Tuesday, 5 May 2015

The Apathy of Electronic Media

Media, has been and, presently is a key part of the society. It just doesn't play an important role in disseminating information but it actually acts as a medium to propagate the society's conscience. This was quite evident in the coverage of recent Nepal earthquake crisis. But there is something else very peculiar to the current electronic media- its apathy. For instance, the Earthquake had taken a 3 month old boy's life. His dead body was lying in front of his father. It does not take great intellect to understand the grief the kid's father might be facing, yet a reporter from a popular media house, who-like numerous others- called himself to be the first one to report from ground zero, kept posing him questions one after the other. This shows the apathy of our electronic media towards the sensitivities of human life.

I like to mention one specialist's - forgot his name- quote on media- "several years ago corporate houses used to run media but now media house themselves have become corporate." Let's not get into the factual correctness of the statement. Just taking on its merit it does seems right. The way the top TV news channels operate, they look quite corporatey. The race to get higher viewership by hook or crook, the self gloating advertisements, the superstar images the anchors build for themselves to gather their own fan base- these all just show the corporate entertainment business at play.

Some may say that though they are in news disseminating industry, they still run a business and hence have to earn money. And hence they need to do the above things. And also they argue that people/public like to see such news items too. I would like to counter them with following statements. Yes, agreed they are in business. But media is not just about doing business, it is a responsibility. One must look into the role, media played during the national freedom struggle to understand this. Also, the current TV news channels do not hold any sensible debates on current prevalent issues. Debates are done on issues which they think would grab more eyeballs. And the key ingredients of such debates are chest thumping and screaming anchors coupled with equally vocal participants. There were debates when RaGa went on sabbatical and also when he came back. Such debates don't yield any conclusion- hawaa me teer dhaagne ki baat ho jaati hai bhas. Even when these news channels pick up some relevant issues they make it political by bringing in political representatives rather than experts. For instance, a debate on farmers' suicide will not have any scholars of agricultural domain. But there will be people from various political parties playing the Hot Potato game!

One last issue before I can give my concluding remarks is regarding the contemporary news presenters. It is the anchors of the popular TV news channels, who actually hit the final nail in the coffin. The self proclaimed All-I-Know anchors do not handle these debates as moderators but as judges who are hearing a case. Worse, some anchors decide the judgement before the hearings begin!!

Media is the fourth estate of the society. It is the society's conscience keeper. Thus, media cannot become just another business. Its a job with utmost responsibility. I hope there will be emergence of some new age media houses who would handle this responsibility. We need not look far away for inspiration. The way media operated during our freedom struggle can be the guiding light. The selfless work of Lokmanya Tilak, Surendranath Banarjee is a big source of inspiration. At the same time we as viewers need to be careful while choosing the news we want to see. Do we want to see TV news channel which shows "whether a TREE-MAN is real" or do we want to see a news channel which holds discussion, among the experts, about "Maldivian crisis and its affect on India". We always will have a choice, we need to choose wisely. Hopefully in future we can see more popularity to real news channels.

PS- for those who read the blog till the end. Visit these YouTube channels [1] [2] and watch these discussions. It will be quite refreshing. After all these are the real issues which Nation wants to know!

Saturday, 11 April 2015

A Lesser World Cup ?

The Cricket World Cup (CWC) in its 2019 edition, in all probability, will be played among 10 nations. 8 top teams will be qualified automatically whereas next 2 teams will be chosen based on qualifying matches played before the world cup. The move has been criticized more than it has been welcomed. Cricket is not a very popular sport especially in European and American nations. There is a need to take the game beyond certain restricted incumbent boundaries.

One of the many ways to increase the popularity of the game is to involve the so-called associate nations in major cricket tournaments. As Rahul Dravid points out- "[it is important] for the growth of their [associate nations] game to be seen at a World Cup, the games being telecast Live back home in terms of sponsorship, government funding; its so important for them to be a part of this premier event. I think that's the least cricket can do." There are teams like UAE, Holland who have players, who are not regular cricketers but have other regular jobs. This does not augur well for the future of cricket in these nations. And a CWC without associate nations will further deplete the interest in the game in those nations. For any budding cricketer it is a dream to play in a world cup. It will be wrong to take that away from a player of an associate nation. This does not mean that every cricket playing nation should be allowed to play cricket but the current 14- team format seems fair enough.

Now lets see some of the counter arguments being made for the inclusion of associate nations in forthcoming CWC. It is feared that they will make the league matches a dry phase as more or less everybody can guess who will enter the knock out stages. This makes sense because the level of cricket played by associate nations are not upto the standards of a marquee event like CWC. But does excluding them make it up for that? Instead the cricket administration should look to develop the game in these nations by building required infrastructure. And also as Sachin Tendulkar opines "we need to look at how we can get these guys [associate nations] to raise their standard of playing and I think the standard of playing is only going to rise when they start playing against the top sides". He makes a valid point when he says that A- teams of top ODI playing nations should tour these associate nations more often.

A 10 nation CWC has its pros and cons but a sport's ultimate competition with only 10 participating nations does not sound good. If somebody is not good at something then the well accepted notion is to encourage them to increase their competency and not to push them out of competition. Many former cricketers have voiced their concern for this new change, how much will it affect the cricket administrators will be seen only in coming days. I would personally love to see the associate nations compete in next CWC.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Recent Amendments in RTE in Karnataka and the interlinkage of Language and Education

The Karnataka govt recently made two legislative amendments which could in near future lead to string of litigations.  The govt amended the RTE Act to make Kannada as the compulsory medium of instruction from I to V standard and introduced Kannada Language Learning Bill to make Kannada as a compulsory language to be learnt from I to X standard. The issue is not a new one, it dates back to three decades. In 1982, the state govt made Kannada as the first language of study. In 1989, the govt made mother tongue as the medium of instruction at the primary school level. In 1994 again issued an order stating the mother tongue as medium of instruction in all the state recognized schools. Petitions were filed against this issue by parents associations in High Court, which quashed the order citing that it was violative of Art. 14, 29 and 30 of Indian Constitution. Subsequently the state govt appealed the High court order in\Supreme Court. In May 2014, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the High Court. Now to negate this Supreme Court order the state govt has come up with the above mentioned amendments. Only time will tell us how much the govt has been successful in doing so.

Let us look at the issue with two dimensions- one dimension is with respect to education and another dimension is with respect to language and hence culture. On the education front, the amendments are still violative of the fundamental rights of the citizens of the country. It is the right of every child ( hence guardian) to choose the subjects that he or she wants to learn along with the medium of instruction. Govt would be wrong, legally and ethically, in imposing the medium of instruction. Whether one likes it or hates it English education has become one of the key aspects of education. Even China which had locked itself to English language invasion is now opening up and promoting English education. Firstpost quotes, "English is the passport  to a good career and the gateway to opportunities overseas."

This decision will severely affect the schools which are running State Board syllabus. Now, more and more students will opt for CBSE or ICSE boards to avoid this imposition. There are surveys which suggest that the enrollments to Central Boards are on rise in recent years. This decision will only increase the rate. Education is a concurrent subject, hence state has equal responsibility in developing the quality of education in the state. The infrastructural aspects of education like teachers to children ratio, pedagogy, school infrastructure are not upto the mark. Lack of teachers and schools are pushing children to opt for private educational institutions. This has been particularly detrimental to deprived sections of society. Economically well of students can shift to private schools and pursue with better educational facilities. But the poorer cannot afford to join these highly commercialized private schools (25% of RTE quota also has not been successfully implemented) lest they want to spend all their earnings on the education. Hence the govt will be well advised to concentrate on these aspects of education rather than using the recent amendments as a political tool.

Now coming to the second dimension, one of the justifications of the govt in introducing these amendments is that if the mother tongue is introduced as medium of instruction then the overall cognitive development of the students will enhance and they will find it easy to understand and also to express. This infact cannot be denied. There have been studies which justify this remark. But this argument cannot be used as the pedestal to make mother tongue as the medium of instruction, as there are other factors like future prospectives etc that will be considered while choosing the medium of instruction.

The govt also refers to these changes as one of the steps to promote language. Promotion of language and it preservation are important aspects. Language is intrinsically linked to the culture and tradition of the region. It is ,of course, the state's responsibility to preserve the language. But, the aforementioned changes are not the way to do this. One of the steps that has been taken by successive govts is appreciable, that is, the publication of Kannada literary books and availability at lower affordable prices. Kannada literature is one of the highly regarded literature in the country. Govt can also further promote the language by conducting scholarship examinations based on Kannada epics like Pampa Bharata etc. Promoting Kannada film industry can go a long way in promoting language. Currently they run tax free across the state, this can be really beneficial once there are enough theaters to screen Kannada movies.

The two amendments of the govt have certain loopholes and hence they might come under litigation quite soon. Language and education are interlinked for sure, but they should not be mixed in such way that they will become political tool wherein the real issues get marred.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

How superstitious are we?

One fine evening as I was walking down a road near my home, I saw a huge crowd in front of a gate. Seeing the crowd I thought it might be a raashan shop (Fair Price Shop), but curiosity made my eyes get a closer look. I saw the hand symbol. No, it was not a Congress office (got to be kidding me!!), it was an astrologer's office!! The number of people standing there shocked me. Then I thought may be in few days something "auspicious" might be coming that's why the crowd. But I was wrong. Everytime I pass that gate, I see the same rush if not more. In India, many believe that they can understand what is going to happen in their future with the help of astrology, even the educated ones. Superstitions mar the rationality inside us. This is how I saw that. This begged me to ask myself how superstitious are we?

Lets start with something light hearted, the superstitions of sports persons are well known- Sourav Ganguly did not use to shave while playing a test match, somebody as rational as Rahul Dravid believed in putting on the left batting-pad first. In exams many like to carry the pen that fetched good marks in the last exam etc etc. Apart from these localized ones, unfortunately, there are many superstitions followed across the world that lead to unwarranted consequences and send wrong messages. For instance, in many societies, Friday is an unlucky day and thirteen is an unlucky number. Mind you the ISRO (a premiere science based institution) skipped its PSLV being numbered C13. Continuing with the examples, crossing of black cat on one’s path is bad omen in Western countries and India. But, it is a good omen in Egypt. As the examples themselves show, there is no logical rational backing to any of these practices or beliefs. This itself is the biggest threat of superstition, As I said earlier superstitions mar the rationality inside us.

Superstition is the blind faith in an idea without giving any consideration to reason, logic and evidence. Not just that, they breed ignorance and fear of the unknown and incomprehensible. The impact of superstitions is so alarming that it decimates the reasoning capacity of well educated human, let alone the illiterates. Not just that, these superstitions ruin the material resources (money, time, energy) of the people who believe in them. The made snana  at certain temples or the appearance of Makarjyoti are some of the examples for this.

Looking at another extreme of superstitions, there is the prevalence of black magic or Bhanamathi. Falling of stones on one's house, appearance of fire from nowhere are some of the examples of the black magic tricks. The extent of this degradable practice can be imagined by the fact that even the politicians fall prey to this to get easy victory over their opponents. The politicians of Karnataka are highly notorious for this (apart from watching pornographic content in assembly). Even the local and regional media pry on these fears and try to get mileage out of such activities (remember the ridiculous Heegoo Unte! on TV9 Kannada?!).

I am not telling anything new or anything unknown. Now that's the issue, though the irrationality of superstition is known, very little has been done to counter it. Very few people have taken the bold rationalist stand. It has been a David versus Goliath kind of fight. Unfortunately, people who have been bold enough have been punished for it. Narendra Dabholkar was killed around a year back as he fought against the evil of superstition. Lately, Avijit Roy, a blogger was heckled to death in Bangladesh for his anti-superstitious and secular stands. On the other hand people like Asaram Bapu, Sant Rampal roam around freely and even enjoy popular support.

Now that's the point, superstitions have popular belief base. Why? I feel that is because superstitions dwell on fear, and fear is what keeps most people from being rational or logical. It makes them ignorant. To overcome the fear people take shelter in meaningless rituals or practices. You are not getting married? go and pour milk on the ant's hill- for the snake/nagadevata of course. 

There are talks of bringing in legislation to counter the superstitions. As far fetched to reality it may seem to be actually getting it done, it might not even work. Irony is that we all know what needs to be done to eradicate this evil. We all know that we need to develop a scientific temper (which is by the way a fundamental duty) and motivate ourselves to think rationally, but will that happen? Ever? Elders have always told me to be optimistic but in this case I am not. I am going to end this piece with a quote from an English philosopher Francis Bacon- "superstition dismounts all the outward moral values and erects an absolute monarchy in the minds of men." 

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Fight against Freedom of Expression : A political tool?

Freedom is a vague word. Though we get a good feeling when we hear the word, freedom does not actually mean freedom. It is not absolute, it always comes with caveats. And rightly so, absolute freedom is a humbug. It does not exist, atleast in the modern society. This is because, if a society boasts of absolute freedom, the actions of one might inadvertently infringe upon the absolute freedom of other person. This means the second person in the discussion never had absolute freedom. This generates a paradoxical situation. Thus, every modern society, though, talks about freedom, it always has reasonable restrictions on them for the smooth functioning of the society. The same is true for freedom of speech or expression. Recent events linked to Charlie Hebdo, PK, AIB roast have opened up many dimensions of freedom of speech or expression (FoE).

For cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo their FoE enabled them to propagate their beliefs in the form of satirical cartoons. Offence was intended. The idea behind this intentional offence might have been to show a particular community about certain rigidness in its practices, or even the intention might have been something hideous, I am not here to judge that. But, it was right under the ambit of their FoE. Charlie Hebdo had been publishing cartoons that were offensive to Islam, and other religions including Christianity alike, for quite some time now, how many times did the representatives of Islamic fraternity in France tried to reason with editorial team of the magazine regarding their reservations? The fault is equally with the Charlie Hebdo team, did they ever thought of having one or two Muslim members in their team so that they could have given them a different perspective. I am nowhere condoning the heinous act of AQIY, the terrorist organization here in question had its agenda well thought out. These terrorist organizations come with peculiar political agenda, they knew that this shooting will not stop the Charlie Hebdo to stop publishing pictures but infact polarize the society there, which has some good number of Algerian origin Muslims. Behind the purda of so called "protectionists of Islam" they achieved this agenda quite perfectly. Anyways, what I intend to say here is that the existence of intellectual paucity both in the Charlie Hebdo team and the Islamic fraternity in France leading to the lack of understanding of the caveats that FoE comes with, helped the fundamentalist opportunists to polarize the society.

The opposition to film PK is on the grounds that it hurts the sentiments of a particular religion. Ok even if one agrees to that, what could be the next step if sentiments are hurt. There are legal ways to tackle that and laws in our country are quite good to handle such phenomena. Thus, nobody has the right to go and tear posters, make character assassinations of the creative people involved in the making of the movie. But yet posters were torn, screenings were halted, character assassinations done. The people who did this were quite aware of the legal ways to handle the issue but they chose to ignore that because one, there allegations could not have stood the scrutiny of law and two, the process would not have caught the eye balls of the people. Hence, this conscious inculcation of hate and vocal showcase of dissent were used as a political tool to garner some media space, publicity and were nowhere related to FoE or hurting sentiments.

FoE definitely comes with caveats and any infringement of one's right should not be tolerated in a democratic society. But the dissent to FoE can be shown in civilized manner without any noise and blood being spewed. Law will take its course. But as has been shown above, the incredible hurt victimhood card played here is nothing but another political tool.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Delhi- Paneer, Power and Politics

Yeh Dilli hain mere yaar.!! In my 18 months of stay at Delhi, there are many things that were memorable. They range from 6 rupees Tandoori roti, the under nutritioned rickshaw pullers, the angry car drivers, noisy CNG buses to high flying Thiranga at the Connaught Place, the Republic Day parade. Apart from these, the omnipresent Paneer made the cuisines exciting as well as boring. One thing that I noticed in Delhi is its unrelenting romance with power and politics. Power is to Delhi what money is to Mumbai or tech is to Bengaluru. I understood it within the first three months of my stay there, when I saw a homeopathy doctor with a revolver tucked to his `90s style trouser.

This romance of Delhi with power and politics is what has made the current assembly elections the cynosure of all the happenings in the country (atleast w. r. t. politics). The campaign for the election was high octane with BJP coming with full force to counter the "Muffler Man". All is done, voting is over. Results are awaited. Exit polls are showing a majority to AAP. If the exit polls turn out to be true then this would come as a major embarrassment to the ruling BJP. Especially to Mr. Shah who used lots of strategies to counter the AAP's influence.

Ironically, I think, one of these strategies backfired fatally to Mr. Shah, and that was the induction of Ms. Bedi to the party and making her the CM candidate. One of the cartoons in "The Hindu" rightly depicted this irony, the arrows fired by BJP at AAP, manifested as feathers on the AAP's Gandhi Topi. I can't say that Ms Bedi would turn out badly in politics but to her merit I think she should have been given some more time to understand the intricacies of politics before she was anointed as the CM candidate. Her speeches have not been influential, rather have been dampener, but her credentials and experience in bureaucracy provide right pedigree to turn her into a good politician. Time is all she needs.

Coming back to the elections, politics of Delhi has some considerable influence on rest of India and a defeat in this election would come as a timely wake up call to the BJP and would make it to relook at its 9 months rule. Though the govt has taken a lots of right steps but there are some missteps too. A defeat here would mean a more vigilant govt = more development steps+ curbing fringe Hindutva elements - rhetoric talk.

I would personally want AK and AAP to come out as victorious. Yes, AK fumbled the first time, but he seems to have learnt from his anarchist phase of life that politics is not about rhetoric talk. As is the case with Ms. Bedi, time is all AK needs. Time on the political high seat. Has Delhi given both AK and Ms. Bedi the time they need?

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Local Finality in the governance system

One of many factors that has driven me and keeps driving me to pursue civil service is the condition of poverty stricken compatriots. Nothing squeezes my soul more than the sight of homeless people, people with less than two sets of meal. Poverty is the sin that we have to live amidst, it showcases the hypocrisy of human race and of humanity as a virtue. If one wants to feel the pain of this then read the heart-wrenching depiction of poverty and human hypocrisy in the Late Shri K.V.Puttappa's poetry rendition Kalki.

The state of poverty is not new to India or to the entire world. The various governments of independent India have taken many measures to alleviate people from poverty. The definitions of poverty line have changed many times since it was first laid down in 1970s, yet the pain, the struggle remains for many people across the nation. Governments under the aegis of social justice has laid out many social welfare programmes like Integrated Rural Development Programme, Rural Employment Guarantee Schemes, Self Employment Programmes like National Rural Livelihood Mission yet more than 50% of our population lives with an income of less than 2 USD per day. The programmes do not have any problems per se but they have failed to deliver the required results. Why?

India is a nation with diverse population belonging to different races, ethnicity, religion etc. There is geographical diversity as well. The diversity reflects in the needs and requirements of the people as well. The requirements of people from Haryana are different from the requirements of the people from Kerala. Here in lies the problem, various schemes aka programmes have been designed in a uniform manner at a centralized pedestal known as Planning Commission. PC theoretically, gets inputs from Panchayats and other grass root organizations but when you plan for entire nation than in the adventure of looking at the big picture the reality fades away. The plans, though good, fail to accommodate the needs of the people. For instance, the NRLM strives to promote income generation especially in the female fraternity. It does so by setting up of Self Help Groups and by imparting skill training. The programme has failed to flourish and deliver the desired results as it employed uniform approach throughout the country devoid of the regional or local requirements or needs. It especially failed in tribal dominated region as the officials failed to understand the differing culture of tribal people. This is a clear indication that we need to develop a decentralized system of governance.

The concept of decentralized governance system is not new to India. Gandhiji preached about Sarvoday through Antyodaya which means welfare of all can only be achieved when it includes welfare of the most oppressed sections of society. To inculcate this inclusive approach there is urgent need to align the policies of the government with the needs of the people. One of the examples of this can be taken from the 70 point manifesto drawn by the Aam Aadmi Party. The party volunteers conducted mohalla sabhas in different constituencies and arrived at different plans for the different constituencies based on the needs of the locals.

If only two out of ten people are susceptible to contract a disease then it does not make sense to give preventive medicine to all 10 people. It is sheer wastage of resources. It is time to realize that local problems should be solved locally- this is called local finality. Local finality in the governance system is the need of the hour. It is high time the government attends to the needs of the poor and the needy, else the poor will manifest into Kalki and the fire of their hunger will burn everything to ashes.