Posts Tagged ‘India’
Photograph: Punit Paranjpe/AFP/Getty Images
During the past 10 days, sweaty queues of up to 50 people have formed outside an old colonial building in downtown Mumbai, while a security guard operates a one-in-one-out policy. These hopefuls are not trying to get into an edgy new nightclub or shake hands with a visiting politician. They are waiting for up to an hour to go to Starbucks. “There’s excitement among everyone,” said Akhil Somani, a 27-year-old financial adviser, as he stood in line last weekend. “We have our own coffee brands but this one has had a lot of hype.”
Starbucks, the world’s largest coffee-shop chain, opened its first branch in India on 19 October. Two more branches – including one in Mumbai’s famous Taj Mahal Palace hotel, which has likewise seen dozens of people queuing for a frappuccino – opened last week. With more than 17,600 branches in 61 countries, it is perhaps surprising that the Seattle-based company has only just arrived in India. It entered China in 1999 and has around 600 outlets there.
India is the home of chai, sugary and milky tea ladled into tumblers at street stalls for around five rupees. However, as Indians’ disposable incomes rise, cafes are cropping up in large cities. The country’s cafe sector is worth $230 million, up from $40 million five years ago, according to a report by Technopak, an Indian consultancy. Cafe Coffee Day, a no-frills homegrown chain, dominates the market. The UK’s Costa Coffee and the US’s The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf also have a small presence.
The appearance of Starbucks, whose Mumbai branches offer paneer wraps as well as blueberry muffins, also reflects India’s increasingly international malls and high streets. More western chains are expected to open branches here in the near future, after constraints on foreign investment were loosened this autumn.
India’s coalition government, led by the Congress party, in September relaxed rules on local sourcing for foreign “single-brand retailers” – shops that sell items belonging to one brand. Last November, it scrapped rules stating that such retailers needed to partner with a local company. Following these reforms, Ikea this month applied to open around 25 outlets. Starbucks has entered India through an $80m joint venture with Tata, one of the country’s biggest conglomerates, having worked on this deal before the rules changed…
Opposition parties and independent shopkeepers have held protests in response to the retail reforms. Yet many customers hope foreign brands will result in more choice and better quality, as local businesses will have to fight to retain clients. “More competition is good for the customer,” said Somani as he finally managed to enter Starbucks, only to join another queue for the counter.
Politicians who think they’re doing a nation’s economy a favor by keeping out foreign investment are fools. They may garner a few more votes among superpatriots or business ignoranuses. They restrain expansion from investors bringing something as simple as a new outlook to the economy.
And then there are those who would like to introduce even more barriers to foreign investment. They would enjoy nothing more than dragging our own tawdry economy into a trade war, protect a few personal investments – well, investments made “personal” by lobbyists – in the name of national security. Yup. Our unemployed feel lots more secure when foreign investors are prevented from putting a few bucks into a business in the GOUSA.
Consumer frauds often make claims that are too good to be true. But a recent one, cited by regulators around the world Wednesday, depended on a pitch that many people found completely believable — that Microsoft or another computer company knows what is on your personal computer.
The Federal Trade Commission announced a multinational crackdown on so-called tech support scams, in which a caller fools a consumer into believing Microsoft or a computer security company has discovered that a PC is infected with harmful software. The caller then offers to fix the computer on the spot for a price. The target would sometimes let the ostensible tech support company gain remote access to his computer, allowing the company to download software to it.
In six cases filed in federal district court in Manhattan, the commission named 17 individuals and 14 companies, most in India, as participants in the operations, including many with legitimate-sounding names like Virtual PC Solutions and Zeal IT Solutions.
At the commission’s request, a federal district judge in Manhattan froze the United States assets of the suspects. The commission also said it had shut down 80 Internet domain names and 130 phone numbers in the United States used in the scheme. Efforts to reach several of the companies and individuals were unsuccessful.
Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the trade commission, said at a news conference that the scheme involved getting a computer user to look at a program that is a standard part of the Windows operating system…
The caller would then warn that those files indicated viruses that could crash the computer or, in at least one case studied by the F.T.C., that the computer could explode…
The suspected fraud occurred in several English-speaking countries. Joining the F.T.C. in the enforcement action were the Australian Communications and Media Authority, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission and Britain’s Serious Organized Crime Agency.
David Vladeck, director of the F.T.C.’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said the commission was working with law enforcement officials in India to catch the perpetrators. The commission has also referred the cases to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution.
If someone contacts you – or you see a tempting advert for someone offering to clean your computer’s software up for you – do yourself a favor and contact the computer’s manufacturer and ask what they think of the offer and the source?
India’s national space organisation has marked its 100th mission by successfully launching two new satellites which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has lauded as a “spectacular success”.
Scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) celebrated the launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle PSLV-C21 on Sunday as it blasted into the sky carrying a French observation satellite and a Japanese microsatellite…
Singh congratulated the team at the ISRO at Sriharikota hailing the achievement as “a milestone in our nation’s space capabilities”.
“India is justly proud of its space scientists, who have overcome immense odds to set up world class facilities and develop advanced technologies. We owe a great deal to pioneers like Dr Vikram Sarabhai and Prof Satish Dhawan,” Singh said…
“I would also like to congratulate European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) Astrium of France and Osaka Institute of Technology of Japan for the successful launch of their satellites,” Singh said.
Bravo! There’s a special tightrope of contradiction for developing nations to walk when they choose to spend funds on projects which don’t seem to directly benefit the whole population of their nation.
Poisonally, I think it’s worth it as essential inspiration to the tens of thousands of Indian citizens who decide each year to join studies in science and maths. A goodly portion of India’s future lies in technology and science and being able to fill those needs with your own citizens is a special feature.
The panic of people in flight
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission
In July, tensions that had long simmered in Assam, a state in northeast India, between members of the Bodo tribe and Bengali-speaking Muslim immigrants, came to a boil in a surge of violence, claiming many lives and displacing thousands. It was lamentable that this crisis did not receive as much attention in the national media as it should have, but the fallout of the violence across the country was just as disturbing.
Bit by bit, a regional dispute with a long and complex history involving local political parties, illegal immigration and movement patterns of settlement over decades, was turned, on Internet forums and through text messages, into a Hindu-Muslim faceoff, with all the absence of specificity and projection of stereotypes common to this kind of debate.
Earlier this month, a rally was held in Mumbai, more than 1,500 miles west of the Assam violence, to protest the attacks on Muslims in Assam. Fuelled by doctored videos of violence against Muslims, the protest turned bloody, leaving two people dead and over 100 injured.
A few days later, rumors fanned out in Bangalore, again more than 1,500 miles south of Assam, that the city’s sizeable class of migrants from northeast India might be under attack by Muslims. A vicious campaign of threats over text message led thousands of northeastern migrants to flee the city, in a disturbing echo of the many thousands displaced in Assam. On Wednesday, the Indian Express reported that preliminary investigations revealed that one miscreant in Bangalore, a cellphone repairman, had forwarded inflammatory images and messages to about 20,000 people…
At the heart of this violence was the continuing chasm of understanding that lies between what is called “mainland India” and the seven states of its northeast, which have historically received stepmotherly treatment from New Delhi and found their citizens handled like aliens when they travel to other parts of their own country. As Sanjoy Hazarika wrote in the Hindustan Times on Aug. 19, this ignorance led to thousands of people from the northeast becoming scapegoats…
Meanwhile, back in Assam, thousands of people displaced by the original commotion — the clashes that allowed groups with different ideological convictions to invent or inflame further violence, sometimes with the creative narrative use of modern technology — are just beginning to return home from the relief camps in which they have for weeks been forced to seek refuge.
I can offer little more than empathy from this distance. I haven’t even the advantage of kinship with relatives living in the disturbed areas – or India itself. The roots of colonial exacerbation of religious and ethnic foolishness are nothing new; but, that understanding doesn’t offer – in my mind – any better chance of reason and civic accommodation in India than, say, in the Balkans.
The only start to that process might be in political parties campaigning seriously on unity and civil rights, forming government that recognize the need beyond lip-service. That, too, isn’t a new suggestion.
Steal a little, but don’t loot – is this minister simply telling the truth about India’s politicians?
A minister in India’s most populous and politically crucial state, Uttar Pradesh, has said bureaucrats can steal a little as long as they work hard – sparking national outcry in a country whose ruling class has long been mired in corruption scandals.
“If you work hard, and put your heart and soul into it … then you are allowed to steal some,” Shivpal Singh Yadav told a gathering of local officials in comments caught on camera. “But don’t be a bandit.”
The comments on Thursday were caught by a local TV camera and then played on newscasts across the country. Yadav, a minister for public works who belongs to the state’s ruling Samajwadi Party, quickly sought to control the damage, calling a news conference to explain that the comments had been taken out of context and that he had been discussing how to combat corruption…
Uh-huh. Corruption obviously was the topic.
Ashoke Sen is a shy, reclusive Indian particle physicist working from a non-descript laboratory in the Harish-Chandra Research Institute in the not-so-happening town of Allahabad in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
Yet, today he is one of the richest professors in the world, having been conferred the award which has prize money almost three times that of a Nobel Prize in Physics.
At his current monthly salary of about 150,000 rupees it would have taken him about 83 years of continuous work to earn as much as that.
The new prize was set up by the Russian internet entrepreneur, Yuri Milner – some are calling it the “Russian Nobel Prize”…In its inaugural year, it has also been awarded to eight others. Prof Sen is the only Indian to bag the award along with scientists working in the US and Russia…
Prof Sen works in an esoteric branch of physics called “string theory”, which he has been refining for the last two decades…It is a complex mathematical theory that hopes to explain almost everything we know about the matter and energy in the universe.
He describes the string theory as being based “on the idea that the elementary constituents of matter are not point particles, but one dimensional objects or strings. This theory automatically combines quantum mechanics, and general relativity – Einstein’s theory of gravity. It also has the potential for explaining the other known forces of nature – strong, weak and electromagnetic forces”…
Prof Sen’s wife Sumathi Rao is also a physicist who works at the same institute with him. They have no children.
The professor, who is fond of walking, says he has no hobby other than cooking and he likes to make tasty fried fish for his friends and family.
For somebody working on the frontiers of knowledge, Prof Sen admits he has “absolutely no religious inclinations”, though he respects all faiths…
Prof Sen, son of a physics teacher, was educated in the University of Calcutta before proceeding to the Stony Brook University in America.
Unlike many others, he chose to return and work in India.
As he said in the interview, “In theoretical physics one can in principle work from any place as long as one has a computer and internet connection.” Working in Allahabad had no disadvantages.
His mind works just as well as it might elsewhere. Perhaps better.
India’s caste system, in which people are born into a certain group, is now asserting itself even before birth as more couples in rural areas turn to sperm donors as treatment for infertility.
In Patna, the capital of Bihar, one of the most populous states, Dr. Himanshu Roy runs a popular fertility clinic that also has a sperm bank for patients…Naturally, couples using donated sperm want to know all they can about the donor. In many parts of the world, that would include where a donor went to school, his medical history or what kind of job he had. In Bihar, couples’ primary concern is caste, doctors said…
A gynecologist who runs a fertility center in the adjoining district of Muzaffarpur said that patients can get “fanatical” about knowing the caste of the donor.
“It’s almost like tubes in our sperm banks are labeled with ‘Brahmin,’ Bhumihar,’ ‘Yadav,’ ‘Rajput’ and several other caste stickers,” said the doctor, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue. In Bihar, caste plays a large role in society and culture, but many people are reluctant to discuss caste preferences openly out of concern that it would make them appear to be prejudiced…
Even though they are obviously prejudiced.
In a rural state like Bihar, the emphasis on “purity” is driving such inquiries about a sperm donor’s caste, said S.N. Sinha, a sociologist.
“They might think that right caste would ensure the bloodline stays pure,” Mr. Sinha said.
Belief in silliness like a caste system and racial purity are about as backwards as any nation or culture may ever be. Laws and regulations against stupid behavior are useless, of course, if they are not enforced. That has been proven again and again in every part of this world.
Indians haven’t the market cornered in corrupt religious ideology; but, I wonder how seriously a nation combats crap like this — when laws banning the practice have been on the books for over 60 years.
Sorry if I’m extra cranky, today. Semi-annual visit to the Derm to get a few old fart sun-lesions frozen off. If my doctor wasn’t bright, politically hip and a ninja – I’d probably find an excuse to pass.
A 20-year-old girl has sought protection by the Rajasthan authorities from members of a village community council who, she says, are threatening her with serious consequences if she did not accept her childhood marriage, officials said Monday.
She also requested the district administration officials to annul her marriage that was solemnised when she was a mere five-year old, they added.
The girl, Rekha Kumari, is a resident of Peepar city area of the district, some 330 km from state capital Jaipur.
“She filed an application before the local sub-divisional officer Sunday, requesting security from a village community council or panchayat. She says that they were threatening to expel her from the locality, which means she and her family members would not be able to mingle with other villagers. It also warned of slapping huge cash fines on her and her family members if she did not accept the marriage,” a senior district administration officer told IANS.
The officer said that Rekha is doing graduation from a government college in Peepar city. She was married with the consent of her grandfather when she was only five years old…
“After the death of her grandfather recently, her so-called in-laws started pressuring the girl to start living with them which she refused as the boy she was married to is hardly literate,” said the officer. He added that the in-laws then approached the village panchayat members who started threatening the girl.
The police are waiting to see if threats escalate before they intervene – which is scary enough. Though child marriage is technically illegal in India, like a lot of leftover cultural practices, community response can be deadly.
Women in India, assailing the lack of public toilets available to them, have begun a Right to Pee Campaign…
The humorous slogan, coined by the Mumbai, India, media, masks the dependence of the population on public restrooms, and the imbalance of men’s rooms to those available to women, The New York Times said Thursday.
A government study indicated the public sanitation system of the city, whose population is 20 million, offers 5,993 toilets and 2,466 urinals to men, and only 3,536 toilets to women, and a 2009 study in New Delhi, the capital, said the ratio of men-to-women public conveniences was 1,534 to 132.
Activists like Minu Gandhi said the restroom disparity amounts to discrimination, and have suggested women begin demanding their right to equal access…”We all feel this is a basic civic right, a human right,” she said.
The newspaper added that Mumbai’s toilets are generally located in dark and unclean buildings, and operate as male-controlled outposts, with a male attendant often collecting fees for toilet use, but not for urinals.
Local politicians vow to respond — as they do to almost daily requests for simple access to civilized essentials like food, water and sanitation.
India’s claim to be the largest democracy in Asia sounds pretty hollow when you take a close look at the class structure perpetuated by self-serving politicians and greedy corporations. It needn’t be that way. The latest government always admits that — after each election cycle. But, little seems to get done.
Ranwan, India — In this north Indian village, workers recently dismantled stacks of burned and mildewed rice while flies swarmed nearby over spoiled wheat. Local residents said the rice crop had been sitting along the side of a highway for several years and was now being sent to a distillery to be turned into liquor.
Just 180 miles to the south, in a slum on the outskirts of New Delhi, Leela Devi struggled to feed her family of four on meager portions of flatbread and potatoes, which she said were all she could afford on her disability pension and the irregular wages of her day-laborer husband. Her family is among the estimated 250 million Indians who do not get enough to eat.
Such is the paradox of plenty in India’s food system. Spurred by agricultural innovation and generous farm subsidies, India now grows so much food that it has a bigger grain stockpile than any country except China, and it exports some of it to countries like Saudi Arabia and Australia. Yet one-fifth of its people are malnourished — double the rate of other developing countries like Vietnam and China — because of pervasive corruption, mismanagement and waste in the programs that are supposed to distribute food to the poor.
“The reason we are facing this problem is our refusal to distribute the grain that we buy from farmers to the people who need it,” said Biraj Patniak, a lawyer who advises India’s Supreme Court on food issues. “The only place that this grain deserves to be is in the stomachs of the people who are hungry.”
After years of neglect, the nation’s failed food policies have now become a subject of intense debate in New Delhi, with lawmakers, advocates for the poor, economists and the news media increasingly calling for an overhaul. The populist national government is considering legislation that would pour billions of additional dollars into the system and double the number of people served to two-thirds of the population. The proposed law would also allow the poor to buy more rice and wheat at lower prices…
“India is paying the price of an unexpected success — our production of rice and wheat has surged and procurement has been better than ever,” said Kaushik Basu, the chief economic adviser to India’s Finance Ministry and a professor at Cornell University. “This success is showing up some of the gaps in our policy.”
The biggest gap is the inefficient, corrupt system used to get the food to those who need it. Just 41.4 percent of the grain picked up by the states from federal warehouses reaches Indian homes, according to a recent World Bank study.
RTFA for details of the incompetence, crime and corruption from top to the bottom of this food logistics chain. Everyone steals, everyone profits — and the people get much less than the portion paid for by India’s taxpayers.