THE SKILL INDIA AD – A POSER

The SKILL INDIA advertisement featuring Sachin Tendulkar credits skill at the expense of dignity.

One sees Sachin sit on a chair while the carpenter sits on the floor as they talk and have tea. Why could both not be shown sitting on a chair and talking?

Apart from skill, personhood carries value too. Why hold anyone down whether skilled or not?

A patronising attitude carries an arrogance of superiority  which shifts attention to the symbolic generosity of a patron from the worth of the patronised and re-enforces the very inequality which it pretends to redress.

And if an ascribed status will continue despite achievement, as the advertisement suggests, what merit will inculcation of skill attain?

The advertisement presents status as an entrenched power and fails to present skill as being versatile.

Skill is meant to be assertive and itinerant unlike status which is inhibitive and immobile. The advertisement focusses on the status of the carpenter not his skill.

Skill is dynamic unlike status which is sterile and moribund. Yet it is precisely that which the last shot of the advertisement displays.

Skill has to be achieved but any effort in this direction will be futile unless there is a corresponding correction in attitude.

It is the right attitude (Tendulkar making the other sit on the chair) alone which can facilitate social mobility (symbolised in the carpenter also so sitting) to improve our cultural capital (recognition of the innate worth of a human being aside from skill trumping status) and unravel the social stratification which the advertisement puts on display.

 

Of Queen’s Counsels &”Seniors”

I feel there should be no Senior Advocates only advocates.

Endowment not habiliment is the test of a lawyer. He should be recognised by his performance not his robes and his identity should lie in his work not attire. The gown does not make a lawyer. An incompetent lawyer will only disgrace it while the competent should not need it.

As long as the system remains it is liable to be exploited. A lawyer who is not designated can be run down as being incapable and be unjustifiably compared unfavourably with another who is designated aside from being denied priority in appearance in court despite superior capacity while the incapable can perpetually hide their incapacity in their robes and get undeserved preference when in fact they should be denied an audience altogether.

There is a hike in fees immediately upon designation despite want of any improvement in the quality of work. A non-designated lawyer has to explain (often without success) even a warranted increase in his charges. This not only shoots the cost of litigation up without any corresponding improvement in the quality of practise but adversely affects the quality itself as more effort is placed on the race for designation through networking rather than working.

Preference is often shown to senior advocates in courts and in some it becomes the very condition for practise. Aside from being anti-merit this is also anti-democratic as it not only stifles potential it entrenches established interests.

It is a little known fact that Francis Bacon was the first person to be so appointed and that too for reasons having nothing to do with his undisputed versatility. Till his appointment the Attorney General, Solicitor General and King’s Sergeants were Kings Counsel in Ordinary. Queen Elizabeth appointed Francis Bacon Queen’s Counsel Extraordinary. The reason for this extraordinary honour was only political and intended to prevent him from acting against the Crown. The appointment as Kings Counsel therefore had nothing to do with the admitted capabilities of Bacon – a trend which continues till today.

Distinction never needs any dressing up. It is self-evident.

Merit is always humble. It makes a place for itself without having to be ushered in.

Ability requires no badge of honour. It attracts attention without a formal proclamation.

And true recognition lies not in formal acknowledgment but in voluntary appreciation.

So where do we fit designation of Senior Advocates?

The Case for KOHINOOR

The statement made in the Supreme Court of India on the Kohinoor diamond is astonishing and is contrary both to history and law.
Kohinoor was part of loot not “gift” and the very circumstances surrounding the Last Treaty of Lahore by which it is claimed that the diamond was ceded to the Queen of Victoria – the Last Treaty of Lahore was signed immediately after the Second Anglo-Sikh War and Duleep Singh who handed over the diamond was but a child – showed that the “gift” was anything but voluntary! And the law too permits the making and enforcing of the claim for return of Kohinoor to India.
In Resolution 3187 of 1973 The General Assembly, deploring removal during colonial or foreign occupation of objects d art, declared that  “the prompt restitution to a country of its objets d’art, monuments, pieces, manuscripts and documents […], is calculated to strengthen international co-operation inasmuch as it constitutes just reparation for damage done”.
The Resolution recognises the customary rule of prohibition against the use of force recognised in several instruments of international law commencing from the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna of 1815 to the Hague Conventions, UN Charter and the UNESCO Convention of 1970 and subsequent developments.
Opponents of the restoration of cultural artefacts rely on the fact that East India Company was a private corporation and India was not a colony of the British at the relevant time. They also rely on the principle of inter-temporal law according to which the issues should be assessed not on the basis of existing international rules but law in force at the relevant time.
Neither submission can prevail.

The site of the Parliament of UK has a section Parliament and Empire. It records that East India Company Loan Act and the East India Company Regulating Act made it possible for the government in Britain o extend a loan to the Company in exchange for recognition of the British state’s ultimate authority over the Indian territories.It leased to the Company continued political control of its Indian territory in exchange for a payment of £40,000 every two years. It also established the post of governor-general who, with a council of four members, was to have overall authority over the Company’s territories. More government control came with the India Act of 1784, under Prime Minister William Pitt. This created a committee of six government appointees, known as the Board of Control, who were to monitor and direct the Company’s policies. The government was also to have the final decision on the Company’s nominations for its officials in India. This and a further new law passed in 1786 greatly increased the authority of the governor-general over other Company officials. The ultimate control therefore lay with the government itself and liability cannot be disclaimed on the ground that East India Company, which in any event was established by Royal Charter, was merely a private company.

The inter-temporal principle cannot apply to human rights obligations. Cultural artefacts are part of the nation’s heritage and constitute its identity and the right to this cultural patrimony both tangible and intangible is basic to human dignity and indispensable for social and cultural progress. The very moral dimension of it makes it a human right. The instruments dealing with this subject, therefore, could not be said to define the norm but merely declared what already existed as an autonomous and binding principle.

It is sometimes also said that there can be competing claims by the Iranians or Afghans whose rulers held the diamond at different times. The diamond however came from the Kollur mine in Andhra Pradesh, India which was the only one to produce it at that time. As right to cultural artefacts is an imprescriptible human right and there is an obligation to return on all who may have acquired this physical cultural artefact by force the diamond has to eventually return to Indian territory no matter how many hands it may have passed through. Such artefacts are not considered private property and there is an obligation to preserve them within the territory to which they belong.

Interestingly the statement reportedly made by  in the Supreme Court was “If we claim our treasures like Kohinoor from other countries, every other nation will start claiming their items from us. There will be nothing left in our museums.” Ironically David Cameroon had used almost the same words when he came to India in 2010; he said,”If you say yes to one you suddenly find the British Museum would be empty. I am afraid to say, it is going to have to stay put”. 

It is not a question of which museum gets empty. Its the issue as to which museum is the right custodian of the artefact. And Kohinoor belongs to India.

 

Prince William, Kate, Diana Bench & Taj Mahal

I wonder why a request was made to remove the scaffolding from the pillars of Taj Mahal for Prince William-Kate Middleton photograph. The scaffolding was as much a symbol of love as the monument itself. After all the sentiment behind fixing what needs repairs (whether a monument or a relationship) can be love only!

But it seems those making the request had a different sense of both history and love.

William’s advice to the royal photographer who took their picture thus was, “I hope you got the symmetry right”! So symmetry can prevail over chemistry and can still be love. It is interesting to know, as has been written by Anant Kumar in Case Reports in Women’s Health (Volume 1-2, January-June 2014), that Mumtaz Mahal died of complications from repeated child-birth from what are preventable causes of maternal mortality many of which continue till today. Shah Jahan chose not to spend money to address those problems but built the monument instead. I doubt William was aware of it but in a way Taj can be symbolised in symmetry even after the chemistry is over!

Perhaps thats why there is a Diana Bench at Taj. The solitary figure of Diana sitting on the bench hinted loneliness and isolation and Diana separated from Charles just a few months later. I am sure Mumtaz Mahal would squirm in her grave when she sees that bench. Appropriately(?) a photoshoot on it is with one’s back to the Taj Mahal. In any case the dead are history. Why bother about them! The monument stands and symmetry counts.

Lord William Bentinck apparently felt the same way much before the Diana Bench. If he had had his way the Taj Mahal would have been dismantled in 1835 and its marble auctioned. Besides nothing that is native is important. Just like the 50 million lives lost to famines under British Raj. Bentinck had no qualms about dismantling the whole edifice. So William’s generation’s lack of concern for the minarets should not be much of a surprise.

In any event history does not necessarily mean going back in time! Surely not when you are a Royal.

A possible explanation  for the request is the distortion of the time-space continuum. It presumed we are still in colonial times and the Queen of England is the Empress of India. Or perhaps there was movement forward in time with Prince William becoming not only King but the ruler of India. After all Royals can do no wrong and in fact can do anything – time travel included.

There can be however another charitable explanation. Buckingham Palace, which is about 300 years old itself, was requiring urgent repairs for a long time but the the same were being deferred. It was reported that when a plumber entered the Queen’s bathroom to repair to the old-fashioned chain-pulled cistern he while trying to fix the problem leaned against the lavatory and part of the structure came away from the wall. If the former imperialist government can go slow on repair of the Palace why cannot the former colony do the same with Taj Mahal?

I wonder if the Diana Bench will be re-named now. Let Mumtaz Mahal ponder while we await the next generation of royals and another photo-shoot.

A Shankaracharya?… and Rapes!

I was surprised to hear the Shankaracharya of Dwarka’s comment on women.

The title Shankaracharya derives from Adi Shankar – the most famous proponent of Advaita Philosophy –  who had a profound influence on the growth of Hinduism at a time when superstition was rampant. Adi Shankar cleansed Hinduism of the excesses of ritualism which, he felt, brought spiritual life to a low ebb and robbed people of true spiritual insight and what he believed to be the core teachings of the Vedas.

Adi Shankar debated with  Madan Misra, the disciple of Kumarila one of the stuanchest supporters of the ritualistic interpretation of the Vedas. This debate is said to have continued for many months and was eventually won by Adi Shankar.

It is irrelevant for the purposes of this blog to deal with the debate which in erudition and scholarship would surpass most contests of the mind that the history of civilisation has ever witnessed.

The more important aspect of this debate was the person chosen to judge it.

The judge was Ubhaya Bharati, Madan Misra’s wife.

The choice of Ubhaya Bharati as judge of the contest was a recognition not only of the impartiality of a woman but also of her intellect and scholarship. In fact Bharati challenged Adi Shankar to a debate after her husband had lost as according to her a wife forms one half of her husband’s body and victory of Madan Misra could not be complete unless Adi Shanker defeated the former’s wife. She was defeated too which she accepted gracefully and with humility.

The Shankaracharya could have referred to this example to re-enforce the personhood of a woman which is recognised in Hinduism (which I have also dealt with in my blog of January, 30. 2016 Of Temples and Women) rather than present them as mere objects of desire. Nothing can be more obnoxious than trivialising rape through victim blaming and that too for entering a temple!

A patrilineal culture with enforced isolation of women and an accompanying set of taboos accompanied by stigmatisation of independence is precisely what is negated by the example of Ubhaya Bharti.

It was precisely to this kind of chaos, superstition and bigotry which tormented Hinduism in the 8th century AD that Adi Shankaracharya fought and redeemed Hinduism’s glory. It is indeed unfortunate those who carry his name do not actually carry his legacy.

Panama Papers and Amitabh Bachchan

A rose by any other name, said Shakespeare, would smell as sweet. And smell attracts bees. A flower may not be called a rose and can yet can have a bee pay attention to it. But what about the Big B? Does this B prefer ships over flowers called roses or anything else and can thus smell something simple b’s cannot?

Big B said that he “does not know the (shipping) companies referred to in the Indian Express” but added that “it is possible my name has been misused.” Now there may be nothing in a name if the subject was a rose but Amitabh Bachchan is different. A rose can be nameless but one will never ask Amitabh Bachchan his name. And there would be more people wanting to be called Amitabh Bachchan whatever be the name they actually carry. Had Amitabh Bachchan been born when Shakespeare was alive the latter might well have said, “there is nothing in a name unless the name is Amitabh Bachchan.” So an Amitabh Bachchan popping up in Panama should cause little excitement. Even an eskimo might like to be called Amitabh Bachchan. Its a very simple explanation. The Panama Papers cannot be used to implicate Big B.

But the problem is that Big B is himself not sure! In the fact that it is “possible” his name has been misused is the possibility that it has not. So the possibility that it can be the Big B competes with the question can it be Big B! And who else but Big B can answer that? An Amitabh Bachchan might not be the Amitabh Bachchan but the Amitabh Bachchan should surely know who’s who!

This reminded me of another Shakespearian play Hamlet. Prince Hamlet contemplating death or suicide said, “to be or not to be is the question”. Interestingly in the soliloquy Shakespeare, speaking through Hamlet, mentioned “sea of troubles.” And the Panama Papers coincidentally are alleged to link Amitabh Bachchan to shipping companies. These indeed are slings and arrows of outrageous fortune!

One can well conclude that a rose by any other name may smell as sweet but sometimes a rose by the same name may not remain as sweet. Even Amitabh Bachchan can be forced to distance himself from Amitabh Bachchan!