From insecure to over secure Indian Muslims

Muslims are en bloc vote bank in India. Muslims are not just a minority but considered as the good catchment area during election season and communal season. For ages Muslims are playing a potential role in the Indian society in these forms. Unfortunately there is no farsighted Muslims coming out. Using the limited vision of the Indian Muslim leadership, political figures of all hues are exploiting to the fullest extent. As long as Muslims are confined to the narrow mental territory there is no scope for the betterment.

Javed Anand writes in The Deccan Chronicle on 29 April 2011

Indian Muslims just got luckier. Already spoilt for choice, the Spring of 2011 has brought two fresh bonanzas for the country’s “second largest majority”. One comes gift-wrapped as a brand new political party; the other is a forum of Muslim advocates of Maharashtra. Many compliments of the season, Badhai ho badhai!

But hang on a moment. It perhaps is too early to exult. The Jamaat-e-Islami’s (JI) invitation to a party has met with more jeers than cheers. Not many Muslims, it appears, are keen on singing Happy Birthday to the new-born named Welfare Party of India. The Muslim advocates’ meet in Mumbai on a Friday (April 22) saw the enthusiastic participation of around 300 advocates from all over Maharashtra. The stars of the show were two retired Muslim judges from the Mumbai high court: Justice Bilal Nakzi and Justice Shafi Parkar. But outside the venue the reception was mixed.

Let’s take the second one first. What on earth is the meaning of a separate Muslim lawyers’ forum? What’s coming next: Muslim doctors’ forum, Muslim journalists’ forum, Muslim IAS/IPS officers’ forum, Muslim consumers’ forum? Thane city’s advocate Abdul Kalam explains the rationale for such a forum thus: “After the communal riots, it has been found that Hindu advocates are reluctant to fight cases of Muslim victims or accused. We don’t say that all non-Muslim advocates are biased, but during moments of crisis, many upright advocates have developed cold feet”.

Is that so? What about Kapil Sibal, Shanti Bhushan, Anil Divan, P.P. Rao, M.S. Ganesh, Kamini Jaiswal, Sanjay Parikh, Aspi Chinoy, Navroze Seervai, Gautam Patel, Mihir Desai, Aparna Bhatt and Ramesh Pukhrambam, all of whom have contributed time and talent pro bono, fighting for justice to the Muslim victims and punishment to the perpetrators of the state-sponsored 2002 Gujarat carnage? What about Teesta Setalvad and her non-religious organisation Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), which for over nine years has led the Gujarat victims’ struggle for justice from the front? What about Mukul Sinha, the lawyer from Ahmedabad, and the hours and days that he has spent before the Nanavati-Shah-Mehta inquiry commission?

As for the JI and its new baby, the Welfare Party of India (WPI), if you’ve never heard of Syed Abu Ala Maududi, the maulana who founded the Jamaat-e-Islami in 1941, here’s a crash course. Throughout his life Maududi preached that unlike other religions, Islam is not just about worship and religious rituals like prayer, fasting, charity and pilgrimage. Instead, Islam is a revolutionary ideology; to be a Muslim is to be a revolutionary committed to debunking man-made ideas (democracy etc.), institutions (Parliament etc.) and laws (Constitution etc.) and striving by every means possible to establishing Allah’s rule (Islamic state etc.) and Allah’s laws (Sharia etc.).

This is what every Jamaati has fervently believed and preached for the last 70 years.

Among those who were deeply impressed by Maududi was a person named Syed Qutb of Egypt who proceeded to argue that striving by “every means possible” includes killing those who are Muslims only in name in the interest of ushering Allah’s sovereignty on earth.

Now that the same JI has chosen to place itself at the service of man-made laws, should we not welcome this change of mind and heart? We should if the JI were to publicly declare that Maududi’s views now belong to a library that houses outdated, intolerant, outrageous ideology. But that’s not what the JI is telling us. Instead, it wants us to believe that the WPI is a secular, democratic entity, never mind the fact that 11 out of its 16 office-bearers are Jamaati stalwarts.

That’s reason number one for the non-Jamaati Muslims’ lack of enthusiasm. To many of them, the JI-WPI relationship looks like a mirror image of the RSS-BJP equation. The goal is the same: infiltrating the institutions of democracy for subverting the constitutional spirit from within.

But the facade is all too transparent: How much cover can you expect from one of WPI’s several vice-presidents, including a Christian priest who chanted the Gayatri Mantra at the party’s launch, to provide? Some Muslims see him as the WPI’s Sikander Bakht!

Reason number two: Less than two years ago, in July 2009, we saw the Popular Front of India (home in south India to ex-Students Islamic Movement of India leaders and activists following the ban on the radical outfit) give birth to the Secular Democratic Party of India. Simi, remember, emerged from the womb of the JI in the early ’70s, and the PFI still draws inspiration from Maulana Maududi and Syed Qutb of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. In its spare time, the PFI runs a moral police enforcing Islam on Muslims in a manner that might make the Bajrang Dal and the Ram Sene envious. Ask Kerala’s Muslims.

Adding to the Indian Muslim’s embarrassment of riches is the All-India United Democratic Front of India floated by the Assam-based Badruddin Ajmal of the Jamiatul-ulema-e-Hind in 2005. And let’s not forget the nearly half-a-dozen Muslim organisations in Uttar Pradesh that have sprouted in recent years.

What then should Indian Muslims expect from this abundance of Muslim-floated parties? Ideologically speaking, it means secularism by daylight, Sharia after dark. Politically speaking, at best they’ll cancel each other out; eat into votes of mainstream parties that swear by secularism. At worst, they’ll provide propaganda fodder to Hindutva, feed Islamophobia.

The increasing political disempowerment of India’s Muslims in Parliament and in the Assemblies, continuing discrimination and “red zoning” are no doubt problems crying to be addressed. But a cancer cell like proliferation of Muslim parties will, if anything, compound the malady.

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Charity and uncharity

Charity is flowing in the Indian blood for ages. It is being part of the life, philosophy, and culture, of the Indian society. There is no separation of charity from the everyday living of Indians. Before eating, rest of the world thanks the God for giving food but Indians offer food  to crows. Many more examples can be given for the top most charitable order of the Indian society. In these difficult circumstances, bottom of the society cares and shares their fellow poor people in a better way. They have large heart and offer immediate help when there is a need by anyone on the street. Only rich people differentiate between classes when there is an urgent need for intervention. Eye witnesses and experience galore in this regard. All these facts apart, no one can deny the contributions of Americans for charity. Especially Warren Buffet, the octagenerian American who is lucky and superb human being. May be because of his large heart he is garnering billions after billions.. Whatever it is, charity publicized is unchartiable.

 

 

Warren Buffett exhausts me.

I’m sure he exhausted several other people on his virgin trip to India.

At 80, he is still at the crease, batting away… and going by his energy levels, he’ll hit his century effortlessly. It is just not natural for an octogenarian to be jetting half way around the world at such a hectic speed. He described his quickie chakkar to India as a “better late than never” trip.

And came up with a booklet-full of quotable quotes, starting with philanthropy being much harder and riskier than business.

At around the same time, another American billionaire buddy of his, Bill Gates, was also floating around the countryside, telling us what to do with our money (earn it — and donate it!).

Why do I get the feeling India is being sent on a massive guilt trip by these two guys? And why do we need to take lessons in charity from anybody? Least of all super rich Americans who have made their pile. One of whom has an established business here, and the other wishes to establish business in India?

Declared the Oracle of Omaha in Bengaluru, “We want to be where the action is, and the action is here”. No kidding, buddy! Someone obviously forgot to tell these two guys our approach to philanthropy is different.

Daan has always been an intrinsic part of our culture. If the present generation has callously ignored the message from the shastras, that’s their business. The thought of being lectured to by people who represent the land of milk and honey and scolded that we are not doing enough is a bit much. I think it is condescending and patronising in the extreme for anybody to preach charity.

To each his own. And decision to give or not to give, or even how much to give and to whom, is a very individual one.

We keep hearing wonderful speeches on corporate social responsibility, and there are enough people cashing in on the glory attached to it. But give me a break. Mr Buffett is obviously a very, very generous chap (he has pledged 99 per cent of his fortune, mainly to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation).

Well, good for him. And I am sure the angels in heaven (where his seat is guaranteed) will compose a special song for him when he gets to the pearly gates. But right now, what he is doing in India is scouting around for fresh opportunities to make still more money.

He has his “brother or son” Shri Ajit Jain to help him invest in the country via Berkshire Hathaway (more chewing gum, anyone?). We are cool with that. We are also cool with more fizzy drinks (thanda matlab…?) hitting our stores, what with summer around the corner and over a billion parched throats to quench.

Mr Buffett says he hasn’t come her with an “elephant gun” loaded for acquisitions, but hey, we are cool with that, too. India is original elephant country.

I am confused. Perhaps I am too “retarded” (Mr Buffett’s word to describe the delay in his coming to India) to get it. But the man is here to make even more money — right? And after he has made it, he will donate it, right? Meanwhile, his shareholders will be a happy lot, since Mr Buffett has assured them he is scaling up and looking at big markets like India, China and Brazil.

He also told overwhelmed, gushing reporters that he feels he has more money than he needs — he eats well, takes vacations, watches movies… the regular stuff lesser mortals indulge in even without those billions and trillions.

So, the logical question to ask him is this: “Why do you want to make more money, sir?” His answer will be: “The more money I make, the more I can give”. Noble.

Our Mr and Mrs Money Bags are being prodded into following the Gates-Buffett pattern of giving. They are being coerced into parting with large portions of their wealth because they are told it makes them look good. Heaven knows how convinced they are about all this giving-shiving of their paisa, and God knows what their children think about it (“Grrrrrr… Dad! Mom! Ab mera kya hoga?”).

But “giving” is the new a la mode statement to make. And all these “new” and “improved” charity drives amongst loaded desis have a lot to do with keeping up with the Buffetts. How can you hope to sit at the high table in Davos if you haven’t announced a humungous donation to a pet cause?

Without knocking these magnanimous gestures of our do-gooders, it is amusing to note the publicity machine that goes into overdrive when these grand donations are made. There’s nothing quiet or discreet about charity these days.

And perhaps Gates/Buffett will argue the more you talk about it, the more it inspires others to reach for their wallets. I dunno. I have seen some high-profile charity auctions at which dodgy millionaires have crept out of the woodwork for the all important photo-ops… only to creep right back again… zero follow-ups, zero money. Where does all that lolly go? Any answers?

The second and third richest men in the world doing zabardasti with the 55 desi co-billionaires featured on the Forbes 2011 list are definitely pushing their luck. Coaxing these guys to sign The Giving Pledge followed by a public statement and letter is really a bit much, as pressure tactics go. The Chinese are smarter.

After a similar initiative in China last September, not a single Chinese billionaire who showed up for the banquet bothered to sign the pledge. That’s what is called the ultimate Oriental snub. Let’s see whether the multi-course Indian buffet piles on more on the table than the Chinese one.

Or else, the world’s most famous philanthropists may go home hungry and disappointed. No such thing as a free lunch… perhaps India is not the moveable feast Bill and Warren expected it to be!

 

Man Woman Divide

538px-man-and-woman-iconsvgThe world may move in an astronomical speed. But the gender equality may go only in snail’s pace. Despite women becoming presidents and prime ministers there is less equality among men and women. Unfortunately some women are misusing the law for personal scores. In this paradoxical situation it is the society which can create judicious climate for good gender relationship.

Anushree Lakshminarayanan writes in The Times of India (22 July 2009)

I was filling a morbid declaration form and realised that this really is a man’s world. The form offered me two compelling options to declare my
identity, ‘wife of’ or ‘daughter of’.

With one tick mark my escape was prohibited. I was securely consigned to my man’s world, once again. Whether at the workplace or otherwise, the glass ceiling manifests itself in new and interesting ways. Ever wondered why a board on a road under construction always reads ‘Men At Work, Drive Slow’, never mind the fact that women too might be slogging it out in the sun? Or why a manager’s output continues to be measured in terms of man-hours or man-days when there are hundreds of working women around? Now one can argue that most of these unwritten rules are man-made but that only further reinforces the fact it is, after all, a man’s world.

One knows this sexism is here to stay when one doesn’t even know it exists, which usually happens when one comes to live with it right since one’s formative years. I never questioned, for example, as a child, why, when provoked, a tiger could turn into a man-eater and never into a woman-eater or why, in the moral science class, God was always addressed as he and never as she.

I never questioned why the child is the father of man when my English teacher first used the phrase. I didn’t wonder if a child could be a mother to a woman. Later, one grew up to accept the word ‘craftsmanship’ to describe skills and ‘sportsmanship’ to elucidate the admirable spirit in our, well, sportsmen and rarely or never women, not to forget our age-old mankind that probably epitomises chauvinism while condescendingly agreeing to take us women in its folds.

When it comes to this gender bigotry, Bollywood is not far behind. Remember the sobriquet angry young man, so lovingly bestowed upon mankind’s biggest hero that no woman, old or young, worth her anger has come anywhere close to earning such memorable titles? “Man! Isn’t that’s a lot of bias to deal with!?” quipped my husband. The only consolation prize, if at all there is one, is that the mother of all inventions is just that: a mother.

Innovative Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad

india_fat_babyThe union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad is bubbling with unexplored ideas to control population growth. His suggestion to postpone the marriage age and encourage television viewing in rural areas to control frequents sex are laughable. Hope he won’t push the nation to the western lifestyles which is regretting now.

The Times of India writes (18 July 2009)

Going by what Ghulam Nabi Azad said on World Population Day, the idiot box isn’t idiotic at all. If the rates of reproduction of TV sets head
north courtesy village electrification, human reproductive rates could head south. For, amorous couples would watch late-night shows instead of making babies. That’s what you call an idea pregnant with possibilities. Power in every rural household may breed couch potatoes with suppressed libidos, but look at the bigger picture on the small screen. A one-billion-strong nation can avoid a population explosion. Poverty, inflation and crime can be vanquished. Why, as Azad suggests, Naxalites can be bloodlessly routed. Who could conceivably hope to sell misguided revolution to swelling rural masses of nocturnal TV addicts, late bloom of our healthy consumerism?

India’s health and family welfare minister wasn’t kidding when he said TV could reduce “80 per cent of population growth”. Indeed, think of what could be achieved by busting potential baby booms through a profitable public-private partnership. When duly incentivised idiot box sales soar in a fast-electrified countryside where demand is buoyant, precipitous population decline would spur GDP growth, much to fast-growing China’s chagrin. Plus we’d score over China’s coercive one-child policy pushers. Our family planning mission would be infinitely superior, promoting voluntary use of televisual contraceptives. In any case, international research says TV’s good for rural women, saas-bahu rona-dhona notwithstanding. Those with cable access have been found to resist spousal pressure to keep trying till they produce a male child. Admit it: Azad makes more horse sense by the minute.

The minister also wants people “awarded” for marrying late and putting off changing diapers till 30-31 years, a grand old age compared to India’s early-stork norm. Accordingly, he publicly awarded a 12-year-old said to have refused wedlock. That’ll win Azad a huge fan in Sharad Yadav. The JD(U) leader wants the hit TV soap ‘Balika Vadhu’ banned for its ‘unconstitutional’ theme of child marriage. Contrary to what it seems, however, creative artistes have escaped lightly. Of all the ‘unconstitutional’ things treason, murder, arson, dacoity, human trafficking routinely depicted on screen, Yadav wants artistic licence denied only to portrayers of toon betrothals.

Equally motivated by child welfare, Maharashtra authorities sometime ago wanted kiddies out of TV shows infringing child labour laws. Well, tiny tots may soon find themselves unemployed anyway. If TV viewers’ patriotism gets fired by Azad’s birth control brainwave, they might want more adult fare than ‘Chak De Bachche’ to compensate for night-time celibacy. Talking of entertainment suited to people of consenting age, the irrepressible Rakhi Sawant might be asked to do her bit for the country. She’s providentially in the middle of an interminable reality-TV swayamvar. The agonising suspense of who’ll win the finicky lady in the marriage sweepstakes is enough to make TV viewers forget about their procreative urges.

Divorces in Britain

PD*27572655The western world is crippling with the collapse of family values and systems for a very long time. As a belated measure the Government of Britain has taken some steps to check alarming divorce rates. Yes it should implement reapproachment period of three to six months between couples in stress. This can cool off their short tempers and haste decision to go for divorces.

The Times of India reports 14 July 2009)

If Britain’s Conservatives have their way, estranged husbands and wives would have to think twice literally before saying goodbye. A Tory-backed

Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) think tank report says couples wanting to separate should undergo a three-month “cooling off” period before kickstarting divorce proceedings. According to ex-Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, most people today forget that compromise is the secret of conjugal bliss. Ergo, many marriages could be saved if only warring spouses were made by law to reflect upon the decision to call it quits.

Social concern over marital discord is understandable, especially when the decisions of adults affect children. There may also be issues about property or alimony that heighten the bitterness of parting. However, the problem with the Tories’ contention is the moral judgement that it appears to pass on divorce-seekers. Couples may have genuine irreconcilable differences. A compulsory ‘cool off’ delay may only prolong their pain of cohabitation. Conversely, if estranged spouses want to kiss and make up, they’ll do so anyway. Reconciliation can’t be brought about by government fiat. Surely, it’s best left to couples to decide whether they want to “cool off” or approach the courts.

The report declares: “Marriage is of paramount importance to individuals, children and our nation.” Such a statement can have authoritarian implications. It seems to view the stable, conformist family “holy matrimony” as the microcosmic reflection of the “nation”, which history has shown can often be dangerously conflated with a self-perpetuating political regime.
In any democracy, it’s individuals who are “paramount”, and all institutions built on the foundation of their free choices. Modern marriage is no exception, more so since it involves human relationships that are dynamic in nature. If couples part by mutual consent, it’s their affair. If divorce is not mutually willed or involves child custody and property disputes, the courts can step in. Politicians, surely, should have no business telling private citizens how to go about taking important personal decisions.

The proposal to implement a mandatory ‘cool off’ period of three months before divorce proceedings can begin is a perfectly good idea. It’s based on

the valid insight that people may rush into decisions in the heat of anger. If couples are just given enough time to re-examine their situations, they may reconsider divorce as an option.

Divorce in England and Wales is currently granted on the basis of the irretrievable breakdown of marriage, on one of five grounds adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two years’ separation with consent, or five years’ separation without consent. Several of these grounds also apply to divorce in India. Nowadays we hear about people getting divorced for the most ridiculous of reasons. They may have been able to work out the issues between them had they been given enough time to understand the enormity of their actions.

In recent times, divorce rates across the world have increased alarmingly, thus threatening the family unit on which human civilisation is predicated. Children, usually innocent bystanders in case of fights between couples, may suffer the most. It is, therefore, quite acceptable for the state to intervene and create laws that would discourage people from divorcing. Divorce should be the last option for a couple, something they consider in the worst-case scenario. It shouldn’t be an easy way out when things get a little tough. Marriage is hard work and requires compromise from both parties. But a couple is unlikely to work on their relationship if they know that they can get a quick and easy divorce at the first sign of trouble.

This proposed three-month period would offer feuding couples a chance to take time off. They could re-evaluate their decision and consider the impact it would have on their children, if any. It is important that the state give every encouragement to the traditional family unit that has proven to be the building block of society. If we allow it to fall by the wayside for the sake of convenience, we will be looking at a vastly different future than the one envisaged for later generations.

Sarees in the ultra modern world

saree-1Indian women look distinct with sarees. Those charming ethnic wear is slowly disappearing. Now girls and women prefer kurtas and jeans than stunning sarees.

Coomi Kapoor writes in The Indian Express (10 July 2009)

Long after the Japanese gave up their kimonos, the Chinese their Mao boiler suits and the South Americans their boleros, we Indian woman, whether at home or abroad, clung loyally to our saris. You saw doughty sari-clad Gujarati women on the top of the Matterhorn, on a safari in deepest Africa or river rafting on the Iguaçu. When curious American tourists inquired about the practicality of the garment, Indian women would wax eloquent on the marvels of the six metres of cloth. It was cool in summer, insulating in winter, never went out of fashion, never got out of shape and doubled as nightwear, a sheet or a picnic cloth.

A tall tale retold for decades is that the sari is supremely comfortable. Examples are cited of the number of Indian women who play tennis, badminton and hockey in saris. And it is pointed out that in our villages women even go swimming in a sari. For most of us, however, the sari can start unravelling pretty fast when you exercise strenuously. And even without exercise, a woman tends to look like a dhobi bundle in a cotton sari if there is no starch in the fabric.

Another myth about the sari is that it is a modest garment since it covers you from head to foot. American actor Bob Hope once joked that the “sari was one garment which hides both the good and the bad points of the figure.” This is not true. Anyone who has seen an Indian movie with the heroine drenched in the rain in a diaphanous sari will tell you differently.

Despite the constant endorsements of the sari, have you noticed that in the last two decades the sari is disappearing? Leading fashion designer Ritu Kumar, who began her career in the sixties designing saris, now focuses mostly on stitched garments like kurtas and lehengas. By the mid-seventies there were very few saris displayed on fashion show ramps.

With the coming of age of the urban worker and a more active lifestyle, women have started looking for more comfortable, practical and smarter alternatives. The first modernisation of the sari was switching from traditional handlooms and ethnic cottons to the more easy to maintain synthetic materials, with shower curtain-style floral and geometrical prints. Dayaram Printwallah of Ahmedabad became known nationally after Indira Gandhi patronised his aesthetic block printed cottons. When I visited a Dayaram store in Gujarat recently, I found that there were hardly half a dozen cotton saris in the shop. They have been replaced by wash and wear saris and cut pieces for making a kurta pajama set.

Long years ago, the norm in Bollywood was that heroines wore saris, and vamps dresses. But then Bollywood went mod and heroines started wearing outfits just as trendy and sexy as the gangsters’ molls. And since Bollywood sets the trend in sartorial styles, the rest of the country followed suit. Even girls from South India now want Punjabi lehengas for their weddings. It is not just the movie stars who have altered public taste, other visible women who set the trend have also deserted the sari. Kiran Bedi, for instance, feels that pants suit her style. TV stars like Barkha Dutt, Navika Kumar and Suhasini Haidar believe in power dressing. Most domestic airlines have done away with the sari as the uniform for their airhostesses.

A random headcount on one of the capital’s busy roads indicated that only two out of ten women were wearing saris and practically none in the younger age bracket. Abroad, even the elderly NRIs have adopted pants or kurta pajamas. On a recent visit to London, I did not see a single sari in the Oxford Circus area, though there were several hijabs and even a burkha or two.

Of course, the sari still remains the dress code for women in government service and politics. The former have little choice since the official code of conduct advises IAS officers to wear saris in office unless they are from the North East, when they can opt for their traditional dress. Among politicians, Sonia Gandhi favours the ethnic chic look; handloom saris in muted mud colours, a style statement she picked up from her mother-in-law. Sushma Swaraj belongs to the other school, which opts for bright colours and wash and wear convenience. Those from royal backgrounds, like Vasundhara Raje stick to pastel chintzes and georgettes. Mayawati is something of a trendsetter among major women politicians, as she opts for kurtas not saris.

Arresting Swine Flu

swine-fluSwine flu is threatening to destroy the health of nations. It is high time the WHO steps in and controls this global epidemic. Countries blame one another is of no use.

J. Gowrishankar writes in The Hindu (2 July 2009)

It was the evening of Saturday June 27, and I felt the prodromal symptoms of an incipient viral upper respiratory infection (“the common cold”) coming on. By Sunday, the infection was fully established with runny nose, sore throat and cough, fever, and the general malaise. On Monday as I am writing this, I wonder, is this the swine flu?

Known in the medical jargon as “swine-origin Influenza A (H1N1) virus” (S-OIV), the swine flu agent is a novel variant of the influenza virus to which all of humanity represents a virgin (that is, immunologically susceptible) population. Much like other viruses that cause the common cold, the swine flu agent is transmitted from one individual to another by the aerosol route. Clusters of human infections first occurred a few months ago in Mexico and then in the U.S. and several West European countries, and India has adopted the strategy of screening travellers from these countries in an attempt to prevent its establishment here. Travellers with common cold-like symptoms have been isolated and their contacts quarantined, and subsequent tests have revealed that a proportion (perhaps 20 per cent) have indeed been infected with the swine flu.

So then, do I have the swine flu? Neither I, nor any of my close contacts, have travelled abroad in the last six days (which is the maximum incubation period for the virus); but the nature of my job has put me in casual contact with fairly large numbers of unknown people who may have travelled abroad during this period. For example, I travelled by air from Hyderabad to Delhi six days ago and returned by air the next day, and I have also attended several meetings in the past week in closed air-conditioned spaces where senior officials who may likely have travelled abroad were present. Thus, there is a very small, but finite, chance that I have the swine flu.

Which makes me contemplate, is this the way that the swine flu will enter and establish itself in the country? That is, through an unscreened secondary carrier who had but a casual contact with the primary carrier, a traveller returning from abroad? If so, the extensive screening now being undertaken in all the international airports in India would at best serve only to delay, not prevent, its spread through the population. The factors which strongly favour such a spread are: that the H1N1 virus is highly infectious (that is, it can easily be transmitted from one person to several others); that person-to-person transmission can occur during the incubation period (that is, before the transmitting individual is even aware that he or she is infected); that every individual in the population is a susceptible host; and that the clinical features of the infection are no different from those of the common cold. The apparent means to contain its spread and severity is either by vaccination (an approved vaccine is at present not available anywhere in the world), or by treatment with antiviral drugs. The latter course of action is not also practicable in the country, given its expense and the fact that a very small proportion of patients with symptoms of the common cold are likely to be suffering from the swine flu.

It is therefore reassuring to believe that, perhaps, no national strategy of action will be needed even if one could be implemented. It is of course entirely feasible that the swine flu pandemic will progress inexorably around the world, but the fear that it would be as devastating as the influenza pandemic of 1918 may fortunately not hold true. The experience from other countries is that the mortality rate has been quite low, about two for every thousand infected, which is not very different from the rate observed for the seasonal influenza infections (although the age distribution of those suffering severe effects appears to be different, with the swine flu affecting school-age children and adults of working age whereas the seasonal flu has typically affected the very young and the very old). In our country, no deaths have so far been reported amongst those who have tested positive for the virus. In my reckoning, therefore, if we do survive the swine flu scare, it will have been because of the benign nature of the infection, not our national preventive strategy.

Ultimately, however, statistics are for populations, not for the individual. Do I have the swine flu? It is here that I become my own doctor, and my own patient. In keeping with the best traditions of academic medicine, I shall take no antibiotics (since the infection is viral, against which antibiotics are ineffective). The only concession I shall make, for the possibility that it is swine flu, is to take my blood sample now and another two weeks later, so that a retrospective diagnosis of H1N1 infection can be unequivocally established from the pair of samples by the “method of the rising antibody titre,” if that is rendered necessary.

Decisions are never easy in the face of uncertainty, I realise: not for individuals, nor for institutions, nor even for governments and international organisations. Is there likely to be an epidemic in this country, and if so how severe will it be? Is there a need for active interventions? Will a programme of mass vaccination be feasible here, and will the vaccine be safe? (An earlier experience in the U.S., in 1976, had been that vaccination against another swine-origin flu virus was associated with a 1:100,000 risk of serious neurological complications.)

The world awaits answers to these and more questions in the months ahead, but I am left to hope that my optimism above is not misplaced.

King of Pop – Michael Jackson’s End

michael_jackson_o2_concert_2009The saga of pop music – Michael Jackson is no more. His fans continue to rack their brains reasoning for his death. His overloaded number of concerts in London (50 continuous nights) can be one of the worrisome causes for the grand master’s death. Hasan Surror writes in The Hindu (1 July 2009) In time to come we are certain to hear more (and murkier) theories about the circumstances of Michael Jackson’s death but the current favourite is that it was the upcoming London marathon, rather contradictorily billed both as his “comeback” and “farewell” tour, that killed him. The tour, during which Jackson was to give 50 concerts over a period of six months, was considered such a high-risk venture, given the singer’s frail health, that insurance companies were reportedly reluctant to offer cover for all the 50 shows leaving the sponsors to “self-insure” most of them. Doubts over whether Jackson was really ready for the tour grew further when two months ago he delayed the opening four nights saying that he needed more time for dress rehearsals. The first show, originally set for July 8, was rescheduled for July 13. He was reported saying: “I don’t know how I’m going to do 50 shows. I’m really angry.” Questions have been raised about the wisdom of organising such a gruelling tour considering — as the BBC pointed out — that he had a history of ill-health and had not completed a full tour in the past 12 years. “It’s great that he’s announced the tour. Whether he’ll do it or whether he’ll finish it is another thing. I will definitely be buying a ticket. Whenever you see him nowadays he looks quite fragile, but at the same time it’s an exciting prospect,” British pop singer Lemar said. Although Randy Phillips, chief executive of AEG Live, promoter of the show, insists that Jackson “looked great” reports from the singer’s inner circle suggest that he was not mentally ready and was, in fact, “terrified” at the prospect of performing before a 15,000-strong crowd for 50 nights. The rehearsals were said to be proving a huge strain on him with a publicist for his brother Tito saying, “Michael is not mentally, physically or spiritually ready for these shows. There’s something missing in his soul.” It is well-known that Jackson was heavily into drugs. His children’s former nanny Grace Rwaramba has disclosed that sometime it was so bad that she had to “pump his stomach many times.” “There was one period that it was so bad that I didn’t let the children see him,” she told The Sunday Times. It is suspected that the stress of preparing for the London concerts aggravated his addiction and with barely weeks to go for the tour he was reportedly taking a cocktail of potentially dangerous drugs several times a day. Anyone investing millions of pounds into such a person should have known the risk they were taking. Indeed, as The Observer reported: “Many in the music industry regarded AEG Live’s enterprise as a huge risk, because of Jackson’s past history of cancelling dates, his multiple health problems and his habit of attracting litigation at almost every turn.” But AEG Live had decided to take a calculated gamble and they were determined to play for high stakes with Mr. Phillip bravely insisting that “it’s a risk we’re willing to take to bring the King of Pop to his fans.” But in the end, as many had feared, it proved to be too much of a risk. The tour was part of an ambitious plan to revive Jackson’s career and help him pay off his massive debts. It has been reported that a Los Angeles financier Tom Barrack, who reportedly gave $22.5m to Jackson to save his Neverland ranch from auction, was behind the plan. He got Philip Anschutz, a Kansas billionaire and owner of AEG Live, interested in a deal to promote Jackson. “According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Anschutz….took some convincing that he should be involved with a man of Jackson’s reputation, but was eventually persuaded by Barrack to put Jackson in touch with Randy Phillips, chief executive of AEG Live. Phillips had long had Jackson in his sights and this was his opportunity. ….Phillips did not just organise the 50 London concerts, each of which would net Jackson $1m. He had plans for a comeback so strong that Jackson would be able to wipe out his entire $400m debt. After London, Jackson would embark on a three-year tour of Europe and Asia before finishing in the US. Barrack and Phillip had other more grandiose plans too: a Michael Jackson museum in the style of Elvis Presley’s Graceland, even ‘Thriller’ casinos. Jackson could be rich again,” The First Post, a British daily online magazine, reported. Those who knew Jackson say that all this “comeback” stuff always seemed like a fantasy (he had simply gone too far for a comeback) and like, all grand fantasies, doomed from the start. Meanwhile, the Jackson hysteria has already started to pall and, in the words of a Times reader: “Enough already. Name an airport after him and move on.”

Tackling Social Insecurity

social securityThe most challenging job for the UPA II is to provide social security to all the needy citizens. Unemployment, poverty, and health are the most pressing issues. It is to the concerned ministers to chart out timely actions to minimise the problems in the social front. The Times of India reports (28 June 2009) Unemployment is death by a thousand cuts. Life itself is dependent on gainful work. That is why losing one’s job is the beginning of a downward spiral — poverty, indebtedness, disease and suffering follow in quick succession. The current economic turmoil has caused mass unemployment around the world. In 2008, just over 190 million people or 6% of the global workforce were unemployed. The economic downturn had only just begun. By February this year, unemployment in the US stood at 12.5 million with the economy shedding up to 600,000 jobs every month. By April, unemployment in OECD countries — the world’s 30 richest — had topped 37 million. India has also been affected, though not quite so badly. According to a sample survey by the labour ministry, about five lakh Indian jobs were lost in the last quarter of 2008. Unemployment is often seen as an involuntary occurrence. People lose their jobs because of events beyond their control — economic downturns, disease, disability, or, in the case of women, social prejudice. Sometimes, people are unemployable. That is why there is a need for a collective remedy, a system that can help tide people through the dark days of joblessness. More than 60 countries worldwide provide some form of unemployment insurance. It is part of a larger social welfare commitment, which includes retirement and old age pension, sickness and maternity benefits. Often, affordable housing and education are part of the package. It is not just advanced economies that provide social welfare, though the richer countries have the most comprehensive systems. Several South American and African countries also offer their people some form of social welfare. In the past two decades, governments have retreated from social welfare spending, making the transition from ‘insurance’ to ‘assistance’. But industrialized countries still spend anything between 15% and 30% of their GDP on social security such as unemployment benefit, pension and healthcare. Yet India, one of the more advanced developing countries, barely manages to spend about 1% of its GDP on social services. Guy Standing, professor of economic security at the University of Bath in Britain, says India has one of the world’s lowest levels of social welfare expenditure and even that is mostly wasted. “What is perhaps most worrying in India is that politicians use social protection schemes cynically to boost their political prospects, so that they can show discretionary benevolence, particularly just before elections,” he told TOI. The need for social security is greater in the developing world than in the developed. The developing world’s concept of social security needs to be expanded — it has to include the aim of eliminating mass poverty, ill-health and illiteracy because without this social security cannot exist. In India, there are additional obstacles, such as caste discrimination. Given the scale of these problems, social welfare spending is at a rudimentary level in most developing countries including India. Although the law recognizes various rights, such as livelihood, these are not enforceable. In a belated attempt to rectify this, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act was adopted in 2006 but it only provides for a maximum of 100 days of manual labour in a year at the minimum wage. Perhaps a fatal flaw in India’s social security framework is that it only covers the organized sector, which accounts for just 8% of the workforce. The vast majority of Indian workers are in the unorganized sector. Some half-hearted attempts were made to bring them under some sort of social security coverage by passing a law in December. For India to progress, policy has to be boldly refocused on providing social security, including a safety net for when one loses one’s job. As Guy Standing puts it, “We have found in Africa that when you provide low-income people with a little money without conditions, they mostly spend it in the best interests of their families and communities. They do not need to be told or led to do what state bureaucrats think The most challenging job for the UPA II is to provide social security to all the needy citizens. Unemployment, poverty, and health are the most pressing issues. It is to the concerned ministers to chart out timely actions to minimise the problems in the social front. The Times of India reports (28 June 2009) Unemployment is death by a thousand cuts. Life itself is dependent on gainful work. That is why losing one’s job is the beginning of a downward spiral — poverty, indebtedness, disease and suffering follow in quick succession. The current economic turmoil has caused mass unemployment around the world. In 2008, just over 190 million people or 6% of the global workforce were unemployed. The economic downturn had only just begun. By February this year, unemployment in the US stood at 12.5 million with the economy shedding up to 600,000 jobs every month. By April, unemployment in OECD countries — the world’s 30 richest — had topped 37 million. India has also been affected, though not quite so badly. According to a sample survey by the labour ministry, about five lakh Indian jobs were lost in the last quarter of 2008. Unemployment is often seen as an involuntary occurrence. People lose their jobs because of events beyond their control — economic downturns, disease, disability, or, in the case of women, social prejudice. Sometimes, people are unemployable. That is why there is a need for a collective remedy, a system that can help tide people through the dark days of joblessness. More than 60 countries worldwide provide some form of unemployment insurance. It is part of a larger social welfare commitment, which includes retirement and old age pension, sickness and maternity benefits. Often, affordable housing and education are part of the package. It is not just advanced economies that provide social welfare, though the richer countries have the most comprehensive systems. Several South American and African countries also offer their people some form of social welfare. In the past two decades, governments have retreated from social welfare spending, making the transition from ‘insurance’ to ‘assistance’. But industrialized countries still spend anything between 15% and 30% of their GDP on social security such as unemployment benefit, pension and healthcare. Yet India, one of the more advanced developing countries, barely manages to spend about 1% of its GDP on social services. Guy Standing, professor of economic security at the University of Bath in Britain, says India has one of the world’s lowest levels of social welfare expenditure and even that is mostly wasted. “What is perhaps most worrying in India is that politicians use social protection schemes cynically to boost their political prospects, so that they can show discretionary benevolence, particularly just before elections,” he told TOI. The need for social security is greater in the developing world than in the developed. The developing world’s concept of social security needs to be expanded — it has to include the aim of eliminating mass poverty, ill-health and illiteracy because without this social security cannot exist. In India, there are additional obstacles, such as caste discrimination. Given the scale of these problems, social welfare spending is at a rudimentary level in most developing countries including India. Although the law recognizes various rights, such as livelihood, these are not enforceable. In a belated attempt to rectify this, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act was adopted in 2006 but it only provides for a maximum of 100 days of manual labour in a year at the minimum wage. Perhaps a fatal flaw in India’s social security framework is that it only covers the organized sector, which accounts for just 8% of the workforce. The vast majority of Indian workers are in the unorganized sector. Some half-hearted attempts were made to bring them under some sort of social security coverage by passing a law in December. For India to progress, policy has to be boldly refocused on providing social security, including a safety net for when one loses one’s job. As Guy Standing puts it, “We have found in Africa that when you provide low-income people with a little money without conditions, they mostly spend it in the best interests of their families and communities. They do not need to be told or led to do what state bureaucrats think is what they should do. If India is really to escape from its caste-drThe most challenging job for the UPA II is to provide social security to all the needy citizens. Unemployment, poverty, and health are the most pressing issues. It is to the concerned ministers to chart out timely actions to minimise the problems in the social front. The Times of India reports (28 June 2009) Unemployment is death by a thousand cuts. Life itself is dependent on gainful work. That is why losing one’s job is the beginning of a downward spiral — poverty, indebtedness, disease and suffering follow in quick succession. The current economic turmoil has caused mass unemployment around the world. In 2008, just over 190 million people or 6% of the global workforce were unemployed. The economic downturn had only just begun. By February this year, unemployment in the US stood at 12.5 million with the economy shedding up to 600,000 jobs every month. By April, unemployment in OECD countries — the world’s 30 richest — had topped 37 million. India has also been affected, though not quite so badly. According to a sample survey by the labour ministry, about five lakh Indian jobs were lost in the last quarter of 2008. Unemployment is often seen as an involuntary occurrence. People lose their jobs because of events beyond their control — economic downturns, disease, disability, or, in the case of women, social prejudice. Sometimes, people are unemployable. That is why there is a need for a collective remedy, a system that can help tide people through the dark days of joblessness. More than 60 countries worldwide provide some form of unemployment insurance. It is part of a larger social welfare commitment, which includes retirement and old age pension, sickness and maternity benefits. Often, affordable housing and education are part of the package. It is not just advanced economies that provide social welfare, though the richer countries have the most comprehensive systems. Several South American and African countries also offer their people some form of social welfare. In the past two decades, governments have retreated from social welfare spending, making the transition from ‘insurance’ to ‘assistance’. But industrialized countries still spend anything between 15% and 30% of their GDP on social security such as unemployment benefit, pension and healthcare. Yet India, one of the more advanced developing countries, barely manages to spend about 1% of its GDP on social services. Guy Standing, professor of economic security at the University of Bath in Britain, says India has one of the world’s lowest levels of social welfare expenditure and even that is mostly wasted. “What is perhaps most worrying in India is that politicians use social protection schemes cynically to boost their political prospects, so that they can show discretionary benevolence, particularly just before elections,” he told TOI. The need for social security is greater in the developing world than in the developed. The developing world’s concept of social security needs to be expanded — it has to include the aim of eliminating mass poverty, ill-health and illiteracy because without this social security cannot exist. In India, there are additional obstacles, such as caste discrimination. Given the scale of these problems, social welfare spending is at a rudimentary level in most developing countries including India. Although the law recognizes various rights, such as livelihood, these are not enforceable. In a belated attempt to rectify this, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act was adopted in 2006 but it only provides for a maximum of 100 days of manual labour in a year at the minimum wage. Perhaps a fatal flaw in India’s social security framework is that it only covers the organized sector, which accounts for just 8% of the workforce. The vast majority of Indian workers are in the unorganized sector. Some half-hearted attempts were made to bring them under some sort of social security coverage by passing a law in December. For India to progress, policy has to be boldly refocused on providing social security, including a safety net for when one loses one’s job. As Guy Standing puts it, “We have found in Africa that when you provide low-income people with a little money without conditions, they mostly spend it in the best interests of their families and communities. They do not need to be told or led to do what state bureaucrats think is what they should do. If India is really to escape from its caste-driven and Raj-affected past, it must loosen up.” iven and Raj-affected past, it must loosen up.” is what they should do. If India is really to escape from its caste-driven and Raj-affected past, it must loosen up.”

Sexventurous Men

shineyThere is no logic to slip from the planned path. Human beings are prone to involving in negative habits like rape, molesting, crime etc in a matter of seconds without any prior thought. Even habitual offenders start like this and go on to become professionals. Unsolicited sex is the most unpopular item which attracts everyone’s attraction. Especially by a well-known person in the society.

Vinita Dawra Nangia writes in The Times of India (28 June 2009)

Sometimes a moment is all it takes. A moment that can make or break history; a moment that changes an entire life. A moment of madness, or a moment A moment of madness of enlightenment.

A moment when Prince Sidhartha decided to leave behind home and kingdom, then again a moment when enlightenment struck Buddha. An instant that compelled the impassioned Othello to take the life of wife Desdemona and another that put Antony
under Cleopatra’s spell, thus determining his downfall …

Shiney Ahuja also must have been governed by that one moment of madness in which he made the choice to force himself upon his hapless maid. Maybe if that flash in time had passed, he may have thought better of it and held himself back. His decision in that moment has decided the course of the rest of his life. And unfortunately that of his wife and child as well.

What makes people give up an entire life in a moment of madness? Remember recent news reports of the girl who killed her mother in a fit of rage when she protested against her daughter’s lover? Or the wife who killed her husband, enraged because
he wouldn’t go for a walk with her. Later in the night, she hung herself too, leaving behind three orphaned kids! Or the Chandigarh gardener who used his shears to cut his wife to bits because she wouldn’t accompany him to his parents’ home!
A moment’s madness, and a lifetime of regret. . .

There are many more examples of apparently normal people giving in to a fit of passion that is of almost lunatic dimension. Of course, there’s no guarantee that this is the first moment of madness that struck these people; there may have been many earlier. However, life has this habit of catching up with you suddenly, some time, some day. Very often you have walked away with worse and then get caught for something much smaller.

Who is to say former US Prez Bill Clinton’s worst indulgence was with Monica Lewinsky? He must have given in to the loony moment several times before the moment got him! The same is true of people like Hugh Grant caught in his encounter with a Hollywood prostitute, or of Boris Becker who had sex with model Angela Ermakova in a restaurant broom cupboard while his wife Barbara went to hospital with labour pains! Or of Brad Pitt who was caught massaging the nanny’s back even with the world’s fantasy woman Angelina Jolie in his own bed!

What really happens when you give in to the sheer mindlessness of such an instant? It’s like slipping into a kind of a lunacy; emotions cloud all reasoning and you are driven over the edge. There’s that split second before you tip the balance, which is the making or breaking moment. And then you get to the point of no return, when you are lost to reason and consequence.

Can such overwhelming emotions be controlled? Can these people be held responsible for their actions in such moments? Does the moment define such a person or does it overtake him that once? Psychiatrist and psychotherapist Dr Deepak Raheja says it
would be unfair to judge a person’s character based on that one moment of weakness since that could have come from a chemical overplay or even a sudden clouding of the mind and intelligence due to extreme emotions, which could be rage, jealousy, hatred or even lust. “The libidinal impulse that takes birth in the brain may take over so badly that it demands instant gratification.”

When asked if arrogance and sense of power can blind people to reason and lead to impulsive anti-social behavior, Dr Raheja
says, “Certainly, a false sense of power and Narcissim that you can get away with everything can lead to the moments of madness.” Interestingly, the law takes cognisance of the unpredictability of human behaviour under the influence of extreme
passion. Explains Shilpi Jain, lawyer Supreme Court, “In criminal law we look at intention, not the act itself. For instance,
in a murder case the IPC says if a person commits murder in heat of emotion, the punishment is not as severe as it is for a premeditated crime. In case of rape, it becomes a bit complicated because then you get into whether there was any encouragement from the victim’s side.”

Lawyers cite two cases to show the sensitivity of British law to the impact of emotion on a person who in a moment of sudden lunacy, commits a crime. Though the lawyers couldn’t name the cases, in one case a British judge apparently took a lenient view of a woman who killed her husband because she was apparently under PMT stress at the time!

Another British judge, says Shilpi, took a lenient view of a rapist who said he was unable to help himself after he saw the victim looking so sexy at the beach. The judge apparently asked the victim to come to court dressed similarly. And then, based on his own reaction, agreed with the accused!

The Brits do seem to be lenient to their Moments of Madness! And why not, when the same moments, if they have led to crime, have also produced some of the world’s greatest art and literature, a fair amount of it emanating from good old Britain!
Temporary bouts of madness can no doubt have their own drugging effect and a reinforcement behaviour. Anyone who gets away with it once, may think he can escape always. And this is particularly true of those who are delusional about their own success and seem to imagine the world revolves around them. It could happen to any of us.

Agreeing with this, Dr Raheja sounds a note of warning, saying when on an upward curve, it is very important for all to keep the internal journey going. All you need every day is a moment off from the heady drug of success to remain grounded.

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