Wednesday 25 July 2012

Yes, Oprah - We "still" eat with our hands, so what?

Media Mogul Oprah Winfrey is in the headlines again, not to say for the bad reasons! People haven’t forgotten that she was in India, for the first time, in January to shoot an India special for Oprah's Next Chapter. The series was aired on Discovery Channel and its affiliate TLC - The Lifestyle Channel - over the weekend. So what? There lies the crux of the story. Winfrey's negative take on India in the show has been largely criticized.

During her visit, Winfrey visited a Mumbai slum, the Jaipur Literary Festival, where she taped an interaction with noted writer Deepak Chopra, a widow’s home in North India, rounding off with a must-see trip to the Taj Mahal. The episode also filmed Winfrey spending time with families, from the slum-dwelling poor to millionaires, including being escorted by Indian film icon Amitabh Bachchan and his family to a glamorous Bollywood party hosted in her honour by leading Mumbai socialite Parmeshwar Godrej.

Watching the show – yes, I must admit, her talk shows are addictive and I often end up watching some of them, compromising with some hours of my sleep -- I was shocked to see her take on India and Indians. 

She was guided through a slum in Mumbai by Gregory David Roberts, the author of Shantaram, and went to meet a family of five. She was surprised to see the family – parents and three children – living in a 10x10ft room. She was surprised to see the whole family living in a small space. But what was most shocking was she asked the children how they could live in such a “tiny” room and actually wanted to know, “Don’t you feel it’s too cramped?” She asked the, if they were happy living in such a small place. Maybe the children, who are happily living with their parents, might have wondered why she’s asking such a foolish question! Not enough of her queries, she asked the father if “he was happy and satisfied”, which made the man to get tears in his eyes. All he said was he wished he could earn more and provide for a more comfortable life for his children. Adding to the woes, Winfrey didn’t keep quiet, after making the man weep in front of his family, she said that she knows how awful it is for children to see their father weep!

In fact, she looked for a shower head in the toilet and was amazed to hear that the family bathed with a bucket! She was astonished by the fact that all their clothes fit onto a small shelf. Why didn’t she ask the family how they enjoyed the big LCD TV that adorned their walls? Had she mentioned about the TV, maybe it would have killed the whole purpose of her visit to the slum, to their house. The painful story would have been marred by the mention of the TV! When their older daughter told Oprah that she’d like to go to London to study further, Oprah played her role as American ambassador. She said: “No. Come to America, it’s a lovely country. It’s the best.”

After visiting the slum, she visited a rich joint family, which was dressed in full Indian regalia, in Mumbai. They served her a meal in silver plates and bowls. She looked at the food and asked one of the family members, “So I hear some people in India STILL eat with their hands”. I felt like screaming at her ignorance or maybe arrogance… Which Indian will not get angry at her question? I wondered if people in the US eat pizzas, burgers, sandwiches and tacos using forks and knives, or I don’t know if they have some other cutlery for them!

Another generalization she did when she told her viewers, “ALL women in India live with their mothers-in-law and extended family.” Where did she get this impression from? Everybody living with mothers-in-law and extended family? God knows and she knows…

Then, decked in Tarun Tahiliani’s designer saree, she headed towards Bachchan family. There she met the family and saw Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan’s child and said the baby was “lit from within”. Sorry, I couldn’t understand what she meant by that!

Later, she went to the party thrown in her honour by billionaire socialite Parmeshwar Godrej. She wondered at the paparazzi outside the Bachchan home, which is quite impressive on any given day. AT the party, she said hi, hello to Priyanka Chopra, Shiamak Dawar, Anil Kapoor and other Bollywood stars. She interrogated A.R. Raman – sorry, that how she called him, Raman not Rahman! She talked to him about how “even he lives with his mother and whether he loves his wife who he had an arranged marriage with”.

Leading news channel CNN-IBN posted an “open letter” to Oprah Winfrey from an Indian who eats with her hand” on its website penned by Rituparna Chatterjee. The letter read: “Oprah, your comment about eating with the hand is really not that big a deal to us; we are used to gross Western ignorance regarding our ancient country. But as a responsible public figure about to air a show that will be beamed across the world, you should have done your homework. Using our hands to eat is a well established tradition and a fact none of us are ashamed of. Our economic distinction has nothing to do with it. A  millionaire here eats the same way a pauper does. You have been to Asian nations. You should know that.”

Questioning Winfrey's motives, Chatterjee added, “Poverty is an inseparable part of India, you say, and seek out the human stories that make the grind bearable. But which India have you come looking for? The one that shops at state-of-the-art supermarkets and vacations abroad or the one whining about their misery in tiny holes of homes with LCD televisions on the walls? The India that scrapes by with $200 a month but sends its children to subsidized government schools to pick up fluent English? The India of your press information - fascinating, with its many-headed goddesses and grimy, naked children playing by roadside hovels - or the India of the future - an economic superpower that looms large outside the range of an average American's myopic vision?”

A critique of the show by online news site writer Rajyasree Sen described the two-episode series as “myopic, unaware, ignorant and gauche. This was Middle America at its best worst”.

Winfrey's tour of a Mumbai slum, where she met a family of five living in a cramped room, was also criticised by Rajyasree Sen. She said: “And the slum is where Oprah’s 'oh-my-god-how wonderfully-pathetically-quaint-to-be-so-poor' avatar stepped out in full glory. .. Now I’m not surprised that Oprah was surprised to see an entire family living in such tiny quarters. Although I’m sure she could find cramped ghettos in the U.S... She did look for a shower head in the toilet and seem amazed to hear they bathed with a bucket. And she marveled at how all their clothes fit onto a small shelf. She pointedly avoided any mention of the massive LCD TV which adorned their wall. That would have killed the sob story. When their older daughter told Oprah that she’d like to go to London to study further, Oprah also played her role as American ambassador to the hilt and said, “No. Come to America, it’s a lovely country. It’s the best”.”

Another leading newspaper group Dainik Bhaskar posted the headline “Snobbish Oprah Mocks India” and said: “In a typical American snooty style, the talk show queen tried to portray a superficial ‘sob story’. Oprah was anything but a good guest when she went around the small room interrogating the family members about their ‘poor’ living style and ‘miserly’ living.”
In its coverage of how the show got a “thumbs down”, 
India Real Time – not to forget it’s the Wall Street Journal's India-specific blog -- said: “The smell of incense (tick), the sari fitting (tick), the aspirations of slum dwellers (tick), and the glitz of Bollywood (tick). Let’s not forget arranged marriages and the fact that Indians, even rich ones, “still” eat with their hands (tick, tick). India as Westerners imagine it, one stereotype at a time.”

On the other hand, a few of the many online comments to the India Real Time story supported Winfrey's coverage of India's reality. “The views Oprah presented are cliched BUT TRUE! I am an Indian who lives in the U.S... To many middle and upper class families, the India Oprah presents simply does not exist. I was shocked to speak to members of my family and they denied that people are dying of malnutrition and starvation below their very ivory towers,” said a post by RJ.

Some even say that Oprah showed what’s reality and there’s nothing wrong in what she did. “Oprah showed what she saw in India. What’s wrong with that? If we can’t clean up our act, then we have no business feeling offended,” said another post by Esh.

Is it something to do with how India and Indians are projected after Slumdog Millionaire? Maybe, who knows? Many people in the West think India is filled with slums and Indians have been stereotyped like that everywhere. “Since the time Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, Indians have been stereotyped everywhere like that. Whenever I’ve met someone, they do mention Slumdog Millionaire, as if every Indian was that. For many in Europe, India is what is shown in Bollywood movies, women are sexy, wearing short skirts and barely covered bodies and couples sing and dance around trees and in public areas. They are not able to differentiate the real life from movies. The most common stereotype in Europe about India is that there are a lot of people in India dying or dead on the streets. Many are scared to visit India, just because there are too many people,” said a post by Gajendra K.    

So I’m not the only one who’s criticizing Oprah’s take on India, a whole lot of Indians are also of the same opinion.

Monday 23 July 2012

Love Jihad resurfaces

Love Jihad has once again hits the headlines and this time it’s in Kerala. The Christian community in Kerala has reportedly expressed its concern about love jihad and according to the Global Council of Indian Christians, it has “victimized” 2,868 women so far.

The latest case of love jihad involves a Christian woman from Kochi, who left her husband and married the driver of a school bus. Later, she was arrested for allegedly supplying SIM cards to Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Thadiyantavide Nazir, who is currently in prison.
Dr Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, said that Deepa Cheriyan converted to Islam and changed her name to Shahina. Deepa, whose husband works in the Middle East, had an affair with Naushad, who was working as a driver.
Dr George believes that Deepa, like many others, is a victim of love jihad. This issue even piqued US interest. The US diplomats in their report from Chennai consulate said: "Both Hindu and Christian groups have expressed fear and outrage at the 'plot', while Muslim groups have felt the need to defend their co-religionists against the conspiracy theorists".
In a cable sent in February last year mentioned that though the ongoing police investigations in south India had cast doubt on the existence of a "love jihad", the recurring assertion of its existence, despite contrary evidence demonstrates the suspicion and intolerance that exist among some of the region's religious communities.
The report also said: “The Commission for Social Harmony and Vigilance of the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council had reported that there had been 2,868 female victims of love jihad in Kerala between 2006 and 2009. The panel had made several recommendations to parents through its newsletter, including a recommendation to monitor children's cellphones and computers, so that they can be better prepared to fight the phenomenon and resist charming young Muslim men involved in the scheme.” 
The cable, as disclosed by WikiLeaks, said that Sajan George was convinced that “there was a concerted effort in south India by some Muslim men to get Christian women to fall in love with them in order to convert them”. 
The Kerala high court had also taken note of the matter and had asked the police to investigate the cases of two college-going girls. The two girls were allegedly forced to convert to Islam after they married Muslim men.
Police in Kerala said that in most cases of love jihad, the victims were merely used as pawns in criminal activities. Many of the victims had no idea what they were getting into and often got into lured by the young men.

Added to all this, a controversial poster, warning against Muslim youth marrying and converting Hindu girls, appeared in the premises of the BJP headquarters in New Delhi. What’s surprising is the fact that the poster gave the instances of Bollywood actors Aamir Khan and Said Ali Khan who had married Hindu women, had children and then went for a divorce.  

"Wake up Hindus, wake up. Beware of Love Jihad," the poster warned, appealing to people to report such incidents, and provided an e-mail address and a mobile-phone number. 

Though the poster was later removed from the BJP office, it was allegedly put up by the radical Hindu outfit Bhagat Singh Kranti Sena, but advertised a group called the Anti-Love Jihad Front. Remember which is this Sena? Yes, rightly guessed. It’s the same outfit whose members had allegedly assaulted Team Anna member Prashant Bhushan some months ago and had protested against writer Arundhati Roy for their views on Kashmir!

Ok, let me come back to the term “Love Jihad”. It is also called as “Romeo Jihad”. It is an alleged activity under which some young Muslim boys and men reportedly target college girls belonging to non-Muslim communities for conversion to Islam by feigning love! While similar activities have been reported elsewhere, the term has been widely used to describe the activity in India.

Reports of similar activities have emerged from Pakistan, where Hindu and Sikh girls were targeted, and the United Kingdom. Targeted sexual offences and forced conversions of Hindu and Sikh girls was not a new phenomenon in the UK, said Ashish Joshio from Media Monitoring group. "This has been going on for decades in the UK. Young Muslim men have been boasting about seducing the Kaffir (unbeliever) women. The Hindu and the Sikh communities must be commended for showing both restraint and maturity under such provocation," he said.
Police in the UK are even working with universities to clamp down on "aggressive conversions" during which girls are beaten up and forced to abandon university courses. The problem was most common in cities such as Birmingham, Leeds and Bradford, while London universities had “at least two or three cases” each. 

Why would Muslim boys target non-Muslim girls? Ramesh Kallidai, from the Hindu Forum of Britain, estimated hundreds of girls had been targeted, with some reports of Muslim boys being offered £5,000 “commissions”.  The National Union of Students said it did not want to discriminate against Muslims but agreed some extremists were causing concern. They have managed to infiltrate Brunel University in West London, Bedfordshire University, Sheffield Hallam University and Manchester Metropolitan University, according to a Muslim charity.

Coming back to India, this activity has raised concerns in various Hindu and Christian organisations. On the other hand, Muslim organisations in Kerala have denied that any such activity is true.  

When some parts of the country were worried about this issue, investigations were conducted in 2009 in Kerala and Karnataka and the reports said that there were no such activities in the country.

In January 2012, Kerala police declared that Love Jihad was "[a] campaign with no substance" and brought legal proceeding against the website for "spreading religious hatred and false propaganda". What more to say, the issue successfully garnered the international attention.

Organisations and people alleged that love jihad was conducted in Kerala and Managalore, and Kerala Catholic Bishops Council claimed that up to 4,500 girls in Kerala have been targeted, whereas Hindu Janajagruti Samiti claimed that 30,000 girls have been converted in Karnataka alone. Not just that, even general secretary of Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana said that there had been reports in Narayaneeya communities of love jihad attempts.

This activity, rather say the very term, became popular in September 2009, when the reports of two women from Pathanamthitta in Kerala were forced to convert to Islam after being lured by two Muslim men "feigning love". Initially, the women said their conversion was voluntary. However, subsequently - they were staying with their parents in the interim period on the court's orders - they claimed they were abducted and coerced to convert. The two men were reported to be members of Campus Front, a student outfit of the Popular Front of India, a conglomerate of Muslim organisations that is alleged to be engaged in radicalizing Muslims in south India.

What’s noteworthy is the fact that Christians, who have been in the crosshairs of the Hindu right-wing for their offer of "inducements" to convert Hindus to Christianity, have joined hands with Hindu right-wing organisations against the love jihadis!

When police have declined any such activity in the country, why are parents so scared? There’s a reason for this. Traditionally, marriages have been arranged by parents and this trend is slowly changing. Youngsters are increasingly choosing their own partners. They sometimes choose a partner who is from a different caste or sub-caste or sometimes different religion altogether. When parents don’t agree for such a mix marriage, youngsters don’t even think of convincing them, they defy rules, they defy parents and just elope to marry the person whom they have chosen as partner. Maybe it is this fear of losing control over their children which makes parents to get worried.

Why only non-Muslim parents are worried? There’s yet another reason for this. Muslim parents confine their daughters to homes or put them under a burqa. But non-Muslim parents have no other go but to keep themselves busy policing their daughters or thinking up of new ways and means to control them. Whatever it is, the issue is not going to die that sooner.   

Forced abortions in China

Pan Chunyan was grabbed from her grocery store when she was almost eight months pregnant with her third child. Men working for a local official locked her up with two other women, and four days later brought her to a hospital and forced her to put her thumbprint on a document saying she had agreed to an abortion. A nurse injected her with a drug.

“After I got the shot, all the thugs disappeared,” Ms. Pan, 31, said in a telephone interview from her home in the southeastern province of Fujian. “My family was with me again. I cried and hoped the baby would survive.”

But after hours of labor, the baby was born dead on April 8, “black and blue all over,” Ms. Pan said.
Recent reports of women being coerced into late-term abortions by local officials have thrust China’s population control policy into the spotlight and ignited an outcry among policy advisers and scholars who are seeking to push central officials to fundamentally change or repeal a law that penalizes families for having more than one child. Pressure to alter the policy is building on other fronts as well, as economists say that China’s aging population and dwindling pool of young, cheap labor will be a significant factor in slowing the nation’s economic growth rate.

“An aging working population is resulting in a labor shortage, a less innovative and less energetic economy, and a more difficult path to industrial upgrading,” said He Yafu, a demographics analyst. China’s population of 1.3 billion is the world’s largest, and the central government still seems focused on limiting that number through the one-child policy, Mr. He said. Abolishing the one-child policy, though, might not be enough to bring the birthrate up to a “healthy” level because of other factors, he said.

Beyond debate about the law itself, critics say that enforcement of the policy leads to widespread abuses, including forced abortions, because many local governments reward or penalize officials based on how well they keep down the population.

Judging from the talk on microblogs across China and articles in state-run newspapers on forced-abortion cases, the one-child policy is being questioned more widely than in recent years. Last month it came under sharp criticism from a group of scholars and policy advisers at a forum at Peking University co-organized by the National Bureau of Statistics to discuss the results of the 2010 census. Scholars at the meeting were outraged by the plight of Feng Jianmei, a victim of a forced late-term abortion in early June whose case became widely known after photographs of her dead 7-month-old fetus were posted on the Internet by a relative.

“I think the right to have children is the right of a citizen,” said Zhan Zhongle, a law professor at Peking University who has sent a petition signed by scholars and business executives to the National People’s Congress urging its members to repeal the law.

Officials have made changes to the policy over the years, and by one estimate there are now at least 22 ways in which parents can qualify for exceptions to the law. But the majority of adults remain bound by it, and there is no sign its repeal is in the works. The National People’s Congress, largely a rubber-stamp legislature, is unlikely to take up Mr. Zhan’s petition without support from the top levels of the Communist Party.

Still, some former officials and scholars instrumental in helping to formulate the original policy were at the forum, raising hopes among longtime critics that the concerns would be heard among members of the National Population and Family Planning Commission.

The diplomatic crisis in the spring over Chen Guangcheng has also brought more attention to the policy. Mr. Chen, a self-taught lawyer who recently escaped from house arrest and left for New York, is perhaps the most famous advocate for women who are forced to undergo sterilization and abortion; his work incurred the wrath of local officials, and the central government ignored his persecution in Shandong Province.

There are no reliable estimates on the number of forced sterilizations and abortions, but it does not seem to be as rampant as it was a decade or two ago. Still, the recent cases show overzealous enforcement of the one-child policy remains a problem. Xinhua, the state news agency, has reported that forcing pregnant women who are in their third trimester to abort is illegal.

Besides the concerns of lawyers and human rights advocates, economists and business executives have expressed anxiety about the impact of a slowing population growth rate on the economy. Liang Jianzhang, a well-known executive with a doctoral degree in economics from Stanford University, and Li Jianxin, a demographer at Peking University, have estimated that by 2040, the number of Chinese older than 60 would be 411 million, up from 171 million today. The working population — people between the ages of 20 and 60 — would drop to 696 million from 817 million today.

The 2010 national census shows that the average birthrate for a Chinese household is 1.181; it is lower in cities and higher in rural areas. There have been some studies, including a long-term experiment in a county in Shanxi Province where the family planning law was suspended, that show that families would not have many more children even if the law were abolished. Scholars say the reasons are rapid modernization and a mass movement toward urban areas — parents often say they cannot afford to have more than one or perhaps two children. This means not only that the one-child policy may no longer be necessary, but also that its repeal would not necessarily benefit the economy.

While more debate may be under way, the family planning commission itself continues to stand behind the one-child policy. It held a semiannual work conference on Thursday and posted a statement on its Web site afterward that praised the policy as having helped avoid 400 million births since it was put in place in 1980.
Starting in the 1980s, local officials who failed to meet a set standard of controlling population growth were generally penalized in their evaluations for promotion, no matter how well they did in other categories.

Mayling Birney, a scholar at the London School of Economics and Political Science who is studying the evaluation system, said many local officials say the population control quota remains among the so-called one-veto criteria for promotion and is about as significant a goal as maintaining stability or growing the local economy. “This pressure really comes from the higher government,” she said. “The actions of lower officials are very much driven by how higher officials are rewarding and punishing them.”

Some township government Web sites that give a breakdown of goals for officials list population control as a priority. In a survey Dr. Birney conducted last year, some officials said they could be given a warning, fined or even removed from office if they did not meet family planning targets.

Such is the case in Daji Township, said Ms. Pan, the woman forced to have the late-term abortion in April.
Ms. Pan, a resident of Daji, said Ma Yuyao, the head of the township’s family planning commission, “scores points for promotion” by keeping the population down. Many parents ready to pay the fine of $7,200 for a third child are still coerced or forced into having abortions to make sure targets are met, Ms. Pan said. (Daji is a rural area, and couples there are apparently allowed two children without penalty.)

Ms. Pan’s husband, Wu Liangjie, said the couple gave Mr. Ma $8,700, as he had demanded, but Mr. Ma still ordered the abortion.

Mr. Ma could not be reached for comment. A woman answering the telephone at the township government office said officials had no comment.

Mr. Wu traveled to Beijing several weeks ago to seek the advice of lawyers on filing a lawsuit. But in the last week, neither he nor Ms. Pan have answered their cellphones, raising suspicions that officials from Daji may have intimidated them.

Ms. Pan said earlier that men had begun following her after photographs of her in the hospital were posted by sympathizers on the Internet.

As for the future, she said she and her husband did not plan to try having another child again.

“We both feel like we almost died,” Ms. Pan said, “or lost half of our lives.”

(Source: The New York Times)

Qatar prisons ‘always open for rights bodies’

Officials of the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC), the human rights department at the Ministry of Interior (MoI) and the Red Crescent visit Qatar’s prisons regularly to make sure that prisoners enjoyed their full rights according to international standards.

“The doors of the prison are always open for these human rights organisations to conduct field visits inside the various departments and make sure for themselves about the standard of the services presented to prisoners,” said Colonel Mohamed Saud al-Utaibi, director of the Penal and Reformatory Institutions department of MoI at a recent interview with local Arabic daily Al-Watan.

Col al-Utaibi welcomed such visits and pointed out that these representatives could meet prisoners alone to hear from them about their rights. He also indicated that remarks of such organisations are usually very simple and are taken into consideration accordingly.

Col Al-Utaibi affirmed that the inmates, whether Qataris or expatriates have equal rights and duties governed by the prisons law no 4 for 1995, which does not distinguish between Qataris or non-Qataris.

“According to the applied regulations, each inmate has the right to make two phone calls a month. In addition, exceptional phone calls are allowed in case of necessity or for reasons estimated by the director of the department or prison officials. Further, non-Qataris are allowed to receive periodical phone calls from their relatives, whether they were inside Doha or abroad,” pointed out the director.

Col al-Utaibi said that recently new methods of communication have been adopted through the Internet such as Yahoo Messenger, Skype, Facebook and Twitter, which would be offered free for the inmates.

“This would make things easy, especially for foreign inmates, and ease the burden of cost on their relatives. This idea was highly received by the inmates and they are eagerly waiting for its launch. However, this would not in any way be an alternative for the usual visits they are entitled to,” he said.

He explained that prisoners are housed in wards according to the type of crime they had been convicted of. Some wards have two persons, and others four or six, according to the type of building.

“Classifying inmates is considered one of the modern approaches in penal treatment inside prisons and it is among the provisions of law no 4 for 1995. Each category of prisoners is classified into grades according to age, type of crime, criminal history, and similarity in social and cultural backgrounds. Each category is given special place at the prison to facilitate the process of rehabilitation,” said Col al-Utaibi.

He further pointed out that this classification serves the interests of prisoners themselves for some were not really criminals but were deluded into crime. Therefore, it is not proper to put them with “criminals that may adversely affect their conduct”.

Prisoners are kept occupied through a variety of constructive activities including handicrafts, agriculture, sports and different cultural activities. There is also a separate workshop for female prisoners, where they practise suitable crafts such as clothes making, and drawing. Currently there are 13 female inmates in the prison.

During Ramadan, inmates of each ward enjoy a quality group Iftar. “Recently the department has hired qualified cooks and the meals offered to inmates are excellent in quality and quantity,” said the director.

Non-Muslims are offered their meals in a normal manner and they abstain from eating in front of their Muslim counterparts in Ramadan as a way respecting their feelings. However, they share their Iftar and Suhoor to enhance the spirit of participation among them.

The present central prison was inaugurated on February 13, 1986 on Salwa Road.

“It was given a modern design taking into consideration that prisons are places for correction, rehabilitation and reform,” explained Col al-Utaibi.

The prison contains eight buildings and two new buildings have been added lately. Col al-Utaibi indicated that there is a plan to build two more new wards.

“The issue is not to find new buildings to accommodate more prisoners for the perspective of the Ministry of Interior is to reduce the rates of crime. Consequently, the number of prisoners would decrease, and this has been really achieved lately,” stressed Col al-Utaibi.

(Source: Gulf Times)

Friday 20 July 2012

Karnataka orders all temples to hold prayers for rain

This was the only thing left. Yes, Karnataka has asked all the 34,000 temples in the state to conduct a special pooja to please the rain gods.

The state is having its worst drought in 42 years and the government has gone a step ahead, asking all the temples to conduct pooja seeking rain. If the pooja is conducted at a cost of Rs 5,000 each, then it would cost Rs 17 crore! Yes, a whopping Rs 17 crore!

Who has given the orders? The state endowments ministry. Minister KS Poojari, whose last name means "priest", has not delayed in given a statement and clarifying that tax-payers' money will not be used for these rituals to propitiate the rain gods. And who is paying money that too Rs 17 crore? “Temple trusts will fund the poojas,” Poojari has said.

It’s not just churches, even mosques and churches in the state have also been asked to conduct special prayers for rain. The BJP government of Jagadish Shettar wants these prayers conducted on July 27 and August 7.

Who knows if given a chance this government will ask all the temples to conduct poojas to save the government from frequently falling, and the state would sponsor the poojas, not to mention that it would be taxpayers’ money. God save the state and people…

Thursday 19 July 2012

Why is Rajesh Khanna called Bollywood's 'first superstar'?

It’s the end of an era. Isn’t it strange that superstars have a persona so large, even larger than life, that we often forget that they are also mortals and one day or the other they will leave the world like every other living soul.

On Wednesday, July 18, 2012, “Bollywood’s first original superstar” Rajesh Khanna, popularly known as Kaka, died at the age of 69 at ‘Ashirwad’, his house on Carter Road in Mumbai.

But as media covered the news of his death, all the newspapers, television channels used the phrase “Bollywood’s first superstar” and then I for a moment I asked myself, ‘what, first superstar?’ Yes, no doubt he was a big star the Indian cinema had ever seen, but was he the first superstar, as the media, Indian and foreign, kept on buzzing? I was surprised whether Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand, who ruled the Hindi film industry even before Rajesh Khanna, were not superstars? Didn’t they give super hits?

If not Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand, Kapoor family is still giving hits in Bollywood. Raj Kapoor has left an entire family of stars. His sons Rishi Kapoor and Randhir Kapoor, his grandson Ranbir Kapoor and granddaughters Karishma Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor – even his daughters-in-law Babita and Neetu Singh have given some big hits -- have given hits in the film industry. And moreover, who can deny the contributions of Raj Kapoor to Hindi cinema which is probably greater than that of most of his contemporaries?

Was Raj Kapoor not a superstar then? Didn’t he deliver successful films like: Barsaat (1949), Aah (1953), Awaara (1951), Boot Polish (1954), Shree 420 (1955), Chori Chori (1956), Anari (1959), Kanhaiya (1959), Main Nashe Men Hoon (1959), Jis Desh Men Ganga Behti Hai (1960), Aashiq (1962), Ek Dil Sao Afsane (1963), Sangam (1964), Teesri Kasam (1966), Around the World (1967), Diwana (1967), Sapnon Ka Saudagar (1968), Mera Naam Joker (1970)?

And what about the legendary songs is films delivered? Who will stop from humming "Laga Chunri Mein Daag" (Dil Hi To Hai), "Dil Ka Haal Sune Dil Wala", "Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh" and "Pyar Hua Ikrar Hua" (Shree 420), "Ae Bhai Zara Dekh Ke Chalo" (Mera Naam Joker), (Shree 420), "Aaja Sanam Madhur Chandni Mein Hum", "Jahan Mein Jati Hoon Wahin Chale Aate Ho" and "Yeh Raat Bhigi Bhigi, Yeh Mast Fizayen" (Chori Chori), "Masti Bhara Hai Samaan", "Belia Belia Belia" and "Mama O Mama" (Parvarish), "Chalat Musafir" (Teesri Kasam), "Lallah Allah Tera Nigehbaan" (Abdullah)?

Not to forget the fact that Raj Kapoor had received many awards, including nine Filmfare Awards and 19 nominations. His acting was rated as one of the "Top-Ten Performances of all time", by the Time Magazine.

How can anyone forget Dilip Kumar and his superhit songs like “Ude jab jab zulfen teri” (Naya Daur, 1957), “Suhana safar aur yeh mausam haseen” ( Madhumati, 1958), “Do sitaron ka zameen par hai milan” (Kohinoor, 1960), “Tu kahe agar” (Andaz, 1949), “Nain lad jaye hain”  (Ganga Jamuna, 1961), “Insaaf ka mandir hai ye” (Amar, 1954), “Pyaar kiya toh darna kya” (Mughal-E-Azam, 1960), “Saala main toh saab ban gaya” (Sagina, 1974), “Tere husn ki kya tareef karun” (Leader, 1964), and others?

Not to forget an important fact that Dilip Kumar-starrer Mughal-E-Azam (1960) broke box office records in India when released and held the record for the highest grossing film ever until Sholay broke its record in 1975. This was (counting Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas) the most expensive film ever made in Indian history. Tailors were brought from Delhi to stitch the costumes, specialists from Surat-Khambayat were employed for the embroidery, Hyderabad goldsmiths made the jewellery, Kolhapur craftsmen designed the crowns, Rajasthan ironsmiths crafted the weapons, and the elaborate footwear was ordered from Agra. For the battle sequence, 2,000 camels, 4,000 horses and 8,000 troops were used, many of them soldiers on loan from the Indian Army. Altogether the film cost Rs 1.5 crores (132.7 crores in present terms).

Then getting back to Dev Anand.  Guide (1965), Jewel Thief (1967), Hum Dono (1961), Kaala Bazaar (1960), Teen Devian (1965), Asli Naqli (1962), Tere Ghar Ke Saamne (1963), Kaala Paani (1958), Johnny Mera Naam (1970), Bombai Ka Baboo (1960), CID (1956),  Paying Guest (1957), Nau Do Gyarah (1957), Jewel Thief (1967), Johny Mera Naam (1970), Tere Mere Sapne (1971), Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971),  etc.

And the hit songs, rather say evergreen like him are so many: Aankhon hi aankhon mein, Aye dil hai mushkil jeena yahan, Jaata kahan hai deewane, Kahin pe nigahen, Leke pehla pehla pyaar (CID), Chod do aanchal, Mana janab ne pukara nahin, Haye haye yeh nigahen, O nigahen mastana, Chand phir nikla (Paying Guest), Hum hain rahi pyaar ke, Aankhon mein kya ji (Nau Do Gyarah), Hum bekhudi mein tumko, Acha ji main haari, Nazar lagi raja tore bangle par (Kaala Pani), Khoya khoya chand, Rimjhim ke tarane leke, Sach hue sapne tere (Kala Baazar), Main zindagi ka saath nibhata, Abhi na jao chodke, Allah tero naam (Hum Dono), Tere ghar ke samne, Dil ka bhanwar, Dekho rootha na karo, Sun le tu dil ki sada, Tu kahan yeh bata (Tere Ghar Ke Saamne), Arre yaar meri tum bhi ho ghazab, Aise to na dekho, Khwab ho tum ya koi haqeeqat, Likha hai teri aankhon mein (Teen Deviyan), Wahan kaun hai tera, Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna, Gaata rahe mera dil, Tere mere sapne, Kya se kya ho gaya, Din dhal jaaye (Guide), Yeh dil na hota bechara, Raat akeli, Aasman ke neeche, Hothon pe aisi baat, Dil pukare aare (Jewel Thief), Palbhar ke liye, O mere raja, Nafrat karne walon, Husn ke lakhon rang (Johny Mera Naam), Hey maine kasam li, Jaise radha ne mala japi, Jeevan ki bagiya, Ta thai tat thai (Tere Mere Sapne), Phoolon ka taaron ka, Dum maaro dum, I love you, Kanchi re (Hare Rama Hare Krishna), etc.

Then how come Rajesh Khanna is considered the first superstar? Is it because the term superstar was not coined in the time of Raj Kapoor or Dilip Kumar or Dev Anand? Or is it the term film critics and analysts gave him? Why did they choose that particular term? Is it because of the countless stories of women who were literally crazy about him? It’s not a secret that women, irrespective of their marital status, would send him letters written in their blood. Female fans would wait outside his Bandra home just to get a glimpse of their heartthrob. They chanted his name, left lipstick marks all over his car and even got married to his photograph. To define all this popularity did they find the word “superstar” apt? Maybe. Or is it because he has an enviable track record of 15 consecutive superhits in the 1970s,  a record that will probably never be broken? Maybe. Or just those three dialogues made them to call him a superstar? Maybe.

 “Ae Babu Moshai, zindagi aur maut uparwale ke haath hai jahan-panah. Usse na aap badal sakte hain na main.” (Anand, 1971)

“Pushpa, I hate tears.” (Amar Prem, 1972)

“Kisi badi khushi ke intezaar mein hum yeh chote chote khushiyoon ke mauqay kho dete hain.” (Bawarchi, 1972).

These dialogues are evergreen and whoever has watched his films will never forget these lines. His dialogues remain etched in the memories of all his viewers. And the songs too live in the memory of Indians, after all he brought alive onscreen the creative efforts of RD Burman, Anand Bakshi and Kishore Kumar, and he had the fortune of featuring in some of Bollywood’s greatest ever melodies. Whatever be the reason, he remains in our mind and his songs will keep haunting us...

And here goes some of his hit melodious numbers:
- Kora Kagaz Tha Yeh Man Mera (Aradhana) 1969
-Mere Sapnon Ki Raani (Aradhana) 1969
- Roop Tera Mastana (Aradhana) 1969
- Woh Shaam Kuch Ajeeb Thi (Khamoshi) 1969

- Achha To Hum Chalte Hain (Aan Milo Sajna) 1970
- Dil Sacha Aur Chehra Jhootha (Sachcha Jhootha) 1970
- Jeevan Se Bhari Teri Ankhen (Safar) 1970
- Meri Pyari Behaniya (Sachcha Jhootha) 1970
- Yahan Wahan Sare Jahan (Aan Milo Sajna) 1970

- Yeh Jo Mohabbat Hai (Kati Patang) 1970
- Yeh Shaam Mastani (Kati Patang) 1970
- Pyaar Deewana Hota Hai (Kati Patang) 1970
- Kahin Door Jab Din Dhal Jaaye (Anand) 1971
- Zindagi Kaisi Hai Paheli (Anand) 1971

- Chala Jata Hoon (Mere Jeevan Saathi) 1972
- Chingari Koi Bhadke (Amar Prem) 1972
- Kuch To Log Kahenge (Amar Prem) 1972
- O Mere Dil Ke Chain (Mere Jeevan Saathi)1972
- Diye Jalte Hain (Namak Haram) 1973

- Main Shayar Badnam (Namak Haram) 1973
- Mere Dil Mein Aaj Kya Hai (Daag)1973
- Jai Jai Shiv Shankar (Aap Ki Kasam) 1974
- Karvate Badalte Rahe (Aap Ki Kasam) 1974
- Gore Rang Pe Na Itna (Roti) 1974

- Zindagi Ke Safar Mein (Aap Ki Kasam) 1974
- Mere Naina Saawan Bhadon (Mehbooba) 1976
- Aate Jaate Khoobsurat (Anurodh) 1977
- Humein Tum Se Pyaar Kitna (Kudrat) 1981
- Agar Tum Na Hote (Agar Tum Na Hote) 1983

- Shayad Meri Shaadi (Souten) 1983
- Zindagi Pyar Ka Geet (Souten) 1983

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Hillary Clinton's record: 13 days, 44,000 km trip!

If diplomatic achievements were measured by the number of countries visited, Hillary Rodham Clinton would be the most accomplished secretary of state in history.

While historians will debate and eventually rate her tenure as America’s top diplomat, Clinton is already assured of a place in the State Department record book.

The former first lady has completed an epic 13-day journey of 27,000 miles (43,450 kilometres), about 2,000 miles (3220 kilometres) more than the circumference of the Earth, through and over Europe to Asia and then doubling back to the Middle East.

One well-travelled Clinton staffer described the France-Afghanistan-Japan-Mongolia-Vietnam-Laos- Cambodia-Egypt-Israel itinerary as “especially absurd, even for us.” Despite the mind- and body-numbing time zone hopping, Clinton joked that she was ready for more. “I appreciate being here, I am only sorry that I have to leave,” she told reporters on her last stop Monday, in Israel. “My travelling team is anxious to get home. I’d like to be hanging out in Jerusalem, but, you know, I have to do my duty,” she said with a sigh.

Since becoming secretary of state in 2009, Clinton has logged 351 days on the road, travelled to 102 countries and flown a whopping 843,839 miles, according to the State Department.

While some previous secretaries may have flown more miles mainly due to shuttling back and forth to the Mideast on peace missions none has visited more nations.

Clinton broke that record last month, eclipsing Madeleine Albright’s total of 98, when she travelled to Finland for number 99 and then hit the 100 mark in Latvia.

Not content, she tacked on another two countries Mongolia and Laos, where she was the first secretary of state to visit in 57 years and only the second ever on her latest trip.

And she has another six months to go before she reaches her self-imposed deadline to step down and take a breather.

Even with a bed on the plane and her uncanny ability to sleep mid-flight, the gruelling schedule can take its toll. Clinton suffered a rare coughing fit as she finished a speech before the US Chamber of Commerce in Hanoi.

And while she insisted that she would have preferred to stay all day as birds sang in Kabul’s presidential place, she rushed away when Afghan President Hamid Karzai suggested taking additional questions.

Arriving in Egypt this weekend after a flight from Cambodia, Clinton and her staff literally didn’t know what time it was.

BlackBerrys automatically reset their times to what should have been Cairo time, except it wasn’t, so the staff set their clocks to Sarajevo time.

Several hours later, the reason for the discrepancy was discovered: Egypt opted out of daylight saving time this year.

Clinton tells anyone who asks that she won’t be staying on if President Barack Obama wins a second term not surprising, given that only one secretary of state has served more than four years since the 1970s.

And after a bruising fight with Obama for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, she likes to say she won’t be returning to the political stage.

But with her popularity at an all-time high and the Democrats in likely need of a 2016 candidate regardless of whether Obama is reelected, there is widespread speculation that she would find a second stab at becoming first female president irresistible.

(Source: AP)

Child obesity alarming in Qatar

Childhood obesity has become one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century as its prevalence worldwide increased to 42mn children under five years in 2010, Hamad Medical Corporation’s Paediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes acting consultant Dr Ahmed el-Awwa has said.

“The prevalence of obesity in children has increased at an alarming rate and its prevalence in the last 10-20 years has tripled globally due to a lot of factors such as environmental triggers that will predispose obesity including bad diets and a lack of physical activities due to the proliferation of television, Internet, video games and smartphones,” he explained.

Speaking to Gulf Times on the sidelines of the inaugural symposium of the Sidra Medical and Research Centre’s symposia series recently, Dr el-Awwa observed that overweight and obese children are likely to stay obese into adulthood and they are more likely to develop diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age.

Some of the potential health risks with obesity according to Dr Awwa, who is also the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar’s clinical paediatrics instructor, include glucose intolerance, insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, hepatic steatosis, cholelithiasis (gallstones), orthopedic problems, obstructive sleep apnea, asthma, skin conditions and menstrual abnormalities.

“Obesity also has some psychological effects on the affected child such as low self-esteem, negative body image, depression, social stigma, teasing and bullying as well as discrimination,” he added.

Citing a past study conducted among Qatari adolescent boys (1,968) and girls (1,955), he mentioned that the obesity prevalence was highest among boys aged 12 years old (11.7%) and highest among girls aged 13 years (6.4%).

“Some 8.6% of the boys was found to be underweight while another 28.6% and 7.9% are overweight and obese respectively and among the girls, 5.8% was found as being underweight while 18.9% and 4,7% are overweight and obese in that order,” he explained.

Diets contributing to childhood obesity include high-calorie foods or beverages, which are high in sugar, fast foods, baked goods, junk snacks widely available at vending machines, soft drinks as well as candy and desserts.

“A more recent study on habits of food intake among children also found some unhealthy food habits including skipping breakfast, unhealthy snacking or eating fast foods more than twice per week,” he said.

He explained that skipping breakfast does not directly relate to obesity but it might affect the children’s concentration at school thus preventing them from paying attention in class.

“When you skip the regular breakfast including a balanced meal of protein and carbohydrate, the child might go to the vending machine or the school cafeteria to eat junk food,” he stated.

(Source: Gulf Times)

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Love marriage? Then don't think of living in Asara

When times are changing and youngsters are choosing their own life partners, thanks to the influence of Bollywood romance and romantic songs and lived happily ever after concept, here’s a village which has literally said no to love marriages. To be more open, it has put a ban on love marriages! Weird, but yes, it’s true. When I came across this headline for a moment I giggled, but the very next moment I started thinking about the fate of the poor youth in that village, a village in the heart of rural India which is away from the skyscrapers of Metros.

Council leaders in Asara in Baghpat district of Uttar Pradesh, have openly said that they would not allow love marriages and those who did so, would not be allowed to live in the village.

Not to forget the fact that this tiny village is not far from the capital, it’s just 40 km (25 miles) from New Delhi!

In a slew of draconian measures, the local government officials have also imposed several restrictions on women, including prohibiting those under 40 from using mobile phones outside and going shopping alone. Not just women, even men are restricted from from using headphones/ earphones on roads and in bylanes.
What's more ridiculous is the councilors have also ordered women to cover their heads when they go outside. Why such an order? They claim they are meant to check harassment! What on earth made them think that slapping restrictions on women can control crime rate? Will these restrictions really safeguard women in the village?

Another point to be noted is 70 per cent villagers are Muslims while 30 per cent are Hindus, most of them Jats. And while the media has dubbed this decision as ‘Taliban Panchayat’, most villagers have welcomed the orders.

The village panchayat’s order not to take or give dowry which is a punishable offence is a welcoming rule.
India is striving to modernize and is yet to come out of the shackles of conservative social traditions in many areas where women’s rights are non-existent. And as such, maybe there’s some reason when villagers consider love marriages as a shame. They think such marriages can damage the family prestige and bring shame to the society. The villagers might be thinking that their new rules would safeguard their women from bad elements in society. Yes, it’s true that it can be very painful for the parents, especially for a girl’s family, when love marriages dent their respectability, but what these villagers are forgetting is the very fact that she too has feelings and choice, after all it is she who has to live her life with the man.

What one has to keep in mind is though Panchayats don’t enjoy any constitutional powers and
their rulings don’t carry any legal weight, they are highly influential. How can anyone forget when they sanction “honour killings” of women whose actions are deemed to have brought shame on their family?

In June 2012, marble miner Oghad Singh in Rajasthan, paraded his 20-year-old daughter’s severed head through his village. He beheaded Manju Kunwar, as he was upset with her way of life and “indecent behaviour” and surrendered to authorities. Why did he do so? The 20-year-old had been living with her parents in the Rajasthani village of Dungarji, 250 miles from Jaipur, after leaving her husband two years ago and recently began seeing several men which "disgusted" her father. When Manju eloped with one man two weeks ago, her father forced her to return and killed her.
Oghad Singh

Interestingly, India last month topped the Thomas Reuters Foundation poll as the worst place for a woman to live, out of the top 19 economies in the world and this village ruling has come at a time when police in Mumbai have launched a crackdown on the city’s morals. In recent weeks, Mumbai police have raided a series of bars and clubs, shutting them down or fining them for being overcrowded. Dozens of women have been arrested in the raids, accused of being prostitutes, leading to protest marches across the city.