The Human Impact

The night the rain fell: Living in fear in India’s Himalayas

I didn’t sleep a wink that night.

It poured and poured and didn’t seem to let up. I could hear it crashing down relentlessly. It was so loud that I had to get out of bed to check whether the window of my hotel room was open. It wasn’t.

The pitch blackness outside didn’t help to allay my anxiety. All I could hear was the thunderous noise of the rain beating down and rushing waters of the Alaknanda River on the banks of which my hotel in the Indian Himalayas was located.

Being the Twitter-freak I am, I shared my discomfort with the rest of the world.

“Heavy rain in Karanprayag. Love rain in Delhi, fear it in Uttarakhand,” I typed on my phone, just praying that my internet connection would hold long enough for my tweet to go through.

It may seem odd to fear the rain. But my fear was justified.

I had spent days listening to painful stories from survivors in India’s northern Uttarakhand region of how incessant rains last month caused mighty Himalayan rivers to overflow – inundating villages and towns and triggering massive landslides, causing thousands of people to perish.

Heroes and politicians, Indian floods show the good, bad and ugly

What many journalists and aid workers say is true – it is only in times of crisis, such as disasters and war, that you observe the best and worst of humanity.

In displacement camps where survivors have fled, for example, a cyclone which has flattened their village or a raging insurgency which has killed their loved ones, amid stories of pain and suffering, you will often hear incredible accounts of survival and hope.

It is no different in India.

In the two weeks since deadly floods hit the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, there have been tales of young children being rescued by strangers, of local shopkeepers opening up kitchens to feed hundreds of marooned survivors, and of the tireless work of army, air force and other service personnel who have evacuated over 100,000 people by land and air in the largest ever rescue operation in India. Tragically, they lost 20 men when a helicopter crashed during the operation.

Child rape victim jailed in India: A journalist’s “immunity” breaks down

Her story is like so many I have heard in my years of reporting on the plight of girls and women in India.

It is a story of rape. A story of police insensitivity, of ostracism, of fear.

I think I’ve heard enough of these stories to be immune, unaffected by the tale of suffering that each victim recounts in the aftermath of her sexual assault.

But I am wrong — perhaps because this girl is just 10 years old.

Her vulnerability is overwhelming as the shy, dark-skinned little girl with sun-bleached black bobbed hair sits nervously on a charpoy, in a pretty turquoise salwar-kameez with bright pink trim.

Postcard from Brazil: A woman free in Rio, not in Delhi

I have lived in the Indian capital for several years and, like many other women in this metropolis of 16 million, I soon learned how to deal with the lecherous stares and dirty comments, the drunken men in cars who follow my auto-rickshaw home from work at night.

I have learnt to be aggressive, to talk straight and serious when addressing male strangers, to not make eye contact, to not extend a handshake and to certainly not smile, share personal details or be friendly when dealing with men I do not know.

Some may think this is a little severe, but when you are bombarded with reports of crimes against women — of men throwing acid in women’s faces, of women being dragged off the street and gang-raped in moving cars, of little girls being lured, raped and murdered, of women being stalked and harassed, most here will likely agree my actions make sense.

Extreme measures to “protect” daughters in India

Gurpreet Singh is a determined man. But he is an even more concerned father.

The 32-year-old investment adviser is leaving India and migrating to Australia. There is nothing new in that — tens of thousands of professional Indians emigrate every year.

Unlike most of them, Singh’s reason for leaving is not the pursuit of greater economic returns, but a search for something increasingly perceived by parents to be lacking in India — security for their daughters.

It was the gang rape and murder of a young woman on a bus in Delhi last December that jolted Singh, like millions of middle-class urban Indians, and awakened him to the brutalities women and girls face in this largely patriarchal country.

India’s drought: A natural calamity or a man-made one?

It’s that “Will they? Won’t they?” time of year in India. The annual monsoon season is due and – given that the country’s mostly rain-fed agriculture makes up 15 percent of gross domestic product, with hundreds of millions of Indians dependent on it – these rains are a serious business.

Before its onset in June, right through the end of the season in September, we track the monsoon’s trajectory, pore over data, question forecasters, speak to pundits – all in hope of getting an accurate analysis on whether India will receive timely and adequate rainfall.

This year, initial forecasts predict an average amount of rainfall.

However, for some states like India’s drought-hit western regionof Maharashtra, even if the rains are plentiful, it won’t solve itswater crisis.

“Urinating in dams” to solve India’s drought? Minister faces backlash

As India’s western state of Maharashtra reels from the worst drought in over four decades and millions of people face the risk of hunger, a top official has sparked outrage with a crass, insensitive joke that he should urinate in the region’s empty dams to solve water shortages.

Ajit Pawar, deputy chief minister of Maharashtra and former irrigation minister, referred in a speech last weekend to a poor drought-hit farmer who had been on hunger strike for almost two months to demand more water.

“He has been fasting for the last 55 days. If there is no water in the dam, how can we release it? Should we urinate into it? If there is no water to drink, even urination is not possible,” Pawar told the gathering, who responded with much laughter.

Monique Villa: Being a woman in a schizophrenic male world

This past week, chatting away at the dinner table, I was asked about one of my favorite books. My answer was swift: ‘Il Gattopardo’ -”The Leopard”- the masterpiece of Sicilian writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.

The novel narrates the changes in Sicilian life and society during the Italian Risorgimento, the revolution which led to the abolition of the monarchy and the creation of a unified Italian State in 1861. Central to the story is the idea of change, feared and opposed by the dominant class, but also opportunistically embraced by those willing to re-invent themselves in exchange for a slice of new power. It is Tancredi, the aristocrat joining the revolution to safeguard his family interests, who speaks the novel’s most famous line: “If we want things to stay as they are” – he says – “things will have to change.”

Tancredi’s view is extremely fitting to describe the social status of a generation of women who – from India to Egypt – have enthusiastically embraced change, taking huge risks in the name of education, equal opportunities and progress. But unlike Tancredi, these women have welcomed change in their hearts, and have voluntarily positioned themselves outside traditional schemes. A choice that has given them a different status. These women are a novelty. The mainstream social-context around them hasn’t changed as rapidly as they have.

India’s growing global humanitarian role: Is it enough?

India is increasingly seen as an important player when it comes to supporting nations hit by disasters or conflict, as well as for development, but given its size and influence, is it really doing enough to help resolve global crises?

Many, like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), think not, especially when it comes to addressing humanitarian issues at an international level.

“I am of the very strong opinion that India – which has an enormous influence due to its population, economic growth and history – will have to play a more assertive role in the world,” Yves Daccord, ICRC director general, told AlertNet recently.

PHOTOBLOG: Women in India’s capital resort to self-defence after gang rape

Women in India’s capital Delhi are gearing up for self-defence little over a month after a 23-year-old student was raped on a private bus in the city and left dying on a highway.

The episode sparked public outrage in India, where many women say they cannot rely on the country’s often gender-insensitive and under-resourced police force to ensure their security.

Now, women are mostly scared of taking buses or rickshaws alone at night and have started booking cabs with female drivers, taking self-defence classes and stocking up on pepper sprays.

    •