Saturday, October 31, 2009

Diwali, fog and consumption

Outlook's Saba Naqvi writes about the pall of smog that envelopes Delhi during Diwali.

Diwali In Kalyug
The religious dimension has gone missing. We seem to have reduced it to commerce, chaos, and the fog that envelopes the city. Most Indians, living on the margins, are excluded from this bonfire of consumption.

I love lighting my house on Diwali, the daughter tried her hand at rangoli, the maid was delighted with her gifts, mithai boxes were distributed, I prepared and lit traditional oil diyas at a friend’s house, lost a modest sum of money at cards, and developed a respiratory allergy by the time the evening ended.

It was Diwali as usual.

But watching the fire-crackers light up the sky, the wanton manner in which noise and air pollution continued in Delhi (all in the spirit of the festival of course) I have come to the conclusion that if we were industrially as advanced as western countries we would be one of the worst polluters in the world.

We are getting all indignant and self righteous about the climate- change debate and the idea of putting a cap on Indian industry. Good luck to our negotiators who must protect what they see as the national interest, but I do believe that we are not at the forefront of polluting the world only because we can’t do it. We just don’t have the power capacity and are not a developed society. But hey, we are trying our very best!

Our sloth and general lack of civic values would make us terrible polluters if we were a truly industrialized nation. And we would do so without taxing our conscience and not carry any burden of guilt. The entire climate- change debate is based on saving the globe for future generations. We are people who do not bat an eyelid before dumping our garbage in front of the neighbours home. We do not look beyond our own front porch, let alone the world or the future of the globe.

As for Diwali, besides the fact that it mucks up the environment, I also believe that we have devised an entire festival that is based on wanton consumption and destruction. Don’t get me wrong, I mostly enjoy festival season and the great sense of community that comes with it. But let’s look at the manner in which the so called celebrations have evolved. At one level, isn’t Diwali a wonderful cover to give and accept bribes, small and large, in the form of gifts?

The economy is supposed to be down, we are all bearing the brunt of the slow-down, yet there were traffic jams across the city in the week preceding Diwali as people shopped and zig zagged the city delivering gifts. With my own resources depleted and prices hitting the roof, I must confess to thinking resentfully: Who are the people who have so much money to shop?

In Delhi, the huge hike in government salaries would certainly have dramatically improved the purchasing power of the large community of bureaucrats and government employees. But the main reason for the crowded markets, I suspect, is black money. There is still so much of it going a round that it has kept the economy afloat. In a country where a parallel economy thrives and no deal is signed without a kick-back, is it not in the natural progression of things that we have evolved a festival that legitimises bribe-giving and taking?

I know there is a religious dimension to the entire celebration. But, ultimately, shouldn’t all religion be about compassion? Most Indians still live on the margins and are excluded from this bonfire of consumption. Doesn’t true faith and devotion only come from simple living and high thinking? Surely not from a wild shopping spree followed by a reckless bursting of crackers?

I love shopping, getting gifts and celebrating with friends and family. But see no higher purpose to the entire tamasha. There is only commerce, chaos, and the fog that envelopes the city.

Arundhati Roy in Outlook

She writes about the Maoists and the internal situation in India with the abuse of tribals in Orissa.

Mr Chidambaram’s War
A math question: How many soldiers will it take to contain the mounting rage of hundreds of millions of people?

The low, flat-topped hills of south Orissa have been home to the Dongria Kondh long before there was a country called India or a state called Orissa. The hills watched over the Kondh. The Kondh watched over the hills and worshipped them as living deities. Now these hills have been sold for the bauxite they contain. For the Kondh it’s as though god has been sold. They ask how much god would go for if the god were Ram or Allah or Jesus Christ?

Red terror?: A tribal woman with her children in Dantewada
Perhaps the Kondh are supposed to be grateful that their Niyamgiri hill, home to their Niyam Raja, God of Universal Law, has been sold to a company with a name like Vedanta (the branch of Hindu philosophy that teaches the Ultimate Nature of Knowledge). It’s one of the biggest mining corporations in the world and is owned by Anil Aggarwal, the Indian billionaire who lives in London in a mansion that once belonged to the Shah of Iran. Vedanta is only one of the many multinational corporations closing in on Orissa.

If the flat-topped hills are destroyed, the forests that clothe them will be destroyed too. So will the rivers and streams that flow out of them and irrigate the plains below. So will the Dongria Kondh. So will the hundreds of thousands of tribal people who live in the forested heart of India, and whose homeland is similarly under attack.

In our smoky, crowded cities, some people say, “So what? Someone has to pay the price of progress.” Some even say, “Let’s face it, these are people whose time has come. Look at any developed country, Europe, the US, Australia—they all have a ‘past’.” Indeed they do. So why shouldn’t “we”?

The Niyamgiri hills have been sold for their bauxite. For the Kondhs, their god’s been sold. How much, they ask, would god go for if he was Ram, Allah or Christ?

In keeping with this line of thought, the government has announced Operation Green Hunt, a war purportedly against the “Maoist” rebels headquartered in the jungles of central India. Of course, the Maoists are by no means the only ones rebelling. There is a whole spectrum of struggles all over the country that people are engaged in—the landless, the Dalits, the homeless, workers, peasants, weavers. They’re pitted against a juggernaut of injustices, including policies that allow a wholesale corporate takeover of people’s land and resources. However, it is the Maoists who the government has singled out as being the biggest threat. Two years ago, when things were nowhere near as bad as they are now, the prime minister described the Maoists as the “single-largest internal security threat” to the country. This will probably go down as the most popular and often-repeated thing he ever said. For some reason, the comment he made on January 6, 2009, at a meeting of state chief ministers, when he described the Maoists as having only “modest capabilities” doesn’t seem to have had the same raw appeal. He revealed his government’s real concern on June 18, 2009, when he told Parliament: “If left-wing extremism continues to flourish in parts which have natural resources of minerals, the climate for investment would certainly be affected.”

Who are the Maoists? They are members of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist)—CPI (Maoist)—one of the several descendants of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), which led the 1969 Naxalite uprising and was subsequently liquidated by the Indian government. The Maoists believe that the innate, structural inequality of Indian society can only be redressed by the violent overthrow of the Indian State. In its earlier avatars as the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) in Jharkhand and Bihar, and the People’s War Group (PWG) in Andhra Pradesh, the Maoists had tremendous popular support. (When the ban on them was briefly lifted in 2004, one-and-a-half million people attended their rally in Warangal.) But eventually their intercession in Andhra Pradesh ended badly. They left a violent legacy that turned some of their staunchest supporters into harsh critics. After a paroxysm of killing and counter-killing by the Andhra police as well as the Maoists, the PWG was decimated. Those who managed to survive fled Andhra Pradesh into neighbouring Chhattisgarh. There, deep in the heart of the forest, they joined colleagues who had already been working there for decades.

A concerted campaign has been orchestrated to shoehorn myriad resistances into a simple George Bush binary: if you’re not with us, you’re with the Maoists.

Not many ‘outsiders’ have any first-hand experience of the real nature of the Maoist movement in the forest. A recent interview with one of its top leaders, Comrade Ganapathy, in Open magazine didn’t do much to change the minds of those who view the Maoists as a party with an unforgiving, totalitarian vision, which countenances no dissent whatsoever. Comrade Ganapathy said nothing that would persuade people that, were the Maoists ever to come to power, they would be equipped to properly address the almost insane diversity of India’s caste-ridden society. His casual approval of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of Sri Lanka was enough to send a shiver down even the most sympathetic of spines, not just because of the brutal ways in which the LTTE chose to wage its war, but also because of the cataclysmic tragedy that has befallen the Tamil people of Sri Lanka, who it claimed to represent, and for whom it surely must take some responsibility.

Right now in central India, the Maoists’ guerrilla army is made up almost entirely of desperately poor tribal people living in conditions of such chronic hunger that it verges on famine of the kind we only associate with sub-Saharan Africa. They are people who, even after 60 years of India’s so-called Independence, have not had access to education, healthcare or legal redress. They are people who have been mercilessly exploited for decades, consistently cheated by small businessmen and moneylenders, the women raped as a matter of right by police and forest department personnel. Their journey back to a semblance of dignity is due in large part to the Maoist cadre who have lived and worked and fought by their side for decades.

Elections ’09: Ask not where the two billion dollars came from

If the tribals have taken up arms, they have done so because a government which has given them nothing but violence and neglect now wants to snatch away the last thing they have—their land. Clearly, they do not believe the government when it says it only wants to “develop” their region. Clearly, they do not believe that the roads as wide and flat as aircraft runways that are being built through their forests in Dantewada by the National Mineral Development Corporation are being built for them to walk their children to school on. They believe that if they do not fight for their land, they will be annihilated. That is why they have taken up arms.

Even if the ideologues of the Maoist movement are fighting to eventually overthrow the Indian State, right now even they know that their ragged, malnutritioned army, the bulk of whose soldiers have never seen a train or a bus or even a small town, are fighting only for survival.

Schedule V of the Constitution, which provides adivasis protection & disallows alienation of their land, now seems just window-dressing, a bit of make-up.

In 2008, an expert group appointed by the Planning Commission submitted a report called ‘Development Challenges in Extremist-Affected Areas’. It said, “the Naxalite (Maoist) movement has to be recognised as a political movement with a strong base among the landless and poor peasantry and adivasis. Its emergence and growth need to be contextualised in the social conditions and experience of people who form a part of it. The huge gap between state policy and performance is a feature of these conditions. Though its professed long-term ideology is capturing state power by force, in its day-to-day manifestation, it is to be looked upon as basically a fight for social justice, equality, protection, security and local development.” A very far cry from the “single-largest internal security threat”. Since the Maoist rebellion is the flavour of the week, everybody, from the sleekest fat cat to the most cynical editor of the most sold-out newspaper in this country, seems to be suddenly ready to concede that it is decades of accumulated injustice that lies at the root of the problem. But instead of addressing that problem, which would mean putting the brakes on this 21st century gold rush, they are trying to head the debate off in a completely different direction, with a noisy outburst of pious outrage about Maoist “terrorism”. But they’re only speaking to themselves.

The people who have taken to arms are not spending all their time watching (or performing for) TV, or reading the papers, or conducting SMS polls for the Moral Science question of the day: Is Violence Good or Bad? SMS your reply to.... They’re out there. They’re fighting. They believe they have the right to defend their homes and their land. They believe that they deserve justice.

VT, 26/11: Odd that the Centre was ready to talk to Pakistan even after this, but is playing hard when it comes to the poor

In order to keep its better-off citizens absolutely safe from these dangerous people, the government has declared war on them. A war, which it tells us, may take between three and five years to win. Odd, isn’t it, that even after the Mumbai attacks of 26/11, the government was prepared to talk with Pakistan? It’s prepared to talk to China. But when it comes to waging war against the poor, it’s playing hard. It’s not enough that Special Police—with totemic names like Greyhounds, Cobras and Scorpions—are scouring the forests with a licence to kill. It’s not enough that the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Border Security Force (BSF) and the notorious Naga Battalion have already wreaked havoc and committed unconscionable atrocities in remote forest villages. It’s not enough that the government supports and arms the Salwa Judum, the “people’s militia” that has killed and raped and burned its way through the forests of Dantewada leaving three hundred thousand people homeless, or on the run. Now the government is going to deploy the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and tens of thousands of paramilitary troops. It plans to set up a brigade headquarters in Bilaspur (which will displace nine villages) and an air base in Rajnandgaon (which will displace seven). Obviously, these decisions were taken a while ago. Surveys have been done, sites chosen. Interesting. War has been in the offing for a while. And now the helicopters of the Indian air force have been given the right to fire in “self-defence”, the very right that the government denies its poorest citizens.

Fire at whom? How in god’s name will the security forces be able to distinguish a Maoist from an ordinary person who is running terrified through the jungle? Will adivasis carrying the bows and arrows they have carried for centuries now count as Maoists too? Are non-combatant Maoist sympathisers valid targets? When I was in Dantewada, the Superintendent of Police showed me pictures of 19 “Maoists” who “his boys” had killed. I asked him how I was supposed to tell they were Maoists. He said, “See Ma’am, they have malaria medicines, Dettol bottles, all these things from outside.”

Licence to kill: Greyhounds, Scorpions, Cobras.... Now the IAF can fire in self-defence, a right the poor are denied.

What kind of war is Operation Green Hunt going to be? Will we ever know? Not much news comes out of the forests. Lalgarh in West Bengal has been cordoned off. Those who try to go in are being beaten and arrested. And called Maoists of course. In Dantewada, the Vanvasi Chetana Ashram, a Gandhian ashram run by Himanshu Kumar, was bulldozed in a few hours. It was the last neutral outpost before the war zone begins, a place where journalists, activists, researchers and fact-finding teams could stay while they worked in the area.

Meanwhile, the Indian establishment has unleashed its most potent weapon. Almost overnight, our embedded media has substituted its steady supply of planted, unsubstantiated, hysterical stories about ‘Islamist Terrorism’ with planted, unsubstantiated, hysterical stories about ‘Red Terrorism’. In the midst of this racket, at Ground Zero, the cordon of silence is being inexorably tightened. The ‘Sri Lanka Solution’ could very well be on the cards. It’s not for nothing that the Indian government blocked a European move in the UN asking for an international probe into war crimes committed by the government of Sri Lanka in its recent offensive against the Tamil Tigers.

The next time you see a news anchor haranguing a guest, ‘Why don’t Maoists stand for elections?’, do SMS this reply, ‘Because they can’t afford your rates.’

The first move in that direction is the concerted campaign that has been orchestrated to shoehorn the myriad forms of resistance taking place in this country into a simple George Bush binary: If you are not with us, you are with the Maoists. The deliberate exaggeration of the Maoist ‘threat’ helps the State to justify militarisation. (And surely does no harm to the Maoists. Which political party would be unhappy to be singled out for such attention?) While all the oxygen is being used up by this new doppelganger of the War on Terror, the State will use the opportunity to mop up the hundreds of other resistance movements in the sweep of its military operation, calling them all Maoist sympathisers. I use the future tense, but this process is well under way. The West Bengal government tried to do this in Nandigram and Singur but failed. Right now in Lalgarh, the Pulishi Santrash Birodhi Janasadharaner Committee or the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities—which is a people’s movement that is separate from, though sympathetic to, the Maoists—is routinely referred to as an overground wing of the CPI (Maoist). Its leader, Chhatradhar Mahato, now arrested and being held without bail, is always called a “Maoist leader”. We all know the story of Dr Binayak Sen, a medical doctor and a civil liberties activist, who spent two years in jail on the absolutely facile charge of being a courier for the Maoists. While the light shines brightly on Operation Green Hunt, in other parts of India, away from the theatre of war, the assault on the rights of the poor, of workers, of the landless, of those whose lands the government wishes to acquire for “public purpose”, will pick up pace. Their suffering will deepen and it will be that much harder for them to get a hearing. Once the war begins, like all wars, it will develop a momentum, a logic and an economics of its own. It will become a way of life, almost impossible to reverse. The police will be expected to behave like an army, a ruthless killing machine. The paramilitary will be expected to become like the police, a corrupt, bloated administrative force. We’ve seen it happen in Nagaland, Manipur and Kashmir. The only difference in the ‘heartland’ will be that it’ll become obvious very quickly to the security forces that they’re only a little less wretched than the people they’re fighting. In time, the divide between the people and the law enforcers will become porous. Guns and ammunition will be bought and sold. In fact, it’s already happening. Whether it’s the security forces or the Maoists or non-combatant civilians, the poorest people will die in this Rich People’s War. However, if anybody believes that this war will leave them unaffected, they should think again. The resources it’ll consume will cripple the economy of this country.

Last week, civil liberties groups from all over the country organised a series of meetings in Delhi to discuss what could be done to turn the tide and stop the war. The absence of Dr Balagopal, one of the best-known civil rights activists of Andhra Pradesh, who died two weeks ago, closed around us like a physical pain. He was one of the bravest, wisest political thinkers of our time and left us just when we needed him most. Still, I’m sure he would have been reassured to hear speaker after speaker displaying the vision, the depth, the experience, the wisdom, the political acuity and, above all, the real humanity of the community of activists, academics, lawyers, judges and a range of other people who make up the civil liberties community in India. Their presence in the capital signalled that outside the arclights of our TV studios and beyond the drumbeat of media hysteria, even among India’s middle classes, a humane heart still beats. Small wonder then that these are the people who the Union home minister recently accused of creating an “intellectual climate” that was conducive to “terrorism”. If that charge was meant to frighten people, to cow them down, it had the opposite effect.

There’s an MoU on every mountain, river, forest glade. What the media calls the Maoist Corridor—the Dandakaranya—could well be called the MoUist Corridor.

The speakers represented a range of opinion from the liberal to the radical Left. Though none of those who spoke would describe themselves as Maoist, few were opposed in principle to the idea that people have a right to defend themselves against State violence. Many were uncomfortable about Maoist violence, about the ‘people’s courts’ that delivered summary justice, about the authoritarianism that was bound to permeate an armed struggle and marginalise those who did not have arms. But even as they expressed their discomfort, they knew that people’s courts only existed because India’s courts are out of the reach of ordinary people and that the armed struggle that has broken out in the heartland is not the first, but the very last option of a desperate people pushed to the very brink of existence. The speakers were aware of the dangers of trying to extract a simple morality out of individual incidents of heinous violence, in a situation that had already begun to look very much like war. Everybody had graduated long ago from equating the structural violence of the State with the violence of the armed resistance. In fact, retired Justice P.B. Sawant went so far as to thank the Maoists for forcing the establishment of this country to pay attention to the egregious injustice of the system. Hargopal from Andhra Pradesh spoke of his experience as a civil rights activist through the years of the Maoist interlude in his state. He mentioned in passing the fact that in a few days in Gujarat in 2002, Hindu mobs led by the Bajrang Dal and the VHP had killed more people than the Maoists ever had even in their bloodiest days in Andhra Pradesh.

People who had come from the war zones, from Lalgarh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, described the police repression, the arrests, the torture, the killing, the corruption, and the fact that in places like Orissa, they seemed to take orders directly from the officials who worked for the mining companies. People described the dubious, malign role being played by certain NGOs funded by aid agencies wholly devoted to furthering corporate prospects. Again and again they spoke of how in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh activists as well as ordinary people—anyone who was seen to be a dissenter—were being branded Maoists and imprisoned. They said that this, more than anything else, was pushing people to take up arms and join the Maoists. They asked how a government that professed its inability to resettle even a fraction of the fifty million people who had been displaced by “development” projects was suddenly able to identify 1,40,000 hectares of prime land to give to industrialists for more than 300 Special Economic Zones, India’s onshore tax havens for the rich. They asked what brand of justice the Supreme Court was practising when it refused to review the meaning of ‘public purpose’ in the Land Acquisition Act even when it knew that the government was forcibly acquiring land in the name of ‘public purpose’ to give to private corporations. They asked why when the government says that “the Writ of the State must run”, it seems to only mean that police stations must be put in place. Not schools or clinics or housing, or clean water, or a fair price for forest produce, or even being left alone and free from the fear of the police—anything that would make people’s lives a little easier. They asked why the ‘Writ of the State’ could never be taken to mean justice.

There was a time, perhaps 10 years ago, when in meetings like these, people were still debating the model of “development” that was being thrust on them by the New Economic Policy. Now the rejection of that model is complete. It is absolute. Everyone from the Gandhians to the Maoists agree on that. The only question now is, what is the most effective way to dismantle it?

An old college friend of a friend, a big noise in the corporate world, had come along for one of the meetings out of morbid curiosity about a world he knew very little about. Even though he had disguised himself in a Fabindia kurta, he couldn’t help looking (and smelling) expensive. At one point, he leaned across to me and said, “Someone should tell them not to bother. They won’t win this one. They have no idea what they’re up against. With the kind of money that’s involved here, these companies can buy ministers and media barons and policy wonks, they can run their own NGOs, their own militias, they can buy whole governments. They’ll even buy the Maoists. These good people here should save their breath and find something better to do.”

When people are being brutalised, what ‘better’ thing is there for them to do than to fight back? It’s not as though anyone’s offering them a choice, unless it’s to commit suicide, like the 1,80,000 farmers caught in a spiral of debt have done. (Am I the only one who gets the distinct feeling that the Indian establishment and its representatives in the media are far more comfortable with the idea of poor people killing themselves in despair than with the idea of them fighting back?)

For several years, people in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal—some of them Maoists, many not—have managed to hold off the big corporations. The question now is—how will Operation Green Hunt change the nature of their struggle? What exactly are the fighting people up against?

SEZ who: Is it development?
It’s true that, historically, mining companies have almost always won their battles against local people. Of all corporations, leaving aside the ones that make weapons, they
probably have the most merciless past. They are cynical, battle-hardened campaigners and when people say ‘Jaan denge par jameen nahin denge (We’ll give away our lives, but never our land)’, it probably bounces off them like a light drizzle on a bomb shelter. They’ve heard it before, in a thousand different languages, in a hundred different countries.

Right now in India, many of them are still in the First Class Arrivals lounge, ordering cocktails, blinking slowly like lazy predators, waiting for the Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) they have signed—some as far back as 2005—to materialise into real money. But four years in a First Class lounge is enough to test the patience of even the truly tolerant. There’s only that much space they’re willing to make for the elaborate, if increasingly empty, rituals of democratic practice: the (rigged) public hearings, the (fake) Environmental Impact Assessments, the (purchased) clearances from various ministries, the long-drawn-out court cases. Even phony democracy is time-consuming. And time, for industrialists, is money.

So what kind of money are we talking about? In their seminal, soon-to-be-published work, Out of This Earth: East India Adivasis and the Aluminum Cartel, Samarendra Das and Felix Padel say that the financial value of the bauxite deposits of Orissa alone is 2.27 trillion dollars. (More than twice India’s Gross Domestic Product). That was at 2004 prices. At today’s prices it would be about 4 trillion dollars. A trillion has 12 zeroes.

Of this, officially the government gets a royalty of less than 7 per cent. Quite often, if the mining company is a known and recognised one, the chances are that, even though the ore is still in the mountain, it will have already been traded on the futures market. So, while for the adivasis the mountain is still a living deity, the fountainhead of life and faith, the keystone of the ecological health of the region, for the corporation, it’s just a cheap storage facility. Goods in storage have to be accessible. From the corporation’s point of view, the bauxite will have to come out of the mountain. If it can’t be done peacefully, then it will have to be done violently. Such are the pressures and the exigencies of the free market.

For the adivasis, the mountain is still a living deity, but for the corporation, it’s just a cheap storage facility. The bauxite will have to come out of the mountain.

That’s just the story of the bauxite in Orissa. Expand the four trillion dollars to include the value of the millions of tonnes of high-quality iron ore in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and the 28 other precious mineral resources, including uranium, limestone, dolomite, coal, tin, granite, marble, copper, diamond, gold, quartzite, corundum, beryl, alexandrite, silica, fluorite and garnet. Add to that the power plants, the dams, the highways, the steel and cement factories, the aluminium smelters, and all the other infrastructure projects that are part of the hundreds of MoUs (more than 90 in Jharkhand alone) that have been signed. That gives us a rough outline of the scale of the operation and the desperation of the stakeholders. The forest once known as the Dandakaranya, which stretches from West Bengal through Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, parts of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, is home to millions of India’s tribal people. The media has taken to calling it the Red corridor or the Maoist corridor. It could just as accurately be called the MoUist corridor. It doesn’t seem to matter at all that the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution provides protection to adivasi people and disallows the alienation of their land. It looks as though the clause is there only to make the Constitution look good—a bit of window-dressing, a slash of make-up. Scores of corporations, from relatively unknown ones to the biggest mining companies and steel manufacturers in the world, are in the fray to appropriate adivasi homelands—the Mittals, Jindals, Tata, Essar, Posco, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and, of course, Vedanta.

There’s an MoU on every mountain, river and forest glade. We’re talking about social and environmental engineering on an unimaginable scale. And most of this is secret. It’s not in the public domain. Somehow I don’t think that the plans that are afoot to destroy one of the world’s most pristine forests and ecosystems, as well as the people who live in it, will be discussed at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Our 24-hour news channels that are so busy hunting for macabre stories of Maoist violence—and making them up when they run out of the real thing—seem to have no interest at all in this side of the story. I wonder why?

Perhaps it’s because the development lobby to which they are so much in thrall says the mining industry will ratchet up the rate of GDP growth dramatically and provide employment to the people it displaces. This does not take into account the catastrophic costs of environmental damage. But even on its own narrow terms, it is simply untrue. Most of the money goes into the bank accounts of the mining corporations. Less than 10 per cent comes to the public exchequer. A very tiny percentage of the displaced people get jobs, and those who do, earn slave-wages to do humiliating, backbreaking work. By caving in to this paroxysm of greed, we are bolstering other countries’ economies with our ecology.

To get the bauxite out of the mountain, the iron ore from the forest, India needs to militarise. To militarise, it needs an enemy. The Maoists are that enemy.

When the scale of money involved is what it is, the stakeholders are not always easy to identify. Between the CEOs in their private jets and the wretched tribal Special Police Officers in the “people’s” militias—who for a couple of thousand rupees a month fight their own people, rape, kill and burn down whole villages in an effort to clear the ground for mining to begin—there is an entire universe of primary, secondary and tertiary stakeholders. These people don’t have to declare their interests, but they’re allowed to use their positions and good offices to further them. How will we ever know which political party, which ministers, which MPs, which politicians, which judges, which NGOs, which expert consultants, which police officers, have a direct or indirect stake in the booty? How will we know which newspapers reporting the latest Maoist “atrocity”, which TV channels “reporting directly from Ground Zero”—or, more accurately, making it a point not to report from Ground Zero, or even more accurately, lying blatantly from Ground Zero—are stakeholders?

What is the provenance of the billions of dollars (several times more than India’s GDP) secretly stashed away by Indian citizens in Swiss bank accounts? Where did the two billion dollars spent on the last general elections come from? Where do the hundreds of millions of rupees that political parties and politicians pay the media for the ‘high-end’, ‘low-end’ and ‘live’ pre-election ‘coverage packages’ that P. Sainath recently wrote about come from? (The next time you see a TV anchor haranguing a numb studio guest, shouting, “Why don’t the Maoists stand for elections? Why don’t they come in to the mainstream?”, do SMS the channel saying, “Because they can’t afford your rates.”)

Not Quite PC: CEO, Op Green Hunt
What are we to make of the fact that the Union home minister, P. Chidambaram, the CEO of Operation Green Hunt, has, in his career as a corporate lawyer, represented several mining corporations? What are we to make of the fact that he was a non-executive director of Vedanta—a position from which he resigned the day he became finance minister in 2004? What are we to make of the fact that, when he became finance minister, one of the first clearances he gave for FDI was to Twinstar Holdings, a Mauritius-based company, to buy shares in Sterlite, a part of the Vedanta group?

What are we to make of the fact that, when activists from Orissa filed a case against Vedanta in the Supreme Court, citing its violations of government guidelines and pointing out that the Norwegian Pension Fund had withdrawn its investment from the company alleging gross environmental damage and human rights violations committed by the company, Justice Kapadia suggested that Vedanta be substituted with Sterlite, a sister company of the same group? He then blithely announced in an open court that he too had shares in Sterlite. He gave forest clearance to Sterlite to go ahead with the mining despite the fact that the Supreme Court’s own expert committee had explicitly said that permission should be denied and that mining would ruin the forests, water sources, environment and the lives and livelihoods of the thousands of tribals living there. Justice Kapadia gave this clearance without rebutting the report of the Supreme Court’s own committee.

Salwa Judum: Inaugurated just days after an MoU with Tatas

What are we to make of the fact that the Salwa Judum, the brutal ground-clearing operation disguised as a “spontaneous” people’s militia in Dantewada, was formally inaugurated in 2005, just days after the MoU with the Tatas was signed? And that the Jungle Warfare Training School in Bastar was set up just around then?

What are we to make of the fact that two weeks ago, on October 12, the mandatory public hearing for Tata Steel’s Rs 10,000-crore steel project in Lohandiguda, Dantewada, was held in a small hall inside the collectorate, cordoned off with massive security, with a hired audience of 50 tribal people brought in from two Bastar villages in a convoy of government jeeps? (The public hearing was declared a success and the district collector congratulated the people of Bastar for their cooperation.)

What are we to make of the fact that just around the time the prime minister began to call the Maoists the “single-largest internal security threat” (which was a signal that the government was getting ready to go after them), the share prices of many of the mining companies in the region skyrocketed?

The mining companies desperately need this “war”. It’s an old technique. They hope the impact of the violence will drive out the people who have so far managed to resist the attempts that have been made to evict them. Whether this will indeed be the outcome, or whether it’ll simply swell the ranks of the Maoists remains to be seen.

Reversing this argument, Dr Ashok Mitra, former finance minister of West Bengal, in an article called ‘The Phantom Enemy’, argues that the “grisly serial murders” that the Maoists are committing are a classic tactic, learned from guerrilla warfare textbooks. He suggests that they have built and trained a guerrilla army that is now ready to take on the Indian State, and that the Maoist ‘rampage’ is a deliberate attempt on their part to invite the wrath of a blundering, angry Indian State which the Maoists hope will commit acts of cruelty that will enrage the adivasis. That rage, Dr Mitra says, is what the Maoists hope can be harvested and transformed into an insurrection. This, of course, is the charge of ‘adventurism’ that several currents of the Left have always levelled at the Maoists. It suggests that Maoist ideologues are not above inviting destruction on the very people they claim to represent in order to bring about a revolution that will bring them to power. Ashok Mitra is an old Communist who had a ringside seat during the Naxalite uprising of the ’60s and ’70s in West Bengal. His views cannot be summarily dismissed. But it’s worth keeping in mind that the adivasi people have a long and courageous history of resistance that predates the birth of Maoism. To look upon them as brainless puppets being manipulated by a few middle-class Maoist ideologues is to do them something of a disservice.

Presumably Dr Mitra is talking about the situation in Lalgarh where, up to now, there has been no talk of mineral wealth. (Lest we forget—the current uprising in Lalgarh was sparked off over the chief minister’s visit to inaugurate a Jindal Steel factory. And where there’s a steel factory, can the iron ore be very far away?) The people’s anger has to do with their desperate poverty, and the decades of suffering at the hands of the police and the ‘Harmads’, the armed militia of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) that has ruled West Bengal for more than 30 years.

Even if, for argument’s sake, we don’t ask what tens of thousands of police and paramilitary troops are doing in Lalgarh, and we accept the theory of Maoist ‘adventurism’, it would still be only a very small part of the picture.

The real problem is that the flagship of India’s miraculous ‘growth’ story has run aground. It came at a huge social and environmental cost. And now, as the rivers dry up and forests disappear, as the water table recedes and as people realise what is being done to them, the chickens are coming home to roost. All over the country, there’s unrest, there are protests by people refusing to give up their land and their access to resources, refusing to believe false promises any more. Suddenly, it’s beginning to look as though the 10 per cent growth rate and democracy are mutually incompatible. To get the bauxite out of the flat-topped hills, to get iron ore out from under the forest floor, to get 85 per cent of India’s people off their land and into the cities (which is what Mr Chidambaram says he’d like to see), India has to become a police state. The government has to militarise. To justify that militarisation, it needs an enemy. The Maoists are that enemy. They are to corporate fundamentalists what the Muslims are to Hindu fundamentalists. (Is there a fraternity of fundamentalists? Is that why the RSS has expressed open admiration for Mr Chidambaram?)

It would be a grave mistake to imagine that the paramilitary troops, the Rajnandgaon air base, the Bilaspur brigade headquarters, the Unlawful Activities Act, the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and Operation Green Hunt are all being put in place just to flush out a few thousand Maoists from the forests. In all the talk of Operation Green Hunt, whether or not Mr Chidambaram goes ahead and “presses the button”, I detect the kernel of a coming state of Emergency. (Here’s a math question: If it takes 6,00,000 soldiers to hold down the tiny valley of Kashmir, how many will it take to contain the mounting rage of hundreds of millions of people?)

Instead of narco-analysing Kobad Ghandy, the recently arrested Maoist leader, it might be a better idea to talk to him.

In the meanwhile, will someone who’s going to the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen later this year please ask the only question worth asking: Can we please leave the bauxite in the mountain?

thought for today

To be free from all attachment does not mean running away from all occasion for attachment. All these people who assert their asceticism, not only run away but warn others not to try!. . .
For fear of being mistaken in our actions, we stop doing anything at all; for fear of being mistaken in our speech, we stop speaking; for fear of eating for the pleasure of eating, we do not eat at all - this is not freedom, it is simply reducing the manifestation to a minimum. . ..
No, the solution is to act only under the divine impulsion, to speak only under the divine impulsion, to eat only under the divine impulsion. That is the difficult thing, because naturally, you immediately confuse the divine impulsion with your personal impulses.

- The Mother [CWMCE, 10:196-97]


Friday Poem

I had walked since dawn and lay down to rest on a bare hillside

Above the ocean. I saw through half-shut eyelids a vulture wheeling

.....high up in heaven,

And presently it passed again, but lower and nearer, its orbit


.....I understood then

That I was under inspection. I lay death-still and heard the flight-


Whistle above me and make their circle and come nearer.

I could see the naked red head between the great wings

Bear downward staring. I said, "My dear bird, we are wasting time

These old bones will still work; they are not for you." But how


.....he looked, gliding down

On those great sails; how beautiful he looked, veering away in the


.....over the precipice. I tell you solemnly

That I was sorry to have disappointed him. To be eaten by that beak


.....become part of him, to share those wings and those eyes--

What a sublime end of one's body, what and enskyment; what a life

.....after death.

by Robinson Jeffers

From 3qd

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

thought for today from the Mother

You see, in the present condition of the world, circumstances are always difficult. The whole world is in a condition of strife, conflict, between the forces of truth and light wanting to manifest and the opposition of all that does not want to change, which represents in the past what is fixed, hardened and refuses to go. Naturally, each individual feels his own difficulties and is faced by the same obstacles.
There is only one way for you. It is a total, complete and unconditional surrender. What I mean by that is the giving up not only of your actions, work, ambitions, but also of all your feelings, in the sense that all that you do, all that you are, is exclusively for the Divine. So, you feel above the surrounding human reactions - not only above them but protected from them by the wall of the Divine's Grace. Once you have no more desires, no more attachments, once you have given up all necessity of receiving a reward from human beings, whoever they are - knowing that the only reward that is worth getting is the one that comes from the Supreme and that never fails - once you give up the attachment to all exterior beings and things, you at once feel in your heart this Presence, this Force, this Grace that is always with you.

- The Mother [CWMCE, 15:419]

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Predator Drones and Pakistan

Jane Mayer writes a disturbing article in the New Yorker about how Predator Drones are fighting the U.S. war against terror. Often their are mistakes and innocent civilians die, for the people sitting in Langley, this is a video game played with using a joy stick to target and destroy sometimes innocent people. It seems the Obama administration under pressure to reduce troops in Afghanistan is putting all its eggs in this basket.

Here is an interview by her.

Jane Mayer on Predator Drones and Pakistan
In this week’s issue of the magazine, Jane Mayer writes about the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of drones to kill terrorist suspects in Pakistan—a program that the Obama Adminstration is relying upon more and more. (Subscribers can access the entire article; everyone else can buy access to this issue online.) Mayer spoke about the costs of a remote-controlled war, the C.I.A.’s lack of transparency, and the Pakistan’s complicated response.

How has the use of Predator drones by the United States changed the situation in Pakistan?

Well, there’s good news and bad news. According to the C.I.A., they’ve killed more than half of the twenty most wanted Al Qaeda terrorist suspects. The bad news is that they’ve inflamed anti-American sentiment, because they’ve also killed hundreds of civilians.

And how is it different than other uses of American force?

It’s not coming from the military. It’s a covert program run by the C.I.A. People know about Predator drones, but not that there are two programs. The U.S.-military program is an extension of conventional military force. The C.I.A. runs a secret targeted-killing program, which really is an unprecedented use of lethal force in places where we are not at war, such as Pakistan. It’s a whole new frontier in the use of force.

John Radsen, a former lawyer for the C.I.A., told me that [the C.I.A.] “doesn’t have much experience with killing. Traditionally, the agency that does that is the Department of Defense.” You’ve got a civilian agency involved in targeted killing behind a black curtain, where the rules of the game are unclear, to the rest of the world and also to us. We don’t know, for instance, who is on the target list. How do you get on the list? Can you get off the list? Who makes the list? What are the criteria? Where is the battlefield? Where does the battlefield end?

It originally seemed simple, because in the beginning it seemed like they would just go after Al Qaeda, but the target list has been growing, particularly in Pakistan.

How do these targeted killings not violate the U.S. ban on assassinations?

After 9/11, the Bush Administration declared that terrorism was no longer a crime; it was an extension of war. Soldiers are privileged to kill enemy combatants in a war, and America is legally allowed to defend itself. And these targeted killings became an extension of the global war on terror.

How long has there been drone activity in Pakistan? Is it new?

Toward the end of the Bush Administration, the drone program in Pakistan ramped up, but when Obama became President, he accelerated it even faster. It’s surprising, but the Obama Administration has carried out as many unmanned drone strikes in its first ten months as the Bush Administration did in its final three years. It’s the favorite weapon of choice right now against Al Qaeda, and for good reason: It’s been effective in killing a lot of people the U.S. wants to see dead.

What does Pakistan think of the drones?

Originally, the Pakistani people’s reaction to the U.S. drone strikes in their country was incredibly negative. Pakistanis rose up and complained that the program violated their sovereignty. So, to obtain Pakistani support—or at least the support of the Zardari government—the Obama Administration quietly decided last March to allow the Pakistani government to nominate some of its own targets. The U.S. has been and is involved in killing not just Al Qaeda figures, but Pakistani targets—people like Taliban leader Beitullah Mehsud who are enemies of the Pakistani state.

Are there any safeguards that prevent the U.S. from carrying out political vendettas for top Pakistani officials?

Well, the problem with this program is that it’s invisible; I would guess there must be all kinds of legal safeguards, and lawyers at the C.I.A. are discussing who we can kill and who we can’t, but none of that is available to the American people. It’s quite a contrast with the armed forces, because the use of lethal force in the military is a transparent process. There are after-action reports, and there’s a very obvious chain of command. We know where the responsibility runs, straight on up to the top of the government. This system keeps checks on abuses of power. There is no such transparency at the C.I.A.

How does the continued collateral damage from Predator drones square with General Stanley McChrystal’s order to the military to lay off the air strikes in Afghanistan and avoid civilian deaths?

Well, you could argue it either way. There is less collateral damage from a drone strike than there is from an F-16. According to intelligence officials, drones are more surgical in the way they kill—they usually use Hellfire missiles and do less damage than a fighter jet might.

At the same time, the fact that they kill civilians at all raises the same problem that McChrystal is trying to combat, which is that they incite people on the ground against the United States. When you’re trying to win a battle of hearts and minds, trying to win over civilian populations against terrorists, it can be counterproductive. That’s why [the former Petraeus adviser and counterinsurgency theorist] David Kilcullen wrote, “Every one of these dead non-combatants represents an alienated family, a new revenge feud, and more recruits for a militant movement.”

Are people in Pakistan scared to move around because of the drones?

According to some recent studies, terrorists are scampering around only at night and accusing each other of being spies and informing on one another. So it’s had the desired effect in unravelling terror cells.

If the C.I.A. doesn’t have experience killing people, who is piloting the drones?

It doesn’t take as much talent or experience or training to pilot a drone as it does to pilot a real plane. The skills are much like what you need to do well in a video game. And the C.I.A. has outsourced a lot of the drone piloting, which also raises interesting legal questions, because you not have only civilians running this program, but you may have people who are not even in the U.S. government piloting the drones.

You mention in your piece that drone pilots, who work from an office, suffer from combat stress.

Someone sitting at C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Virginia, can view and home in on a target on the other side of the world with tremendous precision, even at night, and destroy it. Peter Singer, who wrote a book on robotic warfare, said that cubicle warriors experience the same stress as regular warriors in a real war. Detached killing still takes a tremendous emotional toll inside our borders.

Why do you think the Obama Administration chose to rely more on drones?

Basically because they can. It’s sort of the least bad option. They can’t get into the tribal areas of Pakistan where a lot of Al Qaeda suspects are thought to be hiding, but they can see them with these drones. So it’s the only way they can get at them.

But there are all kinds of unintended consequences. For one thing, these missile strikes could scatter Al Qaeda, and cells could move to other parts of Pakistan, maybe down toward Karachi, where the population is denser. There have been reports of people already starting to move there.

Also, if the United States can legally kill people from the sky in a country that we’re not at war with, other countries will argue they can do the same thing. And the people using those joysticks in Langley and the deserts of Nevada could now be considered under international law to be engaged in warfare, which means they can legally be retaliated against. It’s a new horizon.

What would the outlines of a more transparent drone program look like?

Michael Walzer, the political philosopher, has noted that when the United States goes about killing people, we usually know who they can kill and where the battlefield is. International lawyers are calling for a public revelation of who is on this list, where can we go after them, and how many people can we take out with them. They want to know the legal, ethical, and political boundaries of the program.

An Education

A wonderful movie done with subtley and a light touch dealing with difficult issues like love/lust between an older man and a very young girl, the limits of education and the importance of it at the same time. The father Albert Molina acts very well on the one hand wanting his daughter to go to Oxford and on the other totally swept away by David the smooth talker/crook.

Schoolgirl Jenny is 16 and a virgin. Sophisticated David is twice her age and ready to pounce. The time is 1961. The place is England just before it learned to swing. So begins An Education; a quiet miracle of a movie that quickly disabuses you of the idea that you've seen it all before.

Prepare to be wowed by Carey Mulligan, whose sensational, starmaking performance as Jenny ignited film festivals from Sundance to Toronto. The incandescent Mulligan, 24, is a major find who makes Jenny's journey from gawky duckling to sad, graceful swan an unmissable event. As David, Peter Sarsgaard is shockingly good at walking the line between charming opportunist and sexual predator. What's the truth? Pay attention as Danish director Lone Scherfig (Italian for Beginners) works wonders with the coming-of-age memoir by British journalist Lynn Barber. This story about a girl is brilliantly adapted by About a Boy author Nick Hornby, who finds a timeless resonance in the battle between rigid, formal education and messy, carnal life.
Rollingstone review

David Briscoe

I went to an inspiring lecture at the Sivananda Center in NYC, by David Briscoe about Macrobiotics and how changing your diet can make you well from sickness and disease.

He spoke about face diagnosis and by observing the lines on the forehead can tell you about the state of your liver or the cleft on the nose can tell you about the condition of your heart. The bags under your eyes about your kidneys. And how changing your diet and eating a macrobiotic diet, which seems very Japanese inspired and eliminating hard proteins and sugars can improve your life. Frequent urination is a sign of kidneys being overworked and losing minerals. Hair loss is a sign of eating too much sugars. For Kidneys to work better he recommended taking a salt bath and typing your waist with a cotton cloth during winters to provide the kidneys warmth.
Do check his website out here

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Yelling at kids is the new spanking

NYT's reports that yelling at kids is increasing, with detrimental effects.

JACKIE KLEIN is a devoted mother of two little boys in the suburbs of Portland, Ore. She spends hours ferrying them to soccer and Cub Scouts. She reads child-development books. She can emulate one of those pitch-perfect calm maternal tones to warn, “You’re making bad choices” when, say, someone doesn’t want to brush his teeth.

That is 90 percent of the time. Then there is the other 10 percent, when, she admits, “I have become totally frustrated and lost control of myself.”

It can happen during weeks and weeks and weeks of no camp in the summer, or at the end of a long day at home — just as adult peace is within her grasp — when the 7- or 9-year-old won’t go to sleep.

And then she yells.

“This is ridiculous! I’ve been doing things all day for you!”

Many in today’s pregnancy-flaunting, soccer-cheering, organic-snack-proffering generation of parents would never spank their children. We congratulate our toddlers for blowing their nose (“Good job!”), we friend our teenagers (literally and virtually), we spend hours teaching our elementary-school offspring how to understand their feelings. But, incongruously and with regularity, this is a generation that yells.

“I’ve worked with thousands of parents and I can tell you, without question, that screaming is the new spanking,” said Amy McCready, the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, which teaches parenting skills in classes, individual coaching sessions and an online course. “This is so the issue right now. As parents understand that it’s not socially acceptable to spank children, they are at a loss for what they can do. They resort to reminding, nagging, timeout, counting 1-2-3 and quickly realize that those strategies don’t work to change behavior. In the absence of tools that really work, they feel frustrated and angry and raise their voice. They feel guilty afterward, and the whole cycle begins again.”

Amy Wilson, a writer and actress in Manhattan, used to give up shopping for Lent. That was before she had children, now ages 6, 5 and 2. This year she gave up yelling. Or tried to. “It didn’t really work,” she said, “but I definitely yelled less.”

Ms. Wilson has written a humorous autobiographical book about parenting, to be published next year, called “When Did I Get Like This?” An entire chapter is devoted to her personal efforts to curtail her yelling.

A ONE-WOMAN show, “Mother Load,” which she wrote and performed Off Broadway and will take on tour for the second time next year, opens with a yelling scene that draws laughs and includes the line “I have had it with looking for puppy” in a high-decibel lament that rings true to anyone who has searched for a favorite stuffed animal for the seventh time in a day.

Familial screamers have long been a beloved part of American pop culture, from the Costanzas of “Seinfeld” back to the Goldbergs of radio and early television, but they didn’t yell at small children. And though previous generations of parents may have yelled in real life — Dr. Spock called shouting “inevitable from time to time” — this generation of parents seems to be uniquely troubled by their own outbursts.

“My name is Francesca Castagnoli and I am a screamer,” began a post on earlier this year. “Admitting I’m a mom that screams, shouts and loses it in front her kids feels like I’m revealing a dark family secret.”

“It’s not kind,” said Ms. Klein in Oregon. “When I’m done I feel awful.”

To research their book “Mommy Guilt: Learn to Worry Less, Focus on What Matters Most, and Raise Happier Kids,” the three authors, Devra Renner, Aviva Pflock and Julie Bort, commissioned a survey of 1,300 parents across the country to determine sources of parental guilt. Two-thirds of respondents named yelling — not working or spanking or missing a school event — as their biggest guilt inducer.

“What blew us away about that is that the one thing you really have ultimate control over is the tone of your voice,” said Ms. Pflock, a child development specialist.

Parental yelling today may be partly a releasing of stress for multitasking, overachieving adults, parenting experts say.

“Yelling is done when parents feel irritable and anxious,” said Harold S. Koplewicz, the founder of the New York University Child Study Center. “It can be as simple as ‘I’m overwhelmed, I’m running late for work, I had a fight with my wife, I have a project due — and my son left his homework upstairs.’ ”

Numerous studies exist on the effect of corporal punishment on children. A new one came out just last month. Led by a researcher at Duke University’s Center for Child and Family Policy, the study concluded that spanking children when they are very young (1-year-old) can slow their intellectual development and lead to aggressive behavior as they grow older. But there is far less data on the more common habit of shouting and screaming in families.

One study that did take a look at the topic — a paper on the “psychological aggression by American parents” published in the Journal of Marriage and Family in 2003 — found that parental yelling was a near-universal occurrence. Of 991 families interviewed, in 88 percent of them a parent acknowledged shouting, screaming or yelling at the kids at least once (though it didn’t specify how many did it more often) in the previous year.

“We are so accustomed to this that we just think parents get carried away and that it’s not harmful,” said one of the study’s lead authors, Murray A. Straus, a sociologist who is a director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire. “But it affects a child. If someone yelled at you at work, you’d find that pretty jarring. We don’t apply that standard to children.”

Ram Dhamija

Friday, October 23, 2009

South Waziristan

Ahmed Rashid writes about the situation in South Waziristan and how the Military is playing a double game and threatening the stability of the civilian government.

The Pakistani military has been sleeping with the enemy while keeping the civilian government down
Ahmed Rashid
YaleGlobal , 19 October 2009

Enemy within: Pakistani army has launched an offensive against Islamist Taliban in the country's South Waziristan region.
MADRID: After nine suicide attacks in just eleven days that killed 160 people, including many from the security forces, the Pakistan army has finally started its long awaited offensive in South Waziristan where the Pakistani Taliban are based. The success of the offensive, against the backdrop of a serious civil-military division in Pakistan and unresolved debate in Washington, could be critical for the fate of Pakistan which is financially broke and politically paralyzed.

The army and the civilian government are once more at odds over policy towards the US and India, the insurgency in Baluchistan, and how to deal with militant Punjabi groups who are linked to the Taliban. Moreover, still unresolved and now an issue of growing international concern, is the sanctuary being given to Afghan Taliban in Pakistan.

Dozens of soldiers and police officers have been killed in suicide attacks from October 5 to 15 that included an embarrassing 22 hour siege of the army headquarters in Rawalpindi and the deaths of eight soldiers and three simultaneous attacks on police training camps and intelligence offices in Lahore. The spate of attacks could have been designed to prevent or delay the expected army offensive on its stronghold, but they also aimed to topple the government, impose an Islamic state, and, if possible, get hold of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

The recent attacks have proved more deadly than those in the past because they took place in three of the country’s four provinces, involving not just Taliban tribesmen from the Pashtun ethnic group, but extremist Punjabi and Kashmiri factions who were until recently trained by the Interservices Intelligence (ISI) to fight Indian forces in Indian Kashmir.

Moreover, several within the militant leadership had direct connections to the army or the ISI. The so called Dr Usman, the leader of the nine man group that attacked the army’s general headquarters on October 10, was himself a member of the army’s medical corps. Police officials say that the Rawalpindi and Lahore attacks had help from inside because the terrorists were able to bypass the stringent security measures in place and had knowledge of the layout of the complexes.

While the armed forces are unwilling to admit what many Pakistanis now believe – that there is some degree of penetration by extremist sympathizers within its ranks – the civilian government refuses to admit that the largest province of Punjab and especially its poverty hit southern part has become the major new recruiting ground for militants.

The Punjab provincial government is run by Shabaz Sharif, the brother of Nawaz Sharif and leader of the opposition in the country. The Sharif brothers who ruled the country twice in the 1990s are known to have close ties with the leaders of several militant groups, including Hafez Saeed, the leader of the Lashkar-e-Taiba whose militants carried out the massacre in Mumbai India last year.

Saeed, wanted by India and Interpol has been freed twice from jail in Punjab, on account of lack of evidence to hold him. The Sharifs have refused repeated requests by the Americans, British, Indians and the federal government to crack down on militancy in south Punjab where it is strong and providing recruits for the Taliban.

Meanwhile the federal government has suffered increasingly fraught relations with the army. Last week at the height of the suicide attacks, the army chief General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani chose that moment to blast the civilian government for agreeing to a US $ 7.5 billion five year aid package from the US for civilian and developmental purposes.

The army was furious that the government had agreed to US imposed conditions, which only insisted that there be civilian control of the army, democracy be maintained and the fight against extremism continued. The army with its deep tentacles in the Pakistani media and among opposition politicians, whipped up a storm of public opinion against the deal, with some commentators accusing the government of President Asif Ali Zardari of treason.

Neither the army nor the politicians seemed to notice that the country is nearly bankrupt, barely subsisting on life support loans from the International Monetary Fund worth a total of US$11.3 billion. Pakistan has been holding out a begging bowl for the past year, while factories, farms and schools are shutting down because of a chronic shortage of electric power, which is off in major cities for up to 10 hours a day.

The civilian government has also tried repeatedly to end the long running separatist insurgency in Baluchistan province by declaring ceasefires and the promise to hold talks with insurgent leaders. However Baluch leaders accuse the army of sabotaging any such political reconciliation by continuing to assassinate or carry out forced disappearances of Baluch activists.

Meanwhile as the policy review over Afghanistan and Pakistan continues in the White House, both the army and government are being directly accused by US officials of continuing to harbor the Afghan Taliban leadership and allowing them to pump in recruits, logistics and other supplies into Afghanistan.

As long as only British and Canadian troops in Helmand and Kandahar faced the effects of the Taliban’s safe sanctuaries in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, the former Bush administration was quiet. But now that there are over 10,000 US marines in Helmand and Kandahar who are taking casualties, the Obama administration has made the sanctuary issue a major plank in its future relations with Pakistan.

But the dithering in Washington over the future of US policy towards Afghanistan is leading to greater justification by Pakistan and other neighbors of Afghanistan to hedge their bets for the future in case the Americans withdraw or reduce their commitment, by backing once again their favorite Afghan proxies just as they did during the 1990s civil war.

Pakistan has been saving the Afghan Taliban leadership for just such an eventuality. But now Iran, Russia, India and the Central Asian states are all looking at their future in the country in the light of a US lack of resolve to stay the course in Afghanistan. US relations with Pakistan’s military remain troubled – everyone knows that it is still the army and not the civilian government that calls the shots when it comes to policy towards India and Afghanistan.

However it is the worsening relations between the civilians and the military over domestic issues that are causing growing consternation at home. It is unlikely that General Kayani would like to overthrow the civilian government, but the army is resisting any attempt by the civilians to change the broad ambit of foreign or domestic policy.

Zardari is known to want peace and trade with India, an end to interference in Afghanistan, improved ties with Iran and better relations and more aid from the West to strengthen the economy and democracy.

However, Zardari’s attempts to build up public support for these logical civil demands have been stymied because of public disillusionment with the civilian government, which is considered to be corrupt, ineffective, incompetent and unwilling to rebuild moribund institutions of governance.

The key to future stability is to bring the army, civilian government and the opposition onto one page with a common agenda to fight extremism, while amicably resolving other internal disputes, but so far that looks extremely unlikely.

Ahmed Rashid is a Pakistani journalist and author, most recently of "Descent into Chaos: The US and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia." Click here for the excerpt.

Reasons I need an apple!

When the going gets Tough, The Tough Get an Apple Stop FollowingYou are no longer I've been ruminating the past few days on why Apple (AAPL) is doing so well with it's pricey high-end products and services during a recession. The answer came as I was reading Wednesday's New York Times column by Thomas Friedman, whom I deeply admire and read anything and everything he puts out.

Friedman points out that the winners in today's fast-shifting U.S. job market are the ones demonstrating "entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity." He says, "They are the new untouchables," in contrast to other still highly educated but less creative types.

Friedman cites Harvard University labor expert Lawrence Katz, who explains in the column that the now disadvantaged are "those engineers and programmers working on more routine tasks and not actively engaged in developing new ideas or recombining existing technologies or thinking about what new customers want. ... They’ve been much more exposed to global competitors that make them easily substitutable.”

They are also more likely to be using personal computers with nine-year-old operating systems, with little choice but to take what their companies provide in terms of personal productivity IT. They are the 90 percent for whom good enough IT has made them as good as anyone anywhere.

In contrast, it's the "top half" of the labor pool, and more specifically the apparent 10 percent that are "entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity"-focused among them, that know to succeed and win they need the very best computer and associated services, even if it costs $500 more. Nowadays there's no better way to gain an advantage in business and life than to have the best technology.

The people who are succeeding are buying Macs, iPhones, iPod Touches and Apple's services and applications. A flight to quality is usually spurred by disruption and uncertainty. It's not about brand religion or pretty graphics. It's about survival and success when the going gets tough. It works for me, it has to.

A chef doesn't buy the cheapest knifes. A painter doesn't buy the cheapest brushes. A carpenter doesn't buy the cheapest hammer. And all the winners in the economy today -- those that have a say in what they use to do all the digital things so critical now to almost any knowledge- and services-based job -- need the best tools. And they will upgrade those tools just as fast as they can (hence the rapid adoption of Apple's Snow Leopard OS X upgrade in recent months).

So for all those millions of newly laid off workers who know that "entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity" is their only ticket to a new, fresh start -- those that no longer have an IT department to tell them what to do (at lowest cost) -- they seem to be making a new move to a Mac. I expect they won't soon go back, once they taste the fruits of heightened knowledge productivity.

Because when failure is not an option, you have to have the best tools, especially when the going gets tough. The sad part is that Apple does so well when so many are not.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


A new way of making math fun, and away from drills and memorization.

Orton Gillingham for Language Based Learning Disabilities

Adria Karlsson has a good article on teaching the Orton Method for kids with spelling and reading issues.

Overcoming reading difficulties with Orton-Gillingham
Guest author Adria Karlsson writes about teaching children with language-based learning disabilities how to read.

There are many different types of learner in the world. Within any given classroom a teacher is likely to encounter a myriad of learning styles, skills, special talents, and learning differences. Although this can create an exceptionally enriching environment for the students, it requires a teacher that can encourage students to shine in areas where they are strong, and to learn in areas where they struggle.

As a teacher of student with language-based learning disabilities, I encounter students with very different learning styles each day. I work with students from first through seventh grade, and it is remarkable the ways in which each student’s profile is unique. The common strand throughout though is their difficulty in learning how to read, spell, and write. Commonly referred to as dyslexic, these students in fact have very different learning profiles, but none of them are disabled. Without proper instruction, they quickly fall by the wayside and often descend to the title of “trouble student.”

To tackle language-based learning disabilities, you need an approach which provides structure and positive feedback while allowing for the differences in each child’s learning style. My fellow teachers and I follow the Orton-Gillingham approach for reading instruction. Their method is “language-based, multisensory, structured, sequential, cumulative, cognitive, and flexible” ( This means that we teach students using their eyes, ears, and fingers. We teach them using a process that draws on their ability to problem solve and use logical reasoning. We do not make huge leaps in instruction and expect them to intuitively understand how language works. They always progress even as they constantly review the basics. It is clearly acknowledged that our students are capable, and we draw on their strengths as thinkers to enable them to learn. Lastly, we teach them in a way that works for each individual student – not in the way that works for the “normal” learners in the world.

Each lesson follows the same progression but with a new focus each day:

When the student comes in, the first thing they encounter is some type of listening exercise. For example, the student may have to recognize the sounds in a word, just the first sound of words, find rhyming patterns, or recognize which vowel teams are present.This is followed by practice using the “O-G Cards”. These are cards with different letters and letter combinations written on them. The student says the letter, the sound it makes, and a key word that helps them remember the sound, while “writing” the letter in sand, the air, or in some other way. This way they are really experiencing the letter in as many ways as possible.Part three is reading words – using what they know from working with the cards to blend the sounds together and really read. In Orton-Gillingham, though, we never mix these decodable words (words that can be sounded out), with “sight words” (words that have to be memorized). Sight words and fluency would generally be practiced after this.The last part of the decoding piece of the lesson is reading actual connected text. No matter how low the reader is the teacher or tutor will make sure they have sentences or a short story to read. This is good practice and also reinforces for them why they are working so hard!After that, it is on to the “encoding”, or writing, part of the lesson. This always comes second, because really, by writing, the student is practicing what they just learned to decode. The first part is very straight forward- just “What says” and then a sound. While this is simple at first, it gets very complicated as kids advance, for example, there are nine different things that say the long e sound!Then the child spells words – by separating them into sounds, assigning each sound a letter, and then writing the word. Then they read each word back. This may seem simple, but for many dyslexic kids this is very different than writing the word!The last official step is the dictation. When the student has to string together words and spell out a whole sentence or paragraph. Like with reading- this gives them a chance to see what they are aiming for; it is also an excellent time to practice capitalization and punctuation, which many struggle with.Even though that is the last official part of the lesson, because the student has worked SO hard, many tutors end each lesson with a game. Of course, one of the nice things about teaching O-G is how many of the preceding parts of the lesson can be turned into games, but that is an article in and of itself!
That is how an Orton-Gillingham lesson looks. It is highly structured and, due to that particular structure, it is also highly effective. Although no approach is right for every student, the Orton-Gillingham approach has proven successful over and over again for students that struggle to learn the symbolic systems of our language. With a knowledgeable tutor that can tailor the process to an individual learner, these “disabled” students have shown how able they really are. They grow into confident people with an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. As a teacher, there is nothing like seeing a severely dyslexic student crack a piece of the code and realize that “hop” can be turned into “hope” by adding the “Magic E”. I credit the Orton-Gillingham approach for making that happen.

Parents who are interested in learning more about Orton-Gillingham can visit their web site at Here are a few other useful links:

International Dyslexia Association
Dyslexia Parents Resource
Carroll School – parent resources via a school for children with language based learning differences

Saturday, October 17, 2009

thought from the mother on Diwali

There is only one way of getting out of the confusion (which is the result of mixed and conflicting desires); and that way is quietness, peace, confidence in the Divine's Grace and silence in the mind, to let it receive the right inspiration which is waiting above for the silence and the quietness to enable it to manifest.

- The Mother [p-162, White Roses, Sixth Edition, 1999]

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Mother

When you have a problem to solve, instead of turning over in your head all the possibilities, all the consequences, all the possible things one should or should not do, if you remain quiet with an aspiration for goodwill, if possible a need for goodwill, the solution comes very quickly. And as you are silent you are able to hear it.
When you are caught in a difficulty, try this method: instead of becoming agitated, turning over all the ideas and actively seeking solutions, of worrying, fretting, running here and there inside your head - I don't mean externally, for externally you probably have enough common sense not to do that! but inside, in your head - remain quiet. And according to your nature, with ardour or peace, with intensity or widening or with all these together, implore the Light and wait for it to come.
In this way the path would be considerably shortened.

- The Mother [CWMCE, 9:423-24]

Hanging Fire

NYT's reviews Hanging Fire an exhibit of contemporary art from Pakistan. I was surprised that this exhibition was so small, just one floor of the Asia Society. But it certainly provides a wide variety of mediums and ideas circulating in Pakistan today.
Rashid Rana's carpet was extraordinary.

Known to many New Yorkers primarily for art exhibitions, Asia Society is a grander entity than its Park Avenue galleries might suggest. According to its press materials, the institution’s overarching mission is to “promote understanding among the people, leaders and institutions of Asia and the United States” and to generate new ideas in “the fields of policy, business, education, arts and culture.”

Are those fields listed in order of importance? If so, it might explain why the work in the society’s surveys of new art, like the current “Hanging Fire: Contemporary Art From Pakistan,” tends so often to be topical in content, market ready in format and didactic in delivery.

One of the first of the society’s big one-country shows, “Inside Out: New Chinese Art” in 1998, sold itself on the notion that the most significant work emerging from China was all by brash, young, implicitly democracy-loving rebels in thrall to the Western media and eager to break with their own cultural past. This profile was meant to win Western hearts, and it did. That many artists still produced ink-and-brush landscapes and calligraphy and were subtly but radically updating these traditions was barely acknowledged.

In 2005, “Edge of Desire: Recent Art in India” focused heavily on art that addressed current social issues like sectarian violence and the effects of a global market economy. Not represented was a range of new abstract or near-abstract art and sculpture from South Asia that doesn’t necessarily look “Indian” and that is personal, and only incidentally political, in content.

This exhibition of new art from Pakistan, with its references to war, religion and consumerism, largely conforms to the Asia Society model, except for its size. The Chinese show had more than 60 artists, the Indian survey more than 40. Both were spread over two New York City spaces. “Hanging Fire” has 15 artists and takes up just two Asia Society galleries, one very modest in scale.

So it doesn’t pretend to be a survey. It’s a closely edited group show drawn from a small pool of artists, most of whom attended the National College of Arts in Lahore. Given these restrictions, it’s surprising that the show has the variety it does.

Lahore had been a cultural hub for centuries by the time Pakistan was separated from India in 1947, and it has remained so. After partition, the National College of Arts was forged from an existing colonial institution, and schools were also established in other cities. Various forms of up-to-date modernism were introduced, often by local artists who had returned from study in Europe.

But progress was never smooth. Contemporary art maintained an uneasy relationship with the country’s successive military governments and with the state religion, Islam. Social and cultural repression was particularly intense during the era of Islamization initiated by General Zia ul-Haq in the late 1970s, when women were discouraged from public participation in cultural life and only landscape painting, calligraphy and abstraction passed official muster.

Despite obstructions, and also because of them, art moved forward with an activist urgency that it has not lost. Catalytic figures appeared, many of them women. Salima Hashmi, the curator of the Asia Society show, is one. After graduating from the National College in 1968, she began to teach there, remaining an influential and vocal presence.

The senior artist she has chosen for the show is a former teaching colleague, the painter Zahoor ul Akhlaq, who had tremendous impact on younger artists before he died in 1999, the victim of a violent crime: he was shot and killed when someone broke into his home. As a teacher, he revived interest in manuscript painting (also known as miniature painting), the indigenous genre dating back to the Mughal dynasty, encouraging young artists both to master its demanding forms and styles and to infuse them with new content.

Several artists he inspired now have international reputations, most notably Shahzia Sikander, but also Ambreen Butt, Imran Qureshi and Saira Wasim. Mr. Qureshi, who was born in 1972 and has become an influential figure himself, has a series of paintings in the show of observant Muslims going about their lives. The style is crisp and deft, but the figures of bearded young men are clearly meant to pique our jihadist fears.

The show has direct references to violence, two of which involve images of animals. Rashid Rana’s gorgeous “Red Carpet 1” is collage of thousands of tiny photographs taken in a slaughterhouse. Huma Mulji’s “High Rise, Like City Drive” consists of the taxidermied form of a water buffalo set atop a neo-Classical column. Although the piece, made for the show, comes with elaborate socio-political glosses, it is, intentionally or not, a monument to the death of an innocent being.

A hyper-realist drawing of a single bullet by Ayaz Jokhio, Arif Mahmood’s photograph of a boy playing with a toy gun and Ali Raza’s image, collaged from burned paper, of a veiled and screaming woman are in line with an international view of Pakistan as one big danger zone. Faiza Butt’s confectionary, gender-blend painting of turbaned men surrounded by hair dryers, pistols and ice cream cones takes some of the edge off of this paranoiac view and is one of the more interesting of the show’s several exercises in issue-driven whimsy.

The others probably suffer from being seen in a Western institutional context, where they lose some of their complexity. They include Asma Mundrawala’s little pop-up versions of nostalgic fantasies; Adeela Suleman’s motorbike helmets for women, made from cooking pots; Hamra Abbas’s rocking-horse version of the winged creature who flew the prophet Muhammad to Jerusalem from Mecca; and Bani Abidi’s video of a Paskistani pipe band taking a stab at “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

This light-touch approach to politics has become common in contemporary art in the last decade, perhaps in reaction to heavy-hitting work of the 1990s. Wit can be effective but can too easily devolve into cleverness without some toughing edge of weirdness. Mahreen Zuberi’s gouache paintings of dental procedures have that edge. So do Nazia Khan’s semi-abstract drawings of — what? Cloth? Wrinkled skin? Damaged flesh? That we can’t tell is what gives the work some resistance, makes it feel personal rather than just an illustration of smart ideas.

This sense of the personal is very much present in a 1997 triptych by Mr. Akhlaq called “A Visit to the Inner Sanctum 1-3,” in which he acknowledges his debt to miniature painting but goes beyond it with a dark, near-abstract vision of birds and calligraphic characters that seem to emerge from a rain of ashes. Anwar Saeed’s gawky homoerotic figures, particularly those painted and collaged on the pages of a little printed book, similarly feel as if they’re about something that mattered deeply to the artist, that they’re a physical extension of him.

A student and teaching colleague of Mr. Akhlaq, Mr. Saeed was visiting him the night of the shooting and was badly wounded himself. The miniature-size pictures in the book were his first attempts to retrain himself physically to paint. That he returned to art with images considered morally unacceptable in his culture adds a political dimension to his work that intensifies it without entirely defining it.

In a neutral context, we would probably stop and look at these paintings because they are baffling and magnetic, as personal as diary entries. We might then become aware of the complicated skill that went into their making. Only last are we likely to want to place them in the political context of “contemporary art from Pakistan.”

If exhibitions encouraged us to approach art in something like this order, rather than the other way around, we might have an art experience deeper and more lasting than that given by even the most polished institutional package tour.

our body is our home

Home is whee the body is