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Archives for India

Goa: Paradise Lost?

Mar
24
2008

On 18th February, a young British schoolgirl, named Scarlett Keeling, was found dead on a beach in Goa, a western Indian state extremely popular with foreigners, especially those on shoestring budgets looking for sun and sand.

What, at first, was hurriedly passed off as a case of drowning due to inebriation later turned out, at the insistent calls for further investigation by her mother, Fiona MacKeown, to be rape and murder.

The unfortunate incident made headlines, both in India and abroad, pretty much displacing stories of Madeleine McCann, the young girl abducted in Portugal in the British tabloids. Suddenly, Goa – the perfect holiday haven, that attracts millions of foreign tourists each year, a majority of them British – is not being talked about for its sandy beaches, great food, or for its quaint churches, but for all that is wrong – sex, drugs, rave parties and mafia connections – with this seemingly perfect tourist spot.

The Goa of today is very different from its hippy days of the 1960s, it now attracts all kinds of tourists, including gap year students. But Scarlett Keeling was one of the millions of young men and women looking for cheap accommodation and wild partying who end up in Goa. Scarlett, according to police reports was no stranger to this scene, even at 15. In her diary she is said to have written, in graphic detail, all about sex and the hallucinogenic drugs that she took even when back home in Britain – before leaving on the six-month trip to India.

The day Scarlett was killed, she had been partying alone with local men till the wee hours of the morning, high on a cocktail of drugs. This doesn’t, of course, condone what happened, but, the fact that she was a minor and alone did lead many to wonder what her mother was thinking. She had decided to leave Scarlett by herself in Goa in the “care” of a local tour guide without any money or a mobile phone, while the rest of the family – the mother, her boyfriend and six other children – toured adjoining Indian states. MacKeown has denied negligence and said that, in hindsight, she was simply too trusting – that was her only mistake. She also claims this huge cover-up of her daughter’s death involves high officials in the government and the police, who are protecting powerful drug dealers.

That may or may not be true, but the fact of the matter is that leaving her minor, drug-addicted daughter alone in a foreign land without money even for accommodation was not the smartest thing for a mother to do. MacKeown has, thus, had to appear in court to answer questions of negligence.

But the incident has revealed a more sinister aspect to Goa’s partying. There’s always been an easy access to drugs, but the state has become an international hub-of-sorts for drug trafficking, primarily to Europe. And minors are often carriers, since they are the least suspected. It’s not surprising then, that increasingly, foreigners are being arrested for their involvement in local crime, and many have even lost their lives due to drug use.

The mystery of Scarlett’s murder is still not solved, though there have been some arrests, Whether this was a case involving the drug lords is hard to say. The point, however, is that the death has forced the government to address some pressing issues about tourist and locals’ behavior and the growing presence of illegal activity. Some policing has been stepped up since the murder, with enforcement and restrictions on alcohol sales and partying but cleaning up is not going to be easy, since the drug trade is rampant in the state and it’s clearly been done with the knowledge and involvement of local officials.

Meanwhile, Goa is trying to get back to normal. But with some new restrictions in force, locals say that it may not be the same again. Many worry that Goa’s image has taken a beating with the news of Scarlett’s murder and her mother’s behavior. Still, even with the headlines, tour operators in Britain disagree, saying that chartered flights from Britain are still landing into the state, which is nearing the end of its tourist season.

Posted by Gopika Kaul at 10:04 AM | Permalink

The Distressed Farmer

Mar
16
2008

On 29th February, the Indian Finance Minister Mr. P. Chidambaram, announced the yearly budget and, as expected, a series of heated debates ensued. One of the biggest points of discussion centered around a Rs. 600 billion ($15 billion) bank loan waiver for debt-ridden farmers, 150,000 of whom have been driven to suicide between 1997 and 2005.

At the outset it seems like a perfect gift – write off the debts that are driving farmers to commit suicides, and the problem, at least partially, is solved: Farmers aren’t in debt, their troubles are mitigated. For Chidambaram’s supporters, the waiver is hailed as unprecedented and generous. But there are those who offer valid counterpoints and wonder how many desperate farmers this would actually end up helping.

Take, for instance, the cotton-growing region of Vidarbha, one of the worst hit in terms of crop failure and farmer suicides. Statistics here are grim: a staggering 30,000 suicides since 1997; some three suicides a day for the last two years. The waiver does little for these farmers, who, in the absence of access to institutional credit, have mostly taken loans from private moneylenders. For these farmers, and others in the country who have relied on private lenders, not banks, the government-sponsored waiver is of no use. In fact, suicides in this region have continued even after the announcement.

The waiver is applicable primarily to those who have less than two hectares of land, which, automatically cuts out about fifty percent of the farmers in Vidarbha, whose holders are generally larger than the prescribed limit. Having more land, unfortunately, does not make a wealthier farmer, since in a lot of the areas the land is un-irrigated and uncultivable. Also, majority of farmlands are owned by families, rather than individuals. So even a wretchedly poor farmer would own – or share ownership – of more than two hectares.

What’s worse, is that there is a clause for farmers with larger holdings to receive a twenty-five percent rebate – but only after they pay seventy-five percent of their loan. This latter point has been criticized as nothing short of cruel, since it is clear that these despondent farmers have no means to pay back the seventy-five percent. For many this generous “offer” is worthless. At the end of the day only a small percentage of farmers will actually benefit. And that’s only if the funds do not end up in the deep pockets of corrupt bank officials. Then there’s the worry that those farmers who did pay off their loans would feel discouraged to do so in the future.

P. Sainath – an award winning journalist – has pointed out that the suffering of farmers in Vidarbha was one of the reasons the waiver idea arose in the first place. The irony is, that those very farmers are to gain nothing from the announcement, their plight still as desperate as ever.

Clearly, the waiver is a remedy, at best, not a cure. And a cure is what is really needed. Even if we were to assume that majority of the farmers would benefit from this largesse – as opposed to the small majority that will benefit as it stands right now – what’s next? Under the current scheme, once the loans are written off, the farmers are eligible for fresh loans. But this would only lead the farmer into yet another cycle of debt, and soon, they’d be back to square one.

The crux of the matter is that though India’s GDP has grown at a rate of 8 to 9 percent each year for the past 4 or so years, this surge in prosperity has left out rural India. The waivers, meant as an attempt to correct that imbalance, are far enough from being a solution that it’s causing its own set of problems.

Posted by Gopika Kaul at 9:19 PM | Permalink

A Neverending Wait

Mar
3
2008

If you’ve been newly married and your soldier husband either goes missing in action or is taken prisoner during a war, how long would you wait for him to return?

For many Indian women, the answer is: a lifetime. And beyond.

Paramjit Kaur, a woman living in the Western Indian state of Punjab, waited thirty-five years.

Her husband, Kashmir Singh, who was arrested in 1973 by Pakistani authorities on charges of espionage, and who has since been on death row suffering in Pakistani jails, is set to return to India. He has received a pardon from Pakistan President, General Pervez Musharraf, and is finally going home to his wife and to the grown up kids he does not know. Even sadder, he is said to have become mentally unstable after years of solitary confinement.

India and Pakistan – the latter being created after India won independence from the British in 1947 – have fought three wars: in 1965, 1971 and more recently, in 1999. And there are claims that both countries hold, even today, prisoners of war from those conflicts – something both deny. In the last four years, both have released prisoners, mostly been civilians who had strayed on the wrong sides of the border so it’s no wonder the families of the missing continue to hope they’ll be found.

Last year General Musharraf, in an effort to prove his country wasn’t holding prisoners, invited relatives of Indian soldiers, who went missing after that 1971 India-Pakistan war, to visit Pakistani jails and check for themselves. Not surprisingly, they returned dejected, and heart broken, and still without answers concerning the whereabouts of their loved ones. Many knew not to expect much, but went looking for answers to get some sort of closure, like Damayanti Tambay – who was twenty-three when her husband disappeared and was apparently taken prisoner. But, despite years of effort, she never heard from him or found out what happened to him later.

By that measure, Paramjit Kaur is lucky, if you can call it that, because though there have been some unusual exchanges of POWs in the past, there are still many who wait, and will probably keep doing so – even in vain.

Kashmir Singh, learning he had been pardoned, wanted to get his suit ready to meet his wife. And his relatives wait eagerly too (though his mother died two months ago after praying for years for his return).

It’s been a long wait, a wait that’s over for him but not for hundreds of others – both in India and Pakistan – who may never cross that border to go home.

Posted by Gopika Kaul at 1:26 PM | Permalink

Sail Away….

Feb
25
2008

If you love speed and you live in India, there’s little you can do on its crowded roads.

So, the rich have found a way around this challenge; they’ve taken to the water. It’s the new craze – zip away from the madding crowd in a glittering yacht, complete with all the luxuries.

This new passion is what makes much-anticipated events like the second International Boat Exhibition, to be held in Mumbai from the 28th of this month, all sold out affairs. It’s a chance for manufacturers of leading brands to showcase their top-of-the line products, which, needless to add, fetch astronomical prices. It’s only the second year for this exhibition, but, apparently, a whopping $100 million has already been spent, between last year and now, by the rich and famous on buying the latest floating objects-of-desire.

The change that’s taken place is interesting. Yachts were once seen as playthings meant only for likes of Vijay Mallya - popularly known as India’s Richard Branson – who owns, among others, the Indian Empress, a boat costing over a $100 million. Smaller version of this wonder are now being bought by the “common” people. That’s common, of course, compared to Mr. Mallya, but still filthy rich. To reach as many customers as possible, the boat exhibition offerings start at a few thousand dollars, going up to millions.

This is why yacht clubs are said to be the next big thing in India. The country, being a peninsula, has over four thousand miles of coastline just waiting to be explored by avid holiday goers – well-off Indians who are looking for new ways to de-stress, live it up, and spend their money.

To add to this, this year the Volvo Ocean Race (once known as the Whitbread Round the World race and co-sponsored by the British Royal Navy Sailing Association) has included Kochi – a pretty city in the picturesque South Indian state of Kerala – as one of its stopovers. It’s considered a matter of pride, since this high-profile race, held every four years, is popularly seen as the one of the ultimate sailing events. And its stop in India – a first – is bound to fuel further interest in Indian sailing.

What is needed now is infrastructure, particularly marinas. Right now you could own a million dollar boat, but you’d still have to hop your way to it. As with much of the country, finding a place to put things – cars, people, houses – is an issue. It may be a recent craze but there are already too many boats and not enough parking spaces, especially in Mumbai.

That will change soon, as a number of marinas are slated to be built over the next few years.

So, while the roads are too crowded to zip about – even for those who own Audis or Porches- Indian waters are still largely unexplored. For now.

Posted by Gopika Kaul at 1:22 AM | Permalink

Dirty Pretty Things

Feb
11
2008

In the film ‘Dirty Pretty Things’, Audrey Tautou – playing a desperate Turkish immigrant in London – almost loses her kidney in exchange for a British passport. At the last moment though, she manages to escape the horrific operation that was to be performed in a seedy London hotel.

Many of India’s poor, however, have not been as lucky. A kidney scam, that shocked the country last month, has revealed that hundreds of poor, mostly laborers, have lost their organs, either willingly, for money, or unwillingly, by being duped and forced by a doctor and his accomplices.

Organ trade is not new, having been in the news before; the fact that there thrives a big black market worth millions of dollars, is no secret. It was something that gained momentum in India in the 1970′s, after drugs that controlled the body’s rejection of foreign objects were developed. Many of India’s poor were (and still are) willing to trade their organs for money, and so started an international racket where patients from richer countries, who could found few donors in their own backyard, were supplied with organs from third world nations like India.

So the question is, why were Indians so shocked when this case came to light?

Maybe because this time it’s been happening in North India’s IT city of Gurgaon – a rich Delhi suburb, home to million-dollar penthouses and multinational companies like Microsoft. And India, with its arrival, so to speak, on the global stage, is more conscious of its image and reacts strongly to such incidents.

Dr. Amit Kumar, the main accused, was found to be running an illegal clinic in an elite part of the suburb, where about five hundred unfortunate, poverty-ridden laborers were undergoing operations and having their kidneys removed, most against their will. These were then sold to rich Indians or foreigners.

This illegal trade proved very lucrative for Dr. Kumar, whose wife and children live in Canada, as reported by the Toronto Star, in a large house in suburban Brampton, near Toronto – he is said to have bought the house last year for $610,000, and when he visits, he drives a leased $65,000 Lexus 350 SUV.

The police raided his Gurgaon clinic on January 24th, but Dr. Kumar – now being called Dr. Horror – had been tipped off and had fled; he apparently kept the political and law enforcement machinery well oiled with bribes, and thus, didn’t think he could be detained. This incident, however, became something of a national shame and the media covered it actively. After a massive international manhunt he was found in the bordering country of Nepal, and has now been deported to India. What happens now, remains to be seen. The Indian court system is notoriously slow.

Still, this case brings up many disturbing issues. One, of course, is of the long-suspected and despicable nexus of corruption and bribes between the police, politicians and illegal organ traders like Kumar whose history speaks volumes about the ease with which India’s wealthy citizens bribe their way out of trouble. It’s clear, looking at Kumar’s history, that a multi-million dollar racket such as this one could not have operated without the tacit consent of the authorities. And that is what is deplorable as well as worrying.

Kumar was first arrested way back in 1994 when he was suspected of running similar illegal trades in Mumbai – India’s financial capital. And he’s had many brushes with the law in the 14 years since. In 2000 another one of his clinics was raided, but not much came of that either. At one point, Kumar even changed his name, and set up clinics in different parts of the country. The latest ones, which finally led to his spectacular arrest in Nepal, were tucked away in private apartments in up market areas of Gurgaon.

Truth is stranger, or in as in this case, grislier than fiction. Dirty Pretty Things was a disturbing movie but what happened in Gurgaon, right next to the country’s capital, was far more gruesome and horrific. And it once again brings back the quandary that continues to stare India in the face: the stark social dichotomies and the harsh disparities between the rich and the poor.

In the same city, on the one hand you have plush villas that you can’t buy for the love of money – all sold out at a million dollars – and on the other, you have wretchedly poor laborers pawning their organs to feed their children.

India desperately needs to correct this imbalance, because such inequalities can only lead to a dangerous society, which India runs the risk of turning into, now more than ever.

Posted by Gopika Kaul at 12:34 AM | Permalink

India’s Top Cop

Jan
28
2008

India’s first woman police officer is on a mission, and it’s a daunting one: To make India a safer place.

After taking voluntary retirement from the police force last year, Kiran Bedi – known for her no-nonsense, hard-taskmaster style of functioning – is not giving up on the job of trying to make India safe. Disillusioned with the police and its ability to help the common man, she has launched a website – saferindia.com – for those who’ve been unsuccessful in getting the police to hear their case, to log on and send in their complaints.

Kiran Bedi shot to fame in the eighties when she was the Deputy Police Commissioner for Traffic in New Delhi. She towed the then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s car for illegal parking. It earned her the nickname, Crane Bedi, a name that has stayed with her since (In India the traffic tow-trucks are popularly referred to as cranes – hence the name.)

That was her moment of fame and after thirty-six hard years in service, late last year she decided to call it quits. Some attribute this to her having been overlooked for the top job as Delhi’s Police Commissioner, a post no one deserved better than her, either in seniority or capability.

One of the first things Bedi did after quitting was to launch saferindia. It’s no surprise. As a long-time member of the city’s police, Bedi is only too aware of the shortcomings and corruption that plague of the police departments in India. This is especially true in Delhi, where getting the police to issue a FIR – First Information Report – can often be a trying and wasted effort. Saferindia.com says Bedi, is intended to be a bridge between the police and the complainant, where one can only send in a grievance when it has not been heard by the former.

And though this may sound a little unusual, there is a sense of duty that pervades the informed Indian citizen today; there’s a growing sense of moral responsibility to step in where the state fails. This is one such example. And this is not all. Kiran Bedi is also working on women empowerment and wants to groom future leaders.

This effort comes at a time when Delhi is seeing a large increase in crime, especially against women and there is a need for renewed measures to curb such violence. It is the dark side of India’s growth story, and papers are awash with reports about rape and murder as women and men, away from their families, separated from the traditions and social restraints of their native villages and towns experience the stresses of modern city life. It’s not an excuse, of course. Also, offenders are rarely caught and, in a lot of cases, when the victim is underprivileged from the lower class – the very folks who often need to work in cities the most desperately – the police do not even register the complaint.

Unfortunately, Saferindia will not prove helpful to those who are too poor and illiterate, as they will probably not be able to log on and register, but it will benefit the middle and lower middle classes who often find it difficult to get themselves heard. And that may well start a kind of reform effort – a noble one from a woman who may have doffed her uniform, but not her duties – that moves India in a new direction.

Posted by Gopika Kaul at 3:44 PM | Permalink

Grown in India, Eaten in Paris

Jan
21
2008

If you walk into a clothing store in the US and see the label on a shirt, chances are you’ll find a “made in India” tag, and it won’t surprise you.

If you walk into the cold foods section in Trader Joe’s or Costco and pick up a block of mozzarella cheese, you probably think it came from Italy – or Wisconsin. There’s a good chance, however, that it too was made in India.

Paonta Sahib is an obscure foothill town on the banks of the river Yamuna in the pretty Northwestern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, and it’s where a company called, Himalya International Limited is producing mozzarella cheese, which is being exported to the US in collaboration with Artignale Italiano based in Winsconsin. At the moment this cheese is being used in some American restaurants, but soon, it will be available in supermarkets.

Exporting is not new for India, as all the world knows. But what is new, is the kind of food and products India is now making for export. After having gained attention for being an outsourcing hub – mainly for software, pharmaceutical and medical services – and later for more domestic ones like homework and even offering prayers, India (and Indians) are now venturing into unconventional areas and gaining success.

Himalya International isn’t alone in its efforts. A Bangalore-based company, called United Pizza Restaurant, is all set to export pizzas to Europe. It’s a bizarre thought, but true nonetheless. At the same time, Indian wine producers too are vying for a chunk of the international market and exporting wine to some countries in Europe. Vijay Mallya – chairman of United Breweries Group, India’s largest spirits company that bought Scottish whiskey maker Whyte & Mackay last year for $1.2 billion – even wants to sell Indian wine in France!

To some this may sound a bit like carrying coals to New Castle, but not to Mr. Mallya, or to other bullish Indians like him who are clearly following the success that California wineries had as they began – a generation ago – to sell their vintages in Europe. And there are plenty of areas of India that resemble California’s wine-growing hillsides.

Thanks to India’s global successes, the country is going through something of an image makeover, and the change is felt by every Indian who travels abroad today. What was before seen as some far off land of inscrutable Indians engaged in mystical practices, is now recognized as a young and confident nation with an increasingly buoyant middle and upper middle class that is taking on the world.

The new Indian entrepreneur – Mallya or his automotive industry counterpart Ratan Tata – believes that India, with its young and inexpensive workforce and abundance of raw materials, can achieve any goal it sets its eyes upon. There is a if-it-can-be-done-abroad-it-can-be-done-in-India thinking which drives people like Man Mohan Malik of Himalya International Limited – to set up businesses and compete on a global level without worrying about whether its been done before or not.

Posted by Gopika Kaul at 2:48 PM | Permalink

The World’s Cheapest Car

Jan
14
2008

Indian roads are not for the faint-hearted. To drive through any of the nation’s cities in peak traffic, you must have nerves of steel, a loud horn and no shyness about using it. If you are one of the millions riding those roads on a two-wheel scooter of motorcycle, you’ll need more than just nerves. You’ll need good luck too. Injuries and fatalities in two-wheeler-related accidents in India are considerably higher than those related with cars – some ten to fifteen times more in per mile calculation.

But, in overpopulated India, statistics and safety, unfortunately, don’t mean much for the common man, especially when he has limited funds. So it is common to see a family of four, and even five, crammed onto a scooter or a motorcycle, making its way through the congested roads, as impatient commuters dangerously swerve in and out to get through the heavy traffic.

For Ratan Tata – chairman of India’s largest conglomerate, the Tata Group – however, it was a sight that got him thinking. It made him wonder if safe, affordable transportation was possible for the common man in India. He decided it was, and set out to make a car that, he promised, would cost only $2,500.

No doubt, there were many critics who had grave reservations about it, but Mr. Tata is man of his word and he has more than kept his promise. In the Auto Expo that was held in New Delhi over the weekend, his “people’s car”, as it’s being called, was unveiled amongst a lot of excitement. Fittingly named the Nano, it is the cheapest car in the world.

In Information-Technology driven, and obsessed, India, the word Nano – originating from science’s Nanotechnology – has come to signify anything that’s new, hip and cutting edge, be it a car, a gadget or even a new township

Tata, who is being likened to Henry Ford, drove up to the stage with the soundtrack of ‘2001: The Space Odyssey’ playing dramatically in the background. As he stood proud and emotional on the podium he said that even though prices of raw materials had escalated since he made his promise, he was still delivering the car at the same price, “because a promise is a promise.” And what a promise it truly is. A basic four-door, no-frills hatchback, it has a 33 bhp, 623 cc twin cylinder engine at the back of the car with a top speed of about 65 miles an hour and claims a fuel efficiency of 50 miles per gallon.

The Nano will change the lives of millions of Indians and over the past few days many have written to tell Tata that. There are, of course, contrary views as well and concerns about the fact that once millions of these cars are on the roads, the already choked-up roads are going to be impossible to drive on. Environmentalists are worried as are many citizens who drive on the crammed roads. Rajendra Pachauri, the chief UN energy scientist who heads Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that won a Nobel Peace Prize (along with former U.S. Vice-President Mr. Al Gore), said that he was having nightmares about it.

The concerns are real, but Tata claims that the Nano conforms to the emissions standards and even said at the Expo that “Pachauri need not have nightmares.” The Nano is said to be less polluting than the two-wheelers currently on Indian roads – it has passed the Euro 4 -European Emission Standards – has passed front and side crash tests with its crumple zones and intrusion resistant doors.

The Nano may well add to the congestion on the roads but you can hardly grudge the less fortunate a car that may finally be within their reach, and turn a blind eye to the bigger, more polluting cars of the rich. Of course, what India really needs is a decent public transport system so that car owners, of Nanos or others, can have an alternative that will make them leave their cars at home. Short of that, it’s only going to get worse for commuters, especially in the metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai.

But, public transportation woes aside, the fact of the matter is, that the Nano is an engineering marvel many doubted India could achieve. For proud Indians, it is yet another thing to celebrate. India is not only one of the few nations in the world to manufacture (and not just assemble) cars, but now it’s the country that has given the world its cheapest, most delightful car that, if Mr Tata is to be believed, and we have reason to, will be exported to many parts of the world.

Posted by Gopika Kaul at 4:10 PM | Permalink

No Stopping India Inc

Jan
8
2008

India is changing fast, and changing with it, is also its perception and image around the world. It’s a change happening so quickly, it’s hard for many – outside India – to keep up.

Take, for instance, the latest bid by Ratan Tata – chairman of one of India’s largest conglomerates, the Tata Group – to buy Ford’s Jaguar and Land Rover, that went up for sale in Britain last year. Tata is prepared to spend $2 billion for the purchase.

India Inc. – as the loose affiliation of Delhi- and Mumbai-based multi-national corporations is known – has been on such a buying spree that news about this proposed acquisition was received with a jaded oh-yet-another-global-takeover kind of response, nothing extraordinary about that.

Except, if you stop and think about it, it is quite extraordinary. Here is a as-British-as-it-can-get brand that has been associated with luxury and lavishness as well as colonial exploration for the better part of this century. It’s being bought by a company owned by a man born when India was still ruled by the British, who now marches around Europe waving his billions and buying the ex-colonizer’s iconic brands. What’s more, he’s replacing the American firm – an auto company whose history is almost part and parcel of American history – as the owner of the British brand. Everything is extraordinary about that.

Also, this is not the first, and from the looks of it, certainly not the last of Tata’s global acquisitions. Last year, his company acquired Corus, formerly British Steel, for an impressive sum of $12 billion, something that figured in Time Magazine’s Top Ten Best Business Deals.

But it’s not all love and kisses. Late last year, Tata was the news over an unfortunate incident with Orient-Express Hotels Ltd – a hotel chain not as familiar with the East and the changes it’s undergoing as the name implies. One of Tata’s many subsidiaries is ‘The Indian Hotels Company’, which owns the luxury hotels chain The Taj, in India and around the world. In the past few years, they’ve acquired New York’s famed Pierre and the and The Taj Boston (once a Ritz-Carlton).

Indian Hotels is also one of the largest shareholders of the super luxury hotel brand – The Orient Express, headquartered in Burmuda. Late last year the Indian group asked to create a more public alliance with the chain, which includes well-known hotels in the U.S., Italy and Asia, suggesting the two brands join forces in marketing and other business related activities.

What ensued, however, was an unpleasant exchange. Orient Express CEO Paul White rejected this offer and responded with a somewhat unfortunately worded letter that got the goat of the Indian company, not to mention the media. Indians in general minced no words in condemning, what they perceived, as White’s racist remarks. He was certainly direct: “Any association of our luxury brands and properties with your brands and properties would result in a reduction of the value of our brands and our business,” White wrote Tata.

It’s good evidence of how far India’s image in the world has come and how much change is still before this country. Indian companies like the Tatas have come a long way, and as time goes by they are getting more and more powerful in the international arena as India’s economy grows and stabilizes. The new Indian company is not bashful about belonging to a developing nation, instead, it is using that to its advantage as it sweeps up prominent brands while eying other prospective ones.

Orient Express may not relent, but that only makes it an exception that definitely does not prove the rule.

Posted by Gopika Kaul at 5:22 AM | Permalink

A U.S. Export: School Shootings

Dec
17
2007

On December 11th, two grade eight students in India made history, but for the wrong reasons. They shot and killed, in cold blood, a fellow classmate in an elite school, located in Gurgaon – an Information technology hub on the outskirts of New Delhi, home to multinationals, call centers and million dollar penthouses. It was the first ever school shooting in India.

Ever since, the country has been heatedly debating, and ruing, the fact that the Indian society is becoming increasingly violent with the arrival of, what is being feared as a dreaded gun culture. The commonly-held, shocked view has been, that such things happen in gun-ridden societies like America, not in culturally-rich and peaceful ones like India – so how did this happen?

Newspapers, radio stations and television channels have called in child psychologists and experts to debate the matter to death. Anxious parents are tuning in to learn how to avoid such situations and discourage violence in children in this fast-changing Indian society, which is seeing the flip side of money, development and so-called westernization.

The main area of concern, predictably, has been the rising violence and finding ways to curb it. The culprits are many – from gun-toys, movies and even cartoons that glamorize violence, to uncaring and busy parents, who find little time for their children and their troubles. In the case of this particular shooting, the unremorseful killers claimed that they were being bullied by the victim for a few months and finally reached a point where they could not take it anymore, so they decided to take revenge.

The question that the country is asking, is that had the parents known about their feelings and the extent to which they were willing to go to end the harassment, then could they have avoided such an incident? In retrospect, could they have been a little more involved in their children’s lives?

The answers are not simple. It’s not always easy, argue some, to communicate with teenage children and get them to talk about their life and feelings. That said, however, people in India are realizing the fact that in this day and age of nuclear families and time pressed parents, it is important to strike that balance between work and life to be there for the children, specially for vulnerable teenagers who fall easy prey to the negative influences in society.

The other thing to point out here is that, unlike in the US, in India people rarely admit to their domestic problems or seek professional help. It is quite rare, for instance, to take a child to a psychologist, since, with supposedly strong family bonds, it is seen as fairly needless, if not shameful. Thus, in many cases, when the parents are unaware of their children’s woes, the troubles only increase with time and the situations get out of hand.

In this case, one of the boys smuggled his father’s gun into the school, which had been carelessly left in an unlocked television cabinet in his home – something that is being seen as a major mistake on the part of the family. Not only that, his father has now been arrested because it has recently been revealed that he had actually taught his son how to use a gun.

In the new India, where one segment of society is reaping enormous benefits of India’s growth, guns are, unfortunately, becoming increasingly common, as they are often perceived as a symbol of prosperity. Gun related crime, thus, has been on the rise, specially in cities like Delhi and Mumbai.

India is experiencing tremendous growth and is on the fast track to development, but incidents such as this recent shoot shooting are an indication of the fact that India needs to seriously look at and deal with the flip side of its economic growth and prosperity.

Posted by Gopika Kaul at 1:02 AM | Permalink

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