India Insight

Abhijit Mukherjee’s foot-in-mukh moment steals spotlight from rape cases

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

India is angry. India is protesting. Rallies continue in New Delhi after the gang rape of a 23-year-old girl on Dec. 16. The rapes continue too. On Wednesday night, three men reportedly raped a 42-year-old woman and dumped her in South Delhi. There are more cases being reported every day.

The biggest story in India, however, is Abhijit Mukherjee’s comment about the Delhi protests — “These pretty women, dented and painted, who come for protests are not students. I have seen them speak on television, usually women of this age are not students”. He added that students, who go to discotheques, think it is a fashion statement to hold candles and protest.

The West Bengal lawmaker, also the son of President Pranab Mukherjee, apologised for his foot-in-mouth statement, but he has unleashed another wave of scorn from the world’s most vocal democracy. Anchors on a Times Now prime-time show asked what kind of example Mukherjee was setting, and whether withdrawing his comments allows him to “get away” with his remark. Headlines Today called his comments “sexist, obnoxious, patronizing,” and asked viewers to call in to answer the question, “Should Abhijit Mukherjee be sacked for ridiculing women protestors?”

Mukherjee’s statement was something he should have kept to himself. Leaving aside the merit of his words, why is there so much reaction? Are such comments by lawmakers rare? Why are we so sensitive to something that anyone, anywhere in India says? There were similar reactions when Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi called Human Resource Development Minister Shashi Tharoor’s wife a 50-crore-rupee girlfriend. A few days ago, Sanjay Nirupam’s comment about a fellow politician — Till some time ago you were dancing on the TV screens and now you have become a psephologist — freaked people out. And let’s not forget the case of the impromptu “theek hai?” on the part of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier this week. It threatened to become bigger than “mission accomplished.”

Voluntary reform is the only way out for Olympic pariah India

The outrage has simmered down, cricket has cast its usual mammoth shadow and there are burning, more important, social issues to deal with.

No wonder, there is simply no trace of the gloom that had descended on India after the world’s second most populous nation was kicked out of Olympic family earlier this month.

And no sign of a way out either.

The Indian Olympic Association (IOA) was suspended primarily because of government interference in its controversial Dec. 5 election and the sports ministry’s zeal to make its presence felt in every National Sports Federation (NSF) actually weakens India’s bid to get the Olympic ban lifted.

Delhi rape: what it says about us Indians

 Demonstrators run and throw stones towards the police during a protest in front of India Gate in New Delhi December 23, 2012. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters)

We Indians are an angry people now. Thousands of people have poured into the streets, indignant and outraged over the savage case of rape and assault on a young woman in New Delhi.

That anger degenerated this week into hysteria and bloodlust, with calls for capital punishment and castration of the rapists. The Internet was flooded with comments urging public hanging and beatings. One response on an Internet forum suggested that Delhi men be raped so that “the problem can be solved”; another advocated the rapists be urinated upon.

Delhi gang rape: protests for women’s rights attract politicking instead

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

The perfect recipe of a bad curry is to do everything right, then add one wrong ingredient, or add the right ingredient in the wrong amount. In this case, the ingredient is the mango, or as they call it in Hindi, “aam.”

I attended a candlelight vigil on Sunday night in Bangalore to stand up for women’s rights in India. The vigil was a peaceful version of the protests that have swept the nation after six men were accused of gang-raping and battering a 23-year-old medical student in New Delhi last Sunday.

Delhi gang rape: a case for the death penalty

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

“It appears to be that a rod was inserted into her and it was pulled out with so much force that the act brought out her intestines along. That is probably the only thing that explains such severe damage to her intestines,” he said.

According to sources, one of the accused persons who were brought to the hospital for a medical examination on Tuesday confessed to having seen a rope-like object — likely her intestines — being pulled out of the girl by the other assailants on the bus. The sources said that the girl had bite marks on her body.

Delhi gang rape case: ‘she deserved it’ is not a good argument

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

The gang rape of a 23-year-old woman and the beating of her male friend on a moving bus in New Delhi Sunday night has produced debates about women’s rights in India and about whether the death penalty — or castration — are suitable remedies for the situation. It has not prompted, from what I can see, any speculation that the woman got what she deserved because she was dressed like a slut… until today.

For anyone who has missed the story, here’s what has happened so far, according to multiple media reports: the woman and her friend boarded the bus. They thought it was operating on a public route, but the driver and the men on board apparently were out for a joyride instead. They raped the woman, beat the pair with an iron rod, and threw them out of the bus and left them to die on the street. Police have arrested some of the men, politicians are in high dudgeon, and the woman is in the hospital. She suffered damage not only to her reproductive system, but to her intestines.

Photo gallery: Old Delhi book fair is no page turner

The Ramlila Maidan in old Delhi is a reasonably eventful place. That’s what made the National Book Fair stand out; it was practically abandoned. On the second day of the event, there were fewer book stalls, unoccupied slots, and few enough visitors that you could count them on your fingertips. Then there was one organiser bellowing into his mobile phone about a lack of adequate power, and bored stall owners like this man:

Stall owners I spoke to said the show disappointed them in part because there was a lack of publicity. Another said that the location in Old Delhi wasn’t a good idea. But I managed to get shots of visitors:

As I went from stall to stall, I realised the collection on display was dated. Look at the picture below of a stall offering rock-bottom prices for books that are available at the nearest hawker near my house or at the Sunday Daryaganj book market.

A Twitter high five from the Pope? Maybe someday

As a practising Catholic, I was eagerly waiting to read Pope Benedict XVI’s first tweets. I didn’t expect to be blown away by the first few, but interest was building on the Internet, and I was part of that. Not many in India or my home state of Goa seemed to care very much. Perhaps they didn’t even know that the Pope had joined Twitter. But the small step by Pope Benedict on Wednesday, marks a dramatic change in the way the Church communicates to its faithful.

No one expected the Vatican, usually conservative by nature, or the 85-year old Pontiff, to say anything path-breaking or revolutionary. As expected, the first tweet was bland, and the event anti-climactic. Pope Benedict XVI also proved himself initially incapable of tweeting on his own.

Nonetheless, when a pope does something for the first time, it’s impressive anyway. He has more than a million followers, and his messages will be tweeted in eight languages (Hindi isn’t one of them). More impressive is the idea that you can talk to the pope. The German pontiff’s first few tweets raised various responses, ranging from child abuse cover-up accusations, people calling him a Nazi and Satan, and others offering him encouragement and prayers, and someone who asked him to pray that she gets a new iPhone 5.

Ravi Shankar and the West’s search for the lost chord

There is a moment in the beginning of the Concert for Bangla Desh live album when sitar master Ravi Shankar and his fellow musicians play some notes on their Indian instruments. When they stop, the audience at Madison Square Garden applauds and cheers. “Thank you,” Shankar said. “If you appreciate the tuning so much, I hope you will enjoy the playing more.”

He and his band members then begin playing the piece called “Bangla Dhun.” At the end, the crowd cheers just as lustily as they did for the warmup.

That was 1971. Forty-one years later, and a day after Shankar’s death at the age of 92, I’m not sure that most of the western world is any more hip to the difference between tune-up and performance in Indian music than the people who filed into Madison Square Garden that August to hear the show. I wasn’t when I heard the album in the 1980s, and I am not now. (If that’s a tune-up, I’ll listen to tune-ups for hours)

Ravi Shankar, a song more felt than heard

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

As the world pays tribute to sitar master Ravi Shankar, who died on Tuesday at the age of 92, it’s worth reflecting on his greatest contribution to the world: his attempt to bridge the gap between “eastern” and “western” music with the likes of the Beatles and violinist Yehudi Menuhin.

But what will Indians remember him for? Teaching George Harrison to play the sitar, perhaps. But what’s the song he wrote that no Indian can forget? What’s the Indian equivalent of the concert for Bangladesh that Harrison organized, and at which Shankar played?

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