India Insight

Woman’s death poses tough abortion questions for India and Ireland

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

The death of a 31-year-old Indian woman in Ireland after doctors refused to give her an abortion has sparked protests in her home country of India as well as in Ireland.

Activists in Ireland said that ending Savita Halappanavar’s pregnancy could have saved her life. She died of septicaemia following a miscarriage 17 weeks into her pregnancy. Her family believes that the delay in removing the foetus contributed to the blood poisoning.

Ireland, whose population is 84 percent Roman Catholic, has some of the world’s most restrictive laws on abortion, and critics say that doctors placed faith, as embodied in those laws, above her well being when they decided not to abort Halappanavar’s foetus — despite her repeated requests.

“She was very upset, but she accepted she was losing the baby,” her husband told reporters. “The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country. Savita said: ‘I am neither Irish nor Catholic’, but they said there was nothing they could do.”

Indians: inherently unhygienic? Indian writer touches third rail

(Any opinions expressed here are the author’s own. They are not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters)

My Indian friends and I joke around a lot about me as the typical white American guy visiting India. Cows! Con men! Colors! Most people I’ve met in India have restricted their reactions to my westerner-in-the-east experiences to gentle teasing. When I stuck a picture of a man urinating in public on my Facebook page, calling it one more picture of what you see everywhere you go in India, people weren’t as patient. What was I doing? Insulting the nation? Focusing on the ugly because it’s what all the westerners do when they visit India? Why does India provoke such visceral reactions in visitors?

Public urination, public defecation, dirt, garbage, filth, the poor living on the street — talking about these things, even acknowledging that they’re in front of your face, risks making your hosts unhappy, and possibly angry. It’s the third rail of India, and the voltage can be lethal. That’s why I was surprised when B.S. Raghavan decided to touch it with all 10 fingers.

The emerging world’s education imperative

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

Official delegations from the world’s nine most populous developing countries just met in New Delhi to discuss a subject vital for their countries’ futures: education. The meeting of ministers and others from Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan, known as the E-9, is the latest in a series of encounters held every two years to fulfil the pledge of “education for all” by 2015.

The E-9 account for 54 percent of the world’s population, 42.3 percent of children not in school, 58 percent of young illiterates (aged 15-24), and 67 percent of adult illiterates (two-thirds of whom are women). So the challenges are enormous: children, from families too poor to think about education, beyond the reach of schooling and too malnourished to study; and too few schools, classrooms, teaching resources, and adequately trained teachers. Rampant illiteracy underpins other problems, including exploding populations, gender imbalances, and widespread poverty.

Madhya Pradesh chief minister exorcises English, exercises investors

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

Shivraj Singh Chouhan appears to be tying himself into a linguistic knot. The chief minister of Madhya Pradesh on Saturday said that the English language is a ghost that India must exorcise, according to the Press Trust of India newswire. Even though only a small number of people speak English, these people have managed to show that you need English to be successful in whatever you do, Chouhan said.

Chouhan has a point about English, if you look at the numbers. Judging by the statistics published on Wikipedia, there are only 226,000 or so “native English” speakers, although you must add another 105 million who speak it in addition to their native language. Then there’s another, real number if you want to include the number of people who get by with some English, even if they’re not strictly fluent. What that number is, I don’t know. Either way, we’re talking about a fraction of India’s estimated 1.2 billion people, the majority of whom speak Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil and many more, in varying combinations and at varying degrees of fluency.

India stepping up to the challenge of post-2014 Afghanistan

Racing through the deserted streets of Kabul at nighttime, you are likely to be stopped at street corners by policemen once, twice or even more. If you are a South Asian, as I am, their guard is up even more. “Pakistani or Indian?” the cop barks out as you lower your window. When I answer “Indian”, he wants me to produce a passport to prove that, and as it happens, I am not carrying one. So I am pulled out of the car in the freezing cold and given a full body search, with the policemen muttering under his breath in Dari that everyone goes around claiming to be an Indian, especially Pakistanis.

To be an Indian in Kabul is to be greeted warmly wherever you go, whether it is negotiating a security barrier or seeking a meeting with a government official. There is an easing of tensions (in Afghanistan, the fear uppermost in the mind is that the stranger at the door could be an attacker and you don’t have too long to judge), Bollywood is almost immediately mentioned, and your hosts will go out of their way to help.

To be a Pakistani is a bit more fraught. The body search is rigorous, the questioning hostile, and, more often than not, you have to be rescued by a Western colleague especially if you are entering one of those heavily guarded, unmarked restaurants frequented by foreigners.

Bob Geldof, Goa and the Maldives: take offense where you can find it

(Any opinions expressed here are the author’s own. Any offense that the author causes is unintentional.)

Writing anything about India, no matter how picayune I think the topic might be, means that I run the risk of offending someone. Someday I’ll write a book about the unique culture of offense that I’ve found in India, but until then, I’ll write about examples that I see in the news. This weekend’s come from pop musician and poverty activist Bob Geldof as well as a senior government official of the Maldives, and an irreverent drummer from the heart of Punjab.

First, Bob Geldof, as reported by India Today:

Irish rockstar Bob Geldof’s remark that he got his “best drugs” from Goa has come under attack from a right wing Hindu organisation which has accused him of hurting national sentiments. While tourism industry players in Goa have said that Geldof’€™s statement was not in the context of current situation, the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) has filed a complaint with the Irish embassy against the rocker.

Elsewhere in India: Maria Sharapova wins hearts, minds of cameramen

Here’s some more news that we found in the Indian press over the weekend and would like to share with you. Rather than present stories of great national importance, we would like to highlight some of the items that you are less likely to see in world news reports. Any opinions that the author might express are surely beneath contempt, and are not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters.

Tennis pro Maria Sharapova visited India. Gushing ensued. “The 25-year-old, here to announce her partnership with UK-based real estate company Homestead, sported an infectious smile throughout the interaction even though the lensmen could not get to focus enough of capturing the blonde beauty. ‘Well, it is just the hair and make-up you know. I don’t wake up looking like this,’ quipped Sharapova when a scribe called her pretty. Here only for a day, Sharapova said food and culture was something she would take back from India. ‘I arrived last night and asked the chef what should I try of the Indian food. I had a dosa which tasted really nice. I wanted to have this great Indian experience. There is so much energy in the city, I have been in some quiet areas recently, resting. I really like the culture and people. You all have been really welcoming.’” Final score: love-love. (NDTV)

Mulayam Singh Yadav’s interests spread wider than wrestling or politics. He is also a lover of poetry. “For more than 35 minutes, Mulayam Yadav analysed the content of the book, ‘Yatharth ke Aas Pas’, written by a Congress leader, Chandra Prakash Rai. “This collection of poems on some very sensitive issues like girls, female foeticide, loneliness, loss of faith and other human emotions must be read by everyone,” he said. (The Indian Express)

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)

Elsewhere in India: a Hitchcock escape at Kashmere gate, and more…

(Editor’s note: please bear with us as we find a digest that you can digest. Anything that causes indigestion is the result of something that the author said, and is in all likelihood incorrect, specious and wrong)

Here are some stories from the Indian press that caught our attention in recent days. We hope that you find them as interesting as we did.

    If you’re a police officer and transporting a robbery and murder suspect from one city to another, don’t do it via public transportation. Two cops from Gurgaon lost their suspect at the Kashmere Gate metro station in Delhi when he jumped on a train and slipped away Hitchcock-style. The suspect apparently was tied to one of the cops, who had to untie the rope quickly to avoid being dragged away by the train. The cops took a bus from Chandigarh to Delhi, along with the criminal, and were planning to take the Delhi metro back to Gurgaon, where the suspect was to be jailed. (Times News Now) Avoid insulting the protagonists in major Indian epics. Lawyer and BJP politician Ram Jethmalani is taking some heat after saying that Lord Ram of the Ramayan was a bad husband. The BJP, which relies on the support of often conservative Hindus, says it does not approve of Jethmalani’s statement. Without getting into the whole story — it is an epic, after all — I would say only this: according to his Wikipedia entry, Jethmalani married twice, back when polygamy was legal. Maybe he knows from good husbands? (The Asian Age) The same rule applies to insulting Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel Prize-winning author of “Home and the World,” the “Kabuliwallah” and India’s national anthem and what feels like millions of other works large and small. “After his public criticism of V S Naipaul, writer-actor Girish Karnad has kicked up a fresh storm by calling Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore a “second-rate playwright”. Talking to reporters near Nelamangala in (Bangalore’s) outskirts, he said, “Tagore was a great poet but a mediocre and second-rate playwright. He produced his plays but those were never produced by his contemporaries. The contemporary Bengali theatre never accepted them. I think they did one or two plays. His comedy succeeded but not his other plays.” Not only that, poor people in his plays are “cardboard characters.” Karnad said. (PTI) One boy, two moms! “His genes will decide whether he is Ravish Kumar of Ranchi’s Sukhdeonagar or Sunil Oraon of Ganeshpur village in Chanho block.” (The Telegraph) Life is hard when you’re Malaysian national oil company Petronas. First, Canada blocks a huge buyout that you were about to pull off. Second, you start posting funeral music for major Indian holidays: “Malaysia’s national oil company Petronas was left red faced after angry viewers pointed out that a music video it posted on its official YouTube page to mark Diwali depicted a funeral dance. The three minute clip was pulled out after the Company reviewed the mixed feedback on the video, which had drawn more than 130,000 views. The video featured young Malaysian ethnic Indians performing the ‘Dappan Koothu’, an energetic form of Tamil folk dance performed to loud music on any occasion not necessarily funeral.” Hindu groups in Malaysia also took offense because they said the dance had nothing to do with Diwali and portrayed Indians as a bunch of dance-happy people. As one NGO chief said, “Dancing on the street is not Malaysian Indian culture.” (The Hindu Business Line) Honor killing? A man and his son were arrested for killing the man’s 24-year-old daughter. Police said that she was pregnant, and that the father and brother tried to procure an abortion for her before resorting to murder. (PTI) “A normal root canal treatment procedure at the Government Dental College Hospital here turned into a nightmare for a youth with a needle used in the surgery ending up in his stomach. ” Don’t ask yourself how this happened. The story never says. (TNN) A stray cobra has shown up at the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Chandigarh. It reportedly was warming itself in the underground parking lot. Attendants found snake catcher Salim Khan, who was suffering from a “raging fever,” and hauled him off to work. The story features a sentence that I suspect my journalism career will never allow me to write on my own: “Reptiles often slither into the area from the wooded area nearby.” (TNN) A man was killed after confronting neighbors who told him that his children were watching TV cartoons with the volume turned up too high. They beat him with iron rods and bamboo. (TNN) Five hundred pigeons dropped dead in Bihar’s Bhagalpur district over four days. The incidents caused people “to fear that something was amiss.” (IANS) Being Naomi Campbell means having people around who can get arrested for you. Indian police arrested an event manager for excessive use of fireworks at an extravagant party hosted by supermodel Naomi Campbell in the desert city of Jodhpur, officials said on Friday. Mumbai-based P.K. Pareek was held on charges of “noise pollution” at Campbell’s star-studded party held to mark the 50th birthday of her billionaire Russian boyfriend Vladimir Doronin at a 15th-century fort.” Neighbors objected to the fireworks, among other noise. Among the guests: the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson. The night’s entertainment was Diana Ross. (NDTV) The nose doesn’t lie: The Yamuna river really is an open sewer. That’s what you get when you dump the sewage of 17 million people into it every day. Here is a masterpiece of understatement: “The court noted the submission of CPCB counsel, Vijay Panjwan that the cumulative assessment of all parameters of water quality indicates that river Yamuna is not conforming to the desired levels and it more or less resembles a drain, especially after the Wazirabad area in Delhi. ” More bluntly, there is no fresh water in the river, Panjwan said. (PTI) And here, to end your day, is a collection of great Indian mustaches. (The Hindu Business Line)

 

Keep your distance, speak English

I discovered when I wrote the blog post, “Hindi, Tamil and English: linguistic lessons in pragmatism,” that I am not the only person who thinks languages in India is an interesting topic. The comments that I received in that post, in which former Supreme Court Justice Markandey Katju wrote about the value of learning communal languages such as Hindi and English, reflected opinions from all over the map, and usually centered on how my language is best vs your language is worst.

Katju, chairman of the Press Council of India, made several points in his controversial opinion pieces, but he emphasized that common languages such as English in a country of incredible linguistic diversity is important for people who want to be literate, sophisticated and successful.

Shoba Narayan, writing in Mint, offers a different reason to use English: to keep some distance between you and the person you’re talking to. Here’s an excerpt from Narayan, who caught my attention and affection with her author’s note that she can “swear like a truck driver in multiple languages.” The story concerns a young man who works with her husband, who came to their house to invite them to his wedding. Judging by his name, accent and story, she decided that he was Tamil, and was prepared to speak to him in her language. But she stopped. Read why:

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