An Indian Adoptee Reclaims His Voice in the Desi Diaspora
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India’s Newest President is Dalit.

July 31, 2017

His name is Ram Nath Kovind and he’s Dalit (formerly known as untouchable). You may read that he’s Dalit, viewing his election as a great sign of progress against caste oppression. Here, you say, is an example of someone from the bottom of India’s development ladder. Now, he’s the President of the world’s largest democracy.

Flag of the President of India (Historical)

His election is important, but it’s definitely not a sign of less caste discrimination or violence.

Here are some quick thoughts about what this means for India and Dalits.

The Indian media made a big deal about him as a Dalit. It’s true he was raised in impoverished circumstances. He mentioned his humble beginnings during his acceptance speech, but he’s quite far from that life today. Prior to his election, he was in India’s Upper House of Parliament.

While he may rightly call himself a ‘Dalit,’ he’s not a suffering Dalit, as many are. Rather he’s an educated and savvy political operator. Don’t count on him to rebuke casteism and discrimination. He’s far removed from that world.

India’s ruling party, the ultra-nationalistic Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister shrewdly put forth Kovind as a presidential candidate. With him as President, Hindutva’s (hardline Hindu mindset) government influence, increasingly strong, won’t receive opposition from the President’s office.

The BJP party brilliantly choose this man to be the President because though he’s a Dalit, he’s well indoctrinated in Hindutva’s mindsets and approaches. He espouses them himself.

But, and this is important, the BJP needs the voting block of Indian Dalits.

Their votes are especially crucial in its poorest states, like Bihar (where Kovind hails from) to continue their onslaught against religious pluralism, while enshrining Hinduism as the state religion.

Since he’s a Dalit, Dalits are reticent to fight against one of their own, even if they aren’t always of the same mind ideologically. They’ll spar in private, but are historically too downtrodden to turn against one another, denigrating someone from their sub-caste in public.

The spokesman for the BJP, Amit Shah, and Modi know this. They can rely on Kovind’s tacit ‘blessing’ of their machinations, bringing Dalit votes for BJP candidates throughout India.

Modi essentially ‘bought’ himself a large new constituency of the electorate. Even if what Hindutva stands for (Brahmin elites, anti-Muslim, anti-beef, against caste integration, etc.), starkly contrasts with many Dalit tenets, they are loath to reject him or his platform as President.

The Dalit community does not speak with a unified voice. But, Modi’s preaching on financial improvement plays well to educated, middle-class Dalits. They overlook his nationalistic rhetoric because he’s selling economic improvement of their lives.

The dynamic is similar to the conservative right in the US.  They tolerated Donald Trump, despite his jingoistic drivel, leading to his presidency.

Unfortunately, Kovind’s election as President signals more rubber stamping of the BJP’s dangerous views about who is a real Indian, and what that means. Meanwhile, secularism’s death spiral continues.

A Few Welcome Changes to International Adoption Rules

November 30, 2016

In the fall of 2016, the US Department of State presented new rules regarding inter-country adoptions for those adopting foreign-born children into U.S. homes.

As an adoptee, I always advocate for greater transparency about fees and the months-long process for international adoption. Not surprisingly, adoption agencies and other stakeholders in the adoption industry decry the proposed changes because they say it will make it harder to adopt.

I think they are more concerned about the declining number of international adoptions and its affect on their bottom line.

This is not about caring for children’s welfare.

Fee Transparency

Adoption agencies have a new standard for pay scales of foreign employees involved in adoption. Previously, they were based on ‘normal pay,’ what the agencies knew about pay rates in specific countries. Now, salaries will be given based on the services the foreign adoption official actually performs.

Now, salaries will be given based on the services the foreign adoption official actually performs. I think it’s fair that salaries will not be paid arbitrarily, which was the case beforehand.

Furthermore, I think the overall costs for agencies to continue as adoption service providers (ASP) will fluctuate more. The bigger potential consequence is agencies must clearly demonstrate what work their foreign or contracted staff is doing.

Standardizing good faith information efforts

That’s my language. This means that ASP’s present further evidence and proof of effort related to discovering the child’s medical or social background.

Previously this was not standardized. The effort one agency said was ‘sufficient’ in learning as much about a child’s history as possible, was different from another agency’s.

Foreign vs Domestic Fees

Adoption agencies must clearly show which fees prospective adoptive parents are paying for domestic and foreign services. This would end a type of ‘blanket’ approval that adoptive parents sometimes are required to give below a certain threshold. It ensures every cost is known upfront.

Agencies can no longer charge any fees to prospective parents to care for a child before the finalized adoption. Agencies were previously charging adoptive parents more money ‘caring’ for a child in a specific foreign country than needed.

This eliminates the temptation for agencies to recruit children, drawing out the adoption process. Additionally, this safeguards families against spending money on children who will never be available for adoption.

Telling the real story and making the best placement  

Agencies must provide additional training on grief, loss, identity, and trauma and characteristics of successful intercountry adoptive placements. They must also have a track record of compliance with post-placement and post-adoption reporting requirements.

It will no longer be enough just to want to adopt, have the money and go through the home visits. Agencies will further explore a family’s circumstances determining their fit for intercountry adoption.

I’m not sure exactly what this entails, but I like the idea of increased due diligence about the adopting parents. Agencies may feel this is an extra burden. But I say that you must get an adoption right the first time.

Another aspect of this change will be agencies cannot make referrals or require fees for specific adoption services until and unless the parents have completed this new advanced training.

Moving forward, agencies must discuss adoption disruption and dissolution. Both issues are huge black marks on the adoption industry.  The adoption arena has long downplayed and tried ignoring them. I could write a whole post about both circumstances. Here’s a quick primer if you don’t know.

Adoption disruption is when the adoption ends before finalization, but after the child is already in the new home. This forces the child back into foster care or to another family.

Adoption dissolution occurs after finalization and means legal ties sever between the child and the parents, either voluntarily or not.  One result of this drastic step is ‘rehoming. When adoptive families put their child up for private sale in an unregulated forum. These take place on sites like Craigslist or in newspaper classifieds.

The new guidance requires adoption service providers to include information about disruption and dissolution in training and preparation programs for prospective adoptive parents. Adoption service providers will be required to give specific points of contact for support in the event an adoptive family faces difficult adjustment or other hardships, which places a permanent home for the children at risk.

In the future, agencies must inform adoptive parents about all avenues open to them if a crisis occurs, including local and state resources and educate them about legal options, as well as appropriate procedures in case a child needs placement back in the system or requires removal from their adoptive family.

We’ll see what the final updated guidance looks like after the State Department has reviewed all the public comments. In the meantime, these alterations further increase transparency in the international adoption process.

I hope some are formalized.

Who is a ‘Real’ Indian?

May 14, 2016

Since Narendra Modi became India’s Prime Minister in May 2015, the definition of a ‘true’ Indian is a hot topic.

However, for me, people have always questioned my India bona-fides. Let me explain.

As an adoptee, raised without Indian culture on a daily basis, cultural Indians in the United States were always unsure how I fit into their world. I don’t speak any Indian languages, I attend church, the vast majority of my friends are non-Indian and my parents are white.

By any measure of a culturally engaged Indian, I was not raised as one of them. I fit none of the ‘stereotypical’ Indian roles. I am not a doctor, scientist or lawyer. I am terrible with numbers and figures. I cannot fix your computer, and I don’t engage in the conspicuous consumption and materialism that Indians in America have a reputation for.

Those were the ‘issues’ regarding my Indian identity growing up, but now the narrative shifted. Modi’s political party, the Bharatiya Janata is closely aligned with elements pushing among other things, that all Indians must be Hindu, that true Indians must hate Pakistan and Muslims and the West is destroying both India and its culture.

As a result, many diaspora Indians, and domestic Indians are considered ‘anti-national.’ Additionally, anyone distrusting big government, works with NGOs or social work programs, those who advocate for India’s Dalits, tribals and other groups considered outcasts, people who question tenets of any faith, particularly in film, books or music, all are labeled as not true Indians.

The situation has deteriorated to the point, that anyone critical of India’s policies, politicians or the established Hindu order is considered ‘un-Indian’ or ‘anti-national.’

A recent news story illustrates this case perfectly.

read more …

It’s Time for All Adoptees to have US Citizenship

January 24, 2016

There are thousands of adults, adopted as children by US citizen parents lacking US citizenship.

Thanks to adoptees, advocates, and Congressional support, that will change in 2016.

The Adoptee Citizenship Act of 2015, provides retroactive citizenship for certain intercountry adoptees no matter when they were adopted. It also provides a legal pathway for all deported adoptees to return to the United States.

This is the first US bill written with substantial adult adoptee input for adoptees.

I was involved in this process in 2012, when myself and a group of adoptees met with the  Congressional Coalition on Adoption Initiative (CCAI) and legislative staff in Washington, D.C

It’s wonderful to have a bill before the Senate.

You might be reading this and wonder what the issue is. Let me give you a brief background.

When international adoptions by US citizens began, many adoptees never received citizenship papers. This happened because adoptive parents misunderstood the process, agencies assumed the parents were filling paperwork themselves or a combination of apathy and misinformation.

Thousands of adoptees meeting criteria to become legal US citizens, never become one.

As a result, scores could not receive driver’s licenses, work promotions, and a handful was deported for small misdemeanors. Others ran afoul of immigration laws when receiving a traffic ticket.

Imagine, growing up in an American family, with your whole life linked to the United States. One day you apply for a passport and discover though you lived in the US for 18 years, you are not a US citizen.

Vocal adoptees recognized this problem, wrote a bill and created the Child Citizenship Act of 2000. But this only gave citizenship to adoptees 18 and under when the bill was signed. It did not give retroactive US citizenship.

In other words, the bill did not go far enough.

I recognize the huge controversy about letting immigrants and criteria for citizenship.

But for me this is not only personal, it’s obvious. If a family has adopted a child from their birth country into their US family, they should be a US citizen. There is no question that is the ‘fair’ thing to do.

If a family adopted a child from their birth country into their US family, they should be a US citizen. There is no question that is the ‘fair’ thing to do.

There is no question that is the ‘fair’ thing to do.

Let me be clear, for me and for all supporters and advocates of this bill; this is not an immigration issue. This is ‘righting a wrong.’

It is not something ‘new,’ but rather something that should have been given but for various reasons was not (US citizenship).

The new bill was introduced in the Senate in mid-November 2015, by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and co-signed by Senators Dan Coates (R-IN) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR).  It has bipartisan support.

Thousands of hours, hundreds of phone calls, emails, and face-to-face meetings happened to get this bill ready. I tip my hat to all involved, some of whom are good friends.

But we’re not done, it needs YOUR support as well.

Visit this website 18 Million Rising and call your Congressional legislators to support the bill.

Thousands of adoptees lack citizenship, yet they have American lives, including friends, family, and connections.  For all of them, the US is their ‘home,’ because they have been here for years.

Help them receive citizenship they are entitled to.

‘My Brother’s Bomber’ and the Reminder of a Tragic Adoption Story

October 31, 2015

Last week I finished the exemplary PBS/Frontline three-part series ‘My Brother’s Bomber. The story is about Ken Dornstein, whose brother was killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

A suitcase with one-pound of Semtex plastic explosives, blew the 747 out of the sky, nearly 30,000 feet over the Scottish countryside, scattering debris over an 845 square mile area. More than 270 people died that evening, including 11 on the ground due to the fuel induced fireball and wings from the disintegrating aircraft.

Though young, I distinctly remember watching the news that night with my Dad in our family room. It was a fascinating story and crime that intrigued me since.

At first, no one knew it was a bomb and the explosion’s cause was mysterious. Within days, however, investigators discovered the crash was foul play, beginning a three-year investigation.

The Lockerbie tragedy was a deliberate terrorist act.

Ken’s brother, David, was on Pan Am Flight 103, coming home from a study abroad program for Christmas. The documentary follows Ken, learning who bore ultimate responsibility for the bombing.

Only one person was ever tried and convicted for the heinous act, a Libyan named Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. He was sentenced in 2001 to life in prison.

However, the Scottish government released him on ‘compassionate grounds,’ after being diagnosed in 2009 with prostate cancer and given only a few months to live. Adding injustice to injury for the victim’s families, al-Megrahi arrived in Libya to a heroes welcome and eventually died in 2012.

Ken and both Scottish and US investigators remained convinced that al-Megrahi did not act alone. There were others involved they insist, contending that former Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi never told the truth to the world about the bombing.

Investigators certainly had other names, but never gathered enough evidence to convict them in court.

‘My Brother’s Bomber’ is the story of Ken’s search for truth as he traverses bombed ruins of Libyan cities seeking answers to his brother’s killers.

Watching the documentary reminded me of an adoptive mother’s story searching for answers, and finding them in a heartbreaking way through the Lockerbie tragedy.

Two years ago, on the 25th anniversary of the bombing, I read this piece, about a woman named Carol King-Eckersley who spent years trying to find the son she relinquished for adoption when she was 19.

While conducting a Web search for him in April of 2013, she found his name on a memorial page for passengers of Pan Am flight 103. She learned her son Kenneth, was one of the 270 passengers on that ill-fated journey.

I cannot imagine how painful that must have been for her.

She specifically did not try to find him for many years because she did not want to interfere in his life.

To dream of reunion and maybe even plan one eventually, only to discover that her child died in a terror attack had to be devastating. I wonder if she regrets knowing his fate? If she had not tried locating him, maybe she could have spent her life questioning where he was and living in blissful ignorance of his demise.

I think it would be very difficult to learn one’s child was dead, and after always wondering what happened to a child you relinquished for adoption. If you have no idea where they might be, there is always a remote possibility of being re-united again, maybe build a life together.

But knowing your child is definitely dead, well, Ms. King-Eckersley tragically summed it up, ‘it became a kind of double tragedy. I found him and I lost him on the same day.”

Should India seek British Reparations for Colonialism?

September 19, 2015

Perhaps, but they should look internally as well, realizing they bear plenty of responsibility for their underdevelopment.

In mid-July 2015, MP Shashi Tharoor gave an impassioned plea for Indian reparations after more than 200 years of British colonialism. You can watch the 15-minute clip below.

Many Indians, both in the country and abroad lauded his words.

Prime Minister Modi, even endorsed Tharoor’s sentiments saying ‘Tharoor’s speech reflected the feelings of patriotic Indians on the issue and showed what impression one can leave with effective arguments by saying the right things at the right place.

I agree with most he said.

I disagree with his point about India and the railways. Yes, Britain originally built them to bring Indian goods to the British market. Thereby bypassing the Indian market.  But when the British ‘quit’ India in 1947, they didn’t pack up the trains and millions of miles of track and take that them with them.

The railroads played a prominent role in India’s development. It connects India in ways few other countries can match.

Beyond that one issue, I think his other points were valid.

Without doing hours of additional research, they probably were correct. However, after listening to his speech at Oxford I had the following thoughts:  read more …

The Privilege of Leaving Kabul

August 28, 2015

In the early weeks of August this year, Kabul was hit by a series of attacks, which killed more than 100 and wounded scores. Three weekends ago, I spent hours in the Baron safe-room and each subsequent blast, instead of being easier to process, became more difficult. The fact that they became familiar was more terrifying, not less.

I read an article recently about the moral complications of disaster rescue, in terms of socio-economic ability. Basically, if you have money, you are evacuated. It is a harsh reality. As I arranged to leave Kabul, I thought of my privilege as an American to board the plane, leaving the country and its unique troubles miles away.  read more …

Stories Catching My Eye

February 10, 2015

It’s been a while since I posted what I’ve read lately, so I’ll share a longer list this time.

The Tragedy of the American Military

An insightful piece about the disconnect between ordinary US citizens and the military and the many consequences of such distance and misunderstanding.

 The Rapist Next Door

This story is about Alaska’s rape problem, but it’s also about a totally different way of punishing rapists.

The Green Monster

A story about the US border control and how it became the most renegade US law enforcement agency.

The Unbreakable Laura Hillenbrand

A profile of the author of Seabiscuit, and most recently Unbroken. She suffers from severe vertigo and hardly ever leaves her house, yet she’s sold more 10 million copies of both combined.

The Dark Side of the Moon

Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. The world won’t let him forget it, and his role in history. He just wants to move on.

Teenage Wasteland

A possible explanation about why so many efforts to stop young people from joining extremist groups fail.

An Indian-American Speaks on the State of Police in America

January 27, 2015

In October, the famous New York whistle-blower cop Frank Serpico, gave a long interview to Politico Magazine. As a Serpico fan and certainly of the movie (Al Pacino is fantastic), I read it. Part of the interview is about police accountability and the lack of it when he was in the force and its continuance today.

As the events of Ferguson, Cleveland and New York and the names, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and others echo through this nation and reverberate beyond, I thought back to Serpico’s interview and will quote some here, it’s directly applicable to all the afore-mentioned cases and the many which have not received media attention.

Before I go further, I want to say, I respect the majority of the US police force. I cannot imagine going to work every day and depending ones real duties, having the real possibility that I would not come home. I commend those men and women. Likewise, I cannot fathom the lives of people married to police officers or their children and living with chances, they will be dead or injured at days’ end.

Police officers see the worst parts of humanity and depravity regularly; the awful things we have the ‘privilege’ of hearing about through the news, they see daily: child abuse, sexual abuse, horrific murders and sense-less acts of violence are their ‘normal.”

I used to live on what I jokingly called the ‘safest street in America,’ because in the space of a few blocks there were two active FBI special agents, a regular town police officer, a retired state patrolman, a former member of the Italian police, the carabinieri and a retired sheriff. That is a lot of law in the immediate neighborhood. I am semi-serious of course, but all police I have ever known personally are good people. I truly believe that.

Ok, back to Serpico. As the article continues, he discussed the main problems with police as an institution in America. As I have read the news and watched television about myriad cases of cops shooting unarmed citizens, particularly minority ones, I agree with his sentiments.

“The gulf between the police and the communities they serve has grown wider…” Further, on he says “But when you are dealing every day with civilians walking the streets, and you bring in armored vehicles and automatic weapons, it’s all out of proportion. It makes you feel like you’re dealing with some kind of subversive enemy. The automatic weapons and bulletproof vest may protect the officer, but they also insulate him from the very society he’s sworn to protect. All that firepower and armor puts an even greater wall between the police and society, and solidifies that “us-versus-them” feeling.”

I read that and began thinking: “us versus them,’ when was the last time I saw a police officer engaging in regular conversation with people in the street? Sometimes, I see police officers speaking with folks through the windows of their vehicles, but that is the point. I hardly ever see police NOT in their vehicles. In addition, when they are in their cars they are usually parked on the side of the street, windows closed, laptop opened and either staring intently at the screen or viewing their surroundings suspiciously.

When I see police on the pavement, they are usually engaged in police activity, making an arrest, interrogating someone, their stance is both aggressive and intimidating. No one ever looks like they are enjoying the interaction. I can count only a few times I saw police in Washington, D.C. conversing with people or business proprietors in a friendly, informal way. I have lived here for almost a decade.

This is not an isolated phenomenon. Ask yourself when was the last time you had a conversation with a police officer that did not involve explaining a law or procedure? If they are not talking and getting to know the people in white or upper-class neighborhoods, then do we really imagine they would be doing so in high poverty and crime areas which tend to have greater minority populations?

I get it. They have to be vigilant and they must bring cynicism of humanity to their jobs. However, perhaps much of what is transpiring in cities and towns across America, as the police fortify themselves behind the ‘wall’, could be mitigated by walking and talking in public.

Start conversations and engage in banter with people. Sure, they are likely to be off-put at first, but only because it is such a strange phenomenon for them to talk with a police officer in a non-confrontational way. In time, those awkward feelings for both sides might change, but it will never get better if police continue to view everyone with suspicion or at least look like it.

Why can’t police get to know the neighborhood they work in, walk around the streets, and be a friendly presence instead of an intimidating one? Do I feel secure when I know police are around? Sometimes.

Nevertheless, frankly I would feel more secure if I knew any of them by name, had spoken directly to ones I saw in my neighborhood regularly. I live in one of the safest parts of Washington, D.C.; surely, the police could develop at least acquaintances with people around me.

I understand, I live in a city with pockets of high crime and violence, but police are public servants and must be everywhere, when they are in the less crime ridden places, could not they at least talk to me?

Let us now get to the racial aspects of this problem. Here again, Serpico…

“But they (he’s talking about white folks who watch cop movies and are raised believing all cops are heroic) often don’t understand that these minority communities, in many cases, view the police as the enemy. We want to believe that cops are good guys, but let’s face it, any kid in the ghetto knows different. The poor and the disenfranchised in society don’t believe those movies; they see themselves as the victims, and they often are.”

I am a man of non-white skin, but where I differ from most minority men, is that I only ever feel stereotyped for having that brown skin by the TSA and folks who work at airports. Never in my life have I felt uncomfortably scrutinized by regular law enforcement, as guys like Michael Brown and thousands of other black and minority men and women in this country are daily.

To be a black man, watched constantly as so many of these men are, merely walking on streets is foreign to me. I cannot imagine the impact psychologically that must have on people of color in the United States.

In my experience, Indian men do not suffer from the blanket stereotypes that other non-white males endure from law enforcement officials here. There are of course isolated incidents; violence against Sikhs wearing turbans and post 9/11 anti-Muslim sentiments, but my experience is wholly unlike what black or Latino communities experience daily.

Honestly, while I feel like I should be able to identify more closely with minorities in this police brutality and violence issue, I am not sure that is the case. If someone with white skin looked at me, I think they would assume I could relate better to the black community than they could. I may feel more at ease because my skin color is closer to theirs, but I do not identity with the race and police problems that many minorities face here.

I support all who speak out, but I do not feel like I can, on the racial aspects. I cannot march in the streets and decry police brutality because of my skin color, because I have never felt it.

As a basic justice issue, I am appalled by certain police actions and policies that take place. However, as an Indian-American guy, the minority experience with law enforcement, and especially for black men in America is far from my everyday understanding.

Stories Catching My Eye

December 23, 2014

The Chinese Government Is Getting Rich Selling Cigarettes

A story about China National Tobacco Corporation, the world’s largest.

Why No One Remembers the Peacemakers

Why do we remember those in War, but not those advocating Peace?

 Stop Trying to Save the World

A view of the international development machine.

 

Stories Catching My Eye

December 6, 2014

In the wake of continuing police violence against unarmed citizens, I found this piece well worth reading.

Why It’s Impossible to Indict a Cop

On December 3rd, 1984, the world’s worst industrial disaster took place in Bhopal, India. Most have never heard of it. It’s terrifying and tragic. An author retraces the fateful morning and the aftermath for its survivors.

The Ghosts of Bhopal

A New Yorker profile of Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor.

The Quiet German: The Astonishing Rise of Angela Merkel, the Most Powerful Woman in the World

 

 

Stories Catching My Eye

November 22, 2014

Starting today, I’m beginning a weekly post listing a few interesting links. I read prolifically and on a variety of topics. I’d love to share some of the good stuff I’ve found with my readers and if possible foster a conversation about them.  I will post without editorial comment, unless necessary.

Once a week, I’ll share links to three to five articles that I read during the previous week.

They might be timely,  or slightly older. Their lengths will vary as well as their source. Their commonality will be they ‘caught my eye’.

Comment or follow me on Twitter @adoptedkeralite. I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts!

Making child’s play out of banking in India

How New York City Hired A Con Artist To Clean Up Ebola

In Alabama, Judges Play God

 

 

 

Hearing a suicide car bomb less than 1/4 mile away

October 13, 2014

On Oct 12, 2014 at 7am I was getting ready for work here in Kabul, and heard a huge explosion. I immediately went to my window and saw a plume of smoke rising. I knew right away that it had to be a bomb of some sort, even though I’d never heard a bomb blast in my life.

A few minutes later I discovered it was a suicide bomber on one of Kabul’s main roads that had driven directly into a foreign military convoy.

I travel that road at least two times a day for my work commute, so I know precisely where the blast occurred. I literally drove on that exact stretch of road the previous evening.

At least one person died and multiple folks were injured. The bomb was less than ¼ mile away from where I’m staying. Security told me that we had to wait an extra half-hour before we left to drive to work, in order for the traffic to thin out.

Now I know what a bomb sounds like. I’ll never forget it.

It’s strange to be in a place that is on the news so often and yet in day-to-day interactions and routines feels totally normal. I work in a Western style office, where most people can speak English (they mostly speak Pashto or Dari) and the Chief of Party (program head) is an expat US citizen.

But I’ve been told many times by folks working here, either for NGOs or as security contractors, complacency is dangerous. Not that I had become complacent, but driving on the roads every day seemed routine, beyond the security and bad traffic.

The blast today was a sober reminder that Kabul and Afghanistan as a whole remains as unstable as ever and quite unsafe.

Mostly though, I’m thinking about the Afghan people, who live with this overhanging specter of daily violence. It’s heartbreaking. This is a country that for decades has been without stability or cohesion, which I’m sure affects the  nation’s collective psyche.

People say, Kabul is ‘safer’ than rural areas, but what does that really mean? A suicide attack only once every 10 days, as compared to every other one?

As I came into work, the local Afghan staff asked me if I had heard the blast, I was a little visibly shaken and they picked up on it immediately. But they didn’t bat an eye, it was completely ‘normal’ for them to know that something so devastating happened. It’s a weekly occurrence and in a sense they have become desensitized to it.

Indian Justice is Sloooow

September 16, 2014

Two stories came out of the sub-continent recently regarding India’s courts.

The first one, details just how many court cases are pending in India. It’s an astounding number. 32 million.

Even the 1,000 fast-track courts, many set-up after the horrific gang-rape of the 23-year-old student in Delhi in 2012 haven’t really impacted the court backlog. Fast track courts (FTCs) received a lot of press recently, as they are where a number of the sexual abuse and violence cases are tried. But they also hear cases about children, disabled and the elderly as well as caste based issues.

While they give the impression that Indian law enforcement and the criminal justice system are improving, even 1,000 specific courts barely alleviate the problem.

The usual culprits of government inefficiency apply in this case, as does a lack of political will manifested in budget allocations and India’s massive population. Plus, with prosecutors spread so thin, they lack the bandwidth to truly investigate cases as they should. Many are completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of cases.

The second story, builds on the nature of the first and it’s about a recent Supreme Court ruling based on those 32 million cases.

According to the SC, anyone who is still in jail awaiting trial verdicts, longer than half what they would have received if they had actually been convicted, should be released.

Think about that for a second.

“In other words, if the maximum punishment for a crime is three years and a person who was arrested for committing that crime has been in jail under trial for one and a half years, the person should be released.”

It remains to be seen whether or not the SC ruling will work. For starters, Indian jails don’t keep computerized records, if they keep records at all. If people move jail locations during their sentences,  usually no record exists of the total time they will have spent in jail.

Secondly, most prisoners and prosecutors don’t know enough about current laws and regulation. As usual its India’s poor who suffer the most, as they await sentencing for petty crimes.

Many problems plague India’s criminal justice system. These are just two of them. With the new government of Modi and and renewed emphasis on government efficiency, I’m curious to see if India is able  to decrease the number of pending court cases during his time as Prime Minister.

Indians just elected Narendra Modi Prime Minister. This news upsets me.

May 17, 2014

India’s populace spoke loudly.

Narendra Modi eviscerated Rahul Gandhi in the nationwide elections.

It was Congress Party’s worst showing at the polls in their history.

The final result, a landslide victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Narendra Modi has been predicted for months. But the utter annihilation of the Congress party caught many by surprise.

India has chosen a new leader, who in my opinion is not only bad for India, he’s terrible for democracy and secularism.

Modi is not now, nor has ever been, interested in bringing people together. He is a ‘divider.’ His campaign speeches and his political rhetoric focused on separation: Hindus from Muslims, rich from poor, educated from un-educated, Hindu nationalists from everyone else, all the while talking aggressively about both China and Pakistan relations.

Do not misunderstand — I am no Congress sycophant. I think both Modi and Rahul Gandhi were awful choices to lead India.

The second most populous nation in the world just elected a man who allowed Gujarati textbooks, which not only downplayed the Holocaust and its horrors, but also extolled the leadership of Hitler and the Nazis.

His party, the BJP, is closely aligned with a group that explicitly formed itself to look like Nazi brown shirts of the late 1930s, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). That is Modi’s background, now Prime Minister of India.  The BJP is a hard-line Hindu party, ideologically far-right, and espousing a view that India is for Hindus and Hindus only.

Some individuals, respected publications, including the Economist and others sounded the alarm bell on Modi during the last few months. Some used his cult of personality as a reason to vote against him, others his alliances with radical right-wing groups or his role in the 2002 Gujarat Riots.

For me, his role as Gujarat’s Chief Minister during the 2002 Gujarat Riots, an abhorrently violent pogrom by right-wing Hindus against Muslims, forever taints him.

Even if though the Indian Supreme Court exonerated him of all responsibility, some of those under his direct command were found guilty of riot involvement. If Modi was fully in charge of Gujarat, as he says, then he HAD to know what was going on. He was involved, somehow.

It cannot work both ways. He cannot claim to have omnipotent knowledge about Gujarat, while then declaring that the Gujarat Riots took place without police and political involvement. He also refused to call outside forces to intervene while Gujarat burned for three days. Is that leadership?

The Supreme Court has returned ‘not guilty’ verdicts for his involvement, but most of the evidence that would prove guilt was either destroyed (intentionally or accidentally) or is missing. While I understand evidence is paramount in a trial, the fact is that most of the primary documents establishing guilt or exonerating Modi were not evaluated and it’s suspicious that the most important ones are missing.

Modi never apologized to anyone about the riots that occurred during his leadership. He never said he was sorry anyone lost lives and livelihoods. He could make a simple statement like that, without taking any blame. However, he patently refuses to make even that small concession to the aggrieved. What kind of leadership does that show? Even if he had nothing to do with it, which I highly doubt, it still occurred ‘on his watch.’

Perhaps I will be wrong. Modi will turn into one of the best things that ever happened to my homeland. I won’t hold my breath.

Modi enters national leadership of the world’s largest democracy facing myriad problem, which he’s claimed solutions to during his campaigning. Some of the biggest include tackling youth unemployment, government corruption and the abysmal infrastructure holding her development in tangles.

Can he deliver? That’s the biggest unknown for India’s future, and I, along with 1.2 billion plus others await the result.