The Ice Bucket Challenge: A Spectacle By Any Other Name…

Courtesy: cagle.com

Courtesy: cagle.com

Much ado has been made about the ongoing Ice Bucket challenge (IBC): an event in which a person voluntarily dunks a bucket of ice cold water on him/herself, tapes it, uploads it to the internet, dares 2-3 others to take the challenge, each of whom either take the challenge and/or donate $100 to the cause. The event has gone viral – which is to say tens of thousands have reportedly risen to the occasion, bombarded the internet with their videos that are being watched by scores of others. (I’m sure that even as I type this, someone, mostly likely a celebrity of some kind, somewhere is drenching him/herself in ice cold water.) The whole feat is apparently meant to spread awareness about a degenerative neurological disease that affects the brain and spinal cord and often results in death (It’s known in medical terminology as ALS – – read more about it here – and by lay people as Lou Gehrig’s disease after it affected a popular baseballer in 1939) but I doubt any of that is really happening.

Yes, I’m not a fan of the IBC at all  you guessed correctly. I feel that somewhere in this project, thought up by some clever folks and swallowed up by the herd, the medium is making a louder splash than the message.

Experience – empathise – act?

I’m not sure what the “founders” of the IBC were thinking, if at all they were thinking in the first place. Is the momentary hypothermia that sets in – that sharp drawing in of a short breath when icy water hits your body, which is at a warmer temperature – when you dump an icy bucket on yourself one of the many symptoms or effects of ALS? Is that why the founders wanted the challenge accepters to briefly experience what ALS feels like, feel empathy and take action? If that were the case, I would gladly bow in submission. But sadly there is no scientific link between the two. Coincidentally one of the founders died a week ago. Ironically, he drowned to death. Not in a bucket, but a harbour.

Bucket Half Empty or Half Full?

According to an organisation called the ALS Association 7 lakh new donors have been born out of this craze, some of whom have taken the challenge and donated money too. Over 40 million dollars at last count. Some would argue that means don’t matter if the ends are noble. But surely there are better ways to raise such money, ways that don’t indulge wastage of precious resources.

Food..rather..Iced Water for Thought

Source: WorldTruth.TV

Source: WorldTruth.TV

An new image just popped up on my news feed on Facebook. It juxtaposes a montage of Americans in the process of upturning an bucket of water on themselves, with one of an emaciated, parched African child slowly sipping a capful of water. If that doesn’t put things in perspective, what will!

Herd Mentality

Many celebrities have joined the bandwagon. The list is so long…it would be easier to just say who refused the challenge. US President Barack Obama for starters. He was dared by many, including teen pop star Justin Bieber, but politely refused to go through with the icy baptism. He instead chose to contribute monetarily. Baywatch star and animal rights activist Pamela Anderson also said no. But her refusal was more a mark of protest as ALS Association supports animal testing. I’m sure there are many more who probably refused but mainstream/corporate media coverage being what it is, I guess we’ll never know. Here’s a toast to those wise souls whoever they are.

Spoofing the Ice Bucket with the Ash Bucket

While the herd races to fill a bucket full of icy water, the spoofs can’t be far behind. Another image doing the rounds, although not so much, talks about something called the Ash bucket – deploying the same strategy but for a different cause. Politicians, bureaucrats, parliamentarians, business bigwigs dunking ash buckets on themselves and returning every cent of public money that they siphoned off to the state exchequer and daring 2 others to do the same. This the spoofers say will take care of all problems, including funding research to finding cures to terrible illnesses, like ALS! 

(Source unknown)

(Source unknown)

Now that’s a worthy cause, no?!

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AAP ki “Anarchy”

(Pic Courtesy: Hindu Business Line)

(Pic Courtesy: Hindu Business Line)

On the 28th of December 2013, one favourite ousted another to become Delhi’s Chief Minister. Riding high on the anti-incumbency wave, favourite number one (Arvind Kejriwal) vowed to set Delhi right with clean governance. The new common man government began with a series of crowd-pleasing moves like 24/7 austerity, for example. Kejriwal and his cabinet rejected the lal batti culture (red beacon vehicles for VIPs) associated with politicians and ministers. They also said no to elaborate security details, choosing to ride public transport like the men and women who gave them a near mandate. In the first 24 hours of being in office, this government had already proved it was different from that of favourite number two (Sheila Dikshit): one practiced symbolism and the other tokenism.  In my opinion, Sheila Dikshit was/is a remarkable leader but a prisoner of her paradigm. She is despite and because of the Congress and Delhi. Delhi is a city state, the capital of a 1.23 billion plus-strong nation as well as a Union Territory that is home to more than 1.68 crore people. What complicates the schizophrenia is the fact there are far too many agencies, too many turf wars about jurisdiction, too many masters. Development authority DDA and civic body MCD are always at loggerheads. Police is a state subject but, in Delhi’s case, the police come under the Centre. I’ve always believed that Sheila Dikshit and, for that matter, any other person in the CM’s shoes is limited by this unenviable order. Arvind Kejriwal too would suffer this limitation, only he has refused to. This is what the agitation in Delhi is about. What makes it unprecedented is the fact that it is the first time a serving chief minister is protesting on the streets against the police. Not just a day-long hunger strike. No, the full haul.

(Pic Courtesy: Reuters)

(Pic Courtesy: Reuters)

Last night Kejriwal with his trademark muffler wrapped up around his head camped out on the pavements of Delhi. I don’t know how he slept in the blinding glare of so many television OB vans and cameras trained on him. (I’m glad no inebriated Bollywood actor or scion of a business family was behind the wheels of a speeding luxury car in the area at the time.) Kejriwal has said he will not budge until the control of Delhi Police is handed from the Union Home Ministry to the Delhi government. (This comes after an incident in which two policemen were accused of dereliction of duty and the Kejriwal govt cannot suspend the officers in question without controlling the police.)

This spirit of protest has been lingering in Delhi for over two years. Outrage over the Dec 16 gang-rape incident added more fuel. And now it seems Delhi is like a room in which someone has left a gas stove on. Even the smallest lit match can trigger a massive blaze. There is nothing wrong with a blaze as long as it remains non-violent. This growing blaze is making the Congress-led union government uneasy. In a bid to quash the agitation, 4 metro stations (closest to the Prime Minister’s residence) have been shut and police has been deployed in full strength by the boss of the home ministry, a veteran Congress leader Sushil Kumar Shinde. To those who criticise the AAP-led agitation, one must point out that it is this (shutting down of metro stations) that is inconveniencing the public, not the agitation per se.

(Pic Courtesy: Economic Times)

(Pic Courtesy: Economic Times)

I like how Arvind Kejriwal has reclaimed the word “anarchy”, redefining it like everything else. In AAP’s lexicon, anarchy is street-style protesting that gives vent to legitimate public outrage which makes the powers-that-be uncomfortable. So, as per Kejriwal’s scheme of things, there are three kinds of anarchy: Congress anarchy, BJP anarchy and AAP anarchy. Suddenly anarchy has become cool. Young scribes are running to grab their dictionaries only to find unsatisfactory answers. Reporting on AAP and the Delhi govt will require re-examining the words used to describe the churning going on in Delhi and parts of India in a crucial election year.

As I reach this final paragraph of my blog entry, the ticker of a TV channel which is on in my room but running on mute is flashing “Breaking News: Centre gives in to AAP”. The Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi called Kejriwal and the latter called off the agitation at Rail Bhavan. The Metro Stations have re-opened and order has been restored.

While AAP claims victory and the BJP cries foul (making yet another allegation of a Cong-AAP conspiracy), it is too early for back-patting.

–       AAP’s latest agitation has brought the debate on the need for police reform back in focus. The need of the hour is to make police independent and accountable and not under this government or that.

–       Many in the political establishment, police and television studios were worried about what this now-called-off agitation in the heart of Delhi would do to Republic Day parade security and arrangements. The event is already a logistical nightmare, without a protesting chief minister staging a dharna. I was shocked to hear so many lamenting the disruption of a parade which, if nothing else, harks back to an imperial era. I wish more people would question the need for such a parade in the first place. India is one among just 36 countries that have a parade tradition. An unpopular, dated idea, wouldn’t you say?

Free Speech..But With Conditions?

A Sick, Sick Mindset

Ranjit Saha  (pic courtesy: ibnlive.com)

Ranjit Saha
(pic courtesy: ibnlive.com)

The head of India’s central investigative agency the CBI is at the centre of a new storm for making a despicable comment. Ranjit Saha is quoted as saying “If you can’t prevent rape, then enjoy it.” Such a comment is wrong on so many levels and for suggesting that a brutal act like rape can be enjoyed and that women can prevent it. (I googled the latter and found this startling page on Wikihow) Incidentally, one of the many people gunning for Saha’s head is Mamta Sharma, the chief of India’s National Commission for Women, who, in the aftermath of the July 2012 Guwahati Molestation case, suggested that women should be careful how they dress, alluding to clothes being a cause of rape!!)

The apex agency has been quick to douse the flames, hazarding to suggest that the rape comment was taken out of context. Fine. Then here is the context. The CBI head was speaking at a conference on corruption and making a case for legalisation of betting. He said betting in India should be legalised if it can’t be properly reined in. And then he inserted the rape analogy.

This was more than just a “poor choice of words”. It reflects a rather twisted mindset, one that trivialises a most brutal act. Suggesting that a woman must resign herself to enjoying an act that she gave no consent to is appalling and disgraceful. Making a comment like this at a time when the national capital is still simmering from the events of Dec 16 (the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman) is sheer stupidity and insensitivity. If this isn’t career harakiri then what is?

Many are calling for Saha to issue a public apology. Many more are calling for his ouster/resignation. But this is not the first time that an individual holding a state/public office has been caught on the wrong foot by making a sexist comment. It is high time that that the Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service, Indian Foreign Service among others make gender sensitivity a criteria for selection for all posts. This could be done by making all candidates take a Gender Sensitivity written test and appear for an interview at the time of recruitment.

Right to Free Speech* (*conditions apply)

It would be fair to say that a majority are asking for Saha’s apology or resignation or both. But a shrill minority on microblogging site Twitter are also asking the CBI chief to shut up. Simply because they do not like what he has to say. Does anyone else spot the irony of such comments being made in a free speech forum? I love to quote French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire’s response to Jean Jacques Rousseau at times like this: I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to death your right to say it. While some ask others to shut up (like in the CBI chief rape slur case), a few want individuals stripped of honours conferred earlier because they don’t like the tunes they now sing.

Lata Mangeshkar being conferred the Bharat Ratna in 2001 (pic courtesy: gaurav-kumar.tripod.com)

Lata Mangeshkar being conferred the Bharat Ratna in 2001 (pic courtesy: gaurav-kumar.tripod.com)

The Mumbai unit of the Congress party wants legendary songstress Lata Mangeshkar stripped of the Bharat Ratna- India’s highest civilian award – that was conferred upon her in 2001. Why? Because the 84 year old has endorsed Narendra Modi’s candidature for prime ministership. It is no secret that Modi’s rise as signalled by the crowds at various venues of his pan-India tour and constant media coverage is making the grand old party uncomfortable. But the Bharat Ratna is not for the Congress to politicise. Just like it wasn’t for the BJP to politicise (In July this year, newspaper editor and BJP MP Chandan Mitra demanded that noted economist Amartya Sen be stripped of his 1999 Bharat Ratna for saying he would not like to see Mr Modi as the next PM)

The right to the freedom of speech and expression is among 6 Fundamental Rights guaranteed by the Indian constitution to citizens. But these are subject to reasonable restrictions: public order, decency, morality and security of state. Lata Mangeshkar’s comments do not endanger any of these, except for offending the morality of a few touchy people in the Mumbai Congress. Her comments merely tell us which party she may be voting for, in order to see Modi become PM. These are no grounds to strip her of the Ratna, which was awarded for her exemplary contributions in the world of music…a fact that is not music to the Congress’ ears.

Modi’s Verbal Diarrhoea

M for Modi and M for mistakes (pic courtesy: ndtv.com)

M for Modi and M for mistakes
(pic courtesy: ndtv.com)

Now, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate is grabbing a great deal of air time on TV news and column space in national and regional dailies these days. And not without reason: One, for the things he says (bragging about Gujarat’s so-called development model, trading barbs with the shehezaada of the Congress’ first family) Two, for the things he doesn’t say (the Gujarat riots of 2002 and apologising for his alleged complicity in them) and three, the things he doesn’t mean to say but inevitably does: his bloopers with facts to do with history. (Lata Mangeshkar’s endorsement is most probably because of point one.) For me, it is only the third point that draws some vague interest.

Because in this day and age of excessive news and coverage, there is such a thing as over-exposure. The risk of the NaMo cracker burning out before the 2014 elections is real. In such a context, his series of history-related gaffes during rallies serve as humourous ad breaks in this age of 24/7 live television. But this could also be a sign of things to come, a spectre that haunts some like columnist Aakar Patel. He writes “It will be embarrassing, if he becomes prime minister, to have him in the same meeting as US President Barack Obama.” (Read Patel’s full column here )

Where is the Love: A tribute to Boston, Damascus

I happened to catch an old song playing on the radio today. A Black Eyed Peas number from a few years ago. I’ve heard the song loads of times before but never really listened to the words, except for the chorus line… Where Is The Love.

As I paid attention for a change today, I thought it was a befitting comment on the state of our world today. Terrorism in Damascus, in Boston, in Baghdad, hatred, violence and the loss of that feeling called humanity.

(picture courtesy: globalpost.com)

(picture courtesy: globalpost.com)

Thought I’d post the words here on my blog today. If you haven’t heard the song or paid attention before then read on.

What’s wrong with the world, mama
People livin’ like they ain’t got no mamas
I think the whole world addicted to the drama
Only attracted to things that’ll bring you trauma

Overseas, yeah, we try to stop terrorism
But we still got terrorists here livin’
In the USA, the big CIA
The Bloods and The Crips and the KKK

But if you only have love for your own race
Then you only leave space to discriminate
And to discriminate only generates hate
And when you hate then you’re bound to get irate, yeah

Madness is what you demonstrate
And that’s exactly how anger works and operates
Man, you gotta have love just to set it straight
Take control of your mind and meditate
Let your soul gravitate to the love, y’all, y’all

People killin’, people dyin’
Children hurt and you hear them cryin’
Can you practice what you preach
And would you turn the other cheek

Father, Father, Father help us
Send some guidance from above
‘Cause people got me, got me questionin’
Where is the love (Love)

It just ain’t the same, always unchanged
New days are strange, is the world insane
If love and peace are so strong
Why are there pieces of love that don’t belong

Nations droppin’ bombs
Chemical gasses fillin’ lungs of little ones
With ongoin’ sufferin’ as the youth die young
So ask yourself is the lovin’ really gone

So I could ask myself really what is goin’ wrong
In this world that we livin’ in people keep on givin’ in
Makin’ wrong decisions, only visions of them dividends
Not respectin’ each other, deny thy brother
A war is goin’ on but the reason’s undercover

The truth is kept secret, it’s swept under the rug
If you never know truth then you never know love
Where’s the love, y’all, come on (I don’t know)
Where’s the truth, y’all, come on (I don’t know)
Where’s the love, y’all

I feel the weight of the world on my shoulder
As I’m gettin’ older, y’all, people gets colder
Most of us only care about money makin’
Selfishness got us followin’ our wrong direction

Wrong information always shown by the media
Negative images is the main criteria
Infecting the young minds faster than bacteria
Kids wanna act like what they see in the cinema

Yo’, whatever happened to the values of humanity
Whatever happened to the fairness in equality
Instead of spreading love we’re spreading animosity
Lack of understanding, leading us away from unity

That’s the reason why sometimes I’m feelin’ under
That’s the reason why sometimes I’m feelin’ down
There’s no wonder why sometimes I’m feelin’ under
Gotta keep my faith alive till love is found
Now ask yourself

Where is the love?
Where is the love?
Where is the love?
Where is the love?

The World this Week: News Digest 1

In Nitish Kumar’s Boat

courtesy: neeraj bhushan

pic courtesy: neeraj bhushan

If there’s one politician whose dilemma the general public could share at the moment that would be Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of Bihar. Earlier this week Kumar spelt out in no uncertain terms that he would leave the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance if it kept projecting (albeit tacitly) saffron poster boy Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 general elections. He reiterated there would be no compromise on secular values. Before news pundits could even speculate on his options, Kumar also ruled out aligning with the Congress in Bihar, saying his party the Janata Dal (United) would not tie up with a corrupt party either. Now, secularism and clean governance are non-negotiables for Kumar (who is credited with single-handedly resurrecting Bihar and restoring the legitimacy of the state by practising these) just as they are for many voters like me. But while standing his ground for ethical and vote bank-related reasons may have earned him appreciation from many, that is not enough to help Kumar retain the numbers required for a third consecutive term in office. The dilemma for Nitish Kumar and many voters is this: If not the Congress or BJP, then who? With Arvind ‘Civil Society’ Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party still in its infancy and regional parties that talk about forming a Third Front sharing no common vision except to oust the big 2, one is left with a dearth of options. Quite ironic in a multi-party system. It’ll be interesting to see how Kumar negotiates the situation. Perhaps that will help guide voters as well. Otherwise, there’s always Rule 49-O.

Still in denial, 11 years on

pic courtesy: india tv news

pic courtesy: india tv news

Nitish Kumar’s nemesis Narendra Modi, meanwhile, has made a clever move. Offering up former aide and BJP leader Maya Kodnani as the proverbial lamb to the slaughter, the Modi-led Gujarat government is set to seek the death penalty for the former state minister for women & child development who is convicted for her role in the riots of 2002. This move is being seen as Modi’s bid to show that he too wants justice for the communal pogrom on his watch that left 2000 Muslims dead. The riots case is by far the biggest chink in Modi’s armour. Gujarat’s voters, Muslims included may have forgiven him and re-elected him as their Chief Minister for the third time. But outside Gujarat people are not only less forgiving but unwilling to forget. Modi has quickly realised that no amount of Sadbhavna missions, Google+ Hangouts and pan-India tours to interact with India’s masses and classes will completely wipe out the riots and his complicity in them (still unproven in court) from public memory. These may have earned him his third consecutive term in office, but being given a chance, a term as Prime Minister of the country is a whole other ball game. While he is still far from apologising and being punished by the law, I would like to ask Narendra Modi this: if he could rewind the clock to late-Feb and early March 11 years ago, would he have done things differently?

Dutt’s not the way, Bollywood!

pic courtesy: ibnlive.com

pic courtesy: ibnlive.com

Saif Ali Khan has dismissed the blackbuck hunting incident as a one-off misdemeanour blaming youthful recklessness at the time for the incident. The actor, who is among 5 other stars accused of the crime, says he is a changed man today, more than a decade on and wouldn’t ever commit such an act again. While the remorse is appreciated, a crime is a crime and pay he must! Stars and other VIPs who believe they’re being singled out when the law takes its course were crying themselves hoarse on social media this past fortnight. This after Bollywood’s bad ‘bhai’ Sanjay Dutt was sentenced to 5 years in jail for illegally possessing arms in the 1993 Bombay Riots case. Dutt too says he is repentant and a changed man and that he has suffered enough while the case hung over him for 20 years. It’s sad to see that the Bollywood fraternity that joined the chorus of Mumbaikars in the aftermath of 26/11- another terrorist attack- to demand justice by bringing the guilty to book, has double standards when it’s one of their own who is in the dock.

Condolences, Boston.

Terror struck in the heart of Boston on Monday night. I was at work when the news came in. The fact that the attack took place at the annual Boston Marathon – a target one least expected – killing 3 innocents and injuring scores of others – was a reminder that terrorism is a ruthless, indiscriminate beast.

pic courtesy: the huffington post

pic courtesy: the huffington post

As I watched US President Barack Obama shake his head in grief on TV and vow not to spare the bombers, I wondered whom the US would attack next in the name of avenging the killings. Where would the next set of drones be dispatched to, which suspected Al Qaeda/Taliban leader would be pulled out of a hidey hole in a tribal village in Pakistan’s northwest. You can’t wage a war on terrorism by bombing out nondescript villages in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. Fight terror by tackling its root causes: Poverty. Fight terrorism with Development.

The Italian Marines/Kerala fishermen killing case: Or How India Ended Up Looking Like An Idiot

(pic courtesy: Reuters)

(pic courtesy: Reuters)

The Italian marine duo accused of killing 2 Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala in February 2012 have pulled a fast one on not just India, but  its Supreme Court  as well. The pair was granted permission to go back to their home country, to vote in last month’s parliamentary elections, on the condition that they would return to continue facing trial after the 4-week period ended. But now they’ve  reneged on their word and, as the Italian Foreign Office simply puts it, won’t be returning to India. The worst fears of the Kerala state govt and the victims’ families who had opposed the sailors’ bail pleas have come true.

How could the Supreme Court not have seen this coming? At the risk of speaking out in contempt of court, what guarantees were sought to ensure that Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone would not go back on their word? In the SC’s defence, the two sailors had returned to India on 10  January 2013 after a Kerala court had allowed them to spend Christmas in Italy with their families. At the time, Italy had hailed the local court’s decision as one that confirmed the spirit of trust & cooperation between the two sides.

The Indian courts – Kerala and the apex one – have been more than magnanimous in this case, allowing the murder under-trials to go home twice- for a festival and to vote.  I have a problem with this sensitivity.
1. Since when are murder under-trials allowed privileges like family time for such things as festivals and to vote? I would have been sympathetic if they had been granted such relief on humanitarian grounds. For instance, a health emergency (a loved one on his/her death bed, or the sailor himself needing to avail of some life-saving medical treatment back home.)
2. If there’s nothing wrong with such allowances, why aren’t 2.5 lakh Indian nationals who are under trial & languishing in jail granted the same privileges on Eid/Diwali/Navroze/Christmas and during civic body/assembly/parliamentary elections in India?  This kind of favouritism towards foreigners in India is really shameful.  I doubt that Italy would have extended the same privileges to, let’s say Indian sailors who ‘accidentally’ fatally shot Italian fishermen presuming they were ‘pirates’ in ‘Italian territorial waters’.

3. Given that Rome had all along been seeking custody of its nationals by rejecting India’s jurisdiction in the matter (claiming that the unfortunate killings took place in international waters), how could the court have been so myopic and let the foreign nationals leave Indian soil? The fact that India does not have an extradition treaty with Italy only makes matters worse. (India had merely signed an extradition arrangement with Italy in 2003.)

The court’s blunder compounded with the the lack of an extradition treaty may have well sounded the death knell for the victims’ families’ fight for justice. For, now India will have to wage a battle for custody of the two sailors in order for the murder trial to go on. In the absence of the accused on Indian soil, the trial stands disrupted.

The courts have some explaining to do. And I hope the lawyers of the slain fishermen’s families pose these uncomfortable questions to the apex court.

Rahul Gandhi’s speech: Less substance, more spectacle

When Rahul Gandhi strode into Parliament today with sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in tow he made heads turn. The idea, was just that, to make heads turn. The Congress MP who otherwise tours villages as his grandfather Feroze Gandhi once did has been holding parleys with the PM and the Congress’ managers this past fortnight. But it took him 11 days to express concern about a 74 year old man’s health.

He took full advantage of zero hour to grab the spotlight. What he said wasn’t earth-shattering in any sense, even though he insisted on being the game changer. It represented a perspective, one of the many ideas floating within the ‘Congress’ which is now planning a counter-movement to undo the blunders made by the ‘government’ in the way it has handled the whole Lokpal issue and in particular, Anna’s anshan. I find it hard to believe in this case, that the party and the government aren’t the same thing and would like to believe that the noises that the Congress has now started making are just part of a face-saving and damage control exercise.

The truth is Rahul’s speech was nothing but a PR spectacle. Let’s just say if a less high-profile Congress MP had made the same point, his voice would have been drowned out by opposition MPs who have been reduced to sloganeers.

The speech was meant to communicate a larger point: who’s calling the shots in the party now that mum Sonia is away indefinitely. It was a culmination of Rahul’s arrival in the arena of high politics, starting with the Lokpal debate.

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