Archive for July, 2007

BREAKING NEWS: Haneef’s chatroom conversation

31 July 2007

Australia’s immigration minister Kevin Andrews has just released selected transcripts of Bangalore doctor Mohammed Haneef‘s conversation in an internet chatroom with his brother in Bangalore the afternoon before he was arrested in Brisbane while flying out to India with a one-way ticket.

Evidence which the minister claims suggests that Haneef had prior knowledge of the failed suicide bomb attack on Glasgow Airport by his cousin Kafeel Ahmed.

“In it, the brother of (Dr) Haneef says ‘nothing has been found out about you’ and asked when Dr Haneef would be getting out, to which (Dr) Haneef replied ‘today’.

“The brother asked whether he had permission to take leave and what he told the (Gold Coast) hospital.

“Dr Haneef said he told them his baby was born in an emergency caesarean. The brother told him to ‘tell them that you have to as you have a daughter born, do not tell them anything else’.

“The brother then said not to delay his departure and not to let anyone else use his number in Australia, nor to give it to anyone.

“The brother added that ‘auntie’ told him that brother Kafeel used it, he’s in some sort of project over there,” Mr Andrews said, in a reference to UK bombing accused Kafeel Ahmed…”

Read the full story here: Andrews documents Haneef suspicions

‘What Dr Mohammed Haneef should do next’

31 July 2007

He is free, he is back, he is enjoying his new-born daughter’s warmth and innocence, he is planning an outing far from the madding crowd, and he is weighing his options over his career and future. But what is it that Dr Mohammed Haneef should do next?

Prakash Nanda in today’s Deccan Herald has a suggestion.

“Now it is the turn of Haneef to do something for his country and religion. As a true Indian and a proud Muslim, he must publicly condemn the likes of his cousins, Kafeel and Sabeel Ahmed, who plotted, unsuccessfully though, terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom. Such an open condemnation will go a long way in neutralising the rapidly growing worldwide belief that Islam, as a religion, is synonymous with international terrorism….

“Of course, terrorists are found in all religions… However, there is a fundamental difference. Unlike terrorists of other religions, Islamic terrorists, invariably, justify their actions in the name of their religion. And unlike terrorists of other religions, whose goals are political and country-specific, Islamic terrorists have an international dimension.

“Haneef will do a great service by raising his voice against the xenophobiac Wahabiyism that is dividing not only the Indians but also the other “world citizens”. “

Read the full article: What Haneef should do

Christopher Hitchens: Why are we so scared of offending Muslims?

How our media has gone completely bonkers

31 July 2007

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: All is not too well in the immense country of Australia. Or so it seems.

A country that is known as much for venom spewing, bad mouthing cricketers who always try their best to stamp their supremacy on the cricket field, also has some grossly inefficient investigators and law enforcers. Or so it seems.

L’affaire Haneef has done to media headlines and television sound bytes in our country what even the tectonic shifting of Mount Everest probably cannot do. Or perhaps ten dozen tsunamis pounding the coasts of the world in one go!

One man gets detained in the wake of a terror attack. He cries out that he is innocent and obviously, so do his lawyers. A few weeks later, after the world, and mainly India, has been fed by the media, even the minutest twists and turns to the case, and the complete unabridged utterances of the dramatis personae, he is a free man.

The very basis of the practice of jurisprudence, anywhere in the world for that matter, obviously, unequivocally, states that no innocent man or woman or child should ever be punished. And seemingly, justice for Dr Mohammed Haneef came soon enough; his ‘thumbs up’ sign as he emplaned for Bangalore, saying it all.

Amidst the high drama the Australian authorities opened the curtain to; amidst the Indian media’s 24×7 kind of interest in the case; amidst the ‘vigil’ kept up by a brigade of reporters at the Bangalore residence of Haneef, which enabled us all to read the reports of who went in and who didn’t come out for how long—with the reporters just merely barely falling short of telling us the colour of the milk coupon for the day that was exchanged at the gate; amidst Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s inability to sleep well at night because one Indian was wrongly confined in a foreign prison; amidst the Indian government’s request to Australia to treat Haneef in total fairness; I simply cannot push an extraordinarily overpowering thought that has rendered me sleepless in Mysore for quite a long period indeed.

The thought of the media’s obsession with one case of wrongful detention, which without a shade of doubt shouldn’t have been ignored or condoned, but nevertheless definitely didn’t warrant an almost maniacal, quite ridiculously high powered focus, almost by the minute; so much so, that every single newspaper and television channel, made it look like highlighting the Haneef case was their very reason to exist as organisational entities.

To put it mildly, too is not innocent of the charge.

Who on this great earth should be telling the media that there are more Indians that one cannot perhaps even take count of, in various jails, ranging from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, from Tihar to Bihar to Kolar, just to name a few, who have been incarcerated in the most inhuman and devastatingly shocking conditions without even a remote possibility of a trial?

Who should be informing the media that among these sad, unfortunate set of human beings, a large percentage of them are completely innocent and mostly wrongly framed, either because of their misfortune which gave them a poverty ridden womb to take births in or as it happens so often in India, because of their so-called lower caste?

Who is there to tell the media that even these wretched men and women have families—mothers and brothers and sisters and fathers—who pine for their return and shed silent tears of angst and helplessness and frustration somewhere in the dingy confines of their ill lit huts? In some forsaken part of our country. Abandoned by god and law alike. With no hope of deliverance or release or liberation?

Where are all the members of civil liberties groups, and human rights activists; the kind of men and women who almost lost their voices in their quest to shout for justice for one man, Haneef; who do not deem it their duty to do the same for tens of thousands of others who have met the same fate as the doctor from Bangalore? In the jails of our land as also a few jails outside of our land?

Does the media have a conscience at all or is it just a question of taking back to the office some juicy, sensational paragraphs to write or video grabs to be aired for the world to revel in for the day?

The attention to the Haneef case bordered on a sort of pathological obsession, a kind of uncontrollable desire to beat the same tune from the same drum, while the sepulchral strains of a funereal dirge could be distantly heard from the cells of prisons around the country or elsewhere, where surely lie huddled, more than a bunch of men and women, all as much Indians as Haneef, miserable and lost, and plainly alive in body but shattered in soul. Withered and wasted.

Good night, Mr. Prime Minister.

Cross-posted on sans serif

CHURUMURI POLL: Should Australia apologise?

30 July 2007

The return of Dr Mohammed Haneef after four weeks in custody following a botched “terror” probe has sparked a new controversy: should—or should not—Australia apologise for the bungle? Australian Prime Minister John Howard has ruled out saying sorry: “Australia will not be apologising to Dr Haneef. He was not victimised. Mistakes happen from time to time and when dealing with terrorism, it is better safe than to be sorry.” Australia’s foreign minister Alexander Downer too has justified the screw-up: “What do you expect the police to do, fall on the ground and grovel? Eat dirt?”

But Haneef’s laywer Peter Russo has said an apology might not be out of place and Queensland premier Peter Beattie has said that Australia must issue a “formal apology” if the inquiry into the case found nothing. The United Indian Association and the Overseas and Australian Medical Graduates Association too have asked the government to apologise to the 230,000-strong Indian community in print and electronic media without any further delay to ensure that there will be no snowballing effect of the backlash on the community.

Questions: Should Australia say “We are sorry” at the highest level? Should India insist on it so that the right signal is sent out that the human rights of its citizens cannot be trampled upon so brazenly? Is it so humiliating for Australia to say sorry if a mistake has been made? Could it cement better relations between Indians and Australians? Or in the name of the war on terror, should civility like civil liberties be thrown out of the window?

Why can’t we make great products, companies?

30 July 2007

It’s a question that was asked on by Pratap Sharma shortly after India’s exit from the World Cup: Just, what are we good at as a nation?

“We cannot make a single product—a car, a computer, a phone, a TV set, a plane, a submarine—that the world will queue up to buy. We cannot create a single magazine, newspaper or television channel that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best of the world. We cannot nurture a world-class University. We cannot build a laboratory or do pathbreaking research or making an earth shattering discovery. We cannot think of an Indian multinational. Etcetera.”

And it’s a question that was yesterday asked on The Hindu‘s Open Page by E.C. Thomas.

“It is highly creditable indeed that India is achieving a growth rate of 8 to 9 per cent in recent years. But it is incredible that with such a growth rate and abundance of technical manpower, Indian DNA is not on the products which rule the world such as personal computers, digital cameras, cell phones, iPods, DVD players, plasma television sets or medical breakthroughs like stent.

“The list is long. India has no products which have revolutionised the world scene. Or do we excel only in the development of revolutionary concepts like zero or in soft skills like computer software?

“Nor do we have innovative companies such as Google, Apple or Microsoft. Our IT giants are really glorified sub-contractors to the elite corporations of the world. Our great manufacturing enterprises are just makers of products engineered by others. Even celebrated businessmen such as Lakshmi Mittal just built on existing entities.”

Do we, as a species, lack the spirit of innovation, the ability to stray from the straight and narrow, and plough a lonely furrow? Does our middleclass upbringing result in our desire for safety-first job security? Is our learn-by-rote education system responsible for dousing the fire in our collective belly? Because of long years of colonial and outside rule, are we just good at serving our masters?

Also read: Pssst, just what are we good at as a nation?

Keeping the fire of innovative spirit burning

Say hello to Union HRD Minister Arjun Singh

30 July 2007

Police in Moradabad have registered a case against Union human resource development minister Arjun Singh, his wife Beena Singh, grandson Abhijeet Singh, and three others on charges of dowry harassment.

A complaint by Madhvendra Singh, the father of Arjun Singh’s grand daughter-in-law Priyanka Singh alleged that the minister’s family had been demanding a Mercedes car and a flat from him and his daughter was being tortured when their demand was not met.

Read the full story: Dowry case against Arjun Singh

All Bharat Mata gets from her sons is lip service

29 July 2007

“For every celebrated token of women’s empowerment like the first female President and every Kiran Bedi who complains of being passed over, there’s a Sunita and a Kajal in Mother India’s son-struck, conveyor-belt child factories.

Sunita Rajput, 27, has alleged she was forced by her husband to have six abortions in nine years of marriage because each time she had conceived a girl. In between the abortions, the mother of two girls from Vadodara says, husband Rajesh would drive nails into her earlobes, starve her and beat her.”

Read the full story: Son-struck Mother India

CHURUMURI POLL: The October Revolution?

28 July 2007

What will happen to Karnataka politics come October? If your answer is, “who cares?” then stop right here. If your answer is, “who knows?” then the academic/ analyst/ psephologist Sandeep Shastri paints five different scenarios in today’s Indian Express.

Scenario 1: The Janata Dal (Secular) and Bharatiya Janata Party stick to their agreement, and JDS hands over the chief ministership to BJP, no questions asked.

Scenario 2: JD(S) hands over the leadership of government to the BJP but on the condition that the BJP chooses the chief minister in consultation with the JD(S).

Scenario 3: Opposition to the handover of power grows within JD(S). A section of the BJP breaks away and aligns itself with JD(S). With independent support, JD(S) forms government again.

Scenario 4: JD(S) refuses to be part of a coalition led by BJP and seeks the support of the Congress. Congress offers outside support to a JD(S) government to prevent the BJP from coming to power.

Scenario 5: JD(S) refuses to hand over leadership to BJP. BJP walks out of the government, council of ministers recommends the dissolution of the assembly.

Which scenario according to you is most likely? Did BJP make a mistake in aligning with the JD(S)? Will a stint in power for the BJP be good for the State? If JD(S) stabs the BJP in the back, will its credibility be demolished forever? Should Congress realign with the JD(S) considering what happened last time? And who, brother, is going to be the next Chief Minister of the State?

Read the full story here: Coalition pacts may come, they may go

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Congress-JD(S) tie up again?

Mate, what goes around comes around

28 July 2007

P. Mahamud in today’s Deccan Herald captures the Australian Police delivery even the Sheikh of Tweak, Shane Warne, hasn’t bowled yet: the ball that goes to the batsman as a legbreak—and then spins back to the bowler as an offbreak.

To Yedi or not to Yedi—that is the question

28 July 2007

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: The difference between the ‘Haves’ and ‘Havenots’ has been well chronicled by sociologists and historians since time immemorial. While, the former has abundance of everything, it is the lack of it that makes up the latter.

The ‘havenots’ not only have to put up with the obvious lack of whatever the ‘Haves’ have, more often they are subjected to their eccentricities which keep them on tenterhooks. Curiously, even the ‘Havenots’ almost end up, as their counterparts. This is more so in the political field.

I have had a chance to experience this first hand over the last few months.

I was in Akkithimmana Halli around 3’0 clock early one morning when our Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy walked in for his late dinner or early breakfast. I asked him in my sleepy voice, whether he was transferring the CM’s post to his deputy, come October 3rd.

“One hundred per cent,” he said, and continued, “I would have raised the figure if I was better at arithmetic. I am like Bharatha, pleading with his elder brother Shri Rama to takeover. I am not the one who will go back on my word. You have heard of Punyakoti… Kotta maathannu thappalarenu. That’s me. It’s time for me to eat… Is it dinner or breakfast?” he enquired with the host.

The Chief Minister immediately hit the sack as he had a pre-sunrise meeting at 4.30 with the village folk.

My next encounter with HDK was at the house of a village postmaster at 12.30 at night. He was getting ready for a cup of tea with kodubale and kobbari mithayi. I again broached the subject of his handing over the power to Mr. Yedi.

“You asked this a month back, I remember. I would call it an open question which should have been asked at the Open University. My answer is same as what I answered at Karnataka State Open University. There is no easy solution. I will resign right now, if farmers continue to commit suicide. My heart bleeds for farmers and temporary workers of KSOU. There are far more important questions in life than a mere transfer of power. I think it is even irrelevant. Now, if you will excuse me. Let me have my evening tea.”

The third time was when he came to offer the bagina at KRS dam. When he saw me approaching him, he said: “You want to know whether I will hand over power to Yediyurappa on October 3, right? The answer is, ‘I don’t know’. I am more like Arjuna in Kurukshetra looking for Krishna’s advice. My father is my Krishna

“I am also reading Hamlet these days. The “should I” or “should I not” thought is driving me mad. Anything can happen in politics, especially in Karnataka. This is the experience of all politicians including my father who went to Delhi as a Dharmaraja where he met his Shakuni in Sitaram Kesari. I am not sure what I will do.”

Meanwhile, the deputy CM’s life is much the same for the last three months, whether at office, at home, the guest house, or travellers’ bungalow. He sits in front of a calendar, already showing October, counting endless beads like a devout Hindu, Muslim or a Christian all rolled into one. He looks more like Vishwamitra, afraid to open his eyes, lest a Menaka upset his tapas, as he counts the beads and mutters ‘October 3rd’, October 3rd….”

Even when CM asked him to join him for the visit to KRS to give bagina, it seems, he just asked the date and when he was told it was ‘July 23rd’, continued muttering ‘ October 3rd’ with a blank expression. The C.M. is going nuts about the date as also with the health of his Deputy. Finally that may decide what will really happen on October 3rd.


27 July 2007

The dramatic but not unexpected decision of the Australian police to drop all charges of terrorism against Mohammed Haneef is the best piece of news a Friday morning could have brought for the family of the Mudigere-born doctor. And it is sweet vindication for his wife Arshiya who has consistently maintained her husband’s innocence.

But the decision, exactly 25 days after he was picked up with a one-way ticket for a flight back home, is also a valuable lesson for an increasingly suspicious world that is quick to condemn, conclude and hang. Here, then, are eight lessons we can pick up from the arrest, release, continued detention, and eventual exoneration of a son of Karnataka on a faraway continent.

8. Thank god for the media and judiciary: The war on terror has emasculated the legislature and the executive in democracies across the world. The judiciary is the only pillar preventing the war from getting totally farcical. And if it weren’t for the Australian media, especially the stellar role played by The Australian, Haneef’s civil liberties would have been sealed and sold to the lowest common denominator by now.

7. Human rights are global: The right to a dignified life is not the exclusive privilege of the rich, white or those of the right religion or language. It is everybody’s. Men and women; rich and poor; white, black and brown; Christian, Hindu and Muslim. This is not about pseudo-secularism—it’s about being human and reacting as humans, not as hate-spewing, scare-mongering pseudo-nationalists.

6. Common sense isn’t quite so common after all: Even Haneef’s newborn baby, Haniya Kulthum, would have had a simple explanation for his SIM card or his one-way ticket back home, but who in his right uniform likes to listen to a newborn baby even if it’s talking common sense when there is an asymmetrical global “war” without an end in sight to fight?

5. White police are no better than ours: Discrepancies between the Australian police interrogation transcript and their affidavit in court show that the slick efficiency of white cops is only in Hollywood flicks and they are no better or worse than their brown and black counterparts. And that white, brown or black, police have an pavlovian ability to do their political masters’ bidding.

4. Politicians will do anything to stay in power: White politicians haven’t descended from the high heavens. They too are in the game for power, pelf and profit, and will do anything to ensure their continued supply. Godhra magically happened just when Narendra Modi was about to face an election. Mohammed Haneef happened when JohnAdolf HilterHoward was going for an election.

3. Stand up, speak up, be heard: Indian public opinion has been unduly subdued and cautious in the Haneef case. Partly because of the fear of being proved wrong, largely because of the religious hatred that the pseudo-nationalists have injected in us. But if you can’t find your spine even if—especially when—it doesn’t concern you, when the facts stare you in the face, maybe you should consult your doctor.

2. Terror laws are a joke, here, there, everywhere, anywhere: Any law which allows civilians to be picked up on the flimsiest of pretexts, to be released when nothing is found, and then threatens him with a jail sentence if he tells the world what he underwent in custody means you are just a pawn in a larger game against a faceless enemy. Fear nobody in questioning the mockery of your civil liberties.

And, finally, the biggest lesson from l’affaire Mohammed Haneef is not a cliche, after all.

1. You are innocent until proved guilty: Nothing is what it seems from the outside in the modern world. There are layers and then there are layers. Talk is cheap, but it pays not to prejudge; not to jump to a conclusion that someone else, playing on your fears and fantasies, has cooked up for you. It isn’t over till the fat lady has sung.


Read‘s full coverage here: L’affaire Haneef

If sanitary pads are OK, why not underwear?

27 July 2007

First he banned AXN for its World’s Sexiest Programmes. Then FTV for Midnight Hot. The ostensible reason: the programmes were “against good taste and decency and denigrated women”. Because, “such shows were likely to adversely affect public morality”.

And now the director general of moral police, Priyaranjan Dasmunsi, and his constables have once clambered top the crowded “banned wagon”, proscribing television advertisements for Lux Cozy underwear and Amul Macho underwear. What’s more, TV channels have been told to be “more careful” in accepting ads.

What’s so problematic about the Amul Macho ad that was cleared by the Advertising Standards Council of India?

That the woman looks “hot”? That she takes on the boors at the dhobi ghat? That she oozes oomph and attitude? That she stretches and spanks the underwear? That she seems to suggest that underwear should be washed? That she seems to enjoy doing what women are not supposed to enjoy, washing clothes and underwear at that?

As Dasmunsi’s deputy Ambarish alias Amarnath Gowda might say, “I say, whaaaat is the praaablam?” when you can allow the even more nauseating Stayfree Dry Max ads in which women languidly toss around sanitary pads as if they are dealing playing cards at an afternoon kitty party?

Bombay grass is 5000% greener than Gulbarga’s

27 July 2007

Hittala gida maddalla,” is an old Kannada saying. It means we are blind to the medicinal qualities of the herbs that grow in our own backyard. That we think that even the wild weeds beyond our fence have magical potential.

The truth of that aphorism comes home to roost in a story by G. Manjusainath in Deccan Herald today on the week-long “Gulbarga Utsava” held in the north Karnataka district in December last year.

The government released Rs 5 lakh for the Utsava. And the purpose, as always, was high and noble: to provide a forum for local artistes and to help them to showcase their talent before their own. And, sure enough, it did.

Gulbarga-based sugama sangeeth artiste Malashree Kanavi performed. Gulbarga-based flautist Sheikh Abdullah Khan also performed. But, the organisers also called in the singer Kailash Kher from Bombay, and four others from Hyderabad: A. Musa Haji, Ashraf, magician Shankar Junior, and kawwal Sayyad Ali.

That, too, you might say, is OK. We must be exposed to talent from outside. But the real story in what the local artistes were paid as against the outside talent. And that real story comes because a citizen (Sheshmurthy) used the Right to Information Act to demand the details.

Kailash Kher: Rs 3 lakh
Musa Haji: Rs 75,000
Ashraf: Rs 50,000
Shankar Jr: Rs 30,000
Adil: Rs 20,000

And the locals?

Malashree: Rs 2,000
Khan: Rs 2,000

In a way, the Gulbarga Utsava story is not very different from the ongoing Mysore Utsava where organisers opted to bring in outside talent from Bangalore by claiming that local artistes were demanding the moon. But if we are willing to pay a bomb to accommodate “outsiders” why is it so difficult to loosen the purse strings for the locals?

You could argue that this is the way of the market. That big-ticket artistes have the draw and appeal which local artistes will never be able to match. And that Bhimsen Joshi or A.R. Rehman should not be expected to come if they are going to be paid the same as local artistes.

But, disparity among equals?

This is my turf. You cross it at your own peril.

26 July 2007

A.N. PRASANNA of Karnataka Photo News captures a telling picture of a dog, a puppy and a cobra at Dantinaval near Chikamagalur. When the mother found the cobra moving towards her puppies, she stopped it. The snake didn’t understand why she had been stopped in its tracks. After an hour-long impasse, the mother apparently took the cobra in its mouth and threw it away.

Pratibha ain’t the only woman to be empowered

26 July 2007

BAPU SATYANARAYANA writes: Willy-nilly and for what it’s worth, Pratibha Patil‘s election as President of India has come to symbolise “women’s empowerment” in the 60th year of our country’s freedom from the British.

But what of the rest of the women folk?

What, for example, of India’s number one woman police officer, Kiran Bedi?

In ignoring her seniority, in ignoring her record, and in overlooking her credentials for the post of Commissioner of Police, Delhi, in favour of a rank junior, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government has only exposed its empty rhetoric of “empowering women”.

Bedi’s fulmination against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is justified and only shows how far the PM has fallen from grace, and how increasingly his words carry little credibility. What could be more revealing than Bedi being shown the door despite her legitimate claims on the very day Patil was taking over despite all the question marks?

The overlooking of Bedi for the post is an issue that women’s organisations should take up, first and foremost. Hopefully, Bedi herself will take the fight to the “enemy camp”—the UPA government, inhabited by a pathetic and emasculated bunch of hangers-on whose only qualification is loyalty to the President of the Congress party over everything.

CHURUMURI POLL: Should BCCI sack Kapil Dev?

26 July 2007

The decision of India’s original matchwinner, Kapil Dev Nikhanj, to also associate himself with the Indian Cricket League (ICL) set up by co-Jat Subhash Chandra of Zee, has led to much heartburn in the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Although neither Sharad Pawar nor his mavens and minions are saying so openly, they want the all-rounder to either stay with the BCCI (he is the chief of the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore) or face the ignominy of being sacked if he continues to align with ICL.

For his part, Kapil Dev claims, as all Indian cricketers do at the drop of a catch, that he is only trying to give back something to the game that has given him so much. He claims there is no conflict of interest by being part of ICL, which chose India’s high-speed exit from the World Cup to set itself up as a parallel body, more or less. And he says he will associate not just with ICL but with anybody else who wants to improve cricket in the country.

Is Kapil being a mercenary who wants his bread buttered on both sides—and maybe the crust too? Is BCCI overreacting? Is it illegal for any body other than the BCCI to build cricket or is Subhash Chandra only fishing in troubled waters by trying to do a Kerry Packer? And, even if Brian Lara and Shane Warne and Inzamam Ul Haq play in the ICL, will it improve Indian cricket or will it end up providing the software for Zee’s sports channels to make a bit of money?

Why terror groups are wooing the middle class

25 July 2007

The involvement of doctors in the failed attacks in London and Glasgow last month evoked shock worldwide. Eboo Patel writes on Slate that this was the whole idea.

“In traditional, territorial war, the enemy is obvious, and the mission is clear: Kill the guys with red helmets, capture that hill. In asymmetrical, ideological war, it is hard to tell friend from foe… It is a type of macabre magic intended to create the illusion of enemies everywhere.”

Terror groups have shown that poor, uneducated people—even children—are perfectly capable of carrying out terrorist attacks. So, why go to the trouble of recruiting doctors and teachers?

“Because middle-class professional terrorists play a trick on people’s psychology. The instinct of “I can’t believe that a doctor would do this” quickly morphs into, “You can’t trust any of those Muslims.” For some people, this provokes open season on Muslims. Mosques are torched, Muslim kids are beaten up at school, women in headscarves are harassed, the Prophet Mohammed is depicted in a despicable manner.”

Read the full article here: Is your Muslim doctor your enemy?

In PC age, is nothing about the Manusmriti right?

25 July 2007

In his last public engagement, on the day his successor was being elected last Thursday, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam exhorted his countrymen and women and children not to take gifts that came with strings attached.

“Yesterday, a well-known person gave me a gift of two pens. I had to return them with unhappiness,” he said, an quoted from the ancient Hindu code of law Manusmriti which says that by accepting gifts, the divine light in the person gets extinguished.

That seemingly innocuous quote has drawn the ire of Dalits in Rajasthan who call the reference to Manusmriti “unwarranted” and “shocking and strange”.

P.L. Mimroth of the Centre for Dalit Rights has said “the outgoing President need not have quoted from the archaic Hindu code of law that had created the Varna system under which the higher castes for centuries denied all basic human rights and dignity to Dalits.”

“For us, Manu only symbolises the unjust social order imposed on Dalits from time immemorial… Quoting from Manusmriti amounts to paying homage to a figure who represents all that is unjust in the Indian society.”

Manuvaad can be debated till the cows come home and go back, of course, but is nothing right about Manusmriti? Including the bit about the divine light in the person getting extinguished if a person receives a gift with a purpose?

Chamundi Hill hath no fury like a star scorned

25 July 2007

Star of Mysore has an interesting story this evening on the manager of the temple atop Mysore’s indelible landmark, Chamundi Hills, being transferred although he has just eight months to go before attaining retirement.

Reason: the man committed the cardinal sin of rubbing the film actress Radhika on the wrong side.

Apparently, the one-hit, two-bit wonder visited the Temple last Friday—the first ashaada shukravara—and offered a gold necklace worth Rs 50,000, and demanded a receipt. The receipt was late in coming from Balasubramanyam, the temple manager, because of the heavy rush of devotees.

That was it to earn the wrath of Karnataka’s most controversial star. And three days later, according to SOM, an order was received from the Chief Minister’s Office instructing him to report at Srishaila in two days and asking him to vacate his office atop Chamundi Hills.

Let no tongues wag on where Radhika draws her strength.

Also read: The Chief Minister and the damsel in distress

What does Radhika have these men don’t?

Is a kabab-maker’s girl easy meat for IT men?

‘Desh ke neta kaise ho? Abdul Kalam jaise ho!’

25 July 2007

Pratap Bhanu Mehta of the Centre for Policy Research has a fine piece in today’s Indian Express on the “Chacha Kalam” phenomenon, and tangentially raises the quite delightful prospect of whether the Missile Man could be a future prime minister.

“The standard narrative about A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s immense popularity emphasises the fact that he was an apolitical individual, above the partisanship and pettiness of what we now take to be politics. But there is good reason to think that the opposite is true. What made him appealing to so many was that he offered a different vision of politics; he came to personify what people, in other times and places, expected of their politicians.

“It is politicians who most need to learn from his conduct. Kalam was engaging in politics in the deeper sense of the term: he had an unerring instinct for what the people were looking for, he never criticised but only proposed alternatives, he levelled distinctions between people not by lowering the elite but by raising the aspirations of masses, and he relentlessly called attention to the fact that the Office was a means not an end. It is always possible to probe further into his motives and compromises. But he succeeded not because he was apolitical but because he had a sense of what people want in a politician: the capacity to project a future full of possibilities with conviction and sincerity.”

Read the full article here: Prime Minister Kalam?

Cartoon courtesy: P. Mahmud/ Praja Vani

Why 33% quota for women isn’t a reality. Yet.

24 July 2007

“Talli kadupuna enduku puttana ani badha padatadu (You will feel sad you were born to your mother).

Chandrababu, you will regret having come out of your mother’s womb into this world after I complete my speech. At the end of the day, you will be a washout.”

The honourable chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Dr Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy on his predecessor, N. Chandrababu Naidu.

Whither politicians?

Whither doctors?

Reddy initially had the gall to apologise “if I have hurt anybody’s feelings” but now has tendered an unconditional apology. Nobody is an angel in Andhra politics, of course, but who is at fault here? A verbal hooligan saying hello to the nation’s newest President in a warped way or those trying to extract an apology from him for his insult to motherhood?

And what does Senorita think of her pet?

The die is caste in 21st century Silicon Halli

23 July 2007

SUGGI RAJ writes from Bangalore: Should a society that is already deeply divided by region, religion, language, and heaven knows what else be further divided on the basis of caste? And should the “State” that should cement ties between people be seen to be holding the scimitar?

If all goes as planned by the coalition government of the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Bharatiya Janata Party in Karnataka, one of the 60,000 school teachers in the State will knock on your door during the Dasara holidays this year—and ask you point-blank the caste you belong to.

It’s called the Caste Census. And in the 60th year of independence from the colonisers, a colonial era practice is being sought to be revived in the State, 70 years after it was firmly and formally abandoned by the British, in the name of “internal reservation”.

On the outside, the objective of the Caste Census may appear reasonable: specificially, to identify the truly deserving who despite decades of reservation have been unable to enjoy its fruits and, generally, to help the government in planning.

Deep down, though, the prospects are much less attractive and downright dangerous.

Because the information that the Caste Census will generate will not just be available for the government of the day for so-called “planning purposes” but it will also come in handy for the roadside pudhari and his factotums for unplanned purposes over years and decades to come.

In other words, in the 21st century, the “Silicon Halli” of the country is about to open a facility for the power-hungry; a kind of neighbourhood ATM for men in and out of power to check their vote-bank balance.

The government is contemplating to get the data of each and every caste, sub-caste, sect and sub-sect to take a decision on internal reservation. Taking a decision based on a scientific study is welcome, of course, but in this case the government is playing around with a double-edged sword.

Moreover, the Caste Census subverts the very spirit of the preamble, as well as fundamental rights and directive principles of the Constitution. Every government is under moral obligation to respect and protect the right of privacy of every individual unless the “national interest” is involved in it.

It’s possible to find small traces of the national interest with some effort behind the move. But at what cost?

Even in the absence of State-certified figures, most times power politics is fought on caste lines. If such a survey is conducted, the outcome will only fan the simmering embers. There is every reason to fear that permanent battle lines would be drawn and that the census could push an already-caste ridden society to the brink of caste conflictThe caste based census was the brainchild of British. It was given up in 1938 considering its ill-effects. In post-independence era, the then home minister Vallabhbhai Patel and his successors strongly opposed the idea of conducting caste based census on the ground that it would further divide the society and come in the way of national integration.

One can only hope and pray that a day won’t come when we will not be compelled to spell out our sects along with their gotras and bedagus to get a driver’s license.

Potter fan and channel lived happily never after

23 July 2007

HARI SHENOY writes from Bangalore: Saturday, July 21, saw the entire world being engulfed by ‘Pottermania’ for the very last time, with the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Our country was not spared of this phenomenon either, with people lining up in the wee hours of the weekend morning in front of bookstores all over the country, where they had pre-ordered their copies, to pick them up and start reading them immediately.

I am a self-confessed Harry Potter fan myself, and I had pre-ordered my book from Strand Book Stall four months ago. I started following the series in 2000, slightly later than quite a few other people, but I was gripped by the attention to detail, the fast paced narrative and the magical flights of fancy that J.K. Rowling managed to lead my mind into.

Everyone who’s followed the series knew that JKR had promised to tie up all the loose ends she’d left dangling in the minds of the readers, and they awaited the book release with bated breath.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was a best seller even before it was officially released, and it still is selling like hot-cakes, with 20,000 copies being sold within the first 12 hours in Bangalore alone, according to a leading daily newspaper.

In this day and age, when book-reading had been relegated to the backseat with the advent of television, movies and the internet, Rowling has arguably made book-reading fashionable once again.

The media has also contributed to the hype, with newspapers, radio stations and TV channels providing extensive coverage in the countdown towards July 21. The release of the book was initially thwarted with some photographs of the book having been put up over the internet, though fans all over chose to wait till the hardback landed in their hands, not succumbing to temptation. Bloomsburry and Scholastic, the publishers of the books, have sought legal action against the miscreant(s) responsible for the leak.

The manner in which a few news channels (Headlines Today and Times Now being the ones that I watched) showcased the unfolding of events post the launch of the book was pathetic, to say the least. Knowing fully well that fans wanted to know which of the characters lived, and who died, and Harry’s fate at the very end, these channels chose to reveal the ending of the book, in what they referred to as ‘exclusive coverage of Pottermania’.

Having switched off cellphones, and remaining obvious to media reporting until the book was done, most die-hard fans were spared of the agony of having some reporter tell them what they would’ve rather found first-hand. It would not be surprising though, if some distraught fan were to sue one of these news channels for having rained in on his/her parade.

It is one thing to report events as they happen, and resort to sensationalism on occasion as and when the news channels consider it warranted. But it is quite another altogether to play spoilsport and attempt to ruin the ending of a book series that has created history.

I wish the media would think twice before it chooses to resort to making book lovers miserable at the expense of a few extra TRPs.

Also read: The Harry hallucination: a marketing gimmick?

On top down under, close-in is a far out place

23 July 2007

An interesting piece in today’s Melbourne Age, based on the transcript of Mohammed Haneef‘s interrogation by the Australian police, says it is illuminative of the “ill-lit gulf of misunderstanding that exists between the hugely different cultures of the East and West”.

Dr Haneef can speak English, and the interrogation takes place in English. But, writes Sushi Das, “good communication is not just about literally understanding the words spoken, but also about detecting the nuances embroidered in those words.”

“The police struggle to understand Haneef’s family connections. They also appear to lack a rudimentary understanding of basic terms. Haneef explains he is a Muslim. To work out if he is Sunni or Shiite, the policeman asks: “You said you were Islam, do you ascribe to any sort of strain?”

“Perhaps it’s just the oddity of spoken words written down, but an understanding of Islam as the religion and a Muslim as a follower of that religion might have made for sharper communication. Later, Haneef tries to explain the concept of Mufeed—a club of doctors who get together to socialise.

“Asked whether the word is Indian or Arabic, Haneef says it means “something beneficial”, adding “It’s, that’s it from Udo …” “So it’s an Udo?” asks the policeman. Could Haneef have said or meant that Mufeed has its origins in the Urdu language? Is it possible that police did not know Urdu is an Indian language?

“At the end of the interview Haneef is asked whether he has anything to add. “I haven’t done any of the crimes,” he said. “I don’t want to spoil my name and my profession.” In typical Indian fashion a man in a desperate situation raises the last thing he can cling to—his honour.

“In the West, where the concept of good character has long been replaced by the notion of a great personality, honour may seem quaint. But in the East, it is central to life. Did the police understand that?”

Also read: From us to them: rack off you bloody bonzers

‘We’ve become so busy we’ve no time for God?’

23 July 2007

RATNA RAO SHEKAR writes from Hyderabad: It was with some disbelief recently that I read a news item about how you could go online and offer prayers to a deity in a Vishakapatnam temple. A soon as you logged on, a bell would be rung in the sanctum, and an aarti performed in your name! A government that is going increasingly hi-tech told us smugly that this facility would in time be extended to other temples in Dwaraka and Benaras!

In our connected world we have made many things easier for ourselves—and SMS and email messages have indeed made communication more convenient. But to assume that we could buy God’s grace through a computer seems a little too ludicrous.

We imagine we are so busy (perhaps in talking to stock brokers and real estate agents to see how much more money we can make) that even grace should be available to us without much exertion. There was a time when people saved for a lifetime and walked for days together to reach Kashi.

That was effort, but that’s another story.

People tell me I am retrograde. But, to me, few sensory experiences can be better than the smell of camphor, the crescendo of chants, and the metallic tone of a temple bell in the sanctum.

Computers have made us global. We now have encyclopaedias opening before us at the click of a button. But with all the technology, we seem to know less and less about the immediate world around us.

For instance, you would think that at the click of a button people at the American embassy would know who Prakash Amte was, and not create a fuss when he applies for a visa to visit their country. But when he goes to their consulate in Bombay he is questioned about his income; and when he confesses he does not ‘work’ for money, they press on, insisting he must have some source of income.

I know Prakash Amte (having met him on different occasions over the last 20 years) and can imagine how he must have squirmed with embarrassment even to admit that he receives an honorarium of Rs 3,000 for his work! Needless to say, his application was rejected with the remark that rules prevented them from giving visas to those with low incomes and weak social status!

Dr Prakash Amte from a low social status?

As the son of Baba Amte, he has spent his life in remote villages in Maharashtra, bringing medicine to the poorest tribals. He, and his wife, Mandakini, have made the kind of sacrifices that would bring tears to anyone who knows them. Instead of setting up medical practice in a city like most others, they chose to work with tribals who would otherwise have died of ill-health because they do not have the money or the means to seek medical help.

The US embassy subsequently realized their folly (after surfing the Net, I am sure) and gave the couple the visa. It really makes no difference to Prakash if he does not go to a country whose embassy cannot understand what it is to work for nothing (In America, you have to first build a business empire like Bill Gates, before you get into charity work!) But certainly the world should know that there are people in India who work for nothing, neither money nor public acclaim.

And in our arrogance we imagine we are god’s superior creation and therefore need to save the tigers. But if we shed our false postures we’d realize we too are only a minuscule part of the world we are trying to save. By saving the tiger and everything else around us we would redeem ourselves finally!

Ratna Rao Shekar is editor of Housecalls, the journal for doctors published by Dr Reddy‘s Laboratories


Also read: Should we stop making donations to temples?

Should VIPs get special treatment at temples?

Should Yesudas be let into Guruvayur Temple?