Tag: Politics

Authentic Misinformation

Authentic Misinformation

Someone shared a fake story in my society group about veteran BBC correspondent Mark Tully heaping praises on Narendra Modi.

The article was forwarded with the link to an altnews.in story exposing it as a fake story but the member who forwarded it probably didn’t bother to check the link because the accompanying text was so full of Modi’s greatness. I gently pointed out that the link says it’s fake news.

As expected, another member of the group — a hardcore supporter of PM — retorted, “But it’s true, what is written”. I reminded her that Mark Tully didn’t say any of it, to which she said: “But the message has truth in it; we can also be sure that BBC will never ever tell the truth as far as India is concerned.” I said, “But using Tully’s name for credibility indicates something else”.

To which she said, “We Indians normally believe anything coming from abroad, so even to tell the truth it’s OK to use this method which is even said so by thiruvalluvar”. I didn’t get that last bit about thiruvalluvar but sensed the pointlessness of this conversation. I felt like I was trying to remove the blindfold of someone who has firmly shut her eyes inside. I closed my argument saying, “Well, not good for credibility. Truth doesn’t need any propaganda.” Her response: “But unfortunately in this era of false propaganda by vested interests, even truth has to fight its way to prove itself, that too when vested interests have enormous wealth to bribe the so called famous people to say what these people want to say for money. It’s very difficult for truth to even exist.”

Beware of the bias within

Regardless of clear evidence that contradicts them, we tend to believe as authentic stories that confirm our biases. This phenomenon—of being blind to anything that challenges one’s bias—plays out so frequently in our severely polarised world that it doesn’t spare anyone—not even those who call themselves “liberal”. Yes, it’s known to happen, albeit less frequently.

Now, I reckon those who run the IT Cell certainly don’t believe in the concept of karma because they continue to do to others what they don’t want others to do to them.

But what goes around comes around—and often with greater force and intensity. And that’s what is beginning to happen. Social media has been gamed for too long by the RW but the LW is now fast catching up resulting in an overload of misinformation that is threatening to drown all critical thinking.

A recent case in point: A few days ago when Netaji’s portrait was unveiled in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, someone suggested it is not Netaji but actor Prasenjit who played Netaji in his biopic. Senior journalists like Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt as well as astute politicians like Mahua Moitra fell for the misinformation and tweeted it out. Soon, scores of their followers as well as other celebs jumped on the bandwagon.

Unfortunately, the traditional correction mechanisms for misinformation in public discourse have been corrupted. Once the bedrock of credibility, the ubiquitous newspaper has lost its teeth and now frequently peddles misinformation. News channels have, by and large, become mouthpieces of the government, a privilege once reserved only for DD.

Yes, there are websites dedicated to busting fake news: altnews, smhoaxslayer, snopes, factchecker etc. But for every fake news busting website, there are a dozen or more propaganda websites that shamelessly peddle outright lies and manipulated facts. The propaganda websites have it easy because they know how to exploit our cognitive biases. The message in my WhatsApp group I shared above is a good example.

Such stories are what I call “authentic misinformation” and they present a unique challenge: no matter how convincingly one disputes propaganda stories, it appears authentic to those who want to believe it.

Authentic misinformation is a challenge indeed

You see, most of us are far too invested in our bubbles to consider breaking out of it. We are comfortable and secure in our world-view and consider anyone with a different view as a threat. Because of this, any attempt to prove a contrary point mostly backfires and hardens the opposing point-of-view even further. Using rhetoric worsens the situation and we reach a deadlock.

No wonder our bubbles are only becoming more and more airtight. And opaque too, thanks to echo chambers created by social media who profit from our biases. So we can shout ourselves hoarse trying to get our point across to those in a different bubble but our voice isn’t really reaching them.

For example, Modi’s fans are in a bubble in which all is well with Modi and there is always a perfectly plausible reason for all that is going wrong under his government. Try as you may, the vast majority of this segment will not be able find any fault with Modi—because his image is now part of their personal identities and no one likes their carefully weaved identity to be threatened with logic or facts. The easier thing for the brain to do is reject any information that challenges this identity.

What’s the way out?

So what can we do to deal with this phenomenon of authentic misinformation?

I think if we care for and are committed to truth, we ourselves must steer clear of it. For that, we need to be alert and aware of our own biases at all times and resist the temptation to be so cynical of the other that we begin to resemble them.

Of course, we must continue bust fake news whenever we can but also know that it is not enough. I think we need to find ways to build bridges; head-on confrontation never helps because our purpose isn’t to defeat the opponent who is often a friend, a neighbour, a relative or a simply a fellow citizen. Instead of taking a confrontational approach, we need push them (and ourselves) to think clearly and become aware of biases and prejudices that prevents seeing things clearly.

Would love to hear your thoughts…

Another struggle for independence

Another struggle for independence

It’s hard to accept but our blood sucking politicians are a reflection of our collective attitude and mindset. We ought to stop accepting abuse of power and anarchy. A second “struggle” for freedom is needed—one that frees us from our own apathy, cowardice and passivity. Only when we’re freed this way can we ever become free from the greed of the current crop of politicians.

Politicians and horror flicks

Politicians and horror flicks

Millions of ordinary citizens are sending SMSes to TV news channels expressing their shock, anger and other emotions at the recent terror attacks on Mumbai. Many of these SMSes are being telecast on tickers scrolling at the bottom of the screen.

One citizen’s SMS expressed helplessness asking: “When will our politicians wake up?”

I would like to answer this question: Never.

That is because, to wake up, you need to be asleep, not dead. Out politicians are actually dead. Their hearts don’t beat. They souls don’t feel sadness. Only dead people can react the way our politicians do.

In fact, now I am pretty certain that our politicians only shed crocodile tears whenever any terror strikes.

Dead people are supposed to be buried or cremated – but we see them freely roaming everywhere, especially on TV channels. No wonder our TV channels often resemble Hollywood horror flicks, atrocious looking dead men coming out of graves to “terrorise the neighbourhood”. Remember Michael Jackson’s Thriller video?

Mumbai attacks: the lethal combination of business, politics and religion

Mumbai attacks: the lethal combination of business, politics and religion

Rage, shock, disbelief, and hopelessness are some of the many emotions that we in Mumbai are experiencing right now. But we are also feeling helpless. What should we do in such a situation? Is there even a modicum of hope that we will emerge out of our vulnerability to face any crisis in the future?

It is indeed very sad that we can do little except live in fear and speculate about how our self-serving politicians, from ruling parties or otherwise, will use this to further their own utterly selfish agendas.

The problem is much more complex than apparent. And perhaps the root cause is the lethal combination of business, politics and religion. The financial crises, the terror attacks and lots of other grave issues we face today are the result of these three forces conspiring hand-in-glove.

I reckon that the world is a victim of the “business of politics” and the “politics of religion.” Notice that the common thread is politics. Yes, politics is no more than business for our politicians, who leave no prospect of raking in millions. These same politicians also use religion to terrorise the core human spirit. They design dirty divisive strategies just so that they can come to power and then abuse it to their advantage. What is tragic is that people fall victim to the ideologies of political and religious leaders who have nothing but their own self-interest in mind.

Whenever there is a crisis, our political leaders grab the opportunity to point fingers at their political rivals. Their holier-than-thou attitude is unbearably nauseatic. Every politician portrays himself as the son-of-the-soil who would lay down his life for the countrymen. But all they do is vote for more and more privileges for themselves. With top security for each of them, why would they bother about the security of the average citizen?

Unless we break up the unholy nexus between business, politics and religions, I see little hope for the average human being anywhere in the world.

Rest Insured

Rest Insured

Life is unpredictable and its blows can be severe. Like in the case of two journalists who were killed in an accident last December. On Friday, December 03, 2004, Prashant Bhole, 25, a reporter with Marathi Daily Lokmat and R V Syed, 29, a journalist with Jan Aadesh, were killed in a road accident when a truck rammed into their motorcycle. Both journalists were rushed to hospital where they succumbed to the injuries. The tragic death of these reporters was mourned even by the International Federation of Journalists, the world’s largest organisation for journalists.

When Asad Chaus, NCP’s Thane District Secretary, heard about this tragedy, he decided to visit the family of the victims to offer condolences and some help, he was shocked to find out that both victims were sole breadwinners of their respective families. Chaus was even more shaken when he learned that Syed’s parents are blind and Bhole was survived by an aging mother and two dependent brothers. With no insurance policy, the grief-stricken, family members found themselves in dire straits. So moved was Chaus by the pitiable condition of the survivors that he decided to do something that’s never been done before – mass insurance of Thane reporters. "The job of reporters is full of risks, yet they are not paid well, especially if they work for local newspapers with limited circulation. If we don’t do something for them, who will?" said Chaus.

Last Friday, State excise minister Ganesh Naik distributed free accident insurance policies to 70 reporters from Thane city. Every reporter is now insured for five lakh rupees, which will, at least partially, shield the reporters and their survivors from unexpected tragedies. The premium for all the 70 was paid by Chaus himself. Following his example, many other associates of Chaus have also shown interest in doing the same. "If five socially conscious citizens come forth, our reporter friends will be insured for Rs 25 lacs, which is a reasonable sum in case a tragedy strikes," said Chaus who is happy that his initiative has set a precedent for others to emulate. In fact NCP president Sharad Pawar heard about the mass insurance drive, he too was touched by Chaus’s thoughtful gesture and conveyed his feelings.

Incidentally, this was the second mass insurance movement in the city in the last week. In the first one, a group of residents from Saket Complex insured 100 housemaids that work there. The residents of Thane have large hearts indeed.

Help is on the way
Along with the insurance policies, Ganesh Naik also inaugurated an ambulance service for Thane on Friday. This was once again an initiative of Chaus, who faced a situation a few days ago when he rushed to get an ambulance from the city to help an accident victim on Ghodbunder road. The victim died before the ambulance could reach the accident spot. Chaus felt there was an urgent need for an ambulance service in the Ghodbunder area, considering its recent growth. The ambulance service will be operated on a no-profit basis. In case of an emergency, readers can call for an ambulance on 25301355.

Regularly Irregular!

Regularly Irregular!

For over five decades now, the legendary R K Laxman has captured the sentiments of the city on the front page cartoon piece "You Said It." For millions of Times of India readers across the country and even abroad, the daily dose of Laxman’s patented brand of humour, represented by the celebrated "common man," sets the day in motion.

On Wednesday, Laxman depicted a huge queue of people and as usual the common man was a silent spectator while a bystander explained, "Elections are over. This ‘Q’ is of those who want to complain their names didn’t appear in the voters list!" A prominent lady from Thane, a dedicated social worker who requests anonymity, says that hundreds of Thane residents would also like to join the queue – herself included! Ironically, prior to elections, our friend had actively participated in various events aimed at citizen-awareness regarding elections, including the Maharashtra Election Watch held at the Indian Merchants Chamber on March 07, 2004. But on the day of elections, when she went to every polling booth in the vicinity, her name was not found. She was shocked and disappointed, to say the least, more so because she has never skipped voting in a single election since she began voting decades ago. "What surprises me is, how can the names disappear from the list unless someone deliberately deletes them?" she asks, puzzled.   The problem is, such irregularities are amazingly regular and therefore give rise to suspicions of sabotage. Indeed, it is frustrating for citizens who are deprived their basic right of voting, and incidents like these make one feel that the very purpose of democracy is defeated. Sadly, instead of accepting their mistake, the election officers conveniently blamed the citizens for the faux pas. What would the officers say to such cases where someone who actively participated in educating the common man before the election found herself out of the list, in spite of taking all precautions? Thankfully, our democracy is rather strong and in a population of over one billion, a few cases of booth capturing and poll rigging cannot alter the results. Our deprived friend hopes that "the elements behind such reckless actions realise that such it is useless and the powers that be take adequate measures to ensure that this large scale irregularity does not repeat itself." Amen.

Values Added  
Hasat Khelat Gamadi Jamat, (learn while playing), a unique 15-day workshop, aimed at instilling values in small children, aged three to five, was conducted in the city last fortnight by Shweta Phadke, who teaches at the Saraswati VidyaMandir’s pre-primary section. Held at the basement of Phadke Wadi near Gadkari Rangayatan, the workshop began on April 28 and lasted through May 12.

Every morning, the workshop would begin with recitation of Slokas. Throughout the workshop, the children were taught strong values to help them grow into wise and mature individuals. They were taught to pray and be respectful towards elders. Using examples of the Sun, trees, water and air, the kids were told that they should be thankful for the gifts of nature. There were story telling sessions, which comprised of stories with moral and ethical values – the objective was to discourage negative attitudes like greed, dishonesty, impatience and violence while encouraging virtues such as endurance, love and hard work. Then there were innovative competitions that tested their physical skills in a fun manner. For instance the kids were asked to pick up biscuits using their mouth while their hands were tied up. Many couldn’t do so standing or sitting, so they decided to digress from the tried and tested and lied down on the floor to accomplish the task given to them. In one section, participants were encouraged to share their knowledge and the little ones surprised the instructors with their grasp of facts. Four-year-old Omkar Nivalkar from Bhagwati School shared his knowledge of five different types of germs.     Parents seemed pleased with the outcome of the workshop. One parent, Mrs Gupte said "My child has opened up and has started interacting with us."

Playtime is a wonderful opportunity for children to learn and build their self-confidence and self-esteem. Research says that while it may appear that all children are doing is playing for fun, it is actually a much more important part of a child’s developmental process because it uses all of their senses. The workshop relied on the basic instincts of children – that of playing – to help them learn something useful.

Migrant Problem

Migrant Problem

Ranked only after Tokyo and Mexico City, Mumbai is the world’s third most populated city with an estimated population of 18,042,000. The city has a population density of more than 17,000 people per square kilometre. The figure for London is around 1,200.

Overcrowding of our cities can be primarily attributed to the inflow of migration. Together with its twin city Thane, Mumbai is facing an acute problem of population influx. There is an increasing flow of people who are moving in from villages and small towns into the metropolitan.

On Tuesday, Rajya Sabha MP from Thane, Satish Pradhan was invited by the Rotary Club of Thane to speak about this growing problem of population influx to Mumbai and Thane. In his address, Pradhan made it clear in the beginning that he is completely against politicising this issue. He stressed on the severity of the matter, highlighting the various causes that are leading to this invasion of the city and the consequences.

Most migrants first arrive in the city in search of a livelihood. They find odd jobs in the informal sectors – as construction workers, hawkers, domestic helpers and so on. The constant inflow encourages unauthorised encroachments. Slum colonies increase and slums become bigger. Though it’s not easy for the migrants to survive in a city like Mumbai, it is not as hard as it was back in the villages. So they stay on. Soon a few unscrupulous elements of the society help these migrants get official status.

Pradhan expressed concern over Bangladeshi refugees and immigrants who are potential threats – not only from the economic point of view but also from the sovereignty standpoint. Since democracy allows everyone to vote and stand for elections, and since many migrants are "regularised" as citizens (thanks to rampant corruption), a day might come when we’ll have a Chief Minister or Prime Minister of Bangladeshi origin who once arrived here as a migrant.

Pradhan said that we’re investing thousands of crores in building infrastructure for the city. But by the time it is built, it is already rendered inadequate by the simultaneous growth in the population. Public transport is already under increasing pressure and on the verge of collapsing. Similarly, lack of water supply, theft of electricity and increasing corruption are making life more difficult than ever for the average citizen.

True, the load on infrastructure and other resources is constantly on the rise and if something is not done soon about this constant invasion of refugees and migrants into the city, we will suffocate from over-population. The society and business community must do all it can to discourage this influx. As citizens we can do a lot and must exercise our powers judiciously – for instance we must not hire domestic workers without verifying their credentials; we must not buy stuff from street side hawkers; we must oppose corruption wherever and whenever we encounter it; and most important, we must vote out of power those parties who misuse their powers for election gains.

Noble Efforts Rewarded
Johnson & Johnson’s efforts to ensure environmental health for the future have been recognised throughout the world by governments and environmental organisations. The parent company in USA gives away World Wide Environmental awards to honour those facilities, teams and individuals that have demonstrated significant progress towards achieving the company’s Environmental Strategic Vision. The awards are based on Sustainability in Environmental Performance, Environmental Innovation and Environmental Leadership (Social Responsibilities). This year the Mulund Consumer Plant of J&J has won the Environmental Excellence Award in Leadership for its energy sharing programme, which has been appreciated worldwide.

On Wednesday, May 21, 2003, the Mulund plant of J&J announced that it has nominated two Thane-based NGOs, namely Jignyasa Trust and Hariyali, to receive the share of prize money that they have received as part of the award. Both these NGO’s were chosen on the basis of their contribution in the area of environmental protection and creating social awareness for a healthier environment.

Both Jignyasa and Hariyali comprise of dedicated and enthusiastic team members who constantly organise various socially relevant projects like cleaning of lakes, awareness drives, tree plantations etc. Most Thane residents would agree that these NGOs have contributed significantly to Thane’s social fabric.

By sharing the prize money, J&J has acted like a good corporate citizen. But more importantly, these little rewards go a long way in boosting the enthusiasm of selfless individuals working behind the scenes in order that we all have a better quality of life. On behalf of the residents of Thane, we congratulate Jignyasa, Hariyali and all other NGOs who relentlessly strive to improve our city through their noble efforts.

Melodious Transition

Melodious Transition

Natya Sangeet, or stage songs, is an important part of the Indian culture. And Thane city is certainly very Indian at heart. This was evident from the response to a programme on changing patterns of Natya Sangeet, which was held at Gadkari Rangayatan on February 16, 2002. More than a thousand people attended the show.

The event was organized by CKP Social Club of Thane City in conjunction with a Mumbai-based cultural group called Swarendu. The theme of the show was "Changing Colors of Natya Sangeet since 1947". Shrikrishna Dalvi, award-winning music critic, stage artist and vocalist, hosted the show.

Dalvi, who was felicitated by the CKP Club, discussed the evolution and progression of Natya Sangeet since independence. The uniqueness of the show was in the way it was presented. All through his discourse, Dalvi was accompanied by renowned singers like Suresh Bapat, Sharad Jambhekar, Varsha Bhave and Nilakshi Pendharkar.

Each time Dalvi discussed the style of a particular era, one of the singers performed to demonstrate that style.

According to Suresh Gupte of CKP Social Club committee, "Shrikrishna Dalvi was the life of the show. His oration left everyone in the audience spellbound." During the show, Dalvi made many significant observations about the transition of Natya Sangeet. For instance, according to him, in the olden days of Natya Sangeet, music and lyrics were produced in isolation from one another, creating a mismatch between the two. But now, lyrics are written first and the rhythm is then composed around it.

The show was a huge success, touching the soul of everyone present. And why not, as H. W. Longfellow once said, "Music is the universal language of mankind – poetry their universal pastime and delight."

Win some, Lose some
While for most of us, the civic elections may have come and gone, without leaving so much as a trace of memory, but for some the recently concluded elections will not be forgotten for a long, long time.

Prashant Gawand, the NCP candidate who stood in the civic elections from ward 34-A, lost by the smallest margin possible. That’s right – he lost by just one vote! He got 2055 votes while Deepak Jadhav of BJP got 2056 votes. Gawand found it hard to digest that he could lose in such a way, though all indications before elections were favorable to him. He requested for recounting though he had a tough time dealing with the officials.

Gawand also doesn’t rule out foul play as he says, "A couple of days before the polls, Jitendra Avad had informed the Police and the press about the printing of bogus ballet papers that might be used for altering the results".

We may never know what really happened is in this case. But the situation clearly calls for the serious look at the system of elections. Also, we should all realize that every vote makes a difference. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Those who stay away from the election think that one vote will do no good: ‘Tis but one step more to think one vote will do no harm."