Gas pipeline again
The essential areas
Pakistan caught in violence
Spare the rod
African blooms threaten Indian roses
for HIV positive people
Gas pipeline again
Should India join the efforts for the Iranian natural gas pipeline via Pakistan? The question has come into the limelight again following new External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh's remarks that India is "willing to consider" it provided Pakistan gives international security guarantees for the purpose. This indicates a slight shift in India's stand on the subject. The Vajpayee government wanted normalization of economic relations with Pakistan — which included the grant of the most favoured nation (MFN) status to India — in accordance with the World Trade Organisation's provisions before getting engaged in the pipeline project. Pakistan's offer of verbal security guarantees was not considered enough.
Mr Natwar Singh's remarks, made in the course of a media interview, require further elaboration. Does he think that the security aspect can be taken care of in the changing regional climate with written guarantees involving international agencies? In any case, Pakistan has reacted to his statement, reiterating its willingness for international guarantees, but it does not want "extraneous conditionalities" attached to it. This shows that the matter requires serious discussions to remove the lingering doubts. Iran has gone beyond all this. It has reportedly offered to bear 50 per cent of the pipeline's cost, besides ensuring its security, if India agrees to be a part of the multi-billion dollar project. Iran, which has the biggest natural gas reserves after Russia, sees enormous gains in engaging India because of this country being one of the world's largest gas consumers. Pakistan will also reap enormous economic advantages in the form of royalty and easy availability of cheaper gas.
The Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline can spur industrial development in the entire region. It can also be used for getting natural gas supplies from Central Asian countries. But India's reservations are genuine and cannot be brushed aside in view of the history of bitter relations with Pakistan. India may be in a better position to take a final decision if the peace process with Pakistan gains momentum. Interestingly, the US is seeing the pipeline project in a positive light despite Iran not being in its good books.
The essential areas
In his address to Parliament on Monday, President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam has said that Dr Manmohan Singh’s government will spend 6 per cent and 2-3 per cent of the GDP on education and health respectively. This is certainly welcome, but inspires little confidence because promises made by successive governments over the years have remained on paper. Although the Kothari Commission had recommended as far back as in 1966 that the spending on education should be a minimum of 6 per cent of the GDP, India seems to be spending the least on education, barring perhaps Bangladesh and some African countries. Consequently, the education sector in the country is caught in a serious crisis. Most states, including Punjab, Haryana and Delhi, do not spend more than 3 per cent.
If India has to become a developed country, the Centre and the states must invest more on education for both short-term and long-term benefits. Quality of education at all levels must be improved. For this, in addition to greater allocation of funds, attention should be given to teacher training and recruitment in schools, colleges and universities. Undesirable influences should be checked in the recruitment of teachers. New ways may have to be explored to promote research in universities and improve the quality of education.
The government’s attitude towards the health sector too should change for the better. Surprisingly, while government spending on health care has been decreasing, private sector spending has gone up. To help the rural poor, the vast network of primary health centres in the villages should be strengthened with qualified doctors, specialists, nurses and laboratories. Funds for education and health can be mobilised only if the Centre and the states do away with their financial profligacy and redefine developmental priorities in a constructive manner. The Centre and the states should realise the fact that without improving education and health care across the country, India cannot forge ahead.
Petty minds will question the motive for including the promotion of Urdu in the President's Address to the joint session of Parliament and the government’s intention to declare it a classical language. However, now that the UPA government has decided to save the language from its present plight, it will have to go beyond introducing half-baked measures. It will not do to deny that in spite of its secular character, the sister of Hindi received punishment for the sin of Partition.
The link language of everyday communication in many parts of India is still as much Hindi as it is Urdu. While the biased interpretation of the three-language formula in post-Independence India by some states, notably Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, pushed Urdu to the margins, the Hindi cinema kept the spirit of one of the most lyrical languages alive. The proponents of Urdu by focusing almost exclusively on the role of the government in promoting its teachings merely compounded the problem. Why did the Urdu-literate gentry not take the initiative of teaching voluntarily the language it wanted to save?
A good starting point for redeeming the President's pledge will be the resurrection of the Gujral Committee Report submitted to the Centre in 1975. It goes beyond treating Urdu as just another language. Ali Sardar Jafri was asked to review the report in 1989. He endorsed the recommendation that Urdu should be pulled out of the three-language formula and included in the language teaching formula at the school level. In other words, for putting back life Urdu should not be taught merely as a language, but also be used as a medium of general instruction in schools like English, Hindi and the regional languages. Urdu after all is an Indian language and should not be allowed to die.
Pakistan caught in violence
SECTARIAN violence stalks the land called Pakistan. Karachi is the epicentre of this storm. In May alone over 60 persons died a violent death in this city. Traditional religious scholars and even intellectuals are reduced to wailing that Muslims killing Muslims is a new thing; attacks on congregations in mosques and imambaras with bombs or automatic rifles was not known before. A mosque was a place where everyone used to be safe. Not any longer. And Karachi is not alone by any chance.
The authorities seem to have no idea about what can and should be done. All they can think of is strengthening the administration and calling in troops. The chant is: give them more guns, more transport, more tear gas shells and more numbers. Security is the watchword. What more security can and will do is not clear. So far sectarian terrorists are striking at will. The much mentioned and ubiquitous intelligence services of the Army and the government, so efficient in some ways, are at a loss; they have no clue to what is happening. Going on high alert after a car bomb has gone off or a congregation in a mosque has been attacked is pointless. What is the use of that alert?
The question is: can this mindless violence remain totally unchecked? No one, perhaps, knows who the terrorists are, who is financing them and who is protecting them. This inability of the administration is strange. Every Pakistani knows the time when sectarian organisations were formed. They were openly patronised by Gen Zia-ul-Haq’s martial law administration. Let us see what happened in the 1980s.
That was the time when a war was on between Iran and Iraq. After the Iranian Revolution of 1979, relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia had plummeted. Iran was openly preaching revolution against various Arab heads of government. That was the time when General Zia had his own two wars to conduct: one was as a cat’s paw of the US in Afghanistan and the other was political inside Pakistan, particularly Sindh. In the former case, everyone knows that Pakistan’s intelligence agencies did a supposedly “wonderful” job of creating a veritable army of Islamic fanatics; the total strength of the informal army must be over 300,000 and the total expenditure on that war, by one’s own rough calculation, must have been around $ 40-45 billion in the space of a decade, half of it by Gulf sheikhs.
General Zia’s second war was against the Pakistan People’s Party from which he had seized power. He began by encouraging the formation of various sectarian, linguistic and nationalist parties. The idea was to deny as much political space as possible to the PPP. Some of the measures were for everywhere while some were specific for Sindh. The modus operandi of the intelligence agencies was to recruit the more down-at-heels students of the madarsas of a particular sub-sect, run mainly by Pakistan’s Jamiat-e-Ulemai- Islam. These trained people were the first sectarian terrorists who both proliferated and took interest in other jihadi activities: there was jihad going on in Afghanistan and in Jammu and Kashmir (in 1990s). They were a fit material for jihad in both places in addition to their raison d’etre.
Other strands also went into the situation. The Iranians and the Saudis and other Arabs found Pakistan’s relatively open society an ideal ground to fight their cold war that had quickly acquired sectarian dimensions. The Iranians had helped form some Shia organisations and must have funded them. They were meant to counteract what the Saudis were doing to bankroll Sunni sectarian outfits in Pakistan. Pakistan’s closest possible relations with America as well as with Saudi Arabia had made it a sort of enemy for Iran, though its diplomacy continued to use sweet words about having ancient commonalities. But the fact remains that the Iranians were seen both by Arab potentates and the US and even Pakistan as an undesirable new political force that was to be contained and, to whatever extent possible, countered.
The situation lasted till about 9/11. By that time, Pakistani diplomacy had reached its zenith of power and influence in Afghanistan. The Taliban were seen by the whole world as Pakistan’s proxies. That had put Pakistan and Iran directly at odds; indeed a discreet cold war had started with the coming to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 1996-97. That was the period in which Pakistan’s relations with Iran rapidly deteriorated. There were also strains in Pakistan’s relations with China which had to protest several times about the Taliban-supported Islamic militants creating trouble in its south-western province of Xinziang.
After 9/11 everything became topsy-turvy. Pakistan was forced to betray two sets of jihadis: the first was the betrayal of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan; indeed Pakistan became part of the invading coalition that later captured Afghanistan and overthrew the regime there. The second was in Kashmir. The story of how Pakistan had ultimately to say goodby to supporting jihad is well-known.
Who the Taliban were is no secret. They had been the creation of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies — their proud achievement they used to boast about — from the raw material provided by the JUI’s madarsas. But the end product was versatile enough to be used in Afghanistan and indeed inside Pakistan itself, though possibly unintentionally. They were also the spiritual kith and kin of the jihadis fighting inside Jammu and Kashmir (India) and operated inside Pakistan as the scourge for the minority Shias and the Christians. Even the same people could be used at different places. An incident to remember is: Pakistan wanted 200 sectarian terrorists back from the Taliban government that was hiding them in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s Interior Minister travelled to Kandahar twice to plead for their extradition. Mulla Omar, the then head of the Afghan regime, refused point-blank, supposedly dependent on Pakistan.
The fact is that the Musharraf government had inherited a fully grown monster which has now turned on its creators. The sectarian and other jihadis, now possibly being coordinated by Al-Qaida, are after the blood of the soldier- President, Gen Pervez Musharraf. In fact, it is a monster in the creation of which others were also involved: mainly Saudi Arabia and the US. These jihadis and sectarian terrorists are now bitterly anti-American — for what the US has done in Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq. America and its underlings are their current enemies.
The monster has to be captured and killed. It is not the physical death one is talking about. That would be useless. In fact that is what is being sought — unsuccessfully. It is no way to counter and end a politico-religious movement. Political means have to be adopted. It is not achievable in a few months or even years. It is going to be a long haul. The administration has to take away as much political space as possible by allowing other political forces that can take that space. That is the only way out. But that is not in the minds of the higher authorities in
Spare the rod
The peace of the evening is rudely disturbed by the screech of tyres as a high-powered sports car takes a sharp turn on the tarred road.
“Can’t you see where you’re going, gran’pa?” shouts the long-haired driver. “Wanna be killed?” His companions, one of them a girl, hoot with laughter at the elderly stroller who has been scared out of wits.
There is a heated argument outside the ticket window of a cinema hall. A young fellow abuses another in vile language. Quick as lightening, the latter pulls out a knife.
A cyclist makes obscene gestures at two girls whom he passes on the road.
A student caught copying from a textbook collects his pals and waylays the invigilator as he steps out of the examination hall.
A boy, aged 14, is apprehended by the police for having stolen four cars in the posh areas of New Delhi. His father is a retired army officer.
A pop session is in progress in the flat of an upper middle-class,“westernised” couple who have obligingly gone out for the evening so that their teenaged children can have the run of the place. Only a few of the young people are dancing. The others are talking with unnatural animation or have relapsed into a glassy-eyed silence as they puff at something that smells stronger than tobacco.
And all this while we who are parents marvel at how we could have spawned a generation of thugs and drug addicts, arsonists and knife-wilders. We express our disapproval in the strongest terms of the general permissiveness of the age and the pernicious influence of foreign films and magazines.
We blame the schools and colleges for not providing adequate facilities for sports and other healthy activities. We blame the government for not providing enough jobs for the tens of thousands of degree holders churned out annually by the universities. We blame everyone — except ourselves.
And yet, we think nothing of buying our son the latest new scooter from the black market instead of letting him wait for his turn. We give him “pocket money” large enough to feed a poor family for a month. We brag of being able to get things done quickly by greasing the palms of government officials. We consider ourselves to be astute businessmen if we are able to get away with a few lakhs of rupees in our income tax.
And if we do none of these things we are probably too wrapped up in our jobs or our social activities to be able to spare more than an occasional hug or a kiss for our children. We tend to forget that the younger generation, despite their seeming aggressiveness their ridicule of anyone who is at all sententious, is not unresponsive to an offer of companionship, sympathy and understanding.
African blooms threaten Indian roses
Dodballapuram, (Karnataka): Owing to its moderate temperate climate throughout the year, Bangalore has emerged as a major flower growing region, contributing 60 per cent of the total rose cultivation in India. Dodballapuram, 50 km from Bangalore on the Hyderabad road, was best known for the handloom silk produced here, not any more. Since the mid-80s, rose cultivation saw huge investment and changed the profile of the region. Giant green houses have replaced the multi-hued silk yarn that could be spotted from miles, as it was dyed and sunned before weaving.
Today, though they belong to the weaving community, Rajamma and Ganga are not spinning silk. After taking their Class X SLC examination, the 19-year-old girls have been working at a nearby rose farm, the RH Farm. Their work involves grading the roses before they are packaged and shipped. They were taught this skill by Dutch consultants who screened and trained 60 other employees. Ganga is skeptica: “My main motivation to study this far was employment at a rose farm. The wages at Rs 1,800-2,000 a month are good, but since sales are becoming erratic I wonder how long we will remain employed.”
Ganga’s reference is to the decreasing market of the Bangalore blooms due to cheaper imports from Kenya, Israel and Australia. For now the crisis, says Mr. K Ramakrishna, owner of Karturia Farm and former president of South Indian Floriculturists’ Association, “… is not yet of survival. At least not for those who are also export driven. Some small growers, however, have been hit hard, forcing them to suspend rose cultivation.”
In the past few years, Bangalore has lost some of the domestic market of about Rs 500 crore to Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad and Chennai. In the international market, the challenge is posed by dumping and irregular tariff barriers.
Currently, the country has about 210 hectares under floriculture cultivation, with a woefully under- utilised capacity of 300 million tons of flowers. The global market is of $40 billion of which Indian exports account for 1per cent ($40 to $50 million).
“I have had to innovate to stay afloat in the international market since it isn’t a level playing field. All our attempts at better policy initiatives have been ignored by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Horticulture Commission. The South Indian Floriculturists’ Association has been quite ineffective,” says Ramakrishna.
In recent years, floriculturists like Ramakrishna have survived by exporting to countries other than Holland. In addition, they have broken out of the seasonal mould by growing roses all the year round. The pattern of exports is dictated by the seasons and festivals in the importing countries — March and April to Japan, Europe and Australia; in May to Singapore and the Middle East; from June through September to Australia; August is for Japan and Europe. Each stem costs the grower Re 1and the margins are significant, especially when exported — Rs 30 during Valentine, Rs 10 during Christmas and Rs 5 during much of year.
During the lean export months of May, June, July when Europe grows its roses, the growing domestic market has been absorbing the produce though at a far reduced rate of Re 1.50 a stem. But this is also the period when African countries like Zimbabwe and Kenya, which do not have a significant domestic market, have started dumping their roses in India. These roses are available in the Indian market at less than Re 1 a stem, much cheaper than the Indian blooms Apparently, they are willing to sell on cost basis to establish themselves in the market and are able to do so by circumventing the Indian tariff barriers, manned by pliable officials.
The South Indian Floriculturists’ Association had recommended the introduction of non-tariff quantitative and qualitative barriers such as the photo-sanitation and quarantine regimes but presently there is no move to amend any policies.
Further, African countries are levied no duty by the EU nations as against 10 per cent on the Indian produce. In the US, Equador and Colombia are able to provide roses at 70 cents a kg, which is way below the Indian rate of $ 3 a kg.
“We cannot sell any cheaper since our cold chain management at 2 degrees; decreasing level of ground water, often at 800 to 1000 feet, inputs like aluminium sulphate, are all expensive with no government support”, observed Ramakrishna. “Green houses at Rs 1 crore per hectare and rose bushes at Rs 60 per plant are huge investments. Since roses are a highly perishable item and risks are huge, the gap between harvesting and the arrival of flowers in the international market is crucial, necessitating better transport and other infrastructure. Countries like Israel are able to reach most international markets in 72 hours due to dedicated and efficient delivery systems. But we take 10 days between cutting and delivery. Growing roses is not only logistics and capital-intensive but also more challenging today.”
The per unit size of this industry is also very small in India, compared to world standards. Thus, the Indian entrepreneurs are unable to utilise economies of scale to compete with those in other countries. Again, Indian growers feel that small competitors from countries like Israel have started marketing their produce directly through co-operatives. While many small growers in India are being driven out of business, others are trying to survive by exploring new markets. But in the absence of policy reforms, their future is tenuous as is the livelihood of the likes of Rajamma and Ganga.
— Grassroots Feature Network
for HIV positive people
“I’M KALYANI, I'm a teacher and HIV-positive. Can you find a match for me please?” This is typical of the emails sent to Kottaram George, a social worker in Kerala, who runs a marriage bureau for people who are HIV-positive.
Mr George set up the bureau after discovering what isolated lives positive Indians were living. In South Asia, HIV is a highly stigmatised condition, where even the spouse of a positive person is often kept in the dark and disclosure often leads to individuals being rejected by family and refused work and accommodation.
Many HIV-positive Indians manage to keep their status secret by remaining unmarried, but because the pressure to marry in India is so strong, the burden of being positive for these people becomes all the greater. Some Indian men succumb to this pressure, marrying without disclosing their status and passing the virus on to both their spouse and children.
“With this bureau, we help HIV positive people to marry each other and avoid spreading the disease. This allows them to share their sufferings and support each other. After all, an infected person can live an illness-free life for more than 10-15 years and they need a happy relationship for that time,” says Mr George.
A 48-year-old former businessman, when Mr George started out in social work, he discovered that many positive people in Kerala were taking their own lives for lack of support.
Today, the Santhwanam Marrige Bureau in Kozhikode, Kerala, is proving popular, receiving about 100 emails and 40 phone calls every day, mainly from the 20-40 years age group. Reshmi Vishu, 22, for instance is a widow whose husband died of an HIV-related condition after infecting her after just eight months of marriage, but whose in-laws and parents now refuse to have anything to do with her.
“In Indian society, a widow like me has no status,” she says. “We're treated with contempt. If I get married, at least I can share the remainder of my life with someone who will understand what I'm going through. We can look after each other in times of illness. No one else will want to come anywhere near me if I fall sick.”
Another large group of HIV positive people who register with the bureau are young men, typically either a migrant worker or a long-distance truck driver, who caught the virus from prostitutes.
Kottaram George says that about 30 couples who registered with the bureau have got married in the past six months. Although those registering with the bureau live all over India, he says that it was particularly useful resource for Kerala since the majority of infected people in the state are unmarried.
He has also set up a school for HIV children since infected children are often denied an education because their classmates' parents object to their being in school.
Mr George says the tendency to boycott HIV positive people, even children, has become a widespread curse even in a place like Kerala where literacy levels are high. He shudders when he thinks what happens in areas where levels of education are very low.
Running the bureau though is not easy. Getting office accommodation, for example, was difficult as some potential landlords recoiled at the idea of letting him space once they discovered the bureau's purpose.
— The Guardian
He alone can be said to have truly renounced (the world) who has turned his back on all available, desirable, beloved and dear objects which are entirely his own. — Lord Mahavir Everything of God is priceless, every attribute invaluable and beggars description. Those who try to describe Him grow mute in adoration. — Guru Nanak The Middle Path keeps aloof from both extremes. — The Buddha To him who is free, hundreds of people come from all sides anxious to be taught. When a rose blossoms, bees come from all sides uninvited. — Sri Ramakrishna Poverty of speech is the outward evidence of poverty of mind. — Bruce Barton
— Lord Mahavir
Everything of God is priceless, every attribute invaluable and beggars description. Those who try to describe Him grow mute in adoration.
— Guru Nanak
The Middle Path keeps aloof from both extremes.
— The Buddha
To him who is free, hundreds of people come from all sides anxious to be taught. When a rose blossoms, bees come from all sides uninvited.
— Sri Ramakrishna
Poverty of speech is the outward evidence of poverty of mind.
— Bruce Barton