We Don’t Need Another Law

One expects individuals to engage in virtue signalling, but sometimes institutions can do it as well. Today’s headline news: the Supreme Court has asked the Indian parliament to enact a new law to stop lynching.

This is so pointless. Lynching is already covered by the law. Beating people is already a crime. Killing is a crime. There are even laws under which the people who spread fake news on Whatsapp can be prosecuted. Exactly what will the new law cover that existing laws don’t already?

Our problem isn’t the laws that we have–though we do have some shitty laws–but the dual one of will and capacity. There are crimes that the state may not want to prosecute. And even when it does want to prosecute them, state capacity is not up to the task. These are the hard issues to tackle–and a Supreme Court diktat would make no difference in these areas.

If parliament does enact a new law to tackle lynching, it will be yet another new law that is never enforced. What we lack in India is not laws, but the rule of law.


Categories Law

Indian Men and Unpaid Housework

Diksha Madhok shared this thought-provoking graph on Twitter recently:

My first reaction to that was, ‘Really? Indian men do 19 minutes of unpaid housework every day? That’s too much! What do they do for 19 minutes?

That said, while the point being made is no doubt valid, the metric being used to illustrate it is off. The reason for that is that middle-class Indian couples probably do less combined unpaid housework than their Western counterparts because servants are so common. In our household, for example, we have employed a maid who comes every morning to wash dishes, clean the house and so on. In Western households, it is common to have to do it all yourself.

So the correct metric, to judge how lazy, misogynistic and/or entitled Indian men are would be the percentage of total unpaid household labour they contribute to. I have no doubt that the conclusion would be as dismal.

As for these Slovenian men, grrmph. I bet they can’t play cricket as well as us.

‘It Doesn’t Matter If You Are Muslim.’

Here’s a story a friend told me today, quoted with permission (though the friend doesn’t want to be named):

I was teaching Civics to 6th std kids and they are learning about our government etc. I was trying to encourage them to participate by both voting and running for power.

One of the kids quietly raised his hand up and said, “It doesn’t matter if you are Muslim, ma’am. No one will vote for me if I run for Prime Minister.”

I gave him a pep talk but I really know that all I uttered was bs.

I am pessimistic these days when it comes to this nation. But I also know that change happens fast, and the world can change in a generation. The US did elect a black president. (And compensated right after.) So who knows — 40 years later, that kid could run for office and win.

You think that’s possible?

Did You Eat The Pig?

Here’s a thought experiment: scientists find a way to map all the information embedded in your brain, including all neuronal connections and so on. You have a fatal disease. You die. You are cremated along with your brain. But the digital replica of it exists on a hard drive, and is one day, in whatever form, brought back to life. Is that You?

In fact, if that is done to a parent of yours, and you are told they are now on your laptop and can interact with you, will you still respect them?

If that’s a deceased loved one, will you still love her? Is she a person to you? How can you tell?

Our sense of self, quite clearly, is a product of the brain. But if a brain is intact and the body is not, does the self still exist?

This is a stray thought brought about by this news about scientists having found a way to reanimate a dead pig’s brain. Suppose you ate the pig. Did you really eat it?


My friend Kumar Anand just sent me a poem that I think readers of Pragati Express might appreciate:

हे नेताओ, यह याद रखो,
दुनिया मूर्खों पर कायम है।
मूर्खों की वोटें ज्यादा हैं,
मूर्खों के चंदे में दम है।
हे प्रजातंत्र के परिपोषक,
बहुमत का मान करे जाओ!
जब तक हम मूरख जिन्दा हैं,
तब तक तुमको किसका ग़म है?

इसलिए भाइयो, एक बार
फिर बुद्धूपन की जय बोलो!
अक्कल के किवाड़ बंद करो,
अब मूरखता के पट खोलो।
यह विश्वशांति का मूलमंत्र,
यह राम-राज्य की प्रथम शर्त,
अपना दिमाग गिरवीं रखकर,
खाओ, खेलो, स्वच्छंद बनो!
अब मूर्ख बनो, मतिमंद बनो!

– गोपालप्रसाद व्यास

This is not to say that democracy is a bad thing, or that any other form of government is superior. It highlights, instead, the importance of also being a Republic, with a strong constitution to keep majoritarianism in check. Here, check out this fine essay by Shruti Rajagopalan, Democracy vs The Republic.

Elaborately Learned Superstition

Check out this excellent paragraph from that Jane Jacobs masterpiece, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Talking about the urban planners of her time, she writes:

And to put it bluntly, they are all in the same stage of elaborately learned superstition as medical science was early in the last century, when physicians put their faith in bloodletting, to draw out the evil humors which were believed to cause disease. With bloodletting, it took years of learning to know precisely which veins, by what rituals, were to be opened for what symptoms. A superstructure of technical complication was erected in such deadpan detail that the literature still sounds almost plausible. However, because people, even when they are thoroughly enmeshed in descriptions of reality which are at variance with reality, are still seldom devoid of the powers of observation and independent thought, the science of bloodletting, over most of its long sway, appears usually to have been tempered with a certain amount of common sense. Or it was tempered until it reached its highest peaks of technique in, of all places, the young United States. Bloodletting went wild here. It had an enormously influential proponent in Dr. Benjamin Rush, still revered as the greatest statesman-physician of our revolutionary and federal periods, and a genius of medical administration. Dr. Rush Got Things Done. Among the things he got done, some of them good and useful, were to develop, practice, teach and spread the custom of bloodletting in cases where prudence or mercy had heretofore restrained its use. He and his students drained the blood of very young children, of consumptives, of the greatly aged, of almost anyone unfortunate enough to be sick in his realms of influence. His extreme practices aroused the alarm and horror of European bloodletting physicians. And yet as late as 1851, a committee appointed by the State Legislature of New York solemnly defended the thoroughgoing use of bloodletting. It scathingly ridiculed and censured a physician, William Turner, who had the temerity to write a pamphlet criticizing Dr. Rush’s doctrines and calling ”the practice of taking blood in diseases contrary to common sense, to general experience, to enlightened reason and to the manifest laws of the divine Providence.” Sick people needed fortifying, not draining, said Dr. Turner, and he was squelched.

It is my case that bloodletting in the 19th century was like government regulation in the 20th and 21st. There exists a “superstructure of technical complication” that makes wonks and boffins believe in their omnipotence, but they are as wrong as Dr Rush.

We will look back on this with wonder 100 years from now. Dang, I feel like I’m trapped in the wrong century. That said, better this one than any that came before.

Inducements in the Political Marketplace

The Quint reports:

In one of the many attempts by Bengaluru citizens to raise awareness among voters in the city, the Karnataka Associated Management of English-medium Schools (KAMS) has proposed a very interesting incentive to get the parents of their students to vote in the 12 May Assembly elections.

According to reports, KAMS has decided to award extra marks to students whose parents have voted.

D Shashi Kumar, general secretary of KAMS, said, “We will record the details of the students and the parents and award 4 marks to them in the Part B section of internal assessments.” Some schools expect parents to report to the school right after voting, while some can wait until schools reopen to show their inked finger to ensure the children get the marks.

As I mention in my new AMA episode of The Seen and the Unseen (embedded below), voting is a privilege and not a duty. What’s more, the political marketplace is… a marketplace.

If a school was to announce that kids would get grace marks if their parents bought shirts from so-and-so mall, that would be considered ridiculous. A parent may go to that mall, fill all the shirts substandard, and refuse to buy one.

The political marketplace is no different. If I don’t like any of the candidates, I don’t have to vote — and what’s more, my not voting sends a signal to potential political entrepreneurs, who can see the percentage of non-voters, that there is a gap in the marketplace. They may step in to fill that gap. So if I want new forces to emerge in politics, it is reasonable to not vote.

Of course, I am neither in Bengaluru nor do I have kids, so I am immune to such pressures. How I wish I could have a positive reason to vote, though.


Not Waving But Drowning

This is one of my favourite poems, and at first glance it seems that it deals with the personal and doesn’t belong on Pragati Express. But hey, wait a minute: do you think the metaphor in the poem could be extended to decades-long victims of bad public policy?

by Stevie Smith

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

Newton and the Free Speech Apple

News18 reports:

Rajkummar Rao’s Newton, which was India’s official entry for the 2018 Oscars’ Best Foreign Language Film category, earned widespread critical acclaim across the globe and received numerous awards and nominations. However, what was Indian cinema’s pride for some has hurt sentiments of a CRPF officer, who has filed a complaint against the makers of the film seeking deletion of a few scenes allegedly portraying the India’s Central Armed Police Forces in a bad light.

You might read this and think, what kind of man would file such a complaint? What’s wrong with him?

The problem here is not the man, though, but the fact that we don’t do enough to protect free speech in this country. There are many laws that can be used to muzzle free expression, and they cannot be challenged on constitutional grounds, because the constitution does not protect free speech. Article 19 (2) allows grounds on which free speech can be muzzled such as “public order, decency or morality” and “defamation,” all of which can be interpreted widely.

We have a whole bunch of IPC laws that make it a crime to offend someone — and people can be offended by anything one says, which makes it all a bit of a joke. The producers of Newton have enough money to put their lawyers on the job, and this case is just a minor nuisance for them. But these laws are liberally use to strike out at dissenters, and they have a chilling effect on potential dissenters.

What’s worse is that it is not just the laws that are messed up. Most people around you — unless you move around in a self-select elite circle — will agree that there need to be these restrictions on speech. That makes it not just a political and legal problem, but also a social one.

Okay, I’ll shut up now.