Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Book Review: The Bestseller She Wrote by Ravi Subramanian

“He stopped his lecture soon thereafter and they broke into Q&A.” That was how the first chapter ended and it had me frowning. First chapter over, eight pages done and yet no murder! It had me scratching my head, was this a Ravi Subramanian novel at all?

Sure, the cover and the back says “Love. Betrayal. Redemption.” But then who takes the blurbs seriously? Bankerupt mentioned emu farming on the cover, but it was an out and out banking thriller i.e. exactly the fare we have come to expect from Ravi Subramanian.

So first things first, if you are a die hard Ravi Subramanian fan hoping for a traditional thriller, you are in for a shock. This book for most part is a romance novel with some elements of a thriller dropped in right at the end. After doing some digging on the internet, I found out this article where he has made it clear that with this novel he is targeting a new audience. However, I am sure that like me, many others are going to pick this up expecting something else because, by the virtue of his creative marketing efforts for his previous novels and having often been described as the John Grisham of Indian banking, as of now atleast, he has definitely been type cast as a thriller writer in the eyes of the ordinary reader.

The Bestseller She Wrote begins with the lead protagonist, Mr. Aditya Kapoor, the author of five bestsellers meeting Shreya, an aspiring author at an IIM-B campus event. The middle aged author loves the attention he gets from the young MBA grad while Shreya enjoys her access to his inputs on writing. Aditya gets her on his team at the National Bank and soon it is inevitable that the mentor-mentees shall be lovers, nevermind the fact that he is married. Though Aditya keeps getting enmeshed further and further in his lies, we are kept guessing about the genuineness of Shreya’s feelings as she alternates between expressing her love for Aditya and milking him for his publishing industry contacts. As all affairs play out, the deception is uncovered and Aditya tries to call off the affair while his wife goes through a crisis, only to find that Shreya has left him no way out. Backed into a corner, Aditya uncovers some secrets about Shreya which help him ultimately reconcile with his wife. It is towards this masala ending that Ravi Subramanian tries to make the love story seem like a thriller. But at the end, the explanations seem barely satisfactory and I was also annoyed (as I often am) by the few pages where the protagonist has found a way out of the predicament and is acting upon it but the author/narration doesn’t reveal it to us for many more pages.

All in all the story by itself is rather predictable and the ending seemed barely satisfactory. If I had to nitpick, I would also point out that some of the relationship stuff is wayyy unlikely. For example, they flirt and sext on SMS! Yes SMS in the world of WhatsApp and Snapchat. And the girl’s bestfriend is particularly pally with the girl’s boyfriend whom she doesn’t even approve of much. Like seriously? I am sure many guys wish that girl gang loyalty was so easy to breach and be able to turn one girl against the other but I have never heard of this actually happening. The more intimate scenes could also have been a little more imaginative.

That said, despite the not-so-great plot, the book does have a super redeeming quality, that kept me turning the pages. The book is flooded with references to real life events and publishing industry inside info. The protagonist Aditya Kapoor who is a superstar author keeps giving gyan about how to become a super-star author. What makes it even more interesting is that Aditya Kapoor has several traits of the current super stars of the publishing industry. He is a banker like Ravi Subramanian himself, he is from IIM and gets an offer to judge a reality show like Chetan Bhagat and is heavily involved in promoting his book like almost every author these days. I once even heard Amish promoting his book on the radio. There is so much speculation about who the protagonist is based on that some authors have put out statements to deny that they are him. (Unless that is also merely another marketing tactic from Ravi Subramanian’s team.)

Ravi Subramanian knows a fair deal about marketing his books. I got the first email about The Bestseller She Wrote from the ‘Think WhyNot’ Ad Agency, almost a month before its launch and this book has animated trailers as well! So through his protagonist, Ravi Subramanian gives us a lot of information about how books are marketed today and how celebrity authors obsess over their portrayal by the media. He even mentions book reviews from bloggers as a marketing technique! Furthermore, the book is also full of references to real life events and personalities and many of these references also seem to reflect the author’s attitude. We find reporters being called ‘presstitutes’ while Amish Tripathi and Ravi Subramanian himself are named as Grishams of Indian Banking. Nirav Singhvi also finds a mention and Anurag Kashyap is a minor character in the story. The best digs though are all aimed at Chetan Bhagat.
I don’t want a Chetan Bhagat quote. He might have seen today’s newspaper article and jumped onto the bandwagon for some quick publicity.
So finally, do pick this book if you want a time pass one time read infidelity story with an opportunity to laugh at the famous celebrity authors but if you are actually looking for an unputdownable Ravi Subramanian novel, you would be better off picking God is a Gamer or Bankerupt!

You can buy The Bestseller She Wrote from flipkart here - 

I am reviewing ‘The Bestseller She Wrote’ by Ravi Subramanian as a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers.

Disclosure : I was supplied with a review copy by Blogadda.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Book Review: ‘Career of Evil’ by Robert Galbraith

CoEThe job of a detective, in my opinion is to investigate a crime that has occurred. I don’t usually like it when he himself becomes enmeshed in a crime be it as a victim, a framed suspect or in any other way. Thus though I had enjoyed reading the first two outings of Cormoran Strike, I was wary of the third novel in which Strike has a case forced upon him when his young assistant Robin Ellacott receives an amputed leg in the mail. Our protagonists are forced to crack the crime as soon as possible since the negative publicity surrounding the event threatens to destroy their budding detective practice which now includes colourful clients like a man hoping to catch his stripper girlfriend cheating and a lady gather evidence of her ex-husband’s interference with their children’s lives.

The basic plotline in relation to the ‘crime’ unfolds in a rather simple manner. The sender of the amputed leg is a serial killer who likes chopping of bits of his victims and hates Strike. So in order to track him down Strike and his assistant focus their efforts on four primary suspects who have reasons to wish revenge upon Strike.

The key thing that sets this novel apart from the earlier two in the series is that (thankfully) the book is hardly about catching the murder alone. While Robin’s engagement with her boring accountant fiancĂ©, Matthew and its contrast with the sexual tension between her and her boss was just occasionally mentioned in the first two books, it becomes an almost equally important side story in this one with enough twists and turns to rival the hunt for the serial killer. This also sets the stage for revealing to us, Robin’s past which offers some explanations for her behaviour and elements of her unique personality. Since two of the suspects crossed Strike’s path in his former career as a Military Police Officer and one is his step-dad, we learn a great deal about Strike’s past as well, thus leaving us with a much enhanced understanding of the two protagonists of the series.

This novel is also clearly the darkest of the three so far with themes ranging from paedophilia, Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID), and detailed descriptions of violence as also of Strike’s mother’s sordid sexual liaisons. The various side stories of Strike’s relationship with each of the suspects adds colour to an otherwise straight forward tracking down of four suspects and attempting to link them to the killings.

What made the straightforward storyline of this book into a great novel that I enjoyed reading was the tremendous evolution of Robin’s character and her storyline in this novel. She is the real star of this show and makes the book a great read!

You can buy it on Amazon or Flipkart!


Disclosure : I was supplied with a review copy by Hachette India.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

#GE2015 - Why can’t Singapore trust its youngsters?

It’s election time in Singapore! Most of my friends in Singapore (1992 born) shall be getting only their first opportunity ever to vote in a General Election unlike my Indian buddies who have already voted in a General Election as well as several state elections.

Though in the words of Singapore’s first Prime Minister, (Harry) Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore has moved ‘From third world to the first’, Singapore still maintains its colonial hangover of having a minimum voting age of 21 though Britain and most of the rest of the world has already reduced the voting age to 18 if not lower.

Along with Singapore, the other members of the group of countries with a high voting age are, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Tonga and Tokelau! Is this really the group of countries that Singapore wants to identify with? (Yes, neighbouring Malaysia also retains a high voting age of 21 but just because they have a colonial hangover doesn’t mean that Singapore should too. And this applies to not just the voting age but other issues such as 377A, preventive detention and judicial caning too.)

Most Commonwealth countries, and western democracies have reduced the voting age to 18 during the 1960s and 1970s. Even in Singapore’s own backyard, all ASEAN countries apart from Singapore and Malaysia allow their citizens to vote at atleast 18 years of age. Japan, one of the last developed countries also holding on to a high voting age, just recently amended its law and has reduced the voting age to 18 this year. 

“Old enough to fight, old enough to vote”

In the United States and Great Britain, one of the most prominent arguments for lowering of the age of voting was that anyone who was considered old enough to fight and die for the nation, should be considered old enough to take part in the nation’s decision making processes. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who led the American forces in Europe during the Second World War and then became the President of the United States himself stated that he believed that those who were old enough to be conscripted should be considered old enough to vote. The logic behind this argument is a fairly straightforward one, if someone is going to be sent to war, he should have a say in choosing the leaders who make those decisions regarding going to war (or not). More simplistically, if you can trust someone with handling lethal weapons (and multimillion dollars worth military technology and platforms such as fighter planes, radars and submarines), you should be able to trust them to make a simple choice for their leaders at the polling booth.

Even at the worst of times, United States has only had a ‘draft’ or ‘lottery’ system of conscription while Singapore has universal conscription for all men. Thus, the “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote” argument applies just as much, if not more, to Singapore as it did to the United States. It is imperative that the Singaporeans conscripted into the SAF have the opportunity to vote for the leaders who make the decisions about their deployment.

Clumsy Justifications of the Ministry of Law, Singapore

At present the Singapore Ministry of Law justifies the high voting age by simply stating that Singapore does not have a single threshold age of majority for all purposes. Adulthood is attained through a gradual process, with a progressive increase in rights and responsibilities. The example given is that the right to drive is attained at 18 while voting and making a will is allowed only at 21. This is at best a description of the situation at hand and by no means is it an explanation or justification regarding why the voting age is 21.

Why does Singapore believe in a system where some rights are given at each threshold rather than all at 18? Even if it has to be a progressive system why the right to vote only at 21? Why cant it come before the right to drive? 

The letter by Ministry of Law representative (reproduced above) provides no answer to these questions, nor does it give any logical connection or showing how acquisition of certain rights makes citizens better enabled to choose their representatives at a later point in time. Did learning to drive or rather having the right to drive really make anybody better qualified to vote or choose a representative? I don’t think so. 

The letter also makes a reference to citizens having had work experience and NS experience by the age of 21 without demonstrating how exactly that makes one better able to gauge electoral candidates. The laws made by the Parliament affect all the citizens equally rather than just those who are employed, so there is hardly any natural link between employment and assessing candidates for parliamentary elections or their policies.

Just trust the teenagers

Unlike what the Ministry of Law believes, voting is simple matter. It is not some complex level of decision making requiring hyper maturity which young Singaporeans don’t have. All you have to do during an election is to choose a candidate who you think could represent you and your area (constituency) the best. You have to look out for your self interest. Looking for one’s self interest is such a basic human attribute that even children do not need to be taught. With one of the highest literacy rates in the world, Singaporean teens are definitely educated and mature enough to understand national policies and to evaluate candidates. Many of the polices are even discussed in the Social Studies (Combined Humanities) classes in Secondary Schools and General Paper Classes in the Junior Colleges. Similarly, teens are also exposed to the electoral process on a smaller level in the elections for students council / prefects et al in their schools.

Lastly, there is no right way to make a choice about whom to vote for that needs to be learnt. In a vibrant democracy, people choose whom to cast their votes for, for various different reasons. Some people cast their based on the party, some look at the candidates, policies are important for some while the manner of speaking / persona or charm maybe the key for others. None of this is wrong or right, it is just one of many ways in which to make a choice. As long as someone has basic education and ability to make simple decisions in self interest, it is enough. Some countries are now even moving to a 16 years voting age so the least Singapore can do is to trust its young men and women to vote at 18 like the rest of the world.

Note: One of the images used in the blogpost is a screenshot of the following webpage. The copyright over the content in the image vests with AsiaOne. Webpage - 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Ordinance Finally Brings Clarity regarding Cheque Bounce Cases

Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 contains the offence of ‘dishonour of cheque’, commonly known as ‘cheque bouncing’. Though it is one of the most commonly used provisions of criminal law in India – in several court complexes there is a designated courtroom dealing with only section 138 cases all year round – yet there has been great confusion regarding the jurisdiction of courts in these cases which the government sought to settle once and for all by promulgating the NegotiableInstruments (Amendment) Ordinance, 2015.

Section 138 lays down that the person who receives a cheque which bounces when presented for payment can approach a magistrate for bringing criminal action against the drawer of the cheque if the cheque amount is not paid within 15 days of giving a notice to the drawer.

The Multiple jurisdictions system and its problems
For several years, the victim who received a cheque which bounced had the freedom to lodge a complaint before either the magistrate in whose jurisdiction the collecting bank (bank branch where cheque was presented for payment) is located or with the magistrate in whose jurisdiction the drawee bank (bank branch in which accused has an account and on which the cheque is drawn) is located or even the magistrate of the place from where the notice was issued. Infact the 1999 Supreme Court judgement (K Bhaskaran v. Sankaran Vaidhyan Balan) regarding jurisdiction in such matters was so broad that there could even be five possible jurisdictions based on where each of the five elements of the offence is committed. This often led to abuse of the system where complainants presented the cheques in faraway places or issued notices from cities with no link to the transaction just so that they could file the complaint from these third cities.

Supreme Court changes course
However, the Supreme Court upset the existing status quo when in Dashrath Rupsingh Rathod v. State of Maharashtra, it held that the offence was committed only when the cheque was returned by the drawee bank for the lack of funds and thus only the magistrate of the place where the drawee bank is located had the jurisdiction to hear the case. This now meant that if a cheque drawn on a bank branch in Srinagar was given to a person living in Chennai and it bounced when presented it for payment at a bank branch in Chennai, the victim shall have to travel all the way from Chennai to Srinagar to file a case. This is because the offence is committed when the bank in Srinagar returns the cheque for lack of funds and not before that.

Problems Galore
The Dashrath Rupsingh Rathod decision of the Supreme Court meant that lakhs of cases had to be transferred to other courts or withdrawn to be filed again. Further complications were added because many banks now issue cheques that are ‘payable at par’. When presented for payment, these cheques are processed not by the bank branch on which they are drawn but by the same bank’s branch closer to where the cheque is presented for payment. The Supreme Court had not clarified where exactly the offence is deemed to be committed and where the jurisdiction shall lie in such cases.

The Ordinance Fix
The ordinance promulgated by the President on Tuesday again changes the jurisdiction in cheque bounce matters by adding section 142(2) –
(2) The offence under Section 138 shall be inquired into and tried only by a court within whose local jurisdiction the bank branch of the payee, where the payee presents the cheque for payment, is situated
 As per the ordinance, the local court within whose jurisdiction the cheque is presented for payment shall have jurisdiction over the matter meaning that if you issue a cheque drawn on a bank in Srinagar and give it to someone who presents it to his bank branch in Chennai for deposit in his account, only the courts of Chennai shall have jurisdiction. In the past, in cases of multiple cheque bouncing, some complainants used to present the various cheques which they held in different places in order to harass the accused by have commencing criminal proceedings in various different cities. However, the new ordinance puts an end to such harassment by making it clear in section 142A(2) that once one cases is filed in one court, for all the future cheque bounce instances between the complainant and the accused, the same court shall have jurisdiction regardless of where the cheques are presented for payment by the complainant.

 The ordinance shall once again prompt large scale transfers of cases, however by incorporating a clause pertaining to jurisdiction within the Act itself, it eliminates the possibility of future conflicting decisions of the courts on this issue. Furthermore, by prohibiting complainants from approaching more than one court in respect of several cheques of a single person, it also adequately takes care of the interests of the accused and thus must be seen as a positive step.

 Recourse to the ordinance route was necessitated because though the Lok Sabha passed an identical Bill in the previous session of the Parliament, it could not be taken up in the Rajya Sabha due to the lack of time. It is imperative that both houses approve the Bill to replace the ordinance in the next session because allowing the ordinance to lapse would plunge the system back into a chaotic state.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Scholarship - Starting a New Life!

Finally it came. THE LETTER! For the past six months I had jumped through various hoops for this. First an extremely long drawn out application form. Then the dreaded written exam. Three papers of an hour each. One paper so lengthy that I couldn't even finish (but I was glad to find out that no one else did either). And finally there had been that interview. The fourteen year old me and five interviewers, two of them principals of schools in Singapore, I later learnt. For half an hour I had discussed the randomest of things. From why my math scores were not high in the written test, to Indian cricket team, my favourite authors and surprisingly, yoga.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Letter!

“Dad! The postman says you have to sign something. I am not old enough.” Anil heard his daughter shout out. He hurried to the door to see what the matter was. He expected some kind of a “Registered Post” packet for which the receiver has to sign on the acknowledgement card. “Aapke liye money order hai. Aur chitthi bhi.” (There is a money order for you, and also a letter.) 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Umar Bhar Befikar!

Most of us live our lives worrying. Worry about family, work, money and what not. Our lives are often spent doing what we do not want to do but must do because of external compulsions. Thus,  IDBI Federal Life Insurance Company's new tagline Befikar Umar Bhar appeals instantly.

You can checkout the entire advertisement here - 

I cannot help but imagine what would be the things that I would do if I was Befikar Umar Bhar! A whole wide world is literally open to the person who does not have to worry about money and time. So these are the top five things that I would do!

1. Around the World in 80 days 
I absolutely love reading. Commercial Fiction, Literary Fiction, Non Fiction, Comics, Newspapers, Magazines, I read anything and everything that I can get my hands on! However, if there is something I like more, that thing can only be travelling. So when I am befikar umar bhar I shall combine both and retrace the steps of the protagonist of Jules Verne's timeless classic, 'Around the World in 80 days'. I shall take the exact same path he took and try to use the same modes of transport. Whether I shall have the same number of adventures, now that remains to be seen...
Around the World in 80 Days Route
Source : Wikimedia Commons

2. Get myself a Batmobile 
I love the feeling of the wind blowing in my face when I ride any motorcycle. And in motorcycles what can be more top of the range than a Batmobile? I shall commission some top engineers to build me a fully functional Batmobile! Why? Have you seen the thing? 

3. Learn Cocoa Farming in Ghana
One of the problems of the above mentioned itenary of Around the World in 80 Days is that it does not let me explore the African Continent. Jules Verne's hero just made one African stop. Cairo. I however, would like to see more and learn something while I explore Africa.

I have had chocolates from India, Singapore, Malaysia, Switzerland, USA, Belgium and many other countries. I can probably name fifty chocolate brands! However, I realise that I know way too little about the chief ingredient of chocolate, the Cocoa nut! So I would go to see and learn Cocoa Farming in Ghana for a couple of years while I take occasional tours and safaris to other parts of Africa.

Cocoa Pods
Source : Wikimedia Commons
4. Travel on a Cruise from Mumbai to Singapore
I have lived almost my entire life on two islands, Mumbai and Singapore. However, I have never travelled from one place to other by an ocean liner. I would love to go visit my friends in Singapore and enjoy the luxury of a cruise ship while I am on the way! A different cuisine for each meal, sea view throughout the journey and rounds of games to kill time! Or perhaps, I may just buy a cruise ship!

A cruise ship!
Source : Wikimedia Commons

5. Open a Free Legal Aid Clinic
My hero, Batman uses all his wealth and time for a good cause and so shall I. I shall buy a huge house next to the seaside somewhere along Maharashtra's Konkan coast to act as my home and office. There I shall run a free legal aid clinic offering my services as a lawyer to the poor and underprivileged who do not have the means or the awareness and knowledge to resort to legal remedies for their problems. I shall also spread awareness about consumer law so that no one is cheated by vendors. I shall ensure that no poor accused goes undefended and neither the government nor any well off individuals or organisations in the society deprive the aam admi of his legal rights. I shall try to ensure that justice is done. 

This is what I would do if I was #BefikarUmarBhar! Read more about IDBI Fedral's campaign here - http://bit.ly/BefikarUmarBhar 

This post was a part of Indiblogger's Happy Hours Contest!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Real Heroes Of The Republic Day Parade

This post was first published at Huffington Post India on 04/02/2015.

Doordarshan's Republic Day Parade broadcast gave us much background information regarding our gallantry award winners but it forgot to focus on some other heroes at Rajpath - the viewing public who managed the awe-inspiring feat of procuring the parade tickets. Here's the story of what it takes to make it to Rajpath on 26 January.

Having a quiz to attend in Delhi on 22 and 23 January, I spotted an opportunity to extend my stay and watch the Republic Day Parade live at Rajpath. When I asked around for the procedure to get a ticket, I soon realised that the only advice that everyone (even the otherwise loquacious breed of Delhiites) had was to get a pass by contacting influential bureaucrats. I was often told, "Ticket line se nahi, pehchan se milti hai (You get tickets not from a queue but through contacts)."
Though I discreetly enquired of my friends if they knew these pass-bearing influential persons, I refused to believe that this underhanded method could be the only feasible way to obtain passes. I searched the internet to find out how I could lay my hands on the tickets being sold to the public at large.
The Press Information Bureau had no useful release regarding the sale of 2015 R-Day Parade tickets. The only available press release merely stated that tickets are still available at the "designated sale counters" without any mention of where these were.Media articles were just as vague.
Finally I thought I had struck gold when I found a 2007 press release detailing the locations where the tickets were available. However, when I turned up at the Gandhi Ashram in Chandni Chowk (which isn't really an ashram at all but a khadi store) I was told that the press release I was relying upon was hopelessly outdated and that no tickets were available there. The store attendants suggested that we go to the government's tourist office at 88 Janpath.
Having wasted my time once, I decided to call the tourist office at Janpath only to discover that the Delhi Tourism website lists only a seven-digit phone number for its Janpath office which is obviously an incomplete number and cannot be dialled.
Hearing from a friend that tickets are usually available at Parliament House, I dialled the reception where the very helpful receptionist explained to me that the Ministry of Defence personnel selling the tickets had shut shop and left an hour early as 23 January was the last day of sale there.
Hearing my side of this phone conversation, a helpful aam admi on the metro informed me that tickets were being sold at Pragati Maidan. Upon reaching Pragati Maidan Gate No. 1 the next afternoon (after being thoroughly fleeced by auto drivers) I was delighted to at least see a ticket sale counter in existence. The joy was short lived though, since the official manning the counter told me that the daily quota of Republic Day parade tickets was sold out and that I could only buy tickets for the Beating Retreat programme. He asked me to return at 8am the next morning (25 January) to buy the coveted Rs 300 tickets which apparently give one the right to reserved seating. What I did not know was that he had left out some key details.
The next morning, I braved the freezing weather (at least to my Mumbai body) and made it to the Pragati Maidan counter at 8.15am only to find a long queue of at least 50 well-equipped ticket seekers laughing at the sorry figure I cut. I had neither a warm jacket or hat nor the required documentation. The kind souls in the queue told me that the guy at the counter was issuing the reserved tickets only to those who had a photocopy of an identity card. So I walked for 1 ½ km each way and returned with a photocopy of my driving license. It was 9am by then and the counter was still not open. While I was wondering why the person at the counter didn't tell me the ID card requirement the previous day, the people around me had even more surprising details to share. On an average it was the second or third purchase attempt for everybody in the line. I was also told that even upon having ID, a person could buy only one reserved ticket meaning that I would not be able to purchase any for my quiz partners who were patriotic enough to want to watch the Parade live but not enough to go hunting for tickets.
While we were waiting for the counter to open, Delhi Traffic Police and CRPF personnel made their appearance in large numbers and briskly informed us that the counter would not open until 1pm and that we had to clear the area in an hour. When half an hour passed without anyone believing the police, the cops could be heard murmuring to anyone who asked them "Please chale jiye warna danda marke bhagana padega (Please leave otherwise we may have to chase you away with sticks)."

When clearing the sidewalks of the road which the American President plans to take to Raj Ghat takes precedence over selling Republic Day tickets to patriotic Indians, that is the point when you realise how apt the tourism slogan is. India is truly incredible.
Upon the police officer's suggestion, I decided to try my luck at Jantar Mantar where apparently the second of these mysterious ticket sale counters was located. I stopped enroute in Connaught Place to grab brunch and buy a sweater. The mission to acquire tickets was taking significantly longer than I expected it to.
As I walked towards Jantar Mantar, I could barely see its entrance or the ticket counter. All I could see was a mass of humanity, certainly numbering in the hundreds, in what might (or might not) pass for a queue. I dutifully joined it. However after the queue did not move for a few minutes, I decided to investigate. I was surprised to discover that a couple of hundred people had been queuing for two hours on the vague promise that more tickets might arrive soon. I was wondering whether to join this hopeful exercise when the Indian bureaucracy threw its final and fatal hurdle in my path. At the counter there was a small notice which stated, "Only Aadhaar Card and Election Card shall be accepted as ID proof." Since the only identity document that I was carrying to Delhi was a driving license, I finally admitted defeat in the face of these arbitrary and ever-changing ticket requirements.
I am trying to convince myself that I did not miss much since the gods literally rained on our parade. However, I can't shake of the feeling that a celebration to commemorate the day when we adopted the ideal of equality as a nation should not just be available to the elite with contacts. The ticket sale process definitely needs to be made transparent and publicised, if not reformed and opened to people apart from Delhiites with enough free time to decipher the maze of designated counters.


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Of Suicides and Protests

This post was first published at Huffington Post India on 18/12/2015.

The Minister of State for Home Affairs, Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary announced in the Parliament on Wednesday that the central government is planning to give effect to the 210th Report of the Law Commission of India by decriminalising 'attempt to commit suicide'. This decision shall undoubtedly be controversial since many believe that section 309 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalises 'attempt to commit suicide' is infact a provision that helps to uphold the dignity of life since it discourages taking of one's own life. While there already are debates raging regarding the morality of the move, the ramifications of the move on the culture of suicides during agitations and protests in India seem to have been ignored.

Hungerstrikes and Self Immolations
Ever since the pre-independence era, a 'fast-onto-death' has been a popular tool of protesting government actions and demanding a roll back. More violent protesters have also adopted the method of attempting self-immolation to draw attention to their demands.

Such protests are infact frighteningly common in India. Just over the past two years, there have been self-immolations for issues ranging from Telangana agitation, protest against the visit of Chinese President and even to protest the conviction of Jayalalitha, CM of Tamil Nadu.

Government decision shall render the police helpless
Most of such self-immolation protests lead to unnecessary deaths of misguided youth and rarely if ever achieve any significant objectives. The police forces' most preferred way of getting rid of such protestors is to simply arrest them for 'attempt to commit suicide' when the police get winds of their plans to self-immolate. Following the move to decriminalise it, this tool shall be no longer available to the police.

Due to the decriminalisation of suicide, the police are going to be deprived of their power to stop such protests. Police shall also not be able to prevent death of non-violent actitivists during the course of hunger-strikes and fasts-onto-death with such events only leading to further law and order problems sparked by outrage amongst the dead activists' supporters.

The Iron Lady of Manipur
The greatest impact of this shall probably be seen in Manipur where Irom Sharmila has been on a hunger-strike for ten long years. The Rabindranath Tagore Peace Prize winning activist began a fast on 2nd November 2000, when Assam Rifles personnel killed ten civilians at a bus stop in Malom, Manipur. Her demand is that Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) -- a law that in effect provides military and para-military forces immunity from prosecution for their actions -- be repealed. She was arrested for attempting to commit suicide a mere 3 days after her protest began and has been force fed by the police ever since. She is arrested for the same offence again when she continues her hunger-strike even after being released every time at the end of her one year sentence.

The government should be prepared for a volatile situation in Manipur if 'attempt to commit suicide' is decriminalised because the Iron Lady has made it clear that she would rather die than give up her cause. The death of such a prominent activist shall promptly bring the issue of Manipur and AFSPA into ever sharper focus and is likely to lead to much unrest.

Thus while the government decision to decriminalise 'attempt to suicide' is rightly being studied from a moral and philosophical perspective, it would also be wise to analyse its implications from a practical standpoint of powers of police in relation to protests and agitations. It shall be an undoubtedly regressive move if it completely takes away the powers of the police to prevent unnecessary deaths and the government should find a way around this problem before going ahead with decriminalisation of 'attempt to commit suicide'.