Our government in tainted hands?


Source: http://www.adrindia.org

The Election Commission of India website, in its FAQs section regarding election contesting requirements, has stated that:

As per Section 8 (3) of R. P. Act, 1951, if a person is convicted of any offence and sentenced to an imprisonment of 2 years or more, this will be disqualification to contest elections.

One would say it is fair. After all, nobody wants their candidate to go to jail instead of assuming office after they win. Fair, but is it fair enough? I believe we have enough able candidates without any criminal record standing up for elections. Why is it that the ones with an alarming number of cases against them are allowed to stand on the same footing alongside these clean-chit candidates?

Chhagan Bhujbal, former Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra state was booked under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) after his main accomplice, nephew Sameer Bhujbal gave statements that led to his arrest. It was alleged that large sums of money were laundered by Bhujbal and then invested into shell companies that were floated by his son Pankaj, and Sameer. He apparently had built an entire empire of flourishing trades on the basis of this dishonest money. Bhujbal, one of the most prominent leaders of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), had been in power for two terms as the Deputy CM. Are these the kind of leaders we want to place our faith in?

Pramod Muthalik, founder and chief of the Rashtriya Hindu Sena (RHS) has more than 45 cases pending against him across 11 districts in Karnataka. He has never been arrested even once.

Madhu Koda, is a former Chief Minister of Jharkhand who is infamously known for the Madhu Koda mining scam, wherein he had illegally allotted iron ore and coal mining contracts in Jharkhand during his term in power, for bribes.

A Raja, Kanimozhi, Jayalalithaa, Amit Shah, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mayawati, Uma Bharti and many such prominent and influential political figures have had criminal records that could put a seasoned criminal to shame. It is abominable that despite of such actions and public records, these politicians are still allowed to contest and govern their constituencies. It is also our fault that we cast our votes for these undeserving, deceitful candidates even after knowing how much public loss they are responsible for.

An article published on blog of Foreign Policy states that: “30% of Indian Lawmakers have criminal cases against them”. And crimes of serious charges like rape, kidnapping, murder etc. After being charged, these politicians are seen complaining and claiming that the cases are frivolous and are designed to defame them.

An analysis by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) for the last decade shows that 62,847 candidates had average assets of Rs 1.37 crore. But candidates who won elections had average assets of Rs 3.83 crore. What’s more interesting is that the wealth of legislators who faced criminal cases rose even more – to Rs 4.30 crore – and MPs and MLAs facing serious pending charges like murder, kidnapping and rape were on top of the heap with average assets of Rs 4.38 crore.

Crime and politics have become a vicious cycle, lethal for the success of any developmental projects meant for the states or the country, because these criminal politicians are blood-sucking parasites that will loot both the citizens as well as the government. It is necessary that crime be completely dissociated from politics, and that only candidates with no criminal records be allowed for candidature, no matter how minor the legislative position might be. Any politician in their term, who is exposed because of their misuse of power should be immediately exempted of his or her duties.

As a developing nation, we have enough challenges before us. We do not need these two-faced so-called “leaders” to add to our woes and wash their hands in what rightfully belongs to the people.


Urban Isolation- A horrid reality?

Source: http://www.bollywoodmdb.com

I am pretty sure most of us are not even aware of what Urban Isolation might mean. It is the condition wherein due to the prominence of nuclear families and less or virtually no interaction with neighbours and acquaintances, individuals or families get trapped within their own homes due to circumstances. These might result in very late rescuing of the trapped victims, or in most cases, too late to be rescued. True, it is a fairly new concept and its ugly face is just getting revealed at the edges. However, a cause like this should be nipped in the bud, for we still have enough time before this becomes a problem too immense to be controlled.

The concept came to light in India in 2014, when an elderly couple in Chennai committed suicide out of loneliness and isolation. A Mani, 60, and his wife M Meena, 54, committed suicide leaving behind a note to their son who, according to the neighbours, was not in contact with them. The phenomenon is on rise especially among elderly couples living alone. They cannot expect their children to stay with them, and at the same time need assistance for certain tasks. House-helps are not preferred because they bring a whole lot of safety threats with them. Cities, in particular, see elderly couples struggling to maintain this semblance of normalcy in their lives without any external support. Way too many news reports about house helps robbing and/or murdering their employers have scared these people from seeking help outside known circles. And between their desire of not wanting to burden their children’s already busy lives and wanting to live their own in comfortable independence, the elderly citizens often fall prey to isolation and associated issues of loneliness and depression. Isn’t the thought scary, that you might be surrounded by tens of people at all times, but you can’t reach any of them when you are in need?

A recent case in Agra (February 2017) had an even more gruesome end to it. A mother-daughter duo, Kanchan Agrawal (65), a retired government nurse and Beena Agrawal (40), a private school teacher were found dead in their rented home at Arjunnagar in Agra. Their dead bodies were found in two different rooms, and in different states of decomposition. Only skeletal remains of the mother’s body were found, whereas the daughter’s body is said to be around 20 days old. Neighbours said that both women were unemployed, and lived off the mother’s pension. Their electricity connection was cut off after failure to pay rent, and soon after they also terminated water services. The neighbours haven’t seen them stepping out of their houses since mid-January. The police stated that the house was devoid of any edible articles, even the fridge was empty and all utensils were clean, hence it is suspected that they died of starvation. They are yet to trace any relatives who could perform the last rites for the victims.

In this day and age, starving to death within the confines of their own homes in the middle of a bustling city is a chilling thought, but also a grim reality. Trapped,  a 2017 Hindi film directed by Vikramaditya Motwane, deals with the story of a man who, in his hurry, accidentally gets trapped inside his high rise apartment without food, water and electricity. Isolation of these sorts could be a nightmare that is edging closer to become the fate of many such people living in their cocoons, having renounced any interactions with the world outside. Being anti-social, or not wanting much social contact is surely a personal choice, however one must also have some connection with the world to survive in times of helplessness and need.

Because dying alone, for no one could hear your desperate cries for help, is a ghastly thought that nobody should have to face in reality.


Police and Military Violence- Law being enforced or broken?

Source: http://www.telegraphindia.com

Between October 1979 to July 1980, the district of Bhagalpur, Bihar witnessed one of the most horrendous cases of police brutality, when more than 30 under trial individuals were wrongfully punished by the police by pouring acid into their eyes and blinding them for life. The incident is referred to as 1980 Bhagalpur Blindings, and the surviving victims are yet to see justice whereas the ones responsible for this abominable act of unlawful violence, are perhaps comfortably retired, and none of them are known to be convicted for this incident. The victims get a compensation amount of 500 rupees, which was later increased to 750. A few are allowed government licences to sell kerosene for a living. Most surviving victims don’t even know what their children look like. Their crimes, we don’t know. Their conditions, we don’t know either. What is known though, is that justice never happened to them, neither as criminals, nor as victims.

As Indians, we have an inherent fear and automated reverence for age and authority; they are allowed to wield an otherwise inaccessible power over us. However, the misuse of the power bestowed upon law enforcement personnel, is the cruelest and most unfortunate, because the ones that are supposed to protect us become the perpetrator of these crimes. Military violence and police brutality are two widely unchecked issues, especially in states where army is a dominating presence in civilian life. The state of Jammu & Kashmir, and almost all North Eastern states of India are subjected to almost regular practices of violence, especially against women. This is because the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, under its provisions, allows Indian soldiers to get away with any act of violence against civilians. And the atrocities committed under this Act by the soldiers are what the citizens fear more than the possibility of a war or foreign invasion.

On July 10, 2004, Thangjam Manorama, a 32 year old Manipuri woman, was picked up in the middle of the night by members of the Assam Rifles under unclear allegations about her association with the  People’s Liberation Army. She was raped, and bullets were pumped into her vagina, and her body was found in a field. In protest, group of about 30 Manipuri women stripped naked on the streets of Imphal near the headquarters of Assam Rifles, and shouted “Indian Army rape me! We are all Manorama’s mothers.” Irom Sharmila had fasted for about 16 years against the AFSPA, but to no avail. Wikileaks diplomatic cables disclosed that the government officials consented to these heinous acts of violence by the Indian Armed Forces and other paramilitary forces deployed in the supposedly “disturbed” regions, especially Manipur.

Soni Sori, a tribal activist from Chhattisgarh, was arrested by Delhi Police on October 4, 2011 under requests from Chhattisgarh Police. Despite of stating to the court that she feared for her safety, she was placed under the custody of Chhattisgarh Police. On October 8 and 9, she was tortured by the policemen, and alleged that the Superintendent of Police Ankit Garg sent three men to sexually assault her. Even if these allegations were denied by the SP, doctors had to remove stones that had been inserted into Sori’s vagina and rectum after she was hospitalized at Kolkata Medical College Hospital, thus confirming her allegations regarding assault and torture.

On February 23, 1991, a few units of the Indian Army launched a search and interrogation operation in the village of Kunan Poshpora. Official documents themselves mention 23 women being gang raped by soldiers that night, however many Human Rights organizations allege that the actual count of raped women was actually up to 100.

These are just the few, infamous instances wherein military violence and police brutality was at least brought to public attention. A vast majority of it goes unreported because of the fear of backlash, or even graver consequences than what they were subjected to. Hardly any of these cases have seen the criminal police or army men being brought to justice or being convicted for these barbaric acts. The government, too, treats these incidents as “collateral damage”, and has often callously said that revoking these privileges that the forces have might down their morale.

And how exactly do you trust a government that believes raping women, unquestioned arrests and assaults on innocent citizens are necessary, “morale-uplifting” acts for the brave, honourable soldiers and policemen of the nation?

Bollywood- Glorifying stalkers?


In 2015, an Indian security guard in Australia was acquitted of stalking charges because of his claim that he was deeply influenced by Bollywood films, and believed that the practice of stalking women was acceptable. His arguments about how heroes in Bollywood relentlessly stalked and pursued their ladies until they succumbed to their “charms”, and how he genuinely believed it was a culturally accepted behaviour, convinced the court to let him off the charges against him for stalking and texting two women. The case gained quite a bit of limelight, thanks to the satirical video that the Indian comedy group AIB made, with regards to this incident.

Bollywood generally is guilty of objectifying women and glamorizing their rejection, or playing it off as their shyness. And it isn’t just a new-generation thing, it is a feature seen even in iconic movies of the last few decades, like Paying Guest, Sangam, Sholay and Haseena Maan Jayegi. The men portray a distinct inability to accept rejection, which then culminates into an incessant fascination for the object of their desires. These men are seen to follow the women around, block their ways, embracing or grabbing their wrists against their wishes, all with a lecherous grin adorning their faces, while the woman dons a trapped, helpless expression- exactly what the society expected women to be. Powerless, and in need of a man for her protection.

Lyrics of some popular songs explicitly instruct these stalked women to not reject the man’s advances, and sweetly turn this social crime into a romantic gesture, signifying their undying devotion and dedication towards the woman. A woman’s negation, no matter how conspicuous, is seen as her act of “playing hard to get”. Being stalked can be an agonizing experience, with no certainty of when or how the stalker might appear, and with what intentions. However, expressing admiration or love through stalking and trying to milk a similar emotion out of the victim is an absurd act. If a person isn’t ready to respect a girl’s wishes and stop tailing her, it isn’t an act of love, it is an act of exerting power.

In an article published on June 29, 2013 in the Mumbai Mirror, writer Shobhaa De severely criticized the Dhanush-starrer movie Raanjhanaa, for the obsessive nature with which the protagonist chases after the female lead. A minor schoolboy crush intensifies into a full-blown obsession which ultimately leads to avoidable loss of lives, including his own. R…Rajkumar is another movie wherein the heroine is seen to yield to the protagonist’s uncouth ways of pursuing her. Despite of the flak these movies received from film critics, both films fared fairly well at the box-office, a sign of how socially-accepted the practice of stalking is.

When people are subjected to the same actions, visuals or situations repeatedly, no matter how uncomfortable it might be, over a certain time the human mind starts to perceive it as something normal and commonplace. Psychology terms this phenomenon as ‘conditioning’, and that is exactly what has happened to the audience over time, thus making them perceive stalking as an acceptable practice. The 2016 Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Pink was a welcome respite, for it repeatedly upheld that a woman’s “No” means “No”, and that men ought to respect that. However, Pink is just one movie in a sea of misogynistic, stalker-glorifying films that the audience has constant exposure to.

Stalking is a punishable offence under Section 354D of the Indian Penal Code. We need to cure this conditioning that has embalmed the society that perceives it as a casual practice with no consequences on a woman’s safety or her right to say “No”. Respect a woman’s wishes, and learn to accept rejection gracefully, without a trace of scorn or malice. Mothers aren’t the only women who deserve respect.

Shaming- Shouldn’t we be ashamed of it?

Source: http://www.news.com.au

While watching singers like Meghan Trainor and Adele perform, their confidence both unnerves me and awes me. Because as someone who doesn’t fit the mould of a “proper” woman, I still haven’t reached that level of disregard for these societal constructs that set these heinous parameters for beauty, intelligence, purity, ambition and other concepts that cannot be measured.

If we were all to behave, look and think alike, we wouldn’t have been born with these diversities we exhibit. Shame is a powerful emotion, it is known to have driven people to their deaths. We associate shame even to our bodies! Why is a child always taught to name all their body parts except for their genitalia? Why aren’t dark-skinned people deemed pretty? Why is a man’s ambition encouraged, while a woman’s astuteness is seen as cunning? Why is a sexually active woman a “slut”, but a man is considered a “stud”? Why do nerds get bullied for being smart and knowledgeable? Knowingly or unknowingly, we shame a lot of people every day. Even an amused smile you shoot at the fat boy who knocked something down while passing by could be a traumatic memory for him. Celebrities, in particular, are subjected to harsh judgments, but we tend to forget that in the end, they are no different from us. Full of imperfections. Human.

But the whole concept of shaming is so deeply rooted in our social practices that we get sucked into this vortex at an age where we do not even realize the impact a casual off-handed remark might cause to someone’s mental state. Media also plays an influential role in creating and propagating these stereotypes, setting unrealistic expectations for hapless people.

Body-shaming, in particular, has very evident psychological effects, that may even culminate into eating disorders like Anorexia or Bulimia. Slut-shaming, on the other hand, leads to maligning of one’s reputation and makes oneself conscious about their social image. Shaming inevitably leads to being bullied, bouts of depression, chronic anxiety and social withdrawal. It hits self-esteem in ways that sometimes an individual never recovers from it. In a study conducted by Dove Global across 13 countries, regarding women who felt confident about their bodies, 12 out of the 13 countries reported less than 50% women being confident about their appearance. Is this what the world of supposedly “empowered” women look like?

Shaming can be a painful and harrowing experience, but most people do not realize the gravity of this issue. Your remarks about someone’s body, skin tone, mental capabilities, behaviour or life choices is killing the “diversity” we are so proud of. Sometimes people don’t even recognize it as a real problem, because that’s how normal the society considers this practice to be.

So the next time your tongue rolls to call someone a fatso, a nerd or a slut, just remember that if they decide to take their own life, unable to bear this prejudice, their blood is on your hands, too.

Whistle Blowers- an endangered species?

Source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com

Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2011 is an Act in the Parliament of India which provides a mechanism to investigate alleged corruption and misuse of power by public servants and also protect anyone who exposes alleged wrongdoing in government bodies, projects and offices. In other words, the act protects and guarantees safety to any individual who has information or proof that could expose a scam or corrupt practices, which could lead to the conviction of these wrongdoers.

The Act came into fruition after the murder of Satyendra Dubey in 2003. An engineer by profession, Dubey exposed the corruption in the National Highways Authority of India’s Golden Quadrilateral project. Following the incident, the Supreme Court appointed the Central Vigilance Commission as the agency responsible for handling such situations and ensuring safety of the whistle blower. Even then, there have been many instances where the whistle blowers are harassed, even after being provided with police protection. However, the act has many vital flaws which tend to endanger the safety of the whistle blower, rather than ensuring it.

One of the major flaws is that a case won’t be investigated if the whistle blower does not disclose his or her identity. The law doesn’t ensure absolute confidentiality of identity, and in most cases the investigation is done by the Head of the Department about which the complaint is registered. Thus the whistle blower has more chances of being exposed than the actual culprit does.

Ashok Khemka, a senior IAS officer well known for exposing the Robert Vadra land deal scam, has been subjected to a shocking 47 transfer orders in his 25-year-old career. Durga Shakti Nagpal, an IAS officer from Uttar Pradesh, got suspended after she successfully exposed the illegal sand mining practiced in the region. In 2015, the Centre further tried to dilute this law, stating that the present law gives an “absolute right to whistle blower to make a complaint” and recommended restrictions like exemptions from disclosure under the RTI Act.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan opposed this attempt, saying that the proposed amendments in Whistleblower Protection Act would destroy the law itself, and that the amendment would not allow the whistle blowers to reveal any documents classified under the Official Secrets Act. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative’s (CHRI) Venkatesh Nayak, who had filed the RTI on the proposed legislation, said the restrictions were absurd, making it impossible for scams like Vyapam, CWG or even Adarsh to be exposed.

In this time and age, being honest comes at a price, which is sometimes paid with the loss of one’s life. The law that is supposed to guarantee safety to these sincere citizens makes them more susceptible to these attacks, that directly or indirectly harm the normalcy of their lives. And if the law itself can’t protect someone for being honest, then what will?

Rape threats- Is this the “culture” we are so proud of?

Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk


Overnight, Gurmehar Kaur became a household name, with many tags like “misguided youth”, “brainwashed” and “anti-national” accompanying her name. If she was right or not in her campaign, I do not know. What I do know is, it is unacceptable, absolutely unacceptable, for any person to issue rape threats against anyone, irrespective of what they have done or said.

Forget a country, you sometimes don’t share the same opinion even within your family. Doesn’t mean one threatens their family members with rape, acid attacks or public stripping for voicing an opinion contrary or different from one’s own. And it isn’t just a recent issue, it has been existent ever since social media assumed its position as a powerful platform for the forming of a public opinion. Chinmayi Sripaada, Barkha Dutt, Sagarika Ghose, Gul Panag, Meena Kandaswamy are a few known names who’ve faced anonymous threats that range from petty insults to assault and death threats.

Almost all major female media persons, activists and celebrities have had innumerable objectionable messages and threats issued against them, most if which they write off as haters or internet trolls. It is true that limelight brings with itself a share of unpleasant experiences like this, but threats to endanger life and modesty are not appropriate under any circumstances. Women, especially ones with considerable popularity or exposure, are the main targets of these trolls, who are just extremist men with an air of moral superiority. In most cases, these trolls use anonymous identities, which is the only way they can feel powerful over these unsuspecting victims of online hate crimes, without being caught.

Most of the reported cases exhibit the culturally superior behaviour these men adopt, that is expressed through the language used. Derogatory terms, misogynistic and racist/casteist remarks are passed, in an attempt to apparently “put women in their place”, which in itself is a crude and uncouth statement to make. These men often associate themselves to be upholders of morality and culture, and take it upon themselves to tame any woman who has a challenging voice or opinion.

Threatening a woman’s life, safety or modesty isn’t “protecting” culture, and this irrational lunacy goes unchecked due to lack of efforts by concerned authorities who, visibly, seem unconcerned. Endangering a woman’s freedom has nothing moralistic about it, and men who think it is a power they wield over women, an ability to stifle their freedom or curb their rights, need to realize the absurdity of the whole concept.

And to all those men who think moral policing using threats is right, why don’t you step out of your cloaks of anonymity and have the guts to voice your righteous opinion the way these supposedly “immoral” women do? Not so sure now, are we?