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 Caf├ędirect, 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.