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  Greetings to all our readers and patrons
Stewardship and Trusteesh
  By A.J. Philip  
  I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasi  
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Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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Back to infancy -- they n
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
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Symbolically speaking
  By Balvinder Singh  
  SO finally we get an appropriate sign for our rupee. "Appropriate", because our newly acquired rupee design appears to be as weak and whacky as our comparatively lowly currency.

Undoubtedly, it is losing its purchasing power, rather quickly. Perhaps, I need not quote the daily chart of fast rising prices of essential commodities to support my assertion. And one does not have to listen to the meaningless and wasteful din that Opposition parties are making in and outside Parliament these days.

However, the symbol is being projected, funnily enough, as "a matter of national pride, underscoring the robustness of the Indian economy".

I being an illiterate economist, perhaps, should turn to the design part of the symbol and leave its seemingly controversial economic aspect to our learned Prime Minister, a 'respected' and widely acclaimed economist, and his likes.

The design was reportedly selected from more than 3,000 entries that were evaluated by a jury of experts, government and RBI officials.

"My design is based on the tricolour with two lines at the top and white space in between. I wanted the symbol for the rupee to represent the Indian flag," said its designer D Udaya Kumar, who has just joined the faculty of the Department of Design at IIT, Guwahati.

There, perhaps, is no fault in the basic structure of this ordinary looking design that looks more or less like a doctor's prescription symbol. What bothers me the most is the fallacy of the designer's statement that it represents 'tricolour'. It does not.

I am sure the seemingly pseudo-nationalist selectors got swayed more by the nationalistic-sounding statement of the designer, rather than its actual visual impression.

Have a closer look at the visual dignity of the Ashok Chakra or the Three Lions, our honourable national emblems and compare them with this shoddy design. You surely would discern the difference clearly and quickly.

Thank God, for such small mercies, that during their selection, as national symbols of real pride, no cranky nationalists, like of which we have in plenty today, objected to them being related to Buddhist faith. I should cross my fingers that no Hindutva promoter reads this piece and looks at the issue worth starting an agitation to muster votes!

I wish someone had made a design to represent the Indian currency for the sake of an impressive looking design without trying to incorporate the nationalistic features compulsorily. But then this aspect reportedly was announced as one of its pre-requisites by the holders of the current competition.

In fact, if we look closely at the symbols of other really hard currencies of the world, perhaps, no one represents its pseudo nationalistic character.

Interestingly enough, the symbol of $ does not represent the mighty US literally or say artly. On the contrary, the US is recognised by the $ sign!
We cut teacher's palm, they...
  By Balvinder Singh  
  BANDHS, hartals, effigy burnings and the like are the popular ways in which we Indians protest, even at the drop of a hat. And, perhaps, no day passes by when one does not hear about these meaningless protests that often put the common man to unsavory inconveniences.

However, has anybody noticed that no teachers’ organisation has protested, at the national level, against the heinous and inhuman chopping of the hand of a hapless teacher in Kerala?

Maybe, our teacher unions have other serious things like implementation of new UGC pay-scales and the recommendation of a higher age of retirement that remain heavy upon their 'intellectual' minds!

We chop teachers' hands and they…!

"Papa, today I had a brief brush with fame. See the attachment". The other day I received this short e-mail from Sonoo, my London-based journalist daughter, who incidentally was the first HT city reporter when it started its Chandigarh supplement from Delhi.

The attachment was a link to a news-item published in that day's 'The Guardian', London.

The illustrated large-sized news-item talked of a web magazine, its concept and other details, which a leading London-based publishing company, Centaur Media, had launched recently.

Since the magazine was Sonoo's brainchild she, being its editor, was extensively quoted, by name, in the report.

Surely, it was a proud moment for me too.

This took me back to those days when, soon after completing her masters in English literature from the local varsity, I used to dissuade her to take up journalism as a career.

For, I wanted her to follow my teaching profession that I had thought would be a better and well-suited, particularly for Indian working women, career option.

It is another matter that as a child she would love playing the popular, perhaps with every child, 'teacher-teacher-game'. And she would always keep the main role of a teacher for herself while her younger sister and other children of their age would play the minor roles of students.

However, as a grown up lady, teaching, as a career, was not her passion. In fact, she, as a young rebel, would often loathe the profession more because we both, my wife and I, happened to be teachers.

Her focused vision, crowned by hard labour and her thoroughly ingrained inclination of being an avid reader, led her to join journalism, sooner than later. First, as a freelance and, then, as a regular reporter, she made her mark in the field rather quickly.

As luck would have it, she was married to an Indian boy settled in England. I remember the very day she left for England, I received a call from one Mr Patra, then a senior editor with the Delhi HT, which was about to launch its full-fledged Chandigarh edition, with a lucrative and better offer than she was holding at that point of time.

Since I had also been pen-pushing as a freelance writer, I had some surface knowledge of this field. Thus, I was very much apprehensive about her getting any job in her field of choice in England. I had never heard of any local journalist going abroad and entering into mainstream journalism.

However, I was confident that she, having an aggressive and ambitious persona, would manage to get some job, may be on the desk or in the field. For, there in England, I was told, were many a periodical, based chiefly on rehashed stories from Indian dailies that catered to the home-news-needs of Indians residing there.

It was a total surprise for me when Sonoo informed me that she had managed a reporter's job in a London-based known weekly magazine, which was devoted to marketing.

My surprise was well justified as both the marketing world and the mainstream English journalism were almost alien to her.

What made Mr Stuart, the magazine's editor to select her, a lone Asian in the whole publication, for the post of a news reporter that led her finally up to the position of Deputy Editor, was a surprise for Sonoo also.

For, many a time, initially, her editor had to tell her that while her reports were okay, they were told in a language that his grandfather would have used.

Sometime later, Sonoo asked her editor what particular aspect of her impressed him to select her for the job, for which he had to train her also.

Two things: One, she was a voracious reader as became evident from her few published book reviews in Indian newspapers. Two, her both the parents were teachers!

I wish teachers commanded that kind of respect here too!
Fragile faith
  By Rajendra Prabhu  
  Apropos of A.J. Philip's article headlined "In the name of Mohammed: Mutilation of truth", in the mid-80s, the Deccan Herald carried a short story about a Mohammed. But there were riots and the DH office was attacked. It had to apologise and sack the sub-editor concerned to save its property and face.

In Saudi Arabia a sub-editor from India was jailed for publishing a cartoon strip in which a character questions the existence of God. The strip was one of those cartoon series that are syndicated. There was not even a mention of Islam in it. The poor man was released only after we in the National Union of Journalists badgered the Saudi Embassy here.

Often the protestors never read the impugned stuff and are led by some politician who wants to exploit the situation. Islam has been here for the last 1300 years. Do Muslims think their faith is so fragile that even a pinprick will make it collapse? Or, is it their blind following of what is purported to be the instructions of their religion? It is for the community's leaders to educate their community and to demonstrate their faith not by destructive demonstrations but by ignoring any pinprick anywhere.

There is a wonderful tale about Ramakrishna Pramahamsa. Once he found a Kali temple destroyed by someone. He was sorry for the temple and angry at the miscreants. And he went into a trance. In the trance Kali appeared to him and asked him: "Are you stronger than me?" The great saint replied: "Obviously Mother, you are stronger than me." Kali said: "Then, don't you know I can defend my temple if I want it?" The saint nodded in agreement. Kali added: "I want someone to build temples for me and I also want someone to destroy them."

What a spirit of tolerance and right attitude! Many people write about Jesus and about his sacrifice for all of us. Then there is one Dan Brown who seeks to destroy all that faith with a cock and bull story. Ultimately, after the initial excitement, Dan is forgotten within three years of his book. But the Bible lives forever. I think every protestor tilting his spear at the windmill of the critic declares loudly that his faith is too fragile to stand any criticism.
Chasing a chimera
  By Raja Jaikrishan  
  Last night a man died or rather we heard of his death
The day ended as suddenly as it began
Four children without father lying frightened in bed
The world seems suddenly very large and odd, blue and cold
Endlessly without a door or windows
Full of shame and wilting hope

AS I read these lines from Prayer to Krishna by Susan Visvanathan, my thoughts went back to the news-item which announced the killing of Cherukuri Rajkumar, alias Azad, the spokesman for the CPI (Maoist).

The killing by and of Maoists has become routine. It has ceased to awe and surprise the routine-bound law-fearing society. They are not in a position to discriminate between the violence unleashed by the system and the state and the armed response of Maoists.

Many intellectuals agree with their prognosis but chicken out on the cure. Some of them
bridle their thoughts fearing state reprisal.

But then there was the curious Hemachandra Pandey who got killed for being witness to "Operation Greenhunt". Being a journalist he would have written about it. There would be predictable comments from Arnab Goswami, Barkha Dutt and other sharp-tongued media personalities followed by Home Minister P.Chidambaram.

In order to prevent all this to happen, Pandey was silenced with another shot from the para-military gun.

Babita, his social activist wife, cried hoarse that her husband was a journalist and not a Maoist. How naïve of her to expect the security forces to make such a distinction in a combat zone. It is not the first instance that a journalist who knew more than the comfort of the authority has been killed. This happens in totalitarian regimes or military dictatorships is only a half-truth. This also happens in democracies, including India.

Going by the web copies of Pandey's articles, he seems to have been inspired by Javed Akhtar's lines:

When oppression will not be tolerated,
When homes will not be burnt down,
When blood will not flow on streets,
When eyes will not be filled with pain,
….that day shall come.

The latest article Pandey wrote was published on July 2, the day he was killed,
in Rashtriya Sahara. It dealt with the world food crisis in the light of government policy of selling agricultural land at cheap rates to investors.

Babita produced another article published in Nai Duniya, whose editor, Alok Mehta, distanced himself from Pandey saying that "no such person ever contributed or reported for any edition of the paper".

Pandey ignored the PC's threat of booking Maoist supporters under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967. He should have known that the police use the same bullets for Maoists and their supporters.

No inquiry will answer why Azad was killed. As a party spokesperson he did his job well. He articulated the party line to the unsympathetic national media. For straight- thinking home ministry not only his words but also his being were threat to national security. According to them, he had ceased to have the basic right to live.

His comrades knew that police informers were tailing him. Even he must have sensed it in the shadows of the jungles. But he had the job to do: To reach out to those who were willing to listen. Killing Azad at a time when Home Minister P. Chidambaram had approached Swami Agnivesh to broker talks with the Maoist is a treacherous act.
The Swami said Azad's killing was a big blow to the proposed peace dialogue that was being chalked out.

"He was going to finalise the peace talks date with his comrades when he was detained and killed along with journalist Hemant Pandey".

Agnivesh said Chidambaram handed him a confidential missive on May 11, calling upon the rebels to declare a 72-hour ceasefire and start the talks process.

"I conveyed this to the ultras and Azad gave me a letter May 31 through some of his contacts for the home minister."

"The Maoists expressed their eagerness to join the talks but demanded mutual ceasefire, release of all their top leaders, troops withdrawal and halting of Operation Greenhunt," he said.

However, when Agnivesh met Chidambaram again, he regretted that the Maoists had not responded to his 72-hour ceasefire offer.

"On the basis of my discussion with the home minister, I wrote to Azad urging him to appreciate the home minister's gesture and fix a date for the talks."

Agnivesh said he then went to Australia but was shocked to learn on his return that Azad was killed in a gunfight. The social activist added that he almost felt guilty for Azad's death.

"I feel guilty of Azad's untimely killing. I think as Azad was keeping regular contact with me to hold peace talks with the centre, that's why he died so early," he said.

In the guilt of Swami Agnivesh the guilt of the entire civil society has been damned.

Susan's poem Event of War says:

The ways of living
Ate the important texts of tomorrow
There will be ash not sacred or sublime
And we will huddle in houses
Like in an HG Wells story
When it is over there will be many of
Us toothless
Rip Van Winkles
Without a dream.
Out of the dark wombs
Of death
Will arise a generation that has
No sense of future…
The writer is a Noida-based senior journalist.
Bitter truths
  By A.J. Philip  
  TRUTH can be bitter but even the bitterest truth is better than the sweetest falsehood. There is a popular saying, "give anything but not hope". Yet falsehood and false hopes are being dished out day in and day out since a court in Bhopal gave its verdict in June on the world's worst industrial disaster 26 years after it occurred.

The judgment evoked widespread criticism because the punishment awarded to seven officials of the Indian subsidiary of Union Carbide Corporation was two years' imprisonment and a paltry monetary fine. This is the kind of punishment traffic offenders receive in the country.

The judge could not be faulted as he had awarded the maximum punishment for the charges framed against them. When Opposition parties began attacking the government for its decades-long inaction on Bhopal, a new Group of Ministers (GoM) was hastily put together and it announced a series of measures to ameliorate the condition of the victims.

It announced a relief package of Rs 15,000 million, out of which half the amount would be utilised to remove the killer factory lock, stock and barrel and clean the environment around it. The kin of every dead person would get Rs 1 million and the seriously injured half that amount. An insult to injury, whatever they got earlier as compensation would be deducted from this amount.

The victims are not happy as the beneficiaries would be limited to those who were verified as eligible in 1989 and their descendants. To deflect criticism, the GoM has made three assertions: 1) a curative appeal will be filed in the Supreme Court to review its decisions in the Bhopal case; 2) Dow Chemicals Company, which now owns Union Carbide, would be asked to pay more compensation; and, 3) Efforts would be made to extradite from the US Warren Anderson, who was chairman of UCC in 1984.

All this amounts to giving false hopes to the Bhopal victims that they can look forward to receiving a windfall in the days to come. What's worse, even knowledgeable people like Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily and Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who is himself a lawyer of eminence, seek to perpetuate such myths for their own political gains.

One of Moily's predecessors, Arun Jaitley of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had in 2001 examined the possibility of seeking Anderson's extradition. His written notes on the subject, which are now in the public domain, clearly show that extradition is impossible. No new evidence has emerged which strengthens the case for his extradition, particularly when Anderson is now in his early nineties.

As regards getting the settlement with Union Carbide reviewed and extracting more money from it, there is no better guide than Fali S. Nariman, one of India's leading lawyers and a former nominated member of the Upper House of Indian Parliament.

It was Nariman who represented Union Carbide in the Bhopal case. In fact, he is considered the architect of the $470 million settlement with the multinational when the late Justice R.S. Pathak, who also had a stint at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, was the Chief Justice of India.

In his just-released autobiography "Before Memory Fades" (Hay House India), he has devoted a whole chapter to the Bhopal case. Of course, he can be subjective but let us go by the evidence on record.
On the inadequacy of the amount of compensation, $470 million (Rs 6150 million) was two and a half times more than Rs 2500 million the Madhya Pradesh High Court under whose jurisdiction the Bhopal tragedy had occurred had initially awarded as interim compensation.

What's more, the Attorney General, representing the Government of India, had himself suggested to the Supreme Court that an amount of $500 million be made the basis of the settlement. Even after the settlement was reached, the Supreme Court had specifically gone into the question of inadequacy of the amount. In three different judgments during the regimes of three different Chief Justices, the court had found that the settlement was just.

On its own, the court answered the question what would happen in case the money got exhausted and there were people who needed succor: "But such a contingency may not arise having regard to the size of the settlement fund. If it should arise, the reasonable way to protect the interest of the victims is to hold that the Union of India, as a welfare state and in the circumstances in which the settlement was made, should not be found wanting in making good the deficiency, if any".

At that time Union Carbide agreed to a settlement on the specific condition that it would be freed of all liabilities in the case. This being the situation, it stands to reason that there is no chance of a curative petition succeeding in the case. Nor is an enhancement of the settlement amount likely when the court specifically promises that "those who trust this court will not have cause for despair".

In retrospect, Rs 6150 million was a substantial sum in 1989. If it was found inadequate, it was because a new logic was applied in the case of Bhopal. All those living in a particular area of Bhopal were declared affected, not because they suffered but because they lived there. Thus the money was shared among a large number of people as a result of which the amount shrank.

As regards the promise to invoke harsher laws against the seven persons punished by the Bhopal court, suffice it to say that anybody who has a rudimentary knowledge of the law knows that a person cannot be tried for the same offence, with the same facts, twice.

What all this boils down to is the fact that the wild hopes generated by the GoM's assertions are all false. If the government is really interested in looking after the welfare of the victims of Bhopal, it should not look for alibis and waste time. Instead of dispensing false hopes, it should help them face the challenges of the tragedy, in both physical and psychological terms. (Courtesy: Oman Tribune)
Corruption-free India?
  By Balvinder Singh  
  BABUS become frustratingly touchy when their slips start showing.

The other day the Chandigarh edition of the Hindustan Times carried a startling news about the renovation of the city's Tagore Theatre.

While no theatre people demanded it, the Administration decided to get the theatre renovated. Despite the fact that the late Mr Aditya Parkash, who was closely associated with Le Corbusier while designing and constructing this theatre, was strongly opposed to the renovation project.

Not only this, the project-renovation that started with a budget of a few lakhs of rupees reportedly ended up spending a whopping Rs 10 crore! And if reports are to be believed, the theatre now has some seats from where one cannot have the full stage view! And that too when the designs were supposedly made by specialist architects exclusively hired for the project and duly approved by the Architecture department.

Moreover, the renovated theatre has now been put by the Administration beyond the reach of the amateur theatre groups due to a steep hike in its rentals. No wonder the theatre is rented these days mostly for functions other than dance and drama.

Not so strangely, the Administration remained almost silent on the HT expose thinking that it would die down its natural death sooner than later.

Thus I took the matter with the Administrator of Chandigarh and sought an enquiry into it.

Soon I got a telephonic call from the Home Secretary, also in-charge of the Vigilance cell, saying that though he rubbished the charges leveled in the news he would soon appoint a committee and offered me to be a part of the committee as well, which I accepted.

A couple of days after that I received a message from the Adviser's office that he wanted to meet me. Thinking it as an invitation I accepted and reached his office on the appointed day and time.

What I was thinking as an invitation, in fact, turned out to be an oral summon issued in order to snub me. The Adviser advised me to refrain from writing such things as this could put me in serious trouble if they filed a defamation suit against me. However, he hastened to add that this was not a "threat"!

The same day I wrote to Mr Ramesh Vinayak, the Resident Editor of the Hindustan Times, who assured me, through an immediate response, that there was no need to get demoralised as the HT stood by its story and it had all the certified documents to prove all that was reported.

What worries me the most is a sad fact that while India has an outstanding ranking in the list of most corrupt nations, no one knows who is actually corrupt?

In this regard I would like to quote an acquaintance's saying. He retired as an inspector in the Foods and Supplies Department. "I was considered as one of the most honest officials in the whole department because I never asked for bribes, and accepted only whatever was offered to me as per the ongoing conventions. And I found out that I used to get much more than all those inspectors who used to ask for gratifications in clear terms".

Can we ever hope of having a corruption-free India?
Flavour of a film
  By J. Sri Raman  
  THE other day, half-jokingly, a friend asked, "Why don't you write on the World Classical Tamil Conference? Your column lacks the southern flavour totally!" He had a point. But the subject he suggested still left me cold.

A film I saw a couple of days back, however, helps me to put in this piece a flavour of not only the south of India but also the north-south divide that keeps figuring periodically in political discussions and polemics.

Before coming to that, a word or two in self-defence. If the south features infrequently in this column, it is for the same reason that makes Gujarat a recurring issue in it. The far right is the columnist's favourite subject, because he is convinced it is the Indian people's worst foe, and the south is not its stronghold. It wields power only in one of the four southern states, Karnataka, and we have taken note whenever attacks have been made in the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled state on allegedly traitorous minorities and tradition-breaking women, even in its capital and India's 'silicon valley' of Bangalore.

As for the Tamil conference held in the textile city of Coimbatore on June 23-27, it is no lack of love for the language that held back the columnist from holding forth on the extravaganza. But it is hard for any true Tamil lover to listen on tirelessly as he or she is told that the language is older and so greater than all other tongues, that the avowed proof of the Mohenjodaro script as proto-Dravidian puts the superiority of the 'Tamil race' above all argument and doubt, that the Tamil women will tarnish their image if they break the taboos of the Sangam period (circa 300 BC-300 AD), and so on and so forth.

All this gets more tedious when interspersed with tributes to Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi despite the politician's well-publicised protestations. True, he had started out as a successful scriptwriter and penned some provocative on-screen dialogues. The record still did not and should not have put him on an equal footing with the creators of epics.

The far right parivar (family, including the Bharatiya Janata Party) deserves condemnation for all the crudities and cruelties perpetrated in the name of 'cultural nationalism'. But the 'cultural sub-nationalism' of the kind the conference symbolised represents no counter to the national-level menace.

Very different, however, is the cultural contention that two recently released films, meant for viewers in the country's two major regions, represent. Much-acclaimed director Mani Ratnam has made two versions -- one for Bollywood and the other for Kollywood (as Tamil cinema made in the studios of Kodambakkam in Chennai, capital of the Tamil Nadu state, is known). Bollywood's 'Raavan' has bombed at the box office, while Kollywood's 'Raavanan' has hit the jackpot. Can one say thereby hangs a tale of two cultures?

'Raavanan' is the Tamilised form of 'Raavan', the adversary of Ram --the hero of ancient Indian epic Ramayan and a major Hindu deity. The story of the epic is widely known all over the subcontinent and even outside. For the uninitiated, however, it is about Sri Lanka's king Raavan abducting Sita, the beautiful spouse of exiled prince Ram, and the latter slaying him in a battle and liberating her before winning back his lost kingdom of Ayodhya (the city where the pious and devoted soul of the parivar is said to dwell).

The theme triggered off a north-south debate or divide long ago, and the two films perhaps testify to its continuance. In the north, Raavan is evil incarnate, and his effigy is burnt during a festival every year. In Tamil Nadu, Raavanan is the anti-hero. Even worshippers of Ram have long seen him as a worthy adversary of the Lord. The emergence of Dravidian, regional politics in the south saw his elevation as a warrior against the racial Aryan conquerors. The quality of history behind the campaign has been questioned, but it did strike a popular chord in a region that nursed much resentment at perceived neglect by those at the national helm.

Now two reasons have been suggested for the difference in responses to the two films. Quite a few hold Abhishek Bachchan responsible for the audience's rejection of the Hindi version. It would be unfair to agree without seeing the film, but the actor who did a good job as the founder of the Ambani business empire might not have quite fitted his role in 'Raavan'. Tamil star Vikram, with several other passion-filled performances before, has certainly revelled in his 'Raavanan' role.

The other reason, surmised by many including Vikram, lay in the nuances of the name of the epic character. The title itself may have turned away some of the audience from the theatres screening the film, especially after the high-voltage hyping of an effigy-fit character into a hero of sorts.

Columns will continue to try and answer the conundrum. Meanwhile, it merits notice that both Ravan and Raavanan are metaphors for a tribal rebel. Both Abhishek and Vikram essay the role of someone who fights the powers-that-be, to whom his people, women in particular, are just playthings. There are more than mere shades of the ongoing war against Maoists in India's tribal terrain, and Mani Ratnam seems to take Arundhati Roy-like sides.

If not called either Raavan or Raavanan, the anti-hero may look like an endearing rebel to some, and an extremist deserving of elimination to others. And this difference in responses would not reflect any inter-regional divide. (Courtesy: Daily Times)
The writer is a journalist based in Chennai, India. A peace activist, he is also the author of a sheaf of poems titled At Gunpoint
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