gay or not. (I read an excellent post on this topic in Sam’s blog where he answered someone about the differences between feeling Gay and being Gay).

Anyways, the Indian society cannot live in denial. Homosexuality and homosexuals are for real.  Our denial only makes the whole situation worse, adding up to the failed marriages, sexual diseases and suicides. So no matter what an individual thinks of homosexuality, the Government and Law should uphold the rights of every individual. The Court has done it’s part. Will the Government follow?

Related posts:

Homosexuality and Our Perceptions
Indian Penal Code, Section 377

Aussies, Bollywood, Racism etc

rajesh_khannaThese are scary times for the Indian students in Australia. The fear of being beaten up, or the vehicles being torched etc still prevails and its all in the name of race. The racist attacks against Indian students in Australia have sparked widespread protests in India and abroad. The most noted protest came from the old showman of the so-called Bollywood who refused to accept an award given to him by the Aussies. And the Bollywood joined in this protest against racism.

Yes, against racism. Now before I go further, wouldn’t you agree that Racism, Casteism and Prejudice are cousins? If yes, let us rewind the news a little bit. There we see the Bollywood star of the yesteryears, Rajesh Khanna, publicly mouthing against South Indians.

I had a hearty laugh when she said that when a person retires he or she gets lifetime achievement award. I disagree. Probably she doesn’t know the word (in) English, she’s probably from south (India).

So Mr. Khanna believes that the south Indians do not understand English. Now either I can go ahead and point out at more than a thousand examples of known or not-publicly-known individuals from South India, or ignore his ignorance. And I prefer the latter. What I cannot ignore however, is this kind of prejudice that prevails among us, the people of the same country. But the old Mr. Khanna can be excused since the south Indians themselves have such prejudices against each other.

Coming back to our protest against racism, we Indians seem to have easily forgotten our Desi version of it – Casteism. And as much as we like to deny it, some reminders keep popping up from time to time. Like this, for example. The 11 year old Dalit servant boy who was made to sit and eat under the table, while his masters enjoy their meals on the dining table. The image of a dog  comes to my mind, that sits under the table of his master. We even have a popular name for this set of people now – The slum dogs. And talking of slum dogs, this is about how you would treat the people who belongs to the lowest step of the caste and economical ladder.

Oh, and what was the occassion that Khanna ji made his remarks against South Indians? IIFA – The so-called International Indian Film Awards. about which I had written about in my blog on various occassions (Not in Our Name and Indian Awards, Given Abroad) and of which our old angry young man, who refused to accept the Aussie award in protest against racism, is a leading ambassador.

Do we want blood on our hands?

This news from Times Online, comes as shocking to me. India, instead of supporting the proposal for a war crime inquiry by UN Human Rights Council, decided to thwart the process along with China and Russia. I do not support the LTTE and it’s ways and I do not think that they are what the Tamils need in Sri Lanka, but when 1000 people were killed each day, which makes the civilian death toll to above 20,000, shouldn’t the Sri Lankan government be held responsible? Or at least have undergone a UN inquiry? With it’s crucial role in the sub-continent, shouldn’t India have supported this inquiry? Our hypocrisy is wide open, because we supported a war crime inquiry into Israel’s operation in the Gaza Strip but chose to thwart a similar inquiry in Sri Lanka.

Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said that neither reason justified failing to act when the Red Cross warned of an “unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe”. India “could have saved many lives if it had taken a proactive position — and it would not have affected the outcome of the war,” he said.

Sam Zarifi, Asia Pacific director of Amnesty International, said: “India . . . simply chose to support the [Sri Lankan] Government’s notion that it could kill as many civilians as it would take to defeat the Tigers.”

India says that it provided Sri Lanka with non-lethal military equipment and sent officials repeatedly to persuade the Government to protect civilians. “We’ve consistently taken the line that the Sri Lankan Government should prevent civilian casualties,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

However, President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka told NDTV: “I don’t think I got any pressure from them. They knew that I’m fighting their war.” [Via]

The Congress government at the center needs to answer for the murder of 20,000 civilians in Sri Lanka. We have blood on our hands.

(Thanks to Vassan for the links)