Friday, September 29, 2006


Shymkent, Kazakhstan: This industrial city is reeling after learning that at least 63 children have been infected with HIV through medical negligence many blame on corruption and the illicit sale of blood.

At least five infected toddlers have died after receiving injections or blood transfusions in hospitals in Shymkent, a city in Kazakhstan's most densely population region 1,000 miles south of the capital.

Valentina Skryabina, leader of the non-government group Nadezhnaya Opora, which works to prevent AIDS among drug addicts, is convinced the illegal sale of blood is the source of the HIV in Shymkent's hospitals.

''Blood is an article of trade.... Hospitals are offered blood, and not always through the (official) blood centre. People trade in blood like they do in human organs.''

Skryabina said addicts and the homeless have been accepted by the regional blood centre because they agreed to be paid less than the official rate of $47 for about a half-pint of blood.

''Was their blood properly checked? We are not sure,'' she said.

Officials say they cannot comment on Skryabina's allegations until their investigation is over. Authorities do say, however, that five blood donors who are suspected to be HIV-carriers weren't found at their registered addresses.

Parents in this city of 400,000 are trying to conduct their own investigation. They say regional health officials were aware of the outbreak in March, and have been trying to cover it up by pulling pages from the infected toddlers' treatment records to eliminate any mention of blood transfusions.

The parents allege that up to 40 HIV-infected children aged 3 and under have died, but the true cause of the deaths was being concealed or attributed to diseases such as cirrhosis. Authorities declined to comment on these allegations, too, pending the investigation.

Some 13,000 children who were possibly infected have yet to be tested. Adults, too, could be infected: so far, three mothers of infected toddlers have tested positive for HIV.

Lawmaker Satybaldy Ibragimov says nothing will improve until Kazakhstan roots out corruption, which penetrates even universities where future doctors are graded according to the amount of money they give professors - and later treat people based on their ability to pay.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev's government has taken tough action. The health minister and the regional governor were fired this month, and several top regional health officials, the head of the regional blood centre and several senior doctors are under criminal investigation.

New governor Omyrzak Shukeyev, former mayor of the capital Astana, called the situation in Shymkent's health care system ''a catastrophe.'' He ordered an appraisal of medical staff in the region to root out incompetent or corrupt staff.

Shukeyev, under orders from Nazarbayev to urgently resolve the crisis, pleaded with experts at an AIDS crisis meeting this week: ''I'm waiting like nothing else for a moment when you say that the virus has been contained.''

''We cannot give you a time frame. This is going to be a lingering epicentre of disease,'' replied Vyacheslav Dudnik, the region's new health chief.

Shukeyev said the government would restructure and modernize the region's medical institutions. Each infected toddler's family will be given about $800 - twice the average monthly salary - in compensation and all treatment will be paid for by the government.

The most immediate problem is the lack of local expertise on how to treat young children with the AIDS virus.

Four AIDS specialists from UNICEF and several experts from Russia have been asked to help. But for now, said Sagdat Masaurov, whose 18-month-old grandson is infected, ''nobody can tell us where to go, what to do and how.''

Officially, by the end of 2004 Kazakhstan had about 4,700 HIV/AIDS cases, but the real number is believed to be higher. In the first six months of this year, the country recorded 828 new HIV carriers and 70 AIDS patients, a 70 percent increase over 2005.

Parents carrying toddlers come in a steady flow to the rundown two-story AIDS centre in Shymkent for HIV tests.

In the centre's courtyard, anxious-looking parents with HIV-infected children await examinations by doctors. Children can be heard crying.

Eighteen-month old Baurzhan Alseitov sat in his mother's arms, a blank look on his face. His father, Kanat Alseitov, was afraid the child's listlessness indicated the virus was already sapping his little body.

''He was restless and cried all night. He doesn't want to walk anymore,'' the father said.

Courtesy: Sify
I really don't know what to say. Cannot imagine anything more sad right now.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Haathi mere Saathi?

Laxmi, a 25 year old elephant died an unfortunate death on 22nd September, a Friday after a water tanker hit her on Wednesday. Although her death was due to the carelessness of the drunk driver, her death has brought into the forefront the pathetic conditions under which the elephants live in Mumbai.

This is Laxmi’s second accident that unfortunately proved to be the fatal one. However, Laxmi is not the only one going through the ordeal. There are more than ten elephants that live in miserable conditions in Mumbai. Away from their natural habitat, they survive in the city and earn their daily food by modelling in films, advertisements and by begging. They also play a very important role in various Hindu rituals all over the city.

Most animal activists are at loggerheads with all the elephant-owners in the city. There are about 7-8 elephants in the entire city of Mumbai which are owned by three people between them. Saba Shankar Pandey, one prominent elephant owner in the city believes that he is fulfilling a genuine need of the people by supplying elephants to them for various purposes. “They think we are inflicting cruelty on them. It would be cruel to restrict their movement. They don’t understand our rich sanskriti. Everyone is out to destroy our ancient culture” he said.

Amisha Shah of People for animals said, “The elephants love to walk but not on tar roads. Making them walk on tar roads in the hot afternoons is extremely tough for the elephants. This is not their natural habitat.” The elephants do not have single place for themselves in the city. The elephants sleep at any place in the night after begging all over the city.

Debashish Majumdar, Executive Secretary Thane SPCA said “Elephants live in captivity with insufficient space. Elephants are extremely intelligent animals with a strong sense of social order. Captive conditions fail to provide an interesting, stimulating and rewarding environment. They develop foot problems which are very rarely treated properly in captivity.”

Pandey claims that they spend a minimum of Rs 500 on each of the elephants they own. Imran (name changed to protect identity); a close associate of Pandey alleges that the elephants have to earn for their food everyday. He added, “The owners do not invest anything on the elephant’s well-being. The onus of the elephant’s well being is on the mahout. The elephants are given away to the mahout wherein the latter has to pay Rs 500 everyday to the owner. The rest of the money which is earned by begging is pocketed by the Mahout to take care of his and the elephant’s expenses.” The activists claim that one needs to spend almost Rs 1000 everyday on their food. The elephants need more than 150 kgs of food everyday and 40 gallons of water.

Most of the elephant-owners have procured their elephants from an annual elephant mela that is held in Sonpur in Bihar every year. They are also procured from a place near Nepal. The younger ones attract the maximum price. Currently, one elephant costs about 10-12 lakhs. Imran futher added, “Many villagers in Uttar Pradesh own elephants and keep them in their houses. Many owners purchase from them since it is a cheaper alternative.”

Dharmesh Solanki of People for Animals, Mumbai said “The licence for the ownership of wild animals is given by the respective state forest department. The owner of the elephant has to mention the state or region in which he wants to keep the animal while obtaining the licence. Each time he decides to take the animal to another state, the forest department has to be informed and requisite transit permission should be obtained. He has to give information about the place he is going, the route he will be taking the animal through, the number of days he will be stayingat a particular place etc. It is the duty of the wildlife officer of the state to enquire about the animal and also the duty of the owner to seek them and declare his animal.”

The laws including the Wildlife Protection Act-1972 prevent private ownership of all wild animals. An exception could be when permission is given by principal chief conservator of forests for a specific purpose for a limited amount of time subjected to the condition that the animals are kept as per the Central Zoo Authority guidelines. The other laws which ban the presence of a wild animal in the city are Bombay Police Act, Prevention of Cruelty towards Animals Act, Begging Prohibition Act.

N.G Jayasimha, Co-ordinator of Campaign and Legal Affairs, People for Ethical Treatment for Animals “It is generally noticed that most of the elephants in the city do not carry proper papers with them, and hence it is difficult to ascertain the ownership of the animal. According to the forest department (in their letter dated 23/08/2006) they have not issued any permission or granted any license to parade elephants in the city.”

The animal activists also used Right to Information to find out what the wild animals are doing in the city. Jaisimha said, “The forest department has admitted under RTI that they have not taken any action on the owners of elephants in Mumbai in an event of their accident or death. According to the Forest Department, there are only 4 elephants registered with them. But according to information available with PETA and other animal organizations, there are at least over 11 elephants in the city.”

{Imran who is a close associate of Pandey and quit working for him after he could not bear to see the elephants being tortured.}

It is extremely sad that in a city wherein the elephant headed god is revered and loved so much, there are elephants which live under such pathetic conditions in the city. The irony can be unnerving at times.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Caste communities on Orkut

Do check the clarifications below...

What do you guys think of the Orkut Communities where the common underlying purpose of their origin is CASTE? There are so many of them viz. Iyers, Brahmins, Iyengars, Panchals, Patels, etc. In India, surnames are the prime indicators of which section of the society one belongs to. Asking for one's surname is a rampant thing in Maharashtra. Whenever I am asked my name, people are never satisfied if I say my name is Shobha. Their immediate question would be, 'Shobha what?' thus emphasizing the need for a surname. This is one of the ways to identity the caste you belong to.

Personally, I am extremely uncomfortable being a part of such communities. For me, joining a community where the only thing I have in common with others is the fact we all belong to a SAME CASTE is something I am just not comfortable with. Sometimes I wonder what could be discussed in forums like these.... There can be interesting discussions based on understanding of certain rituals, festivals and lot of other stuff. But I still wonder, do we need a forum based on a certain CASTE for that? Can't people do it in any other way? Most of the discussions I have seen are sad {my personal opinion}

Even though Orkut represents just a small fraction of our society, it says so much about us. In an already polarised society like ours, it is sad that we resort to grouping together on the basis of CASTE, something that's an inherited factor of our life. It's funny that one tends to associate oneself with CASTE, something that we had never consiously decided to be a part of. In the backdrop of the whole reservation wrangle, such associations just show how deeply casteist our society is.

But I guess that communities like this will never cease to exist since CASTE is an identity factor for many. I feel such groupisms only are a subtle reflection of the casteist bent of our society. It's an irony that people group themselves by alienating themselves from the mainstream. However, I guess it's quite common. Technology only enhances the propogation of certain age old beliefs. While earlier one would have Kerala Samaj, Bohri Samaj, Protestant societies etc, now we have their online versions in Orkut. I have seen that strong bonds amongst the community provide great social security for the people. However, I wonder should social security be achieved at the cost of alienating onself from the mainstream?

Some clarifications:
  • I have mentioned in my post that Orkut is just a representation of our society in general. It is not THE SOCIETY :| Please credit me with some basic intelligence. Read the post carefully again....

  • Also, I personally find it stupid to have a community formed on the basis of CASTE. I personally feel that CASTE system should be redundant. Such groupings still reinforce the old superiority or inferiority complexes depending on which ever side one belongs to. If not directly, then subtly it definitely does. I don't think it is an issue to form a community based on lingustic lines. I don't think it reinforces any age old streotypes of superiority just on the basis of association to a particular language. However CASTE does. It reinforces all the sick, sad stereotypes which I personally don't think are relevant {or ideally should not be relevant} any more.

  • It does not bother me since I feel it is everyone has a right to make their own choices. However such communities amuse me to a great extent since I never had thought that I will see an Orkutised version of a Patel Samaj, or a Dalit Samaj etc. For me, my CASTE isn't my identity. Unfortunately for many others, it still is.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Don't you think it's a criminal coincidence that the Twin tower bombings and the Satyagraha movement started by by Mahatma Gandhi share the same date? It is sadder when 9/11 is remembered more because of the former than the latter....

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Blast Mania and a Thank you

Its the blast time again. This time in Malegaon, in Nashik district in Maharashtra. Damn man, I don't know if there would be any end to the terror travail. It just springs up from just about nowhere. Everyone is caught napping. The whole situation is so hopeless.

I remember when the serial blasts happened in Mumbai couple of months back, it was just absolute panic. Fortunately I was on the other side of the town and thus escaped the blasts. Otherwise being a regular commuter in trains, I could very well have been one of the casualities. Things were so bad that I was not able to get in touch with any of my friends, relatives since the phone lines were completely jammed. Thankfully none of my friends and acquaintances got hurt.

My blog was completely inactive during that period. One of the reasons being, I was extremely caught up with work that I had no time for anything else. During those months, I rarely frequented even my own blog leave alone other regulars. I had almost forgotten what my blog looked like. Well, now the blogging bug has bit me again and I was going through the comment boxes of my previous posts when I chanced upon this message....

Anonymous said...

Hello Shobha,

I just wanted to let you know that someone in London( i do not know the name) was worried for you after the bombay blasts. They had given this link on and enquired if you were safe.Please contact them.


When I read it, I was completely puzzled. Some of the UK bloggers whom I know of are Jag, Chakra and Dubukku. I immediately went to the site to check who might have wanted to get in touch with me. I surfed through some of the comments and found out that it was jag who was worried about me. I found this...

and this....

I remember Jag and Dubukku had left behind a comment on my blog inquiring if I am safe. I remember having responded in couple of days. However, I did not know that he had also made inquiries at the Mumbai help blog. {They have removed the comments on the blog wherein people have confirmed the whereabouts of their friends. However, I looked around for its cache and managed to grab a screenshot.} I would never have known that he had made inquiries had it not been for the stranger who left the above message.

To be frank,I am overwhelmed. I discovered this just a few days back. I did not know that there were people living miles away from where I live inquiring if I am safe. Though we have been around for just couple of years,my interaction with them is restricted to just comments on each other's blogs.Thanks Jag. Thanks Dubukku for making the effort. They needn't have done that, but they went ahead and did it nevertheless. It was really sweet of you guys to do that. You really made my day. I will never forget this gesture. I guess this is what Blogging has given me. So much goodwill, so much love and so many friends. Thank you.

P.S. While chatting with one of my colleagues, I wondered aloud about the exact motive of the blasts in Malegaon. He said, "Well if Lashkar E Taiba is caught involved as the popular perception goes, I guess they are trying to tell the world that they are secular terrorists, they kill people of all relegions." :|

Friday, September 08, 2006

Freaky coincidences

One of my favourite cousins got married recently. She lives in Sydney, Australia. Due to some personal reasons she got married in Australia itself. Many of us in India could not attend her marriage due to various reasons. Now Australia is a new place for my cousin and her family. Therefore my Attai and Athimber thought it would be a cool idea to seek help from the local tamil association of Sydney. The association members were immensely co operative and helped them out in successfully conducting a small and a simple marriage ceremony.

I was casually narrating this incident to Vidya. Vidya in turn told her mother about my cousin's marriage. To my utter surprise, she told me that her mother knew the couple in question. Now this is weird since my cousin and Vidya don't know each other at all. This is how the conversation went...

V: I told my mother about your cousin's marriage and she seems to be aware of the whole thing.

S: Eh? How can she be aware of it?

V: Well, my family is also the member of the local Tamil association. Some of the members had contacted my mother asking her if she could arrange for the catering for the marriage.

S: Wow...

V: yea...she asked me...'That's a Palakkad girl who got married right?'

S: OH MY GOD.....then what happened? Did she attend the marriage?

V: No ya, she couldn't. On that there was no one to drive mom to the marriage venue. She was all ready to arrange the food for the marriage provided there was some private transport that could be arranged. Ultimately, she couldn't go.

Now don't you think this is freaky? Miles away from where I live, my cousin gets married and my friend who doesn't know anything about my cousin, almost becomes a part of her marriage without even knowing that the couple in question are my relatives. is a friggin small place.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Reminder to myself

Subah ka bhoola shaam ko ghar laut-tha hain toh use bhoola nahi kehte....

Many a times it so happens that in pursuit of the so-called important things in life, hobbies become the first casualty. I have missed blogging about so many wonderful things due to some stupid reasons which were hitherto considered extremely important. I am not making the same mistake now. I would be posting in couple of days. Cheers :D