Friday, August 30, 2013

today's newspaper article

Today’s article is from “The Australian” and talks about an issue that has been making a lot of news around the world:

Caste skews India's view of rape

  • by:Amanda Hodge, South Asia Correspondent
  • From:The Australian
  • August 30, 201312:00AM
AS she was being dragged from her Delhi shack with a knife at her throat by six men who raped her one after another, Pooja could not have known the same horror was happening to another woman in the fashionable heart of Mumbai.

But within 24 hours there was no escaping the saturation news coverage of one of the attacks.

On front pages across the country, social media, television, and on Mumbai streets, India's middle class raged against the violation of a 22-year-old photojournalist, gang-raped by five men while on assignment for an English-language magazine.

Only on day three of that terrible rape's front-page treatment did a single paragraph in one newspaper note the arrest of five men for raping an 18-year-old girl "who begs on the footpaths of south Delhi's Mehrauli".

While the state of Maharashtra's chief minister vowed to bring all the Mumbai culprits to justice, and a female politician paid bedside tribute to the journalist, Pooja went back to her shack where she has since borne the taunts of neighbours who assume she brought it on herself.

When The Australian went looking for the 19-year-old (the newspaper got her age wrong), a woman selling toys under a metro station overpass pointed us to the opposite side of the busy intersection with a warning. "They are dirty people over there," she said.

"She obviously did something wrong and they (her rapists) decided to teach her a lesson."

India has been asking difficult questions about its treatment of women since the December 16 gang rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy graduate, who later died.

But it is hard to escape the conclusion this middle-class soul-searching is preoccupied with its own welfare, and that concern for the safety of the women of the country's vast underclass comes a distant second.

That is not to say that people such as Pooja have not benefited from India's heightened focus on violence against women. A year ago, it is difficult to imagine that the gang rape of a low-caste Bengali woman would have stirred too many Delhi police officers into action.

Five of her six attackers have been arrested, though the families of two of the men have begun harassing Pooja to accept R35,000 ($577) to drop the charges.

Their offer is both carrot and stick. If she refuses, she's been told they will "come at night and take me away".

"Nobody is on my side," she says through a translator. "I told the police but they didn't seem to bother about it."

Pooja has the tiny body and spindly limbs of a woman whose needs have always come last. Many people saw her being dragged away, she says. It was 5pm on a week night but nobody intervened. "Crimes against middle-class women mobilise the middle class in a way that violence against lower caste women cannot," says Binalakshmi Nepram, an anti-violence activist from the conflict-ridden, northeast state of Manipur. "At the same time as the gang rape in Mumbai, and every day since then, there's been repeated violence against women."

A grizzly sample includes the rape and murder of an 11-year-old schoolgirl in Pune, the gang rape of a woman constable in tribal Jharkhand and the rape of a five-year-old girl by her 13-year-old neighbour. None has so mobilised police resources as the Mumbai rape, which resulted in action by up to 80 officers over 72 hours.

"India is a country built on the caste system," says Nepram. "With due respect to those who worked to make it an equal nation, I would say more than 75 per cent still see things through that prism."

Though the extraordinary brutality of last December's Delhi gang rape shocked many Indians, it was the location of the crime, in middle-class south Delhi, the fact that the victim was educated, and that there were no complicating caste issues, that moved so many to join in mass protests.

The rape of Dalit and tribal women remains a tool of caste oppression in India. In the worst cases, Dalit women have not only been raped but also mutilated, burned, paraded naked through villages and forced to eat human faeces.

Nepram says national campaigns on violence against women are disproportionately focused on the cities, and most funding goes to middle-class groups. The money rarely filters down to the slums and rural villages where women are most vulnerable.

A senior editor of the newspaper that ran Pooja's story as a footnote said he recognised the inconsistency in coverage but a rape in Mumbai - considered a safer city than Delhi - had "greater shock value".

"Frankly, since December 16 there's been such a barrage of incidents reported that it tends to numb the senses. Cases like this cut through the clutter," he said.

"As we speak, there's probably 10 rapes happening in the (rural) heartland of India that will never get reported."

The dissonance has not gone unnoticed. In a column this week, journalist G. Sampath wrote that crimes committed by the poor against other poor are "far too common for the precious resources of national outrage".

"It is only when such criminal brutality strays beyond its native territory - the slums and forests of urban and rural India, respectively - and on to the spaces (a bus in one case, and an abandoned mill in the heart of the city in the other) and persons supposed to be beyond its purview, that outrage goes national."

They are complicated notions for women such as Pooja, who has little education and whose immediate concern is her safety and the pressures from her husband's family to accept a rapist's bribe. "I don't know why people would protest for her and not for me," she says of the other rape victim, whose ordeal so incensed India. She just knows "nobody ever takes the side of the poor".


Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Mango Party

Last night, Ed and Nicole hosted “The Mango Party” at their house.

As it is now coming up to the end of the Mango season here in India, it was a fitting and fun way to get that last mango fix.

There are even an appearance by “B1” and “B2” – but not the ones you’re thinking of.

Enjoy the photos:

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Today's newspaper article

Today’s article is from “The Telegraph” (UK) and talks about the onion crisis going on in India.


Indian capital Delhi gripped by 'onion war'

India's opposition parties have declared an 'onion war' on the government after prices for the staple curry ingredient soared beyond the reach of the poor.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) activists demonstrate against the spiralling price of onions Photo: SANJEEV GUPTA/EPA

Dean Nelson in New Delhi
4:38PM BST 20 Aug 2013

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the anti-corruption Aam Admi (Common Man) parties have opened greengrocery vans in the capital Delhi to sell heavily subsidised onions to embarrass the government and highlight eye-watering price increases.

Onions are a key ingredient of most Indian dishes and are regarded as a basic right throughout the country. They are also widely regarded as a sensitive political issue – the BJP government collapsed in 1998 amid anger, among other things, over onion prices which hit 60 rupees (60 pence) per kilogramme.

In recent weeks prices have soared to 80 rupees (80 pence) per kilogramme, provoking a political outcry.

The BJP and the Aam Admi Party believe the anger aroused by the shortage and price increase could help oust the ruling Congress Party from power in Delhi's state elections in November.

Their campaign has been dismissed by Delhi's Congress chief minister Sheila Dikshit, who said prices had already started to fall. She criticised the BJP and the AAP, which had opened six inion outlets between them.

The opposition parties are selling their onions for between 25 rupees and 40 rupees per kilo (25 pence), while commercial shops have been selling them for between 60 and 80 rupees.

Mrs Dikshit said government-subsidised greengrocers will sell onions at between 35 and 40 rupees per kilo this week. But anger and desperation are so great that security guards will be deployed to maintain order when the lower-priced onions go on sale.

The BJP's national secretary Anil Jain said his party had learned from bitter experience the power of onions.

"As the main opposition party we are concerned on the growing prices of all the commodities including petroleum products but as there is a strong public sentiment for the onions in India. Onion is very important for all the sections of society in India, particularly the poor, which can survive on just onions and bread," he said.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Is there the potential for conflict on the Indo-Pakistan border ??

An interesting article about the potential for conflict on the Indo-Pakistan border:
Insight: As Afghanistan Endgame Looms, a Deadly Edge to India-Pakistan Rivalry
August 13, 2013
BARAMULLA/NEW DELHI, India — Pakistan-based militants are preparing to take on India across the subcontinent once Western troops leave Afghanistan next year, several sources say, raising the risk of a dramatic spike in tensions between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan.
Intelligence source in India believe that a botched suicide bombing of an Indian consulate in Afghanistan, which was followed within days last week by a lethal cross-border ambush on Indian soldiers in disputed Kashmir, suggest that the new campaign by Islamic militants may already be underway.
Members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant outfit in Pakistan, the group blamed for the 2008 commando-style raid on Mumbai that killed 166 people, told Reuters they were preparing to take the fight to India once again, this time across the region.
And a U.S. counter-terrorism official, referring to the attack in Afghanistan, said “LeT has long pursued Indian targets, so it would be natural for the group to plot against them in its own backyard”.
Given the quiet backing - or at least blind eye - that many militant groups enjoy from Pakistan’s shadowy intelligence services, tensions from a new militant campaign are bound to spill over. Adding to the volatility, the two nations’ armies are trading mortar and gunfire across the heavily militarized frontier that divides Kashmir, and accusing each other of killing troops.
Hindu-majority India and Islamic Pakistan have fought three wars since independence in 1947 and came close to a fourth in 1999. The tension now brewing may not escalate into open hostilities, but it could thwart efforts to forge a lasting peace and open trade between two countries that make up a quarter of the world’s population.
"With the Americans leaving Afghanistan, the restraint on the Pakistani security/jihadi establishment is going too," said a former top official at India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), the external intelligence arm.
"We are concerned about 2014 in either scenario. If the jihadis (Islamist militants) claim success in Afghanistan, they could turn their attention to us. Equally, if they fail, they will attack in wrath."
But Pakistan, which has a border with India to the east and with Afghanistan to the west, has concerns of its own. It sees India’s expansive diplomacy in Afghanistan as a ploy to disrupt it from the rear as it battles its own deadly Islamist militancy and separatist forces. Vying for influence in a post-2014 Afghanistan, it worries about India’s assistance to the Afghan army, heightening a sense of encirclement.
"I’m shocked by these allegations. Pakistan has its own insurgency to deal with. It has no appetite for confrontations abroad," said a Pakistani foreign ministry official referring to the Indian charges of stirring trouble in Afghanistan and on the Kashmir border.
"If anything, we are looking at our mistakes from the past very critically. These accusations are baseless. India needs to act with more maturity and avoid this sort of propaganda."
Both U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry spoke during visits to India recently of the need for New Delhi and Islamabad to resume their stalled peace process as the region heads into a period of uncertainty.
At the core of that uncertainty is the pullback of militants from Afghanistan as U.S. forces head home.
Hafiz Sayeed, founder of the LeT, has left no doubt that India’s side of Kashmir will become a target, telling an Indian weekly recently: “Full-scale armed Jihad (holy war) will begin soon in Kashmir after American forces withdraw from Afghanistan.”
The retreat of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989 brought a wave of guerrillas into Kashmir to fight India’s rule there.
This time the additional risk will be the rivalry between India and Pakistan over Afghanistan itself, one that threatens to become as toxic as the 60-year dispute in Kashmir. The LeT has said it is fighting Indian forces in Afghanistan as well.
A senior LeT source in Pakistan told Reuters: “It is correct that the LeT cooperates with the Afghan Taliban (insurgents) when there is a question of attacking Indian interests.”
Tensions between India and Pakistan escalated last week after five Indian soldiers were killed close to the de facto border in Kashmir. India says Pakistani special forces joined militants to ambush a night patrol, a charge Pakistan denies.
Just days earlier, three men drove an explosives-laden car towards India’s consulate in the Afghan city of Jalalabad, near the border with Pakistan. The blast missed its target and killed nine civilians, six of them young Islamic scholars in a mosque.
It is too early to say conclusively who was behind these and other attacks, but Indian and Afghan officials see in them the handiwork of the LeT and its allies. Such groups have doubled their attempts to cross into Indian-controlled Kashmir this year, according to Indian defense ministry statistics.
The result has been the first increase in Kashmir militant violence since a 2003 ceasefire on the border, which led to a decline in attacks, partly because Pakistan and the jihadi groups were preoccupied with Afghanistan during this time.
In the first eight months of this year, 103 casualties in militant-related violence were recorded in Indian Kashmir, compared to 57 in the same period of 2012, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, a think tank.
LeT was founded in 1990 in eastern Afghanistan by Sayeed, a Pakistani Islamic scholar whom India accuses of masterminding the rampage in Mumbai. The United States placed a $10 million bounty on his head for his alleged role in the attack, but he remains a free man in Pakistan, where he preached to thousands last week.
Although the group has global ambitions, LeT’s primary aim is to end India’s rule in Muslim-majority Kashmir. India and Pakistan each control a part of the heavily militarized land of lakes and orchards once known as “paradise on earth” and both assert claims over the whole Himalayan territory.
LeT has been working this year with several other Islamist outfits to train and push more Pakistani militants over the heavily guarded border into India’s side, a veteran LeT fighter told Reuters in Pakistan.
"Jihad is being stimulated and various militant outfits are cooperating with each other under the platform of the United Jihad Council," said the veteran, referring to an umbrella body.
Pakistan’s new Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, came to power in May vowing to improve ties with India and - until last week’s flare-up along the Kashmir border - the two sides looked set to resume talks. Their prime ministers were planning to meet on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York next month.
The trouble is, says a retired senior Pakistani diplomat, there are “spoilers” on both sides who are not interested in seeing a rapprochement. In Pakistan, these include the militant groups, which he said operate independently.
"They don’t seem to be able to control other non-government actors like the LeT. So that’s the biggest worry," he said.
The Pakistan military’s refusal to dismantle groups such as LeT infuriates New Delhi and fuels hawkish demands for the kind of tough action that would risk escalation.
The senior LeT source in Pakistan denied the group was involved in the failed consulate strike in Afghanistan, but officials in New Delhi - citing intelligence intercepts - said they had been forewarned about LeT-trained hit squads plotting the attack.
Pakistan, whose intelligence agency is regularly accused of quietly supporting Afghan Taliban insurgents, says India’s aid and missions are cover for carrying out covert operations there.
"Jalalabad was a message from the ISI in a long line of such messages," said an Indian intelligence official, referring to Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
Further east, on the line dividing Kashmir between Pakistan and India, ceasefire violations are up 80 percent compared to last year, according to India. On Friday night, the two armies exchanged 7,000 rounds of mortar and gunfire, according to Indian media.
Anti-Indian sentiment in Kashmir provides fertile ground for groups seeking to revive the militancy that roiled the region through the 1990s, but New Delhi has two things in its favor.
First, despite the uptick, violence in the state is still close to the record low it reached last year. Second, the Indian army has to a large extent sealed the rugged, fenced and land-mined border that divides Kashmir, leaving militants with a critically small number of cadres and weapons.
"We cannot send jihadists into India in big numbers like in the past because of tight security at the Indian side," the LeT source in Pakistan said.
Speaking on the lawn of his official bungalow in the restive Indian town of Baramulla, J.P. Singh, the police chief for northern border operations, told Reuters the army and police had stopped most attempted militant crossings this year.
Still, India is preparing for an influx.
"(Pakistan’s) agents and their protégés, the militants, are getting disengaged from the Afghan border and they have nowhere else to keep them and engage them, other than to push them to Kashmir," Singh said. "Their presence inside Pakistan is dangerous for the internal security of Pakistan."


Ever wondered what it's like to live in India ??

To those of you who are curious about what it’s like to live in India, please have a read of the following article.  

Thanks to Bill for bringing this article to our attention. Although it talks about Mumbai, it can apply to anywhere in India.


Mad for Mumbai

Taxis in Mumbai: "I have wept more here than I have ever in my life ... But the longer I stay, the more I seem to relax, let go, let it be." Source: Supplied

Living in India is like having an intense but insane affair, writes expat Catherine Taylor

TONIGHT, as I waved my high heel in the face of a bewildered taxi driver, I thought suddenly: I am absolutely nuts in India. It's a thought I have often.

Someone or something is always going nuts, and quite often it's me.

I was trying to get a taxi driver to take me home, a mere 500 metres away, but it was pouring with rain and my shoes were oh-so-high, and it was late. He, of course, was having none of it; no amount of shoe-waving and sad-facing from a wild-haired firangi was changing his mind, when suddenly I remembered the magic trick - pay more than you should. "Arre, bhai sahab, 50 rupees to Altamount Road? Please?" And off we went.

I have lived in Mumbai for almost three years. It was my choice to come - I wanted offshore experience in my media career and India was the only country looking to hire - and I wanted a change. I needed something new, exciting, thrilling, terrifying. And India gave that to me in spades. In fact, she turned it all the way up to 11. And then she turned it up a little more.

To outsiders, living in India has a particular kind of glamour attached to it, a special sparkle that sees people crowding around me at parties. "You live in India? My God, really? I could never do that. What's it like?" The closest I have come to answering that question is that it's like being in a very intense, extremely dysfunctional relationship. India and I fight, we scream, we argue, we don't speak for days on end, but really, deep down, we love each other. She's a strange beast, this India. She hugs me, so tightly sometimes that I can't breathe, then she turns and punches me hard in the face, leaving me stunned. Then she hugs me again, and suddenly I know everything will be all right.

She wonders why I don't just "know" how things are done, why I argue with her about everything, why I judge, why I rail at injustice and then do nothing about it. She wonders how old I am, how much I earn, why I'm not married. (The poor census man looked at me, stunned, then asked in a faltering voice, "But madam, if you're not married then… who is the head of your household?") I wonder how she can stand by when small children are begging on corners, how she can let people foul up the streets so much that they are impossible to walk along, how she can allow such corruption, such injustice, such A LOT OF HONKING.

But she has taught me things. She has taught me to be brave, bold, independent, sometimes even fierce and terrifying. She has taught me to walk in another man's chappals, and ask questions a different way when at first the answer is no.

She has taught me to accept the things I cannot change. She has taught me that there are always, always, two sides to every argument. And she was kind enough to let me come and stay.

She didn't make it easy though (but then, why should she?). The Foreigner Regional Registration Office, banks, mobile phone companies and rental agencies are drowning under piles of carbon paper, photocopies of passports (I always carry a minimum of three) and the soggy tissues of foreigners who fall to pieces in the face of maddening bureaucracy. What costs you 50 rupees one day might be 500 rupees the next, and nobody will tell you why. What you didn't need to bring yesterday, you suddenly need to bring today. Your signature doesn't look like your signature. And no, we can't help you. Come back tomorrow and see.

It's not easy being here, although I am spoiled by a maid who cooks for me, and a delivery service from everywhere that ensures I rarely have to wave my shoes at taxi drivers. I buy cheap flowers, trawl for gorgeous antiques, buy incredibly cheap books; I have long, boozy brunches in five-star hotels for the price of a nice bottle of wine at home, I have a very nice roof over my head … on the face of it, it would seem I have little to complain about. But then, I am stared at constantly, I have been spat on, sexually harassed, had my (covered) breasts videotaped as I walked through a market, had my drink spiked, been followed countless times. I have wept more here than I have ever in my life, out of frustration, anger, loneliness, the sheer hugeness of being here. But the longer I stay, the more I seem to relax, let go, let it be.

But I do often wonder why I'm here, especially when I'm tired, teary and homesick, my phone has been disconnected for the 19th time despite promises it would never happen again, when it's raining and no taxis will take me home. But then a willing ride always comes along, and we'll turn a corner and be suddenly in the midst of some banging, crashing mad festival full of colour, where everyone is dancing behind a slow-moving truck, and I won't have a clue what's going on but a mum holding a child will dance up to my window and point and smile and laugh, and I breathe out and think, really, my God, this is fantastic. This is India! I live in India! She hugs me, she punches me, and she hugs me again.

Yet I know won't ever belong here, not properly. I know this when I listen to girls discussing what colour blouses they should wear to their weddings - she's Gujarati, he's from the south, she's wearing a Keralan sari. I know when my friends give me house-hunting advice: "Look at the names of the people who already live there, then you'll know what kind of building it is." (Trouble is, I don't know my Kapoors from my Kapurs, my Sippys from my Sindhis, my Khans from my Jains). I know this when my lovely fruit man (who also delivers) begs me to taste a strawberry he is holding in his grubby hands and I have to say no, I can't eat it, I'll die… I know I will never belong because, as stupid as it sounds, being truly, properly Indian is in your DNA. I marvel at how incredibly well educated so many of them are, how they can all speak at least three languages and think it's no big deal, how they fit 1000 people into a train carriage meant for 300 and all stand together quite peacefully, how they know the songs from every Hindi film ever made, how they welcome anyone and everyone (even wild-haired, complaining firangis) into their homes for food, and chai, and more food.

I've seen terrible things - someone fall under a train, children with sliced-off ears, old, old men sitting in the rain nursing half-limbs while they beg, children covered in flies sleeping on the pavement, beggars with no legs weaving themselves through traffic on trolleys, men in lunghis working with their hands in tiny corridors with no fans in sky-high temperatures. I've read heartbreaking things, of gang rapes, corruption, environmental abuse. I've smelled smells that have stripped the inside of my nostrils, stepped over open sewers in markets, watched a goat being bled to death.

I've done things of which I am ashamed, things I never thought I would do. I have slapped a starving child away, I have turned my head in annoyance when beggars have tapped repeatedly on my taxi window, I have yelled at grown men in the face. I have been pinched and pinched back, with force. I have slapped, I have hit, I have pushed. I have screamed in anger. I have, at times, not recognised myself.

I've yelled at a man for kicking a dog, and yelled at a woman who pushed into a line ahead of me when I wasn't at all in a hurry. When a teenage beggar stood at the window of my taxi, saying "F… you madam" over and over, I told him to go f… himself and gave him the finger; once on the train I let a kid keep 100 rupees as change. I am kind and I am cold-hearted, I am fair and I am mean, I am delightful and I am downright rude. I am all of these at once and I distress myself wildly over it, but somehow, India accepts me. She has no time for navel-gazing foreigners; she just shoved everyone along a bit and made room for me. She has no time to dwell on my shortcomings, she just keeps moving along.

And then, and then. I've been to temples where I've sung along with old women who had no teeth, I've held countless smiling ink-marked babies for photos, I've had unknown aunties in saris smile and cup my face with their soft, wrinkled hands, I've made street vendors laugh when I've choked on their spicy food, I've danced through the streets at Ganpati, fervently sung the national anthem (phonetically) in cinemas, had designers make me dresses, I've met with CEOs and heads of companies just because I asked if I could. She hugs, she punches, she hugs again.

In short, I have been among the luckiest of the lucky. She keeps me on my toes, Ms India, and I have been blessed that she let me stay for a while. She wanted me to succeed here and she gave me grand opportunities and endless second chances. She willed me forward like a stern parent. She welcomed me. And when I leave, because I know I will one day, I will weep, because I will miss her terribly. And because I know she won't even notice that I am gone.


Today's newspaper articles

Today’s collection of articles are from “The Telegraph” (UK), “The Australian” and “The Independent”.

They cover a variety of topics.


Indian Raja's descent from palace to mud hut

A former playboy Raja of one of India's princely states is living as a pauper on the charity of commoners who were once his subjects.

Raja Brajraj Kshatriya Birbar Chamupati Singh, the last surviving former ruler in Orissa, now lives in a mud hut. Photo: RANJIT KUMAR PATNAIK

By Dean Nelson, New Delhi
8:44PM BST 12 Aug 2013

Raja Brajraj Kshatriya Birbar Chamupati Singh, Mahapatra of Tigiria, the last surviving former ruler in Orissa, was once the life and soul of India's royal party circuit.

He kept a fleet of 25 vintage luxury cars and lived in palace with 30 servants. He married a princess and was known throughout India for his prowess as a 'shikari' - a big game hunter - whose records are that he shot 13 tigers and 28 leopards.

But today, aged 92, he lives alone in a home described as a 'mud hut' with a leaking roof and curtains of cobwebs, left by his wife and six children to the mercy of the villagers who bring him rice and lentils for lunch.

Fellow royal, Jayant Madaraj, Raja of neighbouring Nilgiri, said he had known his former fellow royal since childhood when he was a close friend of his father. He had been known then for his generosity, his love of whisky jaunts to Calcutta, and his passion for fast cars and motorbikes.

But his fortunes waned after Indian independence when he lost his state's tax revenues and was given a privy purse of £130 pounds a year instead.

He was forced to sell his palace in 1960 for £900 and later separated from his wife. In 1975, the late prime minister Indira Gandhi withdrew the last remaining royal privileges and he lost his annual income.

According to Raja Jayant Madaraj, his remaining properties were taken over by one of his children, and he was left with nothing but the shack he now lives in on a plot owned by his estranged wife.

One of his children, Rajkumar Bijoy Pratap Singh Deo, told The Telegraph he and some of his siblings were still in occasional contact with their father.

His survival on charity marks the final demise of a family which seized power in the tiny state in 1246 AD. His ancestors support for the Maratha rulers was so highly appreciated that they issued an order that the Raja always be transported by elephants and heralded by black flags, drums and bugles. The protocol was observed by British Raj officials.

Raja Jayant Madaraj said he was one of the last - if not the very last - Rajas who had actually ruled a state when India became independent.

"He is now in very bad times but the local people are looking after him.

"His family are not interested in him. Most of his properties have been taken away and are controlled by his son. He has been manipulated and cheated. He is staying in a farm house which is like a mud hut.

"He remembers everything from when he was ruling. He was a very active person, he used to ride horses and motorbikes through the village. But now he's not in a position to move around," he said.

In an interview with the Indian Express, the former Raja of Tigiria recalled treasured memories of being one of India's ruling elite.

"I would often visit Calcutta with my friend, the former King of Puri, and stay at the Majestic and Great Eastern Hotel there. I would drink to my heart's content and have a good time. If a new car came on the market, I had to buy it. I owned 25 cars and jeeps, including a Roadmaster, Chevrolet and a Packard. We had 30 servants," he said.

Despite his spectacular fall from grandeur, he remained happy, he said.

"Then I was the king. Now I'm a pauper. But I have no regrets whatsoever."


The sahib of cinema: Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan

Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan is worth more than $US600 million and has an estimated fan base of one billion. Source: AP

A scene from Bollywood film Chennai Express. Source: Supplied

IT'S almost midnight in sticky, monsoonal Mumbai and the car containing arguably the world's most famous actor is racing a fat yellow moon reflected in the serene Arabian Sea.

Shah Rukh Khan - India's snake-hipped superstar of romance, worth $US600 million and with an estimated fan base of more than one billion - leans back in his seat, his silhouette wreathed in a cloud of cigarette smoke. Immaculate in a crisp grey suit, dyed black hair swept up in a luxurious bouffant tapering into a tiny ponytail, the man Newsweek named as one of the world's 50 most powerful people and who the Los Angeles Times dubbed "perhaps the world's biggest movie star", sits in a serene bubble of calm, cradling a tiny glass of black coffee with an elbow propped on a favourite pile of books.

We're racing through the wet, oily streets of Bandra, home to the biggest stars of Bollywood, India's $2.2 billion film industry. A pack of paparazzi is chasing us on motorbikes, honking horns and occasionally thumping the boot of the gleaming white BMW with its instantly recognisable "555" plates, but Khan seems impervious.

King Khan, as he's popularly known, is on his way tonight to the premiere of a new movie, Issaq, hosted by his producer friend Jayantilal Gada. Shorter than you'd imagine, at 1.73cm, Khan is courtly, charismatic and softly spoken. Chain-smoking relentlessly, he chats about his passion for books, the "very strange" cultural phenomenon of his fame, his string of bad habits ("I smoke too much, eat too little"), his political clout as arguably the most famous Muslim actor in the world, the Bollywood phenomenon ("we do superheroes, social justice movies ... our diversity and long history since the Lumiere brothers showed their films here after Paris makes us the world's best filmmaking nation") and India's complex attitude towards sexuality. "It's such a dichotomous country," he purrs in that husky, honeyed voice immortalised in more than 75 Hindi films. "You have the Kama Sutra, and then you have film censorship showing bees or flowers instead of people kissing." I smother a cough in the smoky car: the blacked-out windows are always up, I'm told, because fans have tried to reach in to claw at the superstar.

In a country that worships film stars as deities, Khan is perhaps the biggest and most revered figure in the pantheon: during Eid, the festival marking the end of Ramadan, his millions of Muslim fans have been known to watch his latest blockbuster up to three times in a day in a quasi-religious celebratory ritual. Influential Indian film critic Anupama Chopra has described him as a "modern-day god. On the streets in India, his posters are sold alongside those of religious deities. Temples have been erected in his name."

After a 16-hour flight from Sydney and a mad dash from Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji airport through this most cinematic of cities - a passing scroll of shiny studios and slums, giant billboards and garlanded trucks - I witness the cult of Shah Rukh Khan firsthand after getting a late-night ride with the man himself from his seaside mansion Mannat to the Infiniti Mall in Andheri West. Immediately the car pulls in, his bodyguards swing open the car door to a sea of screaming fans lining the red carpet: flashbulbs explode in starry, retina-scorching patterns, chants of "Shah Rukh, Shah Rukh" merge into a hypnotic vortex of sound. Warm bodies push in frighteningly; when I stumble a member of his entourage rescues me with a hooked arm.

Some of Bollywood's most powerful figures are here tonight, including superstar action film rival Aamir Khan (a third Khan, Salman, facing a culpable homicide trial later this month over a driving fatality, makes up Bollywood's Muslim superstar trinity). But it is SRK, as he's known, who attracts the eyeballs. In a lift taking us to the private film screening, a young woman asks tentatively for a photo: when he obliges, she is tearily overcome. (Later, an ancient birdlike woman presses her face to the car window and salaams in awe. "Have a good life," he wishes her as crowds part to let his car through.)

Khan is described as "brand SRK" in India. His suave visage - boyish dimples, purply cupid's bow lips and hooked Pathan warrior's nose - smiles down from giant billboards all over this ancient crumbling maritime city of 20 million people; his friends range from actor Hugh Jackman, whose muscled torso on billboards for The Wolverine rivals SRK's for ubiquity in Mumbai this week ("a very sweet guy; he came to dinner at Mannat") and 20th Century Fox's Jim Gianopulos to billionaire Indian industrialist Mukesh Ambani. Earlier, in the fortress-like compound of Mannat, a tourist landmark where hundreds of fans gather every Sunday to see Khan wave regally from the balcony, I witness the workings of the well-oiled machinery behind his public image. Mannat is home to his teenage children Suhana and Aryan and infant son AbRam (born in a storm of controversy in May via surrogate), his Hindu wife Gauri, sister Lala Rukh Khan and a domestic retinue of chefs, bodyguards, stylists, managers and drivers. It has its own fevered microclimate and rhythm: frantic staff push racks of designer suits, fine-tune military-style schedules.

The workaholic, insomniac actor has been on the move all day, spruiking his latest movie - the huge, lavishly colourful Chennai Express (it has just opened in Australia as part of Indian cinema's biggest ever worldwide release). Rarely alone, he paces his mansion late at night, enjoying the rare luxury of "time spent just with myself. People think I'm lonely but when else could I do it?"

Time, it seems, is this cinema titan's most precious commodity. He tells me plaintively he never has time to watch movies in the home theatre he built, that there are rooms in Mannat he doesn't even know about because "I'm never here enough". While I'm waiting at my hotel, my interview with the star is cancelled a number of times before I'm rushed to his high-security home: on arrival I'm told sternly I'll have just 15 minutes with Khan in the car taking him to the Issaq premiere (luckily, he invites me to watch the film with him and we continue to talk on the ride back).

The next day, he's off on a regional three-city promotional tour before heading to Dubai and London. A burgeoning Indian diaspora ensures his fame is just as intense overseas. Chennai Express director Rohit Shetty says it's fuelled by a deep nostalgia for the idealised, traditional Indian values of his movies: "It's strange that our most popular overseas actor does our most Indian films, isn't it?" A shoot in New York's Grand Central Station in 2005 had to be cancelled when security was overwhelmed by thousands of fans. He sells out Wembley Stadium in minutes.

In this jaded age, it's intriguing to behold this level of fame, which Khan has leveraged adroitly to turn himself into India's - and perhaps the world's - most bankable star. He understands the value of having a larger-than-life public image: it explains that hyper-real, almost surreal superstar persona of dark glasses and sharp suits. He quotes friend Quentin Tarantino as saying: "If you don't have a film industry with heroes and heroines to look up to, it won't survive." In Bollywood, that old-school mystique is still very much alive.

Hollywood stars, he muses, don't experience this level of deification because "being a movie star there is still just a job. But in India, anyone who can take you away from reality is given a demigod-like status." Far from finding this suffocating, he says he loves being a movie star, though the hysteria he attracts can constrain family life (his kids don't want him to accompany them to The Wolverine premiere the following night, he tells me ruefully).

Khan maintains his legend through sheer availability, tirelessly tweeting and signing autographs. This hard work has yielded him great wealth, though the actor, a self-mythologiser and dissembler who likes hiding behind a shield of self-deprecation (he has said he's just "an employee of the Shah Rukh Khan myth") tells me, wide-eyed, he doesn't understand this hungry, clamouring thing that is fame.

He insists he's no businessman and that he is supremely disorganised. "Deep down," he says with a sigh, "all I know to do is act." "That's not true," his assistant Pooja retorts - and Pooja is right, if the sheer size of the business empire built by this smart actor with an economics degree (he has strong friendships with India's billionaire Birla, Tata and Ambani business dynasties) is any guide. Forbes India brands him "Shah Rukh Inc" courtesy of a sprawling corporate kingdom that includes co-ownership of the glamorous Indian Premiere League cricket team Kolkata Knight Riders, film special effects production, dancing at society weddings for reported fees of up to $500,000 ("I'm a performing monkey," he once quipped), children's amusement parks, international concert tours (he'll perform in Australia in October), and endless product endorsements ranging from Pepsi to luxury watchmaker Tag Heuer.

More prized than all this, perhaps, is the public platform he's been given to voice his opinions. In India, when Khan talks, people listen, and this year he's spoken out on everything from the gang rape and murder of a young woman in New Delhi that shocked the world to the occasional downside of being a Muslim actor in a predominantly Hindu nation of 1.2 billion people.

The son of a Peshawar activist, the actor sparked a fiery diplomatic war of words between Pakistan and India this year after writing in a local magazine that he rued the fact he sometimes "becomes the inadvertent object of political leaders who choose to make me a symbol of all that they think is wrong and unpatriotic about Muslims in India".The public reaction over this perceived discrimination was so heated, Pakistan's interior minister Rehman Malik offered him asylum, only for an angry Indian Home Secretary RK Singh to advise Rehman "to worry about the security of his own country's citizens". Khan was forced to release a statement to clarify his words; his face darkens when he talks about this "extremely stupid" affair - sparked by "an irresponsible journalist who hadn't even read the f . . king article: too often my words are twisted and misinterpreted, so perhaps I should stay quiet".

As one of the country's most prominent Muslims and a moderate one at that - he describes himself as "modern, educated and extremely liberal" - he's felt obliged to speak out but has often found himself in the crosshairs of "angry bigots on both sides seeking to score political points".

Hindu nationalist party Shiv Sena members demonstrated outside his home following the release of My Name is Khan, his 2010 film tackling anti-Muslim discrimination in post-9/11 America. Ironically he was held up and interrogated by American airport officials while on a promotional tour for the film and, amazingly, was interrogated again in another trip to the US last year, earning a grovelling apology from the US embassy (later he quipped that whenever he feels arrogant, he goes to America "because the immigration guys kick the star out of stardom").

Born in New Delhi in 1965 to middle-class parents, Khan launched his film career in Mumbai in the 1992 blockbuster Deewana. His big breakthrough came in 1995's international romantic blockbuster Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge; through the years, however, he's played everything from a NASA scientist in 2004's Swades to a sci-fi superhero in 2011's Ra.One. In his latest film, Chennai Express, Khan is rebooting his brand with a return to high-octane action as a classic "masala" film hero who combats villainy and finds true love on a comic, adventure-filled train journey to south India. It represents an astute move by Khan to tap into an old-school type of Bollywood filmmaking that's increasingly popular with nostalgic Indian audiences.

He's the first to concede he's not the most handsome or talented actor in Bollywood (critics have praised his raw energy but he's also been derided for overacting and having "five expressions to play about with"). So what is it that fuels his enduring popularity in a country so deeply divided by caste and religion?

Smiling, Khan, winner of 13 Filmfare awards and the 2005 Padma Shri award for contributions to cinema, attributes it to the fact he is deeply flawed: "My friends say I'm like a kid, silly and impudent. I smoke too much, I fight with my wife." It's all said with a disingenuousness that masks a keen native intelligence and the great effort he's put into crafting this down-to-earth image.

Observers have noted the appeal of his clean, largely scandal-free image and his "prominent secularism" in a religious tinderbox of a nation. According to Indian writer Harish Dugh, Khan, as a young Muslim outsider with no family connections and never afraid to send himself up, was the first in the Bollywood pantheon to demystify stardom. The industry was "transformed by SRK singlehandedly into an entity that caters to people's desire to see their superstars reflect their own weaknesses, pain and anguish", Dugh says.

Khan has also benefited from a happy accident of good timing: he rose to fame during India's breakneck era of liberalisation in the 1990s, the glamorous clothes and overseas locations of his yuppie blockbusters suiting the cultural embrace of Western-style consumerism. However, he's also adroitly cultivated that everyman touch in public. The only strange thing about him is that "I wear make-up in the morning", he says. He stresses his careless disregard for the whole shiny, glittering carapace of fame and wealth: if he lost his "nice big car and house" tomorrow, he'd just go back to riding his scooter or taking one of Mumbai's ubiquitous rickshaws. He's grateful for surviving multiple setbacks - from crippling injuries to business failures to reported harassment from Mumbai's underworld: "though don't mention that", says his publicist - and, at 47, describes himself as an ultra-competitive workaholic.

He has no regrets, he says, about turning down a role in Slumdog Millionaire because it conflicted with hosting India's version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, though he says firmly that he thought of turning Vikas Swarup's book into a film well before director Danny Boyle, only to find out "Fox had sewn up the rights".

Asked why he keeps spruiking and sealing deals, he offers the same reason he keeps making movies: "Why have limits?" For the moment, he's ruled out a political career ("I don't think I'm suited for it") and remains passionate about acting and the future of an industry that celebrated its centenary in May, exactly 100 years after the country's first feature film, Raja Harishchandra, directed by DG Phalke, was shown in Mumbai.

The Indian cinema industry is the biggest movie ticket market in the world, with 3.3 billion tickets sold every year and an output of 1200 films annually (Hollywood produces 500 films a year on average and has a worldwide audience of 2.6 billion). But these figures mask some emerging financial woes, with industry insiders estimating that as little as 5 per cent of Bollywood films have made money in recent times.

Khan is confident the industry will adapt to a rapidly changing environment that's seen the influx of Western film studios such as 20th Century Fox and Disney, the digitisation of screens and the rise of multiplexes. He sharply refutes recent comments by veteran actor Rishi Kapoor and indie darling Anurag Kashyap slamming "trashy" Bollywood films as acting as a kind of opiate to dull Indians' recognition of the country's harsher realities. Hard-hitting is good, certainly - and there are plenty of films being made in India that serve that purpose, he says - but what's wrong with a bit of escapism? "I tell you honestly that if you had the real life that most Indians had, please excuse them for watching what they want when they want to be entertained."

There is nothing wrong with happy endings, he adds defensively - he believes most of the world's greatest poetry and literature, even the intense works of the Russian authors he loves such as Leo Tolstoy and Ivan Turgenev, derive their enduring magic from endings that show "that the protagonist will get by, even if he or she dies". He defends, too, Bollywood's often melodramatic boy-meet-girl plots ("How is it different to Shakespeare's timeless Romeo and Juliet?") and the industry's sometimes cheesy song-and-dance numbers (no different from Hollywood musicals of the 60s, he says firmly, and a valid cultural expression of India's early nautanki folk operatic theatre tradition of storytelling that lives on not just in its film traditions but in the country's unselfconscious love of public celebration).

There's room for improvement in his beloved industry, certainly: he'd like to see India produce its own Slumdog Millionaire and Gandhi, movies with higher production values and special effects (he set up his production company Red Chillies Entertainments for this purpose), and tap into its vast, neglected youth market to fight off the competition posed by television and international film (Hollywood films make up only 7 per cent to 9 per cent of box office at present).

There' s much to be excited about, however: mirroring the great social and economic changes reshaping India, Bollywood's increasing diversity has seen recent hits such as Barfi!, featuring disabled protagonists, and the small-budget Vicky Donor, a romcom about sperm donation, as well as gritty Mumbai noir films such as Kashyap's Gangs of Wasseypur and upcoming social justice epic Satyagraha.

Internationally, there are new growth markets such as Australia, now the fifth biggest overseas market, according to Chennai Express's Australian distributor Mitu Bhowmick Lange. A report by KPMG predicts Bollywood will grow from $2.2bn to $3.6bn in the next five years.

Khan taps the window and gestures to the crowd outside: there are hoots and hollers, an excited roar as the car slows down. "Their fantasies are - can I get married and be happy? Can I own a small car and not worry about petrol prices? Life can be very hard in India, so for two hours, I'll give them real fantasy," he says.

Chennai Express, showing nationally.

Sharon Verghis travelled to Mumbai courtesy of UTV Motion Pictures.


'My husband tried to force me to abort my twin girls': Doctor's charge inflames India's fight for gender equality

Sunday 11 August 2013

Mitu Khurana says she is fighting for a better India for her daughters and all pregnant women

When Mitu Khurana found out she was pregnant with twins, she should have been overcome with joy. But, she says, her discovery marked the start of a cruel campaign by her husband and in-laws during which she was ignored, deprived of food, verbally and physically abused and pressured to abort her babies – because they were girls.

The 36-year-old doctor is believed to be the first woman in Delhi, India, to bring a criminal case against her husband, his mother and brother, and members of the medical establishment for finding out the sex of her unborn twins – an act that is banned in India. But her complaint is also being described as one of "grave national importance" that involves the doctor leading a nationwide struggle for gender equality.

India officially condemns the practice of female foeticide, and prenatal scanning to determine a baby's sex has been banned for almost two decades. But the government's own figures, as well as Dr Khurana's high-profile allegation, suggest the practice has not been stamped out.

Overall, there are around 940 females for every 1,000 males in India, according to the most recent census. The disparity is even more striking when you look at the child sex ratio, which has widened in the past decade. There are around 914 girls to every 1,000 boys, the lowest ratio since 1947, the year of India's independence. In some high-income areas, such as Delhi, the gap is even wider. In 2011, there were around 870 girls to every 1,000 boys in thecity.

Experts put the decline in the number of females down to neglect, high maternal mortality and the killing of female babies and foetuses – a trend thought in part to be motivated by India's historical dowry system, as well as a strong preference for sons and increased use of sex-selective technology. UN Women said the "dramatic fall" in the sex ratio at birth is of "significant concern" for India.

Dr Khurana says her husband, Kamal, and his family tricked her into having a prenatal scan to determine the sex of her foetuses in 2005 and then tried to pressurise her into aborting them. All family members deny the accusations and have been granted bail. They will appear before a district court, with a representative of Jaipur Golden Hospital, where the scan is alleged to have taken place, later this month.

Two doctors named in the complaint have appealed to the High Court and proceedings against them have been stayed, according to Dr Khurana's lawyer, Sujatha Balachander, from one of India's top law firms, which is taking on the case free of charge.

Dr Khurana told The Independent on Sunday that the abuse she suffered during her pregnancy included being pushed down the stairs by her husband, locked in a room and denied medication and bed-rest. "They said I should have an abortion because I was an educated woman and would not want a third child... [which would mean] no son to carry on the family name. They also said they would have to pay a dowry to get the daughters married," she said.

Mitu Khurana with one of her baby girls

After lodging her complaint, Dr Khurana left her husband. She said giving birth to her daughters made everything worthwhile. "It has made me stronger and more confident. My parents and my daughters are my inspiration and strength," she said. "Things are changing. Women are coming forward. They are speaking out against abuse, but a lot needs to be done. The system is still patriarchal and wants to suppress any voice of women. Many times, I still get blamed for what happened."

Dr Khurana filed her complaint under India's Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, which bans prenatal sex determination. Anyone found guilty is liable to up to three years in prison and a fine. But the conviction rate under the Act lags at about 6 per cent. Sushma Kapoor from UN Women's Office for India said: "The small number of cases brought to court is [due to] the lack of a cultural shift in the preference for sons." She added: "Existing patriarchal values and mindsets compound the problem."

Ms Balachander added that she blamed the dowry system, which she said is "pretty much plaguing society as far as the girl child is concerned". She added that Dr Khurana has also issued a complaint of dowry harassment against her husband and her mother-in-law, which the state is also processing.

Dr Kamal Khurana, an orthopaedic surgeon, has denied the charges. He said: "These allegations are false. She is trying to ruin me and my career. I don't know why she is making these allegations. There was no demand for dowry, there was no physical abuse." He referred to a report from the chief district medical officer, which concluded that "there was no direct and/or circumstantial evidence of sex determination" at Jaipur Golden Hospital. Dr Kiran Chawla, the head of quality control at the hospital, said: "This is a very respectable hospital. No such tests are done and anyone making such claims is wrong."

Mitu Khurana disputes the report's findings. "I have to fight to hand over a better world and better society for my daughters," she said.