India Insight

Do we need sex-education in schools?

A parliamentary committee, with a varied political membership, recently recommended that there should be no sex education in schools.

Sex even if done at the proper time, with a proper person, in a proper place, is a topic that makes many Indians uncomfortable.

The committee itself refused a power point presentation on the question “after going through the hard copy because of its explicit contents.  The Committee felt that it was not comfortable with it and could be embarrassing especially to the lady Members and other lady staff present.”

The committee has recommended that chapters like ‘Physical and Mental Development in Adolescents’ and ‘HIV/AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases’ be removed from the general curriculum.

Instead, they want these topics to be included in biology syllabus for school leaving classes.

Bengal intellectuals queer pitch for communists

Amidst the stream of billboards, posters and party flags flooding Kolkata’s chaotic streets in the run-up to elections, a glazed hoarding featuring popular intellectuals of West Bengal is catching everyone’s eyes these days.

“Pariborton Chai” (We want change), reads the hoarding popping up at regular intervals, in opposition of the communists who have ruled the state uninterruptedly since 1977.

The hoardings are part of a campaign with a difference – It is not mounted by the opposition Trinamool Congress-Congress combine, but by a group of powerful intellectuals who have joined hands against the communists.

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:

Lalu Prasad’s roller: courting the Muslim vote in Bihar

Muslims are seen as a crucial vote bank in several possible swing states in India’s general election and many politicians are making the right noises to court the community.

In the state of Bihar, which I recently visited, its chief minister Nitish Kumar told me his campaign focused on caste-blind development but also communal harmony:

“Now everybody is happy. There is complete communal harmony,” he said as we sat at night on the veranda at his residence.

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.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan, India and the election manifestos

The world's largest democracy chooses a new government in an election beginning on Thursday, and given the fires burning next door in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the men and women who will rule New Delhi over the next five years will doubtless exert influence over the course of events.

Indeed, with the pain and anger over  the Mumbai attacks of November still raw, the mood could hardly be tougher against Pakistan. Even shorn of the campaign rhetoric, the positions of both the ruling Congress and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party on Pakistan begin from common ground. No dialogue with Islamabad until it "dismantles the infrastructure of terrorism", both parties say in their manifestos.

Full texts of the documents of the two main parties are here and here.

New Delhi's continued refusal to resume dialogue or indeed to expand other links such as trade has caught Pakistan between a rock and a hard place, according to this piece in 2point6billion.com, a website tracking developments mainly in China and India. While Islamabad has repeatedly called for resumption of dialogue since the attacks, Delhi has refused to comply until it is assured that Pakistan will prosecute all those involved in the planning and operations.

Bihar: after the “Jungle Raj”

“The state government is trying to establish the rule of law…however so mighty someone may be, without any discrimination, whatever their clout is, they will still be put on trial.” 

This is what Neelmani, a senior police officer in Bihar, told me in a recent interview.

He said the “Jungle Raj”, which gave the state a reputation for corruption, kidnappings and crime, is coming to an end.

Will West Bengal’s Muslims vote for the left?

Are the ruling communists in the stronghold state of West Bengal losing the confidence of its traditional Muslim voters, ahead of their most crucial electoral test this month?

For decades, Muslims have always felt safe in West Bengal, although they have been caught in an uncomfortable position elsewhere in the country after each bomb or militant attack.

West Bengal’s left boasted that Muslims, a little over 26 percent in the state of 80 million people, were free from discrimination and were living in harmony.

Does youth trump experience in the Lok Sabha stakes?

Indian political parties and leaders are courting young voters for the upcoming general elections and the age of political leaders like L.K. Advani and Rahul Gandhi is being made into an electoral issue.

After all nearly two-thirds of India is below 35 years of age, the cut-off for ‘youth’ according to the National Youth Policy.

But does the electorate care?

A number of surveys and studies seem to suggest otherwise.

One nation-wide survey reported in the ‘Mint’ newspaper shows voters may not quite prefer “fresh and young” candidates, with two-thirds of the 17,640 people sampled preferring experienced candidates.

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