Who am I?
- Pranay Gupta
- I am not religious, but I don't mind calling myself spiritual. Religion, I believe, has, over the millennia, been used as a prop to perpetrate a lot of human suffering. Faith is what matters. I don't believe in the definition of God as a creator. According to me, my God resides within me. Some call it conscience, some call it the sub-conscious, some call it the soul. I don't mind calling it God. So by definition I am not an atheist or an agnostic, but by essence, I may as well be. My God does not reside in a temple, church, mosque or gurudwara. It is right here, within me.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Friday, August 13, 2010
This article appeared in the August issue of the online monthly magazine Orange19. You can go to www.orange19.com and check out the August issue. You can also visit their facebook page.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Monday, July 5, 2010
June 7, 2010 - The air has the stench of alienation. The journalists, the activists and the victims are ordered to stay out of the courtroom as the 100 pages of verdict are being read. Seven accused, two years imprisonment with a fine of Rs. 1,01,750 each. Submit Rs. 25,000, and you could be granted a bail immediately.
Such was the gross impunity with which the ‘justice’ was carried out on this fateful day. Union Carbide top man Warren Anderson safely ‘absconding’ since long, it was the victims who had to tread the barren path through more than 25 years of hell. And today, the ‘justice’ mocks at their faces.
The Supreme Court judgement of September 13, 1996 - which converted the offence from culpable homicide not amounting to murder (with maximum punishment up to 10 years) to rash and negligent act causing death (punishable up to a maximum of 2 years) – evidently tied down the hands of Chief Justice Magistrate (CJM) Mohan P. Tiwari. But there seems to be a greater connivance on the part of the state and central governments that allowed Anderson to flee from India under what seemed to be US pressure. “House arrest or no house arrest, or bail or no bail, I am free to go home..There is a law of the United States..India, bye bye, thank you” were his final words before he left the country. If you read those words closely, his scoff is almost audible.
On the fateful night of December 2-3, 1984, the poisonous Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) leaked from one of the tanks, in which it was stored in large quantities, killing 2,500 people immediately and 1,500 more subsequently, according to the official estimates. Other estimates put the total death toll at around 15,000. Defects in the plant like bulk storage of MIC despite common knowledge that a leak could cause havoc, possible corroding material in pipelines and in valves like iron, copper, zinc and tin, a faulty refrigeration system – the working of which was a stated necessity and could have provided a lot more reaction time, no safety guidelines provided to people living in the areas near the plant by UCIL despite the awareness of the possibility of a leak, no alarm system to check the quality of MIC before it was stored in the tanks – another stated necessity, only highlight the already emotive issue of corporate accountability. One of the ‘absconding’ accused, the US based Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) – the parent company of Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) – had also released an Operational Safety Survey Report, dated July 28, 1982, prepared by a team of experts; the report showed that there were a number of deficiencies in the maintenance of the MIC unit. This report strongly points towards the extreme callousness displayed by the accused despite knowledge of the bending of rules that was prevalent. It is a travesty of justice, to say the least, that the people who never felt a tinge of guilt are still at large enjoying the immunity from the Indian justice system.
Another seeming connivance emerges when you look closely. UCC had a share of 50.9 per cent in UCIL. In 1973, UCIL had entered into an agreement with the parent company, according to which UCC was to provide UCIL with the best manufacturing information then available. The 1996 Supreme Court judgement also allowed the shares owned by UCC to be sold to raise money for the construction of a hospital by the Bhopal Hospital Trust (BHT), a body created by UCC. Thus it became all the more difficult for the prosecution to prove that the top people of UCC sitting in the US knew all about what was going on in their subsidiary in India.
A great paradox, which emerged during the trial, was in the title of the case itself. It read State of Madhya Pradesh through the CBI vs Warren Anderson and others. Strange it is that the verdict did not even mention the name of Warren Anderson. The case accusing him of culpable homicide not amounting to murder is still pending. But the erroneous title of the case gives the false impression that the case against Anderson et al is closed as well.
The levee seems to be on the verge of breaking for the Congress which suddenly finds itself in a morass of its own wrongdoing. Apart from the opposition parties aiming for the kill, voices of dissent can be heard even from within its own walls. The latest move by the Congress of appointing a Group of Ministers (GoM) to look into the matter seems like a desperate scurry for cover. The latest in the series of events is the recommendations of the GoM of a hike in compensation for the victims, review of the unfair verdicts, and a fresh effort for the extradition of the fugitive Anderson. If the suggestion for enhanced compensation for the victims is accepted and implemented fairly, then this might be the only silver lining for the victims as well as for the party which claims itself as the saviour of the aam aadmi. The aim for extradition of Anderson is as much a non-starter as it is unrealistic. The government could not convince the US government to extradite Headley for the heinous crime that is so fresh in the minds of every Indian. So a similar hope for Anderson is like wishing for the stars - Quixotic and impractical.
The irony rides high when one considers that Barack Obama expects British Petroleum to pay up to $20 billion as the total clean up costs. The total loss of human lives amounted to 11. And the settlement seems to be going into completion soon after the spill is fully contained. Compare that with 28 years of uncaring silence by the Indian state and a puny compensation by the Supreme Court verdict in 1996 to rub it in. Let us keep our fingers crossed that the government does not yet again fail to deliver due justice to all.
It is all summed up in what an activist said of the pitiable state: “This is definitely not what we were waiting for. In 2006, the Prime Minister promised us an empowered commission that would look into the rehabilitation of survivors. Till today the commission has not been formed. What the government has demonstrated over the years is that the lives of ordinary citizens are expendable. The Prime Minister has told us that the Bhopals will happen but the country must progress. In Bhopal, first there was an industrial disaster, then there was medical disaster and now what we are watching is a judicial disaster.”
Saturday, July 3, 2010
Today is a Saturday and the vanity of the evident brutality – that is, me sitting in a conference room of the MNC I work for – is a nudging reminder of my ongoing suffering. The gloomy prospect of working on a Super Saturday – a Saturday which hosts a Germany vs. Argentina football world cup quarter final should be called a Super Saturday, no less! – the gloomy prospect should have looked appealing to, in my opinion, not even the workaholic ‘techies’ – as they like to be called. But here we all are, including me I admit, wasting away a perfect Saturday afternoon – though there was not much prospect for enjoyment outside of home because of the rain, but, to me, perfect nonetheless. The flowing reverie of my thoughts was impaled by the now sweet sounding voice of Evan wrapping up the session. I gathered my wits, along with my pen and notebook, and scampered out the room to the environs of freedom and an evening of, I hope, good football.
Sunday, May 30, 2010
I could feel the dampness streaming across my forehead. But I dare not wipe it off for fear of losing my concentration. It would be difficult to swim through the bright ball of fire glowing some distance ahead of me. But I desperately wanted to see what lay on the other side of it. The ball was very near now. I could feel its heat starting to incinerate the hair on my elbows that were extended ahead of me. My head started to spin the way it did, benignly, after two pints of beer. I was losing my focus. The dampness of my forehead had started to accumulate and then flow through my eye lashes- I still did not close my eyes. But it was becoming unbearable. Worst of all, I was beginning to founder. The ball was contracting. With a sudden realization, I knew I would not make it through. It was all a mistake. I wanted to scurry back, but I knew it was too late. My flesh was burning. And then my eyes.
I stared at the bedside lamp for the whole two minutes it took for my heartbeat to slow down. The recurring dream. I pulled myself off the bed and walked to the kitchen without my slippers. The light of the refrigerator, as I opened it, felt refreshingly alive. I took out a bottle of water and walked to the open backyard. The moon was frowning angrily at me. But as I kept staring into its face, I realized the menacing glower was just an indifferent smile. The whiff of cold air licking off the trickle on my forehead as I drank the water made me think of my helpless state. The same dream had driven me off my bed for six years before one morning I woke up refreshed after an uninterrupted slumber. The dream had stopped pricking me just like that. And here I was, two years later, bathing in the frigid moonlight, jolted by the re-emergence of my nemesis.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
I will start off with some facts first. Approximately one-third of all children in the developing countries under the age of five are Vitamin-A deficient. In India, 330,000 children die each year from Vitamin-A deficiency. Those that survive infancy may have very low immunity later on in life, and their bodies may be weak, prone to disease. Some of them may have congenital defects which might surface later on in life, while others may become blind at birth. In short, chances of them going very far in school are abysmally slim. And we should not forget the fact that most of these undernourished children are from very poor families.
Iron deficiency anemia during pregnancy results in 115,000 deaths throughout the world each year, accounting for one fifth of total maternal deaths. It is a profoundly sad paradox that the country that takes pride in calling itself the next big superpower has the worst Vitamin-A rates in the world in children below the age of 5 years - 57% of the children in India are deficient in Vitamin A while the deficiency percentage for iron is 69%. 33% children in India suffer from iodine deficiency. The most insidious aspect of this is that the cost to minimize this mass-deficiency is minimal. It is the political will that is missing. And it is a shame that this fact itself does not make most of the highly talked-of Indian middle class sit up and take notice, let alone be bewildered by the facts. It is too engrossed in its apathetic attitude towards the pathetic plight of the people of their own country.
If India wants to address the problem of the ever widening gap between those who can afford and those who cannot, leaving behind its children and women is not justified by any yardstick. The government has to work hand in hand with non-profit organizations that are always ready to share their reach and resources for a noble cause. One such organization is the Micronutrient Initiative, based in Ottawa, under the aegis of the Canadian government. The organization has been active in many countries and it has delivered tremendous results. Micronutrient Initiative is a live example of how effective and affordable vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients can be. Vitamin A doses cost about 2 cents each and only 2 annual doses per child are required. Cost of iodization of salt is 5 cents per person per year. Micronutrient Initiative has developed a nutri-candy that fulfils most of the daily requirements of vitamins A, C and iron. The tests of this candy in Haryana and West Bengal have shown a 15% reduction in anemia and deficiencies in Vitamin A. Due to encouraging support of the Canadian establishment, between 1993 and 2007, Micronutrient Initiative has played a huge role in reducing the number of countries with iodine deficiency disorders as a major public health concern from 110 to 47. And there is a bright scope in the future. For example, approximately, 1.5 million children in the world die every year due to diarrhea, most of whom belong to India. Providing those children with zinc supplements, which bolsters the immune system, could reduce the number of deaths by as many as 20%. And the cost of zinc supplements per person per year is just one dollar. A puny amount, considering the huge amounts of money siphoned off by the Indian bureaucrats every year.
The following are the cost effective solutions offered by Micronutrient Initiative that are ready to be scaled up with help from the governments:
- Fortifying flour and other staple crops with Vitamin A, folic acid, iron and zinc has been an effective means of reducing anemia and birth defects.
- Salt iodization reduces goiter and improves cognitive development. In communities where iodine intake is sufficient, average IQ is shown to be on average 13 points higher than in iodine-deficient communities.
- Where a population is at risk of Vitamin A deficiency, providing young children with Vitamin A supplementation every six months reduces mortality by an average of 23%.
- Zinc supplementation, given with oral rehydration therapy, can reduce the duration and severity of acute diarrhea.
Iron Intensification Program by the Government of Nepal, with the help of Micronutrient Initiative, has drastically reduced anemia rates in women since its inception in Nepal. If India hopes to tap the huge skilled human capital that will be at its beck and call in a few years from now, it has to learn something from our neighbour country and Canada, and wake up from its slumber of lethargy and indifference to do the needful.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Sudhanshu is comfortably steering the Mahindra Scorpio down the road to Chandigarh. We are returning from Hisar from the marriage of a friend’s sister. Prateek is placed in the navigator’s seat. I’m listening to Remember Me Lover by Porcupine Tree with a single earphone cocooned comfortably in my left ear; Bulla, sitting on my left, is listening to the I-pod from the other earphone. Jassi is sitting on the other end of the back seat, while Sangwan and Tanuj occupy the perpendicularly placed hind-seats at the back. The road has narrowed down a bit in this stretch. Vehicles, big and small, pass us by on the other side, the glare from the oncoming head lights blinding us each time. The vehicle runs at around 100 km per hour, though the speedometer of the rented vehicle does not function to vindicate that. The clock shows 9:31 pm. It has been barely 10 minutes since we started after halting to wolf down paranthas for dinner. It is while I’m trying to focus on the ethereality of the song when I, like all of us in the car, notice that the vehicle passing us by on the other side was no ordinary vehicle. It is a tractor carrying with it a huge pile of dried hay on its back, with the width of the hay far exceeding what could be assumed as the actual width of the vehicle, looking at its headlights. The glare, blinding us like it does, does not make the line of the thick stacks of hay protruding from the sides of the vehicle visible to us. So it is only when our vehicle just crosses the line of the headlights of that tractor when Sudhanshu, along with the rest of us, notices the thick stacks of hay protruding from its sides, which make the actual width of the vehicle twice its original measurement. Picture driving at a hundred km per hour, and suddenly you realize that the road ahead of you, a puny 5-7 metres ahead, is blocked and the only way out is to steer sharply towards the left, out of the line of the hay stacks. So this is what Sudhanshu does. Our Mahindra Scorpio makes a crisp left turn, exhibited sharply, at a hundred. Before we could consider ourselves blessed for being forgiven by the ominous stacks of hay, Sudhanshu has to take a sharper right to steer our vehicle back towards the narrow road. And this is when we feel our vehicle on twos. Two wheels, in case you are wondering. Let me slow down the time for you people to picturize and vicariously feel what we felt. My minds continually wavers between the two extreme thoughts – we will make it comfortably back on the road; oh no, we are not going to make it. Let me be clear when I say this – had Sudhanshu been a bit lax in pulling back the vehicle to the road with moderate strokes of the steering wheel, or had he been less attentive, had his reflexes been slower than they were, either we would have slammed into the stacks of hay, giving an angular momentum to our vehicle at a hundred (imagine that!), or, had we come unscathed from the stacks of hay but had our vehicle not been pulled back after that, it would have upended sideways and would have undergone numerous somersaults on the unforgiving tarmac before we could count our remaining bones, that is, in case we could count at all. But life has a way of giving you another chance just at the moment you feel everything is lost. This is exactly what happened next. Miraculously, we found our vehicle steadying on the road, its right to left, left to right oscillations getting less wild each time. And that is when we realized what just happened. It all took not more than one and a half seconds.
All of us, awestruck, exchanged our thoughts on our lucky escape for most of the remaining journey. The most serendipitous thing about the event was that at our stop for dinner, Sudhanshu had asked everyone what we would like to do in case we have only five more minutes to live. Little had we known then that life has a defining moment in store for us, barely 10 minutes away. Remember Me Lover (serendipitous again, eh?) by Porcupine Tree is the song that I would have been intently listening to at my last breath, had life decided to not give me another chance. This event reinforced my beliefs with respect to everything in life. Enjoy every moment as if it is your last. Stop crying over spilt milk. Like the Rolling Stones song goes: “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, well, you might find – You get what you need”. Life is short; only a big heart is necessary and sufficient.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Almost every day, each one of us, in his daily dose of quotidian life, realizes that the touted GDP growth rate of India is just a façade to conceal the real face of the country. A country, where 80% of the households earn an income of less than Rs 10,000, calling itself an emerging economy is ludicrous; calling itself the next superpower is, well, laughable. We, as a country, are not going anywhere until we address the morass of backwardness – both economic and mental. And the shortest path across this slough is by working at the roots – primary education. One reason for economic disparity in India is because a person who has studied up to 10th standard from a state board would not be able to rub shoulders with a person from, say, CBSE board. There needs to be a common platform to address the issue of multiple education boards in India. Also, the infrastructure – which includes the teachers, benches, black boards and other equipment which are generally included under the basic definition of a classroom; books and notebooks provided for by the very government which is earning brownie points for “providing” free education – needs to be developed. All students should be uniformly addressed up to 10th standard so that a person from a rural area or from a backward class need not require reservation for himself in secondary and higher education. This would in turn give rise to meritocracy and less of deserving students will be left behind in the race. I know words are easy and acting upon them is where all the effort lies, but it is high time that our politicians walk the talk and give us – the proud citizens of this country who are eagerly looking up to them – something tangible, so that we can tread with our head held high, no matter where in the world we are.