Saturday, August 26, 2017

No country for columns

I’m only doing this out of duty

(Published on August 19, 2017 in Business Standard)

I’m tired and grumpy and I almost didn’t write a column at all, because my plan for the day was to lie under the dining table under a blanket, with my thumb in my mouth and my face in a sack of salted chips and a glass of something comforting. I’m only writing this out of a tiresome sense of duty, and to annoy the people who hate self-indulgent columns. I figure I’ll just list all the reasons why I’m tired and grumpy—literally list them—so that we don’t have to have a great whacking discussion about any of it, because I'm all discussed out, and so terribly sad about everything that I don’t know if my heart will recover, except that it always does, the stupid masochistic thing, usually just in time to get broken again.

Anyway, here goes, in no particular order:

Dozens of children died in a hospital in Gorakhpur because the hospital hasn’t paid the oxygen supplier’s bill despite multiple reminders. After first denying that the hospital had anything to do with this, the BJP public relations machine decided to look decisive by going after various hospital staff members who actually tried to make things better.

Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari’s term came to an end after a speech or two in which he said several true things about how Indian Muslims feel. His exit from office was marked by a pack of BJP-RSS leaders and writers gracelessly snapping at his heels with speeches and articles drenched in contempt, communally-charged insinuation, and gloating.

Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar’s Independence Day speech was blacked out by Doordarshan and All India Radio on Prasar Bharti’s orders because Sarkar refused to “reshape” his speech to cut out the bits about People Who Weren’t Involved With the Freedom Struggle and the bits about a danger to the secular democratic fabric of India. When the story broke, the BJP public relations machine first spent a day flatly denying it, and then said Okay, we did it, but gravity of the nation sanctity of the occasion blah blah.

The Supreme Court called in the National Investigation Agency (NIA)—the guys who work on counter-terrorism and other national security issues—to get to the bottom of an interfaith marriage between two consenting adults.

A woman in Rajasthan was beaten, whipped, made to eat faeces, dragged by her hair, made to lie on a bed of embers, blinded by embers shoved into her eyes, and accused of witchcraft, by her relatives, over property. She died of her injuries. The police at first refused to register an FIR.

A pedestrian hit by a car in Delhi lay on the road for twelve hours before someone took him to the hospital. Many people approached him meanwhile, but only to rob him. One passerby gave him some water but took Rs 12 in return because, he said, nothing comes for free. 

I won’t say a word further, even though there is no shortage of things to add. This brief list suggests to me that it is a far, far better thing to lie under a table in a foetal position than to write columns that do nothing to slow down the acute case of political and social ebola that we currently seem to have. 

Nope, columns do nothing. What we really need is an Opposition. So I’d be grateful if it would kindly move from under the table, where it is taking up all the thumb-sucking, foetal position space. That’s my spot. 

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Privates on parade

The fundamental right to privacy matters fundamentally

(Published on August 5, 2017, in Business Standard)

For reasons best known to themselves, the mighty Indian people consistently fail to put me in charge of our great country. My candidacy has been low key because of my idle recreational commitments, but still, this is very unfortunate. Now we have a colossal jobs crisis, Amit Shah’s bank balance is 300% fatter than when he came to power, the national drink is cow urine, the Chinese are getting fresh with us, only the courts stand between us and Death Eaters, and the place is generally going to the dogs. I’m not bitter or anything, but it serves the mighty Indian people right. They don’t seem to know a good thing when they see one.

And apparently they don’t know a bad thing when they see one either. Just look at the number of people who think it’s fine to say that Indians have no fundamental right to privacy, and that it’s okay to have to link your Aadhaar number every time you sneeze. What have you got to hide, they ask? You’ve got a smartphone and a Facebook account, why are you suddenly concerned about privacy? Why are you standing in the way of development? What about Malda?

None of these people get the following basic concept: Choice/consent, o mighty Indian people, fundamentally changes the nature of your actions and how you feel about them. For those who think this idea is overrated, here’s a laundry list of things with and without choice/consent. In each case, see if you can identify the option that includes choice/consent, and which option you naturally prefer. 

Your wardrobe, vs prisoner uniform. Sex vs rape. A volunteer army vs a conscripted force. Signing up for Facebook vs signing up for Facebook at gunpoint. Reading out bits of your diary to your friends, vs your friends stealing your diary and uploading it on the Internet. Coming out to your parents when you’re ready, vs your trusted confidante telling your parents behind your back. Locking your jewellery in the bank locker, vs locking your jewellery in the bank locker and having the manager allow a bunch of companies to borrow and rent out your jewellery for profit. Enjoying a bit of a flirtation, vs being stalked. Standing for the national anthem because you show patriotism that way, vs standing up for the national anthem because you’re terrified of being arrested or beaten up if you don’t. Executing a bungee jump after being appraised of the risks, vs being pushed off a bridge. 

How did you do?

Long-time readers of this column can testify that I am the absolute, no-contest empress of oversharing. But I’m also nutso-style private about what I don’t choose to overshare. Choice/consent is everything. We also have the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy. We should be able to make a phone call without worrying that someone is tapping the phone, or travel without reporting our movements. Our tiffin boxes should not endanger our lives. 

All this amounts to the right to be free and left the hell alone. Privacy obviously cannot be an absolute right. But the state must be made to meet a stiff legal standard to justify any encroachment on it. 

People who pooh-pooh privacy are like those kids who are so busy getting the right selfie that they back all the way off the edge off the cliff, and then look all surprised on the way down. I’d be quite pleased to watch them go if the rest of us weren’t also being backed off the same cliff, but at gunpoint.

I remain available to be sworn in whenever you come to your senses, o mighty people of India. I’m very good at swearing.