Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Today's newspaper articles

Today’s articles (from “The Telegraph”, “The Guardian” and “The Daily Mail”) all talk about a recent court case here in India where the children of the Maharaja of Faridkot went to court to claim the inheritance owed to them.


Indian princesses win £2.5 billion inheritance after epic battle over father's will

Two elderly Indian princesses have inherited a £2.5 billion fortune after winning one of the country's longest-running royal legal battles.

By Dean Nelson, New Delhi
4:47PM BST 29 Jul 2013

The two surviving children of the late Maharaja of Faridkot, Sir Harinder Singh Brar, will now take control of one of the country's largest surviving royal fortunes after a court ruled they had been cheated out of their inheritance by palace staff who forged his final will.

The late Maharajah died aged 74 in 1989 after a long decline following the death of his son and heir Tikka in a motor accident.

He left a vast fortune including Faridkot House in the heart of Delhi, Manimajra Fort in Faridkot, his mountain retreat at Mashobra, close to the Viceroy's summer residence in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, and fleet of vintage cars in properties in Shimla.

He owned a number of Rolls Royces, military cars and several World War Two aircraft kept at his 22 acre aerodrome.

His three daughters, widow and elderly mother had expected to inherit his estate, but found instead he had left a 'will' giving it all to his army of staff and retainers through a trust established for their exclusive benefit.

The daughters were given positions as officers of the 'Meharwal Khewaji Trust', created under the terms of his surprise will, and nominal salaries of between £12 and £15 pounds a month.

The three surviving sisters launched a legal action to challenge the will in 1992, three years after their father's death, which eventually took 21 years to resolve. One of the sisters, Maheepinder Kaur, died of heart failure, aged 62, at her home in Mashobra in 2002.

Her two surviving older sisters, Amrit Kaur and Deepinder, known as 'Princess Bunty,' will now share the inheritance as new billionaires, although sources close to the family said it will not greatly change their lifestyles. They are both in their seventies and continued to live in some luxury after they married.

Deepinder Kaur has been the 'Maharaniadirani of Burdwan', near Calcutta, since she married the heir of the Burdwan princely state in 1959. Her husband is Maharajadhiraja Dr Saday Chand Mehtab whose father owned the Jahangir Diamond – the celebrated 83 carat stone which was once set in the beak of one of the Mughal peacock thrones. He sold it at auction in London to make the family even richer.

Neither sister has lived in hardship as they fought for their rightful inheritance. "They are very well-off indeed and have been having a good life," said a source close to the case who said the sisters are determined to protect their privacy following their victory.

Many of the properties and estates are believed to have fallen into neglect and disrepair since the Meharwal Khewarji Trust took control of them. Revenue officials launched a long investigation into the estate at Mashobra to establish its ownership and found it had been illegally transferred to the trust.

Last week a Chandigarh magistrate ruled that the sisters had been cheated out of their inheritance by their late father's staff in collusion with local lawyers who forged a will several years before he died in 1989.

"We have won the case after 21 years," their advocate Vikas Jain exclaimed to the news agency AFP as he celebrated a landmark victory.

Yesterday he declined to comment further after the two sisters informed him they would not be making any further statements.

Their victory marks the end of a series of bitter legal battles over the vast riches of several Indian royal families. The dispute between the grandchildren of the late Gyatri Devi, the Rajmata of Jaipur, and their relatives over their father's £250 million estate, is still in the courts 16 years after it began.

The Faridkot royals have a long history of losing and regaining their estate dating back to the Sikh Wars. The family are descendants of desert rulers in Rajasthan who established two rival princely states in Punjab, both of which were seized by the Sikh ruler Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1807.

The family allied with the British East India Company, which restored their estates to them two years later. The family played key roles in supporting the British in the Sikh Wars, the 1857 Indian Mutiny and the Afghan War.

The late Maharaja Sir Harinder Singh Brar, a senior officer who served in the Deccan Horse cavalry regiment, was regarded as one of the more astute of the former Indian royals who had managed to retain his wealth after India's independence stripped them of their power.


Maharajah's daughters inherit £2bn after court battle over 'forged' will

Lawyers for trust who stood to inherit estate say they will challenge court ruling, which makes sisters 33rd richest in India

As wills go, it was one worth fighting over. For more than two decades, lawyers in the north-western Indian city of Chandigarh battled over an Indian noble's legacy worth more than £2bn.

Now, a knockout punch may finally have been landed and the Maharajah of Faridkot's estate – complete with 300-year-old forts, a fleet of vintage Rolls-Royce cars, jewellery, a hugely valuable chunk of real estate in the capital, Delhi, and even an aerodrome – will revert to his daughters. The will, made seven years before his death in 1989, has been found by the top state court to have been forged.

Such disputes are common in India, where a succession of empires, mass migrations and chaotic politics have left a tangle of claims to property. But few involve such colossal sums.

There has been no public comment from the two elderly women who will inherit the estate and join India's club of billionaires. They enter the list of the booming economy's wealthiest people at joint 33rd. If their fortunes are counted as one, the sisters would take 20th place.

The will of their father, Sir Harinder Singh Brar, the last Maharajah of Faridkot, left everything to a trust to be run by his servants and lawyers when he died in 1989. His eldest daughter was disinherited on the grounds she had married against his wishes. The other was given a stipend of just 1,200 rupees a month – about £13.50 today. The maharajah, who had inherited the title in 1918, left nothing to his mother or wife.

The legacy immediately aroused suspicions and last week a judge declared that it had been "forged and fabricated". Local press reports quoted the heiresses' lawyer, Vikram Jain, as saying the will was now considered illegal and thus void.

Lawyers for the trust said they would contest the decision. "The will was real and it was not forged. The trust, after going through the order in detail, could challenge it in an upper court," said Ranjit Singh, counsel for the trust.

Little is known about the two new aristocrats. One has been reported to be living in the Punjab province near Faridkot, while the other lives in the eastern city of Kolkata or, possibly, abroad. A third daughter died more than a decade ago.

Though the Faridkot fortune is undoubtedly substantial, it is less impressive in comparison with those of India's most wealthy. According to Forbes, the software tycoon Azim Premji is worth $12.2bn (£8bn) and the steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal is worth $16bn. The fortune of the industrialist Mukesh Ambani is calculated at more than $20bn, 10 times the Faridkot inheritance.

Most of India's often fabulously rich aristocracy lost much of their property when the country gained its independence in 1947. Much of the country was originally a series of nearly 300 kingdoms, princedoms and minor statelets. Some, such as Hyderabad, were vast. Others comprised a few fields and an old fort.

Most aristocrats were stripped of any remaining honours, privileges and revenue provided by the government by the prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1972. There have been periodic attempts to reverse the measures.

Maintenance costs for hundreds of palaces owned by the government are often astronomical. The government in the western state of Rajasthan has tried to sell properties ranging from merchant's homes to vast forts complete with elephant gates, but with limited success.

  • © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

Indian princesses finally win battle for £2.6BILLION inheritance after court accepts that their Maharajah father's will was forged

  • After he died, the maharajah's daughters received a pittance, despite fortune
  • A disputed will left the estate in control of his former servants
  • Now the daughters, who are in their 80s, have finally won their birthright
By Sam Webb

The Maharajah of Faridkot: A court ruled that his 1982 will was a forgery, but his daughters have successfully fought the ruling and will now inherit the estate

It has all the makings of a best-selling novel.

An Indian maharajah crowned as a toddler and rich beyond imagination falls into a deep depression in old age after losing his only son.

After his own death a few months later, his daughters, the princesses, don't get the palaces, gold and vast lands they claim as their birthright.

Instead, they are given a few dollars a month from palace officials they accuse of scheming to usurp the royal billions with a forged will. The fight rages for decades.

On Saturday, an Indian court brought this chapter to a close, ruling that the will of Maharajah Harinder Singh Brar of Faridkot was fabricated.

His daughters will now inherit the estimated £2.6billion estate, instead of a trust run by his former servants and palace officials.

Chief judicial magistrate Rajnish Kumar Sharma, in the northern city of Chandigarh, finally gave his ruling on the case filed by the maharaja's eldest daughter, Amrit Kaur, in 1992, a court official said Monday.

The court official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

The Faridkot riches were legend in India's Punjab state. The estate includes a 350-year-old fort, palaces and forests lands in Faridkot, a mansion surrounded by acres of land in the heart of India's capital New Delhi and similar properties spread across four states.

There is also a stable of 18 cars including a Rolls Royce, a Daimler and a Bentley, all in running condition.

In addition, there is an aerodrome in Faridkot, spread over 200 acres, which is being used by the Punjab state administration and the army.

There is also more than 10billion rupees (£110million) worth of gold, jewelry studded with diamonds, rubies and emeralds.

The royal's two daughters will now inherit a vast fortune, including Faridkot House on Copernicus Marg in New Delhi

Brar himself was a boy-king who grew up amid the final gasps of India's royal families. He was crowned maharajah of the tiny kingdom of Faridkot in western Punjab - the last maharajah it would turn out - at the age of three, upon his father's death.

After India won independence from Britain in 1947, Faridkot and hundreds of other small kingdoms were absorbed into the country, royal titles and power were abolished and the royal families were given a fixed salary from the Indian government. That payment, the 'privy purse', was abolished in 1971.

Maharani Narinder Kaur, the wife of Maharajah Harinder Singh Brar. The couple were fond of shopping while on holiday in England and would stay at the Savoy - sometimes for as long as four months

Some royals slipped into penury, while some converted their former palaces into luxury hotels to provide them an income.

A few, like Brar, held onto their enormously profitable real estate and continued to live a rarefied life.

But in 1981, Brar's only son, Tikka Harmohinder Singh, was killed in a road accident and he tumbled into a deep depression. It was then, his three daughters' argued, that his trusted aides connived to deprive his family of their fortune.

They set up the Meharawal Khewaji Trust, naming all the maharajah's servants, officials and lawyers as trustees.

A short time after Brar's death in 1989, a will leaving all his wealth to the trust became public.
The two younger princesses, Deepinder Kaur and Maheepinder Kaur, were given monthly salaries of $20 and $18 respectively.

Brar's wife, mother and oldest daughter - the presumed heir - were cut off without a penny.

The trust told the court that Amrit Kaur had been shunned by her father for marrying against his wishes.

Kaur told the court that her father had never made a will and that she had remained with him until his death.

In the two decades that it has taken for the court to give its ruling, much has changed. The value of the estates has increased manifold.

The New Delhi properties alone are worth about £230million. One of his daughters, Maheepinder Kaur, died. Amrit and Deepinder are in their 80s.

The family's lawyer, Vikas Jain, told India's Financial Express newspaper that some of the fortune had been squandered away during the long case.

The trust is weighing a challenge to the Chandigarh court order in a higher court, news reports said Monday.

'The will was real and it was not forged. The trust, after going through the order in detail, could challenge it in an upper court,' Ranjit Singh, a lawyer for the trust, was quoted as telling The Times of India newspaper.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2380866/Indian-princesses-finally-win-battle-2-6BILLION-inheritance-court-accepts-Maharajah-fathers-forged.html#ixzz2aVzSueFb

Monday, July 22, 2013

Breaking the fast at Ramadan

Last night, Tania, myself and a couple of others went on a tour of Old Delhi, to the Jama Masjid mosque (built in the 17th Century), to watch the breaking of the Ramadan fast.

Our tour guide was a lovely woman called Navina Jafa, who runs tours around Delhi and throughout India.

We were also treated to something special this night: we were shown some of the relics of the mosques. These include:

A 14th Century copy of the first chapter of the Koran
A sandal owned by Muhammad
A lock of hair from Muhammad
An imprint of Muhammad’s foot in stone

Families and friends set up their picnics in the main square, waiting for the Iman to call sunset and the end of the fast.

It was something special to see.

I hope you like the photos:

Navina Jafa
The 14th Century Koran
A lock of Muhammad's hair
A sandal belonging to Muhammad
Muhammad's footprint in the stone

Farewell to the Durstons

Last Wednesday, we had a formal work farewell for Andrew and Tiana as well as a formal welcome to Ben, Andrew’s replacement.

We’ll miss you guys.

Take care back in Australia.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Today's news articles

Today’s articles are from “The Times of India” and “The Independent”. They talk about a contaminated school meal killing over twenty students in the state of Bihar.

In these articles, you will see the terms lakh and crore. A lakh is 100,000 and a crore is 10,000,000:

Poison theory floats as Bihar midday meal kills 27 kids

MASHRAKH (SARAN): The midday meal tragedy worsened on Wednesday with fatalities rising to 27 and suspicion mounting that the last meal eaten by the children may have been accidentally contaminated or, as Bihar's education minister claimed, deliberately poisoned.

The Bihar government put the toll in what is becoming the country's worst midday meal tragedy at 22. But villagers said angry parents and relatives had buried at least 27 bodies in front of the Government Primary School where the children had their midday meal on Tuesday.

Residents of Dharmashati Gandaman village of Saran district chose to bury the bodies in the school as a mark of protest. Villagers said the 27 buried children did not include those who died on way to Patna. While four children were declared brought dead at Patna Medical College & Hospital on Tuesday night, two children died on Wednesday.

State education minister Prashant Kumar Shahi said traces of organic phosphorous had been found in the food served to the kids, most of them below 10 years of age. "It is a criminal case of poisoning," he said. Shahi alleged that the cooking ingredients came from a store run by the school principal Meena Devi's husband Arjun Rai, whom he described as a member of a rival political party, an obvious reference to the RJD. The cook had told the principal that the mustard oil given to her to make soya curry had a foul smell, he said.

On Wednesday, cops and reporters found Meena Devi's home locked and she had reportedly fled. The only other teacher in the school was said to be on leave.

As the Chhapra toll rose, another minor midday meal poisoning was reported from Navatolia Middle School, near Madhubani, where 50 children fell sick. Sources said a dead lizard was found in the food served to the kids.

There was no definitive narrative from the police on how the toxic food landed on the plates of the kids. The village itself remained virtually out of bounds for police and state officials, with violent protesters blocking roads to the area. The crowd set fire to four government vehicles, including two police jeeps. All the roads leading to Mashrakh remained clogged with trucks, tractors and JCB machines which were forcibly parked in the middle of the roads by villagers.

Heart-rending wails of women were heard over the din of protests from several houses when these reporters managed to reach the village around noon after crossing at least six blockades on foot. A woman was seen banging her head against the mound of earth under which her son Rahul was buried. Another group of women wailed inconsolably under a tree nearby.

According to villagers, the primary school, which opened only a couple of years ago, was running in a 20x15ft room that also served as a community hall for weddings. Midday meals were cooked in the small veranda by 'sevika' Pano Devi and 'sevika' Manju Devi. On Tuesday, Pano did not report for duty and the meal — rice and soya — was cooked by Manju. She and her two children also ate the meal.

Schoolbags, books, steel plates and gunny bags on which the children sat lay scattered in the lone classroom while some chairs and the table of headmistress and teacher were lying outside, smashed by angry protesters.

The villagers pleaded the midday meal scheme be done away with immediately. "As it is, poor quality rice and vegetables are brought for the children. Our complaints go unheeded. The withdrawal of the scheme will be in the interest of our children, our future generation. Please ask the government to oblige us," said Pappu Singh whose neighbour lost his child in the tragedy.

Violent protests were also witnessed in Chhapra, the district HQ, where opposition parties — RJD, BJP and CPI(M-L) — had called a bandh on Wednesday. Several cases of arson and attack on government vehicles and buildings were reported from different parts of the town.

An alleged attempt to break open the gate of Chhapra jail was foiled by SDO A Q Ansari and ASP Ravindra Kumar who ordered lathicharge to disperse the crowd at Daroga Rai Chowk. RJD activists detained the Balia-Sealdah Express at Chhapra Kutchery station for hours.

Prabhunath Singh, newly elected RJD MP from neighbouring Maharajganj, alleged that many lives would have been saved had the district administration been sensitive towards the ailing children. "I arranged buses to carry the affected students to Chhapra hospital," he claimed.

Poor quality, hygiene: It was waiting to happen

The writer has posted comments on this article

Subodh Varma, TNN | Jul 18, 2013, 05.50 AM IST

While it's yet unclear what caused the food poisoning that killed 27 Bihar schoolkids, the midday meal scheme in the state is a mess. A disaster of the kind that devastated Dharmasati village near Chhapra was waiting to happen.

A recent Programme Approval Board (PAB) review that approves the scheme's annual work plan and budget in Bihar said monitoring bodies sent to some districts had reported shortcomings.

"Most schools often served average quality food items in unhygienic surroundings," they reported. In areas the monitoring bodies visited "food was cooked and kept in the open and dirty ground". Children, parents and the community were unhappy with the quality of food.

How do schools store food and where do they cook it? As per SC directives, the Centre allocated funds for pucca kitchen-cum-stores. For Bihar, between 2006-07 and 2011-12, it gave Rs 44,640 lakh for 65,977 such structures, PAB meeting minutes said. The central ministry's appraisal revealed the Bihar government had built just 47,002 kitchen-cum-stores, 71% of target. The balance 29% had not even been started. But this didn't prevent the state from claiming Rs 3,506 lakh to buy 86,248 kitchen devices. The state also claimed replacement of 35,760 units till this February. Kitchen devices include stoves and utensils.

Another aspect is the irregularity of serving midday meals. Last year, between April and December, of the 167 days schools worked, meals weren't served on 33 days in the primary and 36 days in upper-primary. In this period, the state should've used up 75% of the grain allocated. But it lifted only 61%. Bihar hasn't even appointed cooks and helpers as per SC guidelines. 183,583 cooks-cum-helpers were to be appointed but only 168,340 were working. The SC had fixed number of cooks to the number of students to avoid negligence in cooking.

These are part of a larger neglect of this nutrition and enrolment scheme. In Bihar, 80 lakh of the 1.47 crore primary school children are served midday meals. Of 53 lakh children in upper primary, 26 lakh are covered. This, despite a strong SC order issued in 2001 and repeated over the years to give all children cooked meals.

The Bihar government has succeeded on one count: inspections of schools to check how meals are prepared and distributed — 97% schools were inspected till last December. PAB noted the government order on ranking of officers linked to their carrying out inspections. But, was the school in Dharmasati inspected? To what end?

Contaminated school meals kill 22 children in India

Angry parents take to the streets after deadly outbreak of sickness at school in northern India

Thursday 18 July 2013

Angry crowds took to the streets of India’s Bihar state to protest over the deaths of at least 22 school children who ate poisoned food provided through a scheme monitored under a £25m UK government programme.

The children fell ill after eating a meal of rice with soybeans and potatoes prepared with oil apparently contaminated with insecticide.

The headmaster of the school – located around 25km from the city of Chhapra in the Saran district of Bihar – is reported to have fled the school when the children started vomiting. Police have registered a case of criminal negligence against him.

Furious parents besieged the local police station after the children started to fall ill, protesting that many would have survived had the school acted more quickly to provide medical assistance. At least 80 other children from the Navsrijit Primary School were affected by the outbreak, with several said to be in a critical condition.

Reports locally said that there had been previous poisoning cases in the area linked to the Midday Meal programme, one of the key planks of the Indian government’s anti-poverty strategy. The Midday Meal Scheme in Bihar is monitored by the UK government through a £25m grant from the Department for International Development (DfID) for its Poorest Areas Civil Society Programme Phase II, which is due to run until 2015.

The DfID programme is intended to help eight million people from the poorer elements of Indian society in seven states, including Bihar, through grants and capacity-building support to civil society organisations. A DFID spokesman said UK money did not directly fund the scheme but helped to monitor the way it was implemented: “DFID does not fund the Midday Meal Scheme in Bihar. Our support to PACS helps communities to effectively monitor the implementation of the scheme.”

Oxfam India demanded a full investigation into the deaths and said it had previously raised concerns about the programme “because of lack of funds, poor quality food and highly inadequate monitoring of just a handful of schools once or twice a year.”

The dead were reported to include two children of one of the school cooks. Last night there were still fears that the death toll would rise. One school cook is also reported to be receiving hospital treatment. One 12-year-old pupil, Savita, said that she suffered a stomach ache after eating the meal and started to be sick. “I don’t know what happened after that,” she said.

Raja Yadav, the father of one young victim, said: “As soon as my boy returned from school, we rushed to the hospital with him.”

Initial tests suggested that the food had been contaminated with an organophosphate chemical used as an insecticide on wheat and rice crops.

Suspicions fell on a new type of cooking oil used to prepare the meal. State education minister PK Shahi said the school cook had told him the oil looked “discoloured and dodgy” but her concerns were ignored by teachers who said it was safe. Some teachers also suggested the food may have been stored in contaminated containers.

R K Singh, the medical superintendent at the children’s hospital in the state capital, Patna, said: “We feel that some kind of insecticide was either accidentally or intentionally mixed in the food, but that will be clear through investigations.

We prepared antidotes and treated the children for organic phosphorous poisoning.”

The opposition BJP party criticised the time it took for children to be taken to hospital. “It took 15 hours to evacuate kids, it’s only after 17 kids died the authorities decided to shift them at midnight,” said BJP leader Pratap Rudy.

Protesting villagers set four police vehicles alight and police reinforcements had to be drafted in as anger spilled over. The state has offered compensation of Rs 200,000 for each child who died.


Indian government’s flagship free school meal scheme: Worthy in its aspirations, but plagued by a string of scandals

Wednesday 17 July 2013

The midday meals scheme is one of the Indian government’s flagship anti-poverty programmes, designed to provide at least one nutritious meal a day for the children of the nation’s poorest families. The Indian government says it reaches about 120 million children across the country.

But the scheme has faced criticism over the quality of the food provided and standards of hygiene. There have also been allegations of corruption, with food intended for children disappearing and then being sold on the black market.

Oxfam’s programmes and advocacy director Shaik Anwar said Bihar was not the only state that had shown little concern for improving the free school meal scheme, despite many previous warnings from civil society organisations and right-to-food commissioners.

In April this year a 13-year-old girl died in Aswara, near Ahmedabad in the north west, and 10 others were taken ill after eating the midday meal at a government school. A dirty water tank was believed to be the cause of the contamination.

A year earlier 132 children were admitted to hospital after eating the midday meal at a school in Parvati near Pune in western India. Idlis (savoury cakes) prepared in unhygienic conditions were blamed. A couple of months earlier 50 children at a school in Mangalore in the south-west were taken to hospital after eating the midday meal. And 72 children were taken ill after eating a meal at a school in Surat in the north-west in 2010.

The India Today website cited other examples of problems with the quality of the meals. It reported that dead lizards, frogs, insects and a rat had all been found in food provided under the midday meal scheme.

The scheme was first introduced in southern India, where it was seen as an incentive for poor parents to send their children to school. Since then the programme has been replicated across the country. It is part of an effort to address concerns about malnutrition, from which the government says nearly half of all Indian children suffer.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

The end of an era for the telegram in India

Yesterday, India’s state-run telegram service (BSNL), wired its final telegram, bringing to a close 162 years of service.

Here’s a link to an article from “The Daily Mail” (lots of pictures – hence the link):


Friday, July 12, 2013

Today's newspaper articles

Today’s newspaper articles cover a variety of topics and come from a number of papers.

The first article is from “The Sydney Morning Herald” and talks about what it means to be a young girl in rural India.

The second and third articles are from “The Diplomat” website: one talks about the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) and the other talks about the continuing border spat with China in the Ladakh region.


Women persecuted for their phones

Date: July 13, 2013
South Asia correspondent for Fairfax Media
Defiant: Teenager Rakhi ignores the order in her village banning girls and unmarried women having a mobile phone and wearing jeans. Photo: Ben Doherty

The telephone was the cause of the conflict, and a key piece of evidence. In Nawada in Bihar, a man strangled his 20-year-old daughter, before dousing her body in kerosene and burning her, after he discovered her talking on her mobile to a boy he didn't approve of.

The girl's boyfriend recorded her dying screams on his phone.

The mobile phone has changed the way the world talks, but in no place has that change been more confusing and confronting than in India, where 20million new handsets are bought every month.

In cities, crowded corner shops offer a staggering array of phones and accessories. In the country, even the lowliest subsistence farmer has a basic handset, those in any kind of business often carrying two or three.

Business (busting government communications monopolies), politics (phones as campaign mobilisers) even terrorism (bombs set off by SMS) have all been transformed by phones.

But it is in the realm of relationships - how they are made and fostered in New India - where the phone's impact has perhaps been most profound.

Cheap to buy, and cheaper still to run, a mobile phone allows young people, women in particular, to communicate in private and complete secrecy, with whoever they want, unrestricted by geography, and outside the reach of their parents, siblings or community elders.

''In urban centres, especially, women are feeling empowered through the mobile phone because they are able to communicate in ways never before possible," says Australian National University academic Assa Doron, who with Robin Jeffrey is author of The Great Indian Phone Book, on the transformation the mobile has brought to India.

"But in the northern areas, like UP [Uttar Pradesh] and Bihar, the so-called backward areas, you find that the entry of the mobile phone into the household has been very disruptive … You have people who have never been able to communicate in a bilateral way, suddenly able to use this new device, and circumvent all of these structures of authority."

The response to this upheaval is often brutal. Honour killings over mobile phones are now so common as to rarely warrant more than a few lines in the local press.

In June, Meerut man Kishan Singh stabbed his 24-year-old daughter to death after he caught her talking to a boy on her phone late at night.

A month earlier, a girl from Bihar was beaten and imprisoned in a room without food for days by her father who had found her on the phone. And in January, truck driver Narayan Tomar was killed by a father furious that Tomar had called his daughter.

In Uttar Pradesh, several khap panchayats - powerful extra-constitutional community councils, common in northern India - have decreed that unmarried women are forbidden from carrying a mobile phone.

There is also formal political support. Last October, local MP Rajpal Saini said mobile phones caused women to elope.

"There is no need to give phones to women and children,'' he said. ''It distracts them and is useless. Why do women need phones?"

In a classroom in the farming town of Purkazi in the west of Uttar Pradesh, 16-year-old Asma, her younger sister Reshma, and their friend Shalini talked about the ban.

"[It] has been effective on everybody, all families, neighbours, feel they must follow it," Shalini said.

"They [community elders] feel that by having a mobile, it will cause girls to go down the wrong path, to do the wrong thing. I don't think it is right. Girls should be treated the same as boys. A mobile is a requirement of modern life."

Khap panchayat leader Rakesh Tikait said there was no blanket ban on girls having phones, but that "such directives may be taken on a village level due to the local context and the approach of individuals there".

"Our directives are effective because people have faith in the khap panchayat," he said.

But the founder of the non-government organisation Asttitwa, Rehana Adib said the bans were symptomatic of a broader discrimination against women in India.

"Boys are given all the freedoms and opportunities, while girls are controlled, and suppressed. They are kept out of education, and stopped from living freely."

Dr Doron said the broader context of marriage needed to be understood to appreciate "the grave concern of the elders".

"Marriage in India is not simply between a man and a woman, it is between families, it's about establishing networks, establishing business relations, about continuing certain lineages, about establishing your reputation within a community, and maintaining caste hierarchies, so having these unmediated channels of communication poses a real threat."

In a Muslim majority town such as Purkazi, many families keep purdah. But it has its pockets of resistance.

Sixteen-year-old Rakhi proudly wears jeans, with their pockets to keep a phone, sitting on the steps of her family's unfinished home.

She would show off her phone too, but it had been stolen - presumably by someone who felt she shouldn't have it.

"My own uncles and grandfathers, and other elders in my family, they put pressure on my family to stop me, my education, me wearing jeans,'' she said. ''But I have the support of my parents."

Rakhi wants to be a social worker, to make it easier for the next generation. "The mindset of the people in the village here, it suppresses girls as second-class citizens.

''It will change. Women will be given freedom, but it will take time," Rakhi said.

This article was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/world/women-persecuted-for-their-phones-20130712-2pvk5.html


The Indian Foreign Service: Worthy of an Emerging Power?

July 12, 2013
By Sudha Ramachandran

The IFS has long been the elite. As India’s global reach grows, it now faces serious challenges.

India’s global ambitions have grown remarkably over the past decade. However, questions are being raised about the capacity of its diplomatic corps to act as an effective catalyst in India’s transformation to a global power. Analysts are asking whether the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) has the numerical strength to project India’s influence in a manner befitting an emerging power. Do its officers have the expertise to engage in the kind of complex diplomacy that is required of a global power? Are IFS officers too preoccupied with putting out fires to spare time for crafting a grand strategy based on a long-term vision?

Several of the criticisms being hurled at the IFS are not new. The service has grappled with short staffing, for instance, for decades. Only now, given India’s growing global stature, have these problems acquired a new significance and resonance.
Part of the Ministry of External Affairs, the IFS is the permanent bureaucracy comprising of career diplomats. It works with several other bodies such as the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the National Security Council (NSC) and so on in the formulation and implementation of India’s foreign policy.

According to an official source in the Ministry of External Affairs, India’s diplomatic corps consists of around 1,750 officers, which includes roughly 750 IFS Grade-A officers, 250 IFS Grade-B personnel, military attach├ęs, and other officers.

The IFS’ numerical strength is small not only in the context of India’s geographic size and its 1.1-billion population, but also in comparison to the diplomatic corps of its counterparts in other countries. “India is served by the smallest diplomatic corps of any major country, not just far smaller than the big powers but by comparison with most of the larger emerging countries,” wrote Shashi Tharoor, a former junior minister in the MEA (2009-10) and former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, in his book Pax Indica: India and the World of the 21st Century (Penguin, 2012).

Indeed, the IFS is miniscule compared with its U.S. counterpart, and is also far smaller than the foreign services of countries like China and Brazil.

The IFS’s short-staffing was identified as a weakness of the Indian foreign policy establishment in a report prepared by N R Pillai as far back as 1965. This shortage of personnel is being acutely felt now with India’s growing global footprint. As the country’s interests and influence extend into more continents, it needs more diplomatic representation. For instance, Africa and Latin America are emerging rapidly on India’s radar and while India has increased the number of missions on those continents, they are inadequate.

The inadequate number of personnel in the IFS has also expanded the workload of India’s diplomats. More importantly, as the Naresh Chandra Task Force Report of 2012 pointed out, the IFS doesn't have enough diplomats to “anticipate, analyze and act on contemporary challenges.” In other words, the IFS is inadequately equipped to act proactively in response to global challenges.

Recruitment to the IFS is through competitive examinations held annually. More than 400,000 aspirants take the preliminary exams. Those who qualify go on to take another round of exams and then an interview. At the end of it all roughly a thousand are recruited into the IFS, the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), the Indian Police Service (IPS), the Indian Revenue Service (IRS), and other agencies.

According to Tharoor, the former MEA official, 30-35 people are recruited annually into the IFS, up from around 12 about 30 years ago. In other words, just 0.01% of those who sit the exam make it to the IFS.

The competitive exam that is used to recruit India’s diplomats also selects its domestic bureaucrats, its police and its customs and tax officials. Thus, those who join the IFS are not necessarily people with the skills or aptitude for a career in diplomacy.
Until the 1970s, a career in the IFS was much coveted; it attracted the brightest in the country. Tharoor observes that Indian diplomats have “long enjoyed a justified reputation as among the world’s best in individual talent and ability.”

However, there has been a visible decline in the quality of IFS recruits in recent years. With jobs in the corporate sector paying better and a career in domestic bureaucracies such as the IAS, IPS and IRS promising more power, the IFS has become a less attractive option. It no longer attracts the very brightest. Increasingly, those who join the IFS do so because they did not make the cut to the other more lucrative services. Several of these younger officers are in fact not interested in diplomacy and international affairs.

Thus the impact of understaffing is compounded by the declining quality of its personnel.

To address the problem of understaffing of the IFS, the Indian government has stepped up the numbers being recruited annually. This is expected to double the service’s strength by the end of the decade, the MEA official said.

Tharoor is among many who have suggested the lateral entry of experts from other departments, universities, think tanks and elsewhere. The need for such lateral recruitment has grown dramatically in recent years. Negotiations on nuclear liability clause-related issues, space laws, climate change, environment security, and other areas require considerable expertise in the subject, which an IFS officer may not have.

However, the IFS has strongly resisted hiring or even consulting outside experts. In contrast to the U.S., where foreign policy and area studies experts from universities and think tanks are often appointed to senior positions in the State Department and are routinely consulted in policy making, in India the IFS is loathe to draw on outside talent and expertise.

“They behave like blue-blooded Brahmins,” who know it all and do not need to draw on specialists in academia, think tanks or the media, observed Srikanth Kondapalli, professor in the School of International Studies at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Strongly refuting this criticism, Tharoor said that where the situation warranted outside expertise, the IFS doesn’t hesitate to consult. Indeed, experts in space law and trade issues have been taken on board for short periods. In Sri Lanka, where India is involved in a big way in construction of houses in the war-ravaged North, “it is an engineer not a career diplomat who is guiding the project,” he pointed out.

But such interaction with non-IFS individuals and institutions is half-hearted, even superficial. On the rare occasion where accomplished academics or media professionals were appointed as ambassadors, career diplomats serving under them were reluctant to share classified information, Kondapalli recalled.

Kondapalli pointed out that not only is the IFS reluctant to draw on outside talent but worse, it doesn’t use the in-house talent well either. Those who do not toe the line are sidelined, he said, adding that “new thinking is not encouraged.”

A far more serious allegation leveled against the IFS is that it does not engage in long-term strategic planning, that there is little clarity on goals and how they could be achieved.

“New Delhi does very little collective thinking about its long-term foreign policy goals, since most of the strategic planning that takes place within the government happens on an individual level,” writes Manjari Chatterjee Miller in a recent article in Foreign Affairs.

She argues that as a result of understaffing, IFS officers are compelled to take on more responsibilities, which means that “besides their advisory role they have significant leeway in crafting policy.” Miller cites current and former ambassadors to argue that Delhi provides little input or directions to its missions. “This lack of top-down instruction means that long-term planning is virtually impossible,” she concludes.

A senior serving diplomat told The Diplomat that “while the MEA may not have released White Papers or other documents explaining government policy, its statements in Parliament and in the UN or other multilateral settings, public speeches by senior officials, the MEA’s annual reports, media briefings, all together give a pretty deep insight into the government’s views and policy on a range of foreign policy matters and issues.”

“The overall thrust of foreign policy is well known,” added T P Sreenivasan, a retired ambassador who put in 37 years of service with the IFS.

Sreenivasn refuted allegations that ambassadors often work without clear guidelines from Delhi. “Territorial division heads give directions to the concerned missions,” he said, stressing that these “guidelines are never unclear.”

Sreenivasan recalls that the only time during his career when he “had to take policy decisions without instructions” was during the military coup in Fiji in 1987, when he was India’s ambassador to Fiji. The Fiji government had cut his communications and he had to act without instructions from Delhi. “My actions were ratified by the Government, but with some modifications. These guided me subsequently,” he recalled.

Sreenivasan also drew attention to the “continuous flow of instructions and reports between the MEA and the missions abroad. These constant exchanges” contribute to “collective decision making” in the MEA, he pointed out dismissing Miller’s criticism that decision making in the IFS is “individualistic.”

Expanding on the nature of interactions between heads of missions and divisional heads, the serving senior diplomat said that these are “routine.” “Such interactions also take place either in a regional setting or at the annual heads of missions meeting in New Delhi,” Sreenivasan told The Diplomat, drawing attention to how these meetings enable diplomats “to interact, discuss and debate a diverse range of policy issues and matters and, to plan for over the horizon events.” Similarly, “interactions between the NSA/NSCS, the PMO and the MEA take place regularly and in both structured and unstructured settings. Where required, such meetings also take place on a need-to basis,” he pointed out.

As for the question of autonomy that the missions enjoy, Sreenivasan argues that this is “confined to making policy recommendations, not decisions or crafting of policy.” He notes these recommendations are “often accepted by the Government.”

Criticism of IFS officers being vested with autonomy seems based on a belief that those on the middle rungs of the hierarchy lack the competence and experience to make recommendations or decisions. However, Sreenivasan pointed out that this is not the case in the IFS. “It is at the level of the Joint Secretary and Secretary that policy is discussed and developed, and annual plans laid down,” he said. At this level, diplomats have considerable experience in diplomacy; a Joint Secretary having around 20 years experience in the IFS and a Secretary 30 years. These are not novices “ignorant of the nuances of policy making, but officers who are chosen with great care and who bring with them substantial and wide-ranging global experience in a variety of stations.”
It is evident that while some of the major criticisms that are leveled against the IFS are rather exaggerated, the IFS does have some serious shortcomings that need to be dealt with urgently if India is keen to expand its clout on global issues.

The problem of understaffing is not one to be brushed aside. While India has begun recruiting more into the IFS, the pace at which it is doing so is inadequate. It is imperative too that recruitment to the IFS is done through a separate examination, one that tests knowledge in international affairs and also aptitude for diplomacy. The current common examination results in good bureaucrats, not good diplomats joining the IFS.

Two divisions of the MEA that could contribute significantly to India’s long-term strategizing are the Policy Planning and Research Division and the Public Diplomacy.

These need to be strengthened.

There is an urgent need for the IFS to step out of its ivory tower. It needs to become more consultative and engage more with outside experts and institutions. As for think tanks and universities, they need to produce more work that is policy-oriented, if they want their input to be taken seriously by the MEA.

Photo Credit: markhillary via Flickr


China & India: All Not Quiet on the Western Front

By Pratyush
July 12, 2013

Reports of a fresh Chinese incursion in India’s Ladakh region surfaced in the first week of July, barely two months after a tense border face-off in mid-April when a Chinese platoon set up camp about 19 km inside Indian territory. Reports of the latest incursion, which took place on June 17, came three days after the July 5-6 visit of the Indian
Defence Minister A.K. Antony to China.

According to reports, a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) patrol in the Chumar sector of southern Ladakh smashed Indian bunkers on June 17 and took away a camera placed on the ground, about 6 km ahead of an Indian Army post. The camera was ostensibly installed by the Indian Army to monitor Chinese troop movements along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de-facto border separating Indian-administered Kashmir from the Chinese-controlled Aksai Chin area.

India reportedly raised the issue two days after the incident at a border meeting on June 19. The Chinese returned the non-functional camera in early July. Given that the reports surfaced three weeks following the incident and going by New Delhi and Beijing’s attempts to play down the incident, it seems as if the two countries do not want to see a repeat of the April stand-off.

Reacting to the incident, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying denied the reports saying, “I have seen the relevant reports but I am not aware of the specific situation." She added, “Chinese defence forces have been patrolling along the Chinese side of the LAC of the China-India border. The general situation in the border areas is stable. We have the consensus that pending the final settlement of the boundary question no one of us should change the status quo along the LAC."

However, the Indian government’s attempts to play down the situation did not go well with the opposition, with the Bharatiya Janata Party accusing the government of “suppressing” the information. In the government’s defense, its response may have been guided by an attempt to prevent the situation from snowballing into a raging controversy fuelled by India’s hyper-sensitive media.

Yet the latest incident is a cause of deep concern and raises serious questions about China’s intentions. Even more so, since the incident has occurred against a backdrop of a spate of high-level visits exchanged between the two countries in recent months, including that of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to India in May. Interestingly, New Delhi and Beijing held the 16th round of their Special Representatives' talks on the boundary question barely days after the incursion in the Chumar sector, which focused on devising joint mechanisms to avoid repetition of a Depsang-like situation.

However, despite claims by the Chinese interlocutor Yang Jiechi of “breaking new ground”, the two countries seem nowhere close to resolving the boundary dispute. China’s perceived incursions also come at a time when Beijing is involved in territorial disputes with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam – which makes the timing of its territorial row with India all the more curious.

Whichever way one looks at them, these incursions do not bode well for Sino-Indian ties and raise questions about the intentions of the new Chinese dispensation in Beijing, which seems to be potentially testing the waters before forcing the border issue with India. They may also shed light on the multiple factors influencing Chinese decision-making, including domestic constraints and government-military relations, among others. India would do well to expect and be prepared for similar border incursions over the coming months – particularly at a time when the Indian government’s political capital is at its lowest in the lead-up to the 2014 elections.

One way India could strengthen its hand in its dealings with China would be by shedding some of its ambivalence towards the so-called US pivot to Asia and intensifying its diplomatic engagement with other Asian partners like Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.

Image credit: Flickr (94142146@N05)