Saturday, April 30, 2011

If you are born rich, choose India, if you are born poor, choose China

Though it is generally held that while primary education in India stinks, higher education is brilliant, this is not entirely true. The top elitist institutions are second to none, for sure, but many – in fact the majority – who graduate from mainstream institutions of “higher learning” are considered unemployable.

Growth has allowed the rich to acquire more private gains, but has hampered the poor by neglecting social public goods, including the very basics of health, nutrition, education and shelter.

Pallavi Aiyar, author of “Smoke and Mirrors: An Experience of China,” wrote that if you are born rich, choose India, if you are born poor, choose China – because of higher levels of basic education in China, there is correspondingly much more social mobility. Indian thought leaders also bemoan the fact that contemporary Indian society suffers from a compassion deficit and widespread insensitivity, especially among the new brash business and finance elites.

The situation is grim; as is the outlook if present trends continue.
Jean-Pierre Lehmann in Wall Street Journal. More

Declining sex ratio and heart wrenching questions

India's sex ratio, among children aged 0-6 years, is alarming. The ratio has declined from 976 females (for every 1000 males) in 1961 to 914 in 2011. Every national census has documented a decline in the ratio, signalling a ubiquitous trend. Preliminary data from the 2011 census have recorded many districts with sex ratios of less than 850. The ratio in urban areas is significantly lower than those in rural parts of the country.

Reports suggest evidence of violence and trafficking of poor women and forced polyandry in some regions with markedly skewed ratios. The overall steep and consistent decline in the ratio mandates serious review.

Sex selection and technology : Medical technology (like amniocentesis and ultrasonography), employed in the prenatal period to diagnose genetic abnormalities, are being misused in India for detecting the sex of the unborn child and subsequently for sex-selection. Female foetuses, thus identified, are aborted.

A large, nationally representative investigation of married women living in 1.1 million households documented markedly reduced sex ratios of 759 and 719 for second and third births when the preceding children were girls. By contrast, sex ratios for second or third births, if one or both of the previous children were boys, were 1102 and 1176 respectively. A systematic study in Haryana documented the inverse relationship between the number of ultrasound machines in an area and the decline in sex ratios. Studies have also documented correlations of low sex ratios at birth with higher education, social class and economic status. Many studies have concluded that prenatal sex determination, followed by abortion of female foetuses, is the most plausible explanation for the low sex ratio at birth in India.

K S Jacob in The Hindu. More Here

Geek Nation

“Wherever in the world we live, Indians and people of Indian origin are famous for being swots, nerds, dweebs, boffins, and dorks,” writes Angela Saini in Geek Nation.
With a population approaching 1.2bn, India has the world’s largest pool of scientists and engineers. While the literacy rate hovers around a dismal 60 per cent, some 400 universities produce 2m graduates every year, including a staggering 600,000 engineers, the most sought after of which are from the 16 Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT’s).
Yet, Indian science is far from taking over the world: it currently contributes less than 3 per cent of global research output, lagging far behind the US and UK.
Manjit Kumar reviews Geek Nation by Angela Saini in Financial Times. Full Review Here

Geek Nation is an impressionistic look at India’s changing scientific landscape through the buttery lens of an outsider. Taking her cue from India’s increased R&D spend, Angela Saini, a British journalist and self-professed geek, embarks on a pushpin-marked pilgrimage through “the birthplace of the geek”, seeking a Pavlovian affirmation of the greatness of the birthplace of her father, a chemical engineer. “India never managed to live up to his dreams — until now. The success of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre is among the first signs that India may have what it takes to become a scientific superpower in the same league as the United States, Europe and Japan. It seems like India is being pulled out of poverty and transformed into a technological giant,” she writes, in a voice rendered cottony by a visit to Thumba, the opening act to a cross-country chronicle of scientific renaissance. 
At first, all seems to be going well for Saini, as she sets about investigating, if tentatively, the legacy of scientific temper that Jawaharlal Nehru, “India’s other important geek” after Vikram Sarabhai, bequeathed to his country. For Saini, Nehru is the dreamboat that has docked India at the hall of scientific fame for the first time since Aryabhatta and Bhaskara, and thus the key to why we became a country of “swots, nerds, dweebs, boffins and dorks”. 
V Shoba reviews Geek Nation by Angela Saini in Indian Express Full Review Here 

Friday, April 29, 2011

Sai Baba as a Professional Hazard

Every profession has its challenges if not stress tests. For journalism in India, we suggest this: trying to keep your copy straight while covering a godman. From jet-setting brahmacharis to sex gurus, from babas kick-blessing disciples to Naga sadhus in the buff, you can have your pick of divinely inspired performers doing their own version of the Great Indian Rope Trick. But if you really want to earn your spurs, you’d have to cover a godman with millions of devotees in a militant if momentary frenzy.

The dare of the moment is Sathya Sai Baba, who, according to doctors at his trust’s hospital in Puttaparthi, left his body at 7.40 am on 24 April. He’s one godman with a following so disciplined that a military general would envy it, so full of famous figures that a VIP list for a World Cup final would be put to shame, so zealous that the blasphemy police of the Subcontinent’s far frontiers could take tips from them.

Earlier this month in Puttaparthi, I phoned a district reporter for a local perspective on the godman. “Are you writing negative or positive things?” he demanded. “Just writing facts,” I responded. “What kind of facts are you looking for?” he asked. His tone suggested that the facts would have to be approved by the faithful.

Thankfully, violence is a no-no for Sai Baba’s disciples. But that does not necessarily make it unlikely. Outside the hospital where the godman lay ailing in an ICU ward, I suggested to a TV reporter that he run a sting operation for an insider story. “If I get in there,” he replied, “I will not get out alive.” He was only half joking.

Anil Budur Lulla shares the perils of tracking the deceased godman’s life, influence and miracles as a journalist in Open. Here


The mysteries shrouded
Over the frozen river
The wind concealed
Essence of direction
And finally superseding
The natural oeuvre
Of 'musical equity'
He killed him
And asked
Why are you killed?
The speechlessness replied
Haven't you existed?
Musab Iqbal in Illuminated minds. Here

Quality of Life: India Vs China

When we consider the impact of economic growth on people’s lives, comparisons favor China over India. However, there are many fields in which a comparison between China and India is not related to economic growth in any obvious way. Most Indians are strongly appreciative of the democratic structure of the country, including its many political parties, systematic free elections, uncensored media, free speech, and the independent standing of the judiciary, among other characteristics of a lively democracy. Those Indians who are critical of serious flaws in these arrangements (and I am certainly one of them) can also take account of what India has already achieved in sustaining democracy, in contrast to many other countries, including China.
Not only is access to the Internet and world opinion uncensored and unrestricted in India, a multitude of media present widely different points of view, often very critical of the government in office. India has a larger circulation of newspapers each day than any other country in the world. And the newspapers reflect contrasting political perspectives. Economic growth has helped—and this has certainly been a substantial gain—to expand the availability of radios and televisions across the country, including in rural areas, which very often are shared among many users. There are at least 360 independent television stations (and many are being established right now, judging from the licenses already issued) and their broadcasts reflect a remarkable variety of points of view. More than two hundred of these TV stations concentrate substantially or mainly on news, many of them around the clock. There is a sharp contrast here with the monolithic system of newscasting permitted by the state in China, with little variation of political perspectives on different channels.
Freedom of expression has its own value as a potentially important instrument for democratic politics, but also as something that people enjoy and treasure. Even the poorest parts of the population want to participate in social and political life, and in India they can do so. There is a contrast as well in the use of trial and punishment, including capital punishment. China often executes more people in a week than India has executed since independence in 1947. If our focus is on a comprehensive comparison of the quality of life in India and China, we have to look well beyond the traditional social indicators, and many of these comparisons are not to China’s advantage.
 Amartya Sen in The New York Review of Books. More

Team building: A study on the behaviour of Ants

A team of engineers has discovered how colonies of ants survive floods by forming themselves into life rafts. The work shows how many simple components can interact to create complex structures and behaviours, a subject that touches on crowd control, urbanization and robotics.

An individual ant can float on water for a few minutes, but a clump of the insects is heavy enough to break the surface tension of the water and sink. Yet when a nest of fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) is flooded, the entire thousands-strong colony shapes itself into a raft that can stay afloat for months.

"Together they form this really complex material that water should be able to get through, but can't," says Nathan Mlot, a mechanical engineer at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Mlot and his colleagues have shown how these rafts are built and why they float. Their findings are published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1.

When Mlot put thousands of ants in an empty beaker and swirled it, the insects clung to each other, gripping tightly to form a sphere that felt like a squashy ball, he says. Wearing gloves to avoid being bitten, Mlot could toss the clump in the air and catch it without any ants falling off.

When such a sphere is placed in water, it relaxes into a dome and, within minutes, flattens into a pancake.
The ants that hit the water first hook together with their jaws and legs, forming a tightly woven base. As the dome flattens and more ants reach the edge of the mass, their comrades at the bottom grip them tightly, weaving them into the base to help support the rest of the colony. At its flattest, the raft consists of two to three levels of ants, with the upper levels milling around on their interwoven nest mates.

A lone ant's exoskeleton can trap air bubbles and become slightly water repellent, but the surface of an interwoven group does so much more effectively, keeping the ants dryer.

Although the raft is porous and its base is below the water level, none of the ants are submerged, or even get wet. Instead, the ants at the base of the raft push against the water's surface and shape it around them into a bowl without breaking the surface tension.

Lizzie Buchen in Nature. More Here

Poll: Most Egyptians want Quran as source of laws

A poll conducted by a US-based center has shown that a majority of Egyptians believe laws in their country should follow the teachings of Islam's holy book, the Quran.
The survey reflects a shift toward religious conservatism. It also shows Egyptians are open to the inclusion of religious parties in a future government.
The poll's results, released on Monday, come ahead of September balloting - the first parliamentary elections since President Hosni Mubarak's ouster in February. Islamic parties are expected to make a significant showing
The poll, based on interviews with 1,000 Egyptians, was conducted by the Pew Research Center between March 24 and April 7. Its margin of error was plus or minus 4 per cent.
IBN report Here

SHOCKING Report: Endosulfan and plight of mothers of Kasargod

 PREGNANT WOMEN in Kasargod district are fighting the endosulfan tragedy in their own way — by opting for abortion. A sacrifice conducted in silence, even a 10-year campaign against the chemical has not yet convinced the government to ban its use.
Without the intervention of the welfare state, they are now released from the fear of death and chronic disease. They have seen enough. They have lost many in a short span of time. Around 1,000 people have already died in the past seven years. Another 4,600 persons are living with chronic diseases. Most of them have babies with congenital defects — bedridden since birth. They spend their life nursing their babies till their death. They know that their babies will not grow up or go to school like normal children. They have gone through all this.

Doctors call it the ‘Hiroshima syndrome’. But these mothers have never heard of the place. They have been aborting their babies and successive governments have failed to do anything about this havoc that the deadly chemical has unleashed. Hardened by life, these women don’t want to deliver deformed children anymore. They are struggling to come to terms with the tragedy at a time when India is trying to resist a global ban on endosulfan.

Carmine Crasta, 31, lives in Yenthadukka village, close to cashew plantations owned by the state government. Her seven- year-old son Martin was born with neurological problems. Husband Maurice D’Souza, a carpenter, spends 60 percent of his earnings on the treatment of his only son. Carmine has terminated four pregnancies in the past seven years. “It was a hard decision. But I had no choice. How could I have another baby like him?” Carmine says, tears welling up in her eyes.

The couple were married in 2001. She conceived the following year only to suffer a miscarriage in eight weeks. “After six months, I became pregnant again,” she says. “We were very happy. Doctors also assured us that everything was fine and I delivered him. He was a normal baby. Very cute. But when he didn’t crawl after a year, we took him to hospital, where he was diagnosed with a neurological disorder. We have approached several doctors since then, but there is no change in his condition. I’ve not lost hope. I pray to God for a miracle.” In spite of repeated prayers, her saints have failed Carmine.

Jeemon Jacob in Tehelka. More

The burqa ban and an increasingly Islamophobic Europe

When British author Rudyard Kipling wrote his famous ballad of East and West he could never have imagined the relevance this theme would have over 120 years later. The opening line “East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet” is much-quoted and yet often misinterpreted.

It is a sad fact that the EU is becoming increasingly Islamophobic and that since 9/11, Europe’s apprehension for its own as well as the worldwide Muslim populations has been surging. Over the past decade there has been a progressively right-wing swing in the European electorate, and it is a trend that is accelerating. The fact that this negative trend seems to be driven by populist politicians makes it even worse, not to mention irresponsible and dangerous. Nowhere is this more true than in some of the larger member states -- France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Denmark -- which all have large Muslim communities. Unlike the US, Europe has failed to embrace multiculturalism, with an ever-widening gap between perception and reality becoming evident. Many believe that Muslims are flooding in, taking jobs and would like to turn Europe into a land ruled by Islamic law. Yet, Muslims represent only 3 percent of the population.

Islamic dress, particularly the burqa, has become a focus for wrenching political disputes. The recent decision by France to ban the burqa is an example of this negative trend.

Amanda Paul in Zaman. More

Thursday, April 28, 2011

BRICS and the China Trap

Earlier this month the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) agreed at their summit meeting in Sanya, China, to establish mutual lines of credit in local currencies. On the face of it, this is an innocuous effort by the world's fastest growing countries to strengthen their mutual relationship. However, in the context of the emerging global power relations, this is yet another important step in the Chinese initiative to end the reign of the dollar as the world's single reserve currency.

Two years ago I wrote about the Chinese campaign to dethrone the dollar. Shortly before the G20 London summit, China's central bank governor announced that the dollar should be replaced by SDRs. This was a shrewd approach. About half of China's foreign exchange reserves of $2 trillion are reportedly held as dollar denominated assets, as indeed are large chunks of the reserves of many central banks. This large exposure implies that any major depreciation of the dollar would severely erode the value of these assets. At the same time, large diversification of these reserves away from the dollar is not an option. Such a move itself would trigger a sharp depreciation of the dollar. But the exchange rate of SDR is a weighted average of a basket of convertible currencies, and a swap of dollars for SDRs at a pre-determined exchange rate would allow China, and other countries, to significantly reduce their dollar exposure without any erosion of the value of their reserves. Of course, it would also end the reign of the dollar.

At the time, most analysts dismissed the Chinese initiative as impractical and unworkable. However, China has taken several strategic steps to carry forward its agenda through alternative routes. It has established currency swap arrangements with several developing countries, which protects their trade with China against the risk of their currencies depreciating. The initial value of these arrangements was quite modest, less than $100 billion. However, during the past two years, the volume of these arrangements would have grown significantly and could eventually cover the entire trade of these countries with China. 

How should India prepare for such an outcome? India should embed itself in the currency arrangement being forged for the BRICS countries, and strive to join the embryonic Asian Monetary Fund to take full advantage of opportunities arising from these initiatives. At the same time it must remain mindful that North America and the EU will remain important trading partners in the foreseeable future.

Sudipto Mundle in The Times of India. More Here.

Nuclear power can never be made safe, never.

Victims of Chernobyl

With the ongoing disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, some people ask: can nuclear power be made safe? The answer is no. Nuclear power can never be made safe.
This was clearly explained by Admiral Hyman Rickover, the "father" of the U.S. nuclear navy and in charge of construction of the first nuclear power plant in the nation, Shippingport in Pennsylvania. Before a committee of Congress, as he retired from the navy in 1982, Rickover warned of the inherent lethality of nuclear power -- and urged that "we outlaw nuclear reactors."
The basic problem: radioactivity.

"I'll be philosophical," testified Rickover. "Until about two billion years ago, it was impossible to have any life on Earth; that is, there was so much radiation on earth you couldn't have any life -- fish or anything." This was from naturally-occurring cosmic radiation when the Earth was in the process of formation. "Gradually," said Rickover, "about two billion years ago, the amount of radiation on this planet ... reduced and made it possible for some form of life to begin."

"Now, when we go back to using nuclear power, we are creating something which nature tried to destroy to make life possible," he said. "Every time you produce radiation" a 'horrible force' is unleashed. By splitting the atom, people are recreating the poisons that precluded life from existing. "And I think there the human race is going to wreck itself," Rickover stated.

This was Rickover, a key figure in nuclear power history, not Greenpeace.

The problem is radioactivity -- unleashed when the atom is split. And it doesn't matter whether it's a General Electric boiling water reactor such as those that have erupted at Fukushima, or the Westinghouse pressurized water design, or Russian-designed plants like Chernobyl, or the "new, improved" nuclear plants being touted by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a nuclear scientist and zealous promoter of nuclear technology. All nuclear power plants produce radiation as well as radioactive poisons like the Cesium-137, Iodine-131 and Strontium-90 that have been -- and continue to be -- spewed from the Fukushima plants.
Upon contact with life, these toxins destroy life. So from the time they're produced in a nuclear plant to when they're taken out as hotly radioactive "nuclear waste," they must be isolated from life -- for thousands, for some millions of years.

Karl Grossman in The Huffington Post. More Here

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

And God died...!

மருந்து மாத்திரை  பலனளிக்கவில்லை. செயற்கை சுவாசம் செலுத்த முடியவில்லை.  டாக்டர்கள் கைவிரித்து விட்டார்கள். அற்புதங்களை நிகழ்த்திய கடவுள், கண்முன்னால் இறந்து போய்விட்டார்.
தொலைக்காட்சிகளில்  கடவுளின்  மரணம் முக்கியச் செய்திகளாய் ஓடிக்கொண்டு இருக்கிறது. கடவுளின்  உடல் மட்டும்தான் நம்மை விட்டு நீங்கியிருக்கிறது என தேற்றிக்கொண்டவர்கள் மத்தியில்  ‘கடைசி வரையில் அவரது முடி மட்டும் அப்படியே இருந்தது’ என்றார் பரவசம் பொங்க ஒரு பக்த கோடி.
கடவுள் சேர்த்து வைத்த கோடி கோடியான  சொத்துக்கள் உயிரோடு இருக்கின்றன. கட்டிக் காப்பாற்ற  ஒருவர் வேண்டும். நாளை அடுத்த கடவுள் வந்துவிடுவார் எப்படியும்.

A rough translation :

Medicines were of no use. They could not induce breathing too. Attempt to artificial breathing too failed. The doctors lost hope. The God who performed miracles died in front of every one.

The news of the death of God is prime news in all the television channels. When every one were consoling themselves with the thought that 'it is merely the body of the God that has perished', one overzealous Bhakt exclaimed with wide eyes: "His hair was same. It didn't get damaged till the end".

Properties worth of crores and crores of Rupees accumulated by the God are intact. We need somebody to maintain them. Any how, tomorrow another God would arise. That's all.

Madhavraj in his best. For amusing comments  Here

Madhu Koda and his RSS Connections

Q Your political rise was meteoric…
A I had never imagined that I would be in politics, or even planned to join it. I was involved in a labour movement in mines. We were partly successful in our campaign. We were able to ensure miners got minimum wages and that they were paid OT (overtime) fees as well. A lot of miners benefitted from our movement. Over a period of time, my involvement as an activist fighting for the rights of miners led to the formation of a base of supporters and sympathisers in the organised and unorganised sectors.

Q At that time you weren’t associated with a political party...
A Yes, I wasn’t a member of any political party. But as my activities as a ‘mazdoor andolan’ leader expanded in 1989, mine owners began to view my labour activism adversely. They began lodging false cases against me. I then realised the strategic necessity of continuing my activism under the banner of a political party. That’s when I joined the BJP [in 1994].

Q Were you also with the RSS?
A Yes, I was in touch with them. I was with the BJP, and it is natural that I would be in contact with the RSS.

Madhu Koda in conversation with VK Shashi Kumar in Open. More Here and Here

Typewriters are still romantic : Jonathan Glancey

Typewriters may have stopped rolling off the production line, but their mechanical chatter and precision components lend them an enduring enchantment.

"It was a dark and stormy night." The image of Snoopy sitting on top of his kennel rattling out the opening of his latest bestseller on a typewriter is as familiar as it is cherished. It is also a delightful send-up of the archetypal would-be author at work.
Endearing, yes, but dated. Today, we learn that possibly the world's very last typewriter factory – in Mumbai – has closed. Although its typewriting business has been just one small portion of the Godrej & Boyce manufacturing empire, founded in 1897 by the lawyer and inventor Ardeshir Godrej, a spokesman has told the global media that "currently the company has just 500 machines left". Hurry while stocks last, as the imposing Prima model dating from the 1950s, now selling for about £160, is sure to become a sought-after classic of pre-digital design.
Or is it? There are now millions of people worldwide tapping away on keyboards who have never sat in front of a typewriter, much less written with one. The machine that gave us the modern open-plan office, with its rows of clerks and typists, can seem as outmoded as Polaroid and Instamatic cameras, Super 8 film, Kodachrome, hand looms and horse-drawn ploughs. And yet, although it is true that desktop and laptop computers and any number of handheld devices have effectively replaced the typewriter in everyday use, there are many people who prefer these miniature desktop printing presses.
Typewriters still hold a certain romance: something to do with the Mad Men charm of whisky bottles, green eyeshades, low office lighting, the mechanical chatter of keyboards, the ting of bells and the saw-like rasp and slap of carriages as they are whipped back hastily for the next line of copy to be churned out. And, alongside the image of Charles Schulz's Snoopy, there are haunting scenes from so many films in which the typewriter has played a powerful role. Think of Schindler's List, the list itself being typed up. Or Jack Nicholson sitting alone in an out-of-season mountain resort hotel typing that one line over and over – "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" – before he goes stark staring mad and takes an axe to his family in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.

Jonathan Glancey in The Guardian. More Here

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Smashing the stereotypes of Muslim women

The Arab revolutions are not only shaking the structure of tyranny to the core - they are shattering many of the myths about the Arab region that have been accumulating for decades. Topping the list of dominant myths are those of Arab women as caged in, silenced, and invisible. Yet these are not the types of women that have emerged out of Tunisia, Egypt, or even ultra-conservative Yemen in the last few weeks and months.

Not only did women actively participate in the protest movements raging in those countries, they have assumed leadership roles as well. They organised demonstrations and pickets, mobilised fellow citizens, and eloquently expressed their demands and aspirations for democratic change.

Like Israa Abdel Fatteh, Nawara Nejm, and Tawakul Karman, the majority of the women are in their 20s and 30s. Yet there were also inspiring cases of senior activists as well: Saida Saadouni, a woman in her 70s from Tunisia,  draped the national flag around her shoulders and partook in the Qasaba protests which succeeded in toppling M. Ghannouchi's provisional government. Having protested for two weeks, she breathed a unique revolutionary spirit into the thousands who congregated around her to hear her fiery speeches. "I resisted French occupation. I resisted the dictatorships of Bourguiba and Ben Ali. I will not rest until our revolution meets its ends, for your sakes my sons and daughters, not for mine," said Saadouni.
Whether on the virtual battlefields of the Internet or the physical protests in the streets, women have been proving themselves as real incubators of leadership. This is part of a wider phenomenon characteristic of these revolutions: The open politics of the street have bred and matured future leaders. They are grown organically in the field, rather than being imposed upon from above by political organisations, religious groups, or gender roles.

Another stereotype being dismantled in action is the association of the Islamic headscarf with passivity, submissiveness, and segregation. Among this new generation of prominent Arab women, the majority choose to wear the hijab. Urbanised and educated, they are no less confident or charismatic than their unveiled sisters. They are an expression of the complex interplay of Muslim culture, with processes of modernisation and globalisation being the hallmark of contemporary Arab society.

This new model of home grown women leaders, born out of revolutionary struggle, represents a challenge to two narratives, which, though different in detail, are similar in reference to the myth of Arab cultural singularity; they both dismiss Arab women as inert creatures devoid of will-power.

The first narrative - which is dominant in conservative Muslim circles - sentences women to a life of childbearing and rearing; women are to live in the narrow confines of their homes at the mercy of their husbands and male relatives. Their presence must revolve around notions of sexual purity and family honour; reductionist interpretations of religion are looked upon for justification.

The other view is espoused by Euro-American neo-liberals, who view Arab and Muslim women through the narrow prism of the Taliban model: Miserable objects of pity in need of benevolent intervention from intellectuals, politicians, or even the military. Arab women await deliverance from the dark cage of veiling to a promised garden of enlightenment.

Arab women are rebelling against both models: They are seizing the reigns of their own destinies by liberating themselves as they liberate their societies from dictatorship. The model of emancipation they are shaping with their own hands is one defined by their own needs, choices, and priorities - not anyone else's.
Although there may be resistance to this process of emancipation, Tahrir Square and Qasaba are now part of the psyche and formative culture of Arab women. Indeed, they are finally given a voice to their long-silenced yearnings for liberation from authoritarianism - both political and patriarchal.

Soumaya Ghannoushi in Al Jazeera More Here

Sachin Tendulkar, World Cup and guests of Neros!

Do you know that, on average, 47 farmers have been committing suicide every single day in the past 16 years in our shining India — the next economic power, progressive with nine per cent growth?

Last month, on March 5, Friday evening, when Bangalore's watering holes were getting filled up, when all the DJs were blaring out deafening music, when we were busy discussing India's chances at the World Cup, sitting in CCDs and Baristas — just 100 km away from Bangalore, Swamy Gowda and Vasanthamma, a young farmer couple, hanged themselves, leaving their three very young children to fend for themselves or, most likely, die of malnutrition.

Why did they do it? Were they fighting? No. Were they drunkards? No. Did they have incurable diseases? No! Then WHY? Because they were unable to repay a loan of Rs 80,000 (a working IT couple's one month salary? 2-3 months EMI?) for years, which had gradually increased to Rs. 1.2 lakh. Because they knew that now they would never be able to pay it back. Because they were hurt. Hurt by our government which announced a huge reduction in import duty for silk in this year's budget (from 30 per cent to 5 per cent).They were struggling silk farmers and instead of help from the government, they get this! Decrease in import duty means the markets will now be flooded with cheap Chinese silk (as everything else!) and our own farmers will be left in the lurch.

On average, 17,000 farmers have been committing suicide every year, for the past 15 years on the trot. Can you believe it? Most of us wouldn't know this fact. Why? Because, our great Indian media, the world's biggest media, are not interested in reporting this! Why? Because they are more interested in covering fashion week extravaganzas. They are more interested in ‘why team India was not practising when Pakistanis were sweating it out in stadium on the eve of the match?' They are more interested in Poonam Pandey.
The media are supposed to be the third eye of democracy and also called the fourth estate, but now they have become real estate. Pure business.

So any attention from the media is out of the question. Who is left then? The government? But we all know how it works. The other day, I was passing by Vidhan Soudha in Bangalore and happened to read the slogan written at the entrance, “Government work is god's work”. Now I know why our government has left all its work to god!

Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa announced plots for all the players. But land? In Bangalore? You must be kidding, Mr. C.M.. So he retracts and now wants to give money. But where will it come from? Taxes, yours and mine. Don't the poor farmers need the land or money more than those players who are already earning in crores?

Nero's guests

What is happening in our country is not different from Nero's party. We, the middle-class-young-well-earning-mall-hopping-IPL-watching and celebrating-junta are Nero's guests enjoying at the cost of our farmers. Every budget favours the already rich. More exemptions are being given to them at the cost of grabbing the land of our farmers in the name of SEZs, decrease in import duties in the name of neo-liberal policies, increase in the loan interest rates if the product is not worth lakhs and crores. Yes, that's what we are, Nero's guests!

I'm not against celebrations. I'm not against cricket. I'm not against World Cup. I would be the first person to scream, celebrate and feel proud of any of India's achievements but, only if all fellow countrymen, farmers, villagers also stand with me and cheer; only if they do not take their own lives ruthlessly, only if there is no difference between interest rates for a Mercedes and a tractor. That would be the day I also zoom past on a bike, post-Indian win, with an Indian Flag in hand and screaming Bharat Mata Ki Jai. But no, not today. Not at the cost of my feeders. Until then, this is what I say. To hell with your malls. To hell with your IPL. To hell with your World Cup. And to hell with your celebrations.
(The writer's email is: naren.singh.shekhawat@

Narendra Shekhawat in The Hindu. More Here and Here

Monday, April 25, 2011

A disturbing book on Indian Muslims by Jeremy Seabrook

Topsia, a largely slum region on the edge of wetlands in east Kolkata, is an area that has fallen outside the map of municipal development. Worse, on the radar of the city’s general consciousness, the name registers no more than a feeble beep.
Along with Beniapukur, Tiljala and Tangra, the other three main areas focused upon in the book, Topsia also happens to be among the city’s most densely populated Muslim neighbourhoods.

The stubborn, uninterrupted poverty of these places and their residents’ Muslim faith is the basis of Seabrook’s study into the lives of the Others. “There is a widespread view that little common ground exists between Muslims and the rest of humanity,” the author notes. “This has become axiomatic for many…who contrast our ‘progress’ with their ‘backwardness’.”

With the avowed intention of correcting this unhappy state of affairs, the British journalist and commentator stitches together a collage of urban lives caught in a whirlpool of crime, drugs, larceny, corruption, coercion, underdevelopment, ignorance, neglect, vote-bank politics and intrigues of land sharks.
People without History— India’s Muslim Ghettos: Navayana, 257 pages, Rs 295.
Yet the grand canvas that the title of the book suggests, and the blurb reiterates, is missing between the covers. Even while doing an admirable job of documenting the lives there (the most desperate creatures on earth, the author contends), People without History rarely moves beyond the precincts of its four Kolkata Muslim slum areas. In fact, it doesn’t even venture into the other Muslim-dominated neighbourhoods with similar or worse living conditions, Rajabazar being a notable example. People without History can only be a study of India’s Muslim Ghettos through gross generalization.
Most unsettling is the premise of the book that pits wider society against the largely Urdu-speaking Muslim slum population in Kolkata, and by the strength of notion, in all of India. Even as most interviewees in People without History testify, it becomes obvious that their circumstances are often not uniquely different from those living in, say, Kolkata’s and the country’s Hindu-majority slums: the other Others. The vortex of death, addiction, decay and exploitative politics is common to every urban Indian slum. Is faith the only differential in the lives of the Muslim slum dweller in Beniapukur and the Hindu day labourer in Dum Dum and Behala?

Seabrook highlights the appalling lives of the poor and their tremendous urge to survive the odds in painstaking detail, but misses the forest for the trees. In the plight of the Muslims of Topsia, Beniapukur, Tiljala and Tangra resonates the plight of the city; one which has seen the flight of capital and opportunities to more profitable and less-politicized shores, leaving behind barely enough for all its citizens. Since then it has been a narrative of shared struggle and common shame across communities in the city.

Take, for instance, the story of Qutubuddin Ansari, which hasn’t found a place in the book. Ansari was referred to as the “face of the 2002 Gujarat riots” after the photograph of the Muslim’s tailor’s horror-struck face pleading for life was splashed in the media. Ansari would find a home in Kolkata after the state government pledged support to rebuild his life and business. In less than a year, Ansari would go back to Gujarat and his tailoring business. The promise of peace brought him to Kolkata; the lack of prospects saw him return.

It could have been the story of a city.

Shamik Bag reviews “People without History— India’s Muslim Ghettos” by Jeremy Seabrook and Imran Ahmed Siddiqui in Mint Lounge. More Here

Saturday, April 23, 2011

What makes a riderless bike stable?

Once rolling, bicycles can cover ground just fine on their own—no rider required—thanks to a property known as self-stability. If a bicycle starts to tip over, its front wheel turns into the fall, bringing the bike back into balance, just as a rider would do if he or she were behind the handlebars. Of course, that stability is missing when the bicycle is stationary—bicycles have a limited range of self-stable velocities within which they are able to regain their balance even if knocked sideways.

The question of how bicycles work—and what causes self-stability—has been around since the 19th century. Over the years, two main factors have emerged to explain a riderless bicycle's balancing act. One is the gyroscopic motion of the spinning front wheel; the other, a design feature known as trail, is the placement of the bicycle's steering axis so that the axis intersects the ground ahead of the point where the front wheel meets the ground. Both features act to couple the bicycle's steering to its leaning—if the bicycle tips rightward, it will steer to the right—allowing it to turn into a fall and remain upright.

But those two factors are not needed for a self-stable bicycle, as it turns out. In the April 15 issue of Science a team of researchers from the Netherlands and the U.S. describe an experimental bicycle that exhibits self-stability despite having neither trail nor a gyroscopic wheel.

John Matson in Scientific Americon. More Here

The wonders of the underwater world

An unusual photograph of two see-through goby fish, each no bigger than an inch, is this year's overall winner in the 2011 Annual Underwater Photography Contest, hosted by the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. German photographer Tobias Friedrich captured the view during a dive near Marsa Alam in Egypt. More than 600 pictures were entered in the contest, from photographers representing 20 countries
From MSNBC More Here

Friday, April 22, 2011

From Tarapur to Jaitapur: People's Yatra against nuclear plants

After the Fukushima incident in Japan, the anti nuclear movement has geared up in India too. Members of civil society, activists, educationists and journalists have come together to voice their opinion against the nuclear plants in India.

A national yatra has been decided from 23 to 25 April, from Tarapur to Jaitapur. A National Committee has been formed to lead this YATRA, comprising of: Radha Bhatt, Delhi (Convenor), Prof. Banwarilal Sharma, Allahabad, Vandana Shiva, Delhi, Praful Bidwai, Delhi, Bhai Vaidya, Pune and N. D. Patil, Mumbai

The accident at Fukushima has forced many countries to rethink their nuclear programs. However, the government of India is hell-bent on pursuing its nuclear power expansion program, including setting up a string of nuclear plants all along India's coast. The biggest of these is coming up in the earthquake-prone region of Jaitapur, in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. India's scientists are making the hilarious claim that India's safety standards are better than Japan's and that there is no cause to fear.

India's reactors are considered to be the most inefficient and dangerous in the world. And now we are importing reactors from the notorious French corporation Areva for the Jaitapur nuclear plant. These reactors are so dangerous that even pro-nuclear countries like the USA and UK have refused to give design clearance to this reactor. If there is a major accident at Jaitapur, the entire Ratnagiri district will have to be evacuated, permanently, and entire Western Maharashtra, including Pune and Mumbai would be radioactively contaminated! For tens of thousands of years.

This people’s initiative demands the government of India to:
  1. Scrap the Jaitapur nuclear power project! Scrap all new nuclear
  2. power plants!!
  3. End the reign of terror in Jaitapur area!
  4. Invest massively in energy saving and development of renewable
The yatra will begin tomorrow from Tarapur and will cover Mangaon ,Hiplun and Ratnagiri. This will conclude on 25th. Prof. Anil Sadgopal (Bhopal), Dr. S. P. Udaykumar (Nagercoil), Prof. Haragopal (Hyderabad), Soumya Dutta (Delhi), Rajiv Lochan Shah (Nainital), Shamsher Singh Bisht (Uttarakhand), Father Thomas Kocherry (Trivandrum), Mathani Saldhana (Goa), Dunu Roy (Delhi), Satinath Sarangi (Bhopal), Nityanand Jayaraman (Chennai), Prof. Trilochan Shastri (Bangalore) and many others will be attending the yatra.

More Here

Anna Hazare a youth icon?

In the last month or so, the 71-year-old Hazare has become a middle-class hero and a "youth icon" in India. This is baffling, given the biographical details in the above paragraph. (I got them from Hartosh Singh Bal's article for Open magazine and Mukul Sharma's piece in Kafila.) Hazare is popularly described as Gandhian, but, as Bal points out, if the forced vasectomies are anything to go by, he brings Sanjay Gandhi to mind more than Mahatma Gandhi. Sure, he is fighting against corruption, but both his method (of blackmail via the hunger fast) and his remedy (creating an alternative center of power and discretion instead of tackling the root causes of corruption) are dubious. Then why has middle-class India turned him into such a hero?

I believe it is because we are lazy. It is true that we are disgusted by corruption. We are sick of reading about the telecom scandal, the Radia tapes, the Commeonwealth games. More than that, corruption has become a virus that plagues our everyday lives, and we're appalled by it. But we're too damn lazy to go out and vote and actually participate in our democracy. We're apathetic, and believe, perhaps correctly, that our feeble middle-class vote won't make a difference. And yet, we want to express our disgust at the way things are, take the moral high ground, and feel like we really are doing something, because hey, that helps our self esteem. Then along comes this venerable activist who wears khadi, lives a spartan life, speaks out against corruption in high places, and goes on a hunger strike to influence the implentation of a bill that aims to tackle corruption. Naturally, we make him the repository of our hopes and our values, speak out in his defence at parties and cafes while hanging out with friends, and even light candles in his support. And there, our job as citizens is done.

The intellectual laziness here is obvious. We make him our hero though we know little else about him, and when his weird history comes to light, we rationalise it away. We ignore the fact that the Lokpal Bill, which he is fighting for, does nothing to tackle the root causes of corruption, and might actually be a step in the wrong direction. We treat attacks on our new hero -- if the behaviour of some of his defenders on TV is anything to go by -- as personal attacks on us. We start dealing in absolutes, as if anyone against Hazare must, by default, be a supporter of corruption and the status quo.

Amit Varma in Yahoo News. More Here

News in the old sense is dead

On March 31, The Times of India and The Hindu both went blue. They let themselves be colour-designed by advertisers. Volkswagen had released ads titled “Think Blue” for the front page, two inside pages and the back page. Both papers could think quite blue, and chose to have blue headlines.

P Sainath had spoken disapprovingly of “the ABC of Media — Advertising, Bollywood and Corporate Power. Corporate barons and Bollywood stars own cricket teams. One IPL team is owned by a newspaper. Other dailies have become ‘media partners’ of IPL teams .” (The Hindu, April 17, 2010.) Now, one year later, The Hindu has itself become the media partner of IPL team Chennai Super Kings.

And on April 2, 2011, The Hindu came in an outer jacket dedicated to Cricket World Cup 2011, and a set of promotional pages loudly cheering the Indian team. “Go India Go—One Billion Cheers and Counting,” said the legend on the front jacket, vending cricket frenzy. On April 3, it had another jacket, this time celebrating India’s World Cup win; “Top of the World,” cried the banner title. On both days, the actual daily was inside, ensconced within the paper’s external lookalike. But of course, the extra pages also contained ads; the paper wasn’t selling the Indian team to the readers, but selling the cricket-crazy readers to the advertisers.

A legend on the front jacket the first day was: “The Hindu’s readers wish the Indian team a successful World Cup Final 2011.” The paper was not offering its good wishes but conveying those of the readers. In other words, it was speaking for the readers—not to them. This is a subtle difference, but it can be crucial in other contexts like election campaigns and business concerns.

Now let’s not pretend that The Hindu has completely changed. Far from it. It’s still the true newspaper, mostly objective and balanced. And that is exactly why its little changes seem to underscore big changes elsewhere. If even The Hindu yields to dubious shifts, one must sit up and take notice. One would like to call this change “featurization”. It is changing the selection and treatment of news, emphasising reader impact instead of factual accuracy.

Featurization makes story orientation flexible enough to be manipulated. K P Salim recently noted how, with just few months left before the European Union ban on Endosulfan, the Indian pesticide lobby got some media to maintain the lie that it is a cheap and safe chemical. The example of how The Indian Express tried (writing as many as four edits in a month) to promote the cause of corporate houses in the GM brinjal issue is also recent. After the imposition of moratorium on Bt brinjal, the multinational seed industry had moved fast, and their strategy included taking a large number of journalists on an “educational” trip to the US, and also within India. Media opinion started shifting in favour of GM crops. From factual hard news their coverage shifted style to promotional features.

The same public relations exercise must have helped the US canvass media support in favour of the nuclear deal with India. At the time when the UPA 1 was floundering on the issue with the Left opposing the deal, major media houses went on overdrive to save both the government and the deal. As Wikileaks have recently revealed, the US was very much active garnering support.

This is no aberration; it has been a trend. On issues concerning interests of established dominant groups – like the US, the Sangh Parivar, Israel etc – our media have developed a studied indifference to objectivity. The tilt towards featurization helps. Facts can be ignored or distorted, reporting can be selective, events can be shown out of context, and powerful establishments can be gratified.

News in the old sense is dead. It is no more something you haven’t heard. So the presentation rather than the content matters. And, to be readable, presentation goes the feature way—in flowery, emotional, exaggerated style. Perhaps an analogy would be the “cheer girls” in IPL cricket. They are in no way part of the game, but they have become part of the presentation—they are there for greater media effect.

Featurization is there for better readability, even at the cost of factuality. When presentation overtakes content, you have featurization. In essence, it means: give the reader not what is true but what he likes to read.
Featurization makes “news” selective. Items are chosen on the basis of their “featurability.” A beauty pageant gets hyped, while academic discussions and seminars hardly get printed at all. In the coverage of assembly and Parliament proceedings, substantive deliberations are set aside, but trivia are given box treatment.

On reporting of Palestine, John Pilger in 2010 pointed to a study by Glasgow University. More than 90 percent of the young TV viewers thought the illegal settlers were Palestinian. “The more they watched, the less they knew.” Hard news is harder to manipulate than feature news—and less entertaining. No wonder vested interests push for featurization of news.

Murdochisation and dumbing down are symptoms of featurization. So are fewer facts, more comments and perceptions; exaggerated style; and overly use of figurative language. The feature bug has invaded the “hard news” area, especially in regional papers. And the trend is growing. It is the style most amenable to the combined power of the media, government and business.

So what about editorial stand in the time of featurization? Mumbai’s Daily News & Analysis (DNA) on February 1, 2011 announced: “From today, DNA does away with the edit page”. Signed by Editor-in-Chief, Aditya Sinha, it pointed out that editorial content bores readers and “makes little sense in this TV/mobile/web age where you’re looking for more news validation and analysis.” There of course is some truth in the assertion that few readers look for the editorial, but if reader satisfaction is all there is to it, journalism is just entertainment—no more, no less. Should it be so, is the question.

Yaseen Ashraf in Counter media. More Here.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Welfare Party Chief Mujtaba Farooq returns to Aurangabad

Veteran Islamist leader, Former Secretary of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and newly elected leader of Welfare Party of India Moulana Muhammad Mujtaba Farooq Sahib was given rousing welcome in Aurangabad airport. It was his first visit to his hometown after the formation of the Welfare Party of India.
Cameras blinked uninterruptedly. Bright garlands made up of fresh jasmine and samandhi flowers landed in his neck one by one. I am not sure whether Long Live Mujtaba Farooq slogans filled the air or not.
The spectacle is breathtaking. Oh..! What a sight..! 
The facial expression of Mujtaba Farooq says it all.
More Here, Here and Here

The flag of Welfare Party of India

This is the official flag of Welfare Party of India. 
Green denotes welfare, richness and abundance
White stands for peace and Red is for Revolution. 
The two strands of grain of wheat in the middle denote welfare. 

And here is the glimpse of the flag hoisting by the leaders of the Welfare Party of India in the historic 18th April meeting.

Jazakallah, KK Suhail for the link. More Here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Anna Hazare and hunger for undemocratic change

Annasaheb Hazare is an unlikely middle-class hero in India. He wasn't part of the Indian cricket team that won the World Cup earlier this month. He doesn't own one of the teams of the lucrative Indian Premier League cricket tournament currently underway. He isn't a Bollywood star either. He is a septuagenarian self-described Gandhian known for his development work in the western state of Maharashtra.

And yet he recently dominated the news cycle in India. He went on an indefinite fast to force the Indian government to appoint a committee that would examine and propose changes to draft legislation to establish the office of a national ombudsman to tackle corruption. He succeeded in five days' time: On April 9, the government caved in.

Last Saturday, a committee met to begin drafting a bill. This week, the composition of the committee is becoming controversial. Some have assailed the personal integrity of a few of its members who belong to civil society groups, and even questioned why they belong on this committee.

Judging by the way Mr. Hazare's fast drew support from industrialists, Bollywood stars, social reformers, activists and many students and professionals, this was quite a moment for the Indian middle class. For the first time the current generation of 20- or 30-something working Indians—only dimly aware of Mohandas Gandhi through the symbols and landmarks to his memory across the country—had encountered a real activist who, like Gandhi, was willing to sacrifice his life for a larger national cause.

The cause in question, a war against corruption, has resonated in the past year. Thousands of Indians have marched in demonstrations, enraged at various acts of corruption. Two high-profile cases are key: the way contracts were awarded to stage the Commonwealth Games held last October, and the way licenses were issued for the next generation of cellular telephony in 2008.

While these cases of grand corruption are important, Indians face millions of instances of daily, petty corruption. The municipal officer demands a bribe from a hawker; the bureaucrat refuses to register a land title or a marriage; the traffic cop beats the rickshaw-driver who can't afford to pay his weekly installment, known as hafta. These inconveniences at best and affronts to dignity at worst make corruption a rallying cry.
Such corruption also proves corrosive for business. The World Bank ranks India at 134th out of 183 countries for the ease of doing business and Transparency International puts it at 87th among 178 in its corruption perception index. Economists have noted that the way forward to reduce corruption has to be to decrease the discretionary power in the hands of these bureaucrats and politicians, while streamlining and clarifying the laws that empower them.

The irony here is that Mr. Hazare's struggle might hurt the fight against corruption. He wants an anti-corruption ombudsman with sweeping powers to investigate cases, demand prosecutions, and in some cases, deliver verdicts. That works in Hong Kong, through the Independent Commission Against Corruption, but that's because its economy is not micromanaged, and laws are applied fairly by a very competent civil service. In India, which still hasn't fully recovered from its dirigiste past, a new set of rules begets another one, and bureaucracy easily expands.

This expanding bureaucracy and body of rules is anyway hard for the citizenry to keep accountable; this ombudsman will add to these woes. Many constitutionalists and lawyers have expressed concern that the office of the ombudsman—from what we know now, in the preliminary stages of drafting the legislation—would be able to prosecute any public servant, including perhaps members of the independent judiciary, but would neither be elected popularly nor appointed by a popularly elected official. Rather, one proposal is that he would be anointed by a committee that would include Indian Nobel Prize and Magsasay Award winners, as if those Oslo, Stockholm and Manila anoint are worthier than other Indians. All this bypasses democratic norms of checks and balances.

Such details don't deter Mr. Hazare's supporters, some of whom have said that they want the corrupt to be "executed." This is moral enthusiasm from parts of the middle class, thousands of whom have signed Internet petitions and held candlelight vigils in protest. The highly competitive and breathless electronic media in the country have stoked the fire, likening downtown Delhi to Egypt's Tahrir Square.

For one thing, this comparison insults the brave men and women of Egypt. More importantly, the middle-class revolutionaries miss the fundamental point of the revolutions rocking the Arab world: they are against unrepresentative, unelected dictatorships. With all its flaws, India is a democracy that regularly holds elections. The real danger is that this accountability, however limited it might be, might be replaced by the tyranny of an unelected ombudsman. That's curiously welcome to Mr. Hazare's followers who yearn for a perfect messiah and don't trust the democratic process to deliver such an outcome.

To an extent, such disdain is symptomatic of India's middle class who, judging by the voter turnout in the middle-class strongholds of south Delhi and south Mumbai in the past decade, hardly participate in the electoral process. The apathy is partly due to cynicism, that Parliament is irrelevant to their lives, and the laws the state passes are to be ignored, and partly due to snobbery—of not wanting to wait in a long queue to vote, particularly if the queue includes lower-income people the elite don't like to mix with. But the middle class also perceives that its vote simply doesn't matter in an electoral system where voters continue to vote for party candidates with, say, a criminal record—who end up defeating competent, independent ones with a clean record. The recent corruption woes have only heightened this disgust.

This is not to suggest that demonstrations by the middle class are wrong. Democracies are meaningless without them. But when such protests are led by unelected members of society whose only claim to legitimacy is a claim of moral superiority, and when that is combined with essentially blackmail—accept my demands or I will end my life—it changes the nature of democratic debate.

Salil Tripathi in Wall Street Journal. More Here

I would chose corruption over communalism

If you ask me to choose between corruption and communalism, I would say I am ready to tolerate corruption than live (or die) with communalism.
Corruption can be fought by vigilant activists but lives lost in communal violence cannot be brought back. Against corruption, the whole country will stand united but communalism will further polarise the nation.
J. Sidharthan,

 A letter in The Hindu. Here

Anna Hazare is good. What about Irom Sharmila?

Once upon a time, not long ago, but a few years back, in the year of 2006, Irom Chanu Sharmila, an adherent of Gandhi's non-violenceand from the state of Manipur, hoping to be heard, decided to shift her 6 year-long agitation from the walled room of J N Hospital, Imphal (Manipur) to New Delhi's Jantar Mantar. 

She was on a fast-unto-death since November 2000 for repealing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 (AFSPA), a draconian law which gave extra-judicial powers to Indian Army in the name of ‘countering' insurgency and terrorism. But for Sharmila and her friends, it was not so easy to reach Delhi as the state government was not comfortable with their decision of shifting the venue. Anyhow, she along with her friends escaped and managed to reach Delhi on 2nd October 2006, as her associate and a leading Human rights' activist from Manipur, Babloo Loitongbam tells us, "We never expected we would be able to leave Imphal with Sharmila." The team took an early morning flight and landed in New Delhi. After their arrival, Sharmila immediately headed to Rajghat to pay a floral tribute to her idol, Mahatma Gandhi. Later that evening, she went to Jantar Mantar to continue her protest against AFSPA and Human Rights Violations in Manipur.

A few years down the line, in 2011, Anna Hazare, another passionate follower of Mahatma Gandhi from Maharashtra decided to launch a movement against corruption and raise the demand for Jan Lokpal Bill, a bill lying in the cold storage of the Indian Parliament since 1969 and supposed to be one of the tools for people's empowerment. 

Like Irom Sharmila, her comrade in ideology of Ahimsa, Anna Hazare also chose the same place, Jantar Mantar, to launch his movement. On 5th of April 2011, Anna Hazare arrived in Delhi and headed for Rajghat to pay tribute to his idol, the Mahatma before reaching Jantar Mantar to start his fast-unto- death for the Jan Lokpal Bill. Unlike Sharmila and her friends, he wasn't required to escape or face any hurdles in reaching Delhi. In fact, much before his arrival in Delhi, hundreds of anti-Corruption ‘activists' and organisations were waiting for him. 

On his arrival at Jantar Mantar, within a day, the place was declared as ‘Tahrir Square' of India and his movement against Corruption as something similar to the movement in Egypt! 

Within hours, Anna Hazare turned into the ‘God' and ‘Saviour' of the nation from being the ‘God' and ‘Saviour' of Ralegaon Siddhi, a village of Maharastra where he had worked for years. Interestingly, his campaign against corruption drew support of some of the most famous people who have been alleged in cases concerning to corruption like Lalit Modi and Jaya Lalitha, apart from a number of communal, fascist and racist people and organisations. Of course, a large number of members of the ‘civil society' also joined him. As all of us know, in Swami Agniwesh's words, ‘the movement shook the Government of India'! In a span of only 87 hours, the Government of India issued a notification accepting the demand of Anna and his followers. The media houses screamed, ‘India Wins Again'!

But what about Irom Sharmila,What happened to her movement? Did she and the people of Manipur ‘win like the Indians'? No, it happened like this. On the arrival of Irom Shamila at Jantar Mantar, she was joined by a small number of activists, students and teachers, mostly from Manipur.

Contrary to Anna Hazare's sit in at Jantar Mantar, in less than three days, the Delhi Police swooped down and arrested her in the midnight of 6th October, 2006.

According to reports, more than 100 police personnel arrested her even as Manipuri students and other supporters sang "We shall overcome." The reason of her arrest, as given by a senior police officer at Parliament Street police station was, "Her condition is critical and we have no option but to take her to hospital." After the arrest, she was first shifted to Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital and later AIIMS, where she was kept under heavy security. There, she was not allowed to meet her supporters. Not even media. I distinctly remember, on 26th of November 2006 when I along with my friend Avi Prasad, with whom I studied at Jamia Millia Islamia visited the hospital to meet her and extend our solidarity, we were not allowed citing security reasons. Few months later, Sharmila was sent back to Manipur and she is still on fast. Last year, on 4th November she completed the worlds longest fast and it seems that she would be the first Gandhian, who would complete her fast unto death in the real sense as we hardly see any intention to repeal the draconian law.

It is an established fact that over the years, due to the draconian law, hundreds of ordinary citizens of the so-called disturbed states like Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Kashmir have lost their lives. Extra-judicial killings, illegal detention, rape, torture has become a routine affair for the people-men, women, old and child all alike, of these ‘disturbed areas'. The act has become a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high handedness by the one who is supposed to protect their life, liberty and dignity. And without an iota of doubt, the impacts of the draconian laws like AFSPA, UAPA and PSA are much-much far reaching and disastrous than corruption. 

These are tools of the Indian government, through which it is alienating and pushing towards the wall its ‘own-people'. And government after government, no matter which partyis at the helm of affairs, is not worried about these people, norready to scrap these tools of oppressions. Because, it is not in the ‘agenda' of ordinary Indians, because they love the oppressors, murders and rapists of hundreds of citizens of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Kashmir, because, they Love Indian Army more than people (see picture).

So, the Indian governments can't do anything which takes over riding powers from security agencies to be trigger-happy.

Anyone, who opposes and exposes the brutalities of the Indian Army and other security forces, is not going to get the support of Indians, no matter how great a Gandhian he or she is. In India, to garner support, it is not enough to be a mere Gandhian, but a Gandhian with a difference-a Gandhian, who can sit with the murders of Gandhi, praise the person who was responsible for genocide in the land of the Mahatma, back the racist and fascist mentalities and policies.

‘Unfortunately', Irom Sharmila disqualifies to be such a Gandhian and I am sure she must be proud of being ‘unfortunate'!

Mahtab Alam in Situationsasia. More Here


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