Category Archives: Pet peeves

On adopting a dog, de-politicizing self and the question of P G Woodhouse.

Ok, I have been remiss in my duties as a blogger. Why?

Excuses excuses. That is really not the right note to begin a blog on. I have, however, recently found dog. That is, I am now the personal butler of a very adorable Chihuahua named Chirkut. (Picture enclosed). My north Indian readers may be surprised at the choice of name, because it isn’t very flattering in the North Indian context. However, Chirkut means a little slip of paper to Bengalis and that is what she was named after. While she is a delight in every way, what with the running around trying to catch her, the naps, the trips to the vet and plotting world domination with her, I have not had time to.. well.. write a post, as it were. For reasons to be explained later, I have taken to speaking liked a gentleman English dandy. (re Woodhouse, I am very impressionable).

Then there is the matter of verb conjugation in French. But we shall get to it later, after the dog question has been dealt with in detail. While I have always wanted a dog, I did not quite anticipate what it would make me feel to actually have one. The feeling of having a tiny little blighter depend on you entirely is kind of scary. But once the fear has worn of, it is a very rewarding experience. It is also a natural cure for the blues, and keeps one of one’s toes.

The other thing that has been keeping me on my toes, are the French lessons. Now let us acknowledge at the outset that anyone who can speak French sounds cool. No matter what they are like. It is a fact. The mere speaking of French can ‘shine a turd’ as they say. That is not, however, why I have been learning the language. Come September, this blogger, shall be heading off to Geneva for a three moth internship. I hope to see a bit of Europe while I am at it. Now I am kind of stoked about Europe, because a lot of the things I like came from there. (Mostly in the shape of ideas). I remember when I was little, I read a book about an American girl called Katy, who took a tour of Europe. Since then I have had a fascination for Venetian gondolas, the beaches of Nice, the streets of London and Paris. I shall, however, be taking a different trajectory and hope to glimpse Amsterdam and some of Germany. But those are castles in the air, and right now I am faced with the unenviable task of conjugating irregular verbs in French.

Languages have a strange power, irrespective of whether you speak them well or ill. They let you reach into a person and form an intimacy that would have been impossible if you did not speak their mother tongue. You absorb the history and culture of a place better if you have learned even a bit of the language. So in that those who urge the importance of Indian languages are right. Our generation is too steeped in its adulation of English, and in uprooting itself from its several mother tongues, is getting uprooted from a rich cultural life. I just have a problem when Hindi is posed as a solution to this cultural de-contextualization. But that gets me to the bane of my existence.

Did you notice how just when we were discussing travel, and my adorable Chihuahua pup, the political question raised its head. ‘The personal is political’ has been said, and yes, to me politics (not in the narrow sense of which party is less horrid, but in the broader sense of how society is ordered and organized, and how it ought to be) is a way of life. Hence, to me, most questions are political. Sometimes you can distill the political from the legal, and consider only the latter, but there it is, the P word. But sometimes I wonder if a person pondering politics (pardon the alliteration) is a happy person? When I see that the discourse around us has been reduced to either ignorant blithering or one-liners intended for one-upmanship, I wonder if an existence in which I scarcely contemplated the political would be a happy one. Or perhaps, books are the best conversationalists. Now if I have readers who have carefully followed me to this point, I would ask you to buy or borrow ‘India after Gandhi’ by Ramchandra Guha. Amazon (the otherwise usually irreproachable amazon) has bungled my order but it shall be getting here soon. Maybe I will do a review after reading it. I hear it is quite amazing.

But speaking of books, and I will wrap up after this, I must tell you a quick about your dear blogger. (Now to those who will accuse me of megalomania in referring to myself this way, I say, I am quite dear to those twenty odd people following me.) I had never ever read P G Woodhouse till 7/18/2015. Can you believe that? And no, I am not terribly ignorant, I just felt my nerves would not be able to take all those things going wrong. And was I wrong or was I wrong? I have corrected the state of affairs by purchasing a Jeeves omnibus. Spending all my free time reading the adventures of Messers Wooster and Jeeves has got me speaking this way. Hopefully, it won’t last. The next post, understandably, will take a while. As Bertie Wooster would say! Tinker-tonk!!

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Some errors in friendship and conversation

Before I begin this post, let me clarify that I am no saint. The observations I make in this post apply to me as well. I do not claim to have any authority on what friendship truly means, nor am I a perfect conversationalist. That being said, these are my observations after spending more than two decades on this planet, and I would like to think there is a grain of truth to them.

I have recently turned 25, and find (to my dismay) that conversation with most people is not enjoyable. This is not completely new. It struck me in law school too. When I first joined law school (in India) I noticed that people enjoyed doing something called ‘taking someone’s case’. To those who are unfamiliar with this term, ‘taking someone’s case’ is the process of humiliating someone in public, by making a punchline. That is saying something superficial and funny, which on deeper reflection may not really be true. I attributed this to the fact that these were scared 18 year-olds who had deep insecurities about their place in life. But as I grew older, the trend continued. The ‘case-takes’  seemed caught in their self-affirming flatulent bubble, and began to see their ability to pick on people as talent.

This doesn’t mean law school was full of such people. In fact, I met perspicacious and sensitive people, people who were passionate about what they believed in, and humble people. But these really were the minority. Most of them, I became friends with.

But I also learnt to be sharp. To zero in on people’s insecurities, and to be able to say ‘witty’ things, that in retrospect were plain ugly. Perhaps, I was an 18 year old, insecure about my place in the word, but I lost track of the one quality that separates intelligence  (I dare not say wisdom) from cleverness, and brightness from well-marketed mediocrity.  That quality was humility. Growing up in a law school you think that marketing yourself and smooth talking is all it takes to get ahead. I wish I could say this was untrue. But I will say that you can do well without any of that. Some of the most interesting people I know, and the most successful, are the humblest and most self-effacing.

At any rate, I was lucky enough to find a partner who could call my bullshit, and made me introspect on the impact my behavior could have on others. I would like to think I am a better person  now, or at least a more discerning one. These nuggets of wisdom are a result of that introspection.

1) Respect your adversary.

The worst thing you can do in a conversation is make a statement, and then check out. I wish this were not true, but a large number of people make this mistake. They make a statement, and then check out (mentally) for the duration of the time that the other person is talking. Sometimes, it is less subtle. You will occasionally meet people who if you disagree with them, will start checking their phone, or get a glazed look in their eye. Here is a tip: ditch them. No one is worth talking to, if they don’t have respect for your time and effort. If you are one of these people, then I am sure you stopped reading a while back.

2) Don’t make statements for shock value.

Conversation is about the exchange of  ideas, and the persuasion of people through reasoned discourse. If you need to say shocking things to get people’s attention, you probably don’t have very interesting things to say. Of course following this advice is not going to make you popular, it will only make you a bit less of a git.

3) Friendship should be between equals.

We all have friends who doubt their worth, or feel that one person has all the power in the friendship. Maybe sometimes we are that friend. If you have a friend who thinks that it is a one-sided friendship, or who devotes time and attention to you that you can not reciprocate.  Let them go. No good comes of holding on to people who are more attached to you, than you to them. Somerset Maugham said something like in every relationship there is a person who loves and one who lets themselves be loved. Sadly, my favorite author was dead wrong (and this kind of wrong becomes popular wisdom). Not only are there relationships of people who equally care for each other, but that is what healthy relationships are like. Holding on to someone who feels inferior or neglected all the time, is a disservice to them.

4) Pick character over personality. Every time.

If you have to chose between a boring friend and a interesting one with a whacky moral compass. Pick the former. Close your eyes and pick the former. Personalities become boring, just like youth fades. (Unless you have a painting in a cellar somewhere that ages on your behalf.. but that story did not end well). What does not become boring (perhaps because it is boring to begin with) is compassion and patience.

5) Surround yourself with people who have differing points of view.

This helps prevent you from burrowing yourself into an intellectual hole, where you only see one point as legitimate. These days I have the most interesting discussions with people, some of whom are conservative and some of whom pro-life. These discussions teach me to empathize, and to understand that reasonable people of good will can disagree on some fundamental things.

But what you should not do, is to surround yourself with people who like confrontation, and who have no intention of being persuaded. Drop them like a hot potato (as the song goes). You will just feel anguish over interactions with them.

6)Understand that most friendships have a life cycle. 

If you see eye to eye with someone for a lifetime, they are probably your soul-mate. Am kidding. The only way you can see eye to eye with a person for a whole lifetime, is through hard work. That kind of hard work can be put into one or two relationships in your life. With the rest of the people, you will outgrow them. Its inevitable, like the end of the Daily show. No one wants it happen. But happen it will, because eventually Stewart will get tired of being in the same place for sixteen years. Umm, I am digressing. Learn that outgrowing friendships is a healthy sign, it shows you are not the person you were five years ago. (Trust me, we were all morons five years ago).

7) Eat a lot of fiber. 

The wisdom of this is pretty self-evident.

8)Know that you are not self-made. 

It is unfortunate that our embracing of individualism makes us neglect all of the factors that have contributed to us becoming who we are. Our successes, and those of others are a product of a lot of help. That may seem trite (frankly most of this post does). But it is inevitable that you remember, that people’s failures are also not completely theirs. So if you see someone failing, know that in another time and place, it could be you.

9) Realize that 25 is too young to be dispensing advice. 

This last advice, is for me.

If any of you have stayed with me till the very end of a slightly preachy post, I would like to thank you. You really are the most amazing readers, to tolerate a 25 year old, talking like a 60 year old.

How justified are reservations regarding reservations?

Talking to some opponents of reservations (i.e the system of reserving seats in educational institutions and the employment sector for backward classes) is a lot like playing chess with a pigeon. No matter how cogent your arguments, they just shit all over the place and strut around like they have won. This article is not so much in defense of reservations, as in opposition to some of the offensive, cruel, or wrong arguments used against it.

I recently went to a very interesting event where the speaker made very solid arguments in support of reservations, and as a rebuttal to it, a man got up and asked him whether he would like to be treated by a ‘Dalit Doctor’. He had a very smug expression on his face, which showed that he thought he had given a very smart comeback to the speaker, as opposed to having made a vile bigoted remark in public.

To those who are not familiar with the Indian context this remark is as vile a question as ‘would you like to be treated by a (woman, person of color, etc). This man was trying to imply that the system of reservations has diluted the ‘merit pool’ so much, that people would not be okay with being treated by a Dalit doctor, since he would ipso facto be a bad doctor. This really sums up the core rationalization of people who are opposed to reservations. They hold aloft this idea of ‘merit’ without looking into the context of this merit, or its origins. So I would like to ask some questions  to these opponents of reservations.

But let me clarify something first. I acknowledge that the system of reservations has some flaws. We need to account for the creamy-layer in all reservations. We need to ensure that while providing reservations, we also provide a good primary education infrastructure and give under-privileged children a chance to access the kind of schools the children of the rich access. Eventually we might be able to move to a place where we take a ‘diversity’ based approach instead of the fixed system of quotas now. However, if it were an all or nothing situation (i.e keep ’em or scrap ’em), I would support reservations.

Now the first question I would like to ask the reader is:

How do you define merit?

The ability to score high marks in a Joint Entrance Test/ Board Examination could be an indication of a few things:

a) An aptitude for language and problem solving, to a certain extent.

b) Access to opportunities like good schools, good coaching centers where you are given the right kind of training.

c) Access to the right kind of schools, and expensive books.

d) A comfortable environment at home, where you get proper nutrition and care, and can focus on studying.

As things stand, certain communities do not have access to b to d points. And hence, they might not score that well on those ‘merit’ criteria, given that the medium in which they have to survive is viscous. How do we account for something that is so intangible. How do we account for the tribal boy’s 6 km walk back and forth from school in terms of an educational percentile? We can not. 

But this does not mean that the people who score lower on the JEE or the Board Examination will not go on to be stupendously good doctors. We have so many instances, in law school, of mediocre students (in terms of marks) succeeding in litigation, or people from low-key unheard of law schools earning very well from practice. There are skills you pick up on the way, there are things you learn by virtue of grit and determination, that you can not place a percentile value on.So to answer you question Mr Unknown Bigot, if a underprivileged person makes it to a great hospital with grit and determination, I would love to be treated by him, because if he could battle his circumstances, my illness will be nothing compared to that.

However, these crusaders of merit will NEVER ask you if you would be okay with being treated by someone who got in through a management seat (i.e. a seat you get through donations). Because, to them, getting a leg up due to reservations is not fine, but getting one due to the family’s financial position is just okay.

But I didn’t cause the historical injustice, why should I pay for it?

This is perhaps an argument that is very context blind.  Human beings are nothing without their context. The clothes you wear, the school you go to, the nutrition you get, are NOTHING without looking at your context. So if you belong to a community that has traditionally enjoyed a high income, high levels of education, you have enjoyed the historical status-quo. You are not a creature in a vacuum, and your 90% in board examinations is as much a product of the status-quo, as that of the score of a person from a backward class. You many not want to own up to the idea of that historical injustice, but people live it, EVERYDAY.

If I could make it why can’t they?

This argument is often made by people from an underprivileged background who have ‘made it’, as they say. After going up the ladder of success, they begin to think they had no help to do it, so if anyone really tries, he can overcome social hierarchies. In fact this argument assumes that if you can’t overcome these adversities, you simply are lazy or have not tried enough.

Well the fact is people who ‘make it’, often don’t make it without help. Perhaps success makes them less ready to acknowledge this. But even if we assume that they did it on their own, we can not and should not place the burden on everyone in an underprivileged community. Because those with money and privilege certainly don’t always make it on their own. The rich often use contacts, money, and resources (and perhaps it is human nature to push whatever advantage you have). However, when there is significant historical advantage enjoyed by one class, there is nothing wrong with the state trying to create a level playing field. Just something to think about.

How will the poor dears survive in our premiere institutions?

In any discussion there will be an avuncular character who will tell you how students from backward communities commit suicide in I.I.T s because they can not cope with the pressure.  I wonder if it has ever occurred to them that these suicides may be because of the caste bias the students face, or the inability of the institution to accommodate them by giving remedial lectures and mentoring facilities.

The point is that there are students who battle a poor primary education infrastructure and come to our premiere institutions. Here, the system fails them again by not taking the initiative to accommodate them.  Call me naive, but the suicide by ANY student due to work pressure is really a sign of bad management and a poor concern of the students mental health. So maybe we could reflect on that before making a ‘those poor dears’ statement.

What does a diverse classroom do?

One thing I learn as a student of ILS Law College in Pune, was that a diverse classroom is an amazing thing. Given that the fees of the college are very reasonable, a wide spectrum of students came there. Some of my classmates were outside Maharashtra, some from within Maharashtra, some belonged to communities that are provided reservations, some belonged to the open category. The educational experience was diverse in the sense that we came across different perspectives, life stories and ideas. Some we did not agree with, some were interesting and some disturbing. But the diversity in the class was something I cherished. So I came to see reservations as not just something that benefits the individual, but it benefits the university too, by giving people a chance to study in a rich diverse environment.

I am not trying to tell you what to think, dear reader. Somehow I have never been able to accept the idea of complete moral certainty of issues. Can there be a better way of organizing society, (maybe)? Can we, within our fractured politics, bring out a better system of reservations? Certainly. Can you, for legitimate reasons, oppose reservations? (Yes, of course).

The point of writing this article was to tell you that there are arguments you make unthinkingly and angrily. Sometimes these arguments ignore important truths like the intangibility of merit, or the benefits of a   diverse classroom. Sometimes you are just being hypocritical by supporting management seats, and opposing reservations. If you can think of these things, and then make a cogent and sensitive critique of the system of reservations, maybe we will all benefit and bring about some change.

I welcome a discussion by those who wish to do the latter. Pigeons, please stay off my chess board.

 

Why Kendriya Vidyalayas are AWESOME!

It was a very frequent occurrence during my childhood that the girl’s from La Marteniere (or other convent schools), who lived in my colony would introduce me to their friends (in their clipped nasal English that has come to symbolize affluence in India) thusly:

‘This is Srishti. She studies in a ‘Kendriya Vidyalaya’ (*eyes rolling)

Kendriya Vidyalayas are (for those not in the know) Central Schools, i.e. schools run by the Government of India where you get a cheap but good education (using the term loosely). They were built so that Government servants, in frequently transferable jobs, can send their kids to a different school, whenever they are transferred, without worrying about dislocating them too much. I must have attended four different Kendriya Vidyalayas in all.

Somehow this, nasally condescending, introduction made me feel more relieved than irritated because I was aware of two things:

1) I went to a school which, for various reasons, did not cultivate a sense of institutional superiority. I think as a child I understood something that I have often lost sight of as an adult, institutional superiority complexes are comic at their best, and disturbing at their worst (i.e refer to Hufflepuff for the former and Slytherin for the latter).

2) My schooling did not interfere with my education. (I am of course paraphrasing a certain Samuel Langhorn Clemens).

Now what do I mean by this? I mean that I received literary instruction at my school, I learnt about the sciences, mathematics, and understood that sports is a good thing.I can write decently, as you see (I mean, hopefully, as you see). String words together tolerably. Sometimes though the incorrigible  ‘KV-ian’ in me comes out, and I mispronounce “Hakka Noodles” or the word  “Canary” (I cannot get the hang of that word. I just can’t.). It was the basic requirements of an education covered. So why do I describe the experience as AWESOME?

Because people left me ALONE, to find my way, and become a young adult on my own terms. NO ONE tried to mess with my head, and give me a well rounded personality. They did not try to teach me how to speak three foreign languages while playing football, and balancing a violin on my head. When I look at all the well rounded personalities that private schools regularly churn out, I get goosebumps, and hold my imperfection tightly to my chest, thanking heavens for my Rs 300 a year education, which did not make me perfect. Not even close.

What it did give me was the ability to make friends with people from different parts of the country, with different backgrounds. It taught me not to take too much pride in good grades or good diction, because really most of your abilities are half chance. It taught me that people have immense room for self improvement on their own, and that giving kids minimal homework actually lets them be happy young people.

I enjoyed the long games periods, in the usually sprawling grounds that KVs have (though I never really played any sports of any kind). I did try to throw a javelin once, however projectile motion is a complicated thing, and the Javelin just hung limply in the air, and then fell down near my feet. This caused the games teacher to shake his head with violent disappointment, almost as if I had failed a dope test on the eve of the Olympics.

I also remember the hot summer afternoons, after lunch break, when we would have classes. The most soporific effect would be that of Hindi poetry classes, where we would have to take turns in reading poetry. Some classes would of course turn bizarre, because poems would, in detail, discuss things like the physiology of elephants in heat, or the polygamous tendencies of Krishna.  How the latter was considered age appropriate, I will never know, but it was poetry, so there!

But this gives me an idea! We could try teaching sex education to children through Hindi couplets written in the Veera-rasa. I think that will take care of the question of Indian values, and spreading of the Hindi Language all at once. Don’t tell me this idea is not Pure Gold. We could schedule the class right after the compulsory scripture lessons, and top it up with lessons on self-control and compulsory roti-stuffing into unwilling mouths.

Anyhow, as we grew older our social sciences syllabus was divided into History, Geography and Civics. Civics is an extremely important subject that teaches young students their place in the world, bits of the constitution and mores of social organization. The syllabus is organized to be as Soul Crushing as possible,  but luckily I had a wonderful Social Sciences teacher, who could even make reading transcripts of a Manmoham Singh speech interesting. I think she (Ms Aditi Chatterjee) played a wonderful role for me and my classmates in Kendriya Vidyala Ballygunge, Kolkata. She taught us to think for ourselves, question the tide of current events. Imagine 14 year old children discussing the Iraq war in a classroom with a coherence and eloquence that I have struggled to find even in college! This was right before our prejudices set like cement in our sub-conscious, and we were more willing to listen to a contrary point of view.

I also remember the canteen and the rather squishy Samosas and Jaljeera for sale there. People developed addictions to it, from what I remember.

I think this post is coming dangerously close to becoming a unceasing walk down memory lane. One can’t use a blog too often to take such trips, out of fear of losing their readers along the way.

I feel that in our quest towards educating our young, we are focusing on turning them into elites, well spoken with a good sartorial sense, mixed in with their sense of entitlement. Private school education, with its humungous fees  ensures a kind of income bracket homogeneity and talent engineering that makes kids ‘designer kids’. And if that is what one wants out of an education, there is nothing wrong with it.

For those who value the imperfection in their kids, and are okay with taking a bit of a lottery on exactly what the kid is going to become, try a school that lets them be. That gives them the basics and sets them free.

If you can, then try a KV! 🙂

Did your law education teach you to challenge the status quo?

Disclaimer: Today’s blog post is going to be anecdotal and subjective. Constraints of the subject I am writing on.

Let me start by telling you why I decided to study law. From a very young age I saw law as a tool for social change. Growing up as I did in the states of Odisha and West Bengal, it was hard not to feel that way.

West Bengal of course had that glorious (but quite dark in parts) period in its history where the landless and the underprivileged stood up to demand their rights.The need for an equitable distribution of land was thrown into the lime-light and took up a big part of the discourse.

Odisha, while I was there was in the middle of an interesting churning. Mining companies were increasingly trying to make inroads into the land of the tribals. There was a genuine push back from the tribal communities, as the land that was sought to be taken away was often a source of livelihood, cultural identity, and in one case (namely that of the Niyamgiri hills) it had religious significance.

Incidents such as the protests and Nandigram and Singur took place in West Bengal, before I finished my twelfth grade and both these incidents (though largely ignored by the national media) shook the Bengali imagination,

The law seemed like a source of comfort, and the legal system a safe space where one could agitate against the excesses of the executive. The judiciary had inspired, and to a large extent still inspires the trust of Indian citizens. It felt natural then, that law could, and was supposed to be used as a tool by which existing power structures could be challenged, and sometimes lasting change could be brought about.  

Later I learnt  that law was not always a tool for social change. In a large number of cases it was a tool for maintaining the status quo, promoting vested interests and reinforcing power equations. If you look around to see the ‘chattelization’ of women under Indian adultery law, or the treatment given to persons with mental disabilities, the criminalization of certain sexual acts between consenting adults, you begin to realize that like our society, law is a conflicting site of various points of view. There is a tug of war between vested interests, and we can only hope that the march is towards progress and not regression.

I joined ILS Law college in 2007, and studied there for five years. In the course of this I met some brilliant professors, and some genuinely interesting people. These people, like me, joined the law school right after 12th grade, at the age of 18. They studied with me for five years. During my studies, and after graduation, I met people from various other law schools, some of whom  I got to  know well. So I feel that I can write about law education in India with a bit of authority, if not with the same ease and confidence that a pedagogue displays.

Of late I have been thinking of what legal education in India has achieved, and more over what it has failed to do. This got me thinking about one very specific aspect of legal education. Did it in fact teach people to challenge the status quo? And more fundamentally should it teach people to challenge the status quo?

My experience is that there was nothing substantial in the education most law students were given, that really taught us to analyze why power structures exist, and whether we should challenge them. The initiative was largely of individual teachers.For example I must mention Professor Jaya Sagade who completely changed the way I read and understood the law. She taught us at ILS not only to read a statute but also ask ourselves why it exists, who it benefits and whether we agree with it or not. If I had not had the honor of studying under her, I don’t know if I would be here asking these questions.

I asked a few other people people I know this very question question. On asking a classmate whether her law education taught her to question the status quo, she said, and I quote her: 

“no it did not instill in me the spirit to challenge the status quo. my law education except the subject women and law taught by Prof Sagade, was entirely based on the rote approach. I could not appreciate the peculiarities or circumstances that involved the legislature to draft the legislation.
also our system is not dynamic enough we either are under the tutelage of professors who want you to get marks or seniors or partners who want to make money.”
Another person I asked the same question felt that it was not really the job of legal education to teach you to challenge the status quo, but it was their job to give you the skills needed to survive. 
Another person had this take:
“personally dont think any education (law or otherwise) will help you challenge the status quo unless you feel for the cause so much so you decide to challenge it..nope i dont think law education helped with that..its a personal response, i dont think law edu did that for me .. for some maybe the need to challenge comes through law education, but it didn’t for me..”

Of all the people I spoke to, only one person felt that her law education had helped her challenge the status quo, because it helped her understand the rights of people, and if the status quo went against those rights, it had to be challenged.

I have included these anecdotal excerpts because I wanted to paint a slightly more representative picture than simply talk about my experiences. But having considered everything, I must mention certain systematic problems in the way our curriculum is built, financed, and the way we perceive law education.  I will try to list some of them:

The issue of attitudes.

I remember seniors, lawyers, colleagues, and teachers all telling me, in a very well meaning manner, that I should not call myself a ‘human rights’ lawyer because human rights lawyers are not taken seriously. I have heard lawyers representing an NGO just being brushed off in Court (irrespective of the merit of their argument) on because NGOs are ‘publicity hungry’. Whenever people articulate the idea that a law expresses  a male point of view or the point of view of the rich, their objectivity is questioned as they are ‘channeling a feminist agenda’ or a ‘socialist agenda’. However the blatant channeling of patriarchy or capitalism is considered ‘neutrality’.

Products of law school are much more comfortable with ‘doing whatever it takes to win a case’ but uncomfortable with taking an ideological stance, because while the former is what lawyers are supposed to do, the latter is a sign of weakness. Human rights and their allied concerns are packed off and kept in a separate enclosure away from the main body of law, as if most law is not the articulation of the rights of human beings. 

In India people have quite forgotten the link between criminal defense and human rights, and the two are mostly seen in water tight compartments. 

Until issues like human rights and human entitlements take their place in the mainstream of law, I feel our legal education will be stunted, producing people who can accomplish given tasks, but not think critically.

The issue of finances.

Law education in India is not a cheap affair, if you are joining a National Law school. The fees are to the tune of Rs 7 lakhs for five years. (My friends from National Law Schools can correct me if I am wrong). It seems to me that a student from a economically underprivileged background can join these schools if she takes a loan (or is given a scholarship). Scholarship students do not really form a large chunk of the student body, so I am presuming that a lot of underprivileged students who join these colleges take loans. This makes it very difficult for them to take subjects/ jobs that do not make them employable for high paying jobs. So we see a situation where students who would have a rich perspective on  challenging the status quo, themselves being from an under-privileged background, are actually prevented from doing so due to the  financial framework of a legal education.

Litigation is notorious for not paying well in the initial years, which means that we do not really want to give ease of access to those who are not economically well off. There is little wonder then, at the fact that litigation essentially becomes a place for the sons (sometimes daughters) of established lawyers, with little room for a new comer.

The lack of an interdisciplinary approach.

Social sciences are still thought of as ‘matters of opinion’ by a large body of law students. A very small number of law students or young law professional read about politics, sociology, economics, except to pass exams).

This does not leave much room for them to apply an inter-disciplinary approach into making their arguments. At the Supreme Court and some High Courts one does get to see this kind of innovative litigation now and then, but it hardly permeates into all levels. 

This is because while being taught about a law, we are rarely ever asked to think about questions of justice, and politics. 

It is quite like that cave of Plato’s we learnt about. Most people see that dance of shadows, spend five years or entire lifetimes believing that to the reality.

But perhaps I am wrong. Maybe the legal education in India is churning out masses of sensitive critically thinking people, who may not want to devote their lives to public service, but do spend a lot of time thinking of and debating ethics and morality. Maybe they regularly question social organization, or existing power structures.

Perhaps I am wrong at a more basic level. Maybe no education is meant to teach you to challenge the status quo. Maybe the job of an education is to just make you competent at research and well spoken.

Maybe you just need to be taught how to hold a fork and spoon, and never ask why some people go hungry.

If so, the correct my impression with a comment below. If not, let us help everyone (including ourselves) get out of the cave.   

Kuch paane ke liye kuch khona padta hai- Why Corruption stays.

Recently a friend and I were traveling by a ‘premium’ train, a new offering that takes you from New Delhi to Bombay (and back I presume). While this train does guarantee you a seat, and gets you to your destination quickly.. there is nothing premium about it.

Anyway, the story I want to relate has nothing much to do with the quality of services on the train. When we got there, we realized that all the other people in that unit of 6+2 seats were men. (And very nice accommodating men, I must say). Nevertheless, given the absence of curtains and other women, I felt I would be more comfortable if we upgraded our seats to the 2nd AC, or changed the seats.

We learnt that upgrading could be really easy as more than half the 2nd AC was going empty. Since it was my idea, I asked my friend to watch the luggage, while I went and spoke to the TT.

The TT of our coach had previously told us that we needed to speak to the TT in charge of up-gradation, and when I asked the train staff they told me he was near the pantry car.

I went and found him and told him that I preferred a lower seat, and was willing to upgrade to 2nd Ac etc etc. Would he please grant my request..

Mr TT told me that this train had no official method of up-gradation of tickets, but if I wanted I could ‘unofficially’ get it done by paying Rs 1500. On seeing the look of confusion on my face he asked whether I was traveling on  ‘company money’, and would need to claim the same. I said no, it was my own money. He asked me ‘then what is the problem?’.

I was still trying to process the fact that someone had asked me for a bribe. (Yes, I have had a somewhat sheltered life).

He then continued smugly ‘dekhiye madam.. kuch paane ke liye kuch khona padta hai’. (to gain something, you have to lose something)

He even asked a couple of other colleagues of his, about this arrangement and the colleague agreed. By this time I was just curious more than anything else, about where this was going.

A couple of times I requested him whether he could find us different seats in the 3rd AC coach that were going empty, to which he said, I needed to do that myself by requesting other passengers. (A fair point I think)

I mumbled something about asking for my friend’s advice, and left the pantry car. I then went back to my friend and discussed the situation. We agreed that it was unnecessary to pay the bribe.

We managed to travel comfortably enough on the seats we were given, especially since the other passengers were quite accommodating.

So what was the point of telling you this story, given that it is not very extra-ordinary? Indians are routinely  asked for bribes by various functionaries, and pay the same.

The point was, that at the moment the smug man told me ‘kuch pane ke liye kuch khona padta hai’… I felt like it threw the past few years into stark relief for me. So much had happened in the country, and yet so little.

When the Anna Hazare movement started, people in my peer group went mad. A lot of people wore those ‘I am Anna’  caps, and talked of how this movement was as big as ‘Gandh-ism’. There was a genuine people’s involvement in the movement, to be fair.

Demands were made by people about the Lokpal Bill without quite understanding what they were demanding, and members of Anna Hazare’s team described all politicians as thieves.  (http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/all-political-parties-are-thieves-says-team-anna-member-manish-sisodia-148065)

I was quite unmoved during these protests, not because I did not think corruption was not an issue, but because I thought the protests were a passing fad. They did not echo any real sentiment against corruption, because they essentially looked outside.

Anyone who understands the way Indian publife life works knows that corruption is  not limited to the bastions of power where high profile scams happen. Those high profile scams, while terrible, take out attention away from the moral decay of our society. We have become a society that promotes and revels in corruption, by taking and giving small bribes. But not just that.. often we do not see corruption as corruption.

I was once talking to a rather dim gentleman who was going on about bribes as corruption, when I happened to mention that there can be other forms of corruption where money does not change hands.

What do you mean he said, frowning at a thought that did not quite fit his scheme of things.

Nepotism, I said. Or quid pro quo.

‘Oh that!’ The gentleman replied. ‘I would call that a cultural issue. That is not corruption.’

So there we are. A cultural issue.

But now that we have brought up culture and nepotism, I must tell you the story of Ekalavya.  This can be found in the Mahabarata. Ekalavya was a Bhil boy who was keen on learning archery. Given that fighting was what kshatriyas did, Ekalavya did not find a suitable teacher. Drona (the royal teacher) refused to teach him. But Ekalavya was stealthy. He built a statue of Drona and began considering the staute a teacher. He would go and observe Drona teaching the princes, and began learning. Gradually Ekalavya became so good, that his skills surpassed that of Arjun (the teacher’s favourite). When Drona saw this, he asked Ekalavya who his teacher was. On learning that it was Drona himself who had inadvertently ‘taught’ Ekalavya, he asked his student for what is called a ‘Guru-dakshina’ (teaching fee). He demanded that Ekalavya cut-off the thumb  of his archery hand. Ekalavya complied.

He did later learn how to shoot from his other hand, but that was that. He was not as skilled as he would have been had his thumb not been cut-off.

So here we see a clear case of corruption don’t we. Drona was not merely favouring his pupil, but he forced a more skilled young man to mutilate himself in order to allow his favourite to get ahead. Is that corruption or is it a cultural issue?

Why did Ekalavya face the disadvantage he did? The most specious answer is, because Drona liked Arjuna.

But why did Drona like Arjuna? Caste was definitely relevant here. A Bhil, i Drona’s eyes, could not beat a warrior prince, and he could simply not allow that to happen. This is similar to why another talented warrior Karna, was never allowed to challenge Arjuna, as Karna belonged a supposedly lower caste of Charioteers.

Some of you will be rolling your eyes now. Am I really ascribing the failure of the Anna Hazare movement to stories in the Mahabharata?

Certainly not. I am just trying to show through these examples that there are several factors that have made our society rigid. The caste system has played some sort of a role in our rigid conception of society and the resultant decay in values. And yes, that has lead to corruption in the form of nepotism and quid pro quo.

Also, on another side note, the Mahabharata does give you a lot of parallels across the ages. When a certain party leader can not look beyond their incompetent son, are you not reminded of Dhritarashtra? (this, my dear non-Indian reader, you will have

With that there is the culture of ‘adjustment’. Taking bribes is not really a big deal for a large amount of service providers, and not all of them work in the Government.

Lift boys in hospitals, university staff, our corporate honchos, or aunties keeping money stuffed in a mattress. Everyone practices a kind of corruption or the other.

Most importantly, being asked to pay a bribe is not a big deal to most people. In fact, in certain cases people prefer paying the small amount of bribe money rather than following the due procedure of law. (Such as during traffic violations).

I have been asked for bribes rarely. On all occasions I have refused to pay, and played dumb. Sitting around till I was given the service I needed. This approach is okay sometimes, but not really when bribes take the form of extortion.

For bribes that take the form of extortion we have legal remedies, and social remedies like shaming (though how well these work is open to debate).

But what about corruption that does not bother people? What about acts of quid pro quo that we practice and condone, or the bribes that we think are okay because it saves us time? These chip away at the core of our moral values, making our society empty.

This article turned out to be more preachy than it intended to be. Many of you will have problems with a lot of things that I say, and correlations I make. Correct me where you feel it is necessary, but I firmly believe no Anna, no movement can save us till we decide to save ourselves.

Who needs Political Correctness (when you can be a jerk)?

There is nothing that is reviled as much these days as the concept of Political correctness. You would think that there are enough things to hate in the world such a greed, ignorance, the fact that not everyone gets access to medicine, or that people use the term ‘Soccer’ to describe football (while calling a game where they use their hands football!!!). Okay, I need to stop now. As you can see, for people who want to get upset about things, there is no dearth of choices. But people have decided to get upset about Political Correctness.

The seed for this blog past actually came from a vlogbrothers video I watched (yes, don’t you just love them). It is called ‘how to apologize like a fartbag’ and here is the link to it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qc_XWlqURTg

The point of this video was to show us how when we make mistakes, the thing we ought to do is simple. Reflect on what we did wrong, and then apologize. Instead what we do is apologize like a ‘fartbag’. I am trying to extend this to the concept of how we respond to statements we make in public.

Ask someone not to use the term handicapped,  or to not use terms like ‘rape’ in the context of a football match, and you will get a rant about how people are becoming so politically correct these days, that it is impossible to speak anymore. The funniest are the people who use racial slurs and then try to justify them by saying that people of ‘so and so’ community use it to describe themselves, so it can not be wrong.

There was a very interesting exchange I saw on a Facebook friend’s wall. She put up a status update talking about how unfortunate it was that people used the term ‘rape’ to describe Germany’s victory over Brazil in the recent football world cup. To this, the response of a large number of people was ‘pray-how-is-it-different-from-using-the term murder?’. The conversation, of course, derailed into a discussion of whether the using the term ‘murder’ in that context is any different from using the term ‘rape’.

Well the fact is that rape (unlike murder) is still a taboo issue in many societies. Many cases still go unreported and many genuine cases result in acquittals due to the culture of shame surrounding rape. Given that there is no culture of silence and SHAME surrounding ‘murder’ (even though its a terrible thing to happen), the two phrases really cannot be equated. So when you take the lived reality of men and women (yes, rape happens to both) and use it to describe a football match outcome, you are being particularly hurtful. And then when your attention is called to that, and you respond my asking how it is different from using the term X or Y, you are being a ‘fartbag’.

Just in case I have not been clear enough, let me give you another example. Suppose you were to call the German victory a massacre, it would just reveal a lack of articulation, that can understandably be brought on by a post-football match excitement. However, if you refer to chapters of Germany’s past, which are quite painful, to describe what just happened, people can be forgiven for thinking of it as an act of calculated malice. While both choices of words are unfortunate, there is a line that we can (and need) to draw between the two.

It is not like I have been the picture of consideration myself. For the longest time, perhaps due to callousness, or perhaps due to ignorance, I thought it was okay to use the term ‘retard’ to describe willfully ignorant people. Perhaps it took me longer than it should have, but at some point I realized it was wrong, and stopped using it in public. Even now if I slip up and say it in private conversations, I make it a point to correct myself right there.

Of course there are people who take political correctness too far and try to describe persons with disability as ‘special’ or ‘handy-capable’, These terms a inaccurate, and condescending and WE DO NOT NEED TO USE THEM. With a little effort people can learn what the correct term to describe a condition, an ethnicity or a group is. It does not take too much effort. TRUST ME.

Of course it would be easy for me, instead of admitting my mistake in using the term ‘retard’, to say that people with disability should just ‘stop being sensitive’. Or come up with gems like ‘the world doesn’t owe you anything, you gotta toughen up’. This is the language the haters of political correctness often use.

But I feel we have a choice. We can leave a trail of hurt in our wake and congratulate ourselves on a world we have made tougher, or we can decide to apologize. We can see the world from the eyes of another human being, and decide that we don’t need that punchline on our Facebook wall.

Maybe it took me too much time to realize this, and my language and behavior are still work in progress. But it is never too late to stop being a fartbag, eh?