Monday, November 5, 2012

Today's news articles

Today’s collection of articles are from “The Sydney Morning Herald”, “The Independent” & “The Telegraph” (UK):

India's food fight for the common man

Date: November 5, 2012 - 9:43AM

Ben Doherty

India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is flanked by Rahul and Sonia Gandhi at a rally in Delhi on Sunday to drum up support for the contentious opening up of the country's retail sector to foreign chains. Photo: Reuters

DELHI: India's embattled ruling Congress party has staked its immediate political fortune on a contentious retail policy, allowing international supermarket chains into India's massive but cloistered marketplace.

In Delhi on Sunday, Congress held a massive rally in an attempt to drum up support for its Foreign Direct Investment policy for multi-brand retail, which will allow international firms such as Walmart and Carrefour to open stores in India.

The move has met with stiff political resistance, from Congress's coalition partners and political opponents, and from popular mistrust, with fears multinational supermarkets will destroy the livelihoods of millions of small shop-owners and exploit small-scale farmers.

Promises ... supporters of the Congress listen to speeches during a party rally in Delhi on Sunday. Photo: AFP

But about a third of all food grown in India rots before it can reach market, and Congress argues that major brands will bring infrastructure to unblock supply bottlenecks, allowing farmers to sell all their produce, and get lower prices for consumers.

The law has been passed, but states will be responsible for which supermarkets are allowed in, and where. Congress has pinned its electoral hopes on the policy meeting public approval, and that it halts India's rampant food price inflation.

Before 50,000 people at Ramlila Maidan in central Delhi yesterday, the Congress party president Sonia Gandhi said all Indians would benefit from a liberalised economy.

"FDI in retail will not only benefit farmers but also unemployed youth and the aam admi [common man]," Mrs Gandhi said.

Her 42-year-old son Rahul, scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty but whose reputation as prime-minister-in-waiting is giving way to one as dilettante-in-chief, said efforts by the government to reform the economy were being obstructed by the opposition, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party.

"At a time when there is a positive atmosphere for the country and India has a standing in the world, the opposition is engaged in opposing every measure of the government without giving a thought to it."

This Congress-led coalition government has been beset by a string of corruption scandals, and efforts to pass a bill to establish an independent ombudsman to investigate corruption have stalled in parliament.

Mr Gandhi promised it would soon be law. "We will get the bill passed in parliament soon. Wait and watch."
After disappointing results in state elections this year, Congress faces 10 provincial polls in 2013, and must call a general election by 2014. It will seek a third term, probably with Mr Gandhi at the helm, replacing the Prime Minister, 80-year-old Manmohan Singh.

A cabinet reshuffle by Mr Singh last week brought the average age for an Indian cabinet minister down to 64, but Mr Gandhi has still not been promoted, despite his professed ambition and a willingness from the party for him to bear more responsibility.

In response to the Congress rally, the opposition BJP held a series of protests across Delhi.

"If the FDI is implemented, it will badly affect the traders," Delhi BJP chief Vijender Gupta said.

"Also the government has failed to contain the price hike. The life of a common man has become hard."

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The girl was 16. She was raped by men from a higher caste, and her father committed suicide from the shame. The reaction of her community? To call for a change in the age of consent


For a full ten days after she was abducted and raped by a group of men, the teenager told no-one, terrified by the men’s threats and their claim that they would distribute photographs they had taken during the attack.

When she did eventually tell her mother, things got even worse; her father, a gardener, unable to bear the trauma of what had happened to his daughter and the indignity of such photographs being passed around, swallowed pesticide.

In the following days, police arrested and charged seven men, all members of a higher caste. But the response to what took place by certain elements of society – a suggestion that the age of marriageshould be lowered to reduce rapes, and that such attacks were triggered by eating ‘Western’ fast-food – sparked both a wave ofanger and a debate about India’s attitudes towards women that hasgripped the country

Today, the 16-year-old sits with her hands quietly folded on the edge of a bed in a relative’s house, reaching for courage amid this bewildering storm. She says she is determined to obtain justice. “It’s not just about me. Things have been happening in other villages,” she said.

The story of the attack on the teenager is one that exposes many of the often-overlapping fault lines within India’s still predominantly rural society. The young woman’s family are Dalits, traditionally located at the very bottom of Hindu society where they suffer widespread discrimination. In the girl’s village, Dabra, located 10 miles from Hisar in the state of Haryana, most of her extended family and neighbours worked as landless labourers.

Her alleged attackers, by contrast, were Jats, a higher caste that is common in many north Indian states and are often land-owners. InDabra, said the senior village official, all the land is owned by Jats.

Campaigners say Dalits often suffer violent assault and that Dalitwomen are the most vulnerable. They claim the situation is particularly bad in rural Haryana, relatively prosperous and located close to the national capital, but where strict patriarchal and conservative attitudes often clash with demands for change.

The state has the country’s worst gender ratio, with just 830 girls for 1,000 boys because of the illegal but widespread use of pre-natal sexselection and female foeticide.

The attitudes were revealed, say campaigners, by the response of many of those from Haryana to the rape of the young woman from Dabra and other similarcases, highlighted by the subsequent media attention.

One local leader, Jitender Chhatar,  a member of a so-called khappanchyatt, or unelected village council claimed: “Consumption of fast food contributes to such incidents. Chowmein leads to hormonal imbalance, evoking an urge to indulge in such acts.  You also know the impact of chowmein, which is a spicy food, on our body.”

Meanwhile, the state’s former chief minister, Om Prakash Chautala, ofthe Indian National Lok Dal, an ally of the main national opposition, told local media he supported another recommendation from a khap panchyatt which claimed lowering the marriage age to 15 would also reduce the number of rapes. “In the past, especially in Mughal era, people used to marry their daughters early to save them from such atrocities. Currently a situation of similar kind is arising in Haryana,” he said.

The village of Dabra is made of narrow alleyways, where farm animals are tethered and open-drains run along the sides of the tracks. TheJat area, with its cement roads and large houses is noticeably wealthier then the cluster of Dalit streets. “There is a difference in everything – electricity supply, water, the streets, the entire infrastructure,” said the young woman.

While she and her family have moved to the house of an aunt in Hisar, an uneasy calm hangs about her village. Few people are keen to speak about the situation. A policeman sits on guard outside the family home. “The police have been here ever since this happened,”said one middle-aged Dalit woman, Chameli, who said she was a cousin of the teenager’s father. “The Jats have been saying things like ‘You have done this to our community, you have betrayed us. Do not enter out fields’.”

The young woman from Dabra harboured ambitions to become the first member of her family to attend college. She has been studying economics, Sanskrit and history. Yet despite her ambitions – or perhaps because of them - she found herself rebuffed by those who did not want to see either Dalits or women progress in society.

Many in the community considered her family “untouchable” and would not share food, drinking water or even utensils with them. “On Tuesdays [a day associated with worship of the god Hanuman], they would not sell milk to us,” she added, dressed in a white and yellow, traditional long-sleeved shirt.

The elected head villager, a woman called Maya Devi whose husband’s name, and not her’s, appears on the council’s office building, denied claims from the teenager’s family that pressure had been exerted to try and make them drop the case, including the offer of payments. “The fact is they have got people,” she said. “The case has been filed with the police. There is no way it cannot go to court.”

Media reports quoting figures from the National Crime Records Bureausuggest that the number of reported rapes in Haryana increased from 386 in 2004 to 733 in 2011. There is a conviction rate of 13 per cent.

In the month since the attack in Dabra on September 9, the media has reported at least a dozen rapes, many of them gang-rapes. In one incident in the town of Jind, a 16-year-old Dalit girl set herself on fire after being assaulted.  “I criticise in the strongest terms these kind of incidents. The guilty should get the severest punishment,” Sonia Gandhi, president of the ruling Congress party, said when she visited the family.

Yet campaigners say cases are routinely settled before they reach the courts. “The laws are there on paper but on the ground there isimpunity,” said Asha Kotwal, of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights. “There has to be stringent implementation of laws – that will give a strong message that these things cannot happen.”

In the Dabra case, the local police, many of whom are members of the Jat community, have been accused of inaction. The family of the girl said the police declined to file charges until relatives refused to take the father’s body home from the mortuary for cremation. Several of those eventually arrested came from families of local politicians.

The Superintendent of police for Hisar, Satheesh Balan, said the young woman did not come forward for ten days and that details of her statement changed. He said there had been a 15 per cent reduction in reported rapes in Haryana but said his own district had seen a slight increase.

Last year, there were 38 rapes of which 28 involved people of the same caste.

Having questioned the accused, he said he did not believe the attack was a caste-related crime. “When they committed the crime, they did not know the caste of the girl,” he said.

Meanwhile, the young woman is somehow trying to think of the future. She has enrolled in a new school and in recent days began classes. “The community has already forwarded demands to the government,” she added. “One is that I be given a job so I can manage for myself.”


India's Rahul Gandhi uses rally to take centre stage


Rahul Gandhi, scion of India's Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, addressed tens of thousands of supporters at a rally in New Delhi on Sunday, raising his profile before a possible bid to become prime minister.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (L) Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi  Photo: EPA
3:06PM GMT 04 Nov 2012

Gandhi, 42, whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather all led India, vowed to fight to modernise the country through reforms that he said would help the poor and provide jobs for the rapidly growing population.

"We need economic reforms because only when businesses operate well will there be progress, and then we can run programmes to benefit the poor," he told the major Congress party gathering in the capital.

Gandhi vowed to help push through policy changes that will transform India's retail sector by allowing global supermarket chains such as Walmart and Tesco to open in India and tap into its burgeoning consumer market.

"The world is saying that India is standing up," he said. "The youth here will show not just India but also the whole world the way forward."

General elections are not due in India until 2014, but the Congress-led government has suffered a difficult few years in power and its leaders are eager to revive momentum in the long run-up to polls.

Manmohan Singh, the current prime minister, has been buffeted by falling economic growth, a parliamentary deadlock that has scuppered his legislative plans and a damaging series of corruption scandals.

Singh, 80, who also spoke at the event, is expected to step down before the election, with pressure on Gandhi to take a shot at the premiership in an effort to continue his family's long domination of Indian public life.

The dynasty is descended through Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister after independence in 1947, his daughter Indira Gandhi, who was twice premier, and Indira's son Rajiv.

But Rahul Gandhi's appetite for India's turbulent political scene has often be questioned by critics. He has declined to take on any ministerial responsibilities, concentrating instead on leading the Congress youth wing.

One foray he made into electoral politics earlier this year was a bruising experience, when he organised the Congress's campaign in the key state of Uttar Pradesh but failed to capture many of the seats that the party targeted.

Gandhi told the crowd in Delhi that, despite coming from within India's ruling elite, he was determined to break open the country's "closed political system".

"Young MPs tell me that you all want to change the system, and together we can," he told the rally. "The biggest problem is that our political system is shut for the common man."

Gandhi's mother Sonia, who is president of the Congress party, followed his speech with a spirited attack on the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has launched repeated attacks on the government for alleged corruption.

Italian-born Gandhi, considered the most powerful politician in India, described corruption as "an illness, a cancer which kills the poor" and insisted that Congress was cracking down on all forms of graft.

"If anything is proven, there will be no saving the corrupt," she said, accusing the BJP of being "steeped in the mud of corruption".

Source: AFP

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