Monday, December 29, 2008

JUSTICE DENIED?



It was shocking to say the least. Not that it was uncommon – Girl spurns the overtures of a youth, and he throws acid on her. It was a heinous and a cowardly way of venting anger. This incident happened in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh, two girls were victims of an acid attack. It is a grim battle ahead for these girls. The perpetrators, three young men in their twenties were nabbed on the complaint lodged by the girls & their parents. A few days later all three of them were killed in an ‘encounter’ by the police. Very shocking indeed!
Human rights activists point out that the ‘encounter killings’ were done to cover up for the laxity on the part of the police to take cognizance of a complaint by the one of the girls, Swapnika, and her parents. In October, the main accused had set on fire a scooter belonging to the father of the Swapnika who had spurned him. He did this to terrorise the family. A police complaint was lodged, the police arrested the accused; filed a case of arson under IPC but set him free when he paid a fine of Rs. 110. The victim’s family alleges that bribes were paid to set the accused free. The father had then complained to the higher authorities; but it fell on deaf ears; probably the police did not perceive a threat. Perhaps emboldened by the lack of action on the part of the police, the main accused and his friends threw acid on the girls. When the attack did happen, it must have jolted the police, who it is now alleged, arranged the fatal ‘encounter’ as a cover up.
People applauded and the main accused’s father refused to claim his body for cremation saying that his son deserved the treatment meted to him.
In the past year or so, it is now reported that the Warangal police have ‘neutralised’ at least three other criminal elements.
Two wrongs do not make a right. !
Encounter killings, are common place in police parlance. Criminal elements are eliminated swiftly and many of you will agree that in this manner justice is meted out swiftly!
But worrying issues crop up.
The modus operandi of the ‘encounter killings’ is simple, the arrested person is taken to a desolate place & gunned down in cold blood. Then an elaborate attempt is made to inform the public that the arrested/accused tried to escape and in the process snatched a gun from a police officer, shot at the police, and in retaliatory firing the arrested/accused was killed. Police friendly media then do the reporting with convincing pictures. One of the police party even feigns an injury!
It is now known that in many such killings, the personnel of the police force were paid to carry out the killings; either by rivals or by rich & powerful patrons whose beans would have spilled if the arrested criminal element squealed!
And in some cases, innocents were apprehended, and then ‘killed’; a sure and safe way of murdering a person!
Since these criminal elements are a menace to society & knowing that the prevailing justice system (not the law) may set him free, we tacitly approve of such killings – a sure sign of a society frustrated with its systems.
But instead of applauding, shouldn’t we be protesting?
We should protest against the corruption ridden systems & lethargic procedures that make a mockery of the laws that govern us.
Each one of us has to have recourse to law. If we were to dispense justice through ‘encounter’ killings it would be easy to eliminate people whom we do not like or see eye to eye. All that we have to do is have them arrested and then bribe the police to do the death rites!
We live in a civilised society. However heinous the crime, the justice system should prevail!

P.S. Twenty one-year-old final year engineering student Swapnika died early on Wednesday,31st December 2008, three weeks after suffering an acid attack that left her with 55 per cent fourth degree burns.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH?



Where were you on the night of 26th November?

I was busy packing my bags. I was leaving for Patna on 27th morning. A friend called to alert me about some ‘gang war’ that was happening at Café Leopold. I switched on the TV and got sucked into the world of terrorism.

In October, I had spent some time in Mumbai, to be precise - South Mumbai. My wife had accompanied me, and we had a great time in that part of Mumbai. Breakfast would be at Café Leopold; and I would wind a long day with a beer at Café Leopold. The promenade in front of the Taj was our walking space in the evening. A bite a Ling’s Pavilion just behind Taj where we were served by Mangalorean waiters, was another place we liked to visit. It came as a shock - a month earlier and who knows; could we have been involved?

Come to think of it, India is a soft target. Everyone, from the petty thief to the sophisticated terrorist knows that our law enforcement agencies work with equipment that dates back to the 1970s and we have a system that is corrupt and abused. The hierarchy in the command chain prevents quick decision making. It was waiting to happen and it did!

The TV anchors and reporters went berserk! There they were like headless chickens, shrill and loud, endlessly repeating the same things over and over again with no real method to their coverage. The young amongst them waxed eloquence minute after minute, thrusting mikes under anybody willing to talk and then analyzing it threadbare. The older amongst them decided to dictate our response -light a candle, hold a vigil & denounce the politicians. All the reporting was only about the Taj & all the time images flashed of only the ‘famous five’ who died. The reporting was so flawed and unfairly biased. Yours truly, indignant & exasperated, sent a message to one of the TV channels which read: Does one have to be famous to be mourned? What about the 56 who perished at the railway station. Why do you pick a theme, thrash it limp, and then forget it?

Politicians were ducking for cover. That breed of rudely insensitive & shamelessly selfish netas was being targeted. Not being trained in the fine art of subtle speech, they were contracting the famous foot-in-the-mouth disease. They are yet to realise that we are masters of our unsaid words and slaves of those we let slip out!

After the furore came the calm. Candle light vigils, speeches, blogs et al are slowly but surely drying up. People are back to where they were. Mumbai looks like a bad dream. Many questions remain unanswered. Prominent among them :
1. Where there just 10 terrorists; 2 to a place?
2. Who helped them?
3. What was the objective of hostages if there was no demand to be met?
4. Who was staying in the room that served as the control room for the terrorists at the Taj?
5. There was an inordinate delay in the response time. Within such time, Taj & Trident could have been blown up. Did the plans of the terrorists backfire?

On 27th I travelled to Patna. This was my first trip. I cannot say if it has improved or not. The improvement or lack of it, according to me depends to a large extent on the people who live there. Patna is a sprawling city where filth & squalor co exist. Poverty is striking. It has scope for improvement and people live in hope.

The taxi driver who took me around was a treasure trove of information. He was quite critical of his fellow Biharis; lamenting that progress was either stifled or postponed by the ruling class. If time permitted he wanted to take me on a tour of the place. I have assured him that on my next visit, I may decide to do just that!

He dropped me off at the airport for my return journey. As I reached for my bags, he said, “Patna is more peaceful than Mumbai”. He paused, probably for effect, and then said “I will pick you up on 15th evening Sir”. He got into his taxi and with a final wave of his hand he drove off. I must have been smiling to myself as I walked into the terminal to await my flight!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

ESSENCE OF LIFE, DENIED!

(This post is written as a response to the large number of messages, calls & SMSs that I have received over the past 3 days enquiring about the fresh round of violence that has gripped Mangalore. The views expressed in this post are made solely for the purpose of finding a way out of this alarming situation that faces all Mangaloreans)

The essence of life is to move forward.

What happened in Mangalore on the morning of September 14th was contrary to the essence of life. We have now moved backwards by, at least, a hundred years.

It all began with a leaflet/booklet* purported to have been published and circulated by a Christian group called ‘New Life’. The ‘New Life’ is a break away group of former Catholics & Protestants. They believe in evangelization and try to lure people to their flock; at times with the power of money. Their main targets are actually Catholics and Protestants themselves. They are of the opinion that belief in Jesus Christ only can bring salvation to mankind.
* The booklet, entitled 'Satya Darshini', was originally written in Telugu & then was translated to Kannada.The accusers haven't produced the copies to the district authorities, nor have they been able to tell the authorities the location where the leaflet has been found.

It is said that the book derided the Hindu Gods.

If this is so, I condemn the booklet in the strongest of terms. Religion is personal and precious to each individual and no one can ridicule, deride or insult any religion.

The Bajrang Dal, which has always maintained that the Christians convert Hindus; and are vehemently opposed to conversions, seized the moment and took law into their own hands. A helpful BJP Government at the helm of administrative affairs in Karnataka encouraged their cause and they proceeded to attack & destroy the ‘New Life’ centers and prayer halls all across Mangalore, Udupi & Chikmagalur Districts on Sunday morning. They beat the people up and destroyed furniture and desecrated the places of worship.

In Mangalore, in addition to the 'New Life' centres, a Catholic convent was also attacked. A gang of 8-10 youth walked into the chapel of the convent and proceeded to smash the altar, desecrate the Blessed Sacrament and break the legs and hands of a statue of a crucified Jesus Christ. This was followed by attacks on other churches in and around Mangalore.

The Catholics of Mangalore took to the streets in protest. What followed was mayhem. The agitated youngsters, unmindful of Section 144, protested on the streets in front of various churches in Mangalore the next day. Mangalore ground to a halt on Monday. A partisan Police force, angry at being stoned & egged on by some members of the Bajrang Dal, systematically quelled the protest of the indignant Catholics by brutal force using lathis, stones and tear gas,(even women & children were not spared) in the process arresting scores of Catholic Youth for violating section 144 of the IPC.

Then a farce was played out before millions of Television Viewers. The Bajrang Dal called a press conference and took the onus for the attacks & warned of more attacks to follow; a jubilant looking Home Minister openly approved the acts of the Bajrang Dal and played down the attacks on the places of worship. The state Bajrang Dal convener, while taking onus for the attacks, openly warned Christians not to resist the atrocities of his men, else more would follow; and he still runs a free man. A partisan Chief Minister visited Mangalore on Monday; shed crocodile tears and promised to repair the places of worship with the tax payer’s money. His ire was directed to people who are engaged in conversions. He skirted the issue of the attacks on places of worship. The minister in charge of the District pretended that he was illiterate – he had not read newspaper reports nor seen the Television coverage of the Bajrang Dal press conference wherein the leader had taken responsibility to the attacks, and denied the hand of the Bajrang Dal in the attacks. So much for democratic governance.

On Tuesday, a delegation of Congress leaders descended on Mangalore and shed copious tears. Every single politician has descended on Mangalore, like vultures actually, looking for someway of extracting mileage from the incident. For the politician, building up support among the people on the basis of good governance is a far more arduous task than carving out electoral bases on the basis of divisive politics.

In response to the protest by Catholics, another outfit called the Sri Ram Sena called for a bundh on Tuesday. An uneasy calm has settled over Mangalore as I write this post. What I had feared most has come alive.

Time and again I have warned my friends that a day will come when Mangalore will observe a bundh every other day; not out of solidarity but out of fear!

It is tragic, to say the least, that a few hundred youth can hold lakhs of people to ransom.

What is happening out here?

One must go down to the underbelly of Mangalore & one goes directly to the root of the problem. The economically backward, be it the Hindus, Muslims or the Christians, have to face up to a problem. Their youth are just not employable. They lack quality education and skills that would have made them employable. So there you have it; a large population of frustrated and unemployed youth.

As Karl Marx once said ‘Religion is the opium of the People’; the last resort of these people is religion. You don’t need special skills to grow into a fanatic. Slowly and surely these youth are proving to be a malaise; refusing to go away.

I have had opportunity to travel to the hinterlands of Mangalore. I have met with these youth groups. They too have dreams, ideas and plans; but there is no one listening. The educational institutions in these places impart superficial education. The youth grow up with an absence of the breadth of knowledge. They haven’t mastered the language of business – English. Their soft skills haven’t been honed. They are languishing; easy prey to wily politicians & religious leaders. Keeping them unemployable helps the cause of these charlatans.

Unless we Mangaloreans come together to sort out these issues, we are doomed. No industrialist would want to set up business in a place which observes frequent bundhs.

It is time for Mangaloreans of every faith to commence a meaningful dialogue on religion. It is important to respect each others religion and understand that only when we co exist in peace can we build prosperity. The youth of Mangalore have to be made employable. And in all these endevours, it is important to keep all selfish politicians at bay.


P.S. On September 19th, at around midnight, the Police, bowing to pressure from all quarters, finally arrested the State Bajrang Dal convener. He has been remanded to judicial custody.
On September 30th, the VHP, bowing to pressure from the BJP, asked the convener to relinquish his post. As if on cue, the state government slapped 7 different cases on the scapegoat!
Meanwhile a chastened State Govt has decided to conduct a judicial probe into the incident.

Monday, August 25, 2008

AUGUST MUSINGS

Here I am, sitting in my office, wondering what to do next, when I realize that it’s been a while since I posted on my blog.

Indians had a reason to celebrate at the Olympics this time. Three brave and dedicated souls excelled at the games to bring us a few medals. A silent, but sure, start to what I hope will be a sports revolution, and an indication that people are finally willing to look beyond Cricket.

The reaction of the Government was typically knee-jerk! A spate of prizes were announced after the win was recorded. A well coordinated effort would have been to announce prizes to winners in advance, so as to act as an incentive. Or was the Government convinced that its citizens would never win a medal at the games?

The monsoon is receding. It has been erratic this year. When it should have rained, it stayed away. When it did come, it came with a vengeance; floods that caused destruction and took away lives. Roads in my town, Mangalore, are in a pathetic shape; the potholes resemble craters. And as in the past, this time too, it is the same portion of the road that bears the onslaught - year after year. The authorities fill the potholes with stones and mud and people of Mangalore, get a free session of break-dance on these roads. Why don’t they ever learn, year after year? Do we complain? We do! Do we complain enough? Perhaps not. Does anybody listen? None or perhaps they don’t care.

Independence Day has come and gone. White clad politicians, white being the colour of purity, paid respect to the nation and mouthed the same old rhetoric. Some citizens celebrated while others introspected. I belong to the latter category and so I listed out points to ponder. Coming from a small town which is fighting in vain to be a city, I have identified my areas of concern. Firstly, communalism & all that follows it has raised its ugly head and like the many headed hydra refuses to be silenced. Unemployment levels are rising at an even pace; (if only development would record as steady a growth). The quality of education is falling; students are growing up with a near absence of breadth of knowledge; whatever is imparted to them is very superficial. Corruption is rampant and growing exponentially. The schism between the ‘have’ and the ‘have-not’ is expanding. Chaos, disguised as “development”, reigns supreme.

Much like the Samsung advertisement, I ask, Next is what?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

A COSTLY SLAP (OR HOW TO LOSE RS. 3 CR IN A JIFFY!)

Recently, a cricket crazy nation, (and a crazy Board for Control for Cricket in India) went overboard to ‘protect’ a certain member of the BCCI team, Mr. H. Singh, against the ‘tirades’ of certain members of the Australian cricket team. The media was gung ho about the whole thing – they had some ‘stuff’ that they could milk all through the day for weeks to come. The whole country stood by the ‘pious’ Mr. H. Singh, conveniently sweeping all his misdeeds of the past under the carpet so to say, the BCCI going to the extent of threatening to call of its team’s tour of Australia.

A few months prior to these incidents, a certain Mr. S. Shanth, once again a member of the BCCI cricket team was proving to the world, that Indian cricketers are no pushovers. To the cheers of cricket crazy fans (and some rabid commentators) he was teaching the opposition a lesson or two on sledging; where as to moderates such as me, he was just being obnoxious for the sake of being so!

Sledging has been around as long as the game of cricket has been around. The Brits would have treated cricket as a gentleman’s game; but in the subcontinent it was far from it. There have been instances where opposition teams have fought pitched battles with wickets & bats doubling up as arms and ammunitions. Team members have been bludgeoned; some losing their lives – even the umpires have not been spared.

But when it came to these two ‘gentlemen’ we supported them with gusto, (in what I thought were antics.) Anybody who did not do risked being called unpatriotic. (I have tried in vain to explain that ones love, or lack of it, for cricket and the cricketers does not define patriotism).

Then there was a slap - Mr. H Singh’s response to Mr. S Shanth’s local sledging!

Mr. S Shanth wept with the media capturing it and setting it as the numero uno headline of the day for many days to come!

Next day Mr. S Shanth maintained in front of the national media that it was a misplaced handshake, shrugged the whole thing off insisting that it was a personal thing and that Mr. H Singh was like an elder brother & so on. But he took care to mention to his state media that it was not a slap but a slugfest! (I imagine with the raising of eyebrows, lungis too were raised in God’s own country!)

What followed was the brand of comedy only BCCI can dish out. Mr. H Singh found himself poorer by 3 cr for the slap & Mr. S Shanth was given a mild warning. Mr. H Singh is now the villain of the piece. Taking refuge some where in Punjab, the ‘bad boy’ of Indian cricket must be wondering what went wrong?

What went wrong indeed? For this I turned to the cricket aficionado in my office, my very dependable Mr. Lawrence. (If one was to consider me as Bertie Wooster, then Lawrence would be Jeeves!)

In his deep voice I was treated to a threadbare analysis of the incident and its aftermath. The truth is plain and simple – When Mr. H Singh was at ‘it’ in Australia the BCCI and the country stood by him (though everyone who follows the game knows that H Singh can be obnoxious) showing a misplaced solidarity. But when he showed his true colours on home soil, he was abandoned, branded a pariah and banished for sometime – all this for making the BCCI and the mere mortal, die-hard, cricket fans look like fools!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS.

It’s been a long while since I last wrote on my blog.

There have been many enquiries on my long silence.

I haven’t been writing for many reasons; prominent among them being:

  1. I just could not bring myself to write – writer’s block or plain fatigue?
  2. I was anxious to finish, furnish and move into my new apartment

Since March 20th, we have a new address:

402, Shivadeep Residency,
Shivabagh,
Kadri,
Mangalore.

We moved into our new apartment, after a delay of approximately 6 months & we are loving it!

There is a popular saying in Kannada:

Maduve maadi nodu,
Mane katti nodu.’

Loosely transalated, it means ‘get married and see, build a house and see’; literally it means that the two tasks are difficult, complicated & frustrating!

It was an experience for my wife and me as we watched with a feeling of helpless ness as all dates & deadlines that we had set were systematically demolished by labourers, carpenters, painters and their ilk.

And I learnt that in the ‘unorganised’ sector of building construction, ‘anything’ is possible.

The labour class in our country has been exploited. But slowly and surely, they are striking back, not by negotiations to improve their lot, but by sulking, absenting from work & bullying the contractor/building in parting with more wages. They are breeding incompetence and bleeding the contractor/builder. Does one deserve the other?

Ultimately it is the user - the apartment/house owner, who suffers with the delay & at times the poor quality of work.

It’s been a month since we moved in. The builder has yet to hand over the building; his gang of incompetent supervisors are scanning the building for defects to rectify & while at it they are taking their own sweet time!

We are still looking forward to having all our friends over for a celebration.

Meanwhile I plod the steps to the builder’s office to enquire as to when he & his ‘gang’ would quit the building so that we could have a celebration with our family and friends.