Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Freedom for Kashmir?


As you may know, the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India has been on the boil since a botched-up plan to transfer 100 acres of land to the Amarnath Shrine Board. It has been fascinating to follow, the expression of a people seeking self-determination in massive numbers (some reports put it at over half a million protesters). And the reactions of mainstream politicians and media in India. For once, the media seems to be slightly more open to different viewpoints (as articles by Arundhati Roy and Prem Shankar Jha have appeared in mainstream publications) -- of course, all that is accompanied by the usual denunciations of anyone differing from the official line as being unpatriotic or a traitor or even enemy.

Arundhati Roy has been spending time in Srinagar lately, and she writes this moving piece on the struggles in the Kashmir Valley. Partly historical and mostly earnest, she writes about how the current scenario came to pass and how different people in Srinagar think and feel. There are two main points discussed: (a) freedom for Kashmir, and (b) the Islamic color of the protests. Both are interesting questions in their own independent right, and probably very important too in how they are handled.

Here is the article, and a couple of excerpts:
Land and Freedom

For the past 60 days or so, since about the end of June, the people of Kashmir have been free. Free in the most profound sense. They have shrugged off the terror of living their lives in the gun-sights of half a million heavily armed soldiers, in the most densely militarised zone in the world.

After 18 years of administering a military occupation, the Indian government's worst nightmare has come true. Having declared that the militant movement has been crushed, it is now faced with a non-violent mass protest, but not the kind it knows how to manage. This one is nourished by people's memory of years of repression in which tens of thousands have been killed, thousands have been "disappeared", hundreds of thousands tortured, injured, and humiliated. That kind of rage, once it finds utterance, cannot easily be tamed, rebottled and sent back to where it came from.

The Indian military occupation of Kashmir makes monsters of us all. It allows Hindu chauvinists to target and victimise Muslims in India by holding them hostage to the freedom struggle being waged by Muslims in Kashmir.

India needs azadi from Kashmir just as much as - if not more than - Kashmir needs azadi from India.

Outlook India also has some good coverage and analysis of the issue.

Worth some discussion in our open mikes...



I had encountered a couple of interesting phrases - 'soft issue' vs
'hard issue' when it comes to debates in a country.

'Hard issues' were ones that question the territorial integrity of a
country and are difficult to debate because the conclusion is already
hard coded into the adult population of a country.

I didn't think much of this phrase when I heard of it six months back.
But, I am beginning to appreciate that there may be some truth in it.
I think this a priori conclusion for me is, 'Kashmir issue is an
internal problem of India'. It is possible that this is because I have
a strong defense upbringing. But, is this untrue for everyone on this

If this is true for everyone on this group, it is difficult to have a
honest discussion about freedom in Kashmir. The only honest discussion
we can hope to have is if there are ways in which we can minimize the
suffering of the communities in Kashmir.

I received a query, which helps clarify my statement a bit. I have
taken permission to quote the query and reply to it here.

> How hardcoded is this? Do you personally believe that the communities in
> Kashmir should have a say on what should happen to them or do you think they
> are governed by a centralized authority - i.e. India.

It is hard coded and it is also subtle.

Yes, I believe communities in Kashmir should have a say on what should
happen to them and here is the catch, I believe this just as much as I
believe people in Narmada should have a right to decide whether they
should be displaced to have a dam or not.

In reality these two are not the same. Narmada does not question
territorial integrity of the country - it merely demands the rights of
it's citizens. Equating the two indicates my assumption that Kashmiris
want to be citizens of this country. Which is what I mean by
conclusion before the debate.



Over 30 years of conflict could have led the current generation of Kashmiris to believe they want to be a break away state. Perhaps I am veering off topic here, but if we liken this to what is currently happening in South Ossetia & Abkhazia one wonders if this is what Kashmir is in for even if it breaks away to become independant.
North Ossetia has been a part of Russia for a longtime. The South & Abkhazia which is a mix of Russians & Georgians, was claimed by seperatists with Russian backing. On came Georgia and tried to annex the region with US support and the ensuing war which has devastated the territory.
Russia now claims to acknowledge the South Ossetian seperatists.
Even though the preferences of the local population is not terribly clear, the parallels are quite striking...



Hi Sanjeev,
Your points made me ponder on this for a while.

Why would I support those displaced by the Narmada?
Why would I support the tribals in Orissa displaced and rendered helpless(by taking over their forests) by mining projects?

Is it mainly because their rights as citizens were transgressed? Coming to think of it, that's probably the right approach or one of the better ways to fight the system/state. But, I feel there is more to this. Are 'Rights' only defined by a state for its citizens?

Let's say some tribals were technically living in the border states and living as hunter/gatherers moving across national boundaries. If the state were to restrict access to the forests as their citizenship is not defined or if they are forced to migrate to a different geographical location, because the forests are taken over for an industrial project - are their 'rights' being respected? What has been their way of living for centuries is now questioned in such a way that their existence is threatened. If I, a citizen of one of the countries were to support the position of the tribals to access their habitat(s), is it under the assumption that they are citizens of the country? Do I need to accept the concept of a nation state to understand the position of the tribals?

Another situation - Illegal immigrants living in slums being evacuated forcibly. So, in a very basic way from a human rights perspective, the demands of those subjugated by centralized authority need to be respected. If its clear that for a group of people the concept of a nation state no longer means anything and the inhabitants of the region decide not to be associated with the nation state (truthfully and adequately represented i.e.), then they probably have the right to do so (irrespective of what we believe would happen to them later).

At this point, I don't seem to have much of a problem questioning the concept of a nation state itself.

Monday, August 18, 2008

One Genius or Many Hard-working intelligent people?


An interesting video, and a possible topic for discussion.

He kind of puts forth an interesting question: Does the world in 2020 need geniuses who can solve a problem in a moment of brilliance or many hard-working stubborn intelligent people who are willing to collaborate to get to the solution of a difficult problem?
A few things that crossed my mind as i saw this:
* Is the kind of problems the world is facing (and expected to face) indeed something that can be better tackled by many hands as opposed to one brilliant mind? or is it a manifestation of the kind of problem-solvers that our educational / professional system creates?
* Considering that necessity is the mother of invention, is the collaborative infrastructure and the surplus of readily available information that we have at our disposal (which probably wasnt there a few years ago) killing the creativity in us? There is a school of thought: "'Best Known Practices are actually Innovation Killers'.
* While this is not mentioned in the talk, is innovation / creativity today perceived in a similar manner as it was a few years ago?
Something that i would love to hear the thoughts of everyone on.
A related link:

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Open Mike 24: Assessing pornography in a feminist framework


Very interesting topic. Here is more from Bob Jensen -- a story he is very fond of repeating at his talks:
This is a story of a female student at the University of Texas. She was riding from Austin to Dallas for a football game on a bus chartered by a fraternity, on which many of the passengers were women. During the trip, someone put into the bus' VCR a sexually explicit video. Uncomfortable with those hardcore sexual images of women being used by men, the female student began a discussion with the people around her about it, and one of the men on the bus agreed that it was inappropriate. He stood up and said to the other men, "You all know me and know I like porno as much as the next guy, but it's not right for us to play this tape when there are women on the bus."

No doubt it took some courage for that young man to confront his fraternity brothers on the issue, and we should honor that. But we should recognize that his statement also communicated to his fraternity brothers that he was one of them -- "one of the guys" -- who, being guys, naturally like pornography. His objection was not to pornography and men's routine purchase and use of women's bodies for sexual pleasure but to the viewing of it with women present. He was making it clear that his ultimate loyalty was to men and their right to use women sexually, though that use should conform to some type of code of chivalry about being polite about it in mixed company.

In doing that, he was announcing his own position in regard to sex. He was saying: I'm just a john! A man who buys another human being for sex.

Pornography is really rampant among men (these days to a much smaller extent, among women). Virtually every man I know has been or is currently a user of pornography (for masturbation, or otherwise). It is important for one to engage in a critical self-analysis and be accountable for one's behavior. The question to ask oneself should be, do you want to participate in a system in which women are sold for sexual pleasure, be it part of prostitution, pornography, strip bars, or any other way. To again quote something Bob Jensen said, "A man should feel guilty about this. Guilt is the proper response to an unjust act. When we do things that are unjust, we should feel guilty." Pornography creates a class of people (women) that can be bought and sold, in which case, the people in that group will always be treated as lesser, or available for abuse.

To quote Bob Jensen one last time
The way out of this is the Marxian "ruthless criticism of the existing order". The most important point is, if a man thinks all this doesn't affect him because he is one of the "good men," I wouldn't be so sure. I'm told that I am one of those good men. I consider myself an active feminist. I have been part of groups that critique men's violence and the sex industry. And I struggle with these issues all the time. I was raised and trained by society to be a man in this culture, and I cant wash away that training overnight. None of us is off the hook.


A nuanced look at pornography (negative, positive, correlation with rape and sexual violence) by Michael Shermer in his book, The Science of Good and Evil: (see pages 195-202). Paraphrasing some points from the book:

Also references studies that show a strong correlation between pornography and sexual violence for people with limited exposure to sex or with negative attitudes towards sex, even mild erotica. Denmark lifted all bans on pornography in the 1960s when pornography surged, and subsequently sex crimes fell drastically. The idea behind the statistic being that whatever the cause for rape, it is not pornography in this case. This is not to say that negative pornography does not have an effect on increasing violence in some cases, but here also, people with limited social and sexual experience are more likely to be influenced by pornography. Interestingly, similar reactions were had from non-pornographic material that showed aggression to women.

Open Mike 24: Assessing pornography in a feminist framework

Folks, we will be having our regular Tuesday open mike session today.

Thursday Open Mike 24 (now on Tuesday)
Topic: Assessing pornography in a feminist framework
August 5, 2008 [Tuesday]
@ 8PM in Gaurav's House.
1781 Spyglass Drive, #244
Austin TX 78746

Sorry about the late notice, been a little busy. Some links below.




I havent had much time to collect good information or read up much on it, but anyways, here are some links:

Robert Jensen, UT journalism professor, has come out with a new book, Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity. The book expresses some strong opinions:

Pornography is big business, a thriving multi-billion dollar industry so powerful it drives the direction of much media technology. It also makes for complicated politics. Anti-pornography arguments are frequently dismissed as patently "anti-sex"—and ultimately "anti-feminist"—silencing at the gate a critical discussion of pornography's relationship to violence against women and even what it means to be a "real man."In his most personal and difficult book to date, Robert Jensen launches a powerful critique of mainstream pornography that promises to reignite one of the fiercest debates in contemporary feminism. At once alarming and thought-provoking, Getting Off asks tough but crucial questions about pornography, manhood, and paths toward genuine social justice.

Pornography is a civil rights issue, by Andrea Dworkin

A great many men, no small number of them leftist lawyers, are apparently afraid that feminists are going to take their dirty pictures away from them. Anticipating the distress of forced withdrawal, they argue that feminists really must shut up about pornography--what it is, what it means, what to do about it--to protect what they call "freedom of speech." Our "strident" and "overwrought" antagonism to pictures that show women sexually violated and humiliated, bound, gagged, sliced up, tortured in a multiplicity of ways, "offends" the First Amendment. The enforced silence of women through the centuries has not.

A different take on the issue, reviewing Jensen and his book:

A mixed review

Getting Off is likely not a book that will achieve the widespread cultural awakening Jensen seeks, simply because both his arguments and tactics will alienate most readers. In his attempt to shock readers out of their complacency by forcing them to face the misogyny reflected in the worst aspects of pornography, Jensen leaves little room for the off-screen realities of complicated, contradictory, conflicted sexuality.

The tyranny of Anti-porn Feminism

Feminists for Free Expression

Defining sex-positive feminism

Another very personal account tying pornography to sexual violence:

Getting the Monster in My Cupboard: A Personal Account by Rebecca

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Open Mike 23: Nelson Mandela

Thursday Open Mike 23 (now on Tuesday)
Topic: Nelson Mandela
July 29, 2008 [Tuesday]
@ 8PM in Gaurav's House.
1781 Spyglass Drive, #244
Austin TX 78746

Links sent out by Rahul on the yahoogroups:
Nelson Mandela turned 90 a couple of weeks ago (and it was celebrated with a concert to raise funds for AIDS). The press has covered the event extensively with an analysis of his life, influence, and shortcomings. It would be interesting to take a look at the same, and here are some links for that.
90th Birthday Celebration
Nelson Mandela Foundation:
The Nelson Mandela Foundation contributes to the making of a just society by promoting the vision, values and work of its Founder and convening dialogue around critical social issues.
Also, I read in somewhere the following (but cant seem to find links for it)
  • As per Mandela, one of the biggest regrets of his tenure as president of SA, is not doing enough for AIDS awareness
  • As per his wife, one of his regrets is not being involved much in the lives of his children.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Nuclear power debate continues ...

[From Murali on the yahoogroups]

Nuclear power seems to be much-debated everywhere now. Some Counterpunch and Guardian articles talking about the shaky status of nuclear power in US, UK/France and India:

New nukes not ready for Prime Time (US)

A devastating blow to the much-hyped revival of atomic power has been delivered by an unlikely source---the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The NRC says the "standardized" designs on which theentire premise of returning nuclear power to center stage is based have massive holes in them, and may not be ready for approval for years to come.

'It feels like a sci-fi film' - accidents tarnish nuclear dream (UK/France)

For the past two weeks, Eymard, 41, and her children, 13 and seven, have had a phobia of taps. To wash up, they go out to the yard and fill a bowl from a specially delivered plastic tank of purified water on a fork-lift tractor. They carry the water up to the bathroom to wash. Even the dog drinks bottled water, and it is left out for the birds.

"I feel as if everything's constantly dirty," Eymard said, her hands deep in soapy lather scrubbing plates.

The view from the house over the fields is dominated by the nearby cooling towers of the Tricastin site, a nuclear power plant run by EDF, the company which is poised to buy British Energy and take control of most UK nuclear stations.

Next to the plant is a nuclear treatment centre run by a subsidiary of Areva, the nuclear group which hopes to design many of the new British reactors. Last month an accident at the treatment centre during a draining operation saw liquid containing untreated uranium overflow out of a faulty tank. About 75kg of uranium seeped into the ground and into the Gaffiere and Lauzon rivers which flow into the Rhône. Eymard's house is 100 metres from one of these streams.

Eyes Wide Shut in India

India ratifies nuclear deal (and Parkinson's Law)

"A nuclear reactor is so vastly expensive and complicated that people cannot understand it, so they assume that those working on it understand it. Even those with strong opinions might withhold them for fear of being shown to be insufficiently informed. On the other hand, everyone understands a bicycle shed (or thinks they do), so building one can result in endless discussions: everyone involved wants to add his touch and show that he is there"

--Parkinson's Law of Triviality (from Parkinson's Law, 1955)

Friday, July 25, 2008

FAQ: Indo US Nuclear Deal - less energy, more hype

[This FAQ is from the Daily South Asian]

Will the nuclear deal provide nuclear fuel and reactors to India?

Contrary to the impression being created, the India US Civilian Cooperation Agreement is only a waiver allowing the US to trade with India on nuclear items. Any import of uranium or reactors will have to be separately negotiated with the US or other countries. The reason that this waiver is required is because after India's Pokhran I test, the US passed a law that barred the US from nuclear commerce with countries which had exploded a nuclear device and were defined as non-nuclear weapons countries in the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

How does the Hyde Act impact India?

The Hyde Act gives India a one time waiver and can be withdrawn by the US in case India does not abide the conditions of the Hyde Act. This includes any further tests and also a number of other issues not related to nuclear matters such as India aligning its polices with the US on foreign policy, working with the US on Iran, joining the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) that calls for illegal search and seizure operations in high seas. The US President has to report every year to the Congress on India's "good conduct" and if the US President or the US Congress is not happy, can either terminate or suspend nuclear trade with India. The Hyde Act also makes clear that India cannot get an uninterrupted fuel supply arrangement, cannot stockpile fuel and no other country can give better terms than the US in their nuclear trade with India. The Hyde Act also demanded that while India would not get uninterrupted fuel supply guarantees, it must put its civilian reactors under perpetual IAEA safeguards.

Since the Hyde Act is only an US Law, and the actual agreement with the US is the 123 Agreement, how is India is bound by the Hyde Act?

India is not bound by the Hyde Act, but the US is. For us, the 123 Agreement is a agreement with the US for supply of fuel and equipment. The key issue is how to bind the US as a supplier. The US officials are on record that the 123 Agreement ensures that all the Hyde Act conditions are met, the Government's contrary claims notwithstanding. "..we had to make sure that everything in this U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement, the 123 Agreement, was completely consistent with the Hyde Act and well within the bounds of the Hyde Act itself."(Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs ?Washington, DC ?July 27, 2007).

The US has built into the 123 Agreement that it can pull out whenever it wants: the termination clause makes clear that if either party feels consultation preceding termination will serve no purpose, they can cease further co-operation. In case the US terminates the 123 Agreement, all fuel supplies will stop and all equipment has to be returned to the US. And as per the Hyde Act, the termination clause can come into effect on a broad range of issues including India's continued links with Iran. Therefore, India can be held to ransom over fuel and spare parts for its imported reactors as it was earlier for the two reactors in Tarapur.

Since the issue is our ability to bind the US as a supplier to give guaranteed fuel supplies and spares, no Indian Act passed by Parliament -- as some are arguing -- will help.

Did not 123 Agreement and the IAEA Safeguards Agreement provide for uninterrupted fuel supplies?

The UPA and the PM had assured the country that though the Hyde Act made fuel supply conditional and barred stock piling of fuel except to meet immediate operational requirements, fuel supply assurances would be there in the 123 Agreement and also corrective measures in case of fuel failure would be addressed in the IAEA Agreement. The fuel supply assurances in the 123 Agreement have now been exposed as hollow. The IAEA was held out as the hope for corrective measures, in case fuel supply fails. It is now clear that though the IAEA Draft Safeguards Agreement has perpetual safeguards as per the Hyde Act, the so-called corrective measures are purely cosmetic. There are no corrective measures possible that include pulling Indian reactors out of safeguards once they are offered to IAEA.

Will the Deal not help in lifting sanctions on India for nuclear technology and dual use technology?

The Hyde Act and subsequently the 123 Agreement is clear that sanctions on only uranium fuel and reactors will be lifted. All other technology sanctions -- fuel enrichment, fuel reprocessing, heavy water production and other dual use technologies -- will remain. Dual use technologies are those that are used not only nuclear areas but also other applications such as aerospace, precision manufacturing, electronics, weather prediction, etc. Thus advanced technology for our industries, air crafts, rockets, etc., along with nuclear fuel cycle technology, will continue to be under sanctions. This is in contradiction to what the PM had assured the Indian Parliament.

The Fast breeder Reactors would be regarded as fuel enrichment or fuel reprocessing facilities and would not get access to any technology. Therefore, the mainstay of our future indigenous nuclear energy program will continue under technology sanctions.

Will importing nuclear plants solve our immediate power crisis?

There is a deliberate misinformation being created that nuclear plants will be a quick fix to our huge shortages and power cuts. Nuclear plants have to have detailed studies regarding where and how to put them up and take a long time to build. The import of reactors have to be negotiated commercially and their fuel has to be guaranteed. Typically, the entire process takes 8-10 years. So even if we finish all the steps required to complete the India US Nuclear Deal, it will take not less than 8-10 years before any electricity is produced. And this is an optimistic figure; the last plant that the US commissioned -- the Watts Bar 2 Reactor -- took 23 years to complete. So the belief that nuclear energy will provide an immediate solution to our power crisis is a deliberate fraud on the people.

As against this, the coal-fired plants can be built in 3 1/2- 4 years -- we can build coal-fired plants in about half the time it would take for nuclear plants. Gas fired plants can be put up even faster and with the new strikes of gas in the Kaveri Godaveri Basin, use of gas for producing power quickly is an attractive option.

What is the reason for the power crisis in the country?

This crisis of the power sector is the result of a systematic attempt by successive Governments to starve the sector of public funds hoping to make high-cost private power more acceptable to the people. Instead of investing in the power sector, the Government has gone in for privatisation of the power sector with higher prices of electricity. In the 7th Five Year Plan, we had put in about 21,000 MW; in each of the 8th, 9th and the 10th Plans, we have added less than what we added in the 7th Plan. The net result has been the increasing bankruptcy of State Electricity Boards and converting what was a shortage of the early 90's to a full-blown crisis today.

If we now have enough money for the power sector, we need then to think on the quickest and cheapest way to remove the current electricity shortages while keeping all our options open.

Will the India US Nuclear Deal provide energy security?

The India US Nuclear Deal is not about India's energy security. Energy security lies in using indigenous energy resources such as coal, gas, hydro, etc., and ensuring our future energy supplies from Iran and other countries in West and Central Asia. Obviously, augmenting indigenous coal production, building hydro plants, investing in oil exploration, securing gas supplies through Iran Gas Pipeline are much more important for India's energy security than buying imported reactors and importing uranium for such nuclear plants.

If we do want to build nuclear power plants, we can also build these indigenously. The original three-phase nuclear energy program was based on indigenous fuel and indigenous technology and can give us nuclear energy without making us dependent on imported uranium and imported reactors.

The Government is pushing hard for immediately importing 40,000 MW of Light Water Reactors. Such a scenario would make India completely dependent on imported uranium, which is controlled by a small international cartel. It because of this cartel that the price of uranium has gone up by five times in the last few years. The US, which controls the uranium cartel, would be therefore able to dictate its terms as it will have a stranglehold over these 40,000 MW of nuclear plants.

What are the relative costs of building nuclear plants and coal fired ones?

The nuclear plants -- if we take the cost of imported reactors -- are about three times (Rs. 10-12 crore per MW) the cost of coal-fired plants (Rs. 4 crore per MW). Simply put, with the same amount of money, we can install three coal-fired plants against one nuclear plant of the same size. If we want to install 40,000 MW by 2020 with imported nuclear plants as the Government wants to do, with the same amount of money it can build 100,000 MW of coal fired plants, that too in half the time.

The French company Areva is building a new 1600 MW nuclear plant in Finland. When the estimates were made, Areva had given estimates of $ 2,000 per KW. By the time the plant was ordered, it had gone up about $ 2,800 per KW. Currently, the costs have already shot up to a mammoth $ 6.1 billion or almost $ 4,000 per KW. This is four times the cost of coal-fired plants and also more than twice that of indigenous nuclear plants built by Nuclear Power Corporation. At these costs, even solar energy using solar thermal plants would be competitive!

What are the comparative costs of electricity from nuclear and coal-fired plants?

The cost of electricity from imported nuclear plants is high because of the high capital cost. Even without including de-commissioning costs, storage of spent fuel indefinitely, etc., the cost of electricity from imported nuclear plants will be more than Rs. 5.00 per unit as against about Rs. 2.00 to 2.50 from coal-fired plants. The cost of electricity is therefore at least twice that from coal fired plants.

For those who might remember the Enron case, would know that at that time, India was pushed to accept expensive private power only to help Enron. Once Enron started to produce power, its cost of Rs.5-7 per unit sank the Maharashtra State Electricity Board. If a 2,000 MW Enron plant sank the largest State Electricity Board in the country -- the impact of pushing high cost 40,000 MW of nuclear energy using imported reactors, as the Government wants to do, may well be imagined.

How much can nuclear energy contribute to our energy needs?

Even if we decide to invest heavily in nuclear energy, its contribution to our total energy needs is of limited importance. India has installed capacity of 143,000 MW currently and is slated to raise this to 700,000 to 800,000 MW by 2032. Coal currently meets about 66% of our electricity generation. In this nuclear energy is only 3% of current capacity electricity generating capacity and will at best reach a figure of 8% by 2032. The primary energy source for India will remain coal, which we have in adequate quantities for the next 100 years.

Is there a nuclear renaissance in the world as the Government is claiming?

Nuclear power is not the energy of choice for most advanced countries. Nuclear renaissance is a hype created by the nuclear industry in the US, Western Europe and Japan. In all these countries, the total number of nuclear plants currently being built is only 3. This is against 20 new plants being commissioned every year in the heydays of nuclear energy in these countries.

The US itself has commissioned its last reactor in 1996 and has not licensed a new reactor now for more than 27 years. Its interest in supplying India with reactors is in order to revive its own dying nuclear equipment industry, which has yet to secure a single order in the US despite the promise of billions of dollars in subsidies from the Bush Administration.

It is in order to bail out its dying nuclear industry that the US is so keen that India sign on the Nuclear Deal. Condoleezza Rice, testifying before Senate Foreign Relations Committee (April 5, 2006), pointed out the importance of the Deal for the US, "The initiative may add as many as three to 5,000 new direct jobs in the United States and about 10,000 to 15,000 indirect jobs in the United States, as the United States is able to engage in nuclear commerce and trade with India."

Is there a serious uranium shortage in the country for which we need this Nuclear Deal?

The Department of Atomic Energy has always maintained that we have enough indigenous uranium for 10,000 MW of nuclear power for 30 years. We are not yet close to that number. The present mismatch in uranium availability for operating reactors is a consequence of poor planning, and inadequate prospecting and mining. If we focus on our know uranium deposits and prospect for new ones, there will be enough uranium for a robust indigenous nuclear power programme.

It is because of a smaller availability of indigenous uranium that the 3-phase program started under Homi Bhabha, envisaged Fast Breeder Reactors. Breeder reactors can produce 50 times more energy from the same amount of uranium. This program also planned to use thorium, which we have in abundance. India is a world leader in Fast Breeder technology and is very near to commercialising it. It is not surprising that this is precisely the time that people who have put India under nuclear sanctions for the last 30 years are now talking about making India a member of the nuclear club. A simple objective is to get India to give up its quest for independence in nuclear technology and fuel.

Will nuclear energy address the issue of global warming?

The Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change, the most authoritative body on climate change has made clear that nuclear energy will have only a marginal impact on global warming. That is simply because its total contribution to the energy needs of the world would be relatively insignificant, even if we consider a very ambitious nuclear energy program. Therefore, the major thrust for reducing greenhouse gases would be greater energy efficiency, public transport, thrust for renewable energy sources and clean coal technologies.

Cynically, the US has been advancing the reduction of India's greenhouse gases as an argument for the India US Nuclear Deal. Nicholas Burns writes, "This agreement will deepen the strategic partnership, create new opportunities for U.S. businesses in India, enhance global energy security, and reduce India's carbon emissions" (Foreign Affairs, Nov/Dec 2007). It is strange that this argument is being advanced when India's per capita emissions are one twentieth that of the US, which has yet to accept a cap on its own greenhouse emissions. The US position is that if the world is endangered by greenhouse emissions, it is countries such as India and China that need to limit their emissions. For the US, no reduction of greenhouse gases is possible; George Bush senior expressed this quite clearly, "American lifestyles are not open to negotiations".

Will investing heavily in nuclear energy reduce our dependence on imported oil and therefore reduce the burden of rising oil price?

Oil and gas, in primary energy terms, are much more important than nuclear as they are already about 45% of our primary energy demand. Oil alone is about 35% of our primary energy demand of which more than 50% is in the transport sector -- cars, buses and trucks and the rest in petrochemicals and fertilizers. Nuclear energy, in contrast is only 1.5% of our primary energy demand. Only a negligible amount of oil -- less than 3% of the total oil consumption -- is used in the power plants. Nuclear energy cannot be used as a substitute for oil except for this 3%; unless the Government experts have found a new way to burn uranium directly in cars and buses!

Though nuclear energy cannot be used in transport, natural gas can -- as we can see in the large number of buses and cars that run on CNG in Delhi. It is indeed strange that the Government, faced with a huge and ever rising oil bill, should focus on the nuclear deal while ignoring the Iran Gas Pipeline project, which will partly insulate India from oil price shocks. It only makes sense if we understand that one of the objectives of the US is to de-link India from Iran through the nuclear deal. "Diversifying India's energy sector will help it to meet its ever increasing needs and more importantly, ease its reliance on hydrocarbons and unstable sources like Iran. This is good for the United States." (Condoleezza Rice, testifying before Senate Foreign Relations Committee, April 5, 2006).

About 13,000 MW of gas-fired plants are partially idling as we also have a shortage of gas in the country. If we had gone ahead with the LNG or the Iran Pipeline project, we could have removed some of the electricity shortage we have in the country today.

How is the nuclear deal related to the India US Strategic ties?

The Nuclear Deal is a part of a larger vision which seeks to subordinate India to the US's strategic vision. For the last two years, the Government has been taking a number of steps that align India to the US's strategic interests. It is known that the US strategic thinking calls for dominance in all possible theatres. In Asia, the US has been handicapped that it has only one major base -- Okinawa, Japan -- in East, South-east and South Asia. The only other base it has in this region is in the Indian Ocean in Diego Garcia. That is why the US's interest in making India as a junior partner in Asia.

One of the major steps was signing of the New Framework for India-US Defence Relationship in Washington on June 28, 2005, just prior to Bush Manmohan Singh Agreement of July 18, 2005. In the Agreement, it is stated, "U.S.-India defence relationship derives from a common belief in freedom, democracy, and the rule of law, and seeks to advance shared security interests". Considering that the Iraq invasion was justified by the US as "bringing democracy to West Asia", a reference to a shared belief in "democracy and rule of law" cannot be acceptable to the Indian people. The Defence Framework Agreement is also sweeping in its scope; it envisages a host of strategic and military relations -- joint exercises, joint planning, joint operations, and defence procurement. India has also joined in with the US, Japan and Australia (or what is called the trilateral nations) for naval exercises in the Bay of Bengal, as a part of this.

The Manmohan Singh Bush agreement was followed immediately by India's two votes against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA). Senator Lugar in his opening remarks in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had noted, approvingly, "We have already seen strategic benefits from our improving relationship with India. India's votes at the IAEA on the Iran issue last September and this past February demonstrate that New Delhi is able and willing to adjust its traditional foreign policies and play a constructive role on international issues." Manmohan Singh's oft-repeated claims that India's foreign policy would not change due to this Deal, is not borne out by his Governments' record, especially when the US officials are busy selling the agreement to the US Congress on the strategic value of India aligning with the US as a consequence of this agreement.

Currently, the Manmohan Singh Government is negotiating a Logistics and Service Agreement. It essentially allows refuelling and complete access to Indian facilities for all US ships and aircraft. The US navy can bomb Iraq and Iran and then come to India's ports for rest, recreation and refuelling, before going back for another round of hostilities. Step by step, from a vote against Iran, we are now to become hosts to the US navy in US-Israel military misadventures in West Asia.

Launching the TecSar spy satellite for Israel, which is being used to plan military attacks on Iran and Syria, show the depth of the strategic ties that India already has developed with Israel. India is not only Israel's biggest arm-buyer, it also buys more arms from the Israeli arms industry than the Israeli defence forces.

The Logistics and Service Agreement as well as the Defence Framework Agreement have also requirements of "interoperability". This calls for both sides to have the same equipment so that military personnel of both sides can use each other's equipment and operate better together. This also means spares can be shared by the two sides. That is why such agreements invariably lead to buying of US arms, particularly expensive aircraft and missiles. Billions of dollars of aircraft and missile sales is now in the offing -- F16 Aircraft, missile systems and ships.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Open Mike 22: "the deal" (discussion)

Thursday Open Mike 22 (now on Tuesday)
Topic: Indo-US Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, aka "the deal"
July 22, 2008 [Tuesday]
@ 8PM in Gaurav's House.
1781 Spyglass Drive, #244
Austin TX 78746

Participants: Gaurav, Murali

Here is a broad summary of what we discussed:

* the status of the deal (the UPA govt had won the trust vote, the politicians had largely failed to distinguish themselves in the debate though), the sordid and blatant corruption deals in the attempts to achieve the success or failure of the trust motion etc.

* does India need more nuclear power? the power shortage is real and important. but what about other alternatives - coal, oil, gas, hydel, wind, solar? and then we discussed how the govt could instead incentivize innovation and local production/consumption of cleaner energy like wind and solar through subsidies that would cost far less than nuclear plant construction. and contribute to more sustainable development initiatives like "green" (less-energy intensive) farming, construction, public transport etc.

* safety issues surrounding the operation of nuclear power plants and disposal of radioactive wastes: and we also discussed how these concerns are heightened in a poor country like India where human rights are much less important than developed nations like the US where human rights and safety are given a lot more prominence. If the Bhopal gas victims still have no justice, then why will a possible radiation leak disaster be any different?

* the rise of Mayawati and what that may mean: one interesting consequence of the whole trust vote saga has been the elevation to prominence of Mayawati, a dalit woman. How important this is can be gleaned by Laloo's quote during the debate (paraphrased): "...why are all these people saying Mayawati for PM? Will the upper-caste BJP ever support a dalit woman as PM?". We also talked about how our first reaction to Mayawati is usually that of a megalomaniacal woman and that is typically the only image portrayed by the media, and perhaps the truth is a lot more complex. In any case, having a dalit in the PM can at worst, only continue the status quo, and at best, can achieve a lot for the uplift of oppressed people.

An excellent article on how earth-shaking this rise of Mayawati is by MK Bhadrakumar, a format Indian diplomat:

History never ceases to surprise. What began as the "Great Middle East" strategy in the minds of a neo-conservative Connecticut Yankee from Texas may end up in the democratization of India. Yes, paradoxically, the legacy of the George W Bush era for South Asia may turn out to be that the 60-year old democratization process in India took a quantum leap.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Indo-US nuclear deal: the nucleus of Manmohan's governance

The nuclear deal with USA is at the core of all decisions taken by the current UPA government. For better or for worse. The story goes that the RTI and NREGA bills were passed by the UPA govt. on the insistence of the Left for the price of Left's support for the nuclear deal. The multi-industry commission responsible for creation of SEZs and further deals/subsidies with/for US corporations (like Dow Chemicals, for eg.) are also purported to be part of the nuclear deal negotiations. Irrespective of the motivations of the government, how useful is this deal to India and her people?

[1] The hoax of nuclear power
By Prof. Dipanjan Rai Chaudhuri
Prof. Rai Chaudhuri writes that nuclear energy is not a long term feasible energy source for India and argues that the Indo-US Nuclear deal is perpetuating this hoax. Prof. Rai Chaudhuri (now retired) is the former head of physics department at Presidency College, Kolkatta and has been active in civil rights movements in West Bengal for over two decades.
[2] Wrong Ends, Means, and Needs: Behind the U.S. Nuclear Deal With India
By Zia Mian and M.V.Ramana
The deal also will create the potential for the rapid buildup of a much larger Indian nuclear arsenal. It will bail out a failing Indian nuclear energy program that has had little regard either for the economics or the environmental and health consequences of its activities. It is also likely to offer little real benefit to India’s poor. It is not often that so much harm may be done to so many by so few.

Zia Mian is a research scientist in the program on science and global security at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School and M. V. Ramana is a faculty member at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment and Development in Bangalore, India.
[3] Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain both FOR the US-India nuclear deal
This article about the state of the US-India nuclear deal from the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. The U.S.-India nuclear deal has been delayed since last summer, when India and the International Atomic Energy Agency negotiated a safeguards agreement. The Bush administration continues to pressure the Indian government to act on the nuclear deal in an effort to salvage what was to be one of President Bush's foreign policy achievements. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden (D-DE) warned in February that the deal must come before the U.S. Senate by June 2008 in order to win congressional approval this year. The question remains about the future of a civil nuclear agreement between the United States and India under the next U.S. administration.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Open Mike 22: Indo-US Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, aka "the deal"

[posting from Murali's message on the groups]

Folks, we will have our next open mike session tomorrow, please try to make it.

Thursday Open Mike 22 (now on Tuesday)
Topic: Indo-US Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, aka "the deal"
July 22, 2008 [Tuesday]
@ 8PM in Gaurav's House.
1781 Spyglass Drive, #244
Austin TX 78746

This topic seems particularly appropriate now, with Manmohan Singh deciding that he is the PM of this one issue instead of the country and the myriad difficulties facing poor Indians, and with widespread opposition to the proposed "deal" based on a variety of reasons including ideology, patriotism, tactics (the way it is being concluded) and pure opportunism.

The issue has come to a head now with the Parliament debating the various arguments around nuclear cooperation with US and other countries as laid out by the agreement draft and the government has asked for a confidence motion (failing which, the government falls and new elections happen).

Some links below.

[1] Introduction and details about "the deal"

The Indo-US nuclear deal is the name commonly attributed to a bilateral pact between the United States of America and the Republic of India under which the United States will provide India access to civilian nuclear technology and fuel in exchange for IAEA-safeguards on India's civilian nuclear reactors.

An overview:

The 123 Agreement:

Draft version of India-IAEA Safeguards Agreement:

An archive of news, opinions, discussions and interviews:

[2] The trust vote in Parliament (voting is expected today so should be interesting to discuss this part as well)

A breathless archive of information, conjecture, gossip and astrology

[3] How democratic is India really?

(a) Various reports in the previous link suggest that different bribes were offered to and accepted by the MPs.

(b) Regardless of the corruption, does the Parliament's opinion or trust vote actually matter for the deal?

On July 20, 2005 -- that is, two days after Prime Minister Singh and US President George Bush issued a joint statement about the Indo-US nuclear deal -- Dr Singh addressed a press conference in Washington before returning to India. Smita Prakash of Asian News International asked him a pointed and prescient question: 'Mr Prime Minister, do you see any resistance coming forward from your allies and the opposition in putting the new India-US policy to practice? And will you seek a parliamentary consensus or approval to the new direction you seem to be taking in foreign policy?'

Dr Singh's reply was categorical, and befitting the prime minister of the world's largest democracy. 'Well, the Parliament in our country is sovereign,' he said. 'It goes without saying that we can move forward only on the basis of a broad national consensus.'

But look at the downhill road Dr Singh has traversed from then to July 20, 2008. Today is there a 'broad national consensus' in India in support of the Indo-US nuclear deal? No sane person can give an affirmative answer. And yet the PM has chosen to 'move forward' on the nuclear deal.

To know how far, indeed, he has moved forward by flouting his own assurance of adhering to the 'broad national consensus', it is instructive to refer to a front-page report by Radhika Ramaseshan in The Telegraph, Kolkata, on July 16. Titled 'Sink or survive, deal done', and quoting 'a highly placed official', the report said: 'The deal is 'done', whether the UPA survives the trust vote or not. The safeguards agreement, to be put before nuclear watchdog IAEA's board of governors at a special August 1 meeting, would stay on course, unaffected by politics back home...

(c) One-issue PM

(d) "Amend constitution to enable public debate" by Medha Patkar, Aruna Roy and Sandeep Pandey

[4] Nuclear power: does India need it?

(a) "if we do not do it now, history will not forgive us"

(b) Environmental concerns

(c) Economics of nuclear power plants


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Open Mike 21: Media - Trends, Role, etc.

Thursday Open Mike 21 (now on Tuesday)
Topic: Media - Trends, Role, etc.
July 8, 2008 [Tuesday]
@ 8PM in Gaurav's House.
1781 Spyglass Drive, #244
Austin TX 78746

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Open Mike 20: Sex education for children

Thursday Open Mike 20 (now on Tuesday)
Topic: Sex education for children
July 1, 2008 [Tuesday]
@ 8PM in Gaurav's House.
1781 Spyglass Drive, #244
Austin TX 78746

Friday, June 27, 2008

Sex education in schools (links)


I hit upon this discussion forum on India together.

At various points I have witnessed discussions on ideas like pre-marital sex, sensuality and its relation to Indian culture. Divorce rates are used as an indicator to show breakdown of cultural ethos and the traditional family by conservatives while liberals see it as a gauge of independence or rights.

Here are more articles/reading material I found:

1. HIV/AIDS awareness and discrimination of HIV +ve children (This is related to sex education, because teachers are themselves perpetrators of such discrimination and are insensitive to the realities of the disease)

2. Child Sexual Abuse (A taboo topic anywhere in India. But, work done by Thulir show how it can be battled. They are one of the few organizations struggling against this issue. The education aspects that they focus on are for 'parents', 'teachers' and finally 'students')

3. Articles on 'Sex education and state/moral action against it'

4. What is Sex education?
Here is a doctor's advice for parents on tough questions -

5. A more comprehensive article on India together on 'Sex Education' -


A recent report in Indian Express about a survey by International Institute of Population Sciences (IIPS), Mumbai and Population Council, New Delhi: February 19, 2008
Youth want Sex Education: Survey Study by IIPS reveals lack of comprehensive knowledge about HIV/AIDS

An article on Sex Education in AVERT website (charity organization that works on AIDS/HIV in Africa and India)


I knew that sex abuse of minors in India is fairly common, but had no idea it was this prevalent, from http://www.indiatogether.org/2005/dec/edu-notaboo.htm:

The Delhi-based Sakshi Violation Intervention Centre in a 1997 study that interviewed 350 school children, found that 63 per cent of the girl respondents had been sexually abused by a family member; 25 per cent raped, and over 30 per cent sexually abused by the father, grandfather or a male friend of the family. A 1999 study by the Mumbai-based Tata Institute of Social Sciences revealed that 58 of the 150 girls interviewed had been raped before they were 10 years old. RAHI, a Delhi-based organisation that provides support to victims of sexual abuse, reports that of the 1,000 upper and higher-middle class college students interviewed, 76 per cent had been abused as children, 31 per cent by someone known to the family and 40 per cent by a family member, and 50 per cent of them before the age of 12.

When surveys consistently reveal that more than 50% of girl children are sexually abused, it is astounding that so many men have gotten away with this. And the fact that this remains suppressed means that mothers and other female relatives, by their silence and inaction on this, are in effect accomplices for these crimes.

We should really fight for including meaningful sex education (being careful not to bring in wishy-washy stuff about Indian culture and pre-marital sex, or the dangers of "unnatural" sex etc). But even before that, we should ask Asha, AID etc to talk seriously about these issues to all schools they work with and see if extra lessons for sex education can be imparted...


Here is a link on how victims of child sex abuse are helped in the US (http://darkness2light.org/GetHelp/child-sexual-abuse-resources.asp)
The adults have a huge responsibility in the prevention of this crime (http://www.darkness2light.org/KnowAbout/adults_responsible.asp)


Anita and I had visited Puvidham in May. Including some parts from the report:
... We next went to the hostel. There was a caretaker, a teacher and an elder student working on cleaning and drying some of the organic produce. The hostel itself is a two-story building. The girls are in the lower floor and the boys in the upper. The staircase runs from inside the first room. Given that there are adolescents among both the boys and girls this a remarkable setup. Organizations have had a lot of trouble with the elder boys and girls staying at the same location. Usually, organizations try to introduce morality and a sense that all the people living in the organization are their brothers and sisters, etc, but this rarely works. I found the approach adopted by Meenakshi of treating the elder children as adults, talking about the changes and hormones in their body openly and placing the trust on the children as refreshingly mature and felt happy that this approach has worked well in these hostels...

Organic Manure and Humanure (links)


Here is an inspiring documentary about breakthroughs in protecting the environment by transforming waste back into food/raw material, we can watch tomorrow. http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2007/05/15/18416351.php
Brief Description about this documentary:
In the early 90s, the American "green" architect William McDonough and German "green" chemist Michael Braungart teamed up to realise the Waste = Food principle in man-made products. They replace the old maxim "Cradle to Grave" with the new principle of "Cradle to Cradle", meaning that all products must be completely biodegradable in the biosphere and serve as food for the natural organisms there, and that all non-degradable material must be able to be used as high-quality raw material for new products in the techno-sphere.

They took their ideas regarding global waste problems to the Ford Motor Company, NIKE and the rapidly developing China. They helped Ford transform their heavily polluted manufacturing sites into green areas that are safe enough for children to play in. Due to their encouragement, NIKE has designed toxin-free running shoes that can be completely recycled. McDonough and Braungart were also invited to China to develop China's first ecologically sustainable model village.


I am currently reading Cradle to Cradle. It is a very interesting book.

Any links for organic waste disposal and humanure?
http://www.yesmagazine.org/article.asp?id=2102 (posted on an Asha group)

Found a free book on Humanure for those interested -

Quoting Sanjeev from his post on another list -

Fundamentally, the concept of organic "waste" is an urban bane. It is
not necessarily an issue in rural India and even in places that it is,
the solutions are not necessarily what we get forced to use in the
cities (or locations with very limited space, no organic recycling,

There are a couple of solutions that have worked in the field:

1) one, are dry composting toilets.
2) gobar gas plants are capable of not just taking animal waste, but
humans one as well (through how the slurry is treated before it can be
used in the fields is different).

Humanure is a tricky subject to work on, because fundamentally it is a
taboo topic in our society. To work in this area requires
understanding of issues and conditions at a broad level. The two
biggest issues to solving the problem may not be the implementation,
but being able to look at the problem at a larger scale than making it
someone else's problem i.e. being able to think beyond what we have
seen all our lives (fighting against our conditioning that tells us
that what we have done is the only "good" way). Then, if we able to
work out a solution, being able to work with others to use it. This is
difficult in a village as people are looking up to us to understand
what is the "the good life" which is automatically interpreted as a
good city life with amenities including flushing your problems down
away from your habitat.

Here's a really interesting article on composting. We just set up areas in our backyard to compost this weekend and the reduction in waste is a little astounding. This guide has definitely helped answer a lot of questions. We didn't use a specialized composting bin or anything just metal stakes and chicken wire.


Putting organic waste (from the kitchen) down the garbage disposal also poses another set of issues, since it takes so much more water to grind it up and then this slush has to be treated to extract the water from it. No idea where/how the remaining waste is disposed.

More links related to gender discussion


Another interesting article/op-ed on the gender issue in the Guardian:

So angry I could strip!

Its about sexual harassment of women, whistling and lewd behavior/comments at women in the UK and New Zealand etc.

the girlification of women that should have been one of the first obstacles to fall in the battle for emancipation has instead proved one of the most difficult to budge. We may well be proud of our achievements in the workplace and in the political sphere, but at the first mention of our looks or at the slightest suggestion that we're "putting on a bit of weight", all that progress falls by the wayside.

As Mary Wollstonecraft said: "Taught from infancy that beauty is woman's sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison."

The article and associated forum bring up a variety of issues and viewpoints related to sexual harassment. For instance,

- How do different men and women think about 'whisting' or 'staring lewdly'? The forum throws up some wildly differently answers among both men and women.

- Are women or men thinking about women more concerned about beauty than intellect? Why is beauty only (or mostly) applied to women?

- Which leads more towards women spending a lot of time and money on cosmetics and other beauty products: expectations from men or peer pressure from other women?

- One traditional (IMO, patriarchal) viewpoint has it that sexual harassment increases with women who are not metaphorically wearing a burqa covering head to toe: like in the words of one commenter in the forum, "If women stroll around half naked then obviously men are gonna have a look." We talked about this briefly and we all agreed that this 'blame the victim' attitude is wrong but I think this merits more discussion: primarily because this view is held by an overwhelming majority of people.

- So is liberation for women at all possible if beauty and looking good is so important among women?

- And the point that the article itself brings about: "what can women do about these (sexual harassment) incidents?" The Israeli tourist in the article stripped naked as an extreme expression of her disgust, but as people who are concerned about the issue, what can and should we do to make the situation better for women who come across our lives or across the world? If walking by a road in India, you see a bunch of inebriated guys "eve-teasing" or even passing lewd comments at a woman, what would you do? This is not an uncommon happening in India, and by the likes of it, in most of the first world also.


Came across this incredible montage of some shocking clips of sexism in CNN, Fox, MSNBC and CNBC during the recent Democratic primaries, and interspersed with some inspiring quotes from past activists:

And an interesting comparison of that video and the Sex and the City movie:

Women in Charge, Women who Charge, by Judith Warner


Vatican announces to excommunicate woman priests:

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Open Mike 17: The Conflict of Kashmir

Update: This topic has been postponed. Discussion on gender stereotypes continued in this session.

Thursday Open Mike 17 (now on Tuesday)
Topic: The Conflict of Kashmir
June 3, 2008 [Tuesday]
@ 8PM in Gaurav's House.
1781 Spyglass Drive, #244
Austin TX 78746

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

More gender links...

[1] An Associated Press article on anonymous rape tests. This is now prevalent in some parts of India too (with some NGOs). The idea is that women (mostly, but not necessarily) who are victims of assault, rape, battery, etc. who may not be open to talking about it and giving a deposition in court, now have the facility of anonymous deposition. They provide their witness statement right after the crime, and the statement is sealed and hidden away, until such time as when the victim might want to open up the case, and actually pursue it.

[2] The way things were (are?)! "The Good Wife's Guide" from The Housekeeping Monthly, 13 May 1955.
(Click on the image for a larger version)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Racism in the world and fighting it

Related to our discussion a few weeks back on racism and affirmative action, here's an excellent article called 'Fighting Racism Globally' by Girish Mishra:


The article offers a high-level view of racism, the various kinds of racism ("individual, structural and ideological"), history of racism etc in various countries in the world, including casteism in India, and provides many examples of racism institutionalized in society even today. For instance,

a study prepared in 2003 that there was widespread discrimination against candidates for jobs on the basis of their names, which were perceived as "sounding black"

Also interestingly, some of the policies meant for affirmative action may infact achieve the opposite result if not correctly implemented. Policies adopted for prompt payment of loans and subsidies for black farmers ended up in extensive racial discrimination:

"In 1999, African-American farmers won a major civil rights settlement against the United States Department of Agriculture. They argued that the loans and subsidies they received were substantially lower than those for comparable white farmers. What made matters worse was the fact that Reagan-era budget cuts closed the U. S. D. A.'s civil rights office for 13 years, so most of the complaints filed during that time were never heard. To its credit, the department conducted an internal investigation and discovered that racial discrimination had not only occurred but had also been structurally and historically embedded in its operations.

Mishra then talks about the various efforts undertaken globally to fight racism, including UN conventions and declarations adopted, and the effects they have had. He also takes on some of the views of Samuel Huntington, currently leading barely-concealed racist theories against Hispanics, and shows how in general, the most successful societies have always been multi-racist and multi-cultural...

And argues that "
there is a close connection between the struggle against racism and the fight against poverty.and for social, economic and cultural uplift of the people at large", which implies that current neo-liberalization and globalization trends further aggravate racial disparities.

Worth a read.

Open Mike 16: Working for society? or just social networking?

Thursday Open Mike 16 (now on Tuesday)
Topic: Public organizations like Asha, AID, Vibha: Charities, or Socio-economic empowering, or merely Social?
May 27, 2008 [Tuesday]
@ 8PM in Gaurav's House.
1781 Spyglass Drive, #244
Austin TX 78746

Monday, May 19, 2008

Open Mike 15: Gender bias, stereotypes, and sensitization [India] - II

Thursday Open Mike 15 (now on Tuesday)
Topic: Gender bias, stereotypes and sensitization (India) - II
May 20, 2008 [Tuesday]
@ 8PM in Gaurav's House.
1781 Spyglass Drive, #244
Austin TX 78746

Monday, May 12, 2008

Open Mike 14: Gender bias, stereotypes, and sensitization [India] - I

Thursday Open Mike 14 (now on Tuesday)
Topic: Gender bias, stereotypes and sensitization (India) - I
May 13, 2008 [Tuesday]
@ 8PM in Gaurav's House.
1781 Spyglass Drive, #244
Austin TX 78746

Open Mike 14: Gender bias, stereotypes, and sensitization [India] (links)

Here are links for tomorrow's topic. Many of the links here deal with the issue at a larger scale -- societal level, national level etc. One thing that we could also focus on, at the meeting tomorrow, is these issues at a more personal (individual) level.

[1] My favorite one: Gloria Steinem's famous speech -- "If Men Could Menstruate" http://www.haverford.edu/psych/ddavis/p109g/steinem.menstruate.html

[2] A UNICEF report (one of many in the State of the World's Children series) on Women Politicians, Gender Bias, and Policy-making in Rural India. By Lori Beaman, Esther Duflo, Rohini Pande, and Petia Topalova. http://www.unicef.org/sowc07/docs/beaman_duflo_pande_topalova.pdf This report is rather academic in its structure and methods of analysis, but there are interesting charts at the very end.

[3] India Together links:
  1. Seven markers for gender balance -- indicators to assess gender sensitivity in governance, set up by the Center for Women's Development Studies
  2. Who is a feminist? Paromita Vohra's film Unlimited Girls explores the ideas and experiences of feminism in contemporary urban India
  3. Long and arduous road -- Educationists and social scientists are increasingly veering around to the view that persistent gender biases are rooted in India's failed education system. As a result, the search for gender parity must begin with guaranteed access to quality education for all.
  4. What happens to girls? -- Despite quality education, the mindset of people is not changing in this country
  5. Sexual harassment at work -- a practical guide
  6. Raw deal for women journalists -- The recently released `Status of Women Journalists in India' report, commissioned by the National Commission for Women presents a disturbing picture of women journalists
  7. Girls without power -- Despite islands of progress and even a paradoxical government-run success, the larger picture of girls' education and their empowerment is dismal. There is an enormous gap between fact and paper fiction, and the task for feminists and activists is cut out
  8. A newborn's first right -- Less than 50 per cent of girl child births are being registered by parents because of gender bias, says former Census Commissioner Jayant Banthia, speaking at a Panchayats and Child Rights convention recently at New Delhi
  9. Are girl students safe? - - The fleeting attention that is given to the rape of a girl in school hides the systematic harassment and violence that so many are subjected to - an important reason why girls drop out of the education system around the age of puberty
  10. Barriers to girls' education -- We should not be too quick to attribute low literacy among girls to poverty alone. A number of other factors are just as responsible
  11. Her mind, her country -- The State Council for Educational Research and Training in Delhi has taken a surprisingly different approach in its preparation of text books for students in classes 6-8 (gender sensitivity in curricula)
[4] Times Foundation has a collected set of links:
  1. Literature on gender sensitization
  2. Downloadable resources on Women's rights, etc. (mostly PDFs)
  3. An article on Women's Entitlement to Property
  4. Report of the Workshop on Gender Justice : Forging Partnership with Law Enforcement Agencies by Dr. Poornima Advani from National Commission for Women
[5] Gender bias perspectives from the developing world factsheet

[6] Gender and Language
  1. Gender bias in an Indian language by G. Sankaranarayanan, in the Language in India journal (link to the online version) [the language in this article is Tamil]
  2. Undoing gender stereotypes in Hindi by Anjali Pande
[7] A report on India Gender Profile by Bridge Institute of Development Studies. This report is more factual (factsheet) than anything else

[8] Gender stereotyping in advertising -- Majority advertisements featuring children show boys in diverse, challenging and macho roles while girls are portrayed in a more streotyped and objectified manner

[9] Promoting Gender Equity in Community Institutions: Evidence from Indigenous Communities in Western India by Kalpana Jain and Nihal Jain (pdf link)

[10] Gender stereotypes: Representation of men and women in Indian mass media -- a paper by Krishna Pokharel from Center for Civil Societies

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Open Mike 13: US Fed, money matters, and the war in Iraq

Thursday Open Mike 13 (now on Tuesday)
Topic: US Fed, money matters, and the war in Iraq
May 6, 2008 [Tuesday]
@ 8PM in Gaurav's House.
1781 Spyglass Drive, #244
Austin TX 78746

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Open Mike 12: Universal Health Care

In open mike 12, we watched the PBS Frontline documentary Sick Around the World. Go to http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/sickaroundtheworld/ to watch the documentary as well to follow other links and analysis.

In short, the documentary traces (very successful implementations of) universal health care in 5 countries (England, Japan, Germany, Taiwan, and Switzerland) and summarizes three key points of learning from all these systems:
  • Insurance companies must accept everyone (with or without pre-existing conditions) and cannot make a profit on basic care.
  • Everybody is mandated to buy insurance, and the government pays the premium for the poor.
  • Doctors and hospitals have to accept one standard set of fixed prices.
The entire capitalist world criticized (and continues to do so) when Nehru famously called profit a dirty word. However, the world's most successful universal health care implementations in the richest capitalist countries, seem to be based on the tenet of eliminating profit in the business of basic health care! Sweet Irony!

A description of the documentary from the PBS site follows:

In Sick Around the World, FRONTLINE teams up with veteran Washington Post foreign correspondent T.R. Reid to find out how five other capitalist democracies -- the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Taiwan and Switzerland -- deliver health care, and what the United States might learn from their successes and their failures.

Reid's first stop is the U.K., where the government-run National Health Service (NHS) is funded through taxes. "Every single person who's born in the U.K. will use the NHS," says Whittington Hospital CEO David Sloman, "and none of them will be presented a bill at any point during that time." Often dismissed in America as "socialized medicine," the NHS is now trying some free-market tactics like "pay-for-performance," where doctors are paid more if they get good results controlling chronic diseases like diabetes. And now patients can choose where they go for medical procedures, forcing hospitals to compete head to head.

While such initiatives have helped reduce waiting times for elective surgeries, Times of London health editor Nigel Hawkes thinks the NHS hasn't made enough progress. "We're now in a world in which people are much more demanding, and I think that the NHS is not very effective at delivering in that modern, market-orientated world."

Reid reports next from Japan, which boasts the second largest economy and the best health statistics in the world. The Japanese go to the doctor three times as often as Americans, have more than twice as many MRI scans, use more drugs, and spend more days in the hospital. Yet Japan spends about half as much on health care per capita as the United States.

One secret to Japan's success? By law, everyone must buy health insurance -- either through an employer or a community plan -- and, unlike in the U.S., insurers cannot turn down a patient for a pre-existing illness, nor are they allowed to make a profit.

Reid's journey then takes him to Germany, the country that invented the concept of a national health care system. For its 80 million people, Germany offers universal health care, including medical, dental, mental health, homeopathy and spa treatment. Professor Karl Lauterbach, a member of the German parliament, describes it as "a system where the rich pay for the poor and where the ill are covered by the healthy." As they do in Japan, medical providers must charge standard prices. This keeps costs down, but it also means physicians in Germany earn between half and two-thirds as much as their U.S. counterparts.

In the 1990s, Taiwan researched many health care systems before settling on one where the government collects the money and pays providers. But the delivery of health care is left to the market. Every person in Taiwan has a "smart card" containing all of his or her relevant health information, and bills are paid automatically. But the Taiwanese are spending too little to sustain their health care system, according to Princeton's Tsung-mei Cheng, who advised the Taiwanese government. "As we speak, the government is borrowing from banks to pay what there isn't enough to pay the providers," she told FRONTLINE.

Reid's last stop is Switzerland, a country which, like Taiwan, set out to reform a system that did not cover all its citizens. In 1994, a national referendum approved a law called LAMal ("the sickness"), which set up a universal health care system that, among other things, restricted insurance companies from making a profit on basic medical care. The Swiss example shows health care reform is possible, even in a highly capitalist country with powerful insurance and pharmaceutical companies.

Today, Swiss politicians from the right and left enthusiastically support universal health care. "Everybody has a right to health care," says Pascal Couchepin, the current president of Switzerland. "It is a profound need for people to be sure that if they are struck by destiny ... they can have a good health system."

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Open Mike 12: Universal Health Care

Thursday Open Mike 12 (now on Tuesday)
Topic: Universal Health Care
April 29, 2008 [Tuesday]
@ 8PM in Gaurav's House.
1781 Spyglass Drive, #244
Austin TX 78746

Monday, April 21, 2008

Open Mike 11: Global Food Crisis (links)

From Gaurav on the mailing list:

For the topic of discussion- how about a discussion on the current global food crisis -

"The head of the United Nations' world food program says "a perfect storm" is hitting hungry people around the globe. The cost of food is soaring. Food riots have broken out in Indonesia, Pakistan, and Egypt, where the price of bread rose 10 times in a week. Afghanistan has asked for urgent help. Forty countries are judged to be at risk of serious hunger, or already suffering from it.

Here in America the number of people using food stamps is projected to be the highest since the program began in the 1960s."

1. The World Food Crisis - http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/10/opinion/10thu1.html

2. Hunger in America - http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/04112008/profile4.html

3. Asian Food Crisis - http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/04/18/asia/food.php

4. 30 Years ago Haiti grew all the rice it needed. What happened now? - http://www.counterpunch.org/quigley04212008.html

5. "India clocked in 94th in the Global Hunger Index - behind Ethiopia"
Indexing inhumanity, Indian style - article by Sainath - http://www.indiatogether.com/2007/nov/psa-index.htm