India Insight

No end to suffering for Bhopal gas victims

Twenty-nine years have passed since a poison gas leak from the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal killed thousands of people. For the estimated 100,000  survivors and their children who cope with birth defects, illness and a variety of other health problems, it might as well still be the 1980s.

It was 12 a.m. on Dec. 3, 1984 when 40 tons of toxic methyl isocyanate leaked from the plant. In the J.P. Nagar neighbourhood that was worst affected, many people died instantly. The death toll is more than 5,295, according to the Indian government though projections based on an Indian Council of Medical Research study put the figure as high as 25,000. An estimated 574,372 people have been affected in some way by the gas; health activists say more than 150,000 have been seriously affected.

Lung and eye complications are common among people in this area. Many also suffer from loss of limb function along with severe palpitations and recurring chest pain.

“I do not have the strength left to do anything now,” said Mazid Khan, 52, who was employed as a security guard at the Union Carbide Corporation factory. Mazid was exposed to the gas, and now suffers from weak eyesight and swelling in his limbs.

Most victims have received 25,000 to 50,000 rupees ($400 to $800 at today’s conversion rates) in compensation, an amount that is far too small for effective medical treatment or as restitution, said Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA), an organization that works with victims of the disaster.

Connecting borrowers and lenders: Indians try peer-to-peer model

Srinivas Porika tried for months to get a loan of 250,000 rupees ($4,000) to pay for his sister’s wedding, but every bank he tried turned him down. The problem: Porika’s employer, a tech start-up company, was not on the banks’ lists of pre-approved companies.

“They were ready to give me a credit card, but were not ready to give me a loan,” said the 28-year-old from Hyderabad, who met several bank managers and officials to plead his case.

The wedding went ahead in 2012, but only after Porika dipped into his savings and borrowed from friends. With an insufficient bonus at work and pressure mounting to pay off his debts this year, Porika turned to a peer-to-peer (P2P) lending website.

Equity funds outperform in November; smaller shares rise

India’s diversified equity funds bucked the trend in the broader markets to eke out gains in November, as a strong performance by mid- and small-cap shares and sectors such as capital goods supported unit values.

Data from fund tracker Lipper, a Thomson Reuters company, showed that such funds rose only 0.21 percent on average in the month, but outperformed the 30-share BSE Sensex that fell 1.8 percent.

Mahesh Patil of Birla Sun Life Asset Management cited the outperformance of mid- and small-cap stocks as the “main reason” for positive returns generated by diversified equity funds in November.

India should widen focus to migrants in AIDS fight – U.N.

India has been “fairly successful” in fighting AIDS by targeting key affected populations such as intravenous drug users, transgendered people, sex workers and homosexuals, but its focus must broaden to high-risk mobile communities to keep the disease under control, the United Nations said.

Policies focused on prevention and a huge social mobilisation have allowed India to reduce new infections of HIV, the virus which causes AIDS, by as much as 57 percent in 10 years; and more than 650,000 people living with HIV are receiving antiretroviral therapy, the second-largest number in the world by country, according to UNAIDS.

There are about 2.1 million people living with HIV in India, with an estimated 130,000 new infections per year.

India’s political parties pump up the radio volume

Anyone who keeps a radio turned on in India’s National Capital Region knows that election fever has settled on Delhi ahead of the Dec. 4 state polls. The ruling Congress party, main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and newcomer Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are betting big on radio campaigning — a medium that reaches millions of people across economic classes and backgrounds.

Overall, about 250 million to 500 million rupees ($4 million to $8 million) have been spent on radio advertising in this year’s assembly election in Delhi – at least 200 percent more than during the 2008 state elections, Sunil Kumar of radio consulting firm Big River Radio estimated.

The AAP, or “common man party,” led by Arvind Kejriwal, has allocated 20 million to 30 million rupees ($320,000 to $480,000) for advertising, with 60 to 70 percent for radio and phone calls, said Dilip K. Pandey, an AAP secretary responsible for their communication strategy.

Magnus Carlsen dethrones Viswanathan Anand as world chess champion

World number one Magnus Carlsen toppled local favourite Viswanathan Anand in Chennai to add the world chess championship title to his already impressive resume on Friday.

A draw in the crucial 10th game after 65 moves of play gave the young Norwegian an unassailable lead in the 12-match contest and put an end to Anand’s hopes of retaining the FIDE title he’s held since 2007.

Carlsen, about a week shy of his 23rd birthday, led 6-3 before Friday’s game and needed just a draw to become the first champion from the West since American Bobby Fischer’s reign ended in 1975.

Sesa Sterlite, Bajaj Auto top Sensex losers this week

The BSE Sensex posted a third consecutive weekly fall, closing nearly 1 percent lower amid persisting worries over the slowdown in foreign investors’ buying into Indian shares.

Data shows FIIs sold shares worth $9.5 million on Thursday, snapping a 32-day buying streak as minutes from the last U.S. Federal Reserve meeting showed a decision on tapering its bond-buying programme may be taken at one of its next few meetings.

In the coming week, investors will keep an eye on July-September GDP data and fiscal deficit numbers for the April-October period. Here are the top Sensex losers and gainers of the week:

Movie Review: Gori Tere Pyaar Mein

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

In Punit Malhotra’s “Gori Tere Pyaar Mein”, a woman with no medical training deems it fit to deliver a baby; an architect who hasn’t worked for years thinks he’s capable of building a bridge (who needs engineers?); and rich, privileged people feel better about themselves when they throw money at poor children.

Director Malhotra’s attempt at making a “feel-good” romance has characters that are as hollow and fake as the film’s screenplay. The heroine, an NGO worker, espouses causes from AIDS to land-grabbing to making documentaries about sex workers, but feels no remorse when she cheats her way out of a traffic jam to get to a wedding on time.

There are stereotypes aplenty. The people of Tamil Nadu state only eat idlis and vadas; the Gujaratis only eat dhokla for dinner; and they all speak with pronounced accents. Diya (Kareena Kapoor) is the do-gooder heroine, flitting from one cause to the other. Sriram (Imran Khan) is an aimless and self-centred young man, who lives off his parents, and does not understand Diya’s need to play the Good Samaritan.

Obsessed Rajnikanth fans get their own cinematic tribute

The scene is in a theatre in Chennai. The lights go off and the screen flickers. The first images appear on screen, and the crowd goes nuts — jumping in their seats, screaming incoherently. There is pandemonium, and the movie hasn’t even started.

The object of this frenzy is a 62-year-old, balding man, known to his legion of fans as Anbu Thalaivar (beloved leader) — Rajnikanth, aka Shivajirao Gaikwad, a former bus conductor who is arguably India’s biggest film star.

People who don’t know Indian cinema beyond the concept of Bollywood are unlikely to know who Rajnikanth is. He is by far the brightest star in a constellation of actors in the many centres of regional-language films in India. West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Assam and Punjab are among the Indian states that feature a rich historical and contemporary cinema, usually in their people’s local languages, especially for the benefit of the millions of Indians who speak little or no Hindi.

Stan Lee bets on India for latest superhero success

Legendary comic book writer Stan Lee has someone in mind that he would like to popularize as much as his 1960s co-creation “Spider-Man”: “Chakra, the invincible!” said the 90-year-old Lee, his voice booming with the excitement of a freshman working on his first project.

The American comics veteran, who collaborated on the creation of superheroes such as Thor and Iron Man, helped create an Indian superhero in partnership with Graphic India. Chakra will make his debut as an animated feature on Cartoon Network in India later this month.

The teenaged character Raju Rai, who lives in Mumbai, will tap into the ancient Hindu belief of chakras or centres of energy in a human body. He and a scientist develop a suit that activates these mystic wheels, giving superpowers to Raju, who fights crime in India’s financial capital.

  •