Monday, August 29, 2011

In case you were wondering what happened to all that gold recently found in Kerala

A recent article from the UK Telegraph about the recent find of gold (£14 billion worth) in the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple:

Indian maharaja accused of stealing gold from £14 billion Hindu treasure trove

An Indian maharaja has been accused of stealing gold from what is believed to be the world's greatest treasure trove discovered in an ancient Hindu temple earlier this year.

Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Trivandrum, South India Photo: ALAMY







By Dean Nelson, New Delhi
10:38PM BST 28 Aug 2011

The head of the Travancore royal family Maharaja Uthradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma regularly stole priceless jewellery and coins from the temple's treasure trove, which is estimated to be worth £14 billion, according to former temple employees and Kerala's former chief minister.

Archaeologists discovered gold figures, antique coins and jewels in a secret vault at Thiruvananthapuram's Lord Padmanabhaswamy Temple in southern India in July.

According to Kerala's former chief minister and current opposition leader V. S. Achuthanandan, the maharaja regularly removed gold coins from the temple during his morning prayers.

Several employees including temple security guards had reported the "thefts" to him, he said, and some of those who complained were removed from temple duties. He said he will now bring the allegations before India's Supreme Court and ask the temple authorities to explain their dismissals, he said.

"It is known public that Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple has invaluable treasure. There were complaints that the assets of Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple were lost. Petitions were received alleging that ex-Army officers who tried to prevent theft of the temple assets were even terminated from the service," he said.

His allegations were dismissed as "baseless" by the temple's executive officer, V. K. Harikumar.

"He has no evidence to prove it. No former or current employee of the temple trust has ever made any complaints or allegations. There is no question of Royal family or for that matter anyone else entering vault B and taking away gold coins," he said.

"The Royal family is yet to decide on whether to file a defamation case against V. K. Achuthanandan," he added.

The allegation is the latest twist in the controversy over the discovery of the treasure trove.

T.P. Sundara Rajan, the man who successfully petitioned the courts to open the vaults and explore their secrets, was found dead within a week of it being opened.

His fight to examine the vaults went against the wishes of their custodian, the Maharaja of Travancore, and the temple's priests.

His death brought comparisons with the so-called 'Curse of the Pharoahs' blamed for the early demise of several explorers of Tutenkhamun's tomb in 1922.

Since Mr Rajan's death, Hindu priests warned that the families of those who try to open a second vault at the temple would face tragedy, death and the "fatal ire of snakes".

The dispute began earlier this year when a court ordered the management of the temple and control of its assets to be transferred from the Travancore royal family, which controls a trust which manages the temple's affairs, to the state. The court also ordered its assets, hidden inside a series of vaults, to be inspected and audited.

Priests believe the temple, built in 6AD, belongs to Lord Padmanabhaswamy, an incarnation of the Hindu God Lord Vishnu, and only he can open its vaults.

Some recent articles about Anna Hazare

Here are two articles from the "Sydney Morning Herald" & "The Telegraph" (UK) discussing recent events relating to Anna Hazare:

India hunger strike over as MPs yield on graft

Bibhudatta Pradhan
August 29, 2011

Anna Hazare waves as he accepts a letter on the agreement. Photo: AFP














ANNA Hazare, leader of an anti- corruption campaign in India, ended his hunger strike yesterday after MPs pledged a tougher law against graft.

Both houses of parliament had earlier passed a resolution agreeing ''in principle'' to the three conditions set by Mr Hazare, 74, who modelled his protest methods on those of Indian independence icon Mahatma Gandhi.

The move ends a political deadlock 12 days after the activist started his fast.
''It's only half a victory,'' Mr Hazare told supporters at the Ramlila fairground in the capital, Delhi, before saying he intended to end his fast yesterday. ''Total victory is yet to come.''

Supporters of Mr Hazare and cabinet members have sparred over a bill that activists say is crucial to deter corruption.

Civil society members, who said the government's version of the bill lacked teeth, wanted to push through their own, while the ruling Congress Party and others said parliamentary rules must be obeyed.

The public's confidence in the democratic process is ''rejuvenated'', said N. Bhaskara Rao, chairman of the Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies. ''Hopefully, we will see a stronger anti-corruption bill.''

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's administration, which is embroiled in corruption allegations, is under pressure to tackle the problem three years before he seeks the endorsement of voters for a third consecutive five-year term.

The sale of phone permits in 2008, which the nation's auditor says was at below market prices and ''arbitrary'', sparked protests nationwide and led to the imprisonment of a minister, a lawmaker and many company officials.

Mr Hazare had called on parliament to start discussions on establishing ombudsmen in all the states, to make anti-graft laws more wide-ranging, and to prepare a ''citizens' charter'' to oversee ministries.

The demands, termed ''sticky issues'' by Mr Hazare's supporters, had prevented a resolution to the impasse.

In Delhi, people cheered and shouted slogans when he announced an end to his fast that evoked nationwide support.

The biggest demonstration in the capital on August 21 drew as many as 50,000 people.
Reclining at the Ramlila fair ground on cushions beneath a giant portrait of Gandhi, Mr Hazare, who has lost almost 7.5 kilograms since beginning his fast, said public support had given him energy.

While draft proposals for a corruption ombudsman have been presented to parliament on eight separate occasions since 1968, they have never been approved. The Comptroller and Auditor-General said last year that opaque rules allowed the government to sell airwaves in an ''unfair and inequitable manner,'' potentially costing the exchequer as much as $A29 billion.

The government's version of the ombudsman bill excludes oversight of a serving prime minister, judges, most bureaucrats and the actions of lawmakers in parliament.

The activists want the country's highest executive, judiciary and all bureaucrats covered, with sweeping powers to probe and prosecute.

BLOOMBERG

This article was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/world/india-hunger-strike-over-as-mps-yield-on-graft-20110828-1jgnh.html

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Anna Hazare ends hunger strike as India concedes to his demands

The anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare ended his 12 day hunger strike on Sunday after the Indian prime minister accepted his demands for a powerful new watchdog to check graft.

Hazare supporters gather in their thousands to celebrate the end of his hunger strike, near the India Gate memorial in New Delhi Photo: AP





By Dean Nelson, New Delhi
10:21PM BST 28 Aug 2011

The veteran Gandhian activist announced his decision in tumultuous scenes at the Ramlila ground close to the walls of Old Delhi where thousands of supporters have gathered each day throughout his fast.

"This is your victory. This is the fruit of your work in the last 13 days … This movement has made it seem possible that we can build a corruption-free India," Mr Hazare told his supporters before being taken to hospital where his condition will monitored.

He launched his fast in protest at a government attempt to exempt the prime minister's office, MPs, and the judiciary from the scrutiny of the new ombudsman.
His India Against Corruption group has been transformed by his fast into a nationwide movement propelled by public anger at a number of bribery and malpractice scandals.

They include the inquiry into the allocation of mobile phone operator licences, the Adarsh housing scandal in Mumbai where apartments built for war heroes and widows were given instead to top generals, and the debacle over contracts for last year's Commonwealth Games.

India's former telecommunications minister, the daughter of the Congress Party's main coalition partner, and the Congress politician in charge of the Games are all now in jail. During his fast four MPs were charged with buying and selling votes to save the Congress government in a 2008 confidence vote.

Mr Hazare had been arrested and held in Delhi's Tihar Jail when he first tried to launch his protest earlier this month, but was released the following day after demonstrations throughout the country.

As his condition began to deteriorate last week – he had lost six kilograms and was suffering kidney problems – support grew throughout the country, and alarm spread throughout the government. Negotiations to end his hunger strike intensified on Thursday culminating in a parliamentary debate on Saturday.

Mr Hazare indicated he would end his hunger strike on Sunday after the parliament agreed to also bring the lower ranks of the bureaucracy under the new ombudsman, establish new watchdogs for every state government, and issue a new citizen's charter to set standards for public services. It is understood, the government has accepted the prime minister's office, MPs and judges will be monitored by the new watchdog, but no undertakings have been put in writing.

The fast officially ended on Sunday morning when two girls, one an 'untouchable' Dalit and the other a Muslim, brought him coconut water mixed with honey.

Mr Hazare conceded however that the government's concessions amounted to a "half-victory" and that the final shape of the Jan Lokpal bill which will create the new watchdog will be decided by the Indian parliament. His hunger strike, he said, had been suspended pending a 'full victory,' rather than abandoned.

The BJP opposition leader Sushma Swaraj said welcomed the concessions and the end of the hunger strike. "History has given us an opportunity, we should not miss it," she said.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Some articles about the Caste Census in India

They are currently conducting a caste census here in India. Here are a few articles from the "Sydney Morning Herald" about it:

Census casts net wide as India wrestles with past Ben Doherty
August 27, 2011

The washerman Mp Kanaujia of the Dhobi caste irons clothes after taking part in the caste census. Photo: Kate Geraghty

..For MP Kanaujia, there is no escaping caste. It defines him, and has laid out his life's path. His caste is his profession, his name and, more broadly, his station in life.

Dhobi is a washer of clothes in Hindi. Kanaujia - the name itself is his subcaste - is of the dhobi caste, one who washes. And that is what he does, day-in day-out from his ramshackle humpy at the end of a row of modest government apartments in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh.

''My caste is who I am, we don't speak often about it, because everybody knows,'' he said.

Advertisement: Story continues below But it's relevant for the men who've come to visit today. For the first time in 80 years, India is undertaking the herculean task of a caste census.

To most Hindus, caste - a complex hereditary social hierarchy that involves four main orders [varnas] and thousands of sub-castes [jatis] - is the foundation of religious and social identity.

But independent India has never before asked its citizens to which caste they identify. The last time such a survey was undertaken was in 1931, when the British raj decided to count and label every subject.

Formally, the caste system has been abandoned under the Indian constitution but governments recognise it exists still. Since independence, efforts have been made to level the playing field for the downtrodden castes, particularly the lowest strata, known then as untouchables, now more commonly called dalits. Affirmative action programs reserve university places, government jobs, even seats in parliament for so-called backward castes.

So Kanaujia is happy to nominate his. ''I think it's a good idea. My daughter has just finished her schooling and if this census helps with the quotas for backwards castes, there might be more places for her to complete more education,'' he said.

Kanaujia has lived in his single-room lean-to, made from scavenged pieces of wood and a roof of tarpaulin held down by stones for 25 years, washing and ironing each day with his wife. ''I would like her [my daughter] to get a good government job,'' he says, pointing to the brick houses up the street. ''I want my daughter to have more opportunity.''

For millennia ''old India'' has been stratified along caste lines. It determined the clothes people wore, the food they ate [and with whom], the jobs they could do, and who they could marry. Many, especially rural Indians, still identify with their caste name: it ties them to a place and to a community.

But ''new India'' rails against such fatalist labels. Critics say a caste census will only entrench the social divisions the country is trying desperately to dissolve.

''I am troubled at making caste the central point of all public policies because this will damage the real fight in the society between the haves and have-nots, the rich and poor, irrespective of their religion and caste identities,'' the retired chief justice of the Delhi High Court and prime ministerial adviser Rajindar Sachar wrote.

Many of India's urban elite reject the idea of being tied to caste. To the middle class and those aspiring to it, education, career and address are the new social yardsticks.

It is in the cities - Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore - where people are most expected to exercise their right not to nominate a caste.

Caste may be controversial - a just-released Bollywood movie, Aarakshan, or Reservation, which deals with the issue of quotas has been banned in three states - but to pretend it no longer matters is to ignore the realities of thousands of years of socialisation, and deeply ingrained mores.

Matrimonial ads in Sunday newspapers are still listed by caste - Aggarwal seeks Aggarwal - and to marry out of one's caste is still a scandalous offence in many families.

The government, reluctantly forced into the survey by backward class MPs, say that if benefits are to be handed out on the basis of caste, the country needs to know how many of each there are. Up to 49.5 per cent of government jobs and university places are quarantined for members of India's scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes. But the 2011 caste census will also be a measure of India's burgeoning, but uneven, economic development.

About 455 million people live on less than $1.25 a day. Half the world's hungry live in this country. The government wants a firm figure on just how many of its citizens live below the poverty line.

Every household is asked for a range of economic data, from work and income details, to how many rooms the house has, it has an air-conditioner, a mobile phone, a car or a washing machine. It also notes house building materials and access to electricity and to running water.

The task of counting every single person in India - about 1218 million in last year's population census - is a mammoth undertaking. More than 2 million ''enumerators'' will spend three months finding every family in the country. The cost will top 35 billion rupees ($725 million).

But the debate over caste is a wrestle between old India and new. In the rural villages caste still dominates. But a street in Chandigarh's Sector 7C demonstrates how urbanisation has worn down ancient convention. At four consecutive houses live families of differing castes, from the highest, Brahmins, to dalits. Reshmi is a chamar, a dalit caste. Her neighbours are Brahmins. Despite her family's status, her husband has a government job.

''Some people might not want to say their caste, they think there is no more caste in India, but everybody knows it, and the government should help the lower castes with education and jobs, to make a better life for themselves.

''Everybody knows our caste by what we eat and what we wear. I am proud to say to my caste, I have nothing to hide.''

This article was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/world/census-casts-net-wide-as-india-wrestles-with-past-20110826-1jeea.html

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Census controversy shows caste politics still counts in India
MATT WADE IN NOIDA, INDIA
May 15, 2010

Glory... Kumari Mayawati at a ceremony in New Delhi in 2007 in front of statues of herself and the Dalit heroes B.R. Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram. Photo: AFP

They were once pushed to the margins, condemned to the filthiest jobs. But for many Dalits - previously the Untouchables of the Hindu caste system - times have changed.

Perhaps no one symbolises this better than the ''Dalit Queen'', Kumari Mayawati, who has been Chief Minister of India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, for three years.

A hallmark of Mayawati's reign has been her passion for building statues to honour Dalit political leaders, herself included. The latest - a row of towering lower-caste heroes covered from head to toe in blue material and built at a cost of more than $80 million - stands on the banks of the River Yamuna at Noida, a booming high-tech business hub 20 kilometres south-east of New Delhi.

Advertisement: Story continues below It is estimated Mayawati has spent at least $300 million on monuments to Dalit leaders in Uttar Pradesh, an impoverished state of 180 million. There are about 20,000 statues of the great Dalit leader B. R. Ambedkar dotted across the state, most of them commissioned by Mayawati.

She rejects criticism of her statue-building frenzy, saying the statues are an inspiration for low-caste people who have been repressed and excluded from power for a millennium.

Badri Narayan Tiwari, a specialist in caste politics at the G. B. Pant Institute of Social Sciences, in Allahabad, says the statues are a strategy to build ''respect'' for Dalit caste identity through visuals and stories.

The influence of caste in India was underscored again last week when the Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, announced the government would require Hindus to record their caste in the colossal 10-yearly national census now under way. The last time caste numbers were counted was in 1931, when the British ruled the subcontinent.

The governing Congress Party - which has resisted counting caste in the census for decades - has changed its position in an apparent effort to please the caste-based parties that now wield great influence in national and regional politics.

The success of Mayawati, who has risen to power in the Hindi heartland with the passionate support of Dalits, illustrates the importance caste has in modern Indian politics. Her main rival for power in Uttar Pradesh is a party that draws its support from a large and powerful caste called the Yadavs.

''Caste has been there in Indian politics for a very long time but it's becoming more explicit now,'' says a Delhi University political analyst, Mahesh Rangarajan.

Tiwari says government attempts to breakdown caste barriers have helped eradicate social disadvantage but, at the same time, reinforced the role of caste in politics.

''The Indian state, which is working to dilute the caste system, is also strengthening caste identity,'' he says.

Caste assigns Hindus a place in the social hierarchy based on hereditary groups originally formed around occupations. . The system has four broad groups or varnas: Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (merchants and farmers) and Sudras (manual workers). Each caste stratum has a complex web of ''subcastes'' - about 6000 in all - that vary across regions.

The title Dalit describes a cluster of subcastes at the very bottom of the hierarchy. Mahatma Gandhi challenged the poor treatment of this group and called them ''Harijans'', children of God.

Discrimination on the basis of caste is banned by the Indian constitution and low castes benefit from social programs and affirmative action. This includes quotas for government jobs, university courses and even parliamentary seats.

Even so, caste prejudice remains pervasive despite rapid social and economic change. A recent study found that having a low-caste surname significantly reduced the chances of being called for a job interview.

The widespread aversion to inter-caste marriage is highlighted each Sunday, when newspapers carry pages of advertisements by parents seeking an appropriate spouse for their son or daughter. Most of these ''matrimonials'' are grouped by caste and subcaste and many make it clear that those lower in the hierarchy need not respond.

The decision to count caste in the census has triggered vigorous debate about the role of caste in politics and society.

Supporters argue a proper count will give reliable data on groups getting state benefits and help the government target affirmative action measures better. Modern estimates of caste numbers in India rely on the last official tally, now 80 years out of date.

However, critics warn the count could inflame social tensions and further entrench caste politics. It may also open a Pandora's box of political demands from powerful caste groups emboldened by official figures. The inclusion of the caste question in the census has been pushed by political leaders from the so-called ''other backward castes'', in the hope they can win more government benefits for their constituents.

''There are genuine apprehensions that this could lead to more agitation and conflict,'' says Rangarajan.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta, the president of the Centre for Policy Research, in Delhi, believes counting caste in the census trashes fundamental principles of Indian democracy and will make it more difficult to rid the country of ancient prejudices and hierarchies.

''At one stroke, it trivialises all that modern India has stood for,'' he wrote in the Indian Express, ''and condemns it to the tyranny of an insidious kind of identity politics.''


This article was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/world/census-controversy-shows-caste-politics-still-counts-in-india-20100514-v4e0.html

A Day on the Thai-Burma Railway

Tania & I did a day trip out to the Thai-Burma railway. We started off with a visit to the JEATH War museum, before taking a boat ride up to the River Kwai Bridge, then a short ride on the train up the Thai-Bruma railway before finishing the day at the POW cemetery at Kanchanaburi.

A bit of a history lesson:

The Thai-Burma Railway (also known as the Death Railway) was a 415 km stretch of railway between Bangkok and Rangoon built during the Second World War.

A map detailnig the route of the railway














Forced labour was used to build the line with about 180,000 Asian labourers & 60,000 Allied POWs involved. Of these, some 90,000 Asian labourers & 16,000 Allied POWs died as a direct result of the project. The dead POWs included 6,318 British personnel, 2,815 Australians, 2,490 Dutch, about 356 Americans and a smaller number of Canadians and New Zealanders.

Only a portion of the original railway is still in use (about 130 km) & that includes the “Bridge over the River Kwai”. The train now only goes as far as the town of Nam Tok (18km from the notorious “Hellfire Pass”). Large parts of the original track are now submerged as a result of the Vajiralongkorn Dam project.

Part of the route is now a walking trail (about 8km), including approximately a 4km section near “Hellfire Pass”.

Bridge over the River Kwai

There were actually two bridges built (one a wooden bridge & the second, a more permanent stone structure). Both were destroyed in air strikes towards the end of the Second World War. The stone structure was rebuilt & the rail line is still in use today.

Here’s something you might not know.....

In 1957, the movie “Bridge over the River Kwai” was released. This caused a large influx of tourists to Thailand to see the bridge.

There was a slight problem however.....the bridge was actually over the river “Mae Klong”. The name “Kwai” didn’t exist at that time. So.....in a brilliant marketing move in 1960, the Thai authorities changed the name of the river to “Khwae Yai” or “Kwai” in English. Now they could say there was a bridge over the River Kwai

On the river, heading up to the bridge

The Bridge over the River Kwai: the rounded spans are the original part of the original World War 2 structure while the rectangular spans are post-war repairs

Three trains a day run up the line & back










Train ride up the railway

It was quite a surreal experience being dropped off at a platform in the middle of nowhere, waiting for a train to take us part of the way up the Thai-Burma railway. Every time I looked at the line, I couldn’t help but think that tens of thousands of men died making this line that we are now riding on.






On the train heading up the line

On the train heading up the line











Hellfire Pass

Looking at it & the surrounding region now, it’s hard to imagine the appalling conditions the POWs & Asian labourers worked under to cut the largest & tallest (about 25m) rock cutting on the railway. These conditions included: a lack of proper construction tools, a remote location, lack of proper medical supplies, disease (including cholera & dysentery), starvation, exhaustion and savage beatings by the Japanese & Korean guards.

Construction of the cutting (also known as the Konyu Cutting) commenced on 25 April 1943 (ANZAC Day). Alot of the excavation was done by hand; using hammers, steel tap drills, explosives, pinch bars, picks, shovels & a wide hoe (called chunkels). Air compressors and jack hammers were used at one point. The bulk of the waste material was removed by hand, using cane baskets and rice sacks slung on two poles.

In order to complete the cutting on schedule, for a period of six weeks leading up to its completion in mid August, prisoners were forced to work 12 to 18 hour shifts around the clock, without a rest day. This section of the Thai- Burma Railway cost the lives of at least 700 Allied POWs, including 69 beaten to death by Japanese engineers or Korean guards.

Hellfire Pass was so called because the sight of emaciated prisoners labouring at night by torchlight was said to resemble a scene from Hell.

A wartime photo of the completed Hellfire Pass

It's hard to imagine such a beautiful place being a scene of such unimagineable horror







This was all cut out (mainly) by hand - can you imagine it ??













Kanchanaburi War Cemetery

Our day trip finished with a visit to the main POW cemetery (immaculately maintained by the folks at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) in the city of Kanchanaburi. Here, 6,982 POWs are buried, mostly British, Australian, Dutch and Canadians. It was quite a moving experience walking amongst the headstones, looking at where these men came from & how old they were when they died: most seemed to have died in their early twenties.

We met the curator Rod Beattie, who was there tending to the graves. He is a very nice bloke who took the time to talk to us about the cemetery & efforts by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in the region. He was heavily involved in the clearing of the jungle around & up from Hellfire Pass. Details of his efforts & those of other volunteers to set up memorials in the area can be found at this link: http://www.btrma.org.au/articles/Hellfire-pass.htm




A visit to Ayutthaya – the old Thai capital

We went on a day trip to the old city of Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya was founded by the Thai King Ramathibodi I in 1350 and was the capital of the country until its destruction by the Burmese army in 1767.

Some background: in 1765, a 40,000-strong Burmese army invaded the territories of Ayutthaya from the north and west. After a 14 months' siege, the city of Ayutthaya capitulated and was razed in April 1767. Its art treasures, the libraries containing its literature, and the archives housing its historic records were almost totally destroyed, and the Burmese brought the Ayutthaya Kingdom to ruin. We were told by our guide that the complex contained a solid gold standing Buddha statue in one of the temples that the Burmese then melted down so as to take the gold back to Burma.

The complex contained a significant number of Buddha statues, which were destroyed (hacked to pieces by the Burmese). The Thai government has made an effort to restore the statues but it really is too big a task. Some statues, however, have been restored & can give you a sense of what this place must’ve looked like at the peak of its power.

It was after the Burmese left & Thai rule was restored that the capital was then moved to Bangkok.

One of the more famous things to see here is the detached head from a statue embedded into the roots of a banyan tree. Over the years, the roots have grown around the head & at some point in the future, will cover it up completely.

There is still alot of emotion about the sacking of the complex which may go some way to explaining the tension between the two countries.















The reclining Buddha – Wat Pho Temple

Near to the Royal Palace, at the Wat Pho temple complex is a 46m long and 15 m high statue of Buddha in an unusual reclining position: unusual in that most of the statues of Buddha you see, he is in the “Taking the Earth to Witness” position (left hand in lap, right hand touches ground) or the “Meditating” position (both hands in lap, palms up, right hand on top).

The reclining position represents the passing of the Buddha into nirvana.

This statue is huge & quite a sight. Even more amazing is the feet of the statue as they are engraved with mother-of-pearl decorations.










A visit to the Royal Palace – Bangkok

Upon our arrival in Bangkok & once we were checked in to the hotel, we made straight for the Royal Palace (in the process....getting ripped off in a boat ride up the river). We made it just before the last tickets were sold.

It’s an amazing place with outstanding architecture, statues & temples. Here’s a collection of photos:














Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Some more articles about the Anna Hazare movement

Here are a series of articles from "The Diplomat" website discussing the latest news about the Anna Hazare movement:

Singh Writes to Anna Hazare

By Rajeev Sharma
August 23, 2011



Anna Hazare and the United Progressive Alliance government took their first but significant steps toward breaking the impasse over the activist’s latest fast, which has entered its eighth day. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wrote a letter to the Gandhian and appealed to him to break his fast in a bid to ease the deadlock over the Lokpal Bill issue, saying ‘we are together in this fight against corruption.’

Meanwhile, Team Anna and the UPA government started direct talks today, and the government has appointed its top trouble shooter and most senior minister, Pranab Mukherjee, to mediate with the Hazare camp. Mukherjee’s first round of talks was expected to begin later today, and Singh gave his personal guarantee that ‘all issues’ raised by Team Anna will be looked into and resolved at the earliest.

The UPA government has also convened an all-party meeting for tomorrow afternoon to try to find a way out of the impasse. Heir apparent and Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi was reportedly closeted with the prime minister today, with the talks focusing mainly on Hazare’s fast and the condition of his health.

Although no breakthrough has come so far today, the Hazare camp was relatively upbeat following the appointment of Mukherjee as mediator as they know he wields considerable authority and is widely seen as essentially de facto deputy prime minister.

Still, Hazare kept the pressure up, warning the government today that if a strong Lokpal bill isn’t passed by parliament by August 30, that he and his supporters will no longer sit at Ramlila Maidan, but will instead stage a sit-in outside Parliament.

‘Thousands of people are staging sit-ins outside the houses of MPs,’ Hazare said. ‘I request the people of my country to continue this revolution. This revolution should continue even if I am not there. This is the second freedom struggle. It is important to eradicate corruption for the development of our country. I would consider myself lucky if I die for my society and the people of my country. Those who live for themselves die, those who die for the society live.’

The main opposition the Bharatiya Janata Party, meanwhile, demonstrated that it isn’t just the Congress party that has become frustrated with Team Anna. Outspoken BJP MP S.S. Ahluwalia said: ‘We don’t agree with the deadline given by Team Anna.’

Lest this should be mistaken as support for the government, Ahluwalia added that the government should withdraw its bill from parliament and replace it with a more effective bill.

Image credit: World Economic Forum

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Hazare Ups Ante

By Rajeev Sharma
August 22, 2011



Anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare upped the ante on day seven of his fast, proclaiming that he would only negotiate with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi or Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.

Hazare is, apparently, extremely dissatisfied with the level of emissaries sent to him by the government over the past two days. But he also hinted he was willing to accommodate the government on his key demand of bringing the higher judiciary under the Lokpal Bill’s ambit if the Judicial Accountability Bill is strengthened considerably.

The Gandhian social activist sought to set the record straight on behalf of his team by saying that no official mediator has approached him, and Team Anna has further indicated that it wants to deal with emissaries of national stature (so far, the government has fielded emissaries including senior Maharashtra bureaucrat Umesh Chandra Sarangi and spiritual guru Bhayyuji Maharaj).

The government, for its part, is concerned about Hazare’s health after he reportedly lost six kilos in 160 hours of protesting. His close associate Arvind Kejriwal said the ketone level in Hazare's blood and urine has risen slightly, although there is nothing to worry about right now. Another Hazare associate, Kiran Bedi, said that despite Hazare’s condition, no one in the government seems concerned.

Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid, meanwhile, emphasized the importance of dialogue. ‘Talks must take place to resolve this issue,’ he said. ‘The fact that 2 lakh (two hundred thousand) people are protesting is significant. But what the people really want can be decided only through elections.’

The Hazare camp said it had no intention of toppling the United Progressive Alliance government, a necessary clarification after Hazare remarked yesterday that the UPA government had betrayed him at every step, and that it should pass the Jan Lokpal Bill or else go. ‘We have been repeating that our motive is not to topple the Government,’ Kejriwal said.

Still, Kejriwal indicated that civil society isn’t happy.

‘The prime minister says through you (the media) that the government is ready to talk with us,’ he said. ‘We haven’t had any concrete proposal from the government. We will not react until we get a concrete proposal from the government. I request people not to vote for their MPs if they don’t support the Jan Lokpal Bill.’

Image credit: Rajvaddhan

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Why Manmohan Singh Should Resign

August 18, 2011By Rajeev Sharma

Activist Anna Hazare is riding a growing sense of anger in India. It’s time for the Congress Party to put the country’s interests first and step aside.


Image credit:World Economic Forum






Imagine this scenario. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh puts his government on the line, as he did in July 2008 over the Indo-US nuclear deal. This time, his bĂȘte noire is not the Left Front, but the ‘People’s Front’ in the shape of Anna Hazare-led civil society.

Singh says that he will stick to his guns and will neither compromise on the Lokpal Bill issue nor on his government’s position over the increasingly vociferous and popular civil society.

As governance becomes impossible, he tenders his government’s resignation. The opposition is taken aback and falls into disarray. The Left, meanwhile, doesn’t want to be seen to be on the same page as the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, so the 15th Lok Sabha is dissolved and fresh elections are called.

Now imagine that Anna’s advisors pressure him to take the plunge into politics and he forms a political party to contest the elections. Let’s name this political party the India Against Corruption Party (IACP). The newly-launched group contests all 543 Lok Sabha seats with people’s money – funds collected from Indian citizens. The new party reaches an electoral understanding with Yoga guru Baba Ramdev, who has a pan-Indian following running into the millions. This new electoral alliance declares Anna and Ramdev its prime ministerial and deputy prime ministerial candidates.

Riding a wave of popular anger, the IACP sweeps the polls and wins over 500 seats. All opponents lose their deposits. Even the opposition BJP is reduced to single-digit representation in parliament.

At the swearing in ceremony, the new prime minister names his cabinet, which effectively chooses itself like the pre-cricket World Cup team. Kiran Bedi becomes the new Home Minister, Arvind Kejriwal the External Affairs Minister, Shanti Bhushan the Defence Minister and his son Prashant Bhushan the Finance Minister.

Implausible? The mounting pressure on the United Progressive Alliance has seen the government and prime minister’s credibility fall to dismal levels. Singh now seems to have two options for dealing with the outpouring of support for Hazare: Meekly throw in the towel and accept his Jan Lokpal Bill, or stick to his guns and take Hazare and company head on.

Both these options are unlikely to resolve the underlying crisis, meaning governance may well become impossible. If the prime minister exercises the first option, apart from losing face, the government will also make civil society even more powerful. Such a move would also suggest that the UPA government is interested above all in clinging to power. If Singh goes for the second option, it will inevitably bring the wheels of governance grinding to a halt as the opposition-assisted civil society’s mass protests will only grow in number.

The only way out of this impasse is for Singh to tender his government’s resignation, citing governance difficulties. With the entire opposition lined up against the UPA government, the best bet for the Congress-led government is to resign and make way for an alternative. If an alternative government can eventually be formed, then it will have to deal with Anna Hazare. If no alternative government is possible, which is a strong possibility, then early elections are the only solution.

It is at this juncture that the Hazare-led civil society would confront trial by fire. Civil society would then be faced with choosing to support a political party that it believed would carry out its agenda, or else do the honours itself. Either way, it would be better for the nation if such contentious issues could be resolved once and for all.

The UPA II government has itself to blame for the mess it is in. It has lurched from one crisis to another in the last 27 months, and Manmohan Singh is a shadow of the leader he was in his first term. The list of blunders is long and well known to every Indian who has been following political developments. Before the government is forced out by countrywide protests or voted out in parliament, it would be better and more dignified for it to bow out of office. If the UPA came back – under Singh or Rahul Gandhi – then it could do so with a clean slate

So far, Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have acted like typical politicians. They now need to act like statesmen who are thinking about the best interests of the next generation.

http://the-diplomat.com/2011/08/18/why-manmohan-singh-should-resign/

What's all this about Anna Hazare ??

Here's an article from the NDTV website discussing the proposed bill that Anna Hazare is trying to get the Indian government to accept:

What is the Jan Lokpal Bill, why it's important

NDTV Correspondent, Updated: August 16, 2011 14:53 IST

Source: http://indiaagainstcorruption.org/








The Jan Lokpal Bill (Citizen's ombudsman Bill) is a draft anti-corruption bill drawn up by prominent civil society activists seeking the appointment of a Jan Lokpal, an independent body that would investigate corruption cases, complete the investigation within a year and envisages trial in the case getting over in the next one year.

Drafted by Justice Santosh Hegde (former Supreme Court Judge and former Lokayukta of Karnataka), Prashant Bhushan (Supreme Court Lawyer) and Arvind Kejriwal (RTI activist), the draft Bill envisages a system where a corrupt person found guilty would go to jail within two years of the complaint being made and his ill-gotten wealth being confiscated. It also seeks power to the Jan Lokpal to prosecute politicians and bureaucrats without government permission.

Retired IPS officer Kiran Bedi and other known people like Swami Agnivesh, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Anna Hazare and Mallika Sarabhai are also part of the movement, called India Against Corruption. Its website describes the movement as "an expression of collective anger of people of India against corruption. We have all come together to force/request/persuade/pressurize the Government to enact the Jan Lokpal Bill. We feel that if this Bill were enacted it would create an effective deterrence against corruption."

Anna Hazare, anti-corruption crusader, went on a fast-unto-death in April, demanding that this Bill, drafted by the civil society, be adopted. Four days into his fast, the government agreed to set up a joint committee with an equal number of members from the government and civil society side to draft the Lokpal Bill together. The two sides met several times but could not agree on fundamental elements like including the PM under the purview of the Lokpal. Eventually, both sides drafted their own version of the Bill.

The government has introduced its version in Parliament in this session. Team Anna is up in arms and calls the government version the "Joke Pal Bill." Anna Hazare declared that he would begin another fast in Delhi on August 16. Hours before he was to begin his hunger strike, the Delhi Police detained and later arrested him. There are widespread protests all over the country against his arrest.

The website of the India Against Corruption movement calls the Lokpal Bill of the government an "eyewash" and has on it a critique of that government Bill.

A look at the salient features of Jan Lokpal Bill:

1. An institution called LOKPAL at the centre and LOKAYUKTA in each state will be set up

2. Like Supreme Court and Election Commission, they will be completely independent of the governments. No minister or bureaucrat will be able to influence their investigations.

3. Cases against corrupt people will not linger on for years anymore: Investigations in any case will have to be completed in one year. Trial should be completed in next one year so that the corrupt politician, officer or judge is sent to jail within two years.

4. The loss that a corrupt person caused to the government will be recovered at the time of conviction.

5. How will it help a common citizen: If any work of any citizen is not done in prescribed time in any government office, Lokpal will impose financial penalty on guilty officers, which will be given as compensation to the complainant.

6. So, you could approach Lokpal if your ration card or passport or voter card is not being made or if police is not registering your case or any other work is not being done in prescribed time. Lokpal will have to get it done in a month's time. You could also report any case of corruption to Lokpal like ration being siphoned off, poor quality roads been constructed or panchayat funds being siphoned off. Lokpal will have to complete its investigations in a year, trial will be over in next one year and the guilty will go to jail within two years.

7. But won't the government appoint corrupt and weak people as Lokpal members? That won't be possible because its members will be selected by judges, citizens and constitutional authorities and not by politicians, through a completely transparent and participatory process.

8. What if some officer in Lokpal becomes corrupt? The entire functioning of Lokpal/ Lokayukta will be completely transparent. Any complaint against any officer of Lokpal shall be investigated and the officer dismissed within two months.

9. What will happen to existing anti-corruption agencies? CVC, departmental vigilance and anti-corruption branch of CBI will be merged into Lokpal. Lokpal will have complete powers and machinery to independently investigate and prosecute any officer, judge or politician.

10. It will be the duty of the Lokpal to provide protection to those who are being victimized for raising their voice against corruption.


Read more at: http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/what-is-the-jan-lokpal-bill-why-its-important-96600&cp 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Anna Hazare & the protest movement against corruption

Taking a break from talking about the holiday in Thailand.....Anna Hazare has been making the news quite a bit lately. Here are some articles from "The Guardian" newspaper about what's been happening here in Delhi while we were away:

Anna Hazare's anti-corruption protest sees Delhi signal compromise
Indian PM calls summit, although hunger striker accused of ignoring more urgent issues and backing xenophobic politicians

• Jason Burke in Delhi
• guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 23 August 2011 17.42 BST

Anna Hazare speaks to supporters during his hunger strike in front of a poster of Mahatma Gandhi at the Ramlila parade ground in Delhi. Photograph: Harish Tyagi/EPA

Moves to resolve the political crisis in India triggered by a 74-year-old anti-corruption campaigner's hunger strike have gathered pace.

After a weekend of mass street protests, the government has appointed a representative to hammer out a deal to the week-long standoff, reports said.

Anna Hazare, who has fasted for a week, wants the government to create an anti-corruption ombudsman with sweeping powers. His hunger strike has focused widespread anger over corruption – which is endemic in India – as well as broader grievances amid the growing middle classes.

"It is not just about corruption, not just about one issue. People are very emotional about this," Bhaskara Rao, a political analyst in Delhi, said. "However … there may be a deal relatively soon."

Following protests earlier this year, India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, proposed a small package of reforms. On Tuesday, he signalled that he would be prepared to meet further demands of the anti-corruption protest, calling for a meeting on Wednesday between all political parties.

Supporters say Hazare's health is a growing concern as he enters a second week of fasting.

"His health is weakening by the hour," Kiran Bedi, a former police officer and now a leading anti-corruption campaigner, told Reuters.

Later, she tweeted to tell followers to "pray for Anna's health. He is reaching a difficult stage."

Over the weekend, thousands of supporters filled a parade ground in the centre of Delhi, waving the national flag and chanting their support. But by Tuesday, the crowds were noticeably smaller owing to a combination of monsoon heat, open toilets, mounting waste and outbreaks of food poisoning and illness among protesters, many of whom travelled to the capital from across India. Organisers are believed to be concerned that the mobilisation of support has peaked.

The protests and pressure on the government have also led some activists to express reservations about the campaign.

The author and human rights campaigner Arundhati Roy launched a scathing attack on Hazare in an article published in the Hindu newspaper.

"Who is he really, this new saint, this Voice of the People? Oddly enough we've heard him say nothing about things of urgent concern," wrote the Booker prizewinning author, who also accused Hazare of supporting xenophobic politicians and ignoring other important issues such as poor farmers killing themselves over debt.

Other senior activists said the mass mobilisation and fast was "undemocratic". There has also been criticism from Muslim groups who see Hazare as being too close to radical Hindu organisations.

The crisis has added to the general sense of political drift in India, where a coalition government led by the Congress party, now halfway through its second term, has been hit by successive corruption scandals involving senior officials. Singh, 78, is widely seen as honest but out of touch.

Though Hazare and his followers have said they want the new ombudsman to have the power to investigate the prime minister and the judiciary, it is the mundane day-to-day routine of bribe-paying for millions of people which is fuelling the protests.

A bill to create an ombudsman first appeared before parliament in 1968.

"There is definitely room for compromise on the prime minister and the judiciary. This is not the crucial issue. But the bureaucracy, upper and lower, will have to be there," Rao said.

In India, it is routine to bribe public officials for basic services such as a telephone line or a passport.

The police have a particularly bad reputation. "I support Hazare. There is only a small amount of corruption in the police force," said Mohan Lal, an officer guarding the protest site in Delhi on Tuesday. "Anyway, it is only the bad people who pay bribes because they have done something wrong."

• © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

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Corruption in India: 'All your life you pay for things that should be free'

As Anna Hazare leaves prison to continue his protest, residents in Delhi explain how bribery forms part of everyday life

o Jason Burke in Delhi
o guardian.co.uk, Friday 19 August 2011 18.36 BST

Anna Hazare waves to the crowd during an anti-corruption protest in Delhi. Photograph: AP

Vishal is an ordinary man with an ordinary story of corruption in India. He lives in east Delhi, part of the traffic-choked sprawl of India's capital. He owns a fried chicken takeaway similar to thousands of others that have sprung up in recent years to serve the new tastes of the burgeoning middle class.

And he faces an ordinary Indian daily routine of petty corruption. The number of people Vishal has to pay off is bewildering. There are the local beat constables who take free lunches, and the more senior police officers who can cause problems with opening hours. They take 10,000 rupees (£130) on the 10th of each month to allow Vishal to stay open late.

Then there are the officials from various local authorities who also receive regular payments – around £50 per month – to ensure that health, safety and hygiene inspections go smoothly.

"Of the 40,000 rupees (£520) I earn a month from my restaurant, I pay at least a third in bribes," Vishal, 26, said. But bribery also extends into his personal life. Vishal has two young children and to get the eldest in to the best local school he paid a "donation" of 25,000 rupees (£3,400) in cash to the headmaster.

A driving licence needed another bribe. Getting an appointment with a competent public doctor cost a substantial amount. And then there are the traffic police. Every other week Vishal says he is stopped, told he has committed an offence and made to pay 100 rupees (£1.25), the standard fee to avoid "too much bother".

"I am so disappointed [about] everything you have to pay," he said. "And no one does anything. The politicians won't do anything because they are all corrupt too."

Such sentiments are widespread in India and explain the sudden outpouring of anger over recent days as tens of thousands of people took to the streets across the country to protest about the arrest of anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare.

Though a string of major corruption scandals such as the telecoms licence scam that cost the country up to £26bn, and the alleged fraud surrounding the high-profile Commonwealth Games in Delhi, has fuelled some of the fury, it is the grinding daily routine of petty corruption that is at the root.

"You pay for a birth certificate, a death certificate," said Varun Mishra, a 30-year-old software engineer and one of thousands who marched in Delhi to support Hazare. "All your life you pay. And for what? For things that should be free."

Hazare, 74, has harnessed this grassroots frustration to launch a popular movement. Having been jailed as a threat to public order, he went on hunger strike and refused to leave prison when released. He has finally left jail, having been granted permission to hold a 15-day fast in a public park.
His public relations team has run rings around clumsy and slow official spokesmen. India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has an impeccable reputation for personal probity but has looked distant and out of touch.

Hazare is campaigning for a powerful new anti-corruption ombudsman with the right to investigate senior politicians, officials and judges. His critics say this would be undemocratic, and worry about the division of powers. But for people like restaurateur Vishal, Hazare is a hero. "At least he is doing something," he said. "No one else is."

Though bribery, or "graft", is a fact of life for more or less everybody in India, the demonstrators are largely urban, educated and relatively well-off. "What you are seeing on the street is a middle-class rebellion," said Mohan Guruswamy, a former senior official in the ministry of finance and founder of the Centre for Policy Alternatives thinktank.

There are reports in local media that call centres and other back office operations in IT hubs such as Gurgaon, a satellite town of Delhi, and Bengaluru, the southern city, have faced staffing problems with up to half of workers joining the protests. Teachers, lawyers and medical professionals have also featured prominently.

Support for Hazare is particularly strong among those who have benefited most from India's recent breakneck economic development but are frustrated by a largely unreformed public sector that delivers poor and haphazard services. They are often the young.

Many of those who waited outside Tihar jail in Delhi to greet Hazare on his triumphant exit were in their teens or even younger. One 12-year-old carried a placard saying "save my future".

Tens of millions of school and college-leavers pour into the Indian jobs market each year. State institutions have not kept pace with aspirations raised by years of rapid economic growth and with skill levels low and good jobs scare, unrest could rise.

Senior Congress party politicians this week argued that some level of graft was "inevitable" in a developing economy. However, analysts said the extent of the problem in India – which ranks at 87 out of 178 on the campaign group Transparency International's index of corruption – is unique. "India is comparable to China, doing better than Russia, less well than Brazil," said Robin Hodess, the group's research director. "But bureaucratic and petty corruption is extreme in India."

Some say India's generally patchy law enforcement is to blame. "We are politically advanced in terms of institutions," said Guruswamy. "We have courts, a parliament and a long tradition of democracy ... but very few people are ever held to account." Last week a senior judge faced unprecedented impeachment proceedings 25 years after the alleged offence.

Others say those who pay the bribes are to blame too. One supreme court lawyer who refused demands for commissions in return for sanctioning payment for work he had done for the government, said giving in to corruption could be down to "deep powerlessness" or simply a "I just want to get on with my day" type of attitude. "As Indians we see corruption as something that permeates our lives, like air pollution, but we need to think much more carefully about it," he said.

Raghu Thoniparambil, who runs the website ipaidabribe.com, pointed out that corruption in the private sector was just as prevalent. "All these protests are very inspiring but will people really change? I don't know," he said.

Less ambitious and spectacular measures could have more impact than the ombudsman office Hazare and his followers want to create, Thoniparambil argues.

As well as perceptions of general corruption, Transparency International also compiles an index of nations where bribes are paid most frequently, particularly in business. India ranks 19 out of 22, above Mexico, Russia and China.

Manu Joseph, editor of the news magazine Open, speaks of "hypocrisy". "The Indian relationship with corruption is very complex and politicians are representative of society as a whole," he said.
But the widespread anger is also due to a sense that modern India not only deserves better but needs to at least moderate rampant corruption to compete on the world stage.

The most high profile cases have already damaged the nation's image sufficiently to slow economic growth. One text message circulating in India last week focused on the huge sums of "black money" illegally stashed by wealthy Indians in overseas assets and bank accounts. The return of these funds could pay for "Oxford-like universities", borders stronger than "the China wall" and roads "like in Paris", it said.

"We want a great country, stronger than the US, UK and Australia," said 18-year-old Sushil Kumar as he waited for the protest march from Hazare's jail to start. "India will be great, with its traditions, its culture. But we have to beat corruption."

The anti-bribery website launched last October, ipaidabribe.com is the brainchild of Raghunandan Thoniparambil, a retired official from the elite Indian Administrative Service.

By Friday 12,076 people had posted their personal stories of graft for all to see. They included businessmen forced to pay 50 rupees (70p) to traffic police, 300 rupees (£3.20) paid for a passport verification, 40,000 rupees (£540) handed over to have property registered, 5,000 rupees (£67) for a birth certificate and travellers who had to give 100 rupees (£1.30) to get berths on otherwise full express trains. Software takes names off the site.

"The aim is not to identify people but to identify the problem," Thoniparambil said. In June, after a BBC report about ipaidabribe.com several similar sites opened in China. Within two weeks they were shut down.

"In India we are sometimes a little slow or dysfunctional but civil society, simple democracy can make a huge difference," added Thoniparambil.

• © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

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Corruption in India: four stories

As anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare taps into public anger, ordinary Indians explain the role of bribes in their lives

• Jason Burke and Kakoli Bhattacharya in Delhi
• guardian.co.uk, Friday 19 August 2011 17.43 BST


Supporters of the Indian anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare in New Delhi. Photograph: Harish Tyagi/EPA

Vegetable vendor in Ashok Vihar, north Delhi, 45

Every week I pay 100 rupees (£1.40) to the police so that they let me put my cart in the market. The police constable comes every Saturday to collect the cash from all the vendors and if I do not pay then he will not allow me to sell my vegetables. I also have to pay the municipal corporation of Delhi whatever they ask. It can be any amount from 200 to 500 rupees a month. They also come to collect it. If the municipal corporation seizes our cart then to get it released from their main office is more troublesome. The man who collects money from us informs us beforehand that their vehicle will come today to pick up the carts if we are selling somewhere without authorisation.

School teacher, 38

I was beaten up by my husband regularly two years back and whenever I went to file a case against him, my husband would bribe the police officers. They even changed my witness statements. [So when I went to court] I had no evidence to get him behind bars. My husband left me with two kids of seven and 13 years and I had to try to go to court to get our maintenance. So far I have had no luck. Whenever there is a hearing I have to pay up to 500 rupees to get the written orders from the court.

They are supposed to cost only a 10th of that. But if I wait for the court to give it to me then it will take months. If I want to, I can even pay the assistant of the judge to give me an early date of hearing. I feel corruption is everywhere. You can even bribe judges to get the judgment in your favour. My husband was arrested because he left home with my jewellery, my car, and whatever cash I had at that time. But he was released from the court after he bribed our lawyer and the judge. Today he boasts that he can buy the judge or my lawyers if he wants and is not afraid of any law that can catch him.

Coalmine engineer, 45, based in a remote district of Madhya Pradesh

Generally a contractor or a supplier who supplies goods for the heavy machines or any kind of supplies which you need in coalmines has to pay 20% to 30% of the total cost to the officials at his client's head office. First he needs to pay to get the work and then to get his fees and costs paid from the finance departments. Or, as is often the case, he needs to pay to get them to turn a blind eye to the substandard materials he is using.

When I needed a passport we had to pay a certain amount to the agent who is in hand-in-glove with the passport officers. Next step is when the verification reaches the nearest local police station of wherever we live. The officers are meant to visit us to verify the application but instead they just call us to the police station and – if they know you are at all comfortable in terms of money – ask for cash.

They just say: "You are earning well. Give us some money for tea." This is a regular practice.

Factory worker in north Delhi, 34

I pays 50 rupees whenever I am caught by the police for not having a driving licence for the motorbike I ride. The best part is the way the police officers negotiate. It's as if they don't get a salary.


• © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cooking course in Thailand

The resort offered a two hour cooking course in Thai food - who are we to knock back an opportunity like that ??

In the two hours, we made the following:

Goong Saraong (Crispy marinated shrimp with rice noodles - Tofu for Tania)

Tom Yum Goong (Traditional sour & Spicy Prown soup - chicken for Tania)

Gai Phad Med Mamuang (Sauteed chicken with cashew nut & dried chili)

Gaeng Phet Ped Yang (Roast duck in red curry)

It was very tasty (all the more so as we'd made it ourselves) & with setting being a private (& small) lake overlooking the restaurant, all the more special.