Apr 24, 2009

Prejudice Squints when it Looks

Now, really, this is going too far. Way too far.

A dangerous website that thrives on malice, hatred and some twisted superiority complex of a particularly large section of Indian society, not to mention the propagation of superstition and blind faith, has published the following content on one of its articles:

Rahul Gandhi’s unnecessary allegation in Sangli, Maharashtra: "Though BJP is criticizing Dr. Manmohan Singh calling him a weak Prime Minister, BJP had given in to the demands of the terrorists during the hijacking of a plane at Kandahar when it was in power and had released the terrorists."

Now here are the Editor's appalling comments:

Congress ruling for maximum period made the people impotent. That is why the relatives of the people hijacked in the plane were pestering the government to release the terrorists at the cost of the national security without paying any heed to it. BJP’s decision at that time was the repercussion of the Congress party’s indecisiveness (Gandhigiri). Hence Rahul Gandhi should not cast one sided aspersions on BJP! While criticizing BJP regarding Kandahar issue Congress should not forget that it had allowed the terrorists hidden in Sharar-e-Sharif without attacking them!

If only closed minds came with closed mouths! So if I have a parent or a sibling or a spouse or an offspring in a life-threatening situation of national magnitude, I should not make all efforts to ensure the safe return of my loved ones. I should also not try and mobilise all the support I can gather to force the government to even consider action. What's more, I shouldn't inform the government of my intense desire to see my loved ones again. In fact, I shouldn't allow myself to worry sick and abandon any pretence of assurance from the high and mighty political clout. More so, I must not lose touch with reality, even if I know I might not see my loved ones again. And of course, at a time like this I must eliminate all fear from mind and make a decision that panders to the reigning government, even if such a decision comes at the cost of my loved ones' security or even life. Since when was survival even an instinct? Then again, I should realise and accept that common individuals in India are aplenty and dispensable.

In many ways this statement is a turning point in the history of a modern, independent and progressive India. Not because of the depth of irrationality or the intensity of hatred or the extent of stupidity that this statement represents, but because of the direct threat that the ideology behind it has posed to the very concept of the modern Indian state.

This threat does not arise from death and destruction caused by rampaging mobs. Nor does it arise frombombs or guns or lapping flames. The tortuous history of the Indian sub-continent has witnessed many a bloody event. But the threat here arises from the concrete manifestation of a lethal ideological agenda with an express objective of destroying the present Indian state and its constitutional fabric. Any secular-minded Indian who believes in a pluralist democratic India must take this statement as a wake-up call. Here, what is at stake is the very existence of the Indian Democratic Republic, and such high stakes calls for equally radical and unorthodox measures.

Any liberal society that cherishes freedom of speech and dissent must learn to draw a line between legitimate expression and a motivated propagation of malicious prejudice and irrational hatred. Not to mention unabashedly irresponsible accusations against other ethnic/ religious/ cultural groups. Once the fine line between insanity and reason is allowed to cross, it wrecks the very fundamentals of civilised existence. Any irrational ideology would be free from hurdles like self-doubt or reasoning and offer precariously simplistic alternatives based on half-baked truth or blatant lies. When such an ideology piggybacks on mass polarisation, the combined effect is that much more vicious. Then, all that is needed is the slightest of triggers to set up a conflagration - triggers that may not even be remotely relevant.

The statement above is living proof that a constitutionally established republic can allow blatantly anti-constitutional acts to be perpetrated and even justified. Such groups would subvert the constitution where it serves their strategic interests, and it does not require an artist's imagination to visualise what they would do if allowed to flourish so.

Communalism in India is usually regarded as a socio-political issue and its virulent propagation is not dealt with the severity and gravity it warrants. In fact, there exists no substantial section of the legislation to curb and punish communal unrest. One of the largest oversights of Indian politics is to see even communal political parties as democratic, while they are really an oligarchy of assorted non-accountable individuals who thrive on a soap-bubble ideology of misguided supremacy of a particular section of the nation. Though these groups pay due lip-service to democratic values, their polity is hardly so. The power of governance should be used to combat the threat of communalism in every manner possible.

The time has come for a de-facto congregation of secular and tolerant individuals and groups to come together. Why, that time was yesterday! Nevertheless, this force should evolve a stringent law to recognise any activity that begets hatred or prejudice as "Constitutional Terrorism". A focused de-infiltrating of communal elements from governance and social institutions would help identify and thereby eliminate the former. The objective would be to create a climate hostile to the subsistence and functioning of communal forces. In a country where influential tactics can mobilise a billion-strong population in one go, a strong platform of secular-minded citizens can act as a powerful pressure group to raise a voice against communalism. This pressure group can influence political parties and governments to fight communal forces in a coordinated manner.

It is very important that the real story behind each incident of communal unrest is brought to light, so that our people are able to appreciate how flimsy the foundations of hatred can be. More importantly, the culprits need to be identified and appropriately punished to prevent re-runs of those incidents. While the governments at the Centre and the affected state would stonewall the process, it is imperative that a public investigation be launched to bring justice.

Lastly, any communal force would do better to understand this and commit it to memory: "It is better to have an intelligent and criticizing enemy than a foolish and all-agreeing friend." Always...

Facts courtesy: Gaurang Mehta

Apr 11, 2009

A Rupee for your Thoughts

She has businesses and billionaires and big ambitions. Now India wants something that no global economic powerhouse should be without: an international symbol for her currency. The hope is that the rupee sign will become as ubiquitous as the US dollar ($), or that instant emblem of the digital age, the @ symbol.

The Rupee is generally shortened to 'Re.' (singular) or 'Rs.' (plural), or sometimes denoted as INR. But these are not symbols; they are mere abbreviations for Rupee. To get an internationally recognised and accepted symbol, the Finance Ministry has initiated the search through an open competition.

According to the Finance Ministry, the symbol should 'represent the historical and cultural ethos of India'. The entries may be in any of the Indian languages, and even in English which is also an accepted language of use by the government. Each of maximum two entries per participant would be accompanied by a fee of Rs. 500. The symbol should also be applicable to the standard computer keyboard.

While we search for a currency symbol that mirrors the essence of India, we must equally be conscious of our business audience. From a strictly business perspective, the design must also reflect our monetary policy and the stability of our currency. The move shows we have begun to realise the importance of branding. The Rupee symbol could be a powerful part of India's brand iconography - a signal of stability and the fact that we are a lead player on the world stage.

Considering the multitude of diversity in thoughts and ideologies that typify India, the choice for the final design will have to be made very carefully. Aesthetic appeal is of paramount importance; we would not want a symbol that looks different or even offensive to anybody when viewed from a particular angle. In keeping with our ethos of inclusiveness and secularism, the symbol should be neutral and representative of India as a whole. It would be prudent to base the design(s) around the letter 'R' - in the officially-declared national language and script, and not English or any one particular regional language and script. It should fit well into the existing suite of international currency symbols. It is also critical to understand how the symbol would be used in all its technical applications - on a computer screen, on the web, on paper, on mobile phones.

The contest, which closes at 1 pm IST on 15 April 2009, is open only to resident Indians. The winning entry will be chosen by a seven-member jury of experts drawn from various art institutes, the government and the RBI. The top five entries shortlisted for final selection will be awarded Rs. 25,000, while the winner will take Rs. 2,50,000. The final selected symbol will become the property of the government and the original designer will claim no rights over it any more.

For more details and guidelines on how to participate in this exciting event. you may visit this page on the Finance Ministry's website.

My choice, you say? It is this:

Source: BBC News and the Ministry of Finance, Government of India