India Insight

Watch your mouth: indignation at every turn

When you’re in a khap, you can say whatever you want, but it has to be pretty outrageous to annoy people beyond the city limits. One idea that has cleared the bar? Lowering the minimum marriage age to prevent girls from being raped.

“Boys and girls should be married by the time they turn 16 years old, so that they do not stray …this will decrease the incidents of rape.”

That’s the kind of thing that you expect a conservative patriarch to mutter through his beard while drinking tea with a friend. Comment done, world moves on.

In this case, a khap – a group of village elders with lots of influence, but no legal power – should have been equally newsworthy. That changed when the media smelled a story: primetime news, debates, news anchors berating the khaps for old-fashioned opinions and lots of young people asking questions.

Unfortunately, the young people were mostly city teenagers; rural teens didn’t show up too much. So what did this accomplish? Did someone change the khap member’s opinion? Did someone stop the khap from changing a law that they can’t change to begin with?

Spending time in ‘Narcopolis’ with Jeet Thayil

I spent some time talking with Jeet Thayil, whose book on Mumbai and opium culture is a contender for this year’s Man Booker Prize, which will be awarded on Oct. 16. You can read the interview that we published on the Reuters news wire. Here are some excerpts:

Q: Does this make you feel strongly about the city?

A: “Bombay does that to people. It makes a (connection) with you. It makes it difficult for you. It bludgeons you. I’ve been reading about that area, Shuklaji street. It is disappearing now – Kamatipura, Shuklaji street, (the) entire area between Mumbai Central and Grant Road is disappearing, being bought away by real estate sharks who are buying up all the broken-down houses and making tall buildings. So very soon that entire district will disappear, and with it a million stories.

Q: In an interview you used the word “seductive” for Bombay. In “Narcopolis”, words seem to come from under a cloud of smoke. Is there a parallel you have drawn between opium and Mumbai?

Photo gallery: A walk through Mehrauli Archaeological Park

Next time you plan a visit to the Qutub Minar, venture beyond its crowded complex. Walk past the parking lot, which is on your left, and take the first right turn. Next to the Qutub Restaurant is an obscured path. Take the path, walk down a few steps and this is what you see:

 

You are inside the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, located in what was once the first of the seven historic cities of Delhi, dating back about a thousand years. The first structure (see below) is the Metcalfe House, which was once a tomb. Thomas Metcalfe was an agent of the Governor General of India to the court of Bahadur Shah Zafar, India’s last Mughal emperor.

 

As you move on, you’d find columns to your left and right, guiding you to several structures in this area. This also is a Delhi Development Authority park. Next stop is the Jamali Kamali mosque.

Kudankulam’s neighbours weigh nuclear power fears against living standards

Rani enters her home for the first time in more than a week. She switches on the light, but it doesn’t work. Tsunami Colony, where she lives in the village of Idinthakari, has been deserted for months, and the electricity supply has been patchy.

The people who were living in the development fear that the police will return and ransack houses – as they reportedly have done to several places in the village. The residents prefer to sleep on the sand outside St. Lourdes church here in Idinthakari in Tamil Nadu, alongside people who have spent more than a year protesting the planned opening of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, which sits about 2 kilometres away.

There have been nearly 400 days of protests in the village. A plastic board outside the church tallies this number, every day. Villagers claim that their power supply has been irregular with long power cuts ever since they started protesting.

Heavy-duty designs and a hint of Bollywood break Sunday slumber at Fashion Week

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Kanika Saluja Chaudhary shook fashion fans awake with her strong designs featuring metal work and elaborate headgear on Sunday afternoon, the second day of the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week in Delhi.

Chaudhary has dressed up Madonna, Nargis Fakhri and Chitrangada Singh, among others. Her designs at Fashion Week, she said, were for women who are creators, fighters and destroyers.

Anaikka (Chaudhary’s label) is known for metal, so we always focus on that. Metal represents strength, longevity and destruction, that’s our focus,’ said Kanika, “I believe metal is a shield, not only in the time of war, but in today’s time as well, it represents shielding, perseverance, strength.”

Cauvery River water fight paralyses Bangalore on Saturday

(This article was reported by Gokul Chandrasekar, Vineet Sharma and Bidya Sapam. Photos by Bidya Sapam)

The water was running in Bangalore on Saturday, but the buses were not.

“I have been waiting for a bus for over two hours now,” said Prabhat Kishan, 60, at the Majestic Bus Station in Bangalore.

India’s information technology capital shut down on Saturday over a state-wide “bandh,” or strike, that shut down shops, malls and restaurants. The bandh’s organizers paralysed the city to protest a decision by India’s Supreme Court to demand that the state of Karnataka allow the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu to get precious additional reserves of water from the Cauvery River. It is the latest episode in a dispute that has endured for years in a country that is facing alarming shortages of groundwater.

Kejriwal 2.0 not enough to change India’s political landscape

It wasn’t long ago that social activist Arvind Kejriwal called India’s parliamentarians “rapists, murderers and looters“. After making no bones about his hatred for India’s politicians during his anti-corruption movement, the former Team Anna member may soon be breaking bread and rubbing shoulders with the targets of his scorn now that he has decided to enter politics.

Kejriwal’s first test could be the assembly elections in Delhi next year. Will his rhetoric translate into votes? Will his party succeed in overthrowing a state government that has been in power for nearly 15 years in the capital? (Please participate in our poll on Arvind Kejriwal. Our question: will his new party be able to make a political impact? At the moment, “yes” votes outnumber “no” votes by nearly two to one.)

If you go by his “vision document“, the idea of a government run by the people gives an impression that parliamentary democracy is somehow a different thing. The former Magsaysay Award winner wants citizens to make decisions on budget, commodity prices and lawmaking. While there is no doubt that his ideas hint at a disorganized system of governance, it’s a college student’s version of idealism and it won’t transform India’s government.

Going vegetarian for Gandhi Jayanti

My Indian friends have assured me beyond all reasonable doubt that it is not novel to write that India’s liquor sales stop by law on Gandhi Jayanti, the national holiday celebrating the birth of Mohandas K. Gandhi. What was more interesting to me was a note that I read online on Tuesday from my friend Anoo Bhuyan:

“Today at a supermarket, I saw that the entire freezer section was covered in newspaper. A sign on it said, ‘Due to Gandhi Jayanthi,’ non veg not for sales.” (She was in southern India, which accounts for the “h” in “Jayanthi.”)

I wrote back to her: “And yes – have you seen this kind of thing before? Is it normal or widespread? That is, if I mentioned it, would every Indian reader say, ‘yes, of course?’”

‘Wives and victories lose their charm,’ just like the coal minister who said so

My colleague in the Delhi online newsroom asked me today if I felt offended by coal minister Shriprakash Jaiswal’s comment that “wives and victories lose their charm when they become old.” It’s like the remark that John Huston made to Jack Nicholson in “Chinatown” — “Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough” — but it’s not funny.

Jaiswal made his comment in Kanpur while talking about the Indian cricket team’s win over Pakistan at the Twenty20 World Cup, and predictably apologized and said that his comments were taken out of context.

As an educated woman with a job and an opinion, the answer is yes: it is offensive because it is the same thing as someone reducing you to a sex object whose utility diminishes with age.

Hindi, Tamil and English: linguistic lessons in pragmatism

Press Council of India Chairman and former Supreme Court Justice Markandey Katju has lived in India all his life, but he made a two-part statement on Sept. 20 that sounds like the kind of innocent remark that would land a visitor like me in trouble.

Here is the gist of what Katju said in an op-ed in The Hindu:
“If (children) did not learn English they would only be fit to drive bullock carts (Hal chalane layak rah jayenge). I said I too loved Hindi, which is my mother tongue, but that did not mean I should behave like a fool.”

    “At the same time, people in non-Hindi speaking States such as Tamil Nadu should learn Hindi, because it is the link language in our country.”

This is, as you might suspect, a touchy subject. Hindi, one of the two official languages of India, is part of a group of languages spoken primarily in northern India. The group includes its many regional variations in the so-called Hindi Belt, its sort of twin sister Urdu, as well as Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali, Punjabi, Assamese, Nepali and more.

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