Category: South Asia

Harry Potter copyright update

Turns out that the Delhi High Court does not share Penguin’s expansive view of copyrights.

Organisers of the ‘Potter pandal’ in Salt Lake’s FD Block heaved a sigh of relief on Friday when Delhi High Court dismissed Penguin India’s complaint of copyright violation.

The puja committee is free to go ahead with the pandal, which resembles Hogwarts school, the setting for JK Rowling’s magical Harry Potter series.

Harry Potter and the idiocy of Copyrights

No, that is not the title of the next Harri Puttar. It’s how a slavishly devotional fan base that has spent millions of rupees buying your books, watching your movies, purchasing all your assorted paraphrenalia gets repaid. By getting sued when they pay homage to you.

BBC NEWS | South Asia | Harry Potter and the Hindu gods

A community group in the Indian city of Calcutta says it has been sued by JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, for breach of copyright.

The group has been building a huge model based on Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as part of celebrations for a Hindu festival.

If you want to know all the ways in which copyrights have gone amok in this society of ours, just go read Dean Baker.

Indian children work despite ban

When I mentioned India’s child labor ban last year, I had many obvious questions about the implementation. One year on, this BBC report highlights on findings by Save the Children that the ban has not had much effect.

BBC NEWS | South Asia | Indian children work despite ban

A year after India banned children under 14 from working as domestic servants or in food stalls, millions continue to be employed, a study says.

The study released by Save the Children says these children are routinely subjected to different forms of abuse and a lot still needs of be done.

Many of the child workers are denied food, and are beaten up, burnt or sexually abused, the study says.

According to official estimates, India has more than 12 million child workers.

Of these, about 200,000 are estimated to be working as domestic servants and in teashops, restaurants, spas, hotels, resorts and other recreational centres – the areas from where they were banned last year.

Well, one can’t legislate away decades of a widespread and prevalent practice with one law. This law was always going to be a beginning, a marker that improving social and economic conditions will eventually catch up to (one hopes). So, color me as not surprised at all. The point is to label something as legally unacceptable, work towards making it socially unacceptable, then finally, unnecessary.

Pesticide Exposure and India's green revolution

Pesticide exposure in Punjab and Haryana is out of control. When I was growing up, the Green Revolution was idolized and idealized to degree that in hindsight seems a little excessive. But back then, this octupling of wheat and rice yields in Punjab and Haryana catalyzed the transformation of India from a country mired in famine and food shortages to one that occasionally runs out of room to store excess food. So, this story (courtesy of 3QD) caught my attention.

Green.view | Chemical generation |

IF INDIAN newspaper reports are to be believed, the children of Punjab are in the throes of a grey revolution. Even those as young as ten are sprouting tufts of white and grey hair. Some are going blind. In Punjabi villages, children and adults rare afflicted by uncommon cancers.

The reason is massive and unregulated use of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals in India’s most intensively farmed state. According to an environmental report by Punjab’s government, the modest-sized state accounts for 17% of India’s total pesticide use. The state’s water, people, animals, milk and agricultural produce are all poisoned with the stuff.

Ignorance is part of the problem. The report includes details of a survey suggesting that nearly one-third of Punjabi farmers were unaware that pesticides come with instructions for use. Half of the farmers ignored these instructions. Three-quarters put empty pesticide containers to domestic uses.

The article concludes by saying that the government is encouraging the use of techniques including organic farming, more crop rotation, etc, and how this is ironically “reversing” the green revolution. But two separate issues are getting mixed up here. The green revolution was not won on excessive use of fertilizers, monoculture, excessive water use, and so on. Instead, the development of new hybrid, high yielding varieties of rice and wheat kick started the revolution. The wholesale adoption of water and input intensive agricultural techniques came along for for the ride with the rest of the revolution.

Hopefully, the Punjab government will not stop at writing reports, but start grassroots education projects with the farmers to encourage sensible farming techniques that take the good parts of the green revolution and leave the bad parts out.

Musharraf's Wife to Run for President

If you have not been following the soap opera that is Pakistani politics in the last month, you should. Between exiling one corrupt ex-prime minister (Nawaz Sharif) while letting another equally corrupt one to return (Benazir Bhutto), it’s quite a sordid tale.

It now gets worse, with Musharraf’s wife planning to run as a “proxy” candidate, and Nawaz Sharif’s wife trying to do the same, it seems to be a battle of famous wives and mothers.

>Musharraf set to do a Lalu on Pakistan-The United States-World-The Times of India

Military ruler Pervez Musharraf is all set to do a Lalu on the hapless nation, foisting his wife Sehba as a proxy presidential candidate to get around the constitutional and judicial hurdles he faces. Under a formula hammered out under Uncle Sam’s watchful eyes, Sehba Musharraf will be a cover candidate for Musharraf in the upcoming Presidential poll, with or without Benazir Bhutto running for Prime Minister. The military government will also allow exiled prime minister Nawaz Sharief’s wife Kulsoom Nawaz to return to Pakistan and run for election if she wishes maintaining that she is not bound by the exile arrangement that has kept her husband and his brother out of the country.

The “Lalu” reference is to a rather notorious Indian politician, Lalu Prasad Yadav, while mired in corruption charges, put his rather inexperienced wife Rabri Devi in charge of the state he was governing.

I guess, this is one way for women to get to power, though not the best way, I guess. South Asia has had (to my count) 5 elected women heads of state in the last 40 years. They have all been either daughters or wives of men previously in power. More importantly, they have all proven to be their own people in the end.

Indira Gandhi – Daughter of Nehru
Benazir Bhutto – daughter of Zulfikar Bhutto
Khaleda Zia – wife of Ziaur Rehman
Hasina Wazed – Daughter of Mujibur Rehman
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga – Daughter of Solomon Bandaranaike.

Well, while this is strange and dynastic, it is atleast refreshing that the daughters of famous men find power in South Asia. In most other countries, the monarchy is patrilineal!

Shaming People into Pooping Indoors

Meanwhile, in the other India, people still poop outdoors…

Using shame to change sanitary habits – Los Angeles Times

Every morning before sunrise, Ravi Shankar Singh, a cheerful man known to his neighbors as “Luv” Singh, sets out to patrol the potholed roads and rice fields of this north Indian village. He carries a whistle and a flashlight. He sings while he walks. The village’s self-appointed sanitation guardian, Singh is on the lookout for anyone squatting in the fields or alleys, using the cover of darkness to do what millions of people have always done across India: defecate outdoors. After years of programs to increase the number of latrines in villages, the government still has not managed to eradicate a practice that is cited in the spread of water-borne illnesses and parasites, such as diarrhea and hookworms. Critics say the obstacle is not so much the shortage of latrines, though that, too, remains a problem for nearly half of India’s rural population. The main challenge is getting people to use the facilities they have. Singh says he’s found a way. When he spots someone squatting, he lets loose with a blast on his whistle. Or shines his light on the offender. Or both.

This is clearly a serious public health issue and one that is linked to many avoidable deaths from disease. I am not sure if blowing whistles at people is an ethical way to do it. In a country where actual toilet facilities are still rare, and the people who grew up in this scarcity have internalized the fact that they have to “externalize” their poop, just providing facilities and shaming them is not enough.

Just as with most things in India, no easy answers, I guess the right combination of education (especially targeting the young), enforcement through fines, and most importantly, saturation coverage of clean and easily available toilets would eventually work.  But it will take time, and of course, public urination is a completely  different beast!

Meanwhile, in the other India

While India prepares to spend many billions of dollars on fighter jets, it cannot provide clean water for its citizens.

Cholera-diarrhoea toll mounts to 164 in Orissa-India-The Times of India

Cholera and diarrhoea, having assumed epidemic proportions in three tribal dominated Orissa districts, have so far claimed 164 lives as officials confirmed five more deaths in worst-hit Koraput on Thursday.

The death toll, which had mounted to 159 on Wednesday, further rose to 164 with confirmation of five casualties in Dasmantpur block of Koraput district, Chief District Medical Officer (CDMO) R K Agarwal said.

While the toll in Koraput district went up to 73, the situation remained by and large unchanged in Rayagada with 64 casualties as the killer diseases claimed as many as 27 lives in Kalahandi, official sources said.

The water-borne diseases had assumed epidemic form in nine blocks of these three backward districts located adjacent to each other though separated by hills and the waterspread of the vast Indravati reservoir.

Despite state government’s claim to have effectively controlled the spread of the diseases, residents of the affected areas alleged that the administration had failed to provide adequate medical facilities to the patients.

This is disgusting and very symptomatic of the urban-rural divide that exists in India. Unless the government can provide basic infrastructure to its rural citizens, all those fancy malls and F16s mean little.

Infrastructure, Not Guns

Things that make me want to bang my head against the wall at 6:30 in the morning.

Building a Modern Arsenal in India – New York Times

Over the next five years, military analysts expect the country to spend as much as $40 billion on weapons procurement alone, more than its entire annual armaments budget today — upgrading systems as diverse as jet fighters, artillery, submarines and tanks in its largely Soviet-era arsenal. As a result, India will become one of the largest military markets in the world.

In terms of “potential for growth, India is our top market, ” said Richard G. Kirkland, Lockheed Martin’s president for South Asia.

Great, now we only need to start another war and American military contractors are set for life. After all, now they’ll be arming both sides. Meanwhile, the average South Asian is sitting in her hut somewhere wondering how to feed her family, send her kids to school, protect them from flooding and disease, all on less than a dollar a day.

Bomb blasts kill 30 in Hyderabad

Happens too depressingly often in India. There’s just too many people around, it’s very easy to hide,  counter-surveillance by police/intelligence agencies is lacking. Hopefully, it won’t ignite any  more violence, which is all the terrorists are hoping to do.

Over 32 killed as terror strikes Hyderabad-India-The Times of India

In two near-simultaneous terror attacks, at least 32 people were killed and 35 injured in two explosions at a crowded park and a popular eating joint here on Sunday evening, three months after the Mecca Masjid blasts.

Twenty six people died and 22 wounded when an explosion ripped through Gokul Chat Shop at Kothi locality at around 7.30 pm, Andhra Pradesh Home Minister K Jana Reddy told reporters here.

Six people, most of them from outside the state, were killed and 13 injured in another blast five minutes earlier in an open air auditorium in Lumbini Park near the state secretariat in the heart of the city when a laser show was on, he said.

The condition of ten to 15 people in different hospitals of the city was stated to be serious.

Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy and Police Commissioner Balwinder Singh, who both visited the blast sites, said it appeared to be a terrorist act.

A red alert was sounded across the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad and neighbouring Karnataka and the national capital Delhi in the wake of the blasts.

Senior police and central intelligence officials indicated that the explosives used in today’s well-planned blasts were similar to those employed in Mecca Masjid explosions which claimed 11 lives in May this year.