Thursday, July 8, 2010

On aesthetics

Thoughtful essay on aesthetics and its increasing role in education.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Celebrating our 2nd July's- Time to go beyond

I start with the disclaimer that this topic actually calls for an elaborate essay than a blog post. 

Lets try to see how an individual's progress is typically understood in our society-
  • Birth
  • Education resulting in Physical, Social, Psychological and Intellectual development
  • Employment- Economic success
  • Marriage
  • Family expansion
  • Material milestones- home, vehicle etc
  • Professional growth
  • Children's education
  • Children's marriage
  • Retirement from service
  • Demise/Voyage
A nation's growth would look like this I guess considering that a nation is more of a concept, a continuum.

  • Freedom from any external political hegemony (this is not equivalent to birth since no one one knows when a nation took birth since then we have to go back to development of civilization (not talking in political context here)- One time
  • Journey towards Democracy - One time
  • Development of Governance machinery- Executive, Judiciary and the Legislature - One time
  • Development of institutions of public service- education, healthcare, water, sanitation, infrastructure etc- Continuous
  • Design of the economic engine- Continuous
  • Constant striving for improvement of public life- Continual
  • Protection of rights of people- Continual
  • Propagation of peace and amity through cultural discourse with the help of religion- Continual
  • Creation of environment that fosters economic and cultural richness for all- Continual
  • Establishing the nation in a global context- Continual
  • Inclusive growth- Continual
  • Establishing an environment that characterises nurturing human enterprise, balance of economic growth and protection of nature, protection of rights, political vigilance on the part of citizens, religious pursuits, cultural development through nurturing art- Continual

 I may have surely missed out on a lot of other aspects in this list but the point is that the birth and growth of a nation is far more complex and also painful than the progress of an individual. The latter becomes complex when the person is economically marginalized or else when the state fails to deliver on several accounts. Also, the journey of individual's growth is characterized by a lot of struggles on account psychological issues, social complexities, at times physical challenges, knowledge gap etc. The other difficulty about the latter is the fact that mostly it is a very lonely journey unlike a nation's journey which entails the commitment and energy of millions of people over a period of time.
At the outset it is difficult to understand how nation's progress can be ensured if you merely look at the individual's growth journey. So how do you map the progress of the complexities of nation building with the conventional line of growth of individuals as expressed above. Probably thats the very reason it calls for countless experiments and human efforts for hundreds of years to reach a mark where it is looked at respectfully by its own citizens first and then by other nations. 
Now where does 2nd July stand in all this? 

Last year 2009, July the 2nd, Justice Shah delivered a landmark judgement to decriminalize homosexuality and to uphold the rights of people people who are different on a specific level. If means a lot for someone who on account of having a different sexual orientation has lead a life of shame and ignominy for long. Gautam Bhan has taken a wonderful perspective on this by bringing to light the importance of upholding Constitutional morality in matters which should be considered purely personal in any civilized society. He has rightly pointed out that our examination of these judgements becomes all the more critical in the light of growing intolerance as being seen through Khap Panchayat idiosyncracies of Haryana and 'honour' killings.
The importance of these days has to be seen in the light of the fact that it takes several years of struggle to bring about a legal change and then probably another several decades to translate that change onto the social reality. Its just like dowry. It may be illegal but still there are instances of dowry related violence that one gets to read on a day to day basis.
Thus if we want to examine the progress of our society, we need to celebrate those moments which can be construed as inflexion points or milestones in the progress of a nation. Such episodes of important judgements or government policies should be included in the curriculum of schools and discussed thoroughly by students if one wants to create a community of people to gauge how one should position one's private growth pursuit amidst the larger pursuit of nation building which would call for several thousands of such changes spread over probably few centuries to see that dawn that makes one feel proud of one's country.
Has talking about 2nd October or 14th November really lead us anywhere?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Violence Works!

We generally don't like to debate on violence per se as most liberals would denounce it as uncivilized, illegal or whatever you want to call it. Irrespective of what our attitude towards violence is, the fact is -" IT WORKS".

Living in a high pressure society like Mumbai its easy for me get reminded on what makes people get violent. In fact I feel that it is only because people in the country are tolerant that these acts are of sporadic nature and have still not become norms despite the pressure that exists all around.

There are various levels on which nature of violence can be examined but here i take the opportunity of understanding when does violence actually create the necessary impact at a political level.
War against nation is the biggest demonstration of violence at political level but other than that if we try to understand mass violence within the democratic structure and violence outside the democratic structure it gives us some useful insights on when violence is able to attain immediate ends. I am not talking about any deep spiritual ends here. Only political ends.

In a city where there are over 15m individuals residing and where lakhs of people find their lives getting difficult on account of immigration, anyone who experiences this kind of a life for a few months would get to sense what living at the bottom with limited means can actually mean. With 50% of the society living in slums with extremely sordid living conditions, poor sanitation,  constant stench, with no sunshine, the mind is already in a stressed state. On top of it the daily travel under horrendous commute systems where few people lose lives on a daily basis by slipping off the footboard or from the roof of the train, will it really take too much for people to lose control? What has been written in the Consitution can be debated in rose wood built conference rooms and probably on internet groups. What it means to experience this kind of a life is beyond comprehension unless one really is intending to understand the very nature of this constant stress which is part of everyday existence for millions in the city.

When people are seething with stress, political parties strategically use violence as a means for establishing their own muscular identity and dividends are seen in no time. Its primarily because the party did what the individual couldn't. The native wanted to kick the butt of that person who took away his railway job but could not garner the wherewithal to do it. No wonder Raj Thackeray became a local hero in no time.

 MNS which used violence as a communication tool really well against North Indian immigrants was able to win 13 Assembly Seats in the first elections that they contested. This is no mean feat though there was a legacy involved here as well. Similar was the case of Narendra Modi during the Gujrat carnage. He made a point very clearly but followed the same with strong administrative acumen and now the same person is being touted as a Prime Ministerial candidate from the largest opposition.

On the other hand lets look at what the Maoists are trying to do across hundreds of district which bear the testimony of several decades of government misrule. They are using violence as a strategic tool but since they are doing it outside the ambit of democratic structure and since it is directed against the State itself, there is only going to be loss of people on a long term basis but no transition of power. I don't understand how anyone can imagine that such a war can ever be won. Considering that this war is not driven by agendas possible within the democratic framework, it is foolhardy to imagine that a new Constitution would be drafted by underfed gun weilding Naxalites. But yes, this is the biggest concern of the PM and the Home Ministry at this stage. Why did it take this long for the government to understand that people can't be taken for granted. That speeches in international forums on the journey to become a major international power can't be made unless one keeps the picture of over 70% population also in view.

But if you ask whether its completely futuile to act thus, the answer is probably No. If we take a closer look at it, we realize that the common theme of violence in both these instances is the fact that the parties were able to make their point loud and clear. Its only because of the Maoist struggle that there has been a seperate report by the Planning Commission trying to understand the issues it entails and the reason why the same is being factored in while trying to study India's business attractiveness.

Thus wherever we see mass unrests leading to violence, we can consider it to have a clear rationale (though not necessarily overt) and unfortunately in an imperfect world such as ours, this channel of communication works really well and probably real fast too!