Anyone who ha…

 

Anyone who has had the experience of going to a police station to file a complaint will have faced, among other attendant hassles, the experience of cop-playing-arbitrator. Whether it is a case of a minor accident on the road or theft or eve teasing, the first ploy of the bored looking man behind the desk is to offer, in lieu of action, kindly advice which amounts to “patch up and go home.” That is, if you are not perceptibly a member of the lower income group, or completely without connections, in which case you are interrogated within an inch of your life as if you are the perpetrator, and end up vowing never to enter a police station ever again. When the kotwal is playing the kind uncle and reducing your grievance to the level of farce, he is actually making sure that you are not interrupting his daily tumult – or tranquility as is more often the case – and all that laborious paperwork that requires words to be penned down, severely challenging his standards of literacy, can be avoided altogether. In the process one  returns sadder but wiser, having received a bouquet of homespun (gratuitous)  wisdom, invariably of the conservative mould, that has rich references to folk tales, mythology and religion, reminiscent of the moral science classes that you yawned through as a third grader.

 

I have often received similar valuable knowledge from taxi and auto drivers from the cow belt who have very strong opinions on the sanctity of joint families, respect for elders, the origin of the earth ( which rests upon a tortoise), and on working women who return after 7pm (naturally of loose character.)

 

But it comes as a shocker when senior law enforcers too choose to voice their deeply prejudicial and bigoted opinions and that too in serious cases.  The DIG of  Saharanpur has reportedly advised the father of a kidnapped girl to murder his daughter to restore his family honor if she has eloped with somebody. And for good measure to kill himself too. This is what he allegedly said: “I don’t have magical power to recover your daughter. But if your daughter has eloped then you should be ashamed of it and end your life. I would have committed suicide or killed my sister if she had eloped.” As far as the DIG is concerned, a daughter who is missing from her father’s home is better off dead, since she has lost her “honor” and brought ruin upon the family name.

 

Those of us who swear by the sanctity of the Ramayana and think that Ram is the ultimate maryada purshottam will of course agree wholeheartedly, since Ram himself had made Sita walk through fire to test her “purity” after she had been kidnapped. The DIG, no doubt a devout man, is simply voicing his traditional beliefs, no matter how repugnant in this day and age.

 

And what is a mere DIG when learned judges, eminently more qualified, take recourse to the same belief system.  While hearing a divorce petition filed by a man on ground that his wife is unwilling to relocate to his new place of work, the division bench of the Bombay High Court observed that married women should take a cue from goddess Sita, who followed her husband Lord Ram even during his exile. On earlier occasions we have also come across instances of judges advising rape victims to get married to their rapists expressing the hope that this will somehow sanctify their relationship and “restore” the woman’s honor.

 

That these two incidents have happened so close together is not coincidental; it is a symptom of the wave of orthodoxy and regression running through the country that blurs the line between personal belief and the letter of the law, between the temporal and secular and the religious. It is not that this trend has gone unnoticed in the legal fraternity. On 12th March, last year while addressing the legal fraternity during the Justice P.D.Desai Memorial Lecture on ‘Constitutional ethical values’ at Tagore hall in Ahmedabad the Chief Justice of Supreme Court of India Mr.S.H.Kapadia, advised the sitting Judges not to pass comments on social situations beyond those enshrined  in the legal principles enshrined in the Constitution. He also opined that sometimes Judges tries to impose their own values, own perceptions, likes and dislikes on society.

And more recently this year at the Justice YV Chandrachud lecture series 2012, Supreme Court justice B S Chauhan said, “Future lawyers need to equip themselves with knowledge and information if they want to deal with complaints relating to human rights violations.”

 

The sensitivity required to deal with human rights cannot be derived from the Laws of Manu, nor hoary interpretations of the mythologies. They emanate from the secular framework of jurisprudence as laid down in the Constitution. Our law enforcers and those who pass judgment would be well advised not to bring their ancient baggage of prejudice and bigotry to work.

 

 

 

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 It comes as a…

 

It comes as a welcome relief that the Union Law Ministry is taking steps to do away with the archaic and obsolete laws that clog our legal system, some of them over a century old that have not kept pace with changing times.

The law has been the subject of satire and derision since ancient times. Aristophanes’ Wasps (422 BC) lampoons the Athenian law courts. And Sukumar Ray the great Bengali satirist wrote a poem, popular to this day, about a country with 21 ridiculous laws that drove its citizens insane. Sneezing without a ticket, growing moustaches and writing poetry were among some of the crimes listed that would attract harsh penalties. The law represents power and attracts humor especially when it is obsolete and bizarre to the point of being malignant. Our own legal system is not without its jawdroppers.

Very recently in Bombay, the police in a misguided attempt at playing nanny arrested partygoers on the suspicion of drug abuse, and not finding any decided to slap them with a jail term and a fine anyway, invoking an archaic law from 1949 that makes it mandatory to buy a permit for “one who desires to purchase foreign liquor and country liquor for possession transport, use and consumption.” The offence can attract a maximum fine of Rs 50,000 and imprisonment up to five years. The magnitude of the penalty equates drinking to the same grade of crime as assault and rioting. Needless to say, this state law, though hardly ever used, is a potential tool of repression in the hands of the local police in Maharashtra who sometimes use it as an excuse for extortion and bribery.

Mr Bumble in The Pickwick Papers calls the law an ass when he is informed that “the law supposes that your wife acts under your direction” and she is incapable of individual choice. If we consider the hundreds of thousands – of Indian women who are trapped in abusive or broken marriages by archaic divorce laws and a dysfunctional court system, nothing much has changed. Convenient for alimony dodgers. Most forms in India still ask the applicant to fill in their father’s name — 
unless the applicant is a married woman, in which case she is supposed to write 
her husband’s name. The Sanskrit word for husband, “pati,” means owner. 
Socially, as it is considered disrespectful for a woman to utter her husband’s name, that vital detail goes missing during compilation of the voter’s list and this is the reason why many women are not included on voters lists.

We have a complex web of religious laws with separate regulations for each of our religious groups, each covered by different civil laws. Not a single administration since independence has dared tamper with these laws for fear of offending the religious sentiment and vote banks, bending over backwards to accommodate them. Hindu women still cannot ask for ancestral property to be divided 
so that they get a separate share. Parsi women have no right of adoption independent of their husbands. Parsis are also forbidden to adopt children outside their faith. A Muslim can divorce his wife merely by uttering the word “talaq,” or 
divorce, three times in front of two witnesses. Muslim women were granted the right to seek divorce in 1939, but a Muslim woman’s share in ancestral inheritance is still half of her brother’s. 

The Aircraft Rules, 1937 bans people with epilepsy or psychological disorders from flying. The airline companies find these rules convenient to disembark elderly and disabled passengers and not provide facilities like ambulifts and aerobridges. Indeed, why suffer extra expenses?

 

Stamp duty is paid in every real estate deal and it varies from state to state. As a result black money flows into the real estate sector. If you can’t cough up a substantial amount in cash you can’t buy a roof over your head. Are we encouraging tax evasion and a parallel economy? But then, according to another law, accepting a bribe is not considered corruption unless taken by a government 
servant. 

 

The number of archaic laws that need to be superannuated are staggering – running in the thousands. Our government’s functioning is often on the basis of a borrowed judicial system from a colonial era that results in a venal system – one enshrouded in secrecy leading to malfunctioning and corruption. Ayn Rand said, “There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible to live without breaking laws.“

 

 If preservation of redundant laws benefits vested interests then the introduction of unnecessary laws is also a creation of the same powers that be and for the same reasons. At the same time that the Law Ministry is magnanimously announcing that it will scrap outdated laws it is trying to introduce a 4.5 percent subquota for “minorities – an euphemistic Indianism for Muslims – in government jobs, schools and colleges. In a country already splintered over religions, castes, sub castes, and pressure groups out for their pounds of flesh, in an orgiastic quota fest, this is a “pernicious” move, to borrow a term closely associated with another precious gem from the past – the Indian sedition law.

 

 

Gautam Benegal: Profile

Born in 1965 inCalcutta, Gautam Benegal graduated fromJadavpurUniversitytaking his degree in Comparative Literature. From his early years he showed a marked aptitude for graphic arts. At age sixteen at the invitation of Satyajit Ray, renowned director and editor of the children’s magazine “Sandesh”,  his illustrations and articles regularly appeared in Sandesh and subsequently other children’s magazines like Anandamela, Neelkamal Lalkamal and Scifun.

Leading newspapers such as the Ananda Bazaar Patrika group and the Economic Times published his drawings. At age 18, he joined an outreach program of the National Institute of Design and made a 2 minute film, Bhurigolla as his diploma course project under the guidance of Mr Raghunath Goswami, the acclaimed animator and puppeteer.

Benegal then animated a pre-school T.V., serial for the University Grants Commission called Tarramtoo directed by Dr Peggy Mohan and under the consultation of Professor Yashpal, director of the UGC. Thereafter, he relocated to Mumbai where he worked for two years with Ram Mohan, India’s leading animation expert, as animator on several ad films, notable among them the Kelvinator penguin (“It’s the coolest one”), Pumaply, Gems Bond, and Handyplast.   With “Tupatup”, his first independant film for CFSI, he turned to independent animation film making. He made a second animation film for CFSI based on a Bengali folk tale which has the unusual title of “Gauraya ki Champi.” In 200 he has made “Kalkalam” a short animated film, based on Rabindranath Tagore’s  short story “Totakahini” for the Films Division. All his films have been selected in film festivals abroad in Teheran, Hiroshima, Belarus, Cairo and Annecy.

Benegal has made animation promos for Channel [V] and MTV as well as assisted in documentary films for Shyam Benegal Sahyadri Films on documentaries on Aids Awareness and  for the Spastic Society of India. He has also directed a documentary film on Thalassaemia awareness for the pharmaceutical company Cipla and a documentary film on Noise Pollution.

In 1994, Benegal was invited by Zee TV as consultant for a year to train a group of 16 trainee animators to man its fledgling animation department which later went on to become ZICA.

Benegal is also a freelance painter, journalist and cartoonist associated with the DNA and Times Of India .

In 2010 he made the one hour animation film “The Prince and the Crown of Stone” which won two Rajatkamal National Awards. In 2011 he has written a book of short stories for teenagers called “1/7 Bondel Road which has received wide critical acclaim.

Forthcoming works include a novel set in Eighties Calcutta, and a 30 minutes short animation film called “Setu” on child labor.

At the moment Gautam Benegal’s main area of interest lies in developing original and indigenous  IP’s and screenplays, storyboards and the creation of characters for emerging TV channels and other platforms that support children’s content.

Loops in the system

We have taken India’s Commonwealth Games scandal in our stride. I sense a slow building up of pride and complacency in the media about India hosting the “biggest CWG games ever”.
Do we feel a sense of outrage at the revelations that pop up now and then about our netas’ bank balances and assets? Not really, not any more. There is the usual sage nodding of heads and a few wry and cynical remarks, but also an unspoken understanding that one is rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. That is, over and above what the average citizen pays as Caesar’s tribute such as dues to the IT dept. and sundry other expenses, ie. bribes to public officials, cops, etc. In return we get surreally bizarre town planning, potholed roads, no tax refunds, and the ultimate indignation of seeing semi-illiterate rooftop-shouters feted on Page 3.

From our naïve, (on hindsight comically ludicrous) Nehruvian days when exposure to the kind of ill-begotten riches our leaders make would have us frothing at the mouth with righteous indignation, to our present state of tacit acceptance, we have come a long way.
When Bangaru Laxman was shown taking money, we were introduced to a new kind of gimmick in the electronic media – The Loop. The constant repetition of the loop and its circular grammar is hypnotic. An subjection to a series of unvarying successive audiovisual images repeating themselves over and over have always worked well with propaganda machines the world over. It creates axioms – universal truths which we take for granted – where none need exist. Indeed, why would anyone enter the business of politics or running the government if there were no perks involved, we ask ourselves. It’s just another business in the laissez-faire economy where some people inevitably end up as collateral damage. It’s every man for himself and to the devil with the hindmost. The public apathy that is thus created leads to greater civic indiscipline, lack of awareness of political affairs, and eventually the kind of anarchy we are now witness to. There is no lack of political “entrepreneurs” to take advantage of this mess and thus a vicious cycle is perpetuated.

This is the irony of the Loop. A part of a whole, it illustrates the greater whole. The Loop is pornographic in its nature. It builds up ratings and brings profit to its creators, dishes out vicarious satisfaction without giving fulfillment and always holds out the promise of more without delivering anything beyond its brief. And of course there is the moment of anticipation and climax each time over and over again when the subject takes the money or says/does something indiscreet. The shaky grainy images are reminiscent of bad quality prints and creaking chairs and the surreptitious sweaty interiors of roadside video parlours.

And so we say, “So what? If it wasn’t him, it would be someone else.” But there’s more. Beyond this point is the zone of sneaking respect for those who must surely be made of a different fibre, those who venture where most of us would not dare to tread, who have chosen not to lead the lives of clockwork mice and drudges, carrying heavily their loads of office routines and commutes, with only the cheerless sops of childhood moral science clichés to prop them up. Right and wrong becomes confused when you see a man making in a day what you would not be able to make in a lifetime. And when that person is feted in Page 3 parties (by the same media) and clicked grinning smugly with his arms around Bollywood starlets, the negative reinforcement is complete. Its all natak – drama. Why hold strong opinions? Why vote? Why complain to the local corporator about the potholed roads?
The relevance of hoarded wealth has gone further than the mundane questions of how and by what means. It was Lalu Yadav who famously said that when he, a Yadav, flew aboard a helicopter, he was setting an aspirational example to all Yadavs downtrodden for centuries. He was striking a blow for Yadav pride. He has since, continued to raise their “pride” to higher levels, whether he has been able to better their lot or not. Our leaders are weighed in silver and gold. We thus reaffirm one of the oldest ideas of kingship – “a king must appear to be a king” in order for his subjects to respect him. What is a leader’s worth after all if he cannot wear Armani suits and call a superstar his older brother? What else would be his barometer of success in an impoverished constituency? That one among us/our village/caste/tribe/ has amassed great wealth, vicariously elevates us too – so the logic goes. This was Bal Thackeray’s logic too when he urged all Marathis to take pride in the “achievements’ of a Pune stud farm owner of dubious repute.

But what of the common man, the so called man on the street, who accepts his tryst with destiny with the same kind of fatalism his ancestors passed down in the wisdom of hopelessness. Does he stand forever outside the privileged walls, hat in his hand, drenched and miserable and admiring at the same time? Perhaps he waits for the time when one of Them will fall to hubris and he can experience the pleasure of the Loop once again.

Until then Mr Kalmadi, rest easy.

DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!

In Satyajit’s Ray’s film Hirok Rajar Deshe, the tyrannical king’s soldiers clear the city of beggars, vagrants and all unseemly sights and hide them behind curtains that festoon the streets when VIP’s come visiting. Ray was depicting how we whitewash reality and brush the dirt under the carpet when we receive dignitaries. Today, in the present climate of euphoria and self congratulatory paens of praise to our economy, it would be equally embarrassing to devote too much attention to serious issues that demand immediate redressal. Are those who lost their lands when the Sardar Sarovar dam was built been rehabilated? Who knows? Why do we have so many disaffected elements going by the generic name of Naxals and why are their numbers increasing if everything’s so peachy? Hey who cares? What are we doing about the stress toll in call center jobs and do they have proper union representation? And why do we have a media that’s reduced to dishing out popcorn entertainment on its front pages and during prime time? It’s the money, stupid! Revenues pour in if you are upbeat and bubbly.

But the most distressing trend in this festival of trivia seems to be the misrepresentation of facts that confuses and leads astray young people. It is perhaps the general mood prevalent in the country – or certain sections of it – that has generated so many success stories of “out of the box” entrepreneurship and maverickism. In a school in the suburbs, students of the 3rd grade recently received a worksheet in which several individuals figured – supposedly to inspire the young with their heroic achievements. Apart from the fact that two of them were American nationals and didn’t really belong on that list, what really took the cake was that one of them is a producer of regressive serials (that would have our 19th century social reformers turning in their graves). Moreover this particular role model was hailed as having started from scratch – which adds dimensions to the meaning of that word.

This is not an isolated incident. The media increasingly features intrepid souls who wiped off their grease paint (risking all, I presume) to start decorative candle businesses; models sashaying into the world of yoga and reiki and college dropouts raking in the millions after much soul searching. Throughout it all is the tacit suggestion that these wunderkind represent the new and emerging India.

Is the scion of an industrial empire representative of the new India and its fiery new generation because he started his career on the shop floor? Or is a film producer’s son a pioneer because he started as a fourth assistant on his father’s sets (like the others)? The claim of level playing ground is the biggest lie that the media propagates today. It does not take a genius to figure out that the scion and the son will inevitably reach their “rightful place.”

By creating the illusion of egalitarian parity, the media makes these icons of success seem much closer to hand, more accessible. “If he can do it, then why not I? After all we are both the same” is the question a young person might ask himself. He sees the lifestyle and aspires to it. What he/she does not see is the sad truth of parental inheritance, often going back generations that translates into capital, connections and much more that lies at the bottom of the tip of the iceberg. Instead of focusing on the real life struggles and the work ethos of the few who really struggled and came up from scratch, the media chooses to either glamourise their lives or splash the profiles of vapid socialites on pages and channels.

At the moment we have a vast majority of frustrated youngsters, some of whom who would not hesitate to abduct and murder one of their own, for something as mundane as a cellphone. We have children from SSC backgrounds with inadequate counseling, who, after leaving college, and faced with the reality of the quota system and paucity of money for fees, enroll in dubious computer academies, wasting their parent’s pension money. Many of them are sincere but misguided. It is a mockery and an insult to them to suggest that they have a choice of becoming dropout tycoons by dangling a desi Bill Gates in front of them – or asking them to think out of the box when they don’t even have a box to call their own.

Perhaps our brave new world will become a reality soon. But until then, it would be wise to do what certain advertisers did when young children started imitating the stunts in their ads and ended up very dead. Have a statutory warning under each of these “stories” that says, “Do not try this at home.”