By GOPAL SAMBAMURTHY
Its 10:00pm in Penang, Malaysia, (7:30pm IST), time to catch up on Sun TV live Indian news. More than anything, for the last few months, the headlines start with PM Narendra Modi and soon it’s all about the protests here and there all over Tamil Nadu and if any, other parts of India. I wonder, some day, if I have the bandwidth to compare the news clips from Jaya TV, Sun TV and Kalaignar TV to see the number of overlapping protests reports. Maybe I should also try to categorize to see if there are any “flavour of the month” protests and demonstrations which repeat seasonally. I would not be surprised if some PhD social science student end up doing a PhD thesis on this. In the 1970s, I was told that every year, certain college students will go out and burn a Palavan bus in Madras to have their final examinations postponed.
Interestingly, there are at least half a dozen of such peaceful and not-so-peaceful demonstrations that make it to the primetime news every day. At the same time, I wonder how many more don’t even get any coverage. Within each state, I presume there would be as many “per capita” demonstrations taking place day in, day out! Many foreigners new to India would really be amazed that many protests can simultaneously take place all over the country for totally different causes. The reasons range from hike in education fees, anti-castes quota, breakdown in public transport services, overflowing sewers, protests started by unfounded rumours, onion shortage, Anti-dowry, response to some specific rape or molests, medical workers dissatisfaction and everything else under the sun that I have missed out.
I am not saying that there are no protests in other parts of the world, be it in a developed country in Europe, USA or a 3rd world country like Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong. However, the fundamental objective of such minor or local protests is not meant to disrupt everyday life or to deny anyone from earning an income. At this point, I am not talking about the Pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong and Thailand or the Arab Springs mammoth violent protests. Its all about the common man today, who wastes time participating in some small protests year in year out, which would have been most beneficial to the community if it was resolved at the lowest level of authority and not the opposite. Before I get blasted, the question is, why can’t we have a system, where we can achieve something without having to make a public protest out of it? Why does it have to become a norm to scream before someone hears us? Do we have to resort to the Gandhian style “One protest fits all” approach year in year out for every issue?
In this part of the world, in the last year or so, two majors demonstration had shutdown vast portions of the country for weeks on end. The 1st has been the Yellow Shirt-Red Shirt blockade of Bangkok and other cities. The 2nd is the on-going Pro-democracy movement by the Hong Kong University students that has received international media coverage. The point to note is that, at other times both these countries are pretty much demonstrations-free. Where as in India, hundreds of protests take place every month, and only one or two caught the attention of international media. Like, Anna Hazare and the National level Anti-Rape demonstrations. That too it made a difference, compared to the hundreds that only or may only get a 15 seconds of fame before being overshadowed by the next milkmen or auto-rickshaw “hartal”. Even in that 15 seconds of fame, how long will one’s fight remain relevant before being drowned in the “tsunami” of protests in the country?
Generally in Malaysia, protests are rare and far apart. So, is it because we have an effective and hard working public services sector? Not really. In most cases protests are held during lunch breaks, weekends. The issues are usually related to disgruntled squatters, home buyers or gold investors being cheated by some company or another. Most of the other straightforward cases that end up in street protests in India are resolved through negotiations directly or with the assistance of the local MLA. These are relevant protests unfortunately we also have a bunch of religious bigots who don’t need a reason to protest after every other Friday prayers. Best I keep away from the latter, before I am hauled up to the courts in Putrajaya and charged with Sedition
This brings me to a group of self-proclaimed messiahs, the Anti EM Radiation Alliance. This group overwhelmingly oppose Wifi, wireless mobile devices and protest when telco towers are set-up in their housing colony or neighbourhood schools. Several months later they would then complain to the authorities that mobile phone coverage provided by the service providers in their areas are pathetic and want immediate action.
I personally know a couple of these doctors who flog this agenda with so-called scientific claims pulled out of a magician’s hat. For the technically challenged, mobile phones transmit UHF signals at 900MHz, 1800MHz (GSM band) and 2100MHz (WCDMA band). In other countries it would be within the same range. Terrestrial television signals are also in the UHF (Ultra High Frequency) range. Home Wifi and Ku-Band used by satellite television would be from 2,400MHz and higher. Definition of Microwave is above 3,000MHz. Back to these pseudo experts who claim that exposure to EM radiation causes diarrhea, loss of memory and mental slowness among other things. I have to somewhat agree with their point albeit it’s more like verbal diarrhea from them. Mind you each one of them would be carrying a couple of mobile phones, living in houses fitted with wifi and a couple of Ku-Band satellite dishes sticking out in front of the bedroom windows, operating on much higher frequencies compared to mobile telephony.
Technically, the concern is the radiation emitted by the base stations and their antennas, which provide the link to and from mobile phones. This is because, in contrast to mobile handsets, it is emitted continuously and is more powerful at close quarters. On the other hand, field intensities drop rapidly with distance away from the base of transmitters. The irony is that by having a base station further away is more hazardous than having one close by. Our mobile phone technology has the capability to increase power (read: radiation) based on the signal strengths. Hence weaker signals from a distant tower will push up the output power from a handset. Hence if what these “experts” are saying is true, they have just set-up something to “fry” your brains effectively.
In conclusion, if there is a cause worth fighting for, strategize and execute effectively before resigning to take it to the streets. Until we can resolve issues at the lowest level of authority, there will be continuous drain on our resources, national productivity and overall global competitiveness. Where does India stand compared to the ASEAN block and China in attracting FDI when these countries are taking positive steps in settling similar issues more effectively?