India Insight

Civics clashes with religion as women face bans from some Indian shrines

(The opinions expressed are the author’s own, and may not necessarily reflect those of Thomson Reuters)

Mumbai’s Sufi shrine Haji Ali Dargah Trust has barred women from entering the sanctum that houses the tomb of the Sufi saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. The reason: authorities said that they saw a woman visit the tomb in inappropriate clothing.

This might not be entirely surprising. The mosque and dargah – or tomb – sit on a tiny island in the waters off Mumbai that is connected to the mainland by a tiny causeway. It is one of Mumbai’s most well known tourist attractions, and many people from India and other countries walk past the mendicants and beggars, some of whom are missing limbs and often chanting, on the causeway to admire the architecture and the view.

The decision to ban women from the tomb reportedly is a year old, but came to light recently when a women’s group, the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan — the Indian Muslim Women’s Movement — visited the shrine in August. The group plans to write to state authorities to try to stop this from happening.

There are other instances of preventing women from visiting shrines and other holy places. The Lord Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala in the state of Kerala bars the entry of women aged 10 to 50, the years in which they are most likely to experience menstruation. Last year, the temple high priest performed a purification ceremony there after a 35-year-old woman entered the shrine.

Women fast for their men on Karva chauth, but why?

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

Nov. 2 was Karva chauth. I wouldn’t have known it if it weren’t for the special discounts at stores, the diamond and sari advertisements, and articles wondering whether newlywed actress Kareena Kapoor would fast.

I wouldn’t know about the festival were it not for films like Dilwale Dulhaniya le Jayenge or other Yash Chopra and Karan Johar productions.

How to insult people, Indian politician-style

If you were a reporter covering the Shiv Sena in 2006, the place to be was a nondescript restaurant located midway between party offices and those of Bal Thackeray’s nephew Raj, who rebelled and formed a new party after a fall-out with his uncle.

At this hole-in-the-wall eatery, party workers from both sides would let it all out — the vitriol would flow freely against Raj, the Thackerays and the Congress party. A lot of these barbs were never repeated outside those four walls, but some of that vitriol certainly seeped into the public speeches of their leaders.Gujarat's Chief Minister Narendra Modi addresses his supporters during an election campaign rally ahead of the state assembly elections at Dokar village in Gujarat October 11, 2012. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is certainly taking over from the Thackerays when it comes to handing out insults — he’s been targeting almost every single opponent in his election campaign.

Subbarao: an RBI governor who can hold his own

When RBI Governor Duvvuri Subbarao had his tenure extended last year, a TV channel reported that 90 percent of bankers, economists and bond dealers in a poll felt the extension was good for the economy.

In June 2012, less than a year later, people were criticising him for defying widespread calls to cut interest rates, as stubborn inflation continued to bother him more than slowing growth .

Subbarao’s latest decision on Tuesday to hold the central bank’s key policy rate steady may increase the number of his detractors.

Market-friendly Chidambaram toes socialist line with fiscal plan

The usually crisp and precise P. Chidambaram was uncharacteristically vague on Monday while announcing the government’s fiscal consolidation plan. While pledging to bring the fiscal deficit down to 3 percent in 2016-17 from around 5.3 this fiscal, the Harvard-educated minister gave no details on how the government would achieve this feat.

Perhaps the finance minister should remember that uncertainty and lack of clarity can spook markets and investors. We saw that when the government took months to clarify the controversial GAAR norms which made foreign investors jittery.

Chidambaram’s announcement is unlikely to impress investors, rating agencies and lenders like the IMF, who want the government to slash subsidies and cut spending.

A user’s guide to India’s cabinet reshuffle

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

In what is most likely the last cabinet reshuffle for the UPA-II government  before the 2014 general elections, 22 ministers were sworn in at the Rashtrapati Bhawan on Sunday.

Here is the background, as explained by Frank Jack Daniel and Mayank Bhardwaj of Reuters:

Women shouldn’t have mobile phones, politicians should: politician

Witness the latest public relations trap for a loose-lipped Indian politician, courtesy of the Deccan Chronicle:

BSP MP Rajpal Saini has now launched a tirade against mobile phones and has publicly declared that women and children do not need mobile phones… “Why do housewives and school going girls need mobiles? It encourages them to make futile small talk and get connected with people outside their homes.”

Mobile phones distract women, Saini said, and offer nothing useful for them, the Chronicle reported.

Slayer extends its ‘reign in blood’ to Bangalore

Bangalore houses what might be an outsize share of India’s metal heads, so it’s appropriate that this was the city that thrash metal band Slayer picked for their first show in India. The band played in one of the city’s outlying suburbs, and drew a crowd from all over, including Vietnam, as they played a set list that stretched back through albums such as “Reign in Blood,” to “Show No Mercy,” their debut album from 1983.

“The special part for me is we’ve never played India. So we can pretty much play anything we’ve ever played,” guitarist Kerry King said at a press conference for the event.

Slayer began in 1981 when guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman met at an audition for another band and decided to form their own act. Bassist and vocalist Tom Araya, who had worked with King previously, was roped in and drummer Dave Lombardo was recruited when he delivered a pizza near the King household, and met the “boy with all the guitars.”

Starbucks arrives in India, gains spice, loses flavour

(Warning: there’s barely a lick of reporting in this blog post. Opinions are the author’s only, and almost certainly are wrong.)

Take a look at the items on the menu at the new Starbucks coffee shops in Mumbai, which opened this week in a joint venture with India’s Tata Global Beverages Ltd. As Megha Bahree and Margherita Stancati show you at The Wall Street Journal’s India blog, they include a series of curious “fusion” items:

    murg tikka sandwich tandoori chicken sandwich tamarind peanut chicken calzone the Konkani twist (it’s a long puff, Bahree and Stancati report)

I know that there are no other coffee shops or restaurants started by western companies that sell quite the same things as these, but as I discovered earlier this year while looking for lunch in Delhi’s Connaught Place, this is a representative sample of the style of food that you’ll find. That goes for Dunkin’ Donuts, Cafe Coffee Day, Barista and so on.

Photo gallery: from Dussehra melas to Durga Puja pandals

I don’t know if the smartphone-toting Indian of the shopping malls still frequents festival melas. As for me, I can’t help but feel drawn to these vibrant mass gatherings during festivals.

Here, a spinning wheel juts out of a busy crossing in west Delhi. I spent a lot of time shooting it and finally settled on this image:

I am an ardent fan of jalebis and there’s hardly a month in my office that goes by without us feasting on them. I was tempted to grab these freshly cooked jalebis, but then I was in no mood to nurse a case of Delhi belly.

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