Tuesday, October 30, 2012

India, Society and Women

Greatness of a nation is appreciated by how it treats her women. Most modern democracies have given women equal rights to men. One can see women competing with men in all spheres of life. However, not many countries had so many women in such positions of power at any given time as in India. We had president of India, speaker of parliament, leader of opposition in parliament, leader of the biggest party in the political formation that is ruling India, chief ministers of at least three states in India. In India, we had our prime minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi, as early as 1970. In our culture, source of power, money and knowledge are all women. There are several very prominent high profile Indian ladies in corporate sector as well.

All this information must indicate that status of women is very high in Indian society. Unfortunately, however, ground reality is farthest from truth. In this country, at many places a girl child is killed before birth. This practice is common not only among poor and uneducated, but also among rich and powerful. Such practice has resulted in skewed male to female ratio in many states. In many places, a bride is harassed and even killed if she does not bring sufficient dowry to her husbands place. Rape is commonly used by men to settle score by men over women, and in general show her place. To the extent, certain influential people in society, including a potential chief minister, claims that girls should be married early to prevent rape. Some even propagate ideas like rape is a consensual act between a man and woman. Sex starved women get themselves raped by innocent boys. In public transport system, many a times women are subjected to molestation. One lady chief minister even proclaimed that too much mixing between boys and girls lead to rape. Recently, a very powerful chief minister of a very prosperous state, equated another political opponents wife in monetary terms.

In a country with such long cultural tradition and with so many women in positions of power, why predicament of women in general is so poor?  Effort to give women power at village level have been successful to some extent. Villages that are headed by a woman, in many cases are better organised, less corrupt and common man's issues are highlighted. A similar propostion to reserve 30% seats for women in Indian parliament had met with serious resistance. Although, post independence women have gradually come to many areas, earlier dominated by men, still compared to women in US or UK, in India women still have a long way to go. 

Women are considered a property of men, that should be considered a property worth protecting and when needed kicked around. Is it because women are financially dependent on men? Is it because our women in general are not in position of power in sufficient numbers to frame rules and regulations and enact laws? I think it is more to do with mindset of people. As we become more mature and civilised as a nation and as a human, we may start to appreciate long cultural heritage better, than we do today. However, there is no doubt that unless Indians start respecting half their population, no amount of economic growth is going to pull us out of our sorry state of affairs.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Indian Railways Need Visionary Leader

Fare hike will be accepted, provided service is also improved. Indian railway has a long way to go to become a modern, efficient railway system. It should not be looked simply as a medium to transport people packed like sardines, it should be looked into a mode of transport that provides quality transport and service. 

It is important to note that our politicians have been running railways as their personal fiefdom and as part of their vote catching politics. A lot has been said about why fare should not be increased for the sake of poor. Has anyone looked into the possibility that even poor may want a safe and secure travel in a train that runs on time? A train that is clean and serves quality food?  

A lot needs to be done to deliver good quality food, decent standard of hygiene and cleanliness, high level of safety and security all need a lot of improvement. It is difficult to imagine that in premier superfast trains like Duronto Express, Rajdhani Express, Shatabdi Express lunch, dinner, breakfast is rearranged on the floor right next to the toilet. Is our railways so incompetent / brain dead / penniless that it cannot think of a better way. 

Our railways need to clean up railway tracks in stations. Most of which is littered with human excreta. Is it so difficult to look into creating toilets along the same line as air plane or luxury bus? Entry to most cities and train stations are such an eye sore. Can railways not do some beautification by planting tress? Our railway platforms are most user unfriendly. Most platforms are not equipped with elevators and escalators. There is no connectivity with public transport system, except in Delhi. Waiting rooms are filthy and in a mess. Compared to any railway station in any developed country, our stations need a lot of improvement.

Can our minister, past or present, think of reducing travel time between Delhi and Mumbai or Kolkata to six hours or less? For this to happen we need high speed trains. Many people will stop using air travel. Minister must show vision to reduce time of travel between big cities by introducing fast trains. This may wean away people from air travel. Stations has a lot of scope to be modernised. People may not mind paying more, provided they get the service.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/New-railway-minister-Pawan-Bansal-hints-at-possible-fare-hike/articleshow/17004621.cms?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=tweets …

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Poverty of Vision

In India it appears that our political leadership always wants the easy way out. Being a democratic country, our politicians feel it is easier to ask for vote in exchange for bribe disguised as social justice. It is much more difficult to explain why a country needs to take hard decisions. Neither voter nor the vote seeker will realistically and voluntarily choose a difficult path.

What is our way out. Many of us understand that government and society needs to extend a helping hand to communities / castes / sections that are lagging behind socially and economically. Government starts with intention of subsidizing food and fuel for disadvantaged sections of the society. However, it does not want to do the hardwork of identifying poor and give them necessary subsidies directly to the needy. Because of our incompetence and laziness, we end up subsidizing all population, leading to gross imbalance in economy. This attitude also encourages corruption and intended subsidies do not reach the poor.

There are several such disconnects between government intent and government action. A case in point is the debate between generic and patented medicines. Government wants essential medicines available to needy section of population free /  subsidized / cheap. However, most of the time government subsidized medicines are sold in black market. Let us not forget the availability of spurious and adulterated medicines created by generic manufacturer.

Process of discovering a new medicine and making it available in the market place is very expensive and risky. As a result the cost of a life saving medicine is high. In order to bring down price of medicines, in India did not recognize product patent, but allowed process patent – in simple term, Indian companies could chemically synthesise the active principle of a new medicine by a different process. Major cost and risk of bringing a new medicine to market involves clinical trials. Any molecule that does not have to undergo clinical trial, is expectedly going to be less expensive than the original molecule.
In last decade or so, India has agreed to honor product patent. However, there is a caveat. In case of national emergency / need, government can give permission to allow manufacture of a medicine by a different process and make it available to general population at cheap price.

I think our government has good intention in mind. However, it is ignoring one point, that government is not honoring years of hardwork and risk taking of people that invest in business of drug discovery and development. An offshoot of this decision is ignoring complex research and development activity that is needed to understand basis of human disease and create a therapeutic option for it. Instead our decision makers encouraging people who just copy someone elses work, albeit using creative chemistry solution, and launch in the market. This is plain and simple unfair, even if it is permitted by  law of the land, morally this is wrong.  Moreover, generic medicine cannot be there in the absence of research on original medicine. If original medicine makers skip India, then people suffering most will be poor. It is agreed that generic players sell medicines cheaper than original player, but since their risk is low, they are still keeping a very heft price. Cost of generic medicine may be cheap, cost of a good generic medicine is still beyond the reach of poor and lower middle class. So how are our policies oriented towards poor?

In a diverse country like India, one size fits all may not work. Instead of simply encouraging generic medicines for the benefit of poor, our government must encourage research in new drug discovery and development. This will be good for Indian science in the long run. It is also important to note that the same politician who wants cheap medicine for Indian citizens, goes abroad for treatment. Becasue they have has no faith in our system. Yet they does not want to improve Indian system.

1. Generics: Superiorly or Spuriously? : Anoop Kohli 

2. GM foods considered safe in US, but not in India : SA Aiyar

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Our Duplicitous Political Leaders

Tavleen Singh in her article in Indian Express laments how our socialist politicians are living way beyond their means. Our political leaders are staying in bungalows that cost nearly 2 lac per month in open market. Each of these bungalows in Lutyen's Delhi cost around 400 - 500 crore rupees. Yet our politicians, their husbands, wives, relatives and cronies keep on occupying these prime real estates. They do not vacate bungalows even after they lose election, in the hope that next government will fall soon and they may win next impending election.  Many claim their security will be compromised if they live at any other place. Ms. Singh suggests that bugalows be sold to businessmen who can afford. Money generated can be used to construct low cost housing for mango people. Our honorable socialist members of parliament should stay where common people stay or they hostels should be created for them in Rashtrapati bhawan comples. 

Tavleen Singh is such a humorless person. She takes all enjoyment out of politics and winning election. She wants our leaders stay like poor mango people in one room tenement or hostel. She wants Air India privatised or dismantled. How will our leaders travel abroad first class?  Nevermind our honorable external affairs minister reads Portuguese delegation's speech in the UN, but should not be reason to cut his travel expense. How will our leaders show India's greatness at taxpayers expense? What is the point in being in politics if you cannot lord over people and spend their money as their own? 

It is one thing to preach, other to practice. For example, All India Trinamool Congress, is a party that follows socialist philosophy to the core. During their tenure as railways ministers, Ms. Mamata Banerjee and Mr. Mukul Roy, railway fare was not allowed to increase. Railway safety was abyssmal. Railway services were one of worst category. Dirty platforms, dirty tracks, dirty toilets in trains, bad food, unhygineic food, you name it our railways had no money to improve. Yet how does our socialist minister visits accident site at Nellore after Tamil Nadu Express fire? Look at the picture. Minister travelled with his entourage in a saloon car. There was a red carpet when he alighted from the coach. Platform was sanitised with perfume. The cost of all these was close to 1.2 crore. This in a cash starved railways. This, when minister could have driven 3 hours to the accident site. This when same facility was not extended to injured passengers that came to the same station.  This, when minister was unwilling to extend basic service to paying customers of railways. There was no guarantee that a person will reach home safe while travelling on raiways. 

 What hypocrisy! Such double standard is prevalent in all socialist economies. USSR had one standard for politbureau members and another for common citizens. We know how Chinese elite are amassing wealth while poor languish. In India highly vocal Trina Mool Congress, champion of poor, follow one philosophy for public consumption and another for their personal lives. People must teach these hyporcits a lesson.

But our politicians are enterpreneural. Even if they are evicted of their cushy house, or their body guard withdrawn or their perks curtailed, they can always lease out a mine or two to billionaires, in return to stay in the Lutyens Delhi Bungalow, or private body guard or private jet at corporate expense. Do not under estimate them. Afterall, why should any one give up perks that someone else pays for?


 Red carpet welcome for Mukul Roy at Nellore a day after TN ...

Time to move : Tavleen Singh