i don't find arundhati roy disgusting

far from it. i like the impassioned plea she makes for justice at the end of her latest article on the mumbai terror attacks (i'd talked about justice too in this post). but i'm not really sure she understands injustice any better than arnab goswami. about the taj, she says:
It's an icon of the easy, obscene injustice that ordinary Indians endure every day.
there are a few problems with her perspective. for instance, i don't think she'd find the taj an icon of the easy, obscene injustice that ordinary Indians endure every day if the government of india owned it. this is what ms. roy had to say about the public sector company bhel, in an earlier article:
For many years, India has been more or less self sufficient in power equipment. The Indian public sector company, Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (bhel), manufactured and even exported world-class power equipment. All that’s changed now. Over the years, our own government has starved it of orders, cut off funds for research and development and more or less edged it out of a dignified existence. Today bhel is no more than a sweatshop. It is being forced into ‘joint ventures’ (one with GE and one with Siemens) where its only role is to provide cheap, unskilled labor while they provide the equipment and the technology. Why? Why does more expensive, imported foreign equipment suit our bureaucrats and politicians better? We all know why. Because graft is factored into the deal. Buying equipment from your local store is just not the same thing. It’s not surprising that almost half the officials named in the Jain Hawala scandal were officials from the power sector involved with the selection and purchase of power equipment.
replace bhel with taj and make minor changes ('world-class service' for 'world-class equipment' and so on), and discover what roy would have said if the taj were a public sector company, like the centaur which was privatized a few years ago. it's privately owned, so it's obscene? one wonders whether ms. roy's problem is with organized capital or with those who organize it? bhel is okay, even if it makes turbines that are largely used in big dams (which ms. roy opposes, of course), as long as it is in the public sector.

i'd pointed out in this post why i consider the organized public sector in this country a largely private affair and the organized private sector a largely public affair: because a great majority of employees in both are upper caste hindus, and both of them are owned by upper caste hindus- upper caste business families or the upper caste dominated bureaucracy or financial institutions. in my view, in india, the public sector-private sector debate is a spurious one, for many other reasons- that requires another post, i guess.

coming back to her latest article, the second problem:
If you were watching television you may not have heard that ordinary people too died in Mumbai.
if ms. roy's problem with establishments such as the taj is the class of people they serve, shouldn't she remember that ordinary people, work at the taj too? that ordinary people were working at the taj when the terrorists attacked?

her kind of ordinary people don't work at the taj? they don't travel in the local trains to cst to work at the taj? and the diamond merchants who travel in trains, an earlier terrorist target, and most probably visit the taj, sometimes, are ordinary people? are all the business executives who travel in trains, because they're convenient for many reasons, to work in the offices at nariman point ordinary people?

any classification, and there has been one other such attempt recently apart from roy's (i refer to gnani sankaran's analysis), that seeks to browbeat you into accepting that the cst stands for ordinary people and the taj for the rich is disingenuous. because all the street vendors, peons, drivers and other manual workers who travel to south mumbai in trains do not belong to the same class as those who trade in diamonds or work in nariman point or lunch at the taj. or to the same castes.

if there is any divide, it isn't between those who travel in trains and those who visit the taj- it is between those the government seeks to protect, on a consistent basis, and those who have to fight with all their puny lives to even catch the government's attention. if the taj were to go bankrupt tomorrow, most of india's indignant classes including the media and people like ms. roy, would stand up for the rights of those who work there and would not rest until the government nationalizes that icon of easy, obscene injustice. not that the government would require any excessive pressure to nationalize it.

on the other hand, if some thelawallahs (or say, the bargirls of mumbai) were stopped from doing business in some corner of south mumbai, they'd have to work up a truly big and spectacular protest to catch the consistent attention of the media or of people like ms. roy. i'm sure ms. roy would be moved by their plight but...if their plot doesn't have an easily identifiable rumpelstiltskin, a villain the whole world could also throw rotten tomatoes at, i'm not sure they'd be able to hold her attention for long.

companies in the organized public and private sector seem to take decades, after they've gone insolvent, to fall. and while they're falling, oh so slowly, like the textile mills nationalized by the goi (i wonder if anyone among the ruling and indignant classes were thinking of the handloom workers across the country when they were embarking on this magnanimous project), a new generation of small unorganized businesses, like the powerlooms in bhivandi, rise and fall, more than a couple of times. and while this is happening, the children of the textile mill workers have moved over to new professions and new age industries. like the children, as this website points out (the internet is such a great forum for celebrating camaraderie of the obscurest kinds!) of those who joined the bhel workforce a few decades ago:
Children of most BHEL employees are currently living overseas, many of them have moved to US and Australia.
that's a random page that i found while googling for information on bhel, hyderabad. this township, a few kilometres outside hyderabad is a meticulously planned gated community, with beautiful tree lined roads, parks, playgrounds (basketball, hockey grounds etc.,) and conveniences of all kinds (auditorium, supermarket, schools, bus station etc.,). in the eighties, i remember, a friend from the township telling me why a lot of officers etc., in the company bought cars (a very rare luxury in those pre-maruti days) even when they did not need them- because they got easy, cheap loans and could pay for them by hiring out the cars as taxis. outside the township, a few kilometres from it, you'll find that life, for men and animals, has gone from bad to worse.

ms. roy's concerns for bhel (our own government has starved it of orders, cut off funds for research and development and more or less edged it out of a dignified existence) are consistent with the concerns of those who successfully protected, a couple of decades earlier, the textile mills taken over by ntc. but i wonder: did those concerns have a purity-pollution angle to them, as gopal guru points out, in another context?
In fact the checkered history of industrial capital shows that this class has followed this ‘veil of ignorance’ principle rather selectively. For example, the textile mills owners in Bombay in the 1930s did not bother to follow the modern criterion of recruiting mill workers and even managers. Relatively more unskilled upper caste mill workers barred more skilled workers from the dalit castes from working in the weaving sections of Bombay based textile mills. The upper caste workers opposed the entry of dalits, not on grounds of merit but on the line of purity-pollution.
mr. goswami and ms. roy have very different visions of what's right for india, but they're in the same room.


meaningless icons

from a paper on the very informative judicial reforms website:
When one is talking about access to justice than one has to keep in mind the level of justice. By and large people do not come in touch with the judiciary in order to enforce their right to justice. But what are the basic problems, which the people face when they do approach the court? They come to the court and then wait for justice for years on end. On August 2006, the figures of pending cases were 39 lakhs at the level of High Courts and 235 crore in subordinate courts, while 35000 cases are pending in the Supreme Court. Figures of cases filed per thousand population comes around 1.2 per 1000 population, which is far less than 17 cases per 1000 in Malaysia and 14 per 1000 in Korea. This shows that in India we do not have many people approaching the courts for getting justice.

Every Law Commission is dealing with disparity in the number of judges per population. According to the standards of the world, the country should have at least 50 judges per million population. But in India in 2004, we had 12 judges per million population. Apart from the fact there are 2000 vacant positions in subordinate judiciary.

Who do these delays and backlogs impact the most? How do they impact access to justice? In case of the criminal cases, the poor people are the most affected. More than 70% of persons inside jails who are held on suspicion of having committed a crime are not able to pay the bail amount, which is very high. They are inside the jails for months and years, as they cannot afford a lawyer.
among other figures and facts mentioned in those few paras, i think this line best illustrates how inaccessible justice is to the great majority of the people in this country:
Figures of cases filed per thousand population comes around 1.2 per 1000 population, which is far less than 17 cases per 1000 in Malaysia and 14 per 1000 in Korea [italics mine].
place that figure alongside these two random facts: number of indians who do not have bank accounts (ans: around 85% of the total population), proportion of people in the country employed in the unorganized sector (ans: 93% of total workforce). those figures tell me: most people in india have a right to be angry. but why aren't they going to the courts?

it'd seem, for the great majority of people in india, not just the taj mahal hotel in mumbai, most of india's courts too are meaningless icons.


distant justice

BANGALORE: People power is all set to take on a new avatar in Bangalore, and police officials will feel its impact. Mahithi Hakku Jagruthi Vedike, a group of RTI activists, will launch a service to assist citizens in their dealings with police.
This voluntary organization will help you register your police complaint and hold your hand through follow-up action. The Vedike was inspired by the success of Mumbai-based PLEAD (People for Legal and Emotional Assistance to the Deserving).
The Vedike team has about 21 retired persons from all walks of life in each police station limit. Of these, five will be in constant touch with the police station. They will take up a complainant's cause and the idea is to ensure that people get justice. Volunteers will keep an eye on corruption too.
Indur Chhugani formed PLEAD, which has over 160 volunteers. Chhugani told TOI: "We prefer retired officials as volunteers as they have time to spare, and experience too. Our success in Mumbai motivated us to open similar organizations in Bangalore and Kolkata. Many volunteers in Bangalore have come forward. In Mumbai, we were able to get a court order to demolish 137 police chowkis constructed illegally on the pavements. That was a landmark achievement," he explained.
a voluntary organization to help you register your complaint with the police and hold your hand through follow-up action!

urban, educated, empowered citizens need volunteers to help them deal with the police? that's how far the justice system in india has distanced itself from the people. consider these two scenarios: what are your chances of getting your complaint registered at the local police station, if 1) you are a dalit, let's say, living in, not mumbai or bangalore or kolkata, but a village far away from educated, knowledgeable people with time on their hands? or 2) a muslim peon living in a city like mumbai (a city, supposedly, so cosmopolitan that it is many cities), that calls, reverentially, an a#%^&le like bal thackeray 'balasaheb'?


security without justice?

The large number of undertrials — that is, persons yet to be convicted — lodged in Indian prisons has always made it difficult to look straight at the constitutional promises of justice. The latest official figures put that number at 2.23 lakh. Out of a total number of 3.22 prison inmates, that make seven out of every 10 an undertrial. First, then, there is the absurdity — an absurdity underlined with such tragic consequences — of persons charged with petty crime, but in the absence of trial or surety having to remain behind bars for years on end. Second, there is the comment this yields on the carriage of justice in India.
from a news report in the indian express. there are undertrials who have stayed in jails, across the country, longer than convicts sentenced to life imprisonment. does india have a sense of justice? the news report says:
In 1929, Jatin Das’s fatal 63-day fast in a Lahore jail to demand better living conditions for undertrials became an abiding indictment of the colonial justice system. The continued presence of men and women in jails for want of a conclusive trial is, similarly, a blot that discredits democratic India in more ways than one.
in reality, democratic india has been more unjust than india under the british- the undertrials to convicts ratio was 1:2 during british rule, now it's 2:1. can you have security without justice?


the marketplace of security

A brave man lost his fame
and is a pray to injustice today
the truth is buried in the sand of time
and the flag of lies is fluttering high.

Our country India the great
But the jealosy and injustice in here
Is sinking her brave son day by day.

Save this hero DAYA NAYAK
who lived his life for the people of mumbai,
and has carried on his duty to the highest order.
was awake all nights
so that u people there could sleep.
an excerpt from a poem posted in honour of daya nayak by a commenter here. one doesn't know whether daya nayak made a 100 crores but i personally know of a policeman who used to meet his clients mostly in five star hotels. he used to complain that he was sick of five star hotels. he was only a sub-inspector. another acquaintance, also a sub-inspector some fifteen years ago, used to tell me about the two packets of pay he'd get every month- one from the government and one from local businessmen and others. like clockwork. the second packet, like the first, depended on his rank. it didn't represent all the extra money he could make in a month- that'd actually depend on how well he protected the well-heeled clients who visited the police station. on what kind of security he provided them. and i've heard similar stories from other policemen i know of, in hyderabad. but mumbai is much bigger- how many inspectors in mumbai are crorepatis? i think the right question should be: how many aren't crorepatis?

those who wish to buy security are making a bad situation worse.

q'ing up

from film stars to screenwriters to reporters to techies: everyone wants to buy better bulletproof vests and other protective gear for our policemen. do they really believe that the mumbai cops wouldn't be able to afford such fancy stuff on their own (without taxing the treasury or those kindhearted citizens)?

not to speak of the guns they want to buy for the policemen. sad.
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