Thursday, March 30, 2017

An Island Of Smiles

There was a time when someone pointed out to an issue I seemed to have had and it even got labelled as 'chronic happiness'. It supposedly confused people; 'How could a person be happy even in the oddest of circumstance?' they told they wondered. Think it bothered them and many others during that time. Those were days when I faintly remember that nothing was too big that my shoulders could not carry or anything too difficult my soul could not handle - everything was doable and any challenge posed was only a motivation to complete the task at hand with ease. Life was fun.
Think it was an influence cast upon by some really strong people who suffered pain yet chose to smile - many who I had met during my wandering days... people who chose to live when all that went around them called them to die; people who faced struggle with courage; people who talked less and did more. The one incident, when I look back, that shattered me is an incident where I met a little kid who endured a painful life without a grudge - even attempting to reduce the pain of her parents bearing her own without a whimper. Think I must tell this story...

This happened when a bunch of us from Loyola were called to document a human rights violation issues in a small God-forsaken village that was getting marooned due to sand mining and other such related corporate greed in a place close to Madras. Once there, we split into teams to cover the story on behalf of each stakeholder - the elders, the mothers, the fishermen, the children and so on. I was part of a team to cover the story of children from a Government School in a small island nearby. Once the catamaran reached the spot, curious children came to have a look at all the cameras, lights and equipment that reached their otherwise ignored and isolated part of the world. 
After a little bit of rapport establishment and ice-breaking, we set to talk with them regarding how life was treating them, how they perceived issues and how they managed to live through their struggles. This was supposed to be both interesting as well as crucial as we were attempting to see issues from the children's point of view. Children often provide multi-dimensional clues to issues as they not only boldly point out to issues without any restriction yet also reveal an adult world from what they have absorbed as silent audience to their interactions - once again with no restriction.
The day went on and on as complaints piled one above the other - issues ranging from lack of regular teachers and computers at school to dirt on food served as part of the mid-day meal, their complaints were many. 
Amidst all this (by then a nauseating discussion), I could not fail to notice the bright smile on a little girl's face. She must have been 6 or 7 years old then. Perhaps, that must have been the most brilliant smile I have ever seen in my life by far. I was curious as hell to know how on Earth amidst all these complaints, she managed to smile. I asked her. Her reply was even more positive: 'Our teachers are good, they manage to teach us as much as they can; why do we need a computer(?!) when we have so many books to read? and our cooks can't do a better job than what they already do... in a home of just four don't we find at times a small stone or dirt in our rice(?!) wouldn't we then just pick it, drop it and continue to eat without complaining? Just imagine how difficult it must be for the ayyahs who cook for so many of us. This is the best we can have and I am always happy for all that is there..." she said and continued smiling. 

By now, the other kids around her withdrew and sneered at her. They were perhaps confused and angry that this one effortlessly blew all the facade they were creating so far, Finally they concluded, 'She has to be happy. What else can she afford to be? She is going to die soon after all...' There was a halt on that smile on the kid's face and was replaced with an unreasonable shameful silence.
A little shocked and being rocked back to reality, I sought clarity. I tried to ask the kid to tell me what others were talking about. She didn't. The others filled the silence and said, 'Yes, she is going to die. she has a hole in the heart that her father can't afford to treat and soon she is going to die.'

I asked the little girl if it was true. Tears rolled down her eyes and she said, 'Yes.' She continued, 'It hurts. And at times, it hurts so much in the night. To get to a doctor, my father has to carry me on his shoulder through the water as we do not have a boat or a catamaran to ferry us from our village to the other side of the land to reach the hospital at night. At times when the tides are high and my father carries me on his shoulder, I can see my father's face go down under the water as he pants for breath. To see that, hurts me more.' 'So these days,' she said, 'I do not cry at all when it hurts. I have seen my father and mother skip their food because they have to spend on my medicine. I know my father will carry me on his shoulders no matter how high the tide and I cannot to see him suffer.' 
I asked her what she does instead. She said she bears the pain. 'If it hurts too much, I bite my blanket hard and try not to make a noise that may wake my parents. I bear the pain' she said.

I believe anything one does must affect him or her - be it a relationship, watching a movie, cooking, reading a book or even writing; otherwise the things we do are not worth doing at all. This is one incident that affected me the most. Watching such matured endurance at such an young age, positivism to the core, the constant and continuous sacrifice, respect and love that runs in their family that I got to see, surprized me. 
For a person who lives an everyday life amidst chronic dissatisfaction and suburban drudgery in a concrete jungle, where even the remotest discomfort has to be amplified and cribbed about, a time when we live in a world where we pick on issues to talk about rather than work on solutions to overcome the same, living amidst people whose favourite pass-time is to discuss issues they have created or create issues so that they can discuss and remain the center of self-obsessed, self-centered and selfish conversations - because they have nothing better to do otherwise with life, this child was like a lesson straight out of the pages of a zen book to me. 

I sought help for the girl at that time. People I took up her case to, took it upon themselves to advice me to concentrate on my own affairs and consider this incident unseen if it affects me again. Social Workers I met advised me that according to some paradigm and some theory, this was a natural process and by a certain cycle, this was a process she and her parents were meant to go through until they would eventually learn to help themselves - the highest form of undependency, self-reliance and empowerment - that I dare not disturb.
Seemed like I was just going through an unstoppable wind-chime of repeated advice on the same note from each person I set to ask for help. Nothing happened, none helped, not even the slightest offer of real help at that time. Life moved by and every time I saw trouble or a chance to complain, I would be reminded of this little girl and her smile. I would turn into this chronically happy monster who could always smile.  

A few years back, I happened to visit the village where I had met the girl - now with the capacity to help with what life had granted me in the mean time. I inquired about the girl from this marooned village. The village was gone - they showed me. Like most human rights issues, the village now claimed unbothered advancement on the dead backs of the vanished and forgotten others. People from the submerged village had moved to the mainland I was told. Then a few young girls - who recollected having a classmate who fitted into my description of the person - must be the ones I had met during their school days earlier in that island, volunteered to take me to where the girl was now. We walked along the narrow lanes, now all advanced; they had self-help groups and even a co-operative store that sold traditional toys they made; there was a new panchayath building and a school that even offered a computer course. We walked all through India shining and we reached a spot where the girls pointed out to a little grave. They said the girl I mentioned had died a year after we had met as I stood there watching the cold-hearted tombstone that held the smile of a girl who had changed my life. I think I lost my smile then and there...   

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

An important read on Aadhar / UID and the false govt propaganda

The following is a message from an eminent activist giving clarity about the government's hand-holding with the corporates and media in a desperate attempt to push the aadhar:

Some people have written in worry that the SC yesterday directed that the government can ask for the UID for Income Tax and PAN card; that is just misinformation coming to us through the press.
For one, what transpired happened during a `mentioning', that is, where the lawyer mentioned the matter only to the court to ask that the matter actually be listed and heard on 3rd April. Earlier the case was listed for 27t March, but then it got shifted in the list to 3rd April. The lawyer took the matter to court to ask the court that there should be no further delay, and that it should be heard on the 3rd April.
The court turned down the request for such an assurance.
While doing that, the court looked at para 5 of the order of the 5-judge bench in its order dated 15th October 2015, where it said that even when it is used in PDS, NREGA, pensions, LPG, JDY and provident fund, it cannot be made mandatory.
That is it.

The court nowhere said that the UID can be asked for other services. That is wrong reporting.
Anyone who knows court proceedings knows that the court could not have made any such order,
1) Because it was a `mentioning' that was underway, and that was only to fix a date, and such an order cannot be passed without hearing the parties to the case, and
2) The October 15, 2015 order was by a 5-judge bench, and 3 judges cannot revise/rewrite/override that order.
For your information, the October 15, 2015 order said:
The UID can be used in six services: PDS, LPG, NREGA, JDY, EPFO, pensions such as disability, widow, old age pensions which are seen as services provided by the state.
Even in these services, its use "is purely voluntary, and cannot be made mandatory till the matter is finally decided by this court one way or the other".
The UID number cannot be used in any other service. It is not a matter of whether it is voluntary or mandatory. It cannot be used at all.
All earlier orders from the first order of the court on September 23, 2013, when it directed that no one can be denied any service only because they do not have a UID card or number, shall be `strictly followed'. That includes the order dated August 11, 2015, which, among other things says that enrolment is not mandatory (which makes their notifications saying that those who do not have a UID number should be shepherded to the enrolment station is in contempt of court).
On October 15, 2015, the 5 judge bench heard a series of applications for expansion of the use of the number, including the TRAI that came to court saying that they could deal with terrorism if they were able to use the UID number for giving and checking Sim cards. The 5 judge bench refused this use. This refusal by the 5 judge bench was suppressed by the Attorney General when he told the court in a matter taken to court by Lokniti, an NGO, that they intended to make sim cards secure by having it checked against the UID. The court reproduced this submission and disposed of the matter. This has been read by some part of the press as an order by the court that sim cards should be checked against the UID, which is inaccurate. This did, however, mean that the court did not object to such use. That was a 3 judge bench, and could not have overridden a 5 judge bench. This happened because the Attorney-General did not inform the court, and since it was not a UID matter that was being heard, there was no one challenging the UID project who could have pointed this out to the court. This is what is called an order -per incuriam' (i.e. being in disregard of the facts or the law, in this case because they were kept in the dark about what had happened before the 5 judge bench.)
So, the government attempt to make UID mandatory for income tax and PAN card is in contempt of court.. Not just making it mandatory, but even using the UID in these fields is in contempt.
The reason the court so restrained the court is because it had seen the various dimensions of the project that made up the challenge before it, including
insecurity of the data base
national security issues, posed both by the creation of such data bases, and because of the companies involved which includes L-1 Identity Solutions, Morpho and Accenture, which have close connections to the intelligence establishments of foreign governments.
lawlessness the use by private actors, and importantly, the denial of the right to privacy of the people that the government had asserted before them. Like the court said: without the right to privacy, "the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India, and more particularly the right to liberty under Article 21 would be denuded of vigour and vitality."
That is why they said that their order would be till the court has heard and decided these matters - not till passage of a law or any other such circumstance.
There is another thing, and of much significance. When the government directs that we put the UID number on various data bases, they are violating not just the order of the Supreme Court, but their own law (which they passed as a Money Bill, to stifle discussion and dissension). Nowhere does the Act of 2016 authorise the `seeding' of numbers in data bases. It allows only two things:
authentication, which means that biometric or demographic data can be sent to the UID's CIDR (Central Identities Data Repository) to return a `yes/no' reply to the question whether you are who you say you are.
eg. KYC, which does something they had said they would never do, viz., give the data on their data base (except core biometric data - but they have no means of stopping any agency from collecting and keeping biometrics when it is given for authentication) to an Authorised Service Agency.
Section 8(2)(b) is categorical that an agency requesting authentication "ensure(s) that the identity information of an individual is only used for submission to the CIDR for authentication". There is no authorisation to hold on to the number. So, seeding the number is itself beyond the law. And this is how it makes sense anyway if establishing identity was indeed the purpose of this project, as claimed.

Well, now what is wrong with you media fellows?! Is everyone becoming a Bakra Dutt?! Duh!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

सारे जहाँ से अच्छा

Upon reading an article in the NEWSpaper today, Court orders eviction: bedridden woman, teen daughter out in the street in Kanjirappally. I couldn't help but remember this song:

"सारे जहाँ से अच्छा हिन्दोसिताँ हमारा
हम बुलबुलें हैं इसकी यह गुलसिताँ हमारा...
मज़्हब नहीं सिखाता आपस में बैर रखना
हिंद्वी हैं हम, वतन है हिन्दोसिताँ हमारा...
कुछ बात है कि हस्ती मिटती नहीं हमारी
सदियों रहा है दुश्मन दौर-ए-ज़माँ हमारा...
सारे जहाँ से अच्छा हिन्दोसिताँ हमारा
हम बुलबुलें हैं इसकी यह गुलसिताँ हमारा..."


Better than the entire world, is our Hindustan,
We are its nightingales, and it (is) our garden abode...
Religion does not teach us to bear animosity among ourselves
We are of Hind, our homeland is Hindustan...
here is something about our existence for it doesn't get wiped
Even though, for centuries, the time-cycle of the world has been our enemy...
Better than the entire world, is our Hindustan,
We are its nightingales, and it (is) our garden abode...

About the song:

सारे जहाँ से अच्छा, is a patriotic song written by Muhammad Iqbal. It is often rendered during patriotic occasions in India and is used as a marching song by the Armed Forces. The song is often accompanied by music composed by Ravi Shankar. Written for children in the ghazal style of Urdu poetry, the poem was first published in the weekly journal Ittehad on 16 August 1904, it quickly became an anthem of opposition to the British rule in India. 

Now you know the relevance it has even today...
A sensible article in the media after a long time condemning the aadhar. As a pro-rights person I condemn the step taken by the government to disregard citizen's right to privacy in a acclaimed democratic set-up. If we nod to this now, then we will be left with no other option but to nod to everything soon...
Read the article here:

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

How I Lose Interest In The Academia

Age-old wisdom regarding pedagogy that I realize to be true being in the academia: "Unless hungry for knowledge, it is unwise to feed a (pseudo) learner who is there in front of you out of compulsion sans aim."
I also am a little bothered about the 'thanklessness' of some learners. Earlier, I had one person send me a mail asking me to provide a reference with a note, 'do it asap.' I wondered if the kid had so lost it  that she forgot that I had an option to decline a request too(?!) or if I was expecting too much by expecting just a little politeness from her part. Most of these references I provide for people, takes time and effort - something I could have rather invested in feeding a cow instead; often after this pressure to provide reference and recommendation, there is seldom any follow-up done by the other to let me know about the progress of their application - which of course I am interested to know (why else would I have referred or recommended their case in the first place?!) Anyways, once their work is done, who bothers...
Another incident that demonstrated the absolute 'sloppiness' of another bunch recently - after providing support (this in the case of research), the gang jumped to the conclusion that their task was now an issue for the guide to deal with and it is his burden to complete their research - as they waddle in the muck of their care and concerns in their personal affairs (which I would rather care a rat's arse about) a burden they expected well shifted 'if' the guide was a fool as they expected him to be. You point out to their issue and they walk away with a whiff of stray attitude - determined to showcase where they come from more than anything else. Often concern shown in many such situations for students are taken for granted in many academic corridors.

This sloppiness, clumsiness and total thanklessness, not only tests one's patience and compels one to lose trust yet also makes one wonder how far they would go with such attitude? This is when you realize that it is time to withdraw certain lenient space provided earlier and draw those lines of restriction and distance and build those walls of resistance to safeguard one's sanity. Distance seems the better option.

For an endnote, this is not an issue with most of the students yet there can be no denial that these situations do show up in a minority and it does have collateral damage. This is when a little enthusiasm when shown by just a little bit of students to learn, is like seeing an oasis of faith in a desert for a teacher - even if it is only a mirage.  

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Whose Life Is It Anyway

To begin with, I teach conflict resolution. This means, I get to learn more than I can possibly teach - with that fact being established, as students, we get to learn about the Johari Window - the Arena, the Blind Spot, the Facade and the Unknown before we move on to understand Conflict resolution strategies like Withdrawal, Forcing, Compromising, Reconciliation and Confrontation and further learn techniques to effectively use during conflict resolution.

And now for the confession... In real life, I suck at resolving conflicts especially in my personal life. Very often I choose the weakest technique to resolve conflicts - I bow out - I often agree to accept that that person with whom I have a conflict, does not even exist in my life anymore - in conflict resolution language, it is what one calls 'withdrawal'. 
This often oscillates with my otherwise persistent tendency by nature to break things down - something they do not usually teach in conflict resolution classes. Breaking things to a shatter being my favourite and often familiar pass time in a world where I take pleasure in wrecking things up in the backdrop of chaos and confusion. These days, I have suspended this activity since it is financially too taxing to be engaged in such a pleasure - with wife and kids and the recurring expenses you see.  

Now to the point. Very often, I get to see people choose everything else and everything less to resolve conflicts rather than choose the highest and best strategy in conflict resolution - confrontation. Confrontation is not about breaking someone's nose or to humiliate another with facts and truth. It is about collaborating and reaching a certain level of honesty to let each other know what is bothering each other and in attempting to understand the issues through each other's eyes. Psychiatric Social Workers, Counselors and other related professionals learn to use techniques to uncover and address hidden and potential threats during conflict resolution exercises and help people reconcile more effectively in a therapeutic environment.

One of the issues I find couples facing these days is in the area of trying to resolve conflicts in the presence of family and friends - usually an audience who further flame their senseless revelations and displaced excitement. Shamelessly these couples often wash their dirty linen in public and from boardroom to bedroom issues, share their issues loud and clear for the whole world to hear. This very stunt, they hardly realize, is what gets them socially butted, excluded, isolated and the reason why no one wants them to be part of any social gathering where a certain level of civilized behaviour is expected - something that cannot be expected from these kinds. The very ego of their's that they try to defend through these quarrels is the one that shatters at the end of these ugly domestic stunts - which is almost like spitting against the wind and getting it on the face in return.

Friends and families who try to intervene to resolve these ugly spats, may come in with the best intention; yet, they are not professional help providers. Finding an effective help provider is as crucial as seeking help from one.
Ideally, there are a few things that must be kept within four walls in any intimate relationship - things like discussions about finance, sex and confrontations. With city walls becoming thin and walls that divide apartments becoming thinner, people instead of becoming more conscious, have become more disgusting and better dis-reputed as they engage in unrestricted, uncontrolled and instinctive display of their mediocre upbringing not just within these walls yet also go on to tear each other's walls and face on the virtual world too - displaying their skills at how unfit they are to belong to a more controlled, conscious and civilized world to a bigger and silently judging audience who are far more disgusted than entertained by the couple's acts of immaturity in the meantime. 

Some people are born into families with bad examples or are themselves bad examples in their families -  there are ever too many excuses and ever too many people to blame when one does not get to see the log in his/her own eyes. At the end of the day, "Whose life is it anyway?!"