Will Humans Turn Better Post-Pandemic?

Nonetheless, he knew that the tale he had to tell could not be one of a final victory. It could be only the record of what had had to be done, and what assuredly would have to be done again in the never-ending fight against terror and its relentless onslaughts…. And, indeed, as he listened to the cries of joy rising from the town, he knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen chests; and that perhaps it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.

The End, The Plague, Albert Camus, 1947

The city of Oran. All real cities are mythical and vice versa. In a moment they can cease to exist, even while it takes decades to build them and inject them with dreams and insomnia. It can just take a war or an epidemic to eliminate the city, except in memory.

The city of Oran, a port city in the northwest Algeria on which Camus based this epical short novel on the cholera epidemic that killed most of Oran’s population in 1849 following French colonization. The novel is located in the time and space of the 1940s, with fascism looming large as a sinister but inevitable shadow over Europe.

Have you seen Warsaw’s memory in its own self-consciousness? The entire city ravaged to the ground by the fascists, 50,000 valiant Polish soldiers and civilians martyred, yet again a great betrayal by Stalin with the Red Army just across the border on the war map. And the entire Jewish quarter of 500,000 citizens, ghettoized, isolated and quarantined, then eventually transported to the death camps and gas chambers of Adolf Hitler’s Holocaust.

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Warsaw, mutiliated and brutalised, like a distorted and abstract sculpture in a black and white picture turning sepia – almost like Aleppo in modern Syria, its fate worse than that of Warsaw.

Have we learnt anything from history, really? Has human civilization, with its missiles, nuclear bombs and weapons of mass destruction, its great scientific achievements, if not savvy hi-tech super power monopolies, picked up threads and clues from the crossword puzzles of its battered history?

Two world wars, one Holocaust, new maps and mappings drawn with blood across vast terrains of unnumbered human graveyards of utter silence, as in Bosnia-Herzegovina and around its borders; thousands of massacres, including state-sponsored genocides, destruction of entire civilizations, geographies, cultures and human settlements, libraries, museums, universities, schools and art galleries in the Middle-east led by the neo-con American war machine propelled by Samuel Huntington’s dubious thesis of the ‘clash of civilizations’.

That is, the American arms and culture industry constantly looking for a new enemy, from James Bond to George Bush and Dick Cheney, even Barack Obama. This has become an art form and a con game, including in pulp fiction Hollywood, constantly looking for ‘blood for oil’ and new macabre theatres to enact its grotesque and cold-blooded orchestra through its war machine.

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Prophets and mushy bestseller ‘thinkers’, masters of kitsch and master-minds of eternal conformism, are already predicting a rosy picture, willfully choosing to ignore the bitter realism of contemporary global society in its multipolar methods of madness. Some of them will soon find themselves glorified as the 20 most powerful ‘thinkers’ on glossy covers of sanitized magazines, adorning the coffee  tables of the insulated rich and famous. One of them, among others, are predicting the usual kitsch: that now the world will become more reflective and introspective, people will read good books, listen to classical music, rethink their positions on urbanity, modernity, global warming and ecology, become less selfish, more humane, less individualistic, more collective, that they will demand peace, not war, equality not the vast disparity which is entrenched now, justice not injustice, knowledge not mediocrity. That the pandemic would teach the global civilization to be more heteregenous, less one-dimensional, dogmatic and shallow, less ultra-nationalistic and more do with humility, softer and sensuous sensibilities sans borders.

That, basically, we will all become better human beings.

I presume these prophets should just pick up a seminal book, and written not by a Marxist, prescribed in every social science course in all sensible universities: The Theory of the Leisure Class, first published in 1899. If you reinterpret its theory it will be as simple as this: So why do rich people spend such exorbitant sums of money eating food in luxury hotels? Because: it is not simply food, it is the ambience of the fancy interiors, the manifest prosperity  of a shared class position, the insatiability of desire whereby one desire can only replace another, the assertion of the status quo.

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So what would a bunch of poor, homeless, hungry people and kids, looking through the glass of this luxurious piece of grand architecture, think about it all: they will reproduce their own emaciated identities, their marginalized helplessness, their abysmal human condition, their own abject absence of humanity, and, above all, their own class position, in this “feudal-barbaric” contradiction of brazen human inequality.

It is one ambience versus another ambience, one history versus another, one country versus another country – with the glass wall as the line of actual control. Check out the contrast between those who live in high-rise buildings and those who are walking down below, migrant workers, often barefoot, with sacks on their heads, as if in a funeral procession driven by death wish.

Writes Jorge Luis Borges (Selected Non-Fictions), “In this book from 1899, Veblen discovers and defines the leisure class, whose strange obligations is the ostentatious spending of money. Thus they live in a certain neighbourhood because that neighbourhood is famous for being the most expensive. Liebermann or Picasso charge huge sums, not because they are greedy, but rather so as not to disappoint the buyers, whose intention is to demonstrate that they are able to pay for a canvas that bears the painter’s signature. According to to Veblen, the success of golf is due to the circumstances that it requires a great deal of land…”

So, will human civilization become better post-pandemic? There is no reason to believe in this hyper-optimism.

In contrast, due to the depression/recession, the supply and demand chain will become more  perverse and anarchic, the economic slump will lead to a rapid onslaught of the greed and profit machine, States will become more repressive and clampdowns might follow, surveillance will become the new normal, the arms industry will come back with a bang looking for new terrains to create many more Warsaws and Aleppos, the pharma and drugs industry will tighten and expand its jaws with new regulations, trafficking would increase, including sex trafficking and slave trafficking, refugees and boat people will cross unmanned boundaries on turbulent oceans and the sea, and the ‘reconstruction industry’ so parasitic and intrinsic to the war industry, will once again flourish in the conflict zones.

In two sentences, the world will become starkly more short, nasty and brutish, more and more Hobbesian, and it will simply come back to do what it has been doing all this while. The pandemic will be just another flash in the pan, reinforcing old, clichéd and inevitable stereotypes, in more vicious and diabolical forms.

However, the virus will remain. Inside the political and social unconscious of human society, in the expressways of forced migrations and lockdowns, in the soul of our pathetic civilizations, inside the skin of the eyes and nails, between the fingers and eyelids, buried inside ironed clothes in cupboards and trunks, and inside the pages of history. Like the last page of The Plague by Albert Camus.

How Tiny Finland Is Combating Corona Pandemic

(The author is based in Vaasa, a city on the west coast of Finland)

At the time India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was announcing a complete curfew-like lockdown of the country—1.3 billion people are not allowed to step out of their homes for 21 days—up in the Nordics, Finland’s government, a coalition of five parties, headed by Prime Minister Sanna Marin, 34, and her cabinet of mainly young women ministers were huddled together to discuss how to go about locking down Uusimaa, a southern province that, including the capital city of Helsinki, is home to 1.68 million Finns. That number might seem like a drop in the context of India’s vast ocean of people but compared to Finland’s population of 5.5 million, it’s a sizeable chunk.

Uusimaa is the worst affected province in the raging spread of the pandemic Coronavirus (COVID-19) and accounts for an estimated two-thirds of the total of 915 cases (at the time of writing) and five deaths. At an all-party meeting, Marin and her cabinet debated whether shutting down Uusimaa would impinge on the deep freedom, independence and autonomy that Finns have constitutional rights to. The negotiation took time and then, after nearly three days, the Finnish Parliament approved the requisite changes in the law to enable the lockdown for a period of three weeks.

ALSO READ: Life In Quarantine Can Be Aweful

Finland treasures the rights of its people and its democracy is driven by consensus among parties ranging from leftists to centrists to right wingers. The good thing is at the time of national crises, these ideologically opposed parties manage to bury their differences and come together for the greater good of the people. The Coronavirus’ spread, like anywhere else in the world, has been an unprecedented crisis in tiny Finland. But a quick resolve to take measures has borne some fruit. The spread of the virus, at least till date, has been limited to some of its 19 provinces, while others have been largely spared its onslaught.

Yet, the measures have been effective. People have been advised to socially distance themselves; not gather in crowds of more than 10; avoid public places and restaurants and bars (most of which have been shut down); and stick scrupulously to personal hygiene such as frequent washing of hands. Self-isolation and quarantine for citizens coming back from abroad has been recommended and are largely voluntarily being followed strictly. In Finland’s cities—small as well as big ones—you see hardly any people on the streets but shops are stocked with food and other essentials. In the initial weeks, some panic had set in (not unlike in many other places in the world) and people were frenetically shopping for food, toilet paper and other items of daily use. But once they realised that supplies were not going to disappear that panic abated.

WATCH: Is India Ready To Battle Covid-19?

Finland and India can never be compared. Besides their incomparable sizes of population, Finland is a rich country. Per capita income (in terms of purchasing price parity) in Finland is over US$45,700; India’s is 7,060. Finland’s free universal healthcare, free education, and social security system is among the world’s best. And, to boot, in the past two years, the country has ranked as the happiest nation in the world in a survey that is adjudged as credible. But then Finland is also a scarcely populated country: 19 people per square kilometre; contrast that with India’s 420 inhabitants per square kilometre. Also, that average figure is weighted by the cities. The fact is that nearly 74% of Finland is under forests.

Such demographic advantages help when a crisis such as Coronavirus hits. Finnish hospitals and health-care centres are well-equipped. Food supplies are adequate and there is, at least till now, no reason to fear a collapse of those essential services. Statistical models suggest that in the next four to six months the virus could mean that 11-15,000 Finns could be hospitalised, but the authorities are trying to take measures to stagger the possible spread so that it would ensure that no more than 900 people. The Uusimaa lockdown is a step in that direction.

Like in many other countries, the Finnish army is also on standby. Finland has compulsory conscription for young men (for women it is voluntary) and if needed conscripts and other trained personnel could be summoned to help in the containment measure that the virus’ spread would require. An example of the quick response: as soon as the death toll and incidence of infections increased, the government swiftly doubled the healthcare system’s intensive care facility.

But there are other scares. The virus scourge could contract the nation’s economy by 5%. Finland has a GDP of US$ 251.9 billion that has been growing at an average of just under 3%. But the virus’ impact has already cost 100,000 jobs and that puts pressure on the social security net. Moreover, it is vastly different from India in terms of its population distribution by age: the average age of its population is 42.5 years (in India it is 26.5) and 1.2 million of its 5.5 million population is above 65. As many as 1.46 million Finns are entitled to pensions. Already, the Finnish Pension Alliance, Tela, has said that the coronavirus-related fall in the markets has wiped out Euro 20 to 30 billion off pension firms’ investments. This could put pressure on sovereign debt and also perhaps affect people’s individual budgets.

The coronavirus’ impact in Finland (as in the rest of the world) could impact its economy and its citizens for a prolonged period even after the pandemic subsides. A couple of days back the Finnish government announced a Euro 15 billion package to prop up the economy by helping businesses and individuals and this could adversely affect state debt. But as Prime Minister Marin said that was a secondary consideration. “We are not thinking primarily of how much additional debt the state will have to take on,” she said.

Who Is Next On BJP’s Radar?

Forget the Congress and Jyotiraditya Scindia drama. The Congress already seems to be in political ICU facing last rites having been crushed by BJP’s Congress-Mukt campaign. The next on the BJP’s predatory game are the regional parties. There is much nervous ness within the smaller regional parties as loyalties among their members are being tested.  

The members of the smaller parties are easier to “manage” and more susceptible to allurements and pressure tactics generally employed to “win” over vulnerable opponents. The saffron party made a beginning in this direction last year when four MPs from the Telugu Desam Party and three from the Samajwadi Party switched loyalties to the BJP. However, the regional parties can expect to feel the heat once the BJP leadership is satisfied that it has succeeded in its mission of decimating the Congress.

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The immediate provocation for engineering these defections is to push up the BJP’s tally in the Rajya Sabha where it does not have a majority. At the same time, the saffron party is also busy toppling state governments as it did in Karnataka last year and is currently in the process of bringing down the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh. 

The BJP felt cheated when it was prevented from coming to power in Karnataka in 2018 when the Congress and the Janata Dal (S) teamed up to form the government. The BJP had since then been waiting for an opportunity to get back at the Congress-JD(S) combine. It eventually met with success last year when sixteen MLAs from the Congress and the JD (S) resigned and crossed over to the BJP, enabling it to form the government in the Southern state.

In Madhya Pradesh, the drama unfolded when former Congress minister Jyotiraditya Scindia decided to switch sides when he found himself being sidelined by his party rivals – chief minister Kamal Nath and senior leader Digvijaya Singh. Denied political space in his home state and a Rajya Sabha seat by the Congress, Scindia chose to walk out along with his supporters. Sixteen Congress MLAs have sent in their resignations and were airlifted by the BJP to Bengaluru where they have been sequestered in a luxury resort.

ALSO READ: Rahul’s Return To Cong Will Harm Party

At the same time, the Congress is facing trouble in Gujarat where five MLAs have put in their papers, jeopardizing the party’s chances of winning two Rajya Sabha seats in the March 26 election. The Congress has since been struggling to keep its remaining legislators safe.

These developments are predictably being followed closely by the regional parties which realise that they are next on the BJP’s hit list. The Samajwadi Party and the Telugu Desam Party have already lost seven MPs to the saffron party and they don’t know what awaits them in the coming days. With West Bengal assembly polls due next year, the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress has reason to worry. As it is, a number of Trinamool members had crossed over to the BJP in the run-up to last year’s Lok Sabha election and the party has every reason to believe the BJP will pull out all stops to weaken Mamata Banerjee before the assembly polls.

Moreover, regional parties feel that the weakening of the Congress and the emergence of a unipolar polity will hit them hard. Although these parties have been battling the Congress in their respective states, there is also a realization that if the grand old party faces extinction, the possibility of putting together an anti-BJP opposition front will become more difficult. Any such grouping necessarily needs the Congress to anchor it. However, if the Congress is rendered incapable of playing that role, it will become so much more difficult for the regional parties to mount a combined offensive against the all-powerful BJP because there will be no nucleus around which the parties can coalesce.

And this will make the regional parties more vulnerable to the BJP’s predatory moves. These parties will then have a choice of playing second fiddle to the BJP or facing erosion in its ranks. This situation suits the BJP as its leaders privately admit that they find it easier to deal with regional parties because they are “ideologically flexible” and purely focused on the interests of their respective states. Consequently, they can be co-opted with the lure of Central grants and special projects as regional leaders are made to realise the benefits of keeping the Centre on their right side. Odisha and Andhra Pradesh chief ministers Naveen Patnaik and Jagan Mohan Reddy have understood this well as their parties extend full support to the Modi government and are not inclined to rock the boat at the Centre.

Regional parties, especially the smaller ones, often stand to lose their identity and their political space if they throw their lot with the larger national party. The Uttar Pradesh-based Apna Dal is a case in point. The BJP wooed the party and even gave a ministerial berth to its leader Anupriya Patel in order to get the support of the Patels in the electorally-important Hindi heartland state of Uttar Pradesh. But now that the Patels have shown a preference for the saffron party, Apna Dal and Patel now find themselves sidelined in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.

From all accounts, it appears the regional parties face tough times ahead. BJP the predator is on the hunt and they appear to be easy game after Congress.

Raze, Rebuild, Repeat

At a distance from India’s current political discord and economic slowdown, but inevitably connected, has begun a spree to demolish what is there and to build afresh — state capitals, cities, conference complex and more.

Take New Delhi. It is barely a century-old, when other world capitals, ancient and modern, stay where they are. Over a dozen old cities that preceded it were invaded, occupied, abandoned and re-occupied over two millennia. Now, the first case of massive refurbishing is about to begin.  

The Parliament’s present complex will become a museum. Radical changes await the vast boulevard that stretches from Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential palace on the Raisina Hill to India Gate. Built post-Independence, Dozens of government office buildings built around it post-independence, will be demolished and re-built into modern, supposedly environment-friendly glass-and-concrete structures. On Friday, March 20, the Centre approved the land use change for execution of the Central Vista redevelopment project with the issuance of a notification to Urban Affairs ministry. The face of the Government of India built during the British era by Sir Edwin Lutyen is set to change.

ALSO READ: An Idea Fraught With Risk

There is tearing hurry, it would seem. A new triangular Parliament will be ready by 2022. Only, estimates of the entire exercise are not worked out. The security angle is high, with plans to re-locate the Prime Minister’s residence close by and a tunnel to connect it with the office.

It is nobody’s case that new constructions should not come up or old ones should be repaired. But no priority, no rationale is put forward. The total cost is going to be staggering. 

Save Le Corbusier-deigned Chandigarh, a resource-starved India did not build a major city for a half-a-century. After years of discord, Haryana and Punjab settled for Chandigarh that also houses its own administration.

Perspectives have changed with the century. Chhattisgarh built Naya Raipur without much acrimony. But Uttarakhand, created on the same day doesn’t have a capital after 19 years. Gairsain, centrally located – near the tri-junction of Almora, Garhwal and Chamoli districts, was to be the state capital. But Dehradun located in the state’s extreme corner remains the ‘temporary’ capital.

Five successive governments have failed to take decisions. The state that was created essentially to undo severe neglect of the Himalayan hills when under Uttar Pradesh still has its capital in the plains.  Once-pristine ‘Dehra’ is getting congested, but its political pull is too strong for any government to consider a shift.  Just symbolically, one legislative assembly session is held at Gairsain.

If New Delhi is planning its splurging, the state satraps are having their own. In Hyderabad, which is five year-old Telangana’s capital, Chief Minister K. Chandrshekhar Rao, has built a sprawling hundred million rupees mansion that can beat the palace(s) of the erstwhile Nizam, the princely house that was one of the world’s richest in the last century.

In 2014, when Telangana was carved out of Andhra Pradesh, it was decided that Hyderabad would remain the joint capital of the two states for a maximum of 10 years. But Rao pushed Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu to build a city for himself. Naidu, who created Cyberabad, India’s first Information Technology hub, took the challenge.  From here starts the southern splurging saga that has gone haywire.

ALSO READ: TDP’s Praja Vedika Stands Demolished

Naidu nursed Amravati, locating it on the banks of Krishna, harking back to “the glorious capital of the Satavahanas,” the ancient kingdom that ruled the Deccan region for five centuries.

He needed 33,000 acres of land. To encourage farmers to give up their land voluntarily for the project, his government launched a land pooling scheme. Publicized as farmer-friendly, the scheme was, however, seen as the state government’s way of circumventing the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.

Naidu also managed funds from abroad and brought a Singapore consortium on board. His ties with the Narendra Moi-led government were never close enough to get central funds. That Modi’s party aspired to make political gains at Naidu’s expense was also a factor.  And then, Naidu lost the elections last year to his rival, neither to the Congress nor the BJP, but to debutante Jagan Mohan Reddy.

By that time, work at Amravati, touted as a world capital, was 60 percent complete. It has involved Rs.10,000 crores investments from various agencies including central government assistance of over Rs.2500 crores.

Prior to the political change of guard, Amaravati was bustling with construction activity and tenders for projects worth Rs. 43,000 crores were already issued. The World Bank had agreed to finance the Singapore consortium. Now, investors have vanished.   

A green-field city with its revenue generating urban centric developmental model with an estimated three million population in next ten years is now being demolished even before it is born. The futuristic vision of Naidu, which he hard-sold to the people, especially the farmers who surrendered land, now lies shattered.

Jagan Mohan Reddy’s government is alleging wrongdoing and wants the city project, now at standstill, completely scrapped. There is none to ask what is to be done about the huge effort at constructing the city and the money that has gone into it.

That’s not all.  Reddy has mooted three different capitals for the state. He wants legislative capital retained in Amravati, judicial capital moving to Kurnool and the executive capital shifting to the coastal Visakhapatnam. Why a state having 13 districts needs, three capital cities, remains doubtful. Critics cite South Africa’s failed three-city experiment.  

Allegations fly around in any such project — they did even when Chandigarh was built. Jagan and his party leaders are being accused of inside trading of lands around Visakhapatnam, just as Naidu group was accused of doing around Amravati. 

Cash-strapped Jagan — the state has been revenue-deficit since 2014 and has run a debt of over 2.5 lakh crores — is lobbying with Modi for “special status” for the state, which means more funds. The unstated offer is willingness to join, or stay close to, the ruling alliance. Letting the kilkenny cats fight, the Centre last week refused to intervene.

That, again, is not all. Reddy has got two bills passed envisaging three capitals in the Legislative Assembly where his party enjoys a brute majority. But the Legislative Council where Naidu’s party has the majority has stalled the bills, sending them for further deliberation to the Select Committee. Now, Reddy wants to dissolve the upper house itself to push his three-capital project!  

The two regional satraps, instead of making a collective effort to salvage Amravati, are running highly personalized and caste-based political campaigns, damaging social harmony and the economic progress.

The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

Hanging (On Wall) Without Trial

The BJP government in Uttar Pradesh obviously likes to follow outdated medieval rules. It is obsessed with a kind of revenge politics seldom seen in the Hindi heartland; a government choosing to repeatedly unleash daily vengeance, suffering, punishment and humiliation against its own people, especially peaceful dissenters against the CAA/NRC/NPR, especially against those with Muslim names.

Wanted dead or alive, as in rugged posters or sarkari notices pasted on public walls. Non-violent protestors are given the same treatment as terrorists, hardened criminals, history-sheeters and absconders under the current regime.

Blame, name and shame. Brand them as criminals for the entire world to see. Condemn and degrade them as a public spectacle. Advertise their homes and addresses. Demonise and socially isolate them. Make them vulnerable to abuses and attacks. Even, physical attacks. Teach them a lesson of their lives.

ALSO READ: HC Tells Yogi To Remove Name-Shame Hoardings

Even if there is no evidence; not even worth an iota of factual objectivity. Even if in case after case the UP government’s negative and prejudiced campaign has collapsed. Even if the cases are sub-judice, with observations in the Allahabad High Court and the Supreme Court, and, mind you, strong observations, as made by the state high court.

Like a man with a drum beating his way through the rural hinterland and in market places in medieval times pronouncing punishment for miscellaneous individuals accused of crime by the monarchy or local, oppressive feudal chieftains. Or, as in Iran, or, as by the Taliban and fundamentalist Islamists in South Waziristan etc – hang them on a public square, or stone them to death in a football stadium, as a public spectacle, so that the entire populace in subjugation can see their own image in the faces of the condemned in case they don’t follow the dominant, hegemonic line.

The ‘name and shame’ hoardings against the protestors were put up in a public space in Lucknow by the administration and police led by Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of UP, who wears saffron as a sign of his inherited saintliness. However, this self-mage has no saintly aversion to the shadowy zones of worldliness and its negative characteristics, such as hate, power, and violent and bad language. He truly and symbolically marks the end of the State as a secular entity.

So what did the Allahabad High Court state in response to a petition questioning this public degradation and humiliation of ordinary people and respectable citizens of Lucknow, including prominent civil society and social activits, like Sadaf Jafar? What is the significance of this extra-judicial trail?

Indeed, Sadaf was simply clicking pictures, making a video perhaps, while warning the police to look for violent rioters during the early phase of protests in Lucknow, which followed a pattern elsewhere. This method in the madness, or the pattern of violence and blood on the streets, were mainly followed only in BJP-ruled states. It reached its apocalyptic finale in Northeast Delhi soon after, with the cops looking elsewhere, or, becoming, yet again, a partisan accomplice to the violence unleashed on the minority community.

WATCH: ‘Left Only With Clothes I Am Wearing’

Clearly, the riots were engineered in Delhi, to create Hindu-Muslim communal polarisation. And, surely, it was also a pogrom, with property, homes and shops of Muslims targeted and ravaged – along with their organised killings.

More than 20 people were killed, including, reportedly, bystanders and innocent people who had nothing to do with the protests in UP. The UP police blamed the protestors for killing the protestors, in an absurd and ironical twist of diabolical irrationality.  Besides, in some towns, the cops attacked Muslim households at midnight, beating up law-abiding residents, and, allegedly, stealing stuff too, as stated by the locals.

Besides Sadaf, who is also a Congress leader, veteran police officer, a former highly respected Inspector General in the UP Police, SR Darapuri, was arrested. Sadaf was allegedly abused and beaten up in police custody – namely because her name reflected a community which is openly hated by the current regimes and their fanatic bhakts in Delhi and Lucknow.

Boli se nahin to goli se,” said the Yogi in the run-up the assembly elections in Delhi, where the BJP yet again openly played the communal card. This sounded almost like the old Texan saying: “The law hangs on the hip.” Surely, he was only following the provocative call given earlier by Union minister Anurag Thakur seconded by a Hinduva mob which seemed thirsty for blood:  Desh ke gaddaro ko… goli maaro etc.”

However, as the whole nation and the world witnessed with awe and shock, when an upright Delhi High Court judge followed the rule of law and asked the police to file FIRs against those BJP politicians who indulged in hate speech, which, clearly, led to the riots, arson and killings in Northeast Delhi, he was promptly transferred. The government called it a routine transfer – but the midnight order would always remind the people of the midnight knocks during Indira Gandhi’s notorious Emergency, and the travesty of justice in contemporary India.

The Allahabad High Court, while asking the Yogi government to remove the hoardings, said: “In entirety, we are having no doubt that the action of the State, which is subject matter of this public interest litigation, is nothing but an unwarranted interference in privacy of people. The same, hence, is in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India,” a Division Bench of Chief Justice Govind Mathur and Justice Ramesh Sinha said.

The Bench stated: “… (The) Advocate General failed to satisfy us as to why the personal data of few persons have been placed on banners though in the state of Uttar Pradesh (when) there are lakhs of accused persons who are facing serious allegations pertaining to commission of crimes whose personal details have not been subjected to publicity,” the high court said in its 14-page order.

“…There are certain provisions empowering the investigating agencies or other executives to take picture of accused for the purpose of their identification and record but that too is not open for publication. The only time these photographs can be published is to have assistance in the apprehension of a fugitive from justice,” said the court. The court observed that “no law is in existence permitting the State to place the banners with personal data of the accused from whom compensation is to be charged.”

The UP government, instead of accepting its grave mistake, went to the apex court. The Supreme Court told the Yogi government that its decision to put up hoardings identifying anti-CAA protesters has no backing in law. It, however, did not pass any interim order and said the matter would be heard later by a three-judge bench.

Ideally, it should have immediately endorsed the Allahabad High Court judgement and asked the UP administration to take down the hoardings with immediate effect. However, in these times, the ideal, or idealism, seems as distant or compromised as the law and order machinery, or the ethics of good governance, as in the state of Uttar Pradesh led by a self-styled yogi in saffron.

Picture courtesy: Sadaf Jafar/Facebook

Reservation In Promotion Is A Flawed Idea

The Supreme Court’s judgement last month, validating the Uttarakhand government’s decision to fill up posts without providing reservation to SC/STs in government jobs, has sparked off a debate on the bench’s judicial prudence. This is probably ‘reservation’ is a subject which draws strong arguments both in favour and against the subject. While it is understood that communities in India which are backward and do not have adequate representation in public jobs require handholding, it cannot be taken as a right for demanding jobs, much less promotions, from the state.

There are clearly laid down judgements which say that the state is not obliged to give reservations to people from the scheduled caste and scheduled tribes in matters of jobs and promotions and the February judgement by a division bench of Justice L. Nageswara Rao and Justice Hemant Gupta only furthers the argument.

The verdict was pronounced in Mukesh Kumar & Anr vs The State of Uttarakhand and Ors. The case is related to appeals seeking reservations to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in promotions in the posts of Assistant Engineer (Civil) in Public Works Department, Government of Uttarakhand.

ALSO READ: SC Verdict Sparks Uproar in Lok Sabha

The apex court set aside a High Court of Uttarakhand order, where among other things the High Court had directed the state government to collect data regarding the adequacy or inadequacy of representation of Scheduled castes and Scheduled Tribes. The court had then directed that the state’s decision whether to give reservation or not, ought to be backed by the data. It had also directed the government of Uttarakhand to reserve the post of Assistant Engineer (Civil) for scheduled caste and scheduled tribe candidates.

The idea of reservation in promotion is fundamentally flawed. One cannot claim a right to reservation at every step of the ladder. This cannot go on, in perpetuity. It is still okay at the time of appointment to the government job, but to expect reservation in promotions tantamount to encroachment on the rights of other individuals. It violates the right to equality granted by the constitution under Article 14.

The apex court rightly upheld the right of the state to choose if it wants to give reservations to the members of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities, whether or not they are adequately represented in matters related to jobs in government departments.

In doing so, the bench also said in no uncertain terms that it was not mandatory for the state government to collect quantifiable data to indicate if the members of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities were adequately represented or not.

On the contrary, if the state chooses to give reservation to individual/s in government jobs, the state concerned shall have to place before the Court, the requisite quantifiable data and satisfy it (Court) that such reservations became necessary on account of inadequacy of representation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in a particular class or classes of posts, without affecting general efficiency of administration as mandated by Article 335 of the Constitution.

This Supreme Court ruling is important on two counts – not only does it defend the right of the government to choose if it wants to give reservation and who to give, it also ensures that the government appointment does not become arbitrary and whimsical. The ruling makes it incumbent upon the government to back the appointment with solid data.

The apex court further made it clear that no court could issue a direction to any state government to provide reservation, upholding the laid down law in the C.A. Rajendran (supra) and Suresh Chand Gautam (supra) judgement. The judgement makes distinction between a court’s authority to interfere with a policy decision and issuing orders to make a policy in a particular way.   

In the 23-page order, the apex court also set aside high court’s direction to the government to reserve the post of Assistant Engineer (Civil) for scheduled caste and scheduled tribe candidates. The high court’s assertions were not only erroneous but sans logic.

The ruling will bring more transparency in government appointments and also ensure merit takes precedence over privileges.

The top court also ruled that Article 16(4) and 16 (4A) of the Indian Constitution cannot be used as a recourse by appellants to demand reservations in government jobs and promotions calling them as “enabling provisions”.

Article 16(4) and 16(4A) allows a State to provide reservations to a SC/ST in matters of appointment in government jobs and promotions, as long as the State believes that the SC/ST is not adequately represented in government services.

The appellants, under the said provisions in law, argued that the state was obliged to give reservations in promotions for the upliftment of the members of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe categories – a point rejected by the top court.

All citizens are equal before the law irrespective of the category one belongs to – general or reserved. At no point can a privilege of one (reservation in promotions) encroach upon the right of the other which is “equality” in matters of appointments and promotion in government jobs.

By dismissing the appeal, the Supreme Court in its wisdom, once again stood for equality and justice as envisioned in Article 16(1), which calls for equal opportunity for all citizens of India in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State.

The government should examine promotion or employment on a case-to-case basis as one size fits all strategy cannot be applied everywhere and there are sections which need support and initial handholding. But, a State reserves the right to decide if it wants to give employment or promotion to an individual. Any attempt to quell it, will not withstand the judicial scrutiny and be quashed, as has been demonstrated in this case.

Pranaam, Corona – Keeping The Virus Away

When Indians first arrived in numbers in United Kingdom, there was general amusement that they avoided hand shaking. Now, hand shaking is de rigour in India. Indians have brought western habits into India instead. Coronavirus, interestingly, is bringing back the practice of social distancing, a practice that was characteristic of Indians before modern times. It may well reintroduce an Eastern cultural practice throughout the world.

Another Indian habit that amused Europeans was the constant hand washing after eating, or touching anything. Clearing the mouth with a quick gargle or rinse after every meal was also common. Handwashing is the other main advice to reduce coronavirus spread.

Social distancing has been part of almost all Eastern cultures. Rarely was intimacy expressed in public in the form of hugging, hand shaking or otherwise. In Japan, people greeted each other by bowing as they still do. Maintaining a healthy distance between individuals is a Japanese cultural practice. The Chinese too traditionally bowed as greeting.

WATCH: ‘Coronavirus Is Highly Infectious…’

Pranaam, or folding hands with a bowed head, was the traditional Indian greeting. It is still the practice but for some reason it is immediately followed by a hand shake. In some parts of India, especially the North, it is often followed by a hug between close friends, relatives and between adults and children especially if they haven’t met for some time.

When did the hug become part of cultural practice? It is intriguing because there isn’t much evidence of it in historical accounts. The handshake certainly started with the British arrival. Early British envoys maintained Indian practices of either bowing, or Pranaam. But as colonialists settled in, handshake became a common form of greeting among the western-educated Indians and the elite. Now it is a universal Indian practice.

Why eastern practices avoided intimacy may have many reasons. Western scholars often blamed caste as one culprit, pointing out that intimacy between higher and lower castes was forbidden. Others suggested a system of general hierarchy. However, even people of same caste and similar hierarchical status avoided intimate greetings. Thus these theories do not stand scrutiny.

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Perhaps the habit of avoiding intimacy in public may have arisen from similar pandemics in Indian history that has now gripped the world. The world and Indian history has had quite a few pandemics. Cholera in ancient times and the Bubonic Plague are well known. Smallpox had swept India in ancient times as well (shitala). Bubonic plague is estimated to have killed some 25 million people in India and China around 1340s. The 1817 Cholera epidemic claimed hundreds of thousands of Indian lives and spread to other countries.

Earlier around 540 AD, the so called Justinian Plague had also claimed nearly 15% of world population in Europe and Asia, if not more. The plague had claimed lives both in China and India in large numbers.

It is possible that these experiences had led to the precautionary habit of social distancing in Indian and other Eastern civilisations. In South East, the practice is a combination of Pranaam and bowing, such as in Thailand and Cambodia.

Although some epidemics, such as plague, are carried by fleas and are bacterial and therefore social distancing is unlikely to make much difference, others such as small pox and influenza are restricted by social distancing.

WATCH: Is Delhi Prepared For Covid-19

Coronavirus has also spread with speed in countries like Iran. Its possible because greeting with cheek-to-cheek touch is a common form of greeting in the Middle East between equals. In others, touching the upper arms and forming gestures of cheek to cheek greeting is common. Both reduce the distance between individuals and introduce an element of intimacy that is a free ticket for transmission for a pandemic like coronavirus.

Social distancing is the first line of defence now being promoted across the world in corona virus pandemic. Out goes the hand shake. In comes elbow for the time in western countries. But why not Pranaam with folded hands and a healthy distance between the greeters. Prince Charles did that in the Commonwealth meet.

So out also goes the Modi hug and in comes the traditional Pranaam. It seems Corona virus has given an opportunity for Indian culture to become universalised in one form at least. Bowing in Chinese and Japanese style may be too much for most of the world. But Pranaam with a reasonable distance isn’t difficult.

It will be interesting to see what happens to the Maori nose to nose greeting. If any executive class passage can be offered to Coronavirus, this is one that beats all.

Of course once a person gets corona virus, it is western technology to keep the lungs going that will aid recovery. Many traditional herbal doctors and ayruvedics are claiming treatments options, but there is no evidence anything works other than their bank balances.

Isolation is another strategy for these forms of pandemics. Isolation and bed rest were the treatment of choice in pre vaccine days in India. People lived in smaller villages rather than big cities. Before the current craze for mega cities, over 80% pf Indians lived in manageable villages.  Modern mega cities offer unbound opportunity to a virus such as Corona virus.

It seems every few decades a pandemic sweeps through the world, decimating the population. So far it seems epidemiological knowledge and drastic actions have contained the deaths in China. It remains to be seen what happens when coronavirus invades western countries that put greater emphasis on profits than social welfare such as USA. The cuts in social welfare in the UK along with Brexit may now reveal the cracks. Generally it is thought that the medical systems in both countries will not be able to cope with as much speed and efficiency as China.

Irony will be if both countries, USA and UK, ask China for assistance to build facilities and protective measures. Whereas it takes a year to build a hospital facility in most western countries, China built isolation facilities with machine etc within 2 weeks. Who else has the capacity to do this?

However, it is India that now worries most epidemiologists. The infrastructure, the availability of ITU beds, lung machines, testing facilities will be a challenge that will test the Modi Government. Once it starts spreading, India’s capability will be truly on line. A hope is that Indians may have greater immunity than others.

In the absence of vaccines and other antiviral drugs for this, the two human practices that now are effective in reducing the incidence of spread is social distancing and hand washing. Better bring Pranaam back into India and get rid of the hand shake and restart washing hands frequently even after eating with knives forks and spoons. This virus may go away after a few months, but new ones will emerge. A cultural change in the way we greet and maintain personal hygiene and going back to tradition could be more effective than anything else.

It seems the ancients had evolved practices with care and from experience. Pranaam to them and to all our readers.

Yes Bank Debacle & Crony Capitalism

The recent debacle of the Indian private sector bank, Yes Bank, whose board was suspended and superseded by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), once again brings into sharp focus the extent and depth to which crony capitalism continues to prevail in the country’s economy.

Yes Bank was founded in 2004 by Rana Kapoor and his brother-in-law, the late Ashok Kapur. Early this month, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), registered a criminal case against Kapoor, who was the CEO of Yes Bank; Dewan Housing Finance Ltd. (DHFL), a non-banking financial services company; and its promoter, Kapil Wadhawan. The CBI charged them with criminal conspiracy, cheating and corruption under the Indian Penal Code and the Prevention of Corruption Act.

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The allegations are that between April and June 2018, Yes Bank subscribed or invested Rs 3700 crores in DHFL’s short-term debentures. This financial assistance subsequently turned into non-performing assets as the bank was unable to recover the funds. More seriously, the allegations are that in lieu of the amount extended to DHFL, a company, Do it Urban Ventures, promoted by Kapoor’s three daughters, and received kickbacks in the form of loans amounting to around Rs 600 crores. In other words, the CBI alleges that Kapoor and DHFL entered into a conspiratorial quid pro quo: DHFL got the assistance (that have now turned into bad loans) and he and his family benefited from the kickbacks.

Rana Kapoor in custody of Enforcement Directorate

The agency has alleged that Rana Kapoor extended financial assistance to DHFL to get substantial undue benefit for himself and his family members via companies held by Kapoor and his family. On March 5, India’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India, announced that it had suspended and superseded the board of Yes Bank. Customers were prevented from withdrawing more than Rs 50000 from their accounts and rating agencies downgraded the bank’s core bonds.

Yes Bank’s debacle turns the focus sharply on the continued prevalence of crony capitalism in India’s economy: an unholy nexus between banks, financial institutions (FIs), and business enterprises. Banks and FIs—and not only privately owned ones—in India are known to have cosy relationships with promoters of large and medium sized Indian companies and quid pro quo arrangements of the sort that Kapoor and Yes Bank are accused of are not uncommon. Rather, it is quite the opposite. Examples of misuse of bank funds are galore in the Indian economy.

One high-profile case is that of liquor baron Vijay Mallya who is currently in the UK while the Indian government is trying to get him extradited so that he can face investigation into charges levelled against him. Mallya is accused of misusing around Rs 9,000 crore (US$1.3 billion), which are loans that his companies, including a now-defunct airline that he started, took from 17 Indian banks. The allegations are that Mallya siphoned off these funds to 40 other companies that he controls around the world.

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In another headline-grabbing case in 2018, the CBI began an investigation into Nirav Modi, a high-profile Indian jeweller, on allegations that he and his partners defrauded the Punjab National Bank of Rs 28,000 crore, which he is alleged to have siphoned overseas by fraudulently obtaining letters of undertaking for making payments to overseas suppliers. Modi is absconding and is believed to be in the US even as the Interpol is looking for him.

More recently, in December 2019, another high-profile executive, Jagdish Khattar, the former managing director of Maruti Udyog Ltd., India’s largest carmaker, was booked by the CBI for charges against him of cheating the Punjab National Bank of Rs 110 crore. That case is still being investigated although Khattar has not been arrested.

These few examples are really the tip of the iceberg. Nefarious deals between banks and influential entrepreneurs abound in India. Not long ago, a private sector steel company was embroiled in a similar controversy when a partly government-controlled financial institution was believed to be lending it vast sums of money although past loans taken by the company had turned into non-performing assets.

The curious paradox about such cases is that in many of the cases, the authorities, including investigative agencies, wake up when it is already too late. In Yes Bank’s case, the RBI has been issuing warnings about financial inconsistencies in the bank’s reports. Doubts about Mallya’s ability to run his airline and manage his finances have been floating around long before he fled India.

The other, more disheartening, aspect of all this is the hagiographical treatment that the media have meted out to some of these controversial promoters and businessmen. Vijay Mallya, now 64, has had countless laudatory cover stories or “puff pieces” about him. Rana Kapoor, an aggressive publicity seeker, has found similar success with the Indian media. Jagdish Khattar was routinely lionised by India’s business press during his stint as managing director of Maruti between 2002 and 2007.

The truth is that India’s institutions, particularly in the financial sector, are prone to misuse—either because of the clout of powerful corporate borrowers or because of complicit bank officials, or both. India’s government has various laws, organisations and agencies that have been established to prevent financial fraud. Yet, with regular frequency, shocking instances of brazen misuse of the financial system come to light. What is needed is a will to break the cronyism that plagues the nexus between financiers and their corporate clients. And when frauds come to light, swift dispensation of justice could work as a deterrent.

Trump’s India Visit: Geopolitics & Strategy

US President Donald Trump’s India visit in the month of February 2020 clearly indicates that India’s alignment with the US is now complete. India’s Foreign Policy approach for the last many decades has been of multi-alignment with major partners in the most geopolitically important regions of the world. This particular visit with the visible camaraderie between the two leaders, President Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, proves to be a landmark. The defining feature has been the signing and announcement of the ‘Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership’ at the end of Trump’s visit. The much-touted trade deal between the two countries, however, remains a task to be completed over the coming years.

In terms of geostrategy of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), it marks the final acceptance of the US Indo-Pacific Region strategy for India. The practical framework or background of the Indo-Pacific strategy was already established when the US and India signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and Communications, Compatibility Security Agreement (COMCASA) were signed in 2016 and 2018 respectively. The LEMOA facilitates the US with using Indian military bases in the region certain conditionalities and case by case basis. The COMCASA on the other hand, allows India to access and purchase the military communications systems of US origin like the C-17, C-130 and P8Is. A combination of these arrangements leads to increasing interoperability between the militaries of the United States and India.

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Since the Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership has been signed, it accords India status of a Major US ally and this has ramifications for India in the larger international system. India’s clear and overt tilt towards the US may cause concerns in the Russian strategic circles but the trend clearly indicates that Indian military and weapons imports from the Russia are declining and India’s recent purchases have been from France, Israel and the United States. China has gradually emerged as a major partner for Russia, because of its multiple collaborative arrangements in the field of trade, transport, industry and finance.

For Beijing, the hope to draw India into its fold through Russia and multilateral agreements like the BRICS and SCO, will eventually fade with the increasing bonhomie between the two leaders (Trump and Modi). The resultant security and strategic apparatus in the IOR or the larger Indo-Pacific under the US leadership and India as a junior partner is directed towards the Chinese is no secret either.

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With its subscription and eventual promotion of the terminology of the Indo-Pacific, a certain deviation from the Asia-Pacific of the Cold War years, India also has become part of the multilateral arrangements like the QUAD which provide tangible flesh and bone for the furtherance of the encirclement/containment of the Chinese. The leadership for the QUAD, again, comes from the United States, the other partners being Japan and Australia. The geographic location of Japan and Australia, which have been US allies since the Second World War and now India, indicates towards a certain geostrategic encirclement of China. Some international commentators have argued that the New Cold War has begun, and such new geopolitical alignments need to be factored in to make sense of the international system with Beijing as a major actor.

To conclude, the Trump visit, with all the pomp and glory aside, finally is a declaration from both New Delhi and Washington that US-India partnership is going to be a long-term affair. An important marker for South Asia from the visit is the de-hyphenation of the India-Pakistan connection from the US strategic mindset.

Indian efforts to make the international community realize that Pakistan’s support for the terrorism infrastructure in the subcontinent and outside have borne results. Donald Trump is perhaps the first president of the US to not visit both India and Pakistan on the same tour. The focus during the visit was solely on New Delhi and with that a clear signal that India is the only partner of importance for the US in the region. The expected outcome for Pakistan is that it will have to be content with the Chinese alliance, whereas India can still leverage its economic prowess and markets to maintain harmonious relations with China.

The benefits for India and US with the Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership will be manifold and will be decisive in the affairs of the Indo-Pacific as well as the Indian Ocean Region.

Thappad: The Slap Is On Us

Contradictions constantly rush at one another in India where the most progressive and the most regressive trends co-exist at any given time. The context here is society and cinema.

It was Deepika Padukone and her film Chhapaak two months back. Now it is the turn of another landmark film, Thappad. The former was trolled and boycotted by those angry at Deepika’s expressing solidarity with agitating students and teachers at the turbulent Jawaharlal Nehru University. The latter faces similar wrath since its director Anubhav Sinha and many of the actors led by Taapsee Pannu were part of similar protests at Mumbai’s Gateway of India.

While Chhapaak reportedly suffered at the Box Office and bowed out of most cinema halls, Thappad is seemingly surmounting the boycott from quarters preoccupied with violence in Delhi and its aftermath. Taapsee has dismissed prospects of any damage to her film coming from “a few thousand trolls.”

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The basic argument of both the actors is that it is stupid to condemn and punish a film because those behind it have publicly expressed their views on issues that is controversial. But we are living in highly polarized times.

Coincidentally, but significantly, both films challenge set social norms and prejudices that presumably cause discomfort to the trolls, their allies across the social media and more importantly, their political mentors. Chhapaak, already written in detail in this space earlier, is about brutal acid attack on women who reject unwanted male advances. Thappad is about domestic violence and the impact on an individual’s sense of self-respect, especially when it comes from loved ones and life-partners.

Domestic violence afflicts all societies, but more so those where patriarchy rules, where men dominate, irrespective of their ability to earn and carry out other responsibilities as family persons, family heads in most cases. Inbuilt male supremacy boosts male ego.

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One can argue endlessly whether it is prevalent more in traditional societies or those that follow Western norms, or whether it is in the joint family or a nuclear one. But the universality of it is not in doubt.

Conventional wisdom is that education (for all) and economic independence in the case of the woman help better relationship. But there is no rule of the thumb with changing societal values and perceptions and complexities of growing urbanization and the rate race to make it big in material terms. In India, dowry deaths and in-laws’ harassment may or may not have diminished, but a working woman’s autonomy to spend from her earnings does lead to domestic violence.

India’s Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 begins and ends with the issue of violence. But it does not, and cannot, touch upon long-set social norms where a woman once married is expected to leave her parental home and not expect any relief or help if she is in trouble. They could include dowry demand, ill-treatment by in-laws who often side with the son against the daughter-in-law. Not just the mother-in-law, but the sister-in-law could also play a negative role. A daughter-in-law, but not daughter, is advised to accept a flawed relationship, occasional violence, even the son’s cheating. These are the realities.

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Traditional social norms in India have ensured that women by and large live with injustice and violence for fear of losing ‘izzat’ or else, being socially ostracized. A million women complained of domestic violence between the year 2005, when the law was enacted and 2016. Yet, the rate of reporting such incidents to the police are still considered small compared to the Western societies. Though illegal since 1961, dowry demand, at times camouflaged, remains ingrained in Indian society. Data reveals that 72 women die every day.

The law works, but only to the extent the society evolves and the State helps. For instance, “honour killing” is the norm, if not so much in India then certainly to its West where in some societies, women complaining of rape are punished.

This is all in the public domain, while domestic violence mainly occurs within the four walls of the home.  In Thappad, it is a mix of the two. One tight slap falls on the cheek of a loving, caring wife from an equally loving, caring husband. It is delivered at home but in the midst of a party, before several guests.

A still from the movie Thappad

It triggers a mini revolution. After failing to reconcile, the wife is determined to preserve her self-respect, even if it means a divorce. Just everyone, particularly women, including her woman-lawyer, dissuade her. Your place is there, not with us, parents tell her. All this is when each of them has story of aspirations suppressed at the altar of family life.

Reconcile and move on, the in-laws advise. All relationships are flawed, the lawyer counsels. Much ado over “just one slap?” she is told. “Not even one slap,” she responds. It is a wake-up call, not one to revolt. It’s a thin line, though.

The most effective parts of the film are the ones in which we are shown just how women are always being told how to feel, how to keep their feelings in check, how not to give into them.

Indian Express film critic Shubhra Gupta sums up: “Thappad bears its message, more essential than ever, on its chin: Women are not property. Wives are not owned. Dreams have no gender, and everyone is allowed to realise them. And how all it takes, from a woman who just wants self-respect, is a decision to say no, Not Even One Slap.”

Sadly, films speaking out against dowry are passé these days. But like domestic violence, there is another ‘No’, as more and more women join India’s work force. Pannu was the lead actor in another remarkable film, Pink (2016), about consent in sexual relationship. Amitabh Bachchan played the lawyer whose baritone “No means no. Only no”, drew the Lakshman Rekha.

All three films cited here are well-written, diligently performed, are not preachy, yet convey their respective messages forcefully.

This is where, and how, cinema comes, as it should. Undoubtedly, it has its limitations. The society cannot duck its responsibility. Not even when political leaders attribute increase in cases of rape and divorce to women going to work. The society has itself to set acceptable norms armed with legal sanctions and follow it diligently.

The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com