India Insight

Class divide puts English to the test in India’s civil services

Indian students in recent weeks have protested the use of English in the country’s difficult civil service examinations. The students, usually from Hindi-speaking regions of India, say that the exams reflect a class divide: if you speak and write English well, you are seen as part of the educated, urban elite. If you do not, it’s because you are one of the disadvantaged, usually from smaller towns or villages.

(Here’s a counterview by Swapan Dasgupta)

English is a tricky subject in India. A language imposed by colonists who exploited the people and resources of the land for centuries, it also was the one language that people seeking independence from the British could use to speak to one another. It remains one of two official languages across India, though many people do not speak it well or at all. I spoke to some of the civil service aspirants who have complained about the language requirement and the structure of the exams, and learned about the role that they hope the exam will play in their lives.

Ashutosh Sharma is a 25-year-old psychology graduate from Basti district of Uttar Pradesh, who has been camping in Delhi’s Mukherjee Nagar neighbourhood for the past two years, hoping that he will crack the examination one day.

“The entire protest is presented as a language issue. It’s much more than that. It’s about how a group of elite people in the country want to govern the things. How they cannot digest that a villager, who doesn’t match their lavish lifestyle, rises to the ranks on the basis of his knowledge and hard work,” he said.

Ashutosh said he comes from a village, and is better acquainted with the problems the country faces in these places. “When I was in the village primary school, I remember that the teacher would hardly come to take classes. There was no accountability. As a district magistrate, I would know better how the problem can be fixed and I can deal with the problem regardless of whether I speak English or not.”

Coupon websites make merry as deal-hunting Indians go online

Four years ago, Kaveri Nandan bought a discount coupon for a session at a hair salon in New Delhi from Snapdeal, which at the time was a website for daily online deals and a pioneer in the segment in India. When Nandan called up the salon to book an appointment, she found that the place had closed.

“The segment (digital coupons) was just starting out, so I guess they had not sorted out many things. They were idiots for not doing their homework. I complained and got my refund,” said 35-year-old Nandan, who works at a business magazine.

But as daily deals vendors refine their services and India’s growing online population increasingly go online to look for discounts, coupon websites say customers are using discount vouchers for almost everything from baby diapers and television sets to body massages and five-star hotel stays.

Schools, NGOs fight the odds to keep India’s children safe

The red, blue and yellow walls of Gunjan Play School in Noida, a suburb east of India’s capital, are conspicuous in the afternoon sun. Many of the students have left, but the chatter of children fills the air and occasional peals of laughter still ring out from the classrooms.

Urvashi Chakravarty has just stepped out after spending several hours teaching and looking after as many as 40 children. Clad in a crisp purple sari, she is still on duty, waiting for parents to come and get their little ones before she can sign off for the day.

“There are some people who, when running late, tell us to let their kids wait outside with the guards. We don’t allow that. It upsets them but facing a bit of anger is a small price to pay for ensuring safety,” said Chakravarty, who has been running the school for eight years.

Sketchy Details

Drinking in Goa

 

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

India at the 2014 Commonwealth Games

India, the host of the last Commonwealth Games, sent a contingent of 220 athletes to this year’s Games in Glasgow. It finished fifth on the tally with 64 medals. Here is a look at the winners.

STORIES -

Kashyap ends long Indian wait for men’s badminton gold

Tendulkar factor adds to pressure on Sindhu

Saina Nehwal pulls out with fitness issues

SLIDESHOWS -

Indian athletes in action at the Glasgow Games

Commonwealth Games opening ceremony

India’s medal haul in 2010

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Markandey Katju: Ex-India Supreme Court judge stirs the pot

Comments by retired Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju had India’s parliament in uproar this week. In a blog post published by the Times of India, the chairman of the Press Council of India hinted at a connection between the government and the judiciary in the elevation of an allegedly corrupt judge in Tamil Nadu.

This isn’t the first time that the man heading India’s print media oversight body has stirred the pot. Katju was known among his peers as an outspoken judge who passed landmark judgements and made scathing remarks in several cases.

While what he said and did as a judge might have had a legal context, Katju’s recent statements seem to have gone beyond his brief as press body chief. Take, for example, his appeal to let off convicted Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt or his objection to India’s highest civilian honour being awarded to sportspersons or film stars.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s pursuit of cricketing excellence

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

Barely tipping the scale at 57 kilograms (a bit more than 125 pounds), Bhuvneshwar Kumar is the antithesis of a fast bowler. In fact, he isn’t one. At best, his pace is military medium.

At 24, Kumar looks like he came straight out of junior college, and if not for his India colours, the guards at Lord’s probably wouldn’t let him enter. He has a frail build, shy disposition and an almost apologetic expression every time he beats a batsman. They are a far cry from a classic menacing fast bowler that India hopes he’ll one day become. But scratch the surface and his boyish charm gives way to a relentless desire to make him count every time he walks on to the grounds.

It’s too early to say that Kumar has turned the corner, but it’s fascinating to watch the honest effort and commitment he has brought into his game. It’s an elusive state of being — being a complete athlete — and yet every professional athlete seeks it in his own sport. Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s quest is infectious.

from Photographers' Blog:

Waiting to die

Varanasi, India
By Danish Siddiqui

The River Ganges is sacred in Hinduism, and the city of Varanasi, which lies on its banks, is one of the oldest and holiest sites for Hindu pilgrims from all over the world.

Devotees believe that you can wash away your sins by taking a dip in the Ganges at Varanasi. What’s more, dying and having your ashes scattered here is a sacred thing for Hindus who believe that it brings “moksha,” or freedom for the soul from the constant cycle of death and rebirth. To attain this salvation, many travel to Varanasi to die.

A woman stands in a street outside the Mukti Bhawan (Salvation Home) at Varanasi, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, June 17, 2014. Picture taken June 18, 2014. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

“Mukti Bhavan,” or “Salvation House,” is a charity-run hostel for people who wish to pass away in the city. It has 12 rooms, a temple and small quarters for its priests. Lodging there comes with certain conditions: guests have two weeks to die or they are gently asked to move on.

Movie Review: This ‘Pizza’ is half-baked

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

If the rule of thumb to gauge the worth of a horror movie is how badly it scares you, then Akshay Akkineni’s supernatural thriller ‘Pizza’ is successful only in parts. That’s tragic, considering the plot held promise and would’ve worked had it been treated more intelligently and with attention to finer detail.

pizzaaKunal (Akshay Oberoi) and Nikita (Parvathy Omanakuttan) are a married couple. Kunal is a pizza delivery man while Nikita writes horror novels. Money is scarce and they struggle to make ends meet. One night Kunal delivers a pizza to a woman (Dipannita Sharma) at her bungalow.

Soon he finds himself trapped inside the house and from then on, the film is about Kunal stumbling upon bloodied bodies, his close encounters with demons, and his attempts to escape. Add to the mix Kunal’s wife who goes missing after she turns up at the bungalow following his frantic call for help.

Indian eatery run by murder convicts praised for politeness, hygiene

As India’s capital baked under a heat wave this month, banker Gaurav Gupta sat down for lunch at a new air-conditioned restaurant, and was greeted by a smiling waiter who offered him chilled water and took his order — a traditional “thali” meal of flatbread, lentils, vegetables, rice and pickle.

Nothing unusual, except that the employee, like most of his co-workers, is a convicted murderer serving time in South Asia’s largest prison complex.

“Tihar Food Court” on Jail Road in west Delhi is part of a wide range of reform and rehabilitation initiatives undertaken at the Tihar prison. It opened in the first week of July on an “experimental basis” while waiting for formal clearances, and is located half a kilometre from the prisoners’ dormitories.

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