Thursday, 25 November 2010

Protecting Women: Yet another Bill

To ensure safety to all the women in their workplaces, very recently Union cabinet has passed ‘Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at the Work Place Bill 2010’. The term sexual harassment was first defined in the landmark judgment of Vishaka & Others vs. State of Rajasthan & Others in 1997 which for the first time laid laws in relation to sexual harassment in India. After this path breaking judgment, Government took 13 years to bring legislation on the same!
The Bill proposes a definition of sexual harassment which is as laid down by the Supreme Court in Vishaka Case. (AIR 1997 SUPREME COURT 3011)
Definition: For this purpose, sexual harassment includes such unwelcome sexually determined behaviour (whether directly or by implication) as:

(a) physical contact and advances;
(b) a demand of request for sexual favours;
(c) sexually - coloured remarks;
(d) showing pornography;
(e) any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non - verbal conduct of sexual nature.

The Bill also provides protection to any woman who enters the workplace as a client, customer, apprentice, and daily wage worker or in ad hoc capacity. Students, research scholars in colleges or university and patients in hospitals have also been covered.
A spokesperson said, “If the bill is enacted, this will contribute to realisation of their right to gender equality, life and liberty and equality in working conditions everywhere. The sense of security at the workplace will improve women’s participation in work, resulting in their economic empowerment and inclusive growth.”
Key features of the bill:-
• Acknowledgment of the stigma and social discomfort which filing a case generates for a victim
• No information on the complainant or the complaint can be made known to the media public “in any manner”
• An employer will be liable to a fine of Rs 50,000 for failure to comply with provisions, which will require all employers to provide a safe working environment for women
• It also recognises the promise or threat to a woman’s employment prospects or creation of hostile work environment as “sexual harassment” at workplace and expressly seeks to prohibit such acts
The features definitely aim at ensure safety to a woman. But the bigger question is how much effective it would be? We know, for last 13 years, Sexual Harassment cases have been enquired/judged/investigated under section 141(The Guidelines) of Constitution of India. While giving verdict on Vishaka Case, Supreme Court has opined unless and until legislation is brought on Sexual Harassment at Workplace by Indian Parliament, this (the guidelines in Visakha Case) would be enforceable as law while dealing such issues. Moreover, irrespective of Public, Private, Quasi Government, Enterprise, Undertaking all the places must constitute a Cell to deal with harassment cases.
Undoubtedly, the Supreme Court directives have been followed everywhere upto establishment of a Cell, but the larger issue remained the same. How many women employees really got the benefit of this?
In this context, I want to share two incidents:-
It was a reputed company. Top Boss was (and is) always for gender equality. Work environment was not that good, but somewhat Ok. But the day a married lady was harassed by her boss and informed the cell, she was forced to resign within some days! The man in question is still very much there and no action was taken!

The other one was even more shocking! Without the girl’s consent there were some activities of ‘touching.’ The man belongs to a top position, whereas the girl is his subordinate. To show his ‘concern’ and ‘care’ for his junior colleague, he touched her! Moreover, she was ‘brainwashed’ by some other top persons of that place for not lodging a complain as it would thrash the reputation of that workplace! She was advised to ‘forget’ that. Yes, she has to compromise and as a result started hating herself!

In many educational institutions, students are bringing harassment against the teachers! The teachers are considered as the pillars of the society, and now they are asking for sexual favour from their girl students! (Calcutta University case is a well known one!). After this kind of incidents, would there be any respect for the whole of the faculty community?

When these incidents took place, Supreme Court Guidelines were very much in place. But that yielded no result. Establishing these cells actually nothing but eyewash. Other than in some of the exceptional cases, actually women employees don’t get any help despite Supreme Court Ruling.
Now another bill is on the fray, it has been brought to make women employees ‘secured’. If it is enacted and actually brings changes in the workplace, then it would be an exceptional legislation. Everyone has seen the ineffectiveness of 498A and Domestic Violence Act. In both the cases, either the laws were misused or fail to yield the results what was thought of.

Long back Capitalism has made women body a ‘product’ which can be bought and sold. Some women for getting some benefit in the workplace are actually using it too. But maximum working percentage does not fall under that. It’s a pity that India has to constitute law only for ‘working women!’ Unless and until social psyche is changing and men are shedding off their chauvinism and habit of thinking themselves superior, this law can’t function smoothly. And the saddest part is ‘India Shining’, ‘India Rising’ without ensuring a safe society for the women! Government, in the context of gender equality and social justice (of a different kind) has brought in this bill. Let’s hope it works in its fullest extent and reach!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Companies Act, 1956 vs. Companies Bill, 2009: Real Departure?

For last few years Government is trying to amend the Companies Act, 1956 in order to make it more ‘friendly’ with the industry and corporate sectors and to go away with certain archaic provisions. Though, the Companies Bill, 2009 is ready, still it is yet to become an Act. Earlier it was decided, in this current winter session of the Parliament, this would be passed. But for some other ‘important’ bills, this has been reserved for the budget session.
The bill was introduced in Lok Sabha on 23rd October in 2008, but due to dissolution of the parliament the Companies Bill, 2008 lapsed. In between some corporate frauds (one of them was Satyam) took place which questioned certain clauses of existing company law provisions. It forced the government to re-introduce the Companies Bill, 2008 as the Companies Bill, 2009, without any change.

Let see, whether it’s an old wine in a new bottle or really it is offering something different.

Main Objectives of Companies Bill, 2009:-

 To revise and modify the Companies Act, 1956

 To make the Companies Act, 1956 compact by deleting provisions that had become redundant over a period of time.
 To re-write various provisions of the Act to enable easy interpretation
 To delink the procedural aspects from the substantive law and provide greater flexibility in rule making to enable adaptation to the changing economic and technical environment

There are certain provisions which have been introduced for the first time.

Independent Directors
Companies’ Act 1956 doesn’t have any direct reference of Independent directors. Whereas in the Bill, independent director is clearly defined and role and duties have been stated. Tenure of 6 years has been fixed for the independent directors. Appointment of one third of the total no. of directors as independent directors has been proposed for every listed public company having a prescribed paid up share capital. Other than sitting fee and reimbursement of expenses, independent directors are not entitled for remuneration. Though, with prior approval of the members he is entitled to stock option and profit-related commission.

Director identification number
Duties and liabilities of director specified in the bill. Non compliance of prescribed duties and violation of those would attract penal consequences. New clause for resignation of a director has been introduced. Every director needs to obtain Director Identification Number and has to notify concerned authority. Director will be disqualified if he doesn’t obtain the DIN. This is a new clause. Earlier no such provision was there. In the current Act, it is specified that in case of a public company, 11% of the net profit of the company as remuneration to the Company director is maximum permissible limit. No such limitations in the new bill. No limits have been laid down on quantum of sitting fees to be paid.

Key Managerial Person
Statutory recognition to audit, remuneration and stakeholders grievances committees of the Board and recognizes the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and the Company Secretary as Key Managerial Personnel (KMP)

Concept of small company
Nothing has been defined in the Companies’ Act 1956 about small company. Small company means other than a public company, whose paid-up capital must not exceed the prescribed amount or in any case Rs. 5 crore.

One Person Company
As the name suggests it has an only one person as a member. The memorandum of the company shall state OPC Ltd. Companies’ Act, 1956 doesn’t talk about this.

Participation in a board meeting through video conferencing
Barring some situations, using video-conferencing technology for participating in the board meeting has been agreed upon. In the current Act, there is no such provision.
The maximum gap between two Board meetings is proposed to be 120 days in place of once in a 3 months. Time-period for issuance of notice and secretarial standards have been clearly defined in the new Bill.

Registered Valuer
For the first time, the concept of registered valuers has been introduced. Under the new Bill, whenever a valuation is required, that has to be carried out by the registered valuer of the company.

Appointment as an administrator
Another new concept is of an administrator. Company Secretary should be in the government panel in order to be recognised as an administrator of a sick company.

Company Liquidator
Introduction of the concept of Company Liquidator. Tribunal will appoint the liquidator and company secretary will be the professional assistance to the appointed liquidator.

Adjudication of penalties
This provision has been introduced in the Bill. In respect to non compliance of procedural laws, a minimum and maximum quantum of penalties will be charged. The determination of quantum of penalties will be decided by the Adjudicating officers.

Establishment of Special Courts
For speeding up the trial, central government through a notification may establish Special Courts as per the necessity. The Special Court will consist of single Judge, appointed by the Central Govt. with the concurrence of the Chief Justice of the High Court within whose jurisdiction the Judge will be working. Only serious offences should go to Special court.
In respect of foreign members or debenture holders, the Bill proposes to set up a competent court outside India for rectification of the register. This is a new provision and recognizes the presence of foreign investors in India in corporate securities.

Report on general meeting
AGM report shall have to be prepared and have to be filed to RoC within 30 days! If not furnished, penalty will be levied minimum of 1 lakh rupees to maximum of 5 lakhs for a company and for an individual defaulter of the company will have to pay a minimum of rupees 25 thousand to maximum of 1 lakh as a fine.

Merger & Amalgamation
The bill proposes increased disclosure requirement during merger and acquisition, allowing cross border and contractual merger. National Company Law Tribunal will replace all the multiple High Court permissions. The new provision states ‘A foreign company may merge or amalgamate into a company registered under this Act or vice versa and the terms and conditions of the scheme of merger or amalgamation may provide, among other things, for the payment of consideration to the shareholders of the merging company in cash, or in Indian Depository Receipts, or partly in cash and partly in Indian Depository Receipts, as the case may be, as per the scheme to be drawn up for the purpose.’
The bill recommends the abolition of differential voting rights or DVR.

Subsidiary Company
In the current provision it is said that, only when the holding company holds more than half of the equity share capital of the other company, the other company would be the subsidiary of the company holding such equity share capital. The new bill recommends that ‘“subsidiary company” or “subsidiary”, in relation to any other company (holding company), means a company in which the holding company—
(i) controls the composition of the Board of Directors; or
(ii) exercises or controls more than one-half of the total voting power’
In other words, companies would be only able to have one level of subsidiary companies. A subsidiary company cannot have further subsidiaries

Insider Trading
Companies not to be allowed to raise deposits from the public except on the basis of permission available to them through other Special Acts. The Bill recognizes insider trading by company directors/KMPs as an offence with criminal liability.
Uniform Financial Year:
The new bill seeks to introduce a uniform financial year for all companies, which would be April- March every year. Though, Company Law Tribunal could allow different financial year if companies appeal for that.

There are certain provisions in the amended bill which would help Indian Companies to perform better in the competitive field. Though there are severe criticisms against some of the proposed change.
The inclusion of independent director is applicable to the listed companies only, whereas it would have been more welcoming if it were exercised in the case of unlisted companies too. Rotation of audit firms in every 5 years may cause problems for small companies. Fixed tenure for independent directors is not at par with the international standard. Generally, independent directors take more time to start working. So, 6 years could be very little time. No company can have more than one subsidiary company would definitely stop money laundering but it may create financial problems for certain JV and M&As. This proposal is not in accordance with the international standard.

This Amendment is often called Satyam Amendment. After Satyam Saga, so many recommendations have been made to strengthen the Corporate Governance Scenario. Due to certain provisions in the current Act, government couldn’t act upon Union Carbide after the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. Experts believe, Companies Bill, 2009 would bring welcoming change and would help the Indian companies to become more transparent, though few clauses are questionable.

Companies Act, 1956
Companies Bill, 2009
The Mint
The Economic Times

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Public Policy and Industry

Indian Institute of Management Calcutta-the first of its kind has kick started its Golden Jubilee celebration on 14th November, 2010. Several panel discussions on Management Education in India: Past, Present and Future revolved around primarily two basic components, namely: 1) Spreading the IIM system physically 2) Made the to-be-manager understand the immense need to understanding human and social capital, ethics, value and social structure in order to run the business successfully.
The first point was easily understandable. Central government has already nodded to create more and more IIMs. One of the panelists suggested starting ‘Indian Institute of Management Global’ in order to leave its mark on global platform and prove its worth as centre of excellence. It was highly applauded.
But what seemed the disturbing trend is that, the industry is recruiting from IIMs, but the quality and knowledge it is expecting is lacking in the IIM fresh graduates. Prof. Amitav Bose compared with India’s Forex reserve. He told, ‘IIMC is a huge repository of knowledge. Students bring in a huge amount of knowledge & after 2 years when they leave, they leave it here just as Forex…” This created a role of laughter but no one has denied this either. As one of the panelists pointed out, IIM brand is on sale, not the individual student!
Now the question is what industry wants? And to my utter surprise, what Industries are looking for, students here at IIMC consider those as secondary subjects! The buzz words in their mind is Finance and Marketing and industry is focusing on more and more in understanding social and human capital, value, ethics and social structure or in a word Public Policy!
Public Policy and Management (PPM) group is one of the best groups at IIMC, but the subjects always appeared ‘boring’ to the students because job market never gives any importance to those! If we have to accept the emerging trends from this two-day management conclave, one has to admit the students are grossly wrong! They are getting recruited because they are the products from IIMs,(some faculties believe ‘semi-finished product’) and not for their merit and their gyan in finance and marketing!
From industries’ perspective why is Public Policy becoming so important and ethics is becoming a talking-point? Just imagine India of 1990 (before the economic reform phase). Inflation at its worst, no-no to foreign investment, stringent law for trade and commerce, no social development, and number of people below the poverty line is alarmingly high! At that time IIMs Management Course was not that relevant and moreover people don’t understand that what a manager should do! Manmohan Singh’s Economic Reforms yielded tremendous change in Public Policy and social order. The concept of investment bank, venture capital, private equity first time emerged in India’s job market and thus the IIM system became so important and quintessential for the industries.
In the initial phase, finance-marketing-HR won hands down! After that, strategic management took over and the current trend is Public Policy and Ethics! Capitalism is changing and it’s directly impacting the societal order. If the base of the economy (as of now India is a Capitalist state) keeps changing, what could be the constant, definitely Public Policy and Ethics. Every second day government cannot change its policies. So in the ever-changing society, ethics become important. And where stands the management or to say managers? He may be the manager of a reputed company, but he has to perform within the societal norm. For that, he needs to understand the public policies first. Say, being a manager of a company he decides to build something around a non-developed area where people needs to be displaced and environment laws has to be concurred with. He cannot arbitrarily displace them or violate the environmental laws. If you don’t know the law of the lands and think yourself the king of an island, than you can’t be a manager. If the manager is not aware of social and human capital of his own organisation, how could he function? Thus, public policy is so important.
I want to share two personal anecdotes from two of my courses.
Scene 1: 2.15pm, post lunch session of Business Ethics class. Nearly 75 students were in the class, among 50 were busy taking their afternoon nap, 5 were listening and rest were either playing games on mobile or in the laptops! When asked, the blatant reply: ‘chhoro na, non-credit hain!’ (In IIMC Business Ethics is a non-credit course, which easily has acquired the reputation of non-productive too, though the assumption is entirely wrong!)
Scene 2: It’s a credit course. The Discussion on ITCs E-Choupal was going on. Among nearly 80 students, 15 were awaken, all others were engaged in reading newspapers, taking nap, playing games as they felt the course is useless (again wrong, of course!) In some of the PPM courses students pay attention as they are somewhat related to finance and regulations!
If these are the general picture of Business Ethics and PPM classes, so Industry cannot get what they want.
And from a different perspective, how many recruiters focus on the fact ‘how much you know’, they sort CVs based on CGPAs. So students always busy calculating that! The sense is ‘What’s the use of learning, once I get a job will learn there!’ and some of them have a bizarre idea that as ‘we have cracked the CAT, we already know everything, even more than the professors…’
IIMs, no doubt are the best of the academic institutions, but it needs to ‘reflect and introspect’ in its current syllabus! Too much emphasis on Finance and Marketing is actually ruining the other important subjects which industries are looking for. Particularly at an MBA stage, every single subject becomes inter-disciplinary. No one is denying the immense importance of Finance and Marketing, but this has to be in mind if those are minus of Public Policy, Ethics and CSR, those won’t get a platform to perform. At the end of the day public policy and ethics which call the shot, I don’t think non-ethical business can even survive!
Wake up, guys… look beyond the attendance sheet!

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Copy? Right!!

Zandu Balm is no more in pain, its only gain! Munni’s Badnam is Zandu’s nam! Though, all it started with legal tangle!
For months, "Munni badnaam hui", the item song from the hit movie Dabangg, has topped the charts & Zandu Balm, a pain reliever product by Emami has been used in the song! Emami was outraged and decided to file a suit against the producers of the film for Copyright Infringement! It actually dragged producer Arbaz Khan to court.
The notice served by the Emami’s counsel reads ‘In the song, the name Zandu balm has been used continuously at various places. By using the brand name in the song, you have not only violated the copyright of my clients, but you have also made an attempt to defame the reputation of my clients and the product manufactured by them.’ Later, they agreed on ‘out of the court’ settlement!
And what a turn of event, now ‘Munni’ aka Malaika Arora Khan would be the brand ambassador for Zandu Balm! And not only that, Emami has posted its best-ever second quarter results (profit of Rs.53 crore). And, Zandu Balm sales soared by nearly 35 per cent in the last three months!
Actually, it’s surprising but true, whenever something (especially songs) has been copied, that has worked as wonders! Have a glance on some of the super hit songs from various Hindi movies:-
Haan Yeh Pyaar Hai (Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You), Dil Le Le Lena (Macarena), Jab Koi Baat Bigad Jaaye (Five Hundred Miles), Tirchi Topiwaale (The Rhythm Is Gonna Get You), Aate Jaate (I Just Called To Say I Love You), Chura Liya Hai Tumne (If It's Tuesday This Must Be Belgium), Dole Dole Dil & Nazrein Mili (Come September), O Mere Sapnon Ka (Bachelor Boy), Mehbooba Mehbooba (Say You Love Me), Tumse Milke (When I Need You, ‘Dil Mera Churaya Kyon’ (Last Christmas I gave you my heart)
All are copied from various English songs and music. In a more civilized term it is called ‘inspired’! And all of these actually have gone down well with the Indian audience. Some believe, copying is not that bad as this gives an opportunity to a section of Indian audience to have a brush with western music, which is not possible in any other means!
Let see what the Berne Convention (1886) says about copyright. In the Article 2 of the said convention, it is told,
"The expression 'literary and artistic works' shall include every production in the literary, scientific and artistic domain, whatever may be the mode or form of its expression, such as books, pamphlets and other writings; lectures, addresses, sermons and other works of the same nature; dramatic or dramatico-musical works; choreographic works and entertainments in dumb show; musical compositions with or without words; cinematographic works to which are assimilated works expressed by a process analogous to
cinematography; works of drawing, painting, architecture, sculpture, engraving and lithography;
photographic works, to which are assimilated works expressed by a process analogous to photography; works of applied art; illustrations, maps, plans, sketches and three-dimensional works relative to geography, topography, architecture or science. [.....] Translations, adaptations, arrangements of music and other alterations of a literary or artistic work shall be protected as original works without prejudice to the copyright in the original work. [.....] Collections of literary or artistic works such as encyclopaedias and anthologies which, by reason of the selection and arrangement of their contents, constitute intellectual creations shall be protected as such, without prejudice to the copyright in each of the works forming part of such collections."
Originality is the only factor based on which copyright is given, merit is never an issue in this regard. Idea cannot be copyrighted, whereas expression is. If anybody, without the prior permission of copyright owners uses their original works for his own purpose, that amounts to copyright infringement.
Emami owns the copyright as well as trade mark of ‘Zandu Balm’. As it’s a well known brand and a good will is associated with that, no one can use that without permission. Thus, such a legal war took place between the Dabaang producers and Emami. Though, this negative publicity actually has given Zandu Balm an edge over its competitor.
Just two years back, the clash between Vidhu Vinod Chopra (the producer of the Three Idiots) and Chetan Bhagat (author of 5 Point Something on which Three Idiots is based) is well known. Bhagat alleged that though the contract was there, but that was not maintained in its true spirit.
Now, let’s see a larger perspective.
Malcolm Gladwell's ‘What the Dog Saw’ called "something borrowed", which deals with the violation of intellectual property rights and more directly with plagiarism. Though the word ‘plagiarism’ is not mentioned in the copyright laws!
‘Gladwell told about a very successful Broadway play, Frozen --without him being given any credit. He was naturally very disappointed, but after he saw the script of Frozen, he finds it "breathtaking". He says, "Instead of feeling that my words had been taken from me, I felt that they had become part of a grander cause... I considered the borrowing to be a compliment."
In some ways, Three Idiots too have played the role of a catalyst which boosted up the sale of Bhagat’s much acclaimed novel.
These are the exceptions, where violations have actually yielded positive results. But actually rampant copying has become a concern, so there should be stricter norm, not only in letter but also in spirit. In India there are several instances of violating copyrights. It has to be kept in mind, copyright is not only a legal provision but also a source of economic benefit!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Happy Birthday, IIMC!!

Pandit Nehru was a great visionary and one of his dreams had got shapes in form of Indian Institute of Management. Though, he wanted to create ‘able managers’ from IIMs to run the nation-state and now the brand IIM is a buzz word in the arena of Investment Banks & Consultancies!
On November 14, IIM Calcutta, the oldest among its peer group will complete its 49th year and will step into 50. Presumably, the campus is getting into its birthday attires! Now, talk of the campus is about ‘slot 0’ only as the Summer placement is in full swing, still the Birthday boy is getting some attention!
In a small gathering today, IIMC Director Dr. Sekhar Chaudhuri has told that 14th November will see the commencement of two-year long celebration of IIMC’s Golden Jubilee! Chains of events will follow! Dean of the institute, Prof. Saugata Ray admitted that very hurriedly everything has been arranged, so probably many have been left out in the process, but in coming two years every single person of the institute(current or retired) will feel they too are part of the occasion!
But, is it true that all the employees of the institute are equally excited about the Golden Jubilee celebration? How much students are enjoying? What about the large section of non-teaching staffs?
Many staffs are felt left out as they got to know only yesterday! Due to lack of time, there won’t be any events by the students and a huge section of the employees were not even aware whether they have been invited! What make me even more surprised is that the institution doesn’t have any record of its ex-employees before 1980s! No, I am little wrong. The record is there, but that has not been kept in a systematic manner, so the Dean himself has admitted his ‘inability’ to get even half of the contacts of the ex-employees!
And I must admit, I also belonged to the same league of ‘left out’ until a small speech of Prof. Anup Sinha awakens me! He told, “Keu keu abhiman korechhen’’ (some became very sentimental) as they were left out! They got the invitation by a notice. But it’s like our family, so you also have to come on your own. This is the occasion of your family!” This made me feel different. Suddenly, I also realized I am also a part of this august institution! Till date, I thought of myself as a ‘mercenary’ for various reasons. I am still that, I know, but still a sense of pride too is there. I am welcomed in the Golden Jubilee of the institute! Prof. Sinha has assured that, everyone is welcome (I had a strong doubt whether contractual staffs are part of the celebration).
Critics may say, the programme could have been on a large scale. This could be planned differently by bringing out memoirs, crafting mementos, involving students in a better way etc. But sometimes, we do celebrate the birthdays of family members in a very homely atmosphere, and partying and grandeur celebrated at a later date!
So, IIMC has taken the same route. By unveiling a logo on 14th it will commence the journey of 2-year-long celebration. Dean is dreaming of making the event not only a grand success, but also a trend setter which other IIMs will follow during their Golden Jubilee Celebration!
Let’s give a definite shape to his Dream, no, not only his dream, that’s our dreams too!
Happy Birthday IIM Calcutta… you rock as always!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Mr. President: Yes, We CAN!!

‘Dream a huge, big and a gigantic dream!’ The first lady of USA has asked the generation Y of India. She knows the power of dream. Her dream, sorry, their dream has given them a new residence at White House: The dream ‘Yes, we can!’
So the dream merchants are now in India: Mr. Barack Hussain Obama and Ms. Michelle Obama. They are selling different kinds of dream in a packaged form. Though, these dreams cannot have any Freudian connotation but diplomatic and political inclination with a touch of Real Politik!
America’s dream of retaining its ‘economic superpower’ status had been shattered due to the recession which was as bad as 1930’s Great Depression but the effect was more on than the ‘30s! The rate of unemployment in USA in October, 2010 is alarmingly high! In every second day many employees are getting pink slips.
This year only, 141 American banks have been shut down, surpassing the worst period of recession! According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, this failure would cost $254 million! To stabilize the national economy, just before President Obama’s visit to India, US Federal Reserve announced that it would purchase the government securities worth $600 billion. In last quarter US Economy’s growth rate was 2%!
So, quite expectedly America has to strengthen its business ties with India as ‘natural ally’. And Mr. President has come here exactly for that reason. Just think about his contingent, 300 CEOs! It seems like the Chief Executive Officer of the United States of America has arrived!! He has already announced $10 billion trade deals which would create 54000 jobs in America. Economists estimate, to combat the unemployment rate, US needs to create atleast 3 lakhs jobs per month. Thus, it’s a tiny step only!!
For the first time ever, an US president has admitted that “"There (in USA) still exists a caricature of India as a land of call centers and back offices that cost American jobs. That's a real perception." He emphasized on dismissing this ‘old stereotypes’ in order to create jobs, growth and higher living standards for both the countries! The President wants India must lift barriers on certain sectors in relation to foreign investments! (namely retail and others). USA wants the Indian market to sell, he stated that while answering a question by a Mumbai college student.
America is no more the largest economy; it is struggling to fight unemployment and financial bankrupt situation. So, it needs newer market, by whatever means. Just think, an US president is openly admitting standing in a third world country that, “Now because of the rise of India, China and Brazil and some other nations, there is a real competition out there and potentially healthy. This is keeping the US on its toes, because I feel we still can compete." USA, once the monopoly of the economic activities, is now talking about creating a ‘win-win’ situation to sell products to Asian markets and openly admitting the threat from so-called poor nations (barring China ofcourse!).The president is again dreaming of prosperous USA.

And what one section of Indian media is doing? They are simply analyzing that why Obama is not coming out on Pakistan’s terror issue! Why would he do that? First of all, as long as Pakistani terror outfits are there that would help USA to sell sophisticated weapons, war jets to them, especially when their war-market is shrinking! Pakistan would give them similar amount of business, could be more than India in coming days. Pakistan is still limping to have a stable political and economic order, if USA lends them a helping hand (it is doing that), they would grab every single opportunity, much of USA’s interest! So why spoiling a stable relationship?

Moreover, he stated that Islam is a peaceful religion, Jehadis are giving a bad name to it. Rightly so! Thus, Pakistan is not a terror state but it’s not that quick on terror issue. It’s a subtle message to Pakistan as well that, ‘big brother is watching!’ How could a section of Indian media even thought of that Obama would call ‘Pakistan a terrorist state’ like the Indians do? Even I believe, Pakistan is not a terrorist state, peace-loving people live there too, though they are minority!
So, the way Politically, diplomatically and Economically Obama needs to deliver, he has delivered exactly on the expected lines!
Obama, otherwise a damn smart and young President is here to save his country, financially. His charm, easygoing attitude, spending time with underprivileged kids, interaction with the students are just fine! Michelle has become a star by her candour! But how could we forget the post he holds presently? May be he is a far better orator and administrator(?) than the erstwhile president George W Bush, but his policies are on the lines of US imperialism. He himself has admitted that. In his words, “I actually think that the US has an enormous partner in India probably because we have so many Indian Americans, because of the shared values that we have. India is going to be a critical partner with US in the 21st century. That was true when George Bush was President and that was true when Clinton was President. I don't think our firm belief is going to alter in a significant way.”
If you carefully read between the lines, the underneath message will come out that USA’s foreign policy is not changing. And USA knows India’s rightist governments’ love for them!
Yes, Mr. President we are also dreaming big with you, though a slightly different one! USA is bidding goodbye to its imperialism and a new world order is gradually taking place. The harbinger of the CHANGE, we believe, yes, we the Indians, CAN!
Enjoy, incredible India!!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

My Friend

I used to know a girl who was bitterly honest, jolly, witty, charming, friendly, and caring! You might not call her ‘happy-go-lucky’, but she used to be her own person! Smile never disappeared from her lips!
She had her little universe. To others, it seemed like a heap of useless things, such as few pictures of her secret crush, childhood heroes, paper-cuttings, diaries, books, pens!! But to her, it was the most sought-after place where she used to spend time with herself.
She didn’t have any friend, sorry, true friend. She used to share her sorrow, joy, success, failure with herself only! She was her best friend. Through a mirror, she asked several questions to herself, for some she had got the answers but the huge chunk remained unanswered.
That Dreamy-eyed, slender looking girl was never an achiever per se. Though, she was good at studies. One day she had got her dream job and just the time she had started to bloom, she was thrown into the weeds! What to do, after an infighting with herself, she called it quits!
Now the other episode began. Her employers in the second office were even worse. To make the work done, they were so nice to her but whenever she had asked for even littlest of the help, they never lend a hand. Her soft and emotional attitude by then was widely known! Her hardworking nature made her popular publicly but actually was a matter of joke in private circuits! People took several advantages of her soft nature. She was taken for granted in almost everything! She understood everything at first go, but was so unfortunate that she was not able to do anything! Whoever she had trusted anyone, that had surfaced as Himalayan Blunder!
She was actually very lonely. Reclusive.
At one point in time, she considered herself a very strong, tough, confident girl. She used to tell, “For me sky is the limit & I will reach there!” Instead she had drowned into the ocean: Ruined from both inside and outside. Her second employers have gifted this to her, they made her belief, ‘You are nothing but a worthless girl! You know nothing!’
She called herself a ‘loser!’ Tears were her only companion for a long time! Now she is busy in the other world… Last night, she bade goodbye to all and forever!!
Take care friend. You are an out-an-out winner, atleast to me!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Amu: Those 3 Blood-stained days

‘Mother and daughter stood in the midst of the crowd in Chandni Chowk, a little volcanic island erupting in the midst of streaming, staring people.’
Daughter: Kajori Roy alias Kaju
Mother : Keya Roy
So the question is why the volcanic island erupted? No, its not because that Kaju got to know that she was adopted by Keya (it’s a known fact to her). The reason is altogether different…she has just sometimes back found out that her biological parents didn’t die of any epidemic at Chandan Hola as her mother told her; moreover there was no such incident-the EPIDEMIC. She knew it from Kabir, a ‘cabron’, her newly gained friend (who would soon be her soul mate) a Stephenian and son of a bureaucrat.
(Certainly Keya has tried to hide something from her daughter, what’s that?)
To know the reason behind the volcanic eruption, we have to rewind the story.
Kaju, a UCLA student, is an adopted daughter of Keya, a legal-aid activist. After graduating she decides to visit India in search of her identity and roots, a theme fairly common in novels. Kaju, however, has flashes of memories that egg her on in her search—a whisper she can never put words to when she runs, a woman-like apparition that stirs her at a railway line, and a slum she seems to know.
During her stay in India, while visiting Chandan Hola she saw a ‘little girl with red ribbon in her hair run across the field’ Kaju blinked and the vision vanished. (Little girl and red ribbon come back again and again in the story- the significance of this is the heart of the story, which we will know later).
In another event, Kaju was caught amidst a street brawl, where the men were yelling ‘pakdo harami ko! Koi bachne na paye!’Her heart hammered furiously and she felt herself break into a cold sweat. Kaju wondered why she was having such a strong reaction.
In the process Kaju has got to know about 1984- Sikh Riot as a repercussion of Indira Gandhi’s assassination and Trilokenagar was worst hit. When she asked her mother about this, the simmering tension soared up between the mother and daughter, despite they do share a strong bonding. As the story goes by, we find Kaju’s desperateness has mounted up to know the ‘TRUTH’ about her natural parents; she even broke Keya’s trunk to get her birth certificate!
With some dramatic turns of events Keya revealed the truth to Kaju:
Named Amu at birth, she was among the many victims of the 1984 riots. Adopted by Keya at the age of three, as was requested by Shanno Kaur, Amu aka Kaju’s mother, before she hung herself; she was taken to America to separate her from traumatic memories that had left her dumb for months, she is one of the lucky ones. Her nerve-racking memory could haunt her, so Keya had hidden these facts from her daughter- this veil was the reason behind the ‘volcanic eruption’. Now she has got to know her “root” and “identity” she has longed for.

After this revelation, ‘their tears melting away all the years of pain.’
At this point of time we understand that why the slums, a girl with red ribbon, a woman’s head with slight profile, railway tracks, Gurbani and skirmishing people were so familiar (although faded away) to her – all these she had witnessed 20years back during the Sikh carnage. The little girl was Amu, the woman was Shanno and she had a ‘strong reaction’ seeing the brawl because of her blotching memory of her father Gurbachan’s death in the hands of the political cadre. Gurbani, which she had listened at Bangla Sahib Gurdwara in Delhi is also common, because while ‘overpowered by the mob, he started (Gurbachan) quoting from the Granth Sahib (here the author puts up the characteristic of a Sikh who owes too much too his religion).
The novel is based on a true story of a single family. The book has lots of political shades. Shonali Bose wonderfully has shown us how the administration (portrayed through the character of Kabir’s father) and the-then government monitored the pogrom of 1984. How the politicians enfuel the events, encouraged the slaughter of humanity. She was almost flawless when describing those horrible days because of her personal experience, as she was the part of the relief camp. Her political consciousness has come to a full circle when she ended the novel with Godhra Carnage of 2002- the consequences of which is the biggest blot to the Indian democracy (the modus operandi of onslaught was same as 1984:eighteen years have passed, but nothing seemed to change).
This novel has not only political implications and strong argument against the communalism. It also dealt with the problem of NRI, their confusion (Kaju had a different sense of identity, “I feel even more foreign here” ‘she couldn’t fit here either: Kaju was discovering for herself the poignant reality of so many second-generation immigrants to the US. Being neither from here nor from there. Keya finds India as emotional wasteland) and also the issue of terrorism [1984(India): Assassination of Indira Gandhi=Every Sikh is a terrorist. 2001(USA): Attack on Twin Tower by Laden (?)= Every Muslim is a terrorist] Shonali has shown that how easily America has branded every innocent Muslim and Sikh a terrorist after 9/11 (despite residing in USA, her anti-Bush psyche comes out unmistakably).
Shonali Bose deserves full marks for dealing such a controversial issue and some other highly debatable issues with élan.
So at the end it could be said ‘Amu’ is a simple story, well written, which explores both the darker and finer side of human beings and terrifyingly attached with ground reality. “The novel is an intellectual treat. It makes one sit back and think. For once there is no "romanticised India" that we all look back to with "a smile and a tug at the heart.”
What is even more startling about ‘Amu’ is its Context, Time and Space. ‘Context’ is a holy word in any kind of history. It can make or mar any event, which has got a special mention in the discourses of History. Shonali Bose deals with such a ‘history’, which SECULAR India will love to forget. Undoubtedly it gave Amu a new height.
Time and Space are other positive points of this book- especially when the issues of Communalism, Global Terrorism and USA unipolarism are hitting the headlines again and again. So the book has become a must-read because of its contemporariness and at the same times its brush with ‘history.’
[Inputs are from various sources]
*1st-3rd November, 1984: The Sikh Genocide at Delhi took place. Please watch the movie if you could. A masterpiece by Shonali Bose.