Sunday, December 09, 2007


The Washington Post today carried a story about the U.S’ shrinking ‘coalition of the willing’ in Iraq. As the war has dragged on since the invasion in mid-2003, six countries have left while the ranks of the remaining coalition soldiers have thinned. But I almost fell off my chair in disbelief this morning when I read the numbers contributed by some. Five countries have less than 10 people in Iraq. According to the Post, Latvia has three soldiers in Iraq, Slovakia two, and Singapore one! To borrow a joke from one of my professors, this definitely looks more like the coalition of the unwilling.


This is a piece written by my dad who has been researching the heritage and architecture of the Dawoodi Bohra community in Sidhpur in Gujarat. The beautiful family homes there are today in a perilous state of disrepair - victims of cultural disrespect and neglect and now perhaps even falling prey to the ill wind of communalism blowing through Gujarat.

If you'd like more information please leave a comment with your contact email address and we'll get back to you.

A frightening scenario emerging in Sidhpur

Any observant visitor to Sidhpur cannot but help noticing that a very massive tract of land abutting the railway station and the Inter-city bus stand belongs to the minority Dawoodi Bohra Community. Part of this land is occupied by Community facilities like Roza/Kabrasthan (mausoleum); Masjid (mosque); Musafar Khana (guest house) and Jamaat Khana (dining hall) and the bulk of it by the heritage houses of Najampura and Harariya. The general residential areas of other communities begin nearly 1.5 kms away from the station (on its eastern side).,
For a very long time there have been soft, benign murmurs among the majority community that one day all these fine heritage houses will belong to them.

Perhaps with the intention of moving closer to the station; perhaps due to a rising demand for space, the majority community had begun buying property in predominantly Bohra areas at reasonable and market prices. There was no force, no intimidation and no coercion. The trend was starting to assume torrential proportions when the local Jamaat decided that enough was enough. This encroachment needed to be stopped. An arzee (petition) was sent to Aqa Maula (spiritual head of the Dawoodi Bohra community) and a farmaan (decree) was received aiming to plug this glaring violation. "No Bohra house was to be sold to anybody outside the community, no matter what the offer."

For a brief period matters appeared to be under control. Then a new virulent equation cropped up. Selling a house – and there are many reasons for selling -at reasonable, market price had become difficult owing to a very limited demand. So the house owners (mostly with large family trees and little stake in the property) began seeking recourse in demolishing the building; recovering a fair bit of the value and retaining a nuisance-free vacant site. Here was a classic case of "having your cake and eating it too". At least 15 houses were pulled down in an indirect response to a well meant farmaan. The disease having run its course, all the weak players have dropped off one by one. And now a frightening pattern is emerging. Over the last one year there have been umpteen cases of impertinent and in-your-face burglaries; of breaking into locked houses; damaging and stealing at random and often staying within for a week. At times the thieves have left notes threatening action against anyone who dares to inform or retaliate. The police on the other hand wave a lethargic arm and make only token efforts to apprehend the culprits. Something fishy is in the air. Clearly the intention is to intimidate. The initial sleepy response from the victim was a myopic belief that lightning never strikes any spot twice. The thieves having done with their house would now leave them alone. Passive resignation was followed by a forced amnesia.

Here is a useful insight. A few years ago a Chennai Jamaat group had been on a mission to prepare estimates for hosting Aqa Maula's Ashara Vaaz (10 days of Moharram) at Sidhpur. A constant refrain that came up then, among the shopkeepers, was – "if only all these closed houses were to open up, how much more would the local economy benefit". But alas! That was not to be. But the events on the night of Sunday 1 Dec. 2007 have thrown a blinding light on a frightening pattern. After a gap of nearly eight hundred years, Sidhpur has witnessed an act of deliberate sacrilege.

Riots have come and gone; Tempers have flared and cooled; Animosity has ebbed and flowed. But never has a sacrosanct place been violated or its keepers assaulted.

The highly venerated Kazikhan Maula's Roza Mubarak (mausoleum) – the beacon of Sidhpuri Dawoodi Bohras – has come under the malfeasant glare of a bizarre and conspiratorial mind, throwing open a wide ranging set of questions.

Who are these people? What is their motive? Have we stirred up a hornet's nest by conducting an economic survey? Is the game plan about land and space? Is it a communal problem? Are the chickens coming home to roost?

The Dawoodi Bohras of Sidhpur need to do a lot of introspection.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Thursday, November 29, 2007


I'm just learning how to fool around on Facebook and am frankly a bit stunned by two things.

First. It's so public! You can glean so much information about people you love, hate, love-to-hate, want-to-forget and every other variety in between.

And second. So many people have so much personal information on it! Aren't you scared?

Friday, October 19, 2007


Last weekend, we smushed George Bush. In fact, we smushed him so badly, his head came off.

So what were we up to exactly?

I think we were celebrating freedom of speech and expression while playing with a rubber doll. I doubt there are too many countries in the world that sell little caricature rubber pieces of their President or Prime Minister at the national airport. And since they do in America, they went the whole hog and added the words ‘No Brainer’ at the back of his head.

I bought one and introduced him to my three year old niece. I told her he was ‘George Bush’ and that she could go ahead and ‘smush him.’ She did it in right earnest. In fact once when she dropped him she prophetically said, “George Bush went down.”

Of course, honey. He’s definitely headed that way.

By Sunday night she had been kneading little rubber Bush with such gusto that his head came off. We put it back on because we won’t be denied the joy of smushing Bush.

Monday, October 08, 2007


‘Don’t go for gas, go for democracy.’

As India’s petroleum minister drove to the New Delhi airport on his way to Burma (Myanmar), pro-democracy protesters lined the streets with this message. But even as blood flowed on the streets of Rangoon, India went with blinders on, just for the oil.

Last week in mysterious, isolated Burma, democracy was crushed once again. Buddhist monks spearheading a new pro-democracy struggle were rounded up, beaten, jailed, and even killed when they rose up against the repression of their military rulers. The desperate Burmese looked to India for help and moral support because none was forthcoming from China. But India’s response was frustratingly typical. Like an ostrich sensing trouble – India buried its head in the sand, calling the protests Burma’s “internal matter.”

The world’s largest democracy, India, must shed this timidity, and mark its presence on the international stage by wielding more influence in the region. This fence-sitting is terrible for its image.

Boasting an annual growth rate of more than 9%, India has significant energy interests that have overtaken principled foreign policy issues. But the return on investment thus far in Burma is so below par that even the two main issues of the politics of realism or realpolitik do not justify India’s silence.

First, energy hungry China and India are competing for Burma’s natural gas and oil reserves. To achieve this, India started wooing the military junta in 1994. But in the last 13 years India has received no gas from Burma. Indeed, a few weeks ago, two contracts were awarded to PetroChina.

Second, Burma shares a border with India’s volatile north-east, plagued by tribal insurgency. India believes it needs the Burmese military’s help to flush out insurgents setting up training camps on the Burmese side. But, of the many groups that operate there, the Burmese army has taken action against only one, with whom India had a ceasefire anyway. Burma even receives arms and ammunition from India for these so-called counter-insurgency operations.

It seems then that tiny, dictatorial Burma benefits more from this relationship with India than the other way around. That’s pathetic for a country that likes the title of ‘superpower’. Now is the time to enhance that reputation because India has gained little from Burma anyway.
Besides, India can’t wish away Burma’s struggle for democracy. Economists warn that the uprisings will keep returning to political centre-stage in Burma because of the fragile nature of its economy. The Army has made most Burmese hopelessly poor. This latest struggle began on August 15th when the junta recklessly withdrew fuel subsidies. The price of gas went through the roof, rising almost 500%. Most Burmese could not even afford a bus ride. The Generals are handling the economy so poorly, that unrest might become a permanent feature in Burma. Given this situation, India will have to deal with its eastern neighbour sooner or later. It simply can’t afford to look away every time.

India must support democracy in Burma. As the only stable democracy in the region, it has the moral authority to preach it. It can’t justify supporting the dictators because it has gained nothing yet from the relationship economically either.

The Burmese have faced grave injustice for more than four decades. They want democracy but it’s been snatched from them with guns and violence every time.

Ironically on 15th August, when unrest began, India was celebrating its 60th year of independence. It’s time then for the world’s largest democracy to speak up boldly and stand up for freedom in its own backyard.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


On the empty street outside the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Ahmed would often find himself alone with his massive shadow. He feared the militias were waiting to kill him for working as an interpreter for the Americans.

When Ahmed requested his American bosses turn off the floodlights as he left, he was assured that somewhere in a watchtower American snipers were watching his back.

Months later, Ahmed went up there to thank them. The snipers didn’t know what he was talking about and then could only laugh. Ahmed felt betrayed. He realized no one was looking out for him. He had just been lucky. The Iraqis were on their own. As they are today.

Hundreds of loyal Iraqis are on the run from militias for helping America. They want asylum in the U.S. But America has yawned in their faces. Iraqis are dying while America’s refugee program remains riddled with red-tape.

America has a moral obligation in Iraq, and it should do more to help law-abiding Iraqis who supported its war efforts to get out of there.

Ahmed is part of the massive humanitarian crisis unfolding in Iraq. According to the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) 4.2 million people have been displaced. Jordan and Syria have each taken in more than a million Iraqis.

America had promised to provide refuge to 7000 Iraqis by the end of September. Only 829 have been admitted. Ryan Crocker, U.S. Ambassador in Iraq, says that at this rate Iraqis will have to wait anywhere between 10 months to two years to get a visa, if at all. Crocker articulated the asylum seekers desperation when he sent two damning cables to Washington. One was bluntly titled, ‘Iraqi Refugee Processing: Can We Speed it Up?’

There are legitimate security concerns for America. Could the U.S. be letting in disgruntled Iraqis who could turn against the country? It’s possible and that’s why the security screening should not be lenient. What Washington should do however is respond with the sense of urgency that Crocker is demanding.
America can begin by implementing a few of Crocker’s suggestions immediately - Put more people on the job at the embassy in Amman, allow at least Iraqi employees like Ahmed to apply for visas in Baghdad, and try interviewing Iraqis through video conferencing.

The whole process of for refugee status needs to be simpler. Iraqis can’t even apply for refugee status within their own country. The U.S. considers it too unsafe to let so many people into the Green Zone in Baghdad. So, Iraqis have to undertake a perilous journey to the U.S. Embassy in Amman to apply. The understaffed embassy there begins processing their papers while the Iraqis return to the minefield of home, to wait. But, as Crocker has pointed out, the much awaited call could come up to two years later. In Iraq’s tumultuous conditions, that is far too long.

Acknowledging Crocker’s missive however is at odds with the noises the Bush administration makes about the war. If we are told that the situation on the streets of Baghdad is improving, then how come there is a mass exodus of people fleeing to Jordan, Syria, Sweden, Norway, Germany and Denmark, and now clamoring to enter America?

The propaganda about this war lies at the heart of the problem plaguing America’s response to this massive displacement of people. Instead of responding to the refugee problem highlighted by its own ambassador in Baghdad, the Bush administration has started its usual round of finger-pointing. While the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department engage in the blame game, this crisis is costing lives in Iraq.

The refugee problem needs to go right on top of the Iraq agenda. Every humanitarian agency working in Iraq recognizes its explosive nature except America. The UNHCR has said that relocating within Iraq is not an option for asylum seekers from Southern and Central Iraq - they simply have to get out of there or they’ll get killed. It has also doubled its budget to $123 million to tackle the crisis.

America needs to help the refugees now to save the lives of loyal Iraqis like Ahmed. By speeding up the refugee intake, the U.S has a real opportunity to do something it hasn’t done in a long time – regain some moral support in the world by restoring the faith of old friends.

Friday, June 15, 2007


The post of President is largely a ceremonial one. Fine suits, or sarees as might be the case soon, hosting, toasting, wining, dining and the right words in the right place are the demands of the job. But the potential first lady President of India, Pratibha Patil, has already committed her first faux pas. In her first press meeting after her candidature was announced, she said she was concerned about the disparities in wealth distribution in our country. She felt however that schemes like the NREGS (National Rural EMPLOYMENT guarantee Scheme) attempted to create more opportunities for the rural poor and congratulated the other first lady Sonia Gandhi for it. But what she really called it, before TV cameras, was Sonia Gandhi's "unemployment guarantee scheme!"

Monday, June 04, 2007


A wonderful quote borrowed from Neodawn's blog.

"Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it."

The Buddha

Sunday, June 03, 2007


For me driving around in Chennai over the last few weeks has been a nauseating experience. I just can’t understand how people can be such sycophants and plaster the city with unlicensed, illegal hoardings of one man and his family and treat him above God Almighty and surrender their conscience and soul to him.

M.Karunanidhi has done nothing publicly to rein in his delinquent son M.K.Azhagiri for the murderous violence his supporters perpetrated on the employees of the ‘Dinakaran’ newspaper. I have little sympathy, mind you, for the Maran brothers who have thus far ridden happily on the back of a political empire to become all-powerful in this state. But to return to the earlier point, the DMK rank and file, far from mourning the behaviour of their colleagues in Madurai, far from hanging their heads in shame for belonging to a party responsible for the death of three people, are instead going berserk displaying their 'love' and loyalty. From laser shows and talking images of Periyar and Anna singing MK’s praises to people turning up from all corners of the state to wish their leader on his birthday, this celebration smacks of vulgarity that has become too commonplace to make news.

Why is a private function so public? Why must we be subjected to having our already ugly cityscape made worse by pictures of corrupt, duplicitous politicians?

Why isn’t there any outrage?

What can we do?

Saturday, May 05, 2007


I was delighted to open the papers this morning. The headlines in 'The Hindu' - 'Geetha Johri report speaks of "collusion of State government" and next to that 'Rasheed names MPs, ex-Minister'. Occasionally the tide turns against the people who govern this country and its deeply satisfying to find that somebody can put the fear of God in them.

What is fantastic is that people within the system exposed the dangerous and delinquent officers. First a damning report by Geetha Johri, IGP where she says the entire episode of killing Sohrabuddin, his wife Kauserbi and a key witness Prajapati, "makes a complete mockery of the rule of law and is perhaps an example of the involvement of the state government in a major crime."

But Geetha Johri was removed and Rajneesh Rai took over. The officer shocked his superiors by actually arresting the notorious trio and killer-in-chief, D G Vanzara. He has now been removed and reports suggest its because he was pushing for a narco-analysis test on the three arrested cops. But Geetha Johri is back and the state government has to submit its report on May 15th. Based on that the Supreme Court will decide whether to order a CBI probe or not, something Johri herself had recommended. This is certainly a story to follow till the very end if we are interested in promoting the efforts of officers with integrity like Geeta Johri and making sure that such rogues are exposed - rogues who have no respect for the citizens of this country.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


I was presented with a request by a reader to delete the photographs of dead deer and black buck on the IIT Madras campus from my blog. The person who supplied the photographs to this reader, wants them taken off because he or she does not agree with me.

The dilemma was - this is my blog and I am entitled to write what I want and was given the photographs. Yet that does not make the photographs mine and now the person who gave them wants 'their' photographs removed.

So what I have decided to do this time is to remove them because I did not take them in the first place.

The people at IIT who introduced me to whats happening to the deer and black buck inside are disappointed that I am swayed by Ranjit Daniels argument of cutting down 30 hectares of trees. But I think I would go with a scientist with 30 years experience than a layperson.

Ranjith Daniels says, "My methods are not based on a whim. A lot of effort has gone into this. Let people be assured of that. Whats destroyed the IIT campus is the Prosopis Juliflora tree. Now we are trying to clear two or three hectares on an experimental basis. World over, loss of habitat is the biggest problem faced by conservationists."

Its no different with the black buck and thats why they are dealing with that threat first.

But people have argued that why not deal with the solvable problems first - like controlling traffic and construction activity? Ranjith acknowledges that traffic is a problem and signs will be put up to request people to drive slowly. But he says that these fears of traffic and construction are not the biggest threat and steps are being taken to ensure that the black buck isn't allowed to go extinct.

As far as the birds and other life in the trees that he plans to cut is concerned, he says, "The Juliflora has not allowed anything else to grow. Birds nests are not just in trees but in bushes also and these trees have destroyed the biodiversity on the campus."

Monday, April 09, 2007


Take twenty minutes, don't take calls and read this horrific, chilling expose on how the cops in Uttar Pradesh were in cahoots with the wealthy Moninder Singh Pandher.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


Mildly funny letter written by Thiru M.Karunanidhi to the External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherji wishing the latter a speedy recovery after his accident.

Dear Mukherjijee,

I am very much shocked (just shocked should do or perhaps very shocked if he insists) to hear the sudden news of the accident and I was a little relieved to know that you have escaped with head injuries (theres something wrong about being a little relieved when someone has just had their head bumped in many places. What he may have wanted to say was that he was relieved he had escaped with only ...only head injuries. Anyway...) At this age of yours, you should take all precautions while travelling. Your good and sincere services are very much needed for the country. While I wish you speedy recovery, I kindly request you to take complete rest before you resume your work. (Of course...of course)

Yours sincerely,

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Johnny Deep's inspiration Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones snorts some really weird stuff. Scary!

Now a regular reader has found that Richards was apparently kidding.

Monday, March 26, 2007


Some awful Indianisms have made their way into the newspaper. It’s so disorienting to see it in print…. Quite, like an itch in the middle of your back. I remember meeting a farmer in Thanjavur recently, who said that he spent his evenings at the local library reading ‘The Hindu’ to learn English. If he’s read the following, we know which way his English is headed.

After India’s shock defeat by Bangladesh ‘The Hindu’ carried a front-page photograph of some delinquents destroying Dhoni’s house. The caption read, ‘People breaking M.S.Dhoni’s under-construction house.’

Then there was another story on the inside pages about education and ended with ‘students going to abroad.’

The New Indian Express splashed the story on Bob Woolmer’s death on the front page. But it was littered with mistakes. It said, Bob Woolmer was planning to ‘part company with’ the Pakistanis. Then the paper informed us that it was a ‘high pressurized job.’ It ended by saying that the stresses of coaching the Pakistani side might have taken their ‘tol’.

On the second page of that days paper was a puzzling headline which read, ‘Middlemen play on the poor.’ What step on them and use them as a playground? What?

And if anybody from a newspaper office is reading this, could you please stop saying, ‘Very much thankful’. It’s wrong.

Have you seen the totally bland quotes that make headlines in ‘The Hindu’? For instance, ‘Parents advised to guide students during exams.’ I always look forward to reading the headline on the Governor’s insipid speeches. For example, ‘Governor advises youth to work hard.’ Such illuminating stuff!

I’ll end with this hilarious headline from ‘The Hindu’ once again, the morning after the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. ‘Idols immersed, Three feared drowned.’

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


The following piece is the text of a talk given by my friend S. R. Madhu on 'Women and the Media.' I thought this would be a good place to reproduce it.

Before I plunge into the subject of "Women and the media," let me conduct a little quiz on the subject.

Who is the first journalist to earn a salary of a million dollars a year? (Barbara Walters)
Who is the lady journalist from Kerala who covered several wars for CNN and Time magazine? (Anita Pratap)
Who is the editor of the best-known Indian magazine for women’s empowerment? (Madhu Kishwar, editor of Manushi)
Who is the only woman editor today of a major Indian daily newspaper? (Mrinal Pande, editor of Hindustan).

Why should we study women and the media? Because this subject is a mirror of women’s empowerment, according to Gloria Steinem herself. There’s a strong connection between women’s media and women’s empowerment.

What are the strengths of women as media specialists? They are more observant than men, they are more sensitive to unfairness and injustice than men, they often speak and write better than men.

Further, women are more effective than men in drawing people out, getting them to speak. They are more effective interviewers than men, particularly when the subject is a celebrity. One reason is that women have easy access to the celebrity’s wife, daughter, sister or mother – who are often the best sources of rare nuggets of information.

In my talk today, I’ll compare the status of women in the media about 50 years ago and now. I’ll discuss some issues concerning women in the media, then give you a few snapshots of some outstanding or exciting women achievers in the media today.

The status of women in the Indian media has undergone a tectonic shift. In the 1960s, most newspapers did not even have a single woman. Rami Chhabra was 19 when she met Prem Bhatia for a job in the Statesman of Calcutta. She was well qualified, she had just won an award from the BBC, and she was passionate about working in a newpaper.

Prem Bhatia looked up from his desk and said "Young lady, if you want to work in a daily, wipe off that lipstick and remove those ear-rings. Pretty girls shouldn’t be in newspaper offices. They distract the men." Prem Bhatia went back to his work, and Rami Chhabra stood dismissed. She approached other newspapers, but they said: "We know you write well. But why don’t you just sit at home and give us articles? We’ll both be happy."

In fact, some of the most legendary editors in India uttered similar sentiments. Girirlal Jain of the Times of India said a daily newspaper was no place for a woman. Later his own daughter joined a daily newspaper. Pran Chopra, another great editor, denied Razia Ismail a job saying "I’m sure you’ll refuse to do night shifts." Razia Ismail later had a distinguished career in the United Nations.

Difficult working conditions

But gradually, the prejudice against women in newspapers weakened. Newspapers in India started hiring women as reporters and subeditors. But they faced difficult working conditions.

-- There was no separate toilet for them, and a girl reporter often had to go down three floors or go up four floors to find a ladies’ toilet.
-- Usha Rai of the Times of India, wife of famous photographer Raghu Rai, says that when she got pregnant, she was shocked to discover that there was no provision for maternity leave! She had to fight for it before she got it! Some newspapers peremptorily divided three months of maternity leave into six weeks before the baby, six weeks after the baby. If the lady said, "I want only one week before the baby and seen weeks after the baby," managements didn’t agree.
-- Women had complaints about unequal pay and work conditions. Women were often given low-fee contracts, not absorbed on the staff. And women were always assigned soft stories – flower shows, gallery shows, fashion shows, beauty contests, book launches, film and drama reviews. They were thrown crumbs from the reporting beat, while men covered Parliament, the Prime Minister’s office, the Home Ministry, Finance Ministry and so on.

There was sexual harassment. In Mumbai, a news bureau chief assigned a girl to do a story on pornographic literature on the pavements, and passed on to her on his collection of pornographic limericks as "research material".

Ammu Joseph who lives in Bangalore, has written a book titled Making News: Women in Journalism. It is based on interviews with 200 women journalists from different parts of India. The book contains many interesting stories and anecdotes, many of them unpleasant.

In a newspaper office the night shift is the most important. Meena Menon of the UNI says when she volunteered for night duty, the news editor remarked: "So you don't mind being raped!' And broke into a laughing fit till he became breathless. Some women who walked home after night shift were harassed on the road. People assumed that a woman alone on the street at night could only be a prostitute.

In the 1980s, labour laws were passed saying that no woman should work alone on a newspaper night shift, there should be at least two women. And they should be provided transport back home. Because of this rule, many newspapers all over India did not employ women on the night shift.
On the other hand, some newspapers were sometimes overly protective about women. Usha Rai was once covering a price rise demonstration outside the Super Bazar in Delhi. Word broke out that the police had resorted to tear gas. Her bosses in the Times of India broke into a panic. They got two male journalists to locate and rescue Usha Rai.

In The Statesman, Tavleen Singh, who is one of India’s best-known columnists, insisted that she would drive home in her own car after night duty, she wouldn’t take the office car. For a whole year, The Statesman sent a chauffeur- driven office car behind Tavleen Singh’s car, to escort her.

The Renaissance: Women in the Media after 1976

In 1976, after the emergency was lifted and Mrs Gandhi was thrown out of power, the Indian press went through a renaissance. Many new magazines started. For women, it looked as if the floodgates had opened. Opportunities for them expanded and opened up. And today, newspapers and magazines are teeming with bright women. They are everywhere, doing everything -- covering political and economic news, the CBI, the foreign office, sports and even the stock market. They are talented, well-educated, sharp, and extremely ambitious. And TV news is dominated by women.

I would like to provide a few snapshots of some of the best and brightest women in the media business today.

Snapshots: Anita Pratap

Anita Pratap first came to the limelight when she interviewed
Prabhakaran of LTTE and wrote on the shameful anti-Tamil riots of 1983. In fact there were rumours of a romance between her and Prabhakaran, and she discounted them fiercely, she said Prabhakaran was grateful to her for her coverage of the ethnic problem. She wrote the book "Island of blood" on Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict.

Anita also reported several wars for the CNN and Time magazine – the Afghan war and the Taliban’s triumph, India-Pakistan wars, the Naxalite menace in the northeast, India’s nuclear tests. She has interviewed the Prime Ministers or Presidents of several countries.

She was the first TV journalist to report from the highest battleground on earth, the 22,000 ft Siachen glacier, where Indian and Pakistani armies exchanged fire almost every day.

Anita Pratap writes forcefully, insightfully, often caustically on political subjects. Besides hardcore breaking news, Anita Pratap has reported on development issues such as population, education, health care, poverty alleviation, women’s concerns. She is now an independent documentary film-maker.

Madhu Kishwar

Let me now talk about Madhu Kishwar, a social activist and the editor of Manushi, and a great symbol of women’s empowerment. Manushi has been described as one of the world’s best women’s magazines, also as the voice of India’s conscience.

Manushi was founded in 1978 by Madhu Kishwar and a few others with a capital of Rs 500. What makes the magazine unique is that it accepts no advertisements and no donations. Sometimes the magazine doesn’t have money even for postage. In its early years, it could not even afford a typewriter. The magazine has 6,000 subscribers in India, Europe, the US, Africa and Australia.

Says Madhu Kishwar. "In India, you get a lot of affection and respect if
if people are convinced that you're not out to make money, that you are a genuine social worker."

Madhu Kishwar desribes Manushi as a "catalyst to make our society more just and humane. We don’t just passively put together articles that come to us, we initiate positive and corrective change."

Manushi is more than a magazine. It provides legal aid, it conducts human rights campaigns, it publishes books, it even organizes street plays. It exposes discrimination against women. But it is not a magazine for women only. Manushi is also every thinking man's magazine.
Early issues of Manushi focused on atrocities against women and the pliht of the landless poor. But now, the magazine is more reflective and philosophical. It carries inspirational people profiles, it discusses Indian traditions and tribal rituals. It carries poetry, film reviews, book reviews, short stories and analyses of social trends and political events. Every issue carries a thoughtful piece by Madhu Kishwar herself. She once outlined a down-to-earth 10-point plan to strengthen Hinduism.
Readers almost died laughing when Manushi ran a piece on the superiority of Indian-style toilets over Western-style toilets!

Madhu Kishwar has remained unmarried. She is strongly attached to her family. Her father is a retired LIC officer, her mother is a housewife. She says she derives her strength from the unconditional love showered on her from her family – not just her parents, but grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Madhu Kishwar says "The only women I have had problems with are Indian feminists. They empathise with Western feminism, not with our own society and people. For some reason they're the only ones who can't stand Manushi. Nothing satisfies them. I don't understand what they want. I have an uneasy feeling that they want to remould Indian women into creatures alienated from their own social environment." Not everyone agrees with Madhu Kishwar but everyone respects her.

Barkha Dutt

Barkha Dutt is perhaps the first lady of Indian television. She has recorded so many "firsts," and won several awards, specially for her coverage of the Kargil war. She does interesting programmes every week. For her, and for many other TV reporters and anchors, nothing matters more than a good story. They are prepared to do anything -- even maybe risk their lives or break the law -- for a good story.

To illustrate this trait in Barkha Dutt, here's an anecdote. She wanted to visit Afghanistan and do an eye-witness story. India's Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh was going to Kandahar on a political visit, he wasn't taking any press people with him. But Barkha was determined to go. She rushed to the airport. When she saw a bread van about to leave for the tarmac and deliver bread to Jaswant Singh's plane, she sweet-talked the driver of the van, got into it and reached the plane. The Finance Minister was horrified and ticked her off. Barkha was disappointed that she couldn't pull it off. "But at least I tried", she told herself.

Mrinal Pande

Mrinal Pande is an icon of Indian journalism. She is the first Indian woman to be the editor-in-chief of a national daily newspaper, Hindustan. It is part of the Hindustan Times group and comes out from several cities.

Mrinal Pande has studied English and Sanskrit literature, ancient Indian history, archeology, classical music and the visual arts. She published a short story at the age of 21, and has been writing ever since, for the past 40 years – journalism, fiction, drama and essays. She has also been a columnist, broadcaster and television presenter.

She has spent several years on the National Commission for Self-Employed Women, inquiring into the conditions for rag-pickers, vegetable sellers and domestic help. Her recent book "Stepping Out, Life and Sexuality in Rural India", is a revealing book on the condition of women in rural India.

Mrinal Pande says "I may have neglected my family because of my work. But I believe that writers are selfish. Others make more room for writers, than they make for others."

Sucheta Dalal

Sucheta Dalal, 45, is one of India’s most powerful journalists. She is the person who exposed the Harshad Mehta scam in the early 1990s and the Ketan Parekh scam a couple of years ago. She is a consulting editor of MoneyLife, a personal finance magazine. She is a columnist for the Indian Express and for, and a consulting editor of Financial Express.

Sucheta Dalal is known for a simple terse style, free of flourishes. She writes from the standpoint of the common citizen and the average investor, and she fearlessly exposes what is corrupt, what is dubious, what is questionable.

Sucheta is the author of two books,. One of them is about stock market scams, the other is a biography of industrialist A D Shroff. She has worked with two financial dailies -- Business Standard and The Economic Times. The government made her a member of the Investor Protection and Education Fund, and that has been warmly welcomed by the general public.

Bachi Karkaria

Finally, a few words about Bachi Karkaria. She is an excellent writer – witty, forceful, elegant. She has held one of the prize jobs in journalism in India, that of editor of the Times of India. She says her father passed on two mantras to her. One: make your own sunshine. Two, be flexible. If you bend, you won't break.

She is outspoken about how far women have come in the media. She says "The women we interview for jobs are so much better than men, that sometimes we take a man just as a token gesture for men." About the biggest challenge facing women in the media, she says: They should stop thinking gender, they should only think professional.

I think that’s a great message for the future. The media in India belongs to women – provided they don’t talk gender, they only talk professional.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Finally somebody did a story on Amitabh Bachchan's tasteless advertisement endorsing the law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh. When was Nithari moved off the UP map? He says he endorses UP and not the SP government but that is to completely discount the impression the viewer is left with - an important part of any communication.

Amitabh Bachchan says his decision was based on a Home Ministry report (a Congress document) which shows that the statistics in UP are not that bad and therefore the law and order situation is good. Err.... wasn't it in UP that the police refused to register FIRs of parents whose children had gone missing? Crime simply goes unreported in UPs police records, indeed, in the crime records of every state.

Amitabh Bachan has been placed on a pedestal by millions of people in India. His position and influence are unrivalled but in endorsing the likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav's governance, he seems to vacate that position on the pedestal. Unfortunately, as Outlook's latest survey suggests, we hate our politicians so much, that we will punish anyone who is seen with them.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Denmark recently witnessed the worst street violence in more than a decade. Youngsters came out onto the streets to protest against the takeover of a youth centre in Copenhagen. Squatters were evicted from the building and four days of street fights followed. The building had been offically abandoned but was used by punk rockers, left-wing groups and anarchists since 1982.

What struck me as incredibly cute and an indicator of just how peaceful Denmark is, is that, fearing further violence the Danish police has borrowed 16 lightly armored vehicles from the Dutch! Even sweeter is the fact that they have already taken on loan 20 police vans from Sweden.

My first thought was, "Don't they have these things?" But my conclusion is they don't need these things. Or atleast haven't till now. Its that peaceful.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Last week was awful. I made too many mistakes, miscalculations and serious errors of judgment. Let me correct one of them here by publishing an interview with Ranjit Daniels. Ranjit is the man hired by IIT-Madras to do a bio-diversity study of the campus. Based on his findings IIT is now trying to implement the roadmap he has set out to increase the black buck population.

His key agenda is radical – he says we need to start cutting trees. Cutting trees!? What do trees have to do with Black Buck? Everything. And when Rajnit Daniels explains it, he makes the world of the Black Buck something beautiful.

For how long have Black Buck been in this area?
Black Bucks have been here for atleast 30 years. But we’re not entirely sure how they came to be here. The IIT land once belonged to a British family. They could’ve introduced the animals for hunting or perhaps they already existed there. We’re not very sure. But about 30 years ago, there were 30 black bucks in the IIT area.

So the current population of 12 is not so alarming?
These are insulated populations and maintaining an insulated population anywhere is a great challenge. Black Buck numbers have dwindled over the years and not suddenly so there is nothing alarming about this decrease. The Black Bucks became isolated from the animals in neighbouring Guindy National park in 1978 when IIT built a wall.

So can’t the animals just be shifted to the neighbouring park now where it is perhaps safer for them?
Black buck are shy and timid and its going to be very difficult to catch them in the woods of IIT. We might end up doing more harm than good. Also, for sentimental reasons I think we should save the animal right here where it has existed.

What are the threats to the Black Bucks inside IIT at the moment?
The problem inside IIT is that there are too many trees and Black bucks actually need open grasslands. That is their natural habitat. The other problem is feral dogs. People just bring them into the campus and let them be there. Dogs in a pack are a real problem. Dogs have been domesticated for nearly 50,000 years. They may have lost their instinct to eat meat but they have certainly not lost their instinct to hunt. Thats why we find that sometimes they attack the deer and black buck but don't eat them.

So how come they came here in the first place if open grasslands is their natural habitat?
They came first and the trees came next, because we all have this British concept of greening. IITians started planting trees in their quest for a green campus and someone has introduced several exotic species. The most damaging one has been ‘Prosopis Juliflora’ from the American continent. It’s a very invasive species and needs no human intervention to start multiplying. Before we knew it, the entire campus was overrun with this species, shrinking Black buck territory. Whats worse, IIT obviously thought it should protect the woods and constructed on remaining open ground further destroying Black Buck territory. Trees are not always good. We shouldn’t plant them where there once weren’t any.

So what now?
Now we are going to start cutting trees. That’s the radical solution I have given IIT. But we have to do it slowly so that we don’t scare away the animals. We have begun by clearing up the seeds on the ground today. The challenge will be to cut the big trees without alarming the animals.

How much open space do you need to create?
There are 4 males and 8 females on campus. One male needs atleast 8 hectares of land, so we are going to clear up around 30 hectares.

Why does the male need 8 hectares?
They need it to graze and mate. Black buck procreate through a process called Lek mating. Its quite like peacocks. One male black buck can mate with several females. Males stand at either end of a field and strut their stuff. The females decide which male they would like to mate with and that’s how they procreate. So open space is vital for us to improve their numbers.

There have been lots of well-meaning folk who want to save the Black buck inside the IIT campus but they have hijacked the debate by offering ignorant, unscientific advise. They might turn up with placards when trees are cut but Ranjit Daniels is an ecologist and knows what hes talking about. That’s why IIT hired him.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


A pair of Sumatran tiger cubs and a set of young orangutans, all abandoned at birth, have become inseparable after sharing a room at an Indonesian zoo.

Monday, February 26, 2007


Inside one of the country’s most prestigious institutions of technical education – death is not a very uncommon occurrence. The blackbuck population inside the forests of IIT-Madras has come down to almost 12 and the population of spotted deer hovers around 150.
“The spanking new Himalaya mess has come up on Black buck habitation. There was no real need for that. They could’ve just had smaller messes around the different blocks”, says one concerned insider at IIT. Another lady says, “They came up with this crazy idea of making laws with Korean grass. That’s not what deer eat! Also, there is so much construction debris lying around that the animals are getting injured and dying.”

Feral dogs are another menace inside IIT and they have killed quite a few spotted deer. But the wildlife department officials seem unconcerned about this and are cooking up , what to me sound like excuses. Ashish Shrivastava, one of the wildlife officers says, “If we try to remove the feral dogs some people protest saying the dogs are their pets and we should not remove them.” Pursue the point further by suggesting that they are afterall the wildlife department and can’t be held hostage to peoples pet fancies, he has no answers.

Removing these animals to the neighboring Guindy National Park is not a solution because black bucks have such weak hearts and are so timid that they cannot survive such an upheaval.

(I have since updated this blog with a more informed opinion.)

Monday, February 19, 2007


Kokilavani would have been the first graduate in her family. But this poor girl from Namakkal was burnt alive by a bunch of AIADMK sycophants when her bus carrying 47 students of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural College was waylaid by them. 18 girls suffered burn injuries and three died – Kokilavani, Gayathri and Hemalatha, when goons from the AIADMK went on a rampage on February 2nd 2000 protesting against a court verdict that sentenced Jayalalithaa to one-years imprisonment for her role in illegally waiving building rules to a hotel in Kodaikanal.

I saw the video footage of the flames engulfing the bus and the screams of the poor girls trapped inside. It was like watching death. The AIADMK men doused the bus in kerosene and then prevented the girls from escaping.

Some justice now after seven years. 28 of those goons from the AIADMK have been convicted. Its death for three and seven years and three months imprisonment for the rest of the mob. But will the images of those flames and their childrens suffering in death ever be erased from the minds of the parents? As a society, it should never be erased from ours.

Jayalalithaa took no disciplinary action against her party workers who killed the women whose cause she claims to espouse. Now her stony silence after the verdict is just as shameful.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


On matters of racism and discrimination, India will always speak from a glass house because of this.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Why bother with a trial for Moninder Singh Pandher? The media knows hes a killer. The police will ensure hes the killer and the lawyers and general public have of course given their verdict by beating him up outside the court. If Moninder Singh is guilty, show him no mercy for he deserves none. But according to Indian law he is innocent until proven guilty so lets all hang on till then!

We can't blame the police for a security lapse at the court because the police is sometimes helpless in the midst of these maniac mobs. What we can blame them for is a lack of planning and foresight. They should've expected something like this, given that in the past people have stoned Moninder's house and are baying for his blood.

But to me what stands out as truly shameful about this incident is the kind of street justice we are witnessing for a case that should be fought with science and forensics. And for lawyers, lawyers to be jumping into the melee for a few punches is the end of civilisation. This display of vigilante justice by the men who swear by the Constitution of India everyday is shocking. One lawyer appeared on TV justifying their act saying they are "human after all"?! Of course they are. We certainly don't think they are anything more or greater. And although our faith in the system be near zero, and we justify the act as public outrage against a system that failed us, can we stoop to this? Lawyers, of all people, should not.