India Insight

from Anooja Debnath:

In India, what goes up must keep going up

With a faltering economy, political gridlock, high interest rates, delayed monsoons and an epic power outage that has plunged half its 1.2 billion population into darkness, optimism is a sparse commodity in India.

Just not when it comes to rising house prices.

'What goes up a lot must keep going up' was the conclusion from the very first Reuters Indian housing market poll this week. And it sounded very familiar.

Past experience shows that respondents to housing market polls - whether they be independent analysts, mortgage brokers, chartered surveyors - tend to cling to an optimistic tone even as trouble clearly brews below the surface.

That was the case before the historic U.S. housing market crash that sent prices plummeting by more than a third and triggered the financial crisis. Five years later the market is still trying to find its footing.

Spin the globe over to South Asia.

India's two biggest cities, Mumbai and Delhi, have become prohibitively expensive for average people to purchase property without stretching themselves financially. Average Indian house prices have doubled over the past five years.

from Photographers' Blog:

Solar power nightlight

By Adnan Abidi

Near my house in Delhi at Deenu bhai’s tea stall, I noticed a very young visitor; 7-year-old Sohail. He was Deenu bhai's relative visiting him from Aligarh for the summer breaks. Before leaving for work, I enjoyed a cup of tea at Deenu bhai’s, and as usual, I was sipping a steaming hot cup of tea with a snack when I saw Sohail with a drawing book.

Hot summer mornings keep away a lot of lazy lads who otherwise are found gossiping at Deenu bhai’s place. I was finding no such company, so I asked Sohail what he’s been up to. He showed me a few landscape drawings, which were mostly village scenes with huts and animals, with the sun rising at a location painted in yellow.

GALLERY: SOLAR INDIA

I am no art critic, and couldn’t actually make out anything in those drawings. But I recalled my childhood days, and compared it with Sohail’s to figure out a similar thought process in both of our generations. Neither of us have ever imagined a typical Indian village scene during or after sundown.

from The Human Impact:

Prostitution: their bodies, their rights

It is seen as a job no woman would want to do. A job no woman would willingly do.

Yet, spending time in one of Asia’s largest red light districts gives a view of prostitution that jars with what many feminists, gender rights activists and, in fact, society in general believe.

The Sonagachi district – a labyrinth of narrow bustling lanes lined with tea and cigarette stalls, three-storey brothels, and beauty parlours – in the east Indian city of Kolkata raises eyebrows with many who know this place.

from Breakingviews:

India’s power vacuum needs to be filled

By Jeff Glekin

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Perhaps Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi got trapped in the Delhi metro yesterday. If the two leading Indian politicians were indeed victims of the world’s largest electricity blackout ever, they would at least have an excuse for their lack of public response to this clear sign of policy failure. Actually, there was a response, but it was not what might be expected. The power minister was promoted to Home Minister and replaced with a part time substitute.

The promotion was not really a reward for failure; it was part of a planned reshuffle prompted by the move of Pranab Mukherjee from finance minister to the ceremonial role of President. Mukherjee’s tenure in the finance ministry was basically disastrous. He overturned the Supreme Court’s tax ruling in the Vodafone case and tried to retrospectively tax foreign investors. And he appears to have pursued these policies without consulting Singh, the prime minister.

from The Human Impact:

Acid attacks: the faceless women you can’t forget

Since I met her over a week ago, I have been unable to forget.

Every morning as I put on my lipstick and black eyeliner in front of the mirror, I am reminded of her face. Or lack of it.

Sonali Mukherjee, 27, is one of hundreds of women across the world who have lost their faces, and their will to survive, as a result of one of the most heinous crimes against women I have come across: Acid violence.

Nine years ago, three men broke into Sonali's home in the east Indian city of Dhanbad as she slept, and threw concentrated acid over her face.

Defying Hitler and jostling for Goering’s autograph

    The Dutch broke his stick hoping to find a hidden magnet The Japanese suspected his stick was coated with glue Cricket legend Don Bradman gushed — “He scores goals like runs in cricket” Adolf Hitler was so impressed with him that he offered him German citizenship and a post in the army

If an athlete’s greatness is measured by the number of apocryphal stories about him or her, hockey wizard Dhyan Chand is in a league of his own.

Before every Olympic Games, India indulges in nostalgia about its hockey heyday and revisits the folklore around arguably the greatest hockey player ever.

One such story is about the controversy Dhyan Chand and the entire Indian contingent created by refusing to salute Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.

Air India: should we shut it down?

Imagine yourself as the chief of an airline company. Here’s how things look there at a glance:

- You’re running an accumulated loss of 200 billion rupees (about $3.6 billion)

- You employ some of the best-paid pilots in the world. They have been known to go on strike whenever they want.

from Photographers' Blog:

From man into woman

By Adnan Abidi

Hardeep Singh, a father of two, leaves his home in west Delhi every day at around 2 p.m. Dressed in a pair of light trousers and a shirt, he reaches a local charity, where he undresses to reveal his female clothes underneath and transforms into Seema.

The 33 year old is a male-to-female transgender, or “hijra”, as they are known in India. Living with two identities, by day, he is a married family man and by night, a hijra sex worker.

With no legal recognition in India, transgenders like Seema have little choice but to turn to prostitution to earn a living, which is something she hides even from her family.

from The Human Impact:

Does marriage stop prostitution? Indian village thinks so

Is marriage a guarantee that a woman won't be prostituted?

It's a question that played heavily on my mind recently when I went to the remote village of Wadia in India's western region of Gujarat to cover a mass wedding and engagement ceremony of 21 girls, which was aimed at breaking a centuries-old tradition of prostitution.

I arrived in the small, neglected hamlet on the eve of the big ceremony. Preparations were well underway.

Soon-to-be-brides sat inside the mud-walled compounds of their homes surrounded by singing female relatives, with "haldi" or turmeric paste smeared on the faces and arms - a South Asian pre-wedding ritual believed to make the skin "glow".

from The Human Impact:

Undernourished and anaemic – the plight of India’s teen girls

The U.N.'s latest report on the state of the world's 1.2 billion adolescents gives food for thought, especially on the plight of India's girls aged between 10 and 19.

The report explores a range of issues affecting teenagers around the globe, from nutrition and health to sexual behaviour, knowledge on HIV/AIDS, attitudes towards gender violence and access to education.

Data from surveys of adolescent girls in India, and South Asia in general, are once again a reality check - which we shouldn't need but unfortunately still do.

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