India Insight

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.

- You have 27,000 employees and 122 airplanes, the highest ratio of employees to aircraft in the world.

- You’ve been losing money for years.

You run Air India.

Newspaper reporters have been writing for years about who and what are responsible for this state of affairs. Columnists have rumbled on at length about why things are as they are. What nobody has asked: Why is Air India flying at all?

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.

Did pro-India militias kill Western tourists in Kashmir?

A government human rights commission in Kashmir on Tuesday evening said it will review records from the 1995 abduction of Western tourists after a new book claimed that four of six foreign tourists were murdered by a pro-India militia to discredit India’s arch-rival Pakistan.

On July 4, 1995, Americans Donald Hutchings and John Childs, as well as Britons Paul Wells and Keith Mangan were kidnapped by the little known Al-Faran militant group while trekking in the Himalayas near Pahalgam, 97 km (60 miles) southeast of Srinagar.

Four days later, Childs escaped. On the same day, the captors abducted German Dirk Hasert and Norwegian Hans Christian Ostroe. Ostroe was found beheaded in August 1995. The others were never found.

Budget in a bunker

The leather briefcase that the finance minister holds up for the cameras before he delivers the budget in parliament is one of the most curious hangovers from British colonial times.

But one tradition that gets little attention is the intense secrecy that surrounds the preparation of the budget.

Weeks before the finance bill is presented, finance ministry officials clam up, and refuse to speak in detail about the economy to the media. The basement of the Finance Ministry in the North Block of India’s central government secretariat, which has its own press to print the entire set of budget papers, is declared off limits to people not involved in the exercise a month before the big day.

from Photographers' Blog:

Privileged witness to the start of life

By Vivek Prakash

It's an experience I will never forget. I have no children of my own, but when the day does come, maybe I'll be just a little bit more prepared for it.

I had come a long, long way from my usual cosmopolitan stomping ground of Mumbai, to a place just about as far interior as you can go in India. I was about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the Rajasthan border in the state of Madhya Pradesh, in a village of about 700 people. This is very, very small by Indian standards. There were dusty roads that a car could barely fit down, mud houses, a scorching heat during the day which turned to a deep chill at night.

I had many ideas in my head and many questions too - what kind of emotions was I going to experience and witness? Should I be excited, or should I feel like an intruder, given the subject matter I was here to shoot? I had come a long way to shoot this, but now, standing in this little rural community health center with my camera, I felt conflicted.

Bollywood stars kick up a fuss with real-life rumpus

Pow! Biff! Bang! Dishoom! Real life action by Bollywood celebrities has caught the nation’s eyeballs. Shah Rukh Khan was accused of roughing up Shirish Kunder some days ago and made ripples as he brought the media’s gaze from corruption scams and the election circus to the one thing that never fails to draw attention — a spicy brawl.

Now, Saif Ali Khan diverts attention from Vijay Mallya’s king-size woes for beating up a certain businessman in Mumbai’s Taj hotel. Saif was booked for assault, arrested and later bailed — insisting that he was only defending himself.

Salman Khan has lost his temper on many occasions, and so have many others from Bollywood. Shah Rukh and Salman engaged in a verbal duel some years ago, and it would have ended ugly had Shah Rukh’s wife Gauri and Salman’s then girlfriend Katrina Kaif not intervened.

Human waste corroding Indian railway network

Human faeces is scattered across India’s 64,400 kilometres of rail lines.

One of the world’s largest surface transport networks, carrying 30 million people and 2.8 tonnes of goods daily, is being downed by those using it.

A government panel report this month said that human waste from open-discharge toilets used by passengers is damaging tracks and associated infrastructure.

The report recommended that toilets with nil or harmless discharge be installed within the next five years in all 43,000 carriages used by the railways.

India, Pakistan find common cause in shoddy national carriers

The two are nuclear-armed, arch rivals often threatening the stability of South Asia and with little common ground, but the sorry state of their national carriers puts India and Pakistan on the same pedestal.

India may be an emerging superpower and Pakistan seemingly always on the brink of a disaster, but the national carriers of the arch-rivals face similar woes.

Both carriers — Air India (AI) and Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) –- are struggling to stay afloat, battered by financial woes and mismanagement.

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