Bangalore goes native

Its finally happened. Bangalore has become Bengalooru. The Karnataka government has officially nativised the names of the capital and 10 other cities in the state. Mysore is now Mysooru, Belgaum is Bellagavi, Gulbarga is Kalburgi, Hubli is Hubbali…you get the drift. The move came on November 1, the 50th anniversary of the formation of the state of Karnataka. This means that the cities will be written the new way even in English, though this was the way they were written in Kannada.

The Kannada chauvinists have had their way, led by the Kannada Rakshana Vedike and a pack of other equally Kannada chauvinist organizations. At the root of this idiocy lies a fear that “Kannada culture” is dying. Even heavyweights like UR Anantamurthy have weighed in on the issue. I heard him the other night on NDTV saying that Bangalore has lost its Kannada moorings and there are way too many outsiders in the city. I mean, this is the guy who won a Sahitya Academy award for his book Samskara and is considered a major literary figure. I hope he sleeps easy tonight knowing that his beloved city has now regained some of its Kannada flavour.

Muslims at the bottom of all socio-economic indicators

These are the findings of the Sachar committee report which was constituted by the UPA government to find the true socio-economic condition of India’s largest minority. Muslims are at the bottom of virtually most socio-economic indicators like government jobs, education, health care. In some cases their condition is even worse than that of the scheduled castes and tribes.

For instance, Muslims are severely underrepresented in government jobs. Their numbers are well below their share as a percentage of the population. In Assam where they constitute 30 %, they have only 11.2% of govt jobs; West Bengal (25%) 4.2% [This in a bastion of the supposedly secular CPI(M)]; Kerala (24%) 10.4%; UP (18.5%) 5.1%. Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka are states with more proportionate representation.

Even in the judiciary its the same story. Muslims share of jobs here is less than their population share overall. When it comes to education Muslims are worse off than OBCs, SCs and STs.

Erasing the Lines

Reading this made me realize how deep-seated the belief is, especially in India, that homosexuality is an “undesirable, unhealthy, unnatural and abnormal behaviour increasing without control” to quote the words of the author of the above article. An article in which he rails against the open letter written by many eminent writers, artists, human rights activists and others calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality in India by overturning Article 377 of the Indian constitution. What I find even more disquieting is that the writer is apparently a qualified paramedical professional. Here we have a person connected to the medical field who argues that homosexuality should not be decriminalized because, and I quote here,

“…it is an altogether socially, ethically and medically unacceptable idea to treat them as normal. There are no homosexuals among any species of animals. Such practice is fundamentally against nature. With all our sympathy, we have to treat them as abnormal.”

In closing, he wants this to be “a wake-up call for the guardians of traditional morality and ethics”. I utterly disagree with this oft-argued but blinkered view of homosexuality, especially from a scientific point of view. To counter the major argument that it is unnatural here is a link to a seminal book available on Amazon.

Job Supply Deficit in India

India is heading for a job supply deficit says the International Herald Tribune (article here). The paper quotes a NASSCOM survey to show that only one in four engineering graduates is considered employable. The reasons have been open secrets for the past decade: lack of depth in technical knowledge, lack of English speaking skills, lack of team skills. Over the past few years, I’ve had the occasion to stand in on and conduct several interviews for engineers in India’s IT capitals, Hyderabad and Bangalore. What I noticed first hand was that they could be broken up into categories based on types of ignorance:

1. Ignorance of technological basics (such as a software engineer who fails to differentiate between an OS and a programming language. Or who doesn’t know what is a Software Development Lifecycle).

2. Ignorance of latest developments in their specific technical arena (While those in this category are sound on the basics, they are not aware of the latest versions of the very development platforms on which they work and earn their living, or of any of the technological changes in the field. Inexcusable in the Information age).

3. Ignorance of Business applications of technology: These are those young engineers who cant tell what is the role of the software they’re developing in the client’s business, or even what is the very business function that it addresses.

Impact of Globalization on Indian Agriculture

(Note: Reproduced below with kind permission, in its entirety, is an essay written by my friend Dipanjali Rao as a research project for her Master’s course. It is long but it makes a very interesting as well as a sad read.)


The liberalisation of India’s economy was adopted by India in 1991. Facing a severe economic crisis, India approached the IMF for a loan, and the IMF granted what is called a ‘structural adjustment’ loan, which is a loan with certain conditions attached which relate to a structural change in the economy. The government ushered in a new era of economic reforms based on these conditions. These reforms (broadly called Liberalisation by the Indian media) can be broadly classified into three areas: Liberalisation, privatization and globalization. Essentially, the reforms sought to gradually phase out government control of the market (liberalisation), privatize public sector organizations (privatization), and reduce export subsidies and import barriers to enable free trade (globalization). There was a considerable amount of debate in India at the time of the introduction of the reforms, it being a dramatic departure from the protectionist, socialist nature of the Indian economy up until then. However, reforms in the agricultural sector in particular came under severe criticism in the late 1990s, when 221 farmers in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh committed suicide. (The damage done, 2005) The trend was noticed in several other states, and the figure today, according to a leading journalist and activist, P. Sainath1, stands at 100,000 across the country. (Sainath, 2006) Coupled with this was a sharp drop in agricultural growth from 4.69% in 1991 to 2.06% in 1997. (Agriculture Statistics at a Glance, 2006) This paper seeks to look into these and other similar negative trends in Indian agriculture today, and in analyzing the causes, will look at the extent to which liberalisation reforms have contributed to its current condition. It will look at supporting data from three Indian states which have been badly affected by the crisis: Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Kerala. Andhra Pradesh’s (AP’s) experience is particularly critical in this debate because it was headed by Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, who pursued liberalization with enthusiasm. Hence liberalization in AP has been faster than other states, and the extent of its impact has been wider and deeper. (Sainath, 2005)

Vande Mataram

Vir Sanghvi writes in Hindustan Times on the controversy surrounding the singing of the national song Vande Mataram. I agree with every point he has raised. It is unfortunate that the question of singing a song has snowballed into an issue of patriotism and religion. The level to which politicians will stoop to garner a few brownie points with disenchanted elements of society is pathetic. In the end, a song is neither a test for forced patriotism nor is it an important enough issue to deliver a religious decree against it. As Vir Sanghvi rightly points out there are more important issues such as access to good education and proper health care that need to be dealt with first.

I’ll let the man do the rest of the talking. You can read the very well-written article here.

The China Syndrome

The Indian government is obsessed with comparing itself to China for most economic issues. But the recent blanket ban on popular blogging services like and its blogging arm blogspot makes one wonder whether the Indian government is seeking to emulate the Chinese when it comes to net censorship as well. It is always a dangerous ploy to restrict access to information, especially in an open democracy like India. And this time the Indian government, with its ill thought out and badly implemented blanket ban, risks losing face. Most bloggers are up in arms and the story has already done the rounds in the Western media. If the government doesn’t move fast and limit the damage already done they will have another headache to deal with.

Although one can understand the reason behind the government’s order to block access to certain blogs in the wake of the Mumbai blasts, Indian babudom moved in its typically inefficient way and made a mess of the whole issue. In my opinion, they need to do three things immediately. First, the government must move fast and give a clear explanation about what happened. Second, it should take the necessary steps to resolve the issue. And finally, they should have a mechanism in place to see that this is not repeated. Even though blogging is still a niche activity for Indians, the number of Indians blogging (or blogs dealing with India) will continue to increase. So it is imperative the Indian government recognizes that blogs are a legitimate way to express one’s opinions and allows unrestricted access to them.

The Politics of Science

There was a lec-dem yesterday at the Centre for Drug Research Institute. CDRI is a premier government funded research institute for biomedical research located in Lucknow. CDRI is located in Chattar Manzil Palace, where the regal nawabs of Lucknow once lived the good life. It is a huge magnificent building. If Nehru called dams the “temples of modern India” then surely research institutes like CDRI would be the reigning deities of the nation; strech the analogy further and you could imagine scientists as the “priests of modern India.”

The striking irony: A product of scientific rationalism like CDRI located in a palace that was built for a pre-modern way of life.

The lec-dem was by a distnguished scientist from the National Physical Laboratory (another government lab) who had just returned from Antarctica. This gentleman is the coordinator of India’s Antarctica project and has visited the icy continent twice! The lec-dem was organised with a view to share his experiences about his journey. But the subtext was to also introduce the audience to the potential to exploit Antarctica’s resources. More on that later.

The Great Appeasement

Reading a recent news report about the governments of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu ordering officials to stop the screening of ‘The Da Vinci Code’ in theaters makes me wonder if religious appeasement is not scaling new heights in India. Apparently, some Christian and other minority group’s religious sentiments are hurt by the film. This is strange considering that predominantly Catholic countries such as Italy, Brazil etc. have not banned the film. And even the Vatican did not call for a ban but has only asked Catholics to avoid the film. So I wonder if Christians in India have stronger feelings or do not agree with the Vatican over this issue? Or is it a perfect excuse to gain some political mileage by both the Catholic organizations and political parties rushing to please the former’s demands. After all, the book has been in print, has sold like hot cakes, and has been discussed to death for more than a year now. Why didn’t these people protest so strongly then?

I think these government orders set a dangerous precedent. Now the door is open for any group to demand a ban on anything based on the highly ambiguous argument that it hurts/offends their sentiments.

This also raises the issue of free expression. If we stifle dissenting views then how can new ideas arise? Whatever happened to freedom of speech enshrined in our constitution?

As I write this there have been fresh protests in Hyderabad by a Christian organization outside a movie theater, which was showing the film after a High Court judge quashed the government order banning the film, terming the order “as extravagant, arbitrary and wholly irrational.” Need I say more?

The Power of Woman

The sun is scalding the dusty streets outside as I walk towards the administration building. I curse my luck on getting some of the lousiest beats in Lucknow as a rookie reporter. Can’t be helped, since I am the juniormost.

I am covering Lucknow University and it’s not a pretty beat. Posters of 35 year old student leaders stare hostilely at you from every wall. These neta’s do samaj seva and use bombs, guns and knives to persuade the recalcitrant. I met Vinod tripathy and had an almost meeting with Ranjeet Singh Baghel, two worthies of LU. The gentlemen are members of the Student’s Union and hate each other’s guts. Their supporters regularly shoot and hurl bombs at each other in every imaginable place; outside the VC’s office, inside the hostels, under the bike sheds, in the ladies toilets and occasionally in jail as well.

I walk into the Pro-VCs room without knocking. I need some quotes from him. He sits in a run down room with red paan stains on the wall. I sit opposite him. He is talking into the phone and to two people at the same time. Once he finishes he stares at me from behind his half-moon glasses. Next, the pan stained mouth opens and he asks me what I want? I reply I am from the ‘meediyah’. He is instantly ingratiating. I begin asking him routine questions for my story and he parries wonderfully. He talks without revealing anything.

The room has a stale smell about it and the overhead fan whirrs disconsolately. His chaprasi is hovering behind him like a cork bobbing in the sea. He has a worried look on his mousy little face and a spitton ready for when his boss will put two fingers to his mouth and spit out a red stream of pulverized pan and beetel nuts. The air conditioner in the room is on the verge of break down.