Saturday 30 March 2013

Mixed fortunes for the daughters of Travancore

IN THE 1920s Queen Sethu Lakshmi Bayi of Travancore, a kingdom that would later become part of the south Indian state of Kerala, rewarded women who went to university with an invitation to tea at the palace. The royals were matrilineal—the maharajah’s sister’s sons, rather than his own progeny, inherited the throne. The Nairs, an upper-caste Hindu community, likewise bequeathed the family home to women and believed strongly in female education. “The birth of a girl [was] a cause for celebration,” recalls Gouri Parvathi Bayi, a member of the erstwhile royal family, sitting in her now slightly dilapidated palace in Kerala’s state capital, Thiruvananthapuram.
Modern Kerala is still often upheld as India’s best state for women. It has the country’s highest female literacy rate at 92%, with only four percentage points’ difference between male and female rates. In Rajasthan, a large northern state, only 53% of women are literate: almost 30 percentage points behind their male counterparts. Nationally, only two-thirds of all women can read and write, versus four-fifths of men. Kerala also has India’s lowest rates of maternal mortality as well as a population of 1,084 women per 1,000 men, which makes it the country’s most female state. India’s national population has 940 women per 1,000 men, as couples selectively abort female fetuses or neglect daughters. Haryana, another northern state, has just 877 baby girls per 1,000 boys. Families there have in recent years started sourcing brides from Kerala.
The poor status of women in India has been under the spotlight since the brutal gang-rape of a student in Delhi in December sparked home-grown protests, international criticism, and a revision of the country’s sexual-assault laws. Yet vicious attacks have continued. This month, a seven-year-old girl was allegedly assaulted at a school in the capital, triggering further protests. A Swiss tourist camping with her husband in Madhya Pradesh, a poor and landlocked state, was allegedly gang-raped. Women in the growing urban middle class, in particular, are becoming more independent and educated. Yet a culture of preserving a daughter’s virginity, paying dowries upon her marriage, and then “losing” her and her earning capacity to her husband’s family persists. A lower proportion of India’s women work than do those in any of its seven neighbours bar Pakistan. 
Kerala, a small chili-shaped state filled with palm trees, thus bucks some national trends. The progressive maharajahs, who ruled with the permission of British colonisers until 1947, have given way to elected leaders. Many Nairs, whose matrilineal customs were once copied by the less well-off, including Muslim communities, have sold their ancestral land to property developers. Yet women still benefit. Kerala has see-sawed between two coalition governments—one led by the Communist party, one led by the Congress party, which leads India’s national coalition—in every poll since 1982.
Amid such competition, politicians woo savvy voters with welfare schemes that often support women and children. Kudumbashree, a programme founded in 1998 that works with half of the state’s households, organises women into savings clubs and offers grants to entrepreneurs. J. Devika, of the Centre for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram, says the scheme has boosted women’s financial know-how (though the state has taken advantage of low wages when it hires the business that have resulted, such as street-cleaning outfits).
But there’s trouble in paradise. Just over a fifth of Keralite women aged 15-59 are working or job-hunting, which is roughly in line with the national average, according to 2009-10 data. This is partly because they are studying at schools and colleges. But it is also because they regard menial jobs as being beneath them. “A change in mindset is urgently needed,” says a senior state government official, who laments that far more women have their noses to the grindstone in neighbouring Tamil Nadu. Also, many families need only one bread-winner. Communist governments and strong unions have resulted in high wages—a carpenter in rural Kerala earns 538 rupees ($9.96) a day, more than double the national average for such work, according to India’s labour ministry. Many Keralite men migrate to the Gulf for work and send large pay packets home.
Perhaps surprisingly, Kerala also has India’s third-highest official rate of crimes against women, with 34 offences per 100,000 citizens in 2011 (this may be due in part to well-informed Keralites reporting more crimes than their peers). Fewer of Thiruvananthapuram’s women go out alone after dusk than do women in Delhi, according to a recent study. Those who do walk alone at night risk being seen as “loose”. Kalyani Nandakumar, a 19-year-old student who is always home by 7pm, feels hemmed in. “Even being seen with a boy is a problem,” she says. “Boys from good families might see you and think, ‘we don’t want a girl like that in our family’.” Kerala’s pride in its women, it seems, comes with a restrictive emphasis on dignified conduct.
(Source: The Economist

7 Ways To Ruin A Wedding With Your Smartphone

Weddings have come pretty darn far in the last couple of years. From smartphones to wedding websites to countless wedding blogs, technology has played a huge role in transforming weddings. New companies are creating products every day that are simplifying many problems that couples face, and making the journey to the altar less stressful for everyone. It's now easier than ever for couples to plan their wedding, communicate with guests, and share wedding moments with their mobile devices, which is great!
Yet for all the good that technology has done for weddings, we can't say there isn't a catch. We all know it's easy for people to get a bit too engrossed with their fancy handheld devices, and to an extent it's played a role in transforming normal social etiquette. This unfortunately means that you'll occasionally get rude guests at weddings who feel more than comfortable ignoring a couple's lovely ceremony by being obnoxious and messing with their latest gadget. This is too bad, since as a guest, you've been invited to a couple's wedding to celebrate with them, be in the moment, and share the memories that are made on their wedding day. It's obviously annoying for a couple to spend time and money inviting a guest, only to have them be more interested in their phone than in the wedding.
Even if you think that you'd never be guilty of being that guest, be warned! It's actually easier than you think to ruin someone's wedding with just your iPhone. You'll definitely be considered a terrible guest with terrible etiquette if you:
1. Have your ringer on during the ceremony
I know, this is so obvious that it's not even worth mentioning. But the thing is...this still happens all the time. Be prepared to be thoroughly embarrassed and completely ostracized at any wedding if your phone goes off while the bride and groom are exchanging their vows.
2. Texting during the ceremony
Trust me, even if you think you're being discreet, people are still going to notice. Chances are, your text is definitely much less important than the wedding ceremony you're attending, so act accordingly and leave your text messages alone for half an hour.
3. Live-tweet the wedding
This is someone's wedding, not the MTV awards. Do everyone a favor and forgo constantly updating your Twitter feed with the event's details. It's disrespectful to the bride and groom, and they probably won't be too impressed with your 140-character descriptions of their big day.
4. Play paparazzi
Snapping photos at the reception with your iPhone is fine, and is a great way to capture some of your favorite memories from a friend's wedding. But during more special moments of the ceremony, be considerate while taking pictures. Don't move out of your way to snap photos of the bride and groom, or have your face glued to your camera screen the entire time. That's why the couple hired a professional photographer! Be conscious that while it's great to snap some photos and give them to the couple later, they're not expecting you to provide them with every image of their wedding -- they'd rather you be engaged in the day and in the moment with them.
5. Leave snarky FB updates
Hate the couple's cash bar? Think the song to their first dance sucks? Did the wedding cake make you gag? Keep it to yourself, and don't leave a mean comment about it on Facebook or Twitter.
6. Post unflattering photos/videos of the couple on Facebook
Did you capture a photo of the bride or groom looking terrible? Contrary to what you think, posting that photo on Facebook might not be hilarious -- in fact, it might be downright obnoxious for the couple, who've worked hard to look their best that day.
7. Check the score of whatever sports event you're missing
Even if it's the most important playoff game in the history of your favorite team, refrain from checking the score or sneaking off to catch clips of the game's highlights. It not only makes you look bad as a guest -- it gives the couple the impression that you'd rather be at home watching the game than celebrating their marriage. The game probably won't change whether you check the score or not, so just save it until the couple has left.
Ultimately, you're going to be at the wedding for the couple; it's one of the most special days of their lives, and you as a guest should honor the invitation with your complete respect and attention. Technology certainly does have a time and place during that day and is a great way to capture the best parts of the celebration. I certainly encourage it in the appropriate place and at the appropriate time! But when in doubt, keep your phone in your pocket and the focus on the big day -- not your smartphone.
(Source: Huffington Post)

Over the top

By Masood Hassan

HRK – Hina Rabbani Khar is drop dead gorgeous. Her three day fashion onslaught has left the Indians gasping for breath and ambulances howling all over the countryside. Here we are crooning with delight – the men exchanging high fives, the women – the sensible ones that is, shaking their heads slowly from side to side. Is HRK the nuclear device that we promised we’d explode over the Indian capital? Have we scored a major diplomatic victory over arch enemy India? Is HRK going to lead the country armed with nothing but a Hermes bag and change global policies with a snap of her diamond encrusted fingers? As the euphoria subsides and her Birkin bag is safely stowed away along with her undoubtedly large Hermes collection, we, the ordinary riff-raff of this despondently poor country need to take a good long look at the events of last week. If we don’t, rest assured the lollypops in Islamabad certainly won’t. Introspection is not as fashionable as Roberto Cavalli shades.

Let’s get one thing straight. One dresses for the occasion. Anyone recall Angelina Jolie’s ‘designer’ outfits on her many visits to the Afghan camps? There is a time and place for all things. I think HRK didn’t quite get that right. She has many things going for her but maturity and a sense of balance seem to be virtues that Pakistan’s new foreign minister does not care about much.

It is amazing that the old hands at Hotel Scherezade that masquerades as Pakistan’s foreign office thought little of actually ‘briefing’ Lady Bond before she flew in her special aircraft to New Delhi. (No PIA please. That’s for the plebs). Did anyone tell her what precisely was her mission, if any on her maiden voyage to India? I doubt it. While she must have spent an enormous amount of time choosing her wardrobe and accessories – she has a talent for accessories as a gushing designer confided last week, one wishes there were men or women who could have briefed her on how she must conduct herself – but this is unlikely in a country where ‘yes sir, yes sir, three bags full’, is the most successful strategy.

As it is the ‘success’ of her trip is best summed up in the joint communiqué glued eternally together with Fevikool, the wonder Indian adhesive, that both sides will stick to their points of view. As before one might add. Sure we can talk till the cows come home but that much has more or less been there almost always, so those crooning about a ‘great diplomatic victory’, need a knock on the head administered by Mr Ijaz Butt. Having demolished cricket, he now has the world’s largest bat collection.

India may be many things to many people but even the most vitriolic Indian-haters grudgingly accept that our two countries are now worlds apart – poles apart will no longer do justice to the real on-ground situation. The Indians are suave diplomats and they manage – with all its warts, the world’s largest democracy. Whether this is for public consumption or genuinely felt, there is a strong current of simplicity that runs across India and does not require 3-D glasses to see. All of us who have travelled to India have been surprised by their casual attitude to attire given most days. We who are so class and caste conscious on the other hand must display all the banal outer vestments since we value these far more than any principles.

The Indians thus dress so simply that you can mistake them for minions whereas they may be billionaires. They go to work in loose sandals and creased trousers or faded jeans but sit and make strategic decisions that run into billions of dollars and have the power to change the direction of their huge country. Simplicity is not a put on like our constant bowing and scraping to the Maker without any meaning or sincerity. Our rulers and high stake rollers live in mansions of glory. Indians richer than their counterparts here live in modest homes. Retired generals there live in small houses or high rise flats whereas our medal laden over-fed blobs lord it over topping all records of ostentation. Time and again you are flattened by this simplicity on display in India – if it’s a put on, my God they should give a Lifetime Achievement Award to all the affluent and influential people who live there.

It is in this context that one finds HRK’s jaunt into India nauseating and in gross bad taste. Did she go to a tense foreign ministers’ meeting or launch a fashion show? Did she read up on India? She represents an impoverished country, now permanently and shamelessly begging day and night for sustenance, for alms, for mercy to keep Ms Khar and her ilk in clover. She is part of one of the most disastrous governments it has been our misfortune to have – incompetent, brazen, cruel and corrupt. When it is knocked out sooner or later, no one will shed tears for the fallen leaders who have given loot and plunder a new dimension adding to that great robbery repertoire fine tuned to an art by their predecessors.

HRK’s government boasts of a two percent growth rate against India’s nine percent, has no power or gas and soon will have no water. It groans under loans, yet gives walloping funding to keep the ‘khakis’ happy, depriving millions of men, women and children such basics as health, education and sanctity of life yet live like kings. Its representatives like HRK and 24 other ministers in 2010 paid no income tax because they were poor. HRK coughed up Rs7,500 agricultural tax and declared that she couldn’t even afford a car! I suppose BMWs and Mercs must fall under the ‘donkey’ category.

She should have perhaps studied tapes on Sonia Gandhi who is always in cotton saris, her hair pulled back and with hardly any make up. You would not catch Sonia dead with a garish and ridiculously priced, diamond-laden wrist watch (Arab style) or pricey south sea pearls and US$900 Jimmy Choo shoes, but then that’s Sonia and this is Hina – chalk and cheese with Devonshire in between. When the PM who spends more time on his clothes than on the pressing needs of his wretched country went to Paris and called upon the French president, he ensured that he was all trussed up in a reportedly US$10,000 suit. Lady Bond, although it was evening had her designer shades perched on top of her pretty head. Babes out partying might do so for a lark but FMs with feudal blood coursing through their veins should avoid such nonsense. What a fantastic thing it would have been had she chosen to dress most simply, travelled by her national airline and told the Indians that she was here, in all humility and sincerity to move on and build bridges for the generations ahead. She should have said my country is struggling – with terrorism, suicide bombers, law and order, the Afghan problem, a poor economy and so on but that we would prevail if there is peace.

But then this is the stuff dreams are made of. In real life nothing like that happens – not here and we lost yet another opportunity to tell the world we are not shallow buffoons and idiots. Pakistanis are blaming the Indian media and Ms Khar left Islamabad in a huff, but when you set yourself up as she did, what is the media going to make of that? The ‘fash frat’ as one Indian newspaper said, had a field day and we had the customary egg on our face.

The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email:

(Source: The News)

Sunday 10 March 2013

India faces epidemic of missing children

About 60,000 children go missing every year in populous nation, and child activists say many end up in sex trade.

A staple storyline of popular Bollywood films over the years has been about siblings getting lost in a village fair or being forcibly separated by a hideous villain, only to be reunited years later. The happy endings normally spelled success: moviegoers went home happy while the filmmaker went laughing all the way to the bank.

But reel life has little resemblance to reality, and happy endings are not as common for those who go missing in India as they are on celluloid.

Official statistic shows that some 60,000 children go missing every year from across the populous nation. Though some are finally traced, many are never found.

According to Jitendra Singh, the federal minister of state for home affairs, about 22,000 of these missing children vanished without a trace in 2011.

The figures are startling and symptomatic of a scourge that's long gone unnoticed, until the findings of a commission instituted by the government in the wake of the notorious Delhi gang-rape of a young girl in December brought out the hidden dangers that stalk India's children.

The Justice Verma commission report served to jolt the nation, as it found that a child goes missing in India every eight minutes, on average.

"Children in this country are no more safe. I get worried till my daughters reach home safely after their school and tuitions," Nagurajun R, a father of two teenage girls from Hyderabad who works in the IT industry, told Al Jazeera.

For one, it's easy to get lost in a nation as crowded as India. Seven-year-old Ramu lost his way while travelling on a train with his family from Maharashtra to Uttar Pradesh. Luckily for him, he was picked up by the police, who with the help of child activists tracked down his address a fortnight later and handed him back to his distraught parents.

But similar luck mostly eludes those who fall prey to sinister designs and go missing.

Read more here.