Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The ennui of blogs that bash India

I recently read a blog by a NRI (non resident Indian) living in the US bashing his homeland, India.

This particular blog has done the rounds of the Internet and Facebook, and sparked such debate that the New York Times, which originally published it, has been forced to do a story on the outraged responses to it. The blog can be found here

It is written by an NRI called Sumedh who first left India to live in the USA in 1996 and then returned 10 years later in 2006, seduced, he says, by a "Thomas Friedman India", presumably referring to the shiny urban India of call centres described in Friedman’s 2005 book, ‘The World is Flat’. Sumedh first moved to the US before ‘Shining India’ had emerged. Sitting in the US sipping a Starbucks, no doubt, he was clearly seduced by a new perception of India emerging as the next global superpower. He wanted to return to find that India, which in his view, was a more palatable version of the India he had left. He writes in his blog that he returned in 2006 prepared for an India that was “like the flight’s Indian vegetarian meal;  visually familiar but viscerally alien…an India that offered global companies, continental food, international schools and domestic help.”

Bollywood films by the likes of Karan Johar no doubt helped build up this image of a fun, modern, funky, shiny clean India and newspaper articles in American media about the India growth story probably precipitated his decision. Of course the shiny  India he had read about in the USA did exist – but only in five star hotels and urban centres – and another less successful, less organised but perhaps more endearing India was also still very much there, less reported on in the American media, one he had hoped had faded, but still very much in existence.

Two years and 10 months in to his stay in this New India, he decided he hated it, packed his bags and returned to the US and his blog is all about the reasons why he couldn’t stand New India. He blamed India for his inability to adapt to life there and not himself.

The blog was offensive to many people. One of his most maligning claims is that his stint in New India had made him inhuman and soulless; he claims it turned him into a smug person who, like all rich Indians (according to him), dehumanised the labour classes. He says he started to hate himself. He had “regressed,” he said. “I hated what I was becoming,” he wrote.

It is fallacious to think that a country can change you and make you become something else or a worse individual than you already were. It is a twisted logic. He became what he became because he chose to become that. Nothing stopped him becoming the next Mother Teresa, but he chose not to.

Here are some of the aspects of India which he said he hated in New India and were the reasons for his return to California in 2009:-

1)      The maid system. He said that by the end of his stay he “probably spent more on pizza than [his] maid.” This comment alone demonstrates his complete lack of understanding of how India works and how he was, in an Occidental imperial way, trying to impose his Western viewpoint on the way India works. Anyone who has an ounce of understanding of India, appreciates it is part of the East, not West, and has its own way of functioning. (Everyone knows for example that Mumbai has a fantastically organised, but seemingly complex way (to the Western eye), of delivering packed lunches known as tiffins to workers; everyone knows that the washing at Dhobi Ghat is done in a more efficient manner than dry cleaners in the West could imagine but to the Western judgmental eye it appears chaotic, even though it is in fact highly efficient.) There is no global law that states that every country has to function how the US does. You do not judge a maid’s pay in India on her wages alone. It is far more complex than that, as is most of what happens in India.

For starters, to my knowledge there is no law in India which regulates the wages domestic workers earn or sets a minimum wage. They are part of the so-called disorganised sector. Therefore most Indians pay maids the going rate, whatever that is, after inquiring about it. The maids themselves generally set this rate in an informal manner by demanding specific wages when you try to employ them.  No maid is forced to work for anyone and they refuse to work for you if you do not pay them what they want. But the compensation does not stop there. Everyone I know, gave their maid at least a month’s salary as a bonus at Diwali, with probably saris and sweets on top. Others gave bonuses at Christmas as well. Many Indian families I know regularly bought their maids clothes and always paid for their medical treatment. One Indian lady I know had to move to the US for a year and paid her maid an annual salary anyway even when she was in the US and the maid wasn’t even working for her - as a gesture of gratitude and loyalty.  It is standard practice to increase the maid’s salary every year and most families let them take a month off to visit their village in May and still pay them!

 I think it is extremely naïve of NRIs or expats to turn up in India, hear what the salary is, compare it to what a cleaner would get in the US or UK for the same hours and then brand it as slave labour. That is not how it works. In any case, there is a completely different cost of living in India compared to the US so you would not expect to pay a maid there the same wage. Yes, maids one day might join the organised sector of work, when minimum wages are set, but currently they are in the disorganised sector meaning they don’t pay income tax etc…The matter is not black and white and a maid’s pay cannot be compared to the price of a pizza. Yet, throughout his blog, Sumedh demonstrated a surprising Western superiority complex over the way India functions. He also referred to an incident when his friend’s children got amoebiasis (posh word for food poisoning) and he “thought” (note: did not even know) they got it from “the maid” so from that point onwards he and his wife “separated the dinnerware” the maid used. That is discrimination at the extreme! I don’t know any Indian employer of domestic staff who did that. My maid often used my cups and plates and I thought nothing of it. This writer is referring to what he did (that was discriminatory) and then inferring that all Indians do this. It is as absurd as an Indian moving to Britain and beating some men up outside a football match saying “ All Brits do this.”

2)      He said that at one point his driver asked him for a Rs 500 loan (£6) to attend his grandmother’s funeral and he “brusquely” refused implying that all rich Indians “refused” loans to their drivers as well. “It only encourages them to ask for more; besides, they’re all liars,” he wrote, expressing his personal view of drivers, suggesting that was how all rich Indian felt about their staff. Wrong!. All the Indians and expats I know who had drivers regularly lent them money when required and this was considered part and parcel of hiring the driver. The driver received far more than a salary alone, with medical costs etc thrown in and the drivers wages were within the scale of things in India, quite good. Most of my friends were beholden to their drivers, rather than the other way round, usually leaving parties early so their drivers could get home to their families, giving them time off regularly and paying for them to attend funerals. To refuse a loan for that is simply disgusting and if it was me, I would not even expect the money to be repaid and would just give it.

3)      He describes how he also had a road-rage incident:. “I verbally abused a hawker who was blocking the road. I’m not going to let bullock-cart India make my daughter late for her school admission test. The hawker glared but scampered away, the road cleared, and, as I walked back to my car, I saw something new and disturbing in my driver’s eyes: respect,” he wrote. The fact that his driver’s reaction to his violent outburst was mere surmise on his part, is bad enough. For all we know, the glint in his driver’s eye was anger towards him, not respect. But either way, to refer to a hawker as “bullock-cart India” is extreme discrimination and then to put his child’s school admission test above the right of the hawker to common courtesy says more about him than it does about India. I have seen road-rage incidents occasionally happen in the UK and in India but only by angry fired-up people. Not everyone engages in them. In India, I found most people to be impressively patient and it was patience that I learnt in India, rather than road-rage.

4)      He also wrote about his ability to perfect “reflexive, addictive and tragically accurate placement of other Indians into bullock carts, scooters, airplanes and who knows what else”, the issue of “caste” and getting tips on “keeping his maid in her place.” It was, in short, grotesque. I never “kept my maid in her place” and nor did any Indian I know. My maid became my best friend, we discussed my love life and she grew to adore my cats. When I left India I gave her everything in my flat for free. But that is not unique – it is what every Indian does. I know of Indian children that have grown to love their maids like members of their family. Yes, there is a class system in India, like there is in the UK. But it is nowhere near as inhuman as Sumedh made out. And if he had wanted to write about that and how socially mobile or not the Indian class system was, his blog just skimmed over the surface and barely touched on it. That indeed might have made an interesting read. I would happily rather read a piece on caste and the class system in India based on interviews with maids, drivers  and watchmen rather than the single view of an NRI with a Western mindset unable to integrate in India describing his ill-informed impression of the matter. The caste system is anyway almost a nebulous concept, talked about more in the West than it ever is in India. It has little relevance today as a) many Brahmins (once the highest caste) are now penniless and unemployed, like British aristocrats and b) many of the lower castes now benefit from positive discrimination in jobs and education.

I am sure I mixed with Indians of all castes and yet no one knew anyone’s caste, it was never discussed and it did not affect anyone’s promotion in the work place or entry to a club or anywhere. India is not that behind, thank you. The practice of untouchability in India was outlawed in 1950. It is, in my view, one of those subjects, like earthquakes and poverty that Westerners love to use when discussing India, to make themselves feel better.

Sumedh failed to say anything he liked about India or to show any deep insight into the workings of India, a massively diverse and complex country . All his blog did was prove how distant some NRIs are from their actual Indian roots, and how many of them have lost the connection completely and are now as native as the natives in the countries they have moved to.

A British NRI friend of mine was equally revolted by the NRI piece as me. “I could predict what we was going to write before I read it. This is the same old trite foreigners have been writing about India for the past 40 years and now the NRIs are doing it. I am an NRI and I love India and Britain. I am as happy having a chai at a chai stall as fine tea at the Taj or the Ritz. I can do both and enjoy both. I don’t understand what all the fuss is about,” he said. I met another NRI living in Germany the other day, a wise old man in his 80s. He said to me, "When you visit India you cannot go there expecting the same life as you have in England. You have to put all that aside and embrace India for what she has.” He was right. Similarly so does an Indian coming to Britain.

So, in my humble view, if you want to make comments on how awful another country is to live in, first survey a million residents living in it, then present the picture. Do not make sweeping statements based on your own single, subjective, non representative experience.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The ongoing struggle of the adivasis (tribal people) in India

Swanky shopping malls, restaurants selling chocolate samosas, cafes promoting lattes and cinemas screening 3D films are what make up urban India today. 

Riding on an unprecedented boom, more Indians than ever have got large disposable incomes and are willing to splash out on everything from washing machines to BlackBerries and sushi to Margaritas. 

But while that is life in Indian cities, there is a completely different scene in the dense forests where nearly 100 million adivasi (tribal people) live. There, environmental destruction and bloodshed can be found, as India’s indigenous people are being displaced to make way for steel plants, roads, factories, mines and refineries.

Despite having followed a sustainable way of life for thousands of years farming, hunting and gathering, these tribes, the “refugees of India’s ‘progress’” as Booker prize winning novelist Arundhati Roy describes them, face a bleak future. Many are engaged in battles to stop their land, lives and livelihoods being taken away because beneath their homes lie India’s richest natural resources, namely uranium, bauxite, limestone, coal, marble, and iron ore, worth millions of pounds. Meanwhile the ecosystem is getting destroyed as forests get bulldozed for profit from heavy industries to fuel the Indian dream.

Orissa has more than 50 per cent of India’s bauxite reserves, the raw material for aluminium, worth a staggering £2 billion. 

But the fallout is everywhere. For example, 100 villagers from the Majhi Kondh tribe were displaced when a one million-tonne alumina refinery opened up in Lanjigarh in 2008.

The villagers were forced to leave their traditional mud huts and move into concrete resettlement colonies on the edge of the refinery. Now without land for grazing or forest produce, many have gone back to the hills.

“They had no means of making a living. They were sitting on concrete steps with nothing to do,” says Dr Jo Woodman, campaigner for Survival International, which successfully campaigned against proposals for a six-fold expansion of the Vedanta-owned refinery. The Ministry of Environment and Forest blocked the mining giant's plans in 2010.

40 Dongria Kondh from several villages blockaded the road to the proposed mine site, holding banners  
© Lindsay Duffield/Survival
Kumpti Majhi, a member of the Majhi Kondh tribe, explains: “We do not need jobs or money. We want to live here as we used to, peacefully. If the mountain is there, we have water, clean air and fruit. There may be some development, I may benefit, but will my son and my grandson?”

Many do not possess paper titles for their ancestral land, so do not even get any compensation if resettled. Even if they do, the money is quickly spent and does not provide a sustainable source of income, Woodman says.

But Vedanta also hopes to mine bauxite at the nearby sacred Niyamgiri Hills. No villagers would be displaced if this open-pit mine went ahead. But Woodman says the mountain is perceived by the Dongria Kondh tribe as the seat of the gods and they do not want to “sell it”. 

Dongria Kondh girl playing on a swing in the Niyamgiri Hills, India
 © Survival
“They graze animals on top of there, worship there, farm it and collect medicinal plants from it,” she says.

Although these plans were rejected in 2010 by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the case has now gone to India’s Supreme Court.

However, Vedanta Aluminium Ltd claims it is improving the standard of living of the tribes. On its public blog, it writes the region will “stand to gain from infrastructure development including power, access to primary education, quality healthcare services, employment generation, diversification of the agrarian economy, thus accelerating the process of economic development.”

But Woodman says: “The Dongria tribe doesn’t want anything from these people. For a community like the Dongria you can’t compensate the deep spiritual connection they have to their land. They don’t want the mines to go ahead.”

Dongria Kondh boy Kalia stands in front of the Niyamgiri hill range.
 © Lewis Davids/Survival
As a result of total despair, many adivasis have, controversially, turned to the Maoists, an armed insurgency trying to overthrow the Indian state, for protection.

“The state government keeps giving the green light to take away their lands and their ability to resist under normal democratic means is fruitless,” Woodman explains. “The adivasis feel extremely frustrated which fuels the Maoist insurgency and is why a lot of Maoists are adivasis.”

Author of The God of Small Things Roy has also taken up the adivasi cause, claiming that India’s growth rate is built on “taking land from the poor.”

In her recent book, Broken Republic: Three Essays, published by Hamish Hamilton, she writes: “The armed struggle that has broken out in the heartland is not the first, but the very last option of a desperate people pushed to the very brink of existence.”

The Indian novelist, who has spent time with Maoist guerrillas in the forest, says: “When a posse of 800 policemen lay a cordon around a forest village at night and begin to burn houses and shoot people, will a hunger strike help? When people are being brutalised, what ‘better thing’ is there to do than fight back?”

But the violent conflict has so far caused more than 10,000 deaths on all sides with Maoists, civilians and the police all getting killed.

Approximately 27 per cent of India’s coal reserves are in Jharkhand, another state where mining is rife. Robert Wallis, an American photojournalist, ventured into Hazaribagh and Ranchi districts in 2006 and 2010 to witness first-hand the impact of open-cast mining on the adivasi way of life.

“As far as I was aware, the adivasis I spent time with had no connections with the Maoists," he says. "They were trying to use art as a means of resistance, and to preserve their traditional culture against the onslaught of mining.

 “The western media always wants to talk about Shining India, that image that all Indians aspire to – being middle class, shopping malls and Tata cars,” explains Wallis. 

“While this has been true for a minority of the population, it’s not for the majority, especially not for the adivasis who are suffering to enable Shining India to come to big cities. It is wreaking destruction on their lives,” he says. 

His photos, which were shown at The School of Oriental and African Studies in London in 2011, include pictures of adivasis in their traditional mud or leaf homes, then in urban slums and resettlement camps, where they have been forcibly rehoused.

He describes the latter as "listless". They have "no connection with their environment anymore" and cannot continue their ancient traditions such as painting their mud homes or worshipping nature, he says.

Dispossessed of their homes and heritage and without work, they often ended up scavenging on the peripheries of mines, his captions state. One picture shows a couple from the Birhor tribe returning home having caught nothing as there are no animals to hunt owing to the destruction of the forest habitat.

"The result of these industrial projects is of no benefit to the tribal people as the electricity generated is going to places like Delhi and the iron ore is going to China" he adds.

"The whole landscape is changing," he says, explaining how one minute he photographed traditional tribal villages as of yet untouched by mining, the next he shot the remains of whole villages that had been wiped out and left crumbling on the edge of open-pit mines. He also saw roads dug through remnants of huge swathes of forest that had now vanished.

"My belief is that the only way India will really prosper if it protects its traditional way of life - some people may call adivasi life primitive, but it's sustainable," he adds.

 “It’s not that we believe that the minerals should be left in the ground,” argues Woodman. “We appreciate these areas are rich in reserves and it’s inevitable India is going to want to extract them but it’s recognised international mining practise that you don’t proceed with a mine against the express wishes of the local community. The mining companies need to listen to the community and respect their wishes, rather than thrashing in and not doing any kind of proper consultation. Of course there is plenty of land that should have industrial development because it has been ruined for agriculture,” she says.

Dongria Kondh children inherit their ancestor's jewellery at a young age, part of the history that ties them to their sacred homeland in the Niyamgiri hills: © Survival

The Indian Government is acutely aware of the ongoing crisis and is urgently trying to get it resolved. A subcommittee of  The Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Ministry of Tribal affairs recently produced a detailed 284-page report,  named 'Report of the National Committee on Forest Rights Act', ,which following a lengthy investigation into adivasi rights in forested areas of India. 

The findings of the report, published in December 2010, matched what NGOs have been saying. It found that adivasis, 92 per cent of whom live in forests, had frequently been illegally removed from forest land without any verification or recognition of their rights, in violation of the Forest Rights Act 2006, which was enacted in 2007 through the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, to correct the historic injustice done to forest-dwelling communities, an oppression which commenced in colonial times. 

The report also admitted that the rights of forest dwellers were indeed being ignored and tens of millions of them had been displaced from their homelands to make way for development projects such as mines, power plants, irrigation, dams and roads.

 It said the Forest Rights Act had been frequently violated, despite directives from the Centre to the contrary. The report discovered that the forest dwellers were generally poor and illiterate, either unaware of or unable to negotiate their rights and so huge swathes of land were being passed over to industry "unchecked."

 The report blamed complete confusion and chaos at a local administration level, blaming local officers for having no knowledge or understanding of the FRA Act.  It called for "an urgent need for the involvement of human rights organisations" in the matter and called for swift  action to enforce the Forest Rights Act was being implemented at a state level and for action to be taken against those who violated it and for roads, electricity and hospitals to be finally built in forest areas. © Naomi Canton 2011

India and China set to rule this century

India and China are set to dominate in a new post-western world but “that did not necessarily mean that the USA and Europe have had it,” the last governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, has said.

Patten, now Chancellor of Oxford University, made the remarks in a speech he gave at a recent alumni weekend, held by the university.

Chris Patten speaking at Oxford
Lord Patten of Barnes, famed for handing back the sovereignty of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China in 1997 marking the end of British rule, told the audience of Oxford alumni that there had been a major shift in the global balance of economic power and that India and China would dominate this century, creating a new global hierarchy dominated by the East.

In his speech, ‘What next? Surviving the 21st century’, based on his namesake book, he spoke of a “fin de siècle” mood pervading America and Europe. But he said he did not accept that the world today was more dangerous than before, pointing out that at the time of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which coincided with his first term as a student at Oxford University, “the world appeared to be teetering on the edge of nuclear Armageddon.” I don’t think that things are as dangerous today as that,” he added.

While the world knew what it needed to do in order to survive, at present it appeared to “lack the political leadership and international political capacity to rise to the challenge,” he claimed. “We know what needs to be done from the Middle East to climate change. We know the sorts of things the international community should be doing in order to find a sustainable solution,” he went on.

The former Conservative MP and European Commissioner warned that the world population, which increased fourfold in the 20th century, was set to increase from 6.9 billion by a further 2.1 billion by 2050 and the majority of that increase would be in very poor countries, most of which already faced political instability and considerable environmental stress. “The only rich country in the top 10 where population is increasing now is the USA,” he added.

Speaking at The Sheldonian Theatre, where Oxford’s matriculation and graduation ceremonies are held, Patten said we can expect to see an explosion of growth in the numbers of people living cities (which increased 13-fold in the past century), especially in China (where it’s reckoned a billion people will live in cities by 2050). He said we could also expect to see an increase in energy consumption which had already increased 13 fold in the past century because industrial output had increased 40 times and also increased water use (which had increased ninefold in the past century), including possible conflict over water resources between India and China in the future and increased carbon monoxide emissions (which had already increased 17 times in the past century.) All of this was “posing probably the biggest issue for diplomacy, arguably since [The Treaty of] Versailles,” he claimed.

He then spoke of the India growth story and visible power shift already taking place. India has several multinational companies with global brands against which other companies benchmark themselves like Tata, Reliance and Infosys, he said.

“India now invests more in the UK than the UK invests in India,” he added.  He said by 2040 India would probably have the largest population in the world and Chinese pensioners would be the second largest.

China is currently the second largest economy in the world but, by the 2020s, China would overtake the USA to become the largest economy in the world, Patten said.

“It’s a world you can very properly describe as post western. Asia no longer has to define modernity in western terms,” he said.

But he pointed out that it was not all doom and gloom for Europe. While Europe currently had only had seven to 10 per cent of the world’s population, it still produced 21-22 per cent of the world’s output, he said.

 “And there here are serious problems confronting both India and China,” Patten warned and then spoke of the “steady federalisation of the polity in India”.

He pointed out that Gujarat, where more than 1,000 people were killed in the 2002 communal riots, which accounts for just 5 per cent of India’s population, actually contributes 16 per cent of India’s output and 22 per cent of exports.

He also spoke of India suffering from “a criminalisation of politics”, “terrible levels of corruption” which “have raised questions right across the board about the nature of representative democracy in India and about the integrity of legislature, judiciary and bureaucracy."

 “There are three Chief Justices in India today who face criminal charges,” he said. He said the country had “terrible infrastructure problems” and yet the country had “pockets of extraordinary prosperity and sophistication” surrounded by “terrible poverty and awful corruption.”

He then moved on to China. “China also faces huge problems despite its extraordinary economic achievements, with a 1600 per cent increase in its exports to America over the last 15 years, China faces, as does India, huge environmental challenges,” he said.

He said China faced the problem of how to rebalance its economy moving from substantial dependence on manufactured exports to greater investment in domestic infrastructure and greater encouragement of consumption. Despite a huge boom in exports, wages in China remain low. Wages in China, as a proportion of the economy, have fallen from approximately 53 per cent of GDP to less than 40 per cent. Patten also questioned how far China could open up its economy and embrace social and technological change, while keeping an iron grip on its politics.

He hinted that India and China may have to take centre stage not just economically but in global politics and international bodies and affairs too.

“With the US political system gridlocked and with Europe obsessed with its own problems, where will we look to for leadership?” he asked. He said bodies created in the 1940s such as the United Nations were falling to pieces and lacked “moral and political authority” and “ structures were needed” to deal with international cross border problems such as climate change and organised crime.

When considering whether leadership should come from Europe, the 67-year-old former student of Balliol College, who is also chairman of the BBC Trust, pointed out the currency union was falling apart because of the difficulties of running monetary policy with one hand and fiscal policy with another.

When asked about immigration, Patten, a Catholic, who oversaw the oversaw the Pope’s visit to Britain in September 2010, said that populations were falling fast in Europe, especially in Italy, Spain and Poland and the number of people in work supporting those in retirement was falling extremely fast. The consequences of rapidly ageing populations and lower fertility rates meant greater immigration would be required to provide jobs and services in Europe. But he warned Europe would see “some of the tensions” that arise when there is no rapid economic growth alongside mass immigration. He said immigration into Europe was also likely to increase owing to natural disasters elsewhere.

Responding to a question on why British schools weren’t concentrating on teaching Hindi and Mandarin in the light of his forecast, he replied, “My daughter learnt Hindi to appear in a Bollywood film,” referring to Alice Patten, who starred as struggling British filmmaker Sue McKinley  in the hit Hindi movie Rang De Basanti. In an apparent attack on Britain’s youth, he added: “We need to teach them English first.”

The alumni weekend, named Meeting Minds – 21st century challenges, offered a packed three-day programme of more than 120 events for alumni.

Oxford academics from a range of departments delivered lectures showing how they were tackling a range of global challenges from population growth to increased energy consumption, climate change, lives spent on social networking sites, the science behind earthquakes and emerging infectious diseases.

A highlight was a ‘Mathematical Tour of Oxford’ by Professor Marcus du Sautoy, who had presented the BBC documentary ‘The Story of Maths’, which had revealed that Indians had made many of the key mathematical breakthroughs in the world before the West had and before Sir Isaac Newton was born, including inventing the zero, despite common misapprehensions that Maths was a Western invention. © Naomi Canton 2011

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Who were the rioters, what motivated them and can India teach us a lesson?

I could be psychic.

I wrote about the breakdown of the social fabric of British society in February 2009. That was before the current riots in England that have sent the media and government into a frenzy analysing the causes. See Back then whilst living in India, I compared Indian teenagers to those in the UK and quickly spotted that those in India had aspirations and values, were far better behaved than their counterparts in the UK and the anti-social behaviour and gangs that blighted Britain’s streets did not exist in India.  And bizarrely, in India there is barely a welfare state to speak of. Unlike in Britain.

I also wrote about the unhealthy dependency on the welfare state here in the UK. See Within days of moving back to England from India I was immediately stunned at how how much Britons get from the state for free, compared to say, Indians in India: free homes, unemployment benefit, child benefit, free schools and much more. No one in India got any of this and yet India’s country’s economy was soaring, jobs were increasing, their family unit was intact and their teenagers well-behaved and ambitious, unlike ours. In India everyone had a job, even if menial. Meanwhile in Britain, foreigners (mainly from mainland Europe) worked in the cafes and hotels while the Brits took Jobseekers Allowance. And whinged.

Now  we have just witnessed the England riots 2011, which were not dissimilar to the Paris Riots in 2005, 2007 and 2009. The core complaints of the rioters in both cases seemed to be that they were feeling left out, jobless, alienated and deprived. An “us “and “them” culture had emerged and a feeling the state had let them down.

Yet, why do Britons feel deprived and alienated when they live in Britain, one of the richest countries in the world? A country that millions of asylum seekers are still queuing up to enter…A country with a welfare state invented in 1911 and enhanced in the 1940s that other nations can only dream of?
Many British politicians deny poverty plays a role and are putting the riots down to a lack of discipline in schools and poor parenting, which has created a generation that would rather steal a plasma TV than save up for one. Given that the teachers who teach in British schools are highly trained, why are the schools in inner city areas so very bad? Why are they failing to instil any discipline in children?Many blame the laws in the UK which give too many rights to pupils and don’t allow teachers to punish them if they misbehave.  Teachers daren’t discipline pupils for fear of getting abused by the parents. Has the British state school system failed? If it hasn’t, how come we have ended up with a generation of delinquents happy to riot and loot with no respect for their neighbourhoods? How come drug dealers are allowed to stand at the school gates?   There is clearly a level of law-breaking in terms of gangs and drug dealing in and around inner city schools that society, schools, parents and the police have, till now, overlooked.

The national curriculum in British schools does not have enough relevance to modern Britain either. Employers say that when school-leavers apply for jobs they have no skills of use. Why don’t schools teach useful subjects such as how to do tax returns, how to be self-employed, how to make money from stocks and shares, how to write CVs and dress for interviews and so on?

The proliferation of gangs in inner city areas is also very much to blame. Mark Duggan, the black man whose death sparked the riots, was a member of one such gang. How did the British police let these gangs get so out of hand? Police have said that 25 per cent of those held after the disturbances are linked to gangs.

It is no coincidence Duggan came from Broadwater Farm in Tottenham, a council estate that was also the scene of violent riots in 1985 after a Caribbean woman was murdered there. That time the riots led to the death of a policeman, a death linked to the same gang Duggan was in. This time was it the rioters’ offspring rioting? The police had reason to believe Duggan, a crack cocaine dealer, was out to avenge a fellow gang member's murder on the night they had him under surveillance and shot him. London has seen 92 similar gang related murders in the last two years but none have made it to headline news.

High unemployment among black Afro Caribbean male youth is also clearly a factor in the riots. In an interview with the BBC back in January 2010, way before the current riots happened (see ) Jeremy Crook, director of the Black Training and Enterprise Group (BTEG), said part of the problem was there were very few black role models in Britain.
"Amongst black men, unemployment is about 20% - if a quarter of adult males don't work for 10-20 years, it doesn't give communities much aspiration, it demoralises and dissuades young people.
"They look to alternatives and get involved in gangs,” he said.
Almost half of black people aged between 16 and 24 were unemployed, at that time, compared with 20% of white people of the same age, the Institute for Public Policy Research then claimed. 

When asked why the they did it, the rioters said “Because the Government has cut my EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance) or “I applied for a job at that electronics store and they didn’t reply to my email so now it’s payback time.” Hardly a justification.

Some politicians are blaming parents, not schools, but as one mother from a council estate told a TV channel last week:  “We have no control of our children. They don’t even do what we tell them. If we say they are grounded they barge past us and go out the door. If we try and smack them they say ‘You are not allowed to touch us; that is what we are told us at school.'"

Many parents handed their children into police when they saw their pictures released as suspects in the riots, so it does seem to me that most parents did not condone the rioting.
But it is true that many parents are so busy working to earn enough money to live in the UK, they have no time for family life. Their kids are being brought up by X boxes, not people. Or rap music. In India the cost of living is lower and pressures are less great on average household incomes, plus there is the option of maid.

Single mums have faced a lot of flak in recent weeks too, being blamed for the riots with claims that young men are being denied a male role model instead joining a gang and taking on a gang master as a father figure. I have friends who are single mums who have raised fabulous children. But then again they are a) educated and b) do not live on sink estates.  Those who tick both of the above boxes do appear to be producing badly-behaved children at an alarming rate, the girls of which are becoming teenage single mothers themselves. But is this to blame for the rioting?

I do not think we cannot blame women for being single as I’m sure many of them are single because their husband or boyfriend has got up and left them or died.
So in short, blame is being put on gang culture and rap music for glorifying violence, single mums for denying young men male role models, council estates, unemployed youth, poor discipline in schools, poor parenting, weak prison sentences that do not act as a deterrent, a lack of social mobility, the class system, public spending cuts, a lack of personal responsibility and lack of respect for the police, particularly following allegations of corruption in the phone hacking scandal.

Of all these youth unemployment, a lack of personal responsibility, gangs and the depressing life and culture of sink estates are to blame, in my view. These sink estates were originally built between the First and Second World Wars to rehouse people displaced in the slum clearance programmes. Many of these estates are now synonymous with violence, drunkenness, drug-dealing and gangs. The schools that serve them tend to have disruptive and underachieving pupils. There is a vicious spiral. No wonder this is the second riot at Broadwater Farm.

Prince Charles hit the nail on the head, when visiting riot-hit Hackney. He said national community service was the answer and pointed out extra-curricular activities were severely lacking at many secondary schools.  ''Half the problem is that people join gangs because it's a cry for help and they're looking for a sense of belonging. Schools don't have enough extra-curricular activities now. There are not enough organised games or other kinds of activities. Young people need self-confidence; we have to motivate and encourage them and give them responsibility. You need to be exhausted and have that energy channelled into useful activities," he said.

Interestingly the young people he spoke to said, what everyone has been thinking, that they were given far too much, had far too many rights and not enough discipline. They expected things to be given to them without working; they needed to be made to want to work. The issue was schools, families and the environment in which they lived, not race or class, they said.

So what is the solution? Well, firstly, we can look at India. The difference between India and the UK is that:-
1) In India people know they have to get a job and go out and earn a living to survive. There is no welfare system to depend on.
2) The family unit is still cherished and single mothers frowned upon meaning most children are brought up in two parent families.
3) The education system is authoritarian and pupils have to respect teachers. Authority, parents and older people are respected and people live in fear of the police and being sent to prison. (Not the case in the UK).

Apart from that I think encouraging  and allowing the police to use harsher tactics in dealing with riots (such as tear gas and plastic bullets) and making sentences for all crimes less lenient so that being put in the dock does act as a deterrent to youngsters, would help. Plus the prison experience should be made more uncomfortable and perhaps TVs and DVD players taken away. An Afro-Caribbean woman told a TV channel here: “In Africa the prisons are horrible and no one wants to go to prison. Here in Britain they are too nice and not a deterrent.”

 Police should be allowed to ban head and face coverings at any public gathering and force the wearer to remove it whenever there is suspicion of a crime being committed. It is ludicrous we have looters allowed to go out with scarves tied round their faces and commit crimes.

But the problems are clearly even more complex. David Cameron has made the right decision to bring in Bill Bratton to advise on the gang problem and yes, a compulsory youth national community service, as suggested by Prince Charles is a great idea. Free parenting classes should be on offer to anyone that wants them, more money needs to be spent on youth services, and stricter discipline and punishments in schools is required as well.

But there is still one massive problem remaining....

Youth unemployment.

How that will ever get solved in recession-hit Britain is anyone’s guess. Who is going to create the jobs?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Indian expat in Britain

I have been meeting up with various Indian people in the UK since coming back to live in England. By Indian I mean Indian visitor or expat, not British Asian (or British Indian,  as some prefer to be called, referring to British citizens of Indian heritage either born here or who started arriving in the 1950s.) Indeed about 20 years ago most British people’s only exposure to Indians in the UK was  the immigrants who moved here en masse in the 50s, 60s and 70s and their offspring and their offspring’s offspring. Now with the wealth and skills set increasing in India, more Indians are coming to Britain to study Masters and MBAs and many of those are managing to find work and get employed here afterwards. Others are coming directly on highly skilled migrant work visas to work in sectors like IT with companies such as Infosys, Aviva on 2-3 year contracts. Many are already here as doctors and priests. This MBA/IT/highly-skilled set makes up a new genre of Indian you will find in British cities and towns, quite different to their counterpart, the British Asian. It’s funny because, having lived in Mumbai for more than 3 years, I can spot an Indian expat a mile off. They are distinctly quite different, in their accent, dress and behaviour, to a British Asian/Indian. 

Meeting them is interesting for me. I'm curious to see, having been an expat, how well they adapt to the UK, or not; whether they integrate or not and watch the little faux pax or gaffes they unknowingly make that arise from cultural misunderstandings. I know I made many similar gaffes and faux pax in India. I also know, having lived overseas, that it is important to overlook those faux pax as they only arise from being raised in a different culture and society. They are never intentionally offensive. When I was in Mumbai I also made blunders, but, sadly, whereas some people overlooked them, others did not.

In Mumbai, some Indians were welcoming of expats and others were not. I know that some Indians made me feel really different. They did not include me in things, would not confide in me or gossip with me or would say really strange things to me.  As a British woman I also had to fight stereotypes in India. I remember one Indian woman saying to me, “You know how all western women write about sex in their blogs and Indian woman bloggers don’t well..” I was furious. Since when did all western women write about sex in their blogs!! (I know I have touched on relationships, but still…) On another occasion an Indian woman said, “You know how all French people are manic depressives, well it’s because they are spoilt and have not had to endure the hardships Indians have, well….” Such sweeping generalisations spring from ignorance and I generally ignored the remarks. Similarly there was an element of Indians who had a post-colonial hangover. If I dared to criticise India, the response would be “So you want to rule us again?”  Or “Why do you think your culture is superior to ours?” I didn’t. I may have been merely mentioning something or other that could be improved in India (like the fact drivers don’t stop at zebra crossings. They don’t in Rome either and I get equally annoyed there.) I can think of plenty of things that can be improved in England too. I don’t see why I have to continually praise a place. And I don’t. Some of the most interesting discussions with one’s friends can come from debating how to improve or solve social issues. If there were no social issues to solve, what would we discuss? Men and make-up? There was also a resistance among some Indians towards expats getting jobs in Mumbai. If you explained to them that the Indian diaspora was massive and millions of Indians had jobs overseas it made no difference. They were not overseas and didn’t care. Of course outside this stereotyping and prejudice were many very decent, intelligent, bright, spiritual, welcoming Indians who I thoroughly enjoyed meeting.

Expats take to India differently. There are some that ‘go native’ so to speak, refuse to mix with other expats, eat only at street food stalls and so on…There are others who refuse to mix with Indians , slag off India and are only seen at five star hotel brunches. I liked to be somewhere between the two extremes, with half Indian and half expat friends, semi integrated but making the occasional gaffe. One area I did struggle with was using the words, Sir or Madam. This to an English person is completely alien. To my knowledge, the UK, Sir is only used in the British Army and possibly when a commoner meets Royalty. Otherwise it might be used by a waitress in a very posh five star hotel in London to a customer. No one uses this as a form of respect for elders or people more experienced/powerful than you, as they do in India. I also could not bring myself to use the word thrice instead of three times or ride a moped without a helmet. 

But now I am the local in my own country and seeing how the Indian expats get on intrigues me. I was out with an Indian friend the other day at the cinema. After buying the tickets he asked the ticket booth man if he had any change. When the man refused my friend blew his top at him.  I was shocked as it is not acceptable to be that rude to someone selling tickets at a cinema. Then outside a Big Issue seller came to speak to me when I was with my friend and my friend said in a loud voice, “How dare you interrupt our conversation?” I was taken aback as, again, in England we would never speak so rudely to a Big Issue seller either. We know they are homeless and selling the Big Issue to make ends meet. But I guess my Indian friend treated him as though he was a rickshaw driver, day labourer or beggar who had come up and barged into our conversation, something unthinkable in India. They know their place in Indian society and probably would not dare. But England is far more egalitarian. The person selling Big Issue might be homeless today, but yesterday he may have been in a good job. The ticket booth man is probably studying a Masters or working as an actor. In India sadly the treatment of rickshaw drivers, waiters, maids and the like is not always the same as here and sometimes they are treated with immense disrsepect. I didn’t say anything at the time but decided if I met this Indian friend again and got to know him better I would mention it.

Another funny incident happened when I was with an Indian friend going out for a meal and I asked him what cuisine he wanted. “Something spicy” he said. This will pose problems in England where most food is not spicy and we eat a lot of French and Italian cuisine. I explained that left us with Bangladeshi or Mexican cuisine and there wasn’t a Mexican restaurant in the town where we were. He finally caved in and we went to a French restaurant. He was unable to comprehend the French menu. (The menus are always in French in French restaurant in the UK to add to the experience. For Brits they are pretty easy to decipher as we are used to it.) “What is canard?” he asked. “What is poulet?” He asked. Of course he spoke about 7 languages but French was not one of them. For the Brits French is pretty easy. Then the food came and whilst I raved about the food, he seemed unimpressed, probably similar to how I had reacted when an Indian once friend took me to a Rajasthani traditional restaurant in Gujarat where I couldn't get to grips with the unusual food at all. I exclaimed, “Isn’t French food just the best!” tucking into a rare steak with frites. “You know French food is the most gourmet in the world and yet I barely came across a single French restaurant in India,” I remarked. “There is a reason for that,” my Indian friend, who did not eat beef, said dryly.

Meanwhile the British friend I was with kept calling him middle-class. He was saying it to compliment him on how well-brought up and well-spoken he was, but the Indian kept merely smiling; this was the other meaning of the Indian smile and I knew it. I finally explained to my British friend that being called middle class in India isn’t  seen as a great compliment– it’s basically seen there as what we describe as lower class here – you need to say upper middle class to refer to what my friend was trying to communicate…Middle-class in England  conjures up Wimbledon, Henley, private education, four bedroomed-detached house, professional occupation, tennis, rugby, Berkshire etc…But in India it refers  to the  masses, not the upper echelons of  society. It conjures up a very simple home and life in India. So this was another cross-cultural miscommunication, I figured. When I explained it to both of them, the Indian stopped the ear-to-ear grin and his shoulders seemed to relax. He admitted he had been baffled by the constant comment he was middle-class. “I  just could not understand why you kept on telling me I was middle-class,” he said.

As we left the French restaurant we walked past a group of English woman. It was a cold night and they were all, without fail, in mini dresses or mini-skirts, which hung almost below their knicker lines, they had completely bare legs and stilettos. Some had tattoos; others had cigarettes dropping out of their mouths. Most were heavily made up. There were 100s of them all appearing from nowhere, heading for the local dodgy nightclub of the Home Counties town we were in. I was rather embarrassed by this sight and explained to my Indian friend that not all British woman dressed or behaved like this.  I hadn’t seen anything like it myself for years. My female friends and I were more likely to be seen in a country pub in designer jeans and a T shirt than anywhere like this and we never dressed like that in the evenings.  These women all looked like they had one intention in mind, and it is a sentence that is three words long. The Indian friend had no idea that what he had seen and experienced did not represent British women or indeed British society.  If anything, it represented a segment of British society - one that would not be found at Cheltenham Ladies College or in the King’s Road, London or in a British law firm.  “There is a different kind of English woman,” I started to explain as best I could. “Not all British women dress like this.  I am different, for starters,” I said proud of my designer jeans and black top I was in, my stock ‘night out’ outfit, in fact.  “Oh you mean the plain Jane!” he said confidently, in a thick Indian accent. I swallowed my anger, as did the British guy who was with me. I realised the Indian expat had no clue what the connotations of the phrase Plain Jane were.  I have been called many things to date, but not till now, anyway plain. Anyway I forgave him, as you have to, if you want to befriend a foreigner in your homeland. It reminded me of when an Indian in Mumbai had said I looked well fed. I couldn’t have been more offended but he had said it with a big grin as though he was complimenting me and this Indian in England who said I was a plain Jane was also grinning from ear to ear.  I fathomed that expats will make faux pax and social blunders in the mind of the locals, wherever they are, but ignoring them is the best thing to do. Apart from the plain Jane remark, we had had a great evening. The same with the guy I had gone to the cinema with. On both occasions we had discussed politics, culture, and society and exchanged ideas. In fact, the Indian expats had even been so kind as to decipher aspects of Indian society I had not been able to understand. What was the point of holding a social gaffe against them?

I guess what I have learnt from all this is -  you have to be elastic – you have to be able to give and stretch your boundaries of acceptance  and what is normal far more with a foreigners, than with the locals, and don’t expect them to integrate fully (why should they?) but the rewards will be worth it. You will get things from friendships with foreigners you can’t get from friendships with locals, so please be open-minded.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Arundhati Roy vs. New India

Booker prize winning novelist Arundhati Roy’s book launch in India was disrupted by protestors recently. But in Britain recently she walked into a packed lecture theatre at the University of London to rapturous applause.

The 49-year-old, who has been accused of hating her homeland, arrived at The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London several days ago with no star fanfare, dressed in a simple green sari. She mingled freely with guests queuing up to see her, before taking her seat at her first ever public lecture at the British university.

The controversial novelist-turned political activist was in the UK on a whirlwind publicity tour to promote the Adivasi resistance movement in India and her book, Broken Republic: Three Essays, published by Hamish Hamilton.
Arundhati Roy giving the lecture at SOAS in London recently
The previous week, she had appeared on Newsnight, a BBC current affairs programme watched by millions, in which she had informed the British public that the Indian economic success story was a “lie” because 80 million people in India were living on less than Rs 20 a day, there were more poor people living in India than in Africa, and that India’s growth rate was “built on taking land from the poor” and “vandalising India’s Constitution.”

As guests eagerly queued up for her free public forum, titled ‘Burning Ground: Mining, Adivasis and India's Civil War’, at the Brunei Gallery at SOAS on Sunday, two young people handed out leaflets advertising another UK lecture Roy had lined up in London later in the week – organised by a group that calls itself the International Campaign Against War on People of India. The A4 leaflet was titled ‘Stop the genocidal war against the tribal people of India.’ On its website the group claims it aims to “expose the Indian government's war on the people in India” and their attempts to “grab land and minerals” from areas where tribal people live.

 “Before stepping up on to the stage I was asked whether I was nervous when I had to speak in front of large numbers of people. But now there is more fury in me and the nervousness went away a long time ago,” Roy bellowed to the SOAS lecture hall.

“I want you all to know that the Indian Government is going to deploy the army, spending US$45bn in central India to fight the poorest people in the world. This is what is about to happen,” she continued in a serious voice, pausing intermittently to lend her words even more power. 

She then shifted into a sarcastic tone. “So, whenever you start thinking that India is such a bubbly, cuddly modern democracy, then please pay attention to this,” she said to the audience of predominantly postgraduates, students, NGO workers and academics.
The audience packed The Brunei Gallery

“This is a very old story, the old story of mining,” she said simplifying a complex matter into a few words. “The story of mining and environmental destruction,” she went on. “And of indigenous people.” Thus in sparse words she had evoked parallels with the California Gold Rush, the impact of mining on the Aborigines way of life in Australia and all the former colonial powers’ exploitation of resources.

Roy is furious about the decades-old Maoist insurgency in central and eastern India in which more than 6,000 people have lost their lives. Whilst it is an uprising that the prime minister of India has declared as “the single greatest threat to India’s internal security”, suggesting it is a greater threat to India than that of Jihadist terrorists from Pakistan,  Roy has an entirely different perspective. She sees it as an unjust war against simple, poor Adivasis who are merely and rightfully resisting being displaced by large corporations for mining projects.

A video link was set up to stream her talk into another lecture theatre simultaneously as so many people had come to London listen to the famous novelist.

John Hollingsworth, Brunei Gallery Exhibitions Manager, had organised the public forum, with funding from a variety of organisations including The Gandhi Foundation. Despite being free, tickets had had to be reserved in advance and it was overbooked two weeks in advance. He said: “Initial interest was so high we could have filled the 300 seat Brunei Gallery three times over. It did not need much publicity as word of mouth spread very quickly.”

As for a reaction from the Indian Government to all the allegations, he said: “The Indian Government was invited to the opening of the exhibition and our first seminar to put their own point forward, but as far as we are aware, no representative was able to attend.”

Roy has been on a tirade against the Indian Government ever since she took up social causes such as opposing such as the Narmada Dam and supporting Kashmir’s independence, following the success of her first novel The God of Small Things, which won the Man Booker prize in 1997. In recent months her controversial campaign to garner support for the Maoists has intensified, a viewpoint that has led to fierce criticism in India, where she irks some of the burgeoning middle class. She was denounced by a few protesters as a ‘Murdabad’ at her latest book launch at the India Habitat Centre in Delhi recently.

She began her speech at SOAS talking about climate change, the state of the planet and declared the world was in crisis. “Just look at the plastic in the ocean and the state of the forests,” she said.
Arundhati Roy remained passionate throughout her speech
But before long she was attacking her homeland claiming India’s democracy was sham.
“India’s USP is that it is a democracy but unlike western nations, who when they were industrialising, were developing laws and codes of civil rights, India started colonising itself,” she said.

She then posed the question: “Are Maoists really Maoists since 95 per cent are Adivasi?”

Reading extracts from Broken Republic, she spoke about Adivasis being killed in what were “merely described as encounters by the Indian media” and that the atrocities being committed were blatantly “ignored by the Indian media.” According to her, more than 200 MOUs have been signed by the Indian government giving tribal land to corporations for industrial projects. She said more than 400,000 people were displaced and Rs700 billion spent to make way for The Commonwealth Games, which a lot of athletes and the Queen did not attend “to celebrate the British Empire.” She also spoke about protests by pavement dwellers and those displaced by Special Economic Zones that were ignored by the media. They have now become gangs of slaves moving from city to city building new India, which has no relevance to them, she declared.

Roy, who has even spent time with the Maoist guerrillas in the forest, said “I asked the women why they joined the guerrilla army and they said they had watched their sisters and mothers get raped. It’s not just about mining corporations, it’s about feudalism and casteism. They wanted to escape even the patriarchy of their own society,” she said, in a rare moment of criticism of patriarchal tribal societies. “India has some of the most extraordinary women in the world yet people commit female foeticide” she said. “This is a struggle for the whole world, it’s everyone’s struggle, not just India’s.

Now we have the rich who look down on the poor thinking what are they doing drinking the water in our rivers and living in our forests?”

As for the legitimacy and morality of armed resistance, she was intransigent. “I have been accused of being a terrorist and a Marxist but someone has got to stop the violence. If you live in a forest village in a tribal area and 800 people come and burn down your village , what are you supposed to do? Declare a hunger strike? The politics of the non-violent struggle is an effective form of theatre but only if there is an audience. There is no audience in the forest. The hungry can’t go on a hunger strike. These people have nothing and it is not reported so they have no choice. What is happening in India is genocide and people have the right to resist by whatever means possible,” she said.

She fell short of commenting on the atrocities committed by Maoists in the so-called red corridor of central and eastern India where they are fighting the Indian army or of expressing any sympathy for victims of Maoist attacks, a subjective stance that continues to draws fierce criticism within some quarters in India.

Indeed, while the main target of the Maoist insurgents has been the police and the army, civilians have also been killed in the violent uprising that has seen trains hijacked, buses bombed, landmine attacks, ambushes, kidnappings and executions.

Felix Padel and Samarendra Das, authors of Out of This Earth: East Indian Adivasis and The Aluminium Cartel (2010), were also speakers. 
On the far right is Felix Padel, a descendant of Charles Darwin
They have written a book that explores how the mining of bauxite to make aluminium is linked to corruption, international banks, the London Metal Exchange, multinational companies and the destruction of Adivasis communities.

Padel, a freelance British anthropologist, and great great grandson of Charles Darwin, has lived in India 30 years. He said that the Indian Government had “invented the Maoist as a bogeyman” to get public support behind attacks on Adivasis. “I see the war on Maoists as a war against tribal people,” he said, echoing Roy. 

He spoke about how large well-known Indian corporate houses controlled the media and so when their steel or mining arms forcibly displaced Adivasis to start steel plants and mines in virgin forests, the media did not cover it. He even claimed major international bodies like The World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the UK Department for International Development, were tied up in the racket by giving loans for building roads and mine infrastructure and that  “squeaky clean offices in London”  were linked to the corruption.

“Many people do not know that a civil war is happening in India. This is the worst war that has ever taken place in India, especially because it’s directed against villagers who have been there for hundreds of years,” added Padel, who is married to an Adivasi woman and lives in a remote village in Orissa.

“Chattisgarh has become a hell on earth. The tribes are civilised in terms of law, the position of women and children. There is only one war in India that is similar to this and that is the Kalinga War when Emperor Ashoka attacked the state of Kalinga.”

The atmosphere changed when a member of the audience  of Indian origin, grabbed the mike and read a question from a crumpled up piece of file paper, asking Roy why she was so negative about India and requesting her to list three things she liked about India.
The first man to ask a question attacked Arundhati Roy

As his lengthy criticism of Roy continued, a large number of the audience started booing and hissing him, but he continued unperturbed, dogged that he was on the right course.   After listening patiently, Roy retorted that she was  proud of “the resistance movement in India” and then talked about the “spirit and imagination of India” she was trying to protect. The next question was from another young man of Indian origin. He also was critical of Roy and wanted evidence the media was controlled by corporates and questioned Roy’s intractable stance India was a Hindu state. Roy replied that 95 per cent of profits of mainstream papers in India came from corporate adverts and that they would pull adverts if stories appeared that they did not like. All the wars 
Arundhati Roy was unperturbed by criticism
against Adivasis were being waged in non-Hindu states, she claimed.

 “India is a democracy but a democracy for a few people” she continued. “The day the Indian Constitution came into being was a dark day for Adivasis. Yet tribal people were there before India existed.”

The discussion then moved on to press censorship and the corruption of  well-known international NGOs, ending with loud applause with most of the audience seemingly agreeing with Roy’s take on India’s civil war.

Outside the lecture hall guests looked around a two floor photo exhibition called A Disappearing World: Ancient Traditions Under Threat in Tribal India by Robert Wallis an American independent photojournalist based in the UK. Wallis had travelled to Jharkhand, one of the richest states in India in terms of minerals, and photographed Adivasi who he said were being displaced by large mining corporations that were moving into their forest homelands to extract coal and minerals such as coal, copper, iron ore and bauxalite.

The walls were filled with pictures of Adivasis first in their traditional mud or leaf homes, then in urban slums and resettlement camps, where he said they had been forcibly removed and rehoused to make way for open-cast mining of coal, iron ore and bauxite. In some pictures they were scavengers on the peripheries of mines. The captions sated they had been dispossessed of their homes and heritage and without work, ended up scavenging or working at salve labour rates amid  dire conditions left them with respiratory diseases and tuberculosis. One  picture showed a couple from the Birhar tribes with their hunting nets. A caption stated they were returning home having caught nothing as wildlife was disappearing and there were no animals to hunt owing to the destruction of the forest habitat.

Nearby people queued up for Broken Republic costing £18 (Rs1,400) a copy, while outside the Gallery, one of the young Indian origin men who had criticised Roy was smoking a cigarette continuing the  debate outside with a friend.  “It’s because of things like this,” he said pointing at his expensive blackberry and mobile phone, “that my generation is excited. New India is bringing us opportunities and things we never had before. She is seen as a joke in India. Very few people take her seriously.” He paused and dragged on his cigarette. “It’s just governance that is the problem.”