Saturday, February 28, 2009

Pension for madrassa teachers - a fodder for Sangh Parivar?

The Kerala Government has announced a contributory pension scheme for Madrassa teachers above the age of 65,who had worked for atleast 10 years.The contributions from the teacher,the mosque/madrassa committee and the State Wakf Board along with a Government grant will be used for giving the pension.
I know few madrassa teachers and they are not very well off. They are only given a meagre amount as salary. So giving them a pension with some State support should be welcomed.
But some are unhappy with the scheme.They ask the following questions.
Why the Government should give pension to religious teachers who are not Government employees? Why only such benefits are given to Muslims? Is it not appeasement of minorities to gain vote?
The Kerala Government have also announced that there are proposals for pension scheme under active consideration of the Government for people associated with temple tradition. So does it not answer to the complaint that Muslims are favoured? One should also remember that the salary and pension for all Temple employees are given by the Government.
My Take
There is a big difference between Hindu temples and Muslim mosques/madrassas in Kerala. Almost all the revenues from the Temples are taken by the Government.This is like that because before Independence most of the Temples were governed by the local Kings.So after Independence instead of giving the right to govern lucrative temples to feuding landlords, the Government took up the responsibility,first in South Kerala and recently due to popular demand in North Kerala too. So the Government also was entrusted with the job of looking after the temple employees.
On the other hand, the Government do not have any role in the working of the madrassas/mosques. The money earned by the mosque is not shared with the Government.The Government only get the fixed contribution for the working of Wakf Board.

So in my opinion the Government need not have jumped in to this scheme for giving pension to madrassa teachers. A more rational,logical and secular move would have been to ensure minimum wages are being paid by the committees to madrassa teachers. The Government can also through the Wakf Board urge the local mosque committees to ensure that pension is given to the teachers. A one time grant to the Wakf Board to help poor mosque committees may also be logical.
This pension scheme will not address the social and educational backwardness of Muslims.
This ill conceived move will only help Sangh Parivar to mobilise majority community through out India against minority 'appeasement'.
In effect this scheme may be detrimental to minority community.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cease fire in Swat. Capitulation to Islamist extremism

Taliban insurgents in the troubled north-western Swat valley of Pakistan have announced an indefinite ceasefire.

The announcement follows a deal struck last week between a radical cleric and North West Frontier Province Government that brings Sharia law in return for an end to the insurgency.

The Taliban have been assessing that deal and Tuesday's move followed a meeting held by the group's leader in the region, Maulana Fazlullah.

Many people living in Swat are happy to hear the news of cease fire.
"I am so happy. I am excited. This will bring peace to my village." This was the response of a resident.
Why they were happy?
Thousands of people have fled and hundreds of schools have been destroyed in Swat since a Taliban insurgency began in 2007. The people of Swat have long been caught in the crossfire between the army and the Taliban. More than 1,000 civilians have died in shelling by the army or from beheadings sanctioned by the Taliban. Thousands more have been displaced.
The Taliban now control the entire countryside of Swat, limiting army control to parts of the valley's capital, Mingora.
Sharia law or not people were so much terrorised by the violence that they now want peace some how.

"They [the Taliban] have made commitment that they will observe a permanent ceasefire and we'll do the same," Mr Javed, the commissioner of Malakand.
He said that the army would scale back its operations in the valley and asked residents who left Swat because of the fighting to return home.
Schools for boys would reopen, although it is still not clear whether the Taliban will allow re-opening of girl's schools.
The Taliban has agreed to dismantle their check posts,but not to lay down their arms.

In about 20 months or so, we have had 187 of our schools bombed out, of which 121 are girls' schools," says Sher Afzal Khan, the district head of the education department of Swat.

Another 86 schools cannot be used because they are camps for the army or the Taliban, or they are in combat zones where children and staff cannot go, he says.

"Nearly 60,000 students have been affected," says Mr Khan.

Institutions of higher learning are no exception.

"Three months ago, the Taliban banned male medical students from attending practical lessons in the gynaecology ward and the labour room," says a professor at Mingora's Swat Medical College.

Soon afterwards, the Taliban started sending representatives to keep a watch at the college hospital to ensure the ban was not being violated.

"We had to shift gynaecology classes to Mardan (another district in the north-west). There is now a proposal to shift the entire college to Mardan, along with its staff and equipment," the professor says.

This is a cowardly capitulation to Islamist extremists by the Civilian Government and Political Parties of Pakistan.

The deal was struck after the military failed to defeat the militants. The fear created by the Taliban in general public resulted in the deal getting support even from secular politicians.

Previous deals with Islamists had only resulted in strengthening and legitimising the militants.

It is said that al-Qaeeda and Afghan Taliban leadership are shifting to Swat thinking it will be more safer than other areas because it is farther away from Afghan border. From here they can carry out the larger aim of Talibanising whole of Pakistan.Islamabad is only a 100 miles from Swat.

There is concern that this peace deal will also not last, with some analysts believing the Taliban want to control territory, not just amend the legal system.

When will the Government and the political parties in Pakistan realise that negotiating with Islamist extremists will undermine the shaky democratic structure of their polity?
Photos from BBC News website

Monday, February 23, 2009

Slumdog - Nothing to be written about

Watched Slumdog Millionaire. Nothing much to write about.It is not worth the effort of talking or writing about. Meanwhile you can read a review of the film by noted film maker Hariharan here.I agree with almost everything written by this reviewer.

Few excerpts from the review:

"The main problem with “Slumdog Millionaire” is the disease that infects the majority of Bollywood filmmaking. It germinates from a pitiable script, overloaded and heavily dependent on caricatures rather than characters."

"I do not want to compare this film to similar India-based films made by western producers such as “Monsoon Wedding” or “Fire”. It would be a great insult to them."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Darwin 200: Let us remember a great Scientist and a revolutionary theory

Today the World is celebrating the bicentenary of the birth one of the greatest Scientist it has ever seen, Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882).

His theory of evolution by natural selection, now the unifying theory of the life sciences, explained where all of the astonishingly diverse kinds of living things came from and how they became exquisitely adapted to their particular environments. Darwin demonstrated that the difference between humans and other animals is one of degree not kind. Darwin's writings produced profound reactions in geology, zoology, taxonomy, botany, palaeontology, philosophy, anthropology, psychology, literature and theology, many of which are still ongoing.
Darwin presented compelling evidence for evolution in On the Origin of Species [1959] and, since his time, the case has become overwhelming. Countless fossil discoveries allow us to trace the evolution of today's organisms from earlier forms. DNA sequencing has confirmed beyond any doubt that all living creatures share a common origin. Innumerable examples of evolution in action can be seen all around us, from the pollution-matching peppered moth to fast-changing viruses such as HIV and H5N1 bird flu. Evolution is as firmly established a scientific fact as the roundness of the Earth.

And yet despite an ever-growing mountain of evidence most people around the world are not taught the truth about evolution, if they are taught about it at all. Even in the UK, the birthplace of Darwin with an educated and increasingly secular population, one recent poll suggests less than half the population accepts evolution. Even lesser number of US citizens believe in it.In US controversy regarding Creation and theory of intelligent design continues. Many Islamic Countries[Saudi Arabia,Sudan] do not teach it in Schools.

Some misconceptions about Evolution

Evolution must be the best-known yet worst-understood of all scientific theories. Here are some popular misconceptions

Natural selection explains everything we see today
There are two fundamental mechanisms of evolution. Natural selection is only one of them. The less realised mechanism is the random genetic drift. The anti-evolutionists fail to recognise genetic drift. Darwin did not know about it either.
Genetic drift is the random change in the genetic composition of a population due to chance events. It all boils down to how the two alleles, one inherited from each parent, get affected. The smaller a population, the bigger the role of genetic drift.

Evolution always increases the chances of survival

The theory of survival of the fittest is widely misunderstood.
Evolution does not always increase the chances of a species’ survival. Mutations, which provide the vital mechanism for natural selection, need to be helpful.
Detrimental mutations are a common phenomenon. Species may not survive if such mutations happen rapidly and if they keep accumulating.
Again, if the rate at which mutations happens is slow, then a species may not be able to cope with changing environmental conditions.

'Survival of the fittest' justifies 'everyone for themselves'

Fittest does not always go with the most aggressive or strongest species. On the contrary, the ‘fittest’ label may be more appropriate to animals that are the most co-operative like the bees, the best camouflaged or the cleverest. The "fittest" can be the most loving and selfless, not the most aggressive and violent.
The ‘lowly’ sponge and the jellyfish with a few simple cell types have persisted from the Precambrian, and have changed very little. It is the same with fungi, mosses, sharks, and horseshoe crabs.

Man occupies the pinnacle

Till recently scientists believed that “modern invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and humans were living representatives of successive evolutionary steps toward a more complex brain,” (Scientific American, December 2008).
But the fact is that complex brains — and sophisticated cognition — have evolved from simpler brains multiple times independently in separate lineages.
This can be seen in molluscs such as octopuses; in bony fishes such as goldfish and, separately again, in cartilagenous fishes such as sharks and manta rays; and in reptiles and birds.

On his birthday today let us applaud the contribution of this great scientist to humanity.

Adapted from Darwin online and New Scientist.Click here for more misconceptions

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Inhuman Development.The story of other India

Neo Colonialism?

Children’s cries were heard from a container lorry bearing Karnataka registration number KA 03 - 4117, when it passed by Eranjipalam junction near Kozhikode City in Kerala in the morning of February 5. Two youths who were travelling behind the lorry was puzzled hearing cry of children from inside a parcel lorry completely covered all around.They informed by mobile phones their friends working in Shops at Eranhipalam. Shopkeepers and passersby gathered at junction stopped the vehicle, and asked the driver to open the back door.

As the door opened, the sight that unfolded was unbelievable. Inside the cabin were some 45 exhausted “beings” huddled up and soaked in sweat. Clothes, utensils and other material to put up temporary shelters were also strewn around inside the vehicle.

“Most of them were women and children and they looked pathetic,’’ said a shopkeeper of Eranjipalam. 19 of them were children between 2 months and 5 years.There were 22 Women and only 4 men.The children were crying.The police were called in and on being quizzed, the men said the group had started from Chitradurga in Karnataka,the previous evening and were being taken by a private contractor in a hell of a vehicle travelling 18 hours to a cable digging site for the Kerala State Electricity Board in Kozhikode.

The workers claimed that they had got pretty used to such inhuman means of transportation in Karnataka work sites.

Wagon Tragedy
This incident brought back memories of the Wagon Tragedy, which took place on November 10, 1921.After suppressing the Malabar rebellion, the British had packed 70 prisoners into a railway goods wagon at Tirur railway station in Kerala to be sent to the Coimbatore jails.By the time they reached their destination, 61 of the prisoners had died from suffocation.

The British have left long ago.But don't you think the poor of our Country are still languishing under 'Swadeshi' Colonialism?
adapted from February 6th issue of Deccan Herald and Mathurbhoomi

Thursday, February 5, 2009

What is happening in the Election Commission of India?

Mr Gopalaswamy[centre] and MrChawla[right]

Election Commission of India is in the news daily for all the wrong reasons.
The Chief Election Commissioner[CEC] Mr Gopalaswamy has recommended to the President to remove Mr Navin Chawla from the post of Election Commissioner.
There are mainly 2 opposing viewpoints expressed [ by the 2 main political parties of India] for the reason for the fiasco.Let me examine it in detail and come to a conclusion.
The information I have is mainly from 2 newspapers, New Indian Express and The Hindu.Interestingly these 2 newspapers are divided in their opinion.The New Indian Express which is a pro-hindutva newspaper supports the BJP's point of view while 'The Hindu' which can be called an anti-BJP newspaper [or some may like to call it pro-Left/Congress] supports the Congress viewpoint.

An overview about Election Commission

Election Commission of India is a permanent Constitutional Body. The Election Commission was established in accordance with the Constitution on 25th January 1950.

The Constitution of India has vested in the Election Commission of India the superintendence, direction and control of the entire process for conduct of elections to Parliament and Legislature of every State and to the offices of President and Vice-President of India.
Originally the commission had only a Chief Election Commissioner.
Later, on 1st October 1993 two additional Election Commissioners were appointed. The concept of multi-member Commission has been in operation since then, with decision making power by majority vote.

The President appoints Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners. They have tenure of six years, or up to the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier. They enjoy the same status and receive salary and perks as available to Judges of the Supreme Court of India. The Chief Election Commissioner can be removed from office only through impeachment by Parliament.

The Commission transacts its business by holding regular meetings and also by circulation of papers. All Election Commissioners have equal say in the decision making of the Commission.

The Controversy

Mr.Navin Chawla, the election commissioner[EC] appointed by the UPA is alleged to be close to the Congress. The Shah Commission report on the excesses conducted by the Indira Gandhi Government during the Emergency had made some adverse remarks against Mr Chawla[He was then a Secretary under Delhi Government].Mr Chawla was appointed as EC in May 2005.

Without any obvious evidence of bias in the functioning of Mr Chawla the BJP started opposing his appointment.

On March 16, 2006, BJP Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani and 204 MPs submitted a petition to President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam seeking the removal of Mr. Chawla as Election Commissioner[EC] under Article 324(5) of the Constitution.
The article says
Provided further that any other Election Commissioner or a Regional Commissioner shall not be removed from office [by the President] except on the recommendation of the Chief Election Commissioner.

From this action of the BJP it is clear that they knew that as per the Constitution the Government/President should refer to the CEC any complaint regarding an EC if the Government found some merit in the complaint.BJP tried a chance with the then President A.P.J.Kalam.The President referred it to the Cabinet.

A month later, BJP leader V.K. Malhotra sent a copy of this petition to the CEC,Mr Gopalaswamy who is considered close to Mr Advani.

With the President forwarding the petition to the Prime Minister, the matter rested there with the government evidently finding no merit in the BJP’s allegations.

The BJP took the matter to the Supreme Court where its arguments seemed to make no headway.

BJP withdrew the petition in August 2007.

In January 2008, the BJP leaders took the matter up with the CEC .

In July 2008 CEC asked for an explanation from Mr Chawla for the BJP's allegations.

On September 12, 2008 Mr Chawla sent his detailed and constitutionally substantive reply. In this, he questioned the locus standi of the CEC in this matter.EC quoted legal opinion saying CEC cannot arbitrarily proceed against EC.

Several correspondence followed.CEC insisited he has the legal power to act against EC while Mr Chawla and most lawyers thought otherwise.They were quoting the elaborate interpretation by the Supreme Court in its judgment in T.N. Seshan, Chief Election Commissioner of India v. Union of India (1995), “the CEC cannot act on his own and must await the reference through proper channels to be able to act on a complaint or petition seeking the removal of an EC.”

Now the CEC Mr Gopalaswamy has recommended the removal of Mr Chawla from the post of EC based on BJP's complaint and also his own enquiries alleging partisanship.

The irony of the fact is that Mr Gopalaswamy is about to retire on April 20 and Mr Chawla is all set to be the CEC before next General election to be held in May.

My Take on the Subject

Was Mr Chawla really partisan?

The full details of the CEC recommendations are not available.But watching the Election Commission function in the last 4 years with no serious allegations of partisanship raised by the Opposition Party, what I feel is that allegations against Mr Chawla is only a fear he might he partisan and not actual misconduct.The current CEC who is considered close to Mr Advani also did not face any allegations of partisanship.Moreover the rules and regulations of the functioning of Election Commission is such that it will be difficult to get away with partisanship.

The Government has made it clear that Mr Chawla will remain as Election Commissioner. BJP's options are limited other than throwing more mud at Mr Chawla,with whom they will have to do business for at least 2 years.Let us hope BJP will put aside their fear of partisanship and act maturely.

I agree with The Hindu that this move by CEC [at the behest of BJP] on the eve of his retirement and just before the Parliament election has provoked needless hostility and brought a political twist and divisions into the Election Commission.

At the same time it would have been better for the Congress to choose a person of high repute,with a history of clean public service and great calibre to this position of huge importance to Indian Democracy.
Let us hope that when the next vacancy in the Election Commission is filled all Political Parties are taken in to confidence and a person of stature will be appointed.
Damaging our Constitutional Institutions for narrow political gains will gravely harm our democracy.