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“Bloodiest story of human history” and its long shadow on a resurgent India

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Never since the bloodbath of the Partition in 1947 which cost two million lives have Muslims and Hindus been so disenchanted with each other as of now and understanding its complexity could steer clear a resurgent India from becoming a prisoner of its past.

Rioters have taken to streets, cost lives and burnt public property worth millions since the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed by the Parliament in the closing days of 2019. Despite Indian prime minister Narendra Modi putting all doubts to rest with a rousing speech to a mammoth crowd in the Capital, there has been no letting up on the angst on either side.

The Act in essence eases up the citizenship process for the persecuted religious minority, including Hindus, in three Islamic republics of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan but its opponents want Muslims covered too even though they are not in minority in these countries and there are other avenues for them to gain Indian citizenship.

First students of a few Muslim educational institutions and then the rioters have made violent headlines and now supporters of the Citizenship Act are filling up the streets, albeit peacefully, but there is little mistaking that Muslims and Hindus are standing on the two sides of the great divide.

“Bloodiest story of human history”

Hindus historically resent almost a millennium-long persecution (8th to 18th century) at the hands of Muslim invaders who forged empires and inflicted what historian Will Durant described as the “bloodiest story of human history.” The wounds festered further when India was amputated of its western and eastern parts on the call of Muslim leaders on religious grounds by the departing British in 1947. The newly-formed Pakistan since then has forced India into four wars and supplied terrorists to turn Kashmir into a killing field. That scores of riots between the two since independence has claimed more than 10,000 lives has only bloodied the nation’s fabric.

Hindus further simmer that the Congress party, which ruled most in independent India, has “appeased” Muslims with funds and doles, created a minority affairs ministry with a separate budget and yet championed “secularism” from the rooftop. Muslims have control on their religious and educational institutions but the same is denied to Hindus. Hindus fear that such “appeasement” could cause another break-up of India like it did at the independence.

Muslims, on their part, largely detest the rise of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which Hindus view as essentially one of its own.  The party is in its second term with full majority under a hugely popular prime minister Narendra Modi who arguably has done more for Indian Muslims than Congress. Yet a series of events, such as overturning of triple talaqs (instant divorce), abrogation of special rights to Jammu and Kashmir and the favourable judicial verdict for a temple for Hindus’ deity Lord Rama in Ayodhya, has made sizeable number of Muslims long-faced.

A doctored Liberal narrative

The Liberal discourse, which controls the narrative, has largely tried to whitewash India’s violent experience with Islam and tried to present a composite Hindu-Muslim history though the truth is the great tradition of India’s ascetics and saints never caught the fancy of Muslim hearts. Nor India’s rich philosophy mattered to Muslim invaders but for a handful of notable exceptions.

Indian and Muslim literatures have largely run a parallel course. Pre-Muslim Indian history or Hindu heroes find no mention in Muslim annals. Muslim rulers have largely been indifferent to India’s magnificent traditions of sculpture. Some synthesis in language and music, or architecture, has been spruced up as proof of harmony. But it’s a stretch of imagination. Oppressors have never been seen indigenous by natives anywhere in the world. For example, Thanksgiving Day carries completely different connotations for White Americans than it does for Red Indians. While one celebrates it as the day when Pilgrim Fathers stepped on to the American soil, the Red Indians view it as a day of mourning.

The present disquiet has reopened the old wounds. While it is true that Indian Muslims by and large are peaceful, as perhaps are their majority in the world, yet it only takes a few to cause upheavals around the globe and bring Islam’s violent historical past on to the centrestage. Muslims need a credible, constructive leadership, at least in India, which speaks up against entitlement, support moves which free up their women from hardliners, and backs the long-pending Constitutional demand of a Uniform Civil Code which could help get rid of a few regressive Sharia (Islamic) laws. Till a voice emerges from within for one people, one nation, the historical suspicion of two-nation theory, which gave birth to Pakistan, would remain fresh in the mind of Hindus.

Liberals ensure that anything that makes Muslims uncomfortable must be branded as “hate” or “Islamophobia.” This puts the reformation on back-burner. Till it’s encouraged, societies around the world would be convulsed into turmoil, be it in Europe or in India.

 

Abki baar, 400 Paar: BJP shows up break-India forces

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Think of all the reasons you could in opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 and you would’ve all of your answers in these two pieces (here and here). If you still want to get your man, Amit Shah, then the latter’s words in the Rajya Sabha would make you seek penance for the sins of your mind.

After you’ve done the hard work to cleanse yourself of your prejudice, try to make sense why stations are being burnt in Bengal; why Islamist Jihadists have given a call to put flame to Kerala and why chief ministers of at least five states—Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Punjab and Bengal—are defiant. And then ask yourself what kind of “secularism” and “democracy” these rogues have in mind without adhering to judiciary, parliament and the Constitution?

Now if you still try to bog me down in justifying your “anti-Muslim” slant of the Citizenship Act, I would still nudge you to the above references unless you could convince me that the Sun doesn’t always rises in the East.

There’s another clarity you must’ve before we proceed any further. Is this a popular “revolt” against the Citizenship Act or a “whipped” one? Assam is now seeing reason after being misguided on fear on its language and culture but everything else is “drama” and a dangerous one at that. Goons who are burning up the railway stations in Bengal aren’t doing it to save India’s “democracy”.

Let’s look at the two opposing sides—those in the pitched battle for and against the Citizenship Act. The five Chief Ministers are hell-bent they would slam the door shut on the Act. This is all bluster. There is no way they could block this Citizenship Act in their domains. Judiciary could come down heavily on them; Centre could dismiss them for trying to unravel the unitary structure of the nation; and people could make sure their political careers—and that of their parties—is buried deep on the floor of the oceans.

Let’s look closely at the affiliation of these five Chief Ministers. Three of them are run or controlled by the Congress—Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh. The two others—Kerala and Bengal—are accused of treating Hindus as lesser citizens of their states, as critics would point out with the instances on Durga Visarjan and Sabrimala.  Maharashtra too might deny Citizenship Act as the strings of Uddhav Thackeray are pulled by Congress.

It is thus a “political”rage  and not one for secularism and democracy. Congress is fighting for its survival and so are Mamata Banerjee (Bengal) and Pinaryi Vijayan (Kerala) as the 2019 elections have shown. All these forces have ceded the political ground on Hindus to the BJP.  Their vote-bank of Muslims is all but lost: Triple Talaq, Ayodhya, Article 370 and Citizenship Act instantly come to mind. Shunned by Hindus and abandoned by Muslims, these forces are staring at political oblivion

So their best hope is anarchy. Judiciary exposes them at every given stage: Remember Rafale, Article 370 or Ayodhya as instances. People see them singing the same tune as arch enemies Pakistan. The ruling dispensation holds them up on corruption and convenient stands. The last throw of the dice appears to be their hope for agitations on streets, swelled by students of bastions of a select universities, and foreign intervention in the form of West and their stooge institutions, including the United Nations and a corrupt media. Lutyens Media in India is a drummer of such inimical forces against a strong India.  Why, the overseas wing of Congress has already given a call to hold demonstrations outside embassies around the world, against the Citizenship Act.

The biggest fear of these forces is political oblivion in case Indian Muslims pull the plug on them. The Muslim vote-bank no longer sees Congress and similar forces as dependable. It could lead to fundamentalist forces within Indian Muslims to assume leadership and dump Congress and their likes for good. It would amount to their political annihilation.

The other side, favouring Citizenship Act, have logic and reason with them. It gives them an ironclad moral shield at least in the eyes of the majority in this country. In raising the charge of divisiveness, the Opposition is only strengthening BJP’s hands. It’s getting the majority in this country behind Modi and Shah and exposing themselves as inimical forces working against the interest of India. How would Hindus see a Shiv Sena or Sikhs would view Shiromani Akali Dal if the inclusion of their brothers and sisters from across the border is opposed by these parties?

“Abki baar, 400 paar” could after all come true in 2024 elections, given how a stupid Opposition is squandering the last penny of their political capital.

Post Script: I end the piece as I began it: By referring a piece to your attention. It would give you a bigger picture and firm up your spine in the defence of your country and its people.

A bloodline of martyrs: Why this village rejoices in the blood it sheds

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

The present year is a significant one for Indian army, it being the 20th anniversary of Kargil War and the centenary of its role in World War I. India’s martyred are much ignored in history but not in a small dusty village which rejoices in the blood it sheds.

Think of Antarctica to be in spirit with an Indian soldier who is stationed in winter in Kargil, gateway to Ladakh in India’s snow-capped range of northern mountains where temperatures are known to fall below 60 degrees Celsius at times.

Some 20,000 combat troops guard the 150-km stretch of the Line of Control (LoC), where mules transport food to ammunition to shelter boxes across the steep slopes, the lurking fear of crevasse or avalanche heightened by the biting cold and icy winds, an unending stretch of snow and ice which could cause frostbite, dismember your toes and do strange things to your mind. The niceties of bath or regular shave can wait.

Now contrast this with India’s western borders of Thar desert, some 77,000 square miles of arid region, which is a natural boundary between India and Pakistan. Temperatures regularly shoot up beyond 50 degree Celsius in summer here; the rolling sand dunes whipping up unspeakable dust storms in blistering heat. At India’s eastern wing you have swampy mudflats to guard against trouble from across the porous border of Bangladesh.

Given such terrains, it’s a wonder that some 14 million raise their hands for a job in the army, second most in the world, for a salary which stays $500 a month on an average for most part of their careers. Cynical would tell you that’s a mirror on millions unemployed in India. But there are no easy answers why villages of India send their sons to be a martyr for the country and wouldn’t substitute it for anything else in the world.

Village which boasts of its martyrs

Jhunjhunu is a district in Rajasthan, known for its world famous Shekhawati mural paintings but little advertised about a few of India’s richest who have emerged from its dusty plains. Yet the village boasts only about its martyrs and would hate to be known for anything else. They say you knock a door in this village and a story of martyrdom would emerge as a matter of routine.

There are families who have put their men in line of action for generations, their return in coffin draped in India’s flag being a matter of pride. Sons take vow on the pyre of fathers to meet a similar fate; villagers donate funds to feed the family of martyred; rich spend a fortune to have their statues installed at intersection of roads and elsewhere. Newly-weds seek blessings from these profiles in stone and granite as faithful would do to gods in temples.

Legacy is secured by naming schools and colleges; engineering and health centres in the name of those who’ve shed blood for the nation. Faithfuls have no chance in this quest though as the roll of honour gets bigger by the day: Hundreds have lost lives and gallantry medals abound. Some 50,000 presently represent this village in the army ranks; a similar number are past their regular services, some physically impaired, some fighting memory loss having survived the horrors of war.

Examples abound

Jhunjhunu is more famous but there are two other villages nearby, Churu and Sikar, all part of Shekawati region of Rajasthan state, which are a mirror-image in sacrifice. Elsewhere too fire burns bright to wear the army colours. Ambakuduchi is a village in Odisha which has vowed at least one member of a family must join the army; a village near Agra, once the seat of Mughal empire, has a similar goal; Madhavaram, a tiny village in southern state of Andhra Pradesh, has at least one army recruit from each of its household.

Such a fire to lose oneself for the country could have many a basis. It could be the respect and honour which is bestowed on an individual, a tribal instinct of a collective identity or a raging passion to keep the country safe. It’s not solely for an assured job for there are no fixed working hours or extra money accrued due to overtime.  

India is admired by the world for its Gandhi and his philosophy of non-violence which probably has dimmed the sheen of bravery of its armed men. India lost nearly a million men in two World Wars, their courage so exemplary that it moved Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck to assert that the British “couldn’t have come through both wars if they hadn’t had the Indian Army.”  There is still not enough literature on India’s those magnificent sons which is a pity in the centenary year of the culmination of the World War I (1914-1919).

 

Gassed to death: A tragedy India finds difficult to live down

(This is a reprint from NewsBred)).

There were men, women and children, thousands of them, bursting through gates of the Bhopal railway platform, emitting a tornado of wails, the crushing pressure dropping them over each other on railway tracks, rising, grabbing and swinging on the doors of my parked train, lunging at the iron rods of my window with a ferocity which threw a startled me deep into my compartment, now swaying like a leaf under the impact.

I was 20, returning from Mumbai, what we once called Bombay, onwards to my ancestral town Lucknow and the train had met its scheduled stop-over in Bhopal, almost midway through the journey. It was early hours of December 3, 1984 and all I could put it to was some sort of riot unfolding, an eye-witness account I would share with my people back home next morning.

Decades of mornings have passed since then, anniversary after anniversary, deaths after deaths, yet history’s biggest industrial disaster, the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, is still unfolding after it consumed 20,000 lives due to poisoned air of that night which escaped a chemical plant in the heart of the city.  How do I look back when something new has happened all along in these 35 years?

Do I start with that terrible night when tonnes of cyanide-gas burst through the rusted tanks and broken pipes of a chemical plant in Bhopal, owned by then one of West’ poster-boy of a multinational, Union Carbide; the poison that smelled like boiled cabbage enveloping the cluster of slums which had sprang up around the factory in the need for a living. Thousands of poor and unprotected rushed out howling deep in the night, blinded in eyes, choked in throats, lungs which would burst within next few hours.

Do I stop and narrate how an enterprising local journalist had seen it coming three years in advance to the tragedy, his warnings unheeded by the politicians of a system which was new to industrial society and treated the gods of capitalism with reverence and awe. It swallowed the white lie of Union Carbide’s owners in the United States that the functioning of the Indian plant was completely the outlook of local functionaries and they couldn’t be held accountable. When its honcho arrived in India, he went to a plush guesthouse instead of gallows, his return to New York facilitated by a very own aircraft of Indian government. Warren Anderson, the man, was never served a warrant till he died at the age of 92 in 2014.

Do I ask my listeners or readers to worry if India’s environmental laws are weak or if judiciary dithers all too often, sitting on a judgment for decades before slapping the wrist of six local employees with a fine of $2000 and two-year imprisonment in 2010. Do I tell them to work out how the demand of $3.3 billion as compensation was scaled down to $470 million by the offenders and accepted without a murmur by the affected.

Do I draw their attention to Bhopal Gas Tragedy 2.0 unfolding every living minute since then as the poisonous chemical waste was dumped outside the factory which has contaminated soil and the groundwater, consumed by the poor on its periphery. That scores of deformed lives still use these killing fields as their playground. That no other state finds it politically expedient if the clean-up of the factory and its chemicals are shifted and buried on their turf. That the moneybags who are in possession of these abandoned plants now, another American multinationals Dow Chemicals, sees no reason to spare its dollars and clear the mess or pay up the affected. They, after all, came 17 years onwards the tragedy. Of the assets and liability they have negotiated with the former owners, they are only willing to play ball on assets.

Do I talk about how ruthless capitalism exploited weak nations, importing their technology even when safety legal nets were absent in a vulnerable society? How such a toxic presence was allowed a haven within a heavily populated neighbourhood? How a new nation keen to secure its place in the sun overlooked the cost it could entail on its defenceless?

The only reference I can make with certainty is from history books: Union Carbide played an important role with its chemicals in both the World Wars of the 20th century. After DDT was banned by the United States in 1973, Union Carbide began pushing a highly toxic pesticide, Sevin, for the global agriculture industry battling pests, weeds and viruses. They adopted the template of targeting young nations like India, without a thought to responsible supervision or spending towards its maintenance. India is now wiser by the experience but the Bhopal Gas Tragedy lives on, a trauma it still hasn’t come to grips with.

(This article by the author was published in rt.com). 

It’s unlikely the buried last Sikh king would be exhumed

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

It is no small matter that the last king of the powerful Sikh empire of the 19th century is buried in a small nondescript village of 300 people in eastern England for 125 years now and voice is now being raised in the Indian parliament for it to be exhumed and his remains brought back to India.

It is also no small matter that the buried, Maharaja Duleep Singh, happened to be the son of magnificent one-eyed Maharaja Ranjit Singh who ruled over much of north and north-western India for 38 years, including Afghanistan and Kashmir, and had the ears of Napoleonic forces against the British expansion in India.

There is enough poignancy in the story of a young lad, enthroned as emperor at the age of five, falling to the machinations of British who pounced on his father’s death to usurp his empire, imprison his mother and ship him to England, converted as a Christian, and later denied his wish to return to his homeland as a reborn Sikh, Apparently, he died in penury in 1893 and buried in the premises of a small church of the Elveden village in West Suffolk district of England to this day.

It would appear strange too that neither the Sikhs, adherent to world’s fifth largest religion with 30 million numbers, nor their country of a billion-plus, has made a serious stake to reclaim a glorious symbol of their past even though a noise is often made to retrieve the magnificent Koh-i-Noor, arguably one of world’s most famous diamond, which once adorned his father Maharaja Ranjit Singh and is today part of British crown of jewels in England.

India was jewel in British crown for a reason. It lost precious stones (gold, silver diamonds etc), materials (sculptures, scrolls etc), resources (millions of men fighting their wars or out of famines) and lands (Pakistan and Bangladesh due to the Partition) in decades of rapine and plunder by the British colonialists.  Its’ economy, from a share of quarter of world’s GDP fell to three per cent during this horrific grab of their fortunes by the British.

But the grave of the last Sikh king is not the tomb of Pharaohs, like the one of Tutankhamun, which alone carried a wealth of a billion dollars, including a coffin of gold. Nor his remains could sink a Titanic which the doomsayers assert happened only because the gigantic ship carried an Egyptian Mummy among its cargoes.

The buried Maharaja is also no Christopher Columbus, exhumed multiple times around the world due to various claims on world’s most famous explorer, nor is he a revolutionary like Simon Bolivar whose remains was unearthed from Colombia and transferred to Venezuela in a fully-televised event to ascertain if the great revolutionary had been poisoned. He is also no Abraham Lincoln whose tomb was raided with the idea of holding the corpse to ransom by some horrid grave-diggers.

Neither the last Sikh king is some criminal like the exhumed assassins of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, nor akin to a former US president, Zachary Taylor who died in 1850 but his body was disinterred in 1991 to ascertain if he was a victim of arsenic poisoning. He is also no Eva Peron or Oliver Cromwell, two of history’s most recognized names, whose remains met a fate of mystery and macabre.

In making the demand on Mahraja Duleep Singh’s remains, the specific parliamentarian, a member of the opposition, hasn’t probably factored in a few testy details: Should the remains go to India or Pakistan for the throne of the Sikh empire ruled from Lahore; the difficulty of obtaining a licence for exhumation since it’s in a property of the powerful Church of England; wading into the elaborate procedures of Ministry of Justice in England which sits on decisions on non-consecrated grounds. The parliamentarian’s demand though wouldn’t be contested by the lineage of the last Sikh emperor, none of whom are alive today.

There is unlikely to be any serious follow-up on the demands on the Maharaja’s remains. It’s politically hazardous to release a rallying symbol for a community which for over a generation is being baited by the separatists to bolster their demands for a separate Sikh homeland. It’s also unlikely that the honourable parliamentarian of the opposition isn’t aware of the repercussions of his demands. But it would at least add heft to his party’s presence in Sikh-dominated Punjab and show the ruling dispensation of Delhi in poor light which probably is good enough for him.

Death touches all of us at some stage of our lives. In some cases, it does more than once.

(This is a reprint from rt.com)

 

Indian Express, The Hindu do a cover-up job on Sharad Pawar

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

I share this with the readers of Indian Express and The Hindu to caution them about the highly biased coverage of these two newspapers who in popular perception are the front soldiers of Communist-Leftist ideology in this country.

In today’s editions of the two newspapers, there is little mention of “heated discussions” between Congress and Ajit Pawar which led the latter to storm out of the room and seek out BJP towards government formation in Maharashtra.

This was shared by Sharad Pawar in a television interview which has been widely reported in newspapers except in the above-two mentioned.  The interview also has Sharad Pawar griping that while Shiv Sena got the chief minister’s chair, the Congress secured the Speaker for themselves. “What have we got?” Pawar has bristled in frustration.

Well, let’s try to fathom the reasons why Indian Express and The Hindu have chosen to bury the disclosures of NCP chief:

·         One, it would show that Congress is perennial spoilsport, arrogant and have an ingrained sense of entitlement (even though they have the least number of seats out of the four major contestants in Maharashtra);

·         Two, it would reveal that all is still not well within the fledgling alliance among the three opposites in Mahrashtra as Pawar has gone public in his displeasure with Congress;

·         Three, it could actually mean an overture by Pawar towards the BJP in the still fluid political rapids of Maharashtra

I would now ask the readers of the two newspapers to refer the front page lead story of Indian Express on Tuesday, December 3, 2019, with the headline: “PM told me let us work together but I refused: Pawar on Nov 20 meet.” The sub-headline of the story is: “Offer to make Supriya Sule minister at Centre, joint govt in state: NCP chief.”

Clearly the impression a reader would have from this front-page lead is that the prime minister Narendra Modi was “cutting a deal” with Pawar towards BJP forming a government in Maharashtra. Modi, it implied, not only wanted the support of NCP but had also offered a ministerial berth to his daughter. But as you read on, the dissonance of the text with the headline becomes apparent.

In the text, Pawar is quoted for Modi having asked him to work together for the country as they share common vision on a multiple issues. So Modi made didn’t make an offer for Maharashtra. But the headline would make a non-attentive reader believe that Modi was trying to cut a deal with NCP towards power in Maharashtra.  Secondly, while Pawar did say that a ministerial berth was offered to her daughter, he didn’t say that Modi had made this offer!

Thus, out and out, Indian Express was trying to show Modi in poor light on his November 20 meeting with Pawar ahead of the ugly drama in Maharashtra even though the facts were otherwise.

Now, Cut Two to today’s newspapers, 24 hours later.  Sharad Pawar is quoted to having told the NDTV that no such direct offer—either to Pawar himself or his daughter Sule was made by Modi. This has been prominently reported in Times of India. But Indian Express and The Hindu haven’t reported this disclosure made on a national TV network—even though a day earlier it was quoting a regional TV channel to make their point on November 20 meeting! The most Indian Express has done is to quote Pawar that his nephew, Ajit Pawar, was unhappy over the pace of discussion with the Congress. No mention that Ajit Pawar had walked out of the meeting with Congress over “heated discussions.”

So readers, go on and keep reading The Indian Express and The Hindu if you share their bias against the BJP, and by extension, against the Hindutva point of view. But then be prepared to get doctored news as they have done in the present instance.

Devils dog women on streets: India hangs its head in shame

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

To the images of the charred remains of a young woman, raped and murdered, countless Indians woke up this morning with a sense of having failed their nation, and no less their popular prime minister Narendra Modi.

Dr Priyanka Reddy was out on her work as a vet in the outskirts of Hyderabad when her motorbike went bust and she fell prey to evil eyes of men around her with no route of escape left for her modesty and life. All of India’s gains on women in recent years, personally for me, were put to flames.

Four years ago, Modi had launched a scheme for girls, appropriately in northern state of Haryana which suffers from a skewed gender ratio and where women must largely look after home and hearth and little else.  “The prime minister of this country has come to you like a beggar, begging for the lives of our daughters,” Modi had implored.

India and its wonder women

Flip through the newspages of last six years and you would have countless tales of Indian women world champions, two of them—Saina Nehwal and Sania Mirza—from the very city of Hyderabad which today hangs its head in shame. You would find women who scaled Mt. Everest on one leg; the youngest ever to swim to record in icy Antarctic waters; grandmasters in chess; squash unbeatables;  reigning amateur world boxing champion for six years; authors who are internationally acclaimed; women scientists who are today the backbone of India’s space research programme, the envy of the world.

The same pages have stories of horrendous rapes and experts pontificating on lesser numbers, lesser jobs, lesser education, less convictions, open defecation, female feticide etc as reasons for such violations.  You have television debates, possibly a candlelight marches with sombre faces on Capital’s brightest thoroughfares, with the best expressions saved for news cameras which, given the luck, could place you in morning’s edition.  None of them seek or reflect to a basic question which Modi asks his citizens: “How could you possibly ask for an educated daughter-in-law when you snatch books from the hands of your own young daughters?”

Best examples of such a belief are apparently lost on a society where women are not only seen as an object of sex but also one for power and dominance.  Modi’s cabinet has six women ministers, women as capable as Ms Nirmala Sitharaman who could be a defence minister one day and a finance minister the next. The present Indian parliament has 78 women MPs, the highest-ever since independence.  An inspirational movie crafted on Indian women wrestlers had the world swooning, like in China where it logged US $191 million on box office. Yet tales of savagery and barbarism against the fairer sex abound in India.

The evidence is out there, every living minute of your daily existence. You ride a bus and see women being groped with abandon, wolf whistles accompanying your daughter long after they have turned the corner, lewd remarks in cafes etc. The sanctity to such obnoxious behaviour could come from men in the highest echelon of the society: Like a former Defence Minister who cautioned young girls against revealing dresses for “boys, after all are boys.”

A tale of two Indias living side by side

Today, there are two Indias living side by side. One has the horrid face of centuries where women are mere extension of a man’s needs, managing kids and kitchen only, and dare they think about selves. Other India has women reaching out to the skies, as strong in mind and body as men, egged by their progressive families and lauded in the neighbourhood.

Then there are some like me who fall in between. Father of two educated but unmarried daughters, I once damned my luck with the words: “Man, I feel raped.” My two lovelies gave me a look I would never forget. They felt belittled and humiliated—and made sure I did too.

An average Indian family has always preferred baby-boys to girls. For a long time, policy-makers ignored this mindset. Such an India needs open debate, a sustained dialogue so as the two Indias could live in harmony and safely. Skewed gender ratio leaves the society with more men and fewer women, a recipe for violence and domestic instability. 

India could probably learn from China which culturally has a similar preference for baby-boys yet the other extreme is rare. Punishment is a suitable deterrent. India perhaps needs to look at its laws and the speed at which justice is arrived at for the offenders.  

(This is was first published in rt.com).

Onion crisis and its political shadow in India is one of history’s poor jokes

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

History pulls some poor jokes and I am afraid onion is one of them though it’s unlikely millions of my agitated fellow Indians would view the matter as funny.

Onion prices have hit the roof in India, a kilogram costing one-third of an average Indian’s daily income of $4 dollars, forcing a worried government to seek tranches of supply from Egypt of all places lest the people’s anger extracts a political cost too grave in nature.

There’s a precedent for such grave forebodings too as governments once fell on rising onion costs in Delhi and Rajasthan and Indira Gandhi once channelized such anger to ride to power in 1980 even though the excesses of Emergency were still fresh in people’s mind.

Onion to Indians is what air is to human life, invisible yet impossible to do without, a bulb of a food which launches a thousand curries, an essential even if inconspicuous item on your food plate, peeling of which is always a teary proposition and consumption of which is strictly no-no if the next thing you are doing is to kiss your lover. You see, what is pungent for your food is odour between two mouths!

Onions were once despised by Indians

Yet history tells us that onion was one of the forbidden foods for ancient Indians who were seeking an austere life. Holy scriptures despised it as an aphrodisiac, unsuitable in quest of a spiritual life.  One of history’s most famous travellers, Hieun Tsang of China, observed in the seventh century that very few locals used onions for fear of being expelled beyond the walls of the town.

Muslim invaders then came in hordes but always returned after loots, unlike the Mughals who dominated the next millennium and barely ate anything without the onions. Their cuisine of rich meat dishes and biryani (flavoured rice), virtually embedded with this layered bulb, sometimes raw, mostly burned brown and mixed, let a strong aroma to the royal kitchenette and their dining halls. The smell soon blew down to the masses beyond the royal walls and before long, onion occupied the pride of place which it retains to this day for an average Indian’s food buds.

The irony won’t be lost to a history student as he observes a renaissance of ancient India and its true ethos of our times which laments the loss of its virility due to a thousand years of servility at the hands of the Muslim invaders and British colonialists and yet is unmindful that one of Indians’ staple food, the unputdownable onions, is actually a gift of the Mughals. That’s what you call out history for one of its poor jokes.

As onion grew in importance, so did its crop for farmers to the extent that India today is the second biggest producer and exporter of onions in the world and earns $360 million each year from its surplus. Once in a while, the monsoon is delayed or rains are active till the onset of winters and this double whammy makes onions scarce and dearer. That’s when fumes of anger hit the power corridors of government and occasionally envelopes it too. This year is a classic case study of such a frightful scenario.

Plans and the battle ahead

India hopes to come to grips with it in a matter of month or two for there is always an abundance of onions between January and May which allows the excess to be stored and used till August before the fresh crop in winter keeps Indian kitchens running for the rest of the year. It’s this winter crop, called Rabi crop in India, which has suffered the vagaries of weather this year.

Indian government is countering the crisis by banning exports and calling for imports from diverse nations such as Egypt, UAE and Turkey to meet the shortfall. Times were when India turned to Pakistan in such crisis as it was in 2010 but now the ties between the two neighbours is in deep freeze and India even needs permission to use air space of its arch-rivals. There are also measures to subsidize such imports for Indian consumers as well as a policy to ensure Indian farmers don’t get shortchanged in price only because the weather has played truant.

Such assurance though are difficult to extend to its Middle and Far East clients as well as to  neighbours like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka who are used to special brown Indian onions and find the alternative, say the white ones from Egypt, too bland in taste.  Yet Egypt is now shipping its onions to Sri Lanka which it had done never before. Even the Netherlands is importing onions to Sri Lanka though the transportation lag is no less than six weeks. Onion cost has skyrocketed for India’s traditional export clients and there is fear that India might have yielded too much ground to exporting rivals such as Pakistan, China and Egypt.

(This piece also appeared in rt.com).

 

 

A man who didn’t give up for 40 years may have now solved India’s population blues

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Many view India’s ballooning population, set to overtake China by the next decade, as a time-bomb ticking but a solution is now at hand which nevertheless took four long decades in coming and was hidden in plain sight.

India had only 54 millions on its population chart in 1979 when a slight professor in his 40s, Dr. Sujoy Kumar Guha, published his first scientific paper on Risug, a drug molecule he had developed as a reversible contraceptive for men. He pleaded for clinical trials. But the “Dr” in front of his name was not a medical degree; it was courtesy his PhD studies in an American university. No go, said India’s apex medical body, ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research).

Guha chose to climb this door which was slammed shut on him by opting for his medical entrance test and becoming a qualified medical doctor. ICMR relented and the clinical trials began but more than a decade had passed and Guha was now in his 50s, an age when most men tend to get flaccid in mind.

Phase I of clinical trials progressed from rats, rabbits, monkeys to humans and were proved spectacularly successful in 1993. But then ICMR brought it to a half after someone complained that the substances of Risug are known to cause cancer. Guha argued individual substances turn harmless as compounds, just as chlorine, which could melt human flesh, becomes basic salt of everyday use when mixed with sodium. ICMR wasn’t convinced.

Dr Guha knocked the doors of Supreme Court; the Phase II was set in motion after a few years and by 2002 Dr Guha’s dreams were close to being realized before another spanner was thrown in the works. Now it was the changed international norms for clinical trials. It took Indian medical authorities another five years to put the required norms in place.

The envy which took its toll

Unsurprisingly, Guha evoked interest and envy in equal measure around the world.  The world began sniffing on his wonder drug and not always with a sense of appreciation. The National Institute of Health in the US raised questions and caused delays. Dr Guha believes to this day it was meant to promote a pill-in-the-making which, unlike his one-time injectable hormone-based drug, promised continual demand and endless profit.

Now after another dozen years, nearly 40 years all put together, Dr Guha’s dream is close to being realized. The extended tests on Risug have shown no side-effects. The Indian medical authorities are hopeful of introducing his reversible contraceptive in market in next 6-7 months.  It would be the first injectable male contraceptive in the world. Its’ competitor, the pill, is nowhere in sight.

Indian men prefer to use condoms than an invasive vasectomy surgery to sterilize their reproductive organ.  But Dr Guha’s invention is external, non-invasive and cheap and could prompt millions to opt for it, given its’ reversible with just two counter injections put in place. There is no barriers to physical intimacy like condoms.

Youth and the shackles of population

There’s a great imbalance in India’s population trajectory with southern states meeting the global trends of less than two children per household. In contrast the northern states, which contain 40 per cent of India’s population, tend to have nearly four children per household. Education, economic dependence of women, rural-urban divide all play a role in India’s population which is bursting at the seams and poses a great strain on India’s diminishing resources such as water and energy.  India has more than 600 million young people and needs 12 million jobs for them each year. Population is an issue which could no longer be put off to tomorrow.

In times gone by, around the time when Dr Guha had worked out his invention, Sanjay Gandhi, son of India’s then reigning prime minister Indira Gandhi, went for a compulsory sterilization programme to halt the population boom in 1976. Over 6 million men were sterilized in just a year. Nearly 2,000 men died because of botched operations. In the ensuing elections, India voted the Gandhis out of power. Nobody in authority has dared to do anything as dramatic as this since those dark days.

Dr Guha, nearing 80 and still sprightly, could finally give India solution to a problem which has seriously shackled the nation’s future. He wouldn’t meet the tragic fate of Dr Subhas Mukherjee who was the real architect of “test-tube baby” but lost the rights of invention to Louise Brown only because his work hadn’t appeared in any international journal. In 1981, Dr Mukherjee was found hanging in his Kolkata apartment.

(This piece is a reprint from rt.com).

 

 

Not just Pakistan, there is another country which makes India lose its cool

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

If there is one country besides Pakistan which draws hiss and roar from India, it is Turkey and a series of unprecedented measures by New Delhi in recent times lends credence to such a startling impression.

Not only India has put off a scheduled visit of its prime minister Narendra Modi, it has also shelved a mouth-watering Indian navy contract with a Turkish company. It has issued an advisory to Indian tourists to exercise “utmost caution” while touring Turkey and it mouthed fire when Istanbul put boots in northern Syria last month.

What’s wrong between the two countries which historically stood by each other in the past? It was Turkey which gave refuge to Indian clerics when colonialists Britain cracked down on India’s war of independence in 1857. A half century on, Mahatma Gandhi took up the Khilafat movement on behalf of the Ottoman Empire as it was being cut to pieces by the British in 1919. Turkey was one of the first nations to recognize India on its independence in 1947. Indeed, there are over 9,000 words which are common in the language of the two countries.

Fast forward to present times: Turkey was one of those rare nations who used the United Nations platform to internationalize the Kashmir issue this year. India hit back by snuggling up to leaders of Armenia, Cyprus and Greece which have long-standing border disputes with Turkey. The bilateral trade, which grew by one-third between 2016-2018, is reeling as the two bare teeth at each other. The chill befuddles the innocent for Turkey is a geographical marvel, straddling East and West and India is an economic candy which has the world lining up on its door. Both have ample reasons to find each other attractive.

The timeline of discord

The timeline of discord would show that it all began at the beginning of the Cold War when Turkey and Pakistan joined the Baghdad Pact, or CENTO (Central Treaty Organization), initiated by the United States and India assumed the leadership of newly-freed Colonial outposts, the Non-Aligned group, under the benign protection of Soviet Union. The wheels came off in due course with Turkey standing firmly behind Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir and thwarting India’s bid for membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for a long time.

It would appear Turkey has given India a clutch of reasons to worry about, as a wounded deer would about encircling wolves. It all stems from president Recep Tayyip Erdogan endlessly gazing in the mirror and watching the heir of Ottomon Empire, the saviour of Muslim civilization, peer back at him. It makes him take up the causes from Palestine to Kashmir to Xinjiang, build mosques from Asia to Africa to Latin America and spend a fortune in restoring Ottoman heritage around the world.

India, hosting 200 million Muslims in its bosom – the third largest such concentration in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan – and is a natural target. Turkey thus takes up the Kashmir cause with gusto, openly siding with Jamaat-e-Islami, a Pakistan-based Islamic fundamentalist party, which has notorious Hizbul Mujahideen as its militant wing that causes unending cycle of violence and terror in Kashmir Valley.  No wonder Turkey is a cause célèbre among Kashmiri separatists such as Hurriyat and Erdogan’s victory in presidential elections last year led to huge celebrations in Kashmir.

Turkey plays host to extremist Indian Muslim preachers such as Zakir Naik who delivered a speech to an Islamist group, run by Erdogan’s son Bilal, in 2017. Naik had fled to Malaysia after his name cropped up after a ghastly terrorist attack in a Dhaka cafe in 2016 which left 29 dead. Modi has made a personal request to Malaysia for Naik’s extradition to India.

Turkey further runs the South Asia Strategic Research Centre (GASAM) with an aim to export Erdogan’s Islamist ideology to his audience of millions of Muslims in Pakistan and India. Erdogan thinks he has a headstart over arch-enemy Saudi Arabia on Indian Muslims: One, both Indian and Turkish Muslims are not Arabs; Two, both follow the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam which is different from Wahhabism, the forte of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia and Muslim leadership

Turkey doesn’t need much to woo Pakistan. It already has Pakistan eating out of its hand as it saves the latter from international sanctions such as FATF (Financial Action Task Force), gives a global platform for its Kashmir pitch and firms up its economy. That Pakistan is also the only Islamist country which is a nuclear power helps. Pakistan further pays its dues by siding with Turkey as the latter looks to take over leadership mantle from Saudi Arabia in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Turkey and Saudi Arabia of course are sworn rivals. It’s a rivalry steeped in history. It were the Ottoman Turks who engineered the fall of first Wahhabi empire in the 19th century. Ottomon Empire itself was dismantled, 100 years later. The Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, on his part, referred to Turkey as a triangle of evil, along with Iran and Islamic extremists. That Saudi Arabia is now a trusted and productive ally of India hasn’t served to dilute Turkey’s antagonism.

Thus India and Turkey have a long bridge to mend but both are kept apart by the rapids of toxicity which runs between them. Both have reasons to erect fences but not one motive to share the couch over a hot cup of coffee.