Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Please vacate the campus by 3"

As I entered class today, one of my classmates asked, "Will we be let off by 12 today?" I wondered why she was anxious to leave at that time. She went on, "It's been coming in the news since last night. Roads will be blocked after 12 and colleges and offices have been asked to shut down." But why? She continued,"It's because of the Ayodhaya verdict that's going to be out today."

Oh that! Wasn't it 18 years ago that some people thought "Oh, here's a nice way to cash in on the vote bank" and went on to demolish a mosque claimed to be built at a site where a temple had been built in the 11th century? Actually, the dispute dates back to 1528. But are we still on that? I thought we'd moved on.

The day moved on. Not many turned up. It was the apprehension that communal tension may break out in the city because of the verdict. 12 O'clock came. Passed. The roads were still buzzing with traffic. The next class began. It was all routine till someone came in and said, "Please vacate the campus by 3. It's for security reasons."

Oh, so we're still on that.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Think and read. Read and think.

“If they can tell you what to read, they can tell you what to think.” 

True words said by the Freedom to Read Foundation, a foundation that advocates the freedom to read for every individual. After all, whatever we read has a deep influence on how we think. So whoever controls what we read, in a way, controls how we think.

A lot is said about the freedom of speech and the freedom of expression. But the crooning of freedom to read has not been able to draw as much attention. It's been there since years though, for instance, the banned books week in the U.S, an annual campaign that draws attention to censorship by mounting displays of challenged books, was launched way back in 1982! This year, the week's going to be held from September 25 through October 2.

Thousands of books have been challenged over the years for explicit sexual content, offensive language, violence, religious viewpoints and other such reasons. Some very critically acclaimed (Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mocking Bird, The Color Purple, My sister's Keeper) and popular (Twilight series) books of the 20th century have made it to the 10 most challenged titles so far.

Had it not been for the advocacy of the freedom to read, we would have probably been deprived of such literary masterpieces.

How much is too much? A question that hovers on the mind of every censorship board - be it movies, books, television or any other medium of communication. For children, censorship of reading is essential but adults should have the liberty to decide for themselves what is appropriate and what is not. The government should not assume the role of a nanny towards its citizens.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Whose freedom is it anyway?

The annual report on Economic Freedom of the World by Cato, Fraser and other think tanks from around the world was released last Monday. The report measures the consistency of institutions and policies of various countries with personal choice, voluntary exchange and open markets - the various dimensions of economic freedom. This year's report is based on the 2008 data and covers 141 countries.

It's been a week since the report came out and the world (except perhaps Hong Kong and a few others) has been mourning over the reduced levels of economic freedom.  The prime reason being the increased government intervention to revive economies suffering from the recent world recession.

So whose freedom do we refer to when we talk about reduced economic freedom? On paper, yes, it's of the whole world - this time a large 141 countries at that! But is the real picture as rosy?

It seems when capitalist economies sponsored by Mammoth Narcissist Corporations a.k.a MNCs, push for greater economic freedom (read: open markets), it's really their own freedom they are referring too. Globalization and the constant measures the WTO introduces to open up trade has led to an unleveled playing field for developing nations.

But this is not a plea in favor of protectionism either. Thought and time needs to be spared to analyse whether economic freedom is representative of freedom of personal choice and voluntary exchange across all or a handful of tycoon nations. 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

No exams then, no homework now?

A newspaper headline today read "Three cheers for freedom from homework". Really? Three cheers?  As if terminating board exams was not enough, CBSE affiliated schools in Bangalore have now scraped homework too. The kids are happy. Of course. But according to the news report, even parents feel that homework leads to no real learning, as it is done by either siblings or parents.

This is absurd! Parents realise that the problem lies not in the homework but in that it is done by them, and not by the child (most of the time). So is it their burden they wish to reduce or the student's? Some say that it is a repetition of the classwork. If it is, then the solution is not to scrape homework completely, the quality of homework given should be enhanced. For instance - give the student something to think about after class, something to develop new ideas, something that helps apply the knowledge learnt in class.

How relaxed do we want our kids to be, anyway? If school is so relaxed, how will they survive in college and life beyond?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

An old trunk filled with memories

Remember the feeling when you come across an old trunk lying in that dingy basement? A trunk that had been left ignored for years. Suddenly the air becomes heavy with suspense, hands reach out for the lid and eyes pop out in anticipation. What do you see inside?

Gandhi and Jinnah in a heated argument

Never-seen-before photographs of the Indian freedom movement and its leaders. About 10,000 of them! That's what photographer Aditya Arya found in his trunk that had been willed to him 20 years ago by his close friend, photojournalist Kulwant Roy.
"It was just mind boggling. How many people have seen images of (the) constitution being signed?" commented Arya.
He wishes that the photos be available in every school and college, so that people see and know what had happened behind the scenes during the freedom movement. Rightly so. We have been fed with a certain history according to the government prescribed history books in school. They usually present the story from one side, the side in favor of the government in power. Either praising the leaders of its party or criticizing those of the opposition.

Don't pictures speak louder than words? Going beyond what was told to them by (biased) books, the youth can make their own perceptions about history and kids will understand better what was going on at the political front. A treasure trove of history has been unlocked!

Save your face on facebook

Be careful of what you post on facebook, people. You might just get sued for it!

In a bizarre case in New Jersey, U.S.A, an animal shelter, Liberty Humane Society, has filed a defamation suit against the creators and posters of the facebook fan page "Liberty Humane Society Uncensored". The shelter has been criticized on the page by its ex-volunteers, for the recent euthanization of 26 dogs. The shelter defended itself saying that the dogs were too sick or too dangerous for adoption.

Should humans have the power to decide whether another living being lives or dies? Should animals be allowed the freedom to make that decision? Animals don't exactly "make decisions" and nor are they capable of suicide, so is it okay for humans to do that for them? 

I'm not sure. It seems the shelter is doing too much to prove it didn't do any wrong. Suing a facebook page? Isn't a facebook page your own page, where you could say anything you want to? 

America is the lawsuit capital of the world, considering the sheer number and causes of lawsuits filed there. So it isn't that surprising that the case was filed, but the fact that facebook comes under the legal scanner. And this is not the first facebook defamation case. 

So the next time you go posting things like "Osama bin Laden is a bad man, a murderer!", think again. Because the next thing you know, you're being sued by him for defamation of character.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Voting - a right or a duty?

"The voters have a freedom not to vote, to force them to vote is against the principles of an individual liberty."
That was said by the governor of Gujarat, Dr. Kamla Beniwal, when returning the compulsory voting bill after adding some suggestionsto the Gujarat assembly. The bill makes voting mandatory for citizens in the elections of local self-governing bodies of the state (that includes municipal corporations, district, taluka and village panchayats).

Is voting a right or a duty?

If it's a right, citizens have the freedom to choose whether they should exercise their right or not. Then they can't be forced to go to vote in elections. India is a democracy (at least on paper). We are free to make our decisions, without being told what to do by the government .

If it's a duty, this bill is a step in the right direction. We often neglect that duty but never pay for neglecting it. Well, not never. We do pay for it later, when it's easier to shift the blame on the third party - there was no candidate good enough for me to vote, and then we crib about the government that comes into power. This time round, there may be a punitive action if that duty is neglected.

Seeing India's attitude towards voting so far, my vote goes to duty. So, even though the freedom to choose is important, it's not so bad an idea to make people vote when they don't wish to. They will become more responsible towards the decisions they make. Maybe once the habit is inculcated and they realise its power and importance, the bill can be amended. In fact, voting should be made compulsory for national elections too. Because then you can question them "You're there because I voted for you, now what are you doing for me?"

Blogging empowers

I didn't realise blogging could be so powerful! It's become equivalent to writing a book, in terms of the impact it makes on people, maybe even stronger. It may not have as deep a penetration in India, yet, but in Cuba, it's become a very important tool to express freedom of speech and expression. 

She's the Cuban blogger, Yoani Maria Sanchez Cordero, who has been named by the International Press Institute as it's 60th World Press Freedom Hero. Her blog, Generation Y is her take on life in Cuba - from her opinion on Fidel Castro (that was even published in the Washington Post) to getting her son enrolled in a Cuban high school.

Print journalists in her country are not as free as she is on her blog. And they probably can never be, when it comes to freedom of speech. It's a country where suppression and authoritarian rule has been the norm. So, its interesting to note how technology in general, and blogging in particular, has come to the rescue of its people. It has helped them express their views against the men in power. She is believed to have a regular readership of over a million! She has faced repeated suppression by the Cuban authorities, but she continues to make her point via the blog. 
"If you are insulted by the mediocre, the opportunists, if you are slandered by the employees of the powerful but dying machinery, take it as a compliment," she says on her blog.    
This would not have been possible before the advent of blogging or before the internet was invented. So lets not underestimate the power of personal freedom or technology. Each one of us has a voice that can make an impact. And blogging definitely has a bright future! So come on guys, get started with yours

Monday, September 6, 2010

Restricted? Or free?

I am glad that Manisha Sharma raised this question in her comment to the post, "Lose Control
Why are these children restricted? Are their parents scared of something or someone?
She's talking about the 19 kids of a family living in the U.S (the Duggar family) whose parents are raising them at home and have restricted the kids' TV and internet access. 

Thank you Manisha! Your comment highlights the other view to the story.

Imposing restrictions on your kids to the extent that you restrict their television and internet access may seem too much for some. People have criticized this behaviour saying that these kids would end up having no real exposure to the world we live in. But come to think of it, we did survive as humans before these two media started ruling our lives. We were probably more human, more us, more free than we are now. The media often creates a twisted view of the world. Who's to say it gives authentic exposure?

Also, these kids are being home schooled. So, they are being taught about life and the world, albeit in a different way.
Michelle Duggar (the mother) notes, "The older child gets to become a teacher. And it seems like you learn so much more when you're the teacher than when you're just the student."
 And yes, I think the parents are scared of something - they are probably scared of the impact of the media and the culture it propagates. They perhaps want to keep their children away from it and give them space to develop their own thoughts, impressions and opinions of the world. 

Aren't we too used to doing our own thing? That stubborn teenager in us does not like to be told "Don't do that!" But while being that rebel, we may ignore someone else's different, but insightful view point. It might even be useful to us. But we turn a deaf ear just to preserve our notion of freedom - the freedom to be able to do what we wish to. Some people say that the children are captives in their own home. I think that's a third person's view. If the kids themselves say that one day, I'd be more inclined to reconsider my position. As of now, they have been seen as one big happy family, full of humor and laughter.

So, are these kids restricted? Or are they free?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Lose control!

That's not an ordinary orchestra. That's an extraordinary family - the Duggar family! The photo shows the two proud parents, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar with their 19 children, who live in Arkansas, U.S.A. They have a hit reality TV show to their credit as well as a book. And all the kids' names start with "J". But that's not why they are here on this blog.

When writer Charlie Richards met this family at their home, he witnessed several revelations. The unusual thing about this family is that they don't let their kids be hounded by the media and the popular culture it has created, rather imposed on our minds.
You won’t find a television in their giant living room. The Internet is greatly restricted. The girls’ room didn’t have Hanna Montana or boy band or vampire posters or anything like it. Lady Gaga did not make the cut - noticed Richards.
When you read this, you might wonder, what a sad life these kids must lead. They must be always cribbing about the number of restrictions imposed on them. But that's not what they do. There is fun and laughter in the house. The children are free to be themselves. They don't have to meet standards set by young teenage stars on television or conform to the 'popular' opinion. Their minds are not beleaguered by what everyone else is thinking. They can form their own unbridled impressions of the world as they are shielded from the unreal world created by the media. 
Although, it's almost an irony that they themselves star in a reality show on TV.

And this makes me wonder how strongly the media controls our lives, our minds.

Free minds

Indian schools are pretty basic and routine in the way they teach. You may find a few exceptions here and there, but basically, the techniques used are the age-old tell (not teach) the kid something and then ask (not apply) them about it later. If he/she was able to produce the exact sentence the tutor used, excellent! If he/she dared to add his/her own perception....aah! He/she is doomed. No wonder we often hear kids complaining, "I don't want to go to school today. School is boooring!" 

So, I was rather happy to come across this piece of news today - 

A roller dice has been invented by a Pune-based software programmer, Vikram Dubal, that will help the visually impaired as well as sighted students to improve their mathematical skills in a fun manner. The dice challenges the students' imagination to device their own games on the toy as they count the dots on it. As many as 20 games are possible on that toy. 
"These kids just need a trigger to set their imagination and senses free. They have the freedom to do the counting on the dice the way they want, and they are enjoying it," said Dubal
What the Indian education system lacks is teaching in a way that ignites the creativity of the child, that stimulates their thinking process. Don't look for an obedient child. Look for a thinker, creator, artist, intellectual in him.

Do the teachers even realize the sheer number of ideas they can unleash, if only they set every child's mind free? If they can give their thoughts the wings, they will teach them to fly! 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Kids set an example for adults

The youth of Kashmir fight for freedom. The government struggles to control. And primary school kids take action!
Primary school students protest against unrest in Kashmir Valley
A group of primary school students from Ganderbal staged a demonstration to protest against the never-seeming-to-end unrest in Kashmir. There were about 20 students who walked with placards that read, "We want freedom from poverty, we want freedom from illiteracy, we want freedom from backwardness". 

It is heartening to know that young school kids, still in their prime were motivated to spread this message. What the older men, with years of experience, sitting in the highest wings of the government could not do, young minds, still trying to learn the ways of the world, did. They brought to light a bigger cause - their right to freedom of education. Educational institutes in Kashmir have been closed for up to two months now, hampering the education process of Kashmiri students.

Angry onlookers at the demonstration were heard saying - 
"What about the lives of 65 people, who were mostly students and died in the police and CRPF firing since June 11? Did not they have a right to live?" 
Our kids are being killed day in and day out by the forces. At the moment, their life is supreme to us, not their education." 
I sympathize with the onlookers and perhaps they have a reason to be agitated with the authorities (though I smell political gains from these protests than an actual need felt for freedom from India). But how can the Kashmiri youth be so sure that the new men who come into power in independent Kashmir will work for the betterment of its people? Kashmir's welfare lies in the social upliftment of its people - their freedom from illiteracy, poverty and backwardness, rather than their freedom from the country.  

The future of Kashmir should not be sacrificed for its present. Every action they take must be well thought out and in the interest of this generation as well as the next, not just a vent out of boiling blood. I wish the youth of Kashmir would learn a lesson from their younger counterparts. 


Finally Jonathan Franzen's much-awaited novel "Freedom", hit book shelves today. An important book to note, as critics have been raving about it, claiming that it's a book that cannot be ignored. You may like it or you may hate it, but you have to read it to form an opinion. 

Sam Tanenhaus, editor of Book Review for the nytimes notes that Franzen has used several phrases in the book that illustrate his keen observation of the change in American society over the years, with respect to the idea of personal freedom. There is an interesting statement that Franzen made, "the personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage." Further, he goes on to say that not only do we crave for that limitless freedom in our life, we want others to espouse it to too. Validating our being by approval of others is critical to us. 

So does the dream of freedom for ourselves lead to a dream of power to change others' perceptions? Just something to think about.