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Tilak Rishi, born in India, has been working as a career corporate executive, after doing his MBA. Passionately pursuing his hobby for writing, he also remained a regular contributor to newspapers in India and the U.S. Many true happenings and characters he came across in life, including interaction with former president Bill Clinton, inspired Paradise Lost and Found, his first novel. A family saga, it starts from Kashmir, when this paradise on earth is lost for the tourists who thronged in thousands every year to enjoy its scenic splendor. Terrorists have turned it into one of the most dangerous places in the world. The family is not only a witness to the loss of this paradise, but also to another tragedy of much bigger magnitude. In the aftermath of the partition of India, along with millions uprooted from their homes in Pakistan, the family leaves behind all that it has in Lahore. Starting from a scratch on the difficult path to progress, it still has many joyful moments when along the way it makes a difference in many a life. The survival-to-success story climaxes in California where the family finds the paradise that was lost in Kashmir.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dividing Citizens Through Census

When filling in the new U.S. Census questionnaire, I was startled by how much of the form was devoted to inquiring about my household's race and possible Hispanic ethnicity:

If you’re Hispanic, you can check a box that says you’re Mexican, Mexican American, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Cuban or Spanish.

If you’re Asian, you can check a box that clarifies if you’re Chinese, Asian Indian, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Native Hawaiian, Guamanian or Chamorro, Samoan or Pacific Islander.

If you’re black, you get less options: “Black, African American or Negro.”

But white folk get just “White.” And what does “White” even mean? Swedes are white. Iranians are white. Italians are white. French are white.

These complex topics are of more than philosophical interest: in an era of affirmative action, the size of the racial quotas depends on the precise mechanisms used for counting races. In another time, not too long ago, questions like this would have been incredibly racist.

Some people are afraid to answer the race questions. They believe, especially those with bitter experience in the past, that in times of perceived "necessity," they'll use it to round up any race of people they don't like at the time, take everything they own, and move them to godforsaken places in the middle of nowhere. Others are putting in answers for Race such as "Human" or "American." The intention is noble. But this game was rigged a long time ago. Your every move was anticipated. The beneficiaries of quotas pay a lot more attention to the rules of the game than do their quota benefactors. These issues are too crucial to continue to leave wholly to the good will of minority activists.

In India information about 1.2 billion Indians was gathered by the 2010 census. India  deliberated whether to include details of caste in the massive national census that was underway.  Census  sparked off a spirited debate about the role of caste in politics and society. Those who advocate the inclusion of information about caste in the census include political parties from the Hindi heartland. They argue that the exact numbers have to be known so that members of certain castes can make use of caste-based quotas in education and employment. But the critics, who include several ministers in the ruling government, warn that including caste in the count could inflame social tensions and further entrench caste politics.

The caste system had been a fascination of the British since their arrival in India. Coming from a society that was divided by class, the British attempted to equate the caste system to the class system.
The word caste is not a word that is indigenous to India. It originates in the Portuguese word casta which means race, breed or lineage. The British government had stopped the caste based counting in 1930s, saying it to be discriminatory. Suddenly after 80 years some politicians, the so-called OBC leaders, woke up to realize that this was an issue of national importance and pressurized the government to include the caste in census. Government was helpless, even if this was not in its agenda yet the fear of losing a huge vote-bank at a time when Dalit and religion based divisive politics is on song, had led it to say yes. The point is where we are heading to! Is it for a structured India with opportunity to all or a mere political stunt to win back some votes and arguably pushing the nation in the dark ages on some issues of fake nature?

In the last 80 years, some caste names have changed, quite a few new ones have emerged, several castes have merged with others or have moved up or down the social hierarchy, and many have become politically active. Caste being a sensitive issue, the proposition of caste-based census naturally provoked serious debate. Even assuming that caste data are relevant, enumeration of the population on the basis of caste is bound to be vitiated by vote-bank and reservation politics. The renewed emphasis on caste via census operations does not bode well for India’s social and political stability. That caste has been one of the most divisive forces for centuries has never been in doubt. Its segmentation of Indian society into various mutually exclusive groups, who in many places do not marry or break bread with each other, has enabled politicians in recent years to garner support by pitting one caste against another.

At a time when the whole world talks about human rights and equality, India and the U.S. are heading into the politics of quota system in their ongoing census enumeration. In India it is caste based census which will enumerate the OBC people along with SCs and STs., while in the U.S. The Census Bureau's obsession with race has re-ignited long-smoldering controversies over racial identity. Isn't anyone not just a little appalled at humanity's constant need to divide other humans into neat little categories based on arbitrary crap like caste, race or ethnicity? Cannot anyone in the U.S. and India convince them to do away with dividing citizens through census 2010?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Spare The Rod!

Hindustan Times
Kolkata, June 18, 2010

It took a Class 8 student’s suicide and the intense media scrutiny that followed to change a practice that La Martiniere for Boys had been following from the time the East India Company ruled India. Four months after 13-year-old Rouvanjit Rawla committed suicide after being allegedly caned by his principal and humiliated in school, the prestigious Kolkata school has banned caning and other forms of corporal punishment. Following a public uproar, La Martiniere principal Sunirmal Chakravarthi announced on June 15 that the school would discontinue corporal punishment.

Corporal punishment in one form or another has been around schools for centuries. It certainly is not a new issue. The age old practice of using rod to punish students continues to rule thousands of classrooms across many countries around the world, including India and the United States. Educators, who face the difficult task of maintaining order in the classroom, resort to corporal punishment because it is quick to administer and it's free, basically. All you need is a paddle. The schools are not much concerned with serious medical consequences resulting from corporal punishment, including severe muscle injury, extensive blood-clotting, whiplash damage and hemorrhaging. Ironically, the children who get in fights are the ones who are most of the times the victims of corporal punishment. So the schools are supposed to teach them not to hit by hitting them?

Corporal punishment is not allowed in the prisons, but it is still legal to hit students in schools. The research shows that children who are beaten and abused are more likely to be prone to depression, low self-esteem and suicide. The simple fact that corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure is not part of any education curriculum indicates that educators at every level know that corporal punishment has no place in the classroom. Most leading professional associations oppose corporal punishment in all its forms. The reason why is that they feel it causes irreparable emotional damage to young people. It perpetuates the cycle of abuse, apart from physical damage to the abused students. Schools need to find more enlightened and effective methods for dealing with disciplinary issues. Honor codes and clearly spelled out results for infractions can give them an edge in dealing with discipline. Basically, if students do something seriously wrong, fear of suspension or expulsion from school can work as an affective deterrent. Students can be grounded for mischief or punished some other way, but certainly not through corporal punishment.

It's time schools come of age and usher in an era where rule of law prevails over prevailing practice of punishing the students with rulers. A vast amount of evidence shows an urgent need to replace corporal punishment with enlightened and humane methods of discipline. Many studies have shown that corporal punishment causes serious physical and psychological harm to large numbers of children. Each year in the U. S., thousands of children require medical treatment due to corporal punishment administered in schools. School-inflicted corporal punishment has even caused the deaths of seven children - including a kindergarten girl. Among the emotional problems that can result from corporal punishment are depression, withdrawal, sleep disturbances, avoidance of school, learning problems, loss of self-esteem, and delinquency.

Harvard Medical School professor Alvin Poussaint, a psychiatrist who has written extensively on African-American issues, points out that 80 to 90 percent of black prison inmates were severely punished or neglected as children. He also says the more that children are beaten, the angrier they get and the more likely they are to use violence in responding to problems and frustrations. Our violent society has a tremendous need for people to be taught, through word and example, peaceful means of resolving problems. But corporal punishment causes schools to neglect nonviolent solutions such as counseling, detention, Saturday school, withdrawal of privileges, and use of student mediators. Those methods are effective and teach children to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence. Moreover, corporal punishment is an ineffective means of discipline, because the same students are repeatedly the recipients of it. Corporal punishment does not teach a child appropriate behavior, but only suppresses the undesirable behavior when the punisher is nearby. Physical punishment may produce obedience in the short term, but continued over time it tends to increase the probability of aggressive and violent behavior during childhood and adulthood. One reason it does is that being physically assaulted causes many young people to develop resentment, rage, and a desire to strike back.

The number of organizations opposed to corporal punishment continues to grow. This is due to increasing awareness of the harms caused by it and the availability of superior disciplinary alternatives.
For the same reasons, corporal punishment in schools is prohibited in all of Europe, South and Central America, Japan, and China. A total of 109 countries ban it. In the U.S., more than half the states prohibit it, and thousands of local school districts in other states have followed suit. Because schools in those places have developed effective alternative means of discipline and successfully educate students, schools elsewhere can surely do the same. In fact, schools that have eliminated corporal punishment report many positive results, such as increased attendance, higher academic performance, decreased behavioral problems, and better relations between students and school personnel.

In view of the harmful effects of corporal punishment and the availability of far better disciplinary methods, government officials have a moral obligation to end these assaults on children. The evidence indicates that failing to do so will jeopardize the health and happiness of many children and perpetuate the high levels of violence in the society. As Mahatma Gandhi said, "If we are to reach real peace in the world, we shall have to begin with children." The age old philosophy 'spare the rod, spoil the child', must be substituted with the new mantra 'save the child, spare the rod'.