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RK Laxman and his indelible brushstrokes on the Indian mindscape

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By Swarnima Bhattacharya

In a glowing tribute to R.K Laxman, India’s foremost cartoonist, humorist and political satirist (to say the least), The Times of India called him the “uncrowned conscience keeper of the nation”.

I remember encountering the magical and pithy effects of Laxman’s deft brush-strokes, even before I knew that a nation and its makers needed conscience-keeping. In a middle-class, upwardly mobile family like ours, the daily news from The Times of India furnished not only our dinner-time conversations, but was also the repository of what my teachers fondly called “general knowledge”.

Adding immensely to that body of knowledge, introducing layers of pointed, good-humoured criticism to prevalent discourse, were the inimitable cartoons of RK Laxman.

The nameless Common Man, the ubiquitous, immediately recognisable old man, dons the attire of our grandfathers. The checked coat is a vestige of colonial legacy, and the dhoti, harkening back to a more Indian sartorial legacy.

He also wears an unchanging wry, bemused expression, similar to what I have often imagined on my father’s face, after a long day in a battered government office, or standing in a long queue outside the electricity office.

As I grew up, I didn’t need telling to make me know that the endearing Common Man was us-not one of us- but the essence of all of us consolidated on canvas. In an interview with Karan Thapar, RK Laxman recalled how the discovery of the iconic Common Man was rather an accident.

Overwhelmed by the sheer plurality of Indian identities, Laxman started off by drawing representatives of multiple religious and cultural denominations as mute spectators to national goings-on. The Common Man, as we now know him, emerged suddenly, mainly as a result of economising time and space.

And now, this prodigious accidental discovery, is an enduring institution unto itself. For over five decades, the Common Man has peered out of the small cartoon corner of The Times of India. He has been a silent, marginal figure who simultaneously occupied the most private spaces of bureaucrats, politicians, prime ministers of the country, presidents of the United States and even the corners of our drawing rooms.

He remained silent and brooding, with an occasional furrowed brow, but largely unfazed. Since 1947, the year of our independence, he documented for more than half a century, our challenges, idiosyncrasies, dogmas, follies and some moments of redemption.

In his own words, RK Laxman outlined the role and responsibility of a political satirist in so many words, “Ceaseless public criticism is the best guarantee that the liberty of the individual as well as of the nation will be preserved”.
Truly enough, the joke was on everyone. During the tumultuous years of the Emergency, the rights of the cartoonist were suspended for about 20 months. But soon enough, the tongue-in-cheek satirist hit out with this cartoon.
indira

Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru was a well-known admirer of Laxman’s sharp eye and incisive draftsmanship. After finding himself to be an object of ridicule in one of the cartoons, for his role in the Indo-China war, Nehru is said to have requested Laxman for a signed, enlarged and framed copy of the cartoon. Irreverence and dissent had never been more relished and welcome.

nehru

Always exposing the avarice of bureaucrats, rapacity of politicians, self-serving deviousness of Ministers and the foibles of everyday people, Laxman never failed to add a dash to humour to commonplace frustrations. It was the quotidian that found centerstage in Laxman’s world of inoffensive derision.

Even though the Common Man was tucked up in the margins of the frame, it was his very relatable presence that has been institutionalised in the Indian political imagination. Unlike the screaming, busy-looking debaters that are now found in profusion in mainstream media, Laxman remained an astute political commentator with his dignity and sense of humour intact.

The fact that his mocking eye survived the ire of successive governments, rioters, angry mobs and offended corridors of power, says a lot about his artistic method. He possessed an uncanny ability to cut through the most entangled of national and social problems, and capture the crux of the matter in one raised eyebrow, or a twisted grin, or a swish of the wrist.

His satire didn’t need distended vocal chords or reams of paper, but just a few words. He found “reason” in chaotic discourse, as Shakespeare would say, as “two grains of wheat hid in bushels of chaff”. The Common Man didn’t topple governments, or change policy, or impact development.

Despite that, never has the Common Man, the weary yet optimistic Everyman, been more empowered and entitled than on the canvas of RK Laxman- not even through political parties whose names commemorate the proverbial “aam aadmi”. Heralded as the “uncommon” creator of the Common Man, RK Laxman breathed his last on January 26, 2015.

He left behind a glowing legacy of menacing caricatures on power, development, corruption and social inequity. As you stand beside the statues of the Common Man in Pune and Mumbai, you are struck with the realisation, that this is no celebrity, even though he is a celebrated iconoclast.

The Common Man is a poignant reminder of our own exalted and significant, but oft-forgotten position as the largest electorate in the world.

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India Demands Data on UN Staff Misconduct, Use of Immunity

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India has demanded the secretariat disclose information about misconduct by UN staff. Flickr

United Nations, Oct 7: In an attempt to break the wall of silence around the crimes and UN staff misconduct and those on its assignments, India has demanded the secretariat disclose information about such cases and the immunity invoked against prosecutions.

Yedla Umasankar, the legal advisor in India’s UN Mission, touched a raw nerve here by criticising the UN on Friday for not vigorously following up allegations of serious wrongdoing by its employees who enjoy the equivalent of diplomatic immunity, a prized possession of its staff.

“It appears that the UN system itself may be reluctant to waive immunity even for serious misconduct carried out by its personnel while serving on its missions, so that such cases can be prosecuted by the host governments,” he told the General Assembly’s committee on legal affairs.

“Even a few of such instances or allegations of crimes committed by UN personnel is highly damaging for the image and credibility of the United Nations system and its work around the world,” he added.

His statement also touched on the practice of some countries that protect their wrongdoers at the UN.

Umasankar demanded that secretariat disclose how many cases of serious misconduct by UN personnel were registered and the number of cases where the UN refused to waive immunity to allow their prosecution.

He also wanted to know in how many cases the host country wanted the immunity waived so it can prosecute those accused; the number of times the UN asked the host country or the country that sent them to prosecute them; how many times it consulted countries before waiver of the immunity of their personnel and how many of them refused UN’s request to waive their citizens’ immunity.

The information he wanted does not cover the diplomats sent by member countries to represent them at UN bodies and enjoy diplomatic immunity with the nations hosting the UN facilities.

After scores of serious allegations of sexual misconduct by peacekeepers, especially exploitation of children, the UN vowed to uphold a policy of zero tolerance and began publishing data on such cases in peacekeeping operations including how they were dealt with.

Starting with the year 2015, it began identifying the nationalities of those accused.

However, it has not made public a roster detailing all the allegations and proven cases of serious misconduct across the entire UN.

While the focus has been on sexual exploitation and abuse reported on peacekeeping operations, Umasankar said that “at a broader level, the issue of accountability has remained elusive in some cases”.

He attributed it to “the complexities of legal aspects relating to sovereignty and jurisdiction”, the immunity or privileges that may be necessary for UN operations, and the capability or willingness of countries to investigate and prosecute the accused.

He noted that the UN itself cannot make criminal prosecutions.

While Indian laws has provisions for dealing with crimes committed abroad by its citizens, not all countries have them, he said.

Those countries should be encouraged and helped to implement such measures, he added. (IANS)

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Indo-Pak Peace Talks Futile Unless Islamabad Sheds Links with Terrorism, says Study

A Study by a U.S. think tank calls India and Pakistan talks futile, until Pakistan changes its approach.

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India and Pakistan
India and Pakistan. Wikimedia.

A Top United States of America (U.S.) think tank, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace called the relations between India and Pakistan futile, unless Islamabad changes its approach and sheds its links with Jihadi terrorism.

A report “Are India and Pakistan Peace Talks Worth a Damn”, authored by Ashley J Tellis stated that such a move supported by foreign countries would be counterproductive and misguided.

The report suggests that International community’s call for the India and Pakistan talks don’t recognize that the tension between the two countries is not actually due to the sharp differences between them, but due to the long rooted ideological, territorial and power-political hatred. The report states that these antagonisms are fueled by Pakistani army’s desire to subvert India’s powerful global position.

Tellis writes that Pakistan’s hatred is driven by its aim to be considered and treated equal to India, despite the vast differences in their achievements and capabilities.

Also ReadMilitant Groups in Pakistan Emerge as Political Parties : Can Violent Extremism and Politics Co-exist? 

New Delhi, however, has kept their stance clear and mentioned that India and Pakistan talks cannot be conducted, until, the latter stops supporting terrorism, and the people conducting destructive activities in India.

The report further suggests that Pakistan sees India as a genuine threat and continuously uses Jihadi terrorism as a source to weaken India. The report extends its support to India’s position and asks other international powers, including the U.S., to extend their support to New Delhi.

Earlier in September, Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) slammed Pakistan for its continuous terror activities. She attacked the country by saying that India has produced engineers, doctors, and scholars; Pakistan has produced terrorists.

Sushma Swaraj further said that when India is being recognised in the world for its IT and achievements in the space, Pakistan is producing Terrorist Organisations like Lashkar-e-Taiba. She said that Pakistan is the world’s greatest exporter of havoc, death and inhumanity.

-by Megha Acharya  of NewsGram. Megha can be reached at @ImMeghaacharya. 

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Delhi University Students Win the Enactus World Cup 2017

India wins the Enactus World Cup 2017

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Delhi University
India wins Enactus World Cup 2017. Twitter.

New Delhi, Sep 30: After an extremely tough competition between different students across the world in the Enactus World Cup 2017, Team India, represented by Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies (SSCBS), Delhi University emerged as the winner. The winning projects were project UDAAN and Mission RAAHAT.

Supporting the Government of India’s Digital India and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan mission, RAAHAT strives to effectively eliminate open defecation and provide safe sanitation in the urban slums; whereas, UDAAN aims at narrowing the digital divide between rural and urban India by setting up computer centres.

The Delhi University college team was led by the college’s faculty advisor, Anuja Mathur and student president of SSCBS Student President Aditya Sharma. The winning projects included 34 more members. The Enactus India and Enactus SSCBS were presented the Ford Better World Award of USD 50,000.

Also Read: Three Indian Women on Fortune’s Most Powerful Business Women

President and Global CEO, Enactus, Rachael A. Jarosh congratulated the Indian for winning the world cup and called the projects- RAAHAT and UDAAN, inspirational success stories of Enactus students, who are sowing businesses. She said that the projects address the real world challenges efficiently and innovatively. Enactus India President Farhan Pettiwala said that the two projects created by Delhi University students contribute to the country’s betterment, as they support the Government’s civil and social agenda.

Enactus is an international nonprofit organisation, with 72,000 students from 1,700 universities in 36 countries, which held its annual global event in London from September 26 to 28. A selected group of 3,500 students, business, government leaders and academicians across the globe were present at the event. Participants for the final competition round are qualified from over 72,000 university students. Each team has about 17 minutes to present their projects of entrepreneurial action.

Enactus works to nurture the entrepreneurial skills of students, and to address fundamental, social and economic challenges by developing innovative and experiential learning opportunities for students.

-by Megha Acharya of NewsGram. Megha can be reached at @ImMeghaacharya.