Year 2013: When 'zor ka jhatka dheere se laga!'
Daijiworld Media Network
The year 2013 seems to have come and gone in the blink of an eye, and here we are already welcoming the new year with our recycled hopes, dreams and resolutions. The following article, however, is not intended to turn back the wheel of time and take you through a chronology of events that shaped the year, rather it is an attempt to pinpoint at some of the events that went against the stereotypical notions and ideas that normally shape our society.
Some of the news that hit headlines this year, issues and happenings that dominated prime time on news channels and became matters of much public debate were those that literally shook the very foundations of our beliefs. A few of them shocked us while others dawned on us slowly and steadily, but all of them evoked mob euphoria and gave us much fodder for Facebook and drawing room discussions. For sure, there was a never a dull moment on prime time.
Be it politics, sports or the institutions we hold in high esteem, each spectrum saw a change that seemed like a flood whenever it came. It changed the geography of our thought process and created a moment that was, at least in some cases, historical. The year 2013 will be remembered for many reasons, and though the world did not end with 2012 as it had been popularly predicted, the year we are bidding farewell to was in some ways an epoch of sorts, where one saw the beginning of new hopes, end of some dreams and reaffirmation of two unchangeable truths - that no man or man-made institution is infallible, and in the same measure, no goal is too high for the persistent seeker.
'Sweeping' change in politics
Perhaps the biggest change we saw in the country in 2013 was the unprecedented rise of Arvind Kejriwal, his Aam Aadmi Party and the symbolic broom they brandished in Delhi, sweeping away Congress at one shot. Some may be tempted to call it beginner's luck, but even it ends up so, there can be no doubt that he was the best thing that happened to Indian politics in a long time. The Aam Aadmi Party brought in a paradigm shift, forcing run-of-the-mill politicians to sit up and take notice and sending out a clear message that politics was no more a blame-game that Congress, BJP and other parties had made out to be all these years.
Arvind Kejriwal was faced with the mammoth task of mobilising the people who were not used to getting a third choice in the form of a poltical party. His break-up with Anna Hazare and subsequent entry into politics made it tougher for him, as he had the additional task of proving to the people that he was not just another ambitious politician with his eye on power and hand in people's pockets. His principles were questioned and his intentions doubted. But instead of stopping in his tracks to explain himself to his detractors, he went directly to the people as Anna had done, and the educated voter of Delhi welcomed him with both arms. AAP may not have won with a majority, but for the first time the people of India saw a glimmer of hope for a new dawn in politics. For the first time, the aam aadmi truly felt part of the democratic process, where his role did not simply end at getting the finger inked. And for the first time, the aam aadmi not only witnessed his leader taking oath publicly, but even became an integral part of the process.
Kejriwal infused new blood into politics, and for Delhi at least, it was as good as a blood transfusion that removed wornout cells and replaced them with new. Most of the younger politicians we see in India today are the ones riding on their families' political weightage. From Rahul Gandhi to Sachin Pilot to Jyotiraditya Scindia, or for that matter even Harsha Moily now, they have all had it easy. But here's a band of young ministers who have no experience or political godfathers, but have loads of courage, are educated and professionals in different fields. Think of it - a 26-year-old woman, a former journalist, is a minister now. Indeed, politics at the highest level is no more the privilege of senior citizens.
To become the CM of Delhi at first shot is no joke, and to call it a flash in the pan would be too cruel. After all, Arvind Kejriwal did defeat a woman who had occupied the Delhi throne for a good 15 years. And the common observation in social networking sites is that one AK (Arvind Kejriwal) has donned the role of 'Nayak' played by another AK (Anil Kapoor). The next six months will be the most trying and testing times for AAP, but whether they deliver their tall promises or not, Kejriwal and his band of merry men and women have definitely gone beyond the tiresome communal and corrupt politics of hatred, and instead focused on the buzz word 'change'. They have a long way to go before making their presence felt in the country at large, but for sure, Congress, BJP and other parties will be forced to think of new strategies this time, strategies that are not a re-run of building the Ram Mandir or raking up Godhra riots.
Meanwhile, Congress suffered a drubbing in four states, but made a strong comeback in Karnataka. In Udupi, the party wrested power from the BJP after a long wait, and quite a sensational battle it was too, with Raghupati Bhat finding himself in the middle of a sleaze video scandal. It became a momentous occasion for the twin coastal districts when four of our MLAs were sworn in as ministers. The sad part for Mangalore, though, is that we are ending the year without a mayor, because of which development at the city level has taken a beating.
Up above the world so high!
November 5, 2013 marked a new milestone for the country, and unfortunately enough, it was also another instance of our innate skill at creating controversy out of everything. ISRO launched the Mars Orbiter Mission, thus heralding a new chapter in the country's space research programme. As a nation we took a giant leap forward and engraved our name alongside the world's most advanced countries.
India became the first Asian country and only the fourth nation in the world to launch an inter-planetary space mission, and all this at a mere Rs 450 crore. The world applauded our scientific achievement and so did our leaders and countrymen.
But even before the spacecraft could clear the earth's atmosphere, dissenting voices were heard, including from former ISRO chairman Madhavan Nair who termed it an 'utter nonsense' and social activist-writer Harsh Mander who said it showed a 'remarkable indifference to the dignity of the poor'. But then, Rs 450 crore is not a huge amount by any means if one compares the cost of such missions in other countries, and moreover, in a country where scamsters, politicians and bureacrats have swallowed up many times that amount, the Mars Mission seems every bit its money's worth. It is not just a matter of pride; in the larger context, if we do not invest in science and research, our scientists will simply go to other nations and prosper there, as is already happening, while we continue to complain. As a friend put it, "ISRO's Mars mission is the cheapest so far, just Rs 450 crore, that is Rs 12 per km (Earth to Mars) which is lower than the local auto fare in Mangalore".
He came, he played, he conquered
My earliest memories of watching cricket as a child, the later ones when I really started to understand and enjoy the game, and the recent ones when I watched solely to see only one man in action - all of these are centred around only one name - Sachin Tendulkar. The man who conquered every peak in the sport retired in November, closing an illustrious and squeaky clean career that lasted nearly a quarter of a century.
And what a retirement it was! A carnival no less, a farewell of a magnitude unprecedented in the game of cricket. The entire country came to a halt to watch the maestro play those magical shots for one last time, and rose on its feet to salute the man who had carried our pride on his shoulders for 24 years. He delivered his final adieu to the game with a humility that only made him greater. His farewell address at the Wankhade was much more than a personal note of thanks - it was a discourse that reaffirmed the family values we Indians hold so close to our hearts. He represented India for over two decades, but at that moment when the whole world watched him, he symbolised an India that takes pride in its values and in its culture. At that moment, he was the proud and dutiful son of a motherland he had served so admiringly well. His critics were plenty, and ironically, the man who wore patriotism on his sleeve was often branded as a 'jinx' whose century in a match would 'invariably' mean a loss to the team. A country of superstitions that we are, some of us were more than happy to disregard all his centuries that had won matches for India and project the blame on an unreasonable figment of imagination. While most cricketers would have adversely reacted to all the criticism heaped on him, Sachin stood tall, rising above all his detractors and, in his own words, let his bat do all the talking.
As Sachin took his last lap at the Wankhade, a victory lap of one who had nothing left to conquer, it was a moment of transition for Indian cricket. It was a point at which Indian cricket moved to a post-Tendulkar era, it was as if the head of the family had embarked on a long journey, never to return. It was the handing over of a legacy to the younger generation of cricketers, a legacy not just of Tendulkar alone, but of an entire era, for he was last of the giants of Indian cricket to say goodbye, after Saurav Ganguly, V V S Laxman, Rahul Dravid, and if I may add, Anil Kumble. A new journey thus began for Indian cricket.
But how did we repay the man who had entertained us for so long? As in everything else, we chose to bring politics into the Bharat Ratna award the government announced for him, and chewed him to the extent that a lawyer even filed a case to blemish his clean image. Whatever be the government's intentions, Tendulkar did not deserve to be at the receiving end of such controversies.
Crime and punishment
A double murder mystery that baffled an entire country for five long years finally came to a conclusion towards the end of 2013. Unlike most, or perhaps all other cases, we did not know why Rajesh and Nupur Talwar were convicted and sentenced to life for killing their teenage daughter Aarushi and servant Hemraj, until the copy of the judgement order was made public. Lots has been already talked about and debated in the case, so I shall not repeat the nitty gritty here. But I do wish to point out other implications considering that parents were found to be guilty.
If Sachin Tendulkar in his farewell speech upheld the values that Indian parents are known to inculcate in their children, the Talwars shocked the nation with their utter insensitivity with the brutal murder of their only child. Honour killings are no rarity, but here was one instance of a supposed act of honour killing, as per the CBI, that happened in a family of dentists who were said to be modern in their outlook. The question that troubled the nation's conscience was how could parents kill their own daughter and even have the heart to clean up the scene of crime while their daughter lay lifeless? How is it that being parents they never admitted their guilt for five long years, and continue to remain in denial? Facts of the case aside, it is the emotional and psychological aspects of the case that puzzle the sane mind. Do the Talwars represent the deterioting values of society and family life? On the hindsight, what honour did they save by getting jailed for the crime? On the other hand, it is no secret that the police as well as the CBI botched up the investigation to such an extent that nailing the culprit with direct evidence became impossible for the court. At the same time, the Talwars on their part have done little to prove their innocence other than accusing the investigating authorities of framing them.
A landmark in our judicial system was achieved when four of the perpetrators of the horrid December 16, 2012 Delhi gang-rape case were sentenced to death just nine months after the incident. What did not go well with the majority of the populace was the fact that the juvenile who was said to be the most brutal among the six was given the least punishment, simply because he was a mere six months away from turning 18 at the time of the crime. The question we need to ask is, do perpertrators of such brutal crimes, regardless of age unless they are very young, deserve to be let off with a measly punishment? If they can commit such crimes at the age of 17, can just three years of correctional home change them for life? Do they deserve to be given a second chance at all? Human rights activists would say yes, but if the same person, after three years of correctional home commits a similar crime again, will the activists take responsibility for his action?
The Delhi gang-rape case resulted in the amendment of the Indian Penal Code with stricter laws against rape and crimes against women. Special fast track courts were set up. But it was not this case alone that awakened us. Closer home, the gang-rape of a Manipal student followed by sexual assault on a four-year-old, again in Manipal shocked the coastal region. The gang-rape case proved to be a week-long cat-and-mouse drama between the police and the accused, and while both Manipal cases are still in the nascent stages, it is hoped that justice would prevail without unncessary delay in the first few months of 2014.
In another welcome judgement, notorious criminal Mohan Kumar, popularly known as Cyanide Mohan was sentenced to death in three cases of murder, out of the 20 he was charged in. In all the 20 cases, he lured innocent unmarried women from poor families, and after taking them to another district in the pretext of job interview, he would rape them and kill them by giving cyanide. From 2005 to 2009, he committed a shocking number of ruthless murders, and still had audacity of defending himself in the court. While the death penalty is a signal to other criminals, the entire case is a lesson to women not to fall prey to strangers. We can demand stricter laws and blame men for objectifying the female body, but first and foremost, the safety of women lies in their own hands.
Mangalore was in the limelight for another reason this year - for its alleged terrorist links on two separate occasions. The one concerning Indian Mujahideen co-founder Yasin Bhatkal is well-known, but this time we heard of another connection, that with Aysha Banu from Panjimogeru. Her sudden arrest along with her husband Zubair by the Bihar police created a sensation and media was ripe with reports of her links with Patna blasts, but at the end of it, the police said that their arrest was more to do with a hawala scandal linked to Pakistan and there were ultimately not charged with terror links.
The year ended on sad note for Mangalore when two students were allegedly kidnapped, forced into having sex, videographed and blackmailed. While the girl's courage in going to the police through a lawyer was commendable, and so also the quick action by the police in arresting the accused, it is still rattling that something so shocking could happen in our own city. It would be no wonder if more such incidents come to light in future, in fact, one hopes that girls and boys who fall into such traps do come out with a positive attitude so that criminals can no longer rest easy. At the same time, the society too should give moral support to the victims and guard from being judgemental.
The hunter hunted, the judiciary judged
A media trial on a person from their fraternity was something unexpected, but that is what happened in the case of Tarun Tejpal, the flamboyant and now the ex-editor of Tehelka. True to the name of the publication he ran for a decade, Tejpal's nosedive from fame to shame was a sensational drama occupying the prime time slot. The media which often acts as the keeper of the country's conscience, the self-appointed investigator, prosecutor and judge all rolled into one, found itself at crossroads when Tejpal was accused of sexually assaulting a junior colleague. While some in the media restrained themselves from going overboard, others pounced on Tejpal as if to prove a point that media was still as spotless as ever and a violator from its fraternity would not be spared. The managing editor Shoma Chaudhary too was witch-hunted for the so-called delay in providing justice to the victim, to the point that she was forced to resign. While the victim of course deserves every bit of sympathy and justice for the ordeal she had to suffer, the media seemed to have forgotten that there was a judicial system in the country too, and the person in question was not a proven criminal by any means.
The country delighted in giving Tejpal a dose of his own medicine. A champion of sting operations, Tejpal was hounded by the BJP, whose activists went as far as to vandalise Shoma Chaudhury's name plate at her residence. It was a moment when media was shown a mirror, but unfortunately, most refused to look into it and instead directed it at their cameras and ricocheted the blinding light on Tejpal and and Shoma alone. It was also a moment of truth for the media that places itself on a pedestal - truth that it is after all run by humans, and humans are far from being infallible, even if they happen to be at the highest level of the heirarchy.
At around the same time, in fact just before the Tejpal trial, came another shocker when a law intern accused former Supreme Court judge A K Ganguly of sexually harassing her. All of a sudden the nation found itself asking if our faith in the judiciary was justified. Justice Ganguly stood steadfast in his denial of the charges, and argued that he was not given a fair chance to explain himself. Now, if a former SC judge has to say that, what about us ordinary citizens? And while Shoma Choudhary was targeted for not having a committee in place to deal with the sexual assault case, the same seemed to be lacking in judiciary itself, which is why the law intern said that she chose to express herself in a blog than going straight to the police first. At one shot, we had two of the highest institutions in the country mired in scandals of the worst kind. It was a rape of our belief, so to speak.
The above incidents are in no way a complete list of the major happenings of the year 2013. As said at the beginning, this article is only glimpse of those handful of events that in some way or the other marked a new beginning, an end or a changed our outlook to some extent. There were lot many headlines that garnered attention during the course of the year, like the Muzaffarnagar riots, the rise of Narendra Modi to national importance, the Uttarakhand deluge that destroyed the state, and in our hometown, the opening of the cargo complex at Mangalore International Airport in March, the rise in cattle thefts and also repeated incidents of smuggling at Mangalore airport that grabbed headlines throughout the year until the very end.
The year 2014 would be decisive as far as politics is concerned. In about six months we would have a new government at the centre and the months preceding the elections would be anything but dull. A lot more drama is in store for the citizens of this country, but here's hoping that the year would pass on peacefully and bring all of us closer together.
Happy New Year!