Making an Example: Justice in web 2.0

Social media is obsessed these days with the idea of social justice (social — as in social media). In a sense, it’s just a fallout of the overall lack of confidence in the legal justice system. Not that many of these crimes and misdemeanors will ever be reported. But even assuming they were to be, no one expects any resolution, any justice, given the long drawn out trials and hope breaking legal process.

“Justice Delayed is Justice Denied”, is a legal maxim quoted randomly, but the fact of the matter is that even with the so called expedited trials, it takes years for a verdict. As a society, we are prepared for that: bhagwaan ke ghar der hai andher nahin (there is delay is God’s court/house, but no darkness/injustice), an antithesis of the justice delayed line, is all too well known to us. Everyone is assured of the final judgement — either on the day of judgement, or in the karmic cycle. But no one has seen that judgement. And even the devote believers will be unwilling to let go a more secular, more earthly justice in favor of the justice of God.

In a nutshell, that’s our plight as a society. In days before impersonal government machinery took it upon itself to administer justice (mostly retributive) — and indeed in some parts of the world, including our beloved country, even today– vigilantes and other self-proclaimed cultural conscience keepers routinely took it upon themselves to dispense justice — or their idea of justice anyways (essentially efficient revenge or settling of scores). Now, in most of the civilized world, we’re supposed to entrust the deliverance of justice to third-party, to keep biases out. For sounds reasons, I’d add, because bias is not an easy thing for a wronged party (and many times, that’s both parties, if you ask them) to see, and to compensate for. It’s hard to be objective about what’s an appropriate punishment for a crime (or even who was the perpetrator, and who was the victim) when one has a personal stake (would you have said the same thing if it was your family member that had died, went the standard rebuke to anyone opposing death penalty for Yakub Memon, recently). But when one has to wait an eternity for the appropriate punishment, it’s difficult to not want quick(er) fixes.

This is where social media seems to be coming in handy. Here, it’s easy to take the justice to the objective third party — those fellow twitter happy judges out there, individually unqualified for the job, but as a collective, more than qualified (or so they/we believe). And it has indeed started becoming our kangaroo court.

My dad is fond of recounting stories of the so called kabool courts in Bombay of yore, where for petty traffic offences or the likes, one was brought in front of a magistrate (I believe), and asked to pay a paltry fine if you agreed to the guilt. The catch being, every no would double the fine. You were there to say gunah kabool (guilty as charged). Any dissent was costly. And useless. (Note: this is all anecdotal, so take it with a generous helping of salt).

Cicra 2015, Twitter is the new kabool court. Here everyone who is charged is guilty. Be it a guy who (allegedly) talked rudely to you. Or who (you believe) tried to sexually harass you in broad day light. A tweet with a photograph is enough to pronounce someone guilty as charged. Within minutes to hours (depending on when you hit those high-influence twitteratis) the offender is shamed by random third-party who has no reason to be biased.

No reason, indeed. But, the problem is, we the twitterati always side with the accuser. What if the accuser was mistaken? What if the accuser was deliberately manipulating the facts (either selectively telling parts of the story, or adding dubious facts)? We the twitter happy twitterati will RT everything. Possibly punishing an innocent. Possibly punishing someone for a misunderstanding.

IMG_0380Who has the time for such nuances when thoughts need to be compressed in 140 characters? Excluding images worth a thousand characters. Images that could destroy lives. But we have to judge, we believe. Because, the system we entrusted the judgement has failed us. And we the men and women of the web 2.0, are collectively infallible.

Or, are we?

The other aspect of this web 2.0 justice is that one hears this quite often: “let’s make an example of him, so that others will think twice …”. So, the new kabool courts will not just punish unilaterally, they’ll punish with an intent. This reminds me of another Mumbai phenomenon. I’ve heard stories where pickpockets are thrown over railway bridges, or from moving local trains (the real danger for pickpockets is the public: Confessions of a pickpocket). When crowd has nabbed a pickpocket, the justice can be swift (and extreme). The same logic of “that will teach them a lesson”. The problem is, what if the accusation is wrong? What if it’s a paranoid man who thought someone was trying to pick his pocket? Nope, no one has times for such nuances.

Same goes here, with web 2.0. At least in real life, aversion to physical violence (especially extreme violence that could end a life) might hold back a few. Here, it’s just an RT, or a share. In our search for quick justice, and making an example, what if we made an example of a wrong person? But then, we the men and women of the web 2.0 are collectively infallible.

Or, are we?

Retribution, Thy Name is Human

So looks like we’ve moved on from Kasab’s hanging. Not that I had a doubt we would be hung up on it for too long, for in India there is always something else to beat to death (pardon the double-entrandre: that wasn’t intended, but seemed apt once it came out like that (being hung up on a hanging, is also a good mixed half-metaphor, isn’t it?), especially given our media, and our obsession with it. Continue reading

On the ‘Verses’, and Soft Targets

The regrettable Rushdie affair is kind of over, with media moving onto other stories,  I suppose. A lot has been said on the subject, and I guess people are bored. But then, the advantage of a blog that’s rarely read is that one can go on and drag dead horses around. One’s gotta capitalize on blessing in disguise.

My reaction to the whole affair will be no surprise to anyone who reads this blog. I’m terribly upset by the politicization of everything cultural, and the way philistine mobs are ruling the country covertly, under the disguise of democracy. From Mistry, to Rushdie, we’ve seen how political landscape has subverted the cultural scene, making India’s claims to being a liberal democracy hollow. Continue reading

Hitler Reacts to Tendulkar’s 100th Ton Mania

Hitler is angry with Indians, and Mumbaikars in particular, for ignoring Pawar incident a day before and watching test match instead for Tendulkars (missed) hundred.

Already posted to twitter and FB. Posting to blog for ‘completeness’. ;-). All feedback appreciated, as usual. Share, if you feel like it.



Why I Left Indira (Again)!

The music playing on FM radio, as I drove down Indira’s flat, was “Desi Girl” (literally a song about native girl, and how you won’t find anyone like my native girl, anywhere in the world).

The idea that the nakharas of desi girls are unparalleled in the world is highly suspect. No I wasn’t going back to native charms, I was leaving Uma to go back to Indira who had newly acquired a FB profile, where she was posting her photos in the latest western clothes, updates about her visits to spas, and hair stylists, snaps of pastas and enchiladas she was cooking at home; Indira whose father owned a, now prospering, packaged foods business; and all this with an additional promise of freedom from unmitigated feminism of the likes of Uma.

Continue reading

The Dream Merchants

In the nineties India started liberalizing, or so the history books will say. The economic liberalization — forced by the foreign reserves situation or not — is supposed to have started then. In the small towns of India, though, the only liberalization that we saw in the nineties was the liberalization of media (yes, for a brief period, it was more liberal than today, in terms of censoring or lack of it). The satellite TV arrived in India, and with that, India (or Indians) suddenly had a window to the world. Before that there was, the iconic, The World This Week — with its last segment, ‘The News Makers’, that served most Indians their weekly glimpse at the world at large. But with the cable TV, the world entered Indian houses in the earnest.

Back to liberalization. In my engineering days, the debate was about liberalization, and how it could end up destroying Indian economy, making us slaves of the West again. The most frequent topics of the Group Discussions that were a hurdle to the coveted jobs, and MBA admissions, were two back then: the brain drain, the economic liberalization. But the actual liberalization was yet to reach we the people. We the people satisfied ourselves with dreams — the dreams sold by the dream merchants.

Zee TV, one of the first Indian channels on the cable TV had this program called The Dream Merchants. Among other things it showcased the best advertisements in the world. It’s curious how dreams were sold back then. We could not even aspire to buy any of the things being sold to other people by those ads. Not just because we did not have money. We sure did not. But even if we were to have it, the things themselves were not sold here. Yet. Instead, we were sold the dreams. Those who bought them, had to leave India to take the delivery. Most did not even understand the ads. We did not know the language. But that was a minor problem. Bigger problem was that we did not have the language. We did not have access to the cultural capital that went into the making of that language – visual or otherwise. And so we marvelled at the incomprehensible. The way, in Hollywood movies, African tribal is shown marveling at the magical machines of the West.

Two decades have passed. Now we don’t worry about brain drain so much, or at all. More importantly, now we have the cultural capital, we have the language (hell, we are the language — the ads have changed to accommodate the cultural capital of the East). We have the monies (yes, not just money), some of us; many of us, even. The tables have turned. Now we’re the merchant’s dream. No one sells us dreams any longer. They sell us goods. In plenty. We buy them. In plenty.

I was a staunch capitalist; not surprising, for someone who revered Ayn Rand once. Today, I don’t know where I stand. Staunch capitalists are in constant fight with the idealist within them (so must be staunch socialists). For years, I believed that choice was what was keeping us from better things. Today, with all the choice, when people seem to choose the soap operas, and the inane pulp of Bollywood and Hollywood, the music whose only fame to claim is being recent, lifestyle that’s unsustainable, ideas that are indistinguishable from the banal, diet that’s killing us; it’s hard to pretend to believe in the freedom of choice as the answer to everything, or anything.

Liberalism was doomed the day it had to be qualified as economic liberalism. It was free, but free like a bull left to roam around with no idea of what was worth mowing down, and what was worth harvesting. The illusive marriage of economic right and social left, never seems to find a date. And left free to do whatever they want to do, people do whatever they want to do. It’s not a pretty picture.

I wish they start selling the dreams all over again, those dream merchants. I wish we could go back and reinvent a right that’s centered on left, a bit. I wish we could choose differently, as Indians. As humanity. But we’re obsessed with the idea of choice, not with what we do with it.

I wish dream merchants will sell us a dream that tells us that all this chaos is a precursor to something else. But they’re busy selling us goods. And we’re busy buying them.

Sports and Indian-ness

Every once in a while some blogger asks other bloggers to comment on “Who is the real Indian”. Misplaced though the question is, in that it betrays too much of quasi-Freudian complex (isn’t every complex Freudian, or is it not that simple?) — of either varieties — what is most surprising about it is the lack of any convincing answers. I suspect it is because of this: people don’t know where to look for the answers. Good news is: I do, and soon, you will too.

Here, then, is the short answer: an Indian is a person who follows cricket, and no other game. Continue reading

Not Honour, Your Honour

In past few days two Supreme Court statements got me thinking. First was when SC asked the center to “legalize prostitutions [as] they can’t curb it” (link). Right steps, wrong justification?

I mean, by that logic, we should legalize female foeticide, terrorism, dowry related killings/tourture, domestic violence — basically all major crime.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not subscribe to a view that prostitution is a crime. I would strongly welcome legalization of prostitution on more principled grounds: activities between consenting adults should be outside the control of state, when no one’s rights are violated. What needs to be tackled are the ‘coercive’ aspects of the trade: minors/adults forced into the trade, or held in it against their wishes, the unholy nexus between pimps and police, the harassment of the sex workers, denying them basic human rights, and so on.

Of course, the matter of weather the plight of commercial sex workers would change post legalization is another matter altogether. And, it’s for others to comment (those who know the ground realities better). But that’s a digression.

So back to the other (and more important) SC commentary while converting Death sentence of Dilip Tiwari, also upheld by the Bombay High Court, into a life sentence:

“[Outside caste marraige] is held as the family’s defeat. At times, [elder brother] has to suffer taunts and snide remarks even from persons who really have no business to poke their nose into the affairs of the family. Dilip, therefore, must have been a prey of the so-called insult which his younger sister had imposed upon his family and that must have been in his mind for seven long months” (link)

Again, I’m ambivalent on the issue of capital punshiment (or to be truthful — I’m against it). But, what I cannot understand, is the differntiation that is made here, on grounds that the person may have ‘suffered taunts’.

Let’s put that in context. Let’s say a person is being taunted in society, because his wife did not bring in enough dowry, or that she hasn’t been able to deliver a male child (as happens routinely in our society). Now this person gets angry, and does what: beats/tortures his wife, or sends her back to her parents, or even kills her and her parents, and young siblings. Will anyone reduce the severity of punishment in such cases? Of course, not! And why? For the simple reason, that aggression is legally tolerated only against the one who’s tormenting, not those who are innocent.

If Dilip, in the moment of rage, had killed, even brutally, those who ‘had no business to poke their nose into the affairs of the family’, sure, he might be considered for ‘temporary insanity‘ plea, and get a reduced sentence. But a gruesome (as noted even by the Court), and pre-meditated murder (there were two people assisting him) of those, who’re basically innocent, apart from the crime of going against ‘genuine caste considerations‘ (sic!). They didn’t even spare a 13 year old kid, for God’s sake …

It gets worse, if that’s possible:

“It has come in evidence that the mother of Dilip tried to lure back Sushma and so did her other married sister Kalpana who actually went to meet Sushma in her college. Those efforts paid no dividend. Instead, Sushma kept attending the college, thereby openly mixing with the society. This must have added insult to the injury felt by the family members and more particularly, accused Dilip,” the bench said.

Instead Sushma kept openly mixing with the society! What was she supposed to do? Sit in a remote corner of house where no one sees or talks to her? Is this Supreme Court? Injury felt by … If I feel injured because the female I love doesn’t respond to me, and then I see her openly roaming with someone else, I go and kill her brutally, and him too, will I be spared the noose because of my ‘perceived injury’? This is seriously screwed, coming from the Apex court, no less!

It’s a verdict that belongs to middle ages, especially the justification. That it should apply to urban crime, in the twenty-first century, under the pretext of ‘caste considerations’ (read: bigorty, racism) hardly gives me hope. That it comes from the apex court — the last standing bastion of justice in this land — makes me despondant, and sad.

The message that’s gone out is this: honour killing are somehow less abhorrent that other dastardly acts of killing. That totally idiotic notions of caste superiority ingrained in our society are somehow a licence to kill, and that those who use that licence to kill will be spared the highest punishment, because they’re seen as victims of the social ideology. That those who do not have either the courage to confront aggressor or think beyond social norms, can go and kill those who’re the real victims (of those norms). That they’re are somehow to be seen as more human, than they are.

No, your honour — it’s just killing. There is no honour there.

PS: As an aside, those who harp on ‘uniform civil code‘ every once in a while, will they condemn this complete negation of criminal law for a twisted logic that triumphs the ‘community law’? Or will they let the ‘pinko-liberals’ beat the dead horse, and watch from sideline with a smug, indifferent expression, as always? When people’s right to life is being trivialized and ridiculed in the name of archiach community ‘conciousness’, the debate over ‘civil code’ turns meaningless.

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Shourie’s Catch 22

BJP High Command: Mr. Shourie, we’re deeply hurt by your remarks about the party president.

Shourie: So, are you going to expel me?

BHC: Err. No. You’ll have to clarify the remarks.

Shourie: But I wrote 7 full newspaper pages of explanation.

BHC: Oh that’s not clear. You need to ‘clarify’.

Shourie: I already did.

BHC: That’s not acceptable

Shourie: So are you going to expel me?

BHC: Are you saying that you refuse to clarify?

Shourie: No. I am saying I already clarified.

BHC: Then we can’t expell you.

Shourie: So what am I supposed to do?

BHC: Clarify the remarks, till they are clear.

Shourie: And then I can be expelled?

BHC: No you cannot be expelled then, for you’d have clarified.

Shourie:And what happens if my clarification is not clear? Can you expell me then?

BHC: No. If your clarification is not clear, we do not know if you actually said anything that needs desciplinary action.

Shourie: And what if I refuse to further clarify? Then you will expel me?

BHC: No. You can only be expelled for your remarks, which won’t be clear till you clarify.

Shourie: So there is a catch?

BHC: Yes. Catch 22. It’s the best that is there.