#MeinBhiChowkidar Movement and Dignity of Labor

In April 2015, when our PM Modi visited Canada and addressed the NRIs over there, he spoke about the dignity of labor (the lack of it) in India. From what I read, he has talked about this topic earlier as well but this was the first time I heard about it from him. I ended up writing an article about that at that time as well.

Fast forward to 2019, when I heard about the #MeinBhiChokidar campaign, that speech of his replayed in my mind and this topic was one of the earliest thoughts that occurred to me. A campaign that started as a response to the filthy sloganeering by the Congress Naamdaar, led by the PM himself and seconded by pretty much all of his ministers, received a resounding response from the general public too. It may or may not have been intended as one, but for me, it was a great experiment on the dignity of labor and the change in the mindset of the Indians. They (public) didn’t do it consciously but it was a step in the direction of establishing dignity of labor in the Indian psyche. It was one of those occasions, when a title, that is normally associated with a seemingly low-quality job in the traditional Indian mindset, was adopted by thousands (perhaps millions) of Indian as a part of their identities. People were not hesitant to call themselves a watchman, English equivalent of the word, in its spirit and embraced it wholeheartedly.

While the prime minister clarified that the term “chowkidar” is in the essence of the duty of the security personnel in general, which is that of guarding whatever piece of the entity that they are responsible for, in his case, it was the whole nation. The fact that it was embraced by many was a good example of how, we as a nation, is opening up to the idea of giving respect do any kind of work that is done honestly.

A few years ago, there was a good debate on the “pakodas” where the Prime Minister said that the person selling snacks on the road in an honest manner is equally entitled to the level of respect any other person doing a corporate job is. We, as a nation, should respect the honesty of the person and it’s work irrespective of what that work is as long as it is not harming anybody. This is a very important idea that needs to be included in the mindsets of Indians who generally have inhibitions on a certain type of work based on their own understanding of their identities, mainly social.

The dignity of work is something which I witnessed more in the Western countries (at least compared to India). It was a part of Indian civilization when the society was divided into “varnas” and everybody was free to choose whatever skill they want to acquire and contribute to society. This was before the whole society was divided into classes and castes and races by the Britishers in order to rule India more conveniently using the policy of “Divide and Rule”.

I remember the first glimpse of the dignity of labor when I landed in the US for the first time and was standing in the immigration queue. On the screens placed right above the counters, they were explaining the whole process of immigration and what things people need to take care of during the process. They were also proudly explaining the importance of an immigration officer in ensuring the security of the nation and how they are the first line of defense to ensure that the unwanted people do not enter the country. It was such an important idea, something that doesn’t occur so naturally unless mentioned explicitly. The amount of respect, in daily lives, all these people who made the community safe, clean, and beautiful receive is commendable.

For example, the Indian police which is often at the receiving and of many complaints, we forget that they are the first line of defense whenever any kind of attack happens in the country are any other kind of law and order situation arises. In the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Mumbai Police was the first one to respond to the situation and in fact, a brave constable, Tukaram Omble, lost his life while managing to capture the lone live terrorist in the police operation. We take certain things for granted and do not realize and its importance unless it is not there. People who help us in our daily lives like the security guards, people who pick up the garbage, the sanity workers, the firefighters, the traffic police and many more. These unsung heroes who make our lives easy and safe on a daily basis really should get the recognition they deserve. In the western world, some of the critical services like the firefighting, the paramedics, and the police I known as first responders.

Unfortunately, a part of the culprit is also the terminologies used for these people. For example, the person who picks up garbage every day from our houses, we call him or her kachrawala/wali instead of safaaiwala/wali, which is more correct because we are actually throwing the garbage and they are cleaning it up.

Two years ago, on one of the Facebook groups, I came across a post by a lady who shared the summer activity of her two kids who made some money by starting their business in the neighborhood. What was the business? They charged some dollars for picking up the trash from the neighborhood and putting it out in the common bin. It was really amazing to read. This household was not poor. The kids did not really have to do the job that they were doing. However, it was their mother’s way to make them start earning money rather than just having it from the parents. It also inculcated a sense of respect in the kids’ minds for the people who do similar kind of work an understand how hard working these people are who clean up the entire community. In a way, such activity imbibes the dignity of labor in kids.

I guess that’s where it should start. I hope this idea of the dignity of labor spreads well across India and Indians.

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Why I Pray the IAF Disclosure Doesn’t Set a Poor Precedent

As I woke up in the morning today, the ritual of checking the phone was the first thing happened. And as I unlocked it, the first Google News flash appeared “Amid Calls For Proof, Air Force Shows Radar Images Of Pak F-16 Encounter” from NDTV. IAF held a press conference where they showed radar images and electronic signatures of the IAF aircraft MiG-21 Bison and the three F-16 aircraft of PAF, one of which went off the radar, indicating it being destroyed. This was further substantiated with the initial claim by the Pakistan armed forces as well as PM Imran Khan himself when they declared that two IAF pilots were captured but it turned out it was only one. The information about the other pilot was suppressed cleverly.

While the junta rejoiced at this news, as I could read from the Twitter reactions, my heart sank a little.

I just hope this doesn’t end up becoming a bad precedent set by IAF because now, for every operation in future, there will be proofs sought and this example will be provided to ensure the proof-giving-exercise happens every time. Information that should not be public, would be made public and that is not a good sign for national security. It pained me to see that we have reduced ourselves to a nation that is seeking proof from our armed forces of their heroism.

It is sad that, within India, we have people who are asking these questions under the pretext of questioning the government but their questions are essentially directed at the armed forces. Their worry is not the national security but ensuring that the slightest benefit of these actions do not end up benefiting the present government, even if it means helping the enemy state. This questioning comes at the cost of national security.

While, to the relevant international/foreign organizations and governments, IAF and the Indian government may still need to provide the proofs, it should still be an administrative and secured communication and not public. We may need to send the proof to Pentagon since the US made aircraft are involved in the whole episode but what is the need to distribute such information through a press conference?

Firstly, this kind of technical information hardly understood in it’s purest forms by the general public. Secondly, such information can expose our capabilities to unwanted entities, which is not good for our security. While, I am pretty sure IAF would take care of the second point, but as a citizen, I would still not want them to waste their time in ensuring only the relevant information is distributed. Thirdly, there is absolutely no need for any kind of information about the military operation specifics to be distributed in the general public. There is a reason why this kind of information is kept secret.

People say that it is their right to question the government. If they really want to question the government, the questions should be regarding the lapse in the internal security that led to Pulwama attack and what the government is doing to prevent it in the future? What did the government do and did not do to prevent the attack? Since when did the government have the information on the Balakot terrorist camp? If it was before the attack itself, what took the government so long to act on it?

Unfortunately, instead, questions that require sensitive information to be disclosed are asked because people know that when they will be refused they can easily mask military secrecy as something fishy which opens the doors for them to create stories that suit their agenda.

I would just want to end this by apologizing to IAF as we, the Indian citizens, failed to uphold our nation’s security to the highest levels. While we give sermons about freedom of speech, we fail miserably at the responsibility of speech.

Featured Image Source: Zee News

O yes, you shouldn’t have spoken on Indian Elections

Dear Hasan Minhaj,

Yes, brother, you shouldn’t have spoken on Indian politics! Absolutely not. I totally agree with that but not for the reasons that were portrayed in the first couple of minutes of the show.

During my stay in the US, I did observe a general lack of understanding of India and Indian politics among the majority of Indians who have settled there since decades and your show was just a proof of that. I am not blaming but then somewhere the NRIs refuse to accept that lack of knowledge and feel entitled to speak up just because there are platforms available and there are listeners.
It was just sheer incomplete information, no understanding of the core issues of Indian society + politics and an extremely one-sided view of the issues, organizations, and the leaders.

Through this blog, I am just attempting to bring in some perspective to the topics covered. I am not the epicenter of the knowledge or insights but having closely following Indian politics till date and having witnessed, in person, BJP’s administration and Modi’s leadership while growing up in Gujarat and living in India up until 2015, I guess I do bring in some level of credibility.

1. Balakot Attack
About the Balakot attack, you failed to mention that Indian media has recently provided enough details about how the targets were actually hit as the latest satellite images show (Indian Air Force collates proof of strikes at Balakot camp, 80% bombs hit target: IAF gives satellite images to govt as proof of Balakot airstrike, Balakot airstrike: 80% bombs hit target, says IAF in proof submitted to govt).
The portrayal of the entire incident as their word vs our word is quite naive. If you follow the news, you would know that Pakistan has continuously denied access to the international media to the site of air strike (Pakistan continues blocking media access to IAF’s air strike site, Why does the media have no real access?, No access to Pakistan religious school that India says it bombed) but just touring them around the forests. Pakistani PM was also caught red-handed lying on television when he said Pakistan had captured two Indian air crafts in the dogfight that followed a few days after the air strike when the fact was the second plane was Pakistan’s F-16 itself and the pilot was badly beaten up by the locals (and is said to have died in the hospital later on). Pakistan has also failed to acknowledge this – which is terrible for a soldier who risked his life for the country.
And saying that the Indian government was exploiting Kashmir for elections is also a totally idiotic. Indian army conducted operations in Myanmar in 2015 and then in PoK in 2016 (in response to Uri attack). Even in 2016, the same excuse was given by the anti-India and anti-BJP folks that due to elections in Uttar Pradesh, this was done. The fact is that, in India, every year some 4-5 (or even more) states go into elections to elect a state government. So, it is common and easy to portray any positive step of the government as an election hoodwink.

2. Jobs
You spoke literally just for 10 seconds on this topic to give out a judgment. The fact of the matter is that this is one topic where there is significant confusion (just read these two articles: The reason India jobs data is not credible and The sharp debate on jobs data shows govt may arrive at a process for understanding India’s labour market) and making any conclusive statement is absolutely naive. There are plenty of data sources giving a variety of information but none of them covering the entire spectrum. Unlike the US, the UK, and many other western countries, India has never had any credible source of employment information. While the larger estimates do not favor the government at all – more confusion in this matter will only be detrimental to the government.

3. Demonetization
You showed a CPI worker (AIKS cap, red t-shirt and CPI flag in the background) criticizing the demonetization – so obvious. If you don’t know what AIKS is and the equation between CPI and BJP – research a bit. You, spending just above 60 seconds on the topic to conclude it as a failure is an absolute injustice to the topic itself because it was a very carefully planned exercise which had other aspects too – which was obviously ignored in the video – like the Jan Dhan Yojana and the closure of shell companies identified due to this exercise. You may want to read the following:
Govt cancelled 2.24 lakh suspected shell companies post demonetisation, disqualified 3.09 lakh directors, 2.09 lakh companies deregistered; directors face action, Black money accounts frozen, 2-3 lakh shell company owners now face up to 10 years jail.

If you really want to know what failure of demonetization looks like – just read about demonetization in Venezuela.
And while you talked about demonetization, you failed to mention the largest financial inclusion exercise carried out before that – the Jan Dhan accounts. While India received independence way back in 1947 and bank nationalizations happened in the 1969 and 1980, it still excluded more than half of the population from the financial system. While the numbers vary slightly from sources to sources, even by 2014, half or less than half of the Indian adults had a bank account. And, from there the number up to 80% and still counting. Yes, there are arguments that many (maybe a majority) of these newly opened accounts are dormant. But one also needs to take into consideration that any behavioral change in society takes persistent efforts and time. People who are habituated to deal in cash for 70 years post independence will not move to transact through their banks overnight.

4. Disenfranchisement of Immigrants
You mentioned the disenfranchisement of immigrants in Assam but failed to mention that these were illegal immigrants. It was also surprising that you missed out on some very basic details on NRC

  1. It was first prepared in 1951 to tackle the issue of illegal immigrants from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
  2. The current NRC exercise is a part of the Assam Accord that was signed by the then Congress PM in 1986, Late Rajiv Gandhi (you should have asked Shashi Tharoor about this) but was never implemented and
  3. The current exercise was mandated by the honorable Supreme Court of India on October 2013 (when Congress government was in power).

Illegal immigration from Bangladesh is a monstrous problem for both, West Bengal and Assam. It is being portrayed as Muslim immigrants (as if a particular religion is targeted) but they fail to mention that the immigrants come from Bangladesh which is 90% Islamic. Many governments, including this one, have been trying to arrive at a solution and a part of the solution is to send the illegal immigrants back to Bangladesh.

Yes, when the first list of National Register for Citizens was created, it did include some actual citizens as well but that was due to lack of documental evidence and there was a time period provided to such citizens to submit the relevant documents. Ironically, this whole infiltration of Muslims from Bangladesh (and Rohingyas from Myanmar) totally contradicts the perception that minorities are not safe in India 🙂

5. Hindu Nationalism is not anti-Muslim
BJP talks about Hindu nationalism but that speaks of Hinduism as a value system – not religion. Every single scheme of the present government has been targeted to every single Indian irrespective of religion or caste – be it Jan Dhan Yojana, Ujjawala Yojana, Aayushman Bharat, Make in India, Awaas Yojana and many others. This government is also the first one to introduce reservations based on economic status, rather than social status.
So, calling the current government as communal or anti-Muslim is highly ironic especially when compared to the previous Congress government that stated that a certain community has the first right on India’s resources. Some of the most perceived right-wing leaders like Subramanian Swamy has a Muslim son-in-law. He himself is married to a Parsi. The PM, in his addresses, always iterates 1.3 billion Indians instead of using a collective of religion or caste or anything else that divides India. Unfortunately, he and BJP often gets targeted and accused as anti-Muslim because, unlike other parties, they are not in the practice of appeasing minorities for votes. You may want to read this:
PMO intervenes to end Kerala disabled boy’s fight for education.

6. Affiliation with RSS
Regarding his affiliation with RSS, if you know about the RSS in detail as most of the Indians do, it becomes a source of confidence and not a source of concern. RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) pretty much translates to National Volunteers Group – no reference to any particular religion or caste etc. Yes, the organization is primarily focused on the Hindu way of life and incorporating discipline into the Indian youth (the video that you showed of the physical exercises is essentially a part of inculcating the discipline). Having said that, RSS has been always forefront in carrying out relief work in any natural or man-made disasters – be it in Kashmir or Kerala. The organization has given some of the greatest and the most respected leaders India has seen post-Independence.
You might be surprised to know that RSS has many members from Muslims, Christian, and Sikh community and they understand the true philosophy of RSS. It also has a Muslim wing itself called RMM (Rashtriya Muslim Manch), a Sikh wing called Rashtriya Sikh Sangat (What brings Muslims, Christians and Sikhs to RSS? Why do they join the organization that is considered to be the antithesis of secular politics in India).
Time and again, the western media and public in general, has always failed to understand the Hinduism because they tend to see Hinduism from an Abrahamic lens. You should read the book “Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines” by Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan.

7. Mahatma Gandhi’s Assassination
Regarding the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi – I know, for western media, Mahatma Gandhi is pretty much next to God – but research is required in understanding the background of the whole thing which the majority of Indian media and almost the entire of western media never took interest in and always talked about it in a superficial manner. I am not justifying the assassination – it was definitely wrong – but the reason for condemnation of assassination also matters as much as condemnation itself. I would suggest you watch this and try to get some perspective

8. Monk with a Gun
You mentioned “Monk with a Gun” but one needs to go back to understanding the history of India where this (weapons) was actually the part of the education. This is not something new. I have mentioned more about it here.
Regarding changing the names, it is not a change of the name per se. It is restoring the original names (not sure why nobody told you that). And it is not anti-Muslim for sure. It is anti-Mughal – the dark era in the history of India that was marred by systematic destruction of India’s vast natural resources, forced religious conversions, destruction of India’s agricultural strength, unjust and high taxes (including jizya), and many other atrocities by the Mughal invaders. Similar exercises have happened time and again. Just read here – Renaming of Cities in India. Again, it requires some good reading.

9. Lynchings
Regarding the lynchings, there are two major points. The narrative that it has been increasing since 2014 is wrong because 1) There is no credible data available that suggests that since 2014 there is an increase; 2) NCRB started reporting communal riots only after 2014 – so obviously there were no reported lynchings before 2014 since nobody was actually recording it; and 3) Mob lynching has been talked more since 2014 and has caught media attention but just because we come to know more about it now and not before doesn’t mean that it didn’t exist at the same scale earlier. Mob lynching is a result of a challenge that India faces in terms of law enforcement which is being tried to overcome since decades. I would suggest you watch this

You may also want to read this: Can Data Tell Us Whether Lynchings Have Gone Up Under Modi, And Should It Matter?

10. Democracy in Danger
When you say that Indians also feel that the “democracy is backsliding” – you show Yogendra Yadav who has been a classic anti-Modi person who will obviously say those things. If you don’t know the history of Yogendra Yadav, please read about him. Since 2014, there have been regular attempts to project that the Indian democracy is in danger under the present government (completely ignoring the fact that this is the government elected by citizens of India with a landslide victory – the first time in three decades. I would actually not consider 1984 because that landslide was driven by emotions rather than performance). Be it the award wapasi show, tukde tukde gang, intolerance debate or EVM drama. If you do not know about these terms, please read.

Again, I sincerely hope there wasn’t any agenda behind this episode. 29 minutes is a too short a time considering the breadth of the topics covered – which essentially meant quantity was prioritized over quality – and in this case misinformation or half-information was prioritized over a genuine talk.

If true, it’s sad that nobody from BJP opted to speak to you and you only received one-sided biased Leftist view of the Indian politics from Shashi Tharoor. He is a great orator but it was very sad to hear that he obviated corruption. But then it is nothing new – that has been the mentality of the Congress and many other parties since ages. When Rahul Gandhi was asked about dynastic politics at University of California, Berkeley, he just said “that’s the way India works” – in spite of having a present government that has not only opposed dynastic politics in words but also in practice. Just follow the news around the list of candidates they released for the upcoming general elections in India and the whole logic behind identifying the right candidate for the right constituency. They are demonstrating how democracy should actually work.

While talking about all other things, within one minute, you could have also covered this bullet point list:

  • India is the 6th largest economy (10th in 2012-2015) by nominal GDP (3rd by PPP) – World Bank
  • India jumped 57 places (134 to 77) in ease of doing business in just 4 years – Tradingeconomics.com | World Bank
  • The government went on to simplify the indirect taxation system by bringing everything under GST (Centre and State) and categorizing items to make some very essential items under 0% taxation.
  • The Indian PM received the Champion of the Earth from the United Nations for his bold environmental leadership on the global stage – United Nations Environment Programme
  • International Yoga Day was one resolution that received massive support (co-sponsorship) of 177 countries out of 193.
  • Sushma Swaraj was invited as a Chief Guest at OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) States – the first time since its inception in 1969 – and in spite of opposition from Pakistan – so much for the anti-Muslim government and the party.

Again, here, I may not have been able to cover everything in detail. I am not even sure if I spending so much time on writing this was even worth it. But this is something that ought to be done.

P.S. I also came across this video which has some brilliant points debunking myths spread around the western world about India. Great work by The Sham Sharma Show:

Perspective

A few days ago I watched the Veer Das Netflix special “Losing It”. While he is probably the best when it comes to stand-up comedy (the reason Netflix is going for the second special with him, of all the artists), there was a part where he couldn’t stop whining about the beef ban that’s in place in the majority of the states in India. Now, he’s not the first person to do that. In fact, many left-wing so-called intellectuals have been doing that and ironically the same people also diligently share photos or post tweets about how they are enjoying beef in India (which essentially contradicts what they are saying).

Now, I do agree with the whole freedom of eating part and to a very large extent, I support it. I’m saying “very large extent” and not “completely” because we should be cognizant of the fact that with every freedom, comes the responsibility as well. While we can surely enjoy the freedom we want, freedom is never (or shouldn’t be) absolute. A driving license gives you the freedom to drive but it also holds you responsible to drive safely. A voting right gives you the freedom to vote but also holds you responsible to choose the best of all candidates fighting the election since the country’s/state’s future depends on your decision. A job gives you financial freedom but also holds you responsible to manage your expenses. And all the debates I’ve seen so far about the freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of eating – talk only about freedom and conveniently forgets the responsibility.

Theoretically, I should be able to eat pork right outside a mosque or in the middle of a Muslim neighborhood. I should also able to eat out in open during Ramadan in the same area – I have the freedom to do it.

Can I do it? – Yes.

Should I do it? – No.

And not because of the backlash I might receive or worse, I can get killed. Even without those fears, I should not be doing it. If my freedom is making someone uncomfortable, I would try to think of ways to get some solution that will not hurt that person and also doesn’t make me compromise a whole lot.

Essentially, at some point, we should also think about what kind of a person we want to become.

And, to take it to the next level, what kind of a nation we want to build. India is one nation that has always been accommodative to a multitude of cultures. When Parsis were getting converted or executed by Islamists in Iran, they made India their home. India is the only country where Jews found safe heaven and never got discriminated. This is the country where countless faiths have been able to live peacefully. And a part of the reason why this has worked is because of mutual respect extended by most of the other religions as well who haven’t been infected with the disease of evangelism, forceful conversion, and disrespect for other faiths.

Secondly, we also need to take time to understand the history behind why cows are considered holy in India. It’s not surprising that the animal that has been the second most important source of livelihood for millions after agriculture, is worshipped. And it’s not just the milk. Cow dung was used for flooring as well as on walls in the houses as a mode of insulation from the scorching heat outside. It was also used as a source of heat for cooking besides the wood. Cow urine was used for therapeutic purposes in ancient Indian medicine. And of course, the cow has reproductive capabilities. With one animal playing a very important part in the daily life of Indians, cow essentially reached a motherly status and one doesn’t kill a mother to eat her flesh.

To a large extent, the emotions people in the western countries have with dogs, Indians have with a cow. But while protesting against Yulin festival, that doesn’t even happen in the US but all the way to the other side of the world, is cool, protesting against beef is not because it doesn’t have a western endorsement.

The Identity Politics India Needs

I saw the India Today Conclave 2018 debate today on the topic of “Identity Politics” – something that has been deeply ingrained into the Indian political mindset. The panelists included Hardik Patel (Patidar Andolan Leader), Kanhaiya Kumar (ex-President of Students Union at JNU), Sheila Rashid (ex-VP of Students Union at JNU), Rohit Chahal (Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha national media in-charge) and Shubhrastha (right-wing columnist).

Just as expected, the debate, in no time, slipped into panelists mudslinging each other and hardly sticking to the topic. However, a few points and the topic of the debate itself brought a good thoughtfulness on the idea of what kind of identity politics India needs, especially when the politicians in the past have done nothing but dividing the country by race, caste, religion, region and sometimes even gender – just for their vote banks.

I guess the answer was right there when the moderator, Rahul Kanwal, was introducing the participants. Not for once, he used any of the divisive adjectives like race, caste, religion, region or gender, to introduce the panelists. They were introduced based on the work they did and the positions they have held or hold currently. And from the debates and discussions, I have witnessed so far, panelists are always introduced by the work they do and the positions of power they hold.

During the discussion, Kanhaiya Kumar made a point on the identity where he said that if someone asks him abroad that who is he, he will respond by saying that he is an Indian. If someone asks within India, he will respond by saying that he is a Bihari. If someone asks him within Bihar, he will respond by saying that he is from Begusarai. I think that is exactly the mentality we are fighting. Why can’t his identity be the leader of AISF and the students’ wing of CPI? And there should be a full stop after that. It is the identity based on “karma”.

And for humans, it gives the true and greatest joy when the identity is associated with something they have done. And the reason is that the other identities – region, religion, caste, gender, race etc. – humans do not have any control. It is by fate. However, the identity associated with a profession is something that the person has worked hard to “earn”. And with a country like India, building an identity associated with profession can be the greatest motivator for the people to work hard and achieve their dreams irrespective of their religion, region, caste, color or gender.

Whenever we talk about our farmers, we feel proud because they work so hard to bring food to our table. Whenever we talk about our scientists, we feel proud because they enable our technological advancement and improve the quality of life for everyone in the country. When we talk about our athletes, we feel proud because they work hard and bring medals/trophies to our country at international stages. When we talk about our artists, we feel proud as they do not just entertain us but also sometimes bring awards at the international stage through their work. These personalities also feel proud because of what they have achieved in their profession – not because they belong to a particular religion, region, caste or gender.

When farmers strike, we always say “kisaan andolan”. Recently in Maharashtra, the farmers marched from Nashik to Mumbai. I didn’t see any news channel reporting it as “Marathi Farmers” but just as “farmers”. Even the protest in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra last year by farmers was called “kisaan andolan” in MP and Maharashtra and never as “Marathi and MPite kisaan andolan”. When farmers from Tamilnadu went to protest in Delhi, they were never called “Tamilian farmers”.

As long as we keep associating ourselves with such pity things, we cannot develop because our horizon will be limited. And unfortunately, problems do not see race, religion, caste, gender etc. before striking.

–Featured Image Source: India Today

The Great Indian Debate Killer – “Where Were You When…..”!!!

Invariably, this statement comes at least once in almost every “so-called” debate you see in Indian media – both television and social. Be it firecracker ban, mob lynching, morning azaan issue or Gauri Lankesh murder – “where were you…” rocked – diluting the importance of the issue and making it yet another opportunity to take political and religious potshots.

But why is it such a lame thing to do in a debate?

The degree to which people are using this word, not just diverts the entire debates from the core issue but also gets the conversation into a filthy territory where judging people becomes the central idea. The ones who use this statement will often raise the flag of “exposing the hypocrisy” but essentially it is just another way of saying “What I am supporting is bad but you did not oppose the same bad a zillion years ago so this bad is good”. That argument undermines the idea of tipping point when a person says “enough is enough” – which clearly doesn’t mean that whatever happened in the past is acceptable.

Secondly, and probably the most important one, it shifts the focus of the debate from the topic in hand to the participants itself. And that happens when the participants don’t have anything constructive to offer on the topic. An ideal debate is fought on facts and focuses on the validity of the issue raised with possible solutions, if valid. It requires a good amount of research, a strong understanding of realities on the ground and having facts/figures on hand. That enables someone to make strong points supporting a stance. When people do not research and are not aware of ground realities, they resort to personal attacks and digging up the past instead of convincing the other party on why they are wrong.

Also, the phrase undermines the evolution of opinions as people gain more information, experience and perspective about an issue. While it cannot be denied that many people would find the compulsion to cling on to their beliefs in spite of seeing the truth in front of them, just because they feel the need to be faithful to one side, it may not be the case always. People evolve and so does the thought process. The everyday experiences and the stories that we hear, add to our perceptions and how we think about a particular issue. People even change opinions mid-way the debate – if you don’t believe, see “12 Angry Men”.

“Where were you when……” is perhaps just one such example of what’s wrong with the “argumentative” Indians. It is more difficult than it seems – to be rational all the time, especially when you have the prejudices and personal biases growing like a tree in your mind. It is up to us on how much we are not just able to control it but quash it before they damage our interactions with others around us.

Bhakts, AAPtards and Khangressis

If you are an Indian and follow politics, there wouldn’t be a single day when you wouldn’t hear/read one of these words. And these are not the only ones. There is “presstitutes”, sickular” and much more. The dictionary of Indian media, which is not just restricted to professionals but more and more citizen journalists, has seen a parallel vocabulary in the last few years to refer to different group of people – or if I may say, classify people into different groups.
Image for Blog

A few years back, it wasn’t like this. And when I try to deconstruct the entire scenario, couple of things comes to my mind.

The inherent culture humans adopted since centuries world over to follow individuals, not ideas
I have always believed that people follow ideas and not individuals. At least, that’s what rational minds do or everyone would do, if provided freedom. Of course, it is arguable and there would be a grey area to it. People who seem to follow an individual are not following an individual per se, but the ideas of that individual. So, ideally, the loyalty should be with ideas and not individuals.
However, ideas don’t have a face, individuals do. Ideas are abstract, individuals are physical. So, it’s easy to worship the latter than the former. And hence, perhaps, we have people essentially trying to find someone who can impersonate these ideas. That’s how religions built or chose characters that were representative of all the good ideologies and asked others to worship them instead of these ideas. Even outside religions, groups were created with a face representing those ideas and people were asked to worship these faces. Hence, ideas took a backseat while individuals were given the driver seat. However, this essentially means three drawbacks.

1. One cannot differentiate between criticizing an idea and criticizing an individual 
Unfortunately, these days, any criticism of an idea is also taken as a criticism on an individual. Of course, political parties have vested interests in doing that but even the citizens get carried away in that. This sets a dangerous trend where meaningful discussions lose importance and the conversations are focused on defending and attacking individuals instead of talking about the rightfulness and wrongfulness of the topic in hand. It happened in the recent Anupam Kher video that went viral.

2. Following an idea is confused with following an individual 
Secondly, it also builds an assumption that everyone who supports an individual, will continue to support her/him irrespective of the situation, which might not be the case. I remember a classic line from the movie “12 Angry Men” where the second last juror says ‘I don’t believe I have to be loyal to one side or the other” when he is confronted by the second juror for changing his vote. The second juror somehow assumed that the individuals were taking sides instead of taking rational decisions.
People can confront an individual on a given issue and support the same individual in another one. It is always possible!! It also helps in removing biases during debates/discussions when you know that the other person can get convinced if your point is stronger and, at the same time, you can change a stand at any time based on what facts you have on your plate at that time.

3. Contradicts the notion that no person is perfect
And this is more for people who feel an obligation to defend an individual, they support, all the time. A lot of times we hear, nobody is perfect. People make mistakes. Following an individual, instead of ideas and principles, makes you obligated to defend the individual even when he/she is wrong. And that’s when the whole argument moves away from “for and against the issue” to “for and against the person”. There would be some notions which would not make any sense at a given point of time and would perfectly fit in, later on.

We have moved from the time when a BJP veteran supported a hard core Congresswomen when she did the right thing and she asked him to represent India in an important UN conference in spite of him being an opposition leader because he was the best man for the job.

The rate at which the quality of debates is deteriorating and people are pitted against each other, soon we might see a day when we will only be talking about individuals and who said what but not the real issues.