India Insight

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.

“Apart from the issue of hygiene, this has several serious safety implications arising out of corrosion of rails and related hardware,” the report said.

Waste is dumped directly on to the tracks through small holes from western-style and squat toilets inside trains.

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.

More than Lokpal, does Anna need a speech writer?

By Diksha Madhok

The self-styled crusader against corruption, the “modern Gandhi”  — Anna Hazare — has managed to pick on one of the most marginalized sections of Indian society. While pitching for a strong Lokpal Bill on Tuesday, Hazare resorted to an unfortunate idiom about childless women, when he said, “Banjh kya jaane prasuti vedana (what would an infertile woman know about labour pain)?”

However the word in Hindi, “banjh”, does not have the same clean and scientific connotation as “infertile” or “sterile”. It means “barren” and is used as a derogatory term for women who fail to bear children. A woman who does not produce a child loses her social status inside and outside the house. While the ostracism in urban India may not be as obvious, contempt for childless women is reinforced through colloquialism and Bollywood.

Popular culture still depicts women who don’t reproduce, even if it is out of choice, as incomplete and good-for-nothing. It is not uncommon for infertile women to be barred from baby shower or child-naming ceremonies as they are considered the harbingers of ill-omen. Even if the husband is infertile, the wife ends up shouldering the blame for a childless marriage and is often subjected to treatments ranging from exorcism to numerology. Subordination, violence and estrangement are all likely consequences of infertility for a woman.

We are flying, without salary: Kingfisher pilots to passengers

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Passengers onboard Kingfisher Airlines flights are being treated to more than run-of-the-mill announcements for the past couple of days. Pilots employed by the beleaguered airline have devised a unique form of protest.

Just before passengers deplaned, Kingfisher pilots announced they have not been paid for two months and they are still flying purely due to a “sense of duty towards the guest”, local media reported on Thursday.

A civil aviation ministry official travelling on one of those flights went to the cockpit and congratulated the pilots for not resorting to “industrial action”, the Economic Times newspaper said citing a pilot.

from Global Investing:

Retail volte face confirms India as BRIC that disappoints

Jim O'Neill, the Goldman Sachs banker who coined the term BRICs to capture the fast-growing emerging-markets quartet of Brazil, Russia, India and China,  has fingered India as the BRIC that has disappointed the most over the past decade in terms of reforms, FDI and productivity. New Delhi's latest decision to put on hold a landmark reform of its retail sector will only confirm this view.

The government's backtracking on plans to allow foreign investment in supermarkets will not surprise those accustomed to New Delhi's record on key economic reforms. But it means India's weak performance on FDI receipts will continue and that's bad news for the worsening balance of payments deficit.  Speaking of the retail volte face, O'Neill said: "They shouldn’t raise people's hopes of FDI and then in a week, say, 'we’re only joking'".

Various Indian lobby groups that oppose the reforms contend that foreign giants such as Wal-Mart and Tesco will kill off the livelihoods of millions of small traders.

from Photographers' Blog:

License to kill

By Danish Siddiqui

 

Mumbai provides everyone living in it with an opportunity to earn and survive. Be it a white-collared job in a multinational company located in one of the city’s plush high rise buildings or killing rats by night in the filthiest and dirtiest parts of India's financial capital. This time, my tryst was with the latter.

I decided I wanted to meet Mumbai's rat-killer army employed by the city's civic body. Very little is known about this tireless force that works the bylanes of the metropolis every night. Mumbai's municipal corporation employs 44 rat killers and also has a freelance contingent, who aspire to be on the payrolls one day. Employees of the pest control department receive a salary of 15,000 to 17,000 Indian Rupees ($294 to 333) while contract laborers are paid 5 Indian rupees ($0.10) per rat they kill. The rat killers are expected to kill at least 30 rodents per night and hand over the carcasses to civic officials in the morning. If they fall short by even one rodent, they are expected to make it up the next night or else they stand to lose a day’s pay.

I zeroed in on a family living in the eastern suburbs of Mumbai, six of whom kill rats for a living. The oldest of them is Javed Sheikh, 61, who has been killing rats for the last four decades. The youngest rat-killer, on the other hand, is Javed's son, 12-year old Waseem Sheikh. Only the father and the eldest son are employed by the sanitation department of Mumbai’s municipal corporation; the rest work as freelancers.

  •