Friday, January 28, 2011
Our moral universeMinhaz Merchant, Jan 26, 2011, 12.00am IST
Economic reforms will be 20 years old this July. Without political reforms, however, the full benefits of economic liberalisation won't reach the poor. The nexus between vested political and business interests, fused by lobbyists and middlemen, erodes those benefits. The reason poverty remains intractable inIndia is that good economic governance needs the protective umbrella of good political governance. Without that, both privilege and poverty will persist.
A fish rots from the head down, never from the tail up. The top political leadership sets the standard of governance. If that standard is set low, corruption infects the entire body politic. Every recent public scam involving leaders of the Congress and other parties can be traced to this systemic rot. Three key political reforms - police, judicial and electoral - are necessary to cleanse our public institutions.
In 2006, the Supreme Court directed the government to implement police reform. Make the National Police Commission autonomous, the court ordered, and give it a structure that is independent of political control. The National Police Commission would independently decide salaries, promotions, transfers, weaponry. Political control would go. Law enforcement, capricious today, would become professional and accountable. Successive governments - both in the states and at the Centre - have ignored the Supreme Court directive. They continue to do little for police welfare. Officers are badly paid and have become institutionally corrupt. They serve the wrong master - politicians. In the process, they betray those they are paid to protect: ordinary citizens. Unless we have an independent, professional police force, law enforcement will continue to work against the public interest, not for it.
An exasperated Chief Justice of India, Sarosh Kapadia, last month finally ordered the chief secretaries of Maharashtra, West Bengal, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh to implement the 2006 Supreme Court directive on police reform. After defying this directive for five years, the states have now promised to fall in line. But will they? History suggests they will not. The full-bodied police reform the Supreme Court wants may remain a chimera. On cue, the Centre on January 10, 2011 asked the court to dilute some provisions of the 2006 directive. Clearly, the government will relinquish control over the law enforcement machinery only if it is compelled to by being cited for contempt, a stick the Supreme Court may yet have to wield.
Judicial reform is the second systemic political change needed to restore the credibility of our institutions. The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill (and the under-preparation Right to Justice Bill) must be implemented in letter and spirit. Too few judges sit in our courts. Lawyers are complicit in the endless adjournments that bedevil the entire legal system. Just as the police owe primary allegiance to politicians and not the public (which pays for both but gets good service from neither), the judiciary frequently ends up serving the interests of the powerful, not the deserving.
The proposed Indian Legal Service (ILS) and Indian Judicial Service (IJS) could advance several reforms: fast-track courts, a separate stream of specialised courts for financial disputes, strict penalties against lawyers for serial adjournments and a performance rating system for the promotion of judges. The IJS will add 25,000 judges to the 27,000 lower-court judges currently weighed down by 25 million pending litigations. Without sweeping judicial reforms, the average citizen will continue to be a victim, not beneficiary, of the law.
The third key reform is electoral. Black money and criminality combine to send to Parliament several men and women unfit for public office. The Election Commission (EC) should follow two lines of action to disinfect the system. First, legally debar candidates with criminal charges against them (murder, rape, kidnap) from standing for election. Will that punish a few 'innocent' victims who have been falsely implicated by political enemies? Not if the EC reviews the chargesheets against such candidates and makes an independent, robust decision. Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi recently publicly backed this move.
The EC, in its second reform, must frame rules to make donations to political parties transparent. Each candidate would be entitled to a fixed quantum of state funding. He would be allowed private funds only under strict audit through declared private donors. This transparent funding model will cut the advantage cash-rich candidates have over poorer, but cleaner, candidates.
Systemic corruption is a symptom of failed governance. Political reforms that remove our key public institutions from government control can make 2011 the definitive year for sweeping institutional change just as 1991 was the inflection point for economic liberalisation. That would greatly expand our moral universe.
The writer is an author and chairman of a media group.
Read more: Our moral universe - The Times of India http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/opinion/edit-page/Our-moral-universe/articleshow/7361599.cms#ixzz1CJzt0uZK
We the peopleJan 26, 2011, 12.00am IST
While welfare policies promote social justice, they can't substitute for equality of opportunity. However well-meant, disbursal of state largesse makes citizens dependent on political paternalism; genuine empowerment weans them off it. It's by increasingly shifting public resources away from a dole culture toward robust returns-oriented investments in health, education and infrastructure that we can best enable and empower citizens. Give people crutches and they may never walk without needing help. Give them schools, colleges, vocational training, medical facilities, electrified homes and workplaces linked to road and communication networks, and they'll race ahead on their own steam.
But India's demographic dividend can't pay off without economic opportunities. So, reforms must be geared to creating productive employment. While boosting services-led growth, we must also think beyond it since it demands the kind of skilled manpower we're yet to produce on a mass scale. With the vast majority subsisting on agriculture, farming as well as rural infrastructure and markets demand urgent modernising. Equally, large-scale factory employment is key to poverty alleviation. Labour reform is a must to deliver job security and the skills upgrade that a high-growth economy will increasingly want from its workforce at all levels. Faster industrialisation, in turn, will need support from supple land acquisition rules.
Affirmative action itself must take 21st century forms. Reassuringly, NREG or cycles for schoolgirls, welfare is catering more to economic need than special interests. But social spending needs targeting. Why not route benefits directly, not via intermediaries or leaky distribution systems? Why not use innovative channels like phone banking-based access to funds and services? IT can revolutionise everyday life, whether by digitising records or expanding banking cover. Countless Indians are officially faceless, and hence feel socially powerless. Via UID and financial inclusion initiatives, they can acquire a sense of belonging. That's really what empowerment is all about: turning passive, indistinguishable recipients of state crumbs into active agents with a personal contribution and stake in national prosperity. Achieving this will, finally, depend on quality of governance. We must combat corruption and criminalisation of public life. And we must promote accessible and accountable leaderships. We the people deserve nothing less.
Read more: We the people - The Times of India http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/opinion/edit-page/We-the-people/articleshow/7361601.cms#ixzz1CJcwvXG5
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Sunday, January 23, 2011
High Price for India’s Information Law
Published: January 22, 2011
KODINAR, India — Amit Jethwa had just left his lawyer’s office after discussing a lawsuit he had filed to stop an illicit limestone quarry with ties to powerful local politicians. That is when the assassins struck, speeding out of the darkness on a roaring motorbike, pistols blazing. He died on the spot, blood pouring from his mouth and nose. He was 38.
Mr. Jethwa was one of millions of Indians who had embraced the country’s five-year-old Right to Information Act, which allows citizens to demand almost any government information. People use the law to stop petty corruption and to solve their most basic problems, like getting access to subsidized food for the poor or a government pension without having to pay a bribe, or determining whether government doctors and teachers are actually showing up for work.
But activists like Mr. Jethwa who have tried to push such disclosures further — making pointed inquiries at the dangerous intersection of high-stakes business and power politics — have paid a heavy price. Perhaps a dozen have been killed since 2005, when the law was enacted, and countless others have been beaten and harassed.
In many of these cases, the information requested involved allegations of corruption and collusion between politicians and big-money business.
“Now that power people are realizing the power of the right to information, there is a backlash,” said Amitabh Thakur, an activist and police official who is writing a book about people killed for demanding information under the law. “It has become dangerous.”
India may be the world’s largest democracy, but it remains dogged by the twin legacies of feudalism and colonialism, which have often meant that citizens are treated like subjects. Officials who are meant to serve them often act more like feudal lords than representatives of the people.
The law was intended to be a much-needed leveler between the governors and the governed. In many ways it has worked, giving citizens the power to demand a measure of accountability from bureaucrats and politicians.
When the law was passed, Mr. Jethwa, a longtime activist who nursed a lifelong grudge against those who abused official power, immediately seized upon it as a powerful new tool.
His objective was to stop illegal quarries near the Gir National Park, 550 square miles of scrubland and deciduous forest near his hometown, along the southern coast of Gujarat, India’s most prosperous state. The preserve is the only remaining habitat of the rare Asiatic lion. The animal is featured on the national emblem of India, and is considered by Hindus to be a sacred incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
But the forest sits in a mineral-rich area of coastal Gujarat dotted with cement factories that churn out building materials to fuel India’s near double-digit economic growth. The limestone that lies just beneath the soil in and around the Gir Forest is an ideal component of cement. By law, the forest and a three-mile boundary around it are off limits to all mining activity. But quarries the size of several football fields have been cut deep into the earth in the protected zone.
This mining has had serious consequences not only for the forest preserve, but also for water used for drinking and farming. The thirsty limestone is a natural barrier between seawater and fresh groundwater. A recent state government report concluded that limestone mining had allowed seawater to flow into the aquifer, causing an “irreversible loss.”
Balu Bhai Socha, an environmental advocate who worked with Mr. Jethwa, said the pace of mining rapidly increased as the local economy boomed.
“The speed with which the illegal mining was going on, we realized, within 10 years they will clean out the whole forest,” Mr. Socha said.
Mr. Jethwa repeatedly filed information requests to unearth the names of those operating the quarries and to see what action had been taken against them. He discovered there were 55 illegal quarries in and around the preserve. One name stood out among the records of land leases, electricity bills and inspection reports: Dinubhai Solanki, a powerful member of Parliament from the Bharatiya Janata Party, which governs Gujarat.
Mr. Solanki, who had risen from the State Legislature to Parliament, was a local kingmaker and an imperious presence. He had the backing of the local police and bureaucrats, activists here said. Mr. Jethwa and many others suspected that he was the mastermind and principal beneficiary of the illegal mining operation.
In February 2008, Mr. Jethwa was attacked by a gang of men on motorbikes. He was beaten so badly that he had to be hospitalized. He immediately suspected Mr. Solanki.
“If someone attacks me, or kills me in an accident, if my body is injured — for these acts the Kodinar MLA Dinu Solanki will be responsible,” he wrote in a letter to Gujarat’s chief minister, Narendra Modi, after the attack.
His father begged him to stop.
“I cautioned him several times about the danger,” the elder Mr. Jethwa said. “But he used to say: ‘Forget that you have three sons and say you have two sons. Let me do my work.’ He would say, ‘My religion is rule of law.’ ”
Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
Mr. Jethwa’s information requests found sheaves of correspondence between forestry officials and local bureaucrats showing that despite repeated efforts to shut down the quarries, the practice continued.
By last June, he felt that he had amassed enough evidence to file a lawsuit to stop the mining. He filed the papers on June 28. On July 20, late at night, he was gunned down, leaving behind a wife and two children.
Because of his activism and the place where he died, practically on the doorstep of the state high court, political pressure forced an unusually swift investigation. Detectives used cellphone records to link Shiva Solanki, the nephew of Dinubhai Solanki, to the killing, and he has been charged with conspiracy and murder. He is accused of hiring a contract killer to murder Mr. Jethwa.
But few people believe that Shiva Solanki, who works for his uncle, could have carried out and paid for a contract killing on his own.
Anand Yagnik, a prominent human rights lawyer in Gujarat, said that the police had made no effort to investigate Mr. Solanki.
“The message that has gone out is that if you resort to your right to information to try to harass a political person, even after your murder, that man will go scot-free,” Mr. Yagnik said, seated below a portrait of Gandhi in his basement law office in Ahmedabad.
The police did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the investigation into Mr. Jethwa’s death. Mr. Solanki told reporters at his office here that because the case was under investigation he would not answer questions.
“You are welcome to sit here, have a cup of tea,” he said. “I will not say a word.”
Mr. Jethwa’s death has sent a chill through the community of activists here. Mr. Socha, the environmental activist, said that he now thought twice before challenging powerful interests and that he wondered if the risks were worth it.
“Our hearts are broken after his death,” Mr. Socha said. “You cannot fix the system. Everybody is getting money. If I give my life, what is the point?”
Hari Kumar contributed reporting.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
January 18, 2011 12:34 IST"
Monday, January 17, 2011
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Monday, January 10, 2011
Sunday, January 09, 2011
By AMY CHUA
A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:
• attend a sleepover
• have a playdate
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• watch TV or play computer games
• choose their own extracurricular activities
• get any grade less than an A
• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin.
I'm using the term "Chinese mother" loosely. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too. Conversely, I know some mothers of Chinese heritage, almost always born in the West, who are not Chinese mothers, by choice or otherwise. I'm also using the term "Western parents" loosely. Western parents come in all varieties.
All the same, even when Western parents think they're being strict, they usually don't come close to being Chinese mothers. For example, my Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments 30 minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It's hours two and three that get tough.
Despite our squeamishness about cultural stereotypes, there are tons of studies out there showing marked and quantifiable differences between Chinese and Westerners when it comes to parenting. In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that "stressing academic success is not good for children" or that "parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun." By contrast, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same way. Instead, the vast majority of the Chinese mothers said that they believe their children can be "the best" students, that "academic achievement reflects successful parenting," and that if children did not excel at school then there was "a problem" and parents "were not doing their job." Other studies indicate that compared to Western parents, Chinese parents spend approximately 10 times as long every day drilling academic activities with their children. By contrast, Western kids are more likely to participate in sports teams.
What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it's math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.
Chinese parents can get away with things that Western parents can't. Once when I was young—maybe more than once—when I was extremely disrespectful to my mother, my father angrily called me "garbage" in our native Hokkien dialect. It worked really well. I felt terrible and deeply ashamed of what I had done. But it didn't damage my self-esteem or anything like that. I knew exactly how highly he thought of me. I didn't actually think I was worthless or feel like a piece of garbage.
As an adult, I once did the same thing to Sophia, calling her garbage in English when she acted extremely disrespectfully toward me. When I mentioned that I had done this at a dinner party, I was immediately ostracized. One guest named Marcy got so upset she broke down in tears and had to leave early. My friend Susan, the host, tried to rehabilitate me with the remaining guests.
The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, "Hey fatty—lose some weight." By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of "health" and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image. (I also once heard a Western father toast his adult daughter by calling her "beautiful and incredibly competent." She later told me that made her feel like garbage.)
Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. Chinese parents can say, "You're lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you." By contrast, Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they're not disappointed about how their kids turned out.
I've thought long and hard about how Chinese parents can get away with what they do. I think there are three big differences between the Chinese and Western parental mind-sets.
First, I've noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.
For example, if a child comes home with an A-minus on a test, a Western parent will most likely praise the child. The Chinese mother will gasp in horror and ask what went wrong. If the child comes home with a B on the test, some Western parents will still praise the child. Other Western parents will sit their child down and express disapproval, but they will be careful not to make their child feel inadequate or insecure, and they will not call their child "stupid," "worthless" or "a disgrace." Privately, the Western parents may worry that their child does not test well or have aptitude in the subject or that there is something wrong with the curriculum and possibly the whole school. If the child's grades do not improve, they may eventually schedule a meeting with the school principal to challenge the way the subject is being taught or to call into question the teacher's credentials.
If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.
Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough. That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it. (And when Chinese kids do excel, there is plenty of ego-inflating parental praise lavished in the privacy of the home.)
Second, Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything. The reason for this is a little unclear, but it's probably a combination of Confucian filial piety and the fact that the parents have sacrificed and done so much for their children. (And it's true that Chinese mothers get in the trenches, putting in long grueling hours personally tutoring, training, interrogating and spying on their kids.) Anyway, the understanding is that Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud.
By contrast, I don't think most Westerners have the same view of children being permanently indebted to their parents. My husband, Jed, actually has the opposite view. "Children don't choose their parents," he once said to me. "They don't even choose to be born. It's parents who foist life on their kids, so it's the parents' responsibility to provide for them. Kids don't owe their parents anything. Their duty will be to their own kids." This strikes me as a terrible deal for the Western parent.
Third, Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children's own desires and preferences. That's why Chinese daughters can't have boyfriends in high school and why Chinese kids can't go to sleepaway camp. It's also why no Chinese kid would ever dare say to their mother, "I got a part in the school play! I'm Villager Number Six. I'll have to stay after school for rehearsal every day from 3:00 to 7:00, and I'll also need a ride on weekends." God help any Chinese kid who tried that one.
Don't get me wrong: It's not that Chinese parents don't care about their children. Just the opposite. They would give up anything for their children. It's just an entirely different parenting model.
Here's a story in favor of coercion, Chinese-style. Lulu was about 7, still playing two instruments, and working on a piano piece called "The Little White Donkey" by the French composer Jacques Ibert. The piece is really cute—you can just imagine a little donkey ambling along a country road with its master—but it's also incredibly difficult for young players because the two hands have to keep schizophrenically different rhythms.
Lulu couldn't do it. We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart. Finally, the day before her lesson, Lulu announced in exasperation that she was giving up and stomped off.
"Get back to the piano now," I ordered.
"You can't make me."
"Oh yes, I can."
Back at the piano, Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu's dollhouse to the car and told her I'd donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn't have "The Little White Donkey" perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, "I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?" I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn't do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.
Jed took me aside. He told me to stop insulting Lulu—which I wasn't even doing, I was just motivating her—and that he didn't think threatening Lulu was helpful. Also, he said, maybe Lulu really just couldn't do the technique—perhaps she didn't have the coordination yet—had I considered that possibility?
"You just don't believe in her," I accused.
"That's ridiculous," Jed said scornfully. "Of course I do."
"Sophia could play the piece when she was this age."
"But Lulu and Sophia are different people," Jed pointed out.
"Oh no, not this," I said, rolling my eyes. "Everyone is special in their special own way," I mimicked sarcastically. "Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don't worry, you don't have to lift a finger. I'm willing to put in as long as it takes, and I'm happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games."
I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn't let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress, and even I began to have doubts.
Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came together—her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thing—just like that.
Lulu realized it the same time I did. I held my breath. She tried it tentatively again. Then she played it more confidently and faster, and still the rhythm held. A moment later, she was beaming.
"Mommy, look—it's easy!" After that, she wanted to play the piece over and over and wouldn't leave the piano. That night, she came to sleep in my bed, and we snuggled and hugged, cracking each other up. When she performed "The Little White Donkey" at a recital a few weeks later, parents came up to me and said, "What a perfect piece for Lulu—it's so spunky and soher."
Even Jed gave me credit for that one. Western parents worry a lot about their children's self-esteem. But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child's self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there's nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn't.
There are all these new books out there portraying Asian mothers as scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids' true interests. For their part, many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly. I think it's a misunderstanding on both sides. All decent parents want to do what's best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that.
Western parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they're capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.—Amy Chua is a professor at Yale Law School and author of "Day of Empire" and "World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability." This essay is excerpted from "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Amy Chua, to be published Tuesday by the Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © 2011 by Amy Chua.
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