Thursday, December 19, 2013

Some more on section 377

Following the previous post on section 377, RK a long time reader and occasionally an agent provocateur, asked me why blame the Supreme Court for the legislature’s folly? Well, he does ask a legitimate question.

First, I must start by sort of summarising what I wrote earlier. All of us may have our views on homosexuality, we may be repulsed by it, be scared, be comfortable, believe it is wrong, believe it is a sin and so on and so forth. My point simply is, why should it be a crime? Someone may not like my eating beef or chicken or if he is a Jain, garlic. But, it is my choice and, as yet, I am not committing a crime eating garlic. Why should the same not be true of homosexuality? Okay, I may be drawing a rather bizarre picture, but I am sure you get the concept. Personal likes or dislikes do not mean that the matter should be a crime.

Now getting down to trying dealing with RK’s question. Here are a few points, none of which are necessarily sequiturs to each other.

1.     The Supreme Court is the highest Court in India. In 95% of cases the Supreme Court does not exercise original jurisdiction. This means that you cannot file a case directly in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is a court of appeal. This necessarily means that in 95% of cases that the Supreme Court hears, one, if not two judgements, that have previously been pronounced by a lower Court. This means that the Supreme Court has the benefit of the dispute already having being dealt with before reaching hearing. In this case too, the Supreme Court was hearing an appeal arising out of the judgement of the Delhi High Court. The Delhi High Court had by a detail judgement declared section 377 as unconstitutional. So, the Supreme Court could have merely upheld what the Delhi High Court had said. But, the Supreme Court chose not to do so.

2.    Yes of course the Supreme Court is not bound to strike down an incorrect law. It may well ask the legislature to do so, as it has done in this case. But, the point is, that the Delhi High Court had already as they say `done the needful’. So, what was the reason to overturn the Delhi High Court order and once again declare section 377 as Constitutional? I can understand the Supreme Court taking this kind of view if the Delhi High Court had taken a similar view. But, this decision of the Supreme Court is rather bizarre.

3.  The Supreme Court’s opinion that the law should be amended by Parliament would have been understandable if this was the consistent approach that the Supreme Court took. If, for example, as a matter of precedence, the Supreme Court rarely interfered and struck down laws, and asked the Parliament to modify laws, on a consistent basis, this approach of the Supreme Court would have seemed consistent and sensible. This too is not the case in this judgement. The Supreme Court has declined to intervene and strike down section 377 despite having intervened and struck down laws often in the past.

4.    As a corollary to (3) above, in several cases, as and by way of example, in the 2G scam, the Coal allotments, the Supreme Court has directly intervened and said that polices framed are incorrect, or illegal and have set aside a lot of existing functioning economic contracts, activities and investments. The losses caused by the setting aside of the 2G licenses, the cancellation of the coal allotments are all instances of direct intervention by the Supreme Court. In fact, one of the judges hearing the 377 case was part of the bench that set aside the licenses. So, intervening, striking down polices and laws is not something new or unprecedented.

5.    The most disturbing aspect for me is what appears to be the mindset of the two judges. This whole mindset issue is distressing. I understand that besides homosexuals themselves, the call for amendment of section 377 is most strident from liberals especially urban liberals. It is also true that the huge majority of Indians, probably the so called `Bharat’, are in some way largely homophobic. I may be stepping out on a limb here. This homophobia may stem from prejudices, half knowledge or just ignorance. Judges of the Supreme Court are supposed to be learned, and I mean that honestly. This judgement whereby they have declared homosexuality to be a crime, to my mind, shows a shockingly conservative and un-liberal and medieval mindset. This is deeply distressing.

So, did the Supreme Court act wrongly? Strictly speaking no. Did the Supreme Court act distressingly, unthinkingly, uncaringly, reveal a hideously conservative streak or mindset? In my view yes, yes, yes.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Section 377

I start by making my position clear. The restoration of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code 1861 to the statute book by the Supreme Court is shockingly regressive, wrong, and extremely conservative decision, and the section needs to be modified at the soonest.

My point simply is that why does sex between consenting homosexuals/lesbians/gays need to be a crime? I stress on the word crime.

Before getting all worked up, I believe it is helpful to set down the section, and, what it means and how Courts have interpreted and applied it. Mind you, these are all facts, there may be very good reasons for the Courts to have made certain decisions.

Section 377, IPC reads as:

“377. Unnatural offences.—Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation.—Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offence described in this section.”

Lacking precise definition, Section 377 became subject to varied judicial interpretation over the years. Initially it was interpreted as covering only anal sex. Later interpretations included oral sex and still later, interpretations covered penile penetration of other `artificial’ orifices like between the thighs or folded palms. The law made consent and age of the person irrelevant by imposing a blanket prohibition on all penile-non-vaginal sexual acts under the vague standard of ‘unnatural offences’.

Though, on the face of it, applicable to heterosexuals and homosexuals, Section 377 acted as a complete prohibition on the penetrative sexual acts engaged in by homosexual men, thereby criminalising their sexual expression and identity.

Christian religious morality does not approve of non procreative sex. This has meant that the Christian Church has frowned on homosexuality. Fair enough. The Church may frown on this, the priests may preach that homosexuality is bad/immoral/wrong etc. A homosexual Christian may have to make a painful decision of deciding whether and how to deal with his religious desires and his sexual orientation. Spokesmen of the Church will obviously never support homosexuality. But, the point is that even in countries with majority Christian populations, while the Church has its view, homosexuality is not a crime. The homosexual Christian may be mocked, looked on in ridicule by society, ostracised from the Church, but there is no crime.

Our own BJP has made two points. First, that the BJP believes that homosexuality is an unnatural act and therefore cannot be supported. The second is that a vast majority of the population is heterosexual and it is a small proportion that is homosexual. The call for amendment of Section 377 is from the elite, the liberals etc. Fair enough. While, I do not think that homosexuality is unnatural, I do agree with the other statement made by the BJP. Once again, so what? Yes, liberals are asking for amendment, yes, homosexuals are a small minority. But should it be a crime? When preaching your meaning of Hinduism you could certainly say that homosexuality is unnatural, but should this mean it remains a crime?

The position of the Muslim community is basically the same.

You yourself may be homophobic, and look at gays with fear, contempt, apathy, hatred etc etc. I understand. You do not have to like or be comfortable in the company of someone you suspect as being gay. But, I ask again, should being gay be a crime?

I really cannot for the life of me understand the need to retain section 377 on the statute book. Promiscuous behaviour, public displays of affection, outrageous behaviour are all punishable in any event. I understand that there are no bright line tests for what constitutes bad behaviour, but do we really need section 377 to curb this?

I am really aghast at this judgement. I must say we are painting a fine picture of India. Business wise India is bad with changing rules, retrospective amendments to tax laws. The 2G and Coal scam, whereby existing license holders have been penalised after they have invested massively in India have portrayed a deeply worrying picture. The unfortunate Nirbhaya incident, it’s pathetic handling by the government, the repeated sexual molestation accusations show that India is deeply unsafe. Criminalisation of homosexuality is making us the object of derision world over. What really is happening to us? Where is the leadership?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Kundan Qaliya - Avadhi mutton curry

In a previous post, I had written about very good South Indian style Chicken Curry. This was curry had a coconut base. This post is about another curry, but this one is totally different in all respects. It is North Indian, it is made with Mutton and is very refined.

Do try and make this at home, it is simple, it has normal ingredients available at home [except for the Gold garnish], and it is really delicious. Let me assure you that once you make this curry and eat it, or, if you do serve it at a dinner party, no one will believe it is home made. All will think you are fibbing and that the dish is bought from a fancy restaurant.

The dish in question is called Kundan Qaliya. This is Avadhi in origin. It is a mutton [well goat for us Indians] curry. It is very aromatic, very regal and very sophisticated. Now you may well ask what is a Qualiya? And while we are at it, what is the difference between a Qaliya, a Saalan and a Korma. Well, I did some research and have not really been able to find any definitive answer, but here are some sort of definitions. Please take this only as a rough guide because the more you cook Indian food, the more you will find fault with these distinctions.

A Saalan can be a meat dish, with thin gravy. Just to make things complicated Mirchi Ka Saalan does not have meat and neither does it have a thin gravy.

A Korma is typically a braise [a braise is where meat is browned, liquid added and cooked on low heat covered] obviously using meat cooked with the addition of yoghurt. Onions may be browned with the meat.

Qaliya is a meat dish that has vegetables added to it. Pureed or otherwise. This was in effect a way, for the aristocrats to consume vegetables when added to meat

Don’t worry, this Kundan Qaliya has no pureed vegetables. The gravy in the Kundan Qaliya is quite special as it is a smooth gravy. This is achieved by straining the gravy, much like the French sauces are. And the gravy should be slightly thickened and viscous something like a cough syrup. The mouth feel is lush and luxurious. No ghee is used so the dish is reasonably light. If you find that the dish gets oily, do not worry or despair, simply using a spoon collect the oil and throw it down the drain.

Now as far as the Gold `Vark’ or gold leaf garnish is concerned, let me give you a tip. You could of course use silver, but if you want to use gold leaf, this is available in most Jain Temples. The Jains use this to cover their images. Do not worry about cost. A gold leaf is so light that a single leaf should not cost you more than Rs 50/-

Credit for this recipe must go to the Chef’s at ITC. We have made this several times, and the recipe works.

Kundan Qaliya
Serves 2 generously


Boneless mutton cubed
500 grams
Cooking oil
½ cup. You need a generous amount
Green Cardamom – Ilaichi. Whole, slightly opened to prevent them exploding in the hot oil
8 pods
Cinnamon – Daalchini
3 inches
Cloves – Lavang
8 cloves
Raw Onion Paste – simply peel and puree onions in a blender
½ cup
Ginger paste
1 tablespoon
Garlic paste
2 tablespoons
Turmeric – Haldi powder
1 heaped teaspoon
Yellow Chilli Powder – red will do if you do not have yellow
1 teaspoon [adjust later is needed]
Coriander – Dhaniya powder
1 tablespoon
Yogurt whisked – if very liquid then hang the yogurt to make it thicker. Slightly sour yogurt is ideal.
1 cup
Brown Onion paste
1/2 cup
Peeled almonds made into a paste
¼ cup

Ingredients for garnish

White pepper powder
1 teaspoon
Green Cardamom powder
1 teaspoon
Saffron dissolved in a bit of warm milk

Gold leaf
Pistachio cut into slivers


First prepare the brown onions. Heat oil in a pan and add thinly sliced onions. Fry till golden. Remove and set on paper to drain the oil. Once cool you can blend the browned onions with the yogurt. Set aside.

In the same pan you browned the onions, heat some oil and add the whole spices [Green Cardamom, Cinnamon and Cloves] and sauté till the spices crackle. Now add the pureed raw onions and stirring often start to brown this puree. When halfway done add the Ginger and Garlic pastes and sauté till everything is golden.

Add the Yellow [or Red] Chilli powder, Coriander powder and Turmeric powders and sauté for a minute, Now add in the pureed brown onion and yogurt and the mutton. Add a cup or two of water and transfer the contents of the vessel to a pressure cooker. Rinse and retain the cooking vessel, you will need it again. Cook under pressure to get the meat cooked. Release pressure and open the cooker.

Remove the mutton pieces from the cooker and keep aside. Using a strainer [one you use for juice/soup] strain the contents of the cooker into the cooking vessel. See how much liquid you have. If there is a lot for the quantity of mutton bring the liquid to the boil and reduce to desired quantity.

Add the mutton back to the liquid, add the Almond paste and bring to a boil. Now at this stage, not before, add the salt. This dish is now ready except for the garnish. You can now keep it away or continue on. If there is too much oil, this is the time to skim it off.

When you are ready to eat, heat the dish, add the Cardamom and Pepper powders, be careful they are potent. Add the Saffron. Pour into serving bowl. Garnish with the Gold leaf and sprinkle the Pistachio on top.

Eat with steamed rice or Paratha.

Kundan Qaliya - made at home

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Beating Retreat - Navy Day 2013

My cousin is a senior naval officer. He very kindly invited us to watch the full dress rehearsal of the Beating Retreat ceremony on 3rd December 2013 at the Gateway of India. Before I go any further a few disclosures:

  1. The cousin is a dear cousin; we are all close to him, like him and his family and have lots of fun together. The observations in this post have no reflection to/on the relationship.
  2. This is not meant to be India bashing, but, I think people need to realise that the world has gone far ahead and past glory and amateurish performances really do us no good.
  3. To be kind, everything is relative [not as in cousin relative, but, in the Einstein theory of relativity – relative]
  4. Since you by now may suspect which direction this post will take, if you do not agree, stop reading now!! You are under no obligation to read further, get offended and then complain. Simply stop reading and get yourself a Pani Puri.
  5. I hope I do not go to jail on charges of Sedition.
Beating Retreat is an old martial ceremony, performed at sunset, originally to recall the patrolling units back to base. Today, Beating Retreat ceremonies are performed using the backdrop of some monument. In India Beating Retreat is performed on 29th January every year at the India Gate. This signifies the end of the Republic Day festivities. In Mumbai it is performed on 4th December by the Navy, to signify the end of Navy Week as well as to commemorate the attack by the Indian Navy on Karachi in 1971.This year, Navy Week celebration were cancelled as a mark of respect for the sailors who perished in the submarine mishap a few months ago. So, no Navy Ball, just the Beating Retreat ceremony.

Beating Retreat was at the Gateway of India, a rather magnificent backdrop. The area had been cleaned, cordoned off, comfortable seating organised and, frankly, the Gateway looked magnificent. The ceremony starts at about 5.30 pm and ends at about 6.30 just after sunset. There was a dress code, men were to wear a shirt and tie, naval officers were to be in uniform. The whole event was really well organised. Lots of Naval boys and a few Navy girls, all looking dashing in their white uniforms, checked our passes, escorted us to the seats and looked fairly busy. A good Public Address system had been set up, lights were in place and things looked good. The weather was most pleasant. Since Cousin is a big cheese, we got to sit in really good seats. While waiting, I was very happy to see that the audience comprised of many Javans and Sailors and their families. I was told that the distribution of tickets is very fair and the Navy tries to ensure that there is an equitable distribution over all ranks. That was really nice. The Beating Retreat is not for only `Bada Sahibs.’

The evening started with 120 persons marching into the plaza carrying all the ceremonial flags along with a large marching band. These troops had marched along P J Ramchandani Marg, which is the road on the front of the Taj Mahal Hotel. This caused much excitement. I can understand why. Once the band stopped playing commentary started. This was poorly spoken and even more poorly written. It was replete with every conceivable cliché, and sounded like a cross between an instruction manual and my school history book. Phrases like `brave sailors’, `annals of time’, ‘deeds of valour’ and so on so forth is what I am referring to.

Soon we had helicopters that hovered over the sea in front of the Taj Mahal Hotel, threw down ropes and the `brave soldiers’ `bravely’ rappelled down, and soon were hoisted up. Of course, despite sitting in the prime location we could see none of this as the sea is a good 50 feet below where we were sitting. Then there was more marching, more music from the marching bands. Sailors marched in formation, changed formation, marched across each other, crossed paths and generally did lots of marching. All thru this the band played.

Then it was time for the lowering of the flag fluttering atop the Gateway. That was done and it was time for yet another flypast by the helicopters. That being completed we had girls from the sea cadets who came on and did an Irish dance. Irish because, the commentary informed me, the Irish are great seafarers. This was energetically done, though totally amateurish. Then there was more music, including that horribly overdone Colonel Bogeys March, immortalised in the movie `Bridge on the River Kwai’. Since it had become dark, at a magic moment, the lights went out and the drummers used illuminated drumsticks and their drums sort of lit up when struck. You know that when all else fails, get the fires going. So now we had drumsticks that were lit on fire! Literally! Frankly, left me cold.

Then came the best part of the evening. Something called silent drill. Here a body of sailors did all kinds of formation marching, slapping their guns in unison, stamping their feet in unison, throwing their guns at each other, their leader walking down the middle of two rows of gun throwers, unscathed. Finally, fire again, guns were lit and leader walked thru twirling guns with fire!! That was good, honestly.

Then some more music. There was another nice moment. The band co-ordinated the music with the chiming of the bell probably atop the Taj Mahal Hotel. This was well done.  The band did have an odd choice of songs to say the least – Ghostbusters!!! Yes, “Who are you going to call? Ghostbusters!!” And to end the evening, a sort of really soppy, totally inappropriate Kenny G type song complete with romantic purple lights.

I came away very very disappointed. This was really a show which would have enthralled us 50 years ago. Total lack of imagination in the whole production. Performances that were childish. The fly past was a pathetic joke with 6 helicopters performing manoeuvres that are wholly routine in search and rescue missions, which is their job. We have seen all this ad nauseaum on the last 63 Republic Day parades. A marching band can be a thing of power, beauty and humour. Have a look at a marching band playing at most US Football games with their cheerleading squads. That is something. This I am sorry to say was an embarrassment.

Should this event have stirred nationalistic pride, should I have felt patriotic? I did not, not in the least, despite the National Anthem being played twice. Was this event supposed to stir such emotions? I do not know. Was this to showcase the Navy, its skills and diversity and above all its power? I do not know. Would a young impressionable 15 year old watching this be influenced to rush up to the recruiting office? My guess is no, certainly not in Mumbai. But the point remains, I was left cold and certainly uninspired.         

Would someone please tell the Navy that in a few days it will be 2014 and we, as a Republic, will be a year older. This is not 1950. Please also tell them that we were very happy that they did not impose on us that other cliché, 28 men on a motorcycle doing gymnastics!!!

The Gateway of India did look pretty. After the event it was drinks at the Royal Bombay Yacht Club, another place stuck in a horrible time warp, and a sumptuous dinner at the Table, which you can read about in the earlier post.