Saturday, August 30, 2008

GDP Growth Slowest since 2004

McCain picks Sarah Palin

Republican Presidential Nominee John McCain has chosen Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his Vice Presidential running mate for the November elections. Palin, a relatively unknown politician, was described by him as "the running mate who can best help me shake up Washington."

Palin is known in Alaska for being a maverick, fighting corruption wit grit and taking on Congress by preventing them from building "that bridge to nowhere." She grew up in a modest hardworking household, is a conservative Republican and a firm believer in free-market capitalism.

Palin makes history by being only the second woman in history to run for VP of the United States for a major party, after Democrat Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 (who lost; there has never been a female VP). She also has personal interests in the Iraq War, where her son is fighting for America. She said that as a parent of a soldier, she trusts John McCain to take the right decisions.

Stealing Clinton's Votes
If anything should worry Barack Obama after this choice, it's the fact that Palin is a woman: and she could personify the greatest challenge to Obama: Hillary Clinton. For although he defeated her in the primaries, the 'Clinton-machine's' supporters aren't finished. Many of them have vowed to battle Obama, who they feel is the wrong choice, voting for the Republicans in the process.

Palin made it quite clear that she was out to corner Clinton's 18-million supporters. "Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America. But it turns out the women of America aren't finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all," Palin said in her speech.

The two will formally be nominated at the Republican National Convention that starts on Sep. 1 in Minnesota.

[With inputs from CNN]

Thursday, August 28, 2008

HH Dalai Lama in Hospital

Mumbai: Tibetan spiritual leader and head of the TIbetan Government in Exile, the Dalai Lama, was hospitalised today following acute abdominal pain.

According to reports, he is exhausted after travelling around the world and has canceled some of his future International trips. He was admitted into Lilavati Hospital, one of Mumbai's best, where he usually visists twice a year for a routine checkup. He is currently being looked after by a skilled and experienced set of doctors, one of whom sais that there is nothing to worry about.

[With inputs from CNN]

If Conditional, Walk out of the N-Deal

The US-India Civilian Nuclear Cooperation Agreement seems op be under fire from small members of the Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG). Austria, New Zealand and Ireland are among those countries that are fighting it out against the agreement and trying to 'persuade' India to sign the NPT and CTBT.

Prime Minister Manmoahn Singh, who understands the importance of nculear energy and the annihilation of poverty through electricity and education, must also realise that India, which is surrounded by a number of failing states as well as two nuclear weapons states, cannot lose its minimum credible deterrent. The Nuclear Agreement was reached under the commom understanding that it will not impinge upon India's autonomy. But a conditional waiver from the NSG will be just that - at that must be the end of it.

India cannot accept any amendments that discriminatory and hamper our strategic programme. The India governemnt should make it clear that of the $500 bn required to develop infrastructure in India, those nations that support us will get a larger slice than the rest. Open bribes do work in International politics, South Korea did it to bag to Asian Games!

But at the end, a clean and uncoditional waiver is what India wants. And if India does not get it, then that will be America's loss, nout our's.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Death of Democracy as Soren becomes CM

Sibu Soren was appointed today as the new Chief Minister of Jharkhand after days of a power struggle between him and Madhu Koda. Soren, who spent time in jail on murder charges but was suspiciously acquitted, forced the Congress and RJD in the state to support him.

The story dates back to the Trust Vote in Parlaiment. Soren, who forced the ruling UPA to wait for a long time in uncertainty, ended up dozing off during the debate on the Indo-US Civilian Nuclear Agreement! Indeed, he seemed totally uninterested in the debate.

Later on, seeing that the UPA really lacked anything special for him in its last 100 days, threatened to withdraw from the coalition unless he was made the CM of Jharkhand. A desperate Congress gave in and withdrew support to Madhu Koda, and today this tainted power-hungry man has become the CM of a mineral-rich state.

Can it get worse? The cash-for-votes scam defaced democracy and this development clearly point out that this government is itself hungry for power and its recklessness will cost the nation dearly.

Want more analysis of how States affect the Lok Sabha elections? What are the issues you, thevoter, needs to keep in mind at the ballot box? Read the IN09 series on Opinions 24x7.

Hillary strongly backs Obama


Setting former rivalry aside, Sen. HILLARY CLINTON, who fought fiercely with Democratic Presidential Nominee Barack Obama during the primaries and caucuses, made a strong appeal to her 18-million voters to support Obama. She described herself as a proud Obama supporter and asked people to vote 'for the country.'

Her husband and former President Bill Clinton will speak on Wednesday night before the 4,400-strong audience of delegates at the Pepsi Center.

Hillary Clinton's speech could be very important for Obama as many, if not most, of her supporters have threatened tnot to vote or, worse, vote Republican! They say that Hillary, the first woman in American to have had a real shot at becoming President, was treated badly by the media and the Democratic Party itself. They fell she should be Preisdent, not Obama. Winning them over will be crucial for the party.

Earlier on, Michelle Obama, Barack Obama's wife, handed out an olive branch to Clinton by praising her spirit.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Yes, this is Propaganda

This is the new picture I'll be attaching to my 'happy birthday' messages on Orkut and Facebook. Aggreed, my blog has nothing to do with anybody's birthday, but this is just one way of encouraging people to try their hands at blogging. Plus, it's a great advertising opportunity!

So friends, relatives, juniors and (in case of orkut) strangers, with all sincerity and affection, I wish you a happy birthday with my blog. Just keep visiting it. :-)

Indian at Beijing 2008

The Party Begins

Democrats converge at Denver, Colarado, to officially nominate Barack Obama as their Presidential Nominee and Joe Biden as his VP running mate. Get all the action on CNN and the DNC website.

Third Track Approved


Sri Chaitanya IIT Academy, SR Nagar, Hyderabad, Aug. 25: The college has cleared the way for the creation of a third track in Chemistry in order to finish the last few chapters. This will take effect 'very soon' in SIIT1 only.

Furthermore, the new schedule was released today and students have called it needlessly demonic. According to it, Physics and Maths would be completed by Sep. 30-Oct. 4 and Chemistry by Oct. 30. After this, revision would take place.

The schedule will send the students and lecturers into overdrive as the urgency to complete the syllabus would be multiplied. MAny students have said that if this went on, no one would understand a thing!

Meanwhile, today's IIT UT went well, with the highest score coming in at 144 without key corrections. (OTFS)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Buddhadeb's Nano Nightmare

One of India's most-talked about projects - the Rs. 1 Lakh People's Car to be set up in Singur, West Bengal - seems to have hit against a gigantic hurdle. With TMC leader Mamata Banerjee threatening yet another (perhaps violent) stir outside the plant (80% of which has already been completed), Ratan Tata's threat to pull the project lock, stock and barrel out of West Bengal has been met with mixed reactions.

Bengal CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya went into overdrive in his attempts to save the project. Holding meeting after meeting with Mamata Banerjee, cabinet discussions and reassuring messages to Ratan Tata seem to be his startegy.

Meanwhile, other states have rolled out the red carpet for the Tatas. Maharashtra has said that it would be proud to house the project. Orissa, blaming the communists for making West Bengal synonymous with land acquisition troubles, said that TATA would not face any such troubles in the state (which seems unlikely, given the history of the POSCO project in Orissa). Karnataka also seems to be in the fray, as Tata already has another plant there. Not to be left out, Punjab has said that it would offer the Tatas a sugar-coated investment opportunity. WHo knows, many more might just follow!

However, the loss of the Nano Project would be a significant setback to West Bengal, which badly needs industrialisation to fight poverty and overwhelming unemployment and illiteracy. Most people in the state seem to support industrialisation, but politics and nearly half a century of communist rule have blocked such initiatives.

Only the future will tell which turn the Nano takes!

An Insightful Documentary

Obama Revealed, a documentary that premiered today on CNN International, was an excellent portrayal of the life of an inter-racial boy searching for direction.

The documentary covered Obama's early days as he spent part of his childhood in Hawaii and part of it in Indonesia. It them moved to his adult life, his stunt as President of the Harvard Law Review, his experience in uplifting members of the African-American community in Chicago and his marriage with Michelle Obama nee Robinson.

The show also featured some highlights of the Senator's primary duel with Hillary Clinton. However, the documentary seemed more reverential than informative. Sure, it revealed a lot about Obama, but it failed to ask questions about his smoking and drinking habits and his 'real estate' mistake. The only point at which the programme seemed to air some criticism was on Obama's controversial former pastor.

Still, the documentary met CNN's high standards and is definitely worth watching, perhaps even several times. A man whose life seems so full of contradictions and self-realizations deserves to be heard.

Watch the documentaries
Biography of John McCain
on CNN International

Biden named Obama's VP Candidate

Setting all specualtion aside, Democratic Presidential Nominee Barack Obama has chosen Sen. JOE BIDEN to be his Vice Presidential running-mate at the general elections in November.

This move could very well be as decisive as the primary win for Obama, since 65-year old Biden brings the experience and foreign-policy expertise that Obama himself lacks. Already, Republican Nominee John McCain's campaign launched and attack on the selection, citing Sen. Biden's remarks last year that Obama lacked enough experience to become President.

Biden ran for President twice in his thrity years in the US Congress, including this year, when he was forced to withdraw in January as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama took virtually all the votes.

Speaking of Hillary Clinton, she sent out a statement approving the decision. This also ends all specualtion of an Obama-Clinton "dream" ticket, which some say could have guaranteed a Democratic sweep this year.

However, dark clouds have already begun gathering. In a recent poll, John McCain came out in front of Obama for the first time. The nomination of Joe Biden might just have come in time.

Joe Biden is known to be a great supporter for India in the US. He was one of the masterminds behind the passage of the Hyde Act in the US Congress, which allows for civilain nuclear cooperation with India. He has also vowed to push the 123 Agreement 'like the devil.'

If Biden becomes Vice President, India would stand to gain substantially.

NSG Meet Inconclusive

A key meeting of the 45 members of the nuclear cartel The Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG) at Vienna ended with members failing to reach a consensus on the controversial waiver of guidelines for India.

The meeting was however, described as 'positive' and 'constructive' by most diplomats. The purpose of this plenary is to amend the NSG's guidelines specifically allowing for trade with India through accords such as the 123 Agreement, even though India does possess nuclear weapons and has refused to ever sign the NPT.

According to media sources, the members will meet again on Sep. 4-5, although that session will have the US presenting a new draft for the proposed rule change after consultations with India. Many NSG members expressed their desire to change various parts of the original text, although India reiterated that any change would not be acceptable.

It is hoped that the NSG would provide the waiver - unconditional or otherwise - by early Sep. so that the accord can be ratified by the US Congress before ending its three-year journey at Parliament House, New Delhi.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Coming in 2010

While the world is preoccupied with the Beijing 2008 Olympics, New Delhi is silently preparing to host the 2010 Commonwealth Games. This will be one of the largest major events hosted by India since the Hyderabad Afro-Asian Games. Of course, the question arises as to whether India can fulfil its promises to make this edition a memorable one. By the look of the pace of construction, the funding and the the adveritising (this ad below, for example), we just could.

OTFS will be counting down the days to the grand event on the right panel.

Stop. Look. Worship.

The iPhone is in India, corutesy Vodafone and Airtel. If you can afford it (Rs. 31,000 to Rs. 37,000 and maybe some taxes), go out and buy it ASAP! For the rest, just do what the title says.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

How high can inflation get?

In Zimbabwe, it's now at 11.2 million percent, and it could be even higher.

[With inputs from CNN]

Zimbabwe's economy, which has been in free-fall for nearly a decade, has reached yet another low. According to the chief of the country's central bank, the "official" inflation rate has risen from 2.2 million percent (that's right, 2.2 million) to 11.2 million percent in a period of just three months!

The country has blamed "illegal" International sanctions placed after President Mugabe's controversial 'ethnic cleansing' programme that destroyed commercial agriculture and annihilated democracy in the former British colony. However, observers say that the sanctions are only targeted at tainted government leaders and the not the economy itself.

The nation is facing a crisis seen but rarely by the world (inflation in Hitler's Germany, for example, was projected to be around one billion percent). Everything costs 'too much,' the currency isn't even worth the paper it's printed on (it's not currency though, just a bearer cheque; official currency doesn't exist anymore) and people are fleeing the country en mass [For a Better Life, World's Untold Stories, CNN International].

Zimbabwe is a fine example of how unnecessary government intervention can wreck the economy. Although India's condition is far better than Zimbabwe's, the government here also needs to learn some lessons. Mass-appeasement by administering prices only forestall a crisis. Oh, when will the politicians learn?!

In the Name of Education

This article published in The Hindu (August 18, 2008 > City Pulse) raked some strong emotions from students. The article highlighted the pathetic condition of students studying in corporate junior colleges in Hyderabad.

The article discussed the inhuman conditions in which students were forced to live in the college hostels, where a room for three accomodated ten or twelve; where students are constantly reminded of their poor performance; where an average day stretches on for 18 hours on studying...

In the class, where some students were asked to comment on the article, there was general agreement. Many students said that they would've rather joined a CBSE school. They also agreed that in AP, there is this false notion that once a students enters the IITs,. NITs etc., they can stop studying and life will be a happy ride ahead. That is absolutely wrong, and studying so much in Class 12 is really not worth it.

Mr. Anil Kumar, the only lecturer who was asked to comment, said that the system was getting regressive and implied that it would take a mass revolution in society to end it. (OTFS)

Coming in 2009: Documentary on life in a corporate junior college on Opinions 24x7

Monday, August 18, 2008

IBN7 and HT invite MIB's wrath

[Main story from TOI]

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) has sent off letters to IBN7, Headlines Today and MTV, asking them to explain some controversial programmes.

Of the three, MTV has a simple case: their reality show, Splitsvilla, depicts women as sex-objects. It does, really, and I DON'T like the show. But MTV usually shows very entertaining shows (On The Job and Roadies, for example) and Splitsvilla is a large shift from that. Maybe the first,hopefully the last.

IBN7, run by GBN18 (GBN), and Headlines Today (HT), run by TV Today (TVTD), are guilty of a lot more. The complain this time is about a show spreading superstitions on IBN7, and 'Bikini 62' on HT, both of which, in my opinion, represent the worst form of journalism (except maybe tabloid journalism.)

But this isn't the first time: HT is infamous for its news reports and shows that trivialise important issues and sensationalise events that matter to no one. No sane soul could say that HT is a news channel: it's a gossip channel, full of unending stills of wrestlers, saas-bahu serials and other such nonsense.

Don't even get me started on IBN7! Acquired by Rajdeep Sardesai-led GBN18, the channel started off with programmes about gory murders, celebrities and news. Then, it dropped the 'news' and replaced it with more entertainment! Indeed, the IBN7-Aaj Tak-Star News troika represent the abyss of Indian news channels. If you ask me, these channels should be paying you for watching! Among Hindi news channels, NDTV India alone is worth watching.

While I am absolutely against banning any of these channels - banning things is against democracy - I would like to see them taken to book. Aaj Tak, you're next!

Gujarat Leads the Way

Gujarat CM Narendra Modi's announcement of the setting up of Suraksha University - South Asia's first anti-terrorism university - is a leap in the right direction.

Terrorists today are hi-tech. They use the most complicated technology to execute their plans, with wireless networks and a close-knit communications network. In such a sitaution, many, if not most, governments across the world are ill-equipped to battle this scourge.

Suraksha (meaning 'protection') University, when it begins classes from 2010, would provide the research and academic foundation required to battle terrorism head on. Proposed to be set up in Gandhinagar, the institute will have faculty members chosen from former security chiefs and experts, apart from expertise from the FOrensic Lab in Gujarat.

It's innovative and effective methods like these that go a long way in tackling terror. Condemning blasts and making a few temporary arrests will not work: this is war, and we need to fight back.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

We're Back

After an eight day hiatus courtesy a glitch in my computer, I'm back, ready to dish out more wise words! :-)

On a more serious note, I apologise for not having posted a single post for over a week: this month is going to be slow, I guess. Of course, many things have happened since I last posted: Bush sent off letters to the heads of NSG, backing India's bid for a waiver; Abhinav Bindra made us proud by bagging a gold medal at Bejing (could he be the 2008 OTFS Indian of the Year?); India celebrated 61 yerars of Independence; Kali Kishore and my own cousin set sail for America; and of course, the rain came pouring down on this humble city!

Phew! That's a lot for a single week, and by the looks of it, it's just the beginning. So as the last few months of 2008 roll along, with Sibu Soren making his threats and Georgia sealing its fate, OTFS will be there to catch the action!

PS: Good luck to the Indian boxers at Beijing. Make us proud, boys!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Games Begin

The Olympic Games in Beijing open tomorrow with a spectacular display at the Bird's Nest: China's National Stadium.

While the run up to the even has been marred by protests ranging from Tibet to Darfur, the "genocide Olympics" will take place, with terrorism being the only real threat.

I do wish the hard-working men and women of the sports world the best of luck. An Olympic Gold Medal is a rare honour, one that every sportsperson strives for. Mixing politics and sports is immoral and unjustified.

But I hope the world's conscience has been raised over how the Communist Part of China is spreading repression and violence in not just its own territory but also around the world. The world will have to come together to bring democracy and freedom to over a billion people.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Our Culture: A Funny Ad

This ad from TATA Sky is extremely funny. On one side, it advertises the ActivDarshan feature, and on another, it just reminds us that we have forgotten our culture in the great rat race.

First Line of Attack, not Defence

Pakistan's President General (Retd.) Pervez Musharaff has described Pakistan's dreaded Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) as a patriotic organisation and Pakistan's "first defense line." [Story: IBNLive]

Well, it would certainly be the first line of defense in the event of an American - or even Indian - attack. But what sort of patriotic organisation has the distinction of toppling democratic governments and replacing them with dictatorships? From Zia-ul-Haq to Musharaff himself, the ISI has placed its puppets all over Pakistan's 60-year history.

When the Taliban ruled the "Islamic Emirate" (Afghanistan), the ISI closely supported and the Pakistani establishment was happy that the Northern Allinace, India's ally, was out of power for good. But post-9/11, all that changed. With Hamid Karzai as President, India has become the most powerful country in Afghanistan after NATO forces.

Consequently, the ISI has launched a barrage of attacks on Indian cities, targeting citizens of all faiths with the help of Al-Qaeda. It hasn't stopped there: several blasts in Pakistan (and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, it is alleged) were masterminded by the ISI.

The truth is that the ISI is a terrorist group, the real "axis of evil" that needs to be destroyed and annihilated, not simply regulated by some Minister. Until then, South Asia will never be stable and the world will know it as a region of bombs and Bollywood.

So, Mr. Musharaff, it is best you let PM Gilani take control of the ISI, otherwise very soon (maybe in a few years if Barack Obama comes to power) it may really have to take up the task of defending the nation.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

What a Transformation!

So if he's not gay, why did he do that dance? You decide!

Part 4: Taking on the Bureaucracy

Recap: My interview has bombed. I was sad. And so life goes on. Until an announcement appears on the NCERT Website.


Finally! Nearly a year after filling up the registration form, the NTSE saga was about to come to an end. Did I make it? Were those interviewers so kind as to take pity upon me, or was I really that good? The answer was a click away...

Yes!! Finally, I had done it! I had become an NTSE Scholar, the first from my school and the first in my family! The news spread swiftly, for this was the single greatest achievement of my life. Described by some as a mini-IAS exam (Indian Administrative Service, which, along with CAT and IITJEE is considered one of the toughest exams in India), I had won the nation's most prestigious scholarship! Three cheers to me!

A month later, official correspondence began. I had to fill up a fairly complex form, accompanied by a record of my marks and official documentation from my current School/Jr. College. It took a lot of time since I also had to open an SBI Bank Account (SBI only, the letter repeated). In spite of receiving the letter in early November 2007, I was able to mail the forms back only by January 2008.

Of course, just mailing them is not good enough. The 'sust' bureaucracy took all the time in the world to forward the details, and I and everyone else on the Orkut Community waited, wondering why our scholarships were taking so long. Meanwhile, my certificate had arrived at last, and I consider it one of the most important documents I will ever possess.

In June 2008, I had still not received any word from NCERT and I was worried, as were the others on Orkut. Finally, I sent a few e-mails to NCERT and in late July 2008, the first instalment of INR 6000.00 had arrived. It wasn't as much about the money - Rs. 6000 isn't too much by today's standards - but the satisfaction and relief in knowing that the scholarship has gotten through the bureaucracy.

And finally, the process was completed. I would have to forward my details every year, but the first time is always the most tense. It's because I went through such tense moments that I decided to start the InNTSE label. After a long hiatus, I decided to complete the series for the benefit of future generations, and also as a time capsule for myself.

I had a lot of fun through the process of NTSE, in spite of some tense moments. Given an opportunity to do it all over again, I definitely would! Although this series ends here, I will keep my readers posted about any developments. Winning the scholarship was the first stage. The real challenge - higher education - begins next year!

(Series Concluded)

You can read all about the journey through the National Talent Search Examination-2007 conducted by NCERT on OTFS. Click on the InNTSE label.

Part 3: Talking Heads

Recap: I had written Round 2 of NTSE and had quite forgotten about the exam. I had no hopes and, quite frankly, I didn't really care.

Jr. College had begun full-swing and I was busy with my (new) life. It was only around July 1 or 2 (I can't recall the exact date) that I received the final letter, stating that I had been selected for the last round: the interview stage! This was a major achievement (interestingly, the letter was dated June 29: my brithday!). My former class teacher told me a few days later that seven years ago, a students from my school had also been selected for Round 3 but had failed to get through. With Rahul and Serwani failing to qualify, I was the second person in Bhavan's history to qualify for Round 3. Yes, I am proud of it, and I deserve to be.

But a written exam was a run of the mill affair for me: an interview, on the other hand, was a different ball game altogether. Of course, I knew the basics: be polite, act formal, be honest, dress smart etc. But hey! That sounds good in words: actually getting into the interview room is no task for the cowardly!

I opened the TMH book once again, this time to brush up my theory. I also revised my Class 10 syllabus. However, I needed to know what sort of questions they would ask. I has made acquaintance with a girl on Yahoo! Answers who helped me out a bit (she had also been selected for the interview, although for Class 8). But the NTSE Scholars' Community on Orkut proved invaluable. Old scholars, some who had been selected in the 80s, were there, ready to help the new batches. I do recommend future aspirants and winners to join the community (I am an active member of it). The NTSE Group on Facebook is okay, though I don't recommend it.

I had learned quite a lot about the interview: there would be four of five oldies (pardon the phrase) who would ask questions from various subjects and also ask us about our hobbies and our knowledge of our city. Seemed simple enough, so I read up a bit about the history of Hyderabad, and my preparation seemed complete.

How very unprepared I was.

The Last Moments
The big day finally came in August, a Sunday again. The venue: State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT), near NIMS. Time: too early! Dress code: formal, sans tie.

I arrived at the centre with my father, and for once, I was nervous. I had never attended such an interview before and to do so at the age of 16 seemed quite unfair! The other students seemed nervous too, except one guy, Siddharth, from FIITJEE, who seemed outright sure that he was going to be selected (eventually he was). He was also in a bit of trouble: he hadn't brought his Class 10 marks memo with him (Jr. Colleges always take them) and had to urgently arrange for it. The man at the counter was very helpful: he assured him that he would attend the interview, although he would have to submit his memo for verification the next day.

He was also very frank with the parents: he went on and on about the ills of the software industry, about 'weekend marriages' in Mumbai, the rat race in education, the fact that each and every one of the students who had come that day represented the very best students from India, et al. I never got his name, but I hope he gets this job every year: he's great at cheering students up!

The interviews seemed to take forever. I had submitted my form over two hours ago and was still waiting outside the conference hall, with each interview taking twenty minutes to half an hour! I was sweating like mad, trying hard to listen in on the conversation inside. Damn those soundproof rooms!

Come In!
STOP! TOO EARLY! My time had arrived: noon. Can you believe that? Neither morning nor afternoon!

I walked in to a fancy-looking conference room (the schematic diagram is pictured alongside). Four oldies (pardon the phrase) were seated behind a grand table (incidentally, I wondered how if the table was so big in order to prevent squabbles between dignitaries!) I greeted them with all the skill I could muster and took my seat.

Then came the usual questions: name, school, board (CBSE in my case) etc. Then came the scholastic questions. As usual, I bombed in Physics, for I had not the least idea as to what an electron volt really is (I know the conversion factor to joule, thank you) and I chose that opportune moment to forget Maxwell's Right Hand rule!

Well, Physics was a big flop. Biology went much better: from Darwin's Theory to the composition of blood: I could answer everything. No questions from Maths or Chemistry.

And then there was social studies. I really don't know why I chose it, but I told the interviewers that I was interested in Economics. So while I was talking about market forces, cost curves and and stocks, he was asking me about inflation and the present economic scenario. Boo to me: I didn't know the price of tomatoes then!

Eventually, we moved into the realm of debate: communism vs. capitalism in India. Simple? NO! I gave some valid points as to how liberalisation had changed our country, but he was ready with his antitheses. For a good fifteen minutes we argued, taking the matter to the altar of history (Nehru was a great capitalist who chose socialism for the sake of his ego: I never knew that!) Once the debate had ended (I don't know how, it just did), my hatred towards communists had doubled!

Lastly, I was asked simple questions about Nagarjunsagar and, being Bengali, Kolkata. That came as a surprise to me: I had never lived in Kolkata and could hardly speak Bengali: how can they ask me questions about Kolkata?! But the interviewer is always right I suppose. Fortunately, the questions were all easy: 'why to Bengalis eat so much fish?' for instance. After providing a satisfactory answer to that one, he asked me jovially as to how many times a week I ate fish. Shock, surprise and praise: I declared that I was a vegetarian! I'll never forget the looks on their faces: that move was nothing short of a coup!

It was also during the interview that I set out my goals and aspirations: web designer, programmer, IITian etc. The interviewers didn't seem too interested in that: it must be a routine affair for them.

After twenty five minutes of being asked questions and sending back shaky answers (for many a question I had to concede that I did not know the answer: honesty is the best policy, they say), I left with one last piece of advice from them: 'next time I see you, lose some wight!'

But would there be a next time? I certainly felt depressed after the interview: is should have studied harder and pretend to be pro-communist. There was so much I could have done! If only I had though about it harder.

Usually, I walk out of an examination hall without any expectations. This time I did expect something: failure. The journey was over, the battle was lost and Bhavan's still did not have an NTSE scholar. Or so I thought...

You can read all about the journey through the National Talent Search Examination-2007 conducted by NCERT on OTFS. Click on the InNTSE label.

Part 2: Going National

Recap: In my last post nearly a year back (sorry about that), I described how I walk out of my NTSE Centre with no hope of whatsoever of qualifying.

It turned out that I gave my self too little credit: in March, during my board exams, I finally received a letter from NCERT, stating that I had been selected for the second round. Well, was I ever happier! It was perhaps the single biggest achievement of my life (after my gold medal in English from the University of New South Wales). My father was very happy and read the letter several times, checking to see if there had been a mistake! The joy was so palpable that the postman also joined in our celebrations!

The exam was scheduled for the second Sunday of May: I had already known this fact from a flyer that was distributed at my centre for the National Science Olympiad (St. Peter's High School, Tarnaka: the school has excellent infrastructure). My friends were happy for me, since only three students out of over a hundred from my school had been selected. Apart from me, Serwani (10B) and K Rahul (10I) were also selected.

Then of course, came the time to study. As usual, I had no hopes of qualifying. Nevertheless, I decided to give it my best shot. Now, that wasn't exactly easy. Of course, after my boards had ended and the cheer and celebration died out, I decided to review my books and thoroughly study everything (again). But that would perhaps get me through SAT: what about MAT? Fortunately, my mother acquired a copy of TMH's NTSE Study Material. That book, which I recommend to everyone preparing for the exam, helped me understand the logic behind sequences and analogies. I can safely say that had I not prepared from that book, I would not have been selected for the scholarship.

In addition, my bridge course in Sri Chaitanya had begun and the concepts learned there proved useful in the exam. One question (something about an SI unit of force or work) was even asked in the exam, and i could answer it easily!

One interesting thing about the exam was the answer sheets: unlike average OMR sheets, in which one had to circle the bubble corresponding to one's answer, these answer sheets consisted of boxes instead of bubbles, and we had to cross the corresponding box! I have never seen such a system before, and thankfully, NCERT had sent a sample sheet along with the form. As for the form, it generally asked the same things that the form for Round 1 had asked. After getting my Principal's signature and the School's seal, it was ready.

The Big Day
And so was I! The day had come, the centre was ready: Diamond Jubilee High School, Abids (near the Collector's Office). My mother and sister decided to accompany me. Since the exam began quite early, we had to leave home soon after waking up. Thankfully, the traffic wasn't too bad that day.

The building was quite nice: a large staircase, clean corridors, wooden, crafted doors and excellent furniture: this must've been the bet centre I ever had! I was one of the first to enter the room. The bench was quite comfortable and as I took my place, other students, some looking confident, some fearful, trickled in. We were from different backgrounds, different schools, yet we came together to compete toe-to-toe. Isn't meritocracy a wonderful thing?!

The exam started with MAT. Jut before we were handed our answer sheets, our hall tickers were collected (the invigilator asked some of us to add some details). MAT turned out to be quite difficult, with some of the questions requiring a degree of mental ability that was far above my calibre! Still, I managed to answer most of the questions without any trouble, and guessed the rest (there is no negative marking, you see).

SAT turned out to be much easier. Mathematics was very easy, science was challenging while social studies was quite easy. That's my assessment of the paper, anyway. Some of the others felt differently, but that's normal. Rahul said he had done well too.

Once the exam had ended, I headed back home. I had no hopes: I never do. It would be only months later that any news about the results came in. Those wo had not been selected for Round 2 were altogether at sea: NCERT contacts only those who are selected and if you are not selected, you will not be contacted. Simple!

I just about forgot about NTSE with Class 11 taking centre stage. But then the letter came.

You can read all about the journey through the National Talent Search Examination-2007 conducted by NCERT on OTFS. Click on the InNTSE label.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Justice at Home


We begin our discussion on the UPA Government's performance with its achievements. For this, we have singled our four far-reaching achievements, each of which will be discussed in this and the next three posts.
What's Domestic Violence?
One of the greatest acts passed by the UPA is the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. First, let us examine the social structure in India. Traditionally, the husband has been the bread-earner and the wife is expected to serve him at all times. While this might seems fair to some, it is not. As society changed, the domestic structure at home changed, giving birth to what is now called domestic violence.

The truth of today's society is that women are forced to live like slaves under the thumbs of their husbands. Many husbands do not allow their wives to take up a job, even if they are educated. This forces the wife to be dependent on her husband for everything, giving ample opportunity for him to, say, starve her, simply by refusing to pay for the groceries! In other homes, even if the wife is allowed to work, she has to hand over her salary to her husband. And the same pattern follows. An even more gruesome form of domestic violence is when husbands beat up their wives, sometimes even with sticks and stones, causing severe physical and mental damage to the wife. (For more, watch this short film)

What the Act says

Till the act came into force, the only recourse for the wife would be divorce, which itself is a long procedure during which she is left entirely to her abusive husband's mercy. Many-a-times, the husband's family would kill the wife to prevent any difficulties.

The Act, scripted by Union Minister (Independent Charge) For Women and Child Development Renuka Chowdhary (pictured top-left), changes all of that. The first change is that the wife, instead of being blamed by the legal system of breaking down her family by not 'pleasing' her husband, is recognised as a victim. The act stretches the definition of domestic violence from mere physical atrocities to mental and financial abuses. Thus, if a husband doesn't hit his wife but makes fun of her continuously (this could be right from making fun of her cooking to forcing her to believe that she is worthless), it is also counted as domestic violence. Furthermore, a husband and wife have the shared responsibility of raising their children. If the husband refuses to support his children's education, even though he can, and forces his wife to live in abject poverty to support her children, it is counted as domestic violence. The act thus, covers almost all forms of domestic abuse and is comprehensive in its approach.

Implied in the last definition is the fact that children can also use the Act against abusive parents who torture them physically, mentally or emotionally. Furthermore, Section 2(q) of the act also says that not just the husband, but the in-laws and even siblings of the husband can also be accused of domestic violence (and in most cases, the husband's family, and not the husband, is the real criminal). Significantly, the Act also covers live-in relationships, which no other Act in India, or even South Asia, recognises. The Act has provisions to save distressed women even if they aren't actually married to the man they live with. According to section 2(g), any relationship between two persons who live, or have at any point of time lived together in the shared household, is considered a 'domestic relationship'. Effectively, domestic relationships are no longer by marriage alone, and women are considered deserving of justice irrespective of their marital status. The law also includes widows and spinsters and also marriages deemed unlawful.

The law is so powerful that not just physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, psychological, and economic abuse, but also the threat of such abuse, are punishable. Just one act of abuse is enough to activate the Act, thereby eliminating prolonged abuse. And most significantly, the Act declares domestic violence a violation of human rights, something that even many developed countries have not done.

Closing the Loopholes

The Act was clearly written after much deliberation. This is clear from the fact that the Act also has provisions for conduct during the trial. According to it, during a trial under the Act, the husband cannot restrict his wife's freedom and ability to access resources crucial to the case. He may not abuse her in an attempt to have the case revoked, may not throw her out of his home or take away her money and jewellery. Section 17 of the law, which gives all married women or female partners in a domestic relationship the right to reside in a home that is known in legal terms as the shared household, applies whether or not she has any right, title or beneficial interest in the same. Furthermore, if the woman does not think it is safe for her to live in the shared home, she can ask for alternate accommodation, which the husband has to pay for.

A woman who is the victim of domestic violence will have the right to the services of the police, shelter homes and medical establishments. She also has the right to simultaneously file her own complaint under Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code. If the husband tries to block any of these rights, he will be punished for it.

Implementing the Act

For the implementation of the Act, Protection Officers (POs) under a court of law have been appointed and they ensure that all the rights of the abused wife are met. A PO who does not fulfil his duties is liable for punishment too! NGOs working for women's rights are also allowed the title to Service Providers under the Act.

Criticism of the Act

The Act, for all its foresight, has been criticised as a blatant violation of the husband's rights. The naysayers say that 'it takes two to tango.' The law can be used by women to, quite literally, abuse their husbands for monetary or simply sadistic gains. The act is gender biased and provides all the rights to the wife while negating those of the husband. The Act implies that once a complaint is filed under the Act, the husband is guilty of something (if not domestic violence) and has to fulfil its provisions. This can be used to target men.

On a higher level, the Act is accused of degenerating the structure of a family by leaving no space for discussions and also by giving space for the woman to imprison her husband's entire family! The critics say that the Act is against the institution of marriage itself and strips the husband and family of all their rights. Interestingly, the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India has also said that the Act was clumsily drafted and in one case, deemed that a residence owned by the the wife's in-laws and not her husband cannot be considered a shared residence.

My Take on the Act

Taking into account social realities and the nittie-gritties of the Act, I can say that the Act is excellent, though not perfect. The system of domestic violence has gotten so out of hand that people have stopped taking any interest in it. Women cannot be left to their fate, the law has to protect them. This Act covers virtually every form of domestic violence and also addresses several loopholes in the legal system. The Act protects women and children in India and strengthens, not breaks, family bonds.

A family where the wife lives under ruthless torture by her husband is not a family: it is bonded labour. Agreed that there may be some women who do target their husbands unfairly and can use the Act for their evil ends, the truth is that Indian society has not reached such a level of equality. Most women are not educated right up to graduation, they do not have the financial support to go about abusing their husbands. Women in India, generally speaking, do not carry guns or even pepper spray, and nothing can save them when their husbands physically abuse them. Indian society today is such that women who complain of abuse are wrongly accused of breaking down their marriage! In such a situation, a powerful Act like this is absolutely necessary.

Men and women in India are not considered socially equal. Period. It's a fact.This law goes a long way in creating the equality necessary to create a free, democratic society. Although some provisions of the Act do need to be reviewed (and it needs to be a little more gender neutral), the intent and essence of the Act are so wonderful that it surely stands out as one of the UPA Government's greatest achievements.
Further Reading:

IAEA BoG Approves Safeguards

The Baord of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's Nuclear watchdog, has approved the India-specific safeguards agreement to place 14 civilian nuclear reactors under safeguards by 2014 as part of the India-US Civilian Nuclear Agreement.

With this, India has now become a unique state in that while it is not an 'official' nuclear weapons state, it is no longer an 'official' non-nuclear weapons state either. India has now become the only country in the world that has not signed the NPT, has nuclear weapons and can still have the option of engaging in nuclear commerce.
According to the plan circulated by India, 14 reactors would be placed under safeguards by 2014, while military reactors would not be included under the safeguards. Earlier, the 27-member EU, presided over by France, expressed its strong support to the agreement. UN Director General Mohammed El-Baradei also pitched for the deal, saying that it meets India's needs and also the IAEA's legal requirements. Furthermore, he also praised the 'umbrella' agreement that covers all Indian civilian reactors at one go, saying that it is an efficient system that is worth replicating.
Adding to the support for the agreement is the fact that it was passed by consensus and not a vote. Clearly, American diplomacy managed to prevent Pakistan from calling for a vote. However, Ireland and Switzerland, also members of the BoG, feared that theIAEA agreement and the 123 Agreement as such would undermine the non-porliferation community. However, they did not block the agreement.
Now, the real multilateral test for the 123 Agreement, the waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG), will come into perspective. As per NSG rules, any waiver to India must be approv approved by all 45 members by consensus, and even one voice of opposition can end the deal. Clearly, American and Indian diplomats will have to work hard and work in tandem to fulfil this huge task.
The other sticky issue is that of the actual text of the NSG waiver. The US has drafted a proposed text and India seems to be happy with it, although New Delhi has said that it wants the language to be tweaked a bit. But seeing as the NSG was craeted to block India's nuclear weapons programme in the 70s, it seems very unlikely that India would get a 'clear and uncondituional' waiver. Some additional conditions can be expected, but whether they are so outrageous that they become acceptable will be up to India.
If the waiver from the NSG comes through and is approved by New Delhi, then the last step of the deal, the US Congressional Vote, would be taken up in a lame-duck session of Congress. That however, is a few months away. The NSG is expected to meet very soon and then again on Aug. 21, with a final decision expected in early September.
[With inputs]