Archive for the ‘Hindutva’ Category

Pity the Brahmins

January 18, 2008

A signal achievement of the Indian elite in recent years has been to take caste, give it a fresh coat of paint, and repackage it as a struggle for equality.

The agitations in the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences and other such institutions were fine examples of this. Casteism is no longer in defensive denial the way it once was. (”Oh, caste? That was 50 years ago, now it barely exists.”) Today, it asserts that caste is killing the nation–but its victims are the upper castes. And the villains are the lower orders who crowd them out of the seats and jobs long held by those with merit in their genes.

This allows for a happy situation. You can practise casteism of a visceral kind–and feel noble about it. You are, after all, standing up for equal rights, calling for a caste-free society. Truth and justice are on your side. More importantly, so are the media.

Remember how the AIIMS agitation was covered?

(more…)

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Fears of social unrest ahead as India’s rise creates new underclass

January 5, 2008

Double-edged boom hits India’s poor

Fears of social unrest ahead as country’s rise creates new underclass
From Raymond Thibodeaux in New Delhi

EVEN AMID the chaotic swarm of Delhi’s traffic, with horns blaring and trucks and buses rumbling past, Omprekash Takur’s place of business remains a bastion of stillness and calm. Which is a good thing, as Takur’s speciality is open-razor shaves.

Takur has spent nearly 10 years at this barber shop, or what passes for a barber shop: a small stretch of pavement with a rusted chair, a plastic table for his shaving kit, two pairs of scissors, a comb and a square mirror hanging from a nail driven into the trunk of a tamarind tree, its leaves darkened by soot and dust kicked up by the traffic.

“My father taught me to do this when I was seven and I’ve been doing it ever since. My teachers would beat me for skipping classes, but I enjoyed making money from cutting hair,” said the slight, dark-skinned Takur, now 27, as he loaded a fresh blade into the razor.
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India’s city streets are filled with people like Takur – barbers, ear cleaners, cobblers and tailors, a rag-tag platoon of kerbside personal assistants for the country’s urban masses. But for many of them, India’s economic rise has chipped away at their client base as a growing number of Indians are better able to afford more upmarket versions of their services at newly sprouted shopping malls.

The huge wealth being generated by India’s booming economy has been slow to trickle down to the street level, where most of the country’s 400 million workers ply their trades. Typically, they are poorly educated and semi-skilled, and toil away in a shadowy, informal economy that falls under the radar of most government controls and protections.

As India’s rises, the gap between rich and poor appears to be widening. With a 6% inflation rate, the new India seems to be backfiring on the poor, who are hardest hit by increases in the cost of basic necessities such as food and shelter. This has stoked fears of a looming social turmoil in this country of 1.1 billion people, as a growing and increasingly restive underclass is left to fend for itself as India’s economic tide turns.

“These are our electricians, our plumbers, our housemaids and our drivers. They are the backbone of our economic success, and yet they live in slums,” said Ranjana Kumari, director for the Centre of Social Research in New Delhi, a non-governmental agency focused on India’s workplace.

“There is a serious flaw in the government policies that guide our economy. There needs to be more government initiative to care for these workers and give them a bigger share of the wealth.”

So far, India’s pro-growth government has been reluctant to burden businesses with costly regulations that would do just that. And many Indian companies have been unwilling to absorb them as formal employees, who would then be entitled to the few perks already required by law: health benefits, pension plans, holidays and severance pay.

As a result, about 93% of India’s workforce remains informal and unorganised.

“Ideally, we want to formalise our entire workforce, give them pensions and health benefits and so on, but that’s going to take a long time,” said Pronab Sen, the Indian government’s chief statistician. Part of the hold-up is that more and more rural Indians are abandoning their farms and moving to urban areas to seek better jobs as rickshaw drivers, street sweepers and barbers. These workers are hard to keep track of and much harder to organise.

“The informal sector is an extremely important transition between the rural areas and the cities. It allows the people to learn different trades that are more useful and better-paying,” Sen said.

In the shade of the tamarind tree, Takur dipped his shaving brush in hot water and lathered up another scruffy face, his third in the space of an hour. He said he usually rakes in at least £3 a day, three times the daily wage of most Indians. It’s enough to support his wife and his three sons, aged six, four and two.

Asked how India’s boom had benefited him, he said: “It hasn’t.” But a client, a rickshaw taxi driver waiting his turn in the barber’s chair, pointed out that Takur had doubled his prices since last year.

“Yes, that’s true, but that is not really a benefit to me,” said Takur, using his palm to wipe shaving cream off the razor. “My supplies are costing more, so I must pass that on to my customer.”

Sunday Herald

Behind the ‘hindu growth rate’ of Gujarat, ‘wombs for rent’

January 5, 2008

ANAND: Every night in this quiet western Indian city, 15 pregnant women prepare for sleep in the spacious house they share, ascending the stairs in a procession of ballooned bellies, to bedrooms that become a landscape of soft hills.

A team of maids, cooks and doctors looks after the women, whose pregnancies would be unusual anywhere else but are common here. The young mothers of Anand, a place famous for its milk, are pregnant with the children of infertile couples from around the world.

The small clinic at Kaival Hospital matches infertile couples with local women, cares for the women during pregnancy and delivery, and counsels them afterward. Anand’s surrogate mothers, pioneers in the growing field of outsourced pregnancies, have given birth to roughly 40 babies.

More than 50 women in this city are now pregnant with the children of couples from the United States, Taiwan, Britain and beyond. The women earn more than many would make in 15 years. But the program raises a host of uncomfortable questions that touch on morals and modern science, exploitation and globalization, and that most natural of desires: to have a family.

Dr. Nayna Patel, the woman behind Anand’s baby boom, defends her work as meaningful for everyone involved.

“There is this one woman who desperately needs a baby and cannot have her own child without the help of a surrogate. And at the other end there is this woman who badly wants to help her (own) family,” Patel said. “If this female wants to help the other one … why not allow that? … It’s not for any bad cause. They’re helping one another to have a new life in this world.”

Experts say commercial surrogacy _ or what has been called “wombs for rent” _ is growing in India. While no reliable numbers track such pregnancies nationwide, doctors work with surrogates in virtually every major city. The women are impregnated in-vitro with the egg and sperm of couples unable to conceive on their own.

Commercial surrogacy has been legal in India since 2002, as it is in many other countries, including the United States. But India is the leader in making it a viable industry rather than a rare fertility treatment. Experts say it could take off for the same reasons outsourcing in other industries has been successful: a wide labor pool working for relatively low rates.

Critics say the couples are exploiting poor women in India _ a country with an alarmingly high maternal death rate _ by hiring them at a cut-rate cost to undergo the hardship, pain and risks of labor.

“It raises the factor of baby farms in developing countries,” said Dr. John Lantos of the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City, Missouri. “It comes down to questions of voluntariness and risk.”

Patel’s surrogates are aware of the risks because they’ve watched others go through them. Many of the mothers know one another, or are even related. Three sisters have all borne strangers’ children, and their sister-in-law is pregnant with a second surrogate baby. Nearly half the babies have been born to foreign couples while the rest have gone to Indians.

Ritu Sodhi, a furniture importer from Los Angeles who was born in India, spent US$200,000 (euro138,910) trying to get pregnant through in-vitro fertilization, and was considering spending another US$80,000 (euro55,563) to hire a surrogate mother in the United States.

“We were so desperate,” she said. “It was emotionally and financially exhausting.”

Then, on the Internet, Sodhi found Patel’s clinic. After spending about US$20,000 (euro13,890) _ more than many couples because it took the surrogate mother several cycles to conceive _ Sodhi and her husband are now back home with their 4-month-old baby, Neel. They plan to return to Anand for a second child.

“Even if it cost $1 million (euro690,000), the joy that they had delivered to me is so much more than any money that I have given them,” said Sodhi. “They’re godsends to deliver something so special.”

Patel’s center is believed to be unique in offering one-stop service. Other clinics may request that the couple bring in their own surrogate, often a family member or friend, and some place classified ads. But in Anand the couple just provides the egg and sperm and the clinic does the rest, drawing from a waiting list of tested and ready surrogates.

Young women are flocking to the clinic to sign up for the list. Suman Dodia, a pregnant, baby-faced 26-year-old, said she will buy a house with the US$4,500 (euro3,125) she receives from the British couple whose child she’s carrying. It would have taken her 15 years to earn that on her maid’s monthly salary of US$25 (euro17).

Dodia’s own three children were delivered at home and she said she never visited a doctor during those pregnancies.

“It’s very different with medicine,” Dodia said, resting her hands on her hugely pregnant belly. “I’m being more careful now than I was with my own pregnancy.”

Patel said she carefully chooses which couples to help and which women to hire as surrogates. She only accepts couples with serious fertility issues, like survivors of uterine cancer. The surrogate mothers have to be between 18 and 45, have at least one child of their own, and be in good medical shape.

Like some fertility reality show, a rotating cast of surrogate mothers live together in a home rented by the clinic and overseen by a former surrogate mother. They receive their children and husbands as visitors during the day, when they’re not busy with English or computer classes.

“They feel like my family,” said Rubina Mandul, 32, the surrogate house’s den mother. “The first 10 days are hard, but then they don’t want to go home.”

Mandul, who has two sons of her own, gave birth to a child for an American couple in February. She said she misses the baby, but she stays in touch with the parents over the Internet. A photo of the American couple with the child hangs over the sofa.

“They need a baby more than me,” she said. The surrogate mothers and the parents sign a contract that promises the couple will cover all medical expenses in addition to the woman’s payment, and the surrogate mother will hand over the baby after birth. The couples fly to Anand for the in-vitro fertilization and again for the birth. Most couples end up paying the clinic less than US$10,000 (euro6,945) for the entire procedure, including fertilization, the fee to the mother and medical expenses.

Counseling is a major part of the process and Patel tells the women to think of the pregnancy as “someone’s child comes to stay at your place for nine months.”

Kailas Gheewala, 25, said she doesn’t think of the pregnancy as her own.

“The fetus is theirs, so I’m not sad to give it back,” said Gheewala, who plans to save the US$6,250 (euro4,340) she’s earning for her two daughters’ education. “The child will go to the U.S. and lead a better life and I’ll be happy.”

Patel said none of the surrogate mothers has had especially difficult births or serious medical problems, but risks are inescapable.

“We have to be very careful,” she said. “We overdo all the health investigations. We do not take any chances.”

Health experts expect to see more Indian commercial surrogacy programs in coming years. Dr. Indira Hinduja, a prominent fertility specialist who was behind India’s first test-tube baby two decades ago, receives several surrogacy inquiries a month from couples overseas.

“People are accepting it,” said Hinduja. “Earlier they used to be ashamed but now they are becoming more broadminded.”

But if commercial surrogacy keeps growing, some fear it could change from a medical necessity for infertile women to a convenience for the rich.

“You can picture the wealthy couples of the West deciding that pregnancy is just not worth the trouble anymore and the whole industry will be farmed out,” said Lantos.

Or, Lantos said, competition among clinics could lead to compromised safety measures and “the clinic across the street offers it for 20 percent less and one in Bangladesh undercuts that and pretty soon conditions get bad.”

The industry is not regulated by the government. Health officials have issued nonbinding ethical guidelines and called for legislation to protect the surrogates and the children.

For now, the surrogate mothers in Anand seem as pleased with the arrangement as the new parents.

“I know this isn’t mine,” said Jagrudi Sharma, 34, pointing to her belly. “But I’m giving happiness to another couple. And it’s great for me.”

Economic Times

Hindutva states issued ‘ghost’cards for Public Distribution System

December 22, 2007

Rot in PDS: Over 2 cr ghost cards

NEW DELHI: It has been one of India’s worst kept secrets. But now, a recent study has put the number of “ghost” public distribution system cards at a staggering 2.3 crore and, what is even more damning, revealed that as many as 1.21 crore “deserving” poor have been left out of the food security umbrella.

So, the PDS or the “ration card” scam is actually a massive double whammy. Not only do a huge number of fake cards point to diversion of the PDS subsidized foodgrain, but the leaking system is bypassing those who are in dire need of state support. While the government is importing foodgrain to maintain buffer stocks, the delivery system is falling wide off the mark.

The study, conducted by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), has provided evidence to confirm what senior ministers like P Chidambaram and Sharad Pawar have been claiming — that foodgrain is being diverted to the black market and may even be smuggled into Bangladesh.

A back of the envelope calculation shows the economic dimensions of the PDS fiddle. If the entitlement to 35kg of foodgrain, comprising wheat and rice, for every family under PDS is taken into account, the ghost cards can represent a potential diversion of 966 crore tonnes of foodgrain each year.

There is a very real fallout of the ghost cards despite the NCAER report, even in the face of its own findings, claiming the system is working “quite satisfactorily”. The finance minister, for one, certainly does not agree. On Wednesday, Chidambaram told the National Development Council that PDS “could become an albatross around our neck and an opportunity for rent seekers to enrich themselves… about 58% of subsidised grain does not reach the target group, of which a little over 36% is siphoned off the supply chain”.

Various other reports, commissioned by the Supreme Court and government, seem to have been validated by the recent NCAER data. The study looks to make things a little less bleak by not accounting for the ghost cards when calculating the extent of diversion. But the 2.3 crore figure cannot be wished away. Uttar Pradesh has issued 1.11 crore more cards than it should have, NCAER feels. Rajasthan has an excess 24 lakh cards and Gujarat and Haryana have more than 10 lakh ghost cards each. A ghost card can be used either by an undeserving beneficiary to buy cheap grain or just be diverted. In either case, the purpose of PDS to provide nutritional security to the poor is defeated.

The report found that the rich had been given the lowest income group ration cards — AAY cards — in 70% of the cases in the Northeast and in 30-35% of the cases in other states.

Even people who got their PDS supply of wheat and rice did not pay the stipulated price. In the six states that NCAER surveyed, not once in the six months of the study’s duration did people purchase grain at the fixed rate. In Rajasthan, the people paid at times 35% more than the prescribed rate for wheat, the staple diet in the state.

This is a sign of not only rampant corruption but also puts the cheap foodgrain out of reach of those who need it as some people complained that they couldn’t afford the rations even at subsidized rates. The “premium” introduced by unscrupulous Fair Price Shop owners is bound to make the really poor more vulnerable.

Of the six states surveyed, the study found Bihar to be worst off. Almost 90% households in case of rice and 70% in case of wheat complained of impurity, insect-infested supply and broken grain.

22 Dec 2007, Nitin Sethi,TNN

More than 15 million rural household in India are landless

December 22, 2007

NEW DELHI: More than 15 million rural households in India are landless. Another 45 million rural families own some land, less than 0.10 acre each, which is hardly enough to make them self- sufficient, let alone generate a profit.

To benefit landless farm workers and small farmers, most States either prohibit or restrict renting of farmland. Where the law prohibits tenancy, the practice continues informally with the illegal tenants receiving no recognition or protection under the law.

In a research done by the Washington-based Rural Development Institute (RDI), it has been found that rental restrictions have backfired and are preventing poor families from accessing land.
Livelihood benefits

Plots larger than 1,300 square feet generally provide the most economic and social benefits per square foot. Functionally landless, agricultural labourer families which own a plot typically derive important livelihood benefits such as improved nutrition (microfield plots averaging 0.18 acre and ranging from 0.07 to 0.38 acre provided approximately 18 to 91 per cent of the families’ grain requirements), income, place for residence, enhanced social status and access to credit, and bargaining leverage in labour markets.

The survey suggests that 340 million people in India are dependent largely on agricultural wage labour, $1 or less a day.

Global research shows that landlessness is the best predicator of poverty in India — a much better predicator than either illiteracy or membership of a traditionally “untouchable” caste.

Obtaining property rights can positively impact women’s lives, including increasing physical and economic security, and enhancing wellbeing and status in marriage and community.
Domestic violence

A cessation of domestic violence can be traced (at least in part) to the receipt of property rights in some cases, says the survey.

The RDI is working with non-governmental organisations and government partners for changing policy and legislation to require that land be granted jointly to husbands and wives or independently to women.
Women empowered

Owning land, women are empowered and income is more likely to improve the welfare of the family.

West Bengal, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh recently budgeted over $11 million to provide landless families with microplots, on which they can build shelter and cultivate a home garden for family diet and income.

http://www.rdiland.org/

World Bank debars 2 firms in Indian child health project

December 21, 2007

WASHINGTON: In its global fight against corruption, the World Bank has debarred two firms for alleged collusive practices in connection with the Bank-financed Reproductive and Child Health Project in India.

The two firms, Nestor Pharmaceuticals Ltd and Pure Pharma Ltd were debarred for a period of three years and one year respectively after a sanctions hearing in fiscal year 2007, according to a new Bank report.

The hearing followed approval by the World Bank Group Board of a broad new set of reforms to the Bank’s sanctions regime in fiscal year 2007 that will help ensure uniform compliance with the highest ethical standards in all aspects of Bank-financed projects around the world, the Annual Integrity Report said.

The World Bank’s Department of Institutional Integrity (INT) also undertook a Detailed Implementation Review or DIR of five projects across the Bank Group’s health portfolio in India, which is to be completed and provided to the region in financial year 2008.

INT, the report said, has greatly increased its use of DIR, which is a proactive diagnostic tool that uses forensic accounting and investigative techniques to examine Bank projects in a given country for indicators of fraud and corruption. INT completed two DIRs in fiscal year 2007 in Kenya and Vietnam.

INT made significant contributions to the global fight against corruption in fiscal year 2007, with a 25 per cent increase in closed investigations from the previous fiscal year.

It also launched a voluntary disclosure programme to deter private-sector corruption, and reached agreement on a coordinated approach to rooting out corruption among the international financial institutions.

“Corruption is a cancer that steals from the poor, eats away at governance and moral fibre, and destroys trust,” said World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick. “The challenge for the World Bank is how best to diagnose, determine, and clean out corruption in concert with developing and developed countries.”

According to the report, “Improving Development Outcomes: Fiscal Year 2007 Annual Integrity Report”, INT closed a total of 301 cases in fiscal Year 2007 ended June 30.

These included both cases of fraud and corruption in Bank-financed projects and cases of alleged staff misconduct, an increase of 60 cases from fiscal year 2006. In addition, the total carryover of open cases into fiscal year 2008 was 232, a decrease of 62 cases (21 per cent) from the fiscal year 2006 backlog and the lowest year-end total since fiscal year 2002.

Economic Times, 20 Dec 2007 

Indian arrested in Cambodia for fraud

December 21, 2007

 PHNOM PENH: An Indian businessman in Cambodia has been arrested for tampering with manufacturing dates of medicines and reselling them, local media reported on Wednesday.

Indian national Kartik Sayay, director of Pragya Co Ltd, was arrested at his home in this capital city on Monday, Municipal Economic Police Chief Pich Pannha was quoted as saying by Rasmei Kampuchea newspaper.

The daily said he faced court a day later and was remanded in custody after police allegedly found equipment for repackaging medicine under fake names and stamping false expiry dates.

If convicted he might face a jail term of between 10 and 20 years. Fake and falsely labelled medicines kill a number of people in Cambodia every year and the government has increasingly acted to combat the problem.

20 Dec 2007, IANS

Hindu millionaire couple punished for slavery

December 20, 2007

Slave pair punished
20/12/2007

A  hindu millionaire couple who enslaved their two servants have lost their £1.3million mansion as well as their liberty.

Varsha Sabhnani, 45, and her husband were told their home could also be seized because they committed their crimes there.

The pair, from Indonesia and India but naturalised Americans in Long Island, New York, face up to 40 years in jail after they paid the housemaids £50 a month, slashed them with knives and made them eat their vomit.

Sabhnani said: “I’m devastated. It will take me away from my children.”

Puri priests demand ban on entry of ISKCON monks

December 20, 2007

PURI: Firing another salvo against ISKCON monks, nearly hundred priests of Sri Jagannath Temple here sat on a dharna on Thursday demanding a ban on the entry of converted Hindus into the 12th century shrine.

In a memorandum to Sri Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA), Sri Jagannath Sevayat Sammilanee (SJSS) said only “Hindus by birth” should be allowed into the temple, one of the four important dhams for Hindus in the country.

Earlier last week, the priests had criticised ISKCON for holding “untimely” Rath Yatra and display of the Lord’s picture on the website of an American online shopping outlet.

Samilanee Secretary, Harehrushna Mahasuar, said a number of foreigners under the cover of ISKCON were trying to enter the temple. “Though their passports showed they were Hindus, in reality they hailed from other religious groups,” he claimed.

Citing two recent incidents in which the priests drove out nine Indonesian nationals from the temple, Mahasuar said they were Hindus on paper. But they were converts. “We are sure that they had changed religion in order to get an entry into the Puri temple which is a dream for many,” he claimed.

The priests also expressed their anguish over the police act of facilitating the Indonesian nationals to enter the temple.

“We allowed them to enter the temple as their religion was Hindu according to their passports,” said Puri Superintendent of Police Asit Panigrahi.

20 Dec 2007, 1550 hrs IST,PTI

Cops to enlist ex-bad guys to nab criminals

December 19, 2007

Lucknow, India – Indian police are betting there is no honour among thieves.

Police said on Tuesday they are co-opting former criminals to give up trade secrets to help stem a massive crime wave that has hit the city of Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, a notoriously lawless state in northern India.

“Who knows the mind-set of criminals better than the one who, himself, had ruled the dark alleys of crime?” Kanpur police chief Anand Swaroop said.

Swaroop said the plan entailed identifying once habitual criminals who are no longer active and asking them for their insights into today’s delinquents.

Twelve convicts have so far agreed to take part, and they will initially receive a monthly retainer of 1 000 rupees (about R150) that could increase depending on how useful they are, he said.At least 32 murders and thefts worth 250 million rupees or more have taken place in the last three months in Kanpur, an industrial city some 80 kilometres southeast of the state capital, Lucknow, according to police statistics.

State police chief Shiv Narain Singh praised the initiative, saying if it went well it could help former criminals reintegrate into society.

“This perhaps is the best way for them to repent for the crimes they have committed in their youth,” he said.

December 18 2007 at  Sapa-AP