Thursday, 31 December 2009

Dream On...

It was a glorious evening with clear skies and cool breeze. A small number of people were around the Gateway of India and I walked hand in hand with a friend soaking in the splendour of this city called Mumbai. In the churning waters a boat docked home and anchored for the night. Suddenly I realised that in the last one year, I have come home too; in more ways than one. Back home to my city and closer to my friends, I know now that life can only get better from here on.

As this year comes to an end, a new decade of my life starts and in this new phase I want to thank all my friends – old and new. My life in Mumbai and Europe, my travels in the US and South Africa – none would have been the same had it not been for these wonderful and kind hearted souls.

With a smile on my face I bid adieu to 2009 and welcome 2010. Hopefully this year will be the year when we all can meet our goals and live lives of contentment.

Until next year, be good and dream on!

Monday, 9 November 2009

Pitfalls of the Traditional Non-Profit Model

A couple of months ago, an old friend who I had not met in a long time mentioned that he would be coming for a fund raiser to a restaurant five minutes from where I live. It was an opportunity that I would not miss, both because I would get to meet the friend and also in my view I would get to meet some people who work towards the improvement of the education sector in India. Given that it was a fund raiser, I do not need to state that this entity is a non-profit organisation. I was quite intrigued with this organisation that recruits high ranking professionals to teach in low income schools. So with a lot of expectations I went to the event; only to leave with a lot of scepticism and disappointment.

My disappointment had nothing to do with meeting my friend, which if anything at all was such a pleasant meeting. I was absolutely amazed to see that the last decade has not changed him and that his involvement with this organisation was genuine without any hidden agenda or motive. The disillusionment came more from the event, the way it was organised and how this organisation means to support itself.

The venue was a high end restaurant of South Mumbai and hence the expected attendees were the high earners and the elite. The crowd was exactly such, however, they were not present because they wanted to know more about the organisation. Most were present to attend a party, a social gathering where they could have a good time. In addition, there was a small goody bag being distributed, I am sure that came from the sponsors, however, I think the sponsorship for a good bag could have been exchanged to get something for the children that the organisation caters to.

I am not against having a good time or using good times to raise money for a good cause; however, I do feel that with little information being spread about the organisation and its aims, any fund raising attempt fills the coffers for a temporary time frame. Soon there is the need for another fund raiser. This modus operandi prevents the organisation from scaling efficiently and operating on a sustainable basis.

Voluntary contributions of cash and kind render most non-profits less effective than optimally required. It prevents the good behind these organisations from penetrating the society at large. The few devoted people work long and hard with a small infrastructure base to support them. It is their own personal network that they need to tap into to get things moving. It is a very slow and localised method. Kudos to people who put in all the hard work to promote such entities, but in my opinion, their efforts would be more worthwhile if they had a professional set up, with a core team that was being paid to do their job, a board that cracks the whip when required and an advisory committee of those who use their experience and network to further the cause. Any organisation that is only as big as its founder sees its growth stymie.

Non-profit organisations should be run as healthy businesses, with the difference that the money they make is not taken out but reinvested into furthering the cause. Social enterprises should pay those who render services and do not depend on volunteers to run the entities. Self sufficiency should be the aim of social ventures. Organisations that have followed such models have scaled up, penetrated deeper and have a future beyond the founding entrepreneur. In order to grow as a nation we need to sustain the good work and not rely on individual efforts. Maybe the non-profit definition needs to change from working for free to working for a fee to be free.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Second Chance

Each one of us deserves a second chance; a chance to make amends, to travel the road not taken or just to be what we can be. When life repeatedly knocks at our doorstep with that chance and gives it to us not once, not twice but over and over again and we do not take it; what should we call ourselves? If we see this happening, how do we awaken the other person; or do we at all? If we want to give that chance, then should we? Are second chances as exciting, as enticing as the first timers?

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Relationships or Relations Slip?

Eight weeks ago

Apyrrhicvictor asked me to name that one thing that I missed most about my life in London. I had to say – the morning coffee and good television. The extra hot lattes helped we wake up to an energetic working day. CSI, Law and Order, NICS and the many more entertaining and enthralling crime dramas helped me unwind late at nights and filled the lazy weekends.

In Mumbai, the usual coffee does not suit my palate and television is pumped with regressive soap operas which horrify my grey cells. The lack of coffee is made up by the abundantly available refreshing masala chai but there is no antidote for the torturous television routine in India. All soap operas revolve around a scheming witch like mother-in-law, a martyr like duty bound girl child or a conniving uncle trying to squander the family wealth.

Apyrrhicvictor’s one line verdict was – Hindi television serials to a large extent depict real life. I conceded. May be the scripts exaggerate the truth but tele-fiction is not far away from reality

The Day before Yesterday

I went to see a play, Sex, Morality and Censorship with my cousins. It was a good play albeit too slow. The one hard hitting and deserving long scene was one that highlighted the torture of the financially dependent housewife. The senseless physical and mental abuse borne by these women who cannot stand up to their husbands is the distressing truth of the world’s largest democracy. No law or police intervention can help these women till the time that they stand up on their two feet. With this thought in mind we walked out of the theatre.

We went on to a café before heading home to dinner. We were almost through with our drinks, when I saw a man approach a table not far away form us and throw the mobile phone of the woman at the table in anger and disgust. The lady in question was having a quiet coffee with a friend when suddenly this agitated man came in and started hurling profanities at her. He was upset that she was not answering his calls; he slapped her, pulled her from the chair and dragged her out of the coffee shop. All the while he was abusing her. It was as if we had just seen a rerun of the play we had walked out of!

There was pin drop silence around the little café when suddenly our villain in question re-appeared on the scene, demanding if the bill had been settled. An elderly gentleman walked up to the man to tell him how vile his behaviour was. The youngster raged in contempt and asserted that if his wife did not respond to his calls another time, he would leave an important meeting as he just had and deal with her once again in a similar manner. He was the husband and so this behaviour was his birthright. This time he walked out without a commotion; but he left behind a chaos behind in those who had witnessed the regressive and harsh reality still thriving in urban India. We were stunned with the realisation that amongst the educated and the upwardly mobile, there still exist men who treat women worse than pets.


Despite the rise in the education and disposable income in urban India, the lifestyle has not progressed. With money defining every social interaction from friendship, to professional equations to family bonding in majority; as a society we have forsaken the healthy growth of relationships to the benefit of puffing up of our bank balances. We do not want to utilise our education to deduce what aspects of our tradition and culture we must follow and what about the same should we leave behind. Those who need financial independence the most are the ones who have no access to it in the name of tradition. Women are still home bound and without options. Despite increasing education and financial stability, relationships that could have sailed have failed. We are a society, slipping from being a warm and hospitable one into a cold and selfish one. Zoltan was probably right; materialism has overtaken the spiritual India.

Thursday, 17 September 2009


Holy books across religions profess love as the supreme emotion – love for God and love for mankind. Great saints, have urged that we extend this emotion without restraint. Extraordinary contemporary men, from Gandhi to Bono, have exemplified the overarching consequences of willingly loving and sharing that love. And yet, it is this very emotion that is fading from our lives. Majority of us are just too busy in our lives, our chores, our vocation; to even realise the futility of our ways of existence.

Technological advances were made to increase efficiency and save time, but those innovations are causing erosion of time. The cars meant to transport us faster from point A to B are the cause of traffic jams, causing delays and gnawing on waking hours. Emails and telephones, inventions supposed to facilitate communication, keep us more engaged in work matters restricting time with those who could use and would cherish our time and love.

As some of us seem stuck in the rut, there are the older and the wiser amongst us who make an effort to suggest the error of our ways. R M Lala (one such enlightened man), in his autobiography - the thread of God in my life, illustrates the varied forms of love that he has experienced, extended and enjoyed. All those instances are heart warming, however, the most thought provoking is a simple sentence – “People do not realise that to love to adequately you have got to spare time for the other person”. It is not all the time; it is just some time spent wisely to express the love adequately.

Parents love us unconditionally, but professional commitments rob us of time. A mother at home will stay up past midnight, after having travelled half way across the world, just so that she can ensure that you are alright. But when you walk in, your mind is absorbed in a thousand other things, a peck on the cheek and you dive in to bed all set to wake up to catch a flight next morning. Siblings stand by us through our best and worst, but when they call to have a quick word, there are more important conference calls waiting and tugging us away. Nieces and nephews, who want to spend only one night tucked in bed with you listening to a story, have to be disappointed because a client on the other side of the country awaits a pitch. Friends are just as busy and occupied and those who really love us have to wait their turn. Love and its reciprocation have seemingly instilled a fear in us that giving into these emotions will keep from excelling at work, fulfilling our commitment to social causes that we believe in and living a life of fulfilment and adventure.

JRD Tata and GD Birla, two pioneering Indian industrialist, changed the shape of Indian industry – both had families that they spent time with. When they passed on, their sons took over to fortify the institutions their fathers had created. Gandhi, with all his affection for Kasturbai, did not leave her but along with her took Inida on the path to freedom. In one of his writings he says, “Had not been for her (Kasturbai), I would not have been able to forge the weapon of Satyagraha”. Bono has tremendous adoration and admiration for his wife and in his autobiography, conversations with Michka Assayas, mentions how she inspires and supports his philanthropic efforts. Needless to say that all these men have lived very fulfilling lives.

With love for every man, there will be less evil and the world will be a better place. However, charity begins at home and so does the expression of love. Without love at home, we cannot extend it outside. It seems that today might not be too late for us to rectify the fallacy of our busy lives and build a better future.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Children of Hope

Childhood, the age of innocence and the time of laughter; is it not the right of every child to enjoy that stage of life? Apparently not and there are myriad innocent angels around the world struggling to smile, forget laughing, in their first few tender years. War, terrorism, hunger, poverty; the reasons for their sufferance are innumerable. When from amongst these less fortunate souls, there emerges a hard working yet content soldier, the world suddenly seems to be a more beautiful place.

MU, the broker, and I were taking a late night stroll by the sea when we were approached by a young lad selling chocolates. Akash, the boy, had a simple an honest pitch to us – he bought Cadbury chocolates for INR 90 apiece and sold them for INR 110. The INR 20 profit he made was to help his father repay a loan. If we bought one it would be great, but if we bought two, he swore by the Lord that he would give us a discount and if he met us again would never sell us another bar. MU bought two bars and a content Akash was on his way when MU stopped him. Given the late hour MU offered to drop him home after he was done selling the chocolates.

On the way to drop him home, MU and I started a conversation with Akash, who spoke fluent English. I was impressed and asked him if he went to school or was he self taught. He explained that he indeed attended school, and a good one at that (Don Bosco in Matunga for those familiar with Bombay). Further he informed us that at fourteen years, he is the youngest of five. His father has a small grocery shop and took a loan so that Akash’s grandmother could fulfil a vow she had taken. Now to help the family, all the children studied and worked. In Akash’s words, “I go to school, come back and help my parents, the sleep for an hour; get up and study, then play for an hour and then come here to sell the chocolates. Is it not nice – I get to study and help my parents.” A very interesting view at that young age!

Before we could reach the fishing village where he said he lived, Akash asked us to stop by a police booth and got off. He said his brother would come to get him. That struck me as weird and I remarked to MU that it was rather strange for the boy to have not taken a lift home, especially as he had mentioned that he would have taken a cab home if he found two more customers after us. MU‘s response was stirring – “whatever be the reason, he must be desperate to sell chocolates at this late hour. Don’t give it further thought.”

While I thought no more of it as we drove through the night, sitting at home, my thoughts keep going back to Akash. How does he manage such poise with all the hardship surrounding him? Where does he get the strength and stamina from? And then, was he being honest about his family or is he being exploited by a gang that uses children to make money?

I sincerely hope that he is not being exploited. And for all his composure, honesty in trade and hard work – well he is a real Indian hero. It is people like him who give this country the different touch that it has, and it is unrelenting soldiers like him who make this country run. We, the privileged, can definitely learn a lesson or two from Akash and his kin. Someday I hope that children like Akash, in India and around the world, can have a carefree and laughter filled childhood. One that they deserve.

Friday, 11 September 2009

A Prayer for a Miracle

There are believers and there are non-believers. I would categorize myself as the former, and have always believed that the scales of universe’s justice balance out sooner or later. However, today, I am left wondering about the absurdity of this justice and am praying for a miracle.

After almost seven years of marriage, she had a baby girl; a child that she had longed for and doted on as soon as she whimpered into this world. This child today is four weeks old but instead of being cuddled in the mother’s lap, she is in cradling in the ICU, pierced with needles all over. Her little body is being fed with antibiotics via an IV and the prognosis is gut wrenching. This little angel, who seems to be sleeping in peace, is supposedly suffering from a congenital bone marrow disorder. While the doctors are waiting for the reports for a final diagnosis, they suspect either a rare form of leukaemia (ruled out just yesterday by other physicians) or an auto immune disease which could slowly start impacting her spleen, liver and lings one by one. The only course of treatment would be a bone marrow transplant, which cannot be undertaken on an infant of her age. She is going to go through an agonising biopsy later this morning and that in itself is going to be tricky given her soft still forming bones.

The little angel is suffering pain that she cannot even express. The mother is crying and suffocating within but expression of her grief is not helping. There is one thing other than medicine that could help; and that is prayer. I believe in the power of numbers and in the strength of sincere prayer. As I am praying for a miracle, I humbly request all those reading this to pray that the one above us waves his magic wand and cures this little child. There would be justice in this world when the little one can return home to her naming ceremony, play with her parents, grow up holding their hands and finally become a young woman that the parents can be proud of.

It might be rare but it is not impossible, nothing really is; and I would like to believe that her recovery is possible. I bow my head and await the justice

Monday, 7 September 2009


Randy Pausch, in his Last Lecture, spoke about the Parent Lottery; the sweepstakes where some of us win the bumper prizes of supportive parents who nurture their children into independent, aware, seeking and compassionate individuals. In addition, I think, there is a second lottery that everyone plays in their lives and that is the Great Friends lottery. The winner earns friends who through the years help her in becoming a better person. In times of need they stand by her like the rock of Gibraltar. When she makes a mistake they do not shy away from telling her that she was wrong but do not judge her for that error. And even after each one of them is on their individual life paths they are still there for her, unconditionally.

Now while I got lucky in the Parents Lottery, I also struck gold in the Great Friends Lottery. I am currently absorbing the magic of this luck of mine and am wonderstruck by the enormous amount of love and affection all around me. It is not big gestures that drive the point home, but it is the small stuff. It is the little things such as taking a delivery 2:00 am gladly, sharing the limited time to be with the better half with the friend, taking a day off just to spend some time together, ensuring that you have enough to sustain you on a two hour journey and even though you are old and independent enough not to leave you alone on your way in to the train station. There is such indulgence showered so spontaneously that one cannot but humbly acknowledge that one is not just well looked after but also amply looked out for. And yes in between all of this there is loads of laughter, fun and the small conversations that address the questions that life poses in front of each one of us. No wonder they say that it is the small stuff that matters!

This year my annual holiday has enriched me with the memories of a precious family holiday in some of the world's most picturesque mountains and a priceless realisation of the fact that some of the world’s most wonderful people are the ones I call friends. So is there anything more that I should be asking for?

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Professionals at Work

A few years ago I fell quite ill and was in the Incentive Care Unit (ICU) for a few days. After my discharge from the ICU, my situation had deteriorated compared to what it was before I was admitted. However, somehow, miraculously, I recovered. My doctor must have been surprised, but to my chagrin, he told me quite as a matter of fact that he had given up on me and was glad to see me alive and kicking. All the while I had been under the impression that medical professionals struggled to save lives!

Fast forward a few years and my parents and I were in the consulting room of a leading cardiologist, to discuss my father’s health. Admittedly nothing was serious and it was a routine check up, yet I was disgusted when the doctor deemed it fit to attend to a call (in the time that we were paying for) to argue about his fee not being paid. He glanced at the reports while on the phone and dismissed them. Of the time that we were there, there was little satisfaction of having been heard. Needless to say we have never been to that specialist ever again.

These are but two incidents that I have had first hand experience of and I am sure they are not the first or the last. We have all at some stage or the other read about the controversies surrounding drug formulation and clinical trials. Many of us have suffered an impact of negligent medical care. Many authors have widely written about malpractices in hospitals. Medical profession is the one entrusted with the lives of the world, unfortunately it is these lives that have become guinea pigs today in the hands of their own trustees.

Another profession entrusted with the shaping up of lives is that of education and it is rather sad to see that globally, the face of education is blemished with greed and incompetence. I have attended a dozen educational institutes (as a student), in varied parts of the world, and yet to my dismay there are very few teachers that I can remember making an impression on me. The one person that I do remember to date is my geography teacher in grade ten, Mrs Jaya Rajagopalan. Teaching for her was not a need, it was not a profession; teaching was her desire and her passion. Her engaging classes not only taught the class the lesson that the curriculum warranted, but she also showed us the way to become good human beings and women of substance. It was entirely her doing that even a restless student like me, who preferred analytical subjects, started taking a keen interest in geography. In fact she highlighted the analytical nature of the subject which had previously been hidden from the front view.

In stark contrast to Mrs Rajagopalan, I have had teachers criticising their mothers-in-law during lecture times or teachers who have had such little hold on their subjects that their lectures have flown out of the window even before hitting the ears of the class or teachers who have outrageously flirted with students during class. A number of these teachers are still teaching and that too in institutions of good repute. From the primary to the tertiary, the standard of education is falling and it is no surprise that a number of parents are opting for home schooling, especially in the west. For those who can afford, education comes at a premium, sometimes necessitating two incomes to support the household. Quality education should be the right of every child but apparently the economics ridden world seems to disagree.

Who should one turn to if one has suffered the ills of the medical profession? Who should one look to fight for ones right to education? While the simple answer would seem to be a legal professional, unfortunately even in that arena, there is little respite. Counsel and solicitors hesitate in taking challenging cases, scared of tarnishing their career record or in fear of standing against an opposing counsel they dare not irk. Even if some do take up cases, the client is serviced based on the interest of her lawyer and not her own. So when justice via the court of law becomes a near impossibility, there are people who seek justice in spite of the court.

With limited educational opportunities, the avenues to earn a living also constrict. With frugal earnings, access to medical care becomes restricted. With low incomes and poor health, incidences of crime increase. And then with limited legal support to set the wrong to right the increase in crimes is not a rationale surprise. So whether it is economics or it is ethics, in my view there needs to be the return of professionalism in the three fields of service mentioned. Otherwise equality, peace and harmony in the world will just remain dreams for the population at large.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

The New Nomadic Life

A recent article in the Financial Times ( labelled the current generation of ambitious achievers, “Tribal Workers”. It was not a belittling tag nor was the phrase used derogatorily. The author was only attempting to describe, how today’s youth, just like their tribal ancestors wants to have as little roots/commitments as possible. However, while the tribes were nomadic to hunt for food to satiate hunger, today’s youth is looking for greener pastures to satisfy intellectual curiosity. Be it relationships or be it jobs, all is meant to be transitory, teaching one in the process.

I happened to discuss this with a friend, a bright and successful hedge fund manager, and he did not accept the point of view that myriad experiences are necessary to satisfy intellectual curiosity. In his words “there is more to life than a job”. I was surprised, as in my interactions hedge fund professionals are probably the most ambitious, driven and intelligence seeking individuals around. Clearly this person, despite his life and education on three continents, seems to have a different view. I tend to agree with my friend when he says, “God has been gracious and given us a lot. It cannot just be a free lunch that we are supposed to eat and forget”.

So if I hear my friend; we need to have a life outside of the work place. But what is that life? Is it a cause that we are committed to (but that is again sort of work right?)? Is it a hobby that we are devoted to? Is it a family? Is it friends? What is that which will make life wholesome? As the weekend draws to a close slowly, I think I am starting to look for the answer leisurely.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Credit Worthy vs. Credit Worthiness

Having lived and travelled across a large part of the developed and semi-developed world (clearly my brush with the developing countries other than India has been limited), I am accustomed to the use of plastic money and on many occasions it has been a saviour. However, on all my travels back home to India, I have consciously always carried local currency; just this once I forgot and landed with a measly hundred rupees on me. And it is today I realised how over reliant am I on the plastic card in my wallet.

The driver coming to fetch me at the airport had an accident and could not make it. I decided to take a pre-paid taxi but had no cash and the taxi company accepted no cards at all. The only ATM machine at Mumbai International Airport was broken and no money exchanger would give money against a credit card. So I was stuck; till a lady behind one counter told me that I could take one of their cab company’s cars and pay on reaching home. I heaved a sigh of relief even though the fare charged was three times the normal fare; at least I could get home in time and proceed to work.

As I sat in the car, staring out of the window, I thought that maybe I could have exchanged some of my pound sterling into rupees. However, looking into my wallet and scratching me sleepy brain, I realised that I had none; I had bought gifts at the duty free and so I was out of foreign currency as well. It was a first time situation and I was a little peeved with myself.

However, thinking about this morning, now, a few hours later; I am beginning to realise that short term credit in India is an integral part of daily life. Just like I got the credit from the airport to home this morning, I could get credit from my local grocer to pay him in 30min and he will even send his errand boy over to collect the amount. The chemist has no problem in delivering medicines to the flat and keeping a monthly record of his receivables. The milkman, the newspaper vendor, the vegetable man; all of them are happy to run with monthly credits. They have no problem in accepting my word of honour as my credit worthiness; however, the plastic card in my wallet to them is no guarantee what so ever!

In the developed world my bank and my bank cards define my credit worthiness; but in India I am credit worthy to those who have known me for some time. So maybe the facilities do not abound here, but human interaction and personal relationships do. That to me is sufficient, as life is because of the people in it and not due to the comforts that one has at hand.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Its a Small World

It is seldom that we realise that the world is not just small but probably it is tiny. Rare as they may be, the sudden incidents that spring familiar faces in front of us, leave memories that make us smile for an eternity that follows.

After a long gap, I was visiting London and I was excited. Like a little child left in a toy shop, I arrived at Paddington train station longing to work my way to my favourite coffee shop. I was waiting for a cup of steaming hot latte. It did not matter that I had luggage with me or that I had already had my morning tea on the flight. Just like a child desiring his favourite toy, I needed my latte. So off I went, with a skip in my step, to the coffee shop and was about to order my coffee when I heard a stunned familiar voice from across the till, “Where have you been all these days”. One part of my brain associated the voice and the face with Bruno, the chirpy barista at the Starbucks opposite the London office. The other was saying that Bruno worked through the week at the Starbucks, had won the best employee award at that Starbucks outlet; he could not be working at this Costa Coffee outlet. I was confused and so the thirty odd seconds passed without any response from me. The manager recognising my surprise chipped in, “He works through the week at the Starbucks and the weekends at the Costa here”. My surprise turned into a beaming smile and I greeted Bruno, who by now had picked up the medium sized cup and was heading towards the coffee machine. With a twist of the neck he turned towards me and asked me if it was still my usual. The season in London had indeed changed but not my coffee choice and even Bruno’s memory had maintained the energy of spring not succumbing to the numbing winter that the city had encountered. As Bruno handed me my latte, silently and unknowingly he welcomed me home; he remembered me and that meant that the city had some of my memories hidden. I did feel like I had belonged there once upon a time.

I adore London and I love Mumbai. These are the two cities that have defined the tale of my life thus far. So if London had given me such a pleasant surprise, Mumbai was not going to stay far behind.

The day before yesterday, I had to go to a meeting in the suburbs but did not have the car. I ordered an air-conditioned radio taxi, as taking a normal cab or the public transport would have meant reaching the client’s office drenched in sweat. As I walked towards the waiting green cab, the driver suddenly got out and took my rather heavy laptop bag from me. He kept the bag on the back seat and then ran to the opposite side and held the door open. I was shell shocked! The green cab drivers were never this courteous or polite. I sat down with amusement and amazement written all across my face. He started the meter and then turned around, asked me how my parents were and when we envisaged moving back into our own flat. This was enough to spook me, how did he know my parents and that our flat is under renovation! Sensing my bewilderment, Ankit turned around and said, “You did not recognise me did you. I used to work for a family in the building next to yours. Have recently started living far away and cannot commute to work, so I have started driving this taxi.” Come to think of it, he had seemed familiar but yes this time I could not place the recognizable face. That day I had a very smooth ride to the meeting and back. It was a taxi but it was my own chauffer driven car.

Strange and sweet; such incidents occur to make each one of us realise that we do belong in this world. While it might not be every day that we face the truth, but in reality, someone somewhere is always thinking of us. And if that someone somewhere comes face to face with you, then your next few days are spent in absorbing the beautiful wonders of this world. The world - it is a strange place and yet a beautiful place; and I am thankful to Bruno and Ankit for making mine even better.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

The Truth...

The last few days have forced me to think once more. Think about what I value and what I want out of life. There have been different people that I have met in different parts of the world, yet the message seems to have been loud and clear – power, money and sex are the motivations and desires of most people. It seems strange to me that intellect and honesty have not figured on most lists. Actually I should rephrase that. Intelligence and truth are not deemed “in fashion” in their purest forms. Wisdom is thought to be of use only if it generates cash and truth is attractive only if packaged with some sex appeal.

While majority of the people are telling me this, the silly me is fascinated by Gandhi’s autobiography – My experiments with truth. My little brain reasons; Gandhi did not accumulate wealth for self nor was his honesty sold with physical pleasures. On the contrary, this man who believed that “nothing is impossible for pure love” actually secured the treasure of freedom for the nation at the cost of his own family. He gave up physical pleasures (not just sexual but even those of taste and the touch of silk) in his quest to test his own endurance. The world holds him as an iconic example of a model human being. So was Gandhi wrong, am I naïve or is the world just hypocritical?

Unable to find the answer, I am confused and agitated. Why does everything boil down to sex, money and power? Is it worth believing in love, having faith in a supreme power, valuing knowledge and astuteness and dealing with integrity and sincerity? Or is it wiser following the world, seeking pleasures and hoarding materialistic gains? Will there ever be a time when mankind will cherish the pure values that Gandhi promoted and true love conquer the current and future generations?

I take a deep breath and close my eyes. I do not have the answers and fear ridicule with this post. However, I am interested in knowing the world’s view and the truth. So I am risking this post, putting myself out there and being who I am; because there is no other way that I know how to live other than being honest with myself at least...

Thursday, 7 May 2009

The Cup is Always Half Full

It was past 2:00 pm and I was hungry. In the queue to buy lunch I was restless and was looking around. Suddenly a lady jumped the queue and went to the top end, but before I could react I realised it was a mistake. Everyone is allowed such errors, but that was not what the person behind me thought. Even after the lady apologised and joined the end of the queue, he shook his head in grave disapproval. Watching this scene play out, I missed moving forward which drew another groan from Mr. Perfect. Normally I would have laughed this out, but the fact that it was a Caucasian male disapproving of brown skin errors, made it a hard to ignore act.

I am myself critical of the weaknesses of my fellow countrymen and our systems, but sometimes find the intolerance of foreigners a little overbearing. It is not because I am holier than thou that I think I can be nit-picking and outsiders cannot be, but it is because I think I can look into my own house and set right the wrong. If we do not amend our own limitations, outsiders will only exploit us. But the outsiders need to look into their own affairs before they start raising eyebrows at our dealings. It is the assumed higher ground of some foreigners that I have difficulty in accepting.

The first time I went to live in Europe, I was asked if I could really afford the education and life in France. There were questions on if I had ever travelled outside of India, how I would repay any loans I had taken and did I watch movies other than Bollywood productions. These were amusing questions asked by the intrigued French and initially seemed to be harmless. But on the one occasion that a French policeman tore my Indian driving licence and bad mouthed India, I felt the discrimination. When a friend, whose car was burnt by French hooligans was asked by the French police if he had set fire to his own vehicle to claim insurance; I confirmed that brown skin was not looked upon favourably.

A couple of years ago, on a business trip to India, I met with a British professional who had decided to come to India and gain some work experience. It was a voluntary decision and there were no personal or professional pressures that prompted the decision; but apparently her decision was making her very unhappy. In her few months in India she concluded that nothing in India worked, no one cared about the surroundings and that it was all doomed to the end. Her lamenting went on for twenty minutes, after which I had to bring to her attention that if she waited for two weeks for an internet connection in Mumbai, in London too it takes three weeks. If the cable set up in Mumbai happens in 3 days, in London it takes 5 working days. If she felt salespeople were too pushy in Mumbai stores, in London they were sometimes apathetic. On the other hand, if she fell ill in London, she would probably have to manage on her own; in Mumbai, however, an unknown neighbour would readily help. If in London she wanted to meet friends, she would need to book her slot; in India though she could just go across. If in London she needed groceries immediately, she would need to go in person; whereas in India she could have them delivered at the doorstep for no charge!

Each nation has its own sets of strengths and weaknesses and if everyone would learn the best practices of the rest; the world would be a better place. To balance my own blog, I will increase the positive coverage of India, Indians and our rich history and culture. If I do not sell our strengths, I cannot expect others to acknowledge them. If I want to have the right to find flaws publicly I must recognize the strengths more openly. This is my resolve and I hope I live up to it.
PS: As there are those who moan about India, there are those foreigners who appreciate the country and the culture. I would like to thank all my friends and the strangers, who over the years have brought to my notice the richness of the country that we live in

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Indian Media - A Sprained Fourth Limb?

Media industry empowers its workforce to spread awareness, generate opinion and induce change; whether it is positive or negative impact that is created depends on the content carried. In the race to make money, it seems like Indian media has thrown caution to the winds. Analysing from across the seas only a small aspect of this carelessness was evident, but a closer inspection at home brought me face to face with the significant amount of violence, sex and glamour that spans news media; without thought to the probable influence on the adolescent and the impressionable young. Indian media also carries unabashed biased content on criminal offences, jeopardising fair trials, if audience coverage increases.

Recently, a popular English daily of the country carried a column titled “Water Cooler Moments” with explicit content on flogging, spanking and violence as increasing “bonding” during sexual activities. The piece mentioned “research” that corroborates such indulgence. Sex in India is not an openly discussed topic either in schools or at homes. However, there is a lot of exposure that teenagers have to sex via media. This intrigues teenagers who are increasingly engaging in different acts of physical intimacy without much thought, understanding or safety. Imagine the impact that columns such as the one under discussion, on “increasing pleasure”, can have if youngsters really try to attempt “bonding in bondage” either consensually or forcefully (especially in cases of forced sex).

This column is supposedly meant to bring forth overheard “interesting” conversations, but such content is blatantly lackadaisical. Furthermore, this column is regularly published right next to the “Open Space” column, which has a large young reader base. Having content as it did, almost positioned the piece to target the youth as the prime audience! I must admit that I had not read the newspaper and was pointed to this article by a friend. I was horrified and on pointing out the objectionable content to the newspaper’s editor, I received no response. It is really sad to know that Indian media professionals are abusing their privilege of “freedom of speech and expression”, a constitutional right, without acknowledging that they are capable of shaping the nation’s future.

The recent rape case of the American girl is an incident that highlights media’s liking for creating frenzy. (I would like to admit that the reports also agitated me). The first few days post the incident Indian dailies carried front page articles on this issue. Pre and post facto details, the statement of girl and suggestive comments by parents of the accused; were all published without censorship. Additionally, the accused’ statement saying that they did not flee the city as they did not think that the girl would “cry rape” made bold headlines. Printing such statements could signal to youngsters that it is alright to commit crimes as long as they are not caught; but on the part of media there was no curtailing. Once the news had lost its initial excitement, all coverage was dropped. The victim’s sufferings, the accused’ innocence and the police’s findings; nothing was deemed important enough to be brought out in the open.

There was no balance in the reporting of this incident. Responsible journalism would have been in reporting the facts in full, producing complete statements of both the victim and the accused (as opposed to publishing just the victim’s statement), refraining from publishing the strong opinionated comments of parents of the accused and then following through with the case. I also opine that the identity of the accused should have been protected until the case had closed. If found guilty, the media should have then increased awareness of the punishment meted out and promoted the judiciary’s efforts of setting an example in order to avert such horrifying crimes in future.

The legal luminary, Fali S Nariman had once said, “Free and robust reporting, criticism and debate contribute to public understanding of the rule of law, and to a better comprehension of the entire system. It also helps improve the quality of that system by subjecting it to the cleansing effect of exposure and public accountability.”

The gigantic Indian media is providing apathetic exposure to the youth and publishing without any responsibility itself; thus it remains doubtful if it will perform its function of improving “quality of the system”. With a weak “fourth limb of a democratic system”, media as called by GN Ray the Chairman of the Press Council of India, will this democracy be able to strongly stride and take on the world is a question that we need to address. Just as India needs to demand accountability from its politicians, Indians need to ensure that media begins to acknowledge its duties. The nation needs to awaken and smell the coffee!
PS: Maybe I spoke to soon, there was an aricle in the Mumbai Mirror on the rape case this morning. The balnced view is still questionable as the language still sensationalises the issue. The piece can be found on Interestingly, Mumbai Mirror calls itself a tabloid newspaper!

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Abominable Face of Indian Youth

Late teens to early twenties were the best years of my life. Those were the years which left me richer with the most cherished of all my friendships. Having selected fields which were male dominated, most of my close friends happened to be men. However, those friendships were formed on the basis of mutual respect, admiration and understanding. We had, and to-date have disagreements; but never do we question the other person’s intelligence. There have been instances of attraction within the group; but no advances have ever been made to compromise an individual’s integrity.

In fact my male friends were always protective of the women around them, whether close friends or not. I remember one particular instance quite vividly. There was an event in the college where a senior tried to act funny with me while on stage. Post the performance I was visibly upset which was noticed by a friend. On knowing what had transpired, he approached the perpetrator and confronted him. He ensured that the wrong doer got the message that he had been caught and was being watched from then on. Yes, I should have had the courage to do the same myself; but probably I was weak then. Nonetheless, my friends filled the gap and became my strength. Around them I was safe; and after all these years, to a large extent, because of them, I am a strong individual who can take care of herself and fight her own battles.

Today when I read about the 23-year old American woman who was raped by six Indian boys in Mumbai; something in my heart gave way. I was aggrieved and agitated. These boys hail from the same institutions where I made my friends. The girl studies in the same college (Tata Insititue of Social Sciences – TISS) where a close friend did her masters. The lounge bar that they went to is in the vicinity where I went to college for four years. So these youngsters hang out in the same places as I and my friends did; just that we are a decade and plus apart. Has that decade made so much of a difference that we have forgotten respect for people! Is that the youth of today – a brigade that thinks of excesses and violations as a hobby, a birthright!

While I might have highlighted my emotions, let me begin my analysis.
By the girl’s own statement (published in media), I think she was not comfortable with the guys and could have averted trouble to start with. When almost total strangers forced her to drink despite her wanting, why did she give in? That she was drunk does not make the crime of the boys less offensive, but the fact that she accompanied acquaintances to an alien place definitely makes her more vulnerable. Post the beginning of the harassment, the girl went to the bathroom and called a friend. Then why not wait till he called back rather than get out in to the lions’ den? Letting herself out of the toilet, made her position even more fragile. Yet, it is possible that in a state of intoxication, her reflexes were subdued.

What is beyond comprehension is the
admission of the boys (printed in the news dailies) that they planned this entire episode! Desperation, hunger, lust, experimentation; no adjective that comes to mind can ever justify this act. Violating a female mind and body to satisfy their momentary desires is a vile action and should be punished rigorously. Taking the facts as they were – the boys intoxicated the girl, duped her into going with them to a lonely apartment and then set the scene for group non-consensual sex; all these clearly point towards a well orchestrated act. They were sane and had a motive. On top of that (as reported by the media) they had the cheek to say that they “never expected the girl to cry rape” and hence never fled the city! Were they expecting her to thank them for the best night of her life! Or thank them for the morning pill they gave her to protect themselves! Abominable!

This is not the first time that such a ghastly act has been committed and reported. If found guilty (post a fair trial rather than media or individual opinionated views, mine included) the accused should be punished to set an example such that this becomes the last time that someone dares such an act. Violation of the female mind, body and soul cannot just be reprimanded anymore. It needs to be catered to more sensitively, seriously and severely. And this only means that the law and its guardians need to become more through and strict. I sincerely hope that Indian law makers acknowledge this need of the hour.

PS: I do hope that the media has published the girl’s statement with her consent. I am not sure if I condone the printing of the statement. However, if the girl has conceded to it then I guess my first apprehension of victim’s confidentiality and peace of mind being harmed will rest assured to the contrary.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

The Present and Future of Indian Politics

As a child, I had the unique fortune of living in a township adjacent to a village, witnessing the simple lives that majority of Indians lead. There were two predominant sources of employment for the community – agriculture and the township’s factory. There were two temples and a mosque in the village and there were varied castes living in the community. There were just two schools where children from all walks of life went and interacted with each other. There was one hospital in the township that catered to the needs of all the people in the vicinity. It was a harmonious existence and the child in me thought that the world was as peaceful as our rural community.

The normal and mundane life of the little village was interrupted on very few occasions. The most vivid memories that I have of such events are of the visits of passing by politicians, stopping to use the guest accommodations of the factory. Those visits were like weddings – the cooks were busy preparing delicacies, security staff shunted around ensuring decorum and safety, flower arrangements adorned the guest house building and all senior factory officials with their wives were in attendance. The drama made no sense to me and the importance of the visiting Prime Ministers, Chief Ministers and Home Ministers etc. escaped my eight year old brain. They might have been important people but never struck me as intelligent and powerful office holders.

Gifted and authoritative to me were the collectors and the other Indian Administrative Services (IAS) officers, who visited our township and held intense discussions over rather normal meals, without elaborate displays. Despite the humour and light conversation, ironically the lack of fanfare to me was an indication of the respect that they commanded. That they interacted effortlessly and directly with all the inhabitants of the rural community made them real and humane. These were the people, who I thought, really cared about the community. Reality struck gradually as I grew up and moved out of that little cocoon in to the real world. Today, having lived in a number of Indian cities and abroad, I definitely have a wider perspective.

The upcoming 2009 elections, however, have refreshed my memories and I am forced to think that maybe my child brain was correct to a large extent. The political leadership in India is indeed about self promotion and self profit. There is mass exploitation of people’s sentiments, with all promises made at the beginning and none even remotely fulfilled at the end of the ministerial tenure. Take the example of the local candidates in the holy city of Tirupati. They are busy distributing gold coins worth INR 3,000, with Lord Balaji embossed on them, to the public. The aim is to use the religious sentiments of the populace to strengthen the vote bank! Or take the example of the Maharashtra Nav Nirman Sena chief, who tried to use ethnicity as a trump card, stating that the financial capital of India should be foremost for the indigenous people of the state. I cannot remember reading of any promises made whatsoever; however, there is enough evidence to suggest that this very party, fighting for the rights of the local people, has been conspicuous in its absence post the November attacks on Mumbai. There was no help extended by the party during or after the crisis. All the bravado and valour of the party members were and are being used against innocent civilians but none against any perpetrator violating the peace and development of their very own city!

Why is it that Indian politicians need to resort to sentiment exploitation to enrich their vote banks? One reason is a lack of inspirational leaders who can motivate either by example or by oratory skills. Thus the simplest way to incite the crowd is to inflame emotions leading to mass following. Communal politics seems to be the lowest hanging fruit to encash upon. Even in the current elections, the struggling heir of the grand old Indian political family has used religious hatred to garner support. Sad that an educated youth leader would resort to these tactics.

However sad the truth maybe, it is to quite a degree due to the second pillar supporting sectarian politics in India. The most active participants in the country’s politics are the poor and the uneducated. These people, desperately craving a change, are willing to believe anyone who brings the slightest of glimmer of hope. The urban educated middle class, upper middle class and the elite are the weakest link in the democratic setup of the country. These individuals with the wherewithal should not only be active participants but also proponents of civil rights and civic duties. However, these are the very people who encourage corruption and chaos by attempting the short routes to meet their aims. In the garb of having no capable candidate to vote for, they remain completely detached from elections, preventing any weeding out of the most undeserving candidates.

Indian businesses and lobby groups are also culpable in this propaganda. It is true that businesses cannot survive without lobbying as politicians do not make it easy for them. However, if the country’s revenue generators were to take a tough stand against parliamentary wrongdoings, then the sheer lack of economic gains would bring discipline in Indian politics.

The picture is not as gloomy as I portray it to be. The November attacks on Mumbai seem to have played the role of a catalyst in awakening the youth and the able. There is an entry of the upper middle class and elite into politics; key examples being Meera Sanyal (a banker) and Captain Gopinath (a retired Indian Army soldier and an entrepreneur). They might be just two individuals, however, even if they can inspire 200,000 youth it will be a start. The silver lining in the cloud is that these individuals are not attaching themselves to any political party but contesting as independents. This implies that they really aim of doing the right things, in the right way, for the people. Indian political leadership is also not completely devoid of able leadership. There are individuals of mettle such as Sri Arun Shourie, the former disinvestment minister of India. A learned economist and a passionate advocate of his beliefs, he is truly an inspiration. However, such credible names are few and far in between.

There is a ray of hope of change and it is the educated youth who can turn this dream into a reality. I do hope that youth in India recognise their importance and play their role judiciously. The American youth ensured that Obama took helm not just as the first ever African-American president of the United States of America, but also as the voice of the country’s future. Similarly, I hope that Indian youth will see party politics for what it is and start the process of weeding out the most undeserving players from our political arena. It is not realistic to hope for a complete turn around in these elections, however, it is practical to desire the beginning of a new era –an era which once again witnesses the educated and the aware framing the country’s law and policies, leading the country by example and shaping our young nation as a global power of reckoning. It is now over to the educated and able India, it is over to you.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

The "jugaad" of Indians

There are a number of descriptions of India – hub of outsourcing, the land of the mystic, ancient culture and civilization etc. Depending on the seeker and the descriptor, the portrayal changes from one view to the next. However, to date I have not come across a single phrase or word that describes the contemporary Indian; the individual whose existence creates this country. For a long time I had been searching for this identity, till it suddenly dawned on me that the ideal description for all Indians is the simple Hindi word of “jugaad”. Loosely this can be translated into English as an “uncoordinated temporary solution”.

From the farmer living a hand to mouth existence to the vegetable vendor in Mumbai, the poor are all doing a jugaad for their next meal. The meagre salary earning drivers and domestic help are occupied with the jugaad of sending their children to school. Whether this translates into a loan from their employers or into multiple jobs a day, very few solutions are sustainable. The middle class is constantly engaged in the jugaad of earning more money and buying that new car or flat. Then even if it means approaching a bank for an unaffordable EMI loan or a stock market broker for a lottery winning stock tip, it’s all to take the shortest route to the top. Finally it’s the rich. They are constantly in search of the next jugaad to save on the upcoming tax liability.

At some point I think that corporate India is no different. Every company is doing some jugaad or the other – finding loopholes in policies, saving taxes, understaffing to curtail costs or finding a link in the old boys’ network to get away with non compliance of laws. The crown prince of all jugaad in India is the nation’s political system, with every politician (and political party) doing everything s/he can to win the next election; even if it means representing a different party (or alliance) in every consecutive election. Jugaad seems to have broken all barriers of religion, cast and creed to become an all pervasive identity.

The presence of jugaad, however, by no means indicates lack of enthusiasm or energy to work. In fact ask any Indian if something can be done and most often the reply is yes. The problem is that while the yes is said first, the how, which will implement the yes is not thought of until much later. In the absence of having thought through this how, the path leading to the solution becomes clumsy and messy, causing more accidents than needed.

Able thought leadership can very effectively and efficiently rid us of this identity, which while making us hard working also makes us less productive. According to Sanjeev Sanyal, the author of “the Indian Renaissance”, it is the decline in intellectual guidance and tactics that led to the decline of India in 1800s, much before the colonial rule took root. But history has proven that this thought leadership has not eroded from the country – Gandhi gave birth to one and India gained independence, Narsimha Rao and Manmohan Singh devised another and India started on the path to economic prosperity. Maybe it is time now for a new thought leadership to emerge to re-establish the lost glory of the Golden Eagle.

For this to emerge it is the educated youth, the professional with some financial backing who will need to take the lead. Can we do it? Yes! How? Let’s think about it today.

Monday, 16 February 2009

The Snow Clad City of Bridges

London, amongst the most beautiful cities in the world! London, a city that oozes character from every pore! London, a culmination of all that is romantic, poetic and lovable. London, a city that I recently left behind to move to my very own city - Mumbai.

In the last eight weeks, I hardly ever missed London; but today I am nostalgic. I am looking at the photographs of a snow clad London and can sense a sudden twinge at having missed my city in its white splendour. I wish I could share this rare momentous occasion with Londoners – walking on London Bridge or in Regent’s Park, taking a stroll on the snow covered river bank or just ice skating at the open air rink at Canary Wharf. London must be so different this time round!

My thoughts slowly steer towards the view from my office window. I can picture the snow and slit covered street albeit with fewer pedestrians, all covered head to toe in wool or fur. I can see myself, coffee in one hand and clutching my muffler in the other, rushing to enter the office. I wonder if the heater under my desk would keep me, the always freezing tropical specimen, warm through a day that had the entire city freezing to grounding halt?

And what would have the night been like? Would the concierge at the building turn up? Would the local grocery store be open in the evening as I returned from work? Would my friends turn up at home for a cup of masala tea and some pakoras? There is no end to all these and many more ifs in my mind that have kept me occupied for the last so many hours.

To call it a night I heave a reluctant sigh; alas I am not in London. But I promise to be there soon; and if not sooner then at least in the summer, when the sun is shining bright. On a glowing, yellow morning I will visit the park. On the lush green grass, by the swimming ducks; I shall laze, read my book and listen to the band. Once the music stops and the late afternoon crowds start swarming in, I shall go to my little café, have my latte and chat with my grocer. At the end of the perfect day, I will lie down and sleep soundly; thrilled at another opportunity to kiss the city that has made me who I am. I know I will be grateful for that one brief encounter.

Until then I sleep in my bed in Mumbai, knowing that I have returned to the place that is mine and to which I so truly belong. I rest assured in the knowledge that my decision was the right one and this is where I now need to establish myself. I would like to visit London with my dreams realised, so that London can be proud me; just as I am proud of my City of Bridges.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Regaining the Lost Balance

I cannot help but wonder why some people are just so important in our lives. How is it that they leave marks which are hard to erase? Why do they say things which are impossible to ignore? Why is it that their dreams become ours? These people are parents, siblings, friends, betterhalfs and then at some point our own children.

Ever since my return to India I have been absorbing the love of all my relationships. It has suddenly made me feel that the world is a little vase filled with the water of love with flowers of relationships blooming. I love this feeling and am grateful for it.

With these relationships come obligations. Not all of them are imposed; most of these are self impositions as emotions are hard to ignore. Accustomed to skating on the ice of life with freedom, suddenly maintaining the grace with the additional weight to pull is becoming tricky. Even though I use the word weight, I do not imply burden. I am just unable to describe what I have in tow; it is a voluntary baggage that I not only have selected but I need. I am a people’s person and those who are close to me are more important to me than everything else. So when I neglect them for work, I am taken over by guilt.

Calvin and Hobbs waited for an hour and I met them. One has been my lucky charm for years together and the other my absolute best friend in this whole wide world. The two of them together with me, it is happening after 3 years. It is a dream come true and yet not only did I make them wait but was on the phone with work for a long time after we met. While they repeatedly kept saying, “Tanu, its just work, relax,” I know they understand. Still I did not understand my own priorities. This is probably the most important time in both their lives and yet I was preoccupied.

Why are choices in life so difficult? Why is it that with the increase in sophistication and progress of technology, the availability of time for all that truly matters is becoming scarce? Why cannot feelings be just feelings and be felt? I wish I could regain my balance and poise; and glide and sail with all the love, emotions and career progression in tow. Is it too much to ask? If it is then I think I have prioritized, not in action yet but in words already.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Protecting and Prosecuting Crime against Women

A Russian lawyer and a journalist supporting his cause, both attempting to bring justice to a murdered rape victim, were gunned down three kilometers from an apex institution of the nation – the Kremlin. Their cause was admirable and their sacrifice noble. The irony of their death place is garish. However, there seem to be more important tasks that the governments world over are attending to, while the givers of life perish at the hands of the immoral and the unlawful.

One would hope, if not expect, that the situation would be different in a nation that has had amongst the longest serving female prime ministers in the world; has a current female head of state and even has a plethora of goddesses worshipped by a throng of staunch male devotees. Statistics, however, beg to differ. India ranks 113th out of 130 nations which were surveyed for gender parity
[1]. Rape is the fastest growing crime in the country; faster than murder, robbery and even kidnapping. In fact it is estimated that two women in India are raped every sixty minutes[2]. And it is even more appalling to know that 25% of the reported offenses were committed against minors.

There are two distinct reasons for the growth in these crimes – one is the changing attitude and perception of the masses and the second is related to the law of the land. Given that people and especially women are slowly de-linking the offense from social stigma, there are more of these crimes being reported. Thus it might not be entirely correct to interpret the statistics in isolation. Even if one disregards the supposed growth in crime against women, the mere suggestion of two rapes an hour is horrifying. This is where the law comes into picture and it is saddening to understand that the Indian legal system still does not fully acknowledge the physical, mental and physiological damage caused by such gruesome acts.

Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) defines rape as “intentional, unlawful sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent”. Questions that spring to mind immediately are (i) how does the law define forced oral sex and sodomy and (ii) is forced foreplay or engaging in all but penetration with a minor any less offensive. Those conversant with the law would like to state that while Section 375 might be narrow, Section 354 of the IPC does address the acts of forced oral sex, sodomy and even penetration by foreign objects. Further Section 377 of the IPC deals with ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’. However, the trouble is that neither of these two sections, acknowledge that violation of the female mind and body other than forced intercourse also tantamount to rape. This leaves a lot of room for perpetrators and their lawyers to get away with lesser than justified punishment

For the culprit to be convicted, evidence is paramount. In the case of a rape, the primary sources of evidence are the physical examination and statement of the victim. Yet again, Indian legal system seems to fail the victim. Section 155 (4) of the Evidence Act requires that the victim be cross examined in the presence of the accused and that a detail of her past sexual history be noted as well. This not only is harsh and senseless but also fundamentally flawed. Research shows that rape victims suffer from acute and extensive psychological trauma during and after the incident. This leads to anxiety, concern for safety and development of mistrust becoming a part of the victim’s life
[4]. With this backdrop, it is not far fetched to say that any cross examination in the presence of the one responsible for the trauma will be inaccurate and can potentially lead to further psychological damage. The law which is supposed to protect and preserve, in this one instance fails its purpose!

When it comes to minors the situation is direr. While most other countries in the world have separate laws dealing with child sexual abuse, Indian laws treat these crimes under the same Sections 375, 354 and 377. All the concession that the Indian legal system grants to minors is in terms of (i) Section 293 ‘sale, hire, distribution or circulation of obscene objects of literature to children’, (ii) Section 294 ‘obscene acts or utterances in public places’ or (iii) Section 511 ‘intent to rape’. This leaves the minors more vulnerable than adults who can comprehend the situation and voice their emotions. Stunned and puzzled children, even after expressing their experience, do not find redresses in the courts of law. This status quo is distressing in the knowledge that in the city of Mumbai alone, 60% of rape victims are girls between the ages of three and sixteen

The Indian Penal Code was introduced in 1860 and the first amendments to laws relating to rape and sexual assault were effected in 1983. In 2004 Sakshi (an Indian NGO) filed a public interest litigation seeking an amendment to the classification of various sexual offences, other than penile/vaginal penetration, as lesser offenses under the Indian Penal Code. The Apex court did not rule in favour of the social welfare organisation. Post that in 2005 that there were minor changes proposed via the Criminal Law Amendment Bill addressing Sections 354, 375, 377 and 509. However, these changes are limited to expediting trials and protecting evidence in case witnesses turn hostile.

I am finally left wondering - if the Russian lawyer and journalist were in India, would their quest to “defend the law against abuse by the state” even see a start?

[1] World Economic Forum
[2] National Crime Records Bureau
[3] Under Section 375, the punishment is seven years and upwards; Sections 354 and 377 are treated as other criminal offences and hence the prescribed punishment is not severe.
[4] See for further details
[5] The data is slightly outdated : WIN News 1999