Archive for July, 2007

Times I Felt Like a Helpless Citizen

There are times when we all feel helpless in our personal and public roles in life. I felt acutely helpless when I came across these three recent phenomena.

The first incident that I am going to talk about is perhaps one that evoked nationwide fury and helplessness. Yes, you guessed it right—the increased OBC reservations quota that HRD Minister Arjun Singh proudly imposed on the reputed institutions of higher learning. Students from institutions like AIIMS and DU made huge protests and government did its best to rein in the protesters.

The media images of the protest, forwarded through various chain mails, seemed to be coming straight out of a current popular youth movie, Rang De Basanti. Remember the minister in Rang De Basanti who ordered beating of the protesters who were having a peaceful candle vigil at India Gate.

Reservation protests

 Reservation protests 2
 Media Images of Reservation Protests

27% reservations for OBC in higher institutions! Why do they not try to get OBCs in primary schools, there are millions of them who do not ever get to see the inside of a school. Why not start from the beginning such as primary education if the idea is to make education available to poorer and backward sections of the society? Why do they have to compromise on merit by denying opportunity to meritorious by offering coveted admissions in institutes like IIT or AIIMS based on caste? Why do reservations need to be caste based and not for economically backward and below poverty line (BPL) classes? Are not poor people from so-called upper castes like Brahmins, Baniyas, and Kshtriyas entitled to education? Questions that government refused to consider.

No PIL or RTI could work, as we silently we watched a democratic government dictatorially politicize education in the name of caste, there was nothing I, like other protesters, could do or say to stop it.

The second time I felt helpless was when sex education was banned in Mahrashtra on grounds that it corrupted young minds. I remember a dialogue from Subhash Ghai’s movie Pardes, where actor Apoorva Agnihotri concludes that Indians are biggest hypocrites. Everywhere there are separate queues for men and women. Too much segregation of sexes, stifling rhetoric about culture, yet this is country with a billion population, second highest in the world. Quite correct, Mr. Ghai! Young are experimenting with sex every day, the more you repress, and more inquisitive they get.

Look at the rate adolescent pregnancies and abortions are rising. AIDS and other STD menace are always looming over unsafe sex. But our government can not see this. Perhaps those sex education teacher manuals were bit explicit for sixth graders. But they were teacher’s manual, for heaven’s sake! If book was the problem, then government could have taken pains to hire instruction designers to create educational yet discreet textbooks/training programs for the young yet impressionable minds. Rather the state governments chose to adopt a regressive policy on sex education on the pretext of preventing young minds from corruption.

A look at MSNBC news headline made me cringe—“6 states in India ban sex ed to preserve culture.” Google your way and you can find more such headlines in the international media.

The third occasion when I cringed yet again was when the Jagnanath temple priests made a hue and cry about the entry of Paul Rodgier, a 55-year-old American Christian. The act seemed to defile the temple premises as the priest threw out the food they had prepared as offering to the goddess and temple “shudhikaran” was ordered. Think of the number of stomachs that such quantity of food could have filled. When it is religion that is being talked about, who would then think of minor things like hunger? Certainly not those pot-bellied priests who were enjoying their reign in illustrious temples of the country.

Poor American fellow was made to pay a fine of Rs. 209/- when he said he was unaware of such rules. I felt that I should personally go and apologize to Paul Rodgier. But it was not the first time this had happened. Thailand’s Crown Princess Sirindhorn, another American who had converted to Hinduism, and our own Indira Gandhi have been denied entry in the past. Shame on a religion that prevents mankind to connect with Gods.

There was another personal occasion when I was again helpless and enraged. It was when orkut was blocked in my organization. To be fair, my organization has flexible policies that have never infringed on an employee’s rights. Considering that we spent so much of our time working in our office, it made sense to take care of my banking, shopping, and traveling needs online. Because most of the banks, shops, or travel agents were gone by the time I reached home. I wonder how it would have been possible if I worked in organizations where all personal mails, calls, and other web sites were restricted or frowned upon.

As a responsible employee, I have never let my personal needs come in way of my work. Then why should work come in way of my personal needs. I think my organization understood this. Which is why I was more hurt and baffled to find that orkut was blocked because they believed some employees wasted their time orkuting! Scrapping sure didn’t stop me finishing my work on time, then why block it! Of course, several resourceful employees used alternate proxies or URLs to access orkut and the systems guys dutifully tracked and blocked those.

I was saddened at this cat and mouse game between the employees and systems guys. I thought as if my commitment to work was questioned. I was hurt. Not to mention that fact I never had time to browse through orkut to reunite with those school buddies whom orkut had discovered for me.

I worked helplessly till the hurt was forgotten. Yet it is milder hurt in contrast to my helplessness as an Indian citizen.

We Need A BIG Change—Law Enforcement

I have wanted to write about this ever since I started this “We need a BIG Change” series on my blog. However, I procrastinated writing due to my other responsibilities. But I could not put it off further.

Recently all the news channels were gaga about a lady who had to parade in her underwear on the Mumbai roads to register a complaint against her husband and in-laws. Apparently she had been harassed and sacked from her house by her in-laws for not being able to give birth to a male heir. She had been unsuccessfully trying to register her complaint in the local police thana. Our police, corrupt to the tee, reused to entertain her till she made this desperate attempt to garner support by walking nude on the roads.

We might feel sorry for her and redden with anger. But feeling sorry and wasting our anger is not enough, it is time for us to sit up and act to change this. This is not a stray incident; rather this is a story that has had heightened impact due to desperate measures taken by a woman in distress. Remember Nithari serial killings?

It took Nand Lal, whose complaint disclosed Nithari killings to the world, about five months and a court’s order to register a FIR of his 20-year-old daughter, Payal, who went missing in May 2006. Read Tehelka’s eye-opening account of how Nand Lal got his FIR registered. This does not include those countless poor villagers who had gone to police station to report their missing kids. They were callously told by these police officers that their kids had eloped or ran away from them. How can a city’s police be so corrupt and irresponsible? Could they not decipher the pattern when so many children from the same village went missing? Let alone actively handle the matter, they did not bother to register a FIR until a court’s order forced them to 5 months later!

Almost a year later, what’s the update on Nithari killers? None! It is common knowledge that the police officers were corrupt. Some of them were suspended, after a long CBI probe that hogged the daily headlines, we are still nowhere to punishing the serial killers who committed such heinous crimes.

These are not the only instances when police has refused to act and register a FIR. Few days back, when a drunk call centre employee ran over two kids. I can not forget the tearful father’s words on television, “Mein apno bachchon ko dafna bhi nahin paya, jab tak ki us bande (accused) kijamant bhi ho gayi!” Before he could cremate his children, accused had walked free on bail!

Neither would police register his complaint were it not for the media intervention in wake of current surge in drunken driving incidents. Watch this IBN video to know what this grieved father has got to say about the treatment meted out to him by police.

If you think such a phenomenon of not registering FIRs is confined to rural people or other lower strata of society, you can think again. A Delhi businessman had to first bribe the police to register a Fir for his stolen car. Long ago, when I was still at college I had faced a similar situation without being aware that it was not right.

My mobile phone was stolen, I went to lodge a complaint in the police station. It was all the more necessary to furnish the copy of FIR as I wanted my telephone operator to provide me a new sim card to retain the same number. Little did I know that the police officials would not let me write that my phone was “stolen.” When I argued, they slyly suggested to write my phone was “missing!” As if my phone walked away or disappeared like a genie! I complied, but regretted recently when I saw Samajwadi party’s advertisement. It was then I understood the significance of writing “missing” reports.

Registering “missing” reports instead of FIR for “stolen” goods helps our law enforcement officials to keep crime rate stats low. No wonder Samajwadi party could boast of low crime rate in crime-ridden UP!

Let’s campaign for the rights of the weak! Let’s knock the courts whenever met with unfairness and unlawfulness! Let’s pitch in for the cause of others or some day we might be standing in place of them.

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Visceral Observations is written by Poonam Sharma. It is licensed to her under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License
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July 2007