Category: Law and Order

Visa to the U.S.


You thought wrong. This is not about Indian IT companies getting the much-coveted H1B visas for their IT professionals, which is under threat from the Trump Administration.

This is not about getting any visa to the U.S. As you are well aware, the U.S. will not grant visas to human rights violators, criminals, and convicted offenders. For more than a decade, the U.S. Government applied this policy against the entry of Indian Prime Minister Modi, till it was gently revoked without much fanfare. Mr Modi’s violation? He was accused of turning a blind eye in the midst of killings of around a thousand Muslims in his Gujarat State in 2002, where he was the Chief Minister, in the aftermath of violent riots.

President Obama reversed the long-established American policy after the Supreme Court of India could not find enough evidence to implicate Mr Modi and his state administration. Not only that, he embraced Mr Modi and his reformist agenda.

However, President Trump is not Obama – in fact, he detests any comparisons with Obama’s rule. Trump thinks he has achieved more than any other president of the U.S. in the first 100 days of his presidency. So, it was not surprising at all that he continues to delude himself, in the hope of achieving a lasting legacy. Not just for the next 1,360 days but may be for another 4 years after the conclusion of his first term, which is not inconceivable though there are a multitude of constituents who would dread that possibility.

Now, American human rights policy has hit dirt. President Trump has invited President Duterte of the Philippines to visit him in the White House. He has already met with the dictatorial President of Egypt – Mr Sisi, at the White House. He has welcomed the consolidation of dictatorial powers of President Erdogan of Turkey. He also used to like the strongman president of Russia, Mr Vladimir Putin.

Mr Duterte would not even be considered for a visa in the light of his murderous streak, killing thousands of his own citizens (more than 8,000 at last count) in the name of elimination of drug trade in the Philippines. How can a legally elected popular president be allowed to use his law enforcement machinery to kill the citizens in cold blood? Where is his Congress? Where is the Church of the Philippines? Where are the Courts of Law? And, finally, where is the conscience?

And now, President Trump is going to entertain President Duterte at the White House and legitimize all the killings which have happened and which are going to continue unabated because the leader of the so-called “free world” has endorsed the actions taken by Duterte thus far. How ridiculous it can get?

The U.S. Congress should not allow this visit with all its power and voice. Of course, Trump will do what he wants, but the U.S. should now clearly realize that it has irretrievably lost its bully pulpit of human rights advocacy around the world because of the completely wrong, adhoc actions of its President without much thought or advice whatsoever.

The ASEAN Summit, of course, cannot condemn any killings in member states, as that would be construed as interference and the construct of ASEAN is based on non-interference and non-criticism (I do not agree with that philosophy however). But for the U.S. to show a welcoming approach towards President Duterte at the current juncture is very wrong and is going to damage the standing of the U.S. in the eyes of the free world. There is no more free world in any case. Europe is the last bastion of freedom and democracy and even there a severe test is happening in France.

So to get a visa to the U.S. any elected representative has to commit murders – more so for the invitation from a sitting president. I do not buy the argument that Duterte got the invitation to ensure the Philippines remains as an ally of the U.S. against the interest of China – that shift has already happened.

What about the other dictators? Should they kill more of their own before getting the invite from President Trump?

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

01 May 2017

Europe under continuous attack


Europe needs and deserves a firm leadership against terrorist attacks which try to disrupt peaceful co-existence of the 28 countries in the European Union (EU).

Like any other association of nations, the very purpose Europe came together is for trade, employment and joint defense (against U.S.S.R. in the Sixties and Seventies). Similarities in cultural backgrounds help in all such associations, though a common religion plays a much less role. Europe has always been willing to take in immigrants from non-European countries, though various countries in the EU have their own restrictions. Some of them are very liberal, some of them are quite restrictive. Germany is an example of a generous nation, well-to-do people, who have accepted immigrants as long as these folks can adapt to the local culture and learn to speak the German language. The history of Europe is laden with wars and refugees, and crimes against humanity, so it is not surprising that the Europeans are more open than others to war refugees.

However, we will soon find out if Europeans remain tolerant to the vagaries of the refugee influx, especially from Syria and certain other Middle Eastern countries. France is a case in point. Paris has been diligently attacked by terrorists who do not like the French way of living. While it is easy to cast aspersions on a particular religion for these incidents (including the one last week), the French people will do well to recall that their freedom did not come easily – they had to fight for it every inch of the way in the Second World War with the help of the Allied Forces. They had to fight against Nazi occupation – they were refugees in their own country. It is critical to take stern actions today to defend French freedom, no doubt about it. However, it is rather easy to swing to the far right and attack the whole philosophy of Europe and the EU. What positive stuff can come out of it? Why would France try to isolate itself from the rest of Europe?

Colonial powers such as France and the U.K. cannot escape their histoy. If there are millions of Muslims in France, that is the result of French invasion and occupation of North African countries several decades ago, may be a century ago. Clear-headed, rational thinking is called for when a government is dealing with all kinds of its citizens – they do not always come with the same colour, race, ethnicity or religion.

Nevertheless, Europe faces tough times ahead. Elections are a way for the far right to assert their extremist philosophies and gain governance after a long wait. That did not work in Austria and Denmark, and is unlikely to work in France. Germany, in my opinion, will remain centrist for quite some time, unless jobs disappear and crimes increase as a result of uncontrolled immigration.

The solution is to give law enforcement more powers as they are called to face and deal with militant elements of societies. Governments have to make it absolutely clear that cultures and philosophies would not be trampled upon in the name of giving big space to immigrants. Everyone has to live together peacefully, and the message has to go out loud and clear that if immigrants are not happy to adapt and accommodate, they should be free to return to where they came from. This message is critical and needs to be delivered by all types of political parties or governments. immigrants remain as guests of the welcoming host nations till they earn the right to become permanent residents or citizens and start a new way of life. Why should they want to replicate the lives that they lived in their respective repressive countries?

Europe remains a beacon of an elitist kind of democracy that other democratic nations can only aspire to become. It should not be split radically into segments which then cannot work together in the European Union. That would be disastrous for the future of this world.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd April 2017

Gurus not exempt from Law


Spiritual Gurus have long been a bane of many religions around the world.

Their (largely) negative impact has been felt severely in India for a very long time.

Some gurus have positive impact overall. One of them is Jaggi Vasudev, the other is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who runs the famous Art of Living (AOL) Foundation. There are thousands of others, but my simple view has always been that there is no need for an intermediary between God and I, or God and anyone else for that matter. Unfortunately, Hinduism, one of the most enduring religions of the world with over 800M followers, encourages the adoption of gurus to facilitate a communication with God. I do not agree with such a philosophy, though there are other major religions which follow similar philosophies, putting man over man. Humans look for a guide to help them navigate the world, and it is not at all a surprise that a Pope arises to guide Catholics, for example. The plethora of gurus in India does not follow any systematic approach, they crop up anywhere and everywhere where the gullible would fall at their feet and worship them. There are thousands of “magical” episodes when these human gurus have generated simply impossible manoeuvres which continue to fascinate their followers.

However, none of these “humans” are above the law of the land.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, his Art of Living Foundation, and his spokesman accuse the government and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for giving permission to conduct the World Culture Festival in March 2016, which has completely destroyed the river bed of the Yamuna River which most Hindus consider as a holy river. Sri Sri is a charismatic guru, who is close to powerful politicians and the wealthy folks of India, and so it would be interesting if the expert committee’s findings would indeed find their way to justice in the current dispute between the government/NGT and Sri Sri/AOL. I don’t think it was appropriate for Sri Sri to accuse the NGT and the government for having granted permission to him for conducting the Festival.

Where is accountability and humility on the part of the famed Sri Sri?

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and his AOL are not exempt from the law of the land, and have to abide by the rules and regulations. Being close to God does not exempt him from the rule of law. It would be interesting to see how his ardent followers react to the findings of the expert committee.

It is clear that spiritual gurus cannot run a government, a court or the environment. They should focus on God, not make Hinduism a circus philosophy. It is always good to hear some of the lectures of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, but the wisdom of his speeches does not make him God. He is after all, an ordinary man, like all of us. If he commits a mistake, he has to pay for it. There cannot be an excuse. If a fine is levied (as it has been), then his organization has to pay it. Damage done to the Yamuna riverbed will take 10 years to fix, as per the expert committee. Who caused the damage? Not the government, nor the NGT. They merely granted permission, may be misguided, may be under some sort of pressure. But Art of Living Foundation and Sri Sri are entirely responsible for what happened. Who can contest this assertion?

Again unfortunately, most of us are emotional, and wish to kick folks who do not conform to whatever is the general trend of belief or philosophy, in this case of Sri Sri. If there is a variation to that thinking, then the people who think differently would be termed as traitors to the cause. Nothing can be farther from the truth.

Time to think on environment, time to think about Yamuna River, which has recently been designated as a “legal person” by the courts of India.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar should apologize, desist from repeating such extravaganza, and indeed pay the INR 5 Crores fine. We should all respect the law.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd April 2017

Non-interference


I felt very bad when I read about two bad things going on in neighbouring countries.

One was the long-standing problem of atrocities committed on the Rohingya Muslim community in the Rakhine State of Myanmar, which lies to the south of the border with Bangladesh. While accusations against the Myanmar security forces need to be investigated, there is evidence of forced evictions of villagers and around 70,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh. The UN Human Rights Council has been approached by various institutions for establishing a commission of inquiry.

The other problem is the killings perpetrated by the Philippines security forces on drug traffickers, drug users and unfortunate bystanders including children as reported by CNN. I was shocked to see the report on children being killed in cold blood, and the pictures were brutal. Is this how a legally elected government treats its citizens? Where is the judiciary and where is justice?

On both these situations, the ASEAN governments have maintained silence as they have always done over the past five decades – when it comes to pointing out human rights violations and extrajudicial killings, these governments keep their views to themselves. They have always argued that economy is more important than politics, but we are not talking about politics here. Common citizens are being murdered on the streets by security forces, and such atrocities are a thing of the past in most countries. ASEAN boasts of a growing economic union of over USD 2.4T in GDP, and generally the nations in this union are on a growth path. But that cannot come at the expense of human rights, which are constitutionally granted to citizens in the democratic countries at least.

Ethnic cleansing and extrajudicial killings should have been stopped immediately. Wiser counsel should have been firmly and strongly delivered by the UN and ASEAN. But apparently, this did not happen. ASEAN believes in total non-interference in the affairs of its member states. This is the old, failed policy of the bigger non-aligned movement, in which India and Indonesia were big partners. If a close neighbour cannot even comment, afraid of being knocked out of the potential economic growth of the offending nation, then that is not a strong marriage. I doubt if ASEAN will ever rise to the occasion and provide firm counsel to offending partner countries on the nature of the advanced economic and social union that should be their collective objective. The European Union is a successful model (notwithstanding the stupid “Brexit” by the U.K.), and has withstood the test of time while persevering not just for a common currency and regulations, but achieving uniformity in foreign policies, laws and immigration, etc., Turkey is having trouble joining the EU because its policies are not compatible with the wider EU policies of co-existence.

I strongly believe it should be each citizen’s responsibility to raise his or her voice against atrocities and killings committed anywhere, especially in the neighbourhood. Without peace and tranquillity, economic cooperation and development cannot happen. It is not right that we turn a blind eye and continue operating as though nothing bad is happening in our neighbourhood. What kind of social living is that?

While a country cannot interfere in another country’s affairs, countries which have chosen to co-exist in a trading bloc or social partnership for collective advancement, should have the right to publicly highlight issues of concern instead of keeping such issues hush-hush.

We should be deeply sorry about the state of affairs, and should represent our views to our respective governments. That would be a true democracy and a responsible one, which cares for not just the livelihood of its citizens but lives of citizens and neighbours.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

4th March 2017

Democracy and Authoritarianism


Recently there has been heavy coverage of the Philippines President, who was elected to his post earlier this year and assumed his post on 30th June. In the two plus months that he has been President, the spate of extra-judicial killings in the Philippines has increased dramatically. The President and his Government, and his law enforcement machinery have implicitly come to an understanding that the only way to eliminate drug trafficking in the Philippines is to follow violent means.

The Philippines is a democracy, though noisy in terms of politics, much like India. Everything and everyone can be challenged openly and the TV media pursues every scandal vociferously, much like India. It is not a dictatorship, it has a parliament and respected Judiciary.

But it is apparent that all arms of the government have taken heed of the national priority of the new President, which appears to be a complete and total elimination of drug traffickers and drug addicts from the society. While there could be any number of ways and means to curb the menace of drugs in society, it is imperative that the laws of the land are followed strictly and law should never be taken into the hands of anyone. This is not at all a new thing for any democratic country. Any criminal should be given an opportunity to defend himself with due process of law and provided with legal assistance.

The Philippines has to just look around in its own backyard at other member countries of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) on how they have successfully coped with their drug problems over the past few decades. Singapore and Malaysia are prime examples. The Philippines first needs to have appropriate laws enacted in the Parliament for dealing effectively with its drug menace, and provide suitable sentencing guidelines to its Judiciary, instead of just shooting down all drug addicts and traffickers. There is no easy way out of the problem, and this cannot be the only problem facing the country. There are a myriad of problems faced by the Philippines which I am not going to enumerate here. It should not add its litany of challenges by killing its own citizens in broad daylight and become the subject of ridicule and actions by international institutions.

The President has earned a bad name for himself and his country by using vulgar language against world leaders such as the Secretary General of the U.N., and the President of the U.S. and others. While it is never the right thing to do, the President has to realize his exalted status as the Head of State, and be very careful in making unwarranted utterances which can damage his country’s image and reputation. He is not a dictator, he is the democratically elected President of a sovereign country, and he needs to respect global institutions and other heads of states. The “strongman” approach to solving problems does not work in this modern world, given also the fact that citizens who are murdered on the streets are a real fact in the Philippines today.

As usual, ASEAN will not interfere in any of its member country’s problems or challenges. It will stay quiet when it should be strongly nudging the President to curtail his non-judicial manner of eliminating drug traffickers and criminals. The U.N. cannot keep quiet and the Human Rights Watch has already raised strong objections to the situation in the Philippines. But the President and the Parliament are nonchalant, and this is no good. The Parliament has even refused to provide protection to a hitman who testified against the President last week.

It is again clear that non-interference can never be the answer to any one country’s problems. Had the U.S. invaded Syria, 300,000 citizens would not have been killed in the bloody war imposed by the Syrian Government on its own citizens. While the comparison is extreme, no country should be allowed to kill its own citizens without according due process of law. And, ASEAN countries need to speak up against such behaviour of its member countries. Further, the U.N. should take action if the killings continue. And, finally, the U.S. should not keep quiet at what is happening in one of its allied countries.

Stop the Killings.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

18th September 2016

Road Experiments in Singapore


I have been observing driver behaviour on Singapore roads for the past several months, and decided to conduct an experiment recently.

For the uninitiated, Singapore traffic system looks to be the most advanced system of its kind in the world, with orderly traffic and less congestion than what should exist in a densely populated city state of over 5.5M people and nearly a million cars (not yet verified). Singapore has over 3,500 KMs of paved road (must have gone up by now – my data is couple of years old) in a small island with an area of 700 SQ KM.

However, the orderliness for which Singapore is famed over the years has come down in recent years – traffic incidents are on the increase, rash driving is common, and simple violations are going up on the roads. I see this every day while driving to office and back.

Of course, compared to other large and even small nations, Singapore scores on multiple factors, such as accidents per capita, traffic deaths per capita, etc., It is still a well-managed traffic system, with controls and monitoring in place to ensure appropriate driver behaviour.

However, I decided to check this out. Most days, I take the innermost (high-speed) lane on the expressways (I am avoiding mention of the specific expressway here), and maintain more or less a constant speed of 90 KMPH. I noticed that many drivers did not like me as their conclusion appeared to be that I was too slow on a high-speed lane though the displayed speed limit at most places on the highway was 80 KMPH and in sections of the highway it was 90 KMPH. The daily occurrence was that high-speed cars acted as though they were chasing James Bond on the expressway, and zoomed in behind me at speeds in excess of 100 – 120 KMPH and gave me the scare. After seeing that I was not going to dodge them by shifting to the next lane, they eventually overtook me and occasionally looked at me while doing so. But the most scary part was when they are behind my car at probably couple of feet away at very high speeds, when the advised distance between two cars is six car lengths at speeds of 60 KMPH. I do keep at least a gap of 3 to 4 car lengths between my car and the car ahead of me, even in the innermost high-speed lane, irrespective of pressures exerted at my back by drivers who were fast losing patience with my cautious driving and wondering why I was driving on this lane anyway.

My conclusion was that if one sticks to the speed limit imposed on expressways, he or she is bound to get into problems if he or she chooses to follow that speed limit on the innermost high-speed lane. He or she will be hated for following the traffic rules, and will be cursed for blocking high-speed cars.

Now I decided to check out the middle lane which is supposed to be for slightly slower cars. One thing that I noticed is that my overall time taken to reach the office was more or less the same – though my speed was averaging at 70 KMPH, as compared to the high-speed lane in which my average speed was in excess of 80 KMPH. Second thing I noticed was that my slower speed was respected by most motorists, who decided to overtake me without much issues, either from the left or from the right. They must have just come to the conclusion that there is no point in arguing with a guy who has decided that the world will indeed move slowly today. Luckily, there was no threatening and over-speeding cars behind me in the middle lane – in fact, there was no such cars occupying the middle lane. The reason for that could be simple – the fast riders move very fast from their starting or entry point to the innermost lane and then push ahead with speeds higher than what is stipulated by the authorities.

I found that the middle lane offered most comfort at less cost. Petrol consumption was lower, and driving was more relaxed. While one has to be cautious all the time, there was no reason to be scared in the middle lane. Of course, the irritant of the high-speed, maneuvering motor cycles (mostly from Malaysia) cannot be avoided, and one has to be wary of them as they weave in and out of lanes all the time. The Singaporean motorcycles also violate all the road rules, and it is tougher for them as they usually have bigger motorcycles or scooters with bulges on both sides, etc., Even they try to sneak between the lanes which is a dangerous game.

In a nutshell, my experiment revealed that driving has become a tad dangerous on Singapore expressways and even on the regular city roads because motorists drive at high speeds and cut across in front of you without warning. Or tailgate good drivers who are following the traffic rules. And so on and so forth.

Traffic education should be mandatory before renewal of driving licence to all motorists irrespective of their past performance. That seems to be the only way to secure improved driver behaviour on the road.

Best Regards

Vijay Srinivasan

11th June 2016

The Youngsters’ Traffic


For most people who visit Singapore, the traffic on the roads would seem to be orderly, regulated, and rule-bound. Especially for people visiting from India, the traffic in Singapore always appears to be highly controlled and methodical, compared to the chaos that rule the roads in most cities in India.

But apparently that is the perception. For every reading of a situation, there is a counter perspective.

If you are a driver in Singapore, of late, you would have noticed that the drivers on the roads are erratic, and if you carefull observe, these drivers are almost always in their early twenties or new drivers on the roads. If they also happen to have a fast car (which is often the case with the rich ones), then you could easily witness speeds in excess of 100 KMPH on city roads with criss cross driving behaviour to get ahead of most of the other normal drivers. I have been seeing this behaviour often. There is absolutely no patience even in some normal drivers. They just want to get one car space ahead by switching lanes, sometimes in a dangerous manner.

When cars switch lanes when the traffic signals turn green, that is not just dangerous but also outright discourteous, and indicates bad planning on the part of the driver who probably wishes to get to the extreme left or right. And when two lanes merge, alternate cars should go forward instead of all cars rushing forward to get ahead. Simple courtesies which have been in practice for a long time are being abandoned by the new drivers, and the older drivers seem to be having no choice but to follow.

Typically, I like to drive on the middle lane at a regular speed (something in the range of 60 KMPH in the city roads, and 80 – 90 KMPH on the highways), but sometimes I will be pushed to the rightmost lane because of a slow moving vehicle in front which has createda long vacuum in front of it. This vehicle should have chosen the left most lane which is the recommended lane for such vehicles, but they often do not follow that lane discipline. Trying to slow traffic is also a bad thing.

Fast moving youngsters worry me the most. The number of fast cars in Singapore is on the rise, despite the huge cost of owning such cars. The other issue on Singapore roads is the high-speed motorcycles, who are allowed to go on any lane (even the innermost high speed lanes). They dangerously weave in and out of traffic and could appear without any indication either ahead or behind you. Very thrilling indeed……but very dangerous as well. Both to the motorcycle rider and to the car riders. There seems to be no control on the behaviour of the motorcycle riders on Singapore roads.

Pedestrian crossings are sacrosanct in Singapore. Every vehicle has to stop completely and allow the pedestrians to cross on the zebra crossings. There are round big lights at most such crossings to warn the motorists. However, I am noticing that motorists tend to be careless these days, and try to speed up ahead of the approaching pedestrians. This has caused accidents as reported in the media in recent times.

I also notice that motorists who are entering an expressway from a slip road do not brake and stop while letting the traffic on the lane that they are cutting into go by……they just continue driving forcing the motorists who have the right of way to slow down rapdily. Again, this is dangerous behaviour on the part of the motorists who are joining the expressway.

And so on and so forth. You might say that I am trying to suggest ways to make the Singapore traffic even more perfect than it already is. I disagree. My point is that a very good traffic system is being gamed by aggressive drivers who are not following what they learnt in their driving schools. Some of them do not deserve their driving licenses. The best way to improve the situation is to enforce a driving test once every five years on each and every driver on Singapore roads. May be that will enforce some discipline. The other way is to increase the already high penalties on drivers who are erratic.

This tells us that even a good system is not necessarily the best when human behaviour comes into play.

Drive carefully and smartly. Follow the traffic rules. Do not follow the rash driving behaviour of some drivers. Follow your instincts, and follow your learning.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

6th March 2016