Why the NOTA is relevant

NOTE: This article was originally written for Glasnost, NLU Delhi’s Independent Student Newspaper. Kindly take out a few moments and check out the work. It is amazing.

The Supreme Court of India has in the past few decades notoriously acquired a name for being extremely active in the functioning of the nation. What we today label as “judicial activism” has become a norm for the apex court of our country. May it be creating guidelines or law of the land via judicial pronouncements or criticising (or as critics put it, ‘interfering’) with the functioning of the executive, the top court of our nation has become a rather overbearing guardian of the citizenry which seeks its doors for justice. Last year, in one of its yet another “landmark judgments”, the Supreme Court directed the Election Commission of India to provide the “none of the above” or NOTA option to voters. In a PIL filed by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, the question brought up in front of a three member bench of the apex court was whether a voter’s decision to not cast a vote, which subsequently resulted in the voter’s identity being specially noted by the Presiding officer, was violative of the norm of a secret ballot and whether this violated article 19 of the Constitution of India.

Ever since its implementation, NOTA has seen almost minimal usage. The average exercise of the NOTA has been roughly 4% per constituency(As reported in The Mint at http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/b6ZPsuUYS2G3fWR2KItpaJ/Is-NOTA-serving-any-purpose.html ). This coupled, with the fact that NOTA does not entail a empowering right to recall or right to reject, has led to a plethora of criticism and ridicule being directed in the direction of this rather forward looking step. This stems from a popular example that is widely used across the media:

Even if 90 voters in an electorate of 100 persons press the NOTA button, the poll will be decided in favour of the candidate who gets the maximum of the remaining 10 votes

Here’s why I believe that NOTA is actually not a huge waste but to the contrary an extremely vital requirement in a democracy as varied as ours. Firstly, I want to discard the over exaggerated example right away by drawing a simple parallel to a holistic and realistic outlook. Most of India’s electorate holds a certain opinion about politicians which maybe be crudely worded in the Hindi phrase “sab chor hain” . Despite this, almost everyone prefers a particular party, candidate or ideology over the other. At ground reality, there is hardly anyone who wishes to take his or her cynicism to extreme levels of deciding to not have any candidate rather than choosing from what is available. This is clearly reflected in the above mentioned statistics. But the essential point that needs to be addressed is that as a democracy, we need to give voice to each distinctive opinion, however small its number maybe. Earlier the procedure to “not vote” was governed by section 49(O) of the Representation of People Act which infringed upon a voter’s right to cast his vote anonymously or as popularly called, the secret ballot process was not being extended to its entirety as a certain number of voters were forced to disclose their identity and more importantly, the political opinion associated with the aforementioned identity. The introduction of the NOTA has solved this crucial problem.

Secondly, we can gauge the importance of the NOTA from the vehement opposition offered by the State to its introduction. “The government had probably sensed the potential of the proposal being upgraded to a ‘right to reject’ all candidates in the future, which would invalidate any election where the negative voting option has been exercised in over 50% cases,” a former bureaucrat pointed out when the government’s legal resistance had become public. The Supreme Court of India has constantly been liberal in interpreting the laws of this nation and has truly upheld its duty as guardian of the Constitution. The fact that NOTA is a part of a voter’s choice has led to calls for stronger options such as right to reject or right to recall, whose feasibility I admit, is still under debate, but the rather important caveat is the legitimatization of the debate and the increased realistic expectation of achieving it.

Lastly, I would like to address the idealistic aspect. The NOTA, like many things in this nation, is an idealistic and symbolic gesture. The entire purpose of this option is not to waste election funds or give leeway for anarchy or express cynicism. It is simply a way by which a voter can express his discontent at the candidates from his or her constituency in a manner that ensures anonymity and protects his or her identity. There maybe multiple reasons apart from the one mentioned here for a voter to exercise NOTA. One of my friends recently exercised the NOTA because the only acceptable candidate from his constituency belonged to a party which he believed wasn’t ready for participating in governance at the central level. NOTA provides the Indian electorate to express its political views in a more precise manner by essentially granting them the much needed abstention option along with the traditional choices between A and B.

Maybe it is time for the world’s largest democracy to regard the election process with optimistic idealism rather than crude cynicism which in the end, never serves a purpose.

Top 5 Law School Clichés (as seen by a first year)

NOTE: This piece was written by me for the 5th issue of Audi Alteram Partem, NLU Delhi’s college magazine. Attached below the article is a snapshot of the piece as it was published.

People this is the eighth post of a new weekly series called “Saturday Top 5”. I guess the title is self explanatory and anyway, it shall be on a pilot basis due to a great response,this will be a regular series . Here’s the last post of the series(LINK).Please leave your feedback about the idea and suggestions as well for the next post in the series

For a first year, law school can be an overwhelming experience at first. The unfamiliar new terrain full of endless possibilities with high benchmarks set by the senior batches both inspire and intimidate us. However, in the midst of this all, all of us start hearing stories. We hear tales of a particular senior invading the fairer sex’s hostel; we hear tales of a certain batch being the geekiest batch the college has; we hear tales of how a particular party went CRAZY and we also hear tales of Profs. Failing students to rejoice at their misery. However, the problem is that, only a few of them are true, and the ones that are actually true, are glaringly obvious. They become a “cliché” as per se, and here I present to you, the top 5 clichés a first year student at NLU Delhi sees, hears or experiences.

1. Tales of the IMS being a bloodbath

By the time you pass out from NLUD, the number of world wars in your history books increases to 7. The first two and then the 5 Internal Moot Selections one goes through. I haven’t had the supposed misfortune of experiencing one but as most seniors put it, it is going to be a “blood bath”

2. Everyone has a “caught with guava juice” story

Every senior you bump into has had one or more incident(s) where he or she has been caught, to put delicately, in a state one reaches after excessive consumption of “guava juice”. Dislocated shoulders, chairs stolen from Judicial hostels, they never seem to end.

3. Dominos on Wednesday

Yeah we are as rich as Richie Rich but all of us love to exploit the Buy One get One free offer. Proof, the Dominos delivery guy who is seen standing right outside the main gate,almost all the time on Wednesday.

4. The Gande Joke Guy from every batch

Each batch has that one person who will crack jokes which will make you demand death and an escape from this world just to get away from such sadness. For example, shouting “Room ka lock nahin mila toh Hobbes laga doh”

NOTE:I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT claim any responsibility for any actions carried out on you for narrating this joke to anyone including being thrown in the toilet for 20 minutes.

5.The involved in everything guy

From DPRP to Debating, from Legal Aid to late night philosophy lectures, every batch has that one guy who will do everything the college has to offer. Acad leaves are his pals and extra classes on Saturday are his bitch. He’ll know about everything that’s happening except the name of the Act the Prof. is discussing in class.

Andhon Mein Kaana Raja Kaun?

NOTE: This article was originally written for Glasnost, NLU Delhi’s Independent Student Newspaper. Kindly take out a few moments and check out the work. It is amazing.

With the Lok Sabha elections announced for next month, the political arena is heating up as each moment passes and frankly, all that has resulted is a mesh of accusations, assumptions, inane policy predictions and the unique “I may not be right but he is wrong” culture seen only in Indian politics. If you don’t believe me, just look at the options you have in front of you and you’ll be left flummoxed.

First, we have Mr. Modi, incumbent chief minister of Gujarat and the Prime Ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party who to his credit has the state of Gujarat to showcase, having run the state for 12 years straight now, loosely based on the ideals of the economist Bhagwati. Charismatic and a powerful orator who connects easily with the grass root voters of the country, Modi has his own anchors pulling him down. These include, but are not limited to the Godhra riots and the Ishrat Jahan case. Now I am sure that there are those amongst you who on reading the above statement begun shouting, “Modi bhai ko SIT ne clean chit diya.” The very fact that members of his Council of Ministers were indicted for crimes (for those who are unaware, I refer to the infamous conviction of Maya Kodnani), is enough to suggest his compliance in the acts. I refuse to believe that he had no idea what they were doing or that he had not authorised those actions. Moreover, if it is true that the massacre happened without him giving the go ahead for these horrendous actions, I have reservations making him the leader of our nation. A man who cannot control his own cabinet at the state level should absolutely not be allowed to take charge at the national level.

Moving on to our second candidate, the scion of the Gandhi family, or as he calls himself, “the outsider to the system who was forced into politics”, Rahul Gandhi. He has been a member of the Lok Sabha from the constituency of Amethi since 2004 and has held important posts in the Indian National Congress (INC), with his recent elevation to Vice-President being a key indicator to his importance in the upcoming elections. Although the INC has not declared him to be the official Prime Ministerial candidate (they choose to stick behind a new argument the party deems appropriate – a political party is no one to announce a PM candidate, the elected MPs shall wisely and democratically choose one. A nice argument which holds up in theory but clearly fails in practical application), many senior members of the party have already declared that they would be happy to see him as the PM. Considering the announcement by our incumbent Dr. Manmohan Singh deciding not to run for his position in the upcoming term, indicators point towards Rahul Gandhi leading the nation if the Congress and its allies come to power. Now here is the major problem which troubles me. A few months ago, I researched our honourable MP and came up with some startling statistics. Apart from being a member of the Lok Sabha, he has no major victory to his credit. He has not held a berth in the Council of Ministers. He has a shabby record of 41% attendance when compared to the average of 77% attendance put in by our legislators. He has barely asked any questions during the UPA-II term i.e. 2009-present. In fact, this is a polite understatement as the number stands at zero compared to an average of 235 per lawmaker. This coupled with his recent interview with the nation’s second PM (Arnab Goswami, of course) where he spoke about his views on everything except women empowerment and how the Congress brought in RTI (or was it the other way around?) results in a worrisome situation for our nation if he is chosen to lead the nation. I give him that he seems earnest and innocent but he seems to forget that it is his own party that he badly needs to fix to gain the good side of the populace.

The third choice for the nation is the ex-Chief Minister of Delhi, Mr. Arvind Kejriwal. With a vow to contest over 300 seats, the Aam Aadmi Party is now a reasonable contender in what now seems to be a Fatal Four-way. Using an anti-corruption motto as their ideal, the AAP started off as the underdog but the acts of their government in the short 49 day stint have been brought under question, especially by a major segment of the ‘middle class’, one of their targeted vote banks. It would be interesting to see how Mr. Kejriwal and his party fare in the next Lok Sabha. We may look forward to all-night-dharnas in the Parliament well.

The next and probably the last available alternative is the recently announced ‘federal front’ which consists of regional political parties such as SP, JD(U), JD(S), AIADMK and the Left. A motley gang of big-shots in individual states, this alliance currently commands a respectable number of seats in the Parliament and thus forms a clear alternative. However the issue becomes clear when we consider the Cabinet and the Prime Ministerial crown itself. Each party stalwart has professed ambitions for the top post but given the fact that it is a position which can only be held by one of them, choosing numero uno would be a mess. It is not that we haven’t seen this in the past. Each federal front government has collapsed without completing its term, and frankly, stability is something this country needs in its governance.

Election Candidates for 2014

So where does this leave us? Each option has its own pros and cons, but at the end of the day the decision we have to make is far more monumental than choosing from a list on a yellow legal pad. One may argue that choosing an option with maximum pros and minimum cons will be a brilliant solution. But this leaves us in a scenario where the elected head of the government is someone whom we is merely the ‘best of the worst’ while a far more desirable result remains unattainable. 2014 is going to be a major test for this nation. I end this article by repeating something that a previous article emphasized on. Whatever you do, please do vote. It matters, it counts.

The Hunt For Kohinoor By Manreet Sodhi Someshwar – A Book Review

Suspense thrillers based on historical theories and conspiracies seem to have become the norm these days. Buoyed by what I call the “Dan Brown” effect, a whole new lot of authors have emerged who practically follow the same plot- There’s a time linked crisis to be solved, the protagonists face either a rogue agency or a legitimate agency running after them, and all this time, the protagonists ( mostly an art expert or historian) are required to solve some ancient mystery or a puzzle based on the same, to save the planet from its inevitable doom. This book is somehow both, a run-of-the-mill abstract of the same concept, but interesting at the same time.
This 425 paged novel is Manreet’s fourth book and second in the Mehrunisa Khosa series. The first part, The Taj Conspiracy, was critically acclaimed. Unfortunately I didn’t review it or read it but yes, they were pretty good (from what I could gather from the opinion of the people whom I know who have read it). The basic story is that Manreet creates an interesting character who is an art and history expert who ends up helping Indian intelligence agencies crack codes which are based on historic puzzles or facts.
The Hunt For Kohinoor revolves around an impending terrorist attack in India within a timeline of 96 hours. Mehrunisa is reconciled with her long lost, assumed dead father Harry Khosa aka The Snow Leopard, a legendary spy in the Indo-Af-Pak region. The plans are hidden away and are addressed as the Kohinoor as Mehr struggles to search for it and find it.
I won’t give away the plot though I’ll tell you the small little things whose presence or lack thereof disappointed me slightly. The narration, although vivid, sounds bland and forced. To put it in other words, for a thriller-suspense based on a deadline of 96 hours, I could not experience the urgency or the building tempo in the book. Another factor that ticked me off was that the book had an idealistic tone for a major part of the narration, which just doesn’t add up to plot which is near reality.
To sum it up, yes there are some narration issues with the book, but overall, it’s a decent read. From what I have heard, narration is Manreet’s forte so I would definitely try and check out her other books. I would recommend this book for first time readers or people looking to foray into the world of reading or for someone who wishes for a fusion of Dan Brown, Steve Berry, Mathew Reily and the mysterious, affable subcontinent of India.
Like: Good basic plot, Brilliant mixing of fiction, myth, history and logic
Dislike:  Idealistic, Style of narration
Click here to buy from Amazon or Flipkart

Khuli Tizori,Khuli Bottle Aur Khuli Ladki

Often India is perceived to be a chauvinistic country where women are suppressed,even in a society which is transcending into a quasi-Western society. The incident on 16 December 2012 was just a case which was reported and emphasised by the media, but the incident was never to be,and should never be, seen in isolation. It was just the eruption of people’s anguish at the extraordinarily brutal,disgusting and appalling sexual assault cases this nation sees. Yet, this entry is not about rape or sexual assault. It doesn’t seek to justify anything and shall not justify itself.It is just a unique,different opinion I stumbled upon,and shall narrate further.

I was travelling to Bandra via an auto rickshaw whose number plate read MH 02 UA 6055. I, as usual had my earphones plugged in and wasn’t bothered in the slightest.”Aaney waley saal mein isse bhi zzyada chota ho jayega” muttered the auto wala in a mixture of disgust and anger. I glanced in the direction of his face and saw a girl wearing a red top and denim blue shorts.Admittedly she looked what people call “hot” but I also admit that I hadn’t noticed her until he pointed her out to me.I prepared myself for a chauvinistic lecture and was not disappointed.But for the first time,I saw the deep revulsion to women exposing their legs being rooted in genuine concern and almost banal fears. “Ladka ladki key paer ghoorta rahega aur wahan gaadi thook jayegi”. His concern was not for the fact that a girl was exposing her legs(as most conservatives).His disapproval was rooted in a sense of safety.How do I know this?Well for starters,he never mentioned anything that insults women although he might have been guilty of talking about them in a manner which on extremely critical observation can be termed insulting.Rather he actually demonstrated how shameless a man can be.

As we progressed towards our destination at snail’s pace,he actually pointed out a bunch of rowdy looking males in cheap formal clothes who were grinning at the girl like a wolf glares at a lamb. “Saley haramiyon ko dekho” he said as he pointed at them. Then he went on to tell me some of his deep life philosophies. “Mard chutiya hota hai.Uski niyaat teen cheezon ko dekh ke hamesha fisalti hai. Khuli tizori,khuli bottle aur khuli ladki.Chor ke saamne paise rakho toh woh haath zaroor marega.Piyakard ke saamne bottle rakho,toh woh piyega zaroor.Ayaash mard ke saamne khuli ladki rakho,uski niyaat tharak dikhayegi.” It translates to ” Man is an asshole. His dignity or his honour always slips at seeing three things. An open safe, an open bottle(I presume alcohol) and an open girl. Keep cash in front of a thief and his hands will obviously steal. Keep a bottle in front of a drunkard and he obviously will drink.Keep a girl in attractive clothing in front of a randy man, his soul is bound to turn playboyish”.

He was about to say some more but I reached my destination and I got off.I paid him the fare and bid him farewell,and for a few moments stared at the auto going off.He stopped ,picked up an aunty in a blue salwaar kameez who had hailed him over and drove off.


Dhen Chu Bhaiya

This is the tale of a little boy from the city of dreams. For some peculiar reasons, people always tend to have either one of the two extreme possible ideas of a metropolitan. They’ll either imagine a pos, rich family with a father who earns more than he can spend, a suave new-age mother who watches Gray’s Anatomy instead of the useless nonsense on Star Plus, a son who studies Marx and Pounds alcohol with equal gusto and a daughter who harps over fashion and and goes crazy at the mention of how cute the new singer of some band is. Maybe throw in a pet. This is just one of the images. The other is of utter poverty where people barely have a meal to eat, let alone have savings. The mother looks like one of the patients on Gray’s while the son has only empty beer bottles to collect and dispose for money. The only fashion the daughter knows is that of the mistress’s daughter whose mother was kind enough to donate some clothes. Every stray animal is their pet. Most people classify the populace of a city into either of these two categories. This is the story of a boy who falls into neither but somehow is a reflection of both.

I met Soham/Akash( he kept alternating between the two, so I assume one was a nick name or a name used by close friends or relatives). It was a July afternoon in Mumbai, and it was pouring cats and dogs. Like every quintessential Mumbaikar, I wasn’t travelling with an umbrella.As a rule of thumb, I always stuck to a wind cheater if I was travelling within 4 stations of my house, and an umbrella for everything else. Borivali was close to Malad(by Bombay standards) so I had continued with my boycott of the umbrella but it wasn’t a decision I was particularly enjoying. Simply put, getting drenched in the rain, even with a wind cheater on, and trying to hail a rickshaw and not get pissed with each one that not only ignored me, but zipped past like a bullet, spraying me with the dirty water on the road. Suddenly, the last rickshaw which had done the same stopped roughly hundred meters ahead of me. A little kid hopped off with a thela in his hand and started running away.He had a pink umbrella and was wearing shorts,brownish-khaki in colour and a faded gray t-shirt which had black horizontal strips. I assumed that he had travelled his path and I rushed into the rickshaw. Out of curiosity, I asked the rickshaw wala bhaiya about the boy. He replied that the kid had just got onto the rickshaw a minute back but on seeing me, had asked him to stop and had gotten off. As shocked and touched I was, luckily I had the sense to be courteous enough and call the boy back. After some cajoling, I convinced him to let me drop him till Borivali station, which lay on my way home. As the rickshaw started, I looked at the boy. He appeared to be a curious little inquisitive kid, with the oily, mushroom shaped hair that only poverty begets. But the most arresting detail lay in his eyes. His eyes were yellow. Not the the rich, golden, flashy one but rather a shade that neared a dull ochre. But the dull colour was compensated by the shine in his eye as he talked about himself, and his life. In couldn’t learn much about him from the brief conversation we had, but all I know is this. Akash is a eleven year old boy who studies in the fourth grade of the local BMC school. He was on his way to Dadar, one of the most chaotic and busiest areas in Mumbai to buymogra flowers for a religious ceremony that was to happen at his home. I asked him why was he travelling so far just for some flowers. The smile on his face didn’t budge an inch as he replied “Bhaiya wahan saste mil jayenge.” . I gazed at him, wondering as to when was the last time I travelled kilometres in a stinky second class train compartment to buy something that was easily available, just because it was cheaper. I quickly hid my creeping blush behind my handkerchief, feigning a sneeze and changed the topic back to his education. He told me he learns English at school, but while he told me this, his eyes continued to stare in the direction of my phone, which had my earphones plugged in. I asked him what he wants to do when he grows up, and he replied without hesitating, “use a computer”. Again, I was puzzled and on some further probing I was informed about how his school authorities had told him that only people who pass their 12th grade exam can use a computer. I resisted my urge to laugh and simultaneously, cry. 

Before I could ask him anything else, his destination had arrived. He promptly took out an old ten rupee note, and before I could refuse it, thrust it in my hand and leapt off the rickshaw, and ran away shouting something which sounded like a common cuss word. Astonished, I turned to the rickshaw wala and began moaning about how kids these days don’t have respect for elders( forgive me, I had recently turned 18 so I believed myself eligible to do this). The uncle turned and replied, “Nahin Nahin beta woh toh dhanyavaad keh kengaya” . It took me a minute to figure out that the kid, who was perhaps the most admirable child I have ever seen, was just shouting “Then Chu Bhaiya”. The rain poured on, and the city moved on. But that expression of gratitude is still stuck in my head, and probably shall be, forever…

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To(377)B or not to be

This post was originally written by me for a group blog I co-own named The Jalebi Chronicles.Check it out, it has some really good stuff.

Over the past few months, we have witnessed uproar due to the shocking judgement passed by the Honourable Supreme Court of India a little more than a month ago. I am referring to the black day of 11th December, 2013 when in a move that shocked the nation and the world at large, a division bench headed by the now retired Justice Singhvi decided to overrule a Delhi High Court judgement that had struck down section 377B of the Indian Penal Code which reads:

“Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to fine.”

In essence, it was a section inserted to soothe the attitude of an archaic society that has long since ceased to exist in 19th century itself, in an age and time when the concepts of right and wrong were a farfetched dream for the citizens of any colonised nation. Let’s return to modern day India. Courtesy some liberal judicial interpretations of the constitutionally sanctioned Fundamental Rights, we have numerous rights (rights which are not stated explicitly in the Constitution but are more inferred,) including the right to privacy. What section 377 B means is an absolute invasion of that right. Going by the logic of the section, if two people have consensual sex against the ‘order of nature’ in a private room and someone peers through the keyhole and lodges a complaint, they’ll be arrested. The state, in its moral stride has essentially decreed that all sexual acts except consensual peno-vaginal sex between two adults is illegal.

If we are to analyze the judgment, some factors stand out. One of the reasons offered by the Supreme Court to uphold section 377 B’s constitutional validity is that it targets acts rather than people, and thus is uniformly applicable to all citizens. What they fail to recognize here is that these “acts” which they seek to criminalize are inexorably linked to the sexuality of the LGBT community, whose rights are clearly being violated by the same logic. But again, a disgusting choice of words is seen in paragraph 52 of the judgment, which reads, “In its anxiety to protect the so-called rights of LGBT persons…” The degrading of the community and its rights just because of its existence as a minority is shocking. Furthermore, the court also maintains that the insertion of the section forming the basis of harassment and blackmail only warrants for an amendment to the law by the legislature and does not make the section ultra vires. To cap it off, the judgment laid forth a political challenge of sorts when it suggested that an alternative could be an act by the legislature to delete the section in contention.

I refuse to dwell on the ramifications that this decision will hold for the future of politics in our country. All I will say is that I am shocked; shocked and disappointed. The upholder of the nation’s fundamental rights has failed the nation. In an ironic maneuver, a judgment has turned citizens into criminals. Protest all you will, but the truth of the matter is this: at the bottom of all our hearts, we will be left with just one painful thought, and this will be the collective ideology of us all: “On 11th December 2013, the Indian Judiciary failed its duties and principles. It failed its philosophy… It failed you and me. But above all, it failed itself.

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