18th January, 2011
5th January, 2011
Muhammad Yunus, the founder of microcredit bank Grameen (an act for which he won the Nobel prize), has appeared in a Bangladeshi court charged with defaming a local politician. The charges relate to a 2007 interview when Mr. Yunus said:
Politicians in Bangladesh only work for money. There is no ideology here.
Attacking microcredit/microfinance institutions is an increasingly populist pastime in South Asia. The success of microcredit has made it a target for politicians around election time, as there are large numbers of people owing money to such lenders, so politicians bash them and encourage lenders to default. Even amongst economists, microcredit has remained controversial, with high loans rates compared to those in developed countries. Yet the alternative is far worse. Microcredit gives many poor individuals access to credit at far lower rates then they traditionally could afford:
On average, borrowers also owe over four times as much to informal lenders, which charge far higher rates, than they do to MFIs.
Default rates on MFIs (Micro Finance Institutions), remain very low, suggesting the debt is manageable.
29th December, 2010
Pakistan often gets a bad press. If a country was defined by media coverage, then Pakistan would be solely a land of terrorism and violence, punctuated by frequent coups, rigged elections and natural disasters. Yet the vast majority of Pakistanis reject terrorism and Taliban style government, judging by the lack of votes won by such parties in Pakistan’s history. Understandably, terrorist attacks and communal violence make headlines more regularly than an opposition to terrorism and communal violence. That is why it was heartening to see such strong support for rallies throughout Pakistan in favour of peace and an end to state and non-state repression and violence:
The rallies took place across 108 Pakistani cities and towns.
It brings to mind the old adage that Pakistan is a “moderate country held hostage by extremists.” Given the murder of the governor of the Punjab, a leading moderate, recently, these rallies are needed more than ever.
(Via Rezwan at Global Voices)
27th December, 2010
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
26th December, 2010
This is a guest post by Eshaan Akbar
Oft-repeated family stories tend to have a mythical characteristic to them – particularly when they relate to many generations past. But one story has an altogether different type of tale in our family that continues to amaze those who hear it.
My great grandmother had the good fortune of being born into a wealthy family of landowners who branched out into businesses ranging from tea gardens to garments. The day she was to eventually get married, the groom-in-waiting turned up with his family who offered his hand in marriage. Everything was fine until they saw the complexion of my great grandmother – slightly darker than wheatish. Sensing the reluctance of the groom’s family, her father summoned some weighing scales, sat her on one of the scales and piled gold jewellery on the other until the value of the gold equalled the value of his daughter. The rest, as they say, is history.
Sexist? Yes. Archaic? A little. Consigned to the past? No. As part of every Bangladeshi wedding, the most important ceremony is the ‘Gaye Holud’ (turmeric on the body), not least because this is where all the singing and dancing happens. But, most importantly, it is where turmeric paste is applied to the body of the bride a few days before the wedding to ensure her complexion is the fairest it can be on the big day.
9th December, 2010
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.
6th December, 2010
This is a guest post by Tithe Farhana. She has previously written for publications including The Daily Star (Bangladesh).
Bihari Banarasi weavers are regarded as stranded Pakistanis, as they are the descendants of Muslims who lived in Bihar, the Hindu dominated states of India, who then migrated then newly East Pakistan during partition of India & Pakistan in 1947. Benarasi weavers of present Bangladesh are mostly living in the Mirpur area of the capital city of Bangladesh since 1947.
In the 1930s Dhaka set up its own Banarasi Silk Industry centre. In the1940s a significant geo-political change in this subcontinent enforced to migrate of a large number of Muslim population from one region of India to another region of Pakistan who packed up their looms and came with high hopes to Dhaka to survive with dignity & start a new life in a new country; their second & third generations are still living in Mirpur area and fighting hard against manifold impediments.
5th December, 2010
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’.
29th November, 2010
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.
27th November, 2010
The 50 Million Missing Campaign, which fights against female foeticide and for gender equality, have composed an excellent and detailed list of questions and answers on dowry:
Q. Is Dowry legal in India?
Dowry is illegal in India under the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961.
Q. Who is the offender under the Dowry Prohibition Law?
Under the Dowry Prohibition Law it is an offense to both take dowry OR to give dowry. So the groom and his family who have taken dowry can be charged. And if the bride’s family has complied with the dowry demand and given dowry, they can also be charged as guilty as under this law.
The punishment for violating the law is 5 years imprisonment + Rs.15000/- fine or the value of the dowry given, whichever is more.
Q. What is considered to be Dowry?
Any kind of demand made by the groom or his family, that involves a direct or indirect “deal” in connection with the wedding, is considered a dowry. This demand can be made before, or during, or after the wedding. It can be cash, valuable security, property or any other favors.
It includes anything that is sought either directly by the groom’s family or indirectly through a third party. Examples of dowry demands can include things like: “We need our mortgage paid, so we can have the money for the wedding,’ or ‘Our younger son has got into medical school and we need his fees paid,’ or ‘Find a job for this relative,’ or ‘We need a car so your daughter can live comfortably with us.’
11th November, 2010
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.
7th November, 2010
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?”
26th October, 2010
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.
24th September, 2010
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.
10th September, 2010
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.”
26th August, 2010
For those who don’t know Pakistan’s Aisam ul Haq Qureishi reached the final of the men’s double and mixed doubles at the US Open tennis. This post contains my reflections on his achievements and compares his story to that of Mohammad Amir, the Pakistani cricketer currently suspended for his role in the alleged ‘spot-fixing’ scandal.
Pakistani cricketers are often seen as players blessed with talents from the Gods. Like footballers in this country, when they are successful they are put on a pedestal, and when as recently they perform poorly and disgrace themselves, they are vilified.
One of the players implicated in the spot fixing scandal is the young fast bowler Mohammad Amir. His story is remarkable and one which resonates throughout the world. As a boy he was once delayed to getting to practice because of a Taliban blockade. Despite his humble background and the many obstacles in his path, he became the most exciting talent in the game. Then, as if part of a Shakesparean tragedy, it appears he succumbed to the temptation of money, leading to his downfall.
Aisam ul Haq Qureishi’s story is not Mohammad Amir’s story. His mother was Pakistan’s number 1 tennis player, his grandfather was a top tennis player and his father is a successful businessman. His world is not Mohammad Amir’s world. Playing tennis growing up he would have been served by the ball boys seen at the elite private clubs throughout Pakistan.
25th August, 2010
SBS – the iconic west London based women’s group – has launched a fund raising appeal to support two women from India who were the victim of a horrific acid attack. I can’t publish the pictures here because they are that horrific.
Below is a letter they sent out to supporters, and wanted us to publish here:
* * * * * * * * * *
I am writing to you in the hope that you will be able to donate generously to finance the medical costs and rehabilitation of Samar (31) and Juwariya (25) Atique whose young lives and hopes were brutally crushed in October 2009 by two men who threw a jug of acid on their faces as the women were returning home from a day’s work in a rickshaw.
Their crime – Juwariya had turned down a marriage proposal from one of the men!
They sustained severe burns and injuries to their faces, their eyes and their upper bodies. In acid attack cases, the victims should be hosed down gently with a continuous stream of water immediately to stop the acid continuing to burn into their flesh. But they did not get treatment for five hours after the incident because the woman doctor was threatened with a similar attack by these men and their families.
24th August, 2010
This is a nice bit of news.
The generosity of the British public in helping Pakistan’s flood victims is “shaming politicians around the world”, the head of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) has said. Brendan Gormley, chief executive of the DEC, said the UK public was leading the way in donations, but that further funds were urgently needed.
The DEC’s Pakistan Floods Appeal has now raised more than £30m.
I’m going to a fund-raiser this Friday, do attend if you can. All money goes to the DEC appeal.
18th August, 2010
This is a follow-up to the previous PP article discussing the Pakistani Sufi rock group Junoon and its founder/current lead singer Salman Ahmad (recently also interviewed by Rolling Stone magazine). As discussed previously, Junoon have been heavily involved in opposing Islamist extremism along with promoting pluralistic interfaith understanding & friendship; Salman himself is also a UN Goodwill Ambassador for HIV/AIDS, and has worked in conjunction with both the Clinton Global Initiative and Dr Tahir ul-Qadri’s Sufi organisation Minhaj ul-Quran, along with giving a concert at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in 2007.
Salman Ahmad, who is currently based primarily in New York, recently visited the UK and was interviewed at length by Stephen Sackur on BBC 24’s HARDtalk programme. They discussed a range of topics, including Islamist extremism, terrorism, Sufism, the West, and American Muslims, and you can see the full interview in three parts via Youtube below:
5th August, 2010
There’s an excellent post by the Five Rupees blog:
Earlier this week, I learned of a remarkable statistic from the BBC. According to their calculations, there has been $6.82 pledged as donation per survivor of the flooding in Pakistan. Most of this is “unconfirmed” pledges which usually go unfulfilled. Be that as it may, the world at large has given $6.82 per survivor. The corresponding figure for the Haitian earthquake earlier this year? $669.60.
Now, there are many reasons for this. Donor fatigue would be one. The hatred the world has for Pakistan and Pakistanis would be another — and if you don’t believe me, have a look at the comments on this article. Bad economic times another possibility (though it bears mentioning that the global economy wasn’t exactly booming eight months ago). And the lack of comparable media attention would be a fourth. It is this last one that I want to focus on for a bit.
He goes on to show, via research, how much coverage the Pakistani floods have gotten, at the New York Times, compared to the Haiti earthquake. And even then, the article focused mostly on Islamists there.
In contrast, it looks like CNN is doing a marginally better job.
28th July, 2010
In addition to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the North-West, thanks to flooding (this is what climate change does, deniers!), there is major trouble in Karachi as well. (links via @ImanQureshi)
Five people have been injured in a grenade attack in the Sakhi Hassan area of Karachi on Wednesday. Two unidentified men on a motorbike hurled a hand grenade inside Jamia Shamsul Ulum Suroor. The attack took place when people had gathered at the mosque for Isha prayers.
Earlier, four bodies were recovered from various localities of Orangi Town in Karachi, while one person was shot dead and three others were injured in firing incidents in the Kharadar area.
The death toll in the wake of Karachi violence now stands at 73 and 130 have been injured.
Bloody hell. According to Dawn newspaper, most of Karachi is under strict lockdown.
Back to the main crisis, over 3 million people have been affected so far
11th July, 2010
Huh? I’m finding this somewhat hard to believe.
David Cameron is to offer India a direct say in drawing up Britain’s new immigration policy as Downing Street responds to fears in New Delhi that a proposed cap will harm trade links.
In a sign of what the prime minister will today describe as a new “spirit of humility” towards India, Downing Street is making it clear that Britain will consult Delhi over a proposed new cap on non-EU immigration.
Either it means the Tory free-marketeers have decisively trumped over the little-Englander ‘no immigration’ Tories, or it reflects on the country’s growing economic might and Cameron is just being very pragmatic.
As India prepares to celebrate the 63rd anniversary of its independence from Britain next month, the prime minister says Europe needs to accept the shift of economic power to Asia. “India’s economy is on an upward trajectory. In Britain, we’re waking up to a new reality.
I think I can hear the little-Englanders squealing in pain. The pragmatic free-marketeers have won.
30th June, 2010
The new Conservative minister for aid is considering slashing Britain’s £250 million aid contribution to India. The move comes after sustained criticism of giving aid to a country that spends billions of pounds on nuclear weapons and a space programme.
Is this a good idea? Let us assume for a moment that giving aid is a good thing, and that the aid we give India is effective, and doesn’t just go to erecting giant statues of politicians. The case for continuing large scale aid to India is that despite its huge economy, it is a poor country on a per capita measure; hundreds of millions still live in poverty, and this is likely to stay the case for years to come. Moreover, there is no guarantee that the Indian government or private donors would step in to continue any cancelled aid projects.
Against this are two arguments; opportunity cost and providing cover for the Indian government. The latter relates to the notion that foreign aid frees native governments fro having to provide equivalent services from their own resources. For example, if Britain is providing access to clean water for villages in the Punjab, the Punjabis will not bother to lobby their local politicians to provide this service. Thus the government will not be obliged to do so and the Punjabis will remain dependent on British aid unless they are rich enough to fund it privately themselves.
The former, opportunity cost, is the next best thing the money could be used for; either tax cuts, national debt reduction, spending on other departments or aid to other countries. So if it was used for aid for other countries, would spending in, say, Ethiopia, be more effective than spending the same amount in India?
There is no easy answer to this. Withdrawal of British aid cannot be conditional on the Indian government agreeing to provide the same services, as the government would simply refuse (knowing then that the aid would stay in place). Perhaps the best solution would be a phased withdrawal of aid, whereby no new projects are funded, and the old ones run their course. This would allow aid to be spent on other countries without imperilling potential vital projects which help some of India’s poorest.
19th June, 2010
Leicester Square screening of India’s Forgotten Women
(a documentary film by Michael Lawson, presented by Anjali Guptara)
Followed by a Q&A Panel Discussion
Chaired by Dharshini David (Sky News)
Panelists include Director Michael Lawson and Lady Kishwar Desai (Chair of “Tongues on Fire”, London’s Asian film festival, and author of “Witness the Night”, a novel that delves into female gendercide in India)
Thursday 1st July 6.30pm – Doors open 6pm
VUE West End, Leicester Square
3 Cranbourn Street, London WC2H 7AL
Tickets: £10 at the door or in advance
India’s Forgotten Women explores the outrageous plight of millions of women oppressed in India today because of their caste identity … astonishing, never-seen-before evidence of domestic violence, dowry crime, sex selective abortion, female infanticide, bonded labour, rape, temple prostitution, and human trafficking.
Clips viewable here
More info here
Am going to this tomorrow.
18th June, 2010
Anupam Kher, who was due to play Hitler in a Bollywood film showing the dictator’s ‘love for India’, has pulled out of the main role after an adverse public reaction:
The project drew protests from Jewish groups in India and outside and was condemned by historians.
“Thanks for your varied reactions to my opting out of Hitler. After 400 films in 26 years I have the right to be wrong and still be happy,” the actor wrote on Twitter.
In a statement to news agency Reuters, Mr Kher said: “Considering the ill-will that the project is generating among my fans, I wish to withdraw from it as I respect their sentiments.”
The problem with the film is that it is completely inaccurate historically (even more so than Braveheart), which Anupam Kher doesn’t seem to have understood. What this film has done though is (unintentionally) taught a number of people about Hitler’s attitudes to India, which they might not have been aware of beforehand. To quote Alex von Tunzelmann once again:
Hitler never supported Indian self-rule. He advised British politicians to shoot Gandhi and hundreds of other leaders of the freedom struggle. Repeatedly, he expressed support for British imperialism. He only regretted that it was not harsh enough. “If we took India,” he once threatened, the Indian people would soon long for “the good old days of English rule”.
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guest post by Anwar Akhtar
A recurring theme when you speak to many Pakistanis, both in Pakistan and among the diaspora, is a prolonged list of complaints about how Pakistan and Pakistanis are presented in the media.
The diversity, cultural heritage and complexity of Pakistan, a vast, beautiful, complex country, which encompasses the great metropolises of Karachi, Faisalabad, Lahore and Rawalpindi, to the mountain regions of North West Frontier Province and Balochistan, and also hundreds of villages, towns and the fertile plains of the Punjab.
Pakistan Through a Lens showcases a Pakistan rarely highlighted by the mainstream media.
It is a Pakistan that is thankfully being highlighted by increasing interest in the photography coming out of Pakistan as well as its neighbours, as seen in the recent Three Dreams exhibition in Whitechapel.