Archive for the 'Points to Ponder' Category

Makings of a Book Club

So, The Tossed Salad Book Club meet in Pune had a roaring start. More than 40 people turned up. Anyone in social networking knows, no matter how many RSVPs, but if even 15 turn up for an esoteric event like this, it is a success.

A large part of credit for the successful meet goes to the presence of Amish Tripathi, the author of the book ‘The Immortals of Meluha’, which we were meeting to discuss.

Sahil Khan, who runs an online lifestyle magazine called ‘The Tossed Salad’ took initiative and talked to a famous bookstore, Landmark for venue. Since group was big, a big venue was required. A list of 6 books covering different genres was drawn and one that won was ‘Immortals of Meluha’. Sahil then surprised us by inviting the author Amish Tripathi as the guest for the book club.

We began the first ever book club meet with just 12 people. I invited introductions of all members and asking what did they expect from the book club. Soon, more people walked in. There was a crowd of people at back who stood up for the entire time of the discussion.

It was an interesting discussion ranging on theories of reincarnation, mythology, Indus valley civilisation, divinity, philosophy. Lot of questions were put up to Amish, some of them ranging from his personal philosophical beliefs, historical references and his own motivation for writing the book way he did. And Amish answered each one of them with meticulous details. One and half hour flied very quickly and I could still see raised hands to ask more questions. I was reluctant to close it but Sahil stepped up. So, I quickly took charge and announced the book for next meet and an invitation to new ones to join the book club.

Continue reading ‘Makings of a Book Club’

The Mumbai Seige: Link Diary

A complilation of all the worthwhile links I came across various blogs (like DesiPundit, Smoke Signals, lallopallo’s), newspapers and other internet portals

taj_6_630

Burning Taj: almost has become image of the year

We have all been complaining about the minute-by-minute media coverage of combat operations that took place during terroist attacks in Mumbai. Musician Vishal of Vishal-Shekhar fame has filed a petition about the same. You can go there on his website to sign the petition to show your support to the cause.

All the landmarks of Mumbai were attcked by 10 terrorists, who were armed to teeth. The timely information on Internet portals was well-publicised. Lede blogs updated everyday-progress in Mumbai attacks. Citizen journalists twittered and blogged away. Vinu’s Flickr page, that displayed first pictures of the Mumbai attacks, is being upheld by every blogger and online media.

Continue reading ‘The Mumbai Seige: Link Diary’

May: Link Diary

May is an eventful month for me. My parents were married on 6th May decades ago. It is my father’s birthday on 8th May. Besides my personal landmarks, month of May had other landmarks too. One of them went unnoticed and other was over-hyped.

Sepoy MutinyMay 10 was anniversary of our first Indian war for independence. Remember Sepoy Mutiny that took place more than a century ago in Meerut. A march from Meerut to Delhi to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Sepoy Mutiny was planned. Plays and exhibition of rare photographs were also planned. But I am not sure if they materialized. Rishabh, from Jai Hind blog (where I too write sometimes), laments about us forgetting such a landmark event in our history. He reminds ominously of George Santayana ‘s quote
“A country without a memory is a country of madmen.” in the comments section.

Here is a Mother’s day post that I stumbled upon while surfing. I thought it to be very insightful and different than a run-of-the-mill Mother’s Day post. It makes a point with faint humor and grace.

We all have heard about rape sometime or other. We all know it is a traumatizing experience. But we can’t fathom how much. A 5-part real-life account of how rape impacts your life has been published by a rape victim surviver, Joanna Connors, who is a reporter with Plain Dealer. I am usually a detached reader to protect myself from feeling too much. Because too emotional things play on my mind and if I can’t help them, they distress me. I read with curiosity, to find out facts and lessons. But despite best efforts, I ended up being very moved. I felt vulnerable. I felt it could be me. oh, believe me, it is not a sob story but a story of a surviver who decided to make peace with the event that scarred her life. She decided to track down her rapist. It is a rare story, read it here at Beyond Rape: A survivor’s Journey.

10 Reasons Why My India is Regressive

Corruption

1. Corruption: India is 83rd on world corruption index as per Transparency Index. Most bureaucrats and politicians in the country are corrupt. There is no honesty in corruption as well. In India, bribing also does not ensure that your work will be done or not. So most entrepreneurs prefer to bribe outside of India to set up an industry. :)

Some days back, Hindustan Times broke a story that most Indians knew in their heart. There was misuse of Red Cross funds meant for Kargil soldiers by IAS officers. We all know how various unscrupulous individuals and groups duped millions of people by asking money in name of Kargil. But the money never reached those for whom it was meant. :(

2. Insensitivity to Environment Hazards: India has not yet woken up to the importance of conserving environment and energy.

  • We still use bulbs in place of CFLs. It is not even apparent what could be other reasons of not using CFL other than cost? Do we get poor quality of CFLs in our country?
  • People who take care of India’s recycling are poorest of the poor – ragpickers. Their effort is largely unrecognized. We should also not have manual scavengers work in such unprotected conditions.
  • Asbestos is banned in US and EU because it is carcinogenic and also an environment hazard. But as per Outlook magazine, current Indian government is considering to revoke 20-year-old ban on asbestos mining. Forget environment, what about all those workers who would suffer from lung cancer, asbestosis, mesothelioma, a painful cancer of chest wall lining. Doesn’t this government care for its people?

Continue reading ’10 Reasons Why My India is Regressive’

7-12-2007: News That Caught My Attention Today

Following three pieces of news caught my attention today:

Female Bartender1. Supreme court allowed Women to work as bartenders: We got rid of one of the archaic laws today. Supreme Court observed that to not to allow women as bartenders was unconstitutional. Of course, it was gender-based bias. The court also emphasised that the hotel or restaurant needs to ensure safe working conditions for female bartenders. Now even a 21-year-old can be bartender. :)

                          Image Source: Sarina Bains/Tufts Daily

2. Lead India Show Live on TV: The eight Lead India finalists I wrote about in a previous post will now fight it out on TV on Star One. The host of the show is Anupam Kher. Watch first episode tomorrow at 8.

3. Global Warming is destroying nature: Several species are dying out (extinct) gue to climate change. 3,000 flying foxes dropped dead. Giant squid migrated north to commercial fishing grounds off California. Butterflies have gone extinct in the Alps. Most plants and animals were affected in Bali. Habitats of polar nears and penguins are melting away. Coral reefs and microscopic plankton that blue whales and other marine mammals eat for food are also dying due to acidic ocean water.

Why I Blog?

Unbeknownest to me, I had chosen settings for my blog that allowed only logged-in wordpress bloggers to comment. It resulted in some people (mostly friends and acquaintances) calling and emailing me their feedback on my individual posts.

Of such harassed people, one of them is a close friend, who after having a long day at work, actively calls me late in the night to tell me, “You bloggers are so selfish. :o You write about issues that can not be resolved. Crying hoarse about bigger issues like reservations that require drastic policy changes is futile. Your own email signature (he is referring to my gmail signature) goes like this “Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win.” Why don’t you follow the same? Why not write about issues that might be actually won with individual efforts?

How does it help to write reviews or opinions about frivolous issues like books, movies and so on?” And so he went on to give me few suggestions about subjects that I should address in my blog. :(

But I thought I should put my side of story here 8) that I never got a chance to explain before.

It is a misconstrued notion that all blog posts need to have a cause, to make a difference or a deep impact. I might write in the tone of an activist about few issues that I feel strongly about, but the truth remains I do not always write a post for the sake of activism. I am a thinking, responsible Indian citizen who has her own personal views on various issues.

But I am also an individual who writes her blog to express and communicate my thoughts on my various interests and hobbies. For me, blogging is a medium of communication and expression. Sometimes, my blog is simply a personal journal that I want to share with world. If I read a great book or watched a movie that deeply impacted me, I would certainly want to tell few like-minded people about it. Why should my need for expression be termed selfish?

As for activism, sometimes it is just not important if the issue was big or small to win. Speaking out is all that matters. A famous poem by Martin Niemöller (1892-1984) explicates it aptly:

First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.

If I do not speak for others, for fear that nothing will happen, no one will come to speak for me so that something can happen.

A Slice of Reservation Pie

My last post about being helpless citizen was about several issues including recent increase in OBC quota. Many who responded to the posts through comments, emails, and phone calls happily ignored rest of the issues (like sex education, religious discrimination at temples, restrictions at workplace) and shared their own opinion on the issue of reservations. Reservation certainly seems to be an issue that struck a firm chord with most of us.

And why would it not be? One of the best colleges of the country, St Stephens reserves 60% seats for various ‘backward’ sections of the society! Sachar Committee submits its report recommending reservations for a ‘minority’ religion. The entire religious community, in turn, marches to Nauchandi Ground of Meerut to strategize how to demand their ‘reservation’ rights! An entire state is victim of bloodshed and brought to standstill because a particular community wanted to be given a backward class status.

Gujjar Protest 1

This forced me to explore this issue in detail.

It seems our politicians are firmest believers to explore the boon of reservations. After 60 years of independence, when we have retained reservations all along, backward classes still remain backward. It would be then safe to conclude that actual benefits and implementation of caste or religion-based reservation policy is debatable.

It is easy to understand why politicians are staunch advocates of these religion and cast-based reservation quota. We, despite being the largest democracy in the world, have not been able to rise about caste and religion-based politics. “Minority appeasement” is a cliché yet predominant element of Indian politics. This is a country where a Supreme Court decision can be revised to appease the sentiments of a particular religion. (Remember Shah bano?)

Our fathers of Constitution did not like the term “minority” and they certainly did not see reservations as solution for so-called “inclusive growth.” The reservation, as observed by them, was to end after 10 years of independence. Visit this blog to read more about it.

Sadly, vote bank-centered politics has not seen a single government that would dare to remove reservations; instead they use this as an election promise. Result: Instead of riding above petty caste-based identities, we strictly hold on to them. More castes and religions want to be called backward classes to gain reservations in educational institutions and jobs. Castes are competing with each other and lobbying with politicians to get the coveted Scheduled Tribe (ST) or Other Backward Classes (OBC) tag. I thought this was the age of ‘India Shining’ with Sensex crossing 15, 000 mark!

If you think I am exaggerating, think again. Week-long gujjar agitation in Rajasthan under Colonel Kirori Singh Bhainsala has already cost not only 30 lives, but also caused a loss of about 12 crores! Gujjars, who already have OBC status were causing a ‘rights movement’ to get the ST status! Why because their arch competitor caste Meenas have ST status thus have an edge over them when it comes to attaining reserved seats in local legislative bodies. It got resolved temporarily after chief minister promised to consider the request.

Loss of Life and Property during Gujjar Protest

I have a hunch they may come back again. The gujjar leader Col Bhainsala admitted that he made a mistake in calling off the agitation on just being granted meeting with the chief minister. You see, it was a slip of the tongue, he explained to Karan Thapar on his show Devil’s Advocate. This time, if these castes clash, it could be harder to contain them.

I have three important points to make:

1. If the fact that only creamy layers have been benefiting from the reservation is evident for years, then why have we not put all the reservations on the hold till we evolve a strategy to extend benefits of the reservations to the actual down-trodden and backward sections of the society? To make sense of my point, I perhaps first need to define what a creamy layer is. Creamy layers are those fortunate generation of backward classes who have already bore the fruits of reservation while securing coveted positions in institutes or learning and later in coveted government positions. Their children again seek to do the same, the benefits of reservation do not extend to other backward sections. Communities classified under Most Backward Castes (MBCs) such as Bhangis, Dhobis and Khatris have remained untouched by reservations.

Read this post about creamy layer to have a better, realistic perspective you can identify with. However, you can get the factual government perspective of creamy layer, actually a bureaucratic term, at the official web site of National Commission of Backward Classes (NCBC).

2. I watched in Karan Thapar’s Devil’s Advocate that our leaders had no idea about the exact population of the backward classes in our country. The government figures about them are contradictory. When we do not know how many people from backward classes we have in our country, how can we decide a percentage of reservation for them?

Read these transcripts of Devil’s Advocate interview with Chidambaram, Arjun Singh, and Kamal Nath where Karan Thapar pointed out irregularities in figures about backward classes as laid out by various government organizations such as NSSO or Mandal Commission. Karan Thapar used these facts with relish to trap his quota-favoring politician interviewees. :)

3. Poverty knows no caste. I read in Outlook, there are several Brahmins who eke out their living doing tasks as cleaning toilets, pulling rickshaws, etc. Read this yet another lopsided yet truthful reality about backwardness of so-called upper classes today. So if we have to have reservations, it should not be caste or religion based rather be on actual economic and social backwardness. Caste-based and religion-reservations do and will fuel casteism and feelings of communalism. I remember reading interviews of random college-going kids after Arjun Singh’s announcement of increased reservations for OBCs. One of them said: “These reservations are forcing me to hate my SC/ST peers.” Her implied hatred in the words has stayed with me ever since.

I, like my fellow citizens, am not against upliftment of backward classes, like Arun Shourie, I believe there are several better constructive ways to see them rise. Read his thoughts here on Devil’s Advocate interview, I wish Karan Thapar gave more opportunity to his interviewees to speak. :) Argument that certain classes or religions have been exploited by some so-called upper classes for centuries is not a justification to deprive the meritorious and enflame ill-bred casteist feelings in the name of development. Ever wonder why in Bengal, they call SC “Shonar Kathi” meaning “golden wand” and ST “Shonar Tukdo” meaning “a piece of gold!”

My parting shot, in a country where we reservations for almost everybody including muslims in southern states, our politicians at helm have never been able to pass the women reservation bill! Gender appeasement is not-so-necessary, you see. Interesting, isn’t it?

We Need A BIG Change—Law Enforcement

I have wanted to write about this ever since I started this “We need a BIG Change” series on my blog. However, I procrastinated writing due to my other responsibilities. But I could not put it off further.

Recently all the news channels were gaga about a lady who had to parade in her underwear on the Mumbai roads to register a complaint against her husband and in-laws. Apparently she had been harassed and sacked from her house by her in-laws for not being able to give birth to a male heir. She had been unsuccessfully trying to register her complaint in the local police thana. Our police, corrupt to the tee, reused to entertain her till she made this desperate attempt to garner support by walking nude on the roads.

We might feel sorry for her and redden with anger. But feeling sorry and wasting our anger is not enough, it is time for us to sit up and act to change this. This is not a stray incident; rather this is a story that has had heightened impact due to desperate measures taken by a woman in distress. Remember Nithari serial killings?

It took Nand Lal, whose complaint disclosed Nithari killings to the world, about five months and a court’s order to register a FIR of his 20-year-old daughter, Payal, who went missing in May 2006. Read Tehelka’s eye-opening account of how Nand Lal got his FIR registered. This does not include those countless poor villagers who had gone to police station to report their missing kids. They were callously told by these police officers that their kids had eloped or ran away from them. How can a city’s police be so corrupt and irresponsible? Could they not decipher the pattern when so many children from the same village went missing? Let alone actively handle the matter, they did not bother to register a FIR until a court’s order forced them to 5 months later!

Almost a year later, what’s the update on Nithari killers? None! It is common knowledge that the police officers were corrupt. Some of them were suspended, after a long CBI probe that hogged the daily headlines, we are still nowhere to punishing the serial killers who committed such heinous crimes.

These are not the only instances when police has refused to act and register a FIR. Few days back, when a drunk call centre employee ran over two kids. I can not forget the tearful father’s words on television, “Mein apno bachchon ko dafna bhi nahin paya, jab tak ki us bande (accused) kijamant bhi ho gayi!” Before he could cremate his children, accused had walked free on bail!

Neither would police register his complaint were it not for the media intervention in wake of current surge in drunken driving incidents. Watch this IBN video to know what this grieved father has got to say about the treatment meted out to him by police.

If you think such a phenomenon of not registering FIRs is confined to rural people or other lower strata of society, you can think again. A Delhi businessman had to first bribe the police to register a Fir for his stolen car. Long ago, when I was still at college I had faced a similar situation without being aware that it was not right.

My mobile phone was stolen, I went to lodge a complaint in the police station. It was all the more necessary to furnish the copy of FIR as I wanted my telephone operator to provide me a new sim card to retain the same number. Little did I know that the police officials would not let me write that my phone was “stolen.” When I argued, they slyly suggested to write my phone was “missing!” As if my phone walked away or disappeared like a genie! I complied, but regretted recently when I saw Samajwadi party’s advertisement. It was then I understood the significance of writing “missing” reports.

Registering “missing” reports instead of FIR for “stolen” goods helps our law enforcement officials to keep crime rate stats low. No wonder Samajwadi party could boast of low crime rate in crime-ridden UP!

Let’s campaign for the rights of the weak! Let’s knock the courts whenever met with unfairness and unlawfulness! Let’s pitch in for the cause of others or some day we might be standing in place of them.

We Need a BIG Change—Religion

I am back after a long break. As promised, this post is about religion. Most Indians are very sensitive about religion. This sensitivity to one’s religion is common considering several religions with radical viewpoints co-exist in our country.

Being of a religion is not as much a problem, as it is to convert your religion. It has often invited trouble, as many innocents would realize hard way.

Conversion of religion is no longer uncommon in India. Attempts to formulate a law to stop the conversions are a common scenario in any Indian state. It happened recently under a ‘secular’ Congress state government of Himachal Pradesh.

Though the reasons for religion conversions can be varied. There are some who do it to garner hype. Remember writer Kamala Das (sadly at this point of time I am unable to remember any of her books and poems, all I remember is some flippant columns written by her for newspapers), she converted to Islam with pomp and show when she acquired a Muslim lover. (Sadly, this lover spurned her later, and Kamala Das was back to denounce Islam. I am not aware of her current religious status.)

Dalits and other so-called ‘lower’ caste citizens who are ill-treated by so-called ‘higher’ caste Hindus convert to Christianity and Islam all the time.

There is a third category as well—young couples whose love transcends the boundaries of religions. It is this third category that sparked off this post.

Anticipating the opposition from their families and societies, these young couples from different religions often elope, convert, and marry. There is not much that they can do there. A Hindu marriage requires the two individuals intending to marry to be Hindus. Nikah happens only between two Muslims. There is a Special Marriages Act for people who marry across religions. But it requires a long bureaucratic process that requires a month’s notice wherein the danger of anyone objecting their marriage can not be ruled out.

Such a love story took the nation by storm this month, courtesy our news media of course. Priyanka and Umer became talk of the nation. It seems Umer, a muslim boy, converted to Hinduism (rechristened to Umesh after conversion) to marry a Sindhi girl in MP. People in their no-so-modern neighborhood were outraged. So much that the local police detained Umer’s brother for inexplicable reasons. It seems Umer’s other brothers have also married Hindu girls who willingly converted to Islam.

RSS, or was it Bajrang Dal created agitations over the issue. They alleged conspiracy and argues why couldn’t Umer’s father accept his son’s conversions and accept his Hindu daughter-in-law when he already has two daughter-in-laws who converted to Islam after wedding. RSS and Bajrang Dal called a band and floated a new organization called Hindu Kanya Suraksha Samiti to protect Hindu girls from being preyed by guys of other religions.

New diktat for women comparable to those in Taliban’s have been announced that prevent them from using mobile phones, wearing scarves (Muslim women wear scarves, you see) or riding two wheelers. Hmm, Hindu culture is being well defended.

One day, it could be you or me. If one day I decide to elope or marry outside my religion, my personal matter (at best, I may call it my family matter) may any day become the talk of the nation, a political issue with vested interests of the bigots.

We Need A BIG Change—Health Care

This is going to be one sad post, as it is about sorry state of affairs in my country.

I was saddened when I first heard of this, I am feeling enraged when I write this. I do not want my post to be litany of complaints, I want to record my thoughts for the benefit of anyone who might care about these issues.

Believe me when I say all of these issues impact our lives. These issues concern every aspect of our citizenship, ranging from health care, religion, education, and law enforcement. I write this because I am aware we tend to give ourselves to a passive awakening, we do not rise unless calamity befalls on ourselves.

Let’s hear them all one by one.

Health care has always been most ignored aspect of life in India. Rural health has always been poor, so much that we have not been able to eradicate diseases like polio despite massive campaigns. Polio has been eradicated even in a third-world country like Somalia. Another killer disease in rural India is diarrhea. It feels strange even while reading this as this disease has a simple treatment—ORS solution. But statistics will tell you how poorly we fare.

However, this was not the reason why I started writing this post. It was the indefinite doctor’s strike at Lok Nayak Hospital in Delhi that depressed me. Patients are being turned away from the hospital. Even the ones who require emergency treatment. Like five kids who got burnt due to cylinder leakage, a Pakistani heart patient, a Muslim woman who had a sever head injury, and innumerable others. They lose critical time while rushing to other hospitals. The lives of all such patients are at risk. God knows, how many may have actually d….

Before we jump to abuse the doctors—we must know their reason of strike. They were manhandled and hurt by the relatives and attendants of the patient who died while receiving treatment. It would also be unjust to blame unruly behavior of the anguished relatives and attendants for the strike. If I were one of those unfortunate who lost their kith and kin due to unavailability of the sufficient medical attention, I do not know what I might do.

And if I were the doctor who was being assaulted at the death of every such patient who died despite my best efforts, I would perhaps not keep such a job for the fear of my safety. One unfortunate day, public rage just might cost my life.

So why do the patients die? Lack of resources, less doctors, brittle needles, broken machines, emergency rooms without the facility of taking X-ray! Patients die while the doctors are attending other patients. Patients need to be transported to different wing for simplest of tests.

I ask, why we have such hospitals in the first place. It is not one such hospital that we have. We always see hordes of patients waiting, both indoor and out door. There is lack of hospital beds. And hospitals as Lok Nayak, they dupe both public and government. They are simply money-making institutions who don’t care a hoot about the health care. Why else a hospital would have such brittle needles that break while it is still in patient’s body! I am aghast.

Who gives permissions to open up such hospitals when they do not have adequate resources? Doesn’t any regulatory body audit the quality of infrastructure deployed?

After all, a billion lives depend on it.

Where do those grants go that finance minister announces each year in the budget? How much is the grant? How is it spent? Does anybody audit the balance sheet? Truthfully, I do not know the answers to these questions myself. But we should find out. Fast. I don’t want any of my near and dear ones to suffer in one of these hospitals.

Perhaps we should take a survey to check general health of all the hospitals of these kind. Only when we have all the facts and evidence, we can take other action such as file a PIL.

But we need to get our act together fast.

It’s quite late in night now. I will write about other aspects later. Next is religion. I will try to make it interesting matter-of-fact, I promise.


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