Friday, May 25, 2007

A Woman's Burden !

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved Lybrel, the first continuous use drug product for prevention of pregnancy. One side effect of the drug is that it eliminates a woman’s regular menstrual cycle. Like other available oral contraceptives, Lybrel is effective for prevention of pregnancy when used as directed. The risks of using this pill are similar to the risks of other conventional oral contraceptives and include an increased risk of blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes. The labeling also carries a warning that cigarette smoking increases the risk of serious cardiovascular side effects from the use of combination estrogen and progestin-containing contraceptives.

When I read of research findings like this that seem to guarantee some results but with plenty of side effects to go with it , I wonder at the fact that so little options are available for men contraception and so little research goes into it. when we think about contraceptive availability this way and what contraceptive is available to men, the answer is that only three purely male methods exist - withdrawal, the condom, and vasectomy (male sterilization).

This contrasts with the list for women- the diaphragm, the sponge, IUDs, the pill, cervical caps, "morning after" pills, Norplant, Depo Provera, natural methods, ovulation detectors, the female condom, foams, jellies, suppositories, sterilization, and more. From the portfolio of product available for women , it would appear that society is selling the message to women that birth control and contraception are fundamentally womens' issues and the market is out there. Further, of the three male methods withdrawal has low effectiveness, the condom faces psychological resistance and a 3-15% failure rate, and vasectomy is not reliably reversible, and it seems inevitable that men should be left alone in assigning responsibility for birth control. One common argument against providing a male contraceptive supermarket is that there is little expressed demand among the men of our society

Having read this far, it would seem that society has put an inequitable burden on women and this seems to be based on the premise that since it is women who get pregnant it is their look out to take steps to ensure and prevent pregnancy. Men who are at the fore front of research, and science have found it natural to invest their time, money and energy in ways to prevent women from getting pregnant , while promoting negligible research in male contraception.

In some ways , it is good that women have tools at hand that can prevent pregnancy for the burden of an unwanted pregnancy is a heavy one to bear and that too if one has to bear that burden alone, especially in conservative societies like India. But these technologies do not come cheap, either in economic terms or in terms of their linkages with potentially damaging health consequences. Even so, for those who can afford them , they have that limited use , that they do protect one from unexpected and unplanned pregnancies.

What is inequitable however is that although condoms are cheap and have little side effects , they are often not the preferred tool for temporary birth control. Other invasive tools that women need to use are the preferred ones, even if they are much more expensive. Condoms might be cheap but they interfere with the “pleasure” of the sexual act and hence are largely not in vogue. As far as permanent methods are concerned . Vasectomy , especially the modern , no scalpel vasectomy(NSV) is a hassle free out patient procedure , but because it supposedly interferes with men's virility, it is not popular and their association with Sanjay Gandhi and his coercive methods have made them an even bigger object of loathing. So tubectomy , a comparatively more complicated procedure which is invasive is used , even though it requires usually at least a day of hospitalization and some more days of rest is the one routinely suggested to women even as the man is standing by.

The cafeteria approach to family planning and birth control so popular in government programs has a bouquet of products for a woman to choose from and a few nuggets for the man and even they are cursorily explained and promoted. Clearly the research, the range of products, the marketing and the promoting of the birth control motifs make it abundantly clear that the balance is unevenly tilted against women who alone seem to have the responsibility to ensure that they do not get pregnant.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Scarred Orphans of Today

Caring for orphans has been a time honored work of the voluntary sector, especially religious institutions. The Christian church itself runs scores of children's' homes and orphanages in the country. Orphans brought up in these institutions have been brought up to live , fruitful , productive lives. But a new strain of orphans is emerging that may challenge all the established paradigms and processes of orphan care.

The ministry of health and family welfare says that 1,67,078 cases of AIDS have been reported from 1986 to March 31st this year. However this is considered to be an estimate on the lower side as probably only about 10 percent of the infected are aware of their status. Many of the children born to these HIV positive people are themselves infected and at some point many of them become orphans as one or more of their parents possibly are chronically sick or die. In what ways are India's AIDS orphans challenging the traditional norms of orphan care ? Well for one , firstly consider the sheer numbers. India today is home to the largest number of AIDS orphans in the world.

The odds against AIDS-orphaned children are staggering. These children are vulnerable to a number of risks ranging from social exclusion and economic deprivation to illiteracy, malnutrition and exploitation. They are also at increased risk of contracting sexually-transmitted diseases, abuse and drug use, with many young girls turning to prostitution in order to survive. AIDS orphans are often shunned by their communities; many are denied property rights and rights to inheritance. Those who cannot be taken in by their relatives end up living on the streets.

With numbers such as these , typical responses will not work. An AIDS orphan apart from being an orphan has all the attendant disadvantages described above and then is at the receiving end of discrimination in society for no fault of his own. Now orphan children can be either simply affected or infected as well , in which case , they will need additional skills in coping and self care. The knee jerk response of society to pack these children into orphanages will not work because of two reasons- a typical child care worker often will not have the skills to handle children whom will need this level of intense care and support. Secondly we will not have enough institutions to admit all of these children and then maintain these as the cost of that will be huge. This will necessitate some form of prioritization regarding who goes into institutions and what happens to those who don't get in. now in India , while the institutionalization set up is well established and the adoption mechanism is also well established there is nothing in between these two options.

With orphanages and institutions untenable for such large numbers of children and adoption too no t viable for legal or social reasons(for instance in India , as of now only Hindus can legally adopt), foster care , which is widely used in else where but rarely practiced in India is worth exploring and trying. Unlike adoption , which is irrevocable and permanent, in foster care , a child goes and stays with another family which wants him and cares for him, but stays in touch with his natural family and the stay for foster care is temporary and for a fixed number of years. With many of the AIDS orphans staying in single parent households headed possibly by grand parents or a widowed mother , the emotional bonds in such families is strong even though economic constraints often make it difficult or impossible for the child to be given the care, support and education that one needs.

However, what will delay or hinder the foster parent concept idea from taking root in India apart from cultural prejudices and stigma is the absence of a legal framework. With child protection increasingly becoming an issue and child abuse now a proven fact even in a supposedly conservative society like India, some guidelines are a must. However , with all the red tape associated with law making and policy formulation in India – foster care is an idea whose time has surely come.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Migrants: Outsiders Forever

Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh recently got elected to the Rajya Sabha from Assam. He ostensibly lives “ordinarily” in Gauhati where his landlady is the widow of Mr. Hiteshwar Saikia , the former Assam Chief Minister , who first invited him to to contest the Rajya Sabha elections from Assam. He has been elected from there for a fourth straight term, although , he alone knows how many days he has actually spent in Assam In his declaration to the secretary of the Assam Legislative Assembly , the Prime Minister has declared ownership of two houses – one in Chandigarh and another in Delhi. Even so , the people of Assam supposedly consider him on of their own.
This kind of kinship has been denied though to poor migrant workers from North India , who actually live an work there with the ULFA militants again targeting them. After a series of bloody massacres in January , the ULFA has has targeted the Hindi speaking people across the state and the victims are feeling terrorized in the only place they call home. NDTV quotes the Assam labor minister, Prithibi Majhi as saying ''These people have not seen Bihar or any other place. They were born here, brought up here, married here and they are running their family. Everything is here,'' But for the ULFA, they will remain outsiders. The banned militant outfit has killed nine migrant workers in two days, triggering panic in the Hindi-speaking community.

Else where in the country , seeking prominence for the 'son of the soils' in recruitments in Maharashtra, activists of Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena stormed into an examination center of Railway Recruitment Board, Western Railway in Pune and beat up the candidates from north Indian states and tore their answer sheets, disrupting the ongoing test. Once again, the ire was against candidates from North Indian States, the hapless poor migrant , seeking to better their lives through legitimate means.

In a couple of months, we shall have our annual ritual of the independence day celebration an this year shall mark its 60th anniversary. The song of the season shall be Sare Jahan se Accha, Hindustan Hamara”. But in 60 years of political independence, how much of the narrow domestic walls that separate and divide us have we torn down? Hardly any.. When we treat people different from us in terms of language, ethnicity, religion in a manner that causes them to feel alienated , unwanted and threatened in their own country when some one can come and kick you out of your home and hearth just because you look different from the rest , where the migrant is always the outsider even after settling and living some where for generations, where vandals come and assault examination candidates who come from a particular part of the country , what kind of a nationhood have we achieved?
Typically as we move around the country, we see two kinds of migrants in the country. The first kind is sort of invisible but whose tentacles are every where. They often control the trade, commerce and through that the economy of the states and possibly own significant amounts of property. And though most people know who they are and what they do and love to hate them, they are not easy to dislodge. As I said, their tentacles are every where and they are wealthy and well connected.. So we curse them in private using the most pejorative of words and then go out into the streets and hit the other kind of migrant.

The other kind of migrant is usually one who is living in abject poverty or trying hard to ensure that he doesn't slip through the net and fall there. Often he is living on a subsistence economy himself but contributing disproportionately more. Often he is doing jobs that many of the so called locals would disdain to do. He doesn't have palatial homes and personal security to protect his person. When passions are ignited and anger has to be ventilated, his house is handy for arson , his family available for assault, battery and rape. He is the quintessential migrant and though from cradle to grave he may have lived in only one place , he is forever the outsider at the gate.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Professionals: Today’s Feudal Lords

When the eminent cardiac surgeon, Dr. Naresh Trehan was terminated from his institution, the Escorts Heart Institute in New Delhi, few people had the time or the inclination to study the merits of the case. No one was bothered to check whether or not Dr Trehan had a conflict of interest with Escorts. With his own project Medicity coming up in Gurgaon and this consuming a lot of his time and energy, it is plausible that the management did have a case. Instead, the newspapers were full of pictures of patients beseeching him to operate on their loved ones and testimonials from those whose life he had saved. Every one ignored the fact that the issue under discussion by the management was not his undoubted professional caliber but his alleged preoccupation with his own project to the detriment of his employers.

In a culture that is still to shed its feudalism , skilled professionals are the new feudal lords who command despotic respect because their skills and abilities are in short supply and most people have no where to go. In a perverse twist to history, in the old days, trade unionism was born to protect the interest of workers from the predatory gaze of an exploitative management. But today, the knowledge worker for that is what a professional is after all is the master of all he surveys as managements cringe and duck to protect themselves from their malevolent gaze.
In many ways, the evolution of the worker into a knowledge worker has rendered the trade union movement toothless. Trade union was all about sticking together and collective bargaining in the true socialist spirit. But who wants trade unions to hand down a diluted package when one can negotiate so much better on their own? As Dr. Trehan's example puts it so well, one can literally have one's cake and eat it too, if one is a smooth operator.

Whether it is a luminary like Dr. Trehan or the wet behind the year’s trainee, the professional knowledge worker is king. Even in a country of India’s size, skilled professionals are in short supply and attrition is high as people hop around from pillar to post seeking advancement and that elusive elixir of fulfillment. So attrition rates are high and HR executives in most companies where the main capital worker have their task cut out for them – keep attrition rates low by a variety of inventive carrots and sticks and buy some temporary loyalty.

While corporate social responsibility is slowly taking off in India, whether as a tokenism or for real, the employees there, fed and pampered are mostly mercenary with a concern for the upward mobility of only themselves. The old trade unionists were coarse, aggressive and often unreasonably rigid, but they had one thing going for them….. Trade unionists in theory and largely in practice had the larger workers’ movement in their sights as they sat in dharnas and agitations. Today’s lap toting , frequent flyer card clutching worker has usually one worker in his radar as he networks and has pow wows – his own welfare, no any one else’s.

Yet, for those who believe India will catapult itself from poverty to prosperity on the strength of it’s ``knowledge'' industries, here's a sobering statistic: three-fourths of Indian workers, or 300 million people, don't have high-school diplomas. India's educated elite is too small, and its purchasing power too limited, to lift the broader economy. What can really make India prosperous is something that will boost the incomes of workers who are stuck in low-productivity occupations -- farmhands and housemaids -- that pay the national average of $500 a year, or less.

The services sector, and in particular the knowledge-based industries, is unlikely to provide opportunities to the poorly educated sections of our society,'' say Sanjay Jain and Uday Bhansali of the consulting firm Accenture India in a study titled "Making Indian Manufacturing Globally Competitive.'' But then, for knowledge workers, even non IT ones like me, the welfare of my country comes last, always and every time. My own ease, comfort and safety comes first, always and every time." I am today’s feudal lord, the professional, the knowledge worker.

Guru Bhai's Sorry Ethics

There was a time when people avoided any film that enjoyed exemption from entertainment tax, the rule of thumb being that if the government deigned to overlook entertainment tax from a film, then for certain, that film was not worth spending money on as it going to be boring and preachy. But this much was certain, that though usually the films so exempted from tax were often dry and pedantic in their presentation, at its core they had a message and an ideal that they tried to convey.

They consciously avoided the song and dance and running around trees kind of scenes because they detracted from the gravitas that the director often wanted conveyed. At the end of the day, the films exempted from entertainment tax, even if they did not go on to win the national awards were fine films. Of hand, I can recall two, Shyam Benegal’s Bhumika and Manthan. I do no remember the story of Bhumika much except that it was based of the life of a Gujarati stage actress but Manthan was based on the origins of the milk cooperative movement and though not a pot boiler in any sense of the term, it was a good film with a lot of its lessons still relevant today.

But when films Mani Ratnam’s Guru get exemption (as happened in Uttar Pradesh), one has to probe hard to seek a reason. Of course one knows about the political angle between the lead actor’s family and the then government as well as the connection to the industrial patriarch whose biopic, the film is without saying so. But although the film has the flourish that one would expect from Mani Ratnam and an equally enchanting music from. A.R. Rehman, the ethics the film promotes could do with out the additional prop in the form of cheaper tickets. For it is tantamount to the state endorsing a kind of life that is any way flourishing in Uttar Pradesh, with or without state patronage.

Women have typically served to bring nothing more than a touch of glamour to a Bollywood film. In this film the protagonist, Guru Bhai crowns the commoditization of women by marrying his wife solely because her father was rich and he could use the dowry that he would get as a start up capital for his first business. In a day and age when dowry is illegal in the eyes of the law and there is a movement that is gathering momentum to challenge its social and cultural roots, the tax exempted film goes ahead and tells one and all, the practical uses to which dowry money could be put, the last thing a feudal state like Uttar Pradesh needs.

The principles of entrepreneurship that are brought out in the film are that the road to riches , success and power are paved with generous doses of bribes, muscle power and black mail marinated in a brew of deadly ruthlessness. Laws can be broken with impunity by invoking Gandhi and by buttressing the fact that Guru Bhai’s wealth is shared not just by him and his wife who are the promoters but by lakhs of two bit share holders who have hit pay dirt. Mean while to enhance shareholder value, fraud, manipulation, coercion, insider trading are all taking place without as much as a by your leave.

Typically Hindi movies end with a good versus evil sort of climax with good winning, so that people can go home happy. But in Guru, the definition of good itself has got distorted. The victory of good in the movie is that of Guru Bhai, felled by a stroke and now recovered addressing a stadium full of people about heady things like being big and bigger and daring and about how life has no means that matter, only ends that count. And the vulture like glitter that Guru bhai accumulates over the years tells only one tale – that money and the greed and grit to make more of it by fair means or foul, is the one thing that matters. Now , is this the ethic that we so value , that we want to nurture it by removing entertainment tax and making available cheap tickets, so that more people gravitate towards lucre and wealth….. in the manner that Guru Bhai amasses it? if that is consistent with our national ethos of Satyam Eva Jayate, then it is very disturbing indeed.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Organized Crime: The Looming Shadow in our lives

For several years, my mother and I had a joint bank account with her as the first account holder but with me doing the actual operating of the account. A few months ago, we shifted our rented accommodation and I went across to the bank to inform them of the changes. It was then that I discovered how the world is changing and how complicated even every day transactions are becoming.

The bank told me that as required by the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, it was now was required to abide by Know Your Customer norms and have us a sheaf of forms and paper work to fill that would help the bank “know” us, though we had been its customers for years. While going through the forms, I discovered the knots and tangles. The bank required proof of identity and proof of address and my 77 old mothers had none. She wasn’t a tax payer, so no PAN Card. She didn’t drive so no drivers’ license. She doesn’t go abroad, so no passport. She doesn’t draw food grains from the Public Distribution System, so, no ration card.

Because she did vote, she had a Voter’s ID which was a proof of identity but then since we had just moved house, the address had changed. There was no hope of changing the address ever, as the other options offered by the bank as proof of address such as a phone bill or an electricity bill or a lease deed didn’t work for my mother. In spite of the bank staff knowing all this, they could not do much as they were limited by Reserve Bank of India mandated regulations and till date the address remains unchanged. It is then that as a common citizen that I sat down and cursed the Harshad Mehtas and Ketan Parekhs of the world whose actions have brought such misery into our lives.

Then the other day, my wife’s pre paid mobile connection blinked out. She could not make any calls but only receive them. A call to the customer care centre revealed that the telecom company had introduced KYC norms under a directive from the Home Ministry and once again the familiar bunch of papers had to be dug out and presented. Once again there was nothing to do but clench our teeth and curse the terrorists who use SIM cards to detonate bombs and use disposable mobiles to communicate among themselves and in the process make life so difficult for every one else. And you run into KYC in all kinds of unexpected situations. The other day I purchased a lap top and paid for it by credit card. Before processing it, the shop wanted to see proof of identity and address. The back ground – rising numbers of credit card frauds.

There was a time when all you needed to do to open a bank account was to walk into the bank and ask. The bank would typically ask for an introduction from an existing account holder and some times not even that. These days, you need to produce all these papers as proof and in a bewildering maze; they are all connected to each other. A telephone bill serves as a proof of address but to apply for a phone, you need some other proof of address, possibly a lease deed for the house you live in. Now it used to be that if you wanted to rent a house in Delhi, you contacted the neighborhood property dealer or scanned the newspaper classifieds. You met the house owner and both of you liked each other and the rent was acceptable, you moved in. But now the police recommend prior verification of tenants and their antecedents. Since often if some thing untoward happens and the tenants scoot, the police go after the house owners go after them, many do not wish to take chances.

Most of us grew up thinking and still think that the world of dons and Bhais and organized crime is some kind of a distant phenomena and the closest encounter we have with them is on the Bollywood screen and the television screen. That is unfortunately not the case! Every time we enter into some kind of a transaction – buy a car or a house or some other high value item or even some thing as simple as a gas or phone connection, we need to produce proof of who we are and where we live , making the simplest things of life cumbersome and complicated. And that is where we the common man has been felled by the dons of organized crime whom we never see but whose tentacles have pervaded the smallest details of our every day life.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

India's Schoolgirls: Our unlamented children

The ISC/ICSE examination results have been just announced and the results show that girls have done much better than the boys. In a month or so, the CBSE results will be declared and the likelihood is that the same trends will be observed there too. At least, such has been the case for the last many years that I have been tracking them.

This is an interesting social phenomenon for every one in India knows that boys are in general the privileged class and gender. Girls are unlikely to be getting special opportunities in terms of coaching, tuitions and personalized attention at the cost of their male siblings. On the contrary , in most homes , grown up girls of the age that appear in class X and XII examinations are typically expected to help out with domestic chores in the home and studies are some thing they would need to make time for after fulfilling these duties.

Data from several studies show that 7 out of 10 Indian women are anemic; their priority in the household budget for food, clothing, health care and practically every thing is rock bottom. Besides this, the generally unsafe social environment in our towns ad villages also ensure that girls have far less mobility – be it to attend school, attend tuitions or simply study together with friends. In spite of battling limitations on innumerable fronts, how girls can mange to do better in these board examinations year after year is a mystery to me. Is it that girls are more aware of the privilege and opportunity for an education that has come their way and make the best of it?

In contrast, boys are a favored lot. Their examinations are the progress they make in their preparation for it are tracked at home by parents as meticulously as the BSE Sensex. Their food, sleep, play and recreation all get monitored and regulated. Tutors – one or many as the need may be are appointed. No money is spared for boys to enroll in coaching classes for IIT or medicine or whatever. Boys have a lot more opportunity to study, as they are not usually expected to help out in house hold work and they are not house bound the way the girls are often forced to be which means that they have a lot more flexibility with what they do with their time.

Though girls are consistently doing better academically, society has not taken much note of it. The prospects available to them to match their academic feats are not proportionate. Decades ago, girls were educated only to increase their worth in the marriage market. We may have moved on from there today as a country but not too many doors have opened and we have still not arrived any where yet in utilizing for the nation’s good, all these bright girls that the examination system is telling us exist. This is indeed a pity. Every one knows the situation in which most girls pursue their education in India, with out frills and trappings. If in spite of all this, the results are so tilted in favor of the girls, then by not providing those with the right environment for them to nurture their gifts; we as a nation are losing out.

On the contrary, we are taking retrogressive steps. For instance, look at the Karnataka government’s decision to ban night shifts for women (since withdrawn under pressure). In a really perverse act, instead of trying to clean up the security situation in the state, they say that that women should be back home by so and so time, much like a college hostel warden. Or the recent report published in the CNN-IBN web site, which says that the Army after an internal study has suggested to the Defense Ministry that the policy to offer short service commissions or extended short service commissions to women should be revisited as women do not fit into the overall masculine culture of the army and that their role should remain restricted to those of doctors and nurses. Clearly the picture on the wall is clear. India might produce a Kalpana Chawla or a Indira Nooyi here and there once in a while but for the rest of the time , India’s bright girls will remain dry statistic in the CBSE filing cabinets and computers. And that is a pity and a gross injustice

A Visa for Dr. Amte

Some time back, to apply for the Schengen visa to enter Europe, I was told that the German Embassy wanted a copy of my income tax returns for the last three years, bank statements for the last 6 months, evidence of a credit card apart of course from an invitation letter from my sponsors and the other usual documentation. The experience made me feel naked. Its embarrassing to show all that you have or don’t have in your bank ,when all you want to do is attend a few meetings for a couple of days, or weeks may be, and be back.

I am no noble human reformer but when the papers reported that Dr. Prakash Amte, the fairly well known son of the legendary Baba Amte who works with his wife in the tribal communities of rural Gadricholi continuing the work of Baba Amte had been denied a visa to go to the USA, I felt deeply saddened for in that gesture, I felt that the entire charity sector of which I am a part was shamed. (After media outrage and coverage he has since been granted one). The message conveyed in that decision was that living and working for money is the only valid reason and way to live. Yet barring the recently emerged blue chip international NGO(largely American or possibly European), typically the charity sector marches to a different drum

The reason for denying a visa to Dr. Amte was that he belonged to the “socially weak” segment of society meaning that he was poor and the United States government suspected that both Dr Amte and his wife were going to the USA to butter their bread and stay on in the USA if they were allowed to land. Dr Amte draws a stipend of Rs.3,000 a month, although his living expenses must also be taken care of by the Maharogi Kalyan Samiti, the leprosy charity which his father started and where the Amtes work.

When Dr Amte informed the consulate in Mumbai that he had applied for and received a visa in 2003 when his financial situation was no different, he was informed that the rules had changed since then. In unpacking that bureaucratese lies the clue that the journey that the United States government has made in the last three years which is basically the admission that the opportunity to chasing money is the only thing that the USA has to offer and hence decisions need to be made solely on the basis of money in the bank and the salary slip.

Now to be fair, there is a lot of human trafficking going on and everyone who reads the papers knows about it. But if you track that story further, you will realize very quickly that the people who are part of that circuit are usually not poor. It costs a tidy sum of money to buy off the several people involved in that chain and a man earning Rs.3, 000 will never have that capacity. A large mass of people who are part of this game are simply rich people wanting to be richer.

But to me the bigger sorrow is the lack of discernment on the part of the consulate staff and their total inability to understand the concept of calling, of why people do what they do and that it is not money all the time. Dr Amte and his wife, all these decades did not even move to Nagpur, the closest city to Gadricholi, let alone Mumbai or some other financially lucrative place and make the most of the opportunities that even a country like India offered. They stayed put in what is arguably one of the most backward parts of Maharashtra and served. And yet the Americans in what can only be called an attitude of arrogance decided that that a week long conference in the USA was just the chance that Dr. Amte was looking for to jump the coop!

If a government with supposedly Christian leanings and led by a professing Christian president has lost the ability to understand charity and service , the marks of the Christians since Christ walked the earth, and interprets it only in terms of money , wealth and prosperity , then surely it too has sold its soul somewhere in the market…

Punjab: The Fury of the Fanatics

One can only hope that the violent agitation ripping through Punjab will subside. There are uneasy precedents though. One of the earliest episodes in the Punjab insurgency was the 1978 clash between the Nirankari sect and the Akalis. The Akalis represented mainstream orthodox Sikhism and the Nirankaris represented a liberal (heretical in the eyes of the Akalis) face of the faith. The friction between the two led to the killing of Lala Jagat Narain of the Punjab Kesari group of newspapers and the subsequent polarization between the Hindus and the Sikhs. Besides this, there was politicization of religion with the Hindus siding with the Nirankaris and the Congress propping Sant Bhindaranwale who subsequently turned into a Frankensteinian monster.

This time, the Nirankaris seem to have been replaced with Dera Sacha Sauda, another quasi Sikh sect with liberal teachings and views a la the Nirankaris. Again this set, with its headquarters in Sirsa in Haryana is closer to traditional Hindu practice than orthodox Sikh concepts and ideology. Again there is political interference and it was well circulated in the media that the outgoing Congress government had struck a deal with the Dera Sacha Sauda hierarchy that in exchange for withdrawal of police cases against the Dera, they would issue an edict asking their followers, which is considerable in the Malwa area of Punjab to vote for Congress candidates. By all accounts, the Dera delivered and in a significant reverse, the traditional Akali stronghold returned the bulk of the Congress candidates who made it to the State Assembly. But now that it is the Akalis who are in power, it seems to be pay back time for the Dera for having supported the wrong party.

How far the Akalis would be interested in giving a fair deal to the Dera Sacha Sauda is a good question. The Akali movement was born, not so much as a corollary of the Nationalist movement to free the country, but to free the Gurudwaras from the clutches of the hereditary Udasin Mahants who were generally considered corrupt and feudal in their outlook. The capture of power in the gurudwaras has been historically the main objective of the Akalis, and to exercise that power, the Akalis have at different times flirted with the idea of a separate Sikh state. In fact, although it is the Khalistan movement that people remember, it is a known fact that in British India too, there was a proposal for a time to grant a separate Sikh state as much as a Muslim State.

Sikh extremism has always been a genie trapped in a bottle, tamed by its compromises and adjustments with its Hindu neighbours, but only just about. The Sikh identity is a strong yet fragile one. The history of Sikhism is trapped in the historical reality of the Mughal rulers trying to stamp it out completely, the British trying to marginalize them politically, and the Hindus trying to dilute their identity socially and culturally – sometimes blatantly so by floating forums like The Rashtriya Sikh Sangat group, which is a branch of the main Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and also known as RSS was formed in Punjab in 1986 claiming to promote Sikh-Hindu relations. Its main aim however is to attack and swallow the Sikh religion.

No one knows why the head of the Dera Sacha Sauda, Gurmeet Ram Raheem Singh living in the socio cultural mileau that he does, chose to pose wearing an attire that is associated with Guru Gobind Singh and deliberately provoke, unless he has been struck by megalomania. His newspaper Sacch Kahoonhas carried an elaborate code of conduct listed out for followers one of which is to treat elders as one would treat one’s own parents. Clearly this is an occasion when the head of the sect forgot to follow his own dictum.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Pushing Along, Pulling Along

The other day a bizarre event happened on a railway track in Bihar. An electric train was passing through the station of Buxar , when as is characteristic of the place some of the passengers who wanted to get down pulled the chain. So the passenger train slammed its brakes after plodding along for a while, it came to a stop. Now the point where it came to a stop was a point on the track where there was no live overhead electricity wires to which the train’s electric engine could connect for power. Now while such short stretches of non energized tracks are common on the network, usually the train’s inherent momentum allows it to coast over these short stretches till it comes to the next energized section. In those odd cases , where the train does stop mid way , short haul diesel engines are summoned to haul the train back to the energized segment of the track.

But remember this is no other place, this is Bihar. So when the train suddenly stops in its tracks and people realize it wont start because it cannot connect to an electricity source, hundreds of passengers get off the train and push it along the tracks for a few meters till the engine’s antennae are again able to draw on electricity from the overhead wires, at which point the passengers get back to their seats and resume their journey.

Two people were traveling for a plum job interview from Mumbai to Delhi. One took the overnight Rajdhani Express while the other guy took a morning flight. The beauty of the story was that the job went to the man who traveled to Delhi by train. The man taking the flight took off late from Mumbai because of congestion at the airport, and then as it moved to land in Delhi, there was congestion there too and after hovering over the skies for a while, finding its fuel getting exhausted, the plane went and landed in Jaipur. By the time, the airline put its hapless passengers back in Delhi; it was all over for the job seeker as the interviews were over.

These two stories tell very well, the journey of India’s tryst with technology and its lopping sided development. And so we have railway jazzy coaches and electric tracks but no assured power supply and with most of the states chronically short of power, the railways are thinking of captive power plants. We have heaps of airlines which have certainly mad flying more affordable and added more flights and destinations, but flying is no longer a pleasurable exercise that it once was

Similar is the story of highways – world class cars and great models when once we had only the Ambassador, but no corresponding roads, we now have glitzy shopping malls with world class products inside but huge traffic snarls outside as there is little in terms of parking space to speak of. Then now there is a great push towards manufacturing, e governance, telephone penetration and greater internet connectivity, but a staggering shortage of electricity that does not look will go away any time soon.

It is great to see India develop and consumers and people have options and choices that were not available or if available, then were unaffordable, perhaps even a decade ago. But just as China resolved to put its infra structural back bone in place first and then open units economy to explosive growth, perhaps India should do the same if we have to avoid these bizarre stories from above. Clearly without adequate bijli, pani and sadak, the story of muscle power hauling railway trains down the track as happened in Buxar will recur … albeit in different locations and with different themes.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Blogging -Will money shape the script?

I was pleasantly surprised when a blogging site where I blog sent me a voucher for Rs.10, 000 for my activities. Another overseas site regularly sends me a small sum in dollars into my Pay Pal account every month. The amounts perhaps aren’t a great deal though for an activity which you haven’t ventured into to get paid, the amount is still welcome. I mean, there are still lots of things you can buy for 10,000.

Although Google’ s Ad Sense model is perhaps the most well known, there are several sites on the net which do not generate their own content like say the CNN or BBC or NDTV but rather depend on a host of people who visit these sites to put up material. Since the advertisement and hits on the site are fully dependant on the quality and quantity of the matter put out by those who have registered to write for it, it probably make sense to distribute the advertisement slice with the registered subscribers. Some sites like Ibibo of course have been aggressively marketing the prize money they give out and it seems to be jacking up the numbers who blog there – at least in the short haul.

Blogging has come a long away from its evolutionary origins as merely an online diary. Projects like Global Voices have tried to capture all that is being said and recorded in blogs from around the world and have begun giving it the credibility that mainstream media channels get. Blogs and podcasts and video casts have become an effective way of expressing dissent, especially in those countries where the freedom of expression through mainstream channels is muzzled. Citizen journalism is emerging as an alternative source of content, especially that kind of content that is often not highlighted in the regular media.

But now this medium is slowly getting commercialized. Of course it can be nobody’s case that that bloggers should not be paid. It is an activity that takes effort, time and although it is unlikely that too many will make enough money to entirely live it; there are a few who do. But in a nascent medium, it is important to try and ensure that the flow of money does not render the medium trite or beholden to interests of this or that point of view. When a web site advertises that people should blog on their site and the top 100 or 200 bloggers would be awarded , it could be promoting not quality expression of creativity but commonplace traffic with writers competing with each other to be most “visited”, not necessarily the most read or discussed.

Unlike mainstream media which is self regulated through various regulatory bodies, the world of alternate media is still largely unregulated. This allows a virtual free for all in the virtual world and when governments in India and elsewhere make ham handed efforts to regulate or gag them, they are rightly opposed. However in the jungle that the blog world is today , without self regulation of some kind and money being paid out – some times injudiciously ,if one may say, there is the danger that the blog writer ‘s pen will pipe out themes that are guided not by the need to express but by rampant and unregulated commercialism and if that day comes, it will be to every one’s regret. Hopefully the day when the lure of money alone shapes’ the blogger’s script will not dawn.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Mulayam Singh's love for Higher Education

In a session that will go down in posterity, the Uttar Pradesh assembly met Wednesday just four days before its term expires to grant minority status to a university in minister Azam Khan's hometown Rampur. The last time such a thing happened was in 1957 when the house met to seek a vote of account on an interim budget of the state. Going by the grim persistence of the government in pursuing the matter of the university, it would appear that education must be a very high priority in Uttar Pradesh. The bill for setting up the university was passed by the state on May 18, 2005 following which it was sent to Governor T.V. Rajeshwar for his constitutional assent. However, the governor raised certain queries and the bill was returned to the government at least twice. Azam Khan eventually initiated fresh moves to set up the university in the private sector, for which he finally got the governor's green signal. Envisaged as a 297 acre campus on the outskirts of Rampur city, the university will have separate colleges for engineering, medicine, dentistry, law, home sciences and vocational training as well as routine degree courses.

As I said earlier, one could be pardoned for thinking that higher education must be a high priority for the Mulayam Singh government , except of course for the fact that the facts speak otherwise. One of the more news worthy items emanating about universities in the state is about the Lucknow University in the state capital, but the news from there does not have anything at all to do with the blossoming of learning. Rather it has a lot to do with a pro active Vice Chancellor , Ram Prakash Singh trying to cleanse the university which had become a den of criminals mostly owing allegiance to the ruling Samajwadi Party. The government of Mulayam Singh Yadav, instead of supporting this move to indeed make the University a den of learning rather than of crime confronted the VC for his stance which was affecting the young muscle men masquerading as student leaders, who found cheap food and lodgings in the university hostels. The beleaguered VC, badgered by the government, had to seek the protection of the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court to carry out his duties.

On the other hand, the ranking of literacy and other social indicators in Uttar Pradesh is dismal. The newly launched economic daily titled “The Mint” has brought out an article titled “Is Uttar Pradesh turning into the new Bihar?”, India’s most populous state has been faring poorly on political, social and economic indicators, even falling behind Bihar in many of them. Although for for years. Bihar has been the by word for poor and apathetic governance , the Nitish Kumar administration has even according to his opponents has worked hard to briong about a turn around.

It is often said that the road to power in Delhi passes through Lucknow and Mulayam Singh Yadav has never concelaed his prime ministerial ambitions. If such are the credentials of a future Prime Minister , predicting the country’s future needs no crystal grazing. In the knowledge economy of the twenty first century, where information , education and knowledge is power and not muscle power and military power, a Prime Minister like Mulayam Singh schooled in the wrestling pits of U.P. villages wil lead India right back to the stone age…. And that is a shuddering thought…..

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Cancer Patients: dying a thousand deaths

In spite of the advance of medical sciences in many fields , cancer is an area where in spite of a lot of progress , things haven't changed much on the ground. The patient still usually has to go through a prolonged treatment and at the end of which there is nothing called a cure in most instances. What you get is a stage of remission usually and even when you are in remission you are always looking over your shoulder to check for recurrences and in the many cases I have known , sooner or later cancer seems to catch up with you and more often than not , the prognosis progressively deteriorates.

Added to that is the burden of cost. Cancer treatment has always tended to bes expensive for several reasons – the treatment is prolonged for one , the treatment is also not available every where – typically the cheapest treatment available would be in the handful of regional cancer centers run by the government and the travel itself is fraught with costs and logistical expenses.
In spite of the fact that cancer strikes all sections of society and only perhaps lung cancer is associated with a clearly defined high risk behavior , which means that not much preventive measures can be really taken, the disease suffers from neglect. Conditions like HIV and AIDS which have got vocal activist groups taking up the cause of treatment care are able to garner funds from both the government and international philanthropic donors but cancer patients are not so lucky.

Apart from the fact that the very diagnosis of this disease spells worries for a cancer patient’s family, what hits even harder is the exorbitant amount of money charged by the pharma companies for the drugs that are crucial for a cancer patient’s survival at an advanced stage. Till recently the fact that Indian pharmaceutical companies reverse engineered many of the drugs and made them available at comparatively cheaper prices made them some what accessible.

This climate is slowly changing. The newer and more effective drugs which a patient would reach for tom try and prolong life or alleviate symptoms are also the most expensive and the changing patent laws in India more or less make them inaccessible. To cite an example , the multi national Novartis had filed a case in the Madras High Court, challenging the clause of the Indian Patent (Amendment) Act, which does not grant patents to medicines that are new forms of an existing drug or are “ever-greened” rather than being innovations. The patents office in Chennai refused to give patents to Novartis’ leukemia drug Gleevec on the grounds that it was “ever greened”, in February 2006.

Till the litigation in the Chennai patent office, many well known Indian forms were manufacturing the generic product end selling it for a fraction of the multi national's own product. However with Gleevec now having gone into litigation and the patent laws changing their color in conformity with trade laws , many firms have quietly stopped producing the drug. They do not want to invest in a contentious product without the law having been settled. This means that leukemia patients , who could have befitted from the generic versions of Gleevec, now have to purchase the hugely expensive product from Novartis or go without it..... or take the potentially explosive route of purchasing he drug by selling off home and hearth and eventually becoming bankrupt- a scenario by no means uncommon in India and in situations far less prohibitive than cancer.

Even the modified and much harsher patent laws of today which protect the interests of the producer than the consumer provide for the government to suspend the laws of patent and produce drugs generically if in the instance of a public health emergency. But in spite of the fact that cancer is one of the three top causes of death in the country , the government has so far looked the other way and not acknowledged it to be so. Although HIV and AIDS has received the attention it deserves and more there are other pressing public health needs which have not received their due attention. And mean while cancer patients and their families suffer a thousand miseries in their life time facing the burden of expenses and disease that they do.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A General's Honour

Not too long ago, Lt. Gen. JFR Jacob, the Chief of Staff in the Eastern Command HQ at Kolkata during the 1971 war was interviewed on NDTV’s “Walk the Talk” program. During his conversation with Sekhar Gupta, the anchor and Editor in Chief of Indian Express, the retired general made the startling revelation that his perception of the war was quite different from that of Field Marshal Manekshaw, the then Army Chief. General Jacob felt that taking Dhaka was the key to victory on the Eastern frontier, where the Army Chief felt that the several intermediate towns en route to Dhaka needed to be secured first. But if this was done, the march to Dhaka would have got significantly delayed.

Keeping Manekshaw in the dark, Gen. Jacob and the Corps Commander moved out a mountain brigade deployed on the China border, augmented the forces and captured Dhaka. General Jacob’s revelation was startling because folk legend around the 1971 victory has largely been surrounded around Field Marshal Manekshaw and Lt. Gen. J.S.Aurora, who accepted the surrender in Dhaka. In the same interview, Sekhar Gupta brought up the instance where both of these officers were posted in Wellington , many years earlier and a court of enquiry was ordered against Manekshaw and Gen. Jacob- then a Major was asked to give evidence against Manekshaw. Gen. Jacob explained that he had declined to give evidence for two reasons – firstly that manckshaw was his boss and giving evidence against his boss wasn’t his ethics.

General Jacob has displayed a characteristic not easily seen these days. He has shared freely that his perception of how the war was to be have been fought was substantially different from that of his boss and hind sight has proved him right and his boss wrong. Yet he bears no rancor and heartache that history has slighted him and he is content that he has done his duty as a soldier and that is all he ever wanted.

A little more than a week after the interview, Gohar Ayub Khan gave an interview to Karan Thapar on CNBC-TV18 , alluding that Manekshaw was a spy who had leaked out the 1965 war plan to the Pakistanis. Although the name in as such was not mentioned , the many clues offered suggested only one name. The Indian defense establishment rose to deny the charges and defend its iconic hero. The loudest voice to defend the nonagenarian Manekshaw who is ailing at the military hospital at Conoor was that of General Jacob who went live on TV to proclaim that Field Marshal Manekshaw is and was one of India’s tallest soldiers and that it was an abomination to listen to such a pack of lies about him.

Denied of the credit that was his due,General Jacob could have chosen this moment to savor this moment when Manekshaw’s name was being dragged though the mud. At the least , he could have held his peace and let Gohar Ayub do his talking. Jacob himself is in his eighties and no one would have noticed or commented if he had kept his counsel to himself. But the values that were there decades ago in Wellington had not dried up with age and Gen. Jacob’s voice was the loudest in proclaiming his ex boss’s innocence , especially significant since Manekshaw himself in his old age is unable to defend himself. With such a defiant disclaimer as the one that has come from Jacob ,the accusations against Manekshaw are not likely to gain any further credibility and will gradually die down. In a time when the slightest dust is enough to indulge in mud slinging and character assassination and finish off a person’s reputation, General Jacob has conducted himself with a rare distinction. In saying that he as a soldier performed his duty and was content with that ad then coming out to defend a man who overshadowed him – unfairly it would seem, General Jacob has walked the talk of honor.

Senior Citizens:Withering Away

There is increasing publicity these days about how today, a large proportion of India's population is young and how their sheer numbers add up to be a huge number. This is of course true. But highlighted less often is another fact – that India as a nation is graying and that by the year 2026,the population of senior citizens in the country is set to double. While it was 71 million in 2001, a report prepared by the Census of India shows that it will reach 173 million in the next 19 years. While the proportion of the population in the working age group is also expected to rise,their number too will be lower than the rise in the number of elderly.

This sets the stage for host of social problems in India as most of these elderly citizens will be without any form of social security or pensions. besides as society itself undergoes a transformation in its character, the conventionally available emotional security and family care may also be disappearing. The fact that this is already happening is tacitly acknowledged when the government finds it necessary to legislate through the The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Bill 2006 Under the provisions of which, a person who was responsible for the upkeep of parents failed to take care of them, can attract punitive measures like three months imprisonment and a fine of Rs 5,000. Besides, it also provides for option to revoke the will that might have been written up by the parent at some stage in life.
Since India has always projected itself as a state where family values are strong , enduring and can match the absence of a conventional social security that the so called developed world offers. No old age homes and foster care for us and our parents we proclaim , but the reality seems to be some what different. True , our parents and grand parents may not live in the typical old age homes which in India have been typically associated with the destitute but it is possible for the senior citizens to live equally or more emotionally and financially starved lives in their own homes lonely and isolated from their children and grand children.

Some how , the situation of the elderly has not attracted the efforts of too many voluntary agencies. Till recently Helpage was the only agency of any size or significance that was involved in the welfare of the senior citizens and the numbers that they could reach were few,given the numbers involved. A recent entrant in this sphere is the Tina Ambani run Harmony Foundation. This is in sharp contrast to the huge numbers of groups working with the other vulnerable section of our population , the children. While working for children and their welfare is of course commendable, when there is little activity among the elderly who are equally vulnerable,if not more, we as a nation are sending out the message that while we care about the possibilities presented by the future, we see little meaning in and have little gratitude for the vast numbers who contributed to our past and recent history.

As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the great revolt of 1857, it is commendable that we remember great historical figures who are no more and the debt that we owe them. Now, if only we would show the same consideration for those who helped write and shape our modern history and who are still fortunately in our midst. That would be a fitting gesture of showing them value and affirmation.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Child Soldiers and Indian Insurgency

India has no dearth of separatist movement and the one thing they all love to hate is the Indian state , accusing it of all manner of state sponsored terrorism , human right abuse, rape of their women and all manner of other atrocities. It therefore is interesting that in a development reported in NDTV, self righteous underground elements in North Assam , who are supposedly fighting the Indian state so that they can safeguard and protect their own people and culture from the marauding clutches of people in mainland India are using impressionable , young children , often under the influence of drugs to fight their battles. The culprits include well known outfits like the ULFA and the NSCN as well as smaller groups like the UNLF and the PLA. According to the NDTV report , The smallest boys are placed closest to the enemy, because their leaders say they are the most fearless. And when they are not, they are given helpful doses of drugs so that they can overcome whatever inhibitions they may have.
It is detestable indeed that young children are being exposed to death , destruction and violence at such a young and impressionable age and that too by groups who are supposedly the custodians of their peoples' well being and identity. Instead of creating a climate where in these children can finish their education , have a healthy childhood and then grow up be fulfilled citizens of their home land, they are being indoctrinated to kill , hate and destroy from their earlies years. The ideologues of these groups, mostly ensconced overseas , think nothing of using small children to fight their battles , all in the name of preserving supposedly unspoilt and pristine culture which the Indian state is supposedly destroying.
The consequences for society are obviously devastating. If the child soldier does survive this spell of “army service”, with negligible education, skill and indoctrinated with hatred and venom, they are rendered unsuitable for any constructive role in society and they often take the deadly route of drugs, HIV & AIDS and death and the society of the North East is demonstrating enough of the evidence where large sections of youth show no evidence of hope or any thing constructive and are caught up in a spiral of drugs, pleasure and an existence devoid of hope.
According to Amnesty International, the human rights group which has tracked this phenomenon closely reports that Often recruited or abducted to join armies, many of these children - some younger than 10 years old - have witnessed or taken part in acts of unbelievable violence, often against their own families or communities. Such children are exposed to the worst dangers and the most horrible suffering, both psychological and physical. What is more, they are easily manipulated and encouraged to commit grievous acts, which they are often unable to comprehend. Many girl soldiers are expected to provide sexual services as well as to fight.
The Indian government an state has several aberrations and human rights violations are certainly part of them but it has never intentionally taken such a grotesque approach to soldiering and policing and it does try to maintain internal checks and balances to minimize violations where ever they do take place. In fact, the government is trying for long to come to some settlement with groups like the NSCN-IM and the ULFA , so that resolution of differences occurs amicably , quickly and the government has approached these talks in a spirit of maximum compromise. So do these atrocities on children , who are given no choice but are thrust into a particular way of life figure in their discussions ? One can only hope so and expect that pert of the political resolution that the government is trying so hard to achieve will mean that children get to know what it is to be a child before being exposed to the harsh world of adults !

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Nehru's Legacy- Is is now passe ?

Later this month , Jawaharlal Nehru's 47th death anniversary will be observed with the usual solemnity at Shanti Vana in Delhi. Most people in India have some measure of respect for the nation's first Prime Minister- Jawaharlal Nehru. Some or even many of his policies and ideological orientation seem flawed by today's understanding but very few will deny him his place as one of the founders of modern India and by any yardstick a statesman and the one who cemented our still surviving democracy.

Looking at the political churn that all our immediate neighbors seem to be going through , it seems but natural to be grateful for the fact that he lived for 17 years after independence and was the stabilizing influence in a feudal society that was hardly conversant with the niceties of Westminster style parliamentary democracy.

During his long innings in parliament , he chose to contest from Phulpur in Uttar Pradesh which hasn't been as lucky as Amethi and Rae Bareli in in the people it has sent to parliament in the post Nehru era. But History has played a cruel joke on Jawaharlal Nehru — a bandana-wearing mafia don who is accused of murder has taken his place. Everything about Atiq Ahmad is quietly sinister, down to the curl of his mustache. But his fawning followers compare him with the first Prime Minister of India.

Uttar Pradesh has come a long way in its journey in democracy. The Congress Party of Panditji is a distant number four or so in the stakes for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections which are on now. What is sad or baleful about th the whole matter is not the decline of the Congress Party but the brand of “peoples' representatives” that have now taken the place of the late Prime Minister.

The bigger joke on Nehru is not who represents Phulpur in parliament but what kind of person does and the state of the polity in Uttar Pradesh mired as it is between Bahu balis like Atiq or obscurantists like Yogi Adityanath , who don religious garb and practice a kind of politics that was abhorrent to the progressive , forward thinking and secular minded Nehru. Besides, today it finds itself caught in a vicious web of caste politics.

Nehru garnered support from all sections of society and irrespective of ideological affinities was respected by most as a statesman and a humanist.. Today the voting pattern is determined by caste equations: the Yadavs back the Samajwadi Party; the Brahmins support the Bharatiya Janata Party; and the Dalits go along with the Bahujan Samaj Party. And it is not that these parties are any more ideologically pure either.

The Samajwadi party has lost its socialist mooring, the BSP is all things to all people as it realizes that the Bahujan vote alone is not sufficient in electoral politics and the BJP is supposedly open if necessary , to prop a SP led government , to keep the Congress out of any share in the power game. Along the way , the egalitarian society that Nehru dreamed off has fragmented as society fragments along caste lines , propped up by his own Congress led government. Nehru is passe and his ideology obsolete – and no where is it more evident than his parliamentary constituency of Phulpur.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

It is back to typewriters again !

For several months now, rural areas in Maharashtra are going without power for 15-17 hours a day. Small towns go without power for seven to nine hours while major cities are suffering scheduled load shedding of between four and six hours which is unprecedented for Maharashtra.
Meanwhile, In the offices of rural Maharashtra , the type writes are out again. After years of emphasis o computerization which spurred even the babus to retool themselves and become computer savvy , the once ubiquitous type writers are back. Fortunately there are still enough government employees left who began their career as steno typists who still remember typing skills and so the offices keep functioning.

No, this is not a conscious decision by the government or any one else to take a conscious step back into the stone age. It is just a necessity born out of the severe energy crunch that has led the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra to experience unprecedented power cuts. With electricity not available for close to 18 hours in rural areas , all the modern gadgetry and technology has come to naught. Ultimately , to make things even barely functional , one had to resort to older technology which had stood the test of time in lesser times!

While India began to undergo a technological revolution in the 90s, the emphasis on adequate back office infrastructure did not unfortunately receive equal emphasis leading to a lop sided model of development which we will take years to recover from. Thus we have a robust automobile industry without adequate roads , a growing aviation industry without enough airports and runaways , a booming telecom industry without adequate spectrum and of course large scale growth of industry without commensurate increase in the ability to absorb this growth.

Since India launched economic reforms in 1991, growth has been disproportionately urban and this has created myriad stumbling blocks. on the roads , especially in rural India where potholes are ubiquitous, crashes are common and traffic is routinely brought to a standstill as dozens of trucks sit idle waiting for permission to move. Throughout the country, crowds, delays and ramshackle infrastructure are the norm. In many places outside of a handful of cities, reliable power is little more than an elusive dream. This poor infrastructure is a bottleneck that could slow down growth and has created demand-led inflationary pressures as there is no consistency of service.

India's recent expansion has been impressive. Since 2002, GDP has risen 7.5% per year or more. In 2005 and 2006, it hit 9% and 9.2% respectively. But while that is good statistics , the fact that matters of basic infrastructure like Bijli,Pani and Sarak that matter to the common man are still not dealt with is a matter of considerable concern, especially as infra structure projects have a long gestation period and problems identified today may require a decade or more to resolve and the matter may actually get more aggravated along the way.

Although the government has tried to do its bit in encouraging core investment and facilitation in the infrastructure area , the major difficulty has been that there has been little synergy in the planning processes so that infrastructure development and businesses which ride on this backbone are planned in tandem. It would be a good idea to be futuristic inso far as infrastructure needs and budgeting for them is concerned as they typically can not be fast tracked to keep pace with suddenly generated demand. Till that is done and we have holistic and synergistic planning , we will continue to be using type writers even as computers and other gadgets sit idle in the absence of electricity to power them.