Month: May 2016

The Dark Underbelly of Freedom of Speech and Tanmay Bhatt

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Samuel L Jackson places reasonable restrictions on saying what

The tirade of Tanmy Bhatt, of AIB fame, about the beloved public figures Sachin Tendulkar and Lata Mangeshkar has evoked some very strong reactions on twitter and in the upper echelons of the Government. Needless to say, this has brought to forefront the ever raging tempest, the Free Speech debate.

India has the longest constitution in the world and this is not without reason. A fairly young constitution, less than 70 years old, the Constitution has already seen 100 amendments made compared to just 27 made to the 228 year old Constitution of the United States of America. In an almost comical and ironic, but relevant comparison, the first amendment to the Indian Constitution put into place ‘reasonable restrictions’ on Freedom of Speech, while the first amendment of the US Constitution prohibited any sort of abridgement of free speech.

 

So what happened in the 1 year of Absolute Free Speech in India?

 

Earlier, in March 1950, in Delhi, the government’s attempts at pre-censoring the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s mouthpiece, the Organiser, had been over-ruled. The East Punjab Public Safety Act, 1949, under which the curbs were being applied, was held to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. In another case in May 1950, involving a left-leaning journal called Crossroads, published by Romesh Thapar from Mumbai, met with the same fate. At the time, Madras state had banned the Communist Party and, as part of that policy, prohibited the entry and circulation of Crossroads in the state. Thapar contested this ban legally and won, with the Supreme Court declaring the Madras Maintenance of Public Safety Act, 1949 unconstitutional.

 

Within a week of the decision, Home Minister Vallabhbhai Patel wrote to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, complaining that this ruling weakened the power of the Center in regulation of Press and the Public. Patel feared not being empowered to gag a Leader who was campaigning to annul Bengal’s partition (at the time). Despite their dissensions on most matters, both Nehru and the Iron Man of India believed in a powerful centralised state and decided to put into place certain controls which they could use as a device to restrict free speech in specific places. It is believed that the Father of the Constitution, BR Ambedkar, did not agree with these views but was a minority. However, he still managed to place the caveat of ‘reasonable’ restrictions that would be decided by the Judiciary, opposed to the Patel camp which insisted on total restriction which was in power of the executive.

 

Ridiculous Reasonable Restrictions Restore Ringleader Rule

 

We’re today saddled with vaguely defined hate speech, sedition and blasphemy laws that are repeatedly used on a regular basis for political ends. When people found solace in the internet, the Government sought to control the same and passed the Information Technology Act, 2000 which even went so far as to penalise “offensive” electronic messages. While one might argue that curbs on free speech are required in a country as wide and culturally different as India is, one fails to appreciate the ground reality of the situation. As we have seen in Mumbai in 1993 or in Gujarat in 2002, the state does not really seek to clamp down on free speech for such altruistic purposes. Instead, free speech curbs are used for petty political ends, banning books, movies, paintings, college gatherings and even Facebook status updates.

 

Even the last bastion of happiness has not been left alone in India. Comedy has always been an art that is liberal-minded. Almost all comedians will fight against censorship and have a way of interspersing comedy with public messages on freedom which has for several decades been a medium to reflect the mood of the public to changing jurisprudence. Ofcourse, this is something which is pure evil and shouldn’t be allowed.

Hence, in India, we’ve seen crackdown on a comedy roast hosted by All India Bakchod which poked fun at actors, directors and producers with their consent. We’ve further seen crackdown on poetry or music which capture the mood of the nation or take jibes at the ruling party; and now we’re witnessing the ruthless onslaught of an entertainer who ridiculed, on a lighter note, two famous Indian people on his personal snapchat account. This has been blown out of proportion and now the incumbent government and many political parties are urging the police to arrest the comedian and put him behind bars.

 

I personally don’t find All India Bakchod or Tanmay Bhatt too funny. In fact, a lot of their humour borders on being obnoxious and heavy handed, however, this remains their fundamental right and their freedom of speech. Tanmay Bhatt has not incited violence, nor has he indulged in hate speech. Neither the roast, nor his snapchat tirade been an attack on the democracy or freedom of the people of India. It might have been idiotic, sure, but it’s definitely not a crime. If anything, instead of putting restrictions on freedom of speech, the government could make idiocy a crime. Then again, if that is done, most of our Parliament would be behind bars.

 

Freedom of speech needs to be appreciated and put on the pedestal it deserves. Even if absolute freedom is not given in India, the reasonable restriction should genuinely be reasonable and the archaic sedition and hate speech laws should be vanquished in place of genuine laws to protect the sovereignty and integrity of India.

 

‘The Framers of the Constitution knew that free speech is the friend of change and revolution. But they also knew that it is always the deadliest enemy of tyranny’ – Hugo Black

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Will Stalin’s Response Spur a Change in Tamil Nadu Politics?

J Jayalalithaa's swearing-in ceremony

The Opposition Leader MK Stalin is seated with the general public at the CM Swearing in Ceremony

The move by MK Stalin to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Hon’ble Chief Minister Jayalalitha a few days earlier is not really a political move; atleast not in any sense understood by traditional Tamil Nadu politics. That’s not to say it isn’t political at all. It strikes one as a move that is scathingly political but it’s disruptive, different and ruthlessly transparent. It’s a spit in the face of the modern politician, the culture of the soulless ghouls who inhabit that world, and the vacuous public multitude that seeks to worship and emulate them.

 

The State of Madras (as Tamil Nadu used to be called) was dominated by Congress till the DMK ousted the grand old party from its comfortable seat. Led by the charismatic Anna and assisted by his trusted Lieutenant, the fiery and dynamic, MK Karunanidhi and the razzle-dazzle of the party mascot, MG Ramachandran. After Anna’s passing, Karunanidhi ascended to the throne of Chief Minister, still with the help of his good friend MG Ramachandran.

 

Things soon turned sour as both the film-star and the Kalaignar looked to eclipse each other on the stage, vying for the love of the general public. The Film-Star won the battle and went to become the Chief Minister of the State and continued to be the Chief Minister till his death, a feat never repeated till Jayalalitha won the Legislative Assembly this month. However, the politicians continued to remain friends despite their differences and allegiances to their parties.

“Both MGR and I attacked each other in debates. But I can never forget my 40 year friendship with MGR. When I came to know of MGR’s death I rushed back from the railway station to pay my last respects. Rationalist leader Periyar E V Ramasamy had serious differences with Rajaji, but when the latter passed away, Periyar cried inconsolably”, Karunanidhi recalled. ”These great leaders had set examples of the great political culture in the state. Now, we have the responsibility of preserving it”, he added.

Well, that’s rather touching from Kalaignar, but neither him or nor the current ruling Supremo, Hon’ble CM Jayalalitha took efforts to mend their fences, instead focussed on undoing what the previous leader had done. This has been the legacy of Tamil Nadu politics, the state is littered with examples of discontinued work of the previous government, as if it was a haunted relic stayed fearing completion will unleash an unspeakable torment on the people, yet dominant enough to not be destroyed.

 

However, there now appears to be a new leaf in the primordial book of Tamil Nadu politics from left field. The source is none other than the 63 year old MK Stalin, son of the former Chief Minister MK Karunanidhi. Though, the ‘Thalapathi’ was not projected as the CM candidate of the DMK, he has led the party from the front and despite defeat has said all the right things (or the things the public want to hear but have never heard in the past).

 

On defeat, Stalin tweeted “We respect the people’s verdict & will work as a responsible opposition party. I take this opportunity to congratulate Selvi J Jayalalithaa”. He also stated that he would attend the swearing in ceremony of the AIADMK Supremo. While this could all be done by his Public Relations team, one may be allowed to dream that positive thoughts have been communicated, even if it’s sham. To the credit of the DMK leader, he went on to attend the swearing in ceremony and despite being seated in the 16th row(considered by his father as an insult), went on to wish the Chief Minister, the best for her term.

 

The move from Stalin is simple but unprecedented, atleast in recent times, and has evoked many a positive sentiment from the general public and his political competition. Infact, the Hon’ble CM later went on to apologise for his seating debacle and said “I convey my good wishes to him and look forward to working with his party for the betterment of the state”.

 

While one could call these leaders charlatans and their actions simply those where they pull wool over our eyes, we must have faith in our democratic system and trust that change will happen and I’d like to think that the change is happening right now. Sometimes, a little change is a good thing.

 

Idi Amin – The Last King of Scotland

In a new featurette of the blog, we look at the worst dictators in history of the world and their lasting impacts.

 

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‘The Last King of Scotland’ Idi Amin is among the worst tyrants of all time

 

The Homogeneity of India and Africa is sometimes striking. Like two peas in a pod, both the Sub-Continent and the Continent of sweeping savannahs have been rapaciously plundered by various European powers, but while India was able to consolidate and integrate itself into one collective democratic unit, numerous countries in Africa fell into the hands of power-hungry, barbaric and greedy tyrants – effects of which still prevail several decades later. Perhaps the most infamous of the barbaric Tyrants to torment the continent in recent decades was Idi Amin, the former pawn of Imperial Britain who rose through the ranks to become military dictator of Uganda. Amin, who was initially paraded as a charming and witty man, later was noticed for what he really was. He became the killer clown of Africa, butchering hundreds of thousands of his people while proclaiming himself the “Conqueror of the British Empire” and sending notes to Queen Elizabeth II, inviting her to come to Uganda to experience “a real man”.

 

Idi Amin first rose to prominence in the ranks of the King’s African Rifles, a regiment of the British Empire’s Colonial Army, derived from various native African tribes. Back in the waning days of the British Empire – when the British nobility could still just about get away with the rape and plunder of the tropics while pretending to bring civilisation to the “savages” – there was plenty of opportunity for an ambitious black man, so long as he was sufficiently subservient and willing to do the Empire’s dirty work when told to.

 

In 1962, the Brits handed Amin the job of suppressing a cattle rustling operation, being carried out in northern Uganda by the neighbouring Turkana tribe of Kenya. Amin had succeeded in doing the same however it later came to knowledge that Amin had been waging a campaign of sustained terror against the Turkanan tribesmen. His men carried out gruesome torture, cut off the testicles of their victims, bludgeoned some of them to death with clubs and buried others alive. Well, they did say that they wanted the Turkanans to stop stealing cattle. By this time, the British Empire was rapidly fading and since they weren’t used to the swamps and mosquitoes of Uganda, they decided to get the hell out of there. While any soldier would have been court martialed for his actions, Amin got away because the British didn’t want a prolonged legal battle at a country that was no longer their colony.

The Rise To Power

Uganda was officially granted independence on 9 October, 1962. Sir Edward Mutesa, King of the Baganda tribe, became the nation’s new President. Milton Obote, a good buddy of Amin, became the Prime Minister. Obote liked Amin even better than his previous British bosses had, and awarded him with rapid promotion. Amin became the deputy commander of Uganda’s armed forces. Obote had rapidly begun smuggling operations where he had made a lot money at the cost of Ugandan economy. When King Mutesa objected to the same, Obote suspended the constitution and made himself the overall leader of Uganda. King Mutesa was deported out of the country and Obote ruled with his trusted side-kick Amin.

However, as it turned out Amin wasn’t really a trust worthy side-kick. Amin waited until Obote went on holiday to Singapore, and then ordered the army to take over the country. Israel sent their General Chief of Staff, Colonel Bar-Lev, to Uganda to assist Amin with his coup. Amin declared himself the new President of Uganda. But Amin assured the people that he was only the temporary President, and that elections would take place very soon. However, Amin was forgetful and the elections never came. Probably because Amin was busy killing off anyone who he didn’t like.

Consolidation of Power

Amin went on to execute two thirds of the Ugandan army (6,000 out of about 9,000 troops) and replaced them with his own loyalists. Then Amin decided that Uganda would be a country for black people only, and set about expelling the 80,000 odd Indians and Pakistanis who were living there at the time, claiming that they were sabotaging the economy. He stole all of their property and gave it to the most loyal officers in his army and ofcourse, took some for himself – thank you very much. But, the only problem was, the Indians and Pakistanis constituted the majority of the professional and business class in Uganda, and without them, the economy collapsed.

Members of rival tribes, diplomats, businessmen, academics, members of the clergy, journalists, bothersome foreigners and plain old ordinary Ugandan citizens all got the chop. Anywhere between 100,000 and 500,000 people (depending on who you ask) were murdered. Entire villages were wiped out, and the Nile became so clogged with dead bodies that they began blocking up the dam intake pipes.

Amin goes Bat-Shit Crazy

By 1975, Amin had consolidated his grip on impoverished Uganda by ruthlessly eliminating anybody who was in his way. Most of the nation’s scarce resources were diverted into the ever expanding military. Not much was spared for civilian development. The military chiefs loyal to Amin became Uganda’s new elite. In a demonstration of his authority, Amin decided to stage a publicity stunt for the benefit of the world media. In an elaborate ceremony, he forced a group of Kampala’s white residents to carry him around on a throne, then kneel before him and pledge loyalty.

 

In 1976, Amin caused an international outrage by allowing a hijacked Air France passenger aircraft, carrying 105 Israeli hostages, to land in Uganda. Amin tried to put up the pretence of “assisting” with the hostage negotiations, while in fact he was collaborating with the Palestinian hijackers all along. Israel had no patience with the charade and promptly dispatched a unit of commandoes to Entebbe to take care of business. During the 58 minute operation, two of the hostages were killed and one left behind. The remaining 102 hostages were rescued, while the 8 hijackers were liquidated, along with 45 Ugandan soldiers who happened to get in the way.

 

The whole affair was considered a major embarrassment for Amin, and he reacted with insane fury. He ordered a fresh purge to be carried out, involving the murder of anybody suspected of “opposing” him, on whatever pretext. He pretty much just got totally pissed off and wanted to see some heads roll for it. Amin also expelled all remaining foreigners from the country.

 

The Beginning of the End

 

Post the Air France event, global ties with Uganda began to weaken. The UK and US decided that they didn’t want to be associated with terrorism (genocide is perfectly okay. But terrorism, oh no that awful). All economic and diplomatic ties were severed. Amin’s grip on the country was beginning to weaken. He could no longer count on much in the way of international support, and Uganda’s already battered economy suffered. Civil unrest became a constant threat. Amin attempted to distract the public’s attention from internal strife by acting on long standing plans to invade neighbouring Tanzania.

 

However, during the invasion, the Tanzanian forces showed they were no pushovers and decimated the Ugandan army. They went on to stage a counter-invasion and took the Ugandan capital of Kampala, forcing Amin to flee to safety. His reign of terror was finally over. Idi Amin left a legacy of chronic national debt, an annual inflation rate of over 200%, crime rate through the roof, catastrophic divide between the rich and the poor, and hundreds of thousands of its citizens left dead.

 

In 1989, Amin attempted to return to Uganda in order to stage a coup, but he was intercepted by authorities in Zaire and sent back to Saudi Arabia. There he remained until 2003, when he died from massive internal organ failure. In an interview that Amin gave, shortly before his death, he stated that he had no regrets about his actions in Uganda and claimed he was happier at Saudi Arabia than he had ever been in Uganda.

 

My Experience of Uganda

‘Everything you read and heard about Idi Amin, in papers and movies regarding how bad it was when he was in power. Well, how it really was, was much much worse’ – Abdullah – a Ugandan rebel at the time of Idi Amin – now a driver for my client.

 

As much as I’d like to make it seem that I travelled to Uganda to write up this blog post, its completely not the case. I had gone to Uganda with very limited knowledge about Idi Amin but during my 3 week stay there, learnt a lot about him and his impact on Uganda. His legacy and reign of terror is still very strongly felt in Kampala. There exists an almost tangible feeling in the air that signifies the divide between Foreigners and the Locals. The way they treat each other and how conversations happen. There still exists a fear that whoever is in power can at any time just assume charge over the entire country (and seemingly the current President is trying to do the same).

 

I only felt glad that despite all the similarities between India and Uganda (and many other African countries), we were lucky enough not to have a dictator at the helm of affairs, and a constitution that is strong enough to protect our people and the country.

Will Employers Reqlinquish their Digital Leash?

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In France, President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party is about to vote through a measure that will give employees for the first time a “right to disconnect”. Soon companies of more than 50 people will be obliged to draw up a charter of good conduct, setting out the hours – normally in the evening and at the weekend – when staff are not supposed to send or answer emails. It is an imitative that has been in the pipeline for months now and was globally mocked as a socialist move. There exist several press images of Government Inspectors snooping on industrious and hard work workers. It was largely panned as a move that intervened into the private lives of dedicated employees and growing industries that are making their break in a competitive environment. However, is it really as silly as it sounds?

 

The last 25 years has been dominant by great and rapid change. The internet and ease of access to various modes of communication has shrunk the world and has brought people together. However, as the proverbial saying goes, every positive is usually accompanied with a negative, the digitalisation of communication and transfer of information has significantly impacted the life of the employee. Use of laptops, smart-phones and internet is now a universal phenomenon and almost every working person has access to both. It also means access to e-mails is now prevalent 24/7 as opposed to 8 hours a day at the office before the technology explosion.

 

Impact of Technology Explosion

 

All the studies show there is far more work-related stress today than there used to be, and that the stress is constant. Employees physically leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash – like a dog. The texts, the messages, the emails – they colonise the life of the individual to the point where he or she eventually breaks down.

 

With the technology explosion there is now a real threat to the personal life of an employee. When you’re home, you’re not really at home and this poses a great danger to relationships. There is tremendous physical, psychological and emotional distress caused by a total inability to rest.

 

A survey by industry lobby Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India in 2012 showed that due to demanding schedules and high stress levels, nearly 78% of corporate employees in India sleep less than six hours a day, leading to severe sleep disorders. The survey pointed out that 21% of the people in the sample suffered from depression, the third most prevalent lifestyle disease, ahead of high blood pressure and diabetes.

 

 

The ‘So What’?

 

India is a country notorious for the little regulation in favour of professionals and graduate employees (anyone that is not a labourer). This has led to incredibly high work hours, working weekends, increased stress and discomfort in personal relations due to all of the above. It’s very evident that the employers have to take initiative on controlling the work hours of employees and ensuring that their employees remain stress free. A conscious and concerted effort to ensure that there is minimal work related communication off-work hours will go a long way in not only relieving the employee of work stress but also in improving his/her work creativity and efficiency.

 

A regulation like what is being passed in France will not be passed in India unless there is a serious uprising from the working class regarding work stress. This is an under-current of unhappiness at the workplace which does not get communicated to those charged with governance as there is a reluctance to speak about it. There is apprehension as to how it would be construed. However, as the adage goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Unless there is some noise made about it, it will continue to remain in a state of state decisis. Even if regulators fail to take notice, employers will take notice and will encourage activities for the welfare of their employees.