Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Gandhi, Bush and The Bomb

U.S. President George W. Bush travels to India next week, he will lay a wreath in honor of Mohandas Gandhi ... an article on Countercurrents: Gandhi, Bush, And The Bomb
If the President were to give any weight to Gandhi's ideas, international treaty obligations, or U.S. law, he would not be working to provide India with the same nuclear-capable technology that he so vigorously condemns in Iran-a country, by the way, that has signed the NPT, has undergone inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and has not conducted any nuclear weapons tests. There are other reasons to oppose this deal, as well. Although India's relations with Pakistan are relatively stable at the moment, they might well be very adversely affected by any perception that the Indian government was racing ahead with a buildup of its nuclear arsenal. Furthermore, Pakistan might demand the same nuclear assistance as India. Indeed, if India can simply ignore the NPT and, then, receive nuclear technology from the United States, why should other countries observe its provisions? The Iranians, certainly, will make this point.

Gandhi, it should be noted, was not only a keen supporter of substituting nonviolent resistance for war, but a sharp critic of the Bomb. In 1946, he remarked: "I regard the employment of the atom bomb for the wholesale destruction of men, women, and children as the most diabolical use of science." When he first learned of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Gandhi recalled, he said to himself: "Unless now the world adopts non-violence, it will spell certain suicide." In 1947, Gandhi argued that "he who invented the atom bomb has committed the gravest sin in the world of science," concluding once more: "The only weapon that can save the world is non-violence." The Bomb, he said, "will not be destroyed by counter-bombs." Indeed, "hatred can be overcome only by love."

Monday, February 27, 2006

vroom vroom ...

From the Economic and Political Weekly, a report on the number of private and public vehicles in major Indian cities: City Transport in India, by Siddhartha Mitra.

The vehicle counts reported are from the years 1985 and 2002. Bangalore, Chennai and Pune have shown an explosion in private ownership of vehicles, with ratios of over 150, compared to a ratio of around 60-65 in 1985. These three cities have seen a large increase in urban work force in the field of IT over the last decade and probably in the areas of manufacturing, services and commerce as well. But as is evident from the numbers the public transport has not kept up pace with the increasing population and the transportation requirements. Also, with more money to spend or borrow (credit cards/ready finance from banks), buying private vehicles in cities is not as difficult or a big deal anymore. In Pune (where I come from) a buying a two-wheeler was a significant investment a decade ago for the middle class, but today people from the same strata owning 2-3 two wheelers or a car is a common phenomenon. Bombay, Delhi and Kolkata, with better public transport than the above 3 cities (am not sure about Delhi) have ratios below 100, with Bombay showing the greatest change and Delhi and Kolkata the least change overall.

Putting this in perspective concerning the issues of: pollution, gas/petrol prices, traffic congestion and travel times, do we really need all these vehicles? Isn't there a better way to travel/transport (by using more public transport)? and how many us have thought of this/or will think of it before buying a vehicle? Agreed, there are several problems related to public transport today, but shouldn't the change come from an individual level also---where one wants to use public modes of transport and also participates in whatever manner she/he can (awareness programs, political activism, participation in policy matters ...). With India fast becoming a manufacturing hub for vehicles and companies being welcomed by the government, which direction are our vehicles and we headed?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Best Bakery---Best Justice ?

An article of Rediff with a good take on the Best Bakery case: Is Zahira a victim or accused?
Well, is there not something very wrong with the legal system for this to happen? The case is not about whether Zahira Sheikh lied or did not lie, and trying to decipher when she lied and when she did not. It is not about whether Teesta Setalvad coerced her or did not, nor about whether Narendra Modi bribed her or did not, it's about justice for the dead. Somewhere, we seem to have forgotten that the state of Gujarat did not do justice to the several people who died following the burning of the Sabarmati Express. The delays are enough to make anyone buy peace. The promise of an uncertain conviction makes many think twice about going to court. The ability of those in positions of power to manipulate the system is now legendary. Whether anyone was convicted or not, the legal system was already convicted and found wanting in doing its primary function -- delivering justice.
All the factors leading to the first acquittal were predictable, yet nothing was done to prevent them from happening. It is all very well for the Supreme Court to say that the chief minister behaved like Nero and looked the other way. What did the high court do, I wonder which direction his court was facing. And petitions filed by the National Human Rights Commission in the Supreme Court in 2002 asking for witness protection, reinvestigation and speedy trial, lie in cold storage to this day. Meanwhile, 2,000 cases are closed as being unworthy of further investigation. After a Supreme Court calling for a review of the closed cases, a review committee has called for a reopening of 1,594 cases! What a damning admission that the police and 1,594 magistrates did not do their jobs and unquestioningly accepted the closure reports. What we have here is not one Zahira Sheikh to think about, not one sessions court judge to give the first acquittal, not one high court judge who dismissed the appeal, but a failure of epidemic proportions.

Born Into Brothels

Born into Brothels, a documentary by Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski looks at the lives of kids in the Sonagchi, a red light area of Calcutta. Zana taught kids to use the camera and has tried to weave a story of their lives using the pictures they took. The documentary also presents here efforts to get 8 kids to a boarding school and concludes with only 3 able to make it. The documentary won the Oscar in 2004 in the best documentary category.

Here is a link to some photographs by the kids: Kids with Cameras

Here is another viewpoint on the movie by Svati Shah: Born Into Saving Brothel Children
Don't quite agree with her take on the film, but if you have watched it, would like to hear your thoughts on it. If not, a documentary worth watching.

India's Nuclear Bomb - Long in the Making

A brief history of the Indian nuclear weapons program: India's Nuclear Bomb - Long in the Making

Friday, February 24, 2006

Weapons of Mass Deception

A link to Danny Schechter's film, WMD (Weapons of Mass Deception): wmdthefilm

There were two wars going on in Iraq - one was fought with armies of soldiers, bombs and a fearsome military force. The other was fought alongside it with cameras, satellites, armies of journalists and propaganda techniques. One war was rationalized as an effort to find and disarm WMDs - Weapons of Mass Destruction; the other was carried out by even more powerful WMDs, Weapons of Mass Deception.

Link to a segment on Democracy Now! featuring Danny Schechter.

Danny Schechter, Executive Director and co-founder of Mediachannel.org. He is director of the documentary "Weapons of Mass Deception" and author of many books including "When News Lies: Media Complicity and the Iraq War."

From Paris with Love

An article on Rediff on Dominique Lapierre and his contribution to the people of the Sundarbans, A Journey to Dominic Dada's Sunderbans.

A few of his books:
  • It Was Five Past Midnight in Bhopal
  • City of Joy
  • Is Paris Burning?
  • Freedam At Midnight
  • O Jerusalem
  • A Thousand Suns
  • Thursday, February 23, 2006

    India and the Bomb

    An essay by Amartya Sen after the May 1998 nuclear tests conducted by India and soon followed by tests by Pakistan, INDIA AND THE BOMB
    As Praful Bidwai and Achin Vanaik put it in their well-researche d and well-argued book, "The most ardent advocates of nuclear weapons have constantly sought to invest these weapons with a religious-like authority and importance - to emphasise the awe and wonder rather than the revulsion and horror - to give them an a ccepted and respectable place in the mass popular culture of our times."

    As far as India is concerned, the two policies - of nuclear abstinence and demanding a change of world order - can be pursued simultaneously. Nuclear restraint strengthens rather than weakens India's voice. To demand that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treat y be redefined to include a dated programme of denuclearisation may well be among the discussable alternatives. But making nuclear bombs, not to mention deploying them, and spending scarce resource on missiles and what is euphemistically called "delivery ", can hardly be seen as sensible policy. The claim that subcontinental nuclearisation would somehow help to bring about world nuclear disarmament is a wild dream that can only precede a nightmare.

    Also, the encouragement of across-border terrorism, which India accuses Pakistan of, is likely to be dampened rather than encouraged by Pakistan's economic prosperity and civili an politics. It is particularly important in this context to point to the dangerousness of the argument, often heard in India, that the burden of public expenditure would be more unbearable for Pakistan, given its smaller size and relatively stagnant eco nomy, than it is for India. This may well be the case, but the penalty that can visit India from an impoverished and desperate Pakistan in the present situation of increased insecurity is hard to contemplate. Enhancement of Pakistan's stability and well- being has prudential importance for India, in addition to its obvious ethical significance.

    Wednesday, February 22, 2006

    Reflections of an economist

    A September 2001 interview of Amartya Sen by David Barsamian. Sen talks about several issues including his personal life, Tagore, Gandhi, Benhal famine, Indian Nuclearization, deomcarcy, literacy, globalization etc.

    Interview with Amartya Sen, for Alternative Radio, USA - India Together

    a few snipets on the nuclear issue:
    I thought this was a disastrous development. India of course had exploded a nuclear device in 1974. That was a regrettable event. The Indian government didn't admit that this was actually a nuclear bomb, but said that they would not manufacture nuclear bombs. To some extent, there was some consolation in that because it did seem that after having established its capability to do so, India wasn't keen on taking it further. But all that was changed by 1998, when the new government came into office.

    In effect, the tests contributed very little to India's well-being. It made the entire subcontinent less safe. It was predictable that Pakistan would retaliate. Everybody knew that Pakistan had the capability to produce the bomb. It doesn't matter that its capability is much less than that of India because with a nuclear holocaust you get hundreds of millions dying anyway. It made the situation much less stable. The argument that that would prevent conventional war, which is a kind of quick wisdom from the Cold War days between the Soviet Unionand the U.S., was often aired in India. That was given a lie by the Kargil confrontation that occurred in the summer of 1999 which indicated that it didn't have that effect at all. If anything, just the opposite.

    As far as taking India more seriously is concerned, I think there's deep confusion in Delhi about the effect. It's true India is taken somewhat more seriously now. But that's much more to do with economic development, with the fact that in information technology India is a relatively big player. There is a big presence of India in America and in Europe. India is the second-largest producer of computer software in the world. And India is a big economy which is moving in a way Pakistan's economy has not been. So because of these factors we would have expected greater recognition of the presence of India in the world among the bigger powers. To attribute that recognition to the nuclear bomb is a great mistake. Nuclear bomb is something that India and Pakistan have in common. If that had made the crucial difference, then Pakistan would have exactly thesame greater recognition as India has. But it hasn't. The reason is that what differentiates India from Pakistan is a more solvent and dynamic economy and a functioning democracy.

    Religion over Law

    As if Muslim Personal Law Board's issuing edicts was not enough, we now have Hindu Personal Law Boards (don't know what that means though and what/whom it represents) which announced a cash reward of Rs 51 crores to eliminate M. F. Hussain, the French film maker desecrating Lord Shiva and companies printing pictures of Ram and Krishna on tissue paper.

    The IE article: Hindu group offers Rs 51 cr for Hussain's head

    While the question of hurting religious sentiments is very tricky and needs to be addressed to avoid it being exploited for communal purposes among many other things, I don't think any religion prescribes death threats and violence as a reaction.

    Also, are these Personal Law Board's above the law of the land? and if not, why aren't these activities followed up by the police? I am sure if I start issuing death threats, I will soon have to pay a visit to the police station ... will similar action be taken in such cases?

    Diane Wilson Freed

    Diane Wilson was freed on Feb. 18th after 75 days in jail.
    Here is a news report on that: Diane Wilson Freed : Houston Indymedia

    Found very few "mainstream" news sites that even reported this or for that matter her arrest sometime back.

    Here is the banner that she unfurled at a dinner (which was attended by Dick Cheney and Tom Delay) where she was arrested.

    Tuesday, February 21, 2006

    Right to Information

    Documentary on the use of Maharashtra Right to Information by the empowered citizenry to enforce transparency and accountability in the governance of Maharashtra.
    Link to the documentary.

    The India RTI blog: http://indiarti.blogspot.com/, with several links, posts and videos.

    Monday, February 20, 2006

    Female foeticide and Punjab

    A report on Outlook on the problem of gender ratio and female foeticide in Punjab.
         Death Becomes Her
    Punjab has the worst sex ratio in the country. Female foeticide is at an alarming high. The worst culprits are the affluent.

    Saturday, February 18, 2006

    Tales of Clemenceau

    Chirac orders Clemenceau back home, after France's highest court calls upon the Government to recall the asbestos-laden ship.

    Greenpeace hails recall of Clemenceau and asks Alang ship-breaking industry to upgrade to international standards.

    The French are not all happy about it obviously. French press comes down on President.
    "The entire misadventure has cost us far more than if the asbestos removal and decontamination had been done in France.

    And while, the France's highest court ruled Clemenceau back, the Indian Supreme court put a gag order on demonstrations and publishing on this matter: Court gag on ship opinion fuels debate
    ... and we claim freedom of speech in India, right?

    Creative solutions, sarkari style

    Sainath reports on the various measures used by government officials to deal with the Vidarbha situation.
    Creative solutions, sarkari style
    The many ways in which officials in a region gripped by crisis try to deal with it can be intriguing. Even entertaining. From advising farmers to plant crops in line with zodiac signs to suggesting they bear arms against moneylenders — it's all happening in Vidharbha.
    A more well meaning effort was the despatch in 2004 of teams to `counsel' the distressed farmers. Not with bhajan-kirtans but with advice from psychologists, doctors and revenue officials. In one village, after a long discussion with such a team, a farmer asked them: "You've given us great advice on so many things. On combating stress, curbing our drinking and so on. And you've asked us so many probing questions, too. Now ask us one more. Ask us why farmers, who produce the nation's food, are themselves starving."

    Friday, February 17, 2006

    Agri Research Privatized ... who will benefit?

    Grist for the US mills
    But will 'rapid commercialisation' benefit the Indian farmer? It can, if there are appropriate policies and safeguards to protect poor farmers from trade-related shocks and other vagaries of commercialisation. But the country does not afford its farmers much security against the whims of the market. Lest we forget, not too far back, the BT cotton fiasco drove farmers to suicide in Andhra Pradesh and Vidarbha: there was no insurance umbrella to cover these agriculturists from financial loss.

    The treaty has other perils. It threatens to expose the country's bio wealth to the machinations of US-based corporates and research institutes. Agro-interests in the US have had designs on the country's bio-resources for quite some time now. In 1995, the medicine centre of the University of Michigan even managed to secure a US patent on certain therapeutic uses of turmeric. And then in 1997, a private agricultural company in the US patented basmati rice as 'texmati'. Such biopiracy happened clandestinely. But now it can take place with official sanction. The MoU to open up our agricultural research institutes to private players from the US will ensure exactly that.

    End of a wedding-dream

    India Together: End of a wedding-dream
    Varada Hardikar reports on the effects of suicides on their families in Vidarbha and story of Ganga, who is courageously trying to fight the situation.

    Ganga and her family may work hard but how can she succeed when the thing called 'The Market' and its working is beyond her control? Things were taken out of her hands since the time a clutch of nations decided that the developing world needed 'liberalisation.' So when India and countries like her started progressively toeing the lines of World Trade Organisation and the World Bank, Ganga and her father were put on a road to doom, according to farmers' leader and agriculture analyst Vijay Jawandhia.

    Import duty on cotton was reduced to a mere 10% - and may be reduced further, says Jawandhia. Simultaneously output prices for cotton farmers, like Ganga's father, went down sharply. Unfortunately that was just a part of the story.
    The opening of the economy in 1991 also scripted the end of traditional farming methods. The life-sciences multinational Monsanto (through subsididary Mahyco-Monsanto) and a number of Indian seed companies (who have licensed Bt technology from the former) have been selling Bt cotton seeds with the approval of the government. Cotton growers in Vidarbha were encouraged to take up the genetically modified seeds. The seeds were costly to say the least (Rs. 1700-2200 for 400 gram packets as compared to Rs. 50 to Rs. 400 for traditional varieties). As noted earlier, in the 2005-6 season, they failed in Vidarbha on all fronts -- high yield, better quality and savings from lower applications of pesticides.

    The Kala Ghoda Gazette

    The official blog of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival is here.
    Several interesting accounts, photographs and posts.

    Here is one picture (by zigzackly): "Barefoot street kids eating leftover food from the stalls, and more affluent kids, with sports shoes and digicams, all enthralled by the puppets."

    Cotton and Free Market!

    Sainath reports on the effect of State support, withdrawl and "free market" policies on the cotton farmers of Vidarbha, already facing a torrid time.
    I wonder if anyone in the state assembly is taking notice? and doing anything about it, other than announcing the Rs. 1075 crore relief package, which accoring to a statement from Kishore Tiwari (Jan Andolan Samiti) quoted in Sainath's previous report, has not reached/benefitted the farmers or helped them in anyway yet.

    Vidharbha: the `forced privatisation' of cotton

    Disputes over output do not hide the trouble Maharashtra's cotton economy is in. Small farmers face another year of huge losses. The role of nature is very minor compared to conscious policy measures that have undermined the farmer and world cotton prices.

    Last year, there were 411 official centres to procure cotton. This year a mere 141. "But that's because open market prices are better," insists N.P. Hirani. He is chairman of the Maharashtra State Cooperative Cotton Growers' Marketing Federation. But on the ground, his claim is challenged by farmers in Vidharbha. Most say the traders' prices are even lower than the MSP.

    The fall in procurement is even more drastic than the fall in the number of Government centres. The Cotton Federation's official chart shows that by February 11 this year, it had procured just 4.83 lakh quintals. A gigantic fall from the 178 lakh quintals picked up by the same date last year. In cash terms the fall is massive. The value of what was acquired from the farmers last year on this date was Rs.3,970 crore. This year, it is a mere Rs.54.73 crore.

    Imports of cotton have further depressed prices over the years. India's cotton imports between 1997-98 and 2004-05 stood at over 115 lakh bales. That is over three times what was imported in the preceding 25 years. In the same 1997-98 to 2004-05 period, exports did not cross 30 lakh bales. In some years, they fell in both number of bales and value earned.

    World cotton prices tumbled in the 1990s as the United States pumped billions of dollars of subsidies each year to its 25,000 cotton producers. "And we," says Mr. Jawandia, "have left our millions of cotton farmers to the mercy of traders and the subsidised global market. Now anyone can import or export it. The import duty on cotton is ten per cent. And if you're the textile lobby you don't pay even that. Anyone can buy, sell or trade in it. Private trade is up, boosted by a withdrawing state. Our cotton economy is the closest thing to a `free market' — and see the results."

    Thursday, February 16, 2006

    in the name of Valentine's Day ...

    An article by Kalpana Sharma on the stand on political parties as regard Valentine's Day and other "cultural" issues.
    What's love got to do with any of this?

    Those who speak of morality and the corrupting influences of Valentine's Day seem to have no problem with the real corruption of consumerism gone out of control.

    Anyone listening?

    Another article by Saianth about the crisis in Vidarbha,
         Vidharbha suicides: a scenario of post-mortems 24x7

    Not a paisa of the Government's Rs.1,075 crore "relief package" has been disbursed so far. "How do those in Mumbai care," asks Kishore Tiwari. "The suicides have crossed 300. But the SENSEX has crossed 10,000."

    Wednesday, February 15, 2006

    Free Trade/GM Food/WTO

    A report on Hindu about the recent WTO ruling regarding Europe's ban on GM food imports:
        America's plan is to force GM food on the world

    Saturday, February 11, 2006

    Why We Fight

    A new film, "Why We Fight", looks at conflicts from World War II right up to the current war in Iraq to examine the political, economic and ideological reasons that drive American war policy.
    Why We Fight By Eugene Jarecki & Amy Goodman
    Why We Fight from Sony Classics, including a short trailer.

    ... and here is link to Frank Capra's 1942-1945 Why We Fight series: Why We Fight

    Lack of sanitation facilities

    Kalpana Sharma writes on the issues of lack of sanitation and water facilities and their particularly large effect on women: Educating Mr. Modi

    A 2002 article on the same topic by Sakuntala Narasimhan: Sanitation: The hidden gender problem
    "Yes, I am hungry. I have not eaten since morning, but if I eat now I will have to go to the toilet by the time the food is digested -- and there is always a long line at the washroom. We have just two toilets for women in this camp. So I eat only one meal a day, to minimise the number of visits to the toilet."

    The latest Human Development Report estimates that only 31 per cent of the population in India has adequate sanitation facilities, as against 73 percent in Vietnam, and 68 per cent in Zimbabwe, for instance. Among the displaced and uprooted, however, this percentage becomes even lower, because a temporary shelter is rarely seen as more than a room with a roof.

    Co-op Credit for Vidarbha

    Ajit Ranade reports on Vidarbha: Reviving co-op credit

    A few of his insights:
  • Not all loans that farmers take are for crops. The loans could be for marriages or medical treatment.
  • The reason farmers continue to grow cotton despite it being a risky crop, is because the alternatives are far worse. That’s because if the farmer tries to diversify into vegetables or other perishable crops, in the absence of storage facilities, he is far more at the mercy of market forces. At least cotton does not perish like brinjals or tomatoes.
  • The lack of irrigation. Only two per cent of Vidarbha has irrigation as compared to about 90 per cent in Western Maharashtra. Most irrigation projects lie unfinished as government funds have become scarce and the government itself is reeling under a record debt.
  • Complete collapse of the co-operative credit system, driving farmers to money-lenders. For example all the 668 Primary Agricultural Credit Societies (PACS) in Amravati district are bankrupt.

    He goes on to cite an example of the Malkanur Co-op in Karimnagar, AP, which is running for 50 years and has helped rural credit and is autonomous and has no political meddling.
  • Friday, February 10, 2006

    In the name of religion

    Dilip has a post and an article on the Shabari Kumbh Mela, which is scheduled on Feb 11-13 in the Dangs district of Gujarat, organized by RSS, VHP and VKP (Vanavasi Kalyan Parishad).
        Reduction of Faith
        Prevent it, this time

    A couple of must-read articles by Ram Puniyani on the same topic, based on visits to Dangs:
         Intimidating the Minority
         Communalism 2005

    Following are from the ShabariKumbh Mela website:
    It was in August 1997 that this saffron-clad sannyasi set foot in Dang. All that he carried with him in this unfamiliar and hostile terrain were around 500 lockets of Hanuman and an unshakeable resolve! He would knock at the door of each house and would ask the inmates one question, “Are you Hindu or christian?” At the house of one such Hindu, Swamiji asked him, “May I spend the night in your house?” The Hindu gladly welcomed Swamiji. Swamiji kept his luggage, distributed the Hanuman lockets to the children and asked them to bring their Hindu friends in the evening for a Ram katha. That night, Dang witnessed the first ever Dharma sabha. Sensing danger, Christian missionaries asked Swamiji, “What brings you here?” The Swami posed them the same question. We have come here to serve the people replied the Christian missionaries. “I have come here to drive away those who have come here to serve” retorted the Swami. That was the beginning of the Hindu awakening in the Dangs.

    The submissive Hindu who had been hitherto terrorized by the Christian missionaries began to assert himself. “Hindu jaage, Christi bhaage” became a popular slogan of the vanavasis of Dang. From 1998-2004, a total of 55 Vishal Hindu Sammelans were organized. These were attended by a total of four lakh Hindus. As Hindus objected to conversion activities of Christian missionaries, clashes broke out.

    and a comment on the same website:
    i just scanned through the latest 2001 census report of the Indian government, there are just 8,000 tribals in Dangs and christians in Gujarat constitute just 0.2 per cent. In the country they constitute just 2.31 per cent. And if iam not mistaken there are officials records to show that Christians are decreasing in number in Gujarat (this imformation can be found on the GUjarat census website)
    Besides i heard that more than 38,000 tribals in dangs would be reconverted as Hindus. When there are just 8,000 Christians in Dangs where would the Sangh get the rest 30,000 tribals from.

    Thursday, February 09, 2006

    more on "Scarred"

    Rediff has a report on the launch of the book "Scarred: Experiments with Violence in Gujarat", by Dionne Bunsha: 'There is another Gujarat waiting to happen'

    From the article and what several poeple spoke about:
    About her experiences while working on the book, she said, "There are people who brag that they have kidnapped up to 400 Hindu girls who dared to marry boys from other religions. They talk with much machismo and bravado about how they beat up the boys and grabbed the women".
    According to Haseena Sheikh, a community worker and a refugee from Pavagadh village, even in Gujarat things haven't changed much. "I still cannot go back to my village. The fear is still there," she said. She said even something as basic as getting a ration card is not possible. "They cite some reason or the other and deny us a card," she said.
    In Dang, a district collector, who has allegedly spent about Rs 1 crore in helping a a body affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, will organise a Hindukaran (proselytisation) mela, which will 'show the way for the tribal people of India'.
    Stressing that even today Muslims are traumatised, Jafri said, "The violence won't end." He added: "Our prime minister apologised for the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and sanctioned huge compensation for the survivors. Maybe 20 years later, somebody will come up and apologise for the victims of Gujarat."

    Imran Khan to demonstrate against Bush

    Interesting news ... Imran to demonstrate against Bush, not a very common event nowadays---that a celebrity/icon takes a political stance.

    A related article I had posted sometime back: Movies of Color.

    Vidarbha crisis related ...

    A detailed post on Vidarbha by Sonia Faleiro, Death Along the Famished Road
    ... and a related discussion: Standing At The Door

    Got both via Shivam's post on HTOHL titled Reporting live from the land of death

    ... and Sainath's articles are here.

    Wednesday, February 08, 2006


    Ashwin mailed this link: Navdanya's Publications
    Has several pdf reports on agriculture, globalization, suicides, role of woman in agriculture, water privatization.
    A few of them:
          Seeds of suicide
          Aiding water privatisation
          Women in Agriculture

    Tuesday, February 07, 2006

    two links ...

    Are muslims "safe" in India?
    An article by Imran Ali and Yoginder Sikand on Ghettoisation Of Muslims In India. Would be interesting to know if the reverse of such a situation exists, i.e., non-Muslims not wanting to live in Muslim areas---both situations being equally unfortunate.


    I am not against AOL (Art-of-Living) or for it. I reached this AOL website for some reason, and found this:
    (Q.8) Donation: How are you going to utilize the funds? For what purpose?
    a. Funds are being collected for the purpose of undertaking the activities mentioned before. We have an efficient network of volunteers spread allover India. The utilization of funds is carried out through efficient monitoring systems via our Apex Bodies/Information Centers, spread allover the country.

    b. Ours is a Non-Profit Charitable Trust and we are all volunteers.

    c. All the service activities are carried out by our volunteers, who are extremely dedicated and committed. Hence the success of our organization lies in our ability to effectively execute every project with the least administrative costs, which are hardly 5-10% as against those of other NGOs, who use up to 60% of their funds for this administrative purpose.

    huh!!! that is a pretty blanket statement. Granted AOL has its charity organization etc., but there are several NGOs running on shoe-string budgets and are volunteer run, working at the grass-roots level.

    Monday, February 06, 2006

    Braving the Waters

    Tejal has written an article for "The Socialist" (Womens Day Issue). Following is the text of it:

    Braving the Waters
    In every country there are people who live at two extremes of the social and economic spectrum. There are the few rich who eat better food each day and then there are the many poor who reduce their food rations each day. India is no different. In the midst of market reforms and privatization, the Indian upper classes and upper middle classes have suddenly been elevated to what resembles the western standard of living. However, a large section of Indian society remains removed from this “development”--- excluded from the celebration of India’s 8% per annum economic growth.

    Throughout the world, “growth” and “development” have taken a serious toll on people and on the environment. These have affected India even more drastically. Over the last 50 years, large dams on many rivers in India have displaced over 30 million people; most of who have not been have not been compensated for their land or given alternative housing till date. Large scale deforestation, which has left India with only 20% forest cover, has rendered many Adivasis (the indigenous people of India) homeless. Unchecked and unregulated industrialization has polluted groundwater and in many parts has depleted the resource to drastically low levels. Over 70 percent of India’s population currently derives its livelihood from land resources. Since women comprise almost 60-65% of this segment, it is no surprise that the people’s movements that have risen to fight against the appropriation of these natural resources have largely been women’s movements.

    The women who participate in and lead ecology movements in countries like India are not speaking merely as victims. Their voices are the voices of liberation and transformation. The women’s and ecology movements are therefore one, and are primarily counter-trends to a patriarchal mal-development.- Vandana Shiva

    The Narmada Bachao Andolan, NBA (Save the Narmada Movement) is one of the many people’s movements in India, fighting for rights of the oppressed classes. The anti-dam movement in India got recognition only in the last couple of decades when the inhabitants of the Narmada valley led an amazing struggle against the Government and the World Bank. The protests resulted in an enquiry and subsequently an unprecedented withdrawal of funding from the World Bank. This movement, organized largely by women and comprising of some of the most marginalized communities of the country raised many questions about the functioning of the “world’s largest democracy”. The Narmada movement elicited mixed reactions from the Indian populace. The urban middle class dismissed Medha Patkar (one of the key organizers of the movement) and her followers as “tree-huggers” and “women without anything better to do”. They labeled her and “others like her”, “anti development”, an insult used ever so often in India these days. Sometimes, when the movement wasn’t far away in the valley, out of sight of the urban middle class, but was in their face, outside their workplace, in forms of picket lines and dharnas (sit-ins), there were instances of the patronizing dismissal turning into violence too. However, a large section of the Indian population, urban and rural, remained, and still remains apathetic and even unaware of the struggle in the valley.

    The administration however is very much aware of the struggle and has tried to crush the movement at every turn. Harassment by police, forceful displacement without resettlement, arrests without charges, illegal submergence of inhabited villages, were few of the many atrocities that the tribals and activists in the Narmada valley were subjected to. The ruling to raise the dam heights even when thousands remained without relief and resettlement was one of the many unjust decisions meted out by the Supreme Court against people who depend the most on administrative and judicial systems---many were arrested for merely protesting against the court rulings. With no less than 6 national political parties and 30 state parties, the fact that the anti-dam movement received political support from the Indian Left only as late as two years ago is quite indicative of the divergence of social interests and political aspirations. The “development” rhetoric adopted by every political party in India, has sidelined, overlooked and even dismissed ecological issues, which means that issues concerning most working women in India have thus far been ignored. While the Indian Left has limited itself to the organized sector which is a subset of only the urban middle and lower middle classes, the Dalit movement (movement of the backward castes) has been largely focused on creating political spaces. In many tribal movements also women are considered only as an inclusive category and not as a separate group which has its own issues.

    In a post globalization world, all these movements that are fighting caste, class and gender discrimination need to come together to rally against forces which combine to reduce their control over resources. A woman shouldn’t have to fight a double battle; one as a tribal and the other as a tribal woman; one as a farmer and another as a woman farmer. Movements like the NBA have been able to connect class issues with women’s issues; environmental issues with economic issues. Despite setbacks, harassment, slander and injustice, the Narmada Bachao Andolan has been a great step forward for people’s movements all throughout India. It has raised fundamental questions regarding the “development” dream wrapped in nationalist bombast, sold to Indians by the government.

    Although the administration has given us little to be happy about, movements like the NBA have given us a lot to be proud about. Indian women from the most marginalized communities have the courage to stand up against imperialist organizations like the World Bank, the courage that even the most powerful men in the country lack.

    -Tejal Kanitkar

    Caste discrimination

    What a sad irony ... A dalit woman sarpanch is not allowed to hoist the Indian flag on Republic Day of India, whose constitution was written by Dr. Ambedkar, himself a dalit.

        If you are a Dalit, you can’t hoist the national flag in Nasik

    Sunday, February 05, 2006

    Religion/Politics/Double Standards

    An article on CounterCurrents about the debate whether depicting Prophet Mohammad with a bomb in his turban is free speech and the double standards of the West.
    What Would Jesus Do?, by Remi Kanazi

    A Kumbh mela, organized by RSS, VHP, BJP, of awakened Hindus, to awaken Hindus and the vanavasi Hindus. Ram Puniyani writes from Gujarat: Intimidating A Minority.

    Don't know why we need these terms, awakened, empowered? and what they really mean? ... other than as political tools to divide people based on religous bias ... your comments?

    Wine - Made in India

    An article on Outlook: Some Get Toasted, related to the Vidarbha farming crisis.

    According to the report, while cotton farmers of Vidarbha are suffering lack of support from government, increasing debts, rising cost of inputs, rip off from private moneylenders, suicides, dropping minimum rate etc., grape farming in the districts of Satara, Pune and Nasik are making big profits. Grape cultivations are supporting several wineries in these districts and examples of commercial farming and several companies are investing. Moreover, even the government is making efforts to increase investments, control prices etc, to support these wineries. A comparison of government initiative or lack of it, as reported in the article:
    Grape Goodies:
  • Import duty on bottled wine raised from 100% to 150% to protect domestic producers .
  • Credit readily available from private and nationalised banks. Rate of interest 8%-12%.
  • Only 22,000 registered growers; 50,000 ha under grape cultivation.

    Cotton Woes:
  • Import duty lowered to 10 per cent, hitting local trade
  • Limited credit facilities. Rate of interest from private moneylenders as high as 120%.
  • As many as 20 lakh cultivators, only 20.8 lakh hectares under cultivation.
  • Saturday, February 04, 2006

    Airport strike ...

    The airport strike continues, but is reported to end soon after the Prime Minister's intervention.

    A report in Rediff about the strike is very interesting: What is the airport strike all about?

    Why are the Communists supporting the strike?
    Communist leaders say they not protesting against the 'modernisation' of these airports. They argue that all the airports in the country, especially the biggest ones like the Mumbai and Delhi airports, should be modernised and made world-class. "But in the name of modernisation, what the government has done is to virtually sell the airport to a consortium of companies. We are all for modernisation of airports; but we are dead against their privatisation," says M K Pandhe, president, Centre of Indian Trade Unions, which is affiliated to the Communist Party of India-Marxist.

    What is the alternative suggestion from the Communist/employees unions?
    They assert that instead of awarding the contract for modernising the airports to private companies, the government should allow the AAI to build world-class airports. They have been arguing that AAI is a profit making company with reserves and surplus funds of Rs 30,000 crore (Rs 300 billion) and almost zero-debt status, which can meet the anticipated expenditure for development of the airports.
    The AAI Employees Union has in fact submitted a airport modernisation plan to the government. But the government says their plan was evaluated and it scored less than 50 per cent in the technical evaluation, not making the cut even after revisions by the bid document.

    If the above is true, makes me wonder why the government is privatizing a profit making venture sitting on Rs. 30,000 crore of reserves. If the plan submitted by AAI Employess Union was technically not sound, it seems the government can setup up a committte/panel to make/rectify the technical plan and make it up to the mark. Is that reason enough to dispose off a public propert? There is a strong opinion that the workers are irresponsible and fear job less due to privatization, but that is only part of the story. Who is questioning the ministers/government officials who decide it is better to privatize than put the Rs. 30,000 crore to effective use?

    Friday, February 03, 2006

    A few links:

    1. A new book regarding the Gujarat riots,
          Scarred: Experiments with Violence in Gujarat, by Dionne Bunsha

    2. An article by Dilip on Shabari Kumbh Mela in the Dangs district of Gujarat.
          Prevent it, this time.

    3. Winter woes in the quake hit Kashmir valley continue.
          Quake's homeless battle winter.

    Thursday, February 02, 2006

    Turbulent Weather

    The state of India's airports is far below par compared to other international airports and coupled with the exponential air travel boom in India, modernization, upgradation and increased efficiency is a must. The government has approved modernization of the Mumbai and Delhi airports to private companies and most likely other airports will be added. The AAI union is on strike to protest the privatization decision and is worried about job loss, compensation etc. and there has been some disruption in air travel.

    That is more or less the status and as always has its two factions:
    1. A section of people who are pissed with the Left-supported unions and are of the opinion that the strike has no real reason. "The workers are only worried that they will now have to really work to earn their wages, instead of being totally unaccountable, steal, cheat, bribe etc", they reason, which to some extent maybe true. Also, the claim is that privatization will only improve services and if that is the case it should it be done by all means.
    2. The other section is the Left, which is crying foul on the privatization mantra, which the government seems to be using as a panacea to all its problems. They are worried about private monopoly,loss of jobs, loss of government/people control etc.

    In my opinion, both of them are on the extreme ends of the spectrum. No doubt, airports need to be modernized and upgraded, but is privatization the only answer? The more important question to be asked is, "Why are the airports and several other government initiatives in such a mess?". The administration/ministry/state officials are largely responsible for it. Otherwise, how can it be that the same set of workers (a minimum 60% of the current airport workers will be retained after 3 years) will increase the quality of service at airports after privatization? Not to say that all government initiatives follow this pattern; BHEL, SBI, NTPC, Delhi Metro, Bombay Local Trains, BSNL, GAIL and several other mini-navratnas are profit making government and largely efficient ventures! Addressing the question of inefficient/corrupt/lack-of-foresight administration is the prime task in my opinion. In some sense, this should also be on the agenda of the unions. The unions have no doubt lost their credibility due to their political tie ups, goondaism etc., but they are the essential component to keep a check on the employer responsibilities. If the unions widen their scope; actively support maintenance of high work standards and also keep a tab on administrative responsibilities towards these initiatives, I think they can better argue their case against privatization. Now where does privatization come in? Sure, privatization is very much part of the game--- it is essential for competition, for capital and for entrepreneur opportunities, but not as panacea to cover up the reason of government administrative shortcomings.

    ... will be glad to hear your comments on this.

    Related posts:
    From a Striker's point of view
    Fasten your seat belts