article, free speech, Journalism, life, politics

50-50 Democracy: India is a sinking boat for freethinkers

Ramachandra Guha very rightly characterised India as a 50-50 democracy, which upholds certain aspects of democracy with staunch rigidity like elections, while remaining uneasily lax about law and order as well as seething political corruption. India has time and again shown the extent of the culture of intolerance practised in the name of democracy. While ‘intolerance’ may be understood as someone’s democratic right, it cannot encroach another’s right to life and liberty. Taslima Nasreen is the latest (but not the first) victim of this intolerant strain.

Taslima Nasreen, who landed in Aurangabad with the intention of visiting Ajanta and Ellora caves, was barred from leaving her hotel premise by protesters, led All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen MLA Imtiaz Jaleel. Her act was deemed offensive to Muslims residing in the city. Taslima has been in the past hounded by Islamist radicals due to her controversial views on Islam, which had caused a flurry in Bangladesh, leading to her exile from the country in 1994. And once again, with an apparent imminent threat to her well-being, she decided to leave.

Why do we as a nation promote the culture of intolerance? Books have been banned, writers roughed up for progressive criticism. A myriad of social factors, coupled with political complexities have made the political scenario unaccepting of voices of dissent. Freedom of speech has limits which make it hard, nay, impossible to voice opinions without hurting sentiments. We, as a society on the road of economic progress (and social, I pray), must realise that ‘Hurt sentiment’ is a part of the bargain we make to exercise free speech. We already have reasonable restrictions placed on free speech – no state can concede this right without ensuring the safety of its citizens. But so long as speech does not incite or in Guha’s terms, ‘advocate’ the use of physical violence, it must be a right that our democracy must defend. You may hold opinions in opposition to those of a writer but no sole individual or group can claim authority over the movement of an individual if he/she so wishes. This is undemocratic and unlawful.

Taslima Nasreen believes herself to be a crusader against religious fundamentalism; she desires to prove that Islam is not outside the ambit of critical scrutiny. The author’s criticism, which stems from contemporary political and social scenario, may be flawed. Although Bangladesh has, in recent times, seen many intellectuals being hacked for holding dissenting opinions.  To arrive on common ground, a culture of debate is needed, not that of brute force and hooliganism. A creative confluence of ideas is the bedrock of a democracy, which we promised to ourselves in our constitution.  But a set of archaic rules give the state a lot of latitude in placing limits to freedom of speech, which often pander to religious sentiments above individual liberty. We need to free India from the grip of identity politics that work, through the lens of caste and religious, to effectively throttle freedom of expression. Let the government not cow down to political considerations and rise above to reclaim India from its descent into a dark abyss of intolerance.

article, movie review, Uncategorized

Christopher Nolan outdid himself with Dunkirk

The movie is practically immune to spoilers so you may read this without fear

Nolan’s movies have an uncanny tentacular grip in my head and I often go back to them when time permits. I never expected any less from the man who gave us the Batman Trilogy and Inception. The mastermind Anglo-American director has never believed in a linear plot as his movies transverse several timelines. He does the same with Dunkirk, where he basically throws his audience in the deep end of the pool – an intense evacuation. I was at the edge of my seat throughout the film. Hans Zimmer’s music perfectly complements the cinematography. Travelling through land sky and sea, with the divisions never too clear, Dunkirk is one of the finest films I have ever seen. Like the sea which is a constant presence in the movie, dawning both death and life, the movie bobs and weaves for 2 hours, managing to keep you on your toes.

Centred around the historical rescue of stranded British and French soldiers at Dunkirk during the second world war as they are incessantly pounded by the Nazi forces, you may realise that you know the story before its even begun. But you don’t. The characters, adrift in time and experience are what make this story multi-dimensional – the soldiers barely surviving on the beach at Dunkirk, grasping their helmets and lives; the brave requisitioned civilian rescue boats that fight their way through treacherous seas and the pilots who circle the skies, taking down enemies.  Nolan pursues larger questions about life, time, memory and identity, deliberately stripping off all specifics of all character, their beginnings and ends like loose strings that can be tied at will. The experience is ethereal – the lost soldiers, dealing with personal identity amid a crisis that is manifested both internally and externally. These experiences on screen – Nolan-esque in portrayal – are metaphors of our daily life experiences anchored in great screenplay and outstanding cinematography. The different storylines run parallel yet overlap and it is heartening to see all of them come together in the end after a diligent struggle in space and time.

Unlike war genre movies that I have seen so far, Dunkirk doesn’t shove over-sentimentality down your throat nor does it rove on about struggle and some moral enigma. This film is less about war and more about survival – it brought to my mind GB Shaw’s ‘Arms and the Man’ which deviated from the norm of showing buck swaggering valiant soldiers to show the grim reality, the fear of death even in the bravest of men. Dunkirk is nothing but cinematic perfection and is yet another feather in the Nolan’s cap.

 

Picture: YouTube/Warner Bros

 

airlines, food, traveling, Uncategorized

Passing the baton? Air India’s public image takes a nose-dive with its ban on non-veg in the economy class

Airlines have come up with innovative ways to cut costs. Delta Airlines purchased its own fuel processing refinery to cut corners in the long run.  In 1994, Southwest Airlines removed the company’s logo from rubbish bags, saving the carrier $300,000 a year in printing costs. How else would any carrier in such a competitive industry survive? Such parsimony has often paid off – lighter chairs, lesser in-flight magazines, female attendants because they are lighter (ingenious, GoAir) – companies have approached this issue with crazier ideas that we’d expect.

But Air India seems to have rubbed its passengers the wrong way in its efforts to stay afloat.

Ironically the decision comes at a time when the Supreme court has stayed the ban on Centre’s controversial cattle ban. You might think that a sinking ship will try to find safe harbour somewhere. At least that’s the predictable rationale. Not true for a government-owned neck deep in debt-quagmire airline called Air India. Amidst the uproar around beef ban and liquor ban, Air India has tightened the noose around its neck by what could be termed as poor decision-making skills. Or maybe their PR person is busy flying Vistara.

The decision to ban non-veg menu for the economy class seems straight out a government memo which has called for a look from a political/nationalistic narrative practised by majority. And people were quick to point out that this was a stupid way to deal with debt evidenced by the fact that chicken is cheaper than paneer. But really? Anyone flying Air India would ideally have the budget to afford BOTH chicken and paneer. But it all boils down to a liberal question of choice, which we have very high regards for, followed by little understanding. The decision has elicited strong criticisms from all corners. Air India had moved to an all-veg meal model on sub-90 minute flights last year. What’s worse, they also nicked tea and coffee from their lunch and dinner menu.

Air India has justified their decision claiming that most of the people did not specify their preferences at the time of booking; that the passenger ratio of vegetarians to non- vegetarians has tilted greatly in the favour of the former. These justifications, on the face of it, seem palatable. But denying the choice to individuals altogether seems to veer close to the situation on land in India. To top it off, the move is discriminatory to say the least considering how the airline will still be offering the exclusive non-veg menu to those flying business class.

Air India could have come up with a better way to stop seeing red- making food specifications mandatory, paving way for allocation of responsibility in event of negligence in terms of catering. But the only solution it advocates is an extreme method, and without providing a thorough exposition on how this method came to be chosen. Transparency is the key to any public decision. As for many who have chosen to get riled up against the decision- have you ever run a debt-laden national carrier? Air India may prove to be correct. Their total debt is estimated to be around 52000 crores. With this cost-cutting endeavour they are poised to save around 8 crores each year. That gives them the recovery window of about, say, around 6500 years (I haven’t considered the disinvestment that the government announced last month, so that may shake the numbers). The math doesn’t add up. But hey, that’s the case with most of the decisions of this government.

We won’t be around to see them recover; and at this rate, the government wont, either.

Holy cows, politics, religion, Uncategorized

A tale of two identities: Whats your beef?

One reason why Modi-wave gripped India in 2014 was the idealist/economist lens with which he viewed the nation. He ‘seemingly’ rose above petty communal rhetoric that had been his cross since Gujarat, and spoke about development, growth and the rise of a super-power. We were under the impression that he wanted to establish an expansionist pro-capitalist identity of our nation on a scale unimaginable to us. He has been sloughing day in and out to retain that I presume, continuously on tour for bilateral talks, erecting a new identity abroad. But our own identity politics has taken a backseat, or rather is going back to crude basics. The secular nation that was promised to all and sundry, has turned into a hollow premise on which lies the now unsteady foundation of India.

The majoritarian govt that has been elected by such a massive popular vote has taken to blatantly infringing on rights of the citizens. The latest assault has been the restrictions imposed on sale of cattle for slaughter, sounded through an amendment issued under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. Cattle brought to the markets would have to be sold for agricultural purposes, a tab on which would be kept by the Animal Market Committee. The rules define ‘cattle’ to mean “cow, calf, bull, bullock, buffalo, heifer, steer and camel”.

While the subtleties of the ban are lost in the political humdrum, the move does seem to reek of majoritarian bliss. Well my mother advocates what our government has implemented; I am a non-vegetarian and she has never restricted consumption of meat in our Hindu household, despite being a vegetarian herself. Though we have our own holy cows. Her behaviour, could be diabolical or hypocritical to an extent. To put into perspective rhetoric of religious sentiments, would anyone eat pork in an Islamic nation, where its consumption is banned? Well, the only logical answer I could come up with was the fact that these nations are Islamic- they have a religion with which their nation’s identity is inextricably linked and therefore that religion may well dictate rule of the land. Do not confuse my acceptance with assent, but only an explanation. India however has no national religious identity. What we have is one religion which dominates in number. Hindu beliefs are not the beliefs of all those who live in the nation and cannot be enforced. Nehru writes in Discovery of India- “A Buddhist or a Jain in India is a hundred percent product of Indian thought and culture, yet neither is a Hindu by faith. It is, therefore, entirely misleading to refer to Indian culture as Hindu culture.” We must pay heed to these words.

One of my mother’s pet arguments (and of many others I’ve met) – if people have a right to decide what they eat, why would anyone deny someone who has an appetite for Tiger meat? Or why raise such a hue and cry over killing of dogs in China? So, for the former- Tigers are Endangered. There aren’t a whole lot left in the world to make steak out of. She does not relent but I do feel like a hypocrite when I am all for beef consumption but would gladly sign a petition condemning Yulin festival in China. What I condemn is the brutality with which those dogs are tortured and killed. But the right to their consumption remains with the citizens. The gruesome reality does not feed the fodder of my argument. If I stick to my own canon, all animals must then be equal.

What NDA is doing is not based on sound economics either, if they plan to squeeze all the profits out of this nation. India ranks 97th out of 118 in the Global Hunger Index. People are starving across the country, with southern states reeling under the worst drought in decades. In such a situation, selling unproductive cattle earns them extra bucks that are the difference between a full and an empty stomach. Also, the fact that Centre has not banned cattle slaughter but only ‘banned sale of cattle for slaughter through animal markets’ is walking a thin line. This has supposedly been done to counter illegal slaughter houses and ensure hygienic conditions but all this ban would effectively do is drive the industry underground, pushing thousands out from the ambit of cattle sale in the markets amidst excessive legalities. Unproductive cattle are an economic burden, one which farmers, who are strapped for cash, cannot afford. The irony of India being the world’s largest beef meat (buffalo though) exporter isn’t lost on me. Since the order now includes buffalo, the economic scene may waver a bit. We also have a flourishing leather industry which may face tough times, and the consequences may not bode well for the economic super-power dream that has been fed to us. Regulating the conditions under which slaughter takes place is necessary but eliminating cattle trade from animal markets for now seems very restrictive.

A new order may be passed after certain petitions post which buffaloes may be removed from the ambit of the ban. The economic dream may well thrive. But we still have our holy cows.

Maybe in Modi’s world, much like Orwell’s, some animals are more equal than others.

Donald Trump, politics, Uncategorized, united states

Trump’s Travel Ban in Deep Waters, Again.

In what will turn out to be a great setback for the Trumpian government, a federal appeals court upheld the ruling against the government’s ban on travellers from six Muslim-majority nations into United States. In a stunning 10-3 ruling, judges seemed to side with the lower court’s initial decision to stop certain parts of Donald Trump’s executive order, promulgated in March, which barred people from 6 countries, namely Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Syria from entering the United States for 90 days. The order also sought to to suspend the refugee program for 120 days.

People decried the revised executive order for being discriminatory in nature against a religious community. Although the revised order was milder in tone and extent of applicability, it still did not go down well with human rights activists. Trump tried to argue that since only a few countries were in its ambit, the order could not be considered a blanket ban on Muslims. However, that’s a laughable prospect. The second ban only eliminated Iraq from the initial 7-country list; US has for long worked on the front with Iraq in battling the ISIS and other counter-terrorism activities.

Still the ban profiles the individuals of a community as threats under the guise of national security. People were however vary of the fact that it might be hard to challenge the ban in court. Those in opposition of the ban would’ve had to prove that the ban would have done ‘real harm’ if not nullified which would’ve been harder to prove since the ban was not permanent in nature but only dealt in temporary denial of visas. Also, foreigners do not generally have a claim to sue. Selection of the countries, which is a political decision considering Trump’s earlier rhetoric on Muslim, is clearly discriminatory. Trumpian government is planning to continue to fight the decision in court, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions promising to take the matter to the Supreme Court. The court read between the lines and found deep connection between the campaign statements made by the President and his subsequent action of promulgating the travel ban. His extremist ideology and firm stance on the issue is what bought him a surge of supporters and the travel ban seems to pander to the whims of a scared bigoted public. ACLU, which fought the ban in court, terms this as a big win and it sure is. All hopes are now pinned on the Supreme Court which should ideally uphold 4th Circuit’s decision and overturn this prejudiced travel ban.

Uncategorized

NEW MEDIA ASSIGNMENTS

  1. ONODO

http://onodo.org/visualizations/11245/embed/

Screenshot (3)

2. INFOGRAM

3. PIKTOCHART

new-piktochart_908_a0692c099beeee92960d09662563b391404a019c (1)

4. TIMELINE

https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline3/latest/embed/index.html?source=1swHCZ14gqEwPwSkMj3CPc2stHzaZ07hctqDqOrt-ndk&font=Default&lang=en&initial_zoom=2&height=650

5. WORDPRESS ARTICLE

https://bhagatmallika.wordpress.com/2016/11/02/to-the-roots-of-immortality/comment-page-1/#comment-34

article, dharamsala, friends, india tourism, life, LOVE, memories, road trip, traveling, Uncategorized

The Road Trip

We pulled into Dharamsala around as the sun was first rising, with two fingers of light on the horizon. We crossed the breezy but narrow roads into the city limits, making our way to a bus depot.  Rubbing my sleep-filled eyes, I tried to peer through the hazy glass, at the snow-covered mountains on my right, the sky turning the color of light orange with wispy blue clouds at the edges, like froth at the top of a drink. Most of my classmates were asleep, the target of my envy —for the rumbling-swaying bus devoid me of the much-needed rest—considering we had a long day ahead of us.  I had stayed up, flitting in and out of sleep, leaning in, my weight on the shoulders of a friend, who had blissfully slept, much to my chagrin. We walked up to our hotel, with the taste of our exhaustion livid in our mouths, slept on the bed in the same outfit, only to wake up an hour later, drink a cup of coffee in the beautiful terrace area and later, drive to our first destination.

We had the trip of our lives, with the fear of imminent placements put mutually on the backburner. I have no adjectives to describe my classmates— they are the most eclectic bunch of people I have met! Our class would throw their hands up in the air and relax, with music in the background and a cigarette in their hand, than battle out political differences. This educational trip, or so it was meant to be, was a proof of our symbiotic association. We travelled all day, amidst the cliffs which were marked by tall trees along the roadsides, their arms up like they were being frisked. We ambled along a clammy-smelling, muddy trail to the Tibetan parliament in exile, and trudged lazily from a library to a human rights discussion. We braved the sleety rain ricocheting off the rocks. We were bemused by the plight of the young children at a Tibetan Children’s school and amused by the extremely cheap desserts at the Tibetan café.

We would come back to our hotel, exhausted from the day but pumped up for the night. Groups were fluid as people drifted in and out of different rooms with ease, some fumbling around for shampoo, and some for a matchbox. Amidst all the clamor of our incessant bickering and bluff sessions, we all felt united by one purpose—that we did not let our fears prevent us from missing out on this trip. We shared childhood (read embarrassing) anecdotes and danced to old Bollywood jingles into the night (well some did, I slept. Huge regrets.) I trekked — or something close enough to a trek —with my friends, without a care in the world, without any fear of being embarrassed of my child-like naivety. I’d like to think the time spent on a stony wall, within the reclaimed cathedral just off the road, brought us closer to each other. I’d like to hope that somehow, this short tour gave us all memories to store within each fleeting moment. Before we start feeling limited by our lives and jobs, penned in by money or family, we stretched out in our bit of the leg-room and somehow, just somehow, made this tour into the road trip we all dream about.