The best way to know the self is feeling oneself at the moments of reckoning. The feeling of being alone, just with your senses, may lead you to think more consciously. More and more of such moments may sensitize ‘you towards you’, towards others. We become regular with introspection and retrospection. We get ‘the’ gradual connect to the higher self we may name Spirituality or God or just a Humane Conscious. We tend to get a rhythm again in life. We need to learn the art of being lonely in crowd while being part of the crowd. A multitude of loneliness in mosaic of relations! One needs to feel it severally, with conscience, before making it a way of life. One needs to live several such lonely moments. One needs to live severallyalone.

Thursday 30 July 2009

‘I AM AN ACTIVIST, NOT A FIGHTER’

Sitting in her office I was talking to Dr Jaya Arunachalam when she had said ‘I am an activist, not a fighter’ on mention of Sandeep Pandey and her approach to protests on infamous ‘Khushboo episode’ and women’s rights issues in Tamil Nadu. I still feel its relevance and attached dilemma in my day to day life when I come across something that disturbs me and demands my engagement.

Dr Jaya Arunachalam is Founder President of Working Women’s Forum (India), a Chennai based Development organization working for social empowerment by targeting women subjects. The organization is largest trade union in unorganized sector in country with its nearly one million women members who are associated with its microfinance initiative. Jaya ji started all this way back in late 70’s. Before that she was an active member of Congress and someone close to Rajiv Gandhi. She has used this political acumen well with her activist penchant to significant benefit of masses, which is manifest in success of her initiatives to bring about change. So when she said it, it mattered, and it still matters, for, I now find myself facing this question whether I should act like an activist or a fighter whenever life demands something like that from me.

This sub-plot of the journey called life is really interesting. I had coordinated the survey study of the Working Women’s Forum in Banaras to assess the feasibility of a model that it has successfully implemented in Kanchipuram to revive the weaving tradition of Kanchi silk to see if same could be applied to initiate the process of revival of tanked profession of Banarasi Saree tradition. After the study, a group of weavers from Banaras were taken to Chennai and Kanchipuram to mobilize a small group of weavers with first hand experience of Kanchipuram practices so that the process could be initiated in Banaras. I was there with Pradeep on the trip. Unfortunately, for some reasons that cannot be validated, the project could not take off and I still lament when faces of those weavers come before me I had interacted with during study pushing me to the guilt feeling that I, too, became one of the many breaching their trust once again. And this is certainly not interesting. I wish and hope the day will come when a relevant initiative will see light of the day.

It was an evening of that visit when I was there sitting in her office discussing commitment to ‘cause’ with my reservations about organizations working in the Development sphere and their rampant practices of manipulation and corruption. I had reservations even about Working Women’s Forum and I needed to talk to her as I was working on something which I had doubts about. And I can say my stay in Chennai and Kanchipuram was helpful in clearing much of my doubts about treating every such initiative in the same vein.

Discussing about approaches to work for Development, we came across this interesting dilemma of ‘being an activist or fighter’ when Sandeep Pandey emerged as point of discussion. In fact, I brought him as he was someone I have great respect for after his crusade against Coca Cola exploiting ground water in a Banaras locality. I knew Sandeep Pandey as an activist who keeps on fighting incessantly to undo the wrong, be it against the state, be in against the industry, or be it against the state-industry collusion, not compromising even an inch on ideology. I felt comfortable with this approach accepting some of the prices paid in the fight. She had a different take on it. She said she, too, had great respect for Sandeep Pandey but she could not adopt the approach Sandeep and others like him would follow. She said, ‘I am an activist and not a fighter’. Though she could never favour the maniacs out on the road to deface some liberate voices of women talking openly on sex and extramarital affairs in the largely orthodox Tamil society, she kept it to her to concentrate on her primary objective, empowering the marginalized women for whom such issues were virtually non-issues. She said she had a large women base to cater to and a conflict with state and opinion leaders may hamper the timely deliveries of initiatives and that would be the worst case scenario for a family dependent on daily earnings and meager or no savings. She would try to bypass the conflicts in legitimate ways but it didn’t mean she would not raise her voice. Rather, she said she believed in a dialogue that would not impede her objectives. For her, empowering the deprived was of utmost priority and she could not afford the prolonged misery that would be inflicted upon them had she been engaged in fighting the system. And I was listening to her in attention. I had my reasons to believe her. Working Women’s Forum doesn’t accept any govt aid.

Modern Management practices say if you are stuck in a deadlock with all the straight outlets trapped, try to find a way out of the crisis to concentrate on the next task. She seems to have mastered this situational approach to deal with the system preserving her conscious. And she has delivered. Still, I have reservations about organizations, specially in my part of the country, but her approach first led me to think and then to accept that she was right. Now I am comfortable with this dilemma of ‘being an activist or a fighter’. I am learning to balance the reaction of my conscious with the situational approach. Jaya Arunachalam and Sandeep Pandey both have to be relevant. The focus should be the person first and ideology should come next.

Wednesday 29 July 2009

WHEN I DIG IN..

I look off the window
The mundane seems to be on the go
I look on the window
The mundane seems to be on a row
I try to look inside the window
Nerves seem to be crying from below
I dig down deeper
Not knowing the abyss of the creeper
Recollections flash upon that inward eye
Reflections reconcile for that soliloquy
The calm seems to be vacant and pensive
The solipsism maintaining the calm to be restive
For oft when, I sit with me
My ‘Soul’ comes to me
To make me one with ‘me’

Monday 27 July 2009

2010 SUDAN ELECTIONS: ANOTHER DAMP SQUIB FOR DARFUR HOPES

Sudan is going to hold elections next year. Sudan and election! Yes, this possibility is to become a reality in 2010, if we do not have yet another deadlock of faction rivalry, if the five years of wait after 2005 peace accord doesn’t get extended. 2005 marked an end of two decades of civil war between North and South Sudan when a Comprehensive Peace Agreement was put in place. It was expected to bring an initiative to bring Darfur back to peace process on the part of Sudan’s centre. But nothing has happened. And the way things are moving, it seems nothing will happen. And why so? Darfur’s conflict will tell us.

The upcoming elections, first in two decades, have great symbolic significance for Sudan, for it will be a spectacle for Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the authoritative President of Sudan, to tighten his grip by this much awaited propaganda event and to get one more reason to defy the international law and order establishment, another damp squib which has failed to exercise its decree in authoritative and dictatorial regimes of the world. The way Omar al-Bashir had reacted to the International Criminal Court’s decision to indict him for war crimes and Darfur massacres, when he expelled 13 international humanitarian agencies out of Darfur, is indicative enough how he is going to handle these Sudan elections, particularly in Darfur.

Darfur crisis is result of 2003 revolt of mostly non-Arab militias of the region against the alleged state neglect. State did what an authoritative state had to do; it deployed troops and Arab militias or Janjawid to control the rebel surge. Externally supported ethnic Darfurian groups and Sudan supported militias and its troops have been waging a war since then and they have mercilessly targeted inhabitants of the area. The Khartoum death count is around 10,000 while UN humanitarian chief John Holmes put this figure around 300,000. UNICEF recently reported that around 80 infants die daily in Darfur due to malnutrition and this figure is based on limited regional reach of aid agencies. As early as in 2004, US Secretary of State Collin Powell had termed deaths in Darfur a genocide.


Darfur IDPs

Darfur, almost of the size of France with a population around 6 million (2006 figures) as put by some international agencies, has had a history of ethnic clashes and this ethnic divide has worked as a double edged sword for people of the region; they are targeted by govt supported mercenaries on one hand and at the same time, are crushed by the warring ethnic warlords. According to Refugee International figures, more than 2.2 million internally displaced people are in Darfur and over 200,000 are living in refugee camps in Chad. United Nations says more that 2.7 million have fled their homes and are living in camps. When approximately half of the population is on the run, expecting a change as an election outcome is nothing more than deceiving the already shattered 6 million hopes.

People of the region have seen nothing but atrocities and deaths after the civil war erupted. State never looked serious in its efforts to realign the peace movement. African Union brokered Darfur Peace Agreement of 2006 between the Sudanese govt and Darfur rebel group Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM) failed miserably as most other rebel groups kept out of it. Widespread violence had been reported in the region after the peace deal was brokered. As recently is in July this year, Justice and Equality Movement (Jem), the most active rebel group, did not attend the Egypt peace talks on Darfur crisis between Hosni Mubarak and Omar al-Bashir.

When nothing is working for people of the region, the basic entity of the electoral process, elections are not going to work. They are going to be State managed. International pressure is only on paper. Sudan has been delaying issuing visas to UNAMID staff. UNAMID is the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force for Darfur. Then reaction to ICC’s indictment is already there. We can expect the role of international watchdogs during Darfur elections then. Though on its part, Sudan is saying it has included IDPs of Northern Darfur in the electoral constituencies so that they can participate in 2010 elections. North Darfur Higher Electoral Committee has delineated 14 constituencies for national parliament and 29 constituencies for regional camber. But the demarcation process of geographical constituencies of the region does not include census of the camps which are situated in the war ravaged areas as revealed by the Census Director in West Darfur, Ms Wafaa Hassan Mansour. So the uneven representation, that is going to be highly skewed in favour of State, has been curtailed even more.

This ongoing situation has worried United Nation though it cannot do much. UN under-secretary-general and its Peacekeeping Chief Le Roy’s words reflected this when he said, "The contested census, large-scale displacement and volatility - particularly in the area bordering Chad - create enormous risks that the people of Darfur will not be in a position to participate in the electoral process,".

The larger and the more sensitive issue here is the ‘alienation and the aftermath’ that this disempowerment would bring after the elections are over. Such a grounding of ‘already shattered’ hopes may prove a damp squib that would be fatal enough for any peace process to come back to the negotiation table in the near future escalating the pace of human carnage in the worst humanitarian crisis of 21st Century..

Sunday 26 July 2009

BANARAS CALLING - I

KASHI..VARANASI..BANARAS..


A Banaras ghat sketch by Ragini

Should I call it Kashi or Banaras or Varanasi? Does it matter? Yes, it matters. But outcome of the approach here is converging rather than diverging, something that doesn't happen normally. Different names given to any entity pertain to different traits and particulars of that entity and so signify divergence of shades it acquires in the process of evolution. In case of Banaras, all three names signify just one thing – the ‘light’ of eternity!

‘Kasa’, the origin of 'Kashi' brings ‘illumination’ in the literal sense and it has percolated to realms of realization with spiritual antiquity of civilization inhabiting this part of the world illuminating the other world with its spirituality and wisdom; Varanasi, which signifies again the two ancient notions, a river and a place, along the sacred eternal Ganges, a symbiosis of eternity; then comes the ‘Banaras’, which signifies the culture of the city, indicative of its moods, an ingrained tinge of aloofness creating a paradox of ‘not so careful’ as well as ‘sensitive to the core’ way of thinking as a way of life. Interestingly one popular meaning of Banaras is combination of 'Bana' (readymade) and Ras (juice) which symbolically means an always prevailing presence of Life Form, much in line of its place as one of the oldest continually inhabited cities.

But can we define a place like Varanasi? I don’t think it would be a feasible aspect of analysis even for a discernible thinker, not only with Varanasi, but with any place that has a history to tell like it has. So the best definition would be ‘it can’t be defined’. Rather it’s a journey which we live every moment and when we dig in to know more, the path to know a bit more of it presents before us many of its unseen facets through its thousands pasts. Like knowing self, it’s a never ending process. I don’t know Banaras much even after spending 25 years of my life there.

Welcome to Varanasi, the city of eternal flow of Ganges, ghats, temples, lanes, Banarasi Saree, Banarasi Paan, Banarasi Lassi, Ganga Aarti, Spiritual Discourses; Saarnath and Buddhism, a city of packed crowds..

Welcome to Varanasi, the city of polluted eternal flow mixed with sewage; ghats with dumped wastages; most temples with with anything but spiritual priests; narrow dirty lanes; dying business of Banarasi Saree tradition; a city that is educational; hub of the region; a city with highest rate of crime in the region..

Welcome to Varanasi, a city of paradoxes, a city of symbolism, a city of assimilation, a city of doom, a city of resurrection..

All these notions have co-existed and will co-exist.

Varanasi is a place inheriting all these ingredients of antiquity, of not so remote past, of present and is in the process of absorbing the incumbent constituents for its future.

Mark Twain had observed: "Banaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.

The city is reminiscent of a preservative transition. But the transition of the day is something that is still hanging off the balance to find a proper modifying character that can equal its long history of convergence of spiritual themes. The city has a history of its own and certainly for such a mix of cultural ethos, the evolution becomes more about assimilating the new in old rather than a total metamorphosis of the old with the changing times. Banaras of the day is more a city of crowd. The over 30 lakh populated city has grown rather irregularly. It has grown vertically. The missing horizontal component stops it to have a flare of growth of contemporary times that could be in tune with its eternal character. It has misspelt its physical, metaphysical, spiritual, ethical and metaethical components. It makes us feel sometimes it is lagging in the race to catch the fast rotating wheel of time, but probably it is the saving grace that would ultimately prevail to preserve a fine balance of tradition and modernity. But as we cannot define Banaras, we cannot define its evolution. All through its period of existence, it has found ways to maintain its identity and it will do the same now and ever as it has been doing in the past. The city has an indomitable character well seen by the world after 2006 blasts, the one ironic incident which has placed it in eyes of the media players. What a way to perceived glory!

Saturday 25 July 2009

PHILOSOPHY OF NECESSITY

Does God play dice? This famous proposition, made by Stephen Hawking in one of his most celebrated papers, has reverberations in sociological spaces too, reverberations that echo; echo that has been so loud and deafening yet so invisible that by now it has lost its valour it used to have, its discourse orientations it used to generate, and has become a trite, a threadbare show of almost philosophical outlets, an irony lived well but understood poorly. Irony because everyone asks this question so many times during her or his stay here yet we seldom take the next step, a step to look beyond, to go the unconventional way to look for genesis and nemesis of life events. We blame everything, God, time, other people, bad luck, circumstances, sometimes us, but we seldom look beyond to read inscriptions of moments encrypted on subtle layers of subconscious. We misread moments, we mislead their proposition, we misguide our senses, we miss string of life and we do all this in the name of being pragmatic. We blame, we react, we overpower, and we are overpowered. When we overpower, which doesn’t happen so often, it is well and good; when we are overpowered, that happens so frequently’ we look to shift responsibility and we look to blame someone for such events and see, what we find most of the time. We blame ‘life’ or ‘God’ and we very conveniently put everything in an abyss never realizing we are escaping the required imminent and soon escapism becomes a way of life for us. Instead of us winning over the moments, moments dictate our moves, pushing us into an illusionary world that paints before us that we are living our individuality but we seldom realize when we lost the ‘philosophy of being individual’.

Does God play dice? It is a common question which everyone asks herself or himself so many times in her or his lifetime. When we ask such questions and when we look for insights, we tend to move to philosophical realms. Here I am not talking about philosophy as a discourse or discipline but it has more to do with philosophical underpinnings of existence and identity and here philosophy becomes an ironical necessity, a necessity we have become habituated to ignore in day-to-day life. If we turn to ‘philosophy of Puritanism, the ‘dicing’ proposition looses its relevance. If we turn to the philosophy incarnation of the day as preached by so called intellectuals and self-made God-reincarnations or even by the academicians, it becomes misleading enough to veer us to the brink of conscience crisis. When we are asked to ‘accept everything as it comes’ and ‘whatever that happens is for good’ and when we start believing in such propositions, not debating what good it brought to us and if there was any good at all in whatever that happened, we start loosing our individuality slipping into the conscience crisis not realizing it in the name of being practical.

"The longest journey is the journey inward." When former UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold had said these words, he was repeating this basic need of life. We all follow some values in life which we all justify anyhow and we are right in doing so but to go beyond, we need to turn to pragmatism of conscience and that only could lead to a fine blend of ‘the ways we go across to deal with prompts and hurdles of life’ and ‘optimized scale of conscience, the philosophical element’, so as to fix the ‘dice’ in a poise on the scale of thinking in a way that can achieve a swing state tending to get back to the root of one’s existence whenever it gets disturbed. And this balance, this ‘philosophy of necessity’ cannot be defined, cannot be measured, and cannot be précised universally. It is subjective enough and can only be attuned by individual life preferences and circumstances if one tends to balance the moments in the line of practical and philosophical inputs and practical outcomes. And if philosophy is essentially a way to look back at and understand life, ‘philosophy of necessity’ may lead us to make decisions that not only support our material self but can give us the much needed spiritual base too and mind you when I talk about spiritual self, I intend to reach across. We all have this base of spirituality, but we lack it in practicality of getting along with it, limiting us to mostly rituals and temples and shrine visits, and so excluding it out of our daily routine. If spirituality is akin to exploring deeper of ‘you’ connecting you to your ‘self’ and hence to the ‘light’, it has to be a part of your everyday moments, be it for a while. We need to realize ‘necessity of philosophy’ here to base our decisions on pragmatism and conscience. And no one can teach it. We are the teachers and we are the learners and so either we make it or flunk it. Balancing ‘philosophy’ and ‘necessity’ is a difficult proposition. I find myself struggling to go along with my spiritual self. Fortunately, off late, I have been able to swing the poise to a balancing axle. I hope to continue and survive with this instinct in the long run now.

And I am just a common man in the sea of countless thinking silhouettes like me. This sea of similarity has this uniqueness of sameness. Nature has given us a narrow range of expressions with just seven universal emotional expressions of humans as Psychology tells us and within this narrow range, we have countless thoughts and resulting expressional variants of basic entities. So, somehow, somewhere we cross our ways. But we seldom get affected by some positive attributes of others, focusing largely on pinning what we can find that can be criticized. ‘Cribbing’ is a buzz word in conversations. We wear so many layers that we cannot or do not want to look at positives and we do all this in the name of ‘individuality’. The ‘sameness’ that can be a blessing turns into a moronic proposition then. We do not realize this ‘philosophical necessity’ of the ‘sameness of thought processes’ and so we are not able to sift through to find if something is there to widen our horizon.

“God does not play dice”. It is this bunch of ‘us’ who make life a ‘dicing’ game. Subsistence of life is the practical need but subservience to moments and compromise with conscience in the name of pragmatism make philosophy a bookish term drifting it away from some of its basic tenets which are necessities of life and what we have is the prevalence of cliché expressions like ‘do not preach philosophy please’ and other fashionable expressions of ridiculing honesty and principles. Though by its very definition, philosophy should be treated as a subjective outlet, and therefore no one has any right to interfere in someone else’s life, we all, at some point of time, feel for the ‘philosophy of necessity’ to support our material ‘self’ with the spiritual ‘self’. We may do it knowingly or unknowingly, but we all do it. Life and Philosophy are twins bound by ironical necessity of their interdependence and everyone needs to find a way to reach to her or his ‘philosophy of necessity’.

WHAT BINAYAK SEN STANDS FOR**

Binayak Sen has been released on bail from Raipur jail after an unprecedented national and international campaign for two long years. But the man is worried about civil liberties of thousands of others like him who still continue to languish in jail and who are not fortunate enough to have a vocal middle class activist base and media vouch for them. Some like filmmaker Ajay T.G. and journalist Sai Reddy were fortunate enough to be released due to lack of any evidence against them but others like journalist Prashant Rahi and political activist Abhay Sahu are still incarcerated. The former two are from Chhattisgarh and the latter two from Uttarakhand and Orissa, respectively.

Soon after his release Binayak Sen said in Kolkata that the Chhattisgarh Government-backed armed tribal group Salwa Judum, meant to counter the Naxalites, is actually engaged in evacuating the common tribals from their villages so that their land can then be handed over to private corporations for exploitation of natural resources for profit. Salwa Judum and security forces including the ad hoc tribal Special Police Officers (SPOs) are engaged in killing, raping and terrorising the tribals on the pretext of them being Naxalites or Naxalite sympathisers for the express purpose of forcing them to vacate their villages.

As many as 644 such deserted villages in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh stand testimony to state-sponsored as well as Naxalite violence. The houses have been burned down or fallen on their own due to neglect for the interim three years. The common tribal caught between the cross-fire is on the run, literally, in the jungles. About one-sixth of them came to the Salwa Judum roadside camps under duress. Most did not. Even the ones who came to the camps are now returning to their villages. More than half have already done so. Himanshu Kumar, a Gandhian activist, who runs the Vanvasi Chetna Asharm in Dantewada district, is helping the tribals to come back to their homes from as far as Andhra Pradesh. In addition he has been highlighting the cases of human rights violations of tribals at the hands of security forces, SPOs and the Salwa Judum. The administration, obviously not happy with what Himanshu is doing, demolished his ashram infrastructure, including his home, on the morning of May 17, 2009, in an operation which reminded of fascist tendencies of the government.

Himanshu represents a non-violent democratic force in a region torn between Naxalites on one hand and the Salwa Judum and security forces on the other. He represents the people’s voice demanding peace and development. Himanshu is actually involved in the implementation of several government developmental schemes. He is creating the space in which an ordinary tribal can exercise his/her democratic right. For example, whereas the Naxalites would ordinarily call for boycott of polls, Himanshu would encourage people to participate in the electoral process. Instead of helping him expand this space to cover more tribals, as a strategy to restrict the growth of the Naxalites, the government has come down heavily upon him with an inexplicable vengeance.
¨
The government complains that Naxalites are not allowing it to carry out normal developmental activities. The fact of the matter is that the benefits of developmental programmes were hardly reaching the tribals in these interior areas to begin with. That provided the fertile ground for emergence of Naxalism. The Naxalites have blown up schools because they were not functioning and were instead being used to house para-military forces. The relevant question that needs to be asked is whether the government programmes are running effectively in areas not affected by Naxalites. An 80-feet road under construction between Geetham and Bijapur is definitely not for the benefit of tribals. The government has to be honest with its commitment towards development targeted at benefiting the people. People have become conscious enough to see through its hidden agenda. The benefit of the much publicised Rs 2 per kg of rice programme in Chhattisgarh does not reach a number of tribals because they simply don’t have the ration card required to access this rice. Some tribals did not vote in the last elections because their polling booth was in a Salwa Judum camp where people were inimical to them.
The government wants to deal with Naxalite violence with a heavy hand. It no longer believes in the humanitarian approaches of people like Himanshu. It is no longer willing to tolerate any dissent as is obvious from its punitive actions against Binayak and Himanshu. It is clearing the area of people as well as organisations like the VCA to prepare for a flush-out operation like that of Sri Lankan Army against the LTTE. It is already felling all roadside trees so that Naxalites may not have a hiding space. This would also suit the private corporations’ agenda. The pipeline which will carry iron ore from mines allocated to Tata and Essar in the Bailadila hills in this region to their ultimate destination in Vishakhapattanam are likely to pass through the land which was occupied by the VCA. These corporations have also been rumoured to be funding the anti-Naxalite operations of Salwa Judum which is clearly extra- constitutional.

The rise of fundamentalism and corporatisation has been accompanied by state repression of ordinary people and activists and shrinking democratic spaces. This has now become the national experience. The governments of all shades are in it together. This is what has been opposed by Binayak Sen and others like him for which they have been branded Naxalites or Naxalite sympathisers and sometimes arrested on cooked- up charges. But it is heartening to note that two years in jail and failing health has not dampened the spirits of Binayak Sen. He will lead the cause of the common people who are being sacrificed at the altar of neo-liberal policies. His incarceration has galvanised the national activist community and opened the eyes of the middle class and media to the anti-people and anti-poor agenda of the governments.

**By Sandeep Pandey, Mainstream, July 18, 2009

Thursday 23 July 2009

FOR I FEEL FOR..

“For I feel for I happened to be someone”
“For I feel I am not someone”
“For I feel I am not who I am”
“For I feel I am who I am”
“For I feel I need to be someone”
“For I feel I will be someone”

“For I feel I have denied the moments their right to play with me”
“For I feel they still feel they can play with me but”
“For I feel I feel their despairs to loose the winning vein”

“For I feel for the rustles in the layers”
“For I feel for the layers to be living vague identities”
“For I feel for identities that struggle”
“For I feel for struggles more numerous than other”
“For I feel for that anxious urge of identities to come alone, to go along”
“For I feel for this stasis and resurrection of layers to bind their identities”
“For I feel for this urge of layers to be one in harmony with all the parallelism”

“For I feel for what I felt for who I was,
“For I feel for that co-existence with that subtle parallelism”
“For I feel for that forgotten aspect added to my thoughts”
“For I feel for my Soul to be there for this”
“For I feel for my Soul to be with me”
“For I feel for the urge of rustling layers to be one with..
..to be one with the splutter of the raining beads of thoughts”
“For I feel for I need to feel what I felt”

Wednesday 22 July 2009

SO LONG A TRYST WITH THE DESTINY..

The Tryst with the Destiny 61 years ago:

“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.”


Why it still seems so fresh? Why it can be applied, even today, for the soil which has given us a meaning, even if the vague one! India woke up 61 years ago but why, then, this slumber came? Why the tryst with destiny happening today gives us a mix of feelings, but inundated with questions in mind!


We are independent souls…. in essence….
Let the MESSAGE be spread across….
A LIFE lost is always a loss can never be substituted with….
Be it at CST or Taj Mahals or Karbi or Lalganj or Dantewada or elsewhere….
Let the SOUL cry….
Let it be heard across…..
We never know when the time comes…..
But it does come…..
But can we see the CST or the Taj Mahals or the Karbi in the same flow….
We NEED to…..
Lest we again be here to lament for what we did….
Lest we again be here to become an inhuman flesh…..
Another shock to look back at and to move ahead…..
To relive the trauma….

Sunday 19 July 2009

FOR HOW LONG??

What will happen to Prof Sabharwal’s case when it goes to Supreme Court, no one knows. A fear of loosing the battle seems imminent given the past when right to justice of a commoner was crushed against those with deeper outreach in power corridors. A sense of déjà vu has already started creeping in.

The way Prof Sabharwal was treated by mongrels blinded by power and audacity, reflected subsequently in his death and what followed in the aftermath. Aftermath as it has given a trauma to every sensible mind, every soul to lament more for unexplained loss of the soul of humanity once again. Humanity had died one more of its innumerable eternal deaths.

Sabharwals, Nitharis, fodder scams, hawalas, many Manjunaths, Surendra Dubes, Priyadarshini Mattoos, Madhumitas, Jessica Lals and Nitish Kataras..........and still this is just the tip of the iceberg..........such registered and unregistered cases are manifold. They are not able to reach to the level of the priming content for the 24*7 nation integrating communicators. Fashion weeks, celebrity marriages, gossips, scandals have adopted a characteristically high visibility, but where is the common Indian, the lowest but the unit denominator.

Muckrakers are a rare breed now and we have collectively created this pathetic scenario. Can we talk of and boast of values, culture, tradition and a rich heritage? Someone, some years back, sacrificed his life just for some of these words but these were not just words for him. He lived these and transformed a nation. Now we are only politicking. More than 200 million of Indians are still living over Rs 12 a day and this is just a part of large and wide base (legacy) of our BPL, ignored masses.

Nothing is bizarre when it comes to deal with politicians of the day. But there was this feeling that given the high profile nature of the case and the related media glare, the state machinery would act responsibly, if not voluntarily, compulsion to survive and political equations for BJP would lead to some positive outcome this time after two consecutive electoral losses and a seemingly dismal future. But the wheel proved itself wrong. Rather we had statements like ‘bygones are bygones’ and celebration visuals of the accused after the acquittal verdict.

Are we cursed to see the rise of the cursed? True, optimism and pessimism run simultaneously but we can never predict which one prevails and for how long. What is the way out? Ideally it can be said it is up to us if we are willing to keep the fight on fighting incessantly till a change can be placed in place. Pragmatically we need to be comfortable with the cost that we would pay and at the same time realizing that we all are fallible. We need to be ready for this mental trauma. But we need to fight on, there is no other way.

Friday 17 July 2009

VIOLENCE VS NON VIOLENCE

‘It is better to be violent, if there is violence in your hearts, than to put on the clock of non-violence to cover impotence'
Mahatma Gandhi

Is it Puritanism at its best - but nothing is absolute then - we are in a relative world with relative values and hence relative existences - being one with one’s outer- and inner--selves is a thing of great perseverance in these days.

Are we prepared for being what we truly are, - in totality?

Tuesday 14 July 2009

ELEPHANT IN THE ROCK

In ancient India lived a sculptor renowned for his life-sized statues of elephants. With trunks curled high, tusks thrust forward, thick legs trampling the earth, these carved beasts seemed to trumpet to the sky. One day, a king came to see these magnificent works and to commission statuary for his palace. Struck with wonder, he asked the sculptor, “What is the secret of your artistry?”

The sculptor quietly took his measure of the monarch and replied, "Great king, when, with the aid of many men, I quarry a gigantic piece of granite from the banks of the river, I have it set here in my courtyard. For a long time I do nothing but observe this block of stone and study it from every angle. I focus all my concentration on this task and won’t allow anything or anybody to disturb me. At first, I see nothing but a huge and shapeless rock sitting there, meaningless, indifferent to my purposes, utterly out of place. It seems faintly resentful at having been dragged from its cool place by the rushing waters. Then, slowly, very slowly, I begin to notice something in the substance of the rock. I feel a presentiment . . . an outline, scarcely discernible, shows itself to me, though others, I suspect, would perceive nothing. I watch with an open eye and a joyous, eager heart. The outline grows stronger. Oh, yes, I can
see it! An elephant is stirring in there!"

"Only then do I start to work. For days flowing into weeks, I use my chisel and mallet, always clinging to my sense of that outline, which grows ever stronger. How the big fellow strains! How he yearns to be out! How he wants to live! It seems so clear now, for I know the one thing I must do: with an utter singleness of purpose, I must chip away every last bit of stone that is not elephant. What then remains will be, must be, elephant."

When I was young, my grandmother, my spiritual guide, would often tell just such a story, not only to entertain but to convey the essential truths of living. Perhaps I had asked her, as revered teachers in every religion have been asked, "What happens in the spiritual life? What are we supposed to do?" Granny wasn’t a theologian, so she answered these questions simply with a story like that of the elephant sculptor. She was showing that we do not need to bring our real self, our higher self, into existence. It is already there. It has always been there, yearning to be out. An incomparable spark of divinity is to be found in the heart of each human being, waiting to radiate love and wisdom everywhere, because that is its nature.

--Eknath Easwaran, in God Makes the Rivers To Flow

Monday 13 July 2009

NO ‘PRICED’ SPACE FOR A ‘NON-ENTITY’!

Mumbai was numb again. This time there were no terrorists, no guns, and no explosives. There was no fear psychosis to leave them speechless and expressionless. Instead, humanity died once again on its roads. An abandoned baby was left to die by parents. It was flashed on television channels. But no one came to claim. It was grotesque again. The mere sight of a newborn is enough to make you to bow to the beauty of creation, the message of the Almighty. I could never understand what makes us so heartless that we go on to commit cruelest of sins, when we kill rights of a life to germinate. I could never understand what on earth can compel us to debase us to this level. The city would be numb, numb, as we have become sort of moronic creatures, driven by apathy and extreme eccentricity of self. Cities would remain numb. Just two days ago, a newborn, just 2-3 hours old, a baby girl was found abandoned in garbage bin in Lucknow. She’s has a name now, Vrinda. Vrinda was lucky with all her ill lucks that she could survive and could find a lap in an orphanage. But there are cities and cities and there is ever increasing number of abandoned babies, mostly girls. Has the malaise grown to a level that it has stopped bothering us! It looks so. I could not find much information related to the Mumbai incident when I tried to get some more information through different wires. No ‘priced’ space for a ‘non-entity’!

Sunday 12 July 2009

QUEER, LGBT, 377..FUNCTIONAL VOCAB GOT ENRICHED..

We had a Mexican batch mate in Communication course at Banaras Hindu University.
That was not so long ago.
Abraham had travelled all the way from that part of the world to India to fit it in his itinerary of career advancement. We made good batch mates initially. There was something peculiar about him which I didn't notice or could not take seriously at that time. He would walk with me but would abstain holding my hands and would be very cautious about it. Sometimes he would ask me about people being gay or lesbian when he would see people walking holding their hands. I did what I had to say. I would go on explaining it as part of Indian culture and emotive bond that we spontaneously inculcate in our relations and we know, for sure, for most of us, we are natural with all these body languages. I can say I had been able to convince him about it that it was not so prevalent though it was not absent from the society. I had a perception like most of us that it was something very very restricted in occurrence, certainly not millions of cases with around 4.5 million cases of HIV/AIDS in India involving men having sex with men (MSMs) as mentioned by previous Health Minister A Ramadoss last year.

But that was not long ago.

Then I was not aware of it that it would become a sort of national debate that it has become now. It is good to see a debate growing on a sensitive issue on a wide scale and that too in a span of few years. 377 is the buzz word now. Delhi HC decision to decriminalize homosexual sex between consenting adults is certainly a landmark for an individual's identity. True, it raises many debatable questions; we need to accept it as a part of the process. Foremost factor is the value of human dignity. We, human beings, are basically emotional creatures and need some outlet to depend on and we go on to develop relations within the circle. It may be anyone; even one’s own self, whosoever clicks. Choosing someone as your intimate one is your private decision. People should be left with their lives as long as it is not interfering directly with lives of others. But there are bottlenecks and bottlenecks. The religious leaders, across the section, have closed their ranks against it. Government which had not so differing voices before and just after the Delhi HC decision seems divided now and seeking more time from the apex court. But then the government was never very clear about it with differing views of Health Ministry, Home Ministry and Law Ministry on the matter since Naz Foundation started a legal battle in 2002. And so this divide within the ranks of the government was just a matter of time on an issue which has religious tentacles and therefore electoral prospects.

That was not a long ago.

Homosexuality has been a sensitive issue. It dates back to ancient times. It has both positive and negative connotations if we go with the scholarship available on texts of ancient India. While Manu Smriti, which laid a code of conduct for human behaviour, has implicit and negative references to it, Kamasutra is vivid about it not going into debates and implications of societal norms related to homosexuality. Many other scriptures have mentions of homosexuality too. What is important here, to infer from all these, that homosexuality has been an issue, though this time it has got a wide fervour and we can go on finding why this time?

But in a country where talking about straight sex is highly suppressed, even considered a taboo, talking about homosexuality was no less than a sin. Homosexuality was not at all a matter of debate. What is important here to note how it was subjugated to our phony ways in handling sensitive but unorthodox issues? True change is happening, we have started discussing about sex education and advocating for talking about sex in open; still we have varying and largely opposing counter-demands, violent retributions and retracting tactics every time we seem to have arrived at a decision to implement something unorthodox according to our societal norms; still we have not been able to make sex education a matter of national debate so as to make it universal, so as to induct it into school education. We cannot do that till we leave our escapism at bay. Let’s accept it, let’s not divert now.

When talking about subjugation of homosexuality, it is clear it had to happen but how come, in just eight years, the same has become a matter of national debate. It is important to be probed. It is inferential and it is implicative. It can throw light on the way we think, the societal norms that tend to thrive. Also it leads us to ponder over another big issue, issue of insipid culture of debate in our country on matters that might have far reaching implications. Had it not been like this, we would have a much better society, we would have well received outcomes for well conceived plans. Amartya Sen says we Indians are basically argumentative; it is something ingrained in our nature and so in our culture. He goes at length in explaining this in his book, which too, traces antiquity to modernity of culture and a debating Indian.

That was not a long ago.

Why then this insipid culture of debate? Probably, we all know the answers. We have stopped caring if we are being heard. We react, we boil internally, then we go back to do the usual things as nothing has happened. We have become more compromising as a society. Had it not been like this, we would have raging debates and not just politicking over issues like reservation for affirmative action, reservation for equal opportunities, uniform civil code, caste discriminations and internal violence, sex education, educational reforms, illegal immigrants, still higher illiteracy and poverty rate and so on and so forth, even after 60 years of independence. Every such debate has been subjected to subjugation in name of societal norms, aping alien culture, national interest and what not. The policy ballooning has been very well carved out, it seems. We need not go into the statistical details of national and international agencies to prove it. Instead of focusing on basic issues to uplift living standards of the last man, what we have seen largely, is foreplay of words.

That was since a long ago. That was not a long ago.

It makes it a queer case the way homosexuality, the Queer phenomenon, has become a sort of national debate in just few years. But do we have ways to assess what majority of people on street think about it. We do not have. At one hand the debate focuses on rights of an individual identity, on the other hand it is an ironical case study given the pace it could get. By that I don't intend to hurt anyone's sentiments. I am trying to be objective here from a macro viewpoint, diverting for a while from an individual viewpoint. Ironical because why couldn't we have this sort of debate on issues of far more inevitability to the texture of our society. Child marriage has been a curse, but its prevalence in this age compels a media house to produce a chart topping show. Have we ever had a national debate on child marriages. Had it been there, application of the law would not be so insipid. Similar is the case with dowry incidents and widow re-marriages.

How long will it go like this? We do not have answer.

Certainly the Delhi HC decision is a landmark for individual identity and freedom of expression. Personal vanity has to be respected at any cost. LGBT community has always been part of any society. They were sidelined. The mainstreaming movement started in other cultures had to come to India. We simply can't ignore valid human rights given to someone in a different culture in name of societal, religious or spiritual norms in our culture. We should wish the apex court would ratify the decision. Queer, LGBT, 377, Homosexuality should remain part of the functional vocab. We should wish the debate would continue to include the LGBT community in the mainstream to achieve the objective of a more homogeneous texture of the social sphere. We should wish it will lead to a culture of comprehensive debates on other issues.

That should not take so long. We can wish only.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

WE COME ALONE, WE DO NOT GO ALONE..

WE COME ALONE, WE DO NOT GO ALONE.

The period of stay here, at least, gives us some memories that remain with us. At times, we introspect, at times, we retrospect, at times we do get connected to us, and at times, we do live in memories. Such moments lead us to us. Loneliness of such a prime binds one to one’s soul.

Almost of us have a life driven by circumstances. Circumstances that leave us in a lurch where we easily slip to an attitude where we tend to ignore us more and more. Almost of us have a life linked to set of people who matter. People who add up to the validity of our existence. We have so many lives that we never feel the injustice that we extend to us by not giving time to us. We feel satisfied when we make our people happy. We play different roles to approve every moment that passes and we need to do so. If I am ignoring myself then, circumstantially, I cannot be blamed.

Our sphere of life is so small that we need to preserve it any cost. What we earn in life is just some committed bondages. We are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, beloveds, friends, teachers, and mentors, relations that give us a meaning.

We have expectations. Sometimes we feel happy to comply, sometimes we feel obliged to comply, sometimes we need to comply, sometimes we have to comply, sometimes we do not comply. Sometimes we do not keep expectations. These different dimensions are coordinates; coordinates that tend to balance themselves to maintain the poise when expectations clash. Most of the time, when we are in a cognitive dissonance, the poise swings back to the equilibrium, sometimes the poise looses its spontaneity, to not to come back.

So many branches ramify that we gradually loose the string, the connect to us, as we grow, we feel we have grown up, have become mature. We seldom realize in the process we lost our innocence. We loose spontaneity of our nature.

Can we maintain the rhythm?
Can we get the spontaneity back?

We need to identify the moments that we can find through our different lives, moments that lead us to us only, moments that connect us to inner us while we are living with the world, maintaining the contacts. We need to be alone at moments to find that precious connect back. We need to know if we can be with someone and with us at the same time. We need to know if we are able to maintain this spontaneity, this poise. We have all the right to do so, if at the end of the day, we do not want to face the question that we could not pursue the quest to find us. Yes the quest. How many of us live and die knowing who we are and who we were.

The best way to know one is feeling oneself at moments of reckoning. The feeling of being alone, just with your senses, may lead you to think more consciously. More and more of such moments may sensitize you, towards you, towards others. We become regular with introspection and retrospection. We get a gradual connect to the higher self, if we name it spirituality or God or just a humane conscious. We tend to get a rhythm again in life and we may become spontaneous again. We need to learn the art of being lonely in crowd while being part of the crowd. A multitude of loneliness in mosaic of relations! One needs to feel it severally, with conscience, before making it a way of life. One needs to live several lonely moments.

I have felt like this so many times before being regular with it. I need to live like this.

I NEED TO BE SEVERALLY ALONE..

Friday 3 July 2009

MANAGING COMMUNICATION: THE LEADERS, THE LAGGARDS

Like any other industry, the global financial meltdown has affected Communications industry too. The PR industry or to say more aptly the Communication Management industry, in the country should be a natural victim of this. But, its repercussions are yet to be felt. Though the pressure is more on PR related activities and financial considerations of financial organizations and PR agencies with significant number of financial organizations as clients, chances of lay-offs are still not being assessed.

Certainly expansion will be slowed down owing to across the spectrum downturn particularly with downward trend in financial sector and real estate organization, contributing significantly to the revenue sheets. Agencies are places where one can expect lay-offs in the prevailing situation unlike other employment harbours in corporate sector, PSUs, NGOs and other government organizations. If agencies are more or less out of realm of laying-off, it is a vital sign that PR industry is consolidating and maturing. It is moving to become one of more organized industries. It is evolving and making strides with its other industrial counterparts. It has come out of the gestation period and now in the growth phase. The industry size in monetary terms may be a debatable issue; it seems the growth is going to stay here.

It obviously leads us to look beyond this basic reference point of growth to a stabilizing and sustainable growth. It leads us to probe more into the constituents of this growth or the desired sustainable growth. The divide of advertising and non-advertising communications is getting blurred and the emphasis point is shifting to focus on customization of the communication involving every possible tool. Packaging is more in fashion than ever. This trend has brought a paradigm shift in manpower map of the industry. We are moving more and more towards specialized hands. So, who is leading this pack?

Cleary the leaders are private sector organizations and PR agencies while the government organizations lag behind. We will see, how?

The whole gamut of PR activities has changed. The tools have become more sophisticated and customized with advancement in Information and Communication Technologies. It is not only about external communication, internal communication is equally important in the days of trans-national and multi-national organizations, high attrition rates and short supply of desired manpower. It’s more of a separate management vertical than just a media dependent publicity tool. Corporate Communications has become much more relevant that its parent, the Public Relations. Corporate Affairs is a step ahead customization of establishing the communication functions of an organization which incorporates traditional and shrewd ways of PR with sophistication of Corporate Communications where lobbying becomes an essential part of day to day business activity. Outcome of such work related activities need a team with a mixed experience background, of good media relations as well as communication and management practices. Presence of experiences journalists mostly from business and technology background in important positions falls in line with this requirement. Corporate Communications teams and PR agencies have this combination of experienced media persons or experienced PR persons and specialist communication professionals.

Publicity and media relations are just two functions among the whole lot of Communication Management functions which include tech specific functions like intranet management, RSS syndication, organizational blogging; traditional internal communication tools; external communications including government and industry lobbying; event and channel partners management; and an inherent function of working as a soft marketing tool to aid the marketing communications of the organization. Corporate Communications function being part of Marketing Communications establishments, especially of technology firms, is a growing trend.

Indeed, Communication has evolved as a complex discipline and excellence requires a holistic approach and consistent effort to overall activity portfolio of Communication Management. To carry out these functions ‘efficiently’ and ‘effectively’, two basic tenets of Management terminology, there is no doubt both specialized and groomed skill sets are required. It is here that government organizations lag behind. They have not been able change with time. Off-late they have started looking for specialized communication professionals, but they have not been able to change the mindset from being a publicity and media interaction (not relation) function to full fledged Communication Management function. It is more about media interaction and not media relation as still PSUs and many government sector organizations have non-communication and non-media persons heading their PR functions. An engineer, a doctor or an academician can easily be found out to carry out PR activities, many times, in addition to his or her basic work responsibilities. It leads to another problem in such organizations that may become a grave issue in the days to come.

This mix of experience set of non-communication and non-media persons in senior positions and specialized communications professionals in middle and junior management positions may lead to conflicts. The range may be wide, from conflicts in work ethos to conflict in identifying a communication problem, to conflicts in devising a solution to the crisis, or even in normal day to day activities. I have many of my co-age friends working in PSUs and other government sector organizations and a sense of frustration can be seen when they speak about their professional life. When a team cannot gel its members, it first obstructs flow of ideas and then completely stops the flow. It is no surprise therefore the brightest of minds tend to ignore these outfits as lauchpad for their career.

Therefore we have an industry here where one part is growing while the other part is still trying to start the process of growing. As already mentioned, industry may be of Rs 200 crore or Rs 3500 crore as assessed by different PR pundits, the growth is not uniform and this certainly is a worrying factor. Growth is just not in absolute terms. Growth should leave behind a fraternity of ignited minds and a tradition of competence. Communications Management in India requires an across the spectrum competence skill sets performing and excelling with across the spectrum organizations. The growth has to be holistic.

Wednesday 1 July 2009

INHUMAN HUMANITY

When Binayak Sen was released on May 25, it was a day to celebrate. The brilliant doctor of CMC and human rights harbinger had just won a fight that is going to be symbolic in a struggle marked by dogged attitude of establishment to suppress voices of conscious dissent. But the breather was dampened by what we can say the biggest humanitarian crises in the history of the humankind-millions of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Pakistan and Srilanka, living in totally inhuman conditions with reports of multiple thousand of casualties.

Human rights abuses are to be found across the world but onflicts in South Asian countries like Pakistan, Srilanka and Nepal have made it the current hotbed for debasement of human dignity. Add it to the perennial ethnic problems in Afghanistan, internal and external militancy in India, Junta’s excesses in Myanmar, and we come across a bottleneck that is grim and intimidating. When we talk of war, victory makes everything else secondary.

Irony is while the establishment tries to justify it by saying that they are fighting to bring law and order back in order to have a humane and organized society, the terrorists or the separatists too say they are fighting to bring a positive change. But they can’t see that in quest of the so-called humane element, they succumb to gross inhuman practices.

A newspapers report quoted a representative of IDPs in Pakistan saying if they don’t get food, they will commit suicide. The government which is advancing to second generation of nukes, and is being supported by US and other countries in its fight against Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgency cannot provide food to refugees living in camps. Similarly, Srilanka did not allow external aid to IDPs and placed such measures for an international agency to function that the International Red Cross had to suspend its activities in Srilanka. Thousands have lost their lives in Lankan government’s triumph over LTTE, either by a bullet of Srilankan Army or by atrocities of LTTE. A recent Times Online investigation has pegged the death toll of civilians in Srilanka at 20,000 terming it as an outright massacre.

War always kills, be it human lives, or human rights. Making civilians shield in conflicts and wars is outright denial of basic principles of any civilization, which envisages a society of parity. We have instances of humans being used as shields in different civilizations at times in the evolution. But securing an identity in the name of a fight or a cause at stake of someone else’s life is magnified now. It’s massive enough to kill thousands. It has become a potent tool in hands of rapidly organizing terrorist groups as shown by the Taliban factions in Pakistan or LTTE in Srilanka.

Worrying aspects of this crisis is the attitude adopted by the Establishment, the State, and the Government. The way the Lankan government took an anti-humanitarian approach throughout the final leg of its war on LTTE, is unprecedented. It bothered least about loss of lives of innocent Tamilians, sandwiched between their so-called liberators, Prabhakaran and the team and the Srilankan government. Pakistani government has also been insensitive though not atrocious towards rehabilitation of IDPs. Nepal was torn between by a civil war between Maoists and its monarchy and government for years. Many died. But the democracy won was flawed as political stability could not be won. Now the fear is looming large again with Maoists out of the government. They are very vocal about reviving their armed struggle.

But it is not war that is killing only in the region. Oppressive measures of Establishment were in full swing when Myanmar denied external aid to the victims of Cyclone Nargis last year. Reportedly around 1,30,000 lost their lives. Many could’ve been saved provided the Junta would have acted a little sensitively to accept the external humanitarian aid. Violations at macro levels like this only supplement abuses at micro levels.

Every time when there is a conflict at any level, humanistic values and human rights are subject to abuse. All the principles are pushed somewhere to the periphery. It is cliché to say the challenges are greater today. Challenges have always been there, with a scale that has taken cyclic rounds to abate or amplify.

We need to adopt a methodic approach to speak out. Some work has been done but much more is needed to be done. As the atrocities continue, the voices of conscious dissent would continue too. Dr Sen’s release is an indicator that if one resolute person can convert his fight for right and righteousness into a mass fight, the hope is still there. Yes, we need to be there, always, in search of humane humanity.