Friday, February 25, 2011

Thoughts on Communalism

Young boys are initiated —through tales of past glory of one religion or the other - into visualising themselves as great heroes, born to avenge the wrongs - real or imaginary - done to their community by the “enemy.” We have to look within to see if we have not encouraged this kind of inculcation in young minds. The whole approach of glorifying the past in terms of our respective communities is outdated and cannot help us resolve our problems in today’s complex reality - Bhisham Sahni talking of Tamas 
Ram banwaas se jab laut ke ghar mein aaye, Yaad jangal bahut aaya jo nagar mein aaye, Raqse deewangee aangan mein jo dekha hoga, 6 december ko Shri Ram ne socha hoga, Itne deewane kahan se mere ghar mein aaye?

Jagmagate thhe jahan Ram key qadmon ke nishaan, Piyaar kee kahkashan leti thi angdayee jahan, Mod nafrat ke usee rahguzar mein aaye, Dharam kya unka haye, kya zaat haye, yeh janta kaun? Ghar na jalta toh unhe raat mein pehchanta kaun, Ghar jalane ko mera, log jo ghar mein aaye, Shakahari haye mere dost tumahara khanjar. Tumne Babar kee taraf pheke thhe saare patthar, Haye mere sar ki khata zakhm jo sar mein aaye.

Paun Sarjoo mein aabhi Ram ne dhoye bhee na thhe, Ke nazar aaye wahan khoon ke gehre dhabbe, Paun dhoye bina Sarjoo ke kinare se uthe, Ram yeh kehte hue aapne dwaare se uthe, Rajdhani kee fiza aayee nahin raas mujhe, 6 December ko mila doosra banwaas mujhe - Doosra Banwas by Kaifi Azmi
Deen mein dadee hai, dadee mein deen nahi - Maulana Wali, in Khuda ke Liye
Mandir masjid dadee chotee, kaat rahen hain botee botee
baant rahen hain hum bachon ko, cheen rahen hain sabki roti -SAHMAT
Mandir toh ban jayega, par Ram kahan se laoge. Us mandir ki deewaron ko, kya pak kabhi kar paoge. Jis chaukhat par log jale, Ram wahan na jayenge. Jin galiyon mein khoon gira, maulana kya reh payenge? - Anon. October 2010, after the Ayodhya-Babri verdict

And some positive notes
God created the seven notes to unite all the people in the world through music, to make them feel they are members of a single family - Ustad Amjad Ali Khan Saheb 
Tum aao gulshan ai Lahore se chaman bardosh, hum ayen subah Banaras ki roshni lekar. Aur uske baad yeh poochen ki kaun dushman hai - Ali Sardar Jafri

Monday, February 21, 2011

Delhi going going gone

Sometimes it seems as if no other great city of the world is less loved or less cared for. Occasionally there is an outcry as the tomb of the Mughal poet Zauq is discovered to have disappeared under a municipal urinal or the haveli courtyard house of his great rival Ghalib is revealed to have been turned into a coal store; but by and large the losses go unrecorded. I find it heartbreaking: every time I revisit a favourite monument, it has either been overrun by some slum, unsympathetically restored by the ASI or, more often, simply demolished. Ninety nine per cent of the havelis of Old Delhi have been destroyed, and like the city walls, disappeared into memory. According to historian Pavan Verma, the majority of the buildings he recorded in Mansions at Dusk only ten years ago no longer exist. Moreover, the losses are accelerating. In 1991, the MCD tore down much of the outer wall of Qila Rai Pithora, one of the last pre-Islamic structures surviving in the capital. Shah Jehan’s great Shalimar Garden, where Aurangzeb was crowned, now has a municipal housing colony on its land. Two years ago, there was an attempt to concrete over the historic sultanate-period Hauz Shamsi in Mehrauli.

Already, one of the most beautiful legacies of India’s colonial past – the bungalows of New Delhi designed by the great Edwin Lutyens – has nearly gone: those in private hands have been destroyed in the welter of demolitions between 1980 and 2000. It is unclear if the same fate awaits the Lutyens buildings owned by the government and that no fewer than 1,114 houses built across 1,000 acres will be demolished: an unprecedented act of mass vandalism. The wholesale destruction of arguably the greatest colonial townscape in the world would be an act of cultural destruction comparable to the bulldozing of Bath or the wiping out of Washington. Yet in Delhi, there has been little outcry.

Only Rome and Cairo can even begin to rival Delhi for the sheer volume and density of historic remains; yet in Delhi familiarity has bred not pride but contempt. Every year, more ruins disappear, victims to unscrupulous developers or often, unthinking bureaucrats.

Read: Slips show as Delhi sleeps, by William Dalrymple

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Pay a rupee and buy a river for 22 years

Carved out of Madhya Pradesh on 1 November 2000, Chhattisgarh was never a water-scarce state. According to unofficial estimates, the state has 32,000 ponds. With major river basins — Mahanadi, Godavari, Narmada and Brahmani Kachar — and several major rivers — Kurkut, Mahanadi, Kharun, Sheonath, Indravati, Jonk, Kelo, Sabri, Hasdev, Peri, and Maand — water shortage was never an issue. But the priorities have changed.

THE SALE of Chhattisgarh’s rivers began in 1998 when the then MP government handed a 23.6 km stretch of Sheonath river in Durg to RWL, pleading shortage of funds for supplying water to industries. In a shocking story of “corruption and favouritism”, as an Assembly nominated committee discovered later, the Rs. 9 crore project was signed on 5 October 1998 between MPAKVN and RWL on a build, own, operate and transfer (BOOT) basis. The plan was to build a barrage on the Sheonath to supply up to 30 million litres per day (mld) to the Borai Industrial Centre. Construction was completed in two years and operations began in January 2001. “We got to know about the sale of the river only when RWL began harassing us,” alleges Khemlal Sahu, a farmer in Mahmara. “Almost 25 percent of the villagers are fishermen. They were stopped from fishing. Soon, fencing around the 23.6 km stretch began. Iron gates were erected on both sides of the barrage to prevent locals from approaching the river.”

Chhattisgarh has seen hundreds of companies investing in the state and many vying for the river waters. In a recent deal, the Water Resource Department (WRD) gave its nod to 141 private and government projects for which it will be supplying nearly 2,600 million cubic metres (mcm) of water from rivers every year. Interestingly the state supplies only 2,000 mcm of water for irrigation every year. Earlier, dams were built to store water for irrigation. Now, they are being constructed for supplying water to industry. In fact, the Chhattisgarh government openly declares that it is committed to giving water to industries throughout the year but not to farmers for rabi crop.

Rivers belong to the people. But, in Chhattisgarh they belong to corporations.

Read: The Water Wars

Monday, February 7, 2011

India's open invitation to radioactive poisoning

The West has learnt its lesson with nuclear energy and is funding renewable energy solutions even as India is busy setting up a 25 billion dollar radioactive power plant in Ratnagiri. India has no independent regulator of nuclear safety. Why then is India getting into a 25 billion dollar investment in unsafe energy?

Nicholas Sarkozy left India with much fanfare having signed deals worth over 25 billion dollars. Among the pacts he inked with Manmohan Singh, was a deal between French nuclear giant, Areva and the NPCIL (India's state owned nuclear corporation), allowing India to buy Areva's new European Pressurized Reactors (EPR). The plant has been proposed at Jaitapur in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, otherwise well known for Alphonso mangoes. At a planned final capacity of 9900 MW, the plant will be the largest nuclear park in the world. Just over a week before Sarkozy's visit, a report by Stephen Thomas, professor of Energy Studies from the University of Greenwich showed that the EPR is doomed to fail. These sentiments were also echoed by A. Gopalakrishnan, former head of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) in a press conference organized by the Konkan Bachao Samiti. India has no independent regulator of nuclear safety. The DAE and AERB are unable to control even non high-level nuclear waste in the country, considering their inept handling of the Mayapuri scrapyard incident. And of course, there is no known way to safely dispose of nuclear waste. The initial cost estimates are 25 billion dollars for the entire plant. However going by the cost overruns of the construction of the same reactors in Finland and France, it is more likely to cost close to 9 billion dollars for each of the six 1650 MW reactors, despite cheaper labour and material costs in India. These costs do not take into account the on going fuel nuclear costs, maintenance costs, or the costs for safely storing the 300 odd tonnes of waste that the plant will generate every year. Nor do they consider the costs of forest destruction from mining for fuel, the health costs of the miners or the workers at the plant, nor the health costs of the people and environment of the region. Data from other nuclear plants around India have shown serious health impacts for people living near the plants due to the radioactivity in the environment. To build this plant will require over 2000 acres of land, not to mention an exclusion zone of a 5km radius where no other development will be allowed. For this the Maharashtra government has used police brutality, arrest and stifling of non-violent protest and media presence in Ratnagiri. Villagers have refused to part with their land as the compensation offered is paltry compared to their loss of livelihood. Over 1500 people were arrested in the last protest that took place during Sarkozy's visit to India. Hundreds more have been arrested before. If these didn't seem like enough reasons to avoid building this plant the shocker is the location – Jaitapur is part of the same seismic area as Latur, and is rated at higher risk for earthquake damage.

So why is the Indian government in such a hurry to sign this deal? Is it the promise of a permanent seat on the UN Security Council? Is it the promise of more French imports of Indian goods? Or is it just plain stupidity? Meanwhile, just a few months ago the US approved the world's largest solar project. The plant that will be located in California will produce 1000MW of power and using an integrated thermal process will provide electricity even post sunset. And this at a cost of 6 billion dollars. Despite the lack of advanced technology, renewables in India already outperform nuclear, contributing nearly 8% to our energy mix while nuclear contributes less than 3%. All this in a much quicker time frame to setup and at a much lower cost.

Nuclear waste dumping in France has been causing radioactive poisoning of water and vineyards. High levels of radiation has been found in French wines. The choice seems clear – keep these dangerous reactors out of India, and invest in clean energy. Keep the delicious mangoes of Ratnagiri radiation free!

Read more

Friday, February 4, 2011

"We’re going to free the Arab world.”

Words like ‘uprising’ and ‘revolution’ only hint at the scale of events in Egypt, which have already reverberated across Yemen, Jordan, Syria and even Saudi Arabia, offering a new template for change in a region that long reeled from its own sense of stagnation. “Every Egyptian understands now,” said Magdi al-Sayyid, one of the protesters.

The protesters have spoken for themselves to a government that, like many across West Asia, treated them as a nuisance. For years, pundits have predicted that Islamists would be the force that toppled governments across the Arab world. But so far, they have been submerged in an outpouring of popular dissent that speaks to a unity of message, however fleeting — itself a sea change in the region’s political landscape. In the vast panorama of Tahrir Square on Wednesday, Egyptians were stationed at makeshift barricades, belying pat dismissals of the power of the Arab street. “The street is not afraid of governments anymore,” said Shawki al-Qadi, an opposition lawmaker in Yemen, itself roiled by change. “It is the opposite. Governments and their security forces are afraid of the people now. The new generation, the generation of the internet, is fearless. They want their full rights, and they want life, a dignified life.”

Dignity’ was a word often used on Wednesday, and its emphasis underlined the breadth of a movement that is, so far, leaderless. Neither the Brotherhood nor a handful of opposition leaders — men like Mohammed ElBaradei or Ayman Nour — have managed to articulate hopelessness, the humiliations at the hands of the police and the outrage at having too little money to marry, echoed in the streets of Palestinian camps in Jordan and in the urban misery of Baghdad’s Sadr City. The lack of an alternative may have led to the uprising, making the street the last option for not only the young and dispossessed but also virtually every element of Egypt’s population — turbaned clerics, businessmen from wealthy suburbs, film directors and well-to-do engineers. Months ago, despair at the prospect of change in the Arab world was commonplace. Protesters on Wednesday acted as though they were making a last stand at what they had won, in an uprising that is distinctly nationalist.

The word ‘traitor’ rang out on Wednesday. The insult was directed at Mubarak, and it echoed the sentiment heard in so many parts of the Arab world these days — governments of an American-backed order in most of the region have lost their legitimacy, built on the idea that people would surrender their rights for the prospect of security and stability. In the square, protesters offered an alternative, their empowerment standing as possibly the most remarkable legacy of a people who often lamented their apathy.

From minute-by-minute coverage on Arabic channels to conversations from Iraq to Morocco, West Asia watched breathlessly at a moment as compelling as any in the Arab world in a lifetime. For the first time in a generation, Arabs seem to be looking again to Egypt for leadership, and that sense of destiny was voiced throughout the day.

“I tell the Arab world to stand with us until we win our freedom,” said Khaled Yusuf, a cleric from Al Azhar, a once esteemed institution of religious scholarship now beholden to the government. “Once we do, we’re going to free the Arab world.”

For decades, the Arab world has waited for a saviour — be it Gamal Abdel-Nasser, the charismatic Egyptian president, or even, for a time, Saddam Hussein. No one is waiting for a saviour now. Before nearly three decades of accumulated authority — the power of a state that can mobilise thousands to heed its whims — people had themselves.

“I’m fighting for my freedom,” Noha al-Ustaz said as she broke bricks on the curb. “For my right to express myself. For an end to oppression. For an end to injustice.” “Go forward,” the cries rang out, and she did, disappearing into a sea of men.

Read: Arab world watches breathlessly

Also watch: This vlog was recorded on January 18th by Asmaa Mahfouz, the girl who helped start it all. She had shared it on her Facebook, and it had gone viral. It was so powerful and so popular, that it drove Egyptians by the thousands into Tahrir Square.