Take safety into your own hands

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It was shocking to hear about the 57 people who were mowed down by a train in Amritsar last month. After reading that mandatory permissions from the municipal corporation were not taken, and the railways were not informed, it appears as if it was a tragedy in the making.

Breaking the law and endangering others is so common, it’s routine. Politicos do it with a brazenness that is shocking.

Another incident last month which underlines this issue was when a young man in the prime of his life was killed after his boat carrying people (one of two boats with politicians, bureaucrats, political workers and journalists) to the under-construction Shivaji statue capsized. The boat did not have the necessary permits, was filled beyond capacity, took the wrong route, did not have a sufficient number of life jackets and lacked the ability to send out distress signals. It was a tragedy waiting to happen.

We see it all around us, don’t we? Safety protocols are not followed. People tend to think that nothing will happen. We can dismiss this attitude by saying that there is no value for life in India but the truth is that everyone values their life, and no one wants accidents to happen and see others die.

Sure, the laxity of the government is a major issue, but that’s the norm. In India, there are a plethora of laws but enforcement of any kind is a pipe dream. We all know that. So let’s take safety into our own hands.

If we can secure our houses with locks and keys, why not wear helmets, follow traffic rules and ensure that safety protocols are followed when we get into a boat, attend an event, see a movie, and try an adventure sport?

And what about the little things like washing our vegetables and fruits to ensure that we wash away the pesticides on them? Or ensuring that we do not expose ourselves to loud sounds which can damage our ears? Or stop bursting crackers which pollute our air? I can think of a hundred things right here. All of these behaviours can affect our safety. Some will have an immediate effect – if an accident happens. Other bad effects take time…so let’s put our imagination to good use.

There is no point in dumping the responsibility of our safety on people whom we will never meet. This planet can be made safe by you and me. And we can make ourselves safe by simply following some common sense rules.

No ambiguity about sexual harassment

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The MeToo movement has left some men uneasy. So uneasy that scores of tasteless
jokes are being circulated and criticism in drawing room conversations and columns is rampant. Men fear that one of these days they or their friends might be accused by some ex-girlfriend or colleague of sexual harassment and they too will be labelled sexual predators. Even some women are scared that their husbands, friends and boyfriends might be falsely accused.

Such fears are unfounded. Let’s take a look at the truth. A very small percentage of men are being accused, even if one looks at it within a particular profession. There will always be black sheep so let’s accept it.

As to the fear of false accusations, this fear is also unfounded. It has been proved in cases of sexual harassment, over 90% of complaints have validity and even the other 10% of complaints may not necessarily be baseless. Just that they are difficult to prove. One has to understand that women tend to actually downplay the sexual harassment they have suffered, telling themselves that what they suffered is not important. Either it is to make themselves feel better or because their near and dear ones tell them it’s nothing. Sure, there will be women who make false accusations or exaggerate their experiences  – but they are a tiny minority.

If the MeToo movement is making the average decent man nervous, the reasons are more emotional rather than logical. Read More

Renewal of license from another city a painful process

If you are no longer living in the city where you got your licence from and it needs to be renewed, you need an NOC (a No-Objection certificate) from the RTO of the city you once called your home. And you have to travel back to your previous city to get it. It is one of the most burdensome procedures ever devised to get a simple job done.

The logic of asking people to physically travel to the previous RTO to get a NOC is difficult to comprehend. After all, the RTOs now boast of being online. Why doesn’t one RTO simply email the NOC to the next one? Or wait, isn’t one RTO authorised to check the records of licences nationwide? Is there a need for an NOC at all?

We have no idea how the RTO mind works. All we know is that it wants to see your face. So even after you apply online, and then ensure that the NOC is ready, you have to pick it up physically and get it signed and stamped. And then present it to the RTO of your new city.

rto-puneIf all goes well you can get it done in a day. But it’s best you don’t book your return ticket before you get that NOC in your hands. Don’t assume that the NOC will be waiting for you even if you go after a sufficient time has elapsed after your online application. The RTO people very likely will have to print it out (no, they don’t keep it ready for you) and you just have to hope that their computer and the printer is working. And you also have to pray that the person at the window is not on leave that day. And also let’s hope you checked the list of holidays that the RTO enjoys, because they have plenty of holidays.

It doesn’t matter if you have to travel the length and breadth of the country to get your NOC. The RTO does not care.

No wonder people are choosing to apply for fresh licences, rather than renew them. Ridiculous isn’t it? Getting a new licence is easier than getting a new one for people who have moved.

Why the RTOs want to see you in person is incomprehensible. They don’t verify your identity and even if they were really worried about handing over the NOC document to the wrong person, surely emailing it to the other RTO was a foolproof way to ensure that it did not get into the wrong hands?

The only likely explanation is that the RTO officials do not want to take the trouble of coordinating with another city’s RTO. Or they don’t want to search for the records of the licence holder in another city. It’s too much of an effort. It suits them just fine if citizens travel long distances.

If you are reading this and planning to move out of town, just get that NOC before you move.


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Four awesome Supreme Court rulings – what next?

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These are the four Supreme court judgements of 2018 that have done India proud:

  1. Homosexuality is not a crime
  2. Women are allowed to enter the Sabarimala temple
  3. Adultery is not a crime
  4. Aaadhar can be de-linked from bank accounts and mobile numbers.

We might feel that all this is all long overdue, but let us not forget that there are countries in the world where retrograde laws still rule.

However, we are not there yet. Each of these laws can be taken a step further.

Decriminalising homosexuality is a huge step forward, but the next step should be to legalise same-sex marriage. Why should homosexuals live on the fringes of society?

The Supreme court has allowed women of all ages entry into the Sabarimala temple in Kerala (where women and girls of menstruating age had been banned) but this judgement is being questioned by some so-called custodians of our culture. Political parties. And some prominent people too. These public dissenters should be arrested for contempt of court. And if there are any other places of worship which disallow women, then those man-made laws should go too. God does not discriminate on the basis of gender and nor does God believe menstruation to be impure.

The punishment for adultery is gone now. Only men were being punished, so it made no sense anyway. However, polygamy is still allowed in India. Muslim men are allowed up to four wives, but women cannot have more than one husband. From the point of gender equality, this is against our constitution.  But legalising polyandry (allowing women more than one husband) makes no sense, so this law should go. Last year, triple talaq was outlawed and it’s time India banned polygamy.

Aadhaar need not be linked to bank accounts and mobile phone numbers anymore. But it has already been done – at great inconvenience, and after putting up with threats from banks and mobile phone operators. Now, these entities should delink Aadhaar from their customers’ accounts and not expect them to stand in line to do the same.

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Loud sounds and hearing loss

img_3051The Ganesh festival comes along and brings with it high decibel sounds. It’s not just the loudspeakers but also the dhol tashas which are ruining our health. Wedding or festival, India is rushing towards a hearing epidemic.

Calling out to world-class companies which manufacture hearing aids. Please set up shop in India because we will need you soon.

And if anyone reading this is studying to be a doctor, best get for an ENT specialisation. You will make money.

It doesn’t matter what the laws say, what the courts say – this sound pollution is continuing. Ban loudspeakers and the people turn to dhol tashas. Any objection to loud sounds is considered against religion. It has now become a religious duty to ruin people’s health and well-being. As long as the noise-makers “enjoy”. Their enjoyment will not last and will end earlier than they wish. In old age they might not even be able to enjoy television or sit on benches, chatting with their friends. Hearing aids can only enhance hearing which is already present. Once hearing goes, hearing aids do not work.

The reason for irresponsible noise pollution is just one: Ignorance.

These are the after-effects of even moderately loud sounds:

  1. Lessens efficiency
  2. Increases hostile and anti-social behaviour
  3. Decreases learning
  4. Increases chances of accidents
  5. Harms the unborn baby
  6. Causes gradual hearing loss.

After effects of sounds above 100 decibels:
Take all of the above and enhance it. And of course, the chances of hearing loss goes up exponentially.

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This is a scientific explanation as to why loud sounds cause hearing loss. It may not destroy your ears or burst your ear drum at one go, but you will suffer.

  1. Sound waves enter the outer ear and travel through a narrow passageway called the ear canal, which leads to the eardrum.
  2. Then the eardrum vibrates from the incoming sound waves and sends these vibrations to three tiny bones in the middle ear.
  3. The bones in the middle ear send the sound vibrations to the cochlea of the inner ear, which is shaped like a snail and filled with fluid. There is an elastic partition from the beginning to the end of the cochlea.
  4. This partition is a membrane on which key hearing structures sit.
  5. The vibrations cause the fluid inside the cochlea to ripple, and a wave forms along the membrane. This causes the hair cells—essential sensory cells sitting on top of the membrane—to move.
  6. There are microscopic hair-like projections on top of the hair cells.
  7. These hair cells are damaged over time, due to exposure to loud sounds.
  8. This leads to hearing loss.

India will soon face an epidemic of hearing loss as the people who are exposed to loud sounds grow older.

TCGN – a movie on cybercrime

This Marathi film (with English subtitles) warns people about cybercrime. TCGN – Take Care Good Night. However, the movie is primarily aimed at the older generation or those who are not internet savvy.  It is all about the dangers of befriending people online, phishing, ATM and online frauds and it is presented in an entertaining manner.

djgi1law0aejyqwInteresting though the film is, the acting is average, at least that of the male lead – Sachin Khedekar. His expression is wooden almost throughout and he spouts his dialogues much like that of a boring college professor. If it wasn’t for Mahesh Manjrekar, who plays the cybercrime head, and the other actors, the movie would have degenerated into a documentary.

The storyline touches upon social mores and this adds depth to the story.  It tells us how conservative parents become distant from the problems of their teens and how this can result in a situation where the child relies more and more on her peer group and can get sucked into dubious online friendships.

The manner in which the investigation is portrayed is a little curious. The parents crack the case. Maybe the intention is to give a greater role to the parents, or perhaps to Sachin Khedekar, a well-known actor who plays the father. Or maybe it is to show that the police are inept. Whatever the reason, it is not convincing and this weakens the plot.

The villain is clearly a sociopath, evident from his lack of compassion and empathy, the various aliases and the deception of his near and dear ones. But this is not how the police see it. The actions of the villain are seen as acts of a truant boy and the police are sympathetic towards the culprit. This is the most surprising part of the movie. Yes, truant young men can turn to cybercrime but the person shown in the movie is not built in this mould. He is clever and dangerous, a man without remorse or empathy.

Overall, characterisation is poor, a major flaw in the movie. It is a plot-driven film. An odd line, spouted by the female lead, a so-called “counsellor,” is when she declares that she is not good at her job because she has no understanding of today’s youth. One cannot help but wonder how this woman got her qualification. And why she was hired by that school/college. As for people being hopeless counsellors, I am sure there are such people, but it is highly unlikely that an inept counsellor makes a declaration to the effect. It just did not sound convincing. In fact, in this movie, the parents are shown to be fairly understanding of their child. Sure, they make mistakes but overall they are good parents.

Yet, this movie is worth a see because it is an educative film and entertaining and even funny at times. A must-see for anyone who is unfamiliar with the vagaries of the internet. If one sees this movie from the point of view of cinema, then this would get no more than one star, maybe half, because of average acting, poor characterisation and a weak storyline. But if one sees TCGN as an educative film, it could get maybe three or four stars. If you see it as a documentary, it would get five stars.

Extortion in the name of God

When I read about a daylight robbery in the newspaper – about a few men brandishing knives and robbing people on the road – it reminded me of the system of “vargani” where people are intimidated into donating for setting up Ganpati or Ganesh mandals where expensive and elaborate sets complete with lighting and actors, even harmful laser beams, blare out music and songs beyond the permissible limit.

There are societies which make it compulsory for the residents to cough up an amount so that a section of the society can enjoy this dancing and singing and acting which has nothing to do with religion, and they use intimidation if money is not paid. Intimidation tactics like barging into the house of society members uninvited, and demanding money, is common. This is worse than making the donation or vargani a part of the annual maintenance fee, which is also a common practice, even by so-called law-abiding societies. It is nothing but goondaism.

And for what? To do ungodly things in the name of God?

Damaging people’s hearing due to loud sounds and wasting money on expensive sets in a poor country like ours are not the only activities carried out by the organisers of the Ganpati mandals.

Here are their other crimes, all committed in the name of God:

  1. Using non-biodegradable material for the statues of Ganpati and other decorative items made of thermocol and plastic, and then throwing them either into the rivers or other water bodies, killing aqua-life. Often these are just thrown on the roads for the municipality to sweep up. And what does the municipality do? Throw them in landfills, or in the rivers! There have also been incidents where the rubbish collected in the special ponds set up by the municipality, is thrown in the rivers. These are often the same people who eschew eating non-vegetarian food but have no qualms about killing nature as long as they can have their song and dance. I yearn for the times when Hinduism was about worshipping nature.
  2. Blaring loud music way past the time allowed by the law. People are too scared to complain to the police even if they have to suffer sleepless nights.
  3. Digging up roads, our roads! Roads which tax-paying citizens have paid for. Often these remain unrepaired for months, not to mention the taxpayers’ money being spent on the repairs.
  4. Use of public space, our space, creating such bad traffic jams so that even ambulances find it hard to get through. These are often the very same people who break traffic laws with impunity so they do not think anything is wrong, as long as they use the name of God.
  5. Then there is the matter of vargani, or rather, extortion.

img-20140829-wa0000This complete lack of regard for the law, lack of compassion for others and lack of civic sense or let’s say common sense, is beyond belief. But in India, in the name of God you can do anything. Breaking laws is standard procedure. Keeping law-abiding people awake late into the night, damaging the public’s hearing, and creating pollution, these are activities which are no big deal for the lawbreakers.

This is what the High Court has said:

In principle, we are against all this. Ganesh Chaturthi utsavs, Navratri and other festivals that are celebrated in the open spaces of the city should be stopped…If Lokmanya Tilak were here, even he would have objected…

Well said. And the judges are talking about open spaces – just the public grounds. They are saying that it ruins the grounds. The question of digging up roads and blocking traffic doesn’t even arise.

If the eminent Lokmanya Tilak, the father of the Ganesh celebrations, was alive today, he would have started a movement to stop this criminal behaviour.

When it comes to extortion in the name of vargani, yes, sure, Bombay Public Trust (BPT), Act, 1950, makes it illegal to collect vargani without permission, and of late, audits are also required. But the laws are silent on the punishment if permission is not taken or if accounts are not submitted. Not that taking permission makes it any better. It is still extortion.

Perhaps the law is trying to ensure that the loot is strictly used for polluting our rivers, killing the fish and other life, and contributing to air pollution and digging up public property.  A license to pollute and destroy.

Claims by the mandals that the donations or vargani is voluntary are hogwash. There is always a section of the public who does not want to pay but are intimidated into doing it because they want to continue to live in that society or continue to do business without fear.

I wonder why these mandals only extort money for lavish expenditure, and not for social causes, not that extortion in any form is right. But that they do it so that they can blare loud music and dance and sing, speaks a lot for their humanitarianism or rather, the lack of it.

Why is the pollution of water bodies, the sound and air pollution, destruction of civic amenities and extortion – NOT considered ungodly and criminal?

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