News Wrap


One of India’s most basic problems is the lack of proper sewage systems. ‘Water Aid’ estimates that 2.8 million Indian children have died since 2000 because of diseases that can easily be prevented, such as diarrhoea and pneumonia, caused by the lack of proper facilities. Women and girls in India are forced to go alone to night into unlit fields, where they are sometimes harassed or raped. 70% of homes in rural areas and 20% in urban areas still lack lavatories. At least five million of India’s 1.2 billion people still defecate in the open. Besides poverty, there is a cultural belief that a home should not be polluted by a toilet. There are ancient forms of Hindu caste discrimination against ‘untouchable’, who work in the handling and cleaning of human waste. Persistent beliefs make defecation in the open, far more common in India than in poorer countries such as Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Burundi and Rwanda. Since launched in 1970, Sulabh International, the world’s biggest sanitation non-governmental organization, has installed 1.3 million toilets across the country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government plans to construct 3000 toilets over the next five years. Indians have defecated in the open for 5000 years. The toilet construction drive will be accompanied by a massive education campaign to shift entrenched social attitudes. It will be bank rolled by the Central Government, as well as by private investors.

Actors dressed as Muslims
Police in Gujarat, the Indian Prime Minister’s home state, have been filmed recently conducting drills using fake ‘terrorists’ dressed as Muslims. In the western city of Surat, a video of one exercise showed ‘militants’ dressed in skull caps and white shalwar kameez being restrained by police, arrested and bundled into trucks. ‘Militants’ shouted pro-Islamic slogans including ‘Islam Zindabad’ (Long Live Islam) while being restrained by police, in another video shot in Narmada. Muslims make up 14% of India’s 1.2 billion population. The videos have been broadcast repeatedly on Indian television, at a time of increasing tension between the Hindu majority and Muslims. Many of Gujarat’s cities are polarised, with Muslims living in ghettos, away from Hindu neighbourhoods. The videos have prompted an apology from Anandiben Patel, Gujarat’s Chief Minister. The anti-terrorist drills were being conducted in preparation for a business conference in January, 2015, to attract foreign investment to Gujarat, which has 62 million people, and is one of India’s wealthiest states.

Transgender woman
After winning the civil polls, a low caste transgender woman in Central India, has become the first transgender to be declared mayor. Madhu Bai Kinnar won the municipal election in Raigarh in Chattisgarh state beating her rival from Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by more than 4500 votes. Kinnar, a member of the Dalit caste, previously known as untouchables, had been earning a living by singing and dancing on trains. But she stopped when asked to represent her community. Kinnar, aged 35, assures to put in her best efforts, to accomplish the dreams of the people.

Comic Book
In the wake of the brutal gang rape on a Delhi bus two years ago, a new superhero has arisen in India. Priya, a mortal woman fights sexual violence with the help of goddess Parvati, and a tiger. Priya’s ‘Shakti’ is a new comic book for teenagers, published by film maker Ram Devineni and publisher Rattapallax. The new comic is rooted in India’s ancient matriarchal traditions that have been displaced in modern representations of Hindu culture of patriarchy, misogyny and indifference. Illustrated by Dan Goldman, the comic tells the story of Priya, who is devoted to the goddess Parvati. As a young girl, Priya is full of dreams of becoming a teacher. But she is told to stop going to school to stay home, and to take care of the house. Growing up, she becomes the victim of increasing sexual violence, until she is raped and thrown out of the family home. Parvati is horrified to discover what women on Earth go through, and inspires Priya to send a new message : to treat women with respect. Riding on a tiger, Priya returns to her village. Priya’s ‘Shakti’, the female principle of divine energy, is available free online.

‘Hara Kiri’ to ‘Charlie’
The bloody attacks on the French satirical magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’ and the violent end of the siege of Jewish grocery shop in Paris, claimed at least 20 lives. With satirical attacks on political and religious leaders of all faiths, ‘Charlie Hebdo’ (Charlie Weekly) is well known for courting controversy. Extremists, on the online have repeatedly warned that the magazine would pay for its ridicule.

A publication called ‘Hara Kiri’ was banned in 1970, after it mocked the death of former President Charles de Gaulle. That prompted its journalists to set up a new weekly, ‘Charlie Hebdo’, a reference to its reprint of Charlie Brown cartoon from the US. ‘Charlie Hebdo’ has a weekly circulation of about 30,000. The magazine is part of a tradition in France, deploying satire and insolence, to take on politicians, police, bankers and religions of all kinds, including a mock debate on whether Jesus exists or not. Sections of the French population have failed to identify with France’s ruling class, after decades of failed social policies. They look for values outside the state, and create ideal targets for religious fanatics.

Vol. 47, No. 33, Feb 22 -28, 2015