Friday, April 20, 2012

Amy Chua, the Tiger Mother

Finally read Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother at one go till three in the morning last night! It is a simple yet stupendous work that inspires you at so many wonderful levels, your mind is left buzzing with an infinity of questions, perspectives, doubts and convictions. More than anything else, it is a tale of love, commitment and hardcore determination. It is a tale both of success and failure. It is a story that inspires an abundance of warmth, trepidation and courage all at once. Amazingly, it is also a book about music - the most important theme that pervades the novel. The way in which music flows through her memoir on parenting is fantastic! There is an incredible lot that one could say about the Tiger Mother, but one thing is for certain - she is brutally honest, forthright and brave. The book teaches you the value of discipline and the power of commitment. It demonstrates the arduousness that underlies the process of raising children, and it celebrates the triumph of solid foundational values. The fact that she is scathingly honest in her book about her views on what she calls Western-style parenting frightened the American media into a tailspin of paranoia, defensiveness and uninformed opinion-mongering upon its publication last year, but Battle Hymn speaks for itself and teaches you some crucial lessons. You can agree or disagree with her views, but you've got to admire her sheer grit and determination!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mamata's Woes

Before the story of Mamata Banerjee's persecution of newspapers critical of her government can die down, there are other stories out in the media highlighting the inanity and sheer madness of her political vendetta. In today's papers, there are reports of a TMC minister's injunction, no doubt mooted by MB, on TMC members attending the weddings of CPI members or their relatives. The minister clarified that he had nothing against the members of the two political clans inter-marrying, if such miscegenation could indeed be imagined, but he wanted no form of social interaction or contact between them!

MB has gone from one paranoid assertion of conspiracy to the next without any introspection. She has brushed aside rape cases, hospital deaths, railway budgets, facebook cartoons/ caricatures and several other things as conspiracies to target and embarrass her. She recently even transferred the senior lady police officer in Calcutta who "dared" to go against her diktat and investigate the Park Street rape case, making no attempt to veil her vindictive intent. Partho Ray, a scientist and activist critical of state violence, was arrested on April 8 for "obstructing the police during an eviction drive" in the city, even though his friends claim that he wasn't even present at the purported site. Amidst all this mindless paranoia, fear mongering, politicking and "fascist" conduct (in the words of Mahasweta Devi, who supported MB during her election campaign), she has had the time to meet a Samajwadi Party representative to discuss the prospect of a national alliance. Her parochial attitude and dictatorial manner of functioning are detrimental to politics in general, and she would no doubt become a national burden if foisted on the national stage in any more significant proportion.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The General as Whistle-blower

The general confusion regarding General Singh's comments is a little perplexing. Yesterday, reading Praveen Swami's article on defense acquisitions and military preparedness in India, I realized that a lot of people were in panic mode. (Swami's article serves to reassure those questioning the country's perceived instability vis-a-vis China, and to debunk the notion of progressive increases in budgetary defense spending.) What is at issue here, however, if not in the media then certainly in parliament, is the locus standi of the general - can the chief of the armed forces make public statements about the state of the nation's military without prior sanction and permission from the civil authorities? While MS Yadav, Laloo Yadav, Sushma Swaraj et al seem to be vehemently against the perceived "insubordination" of the general, several military men are all too aware of the internal contradictions of military hierarchy and see the general's outburst as an opportune moment to publicly scrutinize the corruption that is strangulating military expenditure.

At another level, it is also about the political class's intolerance for whistle-blowers. While "quick action" in some form (cosmetic or otherwise) necessarily follows a media expose, the discussion in political circles necessarily centers on the audacity of the whistle-blower and possible punitive treatment. This hypocritical mentality is deeply rooted in legislative bodies. The Karnataka assembly's report on the "porngate" scandal is an exercise in self-justification and media-bashing. While the former ministers caught on camera watching a porn video on one of their mobile phones have more or less been exculpated (spam video, etc.), the majority of the report is apparently dedicated to criticism of the media's audacity in publicizing the event and focusing on the errant ministers rather than the business of the house. Yet again, one media channel in particular has been singled out for harsh criticism. The whistle-blower is always the main problem in political circles, not the act of corruption or misconduct itself.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Why Gag the Media?

Recent events and developments highlight the vulnerability of the media in the face of multifarious onslaughts. Over the last few weeks, there have been several reports of the Supreme Court's recent concerted attempt to frame guidelines for court reporting in response to a growing anxiety within the judiciary about the power of the media to influence judicial proceedings. The argument that has been made by the Editors' Guild in court highlights the need to hold discussions instead of framing guidelines. There already exist several precedents and codes of conduct that govern court reporting. Any further injunctions and impediments in the path of free speech may make the media's role defunct. Access to information on current judicial proceedings is an important aspect of civic activism. If the judiciary is an arm of the government, which it explicit is, then it is incumbent on the judiciary to uphold the expected levels of transparency demanded of other gubernatorial institutions as well. Likewise, if the judiciary devises for itself an exclusive mechanism of public reticence, then it may provide legal incentive for the other arms of the government to follow suit. The two articles currently being discussed in the court are Article 19 (freedom of expression) and Article 21 (right to uphold life and personal liberty). The latter is, in a sense, being used as a reasonable restriction on the former (prejudicial reporting on cases under trial), which argument the Guild's counsel has debunked. A third article pertains to the power of the court to execute substantial justice (Article 132), which is not really relevant to the discussion since there is no specific appellate petition at hand. The argument of postponing the publication of reports is also detrimental to the freedom of the press, since belated reports are bound to become irrelevant and dispensable.

On the other hand, in West Bengal, Mamta Banerjee's government has issued a circular restricting the number of newspapers available in publicly-funded institutions. The explicit aim of the order is to remove those newspapers from public institutions that are critical of her government. She hasn't even attempted to obfuscate or veil her purported intent. At a press conference, she even unwittingly threatened more drastic action against critical newspapers, saying that she wasn't incapable of imposing further restrictions. Other than the legal nullity of such threats, it is evident that her despotic mentality is wreaking havoc in the state. Her desperate attempts to portray all criticisms as conspiracies are fast making her a politician unfit for the demands of democratic politics. Whilst there is something patently farcical about her media-gagging exercises, there is also something perceptibly dangerous implicit in the overall scheme of things.