Monday, September 14, 2009

The Brides of Death

A 12-year-old Yemeni girl, who was forced into marriage, has died during a difficult delivery in which her baby also died, a children's rights organisation said on Sunday, demanding action to stop Yemeni men taking child brides.

Raised in an impoverished family with a father suffering from kidney failure, Fawziya was forced to drop out of school and was married off at the age of 11. Such marriages are widespread on Yemen's Red Sea coast. Since young girls fetch a good bride-price, almost half of all little girls and teenage females are married(sold) off before the age of 15 in rural parts of Yemen, one of the world's poorest countries despite its proximity to oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

Last year, a Yemeni court granted a divorce to ten year old girl whose unemployed father forced her into an arranged marriage with a man 20 years her senior, because of the bride price she fetched, but later saying he feared she might otherwise be kidnapped by the would-be spouse.

Zana Muhsen was a 15-year-old English schoolgirl of Arab-British descent when her Yemeni father sold her in England in 1983 for $3000 to a countryman as a wife for his 14-year-old son. Her sister, Nadia, also 14, was sold for the same purpose and bride price to another Yemeni, whose son was 13.

The two sisters were detained against their will in Yemen for eight years with husbands they did not want, having babies they did not want, before diplomatic pressure and assistance from the international media finally freed Zana. Nadia stayed behind because of her children, who, due to the bride price, always remain with the father in case of a divorce.

In her best-selling book, Sold: A Story of Modern-Day Slavery, Zana outlined the two British sisters’ years of suffering, physical abuse and primitive living and working conditions in Yemen.

This is the 2007 UNICEF photo of the year representing the plight of the millions of girls sold as child brides every year.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

India in Antarctica

One of the really good things that Indira Gandhi did was authorize exploratory expeditions to Antarctica in 1981. Forget about the scientific hoopla surrounding these expeditions. Those are just side benefits. To me, Antarctica is the last unexplored continent with abundant mineral resources.

Mrs. Gandhi did right by laying the foundation for India's claim for a stake in a future scramble for the vast uninhabited continent's riches. This is an investment in the future and it is heartening to see that India is mounting another expedition to the Antarctica. The 230 crores to be spent for this is a good investment for India's future generations.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Identity Crisis

My maternal grandparents hailed from Karachi and my mother and all her siblings were born there. They had to flee Karachi in the wake of the partition in 1947, leaving behind a comfortable existence and had to start a new life, struggling to make ends meet in a new place amongst strangers. My mother was just entering her teenage years during that time and her memories of her childhood and those years is vivid and I have heard a lot of stories about those times from her. My father was working in Karachi at that time as well and he too had to leave Karachi and find his fortunes elsewhere. The tales that my parents have told me over the years have made Karachi hold a special place in my heart.

I stumbled onto Karachiwali's blog a couple of days back. Her posts about the Mumbai incident and the comments by her and her fellow bloggers were painful to read. I left a comment for her requesting her to revisit what she had written earlier and to her credit, as of now she has taken down all Mumbai related posts and comments off the blog.

Yesterday I watched Bhowani Junction on the telly which talks about the identity crisis of the Anglo-Indians and realised that the Muslims of our subcontinent are facing a similar identity crisis. Sooner or later they will have to decide who they are and where they belong. Are they expatriate Arabs, Iranis, Turks, Afghans or Mongols, living in a land conquered by their forefathers? Or are they the sons and daughters of the soil of this subcontinent? Do they wish to regain the lost glory of their ancestors and rule over the infidels, or do they want to be citizens of a modern nation having a stake in the stability and prosperity of this area? Most Muslims can trace their ancestry back to a Hindu ancestor even if they tend to hide it and glorify their Arab or Middle Eastern origins. They have to accept their origins and dispose of their victim mentality. Because the Muslims too have a hand in the mess that the subcontinent is in today. Taali kabhi ek haathse nahin bajti.

Edit: I think it is more of an identity confusion than an identity crisis.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What's Love Got To Do With It?

It's a second hand emotion, as Tina Turner so rightly crooned.

But really, what's love got to do with it? It is an unduly overrated emotion. We are talking about a lifetime here. A lifetime of commitment, of compassion, of caring for each other and of going through testing times and emerging stronger with the support of your partner by your side. We are talking about raising a family and gracefully growing old together.

The English language is constrained because it has just one word 'love' to go through the entire gamut of relationships and emotions. Context is needed to differentiate among various types of love.

People your age would take love to mean as the 'butterflies in the stomach' or 'love at first sight' feelings. But most of the time it is just a hormone-induced chemical reaction which is mistaken for love. Remember this is nature's way of ensuring that at the right age, evolutionary pressures propel you towards propagating the species.

Stop waiting for love to happen. As a sentient being, it is time for you to take off your romantic glasses and take a practical view regarding marriage. This is a lifelong commitment. Try to define the type of person you would want to spend the rest of your life with and raise your children with. Think of this as a 'Swaymvara' where you get to pick and choose. You have a vast pool of potential suitors to pick from, thanks to this age of the internet. All you need to do is discover your priorities, narrow down your choices and find someone you feel comfortable with. Don't worry about the butterflies, you may or may not get them. After you commit yourself, make an ongoing investment in nurturing that relationship. Because you gotta put in more than what you expect in return.

A few decades down the line, when you look at your partner with fondness and remember all the trials and tribulations that you went through together, you will finally understand what love is all about.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

India and China want IMF to sell all of its gold

The IMF holds a staggering 3200 tonnes of gold in its reserves which is sitting idle while the world's poorest are facing the fallout of the global economic crisis and the IMF itself is facing a liquidity crunch.

A report in the Financial Chronicle says that draft papers have been exchanged between Delhi and Beijing proposing that the IMF sell off its huge gold reserve which is an idle asset with a book value of $9.3 billion. But which would fetch close to $100 billion at current prices. Both countries are proposing that this amount be used to improve IMF's liquidity as well as to help the world's poorest countries tackle poverty. An earlier announcement after the G20 summit in London, by IMF, to sell gold to raise $6 billion, caused gold prices to slump. Now this proposed sale is going to be 16 times bigger than the earlier proposal.

This might seem bearish for the price of gold in the short term, but it is being proposed that the sale be staggered over a two or three year period. And if this sale comes to pass, most of this gold will never enter the retail market. Central banks of China, Saudi Arabia, Russia and India will use their dollar reserves to buy it off and increase their gold reserves. This will be a wise step towards a future where the USD will be vacating its seat as the world's reserve currency. One or some or all of the above countries, with some sort of understanding amongst them, may provide an alternative with a partially gold backed currency.

This sale if approved by the member countries of the IMF will improve its short term liquidity and will remove the pressure on both China and India whose economies have grown substantially in the recent past, to finance it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dev D. review

I know, I know. I am quite late in coming up with this review, but I just got to watch this movie and this is one of those movies which need to be taken note of.

Anurag Kashyap has not reinvented the wheel, but he surely has redesigned it. This is the dark story of a young man who wanders through life hell bent on self destruction. Who doesn't recognize A Good Thing (TM) when he sees it, one who believes that the world exists for his gratification and one who just believes in enjoying his perceived rights without giving any thought to his responsibilities.

Now this story has been told many times on the silver screen by different people with different takes. Most of them have romanticized the hero, what Anurag Kashyap has done is presented him in the raw, the way he is. And left it up to you to decide whether you sympathize with him or not. Most of us in real life come across people who have the characteristics of Dev in varying degrees. I sure have and I remember them for the damage and the heartburn they have caused in their wake.

Abhay is good but Mahi and Kalki are even better and they have done complete justice to what the director and the script required. This film tackles many taboos head on and is a path breaker in many respects. The sexual content and dialog might be offensive to some but it is in tune with the times we live in. This is the story of Devdas as it would have happened in this age.

The music is good. The only gripe I have is about the length of the movie. With tighter editing, the movie could have been brought down to around 120-130 minutes and then it would have been a pleasant experience.

Definitely a must watch and perhaps another watch again.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Log kya kahenge........

This story was forwarded to me in an email. You might have read or heard it earlier, but it still is good for a laugh every time you come across it!

There was this village pastor who entered his donkey in a race and it won..

The local paper read: PASTOR'S ASS OUT FRONT.

The Bishop was so upset with this kind of publicity that he ordered the Pastor not to enter the donkey in another race.

The next day, the local paper headline read:BISHOP SCRATCHES PASTOR'S ASS.

This was too much for the bishop, so he ordered the pastor to get rid of the donkey.

The pastor decided to give it to a nun in a nearby convent. The local paper carried this headline the next day: NUN HAS BEST ASS IN TOWN.

The bishop upon reading this fainted. He informed the nun that she would have to get rid of the donkey, so she sold it to a farmer for $10.

The next day the paper read:NUN SELLS ASS FOR $10.

This caused the bishop a minor heart attack. He ordered the nun to buy back the donkey and lead it to the plains where it could run wild.

The next day the headlines read: NUN ANNOUNCES HER ASS IS WILD AND FREE.

The bishop was buried the next day.

The moral of the story is . .. Being overly concerned about public opinion can bring you untold grief and misery!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Rape 'harmless fun' says lawyer

This is a verbatim news report from today's Gulf Daily News:

THE alleged abduction and gang rape of a woman was dismissed as harmless fun by a female defence lawyer in a Bahrain trial yesterday.

Three men accused of the attack should be acquitted because young people often commit crimes for "fun", without criminal intent, said lawyer Fatima Al Hawaj.

The men, aged 19, 20 and 21, are accused at the High Criminal Court of snatching a Filpina off the street as she walked home from work at night, last September.

They allegedly drove her to an isolated area in Askar, gang raped her and then abandoned her, after stealing her mobile phone and purse.

All three deny abduction, rape and theft.

Ms Al Hawaj told judges that her clients were youngsters and that "minors' often committed crimes for fun, without ill-intent.

"It is general knowledge that youngsters commit crimes for the fun of it and not with the intention to harm others and I request the court to take that into consideration and clear my clients of the charges," she argued.

The 24-year-old woman failed to show up in court yesterday for cross-examination despite knowing about the session.

Attorney Mohammed Al Mutawa stepped in mid-session, saying he represented her and pledged to bring her to the next hearing.

"I am representing her in this case and she knows about the hearing, but couldn't make it due to personal reasons. I pledge to personally bring her to the next session," he told judges.

The woman was allegedly walking home from the hotel she works in Manama when the men, who were driving a rented car, followed her.

Prosecutors claim they grabbed her hands and dragged her into their car, drove her to a secluded area in Askar and gang-raped her.

The men then allegedly stole her mobile phone and purse, which contained cash and dumped her in the middle of the desert. She later managed to identify her abductors' car and the rape kit results were positive for the defendants' DNA, said the prosecution. Judges adjourned the case to April 12, to summon the woman for cross-examination.

Welcome to stories from Wonderland!

P.S. Coolred 38 has already written about this here.

Saturday, February 28, 2009


Indian Home Maker has written a thought provoking post on provocative dressing here. And Nimmy has written a post in reply here.

Universally, society sets the norms for acceptable behavior. All the individual can do is try to raise awareness and contribute towards changing how a society deals with issues. Even in the west, emancipation and equal rights for any underprivileged section of society, whether women or blacks, has been won one small step at a time.

Here is a story from today's Saudi Gazette. A 23-year-old unmarried, gang-raped woman was awarded a one-year prison term and 100 lashes for committing adultery, getting pregnant and trying to abort the foetus. The judge was considerate enough to postpone the lashes to be administered after the child is born.

I have read somewhere that a society is judged by the way it treats its weakest members. And I guess this society has a long way to go before it can be called compassionate or just or civilized.

The Lure of the Gulf

Visit any Gulf country and you will see Indians laboring away industriously in all types of jobs, from the menial jobs that no local would want to do, to the highly sophisticated ones which require professional qualifications. Most of these migrant workers are from South India and a great percentage of them are from Kerala. This has led to the saying that most people from Kerala are more familiar with Dubai than they are with their own Trivandrum.

Southern India has enjoyed a historic trade relationship with the Arab world with Arab settlements in almost all notable coastal cities and ports of Kerala. The current outflux of workers to the Gulf began in the seventies with the price of oil skyrocketing and the Gulf economies starting to enjoy an economic boom. Most of those workers migrate on bachelor status, leaving their families behind. They live in cramped accommodations, segregated from any interaction with the opposite sex for long periods of time. This results in a host of social and psychological problems both among the migrant population and the population left behind in the home country.

Most of those migrant workers work hard and long hours and remit their savings back home for their families to enjoy a comparatively good standard of living. This influx of Gulf money has proved unhealthy for Kerala. Because it has not generated any lasting development back home. Instead, it has made the local economy even more dependent on exporting its human capital for the purpose of earning remittances.

But things are changing. It is not only monetary considerations these days which come into play when a highly qualified professional decides to migrate to the Gulf. Nowadays for the Muslim professional from the subcontinent, migrating with his family to the Gulf is a chance to enjoy the best of both worlds. Because they get all the material benefits and the infrastructure of the first world, while living in an Islamic state and retaining their own cultural heritage and identity. So they get to live in the West, but without its decadence. Plus they are close enough to the home country to be able to frequently travel and visit their relatives back home. While for other non-Muslim migrants looking for a better life and looking to escape the madness that is the subcontinent, the Gulf is the first step in their trajectory of ultimately migrating to the West.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Jai Ho............

Amidst a raging controversy over 'Vande Mataram' in 2006, while there were fatwas being issued in the name of Islam against singing or performing it, A. R. Rahman came out with his version 'Maa Tujhe Salam'.

His version eventually won the Channel [V]'s Viewer's Choice Award and at the ceremony, when asked, Rahman unflinchingly sang Vande Mataram and took a stand. That proved to me that he was my kind of Indian.

Yesterday, I happened to listen to the dialogues of the ending scenes of "Guru" where Gurubhai addresses the AGM of shareholders in his company and asks them amid jubilant shouts "Shall we show the world that we have arrived?"

Well, Rahman, you have done just that. With the Oscar you have shown the world that we have arrived and you have made every Indian proud. This is a win not just for you but for everyone who believes in the idea of India.

"Jai Ho".

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Regulating Conversions?

The preamble of our Constitution guarantees every Indian the liberty of thought, belief, expression, faith and worship. Further, Article 25 of the Constitution says that all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion.

The right to propagate religion creates controversies every once in a while. Because propagation naturally leads to conversion sooner or later. Mass conversions always give rise to allegations of coercion and bribery. Even individual conversions are not always above such accusations.

Should the religious sector be regulated? There is a school of thought which believes that there should be a 'cooling off' period required under law to protect the rights of all vendors and consumers. Vendors in this case being the various religions vying for the individual's soul and the consumer being the individual, who should be protected from making vital decisions in the heat of the moment, or under the influence of bribery or coercion. Thus giving all religions an equal opportunity to present their case during the 'cooling off' period, before the individual takes a final decision on whether to convert or not.

There is another school of thought which believes that the state should not take part in any such exercise, but instead insist upon all religions putting their minds together and coming up with a regulatory body to oversee conversions. A self-regulating body formed by all religions, which sets up the code of conduct for conversions, is the best answer to this perennial question according to them.

And then there are those who believe that the state should not do anything at all and let things continue as they are. Because they believe that any regulation would be an encroachment on individual liberties. Why question only religious conversions, why not political ones as well, and then what about career changes by professionals? They too are conversions of a sort. Sooner or later, they feel you will be asking the state to regulate what to cook on which day too.

Should the state just be concerned with maintaining law and order, or do we need some sort of regulatory mechanism to oversee religious conversions? I would like to hear your thoughts on this.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

In the arms of another woman

A popular motivational speaker was invited to give a speech to a sales team. And he was very good at his craft. He was trying to explain to them the importance of grabbing the client's attention, even if that meant using unconventional methods. The audience was getting bored and started fidgeting in their seats and whispering amongst themselves.

In the middle of his speech, sensing the audience's lack of interest, the speaker declared: "I have spent the best years of my life in the arms of a woman who wasn't my wife!"

There was pindrop silence in the hall and the speaker had everyones eyes and ears glued on him.

And then he casually added: "And that woman was my mother!"

Laughter and applause. The sales team really appreciated what the speaker demonstrated with his powerful example.

A week later, a salesman who had attended this training session tried to crack this very same joke at home. He was slightly inebriated after a couple of drinks.

He said loudly to his wife, "The best times of my life were spent in the arms of another woman."

The wife went purple in shock and rage and turned her full blinding glare on her husband.

The salesman fidgeted for half a minute under her stare and grew nervous trying to recall the punch line.

"Well.............." the wife prodded.

The salesman finally blurted out "... and I can't remember who she was!"

Moral of the story: Don't start what you can't finish!!!

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Attack of the Killer Rabbit

It was a long time back, but I first heard the story of the killer rabbit attack on President Carter in 1979 or 1980, and how he fought the rabbit back. I found it hilarious then because I, and everyone else believed rabbits can't swim and that rabbits do not attack people. I always thought that this incident was a figment of his imagination. That was that and I did not read much about that story later. But the connection in my mind had been made. Talk about Carter and in my mind the story of the killer rabbit attack would resurface. He was either the peanut-lover or the rabbit-attacked in my memory.

Well, it turns out that one particular species of the rabbit can swim. The swamp rabbit is a skilled swimmer. And that this particular incident had been photographed. But this photo was not published until the Reagan presidency. This is the photograph which is in the public domain now, courtesy of the Jimmy Carter Library

You can see the rabbit swimming away on the far right.
The moral of the story is that one should take care in dismissing anything out of hand. We evaluate things according to the information available to us at the time and that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Billu Barber Review (no spoilers)

The youngest one hasn't been feeling well the last week, due to a viral infection which got exacerbated by a dust storm here and so she had to be cooped up at home for the last few days. Since the dust storm has cleared and the weather is much better, decided to go watch Billu Barber last night at the local multiplex, to give her an outing.

Take away the item numbers and with some tighter editing, the movie would have been really powerful. Though I understand the compulsion of commercial cinema and the requirement for the glamor quotient. Even with the item numbers, the movie is the right length at 135 minutes. A shorter film would have had viewers complaining, although a few people might have appreciated it more.

Irfan Khan is just brilliant and Priyadarshan is very good at his craft. This is not an SRK film in spite of what you might have heard. He is just playing himself and does not need to do any serious acting till the end of the film. Even though this is his home production, SRK has given Irfan Khan the whole canvas instead of trying to dominate the movie. And Irfan has performed exceptionally well the character he was supposed to play. The director could have portrayed Billu as a man with a heart of gold with some minor tweaks, but he decided to paint him as just another normal human being, with all the uncertainties and confusion that one faces in life, and Irfan shines through.

Definitely a must watch.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ready to drive

Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal is a business tycoon from the ruling family in Saudi Arabia with business interests spanning across the globe. One of his wives, Princess Amira, talking to Al-Watan said that she was ready to drive if the authorities allowed that. She holds an international driving license and drives cars in all countries she visits, except her home country.

All women are legally barred from driving in Saudi Arabia. Families of women who require mobility have to hire drivers or depend on their male relatives to drive them around. In 1990, with the influx of foreign troops in the country at the height of the Kuwait crisis, 47 Saudi women in Riyadh, took to the streets driving their brothers' or husbands' cars to protest against the social ban on their driving. The religious authorities strongly condemned this move and these women were jailed for a day, their passports were confiscated, and those who were working lost their jobs, most of them were socially ostracized. Their move led to the social ban being turned into a legal ban.

King Abdullah has in the past said that he thought a day would eventually come when Saudi women were allowed to drive. But change will be difficult in this ultraconservative society, where women are still considered and treated as chattel.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

India: Constitutionally Socialist

According to Sauvik here, "There should be a liberal party campaigning for Liberty, Free Trade and Free Markets – but that is not allowed by legislation." This was news to me and so I enquired with him as well as with the Freedom Team of India members if this was indeed true. And this is what I found out:

If you are a political party in India and want to be recognized by the Election Commisssion, you have to declare that you subscribe to the tenet of socialism. You do not have the right to dissent on this issue.

A liberal democratic party has been denied its right to participate in the elections because of its refusal to accept socialism, as its creed.

Sharad Joshi of the Swatantra Bharat Party swears allegiance to socialism, but under protest. Immediately upon gaining entry to Parliament, Sharad Joshi proposed a Private Members Bill in the Rajya Sabha to get this offending clause scrapped. Read his bill here. That would not have shifted the constitutional reference, but still would have been a good start. Naturally, all political parties distanced themselves from it. The full debates are here. The following are some excerpts:

"While socialism may be perfectly good, may be perfectly ideal thing to have but I must have the right to dissent. I am not taking any anti-socialist position. I am not taking a position that the preamble is wrong but I should have the right to change the preamble, if necessary. We decided to form a political party. We got a reply from the Election Commission saying that you will have to sign a register, or, have a clause in your memorandum of Association that you subscribe to the tenet of 'socialism.' Now, this is something which is alright for those with a pliable conscience. The problem is for the honest people who do not want to make a false statement."

"To oppose socialism is a very unpopular thing. The strongest point that Mr. Joshi, has made is that socialism is one of the many economic doctrines that have arisen in this world throughout the core world's economic history. To say that you are bound down to a particular economic doctrine, is to curtail the liberty of a speech, and which is inconsistent with democracy. Therefore, Mr. Sharad Joshi is absolutely right that democracy and socialism cannot be equated, because democracy itself means you are right to say things which others do not accept. In spite of all things, he has no chance of getting this Bill passed through this Parliament. But, certainly, in the Supreme Court of India, he is bound to succeed on the constitutionality of the provision."

In the Indian context, there is no role or scope for a political party, which does not have faith in socialism as reflected in the Directive Principles of State Policy."

SHRI SHARAD ANANTRAO JOSHI replying to the debate, said:
"As a liberal, I stand for democracy and secularism. All that I am saying is that as you are being pluralistic in the matter of secularism, religion and faith, why are you not becoming pluralistic even about the economic doctrine? Socialism may be right, and probably, what you are doing is right. But, do I have not the right to say that I do not believe in socialism?"
f you are socialist remain socialist. But please give me my right not to be a socialist."

The Motion moved by Shri Sharad Anantrao Joshi was negatived.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Why the chicken crossed the road

As answered by politicians and other famous folks

Barack Obama:
The chicken crossed the road because it was time for a change! The chicken wanted change!

John McCain:
My friends, that chicken crossed the road because he recognized the need to engage in cooperation and dialog with all the chickens on the other side of the road.

Hillary Clinton:
When I was First Lady, I personally helped that little chicken cross the road. This experience makes me uniquely qualified to ensure - right from Day one - that every chicken in this country gets the chance it deserves to cross the road. But then, this really isn't about me.

George W. Bush:
We don't really care why the chicken crossed the road. We just want to know if the chicken is on our side of the road, or not. The chicken is either against us, or for us. There is no middle ground here.

Dick Cheney:
Where's my gun?

Colin Powell:
Now to the left of the screen, you can clearly see the satellite image of the chicken crossing the road.

Bill Clinton:
I did not cross the road with that chicken. What is your definition of chicken?

Oprah: Well, I understand that the chicken is having problems, which is why he wants to cross this road so bad. So instead of having the chicken learn from his mistakes and take falls, which is a part of life, I'm going to give this chicken a car so that he can just drive across the road and not live his life like the rest of us chickens.

Pat Buchanan: To steal the job of a decent, hardworking American.

Ernest Hemingway: To die in the rain, alone.

Grandpa: In my day we didn't ask why the chicken crossed the road. Somebody told us the chicken crossed the road, and that was good enough.

Aristotle: It is the nature of chickens to cross the road.

John Lennon:
Imagine all the chickens in the world crossing roads together, in peace.

Albert Einstein:
Did the chicken really cross the road, or did the road move beneath the chicken?

h/t: Spartacus

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Omid, the Chandrayaan and proliferation

On the 14th November, 2008, which happened to be Nehru's 119th birthday, India became the fourth country to place its flag on the surface of the moon. The other three are the USA, the erstwhile USSR and Japan. The satellite carried instruments for both the NASA and the ESA as well as the capability for carrying out its stated objectives of preparing a three dimensional atlas of both the near and far side of the moon and mineralogical mapping of the entire lunar surface at high spatial resolution.

More than fifty nations have space programs currently but very few have the ability to plan and execute their own missions. India was hoping to join this elite space club just a couple of years back with the launch of the INSAT 4C on 10 July 2006. However the GSLV carrying this satellite veered from its projected path and had to be self-destroyed over the Bay of Bengal. Finally its replacement INSAT 4CR was successfully launched on the 2nd September 2007 and was placed in geo-synchronous orbit on the 15th September 2007. With this success, India became the sixth country after the USA, Russia China, Japan and the European Union to have the ability to plan and execute its own space missions.

Prior to this, India had to depend on other space powers to put its satellites into orbit. Our priority was to develop the technology for building remote sensing and communications satellites and not to focus solely on developing launch vehicle technology. What is to be noted here is the fact that our objectives were not military but for the peaceful use of space technology. And it took us more than 30 years to arrive at this stage.

Yesterday night the 'Omid' or 'Hope' was launched on a Safir-2 launch vehicle and placed in orbit according to the Iranian news agency. It is Iran's first domestically built satellite and its launch has been made to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution. This feat has been achieved while Iran has been under years of western sanctions over fears that it wants to develop nuclear capable missiles.

“Dear Iranian nation, your children have placed the first indigenous satellite into orbit,” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a televised message. He is also reported to have said that the satellite was launched to spread "monotheism, peace and justice" in the world. The launch has caused alarm in the West as well as in the region because of fears the technology could be used to make long-range missiles, possibly with nuclear warheads.

A powerful Iran causes unease amongst its western and southern neighbors most of whom have unresolved issues with it.

In October 2005, a Russian rocket launched Iran's first satellite, the Sina-1, which carried photographic and telecommunications equipment. And in February 2007, Iran said it had launched a rocket capable of reaching space, before it made a parachute-assisted descent to earth. Last August, Iran said it had successfully launched a rocket capable of carrying its first domestically built satellite.

The blistering pace at which Iran has been able to develop its launch vehicle technology points to just one conclusion. There is no doubt that the proliferation of nuclear and missile technologies and the help provided by rogue regimes have enabled both Pakistan and Iran to acquire such technologies and helped make their regions more unstable.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Banning the VHP, the Sena and such......

India is a conglomeration of nations, of ideas, of religions, of beliefs and of ways of life in constant flux. The very act of trying to define what India stands for, destroys the idea of India. Because any definition would be just a snapshot in time, from a particular point of view, of an evolving organism.

Various movements try to define India according to their own viewpoint and try to influence the rest of the population with the ideas that they personally espouse. Some of them try to bring about change with peaceful means while others resort to violence and hooliganism.

As long as you hold a belief and are using civilized democratic means to spread it, I have no problem with you. But when you use violence or hooliganism to enforce your point of view on others, I would want the law and order machinery to track you down and penalize you to the full extent of the law. I would expect the government of the day to prevent you from violating the liberty of others, but I would not want you banned.

What does banning an extremist organization achieve? Are they reformed overnight by a ban? From a practical point of view as well, banning an organization would just result in sending it underground and resort to furthering their cause through clandestine activities. I would rather have them above ground and monitor their activities and try to counter their arguments in a civilized way.

I am against banning any organization whether it is SIMI or the VHP or lately the Shri Ram Sena of Mangalore fame. I would not deny them the liberty to preach their ideas and viewpoints without resorting to violence.

Voltaire is credited with the saying 'I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to death your right to say it.'

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Talibanisation of our society

A government's first and foremost duty towards its citizens is to provide a secure and stable social environment in which they can freely carry out the 'pursuit of happiness'. The recent incidents in Mumbai and Mangalore have proved that both state governments have failed in this respect.

Rule of law as a basic principle of governance has to be upheld by any government, otherwise that particular government loses its moral right to govern. If a government can not govern according to the laws in force, it should either resign or be brought down. No political party should be allowed the temerity of indulging in selective governance. If you can not uphold the constitutionally guaranteed basic human rights of citizens regardless of their gender, religion, preferences or beliefs, you have no right to govern.

Hooliganism and vigilante culture if tolerated by society, carries with it the risk of destroying society's pluralistic nature and its tolerance of alternate lifestyles or points of view. This would lead to the distorted extremist beliefs espoused by a few to dominate society and culture. Talibanisation is not too strong a word to describe this phenomenon.

What is even more worrying is that the victims are afraid of speaking out fearing reprisals. That shows the degree of faith they have in the state apparatus to protect them. All of us who want our society to retain its pluralistic nature, have to raise our voices so that the governments in question are forced to make such hooligans face the full fury of the law and not get away with a slap on their wrist.

Monday, January 26, 2009

FTI Press Release and website launch


26 January 2009

On the important occasion of the Republic Day, the Freedom Team of India has released its new website ( and an eight page brochure.

The Team, established in 2008, aims to provide a forum for policy, strategy, and leadership development. It aims to find at least 1500 outstanding leaders in India to contest elections in the coming years under the banner of freedom and world-best policy.

The forty leaders and observers currently on the Team used this occasion to call upon all potential leaders across India to come together to achieve real freedom for India. Doing so will involve launching a systematic assault on bad governance through the democratic channel of elections.

As a Team member said, “It is perhaps high time that our educated classes finally woke up from their deep slumber of sixty years. If America can re-invent itself even after 230 years, then surely India, a much younger country – but with the wisdom of eight thousand years of civilisation – can do much better. We have the capacity and power to change India so that no one has to ever sleep hungry, or feel discriminated or disenfranchised. We want an India where, in the words of Tagore, ‘the mind is without fear and the head is held high’”.

The Team’s approach differs from that of others in three distinct ways. One, the Team is focused purely on equal freedom as a philosophical stance. Thus, no half-way compromises with freedom are acceptable, such as reservations and caste-based preferences of any sort, or subsidies for religious occasions or religious organisations. This clarity of philosophy does not allow any bad policies. For instance, the Team does not accept socialism, casteism, or mixing religion with politics, unlike most existing political formations in India.

Second, everyone on this Team is an equal. We do not have official roles like President or Secretary. Members work as a team (each with independent opinions, which are welcome) and take the lead on projects where they can contribute most.

Finally, FTI members will (mostly) not contest elections until they are fully prepared and organised for it, with sufficient time devoted to the communication of the Team’s message to the people. The Team will, in this way, guarantee high quality candidates under the banner of freedom at the hustings in the coming years.

If you can’t join us at the moment, then please support us by passing this media release around.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Jayprakash Narayan

I witnessed the Nav-Nirman Andolan of 1973 first hand. I was studying in Ahmedabad at that time and saw the government of Chimanbhai Patel topple as a result of this agitation. It was started off in hostels and universities by students to ultimately envelope the entire state. Jayprakash Narayan was considered by the leaders of this agitation to be their guide and mentor. He was 71 years old at that time and was a veteran of the Indian independence struggle. He had already achieved the status of a senior statesman and was on his way to become the Lok Nayak. He was posthumously awarded the Bharat ratna in 1998.

When I first heard about Dr. Jayprakash Narayan's Lok Satta Party, I was intrigued by the similarity in name and that was one reason why I decided to investigate further . And I have to say that I am pretty impressed. Anyone who is against kleptocracy and wishes to promote the cause of liberty and better governance is a good guy in my book. A rural development model similar to Dr. Atanu Dey's RISC model, about which I have written earlier, also finds a place on his agenda. The party has fielded candidates in by-elections in Andhra Pradesh and has managed to get about 13% of the popular vote. This party has also held internal elections which is an anomaly in Indian politics!

I am disappointed with their website and content. Because I believe that any political movement that wishes to reform the prevailing system, has to reach out not just to the grassroots voters but has to attract potential leaders as well. And the internet is a crucial medium in this day and age, if you want to attract high caliber, young professional leadership material, as JP obviously wants to do.

He has managed to create a huge profile without the help of existing political parties or their infrastructure and should be commended for that. From what I am hearing, his party is planning to participate in the national elections this year and I wish them all the best.

I think his approach so far has been to create a grassroots movement, with the belief that good honest leaders will automatically emerge from the movement at the right time.

The Freedom Team of India is another movement which has similar goals. But their approach is to find enough honest, like minded leaders first and gather critical mass before contesting elections.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Revisiting Words, Swords and Gold

In this post we will talk about a sect which has used all instruments at its disposal, the Sword, the Word and Gold to achieve its dominance over other lines of thought.

In the year 1740, the ruler of a small town in Arabia and an Islamic scholar, both of whom were ambitious and visionary, entered into a pact. The ruler undertook to support and promulgate the vision of the scholar, while the scholar undertook to accept the ruler and his descendants as temporal leaders of the movement.

This partnership has been one of the most fruitful of all times for both parties concerned. It has impacted the lives of people in every part of the globe and changed the course of history as well as the nature of society and culture in many parts of the world.

The partnership endured and after quite a few ups and downs, by the early 20th century, most of Arabia was under the control of the Saud family with the help of the Wahhabis. The Wahhabi movement in turn was provided with a state and assumed power to dictate religious behavior in the kingdom.

With the discovery of oil wealth and the influx of itinerant workers in the region, the movement found itself with a source of funding as well as a pool of people to influence and convert to its way of thinking. The converts, when they returned, further influenced and converted their communities back home by constructing madrassas and mosques with their newly acquired wealth, preaching their new doctrine. With time this movement came to dominate the Muslim communities of the subcontinent.

I would like to end this post by quoting Iqbal :

cheen o arab hamaraa, hindostaaN hamaara,
muslim hain hum, watan hai saara jahaaN hamaara


tayghon key saaye meiN hum, pal kar jawaaN huwey haiN,
khanjar hilaal kaa hai, qawmi nishaaN hamaara

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Word or the Sword?

My last post was about a sect that depended solely on the Sword to propagate its version of Islam. This one is about another sect which is diametrically opposite and believes that the time of the Sword is over and the Word has to be solely relied upon to achieve Islam's objectives.

When a Muslim citizen of Pakistan applies for a passport, he has to sign a declaration which states the following:

1. I am a Muslim and believe in the absolute and unqualified finality of the Prophethood of Hazrat Muhammad the last of the Prophets.

2. I do not recognize any one who claims to be a prophet in any sense of the word or any description whatsoever, after Hazrat Muhammad or recognize such a claimant as a prophet or a religious reformer as Muslim.

3. I consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani to be an impostor nabi and also consider his followers whether belonging to the Lahori, Qadiani or Mirzai groups, to be non-Muslims.

I have been interested in Mirza Ghulam Ahmed for a long time because one of my children shares her birthday with him. He was the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement and declared that he was the “Promised One” of all religions, fulfilling all messianic prophecies found in many major world religions. He gave up the Jihadi Sword and forbade carrying out physical Jihad, either for the sake of religion, or against a government which gives freedom of religion. According to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, their motto is “Love for All Hatred for None”.

The contributions of the Ahmadiyya community to Pakistan have been conveniently forgotten. A case in point is that of Dr. Abdus Salam, who not only happens to be the first Muslim but also the first and only Pakistani to win a Nobel Prize. Instead of celebrating his achievement, he has been conveniently forgotten in Pakistan because of his belonging to the Ahmadiyya sect. Under Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan embraced intolerance and declared Ahmadiyyas to be non-Muslims and since then their persecution has been going on in that country.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Assassins: Words, Swords and Gold

Sam, dam, dand and bhed are legitimate tools of state policy according to our very own Chanakya. Sam and bhed are Words while dam and dand are Gold and Sword respectively. A state should utilize all or any of the above to protect itself against any real or perceived threat as well as to expand its power and territory according to him. It would be foolish for us to expect our enemies to not indulge in the same activities that we consider legitimate when used by us.

It is possible to bring about change with the help of the Word, the Sword and Gold as it has been amply demonstrated throughout history. The Cult of the Assassins, established in the 11th century by Hassan Al-Sabbah, used assassinations of political and religious leaders as a way of bringing about change. It depended more on the Sword than either the Word or Gold to attain its objectives. Most historians credit this cult with being the first to use assassinations as a tool of state policy to bring about social and political change. They grew in power in Persia till the arrival of the Mongols led by Halaku Khan, when they were defeated and their power base was destroyed.

This cult aimed to achieve the social and political supremacy of the Nizari sect of Shii'te Islam. As fate would have it, this sect today has no geographical location to call its own and is scattered around the world with the Aga Khan as their spiritual leader. Perhaps the lesson here is that what is gained by using the Sword alone is of temporal nature.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Why War and At What Cost?

"yūnān-o-misr-o-romā, sab miṭ gaye jahān se
ab tak magar hai bāqi, nām-o-nishān hamārā"

When faced by the onslaught of the invading armies in the eighth century, both the ancient cultures of Egypt and Persia were completely wiped off the face of the earth, while the Hindu culture somehow survived. Surely there is some redeeming quality in our culture which other civilizations lacked.

The above couplet is from the well known tarana-e-hind by Allama Iqbal, penned years before he changed his mind about co-existence with infidels.

A lesser known fact is that Pakistan's first national anthem was written by a Lahore based Hindu, Jagan Nath Azad who later migrated to India when his personal safety could no longer be guaranteed by his Muslim friends and well wishers. The interesting thing is that Jinnah himself insisted that Pakistan's Qaumi Tarana be written by a Hindu. This was in line with his view that with time, Pakistan would mature to become a secular nation. Those were his exact words: "Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State."

The Pakistan that exists today has receded back to the mentality that pervaded the various invaders of our subcontinent throughout the last 1400 years. This is not the Pakistan that Jinnah envisioned. The entity which exists today and calls itself Pakistan is one which thinks in terms of Jihad and Taqqiyah.

We are not concerned with how this came about. What we are concerned with is that this state will and is using all available options at its disposal to first weaken and ultimately dismember our nation. We are at war, whether we like it or not, and neither the battleground, nor the tactics are of our choosing.

The terror spree at Mumbai is just one facet of the war that is forced upon us. The other facets are evident in our troubled North-Eastern States and the Sikh unrest of the eighties which was armed and funded by Pakistan as well as the constant trouble in Kashmir.

Our much maligned father of the nation is on record as saying that "I WOULD risk violence a thousand times rather than risk the emasculation of a whole race." and "I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence... I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honor than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor."

The question that we are faced with now is when we are at war, whether declared or undeclared, should we retaliate or not? I think Mahatma Gandhi has answered that question for us. And this is no ordinary war, it is a war of survival because the enemy’s sole objective is to destroy us as a nation and dismember us.

The political climate in our country is not conducive for a war at the moment because we are headed for a general election soon and the army needs a few months to prepare for a sustained war anyway. Our diplomats too need time to build up international opinion. So I expect the war to be a few months away, when the army is fully prepared and if there is a willing coalition at the center.

This war has to be taken to its logical conclusion of forever eliminating the threat that we face, by dismembering Pakistan. because there is no middle way left. We simply cannot fool ourselves by talking about coexistence. It has to be a sustained war till our objectives are achieved. There is a high possibility that there will be heavy casualties and not just military. The civilian death toll is going to be high as well. Because when it finds itself in a corner, Pakistan is bound to use its nuclear arsenal. But should that deter us in our duty to eradicate the threat to our way of life and to our right to exist as an independent nation? I would say that no price is too heavy to pay when it comes to that.

The whole essence of the BhagvadGeeta for me is summed up in this shloka "karmanye vadhikaraste ma phaleshu kadachan..." which translated in English would be:

"You have a right to perform your prescribed action,but you are not entitled to the fruits of your action.
Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities,and never be associated to not doing your duty."

Saturday, January 03, 2009

What New Year?

New Year?

What new year? It is just a rehash of the same old stuff going on everywhere around the world. Nothing has changed, there will just be more of the same.

On another note, whose turn is it going to be next? Rajkot, Raibareli, perhaps Raipur, or maybe Ranchi? And is it going to happen on the 13th of January?

Jaipur, May 13, 2008
Ahmedabad, July 26, 2008

New Delhi, Sep 13, 2008
Bombay, Nov 26, 2008

Which city next?