I spent two good days attending a three-day South Asia Media Summit that is organized every year by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung India at the International Centre, Donapaula and I came away pleased that India is the best country in all of South Asia. And after seeing a documentary on the horrors of caste oppression in India, that Goa is the best place in all of India. Ergo, Goa is the best place in all of South Asia. So I made a beeline for my old friend Cryalot to give him the good news, “I know for a fact that Goa is the best place to live and work in all of South Asia.”
He said, “What nonsense you talk. Don’t you see what is happening around you?”
“Well see for yourself,” I said, “The delegates from the other countries were saying terrible things about their countries.”
“And Indian delegates were praising our country and you believed them,” he said.
“Au contraire,” I said even though I had met no French speaking people, “Our Indian media persons were criticizing India like nobody’s business.”
“And so they should, so why are you not convinced that we live in a hell on earth?” he asked.
“Because even with all our problems, it was clear that we are better off than the other countries,” I said.
“Pakistan is bullying us and we are letting them bully us,” he said.
“But they have public beatings and one Pakistani delegate said it is no country to bring children into the world. He said he had two daughters and was afraid to let them even cycle outside the house,” I said, because I know we can cycle anywhere we like, We have Joseph Rodrigues and his cycling group that sets out early on Sunday mornings. It’s mixed company and no one has to be covered from hairline to toenail.
“Those people are being bombed to kingdom come and you are talking about cycling,” he said.
“Those journalists are threatened almost everyday, but they soldier on regardless,” I said, “but here we rarely get death threats and if we do we get one entire policeman for protection.”
“Look at the crime we have here, such a huge law and order problem – serial killers, robberies, white collared crime, bomb blasts and you say this is the best place to be?” he sneered.
“But they get caught some of the time, so most of us are happy and then the judge lets them off, so most of them are happy. We are a happy society,” I said.
“Last time you were foolishly impressed with Bhutan. What happened this time,” he asked.
“I still like Bhutan, but one of the delegates said that they are a small country and not very well educated and that the judges often beat up defendants,” I said. “Here people throw chappals at judges. That’s so much better than the judge giving you the boot.”
“Our judiciary is a joke,” he says.
“Not according to the delegate from the Maldives,” I pointed out. “She told us that the Maldives is only one kilometer broad and courtrooms are very small. The judge asks the witness did you see this man killing the dead man and all witnesses turn hostile because they are too scared that they will join the dead man.”
“Don’t talk of judges,” he said, “Look at all the reports coming out about judges being involved in embezzlement of provident fund of their staff; of judges having assets way beyond their means, of judges dismissing cases and they use contempt of court to stifle dissent.”
“Yes, but one of our delegates said they become High Court Chief Justices and even end up in the Supreme Court and one even made it to the Rajya Sabha when he dismissed cases during the Sikh slaughter in the 1984 riots,” I said. “That’s upward mobility which you won’t see in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan or Bangladesh.”
“Nothing you say makes me believe India or Goa for that matter is the best place to be right now,” he said.
“We are free to write what we want, for one,” I said. “Women can do what they want and no one can stop them. And best of all we can throw out our rulers at least once in four years and the army does not come marchin’ in,” I said.
“Who said you are free to write what you want?” he said. “A cartoonist was banned from cartooning by the Supreme Court. You can be hauled up before Speaker for ridiculing the MLAs.”
“Ah, but even then, there are ways and means to keep them on their toes. We have a powerful weapon which our neighbouring countries do not have,” I said.
“Which is?” he asked.
“The freedom to ridicule,” I said.