Monday, 31 August 2015

on sheena bora case.......

The sensational Sheena Bora murder case has rocked the moral bedrock of India’s rapidly rising middle class. The story, as it unravels, has more than a powerful dose of elements that is apt for a classic murder mystery. The fact that a mother can allegedly kill her own daughter for possibly consolidating her powerful social life and beyond is shocking in any culture – for Indian society it’s spiteful, frightening and deeply unforgivable.

Now there is a faint personal connection here:  the victim happens to be my wife’s classmate and the main suspect, the mother of the victim, Indrani Mukerjea technically was my boss way back in 2007, when as a trainee reporter I joined NewsX  – the company she founded with her  former mighty media CEO  husband, Peter Mukherjea.

It send shivers down the spine to think such a morally unsound character and greatly undeserving person was made to run a news channel, that when launched, was suppose to set a new benchmark for television news reporting in India!  Well, that never really happened, the channel spluttered in a pretty obnoxious manner literally shattering the dreams of hundreds of highly talented young people. It also speaks volumes about the vulgar nature of some of the Indian corporates and the notoriety of their operations.

There is another connection too, Indira and her family is from Guwahati, when I was born and raised until age 9 before being packed off to a boarding school.

It will be wrong to pass a moral judgement on a society or even question its eco system just because the people involved are Assamese, but to a great extent, it will also be not unfair to say that a section of Assamese middle class is hounded by a very distorted and narrow view of modernism and liberalism that has resulted in a generation that is arrogant, superfluous and intellectually hollow.  The reason is simple: a large number of Assam’s pseudo- rich don’t make money from enterprise but from corruption. Insurgency and other political reasons and lack of ambition among youth has meant that people from the region despite being socially progressive and educated, when compared with rest of India, struggle to find their  footprint at national or international level. Try looking at Assamese media: it’s shamefully rotten.

This is no to say that it doesn’t happen in other societies (it does in a much violent form but in a much more conservative set up).

Sheena’s life was very sad. Her murder mystery has turned India’s privately owned noisy television channels into a full-blown entertainment channels. We hear “expert “ commentary from the handful of India’s mouthpieces, who like parrots, speak virtually on every subject, and seems to have made television appearance their full time job. Their only qualification: they can speak good enough to create noise. 

Let’s hope that no child ever has to go through what Sheena went through. She is a victim of moral ineptitude of our complex and myopic society. In the mist of all these I wonder why national media is not saying much about Peter Mukerjea. Is it because he is one of them? A former Star TV CEO and what not.  Should he not be seen as a morally foul character. Read how he met her :( Is he also not one of the classic  failures of the India Inc. – not just because of his personal life but the way he handled INX?

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Is ban on Udwin's "India's Daughter" justified?

I haven’t seen Leslee Udwin’s documentary “India’s Daughter”, which now finds mired in a controversy, but I had a chance to see snippets of the documentary and meet Leslee at the TEDX talk last weekend.

In her talk, Leslee precisely highlighted the sensationalised part of her work. She shows the rapist Mukesh Singh saying without remorse: “You can’t clap with one hand – it takes two hands. A decent girl won't roam around at 9 o'clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. Boy and girl are not equal. Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes. About 20% of girls are good.”

She also spoke about how daunting it was to make the documentary, the pain of parting from her young family for two years, and, how at one point when things just didn’t go right, she almost felt like giving up and return home, but her daughter (over phone) encouraged her to stay by saying “ I and my generation of girls are relying on you”.

 Leslee spoke passionately about the issue of gender inequality, which she described as “cancer” and myriad of other very serious issues related to it like patriarchy, killing of girl child, honour killing, and acid attacks, trafficking. She said gender equality was the only solution.

There is unmistakably no doubt about the fact that Leslee stands for women’s right and equality, but what's problematic the way she went on to talk about her documentary.

Apart from the quote above, she also quoted the defence lawyer A. P Singh, who  said,  If my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital activities and disgraced herself and allowed herself to lose face and character by doing such things, I would most certainly take this sort of sister or daughter to my farmhouse, and in front of my entire family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight

Clearly abhorring and sickening statements, but what do you expect a defence lawyer and a rape convict to say? There is no denying that there is a problem with men think in India but it is a section of the population not the entire country. Offenders, all over the world, tend not to show remorse about their horrifying actions.

Leslee’s over emphasis on the two quotes above to highlight her documentary coupled with excessive PR was another cause why the documentary stands banned by the court of law in India.  It undermined the fact that her purpose was not entirely commercial. If it was being shown on NDTV and BBC, and that some international papers were already taking about it what was the need of press conferences and her obsession to get as many journalists as possible. This contributed in getting the attention of the home minister. Personally, I just disliked her ruthless campaign – it looked as if she was hell bent in getting some sort of mileage out of it.

The other issue is raking up the December 16, 2012 rape issue once again. For heaven’s sake leave the family of the victim alone.

 It will also be wrong to assume that as if there was no concern about rape in India before December 2012. I have closely analysed two national Indian newspapers and Western newspapers to understand the narrative of rape going backwards two years before the unfortunate rape took place on 16 December 2012.

If you look at the The Hindu and The Times of India; there was already a momentum building up by activists and the Indian media since 2010 to recognise that there is a problem of rape- 16 December 2012 was the last straw.

On the other hand, many Western media simply went overboard in their reporting to vilify the “rape culture” in the country comparing it with Sati and other practices (The Times). I felt Jason Burke’s epicarticle in The Guardian was the only comprehensive piece that built up a picture to the problem for the foreign audience.

I personally work with the Western media, and I know that India is an open ground for journalists. Doing stories in India is far easier than any country in the world. Here we get what we want. People let us into their homes.  Could Leslee have made a similar documentary in her own country? Questions must also be asked how she got access- the fault also lies with the Indian authorites. 

There have been many horrifying instances of abuse in the world, like for example, an 80-year-old Austrian father man who wasaccused of locking up his daughters and raping them over a period of more than40 years a few years back. Could anyone interview him?

There is no denying that there is a problem in India the way women are treated but it not in all states. What about the northeast India?  I support Leslee’s passion and her campaign. Since I have not seen the documentary, I cannot comment much, but if her documentary is about what she is highlighting, it is needless and not very tasteful. 

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Delhi verdict says development and liberal India

It is an interesting time in Indian politics: Aam Admi Party, formed barely over a year ago recorded a decisive victory in the Delhi state elections.  So big has been the victory that it has spelled disaster of proportional scale for the two national parties the BJP and the Congress.  Congress has been totally eliminated; BJP won just 3 seats in a seventy-member assembly.

This is at a time, when just eight months back, the BJP came to power with an overwhelming majority at the national elections. The party has been on a victory mode since in other bigger states. The face of the party and India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is seen to bring in dynamism and leadership not witnessed in Indian politics for long. He is also keen to promote economic growth and rapid development.

Delhi’s voters make up the urban poor and rich. They come from different parts of the country and are reasonably well informed. Delhi represents the pan Indian ethos: a class of voters that have aspirations. Those originally from the city want it to be a place of opportunity, those coming from outside want to rise here. They have migrated and opted for a new life. It is place, where for most people the issues of caste, race, language are even religion are irreverent. Delhi has a vast young population and it reflects how India is going to be in years to come.

This Delhi election saw 11 million new voters. The AAP party promised them free WiFi.  In AAP they saw a renewed optimism. The party’s leader Arvind Kejriwal is an engineer from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology. He has worked with a big corporate firm and has been bureaucrat.  In their highly effective campaign, they spoke about real issues confronting the voters like water, sanitation, women’s security, electricity, and jobs - issues that haunt India at large. It had a well-defined programme.

A BJP cadre who didn’t want to be identified said, “they did their homework well. It was a great campaign.”

Apart from the poor poll strategies there are other issues that may have been a factor for BJP’s defeat. These factors have also been a concern in the rest of the country. Modi’s overwhelming mandate hasn’t seen him cracking down on the Hindu fundamentalist forces that have asserting themselves lately. Religious intolerance in the country has on been rise with a  renewed call to promote “Indianess” based on one language and Hindu religion.

On one hand, Modi has successfully projected himself to be globe tottering leader  aligning  and reinforcing India's founding values with other major democracies.   He is seen taking selfies with world leaders and even charming the US president, at home young people fear of reprisals and humiliation by the Hindu fundamentalist groups if they are out to celebrate Valentines’ day.

 A postgraduate student of Jawaharlal Nehru University says (with anonymity) , “ as women I know what it means to vote for BJP. I will be humiliated if I hold the hand of by boyfriend. They are a patriarchal lot.”

Anna Vetticad a writer and a journalist says in her Facebook post  “ I fear those whose stated ideology is to declare India a Hindu rashtra and relegate both women & minorities (religious minorities, linguistic minorities, sexual minorities) to a subordinate position in this country... people who say gay people are "abnormal", people who object to us holding hands in public, people who tell us it's "against our culture" to have silly fun like buying Valentine's Day cards and teddy bears for our partners/spouses. This is as much a vote against hate politics as it is a vote for development.”

By voting AAP to power the voters in Delhi have sent a clear message to all political parties. People in India want strong leadership, not a ruthless personality driven politics, they want development but not division in the society, they want policies based on reality and not ideology (replacing Sanskrit with German in 21st century makes little sense). More importantly, they want a harmonious India that is liberal, multicultural, progressive and secular. This has been the verdict of the day.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Reinforce the values of modern India

India certainly feels endorsed  as a emerging global power after Obama’s visit , but at home it needs to reinforce the  values that are significant to the idea of India itself to sustain its global image.

Now the dust has settled after president Barak Obama’s much celebrated visit as a chief guest for India’s republic day parade, it is imperative to look at how the new found friendship between president Obama and prime minister Modi resonates amongst the ordinary Indians.

It is a little secret that despite India’s subdued relationship with the US during the Cold War era -which began with Nehru’s discomfort  with the US’ capitalism; the subsequent tilt towards Soviet Union and disagreements over wide ranging issues from Nuclear Non –Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to CTBT – for ordinary Indians, however, the United States has always been a country of awe and land of opportunities. Throughout the last six decades millions of Indians have migrated to the US, and today it is a home to as Obama puts it: “3 million proud American Indians.”  They make up the richest ethnic community in the US with a considerable political clout. 

Whilst at political level USSR and now Russia have been India’s all weather friends, this relationship has fallen short of translating into people - to- people contact. The reasons for this are many: a communist USSR was not very welcoming to outsiders, nor their economy was commercially vibrant and diverse as the US.  The fact that Indian’s readily integrated with the American way of life speak volumes about inherent value system of Indians that probably found a stronger expression in America’s identical but much advanced democratic ideals.  Indian Americans naturally prospered and today playing an important role in warming up the US- Indo ties.

 The word “natural” in the context of the US- Indo relationship has never found more symbolic expression then it did last week when the two leaders stressed that relationship between the two democracies can be a defining force in the 21st century.

In many ways the visit by the US president was special: as a global hero with an inspiring background, Indians were happy to see him as country’s chief guest on the occasion of its republic day.  Political deals apart, prime minster Modi did well to engage the popular leader with ordinary Indians on radio. Discussing common topics about their personal likes and dislikes and reinforcement of the democratic values surely touched the chord of ordinary Indians.  Such things were never seen before but it largely underlined the encompassing significance of this relationship.  Symbolically, it also indicated US’ courtship with India - something Indians love.

 Equally significant was Obama’s speech in the Town Hall which reinforced the shared values of the two nations and an observation that “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along lines of religious faith, along lines of anything, and is unified as one nation.”

The shared values of the world’s oldest and largest democracies find the deepest roots in India. This country is not just multi-race,  multi lingual and  multi religious but in effect a civilisation of  breath-taking contradictions that is moving forward with a sea of humanity.

Obama in his speech mentioned about his contradictions  “right now, in crowded neighbourhoods not far from here, a man is driving an auto-rickshaw, or washing somebody else’s clothes, or doing the hard work no one else will do,” he told a crowd of about 1,500 people at Siri Fort Auditorium, a performance venue that hosts art and cultural events.

India is a country that is on the course of becoming a major global power, but and also there are regions in the country where a section of the population still cut off from the modern world and there are other divisions of caste, class and extreme overty. Clearly India’s challenges are unique and it requires great understanding of history to understand Indian society.

Does Indians need to be reminded of this? Clearly yes, many affluent Indians have no idea about these contradictions. A respected television news editor recently frowned on me for the stories I was covering for the international media. He said issues like human trafficking and modern –day slavery is not news. “We have internalised these issues”, he said. 

For India to find a respected place in the world India will have to uplift its poor and change its attitude towards people who are not that privileged. For this to happen, a strong leadership is needed that can stand up and defend the supreme values of the country’s constitution premised on justice , equality , liberty and fraternity.

It is in safeguarding these values and promoting the fundamental rights can India ensure an all round development for its citizens and find its glory in the world.