Wednesday, May 20, 2020

A Company and its Loot

Four soldiers in four different uniforms. Look closely and you may find that it is the same soldier, standing ramrod erect, is serving as a model for different sets of coats, caps and trousers. In all probability he was from a village in present day Tamil Nadu, Telengana or Kerala, who was drilled and trained in Madras, and sent to fight battles at Plassey, Buxar, Pathargarh or Assey.

What did he do with all the money he earned from the British East India Company (EIC)? What stories did he tell his grandchildren of his long marches and battles across north India? Of cavalry charges blown to smithereens, of cities raped and plundered for his EIC officers? We may never get to know stories of the men who actually transformed India but William Dalrymple's latest book will certainly change the way you've understood Indian history from school textbooks and Amar Chitra Kathas.

The Anarchy is about the "Relentless Rise of the East India Company". It is also about bursting myths  and stereotypes; looking at the larger picture on the chessboard of Indian political economy, and reminding ourselves about the price we paid for our insular stupidity and internecine conflicts for  about two centuries.

The numbers are staggering. In 1500s India had a population of just 150 million (less than that of just Uttar Pradesh today!) - a fifth of the world's total -- and it was an industrial powerhouse, a world leader in manufactured textiles. In the early 1600s India was creating 22.5% of world GDP. England then had just 5% of India's population and was producing just under 3% of world's manufactured goods. Between 1586 and 1605, European silver flowed into the Mughal heartland at the rate of 18 metric tons a year!

And then wealth - gold, silver, youth, talent - started flowing in the opposite direction, gradually increasing pace over a century until the whole county had been reduced to a basket-case by 1947.

We may never get to know about the life and times of the farmers, weavers and foot-soldiers on whose backs the British looted India, but life of the 16th Mughal emperor, Shah Alam II gives us an idea of the chaos and turmoil that transformed the country into a basket case -
"He was now in his seventy-seventh year. As a boy he had seen Nader Shah ride into Delhi, and leave carrying away the Peacock Throne, into which was embedded the great Koh-i-Noor diamond. He had escaped Imad-ul-Mulk's attempt to assassinate him and survived repeated battles with Clive. He had fought the Company at Patna and Buxar, awarded the Diwani to Robert Clive at Allahabad and defied the Company with his cross-country trek back to Delhi. There, with Mirza Najaf Khan, against all the odds he had nearly succeeded in rebuilding the empire of this ancestors; only to see it vanish like a mirage after the premature death of the last great Mughal general. Finally, at his lowest point, the Emperor had been assaulted and blinded by his psychotic former favourite, Ghulam Qadir (Rohilla)."
While this book takes us through the changing fortunes of individuals and nations, I found a few things really remarkable -

* Maratha Resilience: The fighting units created by Shivaji perhaps stood the best chance of taking over the mantle of the Mughals - especially after having quickly dominated much of North and East India. Despite the terrible defeat at the Third Battle of Panipat (~36,000 dead in one day!) they bounced back to defeat the Jats, Rajputs and Rohillas, and yet , when it really mattered, the Peshwas, Holkars and Scindia's kept squabbling amongst themselves and failed to unite against a common enemy.

* Forts and Battles: Many of the key battles were won by a whisker - especially the historic ones at Plassey and Buxar. But there were many others that barely find mention in our history books, especially -
  • The Battle of Udhwa Nala (1763) where Mir Qasim tried to take a stand against EIC, and the capture of a PoW from a raiding party led to a surprise counter-attack...and the slaughter of over 15,000 defenders.
  • The Battle of Pathargarh (1772): 10 years after the Rohillas ditched the Marathas and sided with the Afghan invader, Admed Shah Abdali at the Third Battle of Panipat, the Marathas took their revenge at the Pathargarh Fort. Its amazing to know that among the captives at this fort were Maratha women captured a decade later at Panipat!
  • Battle of Talegaon (1779) - EICs first major defeat against the Marathas which led to the humiliating Treaty of Wadgaon.
  • Seige of Aligarh (1803) - EIC against Marathas and Rajputs who had been sold out by their own mercenary French commanders.
  • Battle of Assaye (1803) - The last of the great decisive battles between the Marathas and the EIC

* Naga Ascetic Warriors: It is surprising to know that more than 6000 naked Naga ascetics fought for the Nawab of Avadh as shock troopers!

* Mercenaries: There were scores of French mercenaries who helped modernise rival armies in India, from Tipu's Mysore to Madhaji Scindia's Marathas, but the most ruthless of them all was perhaps the Germany mercenary, Walter Reinhardt Sombre, the general who deftly shifted loyalties to the highest bidders. His widow, Begum Sumru, too carried on the game of switching loyalties from Mir Qasim to Shah Alam, from Marathas to the British.

* Moneylenders: If it were not for the Marwari moneylenders, and their networks, led by the Jagat Seths the Company simply would not have been in a position to afford the wars. With each small victory in the battlefield and the display of European armament technology and discipline, the Seths abandoned the local kings for the foreign merchants who had a better repayment record.

Ultimately its money that did the talking!


* ToI (2011) on Pathargarh Fort -

* Shejwalkar, TJ (1946): PANIPAT, 1761 -

* Najib Ud-Daula - The Rohilla chieftan who allied with Ahmed Shah Abdali to defeat the Marathas at Panipat (1761) -

Friday, May 08, 2020

The Green Energy Scam

"Green energy is not what it's made out to be."

In his latest documentary, Michael Moore holds out a mirror for us. For all the talk about GEF, Climate Change and Carbon Footprints it turns out that a lot of it is just hogwash, or even worse - a massive PR exercise by the very same conglomerates that are destroying our natural resources.

The whole video is still out there, free and accessible for all those want to get try and extricate their heads that are still buried in the sand. This post is just a collection of screenshots that I felt demolished conventional wisdom about "green" energy.

Much of non-conventional energy is useful only when it can be stored, and the global capacity for such storage is still very, very small.

The so-called pioneer of green energy - Germany - is just like the fabled Emperor Without Clothes. Beyond Germany, it seems the global renewable energy scenario looks like this -

Solar and wind energy is dwarfed by Biomass, which seems like a renewable resource and a lot better than coal and  petroleum -- until you get to know that most of the biomass energy plants feed on wood chips which again is extracted from forests that are being cut down in developing countries!

Meanwhile there has been a sharp drop in global marine fish production as well as a steady decline in the availability of agricultural land..

And all this can be attributed to a single factor -- the steep rise in human population over the past 200 years. 

Unless we focus our attention on this cliff nothing is going to come from any amount of money being thrown at "Green Energy".

The full documentary -

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Think Ink

Do we really need to consume so much? 
Can we reduce out trips to the market? 
How can we reduce wastage?

Over the past two months of the Covid-19 lockdown, we have all been asking ourselves questions. Among the many things that have been dusted out from storage and rescued from a careless toss into the garbage bin are these little 60 ml bottles of ink.

Apart from saving us a few hundred rupees in the new fangled use-and-throw gel pens, these ink bottles also tell us about changing company fortunes, inflation, shelf-life and even consistency in product design.

I had purchased the 60ml bottle of 'Permanent Black' Camel black ink (yellow pack) in 2005 for INR 12.00. Fifteen years later, I got a similar bottle of 'Royal Blue' ink for INR 20.00. At a time when disposable gel pens costing about INR 10.00 get jammed if you don't use them for a few months it is quite amazing to see how you can just refill and start using a fountain pen with ink purchased more than a decade ago!

The smell of fountain pen ink is bound to revive old memories -  of stained hands, spilled bottles and frayed nibs; Of that flick of the wrist which would send a lovely arc of droplets across a wall or a school uniform, and, for folks from Trivandrum, a tiny shop called the "Pen Hospital" which specialised in repairing fountain pens.

On the face of it you might also think that the ink bottle has remained more or less unchanged over the years, but look closer and you see subtle differences: "Camel" has changed to "Camlin". The tiny camel that was walking towards the lettering is now going in the opposite direction. Ink which was packed in a heavy glass bottle with a metal cap now comes in a light, cheap, all plastic bottle. The company too has been taken over (2012) by a Japanese conglomerate and is now called Kokuyo Camlin Ltd.

At a time when all the stationery shops are closed, it is quite amazing to think of the number of ballpoint, gel and roller refills we use every year, and to realise just how many of these can be replaced by a simple, 60ml bottle of fountain pen ink!


* (2013) -
* About Ink Refills -
* Difference between ballpoint, gel and roller-point -

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

A Birdsong for Tunnel-rats

"Letting a canary go free in a tunnel is an automatic court-martial"

This is perhaps the only reference to a bird in the much acclaimed book, Birdsong by Sabastien Faulks.

The book is a love story woven into the horrors of tunnel and trench warfare in central France during World War-I. It takes you to places that sound distant and vaguely familiar - Amiens, Vimy, Messines and Ypres. Distant frontlines in a distant war which claimed more than 62,000 Indian lives. There is, of course, no reference to Indian fighting units in this book, or of Expeditionary Force A on the Ypres salient. It is mostly about British miners who had been brought in to support the infantry units by building trenches and tunnels, and to set off explosions which aimed to push back the Germans.

Along the way you learn about the Camouflet - "an artificial tavern created underground by an was originally used by a fort's defenders to prevent undermining of a fortress wall during a siege". In a cat-and-mouse game taking place some thirty feet underground, defenders would dig a tunnel under the attackers' tunnel. An explosive charge would be detonated to create a camouflet that would collapse the attackers' tunnel. The fate of those unlucky enough to survive such explosions in narrow tunnels, can only be imagined.

With so many human lives at stake you are left wondering why on earth were soldiers getting court-martialled for losing canaries in such tunnels?

References & Links

Sunday, April 05, 2020

Hava Hava, Sucu Sucu

Catchy tunes have a way of traveling around the world.

Recently I was quite amazed to know that the famous Hindi song, "Hava Hava" was actually a copy of a copy! The original was a 1970s song from Iran which was copied by a Pakistani Singer, and then by Bollywood.

Havar Havar (Persian original) - Kouroush Yaghmei, 1978

Hava Hava (Pakistani copy) - Hassan Jehangir -
Hava Hava (Coke Studio Pakistan re-make) - 2018 -

Hava Hava (Hindi copy) - Movie "Mubarakan" (2017)

Then there is a Spanish song "Suku Suku" by the Bolivian singer, Tarateño Rojas in the 1960s. This particular tune went on to be adapted or copied into no less than 19 languages, including a Japanese version, Furimukanaide - Sucu Sucu (The Peanuts, 1960s) 

Suku Suku (Spanish) - Original by Tarateño Rojas

Bollywood was quick to copy this number and make it part of the Hindi movie "Junglee" in 1961. The film went on to be a big hit.

Suku Suku (Hindi) - Movie "Junglee" (1961)

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Watching Trees Grow

The world may have come to a standstill because of the Covid-19 virus but life goes on.

On 23 March 2020, a day after the "Janata Curfew" and a day before the nationwide "Total Lockdown" enforced by the government, I had gone to buy vegetables from the local Mother Dairy F&V Outlet. It was a bright beautiful day but the parks we already beginning to look eerily empty - there were no children playing on the swings, the usually raucous volleyball court was empty and so was the open-air gym.

Yet there was something beautiful about the silence, the rustle of fallen leaves underfoot, and the sharp calls of the ashy prinia's hiding in the bushes. As I cut across the park and walked towards the booth, I noticed something unusual.

An elderly couple stood under a pilkhan tree (Ficus virens)giving directions to a little boy perched in the barren branches. He was plucking and tossing down the bright pink shoots which were being diligently piled under the tree.

What was this for? 

The old man, a villager from Bihar, was not very forthcoming but his wife cheerily said that you could sauté these shoots turn them into a delicious dish.  Cooking shoots of the pilkan tree just like the bamboo shoots? I had never heard of such a thing before! 

Ten days later, when I went to replenish our stock of veggies the street looks so different. The pilkhan trees that had been bright green on one side of the road had all turned pink from the thousands of new shoots, while the one that one tree which had been the early bird in once sense had now turned completely green with a fresh set of leaves.

Clearly the little boy has plenty of new trees to climb and at least one family needs to buy fewer vegetables from the vendors during this lockdown.


* It seem pilkhan leaves have long been a popular ingredient for the Thai curry phak lueat -

Tuesday, March 10, 2020


Q: What is this kid so angry about? At whom is he grimacing, hurling stones and abuses?
A: His favourite teacher, Don Gregorio.

In between this question and its unlikely answer lies a story that has been poignantly told in Spanish movie "La lengua de las mariposas". Directed by José Luis Cuerda this 1999 movie is about a shy, asthmatic child named Moncho, growing up in a Gallician town in the 1930s.

This is a little town like any other, closely knit and insular and yet full of people with divergent political opinions. Moncho's own family is represents these different views - his mother is deeply religious and conservative while the father, a tailor, has leftist leanings. In the normal course this would have been just fine but these are fraught times, Spain is in turmoil and the country is about to plunge into a bloody civil war.

Moncho hates going to school. He hates being taunted for his clunky breathing apparatus, he is unable to make friends and prefers being alone. On his first day at school he gets upset about being called a 'sparrow' by his teacher, Don Gergorio, and runs away to the woods.

Gradually he warms up to the elderly Don's gentle humorous ways, his love for nature and learning. Even as young Moncho is learning about far away places in Australia, and of butterflies extract nectar from flowers with their spring-like proboscis - the espiritrompa.  Political disagreements are turning into something nastier.

The Republicans are on the ascendant and they have decided to get rid of the Nationalists. People are being hauled out of homes in the middle of the night, and Moncho's mother have come to realise that the only way to survive and hold the family together is to put up a display of support for the Republicans, even if it means that they have to betray friends.

As things come to a head the whole town assembles to condemn the Nationalists as they are being arrested and taken away. Don Gregorio is among them. The mother joins the chorus of abusers and urges her husband and children too to join the mob. The last scene has Moncho running after the truck carrying the prisoners, hurling stones and expletives - "Traitors! Communists! Espiritrompa!"

This film makes you wonder how many times such dilemmas would have played out in history - in Catholic Europe, amongst Zoroastrians in Persia conquered by the Arabs, in Nazi Germany, behind the Iron Curtain, and in pre-partition India...


* Preview -
* Wiki -

Monday, March 09, 2020

Plundering the Plunderers

How did Jammu & Kashmir end up with a Hindu ruler?

It is often said that the root of the so called Kashmir Problem lies in the fact that a muslim-majority state was ruled by a Hindu king - the Dogras - who decided to accede the state to India, instead of going to Pakistan.

If we set aside the ancient history of J&K, long list of ancient kings listed in the Rajatarangini, the Fourth Buddhist Council held in the valley, the life and times described in Kshemendra's amazing Samaya-Matrika,  and fast forward to the recent past when most of the population had already been forced to convert to Islam, we find a phase that has not received the attention it deserves. You could call this the Sikh phase of Indian history.

If there were a roll call of kingdoms in North India, Maharaja Ranjit Singh's Punjab was perhaps be the last king standing when the British had, by hook or crook, by using the latest European weaponry available, colonised much of India. A recent book by Sarbpreet Singh titled, "The Caravan Merchant of Philadelphia" provides a wonderful glimpse in to the life and times of this amazing, one-eyed king.

Ranjit Singh owes his rise to a series of foreign invasions that followed the collapse of the Mughal empire. It started in 1731 when Nadir Shah of Persia began enlisting Abdali tribesmen from Herat into his army to take advantage of the chaos that was building up in Delhi. The Shah plundered so much wealth from India that he did not have to tax his countrymen for a few years that followed.

Following Nadir Shah's assassination in 1747, one of his Abdali protege's took over. Ahmad Shah Abdali was based out of Kandahar and during his rule (1747 to 1773), he crossed the Indus River more than eight times to invade and plunder North India. In 1756, during his fourth invasion he  took control of Delhi, deposed Alamgir-II, killed about 10,000 residents of Delhi in one single day, and headed back home with booty laden on 28,000 elephants, camels, bullocks and mules, followed by 8000 soldiers on horse and foot who carried their own spoils.

A few years later, in 1761, during his  fifth invasion, a decisive victory was won over the Marathas at the Third Battle of Panipat (1761).  By now he had also renamed himself  'Dur-i-Durran' or 'Pearl of the Pearls', and from then on the Abdalis became better known as the Durranis.

Each time time the Durrani's made his journey back to Khandahar with his caravans laden with loot, the Sikhs of Punjab made habit of plundering the plunderers. Hit-and-run tactics evolved into decisive battles after Rajit Singh took over leadership of the Sikh confederacy. In a few decades Ranjit Singh's empire stretched all the way from Kabul and Hazara to Kashmir. It is during this period that the Dogras became powerful in Ranjit Singh's court.

At the turn of the century, after the death of Ranjit Singh, the British started pushing further eastwards. Following the Battle of Sabraon (1846), the final battle of the First Anglo-Sikh War, the Treaty of Lahore ensured the end of the Sikh kingdom:

The Jalandhar Doab region was annexed and the Sikh Army was reduced to 20,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry...and a war indemnity of 15 million rupees was imposed and because of its inability to pay, the regions between the Beas and the Indus, including Kashmir and Hazara were seized. Most of the seized territory was sold to Raja Gulab Singh Dogra for 7.5 million rupees and he was declared the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir.
So, far from being the 'original' rulers of Jammu and Kashmir, the Dogras essentially purchased a kingdom for themselves, and remained at the mercy of the British until India was partitioned in 1947.


* Singh, Sarbpreet (2019): THE CAMEL MERCHANT OF PHILADELPHIA - Stories from the Court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Tranquebar / Westland Publications PL
* Review -

Friday, March 06, 2020

What Feeds Hindutva?

This may not be a great question to raise when Delhi is still recovering from its worst communal riots in 30 years, but it does not deserve to be ignored, or boxed into simple binaries.

Hindutva or "Hinduness" is described as the predominant form of Hindu nationalism in India. If you try to look deeper, the narrative, particularly in the English speaking world, has been dominated by Marxist historians and commentators. Prominent among them is Prabhat Patnaik who calls Hindutva a movement "almost fascist in the classical sense", adhering to a disputed concept of homogenised majority and cultural hegemony. This is also the view promoted by the editors of Wikipedia.

Needless to say, this dim view is not widely shared. If it were so, the Hindutva political grouping (BJP, Shiv Sena, etc.) would have neither come to power, or increased its vote-share in the last general elections. The very notion of a homogenised majority or cultural hegemony makes no sense in a country as diverse as India.

Over the past few days, I have come across two possible leads to this conundrum. The first is an oped by Faizan Mustafa, the Vice Chancellor of NALSAR, and the second a talk by Prof. Arvind Sharma at the Cervantes Institute titled, "Religious Tolerance".

Last week Mustafa wrote an oped titled, "Dishonouring a Pledge". The pledge here refers to the constitutional rights provided by the Indian Constitution, to religious minorities in India, which enable them to propagate and practice their religion freely, and assures protection to their places of worship.

The article refers to the following parts of the Indian Constitution, and related laws -

  • Articles 25 to 30 - Right to Freedom of Religion
  • Article 27 - Freedom from payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion
  • Article 290A - Annual payment to certain Devaswom Funds
  • The Places of Worship Act 1991 

I have always thought of Mustafa as a very erudite, balanced scholar and practitioner of law. So it was surprising to note a tone of grievance against Indian institutions. Referring to the constitutional provisions, he says that despite its pledge to be secular, the state funds religious institutions, and cites Art. 290A under which funds go to the Dewaswom Boards.

This is a clear case of cherry picking, an argument that deliberately overlooks the fact that the Indian state takes much, much more from Hindu temples compared to what it returns for their upkeep. Over 90,000 Hindu temples are controlled by the state governments while the state does not interfere at all in the functioning of churches, mosques and gurdwaras. Ditto for Hindu educational institutions.

Just the four government-controlled Dewaswom Boards in Kerala earn over INR 1000 Crores annually (USD 135 million), while under Article 290A, the state is obliged to spend only INR 37,50,000 (USD 50,850) every year! Where does the government spend the rest of the money collected from Hindu temples?

Prof. Arvind Sharma takes this point head on. He is perhaps uniquely placed to present a counter-argument - a former civil servant who went to the Harvard School of Theology, he now teaches abroad. According to him, Hinduism is only beginning to recover from the trauma of ideologies, massacres and the wanton destruction of temples that overwhelmed the country over the past 1000 years, at the hands of Islamic armies, British Colonialism and Post-Independence "Secularism".

Unless this trauma is acknowledged, as in the South African Truth & Reconciliation Commission, the majority majority community will will only continue to increase its support to politicians who support Hindutva, which is seen as a bulwark against Indian Secularism in its present form, which is perceived to discriminate against Hindus.

Ironically Hinduism as a religion - if it can be called one - is not amenable to fundamentalism because it does not have a single set of fundamentals, based on one book or text. So far from being a fascist movement Hindutva is perhaps more of a collective pushback against sustained bullying, a reclaiming of its assimilative traditions.



* The Place of Worship Act, 1991 -

* Managing Gods Wealth (ToI 2012) --

* Quora - Where does Dewaswom funds go? -
* Kerala's unique Treasury Savings Bank system -

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Phishing Attack on MacOS

Phishing is always something that happens to others - until you fall for it yourself.

Today afternoon I was just sitting in a corner scrolling up and down Twitter when I suddenly remembered an email I received yesterday. A message from Apple had informed me that my account needed verification, and I was supposed to respond within 24 hours!

Was it already past 24 hours? Did I miss the deadline??

I hurried back to my Macbook and found the forgotten email. The subject line had a case# and the message itself had a stark message highlighted in the typeface and layout typical of the company websites - "Apple Case - we need your verification".

The sender's address started with the usual "no-reply" but in my haste I scrolled down and clicked on the "login" hyperlink within the message.  The usual apple id page turned up and I quickly typed in my login id. A familiar pop-up asked for my password and as soon as I entered it, a new window came up for my Yahoo id and password. It is only now that I started having my doubts.

Why does Apple need my Yahoo password for verification??

I went back to the Apple id login page and checked again -- even though the page looked exactly like the original one, none of the banner icons showed the usual URLs. With my apprehension slowly turning into panic I went back to the email message and found several grammatical errors - "For Secure to account, We need to verification", and the sender's long email id made no sense at all!

By now I was quite certain that I had been suckered. Having already sent out my id and password what could I possibly do? I searched for the Apple customer-service numbers and found 000-800-100-9009 for India but it turned out that this number could not be reached through the Airtel mobile network. I had to use a landline.

Once the customer-support rep, Ashraf, turned up online, the problem was sorted out in a few minutes - my password was changed, and a troublesome app (Paragon-NTFS) too got cleared in the process.

So the thing to remember in India is that as far as phishing attacks on Apple products go, it is better to -

  • Keep the helpline number 000-800-100-9009 handy, and check in advance to see if can be reached through your mobile service provider
  • Set aside time to deal with such messages - rushing to meet a "deadline" makes you do stupid things
  • Report such messages to
  • Don't expect to see silly grammatical errors in the message you receive. The attackers too are learning from their mistakes.


Apple Support India -

Phishing and Other Suspicious Emails -

Increase in Phishing Attacks on MacOS (2019) -

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Delhi Assembly Elections 2020

Something is amiss in the Delhi Assembly elections.

This is supposed to be prestige battle between the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and its Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which runs the central government. While AAP is trying to showcase its achievements over the past five years under the leadership of Arvind Kerjiwal, the BJP seems to be making a half-hearted attempt, not to win the elections, but to merely to try and increase its vote-share by playing up communal issues.

With just a week to go for the Election Day, one  would expect to see an action-packed campaign trail. And yet, ground realities seem to be quite the opposite. 

Today was a day of many first. I got a chance to use two new lines of the Delhi Metro for the first time, and trudge across two constituencies of East Delhi - Gandhi Nagar and Krishna Nagar. As soon as I got off the metro, I had expected to all the usual signs of a big fight -- posters, billboards, stickers, loudspeakers blaring out speeches, and people campaigning for their candidates. 

Instead, all I got to see after walking for a couple of hours through the lanes and bye-lanes of these two constituencies was the regular bustle of a middle-class locality. People trying to make their way through the traffic snarls, vendors plying their wares and housewives haggling with cycle-rickshaw guys on their way back from shopping. 

The only reminder about the elections came from a couple of electric rickshaws fitted out with posters and loudspeakers playing out pre-recorded jingles and election promises. There seemed to be a polite understanding between both the main parties (Congress is missing in action) - AAP and BJP not to cross swords because, in any case the sound of the loudspeakers could barely be heard over the cacophony of vehicles.

Is this a muted election campaign due to the efforts of the Election Commission? Are the politital parties so short so funds that they are unable to make their presence felt in these high-density districts of Delhi?


Delhi Elections schedule -

cVIGIL Campaign by EC -

Thursday, January 23, 2020

A River and its Froth

The Yamuna river presents a surreal sight these days.

From a distance it looks like a scene from one of the frozen continents where the arrival of spring has broken the grip of winter. Pure white blocks of snow and ice gently float down a river which meanders and disappears into a mist. 

There has, however, never been a snowfall in Delhi and the last bits of ice in Yamuna would have melted more than a thousand kilometres upstream, long before the river broke out of the Himalayas, on to the plains of North India. What we pretend not to see in Delhi is the effects of reckless industrial and household pollution.

It seems all that froth floating down the river comes from "excess phosphate in household and factory -use detergents and bars". Why are these pollutants not being removed at source? The answer lies in a mix of apathy and convoluted policies and rules.

The Central Pollution Control Board has set standards on the quality of effluent discharge but is unable to enforce them because there are simply not enough treatment plants. The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS 4955, 4956, 8080 and 9458) specifies the minimum levels of phosphates to be included in detergents but leaves it to the industry to decide the upper limit!

While this reasoning sounds plausible it does not really add up. India is not self-sufficient in phosphates so it imports it in large quantities - especially for the fertiliser industry. According to PIB we imports nearly 5 million tonnes of rock phosphate, 2.5 million tonnes of phosphoric acid and 3 million tonnes of Di-Ammonium Phosphate (DAP) annually.

Why would industries want to use excess phosphate when it is an expensive imported commodity? Or is the phosphate used by fertiliser manufactures different from the one used by detergent manufacturers?


Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Shaheen Bagh Protests

Shaheen Bagh has been in the news for more than a month now.

Ever since protests erupted over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Population Register (NPR) three places have constantly been in the news - Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Jamila Millia University (JMU) and Shaheen Bagh (SB).

CAA is a new law that gives persecuted minorities (Christians, Sikhs, Hindus) - refugees from three neighbouring countries (Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan) who fled to India before 2014 - a fast-track route to citizenship. The NPR, on the other hand, is an exercise undertaken in the state of Assam to ostensibly protect the state's culture from all migrants (Hindus, Muslims, etc.).

Thanks to an ill-timed announcement by the Home Minister in the Parliament promising to extend the use of the CAA-NPR combo to all states in India, especially to isolate illegal migrants (read muslims), a wave of protests was triggered at JNU and JMU. Driven by rumours and a fear psychosis fanned on the social media, the protests turned violent in many places with the police responding in kind. Buses were stoned and burnt, and the police responded with batons, tear-gas and arrests.

Amongst the three main sites - JNU, JMU and SH only the last one is spearheaded by women. A large group has been squatting on one of the main roads connecting Delhi to its suburbs seeking the withdrawal of CAA. For more than a month now this group has been feted and egged on by a section of the media while the rest of the citizens are forced to seek alternate routes to cross the river.  Every day lakhs of vehicles have been crawling through traffic jams on the remaining bridges connecting Delhi to Uttar Pradesh.

What exactly is happening in Shaheen Bagh?

I decided to walk through the area today to find out for myself. Starting from the Okhla Vihar metro station I walked through Zakir Nagar, past the SB metro station, skirted the barricades on the main road and entered the main 'protest zone' through the by-lanes of a residential colony.

What struck me at the scene was the festive, disconnected chaos amidst a total disruption of trade and commerce in the area. All the shops and eateries along the main road were shuttered. In an area that is usually packed with vehicles and shoppers there was a large tent right in the middle of the road occupied by about 200 women, and an assorted bunch of busybodies making all sorts of speeches. As I passed by, a hack from Rajasthan was mocking Modi and Trump(!). An announcement was being made for a "special" press briefing at 5:30pm with a plea that the stage be cleared for the invited journalists.

Further down this road an over-bridge was festooned with banners and slogans.  A large map of India proclaimed eternal opposition to CAA and NPR, while a battalion of street vendors did brisk business selling chai, grilled sweet potatoes, fruit-chat and other assorted snacks.

And the police? They were nowhere to be seen. A handful stood at the far end of the barricades, bored and listless, discouraging vehicles from getting through.

As I walked past the Kalindi Kunj metro station, across the murky, frothy, polluted waters of the Yamuna towards Noida, I wondered if the protesters had an end game in mind. What did they expect to get from blocking a main road that prevents lakhs of people from reaching schools, hospitals and  workplaces in time?

It is election season in Delhi and yet none of the main political parties is willing to take up the cause of the protesters. As long as the protesters are 'peaceful' the police seems happy to sit back and let the protestors carry on like Don Quixote, tilting at windmills, stewing in their own rhetoric.

A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court yesterday, seeking relief from the protests and claiming, among other things, that businessmen has been suffering huge losses as shops in the vicinity of the protest site are “bound or compelled” to remain closed due to the protests.

And so, while everybody plays passing-the-parcel, the protesters let off steam with their fiery promises of an imminent revolution where "Every one is a leader"!


The CAA Act -