Monday, November 29, 2010

Who will watch the watchdogs?

The journalist has secured a place in the pantheon of power wielders; to make merry with the likes of the Ambanis and Tatas, to connive with the fore-ranking members of the political classes, important ministers and the like. This extraordinary sense of power emanates initially with owning a press identity card, then a PIB accreditation card, cleared by none other than the vigilant Home Ministry. Next, you walk the corridors of Parliament with a permanent card of Parliament, as well a car with a sticker certifying you a ‘privileged’ citizen. The path of a journalist is strewn with privileges and the temptation to fall prey to them has proven to be irresistible. Armed with all the accessories of privilege, journalists started cozying up to the blue blooded, corporate tycoons, and ruling party bosses. One of the anecdotes doing the rounds among journalists at the moment goes like this: A certain politician-unfriendly journalist asks P Chidambaram whether the Congress is embarrassed by the Supreme Court’s observation about the Prime Minister’s inaction on the A Raja corruption issue. Chidambaram quips back: Are you in the media embarrassed about the tapes?

Not embarrassed, just angry at being caught out.

The Media Barons and the Radia Tapes by Monobina Gupta

Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Perhaps they can file a charge posthumously against Jawaharlal Nehru too"

"Perhaps they can file a charge posthumously against Jawaharlal Nehru too", says Arundhati Roy in response to the court order directing the Delhi Police to file an FIR against her for waging war against the state. A Delhi court on Saturday ordered the police to register an FIR against Roy, Hurriyat leader Syed Shah Geelani, revolutionary poet Varavara Rao, Delhi University professor S.A.R. Geelani, who was acquitted in the Parliament attack case, Kashmir University law professor Sheikh Shaukat Hussain, Sujato Bhadra and Shuddhabrata Sengupta, for allegedly making anti-India statements on October 21 at a convention on Kashmir “Azadi: The Only Way”. 

“In his broadcast to the nation over All India Radio on 2nd November, 1947, Pandit Nehru said, “We are anxious not to finalise anything in a moment of crisis and without the fullest opportunity to be given to the people of Kashmir to have their say. It is for them ultimately to decide ---- And let me make it clear that it has been our policy that where there is a dispute about the accession of a state to either Dominion, the accession must be made by the people of that state. It is in accordance with this policy that we have added a proviso to the Instrument of Accession of Kashmir.”

"In another broadcast to the nation on 3rd November, 1947, Pandit Nehru said, “We have declared that the fate of Kashmir is ultimately to be decided by the people. That pledge we have given not only to the people of Kashmir but to the world. We will not and cannot back out of it.” 

"Pristine ideological battles are really more frightening."

"I thought, thank God the BJP is corrupt, thank God someone’s taken money, imagine if they had been incorruptible, only ideological, it would have been so much more frightening. To me, pristine ideological battles are really more frightening."

Arundhati Roy in conversation with Amit Sengupta
Read on Tehelka

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

So, how much is Rs 1.76 lakh crore?

2G Spectrum Scam
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) states that the Government of India gave away $40 billion (1.76 lakh crore or Rs 17,60,00,00,00,000) when it allocated rights to the 2G spectrum (that's second generation wireless bandwidth) to new bidders at giveaway prices. 

Whew! That's a lot of zeroes! But what does this mean in real terms? When you hear people say that we can't afford to pay state-mandated minimum wages to workers under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), don't believe it.  The Union budget for 2010-11 allocates Rs 40,100 crore for the MGNREGA. With the money recovered from the 2G giveaway, we could fund rural employment for more than four years.(If we got back the overseas black money, we could fund rural jobs for 50 years!) If we kick in the money already budgeted for the program, we could vastly expand the wages and the reach of the program. And remember, all that extra money in the hands of rural farm labourers would fuel a boom in our rural economy, whereas extra money in the hands of billionaires too often ends up fleeing the country!

Just so we are clear: the airwaves, like the air, rivers, and most natural resources, are owned by the people of India--and it's the Government of India's job to make sure these resources are managed in the interest of the people.  So selling the airwaves at ridiculously low prices is a violation of the public trust.  It's like selling a public park to a developer for a pittance: most of us lose; only the developer gets rich.

Source: Green Light Dhaba; read detailed piece

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Kalahari Bushman appeals to African Commission

Survival is calling for a boycott of Botswana tourism and Botswana diamonds, until the persecution of the Bushmen stops and they are treated fairly. The government has banned the Bushmen from accessing water inside the reserve, and from hunting. At the same time, it has allowed Wilderness Safaris to erect a luxury tourist lodge with swimming pool on Bushman land, and is due to give the go ahead for a diamond mine, which will require vast amounts of water to operate. 

A Bushman from a settlement deep in Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve has travelled to the Gambia to ask the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights for help. Speaking at the African Commission’s international conference earlier this month, Smith Moeti described the Bushmen’s struggle to access water and escape persecution from the Botswana government. ‘The government refuses to provide us with food rations but will not issue us with hunting licences… If we want to eat meat we must hunt without a licence… When we are caught, we are often beaten up by the wildlife scouts. We have been in the Central Kalahari for thousands of years. We do not use guns. As long as we have enough water and food we need very little from the government.’

Mukesh Ambani's 27-Story Home

There are nine elevators, a spa, a 50-seat theater and a grand ballroom. Hundreds of servants and staff are expected to work inside. And now, finally, after several years of planning and construction, the residents are about to move in.

All five of them. 

Mumbai, once known as Bombay, is India’s most cosmopolitan city, with a metropolitan area of roughly 20 million people. Migrants have poured into the city during the past decade, drawn by Mumbai’s reputation as India’s “city of dreams,” where anyone can become rich. But it is also a city infamous for its poor: a recent study found that roughly 62 percent of the population lived in slums, including one of Asia’s biggest, Dharavi, which houses more than one million people.

Real estate prices are among the highest in the world, pushing many working-class residents into slums, even as developers have brazenly cleared land for a new generation of high-rise apartment towers for the affluent. High-rises are considered necessary, given the city’s limited land, yet the rising towers have further insulated the rich from the teeming metropolis below. With his helipads, which still await operating approval, Mr. Ambani could conceivably live in Mumbai without ever touching the ground.

“This is a gated community in the sky,” said Gyan Prakash, author of the new book “Mumbai Fables.” “It is in a way reflective of how the rich are turning their faces away from the city.”

Read more: Soaring Above India’s Poverty

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

LC Jain

Namaste and Alvida, Lakshmiji. Will miss your gentle wit and thoughtful words. 
Gandhian LC Jain has passed away

Also read: "The loss of idealism is unacceptable."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Message from His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the Release of Aung San Suu Kyi

I welcome the release of fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and extend my appreciation to the military regime in Burma. I extend my full support and solidarity to the movement for democracy in Burma and take this opportunity to appeal to freedom-loving people all over the world to support such non-violent movements.

I pray and hope that the government of the People's Republic of China will release fellow Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo and other prisoners of conscience who have been imprisoned for exercising their freedom of expression.

The Dalai Lama
November 14th, 2010

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Aung San Suu Kyi: A life indoors

"In the end they can't stop the people; they can't stop freedom. We shall have our time."

Every morning Aung San Suu Kyi wakes at 4 a.m. knowing there is nowhere she can go, that there is no prospect she will be allowed outside. Inside the mildewing two-storey villa the Burmese junta has made her prison, she meditates, sometimes for hours, before turning her attention to one of five radios tuned to stations around the world. These distant voices, broadcasts from the BBC, Voice of America, the rebel news service Democratic Voice of Burma, and others, are her only constant link with the outside world. She has no phone, no TV and no internet. Her mail is heavily censored. Often it is not delivered. The 65-year-old Buddhist lives with two long-serving maids, mother and daughter Khin Khin Win and Win Ma Ma, who have been sentenced with their employer for this final stretch of house detention.

After 15 years, the Myanmarese opposition leader is expected to be released from house arrest in less than 48 hours.

Read the Hindu op-ed

Using SUVs in India is criminal!

The nation’s environment conscience keeper and Union Minister Jairam Ramesh is angry every time he sees a Merc, an Audi and SUVs on Indian roads. To own too many big cars is criminal according to him, as they not only add heavily to greenhouse gas emissions but also probably eat into a subsidy on diesel, in place to benefit farmers. “It’s criminal in India with the type of society we are in. The luxurious growth of large-sized vehicles and SUVs in our country is really a cause for great concern,” he said at a workshop on low-carbon transport here. The owners of these vehicles in India include politicians, businessmen, sports and film personalities.

The diesel-guzzling SUVs are put on roads taking advantage of a government subsidy on diesel to benefit farming and heavy duty transport sectors. The subsidy, though reduced by two rupees when petrol prices were deregulated last June, is still incentive enough for the affluent to go for SUVs.

Read Deccan Herald piece

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Partial Ban on Balochistan paper

"Last week, one heard about the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s (PTA) decision to impose a partial ban on The Baloch Hal, the first and only online newspaper that tells the story of Balochistan to the rest of Pakistan and the world-at-large. The reason for the ban, according to the PTA, was that The Baloch Hal published ‘anti-Pakistan material’. As expected, this vague claim remains unsubstantiated. The government of Pakistan needs to remember that freedom of expression and association is a basic right guaranteed under the Constitution of 1973 – a constitution that, as a democratic set-up, as opposed to a military dictatorship, it has pledged to uphold."

Read post by Urooj Zia on the Himal Southasian blog

Monday, November 8, 2010

NBA: Twenty-five Years: what next?

By ignoring a sustained non-violent movement, what message is the Indian state giving to other peoples' movements?

Important as it is to recognise the influence exerted by the NBA, there are fundamental questions to be asked of the movement. Ideologically, the NBA has been almost adamantly Gandhian. At a time when India's political sphere is punctured by debates triggered by the Maoist movement and their insistence on armed struggle (among other methods) as the path to achieve social and political change, how relevant is a movement that refuses to move away from the Gandhian path of ahimsa or non-violence? It is easy to notice that the State's (the government, the judiciary and the police force) preoccupation with the Maoist movement far outweighs its response to an NBA hunger-fast.

Expectedly, the State's response to the Maoist movement is a visibly violent one; but what of its continued apathy to the questions raised by the NBA through its non-violent methods? Does it indicate a failure of non-violence as a strategy to demand justice? "This is a question that should trigger serious introspection from the Indian State. By ignoring the demands for justice from the Narmada valley, what is the message they are putting out for other movements?” asks Swami Agnivesh.

Read the full piece in Tehelka
Middle-class Indians might hate Arundhati Roy, but shutting her out would leave us a poorer society. Shoma Chaudhury explains why

From the moment The God of Small Things was published, Roy was deemed the chosen one. As the successes of the book piled up — the huge advances, the translations in 40 languages, and finally the Booker (the first time any resident Indian had won it) — it was a done deal: Arundhati Roy was India’s triumphant entry on the global stage. She was the princess at the ball. If she had stuck to script, Roy would have remained the celebrated first of a series of triumphant notes: Aishwarya Rai winning Miss World, Tatas taking over Jaguar, Indian billionaires making the top of Fortune 500 lists, an awesome 8 percent growth and a burgeoning consumer class. The India Shining story was all stitched up. Everyone was raising a toast. No one could have anticipated that the princess would strike the gong even before the midnight hour. Willfully bust the party. Pick open the seams of the gown. Show the chariot for a pumpkin. Smash the glass slipper. But that is what she did. In May 1998, barely a few months into her Booker win, India tested the nuclear bomb. In August, Roy wrote The End of Imagination, an angry impassioned critique of the bomb, her first piece of writing after the novel.

walk free?

Zainab poses discomforting thoughts on the notions of 'our' space

So what happens when a space is cleaned of its numerous claimants,
And clear owners of property are established?
Are the contests completely removed?
Does the space become irreversible?
Does clear, titled ownership reign supreme?
Bombay – 400 001.
Read more: Claims and Space – Thoughts from the Feet