Wednesday, May 31, 2006

crimes against women/children

According to the latest report of National Crime Records Bureau,
  • A woman is raped every half an hour in India
  • One is killed every 75 minutes -- usually burnt to death for not bringing a large enough dowry
  • Violence against children rose by nearly a quarter in 12 months
  • Recorded cases of female foeticide increased by a half in 2004
  • Crime against women has been on the rise for the past 10 to 15 years
The actual numbers may be higher still, taking into account the social stigma associated with reporting such cases!

We have a long way to go for eradicating these stigmas of crime against women/children, caste discrimintations and growing inequalities, even before we start considering ourselves as "Shining/Incredibling etc".

India has most people with HIV

A UNAids report has revealed that India has the most people infected with HIV and it accounts for two-thirds of HIV cases in Asia.
An estimated 5.7 million Indians were infected by the end of 2005, overtaking the 5.5 million cases estimated in South Africa.

The UN agency estimates that only 7% of Indians who needed antiretroviral drug therapy actually received it last year.

In addition, only 1.6% of pregnant women who needed treatment to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission were receiving it.

Simultaneously, there is the other question of patent laws. The Indian Parliament, to fulfil India's commitment to the World Trade Organisation's intellectual property regime, has passed a bill that makes copying of generic drugs illegal. The HIV drugs manufactured in India are an order of magnitude cheaper than those by MNCs. Should a certain category or a subset of drugs be exempt from such laws to prevent monopoly and provide cheaper options to patients?
"Patients over Patents" and "People over Profit" or vice-versa?

home-maker on par

1. Don't marry
2. If you do make sure your other half is as wealthy as you are; and
3. Do a prenuptial agreement and keep your fingers crossed

That's a lawyer's sexist reaction after this ruling by the House of Lords, Britain's highest court.
The ground-breaking ruling has obliterated the traditional and somewhat perverse distinction between the home-maker and the breadwinner on grounds that a marriage must be regarded as an alliance of "equal partners" — and that the contribution of the partner, who stays home to raise the family, is no less important than the one who brings home the bread.

A very positive and landmark ruling for women who have put family before their professional career.

But according to "expert" opinion, men may not be happy about it ...
Experts said the ruling might deter men, especially wealthy men, from marrying. They also anticipated a surge in pre-nuptial agreements which, though not legally binding, could serve as "protection" against heavy payouts in the event of a divorce.

The bride and bridegroom will exchange bank statements, pre-nupital agreements and vows at 10.49 am. ... will this be on wedding invitations soon?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Dubious record

A report in Frontline on the status of the Sardar Sarovar project over the years: Dubious record.
THE history of the Sardar Sarovar dam on the river Narmada is the history of successive governments finding surreptitious ways to drown reasonable debate in the face of incontrovertible facts. Today, evidence in the audit reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) points to the economic insolvency that plagues the project. These reports highlight irregular disbursal of funds, indiscriminate market borrowings leading to unsustainable interest burden, undue favours being extended to contractors and so on. They have met with little public debate, no response from government departments and ministries, and scarce attention from Members of Parliament or the Public Accounts Committee.

Long distance call

Dilip D'Souza, based on his visits to Vidarbha, gives a very moving account of grief-stricken families in Vidarbha: Long distance call.
We visited Barshi-Takli because we heard about a farmer who had killed himself there, then we found out about another farmer who had killed himself there. We made futile little consoling cluck-clucks with a bewildered widow, then a weeping mother. In each house, they asked and I left my name and number, scrawled quickly on small scraps of paper torn from my pocket-pad. Across Vidarbha, many people asked for my number, some asked me for money, some just asked what I was going to do for them now that I had heard their stories. One mother asked her late-teens son to remove his shirt so I could see his artificial right arm, fitted in Jaipur after he lost his real arm to a thresher. "Will you hire him, to do anything? Anything?" she asked. What could I say?

Waiting for 'anna'

P. Sainath reports on the lack of credit from banks, the sham "relief" package and the rise of "anna" in Vidarbha as the farming season begins: Waiting for `anna' in Vidharbha

[Photo: P Sainath]
In Koljhari, upa sarpanch Tulsiram Chavan shows us one cheque that gives him `relief' — to the extent of Rs.78. Others speak of cheques of Rs.5. These won't be deposited since "it's costlier to get to the bank and back." How could this happen? One reason is that many small growers, in bad years, could not sell their cotton to the federation. They had to sell to traders to whom they owed money, who then pocketed the federation's price. And so this year, the traders picked up the refunds meant for the farmers. After all, their names were on the sale records.

Friday, May 26, 2006

the RED question

United States is offering help to fight the Maoists. Earlier, PM Manmohan Singh had described them as the biggest threat to India's security since Independence. To counter the Maoists in Chattisgarh, the State has formed a people's army : 'Salwa Judum'. They have also vacated several villages and shifted people to temporary "relief" camps. Many reports believe that ordinary people are used pawns or as shields by the State to fight the Maoists. One may certainely disagree with the methods used by the Maoists to deal with social issues and (lack of) government policies, but nevertheless these issues are the key to this conflict. By setting up groups like the Salwa Judum, the people are getting the stick(literally) from both the State and the Maoists!

A fact finding report on Salwa Judum is here. The main findings of which are:
1. The Salwa Judum is far from the spontaneous uprising of tribals against Maoists that it is claimed to be. It is an organized, state managed enterprise.
2. The Salwa Judum has led to the forcible displacement of people throughout Bhairamgarh, Geedam and Bijapur areas, under police and administrative supervision---approximately 15,000 people from 420 villages are living as refugees in temporary camps.
3. Villages that refuse to participate face repeated attacks by the combined forces of Salwa Judum, the district force and the paramilitary Naga battalion, which is stationed in the area
4. Once in camps, people have no choice but to support the Salwa Judum.
5. Collapse of civil administration in many parts of Dantewada District. Salwa Judum members man checkpoints on roads, search people's belongings and control the flow of transport. They enforce an economic blockade on villages that resist coming to camps. They also try to force civil officials to follow their dictat.
6. FIRs registering the looting, burning, beatings/torture by Salwa Judum mobs and the security forces are not recorded. Killings are not reported, and therefore hard to corroborate.
7. The Salwa Judum has strong support among certain sections of local society---comprising of some non-adivasi immigrant settlers from other parts of India, sarpanches and traditional leaders whose power has been threatened by the Maoists, powerful local politicians like Karma, and his network of supporters. Both the local Congress and the BJP are supporting the Salwa Judum together.
8. Militarisation: There is a heavy presence of the paramilitary like the CRPF and the Naga Battalion. In addition, people are being encouraged to carry arms. Village defence committees are being created, SPOs are being trained and armed, and the entire society is becoming more militaristic.
9. Although Chhattisgarh is claimed to be a tribal state, adivasi society and culture is being actively destroyed. People, for whom the earth of their village is sacred, are being forcibly removed from it, and the whole social fabric is being torn.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Monday ya Friday?

Monday for boy, Friday for girl---one of the ways used to reveal gender of a foetus after a sonography test. In the dock again: Kolhapur’s sex-test centres, a report on the practice of female foeticide and declining sex ratio in Kolhapur District, Maharashtra.
The female sex ratio (number of girls per 1000 boys in zero to six age group) in Kolhapur district has fallen from 931 in 1991 to 839 in 2001.
... of the nine talukas in Maharashtra which have shown decrease of more than 100 points, four are in Kolhapur district — at comparatively prosperous Panhala (decreased to 795 in 2001 from 931 in 1991), Karveer (803 from 905), Kagal (816 from 925) and Radhanagari (855 from 960).
...
Interestingly, the decline in child sex ratio is pronounced in rich towns and villages, while the poorer tribal areas show a healthy ratio. Khandalkar says part of the reason is because ‘‘in prosperous areas, there’s availability of modern medical facilities and people are misusing them in their desire for a boy child.’’

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

While students demonstrate against and for reservations all over India, a differenent issue is on at Utkal University in Orissa: fight against sexual harrasement by Professors.

Tejal has written a post on it, which is here.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Roy on Democracy Now!

Arundhati Roy featured on Democracy Now! and she spoke on India, Iraq, U.S. Empire and Dissent.
... a former chief justice of India, he gave a decision allowing the Narmada Dam to be built, where 400,000 people will be displaced. The same judge gave a judgment saying slum dwellers are pickpockets of urban land. So you displace people from the villages; they come into the cities; you call them pickpockets. He gave a judgment shutting down all kinds of informal industry in Delhi. Than he gave a judgment asking for all India's rivers to be linked, which is a Stalinist scheme beyond imagination, where millions of people will be displaced. And when he retired, he joined Coca-Cola.
...
I think the issue is that people like President Bush and his advisors, or what's happening in India, the Indian government, they have understood that you can use the media to say anything from minute to minute. It doesn't matter what's really going on. It doesn't matter what happened in the past. There are a few people who make the connections and fall about laughing at the nonsense that is being spoken. But for everybody else, I think the media itself, this mass media has become a means of telling the most unbelievable lies or making the most unbelievable statements. And everybody sort of just imbibes it. It's like a drug, you know, that you put straight into your veins. It doesn't matter. And it keeps going.

Monday, May 22, 2006

500 and counting ...

Three weddings and a funeral, P. Sainath's article in The Hindu.
As farm suicides in Vidharbha cross the 500-mark in under a year, families are holding funerals and weddings at the same time. Sometimes, on the same day. In moving shows of solidarity, very poor villagers are pitching in with money and labour to help conduct the marriages and funerals of down-and-out neighbours.

Meeting the challenge of Mandal

A two part series in The Hindu (by Satish Deshpande & Yogendra Yadav) attempts to find if there is a way forward, where both merit and social justice can be given their due.
1. Meeting the challenge of Mandal II
2. Reservation — an alternative proposal

[Tables are from the article]
"It should be emphasised that these data refer to all graduates from all kinds of institutions countrywide — if we were to look at the elite professional institutions, the relative dominance of the upper castes and forward communities is likely to be much stronger, although such institutions refuse to publish the data that could prove or disprove such claims.
...
In all cases, the Hindu upper castes, Other Religions (Jains, Parsis, Buddhists, etc.), Sikhs and Christians, are easily over represented and STs, SCs, Muslims, and OBCs are always below the national average."

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Maharashtra, a failed state?

B N Yughandar, member of the Planning Commission, stated that Maharashtra is an example of a failed state.
While its economic growth rate of 8% makes it one of the highest in India, this is counterbalanced by staggering debts of up to Rs 80,000 crore.

Development in the state seems to have been accorded low priority, with bloated administrative expenses and debt servicing hogging a bulk of the state’s economic resources, the Planning Commission observed. This has left a measly 9% for investment in plan schemes, and, in an example of gross fiscal mismanagement, the state has not even been able to spend this paltry sum.

On the other hand, the state’s agricultural sector, once fairly vibrant, is faltering and now accounts for just 14% of Maharashtra’s economy. Foodgrain production has dropped by an alarming 7.5% over the past decade, while the official poverty rate stands at 4.7%.

Inadequate spending on infrastructure, both physical and social, has meant that Maharashtra’s human development indicators are far from impressive, especially in parts that primarily depend on agriculture.

A relatated report: 'Villagers don’t have enough to eat, EGS a sham'.
A Pune-based study group which walked through the Maharashtra heartland covering 163 villages in 11 districts for two months (January and February) found people living in sub-human conditions with even basic necessities like water, food and health care lacking.

The Planning commission's major recommendation is rapid privatization!! While I agree privatization is/maybe required, can't we learn from previous examples (Enron for one) and be careful about how things have to be handled, rather treating privatization as the magic wand. Why should all the existing infrastructure built using public money, be handed over to private players because succesive governments screwed up and are inefficient. Isn't another solution greater accountability and appropriate use of available funds?

travel woes

Are you tired of the increasing traffic?
Are you tired of the pathetic condition of the roads?
Are you spending more time travelling than working?
Are the condition of roads and traffic hampering you from helping others?

... here is a solution,
Buy a helicoptor to meet your travel needs, as BJP MLA Anil Lad from Kudilgi, Karnataka is doing. Anil Lad's intention is to use the helicoptor to avoid the bad roads and “help attend to the problems of his voters”. Further, Mr. Lad had to "settle" for a helicoptor instead of a jet, due to space issues for the runway!

Maybe he can just fix all the roads, buy a jet and use the roads as landing strips. That way, common folk can use the roads when he doesn't, he won't have to settle for a coptor and also can serve the people---bingo! looks like much good can happen with this jet business.

Friday, May 19, 2006

nuclear divide

The other side of nuclear technology---contamination and dumping.
Living by India's uranium mine, a BBC photo essay on possible contamination effects of the uranium mine in Jaduguda.

UCIL is planning two more uranium mines(in Andhra Pradesh and Meghalaya) to meet the planned increase in demand for nuclear fuel. According to above article, sections of the local populations have come out strongly against UCIL's plans in both states.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Move to end Brahmin monopoly

During the recent Tamil Nadu elections, parties promised several freebies are part of their manifesto---cycles, TVs, gold, land, Rs. 2 per kg rice, free electricity---all at a huge cost to the State exchequer. The DMK government has already announced that it will distribute rice at Rs 2 per kg as promised.
At the same time, in one of the most progressive moves, DMK is trying to end Brahmin monopoly on priesthood.
TN government may issue an order to allow Hindus of any caste to become priests. Karunanidhi brought in a similar legislation called the Archakas Act in the early 1970s, but it could not be implemented as the Supreme Court put some riders. However, a Supreme Court judgment in October 2002 that Brahmins do not have the monopoly of performing pujas in the temple and "anyone well-versed and properly trained" could be appointed as the temple priest will give Karunanidhi's latest plan a legal backing.

Obviously, the annoucement is not welcomed by all and will likely face stiff opposition,
Says South India Purohiths' Association president Arcot Narasimhan: "The government move is condemnable, but not as a matter of caste. To be a temple priest, it needs training and penance through several generations. A quick-trained person cannot make a priest, whichever caste he belongs to."

Wonder why brahmins cannot use their multi-generation penance to teach whoever desires to be a priest, irrespective of their caste?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Anti-quota protests

The issue of reservesations has awakened the middle-class and upper-class once again and while there has been widespread coverage of the issues and protests involved, I found the following report on Indian Express insensitive and insulting, Anti-quota protests: Students pull rickshaws
Over 100 students pulled rickshaws in the town even as the stir entered the fourth day today. The students had earlier swept the streets with brooms as part of their protest.
"If talent is not given weightage, we will have to do the role of sweepers or rickshaw pullers", one of the agitating students said.

Why are sweepers and rickshaw pullers less important than these professionals? I think if not more, they are as important as folks in any other profession. Further, can we believe that the same segment which is indirectly derogating the sweepers and rickshaw pullers will remove the stigma of caste and class based discrimination?---rather ironic!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

SS Norway, a Malaysian cruise liner, is headed for Alang (Gujarat) for dismantling. The ship is supposed to be one of the top 50 toxic ships in the world and is laden with 900 tons of asbestos.

Another report: Alang yard back in news

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Save the Internet

The U.S. Congress is pushing a law that would abandon the Internet's First Amendment -- a principle called Network Neutrality that prevents companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast from deciding which Web sites work best for you -- based on what site pays them the most.

Net Neutrality ensures that all users can access the content or run the applications and devices of their choice. With Net Neutrality, the network's only job is to move data — not choose which data to privilege with higher quality service. Net Neutrality is the reason why the Internet has driven economic innovation, democratic participation, and free speech online. It's why the Internet has become an unrivaled environment for open communications, civic involvement and free speech.

The Internet is currently free---the backbone networks deliver content of GE, Foxnews and the website a local bookstore with the same priority, which will no longer be true after this law. If the law is passed, one thing that might happen is, a local library would have to outbid Barnes & Noble for the right to have its Web/E-mail content delivered quickly, else suffer non-prioritized delivery.

More info at: Save The Internet

Monday, May 08, 2006

Catch Catch

As kids, some of us would have played the game "Catch Catch" (where folks throw ball at each other, never holding it with them). The game appears to be in vogue, currently being played at the national stage by the Prime Minister and his government and the Supreme Court.

Inspite of the 3-member GoM's report the PM decided to send the Narmada decision to the Supreme Court. the report categorically stated---"The reports of the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Sub Group and the GRA on the basis of which Narmada Control Authority (NCA) granted permission for raising the height has been largely paperwork and it has no relevance with the situation on the ground".

According to rules of "Catch Catch", the Supreme Court declined NBA's plea and stated that the PM will take a decision after a report from the committee to overlook R&R in M.P. submits its report by end of June and no later than July 3rd.

... and the game continues!

A few side-effects of the game---
1. Blatant shameless display of electoral politics and interests by the UPA govt. "No elections soon, screw the people then", seems to be motto of our parties or equivalent motto would be, "Do what is best for our election campaign". Don't worry if 35,000 families will be submerged without R&R, they are not voting anytime soon. Further, "development" cannot stop because some fellows are not happy with what they are offered or not offered as compensation. They have to sacrifice for the nation and for our 12,000+ Sensex, 10% economic growth, IT boom, our malls and nuclear arsenal.

2. Supreme court violates its own ruling---"Dam construction can go on only after R&R has completed 6 months prior to construction". I am sorry, the SC has the NCA clearance so technically it is not violating its own judegment, but then the 3 member GoM visit does say that R&R on paper and reality does not match!---well, that is not NCA statement so the SC leaves that to be taken care by the PM, its his committee and more importantly its his turn to play! Also, if the SC violates its own ruling there is no one above it--- the SC is the winning combination!

3. PM will get the report by June-end and he will have a decision by July 3rd (next throw of "Catch Catch"?) Till then the construction at the dam continues, and the monsoon would have arrived or would be round the corner. So, if the report shows R&R has not happened satisfactorily, will the dam height be reduced?---oops, but that is equivalent to spilling a catch and increasing the opponents score!

****

NBA's press release on the SC decision is here.

Much research, but no decisive action

Jaideep Hardikar reports on IndiaTogether about the number of fact finding committess and panels that visited Vidarbha and gave out reports, but which did not elicit any concrete response from the state and central government.
At least sixteen committees and panels – from the National Farmers Commission led by Professor M S Swaminathan to the Planning Commission's fact-finding-mission led by bureaucrat Adarsh Misra – came this year to Vidarbha, apparently peeved by and concerned over the suicide crisis. Nothing has come of all this yet.

Narmada Protest at TISS convocation

During the TISS graduation ceremony, presided over by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, ex TISS student Simprit Singh sneaked into the convocation hall and protested against the dam. He unfurled a banner "Development or destruction? A question from Narmada, Mumbai Slums, Kalinga Nagar, Bhopal, Plachmada,Kashmir.".
A Mumbai Mirror report is here.

Many toppers marched to the podium in black badges and black ribbons to accept their certificates and awards. They were protesting against the government’s role in the Narmada Bachao Andolan and Bhopal gas tragedy.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Biggest Embassy on Earth

A report on one project in Iraq that seems to be on target and on schedule: The US Embassy in Baghdad. The embassy is supposed to be biggest on earth, on 104 acres of land, larger than the Vatican City, bigger than anything Saddam built and even possibly visible from space!
While families in the capital suffer electricity cuts, queue all day to fuel their cars and wait for water pipes to be connected, the US mission due to open in June next year will have its own power and water plants to cater for a population the size of a small town. ...
The question puzzles and enrages a city: how is it that the Americans cannot keep the electricity running in Baghdad for more than a couple of hours a day, yet still manage to build themselves the biggest embassy on Earth?

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Pol-Khol Yatra

A report on the Phol-Khol Yatra is here.

Photographs from the yatra are here.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Fourth World War

Dr. Vijay Prashad spoke at UMass, Amherst on May 1st. The topic of his talk was "The Fourth World War", on how the imperiasltic policies are changing/affecting the world and a summary of the main points follows,

  • Madman Theory: The U.S foreign policy for quite some time (from the time of Richard Nixon) has been to act random---the logic being rational behavior gives opponents a chance to study your moves and get better. But with the Madman theory no one knows what your next move will be (ally with dictators, bomb countries etc) at random and keep others confused.
  • Bigger than Bush: The difference between someone like Clinton(diplomatic, can speak on any issue at length etc.) and Bush, is quantitative not qualitative. While Bush is impatient and the scale of his aggresion has been large and going on for a long time, Clinton also did bomb places (Sudan, Waziristan) and the foreign policies of both are largely the same. Thus, the problem is not the person in office but the foreign policies---which need to be questioned.
  • Jobless Growth: Before the structural adjustment programs starting in the 1970s, the elites of several countries had been in a compromise with their host countries---operating within the borders and for "welfare". After the 1970s though, this is no longer true and their exists a narrow band of people at the top that are experiencing "growth" and are forging global connections and at the same time exploiting globally. At the same time, globally people at the bottom are experiencing joblessness and decreased economic gains---called "jobless growth". Further, the interests of these global elites and corporations are protected by the U.S. military. The U.S. military in some sense, is now the world military protecting the elites in this narrow band.
  • Propoganda of commodity: While jobless growth happens, there is a huge propoganda of commodity which is in tension with the social threshold. The important question being how to address the issues of rapid commodification and consumerism driven from the top and also ensure social needs are met for all---the fourth world war.

    Note: This is just my version/understanding of his talk. Please let me know if you want to add to it and I will append your comments.
  • Of hi-tech, low efficiency, and malls

    P. Sainath's article in The Hindu: Of hi-tech, low efficiency, and malls
    India's development debate has actually regressed this past decade. A single, homogenised view of development is being shoved down from above.

    Tuesday, May 02, 2006

    "There Is A Fury Building Up Across India"

    In this interview, Arundhati Roy updates her essay on the Narmada issue, The Greater Common Good, published in 1999.

    Child Malnutrition


    UNICEF says the number of children under five who are underweight has remained virtually unchanged since 1990, despite a target to reduce the number affected.
    In South Asia, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan account for half of all the world's underweight children. About 47% of under-fives in India are underweight.

    Pesti Cola


    [Source: Mid-Day Cartoons]