Frontiers to freedom

Is humour for one offensive to another? Is fun at one’s expense mirth for another? When does humour transgress limits to become a slight? Are we touchy when we are made fun of but can’t hold back a smile when another is being mocked? These were questions that  were bounced off in a debate on television yesterday. The context was a PIL (public interest litigation) by a Sikh group in the Supreme Court of India against the infamous ‘Sardarji’ jokes that stereotype male members of the Sikh community as being dim-witted.

The Americans for their English (‘Americans haven’t spoken English in ages’, Prof. Henry Higgins, immortalised on screen by Rex Harrison, famously said), the British for their accent (when attempting to speak in Indian languages, for instance), the Germans for their love of ‘organization’ and their lack of humour (see the delightful ‘Those Magnificent Men and their Flying Machines’) and Indians for their love of loudness – in everything from speech to honking on the road to colourful attire – are all stereotypes that humorists unapologetically milk to the hilt.

While artists of all genres (from stand-up comedians to actors, writers, painters and media-persons) are unanimous that they have the freedom to spoof whoever they wish, they stop short of political incorrectness. Certain communities (of which the brahmin community is not one) and certain religious adherents (of which the Hindu affiliates are not one) are sacrosanct, their sensibilities and sensitivities are not to be trifled with.  As for the rest the said actors, litterateurs et al refuse to be held responsible for thin-skinned audiences.

Can there be frontiers to freedom? Should there be? Wouldn’t talk of ‘limits’ to freedom become oxymoronic? Perhaps, an answer can be found in this ‘Fool’s Prattle’. Says D V Gundappa in his classic work of philosophy for the layperson, Mankuthimmana Kagga:

The roving bird responds to the call of its nest, the ambling cow lets the rope on its neck hold it back. What is life if not bound by any value?

Self-restraint and allowing oneself to be restrained by societal norms are limits that make freedom a happy choice for all and not just the ones who claim their right to it. To be civil is not to be unfree!


Inter-Faith Instruction: Let us use religion to unite the world


“The intellect by which one knows what is to be done, what ought not to be done, what is to be feared and what is not to be feared, what is binding and what is liberating is in the mode of goodness.

“The intellect by which one cannot distinguish between what is right and wrong, between what should be done and what shouldn’t be done is in the mode of passion.

“The intellect with which one misconceives wrong as right and what is right as wrong, which is covered in darkness and steers down the wrong path is in the mode of ignorance.”

These are verses from one religion’s holy book (#BhagavadGita, chapter 18, verse 30-32).  I am sure each religion and way of life has its own version of such verses of value, which pass down moralities that make us humane, and hence, human.

We need #Inter-Faith Instruction that draws on secular values from all castes, creeds and mores.  We need a universal book that is published by a global body such as the #UNICEF for use in every school on earth.  The world has to globalise religion instead of quartering it, learn to use it to as a tool to unite instead of letting cohorts of vested interests hijack it, enslave it, abuse it.

In our schools and universities we are churning out scholars and scientists, entrepreneurs and engineers, teachers and doctors.  We are even training children to be sportspersons, musicians, artists, actors … but are we forgetting to teach them to be human?  In the race to ‘make it’ are we actually making monsters?

In schools, in malls and movie theatres, in small cafes and luxury hotels, in buses, trains and planes – from Pakistan today to the USA last year, from Sydney yesterday to India three years ago, all over the world, it is no longer safe for ordinary folks to lead their simple lives; it is no longer possible to take everyday joys for granted; it is no longer certain that families that leave homes in the morning will remain whole to meet later in the day. 

“The knowledge by which the undivided Supreme Being is seen in all entities is in the mode of goodness … (Gita: 18-20)

Legislate on child labour, but in tandem with rights to education and employment


Child labour has to be seen through a holistic prism. This is not to detract in the slightest from the assertion that the children so affected are indeed caught in a vicious circle: economic deprivation drives parents to send off their children as bonded labour or sell off their children to slave in households. The educational deprivation of these children in turn dispossesses them of the opportunities to move from the margins to the mainstream. But a society’s responsibility does not end with legislating against child labour. It is important to look far into the child’s future and ask what happens to a child that is rescued: Will the child be able to perform adequately in an institutionalised academic environment that lays so much stress on scholastic aptitude and so little on learning skills of multiple kinds? Even if the child is able to ford this bridge, will the years of struggle through a forbidding school system ensure employability and employment? Even if some employment is found, will it provide for wages commensurate with the effort that has gone into getting there, and result in a fair measure of progress from the margins to the mainstream?


While amending the law/ s related to child labour, therefore, it is important to factor in these concerns by linking the new legislation to right to education and right to employment, especially for the neo-literate sections of the society. Further, RTE itself needs to be broadbased to extend education to mean much more than institutionalised education. And, if right to life includes right to education, so does it include right to employment. Every person must, therefore, be assured of opportunities for employment – whether as a salaried employee or as a self-starting entrepreneur. And for this purpose, workplace, banking, and other legislations too need to be dovetailed into the systemic framework dealing with child labour. Only this will cause a sustainable change in the mindset of those who feel compelled to choose between the devil and the deep sea as they trade their children’s future for a seemingly secure present for their wards.

Are you a missing plane or a missing girl?


Two months ago, a plane disappeared and 239 people simply vanished off the face of the earth. No one could say where the plane had gone or why it had disappeared. The world media persisted with the story for long, with experts of all hues giving it their all. The governments of the world chipped in and displayed the technological marvels at their command to scour from the sky and to spy swathes of under-sea, to search for a plane no one knew had gone where. A lot was also said about crowd-sourcing the search and thousands – if not millions – of netizens pored over hundreds – if not thousands – of satellite images looking for the lost plane. Nothing turned up. No plane, no people, no clue about what might have happened. The media’s interest dwindled, the governments withdrew their largesse quietly, and no one knows what is the stage at which the crowd-sourced search is.

A month ago 276 young girls were kidnapped in Nigeria by a cowardly group that terrorizes people in the name of Islam. The area of operation of this group is not a secret but no government operations have been initiated in earnest – neither by the home country nor by countries that presume to be the global conscience-keepers. Reports BBC News, ‘A senior US official said Washington was … considering a Nigerian request for surveillance aircraft’ and the British High Commissioner had said ‘The eye in the sky, even if it were able to be focused on the spot, isn’t a panacea,’ explaining that while drones could help gather intelligence, caution was of the essence. [What caution when young girls are being assaulted by a bunch of goons and are likely to lose more than their life in any case?]. This dust off the sleeve kind of response of the government perhaps takes a cue from the media, which lost interest after initially going to town reporting on an individual from the delinquent group who issued an open challenge, seemingly to the powers of the world to do what they could to rescue the girls, publicly announcing the intention of his group to sell off or marry off the school children who had dared to try and educate themselves despite having been born in the wrong gender. After a hiatus, the media turned its attention to the Nigerian girls once again yesterday: they were agog with the news that the US President’s spouse took the unprecedented step of taking over her husband’s weekly address to say they were ‘outraged and heartbroken’ over the abduction of the Nigerian girls. There is, to the best of my knowledge, no crowd sourcing, sharing of satellite imagery, etc. as the world doesn’t seem to be interested as much in the prospect of tracing some missing girls as a missing plane. On the other hand, eyes in the sky, perhaps, cannot penetrate woods and discover what lies moving in the midst of the undergrowth beneath.  In any case, the girls remain lost to their families.  There are valid guesses that can be made about where the girls are likely to be, and where their captors can be caught.  But who is looking?

Two events for an unaffected world. Twice two hundred tragedies for the individual families. That is all it boils down to in the end. But should we pause and ask how far we, the ordinary people, can bring to bear the power of our eyeballs on the media, and how much we can make the power of democracy work to bring the governments down from their elite, boardroom mindsets.  A mysteriously missing plane is a priority – if only to bring to some kind of closure the angst of the loved ones left behind.  But don’t missing girls matter at all?

A tale of two: a starter kit for the new Indian government


A couple of days ago, Naveen called his parents to tell them the news that he had topped his state’s pre-university in the Arts stream with a stunning average of 95.7 per cent (see the full report in The Hindu). His non-literate parents couldn’t initially grasp the enormity of the achievement. His father, who works as a porter, first thought that all his son had done was to out-perform his hostel and college mates. The report doesn’t say how his mother, who works as a daily wage agricultural labourer, reacted. It is almost a miracle that Naveen did not drop out after completing the tenth standard like so many of the economically, socially and geographically disadvantaged do. Though he got a very high percentage in the school completion exam (85%), his parents wanted him to help them. All they own is an acre of dry land in a remote area in a backward district. But good Samaritans in the form of a cousin and a college lecturer who hails from his village, intervened to ensure Naveen went on to study further. The young achiever has a remarkable, noble goal: to complete his graduation and post-graduation and then teach English to rural students. Naveen is acutely aware of the importance of the language and the difficulty in learning it, having experienced it first-hand as a rural student who had been educated in the vernacular through school.

Naveen’s is a story of the triumph of hope over despair. India is morally bound to ensure his hope is never belied. To create policies that facilitate achievement and ensure just rewards for the same should be the first task for the new Indian government. For too long we have failed to live up to the promise of our young people and also failed to keep our promises to them.

Also hailing from the same district as Naveen is Yellappa Huded, a small farmer. His paddy lies unsold, heaped on the bare earth on the outskirts of his village. Paddy grown on about one-lakh acres of land owned by small farmers in the region remains unsold even twenty days after harvest, reports The Hindu (see full report), as mismanagement of water distribution by the Irrigation Department results in the tail-end villages getting water late and in insufficient quantity, leading to poor quality crop. The paddy growers here have to store their grain in the open as they do not have the wherewithal to hire godowns. Their grain has no takers even at throwaway prices. Through the day they keep rotating the place of storage, moving the grains from one patch of land to another once every two days so as to avoid decay. At night, they sleep beside their piles of grain to protect their produce from thieves. ‘Small farmers like me have only two options: either give up agriculture to migrate to cities, or commit suicide,’ Yellappa Huded is reported to have said.

Yellappa’s is a story of hope turned to despair. The new government of India has a duty to ensure that this story is turned around and such occurrences are a thing of the past. For too long we have made promises that address the periphery, we have made policies that do not synchronise with each other to ensure sustainable development. Compensation for loss of crop cannot recompense the destruction of hope. Departments of the government cannot function in individual ivory towers far removed from each other and from the people for whom they make policies. Ways have to be found to ensure that all departments work in tandem, and together they address the interest of the citizens they represent.

What it is to be a woman of substance.

Lizzie Velasquez’s battle

” … Twenty-five year old, Texan born, Lizzie Velasquez was born with a rare syndrome which means she cannot ever put on weight and presently, it is reported she weighs roughly 60 pounds. All of her internal organs, brain and bones work and developed perfectly, though she is blind in one eye and has no fatty tissue in which to store vital nutrients, requiring her to eat every 15 – 20 minutes. Velasquez also exhibits some symptoms of Progeria which means she has started to age prematurely.

Growing up and having to face the trials and tribulations of school is very hard. Now imagine having to go through the hardships we did and then finding a video on Youtube entitled ‘The World’s Ugliest Woman’, with nothing on it but an eight second clip of your face. That is what Velasquez discovered and it now has over four million views, as well as a number of comments, many of which encouraged her to kill herself. It’s hard to fathom how this could be done to a child and absolutely terrifying to know that the culprits were other youths…. ”

Read more … it’s worth your time:   ‘How Lizzie Velasquez, dubbed ‘world’s ugliest woman’ became one of the world’s most inspiring.’

Lizzie VelasquezHappy Woman’s Day, Lizzie.  You make me proud to be a woman.

Manifestations of greed



When skills are auctioned, when emotions become commodities, when knowledge is enslaved by commerce; when plagiarism is acknowledged as literature, and political clout masquerades as concern – whenever these things happen, and they have become commonplace, ‘greed has grown beyond mere gluttony’ one may shrug and move on. It may seem incongruous that there is a failure to engage with these issues symptomatic of apparent deterioration in human values. But step back and consider: When Kerry Packer innovated the limited overs version in the game of cricket, and lured players from across the globe with mammon, several national federations suspended these cricketers. Later, when the Packer version of the game became par for the course, the inventor of this version of the game was forgotten, and so were the bans on the cricketers. Cricket, and cricketers, since, have become even more commoditized. Self-effacement was once a value among creative artists. Not unoften they were dead before their works became celebrated. Today, it is expected of even mockers and misrepresenters of these works to parade in the arc lights.  Not long ago, mass movements were fed and funded, if at all, by the masses themselves; today, fund-raising for mass movements is a respected profession that employs personnel trained for the purpose and by promoting and advertising their ‘cause’, it seems the movements feed vicariously on the people they seek to represent. Under the circumstances, it seems morality cannot be a permanent standard: Times change and values change with time. How then can the science of morals aspire to be a ‘science’?

[More to come in the coming days]