Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Umar Bhar Befikar!

Most of us live our lives worrying. Worry about family, work, money and what not. Our lives are often spent doing what we do not want to do but must do because of external compulsions. Thus,  IDBI Federal Life Insurance Company's new tagline Befikar Umar Bhar appeals instantly.

You can checkout the entire advertisement here - 

I cannot help but imagine what would be the things that I would do if I was Befikar Umar Bhar! A whole wide world is literally open to the person who does not have to worry about money and time. So these are the top five things that I would do!

1. Around the World in 80 days 
I absolutely love reading. Commercial Fiction, Literary Fiction, Non Fiction, Comics, Newspapers, Magazines, I read anything and everything that I can get my hands on! However, if there is something I like more, that thing can only be travelling. So when I am befikar umar bhar I shall combine both and retrace the steps of the protagonist of Jules Verne's timeless classic, 'Around the World in 80 days'. I shall take the exact same path he took and try to use the same modes of transport. Whether I shall have the same number of adventures, now that remains to be seen...
Around the World in 80 Days Route
Source : Wikimedia Commons

2. Get myself a Batmobile 
I love the feeling of the wind blowing in my face when I ride any motorcycle. And in motorcycles what can be more top of the range than a Batmobile? I shall commission some top engineers to build me a fully functional Batmobile! Why? Have you seen the thing? 

3. Learn Cocoa Farming in Ghana
One of the problems of the above mentioned itenary of Around the World in 80 Days is that it does not let me explore the African Continent. Jules Verne's hero just made one African stop. Cairo. I however, would like to see more and learn something while I explore Africa.

I have had chocolates from India, Singapore, Malaysia, Switzerland, USA, Belgium and many other countries. I can probably name fifty chocolate brands! However, I realise that I know way too little about the chief ingredient of chocolate, the Cocoa nut! So I would go to see and learn Cocoa Farming in Ghana for a couple of years while I take occasional tours and safaris to other parts of Africa.

Cocoa Pods
Source : Wikimedia Commons
4. Travel on a Cruise from Mumbai to Singapore
I have lived almost my entire life on two islands, Mumbai and Singapore. However, I have never travelled from one place to other by an ocean liner. I would love to go visit my friends in Singapore and enjoy the luxury of a cruise ship while I am on the way! A different cuisine for each meal, sea view throughout the journey and rounds of games to kill time! Or perhaps, I may just buy a cruise ship!

A cruise ship!
Source : Wikimedia Commons

5. Open a Free Legal Aid Clinic
My hero, Batman uses all his wealth and time for a good cause and so shall I. I shall buy a huge house next to the seaside somewhere along Maharashtra's Konkan coast to act as my home and office. There I shall run a free legal aid clinic offering my services as a lawyer to the poor and underprivileged who do not have the means or the awareness and knowledge to resort to legal remedies for their problems. I shall also spread awareness about consumer law so that no one is cheated by vendors. I shall ensure that no poor accused goes undefended and neither the government nor any well off individuals or organisations in the society deprive the aam admi of his legal rights. I shall try to ensure that justice is done. 

This is what I would do if I was #BefikarUmarBhar! Read more about IDBI Fedral's campaign here - http://bit.ly/BefikarUmarBhar 

This post was a part of Indiblogger's Happy Hours Contest!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Real Heroes Of The Republic Day Parade

This post was first published at Huffington Post India on 04/02/2015.

Doordarshan's Republic Day Parade broadcast gave us much background information regarding our gallantry award winners but it forgot to focus on some other heroes at Rajpath - the viewing public who managed the awe-inspiring feat of procuring the parade tickets. Here's the story of what it takes to make it to Rajpath on 26 January.

Having a quiz to attend in Delhi on 22 and 23 January, I spotted an opportunity to extend my stay and watch the Republic Day Parade live at Rajpath. When I asked around for the procedure to get a ticket, I soon realised that the only advice that everyone (even the otherwise loquacious breed of Delhiites) had was to get a pass by contacting influential bureaucrats. I was often told, "Ticket line se nahi, pehchan se milti hai (You get tickets not from a queue but through contacts)."
Though I discreetly enquired of my friends if they knew these pass-bearing influential persons, I refused to believe that this underhanded method could be the only feasible way to obtain passes. I searched the internet to find out how I could lay my hands on the tickets being sold to the public at large.
The Press Information Bureau had no useful release regarding the sale of 2015 R-Day Parade tickets. The only available press release merely stated that tickets are still available at the "designated sale counters" without any mention of where these were.Media articles were just as vague.
Finally I thought I had struck gold when I found a 2007 press release detailing the locations where the tickets were available. However, when I turned up at the Gandhi Ashram in Chandni Chowk (which isn't really an ashram at all but a khadi store) I was told that the press release I was relying upon was hopelessly outdated and that no tickets were available there. The store attendants suggested that we go to the government's tourist office at 88 Janpath.
Having wasted my time once, I decided to call the tourist office at Janpath only to discover that the Delhi Tourism website lists only a seven-digit phone number for its Janpath office which is obviously an incomplete number and cannot be dialled.
Hearing from a friend that tickets are usually available at Parliament House, I dialled the reception where the very helpful receptionist explained to me that the Ministry of Defence personnel selling the tickets had shut shop and left an hour early as 23 January was the last day of sale there.
Hearing my side of this phone conversation, a helpful aam admi on the metro informed me that tickets were being sold at Pragati Maidan. Upon reaching Pragati Maidan Gate No. 1 the next afternoon (after being thoroughly fleeced by auto drivers) I was delighted to at least see a ticket sale counter in existence. The joy was short lived though, since the official manning the counter told me that the daily quota of Republic Day parade tickets was sold out and that I could only buy tickets for the Beating Retreat programme. He asked me to return at 8am the next morning (25 January) to buy the coveted Rs 300 tickets which apparently give one the right to reserved seating. What I did not know was that he had left out some key details.
The next morning, I braved the freezing weather (at least to my Mumbai body) and made it to the Pragati Maidan counter at 8.15am only to find a long queue of at least 50 well-equipped ticket seekers laughing at the sorry figure I cut. I had neither a warm jacket or hat nor the required documentation. The kind souls in the queue told me that the guy at the counter was issuing the reserved tickets only to those who had a photocopy of an identity card. So I walked for 1 ½ km each way and returned with a photocopy of my driving license. It was 9am by then and the counter was still not open. While I was wondering why the person at the counter didn't tell me the ID card requirement the previous day, the people around me had even more surprising details to share. On an average it was the second or third purchase attempt for everybody in the line. I was also told that even upon having ID, a person could buy only one reserved ticket meaning that I would not be able to purchase any for my quiz partners who were patriotic enough to want to watch the Parade live but not enough to go hunting for tickets.
While we were waiting for the counter to open, Delhi Traffic Police and CRPF personnel made their appearance in large numbers and briskly informed us that the counter would not open until 1pm and that we had to clear the area in an hour. When half an hour passed without anyone believing the police, the cops could be heard murmuring to anyone who asked them "Please chale jiye warna danda marke bhagana padega (Please leave otherwise we may have to chase you away with sticks)."

When clearing the sidewalks of the road which the American President plans to take to Raj Ghat takes precedence over selling Republic Day tickets to patriotic Indians, that is the point when you realise how apt the tourism slogan is. India is truly incredible.
Upon the police officer's suggestion, I decided to try my luck at Jantar Mantar where apparently the second of these mysterious ticket sale counters was located. I stopped enroute in Connaught Place to grab brunch and buy a sweater. The mission to acquire tickets was taking significantly longer than I expected it to.
As I walked towards Jantar Mantar, I could barely see its entrance or the ticket counter. All I could see was a mass of humanity, certainly numbering in the hundreds, in what might (or might not) pass for a queue. I dutifully joined it. However after the queue did not move for a few minutes, I decided to investigate. I was surprised to discover that a couple of hundred people had been queuing for two hours on the vague promise that more tickets might arrive soon. I was wondering whether to join this hopeful exercise when the Indian bureaucracy threw its final and fatal hurdle in my path. At the counter there was a small notice which stated, "Only Aadhaar Card and Election Card shall be accepted as ID proof." Since the only identity document that I was carrying to Delhi was a driving license, I finally admitted defeat in the face of these arbitrary and ever-changing ticket requirements.
I am trying to convince myself that I did not miss much since the gods literally rained on our parade. However, I can't shake of the feeling that a celebration to commemorate the day when we adopted the ideal of equality as a nation should not just be available to the elite with contacts. The ticket sale process definitely needs to be made transparent and publicised, if not reformed and opened to people apart from Delhiites with enough free time to decipher the maze of designated counters.


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Of Suicides and Protests

This post was first published at Huffington Post India on 18/12/2015.

The Minister of State for Home Affairs, Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary announced in the Parliament on Wednesday that the central government is planning to give effect to the 210th Report of the Law Commission of India by decriminalising 'attempt to commit suicide'. This decision shall undoubtedly be controversial since many believe that section 309 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalises 'attempt to commit suicide' is infact a provision that helps to uphold the dignity of life since it discourages taking of one's own life. While there already are debates raging regarding the morality of the move, the ramifications of the move on the culture of suicides during agitations and protests in India seem to have been ignored.

Hungerstrikes and Self Immolations
Ever since the pre-independence era, a 'fast-onto-death' has been a popular tool of protesting government actions and demanding a roll back. More violent protesters have also adopted the method of attempting self-immolation to draw attention to their demands.

Such protests are infact frighteningly common in India. Just over the past two years, there have been self-immolations for issues ranging from Telangana agitation, protest against the visit of Chinese President and even to protest the conviction of Jayalalitha, CM of Tamil Nadu.

Government decision shall render the police helpless
Most of such self-immolation protests lead to unnecessary deaths of misguided youth and rarely if ever achieve any significant objectives. The police forces' most preferred way of getting rid of such protestors is to simply arrest them for 'attempt to commit suicide' when the police get winds of their plans to self-immolate. Following the move to decriminalise it, this tool shall be no longer available to the police.

Due to the decriminalisation of suicide, the police are going to be deprived of their power to stop such protests. Police shall also not be able to prevent death of non-violent actitivists during the course of hunger-strikes and fasts-onto-death with such events only leading to further law and order problems sparked by outrage amongst the dead activists' supporters.

The Iron Lady of Manipur
The greatest impact of this shall probably be seen in Manipur where Irom Sharmila has been on a hunger-strike for ten long years. The Rabindranath Tagore Peace Prize winning activist began a fast on 2nd November 2000, when Assam Rifles personnel killed ten civilians at a bus stop in Malom, Manipur. Her demand is that Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) -- a law that in effect provides military and para-military forces immunity from prosecution for their actions -- be repealed. She was arrested for attempting to commit suicide a mere 3 days after her protest began and has been force fed by the police ever since. She is arrested for the same offence again when she continues her hunger-strike even after being released every time at the end of her one year sentence.

The government should be prepared for a volatile situation in Manipur if 'attempt to commit suicide' is decriminalised because the Iron Lady has made it clear that she would rather die than give up her cause. The death of such a prominent activist shall promptly bring the issue of Manipur and AFSPA into ever sharper focus and is likely to lead to much unrest.

Thus while the government decision to decriminalise 'attempt to suicide' is rightly being studied from a moral and philosophical perspective, it would also be wise to analyse its implications from a practical standpoint of powers of police in relation to protests and agitations. It shall be an undoubtedly regressive move if it completely takes away the powers of the police to prevent unnecessary deaths and the government should find a way around this problem before going ahead with decriminalisation of 'attempt to commit suicide'.