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The Rajasthan Govt’s Ordinance To Protect Public Servants Is A Blow To Journalistic FreedomThe threat to free speech is a clear and present danger..  

The Rajasthan government has come out with an ordinance which purportedly tries to protect public servants, including judges and magistrates, from prosecution from actions taken in the discharge of their duties as public servants. The media has been widely reporting this as an attempt to protect corrupt activities, but this discourse is leading people away from the actual mischief sought to be done.

Public servants, including judges, are protected from prosecution for actions in discharge of their duties by Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) which lays down that a prior sanction to prosecute shall be taken from the competent authority of the Central or state government, as the case may be. Judges are provided additional protection under the Judges Protection Act from civil or criminal action for actions or words spoken during discharge of their duties.

When in comes to charges of corruption, even the Prevention of Corruption Act provides for a mechanism of prior sanction for prosecution of public servants under the Act.

This makes one wonder about the necessity of the ordinance promulgated by the Rajasthan government. This is where one notices the mischief.

  1. The ordinance doesn’t merely protect public servants and judges, it declares an embargo on the free press from reporting about the accusations or probe till the time prior sanction to prosecute is not granted. As it provides a time period of 180 days for a decision to be taken for such sanctions, there’s effectively a six month gag on the media.

This strikes at the very root of journalistic freedom to report fairly and accurately, a freedom guaranteed by the Constitution as a fundamental right. Such a right to report fairly has been upheld by a catena of decisions of various constitutional courts.

The ordinance goes another step ahead and attempts to amend the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to make disclosure of identity of certain people against whom sanction is sought to be a cognizable but bailable offence punishable by imprisonment up to two years.

Such criminalisation of disclosure again hits at the very roots of journalistic freedoms and shall have a chilling effect on free speech.

This is still an ordinance, and as it attempts to amend Central laws it would require presidential assent. However, the threat to free speech is a clear and present danger.

5 Innovations That Are Making Our Homes Smarter And Safer…


After cars and phones, homes are the next big frontier for technological innovation. For years, high-tech homes were seen only in cartoons and movies (remember The Jetsons, or the Stark Mansion from Iron Man?). But as time rolled on, innovations such as flat-screen televisions and voice-controlled assistants have gone from fantasy to reality. And experts say that the fun’s only just beginning.

Researchers are moving steadily closer to perfecting innovations that could transform our lives even further—from toilets that can diagnose medical problems, to beds that adjust themselves to maximise sleep quality, and robot housekeepers who can dust and clean faster than any human ever could.

Much of this high-tech wizardry is still in the pipeline, but expected to hit the market soon. However, there are five amazing innovations that are already transforming our homes. Check out this video to find out what they are:

As you can see, smart technology is increasingly getting embedded in every aspect of the modern home, from windows to paint, appliances and more. Yet another reason to hang out at home more often!

Junaid’: A Pertinent Student Documentary About The Lynching Of A 16-Year-Old Boy ..


Junaid, a short documentary made by a group of four student filmmakers from AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia, Sarah Rifai, Raza Ansari, Mehtab Shah and Daud Arif, was recently screened at Khudai Khidmatgar, Ghaffar Manzil, Okhla, New Delhi. The screening was organised by the filmmakers in collaboration with Sabka Ghar, a home to promote communal harmony, and dedicated to all those who have been killed in the name of religion, race, caste, and boundaries. A panel discussion followed the screening presided over by the renowned feminist activist and social scientist Kamla Bhasin, and advocate Kabir Dixit.

The film is an attempt to present the untold story around the lynching of 16-year-old Hafiz Junaid. The teenager was brutally stabbed to death on board a train while on his way back home, a day before Eid. A resident of Ballabhgarh, Haryana, Junaid had come to Delhi with his brothers to shop for Eid. The boy was lynched by a bloodthirsty crowd, which falsely suspected him for a beef eater.

The film endeavours to bring to light the untold story of Junaid’s barbaric lynching that went completely unnoticed amidst the television news’ race for TRPs, and political mileage.

The film opens with graphic images of Junaid’s brother writhing in agony while lying on a railway platform in his bloodstained clothes. It ends with the archival footage of a pensive-looking journalist Ravish Kumar (NDTV) lamenting the loss of an innocent life due to the indifference of the co-passengers who chose not to act when it mattered the most. The documentary shows a mother talk about her dead son with tear-filled eyes, and a teacher talking about the tragic death of his sincere and hardworking pupil. What the film doesn’t show but makes the viewer feel is the all-pervasive fear and paranoia following the death of Junaid. The film received unanimous applause from all those present at the screening.

Kamla Bhasin congratulated the young filmmakers for their courage for taking up such a sensitive subject for their first film. She also talked about the importance of bridging the divide between people divided on the basis of religion, caste, gender, or race. Kabir Dixit applauded the filmmakers for being true to the subject without losing their sense of objectivity. He also stressed upon the need to ask the right questions at all times. The team of filmmakers thanked everybody and discussed the challenges they faced during the filming of Junaid while emphasising upon the need to show the truth at all costs.

Egged on by the positive response, the young filmmakers now plan to take the film across the country, hoping to raise awareness about unsavoury elements of society who are trying to destroy the social fabric that binds us together.

I Say Allahu Akbar. I Am Not A Terrorist…..

I grew up saying “Allahu Akbar” numerous times every day.

And no, I wasn’t, and am not, a terrorist.

I wasn’t someone who blew buildings up, killed people or shot a missile from my rocket launcher. As far as the West is concerned, those are the events associated with the saying when something bad is about to happen. People of the West are terrified of the phrase.

I was a Muslim boy trying to pray as many times as he could amidst a life of love and peace, in a home that did not condone any terrorism. My father was a poet who read me love poetry instead of nursery rhymes. He uttered the phrase when he prayed. If love existed in the form of a man, it was my father.

“Love everyone,” was the phrase he uttered almost daily. To him, there was not a problem he couldn’t solve with love.

Allahu Akbar

The saying literally means God is the greatest. It is required of all Muslims to say several times during prayer, which is demanded five times a day. On the average a Muslim ends up saying it hundreds of times. The words are also used as a celebration of life: When a baby is born, when a couple marry or when a veteran returns home safe.

The word Islam means surrender. You’re supposed to surrender to God and worship him. Love, mercy and compassion are uttered several hundred times a day by any Muslim when they say Besm Allah Alrahman Alraheem, In The Name Of God The Merciful The Compassionate. That saying is uttered before you do anything.

So when and why is the phrase Allahu Akbar used as a battle cry, when a terrorist is about to kill someone? The latest incident was the horrific act in New York when the terrorist shouted the phrase before the police shot him, and after he killed eight people and injured many more.

For the majority of Muslims, to shout God’s name as you killed the innocent is an abomination. Muslims no more want innocent people killed than anyone else. So why is the phrase used by terrorists?

For the same reason ISIS and Al-Qaida exist: The misinterpretation of Islam. When you use religion as the motive for you actions, you have the power to appeal to the masses. It’s a brain washing if you will. The terrorists who flew the planes into the World Trade Center on September 11th are no different than any suicide bomber in Israel/Palestine, are no different that the one who mowed down bicyclists in New York. They are people who misunderstood and misused the religion. They are sick and twisted and evil.

The phrase is to remind Muslims that God is supreme. That’s it. It was never to be used as a battle cry during horrendous actions furthering political agendas with evil motives.

My heart sank when I heard the terrorist shouted the saying after the attack. I will never understand the link between Islam and Terrorism. The Islam I grew up amidst condemns such actions. It preaches love and peace and tranquility and feeding the hungry and clothing the poor and sheltering the homeless. One of the five main requirements of Islam in addition to prayer and fasting is to give a percentage of your money to the poor.

Is There A Difference?

To me, there is no difference between the terrorists who shout Allahu Akbar when committing a crime and those white nationalists and racists who shouted “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville ― Virginia recently.

Here’s where the double standard hurts: When that man killed 58 people in Las Vegas, the word terrorist was not uttered by anyone. Why is it only attached to people who claim Islamic affiliation?

The Quran was brought down to Muhammad in the seventh century. The verses which preach war and fighting were contextual and apply to the time when he and his followers had no choice but to fight back, or die. It is no different than the Old Testament which contains many verses preaching war and killing.

In Deuteronomy Chapter 2, Verses 32-37, Moses is told to kill men, women, and children:

“And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have begun to give Siphon and his land before thee: begin to possess, that thou mayest inherit his land. Then Sihon came out against us, he and all his people, to fight at Jahaz. And the LORD our God delivered him before us; and we smote him, and his sons, and all his people. And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain. From Aroer, which is by the brink of the river of Arnon, and from the city that is by the river, even unto Gilead, there was not one city too strong for us: the LORD our God delivered all unto us.”

How is this any different than what’s in the Quran? And why are Muslims judged by a different prism? Most of the Quran preaches love and harmony and helping those who have not. Take this for example:

“And feed with food the needy wretch, the orphan and the prisoner, for love of Him (saying): We feed you, for the sake of Allah only. We wish for no reward nor thanks from you.” [76:8-9]

Any ancient religious book can be misunderstood and misrepresented. The Ku Klux Klan said the Jesus was the first Klansman. They burned crosses to spread their ill will. How is that any different?

A Wish Or Two

I have one wish, well maybe two.

The first is for my children to thrive and go through life without any judgment based on their last name.

The second is for this world to know that Muslims mean no one any harm. The people who mean harm are as far from Islam as the KKK is far from Christianity.

My religion is love.

If A State Cannot Feed Its People, It Loses All Moral Right To Exercise Authority….

We are what we eat or so the famous saying goes. For those living in countries with poorpopulation nutrition like India, this saying has more ironic significance than we can imagine. In India, it is estimated that half of Indian women age 15-49 (48 percent) and 43 percent of Indian men age 15-49 are undernourished. Arguably, a third of women of reproductive age in India is undernourished. In children under 5, statistics reveal that stunting is seen in 48 per cent while 43 per cent are underweight and wasting is common in close to 20 per cent. Hence, India is what it eats. It seems either hungry or without sufficiently nutritious food.

While governments ignore or dismiss these statistics, what they often do not realise is that poor nutrition is a leading cause of vulnerability to diseases. Nutrition has a critical role in both determining immunity and the ability to recover from diseases. Take the case of Tuberculosis of TB- one of India’s top killers.

TB is easily diagnosed and treated, yet it kills lakhs of Indians each year. Several studies globally, and in India, illustrate that social, behavioural, economic and environmentalfactors like undernutrition, indoor air pollution, smoking and alcohol addiction act as facilitating factors to the spread of TB

Of these, undernutrition is the single-most important predisposing factor for TB in India. Hence, a significant section of India’s population has poor nutrition and resultantly poor immunity to the TB bacteria. Not surprisingly, like undernutrition, TB exists in India at an epic scale, most often affecting those among the age group of 15-55 — an individual’s most productive age.

With undernutrition we essentially create large masses with increased vulnerability to TB and other diseases. This, along with poor infection control and limited awareness, creates disease epidemics such as TB in India. Nutrition also affects recovery from disease. In the case of TB, poor nutrition also affects recovery from TB and increases drug toxicity, relapse and death once TB developsAs a result patients with poor nutritional levels are likely to show poorer performance on TB treatment because of poor muscle strength. There is always a higher risk of TB relapse among such patients as well. Appropriate nutritional intake is critical to ensure treatment completion as well as a faster road to recovery.

NEW DELHI, INDIA MAY 29: The picture featuring TB Patients in Patel Chest Hospital on May 29, 2013 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Ramesh Pathania/Mint via Getty Images)

When considering India’s significant TB crisis, it is clear that new technologies, quick and early diagnosis and less toxic treatments are critical to address India’s TB epidemic. With a vast number of people affected, this is needed urgently. An accompanying though more fundamental question, what about addressing hunger and nutrition? How can we comprehensively address TB in the long-term without addressing the nutritional status of the population and ensuring immunity? Until we do so, are we not setting a near-impossible task for ourselves with a large and vulnerable population? Unless we address the root cause, will faster diagnosis and improved treatment alone end TB in India?

India needs food security for increased immunity for all diseases including TB. Why? The answers are simple. First and foremost, hunger and poor nutrition should be morally unacceptable in largely poor countries like India. If the state cannot feed its people, it loses all moral right to exercise authority. Without food, words like vikas are meaningless. Also, continued malnutrition and hunger increase vulnerability, thereby increasing disease prevalence, and consequently human suffering, burdening the health system and society at large. This has staggering human, economic and social consequences that perpetuate inequity—something that should be unacceptable as well. From a purely economic view, it causes increased suffering, loss of wages, unemployment, debt and financial desperation — undesirables in India’s fantastic march towards vikas.

It’s time India thought of significant investment in nutrition as the foundational basis of apopulation’s well-being, social justice, economic growth and as a preventive strategy for all diseases. Some solutions that India must consider are universal food security. This, of course, is fraught with challenges both in relation to implementation and in funding. However, these challenges cannot be used as the basis of reneging on this essential and beneficial strategy.

Too often there are too many ineffective schemes.We need to re-examine, link and innovate programmes run by various ministries, including health and women & child development among others. This is possible if we mainstream nutrition and food security for all beneficiary groups and not just those affected by diseases. For those affected by diseases, we need to provide long-term specialised nutritional support and supervision through programmes that ensure sufficient nutrition.

It’s time to go back to basics and recognise that nutrition is the fundamental building block not just for disease prevention but the nation itself. Until we do so our claims to eliminate TB or any other disease will remain hollow. And our march towards vikas will be like a never-ending one to a mythical heaven.

How Leather Workers Are Choking Under The Burden Of Social Stigma, Exploitation And Inadequate Govt Policies. ….


A labourer cuts scrap leather, which will be burnt in an oven and made into fertiliser, at a factory in Kolkata

Despite the best efforts of those who wish to protect them, cows and other bovines die as surely as sheep, goat and other domestic animals. In death too they become veritable source of useful materials and wealth. Men and women belonging to certain social formations engage in recovering the skins, bones and hooves of these animals. These materials find their use in downstream industry.

An anthropologist had commented that in India the social status of a group depends upon the frequency of contact the group members have with organic materials and the nature of those materials. Males from high castes have very little touch with any organic material during the course of their normal occupations. People from the middle castes tend to work with soil and with animals. Women constantly deal with organic material, etc.

We must naturally feel ashamed of this reality. But apparently, the disdain for people working with such materials is not unique to us. It may be seen across many societies. In the rare event when a few people had died in earthquake-led fires in Japan, the Prime Minister there sort of dismissed the tragedy saying, yes, but they were only leather workers.

The animal population in India is huge, exceeding 240 million animals of the bovine species alone. But the animals are held in a highly decentralized manner across a dispersed geography. Even within a village, dispersed households hold them in a decentralized manner. Animal deaths also occur in very scattered locations. Barely one or two families perhaps live in a village in order to utilize the resources in terms of carcasses of dead animals (cows, calves, bullocks, buffalos, mules, horses, camels, rabbits). This is the tragedy of the group. It is highly scattered across a wide terrain, and in each of its habitations, it is a hopeless minority.

Oppressed minority

The social formations engaged in work on animal residues in general are an oppressed lot across the entire country. Many diverse social and economic developments have been affecting them. During the seventies, for instance, there was a strong movement towards sanskritization in the group. The Caste Panchayat took the view that since the occupation of flaying the skins off dead animals was one that made their social status so low, they would refrain from doing so.

This resulted in the group experiencing livelihoods stress on one hand and environmental distress due to decaying animals on the other. The polity, ranging from formation of co-operatives to compulsory licensing for processing the carcass, gave complex responses. Also, some of those who dealt with bones took to skin work. Since there undoubtedly is an economic value in animal residues, it was inevitable that a combination of economic incentives and physical force would combine to make the hapless flayers continue to do the work.

The second important development that emergence of synthetic materials as a resource for making products hitherto made out of leather. The massive incursion of synthetic footwear in rural and urban economy has in the first instance affected the footwear makers (cobblers).

The effect on the upstream has also been severe but in part cushioned by the fact that a bulk of Indian hides and skins were exported for a substantial period of time. The difference between the economic engagements of the leather flayers earlier and now is that the contractor and aggregators that supply to the tanneries tend to be the chief economic actors they have to engage with. Due to the complex and often times hostile regulatory environment, these agents acquire monopolistic power over the leather flayers.

Vested interests

As in all lines of business, there are interest groups in the value chain of animal skins and hides. Allegations of each higher rung exploiting the lower rung are quite common. At the apex tends to be the leather product or leather exporters and at the bottom the leather flayers. While the occupation of leather flayers is essential to the smooth functioning of rural economy, those who practice the occupation are grossly exploited and neglected. There is a complex interplay between religious affinity, caste hierarchy and economic force in the leather and tannery sector.

As a sector expert pointed out, the Central and State Government policies for the sector tend to be dominated by commercial interests. These put the commercial interests of exporters and tanneries in sharp relief neglecting the interests of the voiceless leather flayers and the leather workers. Caught in a triple grinding wheel of a strong and persistent social stigma due to their occupation, economic exploitation from the middlemen and economic stress due to incursion of synthetics, the leather flayers remain a neglected and emaciated lot.

It appears to me that the thickness of the skin worn by our polity and by our social leaders perhaps far exceeds the thickness of the buffalo hides with which the flayers and the leather workers deal.

In Failing To Protect The Rohingyas, India Has Failed Itself….


The forced displacement of ethnic Rohingya people from the Rakhine state of Myanmar resulted in a massive refugee crisis in South Asia. The magnitude of this latest Rohingya refugee crisis may be comparable to two other acute refugee crises this subcontinent saw in the past.

First was the massive human relocationfollowing the creation of India and Pakistan in 1947, and the next was the refugee exodus to India during the 1971 Bangladesh war. The exodus of Afghans into Pakistan is another massive but a more steady, long-standing process.

Among these, India was both a victim and the host during the first one and a gracious host during the second one. During the first refugee crisis, India was a newborn state, during the second one it was a young ‘third world’ developing democracy. Fifty years elapsed since the second refugee crisis, when the major Rohingya refugee crisis developed. And last 50 years have changed India.

India is the aspiring regional superpower now. To the Western developed states, India is the face and gateway to South Asia. It seems the world elites and the Western democracies have outsourced the job stabilising the region to India. In this changed scenario, it’s essential to assess and evaluate India’s performance in the Rohingya refugee crisis.

While India’s expected role was to play a neutral arbitrator and a stabilising force to contain the crisis, it clearly failed to do so. Although under pressure from the friendly government of Bangladesh, India has later tried to take a less one-sided stand, its continued position has been to take the Myanmar side in this conflict and undermine the ethnic cleansing and the massive humanitarian crisisthat was fermenting in the Rakhine state of Myanmar.

By failing to take the anticipated role of a neutral mediator in this crisis, India failed itself, its people as well as many others who want to see India play the role of a ‘grown-up’ in this part of the world. India, in sharp contrast to its arch-rival Pakistan, rightfully projects itself as an exceedingly diverse society and tolerant democracy with basic human rights, religious freedom and freedom of speech protected by the Constitution. But, in taking the wrong side of the genocidal anti-democratic forces in Myanmar, India betrayed its own creed and fundamental constitutional philosophy.


India failed its values

India definitely sees Myanmar as a neighbour of high economic and strategic potential. It seems that India is competing with China to become Myanmar’s favourite strategic partner. And this narrow economic interest may have forced India to shun its broader ‘regional superpower’ aspiration, at least in the case of Bangladesh and Myanmar. India has made a conscious decision to abandon its closer neighbour Bangladesh with a friendly government to court a distant neighbour Myanmar, which is more likely to pick China as its economic and strategic partner.

The present government of Bangladesh took an immense political risk and spent almost all its remaining political capital in giving in to every single demand India had. Bangladesh paid heed to India’s security concerns and did all it could to ensure India’s security. Now when Bangladesh is under a serious security threat caused by this influx of refugees, it naturally expected India to stand beside her. But now, to pursue its own narrow interests, the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi threw the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina under the bus.

Another problem with India’s pro-Myanmar stand is that the populations those are being persecuted in Myanmar are people of subcontinental ethnic heritage. Basically, the Rohingyas are people of mostly Bangladeshi origin who have lived in the Arakan region of Myanmar for centuries. The main reason they are being persecuted, ethnically cleansed and killed is the fact that they don’t look like their neighbours of ‘Bamar’ ethnicity, the main ethnic group that makes up Myanmar’s population. They look like they are from the Indian subcontinent, and they have very distinct east Indian culture. The common slur the non-Rohingya Rakhines use to denote the Rohingya is the term ‘Kala (black)’, alluding to the darker skin colour of the Rohingyas.

Among the refugee camps in Bangladesh, there are Rohingya of Hindu denomination along with overwhelming majority Muslims. And there is a reason that reports of Hindu-Rohingya persecution are being staged and widely publicised by Myanmar authorities, for now, Myanmar Junta wants to project the issue as a Buddhist-Muslim communal issue. But if Myanmar can get its way, removing all Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar, people of Indian subcontinental origin belonging to other religions will be the next targets.

Most of the Rohingyas are from the Muslim minority in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. One reason the Rohingyas are so helpless is the fact that they are Muslims.

A group of Muslims, mainly under the banner of terrorist organisations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS, have done despicable things over the last two decades. Their brutality on innocent people all over the world and the gruesome way they publicised these acts made it clear that they wanted to earn global hatred and fear. Beheading innocent captives on camera, photos of them burning people alive, photos of suicide/truck bombs got them what they wanted. The world hates them. The problem is they pulled the whole religion down too. Over 1 billion Muslims are now seen by the rest of the world, reasonably so, with suspicion, unease, and sometimes fear.


Hate always follows fear

India’s PM and current policymakers are probably blinded by the fact that the Rohingya victims are Muslims, i.e. ‘terrorists’. The Indian foreign policy establishment and PM Modi probably did not see the humanitarian side of the brutal ethnic cleansing, and the genocide-proportion persecution — all they are seeing is an influx of ‘potential terrorists’. There is a colossal failure in understanding the fact that the Rohingya crisis is a tragedy of unfathomable proportion. Failing to contain the events leading to this tragedy that has fallen on a marginal Muslim population, India risks creating a goldmine for future terrorist recruits in its backyard.

If political advisors of PM Modi hope that a successful expulsion of Bengali-speaking Rohingyas from Myanmar will be a prelude to do similar thing from the Indian states neighbouring Bangladesh, their political acumen must be short-sighted. Neither India nor Myanmar would benefit from a chaotic festering refugee crisis in a country located between them.

For PM Modi, it is a missed opportunity to claim his stature as the first 21st-century statesman of India. And for India, the continued plight of the Rohingyas is a testament against the claim that India is the regional superpower and stabilising factor in South Asia. While India approvingly watches over the unabated ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, it fails people of its own ethnic heritage too.

The Caste Politics Curse That India Just Can’t Shake Off

Maratha Kranti Morcha, a rallye for Marathi castes demanding respect of their rights in Mumbai last year. 

India is still not able to do away with its caste politics as demonstrated by recent attacks on members of lower caste in south-western state of Gujarat during a festival.

Yet Narendra Modi’s ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is making a dramatic effort to woo such lower castes. Three of these are especially important: reviewing social justice schemesrevisiting job reservations, and the sub-categorisation of lower castes.

These measures will eventually deepen India’s caste politics and strengthen the caste system– the world’s oldest surviving social hierarchy.

In India, society is divided among higher castes, lower castes (known as Other Backward Castes or OBCs, among the socially and “educationally backward” sections of Indian society), Scheduled Castes (known as Dalits, formerly “Untouchables”), and Scheduled Tribes (known as Adivasis).

Today, the BJP is strategically working to win the heart and the vote of millions of lower castes, who make up 41% of the Indian population. However, the BJP’s outreach initiatives are not born out of a concern for social justice; they are part of an electoral agenda.

Changing the BJP’s image

The BJP’s defeat in the 2009 general election proved a turning point for its engagement with lower castes. While still playing the Hindu nationalism card with dominant upper castes, the BJP is now deploying multiple strategies to win over lower castes too.

For example, Amit Shah, now the party’s president, first highlighted Modi’s own lower-caste background in the 2014 election in Uttar Pradesh. Later on, as prime minister, Modi was projected as the champion of lower caste groups. The party’s support for a Dalit presidential candidate was internationally hyped. Similarly, a recent cabinet reshufflebrought in more lower-caste leaders to appropriate the “numerical demographic” of OBCs for political gain.

The BJP is also making lower caste-friendly gestures in assembly elections campaigns in Gujarat and Karnataka. It highlights its commitment to provide constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), a statutory body that works for the welfare of lower castes.

Interestingly, the BJP is also pushing the idea of revisiting the existing system of reservation, which allocates 27% of governmental jobs and seats in educational institutions to lower castes. This the party proposes to do by setting up a committee to sub-categorise these groups into “backward”, “extremely backward” and “most backward” classes.

Lower caste identity through history

These are big developments. For decades, most political parties – including the Jana Sangh, which morphed into the BJP in 1980 – played their politics in the usual framework, excluding the lower-caste categories from the power structure of the state.

The notion of “affirmative action through reservation” only appeared in the mid-1970s when socialist parties led by politicians Ram Manohar Lohia and Chaudhary Charan Singhstarted using it to mobilise and consolidate the lower castes as a separate political identity.

The identity of lower castes only began to coalesce in 1955, when the first Backward Classes Commission under Kaka Kalelkarrecommended various reservation quotas in technical, professional and government institutions.

Then in 1990, lower-caste mobilisation was galvanised when the Second Backward Classes Commission – popularly known as the Mandal Commission – recommended that 27% of positions in educational institutions and public employment be reserved for OBCs.

This was violently opposed by non-political bodies, including conservative student organisations. Many of these were close to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an ultra-nationalist ideological group that supports the BJP. In 2006, these student wings fiercely opposed the Congress-led government’s decision to implement 27% lower caste job reservations in premier higher educational institutions.

Towards a universal Hindu identity

But now, India’s right-wing organisations have made peace with lower-caste aspirations. This has proved electorally rewarding, with the BJP successfully winning a greater share of the OBC vote. A third of the OBCs shifted to the BJP in the 2014 election, and in subsequent state elections.

Strategically, the BJP has focused on dismantling the caste-based parties’ monopoly over lower-caste votes. The tactic of painting other parties as corrupt bastions of single-caste politics worked wonders, as did an effort to compress the existing 2,479 lower castesinto a smaller unit of individualised caste identity to diminish their collective heft.

The BJP also supported the aspirations of lower castes’ leaders through either finance or political allianceaccommodating OBC leadersin the party or ministerial portfolios at local, state and national level.

At the same time, the party is building a network of lower castes cadres in both rural and urban areas, as well as among young people and women. To penetrate the lower castes’ social base, the BJP formed an OBC Morcha or “special wing” in July 2015.

On the one hand, right-wing Hindu organisations are engaged in the radical Hinduisation of lower castes and Dalits through programmes such as “Ghar Wapsi” or “Home Coming”, rituals of conversion to Hinduism, and running religious, spiritual and service programmes in lower caste areas.

On the other hand, the BJP’s core clientele of higher castes are satisfied thanks to the works of its right-wing support organisations. They continue spreading messages they want to hear, such as tactically portraying Muslims as a common enemy.

With many of its much-acclaimed policies failing to deliver, the BJP knows it has to sustain the charisma of Narendra Modi long enough to fight the 2019 legislative elections.

 The party’s central challenge is to retain its support base while simultaneously supplementing it enough to ensure electoral victories. To do this, it must mobilise the emerging middle-class OBC vote – and it’s clearly prepared to do almost whatever it takes.

The Mind-Body Connection Is Too Critical To Ignore…

Till recently, modern science refused to acknowledge the connection between the mind and body. While physical ailments were seen as causing stress and anxiety, Western doctors considered a direct correlation between the mind and the body as being implausible for want of compelling evidence.

This has since undergone a change, thanks to the significant body of scientific research that demonstrated how emotions, or the state of one’s mind, can impact physical health. It is now acknowledged that emotionally stressed persons, for instance, are more vulnerable to a major physical ailment. It is argued, in other words, that if the mind is not at ease, it could invite disease.

Traditional Eastern philosophy, on the other hand, has always seen a strong mind-body connection and stressed on the healing power of the mind. In their view, a physically healthy person need not, necessarily, be emotionally balanced, whereas, a mind at peace with itself can lead to a healthy body and a better quality of life.

The externally imposed demands of contemporary living that all of us have internalised make it truly difficult to cultivate a mind that is at peace with itself. We live in a highly competitive world and are constantly being called upon to prove ourselves, to be better than the others, to make more money, buy bigger houses and cars. This is the criteria of success.

While no one does anything in order to fail, very few actually succeed in achieving externally imposed yardsticks. Consequently, our everyday biography is filled with stress, anxiety, and urgency. We are in a constant state of either rage or frustration, envy and depression. It’s almost as if this were the age of despair, despondency and dissatisfaction.

Scientific evidence has established that modern society suffers from a sharp increase in hypertension, depression, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, with an increased risk of hospitalisation, even death because we suffer from ‘lifestyle diseases’. More importantly, this is not an ailment that is restricted to the developed world but has increasingly found its way across the globe, even in poor and emerging economies.

There is a qualitative difference in the approach of Western and Eastern philosophical traditions that is worth recalling. In Western thought, for instance, an individual who is disengaged from his environment is seen as suffering from alienation, thus likely to suffer from morbid thoughts, and possibly suicidal, or homicidal tendencies. The suggested remedy is to integrate the individual with the external space they inhabit.

In Eastern thought, disconnect or distancing is not perceived in a negative manner. Indeed, a mind is at peace only when we are able to disengage while being part of the here-and-now. This is dispassion or the ability to stand apart rather than be consumed by one’s surroundings or one’s state of being. The ‘Eternal Now’, as Hindu philosophy sees it, is when time loses its temporal quality and is perceived only as part of a continuum. Only then would opposites be seen in context. Such as, black and white, day and night, happiness and sorrow, life and death. You need one to understand the other. What follows is equanimity or being at peace with one’s mind.

Eastern philosophy also advises us to tame the mind, as the mind is known to plays tricks. Mindfulness is thus, the ability to be conscious of Maya or illusion and not to mistake it for reality. Only then would the individual cultivate a mind that is at peace with itself.

Mental peace is critical to living a life of quality and value. At the same time, the sole objective behind mindfulness is to recognise the importance of experiencing with the whole body and mind rather than to see and to feel with either the body or the mind and never with both together. It is this ‘wholeness’ that we will experience when we, to borrow a quote from the Dalai Lama, ‘awaken the mind’.

When the mind is awakened, it shifts how we see ourselves. It determines our behavior, attitude and response to people and situations. Stephen Covey puts it wonderfully: ‘The way we see a problem ‘is’ often the problem.’ Indeed, when the mind is at peace with itself, our entire being is at peace with our external environment. It is helpful to recognise this, especially in today’s day and age.

Secret Superstar’: A Poignant Film That Reminds Us About The Importance Of Dreams..

Secret Superstar is a family drama film written and directed by Advait Chandan who started his career as an assistant for renowned ad film director Prahlad Kakkar. Produced by Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao, it stars Zaira Khan in the lead role of a schoolgirl named Insiya, who aspires to be a singer and belongs to a conservative Muslim family based in Vadodara, Gujarat. The film costars Meher Vij, Raj Arjun, Kabir Sajid, and Aamir Khan. Insiya, who is studying in Class X, is a gifted singer, but her cruel father, who regularly assaults his wife, strongly disapproves of it.

Seeing India’s passion for music, her mother advises her to start a YouTube channel, but with the condition that she records all her songs while wearing a burkha. Soon, Insiya becomes a national sensation and gets an offer to sing from a leading Bollywood music director. What ensues is a tale of self-belief, courage and determination as both Insiya and her mother try to come to terms with the gravity of the situation.

Secret Superstar addresses issues of patriarchy and domestic manner with as much care and thought that sensitive subjects like these deserve. The film never seems to be in a hurry to draw conclusions, and without trying to be preachy, it takes a strong stand against gender discrimination, female foeticide, and violence against women. It also talks about the importance of dreams in life. How without dreams, a person’s life can quickly lose its significance. Insiya’s mother is subjected to years of torture and humiliation by her sadistic husband, but she never complains. In the process, she gets so used to it that she loses all hope of ever breaking free. It is through Insiya’s dreams that she finally begins to find a purpose in life.

The film reminds us how the internet has changed the world we live in. Today it’s possible for anyone to upload a video on YouTube. This democratisation has opened new horizons for young talent to express themselves in front of the whole world, something that wasn’t possible for earlier generations to do. Secret Superstar is a reminder that people can abuse and dominate us for only as long as we allow them to do so. The moment we decide to break free of the shackles, no force in this world can stop us from following our dreams to the fullest.

However, the film takes several cinematic liberties, and often, the melodrama takes over, but it never really loses its grip on the audience. Aamir Khan’s brilliance compensates the occasional weak moments. Sometimes it amuses me how can someone continually improve oneself for over 25 years on the trot. There is something special about the way Aamir Khan finds a way to surprise his fans every time. As good as Zahira Wasim and Meher Vij are in the movie, it is Aamir Khan’s portrayal of the mercurial music director Shakti Kumar that’s the best thing about Secret Superstar. Yes, it’s an inspiring journey of a daughter and a mother, but it’s Aamir’s character that’s the story’s actual catalyst. Here is a film that’s a must watch for anyone who has dreams but feels overwhelmed by the odds. And, rest assured, Aamir’s groovy, never-seen-before avatar alone makes it worth the ticket price!