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Stars twinkle only in western skies!

The state of Madhya Pradesh is on such a determined “anti-western” drive, that they’ve decided to remove nursery rhymes like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “Baa Baa Black Sheep” from the text books of primary schools.

Funnily, it’s not been explained what is implicitly western in these rhymes other than the fact that they’re in English.

Over at Reuters’ Oddly Enough, the state Education Minister is being quoted as saying:

We want our children to have value education in local color

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How terrorists win

Bangalore, the city my parents live in, was shocked on the 28th of this month. A man brandishing an assault rifle fired indiscriminately on scientists attending a conference at the J.N. Tata Auditorium, across the road from the Indian Institute of Science(IISc). One scientist was killed and at least three others injured. Later investigations also found that grenades were hurled too, but luckily one didn’t have its pin removed and the other didn’t explode. Obviously the number of people killed/injured would have been more if either or both of them exploded.

This is the first time that something like this has happened in Bangalore. Two days later, it still isn’t clear what was the motivation behind the attack, nor which group, if any, was responsible for it. The police only today have released a sketch of the man based on accounts from some of the injured. There is still some uncertainty about whether there were more than one attacker and how he/they made their escape. On the day of the attack it was reported that he/they got away in a white Ambassador car. Now it appears that there may not have been any car involved.

In the aftermath of that incident, various threats have been received apparently by fax, threatening celebrations at hotels on New Year’s Eve, the Chief Minister’s residence and even a mediocre college named Oxford College (completely unrelated to the UK University.) Obviously the police have to take such threats seriously and investigate but what silly is when people start locking themselves in their homes refusing to go out because they are scared. Noises are made about how the security at the IISc is terrible. I was really happy to see Dr. Balram, the director of the IISc, come on national TV this morning and say that the very purpose of an academic institution will be defeated if it is turned into a fortress. He did agree that perhaps institutes need to be more alert, but did not think that a lockdown is needed.

Which brings me to the point I want to make. How do terrorists win? Killing a random individual is hardly going to make a difference to a nation. They win when they succeed in terrorising people. If a bomb is exploded in a market before a busy festival season and people stop celebrating or shopping, they win. When people are afraid to go on living their normal lives, they win. Sure, we need to worry a little more and be a little more careful, but locking ourselves up doesn’t work. Terrorists shouldn’t be given that satisfaction.

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Taking a few steps backward

It’s bad enough that non-issues are used for publicity and even taken to court, now even Ministers of the Union Government decide they should tell us about sexual mores!

The whole Khusboo incident (read a bit about it at Kate’s blog) has been blown so hugely out of proportion its not funny! And yesterday, Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss, the minister for Health, whose department runs an anti-AIDS programme has been quoted as saying pre-marital sex is not ok.

…it is wrong to say that pre-marital sex is alright.

I’m not sure if he was voicing a purely personal opinion or spoke for the Government, or for his party. In any case, it boggles my mind.

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The World’s Largest Democracy

That’s India, that is. My country!!

National elections just completed on May 10th and the results were counted and tabulated on May 13th and declared later that afternoon. What’s that you say? So quickly? Of course! Because the world’s largest democracy was also the first country in the world to have a fully electronic election!! No confusing paper ballots, no hanging chad, nothing. Walk up to your local electoral booth and push a button corresponding to the candidate you want to vote for. Et voila, its all done. (Yes, there are disadvantages, but this is not the crux of my post anyway.)

And, in a suprise to many, incumbent government and world at large, the coalition that had governed India for the last 5 years was voted out! The NDA led by the BJP lost quite a few seats in Parliament despite gains in some states (Karnataka for example.) At the same time, the much reviled (in recent times) Congress party was resurgent, winning many more seats than were predicted.

In all likelihood, the new government will be formed by the Congress party and it’s allies. And the new Prime Minister of India will be the Italian-born widow of a former PM. There are many things about Mrs. Sonia Gandhi that would move her down in the list of potential Prime Ministerial candidates. But for some odd reason, the so called urban educated elite of India seem to be obsessed with her being “non-Indian.” Conspiracy theories of her being nothing more than a spy for Western powers have long been bandied. And more disgustingly, things such as “We don’t want a ‘gora’ (fair skinned westerner) to rule over us” are being said. Strange then that while the educated, literate and well read population of India has an irrational hatred for her, the rural, poor and uneducated have voted her resoundingly into power.

There are those that would say that the anti-incumbency factor plays a role in the BJP losing power. True. I will not disagree. There are those that say that people voted in the Congress and not Mrs. Gandhi. I laugh. These same people will say you should vote for the BJP because it has Mr. A.B. Vajpayee as it’s leader. Yet they think the Congress will not and should not be given the same consideration. Since before the election, it has been clear that Mrs. Gandhi has been the candidate for the post of PM as far as the Congress was concerned. Was there any doubt about it?? Can anyone honestly say they voted for the Congress oblivious of the fact that they would install Mrs. Gandhi once in power?

Don’t mistake me, I am not supportive of either the Congress party or Mrs. Gandhi. I detest the idea of her being my country’s PM. But, it’s not because she’s not Indian-born. She is politically naive, she cannot hold her own in even the simplest of interviews (she comes to every press conference with prepared statements) and she is surrounded by a coeterie of less-than-desirable elements and of suspect motives. The plain fact is that she is the leader of the Congress only because she bears that magical name. Because she was married into that almost holy clan. She had a mother-in-law and a husband who were former PMs. Not to mention the husband’s maternal grandfather who was the first and longest serving PM of India. Who says India doesn’t have a monarchy? 😉 And yet, at the same time, one can understand the reasons for the party to insist on having one from the Nehru-Gandhi clan to lead. The millions of rural and urban illiterate can’t really be expected to be up to date with the latest political trends. But they still need to put their trust in someone and vote that someone into power. And there’s where the magic of the Gandhi name comes in.

Neither the Congress nor the BJP have a clear majority in Parliament and that has led to speculation that a government will be formed with tie ups to other parties such as the CPI(M) or other regional parties like the RJD or BSP. This has also led to people assuming that the government will be unstable, or will lean towards pro-labour, leftist policies since communist parties will be part of its mix. Consequently, the markets have had their highest ever fall in recent times and many foreign investors seem to be pulling out of India in anticipation of the coming “instability.”

There’s probably a lot more to say… and I’m still not sure why I wrote all of this here, but I needed an outlet for my thoughts. I promise, no more politics for a while!! 😉

Mera Bharat Mahan! (My India is Great!)

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Fog of War

I don’t know how many of you have heard of Fog of War, the documentary about Robert McNamara, but here‘s an interesting link to see.

For those not in the know, Robert McNamara was the US Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations (read Vietnam war) and subsequently held the post of President of the World Bank from 1968 to 1981.

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*sigh*

With all the random wandering on the internet I do, I chanced upon “Baghdad Burning.”

This is the blog of a young woman from Baghdad. Extremely well written, she talks about everything, from her life, to the current situation, to her mixed feelings towards American troops, to the happenings in Falujah, to conversations with her younger brother.

Living in the US, I see the whole Iraq mess only from the perspective of how the “Lefist Liberals” and the “Right wing Conservatives” portray it. The Liberals use it to show how bad the Bush administration is and the Conservatives want to tell the world that they are bringing freedom and democracy to everyone. (I think they believe they invented those concepts.)

Reading her blog helped me put a human face to what’s happening in Iraq. It’s not about whether the war was a good or a bad choice, it’s not about how many American troops are dying (although that is important in its own right), it’s not about WMDs (was it ever?) and it’s certainly not about Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

I’m sad now. I’m putting a link to Baghdad Burning in my blog roll. I intend to read it often. I wish all the pols and people that are so polarised over the Iraq issue read it too. Turn off Fox, turn off CNN, throw away your NYT and Washington Post. Listen to an ordinary Iraqi. Please.

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Someone on flickr uploaded this picture:

It’s a mosaic image of all the soldiers that have died in Iraq (some faces are repeated since the mosaic dimensions are larger than the number of those killed.)

I followed the link through to the original blog post it came from.

Reading the comments on that post made me wonder about the extremes, right and left. Some of the points the right made seemed to make sense. But there were also a generous helping of the maddening kind that refused to listen to your point or that just plain annoyed you with their stubborn rhetoric and bluster.

It saddens me to see otherwise intelligent people being so polarised over such issues. America is not alone, over the last few years, intolerance and the conservative right have grown in India. For all you know, this year a fundamentalist Hindu party will win a majority in the Indian Parliament (Yes it’s election year in India too). This party, the BJP, has ruled India for the last 5 years or thereabouts but have been kept moderate in their actions by the fact that they did not have a clear majority and so had to appease minor and more liberal parties (who could help the opposition party vote them out with a no confidence motion.)

I may be paranoid, but I fear the day that the BJP is allowed to implement it’s religious right policies as governance in India. I have seen it first hand in the state of Gujarat (which is ruled by the BJP) when I lived there for two years. For months, communal riots were the norm. I have seen cars being torched, property destroyed, and yes, people killed. The horror stories that I encountered in the media from those months still make me shake with fear and anger.

One single mad act by a group of Muslims led to months of carnage by Hindus egged on indirectly by the inaction of the Govt. or in some cases by more direct ‘help.’ Even today, a complete investigation into the actual event that sparked things off and the subsequent rioting, looting and killing has not produced anything of consequence.

But I digress from the point I wanted to make with this post. Why do people follow ideaologies blindly? Many of those killing today, whether they’re Al Qaeda, VHP, Hamas, or any of a number of groups do so in the name of religion. And yet, every one of those religions usually has a respect for human life as one of its tenets. (Of course, fundamentalist Hindu websites and rightwing Christian websites will point out verses from the Q’uran that encourage/condone violence or repressive behaviour, but I could pull out equivalent verses from the Bible and any of a number of Hindu religious texts.) So what makes (or made) the IRA go out and bomb Protestants? What makes the various Imams and Maulanas in mosques in Iran, Iraq and in India spew venom against any non-Muslim? Why do the various spokespeople for the RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal thunder about the glory of a purely Hindu India? Why do Americans rally against the removal of “under God” from their Pledge of Allegiance or against evolution being taught in a science class?

Are we all so insecure? Do we have to retreat insularily into our own ‘safe’ cultures when the least threat raises its head? Why is xenophobia or a fear of that which is different so common in the world today?

I don’t have any of those answers. They are difficult questions. But maybe we need to think about the answers?

I’ve rambled again, I tend to write as I think and I guess it might be hard for people to follow this train of thought, but I assume some have, so I’d appreciate comments on this post please!

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Marriage in the US

Found this really funny comic strip on Salon

You may need to watch an advertisment for 10 seconds or thereabouts if you don’t have a subscription. But trust me, the comic is worth it!