India Insight

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.

In a country with a steadily rising graph of child abuse, schools can never be too cautious. Last month’s assault on a 6-year-old girl at a private school in India’s IT capital of Bangalore in Karnataka became front-page news, triggering protests by parents and the youth wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

A citywide strike shut schools and public transport in Bangalore on Thursday, a day after media reports said another schoolgirl had been sexually assaulted. In July, a teacher in the adjoining state of Andhra Pradesh was caught on camera caning a blind child, while another video clip showed a private tutor hitting a toddler in Kolkata.

Budget 2014: Reactions from the common man

Security personnel stand guard near sacks containing the papers of the federal budget for the 2014/15 fiscal year, at the parliament in New Delhi July 10, 2014. REUTERS/Adnan AbidiPrime Minister Narendra Modi’s new government on Thursday unveiled a first budget of structural reforms that seek to revive growth, while spurning the temptation to resort to higher borrowing.

(Click here for Budget 2014 highlights)

India Insight spoke to people in New Delhi’s central business district for their thoughts on the budget:

ASHISH SHARMA, 36, regional manager, Bharti AXA

“Decision to increase FDI in insurance is welcome. This means that more expertise will come into the sector, which is good for general insurance.”

When the Right To Information becomes a fight for information in India

The Congress party-led government that drafted the Right To Information (RTI) Act in 2005 touted the law as one of its success stories for the average Indian in the last election. Whether it played any role in the election’s outcome is difficult to say, but activists who specialize in RTI requests throughout India say that government workers have found many ways to frustrate their attempts to get responses to their questions.

Filing an RTI is easier than it used to be, but extracting information is getting harder each year, said Neeraj Goenka, an RTI activist in Sitamarhi, a town in the state of Bihar.

“Bihar government brought a number of amendments to the RTI act to discourage people from asking questions. Bureaucracy is totally dominant here also like in any other state,” he said. “From top to bottom, everyone knows how the information can either be denied or delayed, and the application keeps moving from one authority to the other for months.”

Railway Budget 2014: Highlights at a glance

In his maiden budget, Railway Minister Sadananda Gowda said the bulk of future railway projects will be financed through public-private partnerships and his ministry would seek cabinet approval for allowing foreign direct investment in the state-owned network, excluding passenger services.

India’s railway, the world’s fourth-largest, has suffered from years of low investment and populist policies to subsidise fares. This has turned a once-mighty system into a slow and congested network that crimps economic growth.

The Narendra Modi government pushed through a steep hike in rail passenger and freight fares last month, and expectations were high there would be bold proposals to improve the railways – a lifeline for 23 million Indians every day.

Short skirts, bad stars, chow mein: Why men in India rape women

Demonstrators from All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA) hold placards and shout slogans during a protest against the recent killings of two teenage girls, in New Delhi May 31, 2014. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

The 2012 Delhi bus rape case and an ever-longer list of rapes and murders in India have prompted politicians and public figures in India to cite plenty of implausible reasons why rape happens and why men brutalise women or portray women in ways that suggest they had it coming. Many people, when speaking out, tend to minimise the crime or rationalise it in ways that sound ludicrous to many. We created this list of such comments more than a year ago, but it seems like it’s time to add some new entries.

(Updated July 15, 2014) Binay Bihari, minister for art, culture and youth affairs in the state of Bihar: The minister said that mobile phones and non-vegetarian food are reasons for a surge in rape cases, NDTV reports. “Many students misuse mobile phones by watching blue films and hearing obscene songs which pollute their mind,” he said. On food, he reportedly said that non-vegetarian food “contributed to hot temper… and cited sermons of sants that pure vegetarian food kept the body and mind pure and healthy.” (NDTV)

(Updated July 2, 2014) Tapas Pal, lawmaker from Trinamool Congress: The popular Bengali actor was caught on camera threatening workers of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and their families. “If any opponent touches any Trinamool girl, any father, any child, I will destroy his entire family. I will unleash my boys, they will rape them, rape them,” Pal said in the video. Pal later apologised for what he termed a “gross error of judgement”. (Indian Express)

Aam Aadmi’s party isn’t over yet, Bhagwant Mann says

The one-and-a-half-year-old Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) poor performance in this year’s parliamentary elections in India was a big letdown for the anti-corruption party’s members and its leader Arvind Kejriwal. One of the party’s newly elected parliamentarians, Punjabi actor-comedian Bhagwant Mann, is doing his best to keep spirits high. Following are excerpts from two phone conversations with India Insight about the future of the AAP.

 (This interview was conducted in Hindi and translated into English)

Q. Why didn’t the “Modi wave” work in Punjab?

A. There was nothing like a Modi wave in Punjab. Punjab is already affected a lot by drugs and unemployment. So Punjab’s problems are not about [BJP slogan] “Ache din aane waley hain” (“Good days are coming”) or “Har Har Modi” (Hindu religious chant, modified for Modi). Punjab wanted a third alternative, it wanted to get out of the two-party mill – Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Congress.

Q. What is your reaction to the party’s performance in Punjab and the rest of the country?

Narendra Modi’s new team of ministers

The Indian government on Tuesday announced its list of cabinet ministers along with their portfolios, a day after Narendra Modi was sworn in as the new prime minister.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies won a landslide victory in a mammoth general election, grabbing 336 of the 543 seats and ending the Congress-led government’s decade-long rule.

Besides Modi, 45 other members were inducted into the new council of ministers, a third smaller than the previous government. Modi himself would look after atomic energy, space, personnel and any ministry not allocated to a cabinet colleague.

Markets this week: BHEL, Sesa Sterlite top Sensex gainers

By Ankush Arora and Sankalp Phartiyal

India’s stock market closed the week on a record-breaking note as the Bharatiya Janata Party led by Narendra Modi swept the Lok Sabha election, handing the Congress party its worst ever result.

Surpassing 25,000 for the first time on the day of counting, the benchmark Sensex jumped 4.9 percent this week. The broader Nifty, which also scaled a fresh peak on Friday, rose 5 percent.

In 2014, overseas investors have so far invested 6.5 billion rupees in Indian equities, contributing to a 14 percent gain in the main stock indices.

Interview: Nitin Gadkari on the election, BJP’s priorities and Amit Shah

(This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)


By Shyamantha Asokan

Nitin Gadkari is a top leader of India’s Hindu nationalist opposition party, which is forecast to emerge as the front-runner in the country’s mammoth general election. A series of opinion polls this year say that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, will win the biggest chunk of the 543 parliamentary seats up for grabs. Results are due on May 16.

Modi and the BJP have been wooing voters with promises to rescue India from its slowest economic growth in a decade, leading to much speculation over the party’s exact plans for economic policy. But critics say the party, and Modi in particular, could be a divisive force along religious lines.

Reuters spoke to Gadkari, a former party president and a member of the BJP’s manifesto committee, at his residence in New Delhi. Here are edited excerpts from the interview. The questions have been paraphrased.

No anti-Muslim ideology in party – BJP’s Anurag Thakur

Many people see Anurag Thakur, 39, as the youthful face of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition to the Congress party-led government and the party of prime ministerial hopeful Narendra Modi. He is the son of the former chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, and was named one of the World Economic Forum’s global young leaders this year.

In an interview with Reuters, Thakur spoke about Modi’s popularity as well as criticisms levelled against him. He also spoke about internal problems at the BJP, the party’s perceptions among Muslims, Congress PM contender Rahul Gandhi and more.

Here are excerpts from an interview:

Q: The BJP has attacked Congress over many issues – price rise and corruption being the biggest. Do you think these problems will be solved if Narendra Modi comes to power?
A: Today, when the country wants someone who has experience, and can deliver, 65 percent people of the country want Modi as the PM. During NDA regime, there was hardly any price rise. There were no charges of corruption against Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his government colleagues.

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