Thursday, March 15, 2012

Internet Censorship in India: Should it Exist?


Source: www.moviespad.com
                       
Order, Decency, Indian values- why is it that such words are brought up and fought for whenever the subject of contending for control over the Internet is raised? Does self-censorship necessarily mean no censorship? Does it suggest a shift away from order to chaos?

Loosely defined, censorship in general refers to the suppression of objectionable, harmful or sensitive speech. In actuality, think of it as a wall with barbed wires on the top surrounding a tower protecting modern democratic rights.  The wall prevents the expansion of democratic rights, and causes suppression. The wall can also be broken and re-built either further away or nearer the tower. The question here is- how far away from the tower should the wall be built? Before we begin pondering on that, a more immediate and significant question would be- Should there be a wall?

That question can be differently answered for different forms of media. The presence of laws for more traditional media like print or broadcast at least makes sense in terms of implementation, as national borders are physically well-defined. The Internet, on the other hand, is a massive space that is neither owned by any individual and nor is it divided. If the Internet is not ruled by anyone, why should it be regulated?

Source: www.davidicke.com
                                                  
Although ‘regulation’ comes across as a fair approach to managing the Internet, especially when it comes to concerns regarding it being a breeding ground for terrorists, pedophiles, religious fanatics and other dangerous people, it is very difficult to regulate the Internet. Since Internet is a tool that is used by all, who will regulate the Internet? Also, who will regulate the regulator?

Even if some regulatory body was set up, it won’t be an easy game to decide which restrictions are reasonable.  For example, the amendment in the Information Technology Act (2009) forbids the publishing of ‘sexually explicit’ content. Living in a world that is constantly shrinking and where the merging of cultures and ideas is taking place, the definitions of terms like ‘sexually explicit’ that are dependent on the ever-evolving culture of a society keep changing. Further, the urban-rural bias ensures that what might be ‘sexually explicit’ for a person living in rural India might not necessarily be ‘sexually explicit’ for an urban Indian.

Where do we draw a line on the sexually explicit then, and more importantly, why? Wide and easy exposure to western media in our country suggests an increasing openness to sexual activities or thoughts, which is reflected in the art and media of India. Banning of the publishing of ‘sexually explicit’ content has a direct impact on art and science, but also has an indirect impact on our freedom of speech. So while an Indian Internet user can freely access porn websites, he can’t access a cartoon porn website like SavitaBhabhi.com, the rationale behind which hardly makes sense![i]

A major concern regarding government’s role in regulating the Internet is that of this censorship being a cover for covering political attacks. In early 2011, the government sent 358 removal requests on the grounds of objectionable and disparaging content. Out of the 358, 255 were simply government criticisms.[ii] India emerged as and continues to be the world’s largest democracy, and if we suppress any emergence of criticism of our ruling bodies, how are we democratic, and what example do we represent to the other democratic nations?

Source: www.chinalawandpolicy.com

An authoritarian country like China strictly monitors Internet content on a daily basis and removes any content that is ‘politically incorrect’ or subversive of ideology. With increasing cases of objections against Internet content, India is moving towards a policy that is more reflective of obedience to the ‘higher powers’ at the expense of personal freedom, and there are liberal objections to that.

Freedom of expression allows people to vent, giving them a platform to discuss or complain about political, economic or social decisions that they might not agree with. Curbing the freedom to vent can lead to political outrage and can transform the venting into a reaction that might be physical and harmful in nature, for example the Sharad Pawar slap.

While it might be argued that web networks are increasingly become a threat to society, it is also true that these web networks empower people. India is not new to the system of democracy, but that does not mean that democracy is well-established. Diversity of opinion is still not completely tolerated, and an online platform provides a free platform to express opinions that might not be expressed otherwise. It becomes necessary in such a scenario to have the Internet free of regulation to enable a country’s growth!

So what is the solution here?  You might ask, so what if it is difficult to monitor the Internet pages? Isn’t law and order about punishing a crime and not eradicating it? You might say that being able to remove a certain amount of defamatory content is better than not removing any content. However, it is better to have a system, in my opinion that is regulated by self-censorship than to have a system where the basis of removing content is in itself disputable.

Source: www.blog.tuvpn.com
                      
To say that self-censorship is no censorship is incorrect. People self-censor all the time. It is a pre-requisite to any dialogue amongst people. The need for self-censorship becomes stronger in a country where the political elections aren’t exactly fair to begin within the first place. The first traces of Internet censorship can be traced back to the year 1999 when VSNL blocked the Pakistani newspaper Dawn and since then the cases of censorship have only been increasing. In December 2011, communications minister Kapil Sibal raised questions over the defamation of political leaders on the Internet. [iii] But in a country that has several criminal cases against many of the political leaders pending, can a bit of political satire really be questioned? Internet censorship, if allowed, will only damage India’s democracy.


[i] http://www.sunday-guardian.com/technologic/internet-censorship-in-india-has-a-long-murky-past
[ii] http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article2696027.ece

[iii] http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/feb/07/internet-censorship-india-democracy

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Book Review


Title: Poor Economics: Rethinking Poverty & The Ways To End it   

Author: Abhijit V. Banerjee & Esther Duflo

Price: 499 INR

Publishers: Random House India

ISBN: 9788184001815




How often does it happen that we refrain from dropping pennies into the steel bowls shoved outright towards us by the poor, thinking that what we offer would be but “a drop in the bucket, and the bucket probably leaks”? Should we pay heed to the words of leftist economic thinkers like Jeffrey Sachs who believe in the power of aid lifting the poor from the poverty trap, or do the rightist thinkers like Easterly and Moyo make more sense when they state that such contributions would make no difference? And why is it that the poor spend extra money on luxuries instead of necessities like nutritious food?


From fifteen rigorous years of field experiments in India and other parts of the world comes one of the most insightful books written in the realm of development economics by two professors at MIT. Poor Economics reads like an extensively detailed and extended answer to the problem of fighting global poverty, and it does so by “abandoning the habit to reduce the poor to cartoon characters” as we tend to view them through the colored lens of clich├ęs.


Starting off with, “Because the poor possess very little, it is assumed that there is nothing interesting about their economic existence” the book from there on explores the world of the poor and why they make the choices that they do using the results of randomized control trials (RCT’s). Their points are extremely well made and it seems like all the ‘buts’ and ‘if’s that a reader would think of are already taken care of, and that is impressive. Each chapter discusses a specific problem related to the poor, be it microfinance, health care and insurance, child education or jobs and growth, without an ounce of deliberate glamour dotted on it, and yet the simplicity of the writing style and the bluntness used has a strong impact on the reader.


For those of us who believe in poverty traps, and the need for a big push, the book describes an S-Shape curve- flat at the beginning and end, and rising rapidly in the middle. For the others, there is the inverted L-Shape curve that becomes slower and slower with time.  Which graph applies to which individual depends on the case at hand, according to the book. Once that is figured out, a series of experiments can be carried out to determine whether a program would work or not.


Various forms of poverty traps are discussed; from the nutrient-based poverty trap that highlights the strange evil that “the less money you have, the less you are inclined to spend it on wholesome food” to the health-based poverty trap that says that the poor spend money on expensive cures rather than cheap prevention when it comes to health care.  It also discusses the demand-supply war consisting of demand-wallahs and supply wallahs that believe in bottom-top and top-bottom policies respectively.


While the former part of the book deals with the private lives of the poor, the second part talks about the institutions surrounding the poor, reminding us that life for a poor person means “living in a world whose institutions are not built for you.” The wrong policies that exist and are implemented are primarily due to the 3i problem- ideology, ignorance and inertia that can be attributed to lazy thinking on the part of policy makers and others.


One of the core reasons that sets this book apart from the others is that it doesn’t just throw light on the problems facing global poverty and doesn’t just raise questions, it also tries to fight it through suggestions.  Another reason that distinguishes it is that it is an evidence-based book that lets the results speak for themselves, which clearly indicates how well researched it is. However, a certain amount of hypocrisy does seem to seep in at the point when the authors state the five key lessons learnt while improving the lives of the poor as these lessons seem to incorporate assumptions although the book clearly attempts to relax any that might be present to understand the poor - 1) The poor often lack critical pieces of information and believe things that are not true, 2) The poor bear responsibility for too many aspects of their lives, 3) There are good reasons that some markets are missing for the poor, 4) Poor countries are not doomed to failure because they are poor, or because they have had an unfortunate history and 5) Expectations about what people are able or unable to do all too often end up turning into self-fulfilling prophecies.

However, it stays true to its tagline of ‘rethinking poverty’ as it is radicalized in terms of the way it approaches the issue of global poverty. One of the biggest clues to understanding the nature of the poor is given in this book-“ The poor are so absorbed by the problems of the present that they don’t have the mental space to worry about the future.” It’s not like they don’t care, but the tendency of making decisions with shortsightedness finds its roots in that very statement.  It deserves to be read by all, and so the next time you see Poor Economics lying around or at a bookstore- grab it!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Mermaid Story

Joshua stared at the massive gates of his university building, and tried to suppress the uncontrollable feeling of disgust that arose at the sight of them, as if choking his innards. The ugly prison-like place with its empty classrooms and corridors presumably held secrets of sinister pursuits belonging to the after-college hours. It would undoubtedly be the cause of his miserable life, he surmised, for maybe the tenth time that day.  
      
                                           ______________________

Born in an orthodox Christian family in the city of Bombay, Joshua himself was very critical of religion. He was home tutored most of his early school life, much to his liking and convenience, until the point where his family began to discern that his reclusive nature and his strange fondness of reptiles and insects was a result of his secluded lifestyle.

In school he was labeled with plenty of derogatory titles; by the football team, by the girls in his class, and his brawls and patronizing remarks were many a time covered in the school magazine. His frequent withdrawals and his knack for giving threats when incited had recently made him the object of many jokes after the Arizona gun shooting incident.

It took him an outsized amount of time to get used to the idiosyncrasies of school life; of making efforts to be part of a friends circle, and of maintaining a certain superficial image that he found was a prerequisite to be socially accepted. The kids around him spent incalculable amounts of time discussing trivialities.

Joshua, who was very opinionated, could not help being cynical about these observations. His raillery however, did not go down well with the others, and he found himself hanging precariously on the line beyond which he would risk being an outcast. He soon learned that it was not a great idea to question the system, but to follow the herd. It was at this point that he felt a morbid sense of fear of losing a part of him that he liked and wanted to retain in him.  

He made a few friends, but did not revel much in their company. He needed them only as much as they needed him. He found it impossible to connect with anyone at an emotional level.  

One thing that made Joshua instantly likable was his looks. He had curly black hair, nicely tanned skin, and the physique of a swimmer with well-built shoulders. He dated a couple of girls in school. Almost too soon he was bored. His first few sexual experiences had been quick and awkward, the last one being an immensely unpleasant experience to put it briefly. Joshua never talked about it.

He felt terribly lonely at times.

Once he scraped through high school, the optimism for a new beginning was overshadowed by his angst to once again be ridiculed. Joshua who had always been an unassailable individualist was now tired of standing out. His impregnable self-confidence had started to ebb away. He could not help but think of how merging into the crowd might actually be a welcome change.

That morning was Joshua’s first day at college. He took a cab three-fourths of the way and walked the rest after he got down to buy cigarettes.

The Bombay weather was chilly at this time in the morning. The road was half wet as it had rained the night before, washing the entire city clean.

He lit a cigarette, and compared himself with Loughner, the prosecuted shooter in the Arizona shooting. They were both extremely critical and assertively dogmatic in their views. They also felt much superior in intellect as compared to others and invariably put rationality in the forefront of every approach.

Joshua was not an idiot, though. He felt no sense of loathing for others, although he had learnt to place only contempt in his heart when it came to most of them.

He did consider killing his neighbor’s cat once; he recalled shamefully and wondered if it is the thought that counts.

More of an observer than a talker, Joshua was who you would call a typical introvert. He had fifteen friends on Facebook that included his grand mom, and most of his saved phone texts were from the local shop that sold his favorite games and DVD’s.


As he took in the last drag from his cigarette, he pictured for a second the line of people moving in and out from the campus as the soul-less and physically resilient walking zombies from the show he had been watching last night on TV, each sniffing for a prey to pounce and feed on. Then the moment was over, and he stubbed the cigarette end with his left foot, almost enjoying the power he felt over crushing its life. It was a feeling that would slip through his fingers once he strode through those gates of damnation, he thought.

Joshua’s subjects were History, English and Economics. He found it strangely exciting to be studying solely what he was enthusiastic about. He found the university environment different and oddly refreshing from the one at school. There was something in the air that suggested normalcy. He initially refrained from conversing, but found it difficult to perpetuate in an isolated mode, especially with the many looks he received from girls.

He spent a great deal of free time pouring over books in the university library, although initially just to avoid the large crowd. Joshua soon learned to love the library and missed its quietness at odd hours of the day. He liked the smell of old paper bound together in a book and the comfortable chairs with cushions next to big glass windows on which the pattering of rain drops was mellifluous. There were only a few others who spent time in there as much as he did, and he subliminally started noticing them, especially the girl from South India with wavy black hair and dimples, and a laugh that he grew to like more than the quietness or the pattering of the rain.

Her name was Anna. He had seen her at the English lectures. He noticed what books she read, and what time she came and left. He noticed what she was wearing and what she smelt like. Joshua did not approach her. He merely watched her.

One rainy Friday afternoon, Anna and Joshua were the only two in the library. She was immersed in Sea of Many Returns, one of his favorites in the realm of mythology. He resolved to make conversation with her. He picked up a copy of The Fig Tree from a shelf he frequently haunted and with it he gently hit her on the head before saying, “If you like that one, I suggest you read this. It’s his masterpiece.”

She looked up at him with eyes that were thickly lined with kohl, as if stirred from a reverie. “I knew it couldn’t just be me you were staring at”, she said laughingly as she took the book from his hands and flipped through the initial few pages. Joshua liked her boldness. He was interestingly at ease around her. He sat down on the chair next to her, and they talked about their favorite characters in Greek mythology; she rooted for Hermes, the messenger of Gods and Joshua advocated Ares, the God of War. He found her leveled gaze studying him while he talked about Ares’s passion for war and conflict. 

An hour slipped by, and she had to leave. “You see what you did there,” she began with a twinkle in her eye, “was to force me to shift perspectives, to favor Ares”.
“Yeah, so?”, he asked with a casual shrug and grinned. “I was convincing, wasn’t I?”.
“Very”, she said as she got up to go, “Its interesting how you presumed that the win gave you some sort of an edge.”

 He stood where he has, lost over what she said.

 I’m sorry I think weren’t any introductions, I’m-“.
“Anna, I know. I’m Joshua,” he said without thinking.
She shook her head and laughed. “Of course you do.”


It was the beginning of a new friendship, a friendship that would slowly sway into a relationship so emotionally strong that Joshua would be unable to comprehend the nature of his love for her.

The library conversation had an unfathomable effect on Joshua. He discovered that life wasn’t all black and white. There were multifarious shades in between that remained unexplored and unexplained. That right or wrong also had right and wrong. He felt steeped in paradoxes.

Anna understood him from the start. She did not pretend to believe that he was perfect. She saw through him and discerned his insecurity, his awkwardness, and the pain burdening him. She told him she liked his simplicity. She showed him how a large place like the university had room for plenty of variety and diversity and was more accepting of everyone’s differences. Joshua found himself talking to new people, and enjoying it. Some of them were the same faces from his school, but Joshua saw them from a new light. 
 He started walking the corridors of his college with his head held up high. It was okay to be who he was.

He thought of her as the magnificent mermaid he had discovered on a rock on the ocean when he was drowning in the heavy current of the water. She had swum to him and saved him, bringing him safely back to the shore to start a new life. He told her the mermaid story, and she laughed and called him lame. He did not expect her to understand.

She had given him the initial push like the wind does to a tiny rock on the top of a hill. From then on he had traveled on his own, deriving excitement from the unexpectedness of life.

One day he asked her to stay back after lectures. In the empty classroom that evening, he professed his love for her. She said she loved him too, and he kissed her. It was Joshua’s way of thanking her.

He thought of his first day at the university, and how he had dreaded the empty classrooms after-college hours. He smiled to himself, almost triumphantly.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Breaking of Innocence

I was only eleven when Amaya married a tall, long haired man with an amicable smile and the gentlest of eyes. He gave me an affectionate pat on the head, and gently brushed his lips with my crimson cheeks before he left with my sister.

He must not have known it, but he was the first man to kiss me. My father was a good man, but he paid more attention to the fish he caught than to me. He said I was a nuisance. I knew better. It wasn’t hard to put two and two together to see that my black eyes, my straight black hair, the tiny dimple on my right cheek and my skin the color of snow reminded him of mother. She died at child-birth. I do not remember how she looked but everyone in this village thought I was much like her, if not a shade lovelier.

I grew up crying on the shoulders of my sister who used to spend sleepless nights holding me in her arms, gently rocking me while she sang to the night birds and the wind. The moon must have been mesmerized by her voice, for it was never curtained by clouds when she would walk to and fro in the verandah. She taught me what rain was and why it came late. When the sand castle that I had built after hours of tedious work was washed away by the waves of the ocean, she spoke at length about the erratic mood of water. She taught me how to braid my hair, how to catch and cook fish, and how to read. My father was of the opinion that I would learn more at home than at school. Amaya thought otherwise, but took it upon herself to be my teacher.

When she left, I sensed such a morbid emptiness in my heart that I spent days sitting on the rocks at the beach with my legs in the water. I let the wind play with the hair around my ears while I cried my eyes out and my feet got numb in the icy water. I felt lost, helpless and without a friend. I missed Amaya and prayed for her to come back but I knew it would not be so. She had a new life with the gentle eyed man, while I was stuck grieving on fond memories of the past.

Late one evening when the orange sun seemed to have given up on me and was retiring into the heart of the ocean, my eyes fell on an absolutely ordinary sight; a boy helping his father with the day’s stock of fish. Tall and lanky, he must have been fifteen. As he heaved crates after crates from the boat onto the wagon, I sat admiring the leanness of his muscles and the tautness of his skin that had darkened by hours of tiring work at the sea.
I was captivated by his broad shoulders and the sweat that trickled down the sides of his forehead as he engaged himself in drawing the boat out of the sea. I was tempted to dive into the depths of the chocolate pool that his eyes were.

His eyes were looking at me. I had been staring.
Embarrassed, I looked down and began fumbling with the ends of my blue skirt while they worked. My heart did not slow its beating until they had almost left. I allowed myself a tiny peek at him and found his eyes studying me. Scared, I ran back to the confines of my four walled hut. I wanted to talk to Amaya.

I was so intrigued by him that I stopped feeling miserable from being lonesome. I thought of my sister’s husband and of his gentle eyes. Then I thought of the boy at the sea with the chocolate brown eyes, and I felt a warm fizzy feeling gushing inside, that sent a blush across my face.

I asked my father if I could catch fish with him. People in the village who saw us walking together to the beach must have thought I was a very nice daughter to help my old father, but I had my reasons for wanting to be on the beach. I was disappointed; for I did not see him that day, or the next. On the third day, he was there just like I had seen him before, heaving crates with his father. My heart skipped a beat. We worked for two dreary hours in the sweltering heat. I stole glances at him while he was working, all the time dreading the thought that  he too could sense it

Two days later when my father left me alone at the beach, I struggled to pull the boat out the sea. One edge seemed to be stuck in the mud. I was losing hope when all at once two masculine hands grabbed my hands from behind and tightened my grip on the rope. The mud gave way and the boat lifted itself up onto the sand. I was silently overjoyed for I knew it was him who had helped me. I turned and gave him a smile of gratitude. He inched closer and his fingers grazed my thighs. Then he left. I stood standing for the next ten minutes at the beach, trying to understand what he did and why. I felt a tad embarrassed but I could not understand why. Amaya would have warned me of what was going to happen, but then if Amaya was there, it wouldn’t have happened in the first place.

I had begun liking my work at the sea. It was strenuous but it gave me an odd sense of satisfaction, as if there was a reason to haul myself from the bed at dawn. I felt alive and relished the small fish I had for dinner. After that strange encounter, I was unsure of how to approach him, but I saw him with the Gods and was certain that nothing wrong had happened.

Once it started raining heavily. I saw the grey clouds darken the sky as they passed a shadow on the churning sea. A storm was approaching, and soon the waves would take us all inside if we stayed there. I looked for my father but he must have left. Scared, I looked around in desperation and found myself being dragged away from the water forcefully. It was him, my chocolate brown eyed boy. Relieved, I let him take me up on a small alcove formed by black rocks on the edge of a cliff where we would be safe from the waves. It seemed big enough for ten people.

I was completely drenched and shivering from the cold.
“Thank you.” These were my first words to him.
I saw him studying me again, and suddenly the alcove was too warm. He came and bent over, and started putting my hair away from my face, behind my ears. He hadn’t said a word to me till now and somehow it seemed that he wouldn’t. I wanted to tell him so many things, but he seemed more interested in making me dry. He wiped the water from my neck and off my blouse. I did not understand why he was so concerned with me being wet, and then he tried opening my blouse. Feeling awkward, I resisted but he forced it open and moved his fingers over my chest. I was too young to know what he was doing, but I knew that he was hurting me. I saw the look on his face and it scared me so much that I started crying. Then the look was gone, and he saw me with those chocolate eyes again that seemed frightened and confused. They were asking for forgiveness, begging me to understand that it wasn't his intention to inflict any pain or resentment on me. But then he got up and vanished, I don’t know where. I curled myself into a little bundle and cried.

I thought I had found a friend. Who was this monster? My innocence was broken, and no one could help. Not even Amaya.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Summer of 69

It was the summer of 1969. I stood leaning quietly against the poorly cemented wall of my terrace, brooding on the intricacies of my insignificant existence. I was disheartened and plagued by loneliness. It was that unfortunate phase in my life where I sensed that God had wantonly abandoned me. I kept an eye open for idly gazing at the buzzing market scene below. It appeared somewhat similar at any length of the day as if ignorant of the sweltering weather that made me so uncomfortably hot.


In that sleepy state of mind, I lazily tried to decipher the various people. They seemed only concerned with their own petty affairs of buying or selling goods, mostly fruits that could no more be seen in the hot baking afternoon heat more than the tiny black flies that covered them. The fruit sellers could not have appeared more unbothered, fanning their perspiring brows as they sat squatting in their khadhi dhotis that must have once been of the color white.


Next to the fruit stalls was a tiny repair shop- if you can call it one- of four bamboos loosely tied to the ends of a cloth of the color of the sun. The cloth roof sheltering from the direct blistering heat drooped down as low as to almost touch the head of the figure working beneath it. A young scrawny boy with dirty slipshod hair who looked no more than seven was absorbed in his work of thread and needle. It was if there was no life outside the universe of his shabby yellow shop and sewing served the sole purpose of his life. His small brown hands kept at his work with such cleverness that it was a while before I could notice the beautiful lady towering above him. I was that engrossed.


When I say beautiful, I mean that hers was an unearthly presence in that ordinary third grade place where the air is always putrid and everything appears to be rotting. Her dark brown curls were cozily cushioned against the sides of her silken cheeks. Her taut velvety skin was delicately wrapped in a blue sleeveless cotton dress that came to just above her knees. As she laughed at something the boy said to her as he held outright her pair of silver heels with his two bony fingers, she straightened the light brown straw hat that had been drooping to the right side of her lovely face. I caught a glimpse of those hazel eyes that saw the world around her only through the light shades of innocence.


It was a sign. I had seen an angel fallen from the sky. Her name was Hope.


The heat suddenly felt unbearable, and I felt a burn forming on the sides of my cheeks. I shut my eyes briefly for a few seconds to drink in as much of her as I could. In those moments she vanished, never to come back again before my eyes.


That was a good twenty years back, and the sight of her altered the course my life would have taken if I had wasted my youth any more on those dreadful thoughts. Here I am now, laughing and reading bear stories to my four year old daughter. She will have a good night’s sleep because her daddy takes care of all the boogey monsters. Her curls often do remind of the summer noon that was.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Drowning of the butterfly.

Drowning of the butterfly.

Wings pierced and life flailing…see how it is sucked into the massive blue with an almost blood- curling flutter. An unnerving silence prevails; suggesting no evidence whatsoever of what was.
Then it goes back to how it was; the butterfly forgotten.
Waves cease not thrashing, sky darkens and eventually clears. Silence is broken and restored.
What of the trapped butterfly?
Fading in its yellow…looming closer to the lusty crimson rosebud of death.
The pollens of death scatter wild, poisoning with every gentle brush..sucking calm..churning filth.
There is an interesting pattern that forms as blood trickles on the sunny wings.
It suggests many conflicting impressions; confused clottings of wrath and frustration ; fresh ones over the ones hardened with time.
There is an endless cycle of hope and hurt; glimpses of hunger craving to be devoured.

The butterfly performs a final graceful act in its waning struggle for survival; and then it is consumed forever in the blue.
A majestic fall. But what a waste.

Curse attraction.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Conundrum of Recycle, Reuse or Ban


The Conundrum of Recycle, Reuse or Ban

Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) is well on its way with its imposition of ‘the ban on the manufacture, use and sale of plastic carry bags’, a change that would affect each module of our community; be it vendors, manufacturers, traders, retailers, malls, consumers, rag pickers or recyclers.

We have confronted similar attempts to manage waste before; but why do these laws fail to implement in action? Is a 100% ban on the use of plastic mandatory?

With India being the top 10 manufacturer of plastic, the importance and menace of plastic is being disputed.

Corporate firms that manufacture plastic argue that plastic is recyclable, and hence a ban on it is unnecessary. What they don’t mention is that 40% of the total plastic waste is non- recyclable. Plastic is of various types, depending on its composition. Metallized plastic, like the cover of Lays is completely non-recyclable. How then is recycling an environmentally viable option in this case?

They go as far as to propose energy generation from plastic. What they choose to ignore is the release of dioxins during the process. Plastic emits toxins when it is burnt, and a range of chemicals are released as several colors are added to it. So while we try save the environment, we destroy it much more in the process.

You might be familiar with the term downcycling. It describes the interminable deterioration of plastic each time it is recycled, constraining its incessant reuse. Also, segregation is a necessary foreplay to recycling as similar kinds of plastic are recycled together. Sometimes, this segregation can be extremely cumbersome in practice. Some objects like the tube of toothpaste constitute of four different plastics, and so only the cap of tube is recycled.

If we consider other obstacles to plastic disposal, plastic burial leads to toxic leaching, is life threatening to stray animals and is a menace to aquatic life once in water. It also takes very long to decompose. Finally, its basic resource is petroleum, which adds to the amount of carbon.

In the recent meeting on the ban on plastic bags held at Open Space, Law College Road on 8th Jan, Pune based NGO called Swach expounded the rag pickers’ reluctance to collect plastic. Rag pickers receive an average of 1 Rupee per kilo of plastic, which is meager compared to the intensity of labor.

This is why environmentalists request a complete ban on plastic bags, with subsidies for cloth, paper or jute.

While Pune already has a law against the usage of plastic below 50 microns in order to prevent flying of plastic, that law hasn’t reduced the quantity of plastic waste, as the manufacturers now produce plastic of thicker density. However, with extinction of plastic below 50 microns that was held responsible for many floods, the frequency of floods has reduced. But as plastic destruction still remains difficult, favor seems to be extending to implement a complete ban, so that the facet of density is not raised.

On one side the manufacturers and recyclers clearly object to this ban, whereas the vendors appear to be stuck in between the pros and cons. While the prospect of not paying for the extra carry bag along with the purchases of the consumer appears profitable, the consumers are too habituated to take carry bags from the shops and hence threaten to not buy from that shop if a carry bag is not supplied along with the purchases. This induces them to break the law.

The question that becomes important to ask at this point is whether it is the responsibility of the consumers to adapt to the change and welcome the idea of a new generation where cloth bags become as precious as mobiles to be clung on to. Or is it the retailers responsibility to not provide even on demand? But perhaps the world never did function without symbiosis. We together need to brush the planet clean in order to paint change.