Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Bharti Yadav deposes in court
So Bharti Yadav has finally deposed in court. This has been a long struggle, and shows what the faith of a determined mother can do. The facts of the case are known to a lot of people, but a short recap should refresh matters for those who have not been following the case.
As per the prosecution, Nitish Katara had been very close to Bharti Yadav, the daughter of Ghaziabad's strongman, D. P. Yadav. This was not liked by his sons, and they eventually abducted the hapless Nitish from a marriage and killed him in 2002 in Ghaziabad. The issue around Bharti is that she was also there in the wedding and had stated that she last saw Nitish with her brothers. And given how good our police and prosecution is, this key witness was allowed to leave the country and go off to London. Ever since then, the case has been ongoing, but the absence of a key prosecution witness has prevented the case from reaching a logical conclusion.
For long, the mother of the victim, Neelam Katara has been fighting valiantly to keep the case alive and bring Bharti back to India for deposing in the case. For some interval in between, there was a move to drop her as a witness, but due to the doggedness of Neelam Katara, the focus has remained on getting her back to the country to depose. Bharti has tried various strategies to prevent her appearance, from her family feigning a lack of knowledge of her whereabouts to the external affairs ministry dragging their feet about making attempts to get her back.
It is only due to the efforts of the mother, and a very active judiciary that has been prodding the Government to take action against Bharti, including declaring her a proclaimed offender. And I would tend to believe that she is coming back only because she would have been declared a proclaimed offender; also, with her visa due to expire, and passport being revoked, she would have anyhow been deported back to India and been arrested. Coming here on her terms would have been a better deal.
To get Bharti declared as a proclaimed offender may seem like a very strange thing, given that she would have been affected by the murder of someone with whom she was close, she would also been under tremendous pressure from her family, and after all, she is not accused of any crime.
This is actually only half-true; in most modern judicial systems, helping in the passing of justice is seen as one of the primary responsibilities of a citizen. Evading this by either falsely giving evidence or trying to prevent giving evidence seems like actually helping in preventing justice from happening, and can actually be punished.
Now that she is here in India, we need to actually see whether she will take the side of justice, but it is equally likely that she would have buckled into pressure from her family and decided not to be truthful. If that being the case, then the prosecution has a responsibility to this society to not treat her lightly and ensure that they get the truth out of her. It can be argued that after all it was because of his proximity to her that a young guy had to lose his life.
This case also highlights a concern that comes out time and time again in various cases. The movement in this case is either because of the efforts by an individual (the victim's mother) or because the courts have pushed the case, something that we expect the prosecution and the police (with their almost infinite powers) to do but mostly never see. I wonder when this will change for the better.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Indian parliamentarians having nothing better to do ?
Looks like members of the Indian parliament have nothing better to do. There was actually news reports that in parliament, the issue of the performance of the Indian cricket team was discussed. This is incredible. What a waste of national money. To keep parliament in session takes almost a small army of workers and enough budget to help A LOT of needy families.
So in the time when member of the Indian parliament could have been discussion as to why China is ahead of India in terms of attracting funds from its diaspora and from others, as to why farmers are committing suicide, etc, they are actually spending time discussing cricket. We would laught if it was not such a serious issue.
Cricket is a game controlled by the BCCI, which is not affliated to the government. Even though cricket is a game loved by a huge percentage of the nation's citizens, it is not the only game. If they needed to have a discussion, they could discuss as to why it is a national shame that India, the world's second most populous country, cannot build good infrastructure and a good set of administrators who can make sure that we consistently produce world-beaters in various sports. While on the subject of cricket, this was a perfect occasion to bring other issues in the discussion such as why the favourite of a particular region was discriminated against, and so on. Incredible. I will not debate the merits or demerits of Saurav Ganguly's current abilities, but for a member of the Indian parliament to plead his case in the middle of the Indian parliament is downright outrageous.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Caste based crimes in Indian villages
For all those who claim that caste based discrimination has gone away from Indian villages, or that women have a much better status, here is yet another case that demonstrates how difficult it is reconcile these theories with facts. Read the full article here.
The case revolves around a 15 year old dalit girl, allegedly raped by a Rajput youth in Madhya Pradesh. The girl refused to drop the complaint inspite of pressure, and subsequently, before she and her family could go to a safe place, in the night, the accused poured kerosene on her as she was sleeping and condemned her to a fiery death.
The case is barbarous enough, but what makes it even more bad is the happenings after the alleged rape. The rapist is not in custody and is able to threaten the girl and her family. The village supports the guy, with some people claiming that the barbarous act was just a regrettable incident (implying that all should be forgiven), committed in the heat of youth. Further, after the girl got burnt, inspite of upper caste families having vehicles, not one vehicle could be quickly obtained to get the girl to hospital.
Hopefully, given that the girl in her dying declaration has named the boy as her killer (which is a valid legal statement), and with the facts of the case being as they are, the killer would be sentenced to the punishment that he deserves. But, this kind of situation exists in a large number of Indian villages, what can be done to prevent this kind of caste based anti-women attitudes. There are no quick-fix solutions. A long term education policy that empowers all the weaker sections, along with an unrelenting attitude to punish such wrong-doing speedily is the only solution.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Policemen turn into state sponsored offenders
In a shocking crime, but which no longer seems unlikely, 2 policemen took a person into custody, and then offered to help him get bail if he paid a bribe of Rs. 50,000. View article.
The case is simple, a person, not otherwise seemingly involved in some crime introduced 2 people for a business transaction. The deal went sour, and this guy was also named in a cheating case. The police caught him, and sent him to jail. Cases of cheating were filed against him. So far, this is normally what can happen.
What happened next reveals the need for action to ethically clean and indoctrinate police personnel. The investigating officer promised to help him get bail if he was given Rs. 50,000 by the accused. If not paid, the investigating officer would file many more such cases against the accused He paid the money in one installment of Rs. 25,000, and then contacted the anti-corruption bureau, who caught the corrupt cops as the final installment of Rs. 25,000 was being paid.
This kind of case and variants of it cause dread in the citizens of this country. One can only wonder how many such cases must be happening around the country where a policeman or other babu misuses his authority for personal gain. There is a critical need for police reform, and
make the police force more independent from the network of politicians that it has got under. How are politicians involved in this ? Well, from what I have read, it seems that the whole concept of transfers and postings of officials (including the police) revolves around some sort of payment and gratification system. Once such a thing happens, a policeman who has paid money to reach a specific post will want to recoup his investment. Simple business.
In addition, there is the question of peer pressure. If a policeman sees his colleagues make money and have a good life without much fear of being caught AND prosecuted, then it is more
likely that he will also want to copy this lifestyle. For this reason, it is necessary to make sure that caught offenders are quickly convicted and stripped of their rights to be a beast in uniform.
The Government and the courts should also try to figure out the dual objective of how to ensure that policemen get paid adequately that they do feel opressed financially, and at the same time, there needs to be inculcated the feeling of ensuring that the police folks develop an attitude that even though they represent the majesty of the law, they are in fact custodians of the public.
What can a normal citizen do ? A normal citizen, seeing the state of the police folks, would want nothing better than to not get involved in any proceedings that involve the police. If indeed they face a situation similar to the person in this story, they would most likely pay up quickly so as to get out of the situation quickly. It is a brave citizen who would take the ethically right path of reporting such deviant behaviour. If more citizens act like this, it will scare such bribe takers as they would not be sure in which scenario they could get caught.
The media has a big role to play. The Indian media is seen as sensation hungry and out to get maximum readership/viewership. This can work to the advantage of the country if the media, using their access to more and more stealth ways of finding out such cases of corruption, are able to expose more and more cases. The key to fighting corruption, in addition to the normal method of trying to inculcate a sense of ethics, is to ensure that cases proceed quickly, and that there is so much fear of disclosure that a bribe taker will think twice before trying to take a bribe.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Governance and ego in India
If there was ever an example of how ego can derail good governance, irrespective of hardship to consumers, the bus row between UP and Delhi is a prime example. Without going into the motives of why exactly this situation rose, it would be good to actually consider what is happening.
The situation is simple, buses owned by UP and Delhi Transport corporations (Government owned) that earlier used to move commuters between different cities of UP and Delhi now are blocked from entering each others territory. So, consider the simpest case, a citizen of this country, staying in some part of Delhi works in Noida. Till now, he would come out of his house, maybe walk for a brief while, and then get a bus that will drop him near his office. And now, the bus terminates at the Delhi border, where he has to get down, walk for some distance to find another transport the rest of the way. And this is not for one person, but by now lakhs of people will have been affected.
And why has this not been resolved ? Well apparently the issue of buses plying between the 2 states had been discussed earlier, and some sort of agreement reached. But this agreement collapsed; and the other important reason, ministers of one state rebuffed the other state and vice-versa, and so, there is no agreement and buses are getting impounded. And these are the officials and ministers on whom we depend to make our lives better. One seriously expects them to behave better than crying children.
There is a sneaking feeling that all this is being done to play more politics; there are elections soon in UP, and all such postures are part of partisan politics. This is also linked to whether the Metro goes to Noida and whether Delhi's Sonia Vihar water plant gets enough water. We have sunk so low in our esteem for politicians that if you ask people about the reason for a particular action, all sorts of motives can be ascribed and believed.
Will things improve ? Right now, the commuters are getting badly affected; and the children of schools that are in Noida and whose homes are in Delhi are getting badly affected. In the midst of all this, it is worth noting that these politicians do not do anything to affect their personal / party interests, so private buses are out of all the skirmish and are benefiting greatly from this situation.
Some links that explain the position:
Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Hindu
Saturday, November 18, 2006
Emancipation of women in the sub-continent ?
The measure which made this particulary horrible was that cases of adultery / pre-marital sex (deemed a crime) needed less stringent proof. So one has the gruesome spectacle of a victim reporting a rape, unable to get the 4 male witnesses, then being accused of adultery and being convicted of that. One would expect that this would lead to a reduction in the reporting of rapes, and there seem to be a number of cases where something like this happened.
In addition, we have other cases of biases against women being depicted in incidents such as honour killings, forced marriages, marriages at small ages, low education levels, and other such tendencies that a strongly patriarchal system imposes. Now, with the changes in the Hudood Ordinance having been passed by one house of parliament, there is a stronger chance that atleast some of the biases can be reduced. I would think that this is a long process, and there will be numerous times when religion will be used to justify these biases.
But, one should certainly not be happy about the condition of women in India. There are equally strong tendencies in India to equally depict women of the house as some sort of chattel, in effect being possessions of their husbands. There are equally vile going-ons over here; dowry and dowry related harassement is something that has become part of the fabric of society, so much that we cheer when somebody raises their voice against this practise; honour punishments / killings do happen; education levels for women are much lower than for males; husbands in many cases think nothing of physically or verbally harassing their wives (something that I have had the tragedy of seeing happen to people, although from a distance); and so and so forth.
In India, we have anti-dowry laws, and we have laws to punish assault on women. Some of these laws are very stringent. So much so that if a lady wishes to misuse these laws (and I am sure that there are quite a few cases of such misuse happening), the affected parties will be in serious trouble for some time atleast. However, I believe that society has accepted harassement of women in households to such an extent that stringent laws will provide affected women with a way to get some relief. If you read some of the horror stories that are inflicted on women in their marital households, these stories will make your skin crawl and you will not be able to believe as to how 'normal' people can sink to these levels of barbarity. Just one link to portray the extent of domestic violence as a statistic. The reader can do a bit of Googling and find numerous examples (especially if one does not want to believe the previous United Nations report).
Let's take the issue of misuse of these laws head-on. There have been numerous reports of misuse, and I am sure that some of these are true. The solution for these is not to turn off these laws (I fear that the problem that they are trying to tackle is too severe for such turnarounds). Studies show that the incidence of misuse is a very small fraction; people fighting against such misuse would be better focused to fight to get safeguards / review mechanisms built into the law rather than claiming that the law is defective. Using the courts system against this law and/or contacting their political structure is one effective method of pushing one's case. More highlighting of such cases and getting statistics will move this process forward.
I have been reading quite a bit of literature on mis-use of these laws (especially 498a and the recently passes Domestic Violence act). There is a lot of opinion that these laws effect the stability of marriages; that feminist movements will provoke wives to use these laws against their in-laws and husband; and most of all, that the normal law of nature is that the man provides and the wife remains in the house. It is very difficult to argue with a person who believes in such things. How can I think that a wife, who has come into a new home with a partner for a life-long bond will file cases against her new family seeking to punish them unless something has happened to provoke such a reaction. Typically in such cases, even if physical violence has not been used, there is a lot of verbal harassement and means of creating stress.
The other notion that feminist movements start turning wives against their husbands is equally horrendous. From what I understand of what actually happens, there is counselling involved with the first objective being to try to get the relationship resolved. But from what I suspect readers already know, there is a significant proportion of the male community that believe that they have the right to do whatever to their wives, and it is very difficult to counsel such people until some sort of threat is used.
As to the argument that such acts destroy marriages, I believe that in this era of publicity to women achievers, to TV serials/movies showing successful and talented females, it is going to be more difficult to keep a lady quiet in a stressful marriage. Earlier, it used to be easier as there was much more pressure on the lady to keep the marriage going, if necessary to accept punishment and harassement. That is going to be less and less likely. Now with women working more and having the ability to take care of themselves, I predict that unless the Indian male gives up some of his heavy biases (again, not all males have such biases), we are going to see more marriages collapse.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Seemingly well-off people asking for money
The first time it happened, I was living in Chennai. I had gone to visit a friend in Adyar, and there an old lady (decently dressed) stopped me and asked me for help. She claimed that she was from out of town, had her purse stolen and had no money to get back, and no money for food. She asked me for around Rs. 200 to get a bit to eat, and then to get back to her city. This was coupled with an apologetic tone where she said that she was embarrased to be asking for money, but she had no option. She assured me that she will get the money back to me. This entire conversation was in English. I felt sympathy, and gave her the money along with my card (so that she could return me the money :-) ).
There was a feeling of having done a good deed for the day. After around 7 days, I had a niggling feeling, where was my money ? I rationalized it, maybe she forgot, or she lost the card. Doesen't matter.
Next, a couple of months later, there was a middle aged guy, looking like any normal shop keeper, who was carrying a briefcase. He showed me his briefcase, with clothes in it. He had a young kid with him as well. He claimed that he had come from Madurai for some work, and had his pocket picked. Needed money for food and for return, and would I help him. Money will get back to me later. I again felt sympathy, and handed him around Rs. 300. Needless to say, lots of thanks, and no money back.
Next location, Delhi. I had shifted to Delhi, and when on my way back to my home with spouse, met a pretty smartly dressed around 45 year old guy desperately flagging down my car. This guy was (guess, from out of town and had his pocket picked), and needed a lift to as close to the bus stand and money to return. All I had to give was give my card. I was newly married, this is a good occassion to show the spouse how compassionate I was :-), and out came a Rs. 500 note. So I gave him a lift, and you guessed it, no money back.
Numerous others, but the last one of a few days back, when came across a seemingly small town family. Father claimed that no money after a theft, needed food and transport money at Rs. 100 per head for 5 people. So I gave Rs. 600, and since it has only be a few days, maybe I will get my money back.
Now I now that there is a sucker born every minute, so maybe I was one of the super-suckers. I have never got any money back from these donations, and these are not the beggar type Rs. 1-5 money, but more in the hundreds. I don't know what to do the next time, if I don't give, I will keep on thinking about it later. I rationalize it everytime, maybe it helped the person, even though he never bothered to return the money. However, if this is more of a racket, then I am actually promoting this kind of fraud.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Indian Supreme court can be wrong but is final
There was a session organized for children in the Supreme Court on Children's day, and in response to a question, he made the above statement. The statement, if analysed contains a clear message to the Government. There may be cases when the courts make a wrong decision, or the decision is made that appears wrong to the public at large, but it is not for the Government or any other body to intervene. The courts are very conscious of their independence under the constitution and will resist strongly any efforts by the Government to put any sort of control on them.
I would think that this is a right statement to make, especially when there is so much discussion nowadays over the powers of the various constitutional structures in India - the courts, the executive and parliament. Numerous times, parliament and the executive (Government) have complained that the courts are interfering in their domain. But, in the case of any kind of dispute on any policy, somebody has to make a final decision, and in India, that is the Supreme Court.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Delhi's Sealing Drive - Relations between constitutional bodies
The country has just avoided falling into a major crisis. The sealing issue in Delhi, even though localized to the city, had the potential to escalate into a major constitutional crisis. But thankfully, cooler heads prevailed.
For a few months now, the Supreme Court has been ruling against the various illegally constructed commercial establishments that are spread through the breadth and width of the city. Some of these establishments have been there for a number of years, and have been paying tax to the city and unofficial money to officials at various levels. They employ a large number of people and pay a large amount to the city as taxes, and more importantly, contribute to the coffers of political parties across the spectrum.
Various resident welfare establishments have filed cases in the courts against these establishments, claiming that local municipal authorities (who should have prevented these structures from coming up) have turned a blind eye against the various violations of zoning and building clauses that have taken place. These establishments encroach on public land, cause severe traffic and parking problems, and promote a general sense of insecurity for residential areas because of the large number of visitors.
For the past few months, the courts have ordered these structures to be sealed, and the Government, fearing that the traders wil turn against them in terms of funding and elections, has tried various measures to defeat the court verdict. Each time, they go to court, they claim that they will support the verdicts, then they pass measures, ordinances, notifications, etc to try to bypass the court verdict. And such measures have the support of parties across the spectrum due to their self-interest.
The government will however not try to build more demarcated and specific commercial centers where all these commercial establishments can be re-settled. That will take too long, and may not pay off politically. Seeing that the Government is on the back foot, the traders threaten law and order problems, and the Government snatches this excuse to plead that they cannot do anything.
The irony of it all, the Government pleads that it will not be able to maintain law and order, and requests the court to postpone its judgment. If the Government of the day, with its legions of police, home guards, para-military and other such agencies is not able to prevent hoodlums from taking over city roads, then it is a sad state for the country to be in.
However, with a final order from the Supreme Court, the Government reluctantly agreed to implement its orders. It did so with bad grace. The problem is, this is not the first time that this has happened. Earlier, the courts in India did not directly take on the executive head-on. They would respect the Cabinet and the President. It is a level of how low the respect of the executive has fallen, that courts are being seen as the saviour for things that either the Governments should be doing or has done wrong. Be it declaration of president's rule or a vote of confidence or the validity of laws, the courts are becoming much more activist. For example, the cleaning of Delhi through introduction of CNG or removal of polluting industries are activities that should have been done by the executive, but given the self-interest of the governing bodies, it was left for the court to order such measures in a wider interpretation of the Right to Life.
There are similar cases where the Government is going to come into a direct confrontation with the court. The reservation issue is one such issue where there promises to be a direct collision. Political parties across the spectrum jump onto the issue of reservation to indulge their lobbies, and are running head-on into a judgement of the court. At some point, this collision could be very painful for the institutions that the country has worked so hard to evolve.
In India's constitution structure, the courts are in a defensive position. They interpret the constitution to verify whether laws are valid or not. It has been argued that the will of the people expressed through their elected representatives is supreme, and the court should not get in the way.
This argument is defective, the supreme authority of the country is the constitution of India. It is precisely to prevent situations, where the rule of the majority can turn tyrannical to the minority opinion, that exists the protective structure of the courts. It is their job to ensure that laws are valid. In cases of disputes such as the sealing case or reservation case, where there are widely different opinions, there is a need to have a body to decide on the merits of the case. This is the domain of the courts, and in order to keep the country as a free country, it is necessary that judgments of the court are respected and enforced. If we have ministers going around claiming that parliament is supreme and the courts have no right to interfere, we go down a very slippery slope, which led us last time to the emergency.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Kids selling stuff at traffic lights
Just today, when I was travelling in Delhi (capital of India), I saw the same scenario happening that has happened to me (and I am sure, to lots of others) many times. I was at a traffic stop in South Delhi, when these 2 kids in dirty and torn clothes hop over to my window and wave wrapped small bouquets (4-5 small roses) in my face, asking for ten rupees. Every time I see this scene, I am really not sure what I should do. This time, there were 2 of them, one girl probably aged around 10 and a boy aged around 8. They look at you with faces of such misery, that one is not so sure as to what to do. Today, I got enough guilt about me driving around in a car to meet a friend, and here are these poverty stricken kids. I took one set over and handed Rs. 10 to one of the kids. The other kid promptly gave me an over more miserable face and walked away.
At the same intersection, there was this another small girl who was selling sort of papers. Now, I had no need of an evening paper at that point of time, and I refused. She promptly gave me a very miserable look and lightly touched her head on the bonnet a couple of times, and then walked off. I got even more flustered at that point of time. What is the best thing to do in such a scenario ? If somebody knows more about the situation of such kids, please let me know. Now, I consider that if such kids are trying to sell something, then it is not begging. But they try to induce enough guilt that you take the easy solution out and hand over the money. Is this money going over to somebody who exploits them for this purpose, and if this is the case, then I am actually encouraging this exploitation by making it seem more successful.
These kids should be in school, and should not have to work in such situations. Society needs to have a safety net for such kids. A few other articles that I have read claim that the Government allocates vast sums of money over to such measures, but most of this is money is stolen along the way, directly by the government chain or abetted by them. This remains a pity. If you ever see a government run shelter or school, the most likely chance is that it will be in a bad state, which is primarily because of misappropriation of money along with non-accountability.
It makes me feel more sad that I am ensconed in a comfortable job without being able to do anything about it (and not sure about whether I even try). I do applaud when I see something good happening, I do donate monthly to such charitable trusts which are setup to provide a better, more accountable way of providing help and support. But what more can I (or any of you) do ?
Thursday, November 02, 2006
Delhi ruled by mob rule
Delhi has been going through some unprecedented turmoil in the last few months. The issue of sealing of illegal buildings has rocked the city, with a clash between the Government on the side of the traders and the High Court and the Supreme Court on the other side. The traders claim and the Government supports the claim that even though their establishments are constructed in violation of by-laws and totally illegal, their actual presence demands that they be made legal and no action taken against them. Further, that if these shops are closed down, it will lead to loss of employment.
The actual issue of whether the sealings should happen has been discussed intensively before, and as per proper existing law, these establishments are all illegal. A lot of them, especially the big ones are a nuisance to their community with massive parking and traffic issues; safety of the old, young and the female community in their neighborhood has got impacted because of the increased public pressure at these establishments; and a lot of other such reasons. In addition, the folks who have taken shops in proper shopping areas will feel thoroughly cheated, why did they try to do the right thing. They should have not followed thelaw like others and then claimed that they were cheated later when somebody tries to enforce the law,
Let us examine what is the normal process for an issue to get resolved in this country, under the legal system. Any citizen can complain against any issue they face to either the courts or to their elected representatives. It is for the body of elected representatives, be it the municipal council, the state assembly, or the national parliament to make laws for the benefit of society. It is assumed that these laws are made for the purpose of being followed, and will be modified by these elected bodies as and when they deem suitable. In addition, these laws will be enforced with the full force of the law. For the current sealing cycle, we can assume that the elected representatives have taken the opinion of traders and are thus changingthe laws based on this opinion. We will ignore the fact that the opinion of other sections such as residents has not been considered and will be adversly affected by such decisions.
Now what is the catch in this rosy picture? In our way of Government, the Constitution is supreme. The courts are the last defender of the constitution, and the interpreters. The Supreme Court is the decider of what is right or wrong under the constitution. Parliament makes the laws, the executive implements the laws, and the courts decide whether these are valid. This is part of the system of checks and balances, and is to prevent a situation where the rule of the majority rides roughshod over the others, and that there is somebody to defend the rights of the one who is not able to defend it themselved. To break this system of checks and balances is to go down a slippery slope where the majority can turn dictatorial. In the current sealings case, the approach has been totally opposite. The Court has repeatedly ruled that these shops are illegal, and are largely public inconveniences. The Government has tried different measures to over-turn these rulings, with the honorable inept Urban Affairs minister declaring that the court has no authority in this area. Does this man, who swore to defend the constitution, under the influence of the trader money, even know what he is saying ? He should have been dropped from his ministership.
Now the traders mob, loot and block traffic and the Government says that it cannot do anything because of a law and order problem. As the courts have stated in the past, the law and order authority cannot claim that law and order problems are preventing implementation of court orders. What a ridiculous argument, the government cannot enforce law and problems. Hah ! Such a statement is below contempt. Maybe the govenment should go if it cannot enforce its primary responsibility of enforcing law and order.