Political Corruption and Update on Anna Hazare

From The Hindu:

The government is now allowing activist Anna Hazare to carry on his fast for two weeks, and then they will ‘review’ the situation. Hazare says the government has not yet attempted to discuss the anti-corruption legislation with him.

Supporters of Hazare are asking why the government had the power to arrest Hazare and then release him two hours later, claiming that this reactive action was illegal, undemocratic and “smacks of dictatorial tendencies.”

Solidarity.

India has a history of corruption from the Prime Minister to the government schoolteachers. Corruption is a difficult thing to curb, as it is much easier to punish the act than it is to prevent it. Nevertheless, accountability is virtually non-existent in India. This bill aims to ameliorate this problem. It is a start to win back the trust of the people. A Lok Pal is an ombudsperson, a referee, a neutral rule-enforcer. This bill would install a lok pal with powers of investigation.

Activists from the Samajwadi Abhiyan (Socialist campaign) protest against Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi and Congress-led UPA government during a demonstration in 2006

(sify.com)

Take a look at this comparison chart to see how much the Lok Pal anti-corruption bill would improve:

Existing System

Lok Pal System Proposed 

No politician or senior officer ever goes to jail despite huge evidence because Anti Corruption Branch (ACB) and CBI directly come under the government. Before starting investigation or prosecution in any case, they have to take permission from the same bosses, against whom the case has to be investigated. Lokpal at centre and Lokayukta at state level will be independent bodies. ACB and CBI will be merged into these bodies. They will have power to initiate investigations and prosecution against any officer or politician without needing anyone’s permission. Investigation should be completed within 1 year and trial to get over in next 1 year. Within two years, the corrupt should go to jail.
No corrupt officer is dismissed from the job because Central Vigilance Commission, which is supposed to dismiss corrupt officers, is only an advisory body. Whenever it advises government to dismiss any senior corrupt officer, its advice is never implemented. Lokpal and Lokayukta will have complete powers to order dismissal of a corrupt officer. CVC and all departmental vigilance will be merged into Lokpal and state vigilance will be merged into Lokayukta.
No action is taken against corrupt judges because permission is required from the Chief Justice of India to even register an FIR against corrupt judges. Lokpal & Lokayukta shall have powers to investigate and prosecute any judge without needing anyone’s permission.
Nowhere to go – People expose corruption but no action is taken on their complaints. Lokpal & Lokayukta will have to enquire into and hear every complaint.
There is so much corruption within CBI and vigilance departments. Their functioning is so secret that it encourages corruption within these agencies. All investigations in Lokpal & Lokayukta shall be transparent. After completion of investigation, all case records shall be open to public.  Complaint against any staff of Lokpal & Lokayukta shall be enquired and punishment announced within two months.
Weak and corrupt people are appointed as heads of anti-corruption agencies. Politicians will have absolutely no say in selections of Chairperson and members of Lokpal & Lokayukta. Selections will take place through a transparent and public participatory process.
Citizens face harassment in government offices. Sometimes they are forced to pay bribes. One can only complaint to senior officers. No action is taken on complaints because senior officers also get their cut. Lokpal & Lokayukta will get public grievances resolved in time bound manner, impose a penalty of Rs 250 per day of delay to be deducted from the salary of guilty officer and award that amount as compensation to the aggrieved citizen.
Nothing in law to recover ill gotten wealth. A corrupt person can come out of jail and enjoy that money. Loss caused to the government due to corruption will be recovered from all accused.
Small punishment for corruption- Punishment for corruption is minimum 6 months and maximum 7 years. Enhanced punishment – The punishment would be minimum 5 years and maximum of life imprisonment.
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Peaceful Protest Against Govenment Corruption

from the Aug 16th New Indian Express

New Delhi:  The longtime Gandhian activist Anna Hazare has started a hunger strike on the anti-corruption bill that is in Indian Parliament now. This stand-off has grabbed headlines for a few weeks now, with Hazare threatening to hunger-strike. He started yesterday on Independence Day. Passerbys were surprised to see Hazare quietly meditating in the light rain, and quickly thousands of people gathered on the lawns of Gandhi’s samadhi in New Delhi. A few hours later, he was ‘preventively’ arrested by police, to the outcry of major political parties, NGOs and thousands of citizens, including the crowds outside the prison where Hazare is being held. By nightfall, the government backpedaled, issuing Hazare’s release. Parliament and the Prime Minister are in a tight spot, sitting on their hands for now.

The country is blowing up, with protests and demonstrations happening in cities everywhere. “Team Anna” is calling for government workers to not go to work today, while the government is predictably labeling this call to action as ‘the wrong call.’

In his Independence Day address, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh challenged Hazare’s tactics in his annual address to the nation, saying that  “We are taking the swiftest possible action in cases of corruption that have surfaced…we will put an end to such powers whenever possible…Hunger strikes do not solve the problem of corruption.”

Ok, then what will exactly? If the people do not put external pressure on their government, what will make legislators raise their heads and look up from their own self-interest and petty quibbles? I understand that doing things the right way, that the process is important, but sometimes a bit of urgency is necessary. Parliament wants Hazare to go away and let them do their jobs, but I would argue that paying some heed to the civil disobedience of the people is their job. This reminds me of the time that ASUO Senators got annoyed by OSPIRGers lobbying them for funding. It is your job to listen to your constituents, not only when you agree with them. I find it ironic that a day after celebrating India’s peacefully-won independence, the government is so quick to condemn the actions of someone who walks in the same footsteps as the freedom fighters of the 1940s.

Peaceful disobedience is much more powerful and scary for governments than violent riots, like those that have taken place in London.  Violent protesters do not hold much long-term credibility. In peaceful protests, all can participate, lving their enemies at the same time that they are pushing the envelope. Police efforts to subdue a peaceful crowd are seen as oppressors. Gandhi speaks beautifully of this power. From my new favorite book, Autobiography of a Yogi, the author Swami Yogananda talks to the Mahatma, or ‘great soul’:

“Non-violence is the natural outgrowth of the law of forgiveness and love. If loss of life becomes necessary in a righteous battle, one should be prepared, like Jesus, to shed his own, not others’ blood. Eventually there will be less blood spilt in the world.” 

He celebrated the beauty of President Wilson’s fourteen points, but said that he would reverse Wilson’s qualification that ‘we have our arms to fall back upon ‘if post WWI peace were to fail.’ “Our armaments have failed already. Let us now be in search of something new; let us try the force of love and God…we shall want nothing else.” 

 

Happy Independence Day!

August 15th was India’s Independence Day, and August 16th was Pondicherry’s Independence Day, so needless to say there was a lot of freedom and fried food everywhere this weekend. Thousands of people were out on the town, packing the beachside road of Pondi. There were lights strung up on the municipal buildings, the governor’s palace, and the city park. There were fireworks too! None set off in the streets like back home though; they leave it to the professionals.

The Governor’s palace, open to the public for two days only

The country of India was established at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947. The Constitution was written in 1950. Synthesized from Wiki: The flag colors are saffron, denoting renunciation or disinterestedness, as leaders must be indifferent to material gains. The white  is light, in search of truth.  The green shows the relation to the earth, the source of all life. The center wheel is the “Ashoka Chakra,” the wheel of the law of dharma. The wheel denotes the motion of life, as there is death in stagnation. “The wheel represents the dynamism of a peaceful change.

(Book recommendation: Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie is a classic, as the narrator is the first baby to be born in the new country. His fate is ever tied to the country’s. It is hilarious and very informative about family and Indian culture.)

August 15th is also Sri Aurobindo’s birthday. In fact Aurobindo commented on the coincidental date, saying it was a sign that the work of his yoga had been instrumental in achieving freedom for India. Venus and I spent the day relaxing, going to darshan in the morning. On Sri Aurobindo and Mother’s birthday they would sit and give blessings to the people. This was the only chance for followers to see Sri Aurobindo in person, as he was usually always in his quarters doing his yoga or keeping up on the thousands of letters from followers.  Darshan is when a holy person gives blessings to the people. The Pope gives darshan too. Darshan also happens the 21st of February, for the Mother’s birthday.

The atmosphere of Darshan is like Disneyland, with hundreds of families and merchants, and the air is peaceful and festive, and everyone waits in line for their turn to go into the rooms of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. These spaces still hold their spiritual vibrations. when Sri Aurobindo and the other were still in their bodies, they would stand on the balcony and give radiant blessings to the ashramites below. The Mother would pass out a message with a quote from Sri Aurobindo on it. yesterday the blessing was very moving for me. After going through the perserved rooms, I read this passage and felt a strong feeling of love and serenity come into me.

Whatever the appearance we must bear,

Whatever our strong ills and present fate,

When nothing we can see but drift and bale,

A might Guidance leads us still through all. 

-Sri Aurobindo

Also for the francophones:

Quelles qui soient les apparences qu’il nous faut supporter,

Si durs que soient nos maux et le destin présent,

Quand nous ne voyons rien que dérive et que ruine,

Un Guide tout-puissant nous mène à travers tout.

Beautiful, non?

Venus and I made lunch of  dahl with paneer, mango chutney and salad. In the evening we went for a long walk among the crowd. We also decided to wear saris in celebration (and because I’ve been dying to wear mine). I got many stares, but in general positive feedback. I realized that people are going to stare at foreigners no matter what they wear, so what do you have to lose?

Auro Media for Social Change

I am part of the Auro Media for Social Change team here, which just started in March 2011. This team is a new branch of Auro Media, which does all the communications work for the Sri Aurobindo Society. The mission of Auro Media for Social Change is to help create and facilitate media that is produced by the people, for the people. Recently they worked with the village development project SARVAM to start a village newspaper there.

There is so much media coming into the homes of Indians. Every home in the Tamil Nadu villages has a radio and a TV (with cable). In 2006, politicians gave out free electronics in exchange for votes.Even if I could get past the idea of buying votes, it still makes my blood boil to think about how TV is used as a cultural control device, a major distracter that makes people lethargic and compliant, rather than independent and enlightened. Tamil Nadu actually decided to make this popular tactic illegal in March 2011. So there’s hope, but of course this policy was motivated to curtail corrupt elections, not to stop people from watching TV.

(indiavision.com)

Indians watch HBO, CNN; all foreign movies and tv from the major media moguls, full of light-skinned people who live tv-perfect lives that usually have nothing to do with the subcontinent. The blog Media and People shows the village-produced newspaper, Gramam Pudiya Udayam, on the right sidebar. Take a look at it, it’s pretty cool.

Venus and I also just finished the second monthly edition of the newly created newsletter Media and Lives. This month’s theme was ‘Blogs: the Power of Us.’ (I swear this topic was Venus’ idea). Blogs have been a powerful tool for providing grassroots information and for activist organizing around the world, but are just beginning in India.  I wrote an article about how to start a blog. Since I have a full two months of blogging experience, I’m pretty much an expert. 🙂 Here is the link to download the newsletter: Media and Lives-Blogs-Aug 2011

The Rise of Women in India

Women are taking over India, in both business and politics. Here is a quick overview of the Indian political leaders in power. All women. Thanks to UO Professor Surendra Subramani for the email & photos.

We have Tamil Nadu’s own J Jayalilithaa in the South.

The fiery Mamata Banerjee in the East, the first female Chief Minister of West Bengal 

Mayawati in the North, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh

 In Central India, New Delhi, the Indian capital itself is ruled by Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit.

Ms Sonia Gandhi is the leader of UPA, the party which is running the Government of India for a second consecutive term. She is the leader of the biggest Indian Political party, Indian National Congress. 

Ms. Pratiba Patil from the state of Maharashtra is on top as the President of India.

Parliament is in the process of passing the “Women’s Reservation Bill”, which reserves 33% of its seats for women. What a great idea! For reference, the 112th US Congress is made up of 16% women. We need to get some more women in there, who want to get to work instead of fostering healthy egos.

The other day I read an article about the increase of women enrolled in business schools. I liked this article not just for the good news of more women entering fields of leadership and management, but that The Hindu would find it newsworthy enough to write about. The Indian Institute of Management in Kozhikode has seen an increase from 10% women over the past fifty years, now the percentage of women enrolled is at 35%.

The article also talked about more women leaders in the United States, naming Drew Faust, the first woman president of Harvard, and Ren Khator, Chancellor of University of Houston, who is the first American-Indian woman ever to become head of a major American university.  Originally from Uttar Pradesh, “her story illustrated the rise of a first generation Indian immigrant from an obscure town in northern India to hard-earned glory in North America.” I thought the editorializing about glory was amusing.

A recent report in Reuters International put India as one of the top five most dangerous countries to be born a woman, alongside Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Equal opportunity is the greatest barrier for girls and women, as parents often give their sons more coaching and leadership development, along with an early marriage age of about 13 to 18 in most villages.

Women are expected to get married after school, which makes it more difficult to study and do well on the necessary examinations, even if that is an accepted option for them. One of the Sri Aurobindo Society’s large-scale projects is infrastructure development and education in the nearby village of Sarvam

The village school only offered up to grade 8. The school that offered grades 9 and 10 was 5 km away. If a student gets through grade 10 they take the big examination that will determine their future access to post-secondary education. But parents in Sarvam do not want to send their daughters that far away to go to school, as it is not safe for them to walk on their own. Daughters need to also provide daily household support to their families, so a daughter in school can seem burdensome. So with the help of the Society, the local school began offering classes through grade 10. This is one example of the straightforward but very impactful initiatives that the Society does in their village development work.

Education of women is the single best thing we can do to boost economies and better the quality of life for everyone. One of my favorite books I have recently read is called Half the Sky, a heartbreaking but inspiring  book about the impacts that education plays in empowering women. Another one I just finished is called Infidel, about a Somalian refugee who escapes from an arranged marriage and eventually becomes a member of Dutch Parliament. She is a strong advocate for women who are societally oppressed by Muslim culture. A captivating read.

Secretary of State

Guess who came to Chennai a few days ago? No one but our own Secretary of State! Hillary met with the newly elected Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. After congratulating her on her impressive victory, Clinton talked about her desire to build economic ties in Tamil Nadu for road infrastructure, automobile manufacturing, and Tamil Nadu’s goal of building ten solar energy parks.

Jayalalithaa wants more American visas to be granted to Indians from Tamil Nadu. The US’s original quota of 195,000 H1B visas has been lowered to 65,000, meaning a very high rejection rate. Sounds fair to me. The US can build their factories if Indians can get into the US to benefit from its prosperity? I don’t believe in international outsourcing, but if I did that sounds fair to me…

Clinton also gave a speech about the US pulling out of Afghanistan by 2014, as Indians have concerns.

Sri Aurobindo

I realized I have not yet given a ‘Sri Aurobindo for Dummies” overview, so let’s do it.

Sri Aurobindo came upon the earth to teach his truth to men. He told them that man is only a transitional being living in a mental consciousness but with the possibility of acquiring a new consciousnesss…Sri Aurobindo gave all his time to establish himself this consciousness…and to help those around him.

–the Mother

Sri Aurobindo lived from 1872 to 1950, and was born in Kolkata (Calcutta). His father wanted him to get a ‘proper’ English education, and so he was sent to Cambridge for college. He was one of the top students at the university, especially in literature and Greek. Hungry to learn more about his heritage and country, he moved back to India, radicalized about how the British Empire had turned Indians into dependent and disempowered citizens.

Aurobindo was the first political leader to demand complete independence from British rule. He began writing about India throwing off the chains of the British by winning their independence. He became the editor of the newspaper Bande Mataram, one of the only Indian nationalist publications. Aurobindo radicalized the Indian National Congress, turning it into a more relevant body. The British police tried to convict Aurobindo twice on charges of sedition for his powerful words in the Bande Mataram. He was imprisoned for a year, but used the time to do strengthen his spiritual being through yoga and meditation. He eventually moved to the French protectorate of Pondicherry in 1910 to escape the possibility of being arrested again. He thought that he would come back to India at some point, but that was not to be. The Mother, a french woman named Mirrha Alfassa, came to Pondicherry in 1920 and became one of Aurobindo’s students, eventually becoming his closest collaborator. He was the philosophy, she was the action of how to put it into practice.

The ashram has a photo of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in almost every room, even our bedroom in the guesthouse.

In Pondicherry, he left his political life behind and devoted himself to his yoga practice for the next 40 years. He left behind hundreds of poems and stories, journals of his spiritual journey, and thousands of letters to spiritual followers.

Long after he is dead and gone, he will be looked upon as the poet of patriotism, as the prophet of nationalism, and the lover of humanity.”

-Deshbandhu C.R. Das

Here are the links for the Sri Aurobindo society:

This site has more of the society’s philosophy, while the second has the concrete programs and amenities of the ashram.

Terrorism and Tea

Every morning I read The Hindu on the guesthouse veranda. I love reading news in Oregon, (print over online, all the way) especially state and local news. You can learn so much about a foreign place’s culture from reading their newspaper.

The caretakers of our guesthouse bring you chai tea before breakfast, which is lovely. The tea here is unbelievable, milky and strong and sweet. I used to hate tea. I thought it was bitter water, and I didn’t get the point of it. I’m a coffee drinker, but my mom drinks chai tea twice a day every day. I have since grown to like chai, especially with honey in it. Before I left the States, my good friend Shab’d who went to boarding school in Punjab told me, “Yeah, but you’ve never even had chai before. You’ll see.” Now I know that he was right.

Today I read about the three sequential Mumbai bombings, which feel incredibly far away in this indolent, cheerful town. With good reason, Indians are feeling increasingly unsafe, and the government and police are not doing enough to respond or prevent future attacks. The perpetrators of the 2008 and 2010 bombings have still not been found. Here’s a bit from an opinion piece on the Indian government’s response:

It is…imperative to develop the capacities our police and intelligence services desperately need: better training, better skills, better working conditions. Instead the focus has been on raising special forces and acquiring cutting-edge technology, assets which the existing system simply does not have the foundations to use to good effect… The nation’s counter-terrorism establishment needs to stop focusing on appearing impressive on television, and buckle down to the task of serious, system-wide reform.” (The Hindu, editorial, July 15, 2011)

Until there is the backbone to support basic investigative work with integrity, shiny new toys will not provide real help.

In other news, 20,000 citizens in Malaysia gathered in peaceful protest on July 9th in the city of Kuala Lumpur to protest a long list of grievances, among them “mooted early elections, spending cuts, political upheavals in neighbouring Thailand and Singapore, establishment cronyism, curbs on public assembly and debate, and state-imposed censorship considered draconian even by regional standards.” (The Hindu, Simon Tisdall, “Malaysia’s Hibiscus Revolution,” July 14, 2011). Thousands of protesters had their freedom of assembly stolen when police began teargassing and baton beating participants in an attempt to break up the protest.

( Protest rally in Kuala Lumpur, July 9, 2011, File Photo, AFP)

Apparently many of the protesters were first timers. Marimuthu Manogaran, a leader in the Democratic Action Party, said “young people [are] coming out there to demand their rights… and I think that is a good sign for Malaysia.” Woot, woot!

(Lai Seng Sin/AP)

You gotta organize… I’m sending Malaysia prayers of empowerment and healing.