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.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

When a woman leads…

As a staunch believer of 'live and let live' philosophy, I am scared of places that have a reputation for being extremely intolerant to other ideas, other religion and other races. Gujarat of India is one such place where communal riots, burning and looting of religious minorities are common features. Naturally, I was a little scared to travel there. But when I did travel, I met  amazing people and got stories worth telling for decades. Here is a few line about of those people.

Rihana, 27, lives in a slum of India’s Ahmedabad city. For years, poverty and hunger were constant companions of this daughter of a daily wage earner; often there was no food at home and to suppress the hunger clawing inside her, Rihana would chew tobacco, among other things, just like other young people around her did.