DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Monday, September 22, 2014

Sao Paulo's street art

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Sao Paulo high rises with slums in the foreground
I have been watching off and on a programme titled “This is Brazil” on the TV. This programme commenced sometime around the Football World Cup. A Brazilian-born Australian, Fernanda de Paula anchors the half-hour (in fact 20-minute minus the infernal ads) programme and takes one on a tour of Brazil covering its economy, football, its favelas, the Amazon River and forests on its banks and the (native) Indian settlements. I have watched a few that showed the Rio, Brasilia,
Street art on Batman Alley, Sao Paulo
Amazon River, etc.

Yesterday the programme was on Sao Paulo that is considered to be the biggest city in the Southern hemisphere. The first section of the programme dealt with the wall graffiti in Sao Paulo. It was interesting to see graffiti being used as a means of expressing the repressed feelings
Our own Elephant God in residence in Sao Paulo
or pent up anger. The deprived of the city have taken to expressing themselves through their art on the walls. Despite the rapid economic growth of Brazil its inequalities show up through its slums, which are called favelas. Unlike Rio de Janiero, the Sao slums are generally relegated to the outskirts of the city - on the edge of a mesh of high rises.

I found some of the graffiti beautiful and some others being of massive proportions – unlike the ones one comes across in Europe
Another street with beautiful graffiti
which appear somewhat furtive and generally in less frequented or isolated places.  These mostly are cryptic messages written in stylised form with aerosol paint. Almost all countries of the West have witnessed wall graffiti, also known as street art and some even organise street art festivals. Sao Paulo is known for its street art. In my searches I found one even on our Elephant God Ganesh. Graffiti is a hugely interesting subject and one comes across some freshand also some weird expressions in the shape of street art.

I am uploading five photographs taken from the Internet to give an idea of Sao Paulo as a city and its street art.

Sao Paulo - trying to reach for the sky





Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Islamic State - new Middle-Eastern threat

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Captured Syrian soldiers being executed
These medieval marauding brutes of Islamic State of Iraq & Levant need to be stopped on their tracks. Working through a Caliphate these brutes are spreading death and depredation in the areas under their control which they now call simply the Islamic State (IS), after removing the names Iraq and Levant from its earlier avatar. The State poses a threat to life and security in the Middle East and elsewhere and is poised to absorb more and more areas in the region under it. It has piled up human rights abuses against it and the Caliphate’s dealings with adversaries, civilians, women, children, journalists and religious minorities have been unspeakably inhuman, brutal, cruel and utterly uncivilised.

Established in October 2006, the Islamic State of Iraq, as it was then named, began claiming authority over several provinces of the country. Gradually it expanded into other parts of Iraq and also into Syria, fulfilling its goal nursed since 2004 of establishing an Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) and re-named it as such. It now claims to control as many as 16 provinces in the two countries spread across the Iraq-Syrian border. IS is a Sunni extremist group that adheres to the global jihadist principles. The US Intelligence described it as no longer a militia but an army on the move – beyond being a terrorist group. It is reported to have incredible command and control systems with swift communicational facilities up and down the line; actually it is a well-oiled fighting machine.

 IS is cruel to the core. With the beheading of two American journalists by its executioners and now a British aid worker it displayed its beastly side making the international media erupt into a frenzy of recriminations. But its crimes are far more brutal. From ordinary banditry to genocide is what seems to sustain it. During June 2014 Iraq conflict it released videos of indiscriminate killings of thousands of Iraqi civilians as they disliked their ethnicity, religion or sect. Shias have come in for special attention and they have been subjects of murderous attacks in which thousands have lost their lives. The IS brutes have also brazenly killed hundreds of Yazidis, an ethno-religious Kurdish community the ancient religion of which is linked to Zoroastrianism. Thousands of them have fled their native lands in the Nineveh province of North Iraq, a region once part of Assyria. The IS has also been particularly harsh on the Assyrian, Chaldean, Armenian and Syriac Christians. Like Mahamud of Ghazni, that 11th Century brute raider in India, they asked these hapless people to convert to Islam or face torture, mutilation or even death. Besides, photographs have recorded their cold-blooded en masse shooting of captured Syrian army men out in the open. 

The IS men are ruthless with women who have been kidnapped and raped in large numbers. Sexual violence is rampant in all the areas controlled by IS where an upsurge was noticed in crime against women. “Kidnapping, torture, executions, rape and many other hideous crimes" are routinely committed without any let or hindrance. A stiff dress code has been imposed on women, non-compliance of which entails torture and humiliation. The Guardian reported that the IS’s agenda extended to women’s bodies and that women living under their control were being abused and raped. Captured Yazidi women are being raped as sex-slaves on daily basis. They are being made to narrate their experiences to foreigners only to inform the world how barbaric the IS rebels are. Around 500 Christian women captured from areas overrun by the IS have been sold as sex-slaves. It has even made overtures to Uighur girls in China to come and act as sex-slaves for them. These monsters are plumbing new depths of depravity although they claim to be ruling by Sharia, “religious law of a prophetic religion”.

Though there are few reliable figures but IS probably is the richest jihadist group in the world. It has accumulated wealth from the loot of about $430 million from the Mosul Central Bank after the city’s capture and additional millions looted from other banks. In addition the gold bullion stolen from banks has added millions to its coffers. The IS members are racketeers par excellence. They are into collecting ransom as also extortion from big businesses, gold retail outlets and even truck drivers. Analysts believe that it makes around $2 million every day from sale of oil of the oilfields captured in Northern Iraq and other rackets of extortions, smuggling and ransom it runs in the area under its control which is now believed to be approximately the size of UK. Observers feel the IS are as bad as Taliban, the only difference being they have oilfields under their control which makes them frightfully rich. In addition they have a large stockpile of arms and ammunitions looted from Saddam Hussain’s arms cache comprising various kinds of assault rifles, missiles, tanks, anti tank missiles, field guns, howitzers, surface-to-air missiles, stingers and so on building up capability to fight on stolen or captured equipment. It even captured a few Blackhawk helicopters and cargo planes stationed at the Mosul Airport and has thus become a formidable force which is unlikely to be subdued by the inadequately equipped Iraqi or Syrian forces.

Considering itself to be patron of both IS and the Syrian group of jihadists al-Nusra, Al Qaida was, however, against the merger of the two which was decided unilaterally by IS. Al Qaida fell out with IS on this issue as the latter paid no heed to its directives. Isolated, weakened, somewhat peeved and jealous of the giant strides taken by its one-time protégé, it has now threatened jihad in the Indian subcontinent with the cooperation of its host country Pakistan and Afghanistan. Obviously, weakened as it is, it will use the resources Pakistani and Afghani jihadists of Lashkar-e Toiba and the Talibans, respectively, of both the countries for a push into India. The Pakistani jihadists and their patrons in Pakistan Army would only be too glad at the prospects of getting a force-multiplier. Their combined forces along with the home-grown Indian Mujahideen could pose a massive threat to India’s security.

The rise of the IS has been ascribed to pull-out by the US from Iraq to build up capacity in the Iraqi Army and its paramilitary forces to confront such eventualities as emergence of IS. Hillary Clinton has also indirectly blamed the US failure to help build up a credible force against Bashar al Assad in Syria yielding space for the rise of jihadist organizations like al-Nusra. This is a repeat by US of its Afghan campaign from where it pulled out leaving the field open without a capable deterrent for the abhorrent Taliban and their mentor, the Pakistani ISI. Obama has now resolved to take the fight to IS calling it a cancer that needs to be liquidated before it poses serious threat to US lives and property.

 Only future will tell what the fall-out of this engagement will be on India, which is under as much threat. It has to shore up its resources to fight the new menace on its horizon. It would need to marshal its economic, financial and political strengths to meet this challenge.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A seaplane and shanties

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The photograph alongside displays an interesting perspective. It shows a seaplane a service of which was launched at Juhu Airport in Mumbai to connect Lonavla, the popular hill station near the metropolis. The plane will land at Pawana Dam near Lonavla.

The photograph shows a sea-plane poised for takeoff. In the foreground an agricultural worker continues to do his sowing work quite unconcerned. Beyond the aircraft, in the background one can see a shanty settlement from many of the shanties of which DTH antennas can be seen sticking out. Shanties and DTH? This was unthinkable a few years back. But today it is a reality – not only in Mumbai, even in Bhopal too. Within those small spaces the shanty-dwellers generally have all kinds of gadgetry and appliances the most ubiquitous of which are the TVs and mobile phones. These are the people who constitute Modi’s “neo-middleclass”. They have emerged from below poverty level but are yet to stabilise themselves in the (lower) middle classes


Outside the shanty clusters in Bhopal I have had occasion to see a number of motorbikes. And, also push-carts that sell hamburgers and other fast food items of Western and Chinese variety. On top of the carts there are signboards with FAST FOOD writ large on them in English.

Looks like, India is surely on the move.

Plight of electric rickshaws

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Mr. Bumble in Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist happened to mention that “Law is an ass”. There have been several examples where Mr. Bumble’s assertion was found to be true. A recent happening in our country proved once again how true the statement was.

The Delhi High court had banned plying of e-rickshaws in Delhi and has since issued orders of continuance of the ban. The ban was imposed on account of a petition filed against their plying as, it was contended, that they are hazardous for the general public having met with two accidents and these were not covered by the Motor Vehicles laws currently in force. Both the contentions seem to be untenable as motorised automobiles of various makes have met with accidents in Delhi, traffic in the city being what it is. These, too,  should be treated as hazardous but these have not been banned because their running on city roads is covered by the extant law. If the e-rickshaws are not covered by these laws the vehicles could be allowed to ply for a short term within which the executive could be directed to bring them within the ambit of the laws only for the reason that these are beneficial. But no, the ban was extended.

One did not know that a large number of such rickshaws were plying in Delhi. No wonder, as a consequence of the continued ban, the livelihood of the rickshaw pliers is affected. This apart, Delhi today is the most polluted city in the world, having beaten Beijing in the recent past. The e-rickshaws running on battery would have mitigated the air-pollution to some extent. True, Delhi now has auto-rickshaws running on CNG but they are not pollution-free. They are not as green as the e-rickshaws which have zero emission and do not foul up the air. These rickshaws, therefore, could be beneficial for the city’s air and could come in handy for the commuters.

Some have contended that these are not as pollution-free as claimed as they charge their batteries from outlets that are fed by thermal power plants which are highly polluting and produce “dirty power”. But, since there is no source of “clean power” the rickshaw operators would seem to have no other alternative. There is no gainsaying the fact that these rickshaws help in a limited way in controlling air pollution in a highly polluted city by cutting out emissions. As regards the concern expressed in respect of disposal of their batteries, these are mostly recycled and resold to consumers.

The indefinite continuance of the ban on e-rickshaws is therefore not in the larger interests of the people of Delhi. The whole thing seems to have got entangled in the bureaucratic web of rules and legal provisions and those who invested in assembling the
rickshaws have landed up with a product in their hands which the government does not seem to be too keen to clear. Between the executive and the judiciary a beneficial industry is being stifled and the people are being denied its benefits. No wonder investors from all over the world say it is difficult to do business in this country. Is the CNG auto-rickshaws manufacturers’ lobby at work? One wonders!


There are, indeed, laws and laws in the country most of which would seem to be “asses”.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Unlamented demise of India's Planning Commission

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Shiv Vishwanathan, an intellectual and a social scientist, in his article on 26th August in the prestigious newspaper The Hindu eulogised the Planning Commission. He is sorry to see it go without any funerary lamentations for its demise. While he may be right but the Commission had in a last few decades been functioning with a disconnect with ground realities. It, in fact, had become more an agency for distribution of largesse to the states than for planning for poverty alleviation, leave alone prosperity of the country.

 It was a relic of Nehruvian Fabian socialist phase of our economy which neither made us socialists nor capitalists. It left us eventually as a pseudo-socialist economy that made rich richer and left the middle classes and the poor where they were – struggling for survival in a regime of escalating prices and rising frustrations. Strangely, the Commission did not even manage to identify the poor. It came up from time to time with some weird figures for identifying the urban and rural poor.

With the Commission’s planners flying high up in the stratosphere making economic models for development that neither enabled the country to prosper nor eliminated widespread poverty in the sixty years of its predominance in economic planning for the country. In 1961 our Economics professors in the National Academy Administration would wax eloquent on how the country was poised for the “take-off” stage. From all evidences, even after more than fifty years the country is yet to take off, with so much poverty and pervasive malnutrition.

 Twenty years later, in 1980 while plying the participants in the advanced course in Public Administration in the Indian Institute of Public Administration with complicated mathematical economic models, Prof. Sukhomoy Chatterji, the then Member of the Planning Commission, was asked whether any provision was made for “Garibi Hatao”, Indira Gandhi’s slogan that swept her to power in 1971, in the economic model he promptly answered in the affirmative and pointed at the addition made in it. “Garibi” persists even thirty years after that, although millions were lifted from poverty after the economy was freed from controls in 1991 –not by courtesy of the Commission.


That the Yojana Bhawan will now not be the haunt of dreamers, econometrists and the unlikely bureaucrat should be a happy augury. For sixty years the country carried on its shoulders a mammoth monolith without much returns. Now that it is gone, it is a good riddance, perhaps a time to celebrate.