Friday, December 08, 2006

Ray of hope

The Other Half

The Hindu Sunday Magazine (December 3, 2006)

LAST month, a depressing story in a newspaper related how in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, where Japanese Encephalitis is recurrent, the wards in the district hospital were full of boys. Was it possible that no girls had contracted the disease? The answer, sadly, is rather obvious. When faced with a choice of loss of several days of paid labour, poor families chose to treat only their sons leaving their daughters to either succumb to the disease or be permanently impaired as a result of contracting it.

This is only one of the many harsh realities of women's health in this country that begins at birth, goes on through girlhood to adolescence and adulthood — an unchanging story of callous neglect. Every year, the statistics of infant mortality or maternal mortality only tell part of the story. For, the real burden of a shamefully inadequate public health care system in this country, particularly in the poorer and more deprived regions, has to be borne by women. It is like living under low-intensity conflict; you can never be sure from which direction you will be attacked and whether you will live to see another day.

But sometimes out of this gloomy scenario you catch glimpses of light, of something positive that is being done. In the midst of a serious discussion on the repercussions of conflict on women's health, at a National Dialogue on Women, Health and Development held recently in Mumbai, I chanced upon that glimmer of hope.

(For the rest of the article, click on the link)

Why are Maharashtra's Dalits so angry?

The Hindu (December 2, 2006)

WHY DID Maharashtra burst into flames on Thursday following Dalit protests, almost without warning? To those who have not been monitoring what is happening among Dalits, and more specifically amongst the followers of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar this year, it would appear that the protests came out of nowhere. Yet the signs of anger have been more than evident, particularly over the last two months since the murder of four Dalits in the village of Khairlanji, 100 km from Nagpur on September 29. Ironically, just three days after this atrocity in which the mother and three grown children of the Bhotmange family were brutally killed, a major event took place in Nagpur bringing together the national leadership of Dalits. On October 2, Dussehra Day, Dalits marked 50 years since Dr. Ambedkar's conversion to Buddhism. On October 14, the actual date of the conversion, once again lakhs of people gathered in Nagpur. Not a whiff of the atrocity so close at hand disturbed the occasion.

The first protests against the Khairlanji killing emerged more than a month later, first in Nagpur and then in Amravati and Yavatmal. In each case, the protesters appeared as if out of nowhere and caught the police off guard. They seemed to be leaderless but did not escape the full force of police brutality, particularly in Amravati and Yavatmal. The anger that fuelled those demonstrations was clearly linked to Khairlanji and the State Government's failure to move swiftly to deal with the crime. Although since then, the State Home Ministry has taken some steps by suspending the officials who were lax in registering the atrocity and in the follow-up to it and arresting the sarpanch and upa sarpanch of the village, suspected of having led the mob, the general perception remains that the incident has not been taken seriously enough.

(For the rest of the article, click on the link)

Before the year ends

ulti khopdi

I have been lazy about keeping this blog updated. One of the reasons is that there are not many who access the blog. Nor have I made the time to let more people know about it. At the moment, most of the postings are links to my articles in The Hindu (have to post a few more).

As 2006 draws to close, I am struck by how quickly this year has passed. Does every year rush by like this? or do we feel this about years where so much happens that the days merge into weeks into months and before you know it, you are on the cusp of another year.

For Mumbaikars, this year really seems to have been non-stop with events stumbling onto each other -- another flood (not as bad as 2005), the July 11 serial blasts, the judgment in the 1993 serial bomb blasts case, the Dalit demonstrations and violence and the 50th death anniversary of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar that passed off peacefully, as it does each year, despite the dire predictions of those who believe that when large numbers of poor people get together, there is bound to be a law and order problem. They refuse to accept that the eruptions, such as the one on November 30 were the result of pent up anger that had built up over decades. (Read my article on this).

As we move into the last three weeks of the year, the weatherman says that Mumbai is "smoky". In fact, it is polluted and overcast because of a pollution haze. People step out in the morning to walk and improve their health. Instead they inhale vast quantities of the poisonous air and end up coughing, sneezing, wheezing. Do we have to accept this as the inevitable consequence of globalisation?

More on this when I get over my bout of sneezing!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A suggestion for Munnabhai

Source: The Hindu

The Other Half

GANDHIGIRI has become the flavour of the month. All of a sudden, following the release of the immensely popular Bollywood film, "Lage Raho Munnabhai", Mahatma Gandhi has been rediscovered. People go to the movie and after seeing it, buy his My Experiments with Truth from Gandhian activists who position themselves outside theatres.

Different takes

Gandhi said many things. Not all these are reflected in the film. Some argue that his concept of Satyagraha has been turned into a joke. Others feel that through the medium of a Bollywood film, the younger generation in particular has woken up to the existence of a man called Gandhi.

As Munnabhai has already tackled the callousness of our health system, and the greed of real estate sharks, how about tackling the one Indian tradition that refuses to die — that of dowry? I could imagine that such a film could work very well, and could in fact bring in the Gandhigiri that has caught on after the latest in the series.

For, one of the things Gandhi said, which has been conveniently forgotten, is that we should have enough for our need but not for our greed.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link)

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Islands of despair

Islands of despair


IN every State in India, no matter how prosperous, there are islands of deprivation. Maharashtra is no exception. It stands almost at the top of the list in terms of prosperity. It fails miserably when it comes to equity.

Rural misery has been written about and noted, exemplified by the continuing suicides of farmers in Vidarbha and Marathwada. The Bombay High Court has also, once again, warned the Maharashtra Government that it must do something about the high incidence of malnutrition among children between the ages of one and six. In the last three years, over 24,000 children have died of malnutrition.

Economic neglect

What is not so well known is the pathetic state of some of the smaller towns of Maharashtra. This became evident when three bombs exploded in the powerloom centre of Malegaon in North Maharashtra on September 8. Not only did the bombs shatter the uneasy peace in this town of around 8,00,000 people, of whom the majority is Muslim, but they exposed the pathetic absence of civic infrastructure and economic neglect.

Thirty-one people were killed and over 200 injured on that Friday afternoon when the devout were almost through with their prayers. It was a big day, the Shab-e-barat, when prayers would be said at the Bada Kabristan through the night to remember the loved ones who had moved on. Instead, it became a night for multiple burials, as some of the dead were interred in the same graveyard.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link)

Battling unjust laws


PRESIDENT Parvez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh might have called a temporary truce during their Havana meeting but within Pakistan there seems to be no end in sight to the battle between the fundamentalists and Pakistani women who are demanding their basic human rights.

Many women in Pakistan had hoped that the day had finally dawned when the dreaded Hudood Ordinance, enacted in 1979 by Zia ul-Haq when Pakistan became an Islamic republic, would be withdrawn. The Hudood Ordinance, according to the Asian Centre for Human Rights, "criminalises adultery and non-marital sex, including rape. It further victimises the women victims by providing virtual impunity to the rapists and prosecuting the victims instead."

Under this law, if a woman is raped, and reports it, the onus is on her to prove that she was raped. She has to bring along four male eyewitnesses. Only then will the law consider her case. On the other hand, if she cannot prove that she was raped, then she could be charged with adultery, a non-bailable offence that can even invite the death penalty under certain circumstances.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Forced departures

Source: The Hindu


EARLIER this week, on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 and the terror attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, the world's media focused on the event and its impact on the lives of people and on the rest of the world. But terror, perhaps of a different kind, is a constant in the lives of millions of women — a daily reality that is rarely reported or even acknowledged.

The State of the World's Population 2006, the annual assessment of population-related issues prepared by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), has focused this time on women and international migration. The report would have contributed to the High Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development that was held at the United Nations headquarters in New York on September 14 and 15.

A variety of reasons

When women are compelled to leave their homes and their countries, for one reason or another, they lay themselves open to new and old forms of violence and exploitation. Women move from village to town, from one country to another for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they join a husband who has gone ahead to look for better prospects; sometimes they go on their own to earn more; sometimes they are forced to move because of war, famine, poverty or political persecution. Whatever the compulsion, the choice is not an easy one. The move is often dictated by circumstances that are beyond the woman's control. Today, half of all international migrants are women.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Wounds that have yet to heal

Source: The Hindu

Kalpana Sharma

The judgment in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts should not obscure the absence of closure on the 1992-93 communal riots.

MARCH 12, 1993 is a day not many in Mumbai, who were present on that day, will forget. Over a dozen serial bomb blasts ripped through the city from the early hours of the afternoon. They tore apart chunks of Mumbai's landmarks such as the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) building on Dalal Street and the Air India building at Nariman Point. And, 257 people died, more than 700 were injured.

The blasts took place at a time when Mumbai's residents had yet to recover from weeks of the most vicious communal riots the city had witnessed in decades. Hundreds had died, crores of rupees of property had been destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of people had been displaced. Virtually the entire city had been touched by the killing, the arson, the reprisals, the hate campaigns, and the fear.

Before people could fully recover, and even as the first tentative steps were being taken to come to terms with the riots, pin responsibility, compensate the families of the dead and the injured, and build structures that heal the rift between communities, the city was shaken once again. Some saw this as a closure, a statement on behalf of a community that had been deeply wounded. Others wondered whether this would make the community much more vulnerable in the years to come.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link)

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Babies in the well

Source: The Hindu



IT is a story that should remain on the front pages of newspapers. Come
to think of it, perhaps our papers should create a corner on the front
page and call it something like Reality Check. So that even as we
celebrate India's growth rate, its shining successes in other fields, we are
reminded of other realities.

One such reality that ought not to slip off the news pages is the real
significance of a recent discovery in Punjab, one of India's most
prosperous States. In the vicinity of a private hospital in Patran, Patiala
district, a 30-ft-deep well yielded 50 dead foetuses, all female. The
location of the well near the clinic was not accidental. For, clearly,
despite the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention
of Misuse) Act, 1994, (usually referred to as the PNDT Act), the
aborting of female foetuses continues virtually unchecked. A few days after
this discovery, in another well near the same clinic bones that appeared
to be those of foetuses were found, although their sex was not evident.
The owner of the hospital has been arrested and the Punjab Government
has initiated checks into private clinics and hospitals across the

The story is every bit as horrific as it sounds. But it seems to have
passed off as just another sad incident of the way women remain unwanted
and continue to be hated and undervalued in this country.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Commerce, cosmopolitanism, and bans

Source: The Hindu

In an age where the flow of information cannot be stopped, are bans of the kind recently witnessed in Mumbai — on telecasting films with an "A" certificate — the right thing?

MUMBAI IS fast gaining the reputation of being not India's commercial capital but its "moral" capital. In the course of the last decade, there have been a string of incidents that have illustrated the extent to which moral policing is gaining ground. From stopping couples sitting near the sea-face, to banning bar girls to the most recent ban on telecasting films with an "A" certificate, Mumbai is taking the lead. For a city known for its modernity and cosmopolitanism this is, indeed, a strange turn. Are these trends accidental or are they part of a larger politics that is redefining the city?

Take the latest controversy, on which popular opinion is almost as divided as on the question of allowing girls to dance in bars. When a professor of political science from St Xavier's College petitioned the Bombay High Court, asking for a ban on the telecast of films certified "adults only" because they were adversely affecting children, most people did not take the issue seriously. They did not expect that the Bombay High Court would respond by asking cable operators to black out all such films. Despite its order of December 21, 2005, nothing happened. In any case, it would not have been possible for individual multi-system operators (MSOs) to check each day's programme on the movie channels, determine whether any of the films scheduled to be telecast had been certified "A," and then blank them out.

The status quo continued until the petitioner realised the court's order was not being implemented. Once again she moved the court. This time the High Court threatened to slap contempt of court on the Mumbai police if they did not act. And so they did. On a Sunday night, when many families sit back to watch a film on television, they suddenly found their television sets blank. To protest the police raids on MSOs, all cable operators simply turned off their transmission. The whole of the next day there was complete confusion; no one knew exactly what had happened. The local cable operator only had piecemeal information. Without even news channels, barring Doordarshan, people had no access to "breaking" news. Late that night, all other channels were restored except the movie channels when Home Minister R.R. Patil assured cable operators that they would not be penalised for something that was out of their control.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

To the women of South Africa

Source: The Hindu

To the women of South Africa

THIS is a letter to our sisters in South Africa.

Fifty years ago, on August 9, 1956, 20,000 of you
defied your country's oppressive laws and marched to
protest against the discriminatory pass laws of that
despicable system of apartheid. Two years before
this, on April 17, 1954, when you founded the
Federation of South African Women, you formulated
"The Women's Charter" that is relevant even today.
Your words, "The level of civilisation which any
society has reached can be measured by the degree of
freedom that its members enjoy. The status of women
is a test of civilisation," have echoed around the
world since then.

Your slogan during the August 9 march also struck a
chord: "Now you have touched the women, You have
struck a rock, (You have dislodged a boulder!), You
will be crushed!"

Eventually, your prophecy came true and the terrible
nightmare of the apartheid regime ended in 1994 when
South Africa took its first step towards freedom. At
the opening of your country's first democratically
elected Parliament on May 24, 1994, your
inspirational first President, Nelson Mandela said,
"Freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been
emancipated from all forms of oppression."

Today, some of that oppression has ended. The new
South Africa has accepted women as equal partners.
One third of your Parliament is made up of women.
And 43 per cent of the Ministers in President Thabo
Mbeki's cabinet are women.

That is enviable. But what is even more impressive
is the acknowledgement by the current male
leadership that despite being part of a
"progressive" movement to end apartheid, they did
not fully accept the need for gender equality. It
was a pleasant surprise to read what President Mbeki
said in his address on the 50th anniversary of the
Women's March. He admitted that in its earlier
history, the anti-apartheid movement "also
perpetuated the inferiority of women within its own
ranks." He said that at its foundation, the African
National Congress did not accept women as full
members and that its 1919 Constitution only allowed
them to be auxiliary members with no voting rights
or the chance to be elected to a position within the

This changed in 1943 when women became full members
of the ANC and a Women's League was established.
Even so, it took more than 10 years for the first
woman to be elected into the National Executive
Committee of the ANC. "The fact of the matter
therefore is that it took our movement more than 40
years fully to give expression within its own ranks
to the principle and practice of gender equality,"
said President Mbeki. He went further to acknowledge
that although 12 years after liberation, much had
been done to enhance women's status, "we have as yet
not achieved gender equality and are still some
distance away from realising the goal of a
non-sexist society."

That kind of admission from a head of state has to
be applauded because it is so rare. It would be
truly unusual if one of our leaders, from any of the
political parties, admitted past errors and accepted
current realities.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Blogging in Beirut

Source: The Hindu


IMAGES of the Qana massacre in Lebanon are numbing. There can be no
comment. No words. Only immense sorrow and anger at the pointless nature
of war. Before our very eyes we are watching a nation being destroyed.

None of this is unfamiliar. It happened three years ago, in Iraq. But
Lebanon is another story. A tragic one. It has a history that seems
cyclical. The Israelis bombed Qana in 1996. Then, over 100 died. And then
it was bombed again by them on Sunday, July 30, 2006 and more than 50
died, 34 of them children.

It makes no sense because war makes no sense. We know that. Leaders of
nations should know that. History should have taught the world that.
And yet wars happen. Wars without end.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link)

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Why Mumbai escaped a flare-up

Source: The Hindu (

Kalpana Sharma

MUMBAI HAS not seen a serious communal conflagration since the post-Babri Masjid 1992-93 riots. The absence of a riot does not mean there has been no communal tension. But for a variety of reasons, the tension between communities has been restricted or contained within certain areas and has not spread to the entire city. This is something that has to be noted, not necessarily to be celebrated.

With the on-going investigations into the July 11 serial bomb blasts, the question about whether communal tensions could once again surface and come out in the open is being debated. Some feel that the anger in the minority community, which comprises over 17 per cent of Mumbai's population, is boiling over and some of it has found expression in the men suspected of having participated directly, or having assisted indirectly in the bomb blasts. It is evident that in some Muslim-dominated pockets, there is fear, anger, and even resignation following the "combing" operations being conducted by the police.

However, Muslim community leaders say this is nothing new.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link)

Saturday, July 29, 2006

IIT profs take on Modi

IIT professors denounce Modi
Chennai, July 28: Two IIT Madras professors today protested Narendra Modi’s presence at a convention on the institute’s campus, one of them holding up a placard that said, “Mr Modi, We Disapprove”. |  Read

Page url:

Please read this. I don't know how many other newspapers would have covered this.

How 'normal' is Mumbai

On the surface, life in Mumbai is normal. Better than normal, some would say, because despite the July 11 bomb blasts, trouble has not broken out between Hindus and Muslims. Better than normal because despite the police rounding up and questioning hundreds of Muslims, mostly young men, in the different Muslim mohallas, there has been no outcry and protests against the police.

Yet, this is the surface. Underneath there is trouble, there is resentment, there is disappointment.

Within days of the blasts, two stories appeared in the press (Mumbai Mirror, July 27) that illustrate the trouble that is brewing and that could grow. Hamid Pir Mohammad Ghojaria, a watch repair mechanic from Jogeshwari, took a train to south Mumbai to submit admission forms for his son to a local college. At around 5.15 p.m. he entered a train that he planned to take to the next station. He says, as soon as he entered the compartment, he saw commuters beating up a passenger who had worn a Pathani suit. Before long, the commuters spotted him. Ghojaria sports a beard and wears a cap. He said these men shouted, “Get out of this country, go back to Pakistan, you do not belong here, you are the ones responsible for the blasts in the city”. They turned on him and began hitting him and when he cried out “Allah”, they insisted he take the names of Ram and Krishna. Luckily for him, the next stop, which was the last stop, Churchgate, came and he was let off. He has registered a police case but the men who did this to him simply walked away.

A similar case has been reported of Abdul Aziz Kandhai from Malad. A salesman of mobile accessories, Kandhai had taken a train from Kandivili to Marine Lines in South Mumbai. Like Ghojaria, he too sports a beard and wears a cap. There was a bomb scare on his train half way to his destination and most people jumped off the train. Kandhai stayed on board and was chanting with his rosary beats. But others in his compartment, who had stayed on the train rather than jumping off, began to abuse him and accused him of having planted the bomb. He says seven or eight men pounced on him and hit him. He managed to get off the train at the next stop and approached a policeman for help. But he got none.

These might be stray incidents. Or they might be indicative of something more that is brewing in the city.

Women, for instance, acknowledge that there is a great deal of fear in their areas as the police undertake combing operations in connection with the bomb blasts. Hundreds of young men are being rounded up and questioned. And although the majority of them are innocent and are eventually allowed to go, the very fact of being summoned to a police station sends a message of fear to the entire neighbourhood.

A woman who runs an organisation for Muslim women says that Muslims in Mumbai have not forgotten that nothing has been done to punish the people responsible for the killings during the 1992-93 post-Babri Masjid riots. There has not been a single conviction in a riot related case even as the long awaited judgment in the ‘93 bomb blasts case will finally be delivered on August 10, after 12 years in trial courts. She also points out that while the English language newspapers are running daily profiles of the 182 people killed in the July 11 blasts, the majority of the thousands who died in the Gujarat massacre of 2002 are people not known to the general public. No newspaper ran such detailed profiles.

And little is also known about what the survivors of 2002 are facing in Gujarat today. It’s as if Gujarat has been forgotten as other troubles hog column inches and broadcast time. But Gujarat is a wound on the psyche on the majority of Muslims that will not just disappear with time.

She also says that some of the women she works with -- many of them live in Muslim-dominated neighbourhoods and wear the burqa – have noticed that people that people stare at them with hostility and pass comments suggesting that the entire community is made of terrorists. One of these women said that she wished she didn’t have to travel by train and that when she does, she wishes she had ear plugs to block out such comments.

We need to look beneath the surface and bring out the real tensions that minorities face at times of terror. Writing about this does not mean one condones those who helped the terrorists. It also does not mean that the police should be stopped from doing their jobs. But what it does mean is that if we truly believe in a multi-cultural and secular society, then we must be alert and sensitive to the wrongs that can so easily be perpetuated in the name of fighting the war against terror.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Can Mumbai take any more?

Source: The Hindu

THE SERIAL bomb blasts on Mumbai's trains on July 11 have almost made us forget another anniversary that will take place on July 26. Last year, on this day, Mumbai came to a standstill. It almost drowned. And for the next 48 hours practically nothing moved. No trains, no planes, no buses, no cars, no people. For a city that tentatively picked itself up the very next day after the devastation caused by the bombs that went off in seven rush-hour commuter trains on July 11 this year, that was quite a feat. How easy it is to forget that more people died on July 26, 2005, than on July 11. Those 182 who perished in the trains were victims of a plot that is beyond anyone's control. Till today, the Mumbai police remain clueless. Some arrests have been made. Some theories have been set out. But none of these add up to a credible explanation for what happened on that day. Not yet.

Yet, even before we know who did this, some television channels are suggesting how we should deal with the perpetrators of the crime. Within days of the blasts, a few television channels had begun conducting one of their inane instant polls asking people to vote whether India should do an Israel on terrorism. In other words, should India bomb the alleged terrorist training camps in Pakistan? And the response, not surprisingly, has been an overwhelming "yes" for this absurd proposition. Absurd because no one can win a war fought between two countries with nuclear weapons.

Needless to say, none of these channels has bothered to give its viewers a little bit of history about Lebanon, the genesis of the conflict there, what happened in 1982 when Israel resorted to almost identical action, the fact that Lebanon had finally begun to look forward to a period of peace and prosperity after decades of being an arena of proxy war. In fact, most Indians would not have known that there were so many of their fellow countrymen and women working there.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Learning from Mumbai

Source: The Hindu


PEOPLE living in this great metropolis of Mumbai are
angry and sad. Not just because seven serial blasts
that ripped through Mumbai's lifeline, the suburban
train network, killed 186 people and injured over
700 on Tuesday, July 11. Not because the daily
tension and discomfort of commuting on packed trains
will be that much worse now — with the added
component of fear. Not because in times of need we
are always left to fend for ourselves with the State
either absconding or held up elsewhere. Not because
people in other cities are celebrating our
"resilience" and "spirit" without knowing the first
thing about the daily challenges that the majority
of Mumbaikars face and overcome.

Impossible conditions

No, none of these reasons makes us sad and angry
although some may annoy us. We are sad because
despite petitions and protests, we still have to
continue to travel each day like cattle instead of
human beings. Because no one, but no one, is
bothered about the impossible conditions in which
the majority of us live, or the fact that because
housing is not available within easy reach of where
we work we must commute long hours and impossible
distances in trains packed with three times the
number of people than their capacity.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link)

First Post

I've joined the league of bloggers, finally, for two reasons:

One, the Indian government recently blocked blogs in its attempt to do something about terrorism. As a person who has lived through the Emergency and press censorship, I found this decision senseless, to say the least. It is a typical reaction from a government that has not thought through its policies and also does not have a clear view of what freedom of expression really means.

Two, members of my family and friends have suggested I create a blog. I have resisted because I have little time to spend "blogging" when there's so much else routine writing that has to be done as part of my job. But often I do have views that don't necessarily mesh with what I can publish in my newspaper or elsewhere. What a perfect place this is to begin and continue conversations on issues that concern so many of us. Hence, the blog.

I also have friends who are sent my column every fortnight. I'll spare them the irritation of receiving it in their mailbox every fortnight and instead give them a chance to read it in their own time on my blog.