Reforms - A Campaign

Reform starts from within an individual. If one hopes to change things around,one should introspect to track the recipient of the intended reform, one of which might be his own perception. As each person has a perception that he finds hard to do away with, change is hard to come by but not impossible. Public opinion needs to be mobilized and voiced. A small step towards getting suppressed thoughts heard,obscure whispers to shout : Reforms–A Campaign for a change.

Location: Bangalore, Karnataka, India

WorldVoidWeb firmly believes in keeping the art and production of music non-commercial, free and available for all, bereft of hidden costs or agenda. With a recording studio at home, Blank Point Studios, and a range of music ranging from pop, soft rock to metal and fusion, WorldVoidWeb expects a huge return-on-investment – in terms of reaching out to people and making a difference to their lives through music. For themes hinting at a change in the modern society, WorldVoidWeb aims to collaborate with NGOs, philanthropists, educationists etc so as to spread the concept of the songs and reach out to people in genuine need of the change. WorldVoidWeb does not seek popularity, glamour, attention or fame as an outcome of this mission. All it seeks is to touch people’s lives and make everyone realize that each of us should be in a race against time - not to earn a living, but to earn people’s respect and wishes to bring about a positive change in the society we live in. Website –

Friday, January 13, 2006

Social Catharsis V : Jamgalore

Bangalore is the fastest growing city in South-Asia. It has progressed rapidly in terms of industry and standards of living. Thanks to the Information Technology Industry, Bangalore commands an unprecedented respect in the global community. But with all this progress, Bangalore has been plagued by hazards pertaining to basic infrastructure – Roads, Traffic, Real Estate etc. The rate of development in infrastructure is not in sync with the city’s rate of expansion. This has been a cause of concern for all people, be it prospective business partners, customers, visitors or the citizens of this beautiful city.

As citizens, we ought to do something to bring about a change. With this thought in mind, we, a group of volunteers, came up with a movement aimed at mitigating traffic problems within the existing infrastructure. We feel this can be accomplished by better traffic management and by better enforcement of the same. Thus was born - Jamgalore. Jamgalore is a campaign directed at alleviating traffic problems in the city by providing simple, easy-to-execute solutions.

“Jamgalore” is a pun signifying the Jams Galore in Bangalore and a corruption of the city’s name. It’s a movement to reach out to the voices-unheard, troubled, tortured, angry and annoyed, depressed and dejected.

Jamgalore’s mission is to sensitize the traffic authorities on the ground truths with respect to traffic problems and provide alternative solutions to manage traffic better. We planned to collect audiovisual evidence that highlights the problems and provide solutions for the same. In addition, we planned to collect signatures at a venue from concerned citizens. All these artefacts are to be handed over to the concerned authorities. A group of volunteers would follow up with the authorities on implementing the solutions. These artifacts, which include pictures and videos highlighting the scenario, help each one of us understand the seriousness of the situation and act on the same. We plan to organize this movement in phases, concentrating on a region at a time. All artifacts (pictures, videos, and so on) would be sent as a build-up to the event, to as many people as we can reach by e-mail.

Some Pictures depicting the Traffic Jam on the stretch from
the Central Silk Board to the Flyover at Jayadeva Institute of

The first phase of this campaign was kicked off on 11th December, 2005. We highlighted traffic problems on the stretch from the Central Silk Board (C.S.B) to the flyover near Jayadeva Cardiology Institute. We sent pictures, videos and presentations highlighting traffic issues over a period of 5 days by e-mail. Some of the pictures are shown here too. We received a good response from the recipients, with some of them volunteering and some others promising to be there at the venue. The signature campaign was held at The Forum Mall, Koramangala on 17th and 18th December, 2005.

We printed around 7000 pamphlets to be distributed to citizens at the venue. A stall was set up at the venue to facilitate collection of signatures and to display the artifacts that we had collected about the traffic problems. In addition, we displayed 6 flexi-banners (each measuring 5’ X 3’) in the stall that depicted the traffic problems, in the form of actual photographs.

The problems and corresponding solutions were displayed on the exterior of the stall and inside. We had signature sheets placed on the table. We also had music playing all day.

The pamphlets and banners were outsourced to print professionals. The stall was courtesy an event management group. It took us around an hour to set up the stall in entirety. We hoped it won’t rain as the stall didn’t have a roof-cover. If it rained, we had to pack up.

Four volunteers were present at the venue, answering people’s queries, guiding them to the stall and managing the signature sheets & the pamphlets. We set up a table 7’ away from the stall to distribute pamphlets. But, the authorities asked us not to distribute it outside the stall, only within it. Thereafter, we limited ourselves to the stall. Periodic security patrol was also prevalent near our stall. Once set, we were elated to see our dream in motion. At the same time, we were praying against any untoward incidents. People started coming in and slowly but surely, the scare turned into confidence.

It was heartening to see the whole spectrum of people react the way it did. People would just pass by and look at the stall with curiosity. Some of them would be gracious enough to stop by and enquire about the whole campaign. As the day passed, the number of signatures gathered momentum. Some of them would probe deep into the solutions. One such person was an architect by profession and had studied town-planning. We had a very constructive discussion with him on each of the proposed solutions. He also proposed some solutions concerning the infrastructure which was beyond our capacity in terms of implementation.

People from all walks of life passed by the stall. Auto-rickshaw drivers nearby signed in as well. As the clock struck five, the crowd thickened. Signatures started pouring in. We were on our toes explaining the problems, solutions and getting people’s feedback, their suggestions and participation. It was magical. The people ranged from school-children, college students, professionals to retired citizens. Those who came spoke with one voice. Their frustration with traffic problems were channelized into signatures – Signatures for solutions to be implemented, signatures so that they need not be frustrated anymore, signatures to resurrect optimism in each one’s mind, signatures for a better tomorrow.

We were at the venue from 9 A.M. to 11 P.M on the first day. Each moment spent there was memorable, heartening, overwhelming and filled with pride. We asked the security in charge to take care of the stall till the next day.

We could notice some clouds the next morning. Prayers began once again. We were at the venue at 9.00 A.M. The crowd was thin. It was a Sunday and we hoped it would increase soon. After a while, we saw a couple approaching us. In their 60s, they asked us what this was all about. They listened patiently as we talked. They provided us with their signatures. Thereafter, they stood there for around 45 min. and started talking about the present as it is. One could only sympathize with the senior citizens who have seen it all but still can’t do much about things around them. It was wonderful to hear their points-of-view as it gave us a picture in their mind, a picture that says “people do something about it before it’s too late”. We thanked them for helping us and being a part of this movement.

Thanks to the public address system inside the mall, more and more people came in. But there were curious onlookers now and then. Some of the people who signed were kind enough to get their friends on board too. One of the signatories, who signed the previous day, did a great job by getting her contacts to come to the stall all through the day. We were overwhelmed by such a positive response. It was very touching. The campaign picked up pace in the evening. While a chunk of the crowd read the “problems and solutions” sheets pasted outside the stall, others provided signatures and some others provided constructive feedback. At that moment, guess all of us had the same feeling - People’s active participation is here, and here to stay.

The most memorable moment of the whole campaign came at the end of it. We had just about packed up stuff when I saw a group of four guys stare at our stall. I told them it’s for traffic that they need not do anything out of the way. One guy looked at me, gave a smile and touched his right ear and lips and shook his hand. At that moment, there was a chill down my spine. I waved my hand and called them to the stall. My fingers pointed at the problems and solutions and they read all of it. I, then, directed them towards the banners that were put up, and that’s when they understood it was all about traffic jams. I took the signature sheet and showed them the same. Well, they read it and signed it. One of them smiled and said “ank u” in a very feeble, high-pitch tone. They all waved and gave a thumbs-up. I did the same. This experience will remain etched in my memory till I perish. After some time, we all packed up and called it a day.

We thank each one of you who have been a part of this phase of the movement. We need your support, encouragement and feedback to make this movement a success, to make this movement realize its goal, and to help each one make a difference.

Jamgalore is intended to be a movement by the people, for the people and of the people. To get in touch with us or to provide feedback on traffic problems anywhere in Bangalore (Be it solutions, pictures or videos highlighting the problem statement), mail us at

We can We should We will!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Social Catharsis IV

Disclaimer: This article is not written with any intention of trying to incite hatred towards any community in particular, or hurt the followers of the same, or any other inappropriate action thereof. Neither should it be interpreted in any of the above mentioned perspectives. Its sole intention is to sensitize people on the significance of the Judiciary in a democracy and that no one, individual or otherwise, is above that law. This article intends to establish the fact that in a democratic setup, the Judiciary has to be given its due respect.

Religious tolerance has been the hallmark of Indian Culture for generations together. Known as Sanathana Dharma (The Eternal Way), it harnesses a culture in which individuals and society can imbibe values from various philosophies in the direction and hope of realizing the one and only truth. As a philosophy it is more than 2000 years old and has been etched in the Indian Psyche as nails on a finger. It is this trait that translates to Religious tolerance that India as a nation is known for throughout the world.

For example, when Siddhartha left his kingdom and secluded himself in the search for eternal truth, he devised a philosophy which is prevalent even now throughout south-east Asia. He came to be known as the Buddha and his philosophy Buddhism was born in India. Born a Hindu, he denounced religious fanaticism and in his eternal quest for truth attracted a huge following. His teachings were spread throughout Asia much later by the doyen of Maurya Empire, Ashoka the Great. With the advent of Buddhism in India and its effects spreading far and wide, Hinduism (as it is called by the Imperialists) never ever proclaimed superiority, neither did it force people into their religion for the want of sustenance and/or propagation. This is against the foundation principles of Hinduism. Such has been the tolerance that this culture of ours has been endowed with for generations.

The Independence Movement witnessed an unprecedented display of tolerance - unmatched in magnitude as well as sincerity. All the communities of the nation were fighting for one cause - Independence. One emerging force in the struggle was the Muslim League. Muslim League was formed with the idea of voicing Muslims’ opinions in framing the rules of Governance in pre-independent India. It worked in parallel with the Indian National Congress (INC) and was equivocal in the quest for Indian Independence. It was a period of great focus and tolerance throughout India with one voice echoing the mantra of Independence.

But a section of the League, towards the end of the freedom struggle (approx. 1930), developed a sense of mistrust for the Hindus and proposed a two-nation theory. Their mistrust got stronger by the day and by the time people could smell Independence, the country was divided and borders drawn purely on communal lines. The taste of Independence was thus bitter-sweet. Unprecedented violence followed what is now known as the Partition. Brothers who fought for independence together were now craving for each other’s blood - All this in the Land of Ahimsa (non-violence). The darkest chapter in the History of India swallowed innumerable innocents and made infinite homeless for no mistake of theirs. The scars of intolerance which were fresh then, are still visible in many parts of the nation, eating into the lives of many innocents.

Post-independence, the Muslims in India have as much a right to voice their opinions as any other. They are viewed as equals in this land of Sanathana Dharma. They hold high posts in State and Central Governments. They are very much in the thick of Indian Politics as well and are equally responsible for making and implementing laws. As a community, they have withstood lot of pain and anguish and come out of the same with roaring success. But a section of the community, it seems, is against any change or progress. There have been numerous instances in the recent past of Muslim Clergy issuing “Fatwa”. Fatwa in essence means the result of consulting on the right/wrong of issues as interpreted by the clergy from the Holy Quran. When the learned are consulted by common man on various issues being faced by him, it is the duty of the learned to guide the unguided. This guidance is termed as “Fatwa”.

This has been grossly misinterpreted nowadays and the same is being used as a weapon to show distaste of supposedly the whole community towards certain social issues/customs. Never before has a nation seen a spate of Fatwa being issued one after another as has been witnessed in the recent past. The first one was with respect to a Muslim woman named Imraana. She developed all the courage to speak the truth that had tormented her life - that she was raped by her father-in-law. By societal standards, this act is close to blasphemy. Any human being equipped with the basic of emotions will show outrage towards the father-in-law and sympathize with Imraana unconditionally. But a fatwa was issued stating that Imraana should be legally wed to her father-in-law and henceforth treat her husband as her son! Icing on the cake was yet to come. The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) came out supporting the fatwa. A matter of such grave importance brought down to the level of a community joke.

Now this instance has two critical aberrations. One is the obvious misjudgment handed over by the Board. It’s ridiculous to come out with such a statement and expect no opposition whatsoever. What did they have in their mind after all? Male chauvinism? AIMPLB was lambasted by none other than the Muslims of the country. It even claimed that it had not issued such a statement when the proof of the matter is that it was announced to the media by AIMPLB. AIMPLB buckled under pressure and in an effort to lift its image issued a new statement supporting Imraana much to the wrath of the clergy. The second aberration is not too obvious. In a democratic setup where the law of land holds good for everyone, where does the question of a personal law board come into place? Even if it does, who is it to decide when there are laws framed under the aegis of the constitution of Indian Republic meant to be followed by each and everyone irrespective of their religious inclinations?

Taj Mahal, recognized as one of the seven wonders of the modern world, was in news recently. The Uttar Pradesh Sunni Wakf Board (UPSWB), in a statement, stated that the ownership rights of the Mausoleum rested with them and not with the Government of India. It also stated that this was willed by Shahjahan, the Mughal emperor who constructed the Mausoleum. Indian law defines wakf as “A permanent dedication by a Muslim of any movable or immovable property for any purpose recognized by Muslim law as pious, religious or charitable.” The Board contended that it’s after all a grave and all graveyards, by law, have to be wakf property. They also stated that the maintenance of the Taj will still be the Government’s responsibility. This seemed like a step towards autonomy in the field of administration. Needless to say this statement didn’t gather much support though it was in News for some time. How can some people claiming to “represent their community” even be insensitive towards others? It’s the arrogance that has taken the front seat. This is downright communal and is against the basic fabric of the country and its age-old culture. Not so long ago, the living descendants of the Mughals staked a claim on the Taj. Their argument is that they would need to perform religious rites at the Mausoleum. Since it’s a family grave, they have a right on the ownership. Argument sounds fair enough except one glitch. Emperor Babar established Mughals’ Rule in India way back in 1526. His tomb is in Afghanistan. As per the argument, his tomb would also need to be attended to by the family for religious rites. Will they stake claim for that as well? It’s important to realize that such fallacious arguments come and go but what remains is a feeling in the minds of people - A feeling of “occupation” by the Muslims, a feeling of intolerance exhibited by the Muslims and more importantly a sense of not belonging to the country. This feeling will prove to be detrimental for the whole community.

Sania Mirza, Indian Tennis ace ranked no. 34 in WTA, has made the nation proud on countless occasions. She started the year 2005 ranked at 151. By mid-year she plunged in to top 70 and gracefully progressed to the position she is at now. She has made the whole country proud and has been able to make a sport other than cricket popular in this country. She is and will remain a role-model for many generations to come. Recently, a fatwa was issued by the clergy against Sania Mirza for her on-court attire. They claim it does not adhere to the norms of Islam. Now, here is an 18-year old girl who has shunned all her critics by her exceptional performance. She seems to be doing everything right and is mature enough to handle defeat as gracefully as she handles a victory. But her maturity and her performance are not appreciated by the clergy. It’s outrageous to even come up with a thought that “the attire is not appropriate”. What attire then is best for Tennis? When the Holy Quran was composed, there was not even a remote chance of pastimes like Tennis existing. How then can the clergy issue a fatwa on the same? The last thing an 18-year old requires is a threat on her life by people of her own country. If, god forbid, her form in the SunFeast Open is not up to the mark, a major chunk of the blame shall rest on the fatwa issued.

The clergy is supposed to adhere to the scripture and interpret the same for the benefit of the masses. It can not misguide people in the name of the Holy Scripture. Religion is the foundation on which a society establishes its ways of living. It also establishes rules for the betterment of the society. The fact of the matter is that every culture known to mankind has undergone metamorphosis with time. As times change, the ways of living also change. The concept of change is well-known and no religion has underestimated the same. This fundamental truth needs to be taken into account before issuing a Fatwa. Why are certain sections of the community adamant and non-receptive towards change? They can not interpret the scripture with their narrow outlook and come up with a solution that stinks of narrow-mindedness, can they? It’s an insult to the scripture, an insult to the religion called Islam.

It’s also amazing to note the confidence with which such statements are issued. It comes across as though they are here to dictate terms to the Muslims expecting them not to retaliate. Do they really think they can dictate terms in a Democracy like India? Do they really think that they are doing a service to their religion by indulging in such acts? Do they really think they can propagate their religion by adopting a dictatorial outlook towards the public? These are some of the many questions that the Muslim Clergy will have to query on. These are some questions that a Musalman should respond to with vigour and come out in public expressing distaste at the dictatorship of the Clergy. Thankfully, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has come out in public against the “Politics of Fatwa” in its recently held National Executive meeting. More such political voices need to be raised across the nation. Recently, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) came up with a slogan “Jai Bheem” for its political campaign. This has attracted resentment from the Islamic Clergy in India. Their argument is that since they do not believe in “Deity Worship” and Since Bheem is deified, the slogan is against Islam. As far as I know Bheem, one of the Pandavas, is revered by Hindus across the nation. If a political party comes up with such a slogan, what is the harm that it’s causing? Moreover, what has Islam got to do with establishing the sanctity of slogans meant for democratic electoral campaign? This indeed is weird and funny at the same time.

The Muslims in this country have been treated as someone special. The Indian Government, just after independence, under troubled circumstances, passed laws sanctioning special care and protection to the Muslims of the country. This was justified then. But to carry it forward even after 50 years of Independence as though no improvements have been made is primarily responsible for the clergy’s attitude. The Legislation has “pampered” a society once gripped in fear. It has allowed them to shun all fear and impose dictatorship in its own community. It portrays the community in bad light. It depicts them as an intolerant, non-adapting and a non-changing community which is exactly opposite to what they actually are. This image created by some Musalmans tarnishes the whole philosophy of Islam as a religion. It jeopardizes the progress the community is making in numerous fields be it art, culture, sports or industry. It instills the non-existing fear in their minds and makes it work against them. If this has to stop, people belonging to that community need to voice their strong distaste against the “mindless” clergy the way they did in Imraana’s and Sania’s case. This would enable them to bring about the change in the public mindset and be devoid of any fear whatsoever. This is the need of the hour.

On another note, Mr. Deve Gowda recently issued a statement claiming more reservation in Government jobs for people belonging to 2-A Category. Adding to the debate was a senior Congress leader, Mr. Janardhana Poojary. He opined that the reservation should be extended to other communities under the schedule as well. Now, the crux of the matter is reservation - is it required? After 50 years of progress and social uplift, is it not time to move on and close the doors of reservation? It seems that every political party bears allegiance to one or more of the backward communities loosely termed as “vote-banks” As long as these people vote for them during elections they are guaranteed to hold on to power. This, in turn, means that if they meddle with the “vote-bank” (i.e. people belonging to backward communities), they are sure to be out of power. This is the primary reason why “Reservation” is not being eradicated. Even the backward-castes (as they are called), it appears, are sick of being clubbed as someone different and not equated with the rest of the nation. It is a visible contradiction when the “secular” political parties on one hand claim they are for equality of all communities and on the other, talk about reservations. It oozes hypocrisy. The bane of reservation needs to be done with if we hope to progress as a secular democracy.

We are into third generation India post-independence and we have come a long way in realizing the rights and the wrongs in a democracy. The legacy of appeasement to the “Minorities” by Governments has to end. The “vote-bank” politics needs to be eradicated. If a politician tries to woo the voters based on their community, it should be the duty of the voters to just silence him by not voting for him at all. The quota system in Government jobs has to come to an end. Admissions to colleges need to be based primarily on merit and not on quotas. It is high time merit is recognized and rewarded else the meritorious might not be motivated to perform. We are at a juncture in this journey of growth where we need to put our feet down and abolish reservation. This would also increase the quality of governance in the country. All these measures would translate into restoring the glory of a nation that was once known to be the richest and the most powerful country in the world. Not to mention the most tolerant and broad-minded too.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Social Catharsis III

Change is inevitable and an existence hard to imagine without that change. The importance of societal reforms is well known and innumerable instances from history echo this truth. Reform is a weapon to prove that People make Society and NOT vice versa; to prove that nothing is impossible; to prove that whatever is difficult to attain, hard to conquer, tough to implement is easy to live in. A change would continue the societal churning - in the hope that Society as a system would be less imperfect. Reform starts from within an individual. Changing one's line of thinking, hard as it is to do, points in the direction of societal reform. The biggest hurdle in a reform is changing oneself since each person has an individuality that he finds hard to do away with. Each Individual learns from his experiences and in doing so takes them as a benchmark to evaluate others’ experiences. This might cause more harm than do good since it stems from the concept of generalization.

To bring about a change in the thought process of another individual is equally difficult. The individual might not even possess certain lines of thought which one hopes to imbibe in him. He might not want to entertain any such “advice” from anybody at all. He might not be equipped enough to understand the rights and wrongs, legal or otherwise. To an extent, this is very subjective and varies from person to person but the laws, which define rights and wrongs in legal terms, are meant to be followed by one and all. It’s fundamental in the functioning of a democracy. But this has been flouted on all grounds and justified too.

There is a popular restaurant located in a very popular residential area in Bangalore. The fact that it is a commercial establishment located in the midst of a residential area gives rise to innumerable questions in one’s mind - Questions on the legality of the same. That apart, the restaurant has been doing good business and even provides car-service. This service has been the cause of intolerable pain for the residents in the vicinity. In the evenings, on an average, the service starts at maybe 6.00 and goes on till late night. That this is exasperating for the residents is an understatement. But thanks to some socially conscious individual, the authorities have erected two “No Parking” boards which disallow parking in that stretch for a length of around 25 feet. This seemed like a relief to the residents who thought the menace will finally come to an end. But it was not to be. Customers who make use of the car-service still continue to park their cars, some right under the board!!! Well, most of them are well-versed in English, I am sure. But when it comes to obeying certain guidelines, some people make their own, in reply to those guidelines. Such is the state of affairs in the country. When I approached the owner and tried to sensitize him on the happenings and that they are not appropriate, he came up with an atrocious reply. He said that since everyone is paying road tax, it’s up to that person to use the road in any which way. Lovely! Needless to say, the authorities were informed and action duly taken.

This speaks volumes about the uphill task we have ahead of us when we talk about reform or change. It also warns us of the myriad shades of the people around us. Most importantly, it also proves that unless we voice, nothing will ever change – however small that change might be. Change is never impossible. The biggest hindrance to any change is the tendency of people to not change. It is also the biggest challenge involved. This tendency to not change should in no way deter one from the battle for reforms. Once such obstacles are overcome, society would be reckoned as a better binding entity than it was before that transformation. Only when the person is confident and firmly believes in the change can he communicate it to others. Only when he is reformed can he reform. Hence, in my opinion, it’s very important to be firm in your beliefs towards a change and be firm in your attitude towards change. It’s when beliefs are weak or deterred owing to external pressure that the integrity of a person is questioned and brought to light. Moreover, the change that he wanted to bring about would also be eyed with suspicion and buried for good by the thick clouds of doubt and distrust.

Recently, a politician’s comment about a private entrepreneur’s inability to deliver has brought to light the so-called government-private divide. The politician alleged that the entrepreneur, known for his value-based administration, has done very little on certain infrastructure. The politician has occupied powerful positions in the past. He is known to come out in public with slanderous and derogatory remarks aimed at a person/organization quite often. The entrepreneur submitted his resignation. Aspersion is the last thing that is required in a country that’s developing at a tremendous pace. It acts like a deterrent, a non-achiever and should be nipped in the bud so that it stops for good. In my opinion, there are two sides to this particular tale. A person will come up with allegations, but does that mean the alleged sits quietly? Does it mean that those allegations need not be refuted? Does it imply that if the alleged is silent and is thriving on the people-base he has, he need not justify himself? I think not. On the other hand if someone does not refute, suspicion clearly eyes him. The entrepreneur could have come out and talk with all his belief, talk with all his honesty, talk with all his hard-work, fight for truth and NOT resign and give into the politician. A resignation would actually mean he is evading responsibilities and lacks determination to fight to bring truth to justice. This seems to be a case of beliefs being weak or deterred owing to external pressure. It’s disheartening to see such an achiever buckle under pressure. I think he has been pampered to a large extent by the society, deified if I may. Hence, any acerbic remark directed at him would meet with immediate submission. This would, in turn, lead people to believe that he has, indeed, done very little. Also, it would seem like the slander shot by the politician might be right and that he is indeed focused on reforms. It’s easy to point a finger at someone else and wash one’s hands off the problems. But it’s terrible to wash one’s hands off the problems when he has done nothing wrong but has been accused of doing so.

This sad episode suffers from the anathema of pre-conceived notions in the minds of the people. We tend to rate a person on his personality, appearance, achievements and fail to see each of these achievements in isolation. We have a thought in our mind that the politician in question is pathetic in communicating and hence he is just killing time making allegations. On the other hand, the entrepreneur has gifted people with a new lease of life ensuring an exponential raise in the standard of living of those involved with the industry. Therefore, in the minds of people, he is an achiever. But, if this incident is taken in isolation, it seems the entrepreneur has given in to the allegation with his resignation. This act seems to display one’s incapacity to deal with pressure. Pre-conceived notions stem from the inability of a person to align himself with change – change in his thoughts. We, the people, should weigh facts against our perceptions, voice our opinion, and more importantly work towards the common goal - transformation. Judgment through perception is detrimental to reforms but analysis of perceptions helps in achieving it.

On another note, Bangalore witnessed floods some time back. Never has it happened before. The low-lying areas were almost submerged in water. The city had come to a halt for one or two days. The effects still remain. How can a plateau region have floods? This was a question asked by countless inhabitants of the city. Bangalore, at least in the 60s, had around 400 lakes. Now, it has just 64. It is a staggering statistic and a proof of industrialization encroaching upon nature. Owing to this, the catchments and their respective capacities have been drastically reduced. This eventually led to the flood situation that prevailed in the city. Why and when were lakes converted to residential layouts/industries? Who gave the permission to do so without consulting the natural reserves department or the environment ministry? These questions need to be answered and answered quickly. There has been a needless and a mindless encroachment by builders across the city. They have ignored storm-water drains, drainage system, have failed to connect roads and other basic amenities to the residents. The only objective on their mind seems to be more and more encroachment and expansion of their hold in the city. We should (as lots of active citizens are doing) voice our concerns over this terrible act of negligence. This has to be brought to an end. Thanks to a lot of active citizens and media coverage, I think we will see light at the end of the tunnel in this respect.

Of late, a lot of change has been witnessed in the media. They are more concerned about the basic amenities provided to people. They report on the bad roads in your city and actually follow up on the same till it is fixed. This is really great to see. Mobilization of people-strength and its channelization in the right direction. There are news agencies trying to unearth truth like there is no tomorrow. We have seen a lot of crime being unraveled on TV thanks to investigative journalism. One such incident was the imposition of a dress code by a reputed University in India. The dress code included “light shirt and dark trousers” for guys and salwar, sarees (NO Jeans) for the ladies. Jeans was considered to be a source of “distraction”. A new student went on the first day in dark red shirt. He was subjected to severe beating by the authorities in a college affiliated to the university in question. Media rushed to the spot and got the principal talking. He stood by the “dress code” system. The student was shell-shocked. He was in a state of trauma. The Dress code still persists.

In a country which is proud of the fact that its culture is a confluence of all the world-cultures, is there a need to impose such a draconian law? Does this point towards reforms? An Individual’s dressing is not a mirror into his mind. An individual can not be assessed based on his attire. All these are borne out of the concept of generalization talked about, earlier. The real reform would be to counsel and guide those individuals who find jeans to be “distracting”. A reform would be to change one’s perceptions and not take those perceptions as a standard and change everything around, to suit that perception. A reform would enable a person to change his view of himself and people around him. Any kind of imposition would be met with dissent, active or passive. More importantly, an imposition is not a reform whatsoever. It does not inculcate the feeling of change in a person. It does not give him the reason to believe in that change. On the contrary, it will give rise to an aversion in the individual’s mind. He would be unable to appreciate the “rule” too. None of these factors point in the direction of progress. They are as much a hindrance to an individual’s development as they are to a nation’s development. It is high time we stop taking these so-called rules for granted and stand up against them. An attack on one’s freedom (defined as one’s independence without infringing on other’s independence and space) is against the basic foundation of our freedom struggle, its philosophy and its ideals. Such acts of dictatorship must be dealt with in the harshest possible way.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Social Catharsis II

Media, time and again, has proved to be a powerful tool in addressing people’s issues within a geographical realm and bringing it to the knowledge of the administration in the same geography. The proof of the importance of media in bringing about change lies in the fact that there is a section in Indian history books dedicated to the role of print media in the nation’s struggle for independence. People from all walks of life used pen as a weapon to speak out, to voice their opinion, to echo people’s plight and to motivate them to fight, to make them realize that they could achieve the impossible.

National leaders used to regularly pen articles addressing innumerable issues, focusing on one goal – complete independence and nothing less. They voiced their opinions in various newspapers across the nation, making use of the unprecedented reach media commanded. The masses felt empowered and developed a sense of self-belief, an inner voice that said they could help bring about a change by following the path of self-discipline and values preached by the then able leadership. The independence movement created an impact that it did because of the involvement of the masses. They were all united, focused, committed, disciplined and uncompromising on values. These qualities would have been hard to inculcate or maintain in the masses for as many years as they did but for the relentless efforts of our leaders and our media. Media, due to its tremendous reach, single-handedly managed to unite people and made them speak in one voice - the voice of independence.

A century later, Indian media commands a global audience - its views heard everywhere it’s aired. It has not only changed in form - print, visual, electronic - but also in its content and values as an earlier article of mine pointed out. Just to cite an example of how Indian media values Indian news as against world news, renowned classical vocalist M S Subbalakshmi, better known as M S, passed away recently. A leading English national daily (Now the world’s most read daily) published the news in an inconsequential corner of a page, the headline being “Subbalakshmi Passes away”. Well, the whole nation knows her as M S and not Subbalakshmi. I wonder what the headline wanted to convey anyway. The respect she commanded across the world is unparalleled. In spite of all this, the respect given to her by her own nation’s leading media was next to negligible. The same daily carried a news item of an American Guitarist who “enthralled the 8000-strong audience at Bangalore” on the front-page when the fact of the matter is that there were not more than 2000 people who attended the show. This illustrates the sense of proportion and the value-system prevalent in the nation’s leading media yet again.

Recently, the blasts in London shook the western civilization, reminding them for the second time that the seeds of terrorism they had planted during the cold war to fight against erstwhile USSR have grown to wage a deadly battle against them. The blasts at London, with all due respect to the victims, is nothing in proportion to what people in Kashmir are subjected to every hour of the day, every minute of the night. The west has opened its eyes to it in the last five or six years while India has been witness to the ghastly acts for almost 25 years now. Parents murdered in front of their kids, people beheaded in front of their dear ones, women subjected to the most uncivilized forms of torture known. No day passes by without gunshots being fired, bloodshed in markets, bomb blasts. India has been voicing outrage against terrorism for a long time and has asked the west a number of times to take note of it. But, until the attacks happened in New York, terrorism was another aspect of uncivilized east for the people of the west. If the “Global war against terrorism” that USA is heading now was started when Asian countries requested for it, the WTC at New York could have been saved.

If the Indian media was responsive enough, forceful enough it could have been heard across the world. It could have had the power to change opinions, mould masses like it did fifty years back. The people could have led a movement demanding the developed west to stop instigating violence in the east to serve their purpose, stop using them to prove a point to their friends and enemies, stop corrupting the innocent, stop dumping all kinds of waste into the east, stop destroying the economics of the developing world, stop dictating terms to the governments in the developing world. All this could have been and is still possible if media is disciplined enough to take the lead role and continue the mission it embarked upon several years ago. We are not short of opinions or motivation; we are in dire need of self-discipline at the individual level. India has never been in a better position than it is now - in voicing its distaste in world-governance, in opposing the use of organizations like UN by USA (so much so the UN is referred to as the UNA) and in moulding world economics. The factors impeding the mass-power are the indiscipline and the apathy of individuals towards their surroundings, amenities, infrastructure and governance and the apathy of the media towards the same.

First, let’s analyse the root-cause of indiscipline in people. There is an old saying “yatha raja tatha praja”. In democracy, I believe that this saying needs to be changed to “yatha praja tatha raja” which means that the people decide the government they deserve - if people are apathetic, so would the government. Citizens find faults with the Government easily, endlessly cribbing about the various drawbacks and inefficiency of the machinery. There are problems galore - inadequate infrastructure, inefficient administration to name a few. But what do people do? Instead of bringing issues to light, they take the easier way out - relax on the couch and crib about the state of governance. The best illustration of public apathy and indiscipline can be observed in traffic jams on the roads of big cities. It has now become a daily phenomenon thanks to the inefficient and the incapable public. The Administration is very well aware of the problems faced but is unwilling to do anything because people don’t want it to. Traffic is stalled for hours together but our fellow two-wheelers, the heroes on road, make use of the footpaths to avoid the jam and go ahead. They do so with utmost confidence and complete lack of civic sense. They even have the audacity to sound horn at the people walking on the foot-path, asking them to move aside. Nothing can describe public apathy better. The drivers have no respect for the footpaths or don’t seem to realize their purpose. On the other hand, the people walking actually move out of the drivers’ way instead of lambasting them. Such negligence leads to inefficient administration and compel others to question the worth of democracy in India, more importantly if people deserve a democratic form of governance in India.

Why have we become insensitive? It’s because we have taken our freedom for granted. We have taken our surroundings for granted. Each of us is in a relentless race - a race that has no end, a race that ensures financial well-being of oneself and one’s immediate family members, nothing beyond it. Each one is so busy in this race that the events or problems around him have very little significance since they don’t affect him. We have forgotten the value of freedom, the value of self-sufficiency, the value of values. All we are bothered about is self. If this was the scenario fifty years back, we would have still been under the British rule. It is because the mass-movement then was selfless that we attained complete independence. We should realize the price of freedom, the power of democracy and above all, the huge manpower at our disposal. We should realize that if we don’t let small things go unnoticed, the difference will be definitely visible with time. The impact it will create would be widespread and not isolated and would trigger a civic movement unparalleled in documented history. The need of the hour is to forget self and start service. If the educated class makes financial contribution towards the less privileged, however small it might be, the sheer factor of multiplication in this case can help one realize the power of one. It’s that simple to make a beginning. This should not be done or thought about once and forgotten later. No. This should be done on a continuous basis and the effects in the near future would only serve as impetus to do more.

The media, as always, is the greatest weapon to awaken the masses and keep them informed about what’s true and what’s not. The media has at its disposal the technology to bring justice to truth. It has the power to shape people’s thoughts and the reach to actually make a change. But how is this possible when most of the Indian media are busy projecting themselves to be as westernized and as west-centric as they could possible be? The media, as it is now, fails to even highlight fundamental issues let alone take a stand on them. It’s more bothered about the situation in London than the situation in terror-prone regions across India. Whatever civic concern it “shows” rarely gets translated to anything fruitful. The problems for the common man are only increasing by the day. Where and how does the media begin to discharge its duties towards realising reforms?
First, the media should use its global presence to the full. Indian media should highlight issues prevalent in Rural/urban India impartially. It should address issues at local level and follow up with the administration on the same. Some of the journalists are actually doing this and they deserve all the credit for their focus and determination. Media should use the technology available at its disposal to track any malpractices in the administrative affairs. This would include accepting bribes, favouring admissions to educational institutions and such malpractices even at the lowest strata of governance. It should also expose indiscipline in people. For example, in order that the drivers riding two-wheelers on footpaths be punished, the registration numbers should be noted or a photograph taken using camera-mobile phones. When the administration is sensitized on this issue, track it till the guilty is punished. If the police fail to address the issue when brought to their notice, highlight it in media. This would enable the administrators at every level of governance to watch what they do and make them realize that they cannot take their position for granted. Agreed that the scale on which corruption is rampant is huge but this is where manpower comes into play. If the educated class is proactive enough to bring anomalies to the notice of the media/administration, things are bound to improve. The scale of corruption is high because of the sheer strength of working population in India as compared to other countries. It can be fought effectively only if the manpower comes together in one voice and uproots the stigma of corruption from the face of our nation.

The onus lies on us, the financially well-off, the educated, to actually start the whole process of “churning” because the less privileged are waging a battle everyday just to survive to battle out another day. On another note, it’s not too difficult to drive the media. After all, we, the people, make the media. Hence, if there is an ounce of service-mindedness instilled in people, it will definitely translate into the media playing its role as it did in the struggle for independence.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Social Catharsis I

Recently I just happened to browse through a leading English daily’s website. The website was all colourful with numerous pop-up ads and articles on a plethora of topics. But what hit me was an article talking about certain actresses from the Mumbai Film Industry (a.k.a Bollywood thanks to the slavish mentality of the media) allegedly being involved in sex-scandals placed right on top of the web-page. There were other articles on the page which many would deem socially relevant, articles bringing social issues to light. But to find the mentioned article on top was appalling at the least. It spoke volumes about the sense of proportion or more so, the lack of it that the editorial possesses. Such an article would definitely not better, rather worsen the quality of life of an average Indian. What it will do, though, is make the media richer by the day.

I thought about the current state of journalism and how it has digressed from its objective of empowering the society and making an effort to change it from time to time. The present objective of journalism, it seems, is to serve oneself and “sell” sleaze to make a quick buck, thereby increasing the circulation of the Daily. This, in turn, would enable the Daily to capture the international market, ensuring more returns and a recognition by the western media. Until a recognition from the West is obtained, Indians tend to downplay their facets, artistic, social or political, thanks to the colonial mentality still flourishing in their minds. All of us including the media thrive in this vicious circle in a conscious endeavour to ape the west. The question we and the media need to ask at this point in time is whether all this is required, whether a recognition is the ultimate aim or social betterment, whether excessive financial returns is more important or bringing justice to truth.

Of late, a lot is being talked about “selling” or “marketing” concepts, ideas, products and the works. A very popular Director from the Mumbai Film Industry was quoted as saying “We sell sleaze because people want it.” Innumerable remixes have been churned out by the music industry, the corresponding videos getting vulgar by the day. The fact of the matter is that people buy them for whatever reason giving rise to another vicious circle where the sleaze is sold because people buy it and people buy it because they are sold. The same happened in the case of the news article mentioned above. People love to read sleaze and hence media sells it. How can this vicious circle be done away with? The people of India need another awakening at this point in time – a social awakening, an awakening of the individual conscience. If we, the people, can detest buying or reading sleaze, neither media nor entertainment can stand on it anymore. That would lead to a media more focused on socio-economic issues affecting the country which is the need of the hour as far as the development of our nation is concerned. This will also ensure that we, as a nation and people, need not ape the West to progress thereby burying this myth for good. We will also realize that we are a self-reliant and a self-sufficient nation.

The general perception in our minds is that sleaze is a part of our lives and that it’s human to read it out of sheer curiosity. I beg to differ with this perception. Each individual has his own conscience, thoughts and perceptions. What might be right for one might not be for another. But all said and done there are certain thoughts and perceptions which are more common than others. For instance, when we watch debates on TV involving audience as a part of the debate, more often than not the perception of the audience points towards reforms and growth and be done with irrelevant issues. Although a very minute portion of the population participates, what is noteworthy is the fact that sometimes perceptions match and strike a chord. If this perception is channelized in the right direction, involving mass movements, processions, debates, discussions both in print and electronic media, it might just do the trick.

All in all, an individual wants his life and environment to be stable in terms of finance, amenities etc. His environment includes the basic amenities like education, water, electricity, roads, shelter, clothes, sanitation etc. These are major issues not only in Rural India but in the urban half as well. These are issues that need to be addressed by us through media and by media for us, the people. If this is achieved, other issues will definitely take a backseat. This can be achieved when the people unite as a force to reckon with, when they realize that each of them has the power to change for good, power to dictate terms to the establishment. First things first, each of us has to kill our cynical attitude and be proactive in addressing issues. We can address issues on various platforms, print and electronic. We can put the pen to best use and write socially awakening articles. We can establish e-groups through various websites like yahoo, orkut and gather like-minded people to make our mission successful. People can establish small, local centres on the lines of NGOs to collect issues at their level from people limited to that area. Funds can be raised from the Corporates and can be used by the local centres to establish educational institutions, public urinals etc. The issues raised by the public can be escalated to various levels of governance and tracked on a regular and feasible timeline. Emphasis needs to be on seeking basic amenities which is the first step towards hoping for any kind of development in the country. The issues then can be resolved by the concerned Government machinery with added pressure on them.

We tend to think that Social Service is something that demands lot of time, effort and supplies low returns. On the contrary, Social Service is not about how much time you spend in the service, but how well you spend your time in the service. Even if you can address your grievance for 2 minutes from your busy schedule, it is all that is required. If you can spare some time and make sure that the issues are being channelized to the concerned machinery, you have played your part. If you can automate the distribution schema in your local area on a website and monitor the distribution mechanism for the poor, from time to time, on that website, you have played your part in this mission. If everyone gets into this habit of playing his part, social service will not be limited to certain groups or NGOs but every individual would be a part of it. This way each person’s schedule is maintained along with him playing his part in the development of the nation. Each person will be duty-bound and self-reliant. As it progresses, the returns will begin to show as the nation would be on its way to real development. People will begin to realize that their own efforts have paid off in riches greater than money could buy.

When so many developmental activities take place at various levels - individual, local centre, state and national – the fourth estate will be flooded with news items which would ensure that the whole machinery is active and efficient. In turn, the press will be earning revenue from the quality that it delivers, thereby wiping out the capitalistic outlook that it has at the present, namely ads and the concept of “selling”. In addition, an individual will focus on the goal of self-reliance and self-sufficiency and not on irrelevant subjects like sleaze. This will lead to a radical shift in the thought process of an individual and hence of the nation, on the whole. This will lead to the attainment of our goal - Development.

When this goal is achieved, we will notice that the media and entertainment will have grown to be genuinely social and not too capitalistic in outlook, thereby leading to relevant issues being addressed. It will not be involved in a financial race with the West, and we will not be involved in a race to ape the West anymore. Our conscience will have the capacity to filter the relevant from the irrelevant, take it one level higher and voila! We have a nation filtering out relevant from irrelevant. We can then venture on the road to development and maybe the West would ape us then. Not that it matters to us.