India Insight

Is Kasab’s death enough closure in the Mumbai attacks?

“If you hear the sound of a bullet, kneel, and if you have to move, then crawl, don’t run.”

Those are not the first words you want to hear when you arrive to cover an assignment — but then this wasn’t just any assignment. I was at Nariman House in Colaba to cover the attack that came to be known as 26/11.

On Wednesday, four years later, that story finally got some sort of closure, after the lone gunman captured during the Mumbai attacks was hanged. But for those who were a part of those dark days of 2008, whether real closure will come because of this one act of justice is a tough question to answer.

India is no stranger to militant attacks and Mumbai has seen many incidents targeting several of its icons — the stock market, the local train system and the Taj Mahal hotel. Every attack brings a new set of questions and very few answers.

Having covered the train blasts and the 26/11 blasts in Mumbai, it’s safe to say residents of the city aren’t looking for closure as much as looking for assurances that something like this wouldn’t happen again.

No criticism please, we are Indians

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

When I signed up for a Facebook account four years ago, a friend warned me it was “dangerous for your sanity” — of course, she meant it in terms of the time I would spend peeking into other people’s lives (She was right). But on Monday, for 21-year-old Shaheen Dhada, that phrase took on a whole new meaning.

When Dhada updated her Facebook status, complaining about Mumbai’s shutdown following the death of Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray, little did she know she would find herself in court pleading for bail after being arrested for “hurting religious sentiments”.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s India visit: Killing softly with her words

Myanmar’s pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi’s trip to India last week was more than a homecoming of sorts to a country where she went to school and college, and which shaped her political beliefs. It was also about repairing ties frayed by New Delhi’s abrupt decision in the mid-1990s to engage with the military junta in Yangon after decades of support for her campaign. She ended up reminding the world’s largest democracy of how far it had strayed away from the ideals of the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, in the pursuit of realpolitik.

For a country which has prided itself on something bordering on “Indian exceptionalism”, and fighting for equality and non-discriminatory policies on the global stage as well as the voice of the downtrodden in the initial decades since it won independence in 1947, the gentle admonishment from Suu Kyi must have rankled. Gandhi wouldn’t have countenanced such a policy shift towards a military regime that brutalised its own people, she said, whatever the compulsions. She was saddened that India had taken a path different from hers, despite their shared colonial history and close ties between the independence leaders of the two countries, she told The Hindu in an interview ahead of the trip.

It’s one thing to be pilloried by your own people and an unrestrained press about the rot that has set deep into Gandhi’s India; it is another for a foreigner to be telling a proud democracy  that it wasn’t living up to its own legacy.

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.

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)

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