Saturday, August 14, 2010

People's Will versus Political Correctness

When I was in 10th grade, I had to read an essay titled 'Democracy'.  I can never forget that essay because, it taught me the essence of democracy.  It went on something like this..

"Democracy is not about  the opinion of the majority of the people.. a true democracy is that in which the voice of the minority members is thoroughly analyzed by every one and a decision is made after a consensus is reached."

In other words, if a decision is being made,  If a majority want it one way and some people disapprove it, a dialogue has to take place with those who disagree and their concerns if genuine has to be addressed.

Essentially, in a democracy,  the will of the people should be enforced by the representatives who get elected by them.  And others should respect the decision of that people without judging them as it is the right of those people to make decisions as they like.

Now, there was news recently that efforts were being made by an Islamic group to build a mosque/community center near WTC at New York city.  Many Americans including conservatives opposed the plan for a lot of reasons which they think is valid.  There was even an opinion poll showing that 70% of the Americans opposed the plan.  Despite this overwhelming opposition, the Islamic group has found some significant support notably from the New York mayor Mike Bloomberg and other Jewish  groups including some prominent rabbis.  A few days ago, during an Iftar dinner hosted by the White House, President Obama stated that the Muslims have the same right to practice religion as everyone else in the country including the right to build a place of worship near Ground Zero.  He quoted the First Amendment of the constitution which ensures the right to practice any religion and even iterated how it was a fundamental American value to let people practice their religion of choice freely. 

Now, it takes a lot of guts to stand up to one's beliefs despite such a huge opposition and one must appreciate the stand taken by BO.

My question is, in a democracy, if the Government makes a decision which has overwhelming public support which happens to be wrong, Is it still correct to approve that decision?

It happens all around the world.. Recently, some European countries are contemplating to ban the Burqa in public places citing various reasons including security reasons.  Obviously Muslims do not approve of this decision and are not happy.  And in a true democracy, their concerns should also be taken in to account and that has not happened apparently in those countries. 

Let us say.. there is a country somewhere in the world where not a single Muslim lives.. It is a democracy and its people overwhelmingly support a ban on Islam in their country.  It may not be politically correct how do we judge such a decision of that sovereign nation? 

Hamas is considered to be a terrorist organization by the U.S, Israel and many other countries.  In the elections held a few years ago in Gaza, Hamas won an overwhelming majority in Gaza and initially formed a coalition Government with its main opponents the Fatah party in Palastine territories.  Now, even if we are completely sure Hamas is indeed a terrorist organization, how can we question the decision of the people of

The Post Godhra riots in Gujarat are viewed as genocide by many in the international media and also in the Indian media.  But Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his party the BJP has ruled that state steadily ever since the riots and has grown much stronger.  If the people in this state make a decision which we strongly believe is a wrong decision, how can we oppose their decision?

I want you guys to comment on this issue generously and share your thoughts on this..


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Is Indian Media Misusing its Freedom?

This blog is in response to the contest "Is Indian Media – Misusing its Freedom?" organized by "Blogadda" in association with Pringoo.

The Indian media has undergone vast changes in the past two decades since liberalization.  According to some estimates, there are around 400 channels in India today.  With news channels mushrooming every day, each one of these channels try to grab the spotlight using sensationalism.  We have had 'Sting Operations' exposing corruption in defence deals, match fixing in cricket and even on communal riots instigated by the ruling party.  While it is understandable that corruption being such a big issue in our country it may even be the right thing for the media to do but sometimes, they tend to cross that line.  I will try to bring some instances to the light which are a cause of concern.

Tamil Nadu.  The state ruled by two very strong regional parties... DMK and AIADMK..  National parties cannot dream of winning the majority of the parlimentary seats without piggybacking on either of these two parties.  While at the national level, the liberalization of the media leads to immature and irresponsible reporting.. here, media bias has gone to a completely different level.  Each of these parties own their own satellite television and their news channels (Sun TV and Jaya TV respectively) which cover only the news of their leaders.  If they report about the opposition leader it is usually hate rhetoric accusing him/her of everything under the sun.

It gets really interesting when the election results are announced.  The two channels report complete different results with people unable to believe either of them.  Either one of them declare results favorable to them and show results as if they are winning the election and one has to turn on the Hindi or English news channels to get the accurate picture. 

Once, during the last rule of ADMK, the DMK chief was arrested at his residence at mid night which sent shock waves across the nations.  Visuals of M Karunanidhi being dragged and kicked were broadcast within hours on Sun TV.  There were also audio of him screaming "They are killing me.. They are killing me" heard.  At the same time Jaya TV was showing footage denying the dragging and kicking.  Each of them telecast interviews of  forensic experts claiming the other channels footage was doctored.  This kind of biased reporting only makes the common man to shut himself off from the daily happenings around him and he looses interest in politics and democracy.

These channels not only target the opposition party leaders but any individual who is slightly critical of them.  In Sun TV, there is a program that reviews latest tamil movies.  One such review was particularly harsh on a comedy movie starring Sathyaraj.  It claimed that the movie was the worst movie ever made and the actor was  not fit for acting and so on.  On watching the movie, we found that that actor had made fun of the TV program which unduly criticized movies.  His claim was, these channels were extensively using movie content to fill their 24 hour time slots and hence should mellow down their criticism as it affected their profits and a lot of hard work goes into any movie.  Now, seeing all this makes one loose faith that he is living in a free democratic country and resembles more like a police state run by a dictator.

A few years ago, there was a new TV channel which exposed a sex racket run by a Government school teacher in Delhi.  It aired a sting operation and an interview of the alleged victim.  This led to a widespread outrage and protesters damaged vehicles and clashed with police.  They even entered her school and assaulted her even ripping off her clothes.  The teacher was immediately suspended and charges for immoral trafficking were framed.  Later it was found that the victim was actually an aspiring journalist and she had faked the entire sting operation.  It was also found that the teacher was innocent but by that time, the damage was done.  I would rate this incident as the all time low in the history of Indian media. Even for Tamil Nadu standards.

It is said that in a democracy, media is one of the pillars.  The reason is in a democracy, people decide who to rule the country.  For that, they need to be well informed about what is happening in the country and media is the only channel at their disposal.  But it is also a very disturbing fact that this media can be bought by money.   A person/ political party with the right amount of money can mend and bend public perception by controlling the media and become the leader of a country.  This holds good not only to India but everywhere around the world. 

While all these misuse happen in India, I am not totally pessimistic about this issue and I believe since the media is still growing with time and proper regulation this issue can be addressed.  Our media needs to mature a lot but the situation is not that bad after all.  This issue is there even in developed countries like the US.  US, which prides itself in declaring as the 'leader of the free world' has one of the most biased media one has ever seen.  The media businesses are controlled by six major corporations and nothing comes out which they deem not fit to report.  Yes, they have their own versions of Sun TV vs Jaya TV in MSNBC and Fox News.

 Reuters is a company based in UK which is one of the world's biggest media companies.  Its news is respected and accepted to be unbiased worldwide.  This company has a unique rule that no individual is allowed to own more than 15% of the company's shares so that this company's tradition of objective and unbiased reporting is not compromised.  Now, our country has its own share of media companies with good reputation which produce news content of the highest quality.   We just have to encourage them to continue doing the same good work,  Our political leaders should have the vision to frame laws to regulate the media coverage so that it can be a real pillar of our democracy and this will be the solution to strengthen the media in our country.

Winner of Blogadda contest

Sunday, July 11, 2010

My first skydiving experience

Me with my friends Yomesh, Bhavin, and Mahesh
 Me and my friends went to the Poconos resort town of Tannersville PA for the July 4th long weekend. Our friends had skydiving on the top of their list of the activities during the stay. But I was not sure if I was going to do it till the end because my wife was not there with me and I knew she would love to do it as well. I was a bit hesitant to jump from a plane at 13000 feet and knew not all my friends would go for it. To my surprise, many of my friends and their wives were planning to dive and were very excited about it. One of my friends who had come with his parents and his months old baby did not plan to dive. So we started to make our own plans to spend the time when the other folks were skydiving. Unfortunately, none of our plans worked out and in the end we decided to go with the rest of the group to the airfield and hoped to go somewhere near during their skydive. With no proper alternate plan to do and seeing the rest of my friends geared up and excited, I gave in and signed up for skydiving.

The 'Air Bus'
At the skydiving center, we were first asked to watch a video which started with a short briefing of the risks involved in the act and the details of the disclaimer form were were going to sign. The guy in the video basically said that we can not sue the company in the event of any accident even if it was their fault due to the trainer's negligence or faulty equipment provide by them and I was giving up my legal rights by signing the disclaimer document. I had made up my mind to jump anyways and it did not mean anything to me. Though  I quickly googled up to read the risks of skydiving and was reassured by the fact that the chances of death during skydiving was roughly the same as a woman dying because of child labor. Roughly 1 in 100,000.

The Jump
I met with the instructor with whom I was going to tandem-jump and the photographer who was gonna shoot my jump. If jumping out of an airplane is crazy.. think of the people who do it for a living... They both were very playful and seems to have a good understanding among themselves. Well lets say all this worked out very well to make my experience memorable.

We boarded a plane which looked like a half a century old city bus that runs in Chennai. All this while I was expecting to feel tensed but it did not happen. The plane took us up for a good 15 minutes which felt like ages. I should say they took us quite high (about 13000 feet). All this while I was expecting to feel tensed/ scared but I felt OK. I just kept saying to myself that I have to remember this whole experience clearly and have to enjoy myself to the fullest extent. The doors of planes opened after the lights on the door turned from red to amber to green. I felt the chill air and the sight of the ground below gave me a little scare. The guys in front of me started jumping and the were out of my sight in no time... I tried to calm my nerves and when my turn came, I jumped with out thinking much (or did my instructor push me? ) and then began the most exhilarating experience in my life.

It took a few seconds for me to regain my senses and realize what had just happened. After that I started enjoying my first "flight". Yes, I felt like flying and the view was just stunning. The photographer came near us and we did a short spin. That guy could just maneuver himself like a bird and boy what a great job he did with the video and pics... We dove for a minute and a half and in what felt like no time, the instructor pulled the parachute. I felt a the straps tighten up my thighs, the parachute opened up and dive was over.  After that I made myself comfortable with the parachute straps and started enjoying the descent. It felt almost like an airplane landing from then on. I joked something about a roller coaster to my instructor and I don't know if that offended him. He then started to do these spins with the parachute which I enjoyed very much. In no time, we were near the ground and we had a smooth landing on the grass below.

Free fall's over :(..
I have to tell those who are planning to sky dive that while this experience was nothing close to anything I had experienced before.. I never felt scared at all during the whole drop. I never felt uncomfortable either (I always thought my stomach would churn like it happens when we ride a giant wheel but I felt no churning). The only discomfort was when the parachute opened up that the straps were pressing on my thighs.  It is a very different experience and it is nowhere near those rides in an amusement park.  Just close your eyes and jump.. Just kidding.. you don't want to miss out on the amazing view when you jump.

 I found my friend Bhavin had just landed near me and we both did a 'high five' and were walking together towards the hanger just like Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum in the movie Independence day.  Too bad we did not find a cigar ;)

Please click here  for more pictures.