Rahul Gandhi: The ‘Soch’ Man!

Posted in General, Political with tags , , , , on January 30, 2014 by HemRaj Singh

Rahul Plato Gandhi. The world is an idea. A big idea. A grand idea. It’s such an idea that one cannot even begin to imagine what an idea it is! At the heart of this idea, the grand idea that is under discussion here, there is this immeasurable depth of ideation, which is so deep that one can only look inside and shudder in wonder at the depth.

Our philosophy should be based on such deep ideation, the depth of which remains forever immeasurable. It is in this depth that we would find the answer to all our questions because there are no such questions the answer to which cannot be found, and if the answers can be found, we must look for them in the depth of the idea. The reason why we should look into the depth of the idea for the answers is that one cannot find the answers anywhere else because the answers are nowhere else. The answers are inside the idea, but it is difficult for some people to understand the idea because the idea is deep inside our hearts.

One can always ask so many questions, but those who ask these questions so often do not realize that the answers can easily be found, and we all know where they can be found. It is easy. But in order to actually find those answers we need to change the system. It is the system that prevents us from going deeper into the idea and find the answers to our problems. It is not easy to change the system. It is actually very difficult because the system is very systematic, which makes it closed to any change. But there is a process. We do have a process by which we can change the system. We must use the process. But before bringing the process into play to change the system, there is one thing we must ensure — Women Empowerment!

 First published on my other Blog on January 29, 2014.

CBI or CBCC?

Posted in General, Legal, Political with tags , , , , , , on May 11, 2013 by HemRaj Singh

When the CBI top man, Ranjit Sinha, revealed – not much of revelation though no matter how desperately we hoped it wasn’t true – that the CBI had to ‘consult’ the government on certain issues, I began wondering if I really understood what CBI really was and what it was supposed to do. What did he think he was doing showing an investigation report to the government in a case in which the government officials were the chicken on the roast? If it was an investigation agency, it didn’t make sense for it to ‘consult’, much less take instructions, from those whose role it was investigating in a certain criminal wrongdoing one way or the other.

What did Ranjit Sinha seek to achieve by making a statement as completely out of line as that, I wondered, although it was not hard to understand his reasons to actually ‘consult’ the Law-Minister-no-more, Ashwani Kumar and allow changes to the final report at the behest of his political bosses, which invited the wrath of the Apex Court when the matter came to light.

The fact of the parrot’s parroting its master’s voice and words, and doing the master’s bidding was not exactly a secret, but was still veiled, howsoever thinly. But Mr. Sinha’s statement was more like throwing caution and shame to the wind and admitting rather meekly that CBI was not ‘independent’ in any significant way, but was a government agency, which also implied that it’s being the top ‘investigating agency’ was a sham because if one goes by the letter and the spirit of the law, an investigation officer at any level is independent of departmental hierarchy with respect to the investigation he or she is handling. Nobody has the right to direct the investigation in progress. However, it is only when there is a reasonable threat to the independence or fairness of the investigation, a judicial check – and no other – is warranted. At no point during the investigation is an investigation officer bound to consult any of his superiors in the department or the government. And here was the director of India’s premier investigation agency talking about the necessity of consulting the government.

So, the sacking of Mr. Ashwani Kumar for the reasons too well known to be mentioned did not come as a surprise to me. But it took a bit – just a bit – of thought to guess the possible reasons for Mr. Ranjit Sinha’s making a statement that made no sense at all. Perhaps – and this is only a guess – he found it to be an opportune moment to bring the helplessness of the CBI to the notice of the top court so that it could arrange for the agency’s actual independence. It is not easy to be a little animal with its tail either wagging vigorously or firmly tucked between its legs.

If the independence of the CBI cannot be ensured, let’s change it from ‘CBI’ to ‘CBCC’ – Central Bureau of Consultation and Coordination.

The Final Argument

Posted in General, Legal, STREET LAWYER with tags , , on May 11, 2013 by HemRaj Singh

As a 14-year-old it was beyond me as to why my father wanted my presence when Kailash — a drunkard rickshaw-puller employed for small chores at the hotel owned and run by my father for better part of his life — requested my father to talk his daughter into abandoning her abusive husband for good. Even today I can only speculate, for I never asked and he never told his reasons. But, if he wanted to educate me in the strange ways of the world, well, he did succeed I suppose. 

Her husband lived in a nearby village and kept her with him only so long as her money lasted, after which he would beat her up and throw her out. And she would return back to her native town, start working in the houses as a maid, save money and go back to her husband with the savings. He would readily take her in, eat, drink and make merry till the savings lasted, after which she would again find herself on the street. The cycle continued for long. She had the option of leaving her husband and re-marrying without much fuss, for her husband wouldn’t have bothered. But that was one thing that never crossed her mind, nor did she even as much as entertain the suggestion. 

Her father, Kailash, couldn’t bear to see his daughter suffer that miserably. And so he approached my father to talk some worldly sense into his daughter. My father was his last hope. And I was to witness the undoing of the hope. 

In the early hours of the morning while the hotel waited for its first guests my father sat there hearing intently with a grim, plain face as Kailash retold the whole story while his daughter and I heard on. She was sitting on the floor, cross-legged while I stood with my arms crossed against my chest trying to look as serious as I could manage. Puzzled and startled, I heard the bizarre story for the first time, and I am sure my face must have displayed some funny colours, for my father cast a glance towards me and the hint of a smile appeared on his face momentarily though his light grey eyes remained still betraying no emotion at all.

Kailash had told the story in different words many times over to my father, but — as I would gradually come to know in due course — it was standard practice with my father to make the complaining party place the facts afresh so that the other side could agree or disagree to the presented facts. And if the complaining party changed the facts even minutely or watered down the tone for some reason, he drew certain adverse conclusions. “Those who can’t speak for themselves can’t speak for anyone, and must not be trusted to defend anything and anyone,” he once told me in his typically even tone. 

After Kailash was done with retelling the story as passionately and as angrily as he ever did, my father looked at the girl and asked if it was all true. She nodded slowly. 

I had thought she would say something to the effect that it was not all that bad, and her husband was not quite so evil. None of it. It was how it was. No defenses. No explanation. 

“So, why do you continue with him when he hurts you so much all the time and every way? He does not even provide you with the basics,” my father pointed out without taking his eyes off her as he spoke each word dispassionately. He seemed to note the way each of his word was received and reacted to. The girl nodded sincerely all through, listening. But did not say anything. 

He let a moment pass in silence. And then waited some more. Was it so difficult to understand really? It was elementary to my teenage, public-school mind. But there was a real world outside, which defied reason with dizzying regularity. 

The pause stretched undisturbed. For what seemed quite a long while he did not speak. Neither did she. And then he decided to be more specific and a bit more pointed. “Why don’t you leave him?” 

Kya karoon babu ji. Ab pyar to usi se hai na,” she said very politely and a bit hesitantly, but very clearly and unambiguously. That took me by surprise. I couldn’t believe that I was hearing it said that simply in the real life. It was straight out of any number of Bollywood movies, but was delivered with such astounding ease and such perfect conviction that it took quite a long while to sink in. I looked at my father immediately expecting a surprised look, and met a steady gaze. He had simply nodded in understanding. Not a word. He got up and moved away with a smile. And the smile carried no enigma. It was the easy, pleased smile of understanding, which baffled me even further. 

I and Kailash exchanged glances of incomprehension and puzzlement. We were on the same plane of confusion while my father and the girl existed on an altogether different planet of understanding. And I wanted to migrate. So, I walked towards my father. “Papa…?” He looked at me and his smile deepened while he said — and I can hear it as clearly in my ears even now — “Prem hamesha antim tarq hota hai.” (“Love is always the final argument.”) He was a man of few words, but at times he was a man of ‘very few’ words. It was such an occasion. He went away and got busy in the regular business of running his hotel leaving me perplexed. No further elaboration was on the way from his side, I knew. I was on my own with it.

Originally written and published as part of my monthly column — STREET LAWYER — in LAWYERS UPDATE [April 2013 Issue; Vol. XIX, Part 4].

Gujarat 2002: The Unforgettable

Posted in General with tags , , , , on May 4, 2013 by HemRaj Singh

Let me start off by admitting that no matter how hard I try I just can’t forget Gujarat 2002. No, I was not personally affected by the pogrom; not even remotely. And, no, I am not a Muslim behind a Hindu pseudonym, in case you are wondering. I am a normal Indian. An average Indian who believes in simple things, and has simple – almost naive – ideas about justice and righteousness. And someone who would not like to believe that we live in a world that runs on  heartless pursuit of selfish goals and we live for no ideals greater or higher or better than individual ‘pursuit of happiness’. 

But at the same time I am not as much of a novice in the ways of the world as to not know that one must relegate the bygone to the dark, dingy, limitless recesses of the past, and forget about it. Turn a new, milk-white page, draw out a clean sheet and start all over again, like there was no yesterday. That’s the way forward. Is it? That’s how one must live, for that’s how life works – forward. Living in the past served nobody, benefited none. History must not be read, much less taught. Look around, the world is what it is because of the past. If the past was any different, the present would also be considerably different; and perhaps far less happy. Why less happy? Why not more? Because a ‘different past’ means ‘less of present’? And ‘less’ in what sense? In terms of happiness? And whose happiness? The grand total of happiness? Does the quantum of sadness offset the quantum of happiness, like ‘negative marking’? Is quality of happiness also taken into account? And is the darkness and density of sadness also similarly measured and considered? None of these questions can be answered because the very first question is unanswerable from the very start. 

Logically, a ‘different past’ could only produce a ‘different present’, and not a ‘better’ or ‘worse’ present. Since ‘present’ is just one entity, it’s being ‘better’ or ‘worse’ is out of the question, for there is nothing as real and as tangible to compare it with. This makes all possible comparisons logically invalid exercises in drawing parallels and pointing out discrepancies between the real and the imagined. 

So, why get into the past when there is nothing to be gained from it? Live in the present, for that is all there is to life – living in ‘now and here’. How comforting is the thought of breaking free from the past. Just how irresistible is the way out. Released from the past, how liberating the present feels. Yes, a ‘present’ suspended mid-air in the middle of nowhere would look pretty much liberated and possibly would also feel truly liberating provided there actually ‘is’ such an unfettered, born-out-of-nothing ‘present’ possible. But actually there is no such ‘today’ that wasn’t born of a ‘yesterday’, and no such thing as a ‘self-born’ present.

“The roads were all clean and smooth. No potholes. The investment from all over has been massive. The buildings. The malls. The industries. That’s what development is! Man! The nation must learn something from this! Really!” Wearing long, rockstar-like hair, smartly dressed in sports attire with a baseball cap to complete the package, this young man was a Delhi University student pursuing M.Phil. in Philosophy. So, I can justifiably consider the fellow ‘well educated’ and ‘well informed’. We were talking casually on a birthday party, and he did not know much about me, or the views I hold. Clearly, he was assuming a few things. And from the fact that I am quoting somebody talking of ‘development’ in a particular State of India, it is very easy to guess the Indian State being talked about.

I kept hearing, and kept nodding to keep him going so that if he really had a point, I did not miss it simply because what he said had not made a great deal of sense that far, for anybody can turn wise anytime at all. And yes, he did manage to thoroughly convince me of a few things. One of them was that the ‘development’ was extremely important, and one who brings about ‘development’ could rightfully indulge in a few excesses.

He also convinced me that riots were a result of public anger, which must be allowed venting in the larger interest of the society. When I asked the obvious question, it was vehemently pointed out that there were anti-Sikh riots in 1984 in the Congress-ruled states, and they, ‘too’, could not do anything about it. And I was left wondering briefly as to what these riots had to do with those riots, and where was the distinction? This was wrong, and so was that. So, where was this bizarre defense going? But it did not take too long for me to realize the attack that he imagined he was facing. A very similar sentiment is detectable when it is argued that even the Muslims in Gujarat approve of Modi’s developmental policies, and are ‘happy’ under Modi’s ‘rule’.

But it’s a monumental mistake to think that this is about BJP versus Congress, or Hindus versus Muslims. It’s simply about state versus citizens. And it’s all that my complaint relates to. So, even if a Muslim is or all Muslims are prepared to ‘forgive’ Modi, it would still not suffice because popular opportunism cannot accord moral legitimacy to something as heinous as a state allowing its own citizens to be brutally raped, maimed and slain.

But I was still listening intently until I realized that he had begun repeating himself citing instances of injustice to justify other instances of injustice. He continued, and I kept nodding for a while. And then I tuned out, like I always do.

Originally written as part of my monthly column — STREET LAWYER — in LAWYERS UPDATE. However, the Editorial Board found the piece too hard hitting and a bit too politically charged to be published.

Eve-teasing and the Law: The ‘Cute’ Cancer

Posted in General, Legal on December 19, 2012 by HemRaj Singh

Statement 1: “Main aapko bike pe ghumaunga. Hum badi aish karenge…Ice cream bhi khilaunga.” (“I’ll take you around on bike. We’ll have lots of fun. Will also get ice cream for you.”) – A 4-year-old boy to a distant female relative of 24 (twenty four).

Statement 2: “Didi, aap bahut sundar ho. Main bada hokar aapse hi shaadi karoonga.” (“Sister, you are very pretty. When I grow up, I’ll only marry you.”) — A 5-year-old boy to a 22-year-old cousin sister.

Statement 3: “Jab main badi ho jaungi na to **** Bhaiya ki ‘girlfriend banungi.” (“When I grow up, I’ll be **** Bhaiya’s girlfriend) – A 10-year-old girl to her female friend of the same age referring to a male neighbour of 25 (twenty five). 

A barely 5-year-old boy living in the Kingsway Camp region of North Delhi found it entertaining to aim his laser pointer at the passerby girls on the street and also at the girls that lived in a paying guest accommodation across the street. The anatomical choices he made for his laser pointer embarrassed and infuriated many. A few girls took it up with the mother of the child, and the lady found the complaints frivolous, for her little, innocent boy could do no wrong like the British Crown. Her idea of a ‘solution’ was that if her baby prince was too much trouble, the passersby could take different streets, and the tenants could look for other accommodations. Such deplorable defense of a child’s inappropriate is not exactly unusual. Things like “he is just a kid”, or “he doesn’t really know what he is doing”, “no, he is really very innocent” are regularly said in defense of the chile even if the defense is not as brazen in the case reported above. The indefensible not only cannot be defended, but also must not be defended. In fact, it’s a moral obligation of the parents to ‘not defend’ such conduct of their children. 

Let’s now consider the ‘cutie statements’ cited above to know exactly how ‘cute’ and innocent they really are though people are likely to smile, laugh, giggle and guffaw at all three alike. ‘Statement 2′ and ‘Statement 3′ fall in, more or less, the same category. Both the statements are aspirational with the idea of a relationship at the center. The child in ‘Statement 2′ wants to have a pretty wife, finds his cousin beautiful, and expresses his desire to marry her when he is eligible to do so. Generally, children understand marriage as something that has the effect of keeping two people together forever. So, they want to marry to keep the person with them for all times.

‘Statement 3′ is much like ‘Statement 2′ except for the predominance of ‘romance’ in the former, which is why the little girl aspires to be a ‘girlfriend’ and not a ‘wife’. She has found someone she would want to be ‘her special someone’. Given her age and the exposure that comes with a metropolitan background and lifestyle, the girl associates youthful ‘romance’ with being a ‘girlfriend’. And since she seeks ‘romance’ in a relationship, she aspires to be a girlfriend. In this case too, ‘relationship’ is central. Quite obviously, both of the kids do not fully understand the implications of ‘bhaiya‘ (brother) and ‘didi‘ (elder sister) because of their limited understanding of complex societal norms and their intricate interplay. 

However, ‘Statement 1′ has nothing in common with the other two statements. The child wants to take the girl on some kind of a date. But make no mistake; it’s not a romantic, candlelight dinner that he has on his mind. He would take the girl around on a motorbike though his little legs might present some difficulty there. The ice-cream is also on the menu as an additional perk. And they would have lots of ‘fun’. The expression ‘aish karenge‘, in this context, takes a particularly squalid colour because of its unmistakable sexual undertones, and would sound quite repulsive coming from a 4-year-old. The first indicator of a rotting society is the general acceptability of filthy speech. 

While in the other two statements the children treat themselves as children and talk of their future as grown ups, in ‘Statement 1′ the kid brazenly positions himself as a ‘male’ trying to persuade a ‘female’ to go out with him on a ‘fun date’. A ride on the bike and ice-cream are used as incentives – tools of persuasion. There is no relationship of any kind in sight here. There is no ‘romance’. It’s just ‘fun’. Why? Well, because women are meant to have ‘fun’ with, objects to be ‘enjoyed’, things to be ‘used’, toys to be ‘played’ around with. The kid does not see himself as a kid and despite his pint size he would take her around on a motorcycle, for he is the consummate ‘user’ by virtue of being a male. 

The apparently innocuous statement carries, in the miniature form, the complete male-centered power structure that breeds and sustains men who look at girls and women as sexual objects to be played with, and bitterly resent if their favourite toy talks back or asserts its independence in any manner including by spurning unwanted, sexual advances. Eve-teasing – which is just a soft word for sexual harassment of different degrees – acid attacks, rapes and gang rapes are resentful, bitter assertions of male dominance aimed at suppressing the newfound female independence. That she, who suffered silently all these centuries, suddenly musters the courage to say ‘no’ is not what the traditional ‘users’ of this ‘fun object’ are ready to tolerate. 

When catcalls and obscene street remarks are objected to, the harassers turn into physical molesters, and many a time rapists and gang rapists as well. When an eve-teaser’s ‘love proposal’ is rejected, the jilted lover becomes an acid-thrower. Bottomline: ‘No’ is not allowed. 

Serious offenses against women like acid attacks and many a time even gang rapes start with eve-teasing, rather ‘sexual harassment’, as it should be properly called. As pointed out earlier, it is when the woman takes a stand against the harassment that she subjected to inhuman treatment in retaliation. On the issue of ‘eve-teasing’ (sexual harassment, that is) the law, the government and the courts are getting tougher by the day. Is that a solution? Yes, it is, to an extent because the thorns that hurt must be taken out. But the problem is the tree. So, the solution is in the roots. 

‘Statement 1′ was made by the 4-year-old at an informal gathering of two families related by marriage in the domestic, drawing-room setting. It is easy to imagine the peels of feminine laughter with all aunties, bhabhis, buas, didis and maasis joining in to celebrate the ‘cuteness’ of their little smarty. No harder it is to imagine a smiling, proud father sitting or standing nearby, and muttering inaudibly to himself, “That’s my boy!”

The 24-year-old girl to whom this statement was made texted it to me. It left me majorly irritated and my first, deliberately restrained response was: “Well, not exactly a nice boy.” (verbatim). “I felt instantly disgusted,” she said. She also admitted, rather regretfully, to having smiled for the sake of politeness. Wallowing in the resounding approval of all, the little boy must be very pleased with himself and with the course he is on. 

The girl felt that the little boy could not be scolded because it is his parents and his upbringing that must be held accountable. That’s another major mistake. We do not draw psychological maps of a criminal to find what made him the criminal and go after those who contributed to the formation of his criminal psyche. We punish the criminal for the offense, plain and simple. Take care of the symptoms or the secondary disease or infection, then deal with the principal malady and then get to the prevention. That’s how doctors work. That’s how the law and legal systems works. And that’s how legal scholars, jurists and social scientists look at such issues and apply themselves to it to find a solution. But in this case, the least one can do, to begin with, is not encourage such ‘cuteness’ by looking ‘amused’ by it. 

The law has to and does take care of the harassers with the law enforcement agencies already gearing up to do more to prevent sexual harassment in public places. Some of the states – like Uttar Pradesh – have come up with measures such as the helplines one could use to report instances of harassment without having to confront the offender, and without having her own identity disclosed. Recently, the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, announced that the eve-teasers would not get driving licenses, passports and other government facilities, and that a database of eve-teasers for this purpose will be maintained. These two states have taken those measures in the past two months. So, the Indian state is stirring up, which is primarily because the problem has assumed alarming proportions. 

Sterner laws, harsher punishments and swifter action against the offenders might sound like god-sent panacea, but the remedy comes with certain serious side effects. Like in case of the anti-dowry laws, an over-zealous approach to effective enforcement might make the remedy prone to gross misuse. Since the best way to prevent retaliation against the victim is to keep her identity secret, the measure opens itself to misuse in many ways. Its core strength is also its foundational weakness. But that risk has to be taken simply because when the society fails keep its unruly elements in check, the state is compelled to intervene. 

So, the other bottomline is: Either you teach your ‘cutie’ 4-year-old his lessons the mommy way at home today, or the police will teach him the ways of the world tomorrow by the roadside the big-daddy way.

Originally written for and published as Cover Story in LAWYERS UPDATE [December 2012 Issue; Vol. XVIII, Part 12]

Agneepath: The Hritik Puppet Show

Posted in General, Legal, Movie Review with tags , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2012 by HemRaj Singh

Greek gods don’t walk the path of fire; it takes an angry, never-old man, sore and coarse from a long, rocky life of raw deals. And muscles might look ‘pretty’ and ‘sexy’ — whatever that means — and ‘pretty sexy’, but they don’t necessarily look menacing or dangerous, particularly when all ‘chocolate boys and men’ of Bollywood now wear muscles like there was a dress code demanding it.

So, when Hritik Roshan is introduced biceps-first, the regular Bollywood melodrama instantly kicks in sending the bare-knuckle realism of the original out of the window, flying. Soon enough we have a Vijay Chauhan that is not just unlike the original — “Vijay Deenanath Chauhan, poora naam” — but is also several shades less imposing and a lot more foolhardy. Hritik Roshan does not look the part in the least and completely fails to carry it despite the unmistakable ‘echo effect’ used to assist his unfitting dialogue delivery.

The first thing that every actor needs to overcome is the limitations imposed by his or her looks allowing the character to emerge effectively, which Hritik Roshan has completely failed to do over the years. The intense scenes in Agneepath (2012) remind one of Hritik’s performance in ‘Fiza’, particularly the expression he wears while being shot by Karishma Kapoor towards the end. The anger, sadness, frustration, helplessness and the sense of ending are all conveyed by Hritik through the same cheek-shivering, nose-flaring expression, which is irritatingly repetitive. Hritik’s portrayal of anguish in ‘Fiza’ looked impressive due to the freshness of the expression, but over a decade thence the expression seems to be the only ‘intense expression’ in Hritik’s repertoire, which might be indicative of Hritik’s disappointingly sluggish growth as an ‘actor’; star, of course, he has always been since ‘Kaho Na Pyar Hai‘.

Hritik’s limitations as an actor come to the surface, boiling and frothing, despite the heavily watered down version of the original character he plays in the movie. The sense of rejection by the world (“Main goonda nahin hoon, nahin hoon main goonda.“), his deeply troubled relationship with his mother and Commissioner Gaitonde, who intensely disapprove of his ways, and the consequent emotional turmoil that make Vijay volcanic are completely missing in this new, adulterated version of Vijay, who is driven only by vengeance alone making the character a helluva lot easier to play.

Vijay Chauhan is far more complex than Hritik Roshan could have handled. The man is not ruled, run and defined just by the burning desire to avenge his father’s disgraced death or to get back Mandwa. Although central, the vengefulness is still just an aspect of the character. What defines Vijay is the fact that he is deeply and completely steeped in the acute sense of injustice. He sees the world as necessarily unjust, evil and driven by power alone. He not only resents his rejection at the hands of the world simply on the grounds that he got his power and influence through improper means, but also sees the rejection as another instance of continuing ‘injustice’ [the hotel sequence in Agneepath (1990)].

The hotel sequence does not have a parallel in Agneepath (2012), which is apparently to downplay a sharp streak and a simmering layer in the original character. This particular sequence brings out Vijay’s deep anguish at social rejection without betraying even the slightest hankering for acceptance. It’s rejection rejected, and paid back by rejection with equal disgust because Vijay wants ‘justice’, not just ‘acceptance’. Emoting such multiplicity of internal and external conflicts without compromising on the depiction of the suffocating unease from failing to verbally express the anguish was no mean feat for any actor. Hritik couldn’t have managed it. So, the complete layer was shaved off the character.

To Vijay Chauhan, the end justifies the means. And the principle of ‘right means’ makes one weak like his father. He considers his father noble, and also ‘right’, but certainly not ‘strong’, which, to him is a lot more important than being right or virtuous [the family dinner sequence in Agneepath (1990)]. He considers weakness a blot, a blemish that can only be washed away by power (“Kamjori ka maiel sachchai se nahin dhul sakta…wo dhulta hai taaqat se…”). Annoyed, he leaves the dinner table, storms out and goes away. He does not grab food to walk out and eat on the stairs breaking down and sobbing in the arms of his beloved like a sad little girl. Vijay is not someone who would whine a helpless ‘what could I?’. He roars a defiant ‘why should I!!!’.

Unlike the new muscled Vijay, he doesn’t look or ask for approval but maintains that he is no hooligan and states, dying, “Bura aadmi nahin hai main; goonda nahin hai main”, and thus forces his mother to finally make peace with her dead son – “Mera beta goonda nahin hai.” Vijay never asks a question that he does not himself answer instantly. He is as assured of his path as his father was of his own. He makes a choice and remains unapologetic about his ways and beliefs till the end. His version of the truth remains unaltered. He is at war with the world, but not with himself. He rejects the world the way it rejects him, and every bit as completely. But he sees the world’s rejection as necessarily unjust while his own rejection of the world as a just consequence of an unjust beginning.

The disgust, disdain, insult and avoidance that he suffers at the hands of the world hits home the hardest when Vijay walks out of Commissioner Gaitonde’s house after informing him of the possible attempt at Gaitonde’s life, and on being informed that the man was ‘Vijay Chauhan’, Gaitonde’s little son involuntarily blurts out – “Wo gunda?” The confused but acute look of sharp surprise mixed with a peculiarly sad anger that quickly surfaces and flits away speaks volumes about what Vijay goes through in that brief moment. This seething agony is an essential side of Vijay’s complex character. And in less able hands the character might have simply lost the essential rough edges of this highly layered character.

Any serious critic of Indian cinema wouldn’t fail to notice that Agneepath, 2012 does not have the hotel sequence. In the family dinner sequence, Vijay (Hritik Roshan) does not walk away, but sits on the stairs, eats and cries. In the original, Vijay (Bachchan) goes to his love interest and boils over at the injustice, and declares defiantly that he would never be Master Deenanath even if his mother does not let him eat her food (“Na de mujhe roti… utha de mukhe khane ke table per se, par main maaster Deenanath nahin banega, nahin banega main maaster Deenanath!”) The sequence of Vijay’s visit to Commissioner Gaitonde’s house to alert him is retained without the son’s calling him ‘goonda’. And there is a reason for these clever changes.

To gloss over Hritik’s serious limitations as an actor, the director chose to replace the internal emotional unrest with external physical conflicts because the latter are far easier to portray. An actor can easily wear a deadpan, dry expression to display coldness and cunning both. To add to the diversion, the director managed to rope in Sanjay Dutt to play a very different Kancha, and kudos to Dutt for pulling it off so remarkably well and shutting those up who would have otherwise jumped to argue the natural constraints of a remake by extending the utterly pointless argument of the copy never matching the original. Kancha of Agneepath, 2012 is a far more powerful character than his counterpart in the original despite Danny’s fabulous performance. To further offset a weak Vijay the director has Rishi Kapoor deftly playing Rauf Lala, an out-and-out negative character. With two heavyweight villains, played extraordinarily well by two very competent actors, Vijay looks naturally week and wobbly against the odds. So, the strategy is simple: if you don’t have a lion, bring in two dinosaurs, and the house kitten would do.

Agneepath, 1990 was massive flop. People sat gawking at the screen. They had come to an Amitabh Bachchan movie, and there was no Amitabh Bachchan. There was this Vijay Chauhan who had the brotherly resemblance with the star, but no Amitabh! The fans and the critics trashed the movie without thinking twice. The movie was history the second day, but as the months went by the some of the more serious critics realized that it was indeed ‘history’ in quite another way. It was a monumental performance by an actor who, after 17 years of unchallenged reign, had simply taken off his superstardom like a raincoat and slipped into Vijay Chauhan like it was his night suit.

Having spent all his life fighting his way up in the dingy underbelly of Bombay, Vijay Chauhan is a coarse man with a hoarse voice, bad diction and major difficulties with constructing proper sentences. He doesn’t deliver sleek dialogues impressively. There is nothing ‘glamourous’ about Vijay.

But the 2012 version of Vijay has no such issues. His diction is perfect, speech slick and ways elegant. He never fumbles for the right word, doesn’t falter once. Even the famous ‘Vijay Deenanath Chauhan’ dialogue, well-supported by echo-effect, is delivered with such panache that he could have as well said “Bond, Vijay Bond”.

What’s more, he also seems to have a well-quipped, private gym stacked away in his chawl. In short, he is breathtakingly impressive. So, the young females go cooing, shrieking and whistling in joyous abandon. And that’s precisely because it’s not Vijay Chauhan on the screen; it’s Hritik Roshan. Ironically, the feminine ‘wows’ are the indubitable proof of Hritik’s failure at playing Vijay Chauhan.

The kind of popular critics who rubbished the original, oohed and aahed about the 2012 version, and Hritik’s ‘performance’. What consistency!

Originally published as part of my Legal Movie Review column LEGAL SCANNER in LAWYERS UPDATE [April, 2012 Issue; Vol. XVIII, Part 4]

Facebook and the Law: Nothing ‘Private’ About It

Posted in General with tags , , , on April 17, 2012 by HemRaj Singh

Sharing is life. Enter Facebook. No, I am not beginning to run it down for the simple reason that for all its flaws and ill-effects – if ‘it’ has any of those and not the users – it is a remarkable tool to connect and answers to our most basic need at all times since the Stone Age – collaboration. Yes, ‘collaboration’ is indeed a big, heavy and perplexing word compared to the lightness, breeziness and flippancy we attach to ‘Facebook’. But the desire to connect and stay connected is basically an urge that has its roots in the existential need to stay in groups to improve chances of survival against natural enemies. Of course, we have come a long way from there, but we still exist and live best within the ambit of human societies, howsoever big, small, crude or cultured they might be. Therefore, staying connected is not so much a choice; it’s hardwired in us. So, if the world is drawn to Facebook and Twitter the way it is, it shouldn’t surprise anybody. However, what must be borne in mind at all times is that social networking tools are not a substitute but only an extension of our lives. One’s Facebook personality may be slightly different from one’s real life personality, but it’s not an ‘alternative personality’. It’s just another dimension of your own self. Treating your online personality as different from your real-life persona may not only create social and psychological issues, but also incur legal consequences. And, apparently, people don’t realize the seriousness of any of these.

One of my students – a teenager under 18 years of age – remarked that he did not take his Facebook comments ‘seriously’, and I couldn’t help taking that remark ‘seriously’. And then there was Kapil Sibal trying to shackle and regulate online media drawing considerable criticism from all quarters in the process. I abhor the idea of pre-censorship as much as anybody else, but for all the inappropriateness of approach and motive, what Sibal was asking in principle was for the social media websites to be more ‘responsible’ and ‘accountable’ for the content they hosted. To paraphrase, Mr. Sibal wanted the social networking websites to take what they publish ‘seriously’. Just that he was holding the wrong man by the collar. Facebook, Twitter, Google and the like don’t ‘publish’ the content they display; we do. And if somebody has to be blamed, made accountable and told to take things ‘seriously’, it’s the users and not the hosts.

Certainly, online speech is not free of all restrictions, but is subject to all reasonable restriction imposed by the same laws and regulations that regulate speech and expression in the normal course. It’s also nobody’s case that the social media websites should not act promptly and take the offensive material down forthwith after such a content is brought to its notice without insisting on procedural niceties. However, this is not the last of possible consequences, and is certainly not the fixing of accountability because website might be held accountable for not promptly taking the material off, but cannot be held accountable for the material itself. Therefore, the accountability of the website with respect to objectionable user-generated content is very limited, but is complete and absolute with the original ‘publisher’ of the content. All substantive and procedural laws operating under the constitutional umbrella of Article 19 (2) apply with full force with respect to any material posted on the Internet as much as they apply to any violation outside cyberspace. There is no protection worth the name afforded by the much hyped concept of ‘online privacy’. It is no special right or privilege, but only an extension of the right to privacy as it otherwise exists. Being in cyberspace neither dilutes, nor enhances any of the rights enjoyed by the citizens and non-citizens under the Indian law with all concomitant limitations and restrictions. So, to cut a long story short, if you violate the law in the virtual world, you might be headed to the prison in the real world.

With over 845 million (84.5 crore) active users worldwide and some 43 million (4 crore, 30 lac) in India alone, Facebook is at the center of the social networking talk followed closely by Twitter with over 500 million active users (in June 2011) across the world.

Although both Facebook and Twitter are considered tools for online social networking, the two are considerably different in many ways including the way the users approach these sites. While Facebook is like a massive drawing room housing a get-together of friends, acquaintances and some friends-of-friends, who can overhear parts of the conversation you have with your friends, Twitter is more like your conversation with the external world, which your friends and acquaintances are also a very small part of. And the users carry this distinction in the back of their minds subconsciously, which is why they behave differently on Facebook than on Twitter. Twitter, as we all know, is a microblogging website, whereas Facebook is more of a sharing platform for friends and acquaintances to connect.

Therefore, unlike Twitter, Facebook is treated as ‘personal space’ by most of the users, which, legally speaking, is a myth. For the most part, the content one posts on Facebook stands on the same footing as the content one publishes on Twitter the moment it is visible to anybody other than the one publishing the content. So, unless you made your post visible to yourself only, you are accountable to the law for all that you ‘say’ on the Facebook. So, you can ‘not’ take your comments ‘seriously’ only at your own peril. If your posts and comments can offend people, they can also offend the law; and while people might fume and curse as you giggle away merrily, the law can turn the burner on.

Recently, websites like Facebook, Yahoo! and Google found themselves in the dock facing criminal charges for hosting user-generated ‘objectionable content’. And this time it was not the government crying hoarse; it was a citizen who chose to initiate criminal proceedings against the websites. And there was no legal challenge to the person’s right to invoke criminal jurisdiction of the courts in the matter.

Websites like Facebook, Yahoo! and Google fall within the definition of “intermediary” under Section 2 (1)(w) of The Information Technology Act, 2000, according to which “”intermediary” with respect to any particular electronic message means any person who on behalf of another person receives, stores or transmits that message or provides any service with respect to that message.”

The Information Technology (Intermediaries guidelines) Rules, 2011 enacted in exercise of the powers conferred by the IT Act, 2000, makes it mandatory for the “intemediaries” to inform the users by clearly stating under “rules and regulations, privacy policy and user agreement” published on the website that they are not supposed to “host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, update or share” any such content that is “grossly harmful, harassing, blasphemous defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, libellous, invasive of another’s privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically objectionable, disparaging, relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling, or otherwise unlawful in any manner whatever.” [Section 3 (2)(b)]

Once a violation within the description of any of the provision under Section 3 (2) is noticed by or is brought to the notice of an “intermediary” by any “affected person” through a written communication by e-mail or otherwise, Section 3 (4) of the Rules requires the ‘intermediaries’ to take down the objectionable material within thirty six (36) hours.

This means that any ‘objectionable content’ that falls within the description of Section 3 (2) not only violates the relevant laws of the land, but also violates the basic ‘Terms and Conditions’ that you agreed to when you joined the social networking site in question. Therefore, if the “intermediary” is taken to the court and has to pay damages or suffer any losses due to one’s posting the ‘objectionable content’, nothing stops the “intermediary” (Facebook or any other) from suing one to recover the damages arising out of the breach of the express ‘Terms and Conditions’. At the same time, the “affected person” might also initiate a criminal action or a civil suit, or both against the violator.

So, if ‘X’ posts defamatory remarks against ‘Y’ or impersonates him or her [Section 3 (2)(g) of the IT Rules, 2011], ‘X’ might be sued both by the concerned “intermediary” for the violation of the ‘Terms and Conditions’, and also by ‘Y’ for defamation. Additionally, ‘Y’ might also choose to initiate criminal proceedings against ‘X’, and sue the “intermediary” for failing to take down the objectionable content within the stipulated period of thirty six (36) hours, if the “intermediary” failed to act after having been notified of the offending material by ‘Y’. And if the “intermediary” had to compensate ‘Y’, the amount paid might be recoverable from ‘X’. In short, ‘X’ is neck deep in boiling soup.

However, it might be difficult for ‘Y’ to have the “intermediary” prosecuted under criminal provisions because of the obvious difficulties involved in establishing criminal intent on the intermediary’s part.

Furthermore, offenses like posting obscene or pornographic material don’t even need an “affected person”. The State can prosecute the offender on its own for the crime without anybody’s turning up with a complaint.

And it might be heartbreaking for those who breathe easy under the myth of ‘internet anonymity’ that it’s less than a cakewalk for the authorities to turn your IP address into a knock on your door.

So, there is absolutely no reason for you to ‘not take’ your posts and comments on Facebook and your tweets on Twitter ‘seriously’.

Originally written for and published as Cover Story in LAWYERS UPDATE [April 2012 Issue; Vol. XVIII, Part 4]

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