Friday, January 30, 2009

Lest anybody forgets

61 years ago, a Hindutva nationalist fired his bullets on Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhiji undertook a fast unto death demanding that Rs. 55 crore be rightfully given to Pakistan, that were withheld by the Indian government. 

Pakistan was at that time under armed confrontation with India, sending its troops to occupy Kashmir. 

Indian leaders tried to plead Gandhiji, saying that Pakistan will put that money to bad use, and intensify its warfare against India. Gandhiji didn't budge. He didn't stop his fast until the Indian government released the money to Pakistan, and until the leaders of both the Hindutva and Islamist movements personally promised him to lay down their arms. 

Gandhiji didn't undertake his fast for the sake of Pakistan, whose creation he vehemently opposed. He undertook it to preserve the very soul of India. 

Gandhiji didn't die on his fast, and he didn't die on the day Nathuram pulled his trigger. 

Gandhiji will die on the day when Indians forget the very principles that drove this loin-clothed man from Gujarat onwards his idealistic journey towards freedom and brotherhood of man. 

As Tagore has immortalized in "Ekla Chalo Re", the journey that the Mahatma began will not finish as long as there are people who are not afraid to walk alone. 

Monday, January 26, 2009

Fresh water crisis - The forgotten battle of environmentalists

Karen Street has encouraged me to write on the fresh water crisis, and has kindly hosted the post on her blog. 

... Water conservation and prevention of water pollution were one of the earliest battles of environmentalists - much before climate change was ever heard of. Though they have become the green equivalents of 80s fashion, these battles are as relevant today as they were ever. In fact, fresh water is the most important battle in the war against global warming. 

Fresh water is the elixir of life. The entire bio eco-system is based on this. Any minor disturbances to the supply of fresh water will have catastrophic impacts on biodiversity. The scariest effects of climate change are not rising sea levels or massive tornadoes, as exemplified by films such as The Day after Tomorrow. Scary though they might be, there are scarier problems : desertification of rainforests, severe droughts, drying river beds due to melting glaciers...

Karen has helped me a lot in the writing, in proof reading the essay, and in searching for the right images to explain the story. Thanks a bunch, Karen, for all the motivation you gave me. 

Karen is a committed environmentalist, and writes very informative essays on the climate change problem. I hope you people visit her blog to learn more about these pressing issues.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Skills of debating

I don't know if there is a text on the art of debating. This is a very interesting discipline. Let me list a few strategies that can be used in a debate. Please remember that any weapon can be used for the good or for the bad, depending on the wielder.

I am not talking of the list of logical fallacies, which are a primer for any debater, and should be quickly identified if the opponent resorts to any of them. I am also not talking of the arts of sophistry, rhetoric, evading information and the diversion of attention (also known as politician-speak).

In this post, I will write on some sublime strategies for winning a debate against worthy adversaries.

1) The principle of least information revelation :

This is probably the most important tactic in debating. One should not reveal more information than is necessary for the debate in question. Any unnecessary information can be contested and important time will be lost. One should never give the opponent a chance to stereotype oneself. Revealing more information than necessary will permit the opponent to brand one as an extremist, or to divert the attention on unrelated issues.

2) The battle for the middleground :

The debater should make an attempt to rephrase the opponent's views. This will convince the audience that the opponent is being listened to. The primary battle in any debate is to capture the middleground. Any attack from the middleground will be more vicious than usual.

3) The art of providing examples :

The debater who can provide a right example to elucidate or summarize the scenario gets a huge bonus in the fight. This technique is an art, and gets better with practice.

4) Accession to a wrong strongpoint :

To weaken the opponent's argument, the debater should concede to a faulty strongpoint in it. This would project a false win for the opponent, and divert the attention from the more vicious strongpoint.

The debater would essentially set the language in which the debate is conducted.

5) Invitation of attack on a wrong weakpoint :

It is important to waste the opponent's energy in the battle. And more time spent on a wrong weakpoint of a debater, means less time spent on a real weakpoint. So the opponent should be lured into attacking a wrong weakpoint.

6) Identification of the unpreventable :

If there is an issue that the opponent opposes, but which happens as an inevitable consequence of a host of other issues unrelated to the debate, it has to be identified at the earliest. Such an issue will make the opponent lose credibility. Even though the debate is not actually won, such a pseudo-win will make the debater look good.

7) Juicy trail for the opponent's escape :

The debater should actively lay down a trail for the opponent to escape from the debate. No opponent will succumb to a painful death in a debate. Most debates are won when the opponent escapes, as in "I will have to read on this and get back to you", "This looks very interesting, I am not aware of this" or "I know you are wrong, but cannot tell you why". Such escapes should be accepted graciously, and the opponent should be thanked for escaping ('Thank you. We can discuss more on that later'). In fact, the debater should lay down juicy morcels all along the escape route, so as to lure the opponent.

8) Identification of inconsistency :

When the opponent makes mutually inconsistent claims, this should be identified immediately. Such an exposé would be deadly to the opponent, more so than a revelation that an opponent's claim is false.

9) Projection of the image of cool :

One need not always keep one's cool in a debate, but one should definitely project one's cool to the audience. Voice should be raised only most sparingly, only to stress certain phrases amidst a monologue.

The personality of the opponent should be held distinct from his viewpoint, and the former should always be shown the utmost respect. Never should the audience be given the impression that the opponent is shouted down.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Nightmare in Swat

I wish to draw people's attention to the plight of innocent villagers in Swat. This beautiful place has been facing an unending nightmare for several months. After Mumbai, I hope everybody realizes that terror holds no borders : the horror of one innocent human being is the horror of entire humanity.

Letter from Swat

The main town of Swat, Mingora, has now virtually fallen to the militants. The police are escorted by army officials and come out from their ‘hide-outs’ only for a couple of hours. One of the busiest squares, Grain chowk, was renamed by the shopkeepers as ‘Khooni chowk’ because when they come to their shops in the morning on each day they find four or five dead bodies hung over the poles or the trees. They see dead bodies scattered along the foot path in the morning. The bodies are usually headless. The practice goes thus with an average of four deaths daily in the square. Similarly on each morning there are found bodies with their throats slit in Qambar, Kabal, Matta, Khawza Khela and Charbagh. This practice has been going on for weeks; and unfortunately does not seem to stop.

Jan 15 is the deadline set by the militants to close all schools, especially those of girls. As the deadline approaches people are getting more and more terrified. The government’s writ is all but absent. Nazims have been killed, women are not allowed to visit bazaars (which are deserted), NGOs have stopped working and children play a ‘Fauji Taliban’ game. The people live a miserable life in the cold. Most bridges have been damaged and beyond the main town phones have been dead for months. Most people live in darkness at night because the fighting has badly affected the power infrastructure as well.

Curfew is imposed constraining the people inside for days on end. And security forces personnel sometimes fire indiscriminately. The residents can do nothing – they cannot protest against the high-handedness of the military or stand up to the militants. The Taliban gain from strength to strength, partly aided by the use of FM radio. Various checkposts set up by the security forces seem to be no little use. Scores of militants entered Kalam last week in spite of six checkposts set up from from Bagh Dahri to Bahrain. It is quite clear that for now the victors in the war are the Taliban – and the losers the people of Swat.

But who cares about that in the rest of the country. The government seems too busy dealing with the aftermath of the Mumbai carnage. That said, the predicament of the people of Swat is worse than even of the people of Gaza. In Gaza the enemy is well known but in Swat the people know not who the enemy is and whom to hold responsible.

The civil society of any country is regarded as a great force to mobilize the general public against the violation of civil rights and liberty. It is considered as a bulwark against the violation of human rights. It is deemed as the upholder of people’s rights where the state fails to deliver. Its mettle was tested in the lawyers’ movement but we in Swat wonder why it is silent now? We hear no voice raise against the atrocities committed in Swat. No civil society organization has its voice against the plight of the women and children in Swat. We have not seen a single demonstration in the big cities against the monster of militancy in Swat, or in FATA for that matter. The media also seems apathetic about the plight. The print media does well to some extent but their scope is limited.

The people of Swat ask you to come out on their behalf and mobilize the general public against the war tearing the valley. We implore you to come out of your drawing rooms and stage protests so that the government does something about our plight.

The author is Zubair Torwali, from KhyberWatch.