Friday, 27 September 2013

Sri Lanka: Hope for Lankan Tamils

If Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa thought that the spotlight was no longer on his regime after United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay had raised concerns over the human rights conditions of the Tamils after visiting the country, the Sunday results of to the Northern Provincial Council elections would have been a shocker. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) won 30 of the 38 seats in the elections sending a clear message to Colombo, and the world, that it was time for giving more regional autonomy to the northern areas. The ruling United Progressive Front Alliance managed to secure just seven seats, while the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress won the remaining one seat.
 The Sunday results are perhaps the worst electoral defeat for Mr Rajapaksa after his government came to power in 2005. Last month Ms Pillay visited Sri Lanka and did not mince her words in expressing her disappointment at the progress the Rajapaksa government had made in integrating the Lankan Tamils in the north of the country even four years after the bloody civil war came to an end. The election results underline her observations.
The results have placed a lot of challenges in front of CV Wigneswaran, the retired Supreme Court judge and TNA leader who is the frontrunner for the post of the chief minister of the province. The high voter turnout and the overwhelming majority the TNA has received is also a sign that the people are not happy with the measures the government has taken in the past four years to improve their lives. Mr Wigneswaran’s view that the TNA is willing to work with Colombo within a united Sri Lanka is proof that he has not been swayed by the views of nationalist groups, especially the Tamil diaspora, that is rooting for a separate state. The TNA has said that it will work for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment of the Constitution and will push for meaningful devolution. It is to be seen how much Colombo will be willing to cooperate on this issue. The people have reposed their faith in democracy. Now, it is for both the TNA and the Rajapaksa government to not disappoint them.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Ram Jethmalani and AP Singh point to a greater malaise

 While it is the expected of a lawyer to win a favourable verdict for his/her client, one would expect that certain ethics and niceties are maintained in the process. Recent examples, however, point towards a different reality. Ram Jethmalani, the defence counsel for Asaram Bapu in the sexual assault case on a 16-year-old girl, argued on Tuesday that the girl was suffering from a chronic disease “which draws a woman to a man”. Even if one were to go by this bizarre argument, Jethmalani may have overlooked the fact that the sexual history of a victim of rape cannot be brought to defend the accused. This statement has come even after medical tests conducted on the girl concluded that she was of sound mental health. Such demeaning and below-the-belt statements are uncalled for and are aimed only at smearing the character of the victim.
Jethmalani’s comment comes a few days after AP Singh, the defense lawyer for two of the four accused in the December 16 gang rape case, said that the verdict was ‘politically motivated’ and he would burn alive his daughter if she were to roam with a man at night or have pre-marital sex. That Singh made this observation after a Saket court awarded death sentence to the four accused is important and it seems like he was suggesting that the 23-year-old paramedical student, was out of her house ‘with a man’ at the wrong hour of the day.
Lawyers are free to choose their clients and defend their case in any court. Many a times the legal acumen of an astute lawyer can win the case in favour of his/her client. However, it reflects a lack of respect towards the legal profession and poor work ethics of the lawyer if he/she resorts to any measure to see that the case is won. The statements made by both Singh and Jethmalani point to two aspects. One, to ensure that women are respected and are given their space in society, it is important to change the mindset of men. Two, there should be mechanisms within the legal system that do not lend itself to vilification of victims of sexual assault and rape. It is a welcome move by the Bar Council of Delhi to take exception of Singh’s statement and ask for a clarification. The Bar Council of India also should take note of the insensitive statement made by Jethmalani and take appropriate action. Further traumatisation of victims, be it by the investigating officers or by legal luminaries, must stop. This is an important step towards achieving justice and reducing crimes, especially against women.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

National Flag: Don't wear your patriotism on your sleeve

 How much do you love your country? And to what extent would you go to see its honour upheld and to ensure no one disrespects symbols that represent your motherland? This is a tricky one. Now try answering this one: Are you more patriotic than the person sitting next to you? Or than your neighbour?
The Supreme Court's order on Monday asking the Centre and the BCCI to reply to a petition that the officials had failed to protect the honour of the tricolour during cricket matches held in Kolkata raises these questions.
The apex court was reviewing an appeal against an order of the Calcutta High Court. A petitioner had moved the high court complaining that spectators had dishonoured the national flag during two matches that were played at the Eden Gardens ground in Kolkata.
Spectators, in various photographs that were presented as proof, were seen using the flag as a turban or putting it over their shoulders. This, it is contended in the petition, was a serious violation of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 and the Flag Code of India, 2002.
While there is no standardised metre to measure patriotic fervour, we have many informal ways of grading it. You're different from the 'others' if you have a thumbnail-size tricolour brooch pinned to your breast pocket.
It is still, however, unlawful to 'wear' the national flag and to display it anywhere south of the belly button. If you have a beach shirt with the Union Jack design on it or a stars-and-stripes undergarment and thought of getting its desi version, hold on to that thought.... or even better, just forget about it. Such spontaneous outbursts of patriotism need to be exorcised as the misuse of the tiranga could land you in jail.
Honour and respect are intangible, superfluous social constructs that cannot be defined in definite terms. Attempts to give them a definite boundary, as the national honour Act and the flag code does, often end up creating confusion. Until there's more clarity on this, don't drape yourself in the tricolour on a cold winter night while cheering for Team India.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Kachchatheevu: A no man's land everyone wants

Kachchatheevu, an uninhabited island, a little over a square kilometre in area, has been a bone of contention between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka for decades. The Rajya Sabha on Monday saw MPs from Tamil Nadu criticising the Centre for its affidavit to the Supreme Court, which stated that no portion of India’s land was ceded to Sri Lanka. The Centre was responding to a petition by Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa, filed in 2008, seeking the apex court to declare unconstitutional the 1974 agreement. Tension over the island came to focus in 1974 after the Centre signed an agreement with Sri Lanka accepting that Kachchatheevu was not a part of India. According to the agreement signed between the two countries, fishermen from both sides can use the island to dry their nets and even pray at the St Antony’s shrine in the island. Politicians, across the political spectrum in Tamil Nadu, claim that the Centre ceded the island without passing a resolution in Parliament and thus it is an invalid agreement. To bolster their claims politicians claim that the island was under the king of Ramanathapuram and later under the Mdaras Presidency. Over the years, especially after the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka, there have been an increasing number of reports of confrontation between Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen and cases of the Sri Lankan navy firing at Indian fishermen. More than 150 Indian fishermen have been arrested and are at present facing trial in Sri Lankan courts.
The manner in which the Centre ‘ceded’ Kachchatheevu to Sri Lanka in 1974 should be seen not as an aberration but as a general tone adopted by New Delhi while dealing with the states. Much of the problem surrounding the rights over the island could have been avoided if in 1974 the Centre had taken the then state government in Tamil Nadu into confidence. Today, a similar pattern can also been seen in the way the Centre has gone about unilaterally on its decision to carve out a Telangana state out of Andhra Pradesh, so much so that it has not even won the support of its state leaders on the decision.
For our democracy to be robust and to function in the manner it is meant to, the Centre cannot treat the states as lackeys. States should be seen as equal partners in the democratic process and in decision-making and should be consulted on matters that concern the respective state. This is all the more important in a coalition era where regional parties play an important role in government formation at the Centre.