Letting Go of Self-Hatred Is the First Step towards Solidarity

I was reading Loving Blackness As Political Resistance by bell hooks which struck a chord. It’s not the self-love bollocks appearing in the glossy magazines which tells you to prim yourself up, develop some skills that you can impress people with, buy some goodies and go to a spa, in essence, telling you to hate your appearance, abilities and financial situation all in the name of self-love.

We are taught to hate ourselves for all the wrong reasons, and it is difficult to overstate how deep-rooted that teaching is in most of our minds. We are judged on our physical appearance, our ancestry, our skill exhibition in certain situations, our genders, our clothes and the list goes on. We are trained by a carrot-and-stick method to value authority and the judgements of authority. The authority figures – the bosses, the teachers, the family heads, the popular guy/girl/person in a group etc. – pronounce their (often deeply uninformed, wrong and biased) judgements on us and we hang our heads in shame. When we try to talk about it, we’re told that we are making excuses for our failings. This is a tautology, because our failings are defined as whether authority figures think we’re good enough or not. But it helps to shame the dissenter into silence, into thinking that they really aren’t good enough, and most importantly, into obedience. Who will willingly want to own an identity that is considered unworthy?

But in fact, we need to own that. We need to own that and unabashedly exhibit that, and reject this definition of worthiness. Reject the terms that we are judged on, which have nothing to do with how sensitive you are to the situations of other humans or whether you are willing to put in some work along with others for collective welfare. And we need to stop accepting being pushed around.

At this point, I should clarify what I mean by being pushed around. But let’s wait for another blog article, still unwritten, about how I define work and the importance of both work and leisure-time. That will be useful in explaining my idea of ‘pushing around’. For the time being, let’s go ahead without the definition.

This is where I find bell hook’s essay so relevant. My own experience with professors of social sciences has been mostly negative. Many of them show a stunning degree of insensitivity towards their students and others below them in the social hierarchy. They speak of ‘oppression’, ‘marginalization’ in terms that are either inaccessible, or grossly inadequate, or wrong, or any combination of the three. I will recount a brief encounter with a social science professor at a lunch during a conference, where she was complaining about a student who, on receiving an A on their paper, had had the gall to ask the professor whether that paper could be published. The professor was horrified that the student thought that a paper of such inferior quality could be thought of worthy of being published, and she narrated this tale at the lunch table.

Let’s ponder over the professor’s assumptions: a) all the papers that are published are ‘worthy’. b) someone would only want to publish a paper because of the ‘worth’ of the paper. For someone who claims to be knowledgeable about the society, aka a sociology professor, she seems deeply ignorant about all the classist, casteist, ableist racist, sexist garbage and gibberish appearing in the academia as social theories (read Gayatri Chakraborty Spivak and Slavoj Zizek to get some idea as to what we’re talking about here), the child labour defending economists in the academia, the advocates of structural adjustment programmes (IMF-advocated economic strategies which amounted to crushing several social welfare measures, resulting in acute famines in more than one countries) among the economists and so on. If those papers were ‘worthy’ enough to be published, then why should this student think that their paper is ‘unworthy’? Secondly, as to point b), though academics like to pretend otherwise, the academia is as much about making a career as other professions are. A full-time professor who’s earning well above the middle-class salary may dismiss a student’s concerns about getting published, but the student knows well enough that publications are the ticket to a job in the academia. In fact, the professor herself knows it very well. After all, she isn’t shunning the anti-knowledge money-glutton Elsevier or Springer or Sage for her own publications, though at this point of her career she doesn’t really need those publications to make an above-middle-class amount of money.

I don’t know bell hooks, she’s in the academia and her profession demands that she writes and finds an audience for her writings, but that does not mean we cannot find ideas worth exploring in the writings of academicians. This is one idea that I’d like to explore in particular, namely, that of rejection of the idea of ‘worth’ as we’re taught. I’d be inclined to use the phrase ‘self-love’ here, had the word not been so corrupted by the cosmetics industry and a hoard of others who used it to mean shallow self-exhibition and feeding self-hatred which is more about lording it over others than any sort of ‘love’.

In the same vein, I’d like to invite the readers of this post to read/listen to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s insightful and clear talk titled the Danger of a Single Story. The importance of not overconcerning ourselves about the lives and feelings of the hegemonic, stories about whom fill the pages of books and newspapers and film reels. The importance of telling our stories, the stories of those around us, the stories that concern us. We are taught to idealize certain kinds of people and certain lifestyles. For instance, I’ve found my Indian friends to often fawn over White Westerners, bending over backwards to please them when they are here. I’m occasionally told to have ‘fun’, which basically means partying at expensive clubs while your eardrums are shaking from the musical torment that is blaring from the speakers. I’m told to idealize the life of an academic, which is just a day job, often with a lot of intellectual pretentiousness. To be direct, I shouldn’t be told to idealize any profession or anyone’s life, I shouldn’t have ‘fun’ defined for me by others and I shouldn’t value the perceptions of one kind of people over others (this does not mean that I find all perceptions equally valid, just that it’s the quality of the perceptions that matters here). We will be happier without these ideals foisted on us. But we shouldn’t merely stop at this acknowledgement, and this is where bell hooks’ essay is important for me. As we recognize the hegemony (and note that this hegemony is not uniform, and this ‘we’ is not homogeneous, nor necessarily non-hegemonic in all contexts), we also build our narrative not vis-a-vis the hegemonic, but in its own right. We as in those who subscribe to this idea. Talking about our experiences. Through expressions that best describe our thoughts, not through expressions that have currency in the society.

And finally, writing for us. To understand and if possible relate to each other. Not for literary critics in order to gain their approval. Not for publishers in order to get published. (Though I realize that the writers I’ve named here are published by the biggies and mediums in the publication industry, and these writings have influenced me greatly, this should not come as an endorsement of the publication industry. My ideas are also greatly shaped by the various blogs that I follow and the various people I interact with. In fact, I was directed to bell hooks’ essay from this blog post. But that is beside the point, the point is, there are alternatives to the publishing industry worth exploring, and the publishing industry often poses several restrictions, putting a price on the access of your writing is one, for instance. Also, the publishers must be satisfied with your writing, and you may not even want to write for them in the first place. So, where do you go?) In fact, with the internet and free blogs, it is best done away from them because it means less curtailing on your expressions, and still having an audience who can share their thoughts with you. I’d also suggest publishing in little magazines in your area if possible in order to reach those who do not have access to the internet. Those magazines are at times less restrictive about their content than their big counterparts. If you want to publish your writings by yourself, you can do that as well. Though I wouldn’t want to, because I don’t really want to spend that much, and it is much less labour posting on the net.

Translation: Jail inside the Jail: The Last Days of Asgari Begum

This is a translation from a book written by Minakshi Sen who was arrested in the seventies as a Naxalite. Her book, Jailer Bhitor Jail, is about her experience in jail. I have tried to keep the translation as close to the original as possible.

Two bamboo sticks, parallel to each other. A skeletonlike dead human body was tied to them with a thick rope. Two other skeletonlike bodies were carrying the sticks on their shoulders. Their swiftness indicated the lightness of the dead body.

– Where are they taking her?

– They say to the graveyard for bodies that nobody wants. I don’t believe that.

– Why?

– What why? You think those who can make money out of food meant for people will give up the chance to make money out of dead people?

– Well, a skeleton can be sold at a high price.

– That’s what I said. If they don’t sell skeletons, who will?

– If they drop her on some open field under the sun?

– How does it matter? She’s dead.

The dead woman’s body had been like that since a while. Skeleton covered by skin. This skeleton believed, until her death, that she would survive only if she got a little bit of sun.In an Indian jail of the twentieth century she was known as Asgari Begum.

Asgari Begum. Non-criminal lunatic. Locked up, because she was insane. Thanks to a piece of paper signed by a judge, the police got the right to keep her locked up in the jail. Probably because she got out of her house in a fit of insanity. That is the law. Keeping the loonies in jail to maintain peace in the society and curing them with a dose of the ‘healthy system’ in jail.

At an end of the female ward, a three-room section is called Pagalbari – the madhouse. From most part of the female ward you wouldn’t be able to see the place, but there are a lot of stories about it.According to their levels of insanity the crazies are allotted rooms. The craziest ones are put in the same room, put on handcaps and chained to the grills. In another room there are about 200 ‘crazies’, among whom some are half-insane, nearly sane or sane. Some are completely naked, no matter what season. Young, middle-aged, old. Some laugh, some cry, some take a chunk off another inmate, some eat another’s finger.This is how the insane were supposed to get their sanity back. Pagalbari. And this place was home of Asgari Begum when she first entered jail.

We don’t know how crazy she was and which room she was put in. All we know that Begum contracted a Badshahi disease- tuberculosis, for which she was sent to ‘Degree’.

Degree. A few small rooms built by the British. Specially made for special inmates. The rooms have no windows. The upper half of the iron-grill door of each room is covered by walls. Light cannot come in the rooms. Inside the room the air is stagnant. Floors are damp. A narrow channel passes through the rooms to drain out bodily waste so the inmates can be kept in for 24 hours. In 1973, these rooms have the same use. So ‘unruly’ and ‘disposable’ Asgari Begum was sent to Degree. In a winter night screams and groans of a heavy, broken voice aired the information that a new one was in Degree. The next morning during the counting the warder shouted: Degree no.2 – Asgari Begum- NCL! and everybody knew Asgari Begum had come to Degree.

Hence the conversation with a warder:

– Masi, so there’s an Asgari Begum in Degree no.2?

– Yes, why?

– Just asking. What’s happened to her?

– T.B.

– Really, masi? So, is she getting any treatment?

– Yeah, I’m sure she is. Listen I don’t know all this, okay?

– But I’ve never seen a doctor visiting Degree. She hasn’t been taken to the hospital either.

– I don’t know. I’m a warder. I do my duty and then go home. I don’t keep tabs on who’s getting treatment and who’s not.

– Hey masi, crazies get special diet, and T.B. patients’ diet is even better. Milk, butter, eggs, bananas. She gets all those?

– I’m sure she gets all those.

– But we have never seen her getting those. She gets one cooking spoon of daal, rice, curry and boiled peas.

– If you know everything, then why do you ask me?

– No masi, we don’t know everything. Tell us masi, what happens to the food for crazies?

– Ah well, the senior matron takes it all. Whatever’s left the junior matron and permanent warders distribute among themselves. We’re temporary, so we get zero.

– But masi, what do they do with all these things? How much can they eat?

– Idiot, they don’t eat those. They sell them. Everything’s fixed. That’s how matron has so much money. How much d’ya think her salary is?

– Really?

– Don’t ever tell anyone or I’ll lose my job, okay?

– No, no. Masi, why’s she in Degree if she has TB?

– Why? It’s contagious. We have to keep everyone safe. We have to keep her in Degree.

– Okay, but what about her? A healthy person can get sick in Degree, and she’s a TB patient!

– What can we do? We have to keep everyone safe. She’s loony, so why bother so much over her?

So loony Asgari was living in Degree. She would crouch all night from cold, but in the morning she would beg the warders to let her sit in the sun. Sitting in the sun gave her such happiness, she believed she would survive only if she could get to sit in the sun. So some days she could be seen outside in the morning or the afternoon wherever there was a bit of sun. From a distance she looked healthy. The green sari, the dented plate in a hand. Asgari Begum.

One day we got to talk to her in a December morning. She was lying under a Nim tree in the sun. Her body was round and healthy. Looking at her one would realise that she would survive long against the disease. She was incredibly dirty, so was her sari, but the colour of the sari is still identifiable. Green.She had a round face. Her gaze wasn’t aimless as most crazies. She looked at us and, unfortunately, talked to us.

One of the things the ward authority had forbidden the inmates to do was talk to us. And yet, in front of the warders, Asgari talked to us.She talked a bit much in broken hindi and bengali. There was no sign of insanity in her speech. Maybe she was among those who have occasional bouts of craziness.While talking, she did a dangerous thing. She ranted about the ward-in-charge matron and towards the end she started shouting curses aimed at the matron. What she said was: she had a few gold ornaments. When she was put in jail nobody noticed those, probably because she was insane. Then she became a bit normal and since then she kept watch on her ornaments. One day matron noticed those and took them off with the help of some of her loyal inmates. She told Asgari there was nothing to worry as the ornaments were safe with her, Asgari would get them back when she left the jail. Otherwise other crazies might ruin those ornaments. Asgari didn’t feel secure about this settlement, those ornaments were all she had. So a few days later she asked the matron about her ornaments. The matron denied ever taking them and got angry. When Asgari kicked up a row, some of the matron’s loyal inmates beat her up and warned her never to bring the topic up or she would be dead. Asgari’s complaint was the matron didn’t send her for treatment or give her enough food because after stealing her ornaments the matron didn’t want her to live. Whether there was a way to get those ornaments back – that was her question.

There was no way to make her understand. According to the rules, before someone gets in jail s/he is searched under the watch of the ‘discipline officer’. A list is made of the belongings and the belongings are kept with the officer. When the person is released the belongings are returned according to the list. But many of the inmates are illiterate. They don’t know what’s written in the list. And if avoiding the discipline officer’s eyes someone manages to get money or valuables inside the jail, then according to the rule it’s illegal and anyone can take those things away. The existence of those things are not recorded so the discipline officer would rather deny it than admit not doing the job well.So there was no way Asgari could get her things back. Complaining to the jailer super might have serious consequences.Traditionally, the matron is the almighty god of the female ward. Asgari could get murdered without any witnesses. She was crazy, plus a T.B. patient. She could die any time. Didn’t she know all this? Didn’t she know that it was forbidden for her to talk to us? And complaining about the matron?

But we didn’t hear anything all day. During the evening counting, the warder shouted: Degree no.2 – Asgari Begum – … A normal heavy voice replied, ‘Present.’

– What, they didn’t say anything to her?

– The matron will never forgive her.

– I think the warders didn’t complain to the matron. She’s crazy, moreover a TB patient. Maybe they felt sorry for her?

– Maybe, they’re humans too.

– But …

Since then Asgari was never seen outside. The sun would rise and set, but Asgari was never to be found on the jailyard. Only when the chill of the winter would become piercing, a broken heavy groaning and cursing voice would signal her existence.

Then came the sunday. The wash day. Water was boiling in a huge cauldron, and clothes were heaped near it. The ones who gave their only dress were trying to cover themselves with rags. The sun was burning above the jailyard on which the half naked inmates were trying to warm themselves in the winter.

Suddenly the whole ward woke up with a jolt. Among the crowd of about a hundred people a chaos ensued. Two minutes passed like this. Then everything fell suddenly quiet, as if those who had shouted in fear became silent with another fear.A few sharp, cackling voices broke the silence – “Catch her — hit her — the mad woman — ” The source of the sound were a few women chasing a human skeleton. A living skeleton covered by skin. Long, thin arms stretched into the sky with fingers spread. Her hair formed three thick knots that fell on her shoulders.We understood that the cause of the panic in the ward was the hideous appearance of this skeleton. And the cause of their silence at the very next moment was these women running after the skeleton. The skeleton ran unsteadily, but fast. She was completely naked except a bit of the familiar green cloth tied around her waist. Asgari Begum.

Ten inmates, loyal to the matron, were chasing her. The matron gave these women good food, good clothes, good beds, some money and other things. In exchange, they served for the matron. Extremely cruel, they were the inmate-controlling group of the matron. We heard, Asgari pushed one of these women to the ground and forced her way out of Degree. These inmates controlled the other inmates, so they couldn’t let an ordinary inmate get away with hitting them, especially when the matron was egging them on. In white sari, the mother of a ten year old girl, the matron was commanding the group – “Catch her – quick – hit her.” Within a few minutes the group brought Asgari in front of Degree, beating her. From a distance we could distinctly hear her say, “I didn’t want anything! All I wanted was to sit in the sun! Even that you wouldn’t let me?”

Later another inmate like Asgari who became sane from insane told us that after a month when the Degree room was unlocked for cleaning Asgari ran out of it pushing a warder and a helper woman. Every second of this one month she was locked up in the damp, dark, cold room.Yet she believed she would survive only if she got a little bit of sun.

And finally one day, on the shoulders of two people the dead skeleton of Asgari Begum went out of the ward, under the bright sun.

“A prisoner of conscience” : Dr Binayak Sen

The following is a guest post by Kisholoy Mukherjee.

Some Wall street journalist writes an article on Binayak Sen, referred to as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, a doctor and civil rights activist who has been held guilty by a Raipur Court and is sentenced to life imprisonment. The charge against him – Sedition. Proof – NONE!! Nor does he verbally corroborate the violence that is done by Maoists/Naxalites. But he only says that he finds that the backdrop of such tribal and rural movements is a reality. Is that not right? Like hell it is. But just read what this article by Wall Street Journal has to say about the conviction. No where does it mention that there was no evidence of his supporting violence. Just interacting with them is a seditious act?? What has this rigid policy of not negotiating brought to this country, apart from a continued misfortune and misery? Be it Kashmir or the Naxals, what good is just trying to wish away the problem when it INDEED exists?? But in this article, that the grave situation among the indian poor is a reality is put in inverted commas…as if to suggest it is not.

Of his alleged support for the Maoists, Dr. Sen said he didn’t support violence from either the state or the Maoists but that the grievances that Maoists were tapping into for support among the populace were “real.”

The article is clearly aimed at staunch capitalists who shriek at the mention of things like humanity, civil rights, justice and equality (and of course the ‘other -ism’ {courtesy Michael Moore}). And it is also aimed at misinforming, deliberate convolution of facts and blatant lying along with propaganda of an endorsed misconception. It reads:

The insurgency that began in a village called Naxalbari in the eastern state of West Bengal in 1967 seeks to overthrow the Indian government in a bid to present a communist paradigm of development. They have attracted support by playing up local grievances such a lack of school and health facilities and the perceived abuse of land rights in the name of industrialization.

You can read it over and over again, but you still may not find anything wrong with it. Even with the highlighted parts. If that is the case, chances are, you too are one of these blood sucking, lying crony capitalists, or one who has been brainwashed to the point of idiocy and intellectual blindness by the jihad-against-socialism’s propaganda machinery. Since the highlighted parts are nothing but simply lies -a truck load of them. The tribal movements against land acquisition and similar corporate takeovers of their rights and the Naxalite movements are two different things altogether. Yes, at some point, either due to need of support or due to forceful infiltration by political parties like the Left, the tribal movement, that dates back way before 1967, and that started out as a completely social movement, out of sheer necessity, became interconnected with the Naxalite or the Maoist movement. Because of twisted media reporting, external pressure by political parties and some unscrupulous individuals, the just movement of the have-nots and the deprived assumed a political color (mostly red!). The real intention was to simply ensure that the rights of the poorest people did not get exploited and snatched away from them by the rich yet greedy. But it was never to “present a communist paradigm of development” as the article falsely claims.

Again, by using the phrase “playing up”, an attempt was perhaps made to make it appear in front the world that the problems that the movements tried to address were unreal or exaggerated. It is such a betrayal of reality to even remotely suggest something like that – the same article misses no opportunity to paint the malady of the Maoist or Naxalite movement as the “plague” of the nation, but it unfairly leaves out the other part of the equation – that the grievances of severe underdevelopment and poverty are very much a reality and they are themselves one of the biggest plagues constantly affecting the nation. And “perceived” abuse of land rights?? Yeah, right.

That the article was disproportionately biased towards one side, would be a gross understatement. It was just an example of what crony capitalism is at its worst – a manipulator of truth even to suit its personal agenda.

 

 

Gloves off!

The following is a guest post by Kisholoy Mukherjee.

The one piece of news that is really doing the rounds the last few days is the face off between the Congress and the opposition regarding the JPC. The winter session of the Parliament was a complete waste of national resources as it was adjudged “sine die” for weeks at a stretch. Not surprisingly, the media has been very “proactive” in bringing out this news as it was unfolding..Now the PM has come ahead and declared that he is “willing to appear before the PAC”…The opposition of course isn’t happy with that and the NDA are holding rallies across Delhi..Few simple but as yet unanswered questions remain:

1. What is the scope of the PAC and that of the JPC and how do they compare in terms of penetrability into the investigation? Why is there even a debate on this in the first place? Why is it not clear?? How is it that so many law graduates and post graduates working in the Parliament (since most parliamentarians are from legal backgrounds) cannot make it clear as to what is the scope of the two investigative committees? Perhaps they should all go back to their books and read up constitution and the laws of the nation once more to end this confusion

2. Why can’t they both operate simultaneously?? Will that cause any particular problem, like coming in the way of one another? But working in tandem should be good in two ways: a) they could help each other with their findings by sharing progress and evidences and b) they could act as each others’ watchdogs. Why then do the two parties not agree?

3. Which investigating agency is really supposed to be the one doing the probe, as per law? Isn’t an Apex court (the SC) the best (available) option when such doubts arise regarding the credibility of all other investigating bodies? Why should ANY parliamentary committee, be it the PAC or the JPC, be any better than a judicial probe, given the high level of corruption among ministers?

4. Also, whether it is the media or even the opposition, there seems to be a presumption regarding the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s credibility and integrity. I really want to challenge this odd notion – why the hell on earth should we have to assume that? So many scams have raised their ugly heads during his tenure as PM, one after the other, and yet we have to assume that despite being the highest minister of the country and also the senior most leader of the INC, he actually knew nothing and remained in the dark? Who are we fooling here? Everybody seems to be so careful about not sounding undiplomatic whenever the PM’s name comes up. The PM’s signature or knowledge is most certainly needed in appointment in top officials like the CVC (‘tainted Thomas’) – what was he doing then? Taking a slumber? And that he was well aware of what was going on with 2G spectrum allocation policy subversion, is quite clear from some letters that were exchanged between him, TRAI officials and A Raja. Why the heck do we have to believe that he didn’t play a part in the scams? And even in the most unlikely case that he wasn’t involved in the scam, his inaction all this time speaks volumes.

5. Why is everyone bending over backwards to shower their praises for the PM, just because he has said he will appear before the PAC? Why shouldn’t he, just because IT IS STANDARD PROCEDURE?? Why should anyone be treated differently in the eyes of the law? If anyone is remotely associated with any criminal case and there is even prima facie evidence of that link (in this case no evidence is needed even to establish such a link…it was his damn party Congress and his govt. that was directly involved in wrongdoings for heaven’s sake!!) then he or she should be made subject to scrutiny and all other forms of rigorous investigative procedure that are deemed necessary, irrespective of whether he is an aam admi or a Prime minister.

6. Also, why is the PM and the Congress so wary of JPC? If they are prepared to go for a probe by PAC, headed by a member of opposition, Mr. Murli Manohar Joshi, then what is the big problem with JPC? Is Mr Murli joining hands with Congress in this matter? Why does the Congress want PAC so much? They haven’t given any good reason why they can’t go ahead with JPC. Just bringing up past failure isn’t good enough. We still do not see why JPC will be any worse than a PAC, then why this stubbornness over JPC? And they just can’t blame the Opposition only for the stalemate in the Parliament this winter session – they themselves have to shoulder 50% of the responsibility for not being able to arrive at a solution and more importantly, for not being able to give a concrete and admissible reason for not taking up JPC, thereby raising suspicions of some conspiracy or secret reason for their extreme obstinacy.

A commoner’s critique: The NREGA

The following is a guest post by Kisholoy Mukherjee.

The NREGA or the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is hailed as the brain child of the INC and has attracted quite a lot of attention. Most people, whether they are in the media or the Congress and even the common man have made very positive remarks about this scheme and have pointed out how this scheme can change the poor conditions that prevail still today in rural areas. (Of course opposition parties have tried to paint this ACT in black but that is purely out of a political motive) Hard to believe that those of us who are already far better off and are living in absolute luxury compared to the rural poor, can actually consider such modest steps as big ones and can find so many positives in such measures which bring about almost insignificant changes in life at the grass root level or none at all for many.  And if you confront them, living in the comfort of proper houses and many of them enjoying luxuries the poor can only dream of, they have a long known defense – the country does not have enough money. Yeah, right.

I am going to write about how I feel after going through different Acts of India, mainly those which can have or are said will have a significant impact on people’s lives. I am starting the series with NREGA. Throughout this critique, I will either place you in the shoes of the villager or that of the official responsible for carrying out the provisions of this act.

The ACT basically says that 100 days of employment will be guaranteed* to every rural household every financial year, whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work. * Well, conditions apply!!

Indeed, like in the constitution itself, where provisions for applying conditions to things like “no demarcation based on caste, religion etc” actually makes a mockery of the very principle because of which the section was written at first, this act among others does the same thing – it kills the very purpose of the scheme. If there are provisions for not providing even those 100 days of work, what is the point of mentioning in the title it is a “guarantee scheme”??

So, let’s look at it bit by bit…

1. What is the wage that will be paid? It can be decided by the State Govt. or it can be given according to the Minimum Wages Act of 1948. The minimum wage that has decided upon recently  is around Rs. 100 per day (for a six to seven hour labor) by the ministry of Labor and Employment.

http://www.paycheck.in/main/officialminimumwages

http://pib.nic.in/release/rel_print_page1.asp?relid=61290

However, in the NREGA, there is a way out of this – in section 6, Chapter 3, it is mentioned that the wage decided by the state govts. “shall not be at a rate less than sixty rupees per day.” There you go…so , as a state govt, either you follow the Minimum wages Act (by which according to present standards Rs.100 is the minimum) or you set your own standards which can be as low as Rs.60. Needless to say, it leaves the room open for corruption and misuse of the funds for the project.

2. It is mentioned in sub-section 3, of section 3 of Chapter 2, that  “the disbursement of daily wages shall be made on a weekly basis or in any case not later than a fortnight after the date on which such work was done.” That is funny…they are speaking of treating the daily wage workers as if they are on a payroll and are going to get month-end salaries!! This smacks of insensitivity – do they have any idea that a poor household will need that modest amount of money desperately every day, or else they would have to take loans? Such poor people naturally don’t have savings. Instead, they always have debts way more than their earnings. Why make such a provision for paying a wage not on daily basis?? It is a serious mistake….deliberate or not….

3. Section 7, Chapter 3 perhaps has the most gaping hole, as big as a crater, in the ACT – It lays down the provisions (huh, again!!) for NOT giving the employment. How and when can the poor villager, desperately in need of some money, perhaps to buy some medicines for himself or for his little child or his wife, or to simply feed his starving family, be shooed away?? Well, here are the guidelines that corrupt officials have been given to misuse the scheme’s fund’s money:

You can keep turning them back for 15 days. And even after that, if the poor soul keeps coming back to irritate you for a job, you will then assure him of “an unemployment allowance”. What is that? You may pay as low as  1/4th of the minimum wage that can be paid to him in a day …that comes down to Rs. 15 a day, for the first 30 days (it is not clarified if these 30 days include the initial 15 days or not!!) And on top of that, do not forget that you can also choose NOT TO PAY the wage for each day for up to a fortnight. The official only has to cite special reasons like “economic incapacity” for not giving the employment (i.e. not giving the bare minimum of 60 rupees even). How do you expect a poor villager to challenge him??

Believe it or not, There is no mechanism for appealing either. Something that at least the RTI has. Perhaps the ministers had realized that would be a waste of writing space anyway since poor villagers will naturally be rendered helpless if they are refused, even if they had a chance for appealing.

But this was only about the first 30 days: there is a provision for not giving an unemployment for a whole 1 year!! And during the period after the first 30 days of unemployment, the villager is entitled to get no less than one-half of the wage rate…i.e Rs.30/day.

And what happens if he does not get a job at all, even after one full year and after having to do with such a small  compensation?? Well, there is nothing written about it. And with no provision for appealing, it takes only a child’s guess…

And on top of that, even the unemployment allowance can be skipped on the following conditions and I am quoting directly from the ACT:

(b) the period for which employment is sought comes to an end and no member of the household of the applicant had turned up for employment; or (c) the adult members of the household of the applicant have received in total at least one hundred days of work within the financial year; or (d) the household of the applicant has earned as much from the wages and unemployment allowance taken together which is equal to the wages for one hundred days of work during the financial year.

I leave it to you all to decide what you make of that, since the absurdity of it all is just too self-evident.

Some more ways to avoid giving the villager the unemployment allowance:

-An applicant who- (a) does not accept the employment provided to his household under a Scheme; or (b) does not report for work within fifteen days of being notified by the Programme Officer or the implementing agency to report for the work; or (c) continuously remains absent from work, without obtaining a permission from the concerned implementing agency for a period of more than one week or remains absent for a total period of more than one week in any month, shall not be eligible to claim the unemployment allowance payable under this Act for a period of three months but shall be eligible to seek employment under the Scheme at any time.

So, basically:

a) say you are the jobless or landless farmer/poor villager and you have some kind of disability, which you can definitely have given you are so poor and the nature of your job, you cannot even ask for an alternative job if its physically too hard or impossible for you (at least there is no provision for such a “generous” act on part of the official, and I think we would be asking too much of them to show kindness even beyond the most generous ones already present in the ACT)

b) they can pay you as late as upto fourteen days, but still you have to be law-abiding….after all, Mogambo ko khush karna jo hain

c) If you are for some reason absent for the said number of days, say due to some illness, then you will not be eligible for the unemployment allowance for a period of 3 months. If your absence “for a total period of more than one week in any month”. So, that even includes 8 days. This one has serious implications:

1. You can lose your job suddenly! (since they are talking about unemployment allowance and remaining absent at the same time, clearly, an ambiguity there, perhaps deliberately)

2. And when you do, you will not get the unemployment allowance upto 3 months if you were somehow unable to attend the arduous labor even for 8 days in a month.

3. There is nothing mentioned about why you may lose the job…

Why were such gaping holes left unplugged?? Were they intentionally left? Clearly, the seeds of corruption were all laid even as the bill was being formulated, as is evident from the sheer absurdity of the ACT’s provisions…

But there is more to come:

The Panchayats will be in charge of implementing the rules of this ACT. Needless to say, even though the panchayats may have more favor with the locals of a village, they can often be highly corrupt. So, a whole new commission should have been set up independently, like the Information Commission in connection with the RTI act.

All that is mentioned in connection with grievance addressing is this (section 19, Chapter 3):

The State Government shall, by rules, determine appropriate grievance redressal mechanisms at the Block level and the district level for dealing with any complaint by any person in respect of implementation of the Scheme and lay down the procedure for disposal of such complaints.

Needless to say, it is extremely wishy-washy and vague.

All that is written under the transparency and accountability section of the act, is again very unclear and only touches upon how the complex internal mechanisms of complaint transfers will be (from the Gram Panchayat to the Programme officer etc.) like but does not mention clearly the position of the complainant in all of this.

As a penalty, a maximum of only Rs.1000 will be given to anyone who contravenes the provisions of this act.

A few sections about which I am as yet undecided as to how positively effective or adequate they will be:

….priority shall be given to women in such a way that at least one-third of the beneficiaries shall be women who have registered and requested for work under this Act.

24. If any personal injury is caused to any person employed under the Scheme by accident arising out of and in the course of his employment, he shall be entitled to, free of charge, such medical treatment as is admissible under the Scheme. (???)

Where hospitalisation of the injured worker is necessary, the State Government shall arrange for such hospitalisation including accommodation, treatment, medicines and payment of daily allowance not less than half of the wage rate required to be paid had the injured been engaged in the work.

A few suggestions on how to improve upon this act:

use the same officials under this scheme to make a payment of Rs.100/day 365 days a year (or better still, food and clothing worth Rs.100) without fail to every household as a start without work, and then on top of that make arrangements to provide 100 days of work similarly as provided by this scheme. However, an appeal mechanism is a must.And that mechanism should be made as transparent as possible and not the eyewash type as is presently provided by this act.

Indian Media Watch: Of the hunter who became the hunted

The following is a guest post by Kisholoy Mukherjee.

The phrase deafening silence could not possibly have been better exemplified than by the situation of stalemate that gripped the world of media soon after the Nira Radia tapes were leaked into the public domain. Whether it was CNN or NDTV, HT or Times Now, every single channel seemed to play it safe by ignoring this bit of news as if it did not exist. Yet, newspapers and news channels including the ones above started accusing the ‘media’ (presumably other media bodies) for remaining silent, thereby showing a tremendous amount of hypocrisy. Anyway, it took Ratan Tata’s moving Supreme court against the leaking of his conversations with Nira Radia to make the news agencies to wake up. This action by Ratan, an iconic public figure, gave them the right pretext to finally discuss this ‘sensitive’ issue. The double standards was hardly concealable –  when it comes to other issues, not involving the media (and what interests them perhaps) they are always very quick to react and hold debates and ‘bashing’ sessions in no time (like the Newshour with Arnab Goswami). But it was too ‘sensitive an issue with a possibility of hitting grey areas’ when it came to the exposure of their own misadventures.  Come on now, who are you fooling, guys??

In fact, such was the humiliation and the nervousness at the face of an unprecedented adversity and times of crisis for the world of media, that top honchos in the media biz like Sagarika of CNN iBN, Karan Thapar of Ndtv and Arnab of Times Now were found visibly (and audibly of course!) showing signs of the immense pressure that they were reeling under. That they have completely lost the plot, and that they have been exposed and that their credibility as professionals is now going to be questioned more than ever is beyond doubt. They can deny it in our face but they know it damn well.

Consider Cnn Ibn’s “Radia tapes: Has Tata’s right to privacy been violated?” discussion last night. The host, Sagarika, clearly was seen trying to push the agenda that privacy must not be compromised in the name of war of corruption. The pressure on her from her seniors and the team in general was so apparent that she was finding it hard to even conceal the way she was panicking. Firstly, she was hardly allowing the guest panel or rather the Supreme Court advocates to speak their minds. Especially, Prashant Bhushan who gave a fantastic explanation of the situation. But of course it did not suit her and CNN’s agenda-which was clear as a whistle – that they were taking Ratan Tata’s side, lest their own dirty secrets get revealed in subsequent leakages. Apart hearing the tapes, I am inclined to think Ratan Tata and several other media people had engaged in a joint discussion on how to proceed on the matter, given they all shared a common interest.

What is the big fuss about this issue? Two questions are being raised:

1.       When can phones be tapped??

2.       When does the publication of recorded conversations become justifiable?

The party against the publications are citing Article 21 of the constitution to justify their stand. Article 21 of the constitution says “21. No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” Now, I really do not understand how this has been a case of violation of personal liberty. No one has suggested that he cannot talk. No one has suggested that he cannot talk to so and so persons. As Supreme Court Advocate Prashan Bhusan aptly put it: the phones can be and in this case were tapped because there was prima facie evidence of a crime (precisely, tax evasion). Hence, the government was well within its rights to ask the Income Tax dept. to tap Nira Radia’s phones as it was her PR company that was under the scanner. However, and this was beautifully put by Prashant Bhusan and my personal favorite in the whole argument, if during the course of the investigation by the concerned agency, some other elements or hints of crimes are revealed in the conversations, which include bribing, links to scams, subversion of public policy etc. then it is not only that the investigative body has the right but it is also its duty to publish such material in the larger interest of the public, as long as those conversations do not compromise national security in some way. I don’t think anything can beat this argument. I can’t find any counter argument that can stand up to the aforementioned one and a supreme court judge, who is well intentioned and just should rule in favor of the parties involved in releasing these conversations.

What was most shocking was that Sagarika was constantly trying to interfere when the two advocates were speaking and were pointing out the obvious loopholes in her argument. She and her buddy journalist from Financial express were making ridiculous arguments like: 1. The conversations were entirely private 2. There were no evidences of criminality in the conversations 3. Anybody could ask the govt./an investigative agency to tap a rival’s phone and 4. In the mahol of corruption, privacy needs to take a back seat

The first point is absolutely ludicrous. Throughout the entire program, Sagarika, her buddy and Amar Singh just kept mentioning the only one private and entirely irrelevant part of the conversation between Tata and Radia – the brazen discussions on some stupid black gown. That alone was enough to brand the entire conversation private, whoa, what an argument!! Gimme a frigging break!! Just going through the transcript is enough to see how much (or should I say how little) was private in nature.

As for the second conversation, well, what can I say…how could one overlook the link of the 2G scam in that conversation is simply beyond me….

The third point was smartly refuted again by the advocate, by saying that there was need of enough prima facie evidence to take such an action.

The last point is another great example of how media has seriously send a wrong, a deliberately convoluted and adulterated message. None of the two advocates were suggesting that. Privacy is definitely important but how on earth can we give importance to privacy of wrongdoers?? Then the same explanation can be used in the case where the telephonic conversations of terrorists were intercepted during the 26/11 attacks – perhaps those terrorists will get this bright idea from Ratan Tata and will move court for invasion of privacy!!!

She saved her worst for the last: she ended by saying “the final results…60% say yes, thank you for watching”. The “yes” people in the poll had voted in her favor of Ratan Tata’s petition. Now, while the poll results as shown by the channel are themselves doubtful, the way she rounded off was clearly trying to suggest that the pro-privacy walas had ‘won’. It was like she had to have the last laugh, but Sagarika, it was not you who had the last word, since you and your channel’s hollowness, its immoral stand in the issue and the hypocrisy and efforts at pushing the agenda instead of honestly debating were conspicuous.

The media, has lost this battle, irrespective of what happens in the court over the Ratan Tata case.

Block puzzle

Here is the puzzle: http://media.ebaumsworld.com/flash/annlucaswinters/mostdifficultpuzzle.swf

Now obviously it is not the most difficult puzzle ever but it is fairly tricky and not the kind you can glance at and tell the solution. So let us find out a method to solve it.

Throughout this article, 11, 12,21,22 will represent the smallest blocks, the block in the middle, the blocks on either side of the biggest block, and the biggest block respectively as shown in the puzzle before the blocks are moved. 1rd, 1ru, 1cl, 1cr will represent ‘go down by one row’, ‘go up by one row’, ‘move left by one column’ and ‘move right by one column’ respectively. The blocks are placed on, as we call it, a 5X4 rectangle.

First, the clues that we can get from the picture.

1. There will be a time when 22 will have to cross 12. Then no other block can move from one side of the separation line that 22 and 12 create to the other.

2. While crossing, when 22 goes one row down 12 must go one row up.

3. While crossing, all 21s must be on one side of the separation line, which implies that 12 must be in the bottom row. Look at the picture with clue 1. 22 occupies 2 rows and 12 occupies 1. If 22 takes the first step down, 12 takes the next step up and then 22 takes the next step down. If 12 takes the first step up, then it’s 12 1ru,22 1rd,12 1ru. Any one of them has to move 2 rows which is impossible if one side of the separation line has even one 21.

4. As 22 goes one row down, two 11s must take the place it vacates.

5. Hence when 22 takes the first step down it must do so along the 1st or the 4th column.

6. So clearly, when 22 takes the first step down, two 21s must be right under it, because other two options are impossible.

The first one is impossible because in the previous position 22 must have been one row up, so the two 11s were on top of the two 21s and… you’re stuck. The second one is impossible for similar reason, just take the only possible steps backward. Remember, 22 can’t go down a row because it is its first step down and we are retracing the steps.

So the only possibility that remains is  

Retrace the path to find out how we can come here, it is pretty much one way.

So now, where to go from here? Clearly we have to move 22, otherwise our target of getting all 21s on top cannot be achieved. To make room to move 22, move the 11 of the 3rd row and 3rd column to the top row and then move 22. Now clearly you’ll have to move the bottom 21 up next to the top corner 11, which will leave you room to move its adjacent 21 to the place it vacates. Of course the next move should be of the 11 in the 4th row. Now you can move 22 one row down and the two 21s of the last column up to allow the 22 to move on top of 12. Now move a 11 down and the rest is pretty simple.