Thursday, 23 April 2009

A Voter's Dilema

Today I vote for the first time in a life which is half a century old. So far, I have hidden behind lack of any real choice; no 'right' candidate that I support, or seek to represent myself, voice my voice in our collective nationhood. There are 28 candidates vying for the Lok Sabha seat from the Bangalore north sector. I have done my home work and studied the bio datas, asset declaration and criminal record list for the candidates. I like one candidate. I also realise that the chances for this candidate to win in this election, or for that matter in any other, are very slim. I am also sure of which party I will not support - and this party seems to be poised for success today. So this is my dilema - do I vote for the person I think is right or do I vote for a really distasteful candidate to keep the power tilted away (at all costs) from the party that poses a real threat to secularism of our nationhood. I remind myself that no 'real' issues are on ticket here. No person is talking about safeguarding basic civil liberties, protecting human rights, considering environmental protection an important issue for development, progress. I just learnt that in the Indian system, a candidate is not required to secure a minimum percentage of votes. So is voting for a no-chance person effectively the same as casting a no-vote??

I still have a few hours left, and till then the choice is open...

Monday, 13 April 2009

Election Action

Elections are around the corner - a time to contemplate, acknowledge responsibility, read and re-read history and then take action - VOTE your voice, vote your conscience, vote out historical perpetrators of divisive hatred, brutal violence, chilling fear. This particular story from history has some lessons to share - learn from its lessons. Because, there are those out there who will wait to repeat their history.

Monday, 6 April 2009

I am What I am!

I have a friend who would often irritatingly resort to " I am what I am.." to justify getting out of lengthy discussions, arguments. It worked - very often. How can one argue with anyone's right or choice to be just so - however he/she pleased, to exercise individuality, identity? It is precisely this diversity, spread in our persons, choices, biases that serves as the variance required to stabilize our social distribution with checks and balances.

One can extend this argument to define a democratic, open society, a nation, as that body that values all its individuals equally, in that it bestows them with an equal right, an equal vote, in electing a body of legislators to combinedly govern the nation. The power of the government is just this collective power bestowed upon it by the nation's individuals. A country's constitution plays just such a role- balancing of individual rights against the combined wisdom of collective good. And to this extent, India is a democratic nation - all its citizens have a right to vote, and we do have an acceptable constitution. However, the notion of equal vote has not percolated sufficiently into our socio-political system to ensure equal rights, opportunities and choices for all.

Can anyone in India say, " I am what I am"?? Only if one is an upper caste hindu and male. Everyone else is excluded from this club - often forcibly excluded, frequently aggressively excluded, and sometimes even violently excluded. And the list includes women, dalits, tribals, muslims, christians, naxals; poor people are always excluded. A non-standard choice in sexual preference, or even an unacceptable dress code, caring about environment, or working for basic human rights also robs one of membership into this exclusive club. For these social fragments, " I am what I am allowed to be" only holds. If one is lucky, one is granted rights to a second class citizenship. The rest become non-entities, with no granted rights , and no rights of choice. The only allowed mantra is 'I am what I should be' - backwards, uneducated, unprivileged, down trodden, manipulated, sick and tired of what I should be and with no right to be 'what I want to be'.

So, what does it mean to vote?? Will the rights of these social fragments change? And, is there much of a choice in voting? As a lawyer recently put it, question of civil liberties or human rights has never, so far, been part of the electoral agenda. All major contesting parties have bad human rights record- while some are substantially worse in terms of protecting civil liberties or human rights. Protests or educating the masses will not change our current lack of option - but will keep alive a hope for a (maybe distant) better future. For this is what one looks for, isn't it? liberty of all to be equally human? to individually dream, hope, aspire? to eventually be able to say "I am what I am".