What’s in a name?

The other day I was in the District Court with my husband to complete the formalities of adopting his surname. To be precise, I was there to add another surname to my maiden name. I am now known as Monika Bakshi Singh; the last surname being my husband’s!

Just a few days prior to my visit to the court, I was having a discussion with my husband over this entire “surname change issue”. Luckily he was not adamant on changing my surname completely; instead he was in favour of just the adoption of it.

During the open hearted discussion, I told him that I was contemplating to continue with my maiden name. At this, he supported me, yet I could sense that he nursed the desire to give me his surname, to be added after mine.

That night I reflected on this matter. I wondered what’s in a name that makes a man wish to change his wife’s surname?

Is marriage meant for integration or segregation? Does it only bring separation for a girl? Separation from her family, her home an even her identity?

Now the question that bugs me is that why do women afterall need to change their maiden name?

Whatever may be the social or psychological reason, I presume that it is basically the society’s way to show that a woman is weaker than man in all respects and thus needs a guardian by any means. Hence, a change in the maiden name is a means to show that she now belongs to a man, her guardian.

In today’s world of course, many professional ladies prefer to carry forward there maiden name, instead of appending her husband’s surname to her name.

Some do it to evade legal hassles, while some do it to adhere to their staunch feminist beliefs, which propel them to think that a change in their maiden name would indicate “submission” in this gender biased society.

And how do men react to this absolute rejection? Obviously I am quite sure that very few men would like it, and the rest would protest. Men’s ego plays a major role at this.

However, one interesting fact is that it’s not only in India that woman change their surname. The English speaking countries like Britain, Australia and English speaking provinces of Canada and the US, to name the few, also follow this social norm.

But it’s the same western world, where wife’s name is also, in some rare cases, taken by husband upon marriage. As for example, Jack white of the US rock band, The White Stripes, adopted wife Meg White’s surname! Sounds very interesting! Exceptions to the rule they say.

However in Russia, the newly adopted couple are given a choice to adopt a common surname, be it the husband’s or the wife’s.

Interestingly in France, the law of the land says, “no one may use another name than that given on their birth certificate”, and it’s constitution guarantees “women and men have equal rights”. But if however, either of the spouse wants to change or add a surname, he/she has to go through an administrative procedure. French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s wife Carla Bruni is known as Madame Carla Bruni Sarkozy.

The name changing system in Spain and Spanish speaking Latin America, is rather very fascinating. There is a tradition to adopt paternal and maternal surname on birth. In case of marriage, the girl drops her mother’s surname and adds her husband’s surname to her father’s.

What I notice is that in most of the cases, in almost all the cultures, in a developed world or a developing world, it’s the woman, who’s identity is taken away.

In India however, this cultural/social obligation, whatever you call it, is varied.

In northern India, some cultures give woman unique surnames like “devi”, “kaur” etc. While some compel her to adopt her husband’s surname. In South India, women from states like Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, take their husband’s surname; while in Kerala a woman appends her father’s name/surname as her surname, with her mother’s name as a middle name.

Being a matriarch state, in Meghalaya, a woman adopts mother’s surname. That I guess gives ample importance to a woman’s identity.

Reaching at a conclusive mode, my mind just questions me one thing: What is it that makes surname change after marriage so important. Be it the developed western world or the developing India, this tradition is prominent everywhere!

Is it a way to show that man is more powerful and worthy? Or is it a thoughtless practice?

I believe personally, that it’s a decent way to make a man feel his authoritarian position in the society and to show a woman that she is under a man’s subjugation.

But then the other mind tells me that a name is just a way to know someone as “somebody”. Dropping or conjunction of surnames is one’s personal choice. Keep it or drop it, what’s in a name afterall?

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Indian education system: Opportunities and challenges

After sixty one years of independence, India looks back in pride, not only for the level of development it has attained in industry, energy, infrastructure and health sector, but also for the laudable growth in the field of education. Be it primary, secondary and technical education, or research based, India has proved time and again that it is capable of producing a class of educated and scholarly citizens, despite lacking resource facilities.

The country which was tattered by the two hundred years old British colonial rule has come up with some of the world class universities and technical institutes in just sixty one years. There are seven IITs and IIMs in India, producing world-class qualified professionals every year.

The IIMs plan to go global very soon. Taking note of the importance of technology in determining the status of a country, the government aims to establish five more IITs. Besides this, there are three hundred universities in India, of which, twenty are Central Universities. With a mushroom growth of 15,600 colleges, churning out approximately 2.5 million graduates, India can boast of a huge educated and professionally trained population.

Though the number of Indian professionals and research scholars has been growing spectacularly, the question arises what are the ways to stop them from looking for greener pastures abroad? Here the major glitch with the education system of India is that it depends a lot on the government policies. These policies once framed consume a lot of time to be executed. Very few of those executed are actually beneficial to all classes of Indian population.

Reservation Policy and education

The reservation policy of the Indian Government for the SCs, STs and the OBCs, in the education sector, is the biggest example of the government’s one sided approach to a problem. This has been an issue of debate for many. Though a boon for the depressed classes, this policy has also proved to be a bane for many.

In central government funded higher education institutions, 22.5% of available seats are reserved for Scheduled Caste (Dalit) and Scheduled Tribe (Adivasi) students (15% for SCs, 7.5% for STs). This reservation percentage has been raised to 49.5%, by including an additional 27% reservation for OBCs.

Nationwide protests took place in India in 1990 and 2006 to protest the reservation policy, claiming it to be discriminatory.

It is this reservation policy which has prompted many young scholars to move out of India, in search of unbiased education system. They move out in quest of institutions where ‘merit’ and ‘merit’ alone is the criteria for admission. After completing their education abroad, in world class universities, very few come back to India. This is indeed sad.

Quality research environment

Resources and the intellectual climate for research are important for quality scholarly work. But India lags behind developed nations like the USA and UK in so far as research environment is concerned.

Foreign universities receive patronage from all quarters, as a result they are able to hire the best research guides and provide best research guidance. Above all the research scholars are paid handsomely. On an average, a researcher can draw $ 9000 a year in the USA. While those in India, receive a meager stipend of around Rs 13,500 per month only. Thus there is lack of enthusiasm among the aspiring researchers in India.

Lack of proper patronage from the government impedes the development of a healthy research climate in the country.

“India is in its nascent stage as far as research is concerned. The infrastructure there is not strong enough to support meaningful research,” Nikhil Rasiwas, an engineering PhD student and vice president of the Association of Indian Graduate Students at the University of California San Diego, was quoted as saying by the forbes.com.

The literacy rate is growing sluggishly in India, thereby raising a warning alarm for the government which has aimed to raise literacy rate to 85% till 2009-12. At this juncture, the government is making all possible efforts to achieve it with programmes like the National Literacy Mission, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and providing mid-day meals in government owned schools.

Exodus of intellectuals

In this process, it has, to some extent overlooked the need to create scope for promising young scholars, who are gradually moving out to join the 20 million Indian diaspora abroad, never to return to serve their motherland. Students of Indian origin are traveling in higher numbers than ever before to pursue higher education abroad. In year 2006, of the 123,000 studying outside India, 76,000 have chosen USA as a country of their choice followed by UK.

All said and done, it is high time for the government to join hands with the private enterprises, to bring out the ‘best’ in the education sector. Policies related to the development of education or the betterment of students should be kept away from narrow political interests.

Let’s hope for a day when we can have a fair exchange of scholars with developed nations. Afterall, it is through a planned education system that we can make India a ‘superpower’ someday.

The Essence of Motherhood

Today is a special day for me. Sonu is in the Operation Theatre,  for her first delivery. My pulse is racing with anxiety and I am tensed.

Sitting all alone in this room, I am recollecting all the memories related to her pregnancy, from day one till date.

Since the time she conceived, till today, she has been through so much of pain and stress related to pregnancy. Being a journalist, a wife and a ‘would-be’ mother, all at a time, has been strenuous for her.

Watching her in these tough days of pregnancy, I felt the essence of being a mother. How tough it is to conceive and then to carry the baby for forty weeks, I realised this fact seeing her all the time.

My thought could rake up a controversy, but I really wonder who plays the greater role in parenthood; it’s the mother or the father?

After a lot of heart searching, I conclude that it’s the mother beyond all doubts.

This thought of mine is backed by my personal experience and a little research, or to be precise, it’s based on a little survey.

What I have noticed is that, in love making, it’s the man and woman, both who get the ecstatic pleasure of being “one”. Both enjoy to the hilt! And when the woman conceives, both get exulted. They start weaving dreams of parenthood together. But irony is that, it’s the woman alone who has to bear the pain and discomfort of pregnancy. She has to bear the trauma of labour.

I certainly agree that it’s nature’s law and what a poor man can do to share his woman’s pain. But there is something striking about it that is hitting my mind right now.

There was a time when woman was just responsible to look after the household chores and the man was there to generate income for the family. A pregnant woman at that time did not have to take any other stress, besides carrying her baby.

But times have changed dramatically. Women in quest of economic emancipation and equality to men (which they are yet to attain “literally”) have stepped out of the four walls of her household. She is today a daughter, a wife, a carrier woman and a mother. Life has become complex chemical equation for her, which she is striving  to balance. She now shoulders more  responsibilities and she shoulders them competently.

Man’s duty in the family is now lessened, as the woman shoulders it equally. Be it economic, social or emotional responsibility, man is no more alone.

So I believe, in today’s world mother is much more important for a baby than his father, if the facts I mentioned are to be considered.

By mentioning the word “important” I do not mean to disqualify a father from being an important entity. He no doubt plays a very important part in a child’s complete growth as a human being. But keeping in mind all the hardship a woman bears to carry and deliver a child, and later to bring it up, I firmly believe it’s the mother who certainly deserves to be lauded for the incommensurable sacrifices she makes for her child.

After observing the pains of a mother, so closely and minutely, I can just say, “Hats off to motherhood”

My Guwahati bleeds again

It’s yet another occasion to lament and another reason to shed tears. The city I was born and brought up in is bleeding. Guwahati, my home town has seen the worst bloodbath ever! Powerful serial blasts rocked the city on Thursday, the 30th of October, 2008; which took the lives of countless innocents and rendered many handicapped for life.

TV channels randomly showed heart rending visuals of charred bodies and wounded being taken to the hospitals. My heart sank.

Being born and brought up in Guwahati, I have been one the unfortunate eye witnesses of such gruesome acts of terror in the past. The ear deafening sound of a bomb explosion and the bloodbath thereafter is something that I pray nobody hears or sees! My heart bled, every time I saw my city burn.

Among the 77 killed and the hundreds wounded in the recent blasts in Assam, we don’t know how many of them were rich and how many of them were the sole bread winners of their families. Above all, we don’t know how many of them were Hindus and how many of them were Muslims, Sikhs or Christians! All were innocent human beings, who had “nothing” to do with the word like jehad. But they lost their lives for no fault at all!

I am least interested to know as to which militant outfit takes the responsibility for this kind of inhuman act. As for me, all of them are equal, “enemies of humanity”, who are unforgivable.

But I feel deeply anguished by the way our political parties (ruling and opposition) react to such incidents. Whenever such ghastly incident occurs they get involved in allegations and counter-allegations.

The Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expresses shock and announces financial aid to the kin of the dead and the injured, while the Chief Minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi blatantly denies any “actionable” intelligence report on the serial blasts. The BJP blames the ruling government for its failure to curb terrorist acts, totally oblivious of the fact that the terror attacks on the Indian Parliament, the Akshardham temple, the Raghunath mandir and many others were carried out during the NDA regime.

All political parties make appeals to maintain calm and stay united to fight terrorism, when they themselves are fragmented to the core.

What are these political parties doing for us, besides calling “emergency” cabinet meetings to “discuss” security issues, when it’s actually time to “act”!

At this juncture, there are several questions that haunt my mind.

How long will the militant outfits succeed in their intentions? How long will the innocent people lose lives this way? When will the political parties “rise” above their sick mentality of just winning elections? When will they stop playing their favourite “blame game” and start taking responsibility for their failure to save innocent lives?

Sadly, these questions have no answers today. But the day we get the answers to these questions, I believe we will be in a position to fight against terrorism much strongly than ever.

And for our political leaders: Empty promises are tactics of the past. It’s time to wake up; it’s time to act!

Death for a rapist: The debate goes on…

On the 6th of January, 2009 I was in Noida’s very “happening” mall-The Great India Place. I was shopping all alone, oblivious of the fact that venturing all alone could be insecure for a girl like me.

The very next day I heard about the “Noida gang rape” case. A young MBA student was brutally raped by a gang of ten young men from a nearby village. Being a woman and a human being in the first place, the very first thought that flashed across my mind was that these “sexually hyper” men should be hanged till death. Rape is the most heinous crime against women, I believe and I am sure many of you share my opinion.

In times when different human rights organizations and NGOs across the world condemn death sentence, on “humanitarian” grounds, it might sound weird when I advocate death sentence. But I have my own reason for that! I believe that sparing a rapist from death sentence is weird. It’s like trying to save an “inhuman” creature on “humanitarian” grounds!

Few days back I heard Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chowdhury expressing her personal views about the unfortunate incident on a popular Hindi news channel. She said that a rapist should be awarded death sentence because for a rape victim, the crime carried out on her proves a “life sentence”.

I fully agree with her in this regard. My heart aches and my blood boils when I wonder how these nasty “sex starved” men ruin a woman’s life, giving her so much of physical and mental trauma. Death sentence to a rapist can prove to be a tough lesson for those who have committed this atrocious crime and for those who house wicked intentions against women in their hearts.

Our laws suggest seven years of rigorous imprisonment for a rapist. But in exceptional cases like the Hetal Parekh rape and murder case, the guilty was awarded capital punishment. I don’t understand the reason why death sentence is not given in all “proven” rape cases? As for example, in 1999, life term was given to the guilty of Anjana Mishra rape case.

Many suggest life imprisonment for a rapist, believing that after serving a life term that individual would feel remorseful of his sin and might lead the life of a good human being after release. True, I agree he might! But what if he doesn’t?

What I personally believe is that raping a woman is in a way equivalent to killing her. She stands robbed of her peace of mind. She undergoes tremendous physical and emotional trauma. Is the killing of a woman’s esteem so trivial, that the killer gets seven years of imprisonment or a life term at the most and then walks out free to lead a normal life?

Rape cases are on a rise. A latest data of the home ministry suggests that India stands third, leaving behind countries like Sri Lanka, Jordan and Argentina, when it comes to rape cases. The reason behind this  could be that the laws relating to sexual assault, including rape have not been changed since the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was framed in 1860 and are, therefore, archaic and weak. So the culprits are happy because they see a ray of hope in it. They know that laws are not stringent and they can walk free anytime.

Many women organizations are demanding change in such laws and the debate over the level of punishment for this heinous crime has been going on for years. But our law makers have not arrived at any conclusion as yet. After all it’s the election time when our law makers rise from sleep. And after that it’s a nap time again!

Terrorism: A poll issue?

With the announcement of Lok Sabha Poll dates, all political parties, particularly the two gargantuan political camps – the UPA and NDA- came forward with their respective poll issues. Among other issues, terrorism seems to rule the roost.

Be it an NDA regime or a UPA rule, Indians have seen the worst face of terrorism. Thousands of civilians and security personnel have lost their lives in this ‘war against terrorism’. It has always been a sensitive issue dealt rather “insensibly” by Indian political parties.

The blame game

Now when the general elections are close at hand, all parties are busy counting and highlighting each other’s failures. Since terrorism is the issue which tantalizes every Indian, they have chosen this as the most viable medium to touch every Indian’s mind.

Recently in “Vijay Sankalp Rally” held in Jhajjar, the BJP and the Indian National Lok Dal (of NDA camp) termed the UPA government as a ‘complete failure’ for not being able to curb terrorist activities in the country. It promised to come up with more stern laws to deal with terrorism once voted to power.

The Congress Party on the other hand is not in any way behind in this political blame game, characteristic of Indian politics.

The party went one step ahead to “communalise” terrorism. Congress leader Shakeel Ahmed said that Communal terrorism came to the country for the first time in the Mumbai blasts of 1993 following communalisation of politics. He reportedly doled out figures to show that human casualty due to terror attacks were more under NDA government than that during the Congress regime.

What a mockery of human tragedy!

Truth forgotten

In the process, both the camps tend to forget the bitter truth that terror strikes have been so common in both the regimes.

The December 24, 1999, hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight IC-814 to Kandhahar, the Parliament Attack on December 13, 2001, the Raghunath Temple suicide attack in 2002 and the Akshardham Temple attack in March and November 2002 were the major terrorist activities which happened during the NDA regime.

While during the UPA rule, Indians saw a trail of explosions. The Malegaon blast in 2006, firebomb blast in Samjhauta Express in 2007, Hyderabad blast in 2007 again, Bangalore, Jaipur, Delhi blast in 2008, Malegaon blast in 2008 and the scariest of all, the serial blasts of Guwahati and the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, which took hundreds of innocent lives.

But till date, it’s neither the UPA nor the NDA which has succeeded in punishing the guilty, during their respective regimes.

Unanswered questions
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Let alone punishing the perpetrators of such a crime, they are not in a position to answer some of the disturbing questions that remained unanswered for years.

As for example, in IC-814 hijack case, the entire blame was put on Taliban, ISI and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. But the NDA government failed to probe that without internal support, how did six heavily armed men board the ill fated aircraft? On 13 December 2001, five gunmen infiltrated the Parliament House in a car with Home Ministry and Parliament labels. How did they manage that?

On the other hand, the UPA government seems to be so confused. While the PM Manmohan Singh, after the Mumbai terror strike, calls Pakistan ‘a victim of terror’, the External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee is hell-bent on proving Pakistan a “terrorist country”. The government is not paying any heed to the fact that occurrence of 26/11 is a proof of the country’s “failed internal security”. When it could not address the internal security failure issue, the Home Minister Shivraj Patil resigned, owning moral responsibility for the Mumbai attacks!

Is that ‘all’ a responsible government can do for the nation?

If we look at the past, we shall see that both the NDA and the UPA have been equally responsible for not taking the issue of terrorism that seriously.

As for instance in 1999, the NDA govt succumbed to the demands of the hijackers of IC-814. The Govt released three dreaded terrorists – Maulana Masood Azhar, Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar and Omar Ahmed Saeed Sheikh and the Congress reportedly claims that the NDA govt also handed $120 million to the hijackers, instead of taking up a military action.

In a bid to save the lives of the hostages, the then govt of India let off dreaded terrorist like Maulana Masood Azhar scot-free, who later went on to form the Mujahedeen Jaish-e- Mohammad in Pakistan.

The terrorist behind the Parliament attack Afzal Guru, from past three years is on the death row marking time in Tihar Jail. Had he been hanged, it might have sent out the message that India was going to be tough on terror. But that didn’t happen. Is the UPA govt in a position to give reasons for this delay in justice?

Now time will decide the fate of Mohd Kasab, the sole terrorist alive, who carried out the Mumbai attack.

What the Indian politicians don’t realise is that “terrorism” is a serious threat to the country, that has to be dealt with utmost seriousness. They should stop politicizing this issue and work in consensus.

They should realise that terrorism is the common enemy of the country and sort out ways and means to deal with this threat strongly and unanimously; instead of making it a poll issue to garner votes.