Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lokpal bill and the movement


Here's a short summary of what I think about the lokpal bill and the so called ‘biggest’ movement India has seen. Thanks to my friends for pushing me to write about this! There are few different aspects of the whole thing - so let me try to sort them out first:


1) The merit of the bill itself

2) The way the 'movement' took place

3) People issues - making of a hero, communal connection etc.

4) Expectation - what this bill will achieve? Is this sufficient?

5) Where does this issue of corruption stand - in the larger context of the country and who is corrupt?


1) On the merits of the bill itself, some questions have been raised, which I find valid. I must accept here that I have only glanced over the bill (one of the earlier versions), not read it thoroughly.The primary concern on the bill really is that it creates a super-powerful body that is not accountable to the people directly (as in a democracy) [1][4]. I know the bill is going through many revisions, but at least in one of the versions the way it suggested to constitute the lokpal committee seemed quite ridiculous (like having Nobel laureates of Indian origin - who may know nothing about corruption in India). Another issue is of precedence - as far as I know, the only other law that comes close to this is in Hongkong, no other country has such an all powerful lokpal body.


2) There is a wide-spread notion of comparing Anna with Gandhi and hunger strike as Gandhian way of non-violence movement. That really comes from very poor understanding of Gandhi's idea of non-violence which we have mostly reduced to strategic non-violence rather than a principled non-violence. From Gandhian perspective, this 'movement' is not really non-violent [3]. In Gandhian way, you never do a hunger strike or fast 'against' anyone - it's always used for self-purification or as a penance. Gandhi would have called off this movement long back unless he was sure all the people taking part are non-corrupt. You have to first refuse to take part in any corruption, before you can fight against corruption (not necessarily my opinion, this is what I understand of Gandhi's path).


3) At some point the 'movement' became 'support Anna' rather than supporting the bill or the larger issue of eliminating corruption. When one man becomes more powerful than the issue or the ideal, we should be wary. When saying anything against Anna is looked at as unpatriotic we should be alarmed. Not sure if you perceived it that way or not, but in many forums that was the sentiment. And that limits critical thought, stifles room for discussion and debate which is not healthy for a nation (or for anything for that matter). Then there were some concerns with Anna's communal connection and some stories about violence in his village [2] - but I don't have much solid data on that - so will refrain from going there. Anna did redact some of his earlier comments.


4) If enacted, will the bill solve the problem of corruption? I don't think most people seriously think that the bill will solve corruption. However, this is one step towards that - so some form of lokpal bill is important. But the expectation should be clear too that this is a small step - a lot more needs to happen than just passing the bill. We have many progressive bills - but their effectiveness can be questioned. A lokpal bill is a mechanism to punish the corrupt and work as a deterrent. But it doesn't go into the root of why corruption exists - what are the social / political / economical reasons behind that. Unless we address those issues, even the strongest law enforcement agency wouldn't be fully successful. One of the primary reasons for corruption is also the huge economic inequality - do we have a plan to address that?


5) Is corruption really the biggest issue facing India? The answer really depends whom you ask the question. The middle class perspective on this will be very different from the perspective of the poor or the marginalized. That is not to trivialize the issue by any means - but it's good to put things in the larger perspective of the nation and the majority of the people. Many articles have claimed that this lokpal 'movement' has seen little mobilization from the poor in the rural section [6] - which is the majority of India. The other thing to keep in mind in this context is of course the role of the media. If you just watch mainstream media, you'd think this is the biggest movement India has ever seem in decades! But there have been countess events and protests on much larger issues - which involved a lot more people than this lokpal bill movement has ever been able to gather - but no one knows about them, they are hidden from us - because the mainstream media ignored them. Well, I'm not saying lokpal bill 'movement' is negligible - but that it does get disproportionate amount of media attention. I'm sure you can come up with many examples if you look for it.


In this context, another important thing to keep in mind is that the bulk of the 'outrage' is against the government (to some extent, for valid reasons). However, corruption is hardly a government only problem - it's widespread in individual lives, private sector, corporate sector - though government is a easy scapegoat because many people have already accumulated distrust of our govt. There's very little talk about corruption in other spheres.


Bottom line, in my opinion, a lokpal bill is necessary and an independent body should be there along with the necessary provisions. But the bill in it's current form is fairly controversial, and I believe for good reasons. There has to be parallel efforts to address the socio-economic gap and other human-development index metrics to tackle the larger issue. We need to strengthen our democracy, not move away from it.

Some of my references:

[1] Elected representatives are a quintessential requirement of democracy (By Madhu Kishwar): contends that the main folly of the bill as it stands now is that it undermines democracy and relies on a body that has very few elected representatives and has no accountability to the public at large.

[2] Communalism bad, development good - Anna lauds Modi (By Badri Raina): Points to the alleged communal ties of some of the leaders of this movement and their version of development.

[3] Anna Hazare and Gandhi - Whatever devalues Parliament strikes at the root of democracy (by Prabhat Patnaik): Argues that Anna Hazare's struggle is not non-violent and comparing him with Gandhi is a reall wrong. Also points out that much of the furor is against government, whereas corruption is in every sphere including the private corporations. Also talks about undermining democracy in the bill.

[4] At the risk of heresy - why I'm not celebrating with Anna Hazare (by Shuddhabrata Sengupta): Raises some concerns on concentration of power and more.

[5] Issues and concerns about Jan lokpal bill (by Prashant Bhushan, a drafting Committee member of the bill): Addresses some of the concerns raised in the above articles.

[6] A tale of two movements (by Amita Baviskar): compares RTI and Lokpal bill movements and the role of grassroots mobilization.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mt Rainier Climb - Labor Day Weekend 2010

This labor Day weekend, Sept. 4th to 6th 2010, I attempted to climb Mt Rainier along with 10 other Team Asha climbers to raise funds for Asha for Education, Seattle Chapter. Please sponsor my climb to support Asha Seattle from my profile page. My goal is to raise $5000 this year.

At 14,411 ft Rainier is the highest peak in Washington state and also in the Cascade range. It is an active volcano that last erupted approximately 150 years ago. Last year, one Asha volunteer summited Rainier to raise funds for Asha. This year, Sandeep Nain and his climber friends offered to guide other novice climbers including me up Rainier. This is my story of our climb. This is the culmination of our 6 month or more of training through all kinds of weather.

Four of us decided to stay at a lodge near the trail-head to get a few hours of additional sleep before we start our climb the next morning. While driving to the park on Friday night we saw sunset on Mt Rainier!

Saturday morning at the paradise parking lot, we did our final gear-check and distribution.

That was a lot of gear and packing. Our Backpacks weighed from 30 to 65 lbs!

Finally, around 8:30 am, we were all packed and ready to start our journey. Starting elevation: roughly 5500 ft.

The first part of the trail was through the meadows on a very well maintained path. There was not much snow on the trail.

There were also some rocky sections.

Rainier was mostly not visible - but we had a few glimpses through windows in the clouds!

Beyond 7200 ft elevation (pebble creek, last running water stop), the trail was all on snow and we were still under cloud cover.

Finally, as we approached Camp Muir, we started to emerge from the clouds into sunshine!

Behind we could see Mt Adams and Mt St. Helens rising above the clouds.

We took a short snack break just before Camp Muir - that's the base camp for many climbers. But we wanted to go to high camp at Ingraham flats.

Finally we reached Camp Muir little after noon (elevation roughly 10,000 ft).

The trail from Camp Muir to the Ingraham flats involve glacier travel - so we had to rope up.

Leaving Camp muir behind - this is Cowlitz glacier. You can see the trail that we took. From here we go through Cadaver Gap to the Ingraham glacier.

In front of us emerged Little Tahoma peak - it's a rugged beauty! You'll see the other side of this peak in the following pictures where this face will mostly be covered in clouds.

We reached Ingraham flats (on Ingraham Glacier, elevation roughly 11,000 ft) around 4:30 pm and setup our tents. You can see "Asha for Education" banner painted on my tent - that was our art-work the night before we left!

Our plan was to stay in this camp Saturday night; Sunday do some climbing training, eat, hydrate and sleep early. Then wake up around mid-night and summit early Monday morning. Then we would come down, pack up and go all the way to the trailhead.

We had dinner, saw sunset from our camp. See the shadow of Mt Rainier stretching to the horizon! The night was extremely cold and windy. Freezing level was at 7500 ft and we were about 3500ft above that! Especially with the high wind doing the simplest of the tasks like tying our shoe-laces, was an effort! You can't do it with your gloves on and without the gloves your hands would freeze!

In the morning, Sandeep was trying to make chai! We managed to carve out a small cave in the snow to protect the stove from the high winds.

Morning view from out tents. The views were gorgeous - if not for the extremely cold temperature and high winds, we would have really enjoyed this better! We woke up lazily since the plan for the day was just training and sleeping! And who really wants to get out of the warm sleeping bag to face high freezing winds?!

Enjoying warm chai from a gatorade bottle! At that sub-zero temperature - a bliss!

Our climb-leaders looked at the weather report, talked to the rangers / IMG guides and found that Monday weather was going to be worse - more high winds, possible snow storm etc. So, there were really two options for us - cancel our plan and go back or make a summit attempt right then! But it was already late (10:30 am) and it'd take a lot of time for us to get ready - so it was almost impossible for all of us to do the summit attempt. There were some hard decisions made and we decided on two rope teams of 4 climbers each who's attempt summit and the other 3 would stay back. We started to get ready.

What took most time and turned out to be the bottle-neck was melting snow for drinking water. Climbers who were to stay back helped with the water while others got ready. IMG guides also helped us - they gave us 4 liters of water. Finally we were on our way around 12:30 pm. Soon (though not soon enough) we were on Disappointment Cleaver - a loose rocky section.

Little Tahoma was looking gorgeous - with one side completely covered in clouds and the other face clear!

This is from high up on Disappointment Cleaver. You can see our tents - those tiny dots on the Ingraham glacier.
We had to make another hard decision at this time. It was already 2:45 pm and we still had to go a long way to the summit. We would have day lights only until 8:00 pm and at that rate we wouldn't be making to the summit in time to get back safely. So one of the rope teams were called off and after some reshuffling, 4 of us continued on our way to the summit while the rest turned back.

From that point on there were very few chances for me to take any more pictures - we had to hurry and I had no energy in that cold & windy weather to take any pictures! The worst part was, I had kept my water bottles outside my backpack very intelligently only to realize later that they both froze! We had very little water to drink and I was almost dehydrated. My face was also frozen! When we stopped to take a quick snack break, it was hard for me to eat a cereal-bar - the bar was frozen hard and then I was not sure if I was chewing the bar or my lips! I could barely speak legibly (some people might argue if I ever do!).

Pretty much all the way to the summit the wind kept blowing at us, many times literally throwing me off the trail. As if working against gravity was not hard enough for me, the strong wind added another dimension!

This is a picture I borrowed from the web - this is a ladder at roughly 13,900 ft elevation to cross a crevasse. Only few more hundred ft to the summit!

I had to push my limits to keep climbing - Sandeep was ahead of me and he was almost pulling me with the rope! I was struggling to keep pace. Only thought in my mind was that I was very close and I knew I could do it! Once we reached the crater - it was a great feeling! The true summit (Columbia Crest) was on the other side of the crater - for that we had to cross the crater and climb the last few ft! We left our backpacks in the crater and went for the summit. At that point I just cried - not a cry of pain, but of mixed feelings.
We had to try hard to stand up at the summit - at 50-60 mph gusts the wind was almost blowing us away. But I still managed to smile (though I was not sure how my expression was coming out to be since I hardly could feel my face!). It was almost 6:00 pm - very late to summit and obviously no one else was there at that hour!

Finally a little stable pose! You can see the crater bowl behind us. I had no energy to take photos. I gave my camera and Veera and Miles were taking all the photos then.

This is the Liberty Cap from the Summit.

Looking South from the Summit - you could see Mt Adams in the background.

Back at the crater bowl, Team Asha climbers trying hard agaist the blowing wind to keep the Asha banner down while Miles was also trying to share his sandwich!

We had to get back soon since it was going to be dark and we had to go down the tricky rocky section. We hardly spent few minutes on the Summit. We saw beautiful sunset colors while we were climbing down. You can see the shadow of Mt Rainier.

Captaan Sandeep in sunset glory!

We were finally back at our base camp safe and sound around 9:00 pm. We had no energy or enthu to cook / melt water at that time - we ate whatever we could get hold of in front of us including some snacks & cheese and went into our sleeping bags!

That night there was a period of calmness for couple of hours or so - with no winds. But that was the silence before the storm! By 1 or 2 am at night, the snow storm started. With the fluttering of the tent, it was hard to sleep. I kept wondering when the wind would blow up the tent! By the time there was some light in the morning, there were already a few inches of fresh snow on the ground. The wind was still blowing very heavily. Somehow we managed to pack up our bags and tents and we headed back down to Camp Muir. Once we were on the Cowlitz glacier, there was no more crazy winds.

Here's me pretending to fall in a crevasse!

Finally we were back at the trailhead around 1:30 pm. The first order of business was to head to a restaurant and have a heary meal! Pretty much all of us would have lost some pounds over the last few days!

Looking back, it was an experience to remember and there were many things to learn from this. I had run couple of 1/2 marathons before and also biked more than 200 miles in STP to raise funds for Asha. But nothing really challenged my physical as well as mental limits quite like this. This has to be the hardest thing I've ever done in such rough conditions. While I was hiking up, if you would have asked me if I'd consider climbing Rainier again, I'd have emphatically said never ever would I even think of doing this!! But there is something called the call of the mountain and if you ask me now, my answer would be different!

So long Mt Rainier, but for now! I'll most likely be back!

Monday, July 13, 2009

STP 2009 - Photo Journey

I biked 202 miles from Seattle to Portland (STP) this year to raise funds for my favorite charity Asha for Education as part of STP 2009. Please visit my profile page to donate.

Mile 0: By my standards, we started early on the STP day! At 7:00 am 5 of us were flagged off from the start line - that's almost 1/2 hour before the start line closes! The rest of the Asha gang had already started almost an hour back.

I forgot my Asha bib at home (hushh - don't tell Raji!!) - but the others were proudly showing their yellow Asha bibs on their back along with the STP bib.

Mile 7: The morning was beautiful and we enjoyed riding on the side of lake washington with views of always gorgeous Mt. Rainier.

Mile 24: First food stop was REI at Kent and we reached there by 8:30 am or so. REI stop was, as usual, very cheerful atmosphere with energetic volunteers and good food! We met some of the other Asha-riders and posed for a quick group snap. By then a cat had already crossed Jay's path and he had a fall. The cat survived! :-)

As usual, there were loooong lines for honey-buckets!

As we rode south from REI stop, we could see Rainier right infront of us.

Mile 43.1: First big hill is Puyallup - which the STP booklet refers to as "THE HILL"! Well, after all the hill trainings we did, this was still tough, but nowhere close to Inglewood hill.

Mile 53.2: Finally we reached the lunch stop at Spanaway. Dave's killer bread was, as usual, amazing and with peanut-buteer and Jelly - yum! We reached Spanaway around 12:00 noon - took a long break and finally started around 1:40 pm from there.

We were now south of Rainier - stopped on the side of the road to take a look back at Rainier.

Mile 98.85: We took some mini-stops in between and finally reached Centralia - the mid-point stop around 6 pm. Unfortunately the free ice-creams and chocolate-milks were already over by then ... so we bought some ice-cream to console ourselves.

Our Saturday night stay was in Winlock - in a private house. We had to take a detour from the official STP route to get there (and remind you, that was kinda hilly!) and on the way we passed some farm houses which looked beautiful in the evening sunlight.

This is the house where 16 of us stayed overnight - it was definitely a fun experience! However, we had to ride about 2 miles extra because of the detour!

Mile 143.9: Because of our detour we missed world's largest egg in Winlock. After a few small stops at Vader and Castle Rock our 2nd day lunch stop was at Lexington park. We had to stand in long lines waiting for food.

After lunch when we headed towards columbia river, we had the first flat tire in our group (and thankfully the last one). One person took this opportunity to take a nap on the road-side while the others fixed the flat! Guess who?

Mile 151.1: Finally we reached at the Lewis and Clark bridge on the Columbia river. They open the bridge to cars and wave of bikers alternately - so we had to wait in a long line of bikers waiting to go over the bridge.

Though it can be risky, it is also fun to go over this long bridge with hundreds of bikers all round you!

Once you go up on the bridge, the reward is the downhill ramp.

Posing for a photo with the bridge behind us - we crossed Washington state and entered Oregon. About 50 more miles to go!

Mile 172: I had an accident. Few riders in front of us suddenly slowed down without any signs. I was close behind them and had to sway on my right to avoid hitting them. But that part was a very rough, dry gravel patch and the next thing I know I was on the ground. When I tried to get up, I couldn't even stand and had to sit immediately because of the pain on my hip. For a moment, I thought I won't be able to finish STP this time. Sankara, Pratheep and Vijay helped me dress my wounds in my legs and hands. After sitting for a while I was feeling better and also I was not mentally prepared to call it off when we had just about 30 miles to go!

Mile 173.85: I managed to get to the food stop at St. Helens high School which was only about a mile away from where I fell. I got my wounds properly dressed in their firstaid booth, took some ibuprofens, rest and food and was all ready to complete the rest of the 30 miles!

The weather was not really with us this time. Saturday was very hot with temperatures hoovering around 85 degrees. On sunday it was about 10 degrees cooler and rainy. We were about 10 miles away when the drizzles started looking more like proper rains and biking shoes felt like puddles.

Mile 202.3: All drenched, we finally made it to the finish line around 6:30 pm. Because of adrenaline rush and Ibuprofen I was almost oblivious to my pains and showed off my finisher medal proudly!

We pick up our luggage and posed for some more photos with other riders! It was time to freshen up and get back to Seattle, this time in a car!

In 14 hours and 12 minutes of biking (not including any time for stops) with an average speed of about 14.4 miles/hour I burned more than 10,000 calories, and sure got much more from all the calorie-rich food we ate all the way!

All this effort is to raise funds for the projects Asha Seattle supports in India. Asha Seattle is in a funding crunch this year - we need to raise $925,000 so that we don't need to do any painful cuts from our projects. With more that $550,000 either pledged or donated we are already half-way there - but we still need to raise the other $375,000 by the end of the year. This was one of the primary reasons I decided to do STP this year. Please consider donating from my profile page. Your donations to Asha are 100% tax deductible and 100% of the funds raised will go towards projects in India since Asha volunteers bear all the administrative costs of the organization.