Monthly Archives: January 2012

India & the sex selection conundrum

Let us agree to go beyond billboard exhortations to ‘love the girl child.

 

What is the remedy to female foeticide in India

There is nothing to disagree about the thesis of the article. The girl child is precious and vital for the well-being of our nation. The girl child is not doing very well in spite of all that we are doing for her.

It is not just the poor girl child who faces trouble, but the rich ones too.

The authors, Farah Naqvia and K.Shiva Kumar, suggest that we need a

, a national communication strategy is key to a national policy response, and this must rest on acknowledging two things — one, behaviour change communication is a specialised field whose expertise must be harnessed, and two, the nature of reproductive decision-making in India is changing along with immense changes in the Indian family structure. A communication strategy needs to identify primary targets (decision-makers) and secondary targets (decision supporters), and reach them through strategic media platforms — traditional, conventional and new media. As for the core content of messages, a lot can be said, but for now let us agree to go beyond billboard exhortations to ‘love the girl child.’ And recognise that the girl will grow up to be a woman one day.

We feel, instinctively, that billboards are not very useful. But then, what is? How does one bring about change in culture, values and deep-rooted systemic ills?

 

How to get your book banned in India: a step by step guide

If you are an astute observer of the world like I, whatever your religious or ideological affiliation, one thing is obvious: getting your book banned is great for sales.

Lets face it, book-writers are an impoverished lot. Few of them (us?) manage to get any royalties and fewer still can live off them. In the pursuit of making a living doing what you love and in the process entertaining and illuminating people, all means must be considered fair.

Satanic verses by Salman Rushdie List of books banned in India

I’ve been a prolific reader from my childhood and like any other kid who loved costumed super heroes I’ve created a few of my own. I have also  dreamed of becoming rich and famous by writing many a marvelous novel (am working on the ‘writing’ bit) . But my novel has no guarantee of being a hit. Genius is not often recognized in its time. And so like any self-respecting indian parent ( the novel being my child, of course) I firmly believe that one must go to any lengths possible to promote ones child. yes, I am talking about getting my book banned.

After having examined lists of books banned in india like the one at centeright.in and reading pages and pages of articles written about banned books, I have discovered the perfect way to get my book banned.

Being of big heart, here is the formula in its entirety and explained.

  1. Write a book.
  2. Be very unlucky

or

  1. Be famous
  2. Write an unlucky book

Sounds simple doesn’t it? It isn’t.

Thousands of books are published in India every year. Other than the english press, we have a much larger press in Indian languages. The interesting thing is, many of these books that are published can be considered obscene, inflammatory, anti-religion, anti-indian etc but very few ever get banned. This is why I say you must be unlucky.
Here is how you go about being unlucky. Important!  You must do all the steps, don’t be lazy, book publishing is not for the lazy.

Step 1

Option 1

Write something that parodies one of the following or
introduces a less than honorable side of them or
portrays in a less than saintly manner

  1. Mahatma Gandhi or a Gujarati historical figure
  2. The prophet Mohammad or the koran
  3. Shivaji or other local historical heroes
  4. Sita and Ramayana
  5. Indira Gandhi or other scions of the Nehru family
  6. Official versions of the wars India fought.
  7. The indian independence struggle.
  8. Narendra modi (Speculative, but I predict a rapid growth in this market)
  9. Sachin Tendulkar (Speculative)
  10. Barkha Dutt /Sagarika Ghose (Speculative, I think the signs are there)

Option 2

Write something nice about

  1. Jinnah
  2. Pakistan
  3. Arundhati Roy or Maoists (Speculative)
  4. Sachin Tendulkar (speculative: if he doesn’t hit 100)
  5. Barkha Dutt /Sagarika Ghose (Speculative)

Step 2

Ensure unluckiness by mailing copies of the book to one or more of the relevant organizations.

  1. RAW/IB/CBI
  2. Shiv Sena or similar nationalist outfits
  3. Darul Uloom or relevant fundamentalist islamic organization.
  4. Govt. Of Gujarat
  5. Ruling political party or opposition ( no.1 will do, but just to be sure)
  6. BD/SG fan club pvt limited (speculative, soon to be formed organization)

TIP:  Prepare before hand. Start right now and write/speak/tweet about any/all the above, portraying them in a bad light. This will create the right atmosphere for when the book comes along.

Step 3

Be white.

Get your book banned in India

This is an important step, you must be white. Yes, white as in Firangi. If that is not possible, be an Indian who lives abroad. Or get major funding from abroad. At least try travel abroad and speak like “foreign-returned” people. Sure, indian authors have had their work banned, but the overwhelming majority of works that have been banned have had a foreign hand. We in India do not like the foreign hand except when it is giving us grants or jobs.

Interesting historical side-note: If you were writing in the near and pre independence india, your book would have a high likely hood of being banned if it was obscene. Because Indian people must not read dirty stories written by white people. Our own desi erotica industry does quiet a good job, thank you.

Someone has said about Bollywood that it is most important who discovers you, not what they discover in you. The same can be said about getting your books banned.

Laugh at me, but when my alt. history dystopian space opera that is actually a liberal critique of the essential paradigm of partially situated Indian identities which are canonical forms of Indo-Aryan contact, using dialectics of metaphorical thoughts becomes a runaway best seller and gets banned in India, I will have the last laugh. [hint: it will feature Mohammed, Sita, Ayesha, Modi and Gandhi in abstract roles during the Kargil war]

PS: Nilanjana Roy has done a time line of books banned and brought out common threads in the book banning reasons. Banned in India Part 1 and Part 2

The Cathartist replies to Pervocracy on Consent culture

Molly, the author of Pervocracy a fantastic blog about sex, BDSM, and feminism, featured Consent Culture recently. She talks about how consent is the standard/default behavior we need to work towards. The post is thought provoking. While we know that consent is a great way to equalize the sex equation, we still havent found ways on how to get consent into daily lives. She suggests some ways this can be done.

The Cathartist, a friend and editor of Gaysi: the Gay Desi responds to some of the suggestions and ideas put forward in the post.

 

A consent culture is one in which the prevailing narrative of sex–in fact, of human interaction–is centered around mutual consent. It is a culture with an abhorrence of forcing anyone into anything, a respect for the absolute necessity of bodily autonomy, a culture that believes that a person is always the best judge of their own wants and needs.

I am totally down with the necessity of absolute consent when speaking in context of sex. However, when the blogger (from now on, P) talks about asking my partner, “Is it okay to hug you?”, I am not so sure about such absolutes. In a separate context, I also don’t believe that every person is always the best judge of their own wants and needs. I’ll illustrate why, further down the article.

I don’t want to limit it to sex. A consent culture is one in which mutual consent is part of social life as well. Don’t want to talk to someone? You don’t have to. Don’t want a hug? That’s okay, no hug then. Don’t want to try the fish? That’s fine. (As someone with weird food aversions, I have a special hatred for “just taste a little!”) Don’t want to be tickled or noogied? Then it’s not funny to chase you down and do it anyway.

I can think of plenty of situations when a close friend or parent saw I needed a hug and gave me one. I felt comforted in the knowledge that they knew when I was down and out even without me having to express it in so many words. A few years ago, I got into a fight with a friend because I refused to eat the carrots that our host had prepared so lovingly. He thought I was being rude. Look, I have food aversions, but I see why people say, ‘try just a little’. It  actually feels irrational to dislike food that you’ve never eaten before. Especially when the person offering is so convinced of its deliciousness or perhaps have cooked it themselves. I am not saying you should ABSOLUTELY try it. I am just saying, it’s okay for them to be a little persuasive and it’s okay for you to say, “no”. No one says, “Yes, please. I’d like a tickle now.” It’s one of those weird human sensations that makes you giggle and laugh hysterically but you want to resist every time someone tries.
I wouldn’t want a stranger tickling me. But if my sister did, I’d be okay with it. Much of my disagreement with this article is that EVERYONE (strangers, lovers, friends, colleagues, parents, children, neighbours) is considered “the other” who must grant or request consent. We share different levels of intimacy with different people. And in the specific relationship between parents and children, I do wish my parents had forced me to train for a few sports. And I am grateful that they forced me to learn music and dance. As a 5 or 6 year old, a child may have no idea if he or she wants to grow up to be a pianist or if they would enjoy tennis. They might share a classmate’s chocolate milk and decide that they want to have it every day, all the time. That is the child’s wish. Should my parents concede to it? Should parents negotiate with the children? Maybe.

Consent has its place, no doubt. Establishing personal boundaries and space is important. But there are no absolutes as P’s description of consent culture outlines.

5. Ask before touching people. Say “do you want a hug?” and if they say no then don’t hug them–and also don’t give them any shit about not being friendly or affectionate. Don’t make a big deal out of it, just make it part of your touching-people procedure. If they say “you don’t need to ask!” nod and smile and keep on asking.

See, this is a fine example of the need to make distinctions between the different circles of people in your life. Different cultures world over have different boundaries in the context of physical intimacy. Just today, I was asked by yet another American about Indian men who hold hands. She found it strange, she said, that heterosexual men share that level of physical intimacy.

I am sure, my very young cousins would look at me quizzically if I asked, if I could hug them. I would also not expect that they ask me, before they slathered my face with a lot of kisses. I think P touches on this slightly, when she talks about renegotiating sex in the context of long-term relationships. But even among friends, sometimes, the best part of knowing someone for a long time, is the unspoken communication. Knowing when to keep quiet and knowing when to give advice. Knowing when to hug and knowing when not to. It is okay to take that for granted.

I would find it very caring and considerate if a new partner would ask me “Is it okay to do this?” or “Does it hurt when we do this?”. But I would find it annoying if s/he asked me that EVERYTIME. There are situations, where such consent is unnecessary.

11. Bring consent out of the bedroom.  I think part of the reason we have trouble drawing the line “it’s not okay to force someone into sexual activity” is that in many ways, forcing people to do things is part of our culture in general. Cut that shit out of your life. If someone doesn’t want to go to a party, try a new food, get up and dance, make small talk at the lunchtable–that’s their right. Stop the “aww c’mon” and “just this once” and the games where you playfully force someone to play along. Accept that no means no–all the time.

I am sure, I would’nt have tried half the things in my life, if I hadn’t been persuaded by a parent or friend or sibling. Like that time I went on a roller coaster. Or that time I went to a live concert on New Years’ Eve. I am not saying I have liked all my experiences. But I know for sure, that I dislike it for a certain reason. For example, Sushi. I don’t understand its wide spread appeal and I’ll never eat it again. But I tried, only because I was coaxed.

Beyond what’s necessary for their health and education (and even that touches iffy territory), I don’t believe in doing this to kids, either. The size and social-authority advantages an adult has over kids shouldn’t be used to force them to play games or accept hugs or go down the big slide. That sets a bad, scary precedent about the sort of thing it’s okay to use your advantages over someone for.

As a parent, it is a lot more easier to use one blanket rule because there is no grey; just black and white. “You ALWAYS ask for permission.” “You ALWAYS say no to a stranger”. This consent rule is exactly the same. It is okay to ask children to try new things. As children they are vulnerable and they look to parents to tell them what’s best for them. Of course, this depends on the situation. It is NOT okay to force children to accept hugs or wear clothes that they are not comfortable in. But it is okay to force kids to try their hand at Ludo or read a page of a story book. Sometimes, this “forcing” should be done through negotiations. My parents negotiated hair cuts (which I absolutely hated) by buying me a book for every time I had to do it.

My sister does not take enough care of herself when she’s in staying away from home. As a result, her health had suffered some consequences. When she visits, I push her to go visit a doc, spend some time on personal grooming. She’s about 23 and she has never done her brows. That’s her personal wish and I respect that. But I do insist on some hard-core heel sloughing and scrubbing and a real pedicure. And I know she wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t insisted (out of sheer laziness). Am I taking personal liberties? Yes. But I come from a good place and I don’t believe I am doing her any harm.

 

For more of  The Cathartist, try  The guide to understanding lesbians Part 1, and part 2, a hilarious exchange she Broom, the co-founder of Gaysi, had with a prominent men’s magazine.

Torture porn, brilliant children and radioactive silence: Links for the weekend

Gayatri Jayaraman recounts her trip to a Teach For India classroom

Journalism? These are kids who are not used to being told that their opinion matters, that what happens to them in life, in person, matters, that they have a point of view, or that others can want to know it, share it and consider it valid.

These are the true failings of our education system.

 

Kanchan Gupta talks about our national shame: the fate of the Kashmiri pandit

Had this tragedy occurred elsewhere in Hindu majority India, and had the victims been Muslims, we would have described it as ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘genocide.’ We would have made films with horror-inducing titles. We would have filed cases in the Supreme Court of India. Our media would have marshalled remarkable rage in reporting the smallest detail.

 

The Border Security Force: braveheart pornographers – SHUDDHABRATA SENGUPTA

Eight soldiers of the Border Security Force, hold down a young Bangladeshi man accused of cattle smuggling. He is stripped naked, hogtied and then thrashed. He screams in agony and humiliation. The soldiers act as if they are out on a picnic.

These are not the deeds of a few ‘bad apples’. The suspension, or even dismissal of eight BSF personnel is not going to make this go away. There is a clear pattern of authority between the torturers, some of them give orders, others act on them.

These are not wild young men on the loose, with no authority supervising their actions. These are soldiers going about their business. Perhaps it is time for us to consider that this might in fact be the norm.

 
There is no way, absolutely none for warfare to take place for prolonged periods without dehumanizing of the enemy. India’s security forces are one of the largest organized human rights violation organizations. This is the truth, and our shame. We have been at war with our own people for too long.

 

Vidyut Kale asks why there is silence about radioactive soil in Punjab

“Uranium found in 241 water samples” the headline could have screamed, but it didn’t. It made modest appearance and slid into obscurity, unheralded on the news site’s social networks.

We don’t hear, think or question these things, because our media carefully filters triggers to such debates. From being the first country in the world to set up a Ministry for renewable energy to being one that doesn’t question harmful ways energy is procured – be it fly ash from thermal power, radioactive contamination from nuclear power, or exploitation of Kashmiris for power – it has been a long way. There is pathetic little interest in sustainable energy or the environment in our media.

Shrek Comments and I reply. On Religon/Secularism

A reader “Shrek” posted a fantastic comment in response to my last post. It also brings up some things I should elaborate on, so I have quoted parts the comment and added my replies/explanations to it.

In response to  ”They know nothing about Muslims”

It is seen (empirical observation- can’t vouch, don’t have data) that most polarized parts are those with significant population from multiple faiths e.g Old city- Hyderabad, parts of Gujarat etc . Part of the reason I reckon, is that, when faced with people from other faiths, each one clings more strongly to his own and then it becomes an “us vs them” situation.

The only way to break this shackle would be to educate- not on faith, but on philosophy of each religion. Unfortunately, all of our schools stay away from such contentious issues. So, there is only imitation and social learning of attitudes- which let’s face it, have been highly bigoted (around the world) in the past.

E.g. When I was ~7 years old, there was only one other family with a kid my age. I got along fairly well with that kid and attended his birthday sermon (they called a pastor/preacher to their house for that). But, the day after that – his mother turned me away from their gate saying “you are hindus, we are christians, don’t try to be friends with my son, we don’t fit.” I was naturally disappointed, but most kids would imitate such behaviour thinking that is the right way.

Hotspots of communal violence in India are indeed places where the  conflicting communities form significant portions of the population. This however, does not automatically mean that the respective cultures know about each other, In fact, distrust, isolation and misinformation is also highly prevalent in these areas. Violence needs ignorance else education (as you suggest) will do nothing, right? look at other places in india where Muslims and Hindus live in peace in spite of large numbers – Kerala, Tamil nadu, Delhi etc.

I am not asserting that all bigotry comes out of ignorance of the other faith, but that ignorance plays a significant role, and that hate-mongering leaders (of all religious bents) would like to perpetuate ignorance.

About the linking of nationalism with anti-secularism.

Linking nationalism to anti-secularism and Hinduism is a much more recent phenomenon caused in part due to the association of those claiming to be secular with demonstrably anti-national voices such as Syed Geelani and in part because anything the conservatives say – irrespective of the merit of the idea by itself, is denounced.

The specific instance of anti-secularism as demonstrated by the derision to the word secular might be a new thing, but anti-secularism is most definitely not. The RSS was formed in 1925, various regional parties, all claiming to be nationalist – Punjabi, Tamil, Assamese- have been around for a long time. It also serves to remember that while Gandhi and his teaching had a strong element of Nationalism, Nehruvian Congress and the party after that has been less and less nationalist. This in some ways created the secular vs nationalist divide. BJP, as long as it takes orders from the RSS and projects itself as nationalistic, will continue to be considered anti-secular. Hinduism teaches pluralism, but secularism as envisioned in the west or as many of us understand it is not something the Sangh stands for.

One also needs to differentiate between understanding and realizing that secularism as perpetuated by the Congress is a joke and the new, systematic effort to malign the very idea of secularism.

Pay close attention to this

That brings us nicely to the final point I’d like to make- I don’t know whether you would endorse adopting the patronizing tone with conservatives if it was effective (and if the ‘problem’ really did go away). But, condescension is an almost certain way to evoke resentment and anger. If you really believe in liberal values and in their superiority over the points conservatives try to make – treat them with respect (the people, not necessarily the ideas). Civility is sometimes overrated, but is necessary most other times. Instead of addressing valid concerns, the reaction to most conservatives has been to reach out for crutches like “bigot, troll, Indian Taliban,” and treating them with general apathy (hoping the problem goes away) etc.

Missing is a sense of perspective and proportion and such crutches point to an intellectual drought. And just because someone otherwise bad supports a morally right act doesn’t make it morally wrong. It still becomes our moral duty to act irrespective of who else supports such an issue.

A counterpoint- is in order perhaps – The Uniform civil code, which implies equal treatment of all people irrespective of faith has been made into a conservative issue whereas it really is a liberal/secular one.

I could not agree more.  The typical reaction to conservatives, whether of the cow protection variety or of high intellectual caliber, has almost always been a one of condescension. As if not conforming to western ideas of liberty, democracy, secularism were a result of brain damage. (not that people with brain damage should be treated that way, but they are)

However, one needs to ask not just why liberals dont want a uniform civil code, but also why the conservatives want it.

He makes some more important points about the role of history in name calling in his post on CRI: Ideological Lables

If words like “liberal” and “secular” have become curse words for many, it is because, hypocrisy, duality and bias (bigotry in many cases), too obvious to ignore, have become rampant amongst those claiming to be secular or liberal. Intellectual consistency dictates that just as the burden of disowning bigotry was put on Hindutva movement, the same burden also lies with those identifying with liberal movements (or for that matter any such movements).

Or we could just ignore this and go back to calling each other names, using labels as curses, obviating the need for any intellectual effort and critical thought on either side.

Note: When I use the term “Liberal” about political parties, am talking about the left leaning, socialist ideology. I am not a liberal in this sense – as a casual reading of my blog will reveal. However, conservativism in India and abroad is usually associated with religious sentiments and social/moral protectionist beliefs.

What if Tebow were Muslim: Indian Edition

[quote style="1"] what if Tim Tebow were Muslim? He’s not. So maybe it doesn’t matter. There is no way to separate the man and the religion. Some people praise him for it, others recoil. When this happens, avid defenders of Tebow invoke freedom of religion. But as Tebowmania makes its way into politics, sports, religion and the everyday life of the mainstream United States, it is important to think about how we approach religion in this country. How we approach religious freedom in this country. Do we accept freedom of religion, any religion? Or do we accept freedom of Christianity? Salon [/quote]

Tim Tebow is an American football player who made news because he knelt and prayed before a game. He was made fun of by night show hosts and other liberal media outlets tried to point out the Christianizing of sports. Christian preachers across the US spoke in glowing terms about Tebow’s faith, and fundamentalists like Pat Robertson used the incident to blast the anti-christian bias in the liberal media.

Everyone agrees, though, that if it were a muslim player who knelt to pray in the US, it would be the conservatives who would speak derisively and liberals would just wait for a conservative to say something racist and then harp on about the anti-minority Bias.

The most important take away for me, however, was that for Americans, the right to make fun of people’s convictions was as important as having those convictions. And that the media believed that derisive/satirical humor was a great way to deal with public displays of religion..

Free speech, religion and secularism have been in the public debate in India of late. What began as a reaction to the stringent and draconian IT Bill later spilled into the realm of politics and religion with Kapil Sibal’s recent posturing over content that “hurts sentiments”.

We have a very different set of values than the US. We believe in live and let live. If an Indian player makes a public display of his faith, very likely it would be talked about in a respectful way. The commentators would say something like “and here is Tim praying before he begins, and lets hope his prayers are heard because his team needs all the help it can”.  Sure,there would be religious extremists of every kind to condemn it, but for the common Indian, used to seeing religious icons in government offices, public transport and even schools, it would just be something to respect about the person.

But the audibility of extremists is increasing.

One measure by which I make this assertion is observing the successful vilification of the word “secularism”.  This, was achieved/is being achieved by a propaganda techniques called  Name Calling. Repeatedly using a word in a negative context or with a negative connotation leads to devaluation of the word or the idea, makes people wary of it, and can lead to complete destruction of its meaning. Since no propaganda technique is used in isolation, combined with cherry picking data (related to card stacking) about how the congress has mis-used secularism in India ( it has) to garner muslim votes, the very desire for secularism is being challenged and subverted. Which (coincidence? ) is what the Hindu supremacists desire, a return to the “Indian” way of dealing with minorities (of which Subramanian Swamy gave a great explanation of).

If an Indian muslim player were to kneel in prayer, to most of this country it would mean nothing special, it definitely wont get him called names by mainstream media, nor would there be any one of significance speaking of it. There would, however, be muslim preachers who will use this as a message of  fervor,  and many more who would make comments about ” that secular player” doing “secular things”.

Here is the interesting thing,  Not everyone understands or even sees the damage that is intended or the religious prejudice behind the usage. What is most saddening is that many of them have deeply secular values and latch on to this bandwagon because :

  • The power of Assertion (another propaganda technique) keep saying something over and over, it will seem like the truth.
  • They know nothing about Muslims, other than the cherry picked data about violence, oppression etc. Most Indians grow up in areas where people of other faiths are not common. In spite of my having grown up and lived in 4 states in India, i have all of One Muslim friend. the rest are Christians and Hindus. My knowledge of the Muslim world comes from stories handed down in the family (mostly how we are better than “them”), the news papers and now, the internet. A casual glimpse through various sites that talk about Indian muslims will tell you that the majority of information out there is written either by conservative/fundamentalist muslims, or Hindus. The voice of the progressive, secularism loving Muslim is buried under a lot of noise.
  • Desire to be part of the “cool kids” ie. the  bandwagon effect . I‘ve been hearing about a Hindu resurgence for the last 10 years. I have no facts to show if it really is happening, or what it means, but in spite of that, i believe it. In fact, most people do, and once a critical mass of people believe in something, it becomes easier to accept more without evidence and easier to recruit minds.
  • Disgust for Congress’ behavior.  This is the straw that broke the camel’s back. It does not take too much digging to realize that right from the beginning, secularism was used first as a protectionist strategy and later as a vote banking technique by the Congress at the center (individual states show a different picture). With the exposing of how deep and wide corruption runs in India, and with the growing discontent with it, everyone who hates the “rule” of Congress is left with little choice.
  • The linking of nationalism with anti-secularism. Religion touting political parties have always also linked nationalism with Hinduism, and so with the expected rise in patriotism (money coming in, lack of progress, increasing corruption etc.), there is an inadvertant clubbing of the secularism-bashing with nationalism.

One thing that contributes to the bowdlerization of Secularism is the way the liberal voices in India handle the conservative ones- with a patronizing, disdainful tone. We think that these “fringe” elements will never have any effect on “intelligent” Indians and that “most Indians” would not believe such crap. perhaps its time we wake up and smell the rotting roses.

The end effect is that instead of developing a moral sense to look for real secularism and promoting it, we are moving into times when a religious alternative to secularism (which, clearly is an evil thing, right?) is being introduced.

So today, if Tim Tebow were a Muslim in India, the majority would cheer him, a small group would beatify him, but here would be more people and louder voices that call him a  sikular Indian   than ever before. These voices continue to rise aided by the concurrent  increase in volume of the muslim fundamentalist, and hastened by government policies that care only about gaming the system for maximum profit.

Is that in itself a bad thing? How did we become a secular nation? Do we have alternatives to western ideas of secularism? What is this secularism anyway and is it any good?

These questions will be part 2. thank you for reading.

Book Review- Transforming Capitalism by Arun Maira

Transforming Capitalism by Arun maira, review by Dr. Anand Philip[dropcap style="3"]T[/dropcap]he last decade has seen a rise in philanthropic businesses and big businesses investing in the society. The worldwide depression brought on by the wall street, stricter laws about environment, and the rise of laws about corporate social responsibility have contributed to this. There is also a growing awareness among businesses large and small that screwing over people and the environment is bad business in the long run.
Arun Maira, in his book Transforming capitalism, improving the world for everyone, makes the case that

  1. Capitalism, if practiced laissez-fair, is harmful for everyone involved.
  2. Businesses can and should do the right thing from a moral point of view when dealing with people and
  3. People/businesses with a lot of money should see themselves as custodians or stewards of their money and resources and so should help people with it.

Arun Maira is a journalist, for a large part of his life he was a business manager. Over the past decade, he has written in most of India’s top business magazines, as well as in the magazine Civil society about the various ways in which businesses can, do and should help people beyond the narrow confines of material profit. This book is a collection of these articles. This is probably why, though the book is divided into four sections, a clear progression or continuity cannot be felt in the writings.
This is not a progressive apologetic, this is not a case for marrying socialism with capitalism either, this is a cross section, through the writings of someone who has been in the field long enough to know what he is talking about.

What I like about this book the most is that instead of preaching or a prescriptive style of writing Maira exhorts. he points to what is happening, suggests gently and with authority that instead of formulas both sides have, what is needed, foremost is dialogue open, honest and constant dialogue. this behavior is quiet uncommon in columnists these days who are eager to preach, eager to repeat over and over how their ideas are the best and why the world will go to the dogs if they don’t follow their brilliance.

It would be foolish to think that leaders of environment killing or people-hurting businesses don’t realize that what they are doing hurts people, but a fundamental belief, a one in the free market ( and some healthy greed) keeps them and everyone down the chain chained to their course. They believe that the free market, which enables everyone to take part equally in wealth creation and ultimately in the pursuit of ones happiness without the state directing what one ought and ought not to do is the best way to eradicate poverty. And lets face it,free market creates wealth. Anyone who has lived through pre and post liberalization India can attest to this.

But what apologists of capitalism often forget to preach is that when it comes to creating wealth for the ultra poor, the trickle down effect is often like eating leftovers from a rich mans table. with our new humanist understanding of human rights, I don’t think it is acceptable anymore to knowingly let people suffer based on one’s belief in the market. The non-profit groups or the civil society who typically are the champions of the poor operate under a completely different set of beliefs. To many of them the idea of making profit for the sake of profit is abhorrent. And practically all of them believe that human beings cannot be trusted to do the right thing in an unregulated system. Their idea of regulation of course is not peer regulation but strict almost socialist regulation. What Mr. Maira does very well is explain why both sides of this divide need to have a sustained conversation that helps us achieve the goals of alleviating poverty,social justice etc.

To me this is probably not a book written for the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. This is also not a book for someone who has been following the social business/enterprise sector for the last few years. This is the book for the MBA student or the new manager, for the young Indian who wants to enter the markets but still stay good.

A recent survey showed that the worlds highest number of social businesses or socially minded businesses of the last few years have started in India. This is a clear sign that a lot of young people in this country are interested in doing good and Mr. Maria’s book can serve as a good starting point showing that it can be done.

The only worrying thing is Mr. Maira’s adoption of Gandhian ideas about wealth and businesses.

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