With the first swine flu death reported in my city of Pune, I thought I’d provide some Swine Flu related information specific to India.
Swine Flu India is the central website for all information and updates.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has an information page for Swine Flu.
This MS Word document supplied on the above page has contact information and details of the Control Rooms and Nodal Officers/Doctors for ALL states in India. Here is the information for Pune and Mumbai:
|Control Room||Nodal Officer|
Room No.137, First Floor,
Swasthaya Bhawan, Mumbai.
Office of the Joint Director (Health Services), Central Building , Pune
Dr. Suresh Bohatre
Please do your bit to spread information, not panic. Thanks!
While Barack Obama proclaims White House support to the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities to which India is a signatory, the Indian Supreme Court has delivered a landmark judgment in a unique case of young woman in India. My apologies, but the subject necessitates a lengthy post.
Born in 1991, this woman was abandoned by her family in ‘98, when she was just seven years old. After a few years with the Missionaries of Charity, she went to her new home: the state-run Nari Niketan in Chandigarh, India. Though she is 18 years old today, she is said to have the IQ equivalent of a 9 year old. In this state-run institution, she was repeatedly raped by the staff, four of whom have been arrested. All this came to light only when she was shifted from there to another state-run institution Ashreya. The latest unsubstantiated evidence casts further doubt on where exactly she was raped, and on the entire police investigation so far.
When medical investigation revealed that the woman was pregnant, the Chandigarh Administration decided that it was in her best interests to abort the pregnancy. The girl expressed an unambiguous and unequivocal desire to keep the child. Responding to the state’s petition, the state High Court ordered an immediate termination of pregnancy.
A Delhi based lawyer Suchita Srivastava challenged the order, filing a petition in the Supreme Court. After several days of intense debate in the media as well as the public, the Supreme Court refused to allow termination of pregnancy, and stayed the High Court order.
Advocate Tanu Bedi who had earlier assisted the High Court as amicus curiae, argued for the woman, against Administration counsel Anupam Gupta. The highlights of the debate in court as reported in the press offer the gist of the arguments and the court’s judgment.
- “Consent of the victim cannot be decisive. The so-called consent of the girl is no assent either in law or fact.”
- Reacting to the statement that mild mentally challenged people have the capability to take a decision for themselves, Gupta said: “This is a myth, which is completely belied by present scientific knowledge. It is a structural edifice of myth built on a foundation of highly wishful postulates of mental retardation. The argument is underlied by sincerity and overload of commitment, yet it is mere euphoria.”
- Dismissing the emphasis that the girl’s desire to give birth was ultimate, Gupta said: “If this expression of desire is taken as consent, it will be a complete travesty of consent in moral, philosophical and legal category. How can one question her regarding termination of pregnancy when she does not even understand what pregnancy is? She is blissfully oblivious of her pregnancy and unaware of the sexual act.”
- Reacting to the argument that children of mentally challenged rape victims can be taken care by institutes like Nari Niketan and Ashreya, Gupta said: “It’s easier said than done. We seem to be living in a realm of imagination. I am not trying to run down the argument by calling it a fantasy but such change, although welcome, is yet an illusion in our society.”
- Senior counsel Colin Gonsalves, appearing for a social worker in favor of abortion, cited medical reports and said the continuation of pregnancy could result in complications, considering the girl’s age, mental status, and previous surgery. He said she was not aware that there was a child inside her, and hence could not mother a child.
- “It would be a travesty of justice if a mother has to come to the highest court of the land to seek permission to give birth to her own child”.
- Consent of the victim matters most. “She is not mentally incompetent to give consent. Despite her communication problems, she has expressed her desire to give birth to the child. She has immense strength and resilience. We don’t even know our destiny, how can we script the future of someone else?” concluded Bedi.
- Ms. Bedi argued that doctors did not form the opinion that termination of pregnancy was in the best interests of the girl, and that the medical report suggested that she required support and supervision to help her raise the child.
- Counsel argued that termination of pregnancy against the mother’s wish was against the provisions of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, and the Rights of the Disabled.
- If her mental age is a consideration for the judiciary to think that she cannot take care of her baby, why should poor women, who are found lacking in bringing up their children, be allowed to become mothers?
- Ms. Bedi said India was a party to international conventions that uphold and preserve the rights of the disabled, which had been given the go-by in the impugned order. “We have to respect the girl’s right to life”, she said.
- Ms. Bedi argued that the victim had a right to give birth to her child. She said the National Trust constituted under the National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act, 1999, had agreed to provide her social and financial support and take care of the child after delivery. Counsel for the Trust said it was funding several institutions and would support the girl.
- Before the judgment: “What you say is right if she is not a mentally retarded person,” Chief Justice Balakrishnan told Ms. Bedi. “We are worried about her future also because she is an orphan. No NGO is going to look after her. It is a difficult decision for us.”
- “We are not in favor of termination of pregnancy. If there are no further complications to the woman in continuation of her pregnancy, then why abort a life?”
- “We are sure that somebody will be in a position to give protection to the child. Our anxiety is the fetus is already 19 weeks. The second medical opinion says her physical condition is good to bear the child. The child is not suffering from any deformity. Nature will give her biological protection. If somebody is ready to take care of the child, should we even then order medical termination of pregnancy? Nature will take care on its own.”
- Justice Sathasivam told Gupta: “Is it not possible for the Chandigarh administration to take care of the child? Is it not your responsibility to protect her?”
- “We know as a natural mother she will not be able to take care of the child. But if somebody is ready to look after the child, then there would not be any problem.”
- After being satisfied that several national-level NGOs had come forward to take responsibility of the child, the 3-member bench was reluctant to accept any other arguments supporting her abortion.
- Acknowledging that if a baby is aborted against her wishes, it would cause further trauma to the woman, the court ordered that the baby should be born with “mother under constant care and supervision”.
I have no way of assessing general public opinion, but in my experience, the opinion regarding the court’s judgment has been largely negative. See this blog post by Aditi Ray on Sulekha. Prerna’s post has a slew of comments criticizing the judgment.
The Bioethics Discussion Blog asks readers’ opinion regarding permanent sterilization of mentally disabled women, and asks if disability rights groups should ever sacrifice the disabled individual to the group’s agenda. I also found an interesting student paper at the University of Kentucky’s Dept. of Philosophy, Health Care Ethics on mentally retarded women and forced contraceptives. Finally, the UN’s Women with Disabilities page is a gateway to much more information and links.
A few days back, I was watching a children’s reality show on TV, Zee Saregamapa Little Champs. Young children sing and compete in this show, and there are two judges, one of whom is Ms. Alka Yagnik.
After one of the kids sung a song composed by Bappi Lahiri, Ms. Yagnik said she had brought a present from Mr. Lahiri for him. Can you imagine what it was?
It was a lemon and chillies bundle made of gold. She said it will help ward off evil spirits from the boy once she waves it around him. Another couple of minutes of air time was spent in close ups and a discussion of how it was 24-carat gold. Can you imagine my utter shock and disbelief? My instantaneous reaction was take it and SIUYA.
Millions of young impressionable minds all over India are passionately watching this reality show. The ratings of the participants matter personally to them. The judges are looked up at as role models who’ve made it big in the music industry. Is this what our role models are supposed to be teaching our children?
[For those not in the know, this is the most ubiquitous charm used in India to ward off the evil eye. See here for more information.]
TV shows like these are the rage on the Indian internet scene. There are countless sites with videos of episodes, innumerable forums where teenagers as well as adults are passionately discussing these shows and the progress of the contestants. If you think educated people with broadband connections who participate in such online activity would be immune to such superstitions, see this:
Of course, our politicians are not behind. This year, the national convention of the Congress in New Delhi sported this ‘good luck charm’. I thought I had seen it all, but then I saw this on a Send Gifts to India shopping site:
What is the harm in following silly old superstitions that harm nobody? Mr. Dabholkar, of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (ANS) says “The idea that there is no harm in following some superstition as long as it is not harmful is what is worrying", in this DNA article Dare to step on lime and green chillies?
The Maharashtra Eradication of Black Magic, Evil and Aghori Practices Bill is still languishing with no support group behind it. From political parties like BJP and Shiv Sena to each and every religious organization starting with the letter ‘H’ – there is vociferous opposition, blatant misinformation, and scare tactics used to sway gullible public opinion. The ANS activists are so frustrated that they are now writing letters to the ruling politicians in their own blood.
With the apathy of educated Indians towards such beliefs, and the mainstream culture embracing such superstitions, I think a lot more people will need to give their blood to this cause if it has any chance of success.
How do religions treat women? How do emancipated women treat religion? A sequence of events recently has made my mind unquiet over this subject. Nita asked if Hinduism was coming of age, with people performing the sacred ‘thread ceremony’ on their daughters. The BJP found itself trapped in the maze of confusion surrounding Hindutva. And Sarkozy said that women wearing burqas were not welcome in France, as it was more a sign of women’s subservience rather than religion. The Rational Fool hailed Sarkozy’s statement, while I and Etlamatey pondered about individual women’s rights in the comments.
Like I always do, I responded to my unquiet mind by thinking, scouring the net, and thinking some more. Here is a sampling of what I found:
- An American convert to Islam urges Muslims to fight against brutality of woman to preserve Islam’s image in the eyes of others
- A Hindu woman converted to Islam says Islam is not oppressive, unlike Hinduism
- A Hindu perspective explains how Abortion is Bad Karma
- Genocide of Women in Hinduism by Sita Agarwal
- Did the burqa bring about the ghunghat or the other way around? Read this.
- Did women have ‘fewer’ rights than men or ‘different’ in the context of Hinduism’s history? A heated debate ensued after Hindus started a campaign to change the content of sixth-grade school history textbooks in California.
- A Globe and Mail opinion piece discusses the reduction in church attendance among Canadian women and whether oppression of women by religious institutions is the main cause, while Tina disagrees in her blog post.
- How does Canadian society achieve gender equality rights enshrined in their Charter, which also protects the right to freedom of religion? The Star looks at the conflict of interests.
- Muslim-dominated Indonesia is a religious country where atheism is banned by law. Alarmed at the extent of oppression of women in their country, a group of Islamic and Christian leaders have released new manuscripts in an effort to use religion to achieve gender equality.
- BBC had an open debate on air on whether religion is an obstacle to gender equality. The extensive comments represent myriad opinions and differing perspectives on this issue. One example of a response to this debate is by Sally, who says that faith is an integral part of her, and suggests women work within their faiths for change.
In the above list, I have not listed any pro-atheist source, and strived to include Hinduism related articles. Referencing articles on Hinduism and gender equality or feminism is difficult for three reasons. One, the global discussion has centered on Islam, and the English-speaking Internet population is largely Christian.
Two, Hinduism is unique in its flexible and diverse interpretations. While all religions are intentionally scripted so as to offer multiple contradictory interpretations, Hinduism wins this ambiguity race by claiming to be ‘all-inclusive’. Devout religious folks from other religions do argue (as seen in the above examples) that the oppression of women is a misinterpretation and misuse of their ‘true’ religion. But Hindus can’t be surpassed in this respect: not only are there multiple contradictory interpretations of Hinduism, even these contradictions can be claimed to be embraced by it. I think it would be a safe bet to say that for every principle supposedly propounded by Hinduism, a contradictory principle can be found within Hinduism. People would not call me a mathematician if I did not follow mathematics, but they will call me a Hindu even if I did not follow it.
Third, for a religion that has existed for centuries, and is said to be flexible and evolving, it is impossible to differentiate religious practices from social customs and traditions. Do Hindu women wear the mangalsutra or bangles because of religion or tradition? Widow burning or sati is widely described in the world as a Hindu practice, but naturally, there are arguments and differing opinions about it.
For atheists like me, the issue is very simple. Religion has been used as an instrument of gender inequality, specifically, in the oppression of women. Removing religion from the picture removes religious and theological justifications for patriarchy, as Austin argues. Sally says that in the absence of religion, men will find other ways to oppress women, hence religion as such is not an obstacle. Indeed, many factors contribute to gender inequality, one of them being economic prosperity, as this chart shows.
However, there still exists a strong correlation between the extent of ‘organic atheism’ (as opposed to ‘coerced atheism’ like in communist countries) in a country and its overall gender equation. Both the 2004 and 2006 rankings of the Gender Empowerment Measure, which is part of the the UNDP’s Human Development Report, show that the top ten nations with the highest gender equality are all strongly organic atheistic nations, while the bottom ten are all highly religious countries with insignificant number of atheists. But, as Phil Zuckerman points out in the The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, the causal relationship is in reverse: overall societal health causes widespread atheism, not the other way around.
It is impossible to argue against faith and belief, so I do not venture much into such debates. I prefer not challenging other people’s beliefs as long as they do not interfere with my life. What I find perplexing is how even emancipated women prefer to remain within their religious faiths and struggle against oppression, rather than choosing to discard religion? If faith and belief are important, and hence atheism and agnosticism are rejected, why are other forms of theism not popular?
In the end, I think I differ from Sarkozy: if women choose to be subservient, let them be. It is their right. Men should not trample over that right, though they can trample over such women, if they wish.
Update 30th June: A few significant articles I found since writing this post:
- Few public figures have taken this topic head on. Cherie Booth, wife of ex-PM Tony Blair, gave a speech almost two years ago: Religion no excuse for gender inequality. Like many other ‘feminists’ I mentioned, she however suggests using religion as a weapon in the fight for women’s rights.
- God is merciful, but only if you’re a man. An excellent piece in The Observer that asks the exact same questions I did, and offers the exact same answer Rational Fool did in the comments – Stockholm Syndrome.
- Wherever religion and its patriarchs rule, women’s lives are in danger, an Opinion piece.
- Why Women Need Freedom From Religion, from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
(All cartoons are from www.atheistcartoons.com)
One of the most powerful anti-establishment movies I’ve seen, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is the story of a criminal McMurphy who prefers an insane asylum to prison, and leads a sustained revolt against the suffocating and stultifying atmosphere and practices of the barbaric asylum. Unlike mainstream movies, here the anti-hero does not win, in fact the establishment wins in the most brutal fashion, leaving us shattered.
I find it shocking that some people see this movie as a comedy of the revolt led by McMurphy with the fishing trip, the orgy at night, and the caricatured inmates. These people are lucky souls who have never experienced the vice-like grip of a cruel establishment and are so blissfully ignorant that they can view this film as a comedy. For the less fortunate among us, Forman uses our intellectual and emotional sensitivity to deal a severe blow that is devastating. I have written before about this film being one of the most intense cinematic experiences for me.
The film’s success – it bagged 5 Oscars and was a box-office hit – was completely unanticipated. It beat Jaws and Nashville at the Oscars. Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando had turned down the lead role, and co-producer Michael Douglas chose not to act himself. Five other actresses turned down the role of the domineering Nurse Ratched. Finally, Louise Fletcher won the Best Actress Oscar for her stunning portrayal of the Nurse, accepting the role just a week before filming began, and turning what was arguably a supporting role, into a lead one. Jack Nicholson, as McMurphy, won his first Oscar and the film catapulted him to super-stardom.
Jack Nicholson lives and breathes McMurphy, a wisecrack who loves to break the rule, is prone to violence, and like any sane person, can have insane impulses when trapped in an insane asylum. While Nicholson’s performance is universally and frequently appreciated, Fletcher’s Nurse is often overshadowed. Observe that Fletcher does not make the Nurse a typical monster, or witch. Rather, the Nurse is a sexually and emotionally repressed authoritative figure, who plays by the rule book, and actually believes that what she is doing is good for the patients.
Western critics believe the treatment of mental illness shown in the film is dated, and modern practices are not as brutal. While it is true that practices such as lobotomy are discontinued, electro-convulsive therapy is still widely used, especially in developing countries. Forman, a Czech, has likened the asylum to communist Russia, and the film doesn’t let viewers escape its grim reality. The escape of the Indian Chief was meant to offer a cathartic end, but for me, McMurphy’s end was simply too devastating.
I once composed a poem inspired by this film:
I was flying on a quest
With a great deal of zest
When I fell down
Into a cuckoo’s nest
Thus I had a fracture
And lost all my rapture
While I kept pondering
The reasons for my capture
All my friends told me
The nest was the best for me
And as the days went by
I forgot how to fly
As my mind reeled
My lips were sealed
My fracture healed
But my fate was sealed
A personal favorite that must be watched on the big screen. Pollack’s best picture. Streep, Redford, and Brandauer’s performances. David Watkin’s eye-popping on-location cinematography. John Barry’s soul-stirring background score. A dollop of Mozart – the K136 Divertimento in D, K331 Piano Sonata in A, Clarinet Concerto. The complex characterizations of the baroness Karen Blixen and Denys. The story of a woman who never accepted defeat in any way.
The apes playing with the phonograph. The big game hunting scene with lions. The Masai tribe in the desert. The English school for the natives. The owl gifted to her. The view of the world through god’s eyes. The flight sequence followed by the love-making scene in bed. Ah, what cinema!
On The Waterfront, Elia Kazan and Marlon Brando are a tour de force that make powerful films.
Once Upon A Time In America, Sergio Leone’s explosive saga of gangland America.
Or what newspapers and media will not tell you about the 2009 Indian Parliamentary Election.
Will the new government go in for reform?
- Absolutely! Though there may be a slight difference between what everyone understands by reform and what the government means by reform. From the government’s perspective reform means re-forming the government. The party in power has to make sure that at the end of its term, it is in a position to re-form the government.
Why did the Congress win a sweeping majority?
- Because none of the other parties did. Seriously. Theories and political pundits aside, no one really knows. Anyone who pretends to, is just making money out of pretending.
What does the Congress stand for?
- The Congress stands for secularism.
What is meant by secularism?
- Secularism means securing your political future among as many religions and castes as possible. In order to achieve this, you need to appear impartial, which you accomplish by not doing anything for anyone. It also means letting right wing zealots from different religions torture, rape, and blast each other and each other’s religious structures (mosques, churches, temples), while you remain impartial and do nothing.
Why did the BJP lose?
- Apparently, there were different reasons in different states. Since the BJP is as confused after the elections as it was before, there is no clear insight into why it lost. The only definitive, plausible reason is that the BJP is a confused party, and does not own any sizeable vote bank in the electorate.
What about the urban middle class that was said to be the strongest BJP supporter?
- The urban middle class is an insignificant, almost non-existent vote bank. Contrary to popular perception, the Congress’ vote share actually increases as you move from villages to towns to cities.
Really? How did the Congress win a majority of the urban vote share?
- Urban in the western context has an entirely different meaning than it does in India. In India, urban dwellings are slums. Majority of those who live in apartments and high-rises do not go out to vote in the scorching tropical heat. Almost all the urban votes in India are from slums, which are controlled by gangsters, who are cozy with the Congress.
What does the BJP stand for?
- The BJP is a right-wing political party that stands for Hindutva.
What is meant by Hindutva?
- Hindutva is a flexible concept that can mean different things depending on the time and place. For example, before elections, it meant women should not go to pubs. After elections, it means overall economic development.
What will the BJP do now?
- The BJP is like a horse with a blind left eye. When it reaches a dead-end like it did in this election, it can only seek further ways to go right. When it can no longer do so, it does a U-Turn, meaning it sits in the opposition and opposes everything the government does.
Why did the Left parties lose?
- The Left parties controlled every civil institution in their geographical stronghold, like schools, hospitals, police, etc. After over 30 years of being abused in every imaginable way by the Left parties, the people realized that the Left’s stronghold was a stranglehold.
What will the Left do now?
What conclusions will the Left reach after introspection?
- They will conclude that the Left parties were right, and the people of India made a grave mistake. The people of India were not able to fully understand the nationalist vision of truly independent India that the Left stands for.
Was there a youth wave in this election?
- Absolutely! There are millions of unemployed youths in India who have nothing better to do than attend political rallies and vote. The employed youth, who were an insignificant minority, were desperately busy working to avoid losing their jobs.
[I may write a paragraph or two at the beginning of each post about some aspect of film-making, sharing thoughts, facts, or experiences, etc. This may or may not be related to the films I write about.
Do feel free to comment on the films, my writing, as well as recommend and discuss other films. The more you participate, the more meaningful and enjoyable this would be! Lastly, I plan to adopt the widely-accepted technique of reformatting titles beginning with ‘A’ and ‘The’.]
I always think that editors are one of the most under-appreciated folks in film-making. How far we have come from the old days when editors used to be exclusively women! Editing was considered no more than a cut and paste job, and since women sewed and tailored, editing was treated as a menial job relegated to women. Today, what would Spielberg be without Michael Kahn, or Scorcese without Thelma Schoonmaker?
Many Indian film-makers aspiring for Academy Awards need a primer on editing. A Slumdog Millionaire’s editing makes it appear as if Lagaan’s editor was stricken with diarrhea and thus was unable to work.
When I was young, one of my best friends became a paranoid schizophrenic. In the years since, I have seen schizophrenia up close – its impact on patient and family, its treatment, and its social stigma. Not many movies treat mental illness simply as a disease. It is usually sensationalized, or trivialized, or turned into tragedy or melodrama. A Beautiful Mind sensitively portrays John Nash Jr., a mathematical genius who fought paranoid schizophrenia, and successfully achieved global recognition. This is Ron Howard’s masterpiece after the earlier Apollo 13.
Russell Crowe is astonishing as the mild-mannered, socially handicapped genius. He metamorphoses into a Gladiator of the mind, fighting demons of insanity. The film deals with complex mathematical theories to just the right extent, keeping it understandable to laymen. It shows what true love is all about – not passion and romance, but hard work and commitment. It touched me very deeply, without insulting my intelligence, and without offending me by trying to manipulate my emotions.
Thoughts about insanity and genius lingered afterwards. In his Nobel auto-biography, Nash reveals that his recovery is not entirely a matter of joy. “One aspect of this is that rationality of thought imposes a limit on a person’s concept of his relation to the cosmos”, he says. I wonder if apart from his groundbreaking work in mathematics, this revelation will turn out to be his most significant lesson for mankind.
The germ of four different interlocking stories causing chaos reminded me of the butterfly effect in chaos theory. Despite big-ticket stars like Pitt and Blanchett, they are not given any preferential treatment, as required by the plot. This integrity is rare in Hollywood. Superb cinematography, strong character development, and deeply thought-provoking. We can easily identify with all the characters, none of whom are villains, and do not intentionally act wrongly, yet the situation spirals out of control. It is also an intriguing look at how cultural barriers have unintended consequences.
Such a powerful film shot in different locations of the world with numerous actors cannot be weaved into a compelling yet easy to grasp drama without supreme editorial work. In retrospect, I was mesmerized by how the director and editor managed to weave this thrilling complex drama and piece together disparate clips into an integrated whole.
Bandit Queen – a film I saw once and do not wish to see again. A film that made me feel ashamed of being an Indian, with its caste system and patriarchal society. A film with that scene of repeated sounds of a door creaking – a sound I do not wish to hear again.