Sunday, September 30, 2018

Three historic Supreme Court judgements -- on homosexuality, adultery, Sabarimala

Supreme Court of India
Winds of change are sweeping across India. In the past three weeks, the Supreme Court of the country, pronounced three historic verdicts, giving a stamp of approval to three very contentious and sharply divisive views. I don't think any time in the past we had such important rulings coming in quick succession from the top court of the country.


In 1861, when India was a colony of the British empire, Section 377 came into being, which, inter alia, made homosexual relationship a criminal offence. On September 6, the Supreme Court read down the section, decriminalising homosexual relationship between two consenting adults. With gay and lesbian sex no longer a crime, there was huge jubiliation among the LGBTQ community.

Read more in The Hindu


On September 27, the Supreme Court struck down Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, a highly gender-biased 158-year-old colonial-era adultery law. Hitherto, under the law, only a husband could complain against adultery. In other words, if a man strayed, his wife couldn't legally launch a case. Also, interestingly, a wife's affair with a man won't be considered adultery if it had the connivance of her husband!

Now all these horrendous clauses have gone. However, the ruling doesn't mean every married man and woman can now safely launch an extramarital affair. It is still a valid ground for divorce.

While generally the ruling was welcomed, some people felt that the ruling impacted the traditional sanctity of the institution of marriage.

Read more in NDTV


Sabarimala temple
In the state of Kerala in south India, a very popular temple, Sabarimala, from time immemorial, has been barred for women between the age of 10 and 50. It effectively means women in the child-bearing age are not allowed in.

According to this article, the legend has it that the presiding deity of Sabarimala, Lord Ayyappa, is a celibate so that he can focus on answering the prayers of his devotees. And he will remain celibate till that day when there is no first-time devotee coming to the temple. (Every year, there are many who make their first visit to the temple. So Ayyappa remains a celibate.)

The Supreme Court ruled that devotion cannot be subjected to discrimination, and patriarchal notion cannot be allowed to trump equality in devotion. "Rules based on biological characteristics will not muster Constitution," the court said.

Interestingly, the lone woman judge in the five-judge bench gave a dissenting verdict saying it should be up to to the practitioners of the faith to frame laws governing them.

Read more in NDTV


The differences between man and woman, which used to be once very stark, are now fast blurring. Men and women, are now seen as individuals, and their gender is never the primary element of consideration. So, it was only a matter of time, that homosexual relationship was made legal. Before long, we would see same-sex marriage too in India.

Regarding the Sabarimala verdict, the substance of the ruling was that there is no constitutional bar on any woman going to Sabarimala. It is a matter of individual faith whether someone wants to go to the temple or not. So, it's quite possible that many women, in spite of this ruling, will not go to Sabarimala, till they attain menopause. That's fine. No one is forcing anyone to go to the temple.

These rulings also signify another stage in our human evolution. We should remember that we are what we are after a series of evolutionary stages. We were neither created nor born in the way we are now. We have reached this stage. It is important to look back and see what we were in the past.

A simple example: T-shirt and jeans is a very common attire for both men and women. But many years ago, they were not as common as they are today. We have changed our dressing style. Many other life styles too have changed. And they will continue to change. That's the way it has been; and that's the way it will be.

As Victor Hugo said: “No force on earth can stop an idea whose time has come.”

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Book Review: Farewell: The Greatest Spy Story of the Twentieth Century

Farewell: The Greatest Spy Story of the Twentieth Century
Over the past two years at least, ever since we had the American presidential elections, we have been continually hearing about the Russians' covert activities. How far it is true or false is still being investigated, and we may not know that for sure for some time.

In this context, when I was surfing Amazon for a book to read, I stumbled on this; and the title stopped me in my tracks. I read the blurb, and in no time I bought the book.

This book by Sergei Kostin and Eric Raynaud is the English translation of their Adieu Farewell. It's been translated by Catherine Cauvin-Higgins.

The story truly justifies the title. A tale of a man's academic brilliance, excellence in undercover operations, alcohol, women and passionate love. His name: Vladimir Vetrov.

The book is about his life, how he joined the KGB, the then Soviet secret service, how he got frustrated and disillusioned with his country's ideology under Leonid Brezhnev, and how he betrayed his nation by leaking to France all the scientific and technical details his country had gathered about NATO.

His code name was Farewell, and all the information he leaked was called the Farewell Dossier. In 1981, when France elected a socialist Francois Mitterrand as President. It raised the hackles of the West, especially the US and its President Ronald Reagan. But all that vanished when Mitterrand passed on to Reagan the Farewell Dossier.

The dossier contained lots of information regarding who were spying for the USSR and where. Based on it many diplomats were expelled, leading to rising tensions between the NATO and the USSR.

It is said that Vetrov's actions and the steps that the NATO took against the USSR, effectively put an end to the scientific and technological research that the USSR was undertaking, and that in turn led to the weakening of Soviet political establishment giving Reagan the edge in bringing the Iron Curtain down.

The book is also about Vetrov as a person: his personality, his strengths and weaknesses. His personal life is a parallel plot in the book: alcoholism, marriage, son and love affairs. Though the Soviets lost the spy plot to Vetrov, he too lost out in the process.

The book is very well researched, contains lots of information about Vetrov's life, his work, the Soviet system etc. But it is not a very fast-paced book. There are too many details, and too much of analyses, that might put off readers who are looking for an edge-of-the-seat thriller.

Farewell: The Greatest Spy Story of the Twentieth Century by Sergei Kostin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Monday, September 10, 2018

US Open 2018: Naomi vs Serena - When emotion got the better of tennis

It was a US Open like never before: breathtaking display of tennis from 20-year-old Naomi Osaka to outclass 36-year-old Serena Williams. Naomi became the first Japanese to win a Grand Slam, by defeating someone who has won 23 of them! No mean achievement!

Here are the highlights of that great match:


It is almost two days now since tennis history was made. But sadly, what is in focus still are matters other than tennis: the outburst of Serena.


A quick recap. It all began when Naomi was 40-15 up in the second game of the second set when chair umpire Carlos Ramos handed a code violation to Serena's coach Patrick Mouratoglou after the umpire noticed that Patrick was gesturing to the player in the form of coaching, which is not allowed.

Serena walked up to the umpire and said that she didn't see any gesturing from the coach, and that there is no need for her to cheat. "I would lose rather than cheat," she told the umpire.

(However, after the match, the coach admitted that he was coaching Serena during the match.) 

Serena went on, to go up 3-1 over Naomi in that 2nd set.


Then, in the next game, came a close call, and Serena lost a serve. In anger, she smashed the racket, which got twisted out of shape; and as another code violation against Serena, Naomi was then awarded a point.

Serena's anger boiled over. She called the umpire a liar and a thief (for taking points away from her.)

The match continued, but Serena's rant also continued. So too the boos and jeers from the crowd.


“I don’t cheat! You need to make an announcement. I have never cheated in my life. I have a daughter! You owe me an apology. You owe me an apology.”

And the shouting at the umpire got her the third penalty, a game penalty.

Serena got more furious, and accused the umpire of being sexist.

“Are you kidding me? ... Because I called you a thief? ... This is not fair. This is not fair. This has happened to me so many times. ... There are lot of men out here who have said a lot worse than that. I called him a thief because he stole a point from me. .... "

The boos and jeers reached a crescendo.

It couldn't have been worse for Serena. 23-time Grand Slam champion, looking towards equalling Margret Court's record of 24, on the 45th anniversary of Margaret's achievement.

Serena used all her energy and abilities. But the last game went Naom's way: 15-0, 15-15, 30-15, 40-15. Game, set and the Championship.


Then, followed the most bizzare award presentation ceremony.

One, the umpire was told not to come on to the state.

Two, Naomi Osaka was not just crying, but so embarrassed that she was pulling the visor of the cap to cover her face. They were not tears of joy. She wasn't smiling at all. How sad! She actually apologised to the crowd for not letting their favourite player win.

Three, Serena too was crying. Then, she did something remarkable.  She asked the crowd to stop booing and jeering, and let the new champion savour her golden moment. Only Serena could have done that. And she did that. I am glad that she acted wisely, unlike the way she allowed herself to be carried away by emotion during the match.

But lots of damage had been done already.

Felt so sad for Naomi.


One, as far as I know, from what I have read and heard, Carlos Ramos has a good reputation as an umpire. He is one of strictest in the circuit. He would have done the same thing, if it was another player, man or woman.

Two, on-court coaching does happen. Many coaches and players have been pulled up before. But they have all moved on, without creating a scene.

Three, Serena was spot on, on the issue of sexism. Everyone knows that. Many male players have barked even the F-word at umpires. Serena was right to bring up that issue. But not at that time, and not against this umpire. The biased rulings had been given by other umpires.


Only one reason why Serena behaved the way she did: Unbearable pressure. She has been putting all her best after that maternity break, to claw her way back to the top spot, where she rightly belongs. At New York, she was just about there, when this Japanese girl was powering her way through. This was also an occasion for her to equal Margret Court's record.

Naomi Osaka was definitely playing better than Serena. That's where it all began, for Serena, who then just let emotions get the better of the game. While I won't disagree with Serena's point about sexism, that was not the place to raise it, and take away in the process all the focus from Naomi's performance.


Naomi Osaka deserves all the credit and accolades. She played superbly. She kept her cool, didn't allow herself to be distracted by not only Serena's rants but the continuous raucous jeers of the crowd. It is not easy when 23,000 are booing and you know you are not the favourite of the crowd.

The current focus might be on Serena. But Naomi will be remembered for years and years to come, for the spectacular display of tennis that outclassed Serena.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Positive power of social media networks in rain-ravaged Kerala

We Are The World Blogfest
Many of you, especially those who are living in India, would have known about the torrential rain that battered the south Indian state of Kerala most of August, resulting in flooding of vast areas of the state. Over 400 people died, and property worth millions have been damaged.

Read more about the devastation in The New York Times and BBC.


Amongst the calamity, what stood out as a beacon of hope and cheer was the way everyone got together as one, and lent a helping hand to others. There have been innumerable such instances across the state, which the media have been highlighting.

Many people came forward to write notes
for students who had lost their
notebooks in the flood. - The Hindu
One of the them is how a non-profit in the north Kerala district of Kozhikode, Incubation, initiated a campaign to provide the notes for different subjects that children had painstakingly written down in their classes but were lost in the floods.

A message on social media calling for volunteers spread rapidly among networks. The notes were then shared in PDF format with the volunteers who had signed up. They then copied the notes on to new notebooks, and handed them over to the coordinating agency, who then distributed them to children who had lost their school notes.

It is amazing that in virtually no time, nearly 10,000 notebooks, with all the notes, were recreated and handed over to the children.

Read more about this wonderful initiative:

Kerala pens history by writing notebooks for flood-hit children

‘Write’ help at the right time

To an unknown child, a notebook of compassion


Another similar effort was one that was championed by Ramesh Babu, a former captain of the Indian Navy who is currently a managing director of Mazagon Docks, a government shipbuilding company in Mumbai. (Incidentally, he was my senior in school.) His focus was on the toys that the children had lost. He contacted various agencies across the country, and thousands of toys are now on their way, all free of cost, for the children.

Read more:

Kerala flood relief has a made-in Mumbai toy story

These anecdotes are also a testament to the massive power of the social media to catalyse the good intents of people to bring about positive changes in our society.

(This post has been shared in two blogfests - Midlife Share The Love Link Party and We Are The World Blogfest)

Sunday, September 2, 2018

John McCain, a hero in war and politics

An American hero, John McCain, who passed away on August 25, is being laid to rest today, next to his Naval Academy classmate and friend Adm. Charles R. Larson, at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.

He never made it to the White House, but in his passing he has been accorded all the respect and honour that befits a President of the United States.

McCain was just the 30th American to lie in State in the Rotunda. In the US, lying in state is a rare honour, wherein the mortal remains of a deceased person is placed in the rotunda of the US Capitol in Washington for public viewing; and the casket is guarded by the personnel of the US armed forces.

He was a naval pilot. During the Vietnam war, he led 23 combat missions, until he was shot down in the last one, was captured and tortured as a prisoner. In 1981, he retired from the Navy, joined politics in Arizona. He served two terms in the House of Representatives, and five terms in Senate, elected last in 2016.

Twice he threw his hat in the presidential poll ring. In 2000, he lost to George Bush in the primary, and in 2008 he lost to Barack Obama in the general election.

On the day, America elected its first African-American President, November 4, 2008, I was in San Francisco on an official assignment, and around dinner time, I, besides many others in the restaurant, heard with rapt attention, John McCain's concession speech. There was no rancour, no ill will. Only humility, respect, and admiration, for Senator Obama who pulled off a remarkable victory, and for the American people, who scripted a revolution.

McCain was a staunch conservative. But always willing to reach across the aisle. His inclusive approach to issues was so great that there was a section of Democrats who were willing to support McCain in 2008, which led to some turmoil. There was even talk of McCain having a Democrat as a running mate, but he abandoned the idea, considering the political complications that would ensue.

In his article, "John McCain and the Meaning of Courage" in Foreign Affairs, H. R. McMaster, former National Security Advisor, says,
Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian philosopher of war, wrote in the early nineteenth century that “courage is of two kinds: first, physical courage, or courage in the presence of danger; and next, moral courage, or courage before responsibility.” The late U.S. Senator John McCain demonstrated both types. .... During my many meetings with him and his dear friends Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Joseph Lieberman, McCain always tried to understand the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq from the perspective of the Afghan and Iraqi people. Empathy lay at the root of his humaneness, including his opposition to any form of torture.
Especially in these times of radical polarisation, America will miss John McCain.

May his soul rest in peace.

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