Friday, December 27, 2013

Stop-question-and-frisk

The recent spat over frisking of an Indian diplomat in the United States was uncalled for. What difference does it make if she is a diplomat. Stop-question-and-frisk is certainly a tough policy on New Yorkers but then what is law for one is law for everyone else. What makes India’s deputy consul general, Mrs. Devyani Khobragade different?

Stop and Frisk is not a regular thing in other cities in the United States but in New York City it is a policing strategy where an individual can be stopped, questioned and frisked without any warrant. The practice was enforced in New York way back in the 1990s to reduce crime rate and is still active. Many New Yorkers have expressed discontent with the law and there have been many complaints of harassment of the minority community. Besides New York’s stop-and-frisk practices has been criticized over racial profiling and privacy rights. So if Mrs. Khobragade is upset about the way she was treated, she should join these protestors and make her voice heard. It is absolutely ridiculous to be asking for immunity because of her status in society. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled stop-question-and-frisk procedures constitutional and so until it is reversed there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

Above all underpaying her nanny less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is unpardonable. The Indian diplomat should remember that if the accusations are proved true, it’s questionable and punishable. She will join the chorus of many similar employers who exploit minorities to get their work done within a meager wage. 

Stop-question-and-frisk will always be remembered as a legacy of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Right or wrong it is one of the most controversial practices that the Mayor Bloomberg’s legacy faces. Even one of the reason the new mayor elect Bill DeBlasio won in the recent New York City elections is his campaign promising that he will reform the stop-and-frisk practice. His election to the mayoral seat with a landslide victory further reinforces what New Yorkers want when it comes to the stop-and-frisk practice. Come January 1 2014, the city folks hope that their brand new Mayor De Blasio will either completely thrash the stop-and-frisk practice or at least reform it. 

Withdrawing diplomatic ID cards of US consular officials was an explosive over-reaction and not a sensible response by the Indian government. The tit-for-tat kinda reaction was naive. Worst, all hell broke out when the government got the Delhi Police to remove the barricading outside the US embassy in New Delhi. The question is was this reaction a political campaign toward the 2014 general election? 

Well there's some good news for those you say that stop-question-and-frisk is an invasion of privacy and that it leads to racial profiling. The New York City's Attorney General Eric Schneiderman published a report in November 2013 questioning the effectiveness of the policy. And the new mayor elect De Blasio is another hope for change of the policy. Until then, everyone in New York ought to abide by the practice, whether you like it or you not. Or else attend the "Know Your Rights" workshop conducted by a few New Yorkers in the city. This workshop teaches people how to defend their rights without making the situation worse.

Although I defend the stop-question-and-frisk practice, I also believe that it should be carried out only if there is real suspicion. I don’t support it if it is done based on the color of skin, religion, or nationality. If there is a practice that can safeguard my safety and the safety of the city as a whole, there is no reason to oppose the policing practice. And as long as it is done with respect and without intimidation, I see no point to resist or oppose the stop-and-frisk practice.  But then since I have never been stopped-questioned-and-frisked, it’s really difficult to say what it feels like to be at the receiving end.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Drone on

The Merriam dictionary defines a drone as a stingless male bee that has the role of mating with the queen and does not gather nectar or pollen. That one lucky guy who gets all the good things in life without slogging his butt. If you ask me to define a drone, I would rather describe it as that unmanned aerial vehicle loaded with arms. I would go on to say that these unmanned armed flying objects are made in particular to kill terrorists. Why me, ask anyone today what a drone is, and they would give you a completely different definition that has nothing to do with bees.

However controversial the use of drones will always be, these unmanned aerial vehicles only seem to find a wider and different usage. The CEO of the largest American international electronic commerce company Amazon.com recently spoke about his fantasy to deliver packages to customers using drones. Packages that ideally took a day-or-two to reach its destination will take only 30-minutes if the company’s vision becomes a reality. And you never know very soon our ordered packages will reach us even quicker than pizzas. And like pizzas if it doesn't reach within the promised time, it could be free, free, free!

Of course Amazon CEO's fantasy can come true only if the federal authorities facilitate a widespread use of drones. Today it is Amazon, tomorrow farmers may want to use drones to spray fertilizer over their crops, the search and rescue team may want to use drones to find people stuck in a catastrophe, film makers may want to use drones to document a film, and worst drones will be used as spy robots to keep a watch on the content of our calls and our whereabouts. Everyone would want to use it. Even individuals who have the money to buy a drone will have one in their backyard to help them walk their dogs, buy groceries, pay their bills, and do all the personal jobs they can think of.

So while the rich, famous and the powerful use these unmanned drones to fulfill their dreams, visions and fantasies, the people in the middle and lower class of society either become victims of these robotic flying machines or remain spectators of complicated and controversial foreign and internal policies.

So if authorities pass the use of drones for commercial purposes, we'll not only be cribbing about road traffic but air-traffic will also become a thing of concern. Traffic rules would change. We will have to stop at a red signal warning us of an approaching drone. And then, what about our beautiful birds? They will curse the human race for encroaching into their territory. We talk about saving endangered animals like the Bengal Tiger, the African Wild Dog, American alligator and many such species. But with drones getting a green light for commercial use, we will have to worry about our colorful birds too. Many of them will not only remain endangered but will become extinct.

Recently hundreds of world leaders got together in Johannesburg to be a part of Nelson Mandela's last journey. Many of these leaders delivered speeches about the greatness of Mandela. They called him a hero. They said how important it is to live by Sir Mandela's teachings of non-violence. But then, how do drones fit into his teachings?

There are many advocates who swear by the tactical advantages that drones bring. Some call it the best modified robotic machinery bringing in a revolution to mankind. What do you think, are they really the best thing that happened to us?

Well, I like the bees that make my sweet honey!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Rouhani the rockstar at UNGA 2013


Holding an electric guitar, wearing a leather jacket and a denim trouser, a pair of leather boots to match his leather belt and hair that reaches his shoulder, this is how I visualize Iranian President Rouhani after his rock-star performance at the United Nations General Assembly 2013 (UNGA).

President Rouhani goes with an agenda to UNGA to break away from sanctions imposed on his country that has almost taken a toll on the economic progress of the country and its people. Social media may not be freely used in Iran, but President Rouhani tweets every day. How strange is that? I follow Rouhani on Twitter and at least on Twitter he appears to be a peace loving and kind-hearted gentleman who wants to give peace a chance. Good for him and good for bringing peace in the troubled region.

Although UNGA’s are about world leaders, it ended up becoming a stage on which President Rouhani played the lead actor. The spotlight was on him all through. President Rouhani also grabbed away the spotlight from Mr. Cool like a cucumber President Barack Obama at UNGA this year.

President Rouhani was smart enough to set the stage before his departure to New York for the UNGA. He used social media quite effectively to be heard world over. He writes saying "Constructive approach=Engagement on equal footing to address shared concerns and achieve shared objectives." Sanctions has separated Iran from the rest of the world to which Rouhani tweets, "We must work together to end the unhealthy rivalries and interferences that fuel violence and drive us apart."

Well, must say Twitter worked for Rouhani. World leaders read his tweets. The United Nations felt comfortable that it was dealing with a softer moderate leader from Iran unlike the previous guy who didn’t battle a wink. How I can’t forget what former Iranian President did just before his term ended. He sent a cute little monkey named "Pishgam" into space, marking Tehran's plan to send an astronaut into space very soon. All that said I was happy to know that Pishgam returned back on earth safely. He is so cute!

There were no diplomatic relations between Iran and the United States for over 30 years now. There isn’t any bad blood between people of both the countries. It is only the lack of diplomacy that has not brought the two countries even in talking terms with each other. But President Rouhani seems-to, I mean "seems-to" want to change that cold war of silence between his country and the United States. But really, nobody knows how this story will end. Whether it will have a happy ending, is something we’ll have to wait and watch.

Spectators had their eyes stuck on both President Obama and President Rouhani at the UNGA 2013. Will these presidents shake hands for the first time after over three decades was the question on everybody’s mind?  Eventually, they didn’t hug, they didn’t shake hands, they didn’t hi-fi, nor did they show each other the cool sign of horns or peace. Sigh!

Iran is an ally of many middle-eastern countries and a good relationship with it can help bring peace in the region. Besides gas prices will drop to a great extent if import embargoes are removed. It’s a win-win situation completely and the United Nations should make the most of this hand of friendship extended by President Rouhani. 


From a larger perspective, the world has become such an unsafe place to live in. Groups of extremists are promoting intolerance and terrorism across the world. Even more, these groups cash in the rivalries between nations. And the only way to defeat these groups is by staying united and sharing intelligence. 

 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

To strike or not to strike #Syria


 
The dilemma whether to go ahead with strikes in troubled Syria or not to go is the crucial decision that world leaders are scrutinizing today. Another middle-eastern country faces the brunt of cruel and mean dictatorship. This time it is Syria. And this time the man behind the turmoil is Bashar al-Assad.

The happenings in Syria reverberates similar massacres of innocent civilians in despotic regimes in Iraq, Libya and Egypt. Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Although it is not yet proved neither reported by media due to difficulty in getting inside Syria, videos circulating around the world evidence how infants, kids and adults are frothing at mouth and suffocating from the use of chemical weapons. Do we believe these videos and conclude the actual usage of chemical weapons by the Assad’s regime or do we wait for UN inspectors to release lab results of soil samples collected on site?

It's almost 2 years, 5 months, 2 weeks and 2 days since the uprising in Syria and this war like situation seems to only be getting worse today. UN has estimated the death of 100,000 civilians during this period. How many more innocent lives can the world afford to lose at the cost of the hands of the inhumane and cruel man who seems to want to control the region no matter what? We can’t wait for Assad to take lives of all Syrians, can we? No we can’t. So what do we do?

To stop the brutal killings of more innocent civilians, the President of the United States proposed “limited and narrow” strikes on Syria. The President says no-boots will go on the ground. The United Kingdom Parliament has voted against military strikes in Syria. Russia and Iran have promised to work together to stop strikes in Syria. While the man responsible for this chaos, Assad, says his army’s finger is on the trigger.

How can military strikes be an answer to the chaos in Syria is what I want to ask Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon. How can military strikes in the region stop brutal killings? Strikes will only increase chaos and lead to killings of more civilians. And how do we define “limited” and “narrow” strikes. Does limited mean “fewer” air strikes for a short period of time. Does narrow mean only “part of the region” will face strikes? These terminologies show lack of clarity in the strategy to tackle the situation.  Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to take lives of innocent men, women, and kids. Besides, so many of our military men continue to get martyred in these regions. How many wars can this world uphold? Can we begin to say “No” to wars or war-like situations and say “Yes” to all possible methods that bring peace across the world? 

No doubt after over 2 years of painful civil war in Syria, it’s a tough decision to make on the conflict. There are no many options to respond to the situation. But a decision needs to be made. A decision that will guarantee justice to Syrians and peace in the region is long overdue. We need to do something of this complex situation. But certainly strikes have never been and will never be an answer to this complicated situation. 

A few hours ago today, the President of the United States made a speech from the White House about his decision for military strikes in Syria, but at the same time he said he will wait for Congressional approval on his decision. This is what true leadership is about. This is exactly what people were waiting for him to say. Kudos to the president’s decision to seek authorization from members of the congress. This only reinforces his trust of having a unanimous decision. Syria is a complex situation and a solution on it needs many minds put together. 


In the midst of this, sections of media is simply over-reacting by spending hours discussing about President Obama’s credibility and reputation if he doesn’t react to Syria with strikes. How can a decision on strikes or no-strikes boost or damage the credibility of a leader. This is not only a complex and deadly situation but a sensitive one too. Syria is not about anyone’s credibility but about innocent civilians who need to be saved from this despotic regime.

God Bless Syria and her people. Peace be with you soon.

Post script:
Just wondering what a mess we have made of our world. There just seems to be no humanity left. No peace. Is it still possible to use Mahatma Gandhi’s and Martin Luther King Jr.’s method of non-violence to bring peace and justice in the world again?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My head goes down in shame

I love my city Mumbai, the city where I was born and raised up. The city lives in my heart no matter where I’m in the world. The cosmopolitan culture in Mumbai has molded the way I look at things. The city has thought me to have an opinion on everything I see and feel, but at the same time to respect everyone else’s opinion. Mumbai welcomes everyone with open arms. It doesn’t take too long for a stranger to become a Mumbaikar in this city. The city grows on you. Despite the crowds, noise, potholes, traffic jams, and petty politics, I still love my city.

Having said all that, the recent gang-rape incident in the maximum city has swept the floor beneath my feet. Every metropolis faces problems of urbanization. With urbanization comes crowdedness, migration, pollution, concretization, traffic jams, and lack of greenery. Mumbaikars have learnt to live with the side effects of being a metropolis and has welcomed every migrant with open arms to live her dream. But Mumbai will never tolerate humiliating the dignity of women. Thousands of people have come out on the streets today demanding justice for the 23-year old photojournalist who was brutally gang-raped in Mumbai. What a shame!

Women today have careers that demands late night work. Incidents like the recent gang-rape force women to think before taking on late night assignments. Why should she be controlled by fear in pursuing her dream? Why should she lose out on challenging assignments because of a few sex-hungry men in the city? Rather shouldn’t the administration make the city safe for women? Mumbai has always been known to be a safe city for women…so what went wrong? Why are incidents like these increasingly happening?

Women don't need reservations in the parliament house, in local buses and trains. All she is asking for is freedom to move around safely in the city at anytime of the day. Every person knows what is right and what is wrong. The rapist committing the act knows what he is doing is a crime, but he still does what he wants to. Why? Because he is not scared of the law. It is high time we create fear in the mind of perverts and desperados around us. The perpetrators should tremble even before thinking of committing such heinous crimes. The nation needs a potent law. Above all we need to fast track courts and make sure perpetrators are punished quickly. Justice delayed is justice denied.

As soon as the incident occurred and with pressure from people protesting on the streets, the chief of the state administration decides to give special protection to journalists. He decides to deploy police protection to all journalists visiting unsafe areas that their job demands. Is that the solution? How are journalists different from women like you and me? Don’t other women go to isolated areas and travel late at night? Abrupt decisions like these only prove how incompetent the administration is. Women never asked for special treatment. She doesn’t want a bodyguard following her wherever she goes. All she wants you to do is guarantee all women a safe city.

I know writing and expressing myself in my blog will not solve the problem. But as a woman what else can I do. How do I tell my administration that they need to do something about this growing problem, before Mumbai becomes a den of such unafraid perverts who will continue to satisfy their cheap pleasures on the streets of the city.

Rape is not crime that happens only in Delhi, Mumbai or for that matter in India. Rape is a global issue. I live in the United States today, but I’m still afraid to travel late at night. As a newcomer, friends, colleagues and well-wishers tell me to pay attention to my surroundings and personal safety at all times. They tell me not to travel at night and if I go on an assignment, I inform someone in advance where I’m going. As a woman, why do I have to always be extra-careful at all times?

The bottom line is, it’s not really safe for women anywhere in the world. I have a dream that one day I’ll not have to look at the time on my watch before I step out of my house #IHaveADream.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Being a color

What comes to your mind when you see colors? I see an artist's creative rendition on canvas. To some it means unadulterated nature. To some red means stop, yellow means caution, and green means go displayed on traffic lights. To some color symbolizes heritage, courage, patriotism, peace, truth determined on their national flag. And then there is that kind of color which divided people; that gave rise to segregation; that magnifies racism. That’s the color of the skin.

I was born and brought up in Mumbai, India and have been fortunate to experience a pluralistic society in which people come from different backgrounds, traditions, cultures, religions and speak different languages. Officially there are 22 languages spoken in India and although Hindi is the national language, not everyone in India speaks the language fluently. You can hold the highest position in the executive, judiciary and legislative in India, even if you do not know to speak the national language. In India, skin color is associated more with being attractive. There is a kind of obsession for lighter skin. Beauty products that promise making skin lighter sells like hot cakes in India. Women consider themselves to be attractive in their skin if it is milky white. Even unknowingly society is in favor of lighter looking women.  The media promotes the idea of light skin is beautiful on TV, advertisements, magazines, which reinforces the idea in the mind of young girls who start believing the ideal girl that she sees in the media.

As I live in the United States while I pursue my master’s degree, I see no difference in the value system from that of my home country. Americans are hard working people and America has the same set of challenges that any democracy has to deal with today. It is only relative.  America is a melting pot of different race and religions. There is no other country in the whole wide world that welcomes people from different nationalities, backgrounds and religions that America does.  You could be sitting in a classroom of 60 students of which 25% are Asians, 25% are African Americans, 25% are Caucasians and the remaining 25% are Hispanics and Latinos. You could be riding a public bus or train in which you’ll unavoidably notice demographics of people from different backgrounds. You can’t see this kind of diversity anywhere else other than in the United States. It even surprises me sometimes. Whether a Caucasian, an African American, an Asian, English, a Hispanic, a Latino, everyone immigrated at some point in time in the United States of America.

The United States has fought a long winding road of equality for African Americans. Sir Martin Luther King is the figure that the African American community looks up to. Why only the African American community, in fact everyone who loves her freedom and wants to see the world free from discrimination of any kind respects Sir King, who made it possible for the African American people to be unafraid. Sir King went beyond dreaming for himself and worked hard to fulfill the dreams of the repressed African American community. There are so many social issues that Sir King would want raising his voice against even today if he was alive. The freedom that he fought for 50-years back was just the beginning. But he certainly must be smiling at the never-like-before double presidential victories by President Barack Obama. President Obama’s triumph has motivated so many African Americans and the minority communities to dream big and believe that nothing is really impossible.

Back then, over 150 years ago, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in America. This proclamation declared that all persons held as slaves will be free. It declared that people who were discriminated and treated as outcast are free to make their own choices in life. And it has been over 50-years since the discriminatory principle of "separate but equal" was rejected which openly rules out racially segregating public places, housing, and accommodations for blacks and whites.

So what is black in America? Is it the color of your skin, the place you live in, the amount of money you have in your bank account, your educational qualification, your profession, or something else? Who really is black in America? The US census defines White as a person having origins in places of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa while the Black are defined as a person with origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa.  So if everyone with origins in Africa is classified as black, why are people from North Africa classified as Whites? Why black or white people. Why make it obligatory for a section of society to spend their life being a color.

Even if people justify black and white classification as the need to maintain population census, how would you classify a kid born to biracial parents. Shouldn’t there be check-box option for this ever growing biracial population in today’s modern America. There was a time in America when there was black and white kind of music. But times have changed. Today Americans listen to all kinds of music. So why should there be a Black, a White, a Hispanic, a gay, a lesbian, a Christian, Hindu, or Muslim kind of arrangement in a country which so magnificently calls itself the United States of America.

Nobody knows who you are and where you come from until you tell them. But if they don’t ask you, there are certain stereotypes formed about you based on your color. If you are black, you are an African American. If you are brown, you are Indian or Middle Eastern. If you are yellow, you are East Asian. While Native Americans simply do not exist. There is a symbolic annihilation of the natives, who the media has stopped representing at all. 

At his landmark speech on August 1963, while calling an end to racism in the United States, Sir King said, "I have a dream that my poor little kids will one day live in a nation where they are not judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character." Today’s modern America doesn’t really care about the color of your skin. But can we say that the gap that once existed has disappeared. In his book The Audacity of Hope President Barack Obama says that the although there is progress being made over the past four decades, a “stubborn gap” remains between living standards of black, Latino, and white workers. He says that the minorities earn less wages, pay more for insurance, and are less likely to own their home.  “More minorities may be living the American dream, but their hold on that dream remains tenuous,” he says.

But all that said, race should never be used as a crutch to discrimination and the reason for failure. There are many successful minorities who have made their mark. From the little of America that I have seen and experienced in the last nine months, it will be na├»ve for me to comment on this topic. But yes from a few people that I have met and spend time with, I can see each one working hard, some of them working two jobs, striving to make the American dream a reality for themselves and their family.  

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Say “I do”


Eleven states in the United States say “I do” to same-sex marriage. If the remaining thirty-nine states echo the same thing, the United States will become the 13th nation globally to approve same-sex marriage. Countries like the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and nine others have already legalized same-sex marriage and are leading the way for the rest of the world to follow.

Well there are some nations which are debating the issue on same-sex marriage and this gives us hope that indeed it will be legally approved in these countries. What about those that ban any kind of same-sex activity in the first place. When are they going to recognize the LGBT community, and at least begin to discuss about their rights.

Every nation boasts about its human rights and civil rights laws. But when we don't recognize the sexual orientation of a community, these laws are mere paralyzed words which are written to only look good on paper.

Why do we have to leave the decision of a person's sexual orientation in the hands of a few straight people in authority. Who is anyone to decide whether their sexual orientation is right or wrong. For the United States to have a unanimous decision, it takes 50 state authorities controlled by a few straight people to say I-do before it is approved. So now we also want to control a person’s right to be who he/she naturally is. It’s even more chaotic when one state legalizes same-sex marriage, and then a few miles away from there, in another state, the LGBT community is asked to seek religious or medical intervention to straighten up. How absurd is that!

In the recent poll conducted by ABC News and the Washington Post, more than half Americans support same-sex marriage and the support only seems to be growing. This indeed is good news.

Around the world, the LGBT community is not only fighting a political battle but also a religious one. In April this year, Uruguay, New Zealand and France recognized same-sex marriage. Even a month back, two states in the US—Delaware and Rhode Island—approved same-sex marriage. Minnesota likely will approve it soon. It’s all about speaking out. It's like this domino effect.

Back in the day President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that defines marriage is between a man and a woman. After over seventeen years today Clinton says he was wrong and calls for striking down the act. I don't really want to get into the context of politics in this sudden change in tune on gay marriage. True that it's never too late to accept your mistake, but what took Clinton so-so long.

I disagree when people say the LGBT community has evolved over the years and the administration needs to change with changing times. The truth is, the LGBT community never evolved. They always existed. It's only that they didn't come out and speak so freely about it for fear of being ridiculed in society.

What does the man on the street have to say about it? I went to find out. Listen to it here. Click link

Post script:
Changing track to something completely different…does anyone know where Kim Jong Un is these days?  I don’t see him occupy the cartoon section of any print or electronic media. Why? :-)