Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Karva Chauth: Regression vs Choice

It is finally that time of the year when social media goes into a tizzy as women often accuse each other of being shrill ‘feminists’ or declare themselves as slaves to patriarchy. Today is Karva Chauth, a festival where married women observe a fast for a day to pray for the long life of their husbands. While routine one day fasts must not create so much of a problem, it is rare for anyone to come across chatter on social media and websites which seek to promote ‘independent’ opinions on how Karva Chauth is ‘patriarchal and repressive’.

Observing the fast or not, must remain an individual choice. The relationship she shares with her husband will dictate her choice to abide by tradition or break free from it. With much chatter being generated online on the patriarchal and repressive aspect of the festival, it does not take much time to realise the anguish that some women go through for choosing to observe the fast. We are subjected to discourses on free speech, independent choices and thoughts across media and yet we choose to deride a woman for choosing to observe a fast which seeks to seek longevity of a husband. The relationship a woman and a man share and her free choice will decide whether a woman chooses to observe a fast. What gives us the right to decide for her?

If my quest for vengeance drives me to a point where I choose to attack someone for damaging the lungs by smoking, would I not be labelled as weird? But then, hey, didn’t Deepika Padukone tell us that it was all about my life and my choices? By applying the same standard, why should Karva Chauth be any different?  It is not mandatory for everyone to agree with everything but at the same time, deriding someone for a personal choice does not mean you are superior. It only positions you as a person with hollow beliefs. Sarcastic tweets do not even count as activism for women’s rights. Nobody, I repeat, nobody is under an obligation to bear the weight of the human race and to believe that it is a personal goal to solve all problems faced by the human race.

Social media has become the new battleground for male bashing. Every other day, men are shamed for not knowing enough about periods and the menstrual cycle or not sympathizing with their wives. Yes, the lack of knowledge and the gender disparity makes them the perfect victims on social media. Yet, if you choose to highlight on how he supports patriarchal and regressive upbringing patterns, it makes you the smaller person. Karva Chauth, eventually, is just a one day event and for me, the ability to exercise free will to observe a fast will not necessarily make me ‘liberal’ as we know it in India’s context but then, it is a conscious decision to look beyond the chatter and move towards becoming a liberal in the true sense of the word.  

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Big Talk:

Much commentary, often bordering near speculation, had been dedicated to a pattern of loose talk which rotated in a circular manner of ‘will he, won’t he’ guesswork. Raghuram Rajan announced an end to needless speculation by expressing his desire to return to academia after his responsibility as India’s central banker comes to an end. While his decision shocked many and with certain sections of media behaving as if we had been sucked into an apocalypse, the government finally announced that it was Urjit Patel who would succeed Rajan.

There is no doubt that Raghuram Rajan’s proximity to the media led to the creation of an invisible halo around him. One often wonders whether if a routine exercise such as the appointment of India’s central banker would have triggered so much speculation and interest. Surely, there is no denying that Raghuram Rajan’s frequent media appearances, widely covered lectures and a highly relatable personality often led to a debate whether if he has succeeded in sparking an interest in Economics especially among the common man.

The central idea of this piece is to ruminate on the role of communication as the central banker. For instance, the US Federal Reserve chairperson’s direct interaction with the media is just four times a year. Central bankers are appointed with a clearly defined mandate of maintaining inflation and assessing the performance of the economy and recognising potential threats due to geopolitical turbulence. While it is not practical to be inaccessible, it is important to strike a balance between speaking at a predictable moment and taking the market by surprise. At most, one would acknowledge a few intermittent sound bites which are usually accepted since the media poses questions on the sidelines of some events. Communication, therefore, is the most important in both cases and maintaining a balance is essential.

There is absolutely no doubt that the media fawned over Raghuram Rajan. His candid opinions often led him to making inroads into TV studios, giving one-on-one interviews. Among other things, we saw him attend school functions as a chief guest and interacting with students. Much as it is important to acknowledge what the future thinks of the national economy, it made one question whether if a central banker had to issue a statement on every topic, including the pithy debate on alleged ‘intolerance’ in India, which was instigated by the media.

In contrast, Urjit Patel as the new RBI Governor, despite his brilliance and command on macro-economics, we have rarely seen him deliver lectures or preside over events. As his inaugural monetary policy review was announced on Tuesday, one could not help but admire the restraint the governor maintained. Maintaining a low-profile and yet getting his point across through a repo rate cut, the focus inevitably shifts back to the macros such as economic growth. The debate among the media largely steered around the cut in repo rates and surprisingly, on Twitter too, conversations veered around the policy review and the rate cut.

There is absolutely no doubt that everyone in India looks for those 15 seconds of fame. Yet, a balance between how much to speak and when, is essential and if the balance is not achieved, we often end up with sound that gets amplified or unnecessary white noise. The role of the RBI in India is still too prominent and it is a respected institution. Yet, one can only hope that the gaffes committed under the tenure of Raghuram Rajan forces a rethink on the communication mechanism of India’s central bank.