April 28, 2011

Justice Walker: what's all the fuss about?

I love the fact that humans have a judicial system; seriously, it gives me hope for our future that at some point we decided to set a standard for ourselves as a whole which is higher than a large number of us as individuals can achieve. And I’ve always wondered about the moment when we came to this dual realization; that we were capable of these higher standards only if they were imposed by a higher power and that higher power wasn't some God. I’ve always thought it must have been a moment of great clarity and honesty. It seemed to me a sign that we are spearheading our own evolution - into a world where stupidity and stupidity alone was the enemy. 
Which is why all forms of discrimination disgust me and the people who practice the same only serve to remind me that we have not evolved as much as I might like to think. That in some ways, our society’s growth may be rotten in its very core ideas.
But in 2008, the Californian Supreme Court did a beautiful thing; they passed an order that stated that the right to marriage between consenting adults was a constitutional right and could not be hindered on the basis of the couples’ genders. In other words, they made legal something that any couple knows - marriage has nothing to do with sex! 
In doing so, these justices struck down two California Acts; one of them being Proposition 22 (introduced in the year 2000, would I be wrong to assume by an ex-Military man to spite his gay son?) by remarking that race, gender, sexual orientation were all constitutionally suspect basis to impose different standards on people. 
To say that this decision by a State Supreme court had far reaching consequences is to belittle the giant set of balls it took for these judges to author the order; this was a legal first for the civil rights of homosexuals to the same extent ( if not more so,) that Loving v Virginia was for African-Americans (the case overturned the state's marriage ban on mixed race couples). Soon after they got various other State Supreme Courts to grow a set as well and lo and behold! something good was achieved. 
Not for long though, nothing good can ever be allowed to last in an election year can it? Nope, state elections especially are for stirring shit, so come November of the same year, Californians are rushing to pass Proposition 8 - a ban on gay marriages. So much was the hurry, that they basically proposed a re-instatement of the archaic law that had only just been struck down by the judicial system. Just right here one would like to ask- why should I have any faith in the American judicial system when the people are so stupid - or is that racism?
But then in the spirit of the enterprising country that it is, they gave me another reason to believe. 2 gay individuals sued for their right to marry and the same was upheld by a Chief Justice Walker. The decision I remember came out August 4, 2 days before my birthday and really I thought it was a sign from God, letting me know that there were still sane and intelligence-loving individuals left in that stupid country that they like to call Gods’ own. 
Now the trial was widely publicized (not in the least because the defending party was the Terminator himself) and almost every legal blog on constitutional rights was abuzz with details of the case. More so, Americans like their gossip right? They like to know what you wear to bed and what cereal gets your particular set of bowels moving, so not surprisingly even I, who had no idea who Justice Walker was before this trial, came to hear that he was in fact gay. The story ran in almost every newspaper in the world in some form or the other. Justice Walker never admitted it but he never denied it either. 
The poor guy, I remember thinking lasted all these years in the profession without being ousted and then I remember thinking - well if he’s gay, he does have a slight vested interest in the case. And frankly I then thought, ‘well at least he’s got the right bias!’ [thus proving that I myself am not as evolved as I’d like to think but if Dick Cheney’s hunting buddy can try his cases then who are we kidding about recusal of judges in America?]. 
Of course then I took this idea to its logical end and realised that by this logic, a Catholic or a Mormon judge could never rule on the matter, nor could a straight married man (and how many unmarried straight male justices are there in the Supreme Court?) and so perhaps even the female judges. Take it a step further and an African American judge cannot try homicide cases (sorry for the generalisation guys, statistics are statistics) and women should never hear cases about abortion. So I realised that my idea was a moment of stupidity that really couldn’t hold water. 
In fact there are actually arguments to be made for including a minority member in the bench when a minority party’s rights are being heard. Studies of the US courts themselves can be quoted saying in panels which contain at least one female judge, the male judges were 15% more likely to rule in favor of a sex discrimination plaintiff than on panels that contain only men. Being watched makes us fairer; this is not only the truth but the very truth that the judicial system is based on. 
All this of course, assuming Justice Walker wanted to be married, it could backfire if he was a commitment phobe; Jay Leno was quick to point that out. Yes, it was even on Leno but the opposition - who apparently hear the voice of God telling them everything else - did not hear this news. If they did, they certainly did not bring it up in court. Perhaps because they too realised the countless arguments against it, perhaps they were too embarrassed with the ridiculous arguments they were already putting forth in court- the ones they fought tooth and nail to make sure we did not see. Perhaps they knew that just like race and gender, a judge’s sexual orientation was not a valid ground for recusal or perhaps, they simply did not have the balls it takes to ask a judge head-on to clarify his sexual orientation.
For whatever reason they didn't bring it up, they cannot now say that they did not know about Judge Walker's sexuality during trial and as is obvious from the State’s declination of appeal that there exist no other valid grounds for appeal, so what has changed? That Justice Walker has come out in public (after his retirement I might add) and announced that he has a homosexual partner of 10 years? Would it have made a difference if Justice Walker had revealed sooner that he was in a relationship? Me, personally I think he should have revealed it; not because its appropriate (in fact it is the most inappropriate measure of a judge and I feel compelled to apologise to the man for my opinion) but because it would have revealed the hypocrisy of the opponents in one fell swoop. What exactly is the argument here - that a straight married man  would have definitely ruled different? 
Apart from negating Leno’s contention that he may in fact be a commitment phobe, that changes nothing. The rules are clear, if you didn’t bring it up in trial, you cannot use it on appeal; so take that you homophobic, unhappily married assholes who filed the amicus brief [pardon my french] - for once the system works as it should. Perhaps Project Marriage and the other private parties who are appealing Justice Walker’s decision should be more worried about the issue of locus standi - after all, where do they get off challenging another party’s right to marriage? how does it effect them in the least?! Or perhaps they are aware that this question will be their undoing and that is what all this hulabaloo is really about.  
Having said that and in the interests of not jinxing the proceedings: I’m knocking on wood.

April 15, 2011

Sorry affairs of our states (not) continued...

Just in case anyone else hasn't seen the newspaper today... A very good thing happened. This morning, the Supreme Court of India not only granted bail to Mr. Binayak Sen (details of his case have been discussed in the post Sorry affairs of our states) but also saw fit to drop the charges of sedition for which Mr. Sen received a life sentence. The newspapers have quoted the judges orders saying "evidence on record proves no sedition case against Sen. At the worst he could be termed active sympathizer of the Naxals"

Take a moment people, praise the lord because its rare when the democratic devices actually work the way they should. I extend my congratulations on a job well done to Mr. Sen's family, his friends, legal counsels, the SC judges who came through to make the correct decision, the EU officials who came to watch the proceedings and most of all, CONGRATULATIONS MR.SEN!!  =) 

I haven't read the actual text of the Supreme Court's order dismissing the sedition charges yet but the news coverage suggests that they have made some important remarks about the nature of evidence of sedition which will most likely consequence the outcome of Mr.Sen's trial in the Chattisgarh High Court as well. I will be expanding this post once I've read all the literature on the matter but that's later. Right this moment, I'm going to go have celebratory drinks as I'm guessing will Mr.Sen's wife, friends and legal team and as I think every Indian should probably do. It's a good day for the good guys ladies and gentlemen, cherish it!

Link to the Times of India article on this subject: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/SC-grants-bail-to-Binayak-Sen-drops-sedition-charges-against-him/articleshow/7987813.cms

April 12, 2011

Bleeding Blue? No, oozing green

Winning the World Cup isn’t enough, the cricketers of India are now likely to receive tax waivers on their prize money and other such bequeaths which our government has generously provided them with for bringing home the Cricket World Cup 2011.
Is this different from any other team and any other World Cup I ask? The prize money isn’t (though in 1983 the prize money was 20,000 pounds and now it is 1.9 million pounds), perhaps this isn’t even the first time cricketers have been given properties. What is different however is the financial climate. What is different though is this above mentioned tax relief. What is different is that we’ve all been played for fools......well perhaps that’s not so different. 
So that there are no misunderstandings let me inform you: yes, I am not a fan of cricket, yes, I do think the game is outdated or meant to be played by a group of lazy colonists while their delicate rosy cheeked women pick on cucumber sandwiches and darjeeling tea. But let me be clear: I am Indian, its impossible for me to hate the game, being raised in Delhi by a cricket zealot father, I know more about the game than I do about any other sport and I have been known to get caught up in the cricket fever when it’s in full swing (because lets admit it, it spreads faster than the common cold!). I went to Mohali and cried my throat hoarse to support the Indian cricket team, I waved the flag and danced around India Gate with the rest of Delhi when we won the World Cup. I did this because I was happy.. not because we won the game but because I watched the game unite an entire nation. That is the beauty of it after all. One nation, one colour, bleed blue!
Now...its been a week since and we’re still bleeding; this time we ooze green. Green for the cricketers who finally brought the cup home; green for want of funds that could easily be put to a better use than to give them exorbitant amounts of prize money. Where does this prize money come from we ask? and we’re told that it comes from “a surplus” in our Education Funds. Look around you, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to ask the question - what surplus money could we possibly have? Last I checked, we were a country riddled with political, infrastructural, economic problems that we could scarcely afford to pay for.

But I’m jumping ahead of myself. To begin at the beginning, let us ask, where does this money come from? Whose filling up the Education Fund that is so liberally being used by our governments, which in all honesty is not given to honor the sportsman but to get a five second foot into the door of a positive front page headline. The Education Fund comprises of money collected by our government through an Education cess, which is a tax enforced in order to collect funds for education - by the current Budget it is calculated as 2% of a Service Tax or Income Tax. It’s deducted from all central taxes. It’s taken from your paychecks, your electricity bills etc.

You know who could use a few rocket scientists? India! You know who could use any extra money that’s floating around the Indian Education Fund? the children of India; the youth of India; we’re one of the youngest countries in the world ladies and gentlemen and an alarmingly large proportion of this youth hasn’t been educated past the tenth grade level. For those who want to be educated further; our universities are horribly under-equipped because there’s no money to modernise; and terribly understaffed because the teachers are not paid enough. 

Still, I bet my writing hand that at least 5% of the people out there don’t mind that the Indian cricket team is being paid with that 2% of their paychecks or their 1000 rupee electricity bills (but at over 10 crores in overall prize money bequeathed, that 2% sure does add up , huh?) Further I bet just as Sheila Dikshit probably was, that no one would ask too many questions about where the money was coming from. 
Here’s something that she didn’t count on though: there is someone in her camp that’s blabbing. The Times of India ran a piece yesterday that let us know that the cricket prize money was indeed coming from a surplus in the Education Fund but that while the surplus was only 2.4 Crore, the total prize money given away is 6 Crore. 
The question begs to be asked - where did the rest of the 3.6 crore come from? Certainly not from Ms. Dikshit’s private funds; those are most likely squirreled away in bank accounts that the government does not know about and which the government is not taxing. No this money is going to come from other sources, from a re-structuring of the city’s budget. In short some project - it could be the cleaning up of the rivers, it could be the construction of better roads, it could be new school books for the government funded schools - some one somewhere is going to have to pay for this - and it’s not going to be Ms. Dikshit, it’s not going to be the cricketers. 
Ok it could have been the cricketers, perhaps the prize money received by the cricketers will be taxed? There is such a thing is Gift Tax in India is there not? But no, this money is not going to come back into the system that easily. Why? Because one fine evening, our Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee announced a 100% income tax exemption to Team India for its World Cup win.

The irony can escape no one because on the surface he trumpets reforming tax laws; he says he seeks to increase social spending and limit unrequired tax exemptions. So was it a case of cricket fever? A lot of us made ridiculous offerings in those first few overs after Sehwag and Sachin were taken out but this one seriously? Perhaps he really is the “Lucky Financial Minister” for Indian cricket - but the question hangs - for who is he acting? the country or the team?
The problem isn’t just central, various state governments have also jumped on the band wagon and presented the players with housing projects, plots of land; you’d think its enough that a stadium is going to be built and named after you but apparently not.
What this demonstrates is the endemic flaw in a democratic government  (apart from its inevitable slide towards corruption) - its need to cater to the minute by minute desires of the masses at all costs - why? because come re-election, it is the masses that decide its fate. Why they assume that masses have long memories but individuals are stupid has always baffled me.
So now let me ask one final question:  Where is the Indian cricket federation coming up with the cash money to pay the cricketers? Last time I checked they owed various cricketers over $ 6 million for the Champions 20Twenty cup.  
We’re still reeling from a recession that could have easily turned into a depression and lets not fool ourselves, we haven’t fully recovered yet. Yes, Mr. Manmohan Singh can rest assured that India is one of the only Asian economies that continues to grow at the just-about-acceptable rate of 6% but given decisions such as these that highlight our governments obvious disconnect with the ground reality of the situation and apparently every minister’s willingness to gain a bit of publicity at the tax payers’ expense - are we really going to be able to trumpet our success much longer? 
My solution: GROW UP! realise that the country’s cash reserves need to be utilized for bigger problems and in doing so, you will automatically affect morale. Realise that the cricketers’ didn’t just play for the love for the game and afford them a reasonable cash prize. Realise that they are going to bombarded with fan mail/ fan followings which in turn are going to result in lucrative endorsement offers - realise that they do not need the tax payer’s 10 crore. Pepsi/ Coke/ Adidas are lining up to give them much more and what’s more (in the interests of fairness) we as consumers are willing to spend money on the Pepsi/ Coke/ Adidas type products just because its got Sachin’s face stamped on it. Isn’t that enough? 
It’s easy to take the high road when you’re broke and very difficult to give back a fool’s money when he’s just giving it away; but I would urge the cricket team (I bet their PR team could spin this in their favour better than Ms. Dikshit’s will be able to in hers), give back the housing projects to the people who need them, donate the money to the causes that could use them; you and the rest of India (heck the rest of the world) knows you’re already getting paid enough; and frankly, while you earned our respect, our adoration and a consumer following for any product that you should now endorse: you did not earn these prizes; one does not earn this sort of money playing a game. 
To put things in perspective: In 1998 Amartya Sen, a highly respected, amazingly intelligent man who contributed a lifetime to the study of welfare economics and is an active civil rights advocate, received the Nobel Prize; the cash prize was (and still is) $ 1 million. Following this, in 1999 he was awarded the Bharat Ratna but no other cash prizes, or plots of land. You, my dear boys, played with a bat and a ball.