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1

I tend to have very strong opinions, so my contempt for the increasing "stupidification" of India is hardly a secret. This is a cause for alarm, because it is indeed contagious. Political views, gender, caste, class, religion are not barriers to this epidemic. The reason for it is the natural human tendency to reply in the manner in which we are spoken to. I have brought this up before. If I say apple, you may say "oranges, pie, tree, cold weather, computer...." but you are unlikely to say, say for example, "spoon" - our mind tends to reply in a manner that is relevant to what it is that we are replying.

This is a problem when there is an overall process of radicalization, because those conditioned to thinking in a polarized mannerh will have a tendency to bring all conversation to their programmed triggers. The trap is already set. There are few responses that can be made at that level that won't derail you from the subject you wish to talk about. As a consequence, this conditioning spreads also to those who oppose it through sheer Pavlovian repetition. So a person questioning a liberal perspective may be a bhakt, a person questioning a feminist perspective may be a misogynist, and so on. The fundamental tendency proliferates on its own through sheer engagement with it. Whether in agreement or disagreement does not matter, as long as the nature of interaction is polarized.

It creates an unconscious conditioning of disagreement being seen as hostility or outright evil. Among both desiring to exclude or target specific identities or those wishing to exclude or target those who exclude or target specific identities. This is where we are today. This is why it is so difficult to prevent the increasing irrationality. Because those opposing the irrational views themselves get sucked into the whirlpool to the bottom of the IQ scale.

It is human nature to recognize our own view as the sane one and see the irrationality outside us.

However, if we examine the interactions we have, for quality, as opposed to morality, the problem is clear. We have gazed too long into the abyss and the abyss also gazes into us.

This, in my view is the real danger to the society, the country and the world. A departure from rational thought in the public space is a very alarming situation. The stupidification is a bigger threat to India long term than the violence and it has grown far more than either side of the polarization is able to recognize.

Fear is seductive. Our survival instincts condition us to pay attention to threats in order to survive. Hence, negativity - real or imagined - will always draw attention more easily than well being (there is nothing that needs urgent attention).

In my view, the bigger urgency today is to understand how we get sucked into talking about things we don't wish to through sheer Pavlovian conditioning. We need to develop skills to engage in rational debate and refuse to engage in irrational triggers derailing conversation to programmed tirades on political stands. The immediate danger may be violent mobs, but the larger long term concern is what caused so many people to think that such a stupid choice is a bright idea.

This is the result of fear. The fear that is used as a quick fix to compensate with paranoia what the agenda lacks in quality. We are surrounded by a culture of fear. Majorities are led to believe that minorities are somehow going to subjugate them. People who wouldn't quit smoking over health issues in the next decade would happily celebrate the murders of hundreds or thousands to "protect" themselves from that unlikely threat. The chances of dying in a road accident are higher, but they feel no fear about being in a vehicle. The point I am making here is anxiety is carefully built about specific subjects to turn them into threats for political profit. This is how Muslims being less than a fifth of the population and yet disproportionately underrepresented in jobs, education, housing and over represented in disadvantageous statistics like death tolls in communal crimes or being killed in state violence or being imprisoned without trial and so on, still results in a perception of Muslims as a threat.

It is like asking someone whether they have a pimple forming on their nose. They will touch their nose and examine the smallest hint of a bump and see it as proof that a problem pimple is indeed growing. It is how a stage magician may move his hand in a flourish while saying something in a dramatic manner, while the other hand palms a coin or scribbles a message for the audience to "discover" in full sight of the audience - and yet invisible. Because attention is focused elsewhere. People trying to figure out how the trick was done will continue to imagine that there was something about the flourish and want to examine sleeves and such, but fail to notice the other hand in full view doing the tricky part on the table. If you see enough TV programmes discussing the risk Muslims are to the country, you don't stop to ask why there is a need to discuss Muslims specifically. The unconscious conditioning to see them as a problem that needs to be resolved is already established through what is called a "false dilemma" or "false dichotomy", where you are presented with two choices as the only ones possible, making several illogical assumptions in the process.

If you were to see TV talk shows discussing daily whether apples were healthy at all, regardless of the discussions or conclusions, the fact that there was a need to evaluate the safety profile of apples specifically at all on a daily basis would have you avoiding apples and eating bananas or some other fruit to play it safe. In reality, there is no particular reason to discuss apples with such exceptional intensity. There is nothing wrong with discussing apples either. But the disproportionate attention given to evaluating their safety will make them appear to be unsafe even if discussion after discussion daily affirms after much debate that they are safe - because that affirmation is no conclusion, a new discussion will be required tomorrow - it is not safe. It is an ongoing threat. Better eat the orange. Now, if I sold bananas and wanted more people to switch from apples to bananas... would I have a reason to trigger such paranoia among those I want to manipulate?

This is an important part of propaganda - the delegitimizing of the targeted population. The questioning of every aspect of their existence and needing it to be proved harmless, while the rest of the population is very much similar but bears no scrutiny gives out its own message. The issue is not what these debates conclude. The fact that you devote 80% of TV debates to less than 20% of the population itself is its own signal to the population - here is something that needs you to be alert. The examination of every aspect of a part of the population as though they were aliens also serves another purpose - dehumanization.

Humans inherently are social animals and do not aspire to see themselves as vicious killers or attackers or those depriving others of basic human dignity. Mere differences cannot make a person be okay with inhumanity. For that, the target needs to be dehumanized. It has to be rendered to something less than human. A threat. Something so alien that it feels less pain than us, is more violent than us, is less deserving of compassion than us. This is where impunity for genocides is manufactured. We are in this cold blooded process. And we have no way to elevate the conversation. Partly because these conversations are carefully engineered to avoid targets being seen as humans, but also because those countering have no skills to set their own level of conversation and respond on the same level. Whether you don't talk to me or I don't talk to you, if the end result is a chasm, the objective is achieved.

This manipulated and deliberately propagated insanity is also the reason why there is an increase in violence - both physical and verbal. Violence is the last refuge of the illogical. When a person runs out of words to express their stand, they escalate to violence. As long as there is scope for presenting more and more of their perspective with words, there is no need for violence. But because the propaganda is inherently illogical, a person who believes it has no way of explaining it to one who doesn't, unless they make considerable effort to come up with enough logical fallacies themselves as well. Questioning then becomes a threat, because they are convinced of the threat to them from their targets and any questioning that could undermine it also becomes a threat.

To avoid increasing violence and hostility, we desperately need more clever and well planned conversations. We need the public to develop skills in assessing where their interests lie and when they are being manipulated toward prefering or avoiding something for reasons that are completely irrelevant to them and will likely harm them.

Long term, I think Darwin nailed it. The stupidification itself will erode the mental faculties of those depending on propaganda and with time give increasing advantage to those able to think through it. In the meanwhile, I suppose they will also have to learn how to survive till that point.

9

There was a interactive panel discussion in Mumbai WTC on the 29th of January 2015 organized by World Trade Centre (WTC) and All India Association of Industries (AIAI) in collaboration with the Indo-France Chamber of Commerce and Industries (IFCCI). It was to discuss ‘Smart Cities in India: Reality in the Making’.

Dignitaries on the stage included Mr. Sanjay Sethi (IAS) (Additional Metropolitan Commissioner-I, MMRDA), Ms. Laura Prasad (Secretary General, IFCCI), Dr. Laveesh Bhandari (Founder and Chief Economist, Indicus Analytics Pvt. Ltd.), Mr. Vijay Kalantri (President, AIAI and Vice Chairman, MVIRDC WTC), Mr. Shankar Aggarwal (IAS, Secretary, Ministry of Urban Development Government of India), Mr. Dilip Shekdar (Chief Architect, Naya Raipur Development Authority), Mr. Ravi Kant Malhan (Director, Head Business Development:  Smart Cities and Special Projects, Schneider Electric India), Capt. Somesh Batra (Vice Chairman, MVIRDC WTC) and  Mr. Abhishek Lodha (Managing Director, Lodha Group).

A journalist, Shruti Ravindran who had attended it, tweeted a photo of a shocking quote from a brochure 'Smart Cities in India: Reality in the Making' released during this event.

Smart cities that exclude the poor
Smart cities that exclude the poor

 

The quote in the above photo says:

...There are only two ways to keep people out of any space - prices and policing. In other words, the prices will automatically be higher in such cities - the notion that they will be low cost is flawed. Even if possible from a cost provision perspective, they cannot be low cost from a demand supply perspective.

Even with high prices, the conventional laws in India will not enable us to exclude millions of poor Indians from enjoying the privileges of such great infrastructure. Hence the police will need to physically exclude people from such cities, and they will need a different set of laws from those operating in the rest of India for them to be able to do so. Creating special enclaves is the only method of doing so. And therefore GIFT is an SEZ and so will each of these 100 smart cities have to be.

(excerpt from an article by Laveesh Bhandari, Founder and Chief Economist at Indicus Analytics Pvt Ltd)

So let me get this right. The government will be used to empty land to build smart cities in the name of developing the country. It will be called "inclusive development". And the smart cities built on this land will be for the rich - by design. And we are talking of a hundred cities, displacing god knows how many people. The police of the land will be used "on the tax payer's money" (as these hotshots like to call it) to keep the poor out of these cities using laws OTHER THAN INDIAN LAWS.

Am I the only one being reminded of Arundhati Roy's infamous quote that earned her the anger of the oh-so-innocent middle classes? Here it is, if you don't remember. And she said this in 2007.

We have a growing middle class, being reared on a diet of radical consumerism and aggressive greed. Unlike industrializing western countries which had colonies from which to plunder resources and generate slave labour to feed this process, we have to colonize ourselves, our own nether parts. We’ve begun to eat our own limbs. The greed that is being generated (and marketed as a value interchangeable with nationalism) can only be sated by grabbing land, water and resources from the vulnerable. What we’re witnessing is the most successful secessionist struggle ever waged in Independent India. The secession of the middle and upper classes from the rest of the country.

~ Arundhati Roy

This could be considered the impractical fantasy of rich men (albeit very rich men and sponsors of the ruling party behind this government), but the brochure also carries an introductory message from Shankar Aggarwal, IAS, Union Ministry of Urban Development, GOVERNMENT OF INDIA, not to mention him being personally present there and meeting journalists on the sidelines to announce the Framework for 100 smart cities to be ready by February.

Framework for 100 smart cities to be ready by February says Aggarwal - Moneylife
Framework for 100 smart cities to be ready by February says Aggarwal - Moneylife

Here are some relevant excerpts from the brochure including the message from Shankar Aggarwal, the program schedule of the event, including names of speakers, the profile of the author Dr. Laveesh Bhandari, the article itself, and another article on GIFT, which is referenced in this article as a model. Excerpts from Smart Cities in India: Reality in the Making

Given the opaque manner in which this government operates, as well as dramatic undermining of protections of local interests and environment through ordinances, such views should be a cause of alarm for citizens, if the much heralded development is going to actually be displacement on a massive scale, disenfranchisement of local populations and their explicit exclusion from the "growth story" while the rich use the country's power to get land for their shangri-las, use the country's resources "24/7" (can this ever be promised to those who will be displaced to create these "enclaves"?) and use the country's police force to protect what will essentially be elite facilities barred to the common masses through special laws created to protect the elite.

I imagine, the elites will also only be paying for their actual residences and the cost of creating these havens for them will also have to be borne by the country.

Is this development or colonization of India by the rich? The Gujarat model is all set to exploit India as well. All we need are new signboards, "Poor citizens and dogs not allowed"

Nope. It's not the same thing, but its important.

Be careful of the words you use - they are your point of contact with others. If you use them lightly, people tend to take you lightly.

Avoid making promises on the spur of the moment that may be difficult to keep. If you make them, live up to your word. Saying you forgot, or avoiding calls, or simply doing a half-baked job shows you as an unreliable person.

On the other hand, but infinitely worse, is when you speak in angry words emotion,without really thinking beyond your hurt. Tell a loved one how much you hate him, and it starts getting linked in future episodes. You may not mean it when you are calm, but the next time you are angry, you will, again. These are small blows that shake a relationship, but enough blows are.... well - enough!

When you are angry, stop. Stop talking, leave the premises, whatever. Your anger may be justified, but if you express it calmly, you are more likely to get constructive outcomes. Avoid the need to spew ugly words at the object of your anger, because no matter how the object is, it is you speaking them.

I don't know if this makes sense, but I find it helps me if I do it.

4

Sunny Singh makes a very intriguing and perceptive observation about the Arab Spring and the rash of self-immolations that it brought.

She points out that while self-immolation is known culturally in say India or among the Tibetan Buddhists, it is a very important taboo in Islam. Not only is suicide forbidden, but mutilating a body - dead or alive is another big no-no. Self-immolation is not a part of Islamic cultures, which see suicide as sin and even suicide bombings are largely justified by fringe beliefs as an act of jihad, but most Muslims will not be able to reconcile with it as acceptable.

Yet these self-immolations, almost flamboyant in both method and breaking of deep cultural taboos have been everywhere the Arab spring touched.

At this point, it is important to read her post to understand the religious, cultural and historical nuances she brings up.

When I read it, the first thought that struck me was that when something on such a scale, and totally unexplained happens, there is a good reason to look at what could be happening on an unconscious level and what immediately stands out to me, as it did to her is the symbolism. The very public statement being made.

The other thing that stood out to me was that if we look beyond the obvious, and choose to define our own lens for the circumstances rather than that of religion or culture alone, then there are threads in common with the self-immolations in Tibet, the women's self-immolations in Afghanistan, and the historical stories of self-immolation from India.

Now, at this point it is important to say that I am describing a landscape of perceptions, looking at how the unconscious mind may be working. The unconscious works in images and sensations rather than logic. So I am trying to look at those, rather than logic too. For example "suicide is useless because nothing is solved" has no place in this view I'm trying to describe.

About the circumstances:

1. One common factor that stands out instantly is the loss of autonomy. Most of these countries are dictatorships reeling under the choices of dictators or other autocratic rulers with little recourse. Particularly the Afghanistan women, but not men - is a quite telling instance. They feel helpless to influence their own circumstances.

2. The oppressor is perceived as having no concern for them as humans and deserving of consideration. (the "perceived" is not to debate the guilt or innocence of oppressor, but to describe what may appear to the victim)

About the method of suicide:

1. It breaks free of the perceived inability to change circumstances.

2. It grabs attention, so it is a statement.

3. It symbolizes the helplessness as an erasing of the identity from the scene. A charred, dead body has neither the personality nor the look of the person. Like the charred body is there, but means nothing - the live body was there, but meant nothing.

4. It is painful and long drawn rather than, say - a suicide bombing - which as Sunny points out also erases the identity from the scene.

5. It is an angry, torturous, deliberate act.

A hypothesis is that the person feels impotent to change their circumstances. There is a lot of anger at failure to do so. Anger directed at self for failing. The method of death is also a self-punishment for that. There is a need to be heard - to "register" and a willingness to pay a high price for it with pain and death after other options have failed - thus the very visual, dramatic death. The breaking of religious taboo also signifies the breaking free from imposed limits - so I think in that sense the taboo actually makes the act more desired. It is an angry condemnation of the oppressor by creating loud, difficult to ignore illustration of their unacknowledged actions destroying the person.

I disagree with Sunny about this being the symbolism of a suicide attack rather than self-immolation. I think a suicide attack is different in several key ways:

1. Object of anger - self immolation has two clear objects - the oppressor and the self. The punishment of the oppressor is in "exposing" his oppression, powerlessness, a possible intent that society or another more powerful will bring justice. In that sense, it marks the oppressor and attacks self. A suicide-attacker is either angry with the world at large or a person, with or without anger with self. The primary target of punishment is not self - the goal is to erase the presence of others. Also there is no element of self-punishment/pain intended - how it happens may be different. The death is intentionally quick.

2. The person may be cornered if at all, but is not defeated and will go down fighting. The self-immolator has acknowledged his powerlessness, but wants it known.

3. I perceive a suicide attack as resulting from anger rather than desperation, but there may be many reasons - including peer pressure to be a hero.

There are other perceptions too, but now that the "track" is open, I am sure you can think of them yourself.

Moving on.

The unconscious may not be consciously known, but it communicates. The symbolism is unconsciously registered by others too. So I want to look at the movements. Will look at the Afghan women separately.

Self-immolations marked the start of most. People understood the suffering the man was making known, and took it up. They also related with it deeply, because they could recognize it in their circumstances - so they were unconsciously on the same team (and in real life circumstances as citizens too). Others may have recognized the expression as appropriate for their circumstances and self-immolated too. Self-immolations dotted the process, giving voice to the suffering and in that sense adding power to the movement too.

There were no suicide bombings. This was a crowd of oppressed and defeated people at the end of their rope without the resources or inclination to attack the oppressor, leaving it to those able to take up the cause on their behalf. And I include the Tibetans in this.

Another connection I make is with India's Jan Lokpal Andolan. Very similar frustrations, massive mobilization of people. The only difference being that the people still had the right to be heard. There was one self-immolation attempted, but overwhelmingly, people were taking up the cause rather than giving up. I think this is also an important aspect of democracy - however dysfunctional in the moment.

However, the element of suffering manifested as fasting - without any attempt to erase identity. The identity had presence in a democracy, but the suffering hunger echoed the suffering deprivation (scams, inflation, etc) at the hands of the oppressor.

If you take still another example from around the same time - the Occupy Movement. Here, you see neither the physical suffering, nor the attempt to erase identity. You see an element of challenge rather than self-denial/deprivation. Taking risks with being attacked by the system, occupying spaces of power - in some kind of echo of the arbitrariness and inequality? Didn't follow the movement so much, so these are very general impressions rather than nuances - more important for what was not seen as compared with the other protests. This is a democracy, with also a somewhat functioning public welfare system - identity and no desperate deprivation or immediate threat of it.

At the root of these perceptions of deprivation and denial happening worldwide, is what I think Sainath points out in his lecture on mass media and mass reality - rising inequality, food prices, inflation and add to it collapsing economies and floundering corporates being bolstered by public resources, when the public itself is reeling.

The Afghan women's oppressor is not the government, but society and it is a very gender specific oppressor. So you don't find Afghan men self-immolating so much as the women. The Afghan men have their voice in their democracy - again, however dysfunctional - even the fact that "it is supposed to be like this" is often enough for someone to claim that space in need. The protests in Pakistan, for example.

On the other hand, women with their severe social restrictions, an extremely chauvinistic culture and little hopes for bettering their circumstances choose self-immolation largely as a means of escaping domestic violence. The rest of the symbolism remains the same, except the people taking up the cause are far fewer, because women's rights is not as widely identified with a subject and you find more of their champions among the social workers, though there are instances when locals - both men and women have protested when they identified with the victim.

In summary, I think there is a scale of dissent or protesting distress. The easiest method is chosen. Where the victim has voice, they speak up. Where there is no government listening, they rebel. If there is hopelessness, there are public self-immolations. It is about agency, in my view. They may be seeking acknowledgment that they suffered and they matter. Or "proving" the genuineness of their distress and hopelessness that goes unheard with everything they have - their life itself and a painful death in order to make that one statement that matters.

2

Difficult moment in the Jan Lokpal struggle. Arvind Kejriwal says that the government is responsible if something happens to Anna.

When a much needed movement goes wrong, my greatest service is to speak up.

It is a difficult moment. A small movement struck an unexpected chord in the country and became an inferno. It built momentum till it forced the government to recognize the people's need. It was powerful enough to reemerge like a phoenix after months of silence at the moment of need. It is a powerful movement. Those steering it hold a lot of power. It makes it important that all follow the path impeccably.

When a crowd this large comes together, all it knows is that it is a peaceful protest. But a satyagraha is more than that. It is a philosophy. It is insistence that what is right be done. That is what gives it power. If what is being asked for is not rightful, then the power is destructive. It is also weak, because people can't logically arrive at the same false solution.

The tremendous success of this movement was because what was being asked for is a genuine, burning need.

I have written at each stage of smaller successes or failures, that this will get a lot worse before it gets better. There are powerful sides. There are powerful motives, there is a lot of effort. Whether right or wrong is irrelevant. What "should" be is irrelevant. Ground reality is that this was never going to be a cakewalk. We knew it going in. Anna knew it going in. It was a choice we had, and we made it. We were proud of the heroes who chose to publicly suffer hunger as a manifestation and symbol of the suffering the group was expressing.

Now we are hitting the difficult parts, and our integrity is falling apart. We must keep our eyes on the path and not get incited by our fears and anger.

When people sat for a fast unto death, death was always on the table. Today, a man died. The "death" from "fast unto death" just became more real. We are into the rough time. But nothing else has changed. We are still on a non-violent protest, our volunteers fasting are still making tremendous personal sacrifice out of free will.

Today, Kejriwal said something that was untrue. He said it publicly. He said the government would be responsible if anything happened to Anna. I can understand that as the person managing the initiative, he is under tremendous pressure. As a leader, he had a man die today. Frustration, anger, grief could have caused these words and the same sentiments in the followers are making them echo widely.

This blog has dozens of posts I wrote in support of the movement. I am no opposer. But, I see us going down the path of untruth, and I must speak up. A person is responsible for their choices. Good or bad. No matter the consequences. You can't say, "Oh, if we get the Jan Lokpal, then Anna chose to fast, and if something happens to Anna, then the government made him fast". Without free will, there cannot be satyagraha. As such, no matter how difficult times get, it is important that we keep in mind that no matter what wrong we are protesting, no matter whether someone agreed to demands or not, no matter whether there is success or failure, our actions are our own.

History has shown us that when people lose sight of this fact, frustration and anger cause failure. Think Gandhi and Chauri-Chaura. If Gandhiji hadn't called off the Satyagraha, use of excessive force against protesters would be justified. That was his moment of truth. The movement had derailed, and he made a historical ethical call to call it off at its peak.

Today's statement takes us in that direction. We are at our peak, and in a moment of weakness, a target has been set up for public anger. This is very dangerous for the country. While I understand that it wasn't a good day to be talking with introspection for Kejriwal, I do hope that he sees the falsehood in that angry blame and withdraws the statement and brings attention back to the reality. We set out to protest peacefully, come what may. We set out to sacrifice come what may.

It is an insult to the sacrifice of someone to present it as something they were forced to do. It is false that anyone can be responsible for what someone else does. Government or not. Anna is responsible for his choices. Not Kiran Bedi or Kejriwal, nor the government. He made that choice. If we suffer its consequences, they are because we love him. Let us not abandon our pain from our feelings for him as anger at government. When he lies physically weak, he needs us to enact his strength. We must not fail him by turning our actions from assertion to blame. We must not fail him by not bothering to understand the philosophy of the Satyagraha, because anger was easier than caring and hurt.

It has been a long and difficult day. I hope that people rest at night as well as they can, and think calmly and wake up with the moral strength it takes to see that the unwavering belief of Anna's that led this movement to this point is still his, not government property.

My hope is that Team Anna has consistently shown humility enough to admit statements made in error after reflection. Kejriwal has been angry and said things he shouldn't before. There have been retractions of incorrect statements after facts were reflected on. Ego never forced Team Anna to remain stubborn about wrong words. I am hoping that this is one of them. I hope that at this crucial juncture and under pressure, he still demonstrates that skill only Team Anna has shown among public entities - to self-correct with dignity.

I could have simply turned sides and asked for the movement to be stopped. But I believe in it. I am not against the movement. I am not against Anna. I even have great admiration for Kejriwal. All I am saying is that this recent statement takes the Satya out of Satyagraha, and doing my duty as a supporter - sharing my ability to see for our collective well being.

What is a satyagraha without satya?

I believe that when the going gets tough, and seeing clearly becomes difficult, those who can must help others see so that we move forward with purpose and not fall off the track.

So, when I see our ethics derailing, I am digging in my heels, and speaking up.

I will not step out of the path of Satyagraha, even if I stand there alone.