Saturday, 29 March 2014

State of In-Security

After a longish break away, I have returned to realise many things, anew. We are a country dominated by suspicion, fear and paranoia.  Nowhere else, in even the developed world - with supposedly far more to lose - have I come across these many metal detectors, sniffer-dogs, high level security - just to enter a mall, a movie theatre or some ordinary public space. It seems that we have succumbed to living in perpetual security alert, and co-exist with fears of being terrorist targets in very little, simple things of ordinary life.

But, is this fear wholly of our making? What if this is imposed on us? by the State, by the corporates, or actually their nexus that require that we do not question? A nexus that seeks to manufacture fears to exercise control over our combined lot - for corrupt profit and personal gain? What if this elaborate, unsolicited security charade, is not about preventing us from being blown up, en-masse, by Mujahuddin, Naxals, Separatists, Terrorists, Mafia, but is a deeply manipulative propaganda by an increasingly authoritarian state seeking a blanket public acquiescence on an ever increasing repressive regime that seeks to constantly curb/erode/undermine our expressions of either individual dissent  and collective civil liberties, by keeping us all afraid? What if we are afraid of spooks-in-the-dark that don't exist, but are manipulated to keep away from questioning the dark days of our times?

And, what would happen if we decided to be unafraid?  What if chose freedom over fear? What if? What if?

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Global Colonization

I have been thinking...what creates wealth? I am forced into this consideration during this sojourn to France by the visible, widespread and wanton displays of wealth and consumption. I am unable to ignore questioning what attributes make this nation so wealthy, its people so unmindful/indifferent of their privileges and so careless in their squandering.  Experience has taught me that the situation is not fundamentally different in any of the other industrialized nations of plenty, with plenty for their all, or among the more privileges classes of the economically weaker nations.

 I am now putting down my purely subjective opinion based on my recent thoughts on the subject, knowing that this act of writing often clarifies thoughts and crystallizes a personal opinion

If by wealth we mean currency, or units by which we keep a track of a bartering system for trade, then origin or creation of wealth boils down to trade of fundamental resources - natural or human. In fact, saying that (supposedly) mankind no longer barters or participates in human trade, wealth originates only from trade able natural resources - capturing it with presence (or via creation) of a market where it can be exchanged, as commodity, for other types of resources or services.

Complex human societies and their economies are just derivatives of this basic system via the many complex steps by which wealth is then redistributed from those who initially  possess it, by ownership of  natural resources or its products, to those who have some other product/commodity or service with which they can purchase this.  Social structures with their political systems and cultural/religious ideologies, determine the hierarchy of human position and privileges within communitiesand societies, and these govern the processes of redistribution or economic structure of that social system. Resources possessed directly via prospecting, mining, logging, or derived/harvested from nature, like agriculture, form the first tier of wealth creation. While the amount of this wealth depends directly on the quantity of resource under control, it also strongly depends on the availability of markets that need/desire these products - and are also capable of paying for it via some other products or services.For example, while diamond companies are currently extremely wealthy, this wealth could disappear without markets driving their desirability. Therefore, the value of natural resources, other than those needed for human survival like food, air, water, shelter, depend on creation of real and imagined need and desirability of a commodity.

Earliest colonisation featured nations, with strong and aggressive armed forces, capturing territories of high resources (plentiful and cheap natural products and human services required for exploiting this).  There is a story frequently told in India that when the British East India Company first arrived, they possessed no products for barter - their ships were weighed down by mud and guns.  Forcefully capturing/harvesting resources from less militarised regions of the globe, for commercial and/or national interests was essence of the early history of western colonisation.

If one were to consider national wealth to also include national resources, it is likely that global distribution of wealth might look a little different. Yet, in the developing world, these rapidly depleting and exploited resources are for a large part already lost to their regions and people, being misdirected by corrupt states into hands of greedy global corporations -i.e. a lot of the natural resources no longer remain national assets. Global colonisation now continues under a slightly different ruse. Without laying direct territorial claims, globalised and large Multi National Corporations (MNCs), with primary memberships from the wealthy industrialised nations, hold large sections of globe and its resources captive. Global character of this colonisation comes from the spread of their tentacles across nations of their resource bank and also the partnering of nations across globe in a particular area or type of resource diversion.

Under the guise of a free market route to development and progress, these MNCs buy valuable basic resources, cheap, from economically weaker nations and then recycle them back after processing  into the same poorer nations by creating markets of need and a desirability of emulating the western lives and lifestyles. There is coercive pressure at both ends, to first open up national resources for external exploitation, openly and freely to global commercial interests, and also to open the markets of these nations to globalised consumer products, irrespective of any cultural preference or need. Nations and markets of resource rich, and exploitable developing nations are thus captured and governed by globally structured systems with historical proclivity for colonial greed - and in the post Reagen era, this is morally acceptable, for greed is good. Global colonisation, as is now openly acknowledged, is about the preservation of extravagant lifestyles of the few who have - at the enormous expense of many who have-not, and this will be protected all cost - or any human cost.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Globalisation and Malthusian Realities

We live in a globalised world, connected and interlinked in layers and dimensions unimagined before. And, we are irreversibly transformed by these technological advances that have brought us closer.  The ease of communication and faster travel has facilitated globalised trade, commerce and inter-dependent economies . The world has shrunk and there are many reasons why this is very good - at least for a small fraction of the global population. I belong to this small fraction.

This exercise is to challenge myself to see realities beyond the global averages and cliches of less hunger, more human progress, and commonly perceived failures of Malthusian and neo-Malthusian realities. For, I would contend, we only see those realities which confirm our experience, and comfort our existence.

I live in India. I work as a volunteer on issues of human rights and civil liberties. Each experience opens a veritable Pandora's box of similar abuses and violations, each complex, inter-dependent and often globalised in origin and scope. It would be wrong to say that there aren't national human wrongs perpetrated culturally, historically - like a strong caste system,  or a repressive patriarchy.  But it is also true that a lot of human rights abuse - and I would consider primary amongst these to be deliberate deprivation of food, shelter and pursuing of livelihood - have a strong globalised component.

Let us for the moment, consider hunger. World population is exploding, i.e. expanding exponentially. By all counts, the human society is currently doubling its numbers every 70 years.  As early as in 1798, Thomas Malthus predicted that a exponential population increase was unsustainable and earth would eventually run out of its capacity to feed this increasing population, leading to catastrophic consequence - termed Mathusian Catastrophe.  Similar and more recent predictions of imminent human tragedy, due to exhausting of basic resources, have found little popular favour, being countered by gains due to technology advances, eg. green revolution, which is believed to have greatly enhanced the world food supply to stave off wide spread  hunger and starvation. It is commonly believed that the world is both richer and less hungry, despite the huge increases in global population.

However, a look at any recent world map on hunger reveals large areas of serious-to-alarming hunger, which seems also more or less aligned in world population map, to areas of large population. The global increase in population is dominated by the developing and under developed nations, as is hunger - consistent with a Malthusian view. According to conservative estimates by FAO here are 870 million hungry people in the world - and almost all of them in the developing countries. India itself is home to 836 million people who live on less than rupees twenty per day (equivalent to 0.32 USD or 0.24 euro) and with many more millions who have just a little more.

So rather than adopt a complacent and globally averaged world view of more food and more wealth,  is it possible that we are actually living in a malthusian sea of starvation and depravation populated by islands of prosperity? New research indicates that as the world wealth grows, so does inequality. It is time to ask, is this hunger and starvation Malthusian in origin? That is, have we run up against a hard boundary that food produced is just insufficient for the numbers, or are some other factors also involved?

In 1978, India achieved its first self-sufficiency in food, with no net imports of food grains. This situation is expected to last till 2020s. That is, India is expected to remain food secure for a little while longer. This makes the high level of its poverty and hunger, surprising. So what causes this hunger?  One is the rising food costs in India  and monetising of all human sustenance needs. Thus even though there is enough food in India, the poor cannot afford to buy this food, even at the BPL (below poverty line) rates(see here).

Opening up of Indian markets and globalisation of its trade sectors seem to have driven a high fiscal growth in India. Yet, by many indicators this has not percolated down to its really needy and higher wealth has not led to a more equitable distribution of its wealth or decrease in its poverty (here), but has actually widened this inequality, in India and worldwide. Oxfam reports that 85 of the world's wealthiest own as much as bottom half of the world's population - 3.5 billion!

Market driven commerce has had catastrophic consequences on India's top two rural industries', agriculture and weaving, leaving a huge number of people unemployed or gainfully employed - and usually hungry. The agriculture sector in India is dominated by small holdings and employs 56% of India's workforce, but only contributes 16% to its GDP - making it the least rewarded and poverty ridden sector in the nation. The transformation from smaller, organic, independent, and indigenous holdings growing subsistence produce into the prevalence of high input cash based chemical and BT agriculture with focus on cash crops have created an agrarian crisis, leading to large scale farmer suicides.  Since the opening up of India's markets, it is estimated that more than fifty thousand farmers have committed suicide, since 1995, in the state of Maharashtra alone [here], driven to debt by the high input costs of seeds and chemicals, both in hands of large global corporations who walkway with giant profits. For example, the cost of Monsansto seeds dominating the market have increased 8000%, contributing to a total income for the company of 69 crores ( more than 10 million USD) for the quarter ending march 2013, and primarily leaving the system.

Similarly, even with a sharp decline in hand looms, India's second largest rural industry still supports an estimated 13 million people, who barely eke out a livelihood - but insufficient to feed themselves (here). Power looms using Bt cotton dominate the market although employing a  much smaller fraction of people.

Compounding these are the high human cost of large infrastructure projects, mining, rapid industrialisation, all by forceful acquisition of lands by the state, and creating a large pool of poverty in the internally displaced people (IDPs). While the 2010 world bank numbers place this figure near 650,000,  others estimate a number as large as 21 million! Meanwhile, diversion of diminishing resources like water and energy  from human based sustainable systems to industries in hands of MNCs further channel the profits upwards to the wealthy and most often out from community systems of the developing world into the profits of the already wealthy industrialised nations.

To conclude, it appears that the Malthusian catastrophe is already a reality for a large global population, and it is currently driven, not by enormous shortfalls in food and basic commodities, but due to profit driven globalised systems that suck resources and profits from large numbers of have-nots, into the pockets of small numbers of voraciously consuming haves of a globalised world.
There is compelling evidence that this is so.  One has to only open one's eyes and ask, what makes wealth? and where does all this wealth go? And, where it goes, does not bode well for the rest of humanity.  The world is in a era of globalised colonisation of nations, not by countries, but by ruthless market forces directed by mafiasized MNCs. Under such circumstances, globally sustainable solutions are non-viable until those really privileged wake up and acknowledge who really fund their lives and lifestyles - and at what devastating cost to man and nature.


Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Azadi Ki Chaah

इंक़लाब  इक वतन था
आज़ादी का तरंग था

उम्मीदों के गुलशन खिलते थे
शहीदों ने लहू से सींचे थे

जोशीली धड़कन न समाती थी
दिलों में नई दीवानगी थी

आओ एक नया भारत बनायें
अपनापन का हाथ बढ़ायें 

सत्य मार्ग से हम ना घबरायें
अहिंसा और नेकी का कदम बढ़ाये

जहाँ भूख दर्द का कोई स्थान नहीं
जाति धर्म-भेद का कोई मान नहीं

स्त्री पुरुष अब हाथ मिलाये
साथ ही सपनों को साचार बनाये 

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Nuclear Fallacies and Falsehoods

Fukushima Disaster happened on 3/11/11 - two years and eight months ago. The world watched,  horrified; and the horrors of this disaster are far from over.  Cleaning up task is formidable, and can never be fully successful, since vast amounts of radioactive pollutants have spewed into global winds and continue spilling into the oceans, poisoning them. In an overwhelming demonstration of sanity, many developed nations decided to end their dalliance with this dangerous technology and turned their sights on safe, green technologies to serve their future energy needs. The response from the nuclear lobby was as expected - they vulgarly underplayed the vast damages, to humans and environment, caused by the Fukushima and the predecessor nuclear disasters and continue to chant their nuclear  mantra of necessity, safety, and low cost - without accounting for the already enormous cost of damages to human life and living environment.

The latest bid to reverse a swelling tide of a global anti-nuclear sentiment, are two desperate and flawed efforts [here and here] in form of a letter and a film. In the first instance, four climate change scientists make a naive appeal to our rationale to support safe nuclear energy - not realizing that this is an oxymoron - in order to curb green house gas emissions and abate the threat of climate change.

The dangers of nuclear energy have been demonstrated many times over its history, not just with experiences of large disasters, such as Chernobyl, Three mile island and Fukushima, but also due to the many more smaller incidences that go relatively unnoticed, and whose human and environmental damage are more difficult to quantify, and go unaccounted (see for example the recent San Onfre shutdown). Added to this is the lengthy process of decommissioning and the long term/indefinite risks posed in safe containment of spent fuels;  we continue to witness the unsurmountable dangers from Fukushima's spent fuel rod pools, and the non-tractable leakages at the Hanford site in USA.

That nuclear energy cannot be disassociated from potentially high risks is known only too well by the nuclear business lobbies and the insuring agencies, who refuse to enter into business transactions without a sound safety net of sufficient government protection - as seen with their fuss over India's nuclear liability clause.

The authors contend that expanding energy needs are unavoidable, especially to provide for needs of developing economies and favor nuclear energy, even compared to the green renewable alternatives (like solar and wind) since nuclear is cheaper , and rapidly 'scalable', somehow suggesting wrongly that it takes longer to build solar panels and rig up wind farms compared to setting up a nuclear power plant.  Also, in a post Fukushima world, while the real cost of nuclear energy (including govt subsidies), is rising due to higher insurance costs, the cost of renewables in the global market has been falling sharply.

Thus the favoring of nuclear is based on its contentious low-cost and a  need for rapid energy expansion (in the developing world) - all this while Fukushima and the global community reel under continuation of hazardous contamination from a disaster of 32 months back. Even if accepted at face value, should one really favor 'cheap and fast' versus 'slow and safe' ? This is for the people of the developing nations to decide - for whom the authors are, very considerately, advocating expansion of nuclear energy.

Meanwhile, it is interesting to check out how much greenhouse gas (GHG) producing coal is burnt worldwide. The site also contains many other global energy statistics. Are the developed nations also planning to change their conventional energy sources to nuclear? Or, are they only adept at selling nuclear to developing nations, like India, while making only token efforts at home, to keep their nuclear business, alive, outside?

This brings me to the documentary ' Pandora's Promise' by Robert Stone, aired on CNN recently.  This documentary took 4 years to make with substantial effort to consult nuclear scientists, industry giants and specialists, all funded by the nuclear industry, to arrive at a well researched conclusion, that nuclear technology is 'really safe' . Now, there are two things I don't understand: why sound science of nuclear physics or chemistry, imply a safe working of nuclear technology? Sure, science drives technology, but this does not guarantee its successful functioning.  And, we should all know this by now.  Also, why ask the very beneficiaries of a technology, to vouchsafe for it? Wouldn't this be suspect for conflict of interest? How about asking all scientists 'not-funded or benefited' by the industry for their vote of confidence.

The film again harps on the needs of growing economies like China, India, Brazil to advocate nuclear energy. Either the pro-nuclear lobby has become surprisingly compassionate towards the needs of their poorer brethren or....they are just business savvy and know where their profits lie.

I guess, we are stupid to not be convinced, by their persuasive nuclear fallacies and falsehoods, and would now prefer to be only safe, rather than sorry?

Climate change exists, and must be countered, for survival - of us all. But, this need not be a 'from a frying pan to fire' game. And the choice we make is not between coal versus nuclear; we must instead evolve towards to an energy efficient, green and sustainable future, for all.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Rage

Rage sears,
slices my fears
with a blade,
weighed
against her heart
tearing apart
a child's veil,
innocence frail.
Mothers wail
to curtail
hatred and greed,
that seed
impotence,
and breed
evil deeds,
and transform
men into swarms
of hunting packs
who rape and ax
with rods, bottles
to throttle
laughter and light,
to spite
a few thin rays
in dark days
of despair,
where
hopeless gloom
strikes doom.
Search not,
this must be fought;
do not pray
but scheme to slay
the beast
hounding at your door,
there is no savior
for such behavior;
Rise -
daughters,
sisters
mothers
and hide not from
their shame
this is a war-game;
"We shall not surrender"
till we are free
of rape, repression
and patriarchy,
and found a society
just and fair,
with equity equality
for all, to share.














Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Hunger

I have been involved with issues related to human rights, for sometime now. I am aware that the world is a hungry place.  A few years back I had been invited to Taj for  conference on abolishing world hunger. Needless to say I did not go.

Today my sister alerted me on the news of adivasi elders dying of hunger in Thane.  I also read about it here, here and here.  I also forced myself to stare at the horrific, violent google images of the 'starving' and face the world that also is - a world of primarily human making. Apparently only 8% of starvation deaths are a result of some natural calamity - we, the human race, can take a collective responsibility for causing the rest.

The point is not - did I personally create this inhuman hunger,  terrible misery? will anything happen if I eat less? I do believe that by eating less, less than I need, I will microscopically experience what it feels like - the gnawing pains of hunger pangs, and this might sensitize me to imagine, how this must be like, if this were not by choice, if eating was not just less, but just not possible at all, for days on end, till one lay ones self down and dies - quietly, without a choice.

 The point is, can I do something, even a tiny bit about it? Can I, as a grown up responsible person, make this a part of my choice? to not avert my eyes - have their starvation penetrate the consciousness of my future actions? Can I cling on to a hope that change is possible, but only with a determined will and lots of hard work? Can I? Will I?

Will You?