Thursday, April 21, 2011

An extraordinary mission for safety of air travel

On 1st June 2009, an Air France aircraft flying from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to Paris, and carrying 216 passengers and 12 crewmen disappeared over the Atlantic. After close to two years of intense search, the debris of this aircraft are believed to have been found, more than 12800 feet under the sea. Read the extraordinary story here, don't miss it.

Investigators will now try to recover the flight recorders, lying at a place “ the sea is perfectly black, temperatures approach freezing and water pressure is equal to the weight of a car on a postage stamp......”. Hardly anyone has gone to such depths before, and the challenges the investigators face include “.....the presence of numerous bodies, some still strapped into their seats and preserved by the cold water and lack of oxygen or light.....”. Will the investigators bring up only the flight recorders, or also the bodies and hand them over to their relatives? Heart wrenching scenes would result, old wounds would be uncovered.

Read the full history of flight AF447 here.

Why are the investigators doing all this? Their mission is to establish the cause of the crash and make future air travel safer.

Air travel is becoming safer in India too. Read our contribution to this here, or here.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Marginalisation of the non-English

Have you noticed how the non-English speaking population is getting marginalized in our country?

Slowly but surely, English has come to dominate our thinking. It is the de facto language of the policy makers, the administration, the businesses, the judiciary and the like. Our internet is predominantly English. Even mass market products, meant for the Aam Aadmi are named in English. Sample this: Our motorcycle brands - Splendor, Passion, Pulsar, Discover and so on. Our detergent brands - Wheel, Surf Excel, Sunlight, Rin and so on. Biscuit brands – Tiger, Sunfeast, Mariegold, Fifty – Fifty, Nice, Krack Jack and so on. Have you noticed that every single cricket team in the IPL carries an English name - Mumbai Indians, Kolkata Knight Riders, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Delhi Daredevils, Chennai Super Kings, Kings XI Punjab, Deccan Chargers and so on.

These are all ‘mass market’ products, targeted at both the Urban and the Rural, non-English speaking audience. But every one of them has an English name. All because the managers who produce and market these products speak and think in English. When Ravi Shastri interviews Dhoni on television, they speak in English. Have you ever thought what the die hard cricket fan in Muzaffarpur or Shimoga, who does not understand Shastri’s polished English, must be thinking at that point of time? Movie stars, who make their careers in Hindi movies, give interviews in English. Even their award shows are conducted in English. Indeed, the trend now is that even the names of Hindi movies are in English, some of the dialogues are in English, and even songs are peppered with English lyrics. Gone are the days when Amitabh Bachchan’s chaste Hindi made as much impression with the audience as his powerful voice, or exceptional acting. Today's hero likes to 'show off' in English.

What does the non-English population (and that’s a large one – approximately 90% of India’s population or 100 crore Indians DO NOT know English) think of this trend?

You might have noticed that I have stated all of the above in a matter of fact way. I have not commented on whether this is good or bad. After all, the purpose of language is to communicate. If the whole country speaks a single language, it would actually be a good thing. Whichever that language be.

In fact, after Independence, when the new Constitution of India came into effect, Hindi was supposed to replace English. According to Article 343(1) of the Constitution of India, “The official language of the Union shall be Hindi written in Devanagari script”. English was the official language of the Administration during the British Raj, and as per the Constitution, it was supposed to be replaced with Hindi after a ‘transition’ period of 15 years i.e. with effect from 26th January 1965.  However, as this deadline came near, the fear of having to learn an ‘alien’ language and of being dominated by Hindi-speaking people led to severe opposition to this transition from non-Hindi speaking states, particularly Dravidian states such as Tamil Nadu. The Government then enacted the Official Languages Act, 1963, that provided for continued use of English for official purposes even after 1965.

In addition, under Article 345, individual States can legislate their own “official” languages. There are 22 languages in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, which are designated as “official languages” (English is not one of them).

When I was a child, this multiplicity of languages was taught to me as an example of India’s cultural diversity. It symbolized the vastness of India’s geographical diversity, and thousands of years of rich history. The implication was that, it was a strength, a strong point, an advantage we Indians had over other, smaller nations who had more homogeneity in language and culture. I believed in it.

But later, as I grew up, I had second thoughts. I found it to be a problem rather than an advantage. I traveled far and wide, across the country, and many a times, not knowing the ‘local’ language turned out to be a handicap. Was I not a ‘local’ in my own country? If only the whole country spoke a single language, it would be so much better! Mobility would be easier. There would be no fights over language (one issue less for the people to fight on!).

I therefore do not particularly regret this ‘Anglicization’ of the nation. The paradox that we do not mind learning English, a foreign language, but mind learning Hindi, remains. But at least, the move towards Anglicization, whenever it consummates, will unite the nation. Till the transition is complete of course, a large section of the people will get the ‘left out’ feeling. They will cheer Dhoni, but not understand a word of how he just described his victory. They will watch Shah Rukh Khan, but not know what the lyric of their favorite song means. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Adoption – a primer

A friend of mine adopted a child recently.

Given the lack of awareness about this extremely important and sensitive subject, I thought of putting in a few lines on this subject. I hope this article will be of help to those who have been thinking about adopting a child but have not yet taken the first step, as also to those who have not, but need to!

Let’s face it; a family is incomplete without a child. Kids make a home come alive. The crying, the laughing, the running around, the playfulness, the joy of watching them grow up – there’s nothing like it. The joy that you get, when your child comes running to you and gives a sweet hug as you step into your home in the evening is unparalleled. It makes the whole day’s hard work worthwhile. Why earn money if you have no one to pass it on to?

There was a time when the number of children a couple had would make a cricket team. Both my parents have siblings running into double digits.  Not all of them are alive, in fact, some of them passed away in their youth. But many survived, giving us a big, large extended family.

But times are changing. Educated urban couples are earning more and more money, but producing less and less children. Having three kids is a rarity these days, even two is becoming rare. Most of my friends have just one child. Some have none.

There could be various reasons for this trend – increase in infertility caused by changing lifestyles, working women intentionally postponing pregnancy for the sake of career, late marriages (often second or third ones) or a desire to avoid pregnancy simply to retain that perfect physical figure may be some of the reasons why women may avoid pregnancy. This is of course in addition to the natural medical reasons occurring in either of the spouses causing failure to conceive or deliver.

Whatever the reason, adoption is a solution that many ought to consider.

Regulatory framework

In India, adoption is a subject that comes under the Hindu Adoption & Maintenance Act, 1956. This Act applies to Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists. For others, such as Muslims, Christians, etc. adoption is governed by the Guardians & Wards Act, 1890, under which the parent is only the Guardian of the child till she reaches 18 years of age.

The Central Adoption & Resource Agency (CARA), an autonomous body under the Ministry of Women & Child Development of the Government of India is mandated to regulate Adoptions. The Central Government has notified guidelines, which specify that adoptions should be processed only by Government recognized Adoption Agencies. There are more than 300 such Adoption Agencies available all over the country. Any couple desirous of adopting a child can approach them and get enrolled. Last year, around six thousand children were adopted in the country. Recently, the Central Government put the entire process of adoption on an online platform. A national database is being created of the children up for adoption and the number of parents wanting to legally adopt.

Who can Adopt

Any married couple, whether having their own biological child or not, is eligible to adopt a child, subject to other eligibility conditions being satisfied. A single female, having completed 21 years of age, is also eligible to adopt, though a single male is usually not. For a child less than one year of age to be adopted, the combined age of both the parents must not exceed 90 years, and neither parent must be more than 45 years of age.

The child

Adoption Agencies maintain an inventory of children who are available for adoption. These children come to them from various sources, such as children found abandoned at birth by parents, or children willingly given away by parents to the Adoption Agency for some reason. Reasons for the later could be the child being illegitimate and not being ‘acceptable’ to the couple, or death of one or both the parents in an accident, or if the biological parent(s) thinks they will not be able to raise the child properly due to poor financial conditions or any other reason. In some cases, the Agency knows the identity of the biological parents of the child, in some cases it may not. In any case, the identity of the biological parents and adopted parents is kept strictly secret from each other. This ensures that there are no problems later on, when the child grows up.

The Adoption process

The interested couple needs to approach a recognized Adoption Agency and register themselves. One can also register with more than one Agency, if necessary. In the application, the interested couple has to give all the details not just of their name and address, but also employment, income, family background, references etc and satisfy the Adoption Agency of their genuineness and ability to raise the child. The Adoption Agency checks the antecedents of the couple, conducts detailed interviews with the couple and even with the references. It satisfies itself that the couple is financially sound and emotionally stable and can raise the child properly.

The couple can choose whether they want a boy or a girl, giving appropriate justification. They can also specify other preferences such as a particular age group, skin colour, special features etc. However, more the conditions one specifies, the more difficult it is to find a suitable match. It is heartening to note that the number of couples choosing girls is more than those opting for boys.

When the child is identified (and even before), the Adoption Agency performs a lot of counselling and provides training to the adopting parent(s). It is natural that the prospective parents have a lot of questions in their mind – Who is this child? What is her background? Will she ‘gel’ in our family when she grows up? Will she be healthy? It is upto the Agency to speak to the prospective parents and give them the confidence to go ahead with the decision.

As part of its adoption obligations, the adopting couple needs to create a fund in the name of the child and deposit specified money in it at regular intervals. An alternate “guardian” also needs to be given, who will “inherit” the child in the unfortunate event of the death of both the adopting parents before the child grows up.
Even after the adoption process is complete, the Adoption Agency performs regular checks to see that the commitments given by the parents are met and in the event of not being satisfied, can take the child back. After observing for a period of more than three to six months, the Agency can clear the child for adoption and only then, the court passes a final order completing the Adoption. After that, the parents can apply for the birth certificate of the child with their names mentioned as ‘parents’ on it. The Adoption Agency will continue to visit the child to see that she is taken good care of, for a period of 10 years from the time of adoption. An important aspect of raising the child is that as the child grows up, she is gradually told that she is adopted and not the biological child of the parents. This ensures that she does not get an emotional shock when she grows up, if she learns the truth from some other sources.


As mentioned above, the number of couples without a child, either out of choice or otherwise, is on the rise. On the other hand, our country also has a large number of children, who deserve a better life, but are not able to get it for no fault of theirs. In such a case, adopting a child meets the needs of both, the child and the parents, and makes life worthwhile. For educated urban couples who can afford a child or two, the joys and pleasures of having a child at home far exceed the pain and costs of it. While population control is a priority in a country like India, it needs to happen at the bottom of the pyramid, not at the top of it. But that is a topic I will reserve for another day!