The Delta Flight 15 Story – Nazim

Delta Plane, Frankfurt

Gander International Airport

Gander International Airport on 9 September 2001

Planes parked at Gander Airport 9 Sept 2001

Delta planes parked at Gander

On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001 we were about 5 hours out of Frankfurt, flying over the North Atlantic. 

All of a sudden the curtains parted and I was told to go to the cockpit, immediately, to see the captain. As soon as I got there I noticed that the crew had that “All Business” look on their faces. The captain handed me a printed message. It was from Delta’s main office in Atlanta and simply read, “All airways over the Continental United States are closed to commercial air traffic. Land ASAP at the nearest airport. Advise your destination.” No one said a word about what this could mean. We knew it was a serious situation and we needed to find terra firma quickly. The captain determined that the nearest airport was 400 miles behind us in Gander, New Foundland. He requested approval for a route change from the Canadian traffic controller and approval was granted immediately—no questions asked. We found out later, of course, why there was no hesitation in approving our request. While the flight crew prepared the airplane for landing, another message arrived from Atlanta telling us about some terrorist activity in the New York area. A few minutes later word came in about the hijackings. We decided to LIE to the passengers while we were still in the air. We told them the plane had a simple instrument problem and that we needed to land at the nearest airport in Gander, Newfoundland, to have it checked out. We promised to give more information after landing in Gander. There was much grumbling among the passengers, but that’s nothing new! Forty minutes later, we landed in Gander. Local time at Gander was 12:30 PM, that’s 11:00 AM EST.There were already about 20 other airplanes on the ground from all over the world that had taken this detour on their way to the US.

After we parked on the ramp, the captain made the following announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, you must be wondering if all these airplanes around us have the same instrument problem as we have. The reality is that we are here for another reason.”

Then he went on to explain the little bit we knew about the situation in the US. There were loud gasps and stares of disbelief. The captain informed passengers that ground control in Gander told us to stay put. The Canadian Government was in charge of our situation and no one was allowed to get off the aircraft. No one on the ground was allowed to come near any of the air crafts. Only airport police would come around periodically, look us over and go on to the next airplane.

In the next hour or so more planes landed and Gander ended up with [38] airplanes from all over the world, 27 of which were US commercial jets. Meanwhile, bits of news started to come in over the aircraft radio and for the first time we learned that airplanes were flown into the World Trade Center in New York and into the Pentagon in DC.

People were trying to use their cell phones, but were unable to connect due to a different cell system in Canada. Some did get through, but were only able to get to the Canadian operator who would tell them that the lines to the U.S. were either blocked or jammed. Sometime in the evening the news filtered to us that the World Trade Center buildings had collapsed and that a fourth hijacking had resulted in a crash. By now the passengers were emotionally and physically exhausted, not to mention frightened, but everyone stayed amazingly calm.

We had only to look out the window at the [38] other stranded aircraft to realize that we were not the only ones in this predicament. We had been told earlier that they would be allowing people off the planes one plane at a time. At 6 PM, Gander airport told us that our turn to deplane would be 11 AM the next morning. Passengers were not happy, but they simply resigned themselves to this news without much noise and started to prepare themselves to spend the night on the airplane.

Gander had promised us medical attention, if needed, water, and lavatory servicing. And they were true to their word.

Fortunately we had no medical situations to worry about. We did have a young lady who was 33 weeks into her pregnancy. We took REALLY good care of her. The night passed without incident despite the uncomfortable sleeping arrangements. About 10:30 on the morning of the 12th a convoy of school buses showed up. We got off the plane and were taken to the terminal where we went through Immigration and Customs and then had to register with the Red Cross.

After that we—the crew—were separated from the passengers and were taken in vans to a small hotel. We had no idea where our passengers were going. We learned from the Red Cross that the town of Gander has a population of 10,400 people and they had about 10,500 passengers to take care of from all the airplanes that were forced into Gander!

We were told to just relax at the hotel and we would be contacted when the US airports opened again, but not to expect that call for a while.We found out the total scope of the terror back home only after getting to our hotel and turning on the TV, 24 hours after it all started. Meanwhile, we had lots of time on our hands and found that the people of Gander were extremely friendly. They started calling us the “plane people.” We enjoyed their hospitality, explored the town of Gander and ended up having a pretty good time.

Two days later, we got that call and were taken back to the Gander airport. Back on the plane, we were reunited with the passengers and found out what they had been doing for the past two days.

What we found out was incredible…

Gander and all the surrounding communities (within about a 75 kilometer radius) had closed all high schools, meeting halls, lodges, and any other large gathering places. They converted all these facilities to mass lodging areas for all the stranded travelers. Some had cots set up, some had mats with sleeping bags and pillows set up.

All the high school students were required to volunteer their time to take care of the “guests.” Our 218 passengers ended up in a town called Lewisporte, about 45 kilometers from Gander where they were put up in a high school. If any women wanted to be in a women-only facility, that was arranged.

Families were kept together. All the elderly passengers were taken to private homes. Remember that young pregnant lady? She was put up in a private home right across the street from a 24-hour urgent care facility. There was a dentist on call and both male and female nurses remained with the crowd for the duration.

Phone calls and e-mails to the U.S. and around the world were available to everyone once a day. During the day, passengers were offered “excursion” trips. Some people went on boat cruises of the lakes and harbours. Some went for hikes in the local forests.

Local bakeries stayed open to make fresh bread for the guests. Food was prepared by all the residents and brought to the schools. People were driven to restaurants of their choice and offered wonderful meals. Everyone was given tokens for local laundromats to wash their clothes, since luggage was still on the aircraft.

In other words, every single need was met for those stranded travelers. Passengers were crying while telling us these stories. Finally, when they were told that U.S. airports had reopened, they were delivered to the airport right on time and without a single passenger missing or late. The local Red Cross had all the information about the whereabouts of each and every passenger and knew which plane they needed to be on and when all the planes were leaving. They coordinated everything beautifully.

It was absolutely incredible.

When passengers came on board, it was like they had been on a cruise. Everyone knew each other by name. They were swapping stories of their stay, impressing each other with who had the better time. Our flight back to Atlanta looked like a chartered party flight. The crew just stayed out of their way. It was mind-boggling.

Passengers had totally bonded and were calling each other by their first names, exchanging phone numbers, addresses, and email addresses.

And then a very unusual thing happened.

One of our passengers approached me and asked if he could make an announcement over the PA system. We never, ever allow that. But this time was different. I said “of course” and handed him the mike. He picked up the PA and reminded everyone about what they had just gone through in the last few days. He reminded them of the hospitality they had received at the hands of total strangers. He continued by saying that he would like to do something in return for the good folks of Lewisporte.

“He said he was going to set up a trust fund under the name of DELTA 15 (our flight number). The purpose of the trust fund is to provide college scholarships for the high school students of Lewisporte. He asked for donations of any amount from his fellow travelers. When the paper with donations got back to us with the amounts, names, phone numbers and addresses, the total was for more than $14,000!

“The gentleman, a MD from Virginia , promised to match the donations and to start the administrative work on the scholarship. He also said that he would forward this proposal to Delta Corporation and ask them to donate as well. As I write this account, the trust fund is at more than $1.5 million and has assisted 134 students in college education.

“I just wanted to share this story because we need good stories right now. It gives me a little bit of hope to know that some people in a faraway place were kind to some strangers who literally dropped in on them.

“It reminds me how much good there is in the world.”

In spite of all the rotten things we see going on in today’s world this story confirms that there are still a lot of good people in the world and when things get bad, they will come forward.

This is one of those stories that need to be shared. — Reposted from Floodout Your View, 17 February 2015

» The author of this article is a Delta Airlines flight crew member identified as Nazim (by Scopes) who attended passengers on Flight 15 from Frankfurt to Atlanta on September 11, 2001.

Gander, Newfoundland

Dormitory at Gander, Newfoundland

Sleeping arrangements at Gander, Newfoundland, on 9 September 2001

Delta Flight 15 Gander Airport

Delta 15 at Gander Airport

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The global meat industry and its consequences – Radha Rajan

Feeding a cow at the front gate.

Radha Rajan is the editor of Vigil Online“Because the Indian civilization considered the act of eating and feeding a sacred religious act, and because food is intrinsically sacred, what we eat and what we feed others is in the nature of an immense responsibility. Eating the right food is an essential part of a good upbringing and an important aspect of our culture.” – Radha Rajan

Devendra FadnavisThe Maharashtra government has implemented a beef ban and also banned slaughter of cows and the male progeny of the cow; this law which was in force in Karnataka during BJP rule has since been rolled back by the Congress. India is in the grip of swine flu and it does not seem as if we have the virus under control and we are miles away from eliminating it. Monkey flu, avian flu, swine flu the animal world is hitting back at humans and hitting back hard. Maybe the time has come to take a good hard look at what the meat industry is doing to the country. So long as meat-eating was confined to certain days of the year among a small section of people, the country never heard of avian, swine or monkey flu. But meat production in India has become a vast industry and meat-eating has become a fad, and like speaking English, a status symbol. And meat eaters want to eat the meat of birds and animals not native to the country and not native to the locality in which they live. A global phenomenon causes global pandemics; a national phenomenon causes a national pandemic. The increase in meat production, meat consumption and its industry status has given the country the dubious distinction of being a two-day ahimsa country.

The avian flu, SARS and earlier the mad cow disease have all been caused by the human fad for eating animal corpses and carcasses. This is the basic truth, not expressed, not acknowledged, but the only truth that can lead the world back to sanity. All three diseases assumed trans-continental pandemic proportions because this fast-growing, corpse-eating fad is encouraged by a profiteering international trade and industry in the raising, slaughtering and eating of animals and birds. If vultures, crows and other animals and birds are nature’s scavengers who restore balance and hygiene in nature, then the human scavengers who eat animal corpses are consensual partners in this meat-making industry. The meat-eating populace however, unlike nature’s scavengers, participate knowingly in despoiling the environment causing serious imbalances in nature. These persons are also criminally guilty of either actively violating some of nature’s most basic laws of life or condoning it.

The Indian visual media subjected its viewers to the comic spectacle of film personalities in Mumbai and Chennai advocating the eating of chicken without fear of avian flu. Celebrity endorsement for eating the flesh of dead birds? “Too many lives are dependent on this business”, said one famous Hindi film personality. “We have to do our bit to see that their business is not affected by the bird flu scare”. Fair enough. But have these film artists studied the issue in any detail or depth before endorsing this fad? And more to the point, I did not see any of them taking up the cause of the small farmer or the small manufacturer when the WTO disrupted their lives and rendered them jobless and struggling to survive. So why endorse the eating of chicken and why take up the cause of the chicken industry? It may of course have nothing to do with the fact that all American food-peddlers in India like Macdonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut, and their Indian imitators here depend solely on chicken and other meat for their business or that there is big money involved here.

Bollywood beefs about no beefAnd this is Bollywood on the Maharashtra beef ban:

Bollywood actors Farhan Akhtar, Ayushmann Khurrana, Arjun Kapoor, Raveena Tandon, Radhika Apte, Nimrat Kaur, Uday Chopra and Vir Das were some of the celebrities who opposed and mocked the ban on beef with sarcastic and witty tweets punning on the word ‘beef’.

Farhan Akhtar: “So now in Maharashtra you can have a beef with someone, but you can’t have beef with someone.”

Ayushmann Khurrana: “Beef faal baad! #kaminey”

“Gau maata. Humein kuch nahi aata! #beefban”

Raveena Tandon: “My only take on beef issue that it should not be enforced, it should be optional…. To eat or not to eat, is a personal choice (sic).”

Uday Chopra: “Beef gets banned … on the plus side, less red meat in our diet is a good thing … on the not so plus side … another step towards a theocratic state.”

Vishal Dadlani: “It’d be amazing, if M’tra govt. showed the same urgency in tending to real problems such as water & power, as they have for the #BeefBan”

Nimrat Kaur: “No beef. Now no jokes on this please.”

Anubhav Sinha: “”Re Meat na mila re mann ka” Song from Abhiman in a different light today. #BeefBan”

Vir Das: “I’ve got a beef with this whole no beef thing.”

“Dear Maharashtra Govt, such favouritism! You just lost the entire chicken and goat vote bank.”

Aarti Chabria: “#BeefBan ? Well i dont eat beef anyway…. But seriously.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) is known better, highly incorrectly, by its more colloquial name ‘mad cow disease’. Only there was nothing mad about the cow although there is little doubt about the insanity of humans who caused it to happen in the first place. BSE is a degenerative neurological disease (DND) which afflicts cows and calves. DND affects deer and elk, sheep and humans too; only it goes by different names in different species. In deer and elk it is called Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), in sheep it is called Scrapie and humans suffer from at least three DND that I personally know of. Probably there are more – Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease or CJD. Humans who had eaten beef from a BSE afflicted cow have been killed or are terminally ill with a variant form of CJD, vCJD. What is important to know is that while Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s may occur ‘naturally’ in humans, BSE or VCJD do not occur spontaneously or naturally in cows and humans. They can only be induced by the eating of contaminated meat. Cows and cattle were created to be herbivorous. Which means in sane societies, cows would be sent to graze grass, would be fed grains, hay, leaves and fodder. Among humans, in sane civilizations, pregnant women who would soon be nursing their new-born infants, are placed under strict dietary regulations and even in western societies doctors advise a no-smoking, no-alcohol way of life in pregnant women so that the milk upon which the new-born would be given life and sustenance is safe and contains the appropriate nutrients. Ditto with cows and buffaloes whose milk is consumed by calves and humans. It makes sense therefore to feed cows whose milk is diverted to grocery stores for human consumption, the kind of food that is in keeping with its nature.

Annapurna Devi giving alms to ShivaBecause the Indian civilization considered the act of eating and feeding a sacred religious act, and because food is intrinsically sacred, what we eat and what we feed others is in the nature of an immense responsibility. Eating the right food is an essential part of a good upbringing and an important aspect of our culture. The first law of nature that was broken in this continuing nightmare of pandemics was that the cows, whom nature ordained to be herbivorous, were fed meat in the UK, where the BSE first manifested itself. The entire industry of raising, slaughtering, eating and exporting animals and their meat runs to more than a hundred billion dollars in the US alone. The retail equivalent value of the US beef industry in the US for the year 2003 is an estimated 70 billion dollars while the value of the cattle and calf production is valued at 27 billion dollars. The value of the export of US beef in 2003 is an estimated 3.3 billion dollars with Japan, Mexico, South Korea and Canada being the biggest importers of US beef. So, the business of raising, slaughtering, consuming and exporting is worth a cool 100 billion dollars or more; this is big business, big money. The global figures of this corpse-eating industry must be mind-boggling.

When BSE broke out in Britain in 1987, there was no knowledge or awareness of what caused BSE, and what would be the impact of BSE on humans. British cattle owners feed their cows what is called meat and bone meal (MBM) from sheep. The idea behind feeding cows and calves meat and bones instead of the normal vegetarian greens and grains is to increase the body weight of the animals so as to yield more mass of beef upon slaughter. This is called commercial carcass weight of a cow or a calf. In India while we still have not started to feed our cows and cattle MBM with an eye on the benefits of slaughter, (and if they are, then it is not publicly known) we do something equally perverse and demoniac to chickens. Some poultry farmers do not let the chicken sleep by day or night. Bright lights shine down on the sheds to keep the chicken and chicks awake so that they peck grains all the time. This unhealthy eating spree increases their body weight in an unnaturally short period of time. Many chicks die of heart failure. This terrible and ugly truth is never told and those who thoughtlessly eat chicken as a fad or as an unhealthy dietary habit do not care to know, or simply do not care.

Similarly, the ugly truth about feeding cows and calves meat and bones would never have come out in the open if it were not for the outbreak of BSE. The meat and bones of even sheep afflicted by scrapie were converted to MBM for cows and calves. BSE in Britain, where it first manifested itself and assumed pandemic proportions, must have been caused by one of the two reasons: either that there were no cases of scrapie in the sheep in Britain until the 1980s or that British farmers did not start the demoniac practice of feeding their cows MBM until the 1980s. In the case of the former, we still do not know if scrapie occurs naturally in sheep or if it happened in so wide-spread a manner in the 1980s because some other laws of nature were violated or broken. If it is the latter, then the farmers who knew that their sheep could be afflicted by scrapie, nevertheless did not know of the terrible consequences of feeding cows MBM from scrapie-afflicted sheep. So there is no way that they could have known about the consequences of humans consuming the beef from BSE cows which became BSE cows only because they were fed MBM from diseased sheep. Humans consuming contaminated beef were in turn afflicted by VCJD. The demoniac food-chain started by humans, as a consequence of the process of natural justice, came back to culminate in humans themselves.

Villager and calf share milk in RajastanThe madness doesn’t end here. In the US where cows and calves are raised just for beef and veal, there is no sanctity in keeping the calf with the mother. In Hindu temples, the temple opens for devotees only after the morning ritual of cow and calf worship and only after the cow and calf duo have sanctified the sanctum sanctorum with their presence. I can live with the fact that outside of India, there is no sanctity attached to cow, much less to the cow and calf. But it is difficult to understand how a culture which associates the theme of Pieta with immense sorrow, can separate the calf from the mother and deny it the life-giving milk from the mother cow. No fewer than 200,000 cows were slaughtered in the UK alone between 1986-88 when nearly one thousand cows were being reported sick with BSE every week; and over five million cows altogether were slaughtered around the rest of the world to contain the spread of BSE. This blood bath was so unnecessary considering that BSE is not contagious. Because BSE is not a communicable disease, it neither spreads from cow to cow nor does it spread from cows to humans. Just as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are not communicable neurological diseases. It afflicts cows and calves only when they are fed infected MBM and they affect humans only when they eat beef from a BSE cow. The milk from a BSE cow is safe and so are the milk products made of milk from BSE cows. But the Americans did not feed their calves with milk. The infant calves were separated from their mothers and fed blood! Infants were fed blood because these infants were intended for slaughter too and because all milk was diverted to the grocery stores and because you had to provide the calf with good nutrients to make for good beef, the Americans fed their calves with blood because blood is rich in protein. If blood were indeed superior to milk as life-giving food for new-born infants, western societies should ask themselves why are they now propagating breast-feeding through the UN and the WHO instead of feeding their human infants blood from their mothers or better still, cow blood or any other blood purchased from off the shelves in supermarkets.

The next pandemic to shake the world was SARS. Nothing can better explain the fact that scientists are still bewildered and without a clue about the origins and the exact nature of the disease than that the description of the disease is its name: severe acute respiratory syndrome. Severe and acute mean the same thing and yet, far from being tautological or redundant, we have retained both severe and acute in the name because these were its most distinctive characteristics. A very severe respiratory disorder. On the surface, no different from pneumonia or influenza with acute cold, high fever, headache and rigor and yet this respiratory disorder, unlike pneumonia, was communicable, was spreading across China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore and other countries of Eastern Asia, and to Europe and North America. SARS, (until the description became the name and which when it first broke out was referred to for some time as atypical pneumonia), was also a killer. The most severely affected countries were China, Hong-Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam and Singapore – peoples with very similar eating habits, it may be added. Of the 8422 cases in all that were reported in 29 countries, the maximum number of fatalities, 908 deaths, occurred in these countries alone. Eight other deaths occurred in the rest of the world.

SARS is a new strain of coronavirus and a coronavirus is different from the general virus because of its ‘unique’ shape. Frantic research in 11 laboratories across the world in the first three months of the year 2003, when the SARS pandemic was at its peak and generating wide-spread panic, established also that this new strain had its origins in some animal. But until January of 2004, scientists around the world refused to tell us how this coronavirus ‘jumped’ from animal to humans. SARS re-surfaced in China again in 2004 and one person, a man, affected by the disease, confessed to have eaten the meat of a civet cat. The civet cat is a wild cat and so is a raccoon dog both of which are hosts for this virus and both of which are eaten by the Chinese people. People of the East and South-East Asian regions are reputed to eat anything that crawls, walks or flies except maybe the rat and the cockroach. The SARS virus or a strain of this virus closely resembling it, is supposed to affect wild animals and wild birds and SARS is reported to have been caused because of the Chinese fad for eating the meat of wild animals and birds which were captured, bred and marketed for slaughter. Unlike the avian flu, the SARS virus did not jump from animals to humans because of proximity. The virus closely resembling the SARS virus which affects wild animals entered the genes of humans consuming the meat of animals and birds affected by this virus. Inside the human gene, this virus probably came into contact with another virus affecting humans, mutated and assumed new qualities which made it more virulent, communicable by nature and a killer. Thus this animal virus which by nature did not jump from animals to humans, acquired this quality of ‘jumping’ upon mutation and became a communicable pandemic. It became SARS. Even now, the WHO website does not say categorically that SARS which first occurred in the Guangdong province in South China was a new disease created because humans ate the meat of animals and birds already affected by a virus which when it entered the human gene, mutated to become the SARS coronavirus. The first reported chain of transmission from human to human began on the 16th November, 2002. This truth of the meat-eating origins of SARS is not explicitly or unambiguously stated. It is for us to delve into the depths of innumerable disease status reports, put two and two together to arrive at this startling truth.

McDonald'sVery little is said either about the role of globalization in the origins and the spread of these new pandemics or about the senseless violation of nature’s laws. Before the advent of railways, eating habits were decided by what was available locally – only those grains, vegetables, fruits, oils, spices and nuts were eaten which were cultivated and transported locally or from nearby villages and towns. Even meat-eaters did not transport animals and birds from any long distance. They ate the meat of those animals and birds which were to be found or were raised locally, or even in their own homes. Meat-eating was not a daily event; it was consumed perhaps once or twice a week and on special occasions. This is in sharp contrast to meat-eating as a fad today, as a daily obsession, as an industry. Cows and cattle are now imported and exported across national borders, across seas, across continents. The physiology and the metabolism of cows and cattle, like humans, are defined by the environment into which they are born and this in turn influences the kind of food that they eat. Which is why an Indian looks different from a Chinese who is different from a European who is different from an African. We not only look different, our bodies are different, our internal systems are specific to our environment. We dress differently, eat differently. The common ailments and illnesses to which we are susceptible, and some of the more virulent and communicable diseases are also governed by the environment, our physiology, metabolism and our eating habits. Ditto with cows, buffaloes and cattle. Within India alone, we will find different sub-species of cows, bulls and buffaloes, goats and sheep, in different parts of the country, in different regions of the same state.

When animals for the meat industry are transported live across continents, the dangers of area specific diseases and species and pedigree-specific diseases becoming global are that much greater. Not content with eating the meat of their own animals corpse-eaters around the world today desire to eat the corpses of animals and birds from other countries. We thus have Canada importing cows from Japan, Japan importing beef from the US and Asian countries like Malaysia importing meat from Europe. Even India tried her hand at importing ostriches from Australia to start ostrich farming in Tamil Nadu, a move that drew sharp protests from local animal rights activists. Compound this with different climatic conditions, different environments and different feeding patterns and habits of these animals in their home countries and we have several major volatile and variable factors that could trigger new diseases affecting local animals and peoples who may not possess immunity from these diseases. BSE, SARS and now the avian flu have proved this beyond doubts and arguments. Cows and cattle, unlike migratory animals and birds, are not meant to cross oceans and travel great distances. This is yet another fundamental law of nature that the meat industry has failed to respect. Not just live cattle and birds but beef and meat too are imported and exported and as a package deal comes the diseases along with the meat. And when there is a global panic, the affected countries begin to do what they ought to have done in the first place – stop all movement of live animals and birds intended for slaughter across national borders and freeze import and export of meat. Trans-continental pandemics have been caused also by the jet-hopping tourist, corporate executive, industrialist and businessman travelling from one country to another. These agents of globalised economy are the most common vectors of all communicable diseases. This too has been proved beyond doubt by the SARS pandemic.

Anti-KFC demonstration in BangaloreClose on the heels of the SARS scare, came the avian flu contagion. Avian influenza is an infectious disease of birds caused by type A strains of the influenza virus. The disease, which was first identified in Italy more than 100 years ago, occurs worldwide. Influenza viruses belonging to the Type A category have several subtypes. These subtypes are broadly categorised into the HA and the NA varieties depending on the nature of the surface proteins of these viruses. Only five subtypes in the Influenza Type A category affects humans – three belonging to the HA variety and two belonging to the NA variety. But birds are known to be affected by viruses of all subtypes and this is the core of the issue. While influenza viruses affecting wild birds have little impact upon them, the same viruses assume virulence and prove fatal to domestic birds like chicken, ducks and turkeys. And they assume pandemic proportions when they affect birds bred in captivity and in confined spaces and can then spread rapidly from farm to farm becoming more and more virulent. When new influenza viruses emerge among humans, they are usually killers because humans have developed neither the immunity nor the vaccines to resist them. And once the virus emerges and spreads, it establishes itself and cannot be rid for several years, sometimes even for a century.

The current avian flu virus of the H5N1 strain first emerged in South Korea in December 2003. By January the flu had spread to Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, China and Pakistan. The flu had also emerged in distant Delaware in the US where some 12,000 birds have been slaughtered to contain the pandemic and even in the Netherlands around the same time. It is obvious there is a link somewhere and the link can only be import and export of poultry, poultry feed or the import and export of bird meat. There is a global panic this time because unlike in the previous instances of wide-spread avian flu pandemics in the US in the 1980s and in Hong Kong in 1997, in 2000 and again in 2003 which affected only the birds, this time the flu had ‘jumped’ to humans and was taking a heavy toll in Vietnam and Thailand, mostly children and the elderly, indicating low levels of natural resistance. It has not yet been confirmed that the virus is communicable like SARS. It therefore remains only to be proved that it was the eating of birds affected by the flu virus which caused the virus to jump from birds to humans. Just as the world is still silent about how the SARS coronavirus ‘jumped’ from animals to humans and became communicable upon mutation, the world is silent about how, the avian flu which is supposed to affect only birds, has now ‘jumped’ from birds to humans. Recent research has shown that viruses of low pathogenicity can, after circulation for sometimes short periods in a poultry population, mutate into highly pathogenic viruses. During a 1983–1984 epidemic in the US, the avian flu virus initially caused low mortality among the birds, but within six months became highly pathogenic, with a mortality approaching 90%. Control of the outbreak required destruction of more than 17 million birds at a cost of nearly US$ 65 million. During a 1999–2001 epidemic in Italy, the avian flu virus, initially of low pathogenicity, mutated within 9 months to a highly pathogenic form. More than 13 million birds died or were destroyed.

The corpse eaters and the meat industry in which nations have big stakes and which affects their economies, are unwilling to spit out this truth about the risks of meat-eating. There is some ballyhoo that the virus jumped from birds to humans because of the proximity of humans who handled the affected birds. In which case, health authorities have to tell us why it did not jump in Hong Kong in 1997 or earlier in the US in 1983. Unless the avian flu virus too has mutated since 1997 and this mutation has caused the virus to become communicable in nature, which makes it ‘jump’ from birds to humans. If indeed there has been a mutation of the avian flu virus, then scientists have still not told us why it mutated; unless as in the case of SARS, the avian flu too has them flummoxed. The strangest thing about this mutation is that while this virus now ‘jumps’ from birds to humans, it is not being communicated from human to human. At least, not yet. Scientists researching the deaths by avian flu in Thailand and Vietnam have not been able to establish so far that humans affected by the avian flu communicated the disease to others. Which brings me back to my theory – the disease ‘jumps’ from birds to humans only when humans consume the meat of birds affected by the avian flu virus.

Kapil & Promila SibalThe global meat industry has resulted in intensive farming of animals and birds which violates basic laws of nature. A person with a modicum of experience will tell you that a patient admitted to a hospital for any illness stands at great risk of developing secondary infections in the hospital which may complicate the case and may even prove fatal. This is what confinement does to humans. Unnatural confinement of any creature that has legs or wings which are meant to be used to move freely, can only lead to illness and depression. And confining animals and birds by the tens and thousands in animal and poultry farms is a sure prescription for pandemics. Breeding animals in unnatural conditions, keeping them alive in unnatural conditions, feeding them unnatural foods and in an unnatural manner reflects gross abuse of the intrinsic sanctity of all creation, of all forms of life. Having violated all these fundamental laws, to go on and move animals and birds unnaturally over long distances is only to compound the first abuse. Bringing a life-form into this world by the hundreds of thousands through unnatural pregnancies and breeding methods only to kill them or slaughter them, first for meat-as-a-fad or to contain diseases caused by human perversions, is the nadir of human depravity. Cows, cattle and birds have all been slaughtered and culled by the hundreds of millions in the last thirty years alone to contain the spread of diseases which humans have caused to happen in the first place. While these animals have been killed and culled, the diseases continue to remain at large. BSE is still around and so is SARS and so is the avian flu. In 1997, in spite of the fact that Hong Kong culled its entire chicken, duck and other poultry stock, the disease re-surfaced in 2000 and again in 2003. These insane corpse eaters are endangering the world and the lives of even those that still respect the laws of nature and have respect for all forms of life and do not participate in this madness. – IndiaFacts, 9 March 2015

» Radha Rajan is an author, political analyst and animal welfare activist. She edits the website Vigil On-Line.

Can Modi avoid a cultural agenda? – Abhiram Ghadyalpatil

Abhiram Ghadyalpatil“The challenge for Modi hence … is to strike a balance between the Lexus—development, growth, and sabka saath, sabka vikas—and the olive tree—the cultural nationalism that the RSS-BJP have an umbilical cord with. The first seven months have certainly given us the broad contours of this holistic model of governance.” –  Abhiram Ghadyalpatil

Thomas FriedmanIt is almost 15 years since Thomas Friedman, the widely read guru of globalisation, told us the story of the post-Cold War world using the metaphors of the Lexus and the olive tree. The Lexus stands for globalisation and the olive tree broadly represents nativity.

In Understanding Globalization: The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Friedman talks about the worldwide clash between the forces of economic liberalisation and the ancient forces of history, culture, and community at the start of the new millennium. He cites cases wherein the Lexus trumps the olive tree and vice versa. Friedman also narrates instances to illustrate how the Lexus and the olive tree struck a fine balance and co-existed.

To Friedman, the India of 1998-99 epitomised this friction. The olive tree moment was when India tested her nuclear weapons which kindled a nationwide wave of jingoistic self-esteem and a sense of virility. The nuclear tests also prompted the US to impose economic sanctions against India and a downgrading of the Indian economy by the international rating agencies. 

Friedman argues that though the olive tree had had its day in India in the aridity of Pokhran, the Lexus caught up soon after when Atal Behari Vajpayee, freshly elected for his third term as Prime Minister, announced that economic growth and a hunt for the global capital were the top priorities for his government. 

It is very instructive to re-read Friedman now in the context of a second BJP Prime Minister in office. Narendra Modi is a much more powerful Prime Minister than Vajpayee ever was in his six years at the helm punctuated by three elections. There is the very obvious simple majority the BJP has under Modi which Vajpayee never had. This numerical strength that Modi enjoys has multiple meanings. 

Then there are other reasons that make Modi one of the most powerful Prime Ministers ever and also make the Lexus and the olive tree theory even more interesting than it was 15 years back. Modi brings to the office a much-acclaimed record as Chief Minister of Gujarat for 12 years. 

Modi is the most right-wing of Prime Ministers ever in terms of his political ideology, a demonstrated commitment to the growth-oriented model of governance, and his insistence on devolving power to the people. 

Modi has redefined political charisma and chutzpah in ways which few politicians in India have. Indeed, Modi is arguably the most international of all the Indian Prime Ministers ever in raising oodles of interest, hopes, goodwill, and also apprehensions. 

Yet he is also a quintessential product of his larger domestic Parivar which can very legitimately claim that he owes his Prime Ministership to their ground support. Modi illustrates Friedman’s theory in the most eloquent yet poignant manner. The first seven months of the Modi sarkar bear this conflict out and also set the tone for a very engrossing 2015. 

Narendra ModiReading the Modi mandate right 

A few political commentators who were sympathetic to Modi even before he won his party a historic majority have shown signs of exasperation in the last two months. Commentators eternally hostile to Modi and the RSS-BJP have found much-needed reasons for relief after the apocalyptic 16 May 2014. I argue that both schools of commentators have not read the Modi mandate completely correctly. 

The sympathetic school was convinced that the massive mandate was for development and governance and not Hindutva. The sulking class warned that the mandate was not for Hindutva but promptly raised the bogey of a Hindu renaissance. 

The correct meaning of the May 2014 mandate lies, like most things political, in its multiple layers. The 281-seat-mandate is an aggregate of causes and constituencies. There is not one Lexus and one olive tree driving this gigantic democratic machine. There are many of them and they have to be balanced to achieve healthy growth. 

It is relevant to quote Friedman here: 

“The challenge in this era of globalization—for countries and individuals—is to find a healthy balance between preserving a sense of identity, home, and community, and doing what it takes to survive within the globalization system. Any society that wants to thrive economically today must constantly be trying to build a better Lexus and driving it out into the world. 

“But no one should have any illusions that merely participating in this global economy will make a society healthy. If that participation comes at the price of a country’s identity, if individuals feel their olive tree roots crushed, or washed out, by this global system, those olive tree roots will rebel. They will rise up and strangle the process. Therefore the survival of globalisation as a system will depend, in part, on how well all of us strike this balance.” 

It would be wrong to believe that Modi’s mandate was not for Hindutva. There is a definite yearning for a positive affirmation of Hindutva in the 281 seats that the BJP and Modi have won. This is one of the olive trees Modi must not sacrifice in India’s pursuit of a better Lexus. 

Sympathetic commentators have argued that the quantum leap from 181 seats to 281 was achieved, not riding Hindutva but aspirations of development, good governance, and deliverance from the cynical entitlement Raj unleashed by the UPA regime. This is only partly true. 

To a large number of their voters, the BJP and Modi also represent the cultural nationalism the RSS has always advocated and what the RSS critics have lazily labelled a hidden Hindu agenda. Political observers who derive a mocking delight in arguing that Modi is no Vajpayee either forget or do not want to acknowledge the presence of this Hindutva constituency in even Vajpayee’s mandate. 

Under Modi the BJP achieved the quantum leap not because it gave up Hindutva but because it added newer constituencies to its pantheon of supporters. 

Modi has built up newer blocks to create a superstructure but this superstructure stands on the foundation of 181 seats that unquestionably comprise the Hindutva constituency. Indeed, the Modi phenomenon has added a new Hindu consciousness to the original Hindutva school that the RSS and the BJP advanced. 

Vajpayee was undoubtedly a great exponent of this school but Modi has scaled new heights because he managed to retain the foundation. 

A simple proof that Hindutva was one of the powerful forces that propelled Modi to power is the fact that the many-headed Sangh Parivar, including the more ballistic Vishwa Hindu Parishad, not only campaigned wholeheartedly for Modi in this election but was also unprecedentedly vocal about its participation in the campaign. 

Of course, there is a section of voters which elected Modi and BJP for reasons beyond Hindutva, ideology, and identity. This is a new constituency that mostly comprises first time voters and voters repelled by the inept, corrupt, and callous UPA rule. 

It is also a constituency Modi can rightly claim as his own contribution to the Hindutva block. Then there may even be a miniscule section of voters which supported Modi because they thought he had the ability to rein in the Hindutva elements. 

But it would be a momentous misreading of the mandate to argue that the vote for Modi was overwhelmingly against Hindutva. On the contrary, the emphatic mandate had both overtones and undertones of Hindutva as the largest support block. 

Minus this block, the superstructure would collapse. It will be without even the 181 seats that Vajpayee delivered. The most unfair and incorrect reading of the May 2014 mandate for the BJP would be to argue that it was achieved without a substantial vote for Hindutva. To say this is to deny the BJP and the RSS their very identity. 

Commentators who also had the privilege to analyse the Vajpayee era need to remember that for all his moderation and consensus politics, Vajpayee could never take the BJP beyond 181 seats. Yet it would be uncharitable and stupid to deny Vajpayee a unique place in Indian politics—he successfully ran the first truly non-Congress coalition government and also pushed the development mantra to the centrestage of Indian politics. 

That he could never win a simple majority for BJP does not also mean that there is only a limited space for moderation in Indian politics. But the Modi campaign successfully dovetailed development with moderation, Hindutva with growth, and equality with secularism. 

It is true that the Modi campaign did not have overtones of Hindutva. But the campaign never championed something that was in conflict with the essence of Hindutva or Hinduism as defined by the Supreme Court of India as “a way of life”. 

Narendra ModiThe olive tree moments 

The Hindutva constituency has reasons to feel emboldened by Modi’s victory. It participated in the campaign in a manner never seen before in the history of the BJP and RSS. It made sure one of its own family consummates the 79-year-old dream of leading the nation on its own. 

Modi himself knows the role the entire RSS apparatus has played in his victory. Recall his speech to the newly-elected BJP MPs in the Central Hall of the Parliament. Modi reminded the MPs that they were privileged to see the day when the BJP ruled the country on its own only because generations of workers had made great sacrifices to realise this ambition. Modi was not only being generous and grateful but also factually correct. 

It is this generosity and sense of gratitude that explains Modi’s sage-like view of the olive tree moments in his first seven months. He was rightly charitable towards Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti when he contextualised her remarks in her social moorings. He did chide her because that was necessary. But he also maintained that the Sadhvi’s intemperate language was a lesson for all. 

Political commentators who see some rationale in the opposition’s demand that Modi make his stand clear on the issue of religious conversions forget two things. One, no Prime Minister before has ever made his or her stand clear on conversions even though large-scale conversions were taking place. 

It was politically convenient for almost all former prime ministers to stay mum because Hindus in the hinterlands were being converted. Two, Modi cannot reject one of his constituents just to please the political pundits and international observers. Modi knows where he comes from. 

Make In IndiaThe way ahead 

The challenge for Modi hence, as Friedman has argued in the book, is to strike a balance between the Lexus—development, growth, and sabka saath, sabka vikas—and the olive tree—the cultural nationalism that the RSS-BJP have an umbilical cord with. The first seven months have certainly given us the broad contours of this holistic model of governance. 

Modi has started weaving a parallel narrative—the Swachh Bharat campaign, an India-focused foreign policy, the Make in India call, transparency and efficiency in administration, and a new dimension of federalism. 

The opposition’s agenda is to derail this narrative and raise the bogey of Hindutva as witnessed in the winter session of the Parliament. In 2015, we may witness a Modi who strikes a fine balance between the two narratives. He may just build a better Lexus and make sure the olive trees grow along. – Swarajya, 2 January 2015

» Abhiram Ghadyalpatil was a mainstream print media journalist for 14 years and has worked for the Economic Times, Indian Express, and Hindustan Times. He took a purposeful break from mainstream journalism four years back. Now he is a private observer of politics and society in India. His deepest sympathies are with the Rightist thought in India.

The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas Friedman

Crude Delight: Oil on a slippery road – Virendra Parekh

Virendra Parekh“India stands to gain a lot from the falling prices of commodities led by oil. Cheaper imports will help it reduce its trade and current account deficit, stabilize the rupee, help control inflation and lighten the subsidy burden on government finances. It will enable the government to carry out the much-needed structural reforms to revive growth and improve competitiveness.” – Virendra Parekh

Oil pricesThe oil price is in free fall, down 25 per cent since June and 9 per cent so far in October. The fall is driven by a supply glut from almost all players, as well as weakening demand from key economies such as Europe and China. Current indications are that this is not a short time blip. Oil prices are likely to stay around present levels, if not drift lower, in the next few years.
 
This is good news for India, as also for many other oil importing Asian countries. The extended bull run that had hurt India by widening its current account and fiscal deficits, besides raising subsidies and weakening the rupee is now reversed.
 
Ali Al-NaimiThe current downtrend in oil is remarkable for many reasons. Prices are falling even when a number of oil producing countries are at war, or battling internal strife. Earlier, if even one oil producer was in trouble prices would harden immediately. Also, Saudi Arabia, the world’s traditional swing producer, has done nothing to defend the floor price of $100 a barrel for Brent crude, which had not been breached since July 2012. That is why expectations are that prices might fall further, driven by a combination of ample supply and weak demand outlook.
 
Oil market has suffered a big supply shock in recent months. In fact, the world’s output of oil has been rising strongly since April last year. According to International Energy Agency, OPEC pumped more oil than it had in 13 months in September, while non-OPEC producers added 2.1 million barrels a day during the month, or more than 2 per cent of global daily demand.
 
The biggest recent change has come from within the oil exporters’ cartel. Saudi Arabia shocked the rest of OPEC by cutting forward prices for Asian delivery and by increasing oil output slightly in September (by 107,000 barrels), at a time when other exporters wanted it to cut back. Libya’s production—hit by civil war— had crashed to just 200,000 b/d in April. Surprisingly, by the end of September Libya’s output was back up to 900,000 b/d and seen heading towards its pre-war level of 1.5m b/d. Equally surprisingly, Iraq’s output is rising, too. The dreaded terrorist outfit Islamic State also extracts and sells some oil from wells under its control. The upshot is that OPEC production started to grow again in September after almost two years of decline, compounding the impact of growing non-OPEC supplies.
 
The growth in supply from non-OPEC countries, America in particular, has been even higher. Thanks partly to increases in shale oil output, the United States pumped 8.8m b/d in September, 13 per cent more than in September 2013, 56 per cent above the level of 2011 and not far short of Saudi Arabia. Russia pumped 10.6m b/d in September, not far from the highest monthly figure since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
 
Non-OPEC production is expected to remain robust in coming years, led by the continuing shale oil boom in North America. The US has already become the world’s largest producer of petroleum-based liquids—including oil and natural gas liquids. The IEA said earlier this year the U.S. had overtaken Saudi Arabia and Russia, though it still lags behind both countries in production of crude oil alone. Total liquids production in the U.S. is expected to rise above 12 million barrels a day next month and stay above that threshold until the end of 2015. That is a rise of nearly 20 per cent from last year’s average of about 10.2 million barrels a day.
 
From a long term perspective, the rising output of shale oil in the US is likely to change the dynamics of the oil market and the international politics centred on it. The US looks set to regain its role as a swing producer by the end of the decade.
 
Oil field in TexasUntil the early 1970s, America was the world’s largest oil producer and the Texas Railroad Commission stabilised world prices by dictating how much the state’s producers could pump. That power was lost by March 1972 as the rising consumption and declining production eroded the state’s spare capacity. American production declined steadily from a peak of 9.6m barrels a day in 1970 to under 5m in 2008.
 
FrackingAround that time, independent producers began adapting the new technologies of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and horizontal drilling, first used to tap shale gas, to oil. Total American production has since risen to 7.4m barrels a day. The fossil fuel boom has reduced America’s vulnerability to oil price swings in two ways. First, America’s petroleum deficit has narrowed to 1.7 per cent of GDP while Europe’s has widened to nearly 4 per cent, making the dollar and the US economy less sensitive to oil prices. Secondly, as production rises and import shrinks, more of the cash that leaves consumers’ pockets will return to American rather than foreign producers.
 
The Energy Information Administration, a federal monitoring agency in US, reckons that America’s oil production will return to its 1970 record by 2019. The International Energy Agency is more bullish. In its reckoning, by 2020 America will have displaced Saudi Arabia as the world’s biggest producer, pumping 11.6m barrels a day.
 
Voices are already being heard in the US for lifting the ban on export of crude oil imposed in 1975. If the ban is lifted, it will benefit not only American oil producers, but others also. A global oil market that fully included America would be more stable, more diversified and less dependent on OPEC or Russia.
 
This highly comfortable oil supply scenario is taking shape at a time when demand is projected to remain weak.
 
Early in October, IMF revised global growth for this year down to 3.3 per cent, a deceleration of 0.4 per cent from its forecast made as recently as April. The IMF sees the US growing at 2.2 per cent in 2014, the same rate as in the previous year and a substantial upward revision of 0.5 percentage point from its July forecast. Yet, it cut world growth in 2014 to 3.3 per cent and that in 2015 to 3.8 per cent due to the drag expected from the euro area (growing 0.8 per cent in 2014 and 1.3 per cent in 2015) and Japan which is now expected to grow 0.9 per cent in 2014 and 0.8 per cent in 2015.
 
The developments since then have only compounded the gloom. Germany, Europe’s largest economy shows signs of tipping over into recession. British inflation slowed sharply in September and eurozone factory output slumped in August, while the Spanish underlying inflation rate fell into negative territory for the first time in more than four years.
 
The real disappointment is China. China’s consumption of steel and power has been declining for some months and the sale of houses and start of new homes has dropped 10 per cent in the current year. In fact, the creeping downturn in China’s property market is likely to reduce its growth rate from more than seven per cent to five-six per cent and has the potential to derail the fragile global recovery.
 
All this and given the number of times IMF forecasters have got it wrong (the latest World Economic Outlook (WEO) has a separate section on this) it is very likely that even the lowered forecasts of global growth may not come true.
 
Bombay High Oil FieldThe slowing economic growth in Asia and a sputtering European economy have naturally weighed on demand for oil. The Paris-based International Energy Agency, in its closely watched monthly oil-market report released in mid-October, cut its forecast for global demand growth by about 22 per cent. It now forecasts demand will climb a meager 700,000 barrels a day this year, about 200,000 barrels a day lower than previously forecast. Global oil demand is just over 92 million barrels a day. Oil lost $4 the day IEA report was released.
 
The bearish outlook on oil as also on other commodities is reinforced by a strong dollar. The US Federal Reserve is getting ready to increase rates. The Bank of England is on the same path. The European Central Bank is already pumping more and more money into the financial system to lift inflation, though with limited success so far. This has led to ascendancy of dollar, as global funds have put money back in the US in anticipation of interest rate hike. Commodities are priced in the US currency. So, as the greenback gains in value, fewer dollars should be required to buy them. This relationship does not always hold, but at the moment it does.
 
Since consumption is weak, much of the extra output is currently going into rebuilding oil stocks in rich countries. But that cannot go on indefinitely. As the hoarding slows, prices are likely to weaken again, unless world demand picks up or oil production is cut. Neither seems imminent.
 
Ordinarily, faced with a weak demand and sliding prices, oil exporters’ cartel OPEC would step forward to halt the decline by cutting oil production. This time around, however, OPEC is ridden with a deep split among its members who do not seem willing to rein in output to help bolster prices. Instead, OPEC members have been reducing prices in an effort to boost, or defend, their own global market share. A call by Venezuela—one of the cartel’s members most sensitive to falling oil prices—for an emergency meeting has so far been ignored by other members.
 
Saudi Arabia, as noted earlier, has acted on its own. It has cut its prices to Asian and European buyers, essentially undercutting other OPEC members. It also ramped up output by 100,000 barrels a day in September, to 9.7 million barrels a day. The question is: why?
 
One theory is that the Saudis want to discourage investment in non-OPEC supply, to support higher prices in the long run. A simpler explanation is that the Saudis are trying to browbeat other OPEC members into acting like members of a cartel. In recent years, the kingdom has been forced to act largely alone to steady the market. Letting prices fall should turn up the pressure on slackers such as Venezuela and Iran, which need far higher crude prices than Saudi Arabia to pay their bills, ahead of OPEC’s next meeting in November. But Kuwait’s oil minister remarked recently, “I don’t think there is a chance today that [OPEC countries] would reduce their production.”

Whatever the explanation, the Saudi brinkmanship is hardly a sign of strength. It suggests instead of driving the markets, the once-mighty cartel is now being driven by markets itself. 

So clearly, there is downward pressure on oil. But how far can the price fall? Analysts say there is a natural floor for oil prices: the price which U.S. shale producers need to keep their wells flowing profitably. If prices fall below that so-called break-even price, producers could rein in output. The lost supply could then bolster prices.

Fatih BirolMost analysts, however, say that the floor is yet to be reached. According to IEA, only about 4 percent of U.S. shale oil production needs prices above $80 for drillers to break even. Producers are getting more oil per dollar spent drilling, driving costs down. “There’s not one single drop of oil which cannot be produced for commercial reasons with today’s price,” the IEA’s chief economist, Fatih Birol, said in an interview.
 
India stands to gain a lot from the falling prices of commodities led by oil. Cheaper imports will help it reduce its trade and current account deficit, stabilize the rupee, help control inflation and lighten the subsidy burden on government finances. It will enable the government to carry out the much-needed structural reforms to revive growth and improve competitiveness.   

On the flip side, the weakness of Europe and the slowing of China mean that India’s export markets will struggle. China managed to grow rapidly over the last decade on the back of a booming world economy. India will need to be extra competitive, for it will need to win export orders during a global slowdown. In order to make that happen, structural reform will have to be deep and painful – taking advantage of the respite offered by cheaper commodity prices. Policy makers in New Delhi cannot afford to waste the opportunity provided to them.

» Virendra Parekh is the Executive Editor of Corporate India and lives in Mumbai.

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Corporate rule violates the principles of sovereignty and self-rule – Vandana Shiva

Vandana Shiva“Corporate rule violates the principles of swaraj, sovereignty and self-rule. In the name of removing hunger and poverty, it pushes us deeper into poverty. Today, an American biotechnology corporation like Monsanto would like to rule us by taking control of our seed supply….  Corporations like Pepsi, Coke, Kellogg’s and Nestlé would like to rule us through imposing … junk food by changing our food safety laws, … criminalising the diversity of our foods by making local indigenous, artisanal foods illegal. Corporations like Wal-Mart would like to rule us by destroying our retail democracy, which creates livelihood for 50 million people and brings fresh, diverse food to our doorstep…. Controlling what grows means seizing control of life, which in turn means that life is Monsanto’s invention, not nature’s.” – Dr Vandana Shiva

Narendra Modi's Ganga PujaSwaraj, freedom, was one of the most frequently used terms in the campaign for 2014 general elections. During his speech on the ghats of the Ganga, expressing gratitude to the people of Varanasi for his massive victory, Prime Minister Narendra Modi committed himself to governance based on Mahatma Gandhi’s principles.

The five-year term of the newly elected government will end in 2019 — which will also be Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary year. So we have a compass and a time frame to undertake our national journey over the next five years guided by swaraj.

Swaraj defined our freedom movement — it encompassed not just political freedom, but also economic freedom. For me, Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj is the best book on real freedom and it has become even more relevant in the search for freedom in times of corporate rule (also referred to as corporate globalisation and neoliberal economic reform).

Gandhi wrote Hind Swaraj in 1908, more than 100 years ago, on his way to South Africa from England. It was first published in the columns of Indian Opinion newspaper in South Africa. In the book’s 1921 edition, he added a word of explanation, and wrote: “In my opinion it is a book which can be put into the hands of a child…. It teaches the gospel of love in place of that of hate. It replaces violence with self-sacrifice. It puts soul force against brute force….”

For Gandhi, civilisation was “that mode of conduct which points out to humans the path of duty,” i.e. the right to livelihood. And it was on this concept of right to livelihood that Gandhi defined freedom: “It is swaraj when we learn to rule ourselves.”

I was happy to see that Mr Modi reminded us that our civilisation is founded on the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the earth as family) in contrast to the idea of man’s empire over the earth. This theory has dominated the colonising West and Western paradigms that solely consider gross domestic product as the measure of “growth”.

M. K. Gandhi in 1929Gandhi said: “India should develop by using its ethos, which is essentially spiritual and which perceives unity, reverence for nature and a prayer for the welfare of all mankind.”

Mr Modi also reminded us that “Swami Vivekananda had cautioned us a century ago that ‘if we give up our spirituality, leaving it aside to go after the materialising civilisation of the West, the foundation on which the national edifice has been built will be undermined.’”

Corporate rule violates the principles of swaraj, sovereignty and self-rule. In the name of removing hunger and poverty, it pushes us deeper into poverty. Today, American biotechnology corporation like Monsanto would like to rule us by taking control of our seed supply and imposing GMO seeds, chemical and industrial agriculture in the name of the second Green Revolution. Corporations like Pepsi, Coke, Kellogg’s, Nestlé, etc. would like to rule us through imposing processed and junk food by changing our food safety laws, imposing the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA), criminalising the diversity of our foods by making local indigenous, artisanal foods illegal. Corporations like Wal-Mart would like to rule us by destroying our retail democracy, which creates livelihood for 50 million people and brings fresh, diverse food to our doorstep. Monsanto’s empire is based on seed patents. Controlling what grows means seizing control of life, which in turn means that life is Monsanto’s invention, not nature’s.

Our farmers are paying the price for corporate greed through their very lives — debt for costly seeds and chemicals is the root cause of 284,000 farmers’ suicide in India since 1995. The solution to farmers’ suicide is to promote GMO free, patent free organic agriculture based on beej and anna swaraj (seed and food freedom). Mr Modi has also supported organic farming, which is GMO free, chemical free farming.

The problem with “materialist” development is not just that it ignores spiritual values, but that it fails to take into account the health of the planet and the wellbeing of people. As Gandhi said, “Let us first consider what state of things is described by the word ‘civilisation’. Its true test lies in the fact that people living in it make bodily welfare the object of life.”

MonsantoFood and agriculture is an area where we can clearly see the failure of industrial agriculture models imposed by the West in providing “bodily comforts”. The so-called “modern” food and agriculture system, based on chemicals and GMOs pushed by global corporations, is a toxic food system — from the seed to our stomachs. While it is promoted as a solution to hunger, it is responsible for 75 per cent of all ecological and health problems globally. Hunger, malnutrition, obesity, diabetes, allergies, cancers and neurological problems are built into this greed driven, toxic food system. While it destroys the real economy of nature and people’s healths and livelihoods, the GDP grows. The more Monsanto sells GMO-patented seeds, the more the economy grows. With the introduction of Monsanto’s Bt cotton seeds, seed costs Coca Cola in Indiajumped 8,000 per cent. Every year royalty worth thousands of crores of rupees leaves the country for seeds, something in which we should be sovereign. This sort of economic growth does not take into account the drain due to royalty payments for GMO seeds, farmers’ suicides and the death of pollinators and soil organisms. The more people are affected by cancer and kidney failure because of poison in our food, the more the economy grows. The inappropriateness of GDP as a measure of wellbeing of people became evident when recently Britain said it would include prostitution and illegal drugs in its official national accounts for the first time. Prostitutes and drug dealers are set to give Britain a £10bn boost as the country revamps the way it measures its economy.

The manipulation of life through genetic engineering, and of the economy through GDP is not serving the higher purpose of living on the principles of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam and swaraj. It is time to evolve a development model according to our ethos, for the wellbeing of all life and all people. – The Asian Age, 25 June 2014

» Dr Vandana Shiva’s website is here.  She is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust

Precession in Hindu astrology – Koenraad Elst

Dr. Koenraad Elst“Hindus use the term “Vedic astrology” wrongly by applying it to Hellenistic astrology, but there was indeed a pre-Hellenistic Vedic astrology, though not an individual birth-based horoscopy. The rishis employed the 28 lunar houses (also used in China and Arabia), which later became 27 to accommodate the 12-part Babylonian-Hellenistic Zodiac. These houses were used to determine good times for a ritual, the founding stone of a house, or a wedding. The auspicious times for marriage are its most important remnant in modern India.’ – Dr. Koenraad Elst

ZodiacVijaya Rajiva wants to know why I say that “Indian astronomy” is borrowed from the Greeks. Though she piles on each other all manner of purely imaginary motives attributed to me, I will very briefly answer her—because the subject can indeed be settled very briefly.

As N.S. Rajaram has rightly observed, Seidenberg traces Babylonian mathematics and astronomy to Indian models. He suggests the Kassite dynasty (18th-16th century) as the channel of transmission, as the Kassite language has an Indo-Aryan substrate. This is eminently reasonable. Thus, Babylonian astronomy  divided the ecliptic in 18, yet by the first millennium it had adopted a division in 12, the same as existed in Vedic culture, where a nightly division into 28 lunar houses was complemented by a daily division of the ecliptic in 12 half-seasons (Madhu, Madhava etc.), and where the rishi Dirghatamas introduced the first-ever division of the circle into 12 and 360. Till today, the division into 360 is explained in textbooks as a Babylonian invention, but the earliest mention is Indian.

While in Babylon, the division into 12 was filled up with the symbols now known as the 12 signs. These were taken over by the Greeks (already before Alexander’s conquest of Babylon, see Euctemon‘s Athenian calendar in the 5th century BC) who communicated them to India. Contrary to what I earlier thought, these are not attested in Vedic literature. They appear in an interpolated part of the Ramayana, viz. Rama’s horoscope, which is an ideal horoscope fitting the ideal man. It dates from the final editing, when the Hellenistic zodiac had become known.

Alexander IIIThe adoption of Hellenistic astronomy and astrology in India dates from 2000 years after the Kassite regime in Babylon. Confusing those two, such as by claiming that the one phenomenon refutes the other (as numerous Hindus do, including Vijaya Rajiva) shows a defective sense of time-depth. Orientalists have berated Hindu civilization for its defective history, and I try to paint a more positive picture of Hindu historiography; but these Hindus insist that, indeed, Hindus may tell stories set in the past but are allergic to real history.

Evidence of the Hellenistic origin of Hindu (now sold as “Vedic”) astrology is manifold. Many texts refer to Mediterranean names, like the Yavana-jatakaRomaka-shastra and Paulisha-shastra. Or they refer to branches and terms of Hellenistic astrology, like Hora-shastra (after what is still called horary astrology), drekkana (from dekanos) etc. The names of the twelve signs were originally Sanskrit transcriptions of the Greek names (Varahamihira) before becoming Sanskrit translations of the Greek names. Some techniques of Hindu astrology, even techniques now lost in European astrology and thus distinctive of Hindu astrology, can be traced back to Hellenistic techniques existing in the 3rd century BC, such as the “harmonic horoscopes” (navamshadvadashamsha) or the “planetary periods“. Aside from those, there are also truly distinctive techniques of Hindu astrology, either developed in the course of ca. seventeen centuries of Hindu horoscopy, or borrowed from the internal but different tradition of Vedic astrology.

Hindus use the term “Vedic astrology” wrongly by applying it to Hellenistic astrology, but there was indeed a pre-Hellenistic Vedic astrology, though not an individual birth-based horoscopy. The rishis employed the 28 lunar houses (also used in China and Arabia), which later became 27 to accommodate the 12-part Babylonian-Hellenistic Zodiac. These houses were used to determine good times for a ritual, the founding stone of a house, or a wedding. The auspicious times for marriage are its most important remnant in modern India.

Hipparchus of Nicaea was a Greek astronomer and geographer.  He is universally recognized as discoverer of the precession of the equinoxes in 127 BCAs for the precession [ayanamsa], I am willing to consider whatever arguments Vamadeva Shastri is offering in his new edition of the Vedic Aryans book. Until then, I abide by the version of all scientists the world over, viz. that its discovery was due to Hipparchus in ca. 150 BC. If you have proof for an older date, you can become famous overnight. Leave out all the baggage of the Aryan debate etc., just write a paper purely on the precession and prove your point: knowledge of the precession long predated Hipparchus, the Vedic rishis already had it. I wouldn’t ask any better: firstly because I sympathize with the Vedic cause, secondly because by temperament I tend to applaud reversals in received opinion. If you don’t want to do that, just smugly keep on claiming a theory for which you don’t want to publish the evidence, I have no reason to believe you have proof for this revolutionary revision of history. – Excerpted from the Koenraad Elst Blog, 1 February 2014

Postscript: About Rishi Bhrigu and the Bhrigu Samhita, Dr Elst says, “Ram Swarup used to say that it has all planetary positions of all horoscopes, but my impression was that it is one of those recipe books that indeed has all positions, like “Jupiter in Libra in house IV means…” And that, at any rate, it belongs to the tradition of Hellenistic horoscopy, just arbitrarily named after the ancient Vedic sage Bhrigu.” – Excerpted from a letter to the blog Editor

» The views expressed in this article are Dr Elst’s own.

» Dr Koenraad Elst studied at KU Leuven, obtaining MA degrees in Sinology, Indology and Philosophy. After a research stay at Benares Hindu University he did original fieldwork for a doctorate on Hindu nationalism, which he obtained magna cum laude in 1998. As an independent researcher he earned laurels and ostracism with his findings on hot items like Islam, multiculturalism and the secular state, the roots of Indo-European, the Ayodhya temple/mosque dispute and Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy. He blogs at http://koenraadelst.blogspot.in/

See also


Comments are closed because those who disagree with Dr. Elst’s views invariably resort to abusive, racially-motivated ad hominem attacks rather than offering scholarly criticism or engaging in informed academic debate. 

World’s 85 richest people own nearly half of global wealth – Graeme Wearden

Graeme Wearden“The ‘capture of opportunities’ by the rich at the expense of the poor and middle classes has led to a situation where 70% of the world’s population live in countries where inequality has increased since the 1980s and 1% of families own 46% of global wealth – almost £70tn.” – Graeme Wearden

Sonia Gandhi & King Albert of BelgiumThe world’s wealthiest people aren’t known for travelling by bus, but if they fancied a change of scene then the richest 85 people on the globe – who between them control as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population put together – could squeeze onto a single double-decker.

The extent to which so much global wealth has become corralled by a virtual handful of the so-called ‘global elite’ is exposed in a new report from Oxfam on Monday. It warned that those richest 85 people across the globe share a combined wealth of £1tn, as much as the poorest 3.5 billion of the world’s population.

The wealth of the 1% richest people in the world amounts to $110tn (£60.88tn), or 65 times as much as the poorest half of the world, added the development charity, which fears this concentration of economic resources is threatening political stability and driving up social tensions.

It’s a chilling reminder of the depths of wealth inequality as political leaders and top business people head to the snowy peaks of Davos for this week’s World Economic Forum. Few, if any, will be arriving on anything as common as a bus, with private jets and helicopters pressed into service as many of the world’s most powerful people convene to discuss the state of the global economy over four hectic days of meetings, seminars and parties in the exclusive ski resort.

Chief of Oxfam Winnie ByanyimaWinnie Byanyima, the Oxfam executive director who will attend the Davos meetings, said: “It is staggering that in the 21st century, half of the world’s population – that’s three and a half billion people – own no more than a tiny elite whose numbers could all fit comfortably on a double-decker bus.”

Oxfam also argues that this is no accident either, saying growing inequality has been driven by a “power grab” by wealthy elites, who have co-opted the political process to rig the rules of the economic system in their favour.

In the report, entitled Working For The Few, Oxfam warned that the fight against poverty cannot be won until wealth inequality has been tackled.

“Widening inequality is creating a vicious circle where wealth and power are increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, leaving the rest of us to fight over crumbs from the top table,” Byanyima said.

Oxfam called on attendees at this week’s World Economic Forum to take a personal pledge to tackle the problem by refraining from dodging taxes or using their wealth to seek political favours.

As well as being morally dubious, economic inequality can also exacerbate other social problems such as gender inequality, Oxfam warned. Davos itself is also struggling in this area, with the number of female delegates actually dropping from 17% in 2013 to 15% this year.

2014 World Economic Forum at Davos How richest use their wealth to capture opportunities

Polling for Oxfam’s report found people in countries around the world – including two-thirds of those questioned in Britain – believe that the rich have too much influence over the direction their country is heading.

Byanyima explained: “In developed and developing countries alike we are increasingly living in a world where the lowest tax rates, the best health and education and the opportunity to influence are being given not just to the rich but also to their children.

“Without a concerted effort to tackle inequality, the cascade of privilege and of disadvantage will continue down the generations. We will soon live in a world where equality of opportunity is just a dream. In too many countries economic growth already amounts to little more than a ‘winner takes all’ windfall for the richest.”

The Oxfam report found that over the past few decades, the rich have successfully wielded political influence to skew policies in their favour on issues ranging from financial deregulation, tax havens, anti-competitive business practices to lower tax rates on high incomes and cuts in public services for the majority. Since the late 1970s, tax rates for the richest have fallen in 29 out of 30 countries for which data are available, said the report.

Antilia: Mukesh Ambani's house on Altamount Road, Mumbai.This “capture of opportunities” by the rich at the expense of the poor and middle classes has led to a situation where 70% of the world’s population live in countries where inequality has increased since the 1980s and 1% of families own 46% of global wealth – almost £70tn.

Opinion polls in Spain, Brazil, India, South Africa, the US, UK and Netherlands found that a majority in each country believe that wealthy people exert too much influence. Concern was strongest in Spain, followed by Brazil and India and least marked in the Netherlands.

In the UK, some 67% agreed that “the rich have too much influence over where this country is headed” – 37% saying that they agreed “strongly” with the statement – against just 10% who disagreed, 2% of them strongly.

The WEF‘s own Global Risks report recently identified widening income disparities as one of the biggest threats to the world community.

Oxfam is calling on those gathered at WEF to pledge: to support progressive taxation and not dodge their own taxes; refrain from using their wealth to seek political favours that undermine the democratic will of their fellow citizens; make public all investments in companies and trusts for which they are the ultimate beneficial owners; challenge governments to use tax revenue to provide universal healthcare, education and social protection; demand a living wage in all companies they own or control; and challenge other members of the economic elite to join them in these pledges.- The Guardian, 20 January 2014

» Graeme Wearden is a business reporter on guardian.co.uk and writes breaking City news plus the occasional blog. 

The percentage increase in share of income of the richest 1%

The share of national income going to the world's 1%