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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Diwali Ban: SC, A Willy-Nilly Victim Of “Secular” Anti-Hindu Machinations?

The Hindus of Delhi will not celebrate Diwali this year, at least not with the usual fervour associated with the festival of lights and crackers, thanks to an ill-conceived judgement by the Supreme Court. 

The ban was ordered on November 11, 2016 in response to a petition filed by three children stating that bursting of crackers on a single night – that is on the Diwali night – increased the suspended particulate matter in the air threefold and that “residents and children [were] feeling breathless and vulnerable to asthmatic attacks” in the air following the bursting of crackers on Diwali. Obviously agreeing with the petitioners, the Supreme Court “observed that the direct and immediate cause of the spike in air pollution during this time is because of burning ofcrackers for Deepavali.

In trying to understand the Hon’ble Court’s judgement it is necessary to understand

1.  Whether there is a causal relationship between bursting of crackers on a single night – that is on the Diwali night – and increase in particulate matter in the air

2. Whether there is a causal relationship between increase in particulate matter in the air and respiratory diseases as is being made out to be

In order to answer our first question, let us turn to Inside Story -China's pollution dilemma originally published on the Al Jazeera website on December 23, 2015. It features a panel discussion on the problem of air pollution in China. A report by Adrian Brown preceded the panel discussion moderated by Kamahl Santamaria. The panelists were Einar Tangen, (Political and economic affairs analyst advising the Chinese government), Steve Tsang (Senior fellow at the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham, UK) and Tamara Savelyeva (Professor at the Hong Kong Institute of Education). 

Here is the gist of the panel discussion:

Air pollution contributes to 17% of all deaths in China; 90% of cities failed to meet national air quality standards. Air pollution accounted for 1.6 million deaths in a single year. This means 4400 people die every day. The levels of air pollution are seven times the maximum exposure recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The government is forced to close schools, colleges and factories in order to protect people from pollution on the days on which there is a “spike in the particulate matter in the air”.

In the words of Einar Tangen, “China polluted its way to success!” The major contributing factors of the air pollution were the coal and steel industries. Attempts to transit from coal as the energy producer have been on but it is a difficult trade off in view of the highly labour-intensive nature of the industry. The economic costs of air pollution are already telling on the economy. The nation can be said to have reached its threshold limit.

[By the by the YouTube video is worth watching to understand how panel discussions are conducted on international television. There is no screaming; no talking over each other and the presenter let everyone talk!]

By no stretch of imagination could one ascribe the problem of air pollution in China to firecrackers or Diwali. The problem therefore should lie elsewhere. Here is a snapshot of a news report published in 2015 in Mail Today, according to which there are 110,000 smoke emitting cottage industries in Delhi. 


What causes pollution then? An IIT study report of 2013-14 published in Bloomberg identified industry, vehicular pollution, power plants and cottage industries as the main pollutants.

Now to the second question: several medical experts have appeared in television debates (as they did last year too), to testify that increased air pollution due to bursting of crackers on the one night of Diwali indeed causes respiratory diseases. As experts they are entitled to individual opinions on the subject. As experts in a scientific discipline, they would also agree that voicing opinions in public fora without adequate studies is not exactly a scientific way of voicing opinions. For here is an excerpt from a scientific study on the subject which appeared in Lung India a specialist magazine on the subject of lung diseases (with a formidable line-up of editors) intended not for laymen but for medical specialists in the subject:

An extensive Medline search revealed that a strong evidence of the impact of fireworks on respiratory health is lacking in susceptible as well as healthy individuals with no formal studies on COPD or asthma, other than a few case reports in the latter 

Here are a few noteworthy excerpts from the article which definitely warrant serious scrutiny, especially in view of, not conclusive proof but scientificspeculation” about a few hours on one night of fireworks causing serious health problems:

Fireworks and asthma Few investigators have identified the association between asthma and exposure to fireworks.

Fireworks and COPD We could not find any publications identifying an association between COPD and firework exposure.

An association between repeated exposure to firework emissions and respiratory symptoms has not been definitely identified.

One can argue that typical exposure to such pollutants is limited, as assessed by Singh et al., ranging from a few hours to a few days, depending on the duration of the firework festival, thus probably only causing minimal exposure. Also, fireworks are often let off following sunset when most people would go indoors to sleep after seeing the show, hence limiting exposure time to the ambient air pollutants.

There is limited literature describing the physical characteristics of firework particles themselves including size distribution, number concentrations, modal characteristics as well as particle density

Following a thorough review of the literature available, further studies are necessary to consolidate current evidence and speculation. (Emphasis added.)

Is everyone, the “children”, the activists and the Supreme Court oblivious of the elephant in the room and barking the wrong tree?

Or is there any other ulterior motive for the “activists” which the Hon’ble Supreme Court, to give it the benefit of doubt, did not sense? 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Which is the most shameful incident in Indian political history?

The most shameful chapter in the history of independent India was the genocide of Kashmiri Pandits. Although it has been going on for decades, the events that were triggered on January 19, 1990 led to the mass exodus of nearly half-a-million Kashmiri Hindus. Only a few other events in world history compare in scale and magnitude to the tragedy that befell the unfortunate Pandits. They were warned through posters and loud speakers that they had two choices: either convert to Islam or be prepared to be killed. Their men were brutally tortured and killed and their women were raped and killed. The population of Kashmiri Pandits in Srinagar valley was about 15% when India attained Independence. It came down to a fraction of 1% by 2010. Between 1990 and December 6, 1992, 160 Hindu temples were razed to the ground. The excuse of retaliation for Babri Masjid does not hold good.

Members of an elite community that provided intellectual leadership to the Kashmiri society were suddenly rendered homeless and became refugees in their own country! After the Pandits fled, some 25000 standalone houses belonging to them were burnt down. Others were simply occupied. Some of the Pandits who had the foresight to see what was coming sold away their properties ─ ancestral homes and other precious heirlooms ─ at throw away prices and fled to Jammu and other Indian cities.

What followed (in January 1990) was even worse. The state government led by Farooq Abdullah abdicated its responsibility leaving the victims to the tender mercies of barbaric butchers. Abdullah himself went away to London where he merrily played golf and other ‘adult games’. His behaviour is comparable to that of the Roman emperor, Nero who famously or notoriously ‘fiddled while Rome was burning’!

The central government did nothing to ameliorate the situation; the human rights activists remained uncharacteristically silent; the secular intelligentsia turned a deaf ear and the world ignored the humongous tragedy. The Pandits themselves stoically accepted their fate. There were no protests; no demonstrations; they did not resort to violence or destruction of public property and they did not produce suicide bombers.

They did not have godfathers in the human rights circuits in New York and Washington and the matter was scarcely if ever was raised in the human rights debates in the UNO. Just to give you an idea of how the human rights ‘activists’ treated the issue, the New York based ‘Human Rights Watch’ which produced a 68-page report on the 2002 Gujarat riots (in which 890 Muslims and 294 Hindus were killed) has all of one paragraph comprising about 75 words on the Kashmiri Pandit genocide (which victimized more than half-a-million people), on its website. A famous electronic media journalist, who in her budding years reported from Kashmir, glibly explained that the ethnic strife in Kashmir was the result of ‘social tensions’ between poor working-class Muslims and prosperous, elite Hindus. A clip of her reportage has been doing the rounds on social media for quite some time now.

All that the governments would do was putting up the Pandits in camps outside Jammu and Delhi. Just imagine three generations of a family living in a (eight feet by eight feet) room made up of canvas walls and partitioned by bedsheets! Life in the camps was harsh. They had to live in unfamiliar surroundings in subhuman conditions. There is already an underlay of fear, of persecution, torture, violent death and an uncertain future. They were not used to the harsh hot climates of Jammu and Delhi. All this led them to suffer from a number of physical and mental disorders from diarrhoea and dysentery to skin rashes and phobias and manias. Menopausal age in women dropped from a national average of 55 years to 35 years. It was reported after a survey that in a ‘relief camp’ comprising 300 families there were more than 200 deaths in the five years between 2001 and 2005 while there were only 5 births. How can genocide get worse?

There is a most poignant postscript to the (unending) saga of the misery of the Kashmiri Pandits. It was the death in 2013, of an inmate of a relief camp in Jammu due to starvation. Because the authorities did not provide rations to the camp in time. An incident for which every civilized Indian should hang his head in shame!
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This is the reply posted to a question on Quora 


Friday, February 17, 2017

‘USEFUL IDIOTS’ & FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION!

John Storey might have been writing about cultural studies in Britain but his observation about all basic assumptions of cultural studies being Marxist is equally relevant to the Indian context:

“…This is not to say that all practitioners of cultural studies are Marxists, but that ‘cultural studies’ is itself grounded in Marxism. All its major texts are informed, one way or another, by Marxism; whether or not their authors regard themselves as Marxist, post-Marxist or rhetorical Marxists (using rhetoric, vocabulary, models, etc., without, necessarily, a commitment to the politics).”2

The relevance of the observation to the issue under discussion will be apparent if one remembers that Marxists can reconcile diametrically opposing views with the aid of ‘dialectical materialism’. As in Britain, the arts and culture sphere in India too has come to be dominated by Marxists and their variants Storey described. There is no dearth of ‘useful idiots’,3 in the public sphere, either in the media or in that amorphous mass called the ‘public intellectuals’. The ‘public intellectuals’ do not have to necessarily come up with ideas that solve the mysteries of the universe or be able to find solutions to the myriad problems that daunt our society. Their skill-set, to use the human resources jargon of the information technology age, includes glib talk, an ability to write gobbledygook liberally sprinkled with socialist clichés and an infinite capacity for networking with the high and mighty. For them, who they know is the ‘seed capital’; what they know is inconsequential. In short, they are literary and cultural wheeler-dealers. They have acquired the enviable Marxist acumen of being able to reconcile diametrically opposing propositions, with élan. The politicians find the ‘useful idiots’, well, useful and the ‘useful idiots’ could do with political patronage. Thus the two have developed a symbiotic relationship. It was one of those, who had acquired a name as a litterateur, who had advised Rajiv Gandhi to ban the Satanic Verses. It was probably what Rajiv Gandhi wanted to do anyway to propitiate a political constituency, but when the advice came from a litterateur, it had acquired an ‘intellectual stamp’. It is another matter the litterateur acquired his name and fame by writing semi-porn fiction and publishing collections of ribald jokes, not all of which were his own. His ability to network with the media while being a press officer in the government came in handy. He could call in old favours and what the British call the ‘old boy network’ or the ‘charmed circle’ came in with offers of syndicated columns as post-retirement sinecures.

It was said that till the book was banned in India in 1988, not many knew of it, although Salman Rushdie had published three books earlier and won a Booker prize for his second novel, Midnight’s Children (1981). It was after the Indian ban that the world noticed it and Ayatollah Khomeini had issued the infamous fatwa and a bounty on Salman Rushdie’s head. The ban and the fatwa condemned Rushdie into exile, and to live incognito for a long time. The ‘curious incident’, as Sherlock Holmes told inspector Gregory in The Adventure of Silver Blaze, was not what the dog did but that ‘the dog did nothing’! In this case the curious thing was the ‘useful idiots’ did nothing. They did not cry, ‘artistic freedom was being trampled upon’, till their throats turned hoarse. Nobody returned their Sahitya Akademi or Padma awards!

However, the famous litterateur, who recommended banning the book, had had a change of heart in 2010. What could be the motive? One could only surmise, but was it self-justification, remorse or mendacity? In his syndicated column, he urged his readers to look at the positive side of the ban. He sheepishly explained that the ban had immensely helped Rushdie and his book with increased sales. Thank him for small mercies, for he did not justify the bounty on Rushdie’s head, reasoning it had garnered him international sympathy! None but an ‘intellectual’ like the ‘litterateur’ could come up with such a ‘brainy’ idea: ‘ban books to increase their sales’! Even Marxists would be stumped as the reasoning was beyond their beloved ‘dialectical materialism’.

When the eminent columnist T. J. S. George had to run for cover for offending, a ‘particular community’ to use evasive journalese — which expression does not seem to circumscribe ‘freedom of expression’, again the ‘useful idiots’ were not up in arms to protest. The media too tasted the wrath of the ‘particular community’ after the Deccan Herald affair in 1986, and when offices of all the four main newspapers in Bengaluru were attacked on different occasions. The lessons learnt almost a decade ago seem to have long lasting effect, for the media did not venture to express solidarity with its Danish brethren in the recent cartoon controversy. Its condemnation in the Charlie Hebdo massacre was too muted and not unqualified, as we shall see latter.

However, it would be inappropriate to inculpate the ‘particular community’ alone of intolerance of cultural and media freedom, when it offends their sensibilities. The ‘useful idiots’ were equally quiescent when recently, the secular party workers of DMK burnt down the offices, along with three unfortunate employees of Dinakaran in Tamil Nadu, all in the ‘good cause’ of the internal power-struggle in the ruling dynasty there. Contrast this with the campaign it ran when some Hindu organisations protested against the making of Water. The social malady the movie sought to project was no doubt an anachronism, but is a century old and no longer exists. The ideological fatherlands of our left-liberal intellectuals did not shy away from curtailing artistic freedoms. The land of Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev banned Dr. Zhivago and prevented its author, Boris Pasternak from receiving the Nobel Prize. Another Nobel winner, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who exposed the plight of soviet intellectuals in his novel, The First Circle, was exiled. The land of Mao ‘respects’ the ‘freedom of expression’ much more brazenly: in the Tiananmen Square Massacre, in 1989, it gunned down between 2000 and 3000 unarmed civilians — intellectuals, labour activists and students — protesting against galloping corruption in the ruling communist party.

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2 Storey, John. (1994). “Introduction: The Study of Popular Culture and Cultural Studies” In Storey, John (Ed.) Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader. Harlow. Pearson Education. p. xi

3 The phrase has often been attributed to Lenin, but it appears he had never aid it. See Safire, William. (1987). “On Language”. The New York Times Magazine. April 12, 1987. Accessible from http://goo.gl/PhkIxn  

Excerpted from ‘ARTISTIC FREEDOM & SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY’: ‘TWISTING FACTS TO SUIT THEORIES’ & OTHER SELECTIONS FROM VOXINDICA. p. 26-30.

See the post dated December 10, 2016 below to view the book's CONTENTS.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

PUBLIC INTELLECTUALS: LEADING LIGHTS OF THE SOCIETY OR WEATHERCOCKS?

[...] Leadership literature has an unverified story that explains the seamy side of leadership of mass movements. During the days of the French revolution, so goes the story, a newspaperman was having a tête-à-tête with a leader of the revolution in a Paris café. As they were sipping coffee and chatting, a wildly howling mob shouting slogans stomped by. The newspaperman wondered what the procession was about. On hearing this, the ‘leader’ shouted, ‘Oh my God, I am supposed to lead the procession’ and ran out. At times, when mass movements acquire a momentum of their own, ‘revolutionary’ leaders might have to follow the mobs while pretending they were leading. It is a fact of life of leading mass movements.

On the other hand, the intellectuals of a society are not weathercocks but its leading lights. They do not (and should not) sometimes follow pretending always to lead. They should possess the moral fibre and intellectual integrity to pursue ideals even if they are unpopular. The words ‘honesty’ and ‘integrity’ are interchangeable but are paired to amplify the meaning, in a figure of speech known as synonymia. The word ‘integrity’ is derived from the mathematical term ‘integer’, meaning a whole number, undivided or complete. When someone is said to be honest or has integrity, there can be no ‘partial honesty’ or ‘fractional integrity’. He either is honest or has integrity, or not. Lamentably many of our public intellectuals fail in this test. If a society cannot provide the protection needed for free expression of ideas, it is the public intellectuals who should hold themselves responsible for their failure to create the ambience for free flow of ideas. If the public intellectuals swing with political winds they cannot expect the society to conform to abstract ideals. The issue of freedom of expression may be cited as an example. Is it absolute or are there limits to it? If the public intellectuals champion absolute freedom on one occasion, but argue alibis for scuttling it on another for political reasons, their vacillation cannot advance the cause of freedom of expression. It keeps the society splintered by competitive populism. [...] 

Excerpted from ‘INTRODUCTION’: ‘TWISTING FACTS TO SUIT THEORIES’ & OTHER SELECTIONS FROM VOXINDICA. p. 20-21. 

See the post dated December 10, 2016 below to view the book's CONTENTS.