Sunday, November 30, 2008

Countering Terrorism in India – Five Practical Difficulties

Terrorists strike again in India – this time in the business capital of India, Mumbai, terrorizing the whole of India for more than three days. Now after the terrorists were defeated like the end of every other terrorist attacks, we started asking questions which never get answered fully like “How should India as a nation retaliate?”, “Is Government of India incapable of preventing terrorism?”, “What should we do to prevent terrorism?”, “Should we attack the country/ies that aid terrorists?”. We ask a lot of these questions that never get answered. For a country as vast and diverse as India, lots of practical difficulties exist in preventing terrorist attacks. This is a post that looks into the practical difficulties India faces on her fight against terrorism. 
  1. Over population of India and Lack of Automated Personal Identification: 
With over 1.3 billion people, India is the second largest populated country in the world. A majority of the Indians have some form of identification issued by the Indian government like the voter identity card, ration card, PAN number or a driver’s license. But there are millions of Indian citizens who don’t have any identification card issued by Government of India. So it is very easy for such a person to do a crime and go unnoticed. So it is high time the government takes steps to track all the legal residents of India. 
Even if the Indians have identity cards like those mentioned above, details stored in it are bare minimum. India should develop a system similar to Social Security Number (SSN) in US to track the entire legal residents of India. So with the click of the mouse the authorities can get the entire information of a person. Yes it may be an expensive affair but if India does that it could be easy for the authority to follow people with history of wrong doings. But is it practical to have a working system with an automated system with extensive data of 1.3 billion people? 
  1. “Trained/Brainwashed” Terrorists from Pakistan crossing over to India: 
It seems like Pakistan has become the center stage of all the terrorist training in the world. May be the graduates from these terror camps in Pakistan outnumber the graduates from real colleges in Pakistan. Pakistan has taken over from Afghanistan as the epicenter of most of the terrorist attacks. With India sharing such a long border with Pakistan it is very easy for these terrorist to come to India through its porous border. It is practically impossible to prevent someone from crossing across such a long border. It is something similar to what US is facing in the US-Mexico border. Whatever the steps US takes, illegal Mexicans will find some way to sneak into US. Only difference here is Mexicans come to US to do menial jobs while terrorists sneak into India from Pakistan to fight a proxy war with India. 
So is it practical to stop these border crossing of terrorists? Pakistan government has absolutely no control over these terrorists now and the only way India can control that is by attacking there training camps in Pakistan and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). But if we attack those training camps and if Pakistani government who are always soft on terrorists decide to retaliate by attacking India then the result may be a catastrophic nuclear war. 
  1. Terrorist Looks Like Your Next Door Neighbor: 
If you see the photos of the terrorists who attacked Mumbai, they look just like anyone you see in your neighborhood, in the market, in the train or in college or in cinema hall. With most of the Indian cites over crowded, it is almost impossible to differentiate a common man from terrorists. The terrorists can easily mingle with the local population as they look identical, talk the same language and follow the same customs and traditions. This is one advantage the Western countries like United States and Britain have in fighting modern day terrorists. The terrorists trying to attack America come from different countries who look so much different from an American and who can easily be identified.  So if a terrorist/group of terrorists comes and takes a room in a busy city in India and plan an attack against India, it is very tough for the intelligence agencies or common man to identify those people as they can easily mix with the other people and behave normally. 
  1. Muslims and  Minority Card Politics: 
I hate to say this but of late this is the reality. Majority of the terrorist attacks around the world are planned and executed by Muslims. India has the second largest Muslim population in the world. It is a known fact that lot of mosques and Madrasas are used by these terrorists in India to recruit more people to the terror network. If any government tries to control or monitor the functioning of these mosques or madrasas the so called secular media and so called secular politicians make a big hue and cry that is impossible to take action against erring mosques, madrasas or people in charge of them. Any action against terrorists (who happened to be Muslims) will be interpreted as a general fight against the whole of Muslim community by the Hindu majority India. That is a very sensitive topic in “Secular” India and government for this reason has gone so soft on acting against the religious leaders and institutions that support terrorists. 
  1. Ineffective Judicial System: 
Does anyone have any count of the number of cases pending in the various courts in India? It may run into millions and this also helps the terrorists who are planning to attack India. We all remember the Mumbai blast of 1993. It has been over 15 years since the blast has occurred in which over 250 people died. Till now Indian courts have not come up with the final verdict. The case is going on in the Supreme Court and God only knows when they are going to give the final verdict. One terrorist was arrested in the recent Mumbai blast. We may be seeing the Indian courts still debating if to punish this terrorist in 2023, 15 years after this attack. For the Indian courts to solve cases fast the overall revamp of the judicial system is necessary and I don’t think it is going to happen in the near future. Another practical difficulty in fighting terrorism – ineffective judicial system that can act as a catalyst to terrorist attacks. When a terrorist sees that people who have committed evil haven’t been punished in 15 years he gets more motivation to do it. 
These are just a few of the practical difficulties India faces in her fight against terror and terrorisms. But we as a nation should be able to overcome any difficulties and fight these anti national forces and defeat them if we want to march ahead as a superpower in this 21st century. For that every Indian has a role to play. Every citizen should help government to make strict laws and wholeheartedly support the government in implementing the law to the best possible ways. The citizens should throw out the thoughts of caste, religion, language and unite in the fight against terrorists and terrorism. Let us all stand united and show that neither terrorists nor any disruptive forces can prevent India’s march towards progress. 
I bow my head to the heroes/ martyrs who laid down thier life for our motherland during the recent terrorist attack in Mumbai. JAI HIND. 
with inputs from my friend Jai Mayilvahanan Sivanantham

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Old is Gold – Nostalgic Memories from Doordarshan Era

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I still remember the first time I saw a television. It was on November 2nd, 1984 when my father took us to a house to see the slain body of then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, two days after she was assassinated. There was a huge crowd in that house as it was the only television in the whole area.
Times have changed. From luxury it has become a necessity. If 2 decades back a black and white TV was the order of the day, now a huge TV with so many sophisticated features is the order of the day. Twenty yeas back there was no choice, one television channel – Doordarshan and a standard set of programs. But did I enjoy it? Yes a lot and I feel the quality of programs was more superior to the present.
I was watching on Youtube some of my favorite programs that used to be telecasted in Doordarshan. It brought back so many old memories. The whole family eagerly waited for the weekend so that we can see a movie, eagerly looking out for the name of the movie that is going to be televised, waiting for the news hour, the news anchors like Neethu Ravindran, Githanjali Aiyer where household names – so many memories come and go as I watch these. I am sure those who have grown up watching Doordarshan in that period will also feel the same. Here are some of the old Doordarshan clippings.
I have seen this at least 300 days a year since we bought a TV - the introduction music just before the channel starts airing the programs. Here it is.
Now to know the world news the only option available was the news broadcast in All India Radio and the Doordarshan news at 9.30 pm. Hearing the music just before the news, I used to be present to have a peek at the world news. See how simple the news was with no masalas or sensationalizations.
Those days cricket was like a religion and I was a fanatic follower of it. If I could see Kapil Dev or Gavaskar or Srikanth in an advertisement or in some other program in Doordarshan I could be jumping up with joy. In addition to cricket I used to follow hockey, football and tennis. When Doordarshan made a short film about national unity with the most famous national players my joy knew no bounds. I used to wait for this short film to come mostly as fillers between two programs. See this and enjoy.
Few years later this national unity short film was modified to include the famous film stars, musicians in addition to the players. A beautiful song with meaningful lyrics was composed and that song became my favorite song. Even when you see that song now it hasn’t lost that magic touch.
As fillers a lot of film division short films were televised and my favorite was the one that spread the message “Unity is Strength”. So simple theme, so simple lyrics and music. I just love this.
As a kid I loved watching cartoons and my favorites were Mickey and Donald, Mowgli and He Man and the Master’s of the Universe. Watching the title song of Mowgli and He Man and the Master of the Universe now has literally taken me back to my childhood days.
Every night at 9pm there used to be a Hindi serial: Nukkad on Monday nights, Buniyad on Tuesday and Thursday nights, Ek Kahani on Wednesday night, Yeh Jo Ha Zindagi on Friday nights. Even though I couldn’t understand Hindi well those days I used to watch most of these, especially Nukkad and Yeh Jo Hei Zindagi. They were great serials.
I haven’t traveled a lot across India. But I used to watch Surabhi every week. That helped me to understand India better, our culture better and our people from various states better. Who can forget the anchoring by Renuka Sahane and Siddharth Kak.
I can go on and on. But let me stop it here. For a comprehensive list of programs during this time click here.
Recently I got this forward mail that was really thought provoking. Here is that forward.
How did one survive growing up in the 70's, 80's and 90's?

We had no seatbelts, no airbags
, no toilet papers and sitting in the back of a truck was a treat…
Our baby prams had the most gorgeous lead based colours…
No such thing as tamper proof bottle tops…
Opening kitchen cupboards was a breeze… as safety locks were unheard off…

Cycling was like a breath of fresh air…

No safety helmets, knee pads or elbow pads, with plenty of cardboards between spokes to make it sound like a motorbike…
When thirsty we only drank tap water, bottled water was still a mystery…

We kept busy collecting bits & pieces so we could build all sort of things … and we were fearless on our bikes even when the brakes failed going downhill…

We were showing off how tough we are, by how high we could climb trees & then jumping down….It was great fun….

We could stay out to play for hours, as long as we got back before dark, in time for dinner…

We walked to school, or sometimes we even rode our bike.

We had no mobile phones, but we always managed to find each oth

How? No one knows…

We lost teeth, broke arms & legs, we got cuts and bruises and bloody noses…. nobody complained as we had so much fun, it wasn't anybody's fault, only ours

We ate everything in sight, cakes, bread, chocolate, ice-cream, sweet sugary drinks, yet, we stayed skinny by fooling around.

And if one of us was lucky to find a 1 litre coca cola bottle we all had a swag from it & guess what? Nobody picked up any germs...

We did not have Play Stations, MP3, Nintendo's, I-Pods, Video games, 99 Cable TV channels, DVD's, Home Cinema, Mobile phones, Home Computers, Laptops, Chat-rooms, Internet, etc ... BUT, we had REAL FRIENDS!!!!
We called on friends to come out to play, never rang the doorbell, just went around the back…

We loved being let loose in the big bad world…without bodyguards…

We played with sticks and stones, played cowboys and Indians, doctors and nurses, hide and seek, soccer games, over and over again…

When we failed our exams we were given a second chance by simply repeating the same grade…without visiting psychiatrists, psychologists or counselors…
Such were the days…

We had freedom, success, disappointments and responsibilities. ..

Most of all, we learned to respect others…

Are YOU from that generation?? If that's the case, email this to all your friends from the same era…
Maybe this message will help them forget the stress that surrounds us these days….and just for a few moments puts a smile to their faces as they remember what life was really like in the good old days……

HAVE A SUPER DAY...!!!! with Golden Days Value....!!!!!!!!!

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Is this Freedom of Press or a Cheap Publicity Stunt?

I happened to see this video in Youtube. I don't know when this interview was shot nor do I have an understanding of that particular incident. In this video Ram Jethmalani former Union law minister and the most famous criminal lawyer in India is being interviewed by Sagarika Ghosh, wife of Rajdeep Sardesai, one of the owners of IBN channel.


This video is a perfect example of what print/visual media will do to sensationalize a sensitive issue. In the name of freedom of press, the journalist can ask any crappy question to any one. Here Sagarika is asking Jethmalani why he is defending an accused when the entire public opinion and press says that accused is a culprit. Even after Ram Jethmalani tells her that it is the courts that should decide if a person is guilty or not and it is his duty as a lawyer to represent his client in court, she keeps on repeating the same question in hundred different ways. I am sure an Oxford educated lady like Sagarika knows that everyone has the right to be represented in the court of law. I like the way Jethmalani replied back to her questions. He is so senior and established that he doesn't have to fear a media outrage against him.

If we go with Sagarika's argument then, we don't need any courts at all. We need some TV channels like IBN and some newspapers and they can pass the judgment of who is guilty and who is not.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Another Good Thing I Learned in US - Never Too Late to Study

While doing Masters in Arizona State University I had a class mate who was over 55 years old, retired from US military. Long ago he did his under graduation in Aerospace Engineering. He was living his retired life with his wife in Phoenix and one day he happened to visit the water treatment plant to see how the processes work. He got impressed by that and came back and joined for MS in Environmental Engineering. He was an excellent student and passed out with a GPA of 4.0. Now he is working as a water treatment consultant enjoying his job. 

Would this have been possible in India? Now consider this – My father is 62 years old, retired as a Professor from Kerala Agricultural University two years back. He has a PhD in Agriculture and was working for over 35 years. Just imagine the reaction of the people around him if he decides to go back to college and take another degree in some area he really likes. I am sure people will go paranoid back in India about the very thought of a sixty year old going back to college to study. If that happens he may even end up giving interviews to the umpteen TV channels in Kerala. It is such a rare thing that someone above forty studies in India. Studying in India is considered something for the young people. 

Back in India, the general perception is that you are supposed to study only till a certain age and if you study after a certain age majority of the people think that there is something wrong with that person. I completed my PhD at the age of 31 and when I talk to people in India and few of the Indians here during my PhD I have heard so many times “You are still studying at this age?” Also how many times we have heard someone in India telling “I am too old to study”. 

Yes I fully agree that conditions in India are quiet different. Even when you study well and earn a degree it is tough to get a job. Again once you get a job and start a family you have so many responsibilities that you cannot just resign the job like here and go back to school to study. But what I disagree is the general attitude of the majority of the people that studying and accumulation of new knowledge should stop by certain age. I know with the concentration of majority jobs in India in software industry where you need to study new stuff every other day this notion is changing. But India has a long way to go in this regard.


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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Graduate Students in US – How to Survive Recession

The other day I was talking to a student who graduated in August from my school. He is in OPT for almost 75 days now. He is trying his best to find a job but with an economic recession he is not even getting interview calls. He was so sad and telling me “since I have some good friends I am surviving. I don’t have any money to spend nor any work”. I found him very low in confidence and cursing the luck for his inability to find a job all throughout the conversation.
There will be hundreds of graduate students like this from different countries especially from India who may be going through the same state of mind as my friend. They are subjected to so many pressures at the same time – pressure due to the inability to find a job, pressure to make both ends meet with no income, pressure to repay the huge loan they took back from their home country, pressure of returning back to the home country as a loser not having able to find a job even after studying so hard. 
I can understand the pain and agony that goes through those students as I also came to US for my studies during the peak of recession. Majority of my friends were struggling to find a job during that time. I have written earlier about the tough life of graduate students and how we all survived it. But I believe this time it is going to be much tougher – mainly due to some changes in the H1B visa numbers and also the recession is widely expected to be worse than the last one. The only ray of hope for a lot of students is the extended Optional Practical Training (OPT) but lot of students can’t take advantage of it as they need to be employed for at least 9 months during their 12-month OPT to get an extension. 
In 2001-03, finding a job was tough but if you get a job you can apply for H1B visa throughout the year as visa numbers were available round the year. It is not the case now. Take the case of a student who will graduate this Fall (December 08). Say his OPT starts from December 15th and he manages to get a full time job by April 15th after four months of search. By the time he gets the job the H1B visa numbers for the year 2009 could have been over. So this guy cannot apply for H1B visa. He can continue working till December ’09. He cannot apply for his OPT extension since he has a gap of more than 90 days in OPT with out job. The net result – he cannot legally work in US from January. During the recession of 2001-03 we never had to face such a situation. Now the whole matrix of job search and H1B visa has become so complicated with timing of the job and luck playing a major part in the visa rather than your ability. 
So what is the way out from these tough times – No easy solution at all. One should be mentally prepared to face the worst but should be highly optimistic and never should lose hope. This is not a situation for you to panic. It is just a passing storm and good times with multiple job offers will soon come. In 2001-03 there was a stage when all of us thought that no one is going to get a job in the near future and every one will have to pack the bags and go back. But things changed for better and in no time everyone was getting jobs. I am positive that the same thing is going to happen at the end of this recession. 
Few things my friends did during the last recession – if possible postpone the graduation by a semester or two. Sometimes it really helps. You may be able to continue the funding you have for another semester or you can find some on campus job and can survive with that. It is better than graduating and having no job. Since you have completed most of the requirements for graduation you may not need to register as a full time student to continue for another semester or two. I had a couple of friends who purposely failed in the comprehensive exam to maintain student status. They all graduated subsequently once the market came up and are doing really good. 
Another thing you can do – if you have already graduated - come back to school and do another degree- say in the latest or the hottest field so that when the market comes back up you could position yourself in a better position to get a job. Even if you did your first degree paying from your pocket you may be lucky enough to find some form of funding to do the second degree. Being in school for around 2 years should make you aware of the various opportunities available internally in the school better.  Going back to school for another degree will buy you couple of years and by that time market will be back to normal and you are good to go. 
Another possibility – but have to be careful in choosing this. There are a hell lot of consultants out their willing to sponsor H1B visas. There is lot of genuine ones but there are lots of rotten apples in that field. They make all the promises but once you join them you may have to go through lot of hardships. Joining a consultant who is willing to sponsor a H1B visa is another option if you desperately want H1B visa and all your trials in getting a full time job fails. But do your home work and never fall into the trap of crooked and cunning consultants whose sole aim is to suck your money and blood. 
So if you decide even in this economy I am going to graduate and search for jobs what should you do? At least 3 months before your graduation make job search your full time job. At least spend 30 to 40 hours every week in job search. Get professional help in writing the resume so that your resume comes up when companies search resume with key words in your field of study. Just applying online or uploading the resume to the job sites is not going to serve any purpose. Talk to as many potential employers as possible. When you call them they may tell you that they don’t have an opening and call them back in 1 month. Exactly after a month give them a call back. Always remember one thing – during recession it is true that hundreds of jobs are being lost but even during that time somewhere some company may be hiring one person and that can be you. Bottom line is, never lose hope. 
Not getting a job in this market is not due to your inability or ill luck but due to the global phenomenon called economic recession. If you understand this and move forward confidently you will surely find light at the end of the tunnel.
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Monday, November 10, 2008

Barack Obama – Can He Deliver Under High Expectations?

US presidential elections are just over. Barack Obama won and will be sworn in as the 44th President of United States of America on 20th of January. His election has brought a lot of euphoria around the world in general and America in particular – the first reason being that he is the first African American to be elected the President of United States and the second being “changes” he has promised to clean up the many wrong policies of the past. 

As Obama becomes the President of USA, the expectations from people are sky rocketing. The Americans who voted for him expect him to fix so many things in no time – the near recession like economy, loss of jobs, loss of their retirement benefits, Iraq and Afghanistan war and the list goes on. But would he be able to live up to the high expectations of his fellow citizens? This post is a comparison between political climate that existed in India in 1989 and now in US and how such a political climate of high expectation can ruin the popularity of the politician. Here I am not comparing Barack Obama with anyone but comparing the political climate of India in 1989 when Viswanath Prathap Singh (V.P. Singh) was sworn in as the Prime Minister and US in 2008 when Obama is about to be sworn in as the President of United States. 

A flash back to 1989 political scene in India – the government of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi became very unpopular among Indians  for so many reasons – every other day they hear some kind of new corruption charges against the Ministers the most important being the Bofors scandal, Shah Bano Case, the growing terrorism in Punjab to name a few. The Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s approval rating hit rock bottom very similar to the present President of United States George Bush. When Rajiv Gandhi started his term as Prime Minister of India in 1984 he had such a huge popularity that can be compared to the approval ratings George W Bush had on the days following World Trade Center bombings. In 5 years the popularity of Rajiv Gandhi hit rock bottom that can be compared to the last couple of years of Bush’s presidency. The whole of India was fed up with the administration of Rajiv Gandhi and people wanted a “change” – very similar to majority of Americans wanting a change from George Bush and his policies. 

To lead the people of India and to make ‘that’ change people of India wanted; there emerged a person named V.P Singh. He himself was a finance minister in Rajiv Gandhi’s cabinet before he resigned over differences with Rajiv. He started organizing the people from the grass root by trying to expose the misdeeds of the people. His tirade against corruption and his taking of powerful people made him a darling of the people and soon he became very popular among Indian masses. Like Obama who formed a broad coalition that has Democrats, Republicans and independents under one umbrella, V.P. Singh did what most political pundits thought was impossible at that time – he brought his party, the left parties (communists) and the right wing (Bharatiya Janatha Party) under one platform. This coalition fought the election against the Congress party of Rajiv Gandhi and defeated Congress party handsomely. The mass appeal among Indians, V.P Singh had during the few days before the election was very much similar to the one Obama has with the Americans now – hope that “Change is about to come” or “Obama is that magician who is going to solve all our issues”. 

Once the election was over the sailing was never smooth for V.P Singh from the very first day. Even before he took the oath of office as the Prime Minister of India he started facing problems from every nook and corner. The broad coalition he created before general elections trembled as none of the partners would agree on anything. After coming to power, promising much the performance of the government was worst – economy went south, terrorism spread from Punjab to Kashmir, social unrest based on caste and religion rose, all those corruption charges raised against Rajiv Gandhi and his party by V.P Singh remained as allegation as V.P Singh government couldn’t even come close to proving it. The result – the government lost majority and went out of power in less than a year. People of India were relieved that such an inefficient government was shown the door. 

The people of India who voted V.P Singh to power wanted to see the changes he promised during election from the day one he won the election. V.P Singh soon found out that making promises for “change” is one thing and implementing it is totally different – something Obama will soon find out how tough it will be to implement the “Change We Believe In”. 


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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Kerala Government and News Media – Out of Touch With Reality or Hidden Agenda?

One of the software companies in Technopark in Kerala laid 120 employees off last week. It is also reported that few other companies are doing the same. During this time when the whole world is facing a possibility of a huge economic recession laying off 120 people should not even become a news.

But that is not the case in Kerala. This was widely reported in most of the newspapers. The labor minister P K Gurudasan has ordered the labor department to “take stringent action against those companies after examining the issues connected with entrenchment of employees in Technopark” and this is major news in most of the Malayalam newspapers. 

The papers are giving the picture that these companies are committing some crime by laying off these people. Here is the piece of news that appeared yesterday from Mathrubhoomi, the second largest newspaper in Kerala. They are reporting about the lay offs in Technopark and in one paragraph they are talking about pink slips. Since people residing in Kerala know only about unionized jobs where you can never been shown the door how ever ineffective you are, the newspaper is explaining how the pink slip works. To read the Malayalam version click the picture below.

The rough translation in English “the method used by one of the companies (in Technopark) to lay off people has been widely criticized. At the end of the day’s work the employee to be laid off will be asked to meet with the human resource manager. He will tell the employee that the company is in financial crisis and cannot support you anymore paying you high salary. He will be asked to give the resignation letter. The identity card is seized and the fired employee will be asked to vacate immediately. The fired employee is not even allowed to say good bye to his colleagues nor allowed entry into the office again.” 

All I have to say to Mathrubhoomi, other news papers, Ministers, LDF and others who are making this a huge issue – This is not something that is happening in Kerala and it is happening through out the world. If the fired employee is capable he will find a job in the same field but if he is not he will have to struggle. Only fittest can survive in this competitive world. 

Anyone who joins the IT industry with huge pay package knows very well how volatile this job market is. If the market goes south or if you are not ready to constantly polish your skill set you are out of job. This is the price you pay for the high salary and other perks. When the company hires you one must be prepared to be fired any day on the will of the company. That is whole dynamics of this industry. If you cannot take that hiring and firing then this job is not for you – better get a government job and government supported labor unions will support you from any lay offs however inefficient you are. 

I fear there is a hidden agenda in the Labor Minister asking labor department to look into these lay offs. The communist party is trying its best to establish some kind of union for IT workers in Technopark for a long time. This is the only area in Kerala where communist party has failed to unionize. They have destroyed most of the industry with their militant trade unions. They need some issues to get into Technopark and they may use this to do it. 

If communist party, LDF and government try to unionize the IT workers and impose strict rules on companies, Kerala is going to lose big time. This slow down is a passing phase and things are going to come back to normal again. But the companies fearing strict labor laws will never invest in Kerala’s IT field. Also those who are here will move out. 

Don’t get shocked if you hear one of the communist guy or our media make such a statement in the near future. 

IT companies in Technopark are colluding with American imperialist to lay off poor Keralites from their jobs.

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