India Insight

Elsewhere in India: girls, mobile phones and slapping your tormentors

Here’s a short roundup of regional news in India that attracted our interest this weekend. Any opinions expressed by the author are no doubt ill informed and ridiculous. Aditya Yogi Kalra contributed to this post.

Another politician, another reference to women being the root of all man’s troubles. Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh blamed “girlfriends, bikes and  mobile phones” for the rising number of road accidents in the state.  ”It’s a common sight to see youngsters driving two-wheelers while talking on cellphones which often leads to accidents. Youths should avoid such habits,” Singh said. (PTI via CNBC-TV18)

Shivakumar of Uliyakovil, Kollam, was arrested after promising to marry a woman, but demanding that she sell one of her kidneys first. “The victim was identified as Manju (alias Chinchu). Police said Manju had lodged a complaint in 2009. The operation to remove her kidney was conducted at KIMS Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram.” Shivakumar reportedly abandoned Manju, and took the kidney, which he sold for 1 million rupees, or $18,289. (TNN)

Slap happy: Three allegedly drunk men aged 21 to 25 groped a woman in Mumbai while she was on her way to work at a call centre at King’s Circle. When she shouted at them, and a fight ensued, at which during one point one of the men slapped her. A crowd beat up the men, but urged the woman not to summon the police. She did so anyway, and the cops took the men to the Antop Hill police station. The woman “refused to leave, saying the two men had ‘manhandled her and slapped her and that it was only fair that she is allowed to slap them’. “The police agreed. I slapped the men and told them that the next time they think about touching a woman, the sound of my slap will ring in their ears.’” (Times of India)

LinkedIn is “dabbling” with the idea of allowing members in India to pay with local currency rather than with credit cards. “Everything needs to be in place because where money is concerned, you need to be doubly sure,” said a spokesperson for the site, refusing to give a time frame. There reportedly are 15 million Indian users as of May, accounting for more than 9 percent of its users. (Mint)

Caste trumps merit for political dividends in India

Passions are running high in parliament and the stakes are huge. The contentious issue of reservation is back to haunt Indian politics and it may well decide who runs the next government in the world’s largest democracy. Sparks were seen flying in the upper house on Wednesday when two MPs from rival parties came to blows during the tabling of a bill to amend the Constitution, providing for reservations in promotions at work for backward castes.

The issue, however, is nothing new. Reservation is a recurring theme in India’s democracy. And Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s embattled government seems to be returning to identity politics at a time when it is badly cornered, thanks to a string of corruption scandals, a ballooning fiscal deficit and low investor sentiment.

The move comes after the Supreme Court in April struck down former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati’s policy of a promotion quota in government service.

India must ask: where is the honour in killing?

Three men were arrested by Delhi police this week for “honour killings” days after the Supreme Court asked eight Indian states to stop these so-called “honour” killings, where family members, typically men, kill daughters and their husbands for apparently bringing dishonour to the family by marrying below their caste.

An Indian brideThe killings, in a posh neighbourhood in Delhi, brought the tragic and shameful story of honour killings closer home to Delhi residents, who had so far dismissed the rising instances of these killings as a feature of rural India, equating them to a more traditional and conservative India they claim not to inhabit.

The clash between tradition and modernity is not new and is not unique to India, where more than two-thirds of its population lives in rural areas, and where more than half the population is below the age of 25 years.

Caste and Race: Two sides of the same coin?

The attack in a  Sikh temple in Vienna and the subsequent clashes in Punjab have brought renewed focus on the internationalisation of what many Indians see as a domestic problem.

In August 2001, I heard Martin Macwan, a human rights activist, talk about raising the issue of caste at international forums, specifically in the context of the U.N. race summit in Durban that year. The move was however opposed by the government.

Macwan spoke movingly about how fellow activists had been killed while agitating for their rights.

Is caste behind the killing in Vienna and riots in Punjab?

Why did the murder of a preacher in a Sikh temple in Vienna spark riots in the faraway Indian state of Punjab, in which thousands took to the streets to torch cars, trains and battle security forces?

The root cause may lie in India’s caste system that Sikhism officially rejects, but that still grips swathes of India’s billion-plus people, including in Sikh-dominated Punjab state in northwestern India.

“Via Vienna, Sikh caste war returns, sets Punjab aflame” ran the headline of the Hindustan Times.

from FaithWorld:

Religion and politics in “bewilderingly diverse” India

asghar-ali-engineer"Bewildingerly diverse" is the way Asghar Ali Engineer describes his native country, India. This 70-year-old Muslim scholar has written dozens of books about Indian politics and society, Islamic reform and interreligious dialogue. As head of the Centre for the Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai, he works to promote peace and understanding among religious and ethnic communities through seminars, workshops, youth camps, research and publications. The centre even organises street plays in the slums of Mumbai to teach the poor about the dangers of communalism.

Our long conversation at the Centre in Mumbai's Santa Cruz neighbourhood of Mumbai during a recent visit to India provided a few key quotes for my earlier analysis and blog post on religion in the Indian election campaign. Since these issues are crucial to the general election taking place in India, I've transcribed longer excerpts from his answers and posted them on the second page of this post. (Photo: Asghar Ali Engineer, 14 April 2009/Tom Heneghan)

What is the role of communalism in Indian elections?

"The BJP bases its whole politics around accusations that Congress uses Muslims as vote banks and does a lot of favours for them. 'The Muslims vote for Congress and we are against vote bank politics,' that's what they claim. But the BJP itself is basing its politics on Hindu vote banks, (especially) certain castes among Hindus, particularly the upper castes. But when they saw that upper class support cannot put them into power in Delhi, they widened their circle and tried to include some OBC (Other Backward Class) Hindus. Many OBC leaders have become militant Hindu leaders. They are more militant than the upper-class leaders. They see this as the only way to carve out their niche in upper-class politics. Dalits are lower than the OBC. Dalits generally vote for secular parties. Most used to vote for Congress, but now many caste parties have come into existence -- for example, (the Dalit politician) Mayawati. She's also widening her political base by including the upper class.

from FaithWorld:

Holding back the “religion card” in India’s election campaign

india-election-ayodhyaHindu nationalism, Muslim "vote banks", anti-Christian violence, caste rivalry -- Indian politics has more than enough interfaith tension to offer populist orators all kinds of "religion cards" to play. Coming only months after Islamist militants killed 166 people in a three-day rampage in Mumbai, the campaign for the general election now being held in stages between April 16 and May 13 could have been over- shadowed by communal demagoguery. (Photo:Voters show IDs at a polling station in Ayodhya, 23 April 2009/Pawan Kumar)

But in this election, the "religion card" doesn't seem to be the trump card it once was. It's still being used in some ways, of course, but the main opposition group, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has played down its trademark Hindu nationalism in its drive to oust the secular Congress Party from power in New Delhi. A BJP candidate who lashed out at the Muslim minority saw the tactic backfire. During a recent three-week stay in India, I found religious issues being discussed freely and frequently in the boisterous election campaign. But they were usually not the main issues under debate and not isolated from the pocketbook issues that really concern voters. Click here for the rest of my report quoted above. advani-waves(Photo: BJP leader L.K. Advani, 8 April 2009/Amit Dave)

This is one of those stories where context is king. Thanks to the internet and India's lively English-language media, anyone around the globe can find Indian reports highlighting the religion angle. One of the news magazines, The Week, ran an interesting cover story about the "high priests of hate." On balance, I think it looks a bit overdone -- it was written at the height of the Varun Gandhi controversy -- but it had this classic anecdote:

First, Second or Third (Front) – What’s the difference!

Much has been written about the imminent arrival in New Delhi of the Third Front, the joker in the Indian political pack that has talked itself up as a serious alternative to the two national parties in the 2009 parliamentary elections.

The difference they tout is of being more inclusive, bringing into the public fold social groups neglected or oppressed by the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Whether this claim, that some take rather very seriously, is sustainable is the moot question. The answer may be no, if the history of this rag-tag group that has emerged with near-decadal precision since 1967 is any guide.

Will an “untouchable” become India’s Obama?

Will a Dalit, or “untouchable” become India’s Obama? That is the question being posed by some commentators in the India press after the United States elected their first black president.

One Dalit woman, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh known as Mayawati, is the first person to come to mind. Her astonishing rise from Dalit teacher to head of India’s most populous state has led to speculation she could be a prime ministerial candidate in 2009.


For an interesting article on the subject, read “Waiting for India‘s Obama” by T.K Arun.

It pays to use an Indian public toilet

rtr1e5ov.jpgLast month, authorities in a southern Indian state fined people caught urinating in public view for a few days.

This week, officials in a remote town started offering people money for using public urinals.

Quite amused reading these news items, I wonder whether we are witnessing the winds of change finally in India or are we just watching another piece of local image-building exercise before elections ?

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