Saturday, December 29, 2012

Not politically galvanized…

As a woman I am devastated that in this age when women are working harder to achieve the unachievable, in areas of education, sports, politics, service sectors, science and technology, they also face routine abuse both mentally and physically. Today a 23-year old medical student lost her life after a thirteen-day battle against physical injuries inflicted on her. She was a girl like any girl next door, who woke up one fine morning, left home to watch a movie, but sadly never returned. She wanted to live like any twenty-three year old youth with aspirations to make it big…someone who wanted to live an exciting life ahead. But her battered body asked her to give-up her fight to live. She was called a gang-rape victim in death. She was severely beaten, gang-raped and thrown out of a moving bus.  Even wild animals are so well-behaved. What has happened to sections of society in my India? How can they commit such insensitive inhumane crimes? 

If I was in India today, perhaps I would also join thousands of people in India who have come out to express their grief for the girl who was sexually assaulted to death. This is not the first time that a girl has been raped in India. These heinous crimes on women happen almost every single day across India. Then, what is different in this crime that has galvanized middle-class citizens across the length and breadth of India, especially the youth, to come out in solidarity to grieve over the death of a braveheart? Let me say it loud and clearly, it is the hope for change. 

Safety of women is an issue all across the world. Sexual assaults happen all across the globe. Every nation has laws to punish the guilty who commit such heinous crimes, and so does India. The Indian Penal Code (IPC) already has strict punishments for rapists, but in spite of having a strong comprehensive code that covers all substantive aspects of criminal law, the time until the guilty are punished is delayed, and justice delayed is justice denied. 

The justice delivery system in India is in bad shape. 30 million cases are still pending in various courts and it takes an average time span of 15 years to get the dispute resolved through court system. This is what is different in India's judiciary from the rest of the developed world. People who commit such heinous crimes are not afraid anymore. In these thirteen days that this girl has been battling in different hospitals at New Delhi and Singapore, none of the leaders gave any assurances to fast-track the case. There was no action plan chalked out by our leaders. Worst, none of them came out to speak to the outraged crowds. It doesn’t take much to speak to people who have been hurt…all it takes is a conscience! 

Apart from this, our society needs to grow up with these changing times. A woman is no longer just a homemaker 24x7, rather she is a career-oriented woman with loads of aspirations. She wants to make it big in today's world. Hence society needs to grow up to this very fact. Women are no longer just mothers, daughters, wives, or sisters...they are independent women of today. And to support their aspirations, the executive, legislative, judiciary, you and me, need to support her by assuring her safety at any time of the day. More so, equal status for women should begin at home. Moms and Dads should instill an equal status for a child whether boy or a girl. 

Even today rape survivors are stigmatized by society. These heinous crimes have unfortunately also driven rape victims to suicide in shame. It is good to see that this one braveheart girl has changed this status-quo. Hope, we will have many women coming out openly to speak about the injustice and atrocities done to them. Media is the reflection of society and not the other way around. Media violence equally poses a threat to public health in as much as it leads to an increase in real-world violence and aggression. I am ashamed at this shame. We talk big about our booming economy, make significant contribution at world economic forums, but, we can’t protect our women.

Whenever I emphasize on the pressing need for women empowerment and her representation in the government, institutions, and corporate world, I am labeled as a radical feminist. So be it. When I talk about the need to do more for women in a predominantly patriarchal society, I don’t mean giving her extra privileges or honor of the quota system at all. It is about giving equal status to women, by assuring her of safety and justice at all times. 

A thumbs up to women who came out in large numbers to grieve over the condition of the girl and demand change, but more so, I salute the men folks who joined the crowds to speak in solidarity for women. Salutations!

Post script
Anna Hazare steered the non-violent movement in India in demand for a strong Lokpal Bill. The Bill may have not been employed, but Hazare has been instrumental in awakening the people of India, especially the youth, to come out on the streets and speak up for their rights.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The innocent lives lost

The world is battered and ailing with terrorism of a different kind. The terrorism of gun shooting incidents, in which, an individual who has been living a normal life like one of us suddenly comes out on a mass shooting rampage killing people randomly is hard to fathom? Today public areas, educational institutes, and places of worship have become places that we fear going to. What if? Is the question we ask ourselves? What if, someone comes on a rampage while we are enjoying a film? What if someone puts the gun to our head while we are attentively sitting in a class and taking down notes? What if someone creates a chaos while we are praying at a temple or a church? What if….and my list goes on?
I’m not a mother, but I am a daughter, a grand-daughter, and a sister of my parents, my grand-parents and my siblings, and I exactly know how it feels to lose a loved one. Even more, it pains, when victims of these gruesome mass shootings are six and seven year olds who don’t understand why someone out there is hurting them. These crazy routine incomprehensible mass shootings are only increasing by the day, be it the April 1999 incident when two heavily-armed teenagers went on a rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, killing 13 students and staff, or the July 2011 incident when a gunman blew up a government building in Oslo and then opened fire at a youth summer camp of Norway's ruling political party, on the holiday island of Utoeya, killing 77 people.
The worst gun shooting recorded in history is the one that happened the day-before-yesterday which took the lives of babies at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. These babies have gone straight to heaven still not knowing why their lives have been cut short on earth. This horrific thing that happened has shattered their parents for life. They say wounds heal over time, but I don’t think these deep wounds will ever heal. The scars will always remain and their parents will never know why their babies were taken away from them forever.  Thank God for God, parents can give their pain to that someone above us and maybe, maybe make them feel better. God is our best counselor in moments like these. An emotional President Barack Obama so rightly said that these are babies had their whole lives ahead of them…birthdays, graduations, careers, weddings, and kids of their own. 
These reoccurring heinous crimes have raised the most controversial gun control laws and policy around the world yet again. It has raised the intense debate with proponents generally arguing the dangers of widespread gun ownership, and opponents generally arguing individual rights of self-protection as well as individual liberties. Even in the Connecticut heinous crime, many debated the need for urgent gun control in America, while many opponents argued that had the school kept guns for self-defense there wouldn't have been so many deaths at the elementary school in Sandy Hook at Newtown. In the past, when similar incidents occurred, promises to make changes to the policy were made, but then it was soon forgotten with other agenda's taking center stage.
This time, President Barack Obama himself has said that meaningful actions will be taken to prevent reoccurrences of such incidents. People in the United States have admitted that the society is becoming violent and people are getting distanced from each other. We cannot change people’s mental state of mind, we can provide them help by making help available to them, but yes America can do one thing and that is reform its gun laws for now.  Many experts have said that they completely support the Constitution but there is need that it evolves over the right to bear arms. They say that a driver's license cannot allow anyone to legally buy a gun. In the month of November itself 2 million guns were bought by Americans, of which many of them were bought on Black Friday.
While the general public is divided by being for and against gun control, the politicians too avoid bringing up the issue of gun control for fear of rejection by the public, just in case the future trend becomes such that most people’s opinions are opposite the politicians’. Hence, once again, the politicians are caught up in the spiral of silence where they have to succumb to present or future trend of public opinion.
Furthermore, we cannot even ignore the relationship between media violence and real-world violence and aggression. Violence is portrayed almost every single day through television, video games, movies, music, toys and other media. Studies show that people – children and adults – who watch a lot of television behave more aggressively. Not only does it make them aggressive, but they tend to use violence and aggression as a way of solving conflicts they encounter in life. Video games are clearly capable of producing an increase in aggression and violence in the short term. It has also been found that the gunner in the Connecticut incident was a videogame addict. 
I respect the Constitution of the United States. It is the beauty of this Constitution that gives me the right to state my opinion about the umpteen number of senseless gun shooting incidents that are happening day after day. I am not an American and I certainly have no right to demand reforms. I understand that very fact. But since I am currently living in the United States and as a human being with a conscience, I also know that I am terrified about the way innocent lives are lost for no reason at all. Six and seven year olds becoming victims of such gruesome murder is incomprehensible. I am horrified. I still can’t believe it.
My heart goes out to families who have lost their babies in the Newtown incident. All I can do is pray for you and your family. God Bless!

Friday, November 23, 2012

The American Dream

Well the United States of America has elected its President for the next four years. The brutally verbal presidential cat-fight is finally over. Many opinion leaders, trolls, analysts, volunteers, found themselves a job to do, thanks to the fierce presidential fight which lasted for over a year. Apart from doing routine chores, many of these passionate followers of the presidential elections have suddenly found nothing interesting to do. Making a sincere confession, I being one among them.

People chose status-quo. They chose the 'charismatic' for some and the 'incompetent' for others as the President of the supposedly most powerful country of the world. Did Americans make a correct decision, well, who am I to write about the right or the wrong. The only thing to cheer about is the triumph of democracy. In countries like India and the USA, which are the largest democracies of the world, it is the freedom of the people to vote that is the victor.

I am all of three months old in the Unites States and there could indeed be no other year better than the Presidential election period to experience the real America. Every American works toward fulfilling the American dream. According to James Truslow Adams (1931), an American writer and historian, the American dream is, "…life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement" regardless of social class or circumstances of birth. And there is no doubt how Americans truly live up to this dream. The election of a man, who created history by becoming the first African-American to be the president of the US way back in 2008, is reelected again for the next four years. What more evidence would we need to demonstrate Americans belief in diversity, equality, and love for the nation.

I may have got to play a small part as a volunteer during the presidential elections, but there's lots that I learnt in the process. The oozing passion of every American is indescribable in words. The freedom to cheer or jeer their presidential candidates openly in public is what I swear by. But all this said, it was thoroughly disappointing at a point when I was asked by a fellow American whether India is a democracy. The point when I was asked by a young lad how I spoke such good English in just 2.5 months of my stay in America, almost swept the floor beneath my feet. Following which, I spent almost 30 minutes with this guy illuminating him how English is the most popular language spoken in a multi-lingual country called India, which speaks over 22 languages. And how most of us learn English right from our mother's womb.

Wonder whether it is the self-sufficiency and the fiscal independence of America, which discourages Americans to be interested in what’s happening around the world. But again, the United States is a huge country, and it’s impossible to generalize.

Are sections of media to be held responsible for not informing people about the world beyond America? Or is media rightly doing its job of conveying to people what they want to hear/ read? Recently a reputed newspaper exacerbated the epidemic of dengue in India with a huge half page article. Another media paraded the slums in India and the growing poverty. In the last three months, I have not come across an article which talks about the prosperous side of India. So, the question I want to ask is…is media doing its job to be balanced and accurate about the happenings around the world?

However, today, there is a slight twist in the US administration’s foreign policy. With Asia “pivot", the United States has begun its initial engagements with countries in Asia-Pacific recognizing that most of the dominant issues of the twenty-first century will be decided by this region. America has realized that while it spends most of its money on post-conflict reconstruction, many states in the Asia-Pacific region were investing heavily in power-projection capabilities, naval and air force.  America has confessed that Asia pivot is linked profoundly to its own prosperity and that they have unique responsibilities in terms of maintenance of peace and stability.

The election may be over, but the campaigning continues to fix the huge debt burden that America is reeling under. Increase in tax and across the board spending cuts are proposed as the only way to prevent the economy to go back into recession. Well let’s see whether Congressional leaders are convinced with this debt reduction formula proposed by Obama. In a recent survey carried out by a discount coupon company, sixty-three percent of college graduates believed that the American Dream is dead with increased debt, inability to find work, and trouble finding affordable housing. 

Not only Americans but also the rest of the world wants America to come out from its multitrillion dollar deficit.  The world is a global village and we cannot afford a second fiscal cliff after Europe's failed attempt to overcome it. And for many Americans who have given up their American dream, they can hope to relive it once again.

Thanks for visiting my blog. Do write to me with your reactions, opinions or critical comments by leaving your inputs in the comments tab below. God bless!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Romney versus Obama plot thickens

Gravity lift

Serving up pancakes

It’s great to be in the United States of America at that time of the year when the Presidential race is heating up and presidential candidates - Mr. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama - are going all out to impress about the people of the country with their theatrics.  6th November is the auspicious day in the 2012 calendar when the people of the U.S. go on a date to vote their President. So who's it going to be? Stakes are high on both sides, thus making it really difficult to even speculate the results.
Pick up a newspaper or turn on your television or radio set these days, you’ll find that the Presidential elections are the highlight all day long. Wonder whether Mr. Mitt Romney will surprise us by showing a thumbs-down to Obama, or would Obama get a second term? 
The campaigns are getting really interesting with hot freshly baked scripts and rhetoric churned out almost every single day. Few great one-liners that seem to be stuck in my head, and which also made national headlines in mainstream media, like Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s GOP convention speech, when he said, “Our rights come from nature and God and not from the Government.” Another interesting remark made by Bill Clinton in support for Obama, "I want to nominate a man who’s cool on the outside, but who burns for America on the inside.” Obama also made a cool remark at the Democratic National Convention saying, "They spent a lot of time talking about me, but they didn’t spend a lot of time talking about you."

I sometimes wonder who writes these billion dollar speeches for the Presidential candidates. So much of emotions are packed in these speeches that it even manages to bring people to tears. You just don’t need plain wit to write them for sure, you need to be real mean too. Besides those power-packed speeches, presidential campaigns were filled with theatrical acts, like the recent one when Barack Obama gets a gravity lift by a pizza shop owner in Florida during his campaign trail.

Soon after the conventions and road trails, presidential candidates will prepare to face each other in debates, and this is something that is going to be damn exciting. Official debates may not have started yet, but many slip-of-the-tongue moments during the campaign trails will be remembered, especially when Mr. Romney goofed up saying, 47% of Americans do not pay income tax because they are dependent on government handouts. He surely axed his own feet by making such a weak statement. In fact people need a hand up and not a handout says Obama rebuking Mr. Romney’s flip-flop.

Jobs, jobs and jobs is what people of the U.S. want right now, and the Presidential candidate who can give them what they want is sure to win the 2012 Presidential elections. From Mr. Romney's target to make North America energy independent by 2020, to Obama's ‘Pay As You Earn’ education loan for students, the presidential elections are heating up as we get along. In order to be sure that the best man wins, Americans should come out and cast their vote in large numbers. More importantly, rather than blindly following how media is portraying the presidential candidates, people should do some self-research/study before they vote. In Year 2008 the voter turnout was about 57% of the population. Just hope that the 2012 election shows 100% turnout. God Bless America!

Post script
I must admit that it’s very easy to refer to Obama without adding the courtesy ‘Mr.’ in front of his name. But it feels so disrespectful to make the same reference to Mr. Mitt Romney. That’s what Obama comes out as, a friendly chilled out person to people across different age, gender, and geographies. Well, so Americans need to decide, whether they want a chilled out Mr. Cool or a more Mr. Sophisticated as their President.

Thanks for visiting my blog. Do write to me with your reactions, opinions or critical comments in the comments tab below.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Hangover

That’s what I call a chapter in my life, when I woke up one fine morning and incidentally brushed by teeth with my face-wash, instead of my favorite mint flavored toothpaste.  It’s been exactly a week since I moved to Texas and it’s only now that the hangover kinda feeling seems to fade away slowly from my system. Long extended flights, unbalanced diet, and lack of sleep are certainly not my kinda way of living. Well, thank God I’ve gotten over it now.

Besides the jetlag, I still face the ‘not-going-my-way’ kinda challenges in Texas. The one topmost on my list is the helplessness of moving around the city like I did in my home city, Mumbai. Since local transportation is a bare minimum here, it becomes mandatory to hone some left-handed driving skills and drive around the city to make the most of it. Doubly, missing family, homemade food, and friends together sum up to my blues. But as they say time is a healer and I’m sure I’ll get over this too.

From the little I have seen of it, I can say Texas is a beautiful state in the United States of America with everything available in super large size. People drive big cars, drink in big mugs, have bigger personalities and also have this bigger than life attitude. The best part about them is that they simply speak their mind. There’s nothing hidden beneath the carpet. And as they say, everything is bigger in Texas…Texas-sized!

Apparently Texas is the second largest U.S. state in both area and population, with an area of 696,200 sq km and a growing population of 23.9 million, unlike the city I come from, Mumbai, with an area of 603 sq km, but an almost equivalent population of Texas of over 20.5 million. And this is exactly what explains the ‘there’s-no-one-on-the-streets’ kinda feeling that I get here. Like someone said to me in Konkani, “ek khuddo moos pun dischena’, which means, you’ll not even find a blind insect on the streets. How true, I must say :-)

Well, one challenge that doesn’t bother me is the Texan weather. The city of Denton's climate is characterized as humid subtropical. With its hot, humid summers and cool winters, the weather is pretty much what I call 'my-type'. Right now, it’s really-really hot in the afternoons, but it gets pretty pleasant in the mornings and evenings, these being the best times to go for a jog down county side.

Another interesting thing about being here at this time of the year is the presidential elections 2012 that is churning out lot of excitement in the country. Nobody is really sure of who’s going to be the President yet. There’s a clear fifty-fifty chance between both the presidential candidates - Obama and Romney - this time around. On one side, Obama manufactures campaign mugs with his birth certificate printed on it, while on the other side, Romney fights back going the Hollywood style by producing a movie 'The Hope And The Change' to fight Obama. From what I see, it’s tough competition. Just hope that the best one wins.

This is my brief one-week experience of this place for now. I’ll share lots more as I get along.

Talk to you soon!

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Reservation Business

Getting straight to the point, does India still need minority and religion based reservation? True that we are a developing country still reeling under the realm of poverty, but how can reservation tackle this situation. If reservation was anyway effective, poverty would have been wiped out by now; our country would have become a developed nation by now; child labour which is still rampant in India would be eliminated; we would have most children studying in school and not dropping out to earn bread for their families. Sadly, reservation hasn’t worked for us and will never work even in future. All it does is it makes people receiving benefits from these reservations languid and laid back. It also increases hatred amongst people from different faiths.

Furthermore, is it right when women demand their right to equality and in the same breath demand special ‘being woman’ privileges. Aren’t women who claim for such special privileges asking for too much. They seem to want to have their cake and eat it too. The controversial Women’s Reservation Bill which ensures 33% reservation to women in Parliament and state legislative bodies is all high drama stuff with no substance. This bill is passed in the Rajya Sabha but is pending for approval in the Lok Sabha. If the Women Reservation bill gets rolling, women will continue to be looked down upon as someone who can make it big only under the guise of reservation.

If an individual man or woman is abled and has the merit to secure a job, give it to him/her. Let’s stop all this reservation business of appeasing the masses for the sake of vote-bank politics.

When I thrashed the very need of reservation for women in politics, many beg to differ saying that women indeed need reservation because there are many a Pushpa’s, Ramkali’s, Anandi’s living in interior villages who lead miserable lives oblivious of their basic rights. But then, why should we have incompetent women on-board to handle tough jobs that she is not capable of...just because she is a woman. She would eventually not only lose her job because of underperformance, but would undermine the ability of other capable women in society and in the neighbourhood.

Furthermore, religion based reservation only increases divide among people. When a general category student strives hard burning the midnight lamp and fighting all odds to secure admission in medical college, a privileged category student effortlessly gets a similar seat on reservation. Is this really fair? The same medical student when she goes out to secure a job in the medical fraternity, there again she finds herself competing not only with the general category applicants like her, but also with the privileged minority groups.

Rather we need to increase entitlements and allocations for underprivileged children who don't have the money to pay mere school fees. The very same children don’t even receive their daily meals because of poverty. Nobody would have any reservation if the differently abled children and adults are given special preferences. These unfortunate few need our special attention and have full right to live their basic needs.

In a country where the central government reserves 22.5% available seats for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe students and 27% for Other Backward Class (OBC) students – a total reservation of 49.5% - where will the general category students go. And to top it all, in order to increase its chances to be re-elected in the 2014 general elections, the government further has recently proposed to establish a sub-quota of 4.5% for minorities within the existing 27% reservation meant for OBC. Absurd! Just one piece of advice to our leaders...get creative, look farther and you’ll find better ways than reservations to fight social evils!

Right to education (RTE) is a milestone legislative that is passed by the Indian Parliament and nobody has any reservations with this bill which caters to guaranteeing free education to children belonging to the backward class. Detractors from the elite class of society although argue saying that 25% reservations in private schools will eat up their share of seats. They may be absolutely correct when they say that ‘Reservation’ is taboo and that it shouldn’t be used to violate the rights of other students. However, you cannot pigeonhole the RTE act on the same parity as reservations based on religion and gender. It is different! Nevertheless inspite of being gung-ho about the RTE act, the act which came into force on 1st April 2010 has yet not been implemented even two years down the line. Wonder what’s taking us so long to implement the RTE act which is good for our children’s future.

In the recent Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development, India’s Prime Minister spoke like a thorough Statesman reinforcing on India’s over-riding priority to eradicate poverty. But will inflated food prices, child-malnutrition, hunger, rotting food grains due to lack of storage facilities, increasing corruption in denomination of thousand crores, stalled economic reforms, make it possible for India to be poverty-free? Reservation based on caste, gender, and religion is clearly no solution to eradicate poverty. Instead of making promises to give reservation, the government should focus on basic issues of improving administration and governance.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

‘Super moon’ lights up the night sky

A runner makes his way along a trail in front of the once-a-year 'super Moon' at Papago Park in Phoenix, Arizona

Hope you witnessed the supernatural cosmic phenomenon last night when the Moon seemed so close to the Earth that if you simply stretched out your hand, you perhaps could just touch and feel it. I have always been fascinated by the Moon. She looks so mysterious…as if she has so many untold hidden secrets accrued inside her. She (the Moon) appears to be waiting for that someone special whom she can tell all her secrets to, alas! I always wonder how the Earth would look from the moon’s surface. Of course from the pictures by Apollo 8 crewmember Bill Anders on December 24, 1968, showing the Earth seemingly rising above the lunar surface (see picture), the Earth looks like a jumbo swimming pool. Wish I could experience this phenomenon from ground zero. Sadly, am not an astronaut.

Earth as viewed from Lunar orbit during the Apollo 8 mission, Christmas Eve, 1968. Africa is at the sunset terminator, both Americas are under cloud, and Antarctica is at the left end of the terminator.
The ‘super moon’ phenomenon is like this special ‘valentine day’ that the Moon celebrates to express her love for planet Earth. So much is her love that she quickly changes tracks to move in an elliptical orbit (rather than a circular one) to come closer to the Earth, all dressed-up to appear 14 per cent bigger and 30 per cent brighter. Isn't this like truly magical?

Besides this celestial ‘super moon’ glory that we the people inhabiting the Earth can’t stop raving about looks synonymous to every being irrespective of piece of land you come from, the military and nuclear capability that your home country can exhibit, nationality, or the amount of money in your pocket.

Recalling what Kalpana Chawla, an Indian-American astronaut with NASA so beautifully said that from space, our Earth looks so small, so fragile. It is unbelievable that we people fight over petty things and piece of land. Kalpana may not be with us today, but in her partying message she told children all over the world to take good care of our fragile planet. Touché!

I have this deep ‘before-I-die’ dream in my wishlist to step foot on the Moon and enjoy a cup of coffee with this celestial body. The Mayans predict that the world will end this 21 Dec 2012. Therefore, I got to hurry up before the Mayans are proved right or else I may end up haunting the Moon after I die…I swear! 

Did you know?
The phenomenon of the Earth seemingly rising above the lunar surface is only visible to someone in orbit around the Moon. Because of the Moon's synchronous rotation about the Earth (i.e., the same side of the Moon is always facing the Earth), no Earthrise can be observed by a stationary observer on the surface of the Moon.

Post script
Someone asked me why I refer to the Moon as ‘she’, even asking me for evidence to justify it. Ok, tell me, have you ever seen the Moon grow a beard? The answer lies there. Go sky gazing…this is a once-in-a-year cosmic show!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Conspiracy Theory

This is not about the 1997 American action thriller starring Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts. This conspiracy theory is about the recent Army Chief and Government faceoff that has silenced India with awe and disbelief. Disbelief because, the people of this nation who are already reeling under the corruption menace involving most (not all) government officials, didn’t in their wildest dream expect a character assassination of the most respected arm of Defence, the Army. From officials of the highest rank to a peon, most in the government undoubtedly are corrupt. In fact, this has become more like a daily soap in which, every day there is a new minister or bureaucrat caught in a mega scandal. But how should people react when reports of a corrupt Army makes headlines in national newspapers? This is certainly no daily soap! Perhaps while people are already getting used to scandals involving government officials, and have left it to fate and the judiciary for justice, the news of scandals involving the army certainly dropped like a bombshell.

When employees in the government sector want to take up an issue/ concern with the government, be it with their salaries or any other crisis, they walk down the streets protesting against the issue. But it certainly isn’t the same for our defence forces. Even if they want to, neither the ‘jawans’ nor personnel in the military can rise up in protest against the Army Chief to fight corruption. Sadly, in spite of the muck at the top, jawans selflessly lay down their lives for the country, assuring its people a goodnight sleep. The politics being played out at the top level between the Defence and the Government bodies is belittling the work that our young boys and girls in the defence forces do to protect us. The only way we can thank our defence personnel for their selfless work is by continuing to support them. Salutations to each one of them!

The Showdown
Faceoff between the Army Chief and the Government started with the age row in which the Army Chief dragged the Government to the court claiming to be an entire year younger than that recorded in the official books. Rather than settling this age row by taking the government in confidence, the entire issue was sadly played out in public.

In a few weeks, out of the blues, the Army Chief revealed about the bribe of Rs.14crore that he was offered in Y2010 by the former Army Chief to clear a contract for purchase of sub-standard trucks. This was immediately followed by another blow in which a supposedly confidential letter to the Prime Minister of India citing deficiencies and obsolescence in our military capabilities got leaked through some unknown source, and subsequently also got played out in public glare. These revelations by the Army Chief didn't only put the Defence Minister and the Government in a tight spot, but people were clueless about what's going on with the defence arm that is responsible to protect them.

This was not less that there came another blow when a military coup rumour was in the air which reiterated about the unauthorised ‘movement of troops’ towards Delhi in January this year. Of course the Army Chief, Defence Minister, and the Prime Minister were quick enough to extinguish flames of this 'absolutely stupid' story. More importantly, it was very important for the media to stop dragging this issue in public. Thank God, the courts banned media from playing out the "movement of troops" story far too much. We cannot make 'breaking news' out of national confidential information for God sake. The executive, legislative, judiciary, media and the people are bound by secrecy, and we cannot resort to washing dirty linen in public by jeopardizing the national security of our country. Opportunism will not only deface us from the rest of the world but also make it easy for our neighbours to believe that India is not ready to defend itself and that we are a disintegrated lot.

Having said all that, it is so discouraging to see how we are so busy collecting hi-tech military artillery and equipments and even going breathless bragging about our state of the art military capabilities. Yes, we need to be prepared to defend ourselves 24x7, 365 days a year. But I also wish that we and the rest of the world that we are competing with also spend the same time and money to build relationships.

Post script
On the lighter note, I believe Bollywood Director-Producer-Screenwriter, Prakhash Jha, who is well-known for his political and socio-political films, must be following this story with magnifying glasses as it unfolds. You never know in a few years from now Prakash Jha will release a film based on the Army Chief-Government-Defence faceoff and call it 'Coup'. And like all his movies, this film would also gain from the controversy it churns out.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Triumph of native charm over dynasty

The outcome of the recent high octane State election battle in UP, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa, and Manipur may have left many high profile aristocratic contenders dejected, but it has also brought back smiles on faces of indigenous political contestants who won by unimaginably huge margins.

The most significant battle of the States was the one in the largest, but the most underdeveloped, State in India, Uttar Pradesh (UP). The key factor of UP elections was the relentless campaigning done by the scion of the Gandhi family, Rahul Gandhi. Like the monk who sold his Ferrari, Rahul Gandhi left his princely home in New Delhi to ride on the barren unfamiliar land of UP. This is the first time in history of Indian politics that UP elections drew nationwide interest. Thanks to the Gandhi scion who acted as a catalyst to attract minute-by-minute coverage by media. No doubt, he worked hard towards successfully bringing down the corrupt ruling party lead by Mayawati from winning again, but his charm failed to win him votes from the electorate.

For so long now, the State of UP is troubled with the maximum number of unreported cases of hooliganism, corruption, rape, kidnap, and cruelty to women, among others. Most of these cases escape inquiry and judicial proceedings because of their strong political affiliations. Additionally, underdevelopment and unemployment are issues that continue to plague the ‘common man’ of UP. The ousted of national parties such as the Congress and BJP, at the State elections was a clear indication that the people wanted an affable honest leader who will be accessible anytime they need them.

Rahul Gandhi may have been the apple of the eye of the media and the people living outside UP, who had nothing to lose or gain from the outcome of the elections. But for the people of UP, Rahul Gandhi was a foreigner. It was difficult for them to trust him. Moreover, the Congress party whom Rahul represented didn’t have a strong organizational set-up in the State. Had Congress been like the Maruti Suzuki service station, accessible to the people anywhere anytime, maybe things would look positive for him and his party. People of UP instead chose the 38yr old Akhilesh Yadav of Samajwadi Party, who comes out a strong level-headed person with a vision to bring change in UP.

Furthermore, Congress has been weighed down by umpteen number of corruption cases registered against its party’s high profile politicians. Many of its party leaders are either being legally tried in corruption cases or are spending time behind the four walls of a lock-up today. Also, Congress’s arrogance towards anti-corruption crusader, Anna Hazare’s ‘India against corruption’ movement only further added fuel to fire.

Congress failed to even create an impact in states like Goa which it once administered for countless number of years. The party also lagged behind in Punjab and Uttarakhand…eventually being able to make an impact only in Manipur. Doesn’t this call for introspection and deep thought? Confidence is healthy, but overconfidence can destroy. The party needs to stop flaunting its blue-blood legacy and start working from the grassroots. In changing India today, people do not vote for prince and princesses who visit small towns on their bikes and cars reminding people of how poorer they are becoming. Even the noble descent is not a ticket to any power position in Indian politicians today. To get there, you got to be real.

It was naïve to see senior members of the Congress party scramble to take blame for the party’s downfall in the UP elections. Despite the loss, they rallied for Rahul Gandhi and did everything to save face of the heir of the Gandhi family and the Prime Ministerial hopeful. I have heard of a person having a Godfather in his/her life, but Rahul Gandhi has so many Godmothers and Godfathers who are ready to endanger their self respect for the sake of their beloved God child. Lucky guy, I must say!

However, it was good to see Rahul Gandhi gathering courage and taking responsibility for the loss. And as he rightly said, you win some, you lose some. Rahul Gandhi can take home a lot of lessons learnt from the UP elections. In fact, if he really wants to make a difference, he should continue working at the grassroots levels across India. More importantly, he should tell his party members to stop projecting him as a Prime Ministerial candidate at every discussion and debate with the media. The Prime Minister of India is Shri Manmohan Singh. Respect the man and allow him to do his job without meddling with his work and his self respect.

Post script
After Mayawati’s debacle in UP elections, wonder what’s the fate of the statues that she built during her governance? UP is known by the world for the enormous display of statues of Dalit leaders and elephants. Even gigantic Mayawati statues which has drawn in a lot of criticism from various groups is a talking point of UP’s grandeur. Wonder what the winning Samajwadi Party (SP) will do with these statues? If I was Akhilesh Yadav, the leader of SP, I would have retained the elephants coz it undoubtedly enhances UP’s aesthetic appeal. While decision on whether to retain or unearth Mayawati’s statues should be discussed and debated in the State Assembly. With due respect to Mayawati’s boldness, and for being someone elected on her own merit, SP should keep the statues. Of course, it’s another story that Mayawati failed to keep up to people’s expectations.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Snooze…coz it’s your birth right!

Yes folks, sound 'Sleep' is the fundamental right to life of every citizen says the Mai-Baap (Mom-Dad in English translation) of Indian democracy, the Supreme Court. Just like the right to breathe, to eat, to drink, to blink etc, the judge of the Supreme Court has broadened the ambit of right to life by including the right to sleep. And if the Supreme Court has said this, we can blindly take it as the last word. So henceforth, let’s not allow our parents, friends, spouse, in-laws, colleague and boss, to rob our fundamental right to sleep from us. In fact, we can legally dare anyone waking us up the next time.

To some extent we need to thank Baba Ramdev for prompting the Supreme Court judges for making sleep every citizen’s fundamental right. If it wasn't for Baba Ramdev and his supporter’s peaceful protests against countrywide corruption at Ramila Grounds, sleeping would continue to be considered an evil spell that Sleeping Beauty had to endure to, only to be awakened by a prince's kiss. So next time someone nicknames you 'Sleeping Beauty' or 'Kumbhakarna' (the interesting character in the Ramayana epic well-known for his love to sleep), we know how to challenge that taunt…don’t we?

Thousands of Baba Ramdev's followers sleeping at the Ramlila grounds that horrifying night were lathi charged by the Delhi Police to evict the Baba. In this surprise midnight police crackdown, an innocent woman, Rajbala, was among 30 people badly injured. Sadly, Rajbala succumbed to her injuries later in hospital. The Supreme Court rightfully lashed a whip on the New Delhi police for this unwarranted ghastly attack on innocent people, and subsequently introduced the landmark fundamental right to sleep.

Terming it as a birth right, the court said, "Sleep is essential for a human being to maintain the delicate balance of health necessary for its very existence and survival. Sleep is, therefore, a fundamental and basic requirement without which the existence of life itself would be in peril."

The Supreme Court fairly reprimanded the Delhi police to a large extent for the forced encounter on innocent lives. But, how can the police simply lathi-charge on people without any instructions or directions from the government? Why has the judiciary spared the government? After all, the police force is administered and accountable to the government…isn’t it?

Post script
Reminds me of my Chemistry Professor who once howled at me for entering late in class. He even scornfully advised me to empty a whole bucket of cold water over myself so that I never repeat that mistake again. Of course, at that time, I patiently listened to all that he said. Perhaps, I would certainly cry my right to sleep, had the same thing happened today. (Smiley).

Sleeping…Sadda Haq! (My right in English translation)!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

C'mon Brand India, why can't we take a joke?

Popular TV show host, Jeremy Clarkson, well known for his role on the BBC TV show, Top Gear, left India fuming at his jokes, when he chided India for its scarce public toilet facilities. So hard did India react, that government officials filed a legal case against the television anchor for making an offending remark that supposedly hurt people’s sentiments. Leaving all crucial developmental work at hand, government officials approached the court for legal intervention and also demanded an apology from the anchor for making that unpalatable racist remark. Only if our officials had used the same energy to improve sanitary conditions in India and focussed on issues that are worth debating, a remark like this would have never been made in the first place.

Recently, the Government sued another prominent American television Anchor, Jay Leno, for portraying the holy shrine of the Sikhs, The Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple), as Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney’s vacation home. My question is, was this gag by Jay Leno offensive at all? In fact Jay Leno’s remark was a joke at the $250 million worth Mitt Romney, and it should be Mitt waging a war against Jay Leno, not India. And why are we taking these remarks so close to the heart. Just like India’s Constitution gives each one of us the freedom of speech and expression, America and the United Kingdom enjoy uniform Constitutional freedom. Why would a country which permits people to freely criticize their President left-right-and-centre, be any different to the rest of the world? In fact, in matters of freedom of speech, America walks the talk in the true sense. The freedom of speech and expression is fearlessly exercised by the people of the country, and as long as it does not threaten the national security of the country, public order, and morality, nobody really has the right to criminalise you in a democratic country.

Moreover, as made out to be, it is not the common man in India who is concerned or offended with remarks by these so-called eminent foreign celebrities. About 70% of India’s population is so busy making ends meet – both economically and socially - that they have no time to analyse what the rest of the world says or thinks about them. Rather, people who show deep disappointment and come knocking at the government’s door are Indians living overseas. Maybe the fear of being treated as outcast is what creates the anxiety. Additionally, extremists groups and fundamentalist in India wait for a chance to create brouhaha in the country, using occasions like these to get more visibility.

The recent Jaipur Literary Festival (JLF), the largest literary festival in Asia-Pacific, and the most prestigious celebration of national and international literature, banned eminent award winning author Salman Rushdie from attending this festival. One of Rushdie’s controversial books, The Satanic Verses, may have faced a ban in India since 1988, but that doesn’t allow authorities to prevent Salman from participating in events held in India. Ban the book, not the man! Protests outside the venue to stop Rushdie from visiting the fest or speaking through a video-conference is no reason for the oragnisers to cancel appointments with Salman Rushdie. In fact, looking at the fiasco at the JLF, the government should have intervened and taken control of the law and order situation, assuring the organisers of a safe and smooth program.

C’mon India, let’s not sit down grumpy and take things so seriously. Let’s learn to laugh at ourselves. And if there is someone poking a (not-so-funny) critical joke at us, we need to work towards that issue and try to resolve it. Of course, we might be battered with uncouth critics trying their best to pull us down. But who cares. Believe me it’s really-really tough to earn jealousy. So why waste our time trying to tape people’s mouth shut then.
Post script
As I’m writing, the Supreme Court of India ordered cancellations of 122 telecom licences in view of the corruption case against Telecom Minister, A. Raja, in the 2G spectrum legal inquiry. Well this has certainly left India no face to show in the global Telecom market. The verdict proclaiming the government responsible for corruption has stirred in the international market like fire. So much so that, a friend working in a telecom company overseas texted asking me what's really happening in India. So if tomorrow, someone somewhere mocks to highlight the corruption menace in India, we surely can't sue the person for poking fun at us right? Rather, we need to work on this issue of corruption, and try to resolve it before we the self-proclaimed largest democratic styled nation gets lost in the wilderness.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Did just another Marathon!

At the start of the run
After two successful Half Marathons in two consecutive years (2011 and 2012), I’m just wondering whether I can now officially call myself a Marathoner. But then…aah…I don’t really think so yet. Perhaps the day I don’t complain of swelling, muscle pain, and difficulty in walking up and down the stairs after the run, will be the day when I can give myself that official status. Until then, I’m just an amateur runner.

The 9th edition of the 2012 International Mumbai Marathon got even bigger. Over 3,500 runners participated in the Full Marathon (42km), 11000 participated in the Half Marathon (21km) and over 22000 registered for the Dream run (6km) this year, making it the biggest blockbuster event ever. Personally, the pressure built up on me was even more, since I had set a benchmark of either repeating my last year run-time or at least do better than that. Whatever it is, I just wanted to complete the Half Marathon within the cutoff time as per the international standard. And thank God I did it this time as well. Of course, I was not alone. My group of 8 sporting running enthusiasts put our best foot forward and made this run a memorable one. So much was the excitement and on-top-of-the-world feeling that we're all set to take on the 2013 Marathon with an even bigger bang.

Nevertheless running is not about timing, it is more about will power and endurance. Runners who completed their Marathon stretch within the international marathon standards surely need a pat on their back. But the ones who continued their journey even after they crossed the time limit are no less. The never-say-die spirit is something that we need to learn from the ones who strived to reach the end point even after realizing that they had crossed the time limit. I perhaps would have taken a cab home if I had crossed my time limit. Finally, if you run, you are a winner!

As every year, the crowd was amazing even this year. There was not a single meter on the entire Half Marathon stretch that I felt I was alone. Along with runners, there were so many people standing on both sides of the running tracks cheering us all along the way. And how, I can’t forget this guy who came from nowhere to offer me his share of oranges, when he saw oranges slip from my hand during the run. Big hugs to the people of Mumbai who went all out to cheer runners, offering us biscuits, energy drinks, water, and one septuagenarian even serving lemon juice to runners. What more could anyone ask for huh? Even more, large musical stage shows put up by The Indian Navy, Maharashtrian folk dancers, Disk Jockeys kept runners charged up right till the end. 

At the end of the run
 The senior citizens' run was the cutest of them all. Loved to see the young at heart give in their best shot. Perhaps if I was in the selection committee, I would request many of our senior citizens to do the full Marathon, because some of them were really good. Additionally, there was a special wheelchair event organised for those physically challenged. All in all, the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon was inclusive, catering to the needs and wants of everyone in the community.

This year, the Mumbai Marathon churned out a whopping 12.2 crores in the form of charity. Indeed, it is one of the biggest fund raising events gaining immense popularity in India. As an individual, it certainly feels really-really good to be a part of this maximum event held in a maximum city (Mumbai) in which ‘Charity’ is the heart of it.

See you folks then in 2013!

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