48 underage girls have been rescued from the ashrams of a ‘godman’ in Delhi

NEW DELHI — On a recent Thursday, an emotional family reunion played out in a Delhi courtroom. A weeping 32-year-old woman embraced the sister she had barely seen in 14 years. The meeting, as recalled by the older sibling, was an emotional high point in an unfolding investigation into a ­secretive religious sect that has shocked this country.

At least 48 underage girls have been rescued in police raids on the sect’s ashrams in New Delhi since Dec. 19, officials say. Officials say they have found women and girls kept in prisonlike conditions, behind barbed wire and multiple locked gates. Authorities say there are hundreds more properties and potentially thousands of women and girls living in them.

The sect, Adhyatmik Vishwa Vidyalaya (AVV), preaches that its leader is an incarnation of various Hindu gods and has descended to Earth to unite people of all faiths and transform them into deities. Little is known about the sect’s origins or its leader, Virendra Dev Dixit, though followers say it is an offshoot of Brahma Kumaris — a large, international sect with more than three dozen centers in the United States and millions of followers worldwide. Brahma Kumaris distanced itself from Dixit’s organization and denounced it decades ago.

AVV came under scrutiny after three families filed a case in Delhi’s High Court saying that their female relatives had vanished after joining the sect. The 32-year-old is from one of those families. She told The Washington Post that she was raped by Dixit at the sect’s headquarters in June 2000, while taking a summer religion course as a teenager. Then, three years later, she said, her parents “surrendered” her youngest sister to the sect. Since then, the woman has tried repeatedly to contact her sister, now 25, and have her released.

“I would never have told anyone all this if my sister wasn’t in there,” she said. 
The Washington Post does not identify victims of sexual assault, and the 32-year-old’s identity is also shielded by Indian law protecting rape victims. 

The sect issued a statement saying that the investigation is part of a “defamatory campaign” and that “no activity detrimental to female devotees or to any other members of the society is conducted in the Vidyalaya.”
Dixit’s whereabouts are unknown. It was not possible to further corroborate the woman’s story. 

Dixit claims to be an incarnation of, among others, the Hindu god Krishna, who according to myth has 16,000 wives. Swati Maliwal, chairwoman of Delhi’s government agency for women’s affairs, said that investigators found 200 women and girls in miserable conditions.

“The ashram has been running illegal activities,” Maliwal said. Investigators, she said, found substances that induce dizziness along with unprescribed medicines, which may have been used to drug and pacify women. She also said religious texts found during a raid instruct women to “surrender” their bodies to Dixit.

Maliwal accompanied police on the Dec. 19 raid on one of AVV’s flagship ashrams in a rundown neighborhood in northwest Delhi. She described the main building as a “fortress,” with multiple locked gates and barbed wire. She recounted finding a room full of medicines, unlabeled substances and syringes, suitcases full of devotional letters written by the sect’s women to Dixit, and books and posters that describe Dixit as a god. 

“All the girls appeared to be in a trance,” Maliwal said. 

Authorities removed 41 minors from the facility. Court documents say that at least 168 adult women remain at the site, and 25 adult men live in an annex. 
Investigators said in court documents that the women lived in “animal-like conditions” and that many were in poor health and appeared to be under the influence of narcotics.
Maliwal said ashram workers told investigators that the women had chosen to remain. The court’s order to search the premises did not give investigators the authority to remove adults without their consent, she said. 

Two days after the initial raid, the sect’s lawyer brought the 32-year-old woman’s sister to court on the instructions of a judge. It was a highly charged moment.

The sisters had not seen each other since 2007, and their last meeting had been closely supervised by the sect’s senior followers, according to the older sibling. She described her joy at seeing her younger sister. “I asked her, ‘Can I hug you?’ And I stuck to her. I couldn’t stop crying,” she said.

And then, the younger woman returned to the sect.

The older woman, who took a sabbatical from work to fight for her sister’s release, said she believes her 25-year old sibling is suffering from years of emotional trauma and will eventually leave the sect. 
“I am a very good counselor,” she said. “I can get the fear out of her head. I can give her a lot of love and make her okay.”

The AVV case comes months after the rape conviction of another popular guru, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. The sect’s long existence, despite at least 10 complaints to police over the years, illustrates the unaccountability of holy men in India, where religious leaders have huge financial and political power.

The inquiry into AVV offers hope to hundreds of families with relatives in the sect. Police across northern India are raiding other ashrams associated with Dixit. In Delhi, Maliwal said, five of at least eight ashrams have been searched by authorities. But many of the sect’s ashrams are in unknown locations.
A sign outside the sect’s headquarters reads, “God Fatherly Spiritual University,” a loose English translation of the sect’s name. Neighbors said that they rarely talk to the sect’s members, and that truckloads of food and other materials are delivered every week. People inside never appear at the building’s windows or balconies, all reinforced with metal grills. Sounds of televised spiritual broadcasts start blaring from the building around 2:30 a.m. every day, the neighbors said.

Sporadically, relatives of the residents come and cry outside the building, demanding that their daughters be released, a neighbor said.

“People come, they shout insults, they cry, they bang on the door, they roam up and down the streets, sometimes they stay for days, and then they leave,” said Rajesh Goyal, who lives across the street.

Courtesy: Washington post

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India"s economy in "downward spiral." What did Modi get wrong?

Growth in the South Asian nation fell during the first six months of 2017 from 7% to 5.7%, its slowest pace in three years, and analysts say the road to recovery is steep.

"We're on a downward spiral," said Mohan Guruswamy, head of the Center for Policy Alternatives in Delhi, and a former official at India's finance ministry.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi swept into power in 2014, promising to take India's economy to new heights. But many reforms have yet to materialize and some changes that have been enacted are hurting growth.
Modi defended his performance in a speech Wednesday, claiming his government had helped several industries.
"It is true that there has been a reduction in growth, but it is also true that the government is fully committed to reversing this trend," he said. "Our fundamentals are strong."
A double whammy
India is still reeling from two shocks within 12 months -- Modi's sudden ban last November of 86% of the country's cash, and a sweeping overhaul of the tax system aimed at turning the country's 29 states into a single market.
The cash ban "was a massive blow, just when the economy looked at a point of inflection last year and the decline had started leveling off," Guruswamy said.
Modi's signature reform -- a national goods and services tax implemented in July -- has been widely hailed as a positive step because it should simplify business in the long run. But the implementation caused major disruption.
"My fear was that if people didn't understand how to do the tax system, then they would stop doing business with one another," said Shailesh Kumar, South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group. "You did see some of companies didn't really know what to do."
The government has said it expected a growth slowdown, but appears to have been blindsided by the sharp drop.
Top financial institutions are worried that the economy will struggle to regain its momentum in the near term. The central bank has just slashed its growth forecast for the current fiscal year to 6.7% from 7.3%.
"The implementation of the [tax reform] appears to have rendered short-term prospects uncertain," Reserve Bank of India Governor Urjit Patel told reporters.
The State Bank of India, which is owned by the government, was more blunt. The slowdown, it said in a report last month, is "not short term in nature or even transient."
Modi's not delivering
Analysts, business leaders and even members of Modi's own party are now questioning his stewardship of the economy, not just because of the upheaval his changes have caused but also over reforms that aren't happening.
"High on the list of priorities is pushing through measures to ease land acquisition laws and liberalize the labor market," analysts at Capital Economics wrote in a recent note. "But there is no clear indication yet that Prime Minister Modi actually has the conviction to push ahead with necessary but unpopular reforms."
There have also been calls for an overhaul of the banking system. About 12% of total loans have gone bad, according to official data.
Yashwant Sinha, a former finance minister and senior member of Modi's party, wrote an opinion article slamming the "mess" that the Indian economy is in. "A hard landing appears inevitable," Sinha said.
Beef and beer bans
Rising Hindu nationalism, stoked by Modi's right-wing party, is also hurting some parts of the economy.
In May, the government banned the sale of cows -- an animal considered sacred by the country's Hindu majority -- for slaughter, sending the meat industry into a frenzy.
While the ban was suspended by India's Supreme Court in July, the policy confusion has had a chilling effect. India exports vast quantities of buffalo meat. Those exports have declined this year, according to local media.
Cattle that once provided a vital source of additional income for millions of India's rural poor have now become liabilities because farmers fear they will be unable to sell them to the meat and leather industry, Guruswamy said.
Hindu nationalists have "completely unleashed a reign of terror as far as cattle are concerned," he added.
India's Supreme Court dealt the economy another blow in April, banning the sale of alcohol within 500 meters (546 yards) of national highways. Some estimates put the hospitality industry's potential losses at $10 billion.
The court eased the restrictions in August, but many within the industry said they had already lost millions. Diageo (DEO), the company behind brands like Johnnie Walker and Smirnoff, said the India ban would dent sales growth.
Some of India's top trading partners are taking note.
"The space for civil society in India continues to shrink as Hindu nationalism rises," Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said on Tuesday.
Corker, who was speaking during a hearing to nominate a new U.S. ambassador to India, also expressed disappointment at the state of the economy.
"In particular, I remain frustrated by the slow pace of Indian reforms in the economic sphere," he said.
Millions of new jobs needed
Modi faces an uphill struggle to steady the ship. The most pressing challenge, experts say, is to create the jobs he promised India's large young population.
Around 12 million Indians enter the workforce every year, but struggle to find employment.
"Poor quality data makes it difficult to put a number on the job woes, but the available data is grim and news stories about jobs losses abound," Ruchir Sharma, chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley, wrote in the Times of India newspaper on Wednesday.
Over 1.5 million Indians lost their jobs in the first half of 2017, according to a study by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, and unemployment is on the rise.

Credit: Yahoo news- CNNMoney (New Delhi)

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Why India rapist guru remains "god" for followers ?

In amongst all the coverage of the spectacular downfall of the self-styled Indian "godman", Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, one voice has been absent: that of his many hundreds of thousands of devoted followers.

His claim to have 60 million devotees around the world is probably an exaggeration, but there is no doubt that a huge number of people draw inspiration from this man who claimed to be a divine being.
"He is like my parents, in fact more than my parents," Saroj Yadav told me as we sat in her family's large house on the outskirts of Sirsa, a town in the northern Indian state of Haryana, where guru Ram Rahim's vast headquarters complex, or "Dera", is based.
The mother of three was visibly upset as we talked about the role the guru has played in her life and that of her large extended family.
"I have been a follower for 25 years. Three generations of my family have been his followers. I sent my children to the school and colleges in the Dera," she told me.
Guru Ram Rahim's devotees became notorious worldwide after thousands of them went on the rampage when he was convicted on Friday of two charges of rape. They attacked media vehicles and official buildings, and torched trains, buses and railway stations.
Violence spilled out across north India, and in the battle with the police that followed, almost 40 people were killed and more than 200 injured.
Saroj shakes her head sadly when I mention the unrest. These were a tiny minority of renegades, she insists. She says her family, like the vast majority of the guru's other devotees, are ashamed of their actions.
"He taught us to serve other people," she explains. "He gives accommodation to poor people to live, helps them a lot."
The guru's true followers would never become involved in violence, she says.
Her son, Sonu Yadav agrees. "Babaji [roughly translating to respected father] gave us moral values and taught us how to live like good human beings. He taught us meditation."
Guru Ram Rahim was born a Sikh but now dubs himself the "Messenger of God" or simply "MSG", and claims he is a "Reverend Saint".
I picked up a copy of one of the sect's magazines when I was inside the temple complex on the weekend. It claims the guru's "fans and followers don't belong to a particular religion, caste, colour, creed or community."
"Saint MSG," the magazine boasts, "is equally loved and welcomed by Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians."
Many of his followers, including the Yadav family, believe he possesses magical powers.
"His powers protect us from any anticipated troubles that try to come our way," Saroj explains. "He has saved us from a lot of troubles."
"The guru mantra that we chant gives us immense confidence and strengthens our soul - that's nothing short of a magical," adds her son. "Sometimes we manage to escape situations like road accidents and all because of babaji's blessings."
Sonu recounts how a few years back his father suffered a stroke, losing movement down one side of his body. The family rushed him to a big hospital in the nearest city.
"As soon as we reached the operation theatre for the surgery," he recalls, "the doctors sent him back and declared him fit. What more evidence can be there for his magical powers?"
The gentle, saintly figure the family describes is very different from guru Ram Rahim's larger-than-life public persona, I suggest.
The so-called "baba of bling" may encourage modesty and self-sacrifice among his followers but he lived an unashamedly glamorous lifestyle.
Guru Ram Rahim starred in his own movies and boasted that, among his many talents, he was a spiritual saint, a writer, a musician, a sportsman, an agriculturalist, a singer, a director, a scientist, a feminist, a youth icon and the holder of a number of Guinness World Records, including for the largest ever greetings card mosaic, which measured 398.42 sq-m (1,307 sq-ft).
But the Yadavs say his flamboyant persona was an attempt to reach out to young people.
"He decided to appeal to the youth through the medium of films to give them moral teachings," says Sonu.
"A saint's purpose is to give good lessons to the public - it doesn't matter what medium they use. He just wants to make this world a better place."
But what about his conviction on these two charges of rape, I ask. Hasn't that undermined their devotion?
The entire family shakes their heads.
"We have complete faith in our guru," says Sonu. "This is a conspiracy by the politicians to get our votes. The verdict has been handed out based on an anonymous letter and is wrong. Everyone knows what the truth is."
His mother agrees. "I was deeply hurt by this verdict," Saroj tells me, tears welling in her eyes. "All the allegations are false."
"There is no question of us giving up hope," insists Sonu. "I know guruji [respected guru] as well as I know my own family. We will always follow the path shown by him."
"He is more than a god to us," says his mother. "I believe he will make a comeback. Truth will prevail in the end. I will never lose hope. I will keep visiting the Dera. We know he will be back there. His blessings are always with us."
"So what if he is in jail?" adds Saroj defiantly.
"A guru is always a guru."

Content Shared from BBC

Justin Rowlatt, South Asia correspondent (BBC)

Justin RowlattSouth Asia correspondent

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India rapist guru: "wild beast", Judge

Judge Jagdeep Singh said in his order that Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh's assault of his disciples was "custodial rape" and he "deserved maximum punishment".

The self-styled holy man was found guilty of sexually assaulting two female followers from 1999 to 2002.

Prosecutors had called for a life sentence.

A lawyer for the victims said "40-50 women" had come forward with allegations of rape and they would be seeking further investigation in the case.

Apart from the rape charges against him, Ram Rahim Singh denies charges of murder in two cases due to be heard next month.

Ram Rahim Singh's followers turned violent and 38 people were killed after his conviction on Friday. To deliver his judgement on Monday, the judge was flown to the prison where the self-styled holy man was lodged.

In a strongly-worded order, Judge Singh said the convict deserved the "maximum punishment" because he had "projected himself as a Godman and taken undue advantage of his position and authority", the BBC's Geeta Pandey reports from Delhi.

"The victims put the convict on the pedestal of 'god' and revered him. However, the convict committed breach of the gravest nature by sexually assaulting such gullible and blind followers," the order read.

Controversial leader of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect, which claims to have 60 million followers around the world
Took over the sect - which describes itself as "a non-profit social welfare and spiritual organisation" - when he was 23
Performs at rock concerts, acts in films and even has his own line of food products
Known as "rockstar baba" and "guru of bling" because of his shiny, colourful clothes
Has been accused of mocking Sikh and Hindu figures
Has been investigated for murder and rape, charges he denies
Has been accused of forcing followers to undergo castration to "get closer to god"
As Ram Rahim Singh was "a very influential figure", the judge said "he must be sentenced appropriately to send a deterring message for potential offenders".

"Awarding lesser than maximum punishment would shock the collective conscience of the nation," he added.

Ram Rahim Singh's lawyers had argued in the court that he should be let off with a milder sentence because he was "suffering from hypertension, acute diabetes and severe backache" and that he was "a law abiding citizen" who was "engaged in social works of varied nature" and ran hospitals and other welfare works for the benefit of the people.

The judge, in the end, rejected his appeal, saying "when the convict did not even spare his own pious disciples and acted like a wild beast, he did not deserve any mercy".

Courtesy: BBC News

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These Indians are treated like "outcasts" in their own country

As India celebrates another Independence Day, here are still millions of residents who still live like outcasts, refugees and outsiders in their own country. We look at some of the categories of people, who still struggle to lead a respectable life.
Talk about crimes against women, and India has covered almost the entire spectrum.

It would be a rare Indian woman who has never faced any of these during her lifetime: eve-teasing and groping, physical and sexual abuse, menstrual taboo and personal commentary, acid throwing, restrictions on education, forced marriage, dowry demands, pressure to abort her female unborn and/ or deliver a male heir, trafficking and slavery, unhygienic and disrespectful sanitary conditions; and overall discrimination at domestic, social, legal, institutional and professional levels.

On an average, 93 women are raped in India every day. There were 33,707 ‘reported cases’ in 2013 alone.
A few more shameful facts, as revealed by the TrustLaw/ Thomson Reuters Foundation:

* 100 million people, mostly women and girls, are involved in trafficking

* Up to 50 million girls are “missing” over the past 100 years due to female infanticide and foeticide

* 44.5 percent of girls are married before the age of 18

* And if you want more numbers to drop your jaws, click here

While they are still fighting social and religious taboos, more than 2.5 million homosexuals in India face the grim potential of going to jail.

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) dating back to 1861 makes homosexual sex punishable by law and carries a ten-year sentence.

Don’t rub your eyes in disbelief. You read it right.

1861. That is ‘one year before’ the death of India’s last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, ‘eight years before’ the birth of Mahatma Gandhi and a shocking ‘fifty years before’ Delhi became India’s capital.

For a country that boasts adherence to the constitutional principles of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity, it is ironical that 67 years after the India’s independence, 0.2 percent citizens do not have a right to love and express it legitimately.

For a ‘developing country’, acceptance has its economic advantages as well.

Homophobia is costing the country a whopping $30.8 billion (Rs 1,88,342 crore), or more than a percent of the country’s GDP.

If you are a sportsperson playing anything other than cricket, our heart reaches out to you.

There is no public acclaim, financial security and blissful stability for majority of the sportspersons in India.

From selling plastic bags in fish markets, to being thrown off a running train, our national-level sportspersons have endured it all.

The ‘Premier Leagues’ might have provided instant stardom for a select few – but in the absence of sustained support systems – our desi sports may soon become history.

By the way, just wondering: when was the last time Sachin Tendulkar or Mahendra Singh Dhoni used the public transport?

When Amitabh Bachchan inadvertently referred to the ‘Manipuri’ Mary Kom as ‘Assamese’, he was just being any other Indian.

His tweet perfectly reflected the ignorance that millions of his countrymen still share about India’s North East.

Once upon a time, the region was an important hub, intimately close to India’s capital of Calcutta (Kolkata).

Gradually, India’s ‘Paradise Unexplored’ was flung into neglect, its children facing racial attacks due to their distinct culture and features.

The latest Kaun Banega Crorepati ad, is both poignant and poetically just.

Poignant, because it highlights the pain of the North-Eastern people.

Poetically just, because Amitabh Bachchan’s admitting smile sort of seeks apology for his past faux pas.

You think you know better than Bachchan? Then answer this rapid-fire question: ‘Name the ‘Seven Sisters and the their capitals without fumbling.’

Of the total 5,000 honour killings worldwide every year, 1,000 cases occur in India.

All it takes is for a few chauvinist men in families or village councils to issue diktats of deaths for defiant lovers.

Paranoid prudes may point out that India is not the only country where these murders take place.

But not all of these ‘other countries’ pride themselves to be united in their diversity or being sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republics.

What is alarming is the active or tacit support the perpetrators receive from the local people, politicians and the police.

And if it all they get caught, the continuing court trials and endless embarrassment of the victims’ families ensure that true justice is often delayed or denied.

Social apathy is routine order in a country that treats ‘disabilities and handicaps’ as divine punishment for past sins.

We dream of a day when India will have roads, doorways, buildings, public venues, toilets, parking lots and public transport systems with greater safety, access ramps, better lighting, clearer audio-visual announcements and sign posts.

We dream of a day when India’s educational institutions and work organizations do not have discriminatory categories such as ‘special’ or ‘normal’ – where everyone has ‘equal’ opportunities – with everyone respected, integrated and trained as per his/ her individual aptitude, capabilities or limitations.

We dream of a day when individuals and the society show higher concern, understanding, patience, appreciation, love and acceptance, to those who might be physically different.

We dream of a day when there will be no shame, taboo or stigma attached to being disabled or differently-abled and they and their family come forth for treatment rather than conceal the facts to avoid social rejection.

The day all these dreams come true, India will have truly integrated into the mainstream, as many as 6-7% of the country’s citizens.
Question: How do you lower the poverty levels in India?

Answer: Change the basic definition and parameters of poverty

If you think WE are joking, then you are wrong.

From asserting that Rs 5 is all Indians need for a full meal – to fixing the poverty line at ridiculously low spending levels – our parliamentarians and panelists have made enough fun of those who struggle for basic food, water, education, healthcare, and shelter.

Today, even with the revised estimates, almost 30% of India’s population lives below the poverty line. That is a depressing statistic for Asia’s third largest economy.

In contrast, China brought down its poverty rate from 84% in 1982 to 26% in 2007; to 7% by 2012.

As we begin another year as a free country, the old tales still continue. Those of farmer suicides, labour exploitation, inconsistent water and power supplies, seasonal unemployment, malnutrition and lack of basic medical infrastructure, hygiene and sanitation, rural-to-urban migration, rise in crime, and the list goes on.

It is all inter-related and the root cause is the same: poverty.

Any new solutions, anyone?

Drop everything you are doing right now and watch this video. Or this. Or read this one.

If you winced or your guts wrenched while watching the insensitivity with which the young ones were being beaten up, please don’t be surprised.

It is only a representative sample, and children in India are deprived, abused and exploited in ways far worse than those you visually saw.

The United Nations believes every child has a natural right to:

– Grow up and to develop physically and spiritually in a healthy and normal way, free and with dignity

– Special care and protection and to good food, housing and medical services

– Special care if handicapped in any way

– Love and understanding, preferably from parents and family, but from the government where these cannot help

– Go to school for free, to play, and to have an equal chance to develop and to learn to be responsible and useful

– Always to be among the first to get help

– To be protected against cruel acts or exploitation

– Not work before a minimum age and never when that would hinder health, and moral and physical development

– Be taught peace, understanding, tolerance and friendship among all people

In a country where even adults suffer in despair, just imagine the plight of vulnerable children.

Check the list of rights above – and sincerely answer this question. Is India really the best place in the world for minors to grow up?
Atrocities and discrimination against religious and caste minorities continue subtly and at times, explicitly.

But it is not about faith alone.

Any contrarian or defiant person/ voice is vehemantly (often forcefully) stifled.

While many have had the courage to speak out, we salute those silenced minority voices of social reformers, honest officers, whistle-blowers, bribe-refusers, historians, artists, or even those discriminated because of their chose professions/ vocations and colour of their skin.
Deprived of inadequate healthcare and hygiene facilities, thousands of animals often breed and die in pathetic conditions.

It is the same kind of indifference and discrimination that Indian society reserves for the elders, the disabled and the poor.

Ask any pet-owner who is looking for a house on rent, or walking his dog at a mall or welcoming a guest at home.

For residents of the country that give only unconditional love, don’t they deserve a little bit of humanity?

Source: Yahoo India/Associated press

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India shows off space prowess with launch of mega-rocket

New Delhi (AFP) - India Monday successfully launched its most powerful home-produced rocket, another milestone for its indigenous space programme which one day hopes to put a human into orbit.

The 43-metre (140-foot) rocket hurtled into a clear sky at 5:28 pm (1158 GMT) from the southern island of Sriharikota, one of two sites used by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to launch satellites.

Scientists hugged each other and cheered as the 640-tonne rocket lifted off.

"The GSLV – MKIII D1/GSAT-19 mission takes India closer to the next generation launch vehicle and satellite capability," Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted on his Twitter account.

"The nation is proud!"

The rocket boasts a powerful engine that has been developed in India over many years. Programme managers hope to reduce reliance on European engines that have propelled some of India's spacecraft in the past.

The GSLV Mk III rocket carried a satellite weighing more than three tonnes into a high orbit above Earth, a landmark achievement as India had struggled to match the heavier payloads of other space giants.

"They just launched the most powerful engine in India. It is a cryogenic engine, which took them 20 years to develop. Some engineers have spent their life working on this," Mathieu Weiss, a representative in India for France's space agency CNES, told AFP.

The launch is another feather in the cap for scientists at ISRO, who won Asia's race to Mars in 2014 when an Indian spacecraft reached the Red Planet on a shoestring budget.

That feat burnished India's reputation as a reliable low-cost option for space exploration, with its $73 million price tag drastically undercutting NASA's Maven Mars $671-million mission.

ISRO is also mulling the idea of missions to Jupiter and Venus.

- Reaching for the stars -

India is vying for a larger slice of the booming commercial satellite business as phone, internet and other companies seek expanded and more high-end communications.

In February India put a record 104 satellites in orbit from a single rocket, surpassing Russia which launched 39 satellites in one mission in June 2014.

The rocket's main cargo on that occasion was a 714-kilogram (1,574-pound) satellite for Earth observation but it was also loaded with 103 smaller "nano satellites", nearly all from other countries.

Although India has successfully launched lighter satellites in recent years, this latest rocket is capable of carrying a massive four-tonne payload into high orbit -- twice the capacity of its predecessor, ISRO says.

The space agency tested a less-developed version of the rocket in December 2014 while the cryogenic engine was still in the testing phase.

It carried an unmanned crew capsule which separated from the rocket and splashed down in the Bay of Bengal off India's east coast 20 minutes after liftoff.

The Indian-made capsule was designed to carry up to three astronauts but ISRO said it would take at least another seven years to reach the point where a crew could be put into space.

India wants to become the fourth nation -- after Russia, the United States and China -- to put astronauts into orbit but its manned spaceflight programme has experienced multiple stops and starts.

Credit: Yahoonews

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Tougher Times Ahead For India IT Companies

At least 200,000 software engineers in the India IT industry will lose their jobs each year over the next three years, according to McKinsey & Company.

"Contrary to media reports of 56,000 IT professionals losing their jobs this year...the real number will be between 175 thousand and 200 thousand per year," says Head Hunters India Founder K. Lakshmikanth, basing his analysis on the McKinsey report released in February. The Head Hunters India executive blamed artificial intelligence, often being developed at the very firms that will be shedding body weight between now and 2020.

AI and so-called robotic process automation will pull the rug out from under the big India IT firms in the near future as they all workout ways to benefit from these new technologies. For those who use software outsourcers, AI and robotic automatic can bring down costs. Everyone in the industry is scrambling to beat their competitors on price, especially when many competitors are in the same niche and often have similar tech offerings.

"We used to be big investors in Tata Consultancy, but now we own nothing in India IT," says Rajiv Jain, founder and fund manager at GQG Partners. Jain is a former emerging markets fund manager for Vontobel Asset Management. He blames changes in the IT industry itself.

Other headwinds get more headlines, in particular the H1-B visa that companies like Tata rely on to bring in low cost computer software engineers from India. The Trump Administration is making it harder for those companies to bring in those workers, requiring more evidence that the firms cannot find similar labor in the U.S. Tata, Infosys, Wipro, HCL and Tech Mahindra take the lion's share of the 80,000 annual H1-B visas issued by the U.S. government. Making it harder for the Indian firms means American companies like Amazon and IBM, two of the biggest U.S. users of H1-B visas, will have more visas made available to them instead.

Courtesy: Forbes

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Woman gang-raped in India was left for stray dogs to eat

Shocking details have emerged of the torture, gang rape and murder of a low-caste woman in northern India.

A post-mortem of the 23-year-old revealed that sharp objects were inserted into her vagina. The attackers smashed her skull with bricks and ran over her with a car, in an attempt to conceal her identity. The body was left in a field for stray dogs to feed on.

Findings from the post-mortem said that the victim's "oesophagus [food pipe] was missing and gnawing effects were seen over [the] chest. Her face, tongue, eyes and ears were totally distorted. Her face was not identifiable."
Police have arrested two men – Sumit, 24, and Vikas, 28, (only their first names were released) – in connection with the brutal sexual assault, while six others are also being questioned.

Family members of the victim, whose name has not been revealed, accuse six others of being involved in the gang-rape.
"When she said to them she would complain they hammered her skull in with bricks. The way that they brutalised her is horrific," said senior police official Ashwin Shenvi, adding that the medical examination suggests she was drugged before the violent sexual attack.

The victim's mother claims she filed a complaint with the local police against Sumit, the main suspect who wanted to marry the victim, three months before the attack, but it was ignored. Officials have promised to look into this claim.

Haryana police have formed a special investigation unit for the case, while the government has promised severe punishment for the perpetrators. "Culprits involved in such ghastly acts won't be spared. Will ensure speedy justice by fast track courts," Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said.

The incident has sent shockwaves across Haryana – the northern state which surrounds the Indian capital territory of Delhi on three sides.

The attack is a grim reminder of the Delhi gang-rape, in which a 23-year-old physiotherapy intern suffered a similar attack and later lost her life. The Supreme Court recently upheld the death penalty for the four convicts involved in the incident.


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Newspapers are thriving in this country

Newspapers and magazines are selling fewer copies the world over. Not in India.

Circulation increased by more than 23 million copies a day between 2006 and 2016, according to a new report from India's Audit Bureau of Circulation. That's average growth of nearly 5% per year.

The bureau cited growing literacy and education, India's overachieving economy and more local content as reasons for the print boom.
"India is one of the brightest spots [for] print media," the bureau said.

To back up its claim, the bureau cited data from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers that show India's paid newspaper circulation grew 32% between 2013 and 2015.

Meanwhile, circulation fell in major Western nations including the U.S. (-3%), France (-6%), Germany (-9%) and the U.K. (-12%).
India is likely helped by the fact that it has more paid publications (7,871) than all those countries combined, with most being published in one of its dozens of regional languages.

Only one English language newspaper -- the Times of India -- ranks among the country's top 10 by sales.
Growth in print media comes even as the Indian government and companies such as Google and Facebook try to bring more of the country's 1.3 billion people onto the internet.

More readers also means more revenue for publishers. Indian print publications are forecast to pull in advertising revenue worth almost 300 billion rupees ($4.5 billion) by 2021, up from an estimated 200 billion rupees ($3.1 billion) in 2016.
By then, according to the bureau's forecast, India's print media industry will be worth around $6.7 billion.


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UAE billionaire is funding India"s most expensive film of all time

That India is the world's most prolific film-producing nation is well-known. 

It makes over 2,000 films in more than 10 languages every year — a feat unmatched elsewhere in the world. And grand dreams require grand budgets. 

One such is The Mahabharata, a multi-lingual retelling of the Sanskrit epic, that will be the costliest Indian movie ever made.

UAE-based billionaire B.R. Shetty will reportedly be putting in $150 million in the production of The Mahabharata. That is five times the budget of Baahubali (2015) — India's most expensive movie thus far — that became a gigantic success across the globe.

The Mahabharata will be shot in multiple Indian languages and later dubbed in leading foreign languages too. 

It promises to bring together "the creme de la creme of Indian and global cinema" and also ensure "the film has an identity across continents". Shetty reckons that film would reach 3 billion people — that's a little less than half the world's population.

That's quite ambitious.

Since 'Mahabharata' is an epic, literally, one telling might not do justice to the subject. Hence, the film will be produced in two parts and is scheduled to go on floors by September 2018 for a release in early 2020. 

The second part will be released within 90 days of the first. 

We're waiting!

Credit: Yahoo news

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India Said to Plan Using New Tool to Manage Cash

India is planning to introduce a new monetary-policy tool in the coming financial year to better manage a banking system swimming in excess cash, people familiar with the matter said.

The so-called Standing Deposit Facility, or SDF, will help the Reserve Bank of India absorb surplus funds without having to provide lenders collateral in exchange, said the people, who asked not to be identified as they aren’t authorized to speak publicly. The Finance Ministry will discuss the plan with the nation’s banks at a meeting Friday, they said.
Indian banks were flooded with cash after Prime Minister Narendra Modi invalidated 86 percent of the nation’s currency in circulation late last year and mandated the worthless notes be deposited with lenders. Banks scrambled to park these funds with the RBI, forcing the central bank to raise the limit on a scheme it uses to mop up excess liquidity. The surplus, however, has persisted, restricting the RBI’s ability to intervene in currency markets at a time when the rupee is appreciating.

The pricing of the planned facility will be key to whether banks respond to it, said Asish Vaidya, head of trading at DBS Bank Ltd. in Mumbai.

The SDF will largely replace the Market Stabilization Scheme, which uses bonds issued outside the government’s regular borrowings to mop up liquidity, the people said. The government in December raised the scheme’s limit twenty-fold to tackle the deluge of funds.
Indian banks had about 3.8 trillion rupees ($58 billion) in surplus funds as of Wednesday, according to the Bloomberg Intelligence India Banking Liquidity Index.

In 2014, a panel led by RBI Governor Urjit Patel -- who was at that time a deputy -- had proposed the introduction of the SDF as part of measures to improve the monetary-policy framework. Patel took over as Governor in September. Finance Ministry spokesperson D.S. Malik couldn’t be immediately reached for a comment.


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India hopes QR Codes can help it become cashless

Ever since India invalidated much of its cash, it has been encouraging its citizens to switch to mobile wallets and other epayment solutions. Today, it took another step in pushing its citizens to embark on the cashless payment solutions — but early boomers aren't going to like it. 

SEE ALSO: BHIM app will replace all cash transactions in India: PM Modi

The Indian government has launched BharatQR Code to enable people to pay for things they purchase without swiping their plastic cards. Instead, merchants can ask shoppers to scan a QR code and make payments directly from their bank account.

One of the biggest problem merchants and citizens faced in the aftermath of demonetization last November was the absence of non-cash payment systems. 

The penetration of payment terminals machine remain low in India, with many merchants even complaining about the cost of the device and the high transaction fee. According to the government's own estimations, there are about 57.7 million merchants but only 1.5 million digital payment acceptance locations.

With BharatQR Code, the government hopes to do away with card swipe terminals as merchants will be able to generate their own QR code that will be interoperable with all banks. The government-backed National Payment Corporation of India (NPCI) has partnered with 14 major financial institutions including Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and ICICI Bank to support BharatQR, it said Monday. BharatQR Code also supports all the major payment terminals — NPCI-backed RuPay, as well as MasterCard, Visa and American Express.

“Bharat QR is a path breaking initiative to bring quick, easy and affordable payments to both merchants and consumers. American Express is proud to be part of this ‘global first capability’, which will significantly contribute towards growth of Digital India," Manoj Adlakha, CEO of American Express Banking Corporation said in a press statement.
BharatQR Code can be a big blow to mobile wallet companies like Paytm, Mobiqwik and Freecharge that grew multifold since demonetization. 

Most mobile wallet companies offer QR codes as a feature for merchants to accept payments. However, unlike BharatQR Code, the QR codes of these wallet companies are not interoperable and users have to use the particular wallet app in order to pay. While BharatQR Code supports most plastic cards and banks, it does not support mobile wallet companies, yet.

"BharatQR is the answer to Paytm. Hopefully banks will now be able to expand infrastructure at the rate with which Paytm did during demonetisation," AP Hota, CEO of NPCI was quoted as saying.

Paytm, India's largest mobile wallet service which has seen astronomical growth amid demonetization, announced that it will invest Rs 6 billion ($89.6 million) to help merchants across the country to start using its QR code based payment solution.

While Paytm, and other companies have been the winner in the India's cash crunched market over the past few months, the government has been working aggressively to get its own services out in the public. 

In December, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched NCPI-backed BHIM app. The government has also formulated UPI (Unique Payment Interface), that banks can use to make it as easier for people to send money as sending a text message is. The vast majority of banks in India now support UPI.

Even for users who do not have a smartphone or any phone, the government plans to have fingerprint scanner based PoS terminals where customers can simply scan their fingerprint to make payments.


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India Unveils Measure to Clean Up Political Funding


In India, where illicit cash is the lifeblood of political parties, the government has slashed the limit on cash donations in a bid to clean up political funding. But analysts say much more needs to be done to tackle a problem that they say lies at the heart of corruption that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed to eliminate.

In the annual budget, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced that the cap on cash donations to political parties would be lowered from about $300 to $30.
He said that the reform “will bring about greater transparency and accountability in political funding, while preventing future generations of black money."

He also announced a plan in which donors could buy “election bonds” from banks to give political parties, ostensibly making them easier to track.

The measures came as Prime Minister Modi faced public pressure to overhaul political financing following his drastic move last November of banning high denomination notes to flush out illicit cash.

Critics pointed out that “black money” or untaxed wealth cannot not be eliminated until political parties become transparent about where they collect millions of dollars in cash.

Announced days before five Indian states head to the polls, political analysts said the move is meant to reassure voters that Modi is serious about rooting out "black money", a key pledge that helped catapult him to power in 2014 in a country fed up with corruption.

But merely lowering the limit on cash donations will make little impact in cleaning up political funding, according to Jagdish Chhokar, a founding member of the New-Delhi based watchdog, Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR). “I think this is more of a smokescreen.”

He points out that the government has launched a massive drive for ordinary people to adopt digital modes of payment as part of its high profile campaign to clean up the economy, “I just find this very, very surprising that a person who is selling groceries, the government expects that grocer to accept payment not by cash, but they leave a window of Rs. 2000 ($30) for political parties. It is completely beyond my comprehension,” says Chhokar.
The opaque funding of political parties has become a growing source of concern in the world’s largest democracy, where there is no federal election funding and where campaigns have become increasingly expensive. Massive rallies, candidates hopping across states in helicopters and wooing voters with gifts or cash hardly raise eyebrows.

For watchdogs like ADR the unanswered question is: where does the money come from? Does it come from the hoard of illegal cash in the hands of individuals and businesses that the government set out to target in its demonetization drive?

A recent report by ADR said that a whopping 70 percent of the $1.7 billion dollars collected by political parties between 2004 and 2015 came from unknown sources. The report said that the source of two thirds of the income of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party was not disclosed, while that figure was as high as 83 percent for the opposition Congress Party.

N. Bhaskara Rao, chairman of the Center for Media Studies in New Delhi which tracks election funding, says lack of transparency in political funding is a big worry. “The very basics of democracy are being eaten into because of this lack of transparency, black money aspect. This is the mother of all corruption, election time corruption,” says Rao.

But he calls the latest move to cap cash donations at $30 the start of a process that will tackle a difficult problem. “It’s a good beginning. One may argue this is not enough, but then there is enough to have a beginning.”

Others also expressed optimism. Senior political commentator Pratap Bhanu Mehta said in the Indian Express newspaper that while it may be said that lowering the threshold of cash donations will only require more ingenuity on the part of accountants, “it signals that political financing will be a subject that parties will not find easy to evade.”


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Narendra Modi is pulling India back to the 1970s

“Our problem is that there is too much democracy in India — that’s why difficult decisions never get taken,” declared Sunil Alagh, marketing consultant and supporter of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The bon vivant was responding to the uproar over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s shock decision to invalidate 86 percent of India’s currency. Alagh’s lament betrayed a longing oft expressed by the country’s affluent and well heeled — a craving for the precision and order of authoritarian leadership. “You know, we need someone like Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore,” can be heard in many swish Delhi drawing rooms, whose attendants are in any case inoculated by wealth against the vagaries of India’s economy.

On the same day as Donald Trump’s election in the United States, India faced its own disruption — when Modi declared that 500- and 1,000-rupee notes — virtually all the cash in one of the world’s fastest growing economies — would now be worthless. In a country where 90 percent of all transactions are cash-based, the decision came with only four hours of public notice. The stated aim of the move was to shut down the parallel economy run by tax-evaders. But what followed was chaos — amateur execution and shabby planning contributed to mile-long queues, ATM machines that had not been recalibrated for the new 2,000-rupee notes, banks that ran dry before mid-day, panic-induced hoarding and broken supply chains. In rural India especially, daily-wage workers could not be paid their cash salaries, sometimes for days on end.
Alagh’s impatience with the raucous debate around demonetization and his desire for governance-by-diktat were a throwback to that much repeated cliché about the only time emergency was imposed in the world’s largest democracy — “at least the trains ran on time.” Ironically, the political leader responsible for the iron-fisted curtailment of civil rights in India in 1975 was from the other side of the political trenches — Indira Gandhi, the Indian National Congress prime minister, who is still admired by millions for her take-no-prisoners brand of toughness.

The audacity of Modi’s demonetization decision and the centralization of power it represents has drawn many parallels with Indira’s actions in the 1970s. His notes ban has especially drawn comparisons with Gandhi’s move to nationalize India’s banks in 1969. Modi’s speech at a mammoth political rally at the onset of 2017 virtually replicated a slogan from hers in 1971. Where she had dared her challengers — “They say — remove Indira, I say, remove poverty” — Modi bellowed to enthusiastic approval; “They say — remove Modi, I say, remove corruption.” Apart from the curious third-person referencing of themselves (perhaps appropriate for the personality-centered, cult-building political style of both leaders), the striking parallel with the ’70s is the increasing levels of executive power given to the state. Statism may have been normal for a socialist-era Gandhi, but where does it 
Modi asked India for 50 days for the system to breathe easy again after demonetization. Two months on, we must ask: What exactly did his decision achieve?

Advocates of the demonetization efforts argue that liquidity in the banking system and the subsequent lowering of interest rates will create its own stimulus. The government points to increased tax collections from April to December 2016 counter notions of a demonetization induced slow-down.  However the All India Manufacturers’ Organization says there has been a 50 percent dip in revenue and a 35 percent drop in jobs in the micro small-scale industries sector as a result. Last Monday, the IMF downgraded India’s growth to 6.6 percent, a full percentage point lower than its earlier estimate, because of the jolt from the ban on high-value currency notes.
Was all this grief worth the gain? The actual aim of demonetization remains unclear. If the purpose was to cleanse the system of of illegal wealth — what in India is colloquially known as “black” money — the target was misplaced. Only 6 to 10 percent of India’s unaccounted money is held in cash; those ducking the taxman mostly divert their big bucks to gold, real estate and tax havens in Switzerland. Secondly, now that all the banned notes are back in banks, the Modi government has to confront a piquant question. Did it miscalculate how much “black” cash there was in the system or have tax thieves found a way to launder their wealth? People deposited about 90 percent of the 15.4 trillion rupees that were removed from circulation, sharply contradicting the government estimate that a sizeable amount of unaccounted wealth would not reach the banks. So the original aim — to call out the money-hoarders — pretty much failed. The goal post was then hastily shifted to emphasize digitizing the economy.

Yet, there is no visible outrage from the Indian public because of Modi’s masterful management of the political messaging. By branding his decision as a “fight against corruption, black money, fake notes and terrorism,” Modi 
has converted demonetization into a test of courageous patriotism. Playing on Gandhi’s mantra of being a messiah for the poor, Modi astutely positioned the notes ban as a modern day morality play where “sacrifice” is key to being a good citizen. Modi himself drew the Vedic analogy of the currency ban being like a “yagna,” a “purification” ritual that would cleanse India. Hardship is now a virtue, a sacrifice to attain a Hegelian notion of the common good. If Gandhi spoke conspiratorially of the “foreign hand” out to destabilize India, an emotional Modi has spoken of those who “won’t let me live” for the crackdown on currency. In an age of strident hyper-nationalism, the BJP has craftily encouraged the narrative that those opposing demonetization are fat-cat traitors who are too indolent to be part of a great national movement.

Modi’s blend of disruptive individualism, strongman politics and old-style welfare economics falls back on more government, rather than less, as the primary vehicle of change. The ’70s deja vu has confirmed one thing — “Modinomics” is not quite the right-of-center Thatcherite model that many of his supporters may have expected. Indeed, in India, we are back to the future.

Credit: Washington post

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India"s Demonetisation Looking Good

We should never place too much weight on just the one economic statistic. But that India's industrial production rose 5.7% in November is an interesting number just the same. For this is really the first hard number we've had concerning the Indian economy to include part of the period of demonetisation. And it's not a bad number--so perhaps the chaos of the process hasn't done that much short term economic harm? However, it's also true that there's a significant fault line in Indian economic statistics, one that's much larger than in most other economies that we study. That's the division between the formal and informal parts of said Indian economy. And that does make this number, as with so many others, harder to interpret.

The news itself:

A sharp jump in the November factory output numbers comes as a pleasant positive surprise for the economy amid slowdown stories in the aftermath of demonetisation. The index of Industrial Production (IIP) rose to a 13-month high of 5.7 percent in November compared with a contraction of 1.8 percent in the month of October.

There are qualifiers that should be applied here:

In fact, the IIP in November (175.8) was lower than October 2016 (178.1), suggesting industrial production actually dropped sequentially, as was mostly the case in earlier months as well. “Going by the production trend in some sectors such as auto, next month’s (December) IIP growth data may be more indicative of the impact of demonetisation,” Crisil Research wrote after Thursday’s data release.

Year on year figures as against the monthly acceleration, the slight change in the date of Diwali moving the holiday from one month to another. The qualifications can all be argued about. But it's also true that an expansion of industrial output in the month of demonetisation is not evidence of some great catastrophe that accompanied the move.

Consumer inflation fell in December 2016 to 3.41%, the lowest since November 2014, leaving room for the Reserve Bank of India to cut rates next month. CPI inflation was marginally higher at 3.63% in November 2016.
Consumer inflation falling is also a good thing.

We must be careful about all of these numbers though. Yes, it's interesting that these are the first hard ones on the Indian economy since demonetisation. The most recent official figures, to be used for the coming budget, rely upon data collected up to about the end of October. Everything since then is a forecast. But in the way that time passes so we'll start getting real numbers out of the economy which include the demonetisation period.

But, but.....the vast majority of India's economy is over in the informal sector which produces two problems for us. The first is that survey data like this new IIP number are obviously easier to collect from the formal than the informal economy. So the numbers are biased by sector. And we can also construct models--but then we can construct economic models to include just about anything--where the impact of demonetisation is much greater upon the informal sector than formal. Even, that there could be a rise in the formal sector, one smaller than the loss in the informal, as a result. The informal sector could be entirely cash reliant, the formal one able to pick up lost business by already having access to bank accounts and electronic payments.

Thus we're still in the world of "we don't know" here. Economic statistics just aren't good enough as yet for us to be able to work out the full effects of something we've already done. One interesting lesson of which is that we just shouldn't be trying to plan an economy. For if we don't even know the effects of what has been done how can we predict the effects of what we might do?

Credit: Forbes

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India"s High Court Favors Nationalism Over Democracy

India’s constitutional democracy has always struggled to tame the country’s religious and caste divisions, especially during elections. The Supreme Court of India has now issued an important ruling that makes things worse, not better.

On the surface, the court struck a blow for religious neutrality, holding that referring to religion or caste in a race for office will disqualify the results. In reality, the decision delivered a gift to the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party at the expense of India's minority faiths and castes. That’s especially worrisome in our present historical moment, when nationalist parties are challenging free democratic speech around the world.
The decision by the seven-member panel of the court was an interpretation of India’s Corrupt Practices and Electoral Offenses law, first enacted in 1951 and amended subsequently. Section 123(3) of the law makes it a corrupt practice for a candidate to make an appeal “to vote or refrain from voting for any person on the ground of his religion, race, caste, community or language.”

The central legal issue was whether the law only bans the candidate from appealing to his own religion or community, or whether it extends to cover references to the voters’ identities, too.

At a technical level, this debate turned on the meaning of the word “his”: does it refer to the candidate or the voter?

In bottom-line political terms, the question was how extensive the ban should be. A narrow reading restricting the ban to the candidate’s own background would make it harder to overturn electoral results and allow greater range to candidates’ speech. That would allow politicians for example, to tell members of disadvantaged castes that they should vote for them because they would represent caste interests. So long as the candidate did not say that he or she was a member of the disadvantaged caste, the appeal would be lawful.

A broader reading, in contrast, would make it easier to overturn electoral results and would impose heavy restrictions on the speech of candidates. It would make it impossible for candidates to present themselves as serving the interests of religious minorities. In India, the biggest religious minority is Muslim, with 172 million adherents as of the last census in 2011. The broad reading would therefore affect them disproportionately.

The court split 4-3, with the majority adopting the broader reading and the dissenters the narrower one. The leading opinion of the majority emphasized that India’s founders “intended a secular democratic republic where differences should not be permitted to be exploited.” Treating this as the law’s purpose, the majority rejected the narrow reading of the word “his” as referring to the candidate’s identity as inappropriately literal.

The dissenters acknowledged India’s official secularism, but noted that the Indian constitution itself “recognizes the position of religion, caste, language and gender in the social life of the nation.” That’s accurate: The constitution prohibits discrimination based on caste but also permits affirmative action for the advancement of historically disadvantaged castes.

On the surface, the decision looks like a close legal case with a defensible conclusion. But the reality is otherwise -- for a concrete legal reason. In 1995, a three-judge panel of the court issued a famous judgment colloquially known as the Hindutva or Hinduism decision. In it, the court said that because Hinduism didn’t subscribe to a single dogma or worship a single God, it did not satisfy the traditional definition of religion. It was therefore “a way of life and nothing more.”

Thus, according the 1995 precedent, Hinduism isn’t a religion for purposes of the election law. The result is that the broad reading of the statute doesn’t equally disadvantage all appeals to religion – it disadvantages only minority religions. Thus Muslim candidates can't invoke their creed to win votes, but Hindu candidates can.

In effect, secularism and Hinduism are treated as identical. As the Bharatiya Janata Party triumphantly put it in a manifesto issued more than 20 years ago and referring to the 1995 judgment, the Supreme Court "endorsed the true meaning and content of Hindutva as being consistent with the true meaning and definition of secularism.”

It would be one thing for India genuinely to insist on total secularism in elections. Although such a rule would be in some tension with the Indian Constitution’s commitment to free speech, it might nevertheless be justified because of the risk of distortion to the electoral process from communal violence.

It’s another thing for India’s high court to insist on a restrictive “secularism” that allows appeals to the majority religion but not to minority religions. It’s as if the U.S. Supreme Court held that Christianity isn’t a religion but a set of American cultural ideals, and that the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution therefore applied only to expressions of Judaism, Islam, or other minority faiths.

This is the second time in recent months that the Indian Supreme Court has issued a highly nationalist holding with negative impact on free speech. At a time when free speech is under attack globally from nationalist political parties, this is the wrong direction for the body charged with interpreting the constitution of the world’s largest democracy.

As in the traditional British system, the Indian Supreme Court justices issue opinions one-by-one, so there is not necessarily a single controlling majority opinion. In this case, the opinion I treated as the majority was by Justice Madan Lokur. It was joined in full by one other justice and endorsed by outgoing Chief Justice T.S. Thakur in a separate opinion.

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Crucial Polls in 5 Indian States Will Test PM Modi’s Popularity


India will hold a series of state elections that will test the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the wake of a controversial currency ban that he has pitched as a major step to battle corruption, but which led to huge cash shortages in the country.

The polls in five states - Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa - will start February 4 and be staggered over more than a month.

Announcing the polls on Wednesday, Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi said that “over 160 million voters will take part in these polls, that is the size of this exercise.”

Being held halfway through the prime minister's term, the polls will decide whether his sudden move to scrap 86 percent of the currency is endorsed by voters or whether it alienated millions of poor people who were the worst hit by the cash shortages that have still not eased.

Uttar Pradesh critical

The most crucial for Modi is the battleground state of Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous region that his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hopes to wrest from a regional party.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters celebrate the party's victory in local body elections in Ahmadabad, India, Friday, Nov. 25, 2016.
Political analyst Neerja Chowdhury in New Delhi says the polls will set the tempo for the 2019 general elections. “If he wins Uttar Pradesh, it will send a signal of political stability to investors and might help kick start the economy, which has certainly slowed down.”

But she warns the reverse will happen if he loses. “Then he is on a slippery, slippery slope. Knives many be out for him within his own party, certainly the opposition is going to be emboldened.”

Risky currency move

Modi’s radical and politically risky move of banning high value notes in a bid to flush out hoards of illegal cash was taken with just a handful of trusted advisors, according to reports.

It initially won the backing of poor and middle class people who hailed it as the boldest step taken by a strong leader to stamp out graft – a promise that helped sweep him to power in 2014.

But there are worries that popular support slipped away because the measure was poorly implemented. For weeks, people waited in huge lines for new notes while many lost jobs due to cash shortages that slowed down the informal sector, which employs millions.

Rural areas suffering

The cash crunch has been the most acute in rural and remote areas, where two thirds of India's population lives and where the outcome of elections is often decided.

Success in the elections, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, would also help the BJP improve its position in the upper house of parliament, making it easier to press ahead with economic reforms. The BJP has faced hurdles passing legislation because it is in a minority in the upper house.

The Election Commission has also announced new measures to encourage women and the disabled to vote. It said it will provide wheelchairs and ramps at polling booths, staff some entirely by women, and provide separate facilities for them in areas where they do not want to mingle with men.

Credit: voanews

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India"s PM Modi defends cash ban, announces incentives

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a series of incentives to the poor, farmers, women and small businesses on Saturday in a New Year's address, and defended his recent decision to abolish high denomination bank notes.

The televised speech was widely seen as an opportunity for Modi to shore up support after a radical move on Nov. 8 to withdraw all 500 and 1,000 rupee bills, accounting for 86 percent of currency in circulation.

Millions of Indians were forced to queue outside banks for hours to deposit old money and withdraw as much new currency as was permitted, causing widespread anger and raising concerns about India's economic growth in the current quarter.

The so-called "demonetisation" was designed to crush India's huge shadow economy, increase tax revenues and promote the use of bank accounts and digital transactions, but perceptions that the ambitious operation was botched have hurt Modi's standing.

It comes only weeks before Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state with 200 million people, holds an election that will test whether the popular leader has been significantly weakened.

Modi praised Indians for their forbearance.

"In this fight against corruption and black money, it is clear that you would like to walk shoulder to shoulder with us (the government)," Modi said.

"For us in government, this is a blessing ... Corruption, black money, and counterfeit notes had become so rampant in India's social fabric, that even honest people were brought to their knees."

In welcoming news for Modi's government, State Bank of India , the country's largest lender by assets, announced on Sunday it would cut lending rates by 90 basis points, after a surge in deposits in old notes. [L4N1ER03W]

Lower lending rates could increase credit growth and spark a revival in private investments.


On Saturday Modi had urged banks to do more to increase lending for the poor, while announcing a slew of measures including an offer of a 4 percent discount on interest rates for home loans for up to 900,000 rupees ($13,200) taken out in 2017 by middle class Indians.

Modi also said the government would increase credit guarantees for small businesses and provided additional incentives for digital transactions.

There were steps to help pregnant women and senior citizens, as well as financial support for farmers, an apparent bid to win backing among the huge rural population of Uttar Pradesh that has been hit hard by the cash overhaul.

Modi did not say how the government would pay for the measures, although economists said the package was unlikely to be too costly. It was unveiled as the government gears up to announce its annual budget, probably some time in February.

"It's clear that Modi is chastened and he had no big bang offerings today," said Mohan Guruswamy, chairman of the independent economic think-tank Centre for Policy Alternatives.

"He is clearly doing this to win back political support."

The Uttar Pradesh poll will be a litmus test for Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and will go some way to determining the prime minister's chances of winning a second term in office in national polls scheduled for 2019.

While he has introduced several major reforms to Asia's third largest economy, the cash ban is seen as his biggest political gamble to date.

Members of the main opposition Congress party were quick to criticize the speech.

One senior member, Prithviraj Chavan, said the address was vague and lacked accurate accounting details.

"It was his day to present a report card and specifically disclose the benefits of 'demonetisation', but clearly the entire drive has been a failure," he said.

In his speech, Modi sought to cast the move as something all Indians should support.

"I urge all parties and leaders to move away from a 'holier than thou approach,' to come together in prioritizing transparency, and take firm steps to free politics of black money and corruption."

($1=67.9445 Indian rupees)

(Additional reporting by Suvashree Dey Choudhury; Writing by Rafael Nam; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Michael Perry)

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Apple in talks with India to manufacture locally

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Apple Inc is in talks with India's government to explore making products locally, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, as the U.S. firm aims to make deeper inroads in the world's second-largest mobile phone market by users.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is trying to boost technology manufacturing in the country through his 'Make in India' initiative. His government in June exempted foreign retailers for three years from a requirement to locally source 30 percent of goods sold in their stores.

The Journal said Apple, in a letter to the federal government in November, outlined manufacturing plans and asked for financial incentives.

Government representatives were not available to comment while an Apple spokesman in India did not immediately respond to an email from Reuters seeking comment.

Local manufacturing would help Apple open retail stores in the country where its iPhones account for less than 2 percent of Indian smartphones sales.

Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd (Foxconn) <2317.TW>, which makes Apple devices such as iPhones and iPads, has a manufacturing facility in southern India.

(Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal)

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Inside India"s Cashless Revolution

"This is a public sector innovation unthought of in history. A cultural-economic revolution in the making!" exclaimed Monishankar Prasad, a New Delhi-based author and editor, about India's demonetization initiative and subsequent drive towards developing a cashless economy.

The biggest problem with India suddenly removing 86% of its currency from circulation without having an adequate supply of new notes ready to take their place is that fact that India is more reliant on cash than almost any other country on earth. Suddenly, hundreds of millions of people were left without the means to engage economically, to buy the things they wanted and needed, and myriad businesses were left without a readily available mechanism to receive payment for their goods, to buy supplies, or pay their staff.
India’s demonetization scheme was a unilateral initiative that was planned in secret — in a back room of Prime Minister Modi’s home, in fact — by a small group of insiders tied-in with the upper echelons of India’s government. The strategy was to instantly nullify all 500 and 1,000 rupee banknotes, the most common currency denominations in the country, and then eventually replace them with newly designed, more secure 500 and 2,000 rupee notes. This endeavor instantaneously became policy when the prime minister announced it via a surprise television address at 10:15 PM on November 8.

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

"This is a public sector innovation unthought of in history. A cultural-economic revolution in the making!" exclaimed Monishankar Prasad, a New Delhi-based author and editor, about India's demonetization initiative and subsequent drive towards developing a cashless economy.

The biggest problem with India suddenly removing 86% of its currency from circulation without having an adequate supply of new notes ready to take their place is that fact that India is more reliant on cash than almost any other country on earth. Suddenly, hundreds of millions of people were left without the means to engage economically, to buy the things they wanted and needed, and myriad businesses were left without a readily available mechanism to receive payment for their goods, to buy supplies, or pay their staff.

Indian customers queue outside a bank on the first monthly pay-day since the a currency ban on large-denomination notes was announced in Mumbai on December 1, 2016. (INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)

India’s demonetization scheme was a unilateral initiative that was planned in secret — in a back room of Prime Minister Modi’s home, in fact — by a small group of insiders tied-in with the upper echelons of India’s government. The strategy was to instantly nullify all 500 and 1,000 rupee banknotes, the most common currency denominations in the country, and then eventually replace them with newly designed, more secure 500 and 2,000 rupee notes. This endeavor instantaneously became policy when the prime minister announced it via a surprise television address at 10:15 PM on November 8.

One of Modi’s main brands is that of a corruption fighter, and his demonetization initiative was rushed into effect in an attempt to catch the black market off guard — which could potentially lead to a big payday for the central bank if large amounts of illicit cash wasn’t redeemed. That plan flopped, as almost all of the recalled notes were officially accounted for one way or another.
But this surprise demonetization also did something else: it pushed millions of new users onto the country’s digital economic grid by virtual fiat. Not even the banks were notified in advance of Modi's plan, and, even with strict exchange limits that prohibited people from exchanging over $60 worth of rupees at a time, they simply didn’t have enough of the newly designed banknotes on-hand to distribute to the masses looking to redeem their canceled notes. Rather than being a 50 day transition, as the Indian government projected, it is looking as if it will take four months to a year before the country's currency supply is restored.

In point, the people of India were left in limbo as the government cancelled the bulk of their currency without providing them with the means to obtain the newly printed notes to replace it. On the surface, this seems as if it was a matter of gross negligence, but there may have been more to it than that. As the demonetization process continues, Modi’s rhetoric is less about fighting corruption and more about transitioning India to a cashless economy.

Up until this campaign, India was an incredibly cash-centric economy. Cash accounted for upwards of 95% of all transactions, 90% of vendors didn’t have card readers or the means of accepting electronic payments, 85% of workers were paid in cash, and almost half of the population didn’t even have bank accounts. Even Uber in India accepted cash — the only country in the world where this option is available — and “Cash on Delivery” was the preferred choice of 70% of all online shoppers.

By temporarily turning off the engines which drove the cash economy, India hoped that more people could be brought into the fold by using track-able — and taxable — digital financing vehicles, like debit cards and e-wallets.
Whether or not India was ready for this cashless revolution is another question.

“Look, you still have a reasonably large part of the population that doesn't even have a bank account,” said Arpan Nangia, the head of the India desk for HSBC’s commercial banking division. “Yes, our position is that everybody should have a bank account and everybody should be transacting through that, but if a large part of your population doesn't even bank it is going to take some time for you to invest before you can say let's go completely cashless.”

However, reservations about the timing of India’s big cashless push at this point are irrelevant. It’s happening, ready or not.

India is currently in the middle of an all out movement to modernize the way things are paid for. New bank accounts are being opened at a heightened rate, e-payment services are seeing rapid growth, cash-on-delivery in e-commerce has crashed, and digitally-focused sectors like the online grocery business have started booming.

“Even the vegetable vendors on the streets have opened up Paytm accounts and they have a machine outside their shop where someone can scan the bar code and make the payment,” Nangia explained.

“A lot more retail outlets are accepting e-wallets, including my laundry provider and my dabbawala," Prasad proclaimed. "This is revolutionary, and survival of the fittest.”

Modi’s demonetization initiative has been a boon for India’s e-payment providers. Paytm reported a three-times surge in new users -- tacking on over 14 million new accounts in November alone. While Oxigen Wallet’s daily average users increased by 167% since demonetization began.
“Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetization announcement, we have suddenly seen a spike in both app downloads & merchant registrations. This spike is now coming from all cities, big and small, pan-India, consisting of small merchants like vegetable vendors, Kirana shopkeepers [small convenience stores], street vendors, rickshaw drivers, taxi’s etc., who’ve signed onto our Oxigen Wallet app for the merchant payments service,” said Pramod Saxena, the founder and CMD of Oxigen Services.

Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Asiadigicoin have also been the recipients of a positive upswing from Modi’s currency purge — with Bitcoin in particular being driven up in value.

The lack of cash in the economy combined with the buzz around electronic payments systems has also sparked some very innovative solutions. The farmers’ markets of Telangana began experimenting with their own electronic payment system where customers with Aadhar-linked bank accounts could buy vegetables using tokens which could be purchased via debit cards at specialized kiosks.

“These changes indicate towards a more inclusive society in the future,” Saxena said. He then outlined several areas in which India is trying to improve its digital economy, which include simpler, more technologically advanced digital payment systems, increased merchant acceptance, improvements in UPI, which allows monetary transfers between any two bank accounts via a smartphone, as well as a reduction in cash-based transactions.

“The Prime Minister's move to incentivize digital payments will offer a strong support to our ongoing efforts in helping the country leapfrog the cash generation to digital payment solutions," added Deepak Abbot, the senior vice president of Paytm. "This will not only help millions of Indians overcome the hassles of dealing in cash but also act as a significant step towards propelling India to emerge as a truly cashless economy.”

Credit: Forbes

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India: RBI says cash crisis is hurting the economy

The Reserve Bank of India acknowledged Wednesday that the country's ongoing cash crunch is hurting the economy.

The central bank slashed its growth forecast for the current financial year by half a percentage point, citing "uncertainty" resulting from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's shock decision to ban 500 and 1,000 rupee notes.
The ban, which was announced on Nov. 8, abruptly took 86% of legal notes out of circulation and led to an acute cash shortage.
More than 90% of daily transactions in India are made using cash, and analysts predict the disruption could knock 1% off India's 7.3% growth rate over the next two quarters.
The central bank also sees evidence of slower growth as millions of Indians continue to line up to deposit canceled notes.
"Supply disruptions in the backwash of currency replacement may drag down growth this year," the central bank said in a statement. "The [economic] assessment is clouded by the still unfolding effects."
The RBI said it expects damage from the cash crisis to be temporary, but downgraded one of its key economic indicators. The bank now expects growth of 7.1% for the current financial year, down from its previous estimate of 7.6%.
More than 80% of the 14 trillion rupees ($209 billion) in banned notes have been returned, the RBI said. But the central bank has supplied only 4 trillion rupees ($56 billion) in replacement currency over the past month, leaving a huge cash vacuum.
Related: India's boom continues but for how much longer?
Despite the shortage, the RBI chose to keep the rate at which it lends to banks at 6.25%. That decision surprised economists, many of whom had expected the bank to cut rates in an effort to counter the monetary crunch.
"If economic activity has been damaged as much as many fear, the RBI's wait-and-see approach will come to be seen as complacent," wrote analysts at Capital Economics.
Related: India just made it even harder to get hold of new cash
The central bank, which is responsible for printing replacement rupee notes, also defended its role in the cash crisis.
"The decision [to ban the notes] has not been taken in haste, but after detailed deliberations," said Urjit Patel, who became RBI chief in September. "High secrecy had to be maintained."


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Modi Didn"t Do His Homework

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a bright idea on how to solve India’s corruption problem quickly: get rid of the “black money,” the 500 and 1000 rupee notes.

The trouble is he didn’t do his homework to figure out how his plan could be carried out.

This was evidenced by the breaking of ATM machines and long lines outside banks, and dying up of liquidity, which brought the nation’s economy to a standstill.

Financial markets have taken notice, with India’s equities underperforming those of the immediate region. In fact iShares India 50 have lost close to 10 percent of their value in recent weeks–see table.

Index/Fund    5-day Performance    1-month Performance
Global X MSCI Pakistan (NYSE:PAK)    -1.44%    0.06%
IShares China (NYSE:FXI)    +0.39%    -5.17%
iShares S&P India 50 (NASDAQ:INDY)    -1.87%    -9.25%
Source: Yahoo. Finance 11/18/2016

To be fair, PM Modi had to keep his plan secret and act swiftly to avoid actions that would defy the purpose of his plan. He couldn’t, for instance, print new rupee notes ahead of time, and adjust the ATM machines to make sure that the new notes could get through, without alerting the public to what was coming.

Country    Corruption Index in 2015
China    83/168
Hong Kong    17
Pakistan    117
India    76
Estonia    23
USA    16
Source: Transparency International

Still, “PM Modi didn’t calculate all the costs and the benefits of the note swap,” according to LIU POST Economics Professor Udayan Roy. “Like the cost to everyday people who had to drop everything to stay on long lines. Most importantly, Modi didn’t calculate the impact the measure would have on the nation’s large informal sector.”

That cost could shave half a point from the nation’s growth, according to some estimates. “And he didn’t consider alternative ways of fighting corruption, like enforcing the rule of law, as in countries like Singapore, Japan, and the US,” continues Professor Roy.

Professor Roy is right. Lack of the rule of law is the ultimate source of corruption and cronyism in emerging markets, which prevents them from making the transition into developed economies.

Credit - Forbes

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"Sold like cows and goats": India"s slave brides

Thousands of girls and women in India are sold into marriage and often face a lifetime of abuse and hardship.

The first time Muklesha was sold, she was just 12 years old. Her buyer was a man in his 70s.

Marriage and a baby quickly followed. But, three years later, the man died and Muklesha was again put up for sale.

This time, her buyer was a horrific abuser.

"He didn't feed me. He'd take me to the fields and stuff my mouth with mud and then beat me," she says.

Muklesha is one of thousands of India's slave brides - girls and women sold into marriage, often destined for a lifetime of abuse and hardship, as this 101 East documentary reveals. 

A dangerous demand for brides 

In India, sex-selective abortions and female infanticide, due to a preference for male babies, has created one of the most severe gender imbalances in the world. 

Now, the shortage of women is generating a dangerous demand for brides among men desperate to marry, especially in states like Haryana, which has one of the country's worst gender ratios.

Traffickers are stepping in to meet this demand, kidnapping women from other states and selling them to men in Haryana.
A survey of 10,000 households in this northern state found more than 9,000 married women had come from other states. 

Al Jazeera discovered that some women living in villages in Haryana have been sold as many as three times.

The villagers call them "Paros", a derogatory term implying they've been purchased.

Sanjida was trafficked to Haryana when she was just 10 years old. She says an older girl from a village near her family's home in the north-eastern state of Assam drugged and kidnapped her.

"I was made to do field work, cut grass, feed cows, do all the work. I cried for a year. I was in captivity for four years," she says.

She says she was then sold into marriage.

"I couldn't run away or bring my life to an end. There was nobody whom I could ask for help," she says.
But Sanjida was luckier than most other Indian women sold into marriage. She says her husband has always treated her well. Sanjida now works for an NGO helping other women.

"All people in Haryana are disrespectful towards women like us. Everybody says we have no self-respect ... and that we are sold like cows and goats. We feel very bad when we hear all this because we are human beings and we belong to India, just like them," she says.

Sanjida is now helping Muklesha, the girl first sold when she was 12, after she was rescued from her abusive husband.
Muklesha now lives in a safe house with her 18-month-old daughter, but Sanjida says she's still so traumatised she hasn't been able to tell anyone where she comes from.

"Her second husband was so cruel. He beat her so badly that her mouth was damaged and she was affected mentally. She struggles to speak and to be understood," Sanjida explains.
'Commodities that can be recycled and resold'

For the brides who manage to escape their husbands, pursuing a criminal case against them can be near impossible, according to Narender Singh, a local district chief magistrate in Haryana.
"She's brought before the court to depose against the trafficker, who is a powerful person who has strong links in the community and the community is supporting him," he says. "So in these circumstances, it's very tough for that lady to stand by her statement."

He says the women have no rights, including when it comes to inheritance.

"I'm yet to see a case where they have legally inherited some land in their name. They are not accepted as a member of the family," he says.

Poonam Muttreja, executive director of the Population Foundation of India, says the bride trade reflects a cultural lack of respect for women.

"It's not just about sex selection and foeticide. It's about infanticide; it's about lack of value for girls," says Muttreja, a government adviser on family issues.

"It's a continuum where girls are not valued before they're born, but the girls are not valued or treated well even after they're born."

Muttreja says a shortage of women in Haryana has meant that it has become normal for men to buy brides from other states.

"They could marry their boys to girls from other parts of the country in the normal, respectful way, but it is the extreme lack of respect for women that they do sex trafficking," she says. "It's not as though they treat them as respected married partners. They treat them as commodities that can be recycled and resold."
The Indian government is drafting the country's first comprehensive anti-trafficking laws, but some activists say this will not be enough to stop the sale of brides.

"Unless you change social norms and the way people view girls, you're not going to be able to change either the sex ratios or the lack of respect for women," says Muttreja. "Buying brides is a lack of respect for women and lack of any value that a woman has."

For Sanjida, life has become all about her four children. She is determined that in her family at least, the practice of selling girls into marriage will end with her.

"I don't expect much for myself, but I work hard to educate my daughters so that they have a better life. Whatever I went through, they should not have to suffer that."

Source: Al Jazeera

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India scraps its two largest rupee notes in shocking anti-corruption move

India has discontinued its two largest rupee notes in a shocking move against corruption.

Notes worth 500 and 1,000 rupees will be invalid starting at midnight local time, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced during a televised address to the nation.
The unexpected move is designed to fight against corruption and money laundering, Modi said, calling them "diseases" and "obstacles" to the country's economic success.
Modi said that policy changes had largely failed to root out corruption. Two years ago, he said, India was ranked 100th in terms of global corruption perception, and the country has only improved to 76th.
The idea is that Indians who have stockpiled undeclared income will now be forced to come out of the shadows.
"This step will strengthen the hands of the common man in the fight against corruption, black money and fake currency," said Modi, who leads the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
But the ban could also spark a mad scramble as ordinary Indians seek to exchange or deposit their cash. Modi said citizens have 50 days to deposit at banks and post offices. Hospitals will be allowed to accept the banned notes for another three days, until Nov. 11.
That transition will not be an easy task. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) estimates that there are 16.5 billion 500 rupee notes and 6.7 billion 1000 rupee notes currently in circulation. ATMs will be shut on Nov. 9 and 10 to help implement the change.
Related: India's new central banker serves up surprise interest rate cut
The central bank is also preparing to issue a new series of 500 and 2,000 rupee notes, which are slated to enter circulation by Nov. 10.
Until then, the largest legal bill in circulation will be the 100 rupee note, which is worth only $1.50.
In a country where taxi drivers and shopkeepers are already reluctant to part with small bills, the sudden policy change could complicate business transactions in the short term.
Indian social media users widely praised the decision, calling it a "bold move." There were also, inevitably, plenty of jokes.

Credit: CNN

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New Delhi is the most polluted city on Earth right now

Fresh air doesn't exist in New Delhi at the moment.

India's capital is choking under off-the-charts smog, with some parts of the city reporting levels almost five times those considered "unhealthy" by the US environmental protection agency.
Measurements taken at the US Embassy in Delhi put the city's Air Quality Index at 999 on Monday, off the standard chart, which finishes at the "hazardous" level of 500.
By comparison, the highest AQI level recorded Monday in Baoding -- China's most polluted city -- was 298.
Beijing was a pleasant 30, while India's next most polluted city, coal and industry-heavy Chandrapur, recorded levels of 824, according to the World Air Quality Index.
Research released earlier this year found that air quality levels exceed World Health Organizations guidelines for 80% of those living in urban areas around the world.
Protests and pollution masks
In Khan Market, one of Delhi's trendiest areas, shops that specialized in anti-pollution masks were doing brisk business as people queued up to buy some modicum of protection from the toxic smog.
On Sunday, hundreds of people gathered to protest outside Parliament in the city center as others voiced their displeasure online, posting to Twitter with the slogan #MyRightToBreathe.
An emergency ruling issued over the weekend saw more than 5,000 schools closed and construction work halted for the next three days. Officials warned that the number of vehicles allowed on the streets may be restricted if the situation does not improve.

Credit: CNN

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Ban children from dangerous religious rituals, says India commission

CHENNAI, India, Oct 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - India's child protection agency has appealed to parents not to let children take part in religious rituals that could be dangerous, following a teenager's death after a 68-day fast.

The appeal follows public outcry over the death of 13-year-old Aradhana Samdhariya from the minority Jain community in the southern city of Hyderabad.

Samdhariya died due to cardiac arrest on Oct. 3, a day after her family held a procession in which she rode on a chariot dressed in bridal finery to celebrate the end of the ritual of surviving only on water.

"We are appealing to all communities to ensure that they do not adopt customs and rituals like fasting or self flagellation that will harm their children," Stuti Kacker, chair of the National Commission for the Protection of Child's Rights, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"There is an urgent need to change mindsets."

The commission has drawn up a plan to raise awareness about religious rituals that it says children shouldn't be involved in for their own safety. These range from self-flagellation and festivals in which tongues, cheeks and skin are pierced to walking on embers and child marriage.

Kacker said spiritual leaders would be called upon to help make sure such incidents don't happen again.

Child rights activists have called for the arrest of Samdhariya's parents on charges of murder, saying they likely coerced her into participating in the fast.

Her parents, devoted followers of Jainism, a religion that celebrates acts of renunciation, have denied they forced her to fast during the holy period of Chaumasa, observed from July.

"The parents should have known better," said Achyuta Rao of child rights charity Balala Hakkula Sangham, which filed a police complaint.

"In cases of hunger strike also, the police shift people to hospitals after a few days to make sure they don't die. This was just a 13-year-old girl. How can parents get away by saying the fast was voluntary?"

The Communist Party of India has also written to the Supreme Court, asking them to "take appropriate measures to stop this absurd orthodoxy".

Police have registered a case of culpable homicide against the parents. They are also seeking legal advice on whether to arrest them given that the body has been cremated without a postmortem.

"Her parents are in deep sorrow. No parent wishes this on their child," said Lalit Gandhi, president of the All India Jain Minority Cell.

"Many of our children go on short fasts of 10 to 20 days. It is a normal ritual. This incident was very unfortunate but certainly not intentional."

Gandhi added that the incident has started a debate within the community on whether children should be allowed to go on fasts at all.

"We are discussing it with our spiritual leaders," he said.

(Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj; editing by Timothy Large; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit


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India; One of the the least fortunate places to be a girl

Girls face myriad challenges to growing up healthy, happy, and successful — and it has a lot to do with where they’re born and raised. 
Oct. 11 is the official International Day of the Girl, as declared by the United Nations in 2011 (you may already know this if Facebook prompted you to skin your profile picture in support). The day was established to advocate for young girls and “to help galvanize worldwide enthusiasm for goals to better girls’ lives, providing an opportunity for them to show leadership and reach their full potential.” The U.S.-based arm of the movement is entirely youth-led and fights for “gender justice and youth rights.”

Part of this year’s initiative — the theme of which is Girls’ Progress = Goals’ Progress: What Counts for Girls — includes a just-published analysis of issues that affect girls and female teens. The Girls’ Opportunity Index ranks 144 countries in order of how well girls fare in those countries — “their opportunity to control their own lives and to fulfill their potential.”
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, the wife of the Canadian prime minister, set up a Facebook account for International Day of the Girl. 

If you’re a girl, the best country to be born in and live in is Sweden, according to the index. Finland and Norway come in second and third, respectively. This is because Scandinavian countries — including Denmark, which also ranked high — have the highest proportion of female members of parliament (MPs) and are high-income countries, according the index. In a nutshell, Scandinavia has hit the sweet spot when it comes to providing successful futures for girls.

Sadly, the United States ranks No. 32 on the list, behind countries such as Serbia, Kazakhstan, and Israel. “Not all rich countries are performing as well as they should,” the analysis states. “While the USA, the world’s biggest economy, ranks at number 8 in the HDI [UNDP’s Human Development Index, which assesses the development of a country based on not just economic growth but also people and their capabilities], it is at position 32 in our index, below Algeria and Kazakhstan.

“As well as women’s representation in parliament [Congress and Senate], the USA is let down by relatively high adolescent fertility and maternal mortality rates compared to other countries in its income group. Fourteen women died per 100,000 live births in the USA in 2015; a similar number to Uruguay and Lebanon, and far higher than the three deaths per 100,000 in Poland, Greece and Finland.”

The sobering index was compiled by Save the Children, an international group that works tirelessly to bring positive change to children in need through health and education programs, children’s rights advocacy, and poverty relief efforts. According to the Telegraph, it’s based on 2015 figures, which “ranked countries according to levels of schooling for girls, rates of child marriage, teen pregnancy, maternal deaths and the percentage of female MPs.” Only 19 percent of the members of Congress in the U.S. are women; that’s a relatively small number, especially when compared with Rwanda, where 64 percent of its MPs are female.

Some of the least fortunate places to be a girl, according to the index, are Afghanistan, Yemen, India, and Somalia. “[Worldwide,] 15 million girls are married off every year before they reach the age of 18. In developing countries, one in three girls is married before the age of 18, and one in nine before they reach the age of 15,” according to the Telegraph. This directly affects teen pregnancy, maternal deaths, and high levels of girls dropping out of school.

“The worst places to be a girl are amongst the poorest in the world,” the index states. And the absolute worst? That unfortunate distinction goes to Niger, an independent state in Africa.

But there’s hope, according to the report released by the U.N. Despite dire conditions in many areas and odds that are stacked against them, the Girls’ Opportunity Index encourages girls to seize the control they have over their own lives and to work hard to achieve their potential. The forces working against girls, according to the U.N., “stem from deeply entrenched discriminatory norms as well as from economic and political barriers.”

The factors holding girls back include incidents of teen and adolescent pregnancy, maternal mortality due to inadequate postnatal health care, school competition, and, as stated, a lack of women in parliament — these women give girls a voice and ensure that more attention is given to issues that affect girls’ rights.

Plus, women in parliament lead by example: The more there are now, the more there are likely to be in the future. This would perpetuate a positive cycle and hopefully lead to an upward trajectory for girls and women in the future.

The U.N. boils down the factors that lead to a bright future for girls to this three-prong strategy:

Fair finance, which “ensure[s] minimum financial security for all households to spur economic empowerment and prevent girls from dropping out of school or getting married due to poverty, conflict or disaster,” and “remove cost barriers to health, nutrition and education services — key sectors that affect girls’ resources and agency.”
Equal treatment, in other words, “guaranteeing the equal rights of all girls” to “challenge discriminatory laws, policies, norms and practices and building enabling environments to transform children’s lives” and “ensure all births are registered so that excluded girls are visible to policy-makers and can claim their equal rights, and ensure all marriages are registered for the realization of property rights.”

Accountability, by “guaranteeing that governance is inclusive, gender-sensitive, transparent and accountable to all girls by amplifying girls’ voices via meaningful opportunities for participation in civic action and policy and budget processes, with equitable access for the most excluded girls, and improving the quality, coverage and disaggregation of data to ensure that the extent and nature of exclusion that girls face is fully understood.”

While it might take quite a while and several generations to enact such change, the great thing is that the spotlight is placed squarely on the future of girls, and in a very high-profile way. Here’s to hoping time — and effort — heals all wounds when it comes to girls and their ability to grow into strong, powerful, healthy, happy women. America, we’re looking at you.

Credit: Yahoo news

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Fleeing Punjab villagers fear another war

Indian villagers living close to the border with Pakistan have been asked to evacuate, days after India said it launched strikes targeting militants in Kashmir. The BBC Hindi's Vineet Khare travels to the northern state of Punjab to talk to villagers who are leaving their homes.
"Why should we leave our homes? Who will feed my livestock? How long can we stay with our relatives? What if my house is burgled?"
Salvinder Singh is an angry and worried man, like many in his village Gilpun, near the India-Pakistan border in Punjab.
They had been asked to evacuate Gilpun over fears for their safety.

The undulated mud road cutting through Gilpun is in fact, lined with hired tractors and vehicles. Uncertainty loomed as villagers loaded utensils, livestock and large boxes filled to capacity with moveable items. Barring few, most have shifted.
"Our children have already left. We are going to our relatives," Kalwant Kaur tells me.
"It's dangerous here. We heard people say that on TV," adds Inderjeet Singh.
Relations between India and Pakistan have sharply deteriorated since last month, when militants carried out the deadliest attack on an Indian army base in Kashmir in years. India blamed the attack on Pakistan, which has denied the claim.

Last week, India said it had retaliated by carrying out "surgical strikes" against suspected militants along the de-facto border with Pakistan in Kashmir.
Soon after, officials asked that villages falling within 10km of the 553km (343 miles) border with Pakistan be evacuated.
That has sparked panic.
Relief camps for evacuees have been set up but these are plagued by complaints of poor inhabitable conditions.
The region witnessed two full-blown wars with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971. Tensions also peaked in 2001 when India mobilised its troops along the border after an attack on the Indian parliament which India blamed on Pakistan-based militants.
The threat of another war or war like situation is never seen to be far away.

'Scared again'
Life on the border regions is hard. Literacy is low and human development indicators poor. Bad roads, lack of good hospitals and schools adds to the challenges of living here.
"We are scared again," Tarsem Singh, from another border village Daoke, tells me as he prepares to leave with some others.
Most of them were going to their relatives. Some would come back in the morning to guard their homes before leaving again by sunset.
But leaving is not an easy choice for everyone.
In Atari, the border town known and the last Indian train station for the Samjhauta Express that runs between India and Pakistan, I met a group who had first fled but returned after two days.
"We had to earn a living. We couldn't be missing for long. But we are always ready. We keep our vehicle tanks full for any emergency," one of them said.

Meanwhile the state government is trying to send the message that it is doing everything possible at this time of crisis. Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has visited the border villages.
"This was a first of a kind of strike by India, so it is possible Pakistan could hit back," says Virsa Singh Valtoha, a lawmaker with Punjab's ruling Akali Dal-BJP government.
But political scientist Jagrup Singh calls the government direction of asking people to evacuate "unprecedented as no government in the past ever asked people to leave".
'Stoking war hysteria'
He reckons nearly 2.5 million people reside in nearly 1,800 villages up to 16km from the international border.
And there is also no dearth of those accusing the government of stoking "war hysteria" when state elections are around the corner.
The absence of any troop movement on ground is fuelling these charges.
"There is no fear of war. Our work hasn't been impacted," says Gurwinder of the Atari Border Truck Association that deals in trade with Pakistan.
"Drivers coming from Pakistan say everything is fine. Media is fuelling the matter," said another association member.
"If Pakistan reacts, the government can tell people, we told you so," claimed opposition Congress' Anoop Singh Bhullar.
But Mr Valtoha denies any politics and says the state acted following an advisory from the federal government. The state government has criticised the opposition for politicising the issue.

Meanwhile the tension between Indian and Pakistan has come in at a bad time for state farmers.
"The harvest is ready and people are being asked to evacuate. Some have refused to do so. Panic is being revved up when the popularity of the government is at an all time low," said Professor Singh.

Credit: BBC

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India"s ‘surgical strike’ on Pakistan territory hints at new era.

NEW DELHI — India’s military remained on high alert and villagers fled border areas Friday, a day after a claimed commando-style mission against suspected militants in Pakistan-controlled territory — an operation that could signal a key shift in India’s longtime policy of restraint toward its regional rival.

Details remained scarce about the “surgical strike” that Indian paramilitary forces say they conducted Thursday against militants assembled in six “staging areas” just across the so-called Line of Control dividing Kashmir.

India had said the counter terrorism strike killed militants in the “double digits.” Pakistan, meanwhile, said that Indian forces did not cross the line and instead shelled border posts, killing two Pakistani soldiers.

The action came just days after alleged Pakistan militants crossed the border near the Indian town of Uri and killed 18 Indian soldiers at an encampment, with another soldier succumbing to his wounds Friday.

The two countries have fought over the disputed Kashmir Valley region for nearly 70 years, and it remains at the heart of the conflict between South Asia’s two nuclear-armed powers.

Thursday’s claimed mission against militants was greeted with greeted with excitement in India, where fireworks crackled and the country awoke to banner headlines that read “India Strikes”” and simply “PAYBACK.”

In Pakistan, meanwhile, officials continued to deny any cross-border operation took place and the local media turned quickly from that news to the latest on cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan’s tour of Lahore.

Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, toured a combat readiness outpost in Lahore Friday and said that the military was in its “ highest state of vigilance” along its border with India, one of the most heavily militarized in the world.

“Any misadventure by our adversaries will meet the most befitting response,” Sharif said.

Diplomats and analysts on both sides of the border said that India’s actions could mark a new era in the showdowns between the two nations.

India long embraced a policy of strategic restraint in its dealing with Pakistan and chose verbal warnings over military action — even after the country was hit by Pakistani-based terror groups, according to Lalit Mansingh, a former Indian foreign secretary and ambassador to the United States. This includes the terror siege on Mumbai in 2008 by Lashkar-e-Taiba that left more than 160 civilians dead.

“It definitely is a change in our relations with Pakistan. After the 1998 nuclear tests, there was a feeling that military retaliation would invite escalation. In most cases, verbal warnings were used,” Mansingh said, referring to the atomic tests by both nations amid spiking tensions.

“Now the government has sent a very muscular message to Pakistan: Every terrorist act will invite a retaliation in military and non-military terms,” he added. “The restraint period is over.”

Experts have said that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — who rose to power on his reputation as a strong, nationalist leader — was under extreme pressure to respond forcefully to the terror strike at Uri and an earlier attack this year at a military encampment that left Indian six soldiers dead.

“India under Modi is a more assertive nation,” said Ram Madhav, the national general secretary for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. “For it, the alternative to war is peace, but not terrorism and humiliation. ‘Zero tolerance to terrorism’ is the stated policy of our government.”

The Indian government is also revisiting the terms of a water treaty between the two countries, re-examining their trade relationship and drumming up both international and regional diplomatic support.

Some experts in Pakistan suggested India’s strike was a ploy to detract attention to the worsening security in the Kashmir valley, riven by deadly protests since July.

Others said that the limited scale of this week’s clashes may prevent hostilities from escalating in the future.

“The Indian military was wiser and didn’t go for a deeper strike. They just fulfilled the wishes of the political leadership without causing any major disaster,” said Maj. Gen. Mahmud Ali Durrani, a former Pakistan ambassador to the United States. “Only two people died, and in the Indo-Pak context two people dying on the border is almost routine.”

When reminded that the Indian government has said the casualties were in “double digits,” Durrani said, “We say two were killed and they will say 100. The truth is lost between Indian and Pakistan when the first bullet is fired.”

Shaiq Hussain in Islamabad and Rama Lakshmi in New Delhi contributed to this report.

Credit: Washington Post

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Could India and Pakistan go to war?

Could India and Pakistan really go to war? It almost seems an absurd question to ask.

After all, both countries have long been nuclear powers -- a deterrent that encompasses the lives of a combined 1.4 billion people. Both nations have also seen some years of relative peace along their border, a break from the wars that pockmarked the 20th Century.

And yet, hours after 18 were killed in an attack on an army base in Indian-administered Kashmir, the director-general of military operations for the Indian Army announced that the terrorists carried gear which had "Pakistani markings."

An Indian army soldier takes position during an army barracks attack, near the border with Pakistan, September 18, 2016.

The allegation unleashed a torrent of fury on social media.

"Pakistan is a terrorist state and it should be identified and isolated as such," tweeted Rajnath Singh, India's home minister.

Ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's Secretary General Ram Madhav took to Facebook. "For one tooth, the complete jaw," he posted, seeming to imply a disproportionate retaliation.

On India's many TV news channels, a steady drum beat calling for war gained momentum, reaching a crescendo of sorts in primetime.

Arnab Goswami, the host of the country's most-watched English news hour, expressed rage at Pakistan: "We need to cripple them, we need to bring them down on their knees."

One of his guests, a retired army general, went a step further: "We must be seen as inflicting punishment on Pakistan by non-terrorist means ... the nation needs a catharsis!"

But what about the ready nuclear arsenals both countries possessed? Surely that would be a deterrent?

The retired army man, Major General G. D. Bakshi, had a clear answer: "Pakistan is one-fifth the size of India. If we fire even a part of our arsenal, most of it will be on the Pakistani Punjab, from where the Pakistani army comes: Not a crop will grow there for 800 years!"

"Let's stop self-deterring ourselves," he cried.

Pakistan put together a terse response.

Sartaj Aziz, the foreign affairs adviser to Pakistan's Prime Minister, issued a statement saying the country "categorically rejects the baseless and irresponsible accusations being leveled by senior officials in Prime Minister Modi's government."

Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman told CNN that India was "desperately looking for ways to deflect the world's attention from the situation in Indian-administered Kashmir," referring to the protests and unrest there.

And emotions have boiled over on the Pakistani side, too.

In New York on Monday, an Indian journalist was reportedly asked to leave a press briefing by the Pakistani foreign secretary.

"Remove this Indian," were the words an official used in Hindi, according to NDTV, the Indian news channel whose reporter was purportedly forced to walk away.

Ground realities

"It's easy to get carried away by the public rhetoric we're seeing," says Ajai Shukla, a former Indian army colonel who is now the strategic affairs editor of Business Standard.

Sunday's attack is not the first deadly attack on Indian soil that New Delhi has accused Pakistan of having a hand in.

In January, another Indian military base was attacked in northwestern Punjab, not far from the border with Pakistan. And then there were the Mumbai attacks in 2008 in which 164 people were killed.

While Indian officials continue to link those attacks to the Pakistan government, Islamabad has consistently denied any involvement.

In each of these terror attacks, and others like them, there have been calls for a strong Indian response.

"When it makes decisions, the (Indian) government is guided by realities, not by a public outcry," says Shukla. "They realize that if they do attack Pakistan it does not play out in India's favor."

Shukla points out that India is not strategically prepared to launch an attack -- which he says is a "failure of the planning process."

One also cannot ignore the fact that Pakistan has the 11th biggest army in the world, says Shukla.

"We're in a symmetrical relationship," he says. "The consequences of any form of attack are far worse than people realize."

Perhaps one difference with Sunday's attack, as compared with previous ones, is that some of the calls for an Indian retaliation are coming from within the government itself, which may necessitate action if only to save face.

Pakistan is watching the rhetoric in India very closely, says Musharraf Zaidi, an Islamabad-based commentator who has previously served as the principal adviser to the country's foreign minister.

"The sentiment of hurt and anger in India is understandable," says Zaidi. "But the Indian assertion that the attackers were from Jaish-e-Mohammad, within a mere three to four hours of the attack, and the notion that the group is an extension of Pakistani policy, is completely counterintuitive to even the worst, most cynical notions of Pakistan."

Zaidi says that while Islamabad may once have been supportive of groups that operated in Kashmir in the 1990s, Pakistan had long eschewed that path, with consistent and public statements from the Prime Minister and the army chief.

"In 2016, that would be a suicidal policy. Pakistan is a country that is trying to stitch together an economy. It is trying to market itself as a hub of trade for countries like China," Zaidi said.

India's tough rhetoric and calls for isolating Pakistan are a bonanza for hawks on both sides, says Zaidi: "It undermines the voices of reason."

Global diplomacy

The next steps of diplomacy -- or a war of words -- are likely to play out in New York this week on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. New Delhi is expected to call for sanctions on its neighbor, for what it alleges are clear moves to support terrorism.

Islamabad, meanwhile, is expected to highlight unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir, where a two-month-old curfew persists after mass demonstrations and violence.

India's approach will be crucial.

For decades, New Delhi has been resolutely aloof on foreign policy: It was one of the founders of the "Non-Aligned Movement," which kept the country neutral to superpower influence.

But at last week's NAM meeting in Caracas, India was not represented by its Prime Minister for the first time since 1961.

Instead, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made a point of cozying up to the United States. He has met with US President Barack Obama eight times since 2014, and three times so far in 2016.

Modi's foreign policy is decidedly more aligned and decisive -- perhaps one reason why his supporters expect a muscular move against Pakistan. (On Monday, for example, #MakePakPay was trending on Twitter in India.)

But the overwhelming prerogative for both India and Pakistan remains growth, not war.

And in the past few years, India has not heeded public calls for attacking Pakistan and that strategy has served it well.

According to a survey released Monday by the Pew Research Center, 81% of Indians hold a favorable view of Modi and 61% approve of his handling of terrorism. While 73% of Indians hold an unfavorable view of Pakistan, 56% favor talks between the two countries to reduce tensions, according to the survey.

Much of the world will be hoping Modi listens to the polling numbers, and not the fevered rhetoric on social media.

Credit - CNN 

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Kaveri river - a serious conflict between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka

The sharing of waters of the Kaveri river has been the source of a serious conflict between the Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

The genesis of this conflict rests in two agreements in 1892 and 1924 between the erstwhile Madras Presidency and Princely State of Mysore. The 802 kilometres (498 mi) Kaveri river has 44,000 km2 basin area in Tamil Naduand 32,000 km2 basin area in Karnataka.

Karnataka contends that it does not receive its due share of water from the river. It claims that the agreements were skewed heavily in favour of the Madras Presidency, and has demanded a renegotiated settlement based on "equitable sharing of the waters". Tamil Nadu, on the other hand, pleads that it has already developed almost 3,000,000 acres (12,000 km2) of land and as a result has come to depend very heavily on the existing pattern of usage. Any change in this pattern, it says, will adversely affect the livelihood of millions of farmers in the state 

Decades of negotiations between the parties bore no fruit. The Government of India then constituted a tribunal in 1990 to look into the matter. After hearing arguments of all the parties involved for the next 16 years, the tribunal delivered its final verdict on 5 February 2007. In its verdict, the tribunal allocated 419 TMC of water annually to Tamil Nadu and 270 TMC to Karnataka; 30 TMC of Kaveri river water to Kerala and 7 TMC to Puducherry. Karnataka and Tamil Nadu being the major shareholders, Karnataka was ordered to release 192 TMC of water to Tamil Nadu in a normal year from June to May

The dispute however, did not end there, as all four states decided to file review petitions seeking clarifications and possible renegotiation of the order.

The British controlled both Mysore and Madras for a short period in the middle of the 19th century. During their regime, numerous plans were drawn up for the utilization of the Kaveri waters by both states. However, the drought and subsequent famine in the mid-1870s put a hold on the implementation of these plans. The plans were revived by Mysore in 1881, by which time Mysore was back in the hands of the Mysore kings, while present day Tamil Nadu continued to remain a part of the Madras Presidency.

Mysore's plans to revive the irrigation projects met with resistance from the Madras Presidency. Mysore state made a representation to the Madras Presidency then British government; as a result of which, a conference was held in 1890 with the objective of agreeing "…on the principles of a modus vivendi, which would on the one hand allow to Mysore in dealing with irrigation works, and on the other, give to Madras practical security against injury to interests" and eventually the Agreement of 1892 was signed.

Things came to a head in 1910 when Mysuru, under Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar as the king and Capt. Dawes as Chief Engineer came up with a plan to construct a dam at Kannambadi village to hold up to 41.5 TMC of water. The dam was planned to be built in two stages. In the first stage a capacity of 11 TMC was envisioned, while in the second stage the full capacity was set to be realized. Madras however, refused to give its consent for this move as it had its own plans to build a storage dam at Mettur with a capacity of 80 TMC.

After a reference to the Government of India, permission was accorded to Mysore, but for a reduced storage of 11TMC. During construction, however, the foundation was laid to suit the earlier desired full storage. This raised Madras' hackles and the dispute continued. As a result, the then British Government of India referred the matter to arbitration under Rule IV of the 1892 Agreement. The Kaveri dispute thus had come up for arbitration for the first time.

Sir H D Griffin was appointed arbitrator and M. Nethersole, the Inspector General of Irrigation in India, was made the Assessor. They entered into proceedings on 16 July 1913 and the Award was given on 12 May 1914. The award upheld the earlier decision of the Government of India and allowed Mysore to go ahead with the construction of the dam up to 11 TMC.

Madras appealed against the award and negotiations continued. Eventually an agreement was arrived at in 1924 and a couple of minor agreements were also signed in 1929 and 1933. The 1924 agreement was set to lapse after a run of 50 years.

In 1947, India won independence from the British. Further in 1956, the reorganization of the states of India took place and state boundaries were redrawn based on linguistic demographics. Kodagu or Coorg (the birthplace of the Kaveri), became a part of Mysore state. Huge parts of erstwhile Hyderabad State and Bombay Presidency joined with Mysore state. Parts of Malabar which earlier formed part of Madras Presidency went to Kerala. Puducherry had already become a de facto Union territory in 1954.

All these changes further changed the equations as Kerala and Puducherry also jumped into the fray. Kerala staked its claim as one of the major tributaries of the Kaveri, the Kabini, now originated in Kerala. The Karaikal region of Puducherry at the tail end of the river demanded the waters that it had always used for drinking and some minimal agriculture. While these additional claims complicated matters greatly at a technical level, Mysore state and Tamil Nadu still remained the major parties to the dispute.

By the late 1960s, both states and the Central government began to realize the gravity of the situation as the 50-year run of the 1924 agreement was soon coming to an end. Negotiations were started in right earnest and discussions continued for almost 10 years.

On 20 February 2013, based on the directions of the Supreme Court, the Indian Government has notified the final award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal (CWDT) on sharing the waters of the Cauvery system among the basin States of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala and Union territory of Puducherry. The “extraordinary” notification in the gazette dated 19 February 2013 says the order takes effect on the date of publication.The Tribunal, in a unanimous decision in 2007, determined the total availability of water in the Cauvery basin at 740 TMC at the Lower Coleroon Anicut site, including 14 TMC for minimum environmental flows and unavoidable wastage to the sea. The final award makes an annual allocation of 419 TMC to Tamil Nadu in the entire Cauvery basin, 270 TMC to Karnataka, 30 TMC to Kerala and 7 TMC to Puducherry.

The water sharing criteria is based on two situations:

•             When water availability is equal or below the normal water year flows

•             When water availability is above the normal water year flows.

The 50% dependable water year is considered as normal water year whose total water availability in the basin is 740 TMC. All the unused water in the reservoirs (≥ 3 TMC storage) at the beginning of water year in the basin are also considered for arriving the total available water in a water year to be shared by the riparian states. Tamil Nadu has to use 10 TMC for minimum environmental flows downstream of Lower Coleroon Anicut and supply 7 TMC to Puducherry out of the 192 TMC water released by Karnataka in a normal water year

Below normal water year

When the water availability is below 740 TMC, the water to be released by Karnataka to Tamil Nadu is reduced in proportion to the 192 TMC releases in a normal water year.

Above normal water year

Karnataka can use all the excess water available in its area after releasing 192 TMC applicable in a normal water year. Tamil Nadu can also use all the excess water available in its area (including flood water from Karnataka if any)

Interim Supervisory Committee

In response to the Special Leave Petition (SLP) lodged by Tamil Nadu earlier, the Supreme Court on 10 May 2013 issued an interim direction to the Government of India (GoI) to establish an Interim Supervisory Committee to implement the Cauvery tribunal order till the constitution of “Cauvery Management Board” as stated in the tribunal order. GoI issued the gazette notification on 22 May 2013 establishing the said Supervisory Committee. Interim Supervisory Committee is a stop gap arrangement when there is delay in getting its approval by the parliament per section 6A(7) of Interstate River Water Disputes Act. However, Interim Supervisory Committee established by GoI under Interstate River Water Disputes Act has full powers {including suing and to be sued by riparian states/victims for damages / compensation per section 6A(3)} similar to an authority/ board established by parliament till parliament has not annulled the same.



While discussions continued, a Cauvery Fact Finding Committee (CFFC) was constituted. The brief of the CFFC was to inspect the ground realities and come up with a report. The CFFC came up with a preliminary report in 1972 and a final report in 1973. Interstate discussions were held based on this report. Finally in 1974, a draft agreement which also provided for the creation of a Cauvery Valley Authority was prepared by the Ministry of Irrigation. This draft however, was not ratified.

In 1976, after a series of discussions between the two states and the Central government chaired by Jagjeevan Ram, the then Irrigation Minister, a final draft was prepared based on findings of the CFFC. This draft was accepted by all states and the Government also made an announcement to that effect in Parliament.

When Karnataka began construction of the Harangi dam at Kushalanagara in Kodagu, it was once again met with resistance from Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu went to court demanding the constitution of a Tribunal under theInterstate River Water Disputes Act (ISWD) of 1956. It also demanded the immediate stoppage of construction work at the dam site.


Later Tamil Nadu withdrew its case demanding the constitution of a tribunal and the two states started negotiating again. Several rounds of discussions were held in the 1980s. The result was still, a stalemate. In 1986, a farmer’s association from Tanjavur in Tamil Nadu moved the Supreme Court demanding the constitution of a tribunal. While this case was still pending, the two states continued many rounds of talks. This continued till April 1990 and yet yielded no results.

The constitution of the tribunal. The Supreme Court then directed the government headed by Prime Minister V. P. Singh to constitute a tribunal and refer all disputes to it. A three-man tribunal was thus constituted on 2 June 1990. The tribunal was headquartered at New Delhi and was to be headed by Justice Chittatosh Mookerjee.

The four states presented their demands to the tribunal as under

•             Karnataka - claimed 465 TMC as its share

•             Kerala - claimed 99.8 TMC as its share

•             Puducherry - claimed 9.3 TMC (0.3 km³)

•             Tamil Nadu - claimed the flows should be ensured in accordance with the terms of the agreements of 1892 and 1924 (ie., 566 TMC for Tamil Nadu and Puducherry; 177 TMC for Karnataka and 5 TMC for Kerala).

Interim award and the riots

Soon after the tribunal was set up, Tamil Nadu demanded a mandatory injunction on Karnataka for the immediate release of water and other reliefs. This was dismissed by the tribunal. Tamil Nadu now went back to the Supreme Court which directed the tribunal to reconsider Tamil Nadu’s plea.

The tribunal reconsidered Tamil Nadu’s plea and gave an interim award on 25 June 1991. In coming up with this award, the tribunal calculated the average inflows into Tamil Nadu over a period of 10 years between 1980–81 and 1989–90. The extreme years were ignored for this calculation. The average worked out to 205 TMC which Karnataka had to ensure reached Tamil Nadu in a water year. The award also stipulated the weekly and monthly flows to be ensured by Karnataka for each month of the water year. The tribunal further directed Karnataka not to increase its irrigated land area from the existing 1,120,000 acres (4,500 km2)

Karnataka deemed this extremely inimical to its interests and issued an ordinance seeking to annul the tribunal’s award. The Supreme Court now stepped in at the President’s instance and struck down the Ordinance issued by Karnataka. It upheld the tribunal’s award which was subsequently gazetted by the Government of India on 11 December 1991.

Karnataka was thus forced to accept the interim award and widespread demonstrations and violence broke out in parts of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu following this. Thousands of Tamil families had to flee from Bangalore in fear of being attacked and lynched by pro-Kannada activists with the behest of the state government[18]. The violence and show down, mostly centered in the Tamil populated parts of Bangalore, lasted for nearly a month and most schools and educational institutions in Bangalore remained closed during this period.

The crisis of 1995–1996

In 1995, the monsoons failed badly in Karnataka and the state found itself hard pressed to fulfill the interim order. Tamil Nadu approached the Supreme Court demanding the immediate release of at least 30 TMC. The Supreme Court refused to entertain Tamil Nadu's petition and asked it to approach the tribunal. The tribunal examined the case and recommended that Karnataka release 11 TMC. Karnataka pleaded that 11 TMC was unimplementable in the circumstances that existed then. Tamil Nadu now went back to the Supreme Court demanding that Karnataka be forced to obey the tribunal's order. The Supreme Court this time recommended that the then Prime Minister, P. V. Narasimha Rao, intervene and find a political solution. The Prime Minister convened a meeting with the Chief Ministers of the two states and recommended that Karnataka release 6 TMC instead of the 11 TMC that the tribunal ordered. Karnataka complied with the decision of the Prime Minister and the issue blew over.

Constitution of the CRA

Karnataka had all through maintained that the interim award was not 'scientific' and was inherently flawed. It had, nevertheless, complied with the order except during 1995–96 when rains failed. What complicated matters was that the Interim award was ambiguous on distress sharing and there was no clear cut formula that everyone agreed upon to share the waters in the case of failure of the monsoon.

In 1997, the Government proposed the setting up of a Cauvery River Authority which would be vested with far reaching powers to ensure the implementation of the Interim Order. These powers included the power to take over the control of dams in the event of the Interim Order not being honoured. Karnataka, which had always maintained that the interim order had no scientific basis and was intrinsically flawed, strongly protested the proposal to set up such an authority.

The Government then made several modifications to the powers of the Authority and came up with a new proposal. The new proposal greatly reduced the executive powers of the Authority. The power to take over control of dams was also done away with. Under this new proposal, the Government set up two new bodies, viz., Cauvery River Authority and Cauvery Monitoring Committee. The Cauvery River Authority would consist of the Prime Minister and the Chief Ministers of all four states (Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Kerala) and was headquartered in New Delhi. The Cauvery Monitoring Committee on the other hand, was an expert body which consisted of engineers, technocrats and other officers who would take stock of the 'ground realities' and report to the government.

Events during 2002

In the summer of 2002, things once again came to a head as the monsoon failed in both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Reservoirs in both states fell to record low levels and inevitably tempers rose. The sticking point yet again, as in 1995–96 was how the distress would be shared between the two states. The tribunal had overlooked this crucial point[19] when it gave the interim award and it had returned once again to haunt the situation. Tamil Nadu demanded that Karnataka honour the interim award and release to Tamil Nadu its proportionate share. Karnataka on the other hand stated that the water levels were hardly enough to meet its own demands and ruled out releasing any water in the circumstances that prevailed.[20]

CRA meeting and the Supreme Court order

A meeting of the Cauvery River Authority was called on 27 August 2002 but the Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha walked out of the meeting. The focus now shifted to the Supreme Court which ordered Karnataka to release 1.25 TMC of water every day unless the Cauvery River Authority revised it. Karnataka was forced to release water but pressed for another meeting of the Cauvery River Authority which was fixed for 8 September. The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister this time boycotted the meet citing insufficient notice as the reason. A minister from her cabinet, however represented Tamil Nadu. The Cauvery River Authority revised the Court's order from 1.25 TMC to 0.8 TMC per day.

This time however, the Karnataka government in open defiance of the order of the Cauvery River Authority, refused to release any water succumbing to the large scale protests that had mounted in the Kaveri districts of the state. Tamil Nadu aghast at the defiance, went back to the Supreme Court. Karnataka now resumed the release of water for a few days, but stopped it again on 18 September as a Karnataka farmers and their protests threatened to take a dangerous turn. The centre now stepped in and asked Karnataka to release the water. The Supreme Court meanwhile, in response to Tamil Nadu's petition asked the Cauvery River Authority for details of the water release and water levels in the reservoirs.


The flare up had by now, well and truly taken an ugly turn and there were accusations and counter accusations being thrown all around in both states. The dispute had already spilled onto the streets in the Mandya district of Karnataka and was threatening to spread to other parts of the state too. Precipitating the matters on the streets, the Supreme Court ordered Karnataka on 3 October to comply with the Cauvery River Authority and resume the release of water.

Karnataka once again refused to obey the orders of the Supreme Court. Tamil Nadu filed another contempt petition on Karnataka and soon the issue degenerated into a 'free for all' with all and sundry from both states joining the protests. Soon, film actors and various other cross sections of society from both states were on the streets. Tamil TV channels and screening of Tamil films were blocked in Karnataka. Also all buses and vehicles from Tamil Nadu were barred from entering Karnataka.

The Karnataka Chief Minister, S. M. Krishna on the other hand, fearing that the situation might spiral out of control, embarked on a padayatra from Bangalore to Mandya. While some saw this as merely a gimmick, some, like U R Ananthamurthy saw it as a good faith effort to soothe tempers and joined him in the yatra.


This period did not see any major flare up in the dispute even though the summer of 2003 saw a dry spell in both states. The monsoons in 2004, 2005 and 2006 was quite copious and this helped a great deal in keeping the tempers calm. While the last 3 or 4 years have been relatively quiet as far as jingoistic voices are concerned, a flurry of development has been afoot in the courts.

The term of the tribunal was initially set to expire in August 2005. However, in the light of the many arguments the court was yet to hear, the tribunal filed a request for extension of its term. The extension was granted and the tribunal's term was extended for another year until September 2006. Early in 2006, a major controversy erupted over the 'Assessor's report' that was apparently 'leaked' to the press. The report had suggested a decision whichKarnataka summarily rejected. Another major controversy erupted when just a couple of months before the September 2006 deadline, the tribunal recommended the formation of another expert committee to study the 'ground realities' yet again. This was unanimously and vehemently opposed by all the four states party to the dispute. The states contended that this move would further delay a judgment which has already been 16 years in the making.

More than the disapproval of all the four states of the new expert committee that was proposed, the proposal turned out to be a major embarrassment for the tribunal. This was because, not only were the four states opposed to it even the Chief Judge of the tribunal was opposed to it. However the other two assistant judges on 3-man adjudication team, overruled the opinion of the main Judge. And all this was done in a packed courtroom and this led to petty bickering and heated arguments between the three judges in the packed courtroom. This left everyone in the courtroom shocked and the Tamil Nadu counsel was moved to remark that it was embarrassing that the judges probably needed help settling their own disputes before adjudicating on the dispute at hand. Nonetheless, the new expert committee was formed and carried out further assessments. Subsequently, the extended deadline of the tribunal also passed and the tribunal was given yet another extension. ,

2007 tribunal verdict

The Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal announced its final verdict on 5 February 2007.[10] According to its verdict, Tamil Nadu gets 419 TMC of Kaveri water while Karnataka gets 270 TMC. The actual release of water by Karnataka to Tamil Nadu is to be 192 TMC annually. Further, Kerala will get 30 TMC and Puducherry 7 TMC.[21] Water to be released to Tamil Nadu according to monthly schedule as: June month (10 tmcft), July (34), August (50), September (40), October (22), November (15), December (8), January (3), February (2.5), March (2.5), April (2.5) and May (2.5).[22] The Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, unhappy with the decision, filed a revision petition before the tribunal seeking a review.[citation needed]


On 19 September 2012, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is also the Chairman of the Cauvery River Authority, directed Karnataka to release 9,000 cusecs of Kaveri water to Tamil Nadu at Biligundlu (the border) daily. But Karnataka felt that this was impractical due to the drought conditions prevailing because of the failed monsoon. Karnataka then walked out of the high-level meeting as a sign of protest. On 21 September, Karnataka filed a petition before the Cauvery River Authority seeking review of its 19 September ruling.

On 24 September, Tamil Nadu's Chief minister directed the officials to immediately file a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a direction to Karnataka to release Tamil Nadu its due share of water.

On 28 Sep 2012, the Supreme Court slammed the Karnataka government for failing to comply with the directive of the Cauvery River Authority. Left with no other option, Karnataka started releasing water. This led to wide protests and violence in Karnataka.

On 4 October 2012, the Karnataka government filed a review petition before the Supreme Court seeking a stay on its 28 September order directing it to release 9,000 cusecs of Cauvery water everyday to Tamil Nadu, until 15 October.

On 6 October 2012, several Kannada organisations, under the banner of “Kannada Okkoota”, called a Karnataka bandh (close down) on 6 October in protest against the Kaveri water release. On 8 October, the Supreme Court of India announced the release of 9,000 cusecs had to be continued and it was up to the Cauvery River Authority's head, the Prime Minister, as a responsible person, to ensure this happened. The Prime Minister ruled out a review of the Cauvery River Authority’s decision until 20 October, rejecting the plea by both the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders from Karnataka. Within a few hours, Karnataka stopped release of Kaveri water to Tamil Nadu.

On 9 October 2012, Tamil Nadu's chief minister directed authorities to immediately file a contempt petition against the Karnataka government for flouting the verdict of the Supreme Court by unilaterally stopping the release of water to Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu made a fresh plea in the Supreme Court on 17 October, reiterating its demand for appropriate directions to be issued to Karnataka to make good the shortfall of 48 tmcft of water as per the distress sharing formula.

On 15 November 2012, The Cauvery Monitoring Committee directed the Karnataka government to release 4.81 tmcft to Tamil Nadu between 16 and 30 November.

On 6 December, the supreme court directed Karnataka to release 10,000 cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu. The court asked the union government to indicate the time frame within which the final decision of the Cauvery Water Dispute Tribunal, which was given in February 2007, was to be notified. This decision was given in the view of saving the standing crops of both the states.


On 5 September 2016, in the latest development in Cauvery river water controversy, Supreme Court directed the Karnataka government to release 15,000 cusecs of water per day to Tamil Nadu for the next ten days. On 12 September, the Supreme Court modified its order, and instead asked the state administration in Karnataka to release 12,000 cusecs of water on a daily basis till September 20. Widespread disorder was present in Karnataka with bandhs,road, rail, metro and air travel impacted, buses burnt, and anti-tamil violence resulting in curfew being imposed in parts of Bengaluru

Credit - Wikipedia

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Vaccine brings new hope to India"s largest leprosy colony

With nearly 60% of all new cases of leprosy every year being recorded in India, the Indian government has launched an intensive programme to eliminate the dreaded disease, writes journalist Rebecca Hobson.
When Muhammad Shafiq Siddique came home to find his bedding thrown into the street, he knew his time was up. At the time, he was 16 years old.
"My family didn't accept me and the village people didn't want me there. I was very hurt so I had to go," recalls the 67-year-old part-time Urdu teacher.
Since Siddique had contracted leprosy, he was banished from his community. He now lives in a concrete hut in Tahirpur, a government appointed leprosy colony on the outskirts of north Delhi.
Like many of his neighbours, Siddique is cured. But it's his physical appearance - his misshapen nose, hands and feet, and the social stigma the disease carries - that prevents him from living outside the colony. And besides, this is now home.
This ostracisation has fuelled the age-old stigma that's so tightly bound to the disease, helping it to thrive in a country where free and effective treatment has been made available since 1983.

Around 5,000 families call Tahirpur home, making it the largest of India's more than 800 leprosy colonies.
Despite its cramped living conditions, open sewers and piles of rubbish, it's also the most developed of the leprosy colonies as it has concrete huts, water pumps and working toilets.
But now, in what will hopefully become a watershed moment for leprosy, the government is rolling out the world's first leprosy vaccine in two of the worst affected states, Gujarat and Bihar, with a plan to implement it nationwide in the future.
Prof Gursaran Prasad Talwar first developed the Mycobacterium indicus pranii (MIP) vaccine in the 1980s at the National Institute of Immunology, an autonomous state-funded institution under the government's Department of Biotechnology.
In 2005, the institute carried out field trials in Uttar Pradesh where 24,000 people were vaccinated. The results were extremely promising; 68.6% were protected for four years, and 59% were protected for eight years.
In the same year, however, the World Health Organisation declared leprosy officially eradicated.

For India, this declaration was little short of disastrous. Leprosy, says Dr Mary Verghese of The Leprosy Mission Trust India, "fell off the radar."
"Earlier [leprosy treatment] was a vertical programme," she explains.
"That means we had designated people and treatment through special activities. But since 2005 it has been integrated into the general healthcare services, which means we never went out actively to look for cases. People had to come voluntarily into the health care system."
But few people came. And when they did, it was often once the disease was in a late stage of development and they were suffering from irreversible disabilities with telltale marks like shortened toes and fingers from where the infected person's cartilage is absorbed into the body.
"People didn't focus on it (leprosy) after 2005, and that's why we've seen about 125,000 new cases reported every year. And the number of cases with disability has been steadily increasing also."
The MIP vaccine is part of a fresh attempt to eliminate leprosy, explains Soumya Swaminathan, the director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research which is working with the government on rolling it out.

An ambitious house-to-house survey was also launched in July and the Leprosy Case Detection Campaign promises to screen more than 32 million people in problem areas.
Dr Swaminathan, who says the vaccine is totally safe, highlights its effective use for other treatments, including bladder cancer.
"The role of the council is to test it in different conditions, for the healing of lesions and among people in contact with leprosy patients. This isn't a trial, it is field implementation research."
But vaccination is only part of the solution. Sanitation must be improved too, believes Dr Utpal Sengupta, a leading scientist in the field.
"Transmission is human-to-human contact, but we think environment is also playing a role."
Dr Sengupta, who has studied the disease for more than 40 years, points to findings that show how the bacteria that causes leprosy - Mycobacterium leprae - can live outside a host for prolonged periods in wet soils and pools of water.
He believes that in rural areas where groups of people live with the disease and bathe in communal pools, M. leprae can be transmitted to the water and even live in the soil.

Back in Tahirpur, the end of the monsoon season is dry and not too hot, so men play cards, children run around and women chat in doorways.
These would be everyday scenes if it weren't for the white bandages wrapped around the club-shaped feet of a man having his hair cut, or the stumps in place of hands belonging to the woman talking to him.
Here, we meet 18-year-old Somu Kumar who has travelled from Bihar to Delhi for treatment. He is alone and looks disorientated, tired and much younger than his age.
His foot is bandaged and he hides his hands as he talks. The leprosy began when he was six, he says. He's taken the prescribed multidrug therapy and is cured, but has ongoing complications with his feet, like so many leprosy sufferers.
As we talk, he becomes upset, particularly when asked about his village and the reactions from the people there. He has studied up to 10th grade, he says, changing the subject - an important turning point in the Indian education system.
So what will he do next?
"Why would I carry on?" he asks with a tearful shrug.
Discriminatory laws
The Leprosy Mission Trust India holds vocational training courses for people like Kumar, to help them find work and restore their confidence.
Projects like these play a crucial part in reforming people's understanding of the disease, but nobody denies that there's still a long way to go.
Common misconceptions are reinforced by outdated and discriminatory laws like the 1898 Lepers Act brought in during the British rule.
Under this law a man or a woman can file for divorce if their spouse is diagnosed with leprosy. Other laws prohibit patients from holding driving licenses or travelling on trains.
Now the Leprosy Mission Trust is working with the government to ban these laws.
"The stigma has been there since time immemorial," says Dr Verghese. "Many people think it's a curse from God, that it's hereditary, but there's a very effective treatment.
"The myths and misconceptions still prevail. The fear is within themselves."


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India keeps crown as world"s fastest growing major economy

India's breakneck growth rate has slowed, but not enough to cost it the title of world's fastest growing big economy.

Gross domestic product growth dipped to 7.1% in the quarter ended June, a disappointing performance but one that still trumps the 6.7% posted by China in its most recent quarter.

The slowdown comes as unease mounts over the pace of economic reforms, leadership at the central bank, and intractable problems that politicians seem unable to tame: corruption, bureaucracy and onerous regulation.

Economists have even called into question the validity of the country's GDP statistics, which have diverged from other indicators after government officials changed how the number is calculated.

Shilan Shah, an economist at Capital Economics, estimated that growth was "almost certainly weaker" than official statistics indicate, and perhaps as slow as 5.5% or 6% in the quarter. There are also concerns that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's reform drive has ground to a halt.

Modi spent huge amounts of political capital getting his signature Goods and Services Tax approved by legislators in August. When implemented, it could boost the economy by simplifying the country's byzantine tax system.

But with state elections looming in 2017, analysts are worried that other vital plans will be shelved. Proposals to liberalize labor markets and reform India's antiquated land ownership laws, for example, now stand little chance.

Another of Modi's priorities -- reducing red tape for small businesses -- has scarcely progressed. India ranks 130th in a World Bank index measuring the regulatory burden on small firms, an improvement of just four spots from 2015. The country's infrastructure is inadequate, and will take decades to upgrade.

The departure of Reserve Bank of India chief Raghuram Rajan has also raised questions: Was the rock star central banker too outspoken for New Delhi's taste?

Despite the doubts, India remains an attractive bet for multinationals. The country's growing middle class has money to spend, and its youthful population offers huge potential.

The prospect of turning that potential into profits has lured a parade of foreign executives to India: the CEOs of Microsoft (MSFTTech30), Google (GOOGLTech30) and Apple (AAPL,Tech30) have all visited the country in the past year.


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How India can stem the rising scourge of racism against Africans

India has seen a rise in incidents of racism by its citizens against foreign nationals, especially Africans, in recent times. As a country with the largest diaspora communities, India needs to be particularly worried by this development.

The country is home to a significant migrant population, most of it from the neighbouring countries in South Asia. In 2010, there were 5.4 million foreign-born people in the country. The number of Africans in India is estimated to be about 40 000, of whom 25 000 are students.

Yet, these small numbers are significant for the growing relations between India and Africa. The Indian government has been announcing scholarships, grants and credit lines for Africa against the backdrop of the India-Africa Forum summits. In spite of these efforts to woo Africa, the government is in denial about racist attacks against Africans in India.

In the wake of the recent attacks on Africans in India, the official denial that such acts are racist hampers efforts to tackle the problem. This, plus the fact that the perpetrators are hardly ever brought to book is a major cause for their recurrence.

India and Africa matter to each other

The government positioning stands in contrast to the historic relations between India and Africa founded on the tenets of anti-racism and anti-colonialism. Moreover, the government’s stand risks jeopardising India’s growing relations with Africa in the fields of trade, technology and human resource development. India’s trade with Africa has grown from $1 billion in 1990-1991 to $71 billion in 2014-2015.

Despite this, stereotyping of Africa is common. African countries are often insidiously used as a metaphor for under-development. And Africans in India are associated with labels such as “debased” as well as “drug-peddling and prostitution”. These stereotypes are constructs of economic hierarchy coloured in racist hues.

Crime and prejudice in India

Racial violence has its parallels in other forms of violence in India. The prejudice runs across multiple channels from caste, region, religion to gender. Sporadic violence against “vulnerable” groups - including black people, white women, Indian women, minorities and the lower castes - is commonplace. The foreigner thus gets caught up in the social hierarchies of the country.

This was apparent in the mob attack against African students in the Delhi metro in 2014 by a crowd chanting nationalist slogans. The ostensible reason for the attack was that the African males had misbehaved towards an Indian woman, even though the police have no register of such a complaint.

The recent attack on a young Tanzanian woman student in Bangalore allegedly happened under the watch of a police constable who did nothing to stop it. She was stripped by a mob that sought justice for a road accident in which a Sudanese national’s car ran over a local woman.

Government response

The Indian government is largely in denial when it comes to racism. Refusing to acknowledge the racism and projecting the incidents as simply cases of urban violence means they are unlikely to prick at the conscience of Indian society, as they should.

The government was recently spurred into action but only after African diplomats reacted to the murder of MK Oliver, a Congolese student in May 2016. The Indian Minister of State (External Affairs) personally met members of the African communities and strong police action against the culprits was assured.

And the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Home Affairs have launched a series of racism sensitisation programmes in neighbourhoods where most African citizens reside.

This is a step forward, but more needs to be done. Racism and racist violence are not limited to Indians who live in close proximity to African citizens.

What needs to be done

India’s Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Home Affairs need to make a concerted effort to sensitise the police and the public about how racism contradicts India’s past and present ideals.

One way to do that is to inform Indians about how Indians and people of Indian origin are able to live peacefully and prosper in Africa and other parts of the world.

In addition, the Ministry of External Affairs should have a department dedicated to addressing breaches of human rights against foreigners in the country. And appropriate and corrective laws should be passed and enforced to combat acts of racism.

NGOS also have a role to play. Those working in human rights need to speak out against discrimination and racist violence and provide legal support to the victims. They could also lead community awareness programmes against racism, drawing on experiences from other countries.

As most Africans in India are students, the Ministry of Human Resources needs to drive campaigns against racism on campuses. Educational institutions in India should be told about the importance of scholarship programmes for Africans. Efforts should also be made to educate Indian students about Africa.

African students should be given appropriate lodging and boarding facilities in and around the campus or in the vicinity of other students’ residences instead of being confined to a few “African” neighbourhoods. Such geographical demarcations increase the risk of alienation and stigmatisation.

States must step in

There is a role for governments too. Unlike colonial relations of exploitation, the tenets of South-South Co-operation emphasise mutual respect.

Indian ministries and the media should not restrict themselves to running headlines on the millions of dollars India allocates to Africa.

The fact that Africa contributes to growing the Indian economy should also be given attention. For example, lines of credit benefit India by creating markets for private and public Indian companies. This is because they come with the condition that 75% of goods and services are sourced from India.

The private sector, given its considerable interests in Africa, also needs to take a lead in showing the continent’s worth to India. Such efforts are important in dismantling fallacious notions of hierarchy and superiority, which the booming Indian economy seems to bring.

And African countries must push for equality as the building block of co-operation. Anti-racism should be reiterated at the commencement of the India-Africa summits and should be set to stone in the form of appropriate treaties.

The Conversation

Pooja Jain-Grégoire, Researcher and Course Lecturer International Development Co-operation, École des Hautes Études en sciences sociales (EHESS) - PSL

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

courtesy to

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Hundreds of graphic gang-rape videos are being sold daily in shops in northern India

MUMBAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Graphic mobile phone clips of gang rapes are being sold in shops in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, as a spate of rapes in one of the country's most violent states has sparked anger and calls for the chief minister to step down.

The clips, which last 30 seconds to five minutes, are being sold in the "hundreds, perhaps thousands, every day," the Times of India reported. They cost 50 to 150 rupees ($0.75 to $2) each.

"We are aware. We are taking necessary action. But it is difficult, as the sales are happening below the counter," Ajay Sharma, a deputy inspector general of police in the city of Agra, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In recent weeks, several gang rapes have been reported in Uttar Pradesh, which ranks among the most unsafe for women.

Last week, a woman and her 14-year-old daughter were dragged from their vehicle at gunpoint on a major highway and gang-raped for hours in nearby fields. Local media reported that initially the police did not respond to a call for help.

The daily Indian Express reported that this week another woman was gang-raped in Uttar Pradesh and said the incident had been recorded on a mobile phone.

Increasingly, perpetrators are recording their crimes on mobile phones to use as a blackmailing tool and to dissuade victims from going to the police, the Times of India said.

Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has come under fire over the rise in violent crimes against women, with #LawlessUP trending on Twitter this week.

In 2014, there were 337,922 reports of violence against women including rape, molestation, and abduction, a 9% increase on the previous year, according to official data.

Women's rights activists say rape victims in India suffer enormous stigma and endure an archaic and insensitive criminal-justice system.

During lengthy trials, victims and their witnesses are sometimes intimidated by the accused, who in some cases are granted bail by the court.

A wave of public protests following the fatal gang rape of a woman on a Delhi bus in December 2012 prompted the government to enact stiffer penalties, including the death sentence for repeat rape offenders and the criminalization of stalking.

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India has passed its biggest tax reform in 70 years

Indian lawmakers have finally passed the country’s biggest tax reform since 1947.
Late on Aug. 03, lawmakers in Asia’s third largest economy passed the Constitution (122nd Amendment) Bill, 2014, which would allow the roll-out of the much-awaited Goods and Services Tax (GST). The GST will replace at least 17 state and federal taxes and bring them under one unified tax structure.
The GST was first mooted in 2000, and the idea is to help create a single national market, unlike now, where state and central governments put in place multiple layers of taxation. That has made doing business in the country cumbersome. The new tax is now expected to add up to two percentage points to India’s GDP, currently the fastest growing large economy in the world.
India’s tax system has for decades consisted of several layers of indirect taxes, which add between 25% and 40% to the cost of goods and services. The government is yet to announce the GST rate, but various news reports peg it at between 15% and 18%. The GST will, however not include taxes on petroleum products, electricity duties, excise duty on alcohol, and stamp duty on immovable property. These goods provide substantial revenues to state governments.
Boost to reform
The passage of the bill will also boost to the reform agenda of the Modi government, which has struggled to bring about an extensive overhauling of the economy as he had promised before the election.
“Two years into the Modi administration, many US policymakers and stakeholders are concerned that neither the Indian government’s rhetoric nor bilateral engagement has led to substantial, sustained economic reforms in India, superseding earlier optimism about the likelihood of expanding Indo-US commercial ties,” a report by US Congress’ research wing said in June this year.
The GST, though, will give Modi the much-needed impetus to kickstart those reforms.
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India"s top court refuses to hear gay-sex ban challenge

India's Supreme Court refused on Wednesday to hear a petition challenging a law criminalizing gay sex, a setback for gay rights activists battling in the country's courts to get the ban overturned.

A number of well-known lesbian, gay and bisexual Indians had argued that Section 377 of India's penal code, which prohibits "carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal", undermined their fundamental rights by failing to protect their sexual preferences.

"The Supreme Court refused to hear the matter and asked the petitioners to approach the Chief Justice of India," Arvind Dattar, a lawyer for one of the petitioners, told Reuters.

India's chief justice is already hearing a separate case to strike down the ban, and India's top court has previously argued that only parliament has the power to change Section 377.

The decision is the latest setback India's gay community has faced in its fight to get a prohibition on homosexual sex overturned ever since the Supreme Court reinstated a colonial-era ban in late 2013.

That ban ended a four-year period of decriminalization that had helped bring homosexuality increasingly out into the open in a deeply conservative society.

Discrimination faced by homosexual communities across the world was thrown into sharp relief again this month after a gunman slaughtered 49 people at a gay nightclub in Florida.

Some Western countries have pressured India to overturn its ban on gay sex and respect human rights regardless of sexual orientation.

This month U.S. Ambassador Richard Verma's residence in New Delhi's leafy diplomatic quarter was lit in the colors of the rainbow in a gesture of solidarity towards victims of the Orlando massacre.

Violation of the Indian law on gay sex can result in a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

(Reporting by Tommy Wilkes and Suchitra Mohanty; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani) Reuters

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Indian students want this dream job more than Facebook or Disney

Ask Indian students to name their dream job, and you hear a lot about Google, Apple and Facebook. But many want to work somewhere slightly less flashy: the country's central bank. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is one of the country's most desirable employers, according to a new survey from research firm Universum Global.

The central bank ranks third on the list of employers most sought after by business students, behind Google (GOOGL, Tech30) and Apple (AAPL, Tech30) but ahead of Facebook (FB, Tech30), BMW (BAMXY), Microsoft (MSFT, Tech30) and Disney (DIS).

MBA students also display a strong preference for Western companies. But here too, the RBI holds its own, ranking fifth ahead of McKinsey, Amazon (AMZN, Tech30), JP Morgan (JPM) or local e-commerce darling Flipkart. What's so desirable about the spreadsheets, number crunching and regulatory minutia that are a central bank's stock in trade? Graduates are likely attracted to the RBI because of its reputation for getting things done in a country where the entrenched bureaucracy has a well-earned reputation for lethargy and graft. On jobs site Glassdoor, the central bank earns glowing reviews. "The most inspiring and motivating experience of my life," reads one review.

"At the RBI there are no limits," says another.  The arrival of star central banker Raghuram Rajan in 2013 won't have hurt either. The University of Chicago professor is best known for predicting the financial crisis several years before it occurred, but he has also earned top marks as head of the RBI. Rajan has an unusually wide brief for a central banker. In addition to monetary policy, the RBI also oversees bond trading, issues currency, grants bank licenses and supervises the financial system. It's doing all that with far fewer people than a generation ago.

The number of RBI employees has been slashed to 16,700 from 35,500 in 1981.  The silver lining for prospective applicants is that there is higher turnover among those workers. "A key factor in RBI's success has been a satisfied staff," the central bank wrote in its 2015 annual report. "Today, we lose more [employees] than we should be comfortable with."

CNNMoney (New Delhi) First published June 16, 2016: 7:31 AM ET

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India overhauls aviation rules to boost air travel

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India overhauled rules governing the world's fastest-growing aviation market on Wednesday to make it easier for new airlines to fly overseas, aiming to boost air travel and economic growth.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government presented the national civil aviation policy, which has been years in the making, in a bid to make flying more affordable for India's expanding middle class, bolster competition and get more of the country connected.

Implementing the policy is a sign that Modi's government is beginning to find traction with key reforms, which also included the recent introduction of new real estate and bankruptcy laws, after a series of setbacks in his first two years in office.

Under the policy, domestic carriers will no longer have to operate for five years before they can fly abroad, known as the 5/20 rule, although they must still deploy 20 aircraft or 20 percent of total capacity in India, whichever is higher.

The change, effective immediately, is a boost for Tata Group's two recent ventures - Vistara, in partnership with Singapore Airlines, and AirAsia India, with Malaysia's AirAsia Bhd - and could encourage other foreign carriers to enter the country.

"We need more airlines, more aircrafts serving our Indian skies, so if more airlines want to come to India they are welcome," aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju told reporters.

Passenger numbers on domestic flights jumped 21 percent in 2015 to more than 80 million. The government aims to increase that number to 300 million by 2022.

International travel is growing more slowly, at 9 percent a year, but newer airlines are eager to start flying overseas where routes can be more lucrative than in the fiercely competitive domestic sector.

Easing the 5/20 rule, unique to India, marks a further step towards liberalising the country's aviation market.

While the change is a boost for the new carriers, incumbents like Etihad-backed Jet Airways, InterGlobe Aviation's Indigo Airlines and SpiceJet that already fly overseas had lobbied hard to keep the rule in place.

However, Vistara, with 10 jets, is at least a year away from having the 20 planes needed to fly abroad, meaning that there is no immediate threat to the established players.

AirAsia India has only six A320 planes but its CEO said it would accelerate fleet expansion plans.

"We will now take that (rule change) into account and invest in India to get to that 20 mark as soon as possible, as soon as viable," CEO Amar Abrol said.

Shares in Jet Airways, InterGlobe and SpiceJet rose on news the civil aviation policy had been approved.


The government also announced it would cap base fares on regional routes at 2,500 rupees ($37) per hour of travel to get more people flying to and from under-served destinations, with the government providing part of the funding to make it viable.

The cap does not affect the most popular routes, like New Delhi to financial capital Mumbai.

Funding for new "no-frills" airports would also be made available and excise duty on fuel would be cut, civil aviation secretary R. N. Choubey said.

India's air travel market has boomed in the last decade as it opened up to competition, ticket prices were slashed and the number of people wealthy enough to travel ballooned.

Still, India's annual trips per capita, at 0.04, compares to 0.3 in China.

Amber Dubey, head of aerospace at KPMG in India, said he welcomed the focus on regional connectivity and replacing the 5/20 rule, predicting it would accelerate growth.

"The National Civil Aviation Policy ... is likely to enhance that further by taking flying to the masses through a slew of policy initiatives and fiscal and monetary support," he said.

($1 = 67.1200 Indian rupees)

(Additional reporting by Nigam Prusty; Writing by Tommy Wilkes; Editing by David Clarke and Susan Fenton)

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Here"s How to Profit From an Improving U.S.-India Economic Relationship

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, highlighting in his speech the common bonds between the two largest democracies in the world. Defense and security issues are an important component of the relationship between the U.S. and India, but there are also economic interests, such as trade growth, limitations on foreign investment and intellectual property rights.

Investing in American companies with exposure to India is one way to profit from an improvement in U.S.-India relations. Attempts by Amazon (AMZN) and Apple (AAPL) to gain a foothold in India have made headlines recently, but historically, defense contractors have been the primary beneficiaries of trade with India.

An alternative play is an exchange-traded fund that invests exclusively in companies in India. The iShares MSCI India (INDA) ETF is market-cap-weighted and represents the top 85% of companies in the Indian securities market.
The weekly chart shows the fund marking a triple top in early 2015 and then spending the remainder of the year making a series of lower highs and lower lows, taking it down to the area of the 62% retracement level of its 2013-to-2015 rally range. At that point, it was able to quickly reverse trend and bounce back up to recapture the 50% retracement level and ultimately take out the 38% retracement level. It looks like a solid base has been established, and this consolidation process has formed a familiar pattern on the daily chart.
A large inverse head and shoulders pattern formed over the last seven months on this timeframe, with neckline resistance at the 38% retracement level seen on the weekly chart. That resistance was broken this month, and price has continued higher. Daily moving average convergence/divergence is overlaid on a weekly histogram of the oscillator and is tracking higher on both time frames, and the aroon oscillator, which is designed to identify early shifts in trend, has made a bullish center line crossover. Additionally, the 50-day moving average moved above the 200 day average, in a classic "golden" cross, which further supports the technical case. Money flow has also improved as evidenced by the accumulation/distribution line retaking its 21-period signal average, and Chaikin money flow, which is based on a 20-period average of the A/D line, has crossed into positive territory. These readings suggest renewed buying interest and support the positive price momentum indications.

A protracted base has been established on the charts, the technical indications are positive, and there is a major political effort underway to foster better relations between the two countries. This is a powerful combination of technical and fundamental factors that should drive the price of the fund going forward.
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"We are scared" _ Africans in India say racism is constant

(file photo)
NEW DELHI (AP) — Fear and anger. Those are the emotions that shadow Odole Emmanuel Opeyemi every time the Nigerian man steps out of his New Delhi apartment.
Every encounter with Indians is fraught with those feelings, whether he's taking an autorickshaw or the Metro, buying vegetables or trying to find a spot to park his car.
"When I sit down in the Metro, people sit away from me. Even old men and women will stand up as if any contact with me will give them a disease," he said, describing the mixture of fear and revulsion with which most Indians treat Africans.
Opeyemi is among hundreds of thousands of Africans in India, drawn by better education and work opportunities. For them rampant racism is a daily battle in a country where their dark skin places them at the lower end of a series of strictly observed social hierarchies. Indians routinely perceive Africans as either prostitutes or drug dealers.
The daily indignities Africans suffer usually go undocumented both by the police and local media.
That changed on May 20, when Congolese student Masunda Kitada Oliver was fatally attacked in a dispute over hiring an autorickshaw in New Delhi. Three men who insisted they had hired the vehicle beat him up and hit him on the head with a rock, killing him, according to police.
The death made the city's African students, diplomats and business owners rally together demanding quick justice. The African Heads of Mission in New Delhi issued a statement asking the government to address "racism and Afro-phobia" in the country.
"Given the pervading climate of fear and insecurity in Delhi, the African Heads of Mission are left with little option than to consider recommending to their governments not to send new students to India, unless and until their safety can be guaranteed," the statement said.
The killing and the outrage it sparked drew an unusually prompt reaction from local police and India's foreign ministry. Two men suspected in the attack were arrested within a day, while a third remains at large.
Minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted that her ministry asked for "stringent action against the culprits." But the ministry also said all criminal acts involving Africans should not be seen as racial in nature.
The bad press the country got as a result of the killing prompted India's glacial government machinery to move quickly to try to address the issue.
An India-Africa art exhibition was cobbled together at government expense and on short notice. A protest planned by African students in the Indian capital was put off after government officials reached out to African student groups.

The police and government began holding workshops in neighborhoods across the city to try to sensitize local residents about their African neighbors.
There were other well publicized examples of anti-African prejudice in India before Oliver's death.
In February, a Tanzanian woman was beaten and stripped naked by a mob in the southern city of Bangalore after a Sudanese student's car hit an Indian woman. In September 2014, a video of three African men being beaten inside a security booth at a New Delhi Metro station went viral. For several minutes a large mob beat the men with bare hands and sticks and shoes as they climbed up the walls of the glass booth in terror. The police were absent.
These incidents made it to the local newspapers. Hundreds more do not.
Prejudice is open in India. The matrimonial columns of the newspaper are strictly segregated along caste lines. Landlords in cities including New Delhi and Mumbai deny homes to people based on race and religion.
Indians from northeastern India, who look different because of their Asian features, are routinely harassed and have to endure being called names on the streets.
But the worst kind of discrimination is reserved for the Africans. In a country obsessed with fair skin and skin lightening beauty treatments, their dark skin draws a mixture of fear and ridicule.
Landlords shun Africans in all but the poorest neighborhoods, and in those they are charged unusually high rent. African students in the New Delhi neighborhood of Chhatarapur reported paying 15,000 rupees ($225) a month for a single room and bathroom that would normally rent for 6,000 to 7,000 rupees.
Strangers point at them and laugh — or gang up and assault them.
At a recent racial sensitization session in Chhatarapur, the mutual distrust between the Indian landlords and their African tenants was glaring.
"I'm scared," said Nancy Joseph, a 23-year-old law student from South Sudan. That fear keeps her from visiting friends at night. The autorickshaw driver may refuse to take her. Groups of Indian men could gather and call her vile names just for fun.
"Delhi is the worst city I've ever lived in," said Eddie King, a student from Nigeria. He hasn't made a single friend in the year that he has spent in the country.
"I can't talk to my classmates. They won't even answer me. They pretend they don't understand."
The landlords say African tenants drink all day and play loud music all night, characterizations that Africans dismiss as unfair.
"They stand drinking beer on the road. We feel scared crossing the area," landlord Umed Singh said.
Whether this session succeeded in sensitizing anyone was unclear. Police simply told both sides to try to understand each other.
King said he'll leave India as soon as he finishes his studies next year. "The African man cannot work with Indians. That's just the truth," he said.
Opeyemi, a 34-year-old soccer coach, said he will stay. It's easier for him to earn a living here than in Nigeria, so he will endure the indignities.
Those include hearing someone call out "Habshi!" — the Hindi word for a black person — as he tries to get on a bus.
Recently, as he tried to park his car, someone called him "bandar" — a monkey. "The security was looking but they said nothing," Opeyemi said.
"We are scared. We don't fight back because we know what will happen," he said. "They will break your head with a brick."
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Transcript: Ram Madhav on Hindu nationalism

Mehdi Hasan: A landslide victory for Narendra Modi's BJP (Bharatiya Janata
Party), seemed to herald a new era in Indian politics. But how inclusive, how
tolerant, is the new Modi-led India?
(archive): Modi! Modi!
Modi (archive): Yes, you can say I'm a Hindu nationalist because I am a born
Hindu, I'm patriotic, so nothing is wrong in it.
Mehdi Hasan: India's Prime Minister hails from the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak
Sangh) a hardline Hindu nationalist organisation and the ideological backbone of
his ruling BJP party.
Critics blame the organisation for the murder of India's iconic independence
leader, and accuse it of neo-fascism and inciting violence against minorities.
Jon Snow (archive): RSS activists have been widely linked with those Hindu mobs
who slaughtered perhaps as many as 2,000 Muslims.
Channel 4 (archive): "Everybody attacked us, even the police. They poured
kerosene and acid on us and set us on fire."
Mehdi Hasan: So, is communal violence on the rise in Modi's India? And is the
world's largest democracy now flirting with fascism? My guest tonight firmly
believes that India is a Hindu nation, but insists that his party's Hindu
nationalist ideology can be a unifying force.
I'm Mehdi Hasan and I've come here to the Oxford Union to go head to head with
Ram Madhav, the National general secretary of the BJP and former spokesman for
the controversial RSS. I'll challenge him on whether his brand of Hindu
nationalism is compatible with a secular democracy, and I'll ask whether India's
minorities are under attack.
Mehdi Hasan: Tonight I'll be joined by: Nitasha Kaul, a Kashmiri novelist,
academic, economist and poet, who is an assistant professor in politics and
international relations at London's University of Westminster; Gautam Sen, a
former lecturer at the London School of Economics, and president of the World
Association of Hindu Academicians; and Mehboob Khan, a UK-based journalist of
Indian origin, who is currently a presenter at United Nations Radio.
Mehdi Hasan: Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for Ram
Mehdi Hasan: Thank you so much for coming.
Ram Madhav, can you explain to me why it is that since your party leader
Narendra Modi became prime minister in May of 2014 more than 40 leading Indian
writers and novelists have returned their awards in protest of what they call a
"climate of intolerance", over 100 distinguished scientists have issued a
statement denouncing attacks on minorities, and over 100 religious minority
groups have launched a nationwide movement to counter what they see as the BJP's
onslaught on religious freedom?
Ram Madhav: Many more scientists, many more intellectuals have denounced these
efforts in the name of award returning, etcetera, to defame the government and
in turn to defame the image of India. You must remember that India is a big
country, people can have their views. If you have 36 intellectuals returning
their awards, 36,000 intellectuals said, no your step is wrong, your decision,
your tactics is wrong, you can have your opinions but returning the awards.
Mehdi Hasan: So your response is to say that they are just defaming India, these
are leading figures, some of the most influential award-winning authors, they
are all just defaming India.
Ram Madhav: Their, their concerns, their views are appreciated.
Mehdi Hasan: It doesn't sound like you're appreciating them, you just accused
them of defaming India.
Ram Madhav: India, India is the country of a 125 crore, 1.2 billion people.
People can have their opinions. The method they adopted, returning the awards,
given by the people of India, that method was wrong
Mehdi Hasan: In terms of the stats, data from your own Ministry of Home Affairs
showed a near 25 percent increase in incidents of communal violence in the first
five months of 2015, the news magazine, India Today says looking at home
ministry data, it reported there has been "a surge of communally charged
incidents in BJP-led states such as Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand,
violence and attacks are on the up in India, that's your own Government's data.
Ram Madhav: That's totally wrong data you have, first of all ...
Mehdi Hasan: I have, it's your government.
Ram Madhav: You have, I'm giving you.
Mehdi Hasan: You should chat to your home ministry, okay.
Ram Madhav: I, no I tell you, I tell you first of all where you are wrong and
I'm telling you.
Mehdi Hasan: Okay, please do.
Ram Madhav: Our government is in power for 18 months not 6 months my friend; I
give you 18 months data.
Mehdi Hasan: Okay.
Ram Madhav: Eighteen months, in 2014 the number of communal incidents has come
down in India.
Mehdi Hasan: Okay.
Ram Madhav: 2014, 2015 data was released by the government yes, two days ago, a
few days ago in the Indian parliament, check that data.
Mehdi Hasan: Okay, well the national crime records bureau has actually disputed
that data, but let's look at a specific issue then. Let's look at the recent
controversy over beef, a big controversy. The world's been watching. Beef is of
course something many religious Hindus don't eat, don't want others to eat,
because the cow is a sacred animal, for them.
Mehdi Hasan: There have been three incidents of Indian Muslims being murdered,
lynched by far-right Hindu mobs for allegedly possessing beef or being involved
in the "beef market", after the first incident on September 20, your prime
minister kept silent for two weeks before finally saying that what had happened
was sad and unwelcome. BJP MP Tarun Vijay said lynching a person merely on
suspicion is absolutely wrong, because apparently if you have evidence then you
can lynch them.
Mehdi Hasan: Sangit Som, BJP lawmaker.
Mehdi Hasan: He dismissed .... BJP lawmaker Sangit Som dismissed the victims,
the dead as "cow killers", while another BJP leader threatened to behead people
who eat beef. Is it any wonder that the British Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor,
one man I know, said India is being ruled by a Hindu version of the Taliban.
Ram Madhav: Yes, as you rightly say, one man can say anything.
Mehdi Hasan: But based on these statements, it's a pretty good description.
Ram Madhav: These incidents were condemned in strongest terms. They were
reprimanded by the party.
Mehdi Hasan: You condemned them?
Ram Madhav: By the party they were reprimanded by the party, but I must tell you
Mehdi Hasan: What's your definition of reprimand?
Ram Madhav: I must tell you something very important, please, you must
understand. Beef ban is not a BJP invention in India, you must remember. Beef
ban has been there in India for the last 60 years.
Mehdi Hasan: Not nationwide.
Ram Madhav: Not, in 22 States, India is how many states you please tell me.
Mehdi Hasan: Twenty nine, I believe.
Ram Madhav: Twenty nine, out of that.
Mehdi Hasan: So then it's not a nationwide ban then is it?
Ram Madhav: Twenty two states has beef ban, okay, No 1. No 2, you must remember
it's not a Hindu -Muslim issue at all.
Mehdi Hasan: Agreed.
Ram Madhav: You are saying Hindus.
Mehdi Hasan: I agree with you, lots of Hindus eat beef.
Ram Madhav: I know, I know, many Muslims. I handle Kashmir affairs, many Muslims
in Kashmir don't eat beef, so don't make it into Hindu-Muslim issue.
Mehdi Hasan: And many Hindus do eat beef, so we agree on that, we agree.
Ram Madhav: But the point is we condemned the heinous crimes coming to their
people. We did, we did.
Mehdi Hasan: But have you, has the prime minister? Sad and unwelcome is not
really a condemnation is it? The prime minister said it was sad and unwelcome
Ram Madhav: That's not true, he said.
Mehdi Hasan: What did he say, you tell me.
Ram Madhav: I condemn those incidents, I condemn that incident. He has asked the
state government, not the ... government to ... the culprits.
Mehdi Hasan: The chief, okay.
Ram Madhav: Which the government is doing.
Mehdi Hasan: Okay the chief, you said only a few people. Let me give you a
fourth, the chief minister of Haryana State described the lynching as a
Ram Madhav: Immediately disowned by the party. He made a clear apology. Why
don't you say the other part?
Mehdi Hasan: I'm just wondering why they say the stuff in the first place. Have
you reprimanded them?
Ram Madhav: Absolutely.
Mehdi Hasan: What's the punishment?
Ram Madhav: Punishment we, we took the ...
Mehdi Hasan: Do you just sack them?
Ram Madhav: We took the necessary action.
Mehdi Hasan: What was the action?
Ram Madhav: Against them, I will tell you when it's necessary, not necessary
Mehdi Hasan: It's a secret, we were so tough on them we can't tell you what we
The problem is, it's not just beef, is it? There's an issue with the rhetoric
coming out across the board from some ministers.
BJP Minister Giriraj Singh said India's growing Muslim population is a big
threat, we have to protect Hindu religion. Senior BJP official Subramanian Swami
says a mosque is not a religious place it's just a building, it can be
demolished at any time. BJP Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma called a former
Muslim president of India "a great nationalist despite being a Muslim". Despite
being a Muslim! Do you condemn those views as well?
Ram Madhav: We did ask all of them to. It's not expected of them to say those
Mehdi Hasan: Why are they saying them?
Ram Madhav: But, how can I answer what they are saying.
Mehdi Hasan: They're your colleagues.
Ram Madhav: If they're saying, no look at India's politicians' statements; look
at what a politician says; look at what some other of them says.
Mehdi Hasan: So we're playing that again, we're back in the playground. Look
what they said.
Mehdi Hasan: I'll ask them when they come on the show, I'm asking you now?
Ram Madhav: ... the spectrum.
Mehdi Hasan: They're all bigots across the spectrum, is that the argument? Okay.
Mehdi Hasan: But so many, so many ministers, so many MPs, we've been through
just a handful, okay.
Mehdi Hasan: Does the prime minister get tired in his busy schedule having to
reprimand ministers and colleagues all the time?

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Afghanistan, India Inaugurate Major Dam

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a multi-million-dollar dam in western Afghanistan on Saturday that will bring power and irrigation to vast tracts of the war-torn country.

The Afghan-India Friendship Dam in Herat province, which borders Iran, was built with Indian aid at a cost of $300 million and was under construction for about a decade.

Modi arrived in Afghanistan Saturday for the formal inauguration of the project, which will provide 42 megawatts of power and irrigate 75,000 hectares (185,000 acres) of agricultural land.

"Afghanistan and India have long and continued relations and today millions of ties bind our nations together," Ghani said at the inauguration ceremony in Herat.

Foundations for the dam were laid about 40 years ago, also with Indian assistance, in the Chishti-Sharif district of Herat on the Heray Rud River. Construction was delayed by attacks on engineers, workers and guards.

The dam is 20 kilometers (12 miles) long and three kilometers (one mile) wide, with a capacity of 640 million cubic meters of water. It is one of a number of dam projects that Ghani has slated for Afghanistan's post-conflict development.

"Afghanistan will not be stopped here," Ghani said in Herat, the provincial capital, about 160 kilometers (99 miles) from the dam site. "We are determined to move forward despite the challenges and difficulties."

Ghani hailed the dam as a symbol of bilateral ties with India. Afghanistan has cultivated closer ties with India in recent years as a balance to neighboring Pakistan, which has been accused of supporting the Taliban insurgency.

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India Convicts 24 for Gujarat Riots Massacre

An Indian court convicted 26 people Thursday for their roles in the killing of 69 Muslims by a Hindu mob in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002.

Eleven of the 24 were charged with murder in one of the worst single incidents in three months of violence which left more than 1000 people dead fourteen years ago.

One of the 69 hacked or burned to death while taking shelter in a residential complex in Ahmedabad was former Congress lawmaker Ehsan Jafri.

Jafri's wife, Zakia, was pleased by the convictions, but disappointed by the judge's decision to acquit 36 other suspects.

"This is incomplete justice and I will fight till the end," she told reporters.

Since 2002, more than 100 people have been convicted over the riots, but many cases remain to be heard.

The sentences of the 24 accused will be announced Monday, and the 11 accused of murder could be sentenced to death.

In February 2002 a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was set on fire, killing at least 58 people.  That incident was blamed on Muslims and ignited the communal violence that followed.

The 2002 riots continue to cast a shadow on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was chief minister of the state of Gujarat at the time and has been accused of turning a blind eye to the anti-Muslim violence. Modi has denied these allegations, and they did not hinder his election as India's leader in 2014.

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The Indian Consumer Market Will Be Huge

Driven by several hundred million young women and men, India’s consumer story will be one of the world’s most compelling in the next 20 years, says Goldman Sachs in a new report. 

India’s consumption story will be shaped by its 440 million millennials and 390 million Gen Z (those born after 2000), the report said.

And while there is a temptation to compare the growth of this consumer market with that of China’s (which has been widely reported on), the two are different and the Indian consumer market will follow a different path from its Chinese counterpart, predominantly because of the vastly different income levels, which in turn has helped shape preferences and spending attitudes.  (India’s 2015 GDP per capita at $1,650 is comparable to what China was in 2005, the report said.)

In China, the first wave of the consumer story was powered by the 150 million Urban Middle workforce and 1.4 million wealthy “Movers & Shakers,” Goldman Sachs said. But in India, the workforce that falls in what Goldman Sachs calls the “urban middle” (or one that earns $11,000 annually) is much smaller at 27 million or a tiny 2% of the population.  ”It will expand, but investors need to be careful in calibrating the potential addressable market for companies targeting this cohort,” the report said.

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Traffickers in India force 300,000 children to beg in streets

By Anuradha Nagaraj

CHENNAI, India, June 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - At least 300,000 children across India are drugged, beaten and forced to beg every day, in what has become a multi million rupee industry controlled by human trafficking cartels, police and trafficking experts said.

Writing in a report which is about to be circulated across the country's police forces, the authors urged law enforcers to carry out greater surveillance of children living on the streets.

According to the Indian National Human Rights Commission, up to 40,000 children are abducted in India every year, of which at least 11,000 remain untraced.

"The police don't think begging is an issue because they assume that the adult with the child is either family or a known person," said co-author Anita Kanaiya, CEO of The Freedom Project India, which works on trafficking issues.

"But for every 50 children rescued there will be at least 10 who are victims of trafficking. And there has to be a constant vigil to identify them," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Children are sometimes maimed or burned to elicit greater sympathy and get more alms, said the report.

The money they earn is usually paid to the traffickers, or to buy alcohol and drugs.

The report is based on the experiences of police and charities in Bengaluru city - formerly known as Bangalore - in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.

There is a seasonal pattern to begging, local police said. Cities like Bengaluru see a sharp rise in the numbers of children wandering the streets just before festivals or after a natural disaster.

In 2011, Bengaluru police launched "Operation Rakshane" ("To Save"). In coordination with various government departments and charities, they drew up a blueprint to help children forced into begging.

Months before carrying out a series of rescues, they spread out across the city, taking pictures of children on the street, documenting their daily activities and shadowing them back to their homes.

"When we started, we had nothing to prove the connection between begging and trafficking. But we went about meticulously recording any signs of forced labour on the streets of the city," Kanaiya said.

According to inspector general of police, Pronob Mohanty, who spearheaded the operation, teams of police and health workers rescued 300 children on a single day across the city.

The traffickers were arrested and later imprisoned.

"Operation Rakshane is meant to be a template which can be replicated as a model of inter agency cooperation," Mohanty said in the handbook, which includes suggestions for surveillance, data collection and rehabilitation, as well as listing relevant laws.

Kanaiya said: "We are now initiating a planned campaign to take the book to every police headquarter in the country and follow it up with a workshop on child (begging) and rescue operations for policemen."

(Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj, editing by Alex Whiting; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit


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India"s Economic Growth Up To 7.9%

Good economic news just out from India. The country’s GDP rose by 7.9% in the final quarter of the last fiscal year and 7.6% for the whole of that fiscal year. The reason that this is all being reported in May is not that it takes them that long to compile the figures. India runs on something very similar to the British fiscal year, ending on 31 March each year*. So the first three months of India’s calendar year are the last three months of its fiscal year.

The performance is of course welcome: who cannot be cheered by the idea of a poor country getting richer? And getting richer about as fast as any place ever has done. In terms of economic performance this is about as good as it gets. Sure, it will take decades of this sort of growth to achieve the goal (that being the end of poverty) but we’ve all got to start somewhere, don’t we?

The new data on the Indian economy released by the government on Tuesday provides further evidence that India is seeing a strengthening economic recovery led by consumption. The story of improved momentum fits well with other recent private sector data on passenger car sales, cement dispatches, corporate profit margins and power production. The advance estimates of crop production too have been surprisingly strong.

Headline economic growth has accelerated in the three months to March to 7.9%. In fact, it is one of the highest rates of quarterly growth in recent years. Only the growth performance in the second quarter of fiscal 2015 was better.

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India’s all-time temperature record

On May 19, India’s all-time temperature record was smashed in the northern city of Phalodi in the state of Rajasthan. Temperatures soared to 51℃, beating the previous record set in 1956 by 0.4℃.

India is known for its unbearable conditions at this time of year, just before the monsoon takes hold. Temperatures in the high 30s are routine, with local authorities declaring heatwave conditions only once thermometers reach a stifling 45℃. But the record comes on the back of an exceptionally hot season, with several heatwaves earlier in the year. So what’s to blame for these scorching conditions?
Much of India is in the grip of a massive drought. Water resources are scarce across the country. Dry conditions exacerbate extreme temperatures because the heat energy usually taken up by evaporation heats the air instead.
The complex relationship between droughts and heatwaves is an area of active scientific research, although we know a preceding drought can significantly amplify the intensity and duration of heatwaves.

India’s drought was a possible factor in the earlier heatwaves in April over central and southern India. However, Rajasthan, where 51℃ was recorded, is always bone-dry in May. So the drought made no difference to the record temperature.
The El Niño effect

We have also experienced one of the strongest El Niño events on record. While the current event has recently ceased, its sting is certainly still being felt.
El Niño episodes are associated with higher-than-average global temperatures and have also been a factor in some of India’s past heatwaves. However, there is no direct connection to El Niño in Rajasthan, because its climate at this time of year is so dry anyway.

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India makes arrests after spate of attacks on Africans

At least five Indians accused of assaulting Africans in New Delhi have been arrested after African diplomats urged the Indian government to ensure the safety of their nationals living in the country.

India's Interior Minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday condemned the attacks and asked the city police to take strict action against the perpetrators.

A Delhi deputy police commissioner Ishwar Singh however, dismissed the recent spate of attacks targeting Africans as racially motivated, insisting the violent crimes were "isolated incidents" and not racist in nature.

Singh said on Sunday that there was "no element of racism" following Thursday's attacks when six Africans were beaten across New Delhi's Mehrauli neighbourhood.

"It's not as if there's a public movement against African nationals," he told NDTV, a privately run Indian TV channel, before adding that the attacks happened "at different locations, at different times and for different reasons."

Nigerian national Kenneth Igbinosa, a local priest, told NDTV he was hit with a cricket bat by a group of men as he returned home with his wife and four-month-old son on Thursday.

Another two people also alleged they were beaten with cricket bats, NDTV added.

The attacks come less than a week after a Congolese teacher was bludgeoned to death after an argument over hiring an auto-rickshaw taxi.

Following the murder, Mahesh Sharma, India's tourism and culture minister, stirred controversy by saying it was unfair to paint India as an unsafe country, quipping that "such incidents happen in other parts of the world too".

"India is a large country and such incidents will give a bad name to India. It is an unfortunate incident. However, even Africa is not safe," Sharma told local IANS news agency.

'Pervading climate of fear'

In a rare show of unity, a group of African ambassadors said their nationals were living in a "pervading climate of fear and insecurity".

They warned they would recommend their governments not to send students to India until safety conditions improve, following a string of what they said were unpunished racial attacks.

Thousands of people from African countries study and work in India but several incidents have raised concerns of racist violence and discrimination.

In 2013, a Nigerian national was killed by a mob in the tourist state of Goa, with a state minister later calling Nigerians a "cancer".

Delhi's former law minister was also accused in 2014 of harassing African women after he led a vigilante mob through an area of the capital, accusing them of being prostitutes.

Source: Al Jazeera     Courtesy: Yahoo news

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