Readers Respond to Amitav Ghosh, Piku, Rahul’s rebirth and Khullar on Net Neutrality



The message of Piku

This refers to Samina Motlekar’s piece on Piku. I am one of those common people who go to find entertainment in a cinema. Samina’s social analysis may be spot on, but if I were to look for such deep meaning in everything I saw, read, heard and experienced, life would become very boring. And If I sought all that she slammed the movie for not having , I would go read a book and never go to the cinema!

I feel the kind of people who would derive the same meaning from Piku as she did make up a small percentage of those who see movies in South Asia would not end up going to watch the movie.

Amitabh Bachchan’s hypochondriac character may have been exaggerated but the daughter’s role (played by Deepika Padukone) made me realise what I should be doing for my old parents as time marches on.

I want to be as content as Piku was when my parents move on, secure in the knowledge that I did everything within my power to make them happy. That has to be worth something, surely.

Shazia Hussain Zuberi


We need to place popular cinema in the context of the popular imagination and not some rarified academic domain. In that sphere, Piku is far from regressive. The daughter is looking after her father, but not only is that not such a bad thing, she is no pushover by any stretch of imagination. Even the open conversation on her “need-based” sex is quite new for mainstream Hindi cinema. The father is in fact berating all women in the family (including his late wife, and living sister in law in Kolkata) for having given up their lives to serve their husbands. Indeed, I felt that by bringing up his daughter’s lost virginity, he was actually shining a light on regressive notions about pre-marital sex.

So please, can we lighten up, sit back and have a few laughs for which even the exaggerated characterisations in the film may not be so terrible after all. Critics who want to teach us feminism, modernity, how to “see” a film or anything else should please stay curled up in their own dark spaces and leave us enjoy our lighter moments!

Kiran Bhatty
New Delhi

Amitav Ghosh and Climate change

As a research scholar working on issues related to science, technology, and society, I shall make no efforts to hide how thrilled I am to see a dedicated Science section in an Indian news website. While I am most pleased that Amitav Ghosh has written a piece on the issue of climate change and has commented upon the neglect of the subject in the larger public sphere, there are three issues that I would like to raise:

1. Uncertainty in climate change

The author (even if not in spirit) conflates the effect of weather shocks in agriculture with climate change in one instance, and in another instance goes on to possibly suggest that the decline in agricultural productivity in Bangladesh may be attributable to climate change (based on the intermediary parameter of increase in salinity in the soil).

In order to establish any causal connection between a regional event and even climate variability in a region, a rigorous analysis of multiple climate parameters spread over many decades must be carried out. But even then, studies can only claim that there may or may not be certain effects caused by the presence of climate variability within a range of probability values.  And here we are not even talking of the difficulty involved in attributing a particular event to climate change per se. It is too broad, sweeping and misleading, therefore, to make such attributions to climate change without sufficient evidence.

While I applaud Amitav Ghosh for highlighting the harm that climate skeptics have caused in the global effort to act upon climate change, it must also be recognised that on the other end of the spectrum we have people who seem to attribute every extreme climate event to global warming.  I must clarify that I do not think that the author falls into this trap, but nevertheless some his arguments can be used to bolster such a claim. What is often not recognised by people at the other end of the spectrum is the inherent uncertainty involved in making such attributions. This uncertainty is with respect to the multiple effects that climate change may or may not have on local or regional scales. It is not an uncertainty simply in our knowing about climate change. If everything and anything is attributable to climate change without paying attention to what is known and what can be done, then why bother acting upon the issues at all?

2. The failure of the left to grapple with climate change

As the author points out, it may be the case that some progressive forces in countries such as the United States have maintained a silence on climate change. But far too many left-leaning/progressive/Marxist voices have spoken about it and have produced excellent analyses of the issue and broadened public debate as well (such as John Bellamy Foster). As for India, members of the CPI(M) have, for instance, clearly spoken about the issue on many occasions and have taken a clear position on climate change. More importantly, the topic is widely discussed across many left and progressive forums such as People Science Organisations which are spread out across the country.

3. The need for enlightened doomsdaying

The author towards the end of the article goes on to state that,

“Strangely, none of this is anomalous: in India as elsewhere it would seem that the broadening of the political sphere has led to an ever-greater engagement with issues of personal liberty, equity, identity, free expression and so on, at the cost of matters related to collective well-being. In other words, in extending its reach into our lives the political sphere has itself been transformed, in ways that make it very difficult to address issues of long duration even when they involve the most elemental human need: survival.”

Here I only partially agree with the dichotomy of the particular and the universal or the individual and the collective that the author brings out. How exactly must one grapple with problems such as climate change?  For instance the way in which climate change is debated, societal needs/development/material welfare/personal freedoms are often counter posed with the environment (what is often dubbed as the development versus environment debate). As with any other formulation of problems affecting society, both the particular and universal (concerns) must be dealt with sufficiently. This specifically requires that such a debate be carried out in the public and political sphere. But this would require that we address how collective well-being and individual values inform each other and where they seem to contradict each other. It is not necessary that the presence of the latter precludes the former.

Further our worldview towards catastrophes and catastrophic events must also be looked into and examined. How do we grapple with an uncertain future and yet remain sufficiently optimistic to act upon the present? So at the heart of the matter is the fact that climate change requires that we develop a debate on how we understand uncertainty and risks, and make decisions in the face of such risks and uncertainties.

Of course, I do agree with the author on the larger concerns that he raises regarding the lack of debate within the media on the issue of climate change. It is in this context that I would like to submit my comments.

Aravindhan Nagarajan
TISS, Mumbai

Rahul’s baby steps

Sidharth Bhatia’s observation on Rahul’s speeches, surely, is right. There is improvement in Rahul’s tone and in the tenor of his speeches but his words lack conviction and substance. They are mere rhetoric without solid substance. His allegations are like his ‘Amethi Food Court’ faux pas, where he fumbled badly by accusing the Modi government of vendetta politics by stalling the project. He must do his homework before making such allegations. He must go back to the basics and develop his political acumen, and must equip himself more by reading books and knowledge empowerment. If he can improve in these departments, Rahul would be the tallest leader among the politicians we have around. Modi will remain invincible unless he is taken on with facts and sound logic. Modi knows this and capitalizes on this with full force

V. Sriharsha

Let’s TRAI again on Net Neutrality

It’s sad to see Rahul Khullar take a rather one-sided view of Net Neutrality. This prejudiced view was seen even in the way TRAI drew up its consultation paper on the issue. That effort looked more like a paper drafted by the Cellular Operators’ Association of India than something intended to look at all issues in a holistic fashion. While the regulator looked at the issue from the prism of the large telecom companies, it missed the perspective of customers, freedom of choice, the needs of the younger generation of the country, the thriving start up economy of the country and fairness to small and upcoming companies above all. While Khullar’s argument on the need to provide affordable internet is absolutely valid and unquestionable, his jumping to the conclusion that tiered access and zero rating are the only answers to the issue is not.

Tiered access does exist in the country already. Consumers pay a much higher amount for bandwidth hungry applications. If one is accessing low bandwidth applications, one pays less and vice verse. This tiered access came into being the day ‘all you can eat’ plans disappeared into the oblivion and rightfully so. Equally, you pay more for 3G than for 2G etc. So the notion of tiered access already exists, unless Khullar believes telecom companies should have the right to create tiers of access by preferring site A vs site B.

As for zero rating, I just fail to understand how it solves the issues Khullar raised. Zero rating, in its most elementary avatar, encourages gate keeping by telcos, preferential access to a select few who can pay big bucks to telecom companies. In no way will it solve the issue of inadequate bandwidth or expensive bandwidth.

I wish Khullar, in his final days at the helm of TRAI, had argued for more spectrum to be brought on to the table at lower prices. India surely needs to get its digital aliens on to the bandwagon of the internet, but the way to get there can’t be by throttling my freedom of choice, leave alone by throttling the content I access.

K. Srini

Science vs social justice

Vasudevan Mukunth has made several important, and valid, points with regard to the indiscriminate combinations of medications in India, and how such combinations are either scientifically invalid or downright dangerous. I agree in full to the points raised by him in what appears to be a well-researched article. Kudos.

My comment is apropos of the last drug mentioned in his article – Dextropropoxyphene.  The Ministry of Health & Family Welfare has suspended the manufacture, distribution and sale of this drug in India (Gazette no:252 dated May 23, 2013).

While the combinations are a cause for concern, Dextropropoxyphene, as a pain killer, had been of immense value in end-of-life care (palliative care) in India. This is despite the fact that it is a weak opioid. The reasons are many:

1) Morphine, the gold standard opioid, to manage pain at end-of-life, is not readily available in India. The amendment to the NDPS act in 2014, one would like to believe, should have changed the scenario. It has unfortunately not.

2) In the presence of opiophobia among patients as well as doctors – who are either phobic due to inadequate training or are worried about the punitive measures the draconian act could enforce upon them – morphine is rarely prescribed. In the absence of morphine (either due to non-availability or reluctance to prescribe), the only painkiller available, particularly in rural India, is Dextropropoxyphene. Now that it is banned, the rural poor are not left with much to manage their end-of-life suffering.

3) Suspected industry involvement: The equianalgesic dose of other pain killers such as tramadol or tapentadol, which is easily available, with prescription recently and without prescription for quite some time, is out of reach of most rural poor. The average daily cost of these drugs is many times more than what the government defines as ‘below poverty line.’

4) One of the reasons for the withdrawal of the drug is the risk of suicide. There has not been a single suicide reported in India with Dextropropoxyphene, though one could argue the accuracy of our reporting systems.

My tuppence then is, yes the withdrawal of Dextropropoxyphene was guided by science, but where is social justice and more importantly where are the local solutions?

Dr. P. Vijayanand 
Indian Society for Study of Pain