Saturday, April 13, 2013

Is 2002 a decoy for 1984?

How do you make a line smaller without touching it?’ is a question which kids use while playing games. It is a sort of a children’s equivalent of an IQ test. It would be more appropriate to rephrase it as ‘How do you make a line appear smaller without touching it?’ The answer would of course be ‘by drawing a larger line adjacent to it.’

Why would adults play a kids’ game? But they do. They do. Human rights activists do. Intellectuals do. Media analysts do. Politicians do. Social activists do. They do and have been doing it, in spite of the issue under discussion being, as macabre as the butchering of thousands of men, women and children in the national capital. They do although one unnatural death (death by wanton murder) is one too many.

The riots in Gujarat following the burning of a wagon-load of karsevaks in February 2002 could be discussed as a standalone riot. There is another strange aspect to it. It is as if India had no history before 1992 and no history after 2002. Therefore the demolition of the ‘Sri Rama Janma Bhumi – Babri Masjid’ in 1992 and the riots that followed the burning of a wagon-load of karsevaks in 2002 are discussed ad nauseum as standalone incidents as if they had no context. In the case of 2002, only the riots are discussed. The burning of a wagon-load of karsevaks that preceded them is airbrushed as if it never happened. If it was ever mentioned it was done so, as an after-thought. ‘Yes, it happened. Unfortunate.

When it comes to discussing the Sikh massacres of 1984 (an inconvenient issue that cannot always be avoided), the issue of 2002 had to be invariably invoked as if it was somehow it was the incident that triggered it. Stranger still, even in a discussion about the massacre of 1984, the riots of 2002 become the focal point and the massacre of 1984 an addendum. These are the ways of our secular polity and objective media!

This was the background for Vivek Kaul’s ‘1984 riots: The original ‘maut ka soudagars’ set tone for future’. The issue came back to limelight after the Delhi High Court ordered reopening the Jagdish Tytler case, which, CBI, India’s premier investigation agency sought to bury umpteen times in the last twenty-eight years. It was not due to its ineptitude that the premier investigation agency sought to bury the case but because the oft-quoted dictum ‘the law will take its course’ is applicable only to ordinary mortals but not to the high and mighty. There is a separate jurisprudence for them!

Kaul relies heavily on Ramachandra Guha's book (India After Gandhi –The History of World’s Largest Democracy) to put across his point of view. There are many inaccuracies - deliberate and mala fide - in both Kaul's and Guha's versions. Guha writes, “…The mobs were led by Hindus who lived in and around Delhi…” That the massacre had nothing to do with Hindus or Hinduism has been conveniently ignored. That it was the private revenge of the Congress party was intentionally ignored. That the Congress party’s most cynical, if not macabre game plan was to use the sad incident to derive political dividends by whipping up public hysteria was deliberately not highlighted.

Guha goes on to say, ‘…in Delhi alone more than a thousand Sikhs perished…’ A deliberate attempt, to use Nixon’s famous phrase, to economize with the truth! The fact was, in Delhi more than 3000 Sikhs were butchered and 5000-7000 more were killed in the other parts of the country.

It is at this point Kaul tries to draw his ‘Gujarat 2002 larger line’ to make ‘the 1984 Sikh massacre, the smaller line’. Kaul doubles the number of deaths in the Gujarat riots – off his own bat without any help from Guha! The number of Muslims killed in Gujarat in the 2002 riots was not 2000. It was 790, according to a reply given by a secular Congress Minister of State for Home (MoS, Home) in the Rajya Sabha. There is more to the inappropriate comparison. The 1984 anti-Sikh carnage was a totally one sided affair, truly a genocide, to use a word often inappropriately applied to the Gujarat 2002 riots. In the riots that followed the burning of a wagon-load of karsevaks, 254 Hindus were killed. The number of Hindus dead is a matter of no consequence for secular writers and hence no mention was ever made of them.

Guha’s specious argument about unnamed Karsevaks ‘getting into a fight with Muslim vendors at the Godhra railway station’ as a reason for burning down a whole compartment of Hindus, more than half of whom were women and children is another spin of sick secular minds. This mauling of facts often resorted to by the secular mob since 2002 is a deliberate insult to the common sense of – well, the common man. Do platform vendors routinely store hundreds of gallons of petrol anticipating altercations over a few rupees with their customers, and do they routinely burn customers to teach them a lesson?

While the central government in Delhi deliberately delayed the deployment of the army in 1984 till the blood-lust of the dynasty was satisfied, the army was called in Gujarat in 2002 within 48 hours. (There were no four days between February 27 and March 1 as some over-zealous, motivated commentators tried to make out!) While the accuracy of Rajiv Gandhi’s ‘the earth trembles when a big tree falls’ statement has been fairly well established, the Gujarat Chief Minister’s statement following the riots was deliberately distorted to paint him as a bloodthirsty tyrant.

Another detail which the article deliberately glosses over was that in the Delhi massacre, senior Congress leaders like H. K. L. Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler led the murderous mobs from the front. The fact that Congress workers were as much part of the Gujarat riots as members of the BJP is too inconvenient for the secular brigade to be bothered about.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Novartis Vs. The People Of India

Ivan Illich opened his seminal work 
Limits to Medicine’ with the observation that ‘The growth of the medical establishment is a major threat to health. A large part of Illich’s work dealt with iatrogenic (meaning physician-induced) diseases. But to Illich, the ‘medical establishment’, includes the pharmaceutical industry also.

The recent Supreme Court verdict in the Novartisimatinib (Glivec) patent case has generated a lot of heat and uninformed debate in the media. Novartis challenged the order of the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB), for rejecting a patent for its ‘old wine in a new bottle’, first in the Madras High Court and then in the Supreme Court. Novartis filed world-wide patents for its active molecule imatinib in 1993. In India, the company filed patent in 2003 for imatinib mesylate a beta crystalline form of the active ingredient, under the ‘mailbox provision’.


Novartis’ application for a patent for its beta crystalline form was rejected by the IPAB in 2006 on the ground that the company’s original patent application covered all forms of imatinib. The Madras High Court decreed that IPAB’s rejection of the application under Sec. 3 (d) of the Indian Patents Act as amended in 2005 did not violate Article 14 of the Indian constitution. This is now upheld by the Supreme Court.

The Indian Patents Act of 1970 did not recognize product patents but only process patents. However India agreed to consider patent applications filed from January 1 1995 for granting product patents pending amendment of its laws in line with the requirements of the WTO. The process was known as the ‘mailbox’ provision. Eventually India amended its patents law in 1999, to grant product patents with effect from January 1, 2005. A patent is an intellectual property which has a life of 20 years from the date of filing and which gives its holder exclusive marketing rights. The actual period of exclusive marketing depends on the company’s ability to develop the product for commercialization.


In the pharmaceutical industry, Research and Development (R & D) is of course an expensive and risky process. A company begins with thousands of molecules and narrows down its search to a few (less than a dozen) for further experimentation. After initial animal experimentation to establish efficacy, safety and toxicity a candidate drug (known in the industry as New Chemical Entity or NCE) is selected for human clinical trials. A patent application is generally filed at this stage and approval sought for commencing human clinical trials. These are conducted in four phases before it is submitted for marketing approval by the regulators. It is called filing a New Drug Application (NDA). The process takes quite a few years. This means, although a patent is granted for 20 years a company gets to exclusively market it for the residual period after conducting clinical trials and obtaining marketing approval. Even after a drug is approved for marketing it is still tested in a process called, Post Marketing Surveillance (PMS) every year to find out if any hitherto unnoticed side effects come to light. The company has an obligation to market a product only to be used in conditions for which it is approved. However a physician may use it in other conditions if he finds it suitable. This is known as off-label usage.

There are varying estimates about the cost of research and development of drugs. Several years ago an article in the Readers’ Digest put it at between $100 million and $200 million. Recent estimates vary from $500 million to $1 to $2 billion depending on the therapeutic category and method of calculation used, such as inclusion of capitalization and opportunity costs. This does not mean that the entire amount is spent by a company. There is public funding and tax write-offs on R & D spending, which is a not unlikely incentive for bolstering the figures.

Pharmaceutical companies quite naturally argue that they have to make profits out of successful candidate drugs because they have to incur huge expenditure on R & D, which is a long drawn and uncertain process. This is the reason they claim, new drugs cost so much.


However pharmaceutical companies are aware there is an element of uncertainty in the business. For, even if a company is able to come up with a successful candidate drug, there is no guarantee that a rival company with a competing product might not upstage it. As an illustration, see the case of the first anti-ulcer drug cimetidine. It was introduced by the British multinational, Smith Kline & French (SK&F) in the mid-seventies when the only cure for peptic ulcers was surgery. The drug was indeed a boon for patients as it reduced the necessity for surgery in about 90% of cases. The drug marketed by SK&F as Tagamet entered the Guinness Book of World Records for maximum number of prescriptions received in a year. A few years later another British multinational Glaxo came up with an updated version of the drug ranitidine which it marketed as Zantac. It too entered the Guinness Book of World Records in the year of its introduction, and Tagamet lost 50% of its market share. As a result, many heads rolled in SK&F and its Chairman had to resign. The two companies merged in the mid-nineties to become what is now known as GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). (In its process of mergers and acquisitions, GSK has also absorbed several other companies like Allen & HanburysBeecham and Burrows Wellcome.)

The success of the first two molecules, in the class of drugs called H2 receptor antagonists, made other companies board the bandwagon and many variations of cimetidine were launched. These include famotidine, loxitidine, nizatidine and roxatidine. Of these molecular variations only ranitidine and famotidine could achieve significant commercial success, while the others remained small players. For the treatment of peptic ulcer, another class of more powerful drugs known as proton-pump inhibitors emerged with members like omeprazole, esomeprazole, lansoprazole, pantoprazole and rabiprazole, a few years later.

Wouldn’t it be unfair for a company marketing, for instance, roxatidine to claim the same pricing privilege as SK&F which has laid the groundwork for finding a drug for peptic ulcer? On the flip side could SK&F claim that, as there was every possibility of its market monopoly being upstaged, it should be permitted to recover its costs at the earliest? In view of this should the company be allowed to price a tablet of cimetidine at say, $100?


It would be unfair to see the Indian Supreme Court verdict as a triumph of left-liberal altruism against Western capitalism for several reasons. Firstly, US courts too held that derivatives of known substances are not eligible for patent protection under the ‘doctrine of inherent anticipation’. Also in the US a patentee cannot claim rights for more than one substance with identical claims, under the ‘doctrine of double patenting’. The third principle governing US jurisprudence in relation to intellectual property rights is the ‘patent misuse doctrine’, which prevents pharmaceutical companies from extending their patent rights by obtaining multiple patents covering essentially the same invention. In her extensively researched paper, ‘Trials And TRIPS-ulations: Indian Patent Law And Novartis AG v. Union Of India, (Berkeley Technology Law Journal, Vol: 23. Mar 21, 2008. 281-313), Lynda L. Lee opined that the stand of the Indian courts ‘indicates that the objective of India’s Section 3 (d) is not a radical departure from international practices to regulate the patenting of derivatives and new uses.’ It must be noted that the article was based on the Madras High Court judgment and written much before the final verdict of the Supreme Court.

The reaction of Novartis to the Supreme Court judgement appeared a bit peevish. In a press statement, the company’s Vice Chairman warned that it will discourage R&D spending by multinational companies in India. This is a bit surprising as multinational companies may have been using India as low cost hub for manufacturing and conducting clinical trials but never seem to be bothered about diseases specific to India. For a long time the healthcare fraternity has been complaining that multinational companies focus on diseases prevalent in the western world for researching remedies. For example, we have not seen new drugs introduced to combat malaria and tuberculosis which are endemic to countries like India, in years. The incidence of both the diseases is seeing a resurgence of virulent, intractable forms. Today tuberculosis resistant to multiple drugs – multidrug resistant TB or MDRTB is quite prevalent. On the other hand new drugs for antiplatelet medications atherosclerosis, cancer, diabetes and hypertension and related diseases are introduced by the dozen, every year.


Multinational companies which have been assuming moral high ground for their altruistic R&D efforts ‘to ameliorate pain and suffering of humanity’ have also been guilty of destroying the lives of millions of people for short term gains.

The introduction and withdrawal of thalidomide is a classic example. In the 1950s, Distillers & Co (the makers of Johnnie Walker whisky) purchased Grunenthal, a small German pharmaceutical company. Grunenthal developed a tranquiliser named thalidomide which was then believed to be so safe it could be prescribed to pregnant women to relieve them of morning sickness. It was introduced in several countries in Europe and freely prescribed for pregnant women. In the early sixties a causal link was established between the use of thalidomide and delivery of malformed babies. This property of a drug which causes foetal abnormalities known as teratogenicity, was unknown till then. By 1961 an estimated 10000 to 20000 thalidomide babies were born and the drug was withdrawn. 

The thalidomide story should have warned the managements of pharmaceutical companies to be extra careful in vetting and promoting their products. Alas no, drugs with serious adverse effects have been introduced by pharmaceutical companies with unceasing regularity. Here are a few examples, some of which may not be as lethal as thalidomide. Analgin (like penicillin) is known to cause anaphylactic reactions so severe that a single tablet could kill a patient. Anti-inflammatory drugs like oxyphenbutazone and phenylbutazone have been known to cause blood disorders. Later arthritis drugs like celecoxib and rofecoxib were found to cause acute termporary visual impairmant. However all these drugs were marketed by multinationals in India for a long time after they were banned in their home countries. The newer pain-relieving drug, nimesulide has been banned in several European countries but is still marketed in India (not by multinationals; by Indian pharmaceutical companies). Terfenedine, introduced as an advanced, non-sedating anti-allergic had to be withdrawn a few years later as it was found to cause heart-problems. The latest in the series of drugs to be withdrawn was the antibiotic gatifloxacin, which was found to cause cardiac problems. Illich mentioned in his book that the American innovator of chloramphenicol (trade name Chloromycetin) marketed the drug for simple conditions like acne. Originally introduced for treating typhoid, the drug is known to cause bone-marrow depression. (The human body produces red-blood cells in the bone-marrow.)


An argument that was vociferously voiced in the television debates relates to pricing; especially that pharmaceutical companies which spend millions (billions?) should be allowed the freedom to price their products. And any regulation would be a disincentive for them to introduce newer products. This argument lacks substance because the pricing of drugs is not uniform even in the western world. For example the prices of drugs in Canada are far lower than the corresponding prices of drugs in neighbouring USA. In some cases the Canadian prices are about half of their American counterparts.

The marketing of anti-retroviral drugs (used to treat AIDS) in South Africa offers an object lesson for those who blindly take sides with the advocates of free-pricing. Indian companies like Cipla and Hetero Drugs offered to sell a combination of anti-retroviral drugs at $350 for a year’s course. Four multinational companies challenged them in the South African Supreme Court, on the ground that these companies were infringing their patent rights. They were selling the drugs at $10000 for a year’s course. They had to withdraw their suit following worldwide revulsion. For, more than a third of world’s AIDS population lives in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In the television debates, medical doctors representing Novartis claimed that the company has a scheme for providing the medicine free of cost to ‘below poverty line’ patients. This is not entirely true because the company stopped providing imatinib free after two Indian companies were permitted to introduce low cost alternatives in 2006. (See the research paper cited above.) Even if the company has been providing the medicine free to BPL patients, how does one define a BPL patient? Certainly a household with an income of 50000 per month cannot be considered BPL? If the household has a patient who requires imatinib, can it expend 1,20,000 a month? Besides, many cancers require multiple regimens of treatment, which include chemotherapy (drugs), radiation and surgery. The latter two are even more expensive than the cost of medicines.

TAILPIECE: By the by, the promotional or marketing budgets of pharmaceutical companies exceed their R&D budgets by a long chalk.   

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Have political ploys made the law an ass?

Is the law an ass?’ asks a character in Charles Dickens’ famous novel, Oliver Twist. Several incidences over the last few days make ordinary folk wonder whether the law is really an ass?

ITALIAN MARINES CASE The first of these concerns the Italian marines’ case, which raises several questions. Why had the Indian Supreme Court exhibited unseemly generosity in permitting the Italian marines – undergoing trial for first degree murder - to return home first to celebrate Christmas and then to vote in an election?

The Italian marines were undoubtedly undergoing trial for first degree murder as they shot to kill. Their claim that they thought that a pirate ship was closing in and they shot in self-defence does not wash. For, as trained naval officers, could they not distinguish between a pirate ship and a fishing boat? Were the naval officers so scared of a small fishing boat, that they thought that it was closing in to hijack their vessel? If so why did they not fire warning shots to dissuade the boat even assuming that it was closing in, which appears far-fetched?

Could an Indian citizen undergoing trial for first degree murder expect the same treatment from the Indian courts? Had an Indian Court ever permitted a prisoner, undergoing trial for first degree murder, to go home to celebrate Diwali? It would never have occurred to an ordinary citizen in judicial custody, undergoing trial for first degree murder to even pray for such leave. Therefore an ordinary citizen should not be faulted if he wonders why, even for the Indian Supreme Court Italian citizens are more equal than Indian citizens’. On many occasions in the last thirty years, the Indian establishment has demonstrated that for it, Italian citizens are indeed more equal than Indian citizens. The reason for the establishment to bend backwards being the Italian connection of India’s ruling party is quite obvious. But does it matter to the Supreme Court, the highest judicial body and the last arbiter for the ordinary citizen without any clout?

Having blundered twice, the Indian Supreme Court sought to make amends by taking a tough stance in restricting the movements of the Italian ambassador. This put the Indian establishment – especially with its Italian connection – in a quandary. After days of huffing and hawing about Italian perfidy (by the primary and proxy protagonists of the government), the External Affairs Minister grandiosely announced (not without a hint of self-congratulatory glee) that diplomacy succeeded in making the Italians see reason. His tall claims notwithstanding, there are several questions that require answers: 

Why did the Indian government sign a treaty with the Italian government in a hurry while the murder trial was under way? Was it not to benefit the two marines? Do sovereign nations sign bilateral treaties to solve instant crises? 

How would the Italian government have reacted if two Indian naval officers killed two Italian fishermen and were undergoing trial in an Italian court? Would it have been as generous as the Indian government?   

Did the Indian government make a clandestine deal with the Italians to satisfy the Supreme Court and bring back the marines? If this is not so, how could Salman Khurshid assert that the marines ‘will not be awarded death penalty as theirs is not a rarest of rare cases’? If it does not fall in the ‘rarest of the rare cases’ category are Indian fishermen routinely fired at and killed by foreign marines? 

Who should decide which case falls under the ‘rarest of the rare cases’ category or not? Is it the judiciary or the External Affairs Ministry?

The upshot of the deal - which the Minister denies was done - is, the marines will not be taken into judicial custody during the course of the trial; they will stay in their embassy; they will not be awarded death penalty as their case is not in the ‘rarest of rare cases’ category; and if awarded a prison sentence, they will serve it in their own country.

SANJAY DUTT CASE The second case is even more bizarre. It is about the sentence the Supreme Court awarded to Sanjay Dutt, famous film personality, son of a famous film personality and former Congress MP and bother of a sitting Congress MP. The four qualifiers deserve to be stressed to put the case in perspective. The 1993 Bombay blasts (in eleven locations) killed 257 people and severely injured 700 people. According to some sources, the number of injured was 1400.

[Sharad Pawar, Chief Minister of Maharashtra (at the time) later confessed that he deliberately misled people by adding Muslim dominated Masjid Bunder to the list blast locations to pacify communal tensions. See: To keep the peace, I misled people on 1993 blasts: Pawar. This secular balancing of terror has been going on since 1993. Pawar’s confession puts the pronouncements of P. Chidambaram, Sushil Kumar Shinde et al., Rahul Gandhi’s whispering to the American ambassador about Hindu Terror and the NIA ‘investigations’ in certain cases, all in perspective. To grab and retain power, secular politicians would go to any extent to appease the minorities, principally the Muslims. The invention of a phantom Hindu terror is part of the game.]  

The Supreme Court verdict in the case confirms the role of the ISI and several underworld dons. Sanjay Dutt’s role in the blasts has been known almost since the beginning. He had been known to confer with the dons, converse with them over phone and collect and store arms for the attack. His pedigree and the power of his political connections helped in almost getting him off the hook. 

If the CBI could be used to discipline wayward coalition partners to fall in line, it could also be used to save loyal allies. In Sanjay Dutt’s case the CBI did all it could to help him evade the long arm of law. It did not matter to India’s premier investigation agency that it was indeed obstructing the course of justice. It delayed investigation to help Sanjay Dutt destroy evidence, did not pursue leads, presented a weak case in the trial court and did not appeal against the trial court verdict. The CBI did not work for the people, who are its paymasters. It worked against them, and for an individual who declared a clandestine war on the people. Just as in the marines’ case, in Sanjay Dutt’s case too, it has been kinship with the high and mighty that carried the day.

One can understand the clamour of the film fraternity to obtain state pardon for Sanjay Dutt. It has been known for long that the same forces that supplied Sanjay Dutt with prohibited arms and ammunition to wage a war on the Indian state also control the film industry. But why would a retired judge of the Supreme Court and Chairman of the Press Council want to interfere with the administration of justice? That is the sad part.

The highest court in the country has delivered its verdict unambiguously pronouncing Dutt guilty. The Supreme Court has also been magnanimous in awarding the least possible sentence according to law. If in spite of this, as the Law Minister averred, an appeal for pardon is favourably considered, it would amount to subverting the justice system.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Will Hyderabad Terror Victims Get Justice?

Or are they cannon-fodder for Congress’ cynical electoral games?

The deadly terrorist strike in Dilsukhnagar, Hyderabad on February 21, left sixteen people dead and 117 injured, of whom 10 are said to be still in a critical condition four days later. Thank God, this time there was no praise for the resilience of the Hyderabadis as it used to be in the case of Mumbaikars.

In his press briefing, the Hon’ble Home Minister declared that states were cautioned about an intelligence input that predicted possible terrorist strikes. Asked whether there was any input specific to AP and whether such a warning was passed on to the AP government, he said ‘he was not certain and would have to check’! This was a full two and a half hours after two of the bombs went off (a third mercifully did not explode)! This was the same Home Minister who emphatically declared only a month ago that the principal opposition party, the BJP and his party’s bête noire, the RSS were running camps for training “Hindu” terrorists.

Where does the “Hindu” terror angle come from? There lies a tale of intrigue, some political chicanery and perhaps an IQ of 180! The Hindu terror angle was first broached by P. Chidambaram sometime in 2009, after the formation of the National Investigation Agency (NIA). It was after this that the Prince Regent, Rahul Gandhi reportedly whispered in the ear of the American ambassador that ‘Hindu terror was far more dangerous than Maoist or Jehadi terrorism’! It has also been since then that lesser mortals like Digvijay Singh picked up the theme and began speaking about “Hindu” terror.

The Malegaon blast of September 8, 2006 was first investigated by the Maharastra anti-terrorism squad (ATS), then by the CBI and was finally handed over to the NIA after its formation in 2009. The Maharastra ATS first suspected that it was a retaliatory strike for the July 11, 2006 Mumbai train blasts in which 209 people were killed and more than 700 injured. Therefore it first detained some Bajrang Dal cadres but as it could not find any evidence against them it switched its probe to investigate the involvement of Laskha-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohamed (JeM).

Home Minister Shivraj Patil had to go following the deadly terror strike on Mumbai on November 26 2008 (in which 182 people were killed), making way for Chidambaram. It was Chidambaram who established the NIA to counter terrorism, and primarily to bring the culprits of 26/11 to book. The NIA however, does not seem to be aware of this. It has also not bothered to investigate the July 2006 Mumbai train blasts, probably because of the resilience of the Mumbaikars.

However other terror cases like Malegaon (2006), Samjhauta Express and Mecca Masjid (2007), were handed over to the NIA. Despite the zeal with which the NIA has been probing and, occasionally leaking snippets to a pliant media, the death toll in all these incidents put together is about half of either the Mumbai (2006) or the Mumbai (2008) terror strikes!

Several columnists including S. Gurumurthy (Samjhauta Blast Case: Counter Investigation To NIA Investiagation) have demolished the NIA’s “Hindu” terror thesis. Vivek Gumaste asks in his piece, is it possible that definite evidence is not forthcoming because none exists? (Is Hindu terror is as big as it's made out to be?)

But the most damning indictment of Shinde’s “Hindu” terror theory came from B. Raman, an expert on internal security matters and, no friend of either the BJP or the Sangh Parivar. (Shinde: Prejudiced & Partisan Stewardship of MHA): 
“[…] One has a strong suspicion that the NIA is sought to be used not for the investigation and prosecution, but for politically needling the BJP and the RSS by periodically leveling allegations against them. […] Shinde’s statement carefully avoids any condemnation of the on-going activities and conspiracies of the Indian Mujahideen and its links with the LeT. […] His deeply prejudiced and communal stewardship of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs needs to be condemned by all right-thinking persons.
On June 2009, the UN Security Council Al-Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Committee added three names to its ‘Consolidated List of individuals and entities subject to the assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo’. (UN Security Council SC9695) According to the UNSC press release, one of them, an Arif Qasmani had close links with Dawood Ibrahim and was the mastermind behind both the July 2006 Mumbai train bombings and the February 2007 Samjhauta Express blast. See box.

A report in today’s newspapers indicates that the state police and the NIA have been vying with each other for investigating the latest Hyderabad blasts. In the past, the state police have been blamed for arresting ‘innocent persons’ in the Mecca Masjid case and keeping them in prison for over a year. The secular media had a field day and has been parading some of the accused in its programmes. In order to prove its secular credentials, the state government paid huge compensations to the accused after the courts acquitted them, a privilege no other accused (under-trials in police lingo) have ever enjoyed. If charged with the investigation how will the state police deal with the case. Will it try to prove its secular credentials?

How will the NIA fare if charged with the investigation? Will it try to score a hit, which so far eluded it? Or will it stick to prove its loyalty to its secular masters?

In either case it is a dicey situation for the victims of the terror attack? Will they get justice or will they become cannon-fodder for Congress’ cynical electoral war games?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Did historians blow 'Sati' & 'Jauhar' out proportion?

Secular History & Nationalism - I
If there was one thing we as a nation failed miserably, it is in forging a spirit of nationalism. The US which came into being only two hundred years ago is proud of its nationalism but we with a history of over five thousand years do not have a national ethos, national pride or national spirit. It would be nearer the truth to say that there is a concerted attempt to prevent India from forging a national spirit. A fabricated concept called ‘composite culture’ was sought to be projected by negating the nation’s achievements in the social, political, scientific and spiritual fields in the first four thousand years. Another aspect of the fabrication was to magnify and attribute all social ills to the original Hindu culture and all reformatory thought to the artificial construct called syncretic or composite culture. This series examines how some of the ills were sought to be stripped out of context and blown out of proportion.     
Eulogizing the social reforming zeal of Gurazada Appa Rao, K. Rosaiah, former A. P. Chief Minister and present Tamil Nadu Governor, made a stunning observation. He said, ‘… if we went back a little, the abominal practice of Sati comes to mind’.
Rosaiah was delivering his speech as the Chief-guest at the 150th birth anniversary of the Telugu social reformer and writer, Gurazada Appa Rao. Appa Rao became famous for his play, Kanyä Sulkam, literally, ‘bride-fee’. The play centred on the practice of buying brides prevalent among some sections of the Brahmin society. The Brahmins were reviled for a variety of ills that plague the society today and many orthodox practices, by the left-liberal intelligentsia. This was despite the fact that it was the Brahmins who not only preserved our cultural traditions through troubles and tribulations for over five thousand years but also initiated many social reform movements.
One of the social ills for which the Brahmins were - unjustly and without any basis in fact - blamed was the treatment they meted out to their women. In spite of the prevalence of such misconceptions, according to scriptures a Brahmin (even today) is ineligible to participate in religious rituals without his woman. Therefore elderly widowers had to remarry in order to be eligible to practise their profession - priesthood. Those families which had the means did not offer their daughters in marriage to elderly widowers but poor families did, sometimes in exchange for money. The money came in handy for performing another girl’s marriage or for other necessities of living. It was a practice born out economic and social necessities. It was a practice of a minuscule section of society, as Brahmins constitute not more than 2% -3% of the population. And only those Brahmins who were into their traditional role as priests had a problem with widower-hood. Nevertheless it was a bad practice which the social reformer Appa Rao sought to highlight through his play.
If one were to go by Rosaiah’s observation about Sati it was an everyday happening in Andhra Pradesh, even if it was in the past! One needn’t have bothered if some lesser mortal were to make a statement like that. People in public life have to make speeches everyday and quite a few of them are given to uttering gibberish. Either Rosaiah (or his speech writer) might have remembered a snippet from the history textbook of his school days, and used it to enliven the speech. It is in this context that one ponders over questions like ‘why is history taught in schools?’
What are the objectives of teaching history? One would expect that the prime objective of teaching history is to inculcate in the young minds a pride in their glorious past and a spirit of nationalism. At a purely academic level, W. H. Davis listed the following as the three main objectives for teaching history: ‘first, to present the past to the pupil in an intelligible fashion, capable of interpretation; second to inculcate historical-mindedness; and third to inculcate intellectual tastes.’ (‘Some Attainable Objectives in the Teaching of History.’ The High School Journal. Vol. 12. No. 4. Apr. 1929. pp. 132-134. University of North Carolina Press. Accessible from
If the objective of teaching history is to ‘present the past in an intelligible fashion, capable of interpretation’, does the history that is taught in our educational institutions factually represent the practice of Sati? Or did the British practice of concocting ‘atrocity literature’ colour our thinking?  
An Advanced History Of India’ by R. C. Majumdar, H. C. Raychaudhuri and Kalikinkar Datta (1950. Macmillan & Co. Ltd., London) has eleven references in all to ‘Sati’. A reference to the subject of Sati in the early Magadhan epoch, circa sixth century B.C.E. has this to say: Widow marriage and Levirate had not fallen into disuse even in the Ganges valley and burning of widows was not sanctioned by the orthodox lawgivers.’ (p. 75).
After Alä-ud-din Khalji’s expedition against Mewar resulted in the latter’s rout and when further resistance seemed impossible’the Rajputs of Mewar preferred death to disgrace and performed […] that horrible rite, the Jauhar […] to find security from dishounour in the devouring element.’ (Ibid. p. 302). However the practice of Jauhar consisted of the mass immolation not only of women, but also children, the elderly and the sick, at a time when their fighting men died in battle against the Muslims. It was also pointed out that the practice of Sati was prevalent only among the higher social orders.
We must admit ‘social codes of conduct and honour’ are products of the times. Several examples illustrate this point. The practice of Levirate in which a brother marries the widow of his childless brother (in order to maintain his line) was a Biblical practice and described in the Old Testament. It was common practice in ancient Greece for a king who won a war to kill his opponent and take his wife. The mythological story of Oedipus who, because of a prophesy, ‘kills his father and marries his mother’ was used as a subject by quite a few Greek dramatists like HomerAeschylus and Euripides.
At times, ‘social codes of conduct and honour’ can spread horizontally and become contagious. For instance, see this in Majumdar et al.: Some Muslims of aristocratic Hindu origin, or living in a Hindu environment, assimilated the Hindu customs of Sati and Jauhar (p. 402).
It is therefore necessary to exercise abundant caution while teaching about such ancient social practices to young minds. They were more an aberration than a norm. 

Thursday, February 07, 2013


Book Review
Deva, Mukul, 2012. RIP. Westland. Chennai. Pages 286. Price: Rs 200/-

RIP is the story of the India of our times. It is the story of corruption of our politicians and civil servants. It holds a mirror to their vulgar greed that makes them stop at nothing including eliminating whistle-blowers, and even partners-in-crime if they were thought to be a 'security risk’. In spite of jumbling locations and people, the scams and the dramatis personae the novel depicts are too recent to be missed. The names were thinly disguised. Then there is the dowager, ruling party president who inherited the mantle from her dead husband, a former prime minister.

From Bofors to Adarsh Society, (through fodder, 2G, CWG et al.) the book weaves every scam and political persona involved in them into its intricate, riveting plot. It includes Anna Hazare’s ‘Indians Against Corruption (IAC)’ movement too. The only surprise perhaps is the title. It does not mean, as one would have thought ‘Rest in Peace’, but ‘Resurgent Indian Patriots’. ‘RIP’ itself may be a take-off from Anna Hazare’s IAC. But unlike Hazare’s docile, middle-class followers who abhor violence and are not given to direct action, Deva’s ‘Resurgent Indian Patriots’ do not baulk at taking direct action and meting out exemplary punishment to the guilty.   

The theme is not entirely new. Venality and corruption, or rather meting out vigilante justice to the venal and corrupt in public life has been the subject of several movies. The Hindi movie, Aan, Men in Action portrayed the politician-civil servant-underworld nexus and to some extent the issue of corruption. Movies like Bharatiyudu (Tamil, Telugu and Hindi), Aparichitudu (Tamil and Telugu) and Tagore (Telugu) dealt with the subject of corruption and vigilantism. It was in Aparichitudu, Bharatiyudu and Tagore that retributive justice in a violent form was mooted as an antidote to corruption. If Bharatiyudu and Aparichitudu had one-man vigilante armies, Tagore mooted the idea of an anti-corruption army named ‘Anti Corruption Force (ACF)’, similar to the ‘RIP’ in the novel. The success of these movies reflects the public mood. If the viewing public cheered and approved a violent form of vigilantism it was because they were vexed and saddened by their impotence to rid the society of the scourge of corruption.

In RIP, a team of former army commandos sets out to purge corruption. The corrupt politicians hit back by setting the official law enforcement agencies (isn’t the CBI to do their bidding?) and another set of former army commandos to chase them. Therefore the first set of (vigilante) commandos have the second set of (mercenary) commandos and the official CBI on their back, as they pick and choose targets to strike. Then there is the beautiful woman who links the two commanding officers as they vie for her charms. From the caveman to the modern man, men have been vying for beautiful women and a story which has this element never failed to charm readers. The female protagonist in RIP is a beautiful television anchor, fighting for her divorce, and by chance caught between her former husband and new beau.

The book is peppered with a large number of idioms – disproportionately large number – and appears to be a laboured attempt to write idiomatic English. It is however not devoid of jumbled expressions (calling it a night) and borrowed jargon from SAS, the elite British army commando unit (break a leg).

Mukul Deva strikes a chord with the clichéd common man when he says that his book was […] born out of an extreme sense of anger and shame. Anger at the appalling, naked greed so shamelessly displayed by the Indian political class. And shame that they happen to be fellow Indians. He certainly resonates with a majority of our countrymen (and women) when he says he would certainly not condemn anyone who rid our country of such leaders.The book is definitely worth a read and not priced very high either.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews programme at Indian Bloggers