Thursday, December 22, 2011

Panos, London and I: a journey begins!

What is the most effective, yet the simplest way to bridge the gap between hyperlocal stories and the global audience? How can you make heard the voices off the ground in an authentic, unaltered manner? There are quite a few ideas floating around, but the 'Voice from the Ground' project of Panos, London which brings the stories straight off the ground, stands out among all.

Chhattisgarh: There are stories of inspiration waiting to be told in this land of despair and I am going to bring some of those stories on
This is how it works:
Panos selects a journalist who has been reporting development issues for a while. The journalist follows an activist/community worker for about a month and presents stories, as told to her/him by the activist/worker. The story appears as first person account and this way, the reader gets to hear and connect with the voice of the ground directly.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Kim Jong -il: a look at the "mourning"

"The people will miss him deeply', says a minister
"He was garbage, good thing he's dead...", says a citizen. 
A look at how the world is mourning KimJong-il

 One of the top news headlines this morning was the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. After I finished reading, I thought, from famine to N-bomb, this guy led a country from pole to pole, all the while maintaining the enigmatic wrap around it. Now that he is gone, how is the world remembering him? I went looking up some of the countries and here is what I found.

Vietnam and Cuba
As communist countries, I expected Vietnam and Cuba to shed a lot of tears over the death of Kim Jong-il, and I wasn't disappointed. Vietnam sent a message of 'deep condolences' to North Korea, while Cuba went one step ahead, announcing a 3-day official mourning! Lucky Kim!


How does one pariah government look at another? To find an answer, I searched New Light of Myanmar - the propaganda outlet of the Junta. Surprise, surprise, there was nothing! Not even a line! Poor Kim!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Why Is India Doing a Bangladesh in Burma?

Just when protests against India's 1500 MW Tipaimukh dam are growing louder and stronger in Bangladesh which it fears will rob thousands of fishermen of their livelihood, here comes another unsettling piece of news: India is building a dam in Burma's northwestern Sagaing division which will displace half a million people. 

The dam, called 'Tamanthi', is coming up over  the Chindwin river.

According to Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) a pro-democracy media outlet, more than 2,400 have already been forcibly relocated since construction began in 2007. The figure, says a DVB report, is set to rise to 45,000, as both governments push ahead with the $US3 billion venture.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Durban Diary, Entry 4: My Takeaways From COP17

I spent 15 days at the 17th COP (UFCCC climate change summit) which ended yesterday morning. Now, as I sit here awaiting my flight back home, I am counting my gifts from Durban. Some of them came easily, some I gathered and some needed to be dug.
Me and Mothiba - a cleaner lady in the summit who shifted to Durban after her village home  was washed away in flash flood.We need to write reports not just OF people like Mothiba, but also FOR her.
My first takeaway is that climate change reporting is changing and that there is a growing hunger for new perspectives, new kind of stories; people are aware of the problems, but they want to know what is happening on the solution front and what ordinary people like them are doing and can do.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Durban Diary, Entry 3: Findng India Everywhere!

Mother India. I have seen too many sisters of yours in Durban

Courtesy a huge Indian community in Durban, no matter which way you go, you can't miss seeing Indian faces everywhere around you.

I am staying in Hotel Gateway which is next to Durban's biggest shopping complex,also called  the Gateway. Most of the shops there are run by people of Indian origin. In the hotel, every other day there is a wedding party where you see dozens of Indian men and women adding jazz to the posh hotel's air. At the transport hub near the climate summit venue, a number of young volunteers helping the visitors with getting the right bus. Half of them are Indians.

But my story goes a little beyond the obvious. I am finding India where its barely there: in the clothes people wear, the styling of their hair, the way they dress or talk or raise an issue.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Durban Diary, Entry 2. Who's Listening To The Youth?

Yesterday I spent half a day in the Kwazulu Natal university of Durban. I walked around, had food (Curry and rice, sold by an Indian couple. I would have much rather preferred local food, but there wasn't any!) in a small stall and looked for people I could have a conversation with.

I didn't have to try too hard. Scattered in groups small and big, there were over 2 hundred young people. Some of them were from South Africa, while some came from other countries. Some were students, others had a job. But in Durban, they were all for the COP17 - talking, shouting slogans, rapping, crooning, dancing about Climate Change.

Students putting up posters at the bus stand. 'Climate Change is eating our jobs,' they say.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Durban Diary, Entry 1: "There is no Africa in Durban"

I am currently at Durban, South Africa to cover the UNFCCC climate summit (COP17). The opportunity to cover the world's biggest exercise to fight Climate Change  came when I won the Climate Change Media Partnership Fellowship - which is a joint initiative by Internews, Panos London and IIED. From now on, I am going to be sharing with you my experiences and understanding of COP17 in a series called DURBAN DIARY. Here goes the first post:

Accredited! With my press pass from UNFCCC
Getting down at 5.30 in Durban airport, I take a cab. The Cabbie, a 25 year old Zulu man called Mike, is happy that COP17 is happening. It means lots of people and lots of trips in taxi and money.

Its evening, yet in the faded light I can see that the roads are wide, the air is clean and there is no garbage piled up anywhere, or plastics scattered. I say this to Mike. The city is good, he agrees, but is also very expensive. (Later, in the COP17 media center, I pay 8 Rand (1.2 USD) for a cup of tea).

And then he tells me, " there is no Africa in Durban".

I want to know what he means. The answer comes quick: SA is becoming too Americanized, too fast. And one of the negative result is that people like Mike can’t find a bride because, girls in city now don’t want to live with parents

"I come from over there – a village near Cape Town", he says.  "Family is important,.parents are important. I want to live with my parents after I get married. I want my family to bless my marriage. But here, people of my age think living separately is a cool thing. I can’t find a girl who wants the same. Girls think  I am too old fashioned."

Later in the evening I meet Max - a man from Port Elizabeth who works with the African Red Cross. I ask him about climate change. Durban looks very green and clean, are all places like this, I want to know.  Max says that the govt has a smart way. ‘They have built service industries here and moved all the manufacturing industries to places like Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. Now, when tourists come,they don't know there are dusty, smoking places in this country. Like African culture, real environmental issues are kept out Durban," he quips.

'So South Africa is hiding its smoking chimneys from the foreign visitors', I say to myself. But, that's not to bad, comparing to what our government does: Putting beggars in truck and shifting them out of the city overnight!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Smuggled Veggies Put NE Farmers In A Soup

In India, normally, the words like 'illegal dumping' bring in mind cheap (and no good) electronic products made in Taiwan or China. But, did you ever  hear of  illegal dumping of vegetables? Or, large scale dumping pushing a farmer to the corner, forcing him to kill himself? Well, its happening for real, where else, but in North east India. And here is the story:

Tons of vegetables, smuggled in from Bangladesh, are pouring into local markets of Tripura – a landlocked state in the north-eastern region of India. As a result, local farmers are finding it difficult to sell their produce. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tourism in North East India: Think Beyond Money!

Logtak lake of  NE India's Manipur state, home to the critically endangered Dancing Deer. Instead of building theme parks, the focus of the govt should be on saving the natural ones and boost eco-tourism in the fragile region

This might sound big and wonderful: the union government has sanctioned, for the eleventh 5 Year Plan, Rs.566.40($56 million) crore to boost tourism in the North east India. According to union  tourism minister Subodh Kant Sahai,  tourism has huge potential in developing the region.  

Monday, November 21, 2011

River Projects: Why That Double Standard?

Last week – 16th to be exact – the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs in New Delhi decided that it would pay appropriate compensation to National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) for the abandoned Loharinag Pala hydel power project in Uttarakhand state.

The 600 MW hydelpower project was coming up in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand state, on the river Bhagirathi (a tributary of Ganga). 

But, in Nov 2010, the National Ganga River BasinAuthority (NGRBA) declared that all under-construction hydro electric projects in the upper riches of the Bhagirathi would be scrapped, because, it was the only way to maintain the continuous flow of Bhagirathi river. Since, Loharinag Pala fell in the same zone this had to go as well.

But NTPC is a rich company and it has made substantial amount of investment already which it just can’t lose. Enters the government, deciding quickly to pay back the Navratna/ nine stars (the nine biggest public sector companies) co its money.

How wonderful! However, I can’t help asking a few questions.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Irrawaddy - A River Under Attack!

Last week, I had written an article on two Indian rivers called Manu and Deo which is under Endosulfan attack by illegal fishermen.  The pesticide, thrown into the river in huge quantity to catch fish, is polluting the river at an alarming speed, resulting in disappearance of marine species and high increase in waterborne diseases.

And now, here is a similar, disturbing trend: use of  mercury, acid and cyanide by gold prospectors is fast poisoning one of the most magnificent rivers in Asia: Irrawaddy.

According to local community media reports, in the Kachin state town of Bhamo, gold diggers are using high levels of mercury and cyanide  to detonate areas of the river bed. The deadly chemicals have turned the river in dark grey, triggered health problems among locals  such as excessive vomiting, stomach pain etc, while badly affecting marine life too.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Kurukh Language in 8th Schedule? Why Not?

In our country, meetings and rallies are as common as are heat waves in summer. Yet, this morning news of a meeting in a sleepy town of Nagrakata (Near Jalpaiguri) caught my eye. In that meeting, groups of people were demanding inclusion of Kurukh language in the 8th schedule of the Indian Constitution.

Kurukh, the language of the Oraon tribe, is one of the few indigenous languages with a script of its own

Kurukh is the language of the Oraon tribe. Spread across Jharkhand and Terai region of northern West Bengal (Paschim Banga), there are around 25 Lakhs (2.5 million) Oraon people in India. The language also has its own script which is called Tolang Siki.

In 2009, the government of Jharkhand recognized the language. But in West Bengal (the so called most liberal state, the so called patron of art and craft and culture. Talk about myth!) Kurukh has remained unrecognized.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

CCMP Fellowship and VoF Correspondent: My Reasons to Smile

Last week had been a little too hectic: writing stories, meeting deadlines, research, networking and all the while juggling with the 7-hours' of daily power cuts.

So today I just wanted to sit idle a bit and share with you a few smiles, on becoming a Climate Change Media Partnership (CCMP)Fellow and also on being a Voice of the Future Correspondent.

First, the CCMP Fellowship. It's a joint initiative between the International Institute for Environment and Development, Internews and Panos London to improve media coverage of climate change. The fellowship enables journalists to attend and report on the UN climate change negotiations. This year, 18 journalists have been selected to cover the UN summit in Durban, South Africa and I am one of them. 

Monday, November 07, 2011

An Open Letter to Rahul Gandhi

Dear Rahul Gandhi

It’s good to know you are going to visit Tripura tomorrow and that one of the places you will be at is Kailashahar – (my family has a house there you know) - the once sleepy town in the recently formed Unokoti district. 

Since your family members only visit North East (Your grandma visited Kailashahar twice, but just to ask for votes), I am quite surprised that you are doing it now. Yes, Tripura will go into election next year, but there is time yet.

I am therefore, taking this as a sign of you setting a new trend. 

Now, since you are setting a new trend, may I request you to continue doing that when you talk to the locals and bring up these few issues? 

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Booting The Bulb Out: Will China Beat India?

Yesterday China did something that made me both happy and worried: declaring a war against incandescent light bulbs. 

According to an official statement, the country has chalked out a three-step plan to phase out incandescent light bulbs. The steps include ban on imports and sales of 100-watt-and-higher incandescent light bulbs after Oct 1, 2012 and a ban on 60 watt and higher bulbs on 2014. 

How wonderful! If the world’s most populous nation gives up using it, the days of incandescent light bulbs surely gets numbered. So, why am I worried? It’s because of this nagging thought: will China beat us at a game that we started to play much before it?
Incandescent bulbs only convert 5% of energy into light, criminally wasting the other 95%

Yes, it was in 2009 that government of India launched Bachat Lamp Yojana – a scheme (Bachat = saving) to phase out incandescent light bulbs from the country. 

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

What's In A Name? Money, Silly!!!

A few years ago, I met Anjali – a Mumbai girl who had a Diploma in pharmaceutical engineering. Anjali lent her certificate to a local chemist (who didn’t study beyond 7th grade) who ran a drugstore and paid Anjali a monthly rent. At that time I thought it was the oddest way to make money.

I don’t believe that, not any more. Because, I have just learnt of a stranger way of earning a rental: lending your names, to be precise.

Incredible, did you say? Well then, visit Aizawl, capital town in Mizarom state in north east India. Ask the pastor of any local Presbyterian Church if he knows of name lending and he will tell you how the business is thriving.

The church, in fact, has just asked to the people of the state to cut this unholy business off!

Monday, October 31, 2011

AFSPA: Look Who's Asking For It!

When millions of people in Kashmir and elsewhere in India are crying for its withdrawal, when Irom Sharmila has entered 10th years of fasting, demanding its annulment, believe it or not, there is an organization actively batting for the notorious Armed Forces Special Powers Act, and that too, in the name of religious freedom!!!

Yes, I am talking of the Janjati Dharm Sanskriti Suraksha Manch – a right wing, Hindu religious organization that operates in eight states of the north east. On Saturday, the organization, headed by Bikram Bahadur Jamatia, submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister urging him to give the army a free hand in Arunachal Pradesh!

(The center, on 2nd Oct extended AFSPA for 6 months in the state. So, what does Jamatiya’s appeal for a free hand mean? You can only imagine!)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sickly Truth: Half of India's women are anemic, malnourished

Indian Women: First to cook, Last to eat
Eight years ago, a friend of mine – pregnant with her second child - died. Her family had a herd of cows and enough land to grow their own food. But my friend died of malnutrition. I still remember her stick-like hands and legs. There was food, but the distribution system was wrong. A health report made public this week just made me feel her death all over again. 

This is something no Indian would feel proud of: over a half of the nation’s women suffer from anemia, particularly those belonging to the marginalized communities. The India Human Development Report 2011, made public this week has revealed this damning fact.
The "India Human Development Report 2011", prepared by the Institute of Applied Manpower research, a Planning Commission body, says there is an increasing trend of anemia among women of tribal, Muslim and Dalit communities. Ironically, India is one of the few countries to have a robust National Rural Health Mission in place. The nation' budget is currently $5.9 million.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Libya: How Will It Work for Indians?

Finally, Gaddafi is a dead guy. Libya is freed. A new era beckons the liberated country.

Even as celebrations erupt, questions are being raised over new challenges that Libya now faces: repairing the war-torn nation,  building a new economy,besides new systems of education, democracy and health.
My head is, however, clouded with one question: what about the 18,000 Indians who lived and worked in Libya not so long ago, earning  a living? Will the new Libya be just as warm to welcome them back?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Climate Change: Don't Shoot The Messenger!

Last evening I wrote a piece on how changing climate is affecting tea production in India’s Assam. Soon after, I was pulled up by a scientist for being ‘unscientific’, ‘sensational’, ‘fuelling a controversy’ etc, etc. At the end, he had a strong diktat: don’t link climate change directly to the decline of any crop production, including tea.

Interestingly, the effects of climate change in tea gardens is not breaking news. In October 2009 Heather Stewart and Nick Mathiason of The Guardian, reported on the effects of climate change in four countries tea and coffee producing countries – Kenya, Mexico, Peru and Nicaragua. The report, based a research by Fairtrade drinks producer Cafédirect, said that “Climate change is already wreaking havoc on the livelihoods of small-scale tea and coffee farmers in some of the world's poorest countries.”

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Flogging Marzieh Vafamehr? I Condemn!

Coming from Assam, tea, especially my morning cuppa, is extremely precious to me. With every sip, my head gets cleared, my spirits get lifted, and my inner qualities – whatever they are, definitely get a boost.

But today my morning cup of tea has been embittered. And here is the reason: Marzieh Vafamehr, I just learnt, is to be lashed in public, 90 times. 

Marzieh who?  

An Iranian actor (obviously woman), Marzieh recently acted in an Australian film called ‘My Tehran For Sale’. Her crime or ‘sin’: not wearing the Hijab and shaving her head (as demanded by the script). She was arrested in July. And now comes the punishment: 1 year in jail and public lashing.

Unique Celebration of Lakshmi Puja in NE India!

Its the full moon night. In the north east of India, where there is little air pollution, the moon is shinning like a huge silver plate. Below,  amidst the moonlit paddy fields, people are celebrating Lakshmi Puja festival. 

Essentially a peasant's festival, Lakshmi Poornima (poornima = full moon) is believed to be the night when goddess Lakshmi comes on earth and fills the paddy pods with 'life'. From tomorrow, if you press a pod, white milk will ooze out and in a couple of months, hardened into rice,  will be ready for a harvest!

To welcome the goddess, the peasant therefore will offer all he can: coconut sweets, fresh fruits, and rice cakes. He will even paint the steps of his house with rice powder. And once this is done,  he will, quite inexplicably, indulge into something not so holy: stealing!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Kathmandu Calling: Media Workshop On Brahmaputra River

Luit.Brahmaputra. Meghna. Yarlung Zangbo. There are so many names a river can have! The mightiest of all Asian rivers, Brahmaputra is the lifeline of millions of people in 3 countries - India, China and Bangladesh. We grew up hearing its stories, singing songs about it. We ate fish caught in the river and we took romantic boat rides on it, soaking in the winter sun. We stood at its ghats, hearing the chants of the mantras and felt a spiritual bliss within.

But today the same mighty river is endangered!

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Climate Change - The Orange Killer

With October, the air is turning a crisp cool all over India's north east. Soon, the markets across the region will be flooded with winter vegetables and fruits including oranges. However, this winter will be far less juicier than the earlier ones,at least in Manipur state. Reason? Orange trees are dying here, en masse. 

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Goddess Durga Gets a Red Salute!

So you thought all communists were atheists? You ought to visit Tripura state in India where the communists are loudly saying 'Lal Salaam' to goddess Durga. 

Communist ideology and spiritualism now goes hand in hand 
in Tripura, the last bastion of the left front in India. The proof: beside allotting generous amount of fund, the communist government here also arranges for a grand guard of honor to Goddess Durga! 

Tuesday in capital town Agratala, the Durga idol received a guard of honor from none other than the state police. 

The move is in keeping with a tradition of Tripura – once a princely state. The tradition was started nearly 150 years ago by the then King Radha Kishore Manikya Bahadur. Radha Kishore, the most prominent among Tripura kings, was a patron of arts and culture.

 It is said that, in 1949 when Tripura agreed to join the union of India, it put a condition that the Goddess Durga would be worshiped by the government of Tripura. Tuesday’s guard of honor came in accordance to that MOU. A follow up ‘salaam' would come on Thursday -  before the idol is immersed in water.

This is in addition to the allotment of Rs 3,00,000 for the festival. 

Ironically, Tripura is right now in the midst of an economic crisis; the Chief Minister recently requested New Delhi to urgently provide it a relief package. Hundreds of state government employees have reportedly not been paid their salaries for months. The huge funding of the Durga puja is, therefore, a baffling move. 

Or, is this just a move to appease the divine power to get out of the problem?

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Badmouthing Women: Disorder of the Day

This week the world saw British Prime Minister David Cameron apologizing for some derogatory comments he had made earlier about two of his colleagues. Cameron first told Angela Eagle - a senior Labor MP and the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, "calm down, dear'' while replying to a question in the House of Commons. Later, he also passed a crude remark about Tory MP Nadine Dorries, calling her sexually frustrated.

Ugly the comments sure were, but I would say that Mr. Cameroon is at least man enough to apologize. Some even don’t have that ability. And one such person that I can think of right now is the late Pramod Mahajan –a former minister from Mumbai.

In 1999 Mahajan – a senior leader of India’s main opposition party BJP, hurled insults at Sonia Gandhi, the Congress party president and the then PM hopeful, equating her with Monica Lewinsky. Not satisfied with this, he later went one step ahead and said that Sonia Gandhi’s only contribution to India was producing two babies and adding to the country’s growing population. It’s a cheap, devoid of all decency and respect for women and saw widespread protests. But Mahajan never apologized!

Monday, October 03, 2011

Om Panditaya Namah!

The great Indian Hindu festive season has begun well. One of the most wanted people this season is the great Indian Hindu priest. Here are the few priests that I will always remember.

The Poor One

There are three of them, aged between 7-12. They live in the community temple next door and are actually professionals priests -in the-making. One evening I saw the youngest of them desperately looking at the kitchen. He was hungry, you could tell. But then, an elderly man – their guru or father, I still don’t know, came, ordered him to sit, and asked him to say his mantras which I guess, he didn’t memorize and was therefore being denied food. After a few lines the boy faltered, and was immediately hit by the elderly priest who had a cane! Ouch! Who said being a priest is all nice and pure?

Sunday, October 02, 2011

My 3 encounters with Mahatma Gandhi

The first time I heard about Gandhi was when I was about 5/6 year old, when I heard a female cousin of mine singing a song. Originally in one of our NE dialects, the song, roughly translated, goes like this:

Bapu Raja Gandhi Raja, is a big man
Gandhi has built a road, my dear friend
Now it’s much easier/ for us to fetch water.

As you have guessed, the singer (in this case my cousin) lived in a village where there were no running water taps and the nearest tubewell was quite a distance. To build a road, therefore, is truly something very nice of a Gandhi raja. However, till this day, I am not sure which of the Gandhis really had this road built. But the use of words such as 'Bapu' and 'Raja'/ ‘king’, and considering Rajeev Gandhi was never a popular guy in NE region, makes me believe that it was Mahatma Gandhi.

My second introduction to Gandhi happened in a government-run primary school. It was a school where 3 of my elder siblings went and I was often sent with them, tagged by my mother who thought, that was the best way to handle us.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Land Of The Missing People

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For records, law and order situation has improved a lot in India's North East region of late. There are fewer killings, fewer attacks and fewer people wounded. Now, just when you are all tempted to say ‘how wonderful!’, comes the news: there are people vanishing, in thousands, every year, all over the region. 

Topping the list is Manipur where over 300 people disappear every year. Every morning, as you open a newspaper, you will come across 7-10 faces of the “missing persons”, listed on the last page.

Friday, September 30, 2011

India’s New Mining Bill: Worries of A Nobody

Its official then: Indian government is ready the table Mineral Development and Regulation (MMDR) Bill, 2011 - a draft law that allows local people get the financial benefits of mining activities.

The bill, passed today by the union cabinet, asks coal mining companies to pay 26 per cent of their profit after tax to “district mineral foundations” (DMFs), to the district administrations. The money, collected by district collectors, is to be spent on development projects for the locals, mainly tribal communities residing in the mining areas. Roughly put,  the mining firms will pay approximately Rs 10,000 crore a year to the 60 districts (about Rs 1.7billion a year to each), once the bill is enacted.

Undoubtedly, it’s a historic move, to provide justice to scores of tribals who have lost and continue to lose, their land and livelihood across the country due to mining activities. But happy though I am, there are doubts rising in my heart: this new bill, will it just end up as a dud? Will all these hope building just fall flat in near future? 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

And Now, Goddess Durga To Kill Global Warming Demon!!!

Move over UNFCCC and IPCC. Divine mother, Goddess Durga is here to take care of climate change!  

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Starting tomorrow, India will celebrate one of its most colorful festivals – the Navrati(nine nights). During the 9-day period, the Bengali community all across the globe will also celebrate Durga Puja. According to Hindu myth, Durga or mother goddess will slay the demon king Mahishasura after fighting him for nine days and nine nights, thus ensuring the victory of good over evil. The idol of goddess Durga (see picture), is a depiction of this myth.

But, this Navratri/durga puja goddess Durga will be fighting a brand new demon; he who has a real hot temper and who spews poisonous smoke. The name is Global Warming. Yes sireee!!

Monday, September 26, 2011

India: Clean Energy, Unclean Means

As India struggles to decrease its dependence on coal based power (currently, 73%  power comes from coal) and find alternative energy sources, the need to produce renewable power is greater than ever before. The government is doing all it can: calling on investors, liberalizing policies, simplifying processes. In short, our industries have never had it so smooth. Yet, there has been a lot of foul play on the part of the industries. This week alone has seen unearthing of at least 2 such instances.

The first incident took place in Palakkad district of Kerala – a state in south of India. Here, the power major Suzlon had set up two wind mills. Now, it has come to the notice that most of the land acquired by Suzlon is actually land forcibly taken from the local tribal communities. The massive encroachment (85.21 acres)has embarrassed the government which has now ordered taking back of the land from Suzlon.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Finding the Musicwomen

The other night, a little bored and a little sleepy, I was switching channels randomly when a classical music concert on a Telugu channel called Sapthagiri came on screen. Suddenly, something made me sit up and stare hard: the lead musician on stage was a lady, playing flute!!!

Now, why should a woman flute player make me sit up? I will answer that with a question: when did you ever see a woman flute player in India, playing in a public concert?

I have attended dozens of concerts in many classical music festivals across India and never remember seeing a single woman either playing solo or even accompanying a maestro. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sikkim Erathquake: A Wake Up Call For North East

One of the world’s worst quake-prone belts, the North-east region of India, is finally waking up to the need of disaster preparedness, thanks to the recent Sikkim earthquake.

The north-east region of India – a cluster of 7 hills states bordering Myanmar, China, Bhutan and Bangladesh, falls in zone V, the sixth worst quake-prone belt in the world. In the wake of the Sikkim earthquake which rocked large parts of north, east and northeastern India, beside Nepal and Bangladesh, the states have started the urgent and long neglected exercise to review their disaster management mechanism. The earthquake, measuring 6.8 magnitude in the Richter scale, has claimed the lives of more than a hundred, beside injuring several hundreds.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Third Nagaland: One demand, Many Questions

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The state of Nagaland – the 16th state in the Indian Union - was created in 1963. Soon after that, the Nagas started an armed movement for an independent, sovereign Nagaland, outside of the Indian constitution. Thousand died in the bloody battle between the separatists and the Indian army, before the two parties agreed on a ceasefire. And now, here is a new, dramatic development taking place in Nagaland: Demand for a separate statehood. 

After decades of ambush, encounter and combing operations, there is finally some peace in Nagaland; a ceasefire is on between the government and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland Isaac Muivah group (NSCN –IM)
 NSCN – the all powerful Naga separatist group. Yet, angry slogans are being heard on the streets of Nagaland now, this time for a new state called Frontier Nagaland.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Muscular Dystrophy? So What?

Every day, I get a number of email alerts on upcoming events. Today, one of them caught my eyes: a run in a British town to raise fund for victims of Mascular Dystrophy. It also inspired me to re-tell the story of Sanjana Goyal - a victim of Mascular Distrophy and now India's most vocal campaigner against the disease. 

Sanjana Goel from Solan city of India’s Himachal Pradesh state has Muscular dystrophy (MD) - a genetic disorder that has left her paralyzed below waist. But despite her physical handicap, Sanjana has become a successful entrepreneur who owns a design boutique. She has also established the first Muscular Dystrophy counseling center in her state where she provides support and livelihood training to youth suffering from MD. Her work has won her several recognitions, including the Yuva award, given by CNN-IBN news channel, to young people with exemplary achievements in life.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Before the Tremors Came (Remembering The Sikkim I knew)

Yesterday, when I got the first news of earthquake in Sikkim, I reacted like how everyone else would: think of the friends I had there. At least one of my friends – a photographer with the state forest department -lived close to Namche Bazar - the epicenter of the earthquake. Another close friend – Ankit Sood- had been a roaming nomad, travelling around the state as an advisor on eco-tourism.

It took my entire day to reach them. Finally, by this evening, I managed to hear from both, and a few others; everyone had got a few bruises here and there, but were generally fine.

Now, with the worries over my near ones’ safety behind me, I am full of memories of the state and its abundant beauty as I experienced during my three trips.

My first visit to the state was in the summer of 2009, in connection with a

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Vanishing Women

A lot has been written about ‘pati panchayat’ of India where elected women of village councils (panchayat) across India are made to act like rubber stamps while their husbands (pati) call the shots.

But the system prevails even in areas of India that still do not have the Panchayat system. Take Meghalaya’s Garo Hills for example.

Garo Hills is home to the Garos – one of the 3 leading tribes of Meghalaya (Garo,Khasi, and Jaintia). Garo Society is governed by matrilineal laws of succession and inheritance. Inheritance and descent, therefore,  pass on from one generation of women to another. Usually it’s the youngest daughter who assumes the role of a family and the clan. Known as Nokma, she manages the property of the entire clan often consisting of an entire village.

But these days, all across Garo hills, it has become a common sight where the husband of a Nokma takes all the decisions, thus turning the woman into a puppet.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

ONGC: The Crude and Spilling Secret

Oil spills have, of late, become a common occurrence in India. In past 1 year we have seen 3 such cases in Mumbai and Goa, results of accidental colliding of tankers and leakages. 
But there is (almost unnoticed to the rest of the country) one massive oil spill that nobody can call an accident: crude oil spillage from an abandoned oil rig in 2 villages called Champang and Tssori in Wokha district of Nagaland(north east India). Guess how long the spillage has continued? 16 years! And guess who did it? None other than one of India’s Navratna(9 star) companies: the Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC). 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Our Jails, Their Jails

India’s burgeoning population is, of late, being felt in its jails as well. Yes, for past few months, the number of prison inmates have been increasing like never before. Gracing the list are Category A VIPs: cabinet ministers (Suresh Kalmadi, A Raja) MPs (Kanimozhi, Amar Singh) and super, stinking rich mining and IT barons (Janardan Reddy, Satyam Raju).

I was trying to find out how these rich crooks are treated in the jails. At least one media report (Tehelka) confirmed what I always suspected:  they are getting special treatment, sometimes by paying bribes, other times just for being what they are: powerful crooks.

As I read this, I picture came before my eye: groups of children, some of them as young as 8 year old, locked behind bars along with hardcore criminals. They are minor law offenders, rotting in jail, because the state had no money to provide a juvenile home.

I am talking of Arunachal Pradesh – a state in the North east India.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Veerudada: The Transgender Leader

It takes a lot to be a good leader: courage, ability to earn trust, ability to lead from the front, to break an impasse, take a decision and seeing beyond the obvious.

But if you ask Veerudada, she will tell you that a leader has just one challenge: understanding the problem of the people he/she leads.

Veerudada should know. She has been doing it for years. In several states across India, the government has taken an urbanization drive, which is putting thousands of rickshaw drivers out of business.  Veerudada is fighting to see that each rickshaw driver is given his due compensation and a rehabilitation package – a promise that governments have made, but aren’t honoring.

If you visit Allahabad city in northern India, you can sometimes see a rally of rickshaw drivers which is led by a slogan shouting, fists-in–the air Veerudada.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

9/11 - My Story

I was recently asked by someone how the terror attack of 9/11 affected me.

My first reaction was: It didn’t affect me at all. I was in Chennai (India) on that day. I remember munching on some snacks and watching TV, when suddenly on the screen CNN flashed ‘America Attacked’. I was shocked, but thousands of miles away, in the comfort of home. I hardly felt the heat.

And then, I remembered, it’s not true. 9/11 did affect me, indirectly of course, but it sure did.

As I said, I watched the news of the terror attack on TV and said ‘phew!’ like millions others.

However, unknown to me, the life of someone in my own family was about to change drastically: My brother in law – then an employee of one of the largest audit firms - had just been transferred from India to NY and was about to resume his office which was located in the WTC building. On the day of the attack, he was in India; his wife - my sister - had just delivered their second baby and the family was to fly to NY in a week. They had already packed, sold off their furniture, the kitchenware and pretty much every other household stuff. 

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Breaking News From Tihar Prison

Hello folks! Evening! Time to hear
your neighborhood news reader
once again. In this bulletin
there’s news brought from within
secured walls of prison Tihar
in New Delhi; you know where

nowadays half of India’s crooks-
(whom for long we all mistook
as honest and good folks) are
having a special get together.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Assange vs Mayawati: My Peace Pact

Good evening folks, hope you are
doing really fine out there.
I have, for you, some news with me
hot as hell, and very spicy.
You will love it. So, come on in
Let us listen to this bulletin.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

In The Land Of The Smiling Buddha

It's been a while since I sang my last song of the road. Today, I decided to get back into my groove :) So, allow me, my friends, to take you to Arunachal Pradesh - one of the most mysterious, and most beautiful states in my very beautiful North-East (India).  

Above my head, there is a kingdom of grey cloud. Below, a carpet of white and orange poppies. A serpentine road passes by, combing through that carpet. And along that serpentine road I am moving on. My destination: Naamgye Lhatse, popularly known as Tawang monastery.

It had been nearly a 6-hour long journey along the Bomdilla-Tawang road in an old, rickety,but mercifully empty state road transport bus (somehow, I can’t resist these buses; to me they present India in an oddly romantic and raw manner). All along, the clouds kept running along with the bus and now, when I walking through the field of wild flowers, they swoop down suddenly, sprinkling a few droplets of water. In the act, I sense a welcome and my heart leaps with joy. Finally, I am here, in Tawang- the land of the beautiful people called the Monpa tribe.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Work Talk

 ‘The new girl in office is a slut.’
Says Aaron, my colleague, in
a ‘matter of fact’ tone. ‘But,
how can you utter
such words?’ I say,

‘You barely know her!’
Aaron looks annoyed and bitter
‘Well I know girls like her;
they wear all stuff clingy and short
ready to prey,’ he says with a snort.