Politics

India: A Democracy Growing Cold

Freedom-fighters

“There are too many quotes on democracy” – Anonymous

There are quite a few definitions and opinions on what a democracy constitutes and doesn’t constitute, what it should be or shouldn’t be, but very few that agree on what it actually is.

So what IS democracy?

Well, adopting a Neo-Greek perspective on the term would probably be the equivalent of watching a philosopher probe upwards through his own posterior, but let’s give it a shot:
According to the literal Greek translation, “Dem-o-cracy” means: “rule by the (simple) people”.

Well, I take offence to this definition – I’m not simple, just special – so I’m going to go for another one, the classic one, the one that never fails: “Democracy is a government by the people in which the supreme power is vested in the people, and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system or put more simply “A Government of the people, by the people, and for the people” – Lincoln

This means, quite simply – exactly as intended – that a democracy is a government in which none of the elected officials are any higher, nor any lower, than the common man who gave them power in the first place.

And this idea has been violated beyond all recognition in the past week itself, by the largest democracy on the planet: India.

*****

2nd July, 2015

Among the most underappreciated and hard-working members of the Indian democratic system – at least, according to the Indian democratic system – is the democratic lawmaker:

Pictured: A Democratic Lawmaker
Pictured: A Democratic Lawmaker

The Member of Parliament (MP) whose persevering efforts towards upholding the fundamental principles of governance, upon which the idea for an independent India was first realised, never seem to be appreciated quite enough; whether it’s the ungrateful public’s outrage towards a bill that effectively suppresses free speech over the internet, ora land acquisition act that stamps down on the livelihood of farmers all across the nation, nobody seems to shows the Indian MP enough love.

Which is why a parliamentary panel on the 2nd of July, recommended that its members need even MORE money to feel appreciated, demanding a 100% pay hike and a whole slew of other benefits – in addition to the benefits they already have access to – as compensation for their invaluable services to the people of India. While this recommendation has not yet been acted upon, the fact is that tax payers’ money might soon be diverted towards MPs to make sure that they do their job.

To put things in perspective, instead of elaborate scams that give rise to even more elaborate scandals, it’s far less messy to make it completely legal to take tax money up front as part of a “hiked salary”.

The only upside is that news outlets haven’t faced suppression as yet from reporting on this matter, so we have been made aware of a decision before it’s been made, for a change.

*****

2nd July, 2015

The very same night, a family of five driving in an Alto down the road to Jaipur, got into a horrific car crash with an MP in a Mercedes.

When the car crash occurred, Hema Malini (the MP) was immediately rushed to a private Fortis hospital in Jaipur, whereupon facial reconstructive surgery for a minor nasal fracture (read: a broken nose) was immediately administered. Meanwhile, all five occupants in the now-decimated Alto had lost consciousness, and were eventually transported to a nearby Government hospital in the opposite direction after lying on the road without medical aid for almost 25 minutes.

There are so many things wrong with this, I figured a list would be more organized approach to the problem:

  1. The apathetic doctor who rushed Malini to the Fortis hospital , happily ignored the apparently less important Khandelwals, which resulted in the death of the youngest occupant, two-year old Sonam Khandelwal.
  2. The SMS Hospital of Dausa did not possess adequate infrastructure to provide timely care to the Khandelwals
  3. The driver of the Mercedes, was arrested by Dausa police for culpable homicide and then granted bail by the Government
  4. Malini offered to pay for the family’s treatment two days AFTER the incident
  5. The constant defense that Malini was in no state to offer help, even though every picture taken, post-incident, SHOWS HER FULLY CONSCIOUS THROUGHOUT  (I retract this statement on grounds of cruel insensitivity)
  6. None of Malini’s aides, nor any other member of her political party bothered to take responsibilty for the incident.

…what? She couldn’t see the family lying bleeding on the road? The obliterated remains of an Alto? Did everything suddenly seem very insignificant for her? (also retracted)

The sad thing is, the family doesn’t even WANT any recompensation for what happened, they just wished that the people who COULD have helped, WOULD have helped.

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The Khandelwals lost a daughter of two, looks to be on the verge of losing a son as well, while still undergoing intensive treatment in the trauma ward of the SMS Hospital; and all Hema Malini has to say on the matter, is that: “the accident was most unfortunate”.

But the worst part is that not one citizen, not one passer-by bothered to help out the family, devoting all their focus to Malini instead.

It took 25 minutes for the police to arrive, and even more time to reach the hospital.

*****

However, it’s still erroneous to say that democracy in India has GONE cold. That would imply that it is either dead or even worse, dying.

Which in turn would imply that it was alive to begin with. Which it never was.

From the split between India and Pakistan, to the “Emergency” of 1975(-77), from the much-touted revision of the land acquisition bill of 2014(-present day), to the complete and utter lack of transparency in the government’s inner workings; the Indian Government and the elected officials who comprise it, have never worked towards benefit of its people. It’s always been about the white-washed politicians, and their seemingly unaccountable payroll.

Democracy in Independent India has been dead ever since it came to be in 1947, but it is starting to grow quite cold, and rather smelly to boot, so either get rid of it completely or get a new one.

#democracy #freedom #your #right

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Politics

Net Neutrality: Airtel’s Zero Concern for the Customer

“Any idea expressed with sufficient equivocation, is indistinguishable from gibberish.”

“What on earth does this mean?” you must all be asking yourselves, which is indeed very much the same question I asked myself after I read through the Airtel Zero plan, crafted in loving detail and ironically termed “the Airtel pledge”.

*****

But before we go any further, let’s get a few things clear: What is Net Neutrality?

Well, it’s a principle whereby all the information on the internet is treated equally, i.e. a video of a cat playing the banjo should not be any easier or harder to access, than, say, a dissertation on fundamental civic rights. Everyone who has access to the internet, has access to EVERY SINGLE website at the SAME SPEED, without paying ANYTHING MORE than the fee for an internet connection.

While it is true that there are some web sites that choose to restrict certain information with a price tag, this is perfectly permissible because they are charging for the information itself, not the marvelous opportunity to pay money again to get access to this information later.

However, Net Neutrality exists purely as a concept and not a law, and nowhere is this loophole as abused as it is in the Indian sub-continent.

*****

Which is where the man with the postpaid plan, Mr. Gopal Vittal (Managing Director and CEO of Airtel) comes in.

According to the confusingly-worded “Airtel pledge”, the upcoming Airtel Zero plan is supposedly marketed towards the consumers, following a “toll-free” line of thinking so that Airtel customers no longer have to pay money to use web services such as WhatsApp, Viber and Skype…which they barely do anyway.

“There is no difference between this and the toll-free voice services such as 1-800. When a company selling an insurance product enrolls into the toll-free voice platform, customers who call the number are not charged but when they call a normal number they are charged.”

Long story short: if a company agrees to pay Airtel a part of its revenue, Airtel will make it easier for the subscriber to access the company’s website.

But wait, are you confused by the last line? Apart from toll-free numbers, you’ll still have to pay for a phone call. The statement towards the end seems to imply that you would have to pay to access websites that don’t join this toll-free plan, in addition to the Airtel subscription fee…

Well whatever you might have understood starts to fall apart with statements like:

“Every website, content or application will always be given the same treatment on our network whether they are on the toll-free platform or not.”

Long story short: *sigh* You’re not really trying to make sense, are you Mr. Vittal? Yet, I have this vague suspicion that that’s your intention.

The best part about the “Airtel Pledge” is that statements like the above one try to distract us from the point trying to be made.

“Instead of charging customers we charge the providers who choose to get on to the platform.”

The Airtel pledge understates the fact that web sites and services that DO get on the platform will have to pay a part of their revenue, along with a little extra for data traffic that goes through their websites, in ADDITION to the charges they pay for BEING ON THE INTERNET.

Long story short: They have to pay money to Airtel, to be allowed to pay money to Airtel.

The next logical step, then, is to transfer these costs to the customer. Think of it as a “Value-Subtracted-Tax” (VST) [copyright pending] that you have to pay every time you go onto a website like 9gag, because that site has to pay a ridiculously high fee because of all the registered AND unregistered users who are online.

In the meantime, smaller companies who cannot afford to, or who choose not to pay Airtel, will have their internet speeds throttled when users try to access the website, while data charges (2G/3G/4G/Internet Data) unavoidably increase, steadily reducing traffic to the site in the long run.

So saying something like: “instead of charging the customers, we charge the providers” sounds like a dubious way to say that neither the consumer, nor the company will have a choice in the matter.

*****

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is “trying” (haha) to fight this problem, and while it “claims” to be succeeding [somewhat], Airtel doesn’t look like it will back down anytime soon…

#airtel #zero #internetaccess #freedom #your #right #article19

Politics

Nationalism, In Thy Name

Over sixty years of independence has spelt out a number of changes – some for the better and some for the worse. Taking a step back, much of the problems arise and exist from the pre-independence era which, having worsened in the vicious web of political venality and despotism, have become many times more complex.

Much of the problems and issues are harbored in locations that are isolated by the tangled system of (mis)information (mis)communication, and are subjects which are kept under confidential documents being termed as sensitive and are hardly ever brought to the public domain.

Today we harbor a similar asylum called Heaven on Earth – Kashmir. Amidst currents of neo-liberalism and Hindu “nationalism” in the country, Kashmir has fallen suppressed under the weight of constant tension arising from both sides of the border.

Categorically, information regarding Kashmir can be divided into three parts – what is actually happening in Kashmir, what the people are told is happening in Kashmir and what the rest of the world knows is happening.

People live on the amorphous edges of a society saturated in violence, where militants, police, government servants, businessmen and journalists too, encounter each other and occupy each others’ roles, eventually.

Each time a terrorrist strikes, radical fanatics like the VHP blame it on, not a few, but an entire religion and community. The government blames it on Indian Mujahidin and groups like Al-Qaeda, and leads the discussion to a debate on peace relations with Pakistan and the control of terrorism. Ultimately what happens is that the issue starts fading somewhere in this blame game.
The Kashmiri Peoples live in a reign of terror, whereby most suffer from an identity crisis and even furthermore, a perpetual self-inquisition regarding life and death; where a person may go out of his house one day and not come back alive.

Today Kashmir has innumerable unreported cases of violence and deaths. People are living in a state of war, and it is difficult to find an answer as to when it will end.

Blame games in the name of terrorism prevention is not a new feature in India.

 

When the political heads come to improper conclusions they introduce drastic measures such as the Prevention Of Terrorism Act (POTA) and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Doing so serves as a much easier platform for the introduction of such acts because the general public is already blinded by phrases such as “for the nation” and “in the national interest” which sounds nationalistic up to a point of time but when the reality subsides to the background, again a case of information lapse, much of the people are unaware of the heinous nature of these acts which are introduced with improper analysis and just for the sake of upholding a political agenda.
Taking in particular the case of AFSPA, an act created to counter insurgency – the very nature of it has never been brought to the public domain. Yet what little we understand is this: the armed forces have given its men the license to kill and brutalize civilians as they see fit.

 

Manipur has witnessed such inhumane cases where today reporting a case of rape would be equivalent to reporting a case of minor theft in some other part of the country. It has become a routine to not witness one or two rapes but rapes in the measure of a scale where people have lost count now and justice does not call for a proper legal procedure because of the installation of the act in the region.

 

People are killed, kidnapped, tortured, and harassed and this is an incorporated part of their lives. Many have accepted this as the reality of what is and what will be. Those who fought against it gradually collapsed under the weight of suppression. One such name is Irom Sharmila whose undying efforts have at least managed to bring to light a few of the brutalities taking place in Manipur, to the public domain, where some percentage may now know about a small fraction of what the AFSPA is supposed to be, what it actually is and what it does.

 

We live in a nation which has governance in the form of ruled democracy, where people today elect their king and his ministers for a regime of five years. Ultimately once the government is in place, Lincoln-like terms such as “a government of the people, for the people, and by the people” becomes farce. The government may definitely fall under Lincoln’s definition, but what a government of the people reaps, what a government does for the people and when it does it, is left to speculation.

As universal adult franchisees, we can only use the power to exercise our vote to elect some party which may be the better option but definitely not the best. Hogging votes is an easy affair in India, where one and his party must have a heavy pocket, some good oratory skills and a clichéd set of never-to-be-fulfilled promises. One of my friends told me not to criticize the government but to help the government to function better – a very noble thing to say on his part. It did immediately remind me of many other “kings” who use this same statement against journalists for digging out actualities and truth and brings necessary information to the public domain and “not helping the government.”

How far do we go from here, is a question many will ask. How do we overcome such problems, has even more complexity of finding a solution. But, as long as people keep their moral conscience alive to differentiate between the just and the unjust, continuing to voice their opinions against what is right and what is wrong, all that can be said is there is still hope.

 

Time is less; change is upon us, gory or progressive are the options.