He came, she saw, she conquered.
Human rights activist and lawyer Amal Clooney did just that at the India Today Conclave 2016 when she talked fiercely and eloquently about freedom of speech and the shrinking liberal space across the world.
“Since 2010, there has been rise in assault on freedom of speech across the world — from Pakistan, which has witnessed most number of blasphemy cases, to Turkey whose government has seized Zamaan, the country’s largest daily, thus marking the end of democracy.”
With freedom of speech being the topic of discussion, the JNU episode was bound to come up.
And it did. When asked whether she would consider representing the JNU students charged with sedition, Clooney said, “This is a completely hypothetical situation. It’s not happening here at all, is it? In any case, as my past cases show, I’m not one to shy away from controversy.”
When probed further, she answered, “There has been no tradition of charging people on sedition in the country. And what’s happening now, with students who are protesting at campuses, is a step in the wrong direction.”
Clooney took the argument further when she said sedition is archaic.
“It’s anachronistic. There should be no place for sedition in democracy. Line should not be drawn between freedom of speech and secession but between freedom of speech and inciting violence. There can be debates about changing governments and changing territories as long as they don’t call for violence.”
Clooney also put her weight behind India’s claim for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. She also hoped that young Indians would make “free speech their cause”.
While enumerating three highprofile cases she has fought to safeguard freedom of speech, including the one of former Maldives president Mohammed Nasheed, who was charged with terror but later let off after Clooney won his case at the UN, she said: “There are three Rs responsible for the crackdown on freedom of speech in today’s world — royalty, rulers and religion. The state needs to understand that stifling criticism can have serious repercussions.
Today, I see a lot of state squashing dissent by sending innocent men and women to prison.”
What they don’t realise is, she added, is by doing so they are “providing them with a platform and making martyrs out of them.”
Although the session was essentially about human rights and the crisis it was facing, Clooney’s personal life did find mention in the talks.
“Both of us (she and her husband George Clooney) waited for a long time to make the ultimate plunge and get married. Even at our wedding, on both sides there were people who thought that we would never get married,” said the lawyer, whose clients include WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, about her “supportive husband” who is a Hollywood superstar.
Clooney also took questions on the upcoming US presidential elections, especially in the wake of the rise of Republican candidate Donald Trump, who has caused quite a ripples with his anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant statements.
“I read his anti-Muslim quotes. I just couldn’t believe what he said. He said ‘they’ a lot. Is Trump talking about Muslims who are part of the US army, those who are victims of extremist attacks?”
She added, “If it turns out to be Trump versus Hillary in the end, I’m hoping for the result to show the election of the first female president of the US.”
Interestingly, Clooney is supposed to host a series of fundraisers for Hillary Clinton next month.
Former beauty queen and political candidate Gul Panag says women being sidelined from Indo-Pakistan peace process
For actor and politician Gul Panag, who grew up in an army family, it was easy to see Pakistan as an adversary.
But her perspective changed during her college years. “Our history divides us but it also unites us. There is much more to Pakistan, the perspective of people from across the borders needs to change,” said Panag at the India Today Conclave 2016.
“As I grew a little older and studied history, I came to know that we share a lot in common.” Talking about women empowerment with Pakistani activist and journalist Reham Khan, Gul said the gender issue holds back both the countries from becoming developed nations.
‘Why it is expected from a woman to blend in the shadows of her husband?’ asked Reham Khan (left). Seated next to her is Gul Panag
“Women are the biggest losers in conflict. But when it comes to decision making in the peace process, they are not given a voice,” Gul said. According to Reham Khan, there is a need to give more platforms to women to voice their opinions. She also said women should not allow the stereotypes to cloud their decision in life.
“Why it is expected from a woman to blend in the shadows of her husband,” said the 43-year-old. Reham further added that gender equality begins at home.
“I am incredibly proud of my 21-year-old son. Everytime he interacts with a woman, I am filled with deep pride. He is so well mannered, something which comes naturally to him,” she shared. Reham said women should not let stereotypes cloud their decisions.
“I have always stressed that I will not be the stereotypical first lady… I never married him for the status the man had. In Pakistan, situations are still very different. We may appear to be very modern but our thoughts are stereotypical where you are not listening to the female voice at all,” she said.
Both Panag and Reham said it is time both countries put behind the past and look at the future.
“The world is evolving. India & Pakistan is evolving so it’s time we work towards the social and economic development of the two states,” Gul said, “We must not burden our generations, born after the last war with Pakistan, with a baggage of animosity.”
Panag also spoke about how it is not very difficult to keep one’s personal life private if one wishes to. “Even media respects the fact that we like to keep our personal life private. If you are in showbiz in India then your personal life is under scrutiny but if you want to keep it private, you can,” Gul said.
Married for five years, she added that her husband has mastered the art of blending into the shadows. “Rishi stood by my side all through my campaign for Lok Sabha elections,” said Gul, who fought the 2014 polls on a ticket from the Aam Aadmi Party.
Young unicorns says the fact that they are women is incidental
By Mail Today Reporter
The young women unicorns (founders of start-ups valued at $1 billion or more) at the Indian Today Conclave 2016 on Thursday made it very clear that the fact that they were women was only incidental and they would like to be seen as entrepreneurs in their own right and their skill sets be taken seriously.
Asked about the most difficult phase of their career, Ashwini Asokan, co-founder and CEO, Mad Street Den, shot back, “This question would not have come up if all of us sitting here were men. You must treat women as experts in their field.”
Aardra Chandra Mouli, co-founder of Trivandrum-based startup Aeka Biochemicals, which is less than two years old, strongly backed the view that being a woman has nothing to do with a particular skill.
(From left) Suchi Mukherjee, Radhika Aggarwal, Ashwini Asokan and Aardra Chandra Mouli at the India Today Conclave 2016
The fact that we are women is just incidental and nothing to do with our entrepreneurial ability, she said.
Elaborating the point further, she quipped “it is like a person having curly hair or straight hair” which has no bearing on his or her ability.
Radhika Aggarwal, co-founder of e-tailer ShopClues.com, said it is time we send the message that we hate questions being asked of us about work-life balance and how we manage home with our work.
The session on “The Pitch is Perfect When Women are the Unicorns” took off on a humourous note with Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant saying the young unicorns had 90 seconds to convince an investor to pump $350,000 into their business.
The participants did not disappoint as each one of them rattled off a brief account of their respective start-ups and the bright future ahead.
Ashwini Asokan whose Mad Street Den produces machines with artificial intelligence to power e-commerce companies said the products were being made with more human-like characterstics to identify colour, style and pattern of clothes.
Mouli, a bio-technologist, said her start-up was “the first fully-woman-owned biotech company in Kerala and perhaps India as well”.
The company provides products for organic farming so that people get chemical-free food.
Suchi Mukherjee’s LimeRoad.com helps market fashion and lifestyle products of micro sellers.
Her company has emerged as one of the largest exporters in Southeast Asia and brought on board artisans from remote villages.
“It is the only start-up business that made money from day one,’’ Suchi said.
“Of course, there will be some failures but if the business strategy is right, the accumulated learning experience shows that profits will come in,” Mukherjee said.
Radhika Aggarwal is gung ho over e-commerce venture and says it is the market leader in Tier I and II cities.
The young unicorns are of the view that start-ups have a bright future and this is also the lesson from the western countries which adopted the model ahead of India.