26-Jul-2005

Indian Education

Destined to beat the US? One comes across the huge numbers stacked in favour of India (and China) emerging as a threat to the US. Like these:
China will produce 3.3 million college graduates this year and India 3.1 million, compared to 1.3 million in the U.S. In engineering the gap is even more dramatic: 600,000 graduates in China, 350,000 in India, and a mere 70,000 in the U.S.
Two articles from Fortune check out the pros and cons. While one says, talking of the US:

the greatest challenge will be changing a culture that either values education nor sacrifices the present for the future as much as it used to—or as much as our competitors do.
The other says:
... As for the quality of education, America’s universities remain the world’s best, and American elementary school students do well in international comparisons...

21-Jul-2005

Judging The Justice

Elsewhere, judges are treated to not a little lighthearted scrutiny. Of their names even. And politicians question them closely before they are confirmed.

18-Jul-2005

They Saw, They Conquered

Time is still a bit scarce, so I'm not able to update the blog as much as I'd like to.

Couldn't resist this though. The latest 'get rich quick' scam in Bangalore. The guys responsible seem to have a cruel sense of humour. Look at the name - Vini Vinc. Some reports have the name of the actual firm as Vini Vinc Investments. Abbreviating - Vini Vinci. That's 2/3rds of Caesar's statement Vedi Vini Vinci! - I came, I saw, I conquered. So the firm's name can be taken to mean - I saw, I conquered. I would have preferred Vedi Vinci - I came, I conquered. But the people involved were already here most probably.

On the other hand, I'm probably being too fanciful.

08-Jul-2005

38 Dead

In the London attacks so far. First Spain, now UK. Next Denmark and Italy. Bush's allies pay for their support if the statement is to be believed. A 'litany' of previous London attacks here, all by the IRA.

One addition to this list - Kargil, 9/11, Akshardham, London. Except for a Galloway.

07-Jul-2005

Holy Places, Temples, And Then Ayodhya

kmp writes in, in response to One More Attack:
Temple near my house was broken at least twice in the last few years (it means under both NDA and UPA rule), and people say, whenever the “Hundi” gets filled – it gets broken. No political party calls for protests!!! Because, it is place of worship/faith.

Joking apart, Ayodhya is place of “Politics” more than a place of worship/faith (it propped up a whole new political dispensation). In fact that is the reason terrorists picked up this place. Obviously BJP will cash in the incident (however unfortunate it is).

I don’t think Opposition (BJP) will allow the “dust to settle down” to protest. I don’t think it will matter then. Imagine, BJP calling a “bundh” saying, “Let’s protest against the last month’s attack on Ayodhya”. Obviously you will ask why now, why not then? They have been saying for a while that “Internal security” is diluting (but Government, played it down), now they have a reason to be vindicated. (Perhaps, the only thing they have got right, so to speak).

To be fair to government’s reaction – they are also doing it right - appeal for calm, do few meetings, criticize the opposition (for politicizing), of course blame state government for lapse of security.

I personally feel this is a breach of security. 5 guys, battles with host of security personnel, for 90 minutes and reaches just about 100 mts of highly secured place – I think it is breach of security.

PS:

>>They must be thinking they did something wrong after all.

Good one!!
The timing of the protest and the blame-setting. My point is this. It is generally accepted that during times of national emergencies, the opposition (and the government) refrain from politicising the event, and extend their full support to the government. This is what happened during the initial days of Kargil I think, unless someone corrects me. The opposition did not blame the government for the Pakistani intrusions. And it would have been in dubious taste to do it too. This is what happened during the initial days of 9/11. The Democratic party stood with the Bush administration. Similarly for Akshardham and so on.

Whether this is a correct convention can be debated. And maybe this incident does not belong up there with the big ones. But it had another aspect to it - that of potential violence in reaction to the incident. At that moment, the opposition needed to stand with the government and also cool down the tempers of their own party people. They could have criticised it later, once it was clear that no untoward incidents would occur. Not a month perhaps - more like a day or two. Luckily, people seem to have lost interest in the Ayodhya issue. Else, I think the reaction to such statements, coming at the time they did, could have been bad.

As for the government blaming the states, I think kmp is referring to the statements by the Home Minister (and also a chief secretary) that intelligence had been available and had been forwarded to the states. That could have been a response to a direct question from journalists if the government had any prior knowledge of the attacks. Probably that explains why there was no headline anywhere saying "Centre blames UP state government". I'd love to know if there, in fact, were headlines like that. And though kmp does not compare the two, Shivraj Patil (or a chief secretary) blaming the state is not the same as Vajpayee speaking out against both. Patil and Vajpayee have different sized spheres of influence.

And the government criticizing the opposition - that is precisely my point. They had every reason to, considering the fact that they themselves had refrained from doing such things when in the opposition. And moreover it was actually the Congress spokesperson who did the criticizing. The PM merely requested (demanded would probably be too uncharecteristic) that the issue not be politicised by anyone.

And yes, 100 metres does seem a bit close. So there could be a case for thinking of it as a breach of security. I'm probably looking only the end result. Probably it is not like a ODI match where only the result matters. There were reports that security was about to be reduced in the near future - evidence that there was a feeling that nothing would happen. But something did happen.

05-Jul-2005

One More Attack

As Hindustan Times notes here, this is the third such attack.

The BJP is planning a protest tomorrow. As one reader writes in there, a protest against what? The fact that the 'most important' garba griha has not been disturbed? That the attack was successfully, by all current accounts, repulsed? That the security in place worked inspite of everything? Why this grandstanding? Why this haste to stir up hornets' nests?

And the ageing former PM blames the Centre and State governments for the attacks. And Jaswant Singh is the chosen one - he gets to make the important call for resignations. Couldn't they have waited till the dust settled? And could this demand have some thing to be said in its favour after all?

To be fair to Advani, he did bring up Akshardham during the press conference. He did make another specious distinction between the two, that Ayodhya has a much more important place in the country's heart, etc. But at least he brought it up.

But who gets to tell the security people over there that they did a good job? They must be thinking they did something wrong after all. Maybe the people they killed weren't the terrorists. Maybe they had come to pray at the temple.

04-Jul-2005

Not Off The Cuff

The Pakistan remarks were not off the cuff evidently. Someone is paying for it, which would not have happened if it was off the c.

And yes. "Mysterious disclosure" does justice to the letter leaking episode. How do letters go from writer to the intended person at those levels? Does the writer, S Kulkarni in this case, put it in an envelope, lick it shut and then hurry to the nearest post office? Or does he knock on the latter's office door and silently handover the missive to him - who is probably sitting at his desk - reminding one of an intra-office romance popularised by Hindi movies? Does he use a courier? Or a kid playing nearby? Does he hand it over to the actual person or to his personal assistant? These are relevant questions which could throw some light on the leak. I plump for the personal assistant.

Bad Memory

Old Chandamama comics used to have two drawings which are very similar to each other yet have some differences. The kids' task was to find out the differences between the two. It may be a whisker missing in one, or a tail which is shorter or whatever. Well I have one such task for any reader who cares to do it. Read the Tavleen Singh column I mention in this post. Then read this column by the same lady, from April 25, 2004. (I first came across it here, and was able to locate it in Indian Express.) She writes about her trip to the Deoband Dar ul-Uloom in both.

Now list the differences in the two accounts of the visit.

03-Jul-2005

In A Spot - 030705

This is the second episode in the In A Spot series. Speaking simply, I'm happy to have the opportunity.

Tavleen Singh puts herself in a spot again. Read this if you don't believe me. She's got the Imrana case firmly in her view, but a much bigger picture and target in her mind. Let me leave the initial paragraphs for now, and jump directly to her recollected visit to Deoband.

She goes to the Dar-ul-Uloom in Deoband and wants to meet the Maulana there. He does not share her enthusiasm for a face-to-face and gives two reasons -
1) She does not have a prior appointment.
2) She is not veiled.
Perfectly good reasons to get rid of unwanted visitors. But it irritates her and for some strange reason Saudi Arabia comes to her mind and the thought that this is India and not that oil-rich sheikdom. To me, the appropriate response from the Maulana (or his watchman) would have been : "This is my school and my mosque. I set the rules. I meet people I want and don't meet people I don't want. You can either like it or lump it". I'm sure there are many religious institutions and non-religious institutions where interviews are not given on the fly to every hack who happens to be passing by. Hell, there are temples down south were men have to bare their upper ends before entering and many where women are not allowed inside, pray they ever so hard and for whatever number of years. People have accepted it. Coming back to Deoband, some students eventually show Ms Singh the right way - hop it to the main office to fix an appointment and return at the given time. She turns down this advice.

But she does take a stroll inspite of the watchman, a rude thing to do, and discovers - what else - Saudi Arabia. Why Saudi Arabia? Because all the men are bearded and wearing Islamic clothes - whatever that means. And the fact that all the books are in Urdu or Arabic. She probably forgot that Urdu is indigenous to the subcontinent though influenced by other languages, including Arabic. She tries to talk to some students, but they too want nothing to do with her - she was disrespectful of their teacher (the Maulana) and they only speak Arabic. Mind you, they tell her all this in Urdu . She concludes that they are "nauseatingly fanatic" and - yes, rude. She forgets the earlier bunch who helpfully pointed out the correct procedure for meeting the big M.

The visit ends and all the rebuffs have obviously led her to the conclusion that the whole atmosphere is medieval and extremely unpleasant especially for women. The "fine, white-washed Islamic buildings and ... magnificent mosque" are forgotten. Added to all this, she was able to spot only one woman the entire while. Ms Singh probably isn't aware that people studying religion (any religion) don't generally have too many women keeping them company. A certain asceticism is considered the thing to strive for in such places.

Finally the big picture and two questions are saved for the last and for, who else, Sonia Gandhi and also Mulayam Yadav : Why is this seminary even allowed to exist? And will the Maulvi's who pronounced the fatwa be punished?

How can the government shut down schools of religious studies? On what basis? And why this insistence of a shutdown only now? As for the maulvis, the time to punish them would be when they go and force their views on the concerned individuals. I mean, taking turns at her house to force her to follow what they said. A more sensible option is to see what can be done against the f-i-l. And the f-i-l has been put in judicial custody. What else can be done? And it is not even clear apparently that there was a fatwa. Could it have been someone just giving their opinion?

Now to the initial sections of the column where she notes that Deoband is the inspiration for the Taliban and inspired execution of women for adultery in Afghanistan. It does seem to be true, but not entirely. In reality, schools teaching more extreme forms of the Deobandi Islam seem to have mushroomed in Pakistan. The Taliban leaders actually studied in those schools. They were also heavily influenced by their own tribal traditions. So the full blame for their actions do not rest in the Deoband school.

Can there be a more sympathetic and understanding view of the school? Apparently yes and for that we need to look to an American writer, writing in Time. Here. Why does the writer, just 10 days after 9/11, come away with more sympathy than our own Ms Singh? Who knows.

And Ms Singh also writes:
What should concern us is that the Dar-ul-uloom will get away with its outrageous interference in the law.
What "outrageous interference" in the law? There apparently has not even been a fatwa. Someone apparently asked them an opinion about an hypothetical case and the person in charge of such issues replied. That's what they are saying now. May or may not be true. But it at least casts some doubt on their fanaticism.

My rating of this article by Ms Singh: Could do better.

Update: I have steered clear of the victim and her plight here. Of course, one's heart goes out to her and hopes that she gets full justice.