BEING A GOOD CITIZEN: THIS IS WHAT I WROTE TO OBAMA FOUNDATION

This is what I wrote in response to the Obama Foundation mailer on what “I think about being a good citizen.” And on what the Obama Foundation should be? Well, anything that can bring smile to the majority of this planet, something that other honest organizations working in the social sector are trying to do, irrespective of societies, boundaries and countries.

MY RESPONSE

What I am going to write here is based on my experiences in the Indian context and I believe it will stand true for any other society that needs large scale social intervention. India is slated to become the world’s most populous country but its majority is still poor and forced to live a life of misery, something that the government alone cannot address.

The basic needs of life, food, i.e., shelter, health, education, are still not on their radar. And how can it be when they have to go through the grinding of feeding themselves first, day after day, month after month, year after year. Everything else comes later.

We need to accept the ground reality if we have to bring the change here. The process to change a society and undoing its wrongs and malaise can only begin once we have this realization.

And the most important thing is – the government cannot do it alone. The society must contribute. And we must contribute. We all must feel duty-bound with the sense of ‘giving it back to the society’ for our very existence here – in whatever capacity we are. For me, that is all about being a good citizen.

On a larger and more organized scale, someone once had told me that in order to bring empowerment to the needy, one needs to be an activist and not a fighter. A fighting spirit is good but many a times, the trade-off between ‘fighting the system’ and ‘fighting over your way out of the system’ becomes too costly for the people you are fighting for.

An example will be apt here. Natural calamities, if displace many, are also opportunities for the corrupt souls in a system. You know there is corruption but your priority must be rehabilitating those displaced – and you have to work in tandem with the system – even if the system is corrupt. Your integrity and tenacity lie in how you can take work from the system. There is always the time to fight the menace of corruption later.

As always, committed social work needs a committed soul more than anything else, otherwise there is always the chance to drift away, especially when in India, where everything is so political that in order to get things done, one needs to be inside the system, knowing how to take work from it, keeping in mind the fine line between manipulating a system and taking work from it.

I believe this should be the story of every not-for-profit or every individual working in the social sector – no compromise with ethics – and no compromise with patience – because I think we just do not deal with the mindset or the behavioural change here only – but more importantly, we also deal with the exterior of a person – the society he lives in – with all sorts of good and bad people and institutions.

THE OBAMA.ORG MAILER

We’re so glad you’re a part of this startup for citizenship. Working together, we’re going to build a working, living center for developing the next generation of active leaders all over the world. We have a lot of work to do, and we’re going to count on your ideas to inform our efforts.

That’s why we’re asking you to add your voice today, and that’s why we’ll continue asking you to share your ideas in the months and years ahead. Let us know what’s on your mind, what good citizenship means to you, and what you want this Foundation to be.

©SantoshChaubey

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RIGHTIST, LEFTIST OR CENTRIST, YOU MUST FEEL OUTRAGED OVER GAURI LANKESH’S MURDER

A democracy can survive and emerge stronger only if it learns to get along with differing ideologies in a symbiotic relationship where ideologies, too, understand the importance of coexistence, be it rightist, leftist or centrist or so on. That brings accountability in a system driven by people while a continued streak of an ideology and its dominance, on the other hand, is detrimental for a democratic set-up.

And that is why everyone must come forward to denounce the dastardly act of gruesome killing of Gauri Lankesh, a senior journalist who epitomized what journalism was conceived as and what it means – a pillar of democracy and thus our societies.

Journalism is meant to give voice to the millions of silent majority in a country like India; journalism is expected to be an effective check in the wheels of development in a democratic society like ours; and journalism is designed to be a tool to spread not just information but also ideas in a developing economic like ours where the majority is still quality illiterate and under developed.

So, a journalist can be a news gatherer, an information disseminator, an activist or a crusader. It all depends on interplay of circumstances and yes, personal choices. And the ideological environment that he or she dwells in plays a central role in this shaping up of role (and opinion).

Gauri Lankesh, who never accepted government advertisements for her eponymous periodical to maintain her independence, was a fearless journalist who would speak her mind, right or wrong we may go on debating. But she was busy doing the kind of journalism that journalism expected her to do….something that we can say cause based journalism…irrespective of her personal inclinations.

If she was killed for that, we should see this as an ominous sign for the health of our democracy, the signs that have been here for long – with killing of journalists, rationalists, activists and whistleblowers like Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi Satyendra Dubey and S Manjunath and so on. The list is long.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 27 journalists have been killed in India in the line of duty in last 25 years. Half of them were working on corruption stories. And no one has been convicted in any of these killings.

The annual report by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is even more disturbing. It presents more comprehensive data according to which between 1990 to 2016, 101 journalists and mediapersons were killed in India. Globally, 122 journalists were killed in 2016 including five in India. In 2017 so far, 25 journalists have been killed including Gauri Lankesh in India.

And the conviction rate has been nil or abysmally low, organizations like the Press Council of India and the Press Freedom have said in their detailed reports. The Press Council of India, in fact, has demanded that the government should enact a new law to ensure safety of journalists.

Yes, we have a robustly functional democracy that is surviving well for the past seven decades but it has its own inherent flaws that have put shackles in its stride to become a stronger, mature and model democracy like America, most of the European countries and other western nations are.

They could travel to achieve so much because they learnt to develop an ecosystem where different ideologies coexisted and thrived, something where we have been failing. And Gauri Lankesh’s murder, like every other such case, reminds us again that we are still suspended in that mode.

Being a rightist or a leftist or centrist is not an issue. Every ideology has its good and bad elements and followers. The question is of balance and interplay of ideologies in a democratic set-up that ensures accountability in every level of administration and governance.

The countries that progressed to become model democratic states saw healthy development of economy and society because ideologies respected each other when it came to change of guard. Something that in turn ensured accountability and thus their growth and development, minimizing democratic flaws and autocratic features like corruption, nepotism, one-party rule, opaque systems, administrative apathy and so on.

©SantoshChaubey

LIU XIAOBO IS NO MORE: CHINA KILLS ITS MOST RECOGNIZED DISSIDENT VOICE

Liu Xiaobo, 61, a university professor turned human rights activist, who was China’s most known figure raising voice for democracy and political reforms in a country fettered in autocratic chains of one-party dictatorial regime since 1950 has died from terminal liver cancer while in custody. He was China’s leading dissident voice and human rights activist.

Liu Xiaobo had been a cynosure for the Chinese power elite ever since 1989 when he took part in protests on the Tiananmen Square as a young academician. China had arrested him four times – the last in 2008. He was detained in December 2008 and sentenced to 11 years in prison in December 2009 for inciting subversion of state power.

The world tried to sent China a message by selecting him for 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. China, a hell for human rights and political reform activists, responded to the decision saying the decision was totally wrong and unacceptable and started threatening countries to boycott the Award Ceremony on December 10, 2010. The Nobel Award ceremony was held with an empty chair representing him.

The power elite of the Chinese Communist Party moved swiftly to crush the every possible mention of Liu Xiaobo in China. They put Liu’s wife Liu Xia under house arrest the very day the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced its decision, i.e., October 8, 2010. She has been languishing in such forced conditions since then amid repeated calls by the international community to release her, a call that has got a renewed urge after demise of Liu.

China systematically killed Liu by incarcerating him in tough prison conditions and denying him the medical care that he required, something that deteriorated his health to life threatening condition ultimately. Domestic protests and international outrage mean nothing for China, death of Liu from terminal liver cancer once again proves. The Norwegian Nobel Committee has termed the death as premature and saying that China bears a heavy responsibility for it.

The 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Liu was first to any Chinese while still being in China and with his death in captivity, he has become also the first Nobel Peace laureate die in custody in almost eight decades. Before him, German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, who was awarded Nobel Peace Prize in 1935, had died in Nazi custody in 1938.

©SantoshChaubey

ARAB SPRING 2.0? KEY FINDINGS OF ADR 2016. RADICALISATION THREATS.

RADICALISATION THREATS.

MARGINALIZATION/EXISTENTIAL THREATS!
Events in the region since 2011 have demonstrated the ability of young people to initiate action and catalyse change. They demonstrated young people’s awareness of the serious challenges to development posed by current conditions, and their ability to express the dissatisfaction of society as a whole with those conditions and its demands for change. These events also revealed the depth of the marginalisation that young people suffer and their inability to master the instruments of organised political action that could guarantee the peacefulness and sustainability of such change.

FAILING REGIMES!
There seems to be no prospect of improvement in the ability of governments to create sufficient suitable jobs, particularly because of the decline in oil prices and the negative effects of the decline on economic growth throughout the region, not merely in oil-producing countries.

LOST OPPORTUNITY!
Today’s generation of young people is more educated, active and connected to the outside world, and hence have a greater awareness of their realities and higher aspirations for a better future.

However, young people’s awareness of their capabilities and rights collides with a reality that marginalises them and blocks their pathways to express their opinions, actively participate or earn a living.

As a result, instead of being a massive potential for building the future, youth can become an overwhelming power for destruction.

HAVE NO SAY!
The youth unemployment rate is the highest in the world, reaching almost 30 percent, even though five years have passed since the widespread protests demanding a dignified life.

High numbers of young people, particularly young women, are unemployed and excluded from the formal economy.

The research literature continues to highlight the weak productivity of education and training systems in the region.

WAKE UP!
Indicators confirm that the overwhelming majority of young people in the Arab region do not tend to adopt extremist or violent views or to participate in extremist groups or activities. However, this should not lead us to complacency, because young people remain vulnerable to victimization by groups that misuse religion to benefit from its pivotal role in shaping identities.

EASY TARGETS TO BE EXPLOITED IN THE NAME OF RELIGION BY TERROR GROUPS/FRINGES!
Disgruntled individuals are less prone to resorting to peaceful, patient social action to change their environment. They may prefer more direct, more violent means, especially if they are convinced that existing mechanisms for participation and accountability are useless.

From:
Arab Human Development Report 2016
Youth and the Prospects for Human Development in a Changing Reality

ARAB SPRING 2.0? KEY FINDINGS OF ADR 2016. UNEMPLOYMENT.

UNEMPLOYMENT
Most recent statistics indicate that two-thirds of the Arab region’s population is below thirty years of age, half of which falling within the 15 – 29-year age bracket.

The youth unemployment rate is the highest in the world, reaching almost 30 percent, even though five years have passed since the widespread protests demanding a dignified life.

Young people between the ages of fifteen and 29 make up nearly a third of the regThe youth unemployment rate is the highest in the world, reaching almost 30 percent, even though five years have passed since the widespread protests demanding a dignified life.ion’s population, another third are below the age of fifteen.

Their numbers exceed 105 million, equivalent to one third of the population. This is the highest share in the history of the region.

In 2014, unemployment among youth in the Arab region exceeded twice the global average – the situation is expected to worsen by 2019.

The most important challenges that they feel they face – 75.77% said it was the prevailing Economic situation (poverty, unemployment, price increase).

Corruption was a distant second with 14.78% going with it – but together they are over 90% (90.55%) – that means a lot and that tells why there is chronic unemployment rate and why the youth is forced to protest.

Unemployment rate among the young female population is 47%. The global average is 16%. Unemployment rate among the young male population female is 24%. The global average is 13%.

In 2014, unemployment among youth in the Arab region exceeded twice the global average – the situation is expected to worsen by 2019.

By 2020, the Arab region needs to create 60 million new jobs to cater to the rising number the young, working age population.

Young people are coming of age in a context of widening income disparities, increasing inequality of opportunity, slowing average growth and shrinking job opportunities. These problems are weakening their commitment to preserving government institutions and their desire to participate in a political world that does not meet their needs or their expectations.

From:
Arab Human Development Report 2016
Youth and the Prospects for Human Development in a Changing Reality

ACTIVISTS JOINING POLITICS: A WELCOME SIGN FOR INDIAN DEMOCRACY

“I have been fasting for the last 16 years. I haven’t got anything from it yet. I am ending my fast today. I want to try a different agitation now. I will contest against the Chief Minister of Manipur in the upcoming state elections.”

Another activist joining politics – that is always a welcome step for Indian democracy. On July 31, Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan, two pivots of the 2011 anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare, announced that they would launch their political party formally on October 2, on the Gandhi Jayanti Day.

Yogendra and Prashant are from the latest crop of the experimental activists who are joining politics after trying their hands in activism for a long period and we can hope that their experience would push them to cleanse the system as they claim and would deliver a politics that would truly be common man centric.

We can say it all began with the Anna’s movement in 2011. It was a massively successful civil society movement in India after decades that forced the government to take notice.

First it was Arvind Kejriwal and his group of supporters from ‘India Against Corruption’ who took the political plunge after they saw that their movement was losing direction and the government was getting an upper hand. Initially, Yogendra and Prashant were with Kejriwal. But later difference cropped up resulting in Kejriwal expelling Yogendra Yadav, Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan from the party. In the wave that began with Anna’s movement, many other activists from across the country soon joined the new political party that emerged from the movement – the Aam Aadmi Party.

That is a spontaneous reaction from the people who have been fighting honestly for the last many years – that is spontaneous with Irom Sharmila who has become a global icon of peace and the struggle for it. It is heartening for Indian democracy that the trend has continued and Irom Sharmila is the most notable addition to it after Arvind Kejriwal.

The world has seen the resolve Irom Sharmila has and so we can say she will follow her course even in the future with same zeal. She is yet another in the growing list of activists who are taking a plunge in the mainstream politics and that is a welcome sign for Indian democracy.

Democracy is a participatory process. Every citizen of the country needs to participate in the process to nurture it, to make it strong. Likewise, they need to participate in the acts to keep a check on the factors that weaken it.

A democracy is run by its political institutions.

To continue..

©SantoshChaubey

COFFEEHOUSE BULLSHIT?

Well, that is truly a post-modernist expression that some ultra-modernists folks speak out loud – every now and then.

I heard a character in a movie speaking it last night while I was randomly shuffling channels.

Coffeehouse bullshit catches your attention.

Because all that has been in the name of ‘coffee culture’ or ‘coffeehouse culture’ is simply not bullshit.

Coffeehouse culture has its connotations and nuances, and it has its relevance to the cultures in societies it has had its vibrant presence.

Historians say the coffee culture (or the coffeehouse culture) originated in Turkey around 14th Century and spread in many European countries. As UNESCO puts it – ‘where time and space are consumed, only the bill is in the name of coffee’ – the coffeehouse culture has had a great contribution in European political and cultural revolutions – and in European Renaissance and Enlightenment.

Like it happens even today, you pay for the space and time while sitting in a coffeehouse, spending some quality time, or doing the routine networking. You easily end up paying somewhat 10-20 US$ for two mugs of coffee even in many not so uber cool Delhi outlets. Rationally thinking, these price points are astronomically high for the product but you don’t feel so because you know you are paying for the ‘time and space’ there.

Back then, passing through years, and even now, coffeehouse culture has had that same symbolism – obviously with era-specific modifications/adaptations. People may argue that internet is threatening the discourse culture of coffeehouses.

Well, they miss the point here – internet is reshaping the ‘public sphere’. Its most relevant examples are ‘Arab Spring’, ‘The Occupy Movement’ and ‘massification of Guy Fawkes’ masks in popular culture.

Not all the debates, not all the coffeehouses back then were part of the lore. Same holds true even today. Debates will find their coffeehouses (or their ‘public sphere’). Willing folks will find their outlets.

Those who mattered – stood out and spread. Those who will matter – and those who are willing to matter – will initiate or join the conversation.

Internet has made the exchanges faster and freer. Communication can begin anywhere and its threads can be picked up from anywhere.

All this is not some bullshit!

Obviously, it has some crap quotient. But then that is an inevitable part of a commercial activity where people’s time means money.

Today, the coffeehouse culture is a global phenomenon in democratic countries across the globe – and in countries where the ‘public sphere’ has been crushed – and is being crushed.

Yes, expressivity varies – but then, that is the rule of the game.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

JNUSU PROTEST MARCH: THE EXPECTED CLIMBDOWN – AND IT IS FOR GOOD

It was expected to happen this way and thankfully it did happen this way – the response to the protest march called by the JNU Students Union (JNUSU) – that did not set the news agenda today.

And much of it has to do with the rapid climbdown the ‘Kanhaiya Kumar hopes’ saw – after his bail on March 3.

March 3 and 4 were crucial – for Kanhaiya Kumar to understand and act that he was not a fulltime politician but mere a student activist who had got people’s sympathy and support because people felt he was being wronged, because people felt that he and others in JNU were being victimized.

Newsrooms and the nation saw a surcharged atmosphere even during the breaking developments centred on Umar Khalid and Aniraban Bhattacharya disappearance, reappearance and surrender.

Being students was the significant brand equity every JNU student had when police, politicians and administration started making mess of a university matter. Their activism, ideological affiliation and sense of fighting it out only amplified the appeal. It worked well with the popular sentiment that tends to be with the people who are perceived as being victimized.

Kanhaiya Kumar and other JNU students lost these advantages after Kanhaiya Kumar started doing rounds of personal interviews and started making unnecessary verbal attacks that didn’t spare even the defence establishment including the Indian Army.

When communication goes on mass level, no one sees the intent but the words you ejaculate. The ‘Kanhaiya Kumar fined for obscene behaviour against a woman’ episode further added to it. Then there were additionals like talks of Kanhaiya Kumar slated to campaign for the Left-wing parties in the upcoming assembly polls.

So, a mess that had given a window, an opportunity to revive student politics and activism in India was being reduced to a mere political opportunity that could conveniently be labelled anti-BJP and thus could be dismissed.

Everyone saw through it – including those who had rushed to support JNU students. Certainly there has been a disenchantment and it reflected today when no national news channel made it a point to beam Kanhaiya Kumar and others while they were organizing the protest march.

It was third in a series of solidarity marches to raise voice for democratization of academic institutions in the country and was about JNUSU’s and JNUTA’s demand of releasing Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya. And sane, neutral voices want them released though their judicial custody was extended for another 14 days today. Hope, they get bail tomorrow when their bail plea hearing is expected.

But as the overall issue is important – that how some students of a particular institution were targeted and are still being targeted – beyond what should have been a justified punishment/disciplinary action meted out to them – so was the attention given to the issue today. Almost every news carrier carried the developments on the JNU protest march later in the day – with relevant pointers from Kanhaiya Kumar’s speech today.

Student politics and activism are imperatives for any democratic society but within the confines of academic environment. Yes, universities must be the first places for voices of dissent but it is the responsibility of everyone to keep the culture of debate healthy and democratic. And they must be within the Constitutional norms that run a democracy. You have to practice the fact that only your ideology cannot be sacrosanct – be it Leftist – or the Centrist – or the Rightist.

If you have to get engaged in fulltime activism or politics, pass the confines of the academic institutions first. While still being a student, it is not your job to raise voices, indulge in sloganeering and organize events to rid the country of this or that ideology. Keep your leanings intact for the time when you will be out in the open to take on what you believed was wrong and unjustified when you were building the activist in you during your days in your academic institution.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/