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January 05 2014

Why Rape And Sexual Violence Continue

“I will not forget what happened today, one year ago”

This video was released by Video Volunteers on December 16, 2013 to commemorate Nirbhaya, who died in the 2012 Delhi gang rape incident. The incident was the only conviction of 706 reported cases of rape in Delhi that year. Statistics indicate that in India a woman is still raped every 22 minutes. The conviction rate for rape stands at an abysmal 25%.

This video provokes interesting discussions on the reasons why rape and sexual violence continue.

Aam Aadmi Party Clone In Bangladesh

Blogger An Ordinary Citizen writes:

Many in Bangladesh are inquisitively looking at the development of Aam Aadmi Party in India and hoping that a similar phenomenon may develop in Bangladesh.

Co-incidentally the success of the Aam aadmi party has inspired a group to float an Aam Janatar Dal –Common Man’s Party –in Bangladesh. The tentative launch of this party will be on January 17, 2014.

January 03 2014

India's Aam Aadmi Party Wins Hearts and Forms Government in Delhi

Arvind Kerjiwal, leader of Aam Aadmi Party addressing  a crowd. Image by Rohit Gautam. Copyright Demotix (10/6/2013)

Arvind Kerjiwal, leader of Aam Aadmi Party, addressing a crowd. Image by Rohit Gautam. Copyright Demotix (10/6/2013)

The hottest new party making waves in India's political scene, Aam Admi Party, has secured the crucial support of members of Indian National Congress to form government.

Aam Admi Party (Common Man's Party, abbreviated AAP), led by anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal, emerged as the second largest party in the December 4, 2013 Delhi Assembly election, playing the spoiler to Indian National Congress, who took third and saw an end to their 15-year-rule in Delhi state government. 

After first attempts at forming government failed, Indian National Congress’ support allowed AAP to reach the 36 seats necessary for a majority in the Delhi Assembly. 45-year-old Kejriwal became the seventh Chief Minister of Delhi and has asked for ten days for create a system to resolve people's problems in Delhi.

A vote of confidence on the floor of the Assembly on January 2, 2014, with AAP's 28 members, seven Congress members, one JD(U) MLA member and one independent in favor, sealed the deal for Kejriwal and his party. Before the vote, Kejriwal made the case for AAP and the common man in a speech:

Who is an aam aadmi? AAP believes that the middle class is part of the aam aadmi, anyone who is tired of this corrupt system is aam aadmi.

I was reading two people died of cold in Delhi. Millions have been spent after independence and perhaps this could have been avoided if the money was well-spent. Where did all the money go? The aam aadmi wants to know. We must acknowledge that politics in this country has been criminalised.

The speech generated much buzz on Twitter:

However Shamit Manchanda reminds AAP's declaration on December 10 that it will neither take nor extend support to BJP or Congress as the new party was formed as an alternative to them:

AAP sought public opinion after Congress supported most of its 18 points and offered to provide support to form a government and got a favorable response. “We are not a party, we are representatives of people,” maintains the party. In the past three weeks time, AAP has reportedly gained 500,000 new members and 300 offices around India and is aiming for the nationwide 2014 Lokshava elections.

December 29 2013

Contemplating Nelson Mandela's Legacy in South Asia

This post is part of Global Voices special coverage Remembering Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela 1918-2013. Cartoon by Bryant Arnold. Free for use.

Nelson Mandela 1918-2013. Cartoon by Bryant Arnold. Free for use.

Earlier this month, Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s anti-apartheid hero and first black president, died at age 95, leaving the world in mourning. People in South Asian countries also remembered the beloved statesman in their own way.

Nepal, after long years of political turmoil, has recently completed an election. But the leadership remains an apprehension for many. Satire Nepali blogger Guffadi wrote:

In the past sixty years, we have seen hundreds of clowns who have been offered opportunities to govern this country. But they all turned out to be false prophets who only enriched themselves and their families instead of helping the common folks.

How long will we have to wait for honest leaders to lead us to the Promised Land?

We are still waiting for our Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Why is it difficult for our Emperor and his courtiers to admit their crimes publicly and ask for forgiveness? Our security forces should do the same as well.

Indra highlighted Gopi Chandra Kharel's article in International Business Times, who tried to link connection of Mandela with Nepal, a country 5,725 miles away from South Africa:

Nepali leaders have a lot to learn from Mandela's statesmanship, integrity, and lack of political ambition. His ability to cooperate with even his opponents is a pointer to us during the constitution making process. – Jayaraj Acharya, Nepal's former ambassador to the United Nations

Blogger Passu from Bhutan compared Mandela to Zhabdrung Rinpoche, the founder of the Bhutanese state:

Zhabdrung lived four hundred years before Mandela yet there is something so common between the two- Zhabdrung unified Bhutan as a nation state while Mandela unified different races to make South Africa one strong nation. Zhabdrung fled to Bhutan to escape arrest in Tibet where he was supposed to be the rightful leader. But after he became powerful in Bhutan he never sought vengeance against people in Tibet who wronged him, just as Mandela reconciled with people who imprisoned him 27 years.

Today, when Mandela dies I am reminded of Zhabdrung's death.

From Sri Lanka, Asanga Welikala wrote on Groundviews:

The freedom from fear imbued Nelson Mandela’s personal conduct and political creed throughout his life, and it is the leadership attribute that ensured a plural and inclusive constitutional democracy in his motherland. It is unfortunately not an example that many Asian and African leaders have had the will, the capacity or the character to follow.

Also on Groundviews, Sunanda Deshapriya drafted an imaginary open letter to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse by Mandela of what is expected of him:

At times I wonder what do you have to learn form us when you have become a strong defender and a close friend of President Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who has made himself president for life, in practice. His path was completely different to ours and laden with violence. Another disappointing news is your close relationship with the king of the Swaziland, a most backward country in Africa. If you have chosen to follow the examples of Zimbabwe and Swaziland, there is nothing we can offer you.

Teeth Maestro from Pakistan thought that not many leaders can extract peace in the face of adversity:

Surprisingly as similar to Mandela being labelled by his right-wingers as Terrorist Mandela, Khan is similarly painted as Taliban Khan mostly by his opponents, predominantly settled on the left-wing. Such resistance, is in my opinion, merely because driven by his opponents who see these “peace talks” attempts to disrupt their own established control on Pakistan. The name calling will never stop true genuine leaders, in fact, it is in the face of such adversity that actually drives them harder to continue their struggle for whats best for their country – Peace

In 1990, the Indian government granted Mandela its highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna (Jewel of India). Upon his death, India declared five days of national mourning for Mandela. He is widely revered in the country, but it seems some have never seen his photo. Poet, blogger and satirist Farrukh Hossaini tweeted:

This post is part of Global Voices special coverage Remembering Nelson Mandela.

December 28 2013

An Open Letter to Arvind Kejriwal

A man holds a placard shaped as India with Arvind Kejriwal picture on it. Image by Rohit Goutam. Copyright Demotix (28/12/2013)

A man holds a placard shaped as India with Arvind Kejriwal picture on it. Image by Rohit Goutam. Copyright Demotix (28/12/2013)

Satire blog AmreekanDesi writes an open letter to the newly elected chief minister of Delhi, anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal:

Now that you’ve given us this hope, please don’t let us down. Please don’t become another party that goes giddy with the prospect of power. Please don’t become a party that says something before elections, gets our votes, and then enjoys the loot while it lasts.

His party Aam Admi emerged as a cleaner option in Indian politics.

December 27 2013

PHOTOS: Humans Of South Asia

In 2010, photographer Brandon Stanton began photographing strangers on the streets of New York, asking them a few questions, and sharing their story online. After three years, he put together the Humans of New York (HONY) Facebook page, and as the project grew in popularity, professional and amateur photographers across the world began to replicate the idea with blogs and Facebook pages highlighting photos and stories of people from their regions.

Take a look at how Humans of New York has inspired photographers across South Asian countries.

India

Screenshot of the Humans of India Facebook Page

Screenshot of the Humans of India Facebook Page

Since its start on June 1, 2012, the Humans of India Facebook page has attracted more than 108,700 followers and been shared by more than 17,800 people. Megha Majumder, the CEO of Humans of India Facebook page, explained in an interview to Mashable:

There's this word that I fell in love with a while back: sonder. It's the realization that every random passerby is living a life that is as vivid and intricate as your own, complete with their own thoughts, feelings and emotions. And to them, you're just a passing figure on the street, too. Sonder seized my awareness –- people were no longer just strangers

A decoration of the body, an enhancement of the soul ॐ. Image by Humans of India. Used with permission.

A decoration of the body, an enhancement of the soul ॐ. Photo by Humans of India. Used with permission.

“I'm pretty sure that love and light have something to do with each other. That's why Diwali's cool. Lots of love in the air.” Photo by Humans of India. Used with permission

Similar initiatives were taken on by projects like Humans Of Bangalore, Humans of Mumbai, Humans of New Delhi (1, 2), Humans of Hyderabad and Humans of Lucknow. Most of these pages accept crowdsourced submissions.

Screenshot of Humans of Bangalore page

Screenshot of Humans of Bangalore page

Bangladesh

Humans of Bangladesh is a crowdsourced project that has gained more than 2,050 followers since its start on July 19, 2012.

Screenshot of Humans of Bangladesh blog

Screenshot of Humans of Bangladesh blog

There is also another new project, started in November 29, 2013, by Bangladeshi photographers also called Humans of Bangladesh, which is followed by more than 4,700 people.

Screenshot of Humans of Bangladesh by Bangladeshi photographers.

Screenshot of Humans of Bangladesh by Bangladeshi photographers.

Also available is the Humans of Dhaka page.

Maldives

The Humans of Maldives Facebook page was launched on August 10, 2013 and is followed by more than 2,300 people.

Screenshot from Humans of Maldives Facebook page

Screenshot from Humans of Maldives Facebook page

Bhutan

Inspired by Humans of New York, the Humans of Bhutan page began in September 2012 and has continued to expand its collection of photos one portrait at a time.

Screenshot of Humans of Bhutan webpage

Screenshot of Humans of Bhutan webpage

Nepal

The Humans of Nepal page, which began on June 7, 2013, celebrates the cultural, ethnic and religious diversity of Nepal.

Screenshot from Humans of Nepal

Screenshot from Humans of Nepal

Pakistan

The Humans of Pakistan page was launched in July 2012, and a similar Humans of Pakistan page started on August 22, 2013. The pages are followed by a few hundred people.

screenshot of the Humans of Pakistan Facebook page

Screenshot of the Humans of Pakistan Facebook page

It seems that city pages are more popular, such as Humans of Islamabad and Rawalpindi (3,416 followers), Humans Of Kashmir (1,209 Followers), Humans of Sindh (3,521 followers), Humans of Lahore (7,057 followers), and Humans of Karachi (99,647 followers).

Letter by Sakina. Image courtesy Humans of New York and Humans of Karachi

Sakina Gheewala. Photo courtesy Humans of New York and Humans of Karachi

Sakina Gheewala wrote a letter to Humans of New York creator Brandon Stanton, which was featured in Humans of New York page, explaining how the project had touched her:

Dear Brandon,

My HONY book arrived in Pakistan today. Though it was five months late, it was my favorite birthday present of the year.

In a country where people fight for survival everyday, I'm one of the fortunate few whose biggest worry right now is getting through medical school. In my part of the world, people like me, no matter how much we try to deny it, live in a bubble. And our problems are called “first world problems.” Maybe it will surprise people to see a “Pakistani” so in touch with the Western World. To see something other than the hatred that the world seems to notice radiating from here. But in my little bubble here in Pakistan, I find inspiration in the stories shared on Humans of New York, because they depict more than what the common man perceives. Yes, Pakistan as a nation suffers more than the rest, we do have a billion and one problems, but HONY reminds me that above everything else we are individuals. That just how every Pakistani is not the same, neither is every American. It reminds me to love and respect everybody– something many people here tend to have forgotten. The pictures and stories on HONY almost always make me feel like anything is possible.

Thank you,
Sakina

December 25 2013

Impact Of Social Media In The Delhi Elections

Voters fingers are stained after casting their vote to prevent fraud. Image by Louise Dowse. Copyright Demotix (4/12/2013)

Voters fingers are stained after casting their vote to prevent fraud. Image by Louise Dowse. Copyright Demotix (4/12/2013)

Prior to the Delhi Legislative Assembly election (4 December 2013) the Delhi Election Commission vowed to monitor the social media for political campaigns looking for breach of model code of conduct by the candidates. However the commission later said that there were loopholes in monitoring and it is virtually “impossible” to keep track of so many conversations.

Nikhil Pahwa at Medianama analyses the impact of social media on the recent Delhi elections:

What Social Media has done in these elections is that it brought out the vote. People may or may not have been influenced by the campaigns run by political parties, but the incessant debate, raising of issues, criticism, and the conversations, the fight and even the hate-commentary that ensued, led to there being a voter – at least in Delhi – that was more aware of the political atmosphere, more conscious that her vote matters, and more responsive to calls for getting out the vote.

“Dekh Le” – Reminding How Men Look at Women In Public Places

Whistling Woods International (WWI), an institute for studies in film, media and fashion, released a YouTube video on December 16, 2013, exactly a year after the much talked about rape case in Delhi to aware people to think, reflect & act on violence against women. Vinaya Naidu at Lighthouse Insights writes about this video:

Very often, not just in India but all over the world, it seems that men looking at women in public places somehow think they are watching a display, as though women exist on a television screen. But, in reality, women can see the people staring at them, and those stares can make them feel not only uncomfortable and objectified, but downright unsafe.

The video has been viewed more than 1.2 million times in last 10 days since its release.

December 23 2013

River Yamuna Needs Its Own Manifesto

Devotees gather on the banks of the polluted River Yamuna to immerse idols of Hindu goddess Durga during the Durga Puja festival. Image by Burhaan Kinu. Copyright Demotix (24/10/12)

Devotees gather on the banks of the polluted River Yamuna to immerse idols of Hindu goddess Durga during the Durga Puja festival. Image by Burhaan Kinu. Copyright Demotix (24/10/12)

Yamuna, the only major river flowing through Delhi is deteriorating in health over the decades. In the recent Delhi Assembly elections major political parties mentioned Yamuna saving plan in their election manifesto.

South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (sandrp) blog analyzes these manifestos and suggests that the parties need to consult Yamuna's own manifesto, penned by two river experts, Himanshu Thakkar and Manoj Mishra, and edited by Ravi Agarwal and Till Krause:

A bilingual (Hindi and English) publication, combining the views of activists and artists, blurring boundaries between fact and the imaginary, it is an attempt to widen ideas around ecology, to re-territorialize it, and to move beyond binary narratives of catastrophe and untouched nature, to one of multidimensional reframings. The political parties can possibly benefit from it.

December 22 2013

Despite Passage of India's Anti-Corruption Lokpal Bill, Public Mistrust Remains

Protesters demanding the Janlokpal Bill in Bandra, Mumbai, India. Copyright Chirag Sutar (24/05/2012)

Protesters demanding the Janlokpal Bill in Bandra, Mumbai, India. Copyright Chirag Sutar (24/5/2012)

An anti-corruption bill stalled and disputed for 48 years in India’s parliament was passed by the upper and lower houses in a speedy two days. Passed on December 18, 2013, the Lokpal (Citizen's Ombudsman Bill) now waits on President Pranab Mukherjee’s table for final formalities.

However, the passage of this bill is viewed as astute political move, and not a genuine effort to eradicate corruption. 

According to some political analysts in India, for parties such as Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and Indian National Congress (INC), passing this bill is also a ploy to correct their sullied image before India gears up for 15th General Elections in 2014. Many in the BJP and the INC have serious allegations of corruption in India. 

The Lokpal Bill is not to be confused with the Janlokpal Bill introduced by activists on April 7, 2011, and for which there was a massive uprising in India. This bill is considered to be a weak and disadvantageous bill because it does not give protection to whistle-blowers, i.e, those who alert authorities about corruption trails of politicians or bureaucrats; it does not make the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India's top investigating authority, independent; it does not have the power to prosecute anyone from lower bureaucracy (India's lower bureaucracy is believed to be a nest for corruption, and with whom the public has to interact in a day-to-day basis); and it is incapable of taking direct punitive actions on those involved in corruption, such as confiscating assets of those who may have benefited from corruption.

More differences between the Lokpal Bill and the activists proposed Janlokpal Bill is outlined here.

Many continue to support the Janlokpal Bill introduced in 2011 as it has provisions to make the CBI independent, has the power to prosecute anyone in bureaucracy (upper or lower), and offers complete protection to whistle-blowers. 

A Janlokpal Bill supporter outside Azad Maidan in Mumbai during 2011 anti-corruption protest. Copyright Chirag Sutar (16/8/2011)

A Janlokpal Bill supporter outside Azad Maidan in Mumbai during an anti-corruption protest in 2011. Copyright Chirag Sutar (16/8/2011)

The possible political motivations behind the passage of the current bill is already a part of public discourse. Retired army officer Lt. Col Banwari from Jaipur tweeted:

Anna Hazare is the Gandhian crusader from India's Maharashtra state who received immense praise from across the world for leading the Janlokpal Bill protests in 2011 and 2012. A former Indian army driver, 76-year-old Anna Hazare dedicated his life social service and fighting corruption. However, following the passage of this bill on 18 December, 2013 (apparently, after his approval) a fair share of criticism was directed at him for agreeing to break his fast of nine days in return of what is now being called a weak version of the Janlokpal Bill. 

Youngsters participate in bike rally organized during the Janlokpal Bill protests in Mumbai. Copyright Chirag Sutar (24/5/12)

Participants in bike rally organized during the Janlokpal Bill protests in Mumbai. Copyright Chirag Sutar (24/5/12)

Anurag Tyagi, who claimed to have gone to jail during the Janlokpal Bill protests in 2012, tweeted:

“This are Anna [Hazare's] protests, and he will only decide.” I feel betrayed, I had gone to jail for the first time in my life for this movement :(

Hazare's confidante Arvind Kejriwal in a recent interview with a television channel did not rule out the possibility that Hazare may have been influenced by political forces to change his stance. Or, he may simply have been misinformed – considering when Kejriwal worked with him during the Janlokpal Protests in 2011 and 2012, Kejriwal spent a considerable amount of time explaining to Hazare the nitty-gritty of the then-proposed Janlokpal Bill, which faced a lot of resistance from the political parties.

A protester outside Mumbai's Azad Maidan during the 2012 Janlokpal Bill protests. Copyright Chirag Sutar (24/5/2013)

A protester outside Mumbai's Azad Maidan during the 2012 Janlokpal Bill protests. Copyright Chirag Sutar (24/5/2012)

Kejriwal is now the convener of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which was born out of the Janlokpal protests in 2012, and which debuted with 28 seats in 2013 Delhi Assembly Elections. The AAP is viewed as a serious threat in the coming general elections by the Indian National Congress and Bhartiya Janata Party. The AAP's entry in India's political discourse is believed be a reason why this anti-corruption bill was passed. 

As cited earlier, a major contention is that the government passed Lokpal Bill does not make India's top criminal investigation authority, the Criminal Bureau of Investigation (CBI), independent. CBI is accused of being used by political parties in India to settle personal scores or influence political discourse, and this was one of the reasons why activists who proposed the Janlokpal Bill in 2011 insisted on making the CBI independent. 

Speaking about other clauses in the current bill, Navbharat Democratic Party member and Right to Information (RTI) activist Vinita Deshmukh tweeted:

IndianChirp argued with Deshmukh:

SP Kalra asked the following question:

To this, Mukund tweeted:

Protesters stand at Azad Maidan, Mumbai, with a baner which reads 'India is great - PS: In Corruption' during the 2012 Janlokpal Bill protests. Copyright Chirag Sutar (24/05/2012)

Protesters stand in Azad Maidan, Mumbai with a banner, which reads “India is great – PS: In Corruption” during the 2012 Janlokpal Bill protests. Copyright Chirag Sutar (24/5/2012)

A news report, however, suggested that the present law was a “baby step” towards curtailing corruption. However, fewer voices on social media reflected this stance.

Some acknowledged the bill, and offered that it can be amended later.

Kamlesh tweeted:

All said, the enthusiasm of the passage of the bill was not to be seen on ground.

Kapil tweeted this image and added:

December 20 2013

Not Only Retweet Blood Donation Requests But Also Respond

Dr. Roshan Radhakrishnan at Godyears asserts the importance of donating blood and wonders about the fate of all the blood request retweets in his Twitter timeline:

Does anyone ever come to the aid of those tweets? Do you honestly know anyone who has seen a retweet and taken a break from life to go and donate blood? Because I don't… and that saddens me.

He pleas to others to respond to blood donation requests instead of providing only lip service.

Without Regulation, India's Domestic Workers Face Low Pay and Other Abuses

Nari Shakti Manch, a  women's organisation,  celebrates International Workers day 2013 with oppressed domestic workers of Gurgaon. Image by Rajeev R Singh. Copyright Demotix (8/3/2013)

Nari Shakti Manch, a women's organisation, celebrates International Workers Day 2013 with oppressed domestic workers of Gurgaon. Image by Rajeev R Singh. Copyright Demotix (8/3/2013)

The dramatic arrest of India's deputy consul in New York Devyani Khobragade on charges of visa fraud for overstating the wages of her housekeeper have thrust the plight of India's domestic workers into the spotlight. 

Khobragade allegedly lied on documents for her maid, saying that she paid the woman 9.75 US dollars an hour when she actually received about 3 dollars, far below the minimum wage. The arrest has sparked a cooling of relations between India and the US over Khobragade's treatment, which included a strip and cavity searches, while in custody.

Housekeeper Sangeeta Richard claims Khobragade made her work long hours seven days a week, until she walked away one day. Indian officials and Khobragade say the maid tried to blackmail the diplomat. In the first days of the incident, mainstream media largely focused on Khobragade's ordeal, devoting very little coverage to Richard. 

Whatever the case, the story is a familiar one. India's more than nine million domestic workers, about 20 percent of the total workforce, are an indispensable workforce vital to the country's development, but they are often deprived of many rights. Fixed minimum wage, pay for additional hours worked, maternity leave, medical care and other such basic benefits remain illusive to them in the absence of a national policy. They are vulnerable to abuse and poverty. The nature of their work, informal employee-employer relationship, and the workplace being the private household, excludes their coverage from the existing labour laws in place for workers of other industry.

In 2012, a Draft National Policy for Domestic Workers was prepared by the Labor Ministry, giving domestic workers the right to minimum wage, paid leave and regulated working hours, to be sent to the Union Cabinet for approval. The proposal was originally recommended by the National Advisory Council (NAC) in April 2009, aimed at bringing domestic workers under the umbrella of existing labor laws. However, in May 2013 the Indian government deferred the proposal, making the fate of the policy uncertain.

Vidyut at AamJanata pointed out that the rights of domestic workers in India are being ignored from all sides:

Domestic work is probably the only “job sector” in India, where the industrial revolution is never going to make an inroad, because it takes more money added to your electricity bill to use a vacuum cleaner, washing machine or dishwasher daily than to employ a maid, who can do the job better. [..]

India has signed the [International Labour Organization's] convention for rights of domestic workers in 2011, but is yet to ratify it. Calls to fix a domestic worker’s minimum wage to Rs.30 per hour have fallen on deaf ears.

Editor for India Today Gayatri Jayaraman defended the domestic worker profession:

Kamayani Bali Mahabal at Kracktvist reported that last month representatives from 42 countries, including India, came together to create the International Domestic Workers Network (IDWN), a first-ever formal federation of domestic workers.

Shashank Sahay at Mowing the Law blog discussed some ways forward to ensure the rights of domestic workers, suggesting legislation that includes domestic workers in labour law.

December 18 2013

Indian Diplomat Devyani Khobragade's Arrest, Strip Search Earn Apology from US

A diplomatic row between India and the United States following the arrest of India's deputy consul general in New York on charges of visa fraud is showing its first signs of easing.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has reportedly expressed regret in a phone call to India's National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon over how the arrest of Devyani Khobragade, who was handcuffed in public on 12 December outside of her daughter's Manhattan school, was handled. Khobragade was later put through strip and cavity searches and DNA swabbing, and detained with drug addicts and sex workers before she was released on bail for 250,000 US dollars.

Khobragade faces charges that she allegedly lied on documents about her housekeeper from India, reporting she would pay her 9.75 US dollars an hour when the woman actually received about three dollars. If convicted, she could be sentenced to up to ten years in prison.

The treatment of Khobragade was met with outrage in India. The government responded by downgrading privileges of US diplomats in India and demanding information such as the salaries paid to all Indian staff employed by the consulate and by consular employees, including domestic workers. The government also put a halt to all import clearances, including all liquor for the US embassy.

Members of India's parliament strongly condemned Khobragade's treatment. The leader of the main opposition party Bharatiya Janata Party even suggested that the country retaliate by arresting gay US diplomats in India. The Indian Supreme Court reinstated a ban on gay sex last week.

Until Kerry's apology, US authorities had promised to review procedures, but stopped short of expressing regret over the arrest, only fueling the uproar in India. 

India orders controversial measures such as removing security road blocks as a retaliation after Devyani Khobragade, a Indian diplomat, was arrested in NY. Image by Shweta Bajaj. Copyright Demotix (17/12/2013)

India orders controversial measures such as removing security barricades in front of the US embassy as a retaliation after an Indian diplomat was arrested in New York. Image by Shweta Bajaj. Copyright Demotix (17/12/2013)

Writer Rajeev Sharma highlighted the lack of logic in US law regarding diplomats in an article for news website First Post:

If the US were to implement its laws to the core with respect to all the 194 countries it has diplomatic ties with then it will have to handcuff and jail hundreds of diplomats, and that too maybe frequently. That is because the minimum wages US laws prescribe for workers hired by foreign missions happens to be more than the wages of the employer himself/herself.

The question is how can Khobragade pay her nanny $ 4500 per month when she is being paid $ 4120 per month, a point that has been stated by her father Uttam Khobragade, a retired IAS officer. It is an important point which Washington needs to take into consideration, because this is not India’s story alone.

He continued:

Khobragade has been charged with visa fraud, an allegation that is yet to be proved. Even if proven, is it a charge grave enough to handcuff a diplomat and put her into jail?

Author S. K. Shah slammed the arrest on his blog:

Disgrace and humiliation to our Diplomat, the way Devyani treated in US. The Govt of India needs to retrieve the dignity of India as a whole.

However, Sandip Roy took a closer look at the charges Khobragade is facing in an article for First Post:

As consular staff member representing India abroad, Ms Khobragade enjoys many rights. The right to a domestic help at cut-rate wages however is not one of them.

The diplomat's arrest sparked reactions on Twitter both supporting and criticizing her. Shubhashish, a journalist in London, wrote: 

Mumbai-based journalist Sudarshan Kumar tweeted:

Counsellor and photographer Smita Barooah saw the arrest as exposing the US's inconsistent rules:

Twitter user Anvesha defended Khobragade's housekeeper in light of her alleged low salary: 

Twitter user Shyam Srikumar wrote:

Meanwhile, Devyani Khobragade has been transferred to the permanent mission in New York, which entitles her to full diplomatic immunity. 

December 15 2013

Why homosexuality should be encouraged in India

Amit at Mashed Musings thinks that the decriminalization of homosexuality would have turned Indians into better humans over the coming decades and would solve a lot of problems like overpopulation, lesser dowry deaths, fewer female foeticide, etc. The Indian Supreme court recently reversed a Delhi High Court judgment and reinstated a British-era draconian law that criminalizes homosexuality.

Aam Admi Party Emerges As A Cleaner Option In Indian Politics

Supporters of Aam Aadmi Party celebrated the party's result in the Delhi Assembly elections in Allahabad. The new political party played spoiler in the race and pushed Congress into third place, according to early results. Image by Prabhat Kumar Verma. Copyright Demotix (8/12/2013)

Supporters of Aam Aadmi Party celebrated the party's result in the Delhi Assembly elections in Allahabad. The new political party played spoiler in the race and pushed Congress into third place, according to early results. Image by Prabhat Kumar Verma. Copyright Demotix (8/12/2013)

The Aam Admi Party (AAP)- or Common Man's Party – led by anti-corruption crusader Arvind Kejriwal, is challenging India's mainstream parties. During the recently concluded Delhi Assembly poll, AAP emerged as the second largest party winning 28 seats in the assembly out of a total 70 seats. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 31 and the Indian National Congress could secure only eight. The AAP success helped put an end to 15 years of Indian Congress Party rule in the Delhi state government.

Dubbed as India's pirate party, it was formed about an year ago when two anti-corruption movement (India Against Corruption) activists Arvind Kejriwal and Anna Hazare had some differences. Hazare wanted that their movement should remain politically unaligned while Kejriwal opted for a direct political involvement by creating a new party.

When the party first decided to contest for the elections and was approved the symbol of a “broom”, it was dismissed as an insignificant and inexperienced toddler party. But Vidyut at Aam Janata blog wrote before the elcetions why people should vote for the AAP:

For me the issue isn’t even corruption alone, but the inequality of power. [..] For me it isn’t a matter of who paid a bribe to whom or who did how big as scam. It is about the people having authority to speak on what their interest is. Never mind the big parties and big talk and fancy think tanks and fancier explanations. Fact of the matter is that the government’s objectives seem to move on a separate track from people. I my view, this has to change, and at least in terms of stated interest, the AAP is setting its agendas on the streets and settling them by the word of the constitution, instead of the usual setting agendas in backroom deals and settling them on the streets. This is already more than most parties offer whether elected or not.

However, Gopan K has apprehensions about AAP:

AAP is indeed a spoiler. It took a major chunk of votes from Congress and damaged it at the same time ensured that BJP is not having a sweep. The AAP themselves failed to estimate the impact they caused and it is indicating the huge expectation the people have on them. The television channels and the social media engineering helped them in the cause. The huge expectation puts a lot of pressure on the baby shoulders of AAP. They have zero administrative experience and their working plans are raw and very conceptual. It may be tough to execute in a practical way. The different could be same as an advertisement and the actual product. They have two actual risks waiting for them.

Celebration rang out from the AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) headquarters in New Delhi as polling results revealed their success. Image by  Louis Dowse. Copyright Demotix (8/12/2013)

Celebration rang out from the AAP (Aam Aadmi Party) headquarters in New Delhi as polling results revealed their success. Image by Louis Dowse. Copyright Demotix (8/12/2013)

There were strong reactions in the social media, especially Twitter.

Some celebrated the success of AAP:

Some have high hopes:

Some are apprehensive about the party's success:

A party needs at least 36 seats in the House of 70 members to form a government in Delhi. So it was predicted that Aam Admi Party could form a government with a qualition partner. However latest reports say that AAP will not form a Government at this moment. It remains to be seen what impact this party will have on Indian politics in near future.

December 13 2013

100 Awesome Things From The Indian 90′s

Blogger and SEO expert Mani Karthik takes a trip down the memory lane and lists 100 things an average Indian cherished during the 1990s.

December 11 2013

Gay Sex is Once Again Illegal, India's Supreme Court Rules

Hundreds gathered in central Delhi to protest against the Supreme Court decision toverturn a 2009 High Court ruling and instead, ruled in favour of 'Section 377,' a colonial era law which renders same sex relationships in India an illegal offense. Image by Louise Dowse. Copyright Demotix (11/12/2013)

Hundreds gathered in central Delhi to protest against the Supreme Court decision to overturn a 2009 High Court ruling, and instead rule in favour of ‘Section 377,’ a colonial era law which renders same sex relationships in India an illegal offense. Image by Louise Dowse. Copyright Demotix (11/12/2013)

In a shocking ruling, the Supreme Court of India reversed a Delhi High Court judgment and reinstated a British-era draconian law that not only criminalizes consensual gay sex, but also equates homosexuals with zoophiles and pedophiles. This verdict is seen as a major blow to gay rights in the country and also deprives Indians their rights of equality, no discrimination and personal liberty enshrined in the constitution.

However, religious parities and organizations welcomed the decision taken by the highest court of India. In 2009, Delhi High Court decriminalised homosexuality. But this new verdict by the Supreme Court says that it is up to the parliament to legislate on this issue.

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is a 153-year old colonial-era law. According to this law, same-sex relationships are an “unnatural offense” and punishable by a ten-year prison sentence. Aam Janata blog satirically listed what exactly is allowed and what not according to the Supreme Court guidelines for natural sex.

Writer Kamayani Bali Mahabal at Krativist criticized the decision:

Today, by criminalising homosexuality, the Supreme Court has taken India back, not to 2008, but way back to the 19th century. It has betrayed the trust of the millions who came out and proudly shared their sexual orientation with friends, families, employers and the society. It has whitewashed the efforts of thousands of activists who, in the four years after the 2009 verdict, strived to make public spaces like hospitals LGBT-friendly. It has whitewashed the efforts of all those who have worked with MSM groups with full support of the government and international agencies to bring down HIV cases. It has given the likes of Baba Ramdev the audacity to call 30 million people of the LGBT community “addicts” and invite them to his yoga ashram to get cured.

Blogger and activist Rita Banerji questioned whether the verdict has more of a political tone rather than ethical. Shuvajit at First Post mentioned that the ruling 377 turns an office environment into a nightmare for members of the LGBT community in a country where homosexuality is seen as a sin:

After this Supreme Court verdict, I know that personally, I would think ten times before being ‘out’ in my work place where I have to lead a team. In a professional role which demands leadership qualities and command over a team, admitting that you're gay has always been a huge drawback, irrespective of your talents or professional expertise. The Supreme Court verdict just legitimized the cause of that agony.

Aditya Nigam at Kafila blog posted a protest announcement against the SC ruling.

Shocking! Shameful!! Disgusting!!!

The Supreme Court has struck down the Delhi High Court decision decriminalizing gay sex in what might go down as the most retrograde judgement in India’s history. While the details of the Court’s reasoning are still not available, we can perhaps easily imagine what they might be. This is time of civil disobedience. Time for protest.

Assemble at Jantar Mantar at 4.30 pm, today 11 December to announce to the world that ‘We Are All Queer’. To announce that this is not a struggle of just the ‘gay-lesbian community’ but a struggle for our most fundamental rights and cherished values.

Blank Noise blog shared the press conference of gay rights advocate Gautam Bhan, who commented that “the social relevance has not been decided, its legal relevance has”:

Visvak Sen at News Laundry explained the government's position on this:

They haven’t entirely made up their minds yet. The Home Ministry thinks gay sex is immoral and a reflection of a perverse mind and that its decriminalisation would lead to moral degradation. The Health Ministry disagrees and considers Section 377 a major barrier to their efforts to prevent the spread of AIDS.

There were strong reactions on Twitter to the Supreme Court decision.

Milind Deora, the country's Minister of State, Communications, IT and Shipping, tweeted:

Karan Johar, a film director and host of Koffee with Karan, wrote:

Shabana Azmi, an activist and film actress, called it undemocratic and against human rights:

Image from the fifth annual Delhi Queer Pride Parade 2012 in central New Delhi, India. The future of this parade is uncertain after this Supreme Court Verdict. Image by  Jiti Chadha. Copyright demotix (25/11/2012)

Image from the fifth annual Delhi Queer Pride Parade 2012 in central New Delhi, India. The future of this parade is uncertain after this Supreme Court Verdict. Image by Jiti Chadha. Copyright demotix (25/11/2012)

Journalist Bukrha Dutt tweeted her conversation with leading author Vikram Seth:

Shivam Vij, Indian correspondent for CSM and co-editor of Kafila, mentioned:

Prasant Naidu at Lighthouse Insights has more reactions on Twitter.

India Loves Gold. So Why Did Actress Rima Kallingal Get Married Without It?

Earlier this year price of Gold fell considerably in India prompting people in large number to rush to Shops to buy Gold. Image by Sanjoy Karmakar. Copyright Demotix (18/4/2013)

Earlier this year, the price of gold fell considerably in India, prompting people in large numbers to rush to shops to buy the precious metal. Image by Sanjoy Karmakar. Copyright Demotix (18/4/2013)

The southwestern Indian state of Kerala has an unparalleled hunger for gold. Nicknamed “gold's own country” by the New York Times last year, the state counts for only 3 percent of the population in India, but consumes 20 percent of the country's gold every year. Some of the largest gold showrooms in Asia are found in Kerala. Newborn babies here are fed gold dust and honey as a tradition. Brides are commonly draped from head to toe in gold. 

That's why Indian movie actress Rima Kallingal, who is from Kerala, recently made waves when she married in a simple ceremony sans the precious metal. At a time when many of her fellow film stars often appear as brand ambassadors to jewelry shops, her decision made a statement.

She explained her reasoning on Facebook:

പ്രിയരെ, നവംബർ ഒന്നാം തിയതി, കേരളപിറവി ദിനത്തിൽ ഞങ്ങൾ വിവാഹിതരാവുന്ന വിവരം സസന്തോഷം അറിയിക്കട്ടെ. ഞങളുടെ മാതാപിതാക്കളുടെയും സുഹൃത്തുക്കളുടെയും സാനിദ്ധ്യത്തിൽ എറണകുളം കാക്കനാട് രെജിസ്ട്രാർ ഓഫീസിൽ ഒരു രജിസ്റ്റർ വിവാഹത്തിൽ ഒതുങ്ങും ചടങ്ങുകൾ. ബന്ധുക്കളേയും, സഹപ്രവർത്തകരെയും, സുഹൃത്തുക്കളേയും, മാധ്യമപ്രവർത്തകരേയും ക്ഷണിച്ച് വിരുന്ന് നൽകേണ്ട നാട്ടുനടപ്പുണ്ട് എങ്കിലും, തല്ക്കാലം ആ ചിലവുകൾ ഒഴിവാക്കി നിങ്ങളുടെ എല്ലാവരുടെയും പേരിൽ വിവാഹ ചിലവുകൾകായുള്ള പണം എറണകുളം സർകാർ ആശുപത്രിയിൽ അർബുദ രോഗത്തോടു മല്ലിടുന്ന സാധാരണക്കാരായ രോഗികളുടെ ചികിത്സക് വേണ്ടി കൊടുക്കുകയാണ്. ഈ തുക ഞങളുടെ രണ്ടുപേരുടെയും സിനിമയിൽ നിന്നുള്ള വരുമാനമാണ്‌. എല്ലാവരുടെയും സ്നേഹത്തിനും പിന്തുണക്കും നന്ദി പറയന്നു. എം പി. പി രാജീവിനോടും, എറണകുളം ജനറൽ ആശുപത്രിയിലെ ഡോക്റെര്മാരോടും, അതോടൊപ്പം ഞങളുടെ മനസറിഞ്ഞ് കൂടെ നിന്ന മാതാപിതാക്കളോടും സുഹൃത്തുക്കളോടും പ്രത്യേകം നന്ദി അറിയിക്കുന്നു.

സ്നേഹത്തോടെ -
റിമ കല്ലിങ്കൽ, ആഷിഖ് അബു

Actress Rima Kallingal. Image via WIkimedia Commons. CC BY-SA

Actress Rima Kallingal. Image via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA

Today, if my grandmother were alive, she would have been ecstatic to see me as a bride, but at the same time heartbroken to see me not dressed in gold from head to toe! From a very young age, I knew that I didn't want to wear so much gold for my marriage… For aesthetic reasons…

But as I grew up, the feeling grew stronger on many other levels, and today when I am getting married, I want to use this beautiful life that I have and this amazing platform that cinema has given me to send out my strong vote of protest against the dowry system that we still shamelessly and silently follow and dedicate my decision to the millions of parents who have spent their life earnings on their children's weddings!

Today, I won't be wearing a single gram of gold :)

Kerala's long history of gold

History has well documented the gold craze of many civilizations and cultures. Pharaohs, kings, emperors, and the so-called 49s of the American West all had a taste for the precious metal.

India's love for gold is much more than just investment. It has an emotional, cultural, religious and socio-political angle to it. India's love for this yellow metal dates back over 4,000 years when people of the Indus Valley first incorporated gold into jewelry. It also has a history of survival; gold was something one could keep as a reserve and could be passed on easily without any bureaucratic interference. Millions of people in India have invested in businesses or securities by pledging their gold jewelry.

People's attachment to the precious metal runs deep. Were it not for gold, the average Indian’s lot through history could have been a lot worse. That's why the story of Nirupama, a 9-year-old girl who gave up all her gold jewelry to benefit the struggle for freedom against the British in 1934 when India was still under colonial rule is still powerful.

Kerala's history with gold began when Romans traded the metal for spices. Today, more than 200,000 people in Kerala work in the gold industry, and the state is said to have more than 5,000 retailers. 

Some of the more visible evidence of this gold obsession can be seen at weddings, where brides wearing so much of the precious metal that the weight of it all can make it harder to move about gracefully are a common sight. 

‘Dowry is not just about gold’

Even though it is illegal, dowry (wealth transferred from bride's family to groom and groom's family) is not an uncommon feature of life in Kerala, though the fashion of brides wearing gold ornaments on their wedding day isn't necessarily part of the dowry custom. With the rise of dowry-related violence and deaths in India over the last decade, the tradition is a cause for concern.

Many social media users were elated at actress Rima Kallingal's decision not to wear gold during her wedding as a statement against the dowry system. 

Siya Siyaa, a woman who lives in Dubai, said she would try to pass on Kallingal's same values to her children:

Lv u reema… if it was now (my marriage) i wuld hav takn same stand.. nw i can try to instill these views in my offsprings… :)

Blogan pondered on his blog why media didn't give the actress much attention on the issue:

ഒരു ജനതയുടെ സ്വര്‍ണ്ണ ഭ്രമത്തെ ഒരു പെണ്ണ് സ്വന്തം വിവാഹം കൊണ്ട് വെല്ലുവിളിച്ചപ്പോള്‍ അത് ചര്‍ച്ച ചെയ്യാന്‍, ഇരുണ്ട ‘സ്വര്‍ണ്ണ മനസ്സുകളിലേക്ക്’ ഒരു നുറുങ്ങുവെട്ടമെങ്കിലും പകരാന്‍ അവസരം വന്നപ്പോള്‍ ‘സാമൂഹ്യ പ്രതിബദ്ധത’ മുഖ മുദ്രയാക്കി എഴുതിച്ചേര്‍ത്ത മാധ്യമ പന്നന്‍മാരൊന്നും മുന്നോട്ട് വന്നില്ല , 

അരക്ക് താഴേക്ക് അഭിരമിക്കാന്‍ ഒന്നുമില്ലാത്ത സ്ത്രീവിഷയങ്ങള്‍ ആര്‍ക്കുവേണം?
സഞ്ചരിക്കുന്ന ജ്വല്ലറികളായിക്കൊണ്ട് കല്യാണ മണ്ഡപത്തിലേക്ക് കയറിയ ചില നടിമാരുടെ വിവാഹങ്ങള്‍ ഇതേ മാധ്യമങ്ങള്‍ ആര്‍ഭാടമാക്കിയിരുന്നു എന്നുകൂടി ഓര്‍ക്കുക. 

A culture that's gold crazy should be ashamed that we didn't give much attention to Rima's stance, and the media never cared to discuss it given they salivate over every pompous wedding of the rich and famous. When every sexually exploited case is discussed to death, such a great gesture by a woman was not given any air time

A blogger only known as Film Critic wrote:

കല്യാണ ദിവസം തിരഞ്ഞെടുക്കുന്ന കാര്യം തൊട്ട് ആഷിക് – റീമ ജോടികള്‍ മലയാളിത്തവും , ലാളിത്യവും ഒരുപോലെ കാത്തുസൂക്ഷിച്ചു . എല്ലാ മതസ്ഥരും രഹസ്യമായി നാളും , മുഹൂര്‍ത്തവും നോക്കുന്ന ഇക്കാലത്ത് , മലയാളിത്തവും , കേരളീയതയും വാചകക്കസര്‍ത്തുകള്‍ മാത്രമാകുന്ന ഇക്കാലത്ത് , കേരളപ്പിറവി ദിനത്തില്‍ മുഹൂര്‍ത്തത്തിന്‍റെ തീട്ടൂരങ്ങളില്ലാതെ രണ്ടു റോസാപുഷ്പാലംകൃതമായ മാലകള്‍ പരസ്പരം അണിയിച്ച് ലളിതമായി അവര്‍ വിവാഹിതരായപ്പോള്‍ കാലാകാലങ്ങളായി നിലനില്‍ക്കുന്ന പല മാമൂലുകളും തകര്‍ന്നു വീണു .

I have many reservations about Rima and [husband] Ashiq, however they really walked the walked. With just simple rose garlands, they held a simple ceremony, which is a tremendously positive thing.

Indian Bride's typical Jewellery made of Gold. Image by Flickr user  Lokendra Nath Roy-Chowdhury. CC BY-NC-SA

Indian Bride's typical Jewellery. Image by Flickr user Lokendra Nath Roy-Chowdhury. CC BY-NC-SA

However, not all users were as delighted by the actress’ comments.

Resmi Vava, a research student at IISER-P, wrote on her Google Plus account:

സ്ത്രീധനമെന്നാല്‍ സ്വര്‍ണ്ണമെന്നു നിസ്സാര‌വത്കരിക്കുന്നതിനോടു യോജിപ്പില്ല എങ്കിലും..

Dowry is not just about gold, that's an oversimplification of the issue and I have reservations towards it. Yet, the views are interesting.

Sreebitha P. V., an assistant professor at the Central Univeristy of Karnataka, took an interesting position on the website Round Table India:

So it was not aesthetic reasons which prevented me from wearing gold. It was just that I was born in such socio-economic circumstances.

In fact, it is very easy for upper caste and upper class women like Rima to take a decision of not wearing gold for their marriage and to contribute lakhs for other causes. What about the OBCs and Dalits who cannot manage to wear gold even when they wish to do so, especially in the socio-cultural context of Kerala where gold symbolises social status! What about OBCs and Dalits who think that it is their right to gain this status by wearing gold? What about OBCs and Dalits who hopelessly believe that they can confront the casteist patriarchy by wearing gold?

Sreebitha also references the “Kallumala samaram” (stone necklace revolt) that took place in Kanjaveli, near Kollam in Kerala, where women of the lower (Pulaya caste had to fight against the upper caste to wear gold and stones.

When Indians still struggle with poor governance and a lacking social security net, and when rural areas still lack a good banking system, an investment they can even wear that brings with it the possibility of upward social mobility will remain the precious metal of choice.

December 09 2013

Jurrat – Marking First Anniversary of the Delhi Gang-rape

Jurrat wants Delhiites to reclaim the streets of Delhi.

Jurrat wants Delhiites to reclaim the streets of Delhi. Image courtesy Jurrat.

From 10-16th December Jurrat (courage), a campaign on violence against women, is marking the anniversary of the heinous Delhi gang rape. One year ago a 23-year old medical student was gang-raped in a Delhi bus.

A mobile music concert by Swaang (a Mumbai based theatre and protest music group) and Majma (a Delhi based cultural group) will be performed on a moving trailer through the streets of Delhi on 16th Dec 2013. According to the organizer Swara Bhaskar, “we want to reclaim the streets of Delhi and make them safer for all women.”

Swang made a song about Delhi incident, ‘Maa Nee Meri'.

‘Maa Nee Meri’
Mixed in every morsel,
What was that chant you kept repeating?
In the garb of concern and worry,
Why was fear the only virtue I learnt of your teaching?
Mother, I will not fear
Mother, I will not become you.
Jurrat invites peoples on the streets of Delhi on 16th December and part of their campaign.

Swara adds:

To get out on the streets of Delhi on 16th December 2013, to fight, to resist, to protest and to pledge against gender based and sexual violence.

Stop Violence Against Women

Stop Violence Against Women

November 16 2013

Tendulkar's Retirement: ‘Cricket Will Never Be the Same’

In some ways my feelings towards Tendulkar were ambivalent and they oscillated between love and dislike, depending whether he was playing against Pakistan or not! Whereas the feeling has oscillated, my respect and admiration for Tendulkar both as a great cricketer and a human have always remained constant. [...]

Today as he walked after being dismissed, and the entire stadium rose to its feet, I felt teary eyed. I grew up watching him, loathing him, admiring him and respecting him. Cricket will never be the same again and in some ways perhaps even life will never be the same again. Sachin after all is much more than a cricketer.

Raza Habib Raja at the Pak Tea House pays tribute to the ace Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar on the eve of the latter's retirement from the game.

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