Saturday, December 4, 2010

It’s Bird Watching Season in Tamil Nadu

It’s Bird Watching Season in Tamil Nadu
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Hello bird watchers, the bird watching season has arrived in Tamil Nadu. If you are looking for fun frolic and excitement, then its time to pack your backpacks with cameras and embark on an enthralling bird watching trip to three different circuits in the southern state of India.

The bird watching circuit is divided into three regions s based on the ancient kingdoms that once flourished in this part of the world. They are the Pallava Kingdom, the Chola Kingdom, and Pandya Kingdoms.

The Pallava dynasty ruled for about six hundred years until the end of the 9th century AD in the northern Tamil Nadu region and the southern Andhra Pradesh region

The Pallava kingdom for bird watching is in and around Chennai home to India’s one of the oldest bird sanctuaries and the largest brackish water eco-system.

The potential bird nesting locations in Pallava kingdom are Vedanthangal bird sanctuary, Karikili bird sanctuary, Pulicat lake bird sanctuary, Kaliveli lake nackwaters of Mahabs and Muttukaadu.

Vedanthangal bird sanctuary is one of the oldest water bird sanctuaries in the country. Vedanthangal in Tamil language means 'hamlet of the hunter' and this area was once a favorite hunting spot for the local landlords some 300 years ago.

The region attracted a variety of birds because it’s dotted with small lakes that acted as feeding grounds for the birds. The sanctuary features thousands of birds coming from various countries, some of which can be easily identified.

Some easily found bird species include Cormorants, Darter, Grebes, Large Egret, Little Egrets, Moorhen, Night Herons, Paddy Bird, Painted Stork, Pintails, Pond Heron, Sandpiper, Shovellers, Terns, White Ibis and many more.

The migratory birds include Garganey Teals Canada, Snake Bird Sri Lanka, Grey Pelican Australia, Grey Heron Bangladesh, Open-billed Stork Bangladesh, Glossy Ibis Sri Lanka, Painted Stork Siberia, Spoonbill Burma and Spot Bill Duck Canada.

Karikili Lake bird sanctuary is a haven for ducks and waders. Pintailed ducks, Garganey teals, common teals, Shovellor, Little Grebe or Dab chick, Herons and Egrets are the other avian visitors.

Pulicat Lake Bird Sanctuary is the second largest brackish – water lake or lagoon in India. It straddles the border of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu states on the Coromandal Coast in South India.

The lake encompasses the Pulicat Lake Bird Sanctuary. Every year approximately 15,000 Greater Flamingos are reported to visit the lake along with pelicans, kingfishers, herons, painted storks, spoonbills and ducks.

The highest concentrations of flamingo are found in the periphery of the lagoon where the water level is below 40 centimeters (16 in). The concentrations of flamingos are also associated with high algal, fish and benthic diversity.

Other water birds in the area include Spot-billed Pelican, seven species of herons and egrets, Painted Stork, Greater Flamingos, ducks, 20 species of shorebirds, gulls, terns, Little Grebe, Indian Cormorant, Little Cormorant, Asian Openbill Stork, Black-headed Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Lesser Whistling Teal, Spot bill Duck, Great Thickknee and Stone Curlew.

Several species of wintering waterfowl have been noted including Bar-headed Goose, Ruddy Shelduck, Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Common Teal, Northern Pintail, Garganey, Northern Shoveler, Common Pochard, Brown-headed Gull, Black-headed Gull, Whiskered Tern, Gull-billed Tern and Caspian Tern. Birds of prey which appear in winter are the: White-bellied Sea Eagle, Osprey, Harriers and Peregrine Falcons.

The Chola kingdom flourished till the 13th century AD around Thanjavur and Tiruchirapalli districts of Tamil Nadu. The Chola Kingdom is home to important water birds like High flying Barheaded Goose, long migrants like White stork and White necked Stork, Grey Pelican, Ibis etc.

One can enjoy the bird watching at the Karaivetti bird sanctuary, the Kallaperumbur bird sanctuary, the Vaduvoor bird sanctuary, the Udhayamarthandapuram bird Sanctuary and Point Calimere bird sanctuary.

Karaivetti bird sanctuary is now home for more than 180 species of birds which includes 100 species of land birds. During peak season more than 25000 birds has been recorded. In the last season about 250 nests were counted and is a breeding ground for Grey Pelican, Spoonbill, Ibis, Openbill stork, Cormorant etc. Important land bird species are Rosy Pastor, Peregrine Falcon, Osprey, Marsh Harrier, Tawny Eagle, etc.,.

Vaduvoor Bird Sanctuary is a favorite flyaway spot for migratory birds and has recorded congregation up to 20000 birds in November. The ideal time to
visit the sanctuary is November – December when congregation of migratory birds is maximum. One can spot more than 40 species of water birds like Ibis, Painted stork, Grey pelican, Pintail, Cormorant, Teals, Herons etc.

Point Calimere Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary is providing shelter both for the animals and birds. It is the home for near threatened Blackbuck Antelope. Point Calimere Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary has the largest population of Blackbucks in South India. Other notable animals include: Spotted Deer, Jackal, Bonnet Monkey, Wild Boar, Monitor lizard, Short-nosed Fruit Bat, Small Indian Civet, Star Tortoise, Indian Grey Mongoose, Black-Naped Hare, Jungle Cat and Feral Pony.

Point Calimere Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary has recorded the second largest congregation of migratory water birds in India, with a peak population in excess of 100,000, representing 103 species.

In October these water birds arrive from Rann of Kutch, Eastern Siberia, Northern Russia, Central Asia and parts of Europe for their feeding season and start returning to those breeding places in January.

The water birds include threatened species like Spot-billed Pelican, Spotted
Greenshank, Spoonbill Sandpiper and Black-necked Stork. Near threatened species include White Ibis, Asian Dowitcher, Lesser Flamingo, Spoonbill, Darter and Painted Stork. Not only that, if lucky, one can spot Bottle nosed Dolphins. Also, the shoreline beaches of the sanctuary are a regular nesting site of the endangered Olive Ridley Turtle.

The Pandyan Kingdom flourished until the 15th century AD and the great traveler, Marco Polo mentioned it as the richest empire in existence in the world.

The bird watching region of the Pandya Kingdom roughly comprises the area near Madurai and Ramnad districts of Tamil Nadu. It includes; Vettangudi Bird Sanctuary, Chitrangudi Bird Sanctuary, Kanjirankulam Bird Sanctuary, MelSelvanur-KeelSelvanur Bird Sanctuary, Koonthankulam Bird Sanctuary, Suchindram-Theroor Bird Sanctuary.

Kanjirankulam Bird Sanctuary is one of the preferred nesting sites for heronry species a colonial bird migrating to South India. This bird sanctuary receives nearly 170 species of birds. Breeding population consists of Painted stork, White Ibis, Black ibis, Little egret, Large egret etc.

While MelSelvanur-KeelSelvanur Bird Sanctuary is the biggest bird sanctuary in Tamil Nadu and located near Sayalkudi in Ramanathapuram district, the Koonthankulam Bird Sanctuary is home to the largest reserve for breeding water birds in South India.

Suchindram -Theroor Bird Sanctuary is noted for the wide variety of migratory water birds that winter there, including: near threatened painted stork and spot-billed pelicans. Also seen here are cattle egrets, great cormorants, darters, purple swamphen, and bronze-winged Jacanas. Resident raptors include pied kingfisher, brahminy kite and marsh harrier.

Other water birds are Dabchick, grey heron, Garganey, purple heron, cinnamon Bittern, open bill stork, cotton pygmy goose, whiskered tern and little tern, black-winged stilt, greenshank, little ringed plover and the common sandpiper.

The Pallava Kingdon tour is on 18 and 19 December 2010. The Chola Kingdom tour is on 24, 25 and 26 December 2010. The Pandya kingdom tour is from January 3-6 2011. The contact person for these tours is Mr. "Krish" a.k.a Krishna Kumar K J. He can be reached at (

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He ca be contacted at His earlier writing is “Eco-Adventure Camp”

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Omar Khalidi- A Campaigner of Social Justice of Indian Muslims

Omar Khalidi- A Campaigner of Social Justice of Indian Muslims

Syed Ali Mujtaba

The untimely death of the Cambridge based scholar Dr. Omar Khalidi is quite shocking. He was 57. Preliminary reports suggest that he was fatally struck by a subway trolley near the Kendall Square station in Cambridge, USA.

He was working at MIT and left behind his wife and daughter. I have known to him for his unending passion for the pursuit of social justice of Muslims in India. My deepest condolences go to his family.

Dr. Khalidi was born in Hyderabad and was the son of Professor Abu Nasr Khalidi, a well known scholar of Arabic and Islamic studies at Osmania University. He got his BA from Wichita State University, ALM from Harvard University School of Extension Studies and PhD from University of Wales-Lampeter, UK.

I have come to know about Dr Khalidi when I was in Hyderabad working as reporter in 1995-6 and also researching on the princely state and Partition of India. I was fresh with my doctoral work “The Partition of India and British policy 1940-45.” I had read his work “The fall of Hyderabad,” that graphically brings out the police action against the princely state of Hyderabad and the atrocities committed against the Muslims in its aftermath.

I contacted Dr Khalidi at his e mail address (okhalidi@MIT.EDU) and he responded to me immediately. Though my project was indefinitely postponed but my contact with him remained intact.

He was in Chennai in 2002 and stayed at Chola Sheraton and we had a late evening conversation on the theme Indian Muslims that went on till the wee hours and we both needed a bad sleep still the talk remained inconclusive.

We talked about Muslim publications in India the defunct ‘One Nation Chronicle’ rechristened ‘Nation and the World.’ We talked about Mili Gazatee, Muslim India, role of Syed Shahabuddin in Babri Masjid, role of Syed Hamid in education and Hamadard University. We talked about M.J. Akbar and Seema Mustafa and Sultan Shahin and many others.

Our conversation did touch up Hyderabad, and we talked about Prince Mukaram Jah, the fabled Falaknuma, Chomohalla and the Nazri Bagh Palaces. The Telegana politics too came up for a thought.

Dr Khaladi, was more of a researcher than an armed chair commentator. He had advised me not to loose track of research and base my submissions on hard facts.

To hammer home the point, hard facts should be the only arrow, in one’s quiver, he told me, adding he had all the copies of Muslim India, because it contains huge data to rely upon.

Among several of his work, the one we talked was “Romance of the Golconda Diamonds.” He explained that in the state of Golconda that was later absorbed in Mughal India mining activity for diamonds once flourished.

Dr Khalidi did a interview with me that day on his pet topic the current status of Indian Muslims. He was amused to hear me say that a middle class is fast emerging among contemporary Indian Muslim community and this is happening at breath neck speed after the liberalization of the Indian economy since 1990s.

Now India Muslim youth are not much interested in going to Gulf countries for jobs as they did so in the 1970s and 80s. They prefer to stay back in India where there exists an ample opportunity to make a living. I told him after liberalization, the general discrimination theory does not work, the entrepreneurs mostly Hindus do not have any inhibition in recruiting Muslims, because they are hardworking, honest and upright.

Dr Khalidi was bemused; perhaps my thoughts did not fit into discriminatory stereotype. I remember him talking about Muslim presidents of India that were to show to the world that Indian Muslims are not discriminated but then do a head count in the government and private offices and you will get a real picture of Muslim discrimination.

I told him now, this is no more the case, the software industry, so many other industries which is driving the Indian economy, has countless Muslim youth in its folds and they are doing well in privatized corporate Indian economy.

I remember Dr Khalidi asking me to give him contacts in various India cities, so that he can do a survey on this issue through his questioners and promised to pay those who get involved with him in this project. I think he may have incorporated these points in his book is “Muslims in Indian Economy” published in December 2005.

Dr. Khalidi will be remembered for his courage in taking on issues that others feared to tread. .He was known for his commitment to the cause of justice and fairness for Indian Muslims.

His last article was on the recent Babari Masjid judgment was seminal. He lambasted the Archilogical survey of India (ASI) that provided the clinching evidence for the ‘learned’ judgment. Read through the link- “ASI: Hindutva's handmaiden.”

Dr. Khalidi was a pioneer in the field of research on Indian Muslims and contemporary Indian politics. He left behind him a monumental legacy that had a significant impact on the political landscape of India and a multitude of people were motivated and inspired by his work.

He authored the much acclaimed book “Khaki and Ethnic Violence in India: Armed Forces, Police and Paramilitary During Communal Riots”. The book is in its second edition, revised and enlarged edition came out in December 2009.

As an independent scholar his research interests were in the sociology of politics, upward and downward economic mobility of ethnic groups, nationalism and diaspora and Islamic architecture.

His other works include 'Indian Muslims since Independence', 1996, and edited 'Hyderabad: After the Fall', 1988, a collection of academic papers.

He is the author of several articles on Islamic architecture like “Approaches to Mosque Design in North America” and “Import, Adapt, Innovate: Mosque Design in the United States.”

Even though he was based in the US he had the pulse of Indian Muslims in his hand. He could fearlessly speak about the discrimination of Indian Muslims and he supported this with hard facts, be it the head count of Muslims in Indian Defence forces or in the news rooms.

Passing away of Dr Omer Dr. Khalidi is a great loss to Indian Muslim. He lived every moment in India.Perhaps the best way to carry forward his legacies would be to create a chair in his name in any of the Indian university to carry out research on the social issues of Indian Muslims. It may be a humble way to pay tribute to late Dr. Khalidi.

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

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dreamers of people’s rule no more in India

Dreamers of people’s rule no more in India
Syed Ali Mujtaba

I was involved in a conversation with a gentleman on left politics in the country and the name of left radical leader Charu Mazjumdar came in for scrutiny and my friend in an impromptu manner dubbed him a left ‘Jihadi’ and showered heaps of abuse on him that triggered a wave of thoughts in me.

I was not a witness to that era but I heard and read about this left ultra leader was that in 1960s, he inspired a whole generation. A lot many people read his revolutionary ideas and were inspired by them. Some left their homes to live with the peasants in West Bengal to put Mazjumdar’s revolutionary theories into actual practice.

So what was so attractive about Charu Mazjumdar’s theory? According to Charu Mazjumdar, a semi-feudal, semi-colonial society like India can only be transformed through a protracted peasant war. At the end of such war the triumph peasants would ultimately seize the state power and establish a "new democratic revolution."

Charu Mazjumdar suggested forming a guerrilla unit to wage protracted peasant war and elaborated this in the "murder manual" how to launch "annihilation campaign."

The "annihilation campaign" would produce the new man who will defy death and be free from all thought of self-interest, professed According to Charu Mazjumdar.

In today’s context such ideas could at best be described as abrasive rhetoric and fetish but in 1960s it inspired many to sacrifice their lives to chase Charu's Mazjumdar’s dream.

This led to the creation of a utopian space called Naxalbari in West Bengal that became a social laboratory to test Charu's Mazjumdar’s hypothesis. A lot youth from well to do families attracted by the romance of brining a revolution in the country, plunged into organizing peasant revolution in the country.

With this began an era of violence, bloodshed and martyrdom unprecedented in the country. The breeze that blew from ‘Naxlbari’ shook the edifice of the Indian state

A surgical operation was done to extinguish the voices of dissent. It was Siddhart Shanker Rey, the then Chief Minister of West Bengal, who at the behest of Mrs Indira Gandhi, virtually hunted out those revolutionary dreamers.

Was such a harsh measure necessary, instead, if those revolutionary youth may have been rehabilitated, they may have contributed to the growth of the country in some way.

Now a last point. At a time, when our country is totally wedded to the capitalist mode of production, where are the thinkers like Charu Mazumdar gone, can any one point out a name that can match his appeal and aura in the contemporary India.

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

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Politics around Enemy Property Bill

The Politics around Enemy Property Bill
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Partition of British India and the creation of Pakistan in 1947 have left behind many legacies. More than 60 years have passed to that event but still there are many issues thats being sorted out and one such is the Enemy Property Act of 1968.

Enemy property is a term coined by the Indian government in the wake of 1965 war with Pakistan to confiscate all those properties that were left behind by the Indian Muslims who migrated to Pakistan in 1947 or thereafter. This was an act to deny the legal heirs to all such properties who due to their own free will chose to live in India.

The government of India promulgated the Enemy Property Act in 1968 and created a separate department called “Custodian” to take control of 2,186 enemy properties, with Uttar Pradesh having the maximum (1,468) followed by West Bengal (351), Delhi (66), Gujarat (63), Bihar (40), Goa (35), Madhya Pradesh (29) and Maharashtra (25).

The most funniest part is the 'Custodian' was located in Bombay and Calcutta, while majority of these properties existed in UP, Bihar and other Muslim minority provinces from where migration to Pakistan took place.

The Enemy Property Act of 1968, in one stroke, made the legal heirs of such properties ‘Prince Paupers.’ They were left with two courses of action either to fight a legal battle or get out of such litigation. This created a way for fresh wave of Muslim migration from India, mostly to Europe and North in search of Roti, Kapara and Makan (bread – cloth and shelter).

One such property belong to my mother's own sister, whose husband stayed back in India while his father who owned the property, and other relations migrated to Pakistan. The property called 'Jahaji Kothi' is a landmark building even today located at Kadam Kuan, Patna. One can give a google search to 'Jahaji Kothi, Patna' to know how important is that building.

I remember as a child, visiting my aunt's house and enjoyed running up and down the staircase there. When that property was taken over by the 'custodian' in 1968, my aunt and her family moved out. The property still stands in a depleted condition, and with no one interested in laying claim to it, its likely to come under the hammer, and with that the sentiments and memories attached with it will also vanish.

The Enemy Property Act of 1968 was blow to some, it was a heaven sent opportunity for many encroacher, mostly Hindus, who swooped on such properties and occupied them. They started behaving like the proprietors paying pittance as rent to the “Custodian” and may never like to part off with the loot.

The Muslim heirs of such properties now had to fight two legal battles, one with the ‘Custodian’ (government) to lay reclaim their property and second against those who encroached and occupied their properties.

A long drawn legal battle was fought for almost four decades in the Indian courts and finally the matter reached to the Supreme Court. In this, legal luminaries like Ramjethmalani, PC Chidambaram, Arun Jaitely appeared for the tents, while Salman Khursheed appeared against the tenets on behalf of Raja of Mahmoodabad,having claim to more than 1,000 listed properties.

Finally, the Apex Court in 2005, gave the ruling in favor of the Muslim heirs of the property, granting them the legal rights to their ancestral property.

In normal course, the government may have executed the court orders and handed over the properties to the legal heirs and settled the matter once for all.

However, the NDA government under pressure from non Muslim quarters intervened into this matter over ruling the Supreme Court’s order. It wants to bring an ordinance bill into the Parliament to once gain control over such properties and prolong the final settlement of the matter.

The NDA government had earlier tabled such ordinance bill in the lower house of Parliament but had to withdraw the same, in wake of the opposition from its own allies particularly by the RJD and Samajwdi party.

Mulayam Singh said his party will oppose the bill because 'it is part of the Congress' anti-Muslim policy'. 'It is a bill that would make Muslims second-class citizens and create an inferiority complex among them,' the Samajwadi Party leader said. He cited the Supreme Court order making 'clear that the custodian of such properties, the government, should return the properties to the inheritors'. The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) supported the Samajwadi Party.

Now the ordinance bill is amended and cleared by the Cabinet. It is ready to be reintroduced in the winter session of the Parliament but is unlikely to sail through due to its controversial nature.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiv Sena are opposed any change in the bill. Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj has threatened to block the bill if the government brought in amendments.It is likely that the ordinance bill will be referred to a Parliamentary standing committee of for a review.

This means that the legal heirs of the Enemy property have to wait for some time more to get the custody of their ancestral property. Will they eventually get it or not get it is a matter of guess.

As we see this issue being shifted from the courts to the Parliament, it has opened up few fundamental questions that seek answers. The first pertains to India Pakistan relationship and the second relationship between the government and the Indian Muslims.

Let’s take up first question; are India and Pakistan still enemies? This has to be answered keeping in mind the sprit of Simla agreement 1972, Samjhauta Express was started in 1976 and Vajpaye visit to Lahore in 1998, rushing aids to flood victims to Pakistan in 2010. If the answer is candid NO, then the nomenclature “Enemy” to the property ordinance bill 2010, is a misnomer.

If the government is really committed to conduct the future dialogue with Pakistan in a friendly and positive framework, then it should consider dropping the tag “Enemy” with the property ordinance bill 2010. This would certainly be a confidence building measure in the future India- Pakistan dialogue.

The word is also offensive to hundreds of Indian Muslims beneficiaries who are being treated as offspring of “Enemy.” The definition of enemy excludes citizens of India and in this context the heir and successor cannot be termed as enemy and by virtue of this fact, the property of an Indian citizen can not be termed as enemy property.

In this context, it is interesting to note that while the enemy property belonging to Mohmmad Ali Jinnah in Mumbai is decided in favors of his legal heir Nusli Wadia, the same norm is not applied to the legal heirs of others of all such ancestral properties.

Does this mean, there is one set of norms for the descendants of the founder of Pakistan and else for other legal heirs of such property? If we stretch this argument further, does this mean there is a separate yardstick used for the Parsis of India and the Indian Muslims?

The ordinance bill 2010 gives a new meaning to the Enemy Property Act 1968. In one stroke, the entire legal battle that has been fought over this issue for decades has been brought to naught. It is a clear cut example of the executive action encroaching on the legislative power. The executive has annulled all the court orders and by doing so has assaulted the Indian judiciary, its surprising there is no murmur over this issue anywhere in the country.

The ordinance bill 2010 has a far reaching consequence on the Indian Muslims. It disallows legitimate legal process for rightful Indian heirs including the right to succession, adoption, hiba and other matters related to Muslim Personal Law enshrined in Indian Constitution.

This ordinance also creates a precedent that because of inexplicable reasons the rights of individuals and especially those of the minority community could be superseded without permitting them to have recourse of law. It denies legal access to several poor and hapless Muslims who cannot afford to engage a lawyer and who cannot produce the citizen document within 120 days

The gist of the matter is that the enemy property ordinance bill is brought in the Parliament due to pressure from the Hindu tents and encroacher that have lost their case in the Supreme Court. It reminds of Shah Bano case with a different plot.

Since the ordinance bill 2010 do not have political ramification on the larger Muslim vote bank, the government has embarked on the policy to rob the ‘Peter to pay the Paul.’

However, such approach reflects on the character of the governance, thats being tout to be based on the principles of democracy, socialism and secularism, the three key words enshrined at the preamble of the Indian constitution.

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

Chennai Sex Worker's Woeful Tales

Chennai Sex Worker's Woeful Tales
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Meet Kalaivani, a Tamil woman with short hairs, plump figure and dusky looks, was trafficked from Chennai to Singapore in 1997, when she was 24 years of age. She was promised a job, but ended up as a sex worker, soliciting customers on the streets to fend herself in the island nation. However, she could barely do this for two months, when Singapore police caught Kalaivani and deported her to Chennai.

In a frank conversation, Kalaivani, narrates her true story. I am from Sivgangai district of Tamil Nadu, and came to Madras to live with my husband, after getting married at the age of 19. He worked in the cine field and life ran smooth for some years. We had two children, a son and a daughter.

Then calamity stuck on our family, my husband passed away, leaving behind huge debts and two young children to be raised up. The responsibilities fell on me, but being a traditional village woman, I did not know what to do. Then one of my husband’s friends suggested me to go to Singapore and work for some time there and that is how I could clear my debts and look after my children. Having no other go, I exactly did what I was told, just to realize that there was no job for me in Singapore . Those who had brought me there forced me to become commercial sex worker. I was lucky to be deported to Chennai but my woes did not end here as well.

With people, knocking doors asking for money my late husband had borrowed, and the burden of bringing up the two children, willingly, unwillingly, I forced myself into the world’s oldest profession of the world. Even tough, I was able to clear the debts by 2003, but I continued the profession for the sake of my children.

Her son now an engineer and recently got married and her daughter is finishing her graduation in computer science, Kalivani has left the profession for good. She has become a peer educator in HIV/ AIDS promotion programme and running an NGO called Indira Female Peer Education Collection (IFPEC) for the welfare of the commercial sex worker in the Chennai. IFPEC has 2250 members and works for the rights of the sex workers, like, police harassment, old age pension, ration cards, life insurance, old age shelter etc.

If Kalaivani’s tale is chilling, the story of Baby is no less gripping. Her account is of a girl, whose love failure forced her to choose the fallen path and there was no coming back from there.

Baby was 17, doing her 10th standard in Hyderabad . Her father worked in the railways. A young man who too worked with his father used to visit his house. That is how a girl meets a boy story blossomed and the two lovebirds eloped to Madras . They looked forward to lead a new life working in the cine field. In three months time, Baby became pregnant. When she excitedly told this news to her boy friend, with whom, until now she had a living relationship, the man who loved her to the level of madness, one fine morning left her never to return back. Heartbroken, Baby did not know how to negotiate her life.

Life was a nightmare for me, Baby said, dropping her eyes, confirming she is an alcoholic. I had no money; I cannot go back to parents, as they may not accept me being pregnant. Having eloped, I already had damaged their reputation making them the talking point of the entire locality.

At this point of time, I wanted to commit suicide but my neighbor came to my rescue and got me a job, as a house cleaner in the Kodambakam locality, where the tinsel world of Kollywood is located.

However, I was not making much money and after I delivered the baby and left her in the orphanage, the monetary pressure grew. My neighbor, suggested me to visit some clients and that is how was pushed to the profession of commercial sex worker.

During the 30 years of my career I earned very well, Baby said telling with remorseful eyes. I remember, it was 1973 and my first client gave me Rs 50, and when I left the profession in 2003, someone paid me Rs 1000, Baby said with a smile. I had cleared all the debts of the marriage of my daughter that took place in 2000 and after that there was little meaning for me to continue the profession.

She narrates her experiences how her clients tortured her. They came drunk with the bottle and made me drink as well, Baby said telling the reason how she becomes addicted to alcohol. It was very difficult for me to kick of the habit, and I had to attend a conditioning camp for a month to get over the problem of alcoholism. Baby, who now drinks occasionally, works as councilor at the Indian Community Welfare Organization (ICWO), an NGO in Chennai, has dedicated her life for the welfare of the sex workers, something she had never to look up to when she was part of the profession.

Well does someone fall in love with sex workers? If the story of Mary is to be believed, the answer is big yes. Mary hails from Kerala and at the age of 21, she was brought to Chennai to work as house cleaner. She lived in a home that had four girls and three other elderly people, one male two females.

Mary before could realize what was going on in the house where she lived, police raid took place in that house and Marry was arrested along with the other members of the family Mary did not know the house where she lived was not a real house but infact was a brothel.

She was sent to remand house and after 15 days when she came out, the person who had brought her from Kerala, was waiting for her on the gates. He told her, she was sold to him for Rs 25,000 and unless, she clears that off she cannot walk free.

Mary narrates her tale in sobs and tears; I had no other go but to act to the wishes of that pimp. He used to get me the clients or sent me to them. It is during one those meetings with a regular customer, she narrated her story and the customer showed sympathy and took her out of the clutches of the pimp.

It was a fairy tale, he kept me like a queen and we loved each other mad. I always, longed for a family and a home, and when I became pregnant, I was on cloud nine never to realize that this was the undoing, my savoir and my messiah left me for good at the mercy of Jesus Christ.

Life should not give such shock to anyone, Mary said with tears. I had an emotional breakdown several times but I came over them only for the sake of my child. Having, no means of livelihood I had to revert to the profession as sex worker. Now when her son is happily married, leading a life of its own, Marry is brimming with satisfaction. What a successful conclusion to all my trial and tribulation, I live this day to see him happy, says Mary who now works as a volunteer in AIDS control board.

A survey conducted by the Indian Community Welfare Organization (ICWO), the NGO working with sex workers, estimates there are about 6500 sex workers in Chennai city. The survey updates the figures of the World Health Organization (WHO) that had identified 3000 sex workers in Madras in 1993.

The secretary of the ICWO, AJ Hariharan, who was part of the WHO survey, says the Chennai’s sex industry stands on four pillars -- sex workers, clients, brokers and police. It is a chicken and egg syndrome where it is difficult to say who surfaces first in the cycle of sex work, says Hariharan.

According to the survey, the commercial sex workers in Chennai are classifies into four categories; family-based, street-based, brothel-based and mobile sex workers.

There is a fairly well organized and systematic method of recruiting the women into the city’s sex trade. Most are picked up from regular conduit points in the adjoining states at prices ranging from Rs 100,000 to 300,000.

The relationship between the broker and the newly recruited sex worker is governed by a contract. Brokers go periodically to the recruitment points and procure girls on 37-day contracts. The girls are paid 50 percent of the contracted sum up front as an advance while the remaining dues are paid on their return after the completion of the contract. For those who are set up at brothels, owners provide breakfast and lunch during their stay, while dinners are normally the clients’ responsibility.

Though the sex workers are on contract for 37 days, they eventually end up being paid for only 30 days. Menstruation and travel time are cited as reasons for cutting a week's salary.

The entire sex industry in Chennai, it is said, flourishes under police protection, something not entirely unbelievable given that many ‘prominent’ middle-men and brokers have been around in this business for quite some time. Owners of brothels that function openly and street sex workers pay a fixed amount of money to the police to avoid arrest and harassment.

Despite the precarious conditions of the work, the sex profession continues to attract a steady stream of girls in Chennai. Most join the profession because of poverty and financial obligations, mainly family debt. Others land into this following failed marriage. In fact, as many as a third of the respondent said they came into the profession because their husbands had left them. Social factors also have a role to play, as is evident from the fact that nine percent say they entered the trade because their lovers had deserted them.

Significantly, the majority of sex worker’s main priority is the child’s future, and more than 75 percent do not want their children to follow their example. More than 30 percent wanted to send their children to boarding schools while 14 percent thought it safer to deposit them with relatives. Tragically, however, more than one fifth are convinced that they will be unable to stop their children from entering the profession.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Festival of Lights ‘Diwali’ Environmentalists Nightmare

Festival of Lights ‘Diwali’ Environmentalists Nightmare
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The entire country is reeling under festive spirits of the festival of lights ‘Diwali’ that is going to be celebrated with renewed fervor on November 5, 2010.On this occasion, most member of the house buys new cloths, many houses and shops get a fresh coat of paints, and are well decorated, there is exchange of sweets and gifts among relatives and friends, business clients and partners and last but the least, buying the firecrackers.

This means a huge business for the apparel industry, firecracker, paint and household items and for sweets and gifts. According to an estimate, this year the budget of corporate “gift” alone is expected to touch Rs 3,200 crore, and the sale of firecrackers to Rs 500 crore. Industry sources estimate that India spends over 1000 crore rupees for the celebration of this annual event.

However, what does such a grand celebration mean to the environmentalists. Well there is no happy news, and if the will of the conservators is to prevail, they may like to scale down the celebrations to save the environment from the ill effects of this festival.

Excessive consumerism, high-energy consumption and air pollution through firecrackers, are the three major concerns of the environmentalists. They are campaigning for a green ‘Diwali’ so that the deliberate assault on the Mother Nature is stopped and at the same time, the spirit of the festival is not compromised.

As far as excessive consumerism is concerned, ‘Diwali’ is also a celebration of abundance and wealth - many people believe that it is a good time to buy and spend. Often, people go out and buy new items even when they don't need them. Advertisements and hoardings lure people offerings extravaganza sales, bargains, discounts encouraging buying more and more. All this entails a horde for increased consumerism during ‘Diwali.’

Have we realized the effect of such hyperactive consumerism on the environment? It has to be borne that all man made items are made out of materials that come from nature. Be it plastic, metal, paper or cloths - all of these raw materials are sourced from the nature. Those sources that are non-renewable, such as fossil fuels and metal ores, get depleted and will one day run out. The depletion of non-renewable natural resources is one of the most significant impacts of consumerism.

Another effect of consumerism is the creation of solid-waste, which is non-biodegradable. This has to be buried into holes dug up in the ground, but it is hardly done so, and what is being done is they are simply thrown away out of the homes. These 'landfills' as they are called may exist for centuries without completely integrating into the soil. According to the environmentalists, this is a huge assault on the Mother Nature.

Therefore, it is essential to reduce the amount of things we consume. We need to inculcate the habit to reuse the things we have in different forms until we have absolutely no use for them. We may also learn to recycle items that are no longer functional. We have to rethink the choices we make while buying and refuse things that we do not need at all.

The big question can we control our desires, can we stop the mad race of consumerism. It is just a matter of change of habit and adhering to the simple principles of environmental concerns. The choice is limited and we have to put the breaks on it now if we like to gift the space we live in to our posterity.

High Energy Consumption is another highlight of ‘Diwali’. The festival of lights puts a considerably load on electrical energy sources that are already overloaded. The use of electric lights to adorn homes, business establishments, monuments and roads requires a huge amount of electricity. In a power-starved country, can we afford such huge amount of electrical consumption? This mindless consumption of electricity has huge impact on global warming and to be checked.

The only possible alternative to electric lights is to use the traditional oil lamps for celebrating the festival of lights. Even though the use oil, too have its environmental implications, but since the duration of such lamps is shorter, this can be a possible alternative.

The most harm caused to the environment is due to the lighting of firecrackers, considered the most thrilling element in ‘Diwali’ celebrations. Hardly anyone realize the amount of pollution the temporary joy the firecrackers cause to the prelim of the environment. The toxic substances used in the firecrackers release toxic gases that are harmful to the health of human being, animals, birds, plants and trees.

The high level of noise that the firecrackers generate by cause immense sufferings and the sick and the ailing, literally dread them. Sudden exposure to loud noise could cause hearing loss, high blood pressure, heart attack and sleeping disturbances.

Crackers that make a noise of more than 125 decibels at four meters distance from the point of bursting are banned by the law but hardly any one abide by such a ruling.

More so hardly few realize that very young children mostly make the firecrackers and handle the substance that are extremely toxic; many of these child laborers get sick and die early. This is a matter of huge concern but hardly anyone is bothered about such issues, Even if there are some, their voices drowned under the drumbeat of religious festivities.

However, these are issues of serious concern, and have to be addressed with top priority. There is an urgent need to reinterpret the rituals and traditions of the country to become more sensitive to the environment.

Notwithstanding the fact that there is growing recognition of the impacts of ‘Diwali’ on the environment, the entire nation seems to be going whole hog for the extravagant celebration of the festival. They seem to be consciously being unconscious about the harm they are causing to the environment.

The silver linings among the dark clouds is, several groups that have sprung up with ecological sensitive initiatives around ‘Diwali’ but are in a minuscule minority. The day when the people of the country get attached with such initiative and celebrate the festival in an eco-friendly way, it would be a big relief to the environmentalists.


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

India ’s Muslim Social Welfare Schemes Revisited

India ’s Muslim Social Welfare Schemes Revisited
Syed Ali Mujtaba

In wake of the recommendations made by the Sachar Commission report for the economic upliftment of the poor Muslims in India , both central and state government have launched several schemes for their welfare.

One such scheme launched by the Tamil Nadu government is Muslim Women’s Aid Society (MWAS), to help the destitute Muslim Women in the state. MWAS was established in 2007 as a pilot project first in Chennai and after its success in the state capital, the government extended this scheme to all the 32 districts of the Tamil Nadu in 2008-2009.

The state government has sanctioned seed money of Rs.1 lakh to each of the 32 MWAS branches in the state for the infrastructure facilities and releases matching grant to them equal to the donation collected by such societies.

The MWAS is supposed to raise funds from the public that is deposited into the bank and then the society applies for a matching fund from the government. The maximum fund that can be deposited is Rs. 10 lakh per annum and MWAS can avail a matching fund of Rs.10 lakh from the state government. The funds so availed have to be utilized only for the development of the destitute Muslim women.

The District Collector acts as the President of the MWAS, the Project Officer of Women Welfare as Vice-President, and the District officer for Backward Class and Minority’s Welfare as Treasurer, besides there are six women members from Muslim community in this self-help group.

MWAS is rendering a yeomen service to the needy Muslim community providing them vocational training, sewing textile garments, women’s beauty parlour, computer education, driving school, silk embroidering, destitute widow’s pension, interest free loan, loans for auto rickshaws in lowest interest possible, financial aid to disabled persons, home for Muslim deserted women, free medical service etc.

As far as the functioning of the MWAS is concerned, few issues need attention. The foremost among them is the fund allocated by the government remains unutilized due to gross ignorance of the Muslim community. There is little awareness among the community members of such initiative being made for their welfare. They have hesitation, shyness in coming forward for utilizing the funds as it involves dealing with government officials.

Few MWAS, which have collected funds and deposited them in the bank, are struggling for the release of the matching funds supposedly promised by the government. The funds raised remains stuck in official red tapes and the government releases no matching fund.

The other issue is; fund raising itself is quite a difficult task. Individual or institution donors remain unconvinced about the proper utilization of their funds and do not like to come forward to patronize such a self-help group.

In order to address such anomalies, a sympathetic watchdog body called Federation of Muslim Women’s Aid Societies (FMWAS) has sprung up in the state. Its job is to launch public awareness campaign for the MWAS. It also guides the MWAS to avail the seed funds allocated to them.

The FMWAS also liaison between the MWAS and the district government officials for the early release of the matching funds. It has been campaigning that the government provide the office space for the MWAS within the collectorate campus to ensure speedy action so that amount collected by the MWAS do not remain dormant in the banks.

The FMWAS appeals for public support in the form of individual charity and its team meets Muslim philanthropists and elicit their support. The Federation also approaches Muslim institutions for donations. It calls upon Muslim organizations to donate a fraction of the Zakath Funds, estimated to be Rs. 1.5 crore, in the state.

Notwithstanding the MWAS initiative in Tamil Nadu, there are multiple schemes, initiated by the government for the welfare of the Muslim community all over the country. The need is to develop a greater synergy between Muslim community and the development sector for actualizing the dream of socio-economic development of the Muslim community.

It is the duty of the Muslim community to come forward and form NGO’s and work among the community and help realize the goal. This has to be done with utmost importance; else, various schemes of the government of their socio-economic development may remain unimplemented.

Having said that, the responsibility of the welfare of the Muslim community is not an issue confined to the leadership of the community alone; the government too has a major responsibility towards addressing their problems.

For instance, the conditions imposed by Tamil Nadu Minorities Economic Development Corporation Ltd. (TAMCO) to avail loan one has to give surety from two persons who are in government service, has to be modified to ensure poor Muslims avail the credit facilities being sanctioned by the Corporation. Such loans, as in other cases, should be given through nationalized banks.

At the all India , level the role of the government in implementing ‘Prime Minister’s New 15 Point Programme for Welfare of Minorities’ is seminal. This includes enhancing opportunities for education, equitable share in economic activities and employment, improving the conditions of living of minorities.

However, when it comes to dealing with the welfare of the Muslim minority there are certain issues in the new 15-point programme that needs consideration by the government.

The government should ensure that the poor Muslim families be given BPL cards as many Muslim families living below poverty line a re being left out. The works implemented under National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) should be culturally sensitive so that Muslim community could also get benefit from such a scheme.

In the field of education, the government should provide recognition and support to Muslim minority educational institutions. It should provide adequate number of scholarships for Muslim students particularly for girls. The government should give permission for more educational institutions in minority-dominated area with priority for residential schools for girls. It should also give permission to open technical institutes in Muslim concentrated areas and ensure equitable admission to Muslim girls.

The government should provide equitable bank loans to Muslims in priority sectors as well as commercial and business sectors and ensure that they get a fair share of these loans. It should create easy credit facilities for Muslim Women, crafts women and women involved in petty trade and commerce and provide a marketing network to women employed in this sector.

The government should ensure better representation of Muslims in government jobs and public sector units and see that at least one Muslim representative is there on all recruitment boards.

Government should prepare a sub-plan for the socio-economic including educational, health and other development activity of the Muslim community. It should set up a separate department at the state level exclusively to deal with Muslim affairs and allocate adequate budget for schemes aimed at Muslims welfare. The office bearers of the Muslim welfare schemes should comprise persons from NGOs working among the Muslim community.

The government should set up a database, collect, and compile data on the socio-economic and educational status of Muslims on a regular basis to monitor the progress of the welfare of the welfare schemes

Finally, the last thought. The developmental goals of the country have to be inclusive and the government has to play a seminal role in the social development of the country. However, it is being seen that the government is absolving from its responsibility of creating a welfare state. It is delegating its role to the Non Governmental Organisations. This developmental paradigm shift of the government does not auger well for creating a welfare state in India . It negates the principles of the word ‘Socialism’ enshrined at the preamble of the constitution of the country.

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

Underreported Facts of ‘Azaadi’ Meeting at New Delhi

Underreported Facts of ‘Azaadi’ Meeting at New Delhi
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Even as the chorus to book the Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani and writer Arundhati Roy on sedition charges, for their statements made at the meeting held in New Delhi on October, 21, 2010, is gaining currency, there are some underreported facts about the meeting that needs to be put into circulation so that the popularly held views of it do not become a gospel of truth.

One of the speakers, Shuddhabrata Sengupta, who was present at the meeting, titled ‘Azadi: The Only Way,’ on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir, gives a blow by blow account of the meeting that has not been reported in the so the called mainstream Indian media.

Sengupta writes that Syed Ali Shah Geelani said, “He wants to see a strong and resurgent India. I heard him say this. And was this reported by anyone? NO. Was it reported that he was cheered when he said this? NO”

Was it reported, when Geelani said; “he personally stands guarantee for the safety and security of all minorities, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhists, Christians and others in a future free Kashmir. He implored the Pandits to return to Kashmir, and said; they are an integral part of Kashmiri society.” NO

Was it reported, “when he spoke of the need for ensuring that a free Kashmir was a just Kashmir, and that justice meant that the freedom, safety and security of all minorities, of their property, their places of worship, and their freedom of conscience be given the utmost importance.” NO

Was it reported, “when Geelani reminded the assembled people that throughout these turbulent months, the people of Kashmir have continued to be hospitable to Hindu pilgrims, have set up ‘Langars’ (Kitchens) for them, and have cared for them when they have fallen sick, despite being at the receiving end of the violence of the Indian state. NO

Was it reported that Geelani said, “the people of India and Kashmir are tied together by the bonds of insaaniyat (humanity), when he quoted Gandhi, or spoke of the necessity of conducting a non-violent struggle that was devoid of hatred, or even when he said that he wished to see India rise as a great power in the world, but as a power that felt no need to oppress others.” NO

Was it reported that Geelani said; “he is not against dialogue, provided that the five point formula put forward by him is being considered. 1. Acceptance of the disputed nature of the territory of Jammu and Kashmir, 2. repeal of AFSPA and other black laws, 3. release of political detenues and prisoners, 4. withdrawal of the disproportionate presence of the armed forces and 5. punishment to those guilty of taking life in the past few months. He requested the government of India to think ‘outside’ the framework of the Indian Constitution and accept them as the basis of the dialogue? NO

“Geelani said, all that they are asking for is the right to self determination, promised by India, before the United Nations, to be freely enacted through a plebiscite, in conditions of peace and liberty, without the presence of armed force, for the inhabitants of every part of the undivided state of Jammu and Kashmir – regardless of whether the results of that plebiscite are in favour of India, Pakistan or an independent, united, Jammu and Kashmir that can live in peace with all its neighbors in South Asia,” writes Sengupta.

Reporting about writer Arundhati Roy, Sengupta says, ‘I recall that the author, while endorsing the demand of ‘Azaadi’ for Kashmir, reminded the audience of the need for the people of Kashmir not to be selective about justice and injustice, that they must find methods to forge webs of solidarity with all the suffering and oppressed peoples of India. She unambiguously spoke about the fact that she considered the situation of Kashmiri Pandits to be a tragedy, writes Sengupta.
These statements were wholeheartedly and sincerely applauded, by the majority of people present in the auditorium, regardless of whether or not they were Kashmiri, write Sengupta.

He adds, these statements should have been the big news considering the fact for its gentleness, for its consideration, for its moderation, even for its liberality and open heartedness. However, this has not happened and what is reported is in public domain

Writing about the reportedly charged atmosphere of the meeting, Sengupta says; “the atmosphere, for the several hours that I was present, was absolutely electric. The vast majority of the audience was warm and appreciative of all the speakers. They were patient and respectful and despite grave provocation from a section that repeatedly tried to interrupt the meeting and heckle speakers, and on one occasion even tried to throw an object at the dais, did not stoop to be provoked by these pathetic attempts at disruption of a peaceful gathering.”

“No provocative, sectarian or hateful slogans were raised by the majority of the people present. The only provocative posturing that I witnessed was undertaken by a section of the crowd, who was not stopped from having their say, but was requested simply not to disrupt the proceedings.”

“When their behavior crossed the limits of public decency, they were escorted out of the premises by representatives of the Delhi Police. The Delhi Police, to their credit, did not act against the majority of the audience, simply because the majority of the audience conducted themselves in a completely civil and democratic manner.”

Sengupta writes, “the meeting was a historic opportunity for the Indian mainstream media to report and take cognizance of the fact that there is a section of Indian public opinion that is actually in favor of ‘Azaadi’ in Kashmir.”

He qualifies his statement saying, “I am not suggesting that this section constitutes an overwhelming majority at present (that might change) but, that it does exist, and that it presents, cogent, precise arguments, that cannot be dismissed.”

Shuddhabrata Sengupta is a media practitioner, filmmaker and writer with the Raqs Media Collective. He can be reached at

His report "Azadi: The Only Way – Report from a Turbulent Few Hours in Delhi" can be accessed at;

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

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Illicit owl trade casts shadow on 'Diwali' Festivities

Syed Ali Mujtaba

India is currently buzzing with the jovial anticipation of Diwali, the Festival of Lights, that will be celebrated with fervor starting on November 5, 2010.

In preparation for this occasion, India’s most important, there is brisk buying of many things and homes are carefully cleaned. During the five-day celebration, candles and lamps are lit as a greeting to Laksmi, the goddess of wealth. Gifts are exchanged and festive meals are prepared.

Meanwhile, most people are unaware that during this time of the year, the country’s owls are perhaps more in peril than ever. The exact number of owls that are illicitly traded each year countrywide is unknown, but according to a report released Tuesday, entitled Imperiled Custodians of the Night, it certainly runs into thousands.

Even though, hunting of and trade in all Indian owl species is banned under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 of India, the study by TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network that is a joint programme of the World Wildlife Foundation, reveals that out of the 30 owl species recorded in India, 15 have been found in the domestic live bird trade.

TRAFFIC blames superstition and taboos as one of the main reasons for the covert owl trade and warns of a possible increase in trade around Diwali as sacrifice of this bird is considered to be auspicious.

Owls with ‘ears’ (tufts) are thought to possess greatest magical powers, and ‘tantriks’ or black magic practitioners frequently prescribe the use of owls and their body parts for ceremonial rituals.

“Diwali should be a time for celebration across our nation, not one when our wildlife is plundered to feed ignorant superstition. India's wildlife already faces many pressures; the additional burden of being killed out of ignorance and fear is not one that has any place in our modern society,” said Jairam Ramesh, India’s Environment and Forest Minister at the launch of report in New Delhi on Nov 2, 2010.

“Owls are as important to our ecosystem as the tigers or any other better known charismatic species. It is important that the threat to owls is brought to light during the festival of Diwali and concrete ground action is undertaken to curb such trade,” he added.

More than a theme

The TRAFFIC investigation also finds that in addition to their main use in black magic, owls are also trapped and traded for use in street performances; killed for taxidermy and for their meat; their parts are used in folk medicines; even their claws and feathers are sometimes used in headgear. Live owls are also used as decoys to catch other bird species.

The report’s author, Abrar Ahmed, had owls on his mind for years but was ultimately inspired by a strange incident to write the owl report. In the study’s preface, he recounts how a wealthy friend’s wife made repeated requests for him to arrange for an owl as a gift for her son’s birthday party — the theme of which was Harry Potter.

“This was probably one of the strangest demands made to me as an ornithologist,” he writes.

The story had a happy ending however.

“In the end, I did bring three white owls to the theme party. I drew owl pictures resembling Hedwig and hung them at appropriate vantage points on the lawn,” Ahmed recounts.

“Later in the evening, I heard an owlet calling, and to everyone’s delight a real Spotted Owlet sat on an electric pole at the gate of the venue. I thanked God and took this opportunity to show everyone ‘their’ owl.

“The children clapped their hands with delight and the owl soon flew off. Several of the partygoers have subsequently joined bird watching groups.”

Farmer’s friend

A variety of owl trapping techniques are documented in the TRAFFIC report, which also says that there are approximately 50 active wild-bird selling points/localities in India where any bird trader is likely to be able to procure owls, although the birds are rarely on open display.

“Birds like owls are sold at a premium, brought in only following a specific request by a customer for use in black magic. Often they are delivered to the client’s doorstep,” Ahmed recounts.

Twenty one of these are major bird markets with an estimated annual turnover of between ($) 20,000 and ($)50,000 wild birds, including owls.

Ahmed’s investigations into the owl trade were conducted during nationwide studies of the bird trade undertaken between1992-2000 with additional information gathered between 2001 and 2008.

In light of the report, TRAFFIC is calling for measures including better law enforcement to curb the trade in owls immediately. The organization also wants to see awareness raised regarding the beneficial and vital role of owls in the ecosystem. Owls should be considered a farmer’s friend due to their predation of rodents and other crop pests.

“Imperiled Custodians of the Night” can be downloaded at: (PDF, 7.5 MB)

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

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mend relationship between Human and Ecosystem - Al Gore

Mend relationship between Human and Ecosystem - Al Gore
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The relationship between human beings and the ecological system of the earth has radically changed and is the main reason for extreme highs of temperatures and unprecedented weather events said Al GoreAl Gore, former US Vice President and green campaigner on Wednesday October 20, 2010 in Chennai.

He outlined how temperatures were rising in different parts of the world, and erratic weather patterns were being witnessed, delivering a lecture on ‘Thinking Green.’

He pointed out that a place in Pakistan recorded 53.5 degree Celsius in May 2010, another place in Russia recorded about 40 degree C for many days in a row. More than 19 countries across the globe recorded an all-time high in temperature, he added.

It’s because of disturbance in the hydrological cycle of the earth there is unprecedented heat and rains, Gore said as he explained the phenomena, where water goes through the motion of evaporation, condensation and precipitation to return back to the ocean passing through rivers and streams.

The 2007 Nobel laureate said the year 2010 has had many firsts to its credit. The months from January to August saw the hottest season ever measured in environmental history of 1000-years. The amount of rainfall too far exceeded that was recorded in the past.

Australia faced drought due to unprecedented weather and Pakistan had to face the wrath of the rains due to which over 20 million people were rendered homeless after floods, Gore pointed out.

The former US vice president said that increase in population, is another key reasons that disrupted the balance of the ecosystem. The global population had exponentially increased from two billion to 6.80 billion, stabilizing to around nine billion, he said.

The high profile environmentalist was in the city to speak at the 20th World Congress of the World Society of Cardio-thoracic Surgeons and the 6th Global Forum on Humanitarian Medicine in Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery.

Cherian Heart Foundation organized the event that was an exclusive event mostly attended by doctors from different parts of the country and the world.


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

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Plight of Temple Elephants in South India

Plight of Temple Elephants in South India
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Thirukadaiyur, a sleepy place, some 350 km from Chennai on way to Trinquebar, the seat of Danish East India Company in the Nagapatinam district has its own significant place in the history of Tamil Nadu.

An ancient temple dedicated to goddess Abirami, the consort of Lord Shiva, is the hallmark of Thirukadaiyur that remains abuzz with large number of devotees thronging the place in search of spiritual solace.

An elephant stationed outside the doors of the temple greets the visitors raising its trunk and then putting it on top of devotees head, blessings them in traditional of South Indian style.

There are about 300 temple elephants in Tamil Nadu and over 500 in Kerala that form part of temple ceremonies and festivals as many major temples own and use them for ritual processions and blessing of the visitors.

The lone elephant at the Abirami temple epitomises the plight of all those temple elephants held in captivity in various parts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. This sentient and social animal remains chained surrounded by urban noise and human crowds. Standing alone on the hard stone flooring of the temple, it was visibly suffering from heat exhaustion.

Talking to the elephant trainer or mahout I realized that he had no formal education in animal care and his training methods and was typically involved in the systematic act of physical pain, hitting his whip on the leg to make the elephant raise its trunk to bless the devotees. A rough guess could be, the elephant gets hit, at least 2000 times a day to offer blessings.

Tamil Nadu government has recently issued a circular to ban the practice of elephants 'blessing' in the temples of the state. Chief wildlife warden R Sundarajaru has issued a circular instructing the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments department, which is maintaining the temples, to put an end to such age-old practice.

Wildlife warden had also asked temple authorities not to keep the elephants on concrete floors, as it damages the foot of the animals. It has also asked the mahout to take the elephants for a walk for a distance of 6 km and give them shower bath twice a day, that in case if they cannot take the elephants to a lake or a pond. The wildlife warden has also asked the temple management to take steps to part-simulate the forest environs in the respective elephant sheds.

Though the contention of the Wild Life Department appears to be genuine, it has stirred up a hornet's nest amongst the Hindu religious groups in Tamil Nadu. “Getting blessing from elephants is considered sacred for Hindus and any move to ban it would be against religious sentiments,” said Shaktivel, an activist of Hindu Bakta Sabha, a religious outfit that oppose the ban.

Barbara Gerard, founder and director of Art and Conservation of the Asian Elephant talks at length about the protection and conservation of the temple elephants. Supporting the ban on the practice of elephants 'blessing' pilgrims in temples, she says it may reduce stress on the jumbos.

Barbara, who comes from New York, and has worked in Africa for the conservation of the elephants, is based in Thrissur, Kerala. She is leading a campaign against the practice of temple elephants and equates them with the Devdasi system that was abolished after a long and protracted campaign. She wants the elephants to be set free and be sent to wild where they belong.

She says nearly 90 per cent of the temple elephants are suffering from one or more serious ailments. They suffer from foot ailments like, arthritis and joint pain. Elephants standing for long on the concrete floors, literally wear away the bottoms of their feet, she says adding that they also suffer from diseases like diabetes and rheumatoid, asthma and tuberculosis.

She points out that most of the temple elephants are male, kept in solitary confinement and little attention given to address their sexual needs. It is only in cases of extreme stress or provocation like sound or physical pain that these animals break down, she quips.

Barbara, who runs an Elephant House, a museum and learning centre children, remains busy in teaching the tiny tots how mild by nature the elephants are and kids need not fear them because they are the giant sized. It is only when the young generation starts understanding the nature of the elephants they may be able asses their plight and in turn join the clarion call to set them free from captivity.

Heeding to bring about a change to ensure proper care of the temple elephants, the Tamil Nadu governments Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments department has drawn up a new diet and fitness plan for the temple jumbos.

The daily menu for an adult temple elephant includes 250 kg of grass or supplemented by 50 kg of twigs and leaves from mango or neem trees. Thrice a day they are fed with large nutritious that include 7 kg of cooked rice, mixed with 1.5 kg each of green gram and horse gram, 1 kg of jaggery, 100 grams of common salt and 25 grams turmeric powder. After each meal, the jumbos get at least a dozen bananas, as desert!

Some of the temple gives periodic oil massages to the elephant. They also give multi-vitamin tablets to ward off indigestion once a month. Every three months the elephants also get 3.5 kg of the Ayurvedic nutritious supplement, ‘Chavanapraash’. Every fortnight, allopathic veterinary doctors examine the elephants. Some temples have installed exclusive shower system to bathe the elephants. The shower uses 5,000 litres of water a day to clean the elephant twice a day.

Implementing all this is not easy task for all the temples. The maintenance cost of each elephant is estimated roughly to be; Rs 80,000 per month. The shrines that have large incomes are able to meet with such elaborate arrangements, but those with meagre income are unable to act upon it.

As the situation, stand now, the temple elephants are send every year for a month long "relief camps" to relieve them from stress. The camps that are now runed for the past seven years are organised at the elephant sanctuary at Mudumalai forest, in Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu. The elephants in the camps are fed with nutritious food; bathed elaborately’ and given proper medical care to prevent them from contacting any disease.

However, the big question remains; is a month of freedom enough for eleven months of captivity? When the agony and pain of these exotic animals living may end? When the awareness to free them may lead to a march to the doors of the temples and break the chains, and set free the majestic beasts whom many worship as god of wealth. Can any one find answers to these questions? Your guess is as good as mine.

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

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Endgame at Hyderabad State

The Endgame at Hyderabad State
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Endgame of the princely state of Hyderabad continues to attract attention of not only scholars and researchers but also to writers that were witness to that era.

Hyderabad was one of the largest princely state in British India and its ruler the Nizam of Hyderabad was the richest man of the world.

On Sunday Sept 26, 2010, a function was organised in Chennai where a booklet written by SM Pasha, retired faculty of English, New College, was released.

The author chronicles the events before the ‘police action’ against Hyderabad state and about the communal carnage in the aftermath of the fall of the princely state.

The 81 years old author who worked as subeditor with ‘The Mail,’ the defunct English eveninger, owned by “The Hindu” group of newspapers, roundup his discussion talking about the role of the last Nizam, in the run up to the endgame at Hyderabad.

He narrates the drama enacted by Kaasim Rizvi, the man who tried to resist the march of democracy with strong arms means in Hyderabad.

Though partisan, the author discusses the role of Congress and Communist parties building the mass movement against the princely state.

The most candid narration is about the conman man who had nothing to do with the tumultuous events that fleet past them. The author rightly says that the ordinary people were made pawns in the endgame of the Hyderabad state.

The most chilling account of the booklet is the narration of the barbarity in the aftermath of the police action done against the ordinary Muslims of the Hyderabad state.

The narration if true is hauntingly inhuman. How barbaric a man could be, if the authors account is to be believed, puts the entire humanity into shame.

The author talks about the report commissioned by the government of India to asses the atrocities committed against the Muslims of Hyderabad state.

The commission headed by Pandit Sunder Lal and Kazi Abdul Ghaffar toured the state and submitted the report that was never published and still in wraps.

The author who has a wind of the official report, claim that 27000 Muslim lives were lost in the communal carnage in the aftermath of the police action in Hyderabad.

There are many other things that the author narrates in the booklet and needs a full-length piece for discussion.

Just to end this note I quote the preface that says; the wounds of Hyderabad will not heal until India seeks forgiveness of the victims of ‘police action’ and compensates them adequately for their losses of life and property.’

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

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Need to scale up Elephant protection campaign

Need to scale up Elephant protection campaign
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The shocking news of seven elephants being killed, by a speeding goods train while they were crossing the railway tracks near Binnaguri in Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal on Thursday, September 23, 2010, has unnerved the wildlife watchers in the country.

What actually happened was a herd of elephants was crossing the railway tracks while going from one forest to another, when two baby elephants were trapped on the tracks. When other elephants came to the rescue of the baby elephants, a goods train that was passing through at that time, hit them, killing five elephants on the spot and injuring three, two others succumbed to their injuries later.

The accident site in Jalpaiguri is a designated jumbo corridor where railway drivers are required to provide safe crossing to the elephants. Railway officials have been requested a number of times to restrict the speed limit of trains plying in the area to 40-km/hr for the safety of the elephants.

However, speeding trains often hit elephants in the area as the railway line crosses the elephant corridor. Some three months ago, a speeding train ran over an elephant and killed it near the same spot. So far, negligent train drivers have killed 150 elephants in the country since 1987.

Elephants are highly intelligent and sensitive animals. They never abandon their injured and dead. In the latest tragedy, the whole herd was killed as they tried to save two calves injured on the track. This incident could have been avoided, if the train driver had applied its presence of mind. Elephant paths are well known to the railway drivers, the jumbos always cross the track by night, and they can be spotted from a distance if the trains are moving at the right speed.

The Environment Ministry has expressed outrage over this tragedy. It was about to declare elephants our national heritage animal and announce the creation of a National Conservation Authority to ensure their protection.

The elephant task force has already devised simple measures to protect them from being hit by the trains. This is by making drivers accountable for their actions, place speed governors on trains in sensitive areas, enforce patrolling along the tracks, stop the movement of good trains at night in elephant corridors and enforce strict safety measures in the 88 elephant’s corridors. A theses measure has to be implemented in its letter and spirit.

Elephants are a revered animal in our country throughout history. However, they are now under siege from poachers and such negligent acts of some train drivers. These wanton killings of the elephants are telling on their population. India's wild elephant population was recently estimated at about 26,000.

There is urgent need to have concrete measures to protect these animals. The onus is on the civil society to raise their voices that there is no such brutal slaughter of elephant’s taking place in the country. If we do not wake up now, perhaps it may be too late.

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