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Suicides Rise Across India

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2011 at 7:08 am

“India has become the suicide capital of the world,” says Daya Sandhu, a counselling psychology professor at the University of Louisville in the U.S.

As a Fulbright-Nehru Senior Research Scholar at Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, India, Sandhu spent five months in India last year researching suicide trends in the country.

“While I was in India from January to June 2010, I was troubled to read headline news almost on a daily basis about students, farmers, and housewives hanging themselves, jumping before trains, taking poison, and committing self-immolation,” says Sandhu.

Beyond the walls of an abandoned factory here, Arun Bag now contends with the tragic memories of his father who killed himself after their farmland was seized to build a plant for the ‘world’s cheapest car’.

“Since his childhood he had only known the field, the plough and the harvest. When the land was acquired forcibly by the government for the Tata Motors car plant he became jobless,” says Arun Bag, remembering his father Haradhan Bag of Singur, an hour’s drive from Kolkata, the capital of eastern state West Bengal.

“He had slipped into depression. One day he took his life consuming insecticides,” Arun said.

Haradhan Bag, who committed suicide at the age of 76 in March 2007, is one of the thousands of Indian farmers who have taken their lives, unable to cope with economic plight, failed crops, farm debts and displacement.

In India, one farmer committed suicide every 32 minutes between 1997 and 2005, according to P. Sainath, a writer on Indian poverty who calculated the statistic from National Crime Records Bureau figures.

Farmers and students are most at risk.

According to the latest statistics of India’s National Crime Records Bureau, 127,151 people in India committed suicide in 2009. This indicates an increase of 1.7 percent over the previous year’s figures.

Suicide is a great social leveller in India, Asia’s third largest and one the world’s fastest growing economies with a projected GDP growth of 8.6 percent from 2010-11.

Displaced farmers like Haradhan Bag of Singur are battling the problem along with debt-ridden farmers of the Vidarbha region in Maharashtra. But middle- class urban families and students at India’s prestigious academic institutions are battling the problem as well.

In the bustling metropolis of Kolkata, barely 40 kilometres away from Haradhan Bag’s village, the media focus is now on the suicide of a 13-year- old student in one of the city’s elite schools.

Rouvanjit Rawla, an eighth standard student of La Martiniere for Boys, hanged himself at home in February last year after he was caned by a teacher at the school.

“I am now fighting for justice and to see that corporal punishment is done away with,” says Ajay Rawla, the father of the boy who is waging a legal battle against the school authorities.

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights has recently ruled that Rouvanjit was driven to suicide by the school which practises corporal punishment.

Sandhu says that though the media highlights the issue, the Indian government turns a blind eye to the problem at all levels – local, state, and national.

“There is no awareness about depression in India,” says Sandhu.

Interviewing a large number of students in India, Sandhu found academic pressure, parental expectations, marriage tension and relationships to be the primary causes of suicide among young people.

“I was stunned that all the students I interviewed mentioned that at least 70 percent of them have a prem rog (love sickness) and they live loveless lives,” Sandhu said. “They do not feel anchored anywhere. There seems to be no genuine parental love, but only conditional love. They are also strictly prohibited to engage in romantic love, as there is no dating system.”

There are very few counselling centres in India, given the number of suicide cases, according to Sandhu.

Lifeline Foundation in Kolkata is the only counselling centre of its kind in a city of 15 million people. It is also the only one in the West Bengal state of 80 million people.

“The parental pressure to excel in academics or jobs is a driver of suicide while it can combine with factors like substance abuse and relationship and family problems,” says Jayashree Shome, deputy director of Lifeline Foundation.

The centre offers a hotline and face-to-face support for people who are distressed or suicidal, but not many are aware of its existence.

“People who feel suicidal don’t want answers or solutions. They want a safe place to express their fears and anxieties, to be themselves,” she says. “We need to understand things from their perspective, not ours.”

According to Sandhu, the India Mental Health Act of 1987 is limited only to the treatment and care of mentally ill persons who suffer specifically from diseases such as schizophrenia, bipolar and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

“The India Mental Health Act of 1987 is clearly good only at laying down guidelines for establishment and maintenance of psychiatric hospitals and nursing homes… It is limited in scope and services that precludes persons who suffer from numerous other mental health problems such as suicide ideations, alcoholism and substance abuse problems, family, and community violence, anxiety and stress disorders,” he says.

Sandhu says there is an urgent need to ramp up mental health counselling in India.

“Most likely with economical help from the government, I would hope that the farmers’ suicide problems can be taken care of very soon,” he says.

Source: SGGP

Pakistan praised India response on Mumbai attacks: WikiLeaks

In Uncategorized on December 18, 2010 at 10:56 am

A Pakistan High Commission official praised India for acting “responsibly and maturely” following the Mumbai terror attacks which killed 166 people, according to US official cables released by WikiLeaks.

A fire breaks out of the dome of the Taj hotel in Mumbai, 2008.

The official, whose name was deleted in the confidential cable, made the comments when contrasting New Delhi’s reaction to the Mumbai attacks to its response after the bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul in July 2008.

The cable, dated December 1, 2008 and signed by then US envoy David C. Mulford, spoke of strong demands in the Indian media for retaliatory action against terror camps in Pakistan after Mumbai.

It quoted the Pakistani official as saying the Indian government’s reaction to the embassy bombing was “impulsive and politically motivated” when it swiftly blamed Pakistan’s intelligence agency.

More than 40 people, including India’s military attache and a diplomat, were killed in the July 2008 attack on the embassy in Kabul, while 166 people died in the Mumbai attacks by Islamist gunmen in November 2008.

According to the Pakistan officer, the negative effects of the Mumbai attacks on ties between the nuclear-armed rivals, who have fought three wars, would “fizzle out over the next few months”, the cable said.

The concluding comment on the Mumbai attacks by the US Embassy was: “No Military Confrontation Anticipated”.

India is still pressing Pakistan to bring to justice the alleged masterminds of the attacks in which 10 Islamist gunmen attacked a host of targets including luxury hotels, a Jewish centre and the train station.

Nine of the gunmen were killed and the sole survivor, Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, was condemned to death by a Mumbai court in May. He is challenging the sentence.

Seven suspects in Pakistan including the alleged mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and Lashkar-e-Taiba operative Zarar Shah have been put on trial in the country, but none has yet been convicted.

Source: SGGP

India beauty crowned Miss Earth

In Uncategorized on December 16, 2010 at 9:57 am

Nicole Faria from India beat 84 contestants across the world to win Miss Earth 2010 title in Nha Trang City, Khanh Hoa Province, Vietnam on Saturday night.

Nicole Faria (R) is crowned Miss Earth 2010 in Nha Trang City on December 4 (Photo: SGGP)

At the pageant’s final night hosted at Vinpearl Land Resort, the first runner up went to Miss Ecuador Jennifer Stephanie Pazmino.

Miss Thailand Watsoporn Wattanakoon has won the second place and  Miss Puerto Rico Yeidy has ranked the third.

The top seven contestants are from Indian, Venezuela, Ecuador, South Africa, Puerto Rico, Thailand and Japan. Miss Vietnam World 2010 Luu Thi Diem Huong has been listed in the top 14.

The top four contestants of the Miss Earth 2010

Also attending the final night were music stars Ronan Keating and Marie Digby, and MC Oli Pettigrew.

Source: SGGP

Focus on India as world meets to save tiger

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2010 at 6:50 am

As Russia hosts an unprecedented summit on saving the wild tiger, much of the attention is focusing on India, home to nearly half of the big cats but also a leading centre for poaching.

Experts here said that despite positive steps, India is struggling to deal with poaching, with poor villagers willing to kill and sell tigers for just 100 dollars and the rangers charged with protecting the animals under-paid and poorly equipped.

“Poaching is the major threat, number two is habitat destruction,” said Satya Prakash Yadav, an official with India’s environment ministry taking part in the summit of 13 nations in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg.

An Indian Royal Bengal tiger at the Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad in June 2010.

India is home to 1,411 tigers of the estimated 3,200 still living in the wild but also to 54 percent of poaching and trafficking cases. According to a recent report by the Traffic International non-governmental organisation, more than 1,000 tigers have been killed in the last decade in Asia.

“People living around the tiger reserves are always poor and if you come offering them a big price for the tigers they will take it,” said Sejal Worah, the director of the World Wildlife Fund’s Indian branch.

“The poacher gets only 100 dollars but the price of all the parts could be a 100 or 200 times more than that.”

Much of the poaching is fuelled by demand for tiger parts in Thailand, where there are far fewer of the wild cats, she said.

Good laws are in place to protect tigers in India, but enforcement has been lax, said Vivek Menon, the director for Southeast Asia for the International Fund for Animal Protection (IFAW), which has trained more than 7,000 rangers in India, a third of the country’s anti-poaching force.

“We have seven years in prison, not fines, if you kill a tiger…. What more do you want? India has very good laws. But the problem is the implementation in such a big country,” he said.

“For many years, nobody went to jail. Before, the judiciary never convicted. That has changed in the last five-six years and this is a good step.”

India’s federal government launched a tiger protection programme in 2007 with several million dollars allocated to urgent measures to cut down on poaching.

Among other efforts, the government recently began hiring retired soldiers to work on tiger reserves.

But Worah said the rangers are working in difficult conditions, hampering their efforts.

“It’s difficult and thankless work,” she said. “Often they are not paid for months and they are badly equipped. Sometimes they don’t even have boots or raincoats.”

Another effort has seen Indian authorities displace villages located in reserves to install tigers in the area. India is expected to commit during the summit to creating protected zones for tigers free of infrastructure, roads and people — a move that is likely to engender controversy.

“In a country like India it is difficult to reserve a zone and to say this is only for tigers and not for anything or anyone else. We don’t have the kind of space that Russia has,” Worah said.

“Social problems are competing with the tigers. It is a fight every day. But it is not a fight we are losing. We make two steps forward for every step back,” Menon said.

Animal-rights groups say the tiger population in India has fallen from 5,000 to fewer than 2,000 in the last five years, despite the allocation of 32,000 square kilometres (12,800 square miles) of sanctuary space.

Still, experts said India has scored some successes in its efforts to save the tiger and they hope the country is on the right track.

“Many of the success stories we talked about even here at the summit are from India,” Worah said.

“India is not a bad example, it’s just a realistic example,” Menon said.

Source: SGGP

Obama’s India Trip: What U.S. May Get in Return

In Uncategorized on November 9, 2010 at 6:51 am

Obama hails ties with ‘world power’ India

In Uncategorized on November 8, 2010 at 8:51 am

Death toll rises to 18 in India ferry sinking

In Uncategorized on October 31, 2010 at 11:12 am

Two more bodies were pulled out of a fast-flowing river in eastern India on Sunday taking the death toll to 18 after an overcrowded ferry capsized and sank, with scores of people still missing.

Coastguard and navy vessels searched for further victims of the ferry accident, which took place on Saturday morning in West Bengal state.

“We now have collected 18 bodies from the river which is wide and turbulent, and we are uncertain of exactly how many more people are missing,” senior state police officer Surojit Karpurokayastha told AFP.

The vessel, which was carrying around 150 people, capsized in a river in the Sundarbans mangrove forest, 120 kilometres (75 miles) south of Kolkata, capital of West Bengal.

The boat had the capacity of just 60 passengers, officials said, but was badly overloaded.

The passengers, who were mainly farmers and fishermen, were returning from a Muslim religious function when the accident occurred.

Naval fishing vessels, hovercraft and helicopters joined the rescue operation when the search was restarted at dawn on Sunday, the Press Trust of India said, adding the victims were 15 women and three girls.

It said the exact spot where the ferry sank had yet to be established.

Some television news channel reported that more than 100 people were missing, but officials dismissed the number.

“I only remember a big tide and then everything was blank. I had my son sitting beside me. But right now I don’t know where he is,” Ajmal Sheikh, 23, told the IANS news agency.

Press reports said the boat had turned over after hitting a sand bank in rough conditions.

The ferry was one of five vessels making their way to Kakdwip from Khejuri when it sank in the Muriganga River off Ghoramara Island.

“The boat was badly overcrowded and the vessel sank after a giant wave slapped the side of the vessel,” West Bengal civil defence minister Srikumar Mukherjee told AFP.

Fishermen plucked at least 60 survivors from the water while others managed to swim to safety, police said.

“The river’s strong current is hampering the search operation,” Mukherjee said.

Anxious relatives were keeping vigil for news of their loved ones.

Rescuers erected floodlights on the river’s banks to make the search easier at night, but authorities feared that many of the victims had been swept away by the current.

Boat accidents are common in the South Asian subcontinent due to lax safety standards and overloading.

A similar ferry accident occurred in the same river in September, leaving two dozen people dead.
Source: SGGP

India outsourcers angered by US job visa hike

In Uncategorized on August 15, 2010 at 11:22 am

 India’s flagship outsourcing industry reacted angrily Saturday to a new US law tightening security at the Mexico border with measures paid for by steep hikes in American work visa fees.

The 600-million-dollar legislation, signed into law Friday by US President Barack Obama, will nearly double visa fees for some Indian information technology workers entering the United States.

“The US is giving a very strong signal foreigners are not welcome,” said Som Mittal, president of the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), which represents India’s leading software exporters.

“The law is discrimination,” Mittal told AFP.

The row comes as India readies to host Obama later this year and as anti-outsourcing anger in the United States has been stoked by high unemployment.

Indian software designers at work in Kolkata city.

The law, passed in the run-up to November US polls, earmarks funds from the visa fee hike to pay for the US government’s plans to boost security along its border with Mexico to crack down on illegal immigration and drug smuggling.

“While the need to secure greater funding for strengthened security along the US-Mexico border is well understandable, illegal immigration issues are not linked to the temporary movement of skilled professionals,” said Chandrajit Banerjee, head of leading business body the Confederation of Indian Industry.

Banerjee noted India and the United States in April launched a “strategic partnership” to promote economic ties and said “a protectionist pushback” does not help the partnership.

The US legislation affects those skilled workers brought in by companies whose employees are more than 50 percent foreign, a move that largely affects India’s IT and outsourcing industries.

US high-tech firms such as Microsoft, which bring skilled immigrants into the United States on the same visas, will not be hit the vast majority of their workforce is American.

NASSCOM says the measures will boost annual US visa costs for the outsourcing industry by 200-250 million dollars annually.

“Any new fees should have been required of any firms using the (visa) programs. This would have been fair and equitable,” Mittal said.

More than half of the world’s top 500 companies outsource work to India which has become the world’s back office where Western firms have set up call centres and number-crunching and software development outlets to cut costs.

But the 50-billion-dollar-revenue industry also flies employees each year to the United States to work at their clients’ locations as on-site technicians and engineers,

Sponsors of the bill said the law would hike fees for particular Indian firms — naming Wipro, Infosys, Tata and Satyam — which they accused of seeking to “exploit” visas to “import foreign workers into the United States.”

Under the law, the fees for non-immigrant “H1B” and “L” visas go up by 2,000 dollars for firms with more than a 50 percent non-American workforce. The current fee is 2,500 dollars.

The Indian outsourcing sector has been particularly upset with statements by the bill’s champions calling the industry a “body shop” because it provides Indian professionals to US companies rather than employing Americans.

“This is ignorance,” said Mittal, saying the outsourcing industry creates jobs in the United States.

Mittal added the US legislation was not an “isolated case.”

“For the the last several years, the industry has seen constant badgering as they try to blame the unemployment of millions on a few thousand visas given to Indian companies,” he said.


Source: SGGP

India holds top-level meeting on BlackBerry security fears

In Uncategorized on August 12, 2010 at 11:23 am

NEW DELHI, Aug 12, 2010 (AFP) – India’s home ministry held top-level talks with intelligence services Thursday to discuss suspending BlackBerry services if the smartphone’s makers do not satisfy security concerns.

India is one of several emerging-market countries which have asked BlackBerry’s Canadian manufacturers to allow scrutiny of encrypted email and instant message traffic.

“This is an internal meeting and it will address BlackBerry and other telecom issues relating to security,” a senior home ministry official who declined to be named told AFP.

The row with BlackBerry, which has one million customers in India, comes as the country ramps up security ahead of the Commonwealth Games in October.

The meeting in New Delhi follows Saudi Arabia postponing a BlackBerry ban after a deadline passed for finding a solution allowing authorities to monitor encrypted messages.

Home Ministry officials have said India could press for its own deadline for Research in Motion (RIM), the manufacturers of the smartphone, to allow access to encrypted data transmitted via the handset.

The Indian government has warned it will allow India’s telecom operators to offer only services which can be intercepted by the security agencies.

The ministry official told AFP that only security agencies and state-run telecom operator BSNL would attend the meeting, which was chaired by Home Secretary G.K. Pillai.

RIM was not at the meeting, he said, declining to elaborate.

BSNL, government-run MTNL and a host of private telecom providers like Airtel and Vodafone offer BlackBerry services and have the legal responsibility in India to ensure security agencies can access all services.

Any suspension would likely leave BlackBerry users with only the ability to telephone and browse the Internet.

India is the world’s fastest-expanding cellular market and also one of RIM’s key growth targets.

RIM did not immediately respond to emails or phone calls from AFP.

India, battling insurgencies from Muslim-majority Kashmir in the northwest to the far-flung northeast, is sensitive about the potential risks of new technology and has raised fears BlackBerry services could be used by militants to communicate.

In Saudi Arabia the telecoms watchdog this week announced BlackBerry messenger services would remain online, as it reported “positive developments” in efforts to find a solution.

The United Arab Emirates has said that it will ban BlackBerry messenger, email and web browsing from October 11 for security reasons.

BlackBerry is not the only company to feel heat from the Indian government.

The government has been restricting imports from Chinese telecom manufacturers because of intelligence agency fears “spyware” could be embedded in the equipment.

It has unveiled tough new rules for telecom operators and equipment sellers to tackle security issues, saying operators will have to take over equipment maintenance locally and will have to allow inspections.

Source: SGGP

Britain, India unite to pressure Pakistan over terror

In Uncategorized on July 30, 2010 at 7:19 am

Britain and India pressed Pakistan on Thursday to tackle militant groups operating from its soil as British Prime Minister David Cameron wrapped up a two-day, trade-driven visit to the country.

Cameron’s trip, seen as test of his much-hyped business-oriented foreign policy, was engulfed from the start by the issue of extremism in South Asia after remarks he made about the “export of terror” from India’s neighbour.

His initial aim — revitalising a bilateral relationship he thought had stagnated — did win support from his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh, however, who said the visit had injected “new momentum” in their partnership.

They agreed to try to double trade in five years and signed several relatively minor exchange agreements, but militancy in Pakistan, blamed for attacks in India and Afghanistan, dominated their final press appearance.

“No one is in any doubt, least of all the Pakistani government themselves, that there has been and still are terrorist organisations … that need to be cracked down on and eliminated,” Cameron said.

This was echoed by Singh, who again called on Pakistan to “honour its commitment given to us on a number of occasions that Pakistani territory will not be allowed to be used for terrorism.”

Pakistan has been under intense scrutiny this week after leaked secret US military documents detailed alleged links between Pakistan’s ISI intelligence services and Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is also held responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which left 166 people dead and derailed a slow-moving peace process between India and Pakistan, which have fought three wars since 1947.

British Prime Minister David Cameron (L) and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrive for a meeting prior to delegation level talks and agreement signing in New Delhi.

Next week, newly-elected Cameron will host Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, with the relationship likely to have been strained by his sharp criticism of support for insurgents in Pakistan.

Asked about unrest in South Asia on Wednesday, Cameron responded that Pakistan could not be permitted to “look both ways” in promoting the export of terror while publicly supporting stability in the region.

Pakistan’s ambassador to Britain accused Cameron of “damaging the prospects of regional peace,” while the foreign ministry in Islamabad reminded him of the nation’s commitment and sacrifices in the fight against terror.

“I believe in speaking clearly and plainly about these matters,” Cameron told the news conference.

“What we will continue to do is to work with the Pakistani government to do everything we can to encourage them to crack down and take on these groups that have caused so much pain, so much suffering within Pakistan and outside.”

Cameron, despite the time spent discussing Pakistan, had been keen to focus on how to deepen bilateral economic ties with India, the former jewel in Britain’s colonial crown and now one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

He praised the recent investment in Britain made by Indian-run companies such as the car maker Tata and steel group Arcelor Mittal, but also pushed India to open up its tightly regulated retail and banking markets.

“With Prime Minister Cameron’s visit, we have set in place a new momentum to drive our strategic partnership forward,” said Singh, who endorsed the vision of a “renewed and enhanced partnership”.

Cameron headed the largest British delegation to travel to India in recent memory, including a host of senior cabinet ministers and corporate bigwigs.

In the only major commercial deal signed of note, BAE Systems finalised the sale of 57 Hawk trainer jets to India — to be built locally under licence — in a deal worth 500 million pounds (779 million dollars).

Rolls-Royce will provide the engines for the aircraft for another 200 million pounds.

In further comments designed to please his hosts, Cameron said he would continue to lobby for India to take a place on the UN Security Council and said Britain would push for the completion of a long-delayed EU-India trade deal this year.

The prime minister has come under fire back home after writing that he came to India “with humility” and accepted Britain was just one nation out of the “the whole world beating a path to (India’s) door.”


Source: SGGP