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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Hairy Story!

Haircutting is one of the oldest surviving professions. India, which is now known for it’s IT and Outsourcing sectors, still has the old style barber shops. What is interesting is that even today, roadside barber stalls are still prevalent here along with the ones with proper salons.

Some of these barbers have newly started their own businesses with their own salons. While some have carried it on as family tradition and take pride in it.

Some of these barbers have migrated to big cities like Delhi from smaller towns. Most of them run their haircutting stalls by the roadside. And it is always a struggle for them to make both ends meet.

As far as haircutting is concerned, it is an art for the barbers. It is something which is achieved after a lot of practice and requires a lot of concentration. If we keep this thing in mind, then they are no less than any big shot hair designer.

All photos taken by Joydeep Hazarika and Tilak Jha. Thanks a ton Tilu!!!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

An Ode for a Paradise

Book: Writing on the Wall: Reflections on the North-East
Writer: Sanjoy Hazarika
Type: Non-fiction
Pages: 161
Price: Rs 225
Publisher: Penguin Books India

“At the end of every dark night, there is a dawn, however delayed. And for every day, there is a dawn, whether we see it or not.”

These words by Sanjoy Hazarika seem so true once we are done with this book. “Writing on the Wall” is the latest offering by Sanjoy Hazarika in his writings on the North-East of India. Hazarika, who is hailed by some as the greatest journalist from Assam, touches some topics which dearly concern the region but are seldom given any attention. Hazarika, who has earlier given us classics like “Strangers in the Mist,” once again shows the unabashed beauty of the North-East which is under threat from the various problems it faces today.

This book is a collection of 15 essays by the author which provide an insider’s take on the wide-ranging issues affecting the region. These issues range from the Brahmaputra and the use of natural resources to the peace talks in Nagaland, from the centre’s failure to repeal the much hated Armed Forces Special Powers Act, threats to the environment, corruption in government and extortion by armed groups to New Delhi’s policies which treat the region on a subservient level than the rest of India.

Yet, as one reads these essays, one thing gets clear in the mind. It is that hope, though distant, is not lost. Restoring governance through people-driven development programmes, peace-building through civil society initiatives, assuring the pre-eminence of local communities and most importantly, the simple economic interventions through appropriate technologies hold the solution to the web of violence, poverty and marginalisation. Thus we have references to innovative health clinics like Akha, community mobilization in the form of organisations like the North-Eastern Region Community Resource Management Project (NERCORMP) and various micro-credit initiatives in the region. The author also talks of environmental issues like the preservation of the river dolphin and geopolitical issues like the sharing of the waters of the Brahmaputra among the states.

“Writing on the Wall” is a passionate call to all the stakeholders in the North-East to embrace dialogue and use the platforms for peace, to go beyond the politics of intolerance to that of mutual respect. The spirit of this book can be best summed up in the lyrics of this song by the great Bhupen Hazarika, which find special mention in this book.

If man wouldn’t think for man
With a little sympathy
Tell me who will- comrade?
If we repeat history
If we try to buy
Or sell humanity
Won’t we be wrong- comrade?

For the Violence Within

Book: Beyond Violence
Author: J. Krishnamurti
Publisher: Krishnamurti Foundation India
Price: Rs 20
Genre: Philosophy/ Religion
“If violence is like a stone dropped in a lake; the waves spread and spread, at the centre is ‘me.’ As long as the ‘me’ survives in any form, very subtly or grossly, there must be violence.”
These words by the great 20th philosopher J. Krishnamurti rings in one’s ears long after one has been done with this book. J. Krishnamurti’s take on violence is something which everyone, especially young minds, can relate to easily in today’s world of total mayhem and chaos. The content and theme of the book is taken from the talks of the book is taken from the talks that Krishnamurti held in the USA, London and Rome respectively. Most of the book is in the format of discourses while some are in the question-answer format a la an interview. The best part of this book is that it gets on in an interactive mood with the reader, with Krishnamurti’s discourses in the lead working as a soothing effect.
The theme of violence and Krishnamurti’s approach to it are as relevant today as they were when he spoke in 1970s to vast audiences. In discussing the nature of violence, Krishnamurti also unravels the other psychological factors such as hurt, competition, insecurity and fear, which are closely related to violence. He shows us a way of looking at the fact of violence directly, without condemning, suppressing, or analysing it, and thus going beyond it. In doing so, he calls for a fundamental change in the human psyche, which is the mark of a truly religious mind.
In today’s world, where we deal with violence on a daily basis, this book comes as a sort of comfort for the troubled mind with its practical approach and solutions. Reading this book only further affirms our faith in the fact that J. Krishnamurti was undoubtedly one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century, whose thoughts will influence more generations to come.
It will be best to conclude in the words of Krishnamurti himself: “Truth is not ‘what is,’ but the understanding of ‘what is’ opens the door to the truth.”

Friday, March 13, 2009

Politics of Violation

Elections in India are becoming a joke with each passing phase. With every election, more and more incidents of lawlessness and rigging are being reported. And along with this is also the unabated continuation of the violation of the Election Commission rules by the political parties. This thing is clearly reflected in the reply to a Right to Information (RTI) concerning the violation of election rules by the political parties.

Afroz Alam Sahil, an RTI activist, had filed an RTI petition asking the number of cases that were registered against various political parties during the last Lok Sabha elections in 2004 for violating election commission rules. The petitioner had filed the application on 27th January this year and the reply came in a month later on 27th February. The reply contained a list of all the political parties who had been booked under committing violation of election rules along with the number of complaints received in the Commission against each party. The list also contained the actions that were taken on account of the Commission against the offending parties.

In this list, the Indian National Congress came on top with a total of seven cases filed against them. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came in second with six cases against them. And the Telegu Desam Party came in third with four cases against them. The other parties in the list included parties like the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, etc. each of whom had one or two cases filed against them.

The actions that have been taken in this regard by the Election Commission are something which falls short of expectations. In the RTI, most of the actions mentioned that were taken by the Commission are of the nature of forwarding the complaints to the Chief Election Officer (CEO) of the region. And after that, there is no answer as to the present status of the cases. There is no mention of the nature of actions taken by the CEO against the offending parties. And in some cases, it is mentioned that action were not necessary at all. But here again, the reason for this is not given in the RTI reply.

The RTI reply also contained information on the BJP’s infamous CD scandal which they committed in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. The reply stated that the Commission had received 19 complaints against the Party. The Commission had directed the CEO of Uttar Pradesh to file the same number of FIRs against the State BJP President Mr. Lalji Tandon and his associates for the production of the CDs. But even today the information on the Police enquiry is awaited by the Commission. This clearly shows the real level of importance given to the Election Commission by government institution like the Police Force.

The petitioner, Afroz Alam Sahil says that this thing clearly reflects the lack of a strong hold on the election procedures by the Commission. He further says that most of the incidents where political parties openly violate election rules by distributing liquor and rigging votes go unreported. And it is due to this that the political parties get more emboldened to break rules in each poll without any fear of repercussions.

Now with the General Elections next month, flouting of rules will again become rampant. This will be a test for the Election Commission to prove that it is not some toothless organisation which can’t punish the offending parties when it is needed. The reply to the RTI has pointed out some serious defects in the functioning of the Commission. The offending political parties have not received any stern punishments due to which a mockery of democracy has been made. It is about time that the Election Commission mended its loopholes so that the political parties can be brought under its proper scanner for the upcoming Lok Sabha election.