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The Malayali Morality: Have your say

>> Saturday, December 12, 2009

Everyday,we hear some stories or other about women being molested in Kerala.The media thrive on them.

Earlier we could only read the stories on newspapers. Now we see them all on television, men and women covering their faces to avoid cameras,and a hoard of men outside to catch a glimpse of the poor women.it is a sadistic pleasure.Even if the woman had gone voluntarily to earn her daily bread,it is twisted in to a molestation story.Last month,a girl was trafficked all around Cochin on a motor bike,and when caught ,she said she was traded ,against her will.In most of the cases the women were taken to different parts of the state,stayed at class hotels where they had spent their nights,with men who paid for their services.At the end, the men had to undergo arrests,trials and public scorn and ridicule and humiliation..For many of them, it costs their family lives.We act as if we are the watchmen of morality, and divinity incarnate.

Harassing women in public places has become more or less an accepted hobby.Not many women can walk around confidently in our cities,with out getting pawed.The truth is that there will be hardly any woman who can escape pawing if they happen to travel by a public transport,specially a crowded city bus.

"All this often makes us long for a sexually promiscuous society so that these sick men can go and do it with willing women instead of bothering strangers".Comment by an NRI lady who recently visited Bombay.

“India is filled with perverted sex hungry , uncivilized men who gets sexually pampered by the Bollywood women every day. These vulgar Indian men are sex hungry. Native Indian women do not provide the sex to these Indian vulgar mens need. Sexual perversion is rampant in public transportation, roads, cinema halls and other public places. Be careful if you travel to India.” This was written by an NRI traveller in a Travel magazine.Too outright,I would say,and a bit harsh.

"Kumarakom, Kerala: Two minor girls from Canada, holidaying in Kumarakom, were allegedly molested by a security staff of a hotel, raising concerns over the safety of foreign tourists visiting Kerala. Police said the sisters, aged 12 and 13, came here and stayed at the hotel two days ago.Following the incident, the family cut short their stay and left the place".

And just few days back,we heard the story of a young girl who was arrested  on a molestation charge at Trivandrum,and  then molested by four policemen while in custody,after sending away  a  police woman away on some errand...Keepers of law and order!!.This makes us suspicious of the very purpose of our policemen and their enthusiasm in chasing these kind of cases.

There are too many similiar stories to mention.

What a credit to the moralists of Gods own country!

India's Supreme Court has asked the government to consider whether it might legalise prostitution if it is unable to curb it effectively.
The court said legalising prostitution would help in the monitoring of the trade and rehabilitating sex workers.
It is estimated that there are more than two million female sex workers in the country.
The court's remarks came while dealing with a public interest litigation filed by an NGO about child trafficking. The court said child trafficking and prostitution were flourishing because of poverty.

"When you say it is the world's oldest profession and you are not able to curb it by laws, why don't you legalise it?" Judges Dalveer Bhandari and AK Patnaik asked a government solicitor.

"You can then monitor the trade, rehabilitate and provide medical aid to those involved."

The solicitor said that he would look into the court's suggestions.

"The [sex workers] have been operating in one way or the other and nowhere in the world have they been able to curb it by legislation," the judges said.

"In some cases, [the trade] is carried out in a sophisticated manner. So, why don't you legalise it?"

A government-commissioned study says that the number of sex workers has risen from two million in 1997 to three million in 2003-04.Prostitues in India earn little,  as little as 4 dollars a day. A meager amount, but one that could be the difference between life and death for a starving family.

Alexa Albert, MD, wrote in her 2001 book Brothel that:

However disturbing the idea of commercial sex may be to some of us, it's naïve to believe that prostitution can ever be eliminated. The demand will be met with supply one way or another, no matter what is legislated. Turning our backs on the women (and men) who do this work may be far more immoral - even criminal - than prostitution itself. Only when we recognize and validate the work of professional prostitutes can we expect them to practice their trade safely and responsibly.

"Prohibition of gambling and alcohol have both been tried in varying degrees in many countries around the world, always with the result of stimulating illegality and sleaze. The sex industry appears to be no different. All developed economies have conceded that the business is impossible to stamp out. Tolerating prostitution while leaving it technically illegal or semi-legal encourages corruption: policemen are paid to turn a blind eye. It also renders the workers helpless against their employers and the policemen.

In many countries across the world, prostitution is more or less legalised.At least,there is some governmental supervison,to avoid child trafficking, promote  healthy pracices ,and to lessen crimes related to the profession.
Prostitution has been there from Biblical times.That is not an excuse to justify the cause.But if a minor willful vice saves many major crimes,and makes lives easier for ordianry people,what would you say?


Abu and From Kippers to Karimeen

>> Saturday, December 5, 2009

Sometimes, good things happen on the television. I was watching a programme on Jeevan TV few days back,a re telecast of a short film on Abu Abraham,the legendary cartoonist. I Knew Abu had died few years back,and so ,the curiosity kept me glued to the TV till the end. Abu was a small, wiry man, who looked, with his shinily bald pate surrounded by long gray hair, like a holy man. The interview with Abu was wonderful,and so was the location. Later I came to know that the interview was done at his Baker designed house "Saranom" at Trivandrum."Like my cartoons,there is lot of space in my house",he said."I wish I could draw like a child. It is very difficult to get that kind of simplicity and appeal". 

He had worked for almost 16 years in the UK,after a modest career in India with Bombay Chronicle and Shankar's weekly.He worked for newspaprs amd magazines like The Punch,The Sketch,The Eastern World,The Observer and finally,The Guardian. 
Abu was a quiet, contemplative person and in the early 1990s returned to Kerala because he said that everywhere else, he missed "the temple bells, festivals and the scent of jasmine, all the senses and tastes". 
In an obituary article, The Guardian (December 7, 2002) recalled: "His style of drawing was astonishing and singular. It was utterly contemporary but as lithe as the decorative linearity of the Mughal courts.... and as expressive as the hand movements of a classical Indian dancer...He 'walked tall while others crawled'. 

Abu was unsparing in his criticism and often earned much-admired disfavour for his commentaries on Indian politics, its leaders and society. During the Emergency, Abu remained one of the shining examples of professionalism and courage, and his cartoons of that period have a heroic status in the history of Indian journalism. . At a time when the press was censored, critics were being jailed and journalists were falling silent, Abu's cartoons came to be referred to as "single-line editorials".

 All along the interview I had glimpses of an elderly,bit overweight Europen lady in the background,and guessed it must be his wife.She never came in during the interview. I was curious. I also felt happy and relieved that at least ocassionally,we have learned to recognise and remember the legends of our times.

My curiosity led  me to the life of one of the most intriguing women I have seen.And from her comes 'From Kippers to Karimeen".It is something of an autobiography,written by Psyche Abraham ,Abu's wife,and published recently, after Abu's death.She is brave,not because she fought wars,but showed the courage to open up her life in front of everyone as a memoir.One can learn lessons...cant we?In todays world,with so much full of hypocrisy,it is hard to find women with courage to discuss their own personal lives.In a country like ours, a woman has narrated her life with three husbands,and the many lovers in between, and even an affair with someone new,while waiting for her lover to join her and marry her.It is not that there is much to applaud about her life,but the openness needs to be appreciated.
We see a woman who determinedly plots her own path through a society that still labels a woman with a past as a nymphomaniac and admires an adventurous man as a playboy. .The book is also a rare insight into a world gone by. Psyche’s accounts of life evokes a gentler Calcutta, Bombay and Delhi that today’s urban gridlocks rarely reveal.This is  also the life story of a child, a mother, an explorer, a home-maker, a worker, a lover, and a woman. Through her relationships, joys and tribulations, one comes to understand her enduring love for India.She says she finds herself a 'misfit' in her own hometown.
(Kippers are salted and smoked herring, found in the cold waters around the British coast and traditionally eaten by the English and Scots for breakfast. Karimeen is known in English as Pearl Spot and is found in abundance in the warm, brackish waters of  Kerala)

I planned to write on Abu,then thought it would not be complete if I dont mention his partner and wife.I am sure the narration would evoke some curiosity in to the book itself.Everybody has a story to say.Her name itself has a story. Christened Valerie Anne, it was one of her lovers, poet James Michie, who nicknamed her Psyche. Moralists may find fault with her, but her story is riveting, not just for the sexual escapades but for the comments she makes on the turbulent times she passed through.
Abu was legendary.Asked how he wants to be remembered,he said..'as a man who lived his life without creating trouble for others'.He earned his reputation through his skills and hard work.There was a simplicity in his looks,in his life, and in whatever he said. And we know Psyche through Abu.
Now,we are here not to judge others...


Drug mafias and fake medicines..

>> Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Recently, I had reasons to go to a medical shop at Trivandrum. I gave them the prescription for Dexona injection(Dexamethasone) intended for my daughter n law. (It  contains cortisone,and is a life saving medicine)  Luckily,after reaching home, I was looking at the vial and noticed the Dexona "Vet" label on it. The drug they gave me was intended  for veterinary use and NOT for human!!.I went back and asked the young boy behind the counter.He said,Sir,your driver usually buys medicines for your dog,and so..... Wonderful answer..isnt it. He probably was trying to impress me with personalised service...like they offer in bars,when a regular drunkard walks in,and the bar attendant welcomes him with his regular brand of drink.... I have often wondered whether the person behind the pharmacy counter himself is really qualified, as in whether he is a trained pharmacist or has simply ‘learnt’ the trade through an apprenticeship, many of these so called pharmacists look suspiciously young, unkempt and I have seen some, who  even passes comments,and make "better" suggestions, when requests for  medicines are made,as if they knew better than the doctor who prescribed.. Thinking about it, I would not be far from the truth if I said the entire ‘drug’ industry in the country is rather unregulated, thus giving way to huge amounts of fake drugs, quacks who operate as doctors and fraud pharmacists, to mention  few among many problems.

We in Kerala ,always boast of our literacy and health awareness.A recent survey showed that Kerala is the largest consumer of medications in India. The average consumption of medicines here is three times the national average!!.India has a twenty thousand crore fake drug market!And 30% of medicines sold in Kerala are fake medicines. And most of these fake medicines have been found to be made in slums,under unhygenic conditions,by people who have no idea about what they are making.

If you are not careful,the next time you buy Paracetamol for fever,the chances are that you will be taking tapioca powder than Paracetamol itself..Imagine what would happen if it is a life saving drug ! Common counterfeits include expensive medicines like Plavix( a blood thinning agent given after heart attack) and Lipitor( medicine to lower cholesterol).
This is not an isolated phenomenon happening here.The World Health Organisation estimates that up to 10% of medicines available globally are counterfeits.The sale of fake drugs from China and other countries is expected to reach £38 billion by 2010. Fake drugs industries are thriving in China and exports medicines all over the world,including India, often with " Made in India" label. A fake consignment of Zyprexa, an anti-psychotic treatment prescribed for schizophrenia( mental illness), infiltrated Britain's national healthcare system last year. Following this, more than £3million of fake LIFE SAVING MEDICINES for ailments such as heart disease and cancer were intercepted by customs officials and  security agencies. Frightening...isnt it?. They took immediate steps like banning the repackaging of medicines and the mandatory use of special seals to stop counterfeiters,and bar codes to determine whether a drug is genuine or not.

Medicines are life saving,it is not just any other commercial commodity,and has its own sanctity.

Coming back to us,there are some other interesting observations.When my daughter was sick ,I had to frequent pharmacies at Trivandrum..and these are lessons I learned,and hadn't known earlier. If you look at the drug label,you will notice an  MRP ( Maximum Retail Price) printed ,either at the side or back of the strip or affixed on the bottle..For a medicine,on which was written  Rs1220, I had to pay only Rs780 at the Neethi Store in front of SAT Hospital. Had I bought it  from any other pharmacy,I would have paid the whole 1220 printed on the strip plus taxes!! Such is the profit margine on medicines. MRP only means that the medicine can be sold up to that price,but can be sold for a much lesser price.There are no clear cut regulations on drug prices..I had seen an article in a Local news paper comparing drug prices at various medical shops,and it was unbelievable. Most of the medicines can be sold at half the prices of what is written as MRP.For a little  bit of effort, and a bit of extra time,make sure you go to a reliable medical store( I believe the safest are the Neethi medical stores,or like those) and buy  your medicines,if you dont have money to throw around.

And also make sure that your medicines are not substituted by the pharmacist,to another brand,than what was prescribed by the doctor.

 Kerala’s medical distribution system is also one of the most abused and exploited, controlled by thousands of unscrupulous distributors and retailers who often practise the profession of pharmacy without following the basic norms set by the  Pharmacy Council or Drug controller authorities.Pharmacies are mushrooming everywhere,for the simple reason that it is easy money and profit.In the greed for money,man stoops down to any level, even selling medicines ,knowing they are fake,and can kill sometimes. It is an open secret that most of the pharmacies function with the Pharmacist licence of those who are not actually working there, are employed elsewhere, are very old and sick or even dead persons! Health care is the responsibility of the State. It has to impose strict regulations on issue of licences to new pharmacies and enforce the registration norms prudently. The quality of drugs has to be ensured by the Pharmacy Council and they have  to stipulate stringent conditions for issuing licences and renewal of registrations ,and implement them. Drug inspectors should periodically inspect pharmacies,and violators must be closed down.
Government institutions also use the system of tenders while purchasing medicines,where the lowest tender wins the deal.This process can lead to unhealthy relations between the authorities and the pharmaceuticals. So the cheapest,and therefore,  medicines of the lowest quality reach the poor people who depend on them.

  Rigorous punishment of those who deal with fake medicines,on same terms as illegal drug traffickers,must be formulated. A Chinese man was sentenced for 11 years of imprisonment for selling fake drugs on the Internet last month, which has been the heaviest sentence for such crime given by a Chinese court.We need to follow the steps as well.

As long as criminals can harvest enormous profits, patients will remain vulnerable. The counterfeiters target the weakest members of our societies - the young, the sick, the economically disadvantaged, and it is our obligation to take action.In a state,where everyone knows everything about everything,I am surprised the public turns a blind eye towards such a grave issue.


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