Sunday, November 9, 2014
The president came to Washington thinking he could change Washington, make it better, unite it and the nation. He was wrong. As he ascended, the tone of political discourse descended, as much because of who he was as what he did. When Obama introduced Joe Biden as his vice-presidential running mate in Springfield, Ill., he expressed his confidence that Biden could “help me turn the page on the ugly partisanship in Washington, so we can bring Democrats and Republicans together to pass an agenda that works for the American people.” In his first Inaugural Address, Obama said: “On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.” He underestimated the degree to which his very presence for some would feel more like a thorn than a salve. The president seemed to think that winning was the thing. It wasn’t. Stamina was the thing. The ability to nurse a grievance was the thing. The president’s first “I won” moment came shortly after his inauguration. It was in an hourlong, bipartisan meeting with congressional leaders about the stimulus package. ABC News reported an exchange the president had with Eric Cantor this way: “Obama told Cantor this morning that ‘on some of these issues we’re just going to have ideological differences.’ The president added, ‘I won. So I think on that one, I trump you.’ ” Then, in a 2010 meeting with members of Congress about the Affordable Care Act, a visibly agitated president quipped to John McCain (who was raising concerns about the bill): “We’re not campaigning anymore. The election is over.” And in 2013, appearing even more agitated following the government shutdown, the president chastised his opponents across the aisle: “You don’t like a particular policy or a particular president? Then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election.” This idea that Republicans would honor the fact that he was elected — twice — almost seems quaint. It angered; it didn’t assuage. And in addition to some people being ideologically opposed to Democratic principles in general, others are endlessly irritated by a personal attitude and persona that seem impervious to chastisement or humbling. Even the president himself has come around to giving voice to this in public. Last year he told The New York Times: “There’s not an action that I take that you don’t have some folks in Congress who say that I’m usurping my authority. Some of those folks think I usurp my authority by having the gall to win the presidency.” Gall here is an interesting word, and a purposeful one I think. It is in line with all the other adjectives used to describe this president’s not kowtowing and supplicating himself before traditional power structures. Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story Arrogant is another word that gets regular usage by his opponents, like Rand Paul, Paul Ryan and Chris Christie. Some even connect Obama and supposed arrogance to anything and everything he does. And let us not forget elitist and radical. Occasionally someone lower on the pecking order and with a little less discipline will utter the unutterable, the racially charged word that hangs like a cloud over the others: uppity. To demonstrate their disapproval, the more conservative, more homogeneous midterm electorates have dealt the Democrats — and specifically, the president — painful blows in the last two elections. This will render a stalled agenda even more so. His term must be tarnished; his accomplishments erased. Some people blame the president for not cultivating more congressional relationships, across the aisle and even in the Democratic caucus. There may be some truth to that, but not much, I believe. No amount of glad-handing and ego-stroking would compensate for the depths of the opposition. Nor would messaging. This is a president who was elected by an increasingly diverse national electorate that some find frightening, a president who is pushing a somewhat liberal agenda that some have found intrinsically objectionable, and a president who is battling some historical personality tropes that many cannot abandon. To his opponents, this president’s greatest sins are his success and his self.
By Jethro MullenAfter his party's drubbing in the midterm elections, President Barack Obama will wade into a mass of foreign policy challenges during his trip to Asia this week. Obama made America's pivot to Asia a centerpiece of his foreign policy architecture. But some commentators say the President, beset by crises elsewhere, has failed to put words into action. "The Asia pivot remains more rhetoric than reality," said CNN's Fareed Zakaria. "Having promised a larger U.S. military presence in the Philippines, Singapore and Australia, there is little evidence of any of this on the ground." Obama's first stop on his trip takes him to Beijing, where the greater U.S. focus on Asia is viewed with deep suspicion. "Two prevailing sentiments -- perceived U.S.-led containment of China and the threat posed to America by China's growing economic and military strength -- have set the two major powers on a confrontational course," said Cheng Li, a senior foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution. Obama is in Beijing from Monday for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings, but he will also hold direct meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, where sensitive issues like cybersecurity will be on the agenda. "To put this crucial bilateral relationship back on track, President Obama and President Xi must use the summit in Beijing to deepen mutual understanding and publicly challenge these misperceptions," Li said in comments published by Brookings. Myanmar reforms 'sliding backwards' After China, Obama will travel to Myanmar, a country where, two years ago, he became the first sitting U.S. President to visit. There was much fanfare then about the introduction of political reforms after decades of oppressive military rule. The opening up of Myanmar, also known as Burma, became held up as a positive example of U.S. engagement in Asia. But concerns are now rife about the halting progress of those changes and the plight of the Muslim minority group, the Rohingya. "Since the high point of Myanmar's reform process in 2012 and early 2013, the country's political opening has stalled and, in my opinion, slid backwards," wrote Joshua Kurlantzick, a senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. He said Obama, who will be attending regional summits in the country, should pressure the Myanmar government to push ahead with political changes and rethink its "racist" plan for the Rohingya. But a senior U.S. official cautioned not to expect any major leaps forward any time soon. "I don't think we're going to see breakthroughs in the short term," Tom Malinowski, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for human rights and labor, told CNN's Christiane Amanpour last week. "Burma was an opening to a breakthrough and it's one that we always knew would take years to move from its starting point to its finishing point." Will Obama and Putin meet? The last country on Obama's itinerary is Australia, where the G-20 summit will take place in Brisbane. He plans to deliver "a very significant policy address discussing U.S. leadership in the Asia Pacific," as well as holding a trilateral meeting with the Australian and Japanese prime ministers, Evan Medeiros, senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council, said Friday. But much attention will be focused on how Obama will navigate the presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has angered Western leaders with his aggressive actions in Ukraine. They already suspended Russia from the G8, the group of leading industrialized nations, earlier this year. But Putin will be in Brisbane for the G-20, and could even bump into Obama earlier in the week at the APEC meetings in Beijing. U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice didn't rule out the possibility of an encounter in Brisbane. "I imagine, as in the past, that there will be an opportunity for the G-20 leaders to engage informally on the margins," she said at a news briefing Friday. "There's no formal bilateral meeting scheduled or planned, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if they had some informal communication." The two leaders had a brief conversation about the Ukraine crisis on the sidelines of the D-Day commemorations in France in June.
The Midterm Elections"We got beat," Mr. Obama said of last week's midterm elections that saw Republicans take control of the Senate. The president's low approval rating, hovering around 40 percent, is seen as part of the reason Republicans were so successful on Election Night and now control both the House and the Senate. "Whenever, as the head of the party, it doesn't do well, I've got to take responsibility for it," Mr. Obama said. "The message that I took from this election, and we've seen this in a number of elections, successive elections, is people want to see this city work. And they feel as if it's not working." He defended parts of his record, arguing that the economy has improved with more than 200,000 jobs created in October and a fast-declining unemployment rate. Still , he said, people are frustrated that their wages haven't gone up and it's difficult to save for retirement or college educations. "They see Washington gridlocked and they're frustrated. And they know one person in Washington and that's the president of the United States. So I've got to make this city work better for them," he concluded. Schieffer noted that Mr. Obama does not seem to share the same zest for politics as previous presidents like Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and others, and asked whether he even liked politics. "I love this job," Mr. Obama said. "Here's, I think, a fair statement: If your name is Barack Hussein Obama, you had to have liked politics in order to get into this office... I got into politics because I believed I could make a difference, and I would not have been successful and would not be sitting at this desk every day if I didn't love politics." As evidence, he pointed to the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act, which, he said, would not have been possible "if there wasn't a whole bunch of arm twisting." And making progress on cutting the deficit also required cutting deals with Republicans, he said. But he said he has learned some lessons on the way. "It's not enough just to build a better mousetrap. People don't automatically come beating to your door. We've got to sell it. We've got to reach out to the other side and, where possible, persuade," he said. Despite the difficulty of a long summer driven by a series of crises, from ISIS to another war in Gaza to the Ebola virus outbreak, Mr. Obama said he believed things were worse when he first took office in 2009. "It was worse, because the economy not just here in the United States but globally was in a freefall. I have great confidence in the American people and I have great confidence in this administration being able to work through and eventually solve problems. Sometimes we don't do it at the speed that keeps up with, you know, the press cycle," he said. He said his administration has "handled Ebola well" and also said no one recalls the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico because "we actually had a really effective response." "When you solve the problem, sometimes the cameras have gone away," he said. The remainder of his presidency Although presidents sometimes use big political losses as a cue to shake up their administration, Mr. Obama suggested that a staff reorganization may not be the answer. "There are always going to be changes," he said. "We will be bringing in new folks here because people get tired. You know, it's a hard job. And what I've told everybody is...I want you to have as much enthusiasm and energy on the last day of this administration as you do right now or you did when you first started. Otherwise you shouldn't be here." Among the potential new faces is Loretta Lynch, the U.S. Attorney Mr. Obama nominated Saturday to replace Attorney General Eric Holder, who is stepping down after six years. But he also said that he will be looking for other ways to operate in the final two years of his presidency. "I think that what you'll see is a constant effort to improve the way we deliver service to customers...experimenting with ways that I can reach out to Republicans more effectively. Making sure that we're reaching out and using the private sector more effectively," he said. One likely area of conflict with the GOP is on immigration, where Mr. Obama has said he is still committed to taking executive action despite warnings by the Republican leaders not to do so. On Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner said unilateral action by the president will "poison the well" for legislative action by Congress. Mr. Obama that after the Senate passed a bipartisan overhaul of the nation's immigration laws last year, he gave Boehner time for the House to work on the issue as well - but said that he had the legal authority to make improvements if they did not. Still, he said there is a role for congressional action even if he does make unilateral changes to the system. "Their time hasn't run out," he said. "The minute they pass a bill that addresses the problems with immigration reform, I will sign it and it supersedes whatever actions I take. And I'm encouraging them to do so," he said. "If, in fact, a bill gets passed, nobody's going to be happier than me to sign it, because that means it will be permanent rather than temporary," he added. Outstanding foreign policy questions In addition to domestic issues, Mr. Obama is still juggling several complicated issues overseas that will demand much of his attention in the next two years. Last week, it became public that he sent a letter to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in mid-October. Mr. Obama would not address the letter, saying, "I tend not to comment on any communications that I have with various leaders." He did say he is still committed to the talks aimed at getting Iran to abandon their nuclear ambitions, calling those negotiations "significant" and saying that Iran has so far abided by freezing their nuclear program. "The question now is are we going to be able to close this final gap so that they can reenter the international community, sanctions can be slowly reduced and we have verifiable, lock-tight assurances that they can't develop a nuclear weapon. There's still a big gap. We may not be able to get there," Mr. Obama said. He also said that the U.S. will not be "connecting in any way" the nuclear talks to the fight against ISIS, which Iran also views as an enemy because it is primarily a Sunni Muslim group. "There is some de-conflicting, in the sense that since they have some troops or militias they control in and around Baghdad, yeah, we let them know, 'Don't mess with us. We're not here to mess with you. We're focused on our common enemy,'" he said. "But there is no coordination or common battle plan and there will not be." Other issues like sponsoring terrorism and anti-Israel behavior will prevent the two countries from ever becoming "true allies," he said. Mr. Obama also said that the U.S. still believes that Syrian President Bashar Assad needs to step down from power, despite the complex politics in the country's civil war that have ISIS fighting against Assad. "It is still our policy, and it's an almost absolute certainty that he has lost legitimacy with such a large portion of the country by dropping barrel bombs and killing children and destroying villages that were defenseless, that he can't regain the kind of legitimacy that would stitch that country back together again," the president said.
http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/PPP Punjab President Mian Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo has said that the PPP-led government appointed an independent chief election commissioner (CEC) after consultations with the opposition during its tenure from 2008 to 2013 but that the CEC could not assert. Besides, he said, the role of members of the Election Commission of Pakistan also became “controversial,” casting aspersions on the whole electoral process of 2013. Wattoo expressed these views while talking to the press after Qurban Khan Niazi, the younger brother of the late Dr Sher Afgan Nizai, joined the PPP on Saturday. He said that Opposition Leader Syed Khursheed Ahmad Shah was engaged in consultations with other opposition parties, hoping that this time a comparatively “young” and “assertive” CEC would be appointed and nobody would be able to raise finger on the authenticity and credibility of the elections conducted by him.
In a stern warning to Pakistan, India on Sunday said there cannot be a dialogue with Islamabad if ceasefire violations are repeated."...If repeated ceasefire violations take place then environment for dialogue itself suffers," Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, who is also holding the portfolio of the Finance Ministry, said at the India Global Forum meeting. "Yes, there should be a dialogue. We will welcome it but then the environment for dialogue has to be created by both countries. One of them cannot upset the environment and then say why dialogue is not taking place," Jaitley said. The dialogue process was derailed after Pakistan envoy met Kashmiri separatists just a day before the foreign secretary level talks in August. "When we further the discussions (after swearing-in invitation) it was through foreign secretary dialogue, this was responded to by an immediate invite to the separatists particularly keeping in mind elections in J&K at the doorsteps. Now this we found completely unacceptable...," he said. Noting that there are issues in Kashmir, Jaitley said but the valley has been by and large peaceful. "We are expecting a peaceful elections in the valley notwithstanding efforts to disturb the environment." He also praised the armed forces for showing exemplary courage in rescue and relief operations during the recent floods in the state. With regard to the border issue in the eastern region, Jaitley said India is keen for expediting the process to resolve the matter. "As far as China is concerned, our economic relationship continues to grow, there are a lot of mutual investments in both countries and there are huge trade between two countries," he said. "But then we have a pending issue of settlement of boundary itself and the commission appointed in 2003 for that purpose; we do hope it functions now expeditiously. We (will) continue to have a meaningful dialogue with them," he added.
Islamabad: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan has lambasted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for taking his family members on official foreign trips.The cricketer-turned-politician was addressing his followers in front of parliament house here last night. Sharif is currently visiting China and has taken his younger brother and chief minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif with him, where he was seen with the prime minister on important events and engagements. "Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is on an official visit to China and his younger brother Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is accompanying him. But why Pervez Khattak, who is also a chief minister (of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province), is never invited to accompany the prime minister on his foreign visits," Khan said. Shahbaz is considered as trouble shooter and close confidant of the prime minister. Recently he was involved in secret meetings with the army when opposition protests threatened to topple his brother. Khan said Sharif is one of the richest men in Pakistan and his wealth is increasing under his own rule. He said that the Sharif family was investing in other countries but asking foreign investors to invest in Pakistan. The former cricket star was addressing his supporters on the 87th day of his sit-in and said the protests would continue till Sharif stepped down as prime minister. Khan has been agitating since mid-August outside parliament with his supporters, demanding Sharif's ouster as he alleges that last year's general election, which his party lost and which brought Sharif to power, was rigged.
UCANEWS.COMA Vatican official has spoken out to condemn the barbaric killing of a Christian couple earlier this week in Pakistan. Shehzad Masih and Shama Bibi were killed by an enraged crowd in Pakistan after a Muslim religious leader unjustly accused them of blasphemy. “I am shocked by the immense barbarity of this act,” said Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. “When something this barbaric happens, one is naturally left speechless,” he said. “What is even more serious is the specific reference to religion. No religion can justify crimes of this kind. The blasphemy law presents the problem of whether the international community should intervene. On the one hand, people’s religious beliefs must be respected but it is also important to show a minimum amount of humanity and solidarity. I therefore believe that there should be an insistence on dialogue; one can never stress this enough. The more delicate a situation is, the more dialogue needs to be driven home.” When asked whether it was possible to ask the UN to intervene, the cardinal said: “I ask myself how can one stand by and watch when crimes [that] religion declares to be legitimate are committed?” He pointed out that “there have been approximately 60 executions since 1990, the year when the blasphemy law came into force. And this does not just affect Christians, other minorities are also targeted: lawyers who oppose the regime, for example, are also barbarically killed. So we are faced with a big problem.” In answer to a question about the lack of a response from the government regarding the denunciations and the possible complicity of the police and the courts, the Cardinal said: “There is definitely connivance. I don’t know to what extent. In any case, however, I am of the opinion that that this kind of behavior must be publicly condemned, above all so that our Christians feel that there is solidarity from the Church, which is their family.”
RECENTLY the International Islamic University in Islamabad held a Model UN conference, where students simulate what takes place at the UN General Assembly, by role-playing as ambassadors of different countries and engaging in debates on world issues and global conflicts.It’s a wonderful extracurricular activity that stimulates students intellectually, and encourages them to learn about diplomacy and international relations. MUN conferences take place all over the world and hundreds of students have benefited greatly from participating as delegates in the many conferences. As a complement to the debates, the MUN organisers at this particular university had students set up a Global Village promoting the countries that were participating in the event. Diplomats from various countries living in Islamabad were invited to visit the stalls. Unfortunately, things went sour when students from the ultra-conservative Jamaat-i Islami noticed that there was a stall representing Israel amongst the rest of the world’s countries, and the whole thing spiralled into a fiasco. A hundred students showed up with batons and threatened violence if the Global Village wasn’t shut down. The consequences the day after the event were even worse. The blame game started up almost immediately, with the university administration claiming the Israeli stall had been set up without their knowledge or permission. The students responded that the MUN faculty advisers had approved of the inclusion of Israel in the debates because they were discussing issues related to Palestine and the UN resolutions against Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. Therefore, Israel had to be a part of the activities, including the Global Village. “We were not promoting Israel, but representing it,” said the students, in the most logical response to the entire brouhaha. Then, the Higher Education Commission decided to get involved, and released an ominously worded instruction to all universities, titled ‘Adherence to Ideology and the Principles of Pakistan’. The title alone should be enough to make your heart sink, considering exactly how helpful this constant argument about the “ideology of Pakistan” has been for our progress as a nation. But wait, there’s more. The directive says, “Universities and degree- awarding institutions have a great responsibility of promoting ideology and principles of Pakistan … demonstration of such rightful perceptions promote nationalism, dispel confusion and infuse beliefs and principles that bring harmony in a society, and bolsters unity and performance.” The statement goes on to lambast universities holding activities that “include discussions or presentations contrary to the ideology and principles of Pakistan” which it deems “tarnish the image of an institution” and “fortify negativism and chaos”. And then it instructs all universities to “remain vigilant” against any activity that challenges the ideology and principles of Pakistan and/or the perspective of the government of Pakistan”. Bytes For All, the digital rights organisation that encourages development and democracy through Internet and computer technology, strongly protested the statement. It tweeted, “Acts of impunity don’t always involve guns. These can also be HEC Pakistan directives sabotaging education’s future.” Indeed, instructing universities to promote ‘ideology’ is something you would expect from repressive regimes like North Korea, the Third Reich, or Stalin’s Russia — all company that Pakistan should not find itself honoured to keep. Anyone with any knowledge of the purpose of education knows that it isn’t meant to ‘promote the ideology’ of any country — that’s called brainwashing. The state has no right to dictate the closely held values and ideals of individuals, nor to teach complete obedience to the government and threaten dire consequences for non-adherence. All we have to do is look around us to see negativity and chaos, disunity and disharmony: the result of many years of trying to teach state-sanctioned ideology but in reality only sowing the seeds of hate and intolerance for many generations. The students at the Model UN should be congratulated for their courage in going against the popular belief that sticking our heads in the sand will solve any of the world’s problems — in this case, pretending that Israel doesn’t exist in order to help Palestine. These students were intelligent enough to realise that dialogue and discussion are the ways out of conflict; they were brave enough to mirror the world as it really is, not as Pakistan’s ‘ideology’ might wish it to be. Top quality education encourages critical thinking in students, not adhering to state-sponsored dogma. The best advice I can give to students today is that if anyone pushes ‘ideology’ on you, reject it. Read history, politics, literature. Ask questions. Form your own conclusions. Don’t be intellectually lazy and swallow everything your elders tell you. They made huge mistakes; don’t perpetuate them by blindly imitating their prejudices and narrow vision. You want a better Pakistan? This is the real way to obtain it.
مام اقلیتوں کو، خواہ ان کا تعلق کسی بھی مذہب ، فرقے یا گروہ سے ہو، مکمل تحفظ دیا جائے گا۔ ان کا دین و مذہب قطعی محفوظ ہوگا۔ انہیں عبادت کرنے کی مکمل آزادی ہوگی اور اس میں کسی قسم کی دخل اندازی نہیں کی جائے گی۔ ان کے مذہب ، عقائد ، جان و مال اور تہذیب و تمدن کو تحفظ حاصل ہوگا۔ وہ ہر طرح سے پاکستان کے شہری ہوں گے جن کے ساتھ دین یا ذات پات کی بنیاد پر کسی قسم کا کوئی امتیاز روا نہیں رکھا جائے گا۔ پریس کانفرنس ،نئی دہلی، ۱۴ اکتوبر ۱۹۴۷“…. let me tell you that I shall not depart from what I said repeatedly with regard to the minorities. Every time I spoke about the minorities I meant what I said and what I said I meant. Minorities to whichever community they may belong; will be safeguarded. Their religion or faith or belief will be secure. There will be no interference of any kind with their freedom of worship. They will have their protection with regard to their religion, faith, their life, their culture. They will be, in all respects, the citizens of Pakistan without any distinction of caste or creed. They will have their rights and privileges and no doubt, along with it goes the obligation of citizenship. Therefore, the minorities have their responsibilities also and they will play their part in the affairs of this state. As long as the minorities are loyal to the State and owe true allegiance and as long as I have any power, they need have no apprehension of any kind.” - See more at: http://www.christiansinpakistan.com/are-we-living-in-jinnahs-pakistan/#sthash.kCT8rSnj.dpuf
The family of a Christian couple which was lynched and later burnt by a mob over alleged blasphemy has refused to accept the police or the state as complainant in the FIR and filed a petition in the Kasur sessions court seeking to become complainant in the case. Sajjad Masih and his wife Shama Bibi – brick kiln workers from Chak-59 of Kot Radha Kishan, Kasur – were brutally killed for allegedly desecrating the Holy Quran. “We don’t accept the FIR. While we are alive, we should be allowed to become the complainant,” said Mukhtiar Masih, father of the late Shama Bibi. In the FIR, a police official – SI Muhammad Ali from the Chowki Factory area of Kot Radha Kishan – is named as the complainant.On Friday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appointed Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping Kamran Michael as the focal person in the case. “We don’t recognise the police official or the minister as true complainant,” Mukhtiar Masih told The Express Tribune. “The police official may be approached by the accused and may be offered favours. On the other hand, the minister represents the government and we doubt the government will pursue this case whole-heartedly,” he added. The court admitted the petition for hearing on November 10 (Monday). Aneeqa M Anthony, the lawyer who filed the petition and is providing legal assistance to the family, said that every offense in the country is against the state, which can become party but it cannot deny the right of an aggrieved family to become complainant in a case. “This is why we have filed the petition in the court. Moreover, we want some more information to be included in the FIR,” she added. “What will happen to the case if the police official gets transferred or backs off?” Another legal expert Azhar Siddiq said it was the right of the accused to become complainant and party in the case. He said the government could not deny the family this right. Federal Minister Kamran Michael said at the time of the incident local Christian community leaders and rights activists had a consensus that the police should become complainant in this case. “Sometimes people are pressurised to withdraw such cases or they make compromise. The prime minister wants to make an example of the culprits. But if the family has gone to the court and the court gives any direction in this regard, then we will comply,” he added.
The extreme response of right-wing groups to young people ex-pressing love in public has ignited a debate on cultural hypocrisy.Renowned arts editor and cultural critic Sadanand Menon said, “Go to any Vaishnavite temple in India, and you will find the 12th century poet Jayadev’s work Gita Govind being recited during morning prayers. The Sanskrit verse has several lines in which Radha urges Lord Krishna to make love to her ... While religious minded men and women seem to have no problem chanting these lines, they seem to get offended when a couple kiss in a park.” Describing the reaction of right wing groups, in the name of preserving the Indian brand of morality, as an instance of Victorian morality at work, he noted that several aspects of cultural expression in India, including dance forms like Bharatnatyam, celebrated free expressions of love and sexuality and this was not considered taboo. Padma Venkatraman (who writes under the pen name Mangai), Professor of English Literature at Stella Maris College, Chennai, said that India’s cultural expression as embodied in works such as the Kamasutra and temple carvings freely explored aspects of love and sexuality. “If you study ancient Tamil texts such as Tholkappiyam, describing the body is part of what is known as Ani Ilakanam. Even works such as Meghadootam and Shakuntalam are full of tales of love, separation and union,” she said. She referred to the works of 12th century Saivam poetry by Akka Mahadevi of Karnataka, in which she describes her love for Lord Shiva, and said: “In her works, you will find lines such as ‘2000 vaginas have I come.’ These poets are part of our cultural icons. Therefore, matters of love and sexual expression are deeply embedded in our culture and opposition to these go against the culture of free expression that is part of our society,” she said. Moral policing Ironically, in the very college where she teaches, the college handbook mentions that girl students should not wear T-shirts, short tops, short skirts and so on. This kind of moral policing of women and controlling their freedom to decide what to wear is just one instance of how moral policing of women’s self-expression takes place in India every day. Chennai’s engineering colleges, for instance, are notorious for not allowing boys and girls to sit together and speak to one another for the fear that they may end up “crossing the line.” A student of Jeppiar Engineering College, speaking on conditions of anonymity, said that such policing of students continued outside the college as well and boys and girls hanging out together even after college hours were reprimanded by faculty members. Limits to freedom of expression But our cultural history notwithstanding, the debate is basically about whether the protesters are correct in demanding the right to kiss freely in a public place. The opponents’ arguments are that this cannot be construed as suppression of freedom of expression and choice as it is about public decency. Lawyer Geeta Ramaseshan, however, was ambivalent with regard to her response to the ongoing debate. “Demonstration of affection in public is a form of self-expression. On a day-to-day basis, people are subjected to policing in parks and public areas, which is perhaps undesirable.” She acknowledged that freedom of expression came with “reasonable restrictions.” What is at the centre of this controversy is the failure to understand the sensibilities of others, she said. “It is a young India that we are living in and as demonstrated by these events, police powers are quite high. Therefore, law enforcers need to be careful before going all out to suppress what is evidently a peaceful movement in support of free expression.”