Monday, January 28, 2013

Blood on borders makes peace elusive

Soldiers on LoC
The latest reports say that the LoC (Line of Control) between Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) has cooled down. The cooling has come about after the stern statements made by a mostly mild and a namby pamby Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh. The brutal decapitation of an Indian soldier on the LoC raised the heckles of the people at large, the Opposition and the media – both print and electronic – and there were shrill demands for retaliation. The denial mode adopted by the Pakistani establishment, both military and civil made things worse. On top of that statements given by the Pakistani foreign minister in Washington stoked further anger in India. Her posturing of Pakistan being an innocent victim of Indian hostility and intransigence aggravated matters.  

The government of Dr. Manmohan Singh was left with no alternative but to take serious note of the incident. Demanding that the perpetrator of the brutality should be brought to book, Dr. Singh came out with a statement that roundly said that “after this barbaric act there cannot be business as usual” with Pakistan. This turned out to be one of those rare occasions when the government succumbed to the overwhelming pressure of the people and act according to the prevailing public sentiments. 

The “peace process” was the first casualty. The call for dialogues by the Pakistan Foreign Minister after her rants against India made things more difficult. Dialogues seem to have been pushed indefinitely into the future as far as India is concerned.  The liberalised visa regime, including visa on arrival for senior citizens, agreed to by the Home Minister with his Pakistani counterpart during the latter’s highly controversial visit to Delhi, was stalled. The cross-border buses stopped plying and trade between two parts of Kashmir remains suspended. Cultural and sporting ties took a hit. Plays to be staged by Pakistani theatre group have been cancelled by the host – the National School of Drama. Pakistani hockey players hired by various franchisees for matches in the Hockey India League have been dispatched home. Reports said that even iconic Pakistani cricketers Wasim Akram and Rameez Raja, currently commentating in the India-England cricket series, had been asked to leave. Although they are still around, former India hockey players have demanded their ouster. Clearly, “aman ki asha” (hope for peace), a campaign for peace between the two countries initiated by the Jung Group of Pakistan and Times of India, essentially a Track III sort of connect between common people of the two countries, is under threat. 

It was, however, amazing to see on the TV the number of Pakistani guests staying in India on the invitations of organisations – government and/or private. From singers to artists and actors, to hockey and cricket players and even doctors in large numbers are apparently camping in the country on invitation of some organisation or the other. The “people-to-people” contact apparently has been only a one-way street with hordes of Pakistanis coming to India for programmes of various kinds. Wasim Akrams, Abida Parveens, Ghulam Alis and so on are, more or less, regular fixtures in our sports and cultural spheres. Sur Kshetra, a musical reality show mounted to unearth singing talents in India and Pakistan, was hosted by the Indian Colours channel in which large numbers of Pakistanis participated and an established Pak singer acted as a judge. Indian TV channels routinely get Pakistani commentators on TV shows. No such reciprocity, however, has ever been shown by Pakistan. Even a Pak cricket team was allowed to tour India late last year for the first time after the “26/11” carnage. And, what does the country get in return? A few panches and sarpanches killed in Kashmir and a dead soldier minus his head – followed only by denials despite stark incriminatory evidences?

This is not to suggest that there should be no interaction between the civil societies of the two countries.  Unfortunately, however, efforts to bring about vibrancy between them to promote peace and harmony have yielded precious little. The civil society of Pakistan is powerless; it has hardly any influence over the powers-that-be. A democracy it might be but the Pak army has been calling the shots for a long, long time. Now that it and its Inter Services Intelligence have teamed up with anti-India jihadist and terrorist groups that have congenital hatred for India, hoping for peace between the two countries is futile. Regardless of how much India bends backwards to accommodate Pakistan and regardless of the intensity of the “people-to-people” contacts, it would always remain hostile to India, given the power equations within the country. Besides, there are vested interests in nursing the hostility. The Army-jihadist combine is deadly; even Americans have come to realise its lethality.

And, yet there is what is known as a thriving “peace industry” in this country run by peaceniks comprising politicians, former diplomats, journalists, et al, who insist on continuing talks at any cost. Citing Prime Minister Vajpayee’s dictum that Pakistan was our neighbour and we could not wish it away, they say talk we must and in whatever “track” that yields results. None, however, predicts what good will come out of it. Haven’t we seen that after every confrontation – from Kashmir in late 1940s to the sixties and then in the seventies, efforts were made to normalise relations but hardly to any avail. Every time the mischievous elements in the Army, with active collaboration of terrorist and jihadist outfits, disrupted the process. Whether it was “Kargil” or the hijack of the Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu or the attack on Parliament or “26/11” attack on Mumbai, Pakistanis always revelled in harming and destabilising our country.  And yet, when confronted with facts Pakistan defends itself with blatant lies, digressions, obfuscations, and indulges in suppressio veri suggestio falsi. Can any civilised country keep talking to such an unscrupulous establishment?

As for talks, in Pakistan whom does one talk to? The civilian government? India could go on talking to it until the cows came home but it would yield no results. At the back of it are the Army and the jihadist-terrorist combine who, together, will never allow any negotiation to fructify and let peace emerge. They can and do scupper everything positive between the two countries.

Having no role in influencing the course of relations between the two countries the civil society is powerless. Hence, where is the point in carrying along with tracks III, IV, and so on and at the same time suffer the beastly acts at the hands of the Pakistani soldiers or jihadists? We have tolerated it earlier – but not anymore. If the government wishes to continue talks let it go ahead with its tortuous diplomatic rigmarole but keep the Pakistanis out of our hair; they are not our well-wishers. It’s now time to treat a spade as a spade and nothing else.

 Photo of LoC from the Internet

Saturday, January 26, 2013

"Jheel Mahotsav" of Bhopal

This should be music to the ears of the environmentalists of Bhopal who have gone hoarse crying for effective conservation of the Upper Lake. A report was recently published about the Jheel Mahotsav (the Lake Festival) that was to be celebrated in mid-January hitting some rough weather. The Mahotsav, reportedly, could not be held as scheduled as some youth programme clashed with it. Now, however, Prayatna, a local environmental advocacy group, has decided to launch protests against the state government’s decisions to hold the Mahotsav and conduct other amusement activities on the banks of the various water bodies, especially the Upper Lake.

Reiterating that the Upper Lake is a vital source of drinking water for the local community and generally called the “lifeline” of the city (despite the availability now of water from the Narmada River) Prayatna has said, any amusement activity near the Lake would be detrimental to it and the quality of its water. If the government does not relent, Prayatna, led by Ajay Dube, is all set to launch an agitation.

Ironically, the Mahotsav was to be held under the aegis of the state government, the Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the MP State Tourism Development Corporation (MPSTDC). While the state government is supposedly responsible for conservation of the Lake and has since appointed the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT) for suggesting measures for the purpose, the BMC is the custodian of the water body and ought to be its overall protector. Yet these two authorities have had no qualms about agreeing to hold the Mahotsav. Nothing could be stranger as numerous environmentalists and limnologists have opined during the course of their visits to this Wetland in the past that collection of a large number of visitors in and around it would prove harmful for it. The concerned departments of the government and the BMC are aware of their opinions, yet they seem to be turning a blind eye to them and are seemingly getting carried away by the hype of holding utsavs and mahotsavs.

Already, some researchers have predicted that if business continues as usual the Lake will not remain useful for the local people within the next eighty years or so. I had also come across a report that even CEPT has said that the way construction is going on in its catchments and the way unrestricted chemical farming is allowed to be continued therein the Lake would cease to be in its present form in another sixty years. The man made lake that has survived for a millennium is now going to cease to exist on account of apathy and incompetence of those who are in charge of its care and conservation.

In the meantime, the CEPT made a presentation to the Bhopal Citizens’ Forum in which it is reported to have opined that there is too much human activity near the Lake which is not quite conducive to its proper conservation. As they are yet to submit their report to the government they were requested by members of the Forum to consider suggesting moving away of all the amusement activities from the shores of the Lake or drastically reduce such activities particularly at the Boat Club and Sair Sapata Complex. Many have felt that not only the government is adding to means of amusement near the Lake, it is also converting the Lake View Road into a museum of sorts, what with an old steam locomotive and a model of a naval ship parked there. Plans are also afoot to display an air force fighter plane. The basic idea is to get more people to avail of facilities provided by the MPSTDC of motor boats, a floating restaurant and its other eateries – activities that are contra-indicated for effective conservation of the water body.

The local MPSTDC is actually proving to be a bane for the Lake. According to reports, it had planned to get Shankar, Ehsan and Loy, the famous trio who have given musical scores in various popular films, to get hundreds and thousands of people to enjoy the live musical show. The Corporation claims assembly of large number of people will enhance their awareness about need to conserve the Lake. Instead, collection of hundreds of people only generates a lot of waste that generally includes plastic and other such contaminants that later flow into the Lake. It is nothing but a sort of a fig leaf that barely covers the Corporation's commercial motives. It thinks that attaching the tag of “conservation” would make its activities on the Lake shores legitimate.

It also has plans to put the Upper Lake on the national tourism circuit – whatever that means – forgetting that the Upper Lake, and the Bhoj Wetland that it is part of, are an eco-sensitive zone, more so because the Lake happens to be the “lifeline” for the people of Bhopal. Collection of large number of people, having eateries on its shores and even motor-boating should, therefore, be a strict no, no. Unfortunately the Corporation seems to have lost all sense of propriety. For the sake of its bottom-line it has thrown its innate sense of corporate social responsibility out of the window.

One cannot, therefore, but support Prayatna in its efforts to ensure that the trio of the government, the BMC and the MPSTDC are stopped on their tracks are not allowed to hold the Jheel Mahotsav this year or ever in the future. Letters and appeals to the government seldom bring forth the desired results. In crunch situations, it is only mass protests that generally deliver.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Air pollution in Bhopal pollution in bhopal.html

A recent report in the newspapers about how fumes-spewing vehicles have caused 5, 71, 947 cases of acute respiratory infections (ARI) in the state in a yea was alarming. The figure has been made public by the Central Health Intelligence Bureau (CBHI). Commenting on these figures an Associate Professor of Chest Diseases of Gandhi Medical College said Increasing cars and two-wheelers in cities and rural areas might have become status symbols but the vehicles are having deadly impact on people. Sudden outbreaks like (that) of swine flu are one(s) to watch out for, as suggested by World Health Organisation (WHO).

The CBHI has said that chances of deaths due to ARI are more in the state of MP on account of the want of adequate number of trained doctors. The side effects of increased pollution are asthma, cardiovascular diseases, change in lung function and even death. Children are at greater risk. Importantly, ARI is a disease group that includes pneumonia, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus
a respiratory virus and these cause, according to WHO, 4.5 million deaths annually
While Indore is reported to be more polluted than Bhopal, yet we cannot wait till we catch up with our sister city. The numbers of vehicles, including those propelled by diesel, are rapidly rising in the city. What is worse, in the absence of any emission control old, reconditioned two and three-wheelers, cars, delivery vans, trucks and buses that should have been banished from the roads have currently free rein on them, particularly in the older parts of the town and in commercial zones. Add to that the problem of adulteration of petrol diesel, both for cars and two wheelers and you have a lethal mix, something forbidding that can immensely harm regular commuters exposed these noxious fumes. All of us have become vulnerable, more so the children and the elderly. Emission control measures will not only protect such groups but will also reduce public expenditure on healthcare.
ome feeble efforts were made to check emission from cars almost a decade back but the whole thing was inexplicably wound up. No reasons were assigned. Eventually one came to know that the question of authority to check the vehicles and to impose penalties had not been finalised. The men and machines were withdrawn and I once came across one of them in the premises of Durga Petrol Pump. The government has never been serious about controlling vehicular emissions. If it does not care about what happens to the Planet Earth owing to global warming, it should at least care about its own people.

Bhopal Citizens' Forum had taken up the matter regarding pollution check of vehicles in Bhopal with the Department of Housing & Environment a few months back. Although a substantial amount of time has elapsed neither has it been apprised of the action taken nor is there is any evidence on the ground of the government
s effort to curb vehicular emissions. Hopefully, the Form will soon remind the government.

Phoograph taken from the comments recorded by Gulrez Raza Khan in Facebook
Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The rape that stunned the nation rape that stunned the nation.html

It was different; it was a different kind of gang-rape that shook not only the nation but also the Diaspora, besides evoking strong and sensitive reactions from abroad. It even prompted the Secretary General of the United Nations to write to the Indian Prime Minister for ensuring greater security for women. It was a different kind of rape in that it was not like the ones that are reported almost every day in the newspapers. It was different because it was an uncommonly and excessively brutal and beastly assault, which tore up the insides of the 23-year old bright and ambitious paramedic, eventually taking her life despite the best efforts of medicine men in the country’s capital and abroad. 

So much has been written about this unfortunate incident that it is now needless to repeat the details. What, however, matters is that this rape has become a sort of a watershed in the Indian social consciousness. Reports of rapes in the newspapers and the electronic media have been frequent, if not regular, and common people have been taking them in their stride, pursuing their day-to-day activities leaving the rape-victims to fend for themselves in the tortuously protracted (and sometimes gender-biased) investigations followed by adjournments-and-appeals infested legal proceedings. But the mindless brutality exhibited in this particular case of sexual violence seems to have acted as the tipping point that released unprecedented social energy in the shape of protests and strident demands for the lives of the brute rapists who displayed traits worse than those of predatory animals. 

The barbaric rape provoked an acute sense of horror, distress and shock stirring up the nation, setting off spontaneous reactions right across the country. Massive peaceful assemblies were held, to start with, in Delhi at a scale much larger than what one had seen in 2011 during Anna Hazare’s Lokpal campaign. Later, it spread all across the country from north to south and east to west. Largely non-violent, barring a few stray incidents of violence engineered by miscreants in Delhi, the demonstrations, though leaderless, exhibited exemplary discipline and restraint. There was no breast-beating, only loud and vociferous demands for, inter alia, change of the laws, meting out prompt justice ending in severe punishment to the perpetrators of the horrific crime. The civil society has never reacted in this manner in the past bewildering, as it did, the political and governmental establishments.

The protestors, with their legitimate demands for harsher punishment for rape and sexual assault, built up such a pressure on the government that it promptly appointed a committee headed by a former chief justice of the apex court to review the existing softer provisions dealing the offences. They had to, as the protestors gave vent to their anger against the MPs who, they said, unanimously enact legislations within three days raising their salaries but amendments to the laws for sexual violence proposed by the Law Commission have been left unattended for more than a decade. Likewise, Delhi Government promptly set up five “fast track” courts to deal with rape cases on the basis of 2003 recommendations of the same Commission. Typically, commissions are created for specific purposes but their recommendations are seldom acted upon with promptitude for the benefit of the society. The pressure this time was so overwhelming that the government couldn’t tarry any further.

 Fearful of the pervasive anger, the political class demanded special session of the parliament to enact the amendments in a hurry when most of them remained dormant earlier, never bothering to raise this vital issue even as rapes and assaults on women were frequently being reported. Clearly, it was not the lapse of the government alone; every political outfit was at fault. When the Home Minister put his proverbial foot in the mouth by saying that the government could not meet protestors all the time, he obviously forgot that three senior ministers had met and spent about three hours meeting the Yoga Guru Ramdev with a view to buying him off during 2011 agitations for enactment of a Lokpal bill. The unforthcoming Prime Minister made a bland statement with a gaffe of a “theek hai?” (all right?) at its tail end and later made amends by remaining present at the Airport with the seemingly insensitive UPA Chairperson when the body of the rape victim arrived from Singapore at the unearthly hour of 3.00 AM. 

The Delhi Police never had it so bad, despite the Union Home Secretary’s gratuitous pat on its back for prompt investigations followed by arrests. The Home Secretary’s fatuous praise overlooked the fact that the unfortunate assault would not have taken place had the Delhi Police functioned in accordance with the law. Before the horrific attack there was a series of failures of Delhi Police which are now common knowledge.
Recent reports, however, indicate the bus was booked on several occasions for violation of various traffic rules in the past but each time it was somehow let off lightly. Investigations have revealed that the bus-owner was paying “hafta” (weekly bribe) to the Police; an entry to that effect was found in a police diary. Such entries are reportedly communicated to all traffic police officers to enable the buses in question to illegally operate without let or hindrance. The young life of the aspiring paramedic was lost largely because of the utter lack of governance as exemplified by the ineffective and corrupt ways of Delhi Police. 

Its strong-arm methods in dealing with the protestors too came in for severe criticism. Its use of batons on unarmed protestors, including elderly women, firing of numerous tear-gas shells and directing high-pressure water cannons in severely cold conditions were condemned by all. Evidently, Delhi Police’s assault on sleeping devotees of Yoga Guru Ramdev Delhi’s Ram Leela Grounds in 2011 was not a one-off action. It has a history of such atrocious conduct. It also came in for heavy criticism for its steps to prevent peaceful assembly of protests at India Gate and Jantar Mantar by blocking all roads and imposition of prohibitory orders, respectively. The Delhi High Court pulled it up asking it to maintain law and desist from curbing basic rights. Later, it has had recently to apologise before the High Court for suppression of the names of delinquent policemen.

Although the print and electronic media called her “Nirbhaya” (fearless) and “Damini” (lightning), respectively, the rape victim has remained faceless and nameless even after her death. The media, however, has been doing outstanding work ferreting out relevant facts connected with the incident. Even the companion of the victim was interviewed who emphasised that instead of lighting candles people should help others who happen to be in distress. Had people promptly responded to appeals made by him while lying on the roadside, he asserted, the victim might have survived. A news channel has, therefore, launched a campaign for change in attitudes of such pervasive callousness prompted by fear of harassment by the Police. A distinct hands-off attitude has been perceptible all over the country in such cases largely because of protracted, virtually interminable police investigations in which witnesses and others who attempt to help the victim are browbeaten and threatened by the corrupt police investigators. The channel’s initiative is indeed praise-worthy but the policemen all over the country also will have to mend their ways.

Even as the nation was virtually on an unofficial mourning for the death of an innocent victim because of a brutal assault some conservative legislators and organisations placed all the blame for her misfortune on the girl. While some felt that she should not have been out on the streets with her boy friend so late in the evening, others blamed only her for the incident. According to them, mostly it is the women who invite trouble either by way of their conduct or by wearing Western dresses that expose far too much. They blamed Westernisation of social mores for whatever was happening to women in the country. The chief of an extreme right wing organisation, while showing utter disconnect with reality in speciously calling rapes an urban phenomenon, asserted that Hindu marriages were a contract under which women were ordained to serve the needs of their husbands. Another self-styled god-man blamed the victim for not seeking mercy from those who attacked her. The media has been proactive in hitting out at and tearing apart those who made regressive statements or sexist, gender-biased comments. The newly elected Congress MP, the son of the President, had to face inquisitional questioning from several channels for his idiotic comment against the protestors whom he contemptuously called “highly dented and painted” socialites.

Rapes were being reported every day from various corners of the country even while the protest against the Delhi rape were continuing. It seemed the rapists were immune to whatever was happening around them and the sub-culture of rape seems to be flourishing unabated. The spate of reports in the dailies made one wonder whether it was the media’s way of trying to project before the country the enormity of the problem. The silver lining, however, was that Police, having shaken away its lethargy, promptly nabbed most of the rapists.

In many ways the gang rape has turned out to be a defining episode. Never before people were brought so close together in sorrow, anguish and anger against the non-functionality of the established system. Shaking the people and the political class alike, it has left a deep impact on the nation’s consciousness. As far as the Establishment is concerned, the cruel and pitiless episode has driven another nail in the coffin of the UPA government.

Note: All photographs are taken from the Internet

DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION Rama Chandra Guha, free-thinker, author and historian Ram Chandra Guha, a free-thinker, author and...