Friday, 30 August 2013

Syrian Crisis

The United States made clear on Friday that it would punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the "brutal and flagrant" chemical weapons attack that it says killed more than 1,400 people in Damascus last week.

A U.S. strike in Syria may have severe repercussions. It may get the United States enmeshed in an inter-ethnic Syrian conflict. It might spark an international crisis with anti-American superpowers Russia and China. It could cause Bashar Assad to act in an irrational manner against his pro-American neighbors. The chance of Israel being attacked is rather low, as is the chance of the Middle East bursting into flames, but when one chooses a violent course of action in a region full of nitroglycerin, one can never anticipate the outcome. One must be prepared for the unexpected.

There's no choice left for the US, because we are human beings, and as such we cannot stand by while other human beings are executed with poison gas. We cannot sit passively when we see the bleeding women and children of east Damascus. The new international order in the wake of World War II was meant to ensure that genocide would not happen again, and that the horrific scenario of death by gassing would not be repeated. But Syria did break this order. Any lack of action at this point in time, in the face of ghastly images, would signify a loss of basic humanity. As a moral superpower, the United States cannot refrain from acting against the mass murderer from Damascus.

 After the end of the Cold War the world became a global village based on the assumption that we're all linked to the same economy, that we all share common values, that we are all subject to one basic set of principles. The international community and international law became the anchor of international order, enabling the international market to function in a manner that promoted growth and values of freedom throughout the globe. When Syria used chemical warheads in east Damascus, murdering its citizens, it also shattered international law and stripped the notion of an "international community” of any meaning.

Chemical weapons were introduced in the beginning of the 20th century, and nuclear arms were introduced in the middle of the 20th century. The greatest diplomatic success of the last few decades has been preventing the use of both. In the 21st century it will be very difficult to maintain this vital record of success. Therefore, in order to prevent the complete breakdown of the international system that has stabilized the world over the last 25 years, action is called for. What has happened in Syria can be followed by others tomorrow. It is imperative to prove to him and those of his ilk that the world will not tolerate this insanity and the world knows how to defend its core human values.

"Kahwa" - Traditional Kashmiri Aromatic Tea

For Kashmiris scattered all over the globe, it carries the nip of a lost homeland. But for others like me who come across the real taste of it occasionally, this fragrant tea is a seed of solace.
Kahwa, also called “mogil chay”, a vino-coloured tea topped with almond parings, has helped Kashmiris beat the winter chill. Though I have had it several times at my residence in Mumbai, far from my homeland, it lacked that typical aroma that might be left in the lanes of long-lost Kashmir when made in a not-so-typical way.

Kahwa is a traditional green tea consumed in Afganistan, northern Pakistan, some regions of Central Asia as well as Kashmir Valley. In Pakistan, it is made in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan regions. It is a popular breakfast tea among Kashmiris and is generally accompanied with special Kashmiri bakery items. Kashmiri Pandit migrants living in the North Indian Plains have also contributed to the tea's popularity among non-Kashmiris in recent times.

Even though exact origins of kehwa are still unclear, most Kashmiris believe that the aromatic traditional drink kahwa dates back to times immemorial & has been a part of local consumption for ages. Certain sources also trace the origins of the drink to the Yarkand valley in Xinjiang Area (Areas of Kashmir & Xinjiang were part of the Kushan Empire during the 1st & 2nd century AD. It is likely that use of kehwa & its spread from one region to another was facilitated & popularized in these regions during the Kushan rule).

The tea is made by boiling green tea leaves with saffron strands, cinnamon bark and cardamom and occasionally Kashmiri roses to add a great aroma. Generally, it is served with sugar or honey and crushed nuts - usually almonds. Some varieties are made as a herbal infusion only, without the green tea leaves.

Traditionally, Kahwa is prepared in a brass kettle known as Samavar which consists of a "fire-container" running as a central cavity, in which live coals are placed keeping the tea perpetually hot. Around the fire-container there is a space for water to boil and the tea leaves and other ingredients are mixed with the water. Kahwa may also be made in normal pans and vessels, as modern day urban living may not always permit the use of elaborate samavars.

Kahwa is usually served to guests or as part of a celebration dinner, and Saffron is added for special visitors. It is often served in tiny, shallow cups – traditionally in ‘Khosas’. Sometimes milk is also added to kahwa, but this is generally given to the elderly or the sick.


2 teaspoons Green tea
2 cloves
3 cardamoms
1 stick cinnamon
3 almonds, chopped
1-2 pinches saffron
3 tsp sugar/ honey (or as per taste)
3 cups water 


Pour 3 cups of water in a vessel and bring to a boil.
Add cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and sugar. 
Stir on low heat until sugar dissolves.
Simmer the water for 3 minutes, keeping the vessel covered.
Add the green tea leaves and immediately turn off the heat.
Let the tea sit in the water for a minute. (For a strong flavor you can leave the tea in water for 2-3 minutes)
Divide the almonds and saffron and place in the tea cups.
Pour the tea over the saffron and almond pieces.
Serve hot. (serves 2 – 3 cups)

·          It is caffeine free.
·          It is a fat burner and digestive drink that improves concentration and fights stress.
·          This drink energizes and has a warming effect. It is particularly beneficial to drink Kahwa in the cold winter night.
·          It helps to relieve headache and maintain fluid level in the body.
·          Green tea is an excellent anti-oxidant.

Ending the Rape impunity...

India’s rape epidemic has recently come into full and grotesque view. Nirbhaya’s story has simply been repeated within just 8 months. And looking at the statistics it seems it could happen again, and again and again…. WHY?? Simply because too many people in authority continue to blame the victim rather than punishing the accused. Until there is fundamental shift in these attitudes such stories will simply repeat.  

In 2012 alone there were over 635 reported rapes in Delhi – and only one person was convicted. Over 24,000 women are raped annually in India, and the real total is likely over 200,000 given that the vast majority of attacks go unreported. Rape is rampant, and the fastest growing serious crime, with an increase of 875% in the last four decades. The media, social groups, women activists, and the youth of the country came up with many protests, strikes and various other shows of anger but these laudable initiatives are unlikely to cure the rape epidemic.
A more profound and comprehensive strategy is needed. Experts on gender-based violence agree that it thrives in a culture of misogyny. Prevailing cultural attitudes among offenders and their peer groups, law enforcement and other authorities, and communities and victims’ families play a central role in enabling and permitting rape and many other crimes against women to be carried out so frequently and with impunity.
What our country needs today is a mass public education program on this serious issue. There is extensive evidence that such programs can have a significant impact on popular cultural attitudes and behavior. Few examples are:
·          Between 2009 and 2011, a ramped-up public education campaign played an essential role in India’s eradication of polio.
·          India’s Bell Bajao campaign achieved dramatic increase in awareness of laws and discussion on domestic violence, as well as women’s willingness to seek legal help.
·          The social awareness program on the use of condoms has helped in reducing the spread of AIDS and other STDs.
·           The government of California reduced cigarette sales by over 230 million packs in just two years with a massive public education campaign.

These examples and many others show that where there is the will, resources and competence to do the job well, public education can be a game-changer for social problems that often prove resistance to other methods.
Challenging the impunity around rape is crucial. But while India must improve criminal laws and law enforcement, this is not enough to stem the crisis. It is estimated that as many as 90% of rape cases go unreported, putting the actual number of attacks in India well above 200,000 per year or more. Facing such a crisis of under reporting, prevention must be part of the solution – with the fire treated at source rather than in the courts. While journalists and politicians talk tough on jail terms and punishment, the most effective and direct way to deal with this cancer is a mass public education campaign.

In a survey conducted by the Hindustan Times shortly after the Delhi gang rape, 92% of male respondents said some or all of their friends had harassed women in public spaces, and despite the gruesome rape the capital had just witnessed, 65% of the male respondents said the problem of sexual harassment was exaggerated.
These statistics show how prevalent these attitudes have become. Only by launching campaigns that shift mindsets and change the overall environment can new behavioral norms be created. Such a campaign could stop citizens from committing acts of sexual violence themselves, stop them tolerating this behavior in others, make them more likely to intervene when they encounter it and support such interventions by others. Ordinary citizens are already coming together online  to pledge what they will do to change their individual behavior, but widespread cultural change requires a concerted and society-wide effort, led and funded by the government. Only such a commitment can scale the individual commitments and momentum to the level of a nationwide shift.

Mass public education and advertising campaigns have been statistically proven to overcome social barriers and change entrenched beliefs that many deemed unchangeable. Only a government-led mass education campaign will create an India safe for women. The pervasiveness of negative attitudes towards women that underlie the terrible problem of widespread sexual assault and rape in India cannot be reduced by stricter laws and tougher enforcement alone – these do not challenge the root cause of the problem. A mass nationwide education campaign that understands the social causes of this violence, tackles misogynistic views head-on, and teaches Indian youth the value of all girls and women in Indian society is the key to reducing the epidemic of sexual violence.

To end the war on women, the government must now prioritize this policy. Only by taking the lead to champion and resource this campaign can the Indian government ensure it reaches the country’s schools, fills the nation’s airwaves, and ultimately results in a deep-seated shift in social attitudes towards violence against women. We have never seen so many people out in the streets for women’s rights. There has never been such an extraordinary moment of opportunity, or such an overwhelming public mandate for bold action. If not now, when??