India Gets World’s Highest Motorable Road At Ladakh, Courtesy Border Roads Organisation — Swarajya

The world’s highest motorable road passes through Umling La Top in Ladakh at a height of over 19,300 feet

via India Gets World’s Highest Motorable Road At Ladakh, Courtesy Border Roads Organisation — Swarajya

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5 Reasons why playing the National Anthem in public spaces matters

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It is that time of the year again when we argue in circles over the need to play our National Anthem in movie theatres. Politicians, cricketers, celebrities, members of the Censor Board, commoners – everyone seems to have something to tweet about playing the National Anthem at movie theatres. All thanks to a change in the stand of the Supreme Court that hinted at replacing the word ‘shall’ with ‘may’ in its November 2016 order that made it mandatory for theatres to play the National Anthem.

The arguments that were put forth in the debate are best summarized by the Supreme Court’s statements on the issue last year and this year:

Nov 2016: The Supreme Court says that playing the National Anthem before screening movies would “instill committed patriotism and nationalism” and “reflect love and respect for the motherland”.  

Oct 2017: The Supreme Court says that “You do not have to sing the National Anthem in the movie hall to demonstrate your nationalism. People go to cinema halls for undiluted entertainment”.

Each of these arguments holds their own merit in the minds of their respective proponents, and rightfully so. However, this post is NOT intended to be an unbiased illumination of the rationale on both sides. It is a biased write-up that only gives you reasons to cherish the National Anthem at every given opportunity. So, if you’re too ‘liberal’ at heart and cannot digest the blatant unfairness in this post, please close the tab.

Ready?  Here we go!

Why does singing the National Anthem in public spaces matter?

#1 Because it is the need of the hour!

Remember those history lessons in your fourth grade text books that kept emphasizing that India is a great example of Unity In Diversity? Well, it isn’t just a naïve message that the country needs its young minds to believe in. It is the only way India can survive as a nation. The Indian population was never made of people of one kind. We have Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jews, Jains, Buddhists, atheists, the haves, the have-nots, the middle class, the general category, OBCs, SC/STs, creamy layer, non-creamy layer, employed, unemployed, educated and of course, those who have never held a book in their hands, much less heard about Unity In Diversity. How does one ensure that the idea of a nation reaches all of these (and other) segments of society cutting across economical, religious, political, linguistic and ideological lines?

The National Anthem is meant to do exactly just that. If an RD Burman song has the potential to evoke one’s innate sense of tranquillity, an Ilaiyaraja song, the potential to make one see divinity, the National Anthem has the potential to evoke the sense of patriotism that lies dormant in one’s heart. And in time, the anthem will grow to be the emotion that our children associate with India. Much like it did for me and so many others of my generation and the past.

That our children form mental and emotional connects with the idea of India is of paramount importance today because the lack of such a bond can lead them to act on ‘Bharat Tere Tukde Honge’ tomorrow. Oh! I’m not referring to the isolated JNU slogan alone! Remember separatist movements in Kashmir, the North East, Tamil Nadu? Remember Naxalite and Maoist insurgency? The eagerness of a few Indian youngsters to join the ISIS?

The Indian National Anthem can certainly help inculcate Unity In Diversity as a value, if not the Supreme Court.

#2 Because the National Anthem can help this democracy!

Sounds like a long shot? Actually, it’s not.

If there was one thing that the Drafting Committee that framed the Indian Constitution needed Independent India to be, it was this – a just nation that gave every citizen equal opportunity and equal rights to the various aspects of life. But how is this even possible when one community loves the cow for a meal and the other venerates the cow? The founding fathers of our Constitution knew the stark contrast in the sensibilities of the Indian people too well, which is why they chose to keep God out of the Indian Constitution. A corollary to such a stand would be that Dr.B.R.Ambedkar and his team foresaw that the nation needs to be on top of everything else in everyone’s minds, if India is to live on.

The National Anthem is only an extension of this belief. When Rabindranath Tagore wrote ‘Jana Gana Mana Adhinayaka Jaya Hai’, he wasn’t referring to any king, but to the God of the land who controlled the destinies of the Indian people. Was he referring to a Hindu God? No. Tagore’s idea of God was far beyond the confines of specific religious deities. He believed in one God and man’s oneness with God. Is there a single religion that cannot find resonance with this principle?

Both, in the literary and the emotional sense, the National Anthem is a force that binds all Indians together. It compels us to see the commonality in us and our destinies.

When such a principle is well ingrained in the collective psyche of the masses as an emotion, will any energy be invested in petty squabbles such as beef ban or ban on cracker sales?

#3 Because we have fundamental duties too.

Article 51A of the Indian Constitution lists abiding by the Constitution, respecting its ideals and institutions, the National Anthem and the National Flag as the Fundamental Duty of every citizen of India. Yes, Fundamental Rights are given way more priority than Fundamental Duties in our Constitution. While Fundamental Rights are justiceable, Fundamental Duties are not. In fact, this could be why some people think it is more important to voice their discomfort about standing up for the National Anthem than actually pay their respect for 52 seconds and be done with it. Still, can one completely wash his/her hands off striving to align their actions with the Fundamental Duties enshrined in the Constitution?

#4 Because the National Anthem is anyway played in sports events.

In Justice DY Chandrachud’s own words, the National Anthem is anyway played “during matches, tournaments and even Olympics where half the crowd does not understand its meaning”. So, why not play it in a movie hall where the reason why the audience come in is “undiluted entertainment”? Last I checked, sports events were still considered entertainment.

Yes, I do understand that a sports arena is an apt venue to play the National Anthem because it involves victory, pride and honour, all of which are emotions that are true of the National Anthem as well. However, can a movie hall be considered any less? (Just how low do you think of the Indian film industry?)

Mersal discussed GST and digital money. Baahubali spoke of righteous ascension to the throne and cultural pride. Kabali took up racism. Dangal was all about women empowerment. And all of these movies went on to break records in revenue collection internationally. Clearly, our movies play a huge role in communicating social messages to the masses, in addition to transporting them to a fantasy world. So, why is the National Anthem not a befitting prelude for the show to come?

#5 Because nothing is more indignant to the National Anthem than a debate on it.

In its November 2016 court order, the Supreme Court had said that entry into and exit from the movie hall will need to be regulated by the theatres in order to avoid disturbance or disrespect to the National Anthem.

Similarly, our President Ram Nath Kovind has made changes to the protocol that used to be followed at events attended by the President to ensure that the National Anthem is shown utmost respect. As per protocol, the President is the last to speak during an event, followed by a vote of thanks from the host and finally, the National Anthem. Since people get up to leave immediately after the President’s speech, there’s barely any stillness in the gathering while the National Anthem is played. So, the President’s office has decided to keep the vote of thanks and National Anthem before the event commences, going forward.

Discussions on how moments of the National Anthem can be organized better would set a better precedence and do the National Anthem a great favour than debates on singing it in the first place.

Personally, I don’t need a reason to sing or listen to or stand up for the National Anthem. But I understand that not everyone works the way I do, which is why I came up with this rather elaborate post. If you have other reasons to play the National Anthem in public spaces and to stand up for it, do share them in your comments below. Let’s revel in patriotism.

Jai Hind!

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Is My ‘Vichar’ All Right?

On the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s 148th birth anniversary, our Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “The Swachh Bharat Mission is about both ‘Vyavastha’ (systems) and ‘Vichar’ (thought process and mindset)”. While enough is spoken about the inadequacy of the system, regardless of the party in power or the matter in question, do we ever focus on the ‘Vichar’?

A friend of mine once supported Mother Teresa in response to an offensive tweet about the saint. She was called ‘cultureless’ and a string of swear words by men in subsequent comments thereafter. A few months ago, when another friend commented on an FB post saying that she would like to understand menstruation better before judging the rationale behind certain religious practices, some women took it upon themselves to take turns to insult her intelligence. If you’ve ever tried commenting on articles on certain popular newsportals, you’d know that your comments need to meet an unsaid criterion to get published – your comments must agree with the narrative of the article. Otherwise, they will be erased forever as per the newsportal’s moderation policy, even if it does not contain profanity or personal attacks.

Is intolerance on the rise in India?

The real problem that plagues certain segments of online journalism and social interactions is our failure to internalize the spirit behind our fundamental rights, especially the right to free speech. The right to free speech isn’t an absolute right and is subject to reasonable restrictions such as decency, morality, defamation and incitement to an offence, among others, under the Indian Constitution. This implies that the expression of one’s thoughts, in addition to being civil, must also be premised upon a spirit of inquiry so as to allow dialogue and exchange of ideas, keeping in line with the fundamental duties enshrined in our Constitution. The internalization of this ideal is of grave importance in a diverse country such as ours because the failure or death of this ideal would mean the death of democracy and the onset of chaos.

Take the story of Rally For Rivers, for example – a nationwide campaign that strives to unite the people of the country to restore the health of India’s rivers by increasing the tree cover and organic activity along river banks. Launched by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev’s Isha Foundation, the campaign’s supporters seem to have left no stone unturned in making the campaign evolve into a people’s movement that enjoys support from multiple quarters and stakeholders. That the campaign has the support of corporate giants such as Airtel, Mahindra, Indigo or Dr.Reddy’s, while commendable, isn’t so much of a feat as is its success in garnering the support of 16 state governments, cutting across political and religious lines.

While the Government of Maharashtra has signed an MoU with the Isha Foundation to plant 50 crore trees over a span of three years, starting from 2017, the Government of Karnataka has signed an MoU to plant 25 crore saplings across one-kilometre radius of rivers. Dr.Imam Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, Chief Imam of the All India Imam Organization has pledged his organization’s support for Rally For Rivers. So has the Archdiocese of Madras and Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Yogpeeth. And of course, over 12 crore missed calls from civilians have gone to 80009 80009 in a show of support for our river systems.

When was the last time since Independence that the nation displayed such solidarity for any cause, let alone an environmental one?

Yet, there are netizens and online media entities such as The Wire or The Quint that choose to not acknowledge the significance of this phenomenon and instead focus on misleading trivia. They prefer introducing the man who launched the campaign along the same lines as a criminal ‘Baba’ who was pronounced guilty by the court recently, rather than get one simple fact right about the campaign – that Rally For Rivers is about rejuvenating rivers and not about interlinking of rivers. Let’s not even go near why the name of a convict needs to appear in an article about the campaign and the globally revered spiritual leader cum social entrepreneur. What’s more bizarre is their absolute confidence in publishing incorrect information such as the need to plant eight lakh trees to offset 26,000 kg of carbon dioxide.

Little do these individuals and entities realise that they reinforce illusory ideas of political and religious divides that have been brushed under the carpet by the masses, when they colour their reportage with their ideologies.

They might do well to invite discussion with their narratives than invite dissent. After all, isn’t a democracy all about dialogue and consensus?

I am only reminded of Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev’s words in one of his recent interviews about Rally For Rivers – ‘When your opinion becomes greater than law, you breed a lynch mob’.

If these words don’t horrify us enough, maybe we should all remind ourselves of Gauri Lankesh.

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Shambhavi & me…..

As I end those twenty-one minutes of restful activity,

My focus settles at the third eye cavity.

As silence pervades the room and stillness pervades my existence,
A slim shred of air makes its entry and exit,
Opening the doorways to perception.

Breath…….

The only creeper between life and death,
Teases me with brief spells of unexperienced Truth.

This short bout of daily stillness
Is my small effort at experiencing limitlessness.

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A Prayer for Syria

Syrian crisis

You don’t know me.

But I’ve been following you,

For a while now.

I try to make sense of what’s happening to you, everyday.

Yet, I never see sense.

I don’t see sense in your pain,

Your destruction,

Or in your loss.

I wish my government did more to help you,

Considering that we go back a long way down the timeline.

But wait, we don’t need to have a shared history,

For us to feel your story.

I am just so sorry.

I am sorry you lost your family,

Your home,

Your honour,

Aleppo…..

And with it, the last standing witness to your rich heritage.

But I pray that you don’t lose hope, my friend.

I pray that you don’t lose your spirit to reclaim what’s yours.

And I most sincerely pray that you don’t lose your ability to love,

To give better than what you got.

I pray, my friend, I pray,

So my tears aren’t my only tribute to you;

So I can conceal my inability to be one of the Goddesses of my land

With ten hands,

And take out the beasts on your land.

Just remember that there are humans outside your land,

Praying for you,

Crying with you,

Opening their doors for you.

Hold onto that thin ray of hope, my friend.

Today, we remain divided only by governments,

Or we wouldn’t need any armaments.

But there will be better times ahead,

Times when people like us who can care, will run the world.

No, don’t ask me when!

Until then, hold on, my friend.

Grab all that you can

To not give in,

And to stay alive.

There will be better times ahead.

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When marriage is less than sacred

When marriage is less than sacred: http://m.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/when-marriage-is-less-than-sacred/article7315485.ece

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Plant genus named after Sir David Attenborough

Just so happy to see this. Always loved Sir David Attenborough 😀

Plant genus named after Sir David Attenborough: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/comment-plant-genus-named-after-sir-david-attenborough/article6866019.ece

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