Wednesday, December 12, 2007

‘Strings’ Rock Chennnai at 'Amaze 06'

‘Strings’ Rock Chennnai at 'Amaze 06'
syed Ali Mujtaba

Chennai, March 29, 2006: `Mein teri tu mera jane saare Hindustan', the Indian audience shot back `mein teri tu mera jane saare Pakistan' screaming to pop group Strings' performance at Amaze '06 organized by Indian Institute of Planning and Management here in the city.

Strings performing

Strings duo Bilal Maqsood and Faisal Kapadia rocked the music loving chennai crowd and was ably supported by Shakir and Adeel on the guitar, and Quaras on the drums.

“Pakistan may be a bus ride away from India but it’s a long journey from this south Indian port town... all about Pakistan is twinkle twinkle little stars,” said 21 year old Sujata Krishnan, who had come to watch the performance of the musical sensation from across the border.

‘I have been seeing these guys on the TV and it's the first time I am able to see them on stage, this is something unbelievable,’ said another college girl Aparna about Faisal and Bilal the lead pair of Strings.

When asked if the Pakistani crowd would react the same way as did the Chennai crowd, Faisal quipped ‘Why not, it's a people to people interaction, and they are the ones who are going to take it forward. We are just interested in reaching out to them with our music," he added.

"A Pakistani crowd would cheer just as loudly for India,” said Bilal reminding about the cricket match at Lahore where Pakistani youth were out on the streets waving Indian flags.

Strings team Faisal said that music scene in Pakistan has really changed for good. “Gone are the days of early 90s when many music channels were banned and rock stars were banned, we couldn't play music at will and there were restrictions even on our hair.”

All these are things of past, there is flood of musical activities going on in Pakistan. Junoon, Fuzoon, Jal, Ali Zaffar, Shahzad Roy and many others are in business today, said Faisal.

Talking about their present India tour, Bilal says this is not our first visit, we have been many times here before and every time it's fun making new friends and meeting people. This time we were in Hyderabad two days before Chennai, and then we go to Mumbai to meet a Bollywood producer and finally return home."

All the touring means delay in the next Strings album. Bilal promises it to be a quickie this time. "We are going back to our roots, doing the kind of music that we did in the beginning in the 80s. It includes a few tunes we composed when we started out. We are doing songs that we couldn't really do full justice to then, either due to lack of technology or musical knowledge," says Bilal.

Strings' last album "Dhaani" was a huge hit in India so was its `Na Jaane Kyun' for "Spiderman 2.” The band won the Favorite Artist Award at MTV Asia Awards 2005 held in Bangkok, Thailand last year.

Strings tour to US is aptly titled "ZINDA HOON 2006." It is scheduled to begin this summer with their first concert being held on April 29 in Houston, Texas.

More on Strings:

Strings is a popular Pakistani Pop Band - new wave of Pakistani Pop Music which surfaced on the local media beachhead, post-Nazia and Zoheb, post-Alamgir and post-Muhammad Ali Shehki.

Strings started with four college students (Bilal, Faisal, and two friends) in 1990, when they came out with their album "Strings". After "Strings 2" in 1992, the band was dismembered. Eight years later, Bilal and Faisal reformed Strings, coming out with their album "Duur" and then "Dhaani". In 2005, Strings won MTV Asia's best artist award and sang "Ye hai meri kahani" for the Indian movie "Zinda".

The original soundtrack of the movie Spiderman 2 includes a song by Strings titled Na jaane kyun (I don't know why). The band was approached by Columbia Pictures after they had signed a contract with Sony Music. Although the song has been credited in various places to be in Hindi, in reality it is in Urdu.


His Music is for mankind

His Music is for mankind
Syed Ali Mujtaba

‘Eyes wide shut’! Stanley Kubrick’s movie starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman is quite well known but little known is the fact that a Tamil singer, Manickam Yogeshwaran, has sung a piece in this Hollywood blockbuster.

Yogeswaran, 45, born in Sri Lanka, is well-known as a Carnatic singer. Now based in London, he has been a visiting lecturer at London’s Goldsmith University since 1996. Yogeshwaran is active in the international music circuit exploring new vistas in his musical journey.

As a composer he has also created and sung with a number of select dance companies including the acclaimed Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company and accompanied many Bharatanatya arangetrams across Europe.

The versatile international singer came to Madras at an early age to learn Carnatic music under T V Gopalakrishnan besides P Muthukumar Swamy and S Balasingham.

Yogeswaran said, “I have been performing Carnatic music all over the world and am well-known to Carnatic music lovers worldwide. I am basically a singer and composer, but I can play the flute, mridangam and other percussion instruments with ease.”

“I have done a number of CDs in Tamil. This includes projects such as Tamil Classics (1997) and the Tamil Classic Band. In 2001, I recorded Tirukkural in 133 ragas. Besides, I have also sung Tamil Hindu and Christian devotional songs.

His latest album, ‘Peace for Paradise’, is about the peace process in Sri Lanka. Last year, he visited the subcontinent for concerts just after the horror of tsunami and recorded the song ‘Life Goes On’, the audio visual track that UNICEF picked up to promote its relief work in the wake of the disaster, to raise funds. I am also singing for a Sarat Kumar-strarrer. The film is yet to be named but has music by Paul Jacob, of Bodhi group fame.

Based in London for more than a decade, Yogeswaran, sipping a cup of Nilgiris coffee on a visit to my house on Pongal holiday, likes to talk about his foray into western music that’s little known or written about in this part of the world.
A young man with receding hairline, Yogeswaran gives a long description about his work. “I am the first ever Tamil singer to sing for a Hollywood movie,” says Yogeswaran with a smile. In ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ my voice could be located in the background score composed by Jocelyn Pook, where the lead pair Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman are involved in an intimate love scene. This was the last film of ace director Stanley Kubrick before his death. The other Hollywood movie to my credit is ‘25th Hour’ directed by Spike Lee where I sing for composer Terrence Blanchets’s soundtrack.

Yogeswaran says he is quite comfortable before western music audience. “I am the lead singer of a multi cultural jazz band for ‘Dissidenten’ of Germany. There are over 140 people in this group where I sing various Carantic ragas and fuse them with Tamil, English and Arabic words.”

Yogeswaran describes one of the pieces he enjoys singing most with ‘Dissidenten’ that describes about the industrial growth, environment and general life by the side of the Danube, the longest river in Europe.

“When I perform this, the response from the crowd is amazing,” he says adding that his singing could be heard on Dissidenten’s Instinctive Traveller (1997), Live in Europe (1998) and A New World Odyssey (2004).
“With ‘Dissidenten’ I have appeared at several of Europe’s high profile music festivals including the Montreaux Jazz Festival, JazzOpen at Stuttgart and twice at Glastonbury, Europe’s largest and possibly the most famous music festival, where usually 80, to 100,000 people come to watch.”

Describing his other singing activities in Europe, Yogeswaran says, “I am singing with western classical group, ‘Big Voice Band’ ‘The Shout’, which has 16 singers, with me being the only Asian. This voice group with no instruments is directed by Orlando Gough and Richard Chew and does theatrical performance all over Europe and the world,” he says.

‘The Shout’ performed at the Vienna Festival and the Arts and the Ideas Festival in USA. I vocalised with them for ‘Tall Stories’ during the tour of US in 2000. ‘Tall Stories’ is about European immigrants to America in the early part of the 19th century. We did, ‘Shouting Fences’, in Amsterdam, that’s about the plight of the Palestinians living along the Egyptian and Syrian border. This was later repeated in Ireland and Germany. The latest from ‘The Shout” is Deep Blue, a collection of love songs, done in theatrical format, with which the group toured all over Europe,” says the Tamil singer.

Making forays into Arabic, he says, “I am picking up the language, in the company of an interesting group based in London who call themselves ‘Lovers of Rumi’, a medieval Arabic poet and philosopher. There, some recites Rumi’s poetry, while others play western classical music, and I join them in singing,” he said.

Yogeswaran calls himself as an ambassador of humanity. “My music is for the service of mankind.”
Published on Jan 20th, 2006 at Chennaionline

Yes, desis are moving America!

Yes, desis are moving America!
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Stories about Indian doctors, engineers, professors and scientists excelling in the US and earning respect among the average American citizens are part of Indian folklore. However, it's difficult to make a realistic assessment of these Des-Pardes stories as most of the inputs filter through the media and family gossip.

In order to understand how desis are moving America, the EWC (East West Center) Chennai Chapter organised a public lecture by Prof Sreenath Srinivasan, Dean of Students and Associate Professor, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University, on June 27 in Chennai.

The well-attended function saw Prof Srinivasan giving an erudite talk on the Indian American dream and telling the distinguished audience how desis are breaking boundaries in various fields of activity and moving America.

"Immigration from India in the 1960s and '70s was very limited. There weren't many people of Indian origin in the US. There were no Indian restaurants, grocery stores, video rental stores or movie theatres. For Indians, the American Dream was just to get a foothold in America and be economically comfortable. There was apprehension and hesitation in their minds. America seemed so far away and so alien to them. They were people with the wrong colour, wrong accent and the wrong looks," Srinivasan said.

However, this is no more the case. The children of Indian immigrants are now coming of age. They are shaping American politics, public policy, art and culture in a big way. There are thriving immigrant Indian communities across America. This extends to college campuses where second generation Indian Americans have forged powerful cultural and political organisations. "Most interesting for me is the flowering of talent in non-technical fields, such as media, entertainment and the arts," Srinivasan said.


"Not long ago there were hardly any Indian sounding names on the magazine and publication mastheads. Now, names like Fareed Zakaria adorn the editorial column of the prestigious 'Newsweek'. Rajiv Chandrasekaran is assistant managing editor of 'The Washington Post'. Ramesh Ponnuru is senior editor for 'National Review magazine'," Srinivasan, who is co-founder of South Asian Journalists Association (, said.

Zain Verjee, Sumi Das, Aneesh Raman, Ali Velshi, Mish Michaels, meteorologist for the Weather Channel, Uma Pemmaraju on Fox News, and Sukanya Krishnan on CW11 Morning News, are a few names that have become a fixture on US mainstream television, Prof Srinivasan said, adding that Dr Sanjay Gupta is a medical star on the CNN and Rena Golden is senior vice-president at CNN International.

"There seems to be a strong drive to express the unique experience among the second generation Indian Americans. The number of actors, playwrights, movie directors, novelists, journalists and musicians is really striking, especially when contrasted with the doctors, engineers and college professors that characterised the early immigrant generation," Srinivasan said.


"With Bollywood blood flowing in their veins, it is not surprising that young Indians are enamoured of the entertainment industry. M. Night Shyamalan churns out multi-million dollar blockbusters in Hollywood. Naveen Andrews, Sarita Chowdhury, Ajay Naidu, Kal Penn, Aasif Mandvi, Sheetal Sheth and Purva Bedi are all celebrities in the US movie and television industry.

"The arts and entertainment world has many well-recognised Indian names. You have Manu Narayan taking the Broadway stage for Bombay Dreams, Suphala playing Indian tablas for mainstream audiences. Sameer Samuel Bhattacharya is one of two guitarists in the Texas alternative band Flyleaf and, of course, Norah Jones the pop star and her half-sister Anoushka Shankar an international sitar player."


To the immigrant generation of the '60s and '70s, politics extended as far as photo-ops and political fund-raisers. Actually standing for office was entirely out of the question; a vast majority was not even citizens. Now so many Indian Americans are moving into political office or moving up the ranks of public policy that it's hard to keep track. Indian Americans are exerting political clout on the local, state and national level as never before, Prof Srinivasan said.

"The most striking example is Bobby Jindal, who, at 33, became the first Indian American to be elected to the House of Representatives from Louisiana in a landslide with 78 per cent votes. Another example is Neera Tanden, policy advisor for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. Neera works closely with Hillary on her policies and proposals as a presidential candidate, dealing with issues from immigration to education."

"No discussion about Indian Americans would be complete if the names like Indra Nooyi, Sunita Williams and Jhumpa Lahiri are not mentioned. Indra Nooyi is the chairwoman of PepsiCo and Sunita Williams has just returned from six months' space odyssey with a NASA team. Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri is vice-president of PEN," the US professor said.

P M Belliappa (retd IAS), president of the EWC Chennai Chapter, briefed the audience about the East West Center and its activities in Chennai. Ragani Gupta, cultural counsel at the US Consulate, Chennai, opened up the discussion citing her example how Indian Americans are branching out to different professions in the US. Kamalendra Kanwar, former resident editor, The New Indian Express, spoke about the changing profile of international media coverage about India from negative to positive news stories.

There was a lively Q&A session after the main speaker's speech. Fatima Muzaffar, alumni of EWC, Hawaii, proposed a vote of thanks to the dignitaries and the distinguished audience for making this EWC event a grand success.

Published on July 6th, 2007 at

Eco-adventure camp catching up

Eco-adventure camp catching up in Chennai
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Chennai: Pongal - the harvest festival - beckons the bold and the beautiful to get-together on a holiday on an island and then dare the wilderness in the mountains. Adventure ‘n’ Nature takes you on a twin tour, away from Chennai, across the border into Andhra Pradesh, where you explore the Pulicat Ecotourism Park and the canyons of Nagiri Hills January 14-16.

The Eco-Adventure Camp is organised by Adventure ‘n’ Nature which is a pioneering and premier eco-adventure tourism outfit in Chennai. The tour is organised as mobile-cum-residential camp, with accommodation in tents (separate for families, women and men), by a team of knowledgeable and experienced professionals.

Adventure ‘n’ Nature is a unit of Prakruthi, outwardbound conservation centre that popularised Turtle Walk, a wildlife conservation programme, as a
household activity in Chennai and elsewhere in India.

Dipankar Ghose, a leading name in eco-adventures and outdoor recreation, is the camp director. To him “every excitement comes with absolute safety and total security”.

“The three-day adventurism at Flamingo City, Pulicat and gorge-ous Nagiri would be filled with fun and frolic,” promises Dipankar Ghose.

Wilderness Bound

Pulicat Eco-Tourism Park is an inter- and sub-tidal lake, off the Bay of Bengal, across the Tamil Nadu-Andhra Pradesh border. It is the second largest brackish water lagoon in the country (after Chilka in Orissa). The 18,440 hectare lagoon has marshes, fresh and brackish swamps with large mud flats and sand flats. Pulicat Lake is 70 km long and the width varies from 1 km in
the north to 20 km as it goes down south.

Pulicat backwaters house 16 islands and 30 villages. The inhabitants are either fisherfolk or agriculturists or are into salt mining. The lagoon supports a rich biodiversity, which includes aquatic and terrestrial fauna and flora. Its rich fauna comprises rare and endangered reptiles, insects, amphibians, snakes, sea turtles, birds and mammals.

It is home to 50 species of water birds, including the flamingo, pelican, painte stork, ibis, spoon bill, pintail duck, teal, terns, harriers, etc. Its aquatic resources include white and tiger prawns, mud and lagoon crabs, mullets, pomphrets, catfish, edible oyster and clam varieties. The flora ranges from natural species like mangroves and endemic herbs to cultivated crops such as cashew, paddy, fruits and vegetables.

Nagiri Hills is part of the Eastern Ghats, where one discovers small canyons, rushes and waterfalls and lo and behold a hamlet called Kambakam (Come -Ba-Come) ever ready to welcome anyone who is itching to dare the wilderness with adventure.

The hills around Kambakam made the Tiger of Mysore, Tipu Sultan, build his citadel overlooking the Bay of Bengal across the vast Pulicat Lake. One can still find the ramparts of the fort at Kambakam.

Kambakam became a weekend retreat for the British, after Tipu lost to them. It also became popular with the natives. They rode on horses and came on palanquins, to chill out in the perennial pools. The rushes and the springs eased the soreness of the dusty life in what was becoming the city of Madras.


Both the island in the Pulicat Lake and the mountain trail are off NH 5 (Chennai-Red Hills-Nellore-Kolkata Highway). The alighting point for Venadu Island, in Pulicat, is about 70 km from Chennai and Kambakam is another 50 km from this transit.

Camping Trails

Day 1- The group of explorers meet at Drive-in-Woodlands, on Cathedral Road, at 2 p.m. to board the convoy of vehicles to the TN-AP border. Here they cross the Pulicat Lake to the Venadu Campsite, by sail boats. After tea, the budding ornithologists go bird watching into the several rookeries and celebrate the openness of space and nature with Pongal festivity.

Day 2- At the break of dawn, the aspiring naturalists scout for flamingos and pelicans in the mud flats surrounding the island. Fine-tuning themselves to nature and the environment on the island, the group drives through the bund to different locations that combined make Flamingo City. They also join the villagers in the celebration of jallikattu.

Day 3- The early birds set sail to the mainland, to drive into the mountains. They arrive at Kambakam, and after breakfast they climb a trail that cuts through the perennial mountain stream. After astute bouldering and ridge walking, the prospective mountaineers reach the top to bathe and swim in the waterfalls and hidden plunge pools. If energy permits, the excitement would be prolonged with novel adventure games, till it is 7 p.m. and time to return to Chennai. The drive back to the city would be approximately 3 hours.
Published on Jan 5th, 2006,

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Taslima Nasreen vs MF Hussein

Taslima Nasreen vs MF Hussein
Syed Ali Mujtaba

There is certain degree of similarity between Taslima Nasreen and MF Hussein; the first has hurt the religious sentiments of the Muslims the later the sentiments of the Hindus. What could have been a rallying point of hurt sentiments has turned out to be a case of mud slinging between the two dominant faiths in India.

The curious part in this is while there is sympathy for the Bangladeshi writer; the Indian Picasso is forced to go into exile. This Talibanisation of Indian society is taking place right in front our eyes and every one seems to be maintaining a conspiracy of silence towards it.

There is little to choose between those who protested on the streets of Kolkatta against Taslima Nasreen and those who have filed cases against MF Hussein. Both seem to belong to the same tribe though they may follow different faith.

The glaring thing in Hussein’s controversy is; Hinduism has started wearing the glasses of the Abramic faith. There is every effort being made to make it its mirror image.

Hussein is not the first person to take liberty with Hindusim. Indian history is littered with instances where Hindu god and goddess are being ‘depicted in objectionable terms’. The Jataka tales that forms the secondary source of Ancient Indian historiography cite many references of such contents.

Even today in the north Indian plains, particularly in the tribal villages, before the Holi festival, youths assemble for musical fest in the evenings and such late night revelries ends up singing words full of eroticism about Hindu god and goddess. Such oral traditions and local custom do not follow the city norm they are in vogue since time immemorial. There is nothing immoral about it.

Then why Hussein is being targeted? Is it because he has a Muslim sounding name? This is a difficult call but persons like MF Hussein cannot be cloaked into any faith. Such characters are above faith. They in fact are national property. The irony is instead of being acknowledged so some self styled Indian Talibans has made him person-non-grata.

It seems the 92 years old Indian celebrity is heading to become another Bhadur Shah Zafar who may bemoan for not getting two meters of land for burial in his own motherland.

There is no doubt that M F Hussein is one of the most respected painters of modern India. If we look at Hussein’s career there is hardly any anti- Hindu content in it. He is definitely is not an anti- Hindu campaigner The odd piece of work could be an aberration in his 90 years career and he should be condoned keeping the best of Hindu traditions.

However, if we analyse Taslima Nasreen, she is a rank anti- Muslim rabble-rouser. There is nothing in her work but anti-Islamic content. That’s the reason she finds favour from the Sangh Privar that has rolled out a red carpet for her.

The UP Chief Minister Ms Mayawati have called the controversy surrounding Taslima Nasreen as ‘Manuwadi’ conspiracy. She feels that the saffron brigade approve of the Bangladeshi writer because her anti Islamic writings messages their ego.

There is little doubt that Taslima Nasreen is an anti- Islam writer. To pedal the label of a feminist Muslim reform writer on her name would be a great misnomer. She should be treated as anti- Islam writer and there should be no qualms about it. Lord's world is big enough to accommodate those who follow the Islamic faith and for those who like to denigrate it.

The final point is whether India should shelter Taslima Nasreen or not? Keeping in mind the great Indian tradition India must give her all the comforts of life that she deserves with a rider she should no more become a public nuisance.

However the fact remains, Ms Nasreen and controversy cannot live separately. Not even two months passes she is back in the news. Earlier her statements in Bhopal hogged the limelight. She was seen spewing venom against Islam on a TV show. In Hyderabad she was showered with petals and flower vases. In Kolkotta it was a free for all.

There are some who argue that the freedom of expression of Taslima Nasreen should not be curtailed at the same time they advocate that freedom to protest against her should not be allowed. Well this is the hypocrisy of the worst kind that’s seen in this debate.

Every one is not a writer and can protest by pen alone, if she has a license to denigrate and abuse others too have the right to protest in whatever means and form is available. Who is at fault the abuser or the protestor? The hypocrisy is the fingers are pointed on the second.

So where do we end up. Taslima Nasreen is an asylum seeker in India. She does not enjoy the fundamental rights that average citizens of this country do. Even then she has been taking the liberty and offending a particular community and disturbing public peace. Will she be allowed to do so?

Well if I am the lord and master of this land I would say mend your ways Madam; else keep your suitcase packed.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Vandals or the Jacobins of West Bengal

The Vandals or the Jacobins of West Bengal
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The mob furry spilled on the streets of Kolkatta on November 21, 2007 to protest the atrocities of the CPI (M) workers in Nandigram, its complicity in Rizwan’s murder and sheltering an anti-Islam writer reminds about the Jacobins that dominated the streets of Paris from 1789 to 1792.

The Jacobins lived in the slums and ghettos lanes and by lanes of the French capital. Those burly souls who survived on the dint of their labor use to form the Parisian crowd that protested against the long entrenched monarchy in France.

The credit goes to the Jacobins to unseat a decadent monolith ruling structure in France. The world owns to them the words like, Liberty, Equality and Freedom that signify the gains of the French Revolution. The then French bourgeoisie called the Jacobins ‘Oh those Vandals.’

There is no denying the fact that the mob furry on the street of Kolkatta was a clarion call to unseat the CPI (M) government that’s ruling West Bengal uninterruptedly since last four decades. The Marxist party has not only become capitalist but its ruling class has become monolith. People’s patience has been bursting at its seams against the left government’s anti- people’s policy. It just needed a spark to bring the people on the streets and eventually they came from much unexpected quarters, the Muslims of inner Kolkotta believed to be the supporters of CPI (M) government.

The fact remains they provided the much-needed heat for the revolution to begin in West Bengal opens up the debate whether the street protesters of Kolkatta could be called the Vandals or the Jacobins. Like the French the Marxist bourgeoisie castigated them, ‘Oh those Vandals of Kolkatta.’

A lot has been written about the events related to Nadigram, a place some 90 miles from Kolkotta. Some described it ‘intra-proletariat struggle.’ Others a clash between the agrarian forces and those who favor industrialization, while its also viewed as a revolt against the dictatorship of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Many others blame it on the opposition in West Bengal particularly Trinamool Congress that attempted to cash on the discontentment of the people of Nandigram. The general summery of all is that Nandigram essentially was a people’s war, a faithless commotion with no religious overtones.

However, according to the BJP the majority of the victims in the Nandigram clashes were those belonging to the Muslim minority community. The saffron party that survives on anti-Muslim campaign saw in Nandigram an opportunity to break the Muslim vote bank of CPI (M) in West Bengal and so in this case sided with the minority community. One may have quarrels with the politics of the BJP but it’s an irrefutable fact that Muslims suffered heavily in Nandigram.

The CPI (M) government was keen on industrial development through foreign investment in West Bengal. They mooted the idea of creating Special Economic Zone in Nandigram and decided to permit an Indonesian firm to build a chemicals plant across the Haldi River from Haldia port, in Nandigram.

The Left government gave the argument that the SEZ would create about 100,000 direct and indirect jobs and a lot of people would be benefited by this project in Nandigram.

The idea of SEZ tries to replicate the Chinese model of forced eviction of people from their lands, at a price determined by the government and this became the bugbear of the CPI (M) government.

The landowners of Nandigram who are mostly Hindus grudgingly seemed to have accepted the deal, but the local people who depend on the land as sharecroppers and were Muslims opposed the idea of SEZ. Their opposition was they would be displaced without any compensation, as they don't own the land. These created a rift between the local people and the CPI (M) supporters who forcibly tried to clear up the area but the local people who resided there thwarted any such moves.

Here comes the opposition leader Mamta Banerjee, who sees in this an opportunity to embarrass the CPI (M) government. She brings her own supporters as well as the Maoists guerrillas with guns to fight the CPI (M) government. As a result of it a turf war gets started in Nandigram.

On 14 March 2007, CPI (M) government sends police to Nandigram to clear the place. The local people blocked the road with the frontlines filled with women and children and they resisted the police unarmed. The state police acting in the most fascist manner and opened fire on the mob that killed 14 people and left 164 were injured. However, even then the CPI (M) cadres were unable to enter Nandigram.

Some independent investigation has brought to light the fact that the bullets used in the conflict area of Nandigram on March 14 were not the standard ones used by the police force of West Bengal. This gave rise to speculation that the CPI (M) cadres could have disguised themselves as police and may have fired on the unarmed local people.

These findings made the local people agitated and with the backing of the Maoist they expelled the CPI (M) supporters out of Nandigram forcing hem to live in relief camps.

After the violence of March, the government announced that the land acquisition proposal for the SEZ was shelved. However, even then the tension continued to simmer on the ground. The CPI (M) was bent upon to clear the area of the Maoists and Trinamools supporters but there was no let up in the resistance against any such moves.

So the CPI (M) finally planned operation "take back" to reclaim Nandigram. They sent trucks load of their cadres to overpower the protesters and reclaim the land using all it might. There was brutal violence in the ensuing clashes and in the end the CPI (M) cadres finally managed to enter into Nandigram. They are said to have committed the same kind of violence that the Modi government had indulged in Gujarat. There were arsons and looting killings and rapes. The horror tales are too terrifying to tell. Mothers were raped in front of their daughters, daughters in front of their others.

In the end of the day the victim of this controversy happen to be the landless poor labourers of Nandigram. Undoubtedly they belong to the proletariats class but they still had certain faith and in this case majority belonged to the minority Muslim community.

Nandigram definitely cannot be compared with Gujarat where the oppressed belonged to the Muslim community and the perpetrators were of those of the Hindus faith. It was the CPI (M) cadres that were on the forefront of oppression in Nandigram and many among them belonged to the Muslim faith as well. However, there is little doubt that the majority who suffered belonged to the Muslim minority community.

The horror tales of the Nadigram against the Muslim community was so inflaming that it brought the Muslims on the streets of Kolkotta to vent their anger. The incense of Taslima Nasreen was there round the corner, the murder of Rizwan ur Rehman aggravated against the CPI (M) rule.

The West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya has tried to patch up the whole issue by admitting that March police firing in Nandigram was a political and administrative failure and has also announced compensation to Nandigram victims. However it remains to be seen how long the mob furry could be bottled up by the CPI (M) government. It seems the Jacobins have arrived in West Bengal.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Pop Group Junoon does act of mercy

Pop Group Junoon does act of mercy

Syed Ali Mujtaba

CHENNAI: Junoon is all about passion, madness, and mindless commitment to music, says Salman Ahmed, the lead guitarist of the Sufi pop band from Pakistan that is currently in Chennai.

He says, 'people including my friends and relatives called us mad when my friend, Ali Azmat, with an MBA degree, and I with an MBBS degree thought of starting a rock band. So we decided to call it Junoon, and that's how the journey began since 1990.'

The entire Junoon band; Ali Azmat, lead vocalist, Salman Ahmed and Vikar, guitarists, Mickaal Hassan, bass guitarist, Allen Smith, drummer, and Mohammed Azam, tabla player, were present at the 'The Park' hotel for a charity dinner to raise funds for HIV/AIDS awareness.

This was the second visit of the band to Chennai, the first time being in 1999, during a whirlwind tour of India after their song 'Syaonee' caught the imagination of the entire country.

The dinner was hosted by the organization 'Acts of Mercy', the social wing of the Unwind Centre, the most happening place on the English pop scene in Chennai.

Salman says he and Ali Azmat gave themselves a year to satisfy their passion for music and never thought about earning money or fame. All that has come their way through Junoon was a bonus from the Almighty, he says.

The group broke away from the monotony of occupying the stage and came and sat with the audience.

'We do'nt want to make it another Pakistan - India encounter, that divides people on the two sides of the border, some one from the group was heard saying.

They band members sat amidst the guests and shared their experiences with them, mingling freely, giving autographs and obliging the cameras to click and flash.

Salman let his heart speak, saying that he was enjoying life as a musician to the fullest and never regretted for not practising medicine.

He says, 'you can earn and make comfortable yourself, but you can never get the satisfaction like I do, of being invited to a far- off place like Chennai, with such a gathering assembled to listen to me. I can trade all my comforts for this satisfaction.'

Talking about various Indian cities, he feels that Chennai is a spiritual city while Delhi and Patiala are the extension of Pakistani Punjab. To him, Mumbai is as gripping as Karachi, while Bangalore and Pune are also vibrant cities.

Junoon lead vocalist Ali Azmat, explaining about the pop culture scene in Pakistan, says things have changed for better since the last 15 years and there are 10 quality bands in his country.

Since cinema, he says, is not all that developed in Pakistan, the pop-stars have acquired icon status there. It also has to do with the large youth population as 50 per cent of the total country's population being under the age of 25. He says youth culture is the same everywhere and pop stars are instant celebrities. Pop stars popularity could judge by the fact that even the President comes and enjoys their concerts, he said.

Talking about Junoon being banned on Pakistan's PTV for the band members sporting long hairs and making unusual fashion statement, Azmat says 'it was just a pretext of the then government to justify their decision'.

He says that through their music they were delivering social messages about corruption and inefficient governance and the political establishment then did not like that. The ban on them was lifted after their album 'Parwaz' was released, he said.

About future projects, Salman Ahmed says he shot a seven- minute music video on Pakistan-India friendship, with Naseeruddin Shah, Subha Mugdal and Nandita Das. Some part of the video was shot in Patiala, his ancestral place, he said.

John Christian, director of the Unwind Centre, who organised the charity dinner said the Pakistani band Junnon is roped in to create awareness about AIDS with the slogan ' Fight Aids with facts and not fear'.

'It is no publicity gimmick but yet another serious attempt to build peace and friendship between India and Pakistan,' he said.

The funds raised would go to support 'Hope', an organization working for the women and children affected with HIV/AIDS, John said.

The pop group was in chennai in july 2004 and this write-up appeared in News Today.



Changing Lives with Some Paint and a Brush

Changing Lives with Some Paint and a Brush
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The art School Brinda Ashram has been started at the leprosy colony of Bharthapuram in Chengalpattu (near Chennai), in an effort to hone the artistic talents of people who have been affected by leprosy.

The school is the brainchild of Austrian artist, Werner Dornik. Dornik wanted to help people resigned to their fates and living their lives in despondency affected by leprosy.

Dornik had visited many government run leprosy homes and colonies in his life, and was moved by the plight of the residents. He especially was affected by their attitude towards life. He along with Padma Venkataraman, daughter of the former president of India, R. Venkataraman, started the Brinda Ashram Art School in January 2005. Their main goal was to reinvigorate the lives of the inhabitants of these leprosy colonies, and make them feel like what they are, normal human beings.

I knew Dornik from my Vienna days, where I lived with my husband, while he worked, for almost two decades. I stayed in touch with him even after we returned home and settled in Chennai, says Venkataraman, who has been working for the rehabilitation of leprosy-affected people for the past 16 years.

It was on my invitation that Dornik came to Chennai, and it was after he saw these people that he came up with the idea to start an Art School and to change their lives with the brush and paint.� Venkataraman said, adding that she gave the Austrian artist full cooperation to start the program called Give and take.

Most people who have been affected by leprosy had never even touched a paintbrush and paints, so to motivate them to draw and paint was a big task. It was after a lot of persuasion that they were able to get 24 people to attend the painting classes that Dornik and Venkataraman initially attracted them to by teaching meditation.

After every meditation the students were given a lecture and a demonstration on drawing. They also did some exercises in drawing and were taught how to paint. The whole idea was to enthuse life in them and to draw out their hidden and creative talents.

The students learned fast, they correlated themselves with the outside world and expressed their thoughts and ideas through their paintings. In just six months they were able to gain confidence and also learned how to draw beautiful paintings.

We held an exhibition of their paintings in the Allagappa art gallery in Chennai on October 2005. The Tamil Nadu Governor, Surjit Singh Barnala, who is also an accomplished painter, inaugurated the exhibition. The Governor praised the unassuming painters and they were thrilled and motivated by his compliments. The media reports further boosted their confidence even further,� said Venkataraman.

In March 2006, we conducted another exhibition at an Austrian ambassadors house in New Delhi. This event was attended by a host of dignitaries which included Dr Karan Singh, the descendant of the Jammu and Kashmir royal family. Some of the painters were transported to Delhi from Chennai to attend the exhibition; here they freely and confidently conversed with the dignitaries and the media. Each of their painting was sold for Rs 5,000.� Said Venkataraman, proudly.

“Later that same year, we held another exhibition in Vienna. Here four of our leprosy affected artists were flown in from Chennai. There was an atmosphere of dignity about these excellent painters, and each of their paintings fetched more than $200.Venkataraman described further.

As a result of this innovative effort, Basha, Mastan and Uday, all of whom belonged to the fishermen community and used to paint boats, have turned out to be excellent artists. Each of their paintings fetches more than $200 and they are the most popular artists.

Buoyed by the success of these artists there has been a steady stream of leprosy-affected people wanting to join the Brinda Ashram Art School. The next batch of probable up and coming artists comprises of 50 people, all of whom are trying their best to hone their creative skills through paints and paintbrush.

Started experimentally to keep the leprosy affected busy and give them a new leash on life, the Art school now has become a center for vocational training. All praise must go to Werner Dornik, the artist from Austria and Padma Venkataraman for the ingenuity of this idea.

Micro-credit help to leprosy-affected persons

Micro-credit help to leprosy-affected persons
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Muthushah, age 42, a carpenter located in the Bharthapuram colony in Chengalpattu, Tamil Nadu. Syed Kamal Pasha, age 46, a rabbit farmer located in Thiruvallur, Chennai. Uduman, age 44, a street vendor located in the Vandalur colony in Chennai. What do these people have in common? All three are affected by the infectious disease, leprosy. Once cast away by society, now, through the help of the micro credit loan system, they have become shining examples of the successful man.

As of this day, India possesses the largest group of leprosy patients in the world at around 250,000 people. Those afflicted by this awful and debilitating disease are ostracized and sent off to leprosy homes or colonies. These homes and colonies are usually located in isolated areas at the outskirts of the town or city, away from normal people.

Leprosy, the centuries old permanently disabling disease, is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae. This was originally discovered in 1873 by the Norwegian physician, Gerhard Armauer Hansen. This disease causes horrible deformities in humans by causing lesions that may affect the whole limb. It is not a hereditary disease as many people long ago used to believe. The good news is that the cases of leprosy are decreasing at a steady rate world wide. Yet there are still large numbers of people who are afflicted with this disease and they cannot be ignored.

In the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, there are almost 15,000 leprosy-affected people. They are accommodated in ten government run homes and 45 leprosy colonies. Each home contains about 400 people and each colony about 20 to 130 families. Those in government homes are provided free food and medical care; non-governmental organizations and philanthropists provide the same for those living in the colonies.

Muthusha used to work as a carpenter before he contracted leprosy and was admitted to CLTRI (leprosy hospital). When he was discharged from the hospital three years later, he found himself to be without a family, a job, his whole life as he had known it was gone. Finding himself all alone, he began relying on the kindness of the people of Bharathapuram, but this was most certainly not how he would live for the rest of his life. Hope came to Muthushsa in the form of the Danish government funded projectDANIDA. He received a small loan from them to purchase tools and materials to start up a carpentry business.

After Muthusha started making progress in his business he promptly returned the first loan and immediately acquired a second as well as a third loan to help further grow his business. He employed 12 to 15 people from his colony as well as nearby villages to help him execute orders. Appreciating his entrepreneurial ability, the Rising Star organization (RSO) and NGO, an organization that works to help leprosy-affected people, gave him more advanced electrical tools to help him become more efficient.

Catching up with Mathusha today, we find that his business is flourishing. He has since remarried and now has three children. All three of his children go to public schools and possess no deformities.

Mathusha's story is not the only success story that micro credit can take some credit for. There are others, like Syed Kamal Pasha, who have benefited in the same way. Pasha runs a rabbit farming business at his house. His house is located in leprosy colony in the Thiruvallur district. After rearing them here, he sells the rabbits in Chennai. He is able to return his loans while getting new ones and therefore expanding his business at an admirable rate.

Uduman, another leprosy-affected person, started a street vending shop at Vandalur colony in Chennai. He was able to do so thanks to the micro credit loan he obtained from the NGO. His wife runs the shop and together they have become quite successful.

The moving spirit behind this magnificent project is Padma Venkataraman (daughter of the former president of India Ramaswamy Venkataraman). Venkataraman has been laboring selflessly to rehabilitate and help re-establish leprosy-affected people for the past 16 years.

“Prior to this, no one had come up with the idea of helping leprosy affected people through micro credit loans. Most of them gave blankets, clothes, rice and medicine as charity. Nobody thought to help them get up on their own two feet and teach them to make a life for themselves. This idea took some getting used to even to the people affected by leprosy. They were apprehensive at first when they were exposed to the idea of receiving money as a loan and not as charity. Before this, the idea of living beyond a day-to-day existence had not crossed their minds. We however were convinced that we were making the right move Venkataraman told us in an exclusive interview.

A Welfare Committee consisting of five members was formed in each colony which included at least two women. These five were given leadership and management training. After the formation of this committee, all the 30 colonies which were covered under the WIA DANIDA project, managed to collect the loan repayment, deposited it in the bank and sent a monthly report along with a copy of the bank statement. The treasurer of the welfare committee and Venkataraman hold a joint bank account for the colonies.

The entire management of the disbursal of the micro- credit loan was handed over to the people of the colony and now they have slowly started to learn the responsibilities of life. The whole system is working very well says Venkataraman with a great sense of achievement.

Becky Douglas of Rising Star Organization is full of praises for Padma Venkatraman. We at Rising Star were struggling to come up with ideas to help leprosy affected people become productive members of the society. We were fortunate enough to locate Padma who took this concept forward. The money given to her was judiciously spent, and there were many innovations in the disbursal of the funds,� Said Douglas as she spoke about Rising Star operations in India.

Micro credit loans seem to be the cutting edge idea for the empowerment of society particularly for those who are at the bottom of the heap and have little chance to come up in life. Those engaged in this altruistic endeavor are certainly worthy of applause.

Sprits behind the leprosy crusade in India

Sprits behind the leprosy crusade in India

Syed Ali Mujtaba

Practitioners of the micro-credit system for human development are growing thick and fast across South Asia. Padma Venkatraman, daughter of R. Venkatraman the former president of India, is one such person who is trying to help leprosy-affected people by using the micro-credit system while based in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Padma Venkatramans first brush with people who have the chronic disease leprosy was some time in mid 90s. She had at the time, started working to rehabilitate them at the Shahdhara leprosy colony located in the outskirts of Delhi. The colony consisted of 4000 people, resembling a mini India. Its inhabitants were people from all over the country belonging to different castes creeds and religions.

With the assistance of several donors, Venkatraman was able to start Agricultural and Pisiculture (Fish pond) activities for the adults in the colony. She also set up a Crèche (pre-school) for their children.

In recognition of sustainability of this project the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recommended in a final report that this project should be extended to other parts of India as well.

At this time, DANIDA (Danish International Development Agency) came forward to help with a similar project in Tamil Nadu and Venkatraman implemented her project through WIA (Womens India Association) at 10 Government run leprosy Homes and 30 leprosy colonies in the state.

Novel Idea

Helping these people through the micro credit system was a novel idea at the time. Even those affected by the disease found it to be very strange. When we talked to them about receiving money as a loan instead of charity, they were unable to comprehend the idea and wondered how they would be able to return it. Most of them, you see, depended on begging for their day-to-day existence.� says Venkatraman.

What Venkatraman actually did was she formed a welfare committee at each of the leprosy colonies. The committee comprised of five members, two of which were women. Their entire monetary transaction was carried out through the bank and each colony had a separate bank account.

The methodology was very simple. Each person who wanted money had to apply for a loan on a prescribed form. The person who has applied would be given an identity number instead of using names; this was done to avoid any discrimination. After collecting the forms, the committee members would sit down together to decide who amongst the applicants were most deserving of the loan. Preference was given to widows and the crippled. The loan was distributed through their signatures on the checks which where counter signed by Venkatraman.

The recipients of the loan were asked to buy fruits, cloths, goats, chickens, cows, rabbits and other such items that they were to sell in the local market. The principal amount was to be returned to the bank after keeping the profit. They each got a copy of a bank statement of the amount they deposited and every cent they returned was re-distributed amongst them as a future loan.

This way the entire management and the disbursal of the micro-credit loans were handed over to the inhabitants of the colonies themselves. Slowly through this exposure, they started learning management skills, banking skills and above all learning to take on responsibilities,� Says Venkatraman proudly.

This system worked extremely well, and with the corpus fund created, dairy farms were started in all 10 government run leprosy homes that met the milk requirement of the inhabitants. This five-year project was completed in 2002 and its sustainability was established through a revolving fund.

Becky Douglas

Padma Venkataraman met Becky Douglas in Washington D.C., she is the president of Rising Star Outreach in the USA. Beckys story is an incredible one; Becky and John Douglas are the parents of 9 children. Their eldest daughter, Amber, was diagnosed with Bi-polar disorder at the age of 17. After eight years of struggling, Amber finally gave up, and in Feb, 2000, she took her own life while at college, devastating her family. While going through Ambers things, John and Becky were surprised to see that their daughter had been sending part of the money they had been sending her for college expenses to an orphanage in India. Even though they were surprised, it was very much in character for Amber. Since she suffered so much herself, she always seemed to have a tender spot for others who were suffering as well.

As a tribute to their daughter, John and Becky asked concerned friends to send donations to this orphanage in lieu of flowers for her funeral. People were very generous. So much money was sent in, that the orphanage asked Becky to join their Board of Directors. Becky decided to travel to India to learn about the orphanage. When she got there, she was pleased to learn that the 54 children in the orphanage were well-cared for. It was on the streets, going from her hotel to the orphanage and back again each day that Becky saw suffering that changed her forever. The leprosy-afflicted beggars on the street seemed to swarm the car at every stop light. Their suffering was so severe, it seemed almost palpable.Becky could hardly bring herself to even look at them, their suffering was so intense.

When she returned from India, she had trouble sleeping. The images of the leprosy-affected beggars were on her mind all night. She finally decided that she could either live with insomnia forever, or she could do something about the problem that was haunting her.She gathered three friends around her kitchen table (dragged in her husband's secretary) and together they started Rising Star Outreach, a small charity dedicated to serving the leprosy-affected in Southern India. Becky has traveled to India 22 times in the past 5 years. She has fallen in love with the Indian people and their amazing culture. Rising Star has reached out to involve her entire family. Six of her children have also been to India serving as volunteers with the organization. Her husband has also visited the charity several times and is now starting a legal outsourcing business in Chennai.His share of the profits will be dedicated to helping fund the children's homes and schools.

Together Douglas and Venkataraman are currently continuing the socio economic rehabilitation of people affected by leprosy in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The RSO (Rising Star Outreach) program is working in the field of education for the healthy children of the leprosy-affected people. Rehabilitation work inside the colonies is continuing through the Micro Credit loan system, assistance to Womens Self Help Groups, and also a mobile clinic. The work seems to have gained pace, more and more leprosy colonies are taking up this very successful rehabilitation program.

India right now holds rank as the country with the largest number of leprosy patients in the world. About 30 years ago, there were around 500,000 people affected by the leprosy in the country. Now due to the advancement in Medicare the number has come down immensely. Still, there are about 250,000 of the leprosy-affected currently residing in India.

In Tamil Nadu alone there are 15,000 people who have leprosy. They are kept in government run homes, each of which can accommodate around 400 people. Here they are provided with food, shelter and medical care. There are ten such homes, one in each district of the state. Those with families are put up in leprosy colonies located far away from the general population. In Tamil Nadu there are 45 leprosy colonies, each of which has around 20 to 130 families.


Syed Ali Mujtaba is Chennai based journalist. He can be contacted at

Monday, December 3, 2007

‘Monolith India’ and the vote bank

‘Monolith India’ and the vote bank
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Vote bank politics has come to become an Indian reality and democracy in India has come to be the fine art of balancing different vote banks with very little excep-tion. Some political parties may openly denounce the politics of cultivating vote banks but overtly or covertly they practice it in their own constituencies, for political survival and advancement.

It has been said that democratic pro-cesses would put an end to India’s unique divisions, which were wilfully exploited by the colonial masters to perpetuate their rule. It was reasoned that periodic elections would gradually diminish the divisions based on caste, creed and religion. However, in the process of empowering the masses, democracy has sharpened the diversity by transforming them into vote banks and important ‘variables’ in the political process.

The trend is most prominent in caste categories within the majority Hindu community. Political parties exploit the aspirations of caste groups which differ from one another, or are at least made to think that they differ in significant ways. In fact, many political parties have become syno-nymous with certain caste categories. The Bahujan Samaj party and the Samajwadi party in Uttar Pradesh represent ‘lower’ and intermediary castes as do the Dalit Panthers of India (DPI) and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) in Tamil Nadu.

Religion is the other broad category on which hinges the survival of several political parties. The leading party of the ruling National Democratic Alliance, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is primarily a Hindu party trying to market Hinduism in the cloak of nationalism. Even its secular face is Hindutva. The Akali Dal in Punjab and the Muslim League in Kerala espouse the cause of the Sikhs and Muslims interests at the provincial level.

Language is another category in the diversity among the peoples of India. Various political parties have cultivated linguistic constituencies. The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Tamil Nadu, as well as the Assam Gon Parishad in Assam, all flaunt their linguistic constituencies.

The other category for political mobi-lisation is ethnicity. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) in the tribal-dominated Jharkhand and some other political parties in the Northeast and the hills and tribal regions elsewhere have ethnic groups as their vote banks. Provincialism also forms the basis of political divisions with political parties like the Shiv Sena, DMK, AIADMK, Biju Janta Dal, Assam Gon Prashid, Haryana Vikas Party being province-based political parties. Then there are parties which have farmers as their constituency. Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal in Uttar Pradesh and Om Prakash Chautala’s Harayana Vikas Party fall in this category.

The left parties, CPI and CPI (M), are ideology-based political entities and have a committed ideological cadre as their constituency. West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura are the few states where these parties are strong.

Centrifugal forces

Even during the British days there existed the religious, the left, the pro-Raj, the pro-worker, the pro-farmer, and the pro-landed class political parties, among many others, which espoused the cause of these myriad groups thus creating their separate vote banks. The general elections in 1936 and 1946 brought to fore the choices of vote banks for different political parties in India.

The Congress, which had a pivotal role in the freedom struggle, was the natural choice of many Indians for at least the first three general elections after Independence. The Congress vote bank comprised upper caste Hindus, Dalits and Muslims. The party had a smooth run till 1967, when for the first time it lost its majority not in one but in nine states of the country. That year is considered to be a watershed in Indian politics. Since then two sets of political forces emerged in India – one that challen-ged the all-India supremacy of the Congress and the other that tried to break free from the centralised structure of the state.

In fact, from 1967 onwards there has been a tug-of-war going on in Indian politics. Would political parties with overarching all-India characteristics govern the country or would regional satraps forge linkages to run the affairs of the country? The trajectory that has been emerging of late reveals that all the parties ruling at the centre have had to accommodate parties and groups representing different regional constituencies through coalition arrangements.

The first non-Congress gov-ernment was formed in 1977 - a coalition of several parties led by the Janata Party, an offshoot of popular socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia’s Socialist Party. The hotchpotch coalition had sprung to challenge the supremacy of Indira Gandhi’s Congress. It even included the BJP that emerged out of the Jan Sangh (formed in 1967 to re-present Hindu aspirations). Since 1967, parties have emerged left and right of the centre at the national level, and a flurry of political parties have come up at the regional and provincial level. The Shiv Sena in Maharastra, the Asam Gon Parishad in Assam, the Telugu Desam party in Andhra Pradesh mentioned earlier are some of them.

The other phase of political develop-ment began at the national level with the rise of the BJP since 1984 in the country. The party began cultivating the majority Hindu vote bank by espousing the cause of the Hindus of the country. It attacked the Congress for pampering minorities and cultivated its own constituency on the anti-Muslim platform.

The National Front government led by VP Singh, which drew inspiration from the Janata Party of 1977 and the Socialist Party of 1967, came up in a big way in 1989 by widening the net of the vote bank to other caste categories. Thus the Mandal Commi-ssion report which allowed 27 percent reservation for OBCs in government jobs in that year was another watershed event in Indian politics. As a result of the implementation of the Mandal report, intermediate castes like Yadavs and Kurmis came into the forefront in the Ganga plain. Parties like the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Rashtriya Lok Dal in Uttar Pradesh, the Rashtriya Janta Dal and the Samata Party in Bihar and the Biju Janata Dal in Orissa are all post-Mandal offspring.

The United Front government led by Deve Gowda in 1996 was yet another attempt by left of centre forces to govern the country. The United Front government had regional and provincial coalition partners such as the TDP and DMK which played the major role in holding power at the centre in New Delhi. The formation of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in 1998 led by the BJP reinforces the evolution in Indian politics where regional and local political parties are increasing their influence at the national level by forging alliances with national parties to form governments at the centre.

While it is difficult to predict whether national parties will be overtaken by combinations, of provincial parties, all political parties will continue to draw sustenance from diverse categories within the Indian electorate. There is no end in sight to the phenomena of vote bank politics in India. As new groups come forward to demand space in politics, the creation of new vote banks is an accelerating process. There is emerging consciousness among various marginalised groups to get united in the course of political mobilisation.

The result is the emergence of newer political parties to espouse the cause of the differentiated, and often marginalised, of India. The fate of democracy is thus entwined with vote banks. However, in the process of new vote banks being created, it is also true that narrow and parochial agendas are gaining an upper hand even as the broad all-India vote banks lose ground. In the mushrooming of local-regional political parties some would see Indians discovering their political identity, with local and regional considerations gaining ground and it being harder to tie down voters as ‘monolith Indians’? The answers open up a big debate — is India is a nation or a nation of nations. Political developments point to the latter.

Tamil Nadu Fishermen's Problems

Tamil Nadu Fishermen's Problems
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The burgeoning problems of the fisher people of Tamil Nadu do not catch the ears of the powerful, either in the state or the centre. Madras seems to be far from Nagapattinam, Ramanathapuram, Thuthu-kudi or Kanyakumari, the hubs of fishing activity in the state. As for New Delhi, it is almost a distant planet from there. Those in the corridors of power, instead of solving the problems of the fisher folk, are asking them to change their profession.

Their demands have been put up in a 42-point charter, which includes implemen-tation of the 21 recommendations of what is known as the Murari Committee, which had been approved by the central cabinet on 28 September 1997. That 42 member committee, comprising parliamentarians from all political parties, was constituted in order to look into the grievances of the fisher community arising from Government of India’s (GOI) issuance of licences, in 1991, to joint venture, lease and test fishing vessels. Opposition voiced by the national trade union federations and various political parties reflected the fear of the depletion of fish stock in the Indian Ocean, consequent on unrestrained deep-sea fishing through the use of mega-machines, which would quite literally leave the fisher folk stranded on the shores.

The Murari Committee recommended, among other things, the formulation of proper marine fishing regulations in the exclusive economic zone, a savings-cum-relief scheme for fishermen, subsidised fuel, a monsoon trawling ban, and the central government’s withdrawal of the Aquaculture Authority Bill. This bill allows for large-scale, intensive aquaculture by industrial and tourism lobbies in the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ), which afterall is the survival mainstay of traditional fisher folk. The govern-ment accepted all the recommen-dations, only to toss the mandate about from one ministry to another. It is an expression of just how much concern the government had for the fisher people of the country that the administration of deep-sea fishing was eventually entrusted to the Ministry of Animal Husbandry!

The fisher folk want irksome fishing regulations to be repealed. As of now, fishermen are allowed to venture into the sea between 5 am and 9 pm for three days in a week. However, bad weather conditions keep them shore-bound for 45 days in a year. This has led them to demand financial compensation, which they say, should be extended to their women folk as well. They had taken these de-mands to the Prime Minister, who had promised to acc-ord all facilities to both the fishermen and their womenfolk. But the President of the Fishing Labourers’ Union, Baluchamy, who had met the Prime Minister with these demands, laments that the state govern-ments approach remains lukewarm when it comes to their implementation of specific proposals.

Tamil Nadu fishermen have demanded an extension in the fishing time, now restricted from 5am to 9 pm, after the state government clamp-down owing to the periodic conflicts between fishermen using mechanised boats and those in traditional country boats and catamarans. Fishermen using traditional methods also demand that mechanised boatmen should not be allowed to fish within three nautical miles of the coast and the ban should be strictly implemented. They complain that the use of trawlers or mechanised boats has created havoc on the seabed.

There is an international di-mension too. One of the demands of the state’s fishermen is the restoration of their fishing rights in Kachchativu Island. This is a small island between the Indian mainland and the island of Sri Lanka, which once belonged to India. Tamil Nadu fishermen have been using the Kachchativu Island for resting and drying nets. Under treaties in 1974 and 1976 between the countries, the island was ceded to Sri Lanka but it has since then remained a bone of contention between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. The Tamil Nadu government quotes archival sources to claim that the island formed part of the zamindari (revenue territory) of the raja of Ramnad. It protests the central government having unilaterally given it to Sri Lanka.

The waters around the island are known for their lobster catch. Tamil fishermen use Kachchativu as a halting point after laying their nets, before returning to their coast after collecting their catch. The island is also known for its religious festivities in which Tamil Nadu fishermen have participated since long ago. On certain days of the year, fishermen throng the island with their families to worship at the St Anthony’s Church. The site is revered by the fishermen and a priest from Ramnad goes there to conduct regular mass.

Since the 1980’s, Sri Lankan navy patrols have reportedly started objecting to the Tamil Nadu fishermen fishing near Kachchativu. The Sri Lankan navy round up these fishermen and incarcerate them. Related to this is the issue of frequent detention of Tamil Nadu fishermen by the Sri Lankan navy for allegedly straying into Sri Lankan waters. Earlier, the Tamil Nadu fishermen used to be repatriated back to India. Since ethnic conflict erupted in Sri Lanka, however, suspected of being LTTE sympathisers, the fishermen are also shot at. Over a hundred fishermen have lost their lives in such incidents. Even though shooting incidents have stopped since the commencement of peace talks between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government, the accosting and detention of Tamil Nadu fishermen continues. When the fishermen raised their concerns, the Indian govern-ment told them that the agreement allows Tamil Nadu fishermen to use the Kachcha-tivu Island as before, even though it now belonged to Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, repatriated Tamil Nadu fishermen complain of being roughed up while in Sri Lankan custody. Protesting against action by the Sri Lankan navy, a relay demonstration was held in Rames-waram recently where the fishermen charged the central and state governments in India with a callous attitude. Ironically, the basic demands of the fisherfolk pale in comparison to the pompous rhetoric of Tamil Nadu’s political leaders such as Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, who has gone so far as to declare that the island be retrieved by force if negotiations fail to yield the desired outcome.

Recently yet one more dimension has been added to the suffering of Tamil Nadu fishermen who stray into Sri Lankan waters. They are now first detained by the LTTE, who levy fines and penalties before the Sri Lankan authorities even get into the act. The fact of the matter is that LTTE has intensified its patrolling in the Palk Bay region. “If this trend continues unchecked, soon the Indian government instead of the Sri Lankan government will have to approach the LTTE for release of the fisher-men”, says Professor Surinayarana, a Sri Lanka expert in Madras.

The problem in the Palk Bay is over-fishing accompanied by pollution that has led to the depletion of the fish and the destruction of the marine ecology. Fishing by mechanised trawlers has further accen-tuated the problem. Pearls were once found in plenty in and around the Gulf of Mannar till at least as late as the 1960s. But Thoothu-kudi, the ‘pearl city’, has witnessed a severe dwindling in the number of oyster catch over the years. The age-old diving profession is in rapid decline.

Another issue which concerns the Tamil Nadu fishermen is the ambitious Sethu-samudram project linking Palk Bay with the Gulf of Mannar on the east coast of India by creating a shipping canal through the Rameswaram Island. Doubts were raised by the green lobby about the environmental impact of the project, since it involves extensive dredging of the Pamban channel where coral fish abound. Because of this sustained pressure, an initial environ-mental examination was carried out through the National Environmental Engi-neering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur in 1998. The Sri Lankan Government has also communicated its opposition to the project because of the perceived threat to marine life in the territorial waters along the Pamban Channel.

Though the NEERI pre-feasibility report indicated that the project was environ-mentally safe, with little effect on the eco-system and on the Gulf of Mannar’s Marine National Park, there is, however, no clarity as to how much the Sethusamudram project would help or affect the fishermen. If all the hype about the shipping activity that the Sethusamudram project may generate is to be taken seriously, then it is clear that there will hardly be any scope for much profitable fishing in the area.

As always, when confronted with the problems of livelihood being affected by state-initiated projects, the bureaucrats always trot out a stock solution. The talk in the state government is about getting the fishermen to switch over to some new profession. And now a feasibility report on this matter is being prepared by the state and the central governments, the big question is will the fishermen be forced to abandon their profession? And if they are, what measures will be taken to ensure that they will get another source of income. The paucity of options stare 20 million fisherfolk in the face.


India-Pakistan Rhetorical shift

India-Pakistan Rhetorical shift
Syed Ali Mujtaba

When Indian Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, left for Islamabad to attend the 12th SAARC summit, he ruled out any possibility of bilateral talks with Pakistan. There were no indications whatsoever of any intention to resume a dialogue, the need for which the absurd geopolitics of the Subcontinent has sustained precisely by interrupting it periodically for all manner of spurious reasons. But, with all the predictable unpredictability of such tire-some diplomacy, within hours of reaching Islamabad, Vajpayee reversed his stated position and declared that India is never shy of talking and expressed readiness to resolve all pending differences with Pakistan, including those that revolve around the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. Three days of hectic talks followed that statement which resulted in a joint state-ment by the two countries expressing their resolve to resume talks. An event that had been staged on the sidelines of the SAARC jamboree eventually sidelined the main summit and itself became the principal draw, reducing the Southasian body to its customary insignificance as the ceremonial proxy for the distant dream of regional co-operation.

The unfolding of events at Islamabad was more or less on expected lines but it definitely raised the level curiosity as to what exactly transpired between the leader-ship of the two countries. Those who have watched India-Pakistan developments will not pin much hope on such joint statements as this could be just another pause in the never-ending acrimony that defines re-lations between the two countries. To believe that India will give Kashmir on a platter to Pakistan or that Pakistan will forfeit its claim over Jammu and Kashmir is the kind of naiveté that the fifty-year history of acrimony does not permit. In which case, what was the dramatic trigger that gave rise to the desire to resume talks that, at least for the present, do not inspire any confidence about their capacity to bury the past?

There are a few factors which may be compelling India to talk about bringing the Kashmir issue to the table earlier than later. The genesis of this can be traced to the early 1980s when the US introduced terrorism to this part of the world to evict the Soviets from Afghanistan. Even as the US came and left and then again re-entered Afghanistan the spectres of that policy continue to haunt the ‘war against terror’. Given the thrust of US foreign policy in the region, there is little mileage that India can extract inter-nationally, even if it were to join the coalition against ‘terror’ by harping on the unfortu-nate events in the valley as a special regional manifestation of a global phenomenon and in which Pakistan has a hand.

Further, India has possibly also started realising that it cannot forever continue to play the old game in Jammu and Kashmir. It may, therefore, have dawned on all but the hardcore hawks in the Indian adminis-tration that it will be more prudent to resolve the issues which lie at heart of the militancy than to take on causalities on a daily basis. The toll of permanently combating mili-tancy may well be beginning to tell suffi-ciently on members of the Indian establish-ment to force them to consider an alternative approach that need not necessarily culmi-nate in a resolution of the bilateral dispute.

India also had to do some drastic rethinking when it gained nothing from all its frantic and ungainly attempts to entice the US to setup base in the country after 9/11. New Delhi’s calculation was that the US would help it in dismantling the ‘terror’ infrastructure in Pakistan, which in turn would cause the problem of Jammu and Kashmir to vanish into thin air. However, for the managers of US policy, practical geo-strategic compulsions proved to be far stronger than the allurements of all that the Indian foreign policy establishment had to offer. The US opted for the strategically more obvious choice that seemed to have escaped the Indian establishment completely. Now, even after two years of Americans presence in the region not only has there been no great change in the ground situation, India has also been forced to become defensive after its specta-cular failure in weaning away US support for Pakistan.

But the one event that served as the catalyst for the Indian decision to change tracks on the Kashmir issue was the invasion of Iraq by the “coalition of the willing”. The precedent set by the US in brushing aside all international objections and bulldozing its way into a sovereign country set off alarm bells in New Delhi. In a swiftly evolving international scenario, where the US as the only super-power has begun meddling in the global trouble spots, Indian policy makers had reason to seriously rethink their Pakistan policy. The realisation seems to have dawned that it is better to talk about negotiations on India’s own terms than to be hamstrung by talks mandated by a narcissistic superpower out to resolve matters to its own advantage.

However, this hard thinking about the negotiated approach came about only after India considered and abandoned as un-feasible all its options to go to war with Pakistan. Even in the Kargil skirmish of 1999, India considered and then refrained from crossing the Line of Control. However, the most defining moment arrived when New Delhi brought Operation Parakram to a close and pulled back its troops after keeping them in forward positions for more than a year, following the attack on parliament on 13 December 2001. Military experts, the very ones who had in 1987 advocated Operation Brass Tacks, caution-ed the government that a military adventure would not necessarily result in an outright victory and that such a conflagration could go out of hand, particularly in the light of nuclear parity between the two countries. The net result: India was left with no choice but to back down and resume the rhetoric of resuming talks with Pakistan.

If these were the compulsions operating on India, Pakistan too was faced with exigencies that made it realise the need to break with the past and to do, if nothing else, at least diplomatic business with India. The sectarian violence in Pakistan has compli-cated matters for the ruling regime as it has begun to attract consi-derable international criticism, since Islamabad cannot be seen to be openly endorsing violence in Indian Kashmir and yet opposing it internally. The attempts on the life of the president general in December 2003 have also helped reinforce the idea that militancy in the vicinity is not conducive to the health of the state and its dignitaries. There is an inexorably self-consuming logic to the strategy of military-backed militancy. This realisation may well have induced Pakistan to eventually give a categorical commitment to India that its territory would not be used for anti-Indian activity.

Another most important commitment Pakistan made was to shelve the demand for the implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions on Kashmir if India was interested in resolving the issue through other means. The non-implementation of several UN resolutions, like the one on Palestine, has made Pakistan realise that dwelling at unnecessary length on a plebiscite in Kashmir is unlikely to take it anywhere. Islamabad had to recognise of late that the international community is not particularly interested in implementing UN resolutions and it is required for the conflicting parties themselves to sort out their problems. This in fact is a major concession from Pakistan as the past 50 years have seen the country emphatically asserting at various international fora that there is no alternative but for India to implement the UN resolution.

The final commitment that Pakistan made, and which was a clincher for India to reciprocate by expressing its readiness to resolve matters through talks, was to seek a solution to the Kashmir issue outside the division of its territory on religious lines. India in return made a commitment to Pakistan that it is ready to seek a solution to the problem which will be to the satisfaction of all parties concerned.

It is too early to say whether a fresh round of talks will resolve all the outstanding differences between India and Pakistan. However, both the countries have definitely made a rhetorical shift, and at least some of what they are saying is a departure from the clichés of the past. It now remains to be seen if this change in rhetoric is simply a forerunner of the clichés of the future. The question is an important one because Southasia is officially nuclear and there are no systems in place to ensure that congeni-tally incompetent regimes do not end up actually doing what they may only intend merely to threaten to do.


Sri Lankan Refugees in Tamil Nadu

Sri Lankan Refugees in Tamil Nadu
Syed Ali Mujtaba

A comprehensive evaluation of India-Sri Lanka relations, particularly in the context of the ongoing peace talks between Colombo and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), would not be complete without taking into account the plight of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees residing in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. New Delhi’s maladroit handling of Sri Lankan issues is mirrored in its approach to the displaced Tamils. Lacking a definite policy, South Block has deferred responsibility for the problem to the state government of Tamil Nadu.

For its part, Tamil Nadu’s government is pinning its hopes on the ongoing peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. There were some discussions about the rehabilitation of displaced per-sons during the first two rounds in Septem-ber and November 2002, but nothing definite was said about refugees living in India. Tamil Nadu expects that the con-cerned parties will arrive at an agreement soon, following which the refugees will be repatriated into north and east Sri Lanka. Clearly, it is not taking its cue from New Delhi’s wishes.

While the governments flounder, the refugee problem looms large in Tamil Nadu. According to official figures released five years ago, there are three types of refugees living in the state: those lacking any resources, numbering about 67,485 and housed in 133 ‘ordinary’ camps across the state; those living outside the camps, estimated at 25,000, many of whom are reasonably well off, stay with relatives or friends and are required to register their movements with police stations; and the 2000-odd militants detained in ‘special’ camps set up in 1990. Most refugees in the third category face prosecution under the Indian Foreigners Act, the Passport Act or various anti-terrorism laws.

But these official estimates, which place the refugee population at less than 100,000, may well be off the mark. Unofficial esti-mates of Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu put the number at 250,000. In addition to people dis-placed by ethnic strife, natural disasters and eco-nomic hardship, there are labourers, petty shopkeep-ers and countless others who have fled the southern island for better opportun-ities in India. Sri Lankan Tamil refugees are predom-inantly Hindus of the Dra-vidian linguistic group and are socially and culturally akin to the people living in the state.

Due to specificities of India-Sri Lanka relations, the refugees at one time enjoyed privileged status. They participated in local politics, built powerful lobbies and made use of temporary sanctuary to promote the cause of Eelam. However, after the assassin-ation of Rajiv Gandhi, killed in 1991 by an LTTE suicide bomber, the refugees lost the support of the central and state govern-ments. Today, the union government is indifferent to them while the Tamil Nadu government guards the camps with extreme suspicion.

A dolorous picture

There are claims and counter-claims about the condition of the refugees; a United Nations report says they are treated well, while an NGO working with them offers a distressing picture. According to the UN report, most refugees in the camps enjoy greater protection of human rights than the average poor Indian. Most refugees outside the camps are said to have been accommodated in the expanding economy, and others have migrated overseas for even greater opportunity. First-category camp children are allowed to attend colleges in the state. The UN report quotes an NGO called the Organisation for Ealam Refugee Rehabilitation, which has launched several schemes for improving living conditions of Sri Lankan refugees.

However, other organisations such as Partners in Action for Refugees (PAR/NAC) are not as sanguine of the living conditions. PAR/NAC says that people detained in solitary confinement in the special camps are condemned to a dehumanising exis-tence. Medical assistance is virtually nonexistent and food is nearly deleterious. Many continue to languish in these camps even after being exonerated by the courts. Children in the special camps are denied access to even basic education. Among the special camp detainees there is even the absurd presence of handicapped and disabled persons.

Ordinary camp children at least enjoy the privilege of attending school, although they are looked upon with suspicion by classmates. Many second category refugees fare poorly, in particular those living in the state’s Ooty and Kodaikanal coffee plan-tation areas. These workers frequently suffer the brunt of maltreatment from police and plantation owners, and are deprived of access to legal redress. PAR/NAC says that refugees living in both the ordinary and spe-cial camps exist within an internal hierarchy that de-prives those at the bottom of their fair share of benefits. Because PAR/NAC is forbidden from working in the camps, it says the most it can do often is to inform the press about abuses.

Even while the Sri Lankan government’s talks with the Tigers continue, there is need for short- and long-term approaches to solve the problems of the Tamil refugees in Tamil Nadu. One initial step would be a fresh headcount in the camps. There is also a need for maintaining transparency in detentions and the trials of refugees. Health care and education need immediate atten-tion and NGOs should be allowed greater access to the refugees. Special attention should be paid to the women, children and youth, who must be provided vocational training and technical skills.


Dakshinachitra-A reassembled countryside

Dakshinachitra-A reassembled countryside
Syed Ali Mujtaba

India lives in its villages, so people say, though the headfirst rush towards urban centres of recent decades has been uprooting the rural landscape. An ongoing migration to cities continues to cut many people off from village life, negatively affecting local cultures of crafts, festivals, music and folklore. In reaction to this phenomenon of market-guided mobility, boutique villages have sprung up in many of India’s cities. But a more unique effort at encouraging an appreciation of the rural has borne fruit just 21 kilometres from Madras, on the road to the ancient port-town of Mahabalipuram. The Dakshinachitra museum has charged itself with the duty of celebrating south India’s diverse village housing styles.

In most cases, the museum ‘exhibits’, which may date as far back as the 17th century, have been dissembled from their original locations and reassembled inside the museum’s grounds. The museum’s curators have collected a representative array of houses from across the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu to showcase the varying houses that for centuries characterised south Indian villages, many of which are now being subsumed beneath a bland modernity.

On visiting Dakshinachitra, one is struck by the range of artefacts on display, each encapsulating an aspect of traditional life. Amidst the transplanted homes of artisans, farmers and merchants, one can stop for a chat with the village craftsmen employed at the museum, or spend an afternoon trying to match steps to the tunes of folk musicians. The craftsmen are a foil for the unique structures in which they work by offering lessons in many forgotten village trades, making the museum a living dynamic unit.

On my visit to Dakshinachitra on a crisp, sunny afternoon, I first passed through the small crafts bazaar. The century-old teak woodwork and floors of the house came to the museum, beam by beam, slat by slat. The house once accommodated four generations of a Tamil chettiar (merchant family), with each room around the centre courtyard the property of a son, patriarchal lineage determining housing arrangements. The house demonstrates dual histories, of a family and a building style, each complementing the other in their common presentation at Dakshinachitra.

Behind the chettiar house, a row of smaller dwellings fills out the Tamil Nadu section. The specimens include a silk weaver’s house from Kanchipuram, an entire Brahmin agraharam, or enclave, an agriculturist’s house from Thanjavur, and an early 20th century potter’s residence from Tiruvellore. In the Kanchipuram house, predictably, weavers work at traditional looms to produce ‘Kanjivaram’ saris, while in the neighbouring buildings craftsmen offer visitors lessons in traditional practices. Artisans teach the craft of basket weaving, the art of glassware and pottery. A shrine to Ayyanar, a guardian deity of villages, an exhibition hall for textiles from various time periods and a shed housing a temple chariot complete the Tamil Nadu offering.

In the Kerala section, the second to be assembled by the museum, the central attraction is an all-wooden Syrian Christian house from Podapally, Kottayam, built in the 1850s. The layout of the house is typical, with a granary attached to the entrance hall, unlike in most Hindu households. Christian icons in the granary suggest that it may have served a dual purpose as a place of worship. At Dakshinachitra, another Syrian Christian home, this one dating from 1910, has been attached to the larger structure. The second house includes a living room, a separate dining room and kitchen, evidence of British influence on construction styles. The distinctive materials that went into the two buildings are jack fruit and plata wood.

Next to the Syrian Christian homes is a Nair family homestead. The Nairs are a matrilineal Hindu caste, and in this example of a middle-class agriculturalist dwelling, the kitchen is separate from the main house. A carved wooden ceiling indicates craftsmanship of the highest quality. Another Hindu home, a Menon house from Calicut, is constructed of laterite and timber, and is representative of many 19th century middle-class houses in central and northern Kerala.

The Tamil Nadu and Kerala sections opened in 1996, after which it took more than four years for the sections on Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh to come up. Today, these remain small, each represented by only one cluster of homes. The Karnataka section contains a Likal (weaver) home, and the Telugu Ikat weaving community is represented in the Andhra section. The construction of both houses is similar, primarily relying on roughly finished large rocks. In the Karnataka home, a large workroom extends off the entrance, with tools spread around the floor and benches. In the Andhra house, the living and working spaces are similar in size and across one another off the entrance. The residential quarters can be approached from a separate entrance, and include a terrace overlooking a courtyard.

Dakshinachitra exposes the visitor to the scale of India’s diversity – not just at the national or regional levels, but also within villages. Houses of craftsmen, agriculturists and merchants may share space along a rural road, but they differ from one another in design and functionality. Housing evolved such as to match perfectly the occupation of the residents. At first the differences appear small or inconsequential, but when viewed within the context of everyday activity, with artisans or merchants at work inside them, one can see how small variations reflect the various needs of occupants.

A final consideration on housing styles concerns the relationship between houses and their physical environments. In Kerala, canoes are often kept inside residences dotting the state’s backwaters, while the construction of Tamil houses reflects the climatic conditions of altitude, proximity to open water and ecology. In the 10 acres of Dakshinachitra, the museum captures the spirit of a much larger territory, demonstrating the balance of society and nature.