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2011 April 30 [Saturday]

Internet free speech meme-"Casteism can get you jailed but Sexism and Ageism are acceptable in Indian politics"

I avoid meme's but had to rethink my stance after the Information Technology Rules, 2011, (aka the Electronic Service Delivery) Act was quietly implemented last month. This Act states that any content that is "threatening to the unity, integrity, defense, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states or public order, including any content on the web that is blasphemous, scandalous, defames, or can be considered obscene", eligible for immediate removal by the hosting provider upon order from the Department of Information and Technology. Now, that was the long-winded legalese which is so darn vague but here is the short version: "you cannot criticize politicians publicly, ever."

Such draconian censorship rules have no place in a democracy that values free-speech and this calls for a  free speech meme -- I'm reproducing content (with author credits) from other websites which criticizes politicians on my blog, making it harder for DIT/gov.in to implement censorship successfully. For starters, Antara Sen criticizing the Communists for encouraging Sexism and Ageism in Indian politics.

By Antara Dev Sen , Created 30 Apr 2011 - 00:00

Which is worse — calling one of our finest politicians and a respected elder statesman a mummified corpse, a dead man who has no business opening his mouth? Or saying that the spirited woman leader and challenger to the Communist throne of Bengal ignores funds from Bengaluru to get money from the United States, much like bazaar women forget smaller clients when they get bigger patrons? Going by the collective shock and horror, the latter comment wins hands down.


What? He called her a prostitute? Do they stop at nothing? Veteran Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader and member of Parliament Anil Basu was promptly pilloried by all concerned, including his own party members. West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee apologised publicly, censured Mr Basu and pulled him out of campaigning. What he had said was uncivilised and unbecoming of a Communist, lamented the mortified chief minister. It was unpardonable.


True. Mr Basu had used shocking language and imagery, suggesting (thanks to the blinding hatred for the US that Communists have) that the US was Mamata Banerjee’s “bhaataar” (slang for a woman’s keeper) now, so she didn’t have to look at smaller homegrown patrons in Bengaluru, Chennai or Andhra Pradesh. Like the women of Sonagachhi (Kolkata’s red light district), she had dumped smaller babus for bigger ones.


Now, I hate to break this to our slanderous comrade and gentlefolk horrified by the insult, but moving from smaller to bigger clients is not the business strategy of prostitutes alone. It’s common sense. It happens in all professional and business dealings, in all societies and in all times. So Mr Basu’s sex-worker imagery was not about the logic of fund-raising — it was about using degrading stereotypes to insult a woman.


This jibe shows how regressively patriarchal even our Communist bastion is. Sex workers can be invoked as an insult in a state that came to power professing to fight for workers’ rights and dignity of labour and clung to power for more than three decades with the muscle provided by lowly workers of all kinds. Could the comrade have made similar derogatory allusions to low-caste tanners or to Doms who burn corpses? Perhaps not. But chastity is such a deep need of Indian patriarchy that even a seasoned Communist can snigger at sex workers. They aren’t really workers, just fallen women. More than Ms Banerjee, it is prostitutes who have been insulted here.


But the intent was to hit out at the deviant woman who dared to challenge the status quo. And this is not the first time that Ms Banerjee — herself adept at insult — has been attacked with sexist tools. During the Singur agitation, when she was busy taking our breath away with her astounding dramatics, this same Mr Basu had declared that if he had his way he would have dragged her by her hair and plonked her back home instead of allowing her to sit in dharnas. Clearly, for this little caveman in a dhoti, home is where the woman belongs. Not on the streets or in sit-ins. Not in politics.


In fact, the cunning Trinamul Congress chief has been called “brain dead” by the Communists — an accusation so far from the truth that it makes you wonder whether the Communists have completely lost their minds. And when Ms Banerjee first came up with her slogan “Ma, maati, maanush!” (mother, earth, people) some Left leaders had sniggered, “But she isn’t a mother — what does she know of motherhood?” In a patriarchal society, the good woman is domesticated and acceptable as a wife, a mother, a daughter-in-law. But if you are an unmarried politician woman — gosh, you have a problem, sister! You don’t fit in, you are hugely inadequate.


And it is not always men who point out this inadequacy. Some time ago, the feisty Renuka Chowdhury, then minister for women and child development, had hit out at Mayawati on the Aarushi Talwar murder case. She herself was thinking as a mother, she announced righteously, but Ms Mayawati was not a mother, she could only think as a chief minister. And was therefore wrong, of course. Shortly thereafter, Maneka Gandhi was not allowed to flout rules to meet her son Varun in a Uttar Pradesh jail. Ms Mayawati is not a mother, Ms Gandhi hit back, how could she understand a mother’s concerns?


Ages ago, a young Indira Gandhi was called a “goongi gudiya” (a dumb doll) by her respectable opponents. When she grew to become the most powerful Prime Minister India ever had, she was lauded as “the only man in her Cabinet”. Patriarchal symbolism plays a vital role in our perception of political leaders.


The wife, widow or daughter-in-law is very readily acceptable, and most of our women leaders play that role beautifully. And those who don’t — like the unmarried Ms Mayawati or Ms Banerjee — have many extra battles to fight. One way of sidestepping this is to become the universal mother, like “Amma” Jayalalithaa. But the “Behenji” or the “Didi” can only be stereotyped as a dry, heartless, careerist old maid.


But plugging into derogatory stereotypes has been part of the game of politics. What I find alarming is our refusal to see such insults when they are not included in the high-profile, politicised identity groups. Casteism in poll campaigns can get you jailed. Sexism is appalling and can get you in trouble. But ageism, however mean and hurtful, is acceptable.


Which is why I am shocked at the jibe of Bratya Basu, theatreperson and Trinamul Congress candidate in West Bengal, at Somnath Chatterjee. The former Lok Sabha Speaker, though expelled from the CPI(M) for putting the Indian Constitution before the party during the confidence vote, had generously agreed to canvass for CPI(M) minister Gautam Deb. Quick as a flash, Mr Bratya Basu — the challenger in the minister’s constituency, the “intellectual” and first-time politician — attacked the elder statesman, calling him a mummified corpse out of a coffin. Why should anyone listen to him?

An Egyptian mummy, he grimaced for effect, why is he talking in Bengali? He should talk in hieroglyphics!

Maybe civil campaigning is indeed the language of the dead. Maybe lumpenised politics does not need informed debate — either on the campaign trail or in Parliament, the highest seat of rowdy ruckus. Our democracy can just ride on vulgar name-calling and derogatory stereotypes. The vulgarisation of politics has bred a new language for a new age of ungracious, uncivil, illiberal politicians. And unless they are checked, this crude lot will breathe their own mean spirit into our wounded democracy.

Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at: sen@littlemag.com

2011 March 7 [Monday]

Aruna Ramchandra Shanbhag

Tomorrow the the world will celebrate the 100th International Women's Day, but today the Supreme Court verdict rejected the mercy-killing petition of Aruna Ramchandra Shanbhag, filed by Pinky Virani the author of "Aruna's Story". In a country like India, "mercy killing" (whether passive or not) will definitely be misused by parties with vested interests and while I welcome the court's judgement on passive euthanasia, I can't help but wonder if India has done enough since then. As Usha writes, "In the 60s , Jayakantan wrote a story called “Agnipravesam” where a college girl is raped in a car on a dark rainy evening . On seeing her state when she reaches home, her poor widowed mother immediately senses what has happened. She takes her in and simply pours water on the girls head; then she tells her to treat the water as fire and feel pure again and forget the incident."


Thinking about Aruna, I am in two minds --one part of me wants her suffering to stop and it was really hard to not cry for her, for "what may have been" when I saw her hospital video being aired on every news channel, or while writing this entry, or while reading for the first time all those years ago -- Aruna's tragedy still evokes the same emotional reaction today as when I first heard heard her story all those years ago -- A pretty nurse, brutally raped by her subordinate, Sohanlal Bharatha Valmiki, as an act of revenge ; who has since 1980 been a free man -- free to marry and have a family of his own ; whose first act upon being released from jail in 1980 was to visit Aruna's room at KEM hospital and remove the bed guards, leading to her falling from the hospital bed. He probably thought Aruna would fall and die. She didnt. Presumably security was raised after this second incident and her co-nurses and doctors are her only visitors. Later the rapist moved out of the city and was last heard working in a NewDelhi hospital under an assumed name.

I met a big learned pujari who said I had a sau mein ek patrika [a rare horoscope], that I’d be a success, will live long and would go abroad..... but even if he was talking rubbish it does not matter because I know that I will become known in my field -- That was the ambitious and dynamic 25-year-old Aruna, talking to her cousin about her career plans to pursue her dreams of studying abroad. Eerily, the soothsayer's predictions to her father did come true but I doubt if this was the kind of fame they would have wished for, nor expected.  Aruna, born on 1948June01, was the youngest daughter of the Shanbhag family -- consisting of her parents and siblings, six brothers and two sisters, all of who were more interested in extracting an apartment in Mumbai and financial compensation out of her tragedy. When that didnt materialize, they abandoned her to her fate.

For a woman who went against her family and rejected the life of abject poverty in the village, she did well as a nurse in Mumbai, met and fell in love with Dr.Sundeep Sardesai, who upon realising that Aruna would never be normal again, deserted her to marry another woman on 1974May01 and settled down abroad. If you knew and loved someone so deeply would you not feel any guilt for deserting them? I cannot help but wonder if Dr.Sardesai, even once, over these 37 years, ever wondered how Aruna is doing. His rejection makes me wonder if he had ever cared or loved her at all!

Apparently everyone in Aruna's life has moved on and is living a normal human life. There is no doubt that Aruna's hellish experience has made her suffer for 37 long years but mercy-killing? Killing someone who cannot make that decision for themselves isnt mercy. However which way I argue, it seems terribly unfair that others get to decide when Aruna should die. How do we have the right to make decisions on behalf of a person who, unfortunately, cannot decide for herself!

Strange as it may sound, she seems like a fighter to me -- Didnt she overcome her comatose state after the rape, albeit declared "brain-dead"/'persistent vegetative state' thence. Her tremendous will to survive reflects in the fact that despite being brain-dead she has definitely shown a will to live, and most importantly, she can breathe on her own and isnt dependent on life-aids. The nurses at Mumbai's King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital claim, Aruna responds to them when they attend to her, albeit as 'screams' or 'smiles' and they cheered at the Supreme Court's verdict that Aruna should live. For once, I am glad that the tax-payers money is being put to good use by a handful of KEM nurses and doctors.

All the people in favor of killing (err..mercy-killing) Aruna, should take a moment to wonder at her indomitable spirit her body still holds on to -- She responds to stimuli, is on a liquid diet and loves listening to music and the staff nurses and doctors of KEM care more for Aruna than her family or ex-fiance ever did. She continues to live among strangers who care enough to care for her life. Why should we deny her the right to live?

On 2011June01, Aruna Shanbhag will not know she turned 63, as she has remained oblivious to all her birthdays since 1973November27, but that is not reason enough to permit euthanasia. Let us not kill someone who, despite two murder attempts on her life, has shown such tremendous will to live. She has survived despite the odds stacked against her and she should be allowed to die when her body chooses it, naturally. That, for me, is mercy!

If reading about Aruna was heart-wrenching, writing this blog entry was equally difficult, especially because I wanted an appropriate title in Marathi, one that could reflect Aruna Shanbhag's strong never-say-die spirit, choosing to outlive her tragedy by 37 long years (and probably many more to come), only to remind Indians (and the world?) that as a society, and as a nation, we conveniently choose to forget the silent, the inconvenient, the speechless and actively deny justice to women who are rape victims. Its ironic to be forgotten by the next generation you supposedly bring forth!

In Sanskrit, "Mukta"has various meanings: "finally set free", "liberated, delivered, emancipated (esp. from sin or worldly existence)" ; as also meaning "abandoned, relinquished, given up , laid aside" ; "the quarter or cardinal point just quitted by the sun" [ironically, her first name 'Aruna'; means "the red colour of the morning sun"] ; unchaste woman; "the spirit released from corporeal existence" (a noun form). How ironic!

For me, Aruna is already mukta -- she, whose ruddy spirit wills her to live, despite the cruel betrayals by those she loved, the society and the Indian legal system! I cant even begin to imagine the pain Aruna may have gone through but instead of killing her in the name of mercy, we should be fighting to update the ancient rape laws in India -- bring them on par to those followed in developed nations like USA, Europe, et al. Lets petition to change Indian laws and make it impossible for an Aruna Ramchandra Shanbhag redux, ever! That, for me, would be true mercy towards all Indian women and each day would be Indian Women's Day!

UPDATE: Tasting crystals of sugar fed by sister Sugandha Rokade in her mouth, nurse Aruna Shanbaug, 62, cried out, “Aaah!” when she was told about the Supreme Court judgment.

2010 October 5 [Tuesday]

The Sparsh BPO's Intelenet way to defraud BSNL

20131012-Update: I changed the title of this blog post as I just came to know via Valorie that the term "gyp" has racist connotations.

I've been having DNS issues since last weekend and since my ISP has been happily outsourcing its customer service obligations to Sparsh India, so whenever the DNS conks off (which is once a month at the very least), I get to have interesting conversations very often.

[after our initial conversation when I've tried explaining the DNS problem, in vain.]

ME: I've tried changing the DNS to point to 208.67.222.222, saved and rebooted the router, etc... , can ping "random" server, can use IRC, etc...BUT cannot connect to some websites like "www.zareason.com", which gets redirected to "http://searchportal.information.com/?a_id=92438&domainname=www.zareason.com". Please reboot your DNS server as it does not resolve some domains properly.
CSR: Click on 'start button', click on 'internet explorer', ...
ME: Excuse me ...Sir/M'am, I told you I dont have windows on this machine. I use a Linux-based operating system so if you tell me what information you require to troubleshoot, I can check for it locally.



At this point I'm put on hold, ...CSR returns after a few minutes to ask if I can connect to 'google.com'. I answer in the affirmative and he/she proceeds to say the problem is because I use Linux and there is nothing they can do about it. Simply stunning.

Asking to speak to another person who knows "linux+networking" or a team leader results in them disconnecting your call. That isnt surprising. A Business line article says "Sparsh BPO, which is the domestic arm of Intelenet Global Services, put in a bid at Rs 1.15 a call for providing contact centre services...." -- The higher the number of calls to the BSNL toll-free numbers will result in more income for Sparsh. I'm not aware of the finer points in their SLA but the pattern I have observed is very very common. Calls are always dropped, sometimes mid-way, etc...

Sparshindia is a subsidiary of Intelenetglobal, meant to handle the pan-India BPO business. I am curious to know if Intelenet provides similar poor service to their US clients. Would a CSR disconnect an overseas call mid-way without solving the customers problem? Will they get to bill clients simply on the basis of number of calls handled without actually solving the problem.

http://www.sparshindia.com/opration_quality.html, states they monitor calls and have a good QA process. I beg to differ. If I call back and go through the whole discussion for the N'th time and insist on speaking to a TL, I'll be put on hold, and the same person pretends to be another person. Oh well, it takes more than changing voices and giving a fake name -- the 'trying too hard to fake it' bit that gives them away. Nine out of ten times the conversation has gone downhill when the CSR insists that you are having a DNS issue because you are using Linux.

https://www.zareason.com/  was also unable to connect and dig @8.8.8.8 zareason.com returns the correct IP address. While I grok that every ISP out there uses a transparent proxy to save on bandwidth. Using an anonymous proxy gives me the zareason website but what if its a site you want to order something. How can the user know or trust the site if the ISP has borked DNS which just redirects you to a phishing site?

On multiple occasions I have requested to speak to any technical person who understands "linux + networking" as the DNS issue has a simple solution -- Probably the DNS server used by the proxy is broken and its is caching incorrect data. The backend technical team (whom i've spoken to just once in so many years) can reboot the server and clear the cache. This is all it takes, all of 5 minutes to reboot the appropriate server and solve the DNS issue. BUT its easier to do a shirsasana (head-stand) than get the sparshindia agents to reboot the darn dns server.

UPDATE: I called Sparsh India yet again. This time I refused all the request to give the mobile number so the outbound process would call me. Erm...I would hold on forever until the DNS problem was solved. As of writing this, its been 2 hours that i've been talking to a TL (he claimed so), who finally booked my complaint which I checked here: 'http://bangaloretelecom.com/' --it has no details of the problem. The excuse this guy gives me is 'BSNL must have blocked the site" ...hilarious, why would bsnl want to block one site peddling computers? If it were a p0rn site that argument might atleast make sense. We retraced the steps of changing the routers WAN settings and other tasks which didnt help.

Which part of the sentence "I can access websites and surf online, only some sites like zareason dont work, reboot your DNS server and solve the problem" does a person not grok?  He even pretended to not know how to spell "cache" and i could hear his co-worker giggle in the background. So I politely told him that while he was busy 'pretending to not understand basic tech terms', he was not harassing me, rather, he came across as a dumb person with zero technical knowledge. That got his attention real quick and he didnt seem to enjoy harassing me anymore. Oh, the joys of being a sexist troll !!

At the moment it seems that Sparsh India is only interested in increasing their revenue by billing BSNL INR1.15 for each call that customers make --Not solving the problem in one phone call definitely helps Sparsh and Intelenet gain more revenue. Rebooting the server means the problem gets solved, hence less revenue.

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