Sunday, 21 December 2014

Anti-Conversion Law: Enforcing Untouchability in India?

Times of India reports that at his maiden press conference in Kerala after taking charge of the BJP party, Amit Shah denied that his party had anything to do with the alleged attempt in UP to convert a few Muslim families to Hinduism. He said an FIR has been filed in connection with the 'ghar wapasi' programme held in Uttar Pradesh and it was up to the courts to decide whether there was any forced conversion. Shah sought to turn the tables on the BJP's opponents who have held up proceedings in Rajya Sabha on the issue of conversions by challenging them to support the Bill to ban conversions by coercion and allurement.

The anti-conversion bill can be dangerous legislation if it is used to prevent, for example, untouchable Dalits from converting to say, Christianity or Islam. Dalits may sometimes convert to Islam or Christianity not because they necessarily believe in the religion but to try to better themselves from a life where they may be downtrodden. The anti-conversion bill legislation may have the effect of continuing and enforcing untouchability in India if applied harshly. Such laws will be used by politicians to further votebank politics and  communal unrest.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Big Babu Brother is Watching You: Indian Bureaucracy in the Digital Age

Times of India reports that Modi Sarkar (government) has launched a frontal attack on Indian bureaucracy's greatest power — the power not to do anything. And it has done this via a brand new digital platform — called e-SamikSha — that allows sarkar's top bosses a real-time clear view of intra and inter-departmental file movements and gives them the power to intervene when a babu (bureaucrat) is taking it too easy. Developed by the cabinet secretariat with technical support from the National Informatics Centre (NIC), e-SamikSha — the second 'S' in uppercase is how it's officially written — has been operational for just over a month and has changed babus' working style. So, if say, a joint secretary is sitting on a file on a big infrastructure project that's a PMO priority, this system will allow the prime minister to intervene digitally and ask the officer concerned to explain the delay or expedite decision-making.

This clearly sounds like a very good idea. Indian bureaucracy works at a snail's pace usually. Keeping an eye on the bureaucrats (babus) file movements in the bowels of government with digital technology seems to be Modi's modus operandi (MO). As more services being provided to the population in India through e-government and e-services, the influence of the bureaucrats will reduce.

SJP @DigitalAsian

Friday, 19 December 2014

Cyber-Insecurity: Malware making the military Meaningless?

The cyber-attack on Sony Pictures by hackers, maybe from North Korea, should be of concern to everyone. It shows what can be done to large corporations. It has also in some way impacted freedom of speech. It has impacted privacy of many individuals. And it shows that American, and in particular, Hollywood's influence can be curtailed by anonymous people anywhere around the world. It may not be easy to harm America militarily but malware can cause damage in America as this case shows.

The phrase that politicians use that people should use the ballot box rather than the bullet comes to mind here that it is not the bullet being used but malware bugs that can cripple a corporation.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Asian E-commerce Boom: Consumers Favourite Pastime

Times of India reports that Asia is set to surpass North America to become the world's largest e-commerce market this year, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). According to a report in Beijing by the EIU yesterday, an advisory company under the Economist magazine group, it is estimated that retail sales in Asia will grow by an average 4.6% on a volume basis to $7.6 trillion, compared with 2.5% in North America and 0.8% in Europe in 2015. Report editor Laurel West said the Asian consumer market was largely driven by the rising independence and economic power of Asia's women, and female consumers in Asia are showing an unprecedented enthusiasm for online shopping, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported. The report comes in the backdrop of huge demand for e-commerce generated in China by platforms like Alibaba which is picking up at a rapid pace in India. The two countries together account for about three billion people.

Asian eCommerce is booming and is becoming the Asian consumers' favourite pastime.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Good Karma Chameleon: Fortune Changes for Modi

The financial turmoil now inflicting Russia due to the low oil price and Western sanctions amongst other factors could impact other countries if not handled carefully. But the low oil price (despite instability in the Middle East) is a godsend for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This factor has come right at the beginning of his tenure and gives Modi more room to manoeuvre than he would otherwise have had.

Modi seems to be having some good karma at the start of his leadership. With the Kashmir elections Modi is now having to look like a Prime Minister for all Indians. He should throw off his RSS and Godhra past and change his colour from just saffron. Like a good karma chameleon, Modi has changed the way he is perceived on the world stage and at home and is changing his karma also. He should now make good use of the good fortune in India. Let's hope this is good karma for India also.

360 degrees back to life for Vandana Shah

eBooks @ IdeaIndia.Com
Vandana Shah at Book Launch
Mumbai - December 2014 - Vandana Shah launched her latest book, Ex-Files, in the presence of Shobhaa De, His Lordship, the Hon'ble Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court, Mr. Justice Mohit Shah and Aruna Raje.

It has been 360 degrees back to life for Vandana Shah from the lows of her divorce to her life today.

Vandana Shah, author of the eBook 360 DEGREES BACK TO LIFE: A Litigant's Humorous Perspective on Divorce and published by IdeaIndia.Com, has certainly turned her life around 360 degrees through her own hard work and will power.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Open Government in India? Per-Apps, Per-Apps Not

Times of India reports that the Narendra Modi government has tapped Amit Ranjan, a technology entrepreneur who sold his startup, Slideshare, to LinkedIn in 2012, to lead a project for opening all government technology systems as it looks to speed up creation of apps that can be deployed across the country, while avoiding expensive proprietary packages. This comes five years after the previous UPA government got Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani to head an ambitious project to give every Indian a unique identity to ensure subsidies were better targeted and bring financial inclusion closer. The programme Nilekani began has been adopted by the Modi government as well. Ranjan has accepted the offer "in principle", according to one of the several people familiar with the plan. He may start as early as February next year, reporting to the joint secretary (IT) Rajinder Kumar. The role involves leading a soon-to-be-created opensource organisation for government projects as its CEO. India's Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) is beefing up its efforts to build a Github-like collection of software applications where various government departments and developers collaborate. More than 20 countries, including the US, UK, Canada and Australia are using Github to create such a bank of apps.

Such programmes give opportunities to technocrats to get involved in government which may be a good thing for India. Whether this particular programme envisioned by Modi will lead to more open government remains to be seen. Modi is defintiely trying to make India mobile.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Slave Traders of the 21st Century

BBC News has investigated working conditions of foreign construction workers in Qatar. The investigation reveals what is in effect a form of modern day slavery. It is not just Qatar that is involved but also building contractors such as Britain's Carillion. Workers from Asia such as Bangladesh and Nepal are hired by recruitment agencies and sent to work in locations such as Qatar. Firms like Carillion hire workers from recruitment agencies to work at Qatari sites in appalling conditions that have been reported in the news - including having their passports withheld while they work.

This is akin to Western clothing companies hiring firms in Bangladesh to manufactures clothes for Western markets - the workers in Bangladesh also work in appalling conditions.

There is a web of contractors, sub-contractors and recruitment agencies which make the hiring and treatment of workers opaque to the Western eye.

History never gets in the way of politics in India

Times of India reports that the BJP was embarrassed when TV channels showed BJP MP from Unnao, Sakshi Maharaj as saying, "I believe Nathuram Godse was also a nationalist and Mahatma Gandhiji also did a lot for the nation. Godse was an aggrieved person. He may have done something by mistake but was not an anti-national. He was a patriot." Nathuram Godse was Mahatma Gandhi's assassin. As the statement erupted into a controversy with the matter being raised in Rajya Sabha, an embarrassed BJP forced Maharaj to retract his statement. Maharaj later on said, "I do not consider him a rashtra bhakta (patriot). I might have said something by mistake."

There are views that people will express about Mahatma Gandhi in private but such views expressed publically are not acceptable in India yet. But such a slip here may be the slow change in the cult of Mahatma Gandhi. Also with Sardar Patel's historical role gaining more prominence in India may be another sign of changing times - history in the making. Politicians have a tendency to re-make history.

Holes in the Swiss Cheese

Times of India reports that Jonathan Baud, the Swiss national arrested for alleged Maoist links, has been blacklisted by the Indian Bureau of Immigration based on the recommendations of Kerala police. This is despite the High Court quashing the case against Baud on December 2. 

It's difficult to know what to make of this case. You get news in the Indian media from time to time when foreign nationals are caught transporting weapons within India. The Swiss are supposedly known for their neutrality as well as their banks, watches, chocolates and cheeses. Is there any difference between someone from, say, Britain going to fight for ISIS and someone from Switzerland coming to India and working with Maoists?

Fort Kochi: God's Own Fort Knox

Times of India reports that 3 gold loan companies in Kerala have more precious metal in their vaults than the gold reserves of some of the richest nations. Muthoot Finance, Manappuram Finance and Muthoot Fincorp jointly hold nearly 200 tonnes of gold jewellery, which is higher than the gold reserves of Singapore, Sweden or Australia. India accounts for approximately 30% of the global demand for gold, a true-and-tested source of insurance for millions of families that have little access to other forms of social security. What is true for India is even more so for Kerala, where 2 lakh people are employed in the gold industry. The metal's fungibility makes it an ideal collateral for over-the-counter loans. Muthoot Finance holds 116 tonnes of gold as security for its loans, Manappuram Finance has 40 tonnes and Muthoot Fincorp, 39 tonnes. The trio's combined holdings are 195 tonnes. To put things in global perspective, Singapore's gold reserves are 127 tonnes, Sweden's 126 tonnes, South Africa's 125 tonnes and Mexico's 123 tonnes.

God's Own Country, the advertising slogan for Kerala, is clearly filled with gold.

SJP @DigitalAsian

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Undercover Rumble: When Police tactics are Exposed

The Guardian reports that "An undercover California highway patrol officer who infiltrated protests against police violence in Oakland pulled a gun on demonstrators after his and his partner’s cover was blown. Michael Short, a freelance photographer who was covering the protest for the San Francisco Chronicle and witnessed the incident, told the Guardian that after the crowd realised that the pair were undercover officers, they became “incensed”. One of the protesters snatched the beanie from the head of the smaller of the two officers. Immediately afterwards, another member of the crowd ran up from behind and punched the same officer in the head, knocking him to the ground. The shorter officer stood up and tackled his assailant, at which point the other officer, who was already brandishing his baton, drew his gun and pointed it at the crowd, which was surging forward. This is the moment that Short captured on film."

Even in the UK the police use undercover officers in protest groups. When undercover officers are rumbled it sometimes makes it to the media - see Undercover Between the Sheets.

Another very common tactic used, certainly in London, are paid informers - see Paid Police Informers: The New Welfare State.

Rather than Rumpole of the Bailey it should perhaps be Rumbled of the Yard.

SJP @DigitalAsian

Friday, 12 December 2014

Saffron Christmas: Do They Know It's Christmas Time

Times of India reports that the Dharam Jagran Samiti, an RSS offshoot, has distributed pamphlets in Aligarh seeking donations for converting Christians and Muslims to Hinduism. The pamphlet says it costs Rs 2 lakh to convert a Christian and Rs 5 lakh to convert a Muslim. It has set December 25 as the date for a major conversion ceremony and put down an annual target of 2 lakh conversions — 1 lakh Muslims and 1 lakh Christians. The pamphlets, carrying the letter head of the Dharam Jagran Samiti, pashchim chhetra (western UP, Braj prant, Meerut and Uttarakhand), have found their way to many houses in Aligarh. It proposes a fund for a grand "ghar vapsi" (homecoming) of Christians and Muslims, who are a "samasya" (problem) in the country. The letter addresses recipients as "bandhuvar" (friends) and says: "Lots of money will be required in the 'ghar vapsi' because the work of conversion is increasing — more workers and more people to be covered. Please contribute money so that all arrangements are in place."

This will be a real test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has RSS roots, to combat such conversions. If (untouchable) Hindus convert to Christianity or Islam this can be the cause of riots in the country. If the conversions are forced this can be a form of ethnic cleansing. This is a similar to when Pastor Terry Jones in America wanted to burn a Qur'an on live TV. Such extremism or fundamentalism has to be tackled by the authorities in a supposedly secular country such as India. This is the wrong thing for the RSS to be doing especially in a time of unrest in the Middle East and news of a few going from India to fight for ISIS.

SJP @DigitalAsian

Does That Make Indians Smart?

Times of India reports that nearly 57% of Indians admitted they cannot live without their smartphones, making them the most addicted group of respondents in a survey of users from top five smartphone regions globally. One in three Indians said they would give up their TV for a week before their smartphone, according to the survey conducted by Germany-based B2X Care Solutions. The survey polled more than 2,500 smartphone and tablet users from the top five smartphone regions globally, including the US, Germany, Brazil, India and China.

The survey includes 3 of the BRICS nations. Why is it that Indians are most addicted to smartphones? The idea of India being major smartphone market is music to the ears of Samsung and Apple for m-commerce businesses. India is the smart market for m-commerce?


Thursday, 11 December 2014

Torture and Peace: Rendition of Human Rights

Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai and Indian child rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi have received the Nobel Peace Prize awards. The Nobel committee described both laureates as "champions of peace". 

This Nobel Peace Prize award comes at the same time as the CIA report into torture has been released. The publishing of this report raises concerns over the complicity of US allies in the torture such as Poland and UK - so-called  extraordinary rendition. 

This report on torture has overshadowed the news of the Nobel Peace Prize and brings the issue of human rights into perspective. Washington DC and Oslo are looking at human rights from different perspectives at present. In Oslo people are feeling jubilant about the awards given whereas in Washington DC people are trying to cover-up abuses of human rights.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Mumbai Street Art - IdeaIndia.Com

States of Play: Digital India and National Broadband

Economic Times reports that the Narendra Modi-led Indian government is to urge all State governments to help fasttrack the India national broadband project and suggest business models for delivering citizen-centric e-services under the Digital India initiative in their respective regions. "The immediate mission is making all State governments active partners in speeding up the national broadband venture and exploring ways to leverage the highspeed Internet network to deliver government e-services to the common man," a top Telecom Department official told ET. Accordingly, all States will be urged to assign responsibilities to senior bureaucrats to oversee the broadband rollouts in their regions, remove bottlenecks and come up with workable network utilisation models for delivering eServices in areas such as health, education and banking. Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is tipped to chair a meeting this week with senior DoT officials to thrash out a strategy to make State governments "direct stakeholders" in the national broadband project. 

There are regular announcements on the national broadband and Digital India projects. Modi and his Telecom Minister seem to be going all out on these projects. It will be possible for India to leapfrog over older technologies giving e-services for e-India. These are ambitious projects and much will depend on how each State plays its part.Without state co-operation and full participation these projects will remain just pipe dreams.