Sunday, 12 November 2017

Forget the Cynics, the Odd-Even Scheme is a Necessary Step in the Fight Against Pollution

Given the chronic lack of political will, only citizens can eventually force changes in government policies by adopting saner and healthier lifestyles.

The poisonous smog that has enveloped Delhi and the NCR for days on end seems to have temporarily jolted Delhi citizens as well as Delhi Government out of its “chalta hai” attitude resulting in the announcement of modest remedial measures like reintroduction of Odd-Even Scheme introducing partial restrictions on plying of private cars.  If the air quality improves just a wee bit so that the poisons we inhale are not visible as during the thick smog days, all is likely to go back to business as usual and the media too will move on to other sensational issues. 

Last year, vested interests managed to discredit the Odd-Even Scheme by convincing people that it had zero impact on improving air quality during the period it was under experimentation despite the fact that most citizens found it useful and compliance rate was very high.  The negative publicity given to it in the media, forced the AAP government not only to withdraw the experiment but also put the entire issue on the backburner.  But this year, in a shocking move, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) first put the whole plan of action on hold by asking the AAP Government to first prove to NGT’s satisfaction that restrictions on use of cars is actually beneficial. 
Of the many thoughtless orders emanating from the NGT, this one is most perverse.  One expected NGT to demand serious implementation of Odd-Even along with additional measures because it has proved efficacious in other countries battling air pollution.  Just today, Mexico’s ambassador to India has written a lead article in one of our national papers detailing her country’s success in implementing multiple measures, including “Hoy No Circula” (a day without a car), adopted by Mexico City in improving its air quality. ( “Lessons from Mexico City: Series of steps needed to signal that life can’t go on as usual when air so toxic” The Indian Express, November 10, 2017).

A street cleaner works in heavy smog in Delhi, India, November 10, 2017. Credit: Reuters

Instead of following those leads, the NGT in a totally uncalled for move has discredited and nipped in bud the very idea of controlling the burgeoning numbers of motor vehicles in the city. For the record, the same NGT had banned cycle rickshaws from plying in many areas using the absurd argument that they cause pollution. This when manually pulled cycle-rickshaws are the most eco-friendly mode of short distance transport. They neither consume carbon fuels nor create noise pollution. Our organisation Manushi  which succeeded in getting a new policy and law in favour of eco friendly cycle rickshaws legitimized by the Delhi High Court and Supreme Court of India-- has had to battle NGT’s Tuglaqi farman in NGT’s court.

Within a day of stalling Odd-Even, the NGT took an about turn and asked Delhi governmentto go ahead with Odd-Even but without the proposed exemptions to two-wheelers and women drivers, given the concerns regarding safety of women. But as Delhi based women's organisation Jagori pointed out, most working women use public transport. Only a small percentage use own cars. They can easily switch over to cabs. As for two-wheelers, the Delhi government has argued that the existing public transport system cannot possibly handle the massive increase of users if use of two-wheelers is also rationed. But for this they have only themselves to blame since in the last three years they suffered total amnesia regarding their 2015 electoral promise to add 10,000 buses to the DTC fleet. So far not a single bus has been added to the DTC fleet. NGT is also right in accusing that none of their other orders regarding pollution control have been heeded thus far by AAP government.

Thanks to the ongoing tussles between Delhi government and NGT, the first half hearted measure proposed by Delhu government has now been shelved indefeinietly.
Odd-Even not a Magic Wand but...:It is not my case, that the Odd-Even Scheme is the proverbial magic wand that can solve the problem of air pollution in one stroke.  However, it was a significant first step to drive home the message that the government alone cannot handle handling this serious challenge and that it requires mass participation of citizens in more ways than one with each citizen contributing his/her bit to reduce the carbon footprint.
While in some domains, such as quality roads or power supply, the solution is largely in the hands of the government, combating environmental pollution has to be a collective resolve of both government and society.  The Odd-Even scheme is a way of making each citizen an active partner and stakeholder in the process of finding solutions to the foul air menace.  It is meant to make each of us understand that it involves daily discipline and willingness to make necessary sacrifices.
It defies comprehension how people came to the conclusion that Odd-Even Formula had zero effect on curbing pollution.  The reduction in the total number of vehicles meant far less traffic snarls. When cars move at a consistent speed instead of moving at snail space due to traffic jams, they emit far less fumes & consume less fuel.
If we want clean air, each one of us has to take the responsibility by making important life style changes.  This includes switching over to public transport, which will never improve unless elite groups of society begin to use it.  Our collective pressure will force the government to improve the quality and enhance the quantity and modes of public transport. Like many others of my class, I too was addicted to using my personal car for daily commutes.  But I am grateful to the short-lived Odd-Even experiment for having forced me to experience the benefits of using public transport.
Thanks to the continuing spread of Metro in Delhi plus steady growth of quality cab services provided by Uber and Ola, switching over to public transport is today not only possible but also more convenient and cost effective than using one’s own car.  For instance, for going to DLF Gurgaon from my house in Civil Lines, a car ride could take anything from 90 minutes to 2.5 hours depending on traffic.  But a Metro Ride in cool comfort does not take more than 60 minutes, that too at a fraction of the cost.
A man cleans dust from a school bus in heavy smog in Delhi, India, November 10, 2017. Credit: Reuters

My total monthly bill of cab rides comes to less than the salary I have to pay my driver.  On top of it private car use means hefty petrol bills, car servicing and repair charges, parking charges plus the hassle of finding parking space.  Driving in choked cities also means frequent dent and scratches on your vehicle by careless drivers.  Then there is the annual car insurance and recurring expense on minor and major repairs.  Add to it the lakhs it costs to buy a car.  The annual interest one can earn on the amount one spends on a luxury car is enough to pay for taxi bills for the whole year.
I have trained my driver to do other office jobs thus putting his time to more productive use than taking me from one meeting to another and sitting idly for hours in-between. Now I never ask him to drop or receive me at the airport because it is far cheaper to take an AC cab than have him drive 30 kms through choked roads to drive me back another 30 kms.  Think of the man-hours and fuel cost saved. Today, every time I avoid taking my car out, I feel I am contributing in a small way to improving air quality.
While many of my friends and acquaintances went ahead and bought an additional car to evade compliance and sabotage the very intent of Odd-Even Scheme, I actually postponed indefinitely the idea of replacing my ten year old car with a new one, especially since the existing vehicle is still in good shape and running fine.  Even after the government discontinued the Odd-Even Scheme, I began avoiding the use of my personal car. These days, for at least 8 out of 10 trips, I use the Metro, Uber or Ola.
Some argue that using cabs is no different from using personal cars since both are fuel dependent. Firstly, most cabs use CNG, which is less harmful than petrol or diesel. But more importantly, on an average, a personal car carries just one or two persons in a day whereas a cab ferries at least 50 persons every day. When we park our cars on roadsides or in parking lots, that space becomes dead for all other purposes for that many hours.  An office goer or shopkeeper leaves his/her car parked all day occupying scarce land resource in prime locations. Today, our cities are choking with parked cars. As a result there is no safe space for pedestrians. By contrast, a cab keeps moving all day carrying dozens of passengers in multiple trips. So it actually frees road space, especially for pedestrians.
 If access to radio taxis becomes increasingly easier by growth in their numbers then there would be less rationale for owning a personal vehicles. Delhi government had done well to issue a warning to radio taxi services that they cannot arbitrarily enhance changes using “rush hour” or high demand” of an excuse to up the rates and fleece passengers.  Enhanced use of cabs and autos will also provide much needed job opportunities to the huge army of unemployed in India.
Sadly, buying ever-new models of cars and owning multiple vehicles has become a status symbol. Many of my neighbors, friends & acquaintances with 4-5 adult members in the family own 8 to 10 cars.  I hope if the awareness about such thoughtful extravagance which is creating life threatening problems for all of us keeps growing, the day is not far when elite families will be as embarrassed about owning a large fleet of cars as they are today about bulging tummies, expanding waistlines and sporting multiple chins.
But the Government also needs to realize that Odd-Even can’t work as a stand-alone measure. The environmental challenge we face demands many more radical measures.  These include:
  • Much greater investment in high quality and adequate supply of public transport;
  • Ban on the manufacture of diesel vehicles and following Mexico’s example in procuring Zero Emission Buses plus commitment to actively promote fossil fuel free motor vehicles;
  • Charging hefty fee for parking cars on public spaces, not just during the day but also at night.  Today our commercial areas as well as housing colonies are choking with vehicles leaving no space for walking because there is no restriction or charge on parking as many cars as you want/own on the public roads, footpath and every possible public space.  If people have to pay heavy parking charges for occupying road space, not just in commercial areas but even in their own neighborhoods, they would think ten times before buying multiple cars;
  • Using cutting edge technology for garbage recycling, producing wealth out of waste rather than let mountains of garbage emit noxious fumes every minute of the day apart from the intermittent fires that engulf neighboring areas endangering survival of poor communities that live near these garbage dumps;
  • Controlling industrial emissions with strict monitoring and up gradation of technology. This would include shutting down industries that refuse to invest in controlling noxious fumes & poisonous effluents. We should not allow the palliative of moving hazardous industries out of Delhi. They have no business to exist anywhere;
  • Helping farmers in finding cost efficient ways of handling crop residue;
  • Finding ways to control dust pollution due to construction activity;
  • Mechanizing daily sweeping of roads instead of using brooms to simply move dirt and dust from one place to another;
  • Planting more trees, especially those varieties that combat air pollution & respecting the sanctity of green belts and protected forests instead of slyly letting encroachments to take place;
  • Redesigning roads with dedicated tracks for non-motorized vehicles such as bicycles and cycle rickshaws. These eco-friendly means of transport need to be encouraged. Instead they are being pushed out through police banning cycle rickshaw entry into large parts of the city. A large chunk of working class would gladly move back to cycling to their workplace if our roads provided safe tracks for cycling. This would reduce the excessive burden on public transport and save precious money on commutes for the working poor.
  • Providing safe sidewalks to enable citizens to do local shopping and run other errands around their neighborhood without needing a motor vehicle. Today walking has become such a high-risk venture due to absence of clear sidewalks that even for short distance errands people are forced to take out their cars.  Even in the upscale Civil Lines area I live, I am forced to use my car when I go to the local nature park for my morning or evening walk, which is no more than 8 minutes walk from my house—all because of the absence of proper sidewalks.  Kids of my neighborhood are sent to a nearby swimming pool in cars even though the pool is only 6 minutes walking distance all because walking along speeding motor vehicles or crossing roads is a life threatening exercise.  If we made our cities walking and cycle friendly, that would help reduce our dependence on motor vehicles at least for short distance commutes which ultimately adds up to a lot.

Given the chronic lack of political and administrative will in India it is we as citizens who will eventually need to force changes in government policies by adopting saner and healthier lifestyles. Be it a self-imposed Odd-Even, planting and protecting trees in our neighborhoods, or making sure construction takes place in a responsible, non-polluting manner, it is we who must become the change we want to see take place in India. Or else be ready to live sickly crippled lives.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Fetishizing Gender Equality to Destroy Diversity & Freedom of Faith

Taking the Sabarimala temple to court for restricting the entry of women of a certain age group is akin to meat-eaters suing vegetarian restaurants for discriminating against non-vegetarians by refusing to serve meat. Common sense response would be to say—‘Go find a non-veg restaurant, of which there are plenty’. Tomorrow, self-styled, ill-informed reformers might demand that Durga-Kali worship be stopped because it legitimizes violence or declare the worship of Shiv lingam as “obscene.”  This is not farfetched because politically motivated groups have been decrying Durga as a whore and Krishna as womanizer.  Therefore, they declare these deities are not worthy of reverence.

In any civilized society, gender equality is to be treated as one of the core values. However, with apologies to Faiz Ahmed Faiz, aur bhi gham hein zamane mein gender equality ke siwa”. There are many more important values a democracy must uphold while standing up for gender equality—certainly not make a fetish of women’s rights.

Other core values of our democracy & Indic civilization are respect for diversity among the enormous range of communities co-habiting in India with substantial differences (as well as commonalities) in matters of faith, cultural practices, value systems, family structure, dress codes, food habits & ways of relating to the world as well as the Divine. While the leftist-feminist reformers have no difficulty in respecting the rights of ‘religious minorities”—namely Muslims and Christians—to live by their own cherished cultural and faith traditions, when it comes to diverse Hindu groups, they consider it their divine right to dictate terms.

The unique grandeur of the Hindu faith lies in the fact that each group, each sect and each individual is free to envisage the Divine in whatever form, shape, and temperament that devotees like. That's how we have millions of Devis and Devatas with new ones taking avatar as and when the situation so demands or their devotees so desire. Practically every village in India has its own gram devi or devata. Our devis and devatas are not distant, unfathomable entities forever sitting in some distant god-land or heaven. They take avatar on earth to offer succour & comfort to those in need. In the process each one acquires distinct personality traits as well as preferences with regard to mode of worship.

Take the contrasting tastes of Ma Kali and Vaishnodevi, both of whom are manifestations of the same Shakti. While Vaishnodevi demands strict vegetarianism, animals are routinely sacrificed as offerings to Ma Kali. Lord Ganesh likes modak as prasad while Hanuman ji prefers boondi and Lord Shiva devotees offer milk and even bhang. Devotees of various deities do not begrudge the practices of others. This freedom has kept alive vibrant diversity in our faith traditions because they allow individuals and groups to define their relationship to the Divine according to their preferences.

It is the same freedom which allowed Manushi to invoke ten armed Ma Swachhnarayani, as our isht devi.She wields ten different non-traditional weapons that include a broom as symbol of cleansing society of corruption, weighing balance to symbolise social justice, a calculator that demands honest accounts of government, and a video camera that points to the need for an accurate grasp of ground realtity for those engaged in social reform. (For Swachhnarayani aarti click here). No Hindu has ever questioned or protested against the powers we attribute to our Isht devi or our mode of worship that includes jhadu puja.

The Hindu faith has thus remained amongst the most liberal in the world, with different groups and individuals exercising the right to relate to the Divine in whatever way they wish, without insisting that others must follow their chosen path.

Even the most conservative among Hindus don’t insist on uniformity of beliefs and practices. This spontaneous, mutual respect for differences in ways of being, ways of worship, singing, dancing, clothing, cooking and so on, is what enabled the rich diversity of India to survive through millennia. But in the name of equality rabid feminists can’t stomach such freedom and liberalism.

Traditional Hindu temples are run by different sects with each choosing a particular deity in a particular form as their isht dev or devi. They’re not meant as tourist spots for all to come & go as they please.  If you don’t respect the unique temperament of that deity or find beliefs of a particular sect offensive, you are free to opt for the devata or devi that suits your taste.  There are lakhs of others to choose from.

Just as our colonial rulers with their faith in the superiority of their monotheistic faith, despised Hindu religious practices, with their millions of gods and goddesses, our modern day missionaries can’t stand the temperamental nuances of our diverse deities. They have no problem in accepting that women are barred inside friaries meant to house Catholic priests who have taken a vow of celibacy. But they can’t stomach the idea of a Hindu deity who has vowed eternal celibacy which involves avoiding the company of young women. They take it upon themselves to cure this kink because their feminist indoctrination interprets it as misogny and gender discrimination!  They choose to ignore that it is only one or two temples in all of India where women of certain age groups are denied entry whereas there are several ‘women-only’ temples where males are denied entry.

As far as the issue of gender justice is concerned, the Hindu faith can hardly be considered anti-women, considering it is the only faith that worships the feminine as Shakti--the mighty force that moves the universe. Male deities are powerless without feminine Shakti from whom various devatas derive their strength.

When I find the case against Sabarimala frivolous, it is not to suggest that Hindu faith traditions are writ in stone and unchanging. Devotees reserve the right to change their dharmic practices as well as demand improved behavior by their chosen deities as per the requirements of changing times. That is how we have countless re-writings of Ramayanas in different ages with each one interpreting Ram in their own way and many even improving upon Valmiki's depiction of Ram’s conduct in various ways, especially his abandoning Ma Sita even after she had gone through an uncalled for agni pariksha or the deceit involved in the killing of Baliraja.  But it doesn’t behove non-believers or hostile attackers of Hindu faith to impose their fads and sensibilities on groups who don’t share their worldview, especially if their practices don’t impact, leave alone harm the non-devotees.  A genuine devotee has the right to demand change but not politically motivated hateful critics.

Ironically, the flag bearers of women’s equality don’t seem to have any problem with special compartments reserved for women in trains. Most of them insist on our parliament enacting a law to reserve 33% constituencies for women whereby males are barred from contesting from those seats. They’re not satisfied with laws that promise equality. They insist on legislation that is unjustly loaded in favor of women.  You can’t have it both ways – Fetishize equality when it suits you and insist on special concessions and previliges as per your dictates.

It is ironical that the Supreme Court has entertained this petition at a time when Hindu groups are already in the Apex Court demanding that Hindu temples be freed from statist controls whereby ruling parties in every state have the power to appoint their political flunkeys as well as favoured bureaucrats and politicians to Management Boards of all major shrines and dharmasthans. This power has mostly been used to control and siphon off the enormous loads of money that devotees offer to these temples. The government of India dare not take such liberties with running of mosques and churches.

While delivering its judgement, the Supreme Court should keep in mind that none among the devotees of Sabarimala have come to court demanding changed rules. It’s only hostile and motivated outsiders who are using the fig leaf of gender equality to push their partisan agendas.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Appeal to Govt. of India to Stop Funding Pro Pakistan Media Houses & Journalists in Kashmir

"The Pakistani flag is a symbol of freedom and independence for the Kashmiris while protesting against the Indian forces, however, New Delhi gives the perception of the international community that the demonstrators hoisting the green flag in the valley are infiltrators"
Shujaat Bhukhari, Editor of Rising Kashmir speaking at a meeting in Dubai of Jammu and Kashmir Journalists Forum, United Arab Emirates. The meeting was attended by Pakistanis and Pro Jihad journalists from Kashmir.

Dear Prime Minister Narendra Modi,
Statements like the above are routinely coming from Kashmir's newspapers and journalists, including those who run their papers from Indian tax payer's money.
We the undersigned welcome the firm action being taken by the Government of India against various separatist leaders of Kashmir following media exposure that avowedly secessionist outfits in Kashmir have been promoting a bloody Islamist jihad engineered and financially supported by Pakistani agencies.
However, it is a matter of great concern that all those newspapers and media houses which are openly supporting terrorist organizations and jihadi warfare in Kashmir continue to be supported by the state government with lavish funds through advertisements by government departments, free or subsidized housing for journalists, editors, land grants and other freebies. Some of them even Government of India ads through DAVP. Many of them have availed of Sadbhavna Funds from the Indian army.
The very same papers run a daily demonization campaign against India as a country as well as the Indian state and India’s armed forces. Their coverage of Pak engineered unrest and jihadi attacks in Kashmir, whether against innocent citizens or against India’s security forces, as well as countless murders of elected representatives is brazenly tinted to favour pro secessionists. They have never condemned murders and mayhem by Islamist terrorist groups but make a ritual of spewing venom against India and its security forces, which have behaved with commendable restraint while dealing with hard-boiled terrorists.
Each one of these papers defends Rohingya Muslims’ right to settle in J&K even though they have entered India as illegal migrants. But the same papers go ballistic at the mere mention of restoring the rights of Kashmiri Pandits in their homeland or giving state subject rights to Hindus who were ousted out of POK in 1947 and settled down in Jammu region 70 years ago.
The brazenness with which they take Government of India money as their right is evident from the fact that one such editor, Shujaat Bukhari of Rising Kashmir filed a criminal defamation suit against Prof Madhu Kishwar on the basis of three tweets in which she merely stated that though papers like Rising Kashmir feed off government funds, they still continue furthering Pakistani agenda. Given his political clout (his brother is a senior minister in PDP led government), he could even get arrest warrants issued against Kishwar on the very day that the case was admitted in Srinagar court. Bukhari has neither denied that he takes government funding nor has he denied that he is pro-secession and pro Pak. And yet, he wants to silence Kishwar’s voice for exposing his duplicity. (Source)
Here is one of the many seditious intent towards India. While attending a seminar/meeting along with Pakistani journalists in Dubai hosted by a British NGO, Bhukari is reported to have said "The Pakistani flag is a symbol of freedom and independence for the Kashmiris while protesting against the Indian forces, however, New Delhi gives the perception to the international community that the demonstrators hoisting the green flag in the valley are infiltrators" (Source) 
(After our petition Bukhari got the link we had originally given to his quote blocked. However, we have found same statement reported by this link)
While that case will take its own course in courts of law, we appeal to Prime Minister Modi and National Security Advisor, Mr Ajit Doval to:
1.  Set up a time bound Task force to review the list of recipients of government ads, government housing, land allotments and other facilities made available to media persons in order to weed out those media houses and journalists who are openly allied to forces committed to breaking up India through violent secessionist movements. This must be done not only with regard to Kashmiri media but all the regions witnessing Maoist or other insurgencies
2.  Enquire into the hawala funds coming from Pakistan or other Islamic countries to secessionist newspapers, journalists—both regular and freelance
3.  Revoke the passports of all the journalists who are on the payroll of Pakistani or other agencies hostile to India’s security and integrity. They should not be allowed to run around the globe defaming India with horrendous lies while carrying the Indian passport
Hawala payments coming to media persons from Pakistan and other Islamic or Western countries need to be investigated with the same vigor that the NIA is investigating the foreign funds coming from the Hurriyat Jihadis.
Thank you!  
Kashmiri Pandits

Madhu Kishwar
Sign the petition here:

Madhu Kishwar

Madhu Kishwar
इक उम्र असर होने तक… … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …اک عمر اثر ہونے تک

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