Wednesday, 28 February 2007
Yesterday at CCSS, I was rather strongly urged to quit my teaching room for L6 at Tenison Road so that Nici could teach one student in that room. I refused to give way and there was a bit of unpleasantness involved.
We had our chess meet with Coolay, Samir, Eric, Om and me playing. I managed to beat Eric, Om beat him twice. Coolay toyed with Samir - and honours were even 1-1 in his match with Om. Came home only after 8.45 pm
Jayaram asked me to find articles on Time Management and virtual libraries.
Tuesday, 27 February 2007
Monday, 26 February 2007
I dont know what is the impact of the other dream about Pinky's mum Puran.
We had a good day at Bury's Culford school, we initially ended up at the back end of the school - the AA guide took us to the wrong gate - and this was a huge property and it took us nearly five minutes of actual driving to get to the front gate of the school. Culford is a very old and posh school with lovely greens and woods and some really breathtaking views. The building where the tourney was held appeared to be an old palace or a manor house. Om asked me a question, 'Why is the stage and the curtains painted witha dark maroon colour?' The event was played in an auditorium that was a nice venue. On the way back I took the B1106 ended up in Thetford, took the A11 and A14 to get back.
Sree announced that they had received the offer of naturalisation in the UK.
I bought a book Bobby Fischer's outrageous moves and a chess recording book for Om.
This morning I dreamt of a situation where Suma and I were both jobless nd were trying to emigrate (probably to the US) and were in a depressed mood - not knowing what to do next.
Sunday, 25 February 2007
I have met Pinky's mum once - in 1986 or 1987. I had called up their Pali Hill residence to speak to Pinky, when she tried to masquerade as Pinky and had a long conversation with me. I soon realised that it was her mother told myself if I can make love to her mother then why not. So when she invited me home that same day, I went there and had a long cht with her - and towards the end of the talk Pinky arrived - she was shocked to see me with her mum (no sex nor any intimacy though). I was then escorted to the gate where her mother wished me goodbye and that was the end of it. Hence I wonder what if any significance this dream has for me.
Before the above dream, I had another dream about accompanying Om to a chess tournament - today in a few hours we will be actually leaving for the Bury St. Edmunds tour ney - and Om lost his first two matches and I was counselling him. I wonder what this dream portends for today.
Saturday, 24 February 2007
Saturday February 24, 2007
If one is to endure a prime ministerial discourse on Iraq for any length of time these days, it is necessary - in the name of sanity - to cultivate strategies of detachment. Destroying another radio solves nothing, and there may be health risks associated with beginning one's waking day shouting dementedly at the glottal-stopped voice drifting over the airwaves. And so it was, listening to Tony Blair sing the praises of his Iraq adventure on the Today programme on Thursday, that my mind began to wander. If it wasn't all such a bleeding mess, I thought vaguely, the prime minister's delusions of success would be almost comical. Comical ... comical ... the word triggered some neural connection. But what? Gradually but inexorably, the memory of another charismatic proselytiser for Iraq's rude health began to resolve itself.
Cast your mind back to the Iraq war as it was originally billed - the one where we won in three weeks - and which revisionist historians may just come to classify as a kind of phoney war curtain-raiser to the prolonged horror that succeeded it. Quite the most entertaining cameo of the day - even counting Clare Short's hilarious insistence on staying in the cabinet so she could oversee the reconstruction effort - was that played by Saddam's information minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, who we came to know as Comical Ali.
Not for him the relentless negativity that so exasperates Tony Blair where critics of his mission's success are concerned. "There are only two American tanks in the city," the information minister would beam beatifically during one of his must-watch daily briefings in early 2003, surrounded by reporters who would have been to able to count at least three if they stood on a low chair. Or recall his declaration as news channels screened footage of coalition troops patrolling Saddam international airport: "They are not in control of any airport."
Listening again to Blair's Today interview, it is easy to imagine his declarations as simply one melody in a discordant symphony, a series of those beloved soundbites that could be spliced with contrapuntal news of actual events. "We should be immensely proud." Crash! A six-hour firefight in Ramadi leaves 12 dead. "What we had to do was rebuild an Iraqi army and police - we did that." Bang! A US soldier dies and three are injured by a roadside bomb in Diwaniya. "It is better now that [Saddam] has gone." Wallop! A car bomb factory is discovered in Baghdad. Just as it was with his apparent inspiration, Comical Ali, it becomes ever more difficult to avoid the suspicion that the prime minister is living in a parallel universe, where success and failure are merely states of mind.
Of course, as mentioned, the information minister's input in this historic saga was limited to a cameo. After being captured by coalition forces, he was almost instantly released, evidently deemed to have known so little as to be useless. Unlike Mr Blair, al-Sahaf seems to have become swiftly aware of the limits of his appeal, and after a few TV appearances, he now lives an unassuming existence in the United Arab Emirates.
His prime ministerial imitator, however, is assumed to have far loftier plans, with the North American lecture tour a seeming inevitability. Enthralled audiences can no doubt expect more insights such as we gained on Thursday, when the PM appeared to justify Iraq's sprightly journey in the direction of civil war with the observation: "You can't absolutely predict every set of circumstances that comes about." Well quite. You can, however, have a vague punt on possible outcomes, and if you are over the age of 15, not involved in a still-unfathomed platonic infatuation with the US president, and willing to listen to intelligence you didn't pilfer off the internet, you might hazard the road ahead was slightly more pitfall-ridden than seems to have been judged.
But will the time ever come, one wonders idly, when our revisionist historians reconsider the ravings of Comical Ali? The idiocy of most of his statements will, admittedly, endure. Footwear-based supremacy has not been achieved, despite the much-vaunted boast that the Iraqis would be waiting for the coalition forces "with shoes". But the smile fades when recalling other pronouncements. "Do not be hasty because your disappointment will be huge," the old crazy warned. "You will reap nothing from this aggressive war, which you launched on Iraq, except for disgrace and defeat." "We will embroil them, confuse them, and keep them in the quagmire," he said later, adding that "they cannot just enter a country of 26 million people and lay besiege to them! They are the ones who will find themselves under siege."
There are, of course, rather fewer than 26 million people in Iraq these days, but even those who dispute the precise extent of the population depletion might agree that it comes to something when, in hindsight, several statements by this preposterous character seem more prophetic than anything spouted by the British government at the time. Fortunately for Mr Blair, this kind of cynicism is not voguish in the hotel ballrooms of North America. There he may expect to be permanently cossetted against any unwelcome intrusions of reality, and we can only wish him the speediest of journeys.
Sunday, 18 February 2007
1. Give yourself permission to be human. When we accept emotions -- such as fear, sadness, or anxiety -- as natural, we are more likely to overcome them. Rejecting our emotions, positive or negative, leads to frustration and unhappiness.
2. Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning. Whether at work or at home, the goal is to engage in activities that are both personally significant and enjoyable. When this is not feasible, make sure you have happiness boosters, moments throughout the week that provide you with both pleasure and meaning.
3. Keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on our state of mind, not on our status or the state of our bank account. Barring extreme circumstances, our level of well being is determined by what we choose to focus on (the full or the empty part of the glass) and by our interpretation of external events. For example, do we view failure as catastrophic, or do we see it as a learning opportunity?
4. Simplify! We are, generally, too busy, trying to squeeze in more and more activities into less and less time. Quantity influences quality, and we compromise on our happiness by trying to do too much.
5. Remember the mind-body connection. What we do -- or don't do -- with our bodies influences our mind. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and healthy eating habits lead to both physical and mental health.
6. Express gratitude, whenever possible. We too often take our lives for granted. Learn to appreciate and savor the wonderful things in life, from people to food, from nature to a smile.
Thursday, 8 February 2007
Debating Discrimination, Differences And Dissent In Our Part Of The WorldBy Vidya Bhushan Rawat
07 February, 2007
The issue of racial discrimination has been in the news for quite some time. Some Indian pretended that they have been discriminated against in Britain while rarely speaking that India does not have its own house in order. Despite 60 years of independence India has not been able to transform itself into a modern state, in terms of freedom, dissent and life of the common men. Though it may be a great satisfaction for some of us that India surrounded by autocratic military dictators still managed to strive the political democracy but instead of basking on the glory of 'successful democracy', we need to introspect our persistent failures of social life. If democracy has not reached the last man as envisaged by Gandhi or if social life does not convert into a social democracy as envisaged by Dr Ambedkar, Indians all over the world need to investigate that without empowering common man, India can neither claim a powerful nation nor an intellectual giant which many of the commentators do not stop claiming all the time. Pakistan has the same problem though it is not a democratic state yet its ruler claims a secular army and a working democracy on various occasions. Question is democracy is thwarted by the identity politics and undemocratic caste Panchayats. They are a threat but these caste panchayats are now being modernized in the name of new identity assertion among every one from the non-resident Indians to urban Indians under various shades and names. This assertion reinforces and justifies the age-old traditions in the name of culture. It jump on the bogey of victimization as soon as an elite of its own class face discrimination as in the case of Shilpa Shetty but remain conspicuously silent on the issue of its own contradictions and discriminations. Hence the Indians, Pakistanis and the other South Asians would rarely speak on their own track record of discrimination against ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities in their own country. Oppression of women is always justified in the name of culture and vigorously defended.
A few days ago, I was reading the horrible tale of Mukhtar Mai who faced tyranny of the caste Panchayat called as Jirga in the North West Frontier Province, in Pakistan, which ordered her rape for a crime allegedly committed by her minor brother. Mukhtar Mai has become a legend in her own life times. Fighting against the feudal lords of the notorious North West Frontier Province, Mukhtari Mai showed how the village women in the Indian subcontinent have the courage to challenge the system. That, this system degrades and humiliates the victim is a well- established fact. And based on this principal, the rural women suffer in utter humiliation and indignity. Mukhtar Mai is not alone in such cases. Things are same in India, though a bit sophisticated here. It is important that a woman like Phoolan Devi would not have born if she had not shown the courage to fight against the humiliation. Rather than surrendering to the whims of the local powerful caste groups, these women stood up. Some chose the constitutional path while other decided to avenge it according to their own way. While Bhanwari Bai had to face the humiliation even inside the court where the judge in the Jaipur court released the accused establishing that an upper caste person would rarely rape a woman.
In her wonderful memoirs ' In the name of honor', Mukhtar Mai, now symbolizing as an assertive woman protesting against the man made rules, says,' police are directly controlled by the upper castes. Policemen act as the fierce guardians of traditions, allied with the tribal authorities. Whatever decision a jirga (caste Panchayat) makes will be accepted and backed up by the police. It is impossible to charge an influential family with a crime if the police consider the matter a village affair, especially if the victim is a woman'.
What Mukhtar Mai is saying reflect the farce in our system. As propagandists of family virtues, we, the South Asian have been at the height of hypocrisy blaming the west for every fault of their own. I am sure one would agree that these feudal values, the Manus law are not the invention of the wild west which our commentators often describe. The recent issue of race relation in Britain where a B grade Bombay film heroine earned huge amount of money, the South Asian communities are being presented as if everything has been imposed upon them and are being victimized. Ofcourse, the same South Asian would not like to be reminded about the growing number of honored killing in UK among the South Asian Communities. Shocking it may sound, but the fact is, that South Asians have more racial contours than their British counterparts. A study in UK showed how the Indians still are confined to their caste identities and how to get marry, every Indian boy come to India to look for an 'ideal' ' cultured' and 'fare' color girl. Will we tell the world that we are more colours conscious than the British or European? That our boys are deeply intoxicated in the idea of varna and colour and that dogs can enter our temples and urinate over the gods but when the Dalits want to enter there the Gods become angry and their followers on earth goes on rampage.
Human life is not equal in this part of the world. Honored killing are not happening in Britton and Pakistan only but are very much part of our traditions. After all, all our marriages are not meant for the bride and the groom but for the parents of the both. Reputation is the biggest thing in these marriages.
A boy from the Valmiki family is still facing threat to his life for felling love with a girl from a Jaat family. Jaats are the peasant community and their men dominate the Delhi police hence when I visited along with other friends to the Assistant police commissioner some three years back, to provide security to this young boy, the officer said '. You see organizations like your should come forward and train the policemen, after all they too are human being and family. How do you expect them to change over night.' I told the officer: Do you want to justify police negligence in the name of tradition.' No, he said, but see how the society is changing. The girls move out in the evening without any escorts. How can police resolve every crisis that the society faces? I was aghast at this answer by the police officer that proudly claimed a JNU background. The officer certainly was not interested in telling that the police had failed to protect the victim and that such things should be stopped. I still remember how a younger sister of a girl who was slaughtered by her family and entire village community along with her husband, was happy and said that those who goes against social norms would meet the same fate.
Yes, the South Asian would not like to speak about the horrible culture of moral policing that they have developed without any change. The paradox of this is that they all enjoy best of multiculturalism in Europe and America but are highly paranoid of granting minority rights or space to dissent. For instance, Gujaratis world-over, have enjoyed the hospitality of multiculturalism. United States, United Kingdom and South Africa were their hunting ground. They build up huge empire. And see what is happening their native Gujarat? Most of the Non Resident Gujarati's are financing the Babas, and the right wing elements. Narendra Modi might call Gujarat a vibrant state but it remains totally out of bound for the non-Gujaratis particularly Muslims and Chrisitians. During a trip to Gujarat last year, I put this question to a friendly Gujarati as why do they not want to keep Muslims in Gujarat. And the cryptic answer that this businessman was that the outsiders are creating problems in Gujarat. Gujarati's are peace-loving people but it is the Biharis and others who created havoc in the aftermath of Godhara. It is tragic that India's new vibrant culture is very much in tone with what is happening in Gujarat. There is no freedom in the air. The darkness in the noon is visible in Gujarat. The only thing is that you need to go and see beyond what is visible. The dangerous aspect of this newly immerging India is the growing middle class of upper caste Hindus which clearly want to look exclusive. Hence Dalits, Adivasis and others who are at odd with the current economic social set up feel suffocated and completely isolated. The government at the center is interested to placate this elite class and has launched another India shining campaign without including the poor people.
South Asian therefore needs to speak more vigorously against their own value system. That very few people stood up with both Mukthar Mai and Bhanwari Bai is reflection of our mindset. While Shilpa Shetty has detracted from her statement regarding racial discrimination, it is painful how the British upper caste Hindus and other upper South Asian elite made this a racial issue. Did they ever protest against the merciless treatment meted out to disabled in the Bombay films? How many of South Asian stood up and say that the depiction of the blacks in the Hindi films is most racial in nature. They are laughed. Our fascination for the fair color is well known. A dark skinned woman in India will hardly find a partner of her choice. Women's skin her biggest ability or disability. Another disability in India is the physical disability, which is visible. One will rarely find a physically disable woman getting married to a 'normal' man because such things are not ever thought off. She will find a man in a 'disabled' person only. The girls born 'Mangalik' would be very difficult to get marry. And see, how our superstar icon Mr Amitabh Bachchan is behaving? One needs to see his discomfiture with a Manglik daughter in law. He goes from one temple to other temple to perform Yjnas and Pujas so that the evil spirit get off from the world queen Aishwarya Rai. More shocking is the fact as alleged in the media that the poor woman was asked to marry the tree to rectify the misfortunate. What these signals. Rather than becoming enlightened and accepting the person as she is or he is, Indian's or South Asians still think in terms of his birth sign, physical appearance, cast and clans. Can we launch a movement against it or not. How long should we blame that the onslaught of the global powers have destroyed our culture and values.
It is not that people do not oppose it. Yes, those who oppose it live on the margin thoroughly isolated and dejected. But the grave danger comes from those forces who feel great in glorifying these customs. A well-known Gandhian activist has been promoting the idea of the caste panchayats. He would say, how great these Panchayats were in resolving the village problems. But going by the nature of these Panchayats, I a sure every saner person in the world would say demolish and destroy these caste Panchayats. Not only they have been anti people but also almost all of their decisions are against the basic tenets of civilization. Whether it is Jirga which gave decision to rape Mukhtar Mai or some disgruntled Panchayats in western Uttar-Pradesh which asked Imrana, a Muslim woman who was raped by her father in law, to marry him, these caste Panchayats are a blot to civilization and individual freedom and liberty. They promote fanaticism, parochial values and patriarchy. It is important that any glorification of these Panchayats need to be questioned. These Panchayats have authorized the goons to kill lovers, rape women, and exterminate families, which do not follow their dictates. In this hour of identity politics in India, these caste Panchayats are mushrooming very fast. Identity itself is patriarchical in terms and therefore there is very little that a woman can get out of it. That Mukhtar Mai in Pakistan came from a backward Gujar community does not means that this does not happen in that community. Only question is that she was a woman and her community was at the receiving end. The Gujjars in India are no better. Fully coated in the brahmanical stigmas, they do not allow their women to venture out.
Indians need to fight against such atrocious social behavior and practices. Unfortunately, rather than taking a strong action against the same, we are always put on the flimsy ground the issue of racial discrimination. One must question the upper caste Hindus as how many of them mix up with the Scheduled Castes in United States and UK. Not many years ago when I traveled to Bolivia to participate in a conference, a Kenyan friend questioned Gandhi and his intentions in Africa. ' You people have always claimed that Gandhi fought for our rights but where was the fight? None of the Indians ever want to share the issues with the blacks in Uganda and other part of the world. The situation is not much different in UK and USA where Indians do not want to be clubbed with Pakistanis." Shilpa Shetty felt very bad when an in house lady called her Paki. This superiority complex has been injected in our heart and minds from the very beginning and the sooner we understand that the world has changed and going to be more civilized, would be better for us.
As I finish this, the news comes that the parents of the missing Children of Nithari say that the role of Noida Police was very fine in the act. They appreciated the state government and particularly the ruling political party of the state which lodged them in the five star hotels, gave them land and promised every member of the family a government job. I think nothing comes more shocking then this. This culture of considering people, as purchasable commodity is very much in existence in our part of the world. A majority of the missing children were Dalits and the upper castes in nearby localities said that it was not their problem.
British people gave a resounding verdict in favour a failed Indian star but will the South Asian communities be as mature enough to respect dissent, differences with in their own communities. One hope they would do so for the betterment of their own communities and their own country. I would like to finish with a Bangladeshi cab driver in London who was working with a new agency and took me to London Metro station when he said how happy his children were in London and that they do not wish to go back to Dhaka simply when they see violence in the name of culture and tradition. The simple driver had two houses in London and appreciated the multiculturalism in UK. There are other stories as well. While all written above does not mean to exonerate the western power for what they did through their imperialist agendas but then every one of us has this in our blood, it is only who is smarter enough then others. We all have at some point of time exploited the lesser powerful and marginalized communities. Now, in the 21 st century, such discrimination and justifications in the name of identity, region, religion and language must be discarded and rejected.
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Wednesday, 7 February 2007
An Israeli air strike on Natanz and Isfahan is very likely sooner than later. Things have started moving in that direction. The accumulation of US forces in the region is meant to deter any Iranian retaliation.
The US and Israel—acting separately and in tandem—have started stepping up psychological pressure on Iran. This PSYWAR campaign is directed at countering Iran's exploitation of the difficulties faced by the US in Iraq in order to advance its own agenda and to prevent any US intervention in Iran and to convey a message to the Iranian public that Iran will pay a heavy price if President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to defy the international community over its concerns regarding the real purpose of its acquiring an uranium enrichment capability.
This PSYWAR campaign has so far taken the following forms:
- The recent US detention and questioning of two Iranian diplomats posted in Iraq on their role in assisting the Shia extremist groups.
- The stepped-up US rhetoric on the devious game being played by the Iranian intelligence in Iraq by assisting the illegal Shia militias as well as pro-Al Qaeda Sunni extremist elements.
- The well-publicised authorisation by President George Bush of covert action against Iranians posing a threat to American lives and interests in Iraq.
- The beginning of an operation mounted by MOSSAD, the Israeli external intelligence agency, to eliminate senior Iranian nuclear scientists. The Sunday Times of London reported on February 4, 2007, as follows: "A prize-winning Iranian nuclear scientist has died in mysterious circumstances, according to Radio Farda, which is funded by the US State Department and broadcasts to Iran. An intelligence source suggested that Ardeshire Hassanpour, 44, a nuclear physicist, had been assassinated by Mossad, the Israeli security service. Hassanpour worked at a plant in Isfahan where uranium hexafluoride gas is produced. The gas is needed to enrich uranium in another plant at Natanz which has become the focus of concerns that Iran may be developing nuclear weapons. According to Radio Farda, Iranian reports of Hassanpour's death emerged on January 21 after a delay of six days, giving the cause as "gas poisoning". The Iranian reports did not say how or where Hassanpour was poisoned, but his death was said to have been announced at a conference on nuclear safety. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is expected to announce next Sunday — the 28th anniversary of the Islamic revolution — that 3,000 centrifuges have been installed at Natanz, enabling Iran to move closer to industrial scale uranium enrichment. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency say that hundreds of technicians and labourers have been "working feverishly" to assemble equipment at the plant."
- Stepping up of broadcasts and telecasts to Iran by radio stations and TV channels funded by the US and run by Iranian exiles.
- The movement of additional US naval ships, including another aircraft-carrier, to the Gulf and the designation by Bush of a senior naval officer (Admiral William Fallon) to head the US Central Command, which is responsible for operations in West Asia. In the past, a US Army officer had headed the Central Command.
The US had seen in North Korea what happens if it avoids action in response to pressure from other countries co-operating with the US. North Korea has carried out a nuclear test and is now insisting that any agreement it signs with the US and other powers would be as a nuclear power and not as a non-nuclear power.It is reportedly prepared to discuss a freezing of its military nuclear capability at its present level, but not its winding-up. The US and Israel—Israel even more than the US—are determined to prevent a similar scenario in Iran. The price of inaction will be prohibitively high for Israel, endangering its future.The US Congressional opinion—now dominated by the Democrats—is strongly opposed to Bush's Iraq policy. Its views on his Iran policy are much more nuanced. The likely opinion of the Jewish voters in the US on the Iraq policy at the time of next year's Presidential elections would not be that important for the Presidential aspirants, but it would be in the case of Iran's nuclear designs. One could see evidence of it in the recent statements of Senator Hillary Clinton. She is not in favour of direct US military intervention in Iran, but at the same time she does not want to rule out the military option, should the worst comes to the worst.
After a visit to the US in February last year, I had reported that there were three groups there—one group was totally opposed to any intervention in Iran. A second group urged intervention by the US before it became too late. The third group favoured intervention by Israel with a US wink, without Washington getting directly involved. The third group seems to have won the debate.
Action to stop the acquisition of a military nuclear capability by Iran is vital for Israel's security and very survival. The repeated anti-Israel and anti-Jewish statements of President Ahmadinejad make it all the more important for Israel to disrupt, if not destroy, Iran's nuclear plans. For Israel, the question is not whether Iran has the intention to acquire a military nuclear capability. The question is should Iran be allowed to have an infrastructure capable of being used for military nuclear purposes even if it does not have the intention at present to use it for military purposes. Once it is allowed to have the infrastructure, any time—clandestinely and at short notice—it would be able to acquire a military nuclear capability and confront Israel with a nuclear fait accompli.
Israel is determined not to allow this scenario to develop. Two elements of Iran's existing infrastructure are key in this regard— the uranium hexafluoride plant at Isfahan and the uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. Raiding and destroying or seriously damaging them would be a more complex operation than the Israeli raid on the French-aided Osirak reactor in Iraq in the early 1980s. Osirak had not yet been commissioned. The French engineers collaborated with Israel by keeping away from the reactor site at the time of the raid.
Natanz and Isfahan are facilities, which have already been completed and are already in the production mode. There is a greater risk of heavy human casualties and possible environmental damage than there was in Osirak. Iran is a strong military power, with an ability to retaliate against Israel. Iraq of Saddam Hussein was not in the early 1980s. Moreover, it had got involved in a military confrontation with Iran. Israel did not have to pay a price for the Osirak raid. There is a risk that it may have to if it raids Isfahan and Natanz.
Israelis have a reputation of not allowing fears of likely consequences deter any action by them which they consider necessary for their security and survival. An Israeli air strike on Natanz and Isfahan is very likely sooner than later. Things have started moving in that direction. The accumulation of US forces in the region is meant to deter any Iranian retaliation. Israel hopes Iran will not be unwise enough to retaliate. If it does, Israel is prepared for it. Israel is confident of its ability to take on Iran—even if Teheran instigates the Hezbollah to step up attacks on Israel from the Lebanon.
It would be suicidal for Iran to think that the painful experience of the US in Iraq and of Israel in the Lebanon in July last year has weakened their will to resort to military action, if they consider it necessary in their national interests. It has not.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.
Monday, 5 February 2007
Sexpresso coffee shops take Seattle by storm
By Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles
Published: 05 February 2007
South of the city, in Tukwila, the baristas at Cowgirls Espresso wear sheer negligees and visible pink panties. It's the same story in any number of other suburban bars and drive-through stands, like the Natte Latte in Port Orchard or Moka Girls in Auburn - bikinis, racy lingerie, fetish clothing, and plenty of suggestively exposed flesh.
At Best Friend Espresso in Kenmore, at the northern end of Lake Washington, the outfits take their inspiration from Playboy-style sex fantasies. The staff will go for the naughty schoolgirl look one week, then don black-framed glasses the next to look like sexy secretaries.
Welcome to "sexpresso" - the latest coffee fad to hit America, in which the country's seemingly boundless fascination for Italian-style Java is combined with its equally boundless fascination for half-naked women.
Seattle may not be the first American city to come to mind when it comes to the pleasures of the flesh, but it is super-saturated with coffee stands, all of which are battling each other - and the mighty, locally based behemoth that is Starbucks - to give morning commuters an extra reason to stop off at their particular establishment.
"Here on Aurora Avenue, there's a drive-through every 20 blocks. You have to do something to stand out," said Sarah Araujo, owner of The Sweet Spot. Ms Araujo brainstormed with her customers to come up with something new and different when she bought the cafe - then called Aurora Espresso - a couple of years ago.
Not only did her staff start removing clothing and giving suggestive new names to the drinks, they also started doing theme days - Tube Top Tuesdays, Wet T-Shirt Wednesdays and Fantasy Fridays.
The plastic coffee cups are indistinguishable in shape from those sold in any other coffee shop in north America. But they are decorated with the silhouette of a busty naked woman carrying a steaming mug of "Joe". The lid is sealed with a pink lipstick kiss.
During the summer, when the persistent Seattle rain finally lifts and the Pacific Northwest enjoys a few months of real sunshine, The Sweet Spot organises bikini car washes and takes care to post the most suggestive photographs on its website. This year, the cafe is planning a barista calendar.
Coming with a theme for a coffee bar is nothing new in America. In Los Angeles, there are cafes where you can buy second-hand books, get cut-price legal advice, throw pots, or listen to really, really bad live music provided by local bands. Strangely, nobody until now has thought of combining coffee with sex.
Ms Araujo and others say it has given an unmistakable boost to their businesses. Their staff may only receive minimum wage, but the tips can be terrific.
"Our customers may be half-asleep when they get here, but we do what it takes to wake them up," said Ms Araujo. "They always say: 'Thanks for the great cup of coffee and the smile; it made my day'."
Some local puritans have expressed disquiet - and railed at The Seattle Times newspaper after it ran a feature on the sexpresso trend 10 days ago. But law enforcement officials say there is nothing illegal about wearing scanty clothing, so the trend is almost certain to keep spreading.
Even Seattle, though, has its limits. Sexy underwear is all very well, but the city hardly has the climate of French Polynesia.
"We're not in bikinis right now," Ms Araujo conceded in the murky early hours of yesterday. "We're going more for miniskirts and boots. It's pretty cold up here."
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Saturday, 3 February 2007
WHEN OPIUM CAN BE BENIGN
Feb 1st 2007
China's Communist Party, reconsidering Marx's words, is starting to
wonder whether there might not be a use for religion after all
"DEVELOP the dragon spirit; establish a dragon culture," urge large
green characters at the high school in Hongliutan, a poor village at
the foot of a range of bleak loess hills. Though dragon can be a
synonym for China, it is a god known as the Black Dragon that is being
invoked here. Without funds from the Black Dragon's hillside temple, in
a gully behind the village, the school would not exist. Nor, most
likely, would the adjacent primary school and the irrigation system
that brings water from the nearby Wuding River to the village's maize
and cabbage fields.
Many local governments in rural China are mired in debt. Recent central
government efforts to keep peasants happy by abolishing centuries-old
taxes have not made life any easier for these bureaucracies. With their
revenues cut, rural authorities have found it ever more difficult to
scrape together money for health care and education. So they are only
too happy to allow others to share the burden of providing these
services--even the Black Dragon, whose 500-year-old temple was
demolished by Maoist radicals during the Cultural Revolution in the
1960s. Now officials in Yulin, the prefecture to which Hongliutan
belongs, give the temple their blessing.
The revival of the Black Dragon Temple's fortunes is part of a
resurgence of religious or quasi-religious activity across China
that--notwithstanding occasional crackdowns--is transforming the social
and political landscape of many parts of the countryside. Religion is
also attracting many people in the cities, where the party's atheist
ideology has traditionally held stronger sway.
The resurgence encompasses ancient folk religions and ancestor worship,
along with the organised religions of Buddhism, Taoism, Islam (among
ethnic minorities) and, most strikingly, given its foreign origins and
relatively short history in China, Christianity. In the face of this
onslaught, the party is beginning to rethink its approach to religion.
It now acknowledges that it may even have its uses.
In Hongliutan the party appears in retreat. It is not the party
secretary Zhang Tieniu who holds sway. Mr Zhang was the youngest party
chief in the prefecture when he was appointed last year at the age of
32. But in a culture that reveres age, some villagers refer to him
dismissively as a "lad". The man in charge in Hongliutan is 64-year-old
Wang Kehua. Mr Wang happens to belong to the village's main clan. He is
also the village's elected chief (a post which in most villages is
subordinate to that of party secretary). More to the point, he controls
the temple and its money.
It was Mr Wang's idea to rebuild the temple in 1986, a decade after
Mao's death. Mr Wang, who had become one of the village's wealthiest
men by wheeling and dealing elsewhere, donated some of his own money
and organised villagers to add theirs. It was a promising venture.
Historically, the Black Dragon Temple had a reputation extending far
beyond the village. The dragon was renowned in the parched semi-desert
of the north of Shaanxi Province, 600 kilometres (370 miles) west of
Beijing, as a bringer of rain. If the temple was rebuilt, people would
come, pray to the dragon--and spend money.
Mr Wang does not, however, speak of commercial motives. In the bare
concrete-walled room he calls his office, he describes how, one after
the other, the half-dozen villagers who had destroyed the temple in the
1960s fell victim to the vengeful dragon in subsequent years. The man
who had broken off the head of the Black Dragon's effigy (the god is
worshipped in a human-looking form, as shown in the picture above) had
his head blown off when a factory boiler exploded. Another bled to
death after accidentally chopping his foot with an axe. One was crushed
by a donkey cart. Their offspring also suffered ill fate. These events,
says Mr Wang, convinced him of the power of the dragon and of the
importance of reviving its worship.
The temple has no clergy. Visitors are mainly drawn by their belief in
the dragon's power to tell the future. Many want to know whether
business ventures or marriages will succeed. Mr Wang asked the Black
Dragon whether the divinity approved his appointment as temple chief.
It did. The dragon's responses are given in the form of obscurely
worded classical poems written on pieces of paper issued by a
70-year-old villager, Chen Yushan, clad in his blue padded Mao suit. Mr
Chen offers his interpretation of what these poems mean. An
entrepreneur who is told his business will be successful, and who then
enjoys financial success, is quite likely to make a big donation to the
TURNING A BLIND EYE
Officially, the party regards folk religion as superstition, the public
practice of which is illegal. But in many rural areas officials now
bend the rules. In Yulin prefecture, with 3.4m people, there are 106
officially registered places of worship and many more that are not
officially sanctioned. Most are not part of the five mainstream
religions (China regards the two Christian traditions, Catholicism and
Protestantism, as separate) that the party recognises. But Yulin has
allowed the Black Dragon Temple to affiliate itself with the
government-sponsored Taoist Association. This gives it a cloak of
legitimacy. So too does an arboretum that Mr Wang has planted with
temple funds (at the dragon's request, he says, but it also helps him
show officials how the village is contributing to government efforts to
stop the desert encroaching).
Local officials themselves benefit from the greater tolerance. For all
the party's dictatorial ways, government officers are often fearful of
triggering unrest by enforcing unpopular policies that are not all that
vital to the party's interests (hence the increasingly patchy
implementation of population control). Demonstrations in an official's
jurisdiction can do far more damage to his career than turning a blind
eye to popular religion--so long as such activity does not directly
challenge the party.
There are also more tangible rewards. In his book "Miraculous
Response", Adam Yuet Chau of the School of Oriental and African Studies
in London says that temples applying for official registration
typically have to treat local officials to banquets. Officials, he
adds, support temples that pay them respect and tribute. They also gain
financially from taxes levied on merchants who do business at temple
fairs. Policemen invited to maintain order at these occasions are paid
with cash, good food and liquor.
In the view of local officials, Mr Chau argues, temples play the same
kind of role as commercial enterprises. They generate prosperity for
the local economy and income for the local government. This is
especially true of the Black Dragon Temple, which says it attracts
200,000 people to its ten-day summer fair (the Black Dragon himself,
villagers say, has also shown up in the form of an unusually shaped
Evidence of China's religious revival can be seen throughout the
countryside in the form of lavish new temples, halls for ancestor
worship, churches and mosques (except in the far western province of
Xinjiang, where the government worries that Islam is intertwined with
ethnic separatism and keeps tighter rein). Officially there are more
than 100m religious believers in China (see table), or about 10% of the
population. But experts say the real number is very much higher.
This does not mean that China has embraced religious freedom. Some
religions--Tibetan Buddhism, Islam as practised in Xinjiang,
Catholicism and "house church" Protestantism, which involves informal
gatherings of believers outside registered churches--are still subject
to tight controls because of the party's fears that their followers
might have an anti-government bent. A seven-year-old crackdown on Falun
Gong, a quasi-Buddhist sect that flourished in the 1990s, is still
being pursued with ruthless intensity. Many Falun Gong practitioners,
as well as lesser numbers of followers of other faiths who refuse to
accept state attempts to regulate their religions, are imprisoned in
Within the party, however, debate is growing about whether it should
take a different approach to religion. This does not mean being more
liberal towards what it regards as anti-government activities. But it
could mean toning down the party's atheist rhetoric and showing
stronger support for faiths that have deep historical roots among the
ethnic Han majority. The party is acutely aware that its own ideology
holds little attraction for most ordinary people. Given that many are
drawn to other beliefs, it might do better to try to win over public
opinion by actively supporting these beliefs rather than grudgingly
tolerating them or cracking down.
Pan Yue, then a senior official dealing with economic reforms and now
deputy director of the State Environmental Protection Administration,
argued in an article published in 2001 that the party's traditional
view of religion was wrong. Marx, he said, did not mean to imply that
religion was a bad thing when he referred to it as the opium of the
people. Religion, he said, could just as easily exist in socialist
societies as it does in capitalist ones. He also singled out Buddhism
and Taoism for having helped to bolster social stability through
successive Chinese dynasties. Stability being of paramount concern to
the party today, Mr Pan's message was clear.
IN PRAISE OF HARMONY
His article angered party conservatives at the time: the party's
official stance is that religion will die out under socialism. But more
recently the party itself has begun to put a more positive spin on the
role of religion. Last April China organised a meeting of Buddhist
leaders from around the world in the coastal province of Zhejiang (it
did not, however, invite the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual
leader). The event was given considerable prominence in the official
media. The theme, "A harmonious world begins in the mind", echoed the
party's recent propaganda drive concerning the need for a "harmonious
society". It implied just what Mr Pan had suggested-- that the opium
Marx was talking about should be seen as a benign spiritual salve. In
October the party's Central Committee issued a document on how to build
a harmonious society, arguing that religion could play a "positive
The party's change of tone coincides with its recent efforts to revive
traditional culture as a way of giving China, in its state of rapid
economic and social flux, a bit more cohesion. The term "harmonious
society", which in recent months has become a party mantra, sounds in
Chinese (HEXIE SHEHUI) like an allusion to classical notions of social
order in which people do not challenge their role in life and treat
each other kindly. It is, in effect, a rejection of the Marxist notion
of class struggle.
Officials are now encouraging a revival of the study of Confucianism,
a philosophy condemned by Mao as "feudal" and which can be
quasi-religious. Since 2004 China has sponsored dozens of "Confucius
Institutes" around the world, including America and Europe, to promote
the study of Chinese language and culture.
In the countryside the revival of traditional values has needed little
encouragement. Clan shrines, where ancestors are worshipped, have
sprung up in many rural areas, particularly in prosperous coastal and
southern regions. The revival of clan identity (in many villages a
substantial minority, if not a majority, of inhabitants have the same
surname, which they trace back to a common ancestor) has had a profound
impact on village politics. Those elected as village leader often owe
much of their authority to a senior position in the clan hierarchy.
Control of the ancestral shrine confers enormous power. It is often
clan chiefs, rather than party officials, who mediate disputes. The
shrine will lend money for business ventures--so long as the recipient
has the right name.
WHERE CHRISTIANITY IS A FEMINIST ISSUE
Ironically, the growth of clan power has helped to fuel the growth of
Christianity in some parts of the countryside. In a village in the
eastern province of Shandong, the wife of a former party secretary was
a Protestant who attended prayer meetings with her female friends.
Their religious enthusiasm was apparently fuelled by the subordinate
role of women in the clan. A married woman is expected to revere only
her husband's ancestors but is excluded from his clan hierarchy. The
fast growing house-church communities often disapprove of ancestor
worship, thus attracting women who feel fettered by clan strictures.
The parlous state of China's health-care system has also given a
powerful boost to religion. Falun Gong owed much of its success in the
1990s to claims that it could heal without the need for medicine
(cash-strapped state-run hospitals usually sell medicines to patients
at inflated prices in order to boost their revenues). In the village of
Donglu in Hebei Province, about 140km south of Beijing, Catholic nuns
have set up a three-storey clinic where they offer ophthalmic, dental
and pediatric services for what they say is a fifth of the price of
government-run clinics or private ones run for profit. A picture of
Jesus is pasted to the wall in the operating theatre.
An apparition of Mary is said to have occurred in Donglu in 1900 when
local Catholics were fighting off an assault by members of the
fanatical Boxer cult trying to destroy their church. This has made the
village a site of great devotion for Catholics. Every May for the past
decade, the police have cordoned off Donglu to prevent thousands of
Catholic pilgrims making their way to the village to celebrate the
feast of Mary. Many of the pilgrims are loyal to an underground church
which claims closer ties with Rome than the state-approved Catholic
church. Yet for all Donglu's sensitivity, the local government appears
content to let Catholics run the hospital, which is a key public
Chinese officials are even urging religious organisations to learn from
Hong Kong, where religious groups run many schools and hospitals. In
late November, Ye Xiaowen, the head of the State Administration of
Religious Affairs which oversees the five officially recognised
religions, said that religious groups had helped reinforce social
stability in the former British colony with their contribution to
public services. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who
visited China in October, wrote afterwards in the TIMES that there was
now a sense in China that civil society needed religion, with its
motivated volunteers. During his trip he remarked on an "astonishing
and quite unpredictable explosion" in Christian numbers in China in
The party still mouths its alarmist rhetoric about what it says are
foreign efforts to use religion as a means of undermining the party's
grip on power. Yet the appointment of Pope Benedict XVI, following the
death in 2005 of John Paul II who was seen by China as a more die-hard
anti-communist, has encouraged tentative efforts by China to restore
the ties with the Vatican that were severed in 1951.
Last month the Vatican decided to appoint a commission to handle
Chinese relations. But progress has been far from smooth. On November
30th, much to the Vatican's annoyance, China's state-backed Catholic
church appointed a bishop without the Vatican's prior approval for the
third time that year. Since 2000 China had done so only with the
Vatican's tacit assent. In August, however, China released a bishop
loyal to the underground church, An Shuxin, who had been arrested a
decade earlier after leading celebrations of the feast of Mary in
An even more tentative rapprochement is under way with the Dalai Lama.
Since 2002, China has held five rounds of talks with his
representatives, most recently last February. But China retains
profound fears that the Dalai Lama's real intention is to separate
Tibet, and adjoining areas, from China (see article).
Notwithstanding the government's suspicions, Tibetan Buddhism has
acquired a certain chic in Chinese cities in recent years, with some
urbanites regarding it as spiritually more pure than Chinese-style
Buddhism, which has strong links to the government.
Within its own ranks, the party knows that some members practise
religion even though this is against the party's rules. Falun Gong
claimed many adherents among party members in the 1990s. In the
countryside, party secretaries routinely take part in religious
ceremonies. Mr Wang at the Black Dragon is not a party member, but in
other villages in the region temple chiefs double up as village party
bosses. If the party is still trying to keep its members atheist, it is
fighting a losing battle.
One result of allowing religion to play a bigger role in providing
education could be that the party finds its efforts to inculcate its
ideology among the nation's youth becoming ever more frustrated. In
Hongliutan, the temple-sponsored middle school attracts many boarders
from the town--a reversal of the normal flow of village pupils to the
towns. Thanks to the temple's sponsorship, the middle school's fees are
half of what they would be at a government school, teachers say. With
this sort of discount, the popularity and influence of the Black
Dragon, and other such spiritual beasts, seems certain to spread.
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
He was a mobile Information Centre of Sonbhadra district in eastern part of Uttar-Pradesh, whose work during the past thirty years was utilized by those who do not have time to visit the villages and follow up the stories after they started. M.A.Khan was always cheerful related to his work, his love for the Adivasis and his conviction against the child labour, brought him close touch of the ground reality. His only concern was that 'agencies outside Sonbhadra were using the ignorance and poverty of the poor people for their own purposes and not with an aim to lift the tribals and end poverty which they can very much do. Once the project was over, these agencies left the tribal for their own good.' For the past few years, Khan in his every interaction with me displayed his disappointment of how the international donor agencies find their people and agencies in these regions but never found Khan and his Chaupal which had been fairly active in the region.
In a two days human rights consultation in Delhi, when I was informing a friend about Khan and his impeccable credentials for fighting the rights of the common man in Sonbhadra district, a shocking news was revealed by another friend that M.A.Khan passed away, a day before, on 27th of January 2007, in Varanasi. I was dumb and shocked to hear this. Just a fortnight ago, I spoke to him on his mobile when he told me that Doctors have found symptoms of cancer in him and that he wish to be transferred to AIIMS in Delhi. That time, the first thought in my mind was that this news would be wrong and hence I said ' Khan Saheb, you will get well soon. AIIMS is not the same as it used to be. If people like you are here who speak for the poor Dalits and marginalized, I do not know whether the doctors who do politics and not the treatment, would treat you well or not.'
M.A.Khan was quintessentially a secular activist with strong left leaning. He was not fit in the glamour world of NGOs where you are fixed in certain style of format and report as per it. Though, his documentation of events, custodial deaths, cases of torture of Adivasis and forest dwellers in Sonbhadra would remain unparallel. At a time, when NGOs masquerading to be human rights organization splash information with the purpose of publicity and not to really help the poor, Khan was refreshingly different with his people centric approach. He would walk down the villages, record the narratives of the victims and finally take them to the related authorities in the district and even file petition in the court. In fact, he had formed a group of lawyers in Sonbhadra who used to take such cases of illegal detentions of the tribal in the name of naxalism.
Born in 1946 in a Zamindar family of Robertsganj, Khan went to Deoband to earn a degree in Fazil and then he completed his masters. He worked very hard during the 1967 famine in the region. In 1968 he joined Communist Party of India and started Pragatisheel Kisan Manch (progressive farmer's forum). He continued to travel around the villages and help the needy. In 1985 he founded Jan Sewa Kendra to assist the poor of his region.
It was his concern about the growing landless situation in Sonbhadra that he traveled around 500 villages of his district to understand the condition and found that tribal were living in utter misery. Their land being occupied by others and that they did not have two-time meal to eat. He felt that they lacked information regarding their rights. He found that the ignorance of the people was the biggest obstacle in their development and the officers were misusing it. In fact, one of his candid remarks was that despite huge funds flowing to NGOs in Sonbhadra and Varanasi, the condition of the poor and their rights remain the same. He would laugh and say that the NGOs have not come to remove the poverty of the people but their own poverty. 'Chaupal', a village initiative to discuss and resolve their problem by the villagers took shape during this period. He would form a team of 8 members in every village who would discuss their issues and carry the information to the central office in Robertsganj. Chaupal worked in 80 villages. Khan Saheb new it very well that it was difficult to run an organization without resources. Often, the big fishes would catch the members of Chaupal for their own purposes. He started getting depressed because of the growing commercialization of the civil society movement where the powerful elite had gathered all the NGOs in the name of 'poor'. In the region of eastern Uttar-Pradesh where dirty tricks among the NGOs are the best practices, where NGOs are run by powerful connections and castes, Khan remain a grounded man. Very much down trodden who with the help of a few committed lawyers tried to do help the tribal.
Despite hailing from a Zamaindar family, Khan did not have much land and property at the end. He had a small typewriter where he would type reports of malfunctioning of the government department. If a tribal girl or woman would come to him, he would type their application and go along with them to submit it to the relevant authorities. He would nicely take a copy of the same in his file. And this was his regular practice. The habit resulted in one of the best documentation, which was hardly recognized and which remain thoroughly unpaid, that I had ever seen. It was this information, which proved volatile for police once upon a time and his office was burnt and valuable information got lost. Nevertheless, after that, he started working from him home and still had huge piles of files, meticulously maintained in his drawer.
For me he was a great source of information. He would send his well-written reports on issues as important as custodial deaths, National Rural Employment Guarantee programme, land and forest issues to be send to national and international agencies for lobbying. He felt betrayed that his work was not recognized by the international community leave along the donor agencies who have their own criteria for support.
Apart from sending these reports, which Khan was really very committed, the thing, which was very admirable about him, was his concern for the natural resources of the people and how they lost it to big companies and local feudal elements! His stories, many of which remain unpublished would be treasure to learn how the state and its apparatus have sucked the blood of tribal over the year. He had detailed information about how forest department captured the land of the tribal and how the NGOs from outside did not have enough information about it and they flash information and leave the place making the lives of the tribal more vulnerable to exploitation. I had promised to him to get them published in future. In fact, I introduced him to Hum Dalit, a monthly journal, which regularly published his well thought out articles.
I still remember the day when the villagers had come to protest in front of the district collector and all of them showed the food product they had been eating. The district Magistrate did not turn up but send his deputy and several forest officials. Seeing the tribal displaying their food produce the SDM became angry and said ' you sale our poverty abroad. You have no business do that. Go back.' The forest department officers were equally angry and blamed Khan that he was responsible for misguiding them, a charge which Khan openly denied. Khan stood by the people all the time.
Being a local citizen of Sonbhadra, his house was always open for the tribal and Dalits of the region. Women would come to his house, get their work done and go back satisfying. In fact, for many of them, he was their father, who had performed the 'kanyadaan' during the marriage.
Once, I asked him why doesn't he work on the 'communal issues'. As usual he said ' I always feel my heart with the Adivasis of Sonbhadra. I never feel that I am different from them. They have been cheated by the regularly. The government has done very little for them. If they retaliate they are charged with being Naxalites and cases are filed against them.' In fact one of the work that Khan did was to fight for a young 12 years old boy who was charged under POTA. This is tragic how police behave. Sonbhadra district is notorious for police highhandedness since they are unable to take on the Naxal, they exploit the helpless villagers.
It was therefore not surprising that the man who was arrested many time as well as whose office was burnt by the police in the name of alleged link with naxalites, did not find any favor from the donor agencies in their work for the region.
He would always say that the village needs to connect with international community. The idea of his Chaupal was to flood the authorities with complaints and information about the villages and the people and their problems. He would always ask me that internet and computers should linked to village and they would empower the poor people and reduce their dependency others to write letters for them as well as it will also enable the international community to see things at their own rather then being shown.
M A Khan remains simple all through his life. He was an anguished man that he could not communicate and write in English language and felt that it was the reason why people like him remain outside the net of those who matter. While, not many have had opportunity to hear him internationally, for the thousands of tribal people, he was one of their own, very own father figure, who went out of his way to help them and gave them a sense of dignity and honour. Like a lone man struggling in utterly difficult circumstances, he left a legacy of his work but no second rank leadership since he himself remained penniless till his end, struggling to get resources for his medication. That is the biggest irony of those work in the grassroots that they work for all and at the end they remain aloof from the world. None care to listen their problems and perhaps very few to bother that a committed man is no more. Since nobody care to inquire about each other particularly those come from not powerful families, there remain no news about them. It is tragic and it should end. The best tribute to MA Khan would be to strengthen the ideas that he gave and carry on his message of Chaupal so that the rural poor is saved from the a contemptuous bureaucracy as well as local middlemen who thrive on their ignorance.
Friday, 2 February 2007
No, it wasn't a frustrated or failed aspirant but a former IITian who said this last week at a lecture while addressing a crowd of nearly a thousand IITians and other college students during the annual Techfest at Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IITB). But coming from Dunu Roy, who, unlike his colleagues and peers, decided to pursue grassroot integration of technology with local and practical requirements, it shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone who has followed this IITian's career.
But for a first-timer, the 90-minute talk and the subsequent Q&A could well have been an eye-opener. Provoking his audience by calling them "big fools" who know nothing about India and its village life, Roy said the IITians are victims of the politics of education and science. He added that the first lesson he learnt was that technologists and engineers are under an illusion that they get to take the decisions. That was not all. He went on to say that environmental dynamics aren't understood by engineers who seem to specialise in solving one problem to create another one, thereby creating a "sustainability for the engineering profession and not for the people".
"How many of you will end up working for the Haliburtons and Microsofts of the world?" he asked. And then proceeded to answer by pointing out that many of the students would do so because "Indian technical education is geared to meet global demands". The collapse of the US education system has led to a shortage of scientists and technologists, he said, which is why the courses they [the IITians] are learning are required for the US". Since Indian engineers are also cheaper than the American counterparts, "it made good sense for the Indian government to promote technical education so that you can provide cheap service to the US." Therefore, he suggested, the curriculum has changed. Earlier, he pointed out, IITs had a more integrated approach and also taught humanities, ethics and logic. But these subjects were removed in order to hasten the production of 'unreal' technologists.
The original vision to set up IITs stemmed from the independence movement. The Indian leaders at that time realised "the need to have trained scientists and technologists" who could provide equal rights to food, shelter, education and work to the people. The idea was to take the "best from universal education, invest in pockets like IITs (so that) they would return their expertise to the common pool of the country." Which is why the money to fund the IITs comes from the exchequer, he pointed out.
And then came perhaps the most thought-provoking part of the lecture. Referring to the hyped-up success stories of IITians , he cited the example of Kanwal Rekhi, a Silicon Valley-based venture capitalist who has earned millions of dollars, Roy posited that while the ostensible aim of education is to teach us about success, most of our learnings comes from analysing and understanding failures. For every one IITian who makes money, there are 10 others who don't. And no one talks about the thousands of IITians who stay back and work for the country despite encountering victimisation by domestic politics of science and technology. Urging the young students to ask questions, and not just be receivers of "wisdom", Roy asked them to "learn the laws of motion of society and not just the laws of motion of science."
And coming from him, it did not sound phoney. For after his post-graduation from IITB, Roy moved to Shahdol district of Madhya Pradesh and started the Vidushak Karkhana as part of the Shahdol Group carrying out focussed work on building a development model for the district and its implementation, in conjunction with local people.He was involved in this for 17 years during which he earned his income primarily out of repairing bicycles in the village district. He then shifted to Delhi for a four-year stint with the World Wide Fund for Nature, and later set up the Hazards Centre, a multi-disciplinary consultancy group.
It's rare for IITians to be the recipients of such blunt talk. And it should be noted that the student organisers of Techfest invited Dunu Roy to give this talk after accepting his condition that there would be no restriction on the content of his lecture. So perhaps the IITians are not such big fools after all.