Tuesday, May 24, 2005

what have you done for me lately

When Manmohan Singh came into office, nobody had very high expectations. The fact was, businessmen gave a sigh of relief that there was going to be a government and not a long struggle for coalition or chaos of protests against a foreign-born PM. They sighed in relief, too, to see Dr. Singh, a business-friendly face, instead of someone who might have been more interested in the backward-looking socialist programs the party had once touted. Over his first year in office, however, expectations for Dr. Singh have grown with each of his successes in warding off threats, until we are asking "what have we done for me lately" instead of marveling that the government is still standing and hasn't been derailed by its Leftist partners as it has knocked down barriers to foreign investment one after the other. But how well has Dr. Singh really done? What should our expectations be? Scott Baldauf takes up the argument in a recent piece in the Christian Science Monitor. Unfortunately, the piece lacks an educative comparison between Dr. Singh's reform accomplishments and those of his predecessor, Atal Behari Vajpayee.

Monday, May 16, 2005

tokyo cancelled by rana dasgupta

By Shailaja Neelakantan
(This snap judgment appeared in Newsweek International in May 2005).

A flight heading for Tokyo is canceled. Thirteen passengers are stranded in the airport, and to pass the time each tells a story in this book. These modern-day Canterbury tales are fantastical and, when they work, grippingly depict the outcomes of human frailties. But sometimes Dasgupta's efforts are too forced. Like the passengers, the stories are set all over the world, predictably showcasing today's global citizens. Still, there's enough sparkle in this debut to make readers eager to read Dasgupta's next work.

a peaceful adolescence

Check out the latest article from Newsweek to benefit from Jason's dogged legwork.

A Peaceful Adolescence
The teen years don't have to be a time of family storm and stress. Most kids do just fine, and now psychologists are finding out why that is.
By Barbara Kantrowitz and Karen Springen
Newsweek International

May 16 issue - At 16, Purva Chawla holds good rankings in schooland loves competing in drama and elocution contests. The New Delhi student is "head girl" of her school and plays for the table-tennis team. Recently she won a public-speaking contest organized by The Times of India, and the British Council selected her to travel to Britain with a group of young leaders to organize a sporting event for kids in Scotland. Even with all her extracurricular activities, she still makes it home for dinner with her parents and goes out to the movies with them twice a week. "I talk with them very freely about what's happening with my friends, boyfriends, whatever," she says.

Is the Chawla family for real? Didn't they get the memo that says teens and their parents are supposed to be at odds until... well, until forever? Actually, they're very much for real, and according to scientists who study the transition to adulthood, they represent the average family's experience more accurately than all those scary TV movies about out-of-control teens. "Research shows that most young people go through adolescence having good relationships with their parents, adopting attitudes and values consistent with their parents' and end up getting out of the adolescent period and becoming good citizens," says Richard Lerner, Bergstrom Chair of Applied Developmental Science at Tufts University. This shouldn't be news—but it is, largely because of widespread misunderstanding of what happens during the teen years. It's a time of transition, just like the first year of parenthood or menopause. Catastrophe is certainly not preordained. A lot depends on youngsters' innate natures, combined with the emotional and social support they get from the adults around them. In other words, parents do matter.

Scientists in the past 15 years have begun to re-examine the assumption that adolescence is all storm and stress. Leading the pack are Lerner and his colleagues, who are in the midst of a major study of exactly what it takes to turn out OK and what adults can do to nurture those behaviors. "Parents and sometimes kids themselves often talk about positive development as the absence of bad," says Lerner. "What we're trying to do is present a different vision and a different vocabulary for young people and parents."

The first conclusions from the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development, published in the February issue of The Journal of Early Adolescence, show that there are quantifiable personality traits possessed by all adolescents who manage to get to adulthood without major problems. Psychologists have labeled these traits "the five C's": competence, confidence, connection, character and caring. These characteristics theoretically lead to a sixth C, contribution (similar to civic engagement).

The five C's are interconnected, not isolated traits, Lerner says. For example, competence refers not just to academic ability but also to social and vocational skills. Confidence includes self-esteem as well as the belief that you can make a difference in the world. The value of the study, Lerner says, is that when it is completed next year, researchers will have a way to quantify these characteristics and eventually to determine what specific social and educational programs foster them.

In the meantime, parents can learn a lot from this rethinking of the teen years. Don't automatically assume that your kids become alien beings when they leave middle school. They still care what their parents think, and they still need love and guidance—although in a different form. Temple University psychology professor Laurence Steinberg, author of "The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting," compares raising kids to building a boat. Parents have to construct a strong underpinning so their kids are equipped to face whatever's ahead. In the teen years, that means staying involved as you slowly let go. "One of the things that's natural in adolescence is that kids are going to pull away from their parents as they become increasingly interested in peers," says Steinberg. "It's important for parents to hang in there, for them not to pull back in response to that."

Communication is critical. "Stay in touch with your kids and make sure they feel valued and appreciated," advises Suniya Luthar, professor of clinical and developmental psychology at Columbia University. Even if they roll their eyes when you try to hug them, they still need direct displays of affection, she says. They also need help figuring out goals and limits. Parents should monitor their kids' activities and get to know their friends. Luthar says parents should still be disciplinarians and set standards such as curfews.

Adolescents are often critical of their parents, but they're also watching them closely for clues on how to function in the outside world. Daniel Perkins, associate professor of family and youth resiliency at Penn State, says he and his wife take their twins to the local Ronald McDonald House and serve dinner to say thank you for time the family spent there when the children had health problems after birth. "What we've done already is set up the notion that we were blessed and need to give back, even if it's in a small way."

Parents should provide opportunities for kids to explore the world and even find a calling. Teens who have a passion for something are more likely to thrive. "They have a sense of purpose beyond day-to-day teenage life," says David Marcus, author of "What It Takes to Pull Me Through." Often, he says, kids who were enthusiastic about something in middle school lose enthusiasm in high school because the competition gets tougher and they're not as confident.

At some point during these years, teenagers should also be learning to build their own support networks—a skill that will be even more important when they're on their own. Kids who don't make those kinds of connections are more likely to get in trouble because there's no one their own age or older to stop them from going too far. Like any other stage of life, adolescence can be tough. But teens and families can get through it—as long as they stick together.

With Julie Scelfo and Jason Overdorf

© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.

Monday, May 09, 2005

nepal cracks down on pro-democracy student groups

Check out Shai's latest contribution to the Chronicle of Higher Ed.

Activists press on despite campus arrests, strikes, and 2 deaths

By Shailaja Neelakantan/KATHMANDU

(This article appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education in May 2005).

Gagan Kumar Thapa, a graduate student at Nepal's Tribhuvan University, chats and laughs with a friend as he waits to discuss the government crackdown that has him on the run.

Clad in sweat pants and a T-shirt, the chubby, soft-spoken sociology student does not seem like a rabble-rouser or a revolutionary in the style of Nepal's Maoist rebels, whose violent, nine-year insurgency is aimed at replacing the monarchy with a communist regime. Mr. Thapa, an outspoken leader of the Nepal Students Union, is a different brand of rebel. He is a pro-democracy activist who strongly opposes the Maoists. But like a growing number of university students, he also strongly opposes the monarchy, and his strident calls to make the Himalayan kingdom a republic have made him a prime target for King Gyanendra and the army he controls.

Mr. Thapa was forced into hiding on February 1, when the king, a constitutional monarch, sacked Nepal's democratic government, assumed power, and declared a state of emergency, which was withdrawn late last month. The king said the elected parliament and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba were incompetent and that without absolute control over the country, he would not be able to defeat the Maoists. Several political activists were then put under house arrest.

Mr. Thapa blames royalty for earlier failures to challenge the Maoist rebels, who say they are fighting on behalf of Nepal's poor. Since 1996 more than 10,000 people have died in the insurgency waged by the rebels' Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and its now-banned student wing. The Maoists' tactics have included killings, torture, abductions, strikes, roadblocks, and the conscription of child soldiers, according to human-rights groups.

"Nepal's youth have to fight the war on two different fronts, the monarch and the Maoists," Mr. Thapa says.

Students United

Most student associations in Nepal, except the banned Maoist group, have come to share that view. In March seven student unions affiliated with different political parties formed an alliance that has staged protests, distributed pamphlets, and burned effigies of the king. They have also demanded the withdrawal of security personnel from campuses.

The king has taken notice. Since the dismissal of the democratic government, the Royal Nepal Army has arrested thousands of human-rights and pro-democracy activists, many of them students and faculty members. It has also deployed soldiers, some in uniform and some in plainclothes, in most public places and on all university campuses. On February 1, the army, without warning, fired from helicopters on student protesters at Prithvi Narayan College, in Pokhara, about 125 miles northwest of the capital. Two students were killed and some 20 were injured.

Here in the capital, signs of the coup are not immediately evident except for an increased presence of armed police and army personnel. But in the bustling market streets filled with tourists and local people, there is a genuine fear of the security forces. People hush up when police officers pass by.

The king's actions have resulted in disruptions and tensions at Nepal's universities, which had already been crippled by frequent strikes staged by the Maoists and other student groups. Last year alone, Tribhuvan lost almost half of its 150-day academic calendar due to strikes and shutdowns.

At the Institute of Agricultural and Animal Sciences, in Chitwan, in east Nepal, "we lost close to two months of study in 2004," says Bikash Pandel, 24, now a graduate student at Tribhuvan. "They didn't finish teaching us the courses, and we were unprepared when the exams were finally held," he said. "The strikes called by the Maoists scared away the teachers and the students, and now we have all these students being arrested."

Guns on the Campus

Every couple of days since February 1, soldiers have entered university dormitories in the dead of night and arrested dozens of students, according to student groups.

Mr. Thapa managed to avoid being arrested immediately after February 1 because he was not at his home when the army came looking for him. A recent meeting with Mr. Thapa had to be arranged through a local journalist, who changed the location twice in an hour before the meeting. "He cannot be too careful," the journalist says.

The journalist's fears are valid. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have warned that Nepal has had an alarmingly high number of extrajudicial "disappearances" in recent years. Government security forces fighting the Maoists are alleged to be behind many of those, and local and international human-rights groups say abuses by security forces have intensified since February 1.

Government officials, appointed by the king after he sacked those appointed by the prime minister, refused to comment for this article, but have publicly defended the king's actions. In March Nepal's minister of foreign affairs told the United Nations Commission on Human Rights that King Gyanendra's coup was a drastic attempt to save democracy and human rights in Nepal, and he urged the international community to support the king's actions. The king, under increasing pressure from foreign nations and human-rights groups, has since agreed to allow the U.N. high commissioner for human rights to monitor the situation in Nepal . Many students remain gravely concerned.

"They came one night about a month ago and arrested several people, including me," says Chhabi Barat, a graduate student in geography at Tribhuvan. He was released in early April after being detained for 25 days, and only after he agreed to sign a document stating that he supported the king, he says.

Rupesh Khatiwada, secretary of the student union at Tribhuvan's campus in Kirtipur, outside the capital, believes he, too, will be arrested soon. A master's-degree candidate in politics, he points to the gun-wielding soldiers posted on the campus one recent afternoon. They did not stop him and 20 other college students from burning an effigy of the king later that day, as students chanted: "Shame on the royal proclamation, shame on the king, long live democracy."

Like Mr. Thapa, those students also feel stuck in the middle. "We don't want the Maoists with their guns, and we don't want the king with his guns," says Mr. Khatiwada.

"The minute the Maoists stop their violence, we will support them," Mr. Barat says "We understand their concern for the poor."

Faculty Arrests

Another student, 24-year-old Narayan Kharel, a vocal member of the Nepal Students Union, adds that the alliance of the seven students' unions is the best thing to happen in Nepal. He says he supports Mr. Barat and Mr. Khatiwada, even though they belong to another party.

"We are stronger together, and we will fight this together," he says.

Unlike their senior party leaders, who during the pro-democracy movement of the 1980s continued to back a constitutional monarchy, the student activists see royalty as a stumbling block to Nepal's progress. (King Birendra, brother of the current king, acceded to the demands of the pro-democracy movement in 1990. Gyanendra was crowned king in 2001, after Crown Prince Dipendra shot and killed his father, eight other members of the royal family, and himself.)

"There is a generational divide," Mr. Thapa says. "In 1990 the leaders campaigning for democracy felt it was OK to have a constitutional monarchy. For them, the king is still a symbol. But we young people don't believe in such things."

Since the royal takeover, even faculty members who vocally denounced the Maoists in the past for calling strikes and disrupting education are participating in protest marches and demonstrations, as their colleagues are also being arrested.
One day in early April, police and army officials posted outside Padma Kanya College here refuse to allow members of the Nepal University Teachers Association -- who have called a meeting to discuss the arrest of several academics -- to enter the campus. "They are refusing to let us in to hold a meeting, which is our basic right," Bhupati Dhakal, president of the association, told journalists who gathered outside the gates of the college. "How long will this go on? For how long can we be stopped like this at gunpoint? One day they will have to give up." Mr. Dhakal would be arrested two days later.

Undaunted, the association has released a statement condemning his arrest and those of several other faculty members. The statement accuses the king of complicating the political situation instead of trying to resolve it. "Such a condemnable act of the state, amid commitment to respect academic freedoms, has agitated the entire academic field," it states.

In and Out of Hiding

Although King Gyanendra withdrew the state of emergency on April 30, he has held on to major powers; has not released hundreds of detained political activists, including students and faculty members; and has continued to maintain press censorship and bans on political parties and public demonstrations.
The king has also extended the term of the Royal Commission for Corruption Control, a body he set up after removing the government. The commission has sweeping powers to arrest politicians and bureaucrats.

A day before the state of emergency was lifted, security forces fired on student protesters gathered in a college compound in western Nepal, seriously injuring four of them.

Mr. Thapa, the student leader on the run, appeared sporadically in the weeks after his meeting with this reporter, delivering fiery speeches against the king in different parts of the city before going back into hiding.

But his luck ran out on April 26. Police officers surrounded the house where he was staying, and Mr. Thapa, along with two colleagues, was arrested and taken into custody.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

whisky ka peg, chicken ka leg, aur?

Finally. Herbal Science, a Bangalore-based company, has released an anti-hangover pill, reports the Economic Times. Some 100 people were involved in clinical trials to prove it works. Two questions: (1) How come they never find ME when they're testing this stuff and doling out the free drinks? These guys must use the same market research firm as the up-market whisky companies, because I am clearly not on either list. (2) How painful must it have been to be in the control group? Drinking your face off with nothing but a placebo to protect you from the crashing hangover? I don't think so.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

india making strides against rape?

Absurdity of absurdities: A man accused of raping and gouging out one of the eyes of a hospital co-worker today asked the court to consider a lighter sentence because he was prepared to marry the victim. The woman was not moved. "He should be hanged as an example," was her response. But the fact that the judge allowed the motion has caused some soul-searching in the legal community, according to this article in the Indian Express.

My question is: Is India making strides against violence against women? Do the climbing statistics on reported rapes indicate that women are more prepared to register complaints--presumably because they entertain some hope of successful prosecution--or that the police have become more sensitive and efficient in undertaking these kinds of cases?

India is in the throes of a sexual revolution, no doubt. But certainly women have a long fight ahead of them if judges have little more understanding of rape than the Shiv Sena, which recently reiterated its ever-popular "she was asking for it" line in response to a daylight rape in Mumbai.