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Public tragedy as a learning tool? February 22, 2009

Posted by reader111 in India, Psychology.
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Gouri Dange


After the 26/11 attacks, my friend often tells her children, aged 13 and 15, when they complain: “Stop whining— you’re lucky to have this food. People today can be killed in the middle of their dinner.” If one of them complains about lack of space in the room she shares with her brother, the mother says: “People have spent hours, days, hidden under beds… count your blessings that you are safe and have a nice room and a brother alive to share it with.” I find all this too much. She says it is time for her children to get some perspective. I agree, but isn’t there another way?


Like the rest of us, your friend, too, is shaken to the core by the events of November. We all process tragedy of these proportions in different ways but from what you describe, her way of doing it is really doing no one any good. Events of this kind force many of us to change our way of looking at things in a fundamental way. For her, like for many other people, the tragedy has brought home the fact that it’s a blessing to be alive and well. Nothing wrong with that. However, expecting her children to see it in exactly this way is inappropriate.


Incorrect approach: Don’t use the 26/11 attacks as a means to discipline. Lorenzo Tugnoli / AFPWhile she may feel prompted by those events to sensitize her children to the suffering of others and to be grateful for what they have, this is simply not the way to do it. This way, in fact, will ensure that they get desensitized to those tragic events. It will soon become, for them, just something that their mother holds over their heads when trying to get them to do something.


No doubt children need to be taught empathy and guided to see themselves as part of the larger picture of things when there is a crisis in the public domain—whether disasters or attacks or other such life-changing occurrences. But the lessons that flow from such events should be taught or reflected quite, quite independent of day-to-day home and family rules about eating and sharing space with other siblings, among other things. First, if your friend keeps processing her response to the tragedy in this in-your-face fashion via her kids, she may be deeply shocked one fine day to find that they will just laugh her off as their connection to it becomes trivialized.


Second, when we keep telling kids to see their own complaints or needs in comparison to other much worse things, it tends to invalidate their real anxieties, likes and dislikes, or needs. Of course, in comparison to something like a terrorist attack or a flood, a child’s whining about something or the other that he wants looks trivial. But to keep reducing and dismissing it in the way your friend is doing, under the name of “keeping perspective”, simply denies her kids legitimate access to her time and attention on something.


If she wants to sensitize her kids to the larger inequalities and unhappiness in the world, she needs to do it in an ongoing, non-guilt-inducing way, by involving them in a larger programme of sharing and caring and volunteering somewhere in any small way. This is much harder work for a parent than simply telling them that their problems are nothing compared to 26/11. How long can a horrific tragedy serve as a life lesson, after all?


Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting. Send your queries to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com




Belgian title for Sonia February 22, 2009

Posted by reader111 in Congress, Politics.
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No punishment under the law

by K.N. Bhat


HAS Mrs Sonia Gandhi committed any offence by accepting the award “Order of Leopold” from the Belgian government? If not, can Tendulkar become “Sir Sachin”? The complaint against Mrs Gandhi seems to be that the acceptance of the award is “acknowledgement of allegiance to a foreign State”, which would disqualify her from continuing to be a MP under Article 102 of the Constitution. Prima facie, the charge looks frivolous.


But there is another provision in the Constitution — Article 18 — with the title “Abolition of Titles”. Strangely, that article is housed among the Fundamental Rights. So, it is the fundamental right of every citizen not to be conferred with any title other than military or academic distinctions. It further says, “no citizen of India shall accept any title from any foreign State”. What if a citizen accepts one — like the “Order of Leopold” —or a knighthood? Article 18 is silent on the sequel to its violation.


The philosophy behind Article 18 is that in a democracy, all citizens are equal and the State should not disturb this concept through award of titles — academic or military distinctions are earned — not gifted. Constitutions of different States like the US, Germany, Ireland and Japan prohibit the State from conferring titles of nobility.


Why did the makers of our Constitution prescribe a prohibition without spelling the penalty for its violation? This aspect was specifically considered. While discussing the draft Article 12, which eventually became Article 18, T.T. Krishnamachari, a member of the Constituent Assembly, suggested that the words “not being a military or academic distinction” be inserted. Another member, Loknath Misra, said: “We know instances where people have got titles which they do not deserve and the entitled gentleman belies the import of the title”.


Naziruddin Ahmad pointedly asked, “If anybody accepts any foreign title, what is the penalty which is provided? No penalty is provided for accepting it. The State has no means of giving effect to this clause”. To this Dr Ambedkar replied, “The State shall not recognise it.” H.V. Kamath raised a query, “If the State inadvertently or in a fit of absentmindedness or due to some other cause, does confer titles, what can be done against the State? After all, the State itself has conferred the title”.


After considerable exchange of thoughts, Dr Ambedkar said, “My answer to that (to the query as to what is the penalty) is very simple: That it would be perfectly open under the Constitution for Parliament under its residuary powers to make a law prescribing what should be done with regard to an individual who does accept a title contrary to the provisions of this article. I should have thought that that was an adequate provision for meeting the case which he has put before the House”.


Dr Ambedkar further said, “The non-acceptance of titles is a condition of continued citizenship; it is not a right, it is a duty imposed upon the individual that if he continues to be the citizen of this country then he must abide by certain conditions, one of the conditions is that he must not accept a title because it would be open for Parliament, when it provides by law as to what should be done to persons who abrogate the provisions of this article, to say that if any person accepts a title, certain penalties may follow. One of the penalties may be that he may lose the right of citizenship. Therefore, there is really no difficulty in understanding this provision as it is a condition attached to citizenship, by itself it is not a justiciable right.”


It may be recalled that the Citizenship Act, which was enacted in 1955, makes no reference to the acceptance of the title. Nor is there any other law that has given effect to the solution offered by Dr Ambedkar. As the law stands today, Mrs Sonia Gandhi cannot be punished for accepting the Belgian title.


It is a different question whether any person having taken the oath to “bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India” can violate a provision like Article 18 without suffering any consequence. And Article 51-A makes it the fundamental duty of every citizen to “abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals”. Again, no penalties are prescribed for disregarding this constitutionally ordained duty. The Constituent Assembly had rejected the suggestions by many members that no foreign title shall be recognised in India. So Tendulkar can be “Sir, Sachin” without inviting the wrath of law.


What about our own Padma awards introduced in 1954 — four years after the Constitution came into force? In 1977, soon after the Morarji Desai government assumed office, the then Attorney-General late S.V. Gupte opined that the awards were opposed to Article 18. As a result, from 1978 to 1980, the January 25 ritual stood abolished; they were, however, reintroduced in 1981.


In the case of Balaji Raghavan (1996), a five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court held that the Padma awards were only methods of recognising excellence. The court, however, decreed that these honours conferred by the State should not be used as suffixes or prefixes, i.e. as titles by the recipients. A passing glance at some of the recipients of these awards is enough to make one marvel at the art or science of recognising excellence. It is a different matter that many of these excellent men and women do not mind letting the awards being used as suffixes or prefixes, with impunity.


What about the “honorary doctorates” conferred by universities? These institutions of higher learning generally are “States” within the meaning of the expression in the Constitution. Recognition of academic distinctions — Ph.Ds or D.Phils and the like — is conferred from time to time on the basis of merit proven according to the established rules.


The honorary doctors are generally modest enough not to lay claims to any special achievement. Nevertheless, in some States a sizeable number — especially among the politicians — are “doctors” flaunting their prefixes. There was a belief some time ago that these honorary doctorates are like garlands presented at a ceremonial occasion — not intended to be displayed on the streets after the function, though the recipient is its owner. One sees no reason not to treat the honorary doctorates conferred by the universities as anything but titles prohibited by Article 18, if they can be legitimately used as prefixes to the names.


The writer is Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India.



Ex-nun’s confessions set to rock Kerala Church February 22, 2009

Posted by reader111 in Religious Conversions.
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Shaju Philip, Feb 19, 2009


Thiruvananathapuram: Already reeling under several controversies, the Kerala Catholic Church is facing fresh embarrassment from a tell-all autobiography written by a nun who recently quit the Order alleging harassment from superiors.


‘Amen — an autobiography of a nun’, released last week, is written by Dr Sister Jesme, 52, who was the Principal of St Mary’s College, Thrissur, till last August when she quit the Congregation of Mother Carmelite (CMC).


“Dedicated to Jesus”, Amen is explicit in its details of the sexual repression and harassment behind the Church walls as well as the draconian rules and “greed” of the Order. Jesme claims that since the book was released, she has been getting calls pledging solidarity.


“Nuns mingle with the whole spectrum of the community around them. They teach students, comfort the aged and nurse the sick; still the brides of the Church remain an enigma. My work would throw light on the misunderstood convent life, engulfed in darkness,” says Jesme.


Apart from the Abhaya murder in which a nun and priests are accused, the Kerala Church was recently in the news for a priest “adopting” a 26-year-old woman.


RamadaBangalore.comAds By GoogleJesme’s autobiography includes a poignant version by her of how the convent authorities tried to twice prove that she had mental problems and get her admitted into a rehab centre after she reportedly spoke out against the malpractices within the Order.


Starting with her first days in the Church, 30 years ago, she talks of priets forcing novices to have relations with them and the closet homosexuality within nun ranks, “which the Church reckons as the dirtiest thing possible”. “If nuns developed unusual interest in each other, authorities would deploy other inmates to watch them,” she writes.


The book says Jesme herself was forced into such a relationship by a fellow nun, and that her complaints to a senior nun were ignored. According to her, the other nun said she preferred such a relationship as it ruled out pregnancy. There were others who had affairs with priests, she writes.


Another passage in Amen deals with a chance encounter Jesme had with a priest in Bangalore while on her way to Dharwar to attend a UGC refresher course in English. “My plan was to stay at the waiting room at the Bangalore railway station. But sisters in the convent gave me the address of a pious, decent priest. When I reached Bangalore, the priest was waiting to receive me. He embraced me and took me to his presbytery. After breakfast, he took me to Lalbagh (Botanical Garden) and showed me several pairs cuddling behind trees. He also gave a sermon on the necessity of physical love and described the illicit affairs certain bishops and priests had.”



Why Slumdog Millionaire is unbelievable February 22, 2009

Posted by reader111 in Movies.

The single most important fact of poverty is the loss of dignity in the individual


Aakar Patel


No, really unbelievable: It could never happen. Not the money (a slumdog may have every chance of making a fortune), but the manner. It could never happen through the dignity and repose of Dev Patel’s Jamal, an utterly improbable slumdog.

Unlikely heroes: Could a real-life Latika transcend the brutality of rape and prostitution? Director Danny Boyle has reported on the Indian slum with the Westerner’s thoroughness. He has shown its squalor, the randomness of its violence and the distance of the state from its problems more precisely than an Indian could have.


But he has not observed the character of the slum’s occupant standing beside him as the sweeping camera records the filth.


The single most important fact of poverty is the loss of dignity in the individual. The Indian knows this. The poor are actually second-rate human beings. Their existence is like that of animals: Their concerns are all immediate because that is the only level at which life engages them.


It is an existence of eternal reaction.


Constant hunger and helplessness have obliterated their dignity. Dignity is not congenital; it is acquired. The poor have very little opportunity to acquire it. The boy’s experiences inform the man, incident upon humiliating incident, layer upon undignified layer. That is why the man’s character cannot stand apart from the boy’s life.


Jamal Malik, whose mother is killed for her faith, whose friend’s eyes are spooned out so that he can beg better, whose hungry plea society rolls the window up at, is not going to be a disinterested observer of the world.


In the building up of his character, the influences on Jamal the boy are those incidents of theft and flight that result in his survival. Jamal the man cannot escape that through the goodness of his heart.


But Boyle shows Jamal’s heroism as coming not from his courage but from his dignity; his distancing of himself from his surroundings.


His carriage and manner, even when he is on national television, are that of a man for whom survival has a higher purpose. But that is impossible in a man who has lived a life where he has stolen and duped to feed himself. Jamal’s eyes, the softness of his face and the tenderness of his manner do not talk of the life Boyle narrates to us.


That is why he is unconvincing.


Enormous intellectual effort is needed for the man to distance himself from the trajectory of his fate and observe; but Jamal is not equipped intellectually to do that. He is practically illiterate, and in indicating that, Boyle is correct.


The poor are not particularly interested in knowledge. Those who have spoken to the poor will notice the glaze over their eyes. There is no curiosity in the nature of the world, because it has already revealed itself to them in full.


The boys who sell books at Mumbai’s traffic signals know which books are popular, but they don’t know why. They don’t care either, as those who will have offered them lifts to the next signal (“Uncle, please”) know.


The dignity of their profession dissolves immediately into an act of begging if it can swing the sale.


The poor have no poise because they are nothing as individuals. The poor are not dignified; they are craven. To show them in dignity is as fantastic as to show them content in their poverty. It is an act of imagination; it is as Boyle wants the slum dweller to be.


Latika, Jamal’s girl, is still fragrant after being sold into prostitution, and living through rape and an abusive marriage. Not possible.


The character of Salim, who rapes his brother’s love, who betrays his friend, who shoots his tormentor, rings true—even though he’s painted all-extreme.

The poor are rejected in India for their condition: Nothing beyond that matters because that fact is supreme. That is why the poor evoke our pity; very rarely do they evoke true compassion. If they did regularly, it would be intolerable for us to live, surrounded by such sorrow.


We are inclined to feed the dignified beggar, because he is “good”, more than we are the craven, filthy one.


But yet the poor do not telegraph dignity well because they do not know it.


After the quality of his depiction of the slum, and it is quite superb, Boyle lets us down by Sellotaping his fairy-tale characters on top of Indian reality.


Jamal’s spirit shines on the filth around him; he floats above the shimmering cesspool, even when he takes a dip in it.


Boyle tells us that there is individual redemption; he has taken what we can call the Christian’s view of poverty and the poor—blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall inherit the earth.


But we know that they won’t.


Aakar Patel is a director with Hill Road Media Services Pvt. Ltd, Mumbai.Write to Aakar at replytoall@livemint.com



Worthy of worship February 22, 2009

Posted by reader111 in hinduism, History, India, religion.
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Devdutt Pattanaik, TNN, 7 Mar 2008


Power in hindu mythology is a goddess — Shakti, commonly visualised as Durga, a goddess who rides into battle on a lion and kills a buffalo-demon with her many weapons held in her many arms. The goddess is power but who is Shaktimaan , the powerful one? That is Shakti’s husband, Shiva, a hermitgod , who has no desire for anything. This must not be translated literally (“ men are powerful because of their wives” ) but symbolically (“ why is power the spouse of the ascetic?”). Is there a message here?


Chanankya once told Dhanannad, king of Magadha, who had insulted him, “I have no desire for wealth or power or pleasure. That makes me a dangerous enemy. You cannot corrupt me and I have nothing to lose.” Dhananand had power but it was Chanakya who was powerful.


Power has to be distinguished from being powerful. Power is a resource that exists in the external world while being powerful is a state of mind. Power is outside, being powerful is inside. Power is a resource while being powerful is an attitude . One can have the resource but not the attitude. That is why many people in positions of power feel weak and constantly threatened. Like Indra, for example.


Indra, the king of the gods, is visualised as sitting in Swarga or paradise, located in the sky. There, in his garden , is the wish-fulfilling tree, Kalpataru, and in his shed is the desire-realising cow, Kamadhenu, and in his treasury the dream-manifesting jewel, Chintamani. His elephant, Airavat, has seven trunks and six tusks. His weapon, Vajra, is the great thunderbolt. He seems to have access to a lot of power but he is eternally insecure . A king by performing more sacrifices (yagnas) or a hermit by performing more austerities (tapasya) can accumulate more power and usurp his position. That is why Indra is always depicted as a jealous god, someone who disrupts yagnas of kings and tapasyas of hermits . His position is not permanent. Anyone who is better than him can lay claim to his paradise, his thunderbolt and his elephant. Even his wife, Sachi, a form of Lakshmi, goddess of fortune, is not faithful to him. She is faithful to the throne, to the position, not to the person.



All around us there are many Indras , apparently powerful, holding thunderbolts in their hands and riding elephants, but terrified of losing their position. For they know that their power resides in the position, not in them. So they cling to the throne and destroy anyone who comes close to it. And around Indras there are others who also believe the same thing and struggle all their lives striving to occupy the position.


The Mahabharata tells the story of Ashwatthama, the son of Drona. Though son of a priest, Ashwatthama aspires to be a warrior and a king. He goes to Krishna and asks for alms in his capacity as a priest. In keeping with the laws of hospitality, Krishna is obliged to give the ‘priest’ whatever he desires. “What can I give you?” he asks. “I want your Sudarshanchakra ,” says Ashwatthama, referring to Krishna’s discus, a very powerful weapon. “Take it,” says Krishna. Ashwatthama rushes to pick it up. First he tries to pick it with his left hand. He cannot.


So he tries to pick it up with his right hand. He fails once again. He tries with both his hands and still he cannot not pick up the Chakra. He looks at Krishna and Krishna only smiles. Finally, after many failed attempts, Ashwatthama leaves, feeling frustrated, wondering what has happened. Ashwatthama thought that by possessing the Sudarshan-Chakra he could become as powerful as Krishna. What he does not realise is that Krishna is not powerful because he has the Sudarshan-Chakra . It is because Krishna was powerful that he could wield the great weapon.


Indra clings to the throne because he believes his power comes from the throne. Invariably, someone comes along and takes the throne from him. Indra fights back with cunning or strength and eventually takes back what he lost for his self-esteem resides in victory. Thus the cycle continues — a merry-go-round fuelled by ignorance. Trapped in a cycle of losing and winning, Indra becomes unworthy of worship.


Indra needs to be contrasted with Vishnu. Vishnu never seeks power but he is infinitely powerful. As indicated by the spiral of the conch-shell in his hand and the rotations of his discus, he knows that everything in life is cyclical — so he does not fight to win. He does not need to win because he does not need victory to feel powerful. He is powerful all the time, irrespective of the situation he is in.


As Ram, he is powerful in Ayodhya and in the forest. As Krishna, he is more powerful than kings whether he is cowherd or charioteer . His actions are governed by dharma, which means the ‘other’ matters to him more than the ‘self’ . He works for the betterment of the organisation, the team, the world at large, and not to indulge his own ego.


Whether he is Ram, maintaining things, or Krishna, who is changing things, his strategic intent is always love, which means his attention is to make those around him feel secure and inspired so that they can realise their full potential. Power , manifesting as his many weapons, is but a tool, not an end in itself. That is why Indra chases Lakshmi while Lakshmi chases Vishnu.