The Whistle Blowers Monday, Jan 28 2008 

Is corruption a necessary evil in democracy? Do the public encourage corruption by accepting it as a way of life? Because nothing gets done without bribing the government servants.

Are all government officials in India corrupt?

No. Some people like S. K. Dubey and Manjunathan even risk their lives for being different and trying to expose the network of corrupt practices.

In India, top government job means power, status and easy life. But, there is also another factor- the wealth top bureaucrats can accumulate through bribes. If an official is not corrupt at the start of his/her career, he/she becomes one over the years.

But not all. Here is a brave and committed IAS officer, M.N. Vijayakumar, from Bangalore, who has been fighting corruption all his career spanning 26 years. He’s been very systematic. Unlike the two officials mentioned above, he’s been lucky.

The officer’s pillar of support is his wife. She has turned to blogging last year in order to let the world know in detail about their activities. Wide reach of information will also discourage their enemies, she believes. (Link to her blog).

Since he’s a part of the system, he knows it inside out. One of the methods he’s adopted in his fight against corruption, Right to Information Act (RTI), is a provision in the system itself. 

Now they are compiling the names of clean officials so that people can approach them straight away for getting their work done without bribing.

His wife says they have been successful to a certain extent. She says,

“There are plenty of honest people in government who support us secretly, but they are afraid to speak out; some tell us that they will help us when they retire…Several officers have now pledged in writing that they will no longer accept bribes.” (Link)

Frequent transfers, threats of kidnapping and murder and numerous other kinds of harassment have only emboldened them.

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Killer Hoardings Sunday, Jun 10 2007 

hoarding accident_jublee hills_11 April 2007 Huge hoardings in Hyderabad city have become a nightmare for all of us.

Recent reports of deaths caused by falling hoardings from high buildings and huge poles have forced people look upon them as death traps.

The other day a billboard from a six storey shopping mall fell killing a youth on the spot and injuring others.

Earlier, on11 April this year, a huge billboard raised on an enormous uni-pole gave way and collapsed on a restaurant and ice-cream parlor. A worker was killed instantly and many others were seriously injured. It completely damaged a couple of cars that were parked on the road and uprooted electric poles and strewed the road with metal pieces, rubbles and cables.

I happened to come that way within minutes after the accident. The site looked like a battle zone that was just bombed.

The huge billboards that are ubiquitous in Hyderabad city bear witness to the transformation of this city into a big metro that is one of the biggest business centers in India. Most of these huge hoardings have come up in the past two years or so.

Municipal corporation authorities often fail to enforce the rules and norms and reign in builders and advertising companies that flout them.

Do things like this happen anywhere else?

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Techno Tots Sunday, Jun 10 2007 

My two-year old son demands that he be left at the computer and his mom and I take our hands off him so that he can ‘work’ with it uninterrupted.

He goes hog wild with the mouse, running the cursor all over the screen and clicking on the task bar icons and the shortcuts.

Somehow I keep the keyboard pushed under the table top, otherwise he’ll tap on it with both his hands and sometimes with his legs, too.

When the going gets tough, I turn off the machine and let him do what he wants.

Anyway, my work is interrupted when he gets so enthusiastic about working with the computer.

My boy has been attracted to the computer since he was about eighteen months.

As I noticed his joy in playing with the computer I wondered whether it was right to expose a little child as young as 18-24 months to the computer. Is there a recommended age level for introducing the computer to a child’s world?

I had no success in finding any convincing comments on this matter until I came across a blog discussing this topic the other day.

I was glad to learn that Amit Agarwal of Digital Inspiration had a two-year old son who was computer savvy. The famous Indian blogger had already faced my situation and devised ways to deal with it, in addition to finding relevant articles from B.B.C. (articles: 1 and 2).

His method of launching a slideshow or drawing software to keep the child’s interest engrossed in it doesn’t work with my son. What he wants is the whole system for himself and tapping on the keyboard and clicking the mouse.

The two B.B.C. articles are really good. They contain the findings of a study and views and opinions of some experienced people. Here is a summary:

· The very early use of computers is heavily promoted by educationalists…

· Computers make an ideal context for learning through play.

· The multi sensory experiences that they offer are particularly appropriate for the very young and promote the use of memory.

· Play on the computer should be viewed as one of a range of contexts for play, rather than given a separate status.

· Ten minutes, three or four times a week is a good guide.

· It is not desirable for young children to sit in front of a screen for prolonged periods of time.

· Young children should be encouraged to investigate the real world, and links made between this and the virtual world of the computer.

· Painting games…allows children to be entirely creative and are additionally excellent tools for developing fine motor skills.

· Computers will play a significant part in children’s learning experiences throughout their school days and beyond.

· Parents have a powerful role in determining their child’s perception of the ways that this tool can enhance knowledge and expand their world.

As you can see there’s no conclusive answer to the question. It all depends upon the informed judgment of the parents!

Keeping this in mind, I’ll let my two-year old son tap and click and make him happy.

A Mega-fair: Kumbh Mela Monday, Feb 5 2007 

The ongoing Ardh Kumbh Mela at Allahabad (Prayag) in India is a one and a half month long (3 Jan – 16 Feb) bizarre show of piety and belief by ritual loving Hindus. It is expected to attract 70 million people for the ritual bath in the holy waters at the ‘Samgam’ (confluence of three sacred rivers).

For Hindus Allahabad is ‘Tirtha Raj’ (the king of Hindu pilgrimage centers). It’s believed that a bath in the holy waters here on auspicious days during Kumbh Mela can wash away all sins and lead one to release from ‘samsara’ (the cycle of birth and death). This release, this breaking away from the seemingly unending cycle of birth and death, is ‘parama purushartha’ (the highest goal, the ultimate fulfillment, of human life) for a believing Hindu. Hindus have invented numerous gods, devised complex rituals and worships and faithfully followed any number of practices for this purpose.

Hindu legends say that it was here at Prayag that ‘amruth’ (nectar/elixir) fell from the ‘kumbh’ (pitcher) that demons carried away by duping gods when it emerged as they together churned the mythical ‘Ksheerasagara’ (the ocean of milk). This mythical incident has made the place holiest of all holy pilgrimage centers of Hindus. Since then Hindus from all parts of India have been gathering at Prayag for a holy dip on auspicious days accurately fixed by expert Hindu astrologers by studying the precise movements and positions of heavenly bodies.

The point is: Kumbh Mela has its origin at a time in the mythical past; it is as old as Hindu myths!

(But a young Australian scholar has challenged this notion. She says that the first reference to Kumbh Mela is found in a government document in 1868. On the basis of her research she confirms that it’s only 150 years old! The weekly news magazine Outlook, dtd. January 29, 2007, had an article on this topic).

The bathing ritual itself must be really old. Its transformation into the staggering mega-fair that it is today

may not be so old. 

The Ardh Kumbh falls half way between two Maha Kumbh Melas. A Maha Kumbh Mela is held once in 12 years. The last Maha Kumbh at Allahabad was in January-February in 2001

After visiting the Kumbh Mela of 1895, Mark Twain wrote:

“It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes upon multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining. It is done in love, or it is done in fear; I do not know which it is. No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination marvelous to our kind of people, the cold whites.” (Quoted in the Wikipedia article on Kumbh Mela).

Read another essay on the Maha Kumbh Mela of 2001.

See pictures of Ardh Kumbh Mela, 2007:1) ABC News. 2) BBC News.

 

Seminal Questions Monday, Jan 29 2007 

In India, arranged marriage is the norm. Parents derive foremost satisfaction from arranged marriages of their children because their role, authority, preferences and approval prevail.

But all marriages are not arranged. Though elopements and love marriages face disapproval from the family and the society, some bold and adventurous couples take that course.

In arranged marriages parents and other responsible elders in the family consider all aspects of a relationship- family, financial security, close relatives, social standing, and the like- before approving a marriage. A marriage is not just a relationship between two individuals, but a strong and lasting bond between the two families of the couple.

Parental fears and concerns have more emphasis in an arranged marriage and mostly these are the issues considered traditionally. Couples are required to abide by what the parents have decided for them. Their own personal concerns and needs are not considered much; they are considered to the extent they can be accommodated. That’s all.

In such a scheme the following critical questions recommended by relationship experts do not have a place. Nevertheless some of these questions can be asked and discussed even by married couples. But those in love and want to marry may consider them first and marry next.

1) Have we discussed whether or not to have children, and if the answer is yes, who is going to be the primary care giver?

2) Do we have a clear idea of each other’s financial obligations and goals, and do our ideas about spending and saving mesh?

3) Have we discussed our expectations for how the household will be maintained, and are we in agreement on who will manage the chores?

4) Have we fully disclosed our health histories, both physical and mental?

5) Is my partner affectionate to the degree that I expect?

6) Can we comfortably and openly discuss our sexual needs, preferences and fears?

7) Will there be a television in the bedroom?

8) Do we truly listen to each other and fairly consider one another’s ideas and complaints?

9) Have we reached a clear understanding of each other’s spiritual beliefs and needs, and have we discussed when and how our children will be exposed to religious/moral education?

10) Do we like and respect each other’s friends?

11) Do we value and respect each other’s parents, and is either of us concerned about whether the parents will interfere with the relationship?

12) What does my family do that annoys you?

13) Are there some things that you and I are NOT prepared to give up in the marriage?

14) If one of us were to be offered a career opportunity in a location far from the other’s family, are we prepared to move?

15) Does each of us feel fully confident in the other’s commitment to the marriage and believe that the bond can survive whatever challenges we may face?

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Imitation Gandhis Sunday, Jan 14 2007 

Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in New Delhi 58 years ago, on 30 Jan 1948.

Gandhiji continues to inspire scholars and peace activists worldwide. Gandhiji also interests beggars and mean attention seekers.

In Hyderabad city, every now and then, you come across beggars young and old with tonsured heads, wearing a piece of loincloth and carrying a staff in one hand and a book in the other. All these imitation Gandhis are painted in aluminum colur from head to toe. I don’t know why.

Some of them choose a raised spot in a very busy place and stand motionless like a statue of Gandhiji. Frozen while walking.

The trick attracts attention of the curious public, but I’m not sure whether it fills their begging bowl. But that’s not my point.

No one has ever complained about this practice or tried to stop it. No one feels offended?

But this short video on Gandhiji on You Tube and broadcasted on two Indian TV channels has caused a furore. Congress party activists took to streets carrying placards and shouting slogans.

The video insults Mahatma Gandhi and the Nation, they claim.

The government has condemned the action of the TV channels and demanded a public apology from them.

In the video, Gandhiji resists violence with violence; brandishes a dagger, drives an SUV, goes to a bar in the company of two half-naked women and shoots and kills with a gun.

The video was posted on You Tube by an Indian in the U.S. He’s apologised since.

The poor beggars imitating the great man are seeking to fill their begging bowls, but what does this guy want to gain from it?

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HIV/AIDS Test Mandatory For Marriage Friday, Jan 12 2007 

I don’t know whether HIV test is compulsory anywhere for registering marriages.

In India, the state government of Andhra Pradesh has taken a crucial decision regarding the issue and is all set to make the test mandatory soon.

According to the U.N. India has the highest caseload with 5.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS. Of this 1.5 million cases are in Andhra Pradesh, making it second only to Maharashtra.

Recently the top brass of the state government and the ruling party have undergone AIDS test with a massive media blitz in order to generate public awareness about the disease and remove misconceptions about it. The other day a minister went as far as to adopt two HIV infected boys aged six and four. The boys’ parents succumbed to AIDS last week.

In India “some of the most painful parts of HIV infection [are]- prejudice, rejection, hurt, ostracism, etc.”, says a study.

In September last year, a man with full-blown AIDS in eastern India was stoned by villagers, who were scared he would spread the HIV infection. The 35-year-old man died later of his injuries. (Link).

In an incident near here a few weeks back a primary school boy was sent away from school and other schools nearby refused to give him admission, because his father died of AIDS and his mom and he tested positive.

A new group called Network of Positive People (NPP+) started by HIV positive people in Andhra Pradesh works for “raising awareness in the community to create a better environment for people living with HIV/AIDS.” Its various activities aimed at the infected are commendable.

The government hopes that there won’t be any hue and cry from any corner, especially religious bodies and orthodoxies regarding the proposed legislation. In India you can’t help inviting trouble from people whose religious sentiments you hurt by such things. And politicians are wary of that.

There’s also concern that it will result in an avalanche of fake test certificates that many people will pay for instead of obtaining genuine ones after tests.

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Gender Test and Humiliation of An Athlete Wednesday, Dec 20 2006 

Santhi Soundarajan won a silver in 800 m race in the just concluded 15th Asian Games in Doha, but was humiliated by the gender test that she failed and the subsequent decision of the games authorities to stripe her off the medal. The test is not compulsory, but unfortunately for Santhi it was done on the basis of a complaint from a participant. The test found that Santhi Soundarajan “does not possess the sexual characteristics of a woman” and had “more Y chromosomes” than acceptable in a woman!

The frenzied coverage the news received lacked any sensitivity and concern to the athlete and her background. Of the numerous news reports that I’ve accessed, only two reported the matter with care and attention to the details of the controversial test itself.

NDTV.com reports the observation of Dr P S M Chandran, Director of Medicine, Sports Authority of India. It’s a compassionate, critical assessment of the whole episode. He says: “It is very, very unfair that you victimize a girl who has failed a gender test, unlike doping. Doping is a deliberate attempt to do some mischief. Being born with some physical, anatomical abnormality is not a sin,”… The complicated gender test is fraught with problems since it doesn’t “take into account differences in genetic make-up, chromosomal variations and genetic abnormalities.”

It’s a long procedure that can take weeks for the final result to come out and involves various tests done on the person by a gynecologist, a hematologist, an endocrinologist and a psychologist.

Santhi, a female by birth, has never undergone any surgeries or therapies to alter her gender.

Washingtonpost.com had a balanced assessment of the matter. The chromosomal variations found in the test could be caused by “genetics, intense training, and even poor nutrition like Soundarajan may have experienced growing up in a poverty stricken Indian family.”

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi deserves praise for inviting the athlete and her parents to his chambers and presenting her with the cash award that he had announced, despite the news of the test and its findings. The chief minister was generous enough to present them a huge plasma TV as well, since her poor parents had told that they hadn’t had a TV to watch their daughter’s performance.

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Can Success Repeat Itself? Tuesday, Dec 12 2006 

There was an interesting article in the Sunday Times, the supplement of the Times of India, Dec 10, 2006.

The gist of the article was this: success often remains elusive to many of the supremely successful people. However hard they may try, they fail to repeat the magic that had catapulted them to the peak once. There are a few exceptions, but they are very rare.

The examples cited are from Indian context, except in the case of Andre Agassi, who proved himself again at the French Open after a lull since his Wimbledon title.

I believe that even if one may not rise up again to the peak of success achieved once and which became an inspiring legend, one can continue to be successful in one’s chosen field of activity.

I think it is a topic worth discussing.

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Kashmir: The Basics Tuesday, Nov 21 2006 

The basics of Kashmir row are that simple unless you give a spin to them.

It’s on these basics that India and Pakistan have fought three wars and came so close to another all out war during “Kargil War” in 1999.

It’s on these basics that unending bloodshed continues in Kashmir and the terrorists have taken the fight to almost all corners of India targeting innocent people.

It’s on these basics that the two adversaries have been readying for a final showdown in a nuclear battle field.

These basics had been summarized 55 years ago by a lesser known wise Indian, A.D. Gorwala.

Says the Pakistani Government: The bulk of the inhabitants of Kashmir are Muslims. It is a Muslim province. Pakistan is a Muslim State. Kashmir is contiguous to Pakistan. Its people wish to belong to Pakistan. It must belong to Pakistan.

Says the Indian Government: The fact that the majority of Kashmiris are Muslims has nothing to do with the country which Kashmir joins. The ruler of Kashmir acceded to India and the real leaders of the people of Kashmir, Muslims themselves, have clearly stated their desire to remain with India. Kashmir, therefore, must come to India. It is, in fact, a part of India. The part held by Pakistan is wrongly seized by aggression and must be vacated in favour of the real government. Then, we shall have a plebiscite to let the people of Kashmir decide their future.

Says the Pakistan Government: What is the use of such a plebiscite? The result will be a foregone conclusion. For a proper plebiscite, take away your soldiers, remove the government, have a neutral authority in power.

Says the Indian Government: Don’t be silly. Who are you to talk anyway? You let raiders into the land to loot and rape and helped them with your own troops. You are the worst type of aggressor. Get out of Kashmir and stay out. We are not going to let you interfere.

Says the Pakistan Government: But this is absurd. You plotted with the Maharaja. The people you call leaders are really your stooges. There must be a proper plebiscite. Our people are getting very impatient. We clench our fists at you. If you don’t listen and the United Nations don’t make you, we shall seek the arbitrament of war.

Says the Indian Government: Your allegations are false. If you restart fighting in Kashmir, prepare for an attack on Pakistan. In order to show that we are in earnest, we are moving troops very near your borders.

Says the Pakistan Government: This is fantastic. You are preparing for aggression. This is really terrible. Withdraw your troops.

Says the Indian Government: We won’t. It is time you learnt to behave.

Should these arguments be allowed to continue? Haven’t both sides paid dearly for sticking to their respective unrelenting stand? In what terms can we count the cost?

What a tragedy!

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