Tea Typhoon Is Brewing

It would not be an exaggeration to say that it was tea that spawned the British Empire. To pay for Chinese tea, the British grew opium and exported it to China and till they started growing tea in India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), they depended on the Chinese produce using force to secure its supply.

The history of forestry tells a multi-layered tale of the growing requirement of wood for tea chests and railway sleepers. With the passage of time, Darjeeling became the Champagne of teas and teas from Assam, Ceylon carved a niche for themselves. Nilgiri, Kangra and Kumaon till recently were unknown except for the minuscule minority of tea aficionados.

Colonial rituals like High Tea, with the paraphernalia of Silver Service, fine bone porcelain translucent Chinaware were an integral part of life during the Raj. We in India forgot that the Asians have for centuries observed tea rites like the elaborate Tea Ceremony in Japan. Japanese prefer Chrysanthemum Tea while the Chinese sip Jasmine tea from small bowls throughout the multi-course meal. In the Valley of Kashmir hot cups of Kahwa prepared in a Samovar were relished at the end of the meal. Nun Chai and Pink Tea were paired with breakfast breads.

Then dawned the ugly age of CTC and Tea Bags that dealt a mortal blow to the gentle art of brewing a decent cup of tea. ‘Two Leaves and a Bud’ was recalled by students of Indo-Anglian Literature as a novel by Mulk Raj Anand.

The mystique of rare teas like White Tea, Yellow Tea, Green Tea, Black Tea and

Oolong has erased from memory once-beloved brands like Lopchu, Rangli Rangliot etc.

Tea-less teas like Tulsi Teas and herbal teas have also blurred boundaries.

Then came Floral Tea infusions from Dilmah company in Sri Lanka and following in its footsteps

Rhododendron and Roselle infusions produced in Panghut in Uttarakhand. It is the paring of teas with food that has highlighted the diversity of teas.

Decades back, if memory serves us right, it was Sanjay Kapoor who had opened Apki Pasand in Daryaganj to introduce the residents of Delhi to the joys of well-brewed tea. He had also launched his own blends labelled Swan Lake and Jade.

But he was a visionary far ahead of the time. It would be more than a generation for Chai to take on the wine snobs.

Those who pair teas with food use the same terminology as wine sommeliers -Body, Bouquet, Aroma, Flavour. They also tell us that different kinds of teas are either congruent or complementary. Don’t let the jargon deter you- it simply means that either the tea chosen enhances the taste of food or adds to its elements that enrich its inherent flavour. What the Indian Tea sommeliers agree upon is that pairing tea with Indian cuisines is far more challenging than pairing it with wester dishes as the spicing and flavour profile of Indian delicacies is far more complex.

Payalh Agarwwal was born and brought up in Munloong a small village near Darjiling and claims with an impish smile that she has more tea than blood flowing in her veins. In the same breath, she adds disarmingly that no one in seven generations in her family has had anything to do with tea.

She started as an undergraduate in the tea business and has pioneering work in tea pairing that is widely recognised and has helped us become an alum of IIMB. Everyone is born with a purpose in life and in her case teas have helped her realise what she was meant to do.

Fariyal was born in Bangladesh and wears many hats. She is a fantastic cook, outstanding baker, a gifted designer and now runs Planterie–a small gem-like tea boutique in the Capital’s Aurobindo Place trendy market catering to residents of Hauz Khas and SDA. Step into this tiny parlour and yield to the allure of wild teas and fascinating blends and infusions that blend tea with bhoot jholakiya chilli or time tested turmeric and ginger. The chique tea house beats the Chai Khana of yore.

Dipankar was a senior management executive in a multinational company when he decided to what’s heart called for. He left the metropolis to set up Beyonderie a company in a village near Guwahati that brings together produce from sister states in the northeast to enhance the seduction of exceptional teas that can be enjoyed by connoisseurs and also paired with Indian foods.

The storm brewing in the teacup is not confined to Metros. Rakesh Mishra in Allahabad has built a fairytale-like tea house to initiate his friends to the joys of legendary single-origin teal like Makai Bari. The words ‘second flush muscatel’ encountered by chance a couple of years ago fired his imagination and started him on this exhilarating journey.

The Tea Typhoon or, shall we say the surging Tea Tempest is not likely to subside soon. May its pairing with Indian food add another arrow to India’s soft power quiver.

Where The Chalk Meets The Cheese

Children across India, as elsewhere, missed going to school during the Covid-19 pandemic. They also missed the hot food being cooked next door at the school. Its aroma can be distracting for a class in session. But it is also a sure attraction to study if that is probably going to be the only full meal for a poor child.

Millions of children across India, adding up to nearly half the population, even those who can afford two meals and more, eat at school under a scheme that completes 62 years this year. About 118 million children are fed on at least 200 school days in a year through the Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDM), making it the largest scheme of its kind in the world. With an allocation of ₹11,500 crore for FY 2021-22, it caters to children of Class I-VIII across 11.2 lakh government and government-aided schools.

Statistics for this centrally-funded scheme operated by states (since education is under their charge) with help of non-government organizations (NGOs) are fuzzy and often come as percentages that can be challenged.

It matters little. The fact is that the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, MDM for short, has brought down the drop-out rate among students, both rural and urban, and contributed to the rising literacy at the primary and secondary levels. Viewed from macro level or micro, the scale is huge. Cooking and feeding requires human effort, as much as teaching. Perhaps, even more if you consider quantities of food to be cleaned and cooked, and soiled vessels to be cleaned each day.

Just compare with the family kitchen and contrast the absence of gadgetry. Think of cooking in a corner of a school that is but a tin shed, with coal or wood for fuel.

Begun in Tamil Nadu in 1960 by Chief Minister K Kamaraj and expanded in 1982 by M G Ramachandran (MGR), the MDM now covers the whole country. For Tamil Nadu, the circle is complete. Chief Minister M K Stalin was in Delhi recently to study how Delhi administers it. On May 7, completing one year in office, he announced a ‘breakfast scheme” for government school children up to class five, to curb the rise of “unhealthy, under-nourished children” in the state.  Come to think of it, it was at once admission by the pioneer of the past failure and promise to better in the future.

MDM’s really is a chicken-and-egg story. It may have drawn from elsewhere and has spawned clones, based on the universal logic of combining bread with blackboard.

ALSO READ: Online Learning Failed Education For All

In the US, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) program has been around since 1946. Supply of curry meals by Manoj Raichura, an enterprising British Indian, has helped to arrest the truancy rates at schools in the city of Southampton. With numerous faults and flaws, MDM remains one of the success stories of India’s social sector.

There, indeed, are stories of stale food and of unsuspecting children falling sick. There is corruption — of food disappearing, items like milk and eggs, meant to boost nutrition content, remaining on the paper and ending up in the open market and of numbers of beneficiaries being fudged.

Insufficient food can turn a child into a modern-day Oliver Twist. It cannot be defended. In reality, however, it is difficult to ensure the quality and quantity of a meal, consumed by children, in schools small and big, day after day. Also, in each state, each region, children have differing food habits.

Then, there are social and religious taboos. Karnataka Government’s efforts to extend serving of eggs to children are being protested by the powerful Jains and Lingayats. The role of thousands of NGOs engaged in running the scheme is crucial. While the government often puts out a positive picture and statistics to support it, or when the states are finding fault with the federal government and vice versa, it is the NGOs who generally tell the real story.

Then, there are problems peculiar to India. Upper caste parents prevent their children from eating if the food is cooked by someone from low caste. Save these exceptions that make news and are derided, children eat from these casteless kitchens. It is education through the stomach.

It boils down to food and its management. The taste, the use of spices, the food habits like wheat in the north and rice in the south – so many things differ. Just like in a family. There are no easy solutions. Cooking and feeding is only a part of the task. After all, one is not running an eatery for profit.

Having to cook food makes the task really daunting. Former minister in the Manmohan Singh Government Renuka Chaudhary thought she was being ‘pragmatic’ in suggesting pre-cooked food such as biscuits. But this created a powerful lobby of biscuit and confectionary makers, some of them powerful multinationals. When the NGOs protested, the Supreme Court ruled that only cooked food would be served and that the cooking would be done daily. No junk food. No chips, chocolates and toffees.

Like other social sector schemes, the MDM too has its politics. The states, very possessive of their turf, happily accept central funds, but they will not take up its administration. Past resolves to transfer the MDM scheme to the states have not materialized.

Political preferences get injected. Each state has favourite areas for splurging. Like erecting statues. But when it comes to social sector, they throw up their hands and want the federal government alone to finance it. The MDM is just one such scheme. As the scheme evolves, standards are sought to be improved and an element of sharing is gradually coming in. But the scheme is too huge to run smoothly.

MDM is one of the flagship schemes that are central to the achievement of medium term goals in India’s social sector. “The chances of fulfilling these goals appear bleak if the trends in allocations are any indicator,” R. Ramakumar of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, has warned.

Feeding future generations better while educating it cannot be over-stressed.

The writer may be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

Mother’s Day: Five Ideas To Surprise Your Mom

Looking for the perfect way to surprise your mom on this Mother’s Day? There are favourites you can buy her from the market, places you can take her to make her feel special or do simple things at home which touch her heart.

Ahead of Mother’s Day on May 8, here are ways to express your gratitude to the very special person who has always showered her love, care and blessings. Spend time with her to make it a fulfilling Sunday.

A day all together

Put aside all other plans and treat your mom like the queen of the day. Turn the day into an all-day adventure in a special place. Take the whole family to one of her favourite parks or lakes. Spending time together (preferably outdoors) is of real value so go on a picnic, hiking or go to the garden together.

A makeover session accompanied by a photo session

Make her sit down and give her a beautiful makeover at home. You can start by pampering her with a facial massage, then recreate one of her favorite makeup looks at home. It’s also the perfect opportunity to have a photo session as an after-makeup activity. She will gonna love it.

Give mom a holiday (day off)

This may be the best gift of all. Get everyone involved and let the moms of your life sit back and relax. She deserves it. Ask the family to cook supper (choose something simple and pre-packaged) and serve to your mom on the special occasion.

Pamper her with a spa session at home

Mothers everywhere dedicate their lives to making your everyday life easy and stress-free. They think little of themselves. On this day, you can create a spa experience at home for your mom. All you need are essential oils and massage oils, a steam generator, dim lights and soothing music. You can give her a gentle massage and add to her comfort.

Prepare a delicious meal for her

Your mom loves to cook for you every day and you can prepare a four-course meal for her at least today. She will definitely come and try to help you in the kitchen, but this time don’t listen to her and tell her to relax and wait for her delicious food to arrive.

Fungi-based Meat Alternatives Can Save Half Of Earth’s Forests

Substituting just a fifth of meat from cattle with microbial protein, a meat alternative produced in fermentation tanks, by 2050 could halve deforestation.

This new analysis by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) has been published in Nature. The market-ready meat alternative is very similar in taste and texture but is a biotech product that by replacing beef involves much less land resources and greenhouse-gas emissions from agriculture and land-use change.

This goes under the assumption of a growing world population’s increasing appetite for beefy bites, and it is the first time researchers have projected the development of these market-ready meat substitutes into the future, assessing their potential impact on the environment.

“The food system is at the root of a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, with ruminant meat production being the single largest source,” says Florian Humpenoder, a researcher at PIK and lead author of the study. That is because more and more forests that store a lot of carbon are cleared for cattle grazing or growing its feed, and because of further greenhouse-gas emissions from animal agriculture. Part of the solution could be existing biotechnology: Nutritious protein-rich biomass with meat-like texture produced from microbes like fungi via fermentation, what scientists call “microbial protein”.

“The substitution of ruminant meat with microbial protein in the future could considerably reduce the greenhouse gas footprint of the food system,” says Humpenoder. “The good news is that people do not need to be afraid they can eat only greens in the future. They can continue eating burgers and the like, it’s just that those burger patties will be produced in a different way.”

Sustainable burgers: replacing minced red meat with microbial protein

The team of researchers from Germany and Sweden included microbial protein in a computer simulation model to detect the environmental effects in the context of the whole food and agriculture system, as opposed to previous studies at the level of single products. Their forward-looking scenarios run until 2050 and account for future population growth, food demand, dietary patterns as well as dynamics in land use and agriculture. As meat consumption will likely continue to rise in the future, more and more forests and non-forest natural vegetation may be doomed to extinction for pastures and cropland.

“We found that if we substituted 20 per cent of ruminant meat per capita by 2050, annual deforestation and CO2 emissions from land-use change would be halved compared to a business-as-usual scenario. The reduced numbers of cattle do not only reduce the pressure on land but also reduce methane emissions from the rumen of cattle and nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizing feed or manure management,” says Humpenoder. “So replacing minced red meat with microbial protein would be a great start to reduce the detrimental impacts of present-day beef production.”

Microbial protein can be decoupled from agricultural production

“There are broadly three groups of meat analogues,” Isabelle Weindl, co-author and also a researcher at PIK, explains. “There are plant-based ones like soybean burger patties, and animal cells grown in a petri dish also known as cultured meat, which is so far very expensive, but got a lot of public attention recently. And there’s fermentation-derived microbial protein, which we consider most interesting. It is available in a large variety already today in supermarkets, for example in the UK or in Switzerland, and, importantly, it can be largely decoupled from agricultural production. Our results show that even accounting for the sugar as feedstock, microbial protein requires much less agricultural land compared to ruminant meat for the same protein supply.”

Microbial protein is made in specific cultures, just like beer or bread. The microbes are living on sugar and a steady temperature and getting out a very protein-rich product that can taste like, feel like and be as nutritious as red meat. Based on the centuries-old method of fermentation, it was developed in the 1980s. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) greenlighted a microbial protein meat alternative (mycoprotein) as safe in 2002.

Green biotechnology needs to be fuelled by green energy

“Biotechnology offers a promising toolbox for a number of land-related challenges from ecosystems preservation through improving food security,” says co-author Alexander Popp, leader of the Land Use Management group at PIK. “Alternatives to animal proteins, including substitutes for dairy products, can massively benefit animal welfare, save water and avert pressure from carbon-rich and biodiverse ecosystems.” However, there are crucial questions attached to shifting more and more production from livestock to fermentation tanks – most importantly the energy supply for the production process.

“A large-scale transformation towards biotech food requires a large-scale decarbonisation of electricity generation so that the climate protection potential can be fully developed,” Popp adds. “Yet if we do this properly, microbial protein can help meat-lovers embrace the change. It can really make a difference.” (ANI)

Weekly Update: High-risk Lives of Food Delivery Men; Where Are All The Judges?

Last weekend, in north Delhi, a food delivery man zipping on his motorcycle to meet a deadline crashed into a car. The gory accident led to at least three deaths. Anyone who has been commuting or driving on the roads in India’s big cities would have seen the sheer number of food delivery people on their bikes, weaving in and out of traffic, often breaking traffic rules, in their quest to deliver food from restaurants and other outlets to consumers. They operate on tight schedules, and what they earn depends largely on the number of deliveries they can complete each day.

On paper, in India, where the per capita income per month is a measly ₹1,025, a delivery person for the more popular app-based food delivery platforms can earn up to ₹50,000 a month. In addition, many of them can get cash incentives linked to their performance. But all of these come at a cost. It is hard work, involving bike rides through India’s notoriously frenetic traffic and carrying huge loads on their backs. 

Besides the risks of driving against tight deadlines and carrying loads, delivery persons for services such as Zomato and Swiggy often have to put in 12-14 hours a day in order to earn enough to make ends meet. Last year, a couple of them took to social media anonymously to talk about the conditions under which they work. One of them compared their status to that of slaves.

India’s urban middle class and richer strata of households have got used to the convenience of ordering food that can be delivered to their homes, sometimes even round-the-clock. But behind the ease of clicking an app and getting what you want–the platform has also led to a mushrooming for food outlets in most cities–is the darker reality of the risks that those who work in food delivery face. The north Delhi incident took place soon after a leading food delivery company offered deliveries within 10 minutes after a customer placed an order. The market has turned competitive and companies are pushing the limits to offer an edge over their rivals.

The employment opportunities that such Business-to-Consumer (B2C) services offer to India’s burgeoning youth is certainly welcome but it is also necessary for the players in the business to ensure that basic safety, health and other work-related conditions are protected. Delivery persons are usually not employees; they work on contracts that provide little in terms of health insurance or other safety nets; and often the pressure on them can force them to take risks as happened when the delivery person in Delhi lost his life.

Where Are All The Judges?

India’s chief justice N.V. Ramana recently revealed that there are more than 40 million cases pending in lower courts. That is a mind-boggling number that could take decades, if not longer to be disposed of.

What that huge backlog signifies is the acute shortage of judges in the Indian judicial system. Take the situation in high courts alone. In India’s 25 high courts, the number of total judges sanctioned is 1,104 of which 833 judges are permanent and remaining 271 sanctioned for additional judges. But as on date, 35% of these posts are vacant because there are no candidates available. In lower courts, the situation is worse.

India’s judicial system is hugely inadequate when it comes to judges. India’s ratio of judges to population is ridiculously low. For every million people there are just 20 judges. In the US it is 107; and in the UK, 51.

At the same time the volume of litigation is on the rise in India. Delays are commonplace and legal relief, particularly for the poor, is often fraught with years of waiting and incurring high costs. If India has to reduce the backlog of pending cases, the crucial thing would be to attract more judges to the judicial system. For obvious reasons, legal professionals prefer to work as advocates and lawyers rather than as judges. Judges in India, particularly in the lower courts, get salaries that are low compared to what a lawyer can earn. The starting basic salary of a district judge is ₹26,000. This has meant that in lower courts it is difficult to attract competent judges to fill posts.

It is time for a major reform of the judicial system. And if India has to tackle the growing backlog of legal cases that are pending, it must start by attracting more judges to head its courts.

Why Some Women Lose Appetite During Pregnancy

While pregnant women often crave different foods, some can feel a lack of desire to eat food. According to a new study by Monash University, researchers have revealed the hidden issues and developed recommendations and principles for multidisciplinary management of anorexia nervosa in pregnancy.

The findings of the study were published in the journal, ‘The Lancet Psychiatry’. The findings include a focus on the specialist mental health, obstetric, medical, and nutritional care required to ensure optimal outcomes for women and their infants.

Pregnant women with anorexia are at greater risk of having a stillbirth, underweight baby or pre-term birth, yet there are no clear guidelines for how doctors should manage the condition. Anorexia nervosa has an increased prevalence in women across childbearing years, with up to one in 200 pregnant women with the condition. It is typically associated with restricting or binging and purging behaviours, or both.

Professor Galbally says there is a paucity of studies and clinical advice on managing pregnant women with anorexia. “Unlike mood disorders and anxiety and psychotic disorders, little guidance and research are available for anorexia nervosa in pregnancy. Perinatal mental health guidelines, including those in the UK and Australia, provide only limited or no mention of the assessment and management of eating disorders in pregnancy,” she said.

“Assessment measures used outside of pregnancy, such as the Eating Disorder Inventory, or the reliance on body mass index, have been shown to have limited validity in pregnancy,” she added.”Clearly, the assessment and monitoring of measures and tools for anorexia nervosa require modification in the context of pregnancy.” Research into managing the health of pregnant women, in general, has highlighted the importance of maternal antenatal nutrition, pregnancy weight gain, and the infant’s birth weight as critical risk factors and vital intervention points for improving lifelong health including for areas such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

According to the study authors, anorexia nervosa might affect obstetric and neonatal outcomes through the low-calorie intake, nutritional and vitamin deficiencies, stress, fasting, low body mass, and problems with the function of the placenta. Additionally, risks from untreated or undertreated anorexia nervosa in pregnancy include psychological and psychosocial risks, including perinatal depression and anxiety.

For women with anorexia nervosa, there is an increase in reported obstetric complications. A 2020 study from Canada reported that women with anorexia nervosa in pregnancy had 1.32 times the risk of pre-term birth, 1.69 times the adjusted risk of a baby with low birth weight, and 1.99 times the adjusted risk of stillbirth compared with women without anorexia nervosa in pregnancy.

“The management of anorexia nervosa requires a multidisciplinary team approach with expertise across mental health, specialist medical care, and dietetics at a minimum; in pregnancy, key experts include obstetricians (particularly experts who manage high-risk pregnancies), physicians with pregnancy expertise, dieticians who also have expertise in pregnancy nutrition requirements, paediatricians, and mental health clinicians with perinatal expertise,” the authors recommended.

“Although many of the principles developed for the management of anorexia nervosa in adults are applicable in pregnancy, they require expert modification and adaptation to the substantial physiological, psychological, and social changes in pregnancy, and foetal growth and wellbeing should also be taken into consideration,” the authors concluded. (ANI)

Weekly Update: When India’s Hapless Media Turns to Bollywood; AAP’s Fresh Ambitions

When a Bollywood actor gets married, the Indian mainstream media goes bananas. And if both the parties getting hitched are Bollywood actors, the media frenzy can reach ludicrous proportions. So last week when Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt, both actors of some repute, got married in Mumbai, the paparazzi and reporters got so wild at the venue of the wedding–at Kapoor’s residence in a tony Mumbai locality in Bandra–that neighbours had to complain to the authorities to quell the crowds and the disturbing activity.

Indians’ craze over anything Bollywood is well known. The entertainment sections of newspapers and other publications in India are almost solely devoted to covering the Indian film industry, which easily produces the largest number of films in the world. Every year, there are at least 800 films produced in Bollywood and the number of box office tickets sold exceeds four billion. These are mind-boggling statistics but Bollywood’s influence and dominance in India’s culture looms larger than anything else.

Nothing wrong with that. But it is when the media-created hyperbole reaches frenzied levels that everything gets puzzlingly out of control. Last week, anyone trying to read or watch the news in India would have been assailed by stories related to the celebrity wedding. Besides the one about how the media activity disturbed the peace in the neighbourhood of the wedding’s venue, there were other more ridiculous stories. One that particularly stood out was about how Bhatt’s chauffeur was so emotionally moved by his employer’s wedding that he declared that he would be “there for her” always. 

In case you thought such stories got published in tabloids and gossip blogs alone, think again. Some of India’s leading newspapers found space on the front pages of their publications or high up on their websites to splash such stories. So we learnt that when the bride dropped the kaleera on the heads of her bridesmaid and it fell on the groom’s cousin, Karishma Kapoor’s head, the 47-year-old, who is also an actor, was ecstatic. These and other trivial details about the wedding (example: the size of the blouse that actor Priyanka Chopra wore when she came to the ceremony) were provided eagerly by Indian media.

One reason for the media’s hell-for-leather approach to cover celebrity events, particularly weddings of the rich and famous, is probably frustration. Even though India prides itself as a large and diverse democracy, the media, no matter what anyone says, is as good as being muzzled. According to a ranking by Reporters without Borders, India ranked at 142 out of 180 countries that the survey covered. And it was judged as one of the “world’s most dangerous countries for journalists trying to do their job properly”.

The thing is that most media publications and their journalists are not really affected by the dangers of working in India. That is because they choose not to do their jobs properly. It is difficult to find stories or coverage in Indian media that is even mildly critical of the authorities and the government. Blatant violations of human rights, alarmingly growing incidents of communal, caste, or religion based discrimination, which is often marked by horrendous violence, are reported but rarely do the influential publications take a stance of condemning them. 

The reason why India’s media has turned into wimpish lap dogs is not rooted in ideology, ethics or morals. It is squarely economics that has turned large and influential media houses into lackeys of those in power. First, there is the revenue angle. India’s publications, particularly those that are printed, depend highly on advertising revenues to survive. With e-commerce and online transactions fast replacing traditional forms of selling and buying, a large chunk of advertising revenues have disappeared as companies, particularly those that market consumer products, seek online channels to promote, advertise and sell their products more effectively and cheaply. This has meant that much of the conventional advertising that media groups survive on is government advertising: appointment ads, statutory tenders, notices, and advertising by public sector entities that are remotely controlled by government ministries.

It is not difficult for strong governments–India’s current regime at the Centre, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is probably one of the most powerful in the country’s independent history–to control or get the media to toe the line. There is another reason for that. Most large media organisations in India are owned by business families or entrepreneurs. Some have other business interests. Many have political ambitions. Staying on the right side of powerful authorities often makes sense for them.

If you talk to the average Indian–poor or middle-class–the constant refrain you will hear about today is how inflation is hurting their budgets. In the aftermath of the havoc wreaked by successive waves of Covid, prices of almost everything have soared: petrol, diesel, food, everything. But it is curious that in-depth coverage of this inflationary trend and its impact on the overwhelming majority of 1.4 billion Indians are few and far between when it comes to the mainstream media. 

This is just one example of media apathy. When majoritarian violence is directed against minorities, or there is a controversy as there was recently about Muslim women wearing hijabs, or regarding the sale of halal foods, the media does cover it of course but besides poker-faced reporting of the facts there is little attempt to point fingers or hold a mirror to the authorities who are often hapless or neglectful in their actions related to these incidents. India’s media is failing Indians.

AAP Now Eyes Other States

After the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) impressive victory in Punjab’s state elections, it is now eyeing two more states–Gujarat, which goes to polls in December, and Himachal Pradesh, which will hold elections in November. In both states, it is a BJP government that is in power. And while Himachal Pradesh is a smaller state with 68 seats than Gujarat, which has 182 seats, it is unlikely that either of the contests is going to be easy for AAP.

But early-stage campaigning has begun in earnest. AAP’s supremo and Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, and his colleague and Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann, have been making visits to these states, particularly Gujarat, which is considered a powerful base for the BJP and has had Narendra Modi as its longest-serving chief minister for more than 12 years.

The two state elections will be watched keenly. If AAP can make an inroad into either of the states it will be a huge victory for the party. But more than that, it could change the dynamics of politics in the country. That is because it would be the stepping stone for a regional or small party such as AAP towards becoming a national player. It is too early to place bets on what is likely to be the outcome of these elections. However, one thing is fairly certain: the main fight in both states would be between AAP, the challenger, and the reigning champion, the BJP. In case you are thinking about the Congress, the sad truth is that its story is nearly over.

LONG VIEW: The Time For A Global Plural Alliance

International norms and the international rule based order are based on the universalist ideology of a liberal western civilisation and its Westphalian State history, with little accommodation let alone coexistence of alternative ideological or philosophical positions or dynamics. This has caused tensions but more importantly a situation where the tools for mediation and resolution of conflicts, or of arbitration and institutionalisation of diversity are imperfect in international institutions such as the United Nations. It restricts all efforts to be compliant within options consistent with the paradigm of an interpretation of liberalism with no scope to negotiate as equals or with respect for alternatives.

The current ideology in international institutions, international law and international relations assumes axiomatic universal paradigm status.  This means all alternatives are considered in need of correction, reform or improvement relative to the ideal liberal ideological values, norms and principles. This approach permeates all of the institutions of United Nations as the body has institutionalised liberalism within all its organs and treaties.

The consequences of this is two-fold. It militates against nature’s propensity towards diversity and plurality. Secondly it restricts the flexibility of the first article of the United Nations Charter as it cages the scope of activity within a paradigm that assumes hegemony and preference as well as the reference against which possibilities for peace are explored.

The first contradiction is indeed axiomatic. Nature is not universalist. Gravity may be one of the most fundamental force but there are also anti-gravity forces. There is matter but also dark matter and anti-matter. There is the physical universe with its laws but there are also black holes. The range of vegetation, species and life forms is phenomenon. Life needs oxygen but there are others who thrive on its lack. Most species need light, but there are others that are destroyed by light. Most species need warmth but there are others that thrive in sub-zero temperatures. The list is endless. The number of species is almost endless. Some animal species, such as elephants are highly social, matriarchal and collectively look after their young. Others like lions are highly patriarchal and kill the young offspring of male lions they have ousted from the family. Some like wild dogs work in packs and have a hierarchical system, while others like bears are highly individualist and territorial about their hunting ground. Even within species there are variants. Some apes and monkeys have rigid hierarchical cultures that rook no challenge while other like the bonobos have a very cooperative culture. Nature is certainly not universalist. The UN and international institutions are universalist.

Similarly human society and its civilisations have evolved over many centuries and thousands of years in different ways. Some have a strong sense of individual sovereignty while others have complex systems of filial responsibilities or family orientated cultures with duties and obligations. Legal systems also vary among civilisations as do concepts of rights, duties, obligations and responsibilities. Some cultures are hierarchical and both comfortable and strong with such systems while others have high levels of consensus among members before decisions are made. Like nature, human society is not governed by a single set of value systems, legal instruments or political orders. There are some extraordinary and somewhat unrealistic assumptions in some of the treaties of the UN that all of human kind seeks the same set of freedoms, values, rights and life ambitions. This is a universalist assumption that crushes diversity of perspectives and contradicts nature’s propelling tendency towards diversity and pluralism.

Universalism is the presumption that a group of individuals or communities can identify what is fundamental to all human beings and how that can be achieved. While the struggle to live and have dignity is natural to all life, the route to realising this is not necessarily universally through a regime of rights. In some species and in some cultures of human beings, life is sustained and nurtured through a complex set of responsibilities. An unnatural death, or even death by disease, is seen as failure or abrogation of duties and responsibilities of the whole family, relatives and even village community. Life is not protected just by a regime of rights against an aggressor or intruder or negligent State but by a collective sense of commitment to sustaining life.

The United Nations charter starts with the essential mission for which it was established, that is ‘to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’.  In Article 1 it states that its purposes are ‘ to maintain international peace and security and to that end to take effective collective measures for the protection and removal of threats to the peace and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.

26 nations sign the ‘Declaration by United Nations’

If the foremost primary mission of the United Nations was and remains to maintain international peace and to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, then it would be necessary for it to remove or at least diffuse one of the most recurring triggers of wars in history, particularly in the history of the western sphere and middle east. This is the tensions that arise when one dominant culture tries to impose a hegemonic order upon others based on its idea of the perfect set of values and governance. Through history this fuse has been ignited by religions that assume their truths are universal and divine while others are false. During colonialism wars were supported by the notion that the dominant force was ‘civilising the barbarians’ or ‘civilising those who were in need of a greater civilisation’. Even slavery was justified by ideological propping with one community assuming itself to be ‘civilised’ while others to be ‘uncivilised barbarians worthy of being treated as labour in captivity’. The World Wars were fought with competing secular ideological hegemonies being a major frame in the war. Nationalism and claims of threats to nations was a significant factor although territorial designs and access to resources were just as important.

Nevertheless the UN charter introduces an ideological preference in the next sentence that it assumes is self evidently universal, universally desired by all people and universally applicable across the world. It states in the preamble that’ to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights … in the equal rights of men and women…. The charter in Article 1.3 states‘… in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion’. The Charter then commits to a practical route for itself to attain these by stating in Article 1.4 ‘To be a centre for harmonising the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends’.

Having established the ideology that it feels will bring permanent peace or remove the scourge of war, it embarks on ‘harmonising’ the actions of nations in the attainment of these goals.

Given that many wars in history have been over ideological competition and campaigns or ‘crusades’ as they were called, for ideological hegemony, it is contentious whether the United Nation’s mission to end wars would be achieved by committing to harmonising the actions of nations to the preferred ideology. Harmonising the actions of nations is controversial. It means that ‘nations’ and civilisations would have to sacrifice their distinctive cultural or philosophical and political worldview and adopt the one that the UN promotes. This also means that the power or dominance or even ownership of the ideological hegemony to which all nations have to move towards is in the hands of those countries or civilisations whose worldview and ideological paradigm the United Nations has adopted as a universal preference and standard. It is not difficult to see that this immediately negates the intention of the mission to end wars, since wars in history have largely been fought for ideological hegemony, although as well as resources.

The inevitable happened almost instantly when the UN was instituted. There emerged a block of countries called the ‘west’ that claimed democracy, rule of law, human rights and liberalism as ‘civilised governance’, axiomatically universal and that which they were already practicing and that they felt all countries of the world should ‘harmonise’ towards. Resisting this and seen as the opposing worldview was communism as adopted by the Soviet Union. This was ascribed as authoritarian and anti-democratic, thus either in violation of the principles of the United Nations or in need of reforms to be consistent with the United Nations. In this group were placed, along with the Soviet, the People’s Republic of China and any other countries that did not have western forms of democracy. This group was and still is usually termed ‘dictatorships’ or autocracies. Thus a clear division of opposing ideologies emerged immediately after the formation of the UN and a fertile ground for wars was created by the United Nations itself by tying itself to one ideological mission. The UN had unwittingly created and instituted the conditions that had led to many wars in history. Inevitably there followed a long period of what was called the ‘Cold War’ but which led to many real and bloody wars through proxy and remote management. The two superpowers that emerged from World War II, decided to avoid a direct confrontation with each other as both had nuclear weapons. A direct conflict would lead to the third World War and almost mutual decimation.

The preference to create a hegemonic ideology and persuade nations or force them to ‘harmonise’ their actions to this, is a paradox that the United Nations has failed to appreciate in context of its founding mission. It was and remains the fertiliser for conflict and war. Ideologies usually consider that if the entire world embraces the same ideology, there would be permanent or eternal peace in the world and all wars of differences would come to an end. This is contrary to nature as nature nurtures diversity and pluralism. Any effort to push against nature and create an artificial or human imagined set of universal rules inevitably fail because neither human beings nor human society accept uniformity or universalism. It leads to more wars as the post-war period has shown.

What the United Nations needs to do is to revisit its charter and ask itself whether it sees its purpose as an institution that will work to end wars by mediating among, negotiating between and creating the circumstances for diametrically opposite and different political ideologies to coexist or does it consider its purpose to establish permanent peace by persuading the entire world and its nations to commit to a ‘universal’ set of values, principles, political ideology and standards that one of dominant civilisations that emerged from colonialism thinks is the ultimate ideal universal.

If the United Nations sees its purpose to ‘save succeeding nations from the scourge of war’, then it has to learn from history and avoid promoting both ideological hegemony and ideological universalism. It needs to restate its mission to encourage coexistence of diverse political ideologies and promote pluralism as well as enact instruments and create the tools to make that possible. Mediation needs to be between diverse ideologies without any side feeling they are being judged against one and required to conform to a particular universalist ideology. Dignity and respect of the human being can be achieved through all different ideologies and almost all ideologies claim their purpose to respect the dignity and security of all human beings.

Efforts have been made at the United Nations to establish a ‘dialogue between civilisations’. However this seems to have been marginalised. Moreover the influence of this exercise is almost irrelevant as the body corpus of UN treaties and orientation is to promote one civilisation. A ‘dialogue’ will also only attempt to harmonise others towards this one universalist ideology.

It is also not fair to assume that the west is behind all this or that it is enforcing the liberalism adopted by the UN to impose its hegemony. The charter and the subsequent treaties were drafted and agreed by the State members present. Among them were countries that did not have liberal form of democracies. Whether they lacked arguments against the deep convictions of the west that liberalism was the future, or they were implying that they too would ‘harmonise’ towards the ideals of liberalism, even democracy. There was little if any critique of the ideological hegemony being created and against which every nation, civilisation and ideology was to be judged from henceforth. The world handed hegemony to the west and then accused it of exploiting it.

The impact of this universalist approach based on western liberalism has been that when countries that practice liberalism deviate from it, it is considered as a temporary aberration. But the countries who do not have liberalism as their core political philosophy, are intentionally or unwittingly considered by the UN system as ‘fundamentally flawed’ in need of reform, even if this statement is not publicly stated. There is thus a permanent state of countries who meet UN standards and those that are ‘defective’ or in need of reform. The status of this category of countries is one of defensive. Whatever confidence they assert in international institutions such as UN, crashes against the liberalist wall of the charters, the treaties and the declarations. These countries are therefore in a de facto status of second class and not really in ownership of the agenda. They throw their weight by virtue of their size, power and finance, but ideologically they are always followers.

The United Nations needs reforming itself and needs to adopt pluralism rather than one form of liberalism as its driving conceptual foundation. This will ensure diversity is respected equally and with dignity thus removing one of the recurring causes of wars, the desire for ideological hegemony.

To start a serious debate, research and move towards a United Nations that is genuinely plural without institutionalising hegemony, there is a need for a movement and alliance for pluralism. Countries and civilisations that feel they are being ‘harmonised’ towards one universal ideology that grants control of the debate to one civilisation, could form a Global Alliance for pluralism or the Pluralist Alliance. This alliance could be the start of a genuinely pluralist world and human society moving away from wars, or the traditional notion of war to end all wars, and moving towards coexistence of differences and diversity of world views. Some of the treaties may need to be revisited and the wordings changed so almost all civilisations could coexist, be respected and not made to feel lacking perfection.

During the Cold War, India led the Non-Aligned Movement to duck the pressure to side with one or the other. Some 75 other countries, now increased to 120, joined this group and escaped inordinate pressures to some extent. But in current date the world is multipolar. It is no longer binary, divided in two blocs with a need for non-aligned to stay independent. In fact India itself is now a power bloc.

The current period offers an opportunity to realise this and institute pluralism, particularly at the United Nations, as the world is in a state of multipolar power blocks. The distribution of power and wealth is not binary but genuinely plural with different power blocks having distinct cultures and civilisations too. The time to start and form a serious debate about pluralism and end hegemony is now if ever. It could start with the BRICS countries forming a Global Alliance for Pluralism at the United Nations.

Weekly Update: Khan Loses Match; BJP Stunt On Chandiargh; India Tells UK To Move On

Khan The Pathan Brought Down: The great Khan Pathan, Imran Khan, has also been shafted back to earth and his assumption of invincibility punctured by the real power of Pakistan, the Army. Khan was toying with outsmarting the Army. When on the verge of being removed from office, dismissing the C in C of the Pakistan Army seems to be the favourite last desperate preoccupation of many Prime Ministers of Pakistan. But they soon realise their office is a clerical extension of the Army and not the throne of power. They get into a habitual error of thinking that because they got the mandate through votes, they must be more popular and powerful than the Army. The Pakistan Army, like armies elsewhere, does not have a single vote nor does it seek any. It has the tanks and the finance, both of which tend to be more powerful in any political set up.

Now why our westernised anti-west star, the great Imran, international cricketer and once sought after by every socialite lady in the west, thought he could become pro Kremlin and at the same time recruit the democratic mandate in his favour is a mystery. Democracy wallahs are supposed to side with USA and authoritarian leaders on the side of China and Russia. In Pakistan, it is a bit topsy turvy. The Army that hasn’t a single vote, is pro USA, while the democratic elected leader is pro authoritarian Russia.

Pakistan’s perennial problems has been a failure to institute a constitutional structure that reflects the real structure and distribution of power in the country. But it was forced by the United Kingdom to adopt a democratic constitution. The UK calls itself as mother of democracy.

Contrary to popular myth, the UK is really a monarchy and power exercised by some powerful business interests. The System is all in the name of the Monarchy. The Queen has a Government to do the running around and manage the country. The Government is elected. But the leader that pleases Mr Murdoch and a few other British Barons, usually gets the seat of power. The one they don’t like, tends to get hammered in the media, owned by powerful barons.  Even though elected, the Government rules and acts on behalf of the Monarch, not the people. In effect, the Monarch asks the people to elect among themselves a leader and a party to manage her country. Brilliant. Its rule by the Barons, for the Monarch, with the people.

Pakistan on the other hand was bullied by this Monarchical -Baronial UK to adopt a democratic system to be consistent with the requirements of that other non-democratic institution, the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth insists that all member countries be democratic as Britain supposedly is. But it has a permanent non-elected leader, the Queen. And no one has asked when will Britain become a truly democratic State, except for the Sikhs. Once in Britain when the Government patronisingly lectured the Sikhs to become modern and adopt elections in their Gurdwaras, the Sikh leaders told the Government that when the head of State in UK is elected, then they will also pay more attention to Government sermons. The Government backed off.

So we have perpetual issues in Pakistan. Power is with the Army. The Army has set up a democratic front to shut the Brits and Americans up. Meanwhile Pakistani people think they are democratically holding power to account. It serves everyone. When things go wrong, the Army blames the elected leadership and people get a chance to elect another leader who can’t sort the mess either. UK and USA are happy that the country is listed as ‘democratic’ and can tick the boxes. A bit like medieval crusades, when the converted could do anything such as rapes, pillages etc, as long as they called themselves Christian. But if they weren’t Christian, they were called the devil incarnate, child eaters, witches and any grotesque character adjective that the pious Vatican could think of for non-Christians. In modern times, the UK-USA alliance does the same for countries who are not ‘democratic’. India therefore is saved from this name calling.

Time changes but nothing changes. Let’s hope one day Pakistan will have the ability to set up a constitutional structure that reflects the levers and distribution of power as it really is. In the meantime Mr Khan has been bowled out. We hope he has enough money to go into exile in Dubai.

Chandigarh For BJP?

Well, who would have thought that one day the nationalist Hindu party, BJP would be screaming for Chandigarh to be recognised as capital of Punjab? ‘Qudrat’ (Nature) indeed is ironical.

During the militant days of Akali run Anandpur Sahib Resolution campaigns in the late 1970s and then Khalistan campaigns of 1980s, one of the key demands was that Chandigarh should solely be the capital of Punjab. The Punjabi Hindus opposed it.

Ever since the family run Akali Dal Badal came to power, the issue of Chandigarh seemed to have evaporated just as the rest of Anandpur Sahib resolution did. Now that Akali Dal can only be seen with the Hubble Space telescope from outer space, as otherwise it is no where to be seen in the levers of power, the BJP decided it was going to raise the issue of Chandigarh. Obviously it is to start a headache for Aam Admi party in Punjab, but the irony is too much not to be commented on. Fact is that in reality all BJP Punjab has to do is ask its Daddy BJP in Lok Sabha to hand over Chandigarh to Punjab. But where is the fun if it does that?

Britain Told To Look Around

The Indian Foreign Minister is not as much of a rottweiler as the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov is, but S Jaishankar certainly gave the British Foreign Minister an earful. In reality Jaishankar is not aggressive at all in dealing with other leaders. He is the epitome of a diplomat. Lavrov, on the other hand can get annoyed and throw put downs with ease.

When the British Foreign Minister, Liz Truss, went over to India to give a colonial dressing down to Jaishankar reminding him that India is part of the democratic block and further told him to get in line and oppose Russia, the mild mannered Jaishankar did a Lavrov.

He told her that times had moved on and the world is in a period of multipolar power blocks. India will make its own decisions and not be dictated to by the Brits. Liz Truss, who likes posing as Ms Rambo in tanks, quickly belted up, took the next flight home and sat mopping in her toy tank in the back garden, firing soap bubble shots at the Indian Foreign Minister. That has not been reported or verified yet, but not one beyond possibility. Liz Truss always has the look of a Captain Britain with raised eyebrows.

India-Pakistan Border: A Myriad Mesh Of Ceremonies, Politics & Livelihoods

India’s borders are diverse, and fascinating is an understatement because of the sheer variety of situations and practices they unravel. An impromptu visit to one such border in Fazilka was arranged by one of the biggest farmers of Kinnow (a citrus fruit), Mr Sandeep Kumar Sheoran, who owns orchards in Abohar district of Indian Punjab. After conferring with the concerned officers of the Border Security Force (BSF), friends from a school reunion arrived at the Sadqi border post just in time for the flag lowering ceremony. On the Pakistani side, the border village is Suleimanqi.

Though smaller in scale and less attended, the ceremony is equally impressive as the one at the more popular and famous Attari-Wagah ceremony near Amritsar. The article, however, points towards certain unique aspects of bordering practices at Sadqi border post. Academics, internationally, have now concluded that each border is unique, and this border post is a testimony to the same. Specific stories of border meetings with the Pakistani counterparts and their inaction on agreements are the norm here as one expects at the border between two fierce geopolitical rivals.

One popular theme is that of the Pakistanis reneging on an agreement to destroy two similar watch towers built during the medieval period but were located on the either side of the border after the partition in 1947. Indians being naïve, meticulous and stickler to the established agreement destroyed the tower and Pakistanis did not. If this one is about the promise to destroy border infrastructure, another relates to construction of towers by both the sides.

In another instance, again disrespecting the established conventions and norms of the bordering practices in the area, a group of overzealous Pakistani soldiers built a watch tower overnight close to the International Border or Zero Line as it is called in the technical jargon of the security forces. When confronted by the Indian officers, they challenged the Border Security Force to build one and in response, it was constructed overnight without any government finances and approvals but with the help of the villagers. Several such narratives and anecdotes were shared by the BSF personnel.

ALSO READ: The Tale Of Two Punjabs

To the observer, however, the presence of an electrified fence on the Indian side and tall Saccharum bengalense grass (Sarkanda) on the Pakistani side is indicative of two related phenomena a) the difference in perception of threats from either side and b) the economic disparities that exist between the two neighbouring countries.

On the one hand, politics, economy and security conditions in Pakistan have always been uncertain since Independence. Political history of Pakistan has been rife with instance of military coups, interventions by the military in the governance of life and livelihoods and exile of politicians. Political conditions have been unstable in general. On the other hand, economic condition of the populace, however, has considerably improved in India since the onset of economic liberalization in the early 1990s. Pakistan, a champion of capitalism has not been able to uplift the masses. Pakistani economy has been dependent upon loans and aid from various international agencies (IMF and World Bank) and the economy is now referred to as severely debt-ridden and being dependent on China. Combined with Islamic extremism and the tendency of the Pakistani intelligence services to foment trouble on Indian territory, this cocktail has led to an unstable Pakistani state with numerous issues. For India, this means a heavily fortified western border.

Smuggling, especially of narcotic substances, has plagued the border in Punjab since decades. Flow of drugs from Afghanistan to Southeast Asia (the Golden Triangle) involves crossing into and passage from the territory of Indian Punjab. Impact of this transit is felt in Indian Punjab, as the youth has taken to consumption of drugs and has severe social ramifications and has featured in the elections to state assembly. Political parties have often made it an election issue.

The recent elections brought victory to Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which in general rode on its support to the Farmers Movement against the agriculture laws and its reputation as a party which has provided civic amenities, health and education facilities in Delhi. One of the election promises of the AAP was to curtail the use of drugs among the youth and generate employment. The border fence and bordering practices by the BSF personnel play a major role in such promises to materialize.

Punjab is known for its agricultural production and its contribution to the Indian economy. Nonetheless, there are issues which relate to agricultural practices in border villages. As the fence is on the Indian side, a vast tract of cultivable land owned by villagers lies across the fence and along the International Border. Farmers must obtain a few permits from the local administration as well as the BSF and the Army to cross the fence through several gates to cultivate and irrigate their fields. Complications related to the timings for tilling, ploughing, irrigation, harvesting and a host of related activities are resented by the farmers. During military exercises, however, farmers must make way for military vehicles and often standing crops are lost. Furthermore, during military build-ups due to tense geopolitical situations between the neighbours e.g. Operation Parakram in 2001 and the standoff after Mumbai Attacks in 2008, border villages are vacated leading to temporary displacements.

A visit to the Indo-Pakistan border reminds and impresses upon all the problems which prominently play out in the subcontinent and have hindered the prospects of development of regional cooperation when other regions of the world are rapidly integrating.