Monday, 24 December 2007

What Does one do with a Problem Called Modi?

So there’s cheer and hubris in the BJP party office, as they dream of replicating their Gujarat triumph across India.At the risk of sounding facetious, I wonder what the BJP leaders would drink to celebrate victory. If they’re teetotalers, champagne would be out, so would they celebrate with Gangajal instead? Although, considering the level of pollution in India’s holiest river, I wonder if they would risk it--they’d probably end up with some horrible digestive disorder.

Of course, the Modi victory has been hailed abroad, amongst the Gujarati diaspora. I’m being very cautious here--no one spoke of responses from the Indian diaspora as a whole. It seems to be a sad fact, but once Indians go abroad, they tend to cling to people who share their caste and language affiliations, rather than a broad Indian affiliation. The Indian identity tends to break down, in favour of a Gujarati, Punjabi, Bengali, Brahmin or Sikh identity. Evidently, the Gujarati diaspora wants Modi to get a US visa. I’d prefer to get him a UK visa and see him tried for the deaths of two British nationals, who were killed in the course of the 2002 riots. Their crime--being born Muslim. Even a British passport could not save them.

So what should the centrist parties do to face the Modi onslaught? They’re in a position very similar to that faced by the governments of Britain and France after the Depression, with the rise of Hitler and Mussolini in Italy and Gernamy. Both Hitler and Mussolini were popular with businessmen, because "the trains ran on time." Industrialists and workers in Germany and Italy were organised in groups and the government did its utmost to encourage good relations, in an effort to improve production, and then set up an army that would (it was claimed) fight the communists in Russia. However, Mussolini began by trying to take over Ethiopia, whereas Hitler began with the takeover of Austria and Czechoslovakia. Prime Minister Chamberlain and his French counterpart did not wake up until Poland was attacked.

What the Congress and like-minded parties need to do is to focus on development and good governance. Why should it be a Modi prerogative? The Congress, especially, needs to focus on developing strong leaders in each state. What you now have is a bunch of quarrelling and sycophantic courtiers in the Congress party. And it needs to take itself seriously as a secular party. So see to it that Mr. Tytler receives a proper trial, not just an exoneration certificate from the CBI, for his role in the 1984 riots. Only then can you afford to call Modi a "merchant of death".

Sunday, 23 December 2007

A Victory based on Filmi Histrionics

So the voters of Gujarat have proved wrong the old adage that "you can fool some people all the time and all the people some of the time, but not all the people all the time." They have been cleverly manipulated into electing a man who may well have been behind the riots of 2002. His victory is not dissimilar to that of another demagogue who was supported by the business class in his country and eventually led it to defeat and ruin some twelve years later. In fact, Adolf Hitler too was a media manipulator and orator who pushed the Germans into World War II, talking of a hundred year reich and gave them a defeated, broken, divided and humiliated nation some six years later. One hopes that Modi will not do the same to Gujarat, if not to India. The fear is that the BJP might decide to follow the Modi model elsewhere in India,ignoring the fact that what might work in a prospering state with a large number of high-caste voters and a small minority population might not work elsewhere in India.

The other problem I have with the BJP and Narendra Modi is the response one gets from the average Hindu, whose relationship with his/her religion might extend to no more than a visit to the local temple, the recitation of a few shlokas, a blind adherence to faith and an equally blind belief in the greatness of "Hindu" (read ancient) India. They remind me a lot of Alberuni’s description of the Indians he met--they believe that no country is greater than theirs, no gods are greater and no knowledge is greater than theirs. If we have this attitude when we are yet on the path to development, how will we be able to develop further?

If we are to be truly honest, so-called "Hindu" India was largely Jain and Buddhist--Brahmanical Hinduism lost its popularity with the spread of agriculture, as opposed to the herding society described in the Vedas. Hinduism underwent a great transformation during that period, losing many of its Vedic elements and acquiring many pre-Vedic elements, such as mother goddess worship, and also elements not even mentioned in the Vedas, such as the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and the Manusmriti, the bane of women and the lower castes. Many of the worst excesses of Hinduism, such as the prohibition against travelling beyond the seven seas, came about in the early medieval period, when trade with the Roman Empire dried up due to the Hun invasions in North India and Europe. Buddhism and Jainism, which defied the Vedas, could only be defeated by the adherents of Advaitavada--those who acknowledged that all atmas are also part of Parmatma (all-soul), which theoretically meant that differences of caste or sex were unimportant if one was truly devoted to the gods.

Much of what is best about Hinduism came about through its interaction with Islam and modern European thought. I’m referring to the Bhakti movement, which sought to go beyond temples and rituals and priests to create a personal relationship between devotees and the gods they worshipped. I’m also referring to the Brahmo Samaj of Rammohan Roy, which fought against Sati, Iswarchandra Vidyasagar who fought for widow remarriage and Swami Vivekananda, who dreamt of a religion that would unite the Advaitavada of Hinduism with the egalitarianism of Islam--"a Hindu head on an Islamic body" is how Swamiji put it. His guru, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, had lived as a Brahmin, a Muslim and a woman and experienced Parmatma in all three guises.

This is what the "Hindus" of today seem to forget. They claim to be marginalized and ignored in a country where they are the majority. It’s a little like an 800-pound gorilla claiming that it is being terrorised by mice! They fail to realize that fear is often used to win votes--and this fear may have no basis in reality. At one time, grannies would tell kids to go to sleep, else the buddha baba would come get them. Now, politicians tell the people to vote for them, else face terrorist attacks. President Bush has done it in the US and it appears that the BJP, although it fears the 123 agreement as a threat to India’s nuclear ambitions, is quite ready to follow his example in its election strategy.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Limping towards Columbine?

The incident in Gurgaon, where two teenage boys shot dead a third, has set everyone on edge. Here we've been talking about how wonderful our way of life is compared to the US or the UK--no illegitimate teenage pregnancy waves, no violence, very little sex (evidently someone is NOT looking at the Indian birthrate!) and all due to the influence of the Hindu Undivided Family (HUF) as the saas-bahu serials would have us believe. And yet, two schoolboys shoot dead a third who was boarding the bus to go home. All three protagonists--the victim as well as the perpetrators--belonged to upwardly mobile families who wanted them to do well in the world. Evidently, the victim was a bully and the perpetrators were avenging themselves on him. And it appears, from newspaper reports, that the father of one of the perpetrators showed the boy how to use the gun. Justice, Amitabh Bacchan style, in real life?

Bullying and ragging appear to be two faces of the same coin. I've often heard from my father that a bully is really a coward, who cannot face the world without forcing it to accept things the way he or she would have them. The only way to stand up to a bully is to stand firm and not give in. However, that's easier said than done when the bully and the bullied are schoolkids.

For some reason, schoolchildren prefer a cookie-cutter world, in which they, their homes and their families are just like everyone else's. It's very difficult to explain to a child that it is OK to be different, that being just like everyone else is stultifying. Only an adult can appreciate this reasoning--a child, never. Because the child's aim is to fit in, to belong.

People get bullied or ragged because they stand out from the crowd. A boy is closer to the girl students in his class than to the boys. A girl would rather play football than play with dolls. It doesn't matter that the bully or the ragger probably has the same tendencies lurking in his or her unconscious--he or she has to stand up for the cookie-cutter conformist world, come what may.

This insistence on having a conformist society, where everyone is like everyone else, reminds me very much of the fundamentalist mindset, whether Islamic, Hindu, Christian, Jewish or communist. Each of these fundamentalisms would differ in their details, but they would want a certain dull sameness in their lives.

Teachers will have their work cut out for them, with attempts to curb bullying, and to make children work together as a group by accepting and celebrating their differences. For it is only when we accept the fact that we are all different (thank whichever God you worship for that) and each of us is unique that we appreciate what life is really all about.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Gujarat Elections

So now the Election Commission will question Sonia Gandhi about her "merchants of death" remark, which led to Narendra Modi’s admissions regarding the Sohrabuddin encounter killing.Modi and the BJP claim that his remarks on the Sohrabuddin case were in reaction to what Mrs. Gandhi said about him. This is a wonderful illustration of the Hindi idiom, ulta chor kotwal ko dante (the thief rebukes the policeman). Let’s also hope the Congress president decides to let those party members who stand accused in the 1984 riots get their just desserts.

There are basically two points of view regarding the remarks made about and by Modi, which are stated very clearly by Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar and Vir Sanghvi. According to Aiyar, the "merchants of death" remark made by Mrs. Gandhi and the subsequent discussion of the Sohrabuddin episode has only served to remind people that Modi is seen as a protector of Hindus against fundamentalist Islamic terrorists. This will lead to a Modi victory in Gujarat, because he will portray this remark as a slur on Gujarati pride. According to Sanghvi, Modi’s posture is very similar to that adopted by Adolf Hitler and differs sharply from the Hindutva line as preached by LK Advani--please recall that Advani himself had said in yesterday’s Mail Today that it was OK to call Modi Hitler. Therefore, the Congress should not soft-pedal the riots of 2002 or the Sohrabuddin killing, whether or not it wins against Modi this time.

The other issue related to the Gujarat elections is that of development. Evidently, Modi’s plan was to focus on the economic development that has taken place in Gujarat. However, as this report plainly shows, Gujarat has a growth rate of 8.11 percent, with debts of Rs. 95,000 crore this year. These statistics are taken from a state government report. Anemia and malnutrition have increased, poverty lines have been redefined, food grain production has declined and most Gujarati farmers are in in debt to the tune of Rs. 15,526 (average). The Gujarat government has finally begun to admit that farmers are committing suicide--official figures claim 403 suicides over five years, but unofficial figures are larger. Hopefully, the Gujarati voter will be intelligent enough to see through all this rhetoric, demagoguery and jugglery with figures.

Regarding the Sohrabuddin episode, as one-time special counsel to the Gujarat government, KTS Tulsi states in his interview to Tehelka given after his resignation, the official statement of the state government, which it made regarding the killing (that evidence was planted by police officers and the killing was a cold-blooded murder) and the speech made by Narendra Modi in Ahmedabad (where he asked people what should be done with people who store guns or are terrorists) shows a diametrical opposition in views. On the one hand, the state government is trying to claim that the policemen were acting on their own initiative and on the other, Modi is trying to drum up support for the extra-judicial killing of suspects. If, as a democracy, we have to oppose terror of any kind, we have to use better intelligence-gathering methods, train and equip our policemen and soldiers, not use them as political tools and let them do their jobs within the legal framework. State terror may have worked thirty years ago against the Naxal menace--it will no longer work in a world that has spoken up against Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Jaywalkers Fined Rs. 100...but Where are the Footpaths?

The Delhi state government, in its wisdom, has analyzed accident data and realized that every second victim of an accident is a pedestrian. So they’ve decided to slap a fine of Rs. 100 on every pedestrian who does not use the zebra crossing, does not observe the traffic flow when crossing the road or does not use the footpath, foot-bridges and subways wherever provided. However, there’s a sticking point--where exactly are the footpaths?

That’s an easy question to answer if you live in Lutyens’ Delhi--the footpaths are nice and wide, if a little too high for even the able-bodied, let alone people with disabilities to use. But where in South Delhi can you find a footpath? For instance, if I look at the road that leads into Saket from the Sheraton end, the footpaths have all been dug up and all you see are heaps of dust. If I look for footpaths from the PVR end, I am likely to find said footpaths infested by hawkers, scooter wallahs and the like. So where is the footpath that the Delhi pedestrian (and I don’t mean just those going walkabout in Lutyens’ Delhi) are expected to use? There are no footpaths in South Extension--all you will find are narrow roads. There might be footpaths in GK, but are the crossings properly indicated?

I hate sounding like a snob, but the UK is a more pedestrian-friendly and cyclist-friendly society when compared with India. We might have a larger number of pedestrians, but you’ll find nice, wide footpaths, not too high for a wheelchair user or a mother taking her kids to the supermarket anywhere you go in the UK. You have proper pedestrian crossings, not just zebra crossings--you need not look at the flow of traffic or at a distant traffic light to decide whether or not you should cross. You press the button and get a signal (audio and visual) to walk or not. This is especially useful for those who have auditory or visual disabilities. As it is, UK pavements are much lower when compared to pavements in India--you don’t feel as though you need a hand up when you move from the road to the pavement as you do here. Pedestrian crossings are sloped and somewhat lower than the pavement, which makes it easier for a wheelchair user to move from the pavement to the road.

In the UK, you don’t really feel the need for a car--London itself has an excellent public transport system, as does Oxford. However, the activity that most Indians who visit the UK would indulge in, if they really enjoy it, is walking--to the market, to the bookshops, to the cinema or anywhere at all. In the UK, although I was an alien, I did not feel hemmed in at all--I felt as free as a bird, as I went about my daily activities. Here, in Delhi, one feels totally handicapped without a car. We need a change.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Response from a Reader

This is the response I received from one of the readers of this blog. I feel it is necessary to respond to some of the points raised--my correspondent has chosen to put together several issues in an effort to express his ideas:

Just one thing I would like to disagree with and definitely what I will say is not politically correct but its the truth nevertheless and I fear that in trying to be politically correct we are edging towards loosing our freedom in our own country. My point is regarding the parallel you have drawn between Taslima Nasreen and Maqbool Fida Hussain and would like you to note that both are extremely different situations which cannot be compared.

Maqbool Fida Hussain depicted Mother India and the Goddesses of the Hindu Religion as Naked Women in obscene postures and both Mother India and The Goddesses are of objects of worship and reverence. Now its important to note that though freedom of expression should be permitted but where do we draw the line, even rape is an expression, so should we allow rape or murder or stealing? Religion, you must understand, is a very personal phenomenon and nobody has the right to to humiliate some one's personal sentiments, wouldn't you agree? Maybe you didn't mind your godesses and country being portrayed as a Naked Woman but others did, so are they wrong? If Maqbool Fida Husain or anyone were to depict your family in a manner which you found obscene what would you do? And what would you do if others would say he did no wrong? How would you feel? What would Madhuri say if he drew her naked sitting on someone lap? It was only right that the Hindu's protested and they should not be called fundamentalists because they rose in defence of what they perceived was a degradation of their faith & country by someone who does not even belong to the Hindu Religion and I don't believe that branding them as fundamentalists is the correct thing to do or even comparing them to Islamic Fundamentalists who kill innocent men, women and children and who behead people like goats.

Now if you take into notice Tasleema Nasreen and what she did you will realize how different both situations are. Tasleema wrote about the atrocities committed by a Majority Muslim Community in Bangladesh on the Hindu Minority & women in general. These atrocities involved, denial of voting rights, denial of civic amenities, abduction and rape of Hindu women and murder of Hindu men apart from conversions. Case in point being that when Bangladesh was formed it contained a population of 30% Hindus today the Hindu Population in Bangladesh is less than 10%. Why and How did this happen. The Muslim population in India rose from 5% to almost 30% today. Tasleema wrote about Fundamentalist Islam and the human rights violation of the Hindu people in bangladesh and she herself was a Muslim., so did she do a wrong thing? This is what she is being hounded for today by Muslims, for speaking the truth. Now you tell me is there any similarity between the two situations as is made out to be.

Now getting back to Fundamentalism, it is important for you to understand that Hindu's are not Fundamentalists by Nature and neither does their religion preach them to be fundamentalists but it also doesn't teach them to take everything lying down. Islam on the other hand can be quite Fundamentalist in its approach towards non-Muslims, which clearly explains the Jaziya tax and other laws which were enforced on the Hindus during Islamic Rule in India. Another Case in point being that Islamic Terrorism and Islamic Fundamentalism is not an Indian Centric phenomenon, born because of Hindu Extremists as it is made out to be by our politicians and media, instead it is a Global Menace which plagues every Country, be it the European Union, the United Kingdom, the USA , Russia or any other part of the world but these nations have recognized the threat and implemented stringent laws. But why has our Nation not woken up to this threat. The answer is simple, This is no Hindu-Muslim issue, this is vote bank politics which plagues our Nation. And the Hindu people are the silent victims.

Christians continue to proliferate on our soil and continue to carry out mass conversions but when Hindu organizations speak out against it, they are branded as Fundamentalists, so who is the real fundamentalist, those who protest or those who convert?

Thousands of Hindu people have died in terrorists attacks and continue to die. Hindu Temples, place of Pilgrimage, Festivals are all targets of Islamic Fundamentalists. What happened in kashmir, who speaks about the displaced Hindus or about Hindus in others areas of India who are living in a Muslim Majority. Or who takes interviews of Hindu families who have lost loved ones in terror strikes, nobody. Everybody talks about the Babri Masjid demolition as a shame but none speaks of the countless temples and homes of Hindus destroyed in Kashmir. We continue to talk about peace and love with Pakistan and many Pakis enjoy their lives in India but how many Indian enjoy theirs in Pakistan, this entire equation is quite one sided which is why its not working out. We welcome Pakis and choose to forget the extreme number of deaths these very Pakistanis have inflicted upon India and Indians and continue to do so.

Is the sacrifice of those people in vain? Or are we so selfish that we have forgotten the blood of our ancestors, of Martyrs, which has spilled on Indian soil so that one day we could enjoy our freedom since the advent of the Mughals. So many Hindu women committed Johar, why? have we forgotten their blood. So many brave men died on the battle field defending their land and their religion , have we forgotten them today?

Have you ever thought why India, great and glorious India, the golden bird, center of knowledge and learning which contained two of the greatest International Universities, Taxaxila and Nalanda, which gave the education system to the world, where no one was poor, where women were free and where gandharva vivah originated, once a strong great and proud nation, was reduced to the pitiful condition we are witness to today. Do you think it was only the 150-200 years of british rule which did this. Nay the degeneration of India Started much before, since the advent of the mughals, destruction of our temples, our places of learning, our universities and our entire way of life was crushed by the Mughal invaders and this oppression continued for 700 years. Over 1400 generations of slavery. Imagene what the Taliban did in Afghanistan in the 21st century, imagine what happened in India over 1000 years ago? Imagine? Then ask yourself , what have you done to repay the debt which you carry in your blood, the debt of the blood of your forefathers who died defending your faith & your lands. What have you done for your people who continue to die even today, simply because they are stupid and their government doesn't care. Do you repay this debt by defending the likes of Maqbool Fida Hussain?

In Northern Indian there are hardly any Hindu Historical Monuments, why? Why is the Sun Temple of Konark not in the list of world heritage sites, which is a much older and has a much more brilliant architecture than either the Taj, or Humauns Tomb or the Qutub Minar all of which are in that list from India. The Qutub Minar, being built by the rubble of destroyed Hindu temples and this is written in the Encyclopedia and is not false propaganda. I think we have taken this level of freedom, love and brotherhood too far, be slapped on one cheek and turn the other. We will not survive like this and neither will our freedom or our religion.

Geelani, convicted of Masterminding the Parliament attack was sentenced to death by the Supreme court a year back, why has his hanging been stalled by the Govt of India, the answer is simple, Vote Bank Politics. The Muslims are a united and thus a consolidated vote bank, the Hindus though, a fast depleting majority, are divided on caste lines and thus not really a Majority which clearly explains the pandering of Muslims by political parties in our country because being united they are a bigger vote bank.

And they make the Hindus believe through media that nothing is wrong and that its all our fault because if the Hindus see the truth then these political parties will no longer have a free day. This pandering is a dangerous trend because it will in the future become the cause of a lot of strife.

There should be a single law applicable to all the people, why have different law for Hindus and different for Muslims and others. Why this distinction, if the country is one and everybody equal then why different laws? If the Hindus are ready to accept a Uniform Civil Code then why are not the Muslims people ready for this, if they are as liberal as everbody makes them out to be. Infact it is very important, to protect the future of this nation, that such a code be implemented, better face little trouble now and secure the future rather than face no trouble now and destroy the future, don't you think? Or like others you believe "kal kisne dekha hai?" or "are tab hum thodi na zinda honge, hamme kay?" If one law is implemented then there can be no Vote Bank Politics and everybody will truly be equal. The interests of the Nation & of innocent people should be above all, even above a flawed concept of democracy which rests on Vote Banks, don't you think?

My correspondent has raised some interesting points, such as:

  1. the perceived "difference" in the cases of Taslima Nasreen and Maqbool Fida Hussain
  2. the so-called "tolerant" nature of Hinduism and thus its non-fundamentalist nature
  3. the global nature of Islamic terror
  4. the various wrongs inflicted upon Hindus
  5. the need for a uniform civil code
  6. the fact that Geelani, who masterminded the attack on the Indian Parliament, has not yet been hanged, even though he was condemned to die by the Supreme Court

To take the case raised point by point--If anybody is offended by the facts raised by Nasreen or the art created by Hussain, they have an option--do not open that book and do not visit that art gallery. Find an intelligent way to defend your position, other than banning the work and condemming the artist. Hussain's depiction of goddesses as nudes has a long tradition in art, both ancient and modern. The problem is that our education system does not enable people to appreciate the varieties of art housed in our museums. We are merely taught the names of artists--Hussain, Jamini Roy, Souza, Amrita Shergill, Vivan Sundaram--we are not taught to see their work and how it fits into the tradition of Indian and international art.

The fact that Hindus have chosen to act in almost as barbaric a manner as their Muslim fellow citizens did during the Salman Rushdie fracas proves that Hindus can be as fundamentalist (or would like to be as fundamentalist) as their Muslim fellow citizens. Also take a good look at what happened in Gujarat in 2002.

Yes, there is a very strong fundamentalist strain in Islam. And it is there due to several historical factors that go as far back as the Mongol invasion of Baghdad in the Middle Ages (which did much to destroy the questioning and questing strain in Islam) and are as recent as the use, by the western powers, of Islamic fundamentalist ideology, to fight Soviet communism in Afghanistan. Basically, Islam has been facing a crisis from the Battle of Lepanto (16th Century) to the formation of Israel (1948)--this crisis is very similar to that faced by the Hindu society in India from the conquest of Sindh by the Arabs to the takeover of India by the British. Both societies feel endangered and threatened by a stronger power. Their response is to shut out the world--refuse to learn anything new, insist on their own superiority, strike out to destroy. However, shutting out the world does not end the problem--the world has to be understood and engaged with, new technologies have to be learned and mastered till the society that feels threatened realises that it can use peaceful means to assert its will.

Now, when we begin to talk about the so-called greatness of ancient Indian culture, I begin to have my doubts. We all have a tendency to mythologize the past, which we believe to have been better than the present. The commonly held belief of the greatness of Hindu culture is provided by my correspondent--Taxila and Nalanda (both being Buddhist universities--Nalanda is where Hiuen Tsang went to pick up Buddhist texts when he visited India in Harsha's reign); the general belief that there was no poverty--yet Fa Hien speaks of people not having to lock doors (was that because they had nothing to safeguard?); the freedom of women was gradually circumscribed from the Vedic ages onwards--between the 2nd Century BC and the 2nd Century AD it became an accepted fact that women were to remain under male tutelage. This is when the laws of Manu were promulgated. Incidentally, we also must thank him for adding iron to the laws of caste--that is what led a lot of low-caste people to convert in an effort to improve their economic and social lot. When reconversions have taken place, temples built for the reconverted communities have always been separated from those built for caste Hindus. And you're wondering why so many people would rather be Sikh, Christian or Muslim?

Yes, many monuments that once belonged to the ancient period of Indian history (not just Hindu but also Buddhist and Jain) must have been destroyed, if not by the wicked Islamic conqueror, than by time and neglect. If you want to see modern monuments almost crumbling into dust, take a good look at Nehru Place. It was to be a showpiece for Indian technology--I would call it a slum. If Indians can be so careless about their environment today, why should they have been any more careful in earlier ages? And, now that we're talking about Kashmir, do tell me the name of that Kashmiri king (a Hindu!) who went about destroying Hindu temples so that he could take over their wealth? Sounds like an ancient Indian Henry VIII.

We have to continue to work at peace with Pakistan--we are both nuclear power nations and we have to ensure that we do not inadvertantly set off a modern-day Armageddon. I'm sure a lot of Americans and Soviets must have been angry about the numerous efforts to make peace during the Cold War. It's not a sign of weakness or a pandering to vote bank politics, but solid common sense. And the people who come here from Pakistan are not the same who kill civillians and armymen in Kashmir or the ones who plant bombs, not just in Hindu religious places but also in Ajmer Sharif, where everyone goes. These people are like you and me--they want a life of safety and peace.

Re: Geelani--if he has been condemned to death by the Supreme Court, as stated, he must have appealed for a stay of execution or sent a mercy petition to the President of India, as is his right under Indian law. Unlike the US, we do not deprive terrorism suspects or terrorists of their rights under the law. Or would you rather we emulated the US and went in for Guantanamo Bay? This hasn't stopped attacks against the US forces in Iraq.

The uniform civil code is really something that can come about only with time. For those who believe in other faiths, the fact that they live amongst people whose ancestors swallowed Buddhism whole is frightening--take a look at what M. J. Akbar says in India: The Siege Within. Forcing a uniform civil code on Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and Parsis will not work--it will take another sixty years before this happens. Why? Because most of them will not want to be governed by a law code based on Hindu law alone. Their perception is that since Hindus form the bulk of the population, Hindu law will be used to govern their personal lives. Hence the horror of the uniform civil code and the BJP's decision to drop it.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Who's Afraid of the Fundamentalist Wolf?

Everybody, it seems, is out to appease the fundamentalists, whether they be saffron, green or dark blue. Especially so, if the appeasers happen to be politicians. Taslima Nasreen has decided to withdraw some lines from the second volume of her memoirs, Dwikhandita, because her descriptions of 1980s Bangladesh under military rule hurt the sentiments of the Jamaat-ul-Islami. Of course, this was after Pranab Mukherjee, the Indian foreign minister, suggested that those seeking asylum in India should take care not to hurt the sentiments of their fellow citizens. Her decision has been warmly welcomed by CPI(M) representatives, despite the fact that Comrade Prakash Karat had at one time thundered against the bourgeois parties’ inability to fight fundamentalism. Meanwhile, in Amritsar, the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), controlled by the Shiroman Akali Dal, installed the portrait of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in the Golden Temple museum. Evidently, this was a demand voiced by radical groups, who had supported the present president of the SGPC in his quest for a third term of office. And in Gujarat, the Congress is busy making a friend of Gordhan Zadaphia, home minister of Gujarat during the 2002 riots and now estranged from Narendra Modi.Of course, he cannot be admitted to the party but he can campaign against Modi...

If all this were not happening for real, I’d think I was witnessing a farce. Does the Jamaat support all that was done by Bangladesh’s military rulers in the 1980s? Are the radicals, who demanded the installation of Bhindranwale’s portrait in the Golden Temple museum, aware that he acted as Mrs. Gandhi’s stooge in creating an anti-Akali wave in Punjab? Have they read Mrs Gandhi’s Last Battle? Of course, the reason why Zadaphia is so popular with the Congress during election season is not far to seek.

What does this mean for the ordinary Indian citizen? Well, it means that any party that is in politics today sees power as the highest goal. None of them have principles. None of them are capable of seeing the country as one entity, as the founding fathers saw it. None of them will die for the country or for any principles, if asked to do so. And if you blame the border security guard or a policeman for taking a bribe to let a suspicious character go, only to find out later that the character was a dangerous terrorist, please think of the politicians who have made it their life’s business to appease all shades of fundamentalism, to bow down to all the little Hitlers, in an effort to remain in power for yet another term.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Managing Disasters in India

While conducting a search on disaster management in India, I came across this government site on the subject. It includes a lot of information for architects and the ordinary citizen on how to survive an earthquake but I wonder whether the department in question has done much to publicize its work. They have colouring books for students on how to face disasters, but are they carrying out drills to show students what to do in the event of an earthquake or a fire? I remember, when I was a hostel resident in the UK two years ago, how fire drills and alarms were a regular part of our life. Fire alarms were always checked on Wednesdays, not just in the hostel but also in the university. People knew where to go in case there was a disaster. Are Delhi residents similarly well-informed? What about people in the trans-Yamuna region and Chhatarpur, both of which are high-risk areas in Delhi? The residents of high-rises in Gurgaon should at least be drilled in the procedure to be followed in case of an earthquake--we had high security in my UK hostel, which enabled the university and the hostel managers to drill us in the procedure to be followed in case of fire. Drills are a necessity in India, keeping in mind the fact that we have a tendency to lose our heads in a crisis and blame those in power! In fact, the security people could help the residents to prepare their emergency kits and go-bags in case of earthquakes.

State-of-the-art Training in India

It’s good to know that a UK university will provide training in multimedia, animation and gaming creation to Indian students in Bangalore. We need more such ventures--professional organizations should look at future trends and select training options accordingly. IT, because it is such a foreign exchange earner, and because so much work is already being outsourced to India, is a front-runner in this area. How about construction, specialized areas of management, such as HR, and publishing? There is a lot of construction going on in India itself, but the techniques and tools used to bring a project to completion as per client and regulatory authority specifications could be improved. Moreover, our construction specialists could also work in markets where Europeans or Americans might not fit in easily, such as Africa, the Middle East or South-East Asia. In management, various areas could benefit from specialist inputs. And publishing could be the next big KPO opportunity--we have a large pool of qualified people who are extremely fluent in English and can produce documents to international specifications.

Students would really appreciate international-level training provided locally. In many cases, especially if you’re not in IT-related industries, training is hard to come by and expensive. You really have to get a windfall to be even able to think about going abroad for training. Hence the need for other UK- and US-based institutions to tie up with Indian professional bodies to provide international level training locally to students.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Earthquake in Delhi

Did anyone notice that we had an earthquake last night? It measured 4.5 on the Richter scale and occurred some 20 kilometres underground on the Delhi-Haryana border. Evidently, the epicentre was at Bahadurgarh.

I hope no one was injured or killed and no homes were damaged. What does worry me is the fact that no one knows if the Delhi government is prepared to face an earthquake in the city. So I’ve been checking up on some foreign earthquake survival sites. Here’s some information that I got from the FEMA site. They’ve provided the following earthquake survival tips:

  • Create and practice a family/personal earthquake plan.

  • Bolt tall furniture to wall studs.

  • Tie down items, such as computers, televisions and bookcases, which might fall during an earthquake.

  • Install and use bolts and latches on cabinet drawers to prevent crockery falling out and causing damage.

  • Put large, heavy objects on lower shelves of cabinets and bookshelves to avoid breakage and damage.

  • Store breakable items in low, closed and latched cabinets.

  • Put flammable products and pesticides on the lower shelves of latched/bolted cabinets.

  • Hang heavy items away from walls and seating areas.

  • Lock overhead light fixtures.

  • Strap the water heater to wall studs and bolt down gas appliances.

  • Install flexible pipes to avoid water and gas leaks.

  • Repair deep cracks to ceilings or foundations.

  • Check to see if houses are bolted to foundations.

  • Get a structural design engineer to evaluate your home and advise on damage limitation.

  • Buy earthquake insurance.

In case you are in the house during an earthquake, get under a table or stand in the doorway.

According to the San Francisco Office of Emergency Services, these are some of the items you should keep in an emergency kit:

  • a gallon of water per person per day

  • ready to eat food

  • manual can opener and some cooking supplies

  • plates, utensils and feeding supplies

  • first aid kit (disposable gloves, sterile dressings, soaps, antibiotic ointment, burn ointment, adhesive bandages, eye wash solution, scissors, anti-diarrhea medicines, pain relievers, laxatives, prescription medicines if needed and prescribed medical supplies)

  • copies of important documents and phone numbers

  • warm clothes and rain gear for all family members

  • heavy work gloves

  • disposable camera

  • unscented liquid household bleach and an eyedropper for water purification

  • personal hygiene supplies (toilet paper, soap, items of feminine hygiene)

  • plastic sheeting, duct tape and utility knife to cover broken windows

  • blanket or sleeping bags

  • large heavy-duty plastic bag and plastic bucket for sanitation

  • tools--crowbar, hammer and nails, staple gun, adjustable wrench, bungee cords

In case you have kids, elders or people with disabilities in the family, you need to provide for them as well. This particular site is very useful and gives all the details. They also list the items that each family member should carry in a Go bag. This should be carried at all times--an emergency can strike at any time--and includes the following items:

  • flashlight

  • battery-operated radio

  • batteries

  • whistle

  • dust mask

  • pocket knife

  • cash in small denominations for phone calls

  • shoes,.change of clothes, warm clothes

  • map of the city

  • water and food

  • permanent marker, paper and tape

  • photos of family members for ID purposes

  • list of emergency point-of-contact numbers

  • list of allergies to drugs or food

  • copies of health insurance and ID cards

  • additional prescription eye glasses, hearing aids or personal items

  • prescription medications and first aid supplies

  • toothpaste and toothbrush

  • duplicate keys to house and vehicles.

  • any items required by children, the elderly or disabled family members

If the US federal and local governments can help people understand how to deal with a disaster, why can’t our state and local governments do the same? Has the Delhi government developed a disaster plan for earthquakes? If so, have they done anything to publicise it? Today, the earthquake struck deep underground and no one was hurt. Tomorrow could be another story. Wake up, Mrs. Dikshit! If your government has a disaster management plan for earthquakes, please share it with the people of Delhi. Check the lists and suggestions made by agencies abroad--are these appropriate to Delhi conditions? If not, make your own and publicise the same. Let’s not have a disaster management plan after the earthquake--let’s be prepared.

Sunday, 25 November 2007


The newspapers and television channels carry regular updates on the Taslima Nasreen affair--how she has been hounded out of Kolkata due to the fury of Islamic fundamentalists and is now living under heavy security in Rajasthan Bhawan. What amazes me about the Indian political system is the ease with which fundamentalists of various hues--especially saffron and green--can hold it to ransom. Remember the Shah Bano case and the banning of Satanic Verses?

Although the BJP demands that Ms. Nasreen be treated as a political refugee and be given asylum, they have also targeted M. F. Hussain in the past, for his nude paintings of goddesses. What these so-called protectors of Indian culture seem to forget is that women have been depicted bare-breasted in paintings and sculpture of the ancient Indian period. Take a look at Ajanta and Ellora, please! Their aesthetic sense is nourished by the work of Raja Ravi Varma, who depicted Indian gods and goddesses in a style favoured by the imperialist Victorian British government. They should take a good look at a work by Phalguni Dasgupta, which depicts a nude Shiva, lying on the ground, while a nude Kali dances over his prone form. This illustrates the saying that Shiva without Shakti is a Shava (dead body).

What the Indian political class understands by the term secularism is kowtowing to the so-called religious sentiments of the orthodox minority to maintain communal harmony. We need a muscular secularism that will say "No!" to fundamentalists of all hues who try to prevent Indians from presenting their point of view on subjects associated with religion.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Nasreen an Excuse for a Riot?

So the rioters have driven Taslima Nasreen away from Kolkata, just as they drove her away from Hyderabad in August. Why are the politically orthodox Muslims so afraid of this woman? What has she said that has offended them so much? Evidently, she has criticized the manner in which Islamic clerics (and clerics of other religions) treat women. What followers of the revealed religions fail to understand is that although they might believe they are upholding the word of God, those who have to suffer through their interpretation of revelation also have a right to speak up and be heard. However, Islam today, as Christianity as late as the early twentieth century and Hinduism not so long ago, has to learn to listen, not just to the voice of God as embodied in its holy book and other traditional sources, but also to the voice of its followers, which include women. So let Nasreen and others like her speak up and be heard. And why has the Communist government of West Bengal chosen to ban Nasreen’s books? I thought communists were atheists--why this concern for other people’s religious feelings when they have no concern for another person’s right to life?

Which brings me to the other story that caught my eye--that of the Saudi rape victim, who has vowed to fight the verdict handed out to her (six months in jail and 200 lashes) despite being the victim of a gang rape. The Saudi government is embarrassed because her story has caught the attention of the media. Well, if they’re that embarrassed, why not do something to change the law, such as reserving punishments for the perpetrators (not the victims) of rape?

It seems women and their views are just an excuse for the orthodox to riot or to punish women--they cannot come up with a rational argument against Nasreen or this 19-year-old girl. Evidently, the Saudi court felt the girl, who was 18 when she was raped, was committing a criminal act because she was with a man who was not a relative and she was trying to get back some pictures he’d taken of her. When will the Saudis change?

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Frisking the Three Service Chiefs

It seems anybody who has heard of the Civil Aviation Ministry’s decision to frisk the three Service Chiefs (and not a certain gentleman, who was lucky enough to marry the daughter of an assassinated PM) is livid.Most people rightly feel that those who have been entrusted with the security of the entire country can certainly be trusted with the security of a civilian aircraft on which they’re travelling. I think the Civil Aviation Ministry will soon have to extend the no-frisk rule to the three Service Chiefs.

Kolkata has been in an uproar--not just because of Nandigram, but also because of the Bangladeshi author, Taslima Nasreen, whose only fault appears to be her feminism and her refusal to kowtow to those who appear to control religious institutions. However, a lot of the violence appears to be opportunistic--the rioters have just used Nasreen and Nandigram as an excuse to go on the rampage. Something very similar happened in Hyderabad a few months ago, when Nasreen went to attend a conference there. And in that case, two sitting MLAs (who should have known better and kept in mind the dignity of their office, such as it is) were also involved. This does not absolve the West Bengal state government, which is doing its best to close relief camps, despite the fact that camp residents are afraid to go back home. I’m glad I’m not the only one comparing the violence in Nandigram and Gujarat--I seem to be in rather exalted company!

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Congestion Tax OK BUT...

The Delhi State government is evidently taking advice from Mayor Ken Livingston of London, on how to deal with global warming. The Mayor will probably encourage Delhi’s government to use a congestion tax to reduce the number of cars that run on Delhi roads. However, what the Delhi bureaucrats should keep in mind is the fact that London can afford to tax private transport because it has (compared to Delhi) an excellent transport system. You can easily plan your journey online from one part of the UK to another, without a hitch. However, Delhi just does not have the same facilities. Our Blueline and DTC buses are better known as agents of manslaughter than as a part of a well-thought-out public transport system. And a very small section of the Metro has been completed to date. So, insisting that people entering Delhi from Noida, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad or Faridabad pay a tax on their cars (something close to Rs. 1,000--it’s about £10-15 in the UK) is not a good idea at this moment. Let’s see if Delhi can set up a public transport system by 2010--I think that will do a lot to bring down the number of cars on Delhi roads.

Another reason why I wouldn’t go for a congestion tax in Delhi just now is because the Delhi government needs to clean up the Transport department. Evidently, someone in the transport department has been taking bribes from Blueline operators, which is how these operators have continued to function despite High Court strictures. This is the talk of the town. The Transport department needs to be cleaned up--the people taking bribes need to be kicked out--before any changes can take place.

I’ve often wondered why it is that India has such a bribe-friendly culture, especially in the lower ranks of its bureaucracy. You might occasionally come across such a person abroad--someone who’s willing to turn a blind eye for a few pounds or dollars more--but the habit of "naming and shaming" is so prevalent abroad that any such official would have to be crazy or desperate to do such a thing. Here, taking a bribe is an everyday affair--when you come back after a long stay abroad and have sent the bulk of your belongings as unaccompanied baggage, the small fry in the customs office (located near the international airport) are likely to ask you for money for chai-paani and are grateful if you hand them Rs. 10-20. It’s not because he feels you have broken the law and he is promising to keep silent for the little bit of money you give him--it’s because he’s in the habit of asking people for money!

And it’s no wonder that corruption has flourished in India--of the numerous scams reported so far, how many have actually been tried in a court of law? How many ministers have gone to jail for taking bribes? How many bureaucrats have been dismissed for doing the same? The Army reacted in an exemplary manner once Tehelka made public the findings of Operation West End, but the politicians and the government machinery turned against Tehelka, not against those found to be taking bribes in a defence deal.

When you look at our judicial system, what strikes you is its slowness. The Uphaar case has taken ten years to reach a verdict. And the Ansals might just get away with two years in jail, never mind the fact that 59 people were killed in a fire caused due to their negligence. If this is the state of India’s judicial system, no wonder no politician or bureaucrat caught taking a bribe has ever been tried or convicted. No wonder they continue to rob the people. And no wonder we have the governance and services we have to date.This brings me to the subject of the Maoist insurgency in our poorest states--Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh. This insurgency is a result of the Indian government’s refusal to settle the issue of land rights in these states. Another reason for this insurgency is the fact that the tribal population living in these states has been exploited by non-tribal contractors and businessmen, and the State and Central government has done nothing to stop this exploitation. Now, we’ll have to gather intelligence, send in the security forces into these areas and hope that they do not indulge in human rights abuses while ending the insurgency. It’s easier said than done.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Indian Women (and Women Everywhere)

Although Nandigram has been at the top of everyone’s agenda--the events there have been so utterly horrifying--I’ve also come across some extremely disturbing stories that relate to the status of women in India. One was the story of a 24-year-old woman who was gang raped at the instigation of her husband. He demanded a dowry of 2 lakhs, which her family was reluctant to pay. He then tried to have her murdered, and when that failed, he organized this attack.

In another story, the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC)has decided to place cradles at the entrance to gurdwaras, so that parents who wish to abandon their girl children need not do so in parks, railway stations or garbage bins. Why don’t the religious leaders, such as members of the SGPC and the four Shankaracharyas, get together and declare that it is against all Indian traditions to abandon girl children or to harass women for dowry. People who do either should not be given the last rites by a granthi or a pandit. That might be the only way to deal with Indian prejudices against girl children.

Of course, what is even worse is the story about the Saudi Arabian rape victim who was given a sentence of 200 lashes, whereas her attackers were let off with a lighter sentence. What is even worse is that her lawyer has lost his license because he appealed about the sentence handed out to his client. It appears most practitioners of religious law seem to forget the fact that women were given a place of dignity in all religions. So why is it that they are not treated as human nowadays?

After Nandigram...

Now that the CPI(M) cadres have recaptured Nandigram after a bloody battle with the BUPC, it appears that the Communists’ veneer of being part of the democratic set up in India has finally worn thin. The BUPC may or may not have been Maoists; the plan to set up a chemicals hub in Nandigram may just be the last straw that broke the camel’s back, as far as the people in rural West Bengal are concerned. After all, the poor have had to live with PDS supplies being siphoned off, evidently by CPI(M) cadres, who have taken over the ration shops in the state. The fact remains that the CPI(M) chose not to use legally constituted means--the police force and the CRPF--to restore state authority in Nandigram, but preferred to use party cadres, so that they would not be seen to lose votes come the state panchayat elections in May 2008.Is this any different from Gujarat in 2002?There, too, the Modi government wanted a "spontaneous" reaction to the deaths of kar sevaks in Godhra--never mind that investigations later revealed that the fire in the kar sevaks’ train carriage was set inside the carriage, not outside. So the word was put out amongst foot soldiers of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal--not very different from what happened in Nandigram.

This has hopefully made a few things clearer to the middle class--that we cannot afford to trust either the parties of the right or the left unless they are willing to actually abide by the Indian constitution, not just pay lip service to it. Secondly, we cannot afford dynasties in party politics. There’s something seriously wrong with the Congress, because of its insistence on anointing the heirs of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, whether or not these heirs show any political promise. Reminds me strongly of Rome under the Caesars--the Republic existed only in name, while the government was actually managed by the Imperator (Emperor) who took the name of Caesar. Let us hope we do not come to such a sorry pass. Thirdly--the setting up of SEZs (special economic zones) in agricultural areas needs to be handled with greater sensitivity. As it is, the poorest people in India, the lower castes and the tribes, do not enjoy rights on the lands they cultivate. Hence the Maoist movements in Chattisgarh and other parts of central India. These people have endured exploitation by the savarna moneylenders, businessmen and government officials--therefore, while the state fights the Maoists, those who wish to do business have to come up with a win-win proposal that will satisfy the needs of the tribals, the poor, the landowners and their bosses in the cities.

Friday, 16 November 2007

"Cholbe Na!"

So the CPI(M) cadres have finally recaptured Nandigram. And reports of a gang rape that took place have been confirmed--the victim has been medically examined and has filed a case. However, according to the Left parties, whereas the Gujarat riots justified a discussion in Parliament, the same does not apply to Nandigram, which remains a state subject! The winter session in Parliament promises to be a hot one--what with a discussion of the 123 agreement and the BJP’s determination to talk about Nandigram in the House. What will really hurt the CPI(M)’s pro-minority image is the fact that the Muslim population of Nandigram has been worst-hit by the recent disturbances. I wonder how they will cry foul over the 123 agreement now--the main plank of their arguments against the treaty has been the insinuation that India’s Muslim population would be disturbed by such a close alliance with a power that is seen to be fighting Muslim fundamentalists.

The real reason why Indian politics and Indian politicians are objects of such derision amongst the middle class is because they are incapable of using a good argument, a well-drawn up policy or a well-executed project to make a point--they’d rather employ goons and lathis to decide the issue. Whether it’s Delhi circa 1984 or Gujarat circa 2002 or Nandigram circa 2007, it’s the same story--beat, kill, bully and rape the population into submission. Don’t build roads, schools or hospitals, don’t dig wells, don’t encourage industrialization--don’t do a thing and just force the people to vote for you time after time, never mind if they have to sell their children to make a living. What has the political class done in sixty years? What has it accomplished? Nothing! And they expect the aam aadmi to be grateful for this--to be beaten, killed or worse by his rulers? Most of our major insurgencies would never have arisen had our politicians done the jobs they’re paid to do--organize a proper land distribution policy in areas where land ownership is restricted and encourage industry, instead of siphoning off funds that they stash into Swiss bank accounts.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Celebrating Diwali

Well, thank all the gods that Diwali is finally over for this year. What with overcrowded mithai shops, markets where shoppers cannot park their cars (this happened in the Kailash Colony market in South Delhi) massive traffic jams (on Wednesday because of Dhanteras) and nights when neighbours played with firecrackers into the wee hours--I've just had it with this festival. We even had the cops come by our neighbourhood to stop the firecrackers--this was around 1 a.m. last night! And you can just imagine how fresh the morning air must have been--what a boon to sufferers from asthma and every kind of respiratory ailment.

Evidently, the Mumbai cops have matters well in hand--310 people have been charged with bursting firecrackers between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Sensible, considering the fact that we're all talking about keeping the environment clean and avoiding noise pollution. I think that the time limit idea should be adopted in Delhi. I also think that people should burst crackers, not outside their homes or on the road, as they do nowadays, but in areas outside colonies and residential areas, as they do abroad. Better still, why don't our firecracker manufacturers invest in some R&D to develope crackers that produce less smoke? Or are they, like the CPI(M), waiting for Chinese manufacturers to steal a march on them? In any case, the firecracker-bursting fraternities of India should not buy their goods, since most firecracker manufacturers evidently prefer to invest in child labour and refuse to follow any kind of safety standards when setting up their factories. Maybe the money spent on firecrackers should be spent on schools that provide a mid-day meal scheme in poor rural areas? Think about it!

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Delhi Traffic and Other Matters

What yesterday’s traffic jams in the capital proved was that Delhi urgently needs a public transport system that can support massive numbers. Diwali is, in any case, a time when everyone goes out to shop. Yesterday being Dhanteras, people were out shopping for something valuable as a symbol of Lakshmi. Since we don’t have a public transport system worth the name--the Metro is operational only on two lines, Blueline buses are better known for knocking down pedestrians on the pavement and the DTC is yet to get enough new buses--the streets were full of cars, scooters, and three-wheelers. Many people slept through the jam, while others cursed. If we don’t do something to regulate Delhi traffic, the atmosphere in and around Delhi will soon be as bad as it was in the pre-CNG days. Respiratory ailments will increase. So the state government needs to wake up FAST to this problem.

Talking of Lakshmi, the two-year-old who underwent a 27-hour operation yesterday is doing well, according to her doctors. However, what was sickening to hear on yesterday’s television news was that the doctors had filmed the entire operation, without concealing the identity of the child. How can they disregard the child’s right to privacy? They can film the operation for educational purposes, but certainly not to advertise their skills.

The ministry of overseas Indian affairs has finally decided to proclaim India "a free market democracy". Thank heavens for that bit of honesty--we might as well follow free market principles, since we were proclaimed a "socialist" society during the Emergency. "Socialism" has, in any case, meant that the political and bureaucratic classes have profited at the expense of the people of India. Think about the license-permit raj or nationalisation of sick industries, neither of which really helped workers or industrialists. Or what about the nationalisation of banks, which hasn’t really helped the farmer escape the clutches of the local moneylender, who also doubles as the local political bigwig. Socialism, in the Indian context, is the biggest piece of political humbug, followed by communism. How many members of the CPI(M) have actually worked in factories or farms? Most of them are armchair revolutionaries, members of the middle class (Bhadralok in Bengali) who hang on with ferocity to the tenets of Marxism-Leninism, just as their forefathers hung on to the Manusmriti in the past.

Monday, 5 November 2007

An Emergency in Pakistan

General Musharraf has done the expected by declaring an emergency a few days ago. No one expected the not-so-good general to listen to the Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court. However, what he's chosen to do might end up doing more harm than good--blaming the militants and the judiciary for his decision will not help the general stay on in power. He should have taken a good look at a not-so-recent Indian historical event--Indira Gandhi's Emergency of 1975-77. By declaring an emergency when the judgement of the Allahabad High Court went against her, Mrs. Gandhi did much to strengthen the impression in peoples' minds that she was anti-democratic. She might well have been fighting to contain several forces that might have torn the country apart, but she ended up doing more harm than good. The Emergency in India did more to strengthen extra-constitutional centres of power and increased public distrust of the entire politician-bureaucrat-police setup in the country. It did more to create a wave of sympathy for any movement that was in the least anti-government--hence the support for Khalistan and Azaad Kashmir in the 1980s and 90s. She did revoke the Emergency she declared in 1977--and lost the elections held subsequently.

Declaring an Emergency is the General's way of saying that he cannot deal with dissent. He is an Army man and cannot abide the checks and balances that are a part of constitutional government. However, the militants on the borders cannot be dealt with using only military means. Again, the general should take a leaf out of the Indian book and install truly democratic governments, not only in Islamabad, but also in each Pakistani province, city and village. Only a truly democratic society can deal with militancy in all its forms--a military dictatorship not only stifles democracy but might well give rise to the causes of militancy.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Manipulating Perceptions--for whose benefit?

It appears that the Left has convinced the Congress to go slow on 123, by stating that its pro-US policies have alienated Indian Muslims. However, as this article makes it clear, India has not transformed itself into a US stooge--it has simply not been confrontational when dealing with the US. In fact, as Mr. Prem Shankar Jha states, we’ve refused to send troops to Iraq in 2003, continued to fund the Palestinian Authority once Hamas took over, and insisted that Iran be dealt with by the IAEA on the issue of concealing its nuclear programme without raising our voice or banging our shoes (a la Khrushchev) in the UN General Assembly. Since the Left understands nothing other than rhetoric and confrontation, they see this as being soft on the US! The US, in turn, needs a democratic South Asian country with the second largest Muslim population that has not yet turned fundamentalist in large numbers, on its side. They are prepared now, as they were not in the Cold War years, to listen to India’s objections to their foreign policy moves.

However, the Left in general and Comrade Karat in particular are revealing their true colors--they’re very concerned that the growing closeness between the US and India will isolate China, "the most powerful socialist country....". What I find very puzzling in all this is--surely Comrade Karat and members of his party are Indian citizens? Then why this concern for China, which is "socialist" only in name? Capitalism, albeit with a communist face, is the new buzzword in China, which does not hesitate to ally itself with any group or regime that will provide it sufficient energy resources to feed its economy. In fact, only a few months ago, the US was doing its best to wean China away from supporters of the Janjaweed militia! The reason why the West is so concerned about China’s economic clout is because of the dismal Chinese record on human rights.

And talking about manipulating perceptions, there’s the story about some child laborers being liberated from an embroidery workshop in Shahpur Jat.Many of the children rescued come from some of the poorest areas in India(including districts in West Bengal--ruled by a Left Front government over the last 22 years)--one of the children said that he did not enjoy the work, but he saw no future, because his parents could not afford to feed him. Can the government provide food, clothing, suitable homes, and education for these children? If not, what happens to these children rescued from sweatshops? Where do they end up? Many child laborers end up working in fireworks factories--in fact, 11 have been hurt in a fire that erupted in such a factory in Hyderabad.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

It also Happens in India

A lot of elderly people used to sit around and tut-tut over the accounts of teenagers' sexual shenanigans reported in the Western press and say, "It can't happen in India". Why? Because of our so-called strong moral values? Well, evidently they're wrong--government studies indicate that one out of ten teens living in affluent urban areas lose their virginity and one in four boys have sex before the age of 13. If these figures are correct, state governments had better include sex education classes in schools, and forget about the objections raised by Sushma Aunty and Lallu Uncle. Aunty, in any case, believes in abstinence, but Uncle doesn't think abstinence is good for him or his wife, at any rate. Moreover, Uncle and members of his rural ilk seem to think that information on matters sexual leads to immorality. I wonder how he and Rabri went about telling their kids, especially daughter Misa who married several years ago, about the birds and the bees? In any case, do these boys who lose their virginity at age 13 realise that they are committing an illegal act--they're a year or two short of the age of consent! Or do they hope to write an Indian version of Summer of '42?

Don't these elderly folk realise that the world is changing rapidly? It's not just urban teens who experiment with sex and have multiple partners--what about people in the villages? Maybe they don't talk about it but have sex anyway. Lack of information about sex could lead to a massive rise in HIV cases, and, keeping in mind our lack of a national health care system, an equally large rise in AIDS cases, the deaths of large numbers of people in their most productive years and the orphanining of future generations. We all know how kind and wonderful the joint family system is--there are many cases of women, whose husbands have died of AIDS and who themselves are infected with the disease, who have been shunned by their in-laws because "they failed to satisfy their husbands, who then went to prostitutes, and thus caused their deaths". That's how the Indian mind works--blame the innocent and let them suffer!

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Winds of Change?

Hindustan Times is running an interesting series of articles, which shows how Indian Muslims navigate between religion and the modern world to create a better life for themselves. As I glanced through this series, I was especially moved by the story of Samina and Zarina, who had to fight the local maulvi to get an education. Their story brings to mind many others that took place over a hundred years ago in Hindu homes--when girls were told that educated women tended to get widowed young. Thirty years ago, when my mother used to teach a course in Interior Design in a Delhi polytechnic for women, the principal told her of parents who would say that they feared to give their daughters a professional education, because the girls would never marry. My mother, who'd completed a BFA from Kolkata, told her not to worry, because a woman's education would, in the future, be a better investment than a dowry, because she would be able to add to her husband's income. Today, she's been proved right--all her ex-students are working women, who have set up their own businesses and are doing well.

Why is it that men of religion, whether Hindus, Muslims or Christians of all shades, have attempted to prevent women from gaining an education and financial independence? Is it only to keep the power centres of society intact, to prevent women from having any say in their own lives? Samina and Zarina have managed to get an education--luckily, the Prophet (peace be upon him!) said that those who wished to get an education should go wherever they could find it, even if it was as far as China. The nineteenth century scientists who opposed women seeking higher education spoke of how it would damage their health. The first women medical students had to face protests from their male colleagues and had to be chaperoned to classes. None of the men would even speak to them--etiquette ruled that a man and a woman could only converse after a proper introduction! We've come a long way, but we have to go further still--when education and financial independence for women is not something they have to beg for, but something that is their birthright, wherever they live on the face of this earth.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Tehelka Sting Reveals the Truth of 2002 Riots

So the truth is finally out, and on tape too! Those who did the dirty work of killing innocent Indian citizens in Gujarat have described what they did. And of course, once the tapes have been shown to be part of a sting operation conducted by Tehelka, they and their masters in the BJP have either stated that their remarks were taken out of context or have questioned the timing of the operation. Considering the fact that the BJP spent a lot of time post-Operation Westend trying to destroy Tehelka, I'm not surprised at their behaviour now. Just goes to show what it takes to rise in Indian politics--a willingness to shed the blood of fellow citizens who belong to another religion, caste or class, a complete lack of shame and the hide of a rhino when caught admitting to a crime. No wonder so many Indian politicians commit murder in their private lives while inciting others to commit murder in public--they feel they can get away with it, they are the power in the land!

Thankfully, the Delhi High Court has recognized the fact that politicians are the least respected form of life on Indian roads. So the judges have told politicians to stay home and not roam the roads with their Z-class security. This security apparatus has become a status symbol and might not be necessary in many cases.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Dumbledore is Gay--Why it Matters

Author of the Harry Potter series J. K. Rowling has outed a very popular character, Albus Dumbledore, as being gay or homosexual. I don't know if this is a big deal for Indian readers, but it has led to much discussion in the western media. For one thing, tolerance of different religions and lifestyles is a major issue--the US has been discussing the issue of gay marriage, whereas the UK already permits same-sex partnerships. The issue of AIDS has forced the gay community to tackle its problems head on and look for stability in relationships.

However, this is not the case in India, where a) homosexuality is seen as a "lifestyle choice" rather than as an integral part of one's personality or the way one relates to the world or b) as a fad imported from the west. What many people, especially the conservatives in the Shiv Sena and the BJP, who created such a furore over Deepa Mehta's Fire, fail to realize is that homosexuality thrives in societies where the separation of sexes is the norm. So it's not unusual to read about homosexual relationships in prisons or hostels, where you have separate facilities for men and women. The problem arises when society closes its eyes to these realities. For instance, there was a programme in Tihar Jail, when Kiran Bedi was in charge, to distribute free condoms to the prisoners. It's a well-known fact that the use of condoms can prevent AIDS. However, this programme was stopped, due to pressure from the moral police.

Because homosexual relations between men in India are seen as a criminal act under Article 377, it is almost impossible for AIDS activists to find men who have sex with men and give them the essential information they need to safeguard their health. I'm sure that, if Article 377 has been retained as a safeguard against paedophelia, it has failed in its purpose. It should be scrapped and replaced with a law drafted specifically against paedophelia.

However, we do have some extremely courageous people who have come out of the closet and are working with the gay community. This gentleman was recently interviewed on the Oprah Winfrey show--he has also appeared in a BBC Radio 4 doucmentary on AIDS awareness amongst the gay community in India.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Hypocrisy in Indian Politics

So the nuclear deal has been temporarily put on hold, according to the UPA. Evidently, the allies who insisted on following the Left into semi-repudiating the deal included great luminaries, such as Lalu Prasad Yadav (of fodder scam fame) Sharad Pawar (who’s rumored to be the richest and most corrupt man in Indian politics) and M. Karunanidhi (father of M. Stalin, whose political career he’s busy promoting). Apparently, these gentlemen had agreed to the deal when it was discussed in a Cabinet meeting, but were reminded of their "nationalist" principles (or the anti-incumbency factor) by the Left’s behavior, which closely resembled that of Balaam’s ass, with much less justification than that animal had. Of course, the Left claims they see an American imperialist plot in the 123 Agreement, which has led to their asinine behavior, but we will let that pass.

Of course, the PM is depressed--anyone would be, to see the old men of Indian politics refusing to recognize how much the world has changed over the last 20 years. And yes, the BJP wants a change--they feel that a depressed man is unfit to lead a young and resurgent nation, forgetting the fact that for at least five years, India was led by an elderly man who was considered to be physically unfit.

Of course, the Left has its own problems--there’s a ration shop owners’ strike on in West Bengal. It appears that ration shops in the districts of Bankura, Birbhum and Burdwan have not stocked grain for several months. When the people complained to officials, they were ignored and went on a rampage to register their protests. The government then deigned to cancel the dealership licenses of ration shop owners in these districts. Evidently, many of the ration shop dealerships in these districts are owned by CPI (M) cardholders. And the person who is at the center of the scandal has very high CPI (M) connections. Till date, the Left has been able to gain some credibility amongst the middle class because none of its leaders are seen as corrupt, but the ration shop case, taken in conjunction with the Rizwanur Rehman case, in a state where the Left Front has enjoyed an uninterrupted hegemony for the last 22 years, is something else. And since the Communist Party of China (CPC) is holding its 17th Congress, the CPI (M) has sent it "warm fraternal greetings."Incidentally, the CPI (M) might not know that the CPC has begun to accept businesspeople as its members, thus diluting the very character of the party. After all, Communism is based on a division between the capitalist-business class and the proletariat, so how can a capitalist join a party that represents the interests of the proletariat?

And, by the by, why not take a leaf out of this Idea advertisement? We cannot all go about replacing our names with our cellphone numbers, but we can change the names of two major universities, Aligarh Muslim University and Banaras Hindu University to just Aligarh University and Banaras University. There is no need to identify any community with a particular institution in a secular state.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

After the Non-Ratification of the 123 Agreement...

So the Congress and its allies within the UPA, career politicians all, have discovered that they do not want to face the electorate right now. They’re afraid of the anti-incumbency factor--they don’t want to lose office as ignominiously as the BJP and its allies did in 2004. Hence the decision to give in to the Left’s blackmail. However, this does have serious implications for our image abroad--we might have lost the trust of the US administration, and Australia might refuse to sell uranium to India, keeping in view the non-ratification of the 123 Agreement between India and the US. Why is Australia hesitant about selling uranium to India without the 123 Agreement being in place? Because the 123 Agreement would have brought India’s civilian nuclear power stations under the safeguards regime of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Many western nations will not sell us uranium because we have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT). In fact, Mrs. Clinton recently stated that if she were elected, she would do her best to get the US Senate to pass the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), in an effort to cut down on nuclear arsenals worldwide. And if we do not get uranium, we will have to cut down on the amount of nuclear power we can generate, which will have its repercussions on our infrastructure, industry, and economic growth.

Of course, since most of the people in the Congress and the UPA who do not want elections are career politicians, national interest is the last thing on their minds. Yes, they’ll talk themselves blue in the face about it on the election trail, but when it comes to the crunch, power and pelf wins out each time. Why? Not one of these men, in the Congress, Left, or other political parties, is capable of doing an honest day’s work and making a living. They’re all used to living on the public purse, in government housing, without paying rent, or their telephone and electricity bills. They make do by selling influence when they are in power. As for the Communists, they’re obviously being paid by China. Otherwise, why the opposition to this agreement, and why the insane suggestion to set up a nuclear policy with China, which has been supplying Pakistan with not just technical know-how but also the equipment for making nuclear warheads? Is Comrade Karat living in cloud cuckoo-land? Or does the CPI(M) politburo suffer from collective senility?

The Left parties are afraid that India is being drawn into the US game plan for South Asia. What the Left fails to realize is that India, Russia, Israel, the US, the UK, and many European nations are a target of fundamentalist Islamic militancy because of what they represent and the values they uphold. It is in India’s national interest to work with the US to protect itself. As it is, more Indians have been affected by terrorist attacks than those killed in Iraq after the US declared victory.

The Left in particular, and politicians in general, have little or no sympathy or support for the new Indian economy that is emerging, largely due to the efforts of PM Manmohan Singh, when he served as Finance Minister in the Narasimha Rao government. They have not contributed to it in any way--in fact, they’ve done much to obstruct it at every turn, especially in the case of developing infrastructure. Hence the demand that participatory notes should be banned, which would impede the flow of foreign direct investment (FDI) into this country. It would be much better to suggest that the holders of participatory notes should declare their identities to the authorities concerned, since there is concern that supporters of terrorism could use the stock markets to raise funds for their cause.

In fact, I’ve an excellent suggestion to make. Why don’t politicians use the participatory notes regime to return the money that they’ve looted from this country in scams of various kinds? They’ve managed to scuttle the investigation of those cases time and again, by arm-twisting the Indian police and the CBI--why not do the decent thing (if a politician can do the decent thing and still remain in politics) and bring back their ill-gotten loot?

Friday, 19 October 2007

The Racist Indian

We Indians are the biggest hypocrites and one of the most unsporting nations in the universe. We cannot appreciate the fact that a sportsman who opposes our team plays well. Instead, we humiliate the man in the most childish way possible, by making monkey faces, and BCCI has to then cover this up by saying that it was not an insult because we worship a monkey god! I’ve always believed that Indians are inherently racist.

If you have any doubts about what I’m saying, just take a look at the matrimonial advertisements posted in our newspapers every Sunday. Never mind how well-educated the groom, he always wants a bride with a "milk-white" complexion. So I’m not surprised that Andrew Symonds, an Australian of aboriginal descent, was treated so boorishly in Wankhede Stadium. It is ironic that we use racial abuse, since we ourselves have been the butt of it as colonial subjects and immigrants to the US, UK and other Commonwealth states. We also use it against the host country--I’ve often heard Indian immigrants to African nations use derogatory terms about the blacks amongst whom they live.

Why is it that we look down on people who are dark-skinned? Does it have anything to do with our scriptures stigmatizing the dark-skinned inhabitants of India as Dasyus? Can’t we North Indians go beyond this and realize that for most Caucasians, all of us are brown-skinned? Do we have to try and take on Caucasian racism, in an effort to be like them? Why can’t we look at the solidarity of the Asian and African races, both of which have suffered so horribly from the effects of colonial and imperial incursions? Incidentally, when I went to Oxford, I learnt from a taxi driver there how the first immigrants to the town were stigmatized by the white community. It was only because the Indians and the blacks stood shoulder to shoulder then that they were able to make a home for themselves in the UK.

I suggest spectators to a sporting event behave themselves. If the sportsmen and women on the field choose to indulge in sledging, that’s their business.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Anyone Ready for Globalization?

A few months ago, when I was preparing to leave the UK for India, I was told by various friends there that things had really changed--India was finally on the move and opportunities were opening up for young people. However, when I get back, what I find is same old, same old, only worse. The Metro might have expanded in scope in Delhi, but the Blueline menace is still prevalent. And, according to CM Sheila Dikshit, phasing out these buses will not be so easy. I agree with her--she will first need to clean up the Delhi State Ministry of Transport--it allegedly receives bribes from all those private operators of Blueline buses--and I will not say how far the chain of corruption is said to extend.

Another sign of little or no change in the Indian marketplace--when I was in the UK, doing a new product development project as part of my MA in Publishing course, I had to research India as a market for books on publishing. I got together a list of institutions that featured Mass Communication courses as part of their offerings (I think there were some ten institutions) and sent off e-mails to their heads of department, registrars and directors. Imagine my surprise when I only received three responses. I assumed this was because I was a student. When I came back and was looking for work, I found that few people were courteous enough to respond to an e-mail asking if they had a suitable employment opportunity in their company. When I mentioned this to a senior person in a media company (I had written to an internationally known publishing house, with which his company has a tie-up) he said that perhaps no suitable positions were available. I told him that I felt the person I had written to should have had the courtesy to respond via e-mail and say so, instead of letting me speculate on the various possibilities. I also informed him that this refusal to be honest said a lot about a company and the people that ran it.

I find this sort of behaviour widely prevalent in India, and it strikes one very strongly when job-hunting. There is an odd refusal to be honest, to get back to people with the bad news. I rarely encountered this behaviour while job-hunting in the UK. I would be informed immediately if my CV was not accepted for a certain post, before or after the interview. I wonder why Indian companies don’t follow this rule. It’s only a question of setting up an appropriate form letter and sending out a bunch of e-mails--most candidates have e-mail addresses. It might give even an unsuccessful candidate a good impression about the company. And keep all CVs received on file for the next six months.

In fact, this tendency that Indians have for not being honest or open is now well-known in the UK. I attended a talk given by an e-publishing consultant to a group of students on the issue of outsourcing work. He spoke of an occasion when he had to deal with an Indian company, which was hired to do some development work. He spoke of how badly they dealt with conveying bad news. Eventually the project had to be completed in the UK. At that time, I was extremely offended by what he said, but now I have to agree with him.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

"Utho Nahin, JAGO!"

This Tata Tea commercial says it all about the state of Indian politics today. Our politicians are chosen on the basis of their caste or class affiliations. How many of them have an education that would equip them to actually solve the problems that beset India today? In many cases, they and their offspring are the problem. Remember Buta Singh and his charming sons, Lovely and Sweety? The rumor doing the rounds of Delhi was that these two young men would get up to all kinds of shenanigans and Daddy dearest would use his influence to get them out of trouble. Daddy didn’t mind doing all this--after all, he was following in the footsteps of his great leader, PM Indira Gandhi, who allowed her son, Sanjay, to exercise extra-governmental authority during the Emergency, and when he died in an air crash in 1980, elevated her reluctant eldest son, Rajiv, to the general secretaryship of the Congress, a post which her grandson occupies today.

Well, there you have one part of the problem in a nutshell. Even when the politician comes from a so-called well-qualified background (exposure to the freedom movement at a young age, a good education, running the organizational set-up of a political party) he or she would like to set up a dynasty, perhaps in homage to India’s regal past or to keep intact the political legacy. However, dynasties are not what should exist in a republic. Dynasties drag a republic towards a monarchic form of government--as happened to the Roman republic, under the Caesars.

And we can see the damage that dynastic, casteist and classist politics has done to Indian institutions. Our students’ unions in the Universities are not nurseries of democracy but hothouses for goondas rooting for a particular political party. In any other country, the students’ unions would actually work together with the university administrators to provide better services to the student community instead of acting as henchmen for a political party. Students who supported a particular political party would set up an association to study that party’s ideology and its position on various issues of the day. They would learn to debate and argue rationally, instead of behaving like a bunch of goons, as one frequently sees them do on Lok Sabha TV.

And how do these political brats behave when put in charge of the Indian police and bureaucracy? They’ve completely politicized the bureaucracy--any minister, when he or she shifts from one department of the central or state government to another, takes along his coterie of favorite bureaucrats. The police services, in turn, have also been politicized--witness Mayawati’s sacking of the policemen recruited by Mulayam Singh Yadav when he was UP CM. The CBI, which has now been asked to take over the Rizwanur Rehman case from the West Bengal police, was responsible for issuing a clean chit to Jagdish Tytler for his involvement in the 1984 riots. And this politicization of the bureaucracy and the police leads to the Indian public losing its faith in these institutions and their ability to provide prompt and impartial service to the people. And hence to mob violence and a possible revolution or dictatorship.

Another thing--when you wonder why the average constable does not do his duty vis-a-vis the Indian public, please take a look at his working and living conditions. In many cases, policemen and their families live in sub-standard housing, receive poor healthcare (look at the many obese cops), barely enough education for the kids and malfunctioning equipment for the man on the beat. So now, do you wonder why Bollywood would rather have the vigilante or the crook as hero rather than a cop?

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I work as a freelance editor and writer in New Delhi. 


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