India Insight

Narendra Modi follows his roadmap to Delhi

The Narendra Modi charm offensive showed up in full force in India’s capital on Wednesday. Modi, the main opposition party’s likely prime ministerial candidate gave a speech on progress and development at one of Delhi’s premier colleges, the youthful audience greeted the 62-year-old politician with gusto, news outlets called his speech a “roadmap for India,” protesters showed up en masse and Twitter went bananas.

If not a direct declaration of grand political ambition, the nearly one-hour speech at the Shri Ram College of Commerce sounded like a pitch for a national role: here was the chief minister of Gujarat talking about development to more than a thousand students in New Delhi, staying away from the usual and divisive political overtones, repeatedly referring to the youth of the country (future voters), and outlining his vision for India.

“The whole world is looking at India as a big marketplace. Why? Because they (other countries) think they can sell here easily. It is the demand of our time to make India a leader in manufacturing and dump our goods in the world market,” Modi said, according to our report on the Reuters news wire.

In December he won a fourth consecutive term in office, and since then many in his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s main opposition group, have called for him to lead the party in national elections due by early 2014.

In contrast, outside the college gates a crowd of students protested against Modi. Police used water cannons and batons to disperse protesters, one of the protesters told us.

Delhi Art Gallery’s nude portrait exhibition draws protesters

Modern Indian artists have celebrated the body on the canvas for more than a hundred years. Amrita Sher-Gil, known as India’s Frida Kahlo, may have been the earliest Indian artist in modern times to paint nudes, including a self-portrait. The Delhi Art Gallery’s latest show – “The Naked and the Nude” – presents a retrospective journey of the representation of the body in modern Indian art, mostly from the dawn of the 20th century to the present.

It’s also generating anger among groups that object to art involving nudes. When I visited the gallery, the front office operator received a call from a regional political group, demanding that the show be closed. That is not an option, said Kishore Singh, project editor and head of exhibition and publication at the Delhi Art Gallery. “We cannot and will not take seriously people’s right to be offended, and demand that we take something down.”

On Monday, the show was briefly shut down after women from the right-wing group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) protested at the venue. Meanwhile, gallery owner Ashish Anand said about 200 to 300 people plan to protest on Wednesday. (A similar fracas just happened in Bangalore.)

from Photographers' Blog:

Exorcism at the ghost fair

Malajapur, India

By Danish Siddiqui

Malajpur is a small but not ordinary village in central India. In fact it is probably the only village in India which has been hosting a ghost fair for the past several years. People from across the country come to this fair to get rid of ‘evil spirits’ that they claim to be possessed by.

As night falls on Paush Purnima (full moon night) the 'possessed' are taken to the local shrine to be exorcised. People who bring their relatives here feel the latter's bodies have been 'taken over by ghosts of the dead' and that exorcism is the only release for them. Interestingly, most of those who come here to be exorcised are women. When I asked the priest the reason he said, “They are emotionally weak and hence easy target for spirits."

On the first day when I went to the temple, it looked to me like any other temple complex. But suddenly from the middle of the crowd I heard a woman scream as she started running around the temple courtyard. According to priests the ghost inside people becomes weak the more they run around the courtyard in an anti-clockwise direction. For those who don't run voluntarily (which is the case often) relatives or priests make them do so by pushing or kicking.

Understanding the repo rate, cash reserve ratio and the Reserve Bank of India

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Tuesday cut the repo rate as well as the cash reserve ratio (CRR) by 25 basis points, or 0.25 percent. Here’s a quick explanation of what that means. It will be obvious to some readers, but many people haven’t studied economics and are unfamiliar with the terms.

The repo rate, which now stands at 7.75 percent, is the rate at which the central bank lends money to Indian banks. As the repo rate goes down, it gets cheaper for banks to borrow money. That makes it easier for people to borrow money at cheaper rates too. As more people borrow money, which ought to be the result of action like this, they’ll spend more money. That’s good for the Indian economy.

The CRR, meanwhile, is the amount of funds banks must keep with the RBI. The CRR is at 4 percent, which means for every 100 rupees, the bank keeps 4 rupees with the RBI in cash. The ratio indicates the policy stance of the bank and is used as a tool to manage liquidity, or the amount of money in the system. By changing this ratio, the central bank can control the amount of liquidity. Tuesday’s cut would release 180 billion rupees (or about $3.35 billion) into the system, meaning banks would have more money to lend to borrowers.

“Homelands” exhibit in Delhi examines identity through art

Indians give high importance to the concept of identity and kinship, especially in a land that is home to hundreds upon hundreds of different languages and ethnic groups. Indian curator Latika Gupta explores this theme in “Homelands”, an exhibition of works by 28 leading contemporary British artists, all wrestling with the idea of what “home” means in the 21st century.

The artists whose works are displayed include four Turner Prize winners, Jeremy Deller, Richard Long, Grayson Perry and Gillian Wearing. Work by World Press Photo (2007) winner Tim Hetherington, who was killed in Libya, also is on display.

“I wanted to see what it is that makes up our idea of what our identity is. Is it our language that we speak? Is it the place that we come from?” said Gupta. “The exhibition really hopes to raise a set of questions rather than provide answers.”

Military personnel who rape in India’s conflict zones should be prosecuted: committee

The Justice Verma Committee, set up to review India’s legislation following the brutal gang rape of a student in Delhi last month, released its recommendations on how to make the country safer for women last week.

Among the issues which the panel addressed was a “neglected area” concerning sexual violence against women in areas of conflict.

The committee recommends stripping security forces of special immunity that they enjoy in conflict areas in cases of sexual assault on women, and bringing them under the purview of ordinary criminal law.

Padma awards 2013: stellar achievements, foggy decisions

Six months after the death of ‘India’s first superstar’, the central government honoured Rajesh Khanna with one of India’s highest civilian awards on the eve of the country’s 64th Republic Day. Reports last month said the Bollywood actor might have been up for the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second-highest civilian award, but “Kaka” will get a Padma Bhushan, the third highest.

India awards the Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri for distinguished service in fields such as art, social work, public affairs, science and engineering.

The process of putting together the list of awardees has been a secretive one ever since India introduced the awards in 1954. The criteria for the awards is not specific, mostly relying on wide-open phrases such as “exceptional and distinguished service”. There have been cases filed with the Supreme Court of India, a committee under a serving vice president has examined the issue, and much has been written in the media on it. The list of awardees often comes under criticism for being politically influenced. Only demands under right to information requests reveal who is on the committee that draws up the lists. Even then, the ministry is likely to advise the applicant to not share the information with the media and the public.

Short skirts, bad stars and chow mein: why India’s women get raped

If you thought the Delhi gang rape would cause a serious debate on women’s rights in India, you’d be half right. Let’s look at the other half: last December’s brutal incident seems to have put a spell on India’s politicians, holy men and otherwise educated people.

From suggesting that the rape victim should have called her rapists “brother” to blaming her stars, plenty of reasons cited for the crime lay the blame on the women whom men brutalise, or portray women in ways that reveal our skewed attitude toward women and their place in our society. When given an opportunity to figure out ways to improve the  education and behaviour of men, and thus try to reduce the  number of rapes that occur in India, many people revert to the  more traditional method: limit the rights of women.

This is a partial list compiled by me and Robert MacMillan. Please suggest more. We’ll keep updating this as long as we have to…

from Photographers' Blog:

Not child’s play

Baran, India

By Danish Siddiqui

When I first took pictures of this child couple in a small village in the desert state of Rajasthan in 2010, I had no idea that I would come back to this village again. But life had something else in store and I have been visiting them every year since, documenting the changes in their relationship and their surroundings.

When I went to their house last week I was greeted by the loud wailing of a baby. It was their four-month-old son Alok, which means enlightenment in Hindi. Last year when I visited them, I learned that Krishna, the child bride, was seven months pregnant. I wasn’t surprised at all but out of curiosity I asked Gopal, her husband, why he was in such a hurry to expand the family. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Nothing else to do, no work, life is so boring.” I was a bit taken aback.

Those like me who live in big cities and metros plan meticulously before taking the plunge into parenthood. And here this teenager was telling me that he wanted to have a child and risk his young wife’s life because of boredom. That, again, is a different India.

Delhi rape case: Verma committee report dredges up old stereotypes

Like many journalists who follow Indian affairs, I have been digging through the 657 pages of the Verma committee report on rape in India and attitudes toward women in that country. You can read about its main conclusion in our wire story, namely:

India needs to implement existing laws, not introduce tougher punishment such as the death penalty, to prevent rape, a government panel set up to review legislation said on Wednesday, following a brutal gang rape that shook the nation. Panel head, justice J.S. Verma, rejected outright the idea of the death penalty for rape cases, a demand from some protesters and politicians in the days after the 23-year-old physiotherapy student was attacked on a moving bus.

There’s lots more to examine in the report, which was commissioned after the gang rape and death of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi aboard a moving bus. I’ll try to highlight on this blog in coming days. The committee cited plenty of case law in its report, and it came across one opinion that it said “seems to have stereotyped Indian and Western women in a somewhat unorthodox way.” That’s putting it kindly. Here is an excerpt that highlights a decidedly retrograde view toward women — particularly in the West. It’s from a 1983 Supreme Court case,  Bharvada Gohinbhai Hirjibhai v. State of Gujarat, in which a civil servant appealed his conviction of the rape of a 10-year-old girl and a 12-year-old girl.

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