in India need focus of the world's attention, too
AHMADABAD, India -- When I last visited my elderly parents, who live by themselves in this city of 3.5 million people 300 miles north of Mumbai, a major earthquake struck the state of Gujarat, killing 14,000 people.
A year later I was again in Ahmadabad, again during a time of calamity -- this one manmade -- a horrible crime against humanity. Last year, observing events as a geologist, I was able to help people here and gained for myself invaluable professional experience which has helped me in my work in the seismically active area of Washington state.
This year, observing and experiencing these events simply as a human being has made me acutely aware of the need for vigilance against opportunists who, in the name of God, violate human rights.
Late in the afternoon of Feb. 27, my father remarked that shops in the city were closing early. Having left India nearly 28 years ago and returningonly for occasional visits from Seattle, I did not comprehend what he was actually implying.
Fifty-seven innocent human beings had been burned to death on the morning of Feb. 27. On the morning of Feb. 28, one could see smoke rising from all over the city's skyline. The neighborhood where my parents live was attacked by mobs twice, once on Feb. 28 and again the following day. There was no visible presence of police in this small minority Muslim enclave.
Prior to the first attack, we could see smoke billowing up in the direction of a major street nearby where minority-owned shops were looted and set on fire. The first attack occurred early in the afternoon, when a large mob, perhaps a thousand people, came down the neighborhood's narrow streets, pelting the area with stones. The neighborhood residents made frantic calls to the police and a number of other officials amid a loud, persistent roar of voices. A couple hundred men from the neighborhood tried to defend themselves by throwing the stones back at the intruders. Mothers screamed to gather their children. Cries of terrified children and the thunder of running feet permeated the air.
Inside my parents' one-story masonry home, I had resigned myself to whatever my fate might be. I accepted whatever Jesus Christ, Lord Rama, Allah or Moses had planned for me. My father and mother and I were all pacing through the house, hearing the noise and trying to peek from windows. I was also rushing upstairs to the roof and back down.
My old, frail mother was shaking like a leaf and clutching her heart. Along with osteoporosis and a bent back, she has angina. I knew that if I did not act fast I might lose her. I was frantic and under the grip of fear. I took her to the rear of the house, where it was less noisy, sat her down on a bench, put my arms around her and began trying to calm and comfort her. I don't remember what I said, but it seemed to help.
Residents of the neighborhood said later they did whatever they could to defend themselves for what seemed an eternity before a police vehicle came. The mob dissipated.
The next evening around 8:30, another mob visited. One residential building at the entrance of the neighborhood was set on fire. After numerous phone calls, two police vehicles drove by the neighborhood. Soldiers, escorted by police, finally came to the neighborhood around 10 p.m.
How can I describe the sight of the soldiers?
Only those people who have been told that their death sentence has been commuted can understand the feelings of the residents of this neighborhood. They were saved.
Almost all minority-owned businesses on the fringe of the neighborhood were selectively looted and burned. About half a mile away is a major police precinct on a major thoroughfare. Rows of retail shops line this arterial. There, two minority-owned shops, approximately 200 feet away and in a clear view of the station, were burned.
An eye for an eye? The deaths of 57 innocent Hindu lives are being offered as justification for the taking of up to 700 other innocent lives, mostly minority Muslims. In Ahmadabad, where some 53,000 refugees are huddled, a volunteer from ActionAid India has heard awful tales of gang rape and brutal killings of children and women.
In this land of Mahatma Gandhi, you are judged a human being only after your religious identity has been established. Gandhi advocated non-violence, tolerance and inclusivity. For a person like me who is greatly influenced by Gandhi's teachings, today's harsh reality of violence, hatred and intolerance in his land is shocking.
The state of Gujarat is ruled by Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), a majority political party. There is no minority representation in Chief Minister Narendra Modi's government. There is no minority representation in his BJP party's legislative assembly. Almost all the senior executives in the state's civil administration are from the majority community. The BJP party is supported by religious extremists who want to create a society in India that matches their vision of "right" society.
One cannot underestimate the value of deterrence provided by the world community's reaction to witnessing these gruesome events through the eye of a television camera or the pen of a reporter.
One of the photographs on the front page of an Indian newspaper showed a young man with bloodstains on his clothes and tears running down his cheeks begging the police to not leave him alone by his ransacked house where his family was killed. A photographer narrated an incident in which a woman clutched his feet, begging him not to leave the neighborhood because she felt safe in his presence.
These are the people who want your involvement in keeping this world a safe place.
Moin Kadri has been an independent environmental and geological consultant in Seattle since 1993. He holds degrees from Portland State University and also studied at Oregon State University.
crime against Americans
I HAVE BEEN a software engineer for the past 15 years, and a good one at that. Seven months ago, my company decided to give my job to offshore software outsourcers from India, and I got laid off.
Unemployment has caused me tremendous hardship. Like so many others in the Bay Area, landing a paying job has become a Herculean full-time job, fraught with tedious daily tasks and crushing frustration.
I have come to accept that there would be difficult periods like this during any business cycle. But I was stunned and aggrieved when I observed a crime being perpetrated at a time like this -- an unconscionable crime against hard-working, law-abiding, tax-paying, patriotic IT professionals like me.
Allow me to explain. There are many job ads I come across for which my skills and experience are ideal. The reason I have not successfully landed one is that, according to at least four of the recruiters I asked, there are around 500 applicants for every job opening. That's an astonishing number. With so many applicants, it would be reasonable to assume your chances of succeeding are not very good.
Here is where I first discovered the crime: I noticed a few ads advertised that they sponsor H1-B visas. I found that the companies who sponsor H1-B visas are invariably owned or run by Indians. There are thousands of unemployed IT professionals in the Bay Area who are U.S. residents and desperately looking for work. And here we see some Indian-owned companies who will spend the time, effort and money to bring people in from India to fill their job openings. That is unconscionable!
I thought that there had to be a mistake. This is the United States of America. Surely the authorities would not allow such crimes to take place. To my horror, I learned it has become a common practice for some Indians to set up dummy corporations, create dozens of bogus job openings, sponsor H1-B visas for candidates in India and arrange a temporary home for these "successful candidates."
These candidates pay their "sponsor" a fixed fee for his "services." They then stay with other successful candidates in an arranged home until they find a paying job for themselves with some bona fide American company.
But why would the companies bother to advertise openings to the public when they have no intention of hiring locally? They advertise to satisfy the INS's minimum requirements for H1-B sponsorship.
This despicable practice may explain why there has been exponential growth in the number of Indian IT professionals in the Bay Area.
I am not being discriminatory or racist. I don't care about someone's ethnicity or skin color. What I care about is behavior! And the fact is, people have systematically taken jobs away from deserving Americans right from under our feet.
The problem keeps getting bigger. I observed that when an Indian rose to a position of authority, he would hire Indians whenever possible.
Friends have shared with me that when they succeeded in getting an interview at an Indian-owned company, the interviewer and almost everybody else in the office was Indian.
My friends would feel like the interviewer had no intention of hiring anyone who wasn't Indian. The Indian companies invited non-Indians to interview only for the sake of appearance, and for state Equal Employment Opportunity reporting purposes.
In any case, some enterprising Indians have learned ways around the law to bring Indian nationals here for profit.
Indian professionals who have been brought in here through illicit means are swamping the IT jobs marketplace. It is hurting hardworking, law-abiding, tax-paying, patriotic Americans like me who are desperately looking for honest work.
And it has got to stop!
Rey David has been a software engineer for 15 years. He lives in Livermore.
STANFORD, Calif. -- There's probably nothing more dangerous that has happened on the Indian subcontinent since independence in 1947 than this week's series of nuclear tests. But the American Government's reaction to them, while understandable, may turn out to be, in its way, equally dangerous.
The American economic sanctions, taken by themselves, will not have much effect on the Indian economy, since they represent no more than 1 percent of India's gross national product. But if the American Government is able to persuade the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to cancel aid and loans to India, the effect would be devastating.
The decision to carry out the tests was made by India's unstable minority Government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, the "Hindu First" party, which has emerged in the last 20 or so years. Its hidden agenda all along has been to undermine the foundations of secular India and to oppress the Muslim minority. In recent years, some of the party's rhetoric and overt chauvinism have been toned down to win votes, but the changes have been cosmetic.
By playing the nuclear card just two months after coming to office, the Bharatiya Janata Party has become popular in a way that it never was before. Since President Richard Nixon opened the door to China in 1973, India has not figured much in geopolitical calculations. By blatantly joining the nuclear club, however, India now has a sense of greatness -- illusory though it may be.
Still, it could be that the Indian Government's decision to go ahead with the tests has less to do with international stature than with domestic politics. At present, the Bharatiya Janata Party is kept in power only on the sufferance of a motley assemblage of 14 parties and of a diminished Congress Party. But the nuclear tests may help the Bharatiya Janata Party to consolidate its power both in New Delhi and in the country at large.
Commentators are drawing parallels between the effective sanctions against South Africa during the later stages of apartheid and those now being mobilized against India. But a better parallel might be Iraq.
Sanctions against South Africa essentially punished the well-to-do. But, as in Iraq, sanctions against India would hit the poor and deprived the hardest because, of course, the international aid projects in the pipeline are directed toward ameliorating their lot. Thus sanctions would become a rallying point for fanatical nationalism and so help to prop up a weak, incompetent Government. Pushed into a corner, India may decide, much as Saddam Hussein's Iraq has done, to substitute jingoism for economic realities and blame the West for all its ills.
As it is, the majority of Indians are illiterate, nearly 80 percent of the population does not have anything approximating a lavatory, and the drinking water isn't safe in any part of the country. Since independence, no Indian government has made such necessities a priority.
Instead, resources have been diverted to big industrial projects and to defense, with the result that India can now produce steel and missiles but is ill-equipped to fight the spread of diseases like amoebic dysentery, hepatitis, malaria and tuberculosis.
The general perception is that India has two enemies, China and Pakistan. But the China threat lies beyond the Himalayas, and the Chinese are too preoccupied with their own problems to be interested in taking on India's. As before, border disputes and incursions go on between the two countries, but they have no nuclear dimension.
India's real enemy has always been Pakistan, and vice versa. (The contention that Pakistan has long been a proxy for Chinese ambitions in the subcontinent, even if true, does not militate against my point.) For some reason, the most bitter wars are internecine -- wars between members of the same family and same tribe. And, of course, Pakistanis are all originally Indians.
Pakistan already has its own nuclear capability, and there will now be no way to stop it from going ahead with its own nuclear tests. And because the conflict between India and Pakistan is rooted in religion and not economic systems (unlike the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union), the danger of nuclear war is much greater. Religious passions, once inflamed, are uncontrollable, and the capitals of India and Pakistan are only a few minutes away from each other by missile.
India has had nuclear capability since its first nuclear test in 1974, but, until now, it was fear of diplomatic repercussions that kept it from going ahead with further tests. The West can have considerable leverage with India if it uses the threat of sanctions with diplomacy and tact, rather than applying sanctions mechanically and automatically, as it is doing now. So far, the American reaction has been sweeping and sanctimonious, and the Clinton Administration has been devoid of any sober judgment of the fragility of the present coalition Government and of how best to wield American influence.
There has been a lot of diversionary self-flagellation about the Central Intelligence Agency's being asleep at the wheel when, in fact, any casual tourist to India would have known about the aggressive nuclear policy of the Bharatiya Janata Party. What the American -- and, by extension, the Japanese and Western -- governments should concentrate on now is the specter of religious nuclear war.
By Pankaj Mishra, 12/1/2002
ARLIER THIS year, I was in Rishikesh, the first town that the river Ganges meets as it leaves its Himalayan home and embarks upon its long journey through the North Indian plains. The town's place in Indian mythology is not as secure as that of Allahabad or Benares, even holier cities further down on the Ganges. People seeking greater solitude and wisdom usually leave Rishikesh and head deep into the Himalayas. With its saffron-robed sadhus and ashrams, its yoga and meditation centers, and its Internet cafes, Rishikesh caters to a very modern kind of spiritual tourist. The Beatles came, most famously, in the '60s to learn transcendental meditation from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Their quick disillusionment seems not to have deterred the stylishly disaffected members of the Western middle class that can still be found wandering the town's alleys in tie-dyed outfits, trying to raise their kundalini in between checking their Hotmail accounts.
I was in Rishikesh last winter to see my aunt, who had just retired to one of the riverside ashrams. She has known a hard life; widowed when she was in her 30s, she worked in small, badly paid teaching jobs to support her three children. In my memory, I can still see her standing at exposed country bus stops in the middle of white-hot summer days. She had come to know comfort, even luxury, of sorts in later life. Her children travel all over the world as members of India's new globalized corporate elite; there are bright grandchildren to engage her at home. But she was happiest in Rishikesh, she told me, living as frugally as she had for much of her life, and devoting her attention to the end of things.
True detachment, however, seemed as difficult to achieve for her as for the spiritual seekers with e-mail. I had only to mention the political situation - India was then threatening to attack Pakistan - for her to say, angrily, ''These Muslims need to be taught a lesson. We Hindus have been too soft for too long.''
In the last decade, such anti-Muslim sentiments have become commonplace among the middle-class, upper-caste Hindus in both India and abroad who form the most loyal constituency of the BJP, the Hindu nationalist party that governs India. They were amplified most recently in Gujarat last winter, during the BJP-assisted massacre of almost 2,000 Muslims; they go with a middle-class pride in the international prominence of Indian beauty queens, software professionals, and Bollywood films. Perhaps I wouldn't have found anything odd about my aunt's anti-Muslim passions had I not later gone up to her monastic cell and noticed the large garlanded poster of a well-known Sufi saint of western India.
Did she know that she revered someone born a Muslim? I'm not sure. The folk religion to which the Sufi saint belongs, and which millions of Indians still practice, does not acknowledge such modern political categories as ''Hindu`' and ''Muslim.'' I think the contradiction - between the narrow nationalist prejudices my aunt had inherited from her class and caste and the affinities she generously formed in her inner world of devotion and prayer - would only be clear to an outsider. This contradiction is not easily understood. But it reflects the extraordinary makeover undergone by Hinduism since the 19th century, when India first confronted the West and its universalist ideologies of nationalism and progress.
Indeed, there was no such thing as ''Hinduism'' before the British invented the catch-all category in the early 19th century and made India seem the home of a ''world religion'' that was as organized and theologically coherent as Christianity and Islam. The word ''Hindu'' itself was first used by the ancient Persians to refer to the people living near the river Indus (''Sindhu'' in Sanskrit). It later became a convenient shorthand for those who weren't Muslims or Christians.
Certainly, most Hindus themselves felt little need for such self-descriptions, except when faced with blunt questions about religion on official forms. Long after their encounter with monotheistic Islam and Christianity, they continued to define themselves through their overlapping allegiances to family, caste, linguistic group, region, and devotional sect. Religion to them was more a matter of unselfconscious practice than of rigid belief; at any given time, both snakes and the ultimate reality of the universe were worshipped in the same region, sometimes by the same people. Religion very rarely demanded, as it did with many Muslims or Christians, adherence to a set of theological ideas prescribed by a single prophet, book, or ecclesiastical authority.
It is partly for this reason that Indian theology accommodates atheism and agnosticism. Rituals and deities have always varied greatly, defined often by caste and geography. And they are also flexible: New deities, such as an AIDS goddess who is believed to both cause and cure the disease, continue to enrich the pantheon even today.
And so a history of Hinduism, no matter how narrowly conceived, has to describe several very parochial-seeming Indian religions, almost none of which contained the evangelical zeal to save the world.
The first of these - the Vedic religion - began with the nomads and pastoralists from Central Asia who settled North India in the second millennium BC. It was primarily created by the priestly class of Brahmans who conducted fire sacrifices with the help of the Vedas, the earliest known Indian scriptures, in order to stave off drought and hunger. But the Brahmans wished to enhance their own glory and power rather than propose a new all-inclusive faith. They presented themselves as the most superior among the four caste groups, which were based first on racial and ethnic distinctions between the settlers and the indigenous populations of north India and, eventually, on a division of labor.
A new religion was also far from the minds of the Buddhists, the Jains, and many other philosophical and cultural movements that emerged in the sixth and fifth century BC and sought to challenge the social hierarchy and the power of the Brahmans. Later, those dissatisfied with the sacrificial rituals of the Vedic religion grew attracted to the egalitarian cults of Shiva and Vishnu that became popular in India around the beginning of the first century AD. But the Brahmans managed to preserve their status at the top of an ossifying caste system. They zealously guarded their knowledge of Sanskrit and esoteric texts, as well as their expertise in such matters as the correct pronunciation of mantras. Their specialized knowledge, and their presence across India, gave them a hold over ruling elites even as the majority of the population followed its own heterodox cults and sects.
Today, the Hindu nationalists present Muslim rulers of India as the flag bearers of an intolerant monotheism. But during the long Muslim presence in India, which began as early as the 10th century AD, there was an even greater religious plurality in India. Sufism mingled with local faiths; the currently popular devotional cults of Rama and Krishna and the network of ashrams and sects expanded rapidly. In medieval India, there was more sectarian violence between the worshippers of Shiva and Vishnu than there was between Hindus and Muslims.
The British who arrived in India in larger numbers in the 18th century were both appalled and fascinated by the excess of gods, sects, and cults they encountered there. It was not unlike the pagan chaos a Christian from the eastern provinces of the Roman empire might have encountered in the West just before Constantine's conversion. As it turned out, the British in India, like the powerful Christians in Rome, sought and imposed uniformity.
There were intellectually curious men among them: for example, a judge named William Jones founded the Asiatic Society of Bengal, whose amateur scholars began in the late 18th century to decipher the language and culture of the strange, bewildering country they found themselves in. It would be too simple to say that this great intellectual effort, to which we owe much of our present knowledge of India, was merely part of a colonialist or imperialist enterprise. What's more interesting than the by now familiar accusations of Orientalism is how the assumptions of the earliest British scholars mingled with the prejudices of local elites to create an entirely new kind of knowledge about India.
These scholars organized their impressions of Indian religion according to what they were familiar with at home: the monotheistic nature of Christianity and its exclusive claims to truth. When confronted by diverse Indian religions, they tended to see similarities among them. They assumed that different religious practices could only exist within a single overarching tradition.
They also had a strong literary bias. They thought that since Christianity had canonical texts, Indian tradition must have the same. Their local intermediaries tended to be Brahmans, who alone knew the languages needed to study such ancient texts as the Vedas and the Bhagavad-Gita. Together, the British scholars and their Brahman interpreters came up with a canon of sorts, mostly Brahmanical literature and ideology, which they began to identify with a single Hindu religion.
The Brahmanical literature would later create much of the appeal of Indian culture for its foreign connoisseurs, such as the German Romantics, Schopenhauer, Emerson, and Thoreau. It also provided the British the standards with which to judge the state of contemporary religion in India. Since few Indians at the time seemed capable of the sublime sentiments found in the Bhagavad-Gita and the Rig-Veda, Hinduism began to seem a degenerate religion, full of evils like widow-burning and untouchability, and in desperate need of social engineering from above. The idea appealed both to British colonialists and their Brahman allies, who had long felt threatened by the non-Brahmanical forms of religion that most Indians followed. It was equally convenient to blame the intrusion of Islam into India for Hinduism's fallen state, and to argue that British rule would save India from Muslim tyranny and prepare the path to a higher civilization.
These ideas about the Muslim tyrants, Hindu slaves, and British philanthropists were originally set out in such influential books as James Mill's ''History of British India'' (1817), books that today tell us more about the proselytizing vigor of some Enlightened Scots than about Indian history. Nevertheless, they had a profound impact on a new generation of upper-caste Indians who had been educated in Western-style institutions. These Indians wished to do for India what a few enterprising Britons had done for a tiny island, and they found a source of nationalist pride in the newly-minted unitary ''Hinduism.''
Only a tiny minority of upper-caste Indians had known much about the Bhagavad-Gita or the Vedas until the 18th century, when they were translated by British scholars and then presented as sacred texts from the lost golden age of Hinduism. But in the 19th century, movements dedicated to recovering that glory grew rapidly.
Consider the case of Ram Mohun Roy, who is often called the ''father of modern India.'' In 1828, Roy - a Unitarian - founded the Brahmo Samaj, a reformist society whose aim was to turn Hinduism into a rational, monotheistic religion. (The group had a strong influence on the poet Rabindranath Tagore and filmmaker Satyajit Ray, among other leading intellectuals and artists.) In 1875, the social reformer Dayananda founded another such society, the Arya Samaj, in Western India. He exhorted Indians to return to the Vedas, which he said contained all of modern science; he also echoed British missionary denunciations of such ''Hindu'' superstitions as idol-worship and the caste system. Even the more secular and universalist visions of Gandhi and Nehru - the former a devout Hindu, the latter an agnostic - accepted the notion of a decayed ''Hinduism'' in need of reform.
But it was Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) who in his lifetime was witness to, and also most responsible for, the modernization of Hinduism. Vivekananda was the middle-class disciple of the illiterate mystic Ramakrishna, who lived until his death in 1886 at a temple near Calcutta and preached the essential unity of all religions. (The British writer Christopher Isherwood wrote a reverential biography of him.) But Vivekananda moved very far away from his guru's inward-looking spirituality in his attempt to make Hinduism intellectually respectable to both Westerners and Westernized Indians. During his lecture tours of England and America, where he acquired a mass following, Vivekananda presented India as the most ancient and privileged fount of spirituality. At the same time, he exhorted Hindus to embrace Western science and materialism in order to shed their burden of backwardness and join together in a manly nation.
Vivekananda borrowed from both British-constructed Hinduism and European nationalist realpolitik. In doing so he articulated the confused and aggressive desires of a Westernized Indian bourgeoisie that was then trying to find its identity. But his ambition of regenerating India with the help of Western techniques - science, technology, nationalism - did not separate him entirely from the folk religious traditions he had grown up in. He remained a mystic. Looked at today, his contradictory rhetoric seems to prefigure the oddly split personality of the modern Hindu, where devotion to a Muslim saint can coexist with an anti-Muslim nationalism.
Vivekananda's importance doesn't end there. The marriage of Indian religiosity and Western materialism that he tried to arrange makes him the perfect patron saint of the BJP, a political party of mostly upper-caste, middle-class Hindus that strives to boost India's capabilities in the fields of nuclear weapons and information technology while also revering the cow as holy.
A hundred years after his death, the BJP has come closest to realizing his project of fully Westernizing Hinduism and turning it into a full-fledged nationalist ideology: one that has pretensions to being all-inclusive but demonizes Muslims, one that places itself above caste divisions while aiming to block, or at least delay, the long-overdue political empowerment of lower-caste Indians.
Vivekananda's modern-day disciples are helped considerably by the fact that the Indian bourgeoisie is no longer small and insignificant. Affluent, upper-caste Indians in India and abroad largely bankrolled the BJP's rise to power, and now they long for closer military and economic ties with the West - a process that has only been accelerated by globalization. As a global class, they are no less ambitious than those in the Roman empire who embraced Christianity and made it an effective tool of this-worldly power. Hinduism in their hands has never looked more like the Christianity and Islam of popes and mullahs, and less like the multiplicity of unselfconsciously tolerant faiths it still is for most Indians.
The growing prominence of this group suggests that Vivekananda may yet emerge as more influential in the long run than Gandhi, Nehru, or Tagore - the three great Indian leaders whose legacy of liberal humanism middle-class India already is frittering away as it heads for times as intellectually and spiritually oppressive as those the West suffered after its own elites chose a severe monotheism as their official ideology.
is a writer based in New Delhi and Simla. He is the author of "The Romantics," a
novel, and a forthcoming book about the Buddha.
LONDON: Delhi and Chennai are among the worst cities
Pakistan capital Islamabad ranked 146 is somewhat
The survey is based on ten criteria that cover the
Chennai emerges as one of the most boring cities in
Transportation facilities in Pakistani cities seem
The overall rankings on the quality of life within South
Sydney is ranked seventh, San Francisco 19, Tokyo 19,
The survey makes separate lists for recreation
In this area, Los Angeles is on top, along with Sydney,
When it comes to public transport and traffic, Delhi
Again with New York taken as the standard with an
New Delhi dispatch
When Indian police blamed Pakistani terrorists for a shopping centre shootout, it seems to have been a crude attempt to defame Islamabad, writes Luke Harding
Monday November 11, 2002
It had all seemed
so convincing. When two "terrorists" arrived
on Sunday November 3 at Ansal Plaza, Delhi's most upmarket shopping centre,
the police were waiting for them.
The following day Indian newspapers published gruesome photos of one of the slain "terrorists" lying on the floor, his finger still on the trigger of a Chinese-made pistol. The Indian government promptly announced that the "terrorists" were from Pakistan, and congratulated the police on foiling a major attack one the eve of Diwali, India's biggest festival.
There was only one problem with the police's story: it wasn't true. Yesterday the Ansal Plaza "shootout" - which took place a short walk from India's only branch of Marks and Spencer - was beginning to turn into a serious embarrassment for India's deputy prime minister LK Advani, who visited the scene on Monday.
Indian newspapers had already pointed out several discrepancies in the police's version of events. Why did one of the "terrorists" have a black eye? And why did they choose to drive into an underground car park instead of opening fire immediately on shoppers?
Yesterday a doctor who was in the basement at the time gave dramatic testimony. He claimed that both men were unarmed when police shot them. Dr H Krishna said the men stumbled out of their car and appeared either drugged or suffering from lack of sleep. They were empty-handed and walking with difficulty, he added.
The police opened fire a minute later, killing the "terrorists" instantly. When Dr Krishna tried to explain this to reporters, officers escorted him away. He later gave his account to India's Asian Age newspaper, and then wisely disappeared off to Australia. Several intelligence officers had turned up outside his home. Indian human rights organisations have now asked the police for an explanation.
The incident - or lack of incident - has, of course, a wider political significance. India has persistently accused Pakistan of supporting Islamist militants who infiltrate into India to carry out attacks in Kashmir and elsewhere.
There is no doubt that New Delhi has a strong point: the raid two months ago, for example, on a Hindu temple in Gujarat, in which 30 people were shot dead, was almost certainly the work of a Pakistan-based militant organisation, Lashkar-i-Toiba. But the "encounter" on November 3 appears to have been entirely stage-managed by the Indian police.
It was, presumably, a crude attempt to defame Islamabad. Pakistan has said it had nothing to do with the dead men, whose true identities remain a mystery. Last night Indian detectives were doggedly sticking to their increasingly discredited version of events.
The officer in charge, Neeraj Kumar, said his men had recovered an AK-56 rifle and two pistols, as well as a mobile phone and three diaries. These apparently gave details of a plot to kill Mr Advani. He denied that his officers had planted the weapons on the dead men.
But few people will be satisfied with his assurances and ballistics experts have pointed out that the "first reaction" of someone hit by heavy fire is to drop whatever they are holding.
Such murky "encounters" take place routinely between security forces and "militants" in Indian Kashmir. But Kashmir is a long way away from India's capital and they rarely get much scrutiny.
Any shootout in the heart of Delhi - a stroll away from Pizza Express, McDonalds and Lacoste - is bound to attract attention, and this one has provoked more questions than answers.
The entire episode does not reflect well on either the Indian home ministry or the police force, and undermines New Delhi's claim that it is the victim of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. There is plenty of genuine terrorism in India. There is no need to invent more.
To the south, in the neighboring state of Rajasthan, villagers ate boiled leaves or discs of bread made from grass seeds in late summer and autumn because they could not afford to buy wheat. One by one, children and adults — as many as 47 in all — wilted away from hunger-related causes, often clutching pained stomachs.
" Sometimes, we ate half a bread," said Phoolchand, a laborer whose 2-year-old daughter died during that period. "Sometimes, a whole bread."
More than two decades after a "green" revolution made India, the world's second-most-populous country, self-sufficient in grain production, half of India's children are malnourished. About 350 million Indians go to bed hungry every night. Pockets of starvation deaths, like those in the Baran district of Rajasthan, have surfaced regularly in recent years.
Yet the government is sitting on wheat surpluses — now at about 53 million metric tons — that would stretch to the moon and back at least twice if all the bags were lined up. Persistent scarcity surrounded by such bounty has become a source of shame for a nation that has taken pride in feeding itself.
Advocates for the poor and those pushing for economic reforms ask how a country can justify hoarding so much excess when so many of its people regularly go hungry.
"It's scandalous," said Jean Drèze, an economist who has been helping to document starvation deaths for a Supreme Court case brought by the People's Union for Civil Liberties, an advocacy group, to compel the government to use the surplus to relieve hunger.
The reason, experts and officials agree, is the economics — and particularly the politics — of food in India, a country that has modernized on many fronts but that remains desperately poor.
Critics say the central government, led for the last four years by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, has catered to political allies and powerful farm lobbies in a few key states by buying more and more grain from farmers at higher and higher prices. At the same time, it has been responding to pressure from international lenders by curbing food subsidies to consumers.
One result has been huge stockpiles going to waste, while higher prices for food and inefficient distribution leave basic items like bread, a staple of the rural poor diet, out of reach for many. Even though the surplus is supposed to be distributed to the poor, politics and corruption often limit their access.
"It's not an economic issue anymore — it's a straightforward political issue," said Jairam Ramesh, the senior economic adviser to the Congress Party, the country's main opposition party.
Answering such criticism, Asok Kumar Mohapatra, who was until recently a joint secretary with the Department of Food and Public Distribution, said any system trying to feed a billion people was apt to have inefficiencies. "It's easy to find fault with this kind of organization," he said. But he, too, acknowledged the politics involved. "The simple thing is they have lobbies," he said of the farmers, "and lobbies work everywhere."
Both the glut in Punjab and the deprivation in Rajasthan reflect a government in transition between a quasi-socialist past and a free-market future, and one that at the local level especially seems deeply ambivalent about its obligations to its poorest citizens.
After a devastating famine in 1943 that killed three million people and humbling food scarcities in the 1960's, Indian central governments have been determined to ensure that the country could feed itself.
A nationwide system was set up to distribute subsidized food via a network of "ration shops" that today number 454,000. At the same time, India made great advances in increasing its productivity, by developing high-yield seeds and investing in infrastructure, like irrigation.
The green agricultural revolution quadrupled staple food production, from 50 million metric tons in 1950 to 209 million metric tons by 2000.
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