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Friday, December 6, 2013

The Paradox of Public Space

The Tarun Tejpal episode has put the cat among the pigeons. Tehelka has for long been considered to be an ethical resort area. A brave new world inhabited by intrepid journalists, like Tejpal, who had taken upon themselves the burden of an extraordinary enterprise of exposing the high and the mighty. But when the searchlight was flashed inwards, the continent showed up as just another moral swamp, with the same climate of atrocity and rhythm of destruction that characterizes the rest of our society. Women are no safer; the minds of those who seek their emancipation on their behalf are themselves so much more in need of emancipation. Followed by news of the sexual atrocity come the troubling disclosures of massive financial wheeling dealing, parking of anonymous funds, betrayal and criminal breach of trust. How shall we hold faith, then? If the best of the media is like this how much confidence can the rest inspire?
But the condemnation of Tehelka is not universal like it has been in the case of some other notorious rapes. The lynch mobs have not come out in the streets demanding instant decapitation or hanging. Those who have taken to such measures have been easily dismissed – with a large measure of truth in it – as partisan BJP mobs with scores to settle. In fact, spirited defences have been set up by some media men, politicians and public figures alike. A major political party has actually slipped in a few words edgeways, by way of support also.
The responses to l’affaire Tehelka can be broadly categorized – the first being the one that rightly condemns the rape because all rapes are condemnable and no exception needs to be made here. This is the response of common people who are unaligned and not too political. There are some channels who have gone in to an overdrive discussing it on primetime, keeping the issue alive, seemingly seeking justice for the victim. Could the stridency be an unconscious urge to justify themselves to themselves and in the eyes of the people that they are different?
Then there are people who seek to contextualize the incident, narrate the extenuating circumstances and tirelessly describe Tejpal’s revolutionary past. It has been dealt with it extensively but I shall permit myself just one observation. Grave and sudden provocation sometimes do count as mitigating circumstances but this can be termed as nothing but a premeditated and willful act committed by a man who was not so much drunk on alcohol as on a sense of his own power, his fame and the fevered adoration of his acolytes. Heady brew no doubt, but it does not qualify as an extenuating circumstance in the eyes of criminal law nor of prevailing morality.
A columnist in plays the devil’s advocate. His contention is that Tejpal is being targeted because his Tehelka was different and it reminded the others of their own inadequacy. Then he goes on to tar every one with the same brush: burked instances of sexual exploitation, conspiracy of silence, pimping for the corporate, suppression of stories, blackmail and extortion are itemized with malicious glee. But his logic of moral relativism does not go too far. He is even more grievously wrong when he insinuates about the misdemeanour of others stopping short of full disclosures. But now is the time to light up the spooky corners, to unmask the charlatans. His rhetoric can be described what Umberto Eco calls ‘a private communication between power groups which leapfrogs the citizen denying him his viewpoint ‘and leaving women as insecure as ever. To that extent it is both anti- democratic and contrary to the credo of healthy journalism.
Not that his disclosures come as a big surprise. The Radia tapes have already shown many media men in their role as power brokers, as political go-betweens, and corporate fixers. They are also into the business of money making like everyone else. Sometime back a blog serialized the libertine lifestyle, the parties and sleeping around in a TV news channel and some of the leading lights could be identified. The action on behalf of the channel was both prompt and peremptory. The authors of the mischief were spotted, promptly sacked and for good measure it was insured that their future did not look too rosy. But that has not deterred a section of the media from seceding to a hidden planet with their own “inverse surrounding values,” a culture of their own where profligacy, unabashed hedonism and promiscuity are the dominant gestures. No wonder women are viewed as the ultimate consumption value. In the newly invented idiom of the place rape becomes “mild sexual banter”, “the easiest way to keep the job.” So why this outrage?
“This is the paradox of public space”, says the maverick Slovenian intellectual Slavoj Zizek, “even if everyone knows an unpleasant fact, saying it in public changes everything.” This is what this girl – or the other girl in the matter of the retired judge – has done. By merely articulating the wrong done to her in a full throated manner she has asserted not only the claims of women to an equal share of the workplace but radicalized the whole atmosphere. In her – and the likes of her, they are not beholden to a name – one can see the emerging image of the new Indian woman.
But young and inexperienced as she is, she has to learn many things especially how things work in the real world, the foremost among them is that Power has only masculine gender. That is why when Shoma Chawdhary – dubbed as a turn coat of her sex –connived with the powerful Tejpal for as long as it was feasible, trying to broker peace and bury the deed, she was only following the logic of power which is devoid of imagination, a dehumanizing apparatus in its own right. So it happens that women are as much unsafe in presence of cult figures and fountainheads of power whether Sant Asaram or Tarun Tejpal, whether in the tutelage of an incestuous father or in police custody. But things are beginning to change; things are bound to change and the society should feel indebted to the courage of such individuals.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Rape By Any Other Name

Tarun Tejpal, the inquisitor par excellence is now himself being pilloried in the media for his “bad lapse of judgment”. This “bad lapse of judgment”, however, comes with its own palliative – his literary worth, his courageous journalism, his mastery of the art form of essay, his Midas touch are narrated in the same breath.That makes me feel so inadequate  because  I must confess,  I have not read anything by Tejpal - essays, fiction, whatever. As a matter of fact, I do not read any fiction at all.In a world saturated by 24/7 TV and the ubiquitous print media; we live our lives as serialized fiction. Or the fictitious world is passed on to us as our very own lived lives.

Tehelka, we have been told, has been unsparing in its efforts to expose to the glare of public scrutiny the conduct of the high and mighty without fear or favour. It did not pull any stops, it even took enormous risks     in the pursuit of     its   objectives.    Its stories called a spade not just a    spade         but        a bloody  shovel.But,uncharacteristically,Tarun Tejpal’s epistolary address to his flock before his proposed self exile – self exile, we have  all  begun to suspect,  is a common place arty gesture, a regular indulgence-is  an exercise in minimalism. When it comes to describing his own escapades, the writer whose fiction has been described as “bold,” “sexy,”  “sultry,”   “sizzling” evokes the literary conventions and cultural mores of the days gone by, he reduces the   horrible incident to the requirements of staid domesticity. The highly shattering and traumatic incident of rape has been routinized, reduced to an embarrassing faux pas rather like getting into a heated argument with the host at a party or some other breach of decorum in a domestic setting. Euphemism characterizes the idiom of the powerful; understatements naturalize the cruelties of power by dissociating the memory of cruelties from the act itself. Language, among other things, is about naming objects, about evoking states of being but understatement subverts the natural association of the word with the mental picture. 

 There are other reasons why I find the opening line of Mr. Tejpal so fascinating and worthy of extended analysis. The obscurity of the message is intended to go over the heads of people outside the Tehelka cult, should it by chance   ever leak because it could be decoded only if you had the key. The key was that a rape had taken place, that the rapist was none other than the pater familas and that the secret must not get out at any cost. Nor is Tejpal’s mail to his staffers in the nature of apology; it is not act of contrition; nor for that matter are these words of repentance. It is sheer  power discourse .The imprecision and obliquity of the text create a sense of moral ambiguity in order to inscribe in the minds of trusting and supplicating followers the version of truth that the powerful leader wants them to believe in. What qualifies to be   called rape   in the Indian penal code should be taken merely as a “mild sexual banter”. “Bad lapses of judgment, itself comes loaded with a whole baggage of memory, promises of reward and implied threat. The counterfactual has not been stated - what are the dividends  of a shrewd reading of the situation, of a proper exercise of judgment. What a pity that the unspoken but clearly understood mantra   of success, “This is the easiest way to keep your job” had to be made explicit to the unfortunate girl.

Tejpal   then goes on to remind them of what Tehelka is what the membership of this group means, and how he built this institution with his blood etc. Will they not excuse him this small little “drunken sexual banter”? He was even willing to recuse himself for six months and, impressed by her ability at damage control, hand over the leadership of cult Tehelka in “more capable hands “of his deputy Shoma Chaudhary.
His trust in Shoma was not misplaced. She had not imbibed the Tehelka culture of double standards and hypocrisy in vain.  When it came to fighting the biggest battle in the life of Tehelka, she betrayed her young, inexperienced but brave colleague to the demands of expediency.  She tried to hush up the scandal as being an internal matter-a stance that is reminiscent of a James Thurber fable, wherein a Fox charged of eating up a rabbit says, “He is eaten and digested, so it is an internal matter.”

Tehelka’s - soi disant (?) - moral authority is rooted in the fact while holding a mirror to the other three estates; it can pass the strictest public scrutiny in terms of its own impartiality, even handedness and fair play. It failed this test miserably.  As the Tehelka story is unraveled layer by layer-it’s funding and ownership is already a subject of some curiousity- we must prepared to be disappointed. This was one more false prophet; we have once again been fooled into mistaking a garden variety cabbage for a rose!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Police : Between the terrorist and the terrorized

If we judge by the result the terrorist strike in Patna failed to achieve its objective. The terrorists seek to disrupt normal life by injecting a deep sense of insecurity and fear, to break the even tenor of life, to disrupt the routine. It kills five and terrorizes a city of five million. But in Patna the other day, the eight blasts seemed like so many celebratory crackers being burst in a cricket match which was going our way. The people listened to the speaker and left the venue safe, unharmed and unprovoked. Yesterday was also their day of glory when the humble, much reviled Bihari made a historic contribution to the cause of communal harmony by defeating the designs of the terrorist, treating it as one more criminal incident.

 From what has appeared in the media there is no doubt that a lot more needed to be done by the Bihar police but I shall not pile more dirt on my beleaguered former colleagues in the moment of their shame. As it is the whole world is doing it. But it is as good an occasion as any to reiterate that police in general has – never was - been a professional outfit exclusively geared to its avowed ends of protecting the people. To mould the police after its own image through extensive systems of formal and informal controls is a typically politico- bureaucratic industry and the political orientation of police leadership often blinds them to the obvious requirements of professionalism. The detractors are already explaining
the half hearted approach of the police in the light of the known antagonism and hostility between the two chief ministers. When professional response has to be factored with political costs the police man falls between two stools as it happened on the day the funeral procisionists went on rampage in Patna.

It has been evident for quite long that police in Bihar is in the need for radical reforms as well as a massive up gradation of its skills, logistics and other wherewithal. The government, however, seems to have become a dupe to its own assiduous propaganda about the enhanced capability of  its  police and  the  state of  law and order,  which was being   cited as an example for the rest of nation to follow. A salutary dose of healthy criticism has for so long been missing from its diet that the administration shows the characteristic sloth and lethargy of a diabetic.

Having said that can even the most organized and professional police force prevent a terrorist attack in a society like ours? No matter how pervasive the surveillance, no matter how ruthless the frisking someone, somewhere is going to get past the safety net. Because now the enemy is within, dispersed within the body politic, looking like just you and me, sharing the same neighborhood. Only his mind is controlled
by hostile elements sitting across the border. How do you know what is brewing in his mind? What dire motivation impels a man to weaponize himself? To become a human bomb ready for   targeted delivery!

 So guns and surveillance are alright but should not we be thinking of striking at the root of the trouble -the deeply alienating nature of our politics. Could we  not  desist  from a politics which goes in a state of overdrive to  inflame passions , polarize sentiments , put  the communities on the throat of each other,
 stoke suspicion of one  caste  against the other  and is  ever willing  make a burnt offering  of human lives in their hundreds  at the altar of electoral prospects. Could the political parties come to some sort of an agreement to cool down the temperature which is already past safety levels? The battle against terrorism is as much a battle for the control of minds of men as anything else and we seem to be losing it. In fact, in view of the fact that the estranged bedfellows- the JD U and the BJP – are likely to make more and more dangerous politics in the days to come , the writing on the wall is clear for us.  There are no indications of politics ceding control of police and the change of its heart seems nowhere on the horizon.  So till then we must take a lesson from this tragedy. Stoic calm in face of a misfortune which affects both the communities in various ways!  We are a state of 100 million people; they certainly could not kill that many!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

People get the Police they Deserve

After DG Vanzara’s letter claiming mere agency for himself and scores of his colleagues cooling their heels in the jails for all the gory deeds that are being attributed to the police in Gujarat comes the allegations of Police that they were forced by UP administration to wink at communal bloodbath.

Ambitious police men often betray their calling in pursuit of the strange gods in whom they repose total faith and the gods in turn absolve them of all their sins. It is only when their gods fail that the world comes to know, through the testimony of the apostate, what it knew all along intuitively. Those who stand up are summarily dealt with and the community is in no position throw a lifeline is equally true.

If we start retracing the history of Independent India, sooner or later we reach the fateful conclusion that the abuse of police appears to be, in Rawlsian diction, part of an overlapping political consensus. Thus the simple personalisation misses the point. It would be a mistake to view it as a problem of police brutality; the political class that abuses police is the greater problem.

The foundational principle of the Indian police involves a punitive use of its power under the garb of rule of law, without let or reserve. By locating the source of exploitation and tyranny in the "native police” the colonial authority sought to displace the awareness of the oppression to a third party, and maintained its facade for fairness and rule of law. The Indian politics found this instrument far too valuable for their purpose to dismantle it.

Once crime is linked to the state, then it summons to the mind weightier judgment like mass murder and genocide. But even then the issues are discussed because of the criticality of the political ramifications. There is a cacophony of hypocritical and opportunistic pronouncements, over determined by immediate political gains and it is the competitive opportunism – who got away with more- is clearly evident behind the fake moral outrage.

The endless disclosures of complicity of administrations in cold blooded killings and of corruption in governments have exposed the opaque relations between power and privilege, and the hidden continuities between the legal and the illegal. But, like spectators up in a pavilion, we are watching the gladiatorial contests between mutually hostile political formations. We seem to have no stakes in the mater- only a prurient interest. Was Vanzara’s disclosure engineered by rival political factions? Are the UP officers sending out signals to their former patrons or is it a counter for blackmail? There are no signs of a broad emancipatory movement developing to counter the abuse of police. Most of us have already accepted with diligent apathy the inability of democratic politics to produce viable solutions to social and economic problems. We seem to be now well on our way to accept the all-encompassing control of the state security apparatus over our lives.

Secularism and eradication of corruption, the two avowed goals of contemporary politics would best be served by urgent police reforms. An independent police acting independently in accordance with the dictates of law would not have let politicians turn their constituencies into a communal cauldron nor would corruption in public life have metastasized to engulf the entire body politic. Prakash Singh’s writ in the Supreme Court stands defeated by sheer delay; there is more than a hint of systematic deception in the affidavits filed by the various state governments before the Supreme Court. Earlier, on occasions like this at least a lip service was paid to these concerns. Now it is not even mentioned and everyone seems to have given up on the reformist agenda.

Karl Marx once said that “force is the midwife of change.”  It is us the politicians fear and us they court and it is within our powers to force them to change. So it is unfair to solely blame the politicians because it does not bother us to have a police which can be the sole arbiters of our lives and liberty, or a police which is an equal stakes partner in a kleptocratic state.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Resisting the RTI

The political parties who have now been made accountable under the RTI will not easily give up and the legal battle may be contested till the bitter end in the higher courts.
In their public postures, however, they have taken the line that they are already furnishing information to other agencies like the election commission and the income tax; they can be inundated by frivolous petitions; the confidentiality of political decision making can be misused etc; it is not possible to maintain records .The legality of the order should better be left to the courts because that is where the legality of the order of the CIC will be decided.
A brief examination of the performance of the Act so far may light up some areas of the debate.
The RTI Act made available to the common people all the information that could be made available to the members of legislatures and members of the parliament. Suddenly the amorphous, undifferentiated, impersonal information potentially accessible to or already in the inert keeping of our public representatives is being mined by RTI seekers to seek a measure of control over their destinies. The master key to force open the secret vault called bureaucracy which had for long eluded the citizenry become available to all and sundry. The accountability scene is undergoing a magical transformation.
RTI activists, autodidacts, and public spirited people are using this as a tool to map the objective reality of their particular situations against the given big picture. People at large nourish fairly sound attitudes based on instinct and memory but they lack a coherent account as to how their local environments of oppression are located within the larger economic or socio-political realities. In order to be able to derive maximum advantage from this legislation, people all over the country are raising themselves to levels of awareness commensurate with their particular situation, are acquiring uncanny legal skills and are extending their circle of influence to initiate a potentially transformative movement. Antonio Gramsci would have approved of these “organic intellectuals”.
Where does my little postage stamp of a village figure in the double digit growth story of Bihar? To find out Sanjay Sahani, Ramkumar Thakur and a motley group from a nondescript village called Ratnauli in Bihar demanded the information about the implementation of MNREGA in their panchayat. It is but natural that the custodians of all those little bureaucratic lies that collectively go to make the official truth should feel threatened. Ram Kumar Thakur had to be simply put away. But killings are not the norm; slapping of false cases is the standard tactic as the RTI groups have claimed and even the pioneering RTI activist Shiv Prasad Ray was subjected to this fate.
The formidable bureaucracy which had expressed fears of its misuse have realized its subversive potential. So they have taken to something akin to a civil disobedience movement, a strategy of passive resistance against army of information seekers under RTI demanding information as varied as the lifting and disbursal of PDs grains to the amounts of travelling allowance drawn by the civil servants. They just remain silent. Or pretend imbecility. If you ask for information A they furnish B and in some cases no relief could be had even from the information commission. Or they wage semantic guerilla warfare; they ambush you with an ambiguity of meaning. So there is no frivolity involved here. It is a deadly serious business.
There are some other democratic dividends as well. RTI has created a new and thriving public sphere. Village chaupals, hamlets with cyber cafes, small towns - quite different from the traditional city centric public sphere, salons, coffee houses, universities, think tanks and media clubs are the new hubs of activity. Debates on development and public issues are becoming livelier because the range and depth of their information has increased considerably and citizens are acquiring a better understanding of how things are done. The RTI is materializing a “public that is living up to instantiate and ideal of public reason”.
So should the political parties feel bothered by unnecessary duplication of work or is there an apprehension in the political minds that the information furnished by them, say the accounts of laughable sums of money spent in their election campaigns by candidates could be put to rigorous scrutiny by an army of local volunteers? Everyone knows that the figures are meant just to get past the Election Commission which has neither the time nor the wherewithal to verify them in every particular. But in the hands of the masses it can transform the whole scene. How many taxis were hired, who printed the publicity material, who set up the pandal and for how much? The right to information becomes purposive, goal directed hence an effective tool of accountability; in the statistical keeping of the Election Commission it is merely grist for the academic researchers’ mill for drawing broad general conclusions.
In the absence of transparency and internal democracy politics has largely become the skill of intrigue among a narrow group of those closest to the instruments of power. Mendacity and cynicism in political discourse - "they know very well what they are doing, but still, they are doing it" has become a sad fact of our lives. So what is at stake here is not the fear of being submerged under frivolous queries, nor is any one afraid of being asked about their internal affairs - the nation has already an unsolicited surfeit of it. RTI is ushering in some kind of a direct democracy and that is a terrifying idea.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Welcome to the Spiritual Kingdom of Animals

The Hon’ble Supreme Court was recently compelled to take recourse to the imagery of a parrot to lament the degradation of the CBI into abject slavery.  As if this was not enough, another court, in Bangalore, compared the IB to a pigeon.  It is not exactly complimentary for police forces of the country to be told that their depravity, even of the best of them, their crème de la crème, is on a sub human scale.  How would the garden variety of police men fare on the scale of wretchedness, when put to searching scrutiny: amoeba, bacteria, virus or just inert gooey matter in a state of pre-biotic existence? 

Evolutionary biology tells us that the time and evolution are both unidirectional; they are barbed arrows incapable of going back in time.   But perhaps moral regression is not guided by the laws of evolutionary biology, even though the state of morality is heavily dependent on the social ecology, the environment of power.  The history of the CBI has been one of progressive diminution.  Till the other day, it cut such a heroic figure that the mere entry of the CBI Officer in critical cinematic moments, flashing his I-Card, would lift the morale of the audience, just when it appeared that all had been lost.  How and when did this freakish regression from a heroic stature to a universal butt of joke take place? 

In a crony capitalistic order, in an advanced stage of state capture, “society naturally divides itself into the very few and the many” according to the “unequal faculties of acquiring property” of its constituents.  Such a differentiation of traits is most likely to occur in civil servants, politicians, powerbrokers, pimps.  The several fold increase in public spending has dramatically enlarged the corruptive interface between the consenting public servant and the obliging client.  On the other hand dozens of laws that have been passed have brought more and more areas of our private and public concern under bureaucratic gaze and control.  This has created enormous opportunities for rent seeking and bribery.  The issue of corruption naturally comes to occupy the centre stage of public concerns.  Overwhelmed by  such  situations, governments all over resort to the strategy of - what Leo Strauss calls - “necessary lie”, wherein the rulers, in a bid to distract people from problems closer at hand, feed them fables to keep them peaceful and pacified

Zero tolerance to corruption is the avowed goal of this government.  It is also the supreme exemplar of the idea of “necessary lie”. 

The neo-liberal discourse, however, tends to treat corruption as a purely economic issue - a market transaction in informal services in a bureaucracy-infested, over-regulated state; bribery is purged of its moral connotation and made respectable as facilitation fee for services in a transaction between socially anonymous partners.  So, the distance between the ideological mask and the social reality, in a society on a roller coaster ride to the abyss of market consumerism, is bridged by an ever more strident cry for need for hygiene in public life.  It dupes itself with foolish expectations and sets extravagant goals for its investigative agencies.  Pining for an independent CBI is one such nostrum. 

The CBI is no longer required to handle crimes in the ordinary sense of the term; more often than not it is the criminality of governments – their involvement in bribery and payoffs, their efforts to subvert parliamentarians, their involvement in fake encounters and engineering systemic pogroms, you name it – which keeps their hands full.   Or if it is not the government it is its more formidable patrons, the super-rich, in whose gigantic shadow the government cast its miserable little tent.  But as in the pre-modern days, figuratively speaking, when the crimes and their perpetrators were painted on a less grand scale, it is  still  the sole prerogative of the government (I include the leader of the opposition as a representative of government in exile, and thus an interested party) to appoint the director, equip outfit and determine working conditions of the organization. 

For the last several decades ambitious political leaders have sought to create fiercely loyal battalions of bureaucratic palace guards who, if they pass the loyalty test, are exempted from every other.  The changed environment has led to a proliferation of officers with a natural tendency to voluntary servitude.  Blind obedience confers a massive selective advantage; the courage to stand up renders them incapable of finding a foothold in the fragile ecology of power and they invariably fall by the way side.   So the parrot cannot but speaks his masters’ voice because he is wired like that, protein coded for blind obedience. 

Hegel proclaimed long ago that “self-interested egotism is not the brutal fact of our societies but its ideology.  In given a century and more for the inhabitants of this “spiritual kingdom of animals,” to indulge their self-interested egotism, the regression to the stage of an aviary was but natural.  As long as the moral environment is not restored to a state which is conducive to evolve autonomous, rational, conscious, moral agents caged parrots and white pigeons will abound.  So till then welcome to the land of spiritual animals, welcome to interesting aviary of great diversity of policemen. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

From the Hippocratic Pact To the Consumer Protection Act - A Medical Journey

 [This article was written for the souvenir brought out on the occasion of the diamond jubilee celebration of the Patna Medical College, formerly the Prince of Wales Medical College, Patna long time back.Later a severely edited version of this article appeared in The Economic Times,perhaps in 1992 or 93. A series of correspondence with an esteemed friend of mine on related issues  led me to reconstruct  this article from old papers and notes. The version that appears  here  may not be the same as it originally appeared in the Patna Medical College journal.]

In the B.B.C. comedy serial Yes Minister, as an instance of bureaucratic insensitivity extra long tubes for the existing stethoscopes are offered in response to demand for more of this item form a certain hospital. Humour apart, it can also be taken as a grim metaphor of the fact that in our avowedly compassionate society, doctors are forever receding form its sick and morbid members. The physical interface between the patient and his doctors, the detailed examination to question the dis tempered part, the protracted palpation is gradually giving way to a mechanical probe by means of vast and impersonal appurtenances of technology.

Every age has its own paradigm about what causes disease. The role of the doctor as well as the community’s expectations from him is closely aligned to it. In the earliest times, it was believed that sickness occurred as a result of the invasion by evil spirits. In a manner of speaking the shamans and exorcist could be said to be the earliest medical practitioners. Their therapeutic regimen consisted of a closely defined procedure, a technique of the incantation of the magic mantra to propitiate or exorcises the malevolent presence. When summoned to tend the sick the Tibetan Lama would, by reciting the cosmogynic myth, symbolically project his patient to the dawn of time. The whole subsequent temporal drama would be enacted step by step, by the recitation of the myth of illness, the myth of the first shaman and so on. The patient by this journey back would be restored to the primeval and essential condition of health from which he appeared to have strayed en route.

In primitive cultures, before scientific hubris overtook human civilization men trusted forces larger than themselves to mend things. The shaman could at best be a mediator, an agent, a medium through whom grace could flow. History records many such events where  prophets and saints have charmed away excruciating pain by mere touch and sometimes suffered the pain themselves in the bargain are trans historic and cross cultural models. The practitioners of the art of healing were public spirited men with a super abundant gift for affection and empathy. Even till sometime back, physicians are known to have tested dangerous poisons and their antidotes on themselves.

Over the years the paradigm of the causation of disease has undergone several changes.  A historian records that theories like autointoxication, disproportionality of Yin and Yang imbalance of the bodily humours, deviation from natural way of living, even excessive love of theatre as being responsible for disease held sway. The role of the doctors as well as the repertoire of medical strategies has undergone commensurate changes. The point that needs to be underlined is that the practice of medicine has always been a tripartite arrangement, between the doctor and his patient and the two taken together with the contemporary social cultural scientific milieu.

The concept of focal infection, of specific etiology, the medical equivalent of the reductionist, causal, deterministic world view has captivated the medical imagination for close to hundred years. The one to one relationship between the disease and the causative agent was spectacularly demonstrated by Louis Pasteur. Due to the efforts and under the influence of Robert Koch, Louis Pasteur, Paul Ehrlich and others a whole new demonology of pathogens – the disease causing agents- was complied with a countervailing pharmacopoeia of “magic bullets” and precision guided chemical munitions capable  of specifically engaging and destroying  the enemy.

In the beginning of the 20th century, Lord Kelvin in one of the headier moments declared that the task of physics was well nigh over. What remained to be done was to tie up the loose ends. The contemporary medical thinking was equally convinced that the only end of medical endeavour and research was  to isolate as many pathogens as possible and develop suitable drugs. Consequently a shift in the traditional role of the doctor took place. A large area of his activity was relegated to the microbiologists and the pharmacists. Separating the malady form the sick person became the  very raison d'etre of the practice of medicine.

Diseases like tuberculosis, measles, small pox, meningitis which swept through towns and villages like a visiting pestilence were tamed. But perhaps the newer ones, foremost among them cardiovascular diseases, cancer and AIDS have overshadowed the triumph.Therefore,when Rene Dubos describes their endeavours as creating a "mirage of health" or Ivan Illich insists that there are strict "limits to medicine" it does merit concern if not downright alarm.

Increased specialization set in motion the process of dehumanization of the doctor.The reductionist world view diminished the doctor from restorer of health and wholeness to a mender of broken or distempered parts, while the patient is reduced to a registration number. From being a person, a unique organism with definite physical and psychosomatic boundaries he becomes an object of piece meal curiosity- probed by machines, seen trough x- rays bounced off him in a strange setting, shut off from his family with white masked, dispassionate observes from outer space, as it where as witnesses to the procedure. The dehumanizing almost dismembering aspect of technology is now part of our medical imaginary.

Given the ineluctable logic of consumerism, the hidden tenet of capitalist industrialist system, health care was, sooner or later, bound to become one of the greatest growth industries. The law of supply and demand ensured that the doctors flocked in disproportionately large numbers to urban centres, where the standard of public health and sanitation are already much better than the rural areas where the medical facilities are woefully, criminally inadequate. But these areas of deprivation do not have buyers and markets are not known to be moral agents. So the poor languish for want of basic health care, while the rich are spoilt for choice and tertiary care nursing homes exist side by side with death wards dubbed as primary health care systems.

But of late the practice of medicine has got inextricably linked with the interests of the pharmaceutical industry. Like a puppet jiggling on strings the medical practitioner has become an involuntary even unconscious agent of the drug industry. Peddling avoidable surgeries and needless invasive procedures with the persuasive skill of a salesman he also   prescribes new fangled drugs-chemically synthesized, materialized out of nowhere,re-engineered with a molecule displaced here or a carbon bond dislocated there, these drugs are sometime launched  with inadequate field trials, sometimes they are   potentially dangerous. But this has come to occupy the center stage of his activities and he must carry it on if he has to remain in business. However the doctor alone cannot be trusted to boost the sales to achieve projected profit levels of the profit hungry pharmaceutical companies. So the advertising industry, always at the beck and call of those who can pay to perpetrate their lies, complement its activities by plugging  the drugs directly to the people,  making them so  consumer friendly that they are ingested without medical supervision. Just as the General Motors or Toyota have to innovate constantly to give more rev to their engines to keep the consumer preference from getting jaded so more potent and more lethal antibiotics have to be made available at the drug store because the bacteria have become resistant due to the indiscriminate use of earlier generation, of antibiotics. If the T-model Ford represents progress when compared to the wheel cart, and a Ferrari is a progress compared to the T model ford shouldn't the human self that responds only to Ciprofloxacin represent progress when compared to the generation that was amenable to ineffectual, antiquated penicillin?

Ivan Illich, the Hashelmere group and a host of others have amassed such a wealth of data that the charge that doctors are pushers in the illicit drug trade can no longer be brushed aside as mere rhetorical jibe.  How ironic that the legal drug trade yields the same astronomical profit as the illicit one!

It is perhaps recognition of this sad fact that the society does not hold the doctor in that same spirit of trust and confidence; his Hippocratic Oath is no longer binding enough. He is made further answerable in the consumer protection act. Next time round he short sells people on health, healing or happiness, he will have to pay the equivalent in monetary terms. In our country, where the record of  the enforcement and adjudication  of the 3000 odd legislation has been less than awe inspiring there will be devil to pay on both sides, especially for the poor who would find medicare much more expensive without being able to secure the protection readily.

From healer to dispenser of drugs, from counselor to promoter of particular nostrums,   the doctor has traveled a long way indeed. Forced to choose between the myths of Hygeia (health is the natural order of thing provided we live prudently) and Asclepius (to abstract and treat disease  to repair any damage of distemper due to an encounter with outside causative agents or accident of birth), he chooses to pay obeisance to Mammon the universal god and benefactor of our time.

The word doctor says, Lewis Thomas, has been derived from the root word "leg” one of its meanings being" enchanter, speaker of magic words" Which is perhaps just as well! Even in the days of self confident scientific medicine he does not fail to invoke the hawk-headed god Horus whose amulet Rx he appends at the top of his prescription to set in motion the process of healing. Even in these cynical times the magic works if the faith of the patient and the intent of the physician act in unison. Try as he might then, the doctor cannot escape his inheritance and one fervently hopes his unique responsibility as a healer, as a mediator of grace as an "enchanter speaking magic words".

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Between Revolution and Reform

  The J S Verma Committee report is being hailed as the Magna Carta of women’s empowerment. Breathtakingly comprehensive in its approach, it encompasses all aspects of gender based violence and harassment- from garden variety misdemenour to aggravated  rape  - that women are subject to, qua women .The UN has declared it to be a forward looking document, and no one who has read it in its entirety can fail to notice the revolutionary fervor of the proposals. 
But, “revolution” as Bernard   Shaw said, “does not end tyranny; it merely shifts the burden to other shoulders.” My hunch is that some of the proposals are so drastic that men in uniform have some very genuine reasons to be worried about. The report which is at pains to debunk the stereotyping of women happily accepts the stereotype about men in uniform. It is true that some men in uniform commit rape- as indeed other men do - but it cannot be raised to a universal rule of perception.  
So penetrating and so far reaching is the stern gaze of the report that even after inserting a new section for enhanced punishment  for  custodial rape, the  new section 376 F Offence of breach of command responsibility,  recommends incarceration for those in command  of these men.

“Whoever being a public servant in command control or supervision of the police force or armed forces,……….fails to exercise control over persons under his or her command, control or supervision and as a result of such failure offences under sections (from eve teasing to aggravated rape)   are committed by persons under his or her command control and supervision shall be guilty of the breach of command responsibility, where
Such public servant knew or should have known owing to the circumstances that the men under his control, command or supervision would commit such offence,
Such public servant failed to take necessary or reasonable measures to prevent or repress the commission of such an offence.

. Any police or armed force organization is hierarchical in structure and the control and command of the force is mediated through various levels of functionaries. In case of Police, the ultimate control, supervision and command vests with the state government.  So if a Jawan commits rape in a remote field situation will the section commander be hauled up or will it be platoon commander or would the DG along with the whole ensemble be condemned?. Men in uniform, apart from death on active duty, will now be exposed to another occupational hazard - the disgraceful prospect of imprisonment for  up to 10 years for  “passive rape”.

 Conventionally, any crime must satisfy the twin requirements of a criminal act (actus reus), and criminal intent (mens rea) but in the instant case the mere incidence of the crime incriminates the command structure. Perhaps the omission to “prevent or repress” rape itself qualifies as actus reus. As everyone knows the crime of rape needs no preparation and the culprit can commit this crime with utmost frugality- anywhere, any place, any time. So what are the symptoms to watch for? What circumstance or season is most conducive for encouraging rapist tendencies in men in uniform and does it affect everyone equally? Is there a calculus for anticipating criminal behavior, a predictive theory at the disposal of the officer in command to “take necessary or reasonable measures to prevent or repress the commission of such an offence?”

The introduction of vicarious liability in a criminal offence is in itself a bit of a rarity but why should not the same underlying principle be applied uniformly and to other sections of society  as well? If a student commits rape on the campus or a sportsman commits rape in sporting arena, or minor sons indulge in such acts in domestic settings why should not teachers, captains, fathers and others be made similarly responsible After all parental authority or the authority of a teacher or a captain is no less compelling.

 It will be germane to the discussion to review our experience with section 304 B of the IPC enacted in to specifically combat the dowry deaths in the aftermath of a spurt of   reports of dowry deaths.  Over the years along with genuine cases of dowry deaths thousands of malicious cases have been reported and as many numbers of innocent relatives of the bridegroom have languished in jails. Such was the mental climate that police seldom exonerated people once their name figured in the FIR and the judges were equally parsimonious in granting bail. The whole criminal adjudication system seemed to have taken a vigilantist hue. Happily the courts have become more liberal and the police more circumspect in the light of past experience. Happier still the social evil of dowry has taken a drastically downward trend. Not because of the law but because boys and girls are increasingly choosing their spouses. Even where marriages are arranged the children insist on no dowry. In the meanwhile this experiment has irreparably shattered the lives of many, including old men and women.

 The atrocities against scheduled caste and tribes similarly   have not seen a radical decline because of the specific act.  But such egregious misuse has come to notice wherein an IG in a state police force, not satisfied with the vast disciplinary powers over his lowly subordinate, lodged a complaint against his orderly accusing him of having committed an atrocity against him under this act.
 The world is an unjust place for women no doubt,   but the  remedial measures  must not overlook the triad of culpability, legality and proportionality.You cannot run a  society solely by decrees , the  gradual change in  mental climate and  social ethos is a necessary accompaniment  to reforms  and that is  the surer  empowerment .

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Unloved Ones - or the state of Indian Police

The death of the lowly police constable Tomar underlines the existentialist irony in  the lives of police men in general. Caught up in these irrational, lawless times where the temperature and virulence of public unrest   has the potential to make or unmake political fortunes of parties, police lends its face to the invisible enemy in the war between those in power and those others in exile. But this is one war in which death rarely brings martyrdom their way, no matter what. It is being very diligently debated that Tomar did not die of injuries inflicted by the mob; his system simply failed to cope with the tension generated by the situation. Such deaths are not worth being bothered about.

The popular mind has a very straight forward and simple expectation from the police. It is that police should make itself useful to them in all sorts of circumstances. It is a demanding task. You cannot be useful to the victim and the offender, to the complainant as well as the accused, to the party in power and the ones in perpetual quest of wresting it, to the under privileged and the powerful, all at the same time. To alienate  them from the people further, every one’s grouse becomes a police problem: the students angry at issues relating to the campus, workers and government servants disgruntled at their service related conditions, doctors furious at being maltreated by neglected patients are police problems. And they all come calling without notice or ostensible reasons in all their variety and degrees of seriousness.

The seminal role of the disobedience movement in the struggle for our independence has attributed some sort of a sacerdotal value to breaking of laws. A significant section of the society is in a state of perpetual civil disobedience. Ceremonially courting arrest and proudly going to jail are the surest endorsement of faith in democracy- just as hurling brick bats, burning buses, and scalping a few policemen are the other articles of democratic faith. The adherents include venerable politicians , public men  many of them , who  may have  till  recently  sworn by the rule book in their capacity  ministers, chief ministers,  army generals and  police officers . Forced into the role of necessary respondent or reluctant third party, the police become duty bound to defend public property and maintain order against the self designated forces of disorder almost on a daily basis.

Nobody should be left in any doubt that most of the agitations are staged, seasonally and unseasonably, by various political parties, special interest groups and other layabouts jostling for some place under the sun. In the spectacles that are staged almost on a daily basis, more important than registering their protest, showing the government of the day in a poor light is the dominant agenda. The government may have its own compulsions in not yielding to their demands but at the same time protests are democratic and have to be countenanced. The police force who have the powers in law but they are hemmed in by a hundred pragmatic considerations.

Any demonstration or show of strength becomes an event and no event worth the name can be staged in the absence of the television. The mere presence of television camera influences the behavior of both the police as well as the participants. The participants become, consciously and unconsciously actors   the reality of the situation is reduced to a drama. Thus television is in many cases, the unwitting instigator for many acts of spectacular mob violence. There are some very happy faces, and some excited voices reporting lathi charge or police firing. Cleverly infiltrated agent provocateurs make their day The Brahmeshwar Mukhiya episode in Patna was a copy book example of what Umberto Eco calls television as  “mise en scene and reality as scene setting.”

The government normally wants to eat its cake and have it too in the sense that it would not like to be seen to be abdicating its responsibility but is also deeply committed to populist concerns. The police man knows, as everyone else does, that  neither courage nor conscience  is  associated with the vocation of politics, and public fury always prevails over fairness. The standard response in situations which go awry is to sacrifice a few police men to satisfy the braying media beast and other political animals. In the ultimate analysis, while handling an unruly crowd situation, leaders in the field dither and deliberate the damage to their career should the political cost prove to be exorbitant? Most police excesses- or inadequacies-  are the result of the misreading of signals; a tentative leadership involved in fine political calculations and career prospects ends up by inflicting more casualties than is required or abdicates its responsibilities.
The liberal opinion fed on a diet of “selective feeds” from the TV can flay any handling of the law and order situation because the monopolistic right of the lawless society to break laws is taken for   granted. At the same time it is very prompt in pointing out the limits within which the police can operate, the whole episode is scrutinized in the light of finely calibrated theory of escalation of use of force. So not only Delhi , not only Patna I cannot recall many instances where police has covered itself with glory or earned the gratitude of people for their adroit handling of law and order. The eternal Mamu who is the object of ridicule or mild derision throughout the year takes on the shades of a psychopathic villain after every such outing.

 But above all it serves a very utilitarian purpose. The   current  protest movement helps society  evade the question that it needs to ask itself , and ask with great urgency– what kind of a pathology is producing such a rich crop of rapists to whom  every female is fair game. They can happily speculate only if the Delhi police had been more efficient, more alert, had escorted every bus, chaperoned every girl, Damini would have been alive today. The society would be happier if a police man added to its roster of paranoia one more – treat every passenger, every commuter, every office goer, in fact every member of the male gender  as a potential rapist!  

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

How To Fight The Menace Of Rape: First things First

The gang rape and murder of the Delhi girl has stirred the conscience of the nation with an unprecedented call to solidarity and action. But the response has been marked by an unusual degree of rhetoric and few practical suggestions seem to have emerged. Predictably calls have been made to make laws more severe – from chemical castration to decapitation to lynching to death everything has been suggested to deter the potential rapists. But lynch mobs rarely make good laws consistent with the legal and cultural practices of a society and even the best laws are not self propelling mechanisms; the machinery of law has to be brought into action by first reporting of the crime.

To stay practical and sure footed crime against women- especially rape- has to be contextualized so that one sets realistic goals. In our  social milieu which forever treats woman as “the second sex “in the memorable phrase of Simon De Beauvoir, for  the female of the species, if she survives the gender discrimination test then other degrading prospects like domestic violence, curtailment of reproductive rights and female sexuality, eve teasing, sexual harassment stare her in the face despite institutional guarantees. The discourse relating to issues affecting women belong to two different discursive worlds and legal narratives certainly belong to the world of male concerns and values.  The suffering of the raped victim– injury to her body but the more lasting psychic destruction-is never the dominant issue. Rape is largely an issue between contesting males; between one who is her custodian as her father brother or son and the other who is the trespasser illicitly seeking carnal knowledge of her. That is the key to the whole problem- the problem is never seen from the viewpoint of the victim. Honour killing is just one variant of the gamekeeper mentality.  So it is not only the laws but the social order that needs to be changed.

 Rape is one of the most grievous of crimes but its reporting is extremely tardy for a variety of reasons foremost among them is that the victim is made to feel like the shamed party. The criminal aggressor often exploits the silence of the victim for fear of public humiliation to his advantage. Quite simply men feel encouraged to rape because in many cases they know they can rape without the fear of being reported or punished. The casual approach of the society can be gauged   from the fact that the marriage of the victim to the perpetrator of rape is often considered as an amende honourable.My long stint in the CID as head of the cell for offences against women confirmed the general belief that rape is not a rare misfortune suffered at the hands of a depraved stranger.  Much more often the culprit comes wearing the mask of a father, brother, friend, and teacher and the society colludes to sweep the incident under the carpet?  So any serious initiative to fight this   crime must take into account long history of rape with impunity, a legacy of indifference and silence about abuses and a very philosophical often tolerant and sometime appreciative attitude to the indignities inflicted on women in domestic settings. Given the nature and context of the crime reliable data is not available. In strife torn areas allegation of rape by security forces abound and the attitude of the governments to these rapes are akin to incestuous rapes in familial setting-one of unofficial condonation.
So it instills in the victims a strange diffidence to their own degradation. The reluctance of the victim to report rape and other abuses is matched by an equal indifference in the authorities to register the complaint.

The procedure to secure justice has its own hazards. Rape is a crime which is generally committed in secrecy, in the presence of few or no witnesses at all. In case of gang rapes the witnesses are also accomplices. So the victim has only her words by way of evidence. The material serological evidence on the person of victim as well as the accused is often degraded or lost because of delay, sometimes for unavoidable reasons but sometimes with intent. In any other offence against the body the injury is palpable and demonstrable but in case of rape the victim has to undergo the necessary but demeaning examination of her private parts. At the trial she is made to relive her private shame publicly. The victim is interrogated and cross-examined. Physically and psychically shattered, the victim is, in a manner of speaking reduced to an inhuman exhibit. As a strategy the most indelicate questions, calculated to embarrass and intimidate her into disassociating herself from trial are posed to her. In seeking retribution for her present misfortune her sexual past quite unnecessarily becomes a subject matter of mischievous curiousity.  After all this ignominy she has only one in five chance of securing a conviction for her tormentor!

The question of sentencing comes only when these  conditions have been met successfully; a case has been reported in time, the police have put up a good and professionally investigated case, the prosecution has  presented its case cogently, the presiding judge is satisfied that rape has indeed taken place as to warrant the verdict guilty. The provision of law itself gives the judge a lot of freedom as to the award of the sentence. To introduce a bit of legal realism, in practice, adjudications – particularly gender based adjudications – often lead to widely divergent outcomes. A host of subjective factors including the particular social background, intellectual leanings, gender bias and other prejudices of the presiding judge  may come into play.

So those clamouring for adequate justice to women must dispense with rhetoric and emotion and put their cool heads together to consider measures which are consistent with the current thinking on penology and the legal enforceability of the measures. The history of   sentencing philosophy during the last century or so has seen a move away from the physical pain of the body to an economy of suspended rights. In a situation where demands are being made for dispensing with capital punishment altogether, taking away of the life of a person whose victim has survived the crime is not likely to be favoured by many.  Retribution has forever to be tampered with the chances of rehabilitation. The emphasis should be on ensuring speedy and successful trial so that the nexus between crime and punishment is firmly established and acts as deterrent to potential rapists.

                  Some suggestions.

Propaganda has its value. A concerted campaign must be launched to draw out women to report rape. Rape is not their fault and the tormentor must be punished.  Reliable data on unreported rape is not to be had and it is any body’s guess is as good as mine but my hunch is that barely one out of   a hundred rapes gets reported. Out of that one percent, for every hundred rapes reported 75 walk free. So one can only imagine the unconscionably large number of rapists hidden amongst us and the danger that they pose to women.

Exclusive women police stations where specially trained officers and counselors, an idea long on the police agenda, must become available in adequate numbers. The registration of the case should be as unobtrusive and private an affair as is possible under the circumstances. Police has for so long been an exclusively male domain that  the entire organizational culture has come to have a bit  of a  locker room flavour especially when it comes to  a case of rape. Rape which is a special report case must be investigated by a cadre of trained officers.

During the trial questions leading as to the character of the victim should be statutorily barred and the medical report should be businesslike and relevant to the issue. The needless two finger test and other things reflective of sexual history of the victim should be barred. Such trials should be necessarily held in camera. The accused should be put to a polygraph test and his refusal should be taken   note of by the presiding  judge.If the victim volunteers to undergo a polygraphic test it should redound to her credit.

Especially designated fast track courts should dispose of cases so that   the demonstrable nexus between crime and its punishment which is of the essence of deterrence.

The legal soundness of this  proposal may be  debatable  but as an out  of box idea I would suggest that since the courts are already overburdened a trial by jury where equal number of men and women  who are aware of the local  social  conditions and values were represented.( I know jury trials are getting out of fashion.) I would argue for a punishment that is not so much rooted in the physical pain as in public humiliation and suspended rights of the accused. For example the accused could be deported to some isolated settlement to live in perpetual shame of his ignoble deed just as the victim is forced to suffer in memory’ pain. After he has served his sentence, in addition to the various forfeitures that a convict is subject to , he should not be allowed admittance to any public place without the tutelage of a close female relation. The idea is that he must be “revealed” every moment of his life he lives thereafter as a leper of the social and moral order. His name should be put on a national register and it should be available to all the citizens at all times. The newspapers have reported the state of mind of the five accused persons who overwhelmed by the public opinion are horrified at their own deed. The punishment as suggested does not take away life, limb or liberty but it would be a fate worse than death or physical torture.