16th October, 2011

Jagjit Singh – a tribute

by guest at 5:51 pm    

This is a guest post by Parvinder Singh.

The music legend Jagjit Singh sadly passed away on Monday in the Indian city of Mumbai. He was 70 years of age and had died of a brain hemorrhage. Like myself, millions had grown up with his music and songs. Many of them he had earlier sung with his beautiful and talented wife, Chitra Singh. Over the years though, the couple have had to endure horrific tragedies, particularly in relation to the deaths of their son and daughter. That pain and loss would cast a shadow on much of Singh’s compositions.

Years ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Jagjit Singh perform live in London and was immediately captivated by his soft and warm voice and his take on the Ghazal, the musically form of Urdu ‘shayari’ or poetry. Without realising it, he had brought alive the words of the 19th Century poet Mirza Ghalib like no one before him. Such was his impression on me then, that I began to learn to read the Urdu script so to understand fully what was being said.

Yet Jagjit Singh was no ordinary singer from the subcontinent. He crossed borders and faiths in his quest to bring poetry to ordinary folk. From the Urdu verse and the Punjabi poetry of Shiv Kumar Batalvi, to the Punjabi Tappe, Hindu Bhajans and Sikh Shabads. Before his untimely death, he was in the middle of a tour with renowned Pakistani ghazal legend, Ghulam Ali.

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3rd October, 2011

Boycotting The Durga Puja

by guest at 9:31 am    

This is a guest post by Rita Banerji. She blogs here.

Calcutta currently is in the midst of the Durga Puja – the 10 day carnival celebrating the goddess Durga. It is the annual climax of Calcutta’s cultural ethos. Not having grown up in Calcutta, I had never actually attended this celebration as a child. So at 30 when I moved to the city, I was fascinated and curious. I photographed the celebrations from every angle and asked a million questions.

Hundreds of pandals— elaborate temple like structures of bamboo, cardboard and jute—are are set up all over the city, which house the idols of the goddess and her family. There are different ceremonies marking each of the 10 days with enthralling symbolisms. Yet, within a couple of years my puja fever had died down, and that was largely because I didn’t appreciate a lot of what I was discovering about the pujas. So much so, that over the last 5 years, I have consistently boycotted the Pujas and urged others to do the same. Here are my reasons why:

> At the end of the celebrations all the idols are immersed in the Hoogly – the city’s river, a tributary of the Ganges. There are more than 40,000 idols dumped into the Hoogly every year. These idols are larger than life, some of them 10-20 feet tall, and most are made of non-biodegradable materials like concrete, fiberglass and metal. These don’t wash downstream. They sink to the bottom and make the river bed one big junkyard.

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Filed under: Culture,India
31st July, 2011

Slutwalks in India

by Rumbold at 6:47 pm    

Delhi is the latest city to see a ‘Slutwalk’, where hundreds of protesters took to the streets to highlight abuse of women and the killing of female children:

One protester told our correspondent: “Every girl has the right to wear whatever she wants, to do whatever she wants to do with her body. It’s our lives, our decisions, unless it’s harming you, you have no right to say anything.”

Another protester said: “There are a lot of problems for women in Delhi because a lot of women do face sexual harassment and just a couple of weeks ago the chief of police of Delhi said that if a women was out after 0200 she was responsible for what happens to her, and I don’t think that’s the right attitude.”

The march provoked plenty of debate amongst feminists in India. The marchers focused on the issue of clothing and consent, but also highlighted the general levels of violence against women in India (as Rita Banerji pointed out in a previous piece, rape is the fastest growing crime in India).

A Slutwalk had previously taken place in India, in Bhopal on 17th July, where the march was recast as ‘Besharmi Morcha: PrideStride for Women’ . Yet this was not as widely reported, and only 150 went on the march. Nevertheless, Bhopal did well in getting in ahead of Delhi. None of these problems are unique to India however, and every country could use a Slutwalk.

Filed under: India,Sex equality
4th July, 2011

Call centres choose Britain over India

by Rumbold at 9:31 am    

This is good news, and a consequence of rising costs in India, China and other places, as workers get paid more in those countries:

New Call Telecom, which competes with BT and Sky to offer home telephone services, broadband and low-cost international calls, is opening a call centre in Lancashire after being attracted by low commercial rents and cheap labour costs…

[The chief executive] said: ‘We did a cost and service analysis of returning home and there was an absolute parity between what we are paying for a third-party call centre in India and here in the UK.’ Mr Eastwood will employ 25 staff at rented premises in Burnley.

It also reflects non-wage issues too:

He says using British staff will also cut costs in the average amount of time taken to deal with customer inquiries. ‘The average handling time in the UK is three minutes. But if you go out to India, you need to add another minute unless it’s a very efficient operation, so that means we can actually reduce the headcount with the saving. In India in the past decade, as call centres have grown, real-estate prices have gone up massively, while salaries have also crept up.’

New Call will pay £4 a square foot for space in Burnley, which Mr Eastwood says is similar to that in Bombay and New Delhi.

As emerging market economies get richer, setting up businesses in places like the UK will become more attractive. Already companies from places like India are buying up companies in the UK, and thus employing tens of thousands of people.

Filed under: Economics,Economy,India
29th June, 2011

Forced sex change operations in India

by Rumbold at 8:44 am    

Discrimination against girls in India is well known and documented. Campaigners have long highlighted the skewed sex ratio, the abortion of female foetuses and the murder of baby girls. Now let another method to reduce the number of girls has been revealed: forced sex change operations:

The row emerged after newspapers disclosed children from throughout India were being operated on by doctors in Indore, Madhya Pradesh.

Doctors confronted in the investigation claimed that girls with genital abnormalities were being sent to the city’s clinics to be “surgically corrected” and that only children born with both male and female sexual characteristics were eligible for the procedure. But campaigners said the parents and doctors were misindentifying the children’s conditions to turn girls into boys.

The surgery, known as genitoplasty, fashions a penis from female organs, with the child being injected with male hormones to create a boy. Dr V P Goswami, the president of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics in Indore, described the disclosures as shocking and warned parents that the procedure would leave their child impotent and infertile in adulthood.

No doubt this is just the tip of the iceberg either. It is unlikely that Indore is the only place where this happens. Nor is legislation likely to be effective to stop this. What is needed is proper enforcement of the laws and a change in a mentality that views girls as something shameful compared to boys.

Update: There has been some doubt cast on this story by an Indian newspaper, which is a rival of the newspaper where it was first published.

27th April, 2011

What Will The Death of Communism in Bengal Bring?

by guest at 8:05 pm    

This is a guest post by Rita Banerji

Today is Election Day here in Calcutta, and could be a historical one for the state of West Bengal. The CPI(M) – The Communist Party of India (Marxist), that has ruled the state with an iron sickle and hammer, for three and a half decades, is said to be on its way out! People of my generation, who have never known a Bengal under any other influence, can’t quite fathom what this change might bring.

But there is an uneasiness that’s discomforting. There’s police everywhere, and para-military — in full battle gear, armed to the teeth, patrolling the streets, and directing polling booths. I suppose till India learns that democracy means the free and calm exercise of choice, this is how we will continue to vote! Since the Lok Sabha election polls, two years ago, when the electorate first indicated that they were weary of the CPI(M) and desperate for change, even if it means choosing the Trinamool Congress party led by the chaotic and highly strung Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal has been in a state of a virtual blood-bath. There’s news of abductions and killings almost every other day. The CPI(M) has no intentions of leaving without an all-out fight! Nine of the eleven constituencies in Calcutta have been declared “sensitive” for the polling period – meaning prone to violence.

Wishing to avoid the poll warriors, I was at my designated booth by 6.30 a.m. There were about 50 other people there, already, in line who probably thought the same way. My poll booth is an old, ram shackled, government school-building. All schools remain closed today as they double as polling booths. The voter’s line ran parallel to the water line – that is the line of people with buckets and plastic drums waiting to fill water at the municipal tap, which for some reason is located 6 feet directly in front of the school’s entrance. A woman at the water line, with about 4 big buckets in tow, smiled at me and said, “Remember to give the water vote.” I smiled back and asked, “Now who would that be?” She thought about it, and shrugged her shoulder, “Probably no one. We’ve waited 40 years for water, voting for it every year.” I asked, “Aren’t you going to vote?” She laughed. “No, I think water is more important.” The municipal tap does not release water again till mid-afternoon, and if her family wants water for the day, for drinking, cooking and cleaning, she’s got to get it now.

Mamata Banerjee has been hailed as the down-to-earth, friend of the poor, and saviour of the down-trodden, who knows what it means to be deprived, as she amply demonstrates by wearing her rubber bathroom slippers to the Parliament meetings. Oddly, that was just the line—the Robin Hood avowal—that brought the CPI(M) to power and kept them there for almost four decades. That, and a network of goons. A few months ago, a policewoman who had stopped a busload of Ms. Banerjee’s party workers at a cross-light so an ambulance could pass, was beaten up and gang-molested by the party workers for daring to to make them wait. The woman in the water-line, waiting with four buckets knows what she’s waiting for. The question is what are the rest of us waiting for?

2nd April, 2011

India world cup victory open thread

by Rumbold at 8:26 pm    

Enjoy. And if you live in Hounslow or Southall, have fun listening to the fireworks and car horns.

Filed under: India,Sports,Sri Lanka
25th March, 2011

‘Honour’ killings in India

by Rumbold at 9:50 am    

Ratna Raman, an academic in India, writes powerfully on ‘honour’-based violence in India. The piece is excellent, and there isn’t much more to add to it. Just read it:

Something is rotten in the fabric of our country. Something continues to dog and intimidate and brutalise young women. It injures men too in the attempt to settle scores relentlessly and lethally, notching points on behalf of insularity and barbarism and gratuitous gender cruelty. In 2000 the newspapers carried reports that Bibi Jagir Kaur, a Shiromani Akhali Dal councillor in Punjab, had allegedly abducted her daughter Harpreet, subjected her to an abortion, given her an overdose of pills and consigned her to the flames. This was because the young woman in question had married in secret while studying at a medical college. To date no one has been punished and witnesses in the face of muscle and money power have now turned hostile. What exactly was the crime these two young women had committed? What was the basis of their family’s behaviour? How could one even hope to understand this vicious and vitiating practice?

On paper we won our independence in 1947. Our constitution extends the fundamental right to self-expression even to women. Yet, everywhere around us despite the cries of a liberal plural space what we see is the buttressing and endorsement of hegemonic feudal stereotypes.

(Hat-tip: KJB)

15th March, 2011

The British monarch who could write Hindi and Urdu

by Rumbold at 2:03 pm    

I have been enjoying the latest research by Shrabani Basu into Queen Victoria and her relationship (almost certainly non-sexual) with her Indian tutor, a young Muslim named Abdul Karim who arrived in the UK aged 24:

That Mr Karim inspired the empress of India could be seen not just by her newfound love of curry. Her eagerness to learn Urdu and Hindi because of his teaching was so strong that she even learned to write in both languages – and gave him a signed photo written in Urdu.

She also used his briefings on political developments in India at the turn of the 19th Century to berate successive viceroys, her representatives in India – much to their displeasure – on measures they could have taken to reduce communal tensions. “At a time when the British empire was at its height, a young Muslim occupied a central position of influence over its sovereign,” Ms Basu said.

He was sacked by her son Edward VII a few hours after her death, and efforts were made by the royal court to destroy all records of him.

13th March, 2011

Film ‘Sunrise’ raising money to highlight child trafficking in India

by Sunny at 4:00 pm    

A new independent film titled ‘Sunrise’ is trying to raise money through web to highlight child trafficking in India.

They say:

Sunrise is a thought provoking and hard-hitting film that addresses the taboo of child abuse in India. In 2007, the Ministry of Woman and Child Development published the ‘Study on Child Abuse: India 2007‘. It reveals that an alarming 53.22% of children in India reported having faced sexual abuse. Nevertheless, the Indian Penal Code does not recognise child abuse as an offence and most offenders (local and foreign) escape with light sentences.

Trailer

Sunrise (Arunoday) is being made by writer-director Partho Sen Gupta, with Adil Hussain (who has just finished shooting for Ang Lee in The Life of Pi) and Tannishtha Chatterjee (who starred in Brick Lane as well as Sen Gupta’s first film, Hava Aney Dey).

You can read more about the film and contribute via this site.
Thanks to @alanalentin for telling me about this.

5th March, 2011

Review of play about violence against women

by guest at 9:40 am    

This is a guest post by Dr. Mitu Khurana. Mitu is a doctor and activist whose struggles and campaign have been covered here.

Recently I attended a performance held by the “Asmita” group of artists, in collaboration with an N.G.O ‘Ekatra’ in New Delhi,. Everyone was in tears by the end of the play. The play titled –“TERI MERI USKI BAAT”- raised several questions which need to be discussed by every citizen in today’s India.

A girl playing the role of a minor raped at the age of 7 years , asked the audience- “why was my schooling stopped, why did my friends stop playing with me, why was I being singled out and pointed out everywhere I went ,what was my fault? No one blamed the rapist; it was my life which stopped. The rape happened when I did not even realize what has happened to me, I knew of only the physical pain. My parents did not want to go to police because I would be stigmatized. Today the physical pain is no longer, but it has been replaced by a mental pain at a much deeper level- the pain of being violated, the pain of being rejected by my friends, the pain of my own stopping my life where it was. WHY? Why should be the stigma on me, when I did no wrong?”

Another girl played out the role of a minor girl whose marriage was fixed up by her parents, without consulting her at a tender age when she was not even 18 years old. The vows of the marriage included- “I will never speak out against my husband”, “I will never ask my husband anything if he comes late”, “I will tolerate all abuses”, “I will bring gifts from my parents for my husband and in laws throughout my life” and “I will never give birth to any girl child throughout my life” among other such vows. The play showed her life after she became pregnant with a daughter. Her parents refused to support her, her siblings refused to help her save the baby, and when she went to her husband, he kicked her and beat her up mercilessly in order to cause her abortion. The whole theatre rang out with her screams – “PLEASE SAVE MY DAUGHTER, PLEASE DO NOT KILL HER.”

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22nd February, 2011

My Grandmother’s Memories: Breaking The Silence

by guest at 4:51 pm    

This is a guest post by Rita Banerji.

My grandmother’s story is perhaps the story of thousands of Indian women even today. As a vivacious, young woman, she had attended college more than 73 years ago, at a time when most Indian women, even in the middle and upper classes were illiterate. She dreamed of becoming a lawyer someday, like her father. Even now she fondly recalls how in college she had played the role of Portia (who takes on the disguise of a male lawyer to save a friend’s life), in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. But my grandmother never got to be Portia in real life.

She was soon forced to marry a man that her family considered to be a good match for her — an engineer, who had just returned from England, and had his own flourishing firm. However he did not appeal to her and she made that clear from the start. But her wishes and desires were of little consequence, and she was pressurized into the marriage. It was not just a marriage that was the equivalent of rape, but for more than 50 years she also had to endure terrible emotional and physical violence.

The first time that my grandfather had slapped her, she had turned around and walked out of the house just as she was — barefoot and in her dressing gown. She walked that way right across town, back to her parents’ house, and refused to return to her husband. It is something that women in the middle and upper-classes in India simply did not do! And still don’t. For a society that places the highest premium on “a family’s reputation” — the pressure is that much more on women in the educated and elite sections to remain silent, and return to their marriages to keep up social appearances. In the end that is what my grandmother too had to do.

I look around, among the middle and upper educated classes in India, and see my grandmother’s story repeating over and over again, even today!! How do these women endure the betrayal of their own parents, snuffing out their dreams and forcing them into unions that are nothing more than rape? How and why do they endure the continuing violence — and a society that remains blind and indifferent to the injustice of their lives, while it continues to exalt marriage and traditions as it supreme altars? Why, when they are educated and working, do these women not break their silence; break the tradition of enduring torture in the name of family and honor? This was my reason for writing ‘My Grandmother’s Memories.’ Read the article ‘My Grandmother’s Memories’ here in The Wordworth Magazine (click on Columns).

This is a guest post by Rita Banerji.

28th January, 2011

Bulleh Shah, “blasphemy”, and Pakistan

by Jai at 9:00 am    

Shehrbano Taseer, the daughter of Salman Taseer (the assassinated Pakistani Governor of Punjab), recently wrote a poignant Guardian CiF article about her father’s murder which also mentioned Bulleh Shah:

“My father was buried in Lahore on 5 January under high security. Cleric after cleric refused to lead his funeral prayers – as they had those of the sufi saint Bulleh Shah – and militants warned mourners to attend at their own peril. But thousands came to Governor House on that bitterly cold morning to pay their respects. Thousands more led candle-lit vigils across the country. But the battle is not going to be over any time soon.”

Bulleh Shah (1680 – 1757) is one of the most famous and revered Sufi Muslims in South Asian history; he was also one of the historical role models of the late Pakistani Sufi Muslim singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and his family, who have themselves been Sufis since the medieval period. The saint’s shrine is in the Punjabi city of Kasur, now in Pakistan, and can be seen in the photo at the top of this article.

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21st January, 2011

Be The Voice of the anti-gendercide Campaign! Here’s How…

by guest at 5:42 pm    

This is an edited crosspost by THE 50 MILLION MISSING CAMPAIGN

We are seeking volunteers who can make 20-30 minute presentations on The 50 Million Missing Campaign and the fight against female genocide (femicide) in India.

We want these presentations made everywhere — in schools, colleges, universities, for women’s groups and other organizations, or even for a party of small friends at home.

We have the presentation all set for you here. All you have to do is download it onto PowerPoint and walk your audience through it by reading out the information on each slide.

THESE ARE THE 4 STEPS TO MAKING YOUR PRESENTATION:

1. There are 14 slides. Click on each (slide) thumbnail below. It will open to its full size . Then download it in JPEG onto your computer.

2. Copy the slides sequentially (the file names are numbered) into a new MS PowerPoint file or any other slide-presentation program that you use.

3. Save your slide presentation on your pen-drive, and read through this short paper by the campaign founder, Rita Banerji, in the Journal of Gender and Sexuality. It provides the background and references for your presentation. “Female Genocide and The 50 Million Missing Campaign,” Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, Issue 22, October 2009.

Also read the link for Roopa’s story (slide 11). Roopa is a dowry-survivor. When her parents refused to give her in-laws dowry, her husband and in-laws pinned her down and forced acid down her throat. The 50 Million Missing campaign is a zero fund campaign. We don’t raise or collect funds and run on volunteer effort. However none of the ngos or international organizations in India that we approached for Roopa would help her, and she required urgent internal surgery, otherwise she would have died. Her own family is very poor, so the 50MM rallied for people to donate to her family and it saved her life.

4. Whenever you make a presentation please come back to this page and put a comment down here, indicating when and where you made your presentation and how your audience responded.

5. If you think your audience will be interested, we recommend that after your presentation you could show them this film “Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without Women.” This is a brilliantly made film that won many international awards. The story, which is a projection into the future, is about an Indian village where every girl child has been killed off, except for one. This child is raised by her father in total secrecy. In a village where men are desperate to find women to marry, no one knows about her existence, till one day someone discovers her in the forest, where she’s playing dressed like a boy. [It's important to note that there is much in this film that represents reality. For instance the massive trafficking of women across India, their "sale" as brides, and the fact that families of 4-5 brothers often times "buy" a bride to share].

5. Finally, we often get requests for campaign speakers from organizations and international symposiums. If you would like to be an official speaker for us, then please contact us at 50millionmissing[at]gmail.com before you start making your presentations. And we will tell what you need to do.

Click here for the slides

20th January, 2011

Dara Shukoh and the fate of Pakistan: Part 2

by Jai at 9:00 am    

This article follows on directly from Part 1, which detailed the Mughal crown prince Dara Shukoh, his philosophy and his interpretation of Islam. Readers are therefore strongly advised to read that part first before continuing below.

Shah Jahan temporarily fell ill during the late 1650s. False rumours spread, claiming that he had died and that Dara Shukoh was now the Mughal emperor. Aurangzeb exploited this as an opportunity to grab power by mobilising his own military forces, ignoring his sister’s urgent correspondence confirming that their father was indeed still alive and that Aurangzeb was therefore committing an action of treason, and eventually imprisoned Shah Jahan opposite the Taj Mahal. During the resulting war of succession, Dara Shukoh was given some military assistance by the 7th Sikh Guru during one of the battles, but the prince was ultimately defeated later in the conflict, as Aurangzeb had greater experience as a military commander and was a far more ruthless individual. Dara’s weakened wife had already died while the family had been attempting to reach the safe haven of Persia, and Dara sent her body with an armed escort to Mian Mir’s shrine in Lahore for burial nearby.

The 44-year-old Dara Shukoh and his 15-year-old son Sipihr Shukoh were captured after being betrayed by an Afghan “ally” they’d sought refuge with (ironically, Dara had previously saved the Afghan from being executed by Shah Jahan). A few days later, Dara was humiliatingly paraded through the Mughal capital of Delhi, resulting in a huge outcry from the city’s inhabitants due to his immense popularity. He wouldn’t even survive for a single day afterwards, because Aurangzeb could see that Dara’s popularity amongst the mass population posed a severe risk of a huge uprising against the fanatical regime attempting to engineer a political coup, and Dara was also a clear final barrier to his own desire for the imperial throne.

Aurangzeb had access to some ultraconservative mullahs sympathetic to him, and rapidly had his brother impeached, declared an “apostate”, and sentenced to death on trumped-up charges of “heresy”. On the night of 30th August 1659, Dara Shukoh was unceremoniously beheaded in his prison cell, in front of his young son Sipihr, although Dara had put up a fight to try to physically defend himself. Dara’s older son Suleiman Shukoh was also eventually captured; as per Aurangzeb’s instructions, over an extended period of time the incarcerated Suleiman was gradually poisoned by being fed large quantities of opium extracts which, after effectively lobotomising him, ultimately killed him.

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19th January, 2011

Dara Shukoh and the fate of Pakistan: Part 1

by Jai at 9:00 am    

The recent murder of the Governor of Punjab in Pakistan, Salman Taseer, and the increasing escalation of visible religious extremism in that country brings to mind a notable historical precedent, involving a major figure in South Asian history who was also the governor of Punjab for a time. There are some serious implications for both Pakistan and the rest of the world if history is allowed to repeat itself.

The painting at the top of this article, commissioned circa 1650, depicts the builder of the Taj Mahal, the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, meeting the crown prince Muhammad Dara Shukoh (sometimes also spelt “Shikoh” or “Shikuh”). Dara Shukoh is the figure standing on the right.

Dara Shukoh, born in 1615, was Shah Jahan’s favourite son and nominated heir. Like most of the major Mughals during their reign in India, Dara was a liberal patron of music, dancing and arts (an example of an album of pictures he personally painted as a gift for his wife Nadira Banu can be viewed via the British Library); Dara was also closely affiliated with the Qadiri Sufi order, especially the Muslim saint Mian Mir, who had been invited by one of the Sikh Gurus to lay the foundation stone of the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The land for the temple complex and the city of Amritsar itself had been granted to the Sikhs by Dara’s great-grandfather, the Mughal emperor Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, justifiably known as Akbar the Great.

Dara Shukoh himself was similarly heavily involved in promoting religious moderation, friendship and understanding between people of different faiths; with the assistance of some Hindu Brahmin priests, his activities included translating more than 50 of the most important ancient Hindu scriptures (especially the Upanishads) from Sanskrit into Persian so that Muslims could understand them better, with the intention that this would prevent unwarranted prejudice based on ignorance. Dara’s translations later proved invaluable in helping colonial-era Europeans understand the Hindu texts concerned, as they were originally more familiar with Persian than Sanskrit.

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29th December, 2010

Fighting back against misogynistic forces in India

by Rumbold at 9:26 am    

This is an edited crosspost from the 50 Million Missing Campaign

498A is a significant law in India that is meant to protect married women from violence inflicted on them by their husbands and in-laws, and ensure justice in case they get killed. These cases may or may not involve dowry. The law is cognizable (i.e. a police officer can investigate and arrest without a warrant) and non-bailable (i.e. the court has the power to grant or refuse bail). The maximum sentence under this law is only 3 years.

Over the last few years there has been a very powerful, wealthy, lobby of Indian men, many living outside India (married to women from India), who have funded a strong anti 498A drive and have managed to put the law before the Indian administration for amendment. Their complaint is that many women are making false claims of torture and harassment under this law. They want the law to be made non-cognizable and bailable.

The 50 Million Missing Campaign will be sending this memorandum (letter below) to the Committee protesting this amendment. We request that you put your comments in the boxes below [HERE] supporting our protest. Your email address will not be published. You can also send an email (by Dec 30) directly to rsc2pet@sansad.nic.in.

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26th December, 2010

Aishwarya Rai skin lightening controversy

by Rumbold at 11:15 am    

Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is at the centre of a controversial photoshoot for Elle magazine, in which she appears to have had her skin whitened for the photos. Mrs. Rai Bachchan, who like many Bollywood actresses and actors is very wheatish anyway, appears to be several shades lighter in the photos taken.

Filed under: Culture,India
6th December, 2010

Locating Gandhi (part two)

by guest at 7:54 pm    

This is a guest post by KJB. Part one is located here.

Yesterday I examined Gandhi’s motivations and character. Now I want to turn my attention to how he is viewed in the modern day and why. Rita asked

What is this need in India to worship people? Why can’t we in India learn to examine people like people — like normal flesh and bones human beings??

Rita also bemoaned the treatment of Gandhi as a ‘saint,’ saying

I thought — how come these things are never discussed when we are given this pre-processed, recycled hash on Gandhi in our school text books.

Which is all fair enough, but as I said to her – Perhaps you ought to have enquired into why that is. I would be interested as to what exactly she’s trying to combat here, as the piece gave me no idea. Who believes in this straw-Gandhi that she has created? For whose benefit is her piece? My family and most Sikh people I know absolutely hate the man, for reasons ironically similar to Rita’s but with even less awareness of him than she, and most non-Indians are so ignorant of him that they barely register him as an influence on MLK and Mandela, let alone as an untouchable saintly figure. In fact, I’ve noticed non-Indian (usually American) people use their complete ignorance about him as a basis for making stupid and unfunny jokes, which is hardly worshipful. I hated the man before I read his writing, and now I respect him, but still recognise that he was massively problematic and yes, hypocritical. It’s really worthwhile reading the entire section on Gandhi, gender and sexuality in Javed’s book as it incorporates the most current feminist critique of Gandhi but doesn’t stereotype the man. Ironically, Rita does what she is despairing of: propagating the image of Gandhi as a ‘saint’, because instead of bringing him back down to human reckoning by recognising his complexities, she simply takes the ignorant devotee’s caricature and replaces ‘good’ with ‘bad’.

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Filed under: History,India
5th December, 2010

Locating Gandhi (part one)

by guest at 9:02 pm    

This is a guest post by KJB.

There was an interesting post on PP recently by Rita Banerji, entitled How Gandhian Are Obama’s Politics?

First of all, it would seem to be a fairly obvious yet fundamental rule that when working with a major public/historical figure, caution is necessary. The bigger the figure, the greater the caution that must be used, since that person will be relevant not just to the local history of their nation, but globally. When the person is, furthermore, dead and unable to defend themselves or clarify meanings, you have to try even harder to watch your step.

This is the problem with Rita’s approach to Gandhi. She has taken personal bugbears of hers – child sexual abuse, the dismal position of Indian women, the tendency towards mindless, cultish elevation of individuals in Indian society – and decided that these things are Gandhi’s fault, because they should be.

It’s a real shame, because Rita’s aims are utterly noble, and some of the points made in the piece and in comments, were very astute, the following points need debunking. Rita argued that

To sum up Gandhi’s ideologies, they included the rejection of all of the following: war and weaponry, capitalism, large-scale industries, and science and technology.

Well… the most fundamental core of Gandhi’s philosophy is non-violence. While this characterisation isn’t incorrect, it’s not particularly accurate either, since it doesn’t even mention the most important bit of his crackpot bundle of beliefs. Not unlike Rita herself in this article, Gandhi starts with a particular point (non-violence) and everything branches off of and returns to, that central point.

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Filed under: History,India
27th November, 2010

How Gandhian Are Obama’s Politics?

by guest at 12:01 pm    

This is a guest post by Rita Banerji

The news of President Obama’s admiration for Gandhi preceded his visit to India. How Gandhi has inspired his life, and how a portrait of his hangs in his Senate office. He told the Indian Parliament that he owes his own Presidency to Gandhi. So how closely does Obama follow in his mentor’s footsteps?

To sum up Gandhi’s ideologies, they included the rejection of all of the following: war and weaponry, capitalism, large-scale industries, and science and technology. On the eve before his departure President Obama assured an economically depressed U.S., “I’m going to be leaving tomorrow for India, and the primary purpose is to take a bunch of US companies and open up markets so that we can sell in Asia and some of the fastest-growing markets in the world.” And he did exactly that by striking some hard, billion dollars sales deals with India on the purchase of weapons, warfare systems and Boeing aircraft.

Though it might seem like Obama is contradicting Gandhi’s ideologies, he isn’t doing anything that Gandhi himself didn’t.

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11th November, 2010

The Indian Girl in ‘Eat Pray Love’

by guest at 12:32 pm    

This is a guest post by Rita Banerji

‘Eat Pray Love’ was showing in theaters in India about two weeks ago, and I have to admit, that like most here, I too went to see it just to see how the country looks on the big screen. But the one question that’s been nagging at me since is, “Why did they have to get Tulsi married?”

The seventeen-year-old Indian girl, Tulsi, who Liz Gilbert befriends at the ashram, has a colorful wedding in the film, which she does not in the book. True, films often distort their source to suit the audience’s whims. And a Bollywood style wedding would certainly spice up the visual appeal. Yet I found Tulsi’s wedding to be a symbolic slaughter of the spirit of this book; a mockery of one of its core issues.

Since Liz already travels, explores and writes, doing all she truly loves, what was her big soul-searching journey all about? In her own words: “I don’t want to have a baby,” an issue she wrestles with incessantly. “That deadline of THIRTY loomed over me..and I discovered I did not want to be pregnant.” And again, “I well know what desire feels like. But it [the desire for a child] wasn’t there.” Her real concern about motherhood, it seems is how she would be perceived if she openly admitted she didn’t desire children. She agonizes over how people would “judge” her. “What kind of a person does that make me?”

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7th November, 2010

Should You Get Killed For Celebrating Diwali?

by guest at 3:24 pm    

This is a cross post by Rita Banerji

Two years ago, two events of immense significance took place in the village of Kaluvas in Haryana.

A young man from this village, Vijender Singh won a bronze medal for India, at the Olympic Games in Beijing, putting this village in the global limelight.

Two months after that in November, during the Diwali festival, two teenage girls became victims of a brutal gang attack by the villagers. They were stoned, and hacked with machetes and axes. As they lay unconscious and bleeding, they were doused with gasoline and burnt alive. The entire community then participated in a conspiracy of silence to hide their crime.

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26th October, 2010

Writer Arundhati Roy threatened with arrest for ‘sedition’; English PEN speaks out

by Sunny at 7:40 pm    

Update: I’ve changed the headline from ‘arrested’. That was my mistake.
News reports from India state that Roy, the author of the Booker Prize winning novel The God of Small Things, will be arrested and charged with ‘sedition’ over comments she made on Kashmir.

In statement issued to news organisations and campaigners (reproduced below), Roy claims she said only “what millions of people here say every day” and that her comments against India’s operations in Kashmir were made in support of her fellow countrymen.
Lisa Appignanesi, President of English PEN, said:

Since June, Kashmiri journalists and broadcasters attempting to report on unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir have been subject to violence and gagging.

Booker Prize winning novelist Arundhati Roy has now stepped forward to draw the world’s attention to the plight of Kashmiris. The truth of what is happening in Kashmir needs to be told. Brutality by the state, and the silencing of reporters, is no option for a modern India.

The author Hari Kunzru said:

I’m concerned to hear that Arundhati Roy may face sedition charges. India trumpets its status as the world’s largest democracy, but the Indian establishment is notoriously unwilling to listen to dissident voices. Whether or not one agrees with Roy’s positions on Kashmir or the Maoist insurgency in Central India, the issues she raises are important and deserve to be debated. The willingness by elements of the Indian establishment to use the legal system to intimidate critics is lamentable. India’s writers are an important part of the nation’s identity on the international stage. Supporting their right to free speech goes hand in hand with applauding them when they win the Booker prize. One is meaningless without the other.

Laws of ‘sedition’ (criticising the state) are routinely used by governments all around the world to threaten critics of official policy and state actions. In former British colonies, these are based on archaic English laws. Last year, English PEN campaigned successfully to ensure the remnants of such laws were removed from the English statute books, but elsewhere in the Commonwealth they remain law.

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Filed under: Civil liberties,India
24th September, 2010

‘Love commandos’ combat ‘honour’ killings

by Rumbold at 9:55 pm    

This is a wonderful development:

A newly-formed helpline called Love Commandos is taking calls from distraught couples. The Love Commandos include lawyers and social activists, and claims to have attracted 140,000 volunteers across India. They have helped rescue many couples from death by forcing police to intervene. Those in danger can now get instant help by simply dialing a number and telling their life is threatened or a girlfriend has been held captive.

The founder of Love Commandos, Harsh Malhotra, shares that “Whenever we get a call that a couple is being threatened, we contact our commandos and tell them to go there immediately to help them. If they face any problem, we inform the police. Our team of lawyers also reach there so that the couple is not attacked, threatened or mistreated.”

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