Tuesday, June 8, 2010


By and large, I don't think much of Singapore papers and the tepid talk that passes for news in their pages. But this weekend they had me blurry-eyed with a headline they carried. It was the first thing I read that morning.

Five sets of clothes.
His curry pot. A rice cooker.
An album of family photos.
That was all he owned and they were put in a plastic bag and sent to Chennai with his body...
A lifetime packed off neatly in five sentences and a coffin box, ready to turn to dust over a funeral pyre and across some landfills.

With grim contrast it reminded me of those corny one-pagers that magazines carry on celebrities nowadays. You know, where you can almost hear a nasal voice sycophantically asking - Oh! And if you were stranded in a desert island, what are the three things you simply must have with you there? And then you can imagine the celebrity sighing with boredom in the depth of his/her soul, (if it hasn't been sold yet), before giving a coiffured reply that exclaims itself to death- Of course! My Gucci bag!! I must have that !!! And my 50++ SPF for all that sun I'll face !!!! blah !!!blah!!!!

Of course, people who actually have to make the choice of living with the bare minimum, sometimes in a cloth bundle under their head when they sleep on footpaths, or under their bunk beds in factory dorms - these migrant labourers - they are never asked that question. And they wouldn't have time to respond to such inanity anyway. They are too busy surviving, doing whatever jobs they can manage to get, for whoever can pay higher for it, slung down ropes from buildings, or climbing up scaffolding, living in spaces barely larger than what they will be buried under someday, with no family around them, instead, just five sets of clothes. A curry pot. A rice cooker. And an album of family photos.

Till someone slashes their limbs off because they grudge them even that.

Who needs Shakespeare to read tragedy? Just pick up the damn paper.

The first report on the slashings in Kallang, Singapore that left 1 dead and three severely injured.

Can you help?

Journalist Kimberley Spykerman, who covered the incident for The Straits Times, tells me that HOME [Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics] is helping the victims of the Kallang slashing. Those interested can contact Mr Jolovan Wham at jolovan.home@gmail.com

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Baghban is not the sort of movie I see. But thanks to the barrage of trailers that any Bachchan starrer will unleash on the public, I know its story, and I know some of its dialogues. In one scene, the ungrateful son having usurped the house, the savings, as well as years of loved upbringing from his father, nonchalantly brushes him away saying: Come on Dad, let's face it! Whatever I am today is what I have made myself. What have you got to do with it?

Hema Malini's large stocks of glycerine and Amitabh Bachchan's Tears Plus make us hate the guy for saying it. But come on, let's face it. We all think the same. At best, we pay a grudging acknowledgment to our parents, but any family occurring before their generation is considered as dispensable and fungible as a modern art splotchy painting. Takes up the wall, but frankly, who can tell the difference from one to the other?

But for a moment let us imagine. Let us consider what did not happen, what we are not.

My forefathers were traders. Not untouchables. They weren't forced to work in the most menial of jobs - so they could save money. They weren't stopped from owning land - so they were able to establish a shop. They weren't beaten to death for their prosperity or censured for sending their child to school - so their whole family was educated. They were qualified enough to migrate to the city and land good jobs - so I went to the school that I did and got tutors when that wasn't enough.

But what if I was living in the outskirts of a village or an urban slum? Scrounging for water from wells far away or lugging it in buckets from tankers. Staying in an educationally infertile house. Attending school for the attraction of a free mid-day meal which I would get to eat only far away from other students. No coaching classes for extra help I needed, no ready electricity to study at night. Would I be in the same position? What are the chances?*

Because of my social situation, automatically, the dice is loaded in my favor.

You don’t take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains, bring him to the starting line in a race and say ‘ you are free to compete with all others’, and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.”

That's a quote by an ex-US President, regarding affirmative action for blacks after their well-known ruthless opression as slaves under White rule, which starts an exceptional story in Outlook - Bite the Caste Bullet. Do read it.

Unfortunately, any talk of Dalits and SC/STs starts and ends up on reservation, a topic that has created more debate than solutions. Honestly, I don't think issue as as black and white as either side heatedly suggests.

The writers of our constitution did not envisage reservations to last sixty years when they wrote the constitution
... But they did not envisage untouchability to continue lasting sixty years after the constitution came into effect either.

Reservations are not the most efficient way of removing the disparity - instead, we must enforce anti-casteism laws strictly and widely, provide quality education free of cost to those who cannot afford it, and thus level the playing field
... But none of the other more efficient methods to remove disparity are being implemented, so why shut down the one thing - reservations - that is addressing the problem?

Reservations create an uneven competition. It is unfair that someone's lower caste - an acident of birth - should give him an advantage
... What about the other things that give an unfair advantage? How come there are no protests against sports quotas and management quotas in schools and colleges? What about seats that are given against donations - that's no different than having a quota for the rich. There are quotas even for children of widows and refugees. Why are all the protests centered only around caste-based reservation?

But reservations spoil the quality of the workforce, they bring down the standard of students and employees, because the bar of entry for reserved candidates is lower
... By that logic, all private schools should have a low standard of students. Their high fees means that a prospective student's IQ/grades are considered only after his ability to pay has been considered. And all convent schools and colleges should be second grade institutions because they give a preference to Christianity first, not ability. (An exact corollary to low-income/low-caste reservation)

If we are going to be anti-reservations, maybe we should think more about how to remove their need.

* Not all Dalits stay like that. But a majority do. According to Navsarjan, Dalits make up 16.2% of the total Indian population. Close to half of them live under the Poverty Line, and even more (62%) are illiterate. Less than 10% can afford safe drinking water, electricity and toilets.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A divorce from reality

If there's one thing that this election has proven beyond doubt, it is that the mass media has no idea what it is talking about. Its polls are useless, its exit polls worthless, and it is more in touch with Salman Khan's gym regime than the opinion of the masses.

It all started with an election coverage where media only grudgingly conceded that they didn't know who would win [picked up by international media for what it was worth]. But that didn't stop media from cocksurely proclaiming that the winner would be: No One. They handed around a hung parliament as a foregone conclusion. And let loose conjectures about ministerial, even prime-ministerial, berths for Mayawati, Modi, Laloo and various combinations thereof.

Finally came the the exit polls which, doctored as they must have been, mirrored what MSM expected things to be - a close tie with no clear majority.


Most of us are pleased with the surprise outcome - finally less bickering before actions. And the sensex is rising all the way to the banks. So we can probably grin at the fiasco.

But it isn't funny. Because it is tragic - the gross inaccuracy is a symptom that a leg of democracy, the fourth estate as it is called, is suffering from blindness to reality in our nation. The same blindness that has led it to ignore rural poverty, farmer suicides, caste-based discrimination and various other ills suffered by the masses in the past.

And it is not a new blindness. It was there when Chandrababu Naidu was thrown out of Andhra Pradhesh decisively and without inkling; and Shiela Dikshit remained enthroned much to everyone's surprise (and BJP's chagrin).

Now at least, media ought to wake up and wonder where they've gone so wrong; why they're so out of sync; and can they seriously pass themselves off as accurate bellweathers?
But no, no one in the media has apologised, or even wondered how come they were so wrong. The worst part is that they are blind to their blindness.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Lies, damned lies, and testimonies

(updated below)

So far as hoaxes go, this is amongst the worst kind. First the victims suffer in the hands of murdering communalists. Then one of their own refurbishes and contaminates testimonies in a misguided attempt to make them sound worse, leaving the victims to next suffer a skeptical public questioning their claims and disbelieving their motives.

I am referring to the Gujarat riots, a horror show 7 years past, where NGOs are still struggling tooth and nail against the unsympathetic state government to get justice. Amongst the biggest backers of the effort for justice was Teesta Setalvad. Now, it turns out that some of the heinous crimes that had stirred the public to outrage may have been phony, scripted by Teesta Setalvad etc and filed through false affidavits.

The Special Investigation Team responsible for the arrests of those accused in Gujarat riots has severely censured NGOs and social activist Teesta Setalvad who campaigned for the riot victims.

...The SIT also found no truth in the following incidents widely publicised by the NGOs:

* A pregnant Muslim woman Kausar Banu was gangraped by a mob, who then gouged out the foetus with sharp weapons

...The SIT said it had been alleged in the Gulbarg Society case that Pandey, instead of taking measures to protect people facing the wrath of rioteers, was helping the mob. The truth was that he was helping with hospitalisation of riot victims and making arrangements for police bandobast, Gujarat counsel, senior advocate Mukul Rohtagi, said quoting from the SIT report.

The story came out in the Times of India (ToI), not the most respectable newspaper, nevertheless, one with a very strong network of journalists. (Thanks for the heads up, Quirky)

Meanwhile, at the website of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP, Setalvad's NGO), all links on the home page are currently defunct. However, I did find their response to the ToI story.

ToI continues to stand by its claims.

And the truth, as they say, is out there.


To be honest, my past admiration for Teesta and what had appeared to be a consistent effort on her part to fight communalism, make me wonder: is there is some other angle to their story? Perhaps Teesta was misled regarding the events? Perhaps, like in the Best Bakery Case (where the bakery was set afire during the riots, burning to death most people hiding, and the prime witnesses - Zaheera - changed her testimony around), victims have recanted their testimonies under pressure? Perhaps the government report is biased?

But the truth is reputed to be the simplest explanation: was in fact the Zaheera/Best Bakery case, (Teesta Setalvad got a clean chit and Zaheera got a sentence for perjury) another event where Setalvad had masterminded the lies?

For now, it appears that an overzealous, media-pandering individual lied about the nature and extent of crimes committed during the Gujarat riots, either to forward to her own agenda, or in a misguided attempt to stir more sympathy for the victims.

I just hope tainting by association doesn't spoil the prospects of justice for the real claims in the basket.



ToI's report may be inaccurate after all.

ToI had based its story on the SIT report; however SIT - "slammed reports that riots witnesses were tutored to give false evidence for exaggeration of the situation, by activists and organisations helping the victims". This news article, appearing in the Hindustan Times, also claims that the what is being masqueraded as "findings" of the report are simply statements of state police officials, aka the government machinery (as Setalvad's letter to ToI in response to the original article also suspected).

(Thanks for the comment Dilip)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

In the name of God

A 9-year-old child is repeatedly raped by her step-father and ends up pregnant. The tiny body, incapable of supporting even one fetus, ends up with twins. Giving birth may kill her, warn doctors, and carry out an abortion. The media latch on to the story and realize with a shudder that crimes of this genre - incestuous rape - are on a rise in their country, Brazil.

And in this gruesome episode, what is the public outcry about?
Whether the abortion is appropriate.

That's right, a child has been the victim of extreme violence and is now on the road to lose her life in childbirth, and a section of the populace is wondering whether the abortion was right in the eyes of God.

Meanwhile, Brazil's Roman Catholic Church decides to take a stand.
It excommunicates the mother and the associated doctors for carrying out the abortion. It lets the child stay in the fold because she is too young to be excommunicated. The father however, is deemed sufficiently worthy to beg for God's forgiveness.


A 17-year-old girl is flogged in public. Lying face-down on the ground, with men holding her position by gripping her hands and feet, she is whipped with a leather strap over the same area of her buttocks over and over again. She cries out to be forgiven for her crime and struggles vainly, but forget mercy, one of the men watching her suggests she be held more tightly.

Her crime: to be seen in public with her father-in-law, when in fact she should have been chaperoned by a man who is either her husband or a blood relative. To be seen with someone else was equivalent to having an affair with him, decreed the Taliban, who control the Swat Valley in Pakistan (where this episode took place), and who, by the way, are in line to be the region's official controllers as per a 'peace treaty' underway.

A mobile phone video of the punishment was widely circulated in Pakistan and has drawn protests from the public, however, there is no dearth of defenders:

"How can we term it un-Islamic?" said Mufti Munibur Rehman, a leading Muslim scholar in a televised debate. "this is the punishment that is writen in the holy Quran."
(quote as reported in The Wall Street Journal)


Here's what I think:
If you need God to point out what is cruel and what is just, then no religion can save your soul.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

And the winner is...

So BJP's electoral candidate Varun Gandhi went on a verbal rampage against the Muslims...

And the clapping audience aka the voters thinks this is par for the course...

And Bal Thackerey finds this episode and this Gandhi was worth applauding...

And the Congress has nothing to respond except in terms of electoral point-scoring...

Yes, there is nothing new about the whole affair - politicians rile up audiences, and audiences vote these very politicians in, a vicious symbiotic cycle that repeats itself every election year.

And as usual, the only one looking good after the whole fracas is the Election Commission. Thank God at least one official institution in India still has the balls and the decorum to fault the powerful, even if it doesn't have the power to punish them.


But I wonder how long this will last.

Not long back, we had another institution worthy of pride; we had a President whose office had only nominal power but whose being was a credit to democracy and fair play. Even if all he could do were things as passive as sending back a bill, or listening to grievances by citizens ranging from the riot vistims to disabled groups - Abdul Kalam's simple acts spawned a coverage in the media space and discussion in the masses by virtue of the position he held.

Unfortunately, precisely because he was potent, he has been replaced with a puppet.

Will the Election Commissin be next?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Have you sent the chaddis yet??

Nisha, Divya and Nithin are spearheading a fantastic campaign, Munnabhai style, to get the Ram Sena to join the Valentine Day celebrations.

Not that the Ram Sena isn't planning to join the V Day celebrations - they have their heads and hands full of violent ideas for Feb 14, all targeted to stop us degenerate, unenlightened Indians, especially women, from imbibing foreign culture, beer, alcohol, roses, etc

To divert their minds, let's send them some love, and chaddis. Pink chaddis, to be precise. the cheaper, the better. I do not recommend you stink them up, but should you desire to do so against my advice, may I suggest beer dousing?

Join the Pink Chaddi Campaign at http://thepinkchaddicampaign.blogspot.com/.
Also available on Facebook.

Send the chaddis today.

poster courtesy: Shilo (?), official website