Saturday, 14 October 2017


I had a patient yesterday who walked into my consultation chamber with the most pleasant aroma following him, an intense smell which managed to refresh and reinvigorate me, brighten up my day and send my senses to an unimaginable crescendo! I have never in my life smelled anything like that and what was most obvious was how it changed the mood in the surrounding. This middle aged gentleman and his wife were from a small city near Lucknow called Kannauj and they were in the business of manufacturing perfumes or ‘ittar’, as they are called in Hindi and Urdu, for four generations now! The word 'attar', 'ittar' or 'itra' believed to have been derived from the Persian word itir, meaning 'perfume' and my patient, a gentleman who never went back to school after passing class seven, today has business in five continents!  What mesmerized me was his and his wife’s exhaustive knowledge of the product they sell, how they fare against international competitors and what vision they had for the future of their industry. And then again, when I remember that he was a Class seven drop out, it has only reaffirmed my faith that schooling has very little to do with education!

However, the history of perfumes is not very glamorous all the way and slick glass bottles and airbrushed celebrity campaigns of today’s perfume counters belie a strange history that dates back thousands of years – and involves chemicals derived from the butts of dead cats, the Plague and whale vomit. My patient told me that Musk is a secretion from the musk pod of the male musk deer, an organ used to mark territory; civet is a liquid from the anal glands of civet cats; castor is made from the scent glands of beavers; and ambergris is a grey oily lump found in the digestive system of sperm whales. All these were sources of perfume once upon a time in the western world! The earliest use of perfume bottles is Egyptian and dates to around 1000 BC. The Egyptians invented glass and perfume bottles were one of the first common uses for glass.

In India perfumes have a long history too. Our Ittar is an essential oil derived from botanical sources. Most commonly these oils are extracted by hydro or steam distillation. They can also be expressed by chemical means but generally natural perfumes which qualify as ittars are distilled with water. The oils are generally distilled into a wood base such as sandalwood and then aged. The aging period can last from one to ten years depending on the botanicals used and the results desired. Technically ittars are distillates of flowers, herbs, spices and other natural materials such as baked soil over sandalwood oil/liquid paraffins using hydro distillation technique with deg and bhapka. These techniques are still in use today at Kannauj in India. This is one of the oldest natural fragrant materials, nearly 5000 years old. Some of the first lovers of ittars were the Mughal nobles of India. Jasmine ittar was the favorite perfume of the Nizams of the Hyderabad state.

Traditionally in India, it was a customary practice of nobility to offer ittar to their guests at the time of their departure. The ittars are traditionally given in ornate tiny crystal cut bottles called as itardans. This tradition of giving a scent to one's guests continues to this day and my wise patient and his wife offered me two ittars, one for me and one for my wife! I will now enlighten you with some pearls of knowledge which my patient impressed me with.

Perfume governs us in ways we cannot understand. We know that the smell of vanilla – almost universally beloved – brings water in our mouth. We know that the smell of sandalwood is soothing and devotional. It did not take long, though, for people to discover perfume’s romantic potential and it was used both for seduction and as preparation for love-making. Ittars have special medical value and they are generally classified based on their effect on human body as warm ittars’ such as musk, amber and kesar (saffron) are used in winters, they increase the body temperature. Cool ittars such as rose, jasmine, khus, kewda and mogra are used in summers and have cooling effect on the body! Ittar is mainly used to calm the nervous system because it has a soothing aphrodisiac essence and an anti-depressant. It is also used to control sleeplessness so that you can sleep normally. The oil extracted from Jasmine flowers is a potent aphrodisiac that can be used to attract the opposite sex. Other medicinal purposes include; it relieves stress and strain, helps in treating skin ailments, calms frail nerves, and uplifts mood!

In the west with the arrival of eau de cologne, 18th-century France began using perfume for a broad range of purposes. They used it in their bath water, in poultices and enemas, and consumed it in wine or drizzled on a sugar lump.

The history of Perfume is thousands of years old, with evidence of the first perfumes dating back to Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Cyprus. The English word "perfume" comes from the Latin pro fumum, meaning "through smoke." Those were the days of animal sacrifice and what the gods wanted was the rank blood-smoke of sacrificial victims, and if a more fragrant offering were burnt before them, it was to disguise the smell from us the humans, not to please them, the Gods.

A famous perfume critic Luca Turin wrote: "Nobody ever died from wearing Mitsouko, but lots of babies were born as a result of it." Quite so. Vive les nez! The ingredients that are used to create scents have historically been important for trade routes; high-class scents have always been used as a way to distinguish nobility from peasantry, and fragrance has been tied to expressions of religious devotion, cleanliness, and health precautions for most of the history of human civilization.

The Ancient Egyptians were the first to incorporate perfume into their culture, followed by the ancient Chinese, Hindus, Israelite, Carthaginian, Arabs, Greeks, and Romans. The oldest perfumes ever found were discovered by archaeologists in Cyprus. They were more than four thousand years old. A cuneiform tablet from Mesopotamia, dating back more than three thousand years, identifies a woman named Tapputi as the first recorded perfume maker. But perfumes could also be found in India at the time. 

The Egyptians loved perfume, and they used it for both ceremonial and beautification purposes: fragrance was believed to be the sweat of the sun-god Ra. They even had a god of perfume, Nefertum, who wore a headdress made from water lilies, one of the most popular perfume ingredients of the time!

Persians invested heavily in perfumes and their kings were often painted with perfume bottles. The Persians dominated the perfume trade for centuries, and many believe that they invented the distillation process that led to the discovery of base alcohol. One thing we do know is that Avicenna, the Persian chemist, doctor, and philosopher, experimented extensively with distillation to try and make better scents, and was first to work out the chemistry behind perfumes that weren’t oil-based.

Many ancient Roman and Greek perfume recipes have survived that it’s actually possible to recreate ancient perfumes in our modern era so accurate was their documentation. In fact, there’s even a mural in a perfume-maker's house in Pompeii that documents the process of making Greco-Roman perfumes. First the oils were made by pressing olives, then ingredients such as plants and wood were added to the oil using meticulous measurements, this was then left to steep so that the oil could take on the scent of the ingredients, thus creating perfumes!

The ancient Chinese utilized scent by burning incense and fragrant material instead of wearing it on the body. Histories of the use of scent in Chinese society tend to emphasize that perfumes weren’t considered a cosmetic there; rather, they were used for disinfection and purity, as they believed they could eliminate diseases from a room. So the biggest difference between this and other perfume traditions was that most Chinese perfume ingredients were used for other purposes such as food and medicine and not worn on the body.

If you were anybody in Europe from the 1200s to the 1600s, you carried a pomander – a ball of scented materials, kept inside an open case, and used to ward of infections and bad smells. Since medieval Europeans believed that bad air could make you sick, these little balls were seen as life-savers. The first alcohol-based perfume was created in this period too: it was known as Hungary Water, because it was believed to have been created for the queen of Hungary during the 14th century, and included distilled alcohol and herbs. A serious breakthrough in perfume production came in medieval Italy, when they discovered how to create aqua mirabilis, a clear substance made of 95 percent alcohol and imbued with strong scent. And thus, the liquid perfume was born. After this invention, Italy, Venice in particular, became the center of the world perfume trade for several hundred years. Coty and Guerlain were the first companies to mass-produce perfume, and Chanel No 5 smashed sales records and made perfume history! Famous women such as Elizabeth Taylor and Katy Perry have given their names to and marketed their brand of perfume markets for decades.

For thousands of years ittars were used and understood to be something that attracted angels and warded off darkness or evil spirits. Saints and spiritual aspirants would adorn themselves with the finest scents to assist them in their journey towards enlightenment. Today, perfumes are a multi-million dollar industry and our own Ittars are competing with the best in the world for a share of the lucrative pie!!

Wednesday, 13 September 2017


Travel and tourism to me is an educational pursuit, a way of absorbing knowledge through experience and it is the spice of life. I never stop learning when I travel. I never cease absorbing new things about the world, about life, and about myself.  Though everyone picks up different gems of understanding at different times, there are a few universal truths, a few inalienable facts that we all have to learn. Some of these truths are hard won, while others are subconsciously absorbed with time. Our tastes, our traits and our personalities make us choose the destinations we choose for our holidays and so there is a distinct traffic heading to Las Vegas and a very different bunch going to Varanasi. They will both enjoy their respective destinations though not necessarily each other’s target cities.

So what has travel taught me as I have grown up travelling my vast country and the world? Plenty; I have acquired certain invaluable pieces of knowledge, mostly about myself, which makes me a far more reassured and happy traveler, who complains about virtually nothing. I must admit that my love affair with the internet which makes me plan my travels far more efficiently has a lot to do with this, but what has changed most is ‘me’.

I today intend to share with you some of these valuable travel lessons. They make life easier. They make life simpler. These basics might be philosophical, existential, physical, or even simple common sense, but the fact is the more you travel, the more you come to realize they're true.

1.     You're here for a good time, not a long time: This is something a teacher said to me when I was young and under his tutelage was out on a school trip, and I've never forgotten it. The idea is that you don't get many holidays in this life. You don't have long to explore the world. So with that in mind, don't sweat the small stuff. Don't get upset when things go wrong. Just savour every little moment.

2.     More money does not equal more enjoyment: As a budget traveler you find yourself occasionally lusting after five-star hotels and fancy dinners, but as you grow older and start affording them, you start missing the good old days of budget travel. Some of your best travel experiences will be had on low-budget journeys to unfashionable places.

3.     You travel for your pleasure and not for your Facebook status: This is not a competition. You're not holidaying to impress your friends, or to make your colleagues jealous, or for any other reason besides the pure enjoyment of travel. You choose your destinations for you. You choose your experiences for you. No one else matters.

4.     Kids don't have to slow you down: There's an assumption that having kids will put an 18-year halt on your travel plans, that you might as well get used to staying at home for a long while. But it's not true. Travel with kids of all ages is not only possible, it's enjoyable, and rewarding for everyone involved.

5.     Less is more … It takes a while to understand that you should take all the money you think you'll need for a holiday and double it, and take all the clothes you think you'll need, and halve it. Yes, you understand that you really don't need all that gear, and that you could easily ditch half of it – but which half? Wheelie luggage makes it even more tempting to over-pack.

6.     You need more money than you thought: You really do. Something tends to happen to money when you're travelling: it just disappears. Best to take lots of it but not in cash. Cards are best and safest.

7.     If you can't afford to lose it, leave it: There's no point stressing out your whole holiday over your expensive watch, or those nice earrings, or the bag you really love. If you've can't bear to lose something, then don't take it travelling. It's not worth the worry.

8.     Backpacking is a state of mind: You don't have to be young to backpack. You don't need to stay in hostels. You don't even need an actual backpack. Independent, long-term, experiential travel – the sort of travel backpackers do best – is open to anyone at any time. That said, there will come a point – usually before the age of 40 – when you realize you're too old for dorm rooms. The rustling of plastic bags, the lights on at 4am, the drunks stumbling around … There's only so long you can put up with that.

9.     People rarely just want to practice their English….smell a scam: There's a wariness that comes with experience for travelers, a knowledge that, sadly, not everyone you meet on the road has the best intentions. One of the classic warning signs is the friendly local who wants to practice their English. This has "scam" written all over it.

10.  Change your money in the airport: Do not rely on friendly locals to give you a better exchange rate. This is an age old trap. Do not ever lose the sight of your passport, even when you need to show it for hotel check in.

11.  Haggling is essential: It's an uncomfortable feeling, essentially arguing with someone over money – but haggling is a deeply ingrained part of many cultures, and it's something you should try to enjoy. But don't go too hard.

12.  Take it slow: In your first holiday, you want to see everything. Ten countries in two weeks: no problem. Check all the boxes, do all the things. After a while, however, you realize that sometimes less is more when it comes to travel. Spend more time in fewer places, and you'll be richly rewarded. Imbibe the culture, appreciate the geography, get inspired by the architecture and the civilization and enjoy the distinctive cuisines. Breezy conducted tours will not allow you to do all this.

13.  Language is power: You can travel without being able to speak the local language quite easily. However, you're just floating across the surface; you're seeing everything in 2D. Learning a language allows you to interact with locals, to learn and experience and show respect. It's a difficult skill, but so valuable.

14.  Local food is best: By far the safest way to eat when you're travelling is to dine on whatever it is the locals enjoy. The food is fresher, it's cooked with passion and skill, and you eat it surrounded by new friends.
15.  It's OK to splash out: You want to spend $300 on dinner because you love food? Go for it. Want to experience a night in a five-star hotel? Do it. Want to hire a Tuxedo and attend an expensive concert? Do it. Want to fly business class just once? Make the booking. There's no shame in saving up for something you really want to do and then splashing the cash. It is your money and it is being spent on your happiness……no harm done!
16.  Bad days happen….makes you capable of amazing things: You can plan everything to the finest degree: you can do your research, you can read reviews, you can book ahead, you can pack everything you need. Some days, however, will just be a disaster. Move on. You can survive when things go wrong. You can make yourself understood in another language. You can befriend strangers. You can explore the world on your own. You can change your life with a split decision. This might be the most important lesson of all: you are capable of amazing things.

17.  People are fundamentally good: There's a tendency to be on your guard at first, to listen to tales of thievery and scams and believe it's safer to assume the worst in people. But that's a mistake. The people you meet on the road are overwhelmingly good of intention and of heart. You might run into the odd exception, but the vast majority of people are kind, generous and well meaning. Exceptions are everywhere, they don’t form the majority.

18.  Risks are worth taking: Travel is at its best when it challenges you, when it forces you to reconsider what you thought you knew when it takes you outside your comfort zone. It's a thrill, an experience, a story. The idea of "risk" is different for everyone, different for different ages, but the benefits remain the same.

19.  Off the beaten track is good: Most people tend to begin their travel careers in popular, safe destinations. As time goes on, however, you discover that sometimes the best experiences can be found in the most unlikely places. The entire world is worthy of exploration.

20.  But some of the best things have been done before: There's a reason Italy is so popular; same as it's no surprise everyone goes to Australia and Canada. These are truly amazing places. Just because a destination is mainstream, doesn't mean it isn't worth a visit.

21.  Stereotypes are ridiculous (and sometimes true): Experienced travelers know that Germans aren't really uptight, the French aren't rude, the Americans aren't boorish, the English aren't whiners, and Australians aren't drunks. Occasionally, however, they are.

22.  Two weeks is enough: Anyone waiting for that perfect time to see South America, or Africa, or North America, to hold out until they have six months to "do it properly", will probably never make it there. Two weeks is long enough to have an amazing experience. And there's no better time to make it happen than now.

23.  The world is a safe place: Despite all of the security issues, all of the unrest, all of the bad news stories and potential danger, you learn as you travel that the world is actually a pretty safe place. Countries you thought were dodgy are not that bad. People are trustworthy. The world is good.

24.  Your own country is worth exploring: Though it's tempting to view India as a destination for "later", there's so much to explore here, so much to appreciate. Whether it is a beach resort or a hill station, a desert safari or a tiger reserve, IPL cricket or white water rafting we have so much that's worth seeing and doing now.

25.  Travelling alone is amazing: At first, it seems intimidating: going out on your own, tackling all of travel's challenges without anyone's help, existing purely in your own company. But solo travel is something everyone should experience. It's the ultimate freedom, and will teach you more about yourself than you've ever known.

26.  Expect the unexpected: Things will go wrong when you travel. Trains will run late, hotel bookings will fall through, restaurants will be terrible, and nothing will look like the brochure. That's life. The sooner you accept these mishaps and move on, the more enjoyable your travels will be.

27.  It's not wrong, it's different: It's easy to judge other cultures, to decide that their way of doing things is a mistake. But your world changes completely when you take on this mantra: "It's not wrong, it's different." This way you will not antagonize anyone and enjoy your travel.

28.  You've never "done" anywhere: Any traveler who tells you they've "done Asia", or they've "done the US", or they've "done" anywhere, are kidding themselves. Nowhere is ever done. There's always something new and amazing to discover.

29.  Trains are better than planes: The hierarchy of transport options goes like this: trains, then planes, then buses. Trains are the best way to see the world, a way to mix with locals and stretch your legs while travelling efficiently. Planes are fast but soulless. Buses have character, but take forever to get anywhere.

30.  You'll probably never see these people again: When you're young you part with new travel friends promising to stay in touch, swearing you'll catch up soon, convinced this will be the start of a lasting friendship. But then you come to realize that with 99 per cent of those people, that won't be the case. You just have to enjoy these fleeting relationships while you can.

31.  Great holidays can never be recreated: It's an easy trap to fall into, wanting to go back and do the same things again, wanting to recapture the magic, to see and feel the same things you did before. But travel doesn't work like that. It will never be the same. Better to go somewhere new and make fresh memories.

32.  Insurance is essential: This is a lesson that's occasionally learned the hard way – with a whopping medical bill – but one that everyone picks up eventually. You need travel insurance.

33.  It's never too late to get started: Though we've chosen to focus on age, one thing to stress is that there's no wrong time to begin your wanderings around the globe. At any age, or any point in your life, the decision to travel will be a game-changer.

34.  Coming home is the worst: Come home fresh and not exhausted. Your batteries should be fully recharged. There really is no more miserable feeling than the "back-home blues", the knowledge that all that excitement, all that anticipation, all of those challenges and joys and thrills, are all finished. There's only one cure: book another trip.

35. Avoid political hot spots and war zones: There is absolutely no reason to travel to terrorism prone part of the globe, chaotic countries during their elections, countries under insane military rulers and countries which curtail your civil liberties. War zones are best left for soldiers and the Red Cross!

These five lessons we never learn
Budget airlines are bad
You pay next to nothing to fly on a budget airline, and yet you still roll up to the airport each time expecting five-star service and an on-time departure. Not the way it works.
Brochures are untrustworthy
Though you know, deep down, that there's no way any hotel or resort is going to look the same as it does on a website or in a brochure, it's still a disappointment.
You can't get an upgrade
You can ask for an upgrade, by all means. You can dress smart, you can talk slick and you can make pleading eyes. But it's extremely rare to get bumped up.
Possessions aren't important
Every time you travel you realize you can quite easily get by with just the contents of a small suitcase. And then you get home and completely forget again.
There's no cure for the travel bug

Just one more trip, you think, then I'll stop for a while. I'll stay home and save for that house, that car. But there is no cure for the travel bug. You'll never stop.

Travelling is a spice of life. It promotes the feeling of brotherhood as we are able to meet different people and make new friends. It also promotes trade and commerce and international relations. It broadens our outlook towards life. It is a source of good health. It refreshes our body and mind. This is the easiest way to come in closer contact with nature, cultures and civilizations. Travelling is an essential part of the education for the practical knowledge it imparts to our character. Travelling gives our eyes and our minds views that leave a lasting impression. Travelling also removes narrowness of thoughts and broadens our outlook and helps us to leave behind superstitions as we progress.  Thus, there is the need for every man to travel and so we do. 

Monday, 4 September 2017


Whether it is Gurmeet Ram Rahim or it is Rampal ot Asaram or Nirmal or Shyam Giri or Tunnu our recent history is riddled with fraud babas and fraudulent religious leaders. Claims of corruption, sexual exploitation and inciting violence had dogged thes spiritual leaders—or “god men,” and they have become a pain in the neck of our society. They have a unique position in our social fabric where they enjoy popularity out of proportion to their minuscule abilities. Politicians and babus who matter lie prostate in their presence as they command large vote banks and are Hawala currency exchanges for their illegitimate wealth. It is a nice symbiosis which prospers till the baba looses his head  for some apsaras. Sex has somehow remained the most potent baba-neutralizer over the ages and this time with GRR it was no exception.

They acquire some knowledge of basic religion, have the gift of gab, start preaching and the gullible fall prey. These less-than-holy members of India’s massive religious network act as scam artists thriving alongside genuine spiritual leaders. Many babas begin as preachers from small towns in the country’s rural hinterland where they hold ersatz satsangs—religious discourses open to the mostly poor, uneducated locals. A well-run satsang can offer the sort opportunities for enlightenment hard to come by in these outlying villages. In course of time the gurus cultivate relationships, intervene in family disputes and even act as match makers. And because some devotees have become so beholden by becoming part of the faithful, it is blind faith that takes over after that. The faithful may find themselves doing something as simple as cleaning up the ashram for free or cooking for the guru and his live-in acolytes. Depending on the power and influence of the particular godman, however, things can escalate, with followers donating huge sums of money or even committing crimes for their leader. The potential for sexual exploitation is never far away.

Every god man or godmother has a USP which he/she exploits to the hilt. Some can produce ‘bhabhuti’, ashe from thin air, some can forecast future and some can heal all ailments. A current television sensation, and yes they all have their own TV programmes with excellent TRPs, claims he has spiritual power and he can do wonders with his sixth sense and mystic powers. He also claims that he has healing powers and God’s gift to scan the person who is thousands of miles away – believe it or not, over the telephone! It’s sound strange! But millions of his supporters believe this and follow him as a God or real GURU. But there are lots of other peoples who believe this is a real scam with innocent Indian people.

So why do Indians still flock to these powerful swamis—some of whom may wield as much power as the leaders of small countries—even after charges of rape and massive military raids carried out on live television? Despite the scandals, it does not stop people from stooping to charlatans in robes and matted hair because they themselves are left with very low self esteem and are emotionally paralyzed by the guru!  And that is the irony….a guru is expected to make one emotionally strong and not turn his disciple into an emotional cripple who always is in need for the guru’s crutches!!

What is both unfortunate and painful is that such pseudo babas flourish, of all the places, in India. This has been a land of the sages, seers, saints and sufis. From the great Rishis of yesteryear like Vashishth and Valmiki, Sushruta and Charaka, Dadhichi and Dattatatreya through the period of Ram Krishna Paramhans and Aurobindo to the recent Ma Anandmaye our history is adorned by so many super human souls who have carved our destiny over the years and made us feel proud of our heritage. Every gotra is originating from a Rishi, whether it is Gautama and Bharadvāja, Viśvāmitra and Jamadagni, Vashishtha and Kaśhyapa and Shandilya the seven sages (also known as Saptarishi) and all of us are their progeny! And yet in India, there is so much of falsehood, deceit, corruption and debauchery in the name of Dharma being perpetrated by the likes of GRR, Asharam, Rampal and their types! Their crime is not just what they are being tried for in the court; their most heinous crime is that they have sullied the good name of the saints and sages of the past. They have brought our Dharma to disrepute. They have become a black blot on our civilization. It was our mistake; we did not identify the asura in the garb of baba.

All those gullible creatures who talk about baba miracles fail to understand basics of Hinduism which revolves around Karma and its fruits – which affects life and after lives. Karma helps explain the disparities that occur in the human population such as: prosperity or poverty, happiness or misery, good health, illness, or disability. We are what we are because of our deeds and actions. One cannot escape from the Karma, right or wrong and no baba can help. Only good karma is what will lead to salvation. What these babas are doing amounts to cultural terrorism.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

ADHAR - a double edge sword

An Aadhaar card is a unique twelve digit identification number issued to every citizen in India and is a centralized and universal identification number. The Aadhar card is a biometric card that stores an individual's personal details in a government database, and is fast becoming the government's base for public welfare and citizen services.

The government has most effectively shown the benefits of ADHAR by successfully using it to weed out fake beneficiaries of state largess and channelize our meager resources to those who need it most. The government uses the Aadhar network in order to ensure that individuals who require assistance and benefits gain access to these resources directly, eliminating the need for middlemen. As part of this process, it is gradually linking all essential government services and benefits schemes to the Aadhaar network, creating a centralised database through which it can distribute and keep track of the various schemes and programmes it runs along with the beneficiaries.

The Aadhar card is a very versatile card and can be used as proof of identity, proof of address as well as proof of age when applying for any government service. Issues like acquiring passport, opening bank accounts, getting digital life certificates, receipt of monthly pension, disbursing provident fund and LPG subsidy can all be done by this single card. The linking of Adhar card to PAN card will now help the nation tackle the problem of multiple PAN cards issued under a single name. Thus benami transactions will be difficult.

But there is the other face of ADHAR too, that cannot be ignored.

This is the current conundrum bothering the Supreme Court.

The dangers of Aadhaar/UIDAI isn't about privacy or data security alone. It is far bigger. It is about how much power you as an individual, surrender to the government.

To those who support Aadhaar and/or the government, indulge me for a moment. Imagine, and I repeat imagine, for a moment that there is an anti-BJP or Congress government at the Centre or worse, an Army general who manages a coup and then declares an Emergency. The last time it happened, opposition leaders, including LK Advani or George Fernandes went underground. They masked their identity, travelled across the country, raised money and garnered people’s support for their activities against the government. None of this will be possible any more.

Under such a circumstance, just switching off your cell phone won’t be sufficient to avoid the government tracking you down. Thanks to Aadhaar, you won’t be able to withdraw money or make any transaction using even a debit card. The government is linking Aadhaar to train tickets and boarding passes. You won’t be able to travel.

Being a centralized database, it just takes a few seconds to switch off your Aadhaar authentication. That can deny you your own money, deny you any movement, deny you any form of communication. You can’t hide behind an alias. It is linked to your biometrics. The government doesn’t need to even arrest you. It can just deny your existence in a matter of few seconds. You aren’t dead, but you can be termed dead in a matter of few seconds. You can be Switched Off!

As databases get more and more linked – property cards, tax filings, joint bank accounts, school admissions, - it takes another few seconds to identify your family members. And extend the same denial of existence to your family, friends or anyone who you have done any relationship with. Switch them off!

Such acts don’t even require a declaration of Emergency. A Facebook post that isn’t liked by someopne powerful enough can trigger this in a matter of moments. Switch Off.

The problem with Aadhaar is that it is centralized, and it owns you. You don’t have access to your own trail or data, but someone else has unilateral access to you, anytime. And it stores data, for seven years or even more. No law is sufficient. Aadhaar shouldn’t exist.

We don’t need rights or protection for Achhe Din. Rights and protection are meant for the bad times. But it is during the good times, it is important to not lose sight of how bad times can be and what we need to protect about ourselves.

The likes of Nandan Nilekani are now saying that is a security issue and then point fingers at Android, iOS or Facebook which too owns a lot of our data. It isn’t similar Sir. None of them have executive powers over me. I have some notional ability to delete them, sign off. They can’t Switch me Off. His argument is akin to saying – “look, we have built a grand, free house for you to live in. Yes, the columns of the house aren’t strong enough, but hey, there are other houses in towns that also have weak columns.” Sir, with all due respect, you should have built protection first before giving birth to a Frankenstein.

It's Big Brother is watching you scenario from Orwell. But I do not doubt the intentions of this government. It is just that they have not thought it through and they will have to do a lot of homework. I am sure there will be checks and balances but I as a citizen and a voter need to know all about them. Right now this looks like a knee jerk reaction against the rampant corruption of the previous government......But has the pendulum swung too far!

Wednesday, 23 August 2017


A “civil code” refers to all the laws that deal with matters such as marriage, divorce, maintenance, adoption and inheritance, and property rights in different communities. These personal laws are merely the codification of each and every community’s cultural practices and customs and govern family-related issues, and as India is a grand amalgam of many communities and many religions it is quite expected to have different personal laws for different religious communities. So where is the problem in this un-uniformity, you may ask. The problem is that because of these diversities in the legal system all Indians are not treated in the same way by the law. And this is no secularism!  

Why the objection
The aim of this uniform code is to bring streamline in the personal laws and to ensure that the law treats every person equal irrespective of the religion he/she preaches and the sect he/she belongs. The proposed legislation is aimed at replacing personal laws of various communities on marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption, and maintenance. However, legal experts also caution that a Uniform Civil Code should not become a vehicle for imposing a Hindu majoritarian civil code on other communities and there is no doubt in my mind that this very important issue will be looked into. In other words, the Uniform Civil Code should not be allowed to kill our cultural diversity that caters to community-specific needs and implements “monotheism” in the garb of “secularism”.

The Hindu grievance
The Hindu majority has another grievance which cannot be overlooked. Since Independence, in the name of creating uniform Hindu laws, Hindu personal laws have been thoroughly secularized through the passage of various civil laws like Hindu Marriage Act 1955, Hindu Succession Act 1956, Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act 1956 and the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act 1956, etc., which despite paying a lip service to the importance of customs and usage, ignores them on the ground. As a result Hindu communities have been denied access to be governed by their religious Shastras, and their prevalent community specific traditions and practices have been dismantled but minority communities- Muslims, Christians, Parsis, and Jews- all have continued to live by their community specific religious personal laws, which are rooted in their religious principles! This, to my mind, is discrimination.

It is really a pity that the world’s longest and most elaborately written Constitution in the history of mankind is itself responsible for such discrimination. Does India need the Uniform Civil Code? Of course, she does. It is high time that India had a uniform law dealing with marriage, divorce, succession, inheritance and maintenance. Even the Western countries like Italy and France have enforced it. But, the scenario in India is a lot more complex. We have to truly turn secular, delink religion from politics, stop viewing minorities as vote banks and formulate new laws which help those who need to be protected by them most. A broad consensus must be drawn among different communities to facilitate such a landmark step in India’s religious, social, political and most importantly judicial history.

Uniform Civil Code and the judiciary
It was in 1985 that the need for a Uniform Civil Code was felt for the first time. This was when the famous case of Shah Bano burst into the public consciousness. Bano had gone to the courts to demand maintenance after her husband had divorced her. Ruling on the case, the then Chief Justice of India Y.V. Chandrachud had observed, “A common civil code will help the cause of national integration by removing disparate loyalties to law which have conflicting ideologies.”  Unfortunately, the government of the day thought otherwise. It argued that monotheism is completely alien to Indian civilizational ethos, which celebrates diversity and has evolved tailor-made cultural and religious practices to cater to the specific needs of different communities. Thus it felt that Uniform Civil Code killed cultural diversity that catered to community-specific needs and attempted to implement “monotheism” in the garb of “secularism”.

A lot of water has flown down the Ganges since then. The Muslim women have become more educated and they have turned more vocal. They are not prepared to lead the life of second class citizens anymore and it is because of these brave women more than because of the government of the day that the Supreme Court of India under the leadership of Chief Justice J.S. Khehar passed the landmark judgment banning triple talaq, the worst form of gender inequality prevalent in the Muslim community. After the Shah Bano case the Muslims took to the streets and persons like Z A Ansari and Syed Shahabuddin came forth to establish Muslim orthodoxy, but the climate in New Delhi with the BJP led NDA government in massive majority, is no more conducive to them and the vote-bank card is in fact with the government, with the Muslim women firmly behind it.

Why India needs the Uniform Civil Code?
There are many reasons why India needs Uniform Civil Code and fulfilling a poll promise of the ruling party may be a sweet by-product, but certainly not one of them. To my mind the reasons are:

1.      India turns truly secular by this code. A uniform civil code means that all citizens of India have to follow the same laws irrespective of the religion they belong to. A uniform civil code doesn’t mean it will limit the freedom of people to follow their religion, it just means that every person will be treated the same. That’s real secularism.
2.      All Indians should be treated similarly and religious laws do not do so. All the laws related to marriage, inheritance, family, land etc. should be equal for all Indians and not discriminatory as religious personal laws like triple talaq often are. This is the only way to ensure that all Indians are treated same.
3.      Women are empowered. Our society is extremely patriarchal and misogynistic.  A uniform civil code will help in changing these age-old traditions that have no place in today’s society, where we do understand that women should be treated fairly and given equal rights.
4.      Modern and progressive outlook. The personal laws have today left India in a pitiable state. We are neither modern nor traditional but a strange mix! A uniform civil code is the sign of modern progressive nation. It is a sign that the nation has moved away from caste and religious politics. While our economic growth has been the highest in the world our social growth has not happened at all.
5.      Personal laws are not holy but have too many loopholes and these are exploited by the powerful and the influential. Our panchayats continue to give judgments that are against our constitution and we don’t do anything about it. Human rights are violated through honor killings and female foeticide throughout our country. By allowing personal laws we have constituted an alternate judicial system that still operates on thousands of years old values.
6.      It will sanitize the electoral politics to some extent. It will vote puncture bank politics that most political parties indulge in during every election. If all religions are covered under the same laws, the politicians will have less to offer to certain minorities in exchange of their vote. Not having a uniform civil code is detrimental to true democracy and that has to change.
7.      It will help in creating One India. A uniform civil code will help in integrating India more than it has ever been since independence. A lot of the animosity is caused by preferential treatment by the law of certain religious communities and this can be avoided by a uniform civil code. It will help in bringing every Indian, irrespective of her/ his caste, religion or tribe, under one national civil code of conduct.

I respect the anguish and alarm of those who feel that in the name of uniformity in civil code our diversity of religion, culture and civilization is at risk but if we incorporate the most modern and progressive aspects of all existing personal laws while discarding those that are retrograde then how can we not build a better future? Religious fundamentalism must go, social and economic justice must be made available to the so-called minority and oppressed groups and their dignity should be ensured to achieve this dream of one India, one society and one Law.