Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Fiscal Rope Trick

It is Diwali time but there is a general pall of gloom sweeping the surroundings. The world economy has slowed down and consequently our economy has braked- so many of our investments have come to a nought, just become some smart alecs sitting in plush offices in US have put their dough in the wrong places. But why do we need to pay the price for someone else’s blunders of avarice?

We were told that an integrated economy is the way ahead. As the world trades more, we will all progress but did somebody forget to tell us that when there is a slowdown we all have to suffer? The stock market, irrational as usual, has come down from the Manhattan towers to the slums of Dharavi and is plunging further still.

So, all that requires the entire world economy to stumble is a few bad loans in US, is it? I mean is this the stable growing economy that we are talking about? Economists have told us for years that Markets are intelligent enough and will correct themselves and that regulations adversely affect the market. Free trade and free movement reflect positive growth but then free falling recessions, bad debts and wages also come hurtling back in bad times.

The news has been full of banks queuing up to collapse in a pile, companies cutting down expenses, B-Schools getting candidates placed wherever they can and TV channels making merry with stories on various fiscal ruins. The Indian Aviation Industry is crying for help and we are all concerned that flight trips have got more expensive but in the midst of all this, our son of the soil remains silent. He wonders what the fuss is all about; many of his colleagues have been committing suicide every year and all that happens is that magazines like Frontline feature articles on them and Sainath rants about government (in) action. Is our pain of greater concern to the Government than that of the farmer who suffers in silence?

Gordon Gekko in his famous “Wall Street” speech remarks Greed is Good and we all believed in it. It's a zero sum game, somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn't lost or made; it's simply transferred from one perception to another. Yes, we realised that he was the villain in the film but once the movie was done, we went back to the rational exuberance of the markets.

The Market is God, it decides fates and it is fun as long as the destiny follows a path of flowers; the moment, the road starts crumbling, we look for scapegoats- the government, the brokers and all the innumerable people who have put money in places where it has just been sucked in through and through. Everyone is to blame except us the poor investors- we just wanted to make some extra money, don’t blame us...

Maybe, just maybe, it is time to decelerate and ask ourselves whether we are moving in the right direction. Introspection comes only during crisis and the world needs earthquakes to question some of its holy cows who have long eaten it hollow. Socialism is a bad word now but as a concept it still has relevance. When Jet Airways decided to fire many of its employees, many felt the pinch because it was much closer home and we reacted strongly to the high handedness of the management but for years, farmers in Vidarbha and Andhra have been suffering a worse fate but they are confined to the occasional blips of our conscience.

Aravind Adiga exposes the dirty side of social and economic disparity in The White Tiger but many have been critical about the fact that it dares to talk about the dark underbelly. As the country marches ahead relentlessly, inspite of the Gods, do we need to talk about them – the ants that are crushed when the Elephant Dances are of little consequence to us. Shining India cannot talk about dirty India, can it? Think of the big picture we are told – somebody has to suffer in the larger interests of the nation and we agree as long as it is not any of us in the firing line.

The current India is akin to the US of the 60s; there is an entrepreneurial instinct which pushes continuously cutting through yards of red tapism. So, the focus is on growth and profits and these alone – people and environment are not of much importance. So, you have more and more construction work happening, cars multiplying and spends increasing. This is an India dazzled by the glow of its own success that turns a blind eye to its areas of discomfort.

Why does a country that is home to advanced high-tech and manufacturing companies still have about 400 million illiterate people and high unemployment? Only 65% of the population can read, and in the villages that number falls as low as 33%. There an almost complete disconnect between the 300 million, high-flying Indians, living in lavish luxury and intoxicated by their own verbosity over globalisation and the remaining 750 million of their countrymen, many of whom seldom get two square meals a day. The "trickle down" theory remains a theory for all practical purposes.

But would this slowdown act as a pill which would awaken to the disasters that are in store when pure economics rules over emotions and compassion? Some lessons to be learnt and some philosophies to be shed and a directional change is required and this crisis will probably cause nations to do that. Capitalism or no other -ism is a final solution; a middle path needs to be evolved and hopefully some things will change now.

Probably things are not that bad despite what Rajdeep and Co may say. We have gone through greater disasters but then in this era of shock and awe reporting, we see all the effects of this slowdown magnified in front of our eyes. Yes, we need to do a bit of pruning down (For the first time in 3 years, I am going home by train instead of flight) but then, it does not hurt to lie low for some time, doesn’t it? Let the market takes it own course............

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Being Gay is no Gay Matter

Recently, the Union Home Ministry submitted to the Delhi High Court that “Homosexuality is a social vice and the state has the power to contain it. Decriminalizing homosexuality may create breach of peace. If it is allowed, the evils of AIDS would further spread and harm the people. It would lead to a big health hazard and degrade moral values of society”.

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, enacted by the British in the late nineteenth century, criminalizes what it calls, ‘sexual offences against the order of nature’. It does not clearly elucidate what comprises “against the order of nature” but same sex relationship is considered under its ambit in India.

The Union Health Ministry, however, has a difference of opinion and wants to scrap this act. Is homosexuality against the laws of nature? Just wonder if some people sitting in Delhi have decided that it is unnatural and so, it should be banned. Of course, there are many people who believe that this is unhealthy and needs to be treated.

Definitions of social vices are very subjective and there is no clear cut consensus on the vices that require to be controlled by the Government (if they ever needed to be). But our custodians of culture have decided that homosexuality is a definite no-no. I wonder if there are any statistics to prove that gay hood is a threat to the society in any way. If homosexuality is a social vice, then what makes heterosexuality any less holy?

The argument that legalizing homosexuality will lead to AIDS and other STDs is flawed. Banning it has lead to the situation of gays not finding an outlet to meet partners, except in dark shady corners, another type of ghettoisation. The fact that this is not legal has led to a sense of palpable sense of fear and a lack of a safety. There is no legal or medical help/counselling available to these people which makes matters worse.

What is the basis to determine what is natural sex and what is not and who determines this? There are probably many gays and lesbians in our midst who are hiding their sexual orientation because of the fear of being ridiculed and harassed. We have been brought upto believe that only opposite sex relationships are in sync with nature; possibly because marriage was linked only to procreation (Actually, with the levels of sex education in India, sex itself is dirty, so forget the question of homo vs hetero).

Why is homosexuality a social vice that needs to be banned? How different is it from hetero anyway? Funny, that the government thinks that homosexuality leads to AIDS while hetero is fine. Condemning any form of behaviour which is not in tune with our perception of what is right is pretty easy. It may not be easy to digest the idea that people of the same sex can actually co-habitate, because of years of conditioning. It is important to at least empathize with the plight of people who cannot express their love lest they are harmed by society.

Being a homosexual does not mean you are a pervert or you are promiscuous (neither of these qualify to be termed as “criminal activities” anyway). If sex is a natural expression, can the government intervene and tell us what is natural and what is not? If it is natural, then you don’t actually need anyone to tell you that, right? It should come to all of us naturally….

Definitions of morality are culture specific and do not have any universal sanction. Morality policed by society and laws no longer remains “natural”. If two consenting adults are involved, does the government have any locus standi to intervene and tell them how to behave?

There is also the peril of pushing Indian society into an increasing state of intolerance, where there is only one set of beliefs that is culturally acceptable, therefore legally sanctioned, and anything that goes against it has to be suppressed and criminalized -all justified in the name of culture.

Media and society perceptions weigh heavily against them making it difficult to express their true nature. After all, who would want to suffer the ignominy of being featured in the exclusive 24 hour broadcasts by TV Channels? Imagine a parent accepting the fact that his son is not actually want to get married to a girl; how scandalous. Society standards require you to marry a person of another sex only and so, many probably live "happy married" lives, supressing their "natural" instincts.

In Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee beautifully portrays the relationship between two men and their intense love. I did feel uncomfortable watching them kiss (I went with a male friend to the movie) but I realize that maybe I could not fully fathom their relationship because of my concept of love. Now, maybe there is more maturity, and I appreciate the fact that the movie broke new ground in looking at love just the way it was and keeping gender equations out of it.

While writing this, I wondered how I would react to the situation if someone in my friend circle is a gay. And then I realize that there could possibly be a gay in our circle but we have never known and would never know. Why would the poor guy ever admit and fear being ostracized by the rest of the group? Same sex relationship would have the same kind of vagaries, fallacies as well as beauty of a man-woman relationship.

Would a day come when the law and society looks at people as individuals who can take decisions in life themselves and not be coerced or conned into believing that there is somebody else sitting within our midst who can judge what is right and what is wrong for us? We are all responsible for our lives, so why let someone else decide what we need to do or don’t need to do?