Monday, February 3, 2014

Blog shifted

Dear readers,

I have now shifted to wordpress. Thank you for following my on blogger. Hope to see you at Wordpress here. Ciao! :)

Friday, December 20, 2013

Curious Case of Devyani Khobragade

It is interesting how, Indian deputy consul general to the US, Devyani Khobragade's detention on visa fraud has opened a can of worms. It points fingers at both India and the US. What has surprised the world, including Indians, is that a country that has been reluctant about commenting or making a statement or taking a stand on any international issue, has reacted vociferously to the diplomat's arrest.
While there have been reports that Ms Khobragade was strip-searched and ill-treated during the interrogation process by the US Marshals, there is no clarity whether this is true. These are automatic, non-discriminatory and legal post-arrest procedures, yet they violate a person's dignity.
The interrogating officials, on the other hand, say Ms Khobragade was allowed to keep her cellphone to make calls and was treated "in the right manner", in contrast to her claims of being arrested in front of her child.

According to the 1961 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, a foreign diplomat enjoys full diplomatic immunity which forbids arrest of consular officials except for grave crimes. They are immune from prosecution in a host country even if they break the law.
In a story BBC explains: "It does not matter if you are working or off-duty (though back home you can be prosecuted). If you are a consul, however, you are only shielded if you break the law while you are working."
One has to understand that diplomatic immunity is different from consular immunity. "For that reason, Ms Khobragade, as deputy consul general, could be prosecuted for the crimes she has been accused of. If you are a consular general, you have consular immunity, rather than diplomatic immunity," BBC adds.
Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963), individuals are protected from a host country's laws only when the offences are related to their consular duties.
There are different rules for ambassadors because of their responsibilities. A consul general helps people from their home country with visas, trade and other issues. Meanwhile, a diplomat works directly with people in the host country.

Hiring a maid isn't a consular official's duty
BBC further adds: "According to federal-court documents, Ms Khobragade claimed on a visa application that she would pay a maid, Sangeeta Richard, $4,500 (£2,746) a month. That is the minimum required by labour laws."
"In fact, said US investigators, two contracts were drawn up. One paid Ms Richard $573 per month. Hiring a maid is not part of a deputy consul's job. Therefore, a consular general could be prosecuted for offences relating to the hiring of domestic staff. Diplomats get immunity for everything - your maids, your murders. But if you're a consular general and you're off the clock..."
Even after Indian officials have moved Ms Khobragade to the United Nations, there is no guarantee that she would get full immunity as consular immunity doesn't protect her completely. Also because, it has to be signed by the US state department officials.
Following this, an angered central government withdrew certain privileges for United States diplomats based in India. While some of it is justified, as The Hindu editorial points out, this attitude also shows how Indian(s) politicians have always seen the West as superiors. For instance: Any White person is given utmost importance as if we are a less civilised society. (Though part of it is true). The point I'm trying to make here is, Indians always go the extra mile to appease the whites, forgetting or compromising on their own dignity. May be, a result of the colonial mindset inherent in this country.
Interestingly, India seems to ignore serious fraud charges against the Indian consular official on accounts of inflating the domestic worker's (Sangita Richards who went missing from Devyani's residence in June this year) pay and underpaying her.
This also points to a common trend where most Indians do not treat their domestic workers with respect and that the concept of dignity of labour is almost non-existent for them. Given that domestic workers fall under the unorganised sector in the country, there is no set payscale for them. In Devyani's case, the maid has alleged that she was compelled to overwork and yet was underpaid.

Some of the observations are:
1. Why is India spewing venom on the US only in this case? Known for shutting its mouth on a lot of internationally relevant issues including Edward Snowden's case, Internet censorship and others, one understands that this is yet another stunt ahead of the 2014 general elections.
2. The West doesn't take India seriously. Aware of the internally weak political system and the bickering between political parties, they know India is country of words and not actions.
3. Like a TOI editorial says stigmatisation of India in the West is still rampant. "Would the US react in same way so blithely if a Chinese or Brazilian rather than Indian diplomat had been involved. So what is it that differentiates China or Brazil from India? One, it's well known they are no pushovers and will retaliate measure for measure. And two, they are perceived as growing economies in which the West has a stake, and therefore, worth listening to."
4. If India can take stock of the situation soon and stop the short-sighted aggression and, the US mend its ways in dealing with the issue, both countries will mutually benefit.
Like the Hindu suggests: "The government should take no steps that compromise the security of the U.S. Embassy in Delhi. It must be remembered that under the same Vienna Convention, the host state is under “a special duty” to protect embassy and consular premises."

At least now the country should realize that it has to match the West at its game and take its people seriously. That requires a relentless focus on the economy, instead of mucking around with identity politics which in the end impoverishes all religions and castes.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Laadli Media Award

Hello all,

Here's an update I thought I'd share with my readers. I won the Laadli Media Award for Gender Sensitivity 2013 for the Southern Region for my story on child marriages and the contradictions in law. The story is published on the

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Media watchdogs, Look into thyself!

A lot of opinions, articles, blogposts and stories are doing rounds after the King of Sting (Tarun Tejpal) has been exposed for sexual assault on his colleague. This post on the Hoot by Kalpana Sharma rightly says it is not only about Tehelka, but also puts all the media organisations in the spotlight.

Ms Sharma says:  "Tehelka is not an exception in its cavalier approach towards the crime of sexual harassment. We in the media point our fingers at every conceivable institution in this country and think it well within our rights to question and expose their shortcomings. Yet, how many media houses have complied with the Sexual Harassment Act and set up inquiry committees as required by this law? If a survey were to be conducted today, it is more than likely that less than a handful would have done so."

Case 1: Now that there's so much talk about setting up women's safety cells in media organisations too, I have always wondered about why there wasn't one in the first place ever since the guidelines came into existence. This takes me to another point where, I as a junior, (3 years of journalistic experience), did not know who to approach even if I had such questions pop up in my mind. The HRs come into picture (mostly) only when they recruit you or when you quit. Else, they're dormant. In media, accept it or not, there's always the senior and the junior and the bosses are not easily approachable. Almost always. The junior (until you have 5-6 years of experience, you're a JUNIOR) is looked down upon as someone who's not talented (even if you are), someone who lacks the knowledge (even if you do) and someone who has to be suppressed. Yes, the "juniors" have no voice, they cannot answer back even if they know they have been asked to do something they "dislike" and they have to bear with all the consequences. (And, yes, there are exceptions, everywhere!)

Case 2: Like in Tejpal's case, he mentioned to his colleague in the elevator "that was the best way to keep her at her place." These coercive tactics of controlling the "juniors" stem out of insecurity and the urge to dominate, often leading to harassment which is mostly overlooked. Being a "junior" in the media, I've had several instances of going through situations I've not liked working in. I've had some of my colleagues lech at me at umpteen occasions and had some stare at my boobs directly even while I observed them do that. (Even on occasions when my upper body was covered with a stole). And, as a reporter, I've had people grope me, stare at my cleavage shamelessly as if it was their right. Well, being a journalist myself, I don't say this profession is safe but on several occasions I've put my Karate to use to protect myself. I've had a lot of people tell me that I'm safe because of the power of PRESS. But, my parents are equally worried about my safety as every other girl's parents and I'm no exception to any pervert on the road.

Case 3: Let me make one thing clear, media is no different when it comes to women's safety or people's thinking (journalists are seen as people who are open-minded. Most are not, only few are). There are people who scan every inch of a girl's body and unnecessarily comment, though they come out to others as open-minded people. And, then there are people, who being part of editorial teams, come out with preposterous suggestions of having a separate bureau for women and one for men in a profession that screams for equality. Well Mr-sucker-with-the-ridiculous-suggestion, does a separate bureau for women guarantee women's safety?

Case 4: From my personal experiences, I have come across lecherous "father-like figures" and I bet there are a lot more girls/women falling prey to these predators in the garb of nice, friendly and open-minded journalists. And, for "juniors", if it is their bosses (like Tejpal), they know their job is at stake. So, a lot more pressure mounts for one to take all the crap and go on with your job. Unfortunately, most media houses do not have women's safety cells. Does this remind us that the power in large media houses still wrests in the hands of men (who still want to dominate)?

Case 5: Some media houses do have women bosses and there is this feeling of safety for other women in having a woman boss. But, don't these women bosses too go through or have gone through some sort of harassment?

Case 6: Recently, I've seen some of the senior women journalists campaign for the upcoming press club elections. I have been wanting to ask them, instead of asking people to support their candidature, wouldn't it have been better for them to come to every woman and tell they'd probably take a step in establishing a women's safety cell at every media house in the state, in the wake of Tejpal's expose?

So, as media organisations that point fingers at every other institution, as watchdogs and as the fourth estate of this country, isn't it high time we stop doing all the talk and see some action at our workplaces? Time for self-introspection. "Look into thyself, first?".


NOTE: The post is a personal opinion. It has nothing to do with the organisation I work for. This is a result of my experiences ever since I began my career as a freelance journalist and then got into mainstream journalism.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Of assumptions and assault

A satire depicting the causes of rapes in India
Photo Credit: Abhinav Bhatt

This post is a result of a series of sexist comments and an assault, all on a single day.

Since it is Karthika Pournami today (a Hindu, Jain and Sikh holy festival, celebrated on the full moon day or the fifteenth lunar day of November), one of my colleagues expected me to perform pooja at home. (Yes, I work on a Sunday too). Well, assumptions are fine. But, what followed was irksome. "Because you are a girl, you are supposed to do it," he said. Further, "You will get a good husband if you do it. Now, you don't stand a chance." Though his lines don't mean anything to me, they sure point to the way most (not all) men look at or think about women.
The second case was even more baffling. Walking to have dinner at the nearest eatery at around 8.30 pm, I encountered this man who slowed down his bike and called out to me loudly "darling.....daarlingg...". I ignored or rather chose not to look at him. (That's how Indian women generally pretend, to avoid such circumstances). He then brought his bike almost to a halt and grabbed my hand (before I could even realise it). I was shocked but at the same time, grabbed his hand with mine and eventually, he fell off his bike and had scratches all over his face. Though it gave me a sadistic pleasure to see him fall, people around me didn't quite help me, except for their judgmental gaze. Those gazes were full of "what is she doing here at this time?" "Why is she out?" "Doesn't she have a home somewhere?". And, not surprisingly, all those were men and some who I knew. Hyderabad is a safe city. I've grown up here all my life and walked home at 2am too. But, this was different. Why this barbaric mindset or view about women that it is their flesh that men want? Why not have a humane side and respect her as another human being?

I do know all men aren't like this and that men have been bearing the brunt of all the negative news coming their way in the wake of rape incidents. But the fact that it took a Nirbhaya incident to wake up a lot of people, however, remains true. But, why should someone die (after being raped so brutally) in this country for one to figure out that one needs to be a human? Have we stooped that low?

We still have quotes/ captions/ banners at anti-rape protests or elsewhere (pointing at the mother): "Teach your son about consent." Why can't that be told to a father too? Do we realise that the period the mother was raised was also a patriarchal one or rather a masochist/chauvinistic one? So, the mother, in this case, would obviously inculcate what she was taught during her time. And, why do we see parenting as something connected only with the mothers? Isn't it a father's responsibility too?  (The case of a single mother/father is totally different though).

It is notions like these that still make sexist opinions prevail. Things are no different even in our daily lives. It is time we let go of such opinions and stop being a country full of hypocrites. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sex and the stigma

Note: This post is based on a state-level discussion I have been part of. The topic was "age of consent for sex". Here are some excerpts from panelists (who I do not wish to name here). What will follow will be my thoughts on the topic. Please note that I'm no expert on this topic. But, will give my opinion as a listener and an observer. (Opinions are personal).


Psychologist: "Before we look at this, we need to understand that biologically and mentally, the body only matures during the teenage, for some even earlier. Considering these factors, 12-13 seems to be the age for puberty. So, there is a need for schools (teachers) to give the right information. And, for parents, at home to impact sex education. When kids make informed choices, that becomes the right age. Whatever, whenever it is."

Child Welfare Committee Member 1: "Sex is emotional. According to our Indian culture, we only have sex with the person we love. It is against our tradition to have casual sex. We will be destroyed emotionally and cannot think of having casual sex. It is not part of our culture. It is a bonding we developed with our partner. Given that Indian laws say 18 is the age when a girl and boy become major at 18 and 21, respectively, the age of consent should be just that."

Consultant: "Given my experience of working in America and Europe, I have seen schoolkids become mothers due to unwanted pregnancies. These schools have day-care centres for the children of young moms. That is when I realise how India is in a safer position and that sex education at a later stage, say when the child turns 18, is right. So, age of consent as 18 is right." 

My thoughts:

Why do we need to coin terms like "age of consent"? There shouldn't be any age of consent. Isn't sex an individual choice? I do agree with the psychologist's view on the biological development of body. But, is biological development in our country being linked to the mental/emotional development too? No.

For example: Most schools in India have lessons on human genitals starting in Class 8 or 9. But, aren't our kids already bombarded/ exposed to/with information on sex or pornography by then through various sources (such as peers, media, ads, billboards, hoardings, Internet,etc.) even before the school textbooks talk about them?

So, how do we control this? Or rather should we control this at all? Why can't we give the information at different ages in different ways, based on their understanding, so that we don't end up deciding an age where our kids can have sex. Obviously, your child is not going to tell you the first time he/she experiences sexual intercourse.  

Isn't it imperative for us to first talk to them and tell them the difference between sex and sexuality education and give both to them, so they make informed choices and be responsible with their bodies. For example: One of the panelists was talking about how she enjoys watching romantic songs and cannot stop her kid from watching it. And, then went on to blame the cinema for it.

So, is it her fault or the child's or the cinema's?  In this case, the parent can control her urge to watch the romantic song if she sees it as something harmful to her kid. Second, why is intimacy seen as something dirty?

It is these misconceptions and lack of understanding that make kids do what they are prohibited from doing. So, what is it that you shouldn't do as a parent when you kid comes up to you to ask the meaning of "intercourse" that he or she heard somewhere?

  • Don't freak out or hesitate in uttering terms like Vagina or sex or penis.
  • Stop telling kids that sex is bad or dirty. You should realise that it is a human need. (Trust you babas and then, they'll exploit you sexually and call themselves abstaining from sex!)
  • If you do not know enough about sex or sexuality education, be willing to read. And, then impart whatever is necessary to your kids. 
  • Give information to your child at various stages in life, depending on his/her understanding. To begin with, tell them what parts of the body are private to them (This doesn't mean other parts are a public property — tell them this too ). 
  • If your kids come up to you with doubts or terms they heard somewhere, don't freak out and scold them. (Remember they heard it somewhere). In such cases, find out the source of information, tell them what is right and wrong. It doesn't end here,. Ask them about what they understood.
  • Don't ban them from watching TV. Let them watch what they like (it also depends on how you stop getting used to your daily dose of TV serials.) If they like cartoons, make a habit of watching it with them. 
  • If your kid is throwing tantrums about not staying with a relative or at your friend's place. Don't dismiss it as bad behaviour. (Your friend or relative might be a child sex abuser). So, find out why the kid dislikes their company.
  • Give your kid the freedom to talk to you about anything under the sun. Even if it is to buy a condom. (If your kid is asking you about the condom, you obviously will be flummoxed but you can be proud that he is making an informed choice) 
  • Finally, keep religion, culture, caste, race or other influences (you have), away from your kids when you are talking to him or her about sex. (Remember that you never thought of your religion or your culture or your colour when you were having sex with your partner. So, don't spread the disease).
  • Remember, sex education is biological and sexuality education is individual. 

  • And, DON'T thrust the evil thought of "What the society thinks of you" on your kids. (Remember that you won't think of any of it while having sex, either for pleasure or to give birth to a baby!). At the end of the day, the point behind bringing up you kid is to make him or her a good. informed and a socially aware human being.


    Saturday, September 28, 2013

    What Jagan's bail means for AP politics

    Turning criminals into demigods

    The release of Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy (son of late ex-chief minister of Andhra Pradesh Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy) from Chanchalguda jail after 16 months of imprisonment was celebrated with much pomp and joy by his supporters and such like. Even the media (hype) played its part in depicting the prime accused in the disproportionate assets case as people's leader. Despite all the drama, what Jagan's release means to the state of Andhra Pradesh has become a game of Chinese whispers.

    Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy 

    Here's what his release means to AP:

    • YSRC Party which has, ever since May 2012 (when Jagan was arrested), lost its sense of direction will now regain its vision as its leader is out of jail. Despite Jagan's mother Vijayamma and sister Sharmila trying to keep the party going in all these months, their efforts couldn't replace Jagan's mass appeal and aura, except for the padayatras.
    • After the Congress announced the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh on July 30, Jagan has been its only hope. 
    • Why is that so? Though the party has 17 seats in the Telangana region and has managed to pacify those in Telangana with the announcement, it sure knows that it would lose a larger pie of 25 seats in the Coastal and Rayalseema regions. So, if the Congress released Jagan from languishing in jail, it could push him as a Samaikhyandhra supporter and make him win in the Seemandhra region. (Only to form an alliance with him at a later stage).
    • Where will this lead the Congress? Since Jagan propagates himself as a Samaikhyandhra supporter, he is likely to win a greater pie in the Seemandhra region where Congress has almost lost its foothold. This way, Jagan is also a threat to the Telugu Desam Party which could gain a few seats in the Seemandhra region. 
    • As in the case of other political parties in the state, while it is clear that the Telugu Desam has no strength in the Telangana region except for one or two constituencies, TRS will definitely gain ground and greater support and MIM will support Jagan, BJP still has to figure out where it stands while the CPI still stays a neutral player.
    • Eventually, the Congress' game-plan is to make Jagan win the upcoming state elections to rule the Seemandhra region (where it is almost ousted) whereas in the Telangana region, it has vested the onus on the Telangana Rashtra Samithi lead by K. Chandrasekhar Rao (famously known as KCR). 
    • Finally, the plan of the Congress is to form an alliance with YSRCP in the Seemandhra region and with the TRS in the Telangana region, therefore, retaining its foothold in both the regions despite the bifurcation.
    If it wasn't for this gimmick, Jagan wouldn't have been out, neither would Mayawati nor would Lalu Prasad despite strong evidences with the CBI to prove them guilty. After all, we do have laws that the politicians make and break. And, we also have the Judiciary that remains a mere spectator!

    Monday, September 23, 2013

    Seeking new homes in Hyderabad

    Living in a tiny brick-walled house painted in white at the corner of a street in Balapur area of Old City in Hyderabad is Mohammed Ayaz (*). The lanky 26-year-old, malnourished and unkempt at first sight, wears a crumpled, muddy kurta and pyjama that gives you the impression that he hasn't bathed in a while. There is something else that is unusual about him, although it takes a few moments to figure out what. Ask him why he looks so shabby and if hasn't taken a shower, his wan smile vanishes. "Nahane ke liye, haath toh hona chahiye (To bathe, one needs to have hands)," he reveals as the tears flow like a stream down his glistening cheeks.
    Ayaz is a physically challenged person who lost his hands in one of the bloodiest riots his community has seen. For his neighbours in the Old City, he is a refugee, a Rohingya Muslim (a religious and ethnic minority community numbering approximately one million) who fled Myanmar in the wake of continuing atrocities against them last year. Dreary eyes and drooping shoulders are telltale signs of the ordeal and hardships faced by members of the community in India.
    "In May 2012, a group of nearly 400-500 Rohingyas, including me, crossed over into India from Bangladesh," says a teary-eyed Ayaz, adding, "we had fled Myanmar fearing further attacks from the Buddhists in the violence that spread through Myanmar's Arakan region in the Rakhine state province, on the western coast of Myanmar."
    Even before his flight, his hands had been chopped off in the violence that erupted in Mobedan of the Arakan region where Ayaz lived with his parents. "I was on my way to college around 9 am. Suddenly, a group of anti-Rohingyas attacked me, thrashed me with a stick and finally, chopped my hands off - just as a butcher does to a chicken," says Ayaz, in broken Hindi.
    The pain and trauma after his hands were cut off were extreme, says Ayaz even as people around him began running helter-skelter in the panic that followed. "It was chaotic. Everyone wanted to escape the thrashing." Ayaz even lost his parents during the violence. Recalling some of the horrific scenes from that day, he explains, "some were kicked in the stomach, some murdered brutally, some were cut into pieces and most, left homeless."

    Who are Rohingya Muslims?
    The Rohingyas are a Muslim minority from the Arakan province of Myanmar, renamed Rakhine by the military-led government in 1989. Ethnically, they are related to the Bengali people living in Bangladesh's Chittagong District. About one million Rohingyas live in the north of Rakhine State in Myanmar, which borders Bangladesh and includes the townships of Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung. The United Nations characterizes Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

    Without citizenship, a Rohingya cannot (legally) leave the townships of Rakhine State and, since 1994, they must request special permits to marry. Such permits also restrict Rohingya couples to having two children. Common-law couples are vulnerable to prosecution. The Burmese Army, during the country's 60-year military rule since 1962, committed rampant human rights violations, killing, raping and torturing members of the Rohingya Muslim population, culminating in a mass exodus - and a resulting chronic refugee crisis in neighbouring Bangladesh.
    The "statelessness" of the Rohingya Muslims worsens the humanitarian conditions that they are condemned to. This is because even as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the right to a nationality, the Burmese Citizenship Act, 1982 codifies the legal exclusion of the Rohingyas and denies them equal citizenship rights. The government includes Rohingyas in official family registries and provides them with temporary registration cards. But, these documents do not mention the place of birth which means that these documents aren't considered evidence of birth in Myanmar. Unfortunately, the Burmese President Thein Sein is still staunchly against amendments to the Burmese Citizenship Act.
    The rape of a Rakhine woman by a group of Muslim men and the violence that this led to between the ethnic Rakhine and Rohingya residents resulted in the displacement of nearly 75,000 Rohingyas from the state in June 2012. After a relative calm, violence resurged in October 2012 and spread to a larger area. This displaced an additional 35,000 Rohingyas. This adds to the figures of another estimated 2 lakh Rohingyas who fled during earlier riots, seeking refuge in Bangladesh, India and other countries where they are now seen as illegal migrants, says United Nations.

    Rohingyas in Hyderabad
    Ayaz was one of the 400-500 Rohingyas who ended up in Hyderabad while others moved to Delhi, Aligarh, Mathura, Kolkata and other places, says Malla Reddy, Joint Commissioner of Police, Special Branch, Hyderabad. Outside India, the Rohingyas migrated to Thailand, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia. The United Nations states that around 11,000 Rohingyas have moved to various parts of India in the aftermath of communal violence since June 2012.
    Like Ayaz, Azhar too (*) came to Hyderabad after he escaped the mob fury against Rohingyas in Rakhine state. "I was kicked badly in the stomach due to which my intestines have been damaged. It is difficult to gulp down food. Even digestion is a problem. It's like a living hell," laments the 25-year-old. The deep scars inflicted on his body bear testimony to the violence against the community.
    The influx of Rohingya Muslims into Hyderabad has been taking place over the past five to six years, explains Mazher Hussain, executive director of Confederation of Voluntary Associations (COVA), implementation partner of the United Nations High Commission of Refugees (UNHCR) in Hyderabad. "Since 2011, we have been witnessing a mass exodus from Myanmar to Hyderabad and close to 1500 to 2000 people have settled here in the last three years," informs Mr Hussain, adding that Hyderabad received around 100 refugees in 2010.
    According to data from COVA, from about 150 settlers in early 2011, the number of Rohingya Muslims currently residing in the city stands at 1400. Of the approximately 2000 who came in, some have been sent back to Myanmar by the UNHCR for being unable to prove that their life is under threat. Those who remain have settled in Hafizbabanagar, Balapur, Babanagar, Sainagar, Chandrayaangutta and Kishanbagh areas of the Old City.
    "Most of the refugees live in groups, with the highest number of them concentrated in Balapur," says Kiran Kumar, program officer at COVA, who looks after the welfare of these asylum seekers. To make a living, they work as daily-wage labourers. Some manage to get a security guard's job while others take up petty jobs, describes Lateef Mohammed Khan of Civil Liberties Monitoring Committee, an NGO that is trying to mobilise the local community to help these refugees make a living in the city.

    Challenges for a 'homeless' people

    Fleeing their home country hasn't made life any easier for Rohingyas. Food and shelter continue to be a problem, apart from the language barrier. "Age and language barriers pose a lot of problems," rues a 65-year-old Abdul Malik (*). Malik's son has managed to secure a job at a factory in Hyderabad and earns about Rs. 6000 a month. Rohingya Muslims speak a mix of Bengali and Mongoloid. Since some of them speak Urdu, they help out others who do not know the local language.
    Despite the presence of 1400 Rohingyas Muslims, hardly 100-150 of them have got refugee cards, reveals the COVA executive director. "It is a long and tedious process. To obtain a refugee card, it takes about 2-3 years," he adds.
    Recognition, Malik says, is the most important thing. "Our cries are heard but not acted upon. We were born to see bloodletting. Now, we have resigned ourselves to torture and persecution," he says as his eyes well up.
    The United Nations High Commission of Refugees gathers details of each asylum-seeker and registers the individual based on the area he has come from. The refugee then has to travel to Delhi where he has to undergo gruelling sessions of interviews to prove his identity and the purpose of migration. If the UNHCR is convinced, it would take another 3-6 months to process the application and give the asylum-seeker a temporary card. A Rohingya Muslim can only get a refugee card once he passes the temporary card stage. That again takes another two years, says Hussain, adding that the refugee card has to be renewed every five years.
    However, there are instances where the UNHCR can reject an asylum-seeker's card or not permit a refugee shelter in India. For instance, if the refugee is from the eastern part of Myanmar where there is no disturbance, the UNHCR will reject his request for asylum and send him back to his country. But, the refugee is also given a chance for second appeal. If the UNHCR isn't convinced even then, the refugees have no choice but to return to Myanmar.

    Community support

    To support their travel to and from Delhi as well as their stay here, COVA and Civil Liberties Monitoring Committee have sought donations from local people. The UNHCR had also set up the Burmese Refugees Relief and Rehabilitation Committee (BRRRC), where the displaced can seek help.
    "Last year, during Ramadan, donations poured in. It was more like a Ramzan fad. Scores of people made donations to help them survive," informs Kiran, adding that donations have gone down this year. Even Iran had, last year, offered cash assistance to a group of Rohingya refugees in Hyderabad who had fled the ethnic violence in Rakhine state. The Iran Consul General in Hyderabad, Mahmoud Safari, handed over a cheque of Rs.65,000 to COVA, trying to help them get official status for the Rohingyas from the UN body's office in New Delhi.
    Resident locals sometimes fear differences cropping up in the larger community due to the presence of these refugees. "We are aware that there is no threat from asylum seekers. But, there are occasionally minor tensions that could scale to unsavoury proportions," explains Abdul Karim, a resident of the Old City. The city police, though initially unaware of the exodus from Myanmar, is now keeping a watch; Reddy says they are now keeping a vigil on the moments of Rohingyas Muslims. "They are unlikely to pose problems for anyone because they are refugees who fear for their own lives. Most are yet to get their cards too," he adds.
    Despite help from locals, the tribe unfortunately isn't sure about its continuation here. "They live in constant distress and fear of being attacked," points out Reddy.

    Indian refugee laws

    India's laxity in framing proper refugee laws only seems to have escalated the refugee quandary. Despite being asked to sign the Refugee Convention 1951 and Protocol 1967, and promulgate a legal framework for refugees, the Indian government has been lackadaisical. Interestingly, the UNHCR hails India for its record in supporting refugees. In a report, it says, "Overall, India offers safe asylum to refugees and asylum seekers. Even in the absence of a national legal framework for refugees, India has traditionally been hospitable towards refugees."
    Meanwhile, judicial intervention has done some good for refugees. In respect of Articles 21 and 14 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court has declared that these (apart from other constitutional rights) are applicable to everyone residing in India, and not only to citizens of the country.

    Is there a way out?

    Even as the whole world listens to the sordid tales and cries of Rohingya Muslims, local security forces in Myanmar continue to be complicit in the violence, taking part in the violence directly in some cases and standing by in others as Buddhist mobs attack the Rohingya people, says Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Washington-based Human Rights Watch, in a report.
    Even as the state's cavalier attitude has caused so much pain for members of the community, some live in the hope that someday, Myanmar is going to accept them. "I hope to go back to where I originally belong - in Rakhine. I want to die in my home country," says 65-year-old Malik. Others are less hopeful. "Though I'm fortunate that Hyderabad has accepted me, I still rue the fact that my country has only sucked blood from our bodies, leaving us stateless and homeless," describes Ayaz. The only hope for him today is survival. "We cannot dream of living. Survival is our only tool and we will cling to it - even if we have to cross borders," he says. 

    * -- Names changed to protect the identity of the person.
      Note: This story of mine was first published on India Together. 

    Saturday, August 3, 2013

    Why I oppose the bifurcation of AP

    Disclaimer: Opinions are personal. Others' opinions/views are accepted.

    Telangana it is! That's how the Congress Working Committee (CWC) reluctantly paved way to the creation of a separate Telangana state with 10 districts, re-defining internal boundaries of India by announcing the 29th state on July 30, 2013.
    Though the news brought tears of joy to pro-Telangana people, it was a disaster for those who wanted the state to remain united with all the three regions. Everyone is aware that the decision comes in the backdrop of General Elections in 2014 and is evident that this is Congress' poll gimmick.

    Now that the inevitable announcement has been made, let's look at whether it was done for Telangana people who have been fighting for a separate state for over six decades or there were political interests involved.

    History of Andhra Pradesh

    Andhra Pradesh came into being on November 1, 1956, as a result of the formation of State Reorganisation Committee (SRC) in December, 1953 when the movement for linguistic states gained momentum in India under the Prime Ministership of Jawaharlal Nehru. A state with a mix of three distinct regions i.e. coastal Andhra, Rayalaseema and Telangana.
     The state was constituted with the merger of the large and predominantly Telugu-speaking residuary part of the erstwhile state of Hyderabad with the state of Andhra that had come into existence earlier after its separation from the then Madras state. It was also the first state constituted on linguistic basis after India's independence.

    The SRC measured the pros and cons of the demand for Vishalandhra and Telangana and came up with the following conclusions: (Source: Srikrisha Committeee Report)

    1. The creation of Vishalandhra is an ideal to which numerous individuals and public bodies, both in Andhra and Telangana, have been passionately attached over a long period of time, and unless
    there are strong reasons to the contrary, this sentiment is entitled to consideration.
    2. Another advantage of Vishalandhra will be that the development of Krishna and Godavari rivers will thereby be brought under unified control. The Krishna and Godavari projects rank amongst the most
    ambitious in India. They have been formulated after prolonged period of inactivity,…. Since Telangana as part of Vishalandhra will benefit both directly and indirectly from this development, there is a
    great deal to be said for its amalgamation with the Andhra State.
    3. The case for Vishalandhra thus rests on arguments which are impressive. The considerations which have been urged in favour of a separate Telangana State are, however, not such as may be
    lightly brushed aside.

    Even after demands from pro-Telangana leaders in 1956 -- Telangana students be given priority in education, jobs, sale of land in Telangana area be controlled by the Regional Council, etc, of the Gentlemen's Agreement were agreed upon and signed by the Government of India, there were two clauses that weren't approved. Despite the tensions, finally the proposal to form a unified state was agreed upon and it was called "Andhra-Telangana". The name was then changed to "Andhra Pradesh" when a Joint Select Committee made amends to the draft Bill of SRC.

    However, in 1969, The "Jai Telangana" movement gained movement following agitations discontent in service and employment matters and further covering financial matters called “Telangana revenue surpluses”, quickly spread like wild fire all over Telangana area with devastating effect. And, the central government appointed a Regional Committee 1958, to have a legislative advisory role over the executive; albeit, it was restricted to Telangana related development issues.
    This was followed by "Jai Andhra" movement in 1972.

    Development in three regions

    Despite Telangana people arguing that their region is a backward one, the Srikrishna Committee thought otherwise. It is foolish of us to ignore the report that has been put out after consultations with all types of stakeholders in the state. (Mind you, they're a bloody good team of intellectuals from all sectors).

    The 505-page report by Justice B.N. Srikrishna and his team said: "Telangana as a new state can sustain itself both with and without Hyderabad. The other combination of regions - coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema -- together can also sustain themselves as a state; in fact they can sustain themselves separately."

    Currently, AP is the fourth largest state in India in terms of area and fifth largest in population. It is ranked third in the size of gross domestic product (GDP) and 11th in the country in terms of per capita income. Gross state domestic product in 2011-12 was estimated at Rs 6,76,234 crore.

    Among the three regions, Coastal Andhra region recorded a per capita income of  Rs36,496 followed by Telangana (including Hyderabad) with a per capita income of  Rs36,082 (Rs33,771 excluding Hyderabad) and Rs33,056 in Rayalaseema at 2007-08 current prices.

    Interestingly, the Srikrishna report revealed that the GDP growth of Coastal Andhra remained constant ever since 2005 while Telangana (other than Hyderabad) and Hyderabad district have shown consistent increase in its share of GDP. For instance, the share of Telangana which was only 33% during 1993-94 has increased to 35% during 2007-08. Similarly, the share has increased from 5% to 8% in case of Hyderabad. Consequently, the share in coastal Andhra declined from 44% to 41% and from 18% to 16% in Rayalaseema region. It is important to note that the GDP growth in all regions excepting coastal Andhra.

    There is no denying that the fight has been for Hyderabad, the bone of contention for Telangana and Seemandhra, for being the highest revenue earner in the state. The city accounts for more than 50% of the state's tax revenues.

    In 2012-13, AP's tax revenues stood at Rs 69,146 crore. Of this, Rs36,400 crore came from Hyderabad and its surrounding Rangareddy district. The revenue from rest of Telangana was Rs11,207 crore, Andhra Rs 16,729 crore and Rayalaseema Rs4,810 crore.

    According to the Srikrishna Committee, Hyderabad accounts for 99% of the total of around Rs 55,000 crore IT and ITeS exports from the state. Of the 72 notified special economic zones (SEZs) in the state, 37 are located in Hyderabad and Rangareddy. In fact, Hyderabad and Rangareddy districts account for 44% of the registered manufacturing and 39% of the construction activity of the Telangana region.

    All this data only places Telangana (including Hyderabad) at a better spot compared to Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema (for being drought-hit almost throughout the year) where there has been minimal growth.

    Justifying the demand for T?

    Though there has been a storm in the T cup, the Srikrishna Committee report clearly states that it did not find any real evidence of any major neglect by the state government in matters of overall economic development of Telangana.

    Despite the Telangana struggle resurfacing in the post -2000 period with the rationale virtually being the same as in the earlier movements for Telangana, (such as the partial implementation of the Gentlemen‟s Agreement, unsatisfactory implementation of Presidential Order of 1975 on employment issues, the gap in educational standards among the regions, the denial of fair share of water and irrigation resources, and
    perceived neglect in economic development of Telangana region) the report described that there more sentimental and emotional reasons and attachment to a long held desire for a separate state of Telangana rather than the fight for better representation.

    On the political front, the Telangana movement after P. Chidambaram's announcement in 2009,  saw an upheaval in the Telangana region -- from Osmania University to school students, NGOs and members from other T forums literally setting themselves on fire in the fight for a separate statehood.

    All said and done, the movement soon disintegrated in minor factions which saw the rise of lackwits like Prof. Kodandaram, Swamy Goud who made the most of the "Telangana cause" from bribing to blackmailing. Even political parties had separate Telangana forums. Unfortunately, even the Tollywood industry bore the brunt of the movement.

    On the other side, some innocent students who fought for the cause from the bottom of their hearts, lost lives during the struggle. Fast-unto-death became the new normal and the state was on fire with agitations and bandhs, making everyone's life hell, the agitators included.

    There were reports of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), (formed in 2001 for Telangana statehood demand -- spearheaded by K. Chandrasekhar Rao), looting from people in the name of Telangana to warning insitutuions/corporates/companies of vandalising property. And, uncertainty loomed large over the status of Hyderabad as it happens to be the hub of bustling economic activity in the state.

    Hair-raising speeches, those full of anger, against Seemandhra people brought Telangana people together. One cannot ignore the fact that it was also because Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, is dominated by Seemandhra people. Almost 70-80 per cent of the capital is populated by settlers from Seema and Andhra regions.

    Differences and similarities

    For this, one also has to look at the cultural differences between the three regions. Originally, because of the feudal system prevalent in Telangana, most worked a labourers under the landlords. This also tweaked the fear of being subverted by the Seemandhra people. Despite the advancement of the region, the colonial hangover still dogs Telangana.  

    Historically. Telangana people have always been considered as those who preferred working where they belonged rather than migrate to other places for a living. In contrast, Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra people always migrated for a living. This also explains why Hyderabad is dominated by Seemandhra people.

    Most businesses, educational institutions and other places are run and owned by the Seemandhra crowd in and around Hyderabad. Rayalaseema also has the history and the credit of producing some of the best politicians in the state of Andhra Pradesh. There is also another peculiar factor about Rayalaseema people -- they see Bangalore (Karnataka) as a better business destination because it is geographically closer and there is a culture-match.

    All these considered, even education and employment-wise the Andhra and Rayalaseema regions have been able to excel while Telangana districts still lag behind. Even those in the IITs, BITS and other top institutions are evidently from Andhra region.

    How politicians, of all sizes and parties, worsened things

    Though the demand for Telangana created a buzz, it worsened with politicians' selfish motives. KCR, despite his hate speeches against Seemandhra people, has been able to unite people in the name of Telangana. That also marked the rise of his family members, his son, K.T Rama Rao, daughter Kavita and others like Harish Rao and actual believers like Narendra (who was instrumental in the formation of TRS party in AP) go into cocoon and later, resign from TRS.

    The central government too played its cards right in ruining the state of Andhra Pradesh after Chidambaram's announcement. AICC chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Azad, Digvijay Singh and the other top Congress ministers swayed to Miss Gandhi's tunes and successfully dragged the issue till 2013. Even parties like the Telugu Desam Party, the BJP, Praja Rajyam Party (now merged into Congress -- led by K. Chiranjeevi) and YSRC party that opposed Telangana's formation dug their own grave on the issue. This also led to a party-hopping trend among MLAs, MLCs and other politicians.

    Interestingly, Chidambaram was the one who paved way for the formation of the Justice B.N. Srikrishna Committee. Later, the Congress itself did not bother about the comprehensive report for which it has constituted a committee.

    Moreover. the decision of a separate state would have been respected if the Srikrishna Committee report on Telangana was discussed in the Parliament and the Centre arrived at a decision on T after the debate. However, the report was ignored despite its analysis and the Committee's 7 solutions fell on deaf ears as the Centre decided to go ahead without any basis for carving out a separate state after the CWC meeting.

    Furthermore, this is the first time that the central government has moved to create a new state in the face of such opposition from the "parent" state.

    Pre-poll stunt

    On his blog, Parakala Prabhkar, a political commentator, said: "A careful reading of the Justice Srikrishna Committee Report and a mere glance at economic data, history, political developments and the cultural narrative of the state and the region would have shown that the claims and allegations of the agitation are unsupported."

    The decision of the Congress high command on T is unlikely to yield substantial electoral benefits in 2014 to the Congress. Telangana's electoral pie is small with 17 seats. The Congress will face stiff competition from several parties and end up with a small share of seats as TRS, YSRCP, CPI and TDP battle it out. In the Coastal and Rayalaseema regions, the electoral pie is larger with 25 seats. Here the party is likely to be routed because of its decision to divide the state where there is a strong demand for a unified state.

    While the gains for the Congress in Telangana are likely to be uncertain and small, the losses in the other two regions seem to be certain. It's decision to retain Hyderabad as a joint capital for the first 10 years may also lead to tension between Andhra and Rayalaseema regions for a new capital. This can also be supported by Seema MLAs coming up with demands for Greater Rayalaseema to include Nellore and Prakasam with four districts - Kurnool, Kadapa, Ananthapur and Chittoor.

    What's in store?

    The Congress party's flawed understanding of the Telangana issue and its electoral miscalculation will guarantee the opening up a huge can of worms across the country.

    According to the Srikrishna Committee, the land locked region of Telangana may lose out on access and opportunities to eastern coastline, which has major ports. Similarly, Seemandhra could lose a major market inherent in the huge population, business and market concentration of the city of Hyderabad.

    Telangana - and the remainder of Andhra Pradesh - may also face the further challenge of sharing Hyderabad as a state capital. Hyderabad, which will remain a centre of economic activity, is physically located within the Telangana state but may itself be separately administered as a Union Territory.

    Even, the Muslims, who are an integral part of Hyderabad, could intensify their demand for a Nizam state through MIM party. This might create further tension within the state's capital.

    On the flipside, after statehood, the hard task of choosing new political leaders, building new administrative structures, raising revenues, and negotiating with the central government poses a challenge. With small states like Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand failing to set good examples of economic growth, Telangana's creation also raises similar doubts, given the backwardness of the region.

    As a result of carving out Telangana state, we already see a pervasive clamour for the creation of new states from several parts of the country like Bololand, Gorkhaland, Vidharbha, etc. These are only likely to increase in intensity and number, says Mr Prabhakar.

    Even as differences between people of different regions cannot be ignored, they can still be respected, had the cause not been twisted for political interests. The movement also puts the country in a self-introspection mode where its strength lies in its unity in diversity.

    Forget not what the Preamble of the Constitution says: “WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens: JUSTICE, social, economic and political;  LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation”

    But beyond the goal of statehood lie multiple interests and visions which will need to be accommodated and its effects are open to guesswork until elections in the State and the Centre next year.

    Events that led to Telangana's announcement

    Picture credit: Financial Express


    1948: The Indian Army annexed princely state of Hyderabad, which had different regions including Telangana.

    1950: Telangana became Hyderabad State with appointment of a senior administrator M.A. Vellodi as the chief minister.

    1952: First elections were held in Hyderabad State. Burgula Ramakrishna Rao became the first elected chief minister.

    November 1, 1956: Telangana was merged with Andhra State, which was carved out of Madras State, to form Andhra Pradesh, a united state for Telugu-speaking people.

    1969: 'Jai Telangana' movement for separate statehood to Telangana began. Over 300 people killed in police firing.

    1972: 'Jai Andhra' movement began in coastal Andhra for separate Andhra state.

    1975: Presidential order issued to implement Six-Point Formula, providing some safeguards to Telangana.

    1997: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supported demand for Telangana state and in 1998 elections promised 'one vote two states'.

    2001: K. Chandrasekhara Rao floated Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) to revive the Telangana movement.

    2004: TRS fought elections in alliance with the Congress, won 5 Lok Sabha and 26 assembly seats. The UPA included the issue in its common minimum programme and formed a three-member committee headed by Pranab Mukherjee.

    2008: TDP announced support for Telangana demand.

    2009: TRS contested elections in alliance with TDP but its tally came down to two Lok Sabha and 10 assembly seats.

    September 2, 2009: Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy died in helicopter crash, triggering political uncertainty.

    October 2009: K. Chandrasekhara Rao began fast-unto-death for separate Telangana state.

    December 9, 2009: Centre announced its decision to initiate the process for formation of Telangana state.

    December 23, 2009: Following protests in Rayalaseema and Andhra regions and en mass resignations of MPs and state legislators, the centre put the process on hold, citing need for consensus.

    February 3, 2010: Centre set up five-member Srikrishna Committee to look into Telangana issue.

    December 2010: Srikrishna Committee submitted its report, suggested six options.

    December 28, 2012: Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde announced after an all-party meeting that a decision will be announced in a month.

    July 1, 2013: Congress leader Digvijaya Singh announced that a decision on Telangana is in final stages.

    July 12, 2013: Congress core group met on Telangana to discuss reports by the chief minister, deputy chief minister and state Congress chief.

    July 26, 2013: Congress core group held another meeting, Digvijaya Singh said Congress Working Committee (CWC) and UPA will take a final decision.

    July 30, 2013: UPA coordination panel and CWC met and decided to carve out Telangana state.

     (Source: IANS)