A collection of articles from “The Telegraph” (UK) website:
India's taxman catches up with elephants
India's taxman has finally caught up with the nation's working elephants, with the owners of those working at temples, festivals or parties having to pay 12 per cent of their earnings in service tax.
In India's autumn wedding season the number of ceremonial elephants can being city roads to a standstill Photo: ALAMY
2:52PM BST 22 Oct 2012
Elephants are deployed throughout India as ceremonial beasts at weddings, auspicious reminders of the elephant God Lord Ganesha at temples and Hindu festivals like the Kumbh Mela, and as exotic children's rides at birthday parties.
In India's autumn wedding season the number of ceremonial elephants can being city roads to a standstill. For many they are an affordable treat – toy shops offer them for under £25 per hire as an upgrade on a party camel.
They are however big business. In Kerala alone, revenues from its 700 working elephants are estimated at just under £30 million per year.
Throughout India's 28 states, the figure is believed to be several hundred million pounds per year. During peak demand, the going rate can rise to around £300 per day.
Now the Indian revenue authorities want their share and have ordered all enterprises hiring out elephants to levy a 12.36 per cent service tax.
Indian government launches 'no lavatory, no bride' campaign
The Indian government has launched a 'no lavatory, no bride' campaign, telling women to reject potential suitors if they cannot provide an inside lavatory.
More than 75 per cent of the population has a mobile phone subscription in India, while only half of its households have a lavatory Photo: ALAMY
2:49PM BST 22 Oct 2012
The comments were made by India's controversial rural development minister, Jairam Ramesh, who recently angered Hindus by pointing out there were more temples than lavatories for the country's 1.2 billion people.
In a speech to villagers in Rajasthan, he said it wasn't enough for families to check astrological charts to decide if a young man is suitable, they should also inspect his closet.
"You consult astrologers about rahu-ketu (the alignment of sun and moon) before getting married. You should also look whether there is a toilet in your groom's home before you decide don't get married in a house where there is no toilet," he warned.
His comments are part of a series of speeches and schemes to increase the number of indoor lavatories in a country where more have a mobile phone than a lavatory.
More than 900 million – 75 per cent of the population – has a mobile phone subscription in India, while only half of its households have a lavatory, according to last year's census. Only 11 per cent of homes have a lavatory connected to the sewerage system.
The shortfall means India is the world's "largest open-air toilet", the minister said earlier this year.
The problem is worse for India's women, many of whom are forced to rise before dawn to do their ablutions under cover of darkness. There have been a number of cases reported recently of women being raped or assaulted while searching for somewhere to go to the lavatory.
A spokesman for the minister agreed that if all young women backed his call, there would be far fewer weddings. But he said Mr Ramesh will continue making his call in a series of speeches throughout the country.
"We need to remove the open defecation system. This is a continuing campaign to eradicate it," he said.
Brindeshwar Pathak, founder of the sanitation charity Sulabh International said India had yet to eradicate open defecation more than two millennia after the problem was described by its great political thinker Kautilya in around 300 BC.
The government should offer cheap loans to help people build lavatories and defecating in the open "should be a punishable offence," he said.
Indian 'untouchables' paid 17p a month for life by authorities to clean lavatories
An Indian state government is facing contempt of court charges over its refusal to compensate two 'untouchable' women it paid just 17 pence per month as cleaners in a teacher training college.
2:28PM BST 04 Oct 2012
The women, Akku and Leela, spent their entire working lives at the Government Women Teachers Training Institute in Udupi, Karnataka, where they cleaned 21 lavatories every day for 15 rupees a month.
That was enough for a small bottle of water which costs 12 rupees, but not enough for a pound of rice, which costs 20 rupees.
Human rights campaigners said the government had cheated the women and believed it would get away with it because they were illiterate villagers.
The women, who have now reached retirement age, 60, joined the college when they were 18 years old in 1971 on the promise that they would be paid 3,000 Rupees per month (£36).
They were told they would be paid a token amount of 15 Rupees a month until the government officially approved their appointments and then they would receive their full pay backdated to the day they joined.
When, after a year, they had still not had their jobs officially approved, they complained but the principal pleaded with them to stay and promised they would receive more than 60,000 Rupees (£720) in back pay, but warned they would lose this if they resigned.
The following year the amount increased to more than 60,000 Rupees (£1800), and by the time they brought the matter to court in 2003, 32 years later, the judge ruled they were owed more than £13,000 each.
According to Dr Rabindranath Shanbhag of the Human Rights Protection Foundation, the women kept cleaning the lavatories because they feared they would lose what they were owed if they resigned. But the school's teachers also pleaded with them to stay and clubbed together to pay them 1,000 Rupees a month (£12) to help them survive.
Instead of accepting the High Court of Karnataka ruling in the women's favour, the state government appealed to India's Supreme Court which also backed the women's claim.
But its ruling in 2010 has been ignored and the women continue to clean the lavatories every day.
Today they are each owed £32,393 pounds (2,700,000 Rupees) and now need the money. Akku has five children, two boys and three girls, while Leela has four girls – both will need to spend heavily on weddings.
Dr Shanbhag said the women had been exploited because of their illiteracy and powerlessness.
"These people are totally illiterate, they have no education. Usually no one cares, that has been the tradition in small villages. When they joined the institute it was in a small village, now it is a town," he said.
'Untouchables', also known as 'Dalits' are members of India's lowest caste. Many of its members do the dirtiest jobs, including cleaning septic tanks and toilets and because of this are regarded as unclean by many. They suffer discrimination and face physical attacks from higher caste groups.