Thursday, January 31, 2013

How to Protect Freedom of Speech

Two incidents in the last few days bear witness to how the Republic of India is fast turning into a Republic of Hurt Sentiments and making a joke of the Constitution. The first was at the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), where Ashis Nandy supposedly made some comments about SC/ST/OBC government employees. In this case, a statement that was not meant to create hatred or stir biolence has been subject to an FIR. Somehow FIRs for rape don't get registered but those against writers get registered with ease!

The second and more serious incident is the way the issue of Kamal Hassan's movie Vishwaroopam and the sort of harassment the actor has had to deal with from fringe Muslim groups that seem to get hurt more by words and less by hunger and illiteracy. Such has been the level of harassment in the name of protecting law and order that the actor, an icon of Tamil cinema, has threatened to leave the country in search for, ironically, a secular place to live in.

The net result of these two incidents is a fall in general tolerance that was once a hallmark of Indian culture. True, the Constitution guarantees Freedom of Speech and Expression with reasonable restrictions. But the question is - when is a restriction reasonable and when is it not? Although there are a certain set of benchmarks, it is still rather subjective. As OTFS had said in a previous editorial after the Palghar case, when in doubt, the benefit of the doubt must always go to he whose freedom is being curtailed.

What is this matter of political correctness that we have become immersed in? If what we say is legal only if it makes everyone comfortable and does not harm any so-called sentiments, then why have Freedom of Speech in the first place? What is the point of being free on paper and a prisoner in reality? In the present case, it is obvious that a fundamental right is being trampled upon in the name of Muslim appeasement and therefore, it is a must that the Supreme Court, the guardian of those rights, takes up suo moto a violation of its own previous judgment that once the CBFC clears a film, no extra-judicial body can stop its screening.

Our Republic is clearly in danger. Unless strong steps are taken to beat back fringe extremist elements, we will descend into an abyss of chaos that will eat into the very foundation of our democracy. 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Rare Gem

KAHAANI (2012)

Produced by: Viacom 18
Director: Sujoy Ghosh
Starring: Vidya Balan, Parambrata Chatterjee, Saswata Chatterjee, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and others
Pros: Super storyline, excellent suspense, appropriate use of music, symbology, location
Cons: Plot can get confusing at times due to the profusion of characters, some bad acting
Rating: **** (4 of 5)

Suspense does not come easy in Bollywood: we are all used to stories whose ending you can guess and whose characters tend to be stereotyped. The best suspense that we have gotten probably revolves around some girl being kidnapped and falling in love with her kidnapper. Or worse, political rivalries leading to mass-murder.

But then came Kahaani, a movie where the last face you'd expect is Vidya Balan. By every standard of movies made in Bollywood, this one is the best as far as thrillers go. The story is sleek and refreshing, leaving you begging for more as every plot gives way to a new one and the suspense just builds up. Away from the posh malls of Delhi or Mumbai, the director sets shop in the gullies of Kolkata, reminding the country that Delhi Metro was not the first during the Durga Puja festivities. That renders to the Durga-like aura that Balan is expected to carry, which she actually does surprisingly well.

Kudos to the music composers who did not introduce silly song-and-dance sequences despite the pointless and short-lived love story that was bundled in to make it more viable commercially. The idea of adding the classic Robindroshongeet in Ekla Cholo Re would've definitely won the hearts of all Bengali viewers.

However, even as the story gets more and more interesting, the ending is a little disappointing because the large number of characters introduced at virtually every stage makes it difficult to keep track of who's who. The fact that it deals with the world of intelligence, where a man is seldom who he says he is, makes it worse.  The acting from the supporting characters is not all that good, with Siddiqui as Inspector Khan of the IB making a nice little joke of the angry-young-man.

Yet if these minor shortcomings be speared, this is an excellent and rather rare movie that you must take the time to see. (OTFS)

Republic Day Lecture: On Women and the Constitution

Much has been made of women and their position in the Indian social hierarchy recently. While there is the so-called modernist view of gender emancipation, there are many in society which go by the traditionalist' view that a woman must learn to cook and clean at home. Even among the modernists, there is the question of whether women should be allowed to dress as they choose or should restrict themselves to traditional attire. Across the world, the question of women's freedom has met these two opposing forces.

The Constitution
When the Indian Constitution was being framed following the India Independence Act, lawmakers were also faced with this question. On matters such as voting rights for women, it was clear that universal adult franchise was the way to go. As mundane as this may seem today, it was an exceptional decision by world standards: the United States still did not allow women to vote even after 250 years of its Constitution.

But the Constitution does not stop there: the Directive Principles of State Policy are a good place to look to understand as to what lawmakers in that historic era were thinking. Articles 39-45 direct, among others, the State to ensure equal pay for equal work by both men and women, a revolutionary step by any yardstick, as well as the right of a working woman to maternity leave. While we see these things as quite normal today, it is actually the Constitution that first laid these thoughts out to build an egalitarian society.

Moreover, the Principles call for the development of traditional cottage industries such as Khadi. It is well-known that in rural areas where women cannot go out to work as farm labour under normal circumstances, such industries, often called Self-Help Groups, act as a liberating force for greater good. Thus, the Constitution calls for not juts the political and social emancipation of women, but also their economic liberation.

What Citizens Should Do
While the State has been directed to do a great deal to protect women, lawmakers amended the Constitution to outline a set of Fundamental Duties for citizens. Article 51(A) outlines these duties and calls upon citizens to protect and respect the dignity of women. Furthermore, it calls upon citizens to develop the scientific temper. Read together, these amount to a call for citizens to break free of traditionalist views of women and consider than as being equal contributors to society.

Thus, the Constitution, the guiding light that has led us through these transformative decades, protects women and looks upon all citizens to create a just and egalitarian society where they are given their due share of opportunities. The question really is how far we have gone to live up to these high ideals. This 64th Republic Day, OTFS reinforces its unwavering commitment to the Constitution and calls upon fellow-citizens to build a nation as great as it envisages.

Jai Hind!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Empire in Exile: Book 1


BOOK 1:
HOME

The sky we live under, the earth beneath our feet,
The air we breathe in, the sounds asunder.
They are not the same, wherever we go,
They are most special, here at home. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

2013 Assembly Elections

As we move towards a crucial general election in 2014, India will see a miniature version of it in 2013 as a third of the nation - ten states - go to the polls to elect new state Governments. In addition, one more state, Jharkhand, might also see another election due to political instability.

The northeast will see three elections first - Meghalaya, Tripura and Nagaland - which will have implications for the future of politics well beyond the region. Now acknowledged as the arrowhead of the Look East Policy, the region will need to bring in strong governments if development is to continue.

In Meghalaya, PA Sangma's breakaway from the NCP and allying his new party with the NDA would prove to be a gamble for the seasoned leader. If he wins, it could see a major boost for the BJP in the region; if he loses, PA Sangma would probably disappear into history. In Nagaland, the peace talks between New Delhi and the NSCN(IM) have bore fruit and there is a semblance of peace in the state, although that belies the parallel government running there. Whether the NPF will use tensions with Manipur as a poll plank is left to be seen.

Tripura, the last state under Communist rule in India after the grand fall of Bengal, might just see a return for Manik Sarkar unless the Congress can pull something out of the (empty) hat. Improving relations with Bangaldesh, particularly the valued transit agreement, has been a boon for the tiny Bengali-majority state, which is fast becoming the second-most influential one in the region after Assam.

As these northeastern states of India head to the polls next month, OTFS tracks the action. And we will continue to do that for the others this year - all the way till the biggest prize of them all: the Lok Sabha 2014. 

'Azad' Indeed

International Think Tank Freedom House released its annual analysis of democratic rights and trajectories in the globalized world, Freedom in the World 2013. Among the various regions that is analyzed, one interesting difference that the 2013 report and successive reports before it have shown is the difference in levels of freedom in 'Indian' Kashmir and 'Pakistani' Kashmir. The difference this year is even harder to miss: 'Indian' Kashmir has shown an upward trend for freedom with fair scores for both civil and political rights, coming close to those of the rest of India. This is is marked contrast to 'Pakistani' Kashmir, which has poor levels of civil and political rights and as such remains cut-off from the world and ensnared by the Pakistani Army.

The irony of course lies in the fact that 'Pakistani Kashmir' is called 'Azad Jammu and Kashmir' (AJK) in Pakistan - a haven that is free from the evil Hindu India, a free state. Which is a complete lie of course, given that the so-called Prime Minister of AJK reports to the President of Pakistan, its judicial system is only nominally independent, its legislature is bound by rules of the Pakistani Constitution and the media is severely restricted from working there. And this is the idea of a free state that Pakistan has been trying to sell to the world to paint India as the tyrant?

It is laughable and tragic to see how 'Pakistani' Kashmiris believe that their 'Indian' brethren are suppressed by this Hindu nation, while reports such as FIW'13 consistently show that it is actually the other way round and that the Kashmiris administered by India enjoy significantly more space than the ones in Pakistan. True, Kashmiris make full use of this freedom by calling for secession time and again, believing their fairy tales about their unique Central Asian culture and traditions and completely ignoring that their fate is connected to those of Ladakh and Jammu as well. But it is the freedom that they enjoy that lets them do this and prevents the ones on the Pakistani side from coming out - a clear case of manufacturing a status quo.   

GATE Report: Downward for Sure

GATE 2013 Online was held across India this Sunday as many papers saw an online format for the first time. Paper CE, which I have at Roorkee College of Engineering, was generally described as being difficult with a few surprises. Breaking the trend of the last two years, IITB, which conducted the exam, included several questions from Structural Analysis and very few from RCC Design. This would have come as a shock to students who had expected RCC Design to gain the upper-hand again. And as expected, the Analysis questions did require some fancy thinking.

But that's not all: perhaps the biggest consequence of the shift to the online format was the introduction of the numeric-entry type of questions. None of the popular publishers were ready for this change. And what was even more surprising was the fact that such questions did not carry any negative marks, meaning that in any case you would attempt them. That erodes the hitherto common practice of judging how well or otherwise the exam went by the number of questions attempted.

A funny thing about the system was the fact that it was compulsory to use an on-screen keyboard to enter numeric answers: this actually added more time to each question for no tangible gains. When several subjective online exams can be conducted elsewhere with a keyboard, there seems to be little reason for this burden.

Now, as a result of such changes, one thing seems certain: the qualifying mark is sure to fall this year. That won't make much of a difference certainly since it is a statistical system anyway, but it will be a consequence of the online exam. 

A Nation of our Dreams

LINCOLN (2012)

Produced By: Dreamworks, Reliance Entertainment and others
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn and others
Pros: Excellent historic narrative, good use of pause
Cons: Droning speeches and anecdotes, a good part of the movie is said in whispers
Rating: **** (4 of 5)

The history of mankind seems to make an eternal masterpiece of an adaptation. If it was The Iron Lady that traced the history of Britain through the reign of Margaret Thatcher, Lincoln takes us even farther back to the American Civil War. As with any period movie, recreating the look and feel of that age is what defines success. And here, Spielberg has hit the nail on the head.

Daniel Day-Lewis is the true mover in this film: to recreate an American President who is caught between his desire to reunify his divided nation and satisfy his personal distaste against slavery in the face of stiff opposition in the legislature is an immense responsibility that he fulfilled with flying colours. Of course, the supporting actors who make up his family and aides do go into making him what he was, but his performance certainly takes the cake for being the very best.

Recreating the nineteenth century America with its double-standards on slavery and a raging civil war was never going to be easy even for a director like Spielberg, but here he takes care of the finer details: how the ladies dress, how the men pass their time and even how wars are fought hand-to-hand. It is hard to miss the attention to perfection here.

The only problem with the movie is the rather drawling nature of the dialogues: in fact, Day-Lewis spends a significant portion of his time whispering stories to no one in particular, while his wife (Sally Field) sits in the House of Representatives' gallery and also speaks in whispers, which is rather irritating. But the debates in the House are beautiful and Spielberg uses the power of pauses with expertise, making for a wonderful movie, especially for a history buff like myself.

And certainly, deserving of its Oscar nominations! (OTFS)

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Sad Moment for Sport

Lance Armstrong, who battled critics for 14 years on the allegation of doping, finally came clean before Oprah Winfrey, admitting to all the allegations of drug abuse against him. The celebrated cyclist who famously came back from fighting cancer to win the coveted Tour de France a record seven times has been stripped of all his medals including the Olympic Bronze Medal.

The event marks a low for professional cycling in particular and sports in general. It is becoming increasingly normal for athletes to resort to doping as the commercial pressure of the sport goes beyond the bounds of humanity. Armstrong is certainly not the first to be charged and found guilty for doping, several athletes have done it before. Of course, by all accounts, his was the largest, most sophisticated doping regime seen to date and he does not seem to regret it at all - if anything, he regrets the fact that he lost so much money after the revelation by USADA and that his kids found out that he was a liar.

The shocking downfall of an iconic sportsperson such as Armstrong reaffirms the need to tighten the noose around doping. More frequent blood and urine tests as well as a humane limit to commercial expectations are needed if the sporting world is to redeem itself from this tragedy. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Saved by a Sliver

As previously described, 4-1 was easily the most hectic and difficult semester yet at IITR. However, it did go well eventually as far as the MS/PhD applications go. Even in LitSec, it was an excellent semester. The only problem was the academic side of it. And now, the results are here. My CGPA has continued its upward rise, something which it has been doing since the very beginning. However, for the first time, the rate of change has slowed down significantly so as to have no effect on the first decimal - this could actually be a natural consequence of the high base.

Anyway, to examine the courses. CE-461 was a disappointment as I wanted an A+ very badly in all my Transportation subjects, but I'll have to do with an A. On hindsight, a better MTE-1 score could have saved me, but lets not cry over spilled milk. CE-441 was good until the sad demise of Prof. Kothyari, when it became a most boring and imperfect subject. Therefore, the A was not surprising. What was surprising was the A in CE-403, wherein the review from the teacher was so bad that I was sure that I'd land up with a D!

IHS-15 and CE-463 were obvious candidates for an A+, while CE-405 was well-deserved. The A+ in CE-451 however came as a pleasant shock to everyone, given the notoriety of the subject. And talking about notoriety, 4-1 was always known as the 'CG-killer,' because our seniors had set a record of a majority of CGPA's showing a decline in this semester. I'm glad I bunked that trend, although there has been a considerable churning in the Department Ranks.

Having retained my top rank and having improved the difference slightly, the time has come to prepare for the final battle for the prize that represents eternal glory: The Silver Medal. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Pakistan's Crown Prince?

The year 2013 will be significant for the PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari as he prepares to assume proper leadership of the party that he 'inherited' from Benazir Bhutto and which his father and President Asif Ali Zardari has been leading in his name so far. But things will not be easy for Pakistan's Crown Prince.

For one, 2013 is an election year and the PPP Government is extremely disliked in Pakistan. Not only is its (mis) governance a major issue, but the total breakdown of security under its watch will not be forgotten. Yet, it is also a fact that the Army - a longstanding enemy of the PPP - is looking to build a favourable civilian government wherein it can continue to receive the largess that it has grown so used to.

On the International front, Pakistan will face a daunting challenge in 2014 as ISAF begins to pull out of Afghanistan. The ensuing chaos that is sure to follow when the Pak Army tries to establish its strategic depth in the country and India's response to it will be a major challenge that any government in the future - perhaps one led by the younger Bhutto - will have to face. Pakistan's sinking or even sunk economy simply adds fuel to the very dangerous fire.

Yet in some circles, he is greeted with nausea, a sense of a dynasty-style of politics that has gripped all of South Asia. He has been compared to Rahul Gandhi not just because of the bloody past of their families but also because, like Gandhi, Bhutto too lacks a credible support base and has done virtually nothing to show that he actually deserves to be where he is. In fact, it is believed that he is taking lessons in Urdu, Punjabi and even his mother tongue Sindhi to be able to actually connect to the largely rural masses that form the main bulk of the PPP's supporters.

Whether the young Bhutto will be able to make a mark for himself or will go down as so many before him have will depend on how many votes he can attract to the PPP in what will be the first of three crucial national elections in South Asia scheduled for this year and the next. 

Shameful and Inhuman

The brutal beheading of an Indian soldier in Kashmir at the hands of Pakistani soldiers was inhuman and against every tenet of war established in the history of civilized nations. Not only is it the most serious violation of the 2003 ceasefire, it actually represents an escalation of hostilities.

It is a fact that the Pakistani Army has lost a great deal of credibility because of a series of strikes by militants harbored by the Army itself. The brutal shooting of Malala Yousufzai was just an example of how badly the Army's experiments with Jihad have gone. To win back some degree of legitimacy in this crucial election year, the Army is once again preparing to use the India card, hoping that an escalation of hostilities will distract Pakistanis from the real issues.

The Army has, over the course of the last sixty years, so rigidly entrenched itself in the affairs of the civilian state that it has undermined democracy almost permanently in Pakistan. To gain legitimacy, it always raises the heat with India. This rogue behaviour is responsible for the instability in South Asia, particularly Afghanistan.

This escalation must be met with diplomatic force. It shows just why the 'Cold Start' doctrine is so crucial to our security architecture and preparation for that should be doubled up. We are neighbours to a rogue state that is a danger to itself and the whole world. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

GATE to Nowhere

Jan. 20 is the first edition of the GATE Online CE exam, and it promises to be a total dud as far as I go. I had great plans:

Plan A: MS and PhD
Plan B: M.Tech in India
Plan C: Any random job

But after I bagged an offer from ITC, there's been a major change of plans: the last two have basically merged. So, I'd work in ITC for sometime and then do some higher studies in India (and hopefully they'd pay for it). Call it greed for money or further realization that doing an M.Tech in India is really a very, very bad option.

So, to that extent, I am rather enthused by the way rules have recently been relaxed for PhD and M.Tech admissions to IITs. I am superbly confident that with my CGPA, I can get through. Which only leaves me with the question of funding, which MHRD will cover provided I have a valid GATE score. Now, 'valid' is a pretty funny term for GATE, because it simply means that the score needs to be less than two years old and qualify a very low minimum score. The minimum is usually so low that if you just do the maths and aptitude questions properly and skip the entire engineering component, you will still get a decent rank!

So with this revised plan, my GATE preparation has been scaled down phenomenally. I am not looking at excelling at it - far from that, I am looking at just qualifying, which is quite enough for me. I have never aimed to obtain the Midas touch. Rather, the bed rock of my policy has been to focus my energies in those places where I can achieve maximum success and it has proven to be a successful strategy so far.

So, come Jan. 20, it will be a very boring three hours in front of a computer!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Welcome Revision

The decision of the Union Ministry of Railways, which controls the Indian Railways monopoly, to raise passenger fares across the board for the first time in a decade should be welcomed by all travelers who use the highly dilapidated, unclean and uncomfortable facilities that the massively-loss making organization has to offer. For the first time in a very long time, consumers can hope to see some improvement in the system.

Under the former TMC regime in the Ministry, the Railways continued to suffer greatly and the rate of accidents also rose to an alarming level. The Railways also entered into a host of non-core ventures in the name of 'social responsibility' that further pushed it to the point of ruin. As if that were not enough, when Dinesh Trivedi tried to  reform the presumably hopeless system, he was hounded out, making a total joke of the PM's authority in the Cabinet. To top it all off, the Railways tried to compete with its own hugely successful IRCTC, only to drop the idea in virtually no time.

The Railways in India, a crucial lifeline that serves as the veritable lifeline of the nation, has been reduced to a political tool. The way the fares were kept static despite even natural inflation shows just how much of populism has trumped simple economics. But you can never fool the economy and the fiscal deficit has finally forced the Government to act. Now, hopefully, steps will be taken to allow much higher private participation and improvement in delivery.

Last month, China launched a high-speed rail network that instantly became the talk of the world, even as Indian trains were running at delays to the tune of 5 days! This is the clearest indicator of how pathetic the system has become, how the 'social responsibility' rubbish has destroyed the Railways and just why India can never compete with China unless we take the economy seriously. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Bad Idea

The Puducherry Government has come up with a rather regressive idea of segregating girls and boys in school buses and adding a fresh layer of clothing to the girls' uniform to 'protect' them from being raped. Sadly, these measures will not improve the current condition of girls but will actually make it worse. Here's why.

The problem with rape, as several commentators have pointed out, is that it is not purely a law and order problem: it has a social aspect. And that aspect is equal treatment of women in society, which, in many ways, is actually antithetical to Indian culture. In order to change that, it is necessary to show boys from a very young age that girls are no less than them and there is no need to keep any false sense of superiority. For that, it is necessary for girls and boys to mix around and work together in teams right from school, where mindsets are changed. In a highly patriarchal setting at home, where the mother is expected to be the one to cook and clean (even if she is working), school is the first place where this mindset can be attacked.

Separating the two and forcing girls to wear an overcoat (and Puducherry is not exactly the coldest of places) will make them seem like some vulnerable, even outcast, lot right from the very start and this will serve to reinforce the patriarchal mindset, making matters even worse. In fact, girls and boys should not be separated but should be allowed to mix freely so that they learn to respect each other and see that they are not so different after all.

Unfortunately, moves like these speak volumes about how narrowly rape is still viewed in India. It is still seen as being about sex and nothing more, completely ignoring the social implications. Interestingly, the administration, while trying to justify itself, described how girls and boys sometimes get off together at a stop that is not theirs. This is actually the imposition of a moral code (the same moral code that is the root behind this whole mess, by the way) that seeks to make interaction between girls and boys totally taboo, which is a highly Taliban-like mindset and is counterproductive. It has nothing to do with stopping rape, it is simply an old mindset that refuses to acknowledge the real problem and also refuses to go away and let a younger generation take the lead.

Incidentally, some quarters have been criticizing the media for reporting so many rape cases, almost making the mind numb. While there may be a fair case that some media outlets are starting to sensationalize and even politicize rape, we must give the benefit of the doubt to the media. The older generation that still believes that keeping girls and boys separate from each other till marriage will solve anything should remember that rape has always happened in India, but it's only now that the media has helped bring it into focus. And that's a good thing. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Book Review: This Could be Us

Unaccustomed Earth
By Jhumpa Lahiri

'Diaspora' is a term that means different things to different generations. For the first generation to have emigrated from India to the US, it helps them reconnect to a past that is intricately woven into their hearts and minds and helps them make sense of who they are in an alien land. But to the second generation, it means an ethereal connection to a past they have little interest in and indeed, even a barrier between them and the country that they now call theirs. It is this clash of generations that serves as the cauldron from where Jhumpa Lahiri extracts her collection of shorts stories about the Indian Bengalir diaspora in Unaccustomed Earth.

But even before the first story begins, she explains the source of the unusual title as a quote from, quite appropriately, Nathaniel Hawthorne. And then we are taken on a riveting ride through Cambridge, Boston and other areas that Bengalis have called home. Families torn apart by the generation gap; young lovers forced to face each others past; stories of loss, stories of love, of grief: Lahiri delivers a magnificent potpourri of human life, as real as it gets.

Among the many good reads in the book, my personal favourite was the one about the contrasting lives of the siblings - one, a highly successful professional living a happy life in England, her proud parents spending their retirement years in Cambridge, MA. The other, an alcohol addict who runs away from home several times, fails to live up to any expectations that his family had from him, and ends up losing the love of the one person who had trusted him despite all odds - his sister. These two lives probably summarize the entire spectrum of the diaspora.

One facet of the book, especially Part 2, is that it must be read continuously, or at least in closely-spaced intervals. That is a wonderful style employed by few writers of short stories: to describe two individuals through short episodes and finally bring them together one last time. A beautiful book that will touch you. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The RSS is wrong

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's assertions about the divide between urban and rural India with respect to incidents of rape as well as his latest theory of 'social contract' are regressive, medieval concepts that have no place in a modern nation state whose Constitution puts gender equality as one of its areas of focus.

First, the silly assertion that rapes take place only in urban India. A report by Tehelka from Haryana shows just how caste-divisions and patriarchy set in stone in rural India are the lead cause of rapes there. Of course, an absolute failure of the law and order machinery helps too. With several newspaper reports about heinous rape and murder cases on Dalit women in Bihar and other largely rural states, it is clear that this assertion has no credibility. Rather, it once again takes us back to putting the blame of rape on the victim, which flies in the face of every principle of justice.

Now, this new assertion about some social contract is another example of the regressive mindset that the RSS is stuck in. It insists on keeping half the population behind closed doors and tries to undo the progress seen in the field of gender equality over the past decades particularly since 1991. It would not be surprising if the RSS started calling for women to be paid a lower wage to act as a deterrent to their 'stepping out of the home.'

Fortunately, the BJP has not endorsed these regressive comments, although it has not condemned there either. It is sad that such patriarchal mindsets continue to be so influential in our discourse, which themselves lie at the root of the rape epidemic in India. 

New Story: Empire in Exile


Centuries ago, in a land of knights and warriors, in a vassal state beholden to a mighty empire in the foothills, two princes were born. Destiny had crowned them twin successors to the vassal state, the hope of its people to restore its pride and subdue the conquering empire.

But destiny played a cruel joke on the princes and they were cursed to live separate, parallel lives forever. In a tale of treachery, alliances and cruel, crushing loss, the princes successfully unite the vassal state and the empire... but never return to their preordained destiny.

An autobiographical piece of fiction, Opinions 24x7 presents its first long story running through 2013, as we relive the tragic tale of the two princes and their Empire in Exile.

Empire in Exile
An OTFS Long Story
All through 2013

Friday, January 4, 2013

Human Depravity

In 1979, a sensational case rocked the nation when Sanjay and Geeta Chopra, young children of a Captain in the Indian Navy, were kidnapped and murdered in New Delhi. The accused, Jasbir Singh alias Billa and Kuljeet Singh alias Ranga, were tried and investigated for the crime and in the course of interrogation, it emerged that they had also raped the young girl.

A case that pushed the boundaries of medico-criminology and human conscience in India, OTFS now brings the case back to memory - a case that shamed a generation and is forgotten by the next. Until now. Reconstructed from the case archives, this documentary will take us on a journey to the end of two innocent lives, in the hope that it will never happen again.

State vs. Billa & Kuljeet
A Documentary
Coming Soon on Opinions 24x7

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Roorkee, Chilled

IMD reports that north India is in the midst of a severe coldwave, with Delhi recording its coldest day in 44 years and temperatures dropping to near-freezing not just in the Himalayan foothills but also in the desert state of Rajasthan. A mix of cold weather and fog have crippled train and flight services in the region as well.

From my experience, this is the coldest winter I have experience at IIT Roorkee. Usually, a coldwave dissipates in 5 or 6 days, but it has been a solid 8 days since the sun last came out in full glare - and even when it does, just for a few hours instead of several days. A characteristic of this season, and indeed a favourite for first-time students, is the mist that comes out of your mouth and nose when you talk or even breathe. Well, that is usually a feature observed in the early mornings or late evenings and the night. But of late, it's become an all-day affair, signalling just how deep this coldwave has gotten.

Among other consequences, washed clothes do not dry in this weather, which makes it a real challenge! The solution is to dry them indoors, using whatever space is available. Another issue is going out to meet friends - there is no public space in Roorkee where people can meet under a roof, which reflects the archaic midnset of the people who have been running this place. The solution is to meet in the ICC or MGCL, where you can talk, though not very loudly. And of course, in your own rooms, if you're of the same sex.

Finally, IITR continues to remain a backward institution with the euphemistic office of "Students' Welfare" which does nothing for the welfare of students, but everything against it. Heaters are still banned for students, although it's an open secret that half of them possess one. Watchmen use them openly and illegally, while the regal faculty is allowed to use them at home, in the chambers and any seminar room of their choice. Fortunately, the Placement Complex is fitted with heaters, so that companies are not sacred away by the cold.

In the recently-concluded Inter-IIT Sports Meet Roorkee 2012, all teams (except IITM) suffered from the cold, with only the IIT Mandi team actually having some experience. Chilling tale. 

Virtue

Submitted for Renaissance 2012-13, IIT Roorkee Saharanpur Campus


We wear a thousand masks, one each to suit the beholder.
And he is most loved, who is the greatest liar.

From the moment we are born to the day we meet our end, we are told what is right and what is wrong. Society has defined a variety of parameters by which we may judge ourselves and we take these to be undeniably true, declaring those who ignore it to be heretics. But if rationality is truly what sets apart humanity from other forms of life, then we must be prepared to question every assumption that we make.

Let me put it across through a question – what is virtue? We’ve been told that virtue lies in suppressing our own happiness for that of others, giving what is ours to society, and caring for everyone but ourselves. So powerful is this idea that we even have a word for it – humility. And those who fail to meet the standards of the virtuous are dubbed arrogant misfits, unable to ‘deal with’ the problems of life.

Well, I’d like to question those assumptions. Why exactly is working for your own happiness and contentment a bad thing? Because society says so? If society were the ultimate arbiter of what is right and what is not, then we would still believe that the Earth is the centre of the Universe. Because it does not help other people? So what – what makes it our duty to help other people, apart from society saying so? It is really worth a wonder as to how we have been conditioned to fulfilling the needs of society over and above our own.

Perhaps the greatest tool society uses to condition our minds is religion – after all, religion is that which teaches us that there is some airy super-something whose existence is defined by the inability to define it.   Religion asks us to set aside our rational mind and accept a set of moral standards faxed down from some castle in the sky. But what religion does not tell you is that the consequence of doing so is to surrender your own rational mind and turn yourself into the equivalent of a domesticated animal.
What then, is true virtue? Is it charity, or perhaps abstinence? No – all the definitions of virtue that we have been given ask us to disown our inherent rationality. What is the source of this rationality? The unending pursuit of happiness – because man, from the very moment of his birth, is a selfish being (and there is nothing wrong with it – that is how we are made). The desire of any person to be happy and pursue that path wherefrom he derives maximum pleasure is the source of rationality that has pushed us from the stone-age to today.

Therefore, what is true virtue? Arrogance – the supreme understanding that the only being capable of judging what is best for you is you yourself. For millennia, society has taught us that arrogance is a vice that repels people from you. Well, since when has popularity been the best judge of right and wrong? An arrogant person is one who loves himself more than he does society; it is a person who is confident that his ideas, his thoughts and his philosophy are right. And it has been a handful of such men who have dared to challenge society and pushed us into the glorious age that we take for granted today.

You might then ask – why is arrogance so disliked then? After all, if we owe our very way of life to it, why should we abhor it? The reason is again the selfish nature of man – but this a destructive one. Such men define their pursuit of happiness as the pursuit of unhappiness of the best around him. These are the parasites of the world, those who have defined a moral code that tells us to destroy the very best within us. These are the spiritual saints who have given us nothing more than a false sense of inferiority in the face of an undefined apparition.

It is this distinction which divides humanity – the arrogance of one man to pursue his own happiness versus the arrogance of another man to pursue the unhappiness of those much greater than him. It has been this constant tug-of-war that has defined the moral code that binds us today. And it is arrogance itself which can pull us back from the brink – we must be arrogant enough to refuse to accept the morals that we have been conditioned to accept. Not because we want to tell others that we are doing it, but because we want to. And such an arrogant man, I would call the very best of us.