May 25, 2009

Public opinion - once in 5 yrs?

As we are fresh from elections, again I turn to the same topic. Here is an interesting bit I found from an article by Noam Chomsky. Chomsky is known for his propaganda theories and plays the cynic quite a few times. That can be good at times as it makes us think about the world we are in, and whether do we actually follow our own mind? Read on...

Can a Democrat change US Middle East policy?
Noam Chomsky
Khaleej Times, April 3, 2008

Recently, when Vice-President Cheney was asked by ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz about polls showing that an overwhelming majority of US citizens oppose the war in Iraq, he replied, "So?"

"So -- you don't care what the American people think?" Raddatz asked.

"No," Cheney replied, and explained, "I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in public opinion polls."

Later, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, explaining Cheney's comments, was asked whether the public should have "input."

Her reply: "You had your input. The American people have input every four years, and that's the way our system is set up."

That's correct. Every four years the American people can choose between candidates whose views they reject, and then they should shut up.

Evidently failing to understand democratic theory, the public strongly disagrees.

"Eighty-one per cent say when making 'an important decision' government leaders 'should pay attention to public opinion polls because this will help them get a sense of the public's views,"' reports the Program on International Policy Attitudes, in Washington.

And when asked "whether they think that 'elections are the only time when the views of the people should have influence, or that also between elections leaders should consider the views of the people as they make decisions,' an extraordinary 94 per cent say that government leaders should pay attention to the views of the public between elections."

The same polls reveal that the public has few illusions about how their wishes are heeded: 80 per cent "say that this country is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves," not "for the benefit of all the people."

So I ask, do OUR opinions count? More importantly, how many times do we care to voice it?

The other side of our democarcy

As the election hangover now settles and blurred visions finally get clear, here is something I recently read this article which quite jerked me out of my dream too. I got thrown back into reality as it is.

The demolition of a Gandhian ashram in Chhattisgarh: Politics and Play
- Ramachandra Guha

In the early hours of May 17, while the rest of India was asleep after an election conducted honestly and won fairly, a massive contingent of police and paramilitary descended on a Gandhian ashram in the interior of Chhattisgarh. They woke up the sleeping social workers, and gave them exactly one hour to pack their belongings. The Gandhians were then escorted outside the ashram that had been their home, thus making way for the bulldozers that had been sent to demolish it. The machines were supervised by some 500 men in uniform, variously owing allegiance to the Central Reserve Police Force and the Chhattisgarh state police. Over the course of that Sunday, as the rest of India was considering the consequences of the election just held, the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram in Dantewada was razed to the ground. The office, the training hall, the staff quarters, even the tubewells — nothing was spared.

In the summer of 2006, I had myself eaten several meals in that ashram in Dantewada. Its founder, Himanshu, is a sharp-eyed, well-built, and forever smiling man in his late forties. Originally from Meerut, he was inspired by Vinoba Bhave and Nirmala Deshpande to devote his life to the adivasis of central India. In 1992, he moved with his wife to Dantewada to fulfil his calling. He recruited a group of local boys and girls, and with their assistance worked on bringing education and healthcare to the adivasis.

By the time I visited the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, it had established a solid presence in the district. Its campus lay in the little village of Kanwalnar, about 10 miles from Dantewada town. Ringed by mango trees, the ashram contained a set of low, modest buildings where the members lived. From this home in the forest they ventured out into the surrounding countryside, to work among the Gonds and Koyas and Murias of the district.

The activities of the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram would be reckoned by most people in most times to be uncontroversial. But these are dangerous times in Dantewada, with a civil war raging between Maoist revolutionaries and a vigilante group promoted by the state administration and known as Salwa Judum. In this war, the tribals are caught in-between — so are Gandhian social workers. No one living in the district of Dantewada is now allowed to be neutral, to condemn even-handedly the barbaric acts of the Naxalites as well as the barbaric acts of the Salwa Judum.

As a consequence of the civil war, more than 50,000 tribals in Dantewada have been uprooted from their homes. Some left voluntarily; while many others were forcibly displaced by the Salwa Judum or by the Maoists. These refugees live in camps strung along the main road, in leaking and unstable tents, and without proper access to food, water, and means of employment. Many victims of the civil war fled across the border to Andhra Pradesh, where they live in equally pathetic conditions.

After months of living in this way, some tribals asked that they be allowed to return to their villages, so that they could live in their own homes, and close to their lands and their livestock. While the state wanted them to stay on in the camps, the villagers were encouraged to go back by the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram. Thus Himanshu and his co-workers set about rehabilitating those adivasis who wished to have no more of life in the camps.

The pretext behind the demolition of the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram is that the campus has ‘encroached’ on government forest land. The Gandhians, on the other hand, insist that they built on revenue land acquired legally and with permission from the local panchayat. The case is currently being heard in the local courts. Rather than await the court’s verdict, the district authorities uniliaterally chose to demolish the ashram, in what is very clearly an act of vindictive retaliation against the refusal by these Gandhians to wholly condone the support to the Salwa Judum of the Chhattisgarh state government.

As it happened, four students from the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore were visiting Dantewada on the weekend of 16/17 May. They were thus eye-witnesses to the ashram’s demolition. One scholar I spoke to said that the sub-divisional magistrate directing the operations, Ankit Anand, was particularly belligerent. When a student weakly protested, Anand commanded the police to have him silenced. The boy was taken away, beaten up, and asked to confess that the good Gandhian Himanshu was (a) an agent of the Naxalites; and (b) running a prostitution racket.

It was surely not an accident that the state of Chhattisgarh chose the very weekend that the election results were being declared to carry out this savage act of retribution. Who, at a time like this, would care about a violation of democracy in a remote and inaccessible corner of the country while the world was celebrating the victory of democracy in India as a whole? For this writer, the juxtaposition of these two events was powerfully symbolic. For I have long argued that India is a ‘50-50’ democracy. In the formal, institutional sense of holding fair elections contested by many parties, allowing freedom of movement for its citizens, and nurturing a free press, India is indeed democratic. But in other respects, it falls short of the democratic ideal. Kin and caste play far too important a part in politics and governance. Levels of corruption among politicians and officials are unacceptably high. The autonomy of the judiciary is somewhat compromised. The use of force by the State is often capricious and arbitrary.

Even in safe and (mostly) peaceable places like my hometown, Bangalore, one can occasionally encounter the dark side of Indian democracy — as in tax officials who take bribes, or politicians who fill in common waterbodies and sell them to private builders. But it is in the conflict zones of Kashmir, the Northeast, and central India, that the State shows itself at its most unappealing. To be sure, there are extenuating circumstances, such as separatist movements and revolutionary struggles. But to explain is not to apologize. One must condemn the violence used by the Naxalites and by the Kashmiri insurgents. One must yet insist that the Indian State, our State, be held to a higher order of morality and accountability.

Over the past few years, the government of Chhattisgarh has had a particularly undistinguished record in this respect. The burning of adivasi villages under the government-sponsored Salwa Judum has been documented in a series of independent reports. Then there is the unconscionable incarceration without bail of the respected social worker and doctor, Binayak Sen, on the very flimsy charge of carrying a letter from one Naxalite to another. Now comes this savage act of retribution against a group of law-abiding, peace-loving, and utterly non-violent Gandhians.

Supporters of the Chhattisgarh government deflect such criticism by pointing to the fact that the chief minister of the state has won a series of elections. But democracy does not begin and end with the counting of votes. Those elected to political office are sworn to uphold the rule of law, and to honour the ideals of the Indian Constitution. This holds true at the national as well as provincial levels. It applies equally to Congress-led governments as to Bharatiya Janata Party-led ones. So long as incidents such as the demolition of the Vanvasi Chetna Ashram occur and recur, India will not count as much more than a 50 per cent democracy.

May 18, 2009

Young is as young sees

The youngest democracy in the country is now shedding its white hair. And boy am I glad! For the first time in 22 years, I am interested in politics. I am hooked onto news channels, and I am reading every single political section of every single newspaper I can get my hands on.

The action in Delhi has my heartbeat racing, and I can find myself with an opinion, a voice, for the first time. I am critiquing, I am supporting, I am turning into an active citizen.

What is it that has made me change my interests?

To say the truth, I don't know. I can tell you though what I did like.

A prospective young cabinet for this young democracy. The reigns of the country are in hands that yet plagued with arthritis, heart attack, etc etc.

A 38 year old scion of the royal family of Indian politics taking huge decisions, emerging victorious at them, travelling 87,000 kms in the Indian heat instead of TV advertisements to make himself known to the masses, being humble enough to say someone else should be PM, and being determined enough to insist on having his way with the redundant politicians...

Other young leaders supporting this spirit rather than turning it into a war against personal ambition. The likes of Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot supporting Rahul's initiative and bestowing full confidence.

The people of the country believing in this rather than sticking with parties that still promote religious fanaticism and engage in propaganda that divides the nation into tiny fragments. The people have finally begun to use a mind of their own rather than let the leaders think for them.

Maybe the country is going to witness a different era. Maybe I am just being too optimistic. There is definitely a flipside and I know about it. But what is different is that I simply don't feel like playing devil's advocate right now. I just feel elated at this change of things, and it makes me feel that we have hope now. I feel like casting my vote, cos now I feel that my vote does count... WILL count.

I feel empowered. More than ever.

May 8, 2009

How to identify the Gujritius homo sapiens (GHS)

This certain species originated in the West Coast of India and belong to the Indo-Aryan race of homo sapiens. With the advent of globalisation and human export though, these creatures can now be found in every little remote country there is, including that little country stuck in between Egypt. There are a few sure shot ways of identifying this widely found species:
  1. They are collective animals. They will always be found with almost their entire clan. If on a rare occasion you do chance upon a lone GHS, you will see him befriending (or scares) other clans and species aggressively.
  2. Their vocal chords are differently developed to speak at louder tones. They are incapable of whispering, mumbling or muttering. Even at a distance of 5 feet, they will be found using their full vocal capabilities to beckon each other.
  3. Not quite unlike cows, they have a primary need to keep chewing. Their food chambers are located outside their body through and they will always be found with some edible items on their person. While travelling, if you are out of food, you can rely on them to have some stored at all times.
  4. They are characterised by a peculiar form of dance movement. They are sure to perform the same when you play music of any kind, as the clan gathers in a circle and dances around.
  5. Their currency comprehension and value recognition capabilities are quite low. As a result, they have their personal judgement of a value of an item. You will always find them fighting to obtain the same at a lower price, and at most times, they exasperate the vendor enough to gain their way. Something obtained free of cost of course holds most value for them.
  6. Although they travel in clans, they readily include anyone from the same species. In fact, they are always on the look out for fellow GHS, and will go all out to find one if there is.
  7. Be wary of swallowing their food if you are allergic to sweetness. If you are not, you can identify a GHS in an instant by tasting simply a morsel. Their sugar consumption level far exceeds that of an average homo sapien.
  8. A social event or a wedding is actually a meeting ground of potential matches, and you will find the elder of the species discussing prospective matches at all times. No young GHS can hope to be spared of this custom of inspection at any event.
  9. If you spot meat, be sure not to find a GHS in that area. GHS are herbivores and avoid any meat consumption. But the younger of the species have begun adapting to meat eating patterns.
  10. Lastly, even the most unlikely GHS will believe in exploitation of resources. They use the available resource to the optimum and then find a way to go even beyond it.

Statutory warning: If unprepared and unarmed, stay within escapable distance of a GHS.

May 1, 2009

the fight for survival will end

The world is suffering from bombing, wars, terrorism, propaganda, insensitivity and swine flus.

But I recently chanced upon the worst of all these that is sure to bring the world to its ultimate doom.

The loss of innocence.

We had a still shoot in office for a certain ad. And models were being auditioned for the same. This is something told to me by a colleague.

A kid was being auditioned. And he was spoken to as we would with any four year old. He answers back as would a 16 year old! Talking about being a 'professional' and with no hint of the cute innocence that you crave for returning to after you grow up. What will these kids want to go back to once they grow up?

The world has started withering at birth. And the fight for survival has reached its peak. It's gone from killing of bodies to the killing of souls. The killing of living, and of enjoying life. Now I think the cycle will get over as the fight destroys it all and it begins from the beginning again.

I await the beginning of life. I await going back to being a single cell.