India Insight

Strike that: Whose loss is it anyway?

A few buses have been torched, a few trains have been stopped, a few people failed to get to work, a few shops were shut, a few lost their daily wages and the exchequer will register a big loss. Someone is telling India’s “common man” that this strike is in his interest.

The transportation shutdown that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and several left-leaning parties called for as a protest against a steep rise in petrol prices is seen as a means to exploit popular anger against the ruling Congress-led government, though political parties insist that they won’t benefit at election time.

A 12-hour ‘Bharat Bandh‘ (“India shutdown”) to protest against inflation in 2010 cost the exchequer 130 billion rupees, according to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI). This time it can only be more. Given all of India’s other problems, can the country afford such losses?

For many autorickshaw drivers, rickshaw pullers and daily wage labourers, a strike means no earnings for the day. That’s good enough reason to look for alternate ways to protest.

A strike does register dissatisfaction with the government, but it is difficult to understand how it would help in the rollback of petrol prices or in providing an alternate economic strategy.

from Photographers' Blog:

Born free

By Adnan Abidi

The joy of being born in a free country is a gift I received from those who sweat and bled in the struggle for Indian Independence. I accept the fact that I do very little to appreciate that gift. The most I do is fly a kite on August 15th, like many others. Quite a few of my fellow 'post-independence born' countrymen have little clue about the struggles our martyrs undertook to achieve what, today, we enjoy with much ingratitude. Freedom has been taken for granted.

The first struggle of Indian Independence was unknown to me, the second, as popular support named it, was the one I witnessed. It was when a 74-year-old Gandhinian, Anna, mobilized a crowd of over a million to crusade against corruption they say has infiltrated to the very roots of the Indian administration.

It was a much-watched movement that kept most of the country glued to their televisions for thirteen days. The media became a window for the 1.21 billion population. And I, as part of that window, got a chance to hold up Anna Hazare's campaign to the world. The call against corruption came on the same day that India achieved its independence back in 1947, and in the same month as Ramadan, which fell in August this year. Following tradition, I was celebrating my independence by flying a kite when I received two calls -- one from a fellow colleague, who informed me that Anna Hazare was praying at Rajghat, and the second from my Amma (mother), who asked me to get dates and fruits, traditionally eaten to end the day’s fast. I was at a crossroads and I had to choose my path.

The thin line between activism and hooliganism

Whether one supports the principles of Anna Hazare or not, there is no denying the movement has managed to strike a chord with people from almost every section of society.

The frustration with corruption has breached its maximum level, and that alone awakened the so-called political activism among Indians.

However, a few high profile incidents on the streets of New Delhi may damage the cause of the activists.

Much ado about Rahul Gandhi’s ash claim

By Annie Banerji

Days after Rahul Gandhi’s dramatic motorcycle pillion ride to twin villages in Uttar Pradesh to quell land acquisition agitations between police and farmers, the Congress general secretary told Indian media that he found a 70-foot pile of ashes with human remains inside.

He added that women had been raped, people had been beaten up and the police had torn down houses during the protests.

On questioning the villagers of Bhatta and Parsaul, the Indian Express found that not a single person backed Gandhi’s assertions. The main refrain was that of police beating up villagers and mistreating them.

Kashmir seeks return of hanged separatist leader’s remains

A Kashmiri man puts his signature on a banner during a signature campaign by the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) in Srinagar February 4, 2011. REUTERS/Fayaz KabliMohammad Maqbool Bhat, the pioneer of Kashmir’s separatist struggle, was hanged in New Delhi’s Tihar jail on February 11, 1984.

Bhat, also the founder of Kashmir’s influential separatist group Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), was executed on the charge of killing an Indian intelligence officer. His body was buried in the jail.

Five years after Bhat’s hanging, Kashmiri militants including JKLF launched an insurgency against Indian rule in the Muslim-majority region and the bloodshed has continued ever since.

Should forces responsible for over 100 killings be praised for restraint?

India’s Prime Minister praised the work of security forces in disputed Kashmir on Tuesday, in a show of support for troops that killed over 100 separatist protesters last year that risks angering those that resent India’s large military presence in the state.

Indian policemen stand guard during a curfew in Srinagar September 21, 2010. REUTERS/Danish Ismail

The remarks represent a seal of approval for security forces that are cited by many Kashmiris as an element of the violence, rather than the preventers of it, and come as a team of interlocutors enters its fifth month of talks in the troubled region, and almost two months after Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said that a political solution to the troubles was likely to emerge “in the next few months.”

But can Manmohan Singh’s praise for the “tremendous restraint” of Indian forces in Kashmir be applauded considering they have been responsible for the death of over 100 separatist protesters in months of violent clashes since last summer?

Kashmir calms down, but peace still distant

Soldiers patrol the scene of a shootout in Srinagar November 29, 2010. REUTERS/Danish IsmailWinter has come to Kashmir, a scenic valley deep in the Himalayas, cooling tensions in the disputed region after months of violent anti-India demonstrations.

At least 110 people have been killed since June. Dozens were wounded, mostly by police bullets, during the protests – the biggest since a revolt against Indian rule broke out in 1989.

A separatist strike, curfew and security lock-down, that dragged on for over four months and closed much of the region, have ebbed away and the streets across Kashmir are abuzz with activity again.

India offers fresh peace talks to Kashmir

Kashmiri protesters throw stones towards police during an anti-India protest in Srinagar September 4, 2010. REUTERS/Danish IsmailNew Delhi has expressed its willingness to hold talks with ”any group” from Kashmir where protests against Indian rule have mounted in recent weeks and government forces have killed at least 65 people, mostly stone-throwing protesters.

The civilian deaths have fuelled anger in the disputed Himalayan region where anti-India sentiments run deep though militant violence has gone down.

“We hope to restart the dialogue process. We will talk to any group, any political party which is willing to talk to us,” Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said.

U.N. concerned over Kashmir unrest

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has expressed concern over the weeks of violent anti-government protests in Kashmir which have killed more than 30 people, dragged in more troops and locked down the disputed Himalayan region.

Policemen stand guard at a barricade set up to stop Kashmiri protesters during a curfew in Srinagar August 2, 2010. REUTERS/Fayaz KabliA separatist strike and security lockdown has dragged on for nearly a month-and-a-half in Muslim-majority Kashmir, a region at the core of a dispute between India and Pakistan.

“In relation to recent developments in Indian-administered Kashmir, the Secretary-General is concerned over the prevailing security situation there over the past month,” Farhan Haq, Ban Ki-Moon’s spokesperson said in a statement.

In Kashmir, India now struggles with “children of conflict”

Kashmir has been seething since early June. Life across the Muslim-majority valley has been completely disrupted by curfews and protest strikes since some of the biggest anti-India demonstrations in two years erupted a month ago.

A Kashmiri Muslim man crosses a deserted road marked with graffiti during a curfew in Srinagar July 16, 2010. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli/FilesSeventeen people, mostly teenage protesters, have been killed by security forces in near daily pro-freedom demonstrations fuelling anger across the disputed Himalayan region.

India blames Pakistan-based militants for the ongoing Kashmir protests but Kashmiris say the protests are spontaneous.

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