Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Right Choice


Alienation of hearts and minds has the potential to strengthen the monster of violence we all despise.

Disturbing stories of violent acts committed by seemingly intelligent and stable individuals grace the media from time to time. Whether adhering to an all too common nihilistic ideology, holding personal grievances against former employers or disturbed by workplace harassment, these acts constantly challenge our perception of the world around us. A majority of people – whatever their religion, cultural background or affiliation – would probably never fully comprehend the motivation behind violent acts because these are consistently inconsistent with the basic values that form the fabric of civilized societies.

As communities big and small struggle to make sense of it, comments posted in blogs and newspaper websites give one a fair idea of the anger and calls for retaliation that acts of violence provoke, while at the same time there is much to appreciate in the saner voices urging for reason to prevail. Mainstream Muslims in the post 9/11 US are increasingly bewildered why they get so easily grouped together with the 'bad guys', the moment some untoward incident happens, in societies they have inhabited and contributed productively to for decades. In homogenous societies, it is perhaps relatively easy to draw a line between right and wrong and distance oneself form the less favoured position, but heterogeneous societies can come with a unique problem when ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’, so to speak, of any ethnic, religious or cultural group might find themselves labeled as one. Unfortunately, this also forms the basis for another form of what is now popularly known as 'collateral': the alienation of hearts and minds.

This alienation is something to be feared because when resentment against the individual who has committed a brutal act extends to envelop a whole community, not only does it incite hatred and threaten social cohesion, but it also has the potential to isolate the very people who can make a difference, as they grow increasingly tired of explaining themselves for the actions of those they have nothing to do with. While the generally accepted position for peoples of other Faiths inhabiting countries around the world regarding terrorism remains ‘innocent until proven guilty’, for Muslims it has become the opposite. Even though no other religious community is called on to accept responsibility for individual murderers within their fold, Muslims around the world are expected to do just that. That’s a heavy burden to carry; one that is starting to take its toll.

Since the tragedy of 9/11, there has been so much collateral in physical, emotional and psychological terms that the world may never go back to how we knew it. Tragedies have a way of bringing people together through the common experience of learning to piece together a shattered existence. Yet, 9/11 and its subsequent events have divided the world so sharply on religious lines that there seems to be no turning back unless a conscious effort to reverse the trend is undertaken through active engagement at every level.

This spirit of tolerance and engagement is not hard to find. It resides within us, and without. I – a Muslim living in the diverse society I now inhabit – have seen it and felt it, and there is no reason why it can’t be extended to and from others like me. I find it apparent in the welcoming smiles of the lovely women of my book club and the constant support of considerate friends who know and respect me for who I am rather than fit me into a stereotype; it is hiding in the thoughtful quotes selected by the librarian who talks to me about deeper truths of life, promoting a selfless existence; it shines through the little acts of care my colleagues at work show when they step in ever so quickly if they see me headed for a cultural faux pas my newness leaves me vulnerable to; it reaches out to me through the people who make an extra effort to learn to pronounce my name just right and share their thoughts on concepts of compassion and mercy, and it envelops me in its warmth when I stand with dedicated people so focused on seeing the vision of interfaith harmony materialize – this spirit of tolerance is indeed alive and well in the hearts of Americans of all Faiths and affiliations that I come across every day.

Is that an overly simplistic view? Am I missing something? Not really, for I have also experienced the unpleasantness of being seen as an extension of the bad news that comes from my part of the world so consistently these days – I have come across those who retreat as soon as they learn the name of my home country and those who, despite having some meaningful contact with me for over a year, have now chosen to walk away – still, I want to believe that the wonderful people around me are representative of the majority and may the few, who struggle with their fears and take refuge in generalizations, find their peace before it is too late to make amends.

History teaches us that the actions of a few have so often ruined the lives of many. But then, a few others have made all the difference. The cycle of violence and mistrust does not have to go on if we refuse to give in to our fears. It is hard, but ‘doable’ – as my American friends would say. All we have to do is make the right choice. Not tomorrow, but now. Choose to reach out. Choose to resolve. And choose to reunite. All it takes is an open mind, and a belief – yes, we can.

A version of this article was published in the ICNE Newsletter, March 26, 2010.

A Local Oasis in a World of Religious Strife


Religious differences are generally acknowledged to be a major cause of social conflict in many societies and a serious contemporary issue plaguing relations among nations.

The concepts of religious toleration and liberty, despite being much talked about entities, are also found sadly lacking when many proponents of freedom and equality are invited to walk the talk. Yet, every now and then one is rendered pleasantly surprised.

A diverse mix of faiths resides in the small picturesque town of Sharon. One evening, while taking a stroll down the street, I passed by a synagogue. A banner displayed outside announced the celebration of 70 years since its founding. There was light music coming from inside, pleasant and non-intrusive, while a large number of cars parked outside bore witness to plentiful attendance. Having recently moved to the country, I began to wonder about the religious freedom extended to other faiths represented there. In a land criticized for persecution of its Muslim inhabitants since Sept. 11, the thought seemed to provoke a skeptical response.

However, a week later while attending a social gathering just a mile away, I stood corrected on more scores than one. A large number of Muslims, mostly of Pakistani origin, had gathered for a celebration. It was a pleasant affair. Men sat comfortably on one side, engrossed in discussions about gas prices and aspirations of their newly graduated offspring, while women and young girls dressed in bright traditional wear sat in the main hall around tables, chatting away or fretting over the rows of food which, as I was to appreciate later, had been cooked by the host and his friends – a huge step away from their traditional role! – in the kitchen next to the main hall. The hall overlooked a swimming pool, a basket ball court, and a school. I was also informed that a private organization called Interfaith Action Inc. coordinates with Muslims and peoples of other faiths in town to facilitate better understanding.

As I watched the scene of perfect social harmony, I became aware of a glaring inconsistency – the presence of non-Muslims. Inside the mosque. That’s right. The venue for the interfaith gathering was the central place of prayer for the followers of the Islamic faith, in the heart of the town. It was a place of not just religious assembly, but of social gathering for the whole family too – something entirely unheard-of back home. As I stood there marveling at the scene before me, the muezzin announced the call for prayer. Men and women formed neat rows to bow before their God while non-Muslim guests looked on curiously, sharing a quiet moment.

A quick flash of memory; another time, another place. Inside the Islamic Republic. A mosque – a place where the entry of a non-Muslim could invite serious consequences in some parts of the country; a place where a regular mosque-goer, for his dedication to his faith, might end up a statistic on the floor of a mosque in yet another suicide attack by a fellow Muslim. Perplexing thoughts. Why are non-Muslims discouraged from interacting with Muslims when blessings of interfaith harmony need to be propagated to improve the delicate global balance? Why is so much blood spilled in the name of a God believed to be ‘the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful’?

It is perhaps only reasonable to conclude that religious differences do not necessarily form the basis for social conflict. It is the culture of intolerance and injustice that breeds hatred and violence. In societies that uphold social justice and religious freedom as a basic human right, religious differences can actually become a source of stability and provide successful multicultural and multi-religious social models for others to follow.

For many, it is clearly time for some serious introspection – but this small town certainly seems to have its priorities in order.

Published Sept 30, 2009 in The Patriot Ledger

Paperless Ethic

The future of efficiency in work management is in adopting a completely or partially paperless system, whether through recycling of paper or switching to digital technology.

Most South Asian countries were largely agricultural economies until a couple of decades ago. Industrialization brought in economic benefits plus an extra burden on environment. Yet, as the developed world adapted in technological management and transferred paper record-keeping to digital data processing, most countries of South Asia still remain buried under piles of paperwork for various reasons particular to the specific needs of these societies, and mostly rely on what is still considered the more reliable and convenient method of record keeping - heavy ledgers and paper sheets. In one of the region's largest economies, India, the consumption of paper is set to double in the next eight years, according to the Indian Paper Manufacturers Association (IPMA).

The idea of ‘going green' has been a major motivation for using less paper to reduce the carbon imprint. The Copenhagen Summit last December brought to focus the effects of unchecked carbon emission into the environment with food and water wars, species extinction and rising sea levels as possible consequences threatening the poorer regions of the world, including South Asian countries. Yet, for most of the South Asian countries it is difficult to embrace rapidly the green movement of advanced technology to replace paper record maintenance. Along with the question of funds, replacing the current workforce with a technologically savvy workforce in countries with a not so impressive literacy rate and no access to training facilities can bring about a whole new set of problems. Providing substitute jobs to those rendered redundant due to their lack of new skills also poses another huge dilemma. In Pakistan, although private companies are engaged in updating to digital technology, many government departments still rely on obsolete systems and obtaining computer technology remains a challenge with funds stretched to the limits to fulfill more pressing needs.

Some programs in South Asia have focused on importing recycled computers at cheap rates to provide easy accessibility to technology. However, this can turn into a double-edged sword as one sad aspect of recycling of computers was described in a New York Times report titled: ‘Technology's Toxic Trash', published in February, 2002, which talks of exploitation of developing countries through the process of electronics recycling. Mr. Puckett, coordinator of the Basel Action Network, is reported to have said, "They call this recycling, but it's really dumping by another name." The authors of the report have implied that the developed world has found a scapegoat in exporting hazardous material to developing countries where regulations regarding environmental and occupational hazards are insufficient for adults and young children involved in recycling programs. In one study by an environmental protection group, alarming levels of toxic pollutants were found in some samples from River Lianjiang in China where an electronics recycling center is located. Unless recycling is done responsibly, paper efficiency may be a better solution than providing cheap technology.

The advantages of using digital technology responsibly are enormous - though maintaining a regular backup and installing a well-recommended anti-virus program is a pre-requisite to any such endeavor. Shifting to digital database system increases pace of accessibility, circulation and hence decision-making - a definite plus for businesses. They also have the ease of accessing records anywhere, not just at the office. Hence advantages in terms of efficiency and economics are multiplied when time and costs are better managed, and environmentally responsible work ethic is established.

Also, paperless procedures show dividends with busy services such as those provided by banks and billing agencies. This results in efficiency of response time which saves, and generates, valuable capital. In addition to that, office space reserved for storage of paper records or for use in copiers etc may be completely removed if they are scanned and archived digitally, and better utilization of open office space improves the overall comfort level of workers as well as clients.

There are also many other ways of adopting the paper-efficient work ethic. Cutting back on paper can be a simple affair if we choose to take part in it. When printing, 50% reduction can immediately take place by just setting the printer to default duplex, and doing away with extra paperwork like fax cover sheets etc. For more progressive and expanding businesses, it works better to simply install software on the company's print servers so machines don't print out unnecessary pages etc. According to tips provided on office paper reduction sheet, the Environmental Protection agency suggests a regular practice of using e-mail communication among office staff to send and review reports, edit, request information electronically, and save on hard drive, CD-ROM or other electronic memory device.

Another environmentally friendly method of efficient paper management is paper-recycling, even though there would always be need to make paper from new sources as individual paper fibers can only be recycled 5 to 10 times. Economic benefits of recycling include its cost effectiveness in comparison with waste collection, landfill and incineration, not mention environmental benefits. Incentive may be established in corporations for recycling to advance this useful method. It also pays dividends in terms of new jobs created - estimate given by the National Recycling Coalition suggest that for every job collecting recyclables, there are 26 jobs in processing materials and manufacturing of new products.

Since statistics are not so well documented and readily available in the poorer countries of the South Asian region and recycling is has not really taken on as an organized process of dealing with waste, a fair idea may be obtained from the information provided by National Recycling Coalition in the U.S. regarding the benefits of recycling: every ton of paper recycled saves 17 trees, and recycled paper supplies more than 37 % of raw material used to make new paper products in the U.S. A national recycling rate of 30% would reduce greenhouse emission equivalent to removing 25 million cars from the roads. One year of recycling on just one college campus, Stanford University, saved the equivalent of 33,913 trees. Also, manufacturing with recycled materials generally saves energy and water and produces less air and water pollution than manufacturing from new materials. Some estimates suggest that world paper consumption has grown almost 400 % in the last 40 years and nearly four billion trees worldwide are cut down annually for paper alone. The U.S. Toxic Release Inventory report of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), states that pulp and paper mills are among the worst polluters of air, water and land of any industry in the country. The costs of paper consumption may be gauged by the fact that about $4 billion is spent in the U.S. every year to buy four million tons of office paper.

In short, it is more than evident that conservation of natural resources through efficiency in their use, recycling or replacing with other alternate technologies has huge potential benefits. The developing countries need to adopt a more well-informed ethic regarding the use of paper, and create awareness in that respect. Electronic media campaigns, which are accessible to youth like social networking sites and TV, can be of use, while businesses can promote a positive company and community image by starting and maintaining a paper-recycling system. Incentives from the government would go a long way in establishing a long term workable system. Parents can also help by promoting a clean environment and a healthy lifestyle and teaching their children the benefits of recycling paper.

Published SouthAsia March, 2010

Crossing Over or Joining Hands?

Interfaith unions, though now increasingly common, bring a unique set of issues that couples and their children have to deal with all their lives.

Though now subject to varied definitions, marriage is a complex relationship traditionally acknowledged to be a happy union between a man and a woman. Ideally, also, marriages take place between people considered compatible in beliefs and values that would make the union fulfilling and long-lasting.

Interfaith marriages are described as marriages in which the spouses follow different faith traditions. There can be many forms of such union, i.e. between members of religions of ‘the Book called the Abrahamic religions - which include Islam, Christianity and Judaism - sharing the same monotheistic belief system; religions which are completely different owing to Eastern or Western roots, like Christianity and Buddhism or Taoism; religions based on ethical systems like Humanism and polytheistic philosophies like Hinduism, etc.

In general, an increase in interfaith marriages over the years is due to increased globalization. The world has turned into a global village and close contact between peoples of varied faiths and traditions is unavoidable. This contact leads to closer ties and couples may decide to form stronger bonds through marriage. In the past few decades, people from South Asia have migrated in large numbers to developed countries in search of financial security. A vast majority of these men and women from countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka moved to Europe, the UK and the English-speaking countries of North America. First generation immigrants largely remained concentrated in groups they identified with. As the second generations of the South Asian Diaspora slowly became more integrated, interfaith marriages were a natural outcome. However, these have not been easy due to the cultural or religious baggage each person brings to such a union.

The challenges in interfaith marriages are usually directly proportional to the difference in the background of couples. Hence, some studies suggest that interfaith marriages have a higher rate of failure. However, difference in religion may not be the only difficulty for couples since beliefs within the same religion tend to vary too, and a moderate Muslim and one believing in a radical interpretation may find not much to relate with, just as in the case of a liberal Christian and a conservative Christian. Conversely, a liberal Jew and a liberal Christian may find much to agree on in many of their beliefs.

One reason for failure of these marriages is the fact that despite everything, societies by and large still remain skeptical and less supportive - some more than others - of intercultural and interfaith unions. Eastern societies with their close-knit joint family systems generally tend to be more demanding than Western models of family life. The basic values that define relationships are very different in the East and West, and couples who discuss their aspirations and expectations before the wedding generally fare better. As a general rule, Eastern cultures - and South Asians specifically - are male-dominated, and the Eastern man is used to taking on the main burden of financial responsibility and being more assertive in decision-making. Eastern wives, conversely, are expected to be supportive, stay-at-home moms, managing the affairs of the family and not expected to pursue careers outside the home unless economic circumstances compel such a decision. Western men, on the other hand expect their wives to be equal earning partners and might find them to be lacking in perspective and ambition if they don't. Hence, a Western woman marrying an Eastern man might find herself hard pressed to fulfill her duties, while an Eastern wife might be equally bewildered by the expectations of her man.

In an interfaith marriage, not only the couple has to deal with the usual pressures of marriage, but also the added responsibility of maintaining better than usual religious decorum for fear of being labeled ‘traitors' of their respective Faiths. What they see as ‘joining hands' may be considered more like ‘crossing over' by families and societies at large. Then comes the question of whether one of them would convert or whether each would follow their own beliefs - one estimate puts the number of conversions at 40%. Conversions are largely seen as an effective solution to issues that might rise after the birth of children, but they also come with many problems for the spouse who has converted under some sort of pressure. Feelings of betrayal for the previous faith, trouble relating with newly adopted concepts and doctrines, and difficulty in connecting with God in a new context may create psychological problems and unnecessary tension in the relationship.

The question of whose religion would the children follow creates much friction and sometimes couples debate whether they should have children at all in order to prevent such dilemmas. If the parents are unable to reconcile their religious differences, over time these can cause friction in the home and affect the emotional and psychological wellbeing of the children too. In some homes a compromise is reached by teaching the children both religions and allowing them to decide for themselves once they are old enough to make that decision. Mostly, however, one religion dominates over the other, e.g. the Islamic Faith requires the children be raised in Islamic tradition, while the Catholic Church requires that the Catholic parent ensure the children are raised as Catholics. These frictions sometimes continue to plague relations and result in separation.

Interfaith marriages in India have been more common between members of the Dharmic religions (Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism) than between Hindus and Christians or Muslims because of their basic religious differences. In the Indian society Dharmic intermarriages tend to have fewer problems than Muslim-Hindu or Christian-Hindu couple. Although India has a state policy of freedom of worship, a U.S. State Department report in 2000 observed that the tensions in the society between Hindus and both Muslims and Christians had increased alarmingly, discouraging such unions. In Pakistan, an overwhelmingly Muslim majority country, a Hindu or Christian spouse is expected to convert before the vows are taken.

To review a global trend, in the Muslim majority country of Malaysia the law requires the non-Muslim spouse to convert before the marriage ceremony can take place. It is estimated that in 1999 there were 150,000 intercultural couples in Malaysia. The National Jewish Population Survey conducted in 2000-2001 and updated in 2004 in the U.S., showed that 47% of Jewish marriages were interfaith, while more than 40% of couples married in the Catholic Church in Canada were of mixed religions according to The Catholic Registry. However, the percentage of Muslims seeking interfaith marriage remains low in Canada. One study in the U.S. also estimates that 91% of Muslims marry within their Faith. Even though a 2007 Pew Research Poll concluded that about 62% of American Muslims consider it acceptable to marry a non-Muslim, yet the tragedy of 9/11 and its subsequent events have divided the world so sharply on religious lines that perceptions have changed drastically and the option may not seem very attractive to other faiths in the West, anymore.

As cultures and traditions continue to hold sway over actions of individuals, choice of a life partner remains one of the most important decisions one makes. For any commitment to sustain in the long term, communication of expectations before the vows are taken and determination in the face of hardships, might offer the best hope.

Published Feb, 10 Southasia Magazine as Faith and Marriage

Copenhagen - or Copout?

Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon cautioned the delegates gathered in Copenhagen that, “We do not have another year to deliberate,” he said. “Nature does not negotiate.” Did the attending dignitaries heed his advice?

The Copenhagen Summit – UN Conference on Climate Change – that had been two years in the making, opened in the Danish capital on Dec 07. It was attended by delegates from 193 countries, along with 120 Heads of States who were to join near the closing date of December 18th to finalize the deal. The summit began on a cautious note since the agenda contained issues expected to cause friction between developed and the developing nations, and unfolded an eventful two weeks of exhausting activity with not the most desirable outcome.

The issues that dominated the conference included discussions on:

1. Keeping carbon levels to below 2C – preferably 1.5C – by 2020?
2. Limiting emissions from emerging economies, like India and China, who were not too compliant to the idea of emissions cuts monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) through outside inspections.
3. Financing poorest nations to help deal with the effects of global warming.
4. Kyoto Protocol – the only legally binding treaty that requires rich nations to take responsibility for their actions.
5. Deforestation, which is responsible for 17% of all carbon emissions?

A review of carbon missions in millions of tonnes/year estimated in 2007 as reported on The Guardian website gives a fair idea of where true responsibility lies: China: 6283.6 , US: 6006.7, EU:4690.4, Russia: 1672.6, India: 1400.7 Japan:1262.4, Canada: 589.9, UK: 564.0, Australia: 456.4, S Africa: 452.3, Brazil: 397.6, Ethiopia: 5.4 and Maldives: 0.8.

The developing countries sought to impress upon the participants that they remain most vulnerable to effects of climate change in terms of food, water and energy security since they lack resources to counter the disastrous effects of climate change. To mention just a few examples, a report by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 asserted that a sea-level rise of just three feet would be enough to sink 80% of Maldives under water; Bangladesh is losing coastal land mass every year, severe water insecurity in Africa and Asia threatens survival – Darfur is already seeing water clashes, many Asian rivers would dry up when the melting Himalayan ice disappears by 2035 – “Chacaltaya’ glacier in Bolivia, a vital resource of water for almost 2 million people melted away in 2009 while floods, droughts, storms and loss of crops, and danger of extinction for plant and animal species remains a serious concern. Pakistan contributes almost 135th part of what other nations are producing but remains on 12th position in the list of most vulnerable nations in the world.

Despite intense negotiations serious deadlocks on RMVs, emission cutting targets and aid for poor nations crippled the discussions at many points. The Kyoto Protocol also continued to pose a challenge as there was a major push by developed nations to abandon it and replace it with a non-binding political agreement, but the move was strongly resisted by the developing countries.

During the course of the two-week discussions, offers which helped lift the gloom , albeit temporarily, included the US Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s announcement regarding an international plan called The Renewables and Efficiency Deployment Initiative (Climate REDI) – a $350million five-year endeavor backed by Italy, India and Australia for clean technology in developing countries. Ethiopia also put forward a multibillion-dollar plan to raise funds which was supported by Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy. An agreement called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) was also introduced. The United States pledged $1bn over the next three years. Australia, France, Japan, Norway, Britain and America also agreed to provide $3.5bn in immediate cash for forest preservation – for industrialized nations, the carbon credits to be used under a carbon trading system hold a big incentive. The US commitment to support an EU-backed idea of a $100bn fund for poor nations (though dependent on existing budgets) by 2020 was also well received. Another welcome move came from Japan with an offer to cut emissions by 25%, and to provide $15 billion over the next three years to help impoverished countries adapt to global warming's impacts.

Much hope had been pinned on the charismatic American President, as the leader of the world’s largest economy responsible for the largest amount of greenhouse gas emissions until recently. When he finally managed to shape an accord with four Heads of States including Brazil, India, China and South Africa, (named ‘BASIC’) calling it a "meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough”, skeptics like Jim Tones of World Development Movement dismissed it outright, “To say that this deal is in any way historic or meaningful is to completely misrepresent the fact that this deal is devoid of real content.” since it only acknowledged the problem and set no clear limits or guidelines. The chief negotiator for the G77 group of 130 developing countries, Mr. Di-Aping strongly declared, “The developed countries have decided that the damage to developing countries is acceptable.”

India and China strongly resisted any move to include emissions peak by 2020. When references to China’s non-cooperation as a possible cause of the Summit’s relative failure were made, the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao refused to comply with what he considered sacrificing his country’s economic interests in order to take responsibility for a problem that, he stressed, had been caused and aggravated by the Western nations and not by China.

As the African delegates complained of having been kept completely out of any negotiations, and the Sudanese negotiator compared the draft text to “a suicide pact”, the UK threw its weight behind The Copenhagen Accord, and Mr. Ban Ki-Moon asked other countries to accept it and not let the Summit be a complete failure. He promised that “The UN system will work to immediately start to deliver meaningful results to people in need and jump-start clean energy growth in developing countries.” No clear time frame or emissions cut limit were part of the document, even though according to UNIPCC the cuts required by industrialized nations are a 25–40 % reduction by 2020, on 1990 levels. The US had offered a mere 4%. However, what was included in the Accord was a framework for authentication of carbon emissions of developing countries, and formation of a panel to evaluate financial contribution for the developing countries. A wider consensus on the Accord could not be achieved because it clearly fell short of expectations on many scores. The challenge according to Yvo De Boer, Executive Secretary of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in his press briefing on the closing day of Dec19, was to turn it into a legally binding deal in Mexico in 2010.

The message from the leaders of developed countries came across as that even as low-lying island states disappear from the face of inhabitable Earth, and food and water wars destroy the developing world, the resourceful nations will continue to choose their financial interests simply because the effects of their actions are not likely to come back to hurt them badly enough just yet. Choosing short-term goals cannot be a smart choice. After all, the environment is shared by all and “Nature does not negotiate.”

A version of this article was published in SouthAsia Magazine, Jan 2010.

The Show Must Go On

How wonderful it is to leave the drudgery of daily existence and lose yourself in the fantastic, colourful world of the circus.

The Wikipedia defines the circus as “a travelling company of performers that may include acrobats, clowns, animals, trapeze acts, hoopers, tightrope walkers, jugglers, unicyclists and other stunt-oriented artists.” Circus performances are carried out by trained human as well as animal performers and comprise a series of acts choreographed to lively, upbeat music.

Circus life is portrayed in books and films as the most romantic of fantasies come true and makes everyone wish to be a part of it as it has an undying universal appeal. For decades performers have been stealing the hearts of viewers by enacting their secret fantasies through their very risky acrobatics and colourful, lighthearted fun moments. In countries like India where day to day life is mired in issues of poverty for an overwhelming majority, people seek thrill and entertainment in a not too expensive way, and visiting a circus is an activity considered a valued part of family fun. For others, it is also seen as an escape from the grind of daily existence.

However, in the last few decades the issues of animal rights have overshadowed the entertainment element of many a business dependent upon the use of animal performers. According to a recent BBC report on life inside the Rambo Circus in Mumbai, business is slow and the circus management is introducing acts from China, Africa and Uzbekistan to retain innovation. The owner Sujit Dilip thinks it is almost 60% down from that of years past, because of the animal ban imposed by the government. Many of the exotic animals that people are so keen to come and watch, have been shifted to the zoos while animal rights activists continue to cry hoarse about allowing circuses to restrict others to conditions that are very different from their natural habitat.

The Indian circus community has faced a dilemma since the Union Environment Ministry imposed a ban based on the 1960 Prevention of Cruelty against Animals, and on training and performance of wild animals such as bears, monkeys, tigers, lions and panthers in 1991. Circus owners like Sujit chakravorty of Empire Circus, swear that circuses cannot sustain without animals, but Anuradha Sawhney of People for Ethical Treatment of Animals has asserted that “Circus owners frequently flout rules and treat animals in the worst possible way.” – a fact that is indeed common knowledge. Animal trainers are generally known to use crude and cruel methods to train and tame. Animals are kept in undersized, filthy cages in which they can’t even turn around fully, lie down, or stand up comfortably. They also go for long periods without adequate supply of water and food to prevent soiling of cages, and there’s no appropriate arrangement of proper ventilation. Moreover, when travelling from place to place the transportation is done without much regard to their comfort or safety.

The first global study of animal welfare in circuses has noted that wild animals used in circuses are least suited for life in captivity and they are often kept in unfriendly conditions even after reaching their destinations. “It’s no one single factor. Whether it’s lack of space and exercise, or lack of social contact, all factors combined show it’s a poor quality of life compared with the wild.” the lead researcher of the study, Stephen Harris of the University of Bristol, UK was quoted in New Scientist magazine as saying. He added that “There is no evidence to suggest that the natural needs of non-domesticated animals can be met through the living conditions and husbandry offered by circuses. Neither natural environment nor much natural behavior can be recreated in circuses,” The survey also concluded that on average, wild animals which are part of circuses spend just 1 to 9 % of their time training, while the rest confined to small spaces covering less than a quarter of the area recommended by zoos. The circuses are also required to have tranquilizing guns and medicines to ensure safety of human and animal performers as well as minimize danger to the public. “But it is flouted everywhere and mahaouts and public is being hit and killed by elephants under continuous stress,” said Dr. Sandeep K. Jain, a member of the Animal Welfare Board of India.

Some of the other serious issues addressed by legislation and animal rights activists include premature removal of baby elephants born in breeding compounds from their mothers; use of hooks and whips used on animals during performances, and tight collars, muzzles, electric prods, smaller hand-held shocking devices, sticks, axe handles, baseball bats and metal pipes used during training sessions in order to break their spirit and keep them subdued.

India’s Central Zoo Authority has been very active in protecting animal rights and has laid down conditions for recognizing captive animal facilities. Hence, in India, it is illegal to exhibit, train or make certain wild animals perform in circuses, including bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers and lions. Circuses that want to use elephants are required to get permission from the Central Zoo Authority and performances by other animals need registration with the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI). However, as with everything else, constant supervision is required to ensure the rules are met with.

There’s a lot of stress on animal rights issues, but human performers face many dilemmas too which are not always addressed. The life of a circus artist is not easy. Many of the circus artists belong to economically disadvantaged sections of society who have no other means of income and are not educated. Some of them have had to give up education in order to support their families, while a few others have confessed to having run away from home, unable to resist the lure of travel and the constant thrill and adventure the circus life provides. They spend their whole lives chasing an unreal world of dreams but remain committed to it once they have joined. The risky acts require extensive training and commitment, but the circus ring only translates their dreams till they are able to keep up with the hectic routine. They put up brave smiles and go on to provide light moments when the living gets too tough for the rest of us, while they have to go back to their many grim realities of life, including concerns for their future and of the future of their children. They fear old age since only a few are able to secure positions as trainers for newcomers.

Life of circus entertainers may appear to be happy and full of excitement but there are so many mysteries behind the ever-present smiles of clowns that betray not a hint of the chaos that goes on behind the scenes. When the performances end and the public leaves rejuvenated, they put away their props and tools, wash away fake smiles, and check the ropes to make sure the safety aspect is taken care of for next time and the sense of wonder that the public seeks is maintained. Indeed, they put the realities of their lives on hold to ensure the continuity of our fantasies.

Published SouthAsia Nov 2009

Roaring Rickshaw Rides

Sights, sounds and smells provide important stimuli for evoking memories. The mention of the word ‘rickshaw’ would probably evoke images which are a combination of all three, and not necessarily pleasant, either!

The mere mention of the word, ‘rickshaw’, calls to mind the frequent trips to Resham Gali in search of exquisite silks in the scorching heat of many an enduring summer. Snaking through narrow streets, the adventurous bumpy air-conditioned ride provided a unique experience combining jarring sounds, soot and smoke for me, while the environmentalists struggled to make sense of some grave nightmares.

The word "Rickshaw" originates from the Japanese word jinrikisha which literally means "human-powered vehicle". Runner-pulled rickshaws have been popular as a mode of transport for the elite for centuries. In south Asia, however, it slowly became the preferred mode of travel for the economically disadvantaged sections of societies due to its affordability and point-to-point accessibility. In Asian countries, hand-pulled rickshaws have long been replaced by cycle rickshaws, and recently with auto rickshaws. Hand-pulled rickshaws were officially outlawed in Pakistan in the late 50s and cycle rickshaws in the last decade, but Qingqi, the Chinese motorbike rickshaw, and auto rickshaw is still popular for travelling short distances in some cities of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

The auto rickshaws of these South Asian countries represent a unique culture of their own with colorful, intricate designs painted on the outside of the body while some even have verses written on them depicting the dreams and aspirations of their owners. It is indeed an entertaining experience to read the humorous modified quotes, but also humbling to learn about the sad reality of a huge section of society mired in poverty and deprivation and struggling to survive.

The advantage of affordability has so far been the most persistent reason for sustenance of this mode of transport. There is usually a fixed fare for the first mile and then a per mile fare according to the distance travelled. For many poor people in India and Pakistan, it is their only means of livelihood and for others, the only affordable means of travel. In Dhaka, which is popularly known as the “Rickshaw capital of the world’ the pullers have mostly migrated from the famine-affected areas in search of an opportunity requiring relatively little investment. In India, most of these drivers originate from Bihar which is considered to be one of its poorest states. A 2008 article by Calvin Trillin in The National Geographic details how Kolkata rickshaw-pullers serve "just a notch above poor" who travel short distances and use it as a n ambulance service, for shopping, for sending their children to school, and for transporting goods for their businesses.

While the hand-pulled and the cycle-pulled rickshaws did not have any environmental hazards, the auto rickshaw has evoked much controversy over the years, prompting criticism, legislation and resulting efforts by world environmental protection enthusiasts, governments and aid agencies, who consider it important to reduce the negative effects of this otherwise popular mode of transport while retaining the livelihood of those who have no other alternative, plus the convenience factor of easy accessibility for a large numbers of travelers.

Research has shown that the two-stroke engine powered rickshaws emit excessive smoke, release un-burnt hydrocarbons and produce an uncomfortable level of noise. Also, the unchecked usage of substandard lubricant and its direct mixing with gasoline has made the two-stroke rickshaws a huge environmental hazard. The drivers are also inclined to remove silencers to accommodate emission of un-burnt oil, and that increases noise pollution. Moreover, overloading results in the slow speed at which rickshaws move and adds to the traffic mess that our cities already have enough trouble sorting out.

A major health concern regarding rickshaw drivers is the effects of smoke inhalation as the rickshaw is open on all sides and burning eyes, respiratory disorders and nausea are common ailments among them. Their hearing is also affected with continuous exposure to the high noise level, but their economic situation forces them to continue working in hazardous conditions. The riders too suffer similar symptoms, albeit to a lesser degree, as they are exposed for a relatively shorter time. These are issues the poorer societies of the world learn to live with because for them the quality of life is not a priority – survival is.

Various initiatives have been undertaken by governments in this regard. Many a times, bans have been announced but not seen through because the issue of rehabilitating a large number of rickshaw owners and drivers has been a major concern due to economic restraints. Other options have been explored with World Agencies playing a major role. Environment Canada has helped the Pakistan Government in implementing projects in Lahore, Karachi and Quetta with engine technology that uses Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) instead of petrol in the two-stroke engines, in an effort to combat environmental pollution. As a consequence, CNG Rickshaws replaced petrol and diesel-powered rickshaws in large numbers in Pakistani cities. The CNG rickshaws emit much less smoke, and the low cost of CNG makes this an attractive option since the upward trend of oil prices remains a stark reality and serious consideration for consumers. The owners are able to recover the cost of converting to CNG by raising the rent that the drivers pay. The drivers, in turn, are willing to accept that because the turnover is still more than from running the rickshaws on diesel or petrol. Recently, the Punjab government in Pakistan has also reached an agreement with China to replace inter-city buses with CNG buses and by 2011 there would not be any diesel buses.

When the government announced the ban on two-stroke rickshaws in Lahore in 2003 to phase out two-stroke rickshaws by 2007, there was a strong protest from the people as 700,000 people were estimated to be earning their living by the city’s 60,000 two-stroke rickshaws and it was feared that their families would starve if two-stroke rickshaws were banned because they did not have enough money to buy four-stroke rickshaws. Following the decision of the ban, however, the government set up a Rs 1 billion fund to give people loans to purchase four-stroke CNG rickshaws. In 2004, the Punjab government also imposed a ban on manufacturing, sale and registration of two-stroke rickshaws as it was estimated that almost 70% air pollution in Lahore and a major chunk of noise pollution on the streets was contributed by the two-stroke rickshaws.

In Bangladesh, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Government of Bangladesh and the Rupantarita Prakritik Gas Co. Ltd, worked together in converting rickshaw engines to run on compressed natural gas (CNG). The Canadian agency, Environment Canada, provided technical support. In Dhaka, The idea of CNG conversions is not new, and has been around since the early 1980s, but it was actually around 2001 that a large scale switch over was finally seen due to wider acceptance of the economical and safe usage of CNG.

In 1998, when the government acknowledged the high levels of pollution in Dehli, and the Indian Supreme Court ordered the government to implement CNG fuel for public transport in an effort to bring down the high pollution levels, a dramatic improvement was seen within a short period of time. In addition to the CNG-powered rickshaws, some Indian companies have also introduced electric-powered three-wheelers. However, all these vehicles are expensive, and may only be used where rickshaws are used to provide transportation to cover the last mile or kilometer.

The rickshaw culture of South Asia is an enduring feature that still holds an important place in people’s lives, and if steps are taken to bring down its hazardous effects, the adventurous bumpy ride can continue to retain its usefulness for the sections that most need it.

A version of this article was published in SouthAsia Magazine, Nov, 09.

Investment into the Future

South Asia is considered to be a region that promises dynamic growth and potential. However, it lacks in some crucial elements of social development that risks its progress; and education and health are two factions high on the list. The World Bank is aware of the significance of this part of the world and true to its mission to “help people help themselves and their environment by providing resources, sharing knowledge, building capacity and forging partnerships in the public and private sectors.”

The World Bank is a vital source of technical and financial assistance for many developing countries as it supports initiatives essential for the countries’ progress and stability. It was founded in 1944 and consists of two institutions; the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA) that provide low interest loans, interest free credits, and grants for investment in development initiatives in the field of education, health, public administration, infrastructure, financial and private sector development, agriculture, and environmental and natural resource management.

In South Asia, the World Bank has supported several programmes over the years to increase literacy rates and support development of a healthy, skilled workforce as an investment into the future. However, many social challenges faced by the developing countries of South Asia affect their progress including extreme poverty, low status of women, orphaned children, unemployed youth and war ravaged widows, shortage of well-trained professionals and sometimes a lack of commitment by governments towards effective management. These developmental issues pose challenges for policy planners and practitioners and require constant evaluation and adaptation of strategies in order to meet the goals.

Since South Asia is home to some of the world’s poorest countries, literacy does not always fare well on the priority list. The estimated percentage of people living below the UN defined poverty line of less than $2 a day is 40% in Pakistan and 84% in Bangladesh. In India, 75% of the population lives on less than $1/day, according to a World Bank study. In these societies, keeping children out of school is not seen as a violation of their rights, but simply a means of survival. India also has 18 million street children, the world’s largest concentration (HRWA 2000), while Nepal is home to about 30,000 street children according to a 1996 estimate. These school-age children constitute the marginalized group often neglected by governments when implementing welfare schemes.

Moreover, widespread gender bias and discrimination exists in societies across the globe and an estimated 2/3rd adults without access to literacy worldwide are women. In most of the patriarchal societies of South Asia, it is even more rampant. However, there is a source of relief for development experts in the tiny Buddhist state, the Royal Republic of Bhutan with a population of 700,000. A 2007 Country Report on Human Rights Practices about Bhutan issued by the US State Department revealed that about 30% of Bhutanese women constituted the formal workforce in 2004 and 60% of women held land registration titles. A recent WB study has also shown near gender parity at 93% at primary level. The World Bank programmes in Bhutan focus on improving quality of education, strengthening institutional capacity, teacher training management and monitoring.

Similarly, Bangladesh takes pride in achieving gender parity at the primary and secondary school level, and primary school enrollment shows a steady upward trend with 91% girls and 87% boys enrolled in 2007 (UNICEF). The World Bank provides assistance to Bangladeshi government at the primary and secondary level, reaching out-of-school children and continuing-education projects. Another success story is Sri Lanka which has one of the best performing education sectors in South Asia. With primary enrollment of boys and girls well above 90 % for two decades, and a secondary enrollment rate of above 80 %, through a network of state-supported schools, the commitment of the Sri Lankan government and society can certainly serve as a source of inspiration for others to follow.

Pakistan’s participation in the education sector remains among the lowest in South Asia, with just 2.3% of the GDP allocated to this sector, and widespread gender bias. In the more conservative Northwest of Pakistan, cultural customs clash with religious sentiment and access to schools for girls has been a grave issue in the past years with extremist clerics declaring modern education as un-Islamic and misleading. Small wonder then, that only 14% of the formal workforce in Pakistan comprises of women. The World Bank is making a significant contribution towards quality education and policy reforms in educational institutions in Pakistan. A series of four one-year education development policy credits in the Punjab province has resulted in an increase in enrollments in 15 districts which had been identified as having the lowest literacy rates. The reforms in NWFP and Sindh showed similar benefits, as gross primary enrollment among girls increased between 2001- 2002 by 11%. Another important programme of the World Bank in improving the quality of learning in Pakistan is monitoring of student learning through regular assessments with a National Education Assessment System. A Higher Education Support Programme is in the starting phase, and the private sector is being supported through education foundations. In June 2009, World Bank also approved $900 million in loans, most of which would serve to improve education in Pakistan’s Punjab and Sindh provinces as the country has also had to battle with a balance of payments crisis in the last one year due to fighting in the northwest of the country which has left 2.5 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) struggling to survive.

The issue of children belonging to conflict zones has also drawn attention from the humanitarian agencies. In Sri Lanka, in the North-Eastern Province alone, it is estimated that 2,000 children have been involved in guerilla warfare as child soldiers, and face difficulties readapting to age-appropriate, stable lifestyles. Education in crisis situations can actually provide children with a sense of normalcy, but unfortunately, the first Global Survey on Education in Emergencies shows that “over 27 million children and youth do not have access to education in 10 countries affected by conflict.” Other disabled children and young adults of war-torn countries like Afghanistan are left with very few options in societies already stretched thin in terms of resources.

In Afghanistan, there are serious developmental concerns regarding status of women and absence of a well-educated and skilled workforce to build institutions, as the country struggles with almost three decades of war and instability that have resulted in huge numbers of widows and orphaned children. Hence education, skill development and vocational training programmes are taking priority. It is hoped that WB’s Afghan Skill Development Project which is estimated to cost US $35million (WB is providing US $20 through the IDA), will bring in some respite for these vulnerable sections of the population.

Moreover, the World Bank’s reform programmes are working with governments in recruitment and monitoring of teacher presence. South Asia’s schools lack sufficient number of qualified teachers and present a huge challenge to the goal of universal education. In Pakistan, the student/teacher ratio is 1:35 in primary schools and 1:48 at secondary level while in 75% of Indian schools there is only one teacher for several classes. Bangladeshi pupils are found to be in the most crowded classes, with a ratio of 1:57. More serious, however, is the presence of ‘Ghost’ schools in remote areas where teachers simply don’t turn up. A 2004 World Bank study in India showed that 25% of teachers are absent from class at any time.

The World Bank is also providing technical support and conducting joint research and analysis exercises on improving access for girls and other marginalized groups in different countries of the region. Since 2000, the World Bank has committed over US $1 billion to education in India. However, extensive inter-regional, rural-urban and male-female disparities exist despite the government’s commitment to the cause of ushering in ‘a new era’ of literacy. As reported in an article in Asia Sentinel, August 2009, “a third of India’s billion-strong population is illiterate and 70 million children are denied schooling of any kind.” A US $250 million World Bank operation is also helping improve India’s technical and engineering education.

Educational challenges in South Asia continue to be daunting, but it would serve South Asian governments and citizens well to realize that in order to build any kind of potential for economic prosperity, they must show an unwavering commitment to initiatives that can help build a future for themselves and their coming generations.

Published Oct 2009 Investment Into the Future, SouthAsia Magazine

Escapism from Life - suicides in Southasia

Suicide is a major cause of death around the world. Are developing countries of South Asia equipped to handle this challenge?

The World Suicide Prevention Day is held on September 10th every year since its creation in 2003. The event, organised by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) revolves around issues such as improving education about suicide, disseminating information, decreasing stigmatisation and, most importantly, raising awareness that suicide is preventable. The event is being co-sponsored by the World Health Organisation (WHO). To highlight the importance of keeping cultural context in view when devising strategies for suicide prevention, the chosen theme for 2009 is "Suicide Prevention in Different Cultures.”

The magnitude of this problem is highlighted by the statistics provided by the WHO. Suicide has been noted as the leading cause of death in individuals under 35 - an estimated 10 million people attempt suicide while one million actually succeed in ending their lives every year - that's one death every two minutes. By 2010, the WHO estimates the number will climb to 1.5 million.

South Asia is home to a major part of the world's population and is estimated to account for up to 60% of all suicides. Though the WHO warns of rising suicide trends worldwide, the Dutch suicidologist, Diekstra fears that the most dramatic increase in suicide mortality in the next decades will be observed not in the developed world but rather in the developing countries. Statistics from the WHO on suicide in some South Asian countries seem to support Deikstra's trend predictions:

• In Bangladesh, the number of suicides between 1972 and 1988 averaged at 600 suicides per month, while 1992-1993 saw an increase of 984 suicides per month. The total number of suicides reported to the Forensic Medicine Department of Dhaka Medical College indicates that suicides have increased from 12 per month in 1989 to 18 per month in 1998.

• Suicide rates in India average at 11 suicides per 100,000 persons per year, an increase from 6 per 100,000 persons during the 1980s. While 89,000 persons committed suicide in 1995; the number increased to 96,000 in 1997 and to 104,000 in 1998, an increase of 25%. During 1988-1998, suicides increased by 33.7%.

• In Sri Lanka, it is estimated that nearly 50,000 persons have been killed in the last 15 years due to war. Deaths due to suicide, in the same period, are estimated to be 106,000 twice the number due to war. One study estimated the real extent of the problem was estimated to be at 44-50 suicides per 100,000 people. Significantly, the proportion of youth committing suicide increased from 33% in 1960 to 44% in 1980.

The trend of increased suicides in developing countries is further highlighted by other sources:

• The HRCP (Human Rights Commission of Pakistan) report for 2005-6 declares that total suicide and attempted suicide cases increased from 2,712 in 2005 to 3,919 in 2006. There were around 200 women suicide cases reported within the first six months of 2006 along with 181 cases of attempted suicide, most of the victims being under 30 years of age.

• While quoting The Khatmandu Post in the November 2008 issue, The Gulf Times reported that in Nepal, “the number of suicides reported by police rose by 40% in the past four years. Official statistics showed 2,789 suicides in 2007, up from 1,992 in 2004. The newspaper said 659 cases were reported during the first three months of 2008, keeping pace with the record 2007 total.”

• The BBC in July 2009 reported that according to official figures, Bhutan experienced its highest number of suicides in 2001 when 58 people killed themselves.With a population of just 682,000, the issue is of high concern in the country.

Suicide has become a grave concern for many South Asian countries, many of which are struggling with problems of massive corruption and mismanagement at every level. These alongside issues of poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, lack of civic facilities, poor access to health facilities, and disproportionate population growth are preventing the governments to adequately focus to solving the suicide crises. Governments spend only a small fraction of their national budget on social and health sectors which in turn enhances the frustration experienced by citizens on social and cultural pressures and thus drives many individuals towards self-destructive behaviour by inducing in them feelings of guilt, desperation, anxiety, and even serious mental health problems. Stigma and discrimination by society allows many of these health problems to go unchecked, with devastating results for the whole community.

Women in the South Asian countries remain particularly vulnerable to suicide because of numerous factors including social and cultural pressures, domestic and sexual violence, and undiagnosed or untreated mental illnesses. A World Bank study that focused on disability from neuropsychiatry disorders among women found that up to 30% women were affected in the developing countries as compared to 12.6% men. In Pakistan, a 2007 trend analysis report by the HRCP found young married women to be at highest risk. In Bangladesh, a 1996-97 survey on injury-related deaths among women found that suicides have a major effect on mortality among young married women and almost 50% women reported having suffered verbal, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their husbands. Many women in patriarchal societies blame the effects of gender inequality to be a major cause of their low status and consequent distress.

According to WHO, preferred methods of suicide vary from culture to culture as do motivations: Of the suicide related attempts, suicide by hanging is chosen by 26% in India and 45% in Bangladesh while self-burning (immolation) is commonly adopted in India by 11% individuals indulging in Deliberate Self Harm (DSH). Ingesting household products is the commonest method adopted by 70% of suicide seekers in Sri Lanka and 37% in India. Reports suggest that this problem is particularly significant in rural areas. The rising costs of seeds, pesticides and fertilizers have resulted in heavy debts for farmers and have pushed them to commit suicide by ingesting the same pesticides because of their easy availability. Pesticide ingestion results in approx. 250,000 deaths each year globally.

There also exists a serious issue of underreporting in some South Asian countries that hinders effective management of the issue. Attempted and successful suicide is underreported because of social stigma and also because committing suicide is a criminal offence in some countries such as Pakistan. Hence, many suicides are reported as accidents and actual figures elude statistical collection, posing a constant challenge to prevention strategies. Effective data gathering is also important in order to identify high-risk groups and establish timely preventive measures.

For developing countries, suicide prevention is a challenge that has devastating consequences for the society as a whole. Fewer resources and inadequate social services offer a tough test that many of these nations are trying to overcome with help from local social activists and international humanitarian agencies like WHO and the IASP.

Initiatives are conducted to emphasise support for people under stress, addressing issues like domestic violence for women, restricting access to common methods of suicide etc. More focus on media education about responsible reporting, and public awareness campaigns for mental health de-stigmatisation is needed in order to change cultural attitudes. Healthcare professionals also need to be trained to identify risk groups and provide sustained help and support. In short, there has to be a committed, sustained effort by communities, world humanitarian agencies and governments if suicide prevention goals are to meet any success.

Published Sept, 09. Escapism from Life - Suicide in SouthAsia SouthAsia Magazine

Climate Concerns

Would India’s National Action Plan for climate change be able to make any significant contribution to the fight against global warming without compromising its development goals?

In the recent years, India has emerged as a major regional power. Its economic growth has sustained itself at an impressive 7-8 % annually since the late 90s. Greater economic yield, however, comes with a price – one that would be paid by the global community. Responsible for 4% of the world’s Green House Gas (GHG) emissions, India is currently considered to be one of the world’s top polluters.

Among the fossil fuels utilized by India’s power sector, coal is responsible for about 60% of generation. An appreciable increase in its use, directly proportional to the high development targets, is likely in the next five years. Other energy sources include hydroelectric, natural gas, renewables and nuclear power. The use of hydroelectric power is a useful source but for opposition to building new dams from local population. Natural gas, which is the cleanest of the fossil fuels, has always been considered more suitable than other energy sources because of the low cost of building gas plants. For a developing country, finding a cheap energy source is always welcome. However, the recent surge in gas prices has cast doubt as to the edge originally provided by this option. Among the renewables, wind, solar and biomass digesters have been used in rural and urban areas in India, but they are not expected to make a sizeable contribution due to various reasons. Nuclear power can ideally play an important role in reducing the emissions rate as it emits no carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, it is also very expensive and not easily accessible. Extensive cooperation in funds and transfer of technology is required to achieve any notable benefit from its use in the civilian sector.

India has an important stake in reducing emissions but like other developing countries it is wary that the high cost of easing the effects of climate change would affect its development goals. The National Action Plan unveiled by the Indian government on June 30, 2008 pledges to make India’s economic development sustainable and energy efficient with the use of renewable energy sources, but without making any commitment to emissions targets that might slow down economic growth. While there’s mounting pressure on the Indian government from environmental groups to cut down on emissions, according to available UN data the per-capita emissions of CO2 in India were 1.2 tonnes, compared with 20.6 tonnes for the US in 2004. As a developing nation, India is not yet required to cut emissions under the Kyoto Protocol.

On the occasion of unveiling the National Climate Plan, though, the Indian Prime minister was willing to make a concession, “we will pool all our scientific, technical and managerial talent, with financial resources, to develop solar energy as a source of abundant energy to power our economy and to transform the lives of our people.” The Prime Minister’s special envoy on climate change, Shyam Saran, who is accompanying Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the G-8 summit later where climate change would be part of the agenda, stated that climate change, energy security and development were closely related and could not be taken in as separate entities. He criticized developed industrialized nations for asking more from a developing country while not doing enough themselves, saying: “Setting targets means nothing if one is not able to stick to it. We do not know by how much we will be able to reduce our emissions by taking the measures that we are contemplating. In particular areas where we know this, we would be willing to reveal targets. We cannot take targets when we don't know whether we will be able to adhere to it or not. The case of the developed countries is slightly different. They have knowingly undertaken targets and done nothing to stick to them.”

The chairman of the UN panel of climate change, Mr. Pachauri, who was also the joint winner of last year’s Nobel Peace prize for his work on climate change, has also defended his country’s position even though it means the emission rate is bound to increase in future. He asserted, “India is a growing economy with 76 million rural households still without access to electricity. How can we levy a cap [on emissions], when millions are living in a state of total deprivation?” He also argued that the report’s pledge to try and increase use of solar energy is a welcome step. Even though it is still in a phase where the cost of using it is very high, the limitations would be overcome with time as “for wind energy too, the initial cost per unit was very high, but now it is as competitive as energy derived from fossil fuels.”

The Indian government’s focus on exploring an environment friendly energy source is a commendable step since climate change is a major concern of the world nations. The effects of global warming as seen and as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) would be devastating for civilizations across the globe, but developing nations in particular. In its 2007 report, IPCC has mentioned the resource scarcity and environmental degradation resulting from global warming would include shortages of water, food scarcity, collapse of ecosystems resulting in destructive weather events, outbreak of disease, and migration. Conflicts of national and international level are expected to follow. Hence, these climate change challenges immediately raise security concerns in the developing countries that are most vulnerable to it. For India, the three most important factors affecting relations with other states are migration, sharing of food, water and energy resources, and trade. Due to the rising sea levels, the possibility of even small scale migration from neighbouring Bangladesh or other small islands in the region is a serious concern that could easily turn volatile given the political friction that exists in the region. Similarly, sharing water sources with Pakistan is already a sensitive issue and any shortage in supply could result in serious repercussions.

Recently, a computer model developed by German researchers at the Kiel University, as reported in the journal ‘Nature’, shows that the Earth’s temperature may stabilize for the next decade as natural climate cycles enter a cooling phase – just like the one in the 40s. After that breather of a decade, however, the temperatures would be rising fast, as also predicted by the IPCC reports. Many climate scientists have welcomed this report seeing it as an opportunity to plan better strategies for the future - a sort of time-out phase to be used to advantage. Unfortunately, there is a rising concern among environmentalist that it might also trigger a disregard for warnings about the serious consequences of further warming of the Earth’s atmosphere.

India, for one, has shown maturity and commitment by revealing its environment friendly future agenda. It remains to be seen how effective the plan would turn out to be, but any effort however small in the right direction can only be a welcome step.

SouthAsia Magazine, Aug, 2008.

Debate over Basic Rights

Declaration of the Rights of the Child, Principle 9, proclaimed by General Assembly Resolution 1386 (IXV) of 20 Nov, 1959 states in unambiguous terms that “The child shall be protected against all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation”.

In practice, however, abuse of children’s human rights is rampant in many parts of the world. In poor countries, there exists a serious form of abuse called ‘child labour’. Every child deserves to grow up in a healthy environment, free of exploitation and fear, in order to effectively realize his full potential, develop into a responsible adult and be a productive part of the society.

Children’s participation in work that does not interfere with their education, health or normal development clearly cannot be classified as child labour, but when they are exploited and made to work beyond their capacity in conditions unsuitable for their age and health, child labour becomes a shameful reality none can ignore.
Child labour is defined by the International Labour Organization as: "work situations where children are compelled to work on a regular basis to earn a living for themselves and their families, and as a result are disadvantaged educationally and socially; where children work in conditions that are exploitative and damaging to their health and to their physical and mental development; where children are separated from their families, often deprived of educational and training opportunities; where children are forced to lead prematurely adult lives."

Child labour is largely acknowledged by development planners and practitioners as a problem of the poverty-ridden societies where it is widely accepted and commonly practiced. Since South Asian nations are mostly underdeveloped, Asia’s children end up being at a distressing disadvantage. Social trends in some South Asian countries are also different regarding the accepted age of achieving ‘adulthood’ – in terms of constituting a part of the workforce children as old as twelve years of age are considered physically capable of performing tasks suitable for adults. Where large sections of populations live in extreme deprivation, child labour is not seen as a violation of the child’s rights but as a means of survival. However, lured with false promises of attractive work prospects, many poor children end up working in exploitative environments and hazardous conditions and become victims of abuse, working up to twelve hours a day, six days a week, with no minimum wage limit or rest periods. They also suffer serious illness and injury as a result of it. A report by the ‘Anti-Slavery Society’ of India states that it has found evidence of many children suffering in horrifying conditions where they ‘live in a den…are beaten with sticks and iron rods and not even allowed to see their parents.’ The vocations of these unfortunate children may include working in brick kilns and factories, rock crushing, mining, domestic servitude, prostitution, or forcible recruitment as child soldiers to fight in conflict areas.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has estimated, in a 2002 study, the percentage of children aged 5-14 in Asia and the Pacific who are economically active as being 19%. These children form almost 60% of all the child labourers worldwide. Since poverty seems to be the main reason behind the problem of child labour plaguing these Asian countries, it is only reasonable to assume that poverty alleviation schemes should make a difference in the lives of these children. However, poverty alleviation is not a simple task of ensuring two square meals a day. Some sustainable development projects have to be initiated in order to make a sustained positive impact on their standard of living and to keep them out of the labour markets till the right time or age. Provision of basic education along with vocational and practical skills is widely acknowledged as an effective means to break the cycle of poverty.

Fighting child labour also requires a constant adaptation in strategies because of the appearance of its ever-evolving forms among different communities – a combination of various factors encourages the growth of this menace and hence a combination of strategies is required to combat it. Factors identified by ILO as being conducive to conditions resulting in an increase in the number of child labourers are: parental poverty and illiteracy, social and economic attitudes and circumstances, lack of access to education, lack of awareness, and adult unemployment or underemployment. To counter this phenomenon, strengthening the capacity of countries and communities to deal with the problem and promoting a worldwide movement to combat child labour needs to be put in place. Creating awareness of the rights of a child, providing social protection and education, passing on benefits of economic growth to the poor, strict legislation and inculcating respect for labour standards can bring about a significant reduction in the incidence of child labour. The International community, committed to abolishing child labour through a progressive and systematic approach, has taken many initiatives in this regard. The UNICEF, UNDP, UNESCO, the World Bank, (IPEC) ILO, the Global Task Force on education, along with many NGOs at local and international levels have unequivocally stressed the need for free and compulsory quality education, as defined in the ILO Convention 138, as a crucial component of any effort against child labour. The ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child labour (IPEC) has stressed that prevention and elimination of child labour should be an essential part of education policy worldwide. These agencies are providing financial as well as technical assistance wherever required, working with volunteers from various sections of societies as well as private organizations, NGOs, the media, judiciary, universities, community-based setups, private businesses etc.

Various initiatives of these organizations have shown remarkable improvement in the status of children in the Asian countries. For example, in 1995, 43% of the garment factories working under BGMEA (Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association) had employed children. By 2003, after the inception of the BGMEA/ILO/UNICEF project against child labour, the number was reduced to 1%. Similarly, with assistance from UNICEF, the Sri Lankan Government has taken productive steps to help war-affected children and youths reintegrate into the society.

Some private organizations are also making a noticeable contribution by involving and mobilizing communities to take charge of their own development. One such private voluntary organization called ‘World Education’ helps equip people with skills like planning, budgeting, fundraising, financial accounting etc. In India, which houses the largest number of 'working' children in the world - about ? of the world's total, World Education in partnership with local organizations has helped develop education programs focused on practical life skills. From 1999 -2002 World Education also worked on a pilot project known as ‘Women’s Empowerment through Literacy and Livelihood Development’ (WELLD) which led to development of curriculum integrating literacy with savings and credit group formation. This has helped women make informed choices about their livelihood. In Pakistan, World Education is part of a group of organizations seeking to strengthen education system, and aiming to improve status of young and adult literacy and education policy planning. It is also providing technical assistance.

According to IPEC, for the purpose of rehabilitation, the shift back from workplace to formal schooling systems is often difficult to manage and proves to be unproductive in the long run. To make a smooth transition, some non-formal education (NFE) systems are a necessity which act as a bridge between the child worker and mainstream education. Non-formal educational programmes which are relevant and easily accessible to poor families have enabled many child workers to come up to their age-appropriate grade level. Mainstreaming of former child labourers is extremely important as it is vital to preventing them from rejoining the labour markets prematurely, and improves their prospects of finding better jobs later on.

The initiatives taken by various humanitarian organizations in an effort to abolish child labour in the underdeveloped world must be supplemented by a strong political will of respective governments so that the injustice being done to the large number of children is dealt with effectively. Protecting these children is the only way to ensure a better tomorrow.

SouthAsia Magazine, Debate over Basic Rights July 2008

An Overdose of Warmth

Among the environmental hazards that plague our planet, global warming has widely been acknowledged as the single biggest threat to humanity

The term ‘Global Warming’ refers to climate change that causes a gradual increase in the average temperature of the lower atmosphere of Earth. In the past, the changes in the Earth’s climate have been brought about largely due to natural causes but over the last fifty years human interference has been acknowledged as the main cause of increased warming.

The major cause of climate change is an excessive release of CO2 due to burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas – used for producing different forms of energy. Deforestation also causes reduction of CO2 utilization and, by default, an increase in CO2 level in the atmosphere. This excessive buildup of CO2 and other greenhouse gases forms a thick layer around the Earth allowing the Sun’s heat to enter the atmosphere but not go back into space. The more greenhouse gases there are, the greater the percentage of heat trapped inside. Thus, global temperatures rise and climatic changes are brought about resulting in serious repercussions for life on Earth.

Jennifer Morgan, former Director of the World Wildlife Fund’s Climate Change Programme, states that “Every bit of coal, every litre of oil or gas that humans burn adds to the load of gases in the atmosphere that engulf the planet like a blanket, trapping heat, smothering people and nature.”

Her assertion is also supported by the data from the World Resources Institute (WRI) which shows that the last 200 years have seen an addition of 2.3 trillion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere – shockingly, half of this in the last 30 years alone. (WRI, Navigating the numbers, based on data from IEA, ELA, Marland et al, and BP.)

Figures compiled by the UK Meteorological Office and the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) bear clear testimony to the warnings of scientists and environmental protection agencies worldwide regarding the upward global warming trends. According to their records, the eleven warmest years ever measured are: 1998 and 2005 jointly – 2005 also being the warmest on record - 2002 and 2003 (joint), 2001, 1997, 1995, 1990, 1999 (joint), 1991 and 2000 (joint).

The effects of increasing global warming are already seen to devastate populations across the world, and predictions by some government agencies and NGOs as well as independent scientists speak of worse times ahead. While experts acknowledge that it is not always possible to link specific events to global warming, reliable estimates show that the increasing temperatures are likely to cause climatic changes resulting in flooding and drought, and an upsurge of diseases like Malaria and Cholera. A change in agricultural yield is expected and some species might even be pushed to extinction. A report by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that by 2025, over 5 billion people will suffer severe water shortages while northern Europe will witness increased flooding due to swelling water levels resulting from glacial melting.

In the Asian region, which is home to over 3 billion people, the effects are obvious through change of climate and disturbance of the natural ecosystem. In some South Asian countries recorded events have been directly linked to global warming like heat waves, costal flooding and glacier melting; while events such as spread of disease, droughts and fires, coral reef bleaching, heavy downpours and snowfalls are expected to worsen with rising levels of global warming.

A brief overview of the effects of global warming on some South Asian countries based on information available on the IPCC website is as follows:

India has experienced a warming trend at the rate of 1degree Fahrenheit/century. In May 2002 the State of Andhra Pradesh recorded temperatures up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. It resulted in the highest one-week death toll on record. (National Climatic Data Centre, Asheville, NC.) The Geological Survey of India, 1999, has noted that glaciers in the Himalayas are retreating at an average rate of 50 ft/year. The glacial retreat recorded for The Dokriani Barnak Glacier was 66 ft/year in 1998, and for the Gangorti Glacier 98 ft/year. At this rate, it is estimated that all central and eastern glaciers will be lost by 2035. (1998. Himalayan glacier backing off. Science 281: 1277)
Pakistan has had to bear the effects of climate change in the form of droughts and fires. The longest drought on record occurred from 1999-2001. Though it covered most of South West Asia, more than 2.2 million people and 16 million livestock were affected in Pakistan alone. (WMO, Geneva, Switzerland.)

Bangladesh continues to suffer serious effects of sea-level rise and the resulting coastal flooding. More than 18,000 acres of its mangrove forest have been flooded over a period of three decades. (The implications of sea-level rise and Bangladesh: A preliminary analysis. Journal of Coastal Research, Special Issue.)

Afghanistan has seen periods of unusually warm weather due to recurrent heat waves. There was an increase in temperature of 1-2 degrees Centigrade during the 20th century. In 2001 Afghanistan also experienced its warmest winter on record. (WMO, Geneva, Switzerland)

Bhutan is in a similar dilemma – the temperature rise being the same as for Nepal, the average glacier retreat is at 100-130 ft/year. The Himalayan glacial lakes are thus at a high risk of flooding. (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and United Nations Environment Programme.)

Nepal is home to 3,252 glaciers. Due to rapid melting of glaciers, 25 of its 2,323 glacial lakes are feared to be on the verge of Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) threatening humans and nature. High sensitivity of mountainous regions to climate change has also been revealed by a study which shows that the average air temperature measured at 49 stations in Nepal has risen by 1.8 degrees F since the mid 1970s, with high altitude areas showing greater warming. (Maximum temperature trends in the Himalaya and its vicinity: An analysis based on temperature records from Nepal for the period 1971-94. Journal of Climate, 12: 2775-2787)

The beautiful tourist destination of Maldives is looking towards a massive relocation of its population and drastic measures are urgently required to check the rapidly rising sea level. The 1200 tiny islands that make up Maldives consist of some of the lowest islands on earth – the highest point being only 2.4 meters above the surface of the ocean. The IPCC in a report states: "If the higher end of that scale is reached, the sea could overflow the heavily populated coastlines of such countries as Bangladesh, cause the disappearance of some nations entirely (such as the island state of the Maldives), foul freshwater supplies for billions of people and spur mass migrations." The high end scale, according to IPCC, means that a sea-level rise of three feet would be enough to sink 80% of Maldives under water.

The Kyoto Protocol, which is an agreement made under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) came into force on 16 February, 2005. It binds countries that ratify it to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases, or engage in Emissions Trading. Despite the difficulties of monitoring, Emissions Trading has been found to be a positive step towards checking the rapid ascent of global warming trend. It has been defined as an administrative approach which is used to control pollution by providing economic incentives for achieving reduced amounts of pollutant emissions.

The US with less than 5.5 % of the world’s population is considered to be responsible for 25% of the world CO2 emission. The US Government has been heavily criticized for its lack of cooperation with regard to ratifying the Kyoto Protocol. In a meeting of the world nations in Milan, in 2003, Jeff Fiedler of the Natural Resources Defence Council said: “The White House is pretending its talk about science and technology is serious, but at home and abroad it opposes any actions to reduce emissions now.” Richard Worthington of Earthlife Africa Johannesburg also pointed out that, “In the rich countries there are still mercenary professionals paid to put loopholes into the Climate Treaty, while the developing world is forced to deal with the impacts of climate change.”

With increasing awareness and determination, many responsible governments and citizens all over the world are working to find effective solutions to save the planet. Clean energy solutions like wind, solar, bio-energy, hydroelectric and nuclear energy are under review; checking deforestation and effective population planning is also advocated as an important part of the solution to the threat posed by the heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

Each one of us must persevere to preserve life – however small the contribution – and support efforts to reduce or reverse the effects of global warming. Our future generations deserve to inherit a cleaner and friendlier world.

SouthAsia Magazine, An Overdose of Warmth May, 2008

Through the Lens

An art form and a popular source of entertainment, film is generally a reflection of its native culture and society.

Films, according to Wikipedia, ‘are cultural artifacts created by specific cultures, which reflect those cultures, and in turn affect them.’ As an art form with universal appeal – through its various popular genres that encompass a wide range of linguistic and visual presentations – and as technology, the cinema has been in existence for a little over a hundred years. It started in the early 1890s and spread all over the world within a period of 20 years. As the medium developed and evolved, it was also came to be used for educational and research purposes – and even propaganda – but its main aim remained providing lighthearted entertainment to the general public.

Over the years, the South Asian film industry has evolved and adapted to various climes in a bid to make itself recognized as a major source of entertainment. It succeeded in making a place for itself in some South Asian nations and has remained a struggling genre in others. The film industries existing in South Asian countries like Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan have flourished or regressed according to the political upheavals or social approval extended to them by their native lands. It would not be wrong to say that the South Asian cinema is dominated by the Indian film industry, popularly known as Bollywood, while Pakistan film industry (aka Lollywood) has been struggling to follow suit. Before delving into the Bollywood and Lollywood phenomena, however, let’s take a brief overview of the South Asian Cinema in general.

The South Asian cinema holds within itself a wide range of styles and genres. Particular favourites have turned out to be musicals, action films, romantic comedies or crime/revenge films. Although escapism is a recurrent underlying theme in most of these mainstream cinema features , art films featuring more complex issues teasing the intellect and pointing out serious flaws in the social setup, have also started to hold popular appeal.

Nepal for its natural beauty has been the object of fascination for film makers from abroad for many years, yet its own industry truly breathed anew finally after the Maoists joined mainstream politics in 2006 and the hostile atmosphere of raw conflict gave in to relative peace. Nepalese films generally tend to be simplistic and heavily influenced by Indian films with song and dance sequences interspersed with the narrative.

Sri Lankan films, in the recent years, have explored themes arising from years of conflict between the military and the Tamil Tigers. They depict ordinary people’s dilemmas and dreams revolving around struggle for survival during the period of longstanding unrest.

The Bangladeshi film industry is known for producing as many as a hundred movies a year on a budget of 6,500,000 taka per film. Still, quantity does not necessarily signify quality as Bangladeshi movies have been criticized for selling violence as their main ingredient, besides the usual theme of love and romance.

Cinema entered Afghanistan in the early part of 20th century. The Afghan Film Organization was built in 1968. Afghanistan has been through much turmoil over the last couple of decades, and so has Afghani cinema, coping with war and internal conflict. In the late 90s, religious sentiment clashed with this popular entertainment activity and resulted in burning down of cinemas. As a result, film production took a nosedive for some years. However, some documentary films of notable mention bringing to light the plight of a war-ravaged land have been produced in the country.

Bollywood, the Indian film industry, is one of the world’s largest producers of films in the world. It has moved way ahead of its Pakistani counterpart over the years. Till the 60s both the industries were considered at par, providing a healthy competition to each other. Gradually, though, it became apparent that Bollywood was the natural leader in this field. Through consistent policy and active promotion, it has earned popular acclaim throughout the world for good production, diverse themes and good acting. Although formulaic productions continue to find a huge market, more and more films carry serious issues to the forefront and induce social debate. Not only has it turned out to be the best way for cultural promotion, but also generates revenues for the country.

Lollywood, on the other hand, has generally catered only to a local audience. The 70s saw a period of film and theatre flourishing unhindered, and the industry boasted of around 1300 Cinema houses in the country. By 2005, however, the Pakistan COA (Cinema Owners Association) estimated the number to have come down to less than 400, most having been converted to more profitable sources of income such as shopping malls, car showrooms etc. Less than 60 films a year are now being produced, where up to 300 a year was the norm.

The reasons are numerous. Pakistan has not had a consistent policy for its film industry that could satisfy the evolving values of its society and cater to the priorities of the policy-makers at the same time. Repeatedly, the Film Producers Association (FPA) has urged the government to support them in the promotion of this visual art form, since it holds universal appeal – language barriers being overcome with dubbing and subtitles.

Secondly, the technical side of film production also needs attention – theme/script, musical score, recording facilities, standard of choreography and even direction requires improvement. The themes are generally formulaic – escapism remains the favourite – and revolve around love, revenge and/or happy endings; hardly a reflection of the society infested with serious issues like poverty, illiteracy, lawlessness and the like. The element of quality entertainment seems elusive at best. Recently, though, one Pakistani director, Shoaib Mansoor produced a film titled’ ‘Khuda key liye’ (‘In the name of God’) which is a thought-provoking and serious film, though it has its moments of humour and lighthearted fun. It explores issues of multicultural dimensions. The film focuses on a changed – sometimes even confusing, and hostile – post 9/11 world as viewed through the eyes of its various characters. It offers perceptions worth pondering. Screened in Pakistan and abroad, this film has earned international acclaim for its realistic projection of a serious present day concern. Considering the good business this film has done on box office, it might herald the start of a new era in film-making in Pakistan.

Cinema owners in Pakistan have for many years stressed the need for screening Bollywood productions in the country to feed the empty cinema houses as local production is falling way short of requirement – the ban on import of Indian films was imposed after the 1965 war. Contrarily, the film-makers are apprehensive and fear being wiped out completely, conscious that their own films provide no competition whatsoever. Despite the hostility between the neighbours, Bollywood films have always been popular in Pakistan. That resulted in a mushroom growth of video shops selling pirated copies of latest Bollywood flicks over the years. Recent decision of the government to allow screening of the latest Bollywood film, ‘Welcome’ is a major shift in policy after 43 long years. This limited lifting of the ban implies that only a fixed number of select films would be imported, with an equal number of Pakistani flicks to be exported in exchange.

Pakistan also has to settle the issue of rising religious sentiment against perceived vulgarity from Indian or western cinema. This fear of a strong reaction from the conservatives is something that has to be taken seriously into account before such decisions can be effectively implemented. It is no secret how in the recent past many CD shops in the more conservative NWFP have been burned down and shop keepers harassed for selling DVDs of Hollywood and Bollywood films. Any recreational activity that suffers social censure and does not have popular support is unlikely to draw in much audience. Visiting the cinema or theatre is among the preferred recreational activities of most people looking for some quality family-time together. Therefore, such issues need to be resolved before active cinema-going can be looked upon with enthusiasm by the general public.

Cinema is a reflection of social values and norms. Quality productions resulting in good attendance signify the maturity of aesthetic sensibilities in a society. Cinema-going should be nurtured as an industry that would not only bring in revenue but also counter aggression and provide a healthy outlet to the recreation starved populace.

Mar, 2008 SouthAsia Magazine