Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ooty - The Queen of Hill Stations in India

Getting to know the real Ooty - Things you won't get off the internet!

I don’t think I have ever come across a single place with so many names! Most popularly known as Ooty, this quiet South Indian hill station is also known as Ootacamund, Ottakalmandu, Whotakaymund, Udhagai and Udhagamandalam, its official name (for NOW). Ooty is the capital of the Nilgiris, or the Blue Mountains, and has been christened as the Queen of Hill Stations for its outstanding beauty. Founded in 1819 by John Sullivan, the then collector of Coimbatore, Ooty is a blend of British colonial architecture and a natural beauty unique to Southern India.

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Till death do we part? - Empowerment enables urban Indian women to end unhappy relationships

While being educated and financially independent is helping urban Indian women to now walk out of dysfunctional relationships, there are several social stigmas that endanger their chances of living a normal life post divorce. This article is an attempt to change this mindset of the society at large which considers a divorced woman to be 'substandard'.

You views on the subject would go a long way in helping this change to take place!

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Changing Mindsets - The rise of the urban Indian woman

Urban Indian women have turned the mindsets of their generation and are surging forward towards farther horizons of success and progress. It will be, we can hope, only a matter of time when women of rural India can join in this wave of change.

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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Why do we have such few GREEN days in Indian cities?

2nd June 2010 was observed as 'Paperless Day' in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. Over a hundred thousand people from government agencies and schools participated in the event in order to help tackle the environmental problem of carbon emission and deforestation.

September 22 each year is declared 'World Car Free Day'. On this day, private vehicle owners should avoid using their own transport and use public/ government services instead. Such schemes are followed by several countries like China, Britain, France, Indonesia and Columbia.

Then, of course, there is the highly popular 'Earth Hour' when, on a specified day, for a specified hour, cities all around the world switch off lights in an effort to reduce energy consumption and control climate change.

Indian cities are developing at such an amazing rate that environmental conservation almost always takes a back seat. Just ask anyone who has been in Bangalore for the last 4-5 years (like ME) and they will tell you how the cities climate is disintegrating right before our very eyes. So why don’t we have more of such GREEN initiatives running across Indian cities? Given below is a link from the Ministry of Environment & Forests site which lists its major initiatives planned for last year (2009-2010).

When I read through it, it sounded very complex, expensive and, at the end of the day, not very result oriented. Well, at least these initiatives won’t have any immediate impact towards improving the environment. State level initiatives DO get launched once in a while but these are half hearted efforts which are not followed through efficiently. It is obvious that, if we wait around for the municipalities and governments to start acting on environmental issues, we might end up living in a city that looks like a dump yard and feels like a sewer, hot, humid and smelly!

So what do we do?

What we need is well planned, well orchestrated and well executed drives like the ones mentioned at the beginning of this article. These drives can be planned by NGOs or the corporate world (Corporate Social Responsibility has got a log way to go in India). Individuals with great environment saving ideas should be able to get sufficient assistance from such institutions. We don’t want to end up with hundreds of small NGOs with limited resources. So it would be great if all the many NGOs merged into easily distinguishable and approachable departments. Once this infrastructure of Providers (Companies), Organizers (NGOs) and Workers (Volunteers) is set up and focused towards achieving specific goals that is when each and every city in India will be able to take care of its own environmental issues. Such collated strength will also enable us to get some hard to get help from the state/ central governments and ministries.

Being more organized, well funded, thoroughly planned and efficiently executed, I am sure that the people of not just India, but any country facing the kind of environmental challenges that we face, will be able to tackle the problem on a more immediate and effective basis.

And not just have ministries spending millions of rupees on research that never gets done!

While we are at it, here are some suggestions for GREEN initiatives and how often they should be held:

1. No Car Day – Once a month.
2. Paper Less Day – Once a month
3. Clean up your neighbourhood day – Once every quarter.
4. Plant a tree day – Once a year, with a commitment to take care of the tree for that year.
5. Recycling Day – Once a month. Set up collection points in as many areas as possible where people can deposit material collected over the month.
6. Family Picnic Day – Once every quarter. Families should be encouraged not to use electronics throughout this day, instead plan an outing to a local park for a fun filled, low environmental impact day.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Inadequate police force a problem - Chidambaram

The Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram admitted today what every man, woman and child in Indian cities knows.

'Policing a country of over 1.1 billion people is not an easy task. Policing a country in a troubled neighbourhood makes the task more difficult. And policing a country with insufficient police stations and inadequate and an ill-equipped police force makes the task almost formidable,' Chidambaram said in a speech at the 40th All India Police Science Congress in Raipur.

This isn't news for the common man. We have known this fact for years now, haven't we? Still, thank you Mr. Home Minister for acknowledging it!

However, we still need to acknowledge that the situation is REALLY bad because a whole lot of this inadequate force is busy taking bribes and freebies from city shops and vendors.

I have already written about constables taking bribes from road side vendors.

In Bangalore, the law states that all liquor shops, bar, lounges, basically any place serving alcohol, should close business by 11pm each night. It is the police's job to ensure that this law is followed. Most Indian's reading this will be able to predict what REALLY happens. Yes, instead of enforcing the law, the police have 'tie ups' with shops and vendors who pay them a monthly fee to keep their business running beyond the deadline. This is, of course, in addition to the free drinks the police get to pick up from them. Just hop on a bike and go through the streets of Bangalore at 11pm. You will be able to see the live action of what I have related here.

So, Mr. Home Minister, while you try to increase the police force and equip them better, it would be a good idea to put them through some moral training as well. Otherwise, you could keep adding to the force and people will end up with more corrupt pockets to fill.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Role Reversals – A ‘Wife-ish’ Husband and ‘Husband-ish’ Wife Tale

In modern day India, it is common for both the husband as well as wife to be working. The high cost of living, the standard of lifestyles in cities, the cost of educating the kids, the cost of bringing kids into the world in the first place et al has made dual income in a family a necessity.

The age old custom of arranged marriages in India used to be: Well educated, well settled, high salary boy weds fair, slim, homely girl from a respectable family. Times change, however, and the norm now a days is for grooms to look for brides who are not only equally educated but also almost as well salaried as them. It is the latest ‘success formula’.

It often happens though, that the husband faces a downturn career or a wife experiences exceptional spurt in their careers. Or, as in the many cases post the recent economic recession, a husband finds himself out of work and the wife assumes the position of the bread winner of the family. This is when things get a little tricky.

Under normal circumstances, both husband and wife share the household tasks in addition to sharing the responsibility of keeping the financial wheel turning. So long as the husband is earning more than his wife, she is, however, expected to place greater importance to the running of the house. In fact, this is supposed to be her ‘natural place’. It is the ‘A woman’s place is in the kitchen mentality’ which somehow doesn’t change much no matter how well educated and morally advanced the couple is. Even in the scenario where the husband is out of work, the wife is STILL held fully responsible for running the household, even if the husband DOES take up a lot of chores.

Now, before you start calling me a paranoid feminist, I would like to add that the same kind of thinking applies to a husband. There are several men who, when in the state of unemployment, take complete responsibility of the household as a kind of recompense for the lack of financial contribution. This may seem and in fact IS something to be appreciated, not all men like being seeing in the role of a home maker. If, however, this goes on for a prolonged period, let us say over a year, the wife WILL start blaming her husband for ignoring his primary responsibility – of being the main bread winner.

This is not an India specific mentality, it is also prevalent in foreign countries (financial inequality is one of the main reasons for divorces in the US). I suppose it is part of our grain, no matter how loud we trumpet the rise of the woman or the sensitivity of man. At the end of the day, each has certain instinctual expectations of the other. So, to sum it all up, if a relationship is to be happy (at least in financial terms), we need to stick to our natural order. Women, though they may earn, should be accountable for the running of the household, and the man, though he may help out with chores, should be primarily responsible to bring the cash in. Keep this line of demarcation clear, for storms arise when it gets fuzzy!

Freedom Flotilla Massacre – A Crime against Humanity

So Israel has a blockade up against Gaza as part of a war that has been going on for decades. The Freedom Flotilla was going to violate that blockade to bring much needed aid to the impoverished Gaza strip. Israel reacts by storming the ships making up the Freedom Flotilla in international water at night and ending up killing 10 civilian activists and arresting the remaining activist. Of these, 50 were deported while the others have are been held in prisons.

Israel had made several claims. First, that the Freedom Flotilla was not carrying aid and was a threat. Second, the Freedom Flotilla violated its blockade. And lastly, that the activists on board the Freedom Flotilla were armed and had attacked the raiding commandos first.

None of these claims change the fact that the issue of the Freedom Flotilla’s cargo was not raised earlier, that the ships were raided in international waters and that the civilian activists were attacked with fire arms by trained commandos. How the raid COULD have been handled has been debated vastly over the internet and most experts believe that there was no need for the Freedom Flotilla to be stormed. Also, why is Israel refusing families and human rights groups to contact those who have been arrested?

This is yet another case of excessive force being used by Israel to tackle a situation which could have been handled without spilling any blood. The Freedom Flotilla massacre does not go towards clearing Israel’s trigger happy image, especially when the issue has been in the international eye for weeks.

So why did they do it? Was Israel trying to make an example of the Freedom Flotilla, to set a precedent of how it will deal with those protesting the blockage against aid to the Gaza Strip? If this was the case, then it has failed miserably. Not only have its actions brought on worldwide fury but the organization which had sent the Freedom Flotilla has already dispatched another batch of aid to be followed by yet another. They are refusing to back down its efforts to bring an end to the blockade and end the suffering of the 1.5 million impoverished people of Gaza.

Well, at least their course of action is loud and clear. What remains to be seen is how Israel reacts to Freedom Flotilla 2. Will the world simply react to the massacre through verbal condemnation? Will the US administration, which has been tight lipped about the entire incident, remain non-reactive and lose its credibility as well?

Whatever may happen, the Freedom Flotilla massacre is a crime against all of humanity. No one has the right to prevent aid from reaching war ravaged civilians. Period.