Thursday, August 28, 2008


Sainath: Let’s revert to the latest maternal mortality figures released by the WHO and others. Some 536,000 women died in childbirth in 2005. Of these, every fifth one of them, at least, was an Indian. That is, 117,000 of them. A total that could only be matched by Nigeria, Afghanistan and Congo together.

Sainath-bashing: Does Sainath not understand the concept of per-capita mortality rates (which makes him innumerate at best and stupid at worst), or is he intentionally not bringing them up (which makes him dishonest)?

Using averages (which the per capita calculations measure) is the best way possible to hide from reality. Averages flatten or help level the peaks and trenches. When used craftily, it could be used to protect the interests of a few.

Firstly, take the case of the spread of AIDS in India. India has more that 5.1 million (this was the figure two years ago) infected with the HIV virus. When this number was published in the papers two years back, there were talks of India being the worst AIDS affected country in the world (if we were to take the number of infected alone). A counter-story appeared soon after the first one was published which asked us to take refuge in the fact that the number of AIDS patients formed only 0.91 percent of the population (dividing the number by a much larger population of India!). The counter-story's view was to dilute the crisis on hand. African nations which had India’s HIV infection rate of less than one percent of their population a decade ago, are grappling with the AIDS/HIV epidemic of unimaginable proportions. Facts reveal that in the tiny African state of Botswana, which about a decade ago had only a small HIV problem, more than 30 per cent of its adult population is HIV positive today. Simply putting it, we can not take refuge in our large population making any average a seemingly meager number.

Next, I would like to point out one of the arguments the Indian polity has been making in global meets discussing climate change – low per capita carbon contribution from India. Again here the Indian polity seems to be making use of the large population of the country for the benefit of a few. It is a fact that the carbon contribution from certain groups of people in India equals, or some times even exceeds those in the Western countries. These sections have been literally subsidized by the presence of a very large poor community in our country. Drawing parallels with the maternal mortality rates, a large percentage of the 117,000 women who died in child birth in 2005 are from these poorer sections of the population without access to community health care. Though Sainath does not explicitly speak about the large divide in the society, he has done so in many of his previous writings. Through the article Sainth provides an insight into not just the blemish of having a large maternal mortality figure, but also a means to understand the divide which is plaguing the country. If we were to take the Maternal Mortality Rates (number of deaths of the mother in 100,000 childbirths), of smaller segments of the society (segments based on economic standards of the family, whether the family is living in rural areas etc.) we would get troubling figures.

Sainath-bashing: Sainath had written that the maternal mortality figures of India is as much as the total maternal morality figures of Nigeria, Afghanistan and Congo together. What is significant is that the population of India is five times the total population of these three countries taken together.

Compare the history (from the 1950s) of these four countries (including India). Since the late 1970s Afghanistan has suffered continuous and brutal civil war, which included foreign interventions in the form of the 1979 Soviet invasion and the recent 2001 US-led invasion that toppled the Taliban government. The civil war (though not officially called so these days) continues and the number of deaths in Afghanistan due to this fighting continues unabated. Nigeria saw thirty-three years of oppressive military rule (which ended in1999). The military rule was studded with corruption and mismanagement which saw only a few in the country make use of the oil driven money. Nigeria's government officials and police have been accused of serious Human Rights violation and abuse during the military rule. Even after democracy made way in 1999, the situation is not much better. The elections of 1999, 2003 and 2007 have been condemned by the international community of being flawed. The Democratic Republic of Congo too has been a war-torn country. Even in the recent past (form 1998-2003) Congo saw the second Congo war, which is the deadliest conflict the world has seen since World War II. This central African nation also saw war and civil strife in some of its neighbouring countries (like Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda) spill into her. The atrocities committed by some of the authoritarian rulers of the country are well documented. The war situation and civil unrest in these three countries have made life of women precarious. In many of the African countries still plagued by strife, violence against women is considered to be normal.

Leaving the population question aside for a moment, can we be happy about the comparisons of the MMRs of these three countries with India's? India has had a more or less stable existence since independence. India has had its share of misery and trouble, I agree, but not in such a large level as seen in the other three countries. We have had a democratically elected government (the emergency period being the only aberration) since 1947. Seeing India's background (and when comparing it with these three countries), does it not make sense to compare India's Maternal Mortality figures (which is equal to the MM figures of these three countries put together) without putting a big emphasis on the population of the countries?

These are some of the blogs from which I took these excerpts -




I would take this opportunity to thank my friend Lakshmi Kishore who informed me of such views being discussed online. I would also like to thank the authors of the blog and the article without whom I would never have given a deeper thought about the issue at hand.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Learn your way to excellence

To the reader

I would like to say to the diligent reader of my writings and to others who are interested in them that I am not at all concerned with appearing to be consistent. In my search after Truth I have discarded many ideas and learnt many new things. Old as I am in age, I have no feeling that I have ceased to grow inwardly or that my growth will stop at the dissolution of the flesh. What I am concerned with is my readiness to obey the call of truth, my God, from moment to moment, and, therefore, when anybody finds any inconsistency between any two writings of mine, if he has still faith in my sanity, he would do well to choose the later of the two on the same subject.

M K Gandhi
Harijan, 29.4.1933

This extract is taken from the book 'India of My Dreams', written by Gandhiji. Such a profound insight on his constant endeavour to improve and learn. Something all of us would do well to learn from.

Family Matters - A review*

When I picked up the book, Family Matters, written by Rohinton Mistry, I wondered what it might contain. The back cover said that the book had been shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2006 which fueled doubts on the book; my experience with books written by Booker prize winners had not been a very comfortable one.

I have always loved reading about the culture of different peoples. Mistry in his book, gave a view of the lives of Parsis in India. Having my roots in Bombay (but not having had the 'Life' experience of living in the metropolis), I also loved reading about a typical middle class family life in Bombay in his book. I could draw parallels between instances and people in the story, with the lives my parents, grand parents and their relatives must have had in the great city.

The depiction of the last few years in an old, dying man's life, as seen by the innocent eyes of his young grandson, produces a beautiful effect in the narration. I had never thought about how the old felt at the end of their lives- unfulfilled wishes, dreams troubling them- until I read Mistry's work. The seemingly small things we could do for them, mean a lot to them. They mean much more than what we presume. Simple instances give them pleasure. For instance, in the story, dinner being eaten on the best dish available at home, which had been reserved only for special days, meant a lot to the old man. For him, the numbered days he had, had to be special. The utter helplessness (and sometimes shame) that he felt at having others help him do what he had been doing for so long, is beautifully portrayed in the book. The sadness (which was occasionally shown through his tears at night) at having to trouble his daughter and her family, would touch any humane reader of the book.

The story proves that every being, however strong he might have been in his youth, cedes to difficult situations when old. And the truth that every one of us would grow old some day, is good enough reason to treat the old in our families, in our neighbourhood, with simple gestures that would go a long way in making their lives more livable today. And not to forget, there are young ones watching every step we take; learning from us.

* This write-up may not be a review in conventional terms. A Google search would give ample to choose from. A review written by Shashi Tharoor may be read here.