Thursday, December 27, 2007

Kerala, Fast Forward - Kerala This Week, Vol 6, December 2007

The Christmas season seems to have changed the ruling communist government's luck drastically, and looks like the red brigade is all set to fly the good times (No, this has nothing to do with Kingfisher or Mallya). The maestros of the present ruling party seem to be hitting brainwaves after brainwaves. Now isnt that breaking news?

Until very recently the pack has been suffering repeated humiliation by trying to do things that really didnt match their qualifications or intelligence levels. ISRO land to Smart City (Smart! how ironic..), and National Highways to important industrial projects, humiliation has come in many forms to the current government. Unspent "development" grants, absurd project reports, unimplemented plans, depleting funds..and add to it the very slowly but steadily increasing number of unemployed party workers trying to find a job for themselves due to peer pressure from the "foreign" aka the Gulf and Bangalore aka the new America ("God, what has this world come to!, why are all these able-bodied men trying to employ can they be so disloyal to the party" - this was overheard at a recent party high-command meeting).

The only good thing for the government has been a totally sleepy and ineffective opposition, just making whimpers and whines occasionally. But all that changed over the last couple of weeks. Here are the brainwaves that topped the list:

Brainwave number 1: "Adopt Santa Claus as the official mascot of the red-brigade"

While there are many guesses as to why nobody thought of this idea until now (or did they?), it is almost certain that none of the present political leaders could think of something so intelligent. Large Santa cut-outs were seen outside a lot of communist party offices, merging with the Achuthanandan and Pinarayi cut-outs and the red flags.

Brainwave number 2: "Train Keralites to climb coconut trees and create an industrial revolution and economic boom"

Terming the UDF Government's decision to train monkeys to climb coconut trees as an attack on the common-man's right to livelihood, the government scrapped the policy since it unilaterally favored the monkeys and the bourgeois apes. Instead, the Government decided to set up a school to train malayalis to climb trees and pluck coconuts. In the wake of the economic boom riding on technology revolution and industrialization that requires education and soft-skills, the thought-leaders of the current government saw this as a perfect answer. Perfect reply rather.

This new policy will ensure that the party workers can climb trees during their free time (which is a lot since its their own party ruling the state and there is no real need for daily hartals), and come down immediately in the event of a sudden post-noon or evening hartal or strike call. The party also welcomed the decision and expected students from other states also to join this prestigious institution once it is open.

The school is expected to begin early in 2008, and initially two part-time (to suit the timings of busy party-workers) courses will be offered - a Post Graduate Diploma in Coconut Plucking (PGDCP) and a Post Graduate Diploma in Maram Keral (PGDMK). The prospectus says that the admissions will be purely on merit, and the candidates should have at least dropped out by Grade 10. Attendance below 50% in school, party work, destruction of public property, previous experience in related fields will be a plus. Trusted sources said the seats have been filled until 2009 already, and there is a proposal to grant the school a deemed university status.

Whats more heartening is that companies like the CPeye, INCee, CPeeM, DeyeC (K), RSPee, BJPee, IyouML and most other leading political business outfits have agreed to conduct campus-selection right from the first batch. And since the school will not require an actual campus, there is much cheer in the parties.

Brainwave number 3: "Make Monopoly the official game of Kerala"

This idea was kept highly confidential until very recently, although the present set of ministers and their associates were trained and made to practise the game every day before they assumed office. The results are evident from the Munnar and ISRO deals (or "debacles" as some folks with anti-common-man sentiments term them!). The government is fully into tearing down houses and hotels and taking over property (Munnar) and selling it elsewhere. This brainwave is the result of the sudden belief that all the land in Kerala belongs to the government. Its almost like one of the players in the game decided to become the bank and make his own rules.

Brainwave number 4: "Make alcohol the official drink of Kerala"

At a whopping 8.3 litres of alcohol per person a year (as per the latest stats), Keralites are the biggest drunkards in the country. And it shows.. in da house, in da street, in da work (what work?), in da movies..everywhere. And what better time to prove this than Christmas and New Years. The alcohol sales (minus the more commonly used illicit liquor) in Kerala just on Christmas eve supposedly crossed Rs 18.6 crore this year.

Brainwave number 5: "'Common-man' can make pirated CDs and use pirated software"

This idea was brought to the fore after officials from Microsoft, along with police officials, raided locations across the state and captured pirated versions of Windows software. In protest, the poor "common-man" organized hartals to protest against such actions that curb their right to earn illegally. After all its the government of the poor "windows-loving common-man" ruling the state, and the rest of the state needs to run only on Linux.

Brainwave number 6: "Keep all major projects in the 'feasibility study' and 'consultation' phase for as long as possible"

Be it Smart City project or the Vizhinjam Port, the government stumbled upon this wonderful brainwave by chance. They have now discovered the beauty of keeping all big developmental and employment-generating projects in a literal state of suspended animation. This is done by releasing press notes every couple of weeks on some such big project, and then doing nothing about it. A "6-lane road is going to developed in Kuttipuram", "1001 bridges and flyovers coming very soon", "Vizhinjam port will become a reality", "all districts will have tech-parks".. the list is endless. These occasional outbursts of publicity seem to be enough to fool the literate-but-literally-uneducated Keralite public and keep them dreaming of a better tomorrow, and to fool the common-man into thinking that participating in a hartal today will win their children bread tomorrow.

But reality is far from it. Vizhinjam port has been in the form of a tender for many years now, Kerala was thrown out of the highway projects (but apparently got back in with some sense prevailing somewhere), Smart City is yet to take off despite the deal being signed, and crores of rupees received as funds from various organizations for development and health care remain under-utilized or non-utilized due to the exceptional inefficiency of the state government (or their inability to understand logic or take educated and intelligent decisions).

Looks like we have lots to look forward to the next 3.5 years or so of this government. Can somebody please Fast Forward?.
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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Tourism Rediscovered In God's Own Country

On November 1st, Kerala celebrated its 51st year of formation. And very aptly, the people of Kerala [at least the section that calls themselves BJP supporters - another party that has supports beyond the minimum number of people required to call a bandh/ strike that can disrupt life in Kerala and bring the state to a standstill - for the uninitiated, that magic figure is five (5)].

I happened to be in Kerala on that special day and observed how the state and its people were transforming and "progressing" with all these bandhs and shutdowns. One of the most important indicators of this transformation was the innovation the people have shown to survive these bandhs. Almost every household now has a collection of display boards made specially for their vehicles so that they can move around unharmed. It could indicate one of the following: "Vivaham", Ambulance, Police, Airport, Milk, or a Black flag. Any of these will most likely see you get to your destination without much harm. (DOC Tip for Readers: If at all possible, use the "Vivaham" (marriage/ wedding) sign - This is the Ace card as far as Kerala is concerned. If you are part of the wedding industry, all parties will welcome you and let you pass, no matter what the political agenda is.)

Bandhs are becoming so common in Kerala, that even tourists visiting the state carry their own "vivaham" board. Even Living Planet and other travel guides are recommending the same. Probably thats one reason why we are witnessing more foreigners getting married in Kerala.

Tourism Minister was not too much off the mark when he quipped last year that Kerala should open itself to "Bandh Tourism", and according to him more and more foreigners are visiting Kerala only to witness the bandhs and hartals. Inspired by his own discovery, he has not done much to promote any conventional tourist infrastructure.

Not to be left behind, other ministers and government officials have done their bit to promote tourism in their own ways.

CM is the biggest contributor to the tourism industry, beating the nearest competitor, the Leela Kempinski group, by a huge margin. It is said that people are visiting Kerala by the hordes to learn his gestures and humor (if I may use the word). He is now a close competition to George Bush, President of USA, as the leading political-cartoon character of the world. Apparently, yesterdays press-conference helped him up his ratings substantially when he said "Nature gives us rains. We should accept it and bear the difficulties caused. If the water comes in, find a way to get it out'' . This was in response to the havoc rains are causing to the state, and the pathetic roads and drainage systems in the state.

With a small collaboration, and a little help from the rains, the Water Resources Ministry and the Public Works Ministry have claimed that they have fulfilled their responsibilities in promoting tourism with the much-awaited Inland Waterway project. Since the actual project involved investments, planning, science etc, they decided to take an easier route to completion. The phase I, they believe will help both the water authority and the surface transport authority.

Inland Waterway Project, Phase I - Both surface and water transport feasible
- Pic Courtesy: Cosmet Surgeon via email

But they are more thrilled about the Phase II of the project, which they believe will help the common man as well as the Tourism industry. Phase II is already implemented at a few regions (see pic below), and will be extended to the entire length of the state before the end of this Government's term.

Inland Waterway Project, Phase II to benefit common man
- Pic Courtesy: Cosmet Surgeon via email

The only hindrance to the execution of the phase II they say is a clearance from the Fisheries Ministry. Although the central government has questioned they need for such a project, the government said it has decided to proceed with the implementation since its in the interest of the common man.

The State Health Ministry, in line with the Health Tourism plans of the Indian Government, also contributed significantly to the industry. Recent epidemics and disruptions in various health programs have resulted in a surge of visitors from other states and countries, especially organizations like the WHO, Union Health Ministry, etc. As long as people visit the state, does it matter why or for what?

The only underperformer has been the Education Ministry. With just controversies (ISRO, IIT, IISc, private medical colleges,..what not!), scams, campus murders (we have already forgotten the recent murders), and strikes and shutdowns in colleges and schools, more and more parents are sending their children out of the state. Its almost similar to the situation in the 60s and 70s, when Keralites went to "Gelf" to earn a living and escape from the horrors in Kerala. We got through the 80s and 90s solely on the Gelf money. Now its the turn of Bangalore and Chennai and Coimbatore money to get us through the 2010s and 2020s. Until then we have a fledgling Tourism Industry.

Welcome to God's Own Country. Dont forget your "vivaham" board!
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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Cancer In Our Schools? - Part II

The dogs are on the loose.. and thats what has inspired me to write today.

Yesterday, the never-ending clashes between two oppossite party student outfits (comprising of "innocent" students apparently!) culminated in the death of a police officer at the NSS college in Kottayam. In a college which states its mission is to provide "Concerted efforts, well designed programmes" that "aim at widening the mental horizons of the younger generations and in preparing them to participate in the process of nation building", beating up a policeman that came to save them is a very laudable sign of the progress our state is making. I am sure the people who support campus politics feel proud.

Why do these parents send children to schools and colleges in Kerala anymore? Is it only because they cannot get admissions outside Kerala? I wish the policemen had shot all the bloody goons who pretend to be students, but are mere cold-blooded scoundrels, who will do anything in the name of politics. Literate-Kerala would have woken up then, and cried foul because "innocent students" were killed in a police "excess".

But who cares about a policeman? The home minister who visited the college later said its all the fault of the oppossite party faction, and then ordered raids across the state against their party offices, dismissed any involvement of the poor "boys" from his party. The oppossite party alleged that it was done by the commie partymen. The neutered Congress can only make pacifying statements and watch.

Who cares anyway? How can we compensate for a life? We simply cant, no matter what the dumb politician and murderers try to make us believe. It was so heartbreaking to see images of the policeman's children and family weeping. Will the 6 lakhs cash announced by the home-minister do any justice to them?

I feel so ashamed. What has this state come to? Its certainly becoming Dog's Own Country! We nurture and continue to support criminals and clowns as politicians, and the government we elect each time is literally a farce. What good has it done any one? Every day all we hear about is violence, murders, and fights. We, the people, are to blame for our own woes. We continue to justify every mistake and every wrong, and easily dismiss any good thing with a pessimistic nay. Campus politics - oh its a good thing.. Roads - not for us.. Investments - who needs it.. Let the poor be poor..and let the hardworking go live in some other state.. We only need politics, beedis, and lungis.

Kerala is becoming worse than the old Bihar (the new Bihar is almost ahead of Kerala). How is this incident very different from the recent beating up of a thief by the Bihari public, which was much-debated and deplored by our leaders, geniuses, and "100% literate"-public? Its only worse than that. Its not surprising. Because we are "educating" our youth to become goons and scoundrels. And the results are showing.

Read Part I
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Friday, August 31, 2007

Cancer In Our Schools?

One of the biggest flaws in the educational system of Kerala (for a while lets just imagine there is still a system) is that it is highly politicized, like everything else in Kerala, whether it is an organization, community, religious group, or probably, even the mind of the average Keralite. While politics is a necessary evil, it is quite evident that politicizing the youth at a time when they are quite naive (and full of energy to do better things) has only resulted in damage than anything constructive.

Schools and colleges are meant to be sacred, and supposed to impart quality education, nurture talent and creativity, help develop skills, and build the next generation that can take themselves and the nation forward with greater might and strength. Where does politics fit in such a place? It does not. I have seen so many people argue about the need for politics in campus and I feel they are just blind proponents of their own selfish interests or subversive minded political supporters. It is the same bunch of fools that oppose initiatives by even the Supreme Court (refer to the Lyngdoh Committee recommendations) to curb politics in educational institutions. Youth (supposedly) outfits of various political parties have cunningly tried to rubbish the report by trying to find loopholes within the recommendations, instead of understanding the larger message. Do we need more violence in campuses? Do we need many more Prof.Sabharwals dying? Do we need more of our youth to become pawns of our politicians?

While the presence of students representatives within every college and institution is very essential, linking and aligning them with political organizations and parties is the biggest blunder possible. Student-representatives will definitely help in nurturing leadership and harboring spirited and loyal youthfulness, but bringing in political alliances and support will only help in developing pawns and political mercenaries.

Its sad that such a pathetic system is already well-entrenched in our state, and most of India. It is the primary reason why we have uneducated and uncouth political leaders ruling over us, whose sole motive is filling their own pockets and promoting their own interests. It is the very reason why we have so much corruption, crime, and immorality splashed allover. It is the reason why most of the energy in India's youth remain misdirected. It is also the very same reason that voters are left without a choice, and why voters are caught between the devil and the deep-sea when it comes to polling day -left, right, or central, every way we end up electing buffoons and goons to rule over us, except for a few smart and sensible leaders worthy of being called a leader.

While making a minimum level of education mandatory for getting elected in any position in the government, be it local, state or central, is far away (since most of the current politicians will be disqualified and they will not allow it), we can at least start building for a better tomorrow. Let students study while they are meant to study. Those who are really interested in building the nation can do so by devoting themselves to their own professions and work - that will build the true Kerala (and India), not protests and marches under the behest of politicians for the gain of the party. And one can always enter mainstream politics after a proper education and proper service/ professional experience.

It is so ironic to think how absurdly we mandate minimum educational qualifications for every position right from a peon to a CEO, but we dont mind uneducated, senseless "leaders" or criminals and thugs to rule over us. We harp on the importance of education, but fail to give it enough priority when it comes to our states and country and the people who represent us, locally, nationally or internationally.

Delinking and banning political organizations from schools and colleges will be the most important step we can take, and will be the biggest turning point for our states and nation. It will promote the entry of sense and logic into governance, and will also transform the political parties and their priorities.

A banner in front of a prestigious institution in Trivandrum

The above picture was one of the most disturbing sights I have seen in Kerala of late. Party flags and political banners are not only seen in colleges, but a common sight even in schools. Prestigious institutions succumbing to the cancer called politics, the same disease that also promotes fundamentalism, casteism and religious divides. Many years ago, when the University College in the capital was the hub of political activity, demonstrations, violence, and clashes were a regular feature at the MG Road in Trivandrum. I remember a particular story about how the demonstrators torched a taxi car along with other state cars. The reason? The bunch of innocent "students" who were on the rampage could only recognize the words "Kerala State" from the "Tourist Taxi - Kerala State Permit" sign on the car.

Kerala has been witness to countless student agitations at the behest of their political masters. Violence and senseless destruction of public and private property worth crores occurs every time, and all that we have done is sympathize with them for their criminal acts. Each time we find some justification and excuse to pardon such acts, while blaming police excesses. It is the same senselessness that allows a banner like that in the picture in front of an old reputed institution, now successfully eroded of its reputation and quality. I wonder why the teachers and the principals of these schools and colleges are not ashamed to see that every morning. What is the message we are trying to send across to our children? Where do we put an end to it?

Ban political parties from educational institutions. Every single person reading this will hopefully vow to do everything possible to delink themselves from campus politics promoted by parties and put an end to it. At least make sure your children go to schools and colleges to study, and not to become dropouts who aspire to be a "leader" among packs of wolves. They can be true leaders after getting sufficient education and experience in conducting themselves first, and then they can dream of building the nation.
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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Kerala This Week, Vol 5, August 2007

On behalf of the Save Kerala Initiative team and its supporters (or our "buddies who hang around and support each other blindly" as someone recently said), I would like to wish all of you a very happy and prosperous Onam.

The image of the week (on the top right) is from Trivandrum, near the Kanakakunnu Palace, where the famed illuminations occur every year. I was lucky enough to pass the road and catch a glimpse of the "lights" as they are known. Pretty much all of Kerala seems to be shopping for Onam and every road and shop is literally packed. So let me start with saying this: Kudos to the spirit in which Onam is celebrated by Keralites. Its nice to see that every family makes a sincere effort to celebrate this festival, irrespective of religion, caste or politics.

Now onto the less heartening stuff. On the same road, a little further I saw two girls on a kinetic honda casually overtake a maruti zen with 3 mallu youngsters in it. The car must have been moving at 40kmph until the girls overtook them. But as soon as they saw 2 "girls daring to overtake" them, their manhood literally got challenged I suppose. And then the youth were transformed into mad men. They almost ran down a few others and overtook the girls, and cornered their kinetic! Crazy! But this is a sight I have seen too commonly in Kerala.

I also observed another "usual thing". Men letching at anything female. It really irks you if you observe how some of the mallu men burn a hole through these women, and passing slimy comments. This is one of the most horrible and disgusting habits in malayali men in my opinion. I wonder how women survive in Kerala. I mean the average woman who does not have a car to escape these dogs, but has to travel in a bus and walk on the crowded roads. So my second kudos go to the women in Kerala. I also hope each one of you does what it takes to condemn such acts and behavior when you see it.

And another sight I observed today was even more shocking! Malayalis standing in a queue! God! That's one of the rarest sights you will ever see. I havent seen them stand in a line in banks, or cinema halls, or shops or..anywhere there is supposed to be a queue. Even in church they have to do a stampede, as though God will run away if they dont rush. But today, I saw almost over 50 malayali men stand in one long line, disciplined, quiet and looking very earnest. No points for guessing where: Kerala State Beverages Corporation Limited - Indian Made Foreign Liquor outlet. The queues were seen almost at every outlet they have - which is almost at every 1000 meters. Apparently the sales just during the Onam days is set to cross a record 80 crores this time!! And no wonder the roads were filled with drunken maniacs today, despite heavy presence of policemen. So once again I salute the women in Kerala. For working hard and looking after themselves, for caring and bring up their children, for earning enough so that their husbands can drink, and for doing all this despite the abuse and torture.

Since I do not want to go on about these things and spoil our Onam (will save the Kurivillas, Achuthanandans, mosquitoes, fever, antinuclear bandhs, and all such things for next week), heres once again wishing all of you a very special Onam. Let us all unite and work towards a better Kerala. Like they say, it has to begin at home.
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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Kerala This Week, Vol 4, August 2007

The last few weeks have been rife with examples of illiterate leaders ruling over a supposedly literate Kerala, a state full of people who are ever willing to be donkeys for the sake of politicians and the all powerful, invisble, super power, called the society.

Topping the list, and creating headlines (pushing aside the Munnar rampage and the demolition squad which fizzled out in front of the AKG center and "party offices") was the release of a Madani. Charged on some 23 accounts related to the Coimbatore blasts some years ago, the beloved leader is now back directly from jail to front page politics, as though he fought for India's independence. And the state politicians have been wooing him with utmost devotion. His "rally" in Trivandrum was "emotional" and "fiery", and was chaired by two ministers. I have nothing against or for Madani, but the ministry "rallying" with him is a bit shameful in my opinion. And the government is sponsoring his "treatment", that too in a private hospital.

This is the same government thats "helpless" when its people are dying because of some fever which they are yet debating and referring textbooks for, the same set of leaders that blame the central government while doing nothing for its flood ravaged people. So where does all that concern they have for Madani disappear when it comes to the people of Kerala?

The other most interesting show happening now is the "fight against retail chains". We have had hartals, demonstrations, threats, stone-throwing, etc against Reliance, Walmart and other retail chains entering Kerala. While on one hand we gloat that we have Spencer's (since decades) and Margin Frees', in the same breath we also oppose these new companies (just like we opposed Coca Cola and Pepsi while drowning ourselves in alcohol and smoking beedis). The reason? That we still need to be mistreated by the local shopkeeper, and his total lack of interest in us as customers (or even your existence in his shop when you go to buy something!), and that we still need to be forced to take only what the Vyapari Vyepasaris dictate.

There was a debate on "Nammal Thammil" on Asianet last night. One educated (not literate, mind you) professor argued that over Rs. 100,000 crore worth produce is wasted ever year in India due to lack of proper distribution, sales or exports, and that these retail chains will only boost sales and reduce this wastage. The men from the VV samithi, dressed in the evil khader uniform, as usual responded with their snideful retort, saying "we all know" that Reliance and the likes have paid money to educated people to speak like this and argue on their behalf in public forums. You can never argue and win a point with such people, forget making them understand. Like they say, never argue with idiots, because they will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.

It is the same "experience" that wins accolades for leaders in Kerala for being irresponsible. Take for example, how our minister shirked responsibility and said he will picket the PMs house if the central government doesnt help the flood hit state. He pretended he had nothing to do with the state, he said its all the center's fault, and we, the people, clapped. It is also the same experience that sent Special Task Forces to demolish buildings across the state, ruining crores of rupees, instead of acquiring them and running them as government buildings. (The STF is now without its two poster boys; both have been sent on extended leaves for "treatment")

Some from the VV samithi say, only at Narayanan's shop do we get the local feel and homely atmosphere, but not at any retail chain. But not everyone wants to hear Narayanan or Keshavan or George or whoever gossip anymore, or waste our money on substandard stuff, or even sniff the stink of local politics anymore. And for those who do, Narayanan will surely be there. He doesnt survive on sales of Kellogs or Dove. It is the same irrational fear that was instilled when Telecom and the airlines were privatised. Today majority of the people use mobile phones, and that includes the likes of Narayanan. Indian Airlines has become cheaper and at least tries to offer better service.

Its time literate Kerala went back to school and realized that our illiterate leaders are simply taking us for a ride. There are scores of promises and projects that are "proposed" and "planned". But what has happened in reality? Nothing! Except for all the investments the private companies make. Smart City (which was claimed as a victory), Vizhinjam Port, Technocity, Road projects..all are still being planned and destroyed. Planned for maximum benefit for the leaders? What change did the new government bring? Did the farmers benefit? No. Did the fisherfolks benefit? No. Only the party and the political goons and criminals benefitted and continue to benefit. And if we dont realize and change, its not that change is not going to happen. It will. Its just that we will be the losers. And the politicians will be the only people who gain.

The Central Government took over the Rajiv Gandhi Center for Biotechnology in Trivandrum couple of days ago, and saved it from the politicians in Kerala, who have not even completed school but desperately fought to become its Chairman (for what??). Wonder why these people want to infiltrate all domains and positions. Havent they messed up enough? Its similar to Pawarji who cant even walk straight being the president of the cricket council, and ensuring that Indian cricket is a mess.
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Monday, July 02, 2007

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." - Edmund Burke

Once in a while, an event of such significance and rarity happens in Kerala that turns the tide on our problems and deserves our appreciation. And today, I salute the parents of the students at Sacred Hearts College at Thevara. Of late, we have criticized ourselves for losing our nerve against hartal strikers, head load workers, militants and generally goons. In this light, the few that brave their bodies, swallow their fears and face these violent elements are heroes for the rest of us. In yesterday's incident, several parents banded together and fought off student activists who were intent on disrupting the students' entrance examination at Sacred Hearts College. This show of strength highlights several welcome developments.

First, violence is being shown the door. The attitude that political change must come at whatever cost, even if the cost includes our children's education, is slowly seeing its end. For those of us who lament that such incidents are isolated to good schools run by progressive managements, I say, so be it! And that leads to my second point.

Keralites are quickly realizing that quality education comes at a price. And that's a price that people are willing to defend, physically if necessary. There is a world of difference between a degree from a private insititution and a public institution and people are paying up for that difference. This is a welcome change from the days when government schools beset with campus politics and often-postponed exams were the only option, even for people with money to spend. After all, what was the sense in providing free education to people who would fork out millions on weddings but cringe at the sight of college fees?

Sacred Hearts College has been a pioneer in many respects; it is one of the few educational institutions that has been covered by the media for its efforts to tackle student activism. And it is extraordinary in a landscape pitted with mediocre establishments simply because it stood up for itself. That's all it often takes to provide a quality education.

As a non-resident Keralite, I have long had a dream of returning to Kerala. Many have called me idealistic. Many have called me naïve. Yet, incidents like these show me that there are others out there and of all places, in Kerala itself, who appreciate the value of education and want to raise their children in a healthy society. If we band together, there's nothing any goon can do to prevent us from seeking the best in life. And that is what any democracy should aspire for its people - the freedom to pursue happiness. Ironically, that is the viplovam, the revolution, the people's movement that Kerala's leaders have missed for its people till date.

P.S. Are you a student, parent, alumni, teacher or administrator at Sacred Hearts College at Thevara? Share your thoughts.
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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Kerala This Week, Vol 3, June 2007

We are back at work after a short break due to some personal reasons. During the break we received so many comments and compliments from readers we never knew existed. One fan requires special mention here for his undying support to this initiative. He was sweet enough to wish "may this blog blow up into oblivion". Please rest assured that we are trying hard.

Talking about blowing up, destruction and such things, "demolition" has been the word thats been reverberating across Kerala the last few weeks. First it was huts, then resorts, followed by boundary walls, shops and then a few houses. As the demolition got nearer to the bigger and real thugs in the business, aka the politicians and the political parties, the much hyped and advertised "clean-up" drive of our dear CM gathered enough moss. So much so that he issued a grand order to exempt political parties who have encroached land to be exempt from action. He went on to declare that some of the documents of land owners where his own rampaging Special Task Force invaded, may have been legal and they may have made a mistake.

Tearing down property worth crores now seems more ridiculous than ever, and the whole motive of the demolition drive now seems shady. How can political parties be exempted? How can there be different sets of rules for different groups? Is this all just a part of a grand plan to fool the people? Or was it just an extension of the Pinarayi versus Achuthanandan tussle? Anyway, apart from the joy the sights of the now infamous "JCB" at work brought to the gossippy unemployed malayali crowds, the only outcome of the drive so far has been tonnes of rubble lying across Kerala. Literate Kerala making progress?

The one good thing that happened as a result of the "attempt" to retrieve the land encroached by the CPI was that Keralites got to see our own "hep" MP from Trivandrum, who had disappeared to Delhi some time last year, back in action. An outraged Mr Tvm MP, with gelled slick hairstyle, surfaced at an undisclosed location in Kerala and screamed on TV that the party buildings are made from the blood of the party workers and "nobody dare touch 'em". Nobody messes with him. Not even the STF. And there ended the great demolition drive.

Monsoon finally arrived in Kerala. And as usual, it was much later than what the Met department predicted. At last count, over 20 people were killed. While the Government is busy preparing to welcome tourists in the name of 'Monsoon Tourism', which is a very good thing, it would have been great if they could spend some money to ensure that people and property can be better protected from heavy rains.

I guess rain is a problem that political parties cant blame eachother for. Imagine a leftie minister saying "Chandy is responsible for this heavy rain that has resulted in so many deaths" or "the previous UDF government is responsible for this loss". But I guess thats also possible since we have heard worse.

Another round of the dreadful "pakarcha pani" (fever that spreads) has hit Kerala, creating tremors and faults across the much acclaimed and textbook-worthy healthcare system of Kerala. As usual a central team visited Kerala to assess the situation when the numbers crossed beyond what the state government could handle. After getting back safely to Delhi the team declared that it was not Chikungunya. Meanwhile, the ministry pulled off a good one by saying the "Chikungunya-related deaths were worse during the UDF regime". May the departed rest in peace.

Not wanting to be left behind, Home Ministry played their part and lifted a ban on smoking in jails in Kerala, which was imposed in 2003 following a high court order. They failed to provide any rationale for this act, possibly because there was none, but media cited it was a case of "buckling under political pressure". This comes in a year during which the WHO celebrated "smoke free environment" as their theme and declared passive smoke as a great threat to healthy living. Yet another case of literate Kerala making progress.

Helmets were once again made compulsory in Kerala. This is after the high court reprimanded the authorities for not enforcing the rule despite its orders a few years ago. The home ministry issued strict orders to the police to "not harrass the public in the name of helmets". There are other ways to do it surely. Or we have plenty of goons in our state to do that.

All the frenzy about development projects like the Smart City and Vizhinjam Port finally seem to have died down. Nothing more is heard. People are just happy listening to trash news and seem ready to enjoy the "bliss" for the next few years. The media is also happy filling their front pages and headlines with stories of the government-management negotiations on the professional seat sharing, how the party youth (leaders tomorrow) went on a rampage destroying property against the management and ridiculous other stuff. The other hot topic is the "who-can-enter-the-temple" saga. Some chap named Easwar sporting the Dhoni hairstyle (now a hit among Keralite youth) made most of the situation, attempted some puja in front of the Government Secretariat and got himself arrested. Next thing you know, he will be contesting elections. Oh yes, literate Kerala making more progress. But when will it be forward progress?
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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Should Non-Hindus Enter Temples?

Kerala is famous for its communal amity. People belonging to each caste and religion live a life of their own, making sure that they do not interfere with the activities of the others. But, of late, there are some attempts from some ‘political’ corners to bring in a divide among the communities. I would not say that this is done with some vested interests, but the person concerned might want to be known as a ‘revolutionary’ reformer.

The case in question is entry to Guruvayur.

The issue of Devaswom Minister Sri. G Sudhakaran writing to the Guruvayur Devaswom probing the possibility of admitting Yesudas into the temple is likely to grow into alarming proportions. Thanks to the tolerance of the Hindus and the accommodating mentality of Yesudas, it may after all, fizzle out with no consequences.

The most ludicrous thing about the issue is that neither Yesudas, nor any person belonging to his or any other religion did express a desire to enter the temple. The concept is purely a mental child of the Minister, in his eagerness to promote himself as a social reformer.

The first question here is whether the Devaswom Minister has any right to order such a step. In fact, it is not an order, but only a suggestion made in good spirit. What the Minister did not realize is that it is not under his purview to even suggest such a thing.

Temples are not public properties. Each one is, or was, owned by certain families or groups of people and is promoted by the devotees. If the devotees have faith in the particular God in the temple, it will grow in wealth and fame, as it happened in the case of Guruvayur. On the other side, there are hundreds of temples left uncared for by anybody and have no means to subsist. Nobody makes any claim over the right to enter such temples or donate anything to maintain them. The Government is vested only with the supervisory power to oversee the administration of the temples; it doesn’t have the right to make drastic changes in the traditions, conventions and rituals of the temples.

Guruvayur, as it happens, is one of the richest temples because there are thousands of devotees bent upon donating in cash and kind to its already overflowing coffers. But, it is wrong to conceive any singer as a true and faithful devotee. The songs are written by someone and tuned by some others; what a singer does is only render it in the sweet sound that he or she is blessed with, during a run for money and fame. The singer cannot claim to have sung in praise of the Lord only because of devotion, since the motive perhaps also included making money. True, the merchants of Bhakti might have also made the best use of his cassettes in their eagerness to promote the God, but that does not enable any singer to be labeled as a true devotee. That is not enough reason to justify an entry into the precincts of the temple.

Well, for a person like Yesudas, a mere entry inside the four-walls of the temple may not be a great achievement to reckon. There are two reasons for this: One, as a singer, he has realized the ultimate God through music; secondly, the temple itself is not ‘pure enough’ for a person of his stature to enter.

The second statement requires further explanation. God does not need any protection. He is not to be contained within the four walls of the temple. It is the people, the administrators and the priests surrounding Guruvayurappan who require the walls. The rituals of the temple are meant to protect the rights of certain groups of people, and on many occasions, they cross over propriety. When devout worshippers are forced to stand in long queues for hours together to have a darshan of the God, the VIPs and VVIPs, mostly politicians and relatives of Board Members, get a free and quick entry. The regular misappropriation of the offerings and temple funds certainly need the cover of the four walls. If such things are done outside the walls, they might be termed as theft. Another ritual in question is the act of conducting ‘Punyaha’, when a non-hindu is caught red-handed, entering the temple. Who can make sure that no non-hindu enter the temple ‘incognito’ or without revealing the identity? The God is not concerned about it perhaps, but His ‘protectors’ are keen to catch such ‘culprits’ to make some money out of it. A non-hindu may not enter the temple, but if he makes a sumptuous donation, it is welcome and glorified.

Places of worship are now becoming social institutions to allow a certain group of people to make a living. Some of them have nothing to do with faith in the omnipresent God. They are institutionalized in the names of certain idols bearing some name of god. The difference between the two is like that between H2O and water in a pond. The latter is oft-used and perhaps dirty; still, those who use it know its use. Others may not want to enter it or use it at all.

Changes in human behavior cannot be brought about in a day or by an individual. The culture of Hinduism is so strong and all-inclusive that irrational traditions will make way for rational ones in the long run. The true spirit of Hinduism enfolds everyone, to whatever caste, creed or religion one might belong. Those with vested interests may try to withhold changes for some time, but not for ever. There will be a time when the boundaries of human segregation will fade out and all will bask in the Glory of that Single God. There is light at the end of the tunnel and we are certain to move towards it in future.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Securing Kerala

In recent weeks, Kerala Chief Minister Achuthanthan has caught the state by surprise by sending earthmovers and bulldozers to Munnar to remove illegal encroachments, including properties owned by politicians of all hues. In the process, his actions have won the hearts of some of his staunchest critics among the public. Around the same time that Achuthanthan decided to move against what has come to be known as the "land mafia", he also announced plans to reverse paddy reclamation projects throughout the state. As rice has fallen out of favour with Kerala farmers, paddy fields have given way to other crops and commercial enterprises. Expressing concern for the state's food security, Achuthanthan has proposed actions against real estate firms who buy paddy fields and convert them for alternative purposes. Unfortunately, what he does not realize that this latter plan is going to backfire and threaten his very efforts to curb illegal encroachments.

Illegal encroachments are consequences of an economy with increasing disposable income but comparatively few investment opportunties. And whether we're talking about non-resident Keralites sending home more and more remittances every year or real estate firms reacting to economic opportunities in Kerala, the reality is that Kerala has to proactively react to the demands of an increasingly wealthy population. And this is where it is falling behind today.

First, let us give Achuthanthan credit where he is due. Forest lands are government property for the very reason that free markets are imperfect. Forest lands have enormous positive externalities, because they are an important link in the biological cycle. Some of the Munnar forests contain the most pristine vegetation in Kerala. They are habitats to wild animals that form an important part of the food chain. They potentially harbor plants whose medicinal value are inadequately documented. Forests also act as carbon dioxide reservoirs, playing increasingly significant roles as the world searches for solutions to air pollution. They hold more benefits to society than can be accounted for, and thus do not compensate private holders as they should. In private hands, they would not be conserved as they mean more to society as a whole than to private individuals. Their viability are best left to a public authority appointed by society. However, forest departments and land revenue departments can be lax when there are not enough incentives in place to maintain healthy forests. Let us not forget that it is the political class which is responsible for many instances of illegal encroachments, so change should begin at the top. So, let us hope that our Chief Minister also turns his attention to the systemic flaws that lead to the misuse of public lands.

In contrast, the Chief Minister's plans for paddy fields, have very little to do with the reality of a growing Kerala and owes more to his fixation on food security. This unhealthy obssession is partly rooted in Kerala’s history. In particular, the political class in Kerala still suffers a hangover from the food crisis in 1964, when the existing Communist government was booted out and the state was placed under Central rule. The four states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala were then consolidated into a single food trading zone. Instead of letting food prices prevail at market rates and intervening for the most marginalized consumers, the Central government placed price ceilings on the stocks it purchased in the name of rationing. So while wealthier consumers in Kerala were able to pay the rates that Andhra suppliers demanded, ration ships ran out of stock as the State government refused to budge on prices. Kerala tided over the crisis temporarily with imports from countries including the U.S. and Pakistan and over time developed a more efficient distribution system. So, Achuthanthan's concern for rice’s dwindling prospects in Kerala almost seem justified. Almost.

It is difficult to justify a labor-intensive crop like rice in a state that has near 100% literacy and is better off by putting its human resources in more productive industries. Kerala's achievements in educating its people are precisely why paddy fields are dwindling from their peak in the 1970s. The mass spread of education, pre- and post-Independence, opened up alternative sources of employment for millions of Keralites within the short span of two or three generations. Workers from communities that historically depended on agriculture suddenly found more lucrative opportunities in retail, education, civil service, construction, tourism etc. It's the classic textbook case of economic diversification within an increasingly skilled workforce. Meanwhile, rice's viability as a crop has diminished significantly with rising labor costs.

But despite the diminishing contribution of rice to the local economy, Achuthanthan believes that Kerala should spend valuable taxpayers' money on increasing the cultivation of rice in the name of food security. If we define food security as a state where people are capable of feeding themselves, Kerala is not facing a food crisis by any measure. If anything, most Keralites are employed in those jobs where they are most productive and can earn enough to feed themselves. The only need for an intervention would be for those marginalized consumers, or "non-consumers", for whom the price of rice puts it effectively out of their reach. It is conceivable that these non-consumers have grown in number in recent times as food prices have risen. Yet, is forcing farmers and industrialists to switch to paddy the most effective way to feed these marginalized people?

If Achuthananthan's true goal is food security, he has two options:
1) procure food at market rates and subsidize them for the marginalized consumers or
2) grow food locally and provide it to the needy.

The latter is far more disruptive because it ignores the merits of a competitive market and creates a deadweight loss to the state. With option 1, he can obtain rice at the cheapest rates possible from other sources. With option 2, he forces farmers to grow rice in the place of more valuable and less-labor intensive crops and thus reduces their incomes. But, even if he were to subsidize those farmers and prevent any loss of income to them, Kerala would be paying for a relatively expensive crop, creating an even greater bill for taxpayers. So, one has to assume that Achuthanthan believes that there is some intangible benefit the balances the cost of encouraging paddy growth. Therein lies the unspoken, irrational fears that "food security" have come to represent.

Food security as an argument belies many of the irrational fears that politicians hold about free trade and farming constituencies. Achuthanthan’s paddy project is inherently about his staunch belief that Kerala should produce its own food and his insecurity with free markets. According to our leaders, we should support rice farmers even if we have to pay more for their rice and create fields when there is no need for more. This irrational argument ignores the very basic fact that Kerala consumers are not restricted to Kerala’s products and should be able to choose from the larger Indian and world markets. The hype around "food security" also ignores Kerala’s ability to focus on more productive sectors of the economy so that it can create more wealth and its people can eat more than a daily plate of gruel. In a nutshell, paddy reclamation is a wasteful exercise for a state with better things to do.

Yet, there is no dearth for meaningful reforms if Achuthanthan seriously wishes to pursue greater food security for Kerala. For example, he can begin by reforming one of the most antiquated laws in Kerala agriculture, the Kerala Land Utilisation Order of 1967. The 1967 legislation was passed with the express intention to lock up agricultural land in Kerala, including paddy fields, within agriculture. Passed in the hindsight of the ’64 crisis, the Order introduced tremendous restrictions in converting fallow paddy fields to commercial usage. However, as rice prices have fallen and labor costs risen since the Act was passed, huge swathes of paddy fields have been converted surreptiously or left barren in the absence of government permission. In the process, environmental activists have lost considerably in their fight to reforest paddy fields and restore pre-agriculture ecosystems as needed. Owners of smaller landholdings have been unable to take advantage of much needed capital investment and consolidation. And illegal encroachments have proliferated as scrupulous dealers have turned their eyes to less well protected public lands in the absence of commercially zoned real estate. The ’67 Order is increasingly endangering the delicate relationship between public and private lands. Ironically, it has even failed to play any substantial role in increasing food security. Because in a market like India, where people are free to trade across state borders, food security has little to do with local crops and more to do with economic security.

Kerala's food crisis in 1964 was only superficially the result of inadequate agricultural output. The 1964 crisis was in part driven by Kerala’s impoverishment and lack of economic diversification. A community’s dependence on agriculture leaves it exposed to a considerable amount of risk, for e.g. the risk that a bad drought will bring a poor harvest. Kerala's lack of value-added products and a largely unskilled workforce in the 1970s left a large section of society exposed to the highly variable price of a commoditized product. So in the past, local food insecurity has always fed economic insecurity and vice versa – i.e. a fall in food production often led to a loss in income for a large portion of Keralites, thus reducing the ability to buy food and so on. Today, the situation is very different with Kerala having diversified significantly into the services sector and a large proportion of skilled and unskilled workforce having migrated overseas. The debilitating link between food production and economic insecurity has weakened considerably. Most Keralites no longer rely on the comparatively cheaper and inferior rice from public distribution system as they are generally wealthier than their predecessors and can afford to buy better quality rice at prevailing rates. Ultimately, Achuthanthan's paddy reclamation initiative is not only a solution to a non-existant problem; it also does little to improve Kerala's economic security, which as history shown, is the best driver of food security.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Dream Of Kerala

Here at Save Kerala, we are often accused of focusing on the negative aspects of the state of matters in Kerala. In a perfect world, that would be valid grounds for ignoring this blog. But the fact that we elicit rather passionate debates only reinforces our belief that things as they stand in Kerala could actually be much better. Of course, our topics may naturally incline towards those that affect the middle class by and large, because that is where most of Save Kerala's authors are drawn. Hopefully, we have also touched on issues that affect all Keralites, regardless of class, because as most foreigners and natives will have observed of Kerala, there are very few distinctions between different income groups in Kerala. Most Keralites, irrespective of their income or purchasing power, enjoy a decent standard of healthcare and access to education. So, what is it that we are really debating here?

The crux of most discussions at Save Kerala usually devolves into one of two things. Either we end up discussing political developments in Kerala. Or we debate Kerala's unique cultural traits. Either way, we end up discussing the current and potential essence of Kerala. And that should be a question near and dear to most Keralites' hearts - where would you like to take Kerala?

Much of that question depends on what we define as progress. Some would say that ours is a fairly egalitarian society and since we enjoy basic standards of health and education, we do not need much else. I like to categorize this as "Let's rest on our laurels" view. My only bone of contention (and it's a rather large-sized bone) with this view is that "all that glitters is not gold". Health standards as measured by infant mortality rates and life expectancy rates, not to mention with outdated statistics, insufficiently capture the health risks of a densely populated state. Economic growth rates, as measured in state national domestic product, inadequately measure the risk posed by a highly concentrated, disenfranchised labor force in the Middle East. On a superficial level, our society appears to be in good shape, but on a meaningful level, it is increasingly dependent on remittances from a culturally and geographically separated population of husbands, wives and children. I am not sure if these are signs of a healthy society.

But, for now, I am going to leave you with one question - what is your vision of a perfect Kerala? I hope my personal views on this question have already emerged through my writings here. If not, I will be sure to reiterate them with more support in my next blog entry on the state of agriculture in Kerala. Farming, as I've discovered, is one of the most complicated industries in the world, but hopefully I won't take too long to pen my thoughts and analyses.

I'd like to say that you should feel free to express as broad a vision of Kerala as possible. But please keep in mind that history has been very unkind to the vaguest of dreams. The ones that come true or are at the very least taken up as challenges are very often those that have a very palpable sense to them. As Martin Luther King said in that oft-quoted speech, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Pray tell, what kind of Kerala would you pass to your children?

P.S. In the interest of surveying as many Keralites as possible, please feel free to forward this to anyone you think might be a stakeholder in Kerala's future.
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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Kerala This Week, Vol 2, March 2007

Update: 18 March, 2007

After drawing immense flak from readers for concentrating only on the funny and negative side of things in these updates on Kerala, I looked around hard for some of the good and positive things that happened around Kerala the last few days. I tried so hard in fact, Sunday morning during the F1 race, I almost saw a malayali driving a Renault. Kovalain! How did our own Gopalan aka Kovalain get there! Amazing. Later I looked closer and found that it was Kovalainen from Finland! Sigh..

Jokes apart, like I said, it was kind of a quiet week in Kerala. But I guess more companies like Muthoot Group and JB Group entering the "race" (which began a few years ago) for the Smart City Project is something to cheer about. Hopefully soon we will have a result!

Kerala continued to shine on the health front. Health minister Sreemathi Teacher announced plans to set up state-of-the-art trauma care centers at all the 5 government medical colleges, and also launched a telehealth project connecting the health network. The minister also announced some funds for primary health centers. Much needed!

And last but not the least, I dont think there were any hartals or bandhs in Kerala in the last few days! Yayy!!

17 March, 2007

Ever since the current government came to power, there has been a heated debate on the qualifications needed for one to rule the state, a supposedly "fully" literate state (The debate on Kerala's total literacy began much earlier, and still goes on.). The first month of this government was very quiet and newspapers started reporting that the various ministry officials were getting frustrated trying to teach the ministers what their respective portfolios were all about.

Nonetheless, there was a lot of hope in the eyes of the people of Kerala - farmers who thought they will not have to commit suicide any more, expats who dreamt of coming back to Kerala for a decent job, women who thought they will have safer streets, children who prayed for better quality education, laborers who ran pillar-to-post for better employment.. The list is endless. But then, so is hope. And all of them continue to dream and hope for a better Kerala.

Recently I chanced upon a the Government of Kerala's official website for the Chief Minister, which had profiles of all our honorable ministers. While majority of our ministers were not even graduates, I was really happy to know a lot of them "completed" degrees and one of them even a PhD! I also saw heated exchanges on some blogs about whether education was needed at all for being a minister, and found a lot of educated (people who completed and passed exams to receive degrees) youth supporting the theory that education was NOT necessary for ruling a state. Personally I differ, and I feel the ministers, or for that matter, all children and individuals, definitely need to be educated!

Anyway, from the above website I also noted a few interesting facts on what it takes to become a minister. Although you dont need to be educated, you still needed to do a lot of hard work. I found that most of the accomplishments listed under each minister's profile centered on imprisonment, surviving police brutality, and organising agitations and succesful uprisings. And almost all of the ministers were either ex-trade union leaders or party youth outfit leaders. All this sounded boring when compared two unique listings:

One minister was bold enough to say "playing cards" was his hobby. Playing cards is considered a big sin in Kerala. He is apparently writing an autobiography with details on his experiences as a minister titled "While I was playing cards".

But even better was another minister's, special skill - Magic. Recently in a very daring attempt, he tried to fool the opposition using his magical abilities. This came as a response to a leader from the Congress, an ex-student leader himself who successfully completed college to become a minister, who claimed that the sex-education program for adolescents was too graphical and not fit for "our culture". The minister responded that “there was no temple without the sculptures depicting scenes from Kamasutra”. This seeming revelation strangely made the Opposition walk out.

Another day, the finance minister said he planned on about 29 crores of additional expenditure from the already bankrupt Kerala Government kitty, taking the budget deficit to Rs.551 crores. The Opposition walked out that day too.

When asked about the recent Nandigram protests and police firing at farmers in West Bengal, our chief, who himself led protests in the name of farmers a few decades ago, and who himself ignores the plight of farmers as CM currently, and the party sec, dismissed the incidents as "media hype". On another occasion, there was this controversy regarding CM saying that the media in Kerala is on the payrolls of the CIA. Whether he said it or not became a bigger controversy than the statement itself.

Most of you would have heard about the omnipresence of the Malayali and the story of his "thattukada" (small shop) in moon, and how he greeted the Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins. Almost 39 years later, the first malayali tourist will be heading space-wards paying $200,000 and is currently making the news.

Altogether a "dry" week one would say.. But not in Kerala.

The newly formed All Kerala Drinkers' Welfare Association, registered over 6000 members in under 2 weeks! The association plans to "protect" the interests of the states "alcohol lovers", who apparently consume over 8.3 liters per capita. Among the 15-point demands raised by these gentlemen, exercising their democratic rights ofcourse:

1. Assurance that one can drink in peace
2. A place to drink (since "we cant take bottles home and drink" & "we have to hide and drink")
3. Allow distribution of alcohol via ration shops

Myyy Dogggg!
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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Kerala This Week, Vol 1, March 2007

Every few weeks I get overwhelmed by the events that occur in Kerala, and cannot contain my literary emotions. So I sit and put together a quick-list of important, excellent, crazy, stupid, disappointing, outrageous, and really funny events that occur in Kerala and among the Malayalis. Be warned that this is purely subjective, and most often I have found that what I feel is really stupid is excellent for a lot of other people.

The event of the week has been the country's budget, and more importantly, the reactions. While personally I feel the budget has been good, because for the first time it seemed to speak of the less hyped-up and often ignored sections - farmers and pensioners, a lot of others called it "boring". Of course, we can always keep wanting more.

But in Kerala, we not only keep wanting more, but also make sure we do nothing about it. CM Achuthanandan said that the union budget ignored the state's farmers and agriculture industry! I found this very hilarious considering that the CM of Kerala himself is not doing anything about it but he's blaming the union government - the same union government whos being criticized by everyone else for a budget that focused only on farming! While Mr.CM himself dismissed, and ignored, farmer suicides and financial crises like the days weather conditions, he does not lose any chance to slap the union ministry.

Meanwhile, his ministry wasted no more time in accepting the Rs.14 billion ADB loan for Kerala. After all, the communist ideology is to accept everything free and resist anything that involves work. This is the same loan that the entire leftist parties created ruckus about while the previous government initiated steps to convince the ADB. Hopefully, it will be the time of the next ministry by the time CM and co spend all this 14 billion and the ADB asks them to repay the money.

The Governor of Kerala today read out what the CM handed over to him as the "policies of the government for 2007-2008". He said the government has declared the year as the "year of the agriculture and farmers" aka "harithavarsham". How this is going to help the farmer or his agriculture is obscure. The government also plans to set up an "IT park" in all districts. This decision comes from the very encouraging fact that the Smart City project is still under negotiations even after three years. It is our way of outsmarting others I guess.

The government also proposed to continue its hugely successful "Responsible Tourism" project, under which recently a Swiss lady lost her eye, and a whole boat of school-kids drowned near Kochi. Insiders say that the Responsible Tourism program is similar to earlier programs such as the Responsible Hartal, Responsible Trade Union Militancy, Responsible Goondaism etc, all of which are hugely successful according to the political leaders.

The Governor ended his speech by saying that the current government (2007) will model its future policies based on the government of EMS (1957). And we all know this is a big reality already, and Kerala is now somewhere around 1967 in terms of development, so its just a matter of another decade, which I am sure will be possible in the next 3-4 years of this ministry.

Jokes apart, I hope all the progressive policies of the government will materialize and we see some actual progress in the state!

Pongala is on at Trivandrum today with apparently a record turn-out of women this year. After all, their husbands leave them wanting plenty, so its no big surprise. Last year, post-Pongala, the streets saw unruly groups of youth forcefully stopping women and traffic in the pretext of "providing water to the tired women (their sisters)". Call it Responsible Chivalry - Kerala ishtyle.

Taking responsibility a step further, Shri.Pinarayi Vijayan carried live cartridges in his laptop bag and was caught in the act at the Chennai Airport. The whole thing erupted into a big saga that fed the political industry for a few days. Shri Vijayan himself dismissed the event and said " ohh...i didn't realise". Of course! Achuthanandan meanwhile requested for increased security cover immediately after the incident.

I wonder if somebody is going to tell me about Responsible Blogging now.
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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

East is the new "West"?

Five years ago, everything "Western" was (and still is) bad in Kerala! And "West" included faraway countries like America, Canada, UK, Brazil and the likes. The picture the media in Kerala, which I guess reflects the mentality of the people and what they like to read, gave any corruptible youth in Kerala (oh yeah they are so corruptible in Kerala, especially after their training in school and college for politicking and staging strikes) the impression that in the "West" people were all loose and without morals; and we are the only sane, moral and decent people in this world. They called this farce the "Conservative Keralite" (CK).

The CK, most realistic people know, is largely non-existent. I emphasize "largely", as there are still a lot of good decent realistic people, who are not necessarily the CK type. I really cant understand why this CK form of conservatism is equated with good. The good people I talk about are good human beings, and not people who pretend to be something, while doing something else when nobody looks. But this sort of pretense is what is being harvested in the youth of Kerala in the name of conservatism. Girls are taught to be "calm and homely", sent to "finishing schools" and to forget anything closely related to a career, IF they want to be the eligible CK. Guys are allowed to drink, smoke, sniff and whatever else, provided nobody knows about it. "dont drink in the bar, just drink at home, what will people say" constantly rings across most households in Kerala.

Anyway, over the last year or so, I have noticed a new phenomenon. Possibly a fall-out of the great Indian Outsourcing phenomenon that Bangalore led India to, which in reality has saved a lot of people from hunger and humiliation, and provided jobs to thousands of lazy people. Along with all the good things, Bangalore managed to outsource the wrath and jealousy of a lot of narrow-minded people. And going by my observations in Kerala recently, Keralites are topping this list too, along with the health and social development index. So today the west is very close to us, much closer than ever before.

In a television serial that I was subjected to today, as a result of some others in the same room watching it, I saw a young lady being chastised allegedly because she had a baby which she had in Bangalore, but kept it hidden from the conservative Kerala. Such references to Bangalore for anything immoral for the great CK is becoming more commonplace, and I have seen similar Bangalore bashing happening on a regular basis. Bangalores the new buzz-word in Kerala.

There was also this episode, apparently, where a "conservative malayali eligible guy and a homely, calm wife" are romancing (supposedly) with eachother . And the wife goes, "njaanum kure naal bangalore-il undayirunnu, athukondu enikkum ithokke ariyam" Which transaltes into " I was also in Bangalore for a while, so I also know all the naughty things".

I also see regular newspaper references bashing Bangalore. Bangalore's pubs, Bangalore's a hotspot for immoral traffic and what not, and the essence is that Bangalore's bad for our kids, and they may not grow up as the good CK. But of course, we still need the education for our kids, and the IT industry for the money, and when nobody is looking we can also enjoy ourselves a bit.

Anyway I dont want to go on describing these things and sound like a newspaper in Kerala myself. The idea of this post is a simple discovery:

From what I have seen, the so called Malayali youth are the people behind most of these so called incidents of immorality or indecency. It doesnt take long to establish this fact. You go to a mall with a girl and you can be rest assured that the maximum glares and cheesy comments will come from someone who also blurts "aliyaa". If a woman gets brushed in the store or grabbed on the dance floor, chances are its one of our fellow CK youth. Most brawls I have seen in pubs and bars, involve the good CK. If you stand long enough on Brigade Road, you can see the good CK in action.

But of course, after all this dirty indecent behavior, our men go back to Kerala to be the good CK. And allege Bangalore is a haven for all things bad.

I dont know when people of Kerala will realize that goodness is being respectful and truthful to your own conscience, and not put up a show for the "society" and do something else when nobody is watching. So what if men and women live together? Or if they kiss in public out of affection? Its much better than molesting your neighbours daughter or grabbing women in the bus. What if youth drink in pubs (as long as they know what they are doing)? Isn't Kerala the largest consumer of alcohol? And when we talk about all this social development, is Kerala not the worst in terms of respect for women?

I am not saying one wrong is better than another, but if we want to call something or someone wrong, it will be good if we are sure we are not wrong-doers ourselves.

The "west" is a place of independence and freedom to be the individual you want and should be, and not live your life according to what others think, or might think. And it is this spirit of individuality thats harbored in the so called "west", as opposed to mentally-stunted, pretencious people, who survive purely by bringing down the other person. The so called "west" is a character, not a place or region.

One recent example about the character of Bangalore: After the Cauvery ruling came against Karnataka, which is the single most sensitive and biggest issue for the majority of Karnataka, there were fears of violence and bandhs. But at the same time, the Aero Show 2007 was also happening in the city with thousands of foreigners (or westerners if you prefer!) in the city. The people agreed that the bandh be postponed to a date until after the Aero Show! One would say, it does not reflect the people's morality or decency. But similar is the way of thinking across the state. I wonder what would have happened in Kerala! No politician or party would have let go of the immense potential in the situation!

I am hoping that one day soon, the "west" will be a place within Kerala. Wonder "what people will have to say" then.
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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Kerala - A Mixture of Paradoxes

Kerala is a veritable mixture of stark paradoxes.

On one side, there is the scenic beauty and docile people that attract tourists from all over the world. On the other side is the highly politicized atmosphere, where bundhs and hartals might break out any moment out of the blue.

On the one side is the harmonious blending of all religions, castes and cultures leading to an amicable life; juxtaposed is the increasing arms menace and occasional localized communal riots which get smothered soon enough.

Scoundrels are on the prowl, threat to life and property exists, the law and order situation is not the best; yet, people have faith in their neighbors, live a peaceful life and are generally calm by nature.

Education is in total disarray, but the children of Kerala get well under it to the extent of finding jobs in the outside world.

The Government treasury is bankrupt, but the people have enough money in their hands. Poor though their Government is, Kerala is the biggest consumer state and the highest in per capita consumption of liquor.

Trade Unions are said to make life difficult in Kerala, but everyone is willy nilly a member of some Union or other. Each union fights for the rights of its members, yet no union comes into conflict with the others.

Politics is the bread-winner for the jobless and the public in general do not find anything wrong with that.

Those who get elected to power alternatively plunder the State’s resources continuously, but the citizens again vote them to power with zeal.

The leaders thus raised to power carry on their stealth unflinchingly.
The State doesn’t have resources of its own, but any investment from outside is treated with derision. Industries are welcome, only to be fought against and closed down.

The Central Government is kept in power by the support of all the
MPs from the State, but MPs fail to get the State’s due from the Centre.

Mother Nature is not different in its attitude.
Kerala is one of the States that get maximum rainfall, but as soon are rains are over, the State is in the grip of severe draught. There are said to be 44 rivers running through Kerala, but they are not enough to keep the fields irrigated or quench the thirst of people. Kuttanad, where there is the biggest natural water reservoir, is the place most tortured by paucity of drinking water.

The Government proclaims that it is for the poor, but hopes to finance itself through lotteries bought by the poor. The pittance given to the jobless is minus the cost of the lottery ticket.

The non-resident Keralites are worried much about the future of Kerala, but the people living in the State are least concerned. They make merry with strikes, hartals, bundhs, protests and processions.

The State is the most literate in India, but they do not seem to see beyond their own noses.

Kerala is one of the States where roads haven’t developed much since Independence, but it stands first in the sale of Cars and bikes.
The State richly deserves more highways and expressways, but acquiring land for the purpose is fraught with resistance from potential users.

Efforts towards improving hygiene and sanitation are certainly poor, but the number of tourists visiting Kerala is on the increase year by year. The cities abound with stinking heaps of garbage and singing hoards of mosquitoes, but the visitors go back with pleasant memories and vow to return.

The general apprehension about the State is that it is going to dogs, but many still believe that it is ‘God’s Own Country’!

Who knows, perhaps all the things that appear to be paradoxes might really be blessings in the scheme of things in the design of God. May God Almighty lead the State to prosperity. (Only He can save Kerala!)
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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Goon's Own Country?

A few weeks ago, there was an incident in Kerala that really assured me that the "Dog's Own Country" title we have for this blog is well deserved, and hard earned by some of the people of Kerala. Of course, like our beloved politicians and priests say..everything is for the people, our society, our community. So we have to be proud of all these things I guess. Or perhaps, like we are trained to do - be silent about it..and pretend we are the best. Ahh..Kerala..God's Own Country..And God's Own People..

The incident was an attack on a pilot who was at a toll-booth in Trivandrum, Kerala. The pilot was travelling with one of his friends, a doctor, and his wife. At the toll-booth, despite having paid the fee, he was stopped and attacked. Since he was from the military background he was able to withstand the swords, rods and more than 5-6 goondas (Toll booth workers) that attacked him, and exit from the scene with injuries and a damaged vehicle.

Later the pilot and co attempted to lodge a complaint at the nearest police station. And he was greeted with abuse and counter-complaints. The reason: The toll-booth was under the control of a prominent local political party leader. And how can the cops go against them? Dare they do that and risk being transferred to Wayanad? (Although I think Wayanad is heavenly!). After all, the police are meant to serve - oh no..not the people..but the politicians.

Anyway there are two important pointers from this incident:

1. Is there justice for the ordinary citizen? I would say no. Unless you have political backing and power, there is no justice in Kerala. One would say its more or less the same in the rest of India. But aren't we the ones claiming to be literate and socially developed and all those glittering honors on the exterior? The so called "social justice in Kerala" is just a farce. If you focus on your work and family and your own life, you will sooner or later lose out. Instead if you join some party, and muster enough support from the local network, then you can dictate terms. Sadly thats whats happening in Kerala. The youth are learning this right from school. You get beaten up, unless you are a part of some party. Everyone encourages you to join one of the unions. And unions have invaded schools. Just 2 days ago there was a picture in the newspaper of school kids from the youth party unit doing a protest march but covering their faces just in case their parents saw their pics in the paper! Ridiculous I say. Is this what we are training the new generation for? There have been widespread protests against the Supreme Court rule for banning party-politics in Schools and Colleges! That will be the single most important step for the future of India, particularly Kerala!

2. The above mentioned incident occured in front of a long line of cars..and people.. at either side of the toll booth. And not a single person, or group of people, dared to help this pilot and his friend. Is it apathy? Or is it plain fear? Isn't it funny that in Kerala, party politics is organized in such a way that if you dont like anything, just rope in the party and organize a can supercede justice, judiciary and any rule by doing just that. Recent examples: 1. Video piracy is rampant and action against erring shops was undertaken. The unions are brought in. They conduct a hartal! Why cant Keralites use pirated content? We are superior, we are the best. 2. Public transport vehicles were causing too many accidents and a lot of people died. Speed-governors were to be implemented. The unions come in. There is a bandh against speed-governors. Why cant public transport vehicles overspeed and cause accidents? We are too good to have speedbreakers and be controlled. And its sad the doctors in Kerala are also treading the same path with their recent spate of hartals. Isn't there any other solution? Are we all so mentally challenged to stoop down to such pathetically low levels?

And there are plenty more incidents on a daily basis happening all over Kerala that marks the state of deterioration - mental, social , economical and political.

Arms haul in Kochi, Goondas reigning over police in Trivandrum, Political party workers beating up citizens who dont contribute to the party, increasing robberies and theft, eve-teasing, molestations and rapes.. Do all these reports affect Keralites beyond the morning coffee gossip session? Guess not. Or probably yes. But we are taught to pretend we are the best. Lets not "wash dirty linen in public" we are constantly reminded. Lets keep all our problems to ourselves and pretend.

And since we dont want to get beaten up, lets join the party.
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Monday, January 08, 2007

The case for a 'Green tax' in Kerala

According to the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 “environment" includes water, air and land and the inter- relationship which exists among and between water, air and land, and human beings, other living creatures, plants, micro-organism and property; "environmental pollutant" means any solid, liquid or gaseous substance present in such concentration as may be, or tend to be, injurious to environment; and "environmental pollution" means the presence in the environment of any environmental pollutant.

Though this Act gives power to the Government, not much has been done. The enforcement of environmental regulation is weak in developing countries like India, and thus the citizens are being compelled to sue the polluters or take direct actions that are costly to the polluter. [Santhakumar]

According to Santhakumar, the institutional imperfections present in protecting the environment are weak enforcement of environmental regulations, long delays taken for court settlements, and the low cost for taking, and the possibility of imposing high cost through, unlawful actions.

A country’s environmental problems vary with its stage of development, structure of its economy, production technologies in use and its environmental policies. While some problems may be associated with the lack of economic development (e.g. inadequate sanitation and clean drinking water), others are exacerbated by the growth of economic activity (e.g. air and water pollution).

What is a ‘Green tax’?

A ‘Green Tax’ refers to a tax which is imposed on activities and transactions which aggravate the environmental pollution. The proceeds of this tax are used to conduct environmentally beneficial programmes.

‘Green Tax’ in A.P

From the 27th of November, Andhra Pradesh has started levying the ‘Green Tax’ on vehicles which have been in use for 15 years and above. The vehicles, which are old, produce more pollution than the modern ones. This revenue is then used for environmental protection.

In Kerala

Of late, the Government has shown concern for the environment by banning plastic carry bags. The official website says thus: “In view of the increasing cases of epidemics and their environmental problems, the Government of Kerala has decided to ban the production, storing, consumption, distribution and transportation of plastic bottles, carry bags and cups below 50 microns.”

This state ranks high in the consumption of consumer goods especially cars. Wikipedia states that ‘Traffic in Kerala has been growing at a rate of 10–11% every year, resulting in high traffic and pressure on the roads.’


It is evident that there is not going to be a decrease in the use of automobiles. Imposing a tax to reduce the purchase of vehicles will not prove to be effective as it is a very useful and efficient mode of transportation. Hence, imposing a ‘Green tax’ on vehicles which are old (They tend to pollute the environment relatively more than newly made ones) will help in carrying out programmes to protect the environment.

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