•May 14, 2010 • 11 Comments

When George Orwell first prophesised about Big Brother, little did one realise that the institution that would come closest to performing that role would be neither the CIA or KGB, nor Google or Microsoft, but religion. And it did all of this without any hi-tech spy satellites and surveillance, for it, more than any other would-be Big Brother, fully understood, and thrived on, the human psyche, as it has for centuries. Fear and greed are man’s greatest motivators, and religious institutions have, since time immemorial, exploited these to the fullest.

As I write this, someone out there has issued yet another fatwa, this one against Muslim women working with men; some old men who consider themselves the protectors of Hinduism dig up some old excuse about gotras to brutally kill people and try, then, to justify and legalize it; pro-life petitioners and some other ‘believers’ use all of God’s popularity and public speaking skills to force through anti-abortion and anti-homosexual laws leaving queers and teenage rape victims biting the dust.

I write this, not as a religious expert, but as a layman, albeit a deeply distressed one. Correct me if I’m wrong, but religion was meant to be a way to understand God etc. One is rather skeptical, though, when asked whether it is performing the role it was made for. Today, not only has religion far exceeded its brief and encroached upon the domains of other institutions, but now also seeks to be the ultimate legislature, judiciary and executive all rolled into one, controlled by the will of (as they would have us believe) the Lord himself. In the Medieval Ages, when there were no human rights and democratic governments, this arrangement might’ve done more good than harm (on paper, at least), but today, this is a slap in the face of the modern society said to be based on famed trio of liberty, equality and fraternity.

Each day, the average human is faced with a plethora of warnings and orders from the ‘enlightened’ ones, as to just what (s)he must do in order to reserve her/his seat in Heaven and avoid the eternal torture of Hell (every religion has some variant of this basic concept).

If the religious leaders are to be believed, God really cares about and keeps a track of what each and every person out of the six billion wears and exactly how much flesh is exposed (only for women; God doesn’t seem to care what men wear, for some reason (writer feels neglected 😦 )), what time (s)he gets up and goes to sleep, who (s)he talks to during the course of his day, whether and what (s)he eats, how many times (s)he prays, how much money (s)he donated to religious causes in the day, who (s)he sleeps with, how well (s)he protects her/his religion from outsiders, what religion/caste people (s)he mingles with, who (s)he votes for etc etc etc. Putting all this together, we get one extremely obsessive-compulsive, greedy, prejudiced, control freak of a God. Wait, what happened to ‘unconditional love for all his subjects‘ and all that?

One of the greatest drawbacks of modern society has to be the inability to differentiate between the religious and the cultural/social, and religion and God. A little common sense might make anyone see that many things religions purport to be God’s instructions for everyday living are simply the social norms prevalent at the time of the religions’ inception, thousands of years ago. Some do make sense in everyday life today, and still more don’t. Three people, of the same religion, living in, say, New York, the Amazon rainforest, and Vietnam are likely to lead very different everyday lives. A person living in, say, Arabia a thousand years ago, led a very different life to one who lives there today, even though they might be of the same religion. Rules that define life in modern society (Constitutions and others) are always being amended and modified to suit the time and place. If religious texts are such an effective guide to everyday living, shouldn’t they be open to changes also? But, of course, the mere mention of such a thing would mean blasphemy now, wouldn’t it?

Would a social worker in a bikini who helped change the lives of thousands of people be less welcome in Heaven than an apathetic woman who always covered up from head to toe?  Is it unethical to believe in God and not want to jump through the ridiculous hoops religion throws up?

If as much effort had gone into solving REAL problems like illiteracy and poverty, as goes into debating about exactly what is and isn’t allowed by any religion, one wonders where the world would be today. It is a sad truth that many readers of this article will interpret it as atheist propaganda. One hopes, though, that society will someday, open its eyes, see through the holy facade, and realize that religion is, and has always been, Man’s invention, not God’s. Man, who is susceptible to, and hence always restricted by, fear and greed.

S is for Sex

•June 17, 2009 • 4 Comments

Sex. There, I said it. Worried that I’ll have a bad influence on your kids? Recently, many state governments declared that sex education is not essential for their kids and decided to remove it from the syllabi. A committee, consisting of Rajya Sabha members, was set up to decide, and it came down overwhelmingly against sex education, issuing statements like “Sex education promotes promiscuity” and “India’s social and cultural ethos are such that sex education has absolutely no place in it”.

A manual on sex education that was submitted to the National AIDS Council Organisation was stripped of all pictures of the human anatomy or even a mention of the word “sexual intercourse”. The controversial flip chart used to explain HIV/AIDS to students was omitted, because it was found culturally insensitive. What? Are you f***ing kidding me?

Let me tell you a thing or two about culture. Old Indian culture worshipped and celebrated the act of sex and it was a very non-taboo, widely accepted part of their society. Don’t believe me? Find me just one other culture which has a whole literary treatise based on the act (I don’t need to name it now, do I). If other cultures had something similar, the Sutra wouldn’t have made such a splash in the Western world as it has, although we still continue to deny that it exists of course. Furthermore, if the distinguished committee had ever visited the temples in the country, they would’ve seen that the outsides of temples are generously adorned with sculptures of people fornicating. Do you need any more proof that our ancients obviously regarded it as something to be celebrated, not pushed into a closet and hidden? So much for our cultural ethos.

As for social ethos, let me tell you a thing or two about that too.

India is a place that actually legitimises teenage girls having sex. Not legally, but socially. We have had for many years, and still do, the practice of child marriage, resulting in this unpleasant statistic: 12% women aged between 15-19 years are mothers47.4% of women in the 20-24 age group were married before the age of 18, 18% before the age of 15. In a study conducted on teenagers in Kanpur and adjoining areas, it was found that 50% of rural girls did not know the meaning of menstruation. This, when almost 1 in 8 of them is going to be a mother in a few years. The committee’s stance on this issue: “Students should also be made aware that child marriage is illegal”. Sure, that has worked just fine for a hundred years, hasn’t it? Another instance of the famous “close your eyes, problem goes away principle?  

Our country has five million people that are HIV positive, second only to South Africa. 31% of these, one and a half million, are in the 15-29 age group. 40% of all new reported cases also occur in the same age group. The Indian government spends around Rs. 10 billion annually to fight AIDS. Fight it by not telling millions of kids about how it’s caused and how to prevent it? Wow, that must be some new form of teaching. Please fill me in. In another study in a town and a village in Haryana, it was found that just 5% of the rural schoolgirls and 10% of the urban knew about the need for a condom. In the Kanpur study, only 25% of the girls knew about how to avoid STDs/HIV/AIDS and pregnancy. One can bring forth millions of such statistics to prove just how “pure” our “social ethos” is. But the question is, how many HIV cases will it take for the lawmakers of the land to accept it as a problem, and stop condemning kids to a perfectly avoidable, yet disgusting fate?

 And, one more aspect of our social ethos. A nationwide study by the Department of Women and Child Development says that 53.2% children have faced one or more forms of sexual abuse and at least half the perpetrators were known to the kids. Sex education is something we owe these kids. Least we can do is let them know what to safeguard against.

We are a country of a billion people and this should be proof enough that sex isn’t as taboo as it’s made out to be. We have always been walking the walk; I guess time has now come to talk the talk too. A common concern is that “innocent” kids will be exposed to the dark and dangerous world of sex. NEWS FLASH: they are already far more exposed than you think. A worryingly increasing number of teens are involved in rapes and other sexual crimes today. Are they included in the “innocent, unspoiled kids” category? Whether we like it or not, thanks to computers, internet, bluetooth and satellite television, kids are exposed to sexually explicit material at far earlier ages than the generations before them. Isn’t it better to ensure that they at least get a correct, healthy version of it from a reliable source?

All is not lost, however. In the Haryana study, sex education led 78% of rural and 33% of urban schoolgirls to declare that they would decline sex without a condom. Before the education, only 5% and 10% respectively knew about the need for a condom. A study in the United States has found that sex education does not increase the promiscuity of students, in fact, it has the opposite effect.

So, to the distinguished committee, you can act now to prevent further tragedies from befalling the millions of kids who haven’t yet gotten pregnant, or got HIV/AIDS or been sexually abused. Or you can just close your eyes and cling onto some misbegotten version of Indian culture while your son pops down to the pirated CD salesman and buys himself a couple of porn DVDs and your servant’s daughter gets married off at the age of 13 to a guy who has never heard of a condom, let alone HIV/AIDS. Your choice.

The immoral police

•June 14, 2009 • 6 Comments

Morality. Culture. Decency. All these, and there are more, are words that are thrown around increasingly frequently in our country to justify mindless violence and harassment. In Meerut, the police have started what they call “Operation Majnu”, which involves rounding up of couples in parks etc and beating them up. And to think they’re supposed to work under the Constitution. As the Booker prize winner Aravind Adiga would say, what a fucking joke. In this article, I plan to look at the phenomenon I like to call immoral policing.

In Mumbai, St. Valentine’s Day is a truly festive occasion. Love is in the air, shops start advertising huge hearts and cards, young boys stare expectantly at those shop windows while practising their mock proposals, Shiv Sainiks start sharpening their knives and sticks, and in general everyone is happy. The youngsters are happy for obvious reasons, and the Shiv Sena, too, for obvious, albeit different, reasons. A year before last, a group of Christians was holding a memorial service on Feb 14th for a member of their community who had passed away. Sena activists ransacked the venue, beat up the men there and molested the women, tearing their clothes off. Apparently they mistook it for a Valentine’s day party. Yeah, right.

And it doesn’t stop with the hooligans. A college in Lucknow has now banned girls from wearing jeans, politicians maintain that the high number of rapes is due to the scanty dress sense of girls, someone issues a fatwa on Sania saying that she bares her midriff while playing and the sad part is we have many middle and old aged people who nod their heads in approval talking of “their days” when they had “decency” and they respected “culture” and obeyed their parents and never ran around with girls before marriage.

Let me tell you a thing or two about culture. Lord Krishna, a highly celebrated and popular Hindu God, is most famous for his amorous relationship with Radha. In fact, most temples that have statues of Krishna, also have a statue of Radha standing next to him, despite the fact that they never married. So, let me get this straight, you’ll pray at the temple, bowing your head before a couple of unmarried lovers and then step outside the temple and condemn them?

Across all cultures, we respect elders. Going by that principle, the people in the Stone Age must be most respected, even more so than the people who came afterwards who invented the sari, burqa etc, simply because they are older. They used to cover themselves with tree barks, often not covering large areas of their body. Did the people who came later do the same? No, they spoke of progress and evolution and new clothing styles emerged. Why should that stop now? If we are to blindly copy our forefathers and disregard evolution, we must accord the same respect to a scanty tree bark cloth that we do to a sari or burqa. The clothes that we force upon people to wear, calling it “culture” are simply the garments that were considered practical or fashionable a long time ago. Five hundred years from now, jeans might be part of “culture”. Am I saying that we must discard traditional clothes? No. But no one should be forced to wear them due to silly reasons like “culture”, when there may be far more practical alternatives. I’m inclined to ask, if someone wears a tree bark in public and calls it culture, as it is entitled to as much, will the moral police support them?

 And as far as safety is concerned, all an outsider can do is SUGGEST clothing guidelines so that people can help themselves and stay safe. Whether people choose follow them is ALWAYS their own decision and no can force them to do otherwise (e.g. Just as I can’t force you to wear a mini-skirt, you can’t force me to wear a sari). I personally find the sari, on certain occasions, to be far sexier than tshirts and jeans. Does that mean I get to beat up everyone who wears one? Or rape them and then say that they were baring their midriff, whereas they should’ve been wearing jeans and tshirts that don’t expose anything?

I have enormous respect for our hundreds of years of heritage and history. But as we have respect for where we come from, we need also to have respect for where we are, and know where we’re going. All three are different places. If we weren’t going anywhere, it wouldn’t be evolution. It is the twenty first century and you’d be hard pressed to find anything in common with your forefathers a thousand years ago.

Internet, malls, family, friends, sports, prayers, studies, festivals, FREEDOM. This is our culture now. There is no reason this isn’t just as good as what they had a thousand years ago, or even better. So don’t stop, buy that ridiculously red teddy bear for that girl you’ve been meaning to ask out, before you go to the temple to pray for marks. Wear a skirt one day and a sari the next and a tree bark after that. It’s our culture. Do make sure you have a couple of pink chaddis handy, though.


Notes:   the statement about the pink chaddis is made in reference to the “Pink Chaddi” campaign that was carried out after the attacks by the Sri Rama Sene.

The not-so-empowered women

•June 12, 2009 • 7 Comments

In today’s world we talk often of women’s empowerment and equal opportunities for women and we see pictures of women smiling with sports trophies, Cabinet posts and as CEOs of companies, and we think to ourselves, all is well with the world. At the same time, in a village in Pakistan, a boy from a lower caste is seen speaking to an older girl from a higher caste. The powerful higher caste family claims that he raped her. The local village council, or jirga, decide that a woman from the lower caste family must be gang raped in public in return, and this verdict is carried out. The boy who committed the “crime” is also beaten up and sodomized by the “victims”. The woman is thrown out half naked into the street to walk back home. It so happens that this woman went on to sue the rapists and won worldwide fame (all but one of her rapists were acquitted though). Mukhtar Mai has since then written a book, In the Name of Honour, which is the basis and inspiration of this article, which looks at the atrocities committed on women in the name of religion, honour and other such meaningless words.

In another village in Pakistan, a woman is raped by her brother-in-law and gets pregnant in the process. She refuses to disown the child, and hence is found guilty of zina, the sin of adultery and is sentenced to be stoned to death. Somehow she manages to escape the stoning sentence and has been in jail ever since, while her rapist is protected by law.

Many such incidents happen every day in Pakistan, Afghanistan and many other countries. Women are at the mercy of merciless chauvinists who treat them as mere objects. In India too, honour killings are commonplace in the countryside as punishments for inter-caste marriages, intra-caste marriages without the consent of the family, affairs with the opposite sex before marriage etc. Women in rural areas are illiterate and unaware that they are actually entitled to rights of their own. In rural Pakistan, women are never even spoken to or asked their opinion in decisions that very much affect them. Their marriages are never organised with their consent. They get to see the groom only on the day of the wedding. It’s another issue that grooms are sometimes old enough to be their fathers or even grandfathers. The common punishments for women there are cutting off their noses, burning them alive, and raping them.

There is almost a barter system in these areas that deals in them. Any petty quarrels can be settled by one party handing over a woman to the other. If a man rapes a woman, then in return a man from the woman’s family gets to rape a woman from the man’s family. True story : two neighbours had a quarrel over a barking dog. To settle it, the victims were “given” two girls of eleven and six who were married off immediately to a forty-six year old man and an eight year-old boy respectively. Like judicial law relies on paying damages as cash to the victim, this system relies on the accused “giving” women in payment to the victim. The woman is, of course never consulted. All she is told is that she is going to be “given” to the other family (where she will most probably be beaten, raped and treated like a slave).

Then, on top of that, the Sharia (as it is interpreted by people here) forms a sort of support system that men rely on to get away with such atrocities time and again. Just to give you an example, these are the conditions under which men may be found guilty of rape: i) If the accused man/men provide a complete confession (Sure, that’s likely to happen)   or   ii) If there are four MALE eye witnesses to confirm that the rape took place. Umm, forgive me for wondering, but if there were four male eye witnesses, wouldn’t they have just stopped the rape from happening in the first place? What if there are ten FEMALE eye witnesses? What if there are THREE male eye witnesses? Are you f***ing kidding me? Not stopping here, female rape victims are often found guilty of ridiculous charges like adultery etc and end up getting punished even more after they have suffered.

The sad part is, the country’s judiciary and police, which follow the Constitution, most often choose to corroborate with the decisions of the local councils and upper castes and suppress any women who try to protest. When the women do get the courage to approach the police, they are misled and thumb impressions are taken from them on blank pieces of paper, which are then filled with fake testimonies. This results in contrasting statements of the victim in court, and she is far less likely to win. Another issue of great concern is that other women themselves look down upon women who challenge and point fingers at men. They feel it is a disgrace for a woman to speak out against a man.

And I’m not pointing a finger at Islam only. Hindus have had their own share of practices suppressing women: Sati, dowry, child marriage etc etc. Women still aren’t allowed into some temples, they aren’t allowed to choose their grooms, many are not allowed to get educated or get jobs, some have been burned alive or killed for marrying without parental consent etc. Even Christianity, which is seen as progressive, won’t allow a woman to abort a baby, even if it’s the result of a rape, among other things. 

Religion has always denigrated women, granting them secondary status, being extremely lenient and even encouraging to men who commit atrocities on them, so much so that I’m surprised that women still believe in religion. A classic case of can’t live with it, can’t live without it, I guess.

I wish I had a witty line to end this article. I don’t. It’s just too damn sad.


Notes:    The stories, laws and practices involving Pakistan are all taken from Mukhtar Mai’s book, In the Name of Honour, from which I draw my conclusions and which I recommend to one and all. I  hope I’m not infringing any copyrights by putting them here. Just thought people should know about this.

Rent Control or Slum Propagation?

•June 11, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Asia’s largest slum. Hmm.. How did that happen? Were the lawmakers of the city blind? Or did they simply choose to act blind. In this post I look at how the Rent Control Act is enhancing the growth of slums, and politicians, despite being fully aware of the consequences, are choosing to turn a blind eye to it.

Basically, the Rent Control Act says that once you have let out any property to a tenant, you cannot force that tenant to evacuate that property and you cannot also increase the rent once it’s been fixed. There is some history to consider here. Immediately after independence, there were a lot of apartments and chawls in Mumbai that were occupied by tenants. After this Act was passed, the tenants could not be evacuated. To this day, the tenants continue to live there. And, to top it off, the rents that they pay have been frozen at the rates they were 50 years ago. So, you have, in today’s world people who pay amounts like Rs 10 as monthly rents for real estate some of which might, in an open market, go for upto a 100,000 times that. Much of that housing isn’t in prime shape since the owners have no incentive to renovate and the tenants can’t afford to. 

Dharavi, Mumbai

So, how does this Act affect Mumbai? The growth of any city is typically dependent on the rich/middle class building houses and letting it out to tenants. This is the case with most cities in our country. But since the Act has such unpleasant ramifications for the landlords that the people in the city just don’t want to give out property on rent. Hence, when young poor families come to the city in search of jobs etc, they are unable to find housing, since no one is willing to let them stay. What do they do? They go to the only place where they can get a roof over their heads. Slums.

This is a problem faced by not only would-be slum dwellers but anyone who comes to the city and tries to find rental accommodation. If you have ever tried to get a place on rent here and then in any other city, you know only too well which is easier.

Now, why isn’t this issue being resolved? Because it isn’t that simple. There are a lot of tenants who are protected by that Act and the revoking of it would simply render them helpless all of a sudden. Families who have been comfortably living in a neighbourhood for decades could suddenly be uprooted from their surroundings which they could not afford under normal market conditions and, understandably, they would be upset. No politician wants to alienate a large section of the population and stir up a hornet’s nest. On the other hand, the availability of rental housing could be a boon for the city and help reduce the alarming rate at which slums are growing. What I advocate is to revoke the law but protect the people who have been tenants for a long time (how long “long time” is must be decided”).

Complete inaction can never be the solution to any problem. Will there be dissenting voices? Yes. But is it also a fact that the rate of immigration into Mumbai is staggering by normal urban standards and does not seem to be reducing any time soon? Yes. Sometimes, politicians must take difficult choices for the good of the people that might not be universally popular. Do I see someone in politics who can act without bias and provide a viable solution to this problem? Unfortunately, a resounding no.

WARNING: Exposure to education can ruin your mind

•June 8, 2009 • 1 Comment

“Jack lived in a cottage by the woods. etc etc etc.” A couple of lines below: “Q1. Where did Jack live?” Midway through my English board exam paper (12th), this question puzzled me. Convinced that it was a trick question, I spent the next couple of minutes trying to work out scenarios where the answer would not be  “in a cottage by the woods”. A little while later, when I saw the essay topics however, “My favourite season” and others of the same ilk, my doubts were set to rest. In case you forgot, this was my Higher Secondary board exam English paper (English medium). The questions in my Maths paper the following day were taken completely from a textbook (which happened to be the most popular one around) and I did not feel the slightest need to wake up the analytical part of the brain, the memory served me just fine. In this post I look at the pathetic state the education system (state board) is in today and how that can be changed.

One of my most prominent memories about primary school is studying about Shivaji for two whole years and a whole lot about the freedom fighters too. But apparently, this is not enough. A Shiv Sena spokesman recently demanded that the curriculum should focus even more on Shivaji and Lokmanya Tilak. Wait a minute. Are you f***ing kidding me!?? In Gujarat, the syllabus was completely Saffronised after the BJP took charge. Driven by political forces, the education system has been reduced to a substandard propaganda machine, the ultimate loser being the student. Politicians plan to raise a whole new generation of party supporters, hence force upon the innocent students a campaign of mild brainwashing. How many state boards teach a wholesome version of history with Caesar and Marx, the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution, the Crusades and the Cold War?

Let alone the fact that education in India emphasises on rote-learning instead of thinking and applying, the state boards have to at least reach a level of rote-learning at par with the other boards in the country. I think the key words while describing the state board system are underpaid and uninterested. The teachers are both, the people in the education department that oversee the curriculum are both, and finally, the people who set the exam papers are both underpaid and uninterested.

One problem is that the number of students per class and the student per teacher ratio is just too high. The solution for that of course is to open more and more schools and induct as many teachers as possible. For that to happen, far more money needs to be allocated for education, and the salaries and perks of the teaching job desperately need to be raised. Distance learning is an option. Also, training non-teachers and then getting them to help out on a periodic basis (like the Teach India campaign) would relieve some of the pressure.

The need of the hour though, apart from the teachers, is to look outside our four walls at some of the other education boards around and start changing the curriculum (there is no need to be original, simply copy the best of each from among CBSE/ICSE/IGCSE/IB). I would suggest that a new panel be set up to do this, the old timers seem too content to just sip their evening chai and discuss Sachin’s form.

One more suggestion I’d like to make is have two levels for each subject, lower and higher. That way, a student inclined towards, say, geography does not have to perforce study the same level of, say, biology as others, but his level of geography is truly challenging. That way we raise students who are strong in the subjects they do know and focussed on what they want.

Another important factor to take into consideration is that the highest percentages of dropouts from school are in the state boards. Instead of closing our eyes and pretending that all is fine, there needs to be, in primary education, an emphasis on hands-on teaching and practical subjects like Carpentry, basics of Agriculture/Gardening, communication skills (in the mother tongue and English), the Fine Arts (music, art and drama), Computers and Internet, and Maths to ensure that even if people do drop out, they have something to help them out in their lives. Surprising as it may sound to some, a thorough knowledge of Shivaji’s conquests and some fleeting knowledge of the district’s lakes and hills will NOT help the students in the least in their lives.

We need to wake up and realise that education is our greatest asset, and if used properly, can propel the country, with its predominantly young population, to great heights. If not, however, we can continue our efforts to produce generations of dumbed down clones, who can’t differentiate between Lenin and Stalin or add two numbers without looking at a solved example in a textbook.

The dragon and the elephant (part 2)

•June 5, 2009 • 2 Comments

In this post I plan to look at the newer developments in Sino-Indian relations and how they are affecting India today. But before I go there, just a small thing I’d like to mention. During the 1962 Indo-China War, the CPI’s official stance was pro-China. Among the leaders who supported China was our very own celebrated patriarch Jyoti Basu. That love of China has been passed on to the new generation of Indian communists many of whom blindly preach friendship with China and respect for Mao. Despite their good work in literacy etc, they would have put India on a suicidal path antagonising USA and worshipping China and perhaps, it is for the best that the 2009 elections set them straight.

Anyway, after India did its first nuclear test in 1974, China sought to diminish India’s standing in South Asia by covertly leaking its secrets to the now-famous A.Q. Khan among others. The fact that nuclear secrets are said to have travelled from Pakistan to Libya and Iran is only a side-effect. After that, China has been a regular supplier of arms to Pakistan in, what can be seen as an effort to constantly keep elevating Pakistan to India’s level to keep India’s influence in check. Interestingly the same countries that cried foul during the Indo-US nuclear deal saying that India could use it for weapons manufacturing, kept mum while Western nations supplied nuclear ingredients to China at the height of its weapons production and active proliferation.

More recently, China has been obsessed with isolating India within the subcontinent. In the case of Sri Lanka, unable to support the government totally due to the support the LTTE enjoys in TN and after the IPKF fiasco, the Indian government’s role there has been reduced to expressing concern over various issues, something Sri Lanka no longer takes seriously. China and Pakistan, however have been actively supplying weapons to Sri Lanka and the government there has vociferously expressed its thanks to both nations, showing clearly where its allegiance lies.

In Nepal, the Prime Minister stepped down recently, but only after taking pot shots at India for being a bully. The army chief and new Prime Minister are seen as Indian puppets by the Maoists. With the wide support that the Maoists enjoy, public opinion in Nepal has swung firmly against India. The Maoist leader Prachanda made China his first visit, breaking the tradition of previous Nepali leaders who have traditionally accorded that honour to India. China has latched on to this new sentiment quickly, extending invites to the Communist leaders, building hospitals in Nepal etc. Anything India does or says now will be regarded as interference in Nepal’s affairs.

China is actively wooing Myanmar too, after voting against a resolution in the UN to place sanctions on the military junta ruled-nation and discouraging others from supporting it either. It is helping Myanmar build a road that it wants to use as a road to Arunachal Pradesh (they just don’t let go, do they?). Apart from this, China is helping Myanmar upgrade facilities on an island in the Bay of Bengal. Indians are worried that this will help China in its surveillance of Indian aircraft, ships and facilities.

As each day passes, China encircles India a little more with hostile elements to establish itself as the base of power in the region. If I were the external affairs minister of the country, I would be concerned. Very much so.