Tag Archives: United States

‘Qualifications’ of a surrogate mother

Article published in The Hindu

Poor, widowed, abandoned, indebted, uneducated and desperate — these are but the ideal qualifications of a surrogate mother today.

For a barren couple who cannot find a surrogate in their own circles, the womb of this underprivileged woman that is on hire, is almost sacred. And with no paucity of deprived women in the State, the couple literally have a wide ‘variety’ of women to choose from.

From a poor woman’s age, looks, background to health, the choice rests entirely on the wanting couple. That apart, the lifestyle of this woman during the ten-month-long period of surrogacy all but depends on the couples’ diktat.

And finding these women, surprisingly, is no difficult task with numerous self-appointed ‘agents’ spread across the city. Acting as a conduit between the poor surrogate, prospective parents and fertility clinics, these agents are a busy lot.

For an unemployed, abandoned or widowed woman with a family to look after, the Rs. 2 lakh offered by agents, or in certain cases clinics themselves, even for bearing another’s child is no small amount.

Wretched situation

“The situation of women who have decided to act as surrogate mothers is wretched one. While earlier only widowed women with no means of livelihood were willing, it is a different scene today,” said Seshasai, a medical practitioner.

A self-certified doctor in Dilsukhnagar, Seshasai also doubles up as an agent and counsellor helping poor woman find an income in surrogacy. “It is a shame that, because of the money involved, husbands themselves are ready to leave their wives with us for nine months to act as surrogates today,” he added.

Although married and with children these women are forced to practically live in isolation, away from their families, throughout the period of pregnancy. “Commercial surrogates are discouraged from living with their families owing to the possibility of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases and other such reasons,” said Dr. K. Anuradha of Anu Test Tube Baby Centre.

Commercial surrogates are kept in hostel accommodations maintained by agents or certain clinics themselves. Despite several issues and uncertainties involved in the process, poor women are today increasingly looking at surrogacy as a means of livelihood. “Almost nine years ago, I had to convince poor patients at my clinic about the monetary benefit of acting as a surrogate mother. Today, poor women from across the State are themselves convincing their kin to take up surrogacy for the money,” said Seshasai. And bringing in other women to act as surrogates too is not without its incentives. Every time a woman refers another to an agent for surrogacy, she receives a sum of up to Rs. 25,000, agents said.



Wikileaks war: Is this the first cyber war?

Chennai: The War cloud hovers over the cyber space, as the first concerted cyber war started by anonymous supporters of Wikileaks, intensifies.

Wikileaks started releasing, in a series of disclosures, thousands of United States diplomatic correspondence to the extreme embarrassment of the US State department. It is widely believed that US government has put pressure on US based web hosting companies urging them to stop hosting Wikileaks’ website, which resulted in the expulsion of Wikileaks from Amazon’s servers and leaving Wikileaks without operating main site. This, along with the arrest and possible extradition of its founder, Julian Assange, on rape charges and withdrawal of MasterCard and PayPal services to the Wikileaks organisation triggered what is called Operation Anonymous by the supporters of the Wikileaks.

Operation Anonymous started launching its cyber attack on MasterCard and PayPal web sites bringing their web services with Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS). Other targeted sites are Swiss Bank PostFinance which froze Assange’s finances and site of US Senator Joe Lieberman, who claimed to have contacted Amazon to pressure it to stop hosting the WikiLeaks site.

Thousands of Wikileaks supporters are downloading the software, which was used in the DDOS attack, in support of Wikileaks in the virtual war declared on it by the US Government. US and UK governments have sounded the alarm bells in anticipation of further cyber attacks. So far it seems like supporters of Wikileaks are winning. Support for Wikileaks is also pouring from various quarters. Navi Pillay UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed her concern over the pressure being created over the Wikileaks website. Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism faculty and officers wrote an open letter to the US President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder urging the government to treat Wikileaks as engaging in journalistic activity and to protect it under the First Amendment of the American Constitution. Questions were also raised about the actions of companies that are denying services to the website. An interesting development in this issue is that Wikileaks’ Iceland payment processor, Datacell ehf, toook legal action against MasterCard and Visa for breaching their terms of service with the provider by blocking payments to the whistleblowers’ website for a week, although that could be extended.

Julian Assange, though targeted by the western governments, was termed as the “Man of the year” by Time magazine, and is finding support from various quarters. Number of celebrities turning up to offer Assange, his bail money is a testimony to this. But his persecution has not stopped. Even though he was granted bail by a British court he was sent back to jail as Swedish prosecutors decided to appeal against his bail. With Assange still in the jail and still Wikileaks regularly releasing the cables it looks like the momentum generated by the whistleblower website has gained a greater proportion and is not dependent on its founder.

Wikileaks has its share of critiques who are arguing that in this cyber war business has become a casualty, and some argue that this movement is nothing but a vicious war launched by few people and they are able to launch attacks mainly because security analysts are unable to understand their opponent’s tactics, as DDOS attacks were used against other websites in the past. What ever may be the case, Wikileaks and its actions have triggered a serious debate, whose outcome will define the future of internet freedom.

Osho: A fresh breeze

“Why is so much sex needed? Because you are tense, sex becomes a release. Your tensions are released through it — you feel relaxed, you can go to sleep; if you repress it, you remain tense. And if you repress sex — the only release, the only possibility of release — what will happen? You will go mad. Where will you release your tensions then?” – Sex to Super-consciousness, by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (also known as Osho) a twentieth century Indian mystic.

These words made Osho notorious. When religious leaders from all faiths were condemning ‘Sex’ and advised strict discipline, Osho stood up to declare that, the fault does not lie in sex but in our perception, and rather, preoccupation towards it. He stated that repression of Sex is not a healthy option. This revolutionary view was like a breath of fresh air and won him many disciples. But in a self-professed conservative society like India his book ‘From Sex to super-consciousness’ was a scandal.

Osho was also the most misunderstood man of his time. His philosophy is not limited to sex. For him sex, if properly understood can be a liberating experience. He emphasized the importance of creativity, awareness, meditation, love and most importantly, the celebration of the existence itself. His famous quote “do not fall in love, rise in it” reflects his ideology. He criticized any attempt to stifle the natural growth of a being, because of social and religious traditions.

He was a prolific orator. His discourses, given over a period of time, are published as his works. In these discourses, he re-interpreted all the major religious and spiritual traditions of the world. He usually went against the traditional interpretations, and many times he subjected Gods and Prophets to critical evaluation. During the last phase of his life he concentrated more on Zen Buddhism, about which he declared, “God is dead- Now Zen is the only living Truth.”

Osho taught that every human has a potential to become a Buddha. Every person is also capable of unconditional love, his ego usually does not allow him to acknowledge and enjoy this experience. To encourage the removal of this undesirable Ego, and to attain Buddha-hood, he devised new ways of meditation which encouraged catharsis in the practitioner. Many of his disciples swear by these methods.

When most of the religious leaders form India were criticizing the material pursuit of the industrialized nations and preached renunciation as an essential condition for spiritual deliverance, Osho said that material success is not an hindrance for attaining Buddha-hood, to explain this he borrowed the concept of Zorba the Greek, and put forth the theory of Zorba the Buddha, merging the western ideas with the eastern. The western new age thought is influenced by this concept.

The notion that material success is not inimical to the spiritual development, encouraged many westerners to flock around Osho, as his Neo-Sannyasins. By 1981 itself, Osho’s Pune ashram hosted 30,000 visitors per year. His popularity was rapidly increasing. At the peak of his popularity, Osho’s Oregon, USA ashram boasted a fleet of 93 Rolls-Royce cars and private jets.

But this indulgence with the wealth, as well as controversies, proved to be Osho’s undoing. Along with gaining followers he, alienated many people. Osho and his followers were accused of grave charges like drug abuse and prostitution (Even today his Pune ashram is viewed with a mix of aversion and suspicion by the local populace). He was arrested and deported from America, and was denied permission even to set foot upon their land, by most of the liberal countries.

Last days of this great man were confined to the Pune ashram. His doctors suspected that, his deteriorating health was a result of poisoning by radiation and thallium, when he was in prison in America. His death on 19th Jan 1990 was attributed to the heart failure. Osho was much demonized while he was alive but after his death, his philosophy started gaining greater popularity and acceptance.

“Osho”, which means a high ranking Buddhist monk in Japanese, is a title adopted by Chandra Mohan Jain at the fag end of his life. He was also affectionately called as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh by his followers. Born in to a Jain family of Taranpanthi sect, in Kuchwada, Madhya Pradesh, on 11 Dec 1931, he was the eldest of 11 children. Osho’s childhood is relatively less known, much of what is known, comes from his own discourses. He lived with his Maternal Grand mother. During this time he witnessed two tragedies, deaths of his grand father when he was seven, whom he adored, and later when he was fifteen, of his childhood sweet heart and cousin Shashi. These two deaths lead him to be preoccupied by the thought of death throughout his life.

Osho was a self-taught man, even as he went to college and studied logic, he refused to accept the laid down text book knowledge, resulting in frequent arguments with professors. Because of this notoriety he was allowed to write exams without attending the classes. Osho utilized free time by reading large number of books. It was during this period, Osho’s thought process crystallized, leading him to interpret various religious and philosophical texts in his own peculiar way. He claimed that, he got spiritually enlightened on 21March 1953, when he was 21, and remained unmarried.

One of the strengths of Osho was his analytical abilities. He would deliberately provoke people. With his radical reinterpretation, he would shock the people out of their complacency. People who understood this usually appreciated him, but who could not understand the same started hating him. Unfortunately the later make the majority. His failure in procuring land for a bigger ashram, as Pune ashram was proving congested, was a result of this bad image.

Zen masters of Japan also relied on provoking people to come to the realization. But they never spoon fed their pupil. Osho by way of excessive intellectualization deprived the opportunity of self realization to his students. This was evident when his students were repeatedly involved in controversies, ranging from drug abuse, to Bio-terror attack on the citizens of The Dallas, Oregon using salmonella bacteria.

Going by the depth and range of his teachings along with his unique re-interpretation of existing religious texts, it is impossible to deny that Osho realized some of the profound truths in his life. He is also the most profound thinker of his age, whose influence can be felt even after his death. But allowing some of the close disciples to gain a free hand, in the organization and running of his ashram, proved detrimental to his reputation. Particularly the conduct of the ashram in Oregon, USA, and later arrest of Osho damaged his reputation to such an extant, that 21 countries have not only just denied him the visa, but did not allow him even the permission to enter their land. No modern day religious teacher was humiliated and feared in such a way. On the contrary Indian thinker Jiddu Krishnamurthy, his contemporary and who was not controversial, was given permission to continue his religious work in USA, and was offered permanent citizenship there.

The opulent manner, in which he lived, also did not go well with his reputation. The image of 93 Rolls-Royce cars lined up in Oregon, earned him a nick name of ‘Rolls-Royce guru’ in America. In his later days, particularly after coming back to India, Osho primarily talked on Zen Buddhism, but he violated the very teachings he so often preached, the ‘Middle Path’, avoiding of extremes, by these opulent indulgences.

Controversies not with standing, Osho’s impact on the society can not be under estimated. He produced some of the seminal works and popularized ideas like, ‘Here and now’, ‘Power of Unconscious’ etc. the fact that during his life time Osho was harassed by the governments all over world does not diminish his stature as a profound thinker. A person no less than Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh has said that, ‘Osho will long be remembered as a great philosopher – saint and mystic of twentieth century.’ During last election campaign, leader of BJP Mr. L.K. Advani, in an interview given to a national TV, said that he is reading an Osho’s book when ever he gets a time between his election campaigns. This shows that Osho is no more an untouchable. This is also attested by an influential Indian news paper, which counted Osho, along with Buddha and Gandhi, as one of the ten people who changed the destiny of India.

It is a classic case of hating a teacher but loving his teachings. But it also shows that Osho was far ahead of his times, that his teachings will be better understood in an Ideal enlightened society, than in a society that is fragmented, and embittered in its own contradictions and conflicts. Osho’s legacy has a profound effect on the human thought process.

WikiLeaks: The world’s most ambivalent response to stark truth

Nemmani Sreedhar

Chennai: Later part of July 2010 saw unprecedented activity in the world media, and set the proverbial cat among the pigeons. Wikileaks– a relatively unknown organization till then- released 92,201 internal records of actions by the U.S. military in Afghanistan between January 2004 and December 2009, into the public domain. Dubbed as ‘the biggest leak in intelligence history’ it graphically represented the way Americans conducted their “war to liberate Afghanistan from Taliban.”  The situation was exacerbated when Wikileaks, undeterred by pentagon’s warning not to publish any more papers, released 391,832 similar reports called ‘Significant Action in the war (SIGACT),’ this time about the American war in Iraq.

The content of Wikileaks’ revelation contradicts the statements made by

A road side bombing in Iraq

American officials through the years, that they did not have any information about civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. The reports which were written by solders from war field, describes shootings, roadside bombings, and the execution-style killings and targeted assassinations that left bodies in the streets of Baghdad at the height of sectarian violence that pushed the country to the brink of civil war. What is also exposed in these disclosures is the fact, that suspects were deliberately handed over to the Iraqi torture squads, and their plight was conveniently over looked.

Curiously though, the response of the media ranged from a mooted coverage of war crimes, inspiring a well intentioned and helpless silence at the best, to a derisive yawn of insensitivity at the worst. The world failed to even acknowledge the America’s dubious conduct in the war, particularly when it claims that it is never an aggressor, but is always a defender of liberty and equality along with other virtues, and never tires of preaching to the whole world about the sanctity of human rights. The media is now engrossed with the ridiculous debate of whether it was ethical to publish those records.

The ongoing debate is structured as if the very act of violence on a flimsy pretext is less heinous than the act of releasing the papers which chronicle those acts into the public domain. Pentagon’s contention is that because of these exposed documents lives of American soldiers are in peril. In an opinion piece on the Fox News site, Christian Whiton while calling upon US president to declare people associated with Wikileaks as enemy combatants, expressed his dismay by saying “How much will our information-collection capabilities have to be diminished, and how many of our friends and collaborators around the world must die, before President Obama and his friends on Capitol Hill start caring more about national security?” Will Mr. Whiton elaborate, about who those friends are and what they collaborate on? Perhaps they may be collaborating in some subversive plots in the greater interest of democracy and liberty for rest of the world.

In an article in Guardian, Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked confidential Pentagon papers chronicling Vietnam war, contends that information revealed by Wikileaks does not endanger the safety of any American either in Iraq or in Afghanistan, and since July 2010 not a single life was lost owing to the publishing of secret documents. Instead, he says, that Pentagon should be held accountable for its activities and if 15000 American lives were lost instead of Iraqi lives the response of American government would have been different.

One more notable development of these expose is the role being played by media in character assassination of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. In an article in Salon, Glenn Greenwald says that Assange is being victimized just like Daniel Ellsberg during President Nixon’s time.

Even though the New York Times defended itself against the criticism of its coverage of the issue and also on the issue of attacking Assange, one issue remains unanswered. Does Pentagon want the whole world to believe that there was no violation of all the principles that America stands for, by its army in Iraq and Afghanistan? Did anyone really belive that Uncle Sam invaded these countries to distribute chocolate candy? War is a dirty business, and even America should not have unreasonable expectations, that in this age of instant information its atrocities can be camouflaged. Once the juggernaut of war machine starts to roll, collateral damage is unavoidable. It is the responsibility of the government, to keep the objective of the war on track, and to hold accountable the people responsible for their lapses. Rather than trying to gag the media it will be in the larger interest of civil society that American government takes some corrective measures.

Media houses, whose influence is disproportionate, should not fall into the trap of jingoism and should sensitise the societies so that proper checks and balances remain in the system.