Caught between State and Central

I live in Tamil Nadu, famous for its temples, culinary delights, classical art forms, political drama… and industries. The state is dotted with small and large industrial clusters, with every district having it’s own specializations. Step into one of these industries, you will see migrant labourers from other states. Most of the workers in Tamil Nadu’s industries are from other states like Bihar and Assam.

Tamil Nadu has a long history of intolerance towards the hindi  language. But industries here rely on migrant Hindi speaking labourers. Number of local workers are fast decreasing. Why has this happened? Is it because Tamil Nadu has no working population left?

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No… it is because local workers in Tamil Nadu do not take up  regular jobs. They prefer vocational jobs that give them the luxury of working when they need money and staying at home when they prefer.

Daily life in Tamil Nadu is made easy by government welfare schemes. Government run schools, hospitals, hotels, liquor shops, purified bottled water, free groceries, free rice, free electricity, free grinder, free mixie blenders, financial assistance for building houses, etc etc has made it possible to live without a full time job.

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The central government funded NREGA scheme ensures free salary for most families in villages. There is no work needed or done by NREGA members here. Yet, families enrolled in this scheme get a regular income.

But, the state also depends heavily on economically backward families for money. Government run alcohol shops generate a huge income for the state government, and daily wage earners are the main customers for these shops. Alcohol shops are crowded from dawn to dusk.

Government has taken little notice of the increasing number of jobless local population or their social problems. Present generation of politicians in the state turn a blind eye to the enterprising spirit of the state, and the woes of its industrial sector.

In addition, Central government’s recent slew of well intended measures have had their impact on these industries.

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Micro and small scale industries are the backbone for states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Majority of the industries here operate at low margins, beat competition by earning a good reputation, increase profits by increasing production numbers. There is very less scope to hoard black money or do unaccounted transactions. Black money here is synonymous with real estate, politicians, wealthy landlords etc.

Measures like demonetization and high tax rates under GST have hit the manufacturing sector adversely. Post demonetization, cash strapped industries fought to pay daily wage migrant labourers. Daily operations came to a stop as the supply chain froze and banks were overloaded with delays and money shortage.

Things were slowly returning back to normalcy, when it was time for GST. High tax rates, sudden increase in working capital, confusions and technical problems in filing returns are now taking a toll.

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In western states where money flow comes from wealthy traders, demonetization and GST will have a positive impact. There is scope for success as it may return back money to the government’s coffers. But in southern states where money flow comes from cottage industries and small scale manufacturers, these measures have a negative impact. Industries are fighting for survival due to these measures.

It is high time the central government understands the difference between wealthy hoarders and middle class industry owners. Policies and schemes that consider people as wealth hoarding cheaters should also have the means to protect industries operating at marginal profit.

In short, the state government of Tamil Nadu is driving workers away from jobs, making it difficult for industries to survive. In addition, Central government brings out schemes that confuse and penalize industries.

Caught between these two governments, survival is difficult for small industries. We wait hoping to see light at one or both ends of the long dark tunnel.

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Cook and see – Meenakshi ammal

This is the oldest and most authentic guide to the dishes of Tamil nadu. It is the first published cook book in Tamil. First version of this book was published in 1951 by S Meenakshi Ammal. This book was originally written in Tamil, titled Samaithu paar  meaning cook and see. It is also available in English translation.

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Author:

The author was born in a traditional Tamil family in the early 1900s. She started helping with cooking during child hood, as was the norm for girl children in her time. By the age of 8, she was well versed in all traditional recipes. She wrote down her recipes for relatives who went to the USA and other countries after marriage. Her recipes were famous for their authenticity and simplicity. Later on, her recipes were collected and published as a book.

Book:

There are 4 volumes of this book by the same title name. Volume 1 covers the basic everydaydishes like sambar and rasam. The author starts with the basic recipe of sambar, and follows it up with different varieties of sambar. The same style of writing is followed through out.

Volumes 2, 3 and 4 cover festival dishes, sweets, pickles etc. Volume 1 is for beginners, while rest of the volumes are for well experienced cooks.

Meenakshi ammal makes cooking simple. She sticks to the basics. Her measurements are visually indicative like a fistful of coconut, pea sized tamarind, etc.. making it easy for beginners. Her recipes give guaranteed results.

Each recipe takes no more than half a page. She focuses on the basic aspects of every dish, leaving it to the reader to customize recipes according to their taste. A must have for anyone interested in Tamil dishes.

This book is a wonderful reference and glossary covering every possible authentic dish of Tamil nadu. 

 

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Sexual Abuse and Globalization

1 month back:

News flash: (Tamil Nadu): A young woman, Swathi, was brutally hacked to death by a young men. Incident happened early in the morning in Chennai, at the crowded Nungambakkam Railway Station.

The killer walked away from the spot and no one chased him or took a photo / video on their phones. Police reached the spot 2 hours later. This incident has created a big outcry in the media, and among the public.

6 years back:

It was 8 PM in Chennai. I got down from the local train at Kodambakam Railway station. I had to walk though a few by-lanes to reach home. There were many passers by and street lights were on.

As I waited to cross the road, I felt someone push me aside. I looked up to see a man standing right next to me. I also noticed his hands coming towards me again. I asked him what he wanted. He replied back with a sheepish smile, without withdrawing his hands. I yelled at him saying he ought to watch his hands or be ready to face the police. I was scared and angry that I ran till I reached my  room.

I have faced similar incidents through out my tenure in  Chennai. While I write this, similar incidents are happening to many young children, teenage girls, working ladies and mothers across India. They face similar feelings of vulnerability and insecurity.

25 years back:

India was very different 25 years back. Streets in India were safer for women. In those days, it was common to see well-dressed stylish young men lingering near residential areas and universities to ‘watch’ young ladies. I remember seeing well dressed uncles loiter around our residential area to watch the young school and college going akka’s. But no one dared to go near or touch unknown ladies in public places.

A comparison…

25 years back, there were no hi-tech smart phones and CCTV cameras. Yet, an incident like Swathi’s murder in broad day light in a crowded public place could not have happened. Public would have raised the alarm, and chased behind the murderer. Passers by would have rushed the victim to a hospital immediately.

But today’s reality has let the murderer walk away leisurely from the spot, and no one went near the victim for 2 hours till Police arrived on the scene.

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Safety for women in India

What happened in the last 25 years ?

In the 1990s, India embraced globalization. It opened the door to lots of financial changes.  Education and career options became wide spread. It became easier to find jobs that paid well. Traditionally conservative women ventured out to colleges. They also got high paying jobs. Men and women interact and mingle a lot. Party culture, along with IT and BPO jobs have led to more women on the streets at night.

On the other side, Gloablization has also brought many social changes. There are realistic portrayal of crimes and social extremes in media. Films that portray brutality are appreciated by the public for their realism. TV channels bring all latest brutal crimes right in to the house. TRP is the norm of the day… As a result, common man’s mind has become used to crimes.

We have become numb to crimes and brutality. Unless something extremely brutal happens, there is no public outcry for the common everyday crimes. India is definitely not headed towards a safe zone.

The future…

Since globalization, India has been changing its social mindset. In the past, our culture and traditional practises were at risk due to globalization. But now, India has found a balance between international exposure and its own cultural identity.

Similarly, we are now going through a phase where human rights and personal freedom are at risk. We have to find a balance between modern lifestyle vs gender / religious / caste identity, and embrace humane feelings.

Globalized India has to pass this phase, and emerge out as a balanced and more humane society. Only time will tell how and when this happens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living in the country side

In India (and most of Asia), country side has 2 meanings – 1. Rural villages, 2. Lonely farmlands. Villages offer a close knit community where every knows and watches you. Lonely farmlands offer ample of solitude and nature.

We relocated to a lonely country side a few years back. Till then, I have lived in many cities across countries. I had always dreamed of living in the country side. Yet, nothing had prepared me for the real country side. Life in the country side is completely different from city life. From small aspects like cleaning and shopping, to financial and economic aspects, my entire view of life has undergone a drastic change.

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At first, beautiful scenery and wide open spaces were mesmerizing. Once I got used to the landscape, the next thing that caught my attention was the variety of life around – lush farmlands, cattle, goats, hens, dogs, and a wide array of birds.

Then we updated our modest little home into a spacious cottage. I spent a wonderful time exploring the world of Eco-friendly materials and design of open spaces.

Living in wide open spaces gives one the opportunity to read nature. Passage of seasons is beautiful and rhythmic. Everything in Nature, from soil to animals and birds are aware of the change in seasons. They change beautifully and adapt graciously to nature’s ways.

It is only us humans who find it difficult to adapt. Living far away from civilization presents a whole host of difficulties. Adapting graciously to this place has been a constant challenge.

The nearest grocery store is at least 6 km away. If I run out of sugar or salt mid way during cooking, I cannot buy supplies immediately. So, I have to keep tabs on my grocery usage and buy well in advance.

On the other side, the generosity of open spaces is over whelming. If I take a walk, I mostly return home with something to cook. In the rainy season, we get a never ending supply of wild mushrooms. In addition, there are plenty of beans, greens, curry leaves, coriander, yam, sweet potato etc growing around. Farmers around are generous and share their harvest easily.

It is easier to stay fit and active in the countryside. Reason being, you end up doing all the work around the house! Garbage disposal is a multi step process. You segregate your wastes, bury kitchen wastes, pack all plastic wastes and take them out to the trash can in the nearest town, burn dry leaves, paper wastes etc. We do minor plumbing, wiring and repair works, modifications around the house. It does sound like a lot of work.. Is this not enough to keep one fit and active?

The best advantage of living in the country side is about cutting down on unwanted spending. We do not get lured by window shopping. Clothes are brought when they are needed, not when the store has a sale. We rarely eat fast food, instead cook up snacks more often at home. We buy furniture after months of searching for the design and price we have in mind. Online shopping is difficult as home delivery is not available to remote farmlands.

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When spending decreases, savings increase. So we could afford frequent trips and explore places. No impulsive purchases during our trips.. except when the travel destination offers something that we need.., at a better price or quality.

Every minute is quality time spent with family. Views and scenery are beautiful. Life is slow and peaceful. I have become a different person since I started living in the wide open country side.

I am at peace now.

 

 

 

 

 

A father’s anger, fuelled by caste

A cheerful morning dawns… it is wedding day for the lovers. Both are students studying for their engineering degree. Both are from the same religion, but from different castes. The boy hails from a lower caste dalit family, while the girl hails from a relatively upper caste thevar family. The girl’s family oppose their daughter’s choice of a lower caste man. Against their wishes, the lovers enter wedlock.

Post marriage, the girl’s family continues with their opposition. They relent their daughter’s life in a lower caste family. They bring her away and try changing her mind. But she returns back to her married life. They continue threatening her and her husband. But of no avail. Police complaints are lodged.. but no sign of the threats abating. Finally, after 8 months of marriage, three hooligans stop the couple in the center of a busy street in broad daylight. They hack the boy to death, and beat the girl up. Before the surprised city people could understand if this was a cinema shooting or a political rivalry, the boy’s breathing stops. This happened two days back in a western district of Tamil Nadu.

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Are we talking of a socially or economically backward region? No.. Tamil Nadu is a socially and politically progressed state. Tamil Nadu’s fight against caste oppression began more than 50 years back. Even before India got its independence, there were social movements questioning the caste system in South India. Marriages devoid of religious ceremonies are legal in Tamil Nadu. It is common to see socially progressive women remove their mangal sutras for convinience. Successive governments have strongly encouraged inter caste marriages.

Art, Literature and Movies have also encouraged thinking beyond caste and religious identities since decades. In fact, Tamilians spread across countries since the days of rajahs have followed this culture.

A socially forward society is suddenly walking backwards… shedding its rational nature, and embracing caste identities.

What has led to this downward turn of events…? Is it political vendetta of caste based outfits.. or is it a trend in tamil cinema towards caste based pride… or is it just fate?

I see this as a consequence of the celebration of heroism and honor.While many sections of the society actively move towards rational thinking… other sections have been moving towards hero worship. Post independence, there have been many heroes in the Tamil society. These heroes create an image of a generous, righteous and god like character for themselves. Cinema and / or caste movements give a helping hand here.

Once a hero attains this status of a protector and benefactor of the society, anything and everything he does is worshiped and praised by the masses. Emotional surges are visible throughout society at the very mention of his / her name. These emotional surges wipe out reasoning and common sense.

A decade of films portraying village chieftains and local dons paved way for this trend to take on local caste based identities. A common Hero for Tamil Nadu… was replaced with many heroes, one for each caste. A common collective identity and pride was replaced with caste identity and caste pride. This effect trickled down to politics too… Now many arenas in Tamil Nadu, from politics to movies are populated with local heroes with strong caste identities.

Society has now reached a point where an angry father can demand his daughter’s life if she becomes the wife of a lower caste man. This is  helped by the presence of influential political leaders of the same caste..In addition, it is fueled by movies glorifying the caste’s identities and culture. Men and women from this caste, spread across Tamil Nadu, might unite to protect the father… and empathize with him.

Youngsters and students who should be empathizing with the slain man and his wounded wife are busy with fun and frolic of college life… or they are busy with placements and examinations.

Men and women from the man’s lower caste are busy bringing good income to the government run liquor shops. While, there are a handful of demonstrations and agitations  from the lower caste questioning this… There is no sign of a mass movement urging the government to take strict action.

Elections are round the corner. The continuing string of honor killings should influence election results. But, schemes that promise free rations, free electronic appliances, free wages, subsidized housing etc have a stronger influence on election results.

Humanity, and the right to live have taken a back seat… Desire for easier ways to accumulate material wealth is of high social priority now. In fact, that seems to be the biggest collective priority.

Am I too a part of the same society..? Apart from being a silent spectator to this, what can I do? I can vote. I can clean my mind of hero worship and caste identity before casting my  vote.

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Do I know the policies of the party and person I am voting for..? If not, I will also bear the consequences of his / his party’s faulty policies.. my family and future generations might be affected.

Did I favor him because of his caste or creed or religion..? If yes, I am risking my right to a dignified and peaceful life. A false sense of pride will not help me or my family’s progress.