In-Conference Activity 2016

Quidnunc – Volume 3 Issue 1

Quidnunc – Volume 3 Issue 2

Quidnunc – Volume 3 Issue 3

Quidnunc – Volume 3 Issue 4

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Ephemeral Empathy

Spur of the moment phenomena direct most of our lives today. The hundreds of assaults that took place on New Year’s Eve in Cologne were obviously condemnable. The event, described as TAHARRUSH GAMEA, made it to the international front forthwith. Thanks, perhaps, to facebook pages and the twitterati, the air got high on radical ideas and the human brains decisively co-ordinated and lead us all straight out of our comfy homes to rally against the ‘happening’.

Taharrush gamea is an Arab word meaning collective public harassment of a woman by a group of 20-30 men. Two sets of men encircle the woman; while the inner circle assaults, gropes and pulls at the woman – often tearing her clothes apart and sometimes even raping the woman – the outer circle tries to keep the public distracted. Then, the outer circle moves in and exchanges roles with the inner circle to commit the same unimaginable horrors on the woman. To think that an idea so horrifying originated in the 21st century itself (in some Muslim Nations), only to keep women journalists at bay, leaves one uncertain for the future of our world.

But, undoubtedly, assaults have happened since time immemorial, and everywhere in the world. Only when it happens in this manner, in those Muslim Nations, is it termed as Taharrush Gamea. Otherwise, it is simply called harassment. The Cologne attack was termed Taharrush SOLELY because the offenders were Muslim.

So one can wonder, has a similar thing never happened before? Has a woman never been assaulted in Cologne, or anywhere in the rest of the world? Why do only ‘big’ events lead us out to the streets? And why have we always been prejudiced against all of Islam?

According to WHO, one in every three women has been sexually assaulted at least once in her lifetime. I’m sure we haven’t witnessed a ‘million’ protests rising up against sexual assault, while each of those million victims did experience an equally horrible event. Once we are done with protesting, the event fades into oblivion within no time. The dos and don’ts we draw up once in a year during the ‘big’ events end up more like those set of rules we’d deliberately forget. We need to change this attitude of ours. We need to be affected by every small event, by every inhumane move people make.

Agreed, the offenders were migrants and Muslims. But, not all migrants or Muslims should be forced to bear the brunt of the blame of the people – who want all the migrants out of Germany just because of a few hooligans who exist in every country, cutting across all religions. Most of the migrants were genuinely escaping destruction and war in their original countries, and they desired no violence because they obviously had had their share in their lifetime. Holistically speaking, shouldn’t we be a little considerate towards them?

BUT – let the above discussion not leave an impression that we should pour our hearts out to the offenders too. Our guards need to be strengthened, because when offenders end up stating so shamelessly -“I am a Syrian, you have to treat me nicely—Mrs. Merkel invited me!” (Thanks to the liberal open door policy that ‘Mrs. Merkel’ implemented)- we know that people have started taking advantage of a sensitive situation.

 

Free of All but Responsibility

Freedom is among the most cherished possessions of mankind. Pertaining to the tendencies of the human race, freedom provides contentment, but, it brings with itself an overflow of responsibilities. It must be kept in mind that one’s freedom shouldn’t give one the right to impede another’s freedom. The ones who have freedom also have to think upon the right and wrong of their decisions. Freedom is not absolute. It needs to be respected and upheld, and at the same time, it needs to be checked.

“Supreme Court Judge says that her daughters are liabilities.” This caption along with the photograph of justice Gyan Sudha Misra was published on the front page of an English newspaper. During the disclosure of liabilities and assets, Misra had written: “two daughters to be married” in the column against liabilities. Admittedly, there was no need to mention this as only legal liabilities were to be stated, nevertheless, the newspaper was totally misleading as Ms. Misra’s intention was only to tell that she would have to spend upon her daughters’ marriage. It does not prove that her feelings and emotions towards her children were based upon the monetary expenditure of their nuptials. There are numerous cases where the media has focused upon stories merely for the TRP, and has ignored issues of greater importance. Media and press constitute an important part of society as they are fundamental in shaping our world view. Thus a judicious use of freedom and powers is important.

When we use terms like “responsibility”, it might be viewed as giving powers to the state to curtail the rights of citizens for any reasons which are favorable to them. For example, the Press Law of Syria forbids reporting on topics that are considered to be sensitive by the government. Thus the two notions of freedom and responsibility seem to contradict each other.

The depth this contradiction can attain was witnessed subsequent to the Charlie Hebdo massacre. On one side, Islamists have argued that religion should not be subject to ridicule while on the other hand, people have blamed the extremists for their actions. The claim of the French government of being a protector of free speech came into light as pro-Palestine demonstrations were banned in Paris. Many questions were raised by the international community, some being: was it right to ban the burqa? Is it sufficient to condemn the extremists or do we need to argue upon blasphemy and religious beliefs?

Ideally this battle between the ideologies of responsibility and freedom can be resolved, but our world is far from being ideal. It is difficult to draw the line where freedom should end and responsibility should begin. And who is authorized to draw this line? Should all the powers be given to the government or should there be a scope of individual judgment?

Blurred Lines

We live in an age of more. Every single day, thousands of new companies join the fray to climb to the top of the corporate ladder. This world is ruthless, tossing aside those who do not push the envelope, those who do not take risks. Multinational giants along their way to the top often cross moral lines – entering into ethically grey areas. On such instances who should be held accountable for their misdeeds, the country harboring the company, or the company itself?

Such organizations operate across several countries, often having multiple subsidiaries increasing the complexity of their financial structure. They bank on the fact that different countries have different laws. Such firms establish themselves in countries with laws favorable to them, and herein lies the crux of the case. As long as the company doesn’t break the laws it is bound by, it cannot be held accountable for its actions however close they reach the fringes of what is ethically right. Usually countries structure laws to attract investors and companies, on occasion leaving loopholes for them to exploit.

One such instance is when India signed the Double Tax Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) with tax havens such as Mauritius and the Cayman Islands way back in 1982, allowing companies residing in India and one of these two nations to pay their taxes in either territories. This is propitious to firms as these havens exempt certain forms of tax, hence sending a beacon to companies the world over to invest in India. When in 2007, Vodafone orchestrated a transaction through the Caymans without paying any tax – as per the laws of the Cayman Islands – the revenue department of India cried foul. Following an acrimonious court case, the Supreme Court dismissed the charges against Vodafone, cementing the capitalist nature of India’s economic policy.

In the end it was Vodafone’s shrewd interpretation of the law that profited them. Unless countries legislate laws which are not subject to subterfuge, companies can and will continue to capitalize on the situation, for as long as they don’t explicitly break the law they are not culpable for their actions.

Freedom of Expression Vs. National Security

Over the years, there have been several discussions about how much of an individual’s rights can be restricted to ensure the safety of the nation. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of human rights state that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” In several nations however, there are laws that allow the government to curtail an individual’s rights. But, is this just? Should the government have the power to curtail an individual’s basic human right?

During the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, when a group of terrorists held several civilians hostage in the Taj Hotel, several news stations were reporting live from the scene, and were doing live broadcasts. They were also broadcasting videos of the militants. In this case, the broadcasts could have exposed the militants’ strategies to the terrorists, who held innocent civilians as hostages. This, thus, put civilian lives at risk and the TV stations were banned from broadcasting live from the scene. In such cases, the media houses should be sensible about the information they are broadcasting. They should have taken into consideration the fact that the terrorists could have access to a television, and not have jumped at this as an opportunity to improve their TRP rating. The government did the right thing by stopping the broadcast in this case, despite it curtailing the freedom of expression.

On the other hand however, there are cases like the Tiananmen Square protests on 1989. The protests were forcibly suppressed and the Communist Party of China has forbidden discussion of the event. Within a year of the protest, several newspapers were shut down and over 150 movies and books were banned. Several people born after 1990 are not even aware of this incident. Foreign journalists are frequently denied access to the Tiananmen Square during anniversaries. While the government takes these measures to prevent any future protests like the Tiananmen Square protests, and to prevent civil unrest, it curtails the freedom of expression of millions of people. Also, the reason for censoring this information is not well founded, because censoring all information related to the protests is not going to ensure that no other such protests take place. Neither will people start protesting once they read about this incident. Clearly, in this case, the Chinese Government either has more information about the event that could put the whole nation at risk, or have ulterior motives behind censoring the information. Maybe they just fear that this information will inspire others to protest against the corrupt officials and other issues with the Chinese government.

While it is important that the nation’s security is given more importance than an individuals’ rights, there will be corrupt officials who can take advantage of this and misuse it. But on the other hand, if the state does not have powers to curtail an individuals’ freedom of expression, the individual can also misuse it and put the entire nation at risk. Hence, the state should have the power to curtail the rights of an individual to protect the interests of the state. However, there should be methods to ensure that this is not misused by government officials. An independent committee, for example, can be set up to look into these issues.

The Journey So Far…

Another New Year’s has come and passed, and now the audience is waiting for the next edition of the IITG Model United Nations. As the Secretariat is running around, placing the props, readying the lines, motions becoming more and more frantic as the looming deadline nears and the stage beckons, we begin to reflect on the journey that brought us here.

In the beginning, we were doe-eyed and inexperienced, filled with both reverence and trepidation as the legacy of the IITG MUN was passed on to us to uphold. But we learned on the job, and with the help of those-who-came-before-us, we were well on our way. As time passed, we grew more confident, and our dreams began to take shape. We wanted a conference that would have an impact on the participants – something that they not only enjoyed, but learned from. For that reason, we decided that the focus of our conference would be those issues that the world willfully ignores, but are slowly chipping away at our societies. These are the kinds of issues that are swept under the rug by powerful nations, and trampled under the feet of their weaker allies.

The first agenda is “International Accountability for Arms Trade” in DISEC. Even though it has been over half a century since the establishment of the UN, a universal agreement to monitor and control the trade of arms still hasn’t been put in place. The only assumption that can be made is that nations are unwilling to part with the profit they make from unregulated trade, that they cannot make with regulated trade. This profit is essentially money made from selling weapons to suspect buyers, who don’t have any compunctions about how the weapons are used. If this type of trade, along with the smuggling of weapons on the Black Market could be eradicated, then much of the instability in our world at the moment would immediately cease.

The second agenda is “Curtailment of Freedom of Press and Speech” in the UNHRC. To this day, there are nations in our world in which the citizens are afraid to talk on the streets, in fear of their words being misconstrued by passers-by, and them being punished by the government. For a self-purported civilized society, we still live in a woefully uncivilized manner. The inability to express oneself is merely one step away from the inability to express one’s distress. Undoubtedly, this is what these nations intend. If the people cannot speak, then the government can steal from them with nary a repercussion. Even though knowledge of such situations is readily available, the world is satisfied with merely watching them persist.

The third agenda is “Reform of the UNSC” in the UNGA. The UNSC is the international body tasked with addressing the loss of peace and security in any part of the globe. However, as of late, it has grown more and more irrelevant to the functioning of the contemporary world. At the top sit the five permanent members, each capable of denying any decision made by the rest of council, irrespective of whether they have a justification for doing so. The planning and dialogue between fifteen nations, ostensibly representing 193 countries, can be disrupted by the will of a single nation. If the organization tasked with safeguarding the world can be so crippled by the order of one country, it is a surprise we have managed to come this far without a Third World War.

Through these agendas, we hope to highlight the ‘might-is-right’ policy that nations seem to be operating on, and hopefully give our participants an opportunity to learn how to circumvent such hypocrisy through diplomacy. In the end, the success of this endeavor will be measured by the satisfaction of our guests.

At the start, we may have been nothing more than a rag-tag group of MUN enthusiasts, but now, we have developed into a well-oiled team, and the fruits of our labor are slowly beginning to sprout. The flurry backstage is hurtling towards a crescendo, and the show is nearly ready to begin. We hope to put on a performance that all of us enjoy, and can be proud to be a part of. In that vein, research well, and prepare yourselves, for:

The curtains rise on January 29th!

The Secretariat

IITG MUN 2016

 

 

IIT Guwahati Model United Nations Conference