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India’s zest for fair skin creates odd jobs for white girls

Morgan Kane is not her real name. When she decided to share her story online, she chose a pen name. As many white girls working in India do – change their name for work.

I am not referring to shady or hanky-panky work – though some of the work borders in that area.

I am talking about legitimate though unusual work that white girls have started to pick up in India.

“Tonight, I am going to be a table! A human table wearing a glow in the dark fireman’s hat,” says Morgan Kane, one of the many white girls in Delhi, who pick up such odd jobs.


This is not human trafficking. Neither is it skin trade in its literal sense.

This trade is purely based on the colour of their skin, and probably  gender.

Indians’ fascination for fair skin has found a new expression in the form of hiring white girls (European girls as they are known in India), mostly for ‘display’.

The trend is growing in the northern region of India, where it fuels the ego of the host as they show off their power and wealth by showcasing exotic girls at weddings and private parties.

The girls, who have gained nickname ‘white trash’, are used for everything from modelling to ‘elite guests’ and as bartenders at events, to add glamour quotient.

“Why do patrons feel that being seen to be able to afford to hire or associate with white women in some way improves their social status and perception of pecuniary wealth?” asks one such Morgan Jane in another media report.

According to the media report, these girls earn as much as Rs 10,000 (US$170) per day, with some events extending over many days. While it may not sound like big money in dollar terms, India’s low cost of living makes the pay attractive.

Two prejudices are at play here.

First, the British rule caused an inferiority complex among Indians. White skin began to be considered superior.

Second, which is a corollary of the first, hiring white girls gives a boost to status of the Indian host.

It could also be argued that getting Caucasian people to do odd jobs becomes some kind of a redemption for 200-years of British rule in India.

Life has come a full circle, it seems.

“Back in the days of empire, no colonial Indophile worth their salt would have been without their harem of Indian entertainers,” writes Morgan who worked as a human table at a wedding.

“From snake charmers to sitar players – imperialists loved to surround themselves with what, to them, seemed exotic. Today, the roles have been reversed – an irony I mulled as I stood there, laden with drinks.”

To be fair, white girls have always found work in India for many decades. Initially Bollywood provided them jobs as dancers for songs, and more recently they began to be seen as cheerleaders in the popular Indian Premier League.

Also, having humans as tables at events is neither a new concept nor a derogatory one. See Strolling Tables, a San Deigo Spotlight Entertainment website that provides theme-based human tables for events. The concept was popularised by Russians, and is widely used in the Middle East.

Even in India, it is Russians who are active in this “white girls” industry, as Morgan explains: “Some of the girls – from my experience, mainly Russians – work full-time on contracts. They get paid upwards of Rs 80,000 a month (£800 – not bad at all in India), as well as having their accommodation and living expenses covered.

“However, these girls are pretty much unable to refuse work, no matter where or what it is or how long it lasts.”

Many of these girls take up these high paying jobs at the risk of being attacked, abused, molested and even raped.

In a country where people are blatantly bombarded with fairness cream advertisements not only for women, but also for men, a rise of an entire industry based on skin colour is setting a dangerous precedent.

“As a white woman participating in this industry and a client paying them to do so, you are not only profiting but perpetuating an already well-established beauty myth that lighter skin is better,” says Morgan, who realises that she is also adding to the difficulties of local girls.

“I can hardly complain of exploitation as a result of my alabaster skin in a country where millions are exploited every day for having the “wrong” skin tone.

“The main inequity, I felt, wasn’t one suffered by me; it was that I was earning double the amount of the native Indian girls who were also working at the event. And why? Because I’m Western and white.”

Editor recommends Editorial Opinion

OPINION: Is Gandhi still relevant?

mahatma gandhi, non-violence

Today, we see violence everywhere – we have Syria; we have Egypt, we have the US, the UK and India. Name a country and we’ll find a conflict brewing. Except in a few nations like New Zealand, civil strife is killing people in every place with human settlement.

It is so widespread, that there’s no need to introduce or explain violence to the person in the street. Yes, non-violence is a theme that begs explanation.

Here’s an example. “Today, in class I argued how non-violence is also a form of violence. Happy birthday Gandhi,” tweeted one Shubhashish (@Shubhashish), a former Indian journalist now in London.

So, is Gandhi relevant in these turbulent times?

Today, any person that has heard of Gandhi has an opinion about him. Do you need to read Gandhi to understand his experiments with truth? Or are the history books taught in the school enough to help form an opinion about India’s ‘father of the nation’?

mahatma gandhi, non-violence

You wonder what this has to do with understanding Gandhi’s relevance today. Everything!

You see, the trouble is, we have discarded Gandhian principles without even reading a single article written by the freedom-fighter. And he wrote many. In fact, the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi runs into 100 volumes. “As Sunil Khilnani observes, like Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhi wrote English well enough to have made, if he had so wished, a living through journalism,” writes Indian author Ramachandra Guha.

How many of us have read Gandhi? I am not referring to the intellectuals, but to the ordinary citizens.

The problem with India, as Indian actor and social activist Shabana Azmi once said, we have far too many opinions than information.

The problem lies in interpreting Gandhi without really understanding what formed the basis of his philosophy.

However, India also has intellectuals who are well-read and well-informed. Their opinions are based on facts. And when they raise questions about the usefulness of non-violence and non-cooperation in today’s violent situations, it deserves attention.  This is where we must beg the question: will Gandhi be useful in solving the problems in say Syria, North Korea, Egypt or India?

What would Gandhi have done in Syria? Would the Assad regime have reacted in the same, violent way had the rebels chosen the path of non-violence? Likely not. Anger begets anger. But it is difficult, rather unnatural, to respond to peaceful protests with excessive use of brute. Of course Gandhi would be relevant in Syria.

What about India? If the Indian leaders show similar commitment to truthful governance, as Gandhi did, would we witness similar violence in the four corners of the country?

Let’s get to the bottom of this: the common factor behind all violence and strife around the world is religious or ethnic division. If we look back at India’s history, the disastrous consequences of mixing politics and religion were known to us thousands of years ago. Gautam Buddha preached the use of ethics over religion in public life.

The Dhammapada states the general ethical principle: “Never in this world is hostility appeased by hostility; it is appeased by lack of hostility.”

I will therefore leave you with a story from ancient India, in the words of British professor Richard Gombrich, “A great king of former times tells his brahmin priest and prime minister that he wants to …raise taxes. His wise prime minister warns him that the country is full of crime. He says: “Your Majesty may think that he can root out all crime by killing the criminals, imprisonment, fines, censure or exile. But this will never succeed completely: there will always be survivors, who will go on harassing your kingdom.

“Here is the only system which will eradicate crime. Your Majesty should supply seed and fodder to those who work in agriculture or animal husbandry; he should supply capital to those who work in commerce; he should organize food and wages for those who work in his service.

“Then those people will concentrate on their work and not harass the countryside. Your Majesty will acquire a great pile. The countryside will be secure, free from public enemies. People will be happy, and dandling their children in their laps will live, I think, with open doors.”

(Vaibhav Gangan is the founding editor of The Global Indian magazine. Follow Vaibhav on Twitter.)

Editorial News

Opinion: Rape is in our culture

Rarely have I seen a country of 1.2 billion people come together to express one emotion – rage over heinous rape and brutal murder of a young girl in a moving bus in Delhi.

Rarely have I seen a disconnect between a population and its clueless leaders. The government’s attempt to suppress the protests has had the exact opposite effect. It’s added fuel to fire. It has also exposed the disconnect between older leaders and younger protesters.

The whole nation, or at least its educated cities, stands on the streets to seek justice for the rape victim that’s succumbed to her injuries. Their battle is for the dead victim. But more important, their battle is personal too – it’s a fight of each girl and her brother who could be the next victim.

Each girl holding a candle in protest knows that it could have been she taking the bus on that dreaded, cold night in the national capital. Her brother knows that it could have been his sister that was raped by six drunken men before being stripped and thrown out of the running bus on a dark Delhi road at mid-night. Her father knows that it could have been his daughter fighting for her life after her intestines were infected by the iron rod that was shoved into her vagina by the rapists.

This is why men and women are standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the protests. This is rare too!

In a nation where female deities are worshipped alongside male gods, rarely would one believe that female fetuses are aborted as a regular practice. In a nation where the leader of the ruling party is a woman, in a city where the head of the local government is a woman, would one expect that women protestors would be beaten up by predominantly male police staff, before being tear-gased and water-cannoned on chilly winter evenings.

Indian women are so unsafe that a minister admitted on national television that he fears for the safety of his 17-year old daughter. “When I walk with my daughter, I see her being raped by the eyes of many men on the road,” Derek O’Brien, a Trinamool Congress minister said.

Even a former police officer, India’s first female officer in the coveted Indian Police Service category, hasn’t been immune. “There is not a woman in India, including me, who has not suffered harassment in her life,” says Dr Kiran Bedi.

How did India reach to a stage where a woman is raped every 24 minutes? One reason is that there are fewer women in the country today. The country has been killing its daughters at every stage – the numbers of female feticide, female infanticide and dowry-related murders have risen. The world’s second-most populated country now has the worst female-to-male ratio – India had 914 girls aged six and under per 1,000 boys in 2011, down from 927 in 2001. One estimate suggests that there would be 25 million more men in India than women by 2020.

Second issue is men’s prejudices. Mistreating women is deep-rooted in our culture. Rape isn’t just about sex. It’s not just a criminal act. It’s a cultural act.

While talking to a guide at a fort in Jaipur, I learnt that women and men dined in different rooms in the king’s palace during the 17th and 18th centuries. “The tradition is still followed in many households in Rajasthan,” the guide said.

When British India was partitioned to form Pakistan, rape was used as a form of weapon during communal violence. Rape continues to be used by police, army, and upper-caste men to exalt power over women.

A whole generation grown in the male-dominant society of the mid 20th century has raised their children in a similar way. These children, now adults, are faced with working within a more gender-neutral environment. Harassment of women is an unfortunate fallout of this mismatch.

Such mistreatment is now so much accepted and expected that it isn’t even seen as a wrong. If you pick up a fight with an eve-teaser, you would rarely get any support from the onlookers. In fact, in a sexual harassment incident in Mumbai last year, Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandez – two male friends of a female, were beaten to death by the harassers. A girl as young as two and a woman as old as 70 have been raped in the country this year.

Two levels of solutions have come forward through the outrage – short term and long term. The urgent need is for more and better-trained police officers, more number of female cops, better policing systems, and more staff in Indian courts. The current situation where a court case drags on for years has to change.

In the longer term, there’s a need to change the attitude of men. Gender equality can be reality only if it is practised in the mind of men.

At religious places in India, you will find a natural or enforced segregation of men from women. At social gatherings, men and women tend to naturally form separate groups. The prejudices are so ingrained that they are visible even in the migrant Indian families living in western communities.

Roles of men and women are defined during their childhood and bear distinct traits of discrimination – the woman is trained to cook and tend to younger siblings and older members of the family.

The prejudice continues into school years as girl children are deprived of school education while boys are encouraged to go to school. The male literacy rate in India is at 82% and female literacy rate is merely 65%.

Until India brings up its boys to respect women, the crimes against women would continue to cause sleepless nights for tear-filled eyes.

As Trinamool Congress minister Derek O’Brien says, “We often make the mistake of considering rape as a women’s issue. It is not. It is a men’s issue.”

(Vaibhav Gangan is the managing editor of New Zealand-based The Global Indian magazine)

Editor recommends Editorial Global Indians News

Blind woman gets sport award

Neelusha Memon

Neelusha Memon, the first legally blind competitor to complete New Zealand’s South Island Coast-to-Coast multi-sport race, is the winner of the Attitude Awards’ Courage in Sport for 2012.

The tough race was just one of the Wellingtonian’s goals and the $3,000 prize money will help her towards another – to complete the Seven Peaks in Seven Continents.

That’s a journey around the world to climb Mt Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Carstensz Pyramid, Denali, Vinson and finally Mt Everest.

The Attitude Awards celebrate the outstanding achievements of New Zealanders living with a disability. It has grown out of the Attitude TV series, which screens on TV ONE on Sunday mornings.

Neelusha, better known as Neelu, also aims to complete a double kayak crossing of the Cook Strait before the end this year, working with 2012 World Champion in Adventure Racing Nathan Fa’avae, who will help her navigate.

Neelusha Memon

“I want to set bigger goals for myself and try my own limits,” Neelu says. “Others have perceptions of what people with disabilities can do and I’m trying to push out of that framework and create my own limits.”

Neelu is used to training hard. When she was 16 a severe post-viral illness left her with 30% vision and balance problems. She had to learn to walk, talk and swallow again.

Attitude TV executive producer Robyn Scott-Vincent says every year the awards highlight people with incredible stories and achievements that have previously gone without acknowledgment.

“The prime objective of the Attitude Awards is to create more awareness and consideration of the contributions made by New Zealanders living with disability,” Robyn says.


Editor recommends Editorial Lifestyle News Opinion

Bal Thackeray – Secular farewell to ethnic leader

“Don’t threaten me. Do as you wish. I am not afraid of anyone!” My editor was responding to a threat call as I entered the newspaper’s office.
The threats by the Shiv Sena, a largely-local political party, to the editor of the local newspaper where I had just started freelancing, introduced me to the violent side of Bal Thackeray’s politics.

The threat was not just verbal. The newspaper office was soon ransacked. But the editor stood his ground to report stories about Shiv Sena without fear. That was my first-hand experience with fearless journalism and politics of fear. I soon stopped freelancing as I got busy with education. But the attacks on the editor and the publication continued over the years.

This was the first time I had come face-to-face with Shiv Sena head Bal Thackeray’s terror tactics. As a young man, I learnt a strange lesson in politics – the Shiv Sena, whose activism was based on protecting the rights of the local people of India’s western state of Maharashtra (Marathis), was attacking a Marathi editor. It was an attack on a Marathi paper and whose staff was mostly Marathi.

Today, as the news broke of the Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s death, those memories returned to my mind.

And I hoped that my Mumbai, the city where I was raised, does not succumb to the same terror tactics on the eve of Bal’s last rites. I wish that Shiv sainiks, as the party’s activists are known, show restraint and pay homage to their leader in a way that will truly win Mumbaites’ hearts. At the time of writing, Mumbai is tense but calm as it prepares for the final journey of its leader.

There’s fear in the air, but there aren’t any incidents of violence reported. The Sena activists reportedly forced shops and businesses to down their shutters, but it is Mumbai Police, whose staff largely comprise Marathi officers, that has shown remarkable acumen in controlling the potentially inflammable situation. The police also showed sensibility while announcing the news of Bal’s demise as he battled for life over two days.

The news was released only after the administration were reasonably confident that crowd-management mechanism was deployed.
The news divided public opinion just as Bal Thackeray’s speeches and interviews had divided Mumbai during his nearly 40-year long political career. No, Mumbai wasn’t divided between Marathis and non-Marathis. It was divided between Sena’s supporters and non-supporters. Just as many non-Marathis were Sena supporters, there were many Marathis, including the writer, that did not support Sena’s fear tactics. Support for Sena was not entirely based on one’s regional origin, but one’s value system – on whether one believed in fear-mongering.

Politics of fear are not limited to Shiv Sena in India. Most political parties are known to have activists and leaders that practice terror tactics.
Bal gave Mumbai terror. He followed anti-migrants strategy. But he was fighting a losing battle. Mumbai’s cultural and economic landscape is shaped by migrants – those travellers who came to the dreamland from other states of India. In that sense, he was trying to protect the rights of the local people in a city that never had Marathi soul – for as long as I can remember. And that was the uniqueness of the city – I grew up in a multi-cultural environment, and no efforts by a political party could change that.

Bal however played a key role in building the city’s infrastructure. His support to the ambitious Worli Sea Link road and Mumbai-Pune Expressway brought these projects to reality. He ran many social welfare programmes, including free ambulances.

As the Hinduism-driven Bal started his last journey this morning, secular India witnessed his body wrapped in the country’s national flag that supports the values of brotherhood among India’s religiously diverse groups.
One wonders what Bal would have had to say on that!

Business Editorial Lifestyle News

Prem Watsa raises stake in BlackBerry

prem watsa Fairfax Blackberry RIM

Samsung Galaxy, iPhone and Android-based smartphones have reduced the popularity of once-market-leader BlackBerry, but an Indian is showing faith in the troubled smartphone.

Prem Watsa, known as Warren Buffett of Canada, has raised his stake in Research In Motion (RIM), the Canadian maker of BlackBerry, indicating a belief that there’s still life left in the brand that created the smartphone category in the mobile phone industry.

prem watsa Fairfax Blackberry RIM

As the newest board member and the third-largest investor in RIM, Prem has increased his doubled stake to just under 10%, while still warning that a turnaround could take three to five years.

Prem’s share is valued at US$349.5 million.

The billionaire founder of Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. has shown confidence in the mobile-phone maker whose market value has dropped 80% in the last year year.

“He said that he’s looking to average down (his cost),” Sameet Kanade, an analyst with Canada’s Northern Securities told a media outlet. “Their investment horizon is normally three to five years — they are not looking for a quick turnaround.”

RIM, the first company to offer emails on mobile devices, expects its new offering – BlackBerry 10 (due early next year) –  to turn its fortunes around.

RIM posted its first operating loss in eight years in June 2012. RIM’s share price was $150 a few years ago. Today, it is only $7. In a desperate attempt to save the brand, RIM has decided to cut its workforce by a third, resulting in 5000 job losses.

However, Prem’s astute investment in RIM has provided a slight boost to RIM’s share price.

Born in India’s Hyderabad, the 62 year old Prem graduated from India’s prestigious the Indian Institute of Technology with a degree in chemical engineering , before going on to complete an MBA from the Richard Ivey School of Business of the University of Western Ontario.

In June 2009, he became the chancellor of the University of Waterloo.

Watsa is also on the board of the Dakshana Foundation – the charity set up by American billionaire Mohnish Pabrai, to give away 4% of his wealth, or about $2 million, in charity every year.

Editorial News Politics

Is Pranab Mukherjee the right man?

Who will be the next president of India? Pranab Mukherjee is leading the race with the UPA nominating the current Indian finance minister as its candidate to take over presidency from the outgoing president, Pratibha Patil, whose term comes to an end next month.

In the meantime, A P J Abdul Kalam, a former president, has expressed his desire to be left out of the ugly race which has seen political gimmicking at its worst in independent India’s 60-odd years’ history.

Even the current prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, who is serving his second term as  the leader of the world’s largest democratic country, did not remain immune to the political chaos that ensued and saw Dr Singh’s involuntary inclusion in the race to India’s highest office.

Finally, political sense prevailed as Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) took account of the upcoming general elections in 2014, and nominated Pranab for the job.

In country where the presidents lead a public life, yet receive apathetic attention from its citizens, the president of India is reduced to a ceremonial head of the state.

However, Congress is keen to have a loyal Congressman in the president’s office in 2014 when it will be looking for president’s support in the selection of the next prime minister. This seems to be a clever move by Sonia Gandhi who may have the intentions of putting her son, Rahul Gandhi, in the driver’s seat to run India’s political engine.

At no time since India’s independence in 1947 has the race of the presidential position been so highly debated. The debate is driven by the possible political uncertainty after the 2014 elections.

If Pranab Mukherjee takes over as the president, his departure will vacate the hot seat of India’s finance minister at a time when leading rating agencies like Standard & Poor’s and Goldman Sachs have expressed concerns about India’s weak economic outlook. Pranab has led important portfolios for India including that of finance and commerce, and while the economic performance of the country has been less than satisfactory, the country will struggle to find an equally capable replacement for Pranab.

It is difficult to say what Pranab feels about his nomination but it will not be surprising if he feels betrayed; he has seen Congress through major crisis and had his eyes well-set on the prime ministerial role, if the Wikileaks reports are to be believed. It must have been a tough decision for congress too to let go of its main troubleshooter.

While Pranab has strong credentials to be in the position of the president, the head of the state position carries very little power to introduce change. Pranab has been at the centre of action since he became the finance minister for the first time back in the 1980s; he is used to solving problems; he wakes up at 6am every day and goes to bed well after midnight.

He likes to be the problem-solver. As a president, he will be merely a dignitary invited for special events, attend state functions, and be the face of the nation where stately presence is a required as a matter of decorum.

It is gross injustice to reduce an illuminated career to a decorative position, with the intention of managing the competition for the prime ministerial position, while still retaining an influential Congress figure in a position that can influence the leadership structure after the next elections.

In the meantime, Pranab supporters are celebrating in the streets of Kolkata.

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India continues to kill her daughters

On Monday morning, India woke up to the shocking news of a three-month old baby fighting for her life in the government hospital in Bangalore. On Wednesday, India hung its head in shame as doctors lost the battle to save baby Afreen who was beaten up, burnt and tortured by her own father. Her crime? She was a girl.

Umar Farooq, the father, told police that he beat the baby because he wanted a son.

His wife is asking for death penalty for him. He hated her, says Afreen’s mother Reshma Banu. “He wanted me to get rid of the child or abandon her as he wanted a son. Reshma Banu’s pain was shared by many Indians who appealed for capital punishment for the accused.

“Death for baby Afreen’s father! No mercy at all,” says television anchor Mini Mathur.  “Yes, capital punishment is not the norm. But who can put bites and cigarette burns on a 3-month-old baby?? And fracture her tiny arms? Who?”

Agrees Nandita Iyer, “I get a renewed faith in the harshest possible death penalty when I hear of people like Baby Afreen’s father.”

It was only last month that country followed the story of a two-year-old abandoned girl, named Falak by the media, who was hospitalized with multiple injuries in India’s capital New Delhi. She succumbed to her injuries – fractured skull, broken limbs and human bite marks. Falak was brought to hospital by a teenager who allegedly burnt her with a hot iron, bit her, and smashed her head against a wall, NDTV reported. “Falak had been separated from her mother, and passed around among a ring of adults in Delhi who ran a prostitution racket.”

Earlier this month, a newborn girl child in Jodhpur was rejected by her parents “after the hospital handed them a baby boy by mistake”, Voice of America reported. The child was accepted by the parents after 14 days, once a DNA test confirmed their parentage.

India’s sex ratio, at 914 women to every 1000 men, is the worst since the country’s independence from the British in 1947, according to the 2011 census – the global benchmark is 952. Indian law prohibits sex-determination tests prior to birth, so as to prevent abortions of girl fetus. Despite this, foetal sex determination and sex selective abortion has today grown into a Rs.1,000 crore industry ($244 million), according to a Unicef report.

India is heavily legislated with numerous statues trying to prevent crime against women, including the Sati Act (prevention of burning the widow alive on deceased husband’s pyre), Prevention of Immoral Traffic Act and the Dowry Prevention Act.

The prejudice against women partly stems from an age-hold practice of dowry – financial payment by bride’s parents to the groom. There are 5,000 women in India who suffer female infanticide each year (bride burning) due to insufficient dowry payment, say Nake Kamrany, Professor of Economics at the University of Southern California and Catherine Robinson, a Research Assistant in economics at USC and a member of Global Income Convergence Group in Los Angeles.

The issue is not India specific alone; many states worldwide are struggling to reduce crime against women by encouraging gender equality. “Only four out of over 135 nations have achieved gender equality including Costa Rica, Cuba, Sweden, and Norway,” say Kamrany and Robinson. Yemen was scored the lowest. “Measures of gender equality include access to basic education, health and life expectancy, equality of economic opportunity, and political empowerment.

However, legislation alone hasn’t been very successful as is clear from international evidence. Similar to India, China has outlawed the use of gender detection methods. Yet, China has 32 million more boys than girls under the age of 20, and there are 126 boys to 100 girls among the 1-4 age group, mostly caused by the infamous one-child policy. “They have granted parents who have a female child another chance at birthing a son in the hopes that families will not abandon, abort, or murder their female infant,” say Kamrany and Robinson.

In addition to social costs, there are economic costs to gender inequality. “Japan’s GDP will gain by 15% if employment gender discrimination is adjusted,” say Kamrany and Robinson.

The gender inequality is both the cause and effect of under-representation of women in decision-making roles. Only 14 of 200 governments in the world have women as the head of the state. Numerous studies have shown that women are paid less, get promoted less often and are required to retire sooner than men – both in the western world and in eastern societies. India got its first female prime minister as early as in 1966 – Indira Gandhi was also the world’s second female head of the state, the first being neighbouring state – Sri Lanka’s prime minister – Sirimavo Bandaranaike. This was much earlier than Europe – the region had to wait until 1979 when Margaret Thatcher became the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom – the first elected woman ruler in Europe.

As many social reformers during the British era in India had rightly identified, gender equality can only be achieved by encouraging literacy as well as financial independence among the fairer sex. They need to be educated, given equal-pay jobs, promoted by merit and encouraged to play a prominent role in policy-making.

Hopefully we can look back and say that Falak and Afreen have not died in vein.

Vaibhav Gangan is the managing editor of The Global Indian magazine.

Editorial News Opinion Work Abroad

Opinion: lies, limelight and citizenship

Who will you trust more – the politicians, the bureaucrats or the media? And who would you turn to, when these three pillars of trust come together to overshadow one of the most sentimental events in your life?

In an unexpected turn of events, an access-to-information request filed by the Canada Press has revealed that the Canadian immigration department faked a citizens’ reaffirmation ceremony for a television programme.

Watch the video of the ceremony at the end of the article.

The incident in question happened in October 2011 when the immigration minister Kenney asked the immigration department to organise an oath reaffirmation ceremony for existing and new citizens. This ceremony would be for conservative Sun News Network so that the oath could be videographed and aired on television.

The department, given a short notice, struggled to get confirmations for attendance from willing citizens who were busy with their work. While the bureaucrats tried to convince the minister’s office and the television network to videograph one of the 13 already-planned reaffirmation ceremonies, the channel instead suggested another option.

“Let’s do it. We can fake the Oath,” says an email from a Sun News address. (Name blacked out in the documents released to media.)

As a last resort, six immigration employees posed as new citizens, took the oath and even answered the television presenter’s questions.

The news channel has denied any knowledge about the immigration officials posing as new citizens. In the end, it was the staff of Citizenship and Immigration Canada that were blamed by the minister. “It turns out that in the ceremony in question . . . some of the people invited did not arrive. I think the response to that was poorly handled,” Kenney clarified.

However, the documents released show that the public servants tried their best to explain the sensitivity of the ceremony to the minister’s office. “We have to keep in mind that the ceremony should first and foremost be a special (sic) for the new citizen, most of whom will want family and friends (sic) attend this very special day in their lives,” a bureaucrat wrote to Kenney’s office.

To be sure, there is nothing wrong, per se, in immigration officials restating their citizenship oath. Any citizen can. However, the fact that they were event organisers, should have been disclosed.

The incidence shows lack of sensibility toward an emotional event in the life of not only new citizens but also naturalised citizens. It’s an event that a new migrant looks forward to. It’s an event that nominally marks the completion of the migration experience and almost signifies formal acceptance into the host community. It is not just the residency status; it is an expression of commitment and trust between the immigrants and their adopted nation, which is mutual.

For naturalised citizens, the oath expresses their commitment to Canada.

That level of respect due to the ceremony was breached by the “sensationalisation” of the ceremony.

However, the event also raises more concerns. It compromises media’s independence when a television channel agrees to a minister’s request for the ceremony.

And third, it raises questions about ministerial interference in the operational arm – the bureaucracy. Why not let the officers do their job?

The incidence shows that the nexus of the powers-that-be not only influence our perceptions but also control what we see.

Vaibhav Gangan is the managing editor of The Global Indian magazine. 


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OPINION: Honour killings, open immigration and women – a paradox

The latest incident of a Muslim teenager forcibly married off by her father came as a shock to the mainstream society in New Zealand. While such incidents are not rare in conservative countries like Pakistan, it is not what one would expect in the capital city of a western country.

Out of fear that his 17-year old daughter was seeing a Hindu boy, the father took her to the department of internal affairs and got her to sign visa papers. It turned out that the girl had signed on her marriage papers. She was then married to a distant relative who she had only briefly met.

Again, the girl was kept in the dark about the ceremony. It was only after the wedding that she discovered that she was forcibly married. She then spent two months under virtual house-arrest by her in-laws, where her every action was monitored.

She was courageous enough not to be resigned to her fate, and with the help of an NGO, Shakti, soon freed herself from the unwanted relationship. Her father threatened to kill her, before returning to Pakistan.

Not all girls are as fortunate to be alive as the Welllingtonian. In a recent judgement, a court in Canada has convicted a father for killing three teenage daughters and one of his wives.

All four were drowned inside a submerged car that was found in a canal in Ontario. The jury have found the father, Mohammad Shafia, his second wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya and their son Hamed guilty in what is now knows as the Shafia trial. Canada has reported 11 victims of honour crimes since 2005. Seven of these are young women.

However, the main problem lies in the labeling of such hideous crimes as ‘honour killings’, which almost justifies the brutality, and to some extent, makes it look acceptable, at least within the extremist groups, as one expert says.

Canada’s Memorial University of Newfoundland psychiatry professor Dr. Amin Muhammed has identified “lack of negative stigma” as one of the common factors in these crimes. The other two factors: these are planned attacks, and there is family complicity.

Dr. Amin Muhammed was called on by Canada’s Department of Justice to study the crimes in 2009.

These are not honour killings. These are not even spontaneous bursts of domestic violence. These are cold-blooded murders, often well-thought out and well calculated.

“The cases should not be seen or referred to by the controversial term, but simply as murders of women and girls,” says sociology student Saima Ishaq in an interview to Canada TV. She should know; the Pakistan-born girl wrote her thesis on the subject – honour killings.

“It’s like any other community. Violence against women exists across all cultures, they’re just given different names,” says Ishaq.

Untill the media and lawmakers acknowledge the crimes as such, we will struggle to come up with measures to effectively deal with such barbarous crime against women.

Thankfully, Canada’s minister in charge of women’s rights, Rona Ambrose, agrees. “Honour motivated violence is NOT culture, it is barbaric violence against women,” Ambrose tweets. “Canada must never tolerate such misogyny as culture.”

While on the one hand, Norway’s child welfare department has come under heavy criticism from Indian authorities for taking away two children from their Indian parents for reportedly “feeding the kids by bare hands”, the liberal Canadian department apparently did not do enough in the Shafia case. The girls, aged 13, 17 and 19, had contacted social services for help. But Quebec’s child welfare agency did not have enough evidence for intervention.

To achieve a balance between legal enforcement, safety of women, and cultural tolerance, mere law enforcement initiatives are not enough.

If the governments are following liberal immigration policies, then the social and criminal fallout, like in these instances, cannot be left to the enforcement agencies alone.

(Vaibhav Gangan is the managing editor of The Global Indian magazine)

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Mumbai blasts put pressure on India-Pak relations

The latest terror attacks in Mumbai, three serial blasts to be precise, have claimed 21 innocent victims while seriously injuring 200 people.

The attacks come at a time when the world has gained renewed hopes of fewer terrorist activities after the killing of Osama bin Laden. Far from it! Soon after Osama’s death, Pakistan has witnessed a few terror attacks, and the latest Mumbai blasts show that the war on terror is alive.

In the midst of usual condemnation by global leaders, and Indian leaders’ assurances to bring the culprits to justice, there’s a bleak feeling among Indian citizens that this is their fate, and they have no choice but to get used to it.

The 25-million strong Indian Diaspora feels fortunate to be living away from the country that’s just short of a civil war in many of its states. But the feeling of helplessness towards their family and friends left behind soon takes over.

After all, the Indian migrants moved to far-away destinations not just for a prosperous but also for a safer future.

The threat of terrorism is as much real in India as it is in the US, the UK or Australia. And people of Mumbai are not new to the blast experiences, which feeds the apathy towards terrorism by the state government.

The city that survived 13 serial blasts in 1993 was preparing for worse years ahead. In 2006, bombs planted in Mumbai’s local trains killed 200 travellers at various locations. While the memories of those blasts were still fresh, a group of armed men entered Mumbai by sea in 2008 and took a large number of Indians and foreigners hostage at two elite hotels. With this history of bloodshed, Wednesday’s blasts appear pale in comparison.

However, on the backdrop of stronger global political stance against terrorism, these attacks almost seem to defy the international resolve to counter terrorism.

Unfortunately a country can’t choose its neighbours, and India lives among civil-war-torn states like Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, while China keeps India awake on the borders every night with its frequent infiltration.

The global opinion in unanimous about Pakistan’s role in not just harbouring but also training and funding terrorists. Despite global pressure, Pakistan hasn’t cooperated with India in arresting the masterminds of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, especially the Lashkar-e-Taiba men. LeT has been responsible for all the blasts since 1993, either directly or through its affiliate groups.

Succumbing to international pressure, Pakistan arrested key suspects of many Mumbai blasts, including the LeT chief, but the trial hasn’t achieved much yet.

Following the US military action in Pakistan that killed Osama, there was a growing opinion in India that the government should follow a similar pursuit to arrest the key suspects of Mumbai terror attacks. Pakistan was quick to warn India of dire consequences if India even thought of doing such a thing.

While major cities in India have been put on high alert, there’s growing fear about a potential, bigger attack, and unease about the country’s inability to curb the growing militancy in its neighbourhood.

Political environment has worsened. It was only last year that Mumbai’s neighbouring city, Pune, witnessed a blast at a bakery patronized by foreigners, which killed 17 people. David Headley, who conducted reconnaissance for the Pune blasts was also linked to the 2008 attacks in Mumbai.

However, Headley’s statements have worsened the chances of any improvement of ties between the US and Pakistan, and India and Pakistan.

Pakistan has remained in denial of any involvement in terror attacks and has been very quick in condemning the Wednesday blasts. Indian authorities have vowed to arrest the terrorists. The resilient people of Mumbai are probably planning a candle-lit vigil for the victims, while the city follows its British legacy of ‘Keep Calm and Carry On!

The author is managing editor of The Global Indian magazine.

Business Editorial Global Indians Opinion Work Abroad

Why are NRIs so touchy about India?

Call them NRIs, people of Indian origin (PIOs), or the most recent label – overseas citizens of India, they have one thing in common – their overt patriotism.

Does it occur to them that “patriotic non-resident Indian” is an oxymoron?

Just like ‘dancer Sunny Deol’, an ‘orator Azharuddin’, or an ‘honest Indian politician’.

On a public platform, these NRIs praise India. In private parties, especially with their white ‘countrymen’, the patriotic Indians willingly share stories of corrupt traffic cops, non-functional utilities, and criminal politicians of India.

Indians living abroad baffle the kinkiest of minds with their confusing behaviour. Frustrated by the hardships of life, rough living conditions and unjust system, NRIs grab the first available opportunity to ‘quit India’ and chase their ‘dollar dream’.

However, when an Anna Hazare raises a movement against corruption, these foreign-settled Indians join the crusade against corruption in their adopted countries.

Why didn’t they fight the system while still in India?

Similarly, they leave India to seek higher earning potential; once they settle abroad, they bring their money back to invest in India’s share markets, businesses, real estate and trade. Why didn’t they try to make that money in India?

As they switch through their television channels in the US, desperately looking for ‘desi’ content, why did they vigorously look down upon Indian entertainment channels while munching on feed from foreign channels, while they lived in India?

These seem to be baffling questions, even as renowned Bollywood writer Javed Akhtar struggled to explain the phenomenon (though he wasn’t referring to NRIs specifically), “Hum logon ko samajh sako to samajho dilbar jaani” (loosely translated, the song expresses the feelings of Indians: ‘try as hard as you may, you will struggle to fathom our irrational behaviour.’)

When I wrote a similar column last year, I was bombarded by emails from angry NRIs.

The content of the hate-mail is usually the same: NRIs are contributing to India’s success story abroad.

The usual arguments:

NRIs are the torchbearers of India’s success story abroad. “We are the economic brand ambassadors,” said one email.

NRIs invest heavily in India and contribute to valuable foreign exchange. NRIs also bring skills, knowledge and ‘outsourced business’ to India.

NRIs lobby for India in the west.

These are valid arguments and this article does not try to take away that credit from NRIs. Overseas Indians indeed represent India to the west.

But how many of Indians living abroad are truly successful to be able to sing a success song and portray an enterprising India? Only a handful.

The non-resident Indians surely remit money to India, and invest in India’s share market and real estate. But a majority of NRIs invest in the real estate, which does not create jobs, actively contribute to business and industry. It only helps fuel spiraling house prices, and drive the home-ownership dream further away from many ‘domestic’ Indians.

Also, if these entrepreneurial Indians had stayed back, they would have build a decent fortune in India, which may be bigger in some cases, or smaller in other cases, than their achievements in the west.

More importantly, only a minority of NRIs are well-off and send large chunks of money to be invested in India. A majority of remittances are from working class Indians toiling away in the Middle East, sending money back to support their struggling families in India. Most of this money is spent on maintenance and consumption, and very little in invested in the economy.

Here’s another argument put forward by patriotic Indians – the remittances from NRIs are ‘net gain’ for India – the country hasn’t spent its infrastructure to earn the money.

This is true. The earner hasn’t used India’s roads to go to work, hasn’t polluted India’s air, hasn’t used India’s water, electricity and so on. You get the picture. So, it’s a net gain for India. However, the effect is offset by many expatriates working in India and sending their savings overseas.

This inward-outward remittance’s balancing act brings me to the point of this article.

When it comes to migration and economy, patriotism plays very little role.

We live in a global world.

I am an Indian by birth, just as someone is Chinese, American or British. My upbringing is influenced by Indian environment. That makes me Indian by culture. However, as I spend my adult life in my adopted country, I become a global citizen.

My nationality by birth or by culture is of little relevance to the economies I serve. My host country and my country of origin, are two sides of the same coin. Both the countries, as well as global commerce, benefit from my international activities.

However, NRIs have an argument in their favour. Overseas Indians have a multiplier effect, they benefit the host country as well as the birth country without really taking away as much from the either.

Do we still have the patriotic argument here?

Vaiebhav Gangan is the managing editor of The Global Indian magazine.