Watercolor on paper.
We had a wet Christmas, we haven’t had much snow yet. How about you? Happy New Year!
United States Death toll due to COVID-19, 1 on 3/1/2020
United States Death toll due to COVID-19, 4,079 on 4/1/2020
United States Death toll due to COVID-19, 63,006 on 5/1/2020
United States Death toll due to COVID-19, 100,000 on 5/26/2020 and counting..
We are in the middle of a global pandemic, a cold virus gone viral. The death toll due to Covid-19 is rising everyday. May isn’t even over and we have already crossed 100,000 deaths in the United States alone.
The virus has bought the whole world to it knees. Almost no one alive today has seen an epidemic on this scale. So paranoia is running amok even among people who should know better. The closest parallel is the Spanish Flu that swept the globe almost a hundred years ago. First it was China and then it was Italy and now we are at the eye of this storm. So far our response has been anything but surefooted. States are scrambling to get medical supplies while the federal response has been halting and inadequate to combat the scale of the unfolding disaster. A microscopic virus invisible to the naked eye has brought the behemoth of the global economy to a complete standstill.
But was this inevitable? The federal response to the pandemic has been guided more by wishful thinking and posturing than by hard scientific data. What explains all the missteps and the fits and starts to combat this pandemic? At the heart of this unfolding tragedy is the scientific and numerical illiteracy that plagues our society, from ordinary citizens to the President. Climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers and people who believe that the earth is flat have been proliferating for sometime now. Some of them have ascended to the highest positions of power. Isaac Asimov said it better than I ever could in his 1980 essay.
The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.- Isaac Asimov
This cult of ignorance is proving costly to our health as the death toll keeps rising due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Infectious diseases experts have been warning about a pandemic at the scale of the 1918 flu pandemic for a while now. The President and his team had been warned by experts as far back as January that a catastrophe was looming. They knew yet they did nothing. They disregarded the scientific consensus about the virus just like they have disregarded the scientific consensus about climate change.
One look at the graph of the exponential spread of infection should have scared anyone. Unfortunately for us some one didn’t pay attention in their high school math class or their intelligence briefings for that matter.
People who disregard science forget one thing, you don’t have to believe in science for it to be true. The laws of nature work whether or not you believe in them. The earth’s gravitational acceleration is g =9.8 m/s2 even if you think that the earth is flat. Viruses can infect you even if you are an anti-vaxxer. But ignorance of science and math is not without consequence. People who promote falsehoods that vaccines cause autism are bringing back infectious diseases like measles which were considered eradicated. They also vote into office elected officials who deny climate change and twiddle their thumbs as a virulent virus ravages the nation. They gut budgets that fund our research infrastructure from the CDC to the NIH and NSF. They want to gut CDC funding during a pandemic. The research budgets which were trimmed because of sequestration (across the board funding cuts to the funding of government agencies to enforce fiscal discipline enacted in 2012) never bounced back when the economy did. Gutting research funding while cutting taxes for the wealthy and corporations is like burning seed corn to have a party right now.
Everyone wants a vaccine for COVID-19 in a hurry now but scientific expertise and research excellence don’t happen in a day or even a year. There is no just-in-time research. It has to be funded generously and in a consistent manner so that people are willing to dedicate their lives to careers in science which for the most part is hard lonely work with little glory. And who else but the government can do this when the rewards, if they exist, are distant?
Investment in science and math is essential for our very survival. This includes support for science and math education, K-12 and beyond and robust federal funding for both pure and applied research. I hope that this pandemic has taught us that ignorance of science comes at a steep price, the price tag is 100,000 dead Americans and counting.
It has been more than a month since the Citizenship Amendment Act or the CAA was passed by both the houses of the Indian parliament. The protests that started immediately following the passage have continued unabated for over a month despite more than thirty deaths due to heavy handed police tactics. Many more have been imprisoned on flimsy charges for excercising their right of free speech and assembly.
In state after state, in towns large and small and cities, on college campuses, at the court houses, at historic venues, the anti-CAA protesters are registering their protest against the body blow to India’s founding principles by singing the national anthem and reciting the preamble to the constitution.
After the passage of the bill in mid-December a feeling of helplessness enveloped me. I was afraid for India’s Muslims and other vulnerable groups. The rise of the BJP from a bit player on the political scene to its current status is built on the demonization of Muslims and anti-Muslim pogroms. Those fears were realized when reports of the brutal police actions in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led states, especially in Uttar Pradesh started trickling in.
The CAA takes aim at the heart of the Indian Constitution by singling out Muslims and treating them differently than adherents of other religions. This bill along with the BJP’s government’s plan to construct a National Register of Citizens would be a living nightmare not just for the 100 million plus Muslim population but also the poor and dispossessed. The NRC conducted in Assam gives us a window on how a similar exercise conducted on a national scale would turn out.
The BJP had tried to pass this law in an earlier session of the Parliament but it died because they didn’t have the numbers to pass it through the upper house, Rajya Sabha prior to the elections last May. But after gaining an imposing majority in the Lok Sabha in the last elections, this time around many smaller parties decide to go along with the BJP’s agenda in the Rajya Sabha and the bill passed both the Houses easily.
(Left to Right : The Sangh role model, Mr. Modi in the Sangh uniform and RSS cadres marching)
Protests have roiled India over the weekend. The Bharatiya Janata Party has become the Bharat Jalao Party (Burn India Party). Last week the Citizenship Amendment Bill become the Citizenship Amendment Act. According to the bill minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan will be eligible for refugee status. The bill excludes Muslims. Neither does it cover Tibetan or Sri Lankan refugees.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 of the Parliament of India amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 providing a path to Indian citizenship for religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The intended religious minorities were explicitly listed as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, raising concerns that Muslims were being marginalised. The beneficiaries had to have entered India on or before 31 December 2014, and should have faced “religious persecution or fear of religious persecution” in their countries of origin.[a] The Act also relaxed residence requirement for naturalization from 11 years to 5 years for these migrants.[
status. This bill along with the BJP’s government’s plan to construct a National Register of Citizens portends doom for India’s 100 million plus Muslim population. BJP had tried to pass it in an earlier session of the Parliament but it died because they didn’t
have the numbers to pass it through the upper House, Rajyasabha. But after gaining a imposing majority in the Loksabha in the last elections, this time around many smaller parties decide to go along with the BJP agenda in the Rajyasabha this time and the bill passed both the Houses easily.
The India of my childhood is being dismantled by the BJP. In our textbooks there used to be a Pledge.
India is my country and all Indians are my Brothers and Sisters. I love my country and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage. I shall always strive to be worthy of it.
I shall give respect to my parents, teachers and all the elders and treat everyone with courtesy.
To my country and my people, I pledge my devotion. In their well being and prosperity alone, lies my happiness
Even as a child it seemed hopelessly naïve and idealistic to me. And God knows we did not live up to that ideal always but that was a worthy ideal to strive towards. The agenda of BJP, is the agenda of the RSS (Rashrtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh) or Sangh , the political off shoot of the black hats and brown shorts wearing all male volunteer organization is antithetical to both the pledge and the preamble to the Indian Constitution.
The Sangh’s plan for India has always been clear, to rid India of its religious minorities, especially its Muslims or relegate them to an inferior or a secondary status. Their ideology asserts that if India becomes a Hindu Rashtra, all its problems will vanish into thin air. When the BJP was able to form a government on their own strength after the general elections last May, I knew that their long awaited ideological project would gather full steam.
It started with Kashmir by taking away the statehood of India’s only Muslim majority state, changing the criteria of which refugees can become citizens is the logical next step. What comes after this is the National Citizenship Register, whereby one has to prove their citizenship. The NRC has been applied to the northeastern state of Assam with disastrous consequences, making over a million Indians stateless. You don’t have to be an expert on Indian politics to know who is the target of these actions.
To this murder of the Indian Constitution, not so fast say the students and ordinary citizens of India. Protests have gathered steam all across India including on college and university campuses and elsewhere.
The woman in white is Mamata Banerjee the Chief Minister of West Bengal
More pictures of protests here
Dare I hope that these protests quell the orange tide that threatens to drown India. Watch this space for more on this developing story. If you have questions please leave them in the comments.
Note: Whataboutery and dehumanizing comments will not tolerated.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a rally scheduled in Houston this Sunday. WalMart is one of the sponsors and the President of the United States has promised to attend along with an estimated 50,000 attendees.
What bright future are we talking about? The Indian economy is in the doldrums, minority populations live in fear, rapists are not arrested if they belong to the ruling party while activists fighting for the rights of the dispossessed languish in jail without a trial. As for dreams, the dream of a Hindutva dominated India where minorities are persecuted and dissenting voices are silenced, sounds more like a nightmare. Where the truth is sacrificed at the altar of political expediency and history is rewritten to service the ideology of hate.
Why is Modi doing this? My guess is for the publicity and for the $$. It’s also a reward for those among the diaspora who opened their wallets for Modi’s reelection. This rally would give the Prime Minister a much needed PR boost internationally after the draconian anti-democratic steps being taken in Kashmir since August 4th. It will show his fans and supporters back home in India that India has the world’s respect. Getting the US president who routinely demonizes immigrants, to a rally attended mostly by immigrants is definitely a PR coup for team Modi.
I was actually surprised that the White House accepted the invitation. Indian Americans have voted heavily for Democratic candidates in the recent past, see the figure below. Some have suggested that the crowd size may have been the irresistible attraction. Besides the fact that the Hindu right has deep pockets.
In addition to the President, 60 other elected leaders of both parties have promised to attend according to the organizers. Here is the list of those whose names appear in the news dispatch.
- Raja Krishnamoorthi
- John Cornyn
- Ted Cruz
- Al Green
- Pete Olson
- Sheila Jackson Lee
- Sylvia Garcia, Greg Abbot
- Cindy Hyde-Smith
- Ami Bera
- Brian Babin
- Brad Sherman,
- Eliot Engel
Firstpost is reporting that Steny Hoyer is also going to attend.
Check if your representative or senator is on the list and going to share a podium with a man who presided over a pogrom targeting Muslims in 2002 as the chief executive of Gujarat and is pursuing a nakedly majoritarian agenda in his second term as the prime minister. Actions in Kashmir being the case in point, where people have been without internet or cell phone access and access to medical care since August 4th.
Check out the BBC for news updates on Kashmir.
Watch this space for more updates on this developing story of the Houston rally. If you have questions leave them in the comments.
I am afraid that scrapping of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution is just the beginning, it has little to do with the development of Kashmir.Prime Minister Modi’s agenda for India in his second term is to change India’s constitution and pave the way for a majoritarian state which is a democracy in name alone. 94 years after its formation the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) is the closest to achieving its goal of the Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation).
The international media is missing the RSS agenda behind Modi’s actions. Before he entered politics, Modi was a pracharak or a fulltime evangelist for the RSS. Just like the previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prime minister, Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee before him. There is no daylight between what the Sangh wants and what the BJP wants. BJP is the political front of the Sangh, an all male grassroots fraternal organization that has had only one non-brahmin sarsangchalak (chief of the Sangh) in its almost hundred years of existence. According to some estimates a group that makes up around 5% of the population of India. Also with two exceptions spanning 16 years, all the other sarsangchalaks have been Marathi brahmins. The Sangh still does not admit women. For a group that purports to speak for all Hindus its leadership is drawn from a tiny slice of Hindu male brahmins.
India is as complex as Europe would be if it were one country. India is home to two major language families and twenty two official languages. India also has the second largest population of Muslims in the world. The Sangh sees this diversity be it religious or linguistic as inherently problematic. Their dream India, which they call Bharat is united under the saffron banner of Hindutva speaking as one in one language, Hindi. Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists are considered Hindu for the purposes of this classification but Christians and Muslims are not. Sangh ideologues have argued that diversity made India weaker and an easy prey for the British in the 18th and the 19th centuries and the first wave of Muslim invaders from Central Asia a thousand years ago and later. The way for India to go back to its former greatness is to unite under a banner of a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation).
Britain has been forgiven but BJP and its sympathizers want Muslim citizens of India to pay for the sins of the central Asian invaders and also for the formation of Pakistan. Their claims about a Hindu rashtra are inspired more by the nationalistic fervor sweeping Europe in the early twentieth century than they are by ancient India. Here is what Madhav Golwalkar, the most influential sarsangchalak who held the post for 43 years had to say about Hitler’s Germany in a book published in the 1940s.
…To keep up the purity of the nation and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of Semitic races – the Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.
Also the RSS map of Akhand Bharat (Greater India) is suspiciously closer to that of British India.
As I explained in my post on Kashmir, Kashmir’s special status given its Muslim majority was something that Sangh’s leaders could not stand right from the early years of independence. And before independence, hatred and the fear of Muslims was the foundational capstone of the Sangh and other Hindu right organizations like the Hindu Mahasabha. In their telling tiny Britain was able to subjugate mighty India and because Hindus were cowed down by the Muslim rule of over a thousand years. The founding father of Hindutva, Vinayak Savarkar had this to say about Muslims in an interview to an American journalist in 1945.
Muslims in India should be treated as ‘Negroes’
Savarkar headed the Hindu Mahasabha and inspired among others, Mohandas Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse. He was indicted in the Gandhi’s assassination but not sentenced. The Mahasabha was currently in the news for reenacting the infamous assassination.
In today’s India Savarkar can count among his fans the current prime minister.
We bow to Veer Savarkar on his Jayanti. Veer Savarkar epitomises courage, patriotism and unflinching commitment to a strong India. He inspired many people to devote themselves towards nation building.
The partition of British India and the formation of Pakistan on the eve of independence is just added another item to their the mile long list of grievances against Indian Muslims. The ones who chose to stay in India believing the promise that the authors of the Indian Constitution made to all its minorities that India was for all Indians, irrespective of caste, gender, language or religion.
Actions taken in Kashmir this August are just the first steps in the RSS agenda. If you think all this does not affect you, you would be wrong because Hindu Sevak Sangh(HSS), the RSS offshoot in the United States has been propping up Tulsi Gabbard and has chapters all over the US.
Its August 15, the Indian independence day. For the last few years I have written about things to celebrate about India and that make it unique. But today my heart is heavy and those posts from the past years feel like a cruel joke.
For the past five years BJP Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his followers in the government and outside have made it their life mission to dismantle Jawarhlal Nehru’s legacy. But without Nehru there is no modern India. Dismantling his legacy is dismantling the Indian experiment. If India defied expectations and survived as a democracy and as one country it was in no small measure due to the work of the leaders that fought for its independence and then wrote constitution that enshrined within it the ideals of freedom, equality and liberty. And among those giants, Nehru stands tall.
His vision for India is in peril. He has fallen out of fashion in today’s Sangh dominated India. On this day of all days I want to remember his words, the words he uttered as India gained it is freedom after a long struggle on 15 August 1947
Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny; and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.
A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new — when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India, and her people, and to the still larger cause of humanity.
At the dawn of history India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries which are filled with her striving and the grandeur of her successes and her failures. Through good and ill fortunes alike, she has never lost sight of that quest or forgotten the ideals which gave her strength. We end today a period of ill fortune and India discovers herself again.
The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?
Freedom and power bring responsibility. That responsibility rests upon this assembly, a sovereign body representing the sovereign people of India. Before the birth of freedom we have endured all the pains of labor, and our hearts are heavy with the memory of this sorrow. Some of those pains continue even now. Nevertheless, the past is over, and it is the future that beckons to us now.
That future is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we might fulfill the pledges we have so often taken and the one we shall take today. The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity.
The ambition of the greatest man1 of our generation has been to wipe “every tear from every eye.”2 That may be beyond us, but so long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over.
And so we have to labor and to work, and work hard, to — to give reality to our dreams. Those dreams are for India, but they are also for the world, for all the nations and peoples are too closely knit together today for any one of them to imagine that it can live apart.
Peace has been said to be indivisible; so is freedom; so is prosperity now; and so also is disaster in this one world that can no longer be split into isolated fragments.
To the people of India, whose representatives we are, we make appeal to join us with faith and confidence in this great adventure. This is no time for petty and destructive criticism, no time for ill will or blaming others. We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell.
It has been over a week since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his right hand man from Gujarat, Amit Shah who is now the home minister changed the constitution of India with little debate in the parliament. Modi government has abrogated Article 370 and Article 35A of the Indian constitution. The state has been under curfew and a strict communication blockade for the last eleven days. Former Kashmiri chief ministers are under arrest.
Article 370 concerns the accession of Kashmir to India, while 35A granted the state of Jammu and Kashmir a degree of autonomy to make laws governing the citizenry of the state. They have been revoked by the government in New Delhi with no input from the citizens of Kashmir. Constitutional scholars can argue about the legalistic validity of these moves, but these actions are undemocratic and unworthy of a constitutional democracy. They blatantly disregard the will of the people of Kashmir. The central government is acting as a colonial power within its own boundaries. Muslim majority Kashmir has been reduced to little more than a colony of Hindu majority India. You can see the population breakup from the 2011 census in the table that I have included. These were the fears that lead to the partition of India. This move reopens the wounds of partition which in Kashmir’s case were never healed.
What this does in practical terms is it strips of Jammu and Kashmir of its statehood and partitions it into two administrative regions. Jammu and Kashmir being the first region and the Buddhist majority Ladakh being the other.
It also means the death of the Indian Republic as it was conceived by the generation that fought for Indian independence. The ideological ancestors of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were nowhere to be found in the freedom struggle. Instead, they were busy criticizing the Indian National Congress and collaborating with the British.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir, independent India’s only Muslim majority state was guaranteed limited autonomy when they agreed to become a part of India instead of Pakistan after the partition of India. This has been an anathema to the Hindu right since India’s inception. A thorn in the side of their dream of a muscular Hindu state where other religions are not equal but merely tolerated.
Modi and Shah’s actions betray India’s founding principles, and undermine both federalism, religious freedom. The intellectual heirs of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassins are enacting their vision of India. That the BJP did this after getting a brute majority in the elections held earlier this year is not surprising. The Rashtriya Swayam Sevaksangh (RSS)’s agenda on this issue has been clear since India’s independence when their political arm was called the Jan Sangh.
What has been rather disappointing and sad is the feeble to non-existent opposition response and sycophancy of India’s prestige media like the Times of India, the Hindu and India Today. Most of the Indian media is either not covering this major story or giving cover to the government in New Delhi.
One has to go the web-only outlet, The Wire to find Kashmir covered in detail. This story is still developing and I will post updates.
Table I : Population Breakup of the Jammu and Kashmir from the 2011 census
The results of the 17th Loksabha elections are out. The Bharatiya Janaty Party (BJP) has won a comfortable majority on it own steam, 303 of a total of 545 seats. While the Indian National Congress (INC or just the Congress)’s haul was 52 seats. It was a clean sweep for the ruling party in the Hindi heartland and western India. Rahul Gandhi who led the INC in this election lost his seat in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh (UP). A seat he had held since 2004. Besides Rahul three other members of the Gandhi family have represented the Amethi consituency since 1980.
UP is the Hindi heart of India. Being the most populous state its sends the greatest number of representatives among all states to the Loksabha. This year the INC has won only one seat in Uttar Pradesh (UP) of a total of 80 and the BJP has won 62. That’s the entire story of these elections in a nutshell. Since what happens in UP determines political fortunes in India.
Rahul Gandhi made mistakes at both the tactical and at the strategic level. Instead of forming pre-poll coalitions to take on the ruling the party they fielded their own candidates in more than 400 constituencies. Most importantly, Rahul Gandhi ceded the ideological space to BJP by letting the Prime Minister Narendra Modi define the terms of the battle, whether it be national security or the place of minorities in the polity. Instead of taking the fight to the BJP, Congress ran away from the fight. This included maintaining a studied silence about the entire Pulwama incident, when it happened, not fielding enough Muslim candidates for the fear of being labeled pro-Muslim and even shying away from visiting Muslim majority areas to ask for their vote. Electorates rarely reward cowardice or incompetence.
So how did the party that led the independence struggle against the British rule and oversaw the establishment of the modern Indian state, its constitution and its institutions come to this sorry pass?
(To be continued)
ETA: The new government wants to stress learning Hindi, so before I go, check out this video which celebrates the linguistic diversity of India, another obstacle to the ultimate goal of the Hindu Rashtra where everyone speaks Hindi and is Hindu. I am so old that I remember when Unity in Diversity was India’s creed.
ETA2: They have walked it back, after a huge outcry from the southern states. I think they were just testing the waters. They will float this proposal again.
(To be continued)