Friday, December 31, 2010

If you can, if you want to, if you feel you must

Helping to spread the word around:

Members of the Christian Medical College Alumni Association, who have helped to support social activist Binayak Sen's family and his legal battles through private contributions, now propose to open up the fund to donations from the public.
The Binayak Sen Support Fund was set up in May 2007 through initial contributions by 10 alumni “to provide assistance, as necessary, for the safety and liberty of Dr. Binayak Sen, and for the welfare of himself and his family.”
The Fund's trustees are eminent haematologist Mammen Chandy, president of the CMC Alumni Association Sara Bhattacharji, in her personal capacity, and the former Physiology professor, P. Zachariah, who serves as the managing trustee.
Explaining the need to open up the fund for public contribution, Dr. Zachariah said: “All the expenses so far, to the tune of Rs. 23 lakh, were met mainly from CMC alumni sources. But the expected expenses from now on, perhaps to the tune of Rs. 50 lakh, are beyond our means, and [to meet them] calls for wider support.”
The fund can receive only donations in rupees, either in cash or from a rupee account in an Indian bank. Payments from the fund are only made through bank transactions.
Contributions can be made at State Bank of India branches to “Binayak Sen Support Fund, SBI a/c no. 30181020786” or through cheques/drafts payable at the same and mailed to Dr. P. Zachariah, c/o CMC Alumni Association, Christian Medical College, Vellore-632002.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Beyond absurdity

Words fail me. Insanity, travesty, shame etc are words that sprung to my mind. But how does one even begin to deal with this outrage called 'sedition' in the context of Binayak Sen?

Sample this: Mr Sen — who is out on bail after being in jail for two years for alleged links with the Maoists — was being tried under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act. On the second day of the prosecution’s arguments, the public prosecutor attempted to prove that Mr Sen and his wife were part of an international terror network because Ms Sen had written an email to “one Fernandes from the ISI”. And what could this ISI be but Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence? But, as it turned out, ISI is the Indian Social Institute in Delhi, and Walter Fernandes its former head and a friend of the Sens. The court was also regaled with other suspicious bits from the Sens’ correspondence. “We have a chimpanzee in the White House” appearing in one of the messages indicated, according to the prosecution, that Mr Sen was using a code, as terrorists often do; and his wife addressed one of her correspondents as “Comrade”, as Maoists often do one another.

After all this craziness, which court would take the prosecution's case seriously? For god's sake, a police investigation team that not only mistakes the Indian Social Institute for the ISI but also presents it in court as evidence?!

For more details, read this. To sign a petition addressed to the President of India, go here.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

If you have an opinion on paid news, now is the time to air it - direct to our lawmakers.

There is a parliamentary standing committee on paid news and they are inviting suggestions from the public in general and from experts or stakeholders especially.

Monday, December 20, 2010

How does Rs 240 crore sound?

How does Rs 240 crore sound? Good?

Yeah, am guessing. It sounds good to me. If it's in your bank account, it sounds very good. If it's even just in the national bank account, it still sounds good. It's good to just be in the vicinity of so many prefixed zeros, and hope that some of it will rub off.

Now how does Rs 240 crore a day sound?

Very good, eh? Lots you can do with Rs 240 crore a day. Even if you had a fraction of that, imagine the projects you could leap into with enthusiasm. Imagine how the roads might look, or the neglected garden you're always ruing, if even a tenth of that trickled down into your neighbourhood.

But it doesn't, you see. It could. But it doesn't.

Every day Rs 240 crore slips out of our reach - out of our country's borders and away from our collective arms.

Not so good, eh?

But it is true. Rs 240 crore makes its way out of the country illegally every single day while you and I sit around cursing high taxes, while also cursing the bad roads, the bad schools, the pitiful lack of maintenance of nearly everything.

The nation lost $213 billion (roughly Rs.9.7 lakh crore) in illegal capital flight between 1948 and 2008. However, over $125 billion (Rs.5.7 lakh crore) of that was lost in just this decade between 2000-2008, according to a study by Global Financial Integrity (GFI). These “illicit financial flows,” says GFI, “were generally the product of corruption, bribery and kickbacks, criminal activities and efforts to shelter wealth from a country's tax authorities.”


In just five years from 2004-08 alone, the country lost roughly Rs.4.3 lakh crore to such outflows. That is — nearly two and a half times the value of the 2G telecom scam now exercising Parliament and the media. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) pegs the 2G scam at almost Rs.1.8 lakh crore.

The silence around this larger scam - at least in parliament - is natural. The media's silence is a little harder to understand. Surely, they must know that the two are linked. Scams means illegal capital, and this capital needs a safe place to bury itself and snooze warmly until the inhospitable, damp winds of change have blown over.

We can't stop one without stopping the other. And no, privatising everything is not necessarily the answer. One of the conclusions drawn by the Washington DC-based GFI is that: “High net-worth individuals and private companies were found to be the primary drivers of illicit flows out of India's private sector.”

Just so you know. Because, as this report says: the “total capital flight represents approximately 16.6 per cent of India's GDP as of year-end 2008... (and) The total value of (such) illicit assets held abroad represents about 72 per cent of the size of India's underground economy which has been estimated at 50 per cent of India's GDP (or about $640 billion at end-2008) by several researchers. This implies that only about 28 per cent of illicit assets of India's underground economy are held domestically.”

In layman's terms, this means that you send off your stash of untaxed (and perhaps ill-begotten) cash to another country. Then you have it sent back indirectly. Say, you buy someone a fancy new car in Mumbai or Delhi with the money. Then, of course, you sit back in impossible traffic, ruing what the terrible roads are doing to your pretty wheels, cursing the 'ghorment' for not doing anything to improve your life.

Think about it. Rs 240 crore a day. Driven out quite often by private companies and individuals.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Speaking of poetry

I have been reading Tabish Khair’s Man of Glass lately (am on my second reading already). The book has three sections – each one a kind of retelling of the familiar. The first is a modern take on Shakuntala. The word ‘adaptation’ springs my mind and is perhaps best suited to describe the way in which Khair chooses to interpret the ancient Indian tale. Shakuntala here is not a passive girl who takes up with a king only to be forgotten. She is a young girl on a bicycle who bumps into a stranger, a foreigner, and happens to dreams of another world – a ‘palace of progress’. Her struggle is not so much the struggle to be remembered, as to remember herself. Even so, the essence of the story remains what it always was – a young girl’s desire for something alien to her own culture, followed by her search for acknowledgement and acceptance.

The voice he uses in this series is practically conversational – I felt like I was listening to someone narrate Shakuntala in contemporary English – and yet, it takes nothing away from the poetry. Here’s a bit from a poem I really like ('Forms'):

“…She is enveloped

by rumours of the world out there, palace

she cannot enter unless she knocks hard and

someone within takes pity on her….

Paper becomes her life, forms

and applications, names shrink

to acronyms: GRE, TOEFL, GMAT.

This is the price of admission to the world:

Everything has to be slotted and numbered,

the spill of language sliced

to algebra of alphabets. Very soon

she will turn number in files

in embassies where her skin will stain

for the first time, in offices and universities

across the seas bridged by capital

and barred to human bodies like hers, except

when the kings of Moon remember their own need.

            But who is there to tell Shakuntala to remember

Those graves in Europe with names written as numbers,

To recall the danger when tragedies become news,

When prisoners turn digits, people become JEWS?”


The second section is a few transcreations chosen from amongst Ghalib’s well-known work and the third is a series inspired from Anderson’s fairytales (the Grimm and Anderson so many of us read as children). I have either forgotten or not read several of the original stories which Khair has chosen to interpret as poems rooted in our very troubled times. But I love them all regardless.

A sampler from the story of Thumbelina, told as the poem titled ‘Prayer’:

“Grant me a little child

I can hide

When the mullahs come home to pray,

When planes are birds of prey.


Smaller than my thumb

I can put in my pocket and run.”


If you are keen on poetry (or even if you can just about stand poetry), I’d recommend Man of Glass.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Fragrance of peace

Irom Sarmila needs no introduction. But there's nothing like poetry to understand someone's politics. So here's a new collection of poems by the woman with the steel spine. 

'Fragrance of Peace' has been published by Zubaan recently. This collection of poems costs only Rs 125 and Flipkart is offering free home delivery. 

Need I say more?

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