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Section 66A and free speech in India: The debate continues

February 11, 2013

Writer: Olina Banerji

In November 2012, 21-year-old Shaheen Dhada from Palghar in Maharashtra posted a Facebook status update in which she insinuated that Mumbai had shut down in fear, rather than out of respect for Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray’s funeral procession. Within hours of the update, Dhada and her friend Rini Srinivasan, who had ‘liked’ the status update, were arrested, thus interrupting the forced calm that had enveloped Mumbai following Thackeray’s death. Dhada was booked under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code and the controversial Section 66A of the Information Technology Act.



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Section 66A, which was added to the Information Technology Act in 2008, passed without a single debate in the lower house of the Parliament. The section states that any message sent out electronically that is “grossly offensive or has menacing character” with the purpose of “causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages,” shall be punishable with a fine and a prison term, which may extend to three years. The section was intended to curb the misuse of communications services such as SMS, MMS and email through the sending of offensive messages or spam. Read more…


The Gender Trap – What’s in store for the ‘Woman of Tomorrow’?

December 21, 2012

The woman of tomorrow - who is she?

Photo courtesy: Cdsessums 

Writer: Yamuna Matheswaran

    As an adolescent growing up in India and facing the rude shock of eve-teasing practically overnight, it caused me many years of shame and humiliation, discomfort with my own body, apprehension every time I stepped out of the house, and also caused me to wish I were born a boy instead. The reason behind this being that, unlike some of my friends, I could never accept it as a part of life. Those men who grabbed my breasts in the bus, on the road, in a crowded store – with the kind of nonchalance that implied they had the right to do so – induced in me a deathly rage. It was not okay. My efforts to fight this and question gender roles and “boxes” as a teenager only led to my elders labelling me a trouble-maker, to the point where I started to question if I was in the wrong.

I often found myself in arguments with family members for not being “feminine” enough. My refusal to wear scented flowers in my hair, or jewellery, or that well-known “dot” – the bindi – on my forehead, did not sit well with them. I played sports, and chose to wear pants instead of the modest salwar kameez. All of these things I did not because of a desire to rebel or a disregard for my culture, but because that was who I was, as a person. Clearly, I – and other girls like myself – didn’t fit into preconceived notions of the “good Indian girl”. At times, it led me to wonder if I was in the wrong for not being a certain way. Over time, however, it became clear that it was a much larger issue related to the perception of women in Indian society, where male chauvinism is alive and well.  Read more…

On all things ‘Indian’

November 4, 2012

Writer: Chirag Jain

Indians have a way of ‘Indianizing’ foreign cultural habits. As a country, we routinely adopt new cultures and social habits, but everything passes through the inevitable ‘make-it-for-India’ shower . Take for instance how we have conveniently (and quite) unapologetically ‘Indianized’ colonial tea-drinking habits to our own desi, ‘boil-to-broth’ version of tea. Another import – the ‘Nightie’, merely meant to be used as nightwear, has comfortably found space in the wardrobes of Indian women, the only difference being that it has now been ripped off its post-sunset and bedtime exclusivity, and been reinvented as the household uniform (occasionally used even while shopping at the market). It’s wonderful how competent we are at finding some use for anything that comes in, be it our classical Chettinad Pizza or even the alleged ‘Chinese’ dishes on the menu of any ‘multi-cuisine Indian restaurant’.

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What is most remarkable about the Indian mindset is that we are always accommodative of new cultural habits, but at the same time have an inherent Indian way of thinking and working. In most cases, this reflects upon our own culture, and speaks of the strong value system that we’re exposed to early on. Of course, to understand where we derive these values from requires a rather complex socio-economic analysis of Indian society, and is an entirely different ballgame. But with this piece, I hope to understand – ‘why we do the things we do?’

Read more…

What don’t we understand about adoption?

October 2, 2012

Contributor: Lakshmi Rebecca

What does having an adoption support group means to adoptee parents and children? A Gynecologist and Pediatrician couple who established Bangalore’s only Adoption Support Group, SuDatta, after having adopted themselves, share insights on what adoption really entails. SuDatta’s work is inspiring, necessary and voluntary.

Note:The following video has been compiled by Lakshmi Rebecca, who produces, directs, and presents ‘Chai with Lakshmi’. The original post can be seen here.

Kicking moondust – How will we shape cities of the future?

September 19, 2012

Can utopian futuristic cities be made a reality if we all lead environmentally responsible lives?

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Writer: Meera Vijayann

I was sitting at a coffee shop with a friend a few weeks ago, discussing work, when the conversation steered toward the traffic in Bangalore. It’s common knowledge, of course, that over the last ten years, the city has seen a sudden surge in migration. And not so surprisingly,  brought  along with it rapid development that it was simply not designed to cope with. Eventually, we began comparing the major Indian cities that we have had the chance of visiting in terms of population density, area and development and found ourselves discussing Mumbai. Immediately, I charted out a list of problems that I saw with Mumbai’s development. Taking the example of Dharavi, I told him that although the slum has a beating heart of its own with its sense of community and entrepreneurship,  the people who lived there face serious health and environmental challenges if nothing changes.  To this, my friend nonchalantly replied, ‘Oh well. You know, what you must realise is that Dharavi is the perfect example of how mega cities will become in the future’.

At that point, I found myself re-thinking all the beautiful illustrations of futuristic cities that are all over the internet.  As I began to read up more, more questions began to come to mind. I found myself wondering if building any of those pretty cities were remotely ‘realistic’ in any way.  And if those weren’t ‘realistic’, what could be?  Read more…

Beyond borders: Embracing Pakistan

September 2, 2012

Writer : N Jayaram

Professor Jagannath Azad was asked by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the Founding Father of Pakistan, to compose the national anthem. It was approved but subsequently abandoned. Some activists want to resurrect it.
Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

When I chanced upon the Tweets and Facebook updates  of Beena Sarwar, a leading journalist, artist and filmmaker in Pakistan, around Independence Day, I began feasting on a rich repast of articles, blogs and commentaries that showed there is a vast constituency of Pakistani people who harbour cordial feelings towards Indians.  Many of these people desired nothing but peace and mutual well-being with Indians and  generously acknowledged the positive sentiments that Indian visitors to their country expressed.

I was deeply grateful for this. Because, for many years, whenever I’ve come across the words “failed state” and Pakistan in the same sentence, I’ve fidgeted, thinking that surely one simply cannot equate a people – and so many warm-hearted people – with as amorphous a concept as “state” and throwing out, if I may use an ancient cliché, the baby with the bathwater.  Read more…

The lowercase history of ordinary Indians

August 14, 2012

Writer: Richa Govil

After seeing my book lying around the kitchen, the dining table and the sofa, my mother, who was visiting me, finally gave in to her curiosity and asked me what the book was about.  I told her that the book is about a thousand mile, 20 feet high hedge which was grown by the British to collect the salt tax in India between 1840s and 1879.  The salt tax was one of the most significant contributors to the empire’s revenue from India.  At its peak, the hedge ran from the Indus river in Pakistan, through Delhi, Agra, Jhansi, down across Narmada and then turned eastward into Orissa.  The hedge took years to grow and had required continual upkeep.  The salt tax was so high that a typical peasant would have to spend two months of his income to buy the amount of tax his family required.

Photo courtesy: Udaipur Blog

My mothers’ first reaction was, I don’t remember being taught this in school!

When we are taught Indian History (History with the big ‘H’) in our schools, we are taught about the big Dates and Events — the dates of the Gupta dynasty, the battle of Plassey, the First War of Independence, the Dandi March.  What we miss in all of this is the context in which the historical events took place.   Why was salt (and not sugar, or rice) so important that Gandhi used it as a platform for his objectives?  Read more…