Category: South Asia

More on Terrorism in India

The trend towards the radicalisation of the Indian Muslim youth started in the late 1980s.Groups of Muslim youth from Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) started going across the Line of Control (LOC) to Pakistan and were trained and armed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). After the training, some of them were taken to Afghanistan to get an exposure to jihad as practised by the Afghan Mujahideen.In December 1993, coinciding with the first anniversary of the demolition of the Babri masjid at Ayodhya, there was a number of explosions in different railway trains in North India. The interrogation of one of the suspects arrested during the investigation revealed that the SIMI had organised them.

Al Qaeda And India : outlookindia.com

Long article by B. Raman on the recent history of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism in India. It is an interesting read and makes the point that recruits are increasingly local and the organization is local as well. While the ISI (Pakistan’s most diabolical intelligence agency) set up, trained and funded these groups, they’ve not become independent. What does that mean? I don’t know. But the targeting of BJP governments is deliberate and aims to increase tensions…

Terrorism in Bangalore and Ahmedabad

For the second time in two days, small explosions rocked an Indian city, this time in Ahmedabad on Saturday evening, killing at least 29 people. The Indian government said cities across the country had been put on alert for similar attacks.

At Least 29 People Killed in Explosions in Indian City – NYTimes.com

It’s sad, and clearly a deliberate attempt to frighten people and politicians into extremism. After all, nothing like escalating the tension and provoking the BJP government into an over-reaction. It did work before in Gujarat. And on the 25th anniversary of the Anti Tamil Pogroms in Sri Lanka, a frightening reminder that in general, state sponsored retribution acts as a force multiplier of huge proportions. Terrorist groups know this, and as anyone American or otherwise knows, 9/11 worked as the perfect force multiplier to get the Americans to widen the conflict and add more fuel to the fire.

It’s burning well now. The last few terrorists attacks in India have not resulted in escalation of violence. But how much longer can this situation last? Things are crazy and lawless on the Durand Line and though not as well known, Bangladesh is another safe haven for “insurgents”.

India is surrounded by turmoil and it is a testament to the resilience of the population that life goes on without much fear.

Obama interview in Indian magazine

In an exclusive interview, the US presidential hopeful speaks on a range of subjects: the nuclear deal, Mahatma Gandhi, his ability to reconcile Islam with modernity, and how he wouldn’t have put all eggs in the Musharraf basket

‘I Am Reluctant To Seek Changes In The N-Deal’ : outlookindia.com

Interesting interview. Obama says the right things most of the time, so no surprises here. The interviewer also helpfully provides a summary at the top of the interview where he tells us what Obama said and what it means, a little bit of contextualization that goes a long way in helping the reader get perspective on the issues. Western journalists should try this sometime…

On the nuclear deal

“I continue to hope this process can be concluded before the end of the year…. I am reluctant to seek changes.”

His remarks suggest he is opposed to renegotiating the deal, as the BJP has demanded. Should the deal not be sealed this year, Obama as president isn’t likely to impose new conditions, a fear the UPA has constantly stoked to compel its critics to fall in line.

Now that’s an interesting observation because the proposed India-US nuclear deal will formalize India’s standing as a nuclear weapons power while providing the country with access to reactor fuel and technology. The deal will also mean that India will have to come under the purview of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to ensure that certain nuclear safeguards can be agreed upon and met. The so called communist parties of India are protesting this as an affront to the sovreignity of the Indian State and have withdrawn support to the Indian government, who faces a very delicately balanced vote of confidence next week.

Both the US and Indian governments are currently in agreement that the deal needs to be done before Bush leaves or else… Obama’s thrown a little bit of cold water over this idea, which will weaken the ruling party’s hand a little. The deal has been ratified by the US, so the only thing standing in the way is the continued stability of the current Indian government.

What do I think? Nothing much other than it appears that India is getting most of what it wants from this deal, a formalization of its nuclear weapons status, access to more civilian technology and legitimization of its nuclear programme in return for some safeguards (which are good for safety and non-proliferation anyway). It’s just that the opposition BJP cannot possibly support the deal because they are the opposition and recent election results in various states have them reasonably confident of getting back in power in New Delhi if the government were to fall and elections were to be called. The left is trying to remain relevant and is usually reflexively anti-US. So dealing with the US government is like dealing with Satan for the “communist” parties (right, call yourselves communists, insult to the word).

In other, more personal parts, we find out that Obama was in Pakistan for a few weeks when he was 19, which I did not know, but is apparently common news knowledge.

Interesting times, he’s not even president yet and still has great influence on happenings far away.

India Shining (Not)

The guards at the gate are instructed not to let nannies take children outside, and men delivering pizza or okra are allowed in only with permission. Once, Mr. Bhalla recalled proudly, a servant caught spitting on the lawn was beaten up by the building staff.Recently, Mr. Bhalla’s association cut a path from the main gate to the private club next door, so residents no longer have to share the public sidewalk with servants and the occasional cow.

Inside Gate, India’s Good Life; Outside, the Slums – NYTimes.com

You know something’s been going on in India for many years now when the New York Times finally gets to it! But it is an important story to keep in mind. India was always a country of great economic contrasts. But in the last few years, the inequality has exploded. I don’t know if Gini coefficients (a measure of income inequality) provide a true enough picture. India’s 2004 Gini (god knows how much it has changed in 4 years!) of 36.8 puts it as a country less inequal than the United States (40.8) or China (46.9). But as this Economist article points out, if you look at actual outcomes such as availability of water or child health statistics, India’s poor are in very bad shape. As always, a warning not to rely on economists for any mathematical estimates! Look towards public health people to provide the best information.

Add this growing inequality to India’s traditional class/caste based treatment of the not so elite by the elite, the treatment of the not at all elite by the not so elite, the treatment of the poor by the not at all elite, the treatment of the very poor by the poor and the treatment of everyone on the lower rungs of this crazy ladder by the ones higher up on the ladder, you have an inequality problem that no number can quantify and no one can fix in the short term. I do think that regionally, especially around the major metros, class/income based inequality and resentment are taking over from the traditional caste based issues. The rural areas are a completely different story altogether.

What is a blogger to do when faced with such an insurmountable problem? Why, recommend a work of fiction that talks about this issue in a refreshingly unsubtle fashion, I give you The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. Of all the recent Indian lit I’ve read, this one comes closest to capturing Indian class dynamics and providing a good read in less than 300 pages. The novel most definitely aroused my inner class warrior! Of course, some of its characters are a little one dimensional, but most of their thought processes and attitudes are spot on. at the least, it will give you an easier to grasp picture of India’s inequalities than any World Bank report.

Indian Workers on Hunger Strike in DC

The video summarizes the issue. Long story short, an American company, Signal International colludes with an Indian contracting company to lure 100s of workers from India with false promises of greencards. The workers proceed to go deep into debt with the contracting company to make this happen. Once in the States, it turns out they’re given H2B guest worker visas (yes, I treat all my guests by making them pay 1000s of bucks a month for sharing a trailer with 25 other people) that are specifically not eligible for green cards except under family quotas. This is bonded labor, American style. No arguments can be made that these workers have it better than in India and they should be grateful.

I am incredibly proud of these workers for finding the courage to strike and take their protests to DC. The Washington Post seems to have dedicated one measly article worth of coverage.

There are many reasons for this exploitation. The dehumanization of third world (including Mexican) workers is a contributing factor, so is the broken immigration system that allows excessively restrictive employment contracts. Most importantly, the U.S department of labor exists solely to make the lives of the companies it regulates easier. It has nothing to do with labor any more.

I am glad they’re protesting for their dignity and broken promises. Wonder what’s stopping the company from firing them for striking, they’re not allowed to strike! That way, they can then notify the aptly named ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) to have them deported.

Genes Make Indians Fat

Scientists have pinpointed a reason why people with Indian ancestry may be more prone to weight problems.They have found this group is more likely to carry a gene sequence linked to an expanding waist line, weight gain and type 2 diabetes.The sequence, discovered by a team led by Imperial College London, is carried by 50% of the population – but is a third more common in Indian Asians.

BBC NEWS | Health | Genes ‘up Indians’ obesity risk’

Relax, all desis, it’s not your fault, it’s genetics.

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Sunita Narain on the Tata Nano

nano.jpg Unless you have been living under a rock recently (hey, nice way to start a blog post, insult your reader(s)), you must have heard of the Tata Nano, the much ballyhooed cheapest car ever built. People ask me (after all, I am Indian and pretend to know a lot about the environment) what I think of the Nano. Well, it’s hard to summarize in an elevator pitch. Obviously, given the state of public transportation in the cities, people want private vehicles to travel in, more convenient, fewer people to jostle against, etc. People previously riding scooters and motorcycles (and carrying entire families in a two wheeler) would prefer this car. But, traffic’s going to get worse, and cars occupy a lot of road space while not carrying that many people.

Anyway, my thoughts aside, Sunita Narain (one of India’s most famous environmental activists) and director of  The Center for Science and Environment (India’s most active Environmental NGO) writes one of her typically insightful editorials in Down to Earth, the CSE’s flagship publication.

Let’s take the ‘affordability’ question first. The fact is that cars—small or big—are heavily subsidized. The problem is that when economists (including those who run the government) fret and fume about mounting subsidy bills, they think of farmers—fertilizer, electricity and food—not our cars. But subsidy is what they unquestionably get.The subsidy begins with the manufacture of cars. When we read about the Singur farmers’ struggle to stop government from acquiring their land for the Tata car factory we don’t join the dots. We don’t see this as the first big subsidy to motorization. The fact is, in Singur the manufacturer got cheap land, interest-free capital and perhaps other concessions—the Left Front government in West Bengal never made public full details of its attractive package. This brought down the cost of production and allowed the manufacturer to price the Nano at Rs 1 lakh

The Nano-flyover syndrome | Editor’s Page | Down To Earth magazine

All very true. Cars are heavily subsidized, taxation, parking, you name it, money quote…

Since cars take up over 75 per cent of the road space, even though they move less than 20 per cent of the people, it is obvious whom this expenditure benefits the most.

Yes, cars are not a very efficient way to move people, they’re convenient because Indian cities are not being planned to prioritize public transport that is convenient, safe and clean. India’s  per capita income (nominal) is about a $1000 per year and the nano, even in its cheapest form, is about 3 years worth of the average income. So, your average Indian, even if she lives in a city and makes twice this average, will not buy this car. So, she’s stuck on the bus which crawls ever so slowly due to all these nanos flitting about. Or, she’s on a scooter/bike facing ever increasing pollution due to these cars and risking life and limb as traffic pushes vehicles closer and closer together.

But of course, this seems to be the pattern of development and optimists will argue that at some point in time, the infrastructure will catch up to the point that there will be room for all these cars and money for all the people to buy all these cars. But as Ms. Narain points out, 20% of Delhi is already covered with roads (hard to get that number in context though, I have no idea what percent of NYC is road covered, for instance!), so finding room to build more roads is going to be hard.

Something’s gotta give, I don’t know what!

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Dynasty, Anyone

When I first read that Benazir Bhutto’s 19 year old son would become chairperson of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party, and “also continue his studies”, I though I was reading the Onion, but it is true, and Tariq Ali lays into the feudal cabal that is the Bhutto family.

On 30 December 2007, a conclave of feudal potentates gathered in the home of the slain Benazir Bhutto to hear her last will and testament being read out and its contents subsequently announced to the world media. Where Mary was tentative, her modern-day equivalent left no room for doubt. She could certainly answer for her son.A triumvirate consisting of her husband, Asif Zardari (one of the most venal and discredited politicians in the country and still facing corruption charges in three European courts) and two ciphers will run the party till Benazir’s 19-year-old son, Bilawal, comes of age. He will then become chairperson-for-life and, no doubt, pass it on to his children. The fact that this is now official does not make it any less grotesque. The Pakistan People’s Party is being treated as a family heirloom, a property to be disposed of at the will of its leader.Nothing more, nothing less. Poor Pakistan. Poor People’s Party supporters. Both deserve better than this disgusting, medieval charade.

My heart bleeds for Pakistan. It deserves better than this grotesque feudal charade – Independent Online Edition > Commentators

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Benazir Bhutto, martyr

There is nothing like stopping at a gas station somewhere in the Catskills, glancing up at Fox News on TV and finding out that they killed Benazir Bhutto. Of all the Bhutto related articles, this one captured my attention.

South Asians like their martyrs. My great-grandfather allegedly brought home a vial of some of the ashes of a teenage revolutionary hanged by the British. Khudiram had thrown a bomb at a British magistrate and gone to the gallows with a smile. Ironically, my great-grandfather worked for the British, in their police service. But he was so awed by young Khudiram’s sacrifice, he used his official connections to get that vial, which he kept in his bedroom.

Benazir was no 15-year-old tilting at windmills in some foolhardy act of defiance. She was South Asian royalty. “Benazir is killed. I’m stunned,” a friend texted me from a cafe in Calcutta. “I really am.” As my friend says, in our feudal societies, much as we might pretend otherwise, we have a royalist streak. And when a royal goes down in a hail of bullets, it sends a collective shiver down our spines.

Benazir Bhutto, martyr | Salon.com

He’s right, having grown up through two major assassinations on Indian “royal family” scions (Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi), the post-martyr deification that occurs needs to be lived through to be understood.

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