Archaeological findings near Delhi Jama Masjid –another tinder box?

July 27, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Politics of heritage

(Hindu editorial July 27, 2012)

Yet again, communal politics has insidiously turned a potentially significant archaeological site into a theatre of violence and vandalism. A complacent government, oblivious to the vulnerability of historical remains in religious zones, failed to prevent it from happening. Early this month, construction of the underground metro rail network in a park in front of the Jama Masjid in Delhi revealed traces of a building and yielded artefacts datable to the Mughal period. Instead of quickly mobilising experts to scientifically evaluate the evidence, assess the archaeological potential of the area and protect the site, the authorities were irresponsibly lax. Vested groups quickly rushed in to capitalise on the situation and claimed that the unravelled structure is a part of the well known, but now lost Akbarabadi Mosque built during the rule of Shahjahan in the 17th century. This claim has to be professionally verified. Whatever be the final conclusion, there is no justification for scheming politicians and self-appointed religious leaders to forcefully occupy the site, construct a ‘mosque’ over it and prevent proper archaeological investigation. In the past, authorities have allowed religious worship in monuments such as Brihadisvara Temple in Thanjavur without impeding its conservation. But it is possible to do so and limited only to religious structures that are in use. Insisting on offering prayers at newly unearthed historical sites is not permissible and smacks of an agenda that has more to do with land grabbing than God worshipping.

Experiences at Ayodhya and Sidhpur ought to have taught the Indian state that constant vigil and proactive planning are needed to prevent lumpen elements from mindlessly destroying historical structures. Had the lessons been learnt, Delhi could have avoided the recent damage and conflict. As early as 2009, the Delhi Urban Arts Commission reviewing the redevelopment plan for Jama Masjid pointed out that the park in front is a potential archaeological site. It recommended that the open space be excavated before developing the area. The municipal corporation, which owns the property, failed to heed the advice. At least the Archaeological Survey of India, which is headquartered in Delhi, could have assessed the site before the metro rail construction commenced. This too did not happen. The ASI cannot hide behind the excuse that excavations would take time and hurried work would damage potential evidence. It is well aware that less invasive tools such as three-dimensional, multi-offset ground-penetrating radar imaging are available which could safely detect structures below ground without having to dig. It is still not too late. Delhi can quickly adopt Archaeological Prospection to identify its hidden heritage and prepare a comprehensive road map to protect them. As for the ruins at Subhas Park, no quarter must be given to the troublemakers who are hell-bent on destroying what could be a valuable piece of Delhi’s history.

Protecting heritage from hotheads (My note)

In modern India, almost all religions have been besmirched by the misplaced enthusiasm of their followers. The energy of the followers has shifted away from propounding the core values of their faiths to a vitriolic assertion of their ‘religious rights’, which they erroneously perceive to be mandated by the country’s constitution.

One such unsavoury incident has come to light recently. In course of the construction of the Metro network in a patch of land located just in front of the Jama Masjid in Delhi, the workers stumbled upon some buried ruins, apparently belonging to the Moghul era. The discovery naturally created lot of curiousity among the local people. Ideally, they should have asked for expert help to extricate the items properly so that a scientific examination could be carried out to determine their correct identity, source and the period to which they belonged.
Unfortunately, none of this has happened, so far. A gang of zealots have descended on the area, and have unilaterally declared the artifacts to be belonging to Akbarabadi Mosque built during the Shahajahan era. Having laid siege to the area, the zealots have erected a temporary mosque and started prayer there. This has surprised and saddened the people belonging to the historical community, who have assiduously tried to build a correct historical picture of the city starting from 2000BC onwards.
The area comes under the administrative control of the Delhi Municipal Corporation. They have just silently stood by, choosing not to intervene. Even the Delhi Urban Arts Commission has remained a mute spectator, advancing flimsy explanations to explain their inaction.
The country paid a heavy price when it failed to act with alacrity during the build-up to the Babri Mosque demolition. What happened then on is recent memory. The scars are yet to heal. Neither the politicians, nor the people appear to have learnt any lesson from the Babri episode.
Unearthing of any historical remain anywhere helps to connect some dots in our history book. So, such findings should fuel intellectual curiousity, not religious chauvinism. Those, who have laid siege to the excavated area, must, therefore, withdraw from the area and let the archaeological experts carry out a scientific study to ascertain the historical identity of the artifacts. That is the way a matured, multi-cultural, multi-religious society should deal with any unearthed item. The nation has a troubled history of religious conflicts. It is time we learn to stay clear of them.


The Daffodils by William Wordsworth –A summary

July 26, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 32 Comments
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by William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth was an avid observer of nature. In this poem, he describes the impression a cluster of daffodil flowers created in his mind when he saw them while taking a stroll beside a lake hemmed by some trees.

1st stanza ..

The beauty of the daffodils lifted his mind and his spirit. His imagination and his poetic instincts came to the fore. He could see himself as a cloud floating past the golden-coloured daffodils on the ground where some trees stood beside a lake. The flowers were swaying in the breeze. This gentle movement enhanced their attraction.

To read further click here

Studying history in secular, democratic India – Changing emphasis

July 22, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Studying history in modern secular India –Changing emphasis

Why should we remember or ignore dates?

Many study history — students, teachers, scholars, researchers and sociologists.

For serious scholars, dates on which an important even happened is always an important matter. This is because they do want to be exact in their findings and cnarration. They do not want any amount of guesswork or assumption to creep into their findings.

For most students and common people, such additional emphasis becomes a distraction. It robs the study of history of its charm. Having to memorize specific dates of so many important events proves to be a cumbersome job. This is why study of this exciting subject History used to repel and even horrify many junior students.

But the core advantage of study of history is somewhat different. It tells us why people fought such deadly wars, why famines took place, how the British came to colonize half of the world, how industrial revolution took place, how science advanced etc. etc.

Careful study ogf these events tell us about the mistakes human beings made in the past, how they suffered, how they came out of it. So, history is our best friend, philosopher and guide. It is our greatest teacher.

Let us study some examples.

1. World Wars of the type that ravaged the world twice in the twentieth century (WW1 and WW2) can not occur today because there is an international body today which will prevent a regional conflict from spreading.
It is the United Nations, which came into being because people learnt about the futility of wars and saw the advantages of negotiation, give-and-take and compromise between two opposing sides.

2. India had suffered a very devastating famine in 1943 known as the Bengal Famine. Lakhs of people died in the streets of Calcutta due to starvation and disease. Since then historians have examined why such tragedy took place. It is now known that there was enough food stock available at that time in other parts of India.
The famine resulted because the government did not move these stocked food grains to Bengal in time and in the required quantity. So, the famine was not caused by Nature, but by the incompetence of a few key people in the government.
Since then, the government has progressively improved the procurement, storage and transportation of grains in such a way that a drought and failure of crops in one area may cause some distress to the people, but will surely not starve them to death. Much before that, government’s relief mechanism will swing into action to reach food grains to the hungry people.

3. The study of history also tells us how weak and vulnerable a country can become if it is not united. The Musims and the British subjugated us for centuries just because India was fragmented to feuding small kingdoms.
Reading about their helplessness motivates us to remain united, accommodate each other and not fight over language, religion, and caste lines.

4. The way India was humiliatingly defeated in by the Chinese in the 1962 Indo-China War is parts of recent history. It has taught us very valuable lessons. We have learnt to be militarily strong always, guard our frontiers and never get swayed by the sweet and deceptive talk of our enemies.
This is the reason why another Chinese invasion on India looks so improbable today –the reason, India will fight back very ferociously.

A study of the way travelling changed from horse and mules to steam engine trains to motor cars, to superfat electric locomotives to passenger jets makes up very interesting stories.
Even the study of telephone, the way it has evolved to modern day satellite-assisted cell phone networks make exciting story.

History records, explains and interpretes these events to our advantage. If we do not study history and treat past events as dead events of no value, we will lose a great teacher –that is History.

Wehen we discuss matters related to trade, politics, literature, industry, science, we treat certain important events as important mile stones.
For example, we treat the Sepoy Mutiny (First War of Independence), the advent of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, the era of Shivaji, the birth of Bangladesh as important milestones in the long road of human evolution.
For the sake of convenience, we tend to desribe other events as before or after these important milestones of history.
We all know, the nature of British involvement changed radically after the Sepoy Mutiny. The job of adminstering India passed from the hands of the East India Company to the British government. With this, sweeping changes were made to the British adminstrative machinery in India.
While describing these changes, we tend to take the Sepoy Mutiny as a convenient ‘Reference Point of history and then narrate our story.

The simple antibiotic tablet we take ocassionally to cure ourselves of a disease appears so commonplace these days. Neither the doctors nor the patients bother to know how, when, where and by whom these wonder drugs were invented.
But if we pause and think, the story of antibiotics makes a very astoundingly exciting story.
When we fly in modern jets from Bhubaneswar to Delhi in just two hours, we raely think about the Wright Brothers whose first aero plane flew just a few yards at tree-top height.
History of aviation records and explains this incredible technological journey.
The visuals of the Olympics come to our homes ‘live’. Newspapers the next day bring photographs, reports and expert opinions in rinted format. This breaking of the barriers of time and distance is detailed in the history of modern science.
So, can we ever say History is a dead and irrevelant subject?

When are dates important and when not?

The status of labourers in England and other European countries changed drastically over a period of time. This happened when the Industrial Revolution took place. It was a period of nearly a century, from 1750 to 1850. When we discuss the subject of labour welfare, production, sale, export etc. during and after the Industrial Revolution, we certainly can not put a date to it. It happened slowly and in small steps in about 100 years.

Similarly, when we speak about the advent of the Bhakti Movement in Hinduism, we find that it spanned a long 300 years, from 14th century to 17th century. We, surely, can not attach a date, year even a ecade to it. It took place in three centuries.
Thus, we find that history, when read from the perspective of changes in the society, people’s thoughts, beliefs etc. dates do not mean anything. They are prevalent.

However, when we talk about great historical events such as the enthroning of Chandragupta Mourya, departure of Mountbatten from India, freeing of Goa from Portugese rule, dropping of the first atom bomb on Hiroshima, passing of Hong Kong’s ownership to Chinese hands, we need date, month and year. Without this precision of description, historical accounts lose their clarity. Kings and Maharajas of medieval India, therefore, made meticulous efforts to ensure that the events related to their birth, death, conquests etc. were written on stone. The intention was to ensure they do not get erased with the march of time.

Which set of dates should we consider as important ….
For a modern historian studying the levy of taxes during the British rule, the date of birth or death of a particular Viceroy does not make much sense. Rather, the date on which he levied a new land revenue structure is critically important to the scholar studying the subject.
Do we really care to remember the date on which Indira Gandhi was born? Instead of taxing our brain’s memory with this data, why not remember the date on which East Pakistan surrendered to India under her able leadership?

When we sit down to write the history of steel-making in India, it is very important to know the date on which Jamshedji Tata’s steel mill in Jamshedpur started production and the year in which the foundation of our Rorkela Steel plant was laid and the date in which it started production. In such studies, the then Union Steel Minister’s tenure as minister does not appear to be a necessary data.
So, the focus and the intent of the historical study should decide the importance of dates.
A history book of colonial India, which gives primary importance to the personal details of the succession of Governor Generals, but makes a passing reference to Gandhi and Nehru is, clearly, one-sided. Such a history book does not deserve a serious look.

History of colonial India must mention the many good things the Britishers did, their various acts of repression and exploitation, the role of the freedom fighters, the way the British tried to stifle the freedom movement etc.
A balanced account of all these make a good historical study, not an account to adulate the British masters.

So, we can conclude that study of history must be linked to the central issue it wants to deal with. The military history of pre-independence India will be vastly different from the history of the Satee system of that period.
The format and the chapters of the two books will be very different from each other, so will be the dates they mention and discuss prominently. The name of Raja Ramohan Roy will figure prominently in the second book, but will not find a single mention in the first book. But both are history books of India related to the same period, but totally different core focus.

An example .. We have different maps of India in our Atlas. These may be Political map, Geographical map, Railway map. Air Routes map, River map etc. etc. All have identical boundaries, but different descriptions, depending on their use.
In the same way, India’s history books, written from different perspectives, will have totally different contents.

Thus we see that dates become much less important if the focus of the history book shifts to different social topics.

How do we periodise?

James Mill was an eminent indologist in the early nineteenth century. However, with due regard to him, we can state that his understanding of India was narrow and was coloured by colonial superiority. In 1817, he wrote his three-volume seminal book “A History of British India”. In this, he divided India’s history into three periods —Hindu, Muslim and British. At that time, such categorization of India was considered authentic and therefore, acceptable.

Historians divide history to different periods when they intend to highlight the central characters of a certain period. From this angle, breaking down a country’s history to different periods appears logical and appropriate. Such description helps the reader to understand how the society, its customs, economy, religion and art changed as the country pass ed from one era to the next.
James Mill saw the Asian societies as somewhat primitive and under-developed. He saw the early (pre-British) Hindu and Muslim rulers as oppressive, conservative and bloated individuals, too obsessed with luxury and self-pride. They were intolerant of other faiths. Being myopic in their attitudes to intellectual pursuit, they were seeped in caste prejudice, superstitions and rituals.

For ridding India of all these deeply-entrenched, degrading values, James Mill had one prescription – that of aggressive re-education of the natives as per European value system. By this he meant complete over-haul of the legal system, banishing of the oppressive caste hierarchy, introduction of European social manners, arts and literature. Mill went to suggest that the British should forcibly conquer the entire India, bring it under British rule. This could, as he believed, pave the way to bring the light of civilization, progress and enlightenment to this dark land.

In such a depiction of India, the land was ‘dark’, and the British were the torch-bearers of civilization. Any reader of history today will dismiss Mill’s portrayal as irreverent and deeply flawed.

Mill’s book can be faulted on the following two counts.
a. Why a history book, meant to cover all aspects of human life at that time, will take religion as the only yardstick? Were there not other aspects like military campaigns, trade and commerce, literature, architecture and legal system which also mattered a lot, apart from religion?
b. Why we will have a Hindu India, a Muslim India and a Christan (British) India? For great lengths of time in India’s history, followers of more than one religion lived together, worked together, prospered together and suffered together.
So, characterizing History by a single religion’s name is fallacious, to say the least.

Let us leave James Mill now. Other historians have divided India’s history into three sections

1. Ancient
2. Medieval
3. Modern

A closer look at such classification will show that even such a classification is also not fully correct. This method is borrowed from Western scholars who found this idea rather easy to adopt and interpret.
As per this methodology, history in ‘Modern’ times was marked by science, rationality, democracy, egalitarianism and liberty. ‘Medieval’ period which preceded the ‘Modern’ period had none of these values or accomplishments.
On scrutiny, we find that this idea has many weaknesses. During British rule, we will be assumed to have lived in a ‘Modern’ era. But, Indians had no equality, liberty nor democracy. Science was not encouraged. There was no push for economic growth either.

Many historians, therefore, have described the British period as ‘Colonial’ era.

What is colonial?

Through colonizing India the British benefited enormously in furthering their interests in trade, industry and most importantly in mopping up revenue for utilization elsewhere. In times of War, India provided man power, for their industries in England, India provided guaranteed supply of raw materials, and for the products of their buzzing factories, India provided the market. Most importantly, lording over this vast land of ancient culture gave them the political clout in the world stage.

British influence, no doubt, brought about numerous changes in Indian society, dismantling many of the oppressive systems and prejudices. It brought western system of education to the door step of India. Political, economic, cultural and social changes took place across the fabric of society.
But the impact on the population was uneven. Some benefited more than others. A good number of Indians remained virtually untouched by the winds of change and reform that swept slowly, but strongly across the subcontinent.
This is a reason why it is more correct to refer to our history as the study of “Our Pasts’ rather than “Our Past’.

How do we know?
(Or, how do we gather facts / information?)

1. Administration provides records

The British were meticulous in having all actions, suggestions, successes, failures, plans, and actions recorded as they went on governing the country.
Such systematic maintenance of records, files, noting and orders made it possible to fix responsibilities, take appropriate remedial action, preempt crises and eliminate arbitrariness.
For the safe storage of records, the British ensured having a ‘record room’ at each level of administration –from the Tahsildar’s office to the provincial secretariat.

Thus, the ‘Record Rooms’ have emerged as the repository of invaluable sources of historical evidence for the ‘researcher’.
To further refine this method of record keeping, in the early eighteenth century, calligraphists were employed to copy out the important portions of a government file. Later, with the advent of the Printing Press, multiple copies of the important paper work in a government office were printed in multiple copies.

2. Surveys become important

The British realized the value of knowing their colony for its effective administration.
With great determination, in the early eighteenth century, the British started the process of village by village collection of data relating to its population, crops, caste distribution, topography, revenue base, flora and fauna and soil quality. This was needed to enable them to impose a rigid and effective revenue collection system.
Like this, the British conducted many different types of survey to map out their colony.

3. What official records do not reveal? …

These records are an invaluable source of information. But for the history researcher, the information contained in these records must be taken with a pinch of salt. The reason – these are records of the colonial masters, as they saw and perceived things of those times.
The facts which were of relevance to them, such as those related to revenue collection were given the highest priority. Aspects of life not relevant to them from administrative point of view were barely recorded. Adulatory references, which the British wanted to e preserved for posterity, were given maximum importance.
In such a one-sided system of preservation of details, many important facts relating to different sides of Indian life got obliterated.

So, in our search for a comprehensive compilation and analysis of facts and figures, we have to delve into other sources. These can be the old diaries of important people, accounts of pilgrimages, autobiographies and popular booklets then in circulation.

This search too has its shortcomings. It centers around people who were literate. The lives of tribal population, illiterate farmers and other disadvantages sections of the population still remain untouched.

Compiling an exhaustive history, therefore, needs a lot of hard work and meticulousness.

India’s political progress — Uncertain and painful

July 20, 2012 at 7:27 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Time to stop partying

(Hindu editorial July 20, 2012)

In the eight years since he was elected to Parliament from Amethi, Rahul Gandhi has shown a lot of political promise but little else. As a leader of the new generation in the Nehru-Gandhi lineage, he was expected to play a prominent role, first in the party, and later, in government. In 2004, when his mother declined the prime ministership and instead asked Manmohan Singh to lead the country, Rahul’s reluctance to jump into governance was understandable. A quick, dramatic entry into Cabinet at that point would have undermined the Prime Minister, who had no political base of his own and who depended entirely on the Congress’s first family for his political survival. Rahul chose instead to work within the organisational ranks of the Congress; his decision was both tactical and strategic. The fact that he did not seem greedy for the fruits of power and appeared ready to go through the drudgery of field work did his public image a lot of good. But he also tried to use his leadership over the Youth Congress and students’ wing to democratise these organisations — and through them — the ‘mother party’. Though his efforts helped the Congress draw fresh talent, the grip of the old guard, sadly, remains just as firm today as it was eight years ago. More than the indifferent electoral results Rahul produced in Uttar Pradesh this year then, it is his failure to make a dent in the party organisation that must surely rankle more.

Clearly, Rahul Gandhi is not, and could never have been, the answer to all the shortcomings of the Congress. But if he is the heir-apparent, as the entire party thinks he is, and he is to be projected as a prime ministerial candidate in 2014, he must end his wanderings through the thicket of the party organisation and take on concrete ministerial responsibilities. Congress leader Salman Khursheed got it partly right when he lamented the fact that Rahul had so far only shown “cameos” of his thoughts and ideas. The answer, though, is not for him to come up with some “grand announcement” for India but to demonstrate to the people that he can actually administer, as a minister, some of the small but important infrastructure programmes of the UPA government. On Thursday, he indicated his readiness to take on a more pro-active role in the party and the government. He should forget about the party for now. In 2012, Rahul can have no excuse for staying away from the Cabinet. Anything else would appear as a shirking of responsibility, or worse, as aversion to working under Manmohan Singh. Indeed, his entry could give the Prime Minister a perfect opportunity to wield some long knives in his next Cabinet reshuffle and give younger ministers the responsibility they deserve.

Rahul –the sulking must end (My note)

Rahul Gandhi’s eight long years in Parliament have been a non-event, so to say. The young man’s advent was heralded as the onset of a new era, but, when assessing his performance so far, his score appears abysmal.

In 2004, he declined a cabinet berth when the prime minister’s chair was handed over to Dr. Manmohan Singh by her mother Sonia Gandhi. Dr. Singh still remains a technocrat, not cut out for the rough and grind that makes a mass leader. Dr. Singh, therefore leaned on the Gandhi family for his authority. In the light of this, Rahul can not be faulted for opting out of any ministerial berth, because staying in the cabinet might have undercut Dr. Singh’s authority somewhat.

Instead, he chose to put the moth-balled Congress Party in order, first bringing in a whiff of fresh air by holding democratic elections in the Youth Congress and the students’ wing. But, he could only do this much. The old guards’ grip over the party apparatus still remained un-touched.

As a grass-root organizer, Rahul failed the test again, twice. The poor showing of the Congress Party in Bihar and U.P elections cast a shadow on his vote-catching abilities. He had spearheaded these two election campaigns. Particularly in the UP elections, he had staked his entire capital, but his party came a distant fourth.
To be fair to Rahul, it is too much to expect him to remove the muck that has set in the Congress Party. The Party, after being in the helm for so long a time, has become languid and insipid. Rahul, obviously, is an inexperienced person, ill-equipped to the role of the reformer. With the old stalwarts not ready to cede any ground to him, and his stature further weakened after the elections, it would be futile for Rahul to try the Herculean task of resuscitating his Congress Party.

Instead of waiting indefinitely in the sidelines of government, it is desirable that he steps in to shoulder concrete responsibility as a minister. The Congress Party looks forward to him to lead it, and the country. With the burden of so much expectation from the party, which is clearly floundering at the present, Rahul must put a firm step forward into the Cabinet. Being in the corroders of power would add value to his bio-data, which, presently, has nothing other than the parents’ names as the qualification. After a stint as a minister, his detractors can no longer chide him for his inexperience. This apart, his inclusion in the cabinet would give Dr. Singh an opportunity to get rid of some ‘dead wood’ from among his ministers. He can then bring in some young talents, waiting too long in the wings.

Meghalaya mining tragedy that shook India

July 16, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Subterranean challenges

(Hindu editorial July 15, 2012)

The perils of the system of rat-hole mining that thousands in Meghalaya routinely engage in were in stark focus over the past week. After a fruitless search that yielded no survivors or bodies in a flooded coal pit in the South Garo Hills, a rescue team of the National Disaster and Rescue Force has called off its operations. This means the 15 miners who were believed trapped underground are being given up as dead. It is the failure of the authorities to put in place a monitoring and regulatory mechanism that stands out in the wake of the accident. The miners, desperate to make a living, typically scramble into the shafts, crudely dug and so small that even kneeling is impossible inside. Lying horizontally, they hack away with pick-axes and their bare hands to extract the often sparse pickings. More shockingly, thousands of children, some under 10, toil alongside adults, their small bodies a perfect fit for the narrow seams. Many of the miners are migrants. Instances of death, from cave-ins and other accidents, are not always documented but are far from rare. Proximate facilities for medical care are nonexistent. In 2002, over 30 people died in a rat-hole pit in Meghalaya after it was flooded suddenly.

Meghalaya has no mining policy: minerals are extracted by individual operators at will. Miners use rudimentary gear, and among other risks face the black lung disease caused by the ingestion of coal dust. The mines operate in the manner of an unorganised cottage industry. Most land in Meghalaya is privately owned by tribal people, who as a matter of customary right exploit the coal present in their parcels. The villages located in the coal belt actually sit on a network of trenches dug beneath. It is not as if the practice, coyote hole mining as it was referred to in the Americas as it evolved from a 16th century Spanish system, is inherently unsound. Such inexpensive excavation was technologically simpler, and amenable to small-scale operation, compared to the large-scale industrial-corporate mining that emerged in the 19th century. Indeed, the low-tech approach was efficient in its own way, calling for excavations to follow the meanderings of ore seams. It may be neither possible nor advisable to move suddenly to end rat-hole mining in this region. Coal is Meghalaya’s biggest source of revenue. What is needed immediately is a scientifically sound regulatory mechanism to optimise yields and make the operation more efficient. Labour laws have to be enforced, worker safety and payment of fair wages ensured, and child labour of any kind has to be eliminated. The miners should be provided training and made aware of the risks, and put through safety drills.

Un-fettered ‘rat-hole’ mining – Hellhole for the miners– (My notes)

Meghalaya has witnessed a heart-rending ordeal of small-scale coal miners, out to scrape a living from its underground coal reserves. Some 15 of them lie buried in the ‘rat holes’ they went in to excavate coal manually. Now that the last ditch effort to extricate them by National Disaster and Rescue Force has been abandoned, their dead bodies will not be available to their families for a decent burial. The poverty of these miners and the possible presence of children among the dead make the incident all the more heart-breaking.
This primitive method of mining has been in existence possibly for centuries. It is a simple method of extraction where miners go down, and then dig horizontal tunnels using crowbars and shovels. The tunnels are narrow, allowing the small-framed local people to squeeze in and out. They manually bring out small quantities of coal in each foray. The labyrinth of tunnels spread in all directions, going too far at times. This is where the lurking risks take their toll. Accidental flooding, collapse of the rat-hole tunnels and unleashing of poisonous gases cause instant death of the un-trained miners. With no documentation, no standby rescue arrangement and unorganized nature of these mining operations, deaths often go unreported.
However, such ‘rat-hole’ method of manual mining has many advantages. Unlike organized sector mining, this method needs little capital outlay. For a poor, impoverished province like Meghalaya, such mining practice, although primitive, does provide livelihood to the poor people in the area. It has been in vogue for ages. In fact, whole villages now stand on earth having the long network of cavities underneath.
So, it will be futile to ban such apparently hazardous mining of coal. These bans will not work and will breed corruption and more clandestine underground activity. What, however, can be done is regulation of these rat-hole mines. The miners can be given safety training, children can be legally excluded from the workforce and standby rescue systems can be put in place. Through such measures, hazards of ‘rat-hole’ mining can be curtailed, if not altogether eliminated. It will be good for mineral-rich Meghalaya.

Writing a good essay with good words — first step, learn words

July 15, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Some words for writing great essays ….


  1. Dystopia
  2. Shambolic
  3. Renege
  4. Renegade
  5. Regressive
  6. Perfidy
  7. Obscurant
  8. Livid
  9. Carnage
  10. In a shambles
  11. Mayhem
  12. At a crossroads
  13. Nihilist
  14.  Nuance
  15. Recalcitrant



Try to use the above words in the context indicated against each.

Dystopia …. The world where diseases spread uncontrollably causing death and sickness in a mass scale due to the efficacy of medicines

Shambolic …a.  India’s run-up to its election for the posts of President and Vice-President

b. The last day of withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam


Renege .. a. What the Syriza of Greece has been accused of regarding the earlier government’s commitment on austerity measures

b. What politicians routinely do in South Asia after they come to power


Renegade .. a. The way communists used to describe anyone who did not toe the party line

b. The way China claiming Taiwan as its province describes it


Regressive ..  a. The way people describe the policy of the Indian government to bring in tax laws retrospectively and in variance with the verdict of the Supreme Court

b. Attempts of a few ultra-nationalists to resurrect Hitler


Perfidy .. a.  The way Barclays manipulated LIBOR

b. The action that brought about the tragic end of Lady Diana


Obscurant .. a. The people who should be booted out of university campuses

b. The attitude of the Brahmins in medieval India intended to continue their hegemony


Livid ..  a. State of mind of Pakistanis after Osama was captured and killed inside their country

b. State of mind of Prime Minister Edogan after the downing of a Turkish air force plane by Syria


Carnage ..  a. What happened in the Indian subcontinent soon after partition in 1947

b. What we are witnessing in parts of Syria today


In a shambles .. a. The state of Indian economy as alleged by the opposition

b. State of Russia after Soviet Union imploded


Mayhem .. a. What we see in stock markets when stock prices crash suddenly and steeply

b. The scene in a Pakistani town after a bomb blast


At a cross roads .. a. Present state of affairs in Myanmar

b. Present state of affairs of the Euro


Nihilist .. a. The way some people describe the Taliban for their rejection of all values the rest of the world considers decent and desirable

b. Possible state of mind of a lunatic who has faced repeated frustrations and rejection in life


Nuance .. a. One of the many features of the writing of a highly erudite person writing on a complex philosophical issue

b. What a less educated person will fail to notice in an intellectual’s speech


Recalcitrant .. a. The way the Democrats described the Republicans’ attitude before the budget crisis

b. The way a manager describes a subordinate who does not obey him

Sri Lanka’s northern Provincial Elections — Why delay it further

July 13, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Distant thunder

(Hindu editorial July 13, 2012)

In remarks to this newspaper, President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka has said the elections to the country’s Northern provincial council will be held only in September 2013 because the government needs time to update 30-year-old electoral rolls. The explanation for the delay is intriguing. Three other elections have been held since the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2009 — presidential elections in January 2010; parliamentary elections in April 2010; and elections to local bodies in 2011. Northern province voters participated in all three. The old voters’ list was apparently not a problem then; nor was the rehabilitation and resettlement process, the other reason Mr. Rajapaksa has given for putting off elections. The Tamil National Alliance, which roundly won the local bodies elections, suspects the delay has to do with fears that it might sweep the provincial council elections too. There is no question about the need for a political process in the Northern province, comprising five districts that bore the maximum impact of the conflict — Jaffna, Killinochchi, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya and Mannar. A provincial government headed by a chief minister has some powers devolved to it under the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution. Irrespective of who wins, the arrangement could assist in restoring normality to the region by giving it a civilian, democratic political face.

In fact, the Northern provincial council elections should have been held soon after the war ended to signal the government’s seriousness about finding a political solution to secure the peace. Instead, more than three years later, the North is still in the grip of the military, and going by Mr. Rajapaksa’s statement, another 14 months must pass before it can elect its provincial government. Meanwhile, three other councils, including in the Eastern province, whose terms were to end only in 2013, have been dissolved ahead of time, and fresh elections scheduled for September this year. If, as President Rajapaksa has said, elections in the Northern province are to be held next year, he must start thinking about scaling down troops in the region in the interests of a free and fair election. Every nation has a right to decide its security needs. Even assuming Sri Lanka is right in its perception of an ominous comeback plan by the LTTE, the troops to people ratio in Tamil areas is high, compared to say, in Jammu & Kashmir, where a majority of the security forces are deployed against an external threat. Given its numbers in northern Sri Lanka, it is no surprise that the military is seen as overly intrusive in daily life. In order to be taken seriously, the Sri Lankan President also needs to make a formal announcement soon about his intended schedule for the election.


President Rajapaksea sulks, but why ….

(My notes)

Now it is clear that the provincial elections to the northern Provincial Council will take place in September, 2013, clear 14 months from now. The reason for this postponement has been cited as the yet-to-be-revised 30-year-old electoral rolls. It becomes difficult to accept this reason for such a long delay in holding the elections.

If the accuracy of the electoral rolls is so sacrosanct, how did the same region hold as many as three elections in the recent past, after the LTTE was demolished. The three elections are 1. the presidential elections in January 2010; 2. the parliamentary elections in April 2010; and 3. the elections to local bodies in 2011.

The suspicion is that the President fears a landslide victory of the Tamil National Alliance in the elections, if they are held as per the earlier schedule. The Alliance’s robust victory in the local bodies’ elections must have given rise to this scare in the President’s mind.

The fact remains that devolution of political power in the Northern province, comprising five districts that bore the maximum impact of the conflict — Jaffna, Killinochchi, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya and Mannar is something which can result in early normalization and return of peace in the war-ravaged area. It is in everybody’s interest that such a devolution is carried out sooner than later, so that the past is buried and a new chapter in the political history of the region starts.

A popular provincial government headed by a chief minister elected under the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution will be the best bulwork against resurgence of centrifugal forces in the region which the country has smothered at such great cost.

Logically, this posponed provincial election should have succeeded the fall of the LTTE. It has already been three years late. To complicate the situation, the military’s all-pervasive presence in the region does not help to erase memories of the atrocities of the armed forces. There is no convincing reason for the military to be stationed in the area in such ubiquitous manner. In fact, their presence will hamper conduct of free and fair elections in the troubled area where the scars of the insurgency are yet to heal. The President must start to plan for withdrawal of the soldiers from the area. It will prove the bonafides of his good intentions to give the Tamils a reasonable space in the polity of Sri Lanka.

Cycling as a possible solution to Indian cities’ commuting problem

July 9, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Cycling cities

(Hindu editorial July 09, 2012)

Cities across the world are rediscovering bicycles. Pushed by increasing fuel costs, the compulsion to reduce commuting time, environmental concerns, and the need to make cities livable, many are back on better wheels. At the heart of this turnaround story is the widely popular Velib bicycle sharing system in Paris. Its success has been infectious: Montreal, Bogota, Hanghzou and many other cities have embraced cycling. Velib completed its fifth anniversary recently and its impressive journey offers an opportunity to reflect on the state of Indian cities. Public cycle sharing systems have been in existence in Europe since 1965, but its scale, design and convenience make the Paris system stand apart. As a result, more than 300,000 trips are made every day using cycles with an average speed of 15 km an hour — better than the speed of crawling cars on choked Indian roads. The world today, as the mayor of a French city observed, is divided into two: cities that have bicycle networks and others who want it. Where does that leave Indian cities? They belong to a third category: directionless.

Despite a high user base, Indian cities have no plans for cycles. For example, Delhiites make 2.8 million trips a day by cycling, which is almost equal to the number of trips made by car. But the city hardly has any safe cycle-lanes. Chennai, which has about 1.4 million cycles, is no better. Given the fact that the average trip length in Indian cities is within 5 km, bicycles are the best suited for such commutes. It is disheartening to see urban planners overlook this advantage. Worse, their policies have literally pushed cycles off the road, forcing the poor who use them the most to spend more and more on transportation. The larger benefit from promoting cycling lies in reducing energy consumption and pollution levels. Every car that is off the road saves 5.1 metric tonnes of CO2 a year and a five per cent increase in cycle trips across the world would cumulatively save 100 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. Realising the urgent need to promote non-motorised transport, many Asian cities are actively promoting them — Changwon in South Korea offers financial incentives to bolster cycle use; Hangzhou in China has a vast network integrated with the bus system; and Yogyakarta in Indonesia has introduced an accident insurance scheme to encourage cycle users. Indian cities should take a leaf out of these impressive examples closer home, start delineating dedicated lanes, and ensure safe riding. A people friendly, green, low-carbon city is no more a choice, but an imperative destination. Cycling more would get our cities there.


Driving traffic snarls out, the eco-friendly way (My notes)

We all have experienced how traffic jams fray our nerves. To get around this, many cities have adopted the humble cycle as a favoured mode of personal transport. Cycling a distance using muscles instead of motoring the distance burning fossil fuel has its obvious advantages. Spiralling fuel costs, increased environmental awareness and the pain of driving in a clogged city road have all contributed to this welcome switch to cycling.  Not long ago, cycling to the work place was considered tiring, primitive, and demaining.

The Velib rent-a-bike system of Paris has lead the way in enticing the city commuters to pedal their way to their work places rather than pressing their car accelerators. The Velib story is inspiring. This cycle-sharing model is cheap, efficient, extremely user-friendly. In fact, the users have taken to the innovation with gusto. The number of Velib patrons has increased phenomenally. This positive story has inspired other cities to increasingly take to cycles in place of cars.

It gives us an opportunity to reflect if we can adopt cycle travelling to our cities reeling under traffic congestion and high levels of obnoxious air pollution.

Ech single car taken off the road reduces a whopping 5.1 metric tonnes of Carbon Dioxide a year. It is necessary to look at the way some Asian cities are actively encouraging commuters to use cycle. Changwon in Soth Korea gives financial incentives, Hangzhou in China has placed cycle pick-up points close to bus stops, and Yogiakatra in Indonesia gives free accident insurance to cycle riders.

These success stories should spur Indian city dwellers to take to cycles, but the non-availibity of dedicated cycle lanes remains the most visible stumbling bloc in coaxing the public to adopt cycling as their preferred mode of travelling.

In conclusion, the problem jumps back to the city architects’ drawing boards. They are the people who can design city transport system which has cycles as a main component. The fact that a five per cent increase in cycle trips across the world would cumulatively save an impressive 100 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year should make all of us to seriously look at cycling as a desirable means of transport. For Indian city-dwellers facing diabetes and heart diseases as a looming crisis, cycling will come as a boon.



Fight against corruption — a shocking reality check

July 7, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Everything is Maya

(Hindu editorial 7 July, 2012)

A clean chit? Hardly. It is important to see the Supreme Court’s quashing of the disproportionate assets (DA) case against the former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Mayawati, for what it is — a decision grounded entirely on legal technicalities. It is far from being a declaration of innocence as Ms Mayawati’s overzealous supporters would like us to believe. As the first line of the judgment states, “the only question” under consideration was whether the FIR lodged by the Central Bureau of Investigation against Ms Mayawati for allegedly possessing assets disproportionate to her income was “beyond the scope of directions” passed by the Supreme Court itself. In holding that it was, the Court has made a distinction between the Taj Heritage Corridor Project case — in which it had directed the CBI to register an FIR relating to the Mayawati government’s preposterous plan to construct commercial buildings on a two-km stretch behind the Taj Mahal without appropriate clearances — and a “roving enquiry” into her financial assets. Having maintained that “anything beyond the Taj Corridor matter was not the subject-matter of reference before the Taj Corridor Bench,” it was only a short step to reach the conclusion that the CBI had exceeded its jurisdiction in the case.

The CBI may be faulted for misunderstanding the Court’s orders and investigating Ms Mayawati’s assets from 1995 even though the Taj Corridor project was conceived only in 2002. But the manner in which the assets of Ms Mayawati and her relatives have mushroomed cannot but raise a suspicious eyebrow. The CBI had claimed that her assets increased from Rs. one crore in 2003 to Rs. 50 crore in 2007. Its affidavit in the Supreme Court talked of 96 plots, houses and orchards acquired by her and her close relatives between 1998 and 2003. The affidavit filed along with Ms Mayawati’s nomination for the Rajya Sabha a few months ago contains an estimation of her own wealth: Rs. 111.64 crore. If her defence in the now quashed DA case rang a familiar bell, it is because politicians have used it before: sharp increases in wealth are explained as the accretion of small contributions made by legions of followers out of “love and affection.” Acceptance of income tax returns is held out as proof that the income is genuine. In an environment in which clear financial trails are hard to unearth, disproportionate assets cases — where the onus of proof is shifted on the accused — are a more effective instrument against politicians and bureaucrats suspected of corruption. Given that the chargesheet in the DA case against Ms Mayawati was only being readied, there was hardly anything concrete against her to begin with. Sadly, with the quashing of the FIR, everything is maya.


Mayawati’s truimph or a monumental folly? (What agitates people)

Whatever spin Mayawati’s cohorts might put on the Supreme Court’s order in the Disproportionate Assets (DA) case, the fact remains that her defence team have adroitly exploited a flimsy technical flaw in the CBI’s FIR case against her. The Hon’ble Judges’ order starts with ‘the only question was whether or not the CBI’s FIR was beyond the scope of the directions passed by the Supreme Court earlier’. It is a very technical point, not a verdict on whether Mayawati earned her wealth by means, fair or foul. Interpreting the judgment differently will be a wicked distortion of facts.

No doubt, the Supreme Court had directed the CBI to enquire into the wrong-doings by Mayawati in the Taj Corroider case. It was a flawed project that allegedly brought her huge financially bounty. While delving into this case, CBI enlarged its investigation to unearth the ways through which she amassed such mind-boggling wealth in such a short time. The long list of Maya’s assets CBI has managed to hit upon will make any decent citizen recoil in revulsion and contempt.

The CBI made a blunder in mentioning that the investigation and the subsequent filing of FIR were done at the behest of the Supreme Court. The fact of the matter is the Supreme Court had wanted only the Taj Corroidor matter to be investigated, not Maya’s other acts of alleged felony. Here was the window of opportunity which Maya’s defence team exploited fully and convinced the Court to pass an order for quashing the FIR of CBI.

The CBI’s assertion that the sharp rise in Mayawati’s wealth was too disconcerting to ignore has not been accepted by the Court. To explain her getting so rich so quickly, she made the bizzare claim that the amassed wealth was the aggregate of dribs and drabs gifts from her innumerable loyal supporters. This is a farcical explanation. She got away with it, because she has manged to avoid rigourous legal scrutiny of her assertion. After the Supreme Court verdict, she emerges a sqeaky clean figure, with both the stigma and the fear of persecution receding to the horizon.

The two questions which will continue to linger are 

a. whether the ‘blunder’ of the CBI was intentional and inadvertent 

b. what happens to the feeling of the public, utterly disgusted to see a procession of politicians getting away with their brazen corruption

World Heritage —– India’s Western Ghats

July 5, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Saving the western jewels

(Hindu editorial 3 July, 2012)

The inclusion of the Western Ghats in the World Heritage List by UNESCO is a fitting tribute to one of the most fragile and ecologically sensitive areas of the world. These montane forests and their rich biological diversity were included in the very first list of ‘global biodiversity hotspots’ drawn up by scientists at the turn of the century. Today, the Ghats are considered one of eight “hottest hotspots”. With their official listing as natural heritage, India commits itself under the UNESCO Convention to conserve, protect and transmit the 39 chosen sites spread across nearly 8,000 square kilometres to future generations. The challenge to protect the Western Ghats, however, is much bigger because the area of these mountains assessed by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel encompasses a total of 129,037 sq km. This is a vast swathe of ecologically unique habitat, which significantly influences the Indian monsoon. The WGEEP has, in its report, treated the entire region as an ecologically sensitive zone, while recommending that some sub-regions be treated as more sensitive and given higher levels of protection.

India is required by virtue of its participation in the UNESCO Convention to let the listed natural heritage sites “function in the life of the community” and promote scientific and technical studies to counteract harm. The national record on both these counts has been uninspiring and often negative. On the one hand, the Centre has been unable to foster an effective people-driven conservation paradigm using the Forest Rights Act, while on the other, it has been consistently hostile to independent scientific research in protected areas. The new global recognition accorded to some parts of the Western Ghats should help change that, and secure international assistance for conservation. What comes as a source of worry is the approach of some State governments to the larger question of nature protection. Karnataka wanted 10 sites withdrawn from the list submitted to UNESCO, presumably because it wanted to avoid greater scrutiny of incompatible activities such as mining. Kerala, which is keen to have a hydroelectric project at Athirapilly in the forests, has also reacted negatively to the idea of conservation. These trends do not bode well for natural heritage protection. It is beyond argument that the Western Ghats in their entirety represent irreplaceable natural capital, and any people-friendly policy should spare them damaging, extractive pressures that can only aid short-term commerce. Moreover, it should be less problematic now to compensate any financial loss resulting from protection, as India can seek international assistance for a World Heritage site.


Some background notes (prepared by me)

UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It has its headquartets in Paris. It is headed by a Director General. At present Irina Bekove holds this chair.

 What is World Heritage

 Some heritages, both cultural and natural, inspire, educate and sustain us. They have done it in the past, are doing it today and will continue to do so in future. The benificiarires are not a certain section of the people, plcae, religion or nationality. Their benign influence pervades the whole world. Like sunlight and wind, their influence knows no barriers.

So, the prudent thing would be to preserve these universal assets, and subject their upkeep to internationally-accepted norms and practices. This is where the sovereign right of a nation over its assets comes in conflict with the notion of universal inheritance. For example, the ownership of the Excavation Remains of Nalanda might be India’s, but to deny its inspirational value to historians, students of archetecture, and the general art-loving people of the whole human race would be great distortion of human intelligence. Same arguments can be advanced for the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. This priceless treasure trove of marine life remains located in the north-west Australia is a reserch lab, a museum, a place for recreation, all rolled into one. Can Australia carry out under-water crude oil extraction here? Even a suggestion along this line creates revulsion in our minds.

 Like this, there are some 900 sites scattered all over the world where priceless hertiges from long-forgotten operiods of human evolution have stood the test of time, perhaps to teach us and our successive generations the oneness of our race. How intertwined our interests are becomes clear when we stand near these sites and strive to look within.

What are the mission objectives of Unesco’s World Heritage preservation endeavour ..

 1. encourage countries to sign the World Heritage Convention and to ensure the protection of their natural and cultural heritage

2. encourage States Parties to the Convention to nominate sites within their national territory for inclusion on the World Heritage List

3. encourage States Parties to establish management plans and set up reporting systems on the state of conservation of their World Heritage sites

4. help States Parties safeguard World Heritage properties by providing technical assistance and professional training

5. provide emergency assistance for World Heritage sites in immediate danger

6. support States Parties’ public awareness-building activities for World Heritage conservation

7. encourage participation of the local population in the preservation of their cultural and natural heritage

8. encourage international cooperation in the conservation of our world’s cultural and natural heritage.

 Which are the World Heritage sites in India?

As on 22. 5. 2012, there were 33 sites and one state recognised by Unesco as World Heritage Site.

 Now, the Western Ghats get added to this list.

What will it imply in real terms ..

  1. The Western Ghats which faced grave threats of degradation leading to its eventual destruction will get a respite. There are some 39 extra-sensitive hot-spots spread over an atrea of 7000 square kilometers will see the threat to their existence recede. Hopefully, they will be more or less preserved as an asset for future generations.
  2. Unbridriled commercial exploitation of natural resources in this vast swathe of land amounting to about 1, 30, 000 square kilometers will not be possible.
  3. Government of India will have to take steps to ensure a people-driven conservation in this area.
  4. Freer access for scientific studies of the flora and fauma of this vast area will be possible.
  5. International financial and technical assistance for presevation of the area in its original shape will be possible.
  6. In the negative side, iron ore extraction from the western parts of Karnataka and building a hydro-electric project in the Athirapilli area of Kerala may not be possioble as such a project will imperil the pristine environment of the sorroundings.

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