News Wrap


The Census of India (2011) indicates that there are more places of worship in India, than there are schools or colleges, hotels, hospitals, or factories. A Census house is a building or part of a building having a separate main entrance from the road or a common courtyard or staircase, and recognised as a separate unit. According to the last Census, India has 330 million census houses. 216 million were simply residences. There are around 3.01 million that are places of worship, which is more than the 2.1 million schools and colleges. Often a community builds a place of worship to announce its presence or importance. When a caste group gains affluence, it might build a separate temple or gurudwara. Migration also contributes to creation of a lot more places of worship. The emergence of many religious gurus and god-men (and women) has made religion an enterprise, leading to a spurt in the building of temples. Masjids for Muslims, are appearing in larger numbers, or being reconstructed; and are well maintained.

Claim to Land Rights
In parts of conflict-hit central and eastern India, women are more vulnerable to violence and eviction from their land. A decades long insurgency has made it harder for women to claim equal land rights. The insurgency since the late 1960s led by rebels known as Naxals and Maoists, has resulted in thousands of people being killed or gone missing.  Mostly men have died. The Naxals claim they are fighting for the rights of poor and landless indigenous people. Women are left to tend to families, with few resources, including land. In eastern Jharkhand state, only 4% of housing plots, and 3% of agricultural plots are owned solely or jointly by women. Whereas 59% of housing plots and two-thirds of agricultural plots are owned by men. Vulnerability of women comes from patriarchal norms and stalled development programmes because of the conflict. Across India, only 13% of farmland is owned by women, despite laws granting equal rights in most states. The figure is lower for lower caste Dalit and indigenous women, who are single.

Transgender Godesses
In the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, transgender women are transformed into goddesses, for an annual Hindu festival. The festival takes place in either February or March each year. The rituals occur in an atmosphere of reverence, somber concentration. Impressive masks are put on, and laugh lines vanish. Skin becomes stone, as the transgenders prepare to perform on the Mayana Kollal festival in fishing villages. Some of the dancers slip into trances, so deep, giving rise to fears they might have fainted. Indians who decide to live as 'Kothis' also known as 'hijras', 'kinnars' or 'aravanis' depending on the region-are born male, and typically have male lovers. During the annual festival, any trace of human expression is lifted and the 'Kothis' begin to resemble the deities  they worship. The ordinary merges with the divine. As the festival approaches, the 'kothi' performers agree not to drink alcohol or have sex for the duration of the 10-day festival. Preparations take place in hushed silence, and men are not allowed in the dressing room. Make-up on the performers can take as long as two hours. By the time the make-up finishes, their faces have disappeared beneath a shell of colour : half-person, half-goddess. Villages flock to see them dance, without any mention of their gender identity for the ten days of festivity, the 'kothis' are treated with reverence by the villagers. Walking the town's streets, the 'Kothis' are invited into house after house, to give blessings. At the end of the festival, the 'kothis' return to ordinary life.

British Ex-Soldiers Jailed In India
Six former British soldiers are jailed in India, for carrying firearms while protecting ships from pirates. Arrested in 2013, the men were among 35 crew members sentenced by an Indian Court in January 2016, to five years in prison, for carrying unlicensed firearms. The men were held while working for an anti-piracy security company, protecting commercial ships off the coast of Africa, in the Indian ocean. They have consistently maintained their innocence, and launched an appeal to overturn their sentences. The British government had issued licenses for the weapons, includeing semi-automatic G3 assault rifles, which the Indian Courts have said are prohibited. Licenses were issued for the export of hundreds of semi-automatic rifles and thousands of round of ammunition from the UK weapons supplier Switchblade International to AdvanFort, the US company which employed the men. The men's prison conditions are said to be dire. The possession of armaments used to defend criminal violence from pirates, has dragged on for over 1750 days. The judicial process has been subject to adjournment after adjournment, delay after delay.

Vol. 49, No.22, Dec 4 - 10, 2016