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Gujarat: a disaster case study for amending alcohol policies in India.

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Repeatedly, one or another hooch tragedy passes us by in India, devouring in its wake many lives and orphaning families. This manmade disaster is a direct consequence of alcohol policies of India that need to be immediately changed. I will focus on Gujarat as a case study to reflect on the worst of the alcohol regulation policies in India.

Not many years ago, Gujarat’s Narendra Modi led government took a completely misguided step to make crimes relating to illicit liquor production and sale punishable by death, while continuing to exacerbate the root social causes of illicit alcohol spread. Modi continues prohibition that encourages illicit alcohol use and mafia growth associated with its trade. It is important to note that Modi did not pass the prohibition law per se but has upheld the prohibition that is in place from the time of Morarji Desai. Additionally, the state assembly has not and cannot pass separate laws that decide the extent of punishment for a crime at state level. Only the federal assemblies of Lok Sabha and Rajya sabha can make such changes to the constitution. What the state assembly under Modi’s misguided leadership actually did, was that it now asks prosecutors to press for murder charges and not criminal negligence for alcohol related deaths. At a cursory look, it appears to be a good step, as I can deeply sympathize with the logic that anyone who kills poor people, directly or indirectly, should be held accountable for manslaughter. Looking a bit closer, the reality is quite different. The implication of such law in the existing Indian legal system is that scapegoats and some poor end-executors of the offense and not the masterminds get the book thrown at them. If one looks at people who are booked under this law, there is no single fat cat facing the wrath of the book so far. Gujarat High Court, not to be left behind the legislative, recently urged a stricter implementation of prohibition, as if prohibition is the cure of the problem of alcoholism.

Narendra modi alcohol policy

While the central thesis of this article is to make a case to focus on curing the disease and not its symptoms, I will briefly address the question of the death penalty being an appropriate symptomatic cure of alcoholism. Executions have four obvious shortcomings: the criminal does not have time to regret his mistakes, there is no opportunity to transform the mind-set and behaviours of the criminal, there is no chance to overturn the judgement if contrary evidence is found and finally, life imprisonment is an equally powerful deterrent. Death penalty should only be reserved for those who mastermind killings on the name of religion, caste and deepen other divides of the Indian society, as there is no changing of the heart of those socio-paths but only getting rid of the gangrenous tissue. Unfortunately, all such masterminds get a clean chit from supine corrupt Indian courts and get to live long lives. Indian justice system is geared towards punishing the poor end-executors of a crime, and many a times trapping completely innocent scapegoats, whether it be for crimes relating to alcohol or a communal riot or anything else. Not just Gujarat, one can look at hooch tragedies of Bengal, to ask how many big businesspersons have ever been booked for such crimes. The answer is zero.

Getting back to the central thesis of the article, I would argue that prohibition and punishments are an effort to cure the symptom and not the disease. I will argue that prohibition measures are actually counterproductive and not just futile. In the end, you have to make up your mind after educating yourself on the issue and fight the incompetent politicians, bureaucrats, judiciary and police, the way you deem fit.

The use of prohibition and extreme punishment as a reaction to alcohol problem is not unique to India. Historically across the globe, a war has been waged on the name of fighting the evils of alcohol by employing heavy incarceration and death penalty. In the US, the prohibition era saw laws passed with heavy penalties for bootlegging. Interestingly, alcohol consumption went up during that era and so did the crimes associated with bootlegging. Worst of all, the bootlegging mafia was actually behind the imposition of prohibition and strong punishments associated with bootlegging. This mafia could get the law selectively imposed, as happens in Indian dry states now. The mafia controlled several politicians and both through violence and political connections eliminated the competition that would have existed in a fairer and freer market. This experience was not exclusive to America or to the Western hemisphere but has been and is currently true for many developing countries too. Whoever remembers lessons of history, so I suspect we are bound to repeat the mistakes multiple times with unaware and complacent citizenry.

Prohibition has been an utter failure in India too and having heavy penalties for bootlegging is at its best, an ill-conceived treatment of cultural symptoms and at its worst, tool for the mafia to expand their criminal activities. One only needs to follow the money trail to find who are drumming up support for prohibition in India and who funds the prohibition advocacy charities of Babas, Mullahs and Rajnetas in New Delhi and one would know the intentions. A brief look at Indian history would show you that it is not that different from the US experience. Morarji Desai’s decision to ban alcohol in the Bombay Presidency in the early 50s was the chief cause of the growth of the smuggling syndicates and the likes of Haji Mastan, Vardarajan, Karim Lala etc., who were the founding fathers of the Mumbai underworld. This started the funding of the Godfathers who eventually bred the likes of the criminals who once temporarily dented the plural unity of India and with serial bomb blasts dimmed the spirit of Bombay.

In India, prohibition is implemented in many states in the form of “dry days”. Gujarat and a few of the Northeast states, have a full prohibition on the consumption of alcohol for their residents. Andhra, Tamil Nadu and Haryana have in past, with rather disastrous outcomes, also tried prohibition only to quickly have it repealed. Another form of prohibition is extremely steep pricing of legal and safe alcohol. This comes in the form of heavy taxation, along with setting the price of ingredients such as molasses exorbitantly high. This is directly responsible for selective death of poor people. In the absence of safe affordable alcohol, poor people binge on unregulated alcohol or hooch. In the Bengal tragedy of 2011 that killed over 170 people, the fear of police brutality due to the illegality of hooch was so high that victims did not even go to the hospital after starting to exhibit symptoms of alcohol poisoning. Whether this prohibition is a road to hell paved by good intentions or it is simply malicious conniving scheme by special interests is not obvious in all cases but what is obvious is that it is clearly it is a counter-productive approach. If we want to save lives, we need to keep safe alcohol legal, spread education on alcohol abuse and then implement a strong punishment for illicit alcohol trade that targets the owners of such operations and not the poor workers. Punishment for illicit alcohol, in the absence of safe alcohol does not work and only supports mafia.

In a simple-minded way, one may view the solution to make the poor people to simply quit drinking alcohol. Not that different from Sanjay Gandhi’s infamous compulsory sterilization approach. We know that despite religious injunctions and governmental regulations, alcohol consumption has not decreased. I am not promoting alcohol use and would wish all its abuse went away, but I am making a case for what has proven to be effective – an evidence-based alcohol policy.  Simply looking away or implementing a knuckleheaded and malicious prohibition would not solve the problem.

Apart from the price issues, let us briefly look at reasons why the economically backward stratum is especially vulnerable to the illicit alcohol consumption. Some of the reasons are true for the entire developing world, while some of the religious ones are more specific to India. First, alcohol offers a transient escape from the everyday grind of what may be quite rightly considered a very sorry existence. Consumers crave many substances of abuse when they are under emotional stress. Given that bad planning has resulted in uneven economic growth, the massive migration of young men away from their families creates an environment where men have minimal familial and societal bonds. Alcohol related crimes and abuses, especially domestic abuse, occur most often in places with poor gender equity. India, with its remnants of feudal mind-set, is consistently trailing more than 100 other countries when it comes to gender equality. Despite large-scale economic development, the mental and philosophical outlook of many Indians is sadly stuck in a past era. There is not an easy fix to that issue expect education and social mobility. Wide scale, holistic education and women empowerment are desperately needed to solve the problem. Another reason for alcohol abuse is that the current versions of almost all major religions in India make alcohol a taboo. This results in the consumption of alcohol in hiding, instead of moderate social consumption like that in Mediterranean European nations that embrace the positive aspects of alcohol. Prohibition, social taboos, a lack of education and lack of gender equity, poverty, and the outrageous pricing policy of alcohol that specifically targets poor people are all ingredients in the recipe for making a hooch tragedy.  What is direly needed is to lift the heavy taxation that selectively targets poor, police abuse of the poor, and prohibition regulations. Equally direly needed are education, gender equity and economic empowerment of poor, so the need of single young people to migrate away from families and being involved in irresponsible is reduced.

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Dr. Sukant Khurana is a New York based scientist, artist and writer of Indian origin. His basic research involves neurophysiology, computational neuroscience, sensory perception, addiction, learning and memory, while his applied research extends into many areas of drug discovery and problems of the developing world. Both his visual art and writing explore the issues of modernization, displacement and identity.

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A Historical exploration of Khajuraho

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khajuraho temple

The UNESCO world heritage temples of Khajuraho are situated in the Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh. Built by the kings of Chandela dynasty during 950 to 1050 AD, these exquisite temples were lost to the world from 13AD onwards till they were discovered by the British in 1838 under the cover of dense date palm trees.

 This collection of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples are Khajuraho temples are famous for art on stone. Variously described as living temples, Temple of Love and consisting of unique erotic sculptures the Khajuraho group of temples are considered by many to be the pinnacle of India’s temple art. The temple complex creates an eclectic mix of spirituality, eastern philosophy, architecture and cultural heritage.

Khajuraho is best visited during winter on account of its extreme climate. Summer months can be very hot. The famous Khajuraho Dance Festival is held in March and attracts visitors from across the world.

 Khajuraho is well connected to major cities by train and by air. The airport is 5km from the city centre and links to Delhi, Agra and Mumbai. It is best recommended to use a trusted cab service provider like Savaari, where you can make an online booking by downloading the Savaari App.

Western Group of temples.

 The Western group of temples have the largest of the temples and are richly decorated and form the main area of attraction

  • Lakshmana Temple – The temple dedicated to the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva is the oldest of the Khajuraho temples and has some the finest sculptures that can be seen in India.
  • Kandariya Mahadeo Temple – This Shiva temple is covered with beautiful carvings, sculptures and frescos that are known for their beauty, grandeur and finesse.
  • Devi Jagdamba Temple – This relatively dainty temple dedicated to Goddess Jagadamba has three bands of sculptures and the uppermost layer has some of the most erotic sculptures that Khajuraho is also famous for.
  • Chitragupta Temple – One of the rare temples of the Sun God in the country.
  • Vishwanath Temple – The temple is unique for its colossal bull statue dedicated to Nandi, the favourite companion of Lord Shiva.

Eastern Group of Temples

  • Parsvanath Temple – The Jain temple shows an eclectic mixture of Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim influences in its three roof architecture.
  • Ghantai Temple – This Digambar Jain temple has a beautiful frieze inscribed on stone depicting the 16 dreams as seen by the Mother of Lord Mahavira. The temple though gets its name from the remarkable pillars, carved with chains and bells.
  • Brahma Temple – Among the oldest temples in Khajuraho, the temple is built entirely using granite and sandstone and dedicated to Lord Vishnu.

 Southern Group of Temples

  • Chattarbhuj Temple – Situated 3 km from the main city, the temple is the only one in Khajuraho without any erotic sculpture and faces west. Best visited during the sunset, the temple is known for the intricate and beautifully detailed four-armed idol of Lord Vishnu.

Do remember to attend the Light and Sound Show conducted in the Western group of temples that describes the horary past of these beautiful monuments.

Khajuraho is surrounded by other places of interest, such as the Panna National Park and the Ranneh Falls. Do plan your visit and hire outstation or local cabs from the airport to visit these temple complexes.

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Explore the royal city of Mysore

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Call it the Heritage City or the City of Palaces, the city of Mysore still emanates a feeling of au royale even in a 21st century India. A place of heritage for royal families, sultans, and legendary names in history, every corner of Mysore is steeped in stories of victory, power, and grandeur. A tour of this majestic city is only justified when you explore the royal heritage of the City of Palaces.

Getting there

Conveniently located on the southern edge of the Karnataka State, Mysore is easily accessible from major cities. It takes about three hours to travel the 152 KM distance from Bangalore to Mysore.

History and Heritage

The city of Mysore served as the capital for the Kingdom of Mysore between the 1300s until 1956. These six centuries saw the kingdom change hands of rulers and kings, from the Wadiyar Dynasty, Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. But the common element of all the rulers was their penchant for art and culture. Under their patronage, they contributed to the city’s visual and cultural glory which earned Mysore the fame of Karnataka’s cultural capital.

A royal tour

If you want to experience the regal side of Mysore, you cannot but miss these structures of historical and architectural significance. You can join a heritage walking tour to explore the city on foot, or head from Bangalore to Mysore by car and stop by at monuments, palaces, and museums and learn about the legends that made Mysore. You can start your walk from the Town Hall, built in 1884, as a tribute to the first Dewan of the city.

mysore-palace-598472_1280

Mysore Palace- The official residence of the royal family of Wadiyars, the palace itself is a work of marvel. An overwhelming blend of   Indo-Saracenic, neoclassical, Indo-Islamic and Gothic architectural works, the Mysore Palace is a breathtaking sight. Built in 1912, the palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and boasts delicate works of mirrors, stained glass, mosaic and more. On any given day, you will find more tourists here than even at the Taj Mahal. Every Sunday, the palace comes alive with 97000 light bulbs bedazzling its façade and the premises.

Lalitha Palace– Yet another heritage building, the two-storied Lalitha Mahal sits on a ridge at the foothills of the Chamundi Hills, which makes for a great vantage point. The palace was transformed into a hotel and offers a royal stay. If you truly want a feeling of royalty, then a stay here would be an experience.

Jaganmohan Palace– One of the seven prominent palaces of Mysore city, is a stunning work of ancient Indian architecture with intricate interiors and exteriors. The palace, transformed into a royal art gallery since 1915, houses paintings of the royal family, art by Raja Ravi Varma and an array of rare and antique musical instruments.

Museums- Stop by the Rail Museum to explore the archaic steam engines, the Maharani’s saloon, and other railway souvenirs. There’s also the Jayalakshmi Vilas Mansion showcasing more than 6500 folk artifacts from all parts of Karnataka. The Folk Art Museum, one of the most visited in the city, is also known for its collection of toys, models, and figurines.

Crawford Hall- Built in 1947, this is a must visit historic structure in Mysore. The royal palace is now known as the Mysore University but still renders a rich heritage to its ambiance.

Small, medium or large-scale, every historical building and monument of Mysore has a majestic touch to it. And such architecture speaks of its glorious past, which has left traces for the modern civilization to explore.

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India’s Victory at the International Court of Justice is the World’s Challenge to the Status Quo

Manak Suri

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For the past week, both the Indian and British media have rigorously covered the story of the re-election of India’s justice Dalveer Bhandari to the bench of judges in the International Court of Justice on Tuesday, November 21. That the Indian judge retained his position on the bench was not the sole reason for the story’s extensive coverage; his reappointment combined with the fact that it happened at the expense of the United Kingdom’s spot on the bench is why the story is making so many rounds… and no, that many Indians may see it as some sort of a comeback against Britain’s 200 years of colonial rule over the country is not the reason why it matters. It matters because this is the first time since 1946 that the UK has no judge on the ICJ bench, and that signals possible changes in the way international bodies govern and are governed. So what does this mean for India, for the UK and for the world at large?

The International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice or the ICJ was established in 1945 by the United Nations as its principal judicial branch and is located in The Hague, Netherlands. Its job is to settle legal disputes between states that are submitted to it and give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it. The court comprises of a total of 15 judges that are elected to 9 year terms by way of voting from both the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) separately. One third of the court is re-elected every three years, and no two judges of the same nationality may assume positions on the bench simultaneously. However, the rule that led to the deadlock between the candidates from India and UK is that a candidate must obtain an absolute majority in both the UNGA and the UNSC in order to be elected to the bench.

UN General Assembly vs UN Security Council: The Race in Numbers

On November 9 and November 13, in seven rounds of voting justice Bhandari secured between 110 and 121 votes from a total of 193 in the UNGA against figures between 68 and 79 secured by his British counterpart Sir Christopher Greenwood. However, among the UNSC, justice Bhandari lost out by 5 votes to 9 in favour of Sir Greenwood. In the face of uncertainty, the UK then pushed for a ‘joint conference’ under the rules of the court between the UNSC and the UNGA. Under the ‘joint conference’ three countries from each side then determine the name for the court. However, the rules do not mention the procedure to select these countries and understandably so, since the option was last invoked in 1921. Fearing not enough support from the council, criticism for invoking the charter, and harming its friendly as well as economic relations with India, the UK eventually chose to not follow through with the process and withdrew its candidature for the post. In the end, India secured the seat with a total of 183 votes out of 193 at the UNGA and all 15 at the UNSC.

There is More to the Victory than Meets the Eye

The result means different things for the parties involved and also for the balance of power and influence between countries. For the UK, there are hardly any positives to take away from this result amid already turbulent times. Many in the British media have viewed this loss as ‘a blow to British international prestige’ and the country’s acceptance of a diminishing role in global affairs. This was the UK’s second major defeat at the ICJ after it lost a vote by a margin of 94 to 15 countries in June when the UNGA voted in favour of referring the question of decolonisation and self-determination of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean to the ICJ, which is currently under its control. Many within and outside the country have also been quick to blame Brexit for the situation in which they find themselves today, arguing that the other states, especially the ones within the European Union would have been less willing to snub the UK had the UK chosen not to leave the alliance. In the face of defeat, British diplomats have continued to maintain that they are happy that their close friend India has won, but have also not been shy of hiding their natural disappointment at their own loss.

For India, their victory in having a judge win the contest in getting elected to the ICJ bench against a permanent member of the UNSC is more symbolic than anything else. It reinforces India’s image at the highest stage as a major emerging global player and its ability to bring in greater reforms that push for more involvement from developing countries and emerging economies. Also, having a judge on the ICJ bench gives India an edge over Pakistan in the case involving former Indian Navy Officer Kulbhushan Jadhav who has been sentenced to death by a Pakistan military court on the charges of espionage. True, a judge on the ICJ does not represent his/her country or their interests. However, as suggested by repeated criticism the court receives for being biased in favour of the states who appoint the judges, having a judge on the panel is certainly an asset for any country, no matter what the rules dictate on paper.

The most important takeaway from the whole episode far exceeds the ambitions of just the two countries and a race for a seat at the ICJ. India’s victory at the court reinforces the belief that power does not necessarily reside or has to reside with the ‘few global elite’, a sentiment which was expressed clearly when most member states of the UNGA backed India’s justice Bhandari to be re-elected against the choice of the permanent members or P5 of the UNSC. There seems to be an acknowledgment among the member states of the UN of the beginning of a change which sees an increasing shift in the balance of power away from the traditional powers of the world or the P5 – Britain, China, United States, Russia, and France. Of these countries, China was the only member to not have a judge on the ICJ between 1967 and 1985 till the final decision last week, when they were joined by the UK in the list. Last year, Russia was voted off the United Nations Human Rights Council. In the 2016 elections, France lost out on securing a position in the International Law Commission. While diplomats at the UN continue to maintain that there are no winners and losers here, that it is all part of a bigger picture, these developments undoubtedly mark diplomatic victories for the Group of 77 or the G77, a coalition of developing nations at the UN that have constantly pushed for an enhanced negotiating capacity. What remains to be seen is just to what extent they bring about a change in the status quo.

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