Thursday, January 29, 2009

“Slumdog” means no dog

By Paritosh Chakma

After a string of success, now Danny Boyle’s "Slumdog Millionaire" is facing legal challenge because of its title. It is because of the title or that the guy who has filed the PIL in the Andheri court, local Corporator Nicolas Almeida wants a piece of accolade which the film is getting worldwide?

The PIL has alleged that the film has called Indians and slum dwellers “dog”. So, pious Mr Nicolas Almeida felt insulted by the film. Does he also feel insulted by the real plight of the slum dwellers whose life is in fact no better than that of ordinary street dogs?

I have seen the film but have never for a moment felt insulted as an Indian. That Mr Almedia feels insulted by the word “dog” is because of his personal interpretation of the meaning of “slumdog”.

One evening I invited some of my friends, if they were interested, to join me watch the latest hit in my PC. (The film was given to me by a friend). Hearing that we are going to watch a movie, my friend’s 5-year-old daughter also came into my room. As the movie started, I declared in excitement –“ Now we are going to see Slumdog Millionaire”.

Soon the movie started to roll. After a few minutes, the five-year-old nursury student asked, “Where is the ‘dog’?” We all laughed and she went away. In a way she was right.

At first I was also confused. I consulted my Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary for the meaning but found no word called “slumdog”. I think Mr Almedia’s understanding is also too childish and narrow about the meaning of “slumdog”. He too, like my friend’s young daughter, is busy looking for the dog or dogs in the film and he sees them in the form of the slum-dwellers.

Mere suffixing of “dog” does not mean a dog. The meaning could change and that is English, my friend. Take for example, the word "Underdog". Mr Nicolas Almeida may also be angry if he is called an "underdog" because of the suffix "dog". But an "Underdog" is no dog. According to Oxford dictionary, “Underdog” means “Person or country, thought to be in a weaker position, and therefore unlikely to win a contest, struggle, etc. Crowds supporting the underdog”

In similar way, "slumdog" does not mean referring one as a "dog", thereby insulting one's dignity and self respect. Mr Nicolas Almeida has suggested “Slum-dash Millionaire” as the film’s name.

Now, what is “Slum-dash”?

Even the great Amitabh Bachchan has criticized “Slumdog Millionaire” for projecting “India as Third World dirty underbelly developing nation” (which he later sought to disown). A section of the Indians are actually worried that the film has exposed too much of Mumbai’s dirty secrets, and for that matter, Rising India’s “shames” for all the world to see. Do these socalled patriots live in fairytales or they simply believe that dirty underbelly no longer exists in India because it is an emerging global economic superpower, an indispensable partner of the US, a recognized nuclear state and has reached the moon?

Too much jingoism will be harmful to India’s welfare and development if that turns a blind eye to India’s realities.

Slums do exist in Mumbai, the financial capital and so in other cities. Hunger, acute malnutrition, diseases stalk the rural and urban poor which is complicated by absence of access to the basic medical facilities and lack of will of the authorities to mitigate sufferings. ‘Slumdogs’ are everywhere.

We don’t need a foreign director to make a film on India’s slums to expose India’s shames. India’s shames have been rightly exposed by various ways and medium. According to World Bank’s estimates, India is home to one-third of all poor people in the world. India also has 828 million people, or 75.6% of the population, living below $2 a day. Sub-Saharan Africa, considered the world’s poorest region, is better - it has 72.2% of its population (551 million) living below $2 a day! Due to lack of basic medical facilities, one woman dies in India every seven minutes during childbirth, according to UNICEF’s “State of the World's Children 2009” report which further revealed that one million children born in India die every year even before they become 28 days old. But no one cared to complain about these reports. (And, why should anyone complain?) It could be because few people read these reports but when the damning things are shown cinematically people become aware of their existence. Seeing is believing!

Indeed, no one is denying that India is an emerging power in the global arena. India is not a case where it lacks resources that the socio-economic conditions of its citizens cannot be uplifted. Since 2001, India has offered $750 million for Afghanistan’s reconstruction, making it the largest regional donor to the country. In August 2008, after attack on Indian Embassy in Kabul, India pledged an additional $450 million to fight terror. India is one of the largest donors to the United Nations Democracy Fund.

Then, what makes a vast majority of Indians the poorest in the world and their lives horrible? To me it is the system to be blamed - our babus are too corrupt and the state governments’ inability to deliver. According to a joint study by Transparency International India and Centre for Media Studies, the impoverished Indians had to cough up Rs 9,000 million as bribes in order to avail basic facilities including healthcare, education, water, etc in 2007.

Since the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act came into force in July 2004, the Centre could not release whopping Rs 1522.90 crores to the states for the development of the tribals up to December 2005 because of the failure of the states to submit utilization certificates for the earlier allocated funds as required under the FRBM Act. If the unspent money within one and half years of the FRBM Act coming into force was Rs 1522.90 crores, one can imagine how much money meant for tribal development had been left unspent or diverted to other projects/sectors since India’s independence. Thereafter, the Planning Commission also took some positive steps by making tribal funds non-divertible and non-lapsable. But many state governments manage to find queer ways to non-use/misuse or divert funds. A report by the Comptroller & Auditor General of India, tabled in the Jharkhand State Assembly in March 2008, found that the Jharkhand government used only Rs 85.55 crore out of Rs 183.84 crore it had received from the Cetnre during 2003-2007 under the Integrated Tribal Development Project. The unused funds were kept in banks and the interest it earned was used to repair official buildings.[1] During 2007-08, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs had to withhold grants under Special Central Assistance to the Tribal Sub Plan to the states of Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Jammu & Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand due to their inability to furnish Utilization Certificates and unspent balances. No funds could be released under the scheme of Post-Matric Scholarship to the States/UTs of Arunanchal Pradesh, Bihar and Daman and Diu during 2004-05 to 2007-08 as the Ministry of Tribal Affairs did not receive complete proposals from these state governments, thereby depriving the poor tribal students of the much needed financial assistance for pursuing higher education. Out of 100 Eklavya Model Residential Schools (EMRS) sanctioned by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs under Article 275 (1) of the Constitution, only 79 of them were operational due to “lack of commitment on the part of States in taking proper and timely steps for the educational development of the tribal children” according to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment. During 2007-08, no student was assisted in Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh under the “Upgradation of Merit of ST Students” scheme.[2]

Instead of blaming the film or foreign directors for showing India’s dirty underbelly, we should consider taking steps to improve the living conditions of the slums or elsewhere, do away with slums by providing suitable housing rights to the homeless, educate their children, and beautify our country by cleaning the filth, if we at all feel ashamed of them.

A state of denial will only aggravate the situation of India’s poor and helpless, leaving no room for finding solutions for them.

Instead of wasting his useful energy while trying to amend the name of a film, Andheri corporator Nicolas Almeida will do well by filing a Public Interest Litigation seeking direction from the court for delivery of more facilities by the state governments leading to improvement in the actual living conditions of the slum dwellers.

Footnotes
[1]. Tribal welfare exposed - CAG targets fraud NGOs, detects funds misuse, The Telegraph, 29 March 2008
[2]. Thirty-Fourth Report of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment on “Demands for Grants (2008-2009) of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs” submitted to the Fourteenth Lok Sabha on 21.04.2008

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Chakma on top

I have been longing to write on this man. Only time was not permitting me.

He is a Chakma; hence Chakmas the world over are today all praise and proud of him.

On December 22, 2008, Dr Amit Chakma was named as the new President of University of Western Ontario, one of the top 10 research universities in Canada. He will be take charge on on July 1, 2009.

After the Americans’ mind-boggling inauguration of their first black President, Mr Barak Obama, see how the University of Western Ontario is looking forward to celebrate Dr Chakma’s rising to the throne. Read - http://www.gazette.uwo.ca/article.cfm?section=Opinions&articleID=1677&month=01&day=21&year=2009

Dr Chakma currently is a vice-president as well as a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Among other positions, Chakma has served as professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Calgary and dean of engineering at the University of Regina. Read more about him at http://www.adm.uwaterloo.ca/infoprov/provost.html

A Chakma is a Chakma is a Chakma. Dr Chakma has humble roots but he rose by sheer dint of hardwork, determination and his capacity. Congratulations, Mr Chakma !!!


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Does Israel have any remorse?

The war has stopped. At least for now. First Israel called unilateral ceasefire and then, the Hamas, giving Israel one week to withdraw its forces and lift the economic blockade. If Israel does not, will Hamas re-start firing rockets at Israeli citizens? Hence, an uneasy calm prevails in Gaza.

There has been huge destruction and loss of human lives. Gaza has been flattened by Israel bombs. The war has been catastrophic for Gazans. At least 1,300 Palestinians, most of them civilians and 13 Israelis have been killed.

The international community has a gigantic task ahead towards reconstruction and providing basic humanitarian assistance including food, water and medicine in Gaza.

According to UN estimate, four thousand homes are ruined and tens of thousands of people are homeless. Half a million people had been without water since the conflict began. There has been acute shortage of medicines due to the blockade even prior to the attack.

Israel has defended the recent Gaza episode, without any remorse for hundreds of innocent lives cut short. On 19 January 2009, I posed a question to the Israeli Ambassador to India, Mr Mark Sofer during a live chat hosted by IBNLive news channel.

I asked: “Mr Ambassador, you have defended Gaza strikes on the ground that you want to make Israelis secure from Hamas rockets. Do you think Israeli citizens will be more secure after the end of the war given the fact that Hamas have not been disarmed? Do you have any remorse for the indiscriminate killings of civilians including women and children in Gaza?”

Mr Mark Sofer answered thus: “I do not know for sure whether Israeli citizens will be more secure today but it would be impossible for them to have been less secure than they were prior to today. In the last eight years almost half a million innocent men, women and children had been forced to live no more than 15 seconds from a bomb shelter. This is an untenable situation for any people and everything that had been tried by Israel and the International community failed. These are terrorists and for them terror is a way of life.

Clearly, as you see, he has deliberately avoided my question as to whether he felt remorse for “indiscriminate killings of civilians including women and children in Gaza”.

I thought he would give a standard answer: "unfortunately, lives are lost in any war", or the like.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Israel’s Gaza offensive: Is it a just war?

By - Paritosh Chakma

As Israel’s offensive against the Gazans entered 20th day, there seems to be no end to it, at least not for now.

How far is too far? The fighting has killed over 1,000 Gazans, mainly civilians and 13 Israelis since Israel pounded on the Palestinians on 27 December 2008. The toll is increasing every day.

Intense diplomacy is on in Cairo to clinch a workable “ceasefire agreement”. The mediators/negotiators need to more carefully draft the agreement as both Israel and Hamas had earlier snubbed the UN’s resolution of 8 January 2008 calling for “an immediate, durable and fully respected ceasefire, leading to the full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza”. UN chief Ban Ki-Moon once again, after talks with Egypt President Mubarak, appealed for ceasefire. Mr Moon is expected to visit Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey, but won’t meet Hamas leaders.

Israel has justified the war saying it is duty bound to protect its citizens from Hamas’ crude rockets regularly fired into Southern Israel habitations. The Hamas’ rockets killed few but disrupted normal life. Ordinary Israelis lived in fear.

Definitely, Hamas have provoked Israel. But on its part, Israel has too made life in Gaza difficult by blocking flow of aids and daily needs. By any standards, Israel’s attack has been disproportionate which is visible from the number of deaths, and scale of destruction of infrastructure including attacks on a UN school housing refugees, medical clinics in Gaza. According to UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, more than 40% of those killed in Gaza were women or children.

Yet, Israel has to show to the world that it is capable of defending itself against threats. Certainly when elections are round the corner, the government cannot simply sit back to ignore the Hamas’ rockets. Moreover, Israel wants to set an agenda for next US President, Barak Obama as to how to deal with the threats coming from the Hamas and Hezbulla militants who refuse to recognize existence of Israel. Certainly, Israel cannot afford to have Hamas grown as powerful as the Hezbulla militants of Lebanon who have sophisticated arsenal imported from Iran or elsewhere.

Egypt and other Arab countries can arm-twist the Hamas but not Israel. Only America has considerable influence over this Jews' nation. But it is not very interested to act. On 12 January 2009, President George W. Bush, speaking at his final scheduled news conference before leaving office, said that a "sustainable cease-fire" in Gaza could only be possible if "Hamas stops firing rockets into Israel.”

Any workable ceasefire plans must include immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, end to firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel, end to the economic blockade imposed by Israel on Gaza strip and prevention of arms smuggling by Hamas through undergrown tunnels including through Egypt.

Israel continues to bombard Gaza. But Hamas cannot be destroyed; they are no LTTE. Israel is, by own admission, fighting the war to make its citizens secure. But will the Israelis be more secure after the end of the attack? I don’t think so.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Sri Lanka: Killing of Sunday Leader editor is outrageous

The killing of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunga, 52, by unidentified assailants at Attidiya in Colombo on 8 January 2009 is outrageous.

Media freedom group Reporters Without Borders has held the government responsible: “President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his associates and the government media are directly to blame because they incited hatred against him and allowed an outrageous level of impunity to develop as regards violence against the press.” During an interview with a Reporters Without Borders representative in Colombo in October 2007, President Rajapaksa called Mr Wickrematunga a “terrorist journalist”. In November 2007, the printing press of the Sunday Leader media group (Leader Publications), which is located in a high security area near Colombo, was destroyed in an arson attack by a group of gunmen. Wickrematunga alleged that the attack was “a commando operation supported by the government.” The police failed to investigate the attack properly.

Mr Wickramatunga had been a virulent critic of the Mahinda Rajapaksa government and the war with the Tamil Tiger rebels. True to the tag line of Sunday Leader - “Unbowed And Unafraid”, he was very outspoken and a man of insurmountable courage. In his last editorial he accused President Rajapaksa of pursuing the war to stay in power.

"Winning the war? Then there must be elections around the corner. It is no secret that the war has become Mahinda Rajapaksa's recipe for electoral success," he wrote.

The killing of Lasantha Wickrematunga once again exposes the critical situation in which journalists work and live in Sri Lanka.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

India-Pakistan stand off: India must win through diplomacy not war

By- Paritosh Chakma

In the India-Pakistan stand off, the first round has been won by India after Pakistan was forced to admit that the lone surviving terrorist in the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, Ajmal Amir Kasav is a Pakistani citizen. The admission has come at a great cost: sacking of its National Security Advisor Maj. Gen. (retd) Mahmud Ali Durrani which also reveals possible cracks in the top leaderships in Pakistan.

India must harvest on this victory further to bring those responsible for the Mumbai carnage to justice and dismantle all terror networks by Pakistan.

India must try not to play the “war card” as it only benefits Pakistan. Since after Mumbai, Pakistan has tried to create war hysteria to divert attention of the international community from the real issue of terrorism to something else – tension and possible war with India. Hence, it successfully mobilized troops in the eastern borders from the western borders with Afghanistan where the Pakistan army are aiding the US forces to fight the Talebans.

The FBI has backed India’s claims linking Mumbai attackers to Pakistan. But it is surprising that India has so far depended on the US alone. It will be na├»ve to only depend on the US to pressurize Pakistan as it is highly unlikely that the US will isolate this South Asian Islamic country at the cost of its own interests in the region and beyond. Even the Barak Obama administration will have to depend on Pakistan in America’s war on terror.

India must be brutal. No, it does not mean going to war. India must launch a consolidated, well planned and sustained diplomatic assault on Pakistan. This India can achieve by invoking UN Security Council resolution 1373 against terrorism to put international pressure on Pakistan.

Friday, January 2, 2009

As terrorists strike at will, India needs Bangladesh more than ever

By- Paritosh Chakma

After the Mumbai mayhem –which shook the nation’s conscience -, the terrorists gave a New Year’s gift to India by engineering a serial blasts in Guwahati, Assam which killed five people and injured about 50.

The state police admitted that they had prior information about the militants’ plan but failed to prevent the blasts. Even after the 30th October 2008 blasts, the security forces had told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that they had information about the possible attacks.

ULFA has been the prime suspect for the 1st January blasts.

Most importantly, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has pointed out the Bangladesh links of the ULFA and has sought “diplomatic pressure” that the Centre should exert on Bangladesh to rein in the terrorist outfits.

Anti-India elements sheltering in Bangladesh soil has been one of the most contentious issues between India and Bangladesh with the latter ignoring India’s plea to dismantle terrorist structures in its soil. Bangladesh has even rejected India’s claim of terrorist camps existing in Bangladesh.

But Bangladesh too has faced music from the Islamic terrorists in recent times.

The recent landslide win by Sheikh Hasina in the Parliamentary elections has come as a relief for India. Hasina is seen as India’s best friend in Bangladesh and her party, the Awami League is a more secular party. India sees Awami League’s victory as “a major landmark in democratic politics in South Asia”.

Hasina’s victory will open up new frontiers for South Asia, in particular India which has been facing the wrath of cross border terrorism. Following the “victory of democracy” in Jammu and Kashmir, Bangladesh verdict brought some more cheers in the Indian establishment. The elections have seen the defeat of hardline Jammat e Islami which secured only 2 seats in comparison to 20 seats it won in 2001.

As Pakistan refuses to act, India has pinned her hopes to tackle terror on Bangladesh. The links of Pakistan-based terrorist networks to Bangladesh are obvious.

So far, India has failed to exert “diplomatic pressure” on Bangladesh. Yet, the country is keen to engage with the new government. This is obvious when the government of India stated – “India looks forward to working closely with the newly elected Government in Bangladesh to further strengthen our bonds of friendship and cooperation in the quest for peace and development.

Certainly, India has no other option. But it is unlikely that India will engage Bangladesh by adopting intense pressure tactics.

As the terrorists continue to strike India at will, India needs Bangladesh more than ever before. After her victory, jubilant Hasina vowed not to allow Bangladeshi’s territory to be used for terrorism against its neighbors. She also mooted Anti-terrorist task force in South Asia. I think it is a good idea, but it will be quite impossible to rope in Pakistan.

But it is still to be seen if the army will withdraw completely from the governance process, and if it does, how far? Bangladesh should not repeat a Pakistan, where the army continues to be the de facto ruler even after a democratically elected government has been installed.

The biggest question is: Who will pull the strings in Bangladesh- The Army boss or Sheikh Hasina?

The challenge for Hasina will also come from the Islamic fundamentalism.

India should assist in the development of Bangladesh. This is a wise decision to secure 4,096-km long international border with Bangladesh in addition to erecting a fencing over it.