Tuesday, November 30, 2010
The Indian Express
Tags : indian express, editorial
Posted: Wed Dec 01 2010, 04:47 hrs
What kind of state are we, anyway? Prickly and immature, submitting to our worst, controlling impulses? Or tolerant, stable, modern? Here’s a worrying story: On October 21 a few people made a few speeches in New Delhi; some may have said that Kashmir should not be a part of India. The foundations of the Indian state, you will notice, did not shake. Kashmir’s status was not markedly different on October 22 than on October 20. And yet, a colonial-era law that’s associated in most Indians’ minds with Mahatma Gandhi’s open defiance of it has been unleashed. An FIR was lodged against the writer-activist Arundhati Roy, the Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani and some others — for sedition, “the promotion of enmity between classes”, “assertions prejudicial to national integration”, and “rumours circulated with intent to cause mutiny”.Merely reading that list of “offences” is a wake-up call. Does merely saying that Kashmir should not be part of India require this sort of legal action? Yes, shortly after the speeches, even as the BJP called for prosecution, the home ministry saw sense. “The state must show tolerance and forbearance,” said Home Minister Chidambaram, “the Delhi police is acting in accordance with the letter and spirit of the law.” The police registered no case, which, as these columns argued at the time, was only sensible. But then a man named Sushil Pandit filed a complaint; and a Delhi magistrate named Navita Bagha demanded the police act. And did the Delhi police, and by extension the home ministry, make the argument that the Indian state has moved beyond prosecutions of this sort? No; India’s government was instead browbeaten by one magistrate into registering a non-bailable case, with a maximum possible sentence of life, against six people who spoke at a seminar.This is more than merely embarrassing. Statist, knee-jerk prohibitions do not work, and nor would liberal states employ them anyway. This is of a piece with the exaggerated demands for respect for our symbols — you can land in hot water for making the national anthem available as a ringtone! National pride should not be constructed of such fragile stuff. Secure states do not respond to every questioning speech. In the end, we need to ask ourselves one simple question: does India appear more stable and admirable if Geelani argues in Delhi for Kashmiri separatism, and convinces few — or if the state responds to the most retrograde, statist members of its public and arranges for his prosecution? We want to be proud of India. That needs the government to withdraw these cases immediately.
Monday, November 29, 2010
Friday, November 26, 2010
rediff.com US edition: Death of Sridevi's mother is recalled, as America gets tough on medical errors
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Another Unnecessary Name Change: Orissa is now Odisha
Oct. 26 – In the latest politically correct movement of stupidity, the State of Orissa is now legally to be known as Odisha following a ruling by the Indian Union Cabinet. The regional language, previously known as Oriya, will now be called Odia.
The move follows prolonged lobbying by the BJP Party, long bent on correcting misnamed cities and states. The confusion arises partly due to the phonetic and dialect differences in pronouncing the English version and the local language version with the BJP determined to revert all names to the ones used locally. Hence Bombay became Mumbai, Madras became Chennai and Calcutta became Kolkata.
The BJP have a tendency only to look back to certain periods of history suiting their own views. Orissa, in the east of India, was adopted as state name when it entered the Indian Union in 1950. However, in the local language, the name was pronounced slightly differently, as “Udisa.” There are also some phonetic issues with certain clarity of English letters, and rather similar to Japanese pronunciations of the letters r and l with the use of English becoming awkward for some.
The BJP have based their name change on 15th century records which refers to the “land of the Oriya people as being named Udisa or Odisa.” However, in Tantric literature it is referred to as Udisantha, while the ancient poet Sarala Das mentions the land as being called “Odra Rastra.”
Gajapati Kapileswaradeva, who lived between 1435 and 1467, referred to it as “Odisa Rajya” in his carvings on the temple walls at Jagannath. The renaming of Orissa, or Udisa as “Odisha” itself is inaccurate – it still doesn’t adequately capture the actual pronunciation of the ancient name. It’s political meddling in etymology for the sake of it.
Much of the renaming of Indian cities has taken place to do away with names associated with the British Raj, with many names of streets, buildings or markets being reinvented as “pure Indian.” While one can see the sense in renaming the Prince of Wales Museum in Bombay to an ethnically acceptable Indian one, it is now officially known as the “Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Sastu Sangrahalaya.”
While there’s a certain splendid length to the new title, it however totally unpronounceable to anyone not Indian, and bears no relation in any event to what it actually is. So although impressive signage outside displays the new name, it still is “formerly known as the Prince of Wales Museum” written in large letters underneath for the benefit of everyone else. Indeed, most native Indians still refer to it as the Prince of Wales Museum.
The museum’s website address, which is currently under construction is named www.bombaymuseum.org despite the fact Bombay was renamed Mumbai in 1995.
The same is true of Calcutta and Madras. Most Indians still refer to them by these titles, and will often use both new and old names. There are other, recent silly changes. The well known city of Bangalore, the country’s IT capital, was renamed officially as Bengaluru two years ago, again to “politically correct” a mispronunciation. Yet everyone still refers to the city as Bangalore. What was the point?
Other changes in cities have included renaming Trivandrum as Thiruvananthapuram and the old French colonial outpost of Pondicherry as Puducherry. While the political and cultural reasons for doing so may be ethnically sound, the actual common sense aspect in renaming areas already well-known internationally in one form does not seem to be taken into account.
Neither Hindi or Devanagari are under threat as aspects of spoken or written Indian culture. As India moves more prominently onto an international stage, this meddling in domestic culture over names that are used and recognized globally ought to come to an end. It’s unnecessary, wasteful, increasingly politicized, and hinders potential regional development by creating global linguistic confusion.
Chris Devonshire-Ellis is the managing partner for Dezan Shira & Associates in Mumbai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, November 19, 2010
Gujarat Police fudged probe into Akshardham. Police letter survives to tell the tale BY RANA AYYUB
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Monday, November 15, 2010
t is possible that the most stunning story of the past week is not the brutal midterm loss suffered by the Democrats but the release of former President George W. Bush's memoir, Decision Points, and his attendant book-promoting public appearances.
About the Author
Ginni Thomas's insistence that Anita Hill apologize is an apt metaphor for the long history of blaming black women for social ills.
Predictable Democratic losses in November aren't what we should fear. The real danger is in a political environment unable to build even the most tenuous bridges across partisan divides.
Sitting with NBC's Matt Lauer, President Bush breezily defended his use of waterboarding torture, explaining that he relied on the judgment government attorneys who advised him the practice was legal. He also told Oprah he was "sick" about not discovering weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but he went onto confidently assert that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein. But for me the jaw-dropping, headline-making revelation of this week is President Bush's assertion that the low point of his presidency came when 33-year-old hip-hop artist Kanye West went off-script during a Hurricane Katrina benefit concert, looked into the camera and asserted, "George Bush doesn't care about black people."
Of this moment the president writes:
I faced a lot of criticism as president. I didn't like hearing people claim that I lied about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction or cut taxes to benefit the rich. But the suggestion that I was racist because of the response to Katrina represented an all-time low.
Public outrage about the president's assessment of this moment as a definitive low is both predictable and understandable. After all, one might expect that thousands of American deaths and the brutal entrance of the United States in the terrorist age on September 11, 2001, would be a reasonable moment to recall as the worst of his presidency. The economic devastation of 2008 is also a good candidate, as are the disgusting disclosures about American troops dehumanizing and torturing detainees at Abu Ghraib. Even if Hurricane Katrina were the defining event, many might expect the president to view the terrible loss of life, breathtaking destruction of property, and massive displacement of American citizens in the aftermath of the levee breach as worse than with the singular assessment of a young, if vocal, critic.
Still, I think there is a lesson in the President's anxiety about having been labeled racist. It is a lesson about America's relationship to race and racism and one that might help us better understand our own history, motivations, anxieties and political choices.
President Bush describes Kanye West's statement as his presidential low, a personal nadir. Recall that the nadir of American history is the time between 1877 and World War I. These are the decades immediately following the end of Reconstruction. After fighting a brutal and bloody war to preserve the Union and to end intergenerational chattel slavery, American Reconstruction lasted for an astonishing decade from 1866–1876. These were some of America's greatest years in terms of the nation's willingness to pursue the vision of the founding documents. In these years black men ran for and held office, black families gained a toe hold as property owners, black and white laborers experimented with cooperative organizations and former Confederates were expected to accept that black people were full citizens.
But the 1876 presidential election provoked a crisis in the transition of national leadership (not unlike that of Bush v. Gore 2000). In response, America's political parties chose backroom bargaining and partisan power-sharing over American ideals. Together they cut a deal that allowed Rutherford B. Hayes to ascend to the American presidency in exchange for an immediate end to Reconstruction. The parties were hastened and supported in this choice by the vocal and angry organizing of white Americans in the North and South. The visible evidence of black citizenship embodied in black male office-holders, black voters and black property ownership disgusted, angered and terrified white Americans who felt their grip on power slipping away under the policies of a strong, empowered, national government. They argued for states' rights, organized into klans, created racist cultural images, spread rumors of black criminality and decried economic competition by new laborers. These white Americans called themselves patriots and pressured both parties to abandon strong central government by ending Reconstruction.
With this 1877 compromise America plunged in the nadir. The decades of the nadir are marked by unthinkable racial terror, the destruction of black civil and political rights, the erosion of black economic capacity, the imposition of segregation, and the violent assertion of white supremacy as a governing norm. This is America's most shameful chapter. Her nadir. Her low point. Perhaps because the tentacles of the nadir reach so deeply into the twentieth century, it is a period that retains an unmatched ability to shame contemporary Americans. Even a causal encounter with the fully documented, indisputable and indescribable racial horrors of those decades annihilates American triumphalism that asserts the United States as a unique and consistently free and equal nation. As late as 1944, Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal described racism as the American Dilemma. Racism and its material effects on the lives of black Americans have always stood in direct contrast to an American creed that emphasizes liberty, equality and fairness.
Empirically, racism may be as American as apple pie, but morally, ethically and philosophically, racism is a betrayal of America. In this sense, when Kanye West pointed to the Bush administration's non-response as an act of racism, he called Bush a traitor.
West was not the only one who felt this way. More than 80 percent of black Americans reported in a November 2005 national survey that they believed America's responses to Hurricane Katrina would have been faster if the storm's victims were mostly white. Black Americans were not alone in this assessment of the racial lessons of Katrina. On September 8, 2005, The Economist described the aftermath of Katrina as "The Shaming of America." Americans take great pride in understanding themselves as a prosperous, just and fair nation steeped in relative equality and uncompromised liberty. The televised dehydration deaths of elderly, black people in a major urban center did not fit this triumphant narrative.
The disconnect between American identity and racial suffering was clear in the images of Katrina survivors who called on their government as citizens but were rhetorically relegated to the status of refugees. Parnell Herbert, a New Orleanian and Katrina survivor whose story is recorded in the oral history text, Overcoming Katrina: African American Voices from the Crescent City and Beyond, explains that even the visual images of Katrina told the story of black Americans laying claim to their rights as citizens. He says: "Something that really surprised me was the number of African-Americans in New Orleans who had large American flags in their homes. Were they flags that once draped a loved one's casket?"
This is the shame that leads President Bush to assess West's comments as his personal nadir.
And President Bush is technically accurate. In the weeks following Katrina the Pew Research Center conducted a national survey and found that 67 percent of Americans believed that President Bush could have done more in his handling of the relief effort and nearly 60 percent rated the response of the federal government as only fair or poor. The Katrina disaster also caused many Americans to reconsider the nation's security, with 42 percent reporting that the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina made them feel less confident that the government can handle a major terror attack. In the aftermath of the hurricane, job approval ratings for President Bush plummeted and never fully rebounded. In 2006 the Democratic Party won a majority in the House of Representative and the Senate. In 2008 Democrats won the White House. These 2006 and 2008 Democratic wins were, in part, about a repudiation of President Bush as incompetent in the face of domestic disaster and foreign war, but they were also fueled by an American desire to rewrite the narrative of racial inequality to which Katrina so forcefully reintroduced them.
In a previous article for The Nation, my husband, James Perry, and I argued that the racial angst caused by the visible, televised, disproportionate suffering of black Americans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was one motivating cause for Americans' embrace of Senator Obama in 2008. We wrote:
Not only did the Bush administration's bureaucratic failures in response to Katrina give Democrats a way to effectively critique Iraq but the racial politics of Katrina temporarily and jarringly reawakened America to the painful realities of racial inequality. A yearning to soothe this national shame and heal the gaping racial wound that was reopened by Katrina is partly responsible for America's enthusiastic embrace of Barack Obama. American willingness to confront racial injustice dissipated as quickly as Bush's promises to rebuild the city, but Katrina had awakened a deep desire to prove that America is not a nation marred by racism.
And so it was that the televised suffering of black New Orleanians was part of the extraordinary path walked by the first black person to be elected president of the United States. But the American racial story did not end on January 20, 2009. We did not enter into a post-racial America. We carried with us into this new moment all the shame, anxiety and inequality of our nation's long history.
As an observer, I find the 2010 midterms uncomfortably familiar to the era of Redemption that followed Reconstruction. Current calls for small government and states rights during the administration of a black president sound suspiciously like nineteenth-century efforts to weaken the state so that racial terror could be enacted with impudence against the black men who were then governing. After the aggressively anti-immigrant and more subterranean anti-black sentiments of the healthcare debate and the midterm election, I have wondered if we lost our ability to be shamed by open displays of cultural bigotry and political action motivated by white anxiety.
In this sense I welcome President Bush's comments. At my most optimistic, I can read his comments as an assertion that nothing is more harmful than racism, nothing more embarrassing, nothing more un-American, nothing we must more fully and completely renounce. I know that is not exactly what he said, but I take a glimmer of hope from the idea that President Bush has reminded us that to be called a racist is not a badge of honor.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Happy Diwali to all readers. Since Diwali is a time we worship Lakshmi, or the goddess of wealth, i thought i would focus in this piece on the place of wealth in our society today. I also want to highlight the difference between Lakshmi and money, which may seem similar but are not the same.
Before that, i start with an incident. Last week, i was in a session conducted by leading Hollywood filmmaker Oliver Stone, as part of a film festival organised in Mumbai. One of Oliver’s famous films is Wall Street (1984), which had its sequel come out recently. In the original film, Michael Douglas played Gordon Gekko, a crafty, unscrupulous, yet dashing financier. Gekko, with his signature line, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good”, became one of the most memorable characters in US cinema history.
I asked Oliver why he thought Gekko became so popular. He said it was because Gekko is successful, especially in terms of money. It doesn’t matter that he is unethical, selfish, greedy, or a terrible human being. Americans became obsessed with material wealth in the 1980s. ‘Greed is good’ was just the validation they needed at the time. People didn’t care about a person’s values, people cared about a person’s money.
At a time of year when we pray to Lakshmi, or the goddess of material wealth, it is fitting to introspect if we too are slowly becoming the same. Why else do our political leaders loot the very people who elected them? Why do they stuff their own pockets with hundreds of crores they couldn’t possibly spend in their lifetimes? Why would an army general want to pocket a flat meant for a soldier’s widow? Why do so many intelligent, educated, respected bureaucrats succumb to corruption?
The answer is simple: money, or rather the importance our society has begun to attach to money.
Don’t get me wrong. Money is extremely important. Poverty is a disease, and surviving well in the modern world does require a certain amount of material wealth. However, above this level,
people don’t seek money to satisfy material needs. Beyond that, money has other uses. There are many reasons why our politicians and government officials steal it. I list some of them.
One, money gives stature – the bigger your house, the more lavish your parties and the more high-end the places you shop – and gives you a certain place in society today that is above others. We have newspapers filled with ads of luxury goods, as if acquiring them is life’s ultimate aim. We celebrate rich lists and people who live in expensive houses. We make TV shows about expensive weddings and judge people by their residential address.
Today, a woman decked in jewellery and with a designer bag and shoes may be seen as of a higher stature than, say, a schoolteacher in a cotton sari who teaches hundreds of kids. People who earn high salaries make more news than, say, brave journalists who expose scams or selfless doctors who help the poor. In such a societal set-up, the temptation to seek wealth irrespective of the means is especially high.
Two, money gives a sense of security. This is a genuine benefit of money, as retirement planning is about building assets in your working life to be used later. However, politicians have a particular sense of insecurity owing to the innately uncertain nature of their jobs. They can be elected in and out of office. Money stolen by politicians is often kept for their party campaigns, to fight the next election. Being in power, and keeping that position is more important (and gets you more attention) than being a real leader and role model. So, you have elected MPs robbing citizens. Since the majority of Indian citizens don’t care about corruption issues and will vote on caste, religion or even factors such as dynasty over performance, the looting never stops.
Stature and security are constructs of the mind. The irony is, no matter how much money you have, if you don’t fundamentally value yourself from within, you will never feel that status despite the crores stashed away. That is why corrupt people keep on accumulating money until they get caught. They hope the money will give them a better place in life. However, since they have stolen and not earned the wealth, the crime gnaws at them from within and they can never be at peace. They have accumulated money for sure, but they haven’t accumulated Lakshmi.
Lakshmi is wealth accumulated through honest and fair means. Money can be stolen as well. Lakshmi brings peace and happiness to the person who earns it. Stolen money only brings emptiness to the soul. If you notice Lakshmi’s idol, she has gold coins around her, signifying wealth. However, she is also seated on a lotus flower, and holds lotuses in her hands. The lotus is a sign of purity and peace, signifiying spiritual well-being; of purity and beauty even in the muddy waters of the world. Without this peace, wealth has no meaning.
This festive season, when you pray, ask not for money, but for Lakshmi – wealth attained through pure means that keeps the mind as peaceful and beautiful as the lotus. The corrupt who steal from us don’t know this difference, and are merely collecting money. No matter how big their Diwali parties or lavish their puja ceremonies are, true Lakshmi will never come to them. She only comes to those who are pure at heart.
The writer is a best-selling novelist.
Diwali is the time to seek peace, purity and beauty
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