Monday, October 31, 2016


Why I stopped romanticizing "unrequited love" ?

I started this weekend with a morning doze of “unrequited love” portrayed in a recently released Hindi flick . Keeping aside my not-so-favorable opinion on the quality of moviemaking, it made me reflect on how my connect with such one-sided love sagas has evolved over three decades of my life.  There was a time when Alfred Tennyson’s words “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” seemed to define my aspiration for “true love” – irrational, consuming and without any expectations. But then life happened. Having been on both sides of such a relationship as the lover and the beloved and understanding its profound impact that probably shaped my life forever, I no longer romanticize the idea of “unrequited love”. 

I am parking my humility for the sake of discussion and acknowledging the fact that I have been desirable. Even statistically, women are more prone to being the beloved who rejects advances of such love than men. Though documented far less, the experience of a person who gets to reject another’s love is far from pleasant. Reminiscing about my past, I have realized that often unwillingly I led on certain people to believe that I was interested in them. I noticed the guy who would sit in the last bench and not socialize with anyone and made a conscious attempt to involve him in class activities. I would get far too involved in a good pal’s life and create an emotional interdependence that could be mistaken as love. Since I was always vocal about my feelings, I had a hard time understanding the unsaid. And when such love was confessed, that initial kick of being adored by someone eventually gave way to a painful guilt.  

Very rarely was my polite refusal backed with an apology understood by people who were my friends to begin with.  Despite the affection that I had for the other person, I found myself withdrawing lest he believed that I was giving it time and would eventually consent to the relationship. One time this withdrawal exacerbated that yearning for that  friendship so much that I ended up proposing the same person later.  The sad part was that even within the love relationship that followed, the love remained unrequited with neither of us being able to reciprocate what the other wanted. Another time with another person I was infatuated but fell out of it soon – the tirade of his attempts to rekindle it that followed made me fear for my life. Though utterly foolish but that feeling of guilt for driving a good friend to that level had held me back from raising an alarm and asking for help. And I counted the days to escape that hostile environment.

Over the years, I have understood that misunderstanding anyone’s friendly behavior for love is no excuse for pressurizing that person to commit. But such experiences so early on in life deeply embedded a fear of the consequences of “being me”. People say that now I am all sorted in the way I pick my friends and in control of the signals I send. The truth is that I miss locking away that spark that made me unabashedly call an acquaintance past midnight to check on his dog’s health. 

Donning the hat of that unrequited lover was also enlightening. I didn’t care about how much was reciprocated and kept on investing my heart and soul into an asymmetrical relationship. Of course, there was the joy of being in love and the anticipation of seeing him everyday. But not a day passed when I didn’t think of what better I could do. If “true love” actually means “loving without expectations”, I had gone a step beyond of being oblivious of what to expect. Romanticizing such lack of reciprocation had cost me my self-esteem and confidence. I had stopped retorting to gibes from my bosses. I had stopped being the life of the work parties. May be Friedrich Nietzsche was right in believing that the suffering of unrequited love was indispensable for human growth. May be such suffering has given to the world masterpieces of art and literature. But when this occurred to an ordinary mortal like me, I don’t remember being able to pen a single thought on paper. 

The wisest thing that I did in my life was to understand the futility of it all. Some artists are against the  quest  for happiness as for them it stops all attempts at self introspection and critical thinking. I beg to differ. It is only that quest for happiness that made me fall in love once again. A love that conquered my cynicism and fear of rejection. A love that made me believe that I was the most beautiful person deserving of everything I wished for in this world. A love that broke my wall and let my thoughts flow in prose. A love that was, in all terms, requited equally.

Some say that unrequited love never dies. It only hides in a secret place wounded. It isn’t entirely untrue. But that’s the beauty of wounds – they make you remember the times you fell but still got up and more importantly, the people who had your back then. The wound will eventually cease to exist. Only if you don’t wish to live with it forever. 

This article was originally published in the Huffington Post & India Today's DailyO
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Thursday, October 27, 2016


The Imdad Ali case: Why executing a mental patient is severely problematic?

On October 21, 2016, the Supreme Court of Pakistan turned down the plea to delay the hanging of Imdad Ali, a 50 year-old schizophrenic man convicted in 2002 for murdering a cleric.Taking cues from the dictionary meaning of schizophrenia, as well as the Indian Supreme Court's judgment in the case of Amrit Bhushan Gupta vs Union of India 1976, the Pakistani SC concluded that this disease was not a permanent mental disorder and hence didn't offer sufficient grounds to plead insanity. As the debate goes on about the fairness of this judgment, it is worthwhile exploring the slippery slope of insanity defence in criminal jurisprudence.

In criminal law, to establish culpability for a crime, it is vital to prove that the person accused actually committed the act and that he acted out of his/her own free will, intentionally and with whatever reasons he/she may have had.

A person suffering from a mental disorder may not be in a position to rationalise their actions at the time of committing the crime. At the stage of trial, they may not be in a position to defend themselves. Understanding these ethical nuances, criminal laws in most countries allow for an insanity plea, which once proven, can absolve the accused of the crime.

But not every accused who is mentally insane is automatically absolved of all responsibility for the crime committed. There is a difference between legal insanity and medical insanity. Medical insanity could include any kind of mental illness — ranging from permanent disorders like lunacy to temporary psychosis like bipolar syndrome. Legal insanity demands not only mental illness but also loss of reasoning power at the time when the offence was committed. As per the M’Naghten rule, if a mentally ill person had knowledge that what they were doing was wrong or against the law, they should be punished for the crime.

In the case of Amrit Bhushan Gupta vs Union of India, the same test was applied to evaluate the insanity plea under Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code. Even though medical experts certified that the defendant had been suffering from schizophrenia, the evidence submitted in the lower courts proved that he knew the nature of his acts and hence was liable for punishment.

In various other judgements of the Indian Supreme Court, it has been established that in addition to mental illness, aspects like motive for the crime, previous history in relation to the mental condition of the accused, the state of their mind at the time of the offence, and the events immediately after the incident that throw a light on their mental condition (for example, attempting to hide evidence or absconding to avoid arrest) are also to be factored in.

While international laws regarding insanity also follow similar principles, obtaining a fair judgement in this part of the world (both India and Pakistan) may be difficult for a number of reasons:

The need to visit mental health counselors or psychologists is hardly understood. The taboo associated with any mental irregularity leads to such behaviours going under-reported. With no attention paid to abnormal behaviour patterns and lack of availability of medical records substantiating this, it becomes nearly impossible to prove insanity where it may have been the case.

As soon as a crime is committed, ideally a forensic psychiatrist should get involved in the case along with the investigating officer. Studying past medical reports to check on past behaviours or substance abuse, autopsy of the victim’s body, interviews with the accused and family members are crucial in making a proper assessment. Unfortunately, we neither have trained forensic psychiatrists, investigating officers or lower court judges who insist that such reports be produced during the legal process.

Conditions inside prisons are also often responsible for worsening the mental conditions of under-trial prisoners. A study conducted in India in 2011 found that as many as 30% of the prisoners suffered from a mental disorder and 70% from either a mental disorder or substance abuse. The lack of legal education and the high proportion of under-privileged among under-trials further hamper the chances of getting an insanity plea.

As per the Imdad Ali judgment, the Pakistani SC took cognisance of the fact that the defendant was diagnosed with genetic paranoid schizophrenia by government medical professionals in 2012 (a decade after he had committed the murder). However, the burden of proof for establishing insanity at the time of the crime lay with the accused. And since Imdad’s medical history wasn’t recorded before, it couldn’t be proven whether he was suffering from a schizophrenic attack at the time of murder. Eventually, his insanity plea was rejected. In the absence of evidence, a case can be made that the SC wasn’t exactly incorrect in upholding the judgments of the lower courts.

The court was also not wrong in pointing out that medical advances and rehabilitation have made the treatment of schizophrenia possible. But while there is a possibility of a person living an absolutely normal life with a treatable form of schizophrenia, there is also a chance that a person cannot be treated at all. The court was however not exactly fair in dismissing this condition as a mere reaction to stress. Medical research has established that having a first degree relative with schizophrenia, the bio-chemical environment of the womb during pregnancy, social isolation especially during formative years, and substance abuse are just some of the many risk factors that contribute to developing the condition. Hence, each case of schizophrenia has to be judged on its own merit rather than through generalisations.

But it is the plea for delaying his execution pending his medical treatment that warrants the most attention. Pakistan is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which urges states practicing death penalty to not impose it “on a person suffering from any mental or intellectual disabilities or to execute any such person”. In 2013, in Shatrughan Chauhan vs Union of India, the Supreme Court of India upheld this covenant to which India is party and stated that those suffering from mental insanity and schizophrenia cannot be executed.

Since this punishment serves a purpose of retribution, it is not ethical to carry out the sentence until the person is capable enough of understanding why he is being punished.

For a schizophrenic, his world is as real as ours. The travesty of justice is that no real attempt seems to have been made to understand his state of mind. This apathy towards the mentally ill is the real illness and their neglect a crime.

This article was originally published in the Dawn and the Wire.

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Sunday, October 23, 2016

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The Kigali climate deal - A great start to a difficult marathon

A sunny Saturday in Miami is a god-send to get the perfect tan. The fashionable tan could instead have been a health disaster had there not been the benign Ozone layer in our atmosphere which screens UV rays from reaching us. This layer has been protected through the Montreal Protocol that was signed by countries way back in 1987. Since then, substances called chlorofluorocarbons (that deplete the ozone layer) have been almost phased out and substituted by hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). No one had anticipated that this substitute could end up creating an even graver problem – of warming planet Earth. No one had thought that such warming could cause droughts and floods in Rwanda, a small central African nation, that far from enjoying, struggled to live through each Saturday.

Amidst all this chaos for survival, people from different communities in Rwanda, come together on the last Saturday of every month, to celebrate a cultural festival called “umagunda”. They work together to find a solution to a common problem at hand. It isn’t surprising that when more than 190 nations with varied standards of living, interests and priorities regarding climate change had to come together to solve the problem of HFCs, they chose Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, as the perfect location for this summit. It isn’t a mere co-incidence that they actually managed to put aside their differences and come up with a solution, in the form of Kigali agreement, on 15th October, 2016 which also happens to be a Saturday. 

Understanding the aspects that make this a landmark deal

A change in mandate: 

For the first time in history, the mandate of an environmental treaty, that too a legally binding one, has been changed. This agreement amends the Montreal protocol (originally targeted at ozone depleting substances) to gradually phase out HFCs which are not ozone depleting but “super greenhouse gases”(some of them can warm the earth 10,000-12,000 times more than equivalent amount of carbon dioxide).

Common but differentiated responsibilities 

Countries, mostly developed, that have contributed higher quantities of HFCs to the atmosphere over larger periods of time have accepted more stringent targets. Developing nations whose economic growth, population and urbanization is still growing, have been given more time to consume HFCs until they are capable of finding and affording cheaper climate friendly alternatives. By accepting “common but differentiated responsibilities”, the world will be able to eliminate almost all of HFCs by 2050 and thus save the planet from warming by an additional 0.5 degree Celsius by 2100. 

While most climatic negotiations accept a division of targets between developed and developing nations, this agreement has taken a step further. Even the developing bloc has been divided into two (the first one has China, Brazil and South Africa and second one has India, Pakistan and some Gulf oil economies). This is on the basis of different ambient temperature conditions demanding different usage of air conditioning, current consumption of HFCs, income levels and projected growth trajectories.

Active involvement of industry: 

Unlike in the past where the industry would act like a pressure group to stall the phase out of climate unfriendly products, this time around, companies like Honeywell and Dupont have invested in research and development before hand to find out alternative refrigerants that would be energy efficient, climate friendly and non hazardous. 

Evaluating India’s hits and misses at Kigali

The most significant achievement was to put itself in a different bloc from China on the basis that it accounts for a mere 2.6% of current global HFC consumption and 1.6% of current global HFC production (as against 23% and 57% respectively for China) and is not expected to peak its usage anytime sooner than 2025. India also has been successful in mandating a technological review of options available periodically so that it isn’t left in a soup in 2028 – the year in which it has to start reducing HFCs.

One of the main issues that remains unaddressed is the cost of technological options available to India currently. In some sectors, like the mobile air conditioning units where substitutes called hydrofluoro-olefins (HFOs) have been tested, the patents are owned by US companies and most of them expire only in 2028. This leaves India no time to adapt to generic cheaper variations. Current costs of transition for India, as projected by a study of Council of Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) as per 2015 prices, is around 14 billion USD. 

Before finalizing on any alternative technology, the environmental impact of the entire value chain has to be examined. What kind of emissions occur in the manufacture, use and disposal of these substitutes has to be studied. Though companies in India like Godrej & Boyce have started using propane instead of HFC, issues regarding flammability, toxicity, costs of equipment design changes and skilling labor across sectors have not been resolved. 

The way ahead for India

To meet the above two issues, the scientific community, government and industry will have to come together to understand global trends and invest in indigenous research and development. We may explore the option of acquiring cheaper versions of the patented products by offering to phase down HFCs a couple of years earlier. This may not be a bad deal understanding that the sooner we phase out, the lesser number of factories will need to change to the new technology thus saving on costs of transition. The civil society has to be involved in driving lifestyle changes and helping consumers to accept climate friendly alternatives easily. Post signing the agreement, India legally mandated manufacturers to capture and incinerate HFC-23. The regulatory framework would need an overhaul to ensure strict enforcement of such orders. 

Finally, the work on the agreement is far from over. Though it has been agreed that the incremental costs of patents, servicing etc. will be covered by the Multilateral Fund (recently supplemented by contribution of 80 million USD  by philanthropists and donor countries), how the costs will be calculated is yet to be decided. India will have to take a lead in the finalization of this guidance document. As pointed out by Dr. Ajay Mathur of TERI, the phase out of CFCs under Montreal Protocol was done through a flawed process. The incremental costs paid were calculated after deducting gains from energy efficiency. As a result, this acted as a perverse incentive and manufacturers weren’t interested in exploring energy efficient alternatives. India will have to ensure that the incentive structure for finding energy, climate, industry and consumer friendly alternative refrigerants is in place. 

The dynamics of climate change are complex and the success of the Kigali agreement will be a significant yet just one of the steps forward in the larger scheme. Simultaneously India has to proactively participate in arriving at accountability mechanisms for international aviation and shipping emissions. At the domestic front, it needs to invest in renewable energy, achieve power sector reforms and energy efficiency. All this put together can help us realize the ambitious targets that we have accepted in the Paris climate treaty ratified by India earlier this month. On the climate diplomacy stage, India has established its credentials as a flexible, accommodative but strong negotiator. But it needs to keep its promises to be considered as a true “enabler” rather than “obstructionist” in conserving the health of this planet. 

The season for rhetoric is over. The season for action has arrived. 

This article was published in the Quint.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

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Is parental care only a son's prerogative?

A couple of days ago, the highest court of the land delivered a verdict on a divorce case pending for almost a decade. The court held that the woman meted out cruelty on her husband by forcing him to leave his parents. The bone of contention was mainly on financial grounds. Social media erupted and was divided in its reactions – while some thought it was high time “home-breaking” women got their share of punishment, others questioned the double-standards of a system that is otherwise fine with a woman leaving her parents post marriage but has issues when it applies to a man. 

Judgements are case specific and there could definitely be merit in finding a woman guilty of pressurizing her husband to give up his responsibilities towards his parents. But here is where I have the first problem with the judgement – the court goes on to make a generalization and callously states that “it is the pious obligation” of a “son” to take care of his parents. And instantly it reminded me of my parents who have been taking care of my maternal grand-mother ever since we moved into our new house (constructed on our own plot right behind my grandma’s place) in the year 1995. I do not wish to cast any aspersions on my uncle and his wife who stay in the same house as my grandma’s. My grandma is a great person at heart but her experiences in life (of being the eldest daughter-in-law in a joint family, a wife to a talented husband recovering from alcohol addiction and a mother to a second son who isn’t yet economically stable) have made her quite bitter in the tongue. Whatever she said was reciprocated by my aunt and in the family drama that transcends every other house, the kitchens separated. They are cordial with each other, exchanging delicacies every now and then. But the people who have been there with her every single day (in sickness or in health) are her daughter and son-in-law. 

I am not bragging because they are my parents. Career opportunities or the luxury of long holidays could have taken my parents to places. But I know for a fact that if they were to move out, my grandma wouldn’t survive for long. More than loneliness, sheer neglect would eventually kill her. When my father religiously gives her the morning tea and checks on her medicine replenishments and my mother patiently listens to her complain as she force-feeds her with healthy food, I know I am probably witnessing just an exception. Why else in India would 50% of the elderly above 60+ and 80% above 80+ complain of some sort of mental or physical abuse? (source: Help Age India Survey 2015). I think it’s high time for us to realize that irrespective of the gender, each child (son or daughter) has the obligation to take care of his parents. If the society can internalize this, we probably will not have a “obsession for sons” and hence be able to correct the abysmal child sex ratio in India (918 in 2011 census)

A daughter who weds and goes into another family cannot disown her own parents. Whether an economically independent woman decides to invest in her parents’ life/health insurance premiums, take them out for a vacation or even support them financially for a life-time is entirely her own prerogative. There should be some faith in her judgement as to when, where and what requires her contribution (whether it’s her marital or birth home). After getting wedded, a man or a woman are legally bound to a new set of people – the in-laws. They too deserve the same compassion, respect and love that we owe to our parents. But unrealistic expectations of in-laws replacing parents in our lives are best to be kept at bay. 

The second part of the judgement that caught my attention was commenting on any couple staying away from parents as against the Indian culture. The court states that “in India, generally people do not subscribe to the western thought, where, upon getting married or attaining majority, the son gets separated from the family.” This is taking it a bit too far. Individuals who want to be emotionally independent, share very diverse views from their parents, wish to migrate to another city for a living or who want to spend the initial years of marriage in a nuclear set up can afford to do so, if their parents are healthy and can take care of themselves. Care and support (whether financial or emotional) can be given even while staying apart. 

Having said that, we need to be sensitive about a couple of things. Our parents, most probably, haven’t invested in social security since their whole lives revolved around events in ours’- from our birth to graduation to  marriage and then birth of our children – the list is endless. Hence we should invest for them. Also as they grow older, there’s isolation, fear and loss of control and they will need us as much as we needed them. It is then best to be as close to parents as possible. Rather than remember our parents’ home selfishly in times to save on our rent or as a great alternative to crèches for our children, we need to learn to keep them engaged productively post retirement. We need to love and respect them always for what they are and not for what they are worth. We need to plan their future so that we are in a position to communicate this upfront to our partners and set expectations right in the first place.

Before I bid goodbye to you, here's an Irish blessing that I hope every “dadu” witnesses coming true

“May you always be blessed
with walls for the wind,
a roof for the rain,
a warm cup of tea by the fire,
laughter to cheer you,
and all that your

This article was published in the Huffington Post and DailyO

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