Fools rush in: Celebrating April 1

More than a decade ago, the American documentary filmmaker Michael Moore wanted for the soundtrack of his eventually Oscar-winning film Fahrenheit 9/11 the song ‘Won’t get fooled again’ by The Who. He wasn’t able to obtain the rights to it, and made do with The Animals’ ‘We gotta get out of this place’. The track harks back to the Vietnam era. But it’ll do as the song for today
“Fool me once, shame on me,” goes the saying notoriously mangled by former US president George W. Bush. “Fool me twice, shame on me.” Well, shame on him, on several accounts. He’s not the only one to get fooled, though. We all do. Almost always by politicians. Invariably by clerics. Frequently by the media. Often enough by friends and relatives and supposed well-wishers. And no, it’s got nothing to do with All Fools’ Day, which comes but once a year. It’s a daily occurrence.
In some cases, the same tactics are rolled out year after year. Their absurdity is irrelevant, because we get fooled again and again. Take, for instance, what could be described as the 99pc factor — whereby consumers supposedly prefer a price tag of, say, $9.99 to one that rounds it up to $10. The minuscule and in most cases irrelevant difference is presumably a psychological success, hence it remains annoyingly entrenched.
What does that tell us about human nature? Why is scepticism such a rare quality? How does it differ from cynicism? Commercial retailers are not half as deplorable as political vendors. However deceptive the former’s price tags might be, at least they are there for everyone to see. Mediocre or worse leaders get elected time and again, often on the basis of promises they clearly have no intention of keeping. Desperation breeds gullibility. It’s easy to latch on to hopes, no matter how ridiculous they might seem, because the alternative looks even bleaker.
Collective fear is often all too easy to manipulate, not least in combination with the desire for revenge. A dozen years ago, the majority of Americans deemed it was appropriate to attack Iraq because a great many of them accepted the official implication of Baghdad’s involvement in 9/11.
More than a decade on, all too many of those who propelled the West into an unwinnable war continue to insist it was the right thing to do. Well, no. Wrong. Hundreds of thousands of deaths later, much of Iraq is contested territory. Between the self-styled Islamic State — an entity that did not exist until the American-led invasion — and Iran, denigrated back in the day by the US president as a component of the Axis of Evil, but now a crucial component of the pushback against IS.
Our propensity to be asses remains intact, and not only on April 1. Islamic State, aka Daesh, has meanwhile emerged as a key point of attraction for the easily fooled, with hundreds rushing to join it from countries such as Britain, Australia and France. Most of them are Muslims by birth or conversion, and their gullibility in all too many cases proceeds from their unstable state of mind.
Western nations wring their hands over what these recruits might get up to when they return to their countries of birth, but surely the primary issue is that most of them won’t. Their alienation from the societies in which they grew up all too often propels them towards fatal consequences.
It’s far more pleasant, of course, to reflect upon the relatively benign intentions (and consequences) of dedicated April 1 deceptions such as BBC Television’s hoax documentary in 1957 about spaghetti “crops” — and, many years later, the declaration by one of its radio outlets that Britain had overnight reversed its drive-on-the-left rule.
April 1, though, is just another date on the calendar. Some All Fools’ Day jokes work only too well, while most of them invariably fall flat. What’s far more alarming is the human tendency to be fooled time and again, every day of the year, by the political or media elite.
Back in the 1960s, after a chance encounter with an acquaintance who had lately been roped in as a presidential adviser by a military dictator, the Pakistani poet Habib Jalib, channelling his interlocutor, railed against “yeh das crore gadhay jin ka naam hai awaam” — these 100 million asses, the public is their name.
The irony in which his verse was steeped may have been lost in the mists of time. And the figure — harking back to a time when Pakistan boasted two ‘wings’ — is certainly a thing of the past. The imprecation, though, retains its validity. There may be a lot more of us now — and it’s not just Pakistanis who fit the bill — but our propensity to be asses hasn’t diminished. And it’s by no means restricted to April 1.

India, China and Japan are all pushing reforms but who’s ahead?

The buzzword across three principal Asian countries – India, China and Japan – is ‘reform’. It’s clear that their impulses are interlinked and have consequences for the world. Coincidentally, all three have been having key annual sessions of their respective Parliaments whose proceedings provide us some markers as to their respective priorities.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s opening speech at the annual National People’s Congress in early March laid out the agenda for transforming China into a middle-class nation, by creating an economy based on consumption and innovation, rather than merely investment and export. Arun Jaitley’s budget is seeking to initiate his government’s huge agenda in a modest and workmanlike fashion. As for Japan, the challenges are different – structural change is needed to give a second wind to an advanced economy trapped in multiple layers of regulation and red tape.
For both India and Japan, China is a benchmark of sorts. Growth of Chinese power has implications for them. Both have outstanding boundary disputes that periodically flare up. But equally important are their concerns relating to the economic and military rise of China.
India, whose economic size approximated that of China in the 1980s, may not be able to match China in this century, with attendant political and strategic consequences. Japan, which has had a troubled history with China, worries about the consequences of Chinese hegemony in East Asia.
What is striking is the clarity with which China is adjusting to what President Xi Jinping calls the ‘new normal’ – economic growth slowing to 7.4% in 2014 and possibly 7% in 2015. Beijing has clearly understood that it needs to become an economy based on entrepreneurial skills and better off consumers. NPC is likely to follow the recommendation of the National Reform and Development Commission, China’s Niti Aayog, which has proposed cutting down the number of restricted areas in investment from 79 to 35.
Xi told a group of Shanghai parliamentarians on the sidelines of NPC that China will quicken the pace of creating free trade zones and make institutional innovation key to development. ‘Innovation’ has become the new motto of the Chinese, whether it relates to economy or foreign policy.
In his remarks Li also noted that China has taken steps to cut red tape for private companies, permit online retail to expand. He promised that China will make it even easier to do business. Currently China is listed 90th among 189 nations in terms of ease of doing business; we are listed at 142.
China’s strategic goal is among the first of Xi’s four comprehensives: “To build an all-round well-off society by 2020″. Recall, in 2012, the key word was “moderately” well-off society. The second is to comprehensively deepen reform, the third to create a society which works under the rule of law, and the fourth to “push for stricter governance” of the Communist party itself. The last may sound innocuous, but anyone who has observed the Chinese anti-corruption campaign, knows that it means business, given the list of the high and mighty ‘Tigers’ who have been brought low.
The test for China is tough enough, but the challenge for India is far tougher. Most Indians are desperate to see PM Modi’s government succeed, if only because it is India’s last chance at getting onto the high-growth track which can help eliminate poverty by 2030. But what is absent is a sense of self-confidence and clarity over the direction we are headed. As of now we have a slogan: Make in India. Yet it is not even clear as to what this means.
As for policies, government is still grappling with the problems of the past. Recently it passed an insurance reform bill pending since 2008; likewise an overdue mines bill has been passed as well, though the crucial land acquisition bill remains to be passed.
But equally important steps such as the need to cut through the thicket of regulatory regimes that plague India are not yet on the agenda. Whether it is universities, banks, airports, India is one of the most over-regulated countries in the world, a consequence of government’s desire to retain the levers of power through regulators, who are almost always former civil servants.
There are no signs, as of now, that the Modi government has a plan to reform the administrative and regulatory system of the country, an important element in any ‘ease of business’ strategy. It is one thing to say that India will enhance the ease of doing business in the country, quite another to clearly spell out the steps that will be taken and their timeline. As for eliminating corruption, that item seems to be absent from the current government’s agenda, though it remains a real problem for the common man.
As for Japan, PM Shinzo Abe has promised “the most drastic reforms since the end of the Second World War”. But his efforts have been tangled in the politics of the country and its powerful lobbies – of doctors, farmers, bureaucrats and workers. In the current Diet session, he has slashed the powers of the agriculture lobby, but he still has a long road ahead. Two of his “three arrows” of reform – higher government spending and massive monetary stimulus – have been blunted and the third, structural reform, remains in his quiver.
One reason for the energy that Beijing exhibits is that the consequences of failure there will be severe – probably the collapse of the Communist party rule. India and Japan only risk the possibility of sinking back into the torpor of low growth or deflation.

The Myth of Aryans

The figure of the Aryan has captivated literary imagination in both India and the West since the classical era and provides a fitting subject of inquiry for comparatists who wish to examine its cross-cultural environment . However, from a solely literary perspective, identifying the Aryan is a challenging task, since the texts used to delineate this figure are elusive; they function as absent authorities, often evoked but rarely cited. Moreover, the Aryan is not just the figure that historians and linguists have sought to isolate, situate and follow in its migrations, but has also been the subject of myth-making. Myths regarding the Aryan have been wielded to deconstruct identity and construct new social forms. The Aryan myth is a shared myth in Europe and in India from the Enlightenment to the modern era.
Voltaire in his work discusses Aryan and his quest for an Aryan urtext in the Ezour Vedam is evident. Voltaire sought in India a sophisticated culture as far removed as possible from that of the ancient Hebrews. In this respect, ancient India provided him with an alibi in the true sense of the term, an elsewhere upon which he could superimpose his critique of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
As canonical Sanskrit texts were gradually translated into European languages and disseminated, 19th-century mythographers sought to read the history of the Aryans through their myths. Aryan India was cut to fit the Romantic ideals of a revealed monotheism and the development of a people’s unique character, and their gradual degeneration. With the appearance of Max Mueller’s edition of the Rig Veda and his voluminous commentary, the Aryans were no longer merely Europe’s distant cousins. Their textual presence finally confirmed the existence of a tradition as old as (if not older) than that of the Bible. In the West, this “discovery” of the Aryans through the Veda effectively displaced the Jews from their central position on the world stage. The Jews could now be assigned a subaltern role in history. For the remainder of the 19th century, this myth of the Aryan was employed to construct an ideal imaginary past for Europe. It fostered nationalism and, in the process, identified a mythic scapegoat in the figure of the Jew. The Jew and the Aryan would now become the operative dyad, as seen in the work of Nietzsche, Gobineau, H.S. Chamberlain, and finally in the ravings of Nazi ideologues.
At roughly the same time that the European Romantics were speculating about their imaginary Aryan ancestors, the Hindu reformer Raja Rammohan Roy was laying the foundation for the Brahmo Samaj with translations of Sanskrit scriptures into vernacular languages. In order to affect his reform, Rammohan Roy felt that this literature needed to be liberated from its Brahmin custodians. Toward this end, the raja sometimes even rewrote texts to depict an ideal Aryan past in which certain religious practices (such as idolatry and sati) did not exist. With his translations, he established rules for textual validity and corrected the excrescences that he felt had led to extreme practices. The raja’s reform strategy was subsequently emulated by Dayananda Saraswati, the founder of the Arya Samaj, who also sought to make Sanskrit canonical sources available to a wider range of believers by developing a series of interpretive strategies to extricate Vedic revelation from its hermeticism and ritualism. In order to portray the Aryans as sophisticated, Dayananda “translated” the Veda to show that they had knowledge of telegraphy and chemistry. The myth of the Aryan Golden Age promulgated by both these Hindu reform movements set the stage for the development of Hindu nationalism.
By the time of Tilak, an ideal portrait of the Aryan had been activated to foster national self-esteem. Like Dayananda, Tilak attributed to the Aryans knowledge of science and technology. As valiant survivors of an ice-age glacial catastrophe in the Arctic, the Aryans travelled from the North Pole to civilise the world. Tilak’s Aryans were so advanced that they survived this migration and brought their considerable skills (and their scriptures) to the lands they invaded. Vivekananda would further develop this theme of racial and cultural superiority. Unlike other Indian reformers, Vivekananda did not limit his campaign to the domestic front but exported it abroad. It was before Californian and Chicagoan society matrons that he detailed his vision of an Aryan future grounded in a racialist argument. In this glorification, it was clear that the Brahmin descendants of the Aryans would be the only true beneficiaries of this myth-making.
Jyotirao Phule and B.R. Ambedkar, however, recognized that these various theories needed reinterpretation in order to locate the struggles of the oppressed castes within the historical perspective of the Aryan conquest of India. Phule began by revising the Aryan invasion theory to define culture by its subculture. He turned the myth of the Aryan back upon the elite, by taking just those strengths and virtues attributed to the Aryan by Western Orientalists and Brahmin reformers and transferring them to the lower castes. Instead of appealing to an Aryan Golden Age, Phule called for the reestablishment of an alternative mythical age — a non-Aryan Golden Age during the reign of King Bali. More importantly, by challenging the myth of a utopian Indian past, he introduced the new category of reason into the discussion.
Ambedkar began his mission where Phule left off. Ambedkar started by challenging the authority of the Veda as the source of Aryan identity. He called into question its canonicity and infallibility and rejected its racial portrayal of the Aryans. He also questioned textually based social reform that clearly served the needs of the privileged, lettered castes. Ambedkar concluded that all privileged-caste Hindu speculation regarding the Aryans was nothing but a strategy devised to support Brahmin superiority, justify their overlordship over non-Brahmins and satisfy Brahmin arrogance. In their anti-Aryan polemics, both Phule and Ambedkar launched a radical attack on Hindu revivalism, codified as it was in the elite myth of the past.
Valorizing the irrational in myth was (and is) symptomatic of the same disease that enables the irrational to flourish in politics. It is this “underside” of myth that my book examines: how Europeans and Indians deployed myths regarding the ancient Aryans in their various reform and nationalist projects. In both the East and the West, the resulting conclusions were, unfortunately, the same. If you did not possess Aryan blood, you could not be civilised and those peoples identified as non-Aryan “others” needed to be neutralised or even destroyed. Phule and Ambedkar saw the danger inherent in the Aryan myth, challenged it, and sought to debunk it.
As I assess the present situation, I am astonished by the degree to which this thesis resonates today. I have hitherto never envisioned that the Aryan myth could be resuscitated so easily, as in those instances when the elected leader of a secular India discusses the genius of the ancient Indians having knowledge of plastic surgery, aeronautics and reproductive technology; or when, on a recent visit to New York, he praises the superiority of modern diasporic professional Indians. Are such recent claims to past and present Indian exceptionalism any different from those of Dayananda, Tilak, or Vivekananda? The myth of Indians inhabiting a Golden Age of technological and moral advancement is the same. It has its believers, as recent events have demonstrated. In light of this ongoing deployment of the Aryan myth, our task becomes clear. We must remember the work of Phule and Ambedkar, and look to their legatees to challenge this myth making and offer a counter-narrative

Day of Indian Supreme Court of India Judgement: Sad day for the pompous

The arc of intolerance is long, but it bends towards liberty. That, in a nutshell, with due apologies to Martin Luther King Jr, is the message sent out by the Supreme Court in its landmark ruling on Section 66 A of the IT Act. It gives a nod to the slow but steady march of freedom and civil liberties in our society. It is ironic that a nation that won freedom through non-violent dissent and civil disobedience should be debating freedom of expression in the 68th year of its independence. This judgment is a slap on the face for all those who continue to see the state as the master of the destiny of Indian citizens and not as their servant or a provider and facilitator of essential services. Till Indian police attains the requisite levels of professional competence, the grant of additional punitive powers that have wide scope for discretion must be resisted.
Take a look at the kind of cases in which Section 66A has been invoked: cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was booked by Mumbai Police for mocking corruption in high places. Two young girls from Palghar, Maharashtra, were booked for questioning the bandh in Mumbai after Bal Thackeray’s death. A professor of Jadavpur University was booked for forwarding a cartoon mocking Mamata Banerjee. A Class XI student in Bareilly was booked for posting an “objectionable” comment about Azam Khan. A CPM worker in Kerala was arrested for posting abusive comments about the prime minister. In none of these cases was anyone inciting others to commit violence or treason. Cases such as these couldn’t be further from what our lawmakers had in mind when they passed the IT Act.
Or perhaps, given the pattern of its use and abuse, this was the real intention behind Section 66A? The section is tailor-made for prickly politicians and prostrating policemen anxious to prove their loyalty to the powers that be. Even in today’s India, once elected, politicians prefer to behave neither like representatives nor like delegates of the people. They prefer to see themselves as rulers and masters, and must be treated as such, especially by pliant, supine law-enforcement agencies. Our politicians may disagree about most things but they are strangely united in their propensity to use the police to crack down on all those who dare to mock them or dissent. And there are plenty of sadistic, intolerant and unscrupulous elements in our police forces willing to oblige them.
It is astonishing that a nation which, over 24 years of economic liberalisation, has derived so much vigour and cultural self-confidence from the IT sector should have enacted such a draconian IT Act in the first place. It is a symbol of the deep disconnect between our lawmakers, law enforcement and criminal justice system on one hand and the most vibrant, aspirational and creative elements of our society on the other. People often talk of the rural-urban and the English-vernacular divides, but to my mind, the most significant faultline that will shape the destiny of India in the 21st century is the divide between the digitally connected India that values openness, tolerance and even irreverence and the India that values deference, conformity and restrictions in the name of national unity and tradition. Since the time of the Emergency, national security and social harmony have been repeatedly invoked to curb civil liberties. The police, of course, have been more than willing and enthusiastic to go along with this strident interpretation of nationalism and culture. Who in our Kafkaesque bureaucracy doesn’t want more power?
One hopes that the striking down of Section 66A is simply one step towards the recognition that the fundamental rights of our citizens are non-negotiable. No idea of the nation, no formulation of national security and cultural identity can override due process. That is the promise enshrined in our Constitution, a promise that has been redeemed in part by our Supreme Court with this judgment. There exist other provisions on our statute books that are equally inconsistent with the fundamental values of our Constitution and civilisation. The provisions dealing with sedition, obscenity and hurting religious sentiment are equally prone to subjective interpretation and abuse by law-enforcement agencies. Their continuation on our statute books is a declaration by our supposedly democratic state that citizens are still its subjects. To hope to be the state’s master is to hope in vain when citizens are a long way from being treated even as clients or consumers worthy of dignity and respect. The prevailing balance of power between the state and the citizen is unacceptable and not commensurate with our self-image as an important democracy. Bad laws do more damage to our social fabric and collective wellbeing than no laws.
Time and again, one sees calls from within the police fraternity for tougher laws to deal with all kinds of emerging challenges, such as terrorism, drug trafficking, cyber crime and, recently, rape. These demands are often backed by vociferous sections of civil society, often with the best intentions. However, the track record of the police on various special acts, such as the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, Prevention of Terrorism Act, Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, Dowry Prohibition Act and now the IT Act, doesn’t inspire confidence. There is no evidence to suggest that enacting these laws and arming our police forces with greater powers have made the slightest dent on the incidence of these crimes. The much-vaunted deterrence effect is most conspicuous by its absence.
My personal interaction of the last over four decades or so suggests that the immense trust and confidence reposed in the law-enforcement machinery and criminal justice system by lawmakers and the public when such laws are enacted is rather misplaced. It is a clear case of putting the cart before the horse. Till our police attain the requisite levels of professional competence, functional autonomy and cultural sensitivity, the grant of additional punitive powers that have wide scope for discretion and subjective interpretation must be staunchly resisted. In the wake of a shocking incident, our politicians often come under pressure from a shrill media and indignant civil society to be seen to be doing something. Let that something not always be more draconian laws. We don’t need more laws. We need better and, as the prime minister himself has argued, “smart” law enforcement. The eloquent principle of “minimum government, maximum governance” espoused by him needs to be urgently applied to the arena of law enforcement too. This requires a sustained engagement in rebuilding our police institutions with greater imagination and investment — far removed from the desire for instant governance and shortcut criminal jurisprudence.
But is the present decision sufficient. What about Sec 69 A? As the social media timeline is flooded with news of a pathbreaking verdict by the Supreme Court of India on freedom of speech, there is reason to pause. While holding that Section 66A of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008, is unconstitutional and laying down guidelines for online takedowns under the intermediary rules, the court, in Shreya Singhal vs Union of India, has upheld Section 69A and the blocking rules framed under it. The blocking rules are distinct from online takedowns. Technically, a takedown results in the removal of content by an online platform such as Facebook, and a block disables access for a user in India through an internet service provider such as Airtel. In practice, the state has routinely blocked content on the internet in complete secrecy, preventing any judicial scrutiny. The constitutional challenge on behalf of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties was not to the power of blocking content but rather to the manner in which the blocking is done. These arguments focused on the present secrecy in blocking and the lack of procedural safeguards.
While the rules indicate that a hearing is given to the originator of the content, this safeguard is not evidenced in practice. Not even a single instance exists on record for such a hearing. This lack of information is compounded by the rules themselves attaching confidentiality to any complaints and actions taken by the government to block websites subsequently. RTI applications that have requested for further information on the implementation of these safeguards have, till date, been unsuccessful or at best provided incomplete information. In the absence of any transparency, blocking orders by themselves are labelled as confidential or “top secret”, and any information about them comes only through leaks in the media. No comprehensive list of websites and the legal orders under which they are blocked exists.
The court, failing to notice these deficiencies, indicates that the remedies under Article 226 permit persons to file writ petitions in state high courts, which can then cure any procedural infirmities. However, to even gather this information is tedious, given that the blocking orders are secret and do not outline reasons for the blocking. Hence, the remedy is rendered infructuous not only due to institutional practices but also due to the mandated secrecy in the rules. The court also indicates that the safeguards present in book-banning under the Code of Criminal Procedure are specific to its medium and not applicable to the internet. In doing so, it tolerates the legislature’s tendency to view the internet as an inherently dangerous medium, one that deserves greater regulation with decreased safeguards for civil rights. This is a cause for worry.
Even the government’s past approach towards blocking orders does not inspire confidence, given that basic processes and safeguards are flouted. During the hearing of this case, 12 websites were blocked when the Mumbai ATS approached a court alleging they were hosting Islamic State content. This included a popular video-sharing website, as well as other information-sharing platforms. Acting on this, a blocking order was issued where entire platforms, not specific links, were blocked. Users guessed that the websites had been blocked but did not have any way to confirm this. Subsequently, after vociferous criticism, the blocking orders were recalled. This presents an instance where even the pithy safeguards under the blocking rules were completely circumvented, with a state authority approaching a court and bypassing even the cursory requirement of a notice to the originator of the content.
Other instances present reasonable fears. Two notable instances are cited in defence of the blocking rules and in opposition to further natural justice safeguards. The first is the communal violence in Muzaffarnagar in 2013. The Uttar Pradesh government claimed that a video on a popular online video-sharing platform was responsible. However, multiple reports indicate the violence stemmed from a routine law-and-order problem that the local police failed to respond to effectively. This is corroborated by two prominent citizen inquiry reports. The second instance is of the exodus of people, ethnically from the northeastern states, from Bangalore in 2012. The reason for this, according to the state government, were morphed images circulated online. In this case, rather than reassuring the general public and ensuring law and order, a wide-ranging blocking order was issued that included websites that drew attention to the falsity of the images. In the tradition of well-intentioned government bungling that creates further panic, it even arranged for special trains to run from Bangalore to Guwahati. Clearly the solution to such problems is better policing of the streets — not of the internet. These two instances are certainly problematic and may provide legitimate ground to block websites. But the legal process followed lacks most natural justice safeguards.
Though this portion of the decision is unfortunate, the nature of the Shreya Singhal petitions being constitutional challenges is an important consideration. Most petitioners and their counsels asked for several provisions to be declared unconstitutional, believing they conflicted with our fundamental rights. Privately, though, many took a more conservative view, given the precedent of the SC, which has hesitated to take strong positions on freedom of speech. Constitutional challenges are high thresholds. The courts, despite the severe criticism of their expanding public roles, even today rarely strike down provisions of law. They presume legislation to be valid and also view reasonable restrictions as legal limits. Hence, until the law does not exceed these limits, it remains constitutional. In holding the blocking rules as constitutional, the court has commented only on their legality — not their desirability. The latter remains open for the legislature and civil society to consider.
It is, of course, a sad day for the pompous, the powerful, the well-connected and the innumerable holy cows in our country. It may be a while before their liberty to subvert the public interest for private ends is seriously and significantly curtailed. But for now, the freedom of the Indian citizen to at least cry out in anguish as well as mock and ridicule them has thankfully been restored.

Civil War in Yemen & India’s Response

India in its best tradition of acting reactively is now is scrambling to evacuate its citizens from the war zone in Middle East. This time the location is Yemen, where the war between the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and the Saudi-supported government has escalated in the last few days, aand has the potential of becoming a full scale war between the patrons.
Delhi’s immediate focus is naturally on evacuating its citizens in the Middle East. But there is little debate in India on the need to create more effective mechanisms to deal with what has become a recurring challenge in the region. Worse still, there is no effort in Delhi to develop a more strategic approach to the region where the old political order is breaking down.
India has begun to mobilize naval and air resources to rescue the nearly 3700 citizens said to be living in Yemen. Over the last decade, amidst the deepening turmoil in the region, Delhi had to embark on frequent military operations to evacuate Indian citizens, including in Lebanon (2006) and Libya (2011). Last year, Delhi spent considerable diplomatic energy in securing the release of Indians trapped in the war between Baghdad and the ISIS in Iraq.
Delhi must expect the conditions to deteriorate as conflict spreads across the Middle East. Among the countries already affected are Syria, Iraq, Libya and now Yemen. The sectarian dimension of these conflicts suggests that the current round of blood letting in the region could be a prolonged one.
The Sunni-Shia dynamic finds a more political expression in the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran that are backing competing groups in the various civil wars. If Tehran has lent support to the Bashar al Assad regime in Syria, Riyadh is arming various rebel groups trying to overthrow the government in Damascus.
Pro-Iranian militia groups are at the forefront of the war to reverse the occupation of the Sunni heartland in Iraq by the ISIS. Saudi Arabia has watched with dismay as Baghdad moved steadily closer to Tehran and has been reluctant to accommodate the interests of the Sunni minority in Iraq.
In Bahrain, the situation is the opposite, where the monarchy representing the Sunni minority has sought to repress the Shia majority. Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of fomenting trouble in Bahrain and sent in a military force into the kingdom in to shore up the government in March 2011.
Saudi air strikes against the Houthi rebels in the last few days, like the military action in Bahrain, is rooted in deep fears about Iran’s growing power in the region. The political and military challenge in Yemen is much tougher than the one that Saudi Arabia faced four years ago in Bahrain.
Saudi Arabia has mobilised a number of fellow Arab governments in including those in Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates. Riyadh is also pressing Pakistan to join the Sunni intervention in Yemen.
Whatever the immediate outcome in Yemen’s civil war, the sectarian tensions in the region and the proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran are likely to become more intense in the coming years. But India has shown little sensitivity to the changing political dynamic in the Middle East.
Delhi continues to view the region from the perspective of the Arab-Israeli conflict that no longer is the primary contradiction in the Middle East. India can’t secure its multiple interests in the region–including energy and the safety of its migrant workers–without a much greater political engagement of all the contending forces in the Middle East.

West : a stage in the march of human history

India’s elite classes suffer from unrestricted love for West and things- material, no-material, ideas and concepts- western; and this sneaking love – a curoius love-hate relationship makes them pose as if they hate some things Western. But hold thse classes must desist from making the mistake of reinventing the wheel, as they always do. What is it about the so-called West that so many in the Indian elite seem to hate? Not ordinary people, but the bureaucratic-academic-intellectual elite that dominates public as well as private discourse in the metropolises, particularly in Delhi and, less influentially, Kolkata and Mumbai. Too many members of that privileged class sneer at the West, especially America, and both right-wing ultra-nationalists and left-wing Lohiaite and Gandhian socialists want to build protective walls for the naive masses against a tide of Western culture and values that they fear are out to sabotage India.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty that’s dysfunctional in Western societies, by which we mean the urbanised, modernised and, therefore, advanced economies that lie mostly in the Western hemisphere. But isn’t the aim today of every developing nation to achieve precisely that kind of urbanised advancement as best as feasible?
Swathes of India’s intellectual elite would apparently disagree. They conjure up visions of a bucolic, spiritually untainted, pristinely Indian and self-reliant utopia that can come about if only the Western model of growth were jettisoned once for all. There are several problems with this dream, to say nothing of the futility of searching for a tested model of such an ideal society. Walden Pond, Tolstoy Farm and Sabarmati Ashram are not examples anyone can recreate on a national scale.
Like it or not urbanised modernisation, with all its flaws, forms the only surviving blueprint that humankind has to improve the quality and durability of life. And, it so happens, the current phase of urbanised advancement the human race is passing through indeed began a few centuries ago in societies located in the West.
That by no means implies that the road to this unprecedentedly rapid phase of modernisation of the world began magically in the West. The bricks of that road had been laid gradually over centuries by many civilisations, though it was from Europe for a complex range of reasons that the path began to take the shape of a highway.
Hundreds of scholars and intellectuals, mainly Western, have written on how a 15,000-year-old agricultural system suddenly gave way to an industrial society, and thence to our globalised post-industrial world in the space of a few hundred years. Only, it wasn’t all that sudden, though the speed of change was truly phenomenal.
If you don’t trust Western scholars on the subject, there are non-Western options available. You can read Nayan Chanda’s ‘Bound Together: How Traders, Preachers, Adventurers and Warriors Shaped Globalization’. He is of pure Indian origin. His 2007 book traces the ever-growing interconnectedness and interdependence that began from the start of early human migration from Africa 50-70,000 years ago and remains ongoing in this intricately globalised phase of our history.
Much of the foundation of Western enlightenment, for instance, was based on ancient Greek philosophy and logic. Along with their own speculative philosophy, the Greeks were open-minded enough to borrow ideas that had germinated in China and India. The Romans borrowed wholesale from the Greeks and developed ideas to create social and legal systems that form a basis for many modern institutions.
Then came a lull in the area now known as the West for about a millennium. It is commonly called the Dark Ages in European literature but it was not dark at all for a rising Islamic-Arab civilisation, which thrived for much of that period to keep Greek thought alive while also developing Chinese inventions and Indian mathematics to spread ideas across a wide empire. The Arabs thus formed a crucial link in global civilisation.
Then, to compress a complex story, came the European Renaissance. As the name implies, it was a ‘rebirth’ of ideas and a socio-cultural reawakening that led in due course to the industrial revolution and to this extraordinary stage in civilisation that we inhabit. In sum, we live a life born of interconnectedness and interdependence.
To put it another way, what we call the West today is little more than a stage in the march of human history. In the intertwined world that has come about as a result of millennia of exchange between cultures, the West is a convenient geopolitical term that combines both a violently harsh as well as enlightened tale of interdependence.
So, get over it. Why try to reinvent the wheel?

Whirl in stillness like a dervish: My credo

“How can my soul be still when I am whirling in stillness?”-Jalaluddin Rumi
I am tired; tired of being advised to give some rest to my mind; tired of being counselled to take things easy; tired of being warned against the temptestous nature of my impulses. For me death and stillness is death; for me, the peace is the peace of grave, for me, devoid of being impulsive is to be deprived of pulsating life. I believe in that calm of mind when passion is at its zenith and calm of mind/ all passion spent”. After all, why, oh! Why rest that stormy mind and heart? Give it a sense of purpose instead. I just can’t seem to control my mood or mind from day to day. It’s like I’m in an emotional frenzy.
It is amazing how many people are caught up in emotional turbulence, seemingly unable to rest their stormy minds and hearts enough to set a steady pace to life and their own selves. Moving in and out of relationships, switching jobs, hobbies, engagements or targets -or simply just changing moods -they jettison off on their varied trajectories before whirling back into a mutual sphere again.
This is the kind of restlessness and emotional unease usually associated with adolescence, which is a time of insecurity. So then, why are so many people in their 30s, and beyond, caught in an emotional whirl and leading insecure, volatile lives? Inhabiting chaotic, purposeless emotional landscapes messes relationships, friendships and our very lives.
The solution is not in quelling the chaos –who needs a sedate, boring life? It is in harnessing the turbulence to meet our purpose. So blinded are we by images of plenty and runaway success that we forget the true meaning of happiness, chasing an elusive goal rather than focussing on the present and the achievable. But if we get our goals right and stay anchored in the present, keenly aware of our true purpose, no amount of chaos can take away from the quality of our lives. In fact, in such a scenario, the chaos can be harnessed to enhance the meaning of life as we live it. With keen alertness and awareness, we can turn the direction of the turbulent waters to nourish and nurture, rather than destroy us.
So I told my `chaotic’ friend that rather than worry about the chaos, she needs to figure out her purpose -what gives her a high and a sense of satisfaction-and then harness the chaos in a manner that nurtures her true area of divinity.
There is nothing wrong in movement, in the chaos or whirl itself, so long as it follows logic and has a sense of purpose. We inhabit a planet that is part of a whirling cosmic choreography. We ourselves are made of atoms that include constantly-revolving electrons, protons and neutrons. Our blood revolves within our body, nourishing it and keeping us alive. But then, each of these whirls serves a purpose. And, so can the whirling of our minds and thoughts, only if we consciously anchor the same.
Just like the whirling dervishes. A friend who relates with mystics and Sufis once told me a fascinating detail of how in olden times, a nail would be driven into the ground between the toes of a dervish to ensure that his left foot never left the ground during his ecstatic whirl. The fixed left foot as the dervish takes his twirl symbolises his grounding on Earth. Jalaluddin Rumi said the whirling dervishes represent the solar system, and during the dance make contact with divinity and end up creating new worlds!
So the whirl has a purpose ­ a movement that is not just circular, but kind of spiraling –rising, growing, expanding –towards divinity and creation. A dance that may seem pointless to some, much like the whirls we executed as kids before flopping giddily on the grass, is actually a mystical journey within one’s own self, and a reaching out to God.
So then what is wrong with a whirling mind? With just a change of perspective, we can shift the chaos to a creative turbulence that precedes the creation of all things beautiful. So long as we have our conscious, safe anchors, the mental and emotional turbulence we carry around with us can serve a great purpose too.

The Facade of Indian Secularism

For the last seven weeks I have been wondering at the lack of any informed comment on the Supreme Court’s February 9 remark that “we don’t know for how long it [India] will remain a secular country” has gone unnoticed. Not long ago, such an observation would have been derided and met with angry protests. Many would have assailed the apex court for doubting the secular credentials of the people, who have, by and large, resisted parochialism since India became independent. Perhaps Indians have been desensitized to the facts and do not bother for the concept any longer- the concept that was hitherto paid lip service.
But perhaps there is some truth to the court’s warning. The “ghar wapsi” campaign is a testimony to the winds of parochialism blowing through the country. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had even doubted the credentials of Mother Teresa, who served the destitute and disabled of all communities and encouraged them to pray according to the dictates of their own religion. But since the BJP came to power at the Centre, India’s ethos of secularism is being systematically attacked. On the ground, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s slogan “sabka saath, sabka vikas” rings hollow. It does not excite people any longer.
Development has been lopsided — corporations are being given free run and the bottom half, which mostly comprises of Muslims and Dalits, is stuck in the same vicious cycle of not having access to capital and, as a result, not being able to start new ventures. This segment of the population knows no progress and continues to wallow in poverty and helplessness. They find the Modi government no different from the UPA. It is the same old story and practically nothing has trickled down to the bottom of the heap. At times, it feels as if policies are formulated to help only the upper strata. It has to be admitted that the Congress, which ruled the country for six decades, never deviated from the policy of secularism.
The policies of the Modi government certainly offer little for the uplift of the lower half of society — Muslims and Dalits are worst-hit as upper castes and the rich lawfully appropriate economic gains. Statistics confirm that the haves garner most of the wealth that is created. The only refuge for the poor is religion — they are increasingly frequenting temples and mosques.
Educational institutions reflect this disparity in society. Worse, they are being saffronised. Nobel laureate Amartya Sen had to withdraw his name from consideration for a second term as chancellor of Nalanda University. In a letter to the academic board written with a “heavy heart”, Sen said that it was hard for him not to conclude that the government wanted him to “cease” being chancellor. Further, he warned that academics in the country remain “deeply vulnerable to the opinions of the ruling government”. I wish Sen had not withdrawn his candidature. His hunch that the ruling BJP government did not want him to continue was probably true. But that is precisely why he should not have quit. He should have let the BJP expose itself for interfering in academic affairs.
Also, once again, the distortion of the past has begun. The BJP government is bent on rewriting history so that it can justify the alleged pre-eminence of Hindus. Modi’s claim that there were udaan khatolas (flying machines) in ancient India is laughable. Yet, many in the Hindu community believe that the parallels of most modern inventions existed in ancient times.
The most disconcerting thing is the quiet acceptance of the parochial policies of the BJP government. There is little spirited opposition. Gandhian Anna Hazare has realised this and once again raised the banner of dissent. His protest against the land acquisition bill is, in fact, a fight against corruption and for the appointment of a Lokpal. More political parties should support his struggle. Hazare has shown the way forward to cleanse society. We have to be careful that the gains are distributed evenly and reach the poor.
But why is the nation, which doggedly pursued pluralism for nearly seven decades, looking increasingly parochial? Why has secularism not taken root after all these decades? Was pluralism only a Nehruvian concept that did not suit the people? Can this be the reason that Modi or, for that matter, the Sangh Parivar have been able to exploit the situation?
For the BJP, it is merely a question of tactics. There is an assurance, on the one hand, of the equality of all religions. On the other, it fuels the campaign of ghar wapsi. How does the Modi government reconcile itself with the two opposites? But its government’s functioning made room for the divide between Hindus and Muslims. And we are suffering the consequences. How long will it take us to once again traverse the path of pluralism? The situation is dismal. The Supreme Court has underlined this.

Populism Causing Crisis in Democratic Governance from Continent to Continent

Faced with electoral volatility and voter anger, is politics becoming the art of the impossible where tough decisions required for long-term economic health cannot be implemented because of the short-term pain they inflict? Some hold that once the majority realises it can vote itself largesse from the public treasury, it will vote for those promising the most benefits and the democracy will die from the ensuing loose fiscal policy. The proportion of people receiving more benefits from the state than the taxes they contribute rises, the paying cohort shrinks, and the system collapses from the widening gap. Or as Margaret Thatcher warned in fighting this in the UK, the trouble with socialist policies is you eventually run out of other people’s money to distribute. Which is why we risk validating Churchill’s aphorism that “the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”
But Churchill also said in the same breath that “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings.” The French economist Thomas Piketty has argued that because the rate of return on capital is greater than the rate of economic growth over the long term, the unequal distribution of wealth worsens over time and foments social and political instability.
The two contradictory grand theories notwithstanding, rumours of the death of democratic governance are much exaggerated. Good public policy continues to be the key to good electoral politics. Conversely, when politicians treat people with contempt, voters return the compliment and bad policy never makes good politics. The message from citizens is uncomplicated: level with us, don’t take us for granted, don’t spring nasty surprises or cynical lies, don’t frighten or talk down to us, govern transparently from the centre in the public interest and not secretively at the ideological extremes for vested interests or lobby groups, and, above all, spread the pain of adjustments fairly and explain it clearly and honestly.
Japan has suffered from decades of frozen politics. The latest example of dysfunctional US politics is 47 Republican Senators writing an open letter to Iranian leaders in an effort to undercut their own president’s negotiations on a potential nuclear deal. Last month Australia almost had its fourth PM in two years. With no challenger and no clandestine destabilisation campaign against Tony Abbott’s leadership, two-thirds of his backbench voted no confidence in him but he survived owing to the solidarity of cabinet ministers and party whips. In an opinion poll, Abbott’s net satisfaction rating (the approval-disapproval margin) fell to minus 44. Two other cabinet ministers were preferred as leaders by staggering 64-25 and 59-27 margins respectively. Abbott may well be mortally wounded.
Having destroyed the Julia Gillard government on her broken promise on carbon tax and made the restoration of trust the central issue of the 2013 election, in language that left no wiggle room, Abbott promised no cuts to health, education and public broadcasting. Once in government, he broke these promises and infuriated voters by denying it even as they were hit by nasty surprises to the hip pocket. The first budget was broadly rejected for its broken promises and the perception of deep unfairness: the poor and worse off were to have services cut and taxes increased while the top end of town kept/got more breaks. Australians like their national health system, trust their public broadcaster the most, don’t back privatisation of state assets, and don’t want to go down the American path in the education system.
The decision to award a knighthood to Prince Phillip on 26 January (Australia Day) cemented the belief that Abbott is not in tune with the people and his values and frames of reference are of the first half of the last century. It was widely derided as self-indulgent, superfluous, fawning and downright embarrassing. Anger can be mollified in time; mass public ridicule quickly drains all authority from a PM. He has become a political millstone around his party’s neck and MPs fearful of losing their seats are turning on him. As Churchill advised, always back the horse named self-interest, who never stops trying.
In India the voters massively rejected the Congress Party-led governing dogma of socialist policies that had proven to be the biggest poverty multiplication program in history. They voted decisively for a Modi-led BJP government on the attractive promises of growth, jobs, development and good governance. So far Modi has been eloquent in talking the talk but hesitant in walking the walk and silent on condemning the incendiary rhetoric of Hindu zealots in his party. The people elected him to govern for the nation, not to campaign endlessly in state elections. AAP’s blitzkrieg victory in Delhi despite the shambles of their last term is a powerful reminder to the BJP to talk less and deliver more for ordinary people.
Just as the dead hand of the state held India back under the misguided socialism and perverted secularism of Congress, so the dead hand of Hindutva may hold back India’s march to greatness under the BJP. Modi must answer a fundamental question: what kind of India does he want? One that is trapped in the prison of yesterday’s glory, where ancient Hindu texts replace modern science and technology in the classrooms; or one that puts in place policy settings to develop rapidly today to reacquire greatness tomorrow?
Modi must stop Hindu zealots from subverting a laser-like focus on improving public safety, strengthening the rule of law, building infrastructure, eliminating corruption, minimising the cost inputs and regulatory burden on business, switching priority from stopping imports to promoting exports, and investing in education and skills development for the 21st century: by most international measures, Indian students lag behind their East Asian counterparts by several years.
Almost halfway into his three-year term, Abbott declared: “Good government starts today.” Pardon, PM? Ten months into his five-year term, Modi should have instituted the tough decisions so as to be able to show the results by the next election. He’s been too busy gallivanting abroad and campaigning in state elections. It’s not the system of government that’s flawed or people who are blind, so much as the lack of leaders who can integrate good policy, politics and messaging.

Dragging India’s RBI Out of Morass of Debt

In this year’s budget, the government proposed to institutionally separate debt management from monetary policy. This is a watershed reform. But rather than celebrating, many have questioned its wisdom with arguments that one thought had been settled in the last 25 years of policy debate. Once upon a time, I chaired the government working group on designing an independent public debt management agency (PDMA). Prima facie, this makes me biased, but it is hard to be balanced because, in my view, there aren’t two sides to this issue.
Since the late 1980s, almost every OECD and major emerging market has established such an agency. At least since the Narasimhan Committee (1991) and the RBI annual reports (2001 and 2006), the need for functional separation of debt management and monetary policy has been established. At least since the Vijay Kelkar report (2004), which was endorsed later by the Percy Mistry (2007) and the Raghuram Rajan (2008) Committees, the need to also institutionally separate the two functions has been exhorted. In the 2013 Srikrishna report that proposes to restructure all financial laws and regulations into a single code, the PDMA occupies a central place.
There are many reasons why government debt should be managed by a PDMA, and any of the above reports lists them. Here, let me discuss just one.
There is uniform recognition that India needs to raise $1 trillion or more to finance its infrastructure needs. Given the long-term nature of these projects, it is also well accepted that bond funding will need to do the heavy lifting. However, India’s corporate bond market remains weak and has little chance of developing if the government bond market itself doesn’t deepen. On size and market turnover, India’s government market looks good, but the narrow spectrum of participants comprising the RBI, commercial banks and a handful of institutional investors means that it is unable to access the large pool of savings that, for example, goes into gold purchases. If the government can’t access these funds, what chance do corporations have?
A key reason behind this is the extensive financial repression in the bond market. As the bank supervisor, the RBI regulates the minimum amount of bonds a bank needs to hold (the statutory liquidity requirement). As the government’s debt manager, it decides the timing and the composition of all new debt issued (the bond auctions). And as the country’s monetary authority, the RBI decides how much of the old debt it wants to buy or sell (open market operations). And it can change any of these at any time.
Consider the two-year period over 2011-12. Growth was slowing but it still averaged 6 per cent. Inflation was raging at around 9 per cent. India’s overall fiscal deficit stood at over 8 per cent of GDP. Yet, the interest rate on government bonds was less than 8.5 per cent and that on corporations modestly higher at 9.5 per cent. Any pricing model based on economic fundamentals and the fiscal position would suggest that these interest rates were significantly below par. Why did this happen? Largely because, over these two years, the RBI purchased bonds from the market equivalent of one-third of the Central government’s borrowing requirement!
This, unfortunately, wasn’t an isolated episode. Over the past 40 years, bond interest rates have been consistently lower than what one would normally assess based on fundamentals. As corporate bonds are priced off government debt, their prices too have rarely borne any resemblance to economic reality. With such extensive mispricing, it is hard to see the bond market attract newer pools of savings, even if other structural reforms are implemented. Taking away debt management from the RBI doesn’t solve the mispricing, but it is the obvious first step. To be sure, the RBI didn’t volunteer to be the debt manager. It was asked to do so. And one is glad to see the government taking responsibility of managing its own debt.
Three broad sets of criticisms have been levelled against this move. The most insidious are the innuendoes that this is an attempt to weaken the power and independence of the RBI. The truth is the opposite. Critical to making the central bank formally independent is mandating it with a single and transparent objective, for example, inflation targeting, as set out in the MoU signed between the government and the RBI this February. But such an MoU has no credibility if the central bank remains burdened with debt management, as one can never be sure when an RBI policy action is driven by its mandate to keep the government’s interest costs low or by its mandate to keep inflation low.
Less insidious but laced with hints of impending doom is the argument that this is a bad time to make the change. Why? Because India still has a large debt problem and is struggling to bring down its budget deficit. This change can blow up the government’s interest costs, jeopardising much-needed funds for development. If there is one lesson that can be drawn from making the RBI manage government debt, it is that this practice has accommodated the government’s profligate ways by keeping the interest cost well below par. With not having to face the true cost of its easy fiscal policy, the government has taken fiscal consolidation more lightly than it would otherwise. Imagine if, during 2011-12, the interest rate on government bonds was upwards of 15 per cent, as the growth-inflation dynamics then suggested. We would not have had to wait for the US Federal Reserve taper fears in 2013 to start consolidating.
Then there are fears about potential market volatility, as debt management is shifted to the new agency. The government and the RBI are likely to work closely to minimise any collateral damage. But despite their efforts, teething problems might well create unwarranted volatility. But the cost of such volatility pales in comparison to what the economy has already paid and continues to pay for mispricing bond prices, obfuscating the intent of central bank policy actions, and indulging fiscal imprudence. We should have put an end to these many years ago.
One last thought. In the last 30 years, none of the countries that shifted to an independent PDMA has asked its central bank to take back debt management responsibilities.

10 Ridiculous Ideas About Rape Courtesy Bollywood

Sexual violence and rape have suddenly taken centrestage on national TV, social media, office-lunch discussions, pre-meeting chit-chat, you name it. Not to mention the alarming incidents of child sexual assaults shaking up the entire nation. People are finally protesting against the victim-blaming-and-shaming culture and the fact that perpetrators often get away without facing the consequences of their actions. I sat back and wondered what the little girls are hearing or seeing that might shape their reactions towards sexual violence. My thoughts also wandered back to what I believed about sex, babies, marriage and men as I was growing up.
Turns out, some of my notions were downright ridiculous. And all of them were fed by Indian cinema (Bollywood as well as regional films). I decided to pen them down
Here are some that I picked up from the movies.
1. Rape is something that happens to stupid girls. And definitely to mentally challenged/ill girls.
Cause: Stemmed from watching something where a mentally challenged girl is locked up somewhere and there’s a lot of screaming and scraping shown. And then, her torn clothes. And then, more people calling her stupid.
Effect: I was terrified whenever someone called me stupid. Made me think of myself in torn clothes.
2. If someone saw you bathing, you were raped.
Cause: A lot of movies showed somebody watching the heroine bathing from a keyhole. And then she would cry that she was ‘spoilt’.
Effect: For a long time, I practiced something called the two-minute bath. Followed by my mom yelling, ” Did you even pour some water on yourself?”
3. If you get raped, your parents will have to beg and plead with the guy to marry you to save face.
Cause: The movies showed a lot of chest-beating and head-banging when the daughter got raped. Mostly resulting in one of the parents committing suicide.
Effect: Many terrifying attempts at picturing my parents doing the same things. And shutting my eyes tight to go to sleep.
4. The effects of rape are nullified if you are lucky enough to be married to the guy who raped you.
Cause: A ton of movies that showed that the girl’s honour was ‘saved’ after the villain was persuaded to marry her.
Effect: Made me wonder who I can ‘allow’ to rape me.
5. Pregnant women cannot be raped.
Cause: One movie (starring Amitabh Bachchan) featured this rather blatant statement: “Pregnant women can’t be raped.”
Effect: Just made the technicalities of rape even more complex. Turns out, it was just male ego speaking. After all, ‘taken’ women can’t be claimed!
6. Getting raped is worse than even dying.
Cause: Some movies showed a girl hanging by the branch of a tree. The next morning, the parents are crying (thankfully) but as an afterthought, they are relieved since she was raped.
Effect: I didn’t want to die. So, I didn’t want to get raped.
7. If anybody sees you naked, it is equivalent to getting raped.
Cause: Similar reason as # 2. If a guy accidentally saw your leg, you were raped. This confused me, because sometimes the heroine showed cleavage, but looked happy! Not ruined!
Effect: When my best friend broke the news about Protima Bedi streaking on Juhu Beach (I was in the eighth grade), all I could think of was, ” How come she is not crying about getting raped? Is there something else to getting raped?”
8. Anybody seeing you naked can get you pregnant.
Cause: Similar to #7. The movies showed someone undressing in the room/bathroom, getting raped and getting pregnant.
Effect: At the age of 11, I used to check my tummy periodically to be sure nobody had seen me while undressing.
9. If you become the wife of a rapist, you should be doubly pious to be able to change him.
Cause: I watched a movie (which was a super-hit, by the way) showing the heroine (The South Indian actress Jaya Sudha) marrying the guy after he raped her. The entire movie is about her struggle to change him into a good man. Of course, now that the girl he raped has become his wife, he is technically a non-rapist.
Effect: Confusion! What if he refuses to change and rapes another girl? Will he have two wives?
10. If you are still angry with the guy for having raped you, you are stupid. Because you just have to accept the fact that men will be men!
Cause: I watched a movie in which the heroine (The South Indian actress Suhasini) gets raped by her friend’s brother while waiting in a car. She refuses to accept his apologies and his proposal to ‘right’ his ‘wrong’ by ‘accepting’ her (you see, he is good at heart even if he was overcome by ’emotion’). This time, the entire movie is about how her family and friends persuade her to reverse her ‘foolish’ decision. Of course, she turns ‘wise’ in the end.
Effect: More confusion! Yikes! How can she let him near her ever again?
And now, for the cherry topping – I believed all this without knowing what rape meant. Is it any surprise that our society still blames the rape victim? Sometimes, I wonder if the increase in rape incidents is a result of such blatant glorifying of the perpetrator. Thankfully, heinous crimes against children are not given such tender treatment in the movies. But, women? You need to ‘adjust’.
Bollywood movies are a reflection of Indian society. But it is also the other way around. Movies have the power to influence minds, and it is not an exaggeration to say that they can help shape a generation. What goes on in your children’s heads is a function of what they are exposed to. Beware!

The Murky Infights Cover the Festering Sore of Insecurity & lack of Principles

The infighting of the Aam Aadmi Party is nothing new in Indian politics. It can sound in you echoes of many a similar situations- some less murky, less unappetizing, less unsavory. But such parallels do lesson to Indian polity. These inane fights- not for principle, but for selfish interests, bespeake of hypoicrisy that surrounds Indian psyche and rips open the veneer of concepts of public service that is professed by self serving politicians.
The problem can also be conceptually framed. Political scientists have often noted the tension between democracy and efficacy in politics. Without democracy, organisations can become lifeless. But with internal democratic vitality, organisational cohesion and political efficacy can also suffer. It is not conceptually easy to settle where exactly the fine balance between democracy and efficacy lies. Sound empirical political judgements are required.
Let us begin with the concreteness of historical instances, as opposed to the abstract propositions of conceptual reasoning. In the discussion of the AAP’s infighting, three examples from India’s political history have been cited. All three come from the Congress party: first, the clash between Mahatma Gandhi and Subhas Chandra Bose in 1939-40, second, between Jawaharlal Nehru and Purushottam Das Tandon in 1950-51, and, third, between the so-called Congress Syndicate and Indira Gandhi during 1969-71. The first led to the resignation of Bose from the Congress, even though he had won the presidency of the party in an internal election. The second led to Tandon stepping down as party president, despite being elected to the position. The third culminated in Indira Gandhi’s expulsion from the party, though she bounced back by creating a new Congress organisation and electorally trouncing her old party and colleagues.
In each case, a personality clash was also tethered to ideological differences. Bose was not committed to Gandhian nonviolence and, therefore, his election as party president threw a grave challenge to the Mahatma. Nehru was committed to secularism, but Tandon’s inclinations after India’s partition were becoming openly Hindu nationalist. With bank nationalisation, Indira Gandhi was clearly moving towards the left, whereas the so-called Syndicate, whose most prominent leader was Morarji Desai, was associated more with a right-of-centre economic platform.
For understanding the AAP’s internal politics, the Bose-Gandhi clash is not appropriate. India was a colony then and the tussle was basically about how to fight the British — though it was complicated by Bose’s victory over Gandhi’s candidate for the Congress presidency. Until recently, the AAP infighting appeared to be closest to the Nehru-Tandon clash, though not exactly the same. Indeed, the differences between the two sides seemed to make the AAP’s problems more tractable. But if I am wrong, and the situation is more like the 1969-71 internal dissensions within the Congress party, the AAP is headed for a split, with uncertain future consequences.
The facts of the Nehru-Tandon clash are easily summarised. It was an outgrowth of the rivalry between Prime Minister Nehru and Deputy Prime Minister Vallabhbhai Patel. After Partition, they developed differences over how to deal with the Muslim minority of India, especially as anti-Hindu violence reigned in Pakistan. Patel argued that it was for Muslims to show that they were loyal to India. For Nehru, a test of loyalty was neither practical nor desirable. He also argued that India’s commitment to the security of its Muslim minority did not depend on how Pakistan treated its Hindu minority, for the founding principles of India, as laid out in the new Constitution, were different from Pakistan’s. India should not imitate Pakistan. It was committed to its minorities even if Pakistan was not.
As Patel’s candidate, Tandon won the election for party president. That created a deadly party-government tension at the highest levels of the polity. Arguing that he could not do his job well as the nation’s prime minister if his party’s elected president was so opposed to him on something as basic as secularism, Nehru launched a political battle against the president of his own party. He got the various decision-making bodies of the party to support his ideological position on secularism and didn’t extend any cooperation to the party president in organisational functioning. In this act of political brinkmanship, Nehru actually learned from the Gandhi-Bose episode. Bose had to go because Gandhi did not cooperate with him. Gandhi’s non-cooperation was a kiss of political death for a Congress president after 1920, as was Nehru’s after 1950.
Among other things, by 1951, it was clear to Congress politicians that they needed Nehru’s supreme national popularity to win the 1952 elections. Tandon simply could not deliver votes. Reading the writing on the wall, Tandon resigned and the party quickly elected Nehru as president. In 1951 and ’52, Nehru was both India’s prime minister and president of the Congress party. Tandon faded into political oblivion. Patel, of course, died.
As of now, Arvind Kejriwal is Delhi’s chief minister as well as the head of his party. Two of the best-known co-founders of the AAP have serious differences with him on several questions. If they are placed at the organisational helm, party and government would be at considerable odds and Kejriwal’s political efficacy would suffer. Moreover, Kejriwal is the biggest vote-getter of the party. Though volunteers played an important role, the AAP’s Delhi victory, rightly or wrongly, has been viewed as primarily Kejriwal’s accomplishment.
Are the internal AAP dissensions as irreducibly fundamental as the clash between secularism and Hindu nationalism? Nehru could not possibly have politically cohabited with a Hindu nationalist Congress president. There was no meeting point between the two ideological poles. To the extent that outsiders know something, the issues that have surfaced in the AAP debate have not taken such existential forms. Consider three contentions.
One, should candidates have been given tickets to fight Delhi elections on the basis of absolute programmatic compatibility or winnability? It is well known that political parties in a democracy can’t function on the basis of programmatic purity alone. Winnability is often a criterion. While this does not mean that fundamental violations of key programmatic principles should be ignored, some departures are always tolerated in democratic politics for the sake of pragmatism.
Two, should the state units of the party be autonomous or accept directives from the national bosses? Following Mahatma Gandhi, until 1973, the Congress party always embraced state autonomy. But after Indira Gandhi’s takeover, a national high command prevailed. This is a perfectly legitimate issue for debate. A unilateral decision by the leader of the party is not normally taken without recourse to some kind of organisational basis for decision-making.
Three, should the organisational head be different from the executive head? In democratic parties, the two are joined only in a situation of crisis. Otherwise, these are two different roles in the polity. In any case, the party should decide in an appropriate forum.
In and of themselves, these issues did not appear to be as fundamental as the mortal clash between secularism and Hindu nationalism in the 1950s or the commitment to nonviolence in the Freedom Movement. In principle, these debates lend themselves to a compromise, despite the loud moral protestation of betrayal and skulduggery.
If the contentions are deeper than outsiders know and there are hidden transcripts of incompatibility and injury, the AAP is heading for a 1969-style Congress split. Like Indira Gandhi, Kejriwal might have an upper hand now. Although the short-term consequences of not allowing genuine internal democracy might help a political party, lending efficacy and cohesion, we know from history that such moves can badly hurt in the long run.

Brazil Can Teach India:Advising Citizens How & What to Eat

Last week, a landmark decision in the Delhi high court moved India higher among the ranks of Brics. In Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa the economy isn’t the only thing growing. So is the risk of dying from heart disease, diabetes, respiratory disease or cancer. The irony of these diseases is that while they’re hard to treat, they’re easy to prevent. In its decision, the court demanded the restriction of junk food available in and around India’s schools.
This is a terrific first step in reducing the consumption of foods that are likely to seriously harm Indian children’s health in the future. But India’s nutritionists and paediatricians have called for more aggressive responses to tackle the diabetes epidemic. Mustering the will to do what’s necessary can be hard, especially given an increasingly powerful food industry.
Good science can help, both by informing good policy and generating the good will necessary to create it. Consider, for instance, the science behind Brazil’s recent advances in public health.
Usually, the way that science appears to consumers is when it’s regurgitated in governmental dietary guidelines. India’s guidelines contain sensible, if dyspeptic, advice which comes with the ring of benevolent dictatorship about it: Consume healthy food! Don’t consume unhealthy food! Breastfeed!
The Brazilian government is no less concerned about its citizens, but the approach is rather different. Rather than advise what to eat, the just released national official dietary guidelines encourage citizen to think about how to eat. They seem to trust their citizens’ intelligence a little more.
For example: Indian guidelines encourage a variety of foods. Brazilian ones encourage eating in company. Indian guidelines warn against too much salt. Brazilian guidelines warn against any ready-to-consume ‘ultra-processed food’. This last idea matters a great deal in India. The Delhi high court wrestled with defining ‘junk food’, following the PIL by the Delhi-based Uday Foundation to ban such food in schools.
The food industry claimed that there is no such thing as junk food. This came as a surprise both to anyone with basic common sense, but also to the Brazilian government, which has adopted ideas based on the nutritional science of world-class epidemiologists like Carlos Monteiro at the University of São Paulo.
Monteiro came across the idea of ‘ultra-processed food’ while he was trying to solve a mystery. Brazilians were dying of diseases associated with diet, the kinds of illnesses that are killing and maiming millions of Indians. What was strange, though, was the reason.
Nutritional science warned that eating more salt, fat and sugar is bad. But Brazilians’ increase in waistlines, morbidity and mortality couldn’t be explained by a massive increase in eating these things. What changed was the way salt, fat and sugar was entering Brazilians’ stomachs. Monteiro discovered that extra salt, fat and sugar wasn’t coming from culinary preparations or even from simple, ancient processed foods like breads and cheeses, but through combination in ‘ultra-processed foods’.
Of course, just like their counterparts in India, Brazil’s rural poor need to process their food to prevent spoilage and waste. Traditional food processing is vital for people to be able to feed themselves, and Brazil’s guidelines are geared toward supporting small-scale farmers. Dried, fermented, pasteurised, cleaned foods weren’t what Brazilians were eating more of, though.
The modern food industry has invented new technologies like hydrolysing, hydrogenation, refining and extrusion which produce new kinds of food. When you take old food products like oils, sugar and salt, and add them to these new food products – hydrogenated oils, protein isolates, starches and laboratory stores’ of novel additives – you get ultra-processed food: Ready to heat and eat, designed to have a long shelf life, be habit-forming, made to be consumed anywhere.
Think instant noodles, packaged snacks and soft drinks – the type of food that threatens to replace natural and minimally processed foods like sabzi, dal and roti often cooked at homes across India.
The rise in marketing, sales and consumption of these foods, argued Monteiro and his colleagues in a series of seminal peer-reviewed articles, is what is driving not only the rise of non-communicable disease like diabetes and heart disease in Brazil, but internationally. This is why Brazil’s guidelines don’t advise citizens what to eat, but to think about the extent to which what they’re eating is processed. And to make natural and minimally processed food the basis of their diet.
We know that continued consumption of ultra-processed foods is likely to be harmful, that children are ill-equipped to judge how much to consume, and that tastes are created early in childhood. With all this in mind, another Brazilian agency has encouraged action surpassing that of the Delhi high court. Brazil’s National Council for Defence of Children and Adolescents Rights is proposing the banning of marketing of all products to children. The Brazilian dietary guidelines ask that people be wary and critical of all forms of food marketing and advertising.
The health effects of ultra-processed food are easy to predict. And now that a nation of 200 million people is developing effective policies around the idea of ‘ultra-processed food’, the Indian government should too. It’s an idea that’s far from junk.

Indian Education System Needs to be Unshackled from political & bureaucratic chokehold

The ministry of human resources and development seems to be climbing down from its high horse on foreign-language teaching after the row over German as well as its face-off with IIT Bombay chairman Anil Kakokdar, who has withdrawn his resignation following “disagreement” over selection of an IIT director. Yet, these climb-downs only serve to illustrate the structural mess that India’s higher education management is in. The ham-handed rollback of four year undergraduate courses in Delhi University and the subsequent show-cause notice to its vice chancellor Dinesh Singh is another case in point.
While India’s global competitors have moved to greater autonomy and institutional freedom in education – it’s taken for granted that this is a prerequisite for improving education standards — India’s universities remains hostage to political and bureaucratic whims. In countries such as the US, UK and Australia, the state’s role is limited to setting broad standards and providing funds while institutions are free to manage themselves. But in India, the government’s insistence on micro-managing education fits the pattern of the socialist-era mai-baap sarkar rather than the brave new liberalised economy of today.
The result is that despite historically strong intellectual traditions and growing Indian economic power, not one Indian university could make it to the top 100 in world reputation rankings recently released by Times Higher Education. In elementary education too, that only 48.1% of class V children can read a Class II-level text is an indictment of Indian education.
At a time when Narendra Modi government is focusing on a manufacturing push to the economy with its ‘Make in India’ slogan, the drag in education is a major constraint. China became the factory of the world by taking over global manufacturing. But with technological changes reducing workers on the factory floor, the ability to produce skilled talent is now crucial. In a country with the world’s largest proportion of young people, economists have long talked about the demographic dividend. But if our universities don’t match up to the best and a significant proportion of Indians remain functionally un-educated, this dividend will turn into a demographic disaster. ‘Learn in India’ is not only as important as ‘Make in India’, it is necessary for the success of the latter. It is time to shift mind-sets, liberalise higher education and encourage institutional autonomy and creativity to keep pace with a rapidly changing world.

Bibi says it all

Go easy on Benjamin Netanyahu, folks. Does he really deserve all the calumny that has been heaped on him in recent days for plainly admitting that a Palestinian state was unimaginable under his administration? Did anyone suspect otherwise? Seriously?
Netanyahu’s rare foray into honesty seems to have caught too many people off-guard. How could he have said such a thing, depriving the peace process of the last vestiges of a crutch?
It would be far more pertinent to ask: what peace process, exactly? Nothing of the kind has been in evidence for years. What were the grounds for assuming that beneath Bibi’s indubitable belligerence there lurked the soul of a peacemaker? Throughout the period that he has wielded power, his actions have made it abundantly clear that he had no intention whatsoever of ceding an inch of occupied territory.
No peace process has been in evidence for years. The only surprise his pronouncement could possibly have caused related to a quality rare among Israeli (and, for that matter, most other) politicians: truthfulness.
Having acquired as much electoral mileage as possible out of that pronouncement, Netanyahu has backtracked, reverting to his previous public position of being geared to achieving a two-state solution when the conditions are conducive. Which, as far as he is concerned, translates as never.
The alternative of a one-state solution is equally unpalatable to the likes of Netanyahu. After all, that would entail either a non-Jewish state or an apartheid regime unrepresentative of almost half the population. The only alternative acceptable to his ilk is the status quo.
Except that the status quo is clearly not static: it is constantly being undermined by the expansion of Jewish settlements, also known as facts on the ground.
The Israeli prime minister went even further on election day by invoking the fear of Arab voters in order to drive his own supporters to the polling booth. But then again, what’s really new in this racist ploy? Has there ever been any doubt about what he thinks of Arabs?
The issue is not what Netanyahu says or doesn’t say. The issue is what Israel does. It’s been a very long time, in this respect, since the concept of ‘land for peace’ made any sense.
The United Nations has not been able to make a fuss about it for nearly 50 years because one particular Security Council member has Israel’s back. When President Barack Obama belatedly congratulated Netanyahu on retaining power, he is believed to have raised objections about the prime minister’s comments while reassuring the culprit of uninterrupted American support in cash and kind.
That, in effect, guarantees that nothing will change. Netanyahu was counting on this. Had there been any real prospect of the US suddenly refusing to bankroll Israeli intransigence, he might have toyed with a different tune.
There have been hints that the US could drop its resistance to token recognition of a Palestinian state. But what are the chances of such an outcome? The best that can be hoped for is that more European nations will live up to their ideals. And that the boycott, divestment and sanctions — BDS — campaign will gather pace. But even if expectations in this regard were to be met, would anything really change?
There is much to be said for a single-state solution, provided it is genuinely democratic. In which case it obviously can’t be a Jewish state. Many of those who have lately been berating Netanyahu understand this, and oppose it on the grounds that a state all Jews can call their own is a precious entity that ought not to be undermined by extremism.
It’s not difficult to understand where they are coming from. But the idea of a separate Palestinian state, ‘demilitarised’ or otherwise, is considerably more remote today than it seemed back in 1993. And the unexpected margin of Netanyahu’s victory has served merely to underline what already seemed obvious.
Likud’s triumph, admittedly, isn’t all that it has been made out to seem. Sure, it enhanced its Knesset seats from 18 to 30, which looks like a huge achievement, but almost all of that advantage can be accounted for by the seats it pinched from fellow travellers on the far right, confessional or otherwise.
Would it have made a huge difference had the Labour-led Zionist Union — the significance of its nomenclature is impossible to ignore — been able to position itself as the leading entity in a supposedly moderate coalition? In what respect do the two sides substantially differ, barring their rhetoric? Would an Israeli government that went to greater lengths to disguise its callous intentions have in any way been a better bet?
It’s hard to see how. Netanyahu’s ascendancy says it all. Whether Israel’s traditional allies will appreciate what last week’s election hath wrought, and accordingly adjust their tack, is a different question. Palestinians, however, could hardly have wished for a clearer demonstration of what they are up against.

National Transformation Vision for Pakistan

Many governments find an official national vision useful. Many institutions, business or otherwise, have mission statements. Political parties have their manifestos in which visions and strategies are offered. Official economists often use Perspective Plans. Our Constitution has an Objectives Resolution. All of these aim to clarify choices, objectives and strategies in pursuit of an assumed transformation for the better.
Some vision statements are efforts to induce target groups, which might be an entire electorate, into making uninformed choices or accepting conditions and policies that do not in any way promote their interests. Noam Chomsky suggests that much of ‘democratic’ political messaging uses the same techniques as the marketing of brands of soap and toothpaste. Electoral campaign managers are often hired from the private sector.
In Pakistan, people tend to ask what the Quaid’s vision was when he ‘founded’ Pakistan. Or what Allama Iqbal had in mind when he ‘conceived’ of Pakistan. Some go back to Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and the Aligarh Movement which eventually led to the Pakistan Movement. Others go back further to when Muslims ruled India for a vision that today answers only to a romantic nostalgia.
Instead of reiterating standard pieties and wish-lists, an honest and realistic vision statement would acknowledge Pakistan as it is today. It should communicate a sense of commitment. It should effectively declare war on all the hindrances to developing a 21st-century national outlook. These hindrances have generated all the existential challenges that threaten us from every direction every day.
They are wittingly or unwittingly supported by an incorrigible political system and obsolete social structure. Any vision statement should be seen as a commitment to remove these systemic obstacles and ensure our people against the fate of a consistently failing state. Only then can it carry credibility.
Otherwise, it will be more subterfuge than an expression of political intent. Of course, as a public relations exercise, articulating distracting and seductive ‘narratives’, it has its uses. But that would be a mission statement without a mission!
Nevertheless, a national vision statement can be both a prelude to and reflection of a national reforms campaign based on a commitment to national transformation. President Xi Jinping and the Chinese leadership have articulated a ‘Chinese Dream’ to “drive reform and opening up to a deeper level, to modernise the national governance system” and to bring about “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”. This represents a serious statement of intent to achieve the further enhancement of China’s political, economic, social, welfare, security and strategic status by the middle of this century..
The Chinese Dream is credible because of China’s record of achievements. Moreover, its formulation entailed massive research and analyses, nation-wide top-down and bottom-up consultations in hundreds of forums, and development and testing of feasible policy and implementation strategies. It is a distillation of a people’s determination to realise their potential.
Unfortunately, in Pakistan merely envisaging a ‘Pakistani Dream’ would have nothing to do with current reality. It would be an idle fantasy. It would not be based on any record of commitment or performance. It could be drafted by anyone familiar with the cultural milieu, standard economic and political aspirations, and a cut-and-paste list of desired deliverables. It would only camouflage the real agendas of decision-makers. It would have no public ownership. It would provide no basis for better governance.
But what if we imagine a national leadership that is committed and competent? What kind of credible vision should it have? It should acknowledge today’s wretched circumstances. It would need to recognise that a vision statement must emerge from comprehensive, inclusive and sustained national consultations; not in-house drafting exercises. It would need to reflect new beginnings. Some say they are under way. Inshallah!
A possible vision statement
“Pakistan was founded with the vision of a secure and exemplary Islamic welfare state, at peace with itself and the world.
“That lost vision will be recovered and realised as an immediate and overwhelming national priority. The hopes, dreams and dignity of the people will be restored.
“The nation is confronted with structural and systemic challenges that have led to diminishing natio­nal sovereignty and the exclusion of the poor, the weak (including women) and nearly all minorities.
“The people’s faith has been misused against their interests.
“The transformation of this state of affairs will be the responsibility of the government with the advice and assistance of the full range of civil and political society. This transformation will comprise comprehensive and integrated reforms at the national, regional and local levels. They will include a radical improvement of the rule of law; basic services provision; human rights protections; domestic resource mobilisation; poverty reduction; elimination of structural inequalities; infrastructural and human resource development (education, health, gender rights, etc.); adequate national deterrence capabilities, tax and land reform; feasible self-sufficiency (food, energy, etc); accountable, participatory, transparent and modern governance systems and institutions; etc.
“The function of foreign policy will be primarily to provide an enabling external environment for the achievement of national transformation. No compromise regarding international obligations and principled positions are required. But policy choices and actions in support of legal and valid foreign and security policy objectives will be consistent with national transformation imperatives.
“Transparency and transformation perspectives will be factored into fiscal policies and allocations.
“Quantitative and qualitative growth rate targets will be set in order to achieve dramatically improved human development and other indices within challenging timelines.
“An information and educational campaign will be launched to ensure public understanding and support for transformative change.
“Certain circles misinterpret Islam and patriotism against the liberation of the people from their traditional and current shackles. For political reasons, some will oppose a ‘modern’ Islamic welfare state. They have a right to their opinions. But they have no right to forcibly impose them! The state will ensure that.
“Islam’s gifts of freedom and reason provide the basis for a scientific culture and a just society based on rational discourse.”
Would it ever happen? Or is it water off a duck’s back?

Christianity Under Attack in Canada

We have seen a deluge of news about the persecution of Christians. And this persecution has been a source of frustration, since it is spread all over the globe- from the distant shores of Nigeria, to the burning heat of Middle East, to the victims of Muslim fundamentalism in Pakistan or the target of resurgent Hindu fundamentalists in India. But what is happening in Canada is all the the more shocking.
Primarily a Christian nation, where the vast majority of population, approximately 65% is Christian, the fact of Christianity being under attack appears to be paradoxical. But is it so. If we look at the very genuine grievances, we find that it is definitely sad, and disgusting that Christians are facing the brunt, because of misplaced liberalism and politically correct attitudes.
What else can explain the proclaimed taboo of popular greetings ” merry Christmas”- but all politicians wishing Happy Navroze, or Happy Id, or happy Diwali or Happy Gurpurab just to placate these pressure groups, and win their votes. What can explain throwing out the christmas trees from the court house in Brampton.
But let us come to the crux. There is evolving a group that does resent the unwanted, wanton attack on Christianity. The group, including Charles McVety, president of the Institute for Canadian Values, pointed to a number of recent events they said equate to an attack on the Christian faith and impinge on Christians’ ability to practice their faith.
The events include:

  • A refusal by three provincial bar associations to accredit any potential law school graduate of Trinity Western University, which prohibits sexual intimacy outside heterosexual marriage among its students.
  •  A letter from Bank of Montreal to the Law Society of Upper Canada, which governs Ontario lawyers, arguing against accrediting Trinity Western’s proposed law school.
  •  A commitment by the general counsel of 72 companies to promote diversity and inclusion.
  • The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario requiring that doctors with religious objections to birth control or abortion refer those patients to another physician. Unfortunately, Christians in this country find themselves under attack,” McVety said at a news conference on Parliament Hill.
  • Doctors fight for their right to refuse care over religious beliefs
  •  Law society in Nova Scotia appealing ruling in favour of Trinity Western and B.C. advanced education minister revokes approval for Trinity Western law school. “This is a violation, and we are calling on the Canadian government to stop this type of violation across this country.” British Columbia last December revoked approval for Trinity Western’s proposed law school, which was planned to launch in 2016.
  •  Law societies in B.C., Ontario and Nova Scotia have voted to deny accreditation to future graduates. But the Nova Scotia Supreme Court overturned the provincial law society’s decision, which the Nova Scotia Barristers Society said it would appeal.
  • Trinity Western is also fighting the rejection of the Law Society of British Columbia and has said it will fight the rejection in Ontario too.
  • Law societies in Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nunavut have decided to accept Trinity Western’s graduates. Lawyer André Schutten, who has intervened in a number of freedom of religion court cases, said regulations and laws “continue to be passed that restrict or curtail the religious freedom of Canadians.”
  • “In various municipalities, Christians have been prevented or even fined for holding church services in rented public space,” said Schutten, legal counsel for the Association for Reformed Political Action. “Professional bodies have indicated they want to force doctors to violate their consciences by either performing or being forced to refer for procedures that are immoral — including the horrific and barbarous act of killing innocent pre-born children.”

Bill Prankard, president of the Bill Prankard Evangelistic Association, noted every Canadian is protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. “While other groups are being granted more and more rights, we’ve been losing ours,” he said. “We are saying enough is enough. We cannot be silent anymore.”
Schutten said the group is looking for a statement from the federal government in support of religious freedom across the country, but admits the issues they raised Wednesday morning have more to do with provincial and municipal governments, as well as professional regulatory bodies. “[Such a statement] ready-sets the tone for inclusivity, tolerance of other world views, including the Judeo-Christian world view,” he said.
“Those levels of government also have to step up and be willing and ready to play fair with religious groups, including and especially I think Christian groups.”
Does multi-culture imply that the majority community be the victim of reverse discrimination, does secularism imply equal respect for all religions, except the main one- simply to pander to vote-banks. How long shall this iniquity continue?

Another Sign of Insane Paranoia : WordPress ban in Pakistan

The night before celebrations of Pakistan Day, March 23, news began to spread on Twitter that Pakistani internet users were not being able to access WordPress, arguably the world’s most popular and widely used free blogging and publishing platform and content management system.
Thousands of Pakistanis use WordPress to host their blogs, and many software developers use WordPress tools to create websites as part of their business activities.
Quickly, users began to speculate that the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) had blocked WordPress blogs for reasons of “security” relating to Pakistan Day, and that the threat was so grave it couldn’t even be elucidated. Instead of clarifying their position, PTA claimed they had not blocked WordPress, even though customers of several major ISPs posted screenshots of the block page they got on their browsers when attempting to access the main WordPress site.
The move was seemingly reversed within two days, but there’s no guarantee it can’t happen again in the future.
Pakistan’s internet users are still sore from the YouTube ban, which is now three years old. The government just last month stated that YouTube was to remain blocked “indefinitely” because experts had failed to find a way to filter out “blasphemous” content. People have found ways to get around the ban by using VPNs, or virtual private networks, which disguise a Pakistani IP and allow access to material the government deems too ‘offensive’ for them to view.
But this regressive way of dealing with information in the digital age, by blocking and censoring it completely, has offended many internet users who resent this infringement on their right to access other, valuable information that YouTube provides — chemistry lectures, religious talks, children’s educational programmes. And the short interruption to WordPress was a sharp reminder that Pakistani citizens’ digital rights are not guaranteed.
Organisations like the Digital Rights Foundation, Bytes for All and Bolo Bhi have been active for years in trying to reverse the government’s Orwellian vision of controlling all internet content, and selecting what internet users can see. Bolo Bhi recently obtained a stay order against the Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Evaluation of Websites (IMCEW) and PTA that ensures if PTA blocks a website based on a complaint, they must submit the reason for the block to the court. Indeed, the recent Islamabad High Court statement of Dec 15, 2014 and the amended court statement on Jan 20, 2015 both back Bolo Bhi’s contention that the government has no legal right to play the role of internet content regulator.
The ban was a reminder that digital rights are not guaranteed. Unfortunately, despite this legal assurance, the power is still not in the hands of the citizens, but remains in the firm control of PTA, which recently awarded itself the power to block access to any content on the internet that it deems fit.
No less than the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif handed this power to the PTA after disbanding the IMCEW, created during the PPP government, and which Bolo Bhi contends was also used to “suppress undesired political opinions”. Now, PTA can censor what it likes and the onus falls completely on affected citizens to try and get a site unblocked, with all the legal hassle and financial loss that entails.
The short ban on WordPress was also a demonstration of the undemocratic approach to restricting information that characterises the Pakistani government’s attitude, regardless of which political party is in power. The decision to put blocking power in the PTA’s hands was taken without involving any important stakeholders — software houses, internet service providers, digital rights campaigners, or even ordinary users of the internet who can be adversely affected by arbitrary bans.
The WordPress ban also shows that the government still hasn’t understood how important the internet is for Pakistan’s economic development and still-struggling investment scene. As Jehan Ara, President of PASHA — Pakistan Software Houses Association — said, “Technology and the internet are great equalisers for emerging countries, and create opportunities for start-ups and entrepreneurs. But our government blocks access to everything that could empower entrepreneurs.”
Supporters of a draconian authority that can block websites at will claim that there’s a need to counter anti-Pakistan propaganda on the internet, and in the case of websites that advertise for pro-militant or extremist groups that pose a real security threat to the nation, this argument makes a small amount of sense.
But the larger problem of isolating a country that desperately needs to benefit from being part of a global digital community still remains. And blocking websites in the name of security, decency or blasphemy still does not justify a widespread assault on our right to freedom of expression and information. In the name of ‘protection’, Pakistani citizens do not deserve to be collectively punished, or to be made more isolated than we already are.

The Persian Enigma

The Iranian plateau births empires with alarming regularity. First was the empire of the Achaemenids, which can be rightly considered the world’s first true empire. It was multi-ethnic, surprisingly decentralised and, at its peak, ruled over 44pc of the known world’s population. It is an indication of its strength that the Greek campaigns, so seminal to Western civilisation and the subject of several bad movies, are just an expensive footnote for the Persians.
Devastated by Alexander, this region then threw up a new empire in very little time, that of the Parthians, who saw themselves as successors to the Achaemenids. This was followed by the Sassanian empire, the last pre-Islamic Persian empire. Eventually, it fell to the lightning advances of the Arabs, who were fired by the zeal of a new faith and hungry for conquest.
Persia returned to the world stage as an independent power under the Safavids, who used state structures and resources to adopt and aggressively promote Shiism. This could be taken (though many historians disagree) as a precursor to the modern state of Iran. Moreover, it finally gave Persia a way to assert its own identity within the fold of Islam.
The reason you are being subjected to this history lesson is that we may be witnessing the birth of a new Persian empire.
Tehran can thank America for this; the removal of Saddam Hussein paved the way for Iranian influence while also unleashing sectarian forces in Iraq. George Bush’s ‘flypaper’ strategy made Iraq a magnet for militants, while new ones were created thanks to Abu Ghraib and Fallujah.
The disbanding of Iraq’s army provided a skilled recruiting pool for a number of militant organisations, while the sectarian policies of subsequent Iraqi governments led to alienation in the Sunni community. Here we see the rise of the murderous Zarqawi, Daesh’s spiritual father. How does that help Iran, though? Well, the rise of sectarian violence did take the heat off US forces, but it also led to the creation of Daesh, the advance into Iraq of which created a vacuum that Tehran has filled. Such is the law of unintended consequences
Unfettered Iranian expansion can push Saudi Arabia to the brink.
This brings us to Tikrit, where Shia militias, Iraqi army units and a token (largely symbolic) smatter of Sunni tribesmen are arrayed against Daesh. Significantly, these forces are being led by Gen Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds force. As far back as 2010, he was called the ‘most powerful man in Iraq’ by Iraq’s former national security minister, Mowaffak al-Rubaie. But in this conflict, he is visible (and deliberately so) on the front lines. Call it a coming-out party if you like.
When Tikrit falls (and it will fall), it will not only mean the loss of space for Daesh but far more crucially the loss of its aura of invincibility. Operationally, it will open the road to Mosul and the inevitable defeat of Daesh. And it is clear by the PR campaign that the credit for this will go to Soleimani and Iran. With that, Iranian influence over Iraq will be complete and the route to Syria will be thrown open. Add to that Tehran’s growing clout in Yemen, its involvement in Bahrain and the strength of its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon and you’ll see what I mean about empire.
But in this very victory may lie the seeds of disaster. If revenge killings of local Sunnis are carried out by the attacking forces, this will in fact deepen divides and ensure that there is a response at some point in the future. Moreover, easy victories can also create an illusion of invincibility and give rise to arrogance, especially where the militias are concerned.
Remember also that for all of Daesh’s well-publicised brutality, the number of innocents they have slaughtered pales in comparison to the continuing atrocities of the Assad regime, Iran’s ally. A future dispensation that includes him will win Iran few friends in that country or the region for that matter.
More, unfettered Iranian expansion will likely push an already cornered Saudi Arabia into acts of desperation, while also prompting increased Israeli interference in the region as a whole and perhaps solemnising a very unholy alliance indeed.
Also, despite the apparent US-Iran thaw one must understand that US policy in the Middle East hinges upon preventing the rise of a regional hegemon, which Iran is seen by many as on its way to becoming.
As far as this region is concerned, chaos and sectarian violence suits US interests perfectly and we should take Gen Petraeus’ words of a few days ago seriously, in which he warns that Iran is in fact a greater long-term threat to the US in the region than Daesh will ever be. In extending its influence over the region, Iran should look more to the relatively inclusive approach of the Achaemenids than to the sectarian policies of the Safavids.

China’s currency: its astounding rise

The Communist revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, who warned against taking “the capitalist road,” must be turning upside down in his grave. His somersualts would give the world currencies a run for life. One does indeed wonder what his followers have made of him and his thoughts. How would he be feeling with all those Chinese bills being traded around the world these days. What a shock to see Benjamin Franklin coming face to face with Mao Zedong as the Chinese renminbi or yuan goes through a stunning transition to another reserve currency.
As of this week, the renminbi is being traded in a major way in Canada as well, after Finance Minister Joe Oliver opened North America’s first Chinese currency trading hub Monday night in Toronto.
The currency has come a long way since the Chinese Communists began printing their own money in 1948 while the People’s Liberation Army was still battling nationalist forces for control of the country. Shortly after that, China officially named the currency the renminbi, using the characters for people and money. The currency is called the renminbi, while its unit is the yuan.
Great leap :After more than 50 years as a completely controlled command-economy currency, the renminbi’s great leap forward has only come in just the last few years. Before 2010, the vast majority of Chinese trade was still being conducted in U.S. dollars. In other words, if you wanted to buy or sell to China, deals were made in U.S. dollars. Canadian buyers would recalculate their payments into U.S. dollars, often having to convert their money twice on the way to the supplier in China.
Latin America China Moves In : U.S. dollars or yuan? Companies and governments are increasingly able to issue bonds in Chinese currency. China’s trade has gone through a transformation as increasingly deals are being conducted from beginning to end in its own currency. In 2010, Chinese trade that was settled in renminbi accounted for 2.7 per cent of total trade. By 2014, it approached 30 per cent and it’s expected to reach 50 per cent by 2020.
The other huge step for China’s money is the bond market. Five years ago, McDonald’s Corporation issued its first corporate bonds in renminbi, leading to the joke that RMB (the currency’s shorthand), stood for Ronald McDonald Bonds.
Three years later. British Columbia became the first foreign government to sell RMB bonds, soon followed by the United Kingdom. Already the renminbi has become the world’s fifth most traded currency, beating the Canadian and Australian dollars in 2014.
Reserve status : But the final stage in a currency’s assent to global prominence is to become a reserve currency similar to the U.S. dollar, the pound sterling and the Swiss franc. Reserve currencies are those that other countries hold to back their own currencies. Watt says the Chinese yuan isn’t far away.
“With some countries, it is already becoming a reserve currency,” says Watt. “Some countries are already holding some renminbi as part of their foreign exchange reserves.”
The International Monetary Fund has not yet included yuan in its official basket of currencies. Watt says that’s coming.
While China may want the prestige and economic advantage of having a widely traded currency, there are disadvantages, too. Already there are signs the country’s central bank can no longer keep as firm a grip on its own money.
For years, governments like the United States complained that the Chinese government was holding its currency artificially low, giving it an unfair trade advantage.
Holding a country’s currency down is relatively easy because it involves selling billions of dollars worth of your own money into currency markets. China’s central bank uses renminbi to buy U.S. dollars and euros and yen and keeps them in its burgeoning reserves.
Eroding confidence :But last week, there were signs the secretive People’s Bank of China is doing the exact opposite. The Financial Times reported that the Chinese central bank was desperately drawing down $3.8 trillion in reserves to sell dollars and buy yuan after global traders began selling off the currency. The FT said Chinese authorities “sought to prevent recent currency weakness from eroding confidence in the economy and inciting capital flight.”
As many other countries have found, including Britain in 1992 — when traders outbid the Bank of England and sent the pound tumbling — that’s the problem with having a lot of your currency in circulation in the world. You are no longer the only ones trading it.

Sweden Deserves Our Support in its Stand on Human Rights

“Sweden has got its Mohammed crisis”, writes the chief editor Bo Lidegaard of Denmark´s largest newspaper, Politiken, on March 22, in a comment on what awaits Sweden for having taken a stand for human rights. It is only a few years ago that Denmark was collectively attacked because one of its newspapers, Jyllands-Posten, published the so-called infamous Mohammed cartoons in its culture section.
We saw pictures of people burning Danish flags in the Middle East, and the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who later became the Secretary-General of NATO, was under tremendous pressure to apologize on behalf of the newspaper. Anders Fogh Rasmussen stood his ground at that time and clearly stated that it is not a prime minister´s business to decide what is supposed to be the content of a newspaper. He stood firm on the principle of the freedom of speech and expression and insisted that the freedom of the press means that it is the editorial board alone that makes the final decision, and that in a democracy politicians should stay away from interfering with the press.
The very same governments that tried to harass Denmark are now ready to take a go at Sweden. The reason is simple. At a lecture in Cairo, The Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström, had planned to make a general comment urging reforms to improve women’s rights. She is not just Sweden’s Foreign Minister, but a vociferous spokesperson for a feminist foreign policy. She has previously served as Vice President of the European Commission and has also held the post of the first ever Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflicts.
The Saudis blocked the foreign minister from addressing the issue of human rights at an Arab leaders’ summit to be held in Cairo. Saudi Arabia´s government justified their blocking with the argument that the speech was offensive and an act of interference in its internal affairs.
The Swedish government, in response, has decided to cancel a lucrative defense deal with Saudi Arabia. As the issue has escalated, the Saudis have called their ambassador back from Stockholm. In other words, Saudi Arabia is doing what it has always done, punishing people and governments who point out its poor human rights standards.
As a matter of fact, the Swedish foreign minister had no plans to mention that Saudi Arabia still uses methods like beheading people, just as ISIS does. Beheading as a method of execution or carrying out capital punishment is regarded as a cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and is undoubtedly considered to be a violation of international law and international human rights standards. Even though this is true, Margot Wallström had no plans of mentioning those issues. She was supposed to deliver a speech on March 9, just a day after the International Women´s Day.
One can read the whole text of the speech at the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter’s website. Here are the two paragraphs from her speech: “Human rights are a priority in Swedish foreign policy. Freedom of association, assembly, religion and expression are not only fundamental rights and important tools in the creation of vibrant societies. They are indispensable in the fight against extremism and radicalization. So is a vibrant civil society.
Yesterday was International Women’s Day. This is a day to celebrate women’s achievements, recognize challenges, and focus attention on women’s rights, women’s representation and their adequate resources. Our experience is that women’s rights do not only benefit women, but society as a whole.” Most of us might mean she was stating the obvious, but no, some others were busy getting offended.
As the diplomatic row between Sweden and Saudi Arabia deepens, it is time for world leaders and human rights spokespersons to take a stand. This time Sweden has put action behind its words and taken a firm stand on human rights. There is nothing wrong if a female foreign minister, who is invited as a guest of honour, decides to comment on the fact that women cannot drive cars in Saudi Arabia and that whipping a dissident blogger is a medieval practice.
When I say, “Sweden is putting action behind its words”, I mean that the country is ready to lose billions of Swedish Kroner of income to express what is on everyone´s lips. The United States of America is not willing to do it. Sweden, a small country, has dared and should be supported by the world community for its courage.
Wallström was voicing her disapproval of clear and well-documented violations of human rights. Take some other facts. Saudi Arabia denies any direct involvement in supporting extremist Sunni Islamist ideology. But then, who supports and promotes a fundamentalist Salafi interpretation of Islam, not just in the Middle East but also in other parts of the world, including Pakistan? Who is sponsoring those fundamentalists? Will any foreign minister ever dare name those states in the future?
In its latest move, Saudi Arabia has threatened to cancel all business visas and refuses to issue any business visas to Swedish nationals. This is in line with their general tactic to pressurize, harass and intimidate all those who dare criticize. The opportunity comes in handy when it is a small democratic country where women have the same rights as men and where the number of female ministers is equal to that of males. Margot Wallström is not the first female foreign minister of Sweden, but she is surely the first one to stand up for human rights and democracy on the international arena.
Women deserve proper representation in parliament and in all walks of life. This international diplomatic crisis reflects the huge gap in gender representation in a country. In Sweden you have one of the best opportunities as a woman, and do I really have to mention the contrast to a country, Saudi Arabia, where being a woman is as good as being relegated to the status of a person with fewer rights, and subjected to constant discrimination?
Sweden is today where Denmark was in 2006: in the middle of a direct confrontation and clash with the Middle East and the Islamic world. Nine years after the first international Mohammed crisis, we are back to square one. Any legitimate criticism of an Islamic country like Saudi Arabia will be dubbed as islamophobia, and the Islamic world will try to impose its economic sanctions on a country which is doing its best to live up to the ideals of gender equality.
The international pressure on Sweden is on the rise. The business community in Sweden is crying foul. Denmark, which was once in the same position, is watching instead of supporting the Swedish government. The Danes themselves are under heavy pressure from Russia and are trying to avert a foreign policy disaster. Russia has threatened to target Denmark’s warships with nuclear weapons if it goes ahead and becomes a member of Nato’s missile defense shield. The Scandinavian countries’ foreign policy is, mildly speaking, under fire at the moment.
This writer holds out hope that Barack Obama will come out in favour of Sweden. He was allowed to address the Muslim world in Cairo in 2009, as a male leader. He should therefore support the idea that a woman should also have been allowed to address the Muslim world in the year 2015. It is high time the Obama administration shows its support of Sweden and puts action behind words, standing up for the ideal of human rights, as they very often preach they do.
Whatever the outcome, it is pertinent that the world community puts a watch on business and human rights. It should be the opposite of what is currently happening. Governments which are violating human rights should be punished and not the ones that stand up for human rights.

Indo-Sino Border Paradox

China has ambitious plans to develop mega trans-border projects with Myanmar in the east and Pakistan in the west. And thereby hangs a tale. As it looks at the southwestern frontiers with India and its neighbours in the subcontinent, China stares at a paradox. China has ambitious plans to develop mega trans-border projects with Myanmar in the east and Pakistan in the west. China has already built a twin pipeline system running from Myanmar’s Bay of Bengal coast to the Yunnan province. It is now ready to pour massive resources into the development of a Pakistan-China economic corridor. China has long seen Myanmar and Pakistan as gateways to the Indian Ocean.
Beijing has a settled boundary with Myanmar and has no arguments with Pakistan about their frontier. But political turbulence has made China’s borders with Myanmar and Pakistan increasingly insecure. Despite anxieties on frequent incursions across the disputed portions of the Sino-Indian border, there is no violence on the undemarcated Line of Actual Control that separates Indian and Chinese forces in the Himalayas. Yet, there has been no serious effort to change the economic nature of the Sino-Indian frontier.
In India’s east, the ongoing war between Yangon and ethnic Chinese rebels, called the Kokang, in northern Myanmar has spilled over into the bordering Yunnan province in China. Earlier this month, the two sides agreed to jointly investigate an incident in which Myanmarese bombs fell on the Chinese side of the border, killing a few farmers. This has put Beijing in a dilemma. Beijing can’t appear to be soft in the face of presumed violations of its territorial sovereignty. Chinese leaders also can’t be seen as doing nothing when ethnic Chinese groups are a target of state violence. At the same time, a muscular response will inflame nationalism in Myanmar and make matters worse. It will add Myanmar to the list of Asian countries, including Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam, which have deepening border disputes with China. Beijing had tried in the past to mediate between the Myanmar government and the Kokang.
But Myanmar does not see China as a neutral party and believes there is considerable support from across the Chinese border to the Kokang.
To our west, China is troubled by the deepening turbulence in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and its impact on the stability of the Xinjiang province, where Muslim Uighurs have become increasingly restive. In order to secure its southwestern frontiers, China is expanding its involvement in the Afghan peace process. It is trying to facilitate a dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and promote reconciliation between Kabul and Rawalpindi.
Many analysts around the world believe that Beijing is in a much better position than Washington to nudge all parties towards peace in Afghanistan, given its special relationship with Pakistan — often described as “higher than the Himalayas and deeper than the Indian Ocean”. Others are not so certain. They see the Pakistan army using China to promote Rawalpindi’s interests across the Durand Line, rather than China’s. Put simply, China could merely end up replacing America as Rawalpindi’s new sucker in Afghanistan.
Money and Love : Recent developments in Myanmar and Sri Lanka have undermined the proposition that China can buy political love in the subcontinent by simply investing large sums of money in mega infrastructure projects. It has been conventional wisdom for a while that China is the closest external partner to Yangon and Colombo. But internal political change in both countries has put some key Chinese projects on hold. Uncertainty in Beijing’s bilateral political relations with Yangon and Colombo has inevitably followed.
More broadly, China’s cheque-book diplomacy and project-building in distant lands have come under stress as many of its partners — from Ukraine to Venezuela and Ecuador to Argentina — drift into financial straits and find themselves unable to repay loans. Meanwhile, others in Sri Lanka have questioned the terms and viability of Chinese-supported projects.
Massive hard currency reserves and excess industrial capacity at home, it appeared, had put Beijing in a powerful position to take up ambitious infrastructure projects beyond its borders. But politics and economics continue to complicate the translation of Chinese assets into concrete outcomes.
India Option : As New Delhi and Beijing seek a productive economic agenda for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China in May, there is no way of missing the fit between China’s capacities and India’s infrastructure needs, both at home and across borders. While China has been seeking India’s support for its Silk Road initiatives, Delhi has been reluctant to get on board. Modi, however, has signalled a more open approach to economic engagement with China.
Unlike many other countries where China is making risky investments, Delhi is a more credible long-term economic partner for Beijing. If China is ready for a genuine consultative approach with India and is willing to facilitate serious tie-ups between companies in both countries, Modi should embrace President Xi Jinping’s Silk Road initiative.
The Nehruvian legacy and the debacle of the 1962 war have cast a long shadow on bilateral ties. So it has not been easy to build political support within India for a pragmatic resolution of the border dispute. Given that the NDA government is not burdened by some of the historical baggage that thwarted its predecessors, there is a brighter prospect of resolving this issue. In pursuit of this aim, New Delhi must consider the prospect of settling the border demarcation roughly along the current line of actual control instead of the historical McMahon line. It is in this context that the talks between special representatives assume importance. In order to build political support for an eventual solution it is important to ensure there is no escalation of tension.
China is India’s most important trading partner at the moment even if the trade equation is lopsided. Indian companies in areas such as information technology and pharmaceuticals face non-tariff barriers. Therefore, a key measure of the success of Modi’s forthcoming visit to Beijing will be the flexibility China shows in lowering barriers. Trade talks are more likely to meet with success if they are not influenced by disturbances in other areas of bilateral engagement which is why the agreement between special representatives has salience.

Cheating – Academic or Otherwise: The Way India Deals With It

You won’t see any movie by the name of Shree 307 depicting the hangdog charms of a man who routinely attempts to commit murder. You won’t hear your neighbour dismissing his landlord as a “total teenso nabbai!” as if describing a wayward son-inlaw either. But then, you have Shree 420, in which the cheat is not only depicted as a lovable rogue making his way up in the Big City, but he also gets the girl under the umbrella during a downpour.
The truth is, unlike any other criminal offence covered by the IPC, the one that vies with Section 393A (public urination) for being taken least seriously is Section 420. It covers offences “related to cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property” and comes with a jail term of up to seven years. But the ‘cheating’ part of the law that doesn’t deal with dodgy promises of property and chit funds is seen, at worst, as a party trick misdemeanour and, at best, a skill to emulate like palmistry.Students from India and of Indian origin are coveted by academic systems worldwide. They are seen as diligent and disciplined. Schools, colleges and universities across the world go to great lengths, including embarking on expeditions to India, to attract the best and the brightest from this stock. In the US, they are considered the cream of the student crop with much success to show when they reach adulthood – highest rates of graduation and highest per capita income among all ethnicities.
Indian immigrants have burnished this reputation by typically moving to the best school districts wherever they emigrate to, striving to give their children the opportunity they may have struggled to get at home. They burden themselves with long commutes, deny themselves simple pleasures like vacations and cruises, and burn up potential retirement savings to invest everything into educating their children. In the US, as in India, parents often endeavour to put their children on a firm footing in life, giving them a head start without saddling them with student loans, which stands at an average $30,000 per student in America.
Indian children repay for the most part their parents’ sacrifices, acing classes, courses and competitions with predictable regularity. It is now commonplace to see students of Indian origin win events such as spelling bee and geography bee, science fests and technology demos, and attain honours at an even higher level.
In a particularly illustrative case on Monday, President Obama singled out the work of several Indian-American students, five of whom made the finals of the White House science fair. In fact, he made it a point to mention their immigrant origins, saying he was glad their parents decided to move to the US because that is what gives America its edge.
Such upbeat reviews of Indian excellence rub off back home too. Last year, several high-schoolers from India travelled to Los Angeles to display their flair at the annual Intel science talent search. They came not just from big cities and privileged families but from small towns too.
As she stood beside the exhibit showcasing her work on treating cattle dermatitis with cashew, Deeksha Hebbar, a wide-eyed ingénue from Vivekananda ‘English medium school’ in the town of Puttur near Mangalore, soaked up the competition from across the world without the slightest trace of intimidation. Across the hallway, Jaya Sagar, a student of a government senior secondary school in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, confidently displayed her homemade project that used mustard flowers to attract better pollinators at her family’s apple orchard.
They represent the bright-eyed future of India, and their work – of which kind more should be encouraged – was a far cry from the fiasco in Bihar where recently parents and sibling were filmed helping their wards cheat in exams that tested learning by rote. Images of this spectacle have spread across the world, from the Pacific Northwest (where this writer saw it on the front page of a Canadian newspaper) to the antipodes, where India is currently the flavour at the World Cup.
Those who argue that this Bihar spectacle is an opportunistic one-off incident are oblivious to the damage such images can cause. Social media accentuates such episodes and every academic shenanigan from hereon will be conflated with this singularly striking visual.
That Bihar, once the crucible of scholastic excellence, should highlight this abject failure of the system, is painful despite the state’s reputation in modern times as a lawless frontier of mediocrity. Centuries before the California university system with its 10 campuses and great many schools came into being, Nalanda and Vikramshila, along with Somapura, Odantapura and Jagaddala, formed the Bihar educational grid, a network of outstanding interlinked institutions that attracted scholars from far and wide. Ironically, one of the high-schoolers President Obama called out for excellence on Monday was named Nikhil Behari.
There is little point though in moping about hoary glory. India has failed Bihar, while failing itself. Modern Bihar might have provided the most egregious visual of this failure, but the rot is nationwide, which is why parents are scrambling to get their kids out of India at a young age even as some are clambering tall buildings to pass out cheat sheets to their children.
Bureaucrats posted abroad now leave their children there even at high school stage. Parents in India are now sending their children abroad for undergraduate studies. Despite a booming education sector at home, there is a feeling that the quality of education is just not good enough and does not equip children with skills to compete in the world market.
Much of this has to do with the rote system of learning, a Brahmanical legacy handed into our education system at the expense of physical work and practical hand skills that supplement mental calisthenics. American educators often notice that while students arriving from India are brilliant at theory, they cannot build or design to save their lives. Changing this aspect of India’s education system – overemphasis on theory and rote learning – will also help India get around the problem of cheating in exams. This is not rocket science.
Demonstrating Archimedes’ principle or the laws of thermodynamics yields better results than reciting it from memory. Make in India is never going to work if you don’t teach children how to create rather than just how to remember.
Which is why even though many of us seem to have grown a lumpy conscience over the weekend when confronted with photographs of Patna Peter Parkers scaling up school façades across Bihar — which I first mistook as inmates breaking out of the Cellular Jail in the Andamans, until I remembered that the prison has been a museum since Independence —to pass on cheat sheets to students inside sitting for Class 10 board exams, the rest of the nation (and seemingly the whole of Bihar) seems to find our shock incredulous. Images of students blatantly cheating in Class 10 exams in Bihar drew international ridicule, with photos of men clambering up the walls of an exam centre making it to foreign newspapers. The adults were relatives of the teens taking state board exams; they passed cheat-sheets to the students threw windows under the noses of supervisors. “Should we shoot them?” asked Prashant Kumar Shahi, Bihar’s education minister, addressing a news conference after television news channels aired the incriminating photo and raked up the scandal.
Now, former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Yadav has offered his own and, as always, unique take on the controversy. “When you go elsewhere, no one will believe your degrees. If you can’t clear exams, why don’t you just fail them and retake them till you pass?” asked Mr Yadav today. “The current government says it can’t control cheating… (during my time as Chief Minister) I used to hand out books to everyone and said ‘fine, write from the books.’ Do you think they managed? They kept on writing and three hours passed by and most of them failed anyway,” Mr Yadav added, his point, presumably being that it doesn’t pay to cheat.
The Class 10 exams held by the Bihar School Examination Board (BSEB) are viewed as make-or-break tests that will determine the college admissions and professional careers of more than 1.4 million students who are taking the tests this week, crammed into 1,217 examination centres in Bihar.The picture that went viral showed (male) friends and family members climbing an un-plastered school building where the class X (age 16) Board exam was being held in order to pass answer cheat sheets through the window to the hapless, presumably under-prepared youngsters inside the rooms.
The picture shocked us. It showed India the mirror, surely. Or was the shock more of shame when the picture was circulated abroad? Don’t Indians know that many centres allow cheating? Has everyone not heard stories of centres when ‘supported’ candidates are allowed ‘help’. Or of centres where every candidate is ‘supported’ by a teacher who basically announces the answers in class. Invigilation in many centres is a joke, and that is where one is safe due to collusion. In other centres an invigilator’s job is highly risky – many fear for their lives. Rumours, newspaper stories and stories retold at social gatherings – none of them have ever caused an uproar, nor a gasp of wonder let alone a shrinking in shame for the pervasive phenomenon of cheating.
Everyone knows cheating happens. Right? Who would want to do business with those labeled as cheats? Even the thousands, even millions who are honest are often tarred with the same brush. Every act of dishonesty – whether it is climbing a wall to cheat in an exam, or breaking a red light to get ahead or looking at a woman in a way that crosses a boundary line – every such act reduces you, and your community. Sink, and all sink together.
The problem here is not the story of cheating. The problem is the fact that cheating is acceptable and has been tolerated. A cheat at school is a corrupt worker. A successful cheat at school is a supporter of corruption as a way of life.
That picture of cheating? It stank. It stank of the rot in our education system. It stank of desperation. It reeked of compromises that prepared one only for a life of underhanded survival. The smell of that picture stays with us.
Why Cheat? Poor ethics. Short sightedness. Examinations beyond capabilities. Unprepared students. Poor teaching. Poor learning. Bad schools. Lack of hard work. Unrealistic expectations. Bad examination design. Irrelevant curriculum. Too many certificates, too few competencies.
There are so many reasons to cheat. And only one reason not to cheat. One look at mass cheating (yes, that is a thing) and you realise that the only fools left behind are those who stick to their principles and not cheat. (You’ve heard this before, haven’t you? And nodded?) And some of us decide to ‘Stay Honest, Stay Foolish’ when it comes to the test.
Of course, Union minister Upendra Kushawa, MP from Karakat in Bihar, has said that the Centre will seek a report on the mass cheating. And over 100 people — friends, parents and relatives of students — who had facilitated the enterprise by either climbing up the walls to deliver the chits (reportedly Rs 50 to deliver it to the third floor, Rs 40 to the second floor, Rs 30 to the first floor) or sponsored the transaction, have been arrested, under Section 420. But an atmosphere of disbelief lingers — about what on earth constituted the ‘crime’.
Politicians, both at the Centre and in Bihar, seem to be caught in a situation that usually confronts parents who know that their daughter has a boyfriend being told by a ‘concerned’ neighbour that he saw her with a boy.
Cheating, like corruption, has been an offshoot of India’s much flaunted talent for jugaad. Taking in a crumpled note into an examination hall is seen by many as an attempt to equalise things, a D-I-Y affirmative action. In 1970s-80s America, one could ascertain whether one was left-wing or right-wing by one’s approach to crime and the law as depicted in vigilante movies such as Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry films and Charles Bronson’s Death Wish franchise.
‘Lily-livered liberals’ howled in The New York Times oped pieces against people glorifying vengeance in a system where the law was seen as too soft against rapists and murderers. While those who saw ‘justice by any means’ as kosher were seen by the other side as rednecks, villagers with pitchforks.
Cheating and the way the law deals with it in India have similar battle lines drawn. Parents — and not only those involved in the photogenic wallscaling exercise to help their Pappus and Buntys scribbling away inside — fundamentally don’t see anything wrong in using whatever is needed to get their children to pass exams.
As many locals pointed out, what the national and social media were going bonkers over was a standard operating procedure. Because cheating is seen as the only way students from schools with no quality teachers — or no teachers at all — can possibly enter 3D India — you know, Democracy, Demography, Demand. Cheating, for many young Indians and their doting parents, firms up their future in the supply side of 21stcentury life in India.
Better-off folks have resorted to Bluetooth technology, pliant school administrators, donations, not to mention perfectly on-the-book strategies such as putting their munchkins in good schools, making provisions for extra tuitions, and having a pleasant home environment.
All that cheating provides is a leg up from a lower point. The trouble is, what you get by this line of perfectly reasonable line of thinking is a nation of dunces with minimum knowledge and skills and who will find it forever astounding that there is anything remotely self-defeating in helping their own children to cheat.
I can just see it: a perfectly reasonable case to penalise smartness and brains. Outside the domain of using them for enhancing cheating technology, of course.

21st Century Makeover of 20th Century Gandhi

Mercifully, there is always a conflict between cold reductionism and common sense. This could be a reason why a beautifully sculpted statue of Mahatma Gandhi was unveiled in London’s Parliament Square. In that prized location, Gandhi will be sharing space with Sir Winston Churchill, the leader who saved Britain from Hitler but who failed to save the empire for Britain.
There seems to be a Gandhi Mark-2 in the making. As his universal appeal acquires pre-eminence, the legacy of Gandhi the Indian political agitator will steadily lose focus. This isn’t a sinister Western conspiracy. A remoulded Gandhi is entirely in harmony with India’s growing belief in its globalized destiny.
We are often told, maybe quite rightly, that individuals are secondary to the flow of history. By that logic, the dismemberment of the British Empire that began with India’s independence in 1947 was perhaps inevitable after World War I physically decimated the British ruling classes and World War II left the country near-bankrupt. Stretching the argument, India should be honouring Germany’s last Kaiser, Adolf Hitler and Hideki Tojo for facilitating our tryst with destiny.An impressive nine feet statue of Mahatma Gandhi was unveiled in London’s Parliament Square this month. PM David Cameron paid tribute to Gandhi: “By putting Mahatma Gandhi in this famous square we are giving him an eternal home in our country.”
Eighty-four years after Gandhi’s historic visit to England, he finally looks at ease. Behind him is the looming figure of Benjamin Disraeli and a few paces ahead, the man who called him a half-naked seditious fakir, Winston Churchill, looks on impassively at the oncoming traffic. What would Gandhi make of sharing public space with dyed-in-the wool imperialists? It’s difficult to say.
Also, what would Gandhi make of the many Indians who choose to make Britain their home today? Perhaps he would have felt a certain kinship with them. The vast majority came from East Africa; made refugees by expulsions and Africanisation policies. Like Gandhi in South Africa, Indians in British colonies of East Africa, for the most part, showed little solidarity with the African cause. If they lobbied politically, it was for their own rights. Their displacement from Africa, post Independence, came as a rude shock but their resettlement in Britain has been exemplary. They are integrated into all walks of life including political.
But what would Gandhi have made of their ties with India? Would it surprise Gandhi that Indians in Britain (and America), the diaspora desi are amongst the largest funders of Hindutva today? Would he be disheartened to find that while voting liberal in the countries they adopt they empower the Hindu right in India and cling to very narrow definitions of what it means to be Indian? RSS established a chapter in the UK in 1966 and is active under the name of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh.
Or perhaps it is Ambedkar’s concerns that would play on his mind. Caste discrimination remains the ‘hidden apartheid’. When in 2013, the Dalit Solidarity Network managed to table a motion which would recognise caste as a form of discrimination, their jubilation was short lived. The Alliance of Hindu Organisations comprising lawyers, businessmen and councils embarked on a blistering counterattack calling it the work of anti-Hindu religious prejudice and managed to stall its implementation.
Maybe, what Gandhi would find most intriguing in Britain today are the large number of Goans who reside here as Portuguese. Gandhi did not live to see the liberation of Goa but even in 1947, every indication pointed to an eventual unification with India. Goan nationalists were affiliated to the Indian National Congress and they saw their struggle as an extension of the Indian independence movement. And yet, five decades after liberation, Goans still claim their Portuguese citizenship. Perhaps in the end, human beings are more nebulous than we anticipate. Our identities are indefinable. And history is unpredictable for how else could the half-naked fakir have ended up next to the British bulldog?
The irony of Gandhi and Churchill being celebrated in the same public space without even a hint of squeamishness has not gone unnoticed. Nor have Indians failed to note the innate generosity of a society that has chosen to embrace an opponent who, Churchill hoped, would die of selfinflicted starvation and save war-torn Britain a lot of bother. If, as many of the present generation of Britons seem to believe, the empire was built on perfidy, greed, oppression and the generous spilling of ‘native’ blood, the Gandhi statue is akin to what an Israeli notable said about the Holocaust memorial in Berlin: a “memorial to immortalize…shame.”
Of course, the comparison of the British Raj with Hitler’s gas chambers is misplaced. Collaboration, not annihilation, constituted a principle of British expansion and, till 1921 at least, Gandhi was a prime example of this process. Indeed, the suggestion that satyagraha succeeded principally because the opponent had internalized a moral structure built around the notion of fair play is worth considering. The anti-apartheid struggle led by Nelson Mandela in South Africa began as passive resistance but progressed into armed struggle precisely because the white regime refused to yield to sustained moral pressure. The course of India’s freedom struggle is, therefore, as much a commentary on Oriental saintliness as it is about imperial flexibility.
Gandhi’s success lay in forcing the imperial power to make an honourable exit out of India, minus the bitterness that accompanied decolonization in many other parts of the world. He was less successful in securing an equally smooth internal settlement involving all Indians. But that failure was not because of Gandhi, but despite him — and for which he ultimately paid for with his own life. Consequently, 68 years after India moved out of the orbit of empire, there is the bizarre situation of Gandhi being honoured in India and Britain but not throughout the lands that constituted British India. And even within the nation that has conferred on him the elevated but inappropriate title ‘father of the nation’ — the assumption being that Indian nationhood doesn’t predate him — his legacy is being more critically assessed, and not merely by a loony fringe.
There is a second paradox that the ceremony in London has driven home. To an India that revers his saintliness, the centrality of Gandhi the politician who brought the masses into politics is juxtaposed with the acute embarrassment over Gandhi the relentless critic of modernity. For Gandhi, political swaraj was only a facet of the larger battle for a moral order that would restore the innocence and purity of the traditional village and repudiate the distortions of science and technology. This utopian quest didn’t have too many takers, either within India or in the wider world.
The universal Gandhi that is now a feature of London’s landscape is an exercise in 21st century repackaging. First, it obfuscates his historical context by putting him in close proximity to Churchill, the man who personified the other side. Secondly, it is Gandhi’s association with non-violent conflict resolution that is posited as the guiding principle of politics in the age of jihadi extremism. He may however have no such role in India, since Mahatma Gandhi as an icon to spur the people with passive resistance was a great success. But Mahatma Gandhi as a transformer of India did not exist ever.

The Myth of Divisive Race

In 1950, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) issued a statement asserting that all humans belong to the same species and that “race” is not a biological reality but a myth. This was a summary of the findings of an international panel of anthropologists, geneticists, sociologists, and psychologists.
A great deal of evidence had accumulated by that time to support this conclusion, and the scientists involved were those who were conducting research and were most knowledgeable about the topic of human variation. Since that time similar statements have been published by the American Anthropological Association and the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, and an enormous amount of modern scientific data has been gathered to justify this conclusion.
Today the vast majority of those involved in research on human variation would agree that biological races do not exist among humans. Among those who study the subject, who use and accept modern scientific techniques and logic, this scientific fact is as valid and true as the fact that the earth is round and revolves around the sun.
Yet as recently as 2010, highly acclaimed journalist Guy Harrison wrote: ” One day in the 1980s, I sat in the front row in my first undergraduate anthropology class, eager to learn more about this bizarre and fascinating species I was born into. But I got more than I expected that day as I heard for the first time that biological races are not real. After hearing several perfectly sensible reasons why vast biological categories don’t work very well, I started to feel betrayed by my society. “Why am I just hearing this now? . . . Why didn’t somebody tell me this in elementary school?” . . . I never should have made it through twelve years of schooling before entering a university, without ever hearing the important news that most anthropologists reject the concept of biological races.”
Unfortunately, along with the belief in the reality of biologically based human races, racism still abounds in the United States and Western Europe. How can this be when there is so much scientific evidence against it?
Most educated people would accept the facts that the earth is not flat and that it revolves around the sun. However, it is much more difficult for them to accept modern science concerning human variation. Why is this so? It seems that the belief in human races, carrying along with it the prejudice and hatred of “racism,” is so embedded in our culture and has been an integral part of our worldview for so long that many of us assume that it just must be true.
Racism is a part of our everyday lives. Where you live, where you go to school, your job, your profession, who you interact with, how people interact with you, your treatment in the healthcare and justice systems are all affected by your race.
For the past 500 years, people have been taught how to interpret and understand racism. We have been told that there are very specific things that relate to race, such as intelligence, sexual behavior, birth rates, infant care, work ethics and abilities, personal restraint, lifespan, law-abidingness, aggression, altruism, economic and business practices, family cohesion, and even brain size.
We have learned that races are structured in a hierarchical order and that some races are better than others. Even if you are not a racist, your life is affected by this ordered structure. We are born into a racist society.
What many people do not realize is that this racial structure is not based on reality. Anthropologists have shown for many years now that there is no biological reality to human race. There are no major complex behaviors that directly correlate with what might be considered human “racial” characteristics.
There is no inherent relationship between intelligence, law- abidingness, or economic practices and race, just as there is no relationship between nose size, height, blood group, or skin color and any set of complex human behaviors.
However, over the past 500 years, we have been taught by an informal, mutually reinforcing consortium of intellectuals, politicians, statesmen, business and economic leaders and their books that human racial biology is real and that certain races are biologically better than others.
These teachings have led to major injustices to Jews and non-Christians during the Spanish Inquisition; to blacks, Native Americans, and others during colonial times; to African Americans during slavery and reconstruction; to Jews and other Europeans during the reign of the Nazis in Germany; and to groups from Latin America and the Middle East, among others, during modern political times. Many of our leaders and their followers have deluded us into believing these racist fallacies and how they have been perpetuated from the late Middle Ages to the present.
Many of our basic policies of race and racism have been developed as a way to keep these leaders and their followers in control of the way we live our modern lives. These leaders often see themselves as the best and the brightest. Much of this history helped establish and maintain the Spanish Inquisition, colonial policies, slavery, Nazism, racial separatism and discrimination, and anti-immigration policies.
Over the past 500 or so years, many intellectuals and their books have created our story of racism. They developed our initial ideas of race in Western society and solidified the attitudes and beliefs that gradually followed under the influence of their economic and political policies.
Then, approximately 100 years ago, anthropologist Franz Boas came up with an alternate explanation for why peoples from different areas or living under certain conditions behaved differently from one another. People have divergent life histories, different shared experiences with distinctive ways of relating to these differences. We all have a worldview, and we all share our worldview with others with similar experiences. We have culture.
It took many years for Boas and his few followers to develop this idea and pass it on to others. However, over the past fifty or sixty years, anthropologists, biologists, and geneticists have written many articles and books explaining why biological race in humans is nonexistent.
At first, scientists attempted to classify human races based on variations in characteristics such as skin color, hair color and form, eye color, facial anatomy, and blood groups. In the recent past, various scientists, such as Franz Boas, have divided us into anywhere between three and more than thirty different races, without any success. Most of these hypothetical “races” were developed using assumptions about genetic relationships and distributions among different human populations.
In 1942, Ashley Montagu, a student of Franz Boas, claimed that “there are no races, there are only clines.” Traits considered to be “racial” are actually distributed independently and depend upon many environmental and behavioral factors. For the most part, each trait has a distinct distribution from other traits, and these traits are rarely determined by a single genetic factor.
This type of distribution of a biological trait is referred to as a cline. For example, skin color is related to the amount of solar radiation, and dark skin is found in Africa, India, and Australia. However, many other genetic traits in peoples of these areas are not similar. Furthermore, similar traits such as skin color are convergent; different genes can cause similar morphological and behavioral characteristics.
For example, genetic pathways to dark skin are different in Tamil Nadu and in Nigeria. Genetic traits usually do not correlate with one another and are not distributed in the same place or in the same way over time.
Race is supposed to tell us something about our genetic history. Who is related to whom? How did populations evolve over time and how isolated were they in the past?
Recent studies have shown us that humans have been migrating since Homo sapiens evolved some 200,000 years ago. This migration has not been in one direction but had happened back and forth. Our genes have been mixing since we evolved, and our genetic structure looks more like a complex, intermixed trellis than a simple candelabra.
It is very difficult to tell what our particular genetic background is over human historic time. We humans are more similar to each other as a group than we are to one another within any particular racial or genetic category.
Our view of genetics has also changed in recent times. Although many people still believe that genes, or a series of genes, directly determine some of our most complex behavioral or cognitive characteristics, the reality is more complicated.
Studies now show that each gene is only a single player in a wondrous, intricate drama involving non-additive interactions of genes, proteins, hormones, food, and life experiences and learning that interact to affect us on different levels of cognitive and behavioral functions. Each gene has an effect on multiple types of behaviors, and many behaviors are affected by many genes as well as other factors. The assumption that a single gene is causative can lead to unwarranted conclusions and an over- interpretation of any genuine genetic linkage.
It is important to understand how scientists define the concept of race. How is race defined in biological terms? What do we mean by the term race when describing population variation in large mammals such as humans? Do the criteria used in describing these variations hold when we examine human population variation?
In biological terms, the concept of race is integrally bound to the process of evolution and the origin of species. It is part of the process of the formation of new species and is related to subspecific differentiation. However, because conditions can change and subspecies can and do merge, this process does not necessarily lead to the development of new species.
In biology, a species is defined as a population of individuals who are able to mate and have viable offspring; that is, offspring who are also successful in reproducing. The formation of new species usually occurs slowly over a long period of time. For example, many species have a widespread geographic distribution with ranges that include ecologically diverse regions. If these regions are large in relationship to the average distance of migration of individuals within the species, there will be more mating, and thus more exchange of genes, within than between regions.
Over very long periods of time (tens of thousands of years), differences would be expected to evolve between distant populations of the same species. Some of these variations would be related to adaptations to ecological differences within the geographic range of the populations, while others might be purely random.
Over time, if little or no mating (or genetic exchange) occurs between these distant populations, genetic (and related morphological) differences will increase. Ultimately, over tens of thousands of years of separation, if little or no mating takes place between separate populations, genetic distinctions can become so great that individuals of the different populations could no longer mate and produce viable offspring.
The two populations would now be considered two separate species. This is the process of speciation. However, again, none of these criteria require that speciation will ultimately occur.
Since speciation develops very slowly, it is useful to recognize intermediate stages in this process. Populations of a species undergoing differentiation would show genetic and morphological variation due to a buildup of genetic differences but would still be able to breed and have offspring that could successfully reproduce.
They would be in various stages of the process of speciation but not yet different species. In biological terminology, it is these populations that are considered “races” or “subspecies”. Basically, subspecies within a species are geographically, morphologically, and genetically distinct populations but still maintain the possibility of successful interbreeding.
Thus, using this biological definition of race, we assume that races or subspecies are populations of a species that have genetic and morphological differences due to barriers to mating. Furthermore, little or no mating (or genetic exchange) between them has persisted for extremely long periods of time, thus giving the individuals within the population a common and separate evolutionary history.
Given advances in molecular genetics, we now have the ability to examine populations of species and subspecies and reconstruct their evolutionary histories in an objective and explicit fashion. In this way, we can determine the validity of the traditional definition of human races “by examining the patterns and amount of genetic diversity found within and among human populations” and by comparing this diversity with other large-bodied mammals that have wide geographic distributions.
In other words, we can determine how much populations of a species differ from one another and how these divergences came about.
A commonly used method to quantify the amount of within — to among — group genetic diversity is through examining molecular data, using statistics measuring genetic differences within and between populations of a species. Using this method, biologists have set a minimal threshold for the amount of genetic differentiation that is required to recognize subspecies.
Compared to other large mammals with wide geographic distributions, human populations do not reach this threshold. In fact, even though humans have the widest distribution, the measure of human genetic diversity (based on sixteen populations from Europe, Africa, Asia, the Americas, and the Australia-Pacific region) falls well below the threshold used to recognize races for other species and is among the lowest value known for large mammalian species. This is true even if we compare humans to chimpanzees.
Using a number of molecular markers has shown that the degree of isolation among human populations that would have been necessary for the formation of biological subspecies or races never occurred during the 200,000 years of modern human evolution.
Combined genetic data reveal that from around one million years ago to the last tens of thousands of years, human evolution has been dominated by two evolutionary forces: (1) constant population movement and range expansion; and (2) restrictions on mating between individuals only because of distance.
Thus, there is no evidence of fixed, long-term geographic isolation between populations. Other than some rare, temporary isolation events, such as the isolation of the aborigines of Australia, for example, the major human populations have been interconnected by mating opportunities (and thus genetic mixture) during the last 200,000 years (as long as modern humans, Homo sapiens, have been around). As summarized by A.R. Templeton, who is among the world’s most recognized and respected geneticists: Because of the extensive evidence for genetic interchange through population movements and recurrent gene flow going back at least hundreds of thousands of years ago, there is only one evolutionary lineage of humanity and there are no subspecies or races. . . . Human evolution and population structure has been and is characterized by many locally differentiated populations coexisting at any given time, but with sufficient contact to make all of humanity a single lineage sharing a common, long-term evolutionary fate.
Thus, given current scientific data, biological races do not exist among modern humans today, and they have never existed in the past. Given such clear scientific evidence as this and the research data of so many other biologists, anthropologists, and geneticists that demonstrate the nonexistence of biological races among humans, how can the “myth” of human races still persist?
If races do not exist as a biological reality, why do so many people still believe that they do? In fact, even though biological races do not exist, the concept of race obviously is still a reality, as is racism. These are prevalent and persistent elements of our everyday lives and generally accepted aspects of our culture.
Thus, the concept of human races is real. It is not a biological reality, however, but a cultural one. Race is not a part of our biology, but it is definitely a part of our culture. Race and racism are deeply ingrained in our history.

Re-Evaluating and Recreating Appropriate India-China Relationship

The Chinese have often said expanded bilateral cooperation across the board will set the stage for addressing the intractable territorial problem left over by history.
The first round of boundary talks with China under the Narendra Modi government, taking place this week, is an opportunity for New Delhi to explore the territorial compromises necessary to resolve the longstanding dispute. With strong leaders at the helm in Delhi and Beijing, there are rising expectations that the two special representatives — Ajit Doval and Yang Jiechi — will be able to find an early breakthrough on the boundary dispute. By their very nature, territorial compromises are not easy, despite the strong political will in Delhi and Beijing. Even the simplest of solutions to the boundary dispute — turning the status quo into a legitimate border — involves a notional exchange of territories and changing the way the two countries have long drawn their maps.
Given the difficulties of finding a final settlement, the two sides have focused, in the last few rounds, on ensuring peace and tranquility on the border. Repeated incursions by both sides across the claimed boundary line have raised tensions on the border in recent years and cast a political shadow over bilateral ties. Further, the lack of agreement on where the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is has complicated the effective implementation of many confidence-building measures for border stability that the two sides had negotiated in recent years. So, the clarification of the LAC has become an immediate political need for both countries.
Both these approaches — maintaining a peaceful border and clarifying the LAC — look beneath the boundary dispute by disaggregating the problem. But the greatest opportunity for the two governments today lies in looking beyond the boundary dispute and altering the broader context in which it plays out.
The Chinese have often said expanded bilateral cooperation across the board will set the stage, over the longer term, for addressing the intractable territorial problem left over by history. That long term might be too far down the road for India’s political comfort. A more productive approach would be to focus on promoting cooperation across the shared but disputed frontiers. This cooperation must necessarily be pursued in tandem with efforts to maintain peace on the border and purposeful negotiations to resolve the dispute.
There are three levels at which India and China can develop trans-frontier engagement. One is to promote trade and people-to-people contact across their borders. Tentative efforts in recent decades have not got real traction, thanks to the Indian focus on limited local trade. It is about time Delhi initiated comprehensive MFN trade across the borders. The Nathula Pass between Sikkim and Tibet is a good place to start. Inadequate infrastructure on the Indian side is often trotted out as an excuse in Delhi to avoid substantive trade on the Indo-Tibetan frontier. Modi should turn this policy on its head. He could use the decision to deepen trade ties on the Tibetan frontier as a trigger for rapid modernisation of transport infrastructure across the southern Himalayas.
The promotion of tourism, including spiritual pilgrimage, has been a central theme of Modi’s regional policy. This approach has unlimited possibilities with China. Delhi and Beijing must now launch a joint initiative to develop religious and cultural tourism across the Indo-Gangetic plains and bordering regions in Tibet, Yunnan and Xinjiang.
Second, Delhi can build on China’s Silk Road initiatives, which call for trilateral and quadrilateral transport and industrial corridors between western China on the one hand, and northern and eastern India on the other. Beijing has been pressing Delhi to cooperate in the development of the BCIM corridor (running through the Yunnan province of China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and India) in the east. It has also suggested a trans-Himalayan corridor between Tibet, Nepal and India. More recently, the Chinese ambassador to India, Le Yucheng, put out an intriguing idea — of extending the China-Pakistan economic corridor to India.
China is investing massively in the development of a corridor running from Kashgar in Xinjiang to Gwadar and Karachi on Pakistan’s Arabian coast. China has plans to connect this corridor to Afghanistan through new road and rail links. Speaking last week in Amritsar, Ambassador Ye saw all-round benefits in connecting the two Punjabs and linking them to the new Silk Road. Restoring economic cooperation between the two Punjabs through the Wagah-Attari border between Amritsar and Lahore has been a major goal of India’s effort to normalise trade relations with Pakistan.
Until now, India has viewed China’s Silk Road projects through a limiting geopolitical perspective. If it leavens its thinking with a bit of economic sense, Delhi might find that these initiatives are rooted in China’s massive accumulation of hard currency reserves and excess industrial capacity. If Beijing has a genuine domestic economic imperative to promote regional cooperation with India, Delhi should try and benefit from it, rather than finding clever ways to duck China’s Silk Road initiatives.
Finally, there is a new opportunity for unprecedented cooperation between Delhi and Beijing on regional issues, especially on the future of Pakistan and Afghanistan. If Delhi has had reason to see China’s ties with Pakistan as an enduring threat in the past, there is a case to view them today as a possible opportunity. As America ends its combat role in Afghanistan and religious extremism rises in Pakistan, China is deeply concerned about the impact on the restive Xinjiang province. If Beijing appears to be redoing its geopolitical sums on India’s northwest, Delhi too must suspend, at least for the moment, some of its certitudes on the China-Pak partnership.
As they prepare for Modi’s visit to China in May, Doval and Yang might find that expanding economic cooperation across their frontiers and launching political consultations on the vulnerable region they share might, in fact, create better conditions for stabilising their own disputed border and exploring a practical territorial settlement in the near term.

Whither U.S. Inflation, & Impact of Greek Tensions

The euro hit a 12-year low below $1.05 against the dollar at the start of last week only to jump back to $1.10 on Wednesday – its biggest one-day rise in six years – after the Fed signaled it was in no hurry to raise rates after all. By Friday the euro had eased back to $1.08. The Chinese yuan reversed a long declining trend to post its strongest weekly rise against the dollar since 2007 due to a rush of dollar sales by major state-owned banks.
Markets still digesting an unexpectedly cautious message from the Federal Reserve will get more food for thought this week with U.S. inflation data and potentially rising risks of a Greek exit from the euro zone. The massive monetary stimulus programs deployed by advanced economies are producing fierce foreign exchange swings and fuelling talk of a currency war.
Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda dismissed talk of competitive devaluations to spur economic growth, saying on Friday that the Fed, the BOJ and the European Central Bank had all printed money “to achieve their price stability targets, not to depreciate their currencies.”
Currency war or not, as long as foreign exchange movements remain so sharp, crucially determining the outlook for growth and inflation, currencies will remain uppermost in policymakers’ minds. The ECB may be hoping the euro continues to slide towards dollar parity as it frets over deflation and tries to help a fledgling euro zone economic recovery.
U.S. inflation figures for February on Tuesday will be particularly closely watched after the Fed removed its reference to being “patient” about raising rates from last week’s policy statement but indicated it will be very much data-dependent in deciding when to tighten policy. I think annual inflation will remain in negative territory so that should give more fuel to the doves that they don’t have to hike just yet, Any downside surprises will hurt the dollar and see bond yields fall further. There will be plenty more opportunity to decipher the Fed’s message this week with several FOMC members speaking, including Vice Chair Stanley Fischer.
In the euro zone, ECB President Mario Draghi will address a European Parliament committee today, with Greece and the progress of the ECB’s quantitative easing program sure to be high on the agenda. Tomorrow, preliminary purchasing managers surveys (PMIs) for March will indicate the strength of manufacturing in the world’s major economies following the currency gyrations and the plunge in oil prices. In the euro zone, PMIs are expected to continue a generally positive recent data trend, as the region benefits from cheaper energy costs and the weaker euro.
Banks took nearly 100 billion euros ($108 billion) in cheap, long-term loans from the ECB on Thursday, far exceeding expectations and spurring hopes of a long-awaited rise in lending. That will be tested this week when the ECB publishes data on credit growth which has been declining for years.
The German Ifo index of business confidence on Wednesday is expected to signal further buoyancy in the region’s biggest economy.
Greek Risk
While investors have been focused on ECB bond-buying, as well as the timing of U.S rate hikes and the plunge in oil prices, the stand-off between Greece and its euro zone partners has been steadily worsening and may soon be roiling markets again. At a European Union summit on Friday German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Greece would only receive fresh funds to ease a cash crunch once its creditors approve a comprehensive list of reforms it has promised but so far failed to produce.
European leaders spoke of “a spirit of mutual trust” and offered Athens a 2 billion euro sweetener to alleviate poverty, but there was little sign of the concrete progress that will be needed to avoid Greece stumbling towards an exit from the currency bloc, with unpredictable consequences. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras insisted his country faced no short-term liquidity problem, contradicting comments by EU officials that Athens could run out of money in mid-April.
Barclays Capital, in a research note, said it saw a growing risk that Greece would soon have to impose restrictions on bank withdrawals to avoid the “self-destructive spiral of a full-fledged bank run.”
With officials in Brussels, Berlin and the ECB now openly acknowledging the risk that Greece could leave the euro zone, a meeting between Tsipras and Merkel in Berlin on Monday will be closely watched for signs of a breakthrough or hardening of positions.
In China the manufacturing PMI will be the only major data release to gauge the cooling of the world’s second-largest economy. The calendar is fuller in Japan, where the PMI on Tuesday is followed by inflation data, unemployment and retail sales on Thursday.
While no monetary policy meetings are scheduled at the world’s major central banks this week, interest rate decisions are due from South Africa, Nigeria, Israel, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

The Intriguing Tale of Karakalpakstan :Origin of Pakistan

Under Stalin, the Soviet Union created a new autonomous area in the Uzbek republic of what Muslims in India knew as “Turkistan”, anciently associated with the Karakalpak (black cap) Turkic tribe. (The cap, not necessarily black today and completely differently shaped, may have become known in Pakistan as the Jinnah cap.) There is no reason why this desolate region south of the Aral Sea should become the origin of the name Pakistan, but thereby hangs a curious tale.
The Aral Sea, situated in the autonomous Karakalpakstan region in Uzbekistan, was once the world’s fourth-largest inland sea. Today, it is only 10 per cent of what it used to be. The two rivers that fed it were largely diverted in a failed cotton-production project during the Soviet era. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says it is one of the planet’s most shocking environmental disasters. Once a flourishing fishing port, Karakalpakstan is today a city of sand and salt.
Sometime in the early 1980s, a scion of the famous house of Fazl-i-Hussain visited my uncle, Agha Ahmad Raza Khan, in Zaman Park, Lahore, and I, as a young journalist, was called in to listen to his conversation. The guest was an Indian diplomat, the retired ambassador Azim Hussain. I must here recall that his father, Fazl-i-Hussain, a Punjab chief minister, was immortalised in a teaching wing of the Government College Lahore (GC) building where I studied for six years and taught for an additional four.
Fazl-i-Hussain led the Unionist Party — which he had founded in 1924 — and governed united Punjab, opposing the politics of both the Congress and the Muslim League. He was gratefully remembered in GC as a reformer who gave Muslims proper institutional representation. Azim Hussain was his third son. Like his father, Azim was a Cambridge graduate and, like him, had been called to the bar from Lincoln’s Inn. His sister was to marry another great son of Punjab, lawyer Manzur Qadir, who wrote Pakistan’s first constitution in 1960 and became Pakistan’s foreign minister during the Ayub Khan era. Khushwant Singh recalled that his friend Manzur saved his life by accompanying him to the border during Partition in 1947, when Lahore was gripped by communal riots.
Azim (1913-2007) practised law and served in the Punjab government from 1937 to 1942. He joined the Indian diplomatic service in 1948 and was deputy high commissioner in London from 1957 to 1960, and subsequently held ambassadorial positions in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Switzerland and the Holy See. After his career in the Indian diplomatic service, he was elected deputy secretary general of the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, where he lived till his death.
Sitting in Zaman Park, he told me that the word Pakistan was inspired by the Central Asian region of Karakalpakstan, and was not an invention of Chaudhry Rahmat Ali, who more recognisably first carved out dozens of Muslim homelands in India with funny names — like Osmanistan for Hyderabad, Bangistan for Bengal and Maplistan for Kerala — and then wrote his pamphlet, “Now or Never” (1933), in which he put down the name “Pakstan” (note the absence of the “i”) for the first time.
Azim insisted that the name was actually coined by a Punjabi civil service trainee in London, Khwaja Abdur Rahim. I reproduced his conversation in the weekly, Viewpoint, then edited by the late Mazhar Ali Khan, father of my favourite writer-activist, Tariq Ali. Azim understandably repudiated it upon realising it could affect his position in the Commonwealth Secretariat.
His version went like this. Khwaja Rahim was reading a British journal on Central Asia while riding a bus — in an area called Golders Green — in London and came upon a map that showed Karakalpakstan as a new autonomous region under Stalin. According to Azim, the spine of the journal divided the word into Karakal and Pakstan. Hence Chaudhry Rahmat Ali’s spelling of Pakistan.
Later, I saw the map in Olaf Caroe’s book, Soviet Empire: The Turks of Central Asia and Stalinism (1953). The map was in this later publication but the name of the region was not exactly divided by the spine of the book. I assume that the “Pakstan” of Chaudhry Rahmat Ali became “Pakistan” when written in Urdu, because Urdu has no vowel letters and they are frequently “assumed” by its speakers. Today, Pakistanis mispronounce Kazakhstan as “Kazakhistan”.
Historian K.K. Aziz in his comprehensive Chaudhry Rahmat Ali: A Biography admits that many contemporaries of Ali thought he had not coined the name of Pakistan. One such was another uncle of mine of Zaman Park, Jehangir Khan, who had gone to England as a member of the Indian cricket team in the early 1930s and had stayed on to finish his doctorate in history at Cambridge. He thought Khwaja Rahim, the Indian civil servant, had coined the name, prompting Jinnah to call it a “students’ dream”.
Another non-civil service student, Mian Abdul Haq, thought so too and in 1964, wrote in the daily Nawa-e-Waqt Lahore that Khwaja Rahim had suggested the name to him in 1932. Yet another friend of Ali, Jamil Wasti, was in London when a Bengali Muslim pointed out after reading the pamphlet “Now or Never” that there was no letter in Pakstan denoting Bengal. Pakistan was supposed to represent all Muslim regions through the letters of its name. If “B” for Bengal is not there, it simply strengthens the other thesis of derivation from Karakalpakstan.
Aziz reported in his book that Ali showed his borrowed formulation to Allama Muhammad Iqbal, who was in London for the Round Table Conference. Iqbal thought it was a good name, but the other Muslims in the delegation dismissed it as a “students’ dream”. Bengali Muslim students in London objected, claiming that Pakistan as an acronym omitted reference to Bengal. Since Khwaja Rahim was a civil servant, Ali was likely allowed to “own” the coinage. Ali later turned on Jinnah for being conciliatory towards the Congress on Partition and insultingly called him “Quisling-e-Azam”.
Aziz also pointed out in his book that Ali tried to return to India to attend the 1940 Lahore session of the Muslim League, where the famous “Pakistan Resolution” was adopted, and landed in Sri Lanka two months ahead of the date. He was dissuaded by Khwaja Rahim — representing Punjab as a civil servant — who advised him to return to London. Ali rejected the suggestion and landed in Karachi in February 1940 and was there when the 1940 resolution was passed. He returned to London in May. According to Aziz, both the Unionist Party of Punjab and the Muslim Leaguers attending the 1940 session disliked Ali. The Leaguers thought Jinnah didn’t like him; the Unionists didn’t like the word Pakistan. The resolution didn’t mention the name either.
This little anecdote carries no authority. I am intrigued by it because it carries some remarkable “clues”. I must say I was never completely convinced by the acronym deployed in the textbooks. Even “A” for Afghania (Pakhtunkhwa) is a bit of a stretch. Two “Bs” for Bengal and Balochistan — the latter is supposed to be contained in the “tan” ending — were missing anyway, while “K” for Kashmir is there.

Very few drops to drink: Water pollution a bigger environmental threat than climate change

The eminent poet W H Auden noted, “Thousands have lived without love, but not one without water.” And this view has been upheld by UN declarinmg today- the 22nd March as World Water Day and also by the World Economic Forum (WEF). WEF has just published its 10th annual Global Risk report. For the first 10 years the premier spot is taken by a non-financial issue, water. We have to realize that truly, bu sadly, water all over the world receives a low priority in public agenda. Climate change has become a major issue, promoted as it is by Nobel Prize winners, environmental activists and climate scientists, NGOs, Hollywood stars and filmmakers. Water issues sadly have not elicited such support. Yet over the medium term of 10 years, water issues will have significantly more adverse impacts than climate change. The WEF report is therefore to be welcomed for providing water a much-needed boost.
This of course does not mean that climate change is not important. However, over the medium term, efforts to ensure the availability of adequate quantity of good quality water need greater emphasis. In addition climate change has numerous uncertainties, but we know how to solve water problems. We also have the knowledge, technology and investment funds needed to solve them. Yet, poor water management continues all over the world and there is no sign that this situation will improve soon.
Ancient civilizations grew up on the banks of major rivers like Indus, Nile and Tigris-Euphrates where water was plentiful. Human beings are emotionally attached to water, much more so than to any other resource like food or energy. This emotional attachment has made efficient water management a difficult process. Throughout history, water has been taken for granted and has been used and abused as seen fit. We have yet to accept that water is a limited resource which must be managed prudently.
One manifestation of this emotional attachment is that water is provided free, or at highly subsidised prices, almost everywhere. Agriculture accounts for nearly 70% of all global water use. Yet not a single country charges farmers full operation and maintenance costs for irrigation water, let alone investment costs.
Even for domestic water, people in very few cities pay the real cost. With sensible water pricing, utilities can be financially viable and people would use water efficiently.
Poor water management over decades has created numerous structural problems. The Aral Sea used to be the world’s fourth largest freshwater lake. The diversion of two rivers, Amu Darya and Syr Darya, which provided it with a steady flow of freshwater for cotton production, has reduced it to only a small shadow of what it used to be. Lake Chad was one of the largest water bodies in Africa in the 1960s. Unsustainable water use has meant that its level and size have shrunk by an incredible 90%.
Take China. In the 1950s, the country had 50,000 rivers having catchment areas of more than 100 sq km. By 2013, this number has been reduced to 27,000. Rivers have disappeared because of overuse by agriculture and industry. Anecdotal evidence indicates that Indian water bodies are facing a similar fate.
Many of the mighty rivers have now become a trickle by the time they reach the sea. These include the Colorado, Nile, Indus, Yellow and Murray rivers. The World Commission on Water has noted that more than half of the world’s rivers are seriously depleted.
Water bodies in near all urban centres of the developing world are seriously polluted. There is no shortage of evidence. In 2011, water from more than half of China’s largest lakes and rivers was declared unfit for human consumption. More than half of groundwater in northern China is so polluted that it is not suitable for bathing, let alone drinking.
The Indian government reported in 2013 that nearly half of the country’s 445 rivers are too polluted for drinking in terms of biochemical oxygen demand and coliforms. If other pollutants like toxic chemicals and heavy metals are considered, the overwhelming majority of water sources can no longer be used without expensive treatment.
The economic, social, health and environmental costs of such heavy contamination are increasing steadily. In some countries, the real costs of poor water management are approaching as much as nearly 5% of GDP.
Calls are mounting that the world is steadily drifting towards a major water crisis. We have a new report by the United Nations warning that “the global water crisis is one of governance, much more than of resource availability”. It adds that there is enough water to meet the world’s growing needs “but not without dramatically changing the way water is used, managed and shared”. This is important for Pakistan for two reasons. First, we are fast becoming a water-starved country as per capita availability is falling at an alarming rate. Second, in order to remedy this potentially catastrophic slide, we need to shift our thinking away from building mega dams to increase water availability towards a more judicious utilisation of the resource that is currently available in our system. Everybody understands that Pakistan is a hydrological society, underpinned by agriculture and sustained by water. What needs to be repeated, however, is that we are wasting a precious and dwindling resource by failing to adopt more efficient farm practices, technologies of water conservation, efficiencies in watercourse management, and pricing incentives to encourage its more thoughtful utilisation.
In its annual report on world water development, released on Friday, the UN emphasised this shift in focus when talking about investment in water projects as well. “There is a need, however, to increasingly shift the focus of such investments towards changing the way in which water, and the environment more generally, are valued, managed and used.” This theme runs through the report, and it needs to be made part of our thoughts on water as well — more particularly, of the thinking coming out of the myriad government agencies built for the purposes of water management. In fact, this emphasis on how water is “valued, managed and used” should be internalised by Irsa, the main regulator for the water sector, which recently made headlines by advancing an impractical proposal that the entire development budget of the country be diverted towards the construction of water storage infrastructu
If current trends continue, the situation will get worse. Take industry. Nearly two-thirds of companies now consider that water poses a substantial risk to their business. Mining giant Rio Tinto announced in April 2014 that it would abandon its Pebble Mine project in Alaska because of water-related concerns and donated its 19% stake to two state charities.
Millions of people are dying each year due to water-related diseases. Droughts and floods are inflicting tens of billions of dollars in damages each year. The United Nations has estimated that droughts are the world’s costliest natural disasters, inflicting $6-8 billion annual losses. Every year floods contribute to major damages, including loss of lives. All these can be significantly reduced by better water management.

Lest India forgets its “dark” non-democratic past

Forty eight years ago on March 23, 1977 India emerged from the darkness of a 21 month long “national emergency (Article 352 of the Constitution)” into the light of full restoration of fundamental rights. It was about 10:30 pm on 24th June, 1975 that the inner – usually called Kitchen Cabinet – of Indira Gandhi had been discussing the ways and means to counter effect of Allahabad High Court judgement and also the the face the illegal call of Jai Prakash Narain calling on Armed forces not to obey the orders of the government. No solution seemed to be in sight, and then a young advisor came up with a brilliant idea. he suggested invoking Article 352 of the Indian Constitution which would give her extraordinary powers. Every senior member of the team lapped up the suggestion. By 11;45 the draft ordinance was ready for signatures of the President- who was a blind acolyte of madame Gandhi. It was 12;25 am of 25thJune, that the President, woken up from his slumber signed and sealed the ordinance and that came effective immediately. By 3;00 am all news papers had been served orders not to publish any news without getting it cleared from the censor, and by 6 AM thousands of opposition leaders had been arrested. The reign of extra-legal administration started. And 21 montha later, Indira Gandhi- the then Prime Minister, a feisty mother, tired of the excesses of her son- Sanjay Gandhi, called for general elections in January 1977, which resulted in the decimation of the Congress Party in the North and the humiliating defeat of herself and Sanjay from their pocket boroughs of Rae Bareilly and Amethi respectively.
Lest this dark period repeat itself, we must plug the institutional gaps which allowed it to happen in the first place. We need better oversight of the need to impose emergency.First, today the President is the only entity empowered to exercise oversight over the government’s proposal to implement the emergency provisions. This arrangement has not served us well. The manner in which the Indian President is selected- indirectly by a simple majority of the MPs and MLAs vote- only ensures that a “candidate” of the ruling party wins. Any, but the most exceptional, human being is bound to serve those who appointed him.
This makes the President unsuited to stand up to a Prime Minister who has a more direct democratic mandate. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed- no moral giant, succumbed to Indira Gandhi’s dark machinations- and approved the proclamation of national emergency.
But that was as inevitable as the more recent example of the shoo-in, un-elected Prime Minister- Manmohan Singh, subverting public interest, presumably under pressure from the Congress Party. Sonia Gandhi- an astute politician ensured her centrality by putting in place a non- threatening President of India (Pratibha Patel-2007 to 2012) and a Gandhi subaltern as Prime Minister. Can we avoid a recurrence of such crass undermining of our constitutional framework? There are three options.
1. We could change the manner in which a state of national emergency is approved by making it more inclusive and subject to ex-post-facto approval not only from the Parliament, as presently required, but also by state legislatures. The downside is this is likely to be a clunky process and unsuited to the urgent needs of a “real” emergency.
2. We could change the manner in which the President is elected to strengthen the incumbent’s independence from the executive and preserve his mandate for guarding against a mala fide “emergency provision” by the government of the day. The best way to do so is to directly elect the President. Whilst there are good reasons why we should adopt a Presidential style of government, doing so, just to safeguard against malicious use of the provisions for national emergency, would be like the tail wagging the dog.
3. We could narrow down the basis for imposing national emergency by excluding “armed rebellion” as one of the three reasons. The other reasons are “war” or “external aggression”. This approach resonates in these troubled domestic times. A large part of Eastern India is under siege from Maoist and assorted rebels but life goes on there and the situation is improving, without recourse to emergency provisions.
In any event “armed rebellion” is largely a “domestic law and order” issue which is handled by state governments and can be dealt with using the existing laws criminalizing violence and terrorism. Nothing stops the Union Government from coming to the assistance of a state government which needs help in dealing with the break-down of the rule of law.
A State Government, which is unable to manage “armed rebellion”, may yet be reluctant to seek or accept help for political reasons. The proper way to deal with such governments is to impose state level emergency provisions under Article 356 if there is break down of the constitutional machinery at the state level. There could be a number of reasons why there may be a constitutional meltdown in a state and “armed rebellion” is just one of them.
Limit the period : Second, more broadly, the scope of a Constitutional provision for imposing emergency; suspending fundamental human rights and diluting recourse to the higher judiciary against excessive or unjust executive action needs to be re-looked.
Independent India has fought four wars till now- 1962-China, 1965-Pakistan, 1971-Pakistan and 1999-Pakistan. They all ended within a month except the last one, fought on the heights of Kargil, which lasted three months. This illustrates that the need for unfettered executive action, unencumbered by clunky constitutional provisions, lasts only for a limited period. Presently, emergency provisions can be extended ad-infinitum merely with Parliaments approval. The 1975 emergency lasted 21 months! That is way too much power to give to a simple majority of Parliamentarians with too few safeguards to guard against the mala fide use of such wide powers.
Forget the “steel frame”: Third, our dark past showed us that faced by a determined and malign political power the much vaunted bureaucracy crumbles and “crawls” even without specifically needing to do so. The “steel frame” has eroded far too much to be revived. Indeed it is questionable if it should.
After all, in modern democracies it is those who have the popular mandate who must rule and be responsible for the outcomes. Professional bureaucrats are today just that- professionals who devise the most optimum way of achieving political objectives. They cannot and indeed must not, be expected to carry the can of defending the nation against tyrants. That is best done by developing robust institutions; formal and informal norms for political behavior.
Make political parties democratic : Fourth, political parties are the vehicles for consolidating and representing the opinions of voters. They continue to be very ineffective in the absence of commonly accepted norms for their internal governance. Even a small public limited company is exposed to more regulatory control to ensure transparency and protect the interests of the small shareholder, as compared to even the largest political party. Media reports suggest that the Congress party could be the biggest real estate owner in India! In the absence of disclosure standards for political parties rumor may well be fact.
Unless a code for ensuring transparency and preserving inner party democracy is imposed on recognized political parties, the “recognition” granted to them by the Election Commission is meaningless. It is instructive that the nascent Aam Admi Party is self-destructing even today on the charge of undemocratic and authoritarian rule by a select few leaders.
The Election Commission must be empowered to define and audit standards for the internal governance of political parties- audit and accounting of party funds; election of leaders and protecting the rights of the ordinary member, in much the same way as SEBI does for public limited companies listed on the stock exchange. Democratic party processes can breed democratic leaders and thereby cut at the root of dynasty; megalomania and delusional complacence. It is time to get working on protecting the ordinary voter from the tyranny of undemocratic political parties.

Taiwan can Teach India : How to Preserve Historical Heritage:

A report in the The Times of India that describes how a protected 14th century monument – Tomb of Khan Shahid – in Delhi was callously whitewashed highlights our lacklustre attitude towards preserving historically significant artifacts and sites in this country. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the premier government agency responsible for maintenance and protection of ancient monuments and archaeological sites and remains, has been found woefully inadequate for its job on several occasions.
As a result, a large number of historical sites across the length and breadth of the country lies in decrepit condition. Add to this the deplorable attitude of ordinary people who have no qualms about defacing and destroying historical monuments, blissfully ignorant of their significance and what they represent in terms of India’s cultural heritage.
True, in a country like India there is a bewildering number of monuments and sites of historical importance. In a place like Delhi one finds historical architecture in every nook and cranny of the city. Unfortunately, many of the monuments, havelis, baolis, gates, etc have either degraded for the want of conservation or have been brutally encroached upon by people living in the vicinity.
Take for example the tomb of Mubarak Shah Sayyid, the second ruler of the Sayyid dynasty of Delhi who had started building the city of Mubarakabad, an area that is known today as Kotla Mubarakpur in the national capital. The historic tomb has been badly encroached upon and is in desperate need of restoration and protection. But apart from putting up a grill around the tomb, ASI seems to have left this historic monument to be eventually devoured by time and the surrounding ghetto.
Many would argue that protecting such a vast number of historical monuments and sites can’t be a priority given India’s human problems. But such an opinion overlooks the value of India’s historical heritage and fails to see the inherent potential for monetisation. For the best way to preserve historical monuments and artifacts is to turn them into sources of employment and revenue generation.
It is a sad fact that even our museums lack imagination and modern displaying techniques despite the exquisite exhibits they contain. There is so much that we can do with our historical heritage, yet the authorities seem to treat this as a burden. On my two previous visits to Taiwan, I had the privilege of visiting Taipei’s National Palace Museum. The latter hosts some of the most exquisite Chinese historical artifacts that were shipped to Taiwan by the nationalists during the Chinese civil war. The exhibits are made even more precious by the fact that scores of historical treasures were destroyed on the Chinese mainland during the Cultural Revolution.
Now, Taiwan is a small country with a fraction of the human resources that India has. Yet it realises the value of preserving its historical heritage. The National Palace Museum was ranked as the seventh most popular museum in the world in 2012 by the British art journal, The Art Newspaper. It receives more than 12,000 visitors every day. The museum has also achieved complete digitisation of all its artifacts totalling more than 600,000 in number. Its mission of educating the youth through interesting programmes and thematic special exhibitions serves as a role model.
The success of Taiwan’s National Palace Museum underscores the educational, societal and monetary benefits that can accrue if historical heritage is preserved and marketed in the right way. Given India’s rich past, our monuments and museums can rival the best in the world. Alas, ignorance, government apathy and general neglect are reducing our national treasures to dust. India should learn from Taiwan and enact a national mission to reclaim, restore and preserve our historical heritage on a war footing. The government should hire the best archaeologists, scholars, historians and specialists for this purpose – the investment made will give back 10 times in revenue if museums and monuments are managed properly. It will be a real shame if the tangible symbols of our rich past are allowed to crumble into oblivion on account of our own negligence.

Scam After Scam: Real scam is one that we play upon ourselves

A few days ago there was a news report that 122 files have gone missing from the a municipal office in India/ When someone asked me how that can happen, I said: “They flew away. First they grew wings. Then swooshed to a window and opened it. Then they got into an alien ship and went towards outer space”.
Is it possible? If it seems unlikely , let us also honestly ask another question. How is it that we see scam after scam from various agencies, and wonder how we can put a stop to this? Surely , with all the examples that parade before us regularly , by now we have had enough and more opportunity to think about this problem and come up with an answer. Has that happened? In fact, yes. We know what the answer is. We just haven’t made up our minds to accept it.
The simplistic way of looking at scams is to say that these are transgressions of the law, and there are clearly laid out procedures for action that should be taken when such things happen. But that loop doesn’t close because the actions that should happen are themselves mired in even more scams. The administrators, the regulators, the courts … it is not clear to the ordinary citizen who he can trust anymore.
There is only one solution, and deep down in our hearts, we have always known this. The scams will end on the day when enough of us decide to be a part of governance, when we decide that our duty as citizens is not merely to press a button at the voting booth once in a while and then sit back and expect things to change.
What is a scam? It’s a manoeuvre that is carried out by persons in public office to steer money that belongs to the taxpayer towards themselves.That much is clear. But has anyone actually seen a public official take money from the exchequer or a project account and put it into his own? Not re ally. That happens in an unobserved manner. We get to hear of it when it is `discovered’, but we are not part of watching governance in the first place.
That’s our clue. Has anyone picked your pocket when you were watching? Of course not. Because you were watching.There is an asymmetry of information and knowledge between the government and the public.Officials and elected representatives know things that we don’t know. And this allows some of them to quietly make off with our money . The only way to stop that is to watch what happens in government. Participate and the outcomes will get better.
The real scam is one that we play upon ourselves­ believing unwisely that a system in which a few people make decisions behind closed doors and with little accountability can produce outcomes that we will like. It invariably will not.Society is strengthened and disciplined for the public good by the participation of its members. No participation ­ more scams.
Make a list of all the projects going on in your ward. Ask what each is for, how much it will cost, who is doing it, and by when it will be complete. This one change in how we view government can make all the difference to the outcomes.
It isn’t easy. But it was never meant to be, either. When we stop expecting it to be, and shoulder the responsibility to self-govern ourselves well, things will change.
A number of technical and procedural changes will be needed to make things work, but we’ll never get to those things if we don’t take the first step. Democracy is not only government for the people and of the people, but equally it is government by the people too. That means you and me.

Bamboo Curtain Uplifted

David Shambaugh, a noted China expert, set off a firestorm earlier this month when he wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the “endgame of communist rule in China has begun” and that it was “unlikely to end quietly”. Shambaugh is hardly the first veteran China-watcher to suggest that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) might implode or simply lose its hold on power. Lawyer-turned-writer Gordon Chang has made a cottage industry of such prognostications, while my German Marshall Fund colleague, Minxin Pei, has long pointed out the party’s inherent, and possibly fatal, flaws. Yet Shambaugh’s standing among China analysts, the high regard in which he is held in China, and his past work on the CCP’s adaptability have lent his opinions particular weight, and have generated debate and inspired fierce criticism in both the US and China.
Shambaugh’s arguments are not entirely convincing, particularly when viewed through a purely political lens. The increased political repression that is presently taking place in China under President Xi Jinping is not, in and of itself, a clear indicator of imminent collapse, though it may be indicative of the insecurities of party leaders. Factionalism has also long plagued the CCP — even under Mao Zedong’s leadership. And it should hardly be surprising that party representatives are often cynical about official dogma, as Shambaugh observes. Many of their predecessors were too, including during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s.
But Shambaugh makes a more compelling case when it comes to the implications of China’s economic failure. An economic crisis threatens to fundamentally undermine the compromise that has developed between the CCP and Chinese citizens since the late 1970s: improvements in material wellbeing in exchange for unquestioned single-party rule. This compromise has been tested before, most notably during the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. But what Chinese politics might look like under sustained adverse economic conditions is entirely unknown, and possibly unknowable. When coupled with the effects of Xi’s wide-ranging anti-corruption campaign, the systemic slowdown of the Chinese economy that is currently underway could undermine the People’s Republic.
The future of single-party rule in China ought to be of major concern to India. China is among India’s largest trade partners and the two countries collaborate closely on various multilateral issues. At the very least, China’s political fortunes will have implications for the global economy, with which India’s future is closely intertwined. China alone was responsible for a third of global growth last year and remains an important driver of international commerce and finance.
There is no reason to doubt the veracity of David Shambaugh’s prediction of the impending Chinese collapse. This view shared by influential China watchers is also supported by prominent thinktanks like the Conference Board and economists like Larry Summers, who forecast that Chinese growth will slip to below 4% by the turn of the decade.
The collapse of China’s growth story will end the social contract that allowed the Chinese government to restrict political freedoms in return for high growth. But that’s not the only problem confronting China. Equally unnerving for its rulers is the rash of popular movements that unseated governments the world over at the turn of the decade. These events have forced Xi Jinping and the Chinese leadership to clamp down heavily on both civil society and political opponents, who are gaining clout as discontent spreads.
The fear of impending doom has also triggered off a flight of both people and capital. Rich Chinese are on a rampage buying up properties and companies abroad. Hot money outflows have been so large that Chinese foreign exchange reserves fell by $100 billion in the third quarter of last year for the first time in decades. We now only have to wait for the final trigger of the tsunami destined to come.
At the same time, the border dispute remains a serious test of bilateral relations between China and India. The relationship between the CCP and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) means that there could be uncertain, and potentially severe, security implications for India should the CCP disintegrate or lose its hold on power. Whatever India’s concerns may be regarding China’s rise today, the sudden termination of Communist China would present New Delhi with an economic and strategic crisis of the first order.
Indeed, the most satisfactory outcome for all involved may be a soft landing, one by which the party gradually liberalises, democratises, and becomes more accountable and transparent. The probability of this is low, at present. Vested interests in China are resistant to such change and Xi is moving the country in a very different direction, socially and politically — although not necessarily economically. But it is in India’s interests to assess and anticipate the likelihood of various possibilities, and do anything in its power to realise an optimal outcome.
It is unfortunate that few analysts in India, outside small pockets of officialdom, have the access and ability to make informed independent assessments about the future of communist rule in China. Language, culture, inherent suspicions and mutual disregard all present obstacles to better Indian analysis and planning with respect to China’s future. But the important implications are reason enough for Indians, specially those outside of government in the business and policy communities, to invest more deeply in understanding the intricacies of the CCP’s rule in China.

In India wholesale and consumer prices move in opposite directions- Why?

Soaring price lines had been an unending nightmare for the former UPA government for a long part of its decade long rule. In fact it was one of the primary reasons for the UPAs defeat in the general elections last year. Unfortunately inflation is proving to be an equally tough marauder for the NDA government. However, unlike the UPA government which was saddled with the problems of unrelenting increase in prices the NDA is facing a more complicated problem.
This is because while the NDA has rather successfully tackled the inflation problem on the wholesale front, with the pace of price rise in wholesale markets decelerating sharply since the middle of last year and even declining in the last four consecutive months, it has been unable to reign in consumer price increases especially since the monetary policies have been unable to smother the rising price expectations in the economy.
So while the NDA government has successfully manoeuvred to shrink the wholesale price index (WPI) by 2.5% in the eleven months of the fiscal year 2014-15, something unprecedented in the annals of inflation in the country, the consumer price index (CPI) continues to surge after dipping in the middle of the fiscal year. Overall the numbers so far show that while whole sale price inflation has fallen in the first eleven months of the year the consumer prices are going up by close to 6%.
What is most remarkable is that consumer price levels has picked up in each of the last three consecutive months—from 3.3% in November 2014, to 4.3% in December 2014, then to 5.2% in January 2015 and further to 5.4% in February 2015—even while wholesale prices has shrunk in each month.
The continued rise in consumer prices is causing considerable concern as it has now put a big question mark on the sustainability of the softer monetary stance adopted by the Reserve Bank of India which has cut policy rates twice in response to the initial slump in consumer price levels. This has become a major source of worry for both investors and the policy makers as the consumer price levels is the major lodestar that guides monetary policy.
So what is the reason for the divergent trends in wholesale and consumer prices? Normally consumer prices follow the wholesale price trends with a short lag. While some disparities in trends are likely it is highly unusual for the price levels to move in opposite directions for a significantly long period as is happening now.
One important reason why the trends are diverging sharply is that the wholesale and consumer prices indices capture price levels in both some common and also exclusive segments of the economy with varying levels of prominence. For instance in the case of wholesale price index the biggest component measured is the manufactured good prices which constitutes almost two thirds of the index basket.
And one of the major reasons that the wholesale price levels has come down is that price increase of manufactured products has been sluggish and has rapidly declined to just a few decimal points in the most recent month. This trend in the wholesale price index has been further intensified by the sharp fall in prices of fuel and power, which accounts for another 15% share of the WPI, by double digit levels in recent months. Together the manufactured products and fuel and power segments have ensured that the wholesale prices has decelerated and even shrunk during the financial year.
In sharp contrast to the wholesale price index food is the largest component of the consumer price index accounting for close to half of the basket of goods and services covered by the index. This is almost twice the level of the food component in the wholesale price index. And food prices has been volatile with the price levels bouncing up once again in recent months in both indices. But the larger share of the food segment in the consumer price index ensured that it exerted a substantial influence on the index and pushed it up much higher than the wholesale price index.
Similar another factor that added traction to consumer prices is the larger share of services in the basket of commodities measured by CPI and whose prices have remained sticky at higher levels in the fiscal year. In fact while price of services constituted around a quarter of the items captured in the consumer index it was almost absent totally in the wholesale price index. Important segments of services like housing, education and health continue to register prices increase of more than 5% pushing up the total consumer price levels.
So overall the sharp deceleration in prices of manufactured products and power and fuel has helped reduce wholesale price levels and even shrink it the buoyancy of prices of food products and services which account for the major part of the consumer price index has ensured the resurgence of consumer price inflation. That is the problem that the NDA government would now have to tackle if it is to end the price volatility that continues to rankle the economy without any respite.

The ridiculously simple secret to a healthy, happy marriage

If you’ve recently gotten into a heated argument with your significant other, chances are you’re familiar with what happens next: Your mind swirls with ideas about how you wish the conversation had gone. You shouldn’t have let your emotions get the best of you, you think to yourself. If only you’d held your tongue about that last bit. You didn’t mean to be so, well, mean.
Here’s the good news: If you approach your partner about it now, there’s a good chance he or she won’t be permanently hurt. More importantly, talking about a conflict just after it’s happened gives you and your partner the chance to figure out what went wrong and take the necessary action to resolve it.
Practicing this critical step can often be what separates the couples who stay together from those who divorce, says John Gottman, a psychologist at the University of Washington and founder of the Gottman Institute.
Gottman and University of California-Berkeley psychologist Robert Levenson conducted a 14-year study of 79 couples living across the US Midwest (21 of whom divorced during the study period) published in 2002. They found they could distinguish the couples who stayed together from the ones who eventually divorced with a few simple behavioral patterns.
Other more recent research has built upon those initial findings. A 2015 study of 145 couples, for example, found that those who received trainings on how to address conflicts immediately and with clear communication felt more satisfied with their relationship a year down the road than couples who didn’t receive the training. Those who didn’t get the training were also more likely to see their interactions deteriorate over the year they were reporting back to the researchers.
Another study of 373 married couples found that, when both partners engaged positively during an argument — meaning they discussed the topic calmly and made an effort to listen to their partner and better understand his or her feelings — they were far less likely to divorce than couples where there was no positive engagement or when only one partner would engage positively. The results held steady as far as 16 years down the road.
How a successful couple fights vs. how a couples who divorces fights
When it came to how they addressed arguments, couples in Gottman’s study who eventually split generally took longer to address a recent argument, often leaving each other to stew in individual thoughts for hours or days after a fight. They also would often cut off discussions about a conflict prematurely with unhelpful, insensitive comments.
Conversely, couples who stayed together would typically discuss their arguments almost immediately after they’d happened, and when they did so they would generally approach one another with an open mind, taking responsibility for their actions and listening to their partner’s feelings.
Say you sound off on your partner for leaving the dishes in the sink, for example. Sure, you could spend the next few minutes (or hours or days) telling yourself that it was no big deal or that he or she will get over it eventually. You could even try to justify your actions by telling yourself that your partner shouldn’t have been such a slob. But the longer you wait, the worse the situation is likely to get.
Picture yourself and your partner in a boat, with the emotions that both of you are feeling represented by the sea around you. A small argument stirs the waters a bit and gets the boat rocking. But a quick effort to stabilize the boat — with an open conversation or an apology — can be all that’s required to get you back to smooth sailing. Waiting around, on the other hand, only strengthens the waves — and waiting too long can lead to disaster. To calm a rocking boat, you and your partner talk immediately and openly about what just happened. This requires recognizing that both of you are partially responsible for the problem and both of you are responsible for making amends.
In other words, don’t bring up a heated argument only to tell your partner that he or she was wrong to begin with, or that he or she was simply being illogical. Why? Because a statement like this does nothing to acknowledge his or her feelings. If you tell someone they’re not being logical or say something like ‘you’re getting off track,’ it just doesn’t work. It makes people angry. On the other hand, saying something like, “I can see that this is really important to you; tell me more” — that allows the other person to feel heard.
Next time you feel an argument escalating, try one of these tactics. It might restore some calm to your relationship, or even help keep your boat from capsizing.

Lesson About Immigration from Greatest Civilization

As a student of Roman history, I’m struck by how often people ask why the Roman empire ended, since a far more interesting question is surely how it managed to survive for such a long time while extended over such an enormous area. At its largest, the Roman empire encompassed an area from Spain in the west to Syria in the east, and while start and end dates are largely a matter of perspective, it existed in the form most people would recognise for over 500 years.
The empire of course had many great strengths – but it could be argued that one of the most important keys to its durability was its inclusiveness. Roman society was, of course, marked by stark inequalities. It was inherently misogynistic and rigidly classed, while slavery was ubiquitous. But in other ways, it was surprisingly open-minded – even by the standards of 2015.
In 48 AD, a discussion took place in the Roman Senate concerning the admittance of members of the Gallic aristocracy to the venerable body. According to the Roman senator and historian Tacitus, there was opposition to the move; some senators said that Italy was perfectly capable of providing its own members, and that it was enough that northern Italians had been admitted without having to resort to foreigners who had been, until recently, their enemies in war.
But as Tacitus reports it, the then-emperor Claudius championed the move: “My ancestors … encourage me to govern by the same policy of transferring to this city all conspicuous merit, wherever found. And indeed I know, as facts, that the Julii came from Alba, the Coruncanii from Camerium, the Porcii from Tusculum, and not to inquire too minutely into the past, that new members have been brought into the Senate from Etruria and Lucania and the whole of Italy, that Italy itself was at last extended to the Alps, to the end that not only single persons but entire countries and tribes might be united under our name.
“We had unshaken peace at home; we prospered in all our foreign relations, in the days when Italy beyond the Po was admitted to share our citizenship…. Are we sorry that the Balbi came to us from Spain, and other men not less illustrious from Narbon Gaul? Their descendants are still among us, and do not yield to us in patriotism. Everything, Senators, which we now hold to be of the highest antiquity, was once new.”
Of course, this account probably doesn’t record precisely what was said on that day; Tacitus often embellished his historical narratives by putting rousing speeches in the mouths of key personalities. But an inscription in Lyon, commonly called the Lyon Tablet, indicates that this address did take place.
And whether authored by Claudius or Tacitus, the content of the speech as recorded shows that 2000 years ago in Rome, prominent figures were putting forward the idea that incorporating citizens from a variety of ethnic backgrounds could strengthen rather than weaken a state.
By the time of the events described above, for example, Roman citizenship had been extended to large parts of the Mediterranean population and could be acquired by people anywhere in the Roman empire, usually by serving in the army or in regional government. This bestowed the same nominal legal rights on the inhabitants of Egypt and Britain as were enjoyed by the citizens of the city of Rome.
Under the spirit and letter of Roman law, citizenship was generally less a matter of ethnicity and more one of political unity. Of course, Roman literary sources are hardly devoid of bigotry and cultural chauvinism. But there is little indication in the literature of anything resembling the contemporary view in some circles that bringing in new people represents a threat to national culture or a drain on resources.
Despite substantial evidence both for immigration to Rome from different parts of the empire and geographical mobility within the empire, the impression in the surviving record is of an overriding pragmatism when it came to the adoption of new things and people into the Roman system.
In 2015, as European debates about immigration and diversity take an increasingly emotive and activist turn, there is a real need to bring facts and rational argument back into the fold. And while some sections of the political establishment would hold that a pragmatic approach to immigration will lead “us” into dangerous, unchartered waters, the Roman example shows that this is far from true. After all, everything of the highest antiquity was once new.

Guru Teg Bahadur’s Martyrdom – The Reality?

On the occasion of the death anniversary of Guru Teg Bahadur, the ninth Guru of Sikhs every year the Sikh demand that this day be declared in holiday. Indians have a penchant for holidays and nary an occasion passes that does not culminate in demand for holiday- but that is a different subject. Sikhs have been treating the death of Guru Teg Bahadur as the result of torture and subsequent beheading simply because he refused to convert to Islam. It is said and is commonly accepted by a large number of people that the Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb cherished the ambition of converting India into an Islamic country. Mughal governor of Kashmir, Iftekhar Khan was known to vigorously pursue Aurangzeb’s policy of forced conversion of Hindus, who approached Guru Tegh Bahadur for help, for his sacrifices Guru Tegh Bahadur is known as Hind-Di-Chaadar (Shield of India) for protecting Hindus against atrocities of Muslim rule.
But there are some historians who have challenged this claim . And they include Sikh historians like Dr. Fauja Singh as well. According to them, the death of Guru Teg Bahadur was not at the behest of Auranzeb. Of all the Muslim rulers who ruled vast territories of India from 712 to 1857 CE, probably no one has received as much condemnation from western and Hindu writers as Aurangzeb. He has been castigated as a religious Muslim who was anti-Hindu, who taxed them, who tried to convert them, who discriminated against them in awarding high administrative positions, and who interfered in their religious matters. This view has been heavily promoted in the government approved textbooks in schools and colleges across post-partition India (i.e., after 1947). These are fabrications against one of the best rulers of India who was pious, scholarly, saintly, unbiased, liberal, magnanimous, tolerant, competent, and far-sighted.
However the history is really supporting these allegations. For example, historian Babu Nagendranath Banerjee rejected the accusation of forced conversion of Hindus by Muslim rulers by stating that if that was their intention then in India today there would not be nearly four times as many Hindus compared to Muslims, despite the fact that Muslims had ruled for nearly a thousand years. Banerjee challenged the Hindu hypothesis that Aurangzeb was anti-Hindu by reasoning that if the latter were truly guilty of such bigotry, how could he appoint a Hindu as his military commander-in-chief? Surely, he could have afforded to appoint a competent Muslim general in that position. Banerjee further stated: “No one should accuse Aurangzeb of being communal minded. In his administration, the state policy was formulated by Hindus. Two Hindus held the highest position in the State Treasury. Some prejudiced Muslims even questioned the merit of his decision to appoint non-Muslims to such high offices. The Emperor refuted that by stating that he had been following the dictates of the Shariah (Islamic Law) which demands appointing right persons in right positions.” During Aurangzeb’s long reign of fifty years, many Hindus, notably Jaswant Singh, Raja Rajrup, Kabir Singh, Arghanath Singh, Prem Dev Singh, Dilip Roy, and Rasik Lal Crory, held very high administrative positions. Two of the highest ranked generals in Aurangzeb’s administration, Jaswant Singh and Jaya Singh, were Hindus. Other notable Hindu generals who commanded a garrison of two to five thousand soldiers were Raja Vim Singh of Udaypur, Indra Singh, Achalaji and Arjuji. One wonders if Aurangzeb was hostile to Hindus, why would he position all these Hindus to high positions of authority, especially in the military, who could have mutinied against him and removed him from his throne?
Most Hindus like Akbar over Aurangzeb for his multi-ethnic court where Hindus were favored. Historian Shri Sharma states that while Emperor Akbar had fourteen Hindu Mansabdars (high officials) in his court, Aurangzeb actually had 148 Hindu high officials in his court. (Ref: Mughal Government) But this fact is somewhat less known. And yet h is accused of demolishing Hindu Temples. How factual is this accusation?
Interestingly, the 1946 edition of the history textbook Etihash Parichaya (Introduction to History) used in Bengal for the 5th and 6th graders states: “If Aurangzeb had the intention of demolishing temples to make way for mosques, there would not have been a single temple standing erect in India. On the contrary, Aurangzeb donated huge estates for use as Temple sites and support thereof in Benares, Kashmir and elsewhere. The official documentations for these land grants are still extant.”
A stone inscription in the historic Balaji or Vishnu Temple, located north of Chitrakut Balaghat, still shows that it was commissioned by the Emperor himself. The proof of Aurangzeb’s land grant for famous Hindu religious sites in Kasi, Varanasi can easily be verified from the deed records extant at those sites. The same textbook reads: “During the fifty year reign of Aurangzeb, not a single Hindu was forced to embrace Islam. He did not interfere with any Hindu religious activities.” (p. 138) Alexander Hamilton, a British historian, toured India towards the end of Aurangzeb’s fifty year reign and observed that every one was free to serve and worship God in his own way.
Now let us deal with Aurangzeb’s imposition of the jizya tax which had drawn severe criticism from many Hindu historians. It is true that jizya was lifted during the reign of Akbar and Jahangir and that Aurangzeb later reinstated this. Before I delve into the subject of Aurangzeb’s jizya tax, or taxing the non-Muslims, it is worthwhile to point out that jizya is nothing more than a war tax which was collected only from able-bodied young non-Muslim male citizens living in a Muslim country who did not want to volunteer for the defense of the country. That is, no such tax was collected from non-Muslims who volunteered to defend the country. This tax was not collected from women, and neither from immature males nor from disabled or old male citizens. For payment of such taxes, it became incumbent upon the Muslim government to protect the life, property and wealth of its non-Muslim citizens. If for any reason the government failed to protect its citizens, especially during a war, the taxable amount was returned..
It should be pointed out here that zakat (2.5% of savings) and ‘ushr(10% of agricultural products) were collected from all Muslims, who owned some wealth (beyond a certain minimum, called nisab). They also paid sadaqah, fitrah, and khums. None of these were collected from any non-Muslim. As a matter of fact, the per capita collection from Muslims was several fold that of non-Muslims. Further to Auranzeb’s credit is his abolition of a lot of taxes, although this fact is not usually mentioned. In his book Mughal Administration, Sir Jadunath Sarkar, foremost historian on the Mughal dynasty, mentions that during Aurangzeb’s reign in power, nearly sixty-five types of taxes were abolished, which resulted in a yearly revenue loss of fifty million rupees from the state treasury.
“Guru Teg Bahadur passed away. Accusation was leveled against Aurangzeb that he martyred Guru Teg Bahadur. Some Sikhs historians say ‘some unknown person murdered Guru Teg Bahadur.’ Why would Aurangzeb want to martyr Guru Teg Bahadur and cause upheaval in Punjab when the Sikhs had become a continuous cause of dilemma for him inciting people against him and extorting taxes from the people from 1663 to 1675?”
“The fact is Guru Teg Bahadur wanted to martyr himself purposely because there was tussle for the guru-ship at the time. They (Sikhs) were divided amongst themselves. The Guru by martyring himself in the name of religion wanted to bring about and solidify Sikh unity and solidarity. So Aurangzeb was in no way responsible for the death of Guru. It is unjust to place blame on him for Guru’s death.”
Dr. Rita Bahuguna Joshi of the Allah bad University’s medieval history dept. in her book ‘Aurangzeb and his relations with Hindus’ on pages 101-105 writes, ” In reality Sikhism was not a religion, just a sect that was founded on principles of Hinduism. After Guru Nanak the Gurus abandoned the path of spiritual devotion and fell into wicked world (materialism?) and started extorting religious tax. Despite political activities of the Sikhs Aurangzeb did not interfere with the affairs of the Sikhs. Aurangzeb was religiously impartial. Conflict between the Sikhs and Moguls started in 1676.
“Guru Teg Bahadur passed away. Accusation was leveled against Aurangzeb that he martyred Guru Teg Bahadur. Some Sikhs historians say ‘some unknown person murdered Guru Teg Bahadur.’ Why would Aurangzeb want to martyr Guru Teg Bahadur and cause upheaval in Punjab when the Sikhs had become a continuous cause of dilemma for him inciting people against him and extorting taxes from the people from 1663 to 1675?”
“The fact is Guru Teg Bahadur wanted to martyr himself purposely because there was tussle for the guru-ship at the time. They (Sikhs) were divided amongst themselves. The Guru by martyring himself in the name of religion wanted to bring about and solidify Sikh unity and solidarity. So Aurangzeb was in no way responsible for the death of Guru. It is unjust to place blame on him for Guru’s death.” In 1675, Guru Tegh Bahadur was arrested in Bihar, brought to Delhi and executed. Several contradictory reasons are provided for his execution. Official Mughal records hold that the Guru, along with Hafiz Adam, were wreaking havoc in the lands of Punjab.
According to some Sikh traditions of the time, Ram Rai, the brother of Guru Har Krishan, who had been with the Mughal court since Aurangzeb took over, wanted to be the next guru.
Ghulam Muhiuddin Bute Shah writes, in his Tarikh-e-Punjabi, that Guru Tegh Bahadur was called to Delhi by Ram Rai, and it was he who instigated Aurangzeb to punish the Guru, by feeding the Mughal Emperor with false information regarding his haughty character, and that he deserved to be taught a lesson. Other accounts don’t implicate Ram Rai, but some other nobles of the court. Another version says that the Guru was punished for raising his voice against the persecution of Kashmiri Hindus by its Muslim governor, or because of the fact that the guru had converted many Muslims to his faith. The allegations against the Kashmiri governor Saif Khan seem to be false because he was famous for his religious tolerance, and even though his successor after 1671, Iftekhar Khan, was known for his anti-Shiite leanings, there are no references to anti-Hindu persecutions in this time period, including in the history written by Narayan Kaul in 1710, which seems a wrong analysis as omission is not an evidence, there is ample evidence of forced and systematic conversion of Hindus during that time period as a state policy at the highest level of the Muslim empire.
Orders of the arrest of the Guru were issued by Aurangzeb, who was in the present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa of India subduing Pushtun rebellion. The Guru was arrested at a place called Malikhpur near Anandpur after he had departed from Anandpur for Delhi. Before departing he nominated his son, Gobind Rai (Guru Gobind Singh) as the next Sikh Guru.
He was arrested, along with some of his followers, Bhai Dayala, Bhai Mati Das and Bhai Sati Das by Nur Muhammad Khan of the Rupnagar police post at the village Malikhpur Rangharan, in Ghanaula Parganah, and sent to Sirhind the following day. The Faujdar (Governor) of Sirhind, Dilawar Khan, ordered him to be detained in Bassi Pathana and reported the news to Delhi. His arrest was made in July 1675 and he was kept in custody for over three months. He was then put in an iron cage and taken to Delhi in November 1675.
Some reports hold that the Guru was put in chains and ordered to be tortured until he would accept Islam, and when he could not be persuaded to abandon his faith, he was asked to perform some miracles to prove his divinity, although this is doubted by certain scholars. Guru Tegh Bahadur was beheaded at Chandni Chowk on 11 November 1675. Guru Tegh Bahadur is popularly known as “Hind Di Chadar” i.e. “The Shield of India”, in reference to his popular image as sacrificing his life for the protection of Hindus and religious freedom in India.
Historian Satish Chandra writes in his book Medieval India:“ For Aurangzeb, the execution of the Guru was only a law and order question, for the Sikhs the Guru gave up his life in defense of cherished principles.
Mughal court was uncomfortable with the growing fame and following. Mughal officials such as Nur Muhammad Khan of Rupnagar, Dilawar Khan the Faujdar of Sirhind and Wazir Khan had him arrested on account of his opposition to forced conversions of Hindu Brahmins of Kashmir to Islam. For resisting forced conversions of Hindus to Islam, he was taken to Delhi and put to death by Aurangzeb in 1675. However, when Aurangzeb was questioned by a group of Qadis regarding the reasons for the execution, the Mughal Emperor could not clearly explain the causes for the order of the penalty.
Of this black period of Indian history, the first contemporary Persian record that we have is that of Mirza Mohd Kazim, the official history-writer of Aurangzeb, who recorded events of the first ten years of his reign. It makes no mention, whatsoever, of the public execution of the world-famous sufi saint, Sarmad, whom Aurangzeb got murdered during the first year of his reign, for possessing and expressing religious views contrary to those of the fanatical Aurangzeb. Then, when Aurangzeb totally banned all history writing, some one secretly prepared the folios, called Muntakhabul-lubaab under the pseudonym, Khaafee Khan, which covers the period almost upto the demise of Aurangzeb and in this voluminous record also there is neither any mention of Sarmad’s execution nor of the martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur Ji, although Khaafee Khan thought it important enough to record that, during those days, some cattle-grazing boys, while playing at the game of King and Subjects, actually strangulated a playmate to death.
After the passing away of Aurangzeb, during the reign of Shah Alam I (1710), one Must’id Khan, in his
Ma’aasari-Aslam-geeree recorded the history of 40 years of Aurangzeb’s regin from 1669 to 1707 and in this document also, there is no mention of Guru Teg Bahadur Ji’s martyrdom or of Sarmad’s execution. One, Munshi Ghulam Hussain Khan, wrote his Siyar-ul-Mutakhireen in which he recorded a general history of India of 1702-1786, describing the reigns of the last seven emperors of India and an account of the progress of the English in Bengal. we do not know who this Ghulam Hussain was, when he actually wrote his book, vaguely believed to have been written round about 1785, though there is no chrono-grammatical support available to this guess. However, any original or otherwise authentic manuscript of this book is not there and it is not known under what circumstances he wrote it; the only certain thing about it being that it was first published in 1833. This Persian record makes a mention of the martyrdom of Guru Teg Bahadur, but not much reliability can be placed on the author’s statements as they are demonstrably sketchy, grounded in bazaar stories current long after the events. About Guru Teg Bahadur he tells us that, (1) the Guru was ordered to be arrested by Aurangzeb from Hasanabadal Camp on receiving news-reports that the Guru was highly regarded by the public and attracted large number of people wherever he went, that (2) in fact, all the men in the entourage of the Guru, from time to time, were godly, peace-loving people, unarmed and with no hostile intentions towards the state, that (3) the Governor of Lahore arrested the Guru as ordered by the emperor and that (4) the Guru was executed (at Lahore) with his body cut into four pieces and each piece hung at the four gates of the walls (of Lahore), opening towards the four cardinal directions.
Dr. Fauja Singh dishes out a pretty exciting story of how Guru Teg Bahadur Ji was, in reality, a pre-Marxian revolutionary espousing the cause of the exploited land tillers and attempting to organize a Che Guevara-type premature insurgence in his self-assumed role of a class-conscious midwife to revolution, in the course of which activities he was pounced upon and overtaken by the long arm of the Law and brought to justice at Delhi by having his head chopped off in the Chandni Chowk. “Long live Teg Bahadur Ji,” or to be more exact, “Long live Comrade Tyaagmal,” for according to Dr. Fauja Singh, the Guru’s real name, in all likelihood, was Tyaagmal and Teg Bahadur Ji was only his assumed name in the best revolutionary tradition.
This is where our University research scholars of history have taken us to, through their allegiance to the precept that all that is true is recorded in the Persian manuscripts and all that goes under their guise, and that what does not accord with these goes under their guise, and that what does not accord with these manuscripts, and the subsequent fabrications thereof are beneath their contempt to notice.
Dr. Fauja Singh does not say so in so many words but the implied meanings, nuances and insinuations of his write-up are unmistakable. Dr. Fauja Singh, in his thesis, does not tell us, why he thinks so, but he takes it for granted that in November, 1675, Aurangzeb was not present at Delhi. Since the emperor then was not at Delhi, the entire Sikh story including the testament of Guru Gobind Singh about a prolonged and most significant dialogue between the Guru and the emperor, before, and leading to, the former’s execution is shown as utterly imaginary and false and, by implication, such are the infirm and mendacious foundations upon which the superstructure of the epiphany and evolution of Sikhism and the Sikh history has been raised.
Prof. Satish Chandra, an eminent historian and former Chairman of UGC also holds this opinion. According to him : “For the historians, difficulties have been created because the execution of Guru Tegh Bahadur in Delhi in 1675 is not mentioned in any of the contemporary Persian sources. Nor are there any Sikh contemporary accounts, those written towards the end of the 18th century depending on “the testimony of trustworthy Sikhs”. They are, therefore, often conflicting. The earliest account of the events leading to the Guru’s execution is in Siyar-ul- Mutakharm by Ghulam Husain Taba- Tabai in 1780, more than 100 years afterwards. Ghulam Husain states that “Tegh Bahadur, the eighth successor of (Guru) Nanak became a man of authority with a large number of followers. (In fact) several thousand persons used to accompany him as he moved from place to place. His contemporary Hafiz Adam, a faqir belonging to the group of Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi’s followers, had also come to have a large number of murids and followers. Both these men (Guru Tegh Bahadur and Hafiz Adam) used to move about in the Punjab, adopting a habit of coercion and extortion. Tegh Bahadur used to collect money from Hindus and Hafiz Adam from Muslims. The royal waqia navis (news reporter-cum- intelligence agent) wrote to the Emperor Alamgir… of (their) manner of activity, added that if their authority increased they could become even refractory”. However he goes on say : ” I have called this the “official account” or the official justification because for an historian, official accounts are generally full of evasion and distortion to justify official action. As it was, Hafiz Adam had died much earlier. Also these events have been placed at Lahore. But there is no reason to reject the Sikh tradition that the Guru was imprisoned and executed at Delhi.
Ghulam Husain’s account of “disturbances” created by Guru Tegh Bahadur in the Punjab is supported
by Sohan Lal in his Umdat ut Tawarikh one of the most respected histories of the Sikhs, coming up to the time of Ranjit Singh. After reciting the manner of Guru Tegh Bahadur’s accession to the gaddi, he says: “With the passage of time, thousands of soldiers and horsemen used to be with him and camels and goods of all kinds remained at his disposal. Further more, those who were refractory towards the amirs, the zamindars, the ijaraddars, the diwans and the officials in general used to take refuge with Guru Tegh Bahadur. Regardless of the numbers present with the Guru, they were all fed by him. Pain inevitably follows comfort. Some degraded persons reported to Emperor Alamgir that Guru Tegh Bahadur was staying in the country (Doab) of Malwa (in Punjab) with thousands of soldiers and horsemen, whosoever was refractory towards the officials took refuge with him. They warned the Emperor that if no notice of the Guru was taken it would be an incitement to insurrection; and that if he was allowed to continue his activities for a long time, it would be extremely difficult to deal with him (later).” Prof. Chandra writes: “Sikhism had spread to many Jat (agriculturists) and artisans, including some from the law castes who were attracted by its simple, egalitarian approach and the prestige of the Guru. Thus, the Guru, while being a religious leader, had also begun to be a rallying point for all those fighting against injustice and oppression”. Thus the Guru is absolved of the charge of coercion and extortion, and portrayed as a defender of the people. In the process, there must have been clashes with local officials which they denounced as marks of insurrection. `According to Sikh tradition, the execution was due to the intrigues of some members of the family who disputed his succession and by others who had joined them.”
In this context, it is very well known that right from the death of Guru Nanak there were disputes regarding succession which sometimes led to splits, such as the Udasis and to mutual wranglings, sometimes even leading to violence. Thus, the succession of Guru Tegh Bahadur to the gaddi was disputed by Ram Das, elder son of Guru Har Rai, and by many Sodhis.
we are told that this led Guru Tegh Bahadur moving to Delhi. But here he came face to
face with the hostility of Ram Rai, elder brother of Guru Har Kishan, who had been at the Mughal court shortly after Aurangzeb’s accession to the throne, and had his own claim to the gaddi. Ghulam Muhiuddin Bute Shah in his Tarikh- i-Punjab, says that the Guru went on a pilgrimage, and then founded Makhowal. He was summoned to Delhi at the instance of Ram Rai. “Ram Rai represented to the Emperor that Guru Tegh Bahadur was very proud of his spiritual greatness and that he would not realise his fault unless he was punished. Ram Rai also suggested that Guru Tegh Bahadur be asked to appear before the Emperor to work a miracle, if he failed, he could be put to death.”
This also appears doubtful because Aurangzeb did not believe in mysticism or miracles. He concludes by saying that “Aurangzeb’s action was unjustified from any point of view and betrayed a narrow approach,” and that “the Guru gave up his life in defence of cherished principles”.
The Persian source referred by Satish Chandra is Siyar-ul-Mutakharin, written in 1783 by Ghulam Husain Taba-Tabai. Historians who have discouraged the use of the text have pointed out that it was written more than a century after Guru Tegh Bahadur’s death. And Ghulam Husain lived far away from Punjab. Also, the Guru’s association with Hafiz Adam is anachronistic. Hafiz Adam died in Medina in A.D. 1643, 21 years before Tegh Bahadur attained the status of Guru. Further, they point out that according to Ghulam Husain, Tegh Bahadur was confined in Gwalior, where, under imperial orders, his body was “cut into four quarters” and hung at the four gates of the fortress.
Further, there are various translations of Ghulam Husain’s text. The historian, Joseph Davey Cunningham (A History of Sikhs; London, 1842) has used Raymond’s translation, on which Satish Chandra has also relied
. There is another translation of the same text, which is more precise and less derisive of Tegh Bahadur. This has been used by noted Sikh historian Ganda Singh in his works.
It reads: “Tegh Bahadur, gathering many disciples, became powerful, and thousands of people accompanied him. A contemporary of his, Hafiz Adam, who was a fakir belonging to the order of Sheikh Ahmed Sirhindi, had gathered about him a great multitude of followers. Both of these took to the practice of levying forcible exactions and moved about in the land of the Punjab. Tegh Bahadur took money from Hindus and Hafiz Adam from Mussalmans. The royal news writers wrote to the Emperor that the two fakirs, one Hindu and the other Muslim named so-and-so, had taken to the practice. It would not be strange if, with the increase of their influence, they created trouble.” This translation which makes no mention of “subsisting by plunder” has been accepted as more accurate by historians such as Harbans Singh and Norman Gerald Barrier in The Punjab: Past and Present: Essays in Honour of Dr. Ganda Singh, Khushwant Singh in ‘A History of the Sikhs’ and A.C.Banerjee. The second point of controversy refers to the following passage in the textbook: “According to Sikh tradition, the execution was due to intrigues of some members of his (Guru Tegh Bahadur’s) family who disputed his succession, and by others who had joined them. But we are also told that Aurangzeb was annoyed because the Guru had converted a few Muslims to Sikhism. There is also the tradition that the Guru was punished because he had raised a protest against the religious persecution of the Hindus in Kashmir by the local governor. However, the persecution of the Hindus is not mentioned in any of the histories of Kashmir, including the one written by Narayan Kaul in 1710. Saif Khan, the Mughal governor of Kashmir, is famous as a builder of bridges. He was a humane and broad-minded person who had appointed a Hindu to advise him in administrative matters. His successor after 1671, Iftekhar Khan, was anti-Shia but there are no references to his persecuting the Hindus.”
And so the reality remains unmasked.

Three is a crowd: Admits Indian Supreme Court

In a historic decision last month, the Supreme Court denied a Muslim man the right to have more than one wife and upheld his termination from employment for committing bigamy. The court observed that polygamy was not integral to Islam and the practice was not mandated by religion simply because it was permitted. Similarly, in 2005, the SC had boldly acknowledged that, despite codification and the introduction of monogamy, too many Hindu marriages, like Muslim marriages, continue to be bigamous. This latest SC decision is in line with the reform of Muslim personal law that it initiated three decades ago in the Shah Bano case.
In a catena of cases, the SC has held that the freedom of religion protects only those practices that constitute an “essential and integral part of religion”. Therefore, Muslim personal law can claim the protection of Article 25 only if it is established that marriage, inheritance and the other areas it covers are “essential and integral parts” of Islam. The bench was of the view that a Muslim who wants to take more than one wife is engaged in neither professing and practising nor promoting and propagating his religion. Thus the SC rightly upheld service rules that mandated that an employee can have only one wife. There is substance in the argument that though the basic source of Muslim law is the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet, the relations it regulates are not religious. They are, on the contrary, social relations well within the province of the state. Therefore, Muslim polygamy has no religious motivation.
Whether the amendment or abrogation of Muslim personal law violates the fundamental right to conserve Muslim culture depends on whether the cultural identity of Muslims rests solely on their personal law. One view is that neither polygamy nor unilateral divorce can be fully identified with Muslim culture as most Indian Muslims are monogamists and have not exercised their right to divorce. Moreover, Indian Muslim law on these subjects does not reflect the moral mores of the divine verses. The Quran permits polygamy subject to the impossible condition that the husband is able to deal “justly with his wives”. But the Indian law ignores this precondition. Considered in the context of the global history of polygamy, the precondition is more noteworthy than the permission.
The other view is that Muslim personal law is indeed part of Muslim culture.The law as culture is not a new idea; in fact, the law is both a producer and an object of culture. But prior to Islam, unrestricted polygamy was the norm. Islam limited it to four wives and specifically urged Muslims to practice monogamy.
It is illegal for non-Muslims in India to have more than one wife. In spite of this, many Hindus have multiple wives. Official reports brought out in 1974, almost two decades after the prohibition of Hindu bigamy, highlighted the shocking fact that polygamy among Hindus was higher than among Muslims (Adivasis: 15 per cent, Hindus: 5.8 per cent, Jains: 6.7 per cent, Buddhists: 7.9 per cent, Muslims: 5.6 per cent). Figures for subsequent decades are not available. The difference may appear insignificant but in real terms, it is huge — as many as one crore Hindu men had more than one wife, as opposed to just 12 lakh Muslims. In fact, according to the 2011 Census, 66 lakh women are still in bigamous marriages. Clandestine bigamy among Hindus has a worse effect than open polygamy among Muslims.
Several Muslim countries, including Egypt and Iran, require a man to get not only the consent of his first wife but also the approval of a court prior to marrying another woman. The Moroccan code has a provision for the court to deny permission for polygamy if injustice between “co-wives” is feared. There is a similar provision in force in Jordan. And Tunisia, in fact, had prohibited polygamy way back in 1957.
If a Hindu man deserts his lawfully wedded wife to live with another woman, the only remedy available to the aggrieved woman is divorce. However, most abandoned women may not view divorce as a viable option because of the sacramental nature of Hindu marriage and social pressures. Clandestine bigamy among Hindus has a worse effect than open polygamy among Muslims. Muslim men who have more than one wife, on the other hand, are legally bound to provide each not only residence but also proper maintenance. Thus, a Muslim woman is better off than the “second Hindu wife”, who has no legal status or rights under the law. The latter cannot even claim maintenance from her husband. In fact, in D. Velusamy (Supreme Court, 2010), the second Hindu wife was denied maintenance and held to be a “mistress”. This matter, too, needs urgent attention and intervention.

Indian Version of Greek Tragedy

On land acquisition, we can defy global logic only at our peril. India is not the only country with a widespread belief in exceptionalism. Wikipedia describes the term as “the perception that a country, society, movement, or time period is unusual or extraordinary in some way, and thus does not need to conform to normal rules or general principles”.
Many nations, both big and small, have also had histories of believing they are qualitatively different from other countries. Nevertheless, human societies have obvious underlying commonalities, and it can often be helpful to juxtapose the challenges we face with the experience of others.
It is worth examining the contentious issue of land acquisition in this context. While in India the raging debate on land acquisition centres on land owners’ consent, it is revealing that in neither the US or China — at opposite ends of systems of governance — is any consent required when land is acquired for public purpose. It is a crucial contrast, for it goes to the heart of questions like whether our policymakers are looking for pragmatic solutions or are content to screech at each other.
Also, whether we are ready to finally accept that, though much can be done to improve farming, it is simply unsustainable for the sector to continue to provide livelihoods to 60% of our population. And whether our farmers’ children can have realistic alternate career opportunities or are destined to be trapped in ever more fragmented, marginal farming. And finally, whether we as a nation at all believe that it is possible to create millions of jobs in manufacturing and services.
During the years-long process that led to the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act of 2013, the two most controversial aspects of the national debate were consent of land losers and compensation that they and those employed on their land ought to get. Till then, a 19th century Raj-era law had often been abused to dispossess farmers and others at a fraction of what would become the market price of their land after usage restrictions were lifted.
The issue of what percentage of the land-owners concerned would need to consent to an acquisition went through many convoluted iterations. An empowered group of ministers subcommittee of the Cabinet turned out to be not so empowered after all, when its recommendation was overruled and increased to 70% (and 80% for private companies). In scheduled areas this was further compounded by other overlapping laws, which essentially gave a veto to each panchayat, rather than, say, a majority of them in the entire area being acquired.
Even at the time, these were widely considered unworkable. The experience of these intervening months has only made that clearer, as even most of those opposing the recent changes admit in private. Of course, we don’t need to blindly emulate other countries and must discern between their practices. And, to some degree, we have.
For instance, the Chinese definition of public purpose is vague, whereas India’s is specific. But our definition is far narrower than in the US where in some cases private development has been deemed to constitute public purpose.
Similarly, the US emphasis on ‘just compensation’ for acquired land is worthy of emulation and our 2013 LARR Act goes to great lengths to ensure fair compensation and rehabilitation. Oddly, the initial outrage at the proposed new legislation included allegations that the compensation clauses were being rolled back. Whether that was deliberate or not, it quickly became apparent that was just not true, and the debate has since remained focussed on consent and other procedural aspects.
Once again, the studies, procedures and clearances mandated by the 2013 Act go far beyond what either the US or China follow, requiring a minimum of 50 months for projects to get the go ahead. And that assumes every stage of a complicated series of steps would work like clockwork, without any delays or extensions. Anyone who understands anything about the viability of infrastructure projects knows this is a sure-fire way to make them unviable.
Such provisions may be ideal from the perspective of a certain kind of philosophy, against industrialisation and the post-industrial economy per se, but can hardly be expected to cater to the million plus jobs that India now needs to create every month. As some countries have learnt at great cost — for instance, Greece on the issue of fiscal discipline — we can defy global logic only at our own peril.
To those genuinely seeking solutions it is equally critical to recognise that scepticism about fair compensation and whether lost land can translate to jobs is rooted in experience. For instance there are still disputed compensation and employment claims from the 1950s when the government acquired land for major dams, steel plants and the like.
Instead of looking in the rear view mirror at what has not worked in the past, we would be better served to benchmark what works in most of the world. It is incumbent on government now to ensure that compensation is unclogged and front-ended, that infrastructure is expedited and new jobs made visible, that education is reformed to promote employability. If we don’t, counterintuitive as this may sound, some of the worst affected will be India’s farmers.

Astronomical & Cultural Perspective on Friday’s Rare Vernal Equinox ,Super Moon, Solar Eclipse

This Friday is going to be unique. It is this Friday when this year’s spring equinox will be ‘serendipitously’ aligned with a supermoon and total solar eclipse.Perfectly positioned celestial watchers are in for a triple threat this Friday as the skies have aligned for a rare flurry of activity. A total solar eclipse and a supermoon will usher in spring.
March 20 is the first day of spring for those in the Northern Hemisphere. Southern Hemisphere residents will celebrate fall’s arrival or perhaps mourn the end of summer.At 6:45 p.m. ET, the sun will sit right above the equator — a moment known as the vernal equinox.That moment hails “the coming of spring,” says Paul Delaney, a professor at York University’s department of physics and astronomy. It’s only twice a year that the sun’s travels directly intersect with the celestial equator — the projected location of Earth’s equator in space. About six months before the vernal equinox, the Northern Hemisphere welcomed fall and the Southern Hemisphere spring with the September equinox.
Between 2000 BC and AD 3000, nearly 12,000 solar eclipses will happen, NASA estimates. Only 3,173 or about 27 per cent of those will be total solar eclipses, like Friday’s.There’s some debate in the astronomy world over what constitutes a supermoon. Most astronomers agree it’s when the moon is closer to Earth than usual during its orbit. On average the moon is some 380,000 km away, but can be as far as 405,000 km. On Friday, the moon will be only about 360,000 km away, says Delaney, making it look much bigger than usual.
It’s a big week as we are moving towards one of the most powerful days of the year: Friday, March 20th, which sees a new moon ‘supermoon’ total solar eclipse and the spring equinox falling on the same day. On this day, we will witness a rare astronomical event which has the potential to stir up some very powerful energetic shifts for our personal and collective transformations.
ASTRONOMICAL SIGNIFICANCE
This moon is called a ‘supermoon’ because it is at the closet point to the earth in its orbit (known as perigee), only about 222,192 miles away (357,584 kilometers). But, the moon will not be visible to Earth because it is a new moon. There will be a total six supermoons in 2015: Two have already happened, Friday marks number three, and the remaining three will occur in August, September, and October. September 28th’s supermoon will actually be the closest of the year, and will coincide with a lunar eclipse.
Eclipses can only happen at the new moon, when the moon passes in between the sun and the earth, blocking out the sun’s light. On Friday, the moon will completely block out all of the sun’s light in a few select places in the Northern Hemisphere, leading to a near ‘totality’ (or complete darkness) close to two minutes over Greenland, the Faroe Islands (UK) and a small group northern Norwegian Islands called Svalbard. In these areas, the shadow of the eclipse will measure as large as 90 miles! The most incredible part of the eclipse, when the moon is directly in front of the sun, will take place at approximately 9:46 pm UT (5:46 pm ET).
Some Northern European countries including Ireland, Scotland, Norway, Finland and Sweden will see at least 90 percent of the eclipse (weather permitting), whereas 50 to 80 percent of the eclipse will be visible on the mid-European continent. This solar eclipse falls on the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere (an on the autumnal equinox in the Southern Hemisphere), marking a transition in the Earth’s journey around the sun. At each equinox, the sun passes the Earth’s equator, making it directly overhead at noon. Vernal is Latin for “spring” and equinox is Latin for “equal night,” meaning that on the vernal equinox, we get about the name number of hours of daylight as we do darkness (although this can vary a little bit depending upon where in the Northern Hemisphere you are located).
A solar eclipse on the vernal equinox is a rare celestial event indeed, with the next one happening in 2034, and then it will not happen again until 2053 and 2072!
CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE
The vernal equinox has long been celebrated by nearly all world cultures as a time of rebirth, fertility and new opportunities. There is a symbolic meaning here, shared by our histories and collective consciousness reflecting renewal and hope. The spring equinox celebrated by the Pagan traditions was known as “Ostara” in early Pagan Germanic countries, usually a celebration of planting the new spring crop. It was also celebrated by the Mayans, ancient Romans, and by the ancient Egyptians as the festival of Isis. It is believed that this Pagan fertility holiday eventually transitioned to become the Passover ceremony in Judaism and the Easter ceremony in Christianity Modern Pagans and peoples of many different faiths and denominations still celebrate the spring equinox as a time of fertility, growth, and the returning of the creative energies of the divine feminine.
Meanwhile, solar eclipses have also traditionally been days of ritual. In many ancient cultures it was believed that the sun was being attacked by a mythological creature, such as a dragon in Asia, a werewolf in Romania, or a jaguar in Latin America. There are many stories of people making as much noise as they could to scare this creature away. It wasn’t all bad though… in Tahiti, it was believed that the sun was making love with the moon! Today, solar eclipses are still seen as times of ritual in some cultures, but related to transformation and release. They are an ideal time for the believers to indulge in chanting, meditation, mantra repetition, mindfulness and moving inwards to discover one’s truths