The Telangana Movement in Andhra Pradesh

A very nice blog on the Telangana Movement and my response to it:
Great research work done on getting some facts straight on the language and culture based issues dogging Andhra Pradesh. While I appreciate the great call  you have made for all Telugus to be truly united irrespective of their cultural or political roots, I feel driving the need for such unity falls outside the periphery of Lok Satta or any political establishment for that matter. Democracy as a system thrives in an egalitarian system of governance and society. If you go back to the modern roots of democracy based on Roman doctrines for governance or way back into Chanakya’s rules of governance in the Arthashastra, you will see that spelled out wide and clear.
However, the irony that several people don’t realize is that, this very egalitarianism cannot survive when the divergent forces of diversity tend to pull a politically bonded society in different directions. In other words-race, caste, language, religion etc. are not uniting but only discriminating forces acting against egalitarianism, especially if they are serving a purpose beyond the rudimentary basics they are meant for. While I believe every language (or dialect) has its own beauty and cultural significance that must not only be appreciated but celebrated, if it goes beyond its basic purpose in life- i.e. to communicate in society- it starts creating a ‘you vs me’ mentality. That is basic human nature. This has been beautifully explained by Dr. JP in the succinct message he shared.
Due to the way we are taught our history in schools and our own reluctance to unlearn what we agreed to accept as kids, we fail to realize the true functioning of democracies. More so, we fail to realize that India as a country is a political creation that began to take shape when the British started mapping out their colonial conquests. The Indian Union of today was an uneasy relationship accepted by Nehru’s visionary team after our independence.
In a tremendously diverse nation like India, pursuing these egalitarian ideals of democracy meant that there was a need for some form of standardization (or commonality) to be carved out of India. This took the form of a national language in Hindi which wasn’t widely used before, a common macro-cultural identity based on the roots of Hinduism and Islam and so on. Every state in India was also formed with a largely inefficient but standardized format based on language with a common disregard for dialects. No other country in this world (barring China) has this humongous challenge at hand when it was in its process of nation building. While we celebrate the democratic principles of the USA and yearn to be like it one day, we comfortably fail to realize that a country like USA was able to succeed democratically as it was “politically” able to sideline the divergent factors that affected its stability since its creation as a nation – race is still predominantly White, religion is still predominantly Christian, language is still predominantly English. While as a social entity, diversity has been accepted with an open heart (you can build temples and celebrate being a Hindu in the US), as a political entity, the US doesn’t deal with the complexities of diversity that uproot egalitarianism and in turn defeat democracy. Changes today are affecting some of them and in those places, you do see friction and a not so progressive form of democracy – Hispanic and African American population and their growing significance, multiple religions like Hinduism and Islam bringing in a different perspective on daily life are some examples of those changes and they are slowly creating points of friction in American society. Coming to China, while the World may reject it as a non-democratic nation, it still had to face the same challenges in its nation building. Luckily for China, it grew out from a uniform central core into vast geographical tracts occupied by other diverse people. The core being Han Chinese are the dominant force in that nation and so is their language (Mandarin) and religion (lack of one under Communism). The outliers consisted of the Tibetans, Uyghurs, Mongols and so on. If you look at the map of China, you will realize that they all form the peripheries of the country and are slowly losing their identity while slowly being integrated into greater China. While several examples can be gleaned out from our past and present, the key point I want to drive is that political governments can never be in the business of promoting extreme diversity as it runs counterproductive to the growth of democracies. Having said that, India is already stretching a lot to accommodate this from a political standpoint and it explains the rather slow and painful progress we afford to make in every step of our growth as a nation. Whether this is good or bad is again an exercise in personal perspective. I personally feel we are painfully slow in growth but vastly mature in our dealings as a country. But my impatient and greedy self that looks at fast results and better changes, sees the country’s approach as an impediment.
The reason I digressed to explain non-Telugu related aspects of the World is to help bring a change in our perspective of what democracy (something that Dr. JP is passionate about) and the Lok Satta party should mean. While the current political commitments of the Lok Satta party is towards the state of Andhra Pradesh, its true leanings are towards the promotion of democracy in the Indian Union. We should realize that while coastal Andhra culture and language became the predominant force in Andhra Pradesh much to the loss of identity of the other Telugus, this progression has a logical explanation, very similar to how we are still sitting idle in our homes while corruption and bad politics continue to happen around us. What happened in Andhra Pradesh was what happened to most people pushed as a herd to accept the changes happening around them. British Andhra was the most politically strong entity prior to our independence as that is where Education, the press and other forms of British governance saw their implementation. So did the movie industry and other large industrial establishments that in turn fed political organizations. The Nizam ruled regions of Andhra Pradesh bought their freedom from British interference but at the same time continued with all their past policies which as we see today were not supportive of the diversity of the Telangana people. What happened since our independence were just incremental steps in political adjustments that happened to carve out the identity of a then non-existent state called Andhra Pradesh. As one can imagine, such changes were just influenced by people from places where the capabilities existed. In other words, you can expect a person to file a lawsuit against another person who affected his living only if a judicial system, police, administrative bureaucracy and press exists. If one lived in a country where none or some of them exist, then that person will not even know what to do in such instances. Such was the parallel you could draw between the various factions in Andhra Pradesh. When such changes did happen during the formation of Andhra Pradesh, one particular system of identity was carried forward and the herd followed.
Now there are two pressing questions that need to be answered – the formation of a separate state of Telangana? and recognition and equality for the Telangana people and their unique Telugu diversity? While we can try to be politically correct and neutral in our statements on the first question, the facts are pretty simple. The creation of a separate state of Telangana will help in the creation of yet another democratic structure that will slowly or rapidly adjust itself to a standardization. That political standardization may come in the form a state board of education that teaches the Telangana dialect, a Telangana religion (all may be allowed but one will prevail politically), a Telangana caste and so on. This may still continue to not provide a solution to the Maoist separatists of Telangana and that will continue to be a pain point. Hence, there is nothing wrong in creating a separate state of Telangana provided its purpose is not to promote the diversity of the Telangana people, its literature and culture or create a one-Telugu movement. It will definitely provide state administrative jobs and better land deals for sure to its people. If the Telangana movement is mostly about this (which is not so depending on whom you talk to), then a separate state will definitely provide it.
This takes us to the second question, the question that the original blog was trying to address. What about the recognition and promotion of the diversity and the Telugu heritage of the people of Telangana or the one-Telugu unity? One must realize that when political organizations or governments promote language, literature or culture it is for the purposes of propaganda. They will always contain the truth presented in a way and manner to suit the greater needs of people with a political agenda. Even US textbooks and government literature are littered with trash on the exploits of Columbus, the founding fathers and the native Americans. Only literary works and materials outside of political interference have had the tenacity to show alternative perspectives. These still remain unknown to the blind eyes of meaningless existence that most people proudly lead as their normal lives. 
The true dissemination of the literary greatness, cultural richness or linguistic beauty of any region comes from its own people – not from its elected political governments or external promoters. The fact that this blog was still able to access the literary gems of Telangana writers is testimony to the fact that preservation happens from within, not from outside. The Bhagavad Gita was not preserved because we had successive governments promote it over more than 3000 years or because the Indian democracy requires it for taking oath in a court of law. While Sankritized Telugu may not be the true language of the Andhras, it is still a literary art form that also has its place in Telugu history. The ballads of Telangana poets also have their unique place in our lives. Their recognition will however come from one going out of the narrow purview of textbooks (again driven by political governments) and actively pursuing and promoting them on our own. If this is the Telangana Movement, then it doesn’t need a KCR or a TDP or a Congress or a bandh or a rasta roko or lost lives to support or grow it. It can come from the several thousand NRI Telangana Telugus who have the capacity to do a lot more today or from any one of us truly interested in propagating diversity in life irrespective of its origins. Governments were not created by us (yes, sad but true) to leave everything to them. They were created to serve us in our daily life while we take care of the rest.

Marijuana and Dogs: The Strange Case of Two Michaels

Two interesting events happened in the American sporting world in the past two years. It involved two famous sportsmen, but it had nothing to do with sports. Michael Vick, a footballer for the Atlanta Falcons, was caught running a dog fighting ring. The uproar was tremendous as public opinion flowed in to protest the ghastly crime committed by the player. The law was also not slow in slapping him with some strong felony charges and he was rightly sent packing to prison.
Until recently, Vick served his prison term, lost his NFL berth, became bankrupt, was not easily forgiven by the law and still struggles to get back to his life. Now, all is well and good in this story. A man deserves to be punished for his crimes, in this case, the death of dogs. Even today, public opinion is largely skewed towards punishing him more by denying him a start to his NFL career. Great media coverage, great legal prosecution, great punishment and a great public reaction.

Now, fast forwarding it to another incident that involved the best swimming sensation the planet has ever seen so far, was another Michael, whose last name Phelps was being associated with everything good that people can think of either in the sporting world, in the business world, the media or the public in general. Michael Phelps was caught smoking Marijuana largely by accident when someone clicked away and shared photos that were probably not meant for public viewing. This is when the big “WHAT!!!?” sparked in my mind. The public protested but it just lasted a few days and seemed more of something done out of embarrassment than anger. The media covered it too. But, they too were caught up with news that was not getting enough attention from the public and to make matters worse even the law. The law did start investigating the matter, but soon enough, “public” opinion emphasized on the fact that this is “just” news and it is “just” drugs. In the words of the Sheriff who investigated the matter – “We had a photo and we had him saying he was sorry for his inappropriate behavior. That behavior could have been going to a party”. He never said, ‘I smoked marijuana.’ He never confessed that”. Phelps own statement went this way – “For me, it’s all about recognizing that I used bad judgment and it’s a mistake I won’t make again”. Great choice of words for something that Phelps did that nobody knew about! What was he feeling bad about? Nevertheless, people grew tired of the investigation, the law never followed up, Phelps got punished by not being allowed to swim in one of the pools and everyone was happy that the embarrassment didn’t last long.
This is where the big question arises – if something that affects dogs could evoke such genuine reaction and swift action, why can’t something that can tremendously affect people the world over not get the right response. Although personally there is nothing against Phelps, I fail to understand why Phelps and Vick couldn’t end up being on the same side of the fence. One obvious reason why it wasn’t that way is because people in general do not understand the number of lives that Marijuana takes in its way as it reaches the hands of a society that still fantasizes its use and struggles to outright criminalize its consumption.
Marijuana comes from several domestic and largely international sources. According to the US DEA, Marijuana is the most widely abused and readily available illicit drug in the USA. About 30% of the US population has used Marijuana sometime in their lives. This could potentially explain the lukewarm reaction to the “Phelps show”, but the dangers are not exposed enough. Organized crime groups and cartels run these operations in different countries possibly eliminating a few people before a pound of Marijuana makes its way to US shores. A high quality Marijuana sells for about $6000 per pound. I believe it is safe to assume that on its way to the US, a pound of Marijuana must have eliminated at least one person in a so called “third world” country. No price can be set for life, whether it is a person or an animal. That price is definitely not as low as $6000 or $10000 a pound. If a person consumes a gram of marijuana, he is in effect paying $12 for ecstasy and $0 for one human life. The question becomes who needs to pay for the “free” life that one consumes when smoking this drug. Given that this is designated as a gateway drug to more powerful drugs, the bloodshed on the way is immeasurable but yet more significant. If Vick paid up millions in fines and lost his job for the “life” that he consumed, why couldn’t a user of drugs also be responsible for a similar fate?
The war against drugs has been ongoing for several years and there has always been a debate over who the “criminal” is and who needs to be punished for the selling and consumption of drugs. Nevertheless, public reaction and debate are the only triggers that can create laws that protect the weak – a dog or a human being. By remaining silent or worse not even bothering to react, we people have probably exposed our inability to value human life beyond the life of a dog by refusing to think and question the actions around us.


The FDA Should Ban Foreign Clinical Studies of Drugs

Among several relatively unknown activities that lead to exploitation of the innocents, foreign clinical studies or drug trials is one such act carried out by giant multinational pharmaceutical firms. The big name pharmaceutical firms in the US and UK depend on conducting clinical trials in nations such as India and other poor countries to reduce their overall drug development costs by about 40-60%. By 2010, it is assumed that the total spend on outsourcing clinical trials to India is to exceed $2Billion. Having seen how doctors and hospitals behave in a country like India, it is pretty certain how the ignorant (it doesn’t matter whether you are poor or rich) can be taken undue advantage of to satisfy the needs of these companies.
Doctors and Hospitals in India have less at stake when it comes to safe recommendation and regulation of medication for patients. In a World that wakes up and sleeps to the music of money, the only stick that holds greed at bay is confirmation to strict legal regulations. Without a strong legal base in a country, the law remains powerless when it comes to monitoring the greedy acts of companies. When a doctor prescribes a “special” medicine to an ignorant patient on the behest of a pharmaceutical firm working to test those drugs, there is nothing within the legal rights of the patient to stop such acts. India has a lot of laws that prescribe the right conduct of such trials and these companies make sure that these legal edicts are safely followed on paper. Unfortunately, in countries where issues do not even reach the doors of the law for justice to be served, the end result is the lack of any law in the first place. India and several other materialistically poor nations suffer from this incurable disease. I have personally observed how daunting an experience it is talking with doctors and hospital/clinic staff who literally have a free ride in not only recommending any number of medications they like without fear of being legally sued, but also have the audacity to scold or threaten patients if things are not to their liking. Several of these doctors are constantly approached by medical representatives, who act as a sales front for the pharmaceutical firms. Sometimes, in the guise of an informed consent, they literally dump new medications or slow-moving medications to unwary patients. One can only imagine how it would look like for the largely poorer or ignorant sections that constitutes about 70% of the Indian population.
In all this melee hides a silent and often ignorant sleeping giant – the FDA. The FDA authorizes foreign clinical studies as long as it abides by the regulations set by the host country (where the trial is conducted mostly in secrecy) or to other ethical principles under the Declaration of Helsinki (which I believe is no longer relevant), whichever protects human rights better. This unfortunately is a mere fallacy that has no practical meaning whatsoever. All the profit making pharmaceutical firms in the World look forward to the FDA as the gate keeper who opens them to the mecca of blockbuster drug sales – the USA. The US is one of the largest consumers of prescription drugs and one of the most profitable markets for any drug company. Fortunately, this country has the FDA to hopefully regulate the kind of drugs brought out into the market and its long term use and existence. Also, a network of well organized lawyers later ensure that these firms are selling what they promise they cure or else slap them with multi-million dollar law suits that usually work in favor of the “cheated” patient. Unfortunately, the FDA is not thinking in clear terms when it comes to how these companies work to meet the requirements of their strong codes of conduct.
The FDA does not have the resources nor a nationalistic purpose to clearly monitor the often obscure methods employed by these large drug companies in conducting their trials in remote areas of Asia or Africa. The FDA has to answer the US government and its citizens and that is all it is driven by as a daily mantra for ensuring that quality foods and drugs enter the US. In such a state of affairs, the FDA should be morally more inclined to not accept any foreign clinical trials unless it has it own people closely monitoring that process. In fact, to take it a step further, it is completely wrong on the part of the FDA to allow such foreign tests on human guinea pigs when it as an agency does not have the power to dictate how other countries should regulate the action of drug companies in their soil. The guiding principle of “informed consent” as a signature on a blank check for legally authorizing companies to conduct tests on people is an entirely weak argument when it is easily realized that poor people hardly have the power or the knowledge to understand their rights in the first place. It is very unfortunate that this greedy act that largely benefits profit seeking multinational drug companies is allowed to continue in the name of giving healthy, “well tested” drugs to the “developed” nations of the world.
After all, these well tested and safe drugs are either heavily expensive or never reach the poor countries that largely test it. It is usually the cheap ripoffs or generics that are either affordable or available to large sections of the population in countries such as India. To make matters worse, in the name of protecting so called patents, the large drug companies have used the WTO to force countries like India from reverse-engineering these drugs to create cheaper alternatives. So now, not only do people in India test themselves with these drugs but never get to use them if they really need it.