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Showing posts with label Deccan Herald. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Deccan Herald. Show all posts

Monday, September 7, 2020

Shifting faith : Pakistan is caught in the intrigues within the Islamic world

Luv Puri  

In 1979, Pakistan changed the name of its third-largest populated city, Lyallpur, located on the banks of the river, Chenab, in Pakistani Punjab to Faisalabad in honour of the late King Faisal of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Lyallpur was the name given in honour of the then British lieutenant-governor of Punjab, James Broadwood Lyall, in the early 20th century.

The KSA gave money for the construction of the picturesque Faisal mosque in Islamabad, again named in honour of the late king. The relationship between the KSA and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has often been cast in terms of ties between two fraternal Sunni Muslim majority countries. One was the country where Islam was founded and another was created in the name of Islam. So the Pakistani foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, surprised many by publicly admonishing the KSA leadership for its failure to convene a foreign ministers’ meeting of the KSA-led 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. “If they will not play their role, then I will ask Prime Minister Imran Khan to go ahead with or without Saudi Arabia.”

This was preceded by Pakistan repaying the KSA’s loan of $1 billion (USD) out of $3 billion with China’s help before the maturity period. The reason cited was that the KSA was facing financial difficulties because of the recent decrease in oil exports owing to the ongoing pandemic. The reason didn’t convince many as the KSA has several hundred billions parked in foreign assets and a sovereign wealth fund was established to diversify its investments. The loan to Pakistan was at an interest rate of 3.2 per cent. In addition to this, an old agreement signed between Pakistan and the KSA for the provision of $3.2 billion worth of oil on deferred payments per annum by the KSA was not renewed after May, 2020.

Given the manner in which the two countries have locked themselves in the last few decades, this was a rare instance of criticism of the KSA leadership. The KSA, being one of the financial benefactors, has often shaped political developments in Pakistan. In a deal that was believed to be brokered by the KSA, the former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, was allowed to leave Pakistan by Pervez Musharraf a year after the general had deposed Sharif  in a military coup. In the late 1970s and the 1980s, the KSA and Pakistan became the most important frontal allies of the United States of America in its bid to bleed and defeat the Soviet Union. The KSA, along with the US, provided funds to Pakistan’s military to train and arm the mujahideen in Afghanistan. In fact, as is widely known, some KSA nationals, including Osama bin Laden, had fought alongside the Afghan mujahideen. After the retreat of the Soviet Union and the defeat of the local groups it supported in Afghanistan, the victorious mujahideen coalesced to form the Taliban and took advantage of the political vacuum. Only the KSA, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan recognized the Taliban leadership when they took power in Afghanistan.

The relationship has other aspects. Pakistani troops have been deployed in the KSA at various critical moments, including the Gulf war in 1991, as part of a strategy to deter any potential Iraqi attack. The KSA had helped Pakistan to weather international sanctions after the 1998 nuclear tests in the form of a “four-year deferred oil financing facility worth roughly $3.4 billion”. Although the KSA, officially, is a non-nuclear-weapons state, its public commitment hinges on whether or not its regional foe, Iran, acquires the nuclear bomb. It is widely believed that nuclear-armed Pakistan may be one of the countries that will enable the KSA to acquire nuclear capability.

Pakistan’s singular obsession with raising the Kashmir issue and the KSA’s desire to remain equidistant from the Indo-Pak rivalry seem to be the trigger behind Qureshi’s outburst. That may not be all. In the last year or so, Pakistan’s foreign policy has put itself in the cross hairs of the renewed rivalry between the KSA and Turkey. This rivalry has its roots in the four-centuries’ old Arab-Ottoman animosity as the Ottomans had colonized vast tracts of present-day Middle East. Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, has lavished praise on the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and encouraged Pakistan’s State media to broadcast the famous Turkish show, Ertugrul, and dub it in Urdu. Khan stated that in contrast to Hollywood and Bollywood, Turkish television shows are more in conformity with Islamic and family values. Musharraf used to refer to Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, as his role model. Atatürk, the polar opposite of Erdogan, secularized the country’s polity with an iron hand.

The KSA-Turkey animosity has acquired topical salience in the last few years. Turkey’s decision to deploy more troops in Qatar, which was facing a blockage from the KSA, exacerbated the tensions between the KSA and Turkey. In July 2020, Erdogan visited Qatar to further cement the strategic relationship between the two countries.  The KSA and Turkey are following divergent foreign policy goals in many places. For instance, in Libya, Turkey is backing Libya’s Government of National Accord to push back Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army, which is supported by the KSA. The tensions had become more apparent after the killing of the Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, in the KSA’s Istanbul consulate in 2018. The facts presented by the Turkish authorities hinted at the direct involvement of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in the killing. A trial had already started in Turkey that accused 20 KSA citizens in absentia; the KSA has declined to extradite them. There is a counter-reaction sweeping within the KSA as the leadership has decided to refer to the Ottoman rule over its territory in the context of colonialism and revise textbooks. In Riyadh, a sign bearing the name of the Ottoman sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, was reportedly removed from one of the main streets.

The global challenge to the KSA’s leadership in the Muslim world is at play. In December 2019, Erdogan along with the former Malaysian prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, had taken the initiative to organize an Islamic summit in Kuala Lumpur. This initiative was seen by the KSA monarchy as a threat to replace the Jeddah-headquartered OIC, which is under Saudi Arabia’s de facto leadership. In a statement, the OIC secretary-general, Yousef al-Othaimeen, had said, “It is not in the interest of an Islamic nation to hold summits and meetings outside the framework of the (OIC), especially at this time when the world is witnessing multiple conflicts.” Although Malaysia and Turkey supported the position of Khan on Jammu and Kashmir-related issues in the context of the developments after August 5, 2019, the KSA leadership convinced Pakistan’s prime minister not to attend the summit. The deference is not unexpected. Apart from financial support, at least 2.6 million Pakistani nationals of all professional classes work in the KSA and they are the biggest source of remittances to Pakistan.

At a time of a grand contestation taking place between the two big powers of the Islamic world, Pakistan faces a choice between the KSA, which is expected to invest $20 billion in Pakistan as part of a memorandum of understanding signed between the two countries in February 2019, or join hands with Turkey, the KSA’s arch rival in the Muslim world.

Courtesy - DH


Sunday, September 6, 2020

Teachers’ Day: Understanding how teaching became a systemic casualty in India

At its most fundamental, teaching ought to be about a process of intellectual exchange, about transferring ideas from one mind to another. Beyond the problems of poor pay and alarming teacher-student ratio, what stifles the spirit of teaching in India is lack of free thinking and open debate in classrooms.", "articleBody": "
At its most fundamental, teaching ought to be about a process of intellectual exchange, about transferring ideas from one mind to another. 
The India of bygone times, which is promptly repurposed for political interests today, was not only the intellectual wellspring of the world, but comprised a comprehensive “ecosystem” of teaching and learning, as author Sahana Singh has argued.
Ashramas, spread all over the country and attracting scholars from far and wide, were set up by gurus possessing specialised insight in different fields. For a student to be sufficiently enriched, travelling was imperative, as the process of education involved accumulating knowledge from various pockets of the country by not only mastering texts but also observing lived realities.
What, then, happened to this sublime educational infrastructure of ancient India? 
In short, it was brutally dismantled – by the violent debauchery of invading tribes, by the relative complacency of the Mughals in ignoring the intellectual legacy of India, and by the insidiousness of the British in creating an imperial setup of learning catering to colonial interests.

Our unwillingness to transform the education system post independence in 1947 has resulted in the Indian classrooms of today, where students mostly learn from teachers what, rather than how, to think.
Karthik Muralidharan, one of India’s leading policy experts on education, believes that any education system has three main purposes – equipping the students with skills, facilitating their cultural development and socialisation, and sorting – the filtration of students based on their exam performances, which, in the Indian context, relies disproportionately on rote-learning. 
It is this third purpose that the Indian system has become obsessed with, setting off a rat-race where grades have emerged as the be-all and end-all.
The fact that such an obsession cripples students is now common knowledge, an article of hopeless inevitability, to be passed from generation to generation, in keeping with the consequent gulf between education and employability. 
Students, however, are not the only stakeholders within a classroom. 

What of the teachers, and the art of teaching? How have they become a systemic casualty in a country that once held them in the highest regard?
The answer starts with poor pay (often leading to absenteeism) as the first hurdle to teaching in India. Let alone those who are hired on temporary contracts or on a gig-basis, even experienced teachers often rely on private tuitions and coaching centres outside formal institutions to make ends meet or earn a dignified salary. Teachers who make a fortune in some of the elite schools and universities represent a minuscule minority of the masses.

Then there is the alarming teacher-student ratio, which makes it impossible for a single teacher to take into account the needs of every single student in the class. As a matter of course, the teacher ends up concentrating on those who appear to pay attention, while the system dismisses the rest as shirkers.
Compounding the first two problems is the dearth of proper training schemes for teachers, which means that under-qualified staff are hired frequently, and sometimes, even among considerably qualified academicians, there is little understanding of how to connect with students without spoon-feeding them.
But, above all, is the underlying dynamic of interaction that stifles the spirit of teaching in India by discouraging free thinking and open debate. 
This dynamic is built around the conception of the teacher as the key constituent of a monologue, not a conversation. 
Most classes, be it in primary school or universities, are built around the teacher lecturing for close to an hour, to be interjected only occasionally, summarising information that is already ensconced in hastily drawn reading lists belonging to inadequately engineered syllabi. 

The impact is the creation of a power structure where the teacher assumes a position of almost uncontestable authority. Instead of being an enabler to the learning process, the teacher indoctrinates, unable to factor in the multiple requirements that a class full of varyingly competent students would naturally demand.

Such a problem becomes even more complicated in institutions where students lack foundational literacy and numeracy (a massive issue in India), and are consistently playing catch up with a teacher who is obliged to complete the syllabi.

As a result, creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration – the skills most vital for our current times- cannot flourish in Indian classrooms because teachers are dispossessed of the environment within which to unleash these attributes.

By reducing teaching to a one-way-street policed by the need to optimise grades, Indian education leaves no room for the kind of back and forth debates and discussions that are necessary for constructing the personalities of students. 
While it is true that India has produced several outstanding teachers, who have become role models and guiding lights for their students, it is also true that such exceptional men and women remain outliers, and it is only through addressing systemic issues that they can become the norm. 

The key to unlocking learning in India is to make education – as in ancient India – a symbiotic process, one driven by intellectual exchange, and not the reductive mechanisation of skills that has run rampant for so long. 
Once the focus of teaching is transformed, there should be a manifold increase in great teachers in India, who would finally come to excel because of the system, and not in spite of it.
(Priyam Marik is a freelance journalist writing on politics, culture, and sport)
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

Courtesy - DH

Saturday, July 4, 2020

DKS has a plan, he needs a new image :Deccan Herald Editorial

DK Shivakumar, who took over as the Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president on Thursday, may have breathed some life into the party state unit by galvanising both leaders and grassroots workers, forcing even the ruling BJP to take notice. Shivakumar may have made a good beginning with the hugely successful virtual swearing-in ceremony which, the party claims, was watched by some 16 lakh people on various platforms. However, he cannot afford to rest on that success. For one, he would do well to constantly guard his back. Congressmen, as he doubtless knows, have a penchant for pulling each other down, ignoring the larger interests of the party. Two declarations -- that he would convert Congress into a cadre-based party, and that he would take all sections along instead of being the lone ranger that he is often accused of being -- are significant. The commitment of the average Congressman to the party and its ideals leaves much to be desired. Shivakumar’s promise to recognise booth-level workers may go a long way in reviving the party.\r\n\r\n

Shivakumar is a go-getter who has for long been the trouble-shooter of the Congress, and the Karnataka BJP, which too has become lifeless, cannot be complacent. The Yediyurappa government has lost much of its sheen, mainly due to the evident unpreparedness in handling the sharp increase in Covid-19 cases, thereby negating the initial gains. While Yediyurappa remains firmly in the saddle for now, a succession war has broken out in the shadows, with some ministers and party leaders working at cross-purposes to discredit the chief minister and show him in poor light. Meanwhile, state party president Nalin Kumar Kateel seems to have failed to inspire confidence in the cadres. As the state passes through the coronavirus crisis and then begins to face the reality of its finances, the going may get tougher for the government and the ruling party.

Shivakumar has his task cut out: to bring Congress to power in the state. If that happens, he would be the natural choice to be chief minister, a dream he has long cherished. The stakes are high for him and the party. Thus, it is important that he makes himself more acceptable within his own party and to the people at large. In addition, he should not only rid the KPCC of undesirable elements who are deeply entrenched, but should surround himself with people of integrity and character who are aligned with the goals and principles of the party and not guided by purely selfish motives. But first, he should emerge as a team player and team builder. 

 Courtesy - Deccan Herald.


Thursday, January 16, 2020

Why we need more films like 'Chhapaak' Bhavya Arora, Prannv Dhawan

If you have ever felt excruciating physical pain in your life, then you’re bound to relate to the piercing cries of Malti in Meghna Gulzar’s Chhapaak. And these cries stay with you after the film ends, pointing a finger towards the larger issues in society that create and sustain gruesome incidents like acid attacks.

Wedding nuanced social messaging with excellent cinematic storytelling, the film sets out to demystify these attacks as acts that lead to a sudden (chhapaak) erasure of a woman’s identity. The story follows the journey of Malti, an acid attack survivor, from a victim to a role model. As an adolescent student in a government secondary school with aspirations to be the next Indian Idol, Malti’s story shows how the casual display of care by an older family friend, Bashir Khan, makes her vulnerable to his voyeuristic instincts. Her refusal to marry him leads him to seek revenge by throwing acid on her face in broad daylight.

What makes Chhapaak a winner is that it brings to the fore how these barbaric attacks are not peculiar acts of demonic criminals but rather a product of our social structures. It shows how institutional and systemic problems like police apathy, unregulated sale of acid and lack of public sensitisation are larger products of patriarchal structures. It is also a stinging critique of toxic masculinity that escalates from voyeurism and harassment to ultimately manifest as heinous violence.

All along, you are aware of the vulnerability of young women who are bereft of empathetic family support when they battle everyday misogyny, taboos around association with men and shaming from their own. While highlighting the perils of a lack of comprehensive sexuality education and socio-psychological support service for adolescents, it highlights how women bear indignity for just going about their normal lives. It helps you appreciate that the ignominy of acid attacks demands radical societal transformation.

That said, the film itself works in conveying the larger reality because of director Meghna Gulzar’s decision to remain true to the cinematic imperative. The film’s impact is heightened by the precision with which details have been taken care of. Malti’s prosthetics, for example, keep changing as they would medically in real life, and that’s why the character slowly grows on the viewer. Meghana Gulzar has also cleverly leveraged the song Chhapaak in the most defining scenes of the film to drive viewer experience and emotion and make it a lasting one. Most of the intense drama of the film is due to this song.

The film is brilliant when it comes to providing insights into the life of acid attack survivors, portraying their vulnerability no matter how much time has passed or how many successes they have achieved post the attack. It also recognises the role that lawyers and the NGO support system play in the remediary process, but always keeping an eye on the social narrative that emerges from this interaction. So, the story brilliantly explores the fault lines between the survivor’s real-life struggles and their allies’ and advocates’ moral crusade.

While the movie furthers the public outrage over the kafkaesque criminal justice system, two-stage appeals and archaic colonial laws, it fails to avoid the pitfalls of the populist criminalisation narrative. The argument for reasonably strict penalty notwithstanding, the film plays up the retributive aspect of seeking closure through higher sentences, quick punishments and no bails while glossing over the principles of rule of law that have the rights of the accused as well as convicts at its core.

But all in all, Chhapaak is a rare example of a cinematic narrative that does not convey a fixed meaning on a range of complex socio-legal questions of patriarchal violence, criminal justice and rehabilitation. As against many other films on socio-legal themes, such as Nikhil Advani’s Batla House and Ajay Bahl’s Section 375, this film engages the audience in a critical dialogue that these complex themes deserve. All in all, Chhapaak leaves you wanting to see more such sensitively-made films based on sensitive and crucial social issues.

(Bhavya Arora is a student of Hansraj College, Delhi University and Prannv Dhawan studies at NLSIU, Bengaluru)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.
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