Sunday, 13 September 2015

Of News and Other Stuff-4

  1. Last week, the Indian Express published Gopal Krishna Gandhi’s reasonable and well-mannered defence of the Mahatma against the charges of being a racist and colonial sympathiser. It was refreshing to read him on the same day as Tony Joseph’s invective against Surjit Bhalla, part of a continuous back and forth between the two on the question of Christian conversions. Nobody is complaining about a debate, the problem is when columnists adopt the kind of tone, which should only be the prerogative of the anonymous Twitter troll.
  2. An interviewee in the Hindu had sensible suggestions on how to counter online hate speech. She says that pre-censorship or deletion of the offending pages is respectively undesirable and ineffective, and what is required is to change the terms of the discourse through ‘counter-speech’. She cites the example of ‘Flower Speech’ practised by a group of Buddhist monks in Myanmar to counter the alarming instances of online and off-line hate speeches against Muslims. In India I think it has been successful partly in discussions on rape. In spite of all the ‘Humanists’ on twitter who bemoan rape laws and 498A, there is now remarkable levels of outrage when a Mulayam Singh or Abu Azmi decides to air his opinion. 
  3. Christine Lagarde (the IMF Chief) opined that it is important to get women into the workforce to ensure higher economic growth-another striking example of the hyper-instrumentalism Pratap Bhanu Mehta highlighted. 
  4. Can 3 D printers make manufacturing and construction jobs redundant?
  5. Apart from the novelty of reading phrases like ‘India-occupied Kashmir’ and ‘Azad Kashmir’ used un-ironically, it is reassuring to see sane voices on both sides of the India-Pakistan border, decrying the respective ‘victory’ celebrations in the 1965 war. Not just because it is tasteless to celebrate something that led to massive loss of lives, but also because of the tiny factual detail of there being NO victory, for either side.
  6. Purists be damned, even the Government of India is not averse to using some Hinglish (Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana) in its relentless pursuit of interesting (if slightly inexact) scheme names. In this case, HRIDAY.
  7. Awkward name apart, it is a great initiative to spruce up some of our ancient cities, by improving last mile connectivity to heritage sites, bringing in elements of urban planning, increasing tourism, and hence expanding livelihood opportunities and economic growth. Some help will also be forthcoming from the Rs. 100 cr grant for infrastructure development under the Ministry of Tourism’s PRASAD (Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Augmentation Drive) scheme. I am going to let the last one go without comment.
  8. But schemes hardly ensure citizen awareness. In Baghpat (UP), villagers have enthusiastically encroached on a ‘protected’ site of the Indus Valley Civilisation, to expand agriculture and build memorials for important men of the village. Who needs the ISIS when a passive ASI can facilitate the job? 
  9. That said, agriculture is probably still better use of heritage sites than for expansion of residential facilities. I am of course referring to the plans for freeing up Lutyen’s Delhi for private use.  Yet even in this case, the land-use-for-more-productive-purposes versus-preservation-of-heritage debate does not have any easy answers. On one hand, pretty much the only thing going for Delhi anymore is that limited area where you can walk safely on wide tree-lined footpaths, where the fumes of the passing traffic will not give you bronchitis, and the old-worldly homes are easy on the eye (as against the soul-less multi storeyed buildings or the box like DDA structures in the rest of the city). On the other hand, the rest of Delhi is choked for space. And the augmentation of the government coffers will certainly be welcome. Yet, it seems somehow unfair that people most able to afford homes in the area would be those who are least affected by the congestion problem, that is, the super-rich. Then again, I am not sure that disproportionate advantages to a certain group has ever stopped a policy from going through. (Or that, it is even desirable for that to happen).

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