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India: Can rape protests be the beginning of broad social change?

India's angry reaction to the gang rape of a 23-year-old physical therapist in New Delhi could strengthen various movements for social justice.
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Indian activists hold placards as they protest against the gang rape of a student that took place in New Delhi, during a rally in Amritsar on December 24, 2012. (AFP/Getty Images)

New Delhi police charged into a crowd of young men and women protesting the country's apparent impotence in the face of rampant violence against women over the weekend, evoking memories of the massive 2011 Indian protests against corruption and more ominous comparisons with Egypt's Tahrir Square. And while the anger is rooted in rage, fear and bitterness over the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old physical therapist in New Delhi, disgust with India's corrupt, callous and incompetent public officials has stoked the flames.

The question now is: Where do we go from here?

Can a rape protest be the catalyst that injects life into India's amorphous "women's movement" -- which can seem moribund compared with the strides that women are making for themselves professionally? Can a rape protest be the catalyst for a badly needed reconception of "law and order," including police reform and a legitimate attempt to untangle the broken court system? Can a rape protest be the catalyst that replaces the now-compromised anti-corruption movement, creating a committed, mobilized throng of non-partisan political activists out of the historically apathetic middle class?

So far, there are both promising and discouraging signs. On the one hand, both mainstream and social media are devoting new attention to women's rights activists who are otherwise widely ignored. But on the other, the most simplistic, ineffective, and unsurprising "solutions" have already dominated the discourse on what needs to be done -- with kneejerk calls for the death penalty and chemical castration giving rise to all the usual arguments and objections against those harsh measures, in an increasingly pointless back and forth.

In today's newspapers, for instance, the Communist Party of India-Marxist's (CPI-M) Sitaram Yechury bemoans India's 29 percent conviction rate for rape cases. The government has unveiled fast track courts and other legal measures to claim that these offenses will no longer be ignored or allowed to languish for years in the system. Meanwhile, protesters continue to wave signs reading "Hang Them" and "You Rape, We Chop." 

The idea that "Delhi is the rape capital of India" remains widely accepted, despite many intelligent op-eds and a spate of "rapes around the country"-type reports to the contrary. An assumption that violence against women is increasing has been taken for granted without much scrutiny or reflection. And the police have been raked over the coals for failing to stop rape, and then cracking down on rape-protesters, as thoughtful insights on the reasons for their failings, and how those failings might be corrected, have been shunted to the side. (Note: New York City, about half the size of New Delhi, actually faces about 50 percent more rape cases -- 990 versus 660 or so, while Delhi's 26-29 percent conviction rate isn't so dismal compared with New York sentences that allow 42 percent of convicted rapists out on probation or "conditional release," according to the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault.)


India: Narendra Modi is nothing to fear

By winning a third consecutive term as Gujarat's chief minister, the controversial Narendra Modi has boosted his chances to become the BJP's candidate for prime minister. Here's why you needn't worry.
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While he failed to improve on the majority he attained in Gujarat's last state election, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Chief Minister Narendra Modi's convincing drubbing of the Congress to win a third consecutive term has boosted calls for his selection as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate in 2014. (AFP/Getty Images)

Narendra Modi delivered a convincing victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Gujarat elections Thursday, winning an unprecedented third consecutive term in a nation where elections are nearly always decided by the "anti-incumbency" factor.


India: Playboy unveils Bunny sari as nation rages against rape

Playboy is betting that sheer saris will be enough to stave off protests. Don't count on it.
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Sari, boys: Playboy Bunnies at the upcoming (and simultaneously retro) Playboy Clubs in India will be almost fully clad. Meanwhile, nationwide outrage over Sunday's gang rape of a 23-year-old physical therapist will likely put a cramp in some public relations firm's style. (AFP/Getty Images)

Playboy unveiled the bunny costumes for its upcoming Indian Playboy Clubs on a day when thousands protested violence against women, following a brutal gang rape.

As GlobalPost reported earlier, India is confronting brazen and spectacular acts of violence with the same national outpouring of grief, rage and confusion with which Americans are reeling from the Sandy Hook shooting.

“The reason it's become such an emotive issue is that the expression of violence, particularly gender violence, is in a way a public event,” said Delhi University sociologist Radhika Chopra. “This is not secret violence. This is not happening in a dark corner of a street or shady corner of a park. It's on a bus. It's in broad daylight. It's on flyovers. It's in the most public spaces of all. And there are always people there.”

Plenty of people will see the entrance of Playboy -- even with demured-down Bunnies -- as throwing fuel on the fire.


India objects to US bid to grant Pakistan's spy agency immunity in Mumbai attacks case

India has expressed "extreme disappointment" with a US move to grant Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency immunity in a civil suit seeking damages for the November 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai.
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India voiced objections to a US bid to grant Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) immunity for its alleged involvement in planning the November 26, 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai. (AFP/Getty Images)

Execute the hit man, but grant the mafia dons immunity. Good idea?

That's what the US government seemed to suggest this week, in arguing that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) should be granted immunity in a civil case  filed in a New York court in connection with the November 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai.

India has expressed "extreme disappointment" over the U.S. taking the position that the ISI should be granted immunity in the civil suit, India's Hindu newspaper reported Thursday.

“It cannot be that any organisation, state or non-state, which sponsors terrorism, has immunity,” the paper quoted Foreign Office spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin as saying. He was responding to a query on the ‘Statement of Interest’ filed by the U.S. State Department on immunity for the ISI and two former Director Generals of the agency in a civil case of wrongful death filed by U.S. family members of the victims of the terror attacks, the Hindu said.

“People who organised and perpetrated this horrible crime should be brought to justice, irrespective of the jurisdiction under which they may reside or be operating. Our position has been made known to the United States consistently,” the Hindu quoted Akbaruddin as saying.

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Missing Ravi Shankar? Try Yo Yo Honey Singh. The foul-mouthed-but-supercool Punjabi rapper topped Youtube searches from India in 2012. (AFP/Getty Images)

Missing Ravi Shankar? Try foul-mouthed-but-supercool Punjabi rapper Yo Yo Honey Singh -- though not if you're looking for classical sitar.

Best known for a song with an unprintable title (at least in Hindi), Yo Yo Honey Singh is arguably India's biggest non-Bollywood popstar, topping Youtube searches in 2012 with around 9 million viewers for his song "Brown Rang" (Brown Color), according to


India: Starvation is real cost of corruption

Private contractors, including Ponty Chadha, have stolen most of some $2 billion intended for India's Integrated Child Development Services program, Bloomberg-BusinessWeek reveals.

Starvation is the real cost of corruption, Andrew MacAskill and Mehul Srivastava reveal in a must-read article in Bloomberg-BusinessWeek.


India to be world's largest coal importer by 2017

Coal to surpass oil as world's largest energy source by 2017, due to heavy demand from China and India.
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Coal is set to surpass oil as as the world’s top fuel source by around 2017, as China and India surpass the US as the largest consumers, the International Energy Agency forecast on Tuesday. (AFP/Getty Images)

Coal is slated to surpass oil as the world's top fuel source by 2017, as consumption in China and India outstrips the US.

China and India lead the growth in coal consumption over the next five years, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency. The report said China's demand for coal will become the world's top consumer during that period, while India will become the largest seaborne coal importer and second-largest consumer, surpassing the US.

"The world will burn around 1.2 billion more tonnes of coal per year by 2017 compared to today, equivalent to the current coal consumption of Russia and the US combined," India's Hindu newspaper quoted IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven as saying. "Coal’s share of the global energy mix continues to grow each year, and if no changes are made to current policies, coal will catch oil within a decade.”


India plans to introduce universal health coverage in 2012-2017

As government prepares to roll out universal health coverage, McKinsey argues partnering with private firms is the only way forward.
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As India's health ministry prepares to roll out universal health coverage, McKinsey argues the government can only make up for shortcomings in the public health system by partnering with private companies. (AFP/Getty Images)

India aims to introduce universal health coverage during the 12th five year plan (2012-2017), but the public health system faces massive problems with inadequate infrastructure, poor funding and inefficiency. The only way forward is to partner with private firms, argues McKinsey & Co. in a new report.

"While public health experts have recommended that the government move from 'insuring' to 'assuring' health by investing in primary care, the McKinsey report envisions the expansion of healthcare primarily through extensive insurance coverage," Mint reports.

The idea is to increase insurance coverage to 75 percent of the population from 25 percent, the paper said.

In a system that appears to have much in common with America's (failed) one, only the uninsured poor would be covered by government-run insurance programs.

On the plus side, the report recommends boosting total spending on health to 5.5 percent of GDP.


India: Did I say 7%? I meant 5.7%. My bad.

Indian government lowers 2013 growth forecast yet again, to 5.7%-5.9% from 7.6%
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Did I say 7 percent? I meant 5.7 percent. India lowers its 2013 growth forecast yet again. (AFP/Getty Images)

India lowered its economic growth forecast for fiscal 2013 to 5.7-5.9 percent from an earlier estimate of 7.6 percent, in an apparent pitch for the central bank to slash interest rates.


India-Pakistan: How to lose friends and alienate people

A friendly visit from Pakistan's Rehman Malik leaves India angrier than ever.
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Interior Minister of Pakistan Rehman Malik (R) shakes hands with Indian Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde during the launch of new visa agreement in New Delhi on December 14, 2012. Days later, Malik scuttled any goodwill built on his visit. (AFP/Getty Images)

A friendly visit from Pakistan's Minister of the Interior has left India angrier than ever, prompting the Times of India and others to report that the official trip "backfired" to erode trust between the age-old enemies.