India Insight

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.

Journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, whose book “The Meadow: Kashmir 1995 – Where the Terror Began” is about the abduction, claim that the four Westerners were murdered by a pro-government militia group who worked for Indian security forces.

After Ostroe was beheaded, Al-Faran was ready to strike a monetary deal to free the hostages and might have released them for £250,000, the authors claim. They say the deal was deliberately sabotaged.

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.

Love is in the air for Indians as V-Day police keep away

Conservative right-wing activists in India have their own version of how Valentine’s Day should be celebrated, if at all.

For them, couples found kissing, dancing and snuggling need to be humiliated publicly or beaten, especially if this behaviour is exhibited on the “day of lust and shame”.

For more than a decade, images of couples being chased by radicals or flogged by police had become as routine on Valentine’s Day as pink hearts and roses. This was a way of protecting Indian culture from being corrupted by Western influence.

Falak saga latest in India’s battle for its missing girls

A two-year-old girl battling for life in a New Delhi hospital has put the media spotlight on a sordid tale of child abuse and prostitution in the world’s biggest democracy.

Three weeks ago, a toddler with severe injuries was brought to the hospital by a teenager claiming to be her mother. The child, later named Falak (sky) by nurses, was in critical condition, with human bite marks on her body.

Her story is being played out on television screens across India, shocking viewers with images of a hapless baby hooked up to a ventilator. There are daily updates on her health, while television campaigns exhort the government to do more for abandoned children.

New gender detection technique: gift or curse for girls in India?

By Ariana Wardak

Researchers in South Korea have developed a blood test that can determine the sex of a foetus as early as five weeks but not everyone may be gung-ho about the discovery, fearing it might be misused for sex selection in South Asian countries such as India where boys are prized over girls.

While the ability to determine the gender of a baby through a simple and cheap blood test may be seen as a blessing in the scientific community, the technique might prove lethal to baby girls in India where there is already a great difference in gender ratio with 933 females for every thousand males.

Until three decades ago, female infanticide — the killing a newborn baby girl — was widespread in India but due to advancement in technology, it is now possible to determine the gender in the womb itself, leading to a higher number of abortions.

India’s busy Auto Expo and the risk of an industry believing its own publicity

After fighting through the sea of camera-wielding car enthusiasts clutching their bags filled with corporate gifts to meet with Anand Mahindra, vice-chairman of the Mahindra group, it was difficult to argue with his rosy view of India’s car industry.

“Just look at all these people,” said Mahindra. “If these crowds translate into market appetite, it’s not much of a slowdown,” he added, shaking his head at the view from a glass-walled office high above the teeming masses at the India Auto Expo on Friday.

Mahindra has reason to be cheerful. Sales of cars by his group’s autos arm have remained strong this year. But he wasn’t the only executive shrugging off a slump in India’s car industry with glib comments about the sharp elbows of hundreds of thousands of excited punters that thronged the India Auto Expo this weekend.

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