Friday, June 28, 2013

A navigation guide for you in New Digital Age

By John Cheeran
Can you keep your privacy online? With the US National Security Agency’s Prism programme snooping on social media networks to collect data, you have reasons to be highly sceptical. People who are not on Google, Facebook and Yahoo and not using smartphones are becoming a minority across the world. The digital age in which we are living has become an uncertain place.
Eric Schmidt, executive chairman, Google, and Jared Cohen, director, Google Ideas, warn us about the consequences of going online in a brilliant book The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business (Published by Hachette in India, Rs 650).
Five billion more people are poised to come online. By 2025, the majority of the world’s population will, in one generation, have gone from having virtually no access to unfiltered information to accessing all of the world’s information through a device that fits in the palm of the hand.
If the current pace of technological innovation is maintained, most of the projected eight billion people on Earth will be online, write Schmidt and Cohen.
The authors raise an important question-- will the digital empowerment of individuals result in a safer world, or a more dangerous one? They don’t have the answers but try to chart out the scenario that may unfold before us.
Any stuff you keep online is vulnerable. Identity will be the most valuable commodity for citizens in the future. How to protect it? There is no delete button in digital world. Isn't that a frightening piece of knowledge?
WikiLeaks cofounder Julian Assange believes in the dictum of ‘information wants to be free.’ Free-information activists say the absence of a delete button ultimately strengthens humanity’s progress toward greater equality, productivity and self-determination.
But the absence of a delete button also presents challenges.
Schmidt and Cohen do not address whether secrecy and privacy are the same. As an individual you have a right to privacy, but do you have a right to secrecy? Public interest should be the key to unlock this question.
The authors caution us that if we are on the web, we are publishing and we run the risk of becoming public figures—it’s only a question of how many people are paying attention, and why. You are always under surveillance in the digital world.
Security and privacy are a shared responsibility between companies, users and the institutions, write Schmidt and Cohen. They admit that companies like Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook are expected to safeguard data, prevent their systems from being hacked into and provide the most effective tools for users to maximize control of their privacy and security.
But they also make it clear that it is up to users to leverage these tools. “Each day you choose not to utilize them, you will experience some loss of privacy and security as the data keeps piling up.” The option to delete data is largely an illusion.
The irony is that privacy is in danger but we don't even get our basic information right, the kind of information no one has withheld from us. Take the case of former railways minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, as an example. Did we know about the kind of environment in which Bansal was operating as a politician?
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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Do Muslim girls want to marry at 16?

By John Cheeran

Getting married still remains a big deal in India. Kerala is no exception. These days a few Malayalis do not marry at all, but prefer to be in live-in relationships. But this is not about them.
It is about how girls are still pushed into marriage in Kerala much before they attain the age of 18, among Kerala’s Muslims, who constitute more than 25% of the state’s population. These are nothing but child marriages.
The Child Marriage Prohibition Act, 2006, unambiguously defines a “child as a person who, if a male, has not completed 21 years of age, and if a female, has not completed 18 years of age.”
A circular issued on June 14, 2013, by Local Self Government (LSG) department of the government of Kerala has sought to reassure unconvinced registrars across the state that Muslim marriages involving a male aged less than 21 and a female aged less than 18 is legal.
The circular violates provisions in Special Marriage Act 1954. As per this Act, if a marriage has to be solemnized, the man has to be 21 years old and the woman must be 18 years of age. Both the Child Marriage Prohibition Act and Special Marriage Act are applicable to the whole of India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
At the moment, a debate is on in Kerala about the intent and logic behind the Congress-led UDF government’s move to sanctify such child marriages among Muslims.
The LSG department is headed by an Indian Union Muslim League minister, M K Muneer, an MBBS doctor, who told The Times of India (the TOI led with the story on June 20 in Kerala which has triggered a state-wide debate, forcing rest of the newspapers and news channels to amplify the story) that he is personally against the move to encourage child marriages among Muslims.
But the government, harried by allegations against chief minister Oommen Chandy’s office of nexus with a set of financial fraudsters, is adamant and not ready to withdraw the circular. Muslim League has 20 MLAs in the assembly and the government runs on two-seat majority in the 140 member assembly.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The importance of revealing rape victim’s identity

By John Cheeran
Is there life after rape? Should a woman live in a purdah rest of her life, if a maniac forcibly violates her privacy? Should she conceal her identity and the identity of those who are near her and next to her?
Are the media and legal system doing the rape victim and her family a favour by not making public her identity? And withholding all references that may point to her identity?  
I do not think so. By not naming the rape victim, you are not favouring her but perpetuating the shame and stigma that is associated with the heinous act. Rape is not the fault of the victim. By treating rape as an unmentionable crime, the media are treating the rape victim as an untouchable, someone who is different from you and me.
How does the fact that the public do not know her name, help the rape victim handle the trauma that she is undergoing? The fact remains that she has been assaulted, privacy violated. Those who done it deserves to be hanged, after establishing their crime in a court of law.
But why the victim has to be always on the back foot? Why are we shrouding her identity, apparently, in an ethical effort to help her?
In fact, in every rape incident, everyone who knows the victim at an individual level knows that she has been subjected to the crime, however long, and however hard, you try to pretend so. In the latest incident of rape – of a medical student at the Manipal Medical College in Udupi in Karnataka, all the students in that campus now must be familiar with the name of the victim. Knowing the name is not the crime, but in the age of surreal connectivity, there are no secrets left among us. To know is the human urge, especially if it involves someone’s misfortune and misery, such are rape incidents. So would be the village or town that the rape victims come from. Her relatives would know. So would be all her classmates. All of them talk. In a free society, where people are free to gossip, and their fare idea about what is happening around the world will continue to do that, unless we want to be a society where news should be always treated with an ethical pen.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Many Splendid Women of Khaled Hosseini

By John Cheeran

There is more to Afghanistan than Taliban. Although not a late discovery, it is important to state this after reading Khaled Hosseini’s ‘And The Mountains Echoed’ (Published by Bloomsbury, Rs599). Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, writes with a striking absence of rage but with deep understanding of quotidian desires. You agree with Nabi, the chauffer, who plays a pivotal role in this generational saga, when he says: “I suspect the truth is that we are waiting, all of us, against insurmountable odds, for something extraordinary to happen to us.”

And most often, such waiting is futile. And The Mountains Echoed is not about Afghanistan. It is after all, about you and me. As Markos Varvaris, the Greek plastic surgeon who pitches camp in Kabul tending to the war victims, ruminates about a mother who disowned her disfigured child in pursuit of happiness: “We are not even that different, she and I. Hadn’t we each, in the end, unmoored ourselves by cutting loose the anchors that weighed us down?”

Sometimes, you have to admit that the comeuppance never comes.You cannot think about Afghanistan, without women coming into focus. Hosseini tears open the purdah, writes with rare understanding about women, and in fact, And The Mountains echo with deep thoughts of the women characters—all of them carrying a deep sense of loss and tragedy, with them, including the beautiful actress Madaline Gianakos, even though her obituary attests to her success.

All Hosseini’s women are strong and troubled but have a sense of dignity to them. This is in stark contrast to most of Hosseini’s male characters, except Markos, the plastic surgeon, who through his deep bond with Thalia, the inventive, spunky woman, who keeps him going at many levels, rises above the helplessness of Wahdati, Nabi, Saboor, Abdullah (all of them Afghanis, men of the mountain).

The unapologetic Nila Wahdati, the poet who cannot bear a child but gets married to a gay, and her troubled relationship with adopted child Pari leaves you unsettled. In an interview Hosseini has Wahdati saying this about her daughter Pari – “Everything I have done, I have done for my daughter. Not that she understands, or appreciates, the full measure of what I have done for her. She can be breathtakingly thoughtless, my daughter. If she knew the life she would have had to endure, if not for me….

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Why the urban Indian woman is a fascinating creature

By John Cheeran
Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan is a blessed woman by her own admission. By age 15, she figured out what she wanted to do for the rest of her life—write. To write till you die can be a frightening prospect for many but not for Meenakshi. “I want to write forever. I want to write and write,” says Meenakshi.
There can be no comparison between Meenakshi and Arundhathi Roy. Roy has written only one book, The God of Small Things, and put a full stop to fiction. But Meenakshi belongs elsewhere.
Admittedly, she is “India’s answer to Bridget Jones”, as the cover of her latest book, Cold Feet, (Published by Penguin) proclaims. Unlike Helen Fielding’s single, 30-something, fictional career woman, Meenakshi is for real, although her blog jottings pulled in all kinds of surfers towards her. Well, Meenkashi is the chick-lit diva.
She admits that ‘class divide’ exists among Indian English writers. “One has to concede that point. There are literary fiction writers and those who are like me. But what’s wrong with it? Such divide is there at all places, in all spheres. What matters is I’m being read.”
Meenakshi belongs to an age where they want to have their cake and eat it too. She wants to write not only a good book but a successful one too. “I guess both would be the same. But I will not mind even if a good book of mine does not sell like hot cakes,” says Meenakshi.
Then it is not out of place when Shayna, one of the five single women characters in Cold Feet, says: “Because I want my cake and eat it too. What a stupid expression though. Whose cake do I have if I’m not allowed to eat it? This is my goddamn cake, I’m going to go face downwards in it and emerge with my eyelashes covered in icing. When I’m eating my cake you can bet I’m going to have a second helping.”

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Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Is Sreesanth an Ajmal Kasab?

By John Cheeran

Is S Sreesanth a terrorist? Is he a criminal? Is ‘spot-fixing’ a crime? Is he a Sanjay Dutt? Should Sreesanth be tried under sections 3 and 4 of Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act (MCOCA)? These are important questions, because we are in danger of slipping into a police state, where an accused person has few options to prove his innocence. MCOCA takes away one’s right to be on bail. As per the act, anything that the police claim as confessions to a superintendent of police (SP) level officer in writing or recording will be admissible before a court of law.

What is applicable for Sreesanth also holds true for the two other Rajasthan Royals cricketers, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila. As of now, for me, Sreesanth is a cricketer who has erred grievously. Delhi Police till last Tuesday (June 4) had charged him with cheating offence Under IPC 420. Under Indian Penal Code, there is no such offence called ‘spot-fixing.’

Of course, Sreesanth has committed a mistake. With a sense of drama, which is richly deserving in this case, you can say Sreesanth has betrayed cricket. Sreesanth’s crime is that he broke the agreement he had with his IPL franchise Rajasthan Royals and the BCCI, the owners of IPL, by indulging in ‘spot-fixing’ and thereby besmirching the reputation of IPL and cricket.

Sreesanth has done something that is indefensible, going by the Delhi Police’s initial argument, that he took money from bookies and bowled as per their instructions. If it is so, it is an act that is unpardonable by a cricket enthusiast. It is nothing more. And I presume Delhi police, too, know this aspect of the case, including police commissioner Neeraj Kumar.

If that is so, why are the police applying MCOCA against Sreesanth and other accused?

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Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Why Rima Kallingal hates an overdose of testosterone

By John Cheeran/ The Times of India Crest Edition

Rima Kallingal says she is proud to be seen as the brave new female face of Malayalam cinema. “I do feel proud about it. I am happy that I had the guts to make a choice, when it came to doing films such as ‘22 Female Kottayam’,” she says.

Kallingal, however, is cautious about being typecast. “I don’t want to get stereotyped with the bold and beautiful tag. I’m looking for diverse roles and balance while doing more films.” She is aware that she could be seen as a role model and that her unconventional characters could change something in society. “But I’m an artiste still. I have to challenge myself,” she insists.

It is tough being the brave, new heroine, she admits. “After doing ‘22 Female Kottayam’ in 2012, I had to wait for another four months before I could get another role. Nobody else could see any other facet of femininity in me for a long time,” confesses Kallingal. But she is generous enough to point to other strong heroines in the past. She cites P Padmarajan’s Desadanakilikal Karayarilla, where actress Shaari played a lesbian character.

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Monday, June 03, 2013

When India is a metaphor for BCCI

By John Cheeran

So who won? There may not be a definitive answer to that question but there is no doubt about who lost in the Chennai Test on Sunday –the Indian cricket fan. It was a victory for N Srinivasan and his brinkmanship, it was a victory for Arun Jaitley and his political nous, and it was a victory for Jagmohan Dalmiya and his sense of opportunism.

If you have been a cricket lover, you can henceforth love BCCI. What a beautiful four-letter word it is. You can use it now to let your steam out – ‘BCCI You.’ This is the only message coming from Chennai. Whatever the outraged public say, BCCI is a realm, where you are not given entry. You can buy a match ticket, enter M A Chidambaram Stadium, or M A Chinnaswamy Stadium or for that matter Eden Gardens. That’s it. (As much as you can cast your vote during elections but your tryst with democracy ends there.) You cannot walk into the portals of the BCCI. We will fix the game for you, that’s the message coming from Srinivasan, Jaitley and Dalmiya. We are in it together. We will run this as a private organization (which in any case, it is) and let no one come forward to clean-up our act, say the entrenched forces in Indian cricket.

And mind you, BCCI is the most professionally run sports organization in India. It only shows how poorly managed our other sports organizations are. You cannot criticize BCCI on certain counts. For example, former and current cricketers are taken care of financially by the board. There is no breakdown of administration. Indian board flexes its muscle and money at the International Cricket Council. It vetoes ICC proposals and takes on the perpetrators of imagined insults to the nation and its cricketers. BCCI may be a mafia, it is a mafia that gets things done. Like what? When Srinivasan was around, India regained the World Cup, in 2011, 28 years after its first title triumph. The board’s coffers are full. It religiously conducts all domestic tournaments, and on the face of it, there is a degree of process (however skewed it may be) involved in its decision making. To a large extent, this explains the silence of the satraps of the state associations in the working committee meeting in Chennai on Sunday.

But when it comes to big decisions, there is opacity, deceit, subterfuge, arm-twisting and mutual back-scratching. Very rarely we see the ‘back-stabbing’ attempted by the western lobby, led by one of the most ambitious politicians around in India now.

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Sunday, June 02, 2013

Why cricketers never suffer from backbone injuries?

By John Cheeran

Have you ever wondered why cricketers never suffer from backbone injuries? Read Sachin Tendulkar’s statement to the media on Friday, and you will understand. The man who conquered the best of bowlers, slow and fast, is still uneasy about fielding questions. Hence a convenient, anodyne statement, that does not tell us anything, does not take a position on anything that is germane to the malaise that afflicts Indian cricket.

Let me quote the great batsman: “During this difficult phase, I join every cricketer, from the boys in the maidans across the country to those who represent clubs, states and the country, who trust the

authorities to take sincere steps to get to the root of the issue.”

So what’s the issue, Tendulkar?

It appears you are too terrified to utter the word ‘fixing’. And significantly, you still have trust in those who employ you, that is Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), when you say “you trust the authorities to take sincere steps.”

Ahem. This pearl of wisdom comes from the elder statesman of world cricket, who has played international cricket since 1989.

Is Tendulkar living in denial? Why? Does he think the BCCI has failed in keeping cricket clean and corruption-free in India? Does he think that the BCCI should subject itself to an overhaul? There are no answers.

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