Saturday, September 29, 2007

Myanmar - India supports the Junta's Freedom to Loot

The world has already expressed its disgust at the criminal actions of the military Junta in Myanmar. There are just two things that I would like to stress:

India's voice has been silent. Why? What is the vested interest that shuts our mouth, or is it that our government actually secretly approves of the actions of the "Generals"?

As an immediate neighbor to Myanmar, one would think that we would be the first to express our dismay, but nowadays many 'immediate neighbors' are complicit by their silence; take South Africa and Zambia for example, and how they have chosen to 'deal' with Zimbabwe. India is proving to be a similarly adept tightrope walker.

Our Indian Junta does not believe in principles any more. The shock of the interim success of the religiously fundamentalist BJP seems to have stripped all of the remaining ideals from todays so-called leadership. The long-term game is to remain in power and in order to do that they feel the need for support and encouragement from other morally bankrupt (but rich) democratic allies. One can see that a certain world power is counting on inciting India to act as a bulwark against the ultimate ascendancy of the growing economic might of China. That particular power in turn unhesitatingly subverts the remaining principles of their chosen allies by the simple expedient of financing whomsoever will 'toe its line'.

Western talk of promoting democracy has proved to be cheap. Belief in the benefits of true democracy have altogether disappeared. The result is seen here as India had backed away from doing anything about Tibet, and then 'on request' did the dirty to our long-time allies the Iranians, so too now will we sell the Myanmarese peoples to the highest bidder.

Both India and Burma (Myanmar) are ex-colonies of Great Britain! The British understood globalisation, and Realpolitik long before anyone else. They had to to be able to maintain a dominance, an empire for over two whole centuries, on which the sun never did set! At the same time the Brits have been busy writing histories of how selflessly they used their empire to educate and develop an uncivilised world. Our Indian leaders have learned too well at the feet of their former masters.

The unholy alliance of a China along with a subverted democracy, both joining in in the shenanigans of the key MNCs ensures the continuance of the military regime in Myanmar. This is my second point. The survival of the military junta is because they are tremendously rich. These riches fund the control of the army that then backs up completely the Junta's undemocratic hegemony.

The money in the case of Myanmar, comes mainly from timber, oil, gas, opium, and mining. All of the timber, oil, and mineral wealth is harvested from the vast pristine tropical wilderness by multinational corporations (MNCs) whose activity is known and approved of by the nations that host and spawn these Money alone is God behemoths. The facts are not even denied; it is called progress, development and globalisation. Shamelessly such MNCs continue to operate without any controls, raping the lands and forests and simultaneously doing all in their power to ensure the continuance and enrichment of the 'oh so cooperative' golden-egg-laying-gooses of a Junta. The nations that spawn such monstrosities as these MNCs are the very ones that also piously speak of promoting democracy!

"The majority of investment in oil and gas was made by multinational companies from France, United States and United Kingdom in entering joint venture projects with the state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE)"

India and China in different ways are great supporters of today's Myanmar, and even rivals for influence there, though there is little question that China's economic influence does dominate.. India has its stake more as the key cutout and staging point for any MNC that wants to get round the 'minor sanctions' and the 'muted murmurs of disapproval' that are occasionally felt from Europe and America.

Myanmar is one nation where there is no need for any mafia. The looting and environmental destruction are legal! But MNCs prefer the anonymity of JVs and offshoring their activities through 'friendlies' like India.

It is also a little-recognised fact that the vast British empire was built on wood from Africa and Asia. In all former colonies one will find that some of the oldest surviving government departments are the FDs (Forest Departments) and that the systematic rape of third world forests was almost the first thing that the colonial British actually did to their colonies. While wood is still a very major money spinner, the future clearly lies in the oil and gas reserves. India and China in their unholy partnerships with the MNCs have their eyes and policies firmly fixed on all that gas and quite some oil reserves too.

  • India's double standards and their hidden activity as proxies to 'higher' powers needs to be recognised and CONDEMNED.
  • The MNCs that are actually doing the damage but who have remained faceless need to be NAMED and SHAMED.

We Indians have been witness to the insidious but definite shift in our own nation's foreign policies as it increasingly leans towards outright doing whatever the richest of nations want. The Indian activity is mediated (dare we suspect 'funded'?) by these same nations and their MNCs i.e. the very ones who are consistently exploiting Myanmar (and wherever else the opportunity to act without any controls makes the process maximally profitable). It is a sad truth that both of our leading political parties have already been 'converted' into backboneless and unprincipled supporters of "that which should not be named". While that pristine state in public speaks loudly of championing democracy, at the same time the word to the MNCs boardrooms is to quietly get on with getting the loot.

I am not at this moment much concerned about the sins of the rest of the world.
It is India's shameless tactics that have confounded me.

Folks, it's time to make a change!
Let's stand up for what's right, for a change...
India needs to get its act together NOW.

Pray for the peoples of Myanmar.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

On Looking Good

Appearance, concepts like ugliness, and beauty; should these make any difference to how we relate to other human beings?

Given that for a person with functioning eyesight, most often the very first contact that we make with another person is visual, that 'first impression' certainly must have an impact. Is the person tall, short, lean, fat, fair, dark, handsome, ugly, having some unusual or outstanding feature...? We register these impressions almost subconsciously, and they stay with us. We associate this set of physical attributes with that person.

I've had the same sort of experience while talking to people on the phone. Folks that I have never met respond to things like the quality of one's voice, pronunciation/accent, and how articulate one is. I remember a classical music host on our university FM station that I used to call to make requests to when working the midnight shift at the blood bank. It got so that we became good phone friends and one night she had broadcast an appeal for blood just before I called her with a request. She wanted to know how acute the crisis was, and it was a bit of a crunch, in the dead of winter and after some bad snowfalls the trickle of donors had pretty much dried up. Then she asked me whether I had a vehicle and whether I could give her a ride the next morning so that she could donate. I was quite amazed at her confidence and lack of fear! I asked her later how she had had the courage to trust a 'caller-in' stranger, and she just said, "it's your voice". I then had a long talk with her about NEVER doing that again.

When sexuality and finding a mate get thrown into the mix, the questions become more acute, easier to answer, but harder to deal with. Dating is not a very common practice in India. Here the culture is still dominated by Families (with a capital F, see my earlier post here) and particularly so when marriage and mate matching is in view. Families here tend not to look too much at physical beauty, and are perhaps even a bit suspicious of it, but they will not consider people with physical handicaps (especially girls) and will dig deeply into a lot of other things including the other family's caste background, antecedents (is it a 'good' family?), health history, whether the boy is taller/girl shorter, and strangely enough, especially for girls, whether they are fair - i.e. light skinned!

After getting past the critical step of matching horoscopes, the investigation of a potential match can take months, with involvement by much of the extended family and input coming from all sides. One negative opinion freely expressed can spell doom!

With the dowry system also stubbornly hanging around, it is possible that the 'detected deficiencies' on the part of the girl can be compensated by the girl's parents by suitably 'enhancing' the pot. On the boy's side, if there are problems, the opposite occurs, and the amount demanded will be suitably reduced!

In such an environment, Families are terrified of having any hint of controversy surrounding them or attaching to them even from a distance. Any nonconformity is anathema. The usual sexual discrimination is also obvious, for 'boys will be boys' and are allowed to get themselves into a certain amount of hot water, but for the girls, never.

Western culture though, seems keen to let their youth figure out for themselves whom they will make life commitments to, and nowadays, even whether they will permanently settle down with one particular 'significant other'. The role of physical appearance therefore is very prominent. Popularity seems to be first and foremost governed by how good one looks. The other questions, initially at least, take a back seat. If you like someones looks, you are more likely to go out with them when invited. You are much more likely to invite someone out whom you think looks good. Being popular and looking good seem to have more than a casual connection.

Corollaries to this are that everyone is very concerned about their appearance. One should certainly try to look as good as one can! The amount of angst and therefore outflows of money are directly proportional to the tremendous anxiety generated all round. Also, The beautiful and the handsome, are much more likely to pair up with others who are 'beautiful and handsome' and subsequently be envied by all those who do not fit into these categories.

In a youth and young adult fellowship group that I once frequented* about 60% were girls. Out of about 200 people attending, my guess would be that there were about 15 really 'popular' girls ( judging from their calenders) with another 30 or so who generally had a date at least once a week. The rest (roughly 80) pretty much languished in a sea of envy and pretended nonchalance! The unintended but very real cruelty of this system didn't seem to unduly worry anyone. It was a very Darwinian sort of thing to find in a Christian fellowship group: The popular will survive!

In both systems the rules of engagement seem to relax somewhat when 'just friendship' is envisaged. But even here, for some folks, the idea that handsome is as handsome does is not acceptable. The company one keeps should also be from and of the 'beautiful people'.

Pragmatically, either system (Eastern or Western) does seem to 'work'. The respective cultures also do not seem to feel any great discomfort with how their system works and in both cultures, the advertising community finds a rich storehouse of stuff with which to manipulate demand. One can't blame them, for the resulting ideas are powerful as well as seductive!

Being rich, being famous, being beautiful, and their opposites are all factors that we seem to take for granted should make a difference in how we relate to others.

But, I find it horrifying that we take it all as a matter of course. 'That's just the way it is, and that's just the way it always has been'! I'm sorry, but however strongly these ideas are embedded in our cultures, it doesn't make them right. Our ethic must challenge both of these contrasting but nasty systems.
The question is not "does it work?" but is "is it right?".

*quite some ways back so I could be needing correction on this if these trends have changed...

Friday, September 14, 2007

Can Religion Help the Environment?

Chatting with a friend at Greenpeace recently I said “As with most people I don’t worry too much about the ‘ecological crisis'. After all the present situation is one that has been created by so many of our industrial and agricultural activities over the last couple of hundred years. So what difference will my little consciousness make?” He made one comment: "You claim to be a follower of Jesus, have you never thought of how God views what we are doing to His world - and you an amateur conservationist”.
In Africa, South America and the very few areas of Asia that still have some tropical forests, native tribes practice a type of semi-nomadic lifestyle supported by hunting, gathering, and ‘slash and burn’ agriculture. They have done so for millennia. The forests were not much affected. Climate change was something that happened slowly over tens of thousands of years. Plenty of time for native species to adapt or move on.
Nowadays, many of these tribes are shifting to the slums that surround all cities.
The forests have been taken over by agricultural 'developers' following close on the heels of the poaching and timber mafias. The few remaining forests are being decimated.
In fact, the whole world’s population is shifting to the slums of our cities, even our farmers! The human race has lost touch with the land that gives us life. Everywhere, businesses accumulate land and exploit the land for the maximum output at the least possible investment.
We don’t worry about the long term results on the land as long as our supermarkets are well stocked and prices remain affordable.
The land has become invisible. The same could be said for many of the staples of 'civilisation', electrical energy, gas (petrol), building materials, steel, and so on are not areas of concern, and unless prices rise we just don’t think about them at all.

The one environmental issue that we do get a bit concerned about is pollution and that is only because we do have to feel the consequences in our landfills, in the air we breathe and in the water that we drink. The easy way out is what we always prefer and you would be surprised at how much toxic waste gets exported to the third world for disposal or just dumped in our oceans. That’s the stuff that’s too nasty to dump anywhere near ‘civilised’ people.
The results of our selfishness are the steady destruction of the ecological balance of the world. Down the road we will pay a heavier price as pollution, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and global warming take hold. The #GW skeptics are wrong!
That process has already started. Take the lowly mosquito; a silent and versatile vector for various nasty diseases, this tiny insect is working its way ever northward as winters get milder. The result now is a few cases of West Nile Virus attacks sporadically here and there. Unfortunately, these will be followed by Japanese Encephalitis, Dengue, Malaria, Chikungunya, Ebola, … and other little horrors for which there are no known cures.
Being a Christian, starting with the Bible, the creation imperatives lay out the present situation rather too well. Gen 1:28 “Multiply…subdue it and have dominion”. We have, in our fallenness, persevered pridefully to rape and pillage without a care for the condition of the very lands and the oceans that give us life. The context has been ignored, and Gen 2 has God planting a garden that was just sufficient... and I believe modifies both the meaning of 'dominion' and 'subdue'.
One issue for me today is how to start obeying God’s commandments in the light of what history and science teach. But, neither history nor science are very encouraging for they leave me with a sense that our best intentions can cause more harm than good. Interventions on behalf of nature very often backfire resulting in unforeseeable bad consequences. Human interventions in anything are disaster-prone!
More encouraging is the trajectory that Jesus brings with the teaching on 'the kingdom'. Today, what effect will it have if I take Jesus’s teachings on being in God's kingdom to heart and start living as a citizen of the kingdom of God?
Some of these basic gospel teachings are:
1. To identify with and to accept the have-nots.
2. To not accumulate wealth or possessions.
3. To freely share whatever I have.
4. To be more concerned about others welfare than my own.
5. To not build up buffer stocks against whatever may happen tomorrow.
6. To consume only what is absolutely necessary for today.
7. To use all of the talents that God has given me to the best of my ability.
8. To love and accept responsibility for all mankind without discrimination while ignoring worldly and genetically determined imperatives.
9. To personally stand for justice and to support systems and laws that promote justice in its narrowest and broadest senses.
10. To pay taxes and to demand accountability from the leadership on behalf of God’s kingdom.
11. To be unostentatious in matters of one's religion.
Jesus’s teaching of these principles automatically brought him into conflict with both the politicos and the religious. There is no 'mammon' to be had for anyone in God’s kingdom, it won’t even trickle down! Therefore, there is a big element of risk involved, especially if a growing proportion of Jesus’s followers start taking His kingdom teachings seriously.
We conveniently also forget that the original command was to 'fill' and that certainly implies not overfilling and not taxing the world's systems and biodiversity to destruction!

The most important environmental principles are to shun exploitation, or excess, in any form. By redefining what is really necessary and differentiating it from what the market drives me to desire, I will be able to reduce consumption and automatically the environment will benefit, as will the humans of this world! So, for our environment, if I can live by the principles of the kingdom, the results will be at least neutral (we won’t make matters any worse) but more probably I will give the world of nature some breathing space and maybe help to see something of a recovery.
A proper understanding of religion therefore can help the environment!

Related Posts:
Biodiversity II - or How to be LESS Inversive!


What's In A NAME - Biodiversity vs Global Warming

Biodiversity - The Inverse Main Point

Biodiversity and taxonomy

Holy Books And The 21st Century - Exploring Cultural Bridges

My Complaints About Christianity:

[Slightly modified from a comment made on opensource theology (site now dead)- and first published in October of 2006]

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Forces of Evil

The clash of cultures in India and other parts of the third world is something that I have always thought of as an intellectual exercise. Recently, though, the realities have struck a bit too close to home for comfort!

Our culture is one that is dominated by family. The family is now mostly the immediate family and the closest relations, something an order of magnitude greater than the nuclear family itself. Previously such was a much bigger group in India very often comprising one's caste, (community or jaathi). Nowadays, for many of the city dwelling folks, the caste carries a little less weight, but the slightly extended family (SED), has taken over that role and dictates terms to the concerned individuals with an overpowering and imperative voice.

The Now Generation, the 6th - 7th generation of our youth (Millennium 1?) since this nation gained independence, is at a crossroads. They know, and their national constitution guarantees them, their rights, but the rights are on paper and cannot be exercised without causing much consternation in the SED. The SED decides on everything from dress codes, to schooling, to work, diet and even, yes, marriage partners. The confusion is compounded by the utter contrast between what these kids see on TV, on the internet, and what the SED is telling them.

Over the years, it has been our privilege to stand by those few brave souls who are willing to buck the system and insist that they do have the right as individuals to make their own choices. Not surprisingly, these individuals are those who have had perhaps more of an exposure to Western cultures, perhaps with parents who had themselves felt uneasy with the status quo but also quite often it is a matter of conflict from the word go.

Surprisingly, when in the midst of the heated, emotional and sometimes dangerous conversations that follow when a person moves against their SED, the question often boils down to economics: The SED has done a,b, & c for you at great cost to itself, therefore you cannot now go your own way. Obviously, the entire system, the economics of the SED way of life, is being called into question.

Reactions to challenges to the SED system of life are often even violent for so much is at stake. But the critical question is how this clash of cultures is going to work itself out? For one thing, those who want to accommodate the good in the older system (stable, long lasting marriages and families that are child oriented) find themselves in a bind for any change is not appreciated. Without the middle path it seems that only by open conflict will the system change!

Ground Zero is usually marriage. Arranged versus love marriage is the stark choice that faces our youth. The SED will not tolerate love marriages at all. Very often the few couples who proceed and succeed in getting married after falling in love, will face ostracism, often by parents and family on both sides. Some do survive the economic and societal pressures but often these couples are forced apart. The result is often disastrous with the couple deciding to commit suicide.

The only option within SED is to marry

whomever the SED picks out, and make the best of it.

It may have been a good system resulting in stable marriages and strong families at one time, but it only works when both husband and wife (and their kids!) are strictly role bound and do not ask any awkward questions. Given the ways in which the supporting culture is changing, it's only a matter of time before the questions will out and marriages that looked solid find themselves on the rocks.

Our youth will have to find their way through this difficult maze, and to some extent, one can see them succeeding in forging a new path especially in the cities. The rural scene is still completely bound in tradition and forced marriages and even honour killings are still a 'norm' whenever the rural SEDs and the local caste system are challenged.


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