Thursday, 14 March 2019

Is neutrality still desirable?

When hate becomes institutionalized

And love is forced to look for places to hide

If such a scenario you encounter, is neutrality still desirable?


With cries for war all around

And the feeblest voice for peace also drowned

If such a scenario you encounter, is neutrality still desirable?


When lies are awarded generously

And truth just looks on helplessly

If such a scenario you encounter, is neutrality still desirable?


When the world is reduced to mere boundary lines

To guard which, humans pay the biggest fines

 If such a scenario you encounter, is neutrality still desirable?


When lives are freely sacrificed

At the altar of a false sense of pride

If such a scenario you encounter, is neutrality still desirable?


When frivolity is worn as a badge of honor

And decency has lost all its power

If such a scenario you encounter, is neutrality still desirable?


When blind faith is placed on a pedestal

And every question is turned into a scandal

If such a scenario you encounter, is neutrality still desirable?


When ghastly fiction displaces facts

And facts are terrorized into oblivion

If such a scenario you encounter, is neutrality still desirable?


When poor are abused but poverty is used

When dead are mere fodders for juicy news

If such a scenario you encounter, is neutrality still desirable?


My response would be a vehement ‘NO’

For in such a scenario neutrality may lead you to silence, somewhere you shouldn’t want to go

Today you may be rooting for war but remember tomorrow it may destroy you

Today you may be filling yourself with hate but remember tomorrow it may engulf you

Today you may be feeling an instant gratification that frivolity brings but remember tomorrow it may openly shame you

Today you may be feeling safe in your lies but remember tomorrow these very lies may trap you

Today you may be feeling secure in your blind faith but remember tomorrow it might be just too late to cure you

Today you may be valuing the lifeless over the living but remember tomorrow this choice may lead to an end of your life too


So No, neutrality is not a choice anymore, silence is no longer an option

You need to awaken what has been forcibly buried inside you, you need to re-ignite that passion

The passion and conviction to openly embrace reason

The passion and conviction to openly question, and make it your life’s mission

The passion and conviction to think and reflect and be your own person

The passion and conviction to not create demigods but to lead your life with your own vision

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Social media and the emerging crisis of lynching in recent times

Following closely on the heels of cow vigilantism, mob-lynching - pursuant to fear-mongering spread by social media posts - has quickly become the new bane that modern India is having to grapple with. Of late, rumours of child lifters spread through Whatsapp have resulted in lynchings at various places in the country. Two of the latest incidents of lynchings, however, have compounded manifold the seriousness of the issue at hand.

In one of these incidents, Sukanta Chakraborty, was lynched by a mob on June 28 in a crowded market in Kalachchara area of South Tripura ( Incidentally, he was a part of a government announcement team that was hired by the authorities to dispel the rumours related to child abduction. He was killed in broad daylight in a crowded market area with the presence of policemen nearby, who were, however, unable to prevent the mob from carrying out the heinous act.

In the second such incident (among the several that have taken place throughout the country), five nomads of the Dongrinathpanthi Gosavi community were lynched by a mob at Rainpada village in Dhule district of Maharashtra ( All these five men had registered with the local police and had valid Aadhaar cards. At the time, they were locked inside a room by some good Samaritans so that their lives could be saved. This, however, could not prevent the mob from killing them. The most alarming aspect of this gruesome act, though, was that the murders were completed by the mob in the presence of police personnel, who were handed over the dead bodies by the mob only after ensuring that there were no signs of life remaining in the victims.

The common factor among these lynchings has been the spread of a certain kind of rumour through social media, mostly Whatsapp, which is circulated and re-circulated multiple times without anyone bothering to check the veracity of the message being circulated. In no time such messages go viral and create a pressing feeling of immediate panic and fear among the recipients who then indulge in such unthinkable violence. The monster that has been unleashed has now grown to such proportions that no amount of counter-efforts by the authorities seem to be working. On the contrary, those involved in spreading awareness are themselves becoming victims of these murderous mobs.

Mob psychology, also called as herd mentality, has been an area of interest for various scholars in multiple fields. The idea of a “group mind” or “mob behavior” was first put forward by 19th century French social psychologists Gabriel Tarde and Gustave Le Bon ( The results of one of the researches conducted by Leeds University demonstrated that it only takes 5% of confident looking and instructed people to influence the direction of the 95% of people in the crowd ( Taking another example, the functioning of share markets, the world over, has always been susceptible to the vagaries of mob behavior.

With known and proven dangers of mob mentality, is there anything that could have been done or can now be done to discourage this dangerous behavior that is being observed with increasing frequency? I, for one, think the answer to the above question is in the affirmative.

One of the reasons for the fast-growing trend of mob violence that is being witnessed in our society, first in the case of cow vigilantism and now the lynchings based on rumours spread through social media, is the deafening silence of the authorities in power. The raging mobs enjoy a kind of impunity that encourages them to take the law in their own hands. One reason for this might be the sheer strength of numbers and the security that facelessness and namelessness guarantee. But the primary reason I think is the latent knowledge that this behavior might not have remained as condemnable as it should have been, that somehow it will eventually be accepted, after a few cursory noises are made, forgotten and even condoned. This belief is an indication of the kind of society that we are turning into, a society that attaches a minimum value to humanity and human lives.

The rampant misuse of social media is surely the immediate cause of the rise of this lynching phenomenon yet banning its use or trying to control it may only turn out to be temporary stop-gap solutions. The bigger requirement and challenge today is for us to think about the deeper values that we choose to cherish as a society. Do we want to repose our trust and faith in the time-tested values of humanity, empathy and inclusiveness or do we want to continue our march on the path of symbolism, divisiveness and sheer untruth? If we choose the former values, we might still be able to retain a hope of a future world that is livable, though we would have a lot of work to do towards achieving this aim for the sheer reason that we have come very far away from a society that cherishes such values. However, if we continue our march on a road that is built on the second set of values, it is very likely that we may not even have a world to live in for much longer. The choice is ours, and only ours, to make and the time is now. Hope we choose fast and wisely, lest we will have only ourselves to blame.

Palliative Care

I was recently introduced to the term ‘Palliative Care’ through the book authored by Dr. Kathryn Mannix, titled ‘With the End in Mind: Dying, Death and Wisdom in an Age of Denial’. I may be sounding very ignorant or uninformed to many when I say that this was the first time when I was introduced to the concept of palliative care. However, I am sure, many may also be riding in the same boat as me.

The book mentioned above is a collection of first hand experiences of Dr. Kathryn Mannix, who has an experience of more than three decades as a practitioner of palliative care. On her reasons for writing this book, she states, ‘It’s not an easy conversation to have, but one I feel we must. That is why I wrote my book, With the End in Mind: Dying, Death and Wisdom in an Age of Denial, which is now on the Wellcome Book prize shortlist. During my 30-year career in palliative care it became increasingly clear to me that someone had to tell the world what normal dying is like. Only, it started to dawn on me that no-one was going to do that - and I felt compelled to try. I took early retirement to make time to speak out, in an attempt to reclaim public understanding of dying.’ (

Dr. Mannix has been one of the foremost palliative care practitioners in Britain and understandably so the book is written in a British context. However, after reading this book, the concept of palliative care struck me enough to make an effort to search about its practice in the Indian context. I had assumed this aspect of patient-care will be totally absent in India, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that, though, still at nascent stages, this concept has been in existence in India as well. I came across a journal article by Divya Khosla, Firuza. D. Patel and Suresh. C. Sharma, published in the Indian Journal of Palliative Care in 2012, titled, ‘Palliative Care in India: Current Progress and Future Needs’ ( As the title suggests, it talks in sufficient detail about the trajectory of palliative care in India, mostly in the context of palliative care for cancer patients.

Palliative care has been defined by WHO as follows, “an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial, and spiritual” ( It is thus clear from the definition of palliative care itself that this is a multi-dimensional and inter-disciplinary field of research comprising of various professionals like doctors, nurses, counselors, social workers etc. and other volunteers.

The very idea of palliative care is grounded in the inherent value of every single human life. It is based on the internalization of the fact that prolonging a human life might not always be possible, and in some cases, not even desirable. It also stems from the belief that an individual is the owner of his/her body and mind and thus must have the first voice in any decision that needs to be taken regarding his/her body or mind. This aspect is least understood, at least in the Indian context, where the patients have the least say in the trajectories that their treatment should follow. They are seldom asked about their preferences and choices. Key aspects of the illness are often even hidden from them. There is nobody to help them with the immediate concerns that might be plaguing their minds. There may be no-one to even share these concerns. Additionally, the primary care-takers and the families of the patients are also undergoing a lot of stress, which is seldom considered worthy of further exploration, at least in the Indian context. It is treated as a natural course of action for the family members to ably care for the patient. Their worries, concerns, frustrations, feelings etc. – none of these are thought to be of special importance.

It is a matter of common-sense that any illness, however big or small it might be, is never solely physical. It is always multifaceted – touching physical, mental, financial, spiritual, social and such other facets of a human life. Thus, any course of treatment must also not be unidimensional. Palliative care has the potential of filling in these gaps. It has the potential of providing voice to the patients and their caregivers and families. It has the potential of centering the entire concept of patient care around the needs of the patients and their families, which is how it should be. It is an area which should be encouraged and graciously funded so that more and more research comes out of this area. Its education and awareness need to be spread on a mass level. MCI has recognized MD in Palliative Medicine, which is a positive step and which will help in developing dedicated professionals in this area (

It is thus the need of the hour and a desirable objective for the future that we recognize palliative care for the huge potential that it has and take steps towards unlocking the same. The ideas of life, death, illness, treatment and care need to be thoroughly unpacked and viewed through a different lens – a lens that values and champions the dignity of each and every human life and, hence, leaves no stone unturned in ensuring that same dignity to each and every death.


Mumbai face to face with endless rains and the lack of city planning

I have been a resident of Mumbai for close to ten years now. So, I can safely claim to be sufficiently experienced to comment on the monsoon preparedness of this city. Ten years may seem to be a long time, however little seems to have changed in terms of how the city administration deals with the copious amount of rains that lash this city year after year.

Before getting into the city planning with respect to the rains however, I would like to share a bit about the general geographical layout of this city. The city of Mumbai, including the suburban areas, is structured in a fashion that majority of the office spaces are situated in certain pockets of the city, separate from the residential areas which are otherwise scattered far and wide. For this reason, people might have to travel even for 2-3 hours daily (one side) to reach their workplaces. This humongous task is made possible by the huge network of local trains that crisscross the city, with trains scheduled to run at impressive frequencies. This train network is rightly termed as the lifeline of the city. Even so, thousands still commute by roads daily to and from their workplaces. Additionally, Mumbai being the commercial capital of the nation, there are thousands and lakhs of individuals who must travel daily as a part of their jobs.

The abovementioned geographical distances, as it is, ensure that life is never easy for Mumbaikars. The local trains, even though, keep the city up and running, however, their physical condition leaves a lot to be desired. These are Non-AC trains, whose doors do-not close automatically; as a result, one can find hundreds of individuals hanging from the doors of every local train that passes by, sometimes even resulting in fatalities.

The train stations, especially, the low-lying ones often get filled up with water to such an extent that is possible even to swim in it. Hence, whenever the rains are beating down mercilessly, one will start experiencing frequent delays or cancellations of these trains. To add to the abovementioned infrastructure woes, the city also experiences one, or often, multiple building/bridge collapses every year leading to loss of lives and further inconvenience to the commuters.

The condition of the roads is no better, in general, and particularly during the long rainy season (incidentally the monsoons in Mumbai stretch from June to September). The size of the potholes invariably widens, and the newly built roads start to appear potholed after the first rains itself. Year after year, deaths are reported of people accidentally falling into manholes, or getting electrocuted, while walking during rains.

As if all this was not enough, during certain years when the rains are particularly unrelenting and Mumbai experiences heavy flooding, the city infrastructure completely breaks down. In recent history, the year 2005 was a particularly difficult one for Mumbai. I, personally, was not a witness then, but I certainly got a flavor of it last year, on 29 August 2017. Rains were particularly heavy and unrelenting on that day. By noon, people had started realizing the severity of the situation, however, prior to it there were hardly any warnings that could have been helpful to people. At about 2.00 PM that day, I also started for the station from my office, amid pouring water, in the hope that I might just be able to catch a train to reach home. However, the trains had stopped running much prior to that. Consequently, I had to return to my office and spend the night there. I reached back home the next morning and took the day off from work. The day was, incidentally, mostly sunny and bright. However, the day after that when I reached the train station to catch a train to my office, I observed that the trains were still being cancelled and the ones that were running were delayed. At the time, certain questions troubled my mind, which I am reproducing below:

1.       Why is it that almost 30-36 hours of no rains and hence, availability of ample recovery time, the trains services had still not normalized?

2.       Why is it that there was a complete absence of timely warnings about the impending heavy rains prior to Tuesday (the day of heavy rains), so that people could have been warned well in advance, and could have stayed at home?

3.       Why is it that all the advisories started pouring in only post noon on Tuesday, when the maximum damage had already been done, and the trains had already stopped functioning? How could the people stranded at workplaces be expected to reach back in such a scenario and of what use were these advisories then?

4.       Why is it that there were predictions of continuous heavy rains for 24-48 hours after Tuesday, and then there was no, or little rain recorded? Who is accountable for this absolutely off the mark forecast?

5.       Why is it that the authorities are as helpless in handling the rainfalls in Mumbai, as they were in 2005? Why is it that the financial capital of the nation came to a standstill with only one-third the amount of rainfall that had fallen in 2005, and that too 12 years later? Who is accountable for these lost 12 years of no preparation to handle such a situation?

6.       Why is it that the people of Mumbai had only each-other for their help and support, somehow trying to grapple with the crisis? Who is accountable for the non-existent disaster management system in a city which experiences 4-month long monsoons every year?

One year down the line, I still don’t have any answers to the above questions. However, ironically, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has been magnanimous enough in announcing this year that in case people are stranded at their workplaces or such other places due to heavy rains, they will be provided with food and water by the Corporation. I leave it to you to decide if Mumbaikars must be grateful for this grand offer.


Mulk : A review

Mulk – an important film to be made, for the important things it has to say, the things that require re-iteration every now and then, and especially so in today’s times. For instance, if a Muslim family chose to stay back in India in 1947, it did so because it believed in the promise of secularism that India had to offer, or that the definition of terrorism includes not only Islamic terrorism, but violence of many kinds, like the practice of untouchability, or the exploitation of Adivasis etc., or that the entire narrative needs to be shifted to a discussion around how “We” need to collectively think about moving forward rather than getting buried under the shrill noises of “Us” vs. “Them”.

Yet, there are some places in the movie which left me wanting more, places where I felt certain stereotypes had been maintained without indulging in a deeper analysis of the same. Firstly, the whole premise of the “Good Muslim vs. Bad Muslim” around which the movie is centered, leaves me a bit uncomfortable, because this whole distinction has been conceptualized only for the Muslims and for no other religious groups. We never talk about a “Good Hindu vs. a Bad Hindu”, a “Good Sikh vs. a Bad Sikh”, a “Good Jain vs. a Bad Jain”, and so on and so forth. I am not sure of the reason for the same but maybe it is because, traditional terrorism, the world over, has come to be linked with Islam, and hence this need to conceptualize these categories to counter the resultant Islamophobia. The movie, here, does a praiseworthy job though, by offering a reconceptualization of what we are accustomed to considering as terrorism. It gives ample examples of what may also qualify as acts of terror in the Indian context, like, untouchability, exploitation of Adivasis and the weaker sections of society etc. To this list, if the inherent and inbuilt structural terrorism with regard to how the whole world functions, is added, we may be forced to look at terrorism with completely new perspective altogether. By structural terrorism I mean the terror that a common person feels while dealing with someone in position of authority, the terror that a ‘less developed nation’ (in common usage of the term) feels on dealing with a superpower; or the terror that all kinds of power imbalance (which is the basis on which the modern world is built) invokes.

Secondly, leaving aside the widening of the definition of terrorism, even if we talk in terms of terrorism as is understood in the traditional sense, enough examples of Hindutva terrorism are available to corroborate the fact that terrorism is not always Islamic. The film, however, does-not choose to dwell on this aspect much.

Thirdly, the film somewhere chooses to support the narrative that anti-Muslim hysteria is the work of fringe elements in society and hence, sharing a copy of the Preamble of the Constitution of this country may be enough to silence such misguided elements. However, in the times when a new law to counter mob lynching is being discussed, it might be a bit naïve to continue to treat such elements as fringe, or to believe that such elements would give due respect to a copy of the Preamble of the Constitution of India, and not treat it as just another piece of paper.

Fourthly, the film talks about the usual stereotypes of low literacy rates among Muslims or their propensity to have larger number of children. Though it questions people making a mockery of this scenario and beseeches them to consider it as a ‘problem’ of the entire nation rather than a ‘problem’ of a particular section of society, yet it stops at just that. It forgets to mention that in the decade from 2001-2011, Muslims have led the improvement in literacy rates, with an increase of 9.4% points ( It also does-not mention that according to latest religion-wise data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) of 2015-16, the fertility rates of Muslim households have fallen from 3.4 (in 2005-06) to 2.6, which is more than the fall in Hindu fertility rates over the same period (2.6 to 2.1) ( More importantly though, it fails to dwell into the reasons that may be behind Muslims having the lowest literacy rates and highest fertility rates (which are themselves co-related). For instance, research has also shown that work participation rates among Muslims are the lowest among minorities, even though their share in population is the largest among the minorities ( It has also been observed that Muslims have the lowest rates of enrolment in higher education in India ( Why is this so? Is it because of some inherent flaws in the people born as Muslims? Or because of some inherent flaws in the Islamic religion? I feel that there is a need to shift the narrative from viewing these as ‘problems’ with the mindsets of the Muslim community. Rather there is a need to engage in a more researched and nuanced root cause analysis of the same. Just as the poor cannot be blamed for their own poverty, similarly the Muslims cannot be blamed for their lack of educational or job opportunities. These are structural and cultural issues that have ended up acquiring the nature of a vicious circle that is, unfortunately, only gaining in strength day by day. Further, an “Us vs. Them” mindset, that the film rightly points at, further exacerbates the problem rather than solving it. It creates a false sense of insecurity and fear where none exists.

Fifthly, the Muslim family in the film is duly chastised by the judge for their lack of knowledge about what might have been going on in the minds of the youth of their family. This exchange appears to convey a message that the parents belonging to Muslim religion need to be more vigilant and observant with their kids, as Muslim kids may be more susceptible to adverse influences. However, I would like to believe that such an advice, if true, is equally applicable to all parents and families and singling out Muslims for the same is a bit too simplistic and presumptuous. Further, we need to try and move towards a society in which Muslim children feel such warmth and belongingness that they seize to be more susceptible to such kind of negative influences.

Lastly, the whole exchange with some sections of society still bursting crackers on a Pakistani win in a match, has often been used in the discourse around nationalism and patriotism, and has been repeated in the movie. This complete discussion altogether seems too trivial to me to be a part of any serious discourse on religion, nationalism or India-Pakistan relations. It could have been entirely done away with in a movie that is trying to send out an important message.

All in all, the movie is a brave attempt at trying to shift the narrative, again, towards harmony and humanity. The irony, though is that, this attempt is having to be made in a civilization that thrives on the richness of its diversity and has always been proud of it. This was the unfortunate feeling with which I left the cinema hall after watching the movie. To end on a positive note, however, “Fortune”, they say, “favors the brave”. Amen.

Institutes of Eminence

The UGC (Institutes of Eminence Deemed to be Universities) Regulations, 2017, were notified in the Gazette on August 29, 2017. Recently, the not-yet-established Jio Institute, which has been selected as one of the ‘Institutes of Eminence’, qualifying itself in the greenfield category, has landed itself into some controversy. However, my purpose here is not to dwell on this controversy, but to discuss the ‘Institutes of Eminence’ concept in general.

The objectives of Institutes of Eminence deemed to be universities, as notified in the Gazette, are stated as follows:

  1. to provide for higher education leading to excellence and innovations in such branches of knowledge as may be deemed fit at post-graduate, graduate and research degree levels and award degrees, diplomas and other academic distinctions;
  2. to engage in areas of specialization to make distinctive contributions to the objectives of the university education system wherein the academic engagement is clearly distinguishable from programmes of an ordinary nature and is tuned to developing the capacity of the students and the researchers to compete in the global tertiary education marketplace through the acquisition and creation of advanced knowledge in those areas;
  3. to provide for high quality teaching and research and for the advancement of knowledge and its dissemination through various research programmes undertaken in- house by substantial number of full time faculty and research scholars in diverse disciplines;
  4. to pay special attention to teaching and research in unique and emerging areas of knowledge, including interdisciplinary areas, which are regarded as important for strategic needs of the country but are not being pursued by conventional or existing institutions so far, and award degrees, diplomas and other academic distinctions.
  5. to aim to be rated internationally for its teaching and research as a top hundred Institution in the world over time.

Although some of the concepts listed as a part of the above objectives are not very clear to me, for instance, the meaning of ‘programmes of an ordinary nature’ or ‘teaching and research in……regarded as important for strategic needs of the country….’ etc., however, whatsoever may be the intentions behind by these objectives, there is a more fundamental question that is of concern to me.

What is it among the abovementioned objectives that qualifies them as fit for being the objectives of an ‘Institute of Eminence’? Should the ‘conventional or existing institutions’ which are being made to offer ‘ordinary programmes’ not be striving for higher education that ‘leads to excellence and innovations’, or should they not be engaging in ‘high quality teaching and research’? If one would go by the general aims and objectives of education, or higher education (as is the case here), these aims seem to be equally valid and relevant for all higher educational institutes.

The conception of these Regulations and the idea behind granting the status of ‘Institutes of Eminence’ to certain universities appears to assume that to achieve and maintain quality standards and attain excellence, universities need to have sufficient autonomy. As a result, one of the ‘characteristics’ of these Universities, that has been notified is ‘existence of academic, administrative and financial autonomy’. These universities have been granted all the above. They have been kept outside the existing regulatory framework in terms of setting of academic standards, deciding courses and curricula, or deciding on the fee structures.

One would thus feel that if provision of autonomy is a sine qua non for excellence and an assurance of quality, then why is it necessary to create only certain subset of institutes that will be allowed to move towards this excellence and try to meet these quality standards? What wrong has been committed by those other ‘ordinary’ institutes that they do-not deserve this opportunity?

This ‘Institutes of Eminence’ concept once again deepens the discriminatory character of our education system. It favors ‘the few’ to the neglect of ‘the many’. The Government owned and controlled institutes that shall be selected as ‘Institutes of Eminence’ will also be infused with additional funds of Rs. 1000 crore each. It would have been much more beneficial for ‘the many’ had this corpus been used for the physical upkeep and maintenance and improvement of academic standards of the ‘ordinary’ institutes. That is also the onus of the government and it cannot turn a blind eye towards it.

Towards an alternative perspective

The Indian banking system is passing through a rough phase. With the banks already grappling with unusually high instances of non-performing assets (NPAs), a myriad of scams have unfolded, questioning the functioning of the banking system as a whole. The issues involved therein, have however, been widely discussed and debated and more and more analysis of the same is being added to the table daily. My purpose here, therefore, is not to contribute further to the same, but to dwell on something different.

I just started reading the epic novel written by John Steinbeck which was published way back in 1939, titled, “The Grapes of Wrath”. I would just like to quote a passage from this novel, which is a conversation between the owners and the tenants of some piece of land:

“The owner men went on leading to their point: You know the land’s getting poorer. You know what cotton does to the land; robs it, sucks all the blood out of it.

The squatters nodded – they knew, God knew. If they could only rotate the crops they might pump blood back into the land.

Well, it’s too late. And the owner men explained the workings and thinkings of the monster that was stronger than they were. A man can hold land if he can just eat and pay taxes; he can do that.

Yes, he can do that until his crops fail one day and he has to borrow money from the bank. But – you see, a bank or a company can’t do that, because those creatures don’t breathe air, don’t eat side-meat. They breathe profits; they eat the interest on money. If they don’t get it, they die the way you die without air, without side-meat. It is a sad thing, but it is so. It is just so……..When the monster stops growing, it dies. It can’t stay one size.

….The squatting men looked down again. What do you want us to do? We can’t take less share of the crop – we’re half-starved now. The kids are hungry all the time. We got no clothes, torn an’ ragged. If all the neighbors weren’t the same, we’d be ashamed to go to meeting.

And at last the owner men came to the point. The tenant system won’t work anymore. One man on a tractor can take the place of twelve or fourteen families. Pay him a wage and take all the crop…..

But you’ll kill the land with cotton.

We know. We’ve got to take cotton quick before the land dies. Then we’ll sell the land. Lots of families in the East would like to own a piece of land.

The tenant men looked up alarmed. But what’ll happen to us? How’ll we eat?

You’ll have to get off the land…..

And now the squatting men stood up angrily. Grampa took up the land…..And Pa was born here….Then a bad year came and he had to borrow a little money….An’ we was born here. There in the door our children born here. And Pa had to borrow money. The bank owned the land then, but we stayed and we got a little bit of what we raised.

We know that – all that. It’s not us, it’s the bank. A bank isn’t like a man. Or an owner with fifty thousand acres, he isn’t like a man either. That’s the monster.

Sure, cried the tenant men, but it’s our land. We measured it and broke it up. And we got killed on it, died on it. Even if it’s no good, it’s still ours. That’s what makes it ours – being born on it, working it, dying on it. That makes ownership, not a paper with numbers on it.

We’re sorry. It’s not us. It’s the monster. The bank isn’t like a man.

Yes, but the bank is only made of men.

No – you are wrong there – quite wrong there. The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. Men made it, but they can’t control it……You’ll have to go……You’ll be stealing if you try to stay, you’ll be murderers if you kill to stay……”


What is it that I am trying to drive at, by quoting the above longish passage? This novel is written in the context of the developments that took place in America in the third and the fourth decades of the twentieth century. The above passage provides glimpses of the beginning of the modern world of industry and finance. A world that is that is considered to be a non-negotiable way of life today. The growth of industry and finance have been cited as a proof of the very growth and development of humankind. Purportedly, these systems were devised for humankind. Then, when and why did it so happen that these systems were allowed to grow into monsters bigger than humankind itself?


The Oxfam report on the extent of inequality prevailing in the world released in January, 2018, titled, “Reward Work not Wealth”, provides some stark facts. To put things in perspective, the report states, “Last year saw the biggest increase in billionaires in history, one more every two days. Billionaires saw their wealth increase by $762 billion in 12 months. This huge increase could have ended global extreme poverty seven times over. 82% of all wealth created in the last year went to the top 1%, while the bottom 50% saw no increase at all.”


When the systems of industry and finance were being envisaged, allowed to grow and develop, was the above the end result that was being visualized? I doubt. But this is what it has come to. This is the situation that we have landed ourselves in. So while some individuals are able to defraud the entire system for billions of dollars and go scot free, some others die every second for want of food. While the entire world is being turned into a concrete jungle, there are places where water is already on the verge of drying up. Pieces of paper decide destinies in a world which has long forgotten to value human life.


We may be faced with crisis situations in almost all walks of life today, be it financial crisis, environmental crisis, food crisis, water crisis, and so on and so forth. But the solution doesn’t lie in making efforts to plug the immediate leakage. The pressure of water is so strong that it will soon create another hole and flow out anyway.


However, to arrive at even the semblance of a solution, the problem needs to be understood and accepted first. The entire culture of worshipping systems, machines and money, of letting them rule over humankind, of ensuring that no alternative that talks of holistic structural and systemic shifts in ideologies is allowed to even make it to the table, needs to undergo an urgent transformation. Newer and completely different frame of references will have to be created to look at issues, not in a disjointed manner, but in a manner where co-relation is possible. But before any of this has to take place, there has to be a willingness to accept that there definitely is something wrong with the current state of affairs, a willingness to at least start the debate on what can be done about it, and to follow that up with focused, meaningful and directed efforts. Only this can ensure that our future generations are able to even survive on this planet.  We owe at least that much to those we are ourselves bringing into this world.

Education and the death of Humanity

The gruesome rape and murder of an eight-year old girl in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir has elicited unexpectedly interesting responses from various cross-sections of our society. Although each of us would like to believe that the only possible natural response to such an abhorrent incident could be one of angst, anger and anguish, yet, what unfolded this time was much different, unexpected and unbelievable. This incident, rather than uniting the country against the death of humanity, split it midway along communal lines. Certain members of the society, incidentally, in the profession of upholding the law of the land, emphatically put their weight behind the accused. They were joined by other such members of the society, and thus what was witnessed was an unprecedented protest march in support of the accused. Efforts were made to cast aspersions on the credibility of the police officers investigating the case, based on their religion. Multifarious attempts were made to hide the crime, negate it, misrepresent it and delegitimize it.

So much has been said and heard regarding this case that it would be useful to recapitulate the undeniable specifics of the case, lest we forget what actually happened.

  1. An 8 year old girl, named Asifa, of the predominantly Muslim tribal nomadic Bakarwal community was abducted, raped by multiple people multiple times (in a temple), and finally murdered.
  2. The inhabitants of the neighboring villages, predominantly occupied by Hindus, refused to allow Asifa’s family to bury what remained of her dead body, in their villages.
  3. Although this happened in January, the hue and cry that happened around the case was only in the month of April.
  4. The rape and murder was carried out by the perpetrators in order to drive out the nomadic Muslim Bakarwal community from the vicinity of Kathua, such that they never dare to come even near that area.
  5. It was thus a well thought out and pre-planned act against a particular religious and tribal community.
  6. A powerful section of the society including some MLAs and ministers of the ruling dispensation and lawyers of the state openly sided with the accused, trying to block the filing of the charge sheet against the accused, by the state police, demanding a CBI enquiry instead. The reason was that they did not trust the J&K police investigation, because of the religious affiliation of the police officers.
  7. Some of the strategies that were used by those in power and by certain sections of society as a response to this incident included silence, trivialization, comparison to other rape incidents, attempts at de-legitimization of those expressing their anguish, obfuscation of the facts and the intent behind this gruesome act, etc.

While we are trying to come to terms with the viciousness and gruesomeness of the incident, it is imperative that we not forget the intent behind this incident. This rape and murder was not an unadulterated act of lust, but a pre-planned attack aimed to strike a fear in the minds of certain community, that community being a tribal Muslim nomadic community. The support that the perpetrators generated from the dominant Hindu community further underlined the deep communal schisms existing in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The response by the rest of the nation clearly displayed a strengthening of a communal mindset in our society, and a growing increase in the acceptable limits of our tolerance to inhumanity. There have been concerns raised in the recent past about the increasing levels of intolerance in our society. In fact, my belief is to the contrary. I strongly believe that we are increasingly becoming a more and more tolerant society. Today, we are ready to tolerate a lot more that we would have even thought was humanly possible for us, and this includes the brutal rape and murder of an 8 year old girl, for reasons as shameful as her belonging to a certain religious community. During Partition, women, including children, were raped and murdered because of the religion they belonged to, and Partition remains the darkest of times that we have faced as a society. The memories of Partition only bring with it feelings of anguish, remorse and guilt. In this case, however, we have been able to create a memory that juxtaposes the face of an eight year old child, raped and murdered for belonging to a particular community and religion, and the sea of faces of those who marched in support of the rapists and murderers of this child. How are we going to look back at this memory in the time to come? How are we going to explain it to our children in the future, who may today be as young as Asifa was, to understand any of it in the present? I hope each of us has posed this question to ourselves.

As responsible citizens of this nation, as parents, teachers, educators, politicians, administrators, social workers, intellectuals etc., all of us have strong opinions on how are society should be and what kind of education system we should have in order to achieve that ideal society that we desire to create. Does all of the above figure in the dreams that we have dreamt for our society and our beloved nation? Are we prepared to routinize such kinds of incidents? Can we, in any way, do something about it? I, most definitely think we can. I wish to illustrate with a few examples, how.

  1. By unequivocally accepting ‘Humanity above all else’.
  2. By unequivocally embracing the inherently diverse character of our nation and choosing to make this our strongest characteristic rather than our weakest link that can any day threaten to break our nation into pieces.
  3. By unequivocally propagating the abovementioned principles through every means possible and most importantly, through our education system.

I wish to elaborate a bit on the last point that I have mentioned above. Any education system in any society does not exist in a vacuum but exists because it serves a purpose. On the broadest of levels, one of its major aims is always to fulfil the visions of the kind of society that one desires to build and inhabit. At the time of formulation of India’s Constitution, the contours for the kind of society that we wanted to be, were laid down. The broad vision that was arrived at was that of a democratic and secular nation that believed in the ideas of justice, equality and fraternity. These ideals were not randomly chosen based on the whims and fancies of a few individuals, but there was a reason for their being chosen and enshrined in our Constitution. This was done because it was understood that India was, by its very nature, a diverse nation. Since ages and eons, it has embraced this diversity and made it its biggest strength. It is the only natural way of existence that is known to this nation. Homogenization does-not come naturally to our country and its people. Though various attempts at homogenization have been made by various vested interests, and though they might have seemed to be temporarily successful, yet they have definitely failed in the long run. The makers of the Constitution had realized this long back. Yet, it seems we continue to harbor our misgivings to this day. However, it is imperative that we realize that in the long run, it is futile to try and tinker with the inherent natural character of any society and its people. To the shortsighted it may seem that one has succeeded, however, such success can only be short-lived. Thus, when we decide to teach our students and our children about the values enshrined in our Constitution, it is necessary that we first remind ourselves and truly understand, accept and embrace the reasons for which these values were enshrined. Such an education may actually help in building a society whose individuals shudder at even the thought of committing such a gruesome act for the fear of reprisal that it is bound to unleash from the society, for a society that is built on the principle of Humanity as the most inviolable principle can definitely not sanction the death of humanity.

Public Universities: In a state of flux

The recent strike by the students and the faculty of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) against the institute’s decision to withdraw financial aid to students from the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities, who were eligible for the Union government’s post-matriculation scholarship, is only a grim reminder of the state of flux that the higher education sector, especially the public universities are in. Even globally, there have been visible signs of tremors, with faculty and students alike, having to struggle for those very rights that were once ensured to them (

The rationale behind the establishment of public universities can be traced to the consideration of education, including higher education, as more or less a ‘public’ good. In fact, there can be said to be a global consensus around the fact that education is nothing less than a ‘Human Right’. The United Nations definition of the term ‘Human Rights’ confirms the same. It states, “Human Rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.” (

Various countries have tried to guarantee this right to education in their own manner and capacities. In India, the Constitution had mandated the state to guarantee to all, the right to education till the age of 14 years within a time period of 10 years, under Article 45 of the Directive Principles of State Policy. This mandate was only fulfilled in 2009, in a fairly diluted form, with the enactment of the Right to Education Act, guaranteeing free and compulsory education to children in the age-group of 6-14 years. The status of its implementation is worthy of a different write-up altogether.

I would like to argue here that a right to education only till the upper primary level is rendered more or less meaningless if there is not an adequate provision and guarantee of public colleges and universities for the students to continue their education in. Whereas the purely ‘public good’ character of education might be challenged when it comes to higher or university education (, it cannot be debated that a suitable higher education for the maximum possible numbers is the most desirable state of affairs.

The Right to Education Act, 2009, not only provides for compulsory education for children in the age group of 6 to 14 years but also provides for this education to be free. With almost universal enrolment having been achieved, it can be ascertained that majority of the children can be assured of a schooling at least till Standard VIII. However, this achievement in itself only has a symbolic value. This is because it is not possible to completely divorce education from work and view them as independent entities, isolated from each-other. Although, I believe that to be able to earn a livelihood cannot be the sole aim of any education system, however, it is equally true that a good education sufficiently enhances the chances of an individual to be able to earn a livelihood. Schooling till upper primary level is of course not that desired level of learning which can enhance the prospects of an individual to be able to earn a decent livelihood. Herein lies the first major importance of higher education. Even though it might not be possible to guarantee a universal and free higher and university education, it is still essential that the opportunity to undertake good quality higher education be available on chargeable but ‘not for profit’ basis to maximum number of individuals, and thus the key role of public universities in this context.

India’s expenditure on education has been consistently lower than the world average. India has decreased its spending on education from 4.4% of GDP in 1999 to around 3.71%, as per the latest budget estimates ( Although the 2017-18 budget has increased the allocation for higher education by about 10% as compared to the previous budget (, a third of the budget allocation for higher education sector will solely benefit the IITs and the NITs, whereas the budget allocation for certain other institutes of national importance like the Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research has been reduced (

The above budget allocations are indicative of a worrying trend in the way higher education is increasingly being viewed and treated by the state. There are a few salient features that can be discerned in this regard:

  1. An increasing trend towards privatization and education being treated as ‘for profit’ business activity.
  2. The establishment of a truly graded and hierarchal higher education system with some institutes being created as ‘islands of excellence’ to the complete neglect of the others.
  3. A shift in priorities towards technology and away from academic research within the sciences.
  4. An overall shift away from humanities towards the sciences.

These abovementioned trends do-not augur well for the future of higher education in India. As discussed above, good education is essential for an individual to be able to earn a livelihood. However, again, it is not and cannot be the sole purpose of education. Education plays a major social function in society. And herein lies the second major aim or purpose of education. These two major aims, I believe, need to co-exist and be given equal importance in any good and desirable education system.

Society is a collection of individuals and is built by the interactions of those individuals among themselves. Hence, we can establish that under no scenario can a society be completely unmindful of the behaviours of the individuals forming a part of it, because at least a subset of those behaviours will definitely affect the society. As a result, it would definitely be concerned with the kind of actions/behaviours its members are indulging in. Thus, a major aim of any education system has to be the nurturing of an individual who has a sense of life, a capability of realizing one’s potential, of defining a purpose for oneself and equally importantly recognizing others’ rights to do the same. This would require the development of an ability in an individual to define rights and wrongs for himself/herself, reason based on these rights and wrongs, make judgements according to them and finally act according to them. By their very nature, social sciences and humanities are better placed than core sciences, technology etc. to cater to the abovementioned major purpose of education, i.e., its social role.

However, the recent trends in the direction that our education system is taking, clearly indicate that the social role of education is being constantly relegated to the background and being increasingly looked at with contempt even. The authoritative manner in which the state has tried to bulldoze its way into changing the institutional character of Jawahar Lal Nehru University is a case in point. An institute that is the best exhibit of the social role of education, with its culture of discussions, debates and dissents, its core strength of egalitarianism and inclusion, the unparalleled academic research that it produces, the freedom of thought and expression that it provides to all the stakeholders in its system, is being repeatedly and continuously targeted for these very reasons, for questioning and dissenting, for debating and discussing, for actually offering equal opportunities to all, irrespective of their social, caste, religious or any other such status in society, for being the fore-runners in understanding what education is and should be all about.

The unrest that is today clearly visible across public universities cannot be cut and divided into individual and isolated issues and then addressed accordingly. This unrest is a symptom of the bigger malaise that has set in the system. It is an indication of the even deeper malaise that inflicts the society at large and that is the global vision that the society has chosen to adopt for itself, a vision wherein human rights can be casually trampled upon, where egalitarianism is considered as a relic of the past and where economics trumps humanity, by an unbridgeable margin.

I Am Not Hungry Anymore…..


I knew the alphabet from A to Z

I could also recite it in reverse right from Z to A

But I didn’t know so many combinations of the alphabet were possible

When joined together they could form such big meaningful words


ICDS and ICPS – the difference of but a letter yet two big independent things they say

One meant for my development and the other one for my protection – maybe they think I may go astray

There is a PDS, something called an NFSA also, I gather

I am always bad at short forms and full forms, these are things I can never remember


But one of these words I admit I am particularly fond of

Because it is not a collection of ominous words forced to fit into an abbreviation

It is rather a sweet and short word, something the sound of which I like, and I can easily remember

It is called Aadhaar and it is supposed to be the end of all our strife


So, my mother and I we have dutifully got enrolled

I remember I had held on to her hand tightly on the way to the Centre, lest she sun away, our roles are mostly reversed

I was delighted when we had got the cards shiny and colorful with our pictures and names on it

We didn’t have any extra food on our plates that day, it was just as usual, scraping by a meal a day


Yet I was feeling big and important somehow, for the owner of something so important I had become now

I was also feeling a sense of responsibility on my shoulders, so I remember I had put a share of my food on the plates of my two younger sisters


In the coming few days and months I remember feeling a bit confused though

I had the card alright now but its magical qualities it had not begun to show

Most of the days still went by scraping for one meal a day and most nights were spent lying awake in the hopes of the magic occurring the next day


Then suddenly my father came home one day drunk much more than usual

His rickshaw had been stolen and naturally we got a little more thrashed than normal

Our one square meal a day of course had to be dispensed with

There were other important things to be taken care of and soon nothing remained important any longer everything became normal just to be lived with


I had informed in the school that I am going to my village

Somehow, I felt that it was my duty to do so otherwise they just might be worried


Then a day passed two days three four five six and then I lost the ability to count further

My younger sisters had become silent long back, unable to cry anymore

They were also younger so may be their energies lasted that much lesser


I remember having a dull pain always in my stomach

I don’t know I was asleep or awake, but I remember dreaming of parathas and samosas and jalebies often

I had seen them being cooked on the way to my school almost daily

I had longed to eat them so many times but still never dreamt of them before, but now I was thinking of them solely


Then one day suddenly I vomited, I don’t know what came out of me, may be my dreams had caused me indigestion I thought


After that I only remember waking up now, that dull pain is gone and so are my dreams

I can’t see my sisters anywhere, want to ask them if their pain is also gone

I only see so many people talking to my parents, such big cameras in their hands I had never seen before

But I will search for my sisters some other time for I am just feeling happy right now

I am no longer hungry, I am no longer hungry, I have never felt so full before….

व्यक्ति में शहर होना

सच कहते हैं, शहर व्यक्तित्व का ही एक हिस्सा होता है

बाकी पसंदीदा या नापसंदीदा व्यक्तियों या फिर वस्तुओं की तरह, शहर भी पसंद या नापसंद होता है

पर कभी कभी शहर रूप, रंग और आकार बदलता है

वास्तविकता में हो न हो, व्यक्ति के मानस पटल पर या तो सिकुड़ता है या हर तरफ फैल जाता है

और वो शहर गर बंबई हो तो जाने अपना प्रभाव किस किस प्रकार छोड़ जाता है


मुझसे भी ऐसा ही कुछ रिश्ता इस सपनों की नगरी ने जोड़ा है

दस वर्षों से इसके दिल में अपना घर बनाकर रहते रहते अपने दिल में इसकी अनगिनत यादों को मैंने सँजोया है

लोकल ट्रेन के सफर से भयभीत मेरे मन ने

आज उसी ट्रेन के सफर के उन पलों को जीवन का अटूट हिस्सा बनते देखा है


बारिश की एक बूंद भी न भाती थी जिस दिल को

आज उसी बारिश के कुछ दिन न होने पर उसकी याद में व्याकुल होते उसको देखा है

ट्रेन के डिब्बों में मित्रों के असंख्य गुटों को देखा है

बातें करते, गाने गाते, हँसते-खेलते, तो कभी लड़ते-झगड़ते, घंटों का सफर पल भर में तय होते देखा है


समुद्र की विशाल अंत-हीनता को महसूस किया है

मनुष्य के निरंतर आगे बढ़ते रहने के जज़्बे को जीया है

ऊंची बहुमंज़िला इमारतों की चकाचौंध के नीचे

बस्तियों को जीवित होते और भरसक ज़िंदा रहते देखा है


हर प्रकार की कला का यहाँ सम्मान होते देखा है

हर त्योहार को लोगों के उत्साह से जीवित होते देखा है

बड़े से बड़े मॉल से लेकर छोटी से छोटी दुकानों को

निरंतर विकसित होते ही मैंने देखा है


ये सब देखते देखते, इन पलों को जीते जीते

इस शहर को अपने व्यक्तित्व का अंतरंग हिस्सा बनते देखा है

आज नहीं तो कल जाना तो होगा इस शहर से दूर

पर अपने अंदर इस शहर को समेटकर ही वो सफर तय हो पाएगा,

यह भी अभी से ही मैंने देखा है, यह भी अभी से ही मैंने देखा है