Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Salman Rushdie cancels Indian visit

Appearance at Jaipur Literary Festival called off following threats by Muslims
Organizers of one of the biggest literary festivals in India have been forced to cancel an appearance by Sir Salman Rushdie following demands by the government of Rajasthan who fear major protests by Muslims at the event, according to reports from India.
The booker-prize winning author of Midnight’s Children was set to be the major draw at the Jaipur Literary Festival.  However the author’s trip has been cancelled following a demand made by the Darul Uloom Deoband Islamic Seminary – one of the most powerful bodies in the Islamic world.  The vice chancellor of the seminary publicly demanded the government in Delhi refuse a visa to Rushdie who in turn tweeted that he didn’t require an entry document to the India as he was categorized as a ‘Person of Indian Origin’. 
Soon after Rushdie’s tweet, jittery state officials are reported to have persuaded Festival organizers to ask the author to cancel his visit, due to “massive security concerns”.  Anxiety in political circles has been heightened in Rajasthan state as well as Delhi due to impending local government elections, reports say.
Sir Salman’s 1988 novel The Satanic Verses provoked outrage throughout the Islamic world, leading to the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa calling for his death over claims made by the novel’s narrator that disputed verses in the Koran had been disclosed by the Archangel Gabriel.
The Satanic Verses was banned throughout the Islamic world, including India, which has a Muslim population of nearly 200 million. 
- Vijitha Alles (17.01.2012)

Eve Teasing in India.

Assault or Harrassment by another name?
It's an unfortunate truth that women are sexually harassed, and sometimes assaulted, the world over. But in the Indian state of Maharashtra, there is an increasing determination to stamp out "Eve teasing", as it is called here, for good.
It was afternoon and we had just finished filming. My colleague and I were piling into a rickshaw, heading back to the bureau. And that's when it happened. We were suddenly surrounded by a group of boys, barely teenagers.
At first the whole thing seemed harmless, if a little predictable - the cheery interest of a group of bright eyed, smiling boys.
Their approach was not unusual, foreigners and cameras make for an unmissable attraction in India.
But it was only a matter of minutes, possibly seconds, before the smiles turned into a blur of pawing, grabbing hands. Their indecent behaviour was punctuated by cheers, laughter and explicit comments in Hindi.
And that was it. I had been Eve-teased. Or as we describe it in the West, sexually harassed. In broad daylight, on a street in a busy business district of Mumbai.
We managed to get away. Our rickshaw raced down the street in fits and bursts.
But those moments stayed with us - something unpleasant, unacceptable and from our perspective, unforgivable had just happened.
But we also felt the irony of what had just happened.
This kind of harassment, often described in India as innocent play, is commonplace. Yet this is a country in which the predominant Hindu religion worships female deities and claims to respect women.
Stabbed
I remembered that incident a few weeks ago, when I attended a candlelit vigil for two 20-something young men.
They had been fatally stabbed while defending their female friends against a gang of Eve-teasers. This crime took place in the evening on a crowded street full of restaurants and bars.
At the vigil, hundreds of people gathered in a park not far from where the incident took place, to show support for the families of Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandes.
A slideshow of photographs documenting their young lives played on a big screen. And woven through the chords of the accompanying music were the sobs of a frail, old lady. Keenan's grandmother was crying hysterically into her hands.
But there's more than grief to all of this. The way the investigation and legal proceedings have unfolded has generated a lot of disquiet and shed a bright light on the failings of India's legal system.
Vigilance
One man who wants things to change is Valerian Santos, Keenan's father. In an emotional speech at the vigil he urged the ordinary Mumbaikar to be more active in the pursuit of social justice. To stop when they see someone being harassed, to stand up for women's rights and name and shame those who sexually harass them.
But Mr Santos also said change must be backed up by a legal system that works with victims and their families and not against them.
Valerian and a growing group of campaigners across the city are calling on the state government to overhaul the way in which it deals with crimes of a sexual nature. They say that it should not be possible, as it currently is, for the accused to come face to face with witnesses.
And neither should suspects be allowed to shave off facial hair or change their hairstyles while in custody - also allowed. Campaigners say this makes successful identification hard and weights justice in favour of the accused.
This shocking, violent case has made headlines across India. But it has also generated a new, welcome conversation about the treatment of women across the country.
The government here in Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, says it will work to make laws tougher and ensure that public areas are policed more vigilantly.
But as I've witnessed - and unfortunately experienced - it may be some time before things really change.
I was once told by a complete stranger: You can wear a trench coat and be covered from head to toe in the depths of an Indian summer but a man with indecent intentions will still try his best to ruin your day.
- Nidhi Dutt.  BBC News.

Anglo-Indians in strife

Sitting on his own in his front room in Calcutta is writer Melvyn Brown.  On the wall are four clocks showing the time in the UK , the USA, the Netherlands and Canada.
These are places where members of his family now live.  Like him, they like are all Anglo-Indians - a group that dates back to the days of the British Raj and where originally the father was European and the mother Indian.
The community also includes people of British descent born or living in India. They are thought to be the only group of people in India that has English as their mother tongue.  But their numbers are declining.
Disappointing
Thousands left after India's independence and every time Mr Brown looks at the wall he feels "sad and sentimental" as he has no family left in India.
It is a story that can be repeated by many Anglo-Indian families here.  And it prompted Calcutta-based politician Derek O'Brien to call for a census to be carried out to establish how many Anglo-Indians are left in the world's largest democracy.  "It is disappointing that nobody knows the exact number," he says.
Experts estimate there are 100,000 Anglo-Indians left in India, with most now living in Calcutta and Madras.  But Anglo-Indian leaders joke they have no idea how many people they represent. Mr O'Brien wants to know where exactly is home for the Anglo-Indians.  "Is it India, England or somewhere else?" he asks.
He is so confident that most will say that they live in India that he wants the community to be re-named Indian-Anglos - with the emphasis on India - rather than Anglo-Indians.  This, he argues, would reflect the fact that their Indian identity is now more important that their English connections.  There have been attempts to undertake a census before, but no success.
Liberal attitudes
The most recent push comes at a time when many elders within the community in Calcutta are concerned that their culture may soon die out.  More and more Anglo-Indians are marrying outside the community.  That is a cause of concern for Philomena Eaton, the convener of the Anglo-Indian Service Society which organises dances and social events for younger members of the group.
Noel Cradenberg shares her concerns.  "Our culture will die out because of these intermarriages," he tells me, adding that he fears that in the next 10 to 15 years traditional Anglo-Indian dances will disappear because there will be so few members left.
But while the elders worry about their heritage surviving, younger members are busy trying to establish themselves in India's growing economy.  To deal with that, they have to fight against a number of stereotypes resulting from their more liberal attitudes to alcohol and marriage.
Hindi cinema has traditionally shown them as drunks.  Many Anglo-Indians says they are often called the "Three Ds" because of their so-called love of drinking, dancing and dressing up.
Natasha Choudhary, 16, comes from a mixed background.  Her father is an Indian Hindu while her mother is an Anglo-Indian Christian.
“Anglo-Indians still have European values and are much more free thinking than conservative Indians," she asserts.
Tricky issue
But this stance has led to problems.  "Many Indians have looked down on the Anglo-Indian community," she said.  "Because of that many youngsters are now trying to do better academically because they feel that they are being ostracised."
Her brother Lauren Mario Choudhary works as a human resources manager in Bangalore.  "While the numbers are dwindling, the community is now doing better economically," he says.  "Post-independence there were fears, but now Anglo-Indians are a much more confident group."
But for many the issue of marriage remains tricky.  Some youngsters - like Zubin Manning and Tanya Cradenberg - are keen to marry other Anglo-Indians because they feel that would make it easier to relate to their partners.
But many others think that this is not a good idea.  They argue that with so many members of their community living abroad it is becoming difficult to find partners.  Natasha Gaspar laughs when I ask her if she will marry an Anglo-Indian.
"We are trying to merge in... it's not as issue for me," she says.  Back at his home Melvyn Brown is still looking at his clocks.  He is trying to work out when he can call his family abroad.
If he had the chance, he says, he would to join them.  He tells me that many other families feel the same way.  The fear is that if more leave, the sun could set on the Anglo-Indian community just as it set on the British Empire.
- Rahul Tandon.  BBC News