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The politics of Indian census data September 24, 2015

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , comments closed

Vikas Kumar

Indian governments spend enormous resources to collect data — including 12 billion and 22 billion rupees on decennial censuses in 2001 and 2011, respectively. Yet they appear reluctant to release it. The latest decennial census data on religion, for example, which were released on 25 August 2015, were collected almost half a decade ago in 2011.

During the past 15 years, governments of both national parties have on more than one occasion deferred to political expediency on the question of releasing demographic data disaggregated by communities. In the process governments have contributed to the politicisation of statistics. The troubled past of the census data on religion reveals systemic problems insofar as the statistical wing of the government is insufficiently insulated from politics. (more…)

New phase in India-China ties May 23, 2015

Posted by jessebuck in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Vinay Kaura

Despite there being no landmark breakthrough on many contentious issues, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s third meeting within a year with Chinese President Xi Jinping was fairly successful. The visit was undertaken to improve bilateral relations through sustained high-level engagement with Beijing.

There is no doubt that India-China relations are entering a new phase, where there are amazing benefits of mutual cooperation as well as unbound risks of persistent suspicion. Both Modi and Xi have the task of not only avoiding confrontation between their countries but share “a historic responsibility to turn this relationship into a source of strength for each other”. Indeed both of them seem to be investing their personal reputations in a process of reconciliation, as evident in Xi’s decision last year to first land in Modi’s hometown of Ahmadabad before heading to New Delhi, and Modi’s decision to first land in Xi’s home province of Shaanxi before going on to Beijing and Shanghai. The ‘most powerful selfie’ moment of the two prime ministers in Beijing seemed to make diplomacy look exciting and engaging. Would these personal gestures help in a dramatic turnaround in the bilateral relationship full of mutual suspicion, distrust and hostility? The answer lies in their ability to address the long-held negative perceptions of each other.

China’s meteoric rise into the front ranks of the leading powers has set in motion a fundamental shift in the global distribution of political and economic power. China continues to amaze the world, including India, by achieving one success after another. It is no longer a rising power; it has risen on a scale unparalleled in the modern world. China’s impressive resurgence as a great power constitutes a remarkable change in the politics of India-China relations as well. As neighbours, as trading partners, and as regional powers with conflicting geopolitical priorities, the China-India relationship has become increasingly complex.

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Book review: Water Security in India: Hope, Despair, and the Challenges of Human Development May 14, 2015

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Paula Hanasz

Review of Water Security in India: Hope, Despair, and the Challenges of Human Development, by Vandana Asthana and A. C. Shukla (Bloomsbury, 2014).

Hope and despair are the themes of Water Security in India according to the book’s subtitle. Despair is obvious; there are so many issues and instances of water insecurity, the wicked problem of addressing them all seems overwhelming. But there are flickers of hope in the water security story too. As this book shows, for every flood or drought there is growing environmental consciousness; for all the pollution and spread of water-borne disease there is rapid technological advancement; for every time water-dependent livelihoods are threatened there are improvements in the legislative and institutional governance of water resource, etc.

Water Security in India is a methodical compilation of all these issues and more. It begins by describing water security issues in agriculture and irrigation, then moves on to industrialisation/urbanisation; climate change; governance; privatisation; interstate disputes; and national security. It concludes with suggestions for improving water management practice and instances of progress occurring.9781441115119

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Overcoming gender discrimination in India April 2, 2015

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Rajiv Kumar

It is a bitter irony that International Women’s Day came right on the heels of the controversy about the government ban on a BBC documentary about the fatal 2012 gang rape of a young Indian woman known by the pseudonym ‘Nirbhaya’. The documentary has, as could be expected, raked up public emotions that feed on self-righteousness, jingoism and middle class pretensions. The public discussion that followed the government ban unfortunately distracts from the real issue. This was not the only, and will surely not be the last, case of maltreatment of women in India.

Every day there are thousands of Indian girls and women who are kidnapped, tortured and trafficked. Some are victims of honour killings ordered by khaps or fatwas, a punishment dealt on the basis of religious legal judgment. A large number of cases of domestic violence and marital rape routinely go unreported. Thousands of girls are trafficked across the border from neighbouring Nepal and Bangladesh and forced into prostitution. As a society, Indians choose to not only ignore but also often connive in the perpetration of these crimes. In any case Indian society does not care to challenge the stereotype of ‘good women’ propagated by both Hindu and Muslim extremists, and fringe groups. Why then the hypocrisy when an ‘outsider’, like the BBC, shines a light on this issue?

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Pirates, spies, soul-stealers: spirituality transformed March 5, 2015

Posted by southasiamasala in : Black, Shameem, India , comments closed

Shameem Black

In the past decade the worldwide yoga industry has become a multi-billion-dollar business. Yet, ironically, the one country where yoga does not yet thrive commercially is the very place from which yoga is thought to originate: India. Why should this be?

This paradox emerges, in part, because the practice known as ‘yoga’ around the world is a modern invention of the globalised and capitalist 20th century. A brief look at the history of yoga may help to explain why this industry has not had a straightforward development in India.

Yoga in India has never represented an unbroken historical tradition. Although many of the postures, breath practices and meditations have their roots in classical and medieval Indian texts, the very meaning of ‘yoga’ has varied widely across texts and periods. ‘Yoga’ has been variously understood as a search to separate the spirit from bodily matter, as a quest to unite with the divine, as a tool to strengthen the nation, as a means of magic, and as a form of military training. Before the 20th century, yogis were usually depicted as sorcerers, spies and soul-stealers. They did not do very many lotus poses.

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India-Pakistan relations: quo vadis? December 23, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India, Pakistan , comments closed

Maqsudul Hasan Nuri

It is ironical that while India and Pakistan are jointly honoured with Nobel Peace Prizes they should be lately engaged in cross-border skirmishes along their borders.

The Indian view is that Pakistan first provoked the border tension by sending cross-border militants. Also, many Indians took umbrage over Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s speech in September 2014 UN General Assembly session in which he raised the Kashmir issue. Another contributory factor could have been the exceptionally warm reception by US during the UN session. The US “pivot Asia” policy has also encouraged India as a partner against China in East Asia. The Indian stance, moreover, maintains that the perpetrators of 2001 Mumbai attack have still not been punished by Pakistan.

Justifying cancellation of Indo-Pakistan secretary-level talks, it seems the Indian forays were meant to divert the focus of the Pakistan military from fighting in FATA. In the wake of the US military exit post-2014, so the argument goes, India would not let its bargaining position weaken vis-a-vis Pakistan.

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Doubly anachronistic December 8, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Kumar, Vikas , comments closed

Vikas Kumar

In a recent address, on the occasion of the rededication of Sir H.N. Reliance Foundation Hospital and Research Centre in Mumbai, the Prime Minister claimed that Karna’s birth outside a womb was evidence that ancient Indians knew genetic science, whereas the episode of Lord Ganesh acquiring an elephant’s head showed that they also knew plastic surgery. A few days later, the Home Minister and a senior legislator of the ruling party went a step further and claimed that Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle was inspired by Hindu scriptures. As if this was not enough, a historian close to the ruling party suggested that Ancient India had aircrafts and nuclear weapons. While the criticism that followed mostly focused on how the Hindu Right’s sense of history is deeply flawed, this article explores incoherence in the right wing’s use of history.

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A new vision for Australia-India relations December 4, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Sourabh Gupta

Australia and India have not always been the best of friends. Seven Indian prime ministers from across the political spectrum and spanning three decades have come and gone without paying a state visit to Canberra, a record broken only now with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Australia following the Brisbane G20 Summit. Four unreciprocated visits were made by Australian prime ministers during the latter half of this period. Australia’s strategic discovery of a ‘shared values’ partner in India too has been a near-term development. The Coalition government under John Howard did not deem relations with New Delhi to be a significant interest, let alone a significant bilateral relationship, in its first Foreign and Trade Policy White Paper in 1997.

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India’s misguided schools policy shutting out the poor October 16, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Ken Schoolland

Millions of children are being shut out of India’s schools by legislation that predated the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This is the message of a petition by the Centre for Civil Society, which states: ‘Today, 3,494,520 children are out of school, due to the fact that 19,414 private schools across 17 states have been closed’. But few in India are hopeful that this recent shift in power will bring about a liberalisation of education policy in the near term.

In 2009 the government of India passed the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE), which mandates criteria for school facilities and teacher employment. In the capital of Bihar — the fastest growing state in India — a study by the India Institute concludes that this will eventually shutter three quarters of the schools that serve 68 per cent of Patna’s mostly poor children.

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Women as farmers, feminisation of farming August 21, 2014

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Lahiri-Dutt, Kuntala, South Asia - General , comments closed

Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt

What is new in the world of farming today? Well, for one, there is a ‘feminisation’ of farming in many parts of the world, and South Asia is no exception to that. Before I explain that process, let me point out first that women have always performed important roles in agriculture, whether in less- or more-developed countries and irrespective of time, but have remained invisible as farmers. This is because when women have worked side-by-side with men on the farm, they often worked as part of a family unit of labour. A powerful sexually-based division of labour meant that women’s labour and active participation were limited only to certain parts of agriculture and to certain tasks, or even to certain crops. Often, the bulk of this labour was performed under the direct or indirect control of men, who also controlled (or owned) land, resulting in both inaccurate information about and the invisibility of women and also undervaluing of their contributions to agricultural production systems.

Photo: K. Lahiri-Dutt

Photo: K. Lahiri-Dutt

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