India Insight

Strange weather: how a bad monsoon could be good for India

By Mayank Bhardwaj and Jo Winterbottom

A bad monsoon in India is the one that fails to deliver enough rain … most of the time. This year, a lack of rainclouds could be the silver lining that the government needs. India has no place left to store more grain, and can ill afford a hefty payout to farmers for the truckloads of produce that another monsoon could produce.

The annual four-month monsoon rains begin around June 1. More than half of the country’s arable land relies on the monsoon to grow the crops that help feed the world’s second-biggest country by population and put India’s rice and sugar on the global market.

But India’s last drought was five years ago. Food stocks have swelled so much since then that government warehouses, which house the grain sold at very low prices to the poor, are overflowing. Much is wasted, rotting or eaten by rats. The last thing that the government needs is another big crop yield.

India’s harvest from the current crop year to June 2014 is forecast to be a record 263.2 million tonnes of grain, enough to give at least a tonne to every average-sized household, and nearly four times what is needed for government handouts to the poor.

The bounty is not helping India tame high food inflation because the government pays farmers generous minimum support prices, inflating its subsidy bill, and its stockpiling has kept supplies to the open market tight.

Investors fear for their deposits after Sahara chief’s arrest

The arrest of Sahara chief Subrata Roy last week and the court case over an outlawed bond scheme are raising fears among some investors who worry they will not get their money back.

One of them is Anil. The 30-year-old travel agent put his 200,000 rupees ($3,276) in another investment scheme offered by Sahara, which bills itself as “the world’s largest family.” He fears that the case could hurt his investment.

“I have told my agent to surrender my deposit [partially] … I am worried, but my money will come back, my agent has said,” Anil told India Insight, declining to give his last name. “I will hesitate a bit to invest any money now. If the court case goes on, I will redeem all my Sahara investments.”

Scarred victims of acid attacks struggle to get their due

Sapna is a 21-year-old woman from a lower-middle class family in the Nand Nagri area of eastern Delhi. Her face is scarred by acid. Last August, her 32-year-old relative hired men to throw it in her face as she returned from her part-time job as a helper at an adhesives factory. The relative was angry because she rejected his marriage proposal.

She was supposed to receive 300,000 rupees (around $4,800) from the Delhi state government to help her with medical bills, according to a directive from India’s Supreme Court. Of this amount, 100,000 rupees or $1,600 was to be given within 15 days of the attack. But it took six months for Sapna to get her due.

Sapna is not the only person to have suffered bureaucratic difficulties and indifference that make it hard to move on from the initial attack, according to anti-acid attack activists.

Delhi High Court clears release of ‘Gulaab Gang’

The Delhi High Court on Thursday cleared the way for Bollywood film “Gulaab Gang” to open in cinemas, a day after it put the movie’s release on hold over allegations the film was based on a real-life women’s rights organization in India with a similar name.

Sampat Pal, the leader of the “Gulabi Gang” — a group of vigilantes wearing pink saris who act on complaints of domestic violence and dowry demands — had moved court against the movie. Pal accused the film-makers of basing the movie on her life without her permission.

On Wednesday, judge Sanjeev Sachdeva suspended the film’s screening till a court hearing in May, citing irreparable damage and injury to Pal if the film were shown.

Movie Review: Queen

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

At one point in Vikas Bahl’s “Queen”, lead character Rani has too much to drink on the streets of Paris. She bursts into loud sobs over her broken marriage, but perks up when she hears a Hindi song. Kangana Ranaut, who plays Rani, changes her body language in a flash, easily transitioning from despair to euphoria.

It is Ranaut’s ownership of the character, as well as director Bahl’s conscious attempt at a subtle, screwball comedy that makes “Queen” soar, making it a film where viewers root for the main character and find her naivete charming.

Rani (‘Queen’ in Hindi) is a timid Delhi girl, one who never disobeys her parents and holds her fiancé in such high regard that she declines a job offer because he doesn’t want her to work.

Key dates in India’s election history

Voting for the 2014 general election will begin on April 7, the Election Commission said on Wednesday.

(For facts and figures on the 2014 election, click here)

Here is a timeline of key dates in India’s election history:

1947 – Jawaharlal Nehru, one of the founding fathers of independent India, becomes the country’s first prime minister. His appointment starts a long period of political dominance of the Congress party and the country’s most powerful dynasty, the Gandhi-Nehru family.

1952 – Nehru leads Congress to a clear victory in the country’s first ever general election and retains the prime ministership, which he held until his death in 1964.

Bollywood re-creates life of Indian erotica writer Mastram

A new Bollywood film traces the fictional journey of a real-life writer of erotica whose racy low-cost works in Hindi spurred sales at bookstalls and pavement shops across India in the 1980’s and 90’s.

The identity of the author, who used the pseudonym Mastram, was never revealed, but the film’s director Akhilesh Jaiswal said he remembers sneaking the books in as a teenager, one of millions of adolescents in conservative India with little access to erotica before the Internet made pornography widely available.

Mastram’s works included “Yauvan ki Pehli Baarish” (First Rains of Youth), “Sexy Nurse” and “Manchali Bhabhi” (Salacious Sister-in-law).

Markets this week: BHEL, Hindalco top Sensex gainers

By Sankalp Phartiyal and Ankush Arora

Indian shares rose around 2 percent on heavy buying by foreign investors in what was a holiday-truncated week. Foreign investors have been net buyers of cash shares in each of the previous 10 sessions, with net inflows totalling around $600 million, exchange and regulatory data show.

In the currency market, the rupee closed at 61.75 per dollar on Friday after the unit strengthened to its highest in more than a month.

GDP data for the December quarter on Friday showed the Indian economy grew at a slower-than-expected 4.7 percent, dragged down by slowing manufacturing and mining activity.

Real change arrives in small steps for rural India

By Jo Winterbottom

This sepia-toned landscape could have been painted a century ago. A lazy sunset tints bullock carts, women in bright red and turquoise saris thresh rice by hand. Farmers swirl golden staves of corn in the fields.

But for millions of Indians, it is no rural idyll. It is a picture of poverty where farming techniques for many remain unchanged for decades, and the millions of farmers who just have enough land to make a living wouldn’t dare dream of a different future.

In Kushalpura village in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, people have little hope for change in their future. Cheap food and guaranteed temporary jobs that New Delhi offers are little better than a bandage on a big wound. There isn’t any electricity here and there are barely any toilets or latrines.

Movie Review: Shaadi Ke Side Effects

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

Saket Chaudhary seems to be a fan of sitcoms and SMS jokes. He combines the two to put together a script and make “Shaadi Ke Side Effects”, a movie about the modern Indian marriage, where men are trying to escape and women are obsessed with their children.

Chaudhary, who also directed the film’s 2006 prequel “Pyaar Ke Side Effects”, resorts to a heap of clichés and jaded jokes, most of which you have heard before and some which might seem offensive. Sporadically, the film manages to find a funny spot, thanks to Farhan Akhtar’s comic timing, but for the most part, “Shaadi Ke Side Effects” is a series of sitcom episodes strung together to make a full-length movie.

Sid and Trisha are the “yuppie couple” whose marriage is chronicled from their carefree days to their transition to parents and caregivers. Chaudhary chooses to tell the story from the man’s point of view, making Vidya Balan’s character purely ornamental, except towards the end.

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