Of Cabbages and Kings

January 6, 2009

Menon on Mumbai

Filed under: Across the Universe — Tags: , , , — Chinmayi @ 12:58 am

Meena Menon has written an excellent account (which I found via Law and Other Things) of the period in which Mumbai was attacked. I rarely make it  to the end of news reports on the Mumbai tragedy these days. Most authors seem to explore the same tired themes and offer what have now become familiar images. This piece is different. It took me back to Nariman point, to stand among the people of Mumbai. Not just the heroes, furious people or tragedy-stricken people but All the people: the fascinating mix that will save lives, mistake gunfire for domestic sounds, bring popcorn along to see the “live action” unfold, jog on Marine Drive while there are terrorists in the Trident and protect their guests even in the midst of the most frightening events they have ever seen. Excerpts:

At first, many had thought the firing was firecrackers, and so had not thought of escape. A lady whose husband had been killed in the firing inside said, in an interview much later, that the gunshots had sounded like chana spilling on the ground…

A bald tourist in a pink silk bathrobe was being pestered for interviews. His face blackened by soot, he was clearly in a state of panic, trying his best not to speak. Still the journalists persisted. He had run down the fire escape, more than 20 floors…

In the high drama that was captured moment by moment on live TV at the Taj, the Oberoi and Nariman House, people somehow forgot Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. The stories of death and disaster from the historic landmark became known only later, but they were no less traumatic. An announcer who cleared the suburban concourse saved many lives; a motorman who was able to keep his wits suggested the announcement; a railway policeman who fired at the attackers with an outdated rifle – these and other stories of alertness and caring came later. In the rush to cover the siege, we had all but forgotten that 56 people were killed in that railway station, named after Queen Victoria and renamed after Maharashtra’s most famous king.

The two armed policemen who had shot another attacker, who was driving a hijacked Skoda, had never before fired their 9 mm pistols. One policeman trying to grapple with the captured Kasab did not realise that the gunman had an AK-47 along his prostrate body, and died after taking five bullets.”

I wouldn’t miss this article if I were you.

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December 27, 2008

Confessions

Filed under: Across the Universe, Law — Tags: , , , , , — Chinmayi @ 1:24 am

The better half and I were discussing the non-exclusiveness of our profession recently. People leave doctors to medicine, researchers to biotechnology and engineers to electronics but everybody has an opinion on the law. While this is certainly a desirable tendency in a democracy, the opinions come shaded, colour-coded almost, according to how informed the opiner is. And this applies to both lawyers and “lay-people” (the nasty patronising epithet that lawyers are taught to use for non-lawyers in law schools so they can feel a little more special) – a badly informed lawyer will come up with exactly the same kind of silly nonsense as anybody else…which does the beg the question of what the lot of us spend all our time studying but I’m going to swerve around that little issue today and move on to my pitch for the day.

One very popular demand in post-attack-on-Mumbai India is for admission of confessions as evidence. A confession is not admissable as evidence in India* and everybody is upset that although the media has tried and convicted the sole captured terrorist avaliable after the attacks, and his confession has been publicised, the confession cannot be submitted to the judiciary. A grand and colourful contradiction is emerging as a result – on one hand, everybody is grumbling about the ineptness of our investigation agencies and on the other is encouraging this ineptness by insisting that they should be permit to toture so-called confessions out of random people and admit these documents as evidence in courts in lieu of doing the spade work to come up with anything else at all that points towards the guilt of the accused. While I always thought the non-admissability of confessions as an important safeguard against abuse of the criminal justice system, I did not know of its history until I read ‘Under pain of death‘.

That people are thinking about the law is an encouraging sign for the democracy. That they are thinking of it in the silly dramatic and superficial way that the media encourages – that your opinion matters but you needn’t trouble to work enough to make it an educated opinion – is not. In the spirit of encouranging opinions – educated opinion – I offer you ‘Under pain of death‘ as something to mull over before leaping into the Confessions As Evidence debate.

*except for parts pertaining to physical evidence that was discovered as a result of the confession. So if a confession mentions the location of the murder weapon, and the weapon is found at that location, that part of the confession would be admissable, but a confession that simply admits to the murder would not count for anything.

December 2, 2008

Barkha Dutt Entertainments

Filed under: Across the Universe — Tags: , , , , , — Chinmayi @ 10:25 pm

otherwise titled ‘We the People’ claims to be a talk show. The hostess has a careful selection of people calibrated to attract the very maximum of the wrong kind of attention – politicians, television personalities, “page 3” people…all what are known as ‘big names’ along with a sprinkling of victims and supposed experts/ intellectuals meant to provide some amount of legitimacy. Many of her invitees tend not to know anything at all about the subjects on which they hold forth. Those that seem like they are headed towards saying something remotely coherent never actually get there since Barkha Dutt invariably cuts them off. 

I usually find her show very entertaining, and pray as I watch it that nobody actually takes the tripe she spews to be any more than tripe. The latest show however degenerated into stupidity that was incredible even by Barkha Dutt standards, and which was particularly obnoxious given her blatant attempt to cash in on a major tragedy. I do not expect anyone to watch the whole thing (although if you do, you will be treated to Simi Garewal’s enthusiastic suggestion that the solution to the crisis is to carpet bomb the LTTE, and to be as scary as the USA was post 9/11, and another gentleman who insisted that we are ‘gonna’ stop paying taxes and that is the solution) but if you move over to the last bit, you will find it concludes with Simi Garewal insisting that the problem with the country was that if you stuck your head out of the back of the Four Seasons, you would see Pakistani flags flying on the slums behind. The audience, to its great credit, erupted. There’s School Ma’rm Barkha Dutt wagging her finger at all the naughty children and tells them that she is ashamed of them, instead of directing her admonitions to her ill-informed incendiery guest. The show closes with Barkha Dutt asking dramatically for observation of silence to show case her tom-toming conjured passion for the issue, and then going on to ruin any gravity that the silence may have had, by refusing to let her audience frame what the silence is for. [see the video]

November 28, 2008

Mumbai

Filed under: Across the Universe — Tags: , , , — Chinmayi @ 6:46 pm

The last 48 hours have been difficult. I have been calling relatives and emailing colleagues, emailing even people who are in touch with people who were near all the violence to see whether everyone is okay. The selfish relief that my friends and family and their friends and family appear to be fine is difficult to supress. It is however miniscule in the face of the horror and nausea that washes over me when I think about how around 150 violent murders have taken place over the last 48 hours. 

For regular updates:

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/ 

http://twitter.com/dina

http://ibnlive.in.com/

https://twitter.com/prempanicker

Articles:

http://www.hindu.com/2008/11/28/stories/2008112854791000.htm

http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/11/27/asia/hotel.php 

http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/11/27/asia/scene.php

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/27/AR2008112702709.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/nov/28/mumbai-city-terror-attack-india (Suketu Mehta)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/gallery/2008/nov/28/mumbai-terror-attacks?picture=340177689 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/nov/28/mumbai-terror-attacks-india

http://globalvoicesonline.org/2008/11/28/mumbai-and-terror-the-day-after/

The last link has some information on the list of casualties.

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