Category Archives: Musings

Movie ‘Water’

Movie ‘Water’ by Deepa Mehta is being released in India on Feb 23, 2007. I was unaware of this fact because I had seen it in August, 06 at Chicago. This movie’s shooting was stalled in Banaras by Hindu fundamentalists and thus Mehta had to shift her location to Sri Lanka.

I see no reasonas as to why this movie should face wrath from orthodox Hindus! This movie is a grim reminder of the plight of Hindu widows, particularly young widows who have to face isolation and how they have to live a wretched life afterwards. I have great admiration for Hinduism and proud of it, but casteism, untouchability and other taboos are a hinderance to our progress as a society. After seeing Water’ -which depicts the times of 1930s- one feels encouraged that situation has actually improved as far as the fate of Hindu widows is concerned. And there is always a scope for further improvement provided we take critical analysis of the problem.

Building an Ugly India

India is on the move. Meet anyone -more so someone who has returned from India- and ask him/her: “So India is progressing well?” “Oh,yeah! for sure. Wherever you go, you see new roads, bridges being constructed. The face of India is changing and it is changing very fast. New buildings are coming up. And they add: If you want to see a true revolution of mobile telephony, India ia an apt example.”

However, what kind of India is coming up? Confused and zig-zag! What are we building up: cities of slums! Villages are shrinking up and being replaced by messy sub-divisions (tehsils). We have absolutely no control over our civic planning: things are just popping up haphazardly. And lesser we talk about pollution, the better it is! It is not that we cannot plan or envisage: we have brilliant minds in the concerned fields to take care of the things. But who cares! The mafia of builders and greedy politicians will like to put everything on sale to fill their coffers! It is so pathetic to see that Delhi which is so badly congested continues to expand with the help of its satellite towns: Faridabad, Gurgaon, NOIDA, and many more (see a link below about Gurgaon). Such is the expediency that from Presidential house (Rastrapati Bhavan) to needle-manufacturing units and pollution-emitting industrial units: everything seems to be hinging on Delhi or around. Everyting and everyone seems to be rushing towards Delhi! The situation of Mumbai and Kolkatta seems to be more horrific!

In this brilliant article “Building an Ugly India”, Gautam Bhatia- who is an architect- speaks out his inner pain the way we continue to build an ugly India.
Click on the link to read this article. Solution: He concludes by asking:”Or is it too late?”
http://www.india-seminar.com/2001/501/501%20gautam%20bhatia.htm

Link about Gurgaon: A concerned citizen writes in The Tribune (Feb, 07):

Pangs of growth

Gurgaon town is growing by leaps and bounds. Presently, it consists of 56 sectors. The Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) has planned 51 additional sectors by 2021 in the Master Plan touching IMT Manesar.

Then comes the realm of Special Economic Zones — 600 acres by Orient Craft, 10,000 acres by HSIDC, 25,000 acres by Reliance Industries Limited, 20,000 acres by DLF and 5,000 acres by Raheza Group. Many more players may join the bandwagon by 2021. HUDA is also planning the expansion of Dharuhera complex from the other end. By 2021, Gurgaon town would become a monstrous city of 400 sectors!

With the existing drainage system, Gurgaon cannot bear even a single 50 mm rainfall of two hours. Environmental and ecological problems will further compound the sustainable issues. Will the Haryana government and NCR authorities realise the gravity of the situation and apply a mid-course correction expeditiously?

RAM NIWAS MALIK, Engineer-in-Chief (retd),Panckhula

A NRI asks Railways to improve!

A USA based NRI- Dr Themplangad- has filed a writ petition against Indians Railways to improve practices of human excreta disposal as the current practices of disposing excreta in the open is not healthy and environmental friendly. Good job! We actually need many more such actions to improve civic amenities back home. Here is the link to this article published online on rediff.com on Januuary 28, 2007.
http://www.rediff.com/news/2007/jan/28rail.htm

Politically Incorrect


Atanu Dey (http://www.deeshaa.org/) has written this beautiful critique on Indian voters. Whereas we Indians typically like to bask in the glory of our past, this is a slightly different prespective. He makes a valid point, though I think the helplessness of Indian voter is partly due to the lack of reforms in our electoral process.

I am never quite sure why people insist that the Indian democracy is so great. To me it appears to be the greatest curse imposed on India from up on high. It is totally politically (sic) incorrect to take this view, of course. But I don’t apologize for believing so and I am convinced that the Indian voter is corrupt.
Rajesh Jain’s blog has an
item on lessons from India’s elections which got me thinking. The claim made by Shekhar Gupta of the Indian Express is that India’s voter has become smart.
Compared to whom? I ask. Compared to Shekhar Gupta?
I guess so since Shekhar Gupta claims that the Indian voter has become smart. For I don’t see any reason to believe that the Indian voter has changed in any substantial way. The Indian voter continues to be a narrow-minded, ignorant, casteist, bigoted, vacuous idiot it has always been.
Here is my reasoning.
Exhibit A: I look at the politicians of this country. To a first approximation, they are ignorant, bigoted, casteist, vacuous idiotic criminals. These bunch of unspeakable criminals (where I use the word in its literal sense) are consistently voted into power by the Indian voter.
Fact B: A population of wise, informed, well-meaning, broad-minded, intelligent voters cannot continue to vote a bunch of corrupt ignorant bigots as their political leaders.
Major Premise C: Voters reveal their character by expressing their preferences at the polls.
Minor Premise D: Leaders are endogenous to the group, that is, they emerge from within the group and so reflect the dominant traits of the group. Mr Gupta writes that the voter is not swayed by charisma. Well, how would we know? We need charismatic people first and then if the voter is unmoved, we can say that it is true.
We do know that the Indian voter is swayed by “big names”, though. Why else would they trot out an uneducated chap (Rahul Gandhi) as the Congress mascot unless they were confident that the Indian voter will be swayed?
What else explains the tenacity with which the entire Nehru-Gandhi clan is totally into getting into the highest political positions? By their indomitable courage? No. Their astonishing brilliance in academics? None are really even educated. Their thorough understanding of the problems of development? Never done an honest day’s work. Their undying dedication to the hard task of nation building? Shirley, you jest. Their selfless sacrifice demonstrated by their social work? Not a bloody chance in hell.
What then explains the astonishing idiocy of the Indian voter to continue to vote the Nehru-Gandhi clan to power?
Let’s face the facts. I would have loved to report that we are a great democracy. We are not. If we were, we would not be facing the prospect of having an Italian aupair as the prime minister of a country of 1000 000 000 people. She says that she is loyal to her adopted country (never mind that she did not apply for Indian citizen for over a decade). Well, I would ask her whether she has any loyalty to the country that she was born in. No? If a person has no loyalty towards the land of one’s birth, I would not pay a tinker’s damn to any other oath of loyalty that the person takes. If you change your allegiance once, it is all too easy to do it once again. Indians who don’t understand that simple concept are idiots and I don’t care how accomplished they may be in their respective fields. If an Indian says that Sonia’s origin is not an issue for the prime minister’s seat, I would say that Indian is a moron.
I have met only a handful of politicians personally. I have known some of them well and all of them—every one of them to the last person—has accumulated vast sums of money through bribery and corruption. It is a random sample. I have no doubt that the vast majority of Indian politicians are corrupt. Politicians are endogenous to the population. They are random samples drawn from the underlying population. In other words, the sample characteristics give an indication of the population characteristics. The corruption of the politicians is the single most damning evidence that the voters are corrupt.
That is the law.

Where do we stand

Where do we stand in the contemporary world !

In year 2006: India ranks very low at 126 in HDI (Human Development Index) as released by the UNO.
Poverty Index is another way of looking at the things and surely we have no respectable scoring here too as we have lop-sided development in our stride so far.

Wikipedia provides the following info about these indices:

1] The Human Poverty Index is an indication of the standard of living in a country, developed by the United Nations (UN). The UN considers this a better indicator than the Human Development Index, which in turn is considered a better indicator than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

2] The Human Development Index (HDI) is a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education, and standard of living for countries worldwide. It is a standard means of measuring well-being, especially child welfare. It is used to determine and indicate whether a country is a developed, developing, or underdeveloped country and also to measure the impact of economic policies on quality of life.[1] The index was developed in 1990 by Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq and has been used since 1993 by the United Nations Development Programme in its annual Human Development Report.

Illegal immigrants

I thought issues are politicized only in India, not in USA! The way the issue of il-legal immigrants is being handled with a vote in mind just reflects that vote bank politics can lure anyone!

The people and groups who are advocating to be soft towards il-legal immigrants and that a humane approach be taken towards them often say that these il-legal immigrants are doing the jobs that no one else will do and that they are contributing so much to the economy of USA. But that is not the issue. You cannot compare burglars with home-guests! And americans (or legal immigrants for that matter) will take up the jobs when there is no one else to do them. Why not! When there are no one to do a particular job, will not it be offered at a higher wages and will it not attract workers! I mean free market will balance the things.

The way the federal government is acting as a rolly-polly umpire towards il-legal immigrants, that is a certainly disheartening to right-thinking people who want to abide by rules to attain a respectful immigrant status in this country! The way an illegal mother (of a child who was born here in USA and thus became citizen) has taken shelter in a church in chicago and has ‘refused’ to leave and certain groups of people are supporting her for ethnic interests just reflects politics of populism and nothing else.

Minoritism


I have always considered that 3 malaises need to be fixed if we were to ‘liberate’ India. The very good thing is that we are a democracy and have over last 59 years of our electoral history has demonstrtated again and again that people’s will cannot be turned down. We have a documented history of tolerance and pluralism.

1. Electoral reforms to make democracy more accountable and ’empower’ people as we have seen that the current electoral mechanisms have actually resulted in the fiefdom of crminlas and goons and the common man has no say.
2. Corruption has to be weeded out. In this regard, the shackles of governmnet control on many things must be liberalized.
3. Even though we are a secular country ,religion has been a constant shadow in our polity. This must go. For a secular country, religion has no official place and is for personal use. You cannot divide people of a secular state into minorities and majorities and accord special rights based on religion. Uniform civil code should be implemented asap and will go a long way in ensuring a secular, equitable and just society. The National Minority Commission must go.
Gandhiji also said: ” We must get rid of the miasma of majority and minority”.

Similarly, reservation must be phased out with an aletrnative mechanism being brought into place (identify people on the basis of economic status and provide them the opportunities for education and growth). In a secular country, where is the place for identifying people as Dalits and non-dalits? Why political parties create minorities cells in their organizations (including BJP which claims its inspiration for RSS- the parent organization which refuses to identify Hindus along caste base!)!

Given below is a book review by MV Kamath. A must read for everyone.

“Insight into Minoritism” written by By Muzaffer Hussain

In almost all countries in the world, a certain segment -ethnic, religious, linguistic or ideological would be in the majority and some others would be in a minority. That is inevitable. A multi-cultural nation like the United States has its majority and minorities as well, but one seldom talks about them. The biggest minority would be the Blacks, but whoever would think of providing reservation for them in the Senate or Congress or in government service?
Indeed in older textbooks on political science there would hardly be any reference to majoritarianism and minoritarianism. These are recently-coined words. But India is different. Here we constantly talk of minorities as if they are a plague and we even have a Minority Commission! It is a carry over from British colonialism. Nobody in India talked of a majority or a minority in the days of Tipu Sultan or during hayed of Mogul rule. Hindus were even then in a majority but they were often treated as if they were non-existent. Hindus were made aware of their majority status during the time of the British, as were Muslims of their minority place in society.
That may have been a display – and a distorted one at that – of British sense of Justice, but the consequences were severe, resulting, for one thing, in partition of the country. Reference has been made to this in Muzaffer Hussain’s well-argued book Insight into Minoritism, which goes into the subject in different contexts and in some detail. Minorities have been dealt with very poorly in Pakistan and Bangladesh, India’s immediate neighbours. Hussain draws pointed attention to that.
Says Hussain: “There is a sizeable population of Hindus in the Gulf countries but those countries are not ready to give any facility to them in the name of minority or Human Rights. The Hindus are not allowed there to cremate their kith and kin as per their belief. They can’t construct places for worship nor can they celebrate their festivals at public places. During the Ramzan, non-Muslims can’t eat anything at daytime in public places. The Muslims expect to get everything as minorities in the countries of Hindus, Buddhists and Christians but in Islamic countries the minorities don’t have such privilege..”
We have to blame history for that. In India, minorities like Jews, Parsis and Christians have full freedom. No Christian missionary dare try in an Islamic country, but in India every citizen, especially if he is a tribal or one from the lower caste, is fair game to Christian missionaries. In India propagation of religion is not a crime. The freedom given is often interpreted to mean that one can resort to conversion, which is frequently resorted to in tribal areas. It started under the British when missionaries flooded the northeast and converted large number of tribals to Christianity. Unconsciously this has caused problems for free India.
Hussain damns minoritism as a “menace” which it has indeed become. Hussain maintains that Christians and Muslims in India can’t be dubbed as minorities because they are very much Indian. As he puts it: When all are born and brought up in the Indian context, the question of ‘alien’ and ‘indigenous’ people don’t arise”. Hussain’s argument is that all over the world, a minority status is granted only to those classes, which have migrated from abroad. So he says: “Hence it is not proper to designate Muslims and Christians (of India) as aliens since they, too are very much Indian”.
All are one in this country where there is one citizenship for all and everyone is a part of this nation. The word ‘minority’ Hussain asserts, weakens the unity of the country and draws a dividing line between individuals”. How right he is. Hussain is critical of Muslims in India who, he says, haven’t accepted democracy. Inevitably the Islamic world has been gripped by fanaticism and narrow thinking. The point indeed was well made by Justice Chandrashekhar Dharmadhikari in his preface. Writes Mr Dharmadhikari: “India as a nation has suffered continuous tussles between the religious and orthodox religious fanaticism even after the creation of Pakistan. How many Muslim mohallas or Madarassas hoist the national flag and sing the national anthem collectively on the occasion of Independence Day!”
How many indeed. The former Justice adds: “To accept special rights for any community along with the provisions of equal human rights are mutually contradictory principles. This creates a controversy and the majority class begins to feel unprotected and adopts a defensive mechanism”. Hussain in his treatise goes into this subject in a special and separate chapter entitled “How to tackle minoritism”, He notes that there are three distinct approaches in handling minoritism”. In the Arab world minorities like Christians and Hindus have no political or religious rights. The second category belongs to western countries where religion is recognized but the country comes first. Religion has no role in framing laws and rule. National interest alone is taken into account. In the US, 18 per cent of the people are blacks but they are not given any minority status. Britain and France solved the problem by enforcing a uniform civil code. What should India do in the circumstances?
Hussain has his answer ready. He says: A uniform civil code is the only answer.” He points out that the Fundamental Rights as enumerated in the Constitution ensure religious freedom for all. As Hussain sees it, minorities will continue to exist in one from or another anywhere in the world. That is only but natural. The term ‘Minority’ Hussain concedes, is not in itself bad, but problems arise when it is used by vested interests, As he sees it, minoritism is a ‘deception’ practiced on human civilization of which one should be aware of. And majority communalism is a myth.
In a democracy, Hussain insists, it is essential to respect the opinion of the majority in day-today life. There haven’t been many treatises on this subject and Muzaffer Hussain’s attempt, almost the first of its kind, is highly praiseworthy. He has no hesitation in asking inconvenient questions. For example he asks: “How can Muslims who form between 15 to 20 per cent of India’s population consider themselves a minority?” Not many have dared to raise this question. Hussain has. All praise to him. This is a book that our policy-makers and politicians would do well to read. It may not necessarily have all the right answers, but it certainly raises all the right questions. And isn’t that what a good study should be all about?

Book review by M. V. Kamath, Free Press Journal,155pp, Delhi: India First Foundation, Price Rs.250

Maladies of my country


India is a democracy. It has an amazing diversity and a pluralistic society. It has a proven record of tolerance and has a system of human rights in place. People of all faiths live here (interestingly, even jews have lived in India though in a very insignificant number and Indian jews are the only jews who have not faced anti-semitism from Indians). As noble laureate Amartya Sen has pointed out in his book ‘The Argementative Indian’ (published 2005) that Indians have traditionally been democratic in their mind-set and democracy should not necessarily been seen as a heritage from British rule. He justifies this by saying that all the erstwhile British colonies are not democracies or successful democracies.

In a recent book, Modern India – the Origins of an Asian Democracy (1994), Judith M Brown, Professor of Commonwealth History at the University of Oxford writes: “India’s ability to sustain democratic forms of government and policies through the second half of this century is in sharp contrast to the experience of her Asian neighbours, and of most former colonies in Africa. There have been no military bids for power, and even Mrs Gandhi’s months of “Emergency Rule” (which many thought perilously close to dictatorship) were ended by the electors’ verdict in 1977. Despite phases of acute domestic strain and violence, the assassination of two Prime Ministers, and a number of armed conflicts with neighbours, she has also remained a stable, independent regional power. It is no wonder that India’s democratic experience has fascinated historians and political scientists”.

Now economically India is on the march! It is being described as a sleeping asian elephant which is waking upto its full potential. Everyone seems to be gung-ho about India, particularly when you see this discussion in foreign press. Here in US, as per Time magazine, when we talk of India, people think of doctors ,IT professioanls and as a potentail threat that some one will come and take away your job. “It deserves the new notice it has got in the U.S. We’re all about to discover: this elephant can dance.” , says Time. Talking of Indian media abroad, they proudly display the rising strength of NRIs and escalating property prices of Indian cities. India is on the rise, is the mantra being fed everywhere.

I donot necessarily disagree! I am proud of all this. Our former Prime Minister -Mr AB Vajpayee- said sometime in 2004- 5 that India will be a developed country by 2020. I have a great liking for this person, but this statement made me smile! What a political rhetoric! Let me say at the begining that we are marching ahead but our development has been very lop-sided.

Despite all this ‘feel-good’ environment, there are critical issues which need to be tackled if we are to progress as a nation:

We have solid foundation of democracy on papers. But today politics has become synonymous with corruption and criminals. Why am I complaining! I vote (ed) for them. Right! More than that, we need teeth in the democracy so that I can also be a partner in the system. We need reforms in our electoral process so that criminals cannot contest, we need the right to recall and many more things. This alone can salvage our democracy.

The bigger cities are have actualy aquired the shape of slum-cities. We boast of our cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkatta and Chennai: but the aspects like pollution, shanty -houses, noise, poor quality of life there does not bother us. The fact that the property prices there have shot up makes us ‘feel good’! What a poor way of looking at the things!
Why bigger cities continue to grow. Why the fruit of development are not reaching the villages! So much is the difference that you move away hardly 100 KM from the capital of India (delhi) and you feel as if you have come to a totally different world: lack of basic facilities. Is this what we envision about India?

The government instead of running hotels and petrol pumps(thankfully, govt is leaving hold of these things), it needs to provide basic educationa and health, social security and infrastructure to its citizens. Let there be no misgivings about this! Basic education and basic health is a still a dream to many and these ‘untouched people’ are our own people and this segment will hinder us from aquiring the status of a developed nation (the tag which we are so eager to aquire).

Thus the issue is not that of democracy. It is the quality of democracy. It is the question of governance. It is the quality of governance that matters. And we must strive to sharpen that.

Bans


The movie “The Da Vinci Code” (by Ron Howard ,released 2006) based upon the life ( or more appropriately one particular aspect) of Jesus Christ generated much controversy. This we all know well. What surprises me is that this movie is being shown in the libraries also (at least New York where I live). That is cool! I am surely impressed. As the tempers rose, the protests were carried out against this movie all over the world, notably in India also.

Deepa Mehta’s movie “water” (based upon the plight of Hindu widows in India) also met similar kinds of protests. I saw the movie in a Chicago downtown theatre and liked it (we were only 2 persons watching that particular late night show: me and my wife!!). It is fortunate that lesser number of widows have to face similar level of struggle and wrath from the society now. Things are changing and must change.

This reminds me India was the first ever country in the world to ban Salman Rushdie’s book (The Satanic Verses). So meek as we are or is it just a vote bank politics! For the records, we are also a secular state and freedom of expression is highly valued and as they say it is well -trenched in our way of life! The book is still banned in India though!

MLK Birtday


January 15 was Martin Luther King’s (MLK) Day and it was a public holiday here in the US. MLK would have turned 78 this year (2007).
His wife-Coretta Scott King – died last year (notably she was awarded Gandhi Peace Prize in 2004. This prize is instituted by India).
I am always fascinated by MLK and the cause he espoused during his short life time. His achievemnets become very important because of his application of the principle of non-violence. He replicated what Gandhiji did initially in South Africa and later in India. MLK fought for the rights of African -Americans and struggled to lessen the racial discrimination. From the media it is clear that race is still an important factor in this country. As Dr Richard J David- the Neonatologist in Chicago- who is always pro-active on issues related to the equal rights often says: race may not be biologically valid, but as a social concept it still persisits.