A train journey – call for the ID



There was an article recently in “The Hindu” ( http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-openpage/a-train-journey-and-two-names-to-remember/article6071074.ece ) about two ladies from north-east India working for the railways, and their encounter with Modi, the current Prime Minister (PM) of India and his party colleague, Vaghela. The incident happened in 1990, was published in 1995 in an Assamese newspaper, published again in 2001 when Modi became Chief Minister (CM) of Gujarat, and repeatedin 2014 after Modi’s election as PM.

The author and her colleague on one part of their train journey get ill-treated by the buddies of some  politicians. On another journey they are warmly treated by Modi And Vaghela, and given a free lunch. The author is careful to write down the names of these nice politicians, and is delighted when they go on to become CMs of Gujarat and positively elated when Modi is elected PM. Although to me,  far removed from Modi, he seemed to have a certain narcisstic arrogance, similar to Obama with his “gift”. If you look up his profile at http://pmindia.nic.in/pm-profile.php, you see that he had a hard life ‘without a spare rupee’. The usual belief is  that God compensated people in different ways. So a “poor” person will remember that he had lots of people to play with, and share the simple joys of life. While a “rich” guy, remained snobbish, and alone, played with his many toys, and had “rich” food in restaurants. Was society so broken, that Modi couldn’t enjoy life without money, or does it indicate some one who glorifies money, and sees life through that lens, where money is everything.

Some “developed” societies do have laws against people living on the edge, because it affects their sensibilities. Sometimes it is just jealousy, seeing people being happy with so little, that the rich have to control with rules so that the poor get integrated into their version of society, or institutionalized. Bill Gates, with all his money, can’t see its limitations. Even today, he invests money in some drug company, then has his charity foundation, buy drugs from that company, driving up the stock prices.

And the elections show the full might of corporate funding, and propaganda, with some failure of the voting machines. A few machines gave all the votes to the leading candidate. But no detailed and independent investigation of machine failures was done. It was also interesting that pre-programmed zombies were used, who went online to comment on anything that Arvind Kejriwal does, by calling him Kujliwal or some other crazy misspelling of his name, or by referring to AAP supporters as AAPtards. (Actually AAP going to court on Modi leaving out his wife’s name in the electoral application, seemed not a wise move. Other than that the party was different from the established parties, and their corporate cronies). Technology is not bad, but corporations have better access to our babus, and rules and regulations get created in their favor. Simple traditional solutions are ignored as primitive, while techological solutions that create more problems, and put people on an endless treadmill get hyped up.

Now we’ll get back to another train journey, that begins in a way in the mid nineties. IT (Information Technology) was the rage for youngsters with engineering degrees. Infosys was one of the leading employers. They had several offices in Bangalore, the biggest one was in Electronic City. You might encounter Narayana Murthy, with his sleeves rolled up. Tea was available anytime. There was a cafeteria with subsidised food. During the orientation, one of the guys, possibly Nilekani, younger and trim, thundered, that if you are on a project, and client requires you on-site on Monday, but your marriage is the day before, you have to cancel the marriage. The client is more important than the employee’s personal life. And then you have to execute a bond for several lakh rupees, which has to be guaranteed by your father. On the other side was Wipro, which by 1995 was expecting to have about a thousand employees in their IT division. If people have to work late, then external caterers supply food. Once when the employees complained about food, Azim Premji said rather bluntly that Wipro is not a catering company. And they didn’t expect employees to sign a bond. But over a period of time, with
the cyber-coolie movement in full swing, the companies standardized the policies and the differences between companies disappeared. But the Infosysian culture of the company using various tricks to keep the employees compliant is hard to miss.

Nilekani went on to become chairman of UIDAI/Aadhar that is supposed to capture bio-metric identification of every Indian and give them an identity. Apparently people were feeling lost without an identity. Although wise people like Stallman of Free Software Foundation oppose such global or national ID, that can be used to track, and control people. Even with good intentions, peoples’ behavior gets modified in negative ways when they feel they are under surveillance. Biometrics when compromised, cannot be replaced. Unlike a credit card or debit card, that can always be replaced. Crime of one type may seem to reduce, but a greater pathology grows in its place. However there is not much hope. Edward Snowden did not slow down the development of surveillance systems. And Fukushima did not reduce the attraction toward nuclear power.

With lots of people enrolling either under the voluntary Aadhar, or mandatory NPR (National Population Register, an ominous reminder of Orwell’s 1984), the railways decided to make ID compulsory for reserved travel.

Train journeys in the past used to be lively, with strangers discussing things of mutual interest. These days it is more disconnected, with people in their own shells, on their mobiles, or occassionally laptops. It was nightime, around 9PM, on this train, and the TTE (Travelling Ticket Examiner) was checking the tickets, or rather the IDs, since without the ID, the logic goes, there is no ticket. Once again, in the not so distant past, people did not carry the originals. They always had copies. Getting a document was a big issue, with bribes, and frequent visits to the government offices. Carrying copies was the norm.

There’s this lady with two children, a boy about 10 years, and a girl about an year old. She was accompanied, from all appearances, her father in law. They were in their seats (or rather berths), when the TTE came and wanted to check their ID. The father-in-law gave an ID, but it was not original. The TTE wanted the original, he said he will come back to check. A well-intentioned guy was telling this lady and her father-in-law that original ID is required. The children went to sleep, a little later the older folks too laid down to sleep. Around 11PM the TTE comes back, lights are switched on, and the argument starts. He says the fine is a thousand plus rupees, and shows some receipts of others whom he had fined. The lady says, if she knew, she would have got atleast one of her student IDs. A few seats away, an older gentleman has an original ID but with a different name. He apparently booked his ticket on a tatkal quota, which requires that you specify the ID that you will bring. So even if the gentleman had another ID with his correct name, he cannot show it. Neither of the seats were claimed by others, which would indicate that these people are cheating. The TTE did not want to exercise his judgement, or probably the “rules” don’t permit him to exercise any common sense. After some argument he leaves, lights go off and people get some peace. Two hours later at 1AM he shows up, and begins fighting. Talks in a rather insulting manner to the father-in-law. Says he is going to fine them, then again threatens to leave them with the station master. About a few minutes later these peoples’ destination comes up. Lady wakes up the boy, walks out of the coach. Father-in-law picks up the girl who is sleeping peacefully, unaware of all the ruckus, and leaves. No fines, no meeting with the station master. Lights are turned off, and it is time to get some sleep.

In the past you just showed your ticket, and sat down to enjoy the forests, the wind in your face, the tunnels, small villages, and busy cities as the train chugged along the tracks.  Only now they have been replaced by the call for your ID!


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