Saturday, August 21, 2010

"Peepli Live" Destroys Indian Myths

Recently released independent film "Peepli Live" highlights the problem of farmers' suicides in India--some 200,000 of them have taken their own lives in the last ten years. But it does more than just satirize this unfolding tragedy; it also demolishes the carefully crafted image of "Peaceful, Stable and Prosperous India" that has been widely promoted in the Western media by the likes of the CNN show host Fareed Zakaria through his TV show and his book "The Post-American World".

Peepli Live is a dark comedy that revolves around the lives of two brothers, Natha (Omkar Das) and Budhia (Raghuvir Yadav), who lose their farm because they fail to repay their bank loan. As they seek help from the local muscle men, politicians and bureaucrats, they are told that the only way to get any financial help from the government is for one of them to commit suicide. As their story is picked up by a TV anchor woman named Nandita Malik (Malaika Shenoy) in Delhi, there is a parade of state and federal bureaucrats and politicians and more media people who get involved, each interested in exploiting the situation for his or her own benefit. Along the way, everyone gets satirized, including the media. The filmmakers do not even shy away from showing open defecation, a practice that affects two-thirds of India's population.

So far, India's mainstream media and entertainment industry have been complicit in Zakaria's myth making by shying away from highlighting the serious subjects of poverty, hunger and deprivation that affect the vast majority of Indians. In fact, there have been accusations of "peddling poverty porn" against the few western reporters and filmmakers who have produced films like "Slumdog Millionaire".

Given that sensitivity in India's mainstream film industry, it is not a surprise that Anusha Rizvi, the director of "Peepli Live", is not from the film world. Most of the actors in the film are not from Bollywood either; they are from the theater world. The movie was well received a the Sundance film festival in the United States this year. Bollywood star Aamir Khan's help appears to have also helped in getting greater attention to the low-budget film.

Here is a clip from Ms. Rizvi's interview that describes her background:

Question: "Did you always want to be a filmmaker?

Answer: I never wanted to be a film director. That happened by accident. I studied History at St Stephens College, Delhi, and then did a human rights course at Jamia (Millia) University. Later, I joined NDTV because that seemed like the most logical thing to do. I worked in the production department for four years, and then became a reporter in Mumbai. After that, I quit after because I wanted to make documentaries.

During this time, I also got involved in reviving Dastangoi, the dead art form of storytelling in Urdu, along with Mahmood."

In spite of rave reviews for her work, Ms. Rizvi remains pessimistic about any solution to the problem of farmers' suicides in India. "Absolutely nothing will happen, the whole state is doing nothing, how can you think that some people will see it and feel the pinch on what they are doing themselves?" she told IANS.

Peepli Live is a well-made satirical film. I highly recommend it.

Here's a clip from the movie:

Here's a video clip showing grinding poverty in resurgent India:

Here's a video clip of Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh saying "if there was a Nobel Prize for dirt and filth, India would win it hands down":

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Slumdog Millionaire

The Big Switch

India's Poor, Hungry and Illiterates on its 63rd Independence Day

Newsweek Ranking of World's Best Countries

>Disaster Dampens Spirits on Pakistan's 63rd Independence Day

UNESCO Education For All Report 2010

India's Arms Build-up: Guns Versus Bread

South Asia Slipping in Human Development

World Hunger Index 2009

Challenges of 2010-2020 in South Asia

India and Pakistan Contrasted 2010

Food, Clothing and Shelter in India and Pakistan


Pavan said...

Thanks for this. There has been some criticism of the film with regard to the reason for farmers committing suicide. It is not for compensation but due to the bad policies of the state as also apathy towards the poor which leads to these policies. The film maker has acknowledged this. Zakaria seems to be an apologist for the Indian state. Quite a common trait amognst Indians who settle abroad. In the early stages of the Iraq war he had justified the bombing saying it would actually save lives! Pavan

Anonymous said...

No film can match that of Bimal Roys Do Bigha Zamin

Some other Hindi films ( there are hundreds in regional language films) which depict Indian poverty, exploitation and human sufferings,lynching. I recommend few best here

1) Mandi -Shyam Benegal
2) Ardha Satya by GOvind Nihalani
3) Paar -by Goutam Ghosh (
4) Mantahan -Shyam Benegal
5 Akrosh - Govind Nihalani
6 Ankur By Shyam benegal
7 Nishanth Shyam Benegal

Riaz Haq said...

anon: "No film can match that of Bimal Roys Do Bigha Zamin"

It's possible, but the "Shining India" crowd would probably dismiss it as old and outdated.

What Peepli Live shows is the situation focuses on an unfolding tragedy in "Shining India" where some 200,000 farmers have killed themselves in the last ten years...and the tragedy is continuing.

What is needed is more films like Peepli to highlight other serious problems of human tragedy in resurgent India...the unfolding female genocide claiming millions of infant girls, the tragedy of millions dying of hunger at a rate of 7000 a day, etc.

Unknown said...

Hey Riaz, check this out

Unknown said...

Also check this out

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt from a recent report by Jawed Naqvi, Dawn's New Delhi correspondent:

A particularly disturbing slogan heard in the Kashmir Valley, where its young school-goers and old patriarchs, angry women and restive youth are courageously defying Indian rule, is enough to put off any sensitive sympathiser. “Bhooka nanga Hindustan; Jaan se pyaara Pakistan.” (Starving and tattered India we reject; Pakistan - land of our dreams - we embrace.)

This slogan conveys acute political bankruptcy in a region which has lived with naked military repression for more than 20 years. I’m sure any Pakistani with a sense of justice would also be uncomfortable with the warped mindset the slogan betrays.

That Kashmir is reeling under Indian occupation is not a secret. That Pakistan has played a questionable role there is also well known. Yet, for Kashmiris to see their struggle as part of the many battles being waged by the poorest of the poor against the Indian state’s multi-pronged injustices against its own people, would not compromise or be a contradiction in Kashmir’s struggle for self-determination. The simple question for Kashmiris to ask themselves is, isn’t the same state that has killed 60 young Kashmiris in three months, also responsible for tens of thousands of suicides by indebted farmers in India? Does Sharmila Irom, who is fighting to repeal the law that gives unbridled powers to security forces in her Manipur state have no relevance for the same struggle in Kashmir?

The tribespeople of Chhatisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal are fighting for their fundamental rights. One of their demands is that they not be evicted from their homes to accommodate corporate land grab. Is this not what Kashmiri Pandits suffered at the hands of the Indian state as well as non-state actors in their homeland without any redress from successive Indian governments that claim to represent them?

Anonymous said...

----- Original Message -----
From: "Dr. John Dayal"
Sent: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 12:13 PM


[Based on Archbishop Raphael Cheenath’s latest Memorandum to Chief Minister Naveen Pattnaik AT THEIR MEETING IN Bhubaneswar on 13 September 2010]

1. EXISTENCE OF REFUGEE CAMPS: In spite of the fact that the relief camps were officially closed by the Orissa Government in the fist week of September, 2009, there are large numbers of victims living in more than a dozen make-shift shelters in Kandhamal. When the relief camps were closed in Sept, 2009, about 3500 refugees were sent out who had no other choice except live in temporary shelters. They live in the following villages even today ( Beheragaon, Tukangia, Phirigada, Godoguda, Penala, Dondingia, Tudubadi, Anandnagar, Telingia, Dagapadar, Sartaguda, Hatpada, Tatamaha and Badabanga).

2. TRAFFICKING IN WOMEN: There are reports in the papers that large scale trafficking in women and girls are going on in Orissa. Communal violence has, perhaps, given an opportunity to the miscreants to prey on the hapless victims. Unless this is effectively stopped by the Government, Orissa too would be soon an established flesh trade centre.

3. DISPLACEMENT, REHABILITATION: Restitution and Rehabilitation to follow the international standards see in paragraphs 16-18 and 25-29 of the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and paragraphs 52 to 68 of the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Developments based Evictions and Displacement, 2007.

4. RIGHT TO RETURN TO THEIR OWN HOMES: The State should recognize the Internally Displaced Persons’ right to return to their homes and create all possible enabling conditions to facilitate such safe return accordance with the above standards. Today the refugees return with fear and after their return they still live in fear of further attacks.

5. COMPENSATION PACKAGE: In order to estimate and determine compensation for the losses which the people have suffered an independent committee should be set up. The committee should take into account the opinion of the victims otherwise it would be only a one-sided calculation. Therefore, it is important to consult the victims to know how much property they have lost and how many lost their lives. In the case of Kandhamal communal valence the victims were never consulted. The compensation given to them has been,
arbitrary and grossly inadequate, and possibly vindictive.

Compensation should be a package which should include not only houses, but the household things that normally should belong to a family and some financial assistance for the families who had no employment for nearly two years. Such package should take care of the needs of a family who has been displaced during

Anonymous said...


6. THE INJURED AND THE WIDOWS: Adequate compensation should be given to those injured during violence, widows whose husbands were killed or missing, the families of those who were killed, or missing.

7. The victims of communal violence should be approached with sympathy From a humanitarian point of view compensation given to the victims should have been a sign of compassion and sympathy to the poor victims. In many cases, the rules and regulations were absolutely strictly imposed on the victims that even the compensating allotted to them was very slow in coming and in some cases not at all given to them. In communal violence where victims lose everything and suffer so much, the help should be given with a sense of urgency.

8. WAIVE OFF LOANS: During the communal violence and its aftermath people had taken loan since they did not have any employment. Even now they are without any job since a large number of them are still displaced. Such loans could be waved off so that the victims could live without anxiety and earn something for their day to day living.

9. SETTLEMENT OF LAND: Some of the victims do not have land patta [land allotment letter], others have no land, some have disputed land. Unless these are settled the construction of houses can not proceed. On 25th July 2009, 58 cases for land settlements have been given to the Distinct Magistrate; unless these are settled , house construction slows down.

10. FORCIBLE CONVERSION TO HINDUISM: It is reported that the refugees live in 27 villages in make-shift shelter. In more than ten (10) villages Christians are forced to live as Hindus. For instances, Betticola, Beheragaon, Kutulumba, Mundarigon, Kalingia, Santikia, Bindugan, Rotingia, Bodimunda and Dodopanka. This is totally contrary to the freedom of Religion Act which the Orissa Government upholds with great vigour. The Administration which claims secular credentials should not condone such violence.

11. COMPENSATION TO CHURCHES AND RELIGIOUS HOUSES: The RTI has recorded 233 churches and prayer halls, but it is estimated that there are 21 churches more which are not included in this list. During the communal violence in 2007 too about 200 churches and payer halls were destroyed. No consultation was made with the victims when compensation was fixed which is only a pittance and is not at all proportionate to the colossal destruction of property. In fact the compensation given to the churches amounts to about one tenth of the total cost.

12. HATE CAMPAIGN: The Government machinery should be alert to prevent hate-campaign that brews hate mobilization and religious and caste-based discriminative activities. The communal carnage in Kandhamal is the result of such hate-campaign that was going on in the State for decades, unfortunately unhindered by the State authorities.

13. MOB RULE: It is a very dangerous development in the country and also in Orissa that the mob is taking over the responsibility of controlling the Law and Order situation. If two or three hundred hooligan can control the situation what is the use of police, courts and civil administration? If one or two hard core criminals can take the whole administration, even the courts, for a ride, the very foundation of democracy is at stake. Daily shows on all the TV. channels prove amply what we have said. Often the victims are victimized by the administration.

Riaz Haq said...

To get a peek into the Indian psyche, read the following advice offered by Financial Times to David Cameron prior to his recent India trip:

The first is 'Kashmir', he says. Recalling controversial utterances by previous British foreign secretaries like Robin Cook and David Miliband, Barker tells Cameron: "The quickest way to turn a charm offensive into a diplomatic fiasco. The basic rule: British ministers should say nothing. Don't dare criticise, offer to help, or link bringing peace to tackling terrorism. Stray words have consequences."

The second is 'Poverty'. "More poor people than anywhere on earth. But not worth mentioning too loudly. Talk about the New India instead. Mention the aid review. A patronising tone is fatal."

The third, 'Coming over too fresh'. Barker says: "The young, dynamic, no-nonsense version of Cameron should probably be left behind. It's time to learn some manners. Indian politicians are, as a rule, double his age and four times as grand. If the meetings are stuffy, formal, overbearingly polite, that's a good thing."

The fourth is the 'Immigration cap'. The columnist writes: "A big issue for the Indian elite. Anand Sharma, the commerce minister, raised his 'concerns' earlier this month with Cameron himself. A heavily bureaucratic and stingy visa regime will not encourage Indians to work or study in Britain."

Read more: Don't mention Kashmir, poverty in India, UK PM advised - The Times of India

Riaz Haq said...

Indians are so super-sensitive that a recent humorous piece titled "My Own Private India" in Time Magazine by Joel Stein brought an angry response from the Indian-American community. Here's an excerpt from Stein's article:

"I am very much in favor of immigration everywhere in the U.S. except Edison, N.J. The mostly white suburban town I left when I graduated from high school in 1989 — the town that was called Menlo Park when Thomas Alva Edison set up shop there and was later renamed in his honor — has become home to one of the biggest Indian communities in the U.S., as familiar to people in India as how to instruct stupid Americans to reboot their Internet routers....

For a while, we assumed all Indians were geniuses. Then, in the 1980s, the doctors and engineers brought over their merchant cousins, and we were no longer so sure about the genius thing. In the 1990s, the not-as-brilliant merchants brought their even-less-bright cousins, and we started to understand why India is so damn poor.

Several Indian-American organizations responded with outrage, criticizing TIME's decision to publish the article. For example, the advocacy group South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) issued a statement and online petition in response to Stein's piece.

"Most offensive is his remarkably blasé tone about the discrimination and hate crimes that targeted the New Jersey South Asian Community during the 1980s," the SAALT statement said.

Both Stein and TIME felt compelled to issue online apologies, saying they never intended to offend readers.

Anonymous said...


September 21, 2010

A group in Madhya Pradesh state has launched a campaign to recruit young people to protect Hinduism, a development which worries Christians and Muslims.

The newly formed “Bhagawa [translated as ‘saffron'] Brigade has put up posters across the major cities about its “Hindu Yoddha Bharti Abhiyan” or warrior recruitment drive.

The posters urge “young and energetic” Hindus to join the outfit.

It plans to recruit at least 10,000 young people at the start with the aim of protecting Hindu ideologies from getting “diluted,” the organization’s coordinator Rajesh Bidkar told

The outfit plans to fight the conversion of Hindus, terrorism, and Muslims marrying Hindus allegedly to convert them, Bidkar said.

Christian and Muslim leaders say the campaign, being organized openly in the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled state, would worsen the situation of minority religious followers.

Ever since the party came to power in December 2003, the state has witnessed several cases of violence against Muslims and Christians, the religious leaders say.

Divine Word Father Prasad Kuzhivelil said the new campaign would harm peace-building efforts.

Joshi Kurishungal, president of the Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh, an ecumenical forum of Christians, said the recruitment drive should be treated as a “law and order problem” and the administration should ensure that peace is maintained.

Christians must be “cautious of the harsh reality ahead” warned Daniel John, president of the state unit of the All India Catholic Union.

Mazood Ahammad Khan, a Muslim, said activities such as the new drive are aimed at opposing religious minorities such as Muslims and Christians.

The state should apply the law in this case, he said.


Anonymous said...

Prashant A Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace
Post Box No. 4050, Navrangpura, Ahmedabad 380 009, Gujarat, India
Tel. : +91 (079) 66522333, 27455913. Fax : +91 (079) 2748 9018


The verdict on the disputed land in Ayodhya with regard to the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi expected on Friday, September 24th, is already creating palpable fear and a sense of insecurity, in different parts of the country.

Central and State Governments have already brought in additional security forces and several have been detained as a preventive measure.

Even if the judgment does not find favour with one or the other side, in no way does it legitimize violence or divisiveness. Rumour-mongering and hate speeches by rabble- rousers are bound to add to the already fragile atmosphere.

What is important is that every effort be made to transcend the narrow confines of religion and to create an environment that the God of creation is present everywhere and very specially in every human being.

We sincerely appeal to one and all: very specially to the leaders – political, religious and civil - to ensure communal harmony and peace in the wake of the judgment and to help preserve the secular character and diversity of the country.

Fr. Cedric Prakash sj


22nd September, 2010

Anonymous said...

The Peepli Live story is universal because it reflects the development dichotomy in fast growing economies. As a result, that story has a large appeal across the world. Unlike India, however, many developing countries do not disclose their grim realities fearing the risk of being shamed. For instance, in some countries in India's neighborhood harmless reporters get thrashed by the establishment for doing their job - such as taping the footage of the public lynching of young boys. But, I digress.

The resurgent India, no matter how that term may stick in your throat, is equally real as the grim India that exists. Had it not been the case it'd have been abnormal for a fast transforming country like India which is largely agrarian. India does not hide realities neither does it prohibits people from analyzing it or writing about it.

Moreover, cherry-picking the writings of the Indian equivalents of Nadeem Paracha, Fatima Bhutto, Pervez Hoodboy or Kamran Shafi and presenting those as ‘the only truths’ about India on your blog has become old and meaningless. It does not cut it anymore. Try harder. I know you would not let us down.

Riaz Haq said...

anon: "Unlike India, however, many developing countries do not disclose their grim realities fearing the risk of being shamed. For instance, in some countries in India's neighborhood harmless reporters get thrashed by the establishment for doing their job - such as taping the footage of the public lynching of young boys. But, I digress."

Other developing nations have problems too, but India is unique in the issues addressed by Peepli Live. No country other than India has had 200,000 farmer suicides in the last ten years...making few headlines. There have been isolated instances of suicides in Pakistan as well, and they have been widely reported by Pakistani media, but their scope and scale pales in comparison with the phenomenon of mass suicides of farmers in India.

It's the same with hunger country has he breadth or depth of hunger as India, with over 7000 people dying of hunger every day in India.

On sanitation front, no country in the world other than India has two-thirds of its population defecating in the open.

In short, India remains home to the world's largest population of poor, hungry and illiterate people in the world.

Riaz Haq said...

India ranks 67, far worse than Pakistan's ranking of 52 on the world hunger index 2010 report published recently, according to a Times of India report.

China is ranked well ahead of India and Pakistan at the ninth place, while Pakistan is at the 52nd place on the 2010 Global Hunger Index, released by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in association with a German group Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe.

In India, the high Index scores are driven by high levels of child underweight resulting from the low nutritional and social status of women in the country, the report pointed out, adding that India alone accounts for a large share of the world's undernourished children, the IFPRI report said.

India is home to 42% of the world's underweight children, while Pakistan has just 5%, it added.

Among other neighbouring countries, Sri Lanka was at the 39th position and Nepal ranked 56 by index. Bangladesh listed at the 68th position.

"The economic performance and hunger levels are inversely correlated. In South and Southeast Asia, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Timor-Leste are among countries with hunger levels considerably higher than their gross national income (GNI) per capita," the IFPRI report said.

"Undernutrition in the first two years of life threatens a child's life and can jeopardise physical, motor and cognitive development. It is therefore of particular importance that we take concerted action to combat hunger, especially among young children," the report stressed.

It further said that the global food security is under stress. Although the world's leaders, through the first Millennium Development Goal, adopted a goal of halving the proportion of hungry people between 1990 and 2015, "we are nowhere near meeting that target."

"The 2010 world Global Hunger Index (GHI) shows some improvement over the 1990 world GHI, falling from 19.8 points to 15.1 or by almost one-quarter. The index for hunger in the world, however, remains serious," it noted.

In recent years, however, the number of hungry people has actually been increasing. In 2009, on the heels of a global food price crisis and in the midst of worldwide recession, the number of undernourished peopled surpassed one billion, although recent estimates by the UN body Food and Agriculture Organisation suggest that the number will have dropped to 925 million in 2010, it added.

Read more: India ranks below China, Pak in global hunger index - The Times of India

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an LA Times story on "Chalta Hai" attitude that was at the root of the mess in lead up to the CWG 2010:

The international embarrassment that India suffered in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games — marred by massive cost overruns, a collapsed bridge and widespread corruption allegations — has focused attention on a stubborn cultural condition that if not checked, analysts here say, could undercut India's superpower ambitions.

An attitude referred to in Hindi as "chalta hai," which translates to "it goes" but can mean "don't be bothered," "whatever," "it'll do," or "don't fret (such problems as corruption, delays, shoddy quality)."

Or in the words of one commentator: "It's OK dude, who cares?"

As the Games' closing ceremony wrapped up Thursday, the attitude appeared to be borne out. Chaos reigned until opening day of the international sports competition, but India ultimately pulled it off. There were no major terrorist attacks, India won 38 gold medals and dancing and marching bands wowed the closing crowd.

As the hangover sets in, however, some wonder why it took prime ministerial intercession to get toilets cleaned in the athletes village, why Indian planning compared so poorly with neighboring China's hosting of the 2008 Summer Olympics and whether a wing-it attitude befits a nation with such talent, potential and prospects.

"It doesn't matter if we're a growing superpower or the stock market's at record levels," said Vinod Mehta, editor in chief of the Outlook media group. "What these Games showed is that we've hit the limit on chalta hai."

Some see the attitude growing out of Hindu fatalism and rigid social hierarchies.

"It's a sense of 'que sera, sera,' pre-destination, you're born upper or lower caste," said Ravinder Kaur, a sociologist at the Indian Institute of Technology.

Others cite India's huge population and limited resources, which can leave individuals feeling powerless. "It's a coping device," said Amita Baviskar, a sociology professor at Delhi's Institute of Economic Growth.

For Santosh Desai, president of McCann-Erickson India, chalta hai is epitomized by a story his father recounted of a classmate who stole test answers, then only bothered to memorize the bare minimum required to pass.

Most cultures have something similar of sorts, including the Latin American "manana" and the Middle Eastern "bukrah, insha Allah" ("tomorrow, God willing") attitudes.

India's slack Games preparations epitomized chalta hai thinking, analysts said, but examples are widespread in India.

Riaz Haq said...

There is great concern that hunger and poverty will increase in rural India as the subsidies are reduced in 2010 budget, according to a piece in Outlook India:

It is also shocking that food subsidy has been reduced by over Rs. 400 crore despite the commitment to enact a food security legislation. Fertiliser subsidy has also been cut by a whopping Rs. 3000 crore from what was spent last year. These moves to reduce subsidies in the name of targetting comes at a time when inflation is galloping and agricultural output growth has become negative. The anti-people approach of the Government in reducing subsidies was laid bare in the Economic survey, which has prescribed the dismantling of the PDS and initiating a “coupon system” for food and fertilisers.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's part 1 of a recent report titled "India: Economic Power House or Poor House?" by reporter The Star's Mary Albino that talks about how deceptive "India's Miracle" is:

India’s economic miracle is a perfect example of how appearances can be deceiving.

The dominant narrative on the country goes like this: as the fourth largest economy in the world, with a steady annual growth rate of close to 9 per cent, India is a rising economic superstar. Bangalore is the new Silicon Valley. Magazines such as Forbes and Vogue have launched Indian editions. The Mumbai skyline is decorated with posh hotels and international banks.

There are numbers to back up this narrative. The average Indian takes home $1,017 (U.S.) a year. Not much, but that’s nearly double the average five years ago and triple the annual income at independence, in 1947. The business and technology sector has grown tenfold in the past decade. Manufacturing and agriculture are expanding, and trade levels are way up.

India is also on the up and up in terms of human well-being. Life expectancy and literacy are steadily rising, while child mortality continues to decline. The poverty rate is down to 42 per cent from 60 per cent in 1981. While 42 per cent still leaves a long way to go, India’s situation seems rosy compared with that of, say, Malawi and Tanzania, which have poverty rates of 74 per cent and 88 per cent, respectively.

If we examine these statistics in real numbers, however, a different narrative emerges, one the Indian government likes less.

With a population as big as India’s, 42 per cent means there are some 475 million Indians living on less than $1.25 per day. That’s 10 times as many facing dire poverty as Malawi and Tanzania combined.

It means India is home to more poor people than any other country in the world.

To put it another way, one of every three people in the world living without basic necessities is an Indian national.

The real number is probably even larger. The recently launched Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), a more comprehensive measure of deprivation than the current “poverty line” of $1.25 per day, uses 10 markers of well-being, including education, health and standard of living. The MPI, developed by the Poverty & Human Development Initiative at Oxford University, puts the Indian poverty rate at 55 per cent. That’s 645 million people — double the population of the United States and nearly 20 times the population of Canada.

By this measure, India’s eight poorest states have more people living in poverty than Africa’s 26 poorest nations.

A 10-year-old living in the slums of Calcutta, raising her 5-year-old brother on garbage and scraps, and dealing with tapeworms and the threat of cholera, suffers neither more nor less than a 10-year-old living in the same conditions in the slums of Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. But because the Indian girl lives in an “emerging economy,” slated to battle it out with China for the position of global economic superpower, and her counterpart in Lilongwe lives in a country with few resources and a bleak future, the Indian child's predicament is perceived with relatively less urgency.

One is “poor” while the other represents a “declining poverty rate.”

What’s more, in India there are huge discrepancies in poverty from one state to the next. Madhya Pradesh, for example, is comparable in population and incidence of poverty to the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. But the misery of the DRC is much better known than the misery of Madhya Pradesh, because sub-national regions do not appear on “poorest country” lists. If Madhya Pradesh were to seek independence from India, its dire situation would become more visible immediately.

As India demonstrates, having the largest number of poor people is not the same as being the poorest country. That’s unfortunate, because being the poorest country has advantages.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a BBC report about leaked tapes exposing Indian journalists unethical dealings with corporate lobbyists:

Senior editors in India are considering putting in place systems to ensure ethical practices in journalism.

The move follows a scandal involving high-profile journalists after tapes of revealing phone conversations with an influential lobbyist were leaked.

At the centre of the controversy are two well-known journalists, Vir Sanghvi and Barkha Dutt. Critics say they acted like deal-makers, not journalists.

Neither denies the conversations took place, but they deny any wrongdoing.

Ms Dutt is heard on tape offering to relay messages from the corporate lobbyist to politicians to influence the process of forming a cabinet.

Columnist Vir Sanghvi is heard offering a businessman a "rehearsed" interview.

'No grey areas'

"Journalists need to exercise their judgement and verify everything that is said by a source. There are no grey areas, it's black and white," Vinod Mehta, editor of Outlook magazine which published the tapes, said.

"Corporate lobbyists represent certain interests which should be clear to everyone."

Mr Mehta was among a number of participants who spoke in a debate held at the Press Club of India.

Rajdeep Sardesai, the editor of the TV channel CNN-Ibn, said: "Let us not overlook the fact that it is the media's unflinching attempts that have exposed these scams. Most of us are doing a very good job.

"This rot is not new - it's been around for three decades at least.

"In this competitive age, access is information which is where the politicians have co-opted the journalists. Corporate India and politicians are subverting the system," he said.

More than 100 tapes of conversations between corporate lobbyist Niira Radia and leading journalists were recorded as part of an authorised police tap.

Police were acting on a request from income tax authorities investigating the alleged mis-selling of mobile telephone licences.

Last month, federal auditors said former telecommunications minister Andimuthu Raja had undersold mobile phone licences worth billions of dollars, resulting in an estimated loss of $39bn to the exchequer.

It is not clear who leaked the tapes to the media. Transcripts of the conversations have appeared in the Open and Outlook magazines and have angered many Indians.

In the tape recorded in the summer of 2009, Ms Dutt is heard discussing with Ms Radia who should be in the cabinet. Ms Radia was pushing for Mr Raja to be reinstated as a minister.

Ms Dutt, currently group editor at NDTV is heard assuring Ms Radia that she would speak to a senior Congress party leader on her behalf.

Barkha Dutt has apologised for "an error of judgement", but she insists that she has not done anything wrong.

Mr Sanghvi - who is heard offering a "fully scripted" and "rehearsed" television interview to Ms Radia's client, India's richest man Mukesh Ambani - says he was "just stringing her along".

Ms Radia works as a lobbyist for two of India's biggest industrialists Mukesh Ambani and Ratan Tata.

Since the leaks, Mr Tata has gone to court saying that conversations between him and Ms Radia were "personal" and that the leaks violated his right to privacy.

Unknown said...

although, i have not watched the movie but, i know the content of it. yes peepli live does seem to portray a rather dark side of the india that we assume to be the next superpower in the making. it's a big challenge for us to make it sure that no person of our country takes the extreme step of taking his life because of institutional failure. the responsibility boils down to the state. and i agree the state must be held responsible for that

Riaz Haq said...

Suicide rates in India are about 5-10 times higher than in Pakistan, according to WHO data reported by Daily Times.

And suicides are on the rise in India, according to Times of India:

NEW DELHI: Every four minute, one person takes his or her life in the country and one in each three of victims is a youth below the age of 30 years, the latest report of National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has revealed.

According to the 'Accidental Deaths and Suicides 2009' released recently, 68.7 per cent of a total of 1,27,151 people who committed suicide across the country in 2009 were in the age group of 15-44 years.

More than 55 per cent of the suicide victims in Arunachal Pradesh and Delhi were in the age group of 15-29 years -- 56.42 per cent (62 out of 110) of victims in Arunachal Pradesh and 55.3 per cent (817 out of 1,477) in Delhi were in this age group.

"34.5 per cent of the suicide victims were in the age group of 15-29 years and 34.2 per cent were in the middle aged group of 30-44 years," the report said.

"223 males commit suicides per day in the country while the number for women is 125 out of which 69 are house wives. 73 people commit suicide on a single day due to illness while 10 are driven to suicide due to love affairs," it said.

The country witnessed a 1.7 per cent increase in suicide cases in 2009 compared to the previous when it recorded 1,27,151 cases as against 1,22,902, the report said.

West Bengal topped the list with 14,648 cases followed by Andhra Pradesh (14,500), Tamil Nadu (14,424), Maharashtra (14,300) and Karnataka (12,195).

These five states together accounted for 55.1 per cent of the total suicides.

The southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala (8,755) together accounted for 39.2 per cent of the total suicide cases reported in this year.

Delhi recorded 1,477 suicides in 2009. Uttar Pradesh has reported a comparatively lower number of suicidal deaths, accounting for only 3.3 per cent of the total cases. The state accounts for 16.7 per cent of the total population.

"The number of suicides during the decade (1999-2009) has recorded an increase of 15 per cent from 1,10,587 in 1999 to 1,27,151 in 2009. The increase in incidence of suicides was reported each year during the decade except 2000 and 2001," the report said.

On the reasons for people taking extreme steps, family problems and illness topped the list with 23.7 and 21 per cent cases respectively. Love affairs led to 2.9 per cent and dowry dispute, drug abuse and poverty were 2.3 per cent each.

"It is observed that social and economic causes have led most of the males to commit suicides whereas emotional and personal causes have mainly driven females to end their lives," the report said.

Riaz Haq said...

First, Peepli Live is not your typical Bollywood film. It's been written and directed by a journalist, not a professional movie maker.

Second, the growing farmers' suicides in India are a fact acknowledged by even the Indian government.

“More than 17,000 Indian farmers committed suicide in 2009, a seven percent rise on the previous year, according to new government figures.”

Riaz Haq said...

Thousands of Indian illegal immigrants are slipping into Texas from Mexico, according to LA Times:

Reporting from Harlingen, Texas — Thousands of immigrants from India have crossed into the United States illegally at the southern tip of Texas in the last year, part of a mysterious and rapidly growing human-smuggling pipeline that is backing up court dockets, filling detention centers and triggering investigations.

The immigrants, mostly young men from poor villages, say they are fleeing religious and political persecution. More than 1,600 Indians have been caught since the influx began here early last year, while an undetermined number, perhaps thousands, are believed to have sneaked through undetected, according to U.S. border authorities.

Hundreds have been released on their own recognizance or after posting bond. They catch buses or go to local Indian-run motels before flying north for the final leg of their months-long journeys.

"It was long … dangerous, very dangerous," said one young man wearing a turban outside the bus station in the Rio Grande Valley town of Harlingen.

The Indian migration in some ways mirrors the journeys of previous waves of immigrants from far-flung places, such as China and Brazil, who have illegally crossed the U.S. border here. But the suddenness and still-undetermined cause of the Indian migration baffles many border authorities and judges.

The trend has caught the attention of anti-terrorism officials because of the pipeline's efficiency in delivering to America's doorstep large numbers of people from a troubled region. Authorities interview the immigrants, most of whom arrive with no documents, to ensure that people from neighboring Pakistan or Middle Eastern countries are not slipping through.

There is no evidence that terrorists are using the smuggling pipeline, FBI and Department of Homeland Security officials said.

The influx shows signs of accelerating: About 650 Indians were arrested in southern Texas in the last three months of 2010 alone. Indians are now the largest group of immigrants other than Latin Americans being caught at the Southwest border.

Prabhakar said...

Dear Friends,

Kindly extend your condolences on the "Death of Indian Farmer!",

Sincerly Yours,


Riaz Haq said...

Here's an interesting 2004 ADB assessment of Pakistan's rural economy:

Despite recent good macroeconomic performance, Pakistan continues to have high levels of poverty. Poverty estimates of 2000-2001, indicate that around one third of the population lives at or below the poverty line, with poverty being concentrated in rural areas. Available international literature indicates a strong and clear-cut relationship between agricultural growth and poverty reduction. The agricultural sector is a major determinant of the overall economic growth and well being in Pakistan, contributing 23 percent of total GDP; employing 42% of the total employed labor force; and accounting for nearly 9 percent of the country's export earnings. Thus, high agricultural growth is essential for significant poverty reduction in Pakistan.

However, in addition to the direct impact of agriculture growth on poverty reduction, there is also a much larger indirect effect through the linkages between agriculture and non-farm growth in rural areas. Non-farm growth is closely linked with agricultural growth since peasant farmers spend a large portion of their incremental income on locally produced non-agricultural goods thus generating employment and incomes in the adjoining areas. The increased demand for non-farm goods leads to a much larger increase in employment, which is a key vehicle for poverty reduction. Available information also points to the increasing importance of non-farm incomes for rural households. The five major sources of income in rural Pakistan are wages/salaries, transfer income, crop income, rental income and livestock income. Livestock is a particularly important source of income for the poor with a majority of poor households, especially the landless and small landowners, dependent on this sector.

In the light of increasingly limited income generating opportunities in the on-farm sector, poor households are increasingly turning to the non-farm sector as a key source of livelihood. In addition, there appears to be a higher incidence of vulnerability to falling into and remaining in poverty, among households which are dependent solely on agriculture. Rural areas that are well connected with the urban areas seem to be more prosperous, in part because the lack of employment opportunities in rural areas results either in labor reallocation or migration. In both cases, human capital plays a positive and significant role and the poorest of the poor neither possess the human capital nor have the resources to migrate. This vulnerable group needs special attention.

Pakistan's Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper outlines four pillars for accelerating growth and reducing poverty. Pillar One focuses on accelerating economic growth, pillar Two on improving governance and devolution, Pillar Three on investing in human capital, and Pillar Four on targeting the poor and vulnerable. Pillars One and Four focus on generating employment, especially in the rural areas, small and medium industries and micro-finance. There are also very strong linkages between income poverty and the other two PRSP Pillars. For example, access to justice, successful devolution, increasing the human capital of the poor, and ensuring effective safety nets are also central factors for increasing the incomes of poor people.
To increase incomes of poor households and build social capital, the ADB is funding a Micro-Finance Sector Development Program. As part of its objective to efficiently provide financial and social services to the poor, the ADB assisted with the establishment of the Khushali Bank, a public-private enterprise in partnership with NGOs, under this program. The ADB is also engaged in several rural development projects such as the Malakand, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Bahawalpur, and Dera Ghazi Khan Rural Development Projects, to enhance household incomes, particularly for the smallholder and tenant farmers, and the landless.....

Riaz Haq said...

Here's the intro to an interview of Smita Narula, faculty director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University Law School, co-author of the report, "Every Thirty Minutes: Farmer Suicides, Human Rights and the Agrarian Crisis in India" as published by Democracy Now on Indian farmers plight:

A quarter of a million Indian farmers have committed suicide in the last 16 years—an average of one suicide every 30 minutes. The crisis has ballooned with economic liberalization that has removed agricultural subsidies and opened Indian agriculture to the global market. Small farmers are often trapped in a cycle of insurmountable debt, leading many to take their lives out of sheer desperation. We speak with Smita Narula of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University Law School, co-author of a new report on farmer suicides in India.
SMITA NARULA: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about this report that you are just releasing today.

SMITA NARULA: Our major finding for this report is that all the issues that you just described are major human rights issues. And what we’re faced with in India is a human rights crisis of epic proportions. The crisis affects the human rights of Indian farmers and their family members in extremely profound ways. We found that their rights to life, to water, food and adequate standard of living, and their right to an effective remedy, is extremely affected by this crisis. Additionally, the government has hard human rights legal obligations to respond to the crisis, but we’ve found that it has failed, by and large, to take any effective measures to address the suicides that are taking place.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this number is unbelievable. Thirty—every 30 minutes, an Indian farmer commits suicide?

SMITA NARULA: And that’s been going on for years and years. And what these intense numbers don’t reveal are two things. One is that the numbers themselves are failing to capture the enormity of the problem. In what we call a failure of information on the part of the Indian government, entire categories of farmers are completely left out of the purview of farm suicide statistics, because they don’t formally own title to land. This includes women farmers, Dalit, or so-called lower caste farmers, as well as Adivasi, or tribal community farmers. In addition, the government’s programs and the relief programs that they’ve offered fail to capture not only this broad category, but also fail to provide timely debt relief and compensation or address broader structural issues that are leading to these suicides in the country....

Riaz Haq said...

India's dirty big mess exposed to the public, reports The Australian:

...India is where human waste, discharged along the vast, 65,000km rail network, corrodes the tracks to such an extent the rails have to be replaced every 24 months instead of having a normal 30-year lifespan. This is the human waste left by the 20 million passengers carried each day by Indian Railways.

India is where staggering numbers tell a story of squalor that lies behind so much of the controversy and apprehension surrounding next month's Commonwealth Games.

More than six decades after India won its freedom from British colonial rule, 55 per cent of its people - by one count 638 million - do not have access to a toilet of any kind and defecate in the open.

Paradoxically, more people have access to mobile phones in India than to basic sanitation. A recent estimate suggested about 366 million people have access to sanitation while there are about 600 million mobile phones in service in the emerging economy.

"It is a tragic irony to think that in India, a country now wealthy enough that roughly half of the people own phones, about half cannot afford the basic necessity and dignity of a toilet," a UN report has stated.

It is hardly surprising that India's Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh has said: "If there is a Nobel prize for dirt and filth, India will win it, no doubt." He is right.

Outside of the glitz of the sumptuous hotels where many tourists stay, the reality is that despite the great strides India has achieved in some areas, hygiene standards in India remain abysmal. The notorious malady known as "Delhi belly" is rampant.

Indians have been let down severely by successive governments since independence. The sort of mindset that has allowed filth to spoil Commonwealth Games preparations is testament to that failure.

N. R. Narayana Murthy, an eminent Indian and founder of Infosys Technologies, has summed up that failure thus: "The enigma of India is that our progress in higher education and science and technology has not been sufficient to take 350 million Indians out of illiteracy. It is difficult to imagine that 318 million people in the country do not have access to safe drinking water and 250 million people do not have access to basic medical care. Why should 630 million people not have access to acceptable sanitation facilities?"

"It is common to find sumptuous luxury apartments in buildings that are filthy, rotting and stained, whose common areas, walls and staircases have not been cleaned in generations. Each apartment owner is proud of his own immediate habitat but is unwilling to incur responsibility or expense for the areas shared with others, even in the same building.

"This attitude is also visible in the lack of a civic culture in both rural and urban India, which leaves public spaces dirty and garbage-strewn, streets potholed and neglected, civic amenities vandalised or not functioning. The Indian wades through dirt and filth, past open sewers and fly-specked waste, to an immaculate home where he proudly bathes twice a day."

Riaz Haq said...

Here's Aaakar Patel on Punjabis and Urdu-speakers of Bollywood:

The dominant communities of Bollywood are two: the Urdu-speakers of North India and, above all, the Punjabis from in and around Lahore. They rule Bollywood and always have. To see why this is unusual, imagine a Pakistan film industry set in Karachi but with no Pashtuns or Mohajirs or Sindhis. Instead the actors are all Tamilian and the directors all Bengalis. Imagine also that all Pakistan responds to their Tamil superstars as the nation's biggest heroes. That is how unusual the composition of Bollywood is.

A quick demonstration. Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan are the three current superstars. All three are Urdu-speakers. In the second rung we have Hrithik Roshan, Saif Ali Khan, Akshay Kumar, Shahid Kapoor and Ajay Devgan. Of these, Hrithik, Ajay and Akshay are Punjabi while Saif is Urdu-speaking. Shahid Kapoor, as his name suggests, is half-Punjabi and half-Urdu-speaking.

Behind the camera, the big names are Punjabi: Karan Johar, Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Yash Chopra of Lahore.

The Kapoor clan of Lyallpur is the greatest family in acting, not just in Bollywood but anywhere in the world. It has produced four generations of superstars: Prithviraj Kapoor, his sons Raj, Shammi and Shashi, their children Rishi and Randhir, and the current generation of Ranbir, Kareena and Karisma.

Bollywood is a Punjabi industry. We have Dev Anand of Lahore, Balraj Sahni of Rawalpindi, Rajendra Kumar of Sialkot, IS Johar of Chakwal, Jeetendra, Premnath, Prem Chopra, Anil Kapoor and Dharmendra who are all Punjabis. Sunil Dutt of Jhelum, Rajesh Khanna, Vinod Khanna, Vinod Mehra, Suresh Oberoi of Quetta, and all their star kids are Punjabis. Composer Roshan (father of Rakesh and grandfather of Hrithik) was from Gujranwala.

What explains this dominance of Punjabis in Bollywood? The answer is their culture. Much of India's television content showcases the culture of conservative Gujarati business families. Similarly, Bollywood is put together around the extroverted culture and rituals of Punjabis.

The sangeet and mehndi of Punjabi weddings are as alien to the Gujarati in Surat as they are to the Mohajir in Karachi. And yet Bollywood's Punjabi culture has successfully penetrated both. Bhangra has become the standard Indian wedding dance. Writer Santosh Desai explained the popularity of bhangra by observing that it was the only form of Indian dance where the armpit was exposed. Indians are naturally modest, and the Punjabi's culture best represents our expressions of fun and wantonness.

Even artsy Indian cinema is made by the people we call Punjus - Gurinder Chadha, Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair.

Another stream of Bollywood is also connected to Lahore, in this case intellectually, and that is the progressives. Sajjad Zaheer (father of Nadira Babbar), Jan Nisar Akhtar (father of lyricist Javed and grandfather of actor/director Farhan and director Zoya), Kaifi Azmi (father of Shabana), Majrooh Sultanpuri and so many others have a deep link to that city.

Riaz Haq said...

Lack of water and toilets are a major problem for Anna Hazare supporters in New Delhi, according to media reports:

As droves of people flocked to Ramlila Maidan to voice their support for Anna Hazare, lack of water and sanitation facilities at the venue tested the resolve of quite a few supporters.

With the protests probably stretching over more than two weeks, protesters hope that arrangements will be made soon for clean drinking water and medicines to alleviate the suffering of the people flocking to support the movement.

According to the agreement reached between Team Anna and police, the organisers have to arrange for drinking water, medical aid and mobile toilets.

A protester at the venue said, "There is no water and toilets are in a deplorable condition. People, especially women, who have come from outside Delhi are suffering terribly here."

Scarcity of water and sanitation facilities at the venue have created trouble for the Gandhian's supporters, with one fainting and being rushed to a hospital.

One Vishnu Dutt Sharma from Uttar Pradesh who is fasting in the city collapsed in the morning and was rushed to LNJP hospital where he is being treated. "He did not have food or water for three days. He fell unconscious," an agitator said.

A doctor at the venue said the basic problem was scarcity and the quality of water the protesters were drinking.

"There is no proper arrangement for water supply and people are not carrying bottled water. So they are facing problems," he said.

To provide relief, a group of doctors from Indian Medical Association have set up camp at the venue to ensure round-the-clock emergency medical care free of cost to the supporters.

Dr AP Singh of IMA said, "We have volunteered to provide free medical services because we support the cause of Hazare and his team. Corruption affects everybody, including us and we feel that if we can contribute in some way to this movement, we would have done our part."

Dr Sachin Bhargav, another doctor, said, "we are providing medicines free of cost, and paying for them from our own pockets, because we believe in Anna's cause, and sympathise with the poor people who have come here from villages all over India."

Armed with medicines for common ailments like dehydration, gastro-enteritis and fever, the doctors have treated over 400 patients since the protest began at Ramlila Maidan, and referred around 10 patients to nearby hospitals.

The doctors have put their own practise at stake to volunteer at the Maidan.

"The government is not providing proper facilities because it wants the people to leave as soon as possible. Despite this, people won't leave, and we won't rest till the government agrees to Hazare's demands," Amina Khan, a nurse, alleged.

The doctors are also playing a part in ensuring that the crowd doesn't go out of control. Singh said, "If any supporter becomes too aggressive or starts hyperventilating, volunteers bring him to us, and we give them medicines to calm them down, thus preventing any untoward incident."

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a report on 250,000 farmer suicides in India since 1997:

Jaideep Hardikar of the Telegraph in Kolkata described what happens when an agricultural economy crashes. For 10 years, he has been covering an agrarian crisis in India, the aftermath of the 1960s Green Revolution and its 1980s collapse. He was tipped into the story by chance, being randomly assigned to report on the 1998 suicide of a cotton farmer who despaired of ever climbing out of debt. Before he finished the story, four other farmers in the same village also killed themselves by drinking pesticide.

Sometimes the men left notes. Often they did not, leaving their widows to discover they had been impoverished by a descending spiral of borrowing to plant, being unable to pay the loans back, and borrowing further to cover the first round of debt. Since 1997, the Indian government now estimates, 250,000 farmers have killed themselves, and more than 350,000 — the heads of households that add up to 2 million people — are in acute financial trouble. (Here’s a recent story of Jaideep’s on the continuing problem.)

Riaz Haq said...

India's main planning body has said half a dollar a day is "adequate" for a villager to spend on food, education and health, according to the BBC:

Critics say that the amount fixed by the Planning Commission is extremely low and aimed at "artificially" reducing the number of poor who are entitled to state benefits.

There are various estimates on the exact number of poor in India.

Officially, 37% of India's 1.21bn people live below the poverty line.

But one estimate suggests the true figure could be as high as 77%.

The Planning Commission has told India's Supreme Court that an individual income of 25 rupees (52 cents) a day would help provide for adequate "private expenditure on food, education and health" in the villages.

In the cities, it said, individual earnings of 32 rupees a day (66 cents) were adequate.

The Planning Commission was responding to a direction from the court to update its poverty line figures to reflect rising prices.

India has been struggling to contain inflation which is at a 13-month high of 9.78%.

Many experts have said the income limit to define the poor was too low.

"This extremely low estimated expenditure is aimed at artificially reducing the number of persons below the poverty line and thus reduce government expenditure on the poor," well-known social activist Aruna Roy told The Hindu newspaper.

The Planning Commission also told the court that 360 million Indians are now being supplied with subsidised food and cooking fuel through the network of state-owned shops.

A World Bank report in May said attempts by the Indian government to combat poverty were not working.

It said aid programmes were beset by corruption, bad administration and under-payments.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a piece by Soutik Biswas of the BBC on India's "distress migration":

Are millions of Indians being forced to leave their villages for cities and towns because there aren't enough jobs at home and farm incomes are drying up? Is this "distress migration" unprecedented in India's history?

Award-winning journalist P Sainath thinks so. Examining the latest census data, he finds that India's urban population has risen more (91 million more than in the 2001 census) than the rural population (90.6 million more than in the 2001 census). Nearly half the people in states like Tamil Nadu already live in urban settlements.

The last time, writes Mr Sainath, the rise in India's urban population exceeded the rise of the rural population was 90 years ago and reflected in the 1921 census. The decline in rural population then could be possibly linked to the 1918 flu pandemic that killed several million people.

This time around, Mr Sainath says, the increase in migration is driven by the "collapse of millions of livelihoods in agriculture and its related occupations". He writes that massive migrations "have gone hand-in-hand with a deepening agrarian crisis": more than 240,000 farmers, mostly broken by debt, committed suicide in India between 1995 and 2009.

Mr Sainath has spent a lifetime reporting on distressed farmers and how the poor live in India. He admits that the census is not equipped to examine the complexity of migration in India. In a fast urbanising country, rising migration from villages to cities and towns is natural. Also, newer "urban areas" are being added all the time. The big picture is also not strikingly unusual. According to the census, 31.16% of Indians live in urban areas, up from 27.81% in 2001 - a rate which is actually significantly lower than the rate in many developing countries with similar income levels.

But, argues Mr Sainath, these "natural" factors which triggered migration from villages to cities have been valid in the earlier decades too when additions to the village population actually outstripped those to the cities. So why is the last decade throwing up a radically different result?...
There may be other pressing questions to ponder. How does India cope with its increasing urban population? Its cities are choking under power cuts, scarcity of water and polluted air. Also the increase of new urban settlements with poor amenities and limited access to jobs could easily lead to massive social unrest among the migrants in the new "cities". Which could actually end up wrecking India's cities faster than its villages.

Riaz Haq said...

This is one statistics that will put India in the poor light. A report by WHO-UNICEF says that Indians comprised 58 percent of all people who defecate in the open. However, the worldwide figures show a decline from the previous years’. The report points out that open defecation worldwide is on decline from 25 per cent in 1990 to 17 per cent in 2008.

Some of the key findings of the report:

Around 638 million people do not have access to toilets in India followed by Indonesia (58m), China (50m), Ethiopia (49m), Pakistan (48m), Nigeria (33m) and Sudan (17m).
18 percent of urban India still defecates in open while the percentage of rural India is as high as 69 percent.
At least 44 percent of the population defecates in the open only in South Asia.
Unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene claim the lives of an estimated 1.5 million children under the age of five each year.
It also underlines that open defecation leads to deadly diarrhoea and other intestinal diseases which kills hundreds of thousands of people worldwide every year.
The report also says with only five more years to go until 2015, a major leap in efforts and investments in sanitation is needed to fulfill the targets of Millennium Development Goal.

The report also says with only five more years to go until 2015, a major leap in efforts and investments in sanitation is needed to fulfill the targets of Millennium Development Goal.

Read the entire report here

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Washington Post report on rising suicides in India:

NEW DELHI — Ram Babu’s last days were typical in India’s growing rash of suicides.

The poor farmer’s crop failed and he defaulted on the $6,000 loan he had taken to buy a tractor. The bank’s collectors hounded him, even hiring drummers to go round the village drawing attention to his shame.

“My father found it unbearable. He was an honorable man and he couldn’t take the humiliation. The next day he hanged himself from a tree on his farm,” his son Ram Gulam said Friday.

Babu’s suicide went unreported in local newspapers, just another statistic in a country where more than 15 people kill themselves every hour, according to a new government report.

The report released late Thursday said nearly 135,000 people killed themselves in the country of 1.2 billion last year, a 5.9 percent jump in the number of suicides over the past year.

The suicide rate increased to 11.4 per 100,000 people in 2010 from 10.9 the year before, according to the statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau.

Financial difficulties and debts led to most of the male suicides while women were driven to take their lives because of domestic pressures, including physical and mental abuse and demands for dowry.

A 2008 World Health Organization report ranked India 41st for its suicide rate, but because of its huge population it accounted for 20 percent of global suicides.

The largest numbers of suicides were reported from the southern Indian states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, where tens of thousands of impoverished farmers have killed themselves after suffering under insurmountable debts.

The loans — from banks and loan sharks — were often used to buy seeds and farm equipment, or to pay large dowries to get their daughters married. But a bad harvest could plunge the farmer over the edge.

Sociologists say the rapid rise in incomes in India’s booming economy has resulted in a surge in aspirations as well among the lower and middle classes, and the failure to attain material success can trigger young people to suicide.

“The support that traditionally large Indian families and village communities offered no longer exists in urban situations. Young men and women move to the cities and find they have no one to turn to for succor in times of distress,” said Abhilasha Kumari, a sociology professor in New Delhi.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's Times of India on human sacrifice of a 7-year-old girl in India:

Two farmers from Bijapur district have been arrested for allegedly killing a seven-year old girl to offer her body part as a sacrifice to God for good crops, police said on Monday.

Two farmers, Padam Sukku and Pignesh Kujur, have been arrested for killing the girl, Lalita, in anticipation of good crops, Additional SP of Bijapur district BPS Rajbhanu said. Lalita had gone missing on the night of October 21 last year, following which, her father Budhram Tati had registered a missing person's complaint with the police. Her body was found on October 27.

During the investigation, police came to know that Lalita had been murdered and last week, police registered a case of murder and arrested the duo in this connection. When quizzed, Sukku and Kujur admitted they had kidnapped and strangled her. They said they had removed the liver and offered it to the God at a temple. They buried her body which was retrieved by animals.

Riaz Haq said...

Has the explosion of media in India been a mixed blessing? asks BBC's Soutik Biswas:

With more than 70,000 newspapers and over 500 satellite channels in several languages, Indians are seemingly spoilt for choice and diversity.

India is already the biggest newspaper market in the world - over 100 million copies sold each day. Advertising revenues have soared. In the past two decades, the number of channels has grown from one - the dowdy state-owned broadcaster Doordarshan - to more than 500, of which more than 80 are news channels.

But such robust growth, many believe, may have come at the cost of accuracy, journalistic ethics and probity.

The media has taken some flak in recent months for being shallow, inaccurate and sometimes damagingly obtrusive. Former Supreme Court judge and chairman of the country's Press Council, Markandey Katju, fired the first broadside, exhorting journalists to educate themselves more. Predictably, it provoked a sharp reaction from the media.

Economist Amartya Sen is the latest to join the list of critics after being wrongly quoted in the mainstream media a couple of times recently. There are at least two huge barriers, writes Dr Sen in a recent article, to the quality of Indian media.

One is about professional laxity which leads to inaccuracies and mistakes. The other, he says, is a class bias in the choice of what news to cover and what to ignore.

Dr Sen offers unexceptional solutions to ensure accuracy - newspapers should publish corrections (a few like The Hindu and Mint already do) and journalists should be given more training. He suggests that reporters should make use of recorders during interviews rather than take rushed notes for accuracy - in fact, many reporters do use recorders and even when they don't, they usually do take correct notes. But stories can sometimes get mangled on their way to publication, resulting in inaccurate headlines.

Dr Sen's worry about lack of training is more pertinent. Most Indian newsrooms have no legacy - or practice - of editorial training. They still host energetic, sharp and argumentative journalists. But analysts say many newsrooms do lack rigour and there is a crying need for some serious, consistent training in fact checking and reporting ethics.

Dr Sen's other grouse about the class bias in Indian newsrooms is valid but again unexceptional....

Does this also have to do with low minority participation in newsrooms?

A 2006 study by the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies found that of the 315 key decision-makers surveyed from 37 Hindi and English publication and TV channels, almost 90% of decision makers in the English language print media and 79% in television were from the upper castes. There is virtually no representation of Dalits (formerly known as untouchables), who comprise some 20% of India's population and live on the margins. This accounts for a serious lack of diversity in Indian media.
A 71-page Press Council investigation named leading newspapers that had received money for publishing information disguised as news in favour of individuals, including senior politicians. Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, an independent journalist who was one of the investigators, says a lobby of big publishers pushed the Press Council to water down the report. Even Vice President Hamid Ansari regretted the development, saying that the Press Council's inability to come out with the report was "a pointer to the problems of self-regulation and the culture of silence in the entire industry when it comes to self-criticism".

How do you stop this? Journalists like Mr Guha Thakurta argue for increased transparency, self-regulation and competition regulation.

joseph said...

wat is wrong with u riaz.... wat is wrong with u seriously.... 200,000 farmers committed suicide in India.... So u really expect us to believe that ur feeling sad or bad abt it... You hypocrite be a man come out in the open... U wud be hoping that 200,000 more die so that u can bring out one more derogatory post abt India... Why are u so obsessed about India why? Stop ur filthy empathy... Atleast be a man come out in the open and tell the world u hate India... and u love it when something bad happens in India so that u can make Pakistan look good... plz dont come out and say poor Indian farmers are dying and its a tragedy... Coz u want it to happen.. And yes we know and will solve the problem.. Plz hypocrite be a man and post the real picture of Pak ... Bomb blasts in pakistan... Us treating u like pimps freely killing 25 of ur soldiers and u cant do anything abt it... poverty, dirt, grime, persecution of religious minority and the human rights violation in Balochistan

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Wall Street Journal article by Aatish Taseer on Aamir Khan's new TV show:

On Indian TV, there has never been anything quite like "Truth Alone Prevails." Since its debut in May, the weekly show has reached more than 470 million viewers with its inquiries into issues like pesticides in food, domestic violence and the abortion of female fetuses. Within moments of airing, each episode trends at No. 1 on Twitter in India. Ten million people have sent text messages, emails and comments to the show's website to share their questions, opinions and fears.

In two Indian states, the show has prompted governments to bolster the enforcement of existing laws, and a few weeks ago the show's host was called to testify before a parliamentary committee after an episode on medical malpractice. The scale of the response has made "Satyamev Jayate" (as the show is called in Hindi) more like a people's movement than a television show.

More astonishing is the fact that this social and political phenomenon is the work of Aamir Khan, a superstar of India's giant film industry. At 47, Mr. Khan combines something of the glamour and social concern of George Clooney and Brad Pitt. Like many Bollywood actors, he made his name dancing around trees and singing in the rain, but over the years he has turned to more serious things. Three years ago he had a great success with "3 Idiots," a comedy about the mind-numbing state of Indian education. Now, having turned down offers to do the game shows that many actors of his standing have taken up, he has created something startling and altogether new in India.
What emerges from their stories is a creeping horror, a vision of modern India that is stark and deeply unsettling: the family whose mother's life is snatched away, they say, in a botched and unauthorized organ transplant; the 12-year-old girl who accuses a 55-year-old family friend of sexual abuse; the call-center worker who tells of the forced abortion of her female fetuses—six times in eight years—at the hands of her husband's family. Mr. Khan's style is wry and laid back, but occasionally the stories are too much for him, and his eyes well with tears...
What gives "Truth Alone Prevails" its optimism is the voice of India's new middle class, which is increasingly politically and socially aware, though still unsure of itself and its newfound wealth and security. If the old India of my childhood—which was a far bleaker place—is to be superseded, it will depend on this new class's ability to understand and defend the freedoms that have enriched it. Mr. Khan's achievement has been to use his celebrity to show Indians, with rare clarity and grittiness, how far the country has come, and how far it has yet to go.

Riaz Haq said...

Fareed Zakaria suspended for plagiarism, reports NY Times:

Time magazine and CNN suspended Fareed Zakaria, the writer and television host, on Friday after he apologized for plagiarizing sections of his column on gun control in the Aug. 20 issue of Time.

Some passages in the column, “The Case for Gun Control,” closely tracked those in a longer article on guns in America by the historian Jill Lepore, which appeared in the April 23 issue of The New Yorker.

The similarities in the texts were spotted by the conservative Web site NewsBusters, and quickly spread across the Internet after appearing on the media blog

Mr. Zakaria issued a statement Friday afternoon saying: “Media reporters have pointed out that paragraphs in my Time column this week bear close similarities to paragraphs in Jill Lepore’s essay in the April 23 issue of The New Yorker. They are right. I made a terrible mistake. It is a serious lapse and one that is entirely my fault. I apologize unreservedly to her, to my editors at Time, and to my readers.”
Earlier this year, Mr. Zakaria was criticized for giving a commencement speech at Harvard that was very similar to the one he had earlier given at Duke.

Pallav Mishra said...

I liked this blog..however you don't need to look too hard to see abject poverty in India..but then, which country with a population even a fourth India's size has social and economic equity? US for sure doesn't. Even when US was considered the paragon of democracy and capitalism, it wasn't inclusive. And therefore, when there was all the rhetoric about "Shining India", it basically was about a path that looked promising for the majority of us. Now that path is dusty and pockmarked, like any other provincial Indian road..

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a story from Entertainment Weekly on Spielberg's plans for a movie on Kashmir:

The last time Steven Spielberg set a movie in India, the result was 1984′s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom — a record-breaking box-office smash that also angered Indians due to its inaccurate depiction of their culture. But after a 29-year break, it seems that Spielberg is ready to return to the subcontinent — though this time, perhaps he’ll leave the monkey brains in Los Angeles.

Spielberg, who is currently visiting Mumbai with his wife Kate Capshaw, tells the Times of India that he’s in the midst of planning a film that takes place in the paper’s home country. “We have finalized a script for a movie that DreamWorks and our partners Reliance Entertainment plan to make together,” the director said. Reliance Entertainment is a wing of Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group, an Indian conglomerate; its chairman, Anil Ambani, is also a financial backer of DreamWorks.

“Part of it will take place on the India-Pakistan border in Kashmir,” said Spielberg, referring to the hotly contested region that has been the flashpoint for hostilities between the two rival nations. “But we’re still trying to figure out the casting, locations and who’s going to direct it.”

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Reuters' blog post on lack of hygiene in India:

My Indian friends and I joke around a lot about me as the typical white American guy visiting India. Cows! Con men! Colors! Most people I’ve met in India have restricted their reactions to my westerner-in-the-east experiences to gentle teasing. When I stuck a picture of a man urinating in public on my Facebook page, calling it one more picture of what you see everywhere you go in India, people weren’t as patient. What was I doing? Insulting the nation? Focusing on the ugly because it’s what all the westerners do when they visit India? Why does India provoke such visceral reactions in visitors?

Public urination, public defecation, dirt, garbage, filth, the poor living on the street — talking about these things, even acknowledging that they’re in front of your face, risks making your hosts unhappy, and possibly angry. It’s the third rail of India, and the voltage can be lethal. That’s why I was surprised when B.S. Raghavan decided to touch it with all 10 fingers.

Raghavan’s column in The Hindu Business Line newspaper begins with this headline: Are Indians by nature unhygienic?

Consider these excerpts:

From time to time, in their unguarded moments, highly placed persons in advanced industrial countries have burst out against Indians for being filthy and dirty in their ways of life. A majority of visitors to India from those countries complain of “Delhi belly” within a few hours of arrival, and some fall seriously ill.

There is no point in getting infuriated or defensive about this. The general lack of cleanliness and hygiene hits the eye wherever one goes in India — hotels, hospitals, households, work places, railway trains, airplanes and, yes, temples. Indians think nothing of spitting whenever they like and wherever they choose, and living in surroundings which they themselves make unliveable by their dirty habits. …

Open defecation has become so rooted in India that even when toilet facilities are provided, the spaces round temple complexes, temple tanks, beaches, parks, pavements, and indeed, any open area are covered with faecal matter. …

Even as Indians, we are forced to recoil with horror at the infinite tolerance of fellow Indians to pile-ups of garbage, overflowing sewage, open drains and generally foul-smelling environs.

There’s plenty more that you can read in that story, but I’ll direct you to the article. I’ll also ask you some questions:

Some people say you shouldn’t point out these problems, and that every country has problems. Do you agree with this statement? Why?
Does anyone disagree with Raghavan’s descriptions of these sights and smells?
Is this even a problem? Or should people get used to it?
Should visitors, especially ones from countries where people are generally wealthier, say nothing, and pretend that they don’t see unpleasant things?
As for me, I can say this: I got used to it, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t notice it. Indians notice it too. Otherwise, people wouldn’t suggest public shaming campaigns against people urinating in public, they wouldn’t threaten fines for doing it, and they wouldn’t respond with relief to plans to finally make sure that toilets on India’s trains don’t open directly onto the tracks. Of course, these are people in India. It’s a family, taking care of business the family way.

As for me, the message usually seems to be: “If you don’t love it, leave it.” It would be nice if there were some other answer. Acknowledging problems, even ones that are almost impossible to solve, makes them easier to confront.

Riaz Haq said...

#Bollywood's #Dhoom3 story a big ego booster for "#India Shining". Indian thief outsmarts #Chicago cops. Could only be caught by Mumbai cops

Riaz Haq said...

How to Get Away With Murder in Small-Town #India? #bribe #vote #caste #politics #democracy #justice #misogyny

PEEPLI KHERA, India — On my last week in India, I went to say goodbye to Jahiruddin Mewati, the chief of a small village where I had made a dozen or so reporting trips.

Jahiruddin and I were not precisely friends, but we had spent many hours talking over the years, mostly about local politics. I found him entirely without scruples but candid. He suspected my motives but found me entertaining, in the way that a talking dog might be entertaining, without regard for the particulars of what I said.

Jahiruddin, though uneducated, was an adept politician, fresh from winning a hard-fought local election. During our conversations, he would often break into rousing, patriotic speeches about truth and justice, thumping the plastic table in emphasis and making it jump. The effect was somewhat tarnished by his Tourette’s syndrome, which caused him to interject the word “penis” at regular intervals.

He was frank about the dirty aspects of his job. He occupied a post reserved for women from lower castes, but no one pretended this was any more than a sham; his wife’s name appeared on the ballot, but the face on the poster was his.

Nearly everything he did in local government was transactional, driven by the desire to secure the votes of minuscule family and caste groups. The funny thing was, it seemed to be working pretty well.


Geeta’s husband — a slight man named Mukesh — stood above Geeta, who was slumped on the side of a rope cot, and brought the stick down on her head several more times. She died on the spot.

What bothered Anjum, she said, was that the police had been contacted about the killing but almost immediately closed their investigation, releasing Mukesh after a few hours.


This was not because he (Jaheeruddin Mewati) believed that Geeta deserved to die or that her husband deserved to escape punishment. It was something more practical. Mukesh’s extended family controlled 150 votes; Jahiruddin had won his last election by 91. A murder case would have been a blot on their caste, and by brokering the cover-up, he had performed a particularly valuable service to a key vote bank. It might help him win re-election someday.

“In India, there is no vote in the name of development,” he said. “In India, there is no vote in the name of doing something good. The vote is in the name of caste, family, community. And then 10 percent of people will say, ‘He did something good for me.’”