Monday, January 29, 2007

Kissing Scene Removed From Dhoom 2

The Ash-Abhi engagment had an effect that a lot of people would never have expected. And it is actually somewhat disturbing. If people remember, in all the media reporting about the engagement, there were a number of stories that the Bachchans were not exactly comfortable with the role essayed by Aishwarya in Dhoom 2, especially the skimpy dresses and the kiss with Hrithik. At that time, it was dismissed as a rumour, but then I read this news item and it left me wondering: Ash-Hrithik lip-lock axed by Bachchans.

The Bachchan power seems to be working in favour of winning a clean chit for their future daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai. Aishwarya Rai's on-screen lip-lock with her Dhoom 2 co-star Hrithik Roshan has been chopped off from the film, following Bachchan clan's pressure on Yash Raj Films.

At one level, this is all fine and should not concern me. After all, this is a private movie, and if some family members make a request to the producer of a movie (who owns the movie), any changes are strictly not my business. On the flip side, these are celebrities whose actions are copied by people everywhere and who have an inordinate amount of influence on people.
With this action, the impression that a lot of people will now get is that the kissing scene was something 'not good' and a hindrance in making her a homely girl. "That is not something that a good decent girl should be doing."
Our society already faces too many pressures with champions of morality interrupting Valentine's day, police raiding parks to interrupt young couples (Meerut police attack couples in park).
It is not expected from one of the premier film families in the country that they take such a regressive step. I was actually shocked when I read this article. What next ?

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:17 AM    

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Nithari killings accused face public fury

The Uttar Pradesh administration just cannot do anything right in the Nithari murder (Noida) case. Most people know by now how the police refused to do their job of investigation so that their crime record remained clean, and are thus to a large extent responsible for the large number of children killed. So, to save image, a number of police personnel were removed from service or transferred. Civic agencies miserably failed at their jobs, given that drains were not cleaned for years on end, and drains were essentially pits where the grisly artifacts could be stored.

Subsequently, after the crime was detected, the police, forgetting all sense of forensic science, allowed parents and other non-experts into the house, mis-handling evidence. For people who have watched CSI or other such crime series, the way that the police excavated the evidence was decidedly low-tech (using non-experts to dig up the remains). After the case was handed over to the CBI, they found lots of additional remains and artifacts, thus exposing the slip-shod nature of the Noida police investigation.

So now, when the suspects are in the custody of the CBI (which in turn depends on the local police for help in transport and so on), the police could not even prevent them from being beaten up by a mob. Read this Indian Express story.

Nithari serial killings accused Moninder Singh Pandher and Surendra Koli faced public fury on Thursday when they were severely beaten up by an angry crowd of lawyers and public when they were produced in a court in Ghaziabad.

As the duo was being brought out of the court of a special CBI judge, where they were produced for renewal of their remand, after closed-door proceedings, lawyers and a large crowd present outside pounced on them raining blows.

It is a common expectation from the justice system, that if a person has been arrested and is in the custody of the police forces, it is their responsibility to protect the accused from harm. The accused face serious and very heinous charges, but our country cannot afford to allow lynch mobs to extract their own form of justice. We may applaud sometimes when lynch mobs may be seen to be dispensing justice, but once such an eventuality happens, what is to prevent mob action against innocents? For example, if a couple who have eloped are
lynched by a mob due to their having broken caste boundaries, would we be still applauding or watching from the sidelines? If people still have doubts, I would implore them to watch the concluding statements from the character played by Ajay Devgun in the movie Gangajal.

The biggest issue that comes out from this incident is that the police force in Uttar Pradesh (Ghaziabad, in this case) are woefully unprepared. It would have been common knowledge that the accused are in danger wherever they go, and yet a mob was able to catch hold of them, and beat them unconscious. This is not a good sign.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 10:19 AM    

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Nusli Wadia Caught With a Gun in His Suitcase at Dubai Airport

And so we have a case where the very concept of the security level provided by Indian agencies is under question. In an incident a few days back, noted industrialist Nusli Wadia was briefly detained at Dubai Airport after his check-in baggage was found to contain a gun and 30 live bullets. This was dismissed as a one-off case with the usual claims of an enquiry as well as suspension of 1-2 line staff.

I have been watching out to see whether there was any further movement on this case, and the whole case seems to have dropped dead. There is no further discussion, no analysis of how this seems to blow a hole in the security infrastructure.

Read about what actually happened

A revolver and 30 live bullets were recovered from the baggage of noted industrialist Nusli Wadia last week at the Dubai airport where he flew by an Air-India flight from Mumbai, official sources said on Friday. At a time when high alert had been sounded at all airports across the country, security personnel at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai failed to detect the firearm. The lapse that occurred on January 13 prompted Air-India to suspend two of its ground staff and launch an inquiry, the sources said.
And this happened when there is a supposed high level of security in the country, and amid repeated claims by the Prime Minister downwards that India is at the attention of terrorists and that we need to be on our guard.

An argument made that nothing bad really happened, that it was just in the check-in luggage and not in hand luggage, and that it was just an innocent mistake. The problem in such arguments is that having seen this happen, we really don't know how many times something like this happens and goes away undetected.

This incident happened on an international flight, and it could be possible that many incidents happen like this on domestic flights and get away undetected. Travellers can get paranoid when something like this happens.

The other impact of an incident like this, or multiple incidents like this is that other countries will start to doubt the effectiveness of security at Indian airports, and start to impose conditions.

For these reasons, it was necessary that no one down-pedalled such an incident, and promised to figure out how such a thing could happen. No such thing happened, instead a brief flash, and then nothing more. Or is that we only get worried when something bad actually happens ?

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:21 PM    

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Cricket: Nimbus vs. Prasar Bharathi - Decision Subverts Commercial Contracts

Nimbus and Prasar Bharti (Doordarshan) have arrived at some sort of understanding over the broadcasting rights for the ongoing India-West Indies One Day series. Nimbus has offered to give a seven-minute delayed feed to Doordarshan and All India Radio after much pressure from the Government:

Private broadcaster Nimbus Communications Ltd agreed in court on Tuesday to share advert-free feed of the remaining games in the India versus West Indies cricket series, but with a seven-minute delay. The government ordered Nimbus on January 19 to share its live feed with state-run Prasar Bharati, saying the matches were a matter of national interest in cricket-mad India.
This story would make you laugh, but it is a very serious story in national interest - the interest of how the Government will not think twice to subvert commercial contracts if there is some pressure on the Government. But nowhere do I even venture to say that the Government is in the right.

How did this whole issue evolve and what was the history behind it? The BCCI (a private body) awards contracts for TV coverage of its series. This is a highly lucrative business that has been bringing in an increasingly massive amount of money for BCCI, as well as for the company that picks up the TV rights (through advertising), but Prasar Bharti does not want to spend the amount of money that it will need to pick up the rights.
This has happened in the past, when Ten Sports had some rights and was trying to show it exclusively. Due to intervention by the courts and the Government, Doordarshan got the rights to show the cricket series alongside Ten Sports. In this process, not only did they show the matches, but they actually showed their own ads and earned a fair amount of money. Downright looting that no one would tolerate if this was happening to a company that they own. This is a gross violation of property rights and commercial contracts.
I would submit that cricket is not a national interest matter, it is certainly not of the type where not sharing the broadcast feed is 'unpatriotic,' as the minister termed it. If the government is so concerned, it should step in when the BCCI is drawing up the rights contract mandating that the feed needs to be shared with Doordarshan. This will enable the contract value to be then correctly estimated.
It is painful for fans to not see the matches, but cricket is a game, and the showing of the matches is a pure commercial transaction, just like being able to view the US Open or a Golf tournament where Jeev Milkha Singh is playing. To pretend that the legal position changes because more people are interested in watching cricket than other sports is wrong.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 9:43 PM    

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Shilpa Shetty incident and racism in India

There is a lot of controversy because of the apparent racism being shown towards Shilpa Shetty in the 'Big Brother' reality show in UK. This has touched off a massive 'nerve point' with people calling the British as racist, the police starting an investigation, more than 10,000 letters being written.
One sample article on controversy from the Express.

Police are investigating threats against Celebrity Big Brother housemates after an outburst of public concern over alleged racist bullying of Bollywood siren Shilpa Shetty on the British show.
Almost 10,000 viewers have complained about the treatment of Shetty, 31, who has been called a "dog" since the reality television series started barely two weeks ago.
The controversy made headlines in British and Indian newspapers on Wednesday and has even spilled on to the floor of the House of Commons, Britain's lower chamber of Parliament.

There is bound to be wide-spread indignation spread among people here in India against the racism being directed towards Shilpa Shetty. Now is as a good time as any to take a look inward, and see how many glass houses we live in. Indians tend to believe that racism is something that happens outside India, and we are a fairly tolerant race. The more I think about this, the more I think that this is a very flawed argument. The evidence for this is immense.
The very concept of lower castes and scheduled castes is nothing but an extreme version of racism. And this has not gone away, I see it in the attitudes of everyday people in the city. If discussion tends to go towards people who can be identified as belonging to a 'lower' caste, the kind of language I hear makes my ear cringe. Words and expletives are freely thrown.
From ages, the concept of beauty is very intricately linked to fairness. A girl is not beautiful unless she is fair, and even a guy needs to be not dark to be good-looking. Thus you have a variety of medications / creams geared towards making the skin more fair. And nobody sees anything wrong in that.
If we take the example of Delhi, an Indian citizen from the north-east faces an incredible amount of discrimination. People use all kinds of names, they are accused of low morality, low intelligence, and god alone knows what else. And if you have an exchange student from one of the African countries, the amount of public ridicule and stares a person like that faces can embarrass anybody even standing near such an exchange student.
What about our foreign-traveled citizens who have been to places such as the US/ UK/ Europe, etc ? In speaking to some of them, racial expressions directed towards people of either the African-American community or the Hispanic community can be very shocking.
There is a mass condemnation, and sweeping descriptions made of their weaknesses and inabilities. This can be very shocking the first time you hear of such a thing. Then you realize that the person who is making the statements does not even feel that he/she is doing anything wrong. This actually shocked me the first time when it happened, and it got me thinking of the amount of inherent racism within Indian society.
And I don't think that until people realize that they are wrong, this will get corrected easily.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 3:27 AM    

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Supreme Court Strikes Down The Ninth Schedule

In what must be a shock to the political system, the Indian Supreme Court has blocked a measure extensively used by politicians to implement their political agenda. In a landmark ruling, a constitutional bench of the Supreme Court has declared that the protection promised by the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution is over. All laws put into the 9th schedule of the constitution after 1973 (when the Supreme Court declared that the basic structure of the constitution cannot be altered) are now subject to judicial review. If they are contrary to fundamental rights, they are liable to be struck down.

This is a very important judgment from the perspective of reining in the legislature gone wild. As we have seen in a number of past cases, if there is a push towards a certain legislative agenda, and it has a populist appeal, then no political party wants to be seen opposing it. Hence such a measure gets passed easily. Quite a few of these do not measure up to a legal review, and the government would always promise to put such agendas into the 9th schedule so that no one can challenge it. Such a path is no longer available, thus bringing in a measure of objectivity to laws. After all, if the 'esteemed' legislators know that their laws pandering to populist appeal are subject to review, they would be more mindful of the rights of the minority opinion. To take an example, the TN reservation bill where reservations are more than the 50% limit set by the court, and the Delhi sealing laws.

If one considers the Delhi sealing laws, the Government is trying to bring in a law to enable continued violation of the present laws, even after several adverse judgments. So what does the government do? You guessed right. It stated that it would bring the anti-sealing laws into the 9th schedule to overcome the adverse court judgments.
This is an example of the government being so much influenced by its interests that it is trying to push something that has been ruled against by the court.

There are many arguments towards the legislature being the final will of the people and the courts not respecting that. Such arguments are pushed by those who do not understand the nature of what builds a country. In countries around the world, an active judiciary is the one that is the last appeal for citizens. For minorities being oppressed by a majority, the court is the one that upholds their rights and protects them.

In our system of Government, all the institutions derive their power from the Constitution. The legislature makes the laws, the executive (Government) enforces the laws and the judiciary is the one who decides when the system of laws and acts are in accordance with the constitution. The 9th schedule seeked to turn this system on its head.

And how did the 9th schedule actually emerge? It was not part of the constitution as written by the makers of the constitution. It was added later as the government felt that the laws being made for land reform could be construed as being against fundamental rights of citizens. I repeat - it is not part of the constitution as written by the framers. Like any other Act or law made thereafter, it is subject to judicial review. In an ideal world, the laws made by the legislature should be good in law; but in practice, they are not always like that. Often, feelings derived from populism dictate the passing of certain laws. Such an event is now less likely to happen.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 12:29 AM    

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

New Delhi Municipal Corporation Officials Punished

For anybody who has lived in Delhi, the world of Delhi and New Delhi seem totally different. New Delhi is the part where everything is well planned, roads always seem to be good, mostly babus, politicians and rich people live with plentiful supply of power and water. Delhi is everything else. New Delhi is maintained by the NDMC (New Delhi Municipal Corporation) and Delhi is maintained by the MCD (Municipal Corporation of Delhi).
If anything is said about things in Delhi being shoddy, dirt being not cleaned up and sewers left rotting, it can be sure that this is in an area handled by the MCD. The NDMC, on the other hand, is flush with funds and supposed to be better managed. Residents of Delhi of course do not appreciate the functioning of either of the two corporations and condemn them for essentially non-working.
Why all this big preamble? Well, the NDMC has been hit by a judgement that could become a much quoted judgement in the area of responsibility fixing and ensuring that non-functioning babus cannot hide or shirk work. If this can happen to the NDMC, MCD officials might as well start looking for a secondary source to start paying all the fines that will start coming against them.

NEW DELHI: In a move aimed at saving the city's greens from being ravaged, the State Consumer Commission has slapped a fine of Rs 25 lakh on the NDMC for allowing marriages and events in Talkatora Garden a popular tourist hub next to the majestic Rashtrapati Bhavan.
In response to a plea filed by a group of morning walkers who visit the garden, the commission said Rs 5 lakh, out of the fine amount, will be recovered from salaries of the NDMC chairman and the director (horticulture).
Both of them will be liable to pay Rs 2.5 lakh each, the commission said in a bid to make this as "an exemplary case and eye-opener" for sloth officials of other civic agencies including MCD and DDA.

Making top offices accountable for the work (or non-work/wrong work) that happens in their department (even when it is brought to their notice) is not something that this country normally sees. If such a judgement manages to scare a few other officials in other departments to make sure that things are working, then it will all be worth it. At the least, it should shake up the babus to shed their arrogance (too hopeful?) towards the rights of the general public.
There are many caveats to being hopeful - this judgement will undoubtedly pass through the court system and may be reduced or struck down, but this is a still a good sign. It means that citizens are becoming more aware of their rights, are not willing to quietly accept the misdeeds of government and know how to make their opposition felt. A good sign indeed.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 7:38 AM    

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Police Reform In India - Political Opposition Starts Emerging

In the midst of all the bitter reactions against the state of UP and Government agencies for their inaction in preventing the mass murder of children in Noida, another aspect of police reform is moving very slowly (and silently). There are not too many news articles on this topic, it does not gather headlines or breaking news, but is very important to ensure that the police is able to convert itself into an agency that is able to handle problems effectively, fearlessly and without shackles. What is this topic that I am talking about?

Even when the need for a broad reform of the police force and its handling has been apparent for a number of years, the Government has refused to take any action. As a result, on the basis of a case filed by a former BSF chief, the Supreme Court took on the task of ordering reform in the way the police force is organized and controlled. The reform agenda for the police force was outlined in a judgement by the Supreme Court in September 2006; this is now under serious challenge from the Chief Ministers of several states in India (using various guises and excuses).

A good synopsis of the points under the order and the resistance being expressed by various chief ministers is outlined in the Indian Express story.
An excerpt about the directions of the Court:

The following SC directions, CMs say, infringe on the powers of a state since law and order is a state subject
• Set up a State Security Commission to ensure that state govt does not exercise unwarranted influence or pressure on the police.
• DGP to be selected by state from three seniormost officers empanelled for promotion by UPSC; DGP should have a minimum tenure of 2 years
• 2-yr minimum tenure for IGP, DIG, SP and SHO too
• Set up Police Establishment Board to decide on transfers, postings, promotions of officers of and below rank of DSP.
• Police Complaint Authority at district level to look into complaints against police officers up to the rank of DSP.
• Another such authority at the state Level to look into complaints against officers of the rank of SP and above. All recommendations binding on the authority.
• Centre should set up National Security Commission to prepare panel for selection and placement of Chiefs of Central Police Organisations with minimum tenure of two yrs.

States are opposing these steps under the guise that these break the spirit of the constitution, that 'law and order' is a state subject and any central intervention is against the constitution and so on. The important question is, how many citizens would not want the following things to happen?

1. The police force to be made accountable for their mis-deeds.
2. If point 1 happens, then the next most important thing would be to make the police force to some extent independent of political influence (especially in terms of prevention of influenced postings, investigations, framing of opponents and protecting the rich/powerful).

This order of the Supreme Court is the first step in making these changes happen, but at the given moment, there is an incredible amount of opposition to these steps. No guessing as to why; loss of influence over the police force would be a body blow to these venal politicians, the police force is one of their chief weapons to project power; the power to transfer the honest policemen and bring in their own is like a killer weapon; for the party, the use of moneypower in postings brings in much needed revenue necessary for politics!

This Supreme Court order has the potential to cause a severe blow to the current arrangements. Hence the opposition that we are seeing; on this issue, all political parties will speak in one voice. The idea appears to be to lock this issue out through opposition, through filing of review petitions in the court, and eventually to make this issue die down without any actual change happening.

This issue is however not being given the due importance in the media (apart from an initial burst when the case was decided), there are hardly any talk shows or headline news on this; it gets a mention in newspapers without any editorials or opinions; in my view, this is one of the most significant happenings in the field of law and order and immensly important to this nation.

For those of you reading this and in a position to try and shape public opinion, please get this issue out in the open and in discussions to as many people as possible.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 8:36 PM    

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Amitabh / Big B to try and improve UP's image

I read an article in the paper today that Mulayam Singh has been pretty nettled by the adverse publicity due to the Noida massacre case, and that this publicity is in turn turning on the heat on the overall crime situation in Uttar Pradesh. Given that elections are close, and with everybody calling Uttar Pradesh as a state without a decent law and order situation, Mulayam is worried, worried enough to try and use the good public image of his friend (Amitabh Bachchan) to try and project UP's image in a better light.
I can't think of a worse thing to do for a person of Amitabh's calibre. He has a very positive portrayal in the Indian media due to the movies he makes successful and his talent. He further establishes a good image by appearing for public service ads such as the Polio campaign. After all, to take on something which all of us know is not true threatens to cast a shadow over his positive image. Amar Singh and Mulayam Singh may be Amitabh's friends, but make no mistake, the day Amitabh actually gets (unwillingly maybe) into the political game of trying to cast UP's current status in a positive light in terms of rule of law and justice will be the day that shadows will start to form on his image. I don't know whether he actually has the courage to face the unprecedented political flak he will face.
The Indian public is very fickle - when Aamir Khan tried to stand up for the Narmada refugees, the timing of this stand along with his film release made people suspicious of his intentions; when he stood up in long ads (for which he must have been paid great sums of money) to try and offset the pesticide issue, he lost some of his sheen (after all, there would be a great number of people willing to believe that a big company can play with their health if a profit is involved); Amitabh should really avoid getting into this trap.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:56 AM