Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Spiritual renaissance can reform society: Sri Sri

With millions of followers in India as well as across the globe, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has redefined the paradigm of spiritualism. In an exclusive interview with’s Swati Chaturvedi on her show Kahiye Janab, the founder of Art of Living shares his views on corruption, spiritual awakening and lots more.

Swati: You have been involved in so many conflict resolutions. You were part of conflict resolution in Sri Lanka. Why have you not been able to do the same in India? Corruption is rampant in the country. The political divide is glaring.

Sri Sri: We constantly try to attempt conflict resolution in India as well. We went to Rajasthan during the Gujjar movement; we are also trying to resolve differences in the Maoist areas. We will definitely go and try to resolve conflicts wherever possible.

Swati: What do you have to say about the conflicts across the political spectrum?

Sri Sri: Real conflicts can always be resolved. But dramatised conflicts are something that cannot be done away with. How do you resolve a (dramatic) conflict which does not exist at all?

Swati: Are we forgetting the real issues and diverting our attention to just allegations and mud-slinging?

Sri Sri: Be it a social cause or a political cause, I feel everything is becoming more or less like a business. We are increasingly becoming a self-centred society. We are least bothered about working for the benefit of the society. Personal gain is the priority today. It is like - first me - then the party - and at last the country. That is why I keep saying, unless there is spiritual renaissance, reform is not possible.
Swati: Recently Digvijay Singh said Plan A - Baba Ramdev, Plan B - Anna, Plan C - Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Don’t you feel hurt when political leaders pass such comments?

Sri Sri: You can’t help it you know. Everyone in this country has his/her right to express, display or exhibit ignorance. But the bottom-line is that the public knows everything.

Swati: There is so much chaos everywhere. Lokpal Bill is yet to be passed by Parliament. People are so restless. A youth even went to the extent of slapping Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar. What do you feel when you see all this?

Sri Sri: The entire society is restless today. This is like a phase which comes and goes. This too shall pass and a renewed vigour and enthusiasm will replace everything.

Swati: You recently embarked on a series of Satsangs in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh. What did you discover?

Sri Sri: It was more of a people’s yatra. People from tribal regions such as Sonbhadra and Chamauli walked almost 35 kilometres to be a part of the yatra. They also took pledge against paying bribes and corruption. It was overwhelming to see such a huge mass support. I think it is the spiritual awakening that enables people to follow rules and orders, maintain discipline and become upright.

Swati: So many allegations have been levelled against Team Anna. What do you have to say on the whole issue?

Sri Sri: This was expected. Those who speak about corruption or those who try to expose wrongdoings are bound to face such things. I agree that you should practice what you preach. If you are in the wrong, you can’t point fingers at others. It is very important to introspect. But it is also true that you cannot make a mountain out of a molehill. There are bigger scams and scandals that ought to be focussed upon. Petty things such as savings on airfares and such issues are not the real issue. The real issue is something else and that needs to be addressed. But yes, keeping a spotless image is a must.

Swati: Has aam-aadmi become a mere slogan?

Sri Sri: If you are empathetic towards the aam-aadmi, you should not think about the slogan. Working for the common man is what is required.

Swati: There is so much price rise. Inflation is taking a huge toll on the common people.

Sri Sri: Definitely there are problems and over the years they have aggravated. But I feel, at times, we should learn to take responsibility, stop this blame game and find solutions ourselves. It is always wise to find a solution to a problem rather than crib about it.

Swati: Is the alternative (if any) going to be better than this?

Sri Sri: People have become quite cynical. They have lost trust. They at times don’t even want to vote. But we always tell the people to cast their vote. I also feel that the youth can be a big medium of change. The future of our country lies in the hands of the youth. They have the power to change this country.

Swati: What according to you is the biggest problem that the country is facing today?

Sri Sri: Corruption, inflation and alcoholism.

Swati: People are beginning to have to a lot of faith in the civil society. How long will this last?

Sri Sri: There are tens of thousands of people in this civil society with thousands and thousands of ideas. It is not possible to have a homogenous group within groups. But the aim should be one. Right now the aim is to have a strong Lokpal Bill.

Swati: Is Lokpal Bill a magic wand?

Sri Sri: The Lokpal Bill alone cannot solve the ubiquitous corruption that seems to govern both politics and everyday life in India. It can only be removed by instilling the feeling of national kinship.

Swati: Can you name one leader who can bring a ray of hope?

Sri Sri: That is for the people to decide. I would only appeal to the people to weigh all the pros and cons before choosing their leader. They should not vote on the basis of caste or religion. They should also not exercise their franchise in lieu of money.

Swati: What is your message to the country and the leaders?

Sri Sri: Put your country first. Put it above everything else. Only the principles of humanism can lead the country towards prosperity.

Adaptation: Reema Sharma

Iranian makes world's tiniest microphone

Tehran: An Iranian scientist has claimed to have built the world's tiniest microphone that could be used to build "invisible" hearing aids, the ISNA news agency reported.

Bahram Azizollah Ganji of Noshirvani University in the northern city of Babol, who built the 0.5 mm X 0.5 mm microphone, said he would apply for the world record.

The device could be used for medical purposes to receive the exact sound of the heart for diagnosis of heart problems and examination of foetus' health.

It can also be used for fishing and surveillance systems under water to measure sound waves and ultrasound waves that would help identify marine animals, he said.

The tiny microphone can be used for telecommunication systems, information collection devices and defence systems.

The microphone that cannot be seen with the naked eye has a high sensitivity and low cost. Low power consumption is another advantage of the device.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Twin tragedy in Bengal

West Bengal witnessed twin man-made disasters just as the year 2011 was coming to a close. The December 09 tragic fire at Kolkata’s “super speciality” Advanced Medical and Research Institute (AMRI) has snuffed out lives of more than 90 people so far. The deceased are patients barring just four hospital staff. And if the fire was not enough, another catastrophe struck just four days later. At least 173 people died in Sangrampur and its adjourning villages in South 24 Parganas district after consuming toxic liquor. Those who died are the poorest of the poor like labourers, rickshaw-pullers and hawkers. Both the disasters are entirely man-made and could have been easily prevented. These two incidents put a question mark on the abysmal state of affairs in West Bengal.

AMRI hospital fire

Initial investigations suggest that the devastating fire in AMRI hospital - which was most likely triggered by an electric short-circuit - originated in the basement of the hospital. The basement meant to be a parking lot was apparently used for storing a vast amount of highly inflammable material like oxygen cylinders, PVC pipes, biochemical waste, wooden boxes, mattress, stock of diesel and other inflammatory material. All these are highly combustible.

It has been learnt that the hospital staff first played down the risk and wasted precious time by trying to douse the blaze on their own. That resulted in smoke getting sucked in by the central air-conditioning ducts. The toxic fumes soon engulfed the entire hospital building, slowly converting it into a death trap. When the hospital realised that that the situation was getting out of its control, they called the fire department.

No heed was paid to the patients who were shouting for help.

The local residents and patients’ kin who rushed to the spot were not allowed to get in as the security guards of the hospital apparently kept the gates locked from inside, preventing them from going inside for the victims’ rescue.

As the fire and fumes spread swiftly, the hospital staff abandoned the patients and managed to get away. All exit doors for patients were allegedly locked leaving them to choke to death.

By the time the fire brigade team reached the spot major damage had already been done. The fire brigade with the help of the locals evacuated and saved the injured from the jaws of death.

Meanwhile, starling facts related to the cause of the carnage have come to light. During an inspection by fire department officials in September 29, AMRI was warned about the dangers lurking in its basement and had been asked to clean up its act by December 5. But the hospital did not bother to do so. And no follow up was done by the fire department. Another inspection was due in November 29, which did not take place. Just four days after the deadline expired, the carnage took place. This is not to dispute that AMRI flouted fire safety norms brazenly.

Investigations now reveal that the hospital deliberately delayed reporting to the fire station about the fire outbreak, precisely because it was concerned that it could be hauled up for not clearing its basement as promised.

Nothing can be more ironic than the fact that the hospital was awarded the number 1 ranking for Emergency Care in a national hospital survey by a leading national magazine.

The AMRI fire is the third such incident in West Bengal in present times. The state earlier witnessed ghastly fire at Stephen Court building of Park Street in 2010 and Nandaram market of Burrabazar in 2008. But, clearly no lessons have been learnt from past mistakes.

Just nine arrests have been made in the AMRI case so far. Seven directors of the hospital have been charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder. In addition, two senior officials of the hospital were arrested in connection with the same case. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banejee has cancelled the license of the hospital and ordered a judicial probe into the fire tragedy.

But this little action won’t suffice for the mass murders. The case should be fast tracked and the perpetrators brought to justice at the earliest. A criminal negligence of this magnitude deserves exemplary punishment. The hospital management and the staff, those who forgot their oath to take care of the patients in the hour of crisis do not deserve any mercy. They should be charged with murder and be given the harshest possible sentence. In addition, heavy compensation should be slapped on the hospital management so that it is made to pay for its crime.

The civic authorities also should be made to share the punishment. They can’t wash their hands off. Well, the fire department had warned the hospital to clean up its basement once. But its duty doesn’t end there. Why didn’t it do any follow up? It has now been established that the hospital did not have the basic fire fighting system in place. Despite that how could the fire department issue a No Objection Certificate (NOC) to the hospital? Heads should roll now and criminal proceedings should be undertaken against the officials who abjectly failed to fulfil their responsibilities.

Only punishing the guilty won’t suffice. Let us think about preventing similar disasters before they take place next time. It is a fact that a good number of upscale hospitals across the nation are running on conditional and provisional clearances. The government should address the issue before another AMRI takes place.

Bengal hooch tragedy

In Sangrampur and its adjourning villages of Diamond Harbour subdivision in South 24 Parganas district on the outskirts of Kolkata, villagers reported sick after consuming illicit liquor. They were rushed to the Diamond Harbour sub divisional hospital. Quite a few died on their way to the hospital. Thanks to the utter lack of faculties in the hospital, not many lives could be saved. Meanwhile, the death toll has touched 173 amid fears of more casualties, as condition of several of the victims are said to be critical.

The last body of the tragedy is yet to be counted, but it has triggered a familiar political blame game with the Trinamool and CPM leaders trading charges at each other. Senior Trinamool leader and state Industries Minister Partha Chatterjee accused the CPM of masterminding the hooch catastrophe. The CPM was quick to hit back saying such allegations were meant to cover up the lapses and challenged the state government to prove the veracity of the allegations.

West Bengal CM has ordered a CID probe into the incident. Only 12 arrests have been made so far in the case. Those arrested are only small time vendors. The officer-in-charge of the excise department in Diamond Harbour was suspended on charges of dereliction of duty. But the kingpin of the hooch racket Khonra Badshah alias Noor Islam Fakir along with his key lieutenant Salim are still on the run. Salim was overseeing the manufacturing and distribution of Badshah’s multi-crore illicit liquor business in Magrahat-Gocharan-Sangrampur belt. Interestingly, Badshah who used to be a CPM man had switched his loyalty to Trinamool Congress because of the change in power of the state. Both CPM and Trinamool now disown the Badshah.

Country liquor is a flourishing business in rural Bengal and has assumed the status of an “organised” industry. The operation syndicate of illicit liquor works through mobile manufacturing units set up in remote villages. Popularly known as cholai in Bengali, the killer hooch are manufactured and distributed right under the nose of the police and the excise department. In most of the cases, the police and the excise officials are party to the whole operation. Moreover, the illegal operation enjoys tacit political patronage.

It is time for the West Bengal government to act fast. Mass murderer hooch king Khonra Badshah and his team should be nabbed at the earliest and be dealt in the harshest possible manner. It is time the state government cracks down on the illegal liquor syndication.

1971: Some frittered gains

Some symbolisms are so sacred to a country that they are best left untouched. Observed and lauded each year with regality and solemnity. Celebrated with an unquestioning mind for the triumph they brought, and sense of pride they instilled.

While the ghosts of the past are best forgotten, glorious ones can be commemorated but never questioned.

The 1971 War has been a symbol of Indian pride. Its impact had been tremendously positive for two reasons: it vanquished comprehensively an arch enemy and restored shaky confidence in our military after the 1962 defeat at the hands of the Chinese and the ambiguous 1965 episode.

The War had at once created a new nation and established India’s supremacy in South Asia. It also put a seal on a debate that had earlier cleavaged a once vast country into two nations. The creation of Bangladesh settled the deliberation over the two-nation theory in favour of India. Jinnah had asked for Pakistan based on the view that Hindus and Muslims could not live together as one country and that Islam would prove to be the glue of the proposed new Republic.

Bangladesh proved Jinnah wrong. The idea of India was better – unity in diversity outlived a parochial communal notion. Multiple religions and ethnicities can survive and thrive, if only an accommodative attitude is fostered by the citizenry, while forcing supremacy of one over another plants seeds of revolt.

The 1971 victory also unveiled the Shimla Agreement - attested by Indira Gandhi and Zulfiqar Bhutto - which provisioned for all outstanding matters, including Kashmir, to be resolved bilaterally. This clause has been quoted oft and again at international fora by India whenever Pakistan has chosen to play dirty and tried to invite third party intervention.

Another positive was that the demand that Pakistan had pressed for regarding granting of corridor through mainland India to connect East Pakistan and West Pakistan was snuffed. Considering the penchant that Pakistan has to send-in mischief makers into other people’s territory, the cord running through India could have turned into a septic gash.

Unfortunately, we let the rival off too easily. Forty years later, we see more clearly the lost opportunities. Despite warnings from Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, Indira Gandhi gave back strategically placed territory in the North-Western region, which had been captured by the Indian soldiers. We also released over 90,000 prisoners of war without a written guarantee of turning the Line of Control into an international border.

Zulfiqar Bhutto expectedly went back on his word and later promised to eat grass but acquire nuclear weapons, whereas Zia-ul-Haq came upon his favourite brainchild – the policy of bleeding India by a thousand cuts.

We also failed to strike while the iron was hot. After having handed Bangladesh its Independence, India should have insisted on once and for all solutions to the contentious Farakka Barrage, Teesta and Brahmaputra water disputes.

If there was time when we could have claimed back the Chittagong Hill Tract, it was then. The British had been rash when settling this land claim much like most of the border line, and we could have put forth pending arguments and claimed it as a prize for the aid we provided to our eastern neighbour, if for nothing else.

But we did nothing of the sort, relying on never ending goodwill and gratitude from Bangladeshis, which evaporated faster than boiling water.

A long term strategic loss, according to General JFR Jacob, has been the consolidation of the Pakistan Army operations. Jacob, who was one of the main architects of the 1971 victory, feels that by cutting off its East wing, India handed Pakistan the opportunity to concentrate its scattered forces into a single unbroken territory in the West, where it could be buttressed significantly. It would have been a problem for Pakistan to mobilize and upkeep their firepower in two separate regions over a long period to time.

As an extension, Pakistan would also have to deal with a fairly large population that was pathetically poor and restive and would have consumed the Islamic Republic’s attention so completely that it would scarcely be left with time to create problems for others. This may be simplistic view and there can be several counterpoints to it because Pakistan, along with its eastern arm, could have also proved to be doubly problematic.

But it is important to revisit those episodes of our history that have become our holy cows. Not because we doubt the valour or spirit of our soldiers, but because we owe it to them that their sacrifices are not frittered away due to lack of depth and reasoning of our political masters.

More certainly because countries that don’t question history, only tend to repeat their mistakes.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Abuse becomes fashion in Indian society!

India entered 2011 in a celebratory mood winning the Cricket World Cup but the euphoria and the feel good factor soon gave way to an overall environment of negativity and uncertainty. While this is not something new for the country what came as a shock to all was how the land known for its rich social and cultural values slowly but surely was turning into a nation where abuse had become the cornerstone of public discourse.

With several public figures liberally use derogatory words without any reprimand, the year 2011 witnessed several incidents of abuse in public domain, a trend the country at best would like to forget as it steps into the new-year.

While the most talked movement this year against corruption witnessed a huge support from people and united them for a cause, it also had some grievous side effects. The fight against corruption led by Anna Hazare won hearts of millions of people but some defamatory statements in the event also hurt the sentiments of some. Abuse became the style and substance of an argument.

Ironically, abuse heralded itself as the in thing on the screen, coming from a man most respected for his maturity as an actor, as Om Puri spewed venom on ‘netas’ calling them Anpadh and Ganwar. Yeh anpadh hain, inka kya background hai? Aadhe se zyaada MP ganwaar hain... Puri said in front of crowd assembled in Ramlila ground.

Former IPS officer, Kiran Bedi also launched an attack on Parliamentarians by accusing them of people who wear “several masks”. Both incidents drew the ire of politicians as both the Houses of Parliament issued privilege notice against the duo.

Though, Om Puri apologized for his remarks later, Kiran Bedi refused to do so as she believed she had done no wrong. Right or wrong can be a matter of debate but what was beyond doubt was that abuse was here to stay.

Psychiatrist Dr Sandeep Vohra argues that reduction in human patience gave abuse a space in the society. He opines, “On the one hand abuse is becoming a fashion but on the other hand it shows decrease in tolerance, thoughts and emotions for others. It shows public anger without any fear.”

A Member of Parliament and Congress spokesperson, Manish Tewari too came under fire for terming social crusader Anna Hazare a person with 'myopic vision'. He also described senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, as 'a loose canon' for making derogatory remarks on the Congress party. He later apologized to Anna for his remarks.

But, the comment of Gandhian Anna Hazare surprised everyone when he made the infamous remark "just one slap" after Sharad Pawar was attacked by a youth in Delhi.

Recently the fight between two senior politicians from main rival parties (Rashid Alvi and SS Ahluwalia) almost got into fisticuffs when they fought over a leaked document of a Standing Committee to a scribe.

Dr Vohra asserts that abuse in public domain is a dangerous practice while advocating the need for caution while choosing your words.

While in each case apology was made by the people involved, the bad taste in India’s public discourse lingers on.

Once in David’s royal city

About 2000 years ago, in the town of Nazareth, lived a young and God fearing woman named Mary. She was betrothed to Joseph, a descendant of King David. One day an angel appeared and told her that she will be blessed with a child. She was terrified and asked how that could be possible as she was unmarried? To which the angel said that she has found favour in the eyes of God and she would bear the son of God. Mary, jubilant yet fearful, accepted God’s will.

When Joseph came to know that Mary was pregnant, he was worried and thought that he would break off the engagement quietly as he was a righteous man. But that night an angel appeared before him in dream and told him to take Mary home as his wife as she was with the Holy Spirit. The angel said that Mary would give birth to a son and they were to call him Jesus. Joseph obeyed and took Mary home as his wife.

Caesar Augustus announced that a census would be taken, of the whole empire. Judea in those times was a province of the Roman Empire and so Joseph set out with Mary to his hometown of Bethlehem, the ancient royal city of King David, to register their names. The journey was long and tiring as Mary was nearing the term of her pregnancy. At last they reached their destination and to their dismay they found that every inn had been filled up and there was not a single room left for them to stay. Seeing the state Mary was in, an innkeeper told them they could stay in the manger, where they would be sheltered from the cold night and there would be hay to sleep on. So they went into the manger, made themselves comfortable and during the night Mary gave birth to baby Jesus.

Just then, out in the pastures, some shepherds were keeping a watch over their flocks. The angels appeared before them and announced the good news of great joy for all people, that in the town of David, a savior had been born. They hurried off and found the baby, with Mary and Joseph, in a manger.

Meanwhile in Jerusalem, King Herod was in a state of anxiety as he heard the news that wise men from the east countries ware looking for a newborn child who would be the king of the Jews. King Herod was not well liked by his subjects. He was fearful that any news like this would pose serious threat to his position. So he summoned the wise men to ask them about their search. They told him that they had been reading the stars and had seen a sign that portended the birth of the king of Jews and they had come to honour him. King Herod was afraid and thought of killing the baby but he told the wise men to inform him of the child so that he too could worship him. So they went in search of the baby Jesus following the star they had seen which came to rest above a manger in Bethlehem. They found the baby being worshipped by the shepherds and they join in, honouring him with precious gifts fit for a king.

With no news from the wise men, as the angels had informed them of the king’s intention, King Herod ordered the killing of all children under the age of two as he meant to do away with a powerful threat to his throne. Meanwhile, Joseph had escaped with his family to Egypt and stayed there till Herod’s death.

All these came to pass as foretold in the Holy Scriptures. The Son of God was born in a lowly manger in the town of David, surrounded by terror, with wondrous display of God’s love for his children.

Doctors' strike claims 44 lives in Rajasthan

Jaipur: The indefinite strike of government doctors, demanding a hike in salary, entered the fifth day on Sunday and paralysed medical services in parts of Rajasthan.

Due to unavailability of medical assistance 44 people have died in different parts of Rajasthan. Patients in several district hospitals, primary health centers and dispensaries are suffering due to non-availability of doctors.

The authorities have so far suspended 41 striking doctors while 379 have been arrested under the Rajasthan Essential Services Maintenance Act (RESMA).

Of the total of 8,503 doctors in government services, 5,600 are on strike, throwing the system out of gear.

Meanwhile, the state government has handed over three hospitals to Border Security Force (BSF) in Barmer, Jaisalmer and Bikaner.

The government has also published a list of private hospitals where the patients can get treated free of cost.

Now, you can insure marriage against losses!

New Delhi: Marriages are made in heaven, but they can very well turn sour on this earth, by way of getting cancelled or not proving to be fruitful after being consumed.

Seeing a business opportunity here, the insurance companies have come out with an innovative proposition, wherein they would insure the weddings against their postponement of cancellations for certain reasons.

The catch is that the insurer will not pay for marriages turning sour due to personal differences between the bride and the groom, and the claims would be entertained only for losses due to external factors like accidents, catastrophes or unintentional man-made disasters or disruptions.

At least two Indian insurance companies, ICICI Lombard and Bajaj Allianz, have come out with the exclusive 'Wedding Insurance' products, while some others are providing similar coverages under their more generalised insurance policies.

Experts say that the wedding insurance covers are currently being availed mostly by HNIs (High Net Worth Individuals) and celebrities, given the high costs attached with their weddings, but insurers also want to tap others for these policies as wedding bills are as such on rise across the board.

Accordingly, Bajaj Allianz is offering wedding insurance with premium payments of as low as below Rs 4,000, and as high as close to Rs 15,000.

As per its website, it has four insurance options – Rs two lakh, Rs four lakh, Rs six lakh and Rs eight lakh and the indicative premiums for these four options range from Rs 3770 to Rs 14276.

The policy covers "wedding cancellation/postponement due to fire or any natural disaster, accident of bride/groom, accident of blood relations resulting within seven days of the wedding date, damage to property including the venue, burglary and even cases of food poisoning at the function."

Noting that wedding is an expensive, but 'once in a lifetime' event, Bajaj Allianz said that any postponement or cancellation involves a certain risk of monetary loss, and its wedding insurance acts as a safeguard against "unforeseen events that could postpone or cancel your wedding."

ICICI Lombard, on its part, provides insurance cover for the wedding cancellation, material damage to the property such as wedding venue, personal accident cover for insured person (bride or the groom) and any public liability arising out of the cancellation.
ICICI Lombard's insurance product covers cancellation or postponement of the wedding ceremonies due to factors ranging from fire, earthquake or burglary and theft at the venue.

Besides, it also covers for "sudden, unexplained, unintimated failure" of the bride or the groom to appear for the wedding ceremonies due to reasons like, death, personal injury or any major illness.

The expenses that would be covered include those for printing of cards and the advance payments for the venue, caterer, decorations, music, hotels and travel.

However, it would not cover the wedding cancellations due to factors like Bandh or civil unrest, any act of terrorism, kidnapping, complete breakdown of transportation services.

Also, any non-appearance of the bride or the groom coming on an air flight, other than as a passenger in a licensed commercial aircraft, without the knowledge and consent of the insurer, would also not be covered.

Any unexplained or mysterious disappearance or shortage in respect of the venue would also not be covered, neither the damages to the property that is "caused intentionally by the Insured or at insured's direction," ICICI Lombard says.