Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXIX No. 19, January 15-31, 2020
Enough and more has been said on the subject of stifling dissent and readers of Madras Musings must be wondering as to whether yet another article on the subject is at all warranted. But even if we were to wish away what is happening elsewhere in the country, and we certainly cannot do that, the recent occurences in Chennai have taken us by surprise and it is we feel necessary to speak out on what the city stands for.
But for those who are not aware, a brief recap is necessary. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 is the current subject of discussion and enough and more has been written, spoken and shouted about, for and against it. There have been protests of various kinds across the country, some led by political parties and the majority by activists and students. In Chennai too we have seen some protests though the intensity is a lot less here, which by the way, cannot be construed as assent for the Act. In the midst of all this, some people came up with a novel way to register disapproval. They wove the message in to kolam-s – the traditional patterns of rice flour drawn on the threshold of any Hindu household in South India. It was a unique protest and fairly innocuous. But the level of retribution that descended on those who came up with this idea was inordinate. Eight of them were rounded up, one of whom was denounced as a person with Pakistani leanings – all this in our city where we have prided ourselves on our tolerance.
Chennai has much to be proud of by way of its history of secular thought. This is where inclusion became a way of governance way back in the 1920s, long before Indian independence. This is where a temple’s tank is located on land given by Muslims and a cave associated with the Pandavas has been used as a mosque for centuries. Like all settlements in India, we have seen displacements of one community by another, as evident in some of our shrines, but we have accepted these and moved on. So can we not accept dissent also as part of life and deal with it through discussions, debates and dialogue instead of making the State’s law-enforcing machinery descend on a few individuals? What hope does the latter have against the former and is it at all warranted?
It was in 2010 that the High Court of Madras in a landmark judgement, listed around 400 heritage buildings of Madras, which it deemed worthy of protection. Since then, much time has been wasted by the Government in setting up toothless committees that have done little or nothing. In the meanwhile, a subsequent judgement watered down the original one by interpreting that only the facades of heritage buildings need be protected. But even that has since been given the go by in implementation, with many listed structures in the 2010 judgement vanishing. Beginning with this fortnight, our Heritage Watch column will survey what survives and in what condition, with the judgement of 2010 as its basis.
The raging price of onions reminds us of the saying in Economics that forms the title of this article. Till 1966, Catholics were advised not to eat meat on Fridays, so they ate fish instead. That year the Pope allowed meat on Fridays. The world demand for fish fell and shifted the demand curve downwards. The causes of the rise and fall of prices of food grains, pulses, oilseeds and vegetables are not that remote. They are direct. They are visible. They repeat every year. Our agriculture infrastructure and policy have the effect of penalising higher production. If there is a bumper yield, prices fall so much as to wash away more than the incremental revenue derived from the larger volume. The reverse happens in times of not-so-good monsoons. The tragedy is that while the farmer suffers by the price fall and fails to benefit by the price rise, the intermediaries make a killing in both situations.
Arguably the crown jewel of Chennai’s educational identity, IIT Madras remains highly respected for its work in academic and research projects. Last year alone, the institute announced multiple breakthroughs that show promise of a better, sustainable future. It developed the world’s first iron-ion battery, a low-cost, stable alternative to the present lithium-ion battery; designed an ‘agricopter’ that helps farmers automate pesticide spraying and keep a tab on crop health with an imaging camera; and devised an AI-based disaster management solution called ‘Eye in the Sky’ that utilizes drones to collect and analyze data in real time, to give a few examples.
It was with some sorrow that I read the news of the passing of T.S. Sridhar aka Marina aka Bharanidharan. I never met the man but I did know his close relatives.