Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Online liberty and tolerance

Section 66A of the IT Act has been struck down. But does it mean that people can make objectionable comments and get away with it?

There are sections in IPC like 153, 153A, 504, 506 etc which have been invoked in the past, and will continue to be invoked in the future too.

What has been struck down is only a section that was introduced specifically mentioning electronic communication.

Since more communication today happens online rather than offline, undoubtedly we need clear idea of what is okay and what is not okay.


I remember being told when I was a child how I should be careful while talking when elders are around. That's no longer the case now. The new generation particularly is very outspoken. However, not all their comments are objectionable.

Very often, what we see online is only an extension of what we see offline, probably a bit more as the virtual setting works as an incentive to open the minds out.

Free expression of thoughts, ideas, comments, suggestions, criticisms, alternative ways of approaching issues and problems should be seen as healthy rather than objectionable. They might look on the face of it cut-and-dried or irreverent or sometimes even outrageous. But as long as the intentions are good, it should be okay.

What should actually be seen as objectionable and clamped down strictly are incitement to violence, hatred, enmity among sections of people, statements that are coloured and discriminatory from the point of view of caste, religion, gender, language etc. made to show sections of people in poor light etc.


We may all have the freedom to speak out our minds. But we should also be mature enough to exercise discretion and ensure that we speak the right thing, at the right time, in the right place, in the right manner.

All of us do that in our daily lives. So many times we would have decided not to say something to someone at a particular time in a particular place, because we thought it was inappropriate. So exercise of such prudence and discretion is nothing new or unusual.

On the internet many of us tend to get carried away because we are physically way from the real world. In one way that is good, because some fresh, original thoughts flow out of our minds. At the other end, when we see such postings and comments, we need to understand that these are unfettered, true feelings of people. We need to acknowledge the genuineness behind the thoughts.

As we see more free expressions of thoughts, parallely we also need to develop greater amounts of tolerance. They are interlinked.

Sometimes I see people who actively support free speech are highly intolerant when other people exercise their right to free speech. That won't do.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Advance Reservation Period -- How early can you book a train ticket

Which is the farthest date you can book a train ticket for, is a common doubt people have especially during the holiday season. All of us want to be right there at the virtual ticket counter when the window opens at 8 am.

The most important thing to remember is -- what matters is not the date on which you begin your travel. What is counted is the date on which the train begins its travel.

Even the railway website is not clear on this important point, though regular travellers, especially who board a long-distance train midway, might be aware of this.

Probably because it depends on the date on which the chart is prepared, at the station where the train originates.

Anyway, I discovered this by chance, when I saw that I could book for one train but not for another on the same day. Thought, I must share this, for people who might not be aware.

Here is an example.

The farthest date for which you can book today (March 19), is May 18. (Currently it's 60 days in advance, but from April 1, it will be 120 days in advance.)

Assume you are booking a ticket from Bhopal to Thiruvananthapuram for May 20.

There are two trains available on that day -- Himsagar Express and Kerala Express.  But you will find that you are able to book a ticket in Himsagar Express for May 20, but you can't for Kerala Express for the same date. (The booking should be possible only for up to May 18, and at first look it might look strange why it's possible to book for May 20.)

My guess is (there is no one to confirm officially), this is because, Himsagar Express begins its journey from Jammu on May 18, and reaches Bhopal on the Day 3, that is May 20.

On the other hand, Kerala Express begins journey from Delhi and reaches Bhopal on the same day.

So, you can book in Himsagar Express for May 20, but the farthest date for which you can book for Kerala Express is May 18.

So, so if you are looking to be at the virtual ticketing counter right on the day the Advance Booking Period commences, (now 60 days in advance, from April 1 it will be 120 days), check if you are boarding the train on the same day as it leaves originating station or on Day 2 or 3.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

RIP, Vinod Mehta

The news of Vinod Mehta's passing away today was a shock. In many ways he was one-of-a-kind journalist.

My friends who have worked with him have spoken about his unique way of approaching news stories. A rare journalist, he started off his career as an editor, an editor who only looked for the merits in a story, and not whom it will hurt and whom it will please.

He had a down-to-earth, straightforward, simple way of arguing out his points of view. There were no complicated intellectual theories or roundabout deductions. No surprise, his pieces were a treat to read.

He had golden hands that made the publications he touched sparkle. He relaunched Debonair when he was just 32. There was no looking back.

He infused fresh ideas into newspaper reportage and design, as he launched the Sunday Observer, India's first weekly newspaper. Some of the design elements that he used (might have been borrowed from foreign newspapers) in Sunday Observer were a first in India and are still being used in all newspapers.

Two examples: One, on the front page, the rectangular boxes you see below the masthead (name of the paper) containing pointers to inside page news articles; and two, "briefly" group of news summary in the first column.

Then followed the Indian Post, the Independent and the Pioneer (relaunch). His policy of seeing news as only news, not bothering about whether it hurt or pleased anyone, brought him into conflict with not only political powers but also other editors and proprietors. His stints in none of the newspapers lasted long.

He launched Outlook weekly in 1995. Till then we all had only one India Today (which was a fortnightly) to look forward to as a current affairs news magazine. The fact that India Today was forced to become a weekly sums up the impact Outlook had. The newbie reflected Vinod Mehta's way of doing journalism, and quickly gained popularity.

Another remarkable feature he introduced in the Outlook was in the Letters to the Editor column. Letters critical of him and the magazine were highlighted with a boxed display, sometimes even with a cartoon. A very unusual tack for any publication to take -- the general tendency is to trash or underplay views of readers who don't agree with the editor or the line the publication has taken.

His Delhi Diary column on the last page of the Outlook was very popular.

Indian journalism will miss Vinod Mehta. Rest in Peace.

Some of the tributes:

Saturday, March 7, 2015

India's Daughter -- ban, revulsion and hope

It has now been conclusively proved that banning anything that can be online simply doesn't work. I am still clueless why the film -- India's Daughter, produced by Leslee Udwin for the BBC -- has been banned.

Is it because the government was angry that a foreign film producer managed to interview a convict on death row inside the Tihar Jail? If it was against law, no one knows who gave the permission and how the crew pulled it off.

I am told one reason for the ban is that the government couldn't allow a foreigner to “defame India and show Indian culture in poor light”. I doubt if there is a more lame excuse. What about the litany of crimes, of all varieties, that happen all cross the country every day? Aren't we shamed already? Is India in a cocoon that prevents the rest of the world from knowing what's happening in our country, so much so that there had to be a Leslee Udwin film to do all the damage to our culture?

Instead of banning the movie, every one from Narendra Modi downwards should watch it. Praise it or trash it – there's no rule that every one should praise the movie -- but why ban it?

Whether you agree or not with the way Udwin has made the film, it's indisputable that the documentary deals comprehensively with a very serious social malaise. The reasons for rape put forward by perverts are nothing new. But the normality of such people, showing no sign of remorse, while they justify their macabre deeds is numbing, to say the least.

One big shocker in the film are the views of the two defence lawyers. One of them likens girls to diamonds, which if left on the street would be taken away by dogs. Another says women are like flowers and they should choose be in the gutter or be in a temple to adorn a deity.

The brouhaha over the movie will die soon. But is there any way forward, to stem the slide?

My thoughts are oscillating between cynicism and hope.

The malaise is a deep-rooted one with its tentacles extending in multiple directions. Gender relations isn't so simple, and no such social problem has a ready-made or tailor-made solution. At the heart of it, is the way a man behaves with a woman. And, there are any number of influences: education, upbringing, surroundings, behaviour of friends and elders including parents, financial and living standards etc.

But I am just hoping, as awareness spreads, there will be a change, for the better. And, let that be sooner than later.