Ostrich Syndrome!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Kashmir: Let’s Blink

To the north of the Indian peninsula, uncomfortably locked between Pakistan and China, lies the land mass of Jammu and Kashmir. To some it is home but to majority of us who sit a few hundred thousand kilometers away, it is a symbol of India’s unity and pride. The shinning crown. Unfortunately this symbol of vanity has been the focus of strife in all its sixty three years of existence with the Indian mainland. It has been inherited through war & blood and continues to be a painful bleeding sore on the forehead of India.
The events of last few months have further added to the tragedy of Kashmir. The spectrum of resistance in Kashmir has seen a new hue. The struggle for azadi (freedom) has new voices and so do the brutalities committed by the Indian state in the name of guarding sovereignty and national interests. The line between sovereignty and subjugation has faded. They want azadi and we want a hold on this strategic geo-political mass. Who is right and who is wrong? Are we really interested in the Kashmiri people or are our interests limited to Kashmir, the valley?
It is regrettable that as nationalist Indians we think of Kashmir only when the valley prods us with violent protests, custodial deaths or brutality of armed forces/the terrorists. Kashmir as an assimilation point in the mainland of India does not exist in our imagination. Whenever we talk of Kashmir it is ceremonial to quote a racist Persian proverb, “Gher qahet ul rejal uftand ba sey uns kum gheri, Yeke Afghan, doyam Kamboh, soyum badzat Kashmiri” which simply translated means even if there is scarcity of humanity, do not get closer to three subsets of people namely Afghans, Kambohs and the rogue Kashmiris. How convenient to disown a whole subset of people which have existed for thousands of years on the very land which we so proudly call our motherland.
The severance of Kashmir’s umbilical cord with India is near complete. We don’t think of them and they don’t assume us in their imagination. Do we care if villagers of rural Kashmir develop a unique psychiatric illness called the midnight knock syndrome (following late night searches by security forces)? Do we bother if psychiatric illnesses are the maximum amongst Kashmiri Pandits settled in Jammu? How many of us even know that one third of Kashmiris in the age group of 15 to 40 years have some form of substance abuse? How many of us would stand for the cause of a Kashmiri student who has been denied accommodation in Delhi due to his decent? Does it not bother an economist Prime Minister if Kashmir is ranked 22nd amongst the states of the Indian union in terms of per capita income (at Rs.20,604)? How come a Harvard educated Home Minister does not realize the perils of staggering unemployment rates in the valley? Kashmiris do not exist on the national agenda. How can we expect assimilation of Kashmir when we have opened so many veins which bleed the valley white? To be honest, we stand accused of injecting nihilism in the valley.
I agree that a large part of the problem has its birth in the Pakistan sponsored separatist movement of the 80s and 90s. But what we do not realize is the slow transition of this state sponsored separatist movement into a full fledged struggle for azadi by the masses of Kashmir. Cognizant ignorance of Kashmiri grievances combined with an incompetent political class has worked as a catalyst in the process of this transition. The use of force, application of draconian laws, fake encounters by security forces and apathy towards the common Kashmiri by the motherland has only given teeth to the call for azadi. India’s sovereignty and Kashmir’s azadi are at loggerheads in the valley. The human cost of this never ending war is phenomenal. The wailing of Kashmiri mothers, sisters and daughters has a deafening echo in the realms of civil society across the globe. Mainland India stands accused for this extraordinary situation. Every stone pelting Kashmiri killed by an Indian bullet gives birth to ten more protesters ready to die for the cause of Kashmiriyat. We do not realize that the role of Pakistan and of hate breeding jehadi terrorist camps from across the border is fast diminishing. Kashmir, the proxy war with Pakistan, is near over; we are now fighting our own people – young boys and girls fuelled by failure of faith on part of India. The accusation, humiliation, torture, rape and killings have only added to the ever swelling numbers of protestors who come out to face the frustration of the motherland.
The “ostrich syndrome” of burying our heads in the sand thinking everything is well, is not working in Kashmir. We have tried bullets. We have played the batons. The failure of force is too evident to be ignored. The monster is staring us direct in the eye. It’s time we blink. It’s time we think. The ignominy of forceful suppression in Kashmir is now beginning to show up. The bloody trail of the past three months should be discomforting for a nation which bears foundation of a non-violent freedom struggle. The call for azadi can be overlooked but can we ignore the smell of human flesh and blood? It is said that peace is not the absence of war but the presence of justice. The Kashmir valley pleads for justice. The serenity of Chasme Shahi, the blue waters of Wular Lake and the dew drops on the pines is not what makes Kashmir an integral part of India. Beating hearts, free minds, aspiring thoughts and a mist of warm breath is what Kashmir is all about.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Commonwealth Games and Kalawati

The so called “irresponsible remarks” by Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyar (on the Commonwealth Games) have left the government and its beloved babus fuming. The routine and the alternative media is buzz with an outright condemnation of Mr. Aiyar, calling him anti-national and an unworthy son of this great motherland. It all amuses me.
As an Indian, I know that the stakes of Indian pride on a global scene are too high to be meddled with at the last moment. The Beijing Olympics have showcased China to a global audience and we are told by the self righteous hawks that we too should use this opportunity to showcase the might of India, the next super-power. We are told that events like the Commonwealth Games bring with them employment and opportunities for developing and improving the existing infra-structure. The government sees the event as a boon for economic development and prosperity. I won’t be wrong in concluding that we have been made to believe that the woes of the common Indian will be laid to rest on October 3, 2010 as soon as the games are declared open!
Alas! This could have been true. The darker side of the organization of these games is not only murky but plainly speaking dirty to the soul. Corruption, malpractices, poor quality and irrelevant budgeting have plagued the games in a big way. The games will conclude with an approximate budget of 35000 Crore rupees (or 1.3 Billion USD). Imagine a sum of 3500 Crore Rupees just to develop a showcase of might and economic well being in a country where 47% of population earns less than 1.25$! What can we call this? Are there words to describe this inhuman and irrelevant extravagance?
I agree with those who argue that events like the Commonwealth games shouldn’t be compared with governmental policies of public welfare. True but unfortunately it is not all about money; it is the irrelevance of thought of our policy makers which angers me. It was heartening to see Mr. Rahul Gandhi talk about Kalawati during the trust motion in 2008. But can he imagine that how many more Kalawatis would have been added to the system ever since the inception of construction work for the Commonwealth Games? I still remember Beena, the eight year old daughter of Ram Pyari, a migrant worker from Uttar Pradesh who had come to Delhi with her family to work on one of the stadia. Beena had bone cancer and of course the family could not afford any treatment. Beena died in one of the slums which had come out as an illegitimate offspring of the Commonwealth games village. The family wanted to take Beena’s body back home but couldn’t afford loosing the provisional livelihood as the contractor wanted the work to go on a war footing- he had a deadline to meet. Beena was buried in Delhi and Ram Pyari continued working at the stadia which is now ready as a symbol of India’s growing economic might- the ornament of the showcase which Mr. Kalmadi and his bunch of imbecile nitwits want us to appreciate. I am sure the story of Beena and Ram Pyari is not the only one. Many Beenas lie buried under the debris of what we think is the greatest sporting event in the country. Surely, the cost of organizing the games goes far beyond 35000 Crore rupees.
It is ironic that the logo of these games has been made to look like the Chakra (a symbol of India’s freedom) with four colors- red, blue, yellow and pink. Each color has relevance and they represent the “trinity of values” which symbolizes the games. Red represents a unification of humanity, yellow –a chance for the athletes to realize their destiny, blue promotes equality and pink we are made to believe adds an element of surprise and luxury to the games and reflects India in all its resplendent glory. On one of Beena’s visit to my clinic I had asked her which color does she like the best. It haunts me that she had abruptly said “Pink”. No wonder India’s “resplendent” glory could only be erected on her flesh and bones.
I am surprised why the “trinity of values” concept eludes our ruling class when it comes to prioritizing hunger, poverty and ignorance? Why can’t the red represent an equitable distribution of resources? Why can’t blue promote social equality and social justice? And how about assigning the yellow color to opportunities and hope to fulfill the destiny of millions of common Indians who are otherwise too effete to even stretch their imagination beyond the need and fulfillment of daily bread? It is indeed a matter of shame that we want to hold the Commonwealth games even when we have yet to sort out more pressing issues which require an in-depth and humane allocation of funds and resources. I won’t be exaggerating if I compare this to Pokhran-II where an incumbent BJP government found it appropriate to conduct the blasts and gain instant middle class popularity rather than mending India’s gaping economic and social wounds.
The showcase of Indian glory will also be a hallmark of core values which define our ruling political and bureaucratic setup - corruption, lop sided priorities and a determination to pose an untimely, unasked and unnecessary agenda on the common man. I agree with Mr. Aiyar that with the conclusion of Commonwealth Games on October 13, the hungry hounds will look forth to future programs of loot. Maybe Asian games or even Olympics- the final sporting spectacle, the final event for unprecedented plunder of my and your money. In the mean time Mr. Rahul Gandhi’s Kalawatis and my Ram Pyaris can only curse their fates. Their numbers will grow. Many more Beenas will be buried under the debris of “resplendent” glory and phony pride of India. Pinks will elude their meaning for her and for the likes of her; black will be the color of the day.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Attack on Freedom Flotilla- Come on Obama, earn your Nobel!

When President Barrack Obama was declared the winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace 2009, there were mixed responses from the International and US communities. The black were ecstatic, the whites sighed, and the browns like me only hoped that the Nobel laureate Obama would usher in change in a world where his country is seen more of a tormentor than anything else. Unfortunately nothing changed. More American soldiers were commissioned in Afghanistan; more drones killed innocent civilians than Al Qaida members in the tribal areas of Pakistan; more “development” work was sanctioned to American companies in Iraq and even more hysteria was generated against the weapons of mass destruction with Iran. It appeared that the Nobel Prize for Peace to Barrack Obama was as much a waste as it was a hoax in those six years when the real champion of peace, Mahatma Gandhi was denied its bestowment (We were told that Gandhi was nominated six times for the prize).
The Israeli attack on the Turkish boats carrying humanitarian aid to the caged people of Gaza is an opportunity thrown by history towards President Barrack Obama to earn his Nobel Peace Prize. The merciless killing of nineteen innocent humanitarian aid victims by Israeli forces aboard the Freedom Flotilla is not new. Israel is known for similar brutalities in the past. Who can forget the killing of innocent Muhhamad Al Durrah, the little boy who hid behind his father to avoid the Israeli bullets at a sleepy Gaza junction? Or for that matter can we ever forget the thousands murdered at the Sabra-Shatila camps in Beirut? So what is so big if Israel has committed murder again? To an ordinary citizen of the world like me, it is the audacity with which Israeli authorities perpetrated these crimes, right in front of world attention, knowing the consequences! It was murder planned and executed in broad daylight, right in our drawing rooms. The iron cold savagery of Israeli authorities has even taken its allies by surprise. Never have we seen such a global outcry over an Israeli atrocity.
In the opening remarks of his Noble lecture, President Obama had said, “It is an award that speaks to our highest aspirations – that for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice”. Undoubtedly strong, soul stirring words. But actions to bend history in the direction of justice never come easy. We know President Barrack Obama is an excellent orator. He weaves his words to make the listener believe in him. His popular Cairo University speech to Muslims is an epitome of rhetoric manufactured to the tune of popular Muslim sentiments. But for how long? Words sound good only if they are followed by firm actions. Actions are fortunately impervious to rhetoric. They have the accuracy to hit where it hurts. We know what Martin Luther King meant in his I Have a Dream speech because his actions and subsequently his sacrifice were proof enough to nurture the meaning of each and every word- truthful and heavy with purpose.
It’s interesting that President Obama’s second book Audacity of Hope derives its inspiration from the famous painting Hope by G.F. Watts. Obama had attended a sermon by his mentor, Jeremiah White who had then described the painting - "with her clothes in rags, her body scarred and bruised and bleeding, her harp all but destroyed and with only one string left, she had the audacity to make music and praise God ... To take the one string you have left and to have the audacity to hope ... that's the real word God will have us hear from this passage and from Watt's painting." How much more will President Barrack Obama wait? Palestine as a geopolitical entity is in rags. Its landmass divided by unjustified borders and fences. Its body scarred, bruised and bleeding. Every day brings new wounds and fresh death. The harp of hope for millions of Palestinians is long broken. The identity of Palestine has been untimely aborted by cruel hands of the Israeli establishment.
There are moments in history which demand change in our perceptions and attitudes to what looks routine. We have become immune to the siege and violence of Gaza. We have become deaf to the cries of mothers and lamenting of daughters. The complex power equations of the Middle East have muddled the cost of human suffering which is an inevitable part of the package. With each day the darkness around Gaza deepens. Peace talks, war crimes and peace talks again. The cycle goes on with a status quo which suites the perpetrators more than the victims. The attack on Freedom Flotilla is one such moment which has thrown a chance not towards Barak Obama, the President of the most powerful country in the world, but towards Barak Obama, the Nobel Laureate for Peace 2009. There is no paucity of options on Barak Obama’s platter. Israeli economic blockage, redefining biased territorial divisions, UN sanctions, maybe use of force or even freedom for the people of Palestine in general and Gaza in particular. President Obama was criticized by many for being given the Nobel Prize prematurely. This is the opportunity to justify the award and to reaffirm the faith of people in hope and humanity.
We know the cost of standing up against Israel and the Zionist agenda can be exorbitant and pure dangerous, but then the cost to maintain status quo is already deadly. We hope Barack Obama, the first black President of the United States of America stands up to what he writes and thinks. We hope that his actions, not rhetoric, will manufacture global consent against any further Israeli oppression. We hope that he frees the prisoners of Gaza not only from their brutal masters but from their fates as well. President Barak Obama, we will wait to see if you are just one of them or are you a rare breed.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Our Choice: Insulated Nationalism or Arundhati Roy?

Across the length and breath of human history there are instances when a person can get away with murder but being an anti-national (as defined by popular sentiment) is a crime of the highest order. In Hollywood or in Bollywood, treason is the ultimate epitome of a villainous character. Arundhati Roy’s recent essay on Maoists of Dhantewada has more or less opened a Pandora’s Box. More than the debate on subject, the conventional and the alternative media (read internet) is busy in pronouncing her guilty of treason, a charge not easy to prove or refute. In wake of what I consider as one of the most poignant pieces of honest evaluation, Ms. Roy has come under significant attack from both the right and left ends of political and intellectual class. Many have written her off as an anti-national about whom India and Indians should not worry. She has been labeled as a fanatic bohemian. She has been disregarded as an author who has a habit to describe the problem emotively without offering a solution. In a nutshell she has been criticized, spited and even threatened. Of all the comments on her platter, her being labeled as a rabid, anti-national is the one which makes interesting read.
George Orwell had once said, “by ‘nationalism’ I mean the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labeled ‘good’ or ‘bad’”. Good or bad? Nationalist or Anti-national? The vernacular sounds familiar. As a young boy growing in a Muslim ghetto, I had heard this vocabulary on more than a single occasion. Growing up in a middle class, “secular” Muslim Indian household, my sensitivity to nationalism had been nurtured and grown into a robust beast, ready to devour any signs of sedition, treason and subversion. It was very late in life when I realized that nationalism does not necessarily mean accepting all that the state says, commands and orders. Nationalism also means asking the correct questions at the correct time even if this compromises the state’s own interests.
We all practice what can safely be labeled as “insulated nationalism”. A kind of nationalism which is kept free from external influences and affections. Pure and unadulterated. Insulated nationalism carries the smell of blood. It attracts beasts of all kinds. Human history is full of disastrous effects of insulated, thoughtless nationalism. Nationalism gave birth to Hitler. In the early nineties, it was nationalism cooked with a pinch of Hindu religion which saw the rise of right wing fascist parties in our country. Taliban and their machinery of jihadism is the end product of nationalism mixed with tenants of Islam. Jingoism post 9/11 incited the American people not only to re-elect an incumbent and incompetent George W Bush but also to support his so called war against terror. Insulated nationalism is one of the most perfect weapons of mass destruction human mind has ever discovered. A missile which can be fired without any payload; from any distance. It’s an unmanned drone which causes unprecedented destruction in its wake.
The rhetoric of insulated Nationalism can be most dangerous when the people fed on it are half literate, half hungry, half clothed and all in all half human. This half human does not realize that even his nationalism is half baked in the fire of vested interests. Day in and day out his mind is controlled by the jingoism which appears on television, radio, newspapers and other sources of state outlet. The ability to ask questions, the power to raise a finger, the insight to evaluate a plot, are all burnt in the fire of this insulated nationalism. The story doesn’t end here. The insulation of nationalism is further fortified by straps of religion, caste, and region. So, if you are a Muslim you cannot question the violation of human rights in Kashmir. If you are a dalit you cannot condemn the government’s credibility on reservation policies. A Christian cannot raise the issue of Orissa carnage on an International Human Rights forum. And on similar lines, an Arundhati Roy cannot raise a voice against the misfortune of adivasis and the tribal of Dhantewada without being labeled anti-national.
Nationalism is an innate trait which we acquire growing up in a society. The components of nationalism cannot be forced but felt. Nationalism means assimilation and integration of people on a common social stage. What kind of nationalism can we expect from the dalit survivors of Kherlenji massacre or the lucky ones from the Gujarat and Delhi (1984) pogroms? None. Their perception of nationalism and the concept of nationhood have been blurred (or should we say clarified) by their experiences of the microenvironment they lived in. The insulation from their nationalism has been ripped apart, exposing the rawness to factors around them. In fact it would be outright ridiculous to expect quantum of nationalist packages coming out from such underprivileged and downtrodden sections of the society which has been denied justice in cold blood. Strangely it would not be surprising if we see the perpetrators of these crimes berate nationalist slogans from roof tops. Insulated nationalism is surely a strange weapon.
As for the likes of Arundhati Roy, who could be more nationalist than the one who has the ability and courage to raise voice against injustice, inequality and discrimination of her own people? Who could be more patriotic than the one who fights for the rights of those whom we consider inconvenient road blocks in the agenda of OUR progress. It is frightening to see the “insect” definition of George Orwell being applied with impunity. Nationalism with insulation is like fire without warmth, like a bird without wings. It is time that we remove the insulation from our nationalism so that our raw nerves could be exposed to what is happening around us and with us. The mist of breath and the warmth of blood spilled next door can only be felt if we have this raw nerve.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Certificate of Good Standing from the MCI- Who Needs it?

For any Indian doctor applying for a course or even employment outside the country, it is usually essential to procure a “Certificate of Good Standing” from the Medical Council of India (MCI). I have gone through this arduous task on a couple of occasions. Correctly enough the validity of this certificate is for a year and for re-certification you have to again go through the same procedure. That is to say the Council keeps a check on your character as a doctor on an annual basis.
A couple of weeks back, Dr. Ketan Desai, the President of MCI was nabbed by the CBI on charges of taking a bribe of Rupees 2 crores in lieu of recognizing a Medical College from Punjab. How ironic could that be! President of the Council which issues Certificates of Good Standing to thousands of doctors has a dubious character himself. No wonder, the Certificate of Good Standing of the MCI is not signed by its President. This task is left with the Registrar of the Council.
It is funny (and scary) how often our government system and its characters are an oxymoron to their own value system. How often we are betrayed by those in whom we dispose our faith and belief. Judges, civil servants, politicians, journalists, doctors. You name it and every single profession has betrayed the common Indian in the country’s short history of sixty three years. It makes me think. Are we heading in the right direction or have we lost the plot already?
We all remember the first few lines of “tryst with destiny” speech of Jawaharlal Nehru on that eventful midnight but we rather prefer to forget the concluding part of his speech. He had said, “We have hard work ahead. There is no resting for any one of us till we redeem our pledge in full, till we make all the people of India what destiny intended them to be”. Surely destiny didn’t mean this for the people of India to be! Against the back drop of Nehru’s “tryst with destiny”, the destiny of common Indians is written not by themselves but by thugs who are at the helm of affairs.
Loss of faith of the common man in government machinery is an open secret. People like Dr. Desai only reaffirm this loss. It is this breach of faith which throws a life-line to the ever expanding private sector. Day in and day out, new hospitals and private medical schools pock mark the Indian landscape. Rules are twisted. Illegal permissions granted. The party goes on. The loot goes unabated. I am not arguing that the Private health sector should not exist. Unarguably the government health sector should be supplemented but not substituted by a robust private sector. In fact some of the best brains in Medical sciences in our country are the product of a vibrant private health sector.
Unfortunately, the problem is not the private sector. What can we accept from Institutions which are formed and run with an open intent to earn money? Dr. Ketan Desai was not from the private set up. It is us, people working in the public sector who are guilty of betraying our clientele again and again. It is us who defy rules. It is us who get lured to money. It is us who are an easy prey to temptations of wealth, power and mammon.
The acceptance of “gifts” from pharmaceutical companies is a common occurrence in thousands of government hospitals across the country. How conveniently a “bribe” can be changed into a “gift” is something on which we all need to ponder. Gifts are given to someone you love, not to doctors meant to treat patients! Pharmaceutical companies set out big sums in their budgets to lure doctors into writing their drugs and implants. It is ironic that the corridor of most government hospitals across India are filled with sick and dying patients as well as a good number of neatly dressed medical representatives with well polished shoes. In fact I could see the class difference here too, bigger the company, more suave the representative!
The most dangerous part of the story is that with exponential (and selective) economic growth, there has been an intrusion of foreign companies on the Indian scene. Most CME programs, medical conferences and surgical workshops are now sponsored (read hijacked) by these profit making machines. The promotion of implants and drugs in the name of scientific research in a country with no clear guidelines and checks is a matter of urgent concern. The rampant use of implants actually meant for the western population is riddled with intrinsic complications. But who cares? The flow of money washes away the ethical concerns.
The corruption in the Indian medical fraternity is not limited to the MCI or Dr. Ketan Desai. The rot goes deep. He just headed the juggernaut which steam rolls over human life and suffering in the pretext of alleviating it. The disintegration of ethical values is near complete. Entice of wealth has taken its toll. The question is whether we can break out of this free fall or are we ready to land with our faces flat on the ground. The task is cut out for the MCI. There is an urgent need to set the house in order. The need of an honest and transparent system at the MCI cannot be over emphasised. It’s my belief that India cannot cleanse itself of people like Dr. Desai. They will keep coming back like seasonal pests. But we can surely have a system to identify and neutralise them. If checks and balances are in place the likes of Dr. Desai can be kept at bay. In all honesty, the Medical Council of India needs a Certificate of Good Standing for itself more than anyone else.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Why I hate the IPL

To qualify as an Indian, it is essential that you love cricket, it is important that you gossip, it is vital to fall in love with pelvic thrusting actors and cajoling actresses on the celluloid screen and it is quintessential that you make money the quick (and sometimes the wrong) way. The saga of Indian Premier League (IPL), the beleaguered cricket league of India, is no exception to these general rules of Indianness. The vulgar display of money, power and beauty is there for all to see. From selfish business tycoons to iconic players, all adorn the masala called IPL. It is surely entertainment at its best. The kind of recipe which made a friend’s eighty-five year old grandma vouch for a team (it’s a different matter that she can’t make out why the two brothers, called “mid off” and “mid on” play for every team!)’. IPL is fun as long as it confines itself to the cricketing field. Last week the game spilled over, flooding our fragile democratic institutions and drowning a lot in its wake.
To believe that all what happened in the last couple of weeks is the result of an ego clash between Lalit Modi and Shashi Tharoor would be rather stupid and na├»ve. In fact are we being made to believe that a shrewd businessman and a newly crowned politician do have an ego? Doesn’t make sense to me. In all its three years of existence, IPL was not about cricket. It was about money. About a lot of money! The unprecedented value of the IPL was too much to be resisted by all - politicians, administrators, business moguls, cine stars. Everyone wanted a piece of this rich pie. But are we really interested in the Tharoors, Pawars, Ambanis and Modis? Corruption in the IPL does not really worry me. From the day of its conception the IPL was not a sanctum sanctorum. “Brand IPL” as it is tried to be labeled by those who believe in the politics and power of “brands” was a hot bed of vested interests. It was an outlet for black money. Yes, they also played cricket to keep the likes of us think that the league represented a sport so close to a billion Indian hearts.
The financial aspects of IPL are not only murky but an eye opener for those who thought that India was a poor nation with more than forty percent population living below the poverty line. The total value of IPL, which even Mr Modi cannot predict with surety, is expected to be around 70000 crores. This unaccounted money is available to the richest people of India. No doubt the rich got richer in the IPL. Compare this to a cumulative expenditure of mere Rs. 27.59 crores in the prestigious National Rural Guarantee Scheme of the Government of India for the state of Orissa in 2008-09. The Orissa example is even more glaring as this is the state where hunger deaths are reported on a regular basis. Some may argue and correctly so, that it is foolhardiness to compare a government scheme with a privately owned sporting event which is meant for entertainment. Sure, but this is the best way to show how India entertains and Bharat survives under one roof. The contrast of IPL money and the lack of it in governmental schemes shows the divergence of thought and responsibility which goes in making India a nation of such huge contradictions. It is this thought process which gives birth to Maoists, Naxals and other elements of state defiance. With the muck and shame of IPL written large on the faces of corporate and political class of India, words of our Hon. Home Minister, Shri P Chidambaram sound so hollow, “we shall counter the Maoists with force. They are the gravest internal security threat to our country”. How can we even expect to believe a word of what he says? Maoists, Naxals, Naga Militia. Are any of these a bigger threat to the nation than the financial scamsters of IPL? Shouldn’t the equation be set right now? May be one Maoist for every thug involved in the IPL? How about “neutralising” the threat of Lalit Modi and his brigade before “neutralising” the alleged mastermind of the Dantewada massacre, Ramanna Paparao?
IPL even described socialism in its own new way. According to a report released just before the end of IPL2 (2009) by the equity research firm IIFL, Rajasthan Royals, the team representing Jaipur would have made the highest profit of Rs 35.1 crore in the group matches of the second edition of the tournament even when their performance was below par compared to their champion status of 2008. Knight Riders, which finished at the bottom in the league table in South Africa, nevertheless ended up with the third highest profit of Rs 25.8 crore in IPL 2. King’s XI representing Punjab, which also did not make it to the semis, just beat Kolkata to second spot with a profit of Rs 26.1 crore. How interesting is that! Teams doing poorly in terms of cricket will not necessarily fare poor in their financial gains. It looks as if Lalit Modi and his gang of franchises have defined what could be called as “IPL Socialism”.
The IPL also represents a loot of public funds, my and your money, which doesn’t even get noticed. Each day & night match of the IPL played under flood lights, consumes electricity enough to run 500 average Indian homes for a month. The provision of subsidised electricity doesn’t make things any different. It is believed that the average electricity bill for a single day and night cricket match of the IPL is more than 15000 US Dollars. For those interested in numbers, this is the government’s expenditure on health for ten adult Indians if they live up to an age of 70 years (at the rate of 21 dollars PPP). Water, a deficient resource in cities like Mumbai and Delhi is used to keep the fields green during the IPL. This, in a country which is now at the top of the childhood malnutrition charts of the globe with lack of clean water being the primary cause of a large number of infant and childhood morbidity and mortality.
The money and its earthy use in the IPL is a matter of shame for each Indian. We all love cricket but surely not in a way in which Lalit Modi packed it for us. The very fact that a large part of our society is still deprived of basic daily needs including food should always weigh heavily on our conscience. Why are we as civil society becoming oblivious to the needs of the common Indian? How can we even accept an Agriculture Minister presiding over the functions of the IPL when hundreds of farmers are committing suicide day in and day out? How are we justified in condemning the Maoists when the Indian society gives them an IPL every now and then? If the law of the land does not permit theft, how can it allow this unprecedented day light robbery? The vulgarity of IPL stands defiant. If Mr. Lalit Modi and his band of filchers cannot feel for the poor they should at least respect poverty.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Living with the Ghosts

I don’t believe in ghosts. I think they are the folly of a fearful mind. But yet I find ghosts to be funny characters. They hound you at the most awkward of hours and at the most awkward of places. Having said this, some ghosts are not funny, they can make life miserable. Ask Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of the Indian state of Gujarat. Mr. Modi is alleged to have mastermind or rather orchestrated the genocide of Muslims in Gujarat during the 2002 communal riots. It was this orchestration of communal massacre which earned him the title of modern day Nero by the Supreme Court of India. The ghosts of Gujarat 2002 keep returning to him. The more he tries to ostracize these nefarious characters, the more they return with new force and vigor. Ghosts of young men & women, small children, pregnant mothers and even the little Caspers, the fetuses who were torn out of the cozy comfort of their mothers’ bellies and thrown into soaring infernos. All are back. Some ghosts are obstinate, pigheaded to get justice for getting them into this indiscernible state by Mr. Modi and his riot manufacturing machine which runs on human blood.
I am sure these ghosts will accompany Mr. Modi on March 27th 2010, when we are made to believe, that he presents himself to be questioned by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India to probe the Gujarat carnage. It is important to note that Mr. Modi will be testifying only in the case of Mr. Ehsan Jafri who was murdered, sorry, dismembered, in the Gulbarg society carnage in Feb 2002. I am amused to imagine that as Mr. Modi will sit in the big leather chair in front of a tight lipped committee of polished bureaucrats, there would be a thousand eyes popping over his shoulder, jostling to get space, pushing and elbowing each other to make their presence felt. The SIT interrogation room will be full of ghosts. Frail elderly ghosts, who will be pushed further back in the chaos, the naughty little ones who will dodge their mothers to go and pee on Modi’s white starched kurta and the pregnant ghosts, the most difficult to control; they start cursing and bellowing at the top of their voices whenever they see Mr. Modi. Probably they were too much in love with their babies-to-be the day they were raped and cut opened. Then there would be those who are unnamed, unidentified - the faceless ghosts. These are the ones who resided in bodies which were charred beyond recognition in the spring of 2002 across different locations of Gujarat. Bodies scorched so badly that even their spirits are now faceless.
It will be interesting to note how these ghosts will react as Mr. Modi is put through what I feel will be scratchy questions. Well surely uncomfortable for people with a heart and soul! I had always felt that Mr. Modi should be invited to an episode of Sach ka Samna, the popular Hindi version of a more suave Moment of Truth. Seeing him answer moral (and immoral) questions in a true or false pattern would be fun. In fact it might be much easier for him as well; at least he will not have to give bizarre and whacky explanations which make us judgmental on his intelligence and astuteness. So, if the host asks, “Mr. Modi you ordered the best bakery carnage -True or False?” he, with all the straightness of face (resembling the election face mask he distributed in 2007) will answer, “False”. The not so always accurate lie detector machine says: False. No more explanations, no more shame. Well, no more shame particularly for Mr. Modi and no more shame for us, Indians, in general.
History has a peculiar knack of catching up with its characters. On March 27th India’s history will catch up with its most pernicious of politicians. In the company of three thousand invisible yet tangible ghosts, Narendra Modi will undergo a scrutiny of his deeds. His acts of commission and importantly his impotence of omission, everything will go under the scanner. And all this in the presence of those to whom he owes an explanation. He owes an explanation to all of us. To me, to you, to those who love our freedom and our country. To those who bow before the god a bit differently and also to those who bow in the same way as he does. He owes an explanation to the nameless ghosts who wander through the land of Gandhi awaiting their moksha and to those who were left alive and mourn the dead.
I am sure Mr. Modi will perspire as the SIT questions get difficult and will sigh as the easier ones follow. Watching him quietly in the room with three thousand ghosts will be a smiling Ehsan Jafri in white kurta-pyjama; still soaked in blood. His body was dismembered, but his spirit is cohesive. He has identified his killers. He has recognized the perpetrators. His death has not gone waste. His wailings from that fateful day in Gulbarg society haven’t gone unanswered. The Day of Judgment is closing in. He does not want to blink. He wants to capture each and every second of this hearing into his fluid state. The pain of getting dismembered by a crowd of assassins must surely be not greater than the pleasure of seeing Narendra Modi in the spot light. The spot light of shame and ignominy.
Narendra bhai Modi, as he is popularly called, has a task cut out. Either he faces the SIT to answer questions he has been evading since February 2002 or he continues to live in the shadow of ghosts. His party feels that he is a popular chief minister who always respects law. It makes me laugh - law and Modi in the same voice? A sarcastic oxymoron for those who saw law raped in Gujarat in the 2002 carnage. An ironic antithesis for those who saw their children thrown in fire in the February of 2002. An iron-cold apathy for those who saw policemen betray their trust.
Mr. Modi, it’s not easy to live with ghosts. They create ruckus, they can be hysterical. They don’t let you sleep peacefully and above all they do not forget or forgive.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Beheading Islam in Peshawar

The news of beheading of two Sikh youth in the Peshawar region of Pakistan has not come as a surprise to the world. What more can we expect from a rabid race of Talibanis, born and brought up on the fodder of hate and violence. The news in fact brings to light the hollow rhetoric of the Pakistani establishment when they claim to have contained the menace of Taliban.
What surprises me is the eerie silence of the Muslim ulema in the subcontinent (particularly in India) in their condemnation of this cowardly act of appalling brutality. Where are those who leave no opportunity to condemn what is inconvenient to them, no matter how comfortable it might be to Islam in general and Muslims in particular? What happens to all those voices which grow louder at times of trivial issues which they think place Islam in danger? What more danger can await a religion than accusation of the kind which we see after such heinous atrocities? When can the Islamic ulemas realize that acts such as these are the ones which actually put Islam in danger.
The blood of innocents in Palestine is mourned. The brutalities of Narender Modi’s pogrom in Gujarat were mercilessly damned. Then what happens when it’s time to condemn the most bigoted and rabid of Muslims? By being mum to the brutalities of Taliban the Muslim ulemas are giving voice to those who perpetrate violence. What justification can we give to the condemnation of the likes of Modi and Sharon in future? What message is passed on to those who stand and fight for the cause of underprivileged and minorities in this country? Shouldn’t this usual tale of the ‘victim becoming the perpetrator’ be put to rest once and for all?
The threat from Taliban is not confined to Sikhs, Jews or Hindus. They are running amok with a real danger to the spirit of Islam. Non Muslims across the globe can secure themselves against any Talibani attack. They can build fences, walls and iron shields. But what happens to the global Muslim community? What fence can stop the condemnation of Islam in global drawing rooms? What wall can prevent the filtration of pure hate against Islam and its proponents amongst Sikhs? Where do we buy an iron shield to repel the cutting suspicious look against a bearded Muslim at an airport?
There are many who argue that Taliban does not represent true Islam. Definitely yes, they do not represent the common Muslim of the subcontinent. But unfortunately they have been made to appear as the face of real Islam in this polarized world. They are the ones who get the media attention and most unfortunately they are the ones who think that THEY represent Islam in their own brutal way. How much we may argue, for an innocent Westerner, Taliban is the face of Islam.
There is a war between moderation and fanaticism, between love and hate. The esoteric Islam of the subcontinent faces a monster in the new, cruel definition of the religion. It’s time we realize this danger before the monster grows too large to restrain. The means to contain this ogre are many. Physical force, debate, condemnation, every weapon in the armamentarium should be used. We are already fighting a losing battle. The tacit support of the Pakistani and American establishment at one time has fed the Taliban strong. It requires real commitment of the moderate Muslim forces in the region to come out and take the bull by its horns.
My heart aches for Jaspal Singh, who was murdered by a group of thugs who are the so called torch bearers of Islam. Can we imagine his pain and fear as he would have been finally dragged to the altar amidst a sea of drolly dressed men chanting “Allah-o-Akbar”? What all might have gone through his head in his final moments? How detestable he would have been to Islam and its followers? His pain, his trepidation, his final gasps for breath, all for perpetrating the cause of Islam? I am sure that day, it wasn’t Jaspal Singh who was beheaded, it was Islam beheaded in Peshawar and we all should mourn this death.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Why I am Man

I am a man because I have the right and power to molest a teenager and abet her to commit suicide. I am a man because I have the courage to throw acid on any girl who refuses to marry me. I am a man because I have the audacity of ripping apart the modesty of the girl next door. Finally, I am a man because I was born in India, the land which gives unconditional supremacy to its masculine gender right from inception of life. In fact I was allowed to be born because I was a man! India is not short of such men of substance, SPS Rathore, Manu Sharma, KPS Gill, Vikas Yadav, Babu Bajrangi. The list is endless and so is their enormous and teeming masculinity.
The events of last few weeks have heated up the urban debate on sexual chauvinism in this country; as if sexual chauvinism never existed in India! With a female sex ratio of 865 to every 1000 males in the cosmopolitan and modern Delhi (in 2001) we can only imagine how hideous things are in the rural heart of India. Rapes, molestations, dowry deaths - can you imagine any single day when you had picked up a newspaper and hadn’t come across this ugly jargon? What do we mean when we say that Goa has become dangerous for females? The truth is that it was never safe. There would hardly be an inch of land in this great nation which can be called safe for its citizens of “lesser sex”.
As a doctor I am horrified by parents deliberately forgetting to count female siblings when asked, ‘how many children do you have?’ Apathy to the birth of a baby girl in India is well known. I can recall all those sad faces waiting outside the labor ward, when told that their “daughter” has given birth to a “daughter”. It is usually left to an experienced hospital ayah to break the news, “bechari key larhki hui hai” (the poor lady has given birth to a baby girl). I think we are the only nation on the face of earth where a mother becomes miserable on delivering a baby girl!
The fight for survival for the Indian female starts in the womb. If she is lucky to be born, she becomes ready meat for men of substance. Men like SPS Rathore, masculinity of whom is pampered in the cosy cot of political power. I presume it is easy to molest a girl in India than to get a mobile phone connection! I feel that Rathore was able to do what he did not only because he was a senior police official with absolute power but because of total apathy and insouciance of the Indian society towards females in general. We worship Durga we, revere Sita but we fail in the fundamental duty of sexual equivalence. Male dominance in India is a natural occurrence of birth. In fact I won’t be wrong if I conclude that Rathore was not responsible for the events leading to the suicide of Ruchika Girhotra. We all were. Indian society should share this collective blame. Rathore was just using the cold hearted attitude of our sexist society.
Why do we sacrifice mothers, daughters and sisters for fathers, sons and brothers? Why do we have to plunder a Lakshmi in the name of dowry? Why do we deprive our Saraswatis of basic education? Why can’t we give justice to Durgas of this land? Things can change only if we change. Female upliftment is the sine qua non of social progress. The civil society of India needs to understand the dynamics of sexual equivalence. The likes of SPS Rathores can only be kept at bay if we start loving our daughters and treating them at par with our sons.