“Where are you from?”

“What’s your name?”

“Nikhil”

“Your full name.” It was a command, not a question, but he smiled to make up for the fact that he had been curt. “And where are you from?”

“Nikhil Pahwa. I’m from Delhi. What’s this for?” I pointed to the paper that Vikram was my details writing on.

He wouldn’t tell me, saying that I’ll find out soon enough, but Deepak, who was standing beside me did, later. Vikram was compiling a list of people in the class –  a list of Maharashtrians and non-Maharashtrians. For what? I never did find out.
I never thought about my caste, religion or region before I went to college, and stayed in a hostel in Maharashtra. To tell you the truth, I still don’t know my caste, and I really don’t care. I’ve seen people (in that college) shocked when I’ve told them that.

*

I was in Mumbai, the day the vandalism began; at the Airport, on my way out. Love the fast Wifi that Airtel has provided at the Airport. I was online, preparing for work the next day, when the Japanese businessman sitting beside me got up and turned around to look at the TV screen. Slowly, a crowd gathered near the screen, which repeatedly showed vandals destroying taxis, slapping people. The commentary was in Hindi, so he asked a someone about where this was happening, probably wanting to avoid the city. Mumbhai, Bombay? Today? He asked two other people, just to confirm. He was glad, he said, that he was on his way out, and sat down to read a magazine.

*

During a recent debate on television, about the recent vandalism in Mumbai. AL Quadros, the Mumbai Taximen Union’s General Secretary, called Mumbai “Bombay” a few times.  Each time, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena representative on the panel told him to mind his language.

*It’s strange that most media reports call them Workers, or Activists. Karyakarta. Not Vandals, Miscreants or Hooligans. This also holds true for the Nandigram war in West Bengal, the Gujjar agitation in Rajasthan, and several such incidents in the past. A legacy of our communist leanings, that we justify violence as a political movement.

*

Aamchi Mumbai. Mumbai Aamchich. Our Mumbai. Mumbai is ours, and ours alone.

Do you belong to a city, or does a city belong to you? For me, it’s more of the former. I love – I prefer – Delhi, the city I live in. It’s familiar: I know which lane moves the fastest at some traffic lights, and which route to take in the middle of the night. I know the best little places to eat, and where one can get food at 2 AM. That doesn’t mean I gravitate towards people from Delhi in a motley group. I dislike being bracketed, being called a Delhi-ite.
*

“This city is becoming too crowded,” my cousin had told me four, maybe five, years ago. We were driving past what was then called the Centaur Hotel, one of the less crowded parts of the city. “There are too many outsiders now. These Bhaiiya log.”  He liked the idea of a passport for Mumbaikars, to prevent “immigration” from other parts of the country. At that point in time, I was considering moving to Mumbai – still am – but still not very keen on it. What attracts me is the go-to-work attitude of the city, and all the friends I have there. What doesn’t, is the traveling, the rents and the apparent lack of cultural events that Delhi has in plenty.

*

When a mob goes on a rampage, who do you hold responsible – the one who incited the violence, or those who committed it? Both.

*
Rajdeep Sardesai has written an excellent article, moonlighting as a blog post, on the issue, here.

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Hema Malini, Office of Profit and issues of representative democracy

I believe that the recent development regarding Hema Malini requesting excise cuts for water purification equipment must be seen in the same light as the “Cash for questions” expose, wherein parliamentarians were paid to ask questions in the house.

While Malini is being singled out for this, every parliamentarian should be under scrutiny for the questions they raise – about whether their questions are because of the needs of their constituents, of their ideology, or indeed because of a profit motive.

Related to this issue is the fact that the Parliament had passed the Office of Profit bill – one that allows Parliamentarians to hold additional constitutional offices from which they make money…and I hold former President APJ Abdul Kalam is entirely responsible for allowing that bill becoming a law: there was a clear conflict of interest when lawmakers benefit monetarily from passing laws that may not benefit society; though Kalam did the right thing by sending the bill back to Parliament for reconsideration, it would not have been sent to him again, unless he’d shared that he would have signed it — a second refusal would have been grounds for impeachment. It was sent, and he did sign it.
It’s a tricky situation – if you restrict parliamentarians only to parliament as a source of income, then they’ll use their post for profit. The rising cost of elections compunds the issue – so then the only solution is exorbitant salaries, which some of them will denounce because that might not go down well with the electorate – they’d rather make money in a clandestine manner. Is there a solution?

Malini isn’t the only parliamentarian making money outside of Parliament – you’ve got actors, cricketers turned commentators (some who are comedians). This is Malini’s second question ever in parliament, and there’s a clear conflict of interest since she endorses a water purification brand.

But that’s democracy for you — the rule of the mob, and in this case, an uneducated mob. If only there was a better system…
Related post:

Issues with representative democracy

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“Truth doesn’t come with an executive summary”…Microfinance Suicides In Andhra Pradesh

So, The Shekhar points me to his latest term paper, this one on microfinance. I don’t have the time to read it, so I ask him for an executive summary. “Truth doesn’t come with an executive summary”, he says.

I guess the conclusion will do. Read Aberration or Synecdoche: Reflections on the microfinance suicides of Andhra Pradesh for the entire term paper. Bugger’s not linking to his previous posts on microfinance, so I’ll do it:

the mess in andhra…
More on microfinance…
The future of MFIs
still more on microfinance…
a contrarian take on microfinance…

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When Nationalism is shoved down my throat…

…it chokes me.

Related:
Murthy apologises for remark: Karnataka to seek report
National anthem in cinemas?
YouTube angers I&B with its tasteless Gandhi video

Would like to clarify that I’m not a fan of Narayan Murthy, nor do I deify him like many people in this country do (based on PR exercises). However, I do believe that people have the right to refuse to sing the “National Anthem”, and refusing to do so doesn’t necessarily mean that one isn’t nationalistic. I think the national flag, national anthem and “father of the nation” only give political parties an excuse to exert their might and deflect attention from the work they ought to be doing. The above links – all a bunch of hooey.

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To the Congress Party

Hi,
Today, you will lose my vote for the rest of my voting life.
Nikhil

(Not the Urban Indian matters in the Indian context, as Jayanti Natarajan discreetly pointed on ‘The Big Fight’ on NDTV)

What is this about?
1. Photos
2. Full Coverage
3. Homepage
4. I’ve already said all that I had to…almost:

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Media Bias: Israel vs Lebanon

“Oh, please. Have a slightly longer memory than four weeks.” – George Galloway, a British MP

The video.

What do you believe? A brilliant, brilliant discussion. A must, must watch. A media bias exposed. A word of thanks to Husain (some of you might remember him as the Kafka obsessed fellow from FLS) for sending this over.

Note: I want to download this video. How?

Update:
The YouTube version

(credit due to Ankit for pointing this out. How could I have forgotten YouTube? Must be the lack of a business model. Heh.)

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Things (for you) to do: RTI Act

1. Read this notice on amendments to the Right To Information (RTI) Act, and/or the summary below. Also read some of news stories listed here.
2. Spread the Word: Blog about it/Write to the media about it.
3. Join the protests: Go here and sign the petitions. Maybe even troop down to Jantar Mantar.

A introduction to the RTI Act and the procedure with samples is here. Read about the proposed amendments here.

A brief summary:
The RTI Act allows Indians to question their government and the bureaucracy for its actions/lack of action. The authorities have to respond within 30 days with written (hence legally admissable) answers, else face penalisation. The proposed amendments to seek to dilute the act in the following manner:

  • Decisions by the bureaucracy are based on observations/recommendations to proposals by bureaucrats, called file notings. It is intended that file notings should not be made public, hence there will be no individual public accountability of bureaucrats.
  • Only developmental and social issues shall be liable for the RTI. That limits its scope.
  • (I’m told that) with the amendment, answers to queries will only be given to you after the task you’re asking about has been completed. Makes the RTI less potent.

What’s the hurry?
A journalist informed me yesterday (so this is hearsay) that the RTI Amendments will be tabled within 10 days (before 22nd August), and it is intended that it will be passed by a mere voice-vote (whether Aye or Nay is shouted loudest).

Some observations:
I was discussed the RTI Act with AJ, a lawyer in the making. She made some interesting observations:

  • The RTI Act is not a fundamental right, hence can be diluted/amended.
  • The RTI Act has been around for only 10 months, so for a majority of our population, it has hardly made any difference. We wont miss it. Most of us haven’t yet felt the difference it can make, and had it been around for 10-12 years, the government wouldn’t have dared to consider amending it, fearing the backlash
  • The media is airing stories that don’t impact the urban consumer, so s/he wont react.

So whatcha gonna do?

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Blocked again…

My access to blogspot blocks is blocked. Since I’m able to access blogs via proxy-sites, it seems that the blog block has been reinstated. I’m on MTNL Delhi. A few mails have already been posted on Bloggers Collective. In case your access is blocked, go to the Bloggers Collective Wiki for assistance.

Some pakistani bloggers had warned us not to be too gung ho, since this decision to allow access could be reversed any time, without provocation or reason. Most of us, I guess, were as cynical of this, as we had been when we had first heard the news of acess to blogs in Pakistan being blocked.

Yesterday, a news channel carried news of a blog that encourages suicide. I’m told that someone in the report said that these type of blogs ought to be banned. Hope the gourment hasn’t taken up that offer. My views on all forms of censorship are here.

I’ve already shot off a mail to an MTNL engineer (we exchanged mails during the last block), and lets see what he has to say, if anything at all. Expect updates.

Update: The gentleman from MTNL sounded worried about this issue. He’s assured me that he’ll look into the matter, and emphasised that the problem could either be from Reliance. He asked for tracerts. I’ve sent them across. According to codey, this looks like a VSNL problem.

Update 2:
Shyam confirms that this is a VSNL problem, which gets its connection via Reliance. Airtel gets its connection via Singtel, and seems to be working fine.

Update 3: Able to access blogs now. That was quick.

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Right to Information Act under threat

Please post this on your blog, email and spread the word. The Right to Information Act might be amended to suit the needs of politicians, and we need to spread awareness and prevent a repeat of what they did with the Office of Profit and Delhi Demolitions issues. I’ve made important portions bold, so you may skim through it.

NATIONAL CAMPAIGN FOR PEOPLE�S RIGHT TO INFORMATION
NCPRI
PRESS NOTE

There is news that the Cabinet has decided to amend the Right To Information Act to exclude file notings from the Act. NCPRI categorically states that this is a completely retrograde step which seeks to curtail the Citizen�s fundamental right in an unacceptable manner. If file notings are exempted, it is a sure method of obfuscating the existence of arbitrariness in the decision making process, which enables fixing accountability on specific officers. It will encourage corrupt and arbitrary practices and be a sure way to kill the spirit of the Act. The Ministers have been ill-advised in going back on the promise to Indian Citizens of transparency and accountability.

NCPRI and all other Civil Society organizations will strongly oppose this move which encourages opacity in the decision-making process, since this would encourage corrupt practices. We recommend that the Government should stop this move to dilute the Act. Citizens from all strata of the Nation are using to it with great hope and faith to monitor and curb arbitrary and corrupt practices in the Governance.

The preamble to the Act had recognised:

�AND WHEREAS democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information which are vital to its functioning and also to contain corruption and to hold Goverments and their instrumentalities accountable to the governed;

AND WHEREAS revelation of information in actual practice is likely to conflict with other public interests including efficient operations of the Governments, optimum use of limited fiscal resources and the preservation of confidentiality of sensitive information;

AND WHEREAS it is necessary to harmonise these conflicting interests while preserving the paramountcy of the democratic ideal; ��

Thus it accepts that after careful thought by the Parliament and Citizens, a careful harmonizing has been done of the conflicting interests. It was after a lot of deliberations that this Act was framed, which codifies the Citizen�s fundamental right under Article 19 (1). An elaborate process was undertaken from August 2004 to December 2004, when the bill was first tabled. Since various stakeholders felt that there were some important deficiencies, a Parliamentary Committee was set up in January 2005, which went into an elaborate consultative process with the Government functionaries and Citizens groups. After a meticulous and detailed exercise, the final draft was prepared by the Government and tabled before the Parliament. After due debate, this bill was passed by both houses of Parliament and assent given to it by the President. Making changes in this law, seems to make a mockery of the entire democratic law-making process, the Government�s promise and actions, and the Parliamentary Committee and Citizens who contributed to this law.

NCPRI suggests that the Government desist from attacking this fundamental right of Citizens. Citizens believe this Act will take the Nation towards a true participative Swaraj, and the Government should focus on how to strengthen the implementation of the Act. This move coming in the wake of an all-India, Antibribery Citizen�s Campaign using Right To Information, would send a signal to them, that this is a move to curb their rights, since it threatens certain undesirable practices.

We call on all Indians to join with us to oppose any move to curtail our fundamental right to know and to work together to insist this retrograde step is not take. Citizens and organizations are requested to write to the Prime Minister and all Political parties and register their opposition. Citizens across the Nation should also organize themselves in meetings to explain to others and register their protest against this assault on an important right, which is important for their Swaraj.

Shailesh Gandhi (Satyameva Jayate)
Convenor

Ajit Bhattacharjea; Anjali Bhardwaj; Angela Rangad; Aruna Roy; Arvind Kejriwal; Balraj Puri; Bharat Dogra; Debu Bandhopadhya; Harivansh; Harsh Mander; Jagdeep Chhokar; Jagmohan Singh; Jean Dreze; Maja Daruwala; Nikhil Dey; P Wangchuk; Prabhash Joshi ;Prakash Kardaley; Prashant Bhushan; Prabhash Joshi; V.Suresh; Venkatesh Nayak; Vinay Mahajan; S R Sankaran; Samir Acharya; Sandeep Pande; Trilochan Sastry; Shekhar Singh; Suman Sahai; Vishaish Uppal
Working Committee of NCPRI

NCPRI
C 17A Munirka, New Delhi 110 067, India
Telefax: +91 (0)11 26178048; Phone: 26168759,
email: ncpri.india@gmail.com

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How can a few people decide what we view online?

If news reports are to be believed, the list issued by the government contained those sites that they considered propagandist; some wrote against the Government, Islam and Christianity. Of these, four were blogspot blogs, and one was on typepad. That’s just five of 17 in this list (there are reports of others that have been blocked in the past) that made me, and the world, aware that access to sites was being controlled in India.

On the face of it, even a thousand is but a drop in an ocean of millions of websites, but it also seems to be a case of ‘Have power, will use’ – the list seems arbitrary since one is a blank blog, another aggregates news related to the word ‘Hindu’ and yet another is a blog with two harmless posts, both posted in 2004. The IT act has given the Ministry of Communications and CERT-IN the right to block access, hence they will do so. Of course, not many would have noticed this ban had it not been for incompetence across the board – the Indian ISP’s simply blocked domains instead of specific sites.

But there are positives to take from this problem – Bloggers have grouped to fight this gagging, and a massive information gathering and disseminating exercise was undertaken as ISP after ISP began blocking access. The biggest positive is that many bloggers have filed RTI petitions and asked for answers, and shall probably do so for other issues even after this is dead and buried. The veil of secrecy, the security blanket that the government hides beneath, has been lifted just that little bit more.

What this issue has also brought to the fore is the right of the government to curtail free speech, and whether citizens are to be viewed as individuals or groups. Should responsibility lie with those who make inciting speeches, or with those who believe them? In my opinion, and I may be in a minority here, all forms of propaganda, whether anti-national or anti-community is fine as long as individuals are held responsible for their actions.

Free speech allows for debate, and then the decisions are based on thinking and not mere impressions. How can a few hundred people in ministries and committees decide for us what we should view on the internet, what we read, or what we watch on TV? Should our access depend on the lowest common denominator, or should he/she be given the education and the right to decide? Or is our society collectively na�ve that we should allow it to remain ignorant and monitor their access?

There is a larger, fundamental issue at stake here – should retribution by the state be delivered unto a community or an individual? At the end of the day, you and I, not the community that we belong to, are responsible for our actions. How politicians view this reflects on the level of intelligence that they reason on.

Here’s a simple test to see where you stand on this issue; choose the option you think is right:

a) Some sites are propagandist; hence some sites need to be banned
b) Some sites are propagandist; hence all sites need to be banned
c) All sites are propagandist; hence some sites need to be banned
d) All sites are propagandist; hence all sites need to be banned
e) None of the above

Options ‘a’ and ‘d’ are logically proper, though I go with option ‘e’. What do you think and why? Also, try again after replacing the word ‘banned’ with ‘monitored’ in the above question.

[crossposted on IBNLive.com. To borrow a statement from a more prominent and popular blogger (the star of Everybody Knows Jai :P) – Line breaks not mine]

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