Saturday, March 15, 2008

Objectivity isn’t media’s precept anymore

Somebody has rightly said “nothing has deteriorated as much as journalistic ethics”. Some one else has also said about the print media: “just because it is in black don’t think it is true”.
The Times of India, it seems, enjoys denigrating the Catholic Church. The editorial that appeared in the Guwahati edition on Friday, March 14, 2008 had several factual misrepresentations.

Firstly, the editorial said that there was a decline in the number of Catholics. To the contrary, according to the data available for the last four decades, the number of Catholics has been rising steadily from 653.6 million in 1970 to 1.115 billion in 2005.

Contrary to the TOI editorial, the church is not against family planning. It only advocates against use of contraceptives. In fact in many parishes; married couples and about to be married couples are educated about family planning through a natural way.

Regarding the church’s view about excessive wealth contributing to a divide between rich and poor: Is there any doubt? Can we shy away from it? In many countries of the world Estate tax or ‘death tax’ exists. Why don’t we introduce it in India? More than anywhere else, India, with its vast disparity in income levels, needs such laws.

While taking a dig at Vatican’s wealth, TOI should have realized that the wealth belongs to the Church which comprises of over 1.1 billion Catholics and not some individual. The editorial also insinuated that Vatican City is a tax free zone and therefore exempted of tax on all its wealth. It was mischievous and misleading to say the least. Vatican City is a sovereign state and not some institution exempted of tax. Being a sovereign state: who should the Vatican pay its taxes for its own wealth?

Paedophilia isn’t such a big concern that it is being made out to be. Some such cases are inevitable in an institution that spans the globe and has the largest number of followers. But it is reported as if it has become an epidemic. Besides, wherever such cases have been reported the concerned people have been adequately punished and the law has taken its own course.

Lastly, contrary to TOI’s editorial, the Catholic Church still remains a powerful institution in the world and its contribution has been largely constructive. For a reality check, the Times of India should take a count of the number of people in its group who count a Catholic institution as their alma mater.

Manoj Tirkey - POLEMICS - Diversity of views - ACADEMIA - An academic discourse

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Religious conversion among Jharkhandi people

Are adivasis of Jharkhand region Hindus? When and why did this saga of religious conversion begin?

This is in continuation of my earlier blog with regard to attacks on Christians of Orissa. Since the unfortunate incidents that occurred around Christmas involved tribal regions; in this piece I briefly discuss the story of religious conversion in central India, particularly the Jharkhand region.

Jharkhand means forest land. The tribes, whom I refer as Jharkhandis, are scattered across the adjoining forested regions of Orissa, W. Bengal, and Jharkhand. Here, I refer to these adjoining regions as Jharkhand region. These tribes, also referred as adivasis, have been dwelling in the forests for thousands of years.

Like the tribes of North Eastern India, these tribes of Jharkhand region remained largely untouched by civilization until the arrival of the British. Their traditional occupations included hunting and gathering and primitive agriculture.

Contrary to popular perception, the tribes of these regions are not Hindus traditionally. Their traditional religious practices are essentially animistic. Until their assimilation with the mainstream over the last hundred and fifty years, these tribes have been living in harmony in a uniform society. They were never a part of the Hindu caste structure.

Religious conversions among Jharkhandi tribes began after the arrival of European missionaries. Among the first to arrive, a Belgian priest, Fr. Constance Levens is a revered figure among the catholics of Ranchi and neighbouring districts. Some amount of religious conversion was inevitable given the compassion with which they treated them. In fact, their initial exposure to modern education and medicine can be solely attributed to Christian missionaries. But such conversion was never forced; rather it was an educated choice of the tribes.

As religious conversions became more common among the tribes, Hindu chauvinist organizations arrived in these regions and started competing for their share of the adivasi pie. However, the competition from these organizations was never fair. Often, they would resort to coercion and violence. The worst part of their strategy was to instigate easily impressionable tribesmen to attack their fellow brethren. Such violent strategy has obviously resulted in deadly consequences for many innocent people of the region.

These Hindu fundamentalist organizations proclaim that conversion is violence and that conversion should be banned. If conversion is indeed violence then why are they converting the adivasis from their traditional animistic practices to Hinduism? Their second demand for a ban on conversion is untenable in a democratic and secular society. Religious conversion is a matter of personal choice and any tampering with this freedom of choice will be gross violation of Human Rights.

The tribesmen who come in contact with these fundamentalist organizations should weigh their options. On the face of it, the choice to make is fairly simple: one is of continuing to remain in a uniform society while the other is to convert to Hindu practices and drop to the lowest rung of the caste structure. They should also recognize the political agenda of these organizations and refrain from being instigated by them.

Therefore, my friends from Jharkhand and other such regions: remember, when you engage in violence under the influence of fundamentalists, you either kill or maim a fellow tribal.

Manoj Tirkey -POLEMICS-Diversity of views - ACADEMIA - An academic discourse

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Customer is the king: Who says?

A journey that got my grey cells working. Here, I share my thoughts on the journey with some insights on Quality.

Fresh from an invigorating refresher program in Delhi and a short visit to my historical home town at Barrackpore, I set off for my place of work at IGNOU Regional Centre, Itanagar. The plan of travel included an Air Deccan flight from Kolkata to Guwahati to be followed by an overnight Bus journey to Itanagar. (Road travel is the only means to reach Itanagar).

The Deccan flight (DN-653) starts from Kolkata and terminates at Imphal traveling via Guwahati. I have consistently preferred this mode of journey over the train partly because of its convenient timing and substantially because the trains in this route take an inordinately long time to reach Guwahati. (Indeed, train travel from Kolkata to Guwahati takes much more time than what it takes to travel a much longer distance from New Delhi to Kolkata).

On 3rd February 2006, a fine sunny day, the check in and boarding of the aircraft was swift and smooth at the Netaji Subhas Airport in Kolkata. The problems began after the boarding was completed.

As the departure time (12:15 pm) approached the captain of the aircraft asked the crew to prepare for take off. Immediately, the aircraft crew moved to their positions and the regular safety demonstrations accompanied by announcements in affected accent followed. But just as everything appeared to be ready for take off, in came the announcement from the captain that the aircraft had developed a minor technical snag which would be resolved in 20-30 minutes.

I reckoned that this time could be used to free myself from the shackles of the seat belt and move to the rear-end lavatory to ‘do the needful’. But just as I entered, another announcement from the captain followed. This time the captain announced that the repair of the aircraft may take an hour or longer therefore the crew may prepare to evacuate the plane.

Inside the lavatory, while I struggled to get the flush to work which simply refused to budge, in came the untimely knock on the door by the aircraft crew posted at the rear end of the airliner. In a jiffy, I walked out complaining that the flush isn’t working.

Driven out of the aircraft, passengers had to exit the aircraft bay, re-enter the airport building, obtain a fresh boarding pass and go through the security drill all over again and wait anxiously for the signal to board the aircraft again.

At around 2:15pm passengers are allowed to board the aircraft again. But even as the aircraft was being readied for take off, the captain delivered the knock out punch. This time the pilot announced that the flight will first land at the terminal stop – Imphal and then revert to Guwahati. The reason: early closure of the Imphal airport during evening hours.

After what seemed to be a long and arduous journey in the cramped non reclining seat of the low cost carrier, I finally reached Guwahati. By the time I could retrieve my luggage it was well past 5:30pm. A journey that in normal circumstances should have ended in Guwahati at 1:30 pm took 4 hours extra.

I hired a cab hurriedly and set off for the Guwahati Bus Terminal at Paltan Bazar. I was lucky to have got the last available seat in the last row of the last bus to leave for Itanagar.

Looking at the whole episode from quality perspective, let me analyze what are the things that went wrong and what could have been done better?

Clearly, the ground maintenance staff did not do their work well enough which resulted in the technical snag. Had they done their part; the aircraft would have taken off smoothly and passengers would have reached their destination on time.

Secondly, after having delayed the flight by about 2 hours, the airline added insult to injury by forcing the passengers destined for Guwahati to travel all the way to the terminal stop at Imphal. While the ostensible reason was early closer of Imphal Airport, the real reason was to pick up passengers from Imphal for a return flight to Kolkata via Guwahati. Thus the passengers traveling to Guwahati had to travel unnecessarily for an extra hour and 15 minutes.

Thirdly, having subjected the passengers to the afternoon torture, at least the carrier could have been courteous enough to provide free snack to the passengers to soothe their discontentment. Far from it, as is the normal practice in low cost airlines, the carrier sold snack to the passengers and actually made more money that day as hungry passengers had no option but to buy the hugely overpriced snack packs.

So, how different would have been a quality conscious airlines approach towards the circumstances that unfolded that day? Here, I will try to delineate the strategy that a quality conscious airline may have adopted.

An airline with quality consciousness ingrained in its DNA probably would not have invited such a situation. They would have made it doubly sure that the aircraft is well maintained and ready for flight.

Even if, as a rare case, such a technical snag was to occur, the airline would have taken care to minimize the discomfort; not maximize it, as was the case with the Deccan flight (DN-653). For instance, the passengers would have been carried through the usual route via Guwahati to Imphal rather than via Imphal to Guwahati. Thus an unnecessary flying hour for the Guwahati bound passengers would have been prevented.

Further, a quality conscious airline would have provided free snack to the passengers considering the fact that the flight which was to reach Guwahati at 1:30pm actually reached there at 5:30pm. Surely, that would have mitigated passenger discontentment significantly. Indeed, it would have potentially earned some goodwill for the airline.

This whole episode underscores one simple but important point: That for a system to succeed all its parts need to work in a synchronized manner. If any one of the parts does not deliver there is bound to be a systemic disorder if not complete failure.

If you thought we are living in an era where customer is the king, think again. We haven’t reached there yet.

Manoj Tirkey - POLEMICS - Diversity of views - ACADEMIA - An academic discourse